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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How Scotty Styris got a million sheep going!

Millions of sheep in New Zealand bleated loudly in joyous celebration as their favorite son scored the third fastest T20 century helping Sussex into the finals.  The scene in New Zealand was one of mad celebrations as the sheep continued to cheer and root wildly into the night.  According to local reports some of them even managed to get drunk and were involved in a brawl.

100 of 37 balls!  
At Hove the sight was much different as Scott Styris put on a display of his brutality as he dispatched the poor Gloucestershire bowlers' deliveries sending the fielders on a leather hunt.  Scott Styris' century which came off just 37 balls is third best, behind only Andrew Symonds (34 balls) and Louis van der Westhuizen (35 balls) and equaling Yusuf Pathan.  
"I'm just pleased I got a few in the middle.  I'm a lazy bugger these days! I'm just a slogger, they all seem to go even when I don't want them to."   - Scotty Styris
Styris' innings consisted of 9 sixes and 5 hits to the fence.  He was earlier let off as Gloucestershire fumbled an easy run out and how dearly they paid for that miss!  Styris' knock enabled Sussex to post a mammoth 230 for 4 and they managed to win the match quite comfortably by 39 runs.  The Sussex supporters then joined the sheep in celebrating!

"Bowl it a bit 'fuller' son."
The innings highlight was when Styris dismissed young James Fuller for 38 runs in an over.  Yes!  38 runs.  That is indeed worse than what Stuart Broad.  Fuller eventually finished with figures 57 for 1 from 3 overs, and after the shock of being treated so badly would be wetting his bed when he thinks of it at nights.  This is a day the young man won't forget for a long, long time.

When asked one of the sheep what he thought of Styris' blistering innings, he replied, "Baaa. baaa, baaaaaaaaaa..." 

The Return of the Prodigal Son

Kapil Dev, one of India's biggest heroes, and the man who led India to her first World Cup win has returned to the BCCI's fold.  Much like the story of the prodigal son in the Bible, this story also runs high with emotions as the two are finally united, setting aside their petty issues.

Perhaps India's greatest all-rounder!
"BCCI is like a parent and we are like its children. Even during my earlier association, I have contributed for welfare of cricket and cricketers and even now I aim to do so."          - Kapil Dev
Kapil Dev who was at loggerheads with the Indian board for the past five years and never missed an opportunity to unleash his tongue against the board has finally reconciled with the very 'evil' he once fought.  The two haven't been able to see eye to eye ever since Dev headed the rebel Indian Cricket League against BCCI.  However with the ICL now defunct and long done and dusted with, Kapil Dev has finally resigned from the Essel Sports Private Limited that ran the ICL.  In a letter to the BCCI he pledged his support to the BCCI and improving cricket in India.

The Indian board has accepted the olive branch from Dev and has decided to grant complete amnesty to the former Indian captain.  Kapil Dev who never heard the word 'amnesty' before, had to look it up to find its meaning!  The amnesty now makes him eligible for the one time benefit of Rs. Rs. 1.5 Crores ($ 270,000) and also a monthly gratis of Rs. 35,000.  All the payments he missed in his five years of exile will also be reinstated so that translates as Rs. 21 Lakhs ($ 37,340), not including the interest it would have incurred during the time.
"I never understood whether the word amnesty is correct or not.  May be I am not very intelligent but I checked the dictionary to find the meaning."                      - Kapil Dev
Kapil Dev and the BCCI have decided to lay down the arms and stop the fighting.  
What brought the change of heart for the former Indian captain?  We'll probably never know.  But whatever it was, it is good to see one of the true heroes of Indian cricket who has striven continuously to improve sports in the country hand in hand with the country's biggest sports body.  Together they can do much, and hopefully they do much.  Its time the board starts treating some of its former cricketers with the respect they deserve and this is definitely a positive move.  Its a good show by the BCCI to accept Kapil Dev back, and hopefully it was done with all the right intentions rather than it being just a good PR move.
So what next for BCCI and Kapil Dev?  Only time will tell, but you can be sure that this putting aside of selfish and petty arguments by these two big parties is a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

England's strength in depth

Special guest and SportPulse cricket columnist, Jack Marshall writes on England's depth and bench strength and the role that it has had on the team becoming the number one ranked team in test cricket.
England's Strength in Depth

The year is 2009. England, fresh from an impressive 2-1 Ashes victory over the Aussies in the home series some four or five months earlier, are the touring team visiting the bastion of world cricket known as South Africa. They are not expected to tear the Proteas up, they are not hoping for a four-nothing whitewash. They are, in reality, looking to compete with a team regarded as one of the best, if not the best, Test sides in the world… in their own backyard. Nowadays, standards are higher.  In the current series against the Springboks, England, now are the number 1 Test side in the world.  How things have changed; how drastically our default suppositions have been altered. And England can thank their improved strength in depth for their meteoric rise in Test cricket.

England with the test championship mace.
In years and decades gone by, England have looked to foreign shores for a template guaranteed to breed cricketing opulence in the hope that such a formula would leak through to the Test team and end the longest wait for prosperity in the Gentleman's Game. But it is the current County set-up in British cricket that is the envy of the rest of the cricketing nations as the Championship continues to churn out world class talent and temperamentally adept protégés, from an assembly line that shows no signs of abating. 

Since 2005, 26 debuts have been handed out to impressive county talents, 15 of which can be regarded to have had solid Test careers or to have a future in the game given their current young age. This list includes Kevin Pietersen, Alastair Cook, Monty Panesar, Matt Prior, Chris Tremlett, Ravi Bopara, Stuart Broad, Tim Ambrose, Graeme Swann, Tim Bresnan, Graeme Onions, Jonathan Trott, Steve Finn, Eoin Morgan and Jonny Bairstow, many of whom could lay strong claims to warranting a place in many other Test sides. This is irrefutable evidence of an improvement in English cricket, whose ameliorated County blueprint has added to the ranks of the England Test Team. This can honestly only be good news.

The improvement in the county game has replicated more 'Test-ing' conditions on a more familiar basis, subsequently exposing young and promising potential to higher standards earlier on in their cricketing careers. This unveils those who have no or little chance at succeeding at the highest level, and sieves out the real gems: the truffles amongst the dirt, singling them out to England and boosting their chances of making a future in the game. The more completive county game can be seen plainly in the results of past years. 

The current English team selected for the Oval test.
Last season, the climax to Division 1 could not have been closer as Lancashire edged to the title by the seam of their whites. Nottinghamshire in 2010 won the 'Champo' on an enthralling last day, marginally beating Somerset to the pip by making up a 6-point gap between the two sides thanks to late wickets. 3 years ago, Durham emphasized their domestic dominance by running away with the title, with future England stars such as Jonathan Trott and Graeme Onions leading the way for Warwickshire and Champions Durham respectively. 

Simply put, the County Championship has gradually improved and revamped its standards to new echelons, and the current England side is reaping the rewards as blooded youngsters who have consistently performed in such an environment are now plying their trade internationally, the likes of Trott, Bopara, Prior, Bresnan, Broad, Onions, Finn and Tremlett being the standouts.

But the repercussions are not solely restricted to the first team. The fact that the caliber of cricket has experienced gradual augmentation has created the situation we find the England Test team currently: seemingly infinite strength in depth. Should an England player not be available, either through the unlikely facet of injury or through lack of form, there is always another of similar skill ready to take his place. 

James Taylor - one of England's rising stars
Speaking hypothetically, lets say either Strauss or Cook break a finger on the the first morning of a test. What happens? Carberry, who averages 43.96 with 26 centuries in First Class cricket, comes in. A middle order player like Pietersen or Bell succumbs to a muscle niggle? Eoin Morgan, who has 2 Test centuries, or James Taylor, who averages 48.70 with a best of 237 on the domestic scene, can slot in. Matt Prior suffers a freak back spasm, Steve Davies or Craig Kieswetter, both of whom have averages hovering around 39 in County Cricket, walk into the team. Strength in depth. 

And the bowlers? The stocks are arguably even more capaciously furnished: Bresnan pulls a hamstring, Steve Finn, the fastest England bowler to 50 Test wickets, is selected. Stuart Broad breaks a toe? Chris Tremlett, the second highest wicket-taker in the last Ashes series, picks up the phone. Anderson's elbow is stiff, a man who has 34 wickets at 14.26 in Graeme Onions walks into the team. England's strength in depth is copious, and not restricted to any single area in the team. Swann, you say? Enter Monty!  

Pressure on those in possession of coveted places in the Test team spawns a unique mentality as memories of the cold-sweat experience when out of form spurs batsmen and bowlers alike to cash-in when conditions allow it. Complacency is not a word you will hear in the England camp as every single player knows that they are just 5 bad innings away from being dropped, they are on the precipice of being ruthlessly tossed aside in favour of someone else. This disposition is invaluably indispensable and has incentivized the entire team to a groundbreaking degree. 

England celebrating the victory against the WI at Lords earlier this year.
One cannot argue with the reverberations of English strength in depth as they currently sit number 1 in the Test arena having cleared the great hurdle of beating Australia Down Under, and then cruising to a 4-0 series victory over the Indians last summer. The consistency in standards has wiped the lens for those coming into the team: they know what is required, they recognize fully why there are there. Gone have the days of bit-part cricketers with undefined and questionable roles. One would be pushed to name a cricketer for England of whom you could ask the question: what does he bring to the England team? 

This undeniably removes a soupçon of pressure from those coming into the team as they are allowed time to bed in and acclimatise to the necessities of Test cricket. To come into a successful team makes the job of the young pretender evermore simple as opposed to coming into a team because all else has failed, and YOU are expected to provide the solution. England can nurture and cultivate talent under minimal pressure to better slope the parabola of their development, making for better players in the long term.

Much has been made of strength in depth in this England team. It has been praised and vaunted, but not recognised definitively as one of the pivotal reasons for England's escalation. Great teams have perennially boasted such a virtue, and can be used as a rather accurate hallmark of a truly great team.


Jack Marshall is an English student from Manchester who lives in Gran Canaria, Spain. He loves cricket and football and supports Manchester City and the England Cricket Team. In his free time he likes to read, write on sport and listen to music.

Listen to Jack talk about the England - South Africa test series on the Verbal Slogs podcast

Monday, July 23, 2012

Protean Domination (A look at few moments from the first test)

The fat lady has finally sung and the first test has been convincingly won by the visiting South Africans by an innings and 12 runs [SCORECARD].  England who were still behind by 150 runs and with just six wickets in hand going into the final day found themselves against an inspired South African bowling unit led by Steyn who was spewing out fire.  Despite a brave rear guard action by Ian Bell, England fell well short, handing South Africa a well deserved victory.

The world's number one test team crash to an innings defeat!
England have plenty to answer considering they are the world number one team in test cricket and despite playing in home conditions where they have been undefeated in their last last seven series now have suffered a very humiliating loss.  With the series being just three tests, England don't have much time to catch up, and must reverse their fortunes soon and prove the world they are indeed worth of being the number one test team.  

South Africa were brilliant in the test and the belief the team has in their players and their abilities is astounding.  The way South Africa fearlessly approached England's more than decent first innings score after losing Alviro Peterson early for a duck showed a team filled with belief and fearless.  And fearlessly they batted as they posted the mammoth 637 runs.

Here are few highlights from the first test.

First South African to walk on the moon and score a triple century!
Amla's triple - 311 runs of pure pleasure!
Where does one even start with Hashim Amla.  He is an effortless batsman who makes batting look  artistic and so easy that he does it without breaking a sweat.  Mixed with the flair and touch of Laxman and the technique and determination of Dravid, Amla is a treat to watch and the 790 minutes he spent at the middle striking those 529 balls were each a spectacle to behold.  He broke the record books by becoming the first South African to score a triple hundred and who better than this man, to hold that prestigious record.

"England have the best bowling unit." - English media
The English media have lavished many praises on this English team and have gone on to say that they boast the world's greatest bowling attack.  Surely the English bowlers are excellent bowlers consists of some of the best swing bowlers in the world, no doubt, but are they better than the South African pace battery?  Well that was what this series was to answer and the first test has indeed given us some answers.  The 'World's best bowling' attack managed to pick up only 2 wickets in the match giving away 637 runs.  The pitch might have been batsman friendly, but the South African team was able to bowl the English batsman out twice, and that tells something.  England's skipper, Strauss believes his bowlers are still the best and it has to be seen if they can come back from this punishment dealt out to them by the protean batsman.
"We have an outstanding bowling attack. You have to give South Africa credit for how they batted but I still back our bowling attack's ability to take 20 wickets on most Test match surfaces."   -  Andrew Strauss
Kallis dedicates his century to Mark Boucher.
Kallis' commitment and gesture
Jaques Kallis who played a major role in setting up the win with a undefeated 182 and picking up 2 wickets in the match showed once again that he was a team player when he didn't even flinch with any regret when Smith declared with him just a few runs short of what would have been a well deserved double century.  His commitment is unquestionable.  The gesture he made by pointing to his eye after reaching his century and dedicating the knock to Mark Boucher was a touching moment in the game, when yet again he thought of one of the heroes of the South African team.

Prior is caught off Tahir, playing the sweep.
English batsman and the sweep shot
'When in doubt against playing a spinner, sweep him', goes the old cricket adage, but the English batsmen's persistence with that shot despite being out to it is confounding to say the least.  During their tour of Pakistan and Sri Lanka earlier, almost every single of the English batsman fell sweeping a spinner and that continued to be the trend as Strauss, and Prior top edged sweeping Imran Tahir.  The sweep shot like any other shot is a good shot to play considering that a.) the ball is to be swept and b.) you can play the shot.  English batsman haven't shown very good judgement in choosing which ball to sweep and further more can't play the stroke very well, yet the persist with it despite it being their downfall.  England lost most of their wickets by gifting it away and they might have drawn this test had they only showed some discretion when it came to their shot selection and leaving balls outside the off-stump.  As Boycott would say, don't play a shot if you are shite at playing it!

"Look ma, I got five."
Dale Steyn - The best bowler in the world.  No doubt.
Dale Steyn is the best bowler of our times and there is absolutely no doubt about it.  If there is any doubt, then you must be one of the deluded English media people who say, "England have the best bowling unit."  Dale Steyn's fiery bowling on the second day saw South Africa close the English innings prematurely and his five-for in the second has just reestablished his greatness.  Today with the second new ball he was simply unstoppable and bowled with fire in his eyes.  It must come as no surprise that the English batsman capitulated to his bowling.  His celebration after removing Ravi Bopara spoke everything about him and his desire to strike and pick up wickets, and that desire is what propels him to be the world's best bowler.

The big difference
The numbers of the game look very one sided as South Africa managed to score more runs with just 2 wickets than England did with 20 wickets.  The South African batsman averaged 318.5 runs per wicket while the English batsman a lowly 31.25.  The difference between the two - a big (big is an understatement here) 287.25 runs.  That is the margin of the difference between the two teams and the result certainly reflects that.

The entire test match can be summed up by two words - Protean Domination.  It was a thorough display of South Africa's superior bowling and batting unit and if England are to level this series then they have major catching up to do at Headingley. 

Interesting Day 5 on the cards

Day four of the first test between England and South Africa has drawn to a close as I write this, and after four grueling and intense day of cricket, we are all set for an intriguing fifth day conclusion.  South Africa's tour of England has been the most awaited series of the year and rightly so as it sees the two top test sides clash.
Amla becomes the first South African to score a triple century!  Kallis and Amla added 377 runs for the third wicket.
England who are the ranked currently as the number one team have been undefeated at home in their last seven test series, and boast the best swing bowling line up in the world.  However now trailing by 150 runs and just 6 wickets in hand, it is their batting that is going to tested and England now face the biggest test they have in recent years.  South Africa who are ranked second have an incredible pace battery of their own consisting of one of the greatest fast bowler of our times, if not the greatest, and day five looks to be a fascinating contest.

After day one when England finished 267 runs for just the loss of 3 wickets, the match seemed to be well and truly England's.  However South Africa fought back well bowling out the home team for 385 runs after opener Cook completed a magnificent century.  Even then England were in a commendable position and who would have thought we'd see them fighting to save the test?  South Africa's reply to the daunting total was one filled with confidence with three of their top order batsman scoring centuries.  
Kallis celebrates his century pointing to his eye and dedicating it to Bocuher.
Graeme Smith led from the front and his century in his 100th match must surely be special.  Hashim Amla then made history by becoming the first South African to score a triple century and it was his mammoth innings that held South Africa together.  Jaques Kallis joined the party and scored 182 runs helping SA to 637 runs for the loss of just 2 wickets and 252 runs ahead.  I found Kallis' gesture of pointing to his eye after reaching his hundred really good as he paid homage to Mark Boucher who had to retire after a freak accident earlier in the month. 

Together the three centurions made the world's best bowling attack look like a bunch of school boys as they sent the English fielders on a leather hunt.  It was some world class batting from the South African batsman and it is largely due to them, SA find themselves in the driving seat.

Star batsman, Kevin Pietersen is bowled by Morkel. 
I appreciate Smith's aggressive declaration and how he declared even though Kallis was just 18 runs short of a well deserved double century.  The team always comes first and its a good lesson sent by Smith. 

England in the second innings coming against an inspired South African bowling, found itself in a spot of bother and now with four top order and inform batsman back in the hut and still 150 runs behind, England must bat out of their skins to save this match.  On days one, two and three it looked like this match might be a dull draw, but it has turned out to be just the opposite and the South African domination of day four has made it a match to watch.

England have Ian Bell and Ravi Bopara at the crease and plenty rides on them.  This is perhaps Bopara's best opportunity to prove his worth, as England only have one recognized batsman in Prior left.  Bresnan and Broad who are decent with the bat, but if England are to save this then it will be the specialist batsman remaining who have to step up.  It will be a difficult task considering they are against the likes of Steyn, Morkel, Philander and Imran Tahir on a day five wicket, and this will not only test their patience but also their determination and grit to grind in and stay at the crease.  Day five is bound to be a fascinating contest and tomorrow will be the day England will prove if they really are deserving to be called the world's best test team.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

India back in action with a win!

India playing cricket after nearly four months showed no signs of being rusty as they started of on a bright winning note against Sri Lanka at Hambantota.  India managed to win the first ODI by a comfortable 21 runs after Kohli and Sehwag put on a mammoth 173 run partnership for the second wicket and propelling India to 314 for 6 [SCORECARD].  Sri Lanka in reply managed to put up a brave fight with Kumar Sangakara leading the way with a blistering century, but in the end the target proved to be too steep to be attained.  Here's a look at few moments from that game.

Virat Kohli Continues His Good Form

"I have Sri Lankan bowlers for lunch" 
Virat Kohli has been India's most prolific run scoring machine in the ODI format and he continued from where he had left of four months ago as he started to send the Sri Lankan bowlers to all ends of the park.  Kohli now has 12 centuries to his name, and four of those have been against Sri Lanka!  However yesterdays century was his first in Sri Lanka and it made sure that Kohli's lack of runs in the IPL was not a thing to worry.  With many spots in the Indian test team now open, this run will certainly help Kohli in making one of those his.

Kulasekara's Injury
Kulasekara left the field after bowling just five overs with a groin injury.  He was without any doubt their best bowler yesterday and Sri Lanka desperately missed him.  Now having been ruled out of the entire series, Sri Lanka's bowling have a bigger problem on their hands.

Sangakara's Masterclass

Standing tall!
Kumar Sangakara was the backbone of the Sri Lankan reply and his 133 is the fourth highest score by a Sri Lankan in a lost cause.  Sangakara was the alone fighting the battle while his teammates fell all around him.  There was a brief time during his partnership with Thisara Perera when it seemed Sri Lanka had a chance at the total, and perhaps they would have had he been more ably supported his his fellow batsman.  Despite the knock being in a losing cause, it was one of his better knocks that had the stamp of a Sangakara masterclass all over it.  His hits straight down the wicket off the spinners were perhaps the best shots of the evening.

Five Bowler Strategy
India for once abandoned their usual four bowler strategy and played five bowlers, made largely possible thanks to the inclusion of Irfan Pathan.  This is definitely a good way to go considering the form the Indian top order is in, and gives Dhoni plenty of options.  It was still sad to see the Indian bowlers being treated with disdain, specially at the death, but this is just the first match after a long break, and maybe the performances will improve after the bowlers have had a few miles under their belt and a chance to shake off the cobwebs.

Return of Irfan Pathan?

Pathan - the all-rounder India desperately seeks
If there was one player I wanted to perform well in this match, then it was Irfan Pathan.  I wanted him to do well because, a.) he is a very talented player capable of being brilliant in the field and b.) his all-rounder abilities give India more options such as the five bowler strategy.  His contribution with the bat was just 7 runs (not out) from 4 balls, but with the ball he was India's brightest bowler.  With 2 for 37, Pathan managed to keep the flow of runs minimal on a pitch where everyone was leaking nearly 6 an over and also picked up two very important wickets.  Seeing him swing the ball back into Dilshan and trapping him leg before reminded me of the 2005 days when he used to bend the ball like Beckham would a football.  His second strike of Perera was perhaps the key moment that won India the match.  Is it the return of Irfan Pathan?  Its too early to say, but if this performance is anything to go by, then he surely is on the right track for a second redemption!    

Its great to see the Indian boys back in action and with the top order firing and bowling unit doing pretty decent, they look all set for the second ODI.  Sri Lanka have a few things to worry about and will be hoping to make a comeback at Colombo. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Episode 20 - Cricket from the Caribbean, Spain and India.

Recorded on 14 and 15 July 2012; Duration 26 minutes.

Description: In the latest episode of Verbal Slogs, there's plenty of cricket from all corners of the world.  Co-host Michael joins the discussion from the Caribbeans and we converse about New Zealand's tour of the Windies.  Special guest and Manchester lad,Jack Marshall (cricket columnist for Sportpulse) previews the big marquee series - England versus South Africa from the canary islands in Spain.  We also pay homage to perhaps the greatest wicket keeper of our generation - Mark Boucher.  In stats class, as usual Michael has some very interesting stats and this time he looks at a cricketing stereotype regarding fielding and shows that India are actually better fielders than Australia.

Panelists - Jack Marshall, Michael Wagener, and Christopher David

If you wish to download the podcast click here. You can also subscribe to it via iTunes or any other podcatchers.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Yuvi in, KP out

The big news is that Yuvraj Singh who is back to cricket after battling with a rare germ cell cancer has been included in India's preliminary squad of 30 for the ICC World Twenty20 later this year.  This is Yuvraj's first inclusion in an Indian squad since last World Cup match in April 2011, when he left the game for treatment in the USA.

The other big names that have caught the eye are Mandeep Singh - the 20 year old Punjabi batsman who made it big in this season of the Indian Premier League has been rewarded with a call to the national team and Ambati Rayudu has also been included after a good domestic season.  This is the first time an ex-ICL player has been recalled to the national team.  The Indian team looks pretty much the same and one of the names I'm happy to see is Harbhajan Singh.  Despite all his antics, he is a match winner and its good to see that BCCI haven't completely discarded him.

Kevin Pietersen has however not mentioned in England's list of 30.  The star English batsman who had earlier retired from the limited overs format had shown interest to coming back and playing for England or doing an 'Afridi' (as people term it) and a comeback was on the cards.  However by declining the services of KP, I just wonder whether the ECB have shot themselves in the foot.  KP is a class act and a star in the T20 format.  His numbers speak volumes for him and he was one of the big reasons England won the World Cup in the Caribbeans.  However with the ECB now having clearly spelled out their stance, I just wonder what new twist awaits this saga.  Maybe he will go the way his mentor, Shane Warne did and become a professional poker player and write a poker blog.

India's Provisional squad: MS Dhoni (capt, wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Umesh Yadav, Ashok Dinda, Ajinkya Rahane, Manoj Tiwary, Rahul Sharma, Vinay Kumar, Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj Singh, Robin Uthappa, Irfan Pathan, Yusuf Pathan, Mandeep Singh, Piyush Chawla, Ravindra Jadeja, Shikhar Dhawan, Ambati Rayudu, Harbhajan Singh, Munaf Patel, Naman Ojha (wk), Dinesh Karthik (wk), Praveen Kumar, L Balaji.

England's Provisional squad: Stuart Broad (capt), James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Gareth Batty, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Scott Borthwick, Tim Bresnan, Danny Briggs, Jos Buttler (wk), Alastair Cook, Steven Croft, Steven Davies (wk), Jade Dernbach, Steven Finn, Alex Hales, Craig Kieswetter (wk), Michael Lumb, Stuart Meaker, Eoin Morgan, Graham Onions, Samit Patel, Matt Prior (wk), Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Graeme Swann, James Taylor, James Tredwell, Chris Woakes, Luke Wright

Monday, July 16, 2012

India - Pakistan to resume rivalry!

The first India - Pakistan bilateral series in over five years is finally all set to happen!  It is just a small series with 3 ODIs and 2 T20s, but the series taking place is big news as India and Pakistan have never been able to see eye to eye ever since the Mumbai terrorist attacks and this is definitely a progressive step not only for India but for both countries.  Whenever these two countries play cricket its always more than cricket and this is one big series that will be watched by keen eyes all over the world.
Something for cricket fans to cheer!
This will be the first time India and Pakistan will play since the World Cup semi-final last year.  The contest takes place this December on Indian soil.

Lt. Col. MS Dhoni will be leading India.
Cricket is once again back between these two great nations and as former Pakistan President General Musharraf hoped, maybe cricket will help in dividing the gap and bring about peace.

Gp Capt. Sachin Tendulkar of the IAF is senior member in the team.
The BCCI has been training the Indian team for sometime expecting such a bi-lateral series and the foreign ministry is confident that under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel MS Dhoni of the Indian Army and Group Captain Sachin Tendulkar of the Indian Air Force (IAF), the Indian team will triumph.  
Dhoni with his sniper rifle at a training camp.
BCCI president, N Srinivasan has said that he is certain of India's success, "After all. don't we have all the big guns?"  PCB Chief Zaka Ashraf is naturally delighted at the Pakistan being invited to play in India and has already started the visa process!  He too is pretty thrilled by his team's chances and said, "We have big Boom Boom Afridi, so we not need to worry about any big guns of India."

However not everyone is please with the reviving of the rivalry and Sunil Gavaskar has slammed the BCCI saying, "India are playing a strong side like England, and with Pakistan also coming here around the same time, they are not going to get a breather between the Test and one-day matches. Players need the time to look after their injuries and get better."  BCCI has replied saying the Indians can nurse their injuries after the Pakistan battle.    

The Big guns of the Indian team!  
I certainly can't wait for this contest, and you can be sure that it will be an all out war when these two teams meet on the field!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A look at Australia's tour of England

Australia have completed their short tour of England which saw the tourists fail woefully in the English conditions.  The tour consisted of a lone ODI against Ireland that was washed out, and five ODIs against England which ended with the home team successfully trouncing the visitors in 4 ODIs with the Birmingham match being washed out.  The rain probably saved the Aussies a 5 - nil whitewash.

The tour was a disaster to say the least and the only matches Australia managed to win were the two tour matches against Leicester and Essex.  The loss is the worst one by an Australian team in 41 years of the ODI history and will be hard to digest.  The humiliation is made harder to digest considering the defeat is against the old enemy.  This is Michael Clarke's first series defeat as the captain of the Australian team and if the performances in this tour are any signs to go by, then Australia and Clarke must play out of their skins to avoid such humiliation being dealt to them in the future.  

The loss must have certainly set off a few alarm bells in Cricket Australia and is a wake up call for the team to analyze themselves where they stand and prepare better for the future.  However Clarke believes it is not so much a wake up call than a reminder which in a way remains true as the alarm bells went off sometime ago during the West Indies tour where Australia managed to hang on by the skin of their teeth.  
"It's a reminder, not a wake-up call. We knew through the Australian summer we weren't playing anywhere near as good a cricket as we needed to be against Sri Lanka and India."                                                                                                    - Michael Clarke 
The Australian ODI team is undergoing a rebuilding phase and there is no denying that it will take time.  However the way the Australian batsmen capitulated to the English swing bowlers shows some gaping holes not only in the technique of a few of the younger batsmen but also their application and shot selections.  The Australian batsman failed miserably and the numbers reflect that.  The batting average for Australia in the series is 25.65 which falls well short of the English batting average of 61.64.  The difference alone, between the two averages is more than the Australian batting average and that is a thing of worry if you are an Aussie fan.

Australia running out of steam?

The Australian bowling also fared no better than their batting managing only to pick up 14 English wickets in the 4 matches.  England won their last three matches chasing and managed to win with comfortable ease, and this doesn't reflect too well again on the bowling.  Of course the batting's inability to put enough runs on the board surely did contribute to the cause, but the Australian attack never did look at any one time threatening and the seniors, Brett Lee and Johnson were a pale shadow of themselves.

The English team is also in a rebuilding phase with the retirement of Kevin Pietersen and this performance has helped a couple of players such as Ravi Bopara, Ian Bell and Kieswetter cement their places.  Can the same be said of the Australian youngsters who had perhaps the best opportunity to make an impact for their team?

Cricket Australia has made it clear that ODI cricket is not a very high priority.  It is concentrating on test cricket and on regaining the Ashes - which is very good, but in the process is ODI cricket being sidelined and their dismal performances not being taken seriously?  That is a question they must ask themselves.  Just wonder if Australia is doing what England did a decade back?  

Lots of questions arise from the series for Australia and this is one tour they would like forget soon as the English tour was all fo(u)r - nothing.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Taibu leaves cricket for higher calling

Tatenda Taibu aged just 29 has announced his retirement from cricket!  The small, lively figure of Zimbabwe who was without any doubt one of their biggest stars in the last decade has decided to concentrate on Church work.  His retirement comes as a huge surprise considering he is just 29 - and probably has some of his best years still ahead of him.

"I just feel that my true calling now lies in doing the Lord's work, and although I am fortunate and proud to have played for my country, the time has come for me to put my entire focus on that part of my life."                                                                                     - Tatenda Taibu - Keeping the Faith!
Taibu's career for Zimbabwe has been a rollercoaster ride - one filled with plenty of highs and downs in the short span of 11 years - and that perhaps reflects the personality that was Taibu.  Taibu was one of those very excited figures on the field and from whom a constant stream of energy flowed out.  He was much like an excited atom, and was one of the most animated figures on the field for Zimbabwe, always running, jumping, shouting encouragements to the bowlers and making sure that there never was a dull moment.

From keeping wickets and batting, becoming one of the youngest players to play for Zimbabwe, to taking the helm as the team's youngest captain, retiring from cricket after threats to family and returning successfully back to it, Taibu has done it all in a short time of just 11 years.  Taibu was named a few days ago in Zimbabwe's preliminary line up for the T20 World Cup later this year, and was certain to play in the tournament.  

Ever since he was selected by the national team at the age of 16, greatness was destined for him.  He hadn't played a single first class game then and had to wait nearly a year to make it to the playing XI.  Taibu made his debut in ODIs coming in to bat at number 10 against the West Indies in 2001 and managed to score a run and remain not out.  The very next month he made his test debut, being selected in place of an absent Andy Flower.  From there on he became an substitute keeper and remained in the team.  He found his spot in the lime light in the 2003 World Cup when he scored 117 runs at an average of 29.25.  The very next year he became Zimbabwe's youngest captain after the board's fallout with some of its senior players and Taibu celebrated the occasion with a 96 against Sri Lanka on his first outing as the skipper.

In 2005 he made perhaps his best contribution of his career when he scored 85* and 153, helping Zimbabwe draw a test match against Bangladesh.  Later the same year he resigned from captaincy and quit international cricket after receiving threats to his family from Zimbabwean cricket officials.  Keeping his cricket dreams alive, he tried moving to South Africa and playing for them, but after two years in exile returned to the Zimbabwean team.  Ever since then, he never looked back despite a few run ins with the Zimbabwean board and managed to play for KKR in the IPL and made a comeback to the international team.

His love for the game was evident and his anguish at the state of cricket in Zimbabwe clear to the public.  Last year, he openly attacked the Zimbabwean Cricket Board - just as it was returning to test cricket after a 6 year exile.

Taibu remains Zimbabwe's fourth highest run scorer in ODIs and is only behind Andy Flower in dismissals affected as a keeper.  While he might not have achieved his full potential, he certainly was one of the gems of the Zimbabwean team and a light that shone as a hope during the turmoil and confusion in the country and the administration of the game.  

There was never a dull moment when this pocket sized dynamite took the field and I always enjoyed watching him bat.  His presence at the crease with the bat was almost a comical sight, but there's nothing funny about it, as more often than not was Zimbabwe's lone saving grace.  Now that Taibu leaves cricket for a higher calling, here's wishing him the best in his service to God.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Boucher requires surgery after freak accident

South Africa's wicket keeper, Mark Boucher was injured in the most freakish way possible as a bail hit his left eye during the practice match against Somerset and now requires immediate surgery.  In the 46th over, Imran Tahir bowled Gemaal Hussain and the bail ricocheted into Boucher's face, damaging his left eye.  He was immediately taken to an ophthalmologist and only after the surgery will the doctors be able to assess the situation and the damage.  

AB de Villiers kept wickets for South Africa after the injury and is likely to continue to be the keeper for the English tour.

Mark Boucher is the most successful wicket keeper in the history of the game with most dismissals to his name.  Praying that the surgery goes well he'll be all right soon.  Wishing him a swift recovery.  Get well soon, Boucher!  

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Enigma that was Ramprakash

Mark Ramprakash, one of the giants of English First Class cricket has finally decided to call it a day and hang up the willow bringing to an end a career spanning over four decades.  He has been one of the prolific cricketers in the English First Class scene and despite all his success, first for Middlesex and later for Surrey, the verdict is still out whether he was really a success.  Sitting back now in his sofa and watching England play South Africa later in the summer, I wonder if Ramps will look back at his career with tremendous pride - which he very well should considering the magnitude of his FC achievements - and joy or rather with a sense of regret at what could have been his career and what he could have been as a player.

Mark Ramprakash at the press conference announcing his retirement
I haven't had the opportunity to watch much of Ramprakash bat and the little I've seen of him has been in the twilight of his career for Surrey.  The first time I saw him bat a few years ago, I thought he was one of the most boring batsmen in the world (giving players such as Shiv Chanderpaul and Johnathan Trott good competition), one who can put coffee to sleep.  However watching closely, one could see great levels of concentrations with his brow low and a technique that was picture perfect.  The sky was overcast and all he did was watch the ball to the keeper, time and time again with the same intensity and every now and then sway out of the line when the ball climbed into him.  It didn't look like he had any intention of scoring runs and he seemed to be playing around and enjoying himself.  Finally he cracked a drive through cover off his front foot in text book fashion and it seemed like the shackles were broken, but it wasn't and he returned to doing what he had been doing for some good half hour - leaving and defending every ball his way.  He finally made his way to a fifty and despite an edge that didn't carry, Ramprakash looked in complete control throughout the innings.  It looked like he had no idea and was struggling in the middle, but the story was far from that.  He was patiently doing what he was supposed to - gather runs for his team.  After that I watched more of him (generally preferred him when he wearing colored because he wasn't as dull as he normally was and took the occasional risk) and was impressed with his steely determination and his ability to play some outstanding strokes when he wished to punish a ball to the boundary. 

Ramprakash walks back for the last time for Surrey
Thinking back now, I can't imagine any reason why this man never made an impact at the very highest level.  What I saw was Ramprakash near the end of his career, well passed his prime and he was more than impressive.  Surely in his prime, he must have been one hell of a force to reckon with!  Steve Waugh writes in his autobiography that he was exceptionally talented and someone the Australians were wary of and respected (perhaps because he performed against them alone).  So talent was never the problem, and earning his test debut at the young age of just 21 years tells us that he was a bright young man, but somehow all that promise and talent never translated into success for the three lions at the test arena.  
"I've been asked many time in recent years about regrets over my England career. You do the best you can at that time. I know I couldn't have trained any harder, I listened to other people and I did the best I could at that time. If you've done that, then you don't look back with any regrets. I went through many ups and downs at international level, but had some highlights."  - Mark Ramprakash 
Ramprakash was probably more talented than most of his team mates in the English team of the late '80s and '90s but that mattered little.  According to reports he valued hard work and surely must have had a good sense of work ethic, but that didn't help him much.  Talent was always there and there was no lack of his natural ability to score.  He was given more than a fair amount of chance and has 52 test caps to his name - a big achievement in itself - yet all he has done in that time is boast a batting average of 27 and half and two centuries.  So the question to be asked is what happened?   How did a man who in First Class has 35,659 runs with 114 centuries and 147 scores of fifty plus at an astounding average of 53.14 next to his name do wrong?   A question easier asked than answered like most questions.

Ramprakash and Karen Hardy with the dancing shoes
The likely answer is that the pressure of playing at the highest level got to him.  It explains why he never was himself when at crease and looked completely rigid and 'stuck' in his movements.  It would also explain why he never was able to convert his numerous starts into a score of notice. But is the answer that simple?  Could nerves have played such a huge role that it completely destroyed Ramprakash's career?  It certainly didn't look like it when he won BBC's 'Strictly Come Dancing' in 2006 scoring a perfect 40 in his final dance.  So what did go wrong?  Was he pushed into International cricket too early or the erratic English selection policies affect his game?  No one knows the answer and the one man likely to know is Ramprakash, and I am sure that even he is oblivious to the answer, left dumbfounded by the question.

Ramprakash isn't the lone man to suffer the fate he did and another talented English man - Graeme Hick suffered the same curse.  A run machine at the county level, but a failure at the international level.  Another player who never attained his full potential.  So here are two men in the same era, who despite having everything and done everything never could get everything.  A mystery if there ever was one in the game.

"He just didn't deliver, that is the bare fact." Former England Captain, Micahel Vaughan. 
We have probably lost not much with Ramprakash's retirement but are left with a sense of loss - a loss of what perhaps could have been.  Perhaps that is the best testament to his career.  Ramprakash has the unfortunate legacy of being forever known as the man who never fulfilled his promise and true potential and despite all his success, is likely to be remembered for his failures.  When future generations who have no idea who this English gentleman is, take a look at his statistics, they are sure to wonder 'What happened to him?' with a bewildered smile as they slowly realize they are looking at the enigma that was Ramprakash.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Book Review: Cardus on Cricket

Sir John Frederick Neville Cardus or better known simply as Neville Cardus is an intimidating and revered name in cricket writing.  Cardus is considered as one of the greatest people to write on the subject of cricket and his erudite style has managed to capture people's attention from the times when cricket was played at a leisurely pace, and batting averages were not much higher than today's bowling averages - a time when cricket was considered nothing more than a simple game.  It was when gentlemen graced the field with their presence and the entire ritual of cricket was a testimony of the English culture and the heralding of the English summer.

Before I review the book, I feel compelled to write just how much I admire Cardus.  One of the treasures in my library is an old dusty book, titled 'English Cricket' which was published just at the close of the second World War.  Neville Cardus beautifully in his lyrical style that pays homage to the great literary prose writers, traces the evolution of English cricket.  Being an English literary student and a cricket fanatic, Cardus' occupies more than an important place in my heart and his writing on the game is something so profoundly 'classy' that it strikes a magical note.

Having beaten around the bush for so long, we'll get down to the book.  Cardus on Cricket is a representative selection of the best of Cardus’s writing on the sport. It contains the imaginative reconstruction of the 1882 England and Australia test match to Cardus’s descriptions of village cricket, and accounts of the great players that Cardus watched play during his time.

From the very first page of the book till the very end, one cannot help but feel admiration at the game that Cardus describes best in his own style.  The summation of 'There can be no summer in this land without cricket' in the prelude sets the tone of his writing and with magical ease he describes the queer game of cricket and all who participate in it.  His observation of the tiniest detail and more so the ability to communicate that small speck in a vividly dashing way is what Cardus' writing is all about.  His narration of what he considers the greatest test match (the 1921 Lord's test between the old enemies) makes you sit up and the hair on your skin stand as he patiently and gracefully takes you through the events of the match.  Its like watching the match being played out through this man's eyes.  From the bearded Doctor WG Grace to the great Indian Prince, Ranjitsinhji to Australian genius Charles Macartney and never heard before names such as Yorkshire's Emmott Robinson come alive in the pages of this book.

Despite being deeply biased towards Yorkshire, Cardus manages to portray cricket in a manner which only he can, bringing alive the passion and stories of the game.  From a literary perspective it is a gem and a good insight into modern day writing which holds much of the classical charm.  For any person, irrelevant whether he knows a thing about cricket or not, this book will remain a treasure.  A must buy for any cricket fanatic and a must read for any lover of fine writing.

The book is available as an ebook and can be purchased at Amazon.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Spanish Way!

Euro 2012 has finally come to an end and we have a deserving champion after nearly a month of football action.  Spain managed to humiliate the Italians in the finals with a clinical 4 - nil win and managed to defend their title as the Champions of Europe.
The Champions of Europe!
Spain is the best football team at the moment and there is no doubt about that.  The team is filled with an overwhelming number of stars that most of them can't even find a place in the team.  The team play football in their unique way which resonates not only professionalism but also a riveting sense of team harmony and chemistry. History books are rewritten with this win and we are in an era where Spain are more than just a team.

The ruthlessness of the Spanish win earlier today, personifies everything about this team.  The Spanish football team is the epitome of a perfect sports team.  They play competitive football with every intention of winning, but at the same time they retain the passion and spirit of sportsmanship.  In a ruthless and arrogant way Spain shrugged away the Italian side, while still making sure to do it with the utmost grace and poise.

Taking the finals, Italy didn't deserve to win and the game was almost good as decided by the first half.  The Spanish way of passing the ball around patiently waiting for a break (the tika - taka method as it is infamously known as) is a sight to behold.  The short, precise passes, the ability to anticipate and calculate the defense's next move, marked with the patient will to bid for their time   makes this team more like a ticking dynamite.  Xavi and Iniesta the two main architects of destruction, co-ordinate the attack with the rest of the star studded mid-field.  The passing has become more than a trademark of the Spanish team and is now more of a psychological weapon.  After going 2 goals down and being reduced to 10 men, Italy gave up hope and they seemed to disintegrate at the task before them and the back and forth passing of the Spanish.

Italy, I feel gave up the fight after a few minutes into the second half, and from then on the question was no longer, 'Will Italy get back in with a goal?' but rather 'When will Spain score another?'  It was sad to see a team such as Italy - who certainly are no pushovers and with some legends in their ranks are more than a good team, but to see that team lose all hope and succumb to the defeat that they did, speaks volumes not only of their under-performance but also of the Spanish quality they were up against.  It was a pity not to see the Romans fight back, but then that is what the Spanish team can do.

Saint Iker Casillas
With the Spanish team, one feels as if time has slowed down, and there is an air of exuberant confidence and grace associated with each play and touch of the ball.  Iker Casillas who now has achieved sainthood is more than just a goalkeeper and a captain.  He is the symbol of the dominant Spanish team that fears nothing and believes nothing is truly impossible.  This unbelievable self-confidence gives them freedom to express themselves best, and express themselves best they do.  Just as freely Casillas initiated a french kiss with the Spanish reporter (Sara Carbonero) who was interviewing him in front of all cameras, the Spanish team similarly exhibit the same amount of passion and freedom on the field.

One of the biggest hallmark of the Spanish team has been its team unity.  Few teams in the history of sports have been able to reciprocate a team so together as Spain has done.  Despite having the biggest names and egos in the world of football and sports, Spain - the team has always come first and the players not only acknowledge that fact but pay homage to it by playing the way they do.  David Villa and Carles Puyol missed the Euros this year, but their absence mattered little and no one even noticed that they were missing.  The English team without Rooney or the Portuguese without Christino Ronaldo lack teeth, but there is nothing of that sort with this Spanish team and that speaks volumes not only of their bench strength (which is more powerful than most teams) but also of the team's ability to come together and cope with setbacks.  Throughout the tournament,   different players have stepped up and performed when needed and the four different names in the scorecard in the finals is perhaps the best personification of the team's non-dependence on any one player alone.  

The tika - taka passing style of Spain that I have praised so much has been criticized by many for being quite boring and even defensive at times.  Spain were least bothered by these allegations and have stuck to it since it has worked for them so well.  However from 2010 and now, there is vast difference in that.  Now the play is a lot more aggressive with a rush of blood every now and then. This evolution has not only made the game faster and more enjoyable but also the Spanish team much more dangerous.

Spanish fans celebrate the victory!
With the 2008 Euro Cup, the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 Euro Cup, Spain have achieved a very unique hat-trick and have certainly established themselves not just as the greatest football team in the modern era but perhaps all time.  The 2014 World Cup is not very far away and it might be the Spanish Armada that sails away with the title yet again.  However that is yet to be seen but the fact remains that they are favorites.  Victory and the Spain are almost synonymous now in football and as Spain celebrates the Spanish way of doing things, here's me saying, "Gracias España para el entretenimiento."