Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Winter Wildlife III: More ducks from my favourite Kiwi rabbit

Dwarf-eared rabbit with paws on rosette, close-up
Since my previous post about Chris Martin, the Kiwi has played 5 Test matches, notching up scores of 2*, 0*, 0*, 0*, 0, 1*, 0*, 0* and 0. He now has 176 wickets, 83 runs and 27 ducks from 53 games. You could argue that he is the most consistent batsman in international cricket.

Winter Wildlife II: A lion not so rampant, but with his pride still intact

The Lion of Lahore is the subject of an interesting new biography and has an invitation to Lord's next summer

Pakistani Cricketer Imran Khan
This autumn saw the publication of a new biography of Imran Khan, penned by Christopher Sandford. The Lion of Lahore has sadly had less success in politics than he had on the cricket field, but remains a popular figure in Pakistan, admired as much for his fundraising for his cancer hospital and other charities as for his cricketing exploits. The portraits of Imran painted by the Western media over the years range from the simplistic to the wildly inaccurate. Sandford has set out to do a better job, and to bring the story up to date. I look forward to finding out whether he has been successful.

Incidentally, Imran has been invited to Lord’s next summer to deliver the 2010 MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture. I believe the last time he visited Lord’s in an official capacity was in 1993, when he helped to present the Indian subcontinent’s successful bid to host the 1996 World Cup. At an acrimonious and in many ways historic meeting, England eventually had to withdraw their own bid for the tournament and come to terms with the fact that they could no longer bully ICC members into doing their bidding. Imran recalled, “I was appalled… Most of the Englishmen still treated us as though we represented some junior colony.”

Winter Wildlife I: A Roach and some limpets

West Indies fans have been cheered up by the emergence of Kemar Roach, Brendan Nash and Narsingh Deonarine

Twenty20 International - West Indies v Australia
A couple of years ago, Ricky Ponting was tormented at the WACA by a 19-year-old Ishant Sharma. In last week’s Perth Test, Ponting suffered at the hands of a new pest – 21 year-old Kemar Roach. The Barbadian is genuinely quick, regularly clocking 150kph, and is clearly an exciting prospect. It remains to be seen whether he will fulfil his potential or fade away, as several recent Caribbean pacemen have done. West Indies fans will be praying that Roach proves hard to get rid of.

Speaking of stickability, it appears that the West Indies have also managed to find potential replacements (or reinforcements) for their middle-order linchpin Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Diminutive left-handers Brendan Nash and Narsingh Deonarine are both stubborn accumulators rather than strokeplayers, and their limpet-like adhesiveness is just what the West Indies’ batting needs right now.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Memo to England: boring one-day cricketers make one-day cricket boring

Sometimes, if you hang on to your unfashionable opinions for long enough, you suddenly find your views are back en vogue. English cricket finds itself in this happy predicament at present. One-Day Internationals? Just not the Real Thing. Not worth bothering too much about - a chance to groom future Test players (regardless of whether they’ve shown any limited overs pedigree domestically), to groom future Test captains (regardless of whether they merit a place in the one-day side) and to take punts on bits and pieces county pros in the hope that they might become the next Ian Botham. England have not had a world class ODI side since 1992, and have only pretended to care out of politeness to the rest of the world.

Now, however, they’ve been joined by a chorus of players and administrators across the globe, all singing the same song. The “primacy of Test match cricket” is paramount, I hear them chanting - a familiar old tune. Ironically, it’s the ECB’s creation of an even shorter form of the game that’s led to this sudden increase in its airtime. Personally, I’ve long been a believer that there’s too much ODI cricket played each year. Bilateral series could be reduced in length, the Champion’s Trophy could easily be scrapped, and the format of the World Cup altered to shorten its duration. But scrap ODIs altogether? That’s surely a bit much. It’s a format that has produced – and continues to produce – great matches and great entertainment for spectators, as well as great financial reward for administrators. The 50-over World Cup is still the single prize that means the most to cricket fans outside England and Australia.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Settlers and sons: Roebuck, get a grip!

(A version of this article appeared on Cricinfo's "Inbox" blog in September 2009)

I’m a regular follower of Peter Roebuck’s columns for Cricinfo and the Sydney Morning Herald. The former Somerset captain is certainly one of the most eloquent and thought-provoking cricket writers around today. His most recent opinion piece for Cricinfo Magazine, however, a warning to English cricket that it’s “no time for back-slapping,” strikes me as faintly ridiculous, and some of the comments in it regarding English-born Asian cricketers I find really rather disconcerting.

The Sydney-based Roebuck has long maintained that Aussie dominance in the Ashes is a fitting reflection of the contrast between (what he perceives to be) the vibrant and competitive “prevailing culture” in his adopted home and a chronic national malaise back in the old country. It seems the Australian team’s sudden fall from grace has upset his worldview. Convinced that “English culture” still lacks “vim and vigour,” he looks elsewhere for an explanation for England’s recent success.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Would Rashid be a rash choice for the Oval Test?

Cricket - Durham v Yorkshire LV County Championship Division One
Is it time for Ramps’ last dance, or is Key needed to unlock England’s middle order problems? Does either of these contenders deserve to overtake the fast-rising Trott? As far as shoring up England’s batting is concerned, the drastic suggestions - and bad tabloid headlines - have been coming thick and fast. Some have even proposed a one-stop shop at Tresco, causing the poor man to wake up in a cold sweat at the very thought.

As far as I’m concerned, however, England’s real problem lies elsewhere. None of the four first class matches played at the Oval so far this year have yielded a positive result, with rain interruptions to blame on only one of those occasions. Surrey Chief Executive Paul Sheldon has declared that his groundsman Bill Gordon will not be “cooking the books” to help England and intends to produce a traditional hard, flat Oval wicket. England’s real problem, then, is how to take twenty wickets; the composition of the bowling attack should be the chief topic of discussion when the selectors convene.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Raking over those Ashes

(A version of this article appeared in Varsity in June 2009)

The wait is almost over. In just a few weeks’ time, Andrew Strauss and Ricky Ponting will walk out for the toss at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff, and we’ll finally be able to tuck into the main course of this summer’s extravagant feast of cricket – the Ashes. This time around, there are some unfamiliar items on the Aussie side of the menu. While the tourists are confident that these fresh ingredients will spice up their team, the home side are aware that the likes of Hughes, Haddin and Siddle clearly lack the seasoning of the men they have replaced. As a brand new chapter of Ashes history begins, England will fancy their chances of regaining the urn.

Flip through earlier chapters of that history and you notice that a number of Cambridge men figure prominently. Mike Atherton (Downing 1986-89), the most recent CUCC Captain to go on to skipper England, took part in some epic Ashes battles but sadly never tasted success. Mike Brearley (St John’s 1960-68) had better luck, famously masterminding a Botham-inspired comeback in 1981. To find Cambridge’s most significant contributor to Ashes history, however, you have to turn to the very first volume, dated 1882. Therein lies the tale of the very blighter who first brought the urn back to Old Blighty – the Honourable Ivo Bligh (Trinity 1877-81). After England’s first defeat on home soil had prompted the Sporting Times to print its now famous mock obituary of English cricket, it was Bligh who led the touring team that set sail for Australia, declaring that he intended “to recover those Ashes.” And recover them he jolly well did. His personal contribution? Just 33 runs in 3 Tests, but plenty of damned fine after-dinner speeches, no doubt.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Chris Martin: A Rabbit's Tale

(A version of this article appeared on Cricinfo's "Inbox" blog in October 2009)

Tailenders. They just don’t make ’em like they used to. The genuine rabbit – a creature prone to prod meekly at balls outside off stump and liable to leap out of the way of anything close to the body – is now an endangered species in international cricket. Everywhere we look, tailenders are working hard at their batting and scoring more and more runs. The members of the Aussie fast bowlers' union are the “worst” tailenders of the lot. Glenn McGrath – surprisingly but fittingly – led the way in 2004 by reaching a half-century at the 115th time of asking. Since then, we’ve seen courageous final stands in the 2005 Ashes, fifties aplenty, Johnson’s heroic hundred and Dizzy’s frankly ridiculous double. Here in England, Duncan Fletcher orchestrated a ruthless rabbit cull. Dear old Monty managed to survive, but only because he is every bit as industrious as he is inept, in contrast to his undeniably indolent predecessors Phil Tufnell and Devon Malcolm.

However, all is not lost for rabbit-lovers. In seamer Chris Martin, New Zealand, a warren of some pedigree – Ewen Chatfield, Danny Morrison and Geoff Allott spring to mind – have produced a very fine specimen indeed. What's more, there is a strong case for anointing Martin as the worst batsman Test cricket has ever seen.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

The IPL - it's big, it's brash, it's biblical...

(A version of this article appeared in Varsity in April 2009)

NFL: The Global Sport Summit
Is Lalit Modi really cricket’s Moses? It was Ravi Shastri who first described the IPL supremo as a “Moses of the game, who has shown the path to blazing success.” There is, of course, a fair chance that Shastri only made this pronouncement because his contract as an IPL commentator explicitly required him to do so. Nonetheless, it’s worth contemplating this comparison for a minute, especially given what Modi himself has said about his agenda: “We have taken some bold steps. We're going forward and trying to change the world order.”

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