Friday, 26 February 2010

Two Brett Lee's, two Shahzads and two-hundred not out

Lee handles the white ball far better than the red

Dennis Lillee greeted news of Brett Lee’s retirement from Test cricket with the following statement:
"Brett is going to go down as one of the great all-time express bowlers in the world ... 150-plus kph puts a huge strain on the body and it can only take so much. For him to play 76 Tests and take 300-odd wickets doing what he does is a credit to him."
Perhaps it takes one to know one, because I can’t for the life of me see how Lee can be considered a Test great. Apart from the first year of his career and a brief period in 2007-2008, he has actually been pretty average. He has never come close to hitting the kind of heights Dale Steyn has reached over the last couple of years. Lee has been over-hyped because he is clean living, photogenic and has happened to feature in some memorable Ashes and Border-Gavaskar battles. People’s perceptions of his effectiveness with the red ball are also coloured by his excellence with the white. Lee's ODI record may be pretty special but his Test record is not especially pretty.

At any rate, it’s sad to see him struggling with injury as he gives his all on the pitch and is very exciting to watch. Let’s hope he and his pal Freddie Flintoff both recover in time to play in next year’s World Cup.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

England in Bangladesh: Captain Cook’s voyage of discovery

A version of this article appeared in The Cambridge Student in February 2010

Cricket - England Nets
England need to convince KP that he is still “the nuts.”

The England cricket team’s tour of Bangladesh gets going in earnest this Sunday with a one-day international in Dhaka. England would be disappointed to come away with anything less than a clean sweep of the three ODIs and two Tests they are scheduled to play over the next few weeks, though you won’t hear any of the team management declaring that openly. Their ECB-media-coached utterances will mention a lot of balls in good areas, game plans to be stuck to and tough challenges to be met, though the odd patronising remark about the paucity of golf courses in the neighbourhood is bound to slip through now and then.

Virender Sehwag does things a little differently. On the eve of the first Test of India’s recent tour of Bangladesh, Sehwag was asked by a journalist about the chances of an upset. His response? “Bangladesh are an ordinary side. They can't beat India because they can't take 20 wickets.” When Bangladesh bowled India out for 243 the following day, Sehwag was briefly left looking foolish, but in the end his analysis proved to be accurate. Arrogant, perhaps, but Sehwag’s approach to press conferences is just the natural extension of his refreshingly no-nonsense approach to batting.

So let’s think Sehwagologically about the series ahead. England care so little about this tour that they have decided to rest their captain, Andrew Strauss, their best bowler, Jimmy Anderson, and their best drinks-carrier, Adil Rashid. I’m not sure I agree with these decisions but some good may come of each of them.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Beausejour beckons for Team Afghanistan

They did it.

On Saturday morning, Noor Ali and Raees Ahmadzai ran the most important single in their country's short cricketing history, clinching a 4-wicket victory over the UAE that secured Afghanistan a spot at the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean this spring.

The triumphant Afghans then celebrated by drubbing Ireland in the final of the Qualifying Tournament. When Mohammad Shahzad finished off proceedings by launching a long hop over cover for six, he catapulted Afghanistan into Group C at the main event, where they will play India and South Africa.

Hamid Hassan's blog post on Cricinfo received more than a 100 congratulatory comments in 24 hours. I mentioned on Friday that Hassan had likened his team's story to that of Rocky Balboa. Well, the Italian Stallion may have come from fairly humble beginnings, but he didn't come from a refugee camp. Ahmadzai, wicketkeeper-batsman Karim Sadiq, fast bowler Hasti Gul and former coach Taj Malik all learnt to play cricket in the vast Kacha Garhi Camp near Peshawar and most of their teammates grew up in similar settlements in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province.

Friday, 12 February 2010

An Afghan T20 offensive

"Major Afghan offensive launched" is the top headline on the BBC News website right now. "Thousands of American and Afghan troops have launched the biggest offensive in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001." You can't help but feel sorry for the civilian population of Afghanistan.

Which is why I'm supporting their cricket team. Afghanistan have been blazing a trail in the Qualifying Tournament for the upcoming ICC World Twenty20. They beat favourites Ireland in their first game and (rather ironically) also knocked out the USA. They suffered their first defeat today, which means their final group game tomorrow is a straight shoot-out with hosts UAE for a spot at the main event in the Caribbean.

One of their star players, Hamid Hassan, has professed his love of the Rocky movies in a blog post on Cricinfo and noted the parallels between his team's story and that of Sly Stallone's legendary boxer. I hope Hassan gets the Hollywood ending he's praying for.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Boom Boom bites balls because he can smell with his teeth

I wrote a few weeks ago that Shahid Afridi was making a big impression Down Under. Now it seems he has made an even bigger impression... on a cricket ball... with his teeth.

People do a lot of different things to cricket balls. Some spank them merrily, others tickle them cheekily. Many rub them vigorously and a few scratch them surreptitiously. People don't generally bite them, however.

Shahid Afridi is clearly no ordinary human being. I've always known there was something special about him, and after he attempted to take a chunk out of the match ball during the recent Perth ODI, the great man revealed to an Australian journalist that he does indeed have magical powers.

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