Sunday, 31 January 2010

Taxes, avatars, Sky cyber-commentary and a girlfriend-based ranking system

I just did a Google News search for the word "cricket" and it yielded 30,652 hits dated January 2010. Unless someone's been doing a lot of chirping about insects of the Gryllidae family, that means roughly a thousand articles about my favourite sport have been posted online each day this month. Between the broadsheets and the BBC, the blogosphere and the behemoth that is Cricinfo, there is an awful lot written about cricket on the web. Much of it is banal, plenty is highly biased, and rather a lot is both.

But some of it is brilliant. Here are four pieces I really enjoyed reading this month. The first two are fairly serious; the next two are more light-hearted but no less insightful.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

An invite to IPL 2010

Six weeks to go until season three gets underway and the Indian Premier League's mighty promotional machine is up and running. Last year, I wrote a piece about the story of IPL, likening it to a biblical epic. Well, that's pretty much how it's presented in the following trailer. Switch to full-screen, turn up your speakers and watch "An invite to IPL 2010."

The big news about IPL 3 is of course that Lalit Modi & co have signed a groundbreaking deal with Google to ensure that every match is streamed live on YouTube, with highlights clips available on demand to users around the globe. The official IPL YouTube Channel already has plenty of videos uploaded to it. Scroll past the news conferences, interviews and memorable moments from IPL 1 and 2 and you find some amusing short adverts currently being aired on Indian TV.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Liberté, égalité and the TV replay

(A version of this article appeared on Cricinfo's "Inbox" blog in February 2010)

Cricket’s moral system is under review

The umpire’s word should be final. Questioning the judgement of game’s arbiters is just “not cricket.” The ICC’s Umpire Decision Review System, which allows batsmen and fielding captains to ask for on-field decisions to be reviewed by a TV official, is detrimental to the Spirit of the Game and hence a recipe for disaster.

Or is it? I must admit that my reaction to the chorus of criticism directed at UDRS during England’s tour of South Africa by a (predominantly but not exclusively English) collection of pundits has been one of mild amusement. When ECB Chairman Giles Clarke fulminated against the “blasted system” because he felt that a “core principle of cricket” was “being destroyed,” I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself and think “here we go again…”

Cricket is a haunted game. It is possessed by a mysterious Victorian Spirit. Many of its aficionados like to think that this Spirit – a moral code – sets it apart from other sports, making it "more than a game ... an institution," as the eponymous hero of Tom Brown’s Schooldays famously remarked. Set at Rugby School in the 1830s, Thomas Hughes’ classic novel vividly illustrated the role played by public school cricket in the breeding of future empire builders. Meanwhile, other parts of 19th century English society also felt the influence of cricket’s Spirit. In his English Social History, G.M. Trevelyan wrote:
“If the French noblesse had been capable of playing cricket with their peasants, their chateaux would never have been burnt.”
The great Cambridge historian believed cricket helped prevent revolution by civilising England’s lower classes. He was right, in the sense that it encouraged them to peacefully accept an inequitable status quo.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Boom Boom's rockin' the Big Bash

Shahid Afridi is making a big impression Down Under. While Pakistan's Test side have been finding amazing new ways of losing matches, the man they call "Boom Boom" has been rocking the KFC Twenty20 Big Bash, Australia's domestic 20-over competition.

Television viewers in Australia have just voted Afridi the Big Bash's number one overseas import. This year's tournament has drawn record crowds and television ratings over the festive period, despite clashing with the Boxing Day and New Year Tests. With Australia's top international players unavailable due to the latter, it's been left to the state teams' overseas players to bring a touch of star quality to the event. Dwayne Bravo, Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard are among those who have shone but Afridi has thus far eclipsed them all.

The Pakistani allrounder has picked up two man-of-the-match awards in three games and his team - the South Australia Redbacks - are in pole position to qualify for the final. He has only managed one entertaining cameo with the bat but has been consistently effective with the ball, intelligently bowling slower than usual to make use of the extra bounce and grip on offer, and combining leg-breaks to right-handed batsmen with orthodox off-breaks to lefties.

All this is further evidence of the new-found maturity that has already led to the 29-year-old's appointment as Pakistan's Twenty20 Captain. It's tempting to say Twenty20 cricket and Shahid Afridi are tailor-made for each other: a brief period of power-hitting or an economical spell of spin is all that is required to decide the result of a contest, and on any given day, Afridi could provide either or both. Such an assessment would be totally unfair, however, both to Twenty20 and to Afridi. The game is far more than a hit-and-giggle slog-fest, and the thing about Boom Boom these days is that he rarely seems to go bust.

At the first ICC World Twenty20, Afridi was named the Player of the Tournament for his exploits with the ball. At the second, in England last year, he started quietly but then finished with a bang, scoring match-winning fifties in both the semi-final and final. Thereafter, he has celebrated becoming Pakistan Captain by winning another man-of-the-match award in a one-off T20I against Sri Lanka in Colombo and a man-of-the-series award in a two match rubber against New Zealand in Dubai.

Consequently, he is a man much in demand, with South Australia by no means the only domestic side interested in his talents. Hampshire have just secured his services for their Friends Provident T20 campaign this summer and until it became clear that he would be on international duty in February, the Nashua Dolphins looked set to sign him for the upcoming Standard Bank Pro20 in South Africa. It would be a massive surprise if he didn't get snapped up at this year's IPL auction on January 19th, now that Pakistani players have been cleared to participate in the tournament once again.

Cricket pundits have mumbled and grumbled of late about the dangers of the emergence of "freelance cricketers." Since Andrew Flintoff chose to turn down an ECB contract after retiring from Test cricket, there has been speculation that he intends to peddle his wares in Twenty20 competitions around the world. Flintoff's agent, Andrew "Chubby" Chandler, appears keen to see his client become cricket's first globe-trotting gun for hire. If you ask me, Afridi could easily beat Flintoff to it.

But I don't think he wants to do that. Afridi's availability for competitions like the Big Bash has been due to the paucity of Pakistan's international commitments and his omission from their Test side. He has made clear that he would prefer to spend more of his time playing for his country. With a bit of luck, he may get his wish. Given Mohammad Yousuf's wretched showing in Australia and the ongoing saga surrounding Younis Khan, it is not inconceivable that Afridi will return to Pakistan's Test side as its captain. His next appearance at Lord's, the scene of his Twenty20 heroics last summer, could come against Australia, in the ground's first neutral Test match for 98 years. Improbable, perhaps, but stranger things have happened in Pakistani cricket.

For the moment, Afridi is busy entertaining the crowds Down Under, both on and off the field. He attempted to launch the very first ball he faced in the Big Bash out of the ground for six, but succeeded only in skying the full toss to long on for a golden duck. After responding with a match-winning spell of 4 for 19, he could afford to joke about his dismissal: "When I saw the ball coming in the air, I thought I'd go for a home run but I didn't get one."

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Murali’s Greatest Hits of the Noughties

(A version of this article appeared on Cricinfo's "Inbox" blog in July 2010)

ICC Cricket World Cup Super Eights - England v Sri Lanka

Two in two in the twilight
10 for 148 v Pakistan, Peshawar, 2000

One over of play left on the fourth day at Peshawar and a low-scoring match was delicately poised. A fiery Shoaib Akhtar had restricted Sri Lanka to 268 in their first innings and Pakistan had then slipped from 137 for 2 to 199 all out, with Murali the wrecker-in-chief. Thanks to Russell Arnold’s battling 99, Sri Lanka had set Pakistan a stiff victory target of 294, but at 220 for 6, the home side were very much in the game. Saeed Anwar was back at the crease after retiring hurt earlier in the innings and alongside him was Yousuf Youhana (now known as Mohammad Yousuf), who had counterattacked brilliantly, smashing three sixes and eight fours on his way to 88.

Enter Murali. Flighting the ball invitingly and generating massive turn off a slowing wicket, he trapped Yousuf leg before, before getting Waqar Younis to prod the very next ball to silly point. It took Sri Lanka just ten balls to finish off proceedings the next morning. Murali missed out on a hat-trick but did pick up the last wicket, sealing the match and the series.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Murali’s Greatest Hits of the Noughties - Preview

(A version of this article appeared on Cricinfo's "Inbox" blog in July 2010)

In a few days’ time, Cricinfo will reveal whom their 60-strong panel of experts has selected as their Cricketer of the 2000s. Taking Test and ODI performances together (as the website appears to be doing), I would whittle the field down to a shortlist of three candidates – Ricky Ponting, Muttiah Muralitharan and Jacques Kallis – whom I personally rate as the decade’s leading batsman, bowler and all-rounder, respectively. Cricinfo outlines the argument for each, and my hunch is that Ponting’s list of accomplishments as leader of the dominant team of the era will earn him top spot. Last week, he notched up a record-breaking 42nd win as a Test captain to go with victories in two World Cups and two Champions Trophies as an ODI skipper.

If separate prizes were awarded for each of game's formats, however, I would give the trophy for champion Test cricketer to Murali. The “Milestone Man” took one and a half times as many wickets as Makhaya Ntini, the next highest wicket-taker in the Noughties, at a McGrath-like average and Waqar-esque strike rate. As Cricinfo points out, he remains top of the pile even if “cheap” wickets taken against Zimbabwe* and Bangladesh are excluded. His astonishing 20 ten-wicket hauls in 84 matches include at least one against every Test-playing nation. He won more Man-of-the-Match and Man-of-the-Series awards than any other player and propelled Sri Lanka from close to the bottom of the Test rankings to within a series win of top spot. What is more, he achieved all this in the “Age of the Bat.” If “55 is the new 50” as far as batting averages are concerned, just how good is a bowling average of 23.48 against the top eight teams? To my mind, Murali was the decade’s greatest match-winner by some distance, as well as its “greatest joy-giver.”

Friday, 1 January 2010

Smells like teen spirit

(A version of this article appeared on Cricinfo's "Inbox" blog in January 2010)

Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir should bring a smile to the faces of cricket fans in the decade ahead

Six months ago, I was watching from the lower tier of the Grandstand at Lord’s as Mohammad Amir ran in to bowl the first ball of the ICC World Twenty20 Final. I nervously reminded my brother, who was sitting next to me, that I had earlier picked out Pakistan as the team most likely to halt Sri Lanka’s march towards victory. I knew that unlike the other semi-finalists (South Africa and West Indies), Pakistan were used to facing Sri Lanka’s unorthodox bowling attack, and although Sri Lanka had come out on top when the two sides met in the group stages, I was wary that Shahid Afridi’s sensational catch against New Zealand had sparked the kind of hot streak that always makes Pakistan a dangerous proposition at the business end of big tournaments.

But if I was nervous, how did Mohammad Amir feel? The left arm quick was just 17 and his international career barely two weeks old. Here he was in a major final at Lord’s. The outfield was a lush, brilliant green, but the stands were even greener, thanks to the masses of flag-waving, klaxon-sounding, Zindabad-shouting, Pakistan fans. Over in Pakistan itself, a nation deprived of international cricket after the Lahore attacks was no doubt in front of its TV sets, while up in the Sky Sports commentary box, Amir’s mentor Wasim Akram was at the microphone. On strike, awaiting Amir’s first ball was the Player of the Tournament, Tillakaratne Dilshan, who up until then had sliced, diced and daringly Dilscooped anything that had been served up to him.

How would the teenager begin?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...