Category Archives: 50 Over cricket

A legacy over a goodbye

Every fan is invested in the career of their favourite players, and I’d rather remember a great legacy like that of Kumar Sangakkara than a grand goodbye like Sachin’s.

I loved watching Brian Lara.

I was upset when Lara retired, not just because he would be no more, but because I felt he went prematurely. He retired in 2006/7, when he was 36, but when I was just 13.

This feeling of being robbed of some sumptuous Lara runs was compounded when contemporaries like Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid, Shiv Chanderpaul and others, continued right until they were 40.

The question of when to go is really a dilemma that bugs fans as well as players.

On the one hand, you want to see your favourite players play on and on, but on the other hand, everyone forges a legacy, that must end at some point.

I remember Lara walking off in his final innings, thinking that he could have carried on, but in recent years, I’ve had to change my view.

His abrupt ending was not right, but at the same time, Sachin Tendulkar’s legacy was arguably tarnished by his decision to play on too long.

He played on until 2013, when he was 40. But he had scored just over 500 runs in his last 15 Tests. He was playing for numbers and records, chasing a nice figures, like getting to 200 Tests, 100 international hundreds, and 15,000 runs.

Like the three bears, if Sachin played too long, Lara was cut off prematurely, one batsman got it just right, and is perhaps the model for future great retirees.

Despite being fifth on the all-time Test run scoring list, Kumar Sangakkara is so often overlooked as a true ‘great’.

But, perhaps one hallmark of greatness, is knowing when to quit.

His exit was slow, starting with International retirement in 2015, done at a time when he could have continued. He scored 1,400runs in 2014, averaging over 70. He left us wanting more.

Despite no more international ambition, unlike Sachin and Brian Lara, after retiring Kumar Sangakkara climbed down to domestic cricket. He scored a thousand First Class runs for Surrey, averaged in the mid-forties in List A cricket, and got through 46 T20s in 2016.

He recognised that retirement is a process that requires the sequential relinquishing of responsibilities.

This week, in an interview with Island Cricket, the Sri Lankan Legend shows no regrets. Speaking about his retirement, he said: “..my mind was made up at that time and I was not going to think of reasons that were quite selfish [to continue].

“..in my view, when you know it is time to go, no matter what is in front of you, you have to make a decision and stick to it..”

He fulfilled his desire to carry on in some capacity, whilst not jeopardising the legacy he’d built up.

Sadly, he has got to the bottom rung of the ladder.

He has just been dropped by his Big Bash League side, the Hobart Hurricanes after scoring just 173 runs at 14.41 without a fifty.

Damian Wright, the coach spoke about dropping Sangakkara, saying it “was comfortably the hardest thing I’ve had to do… because of the quality person that he is”. He says: “You could feel he probably knew it was coming. He was pretty apologetic that he hasn’t gone as well he would have liked it.’”

Retirement might be hard, but remembering a batsman’s retirement is the biggest curse a player can have.

I’ll remember Sachin walking down the steps for the last time, and I’ll remember Lara walking off for the last time. I can’t remember Sanga’s last Test.

He showed no regrets about retirement or bitterness from his decline. He showed no greed to carry on for Sri Lanka, but a hunger to continue in another capacity.

Not being able to remember Sangakkara’s finale is the biggest complement one can pay him.

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Why Test cricket must reclaim its sixes

If Test cricket wants to survive it must claw back its name as a diverse format in which hitting sixes is a vital part of its fabric.

Test cricket has an image problem. It’s image is one of competition with T20, the infant of cricket that’s taking the world by storm.

It has an image problem, because T20 has successfully captured the hearts and minds of young, and indeed older fans as the home of sixes.

People want to see big hits and crashing fours, and will pay big money for it.

This makes the format very lucrative, especially as the games are so short. You can come after work to indulge in a short sharp burst of power.

It draws players towards it, that perhaps would have one day dreamed of playing in whites.

T20 has championed aggressive batting, as crucial to its existence.

The association has become so strong, that as Ben Stokes smashed his way to 258 off just 198 balls, the murmurings on social media was about the influence of T20 on Tests.

Instead of it being seen as a rapid Test innings, some were saying it was fundamentally a T20 knock.

And I’ve heard it before when David Warner has batted like that, or when Chris Gayle or Ab de Villiers have.

It is worrying, because it implies that hitting sixes and batting aggressively is owned by T20. But, Test cricket has been doing it long before T20 was even thought of.

Hitting sixes is as much a part of Test cricket as blocking and leaving is. Some of the greatest opening partnerships ever have been a mixture of aggression and caution; such as Strauss and Trescothick, Gibbs and Smith.

It’s multi-dimensional, and it helps give Tests the subtlety and variance that T20 can lack.

Whether it was Adam Gilchrist down the order, or Sanath Jayasuriya pounding the new ball, Test has always had a place for aggression. They found their niche. It was a strategy, not a necessity.

Most importantly, it was seen as healthy, either as a way to put the side in a strong position or as a way of giving impetus.

Time is rarely a constraint in Test cricket, so the need to bat aggressively is for a purpose.

In T20, batting aggressively is a staple. That’s fine. There is room for both subtlety and brute force within cricket.

The problem, is allowing aggression and caution to precipitate in to T20 and Test.

Big hitting batsmen are becoming associated, or expected to be interested in T20, more than Tests, if not exclusively interested in it. Whilst Test cricket is shepherded onto younger fans and players, as having to compete with T20.

Whether that’s choosing county over IPL bucks, or in a TV revenue sense, the conflict of interest is un-ignorable.

Tests are being shown in both regards as being about playing defensive or ‘boring’ cricket. It’s cricket, minus T20.

One must wonder whether the age of aggression in Tests is over, if some, like Andre Russell and Aaron Finch are unwilling to dip their toe in the pond, and if others like Alex Hales are ignored by their country’s respective selectors for so long.

The horrible question nobody wants to ask, is what would happen if a Kevin Pietersen or Chris Gayle turned up right now?

Would they really, honestly, want to play Test cricket over IPL and Big Bash? It would certainly be a dangling carrot.

Ultimately, if Test cricket starts to lose its aggressive stars, it will lose its subtlety. It will become one dimensional and boring.

If aggression and caution is allowed to separate out into T20 and Test, then Test cricket will become a bland and boring sport that will quickly die out.

 

 

South Africa were a Jacques Kallis away from success

Screenshot 2015-03-26 23.23.15

Whilst it is easy to get caught up in South Africa’s explosive World Cup exit, what the Proteas was an unreliable set of supplementary bowlers, who couldn’t fill the Jacques Kallis gap.

For many years, Jacques Kallis was the star studded batting allrounder.

With over 25,000 International runs and over 60 International hundreds, the focus was always his runs. 

His wickets and catches made a priceless batsman into a formidable allrounder, injecting class and strength into every facet.

Although never prolific as a wicket taker with just 2 five and 2 four wicket halls, his 231 ODI wickets at a miserly average of 31 shows his importance.

The wickets also offered a rest to other senior bowlers, and his spells regularly took wickets, with one coming every 39 balls (6.3 overs) in ODIs. At under 5 runs per over in ODI cricket, Kallis was also control. 

With regular wickets, a solid economy rate, surprising pace, vast experience, and a good way of offering frontline bowlers a rest, he always chipped in somehow.

Despite playing in the Big Bash, and despite retiring from Tests to try to focus on playing in this World Cup, it was ultimately one step too far.

All of a sudden this allrounder was plucked from the South African side, and all the focus was the runs again.

Who would score his mammoth contribution of runs? No worries.

Hashim Amla, AB De Villiers, David Miller and Faf, etc, will surely do. 

In reality, South Africa were very heavily dependent upon their run scorers, because their bowlers did not actually have such a stellar tornament.

During this World Cup South Africa struggled to maintain pressure for 50 overs. There were too many weak links. Too many holes in the pipe that leaked with the ball.

In this world cup, Imran Tahir, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander all contributed, although they were all under pressure.

Imran Tahir’s nine wickets at 21 is close to his ODI career average of 20.51, and Morne Morkel’s 15 wickets at 17 is better than his ODI career average of 23.98.

But, Philander and Steyn in particular struggled. Philander averaged 33.75 which is a whole ten runs more than his career average of 23, and Dale Steyn’s 31 was also higher than 25.

Screenshot 2015-03-26 22.36.15

With frontline seamers struggling, and placing pressure on others, the alternative was to try other options. South Africa’s part timers had to fill in overs. 

JP Duminy took six wickets, including a hat-trick against Sri lanka. But he also went at nearly six runs per over. He was perhaps the best of the replacement-Kallis’s. 

With the exception of Parnell, who played just a single game, only one other supplementary bowler took a wicket (AB de Villiers.. is there anything he can’t do?), and only one other bowler kept their economy rate under six runs per over (Behardien) at 5.81.

Screenshot 2015-03-26 22.27.19

(Columns denote Games, Innings, Overs, Maidens, Runs, Wickets, B/b, Average and Economy.)

Arguably, South Africa’s front line attack of Steyn, Morkel, Philander and Tahir is as powerful as that of Mitchell Johnson and Starc, or New Zealand’s Tim Southee and Trent Boult. 

But, if one of the South African quicks fails, the pressure is piled on, and the attack seems to capitulate. 

If Steyn is not taking wickets, unlike Australia who can bring on a Shane Watson, Glen Maxwell or James Faulkner, South Africa seem to be very thin. 

As a unit, South Africa look fearsome, but they lack that depth all-rounders and range of multi-faceted players. One only has to look at India’s bowling stocks to see this is very valuable. 

There are strong options up front; Ravi Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Mohit Sharma and Umesh Yadav. But, there are also a lot of supplementary bowlers who have a role. Suresh Raina and Ravi Jadeja both bowl at under five runs per over, other bowlers such as Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli are made obsolete as last resort fill ins. 

India have a method. South Africa have a lot of raw energy and hope, but it feels slightly kamikaze and scattergun at times.

Screenshot 2015-03-26 23.13.21

When it comes down to winning, a thin-ish layer of quality cannot cover up for a lack of substance throughout the side as a whole. 

South Africa remain a side with formidable talents, like Amla, De Villiers, Steyn and Morkel. But, if they are competing with similarly talented sides, it is the margins that will win it. 

The Proteas missed that edge that gave them the final inch to get over the line. They are a fine side, with power and pace and hostility, but they were just a Kallis away. 

Afghanistan’s Calypso Cricket must be shelved to progress

‘Everyone loved us, we were the Calypso cricketers – we would do the entertaining and they would win’  –  Mohammed Nabi.  Well actually, the quote is by Deryck Murray, ex-West Indies cricketer, but it could very well be the former.

The ‘calypso cricketers’ of the world, are amicable, popular and fun to watch, but ultimately losers.

Historically attributed to the West Indies before their domination began – the terms represents a side which is given only tokenistic respect out of their trying. But everyone knows that if things got serious, the pressure can be turned on. 

Afghanistan is an emerging force of Associates cricket, but they have also has fought long and hard to be recognised in cricket terms, and not just for their legitimate tale of emerging out of the ashes of a war torn country. 

Afghanistan are also in quite an awkward transitionary period, between being the best of the rest, or the bottom of the elite pile.

This transition is being made during a turbulent time for Associate nations, whereby the World Cup is going to be reduced, and opportunities to play Test playing nations are few and far between. 

The reality for the Afghan side, is that since 2009, they’ve played 51 ODIs, and have won 25, but only 15 of those 51 ODIs have been against Test playing nations. Only three of those games have been wins (against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.)

Their opportunities for exposure are few and far between, and when they do arise, Afghanistan seemingly resort back to their happy go lucky attitude. 

Against non-Test playing nations, they have won 22 out of 36 games, which is well over half. But it is not going to really inform their progress beyond that stage. 

They are comfortable and cruising, until they face tougher opponents.

Since 01 January 2012, Afghanistan have hit a staggering 40 sixes in 12 matches against Test playing nations (3.3 a game), compared to Ireland’s 18 sixes, in 7 games (2.5 a game).

Ireland have hit three hundreds in that period to Afghanistan’s one, and Ireland average more per batsman. 

Ireland are cautious and concise. Afghanistan are kamikaze and gun hoe. 

Screenshot 2015-03-19 22.55.18 This dosn’t mean that Ireland don’t hit sixes of course.

They do. But instead of walking in to the room and shooting in the air at random, they chose their opportunities. 

Kevin O’Brien’s century against England in 2011 was the fastest in World Cup in history, off just 63 balls. But, it was mature and calculated.

It was not slogging the ball up in the air.

Against the U.A.E. Kevin O’Brien, (50 of 25 balls) and Gary Wilson (80 off 69 balls) similarly took Ireland from a position of mire, to victory through precision. It was brutal at times, but it worked. 

Gary Wilson said in post match interview: “I just poked it for one and he [Kevin O’Brien] hits it out of the ground. It was great” There is a plan.

Ireland now have three of the top 10 highest successful run chases in World Cup history: 328 against England in 2011, 307 against the Netherlands in 2011, 305 against the West Indies. And, for good measure, their successful 2015 World Cup chase against the U.A.E. is in the top 15. 

Ireland are intent on at least trying to win. They don’t panic and just try to blast the ball up in the air. That is why people love to watch them. 

Because Associates get such a minimal opportunity, there is no margin for error. As William Porterfield, Ireland’s captain, pointed out in another post match interview against the U.A.E:  “We need fixtures. We’re crying out for that.. We’ve talked about World Cups and they’re four years apart. We’ve played nine games against top-eight teams since 2011. Nine games in four years is nothing really. We need to be playing more.”

Afganistan without a doubt, use sport as a form of expression, but unfortunately there isn’t much room for emotive cricket, if you’re losing.

In a recent article on ESPN Cricinfo, Afghanistan’s Hamid Hassan was said to have came off the ground crying, during a division three match.  He spoke to the Documentary maker Leslie Knott, (Out of the Ashes) who asked him why. Hassan replied: “I have seen people die and I have not shed a tear. But there is something about cricket that gets me here [pointing to his heart]. Cricket is our chance.”

They clearly don’t fear a game of cricket. They certainly don’t fear getting out or getting hit, given the World Cup is scheduled to be reduced to 10 teams, perhaps they do have something to fear. 

Afghanistan’s fearless emotive cricket is certainly exciting to watch but, it is also potentially blinding them to what they really need.

What do they need?

It is somewhat indefinable. How can one go about methodising injecting patience and consistency? Ultimately it is a team that is poorly funded and has increasingly jeopardised opportunities facing quality opposition? It’s not an easy task. Unlike Ireland’s top order, who all have the option of County cricket, which they take up, Afghanistan don’t. 

Afghanistan needs opportunities to build their abilities domestically to play more games Internationally.

Most importantly however, batsmen need to foster a greater sense of collective responsibility to the team. Calypso cricket will never bring them much success beyond being admirable losers. 

VIDEO: AB de Villiers smashes 149 runs off 44 balls

AB de Villiers has smashed the world record for One Day Century in the fewest number of balls.

The number one ranked ODI batsman scored 149 off just 44 balls, reaching his century in just  31 balls.

De Villiers passed the milestone against the West Indies at The Wanderers, coming to the crease when the score was already at 247-1, following a 247-run opening stand between Hashim Amla and Rilee Rossouw. 

Alastair Cook can hold his head high

As we draw closer to the end of the year, Alastair Cook can relax, safe in the knowledge that he has held himself together with dignity, and he has given what was presented to him with his best shot. 

Nobody likes getting sacked. 

He persevered, and did not give up. The cold plain hard facts however, are that he was just not that good at the format. He was being picked as a captain, and not as a batsman, and he was certainly no Mike Brearely. 

Instead of dwelling upon his sacking over Christmas, he can perhaps instead reflect upon the phenomenal achievement of scoring the most Test runs of the 2010’s. 

He has outscored Kumar Sangakkara, Hashim Amla, Ab De Villiers, and many others. It has barely even been registered. 

Screenshot 2014-12-20 00.49.39

It is undeniable that England’s Test captain and leading century scorer has had a torrid time in the last 12 months for a number of reasons, but he can ultimately hold his head with dignity.

He hasn’t blamed others. He hasn’t complained. He hasn’t made excuses. 

However, he has had to be a lapdog. He has had to be a yes man. He has ultimately had to deal with the fallout of a five nil Ashes whitewash, a coach and management changeover, and the departure of Kevin Pietersen this year (in addition to impact of the autobiography.)

You need a strong leader to handle these things, one that isn’t going to boil over. 

It has been a tough ask, but ultimately Cook was too timid. He is a captain that was chosen specifically because he was seen as someone that could be swayed. 

He was not firm enough with regards to dealing with these crises, nor was he a overtly strong on field captain, to compensate for his weakness in handling external situations. 

It would have been a tough ask for Michael Vaughan, or Andrew Strauss, so rest assured, it was a tough ask for Cook. 

On and off the field, he has been subject to change and turbulence that would prevent any cricketer from excelling. Admittedly, some of this turbulence is self inflicted, perhaps due to technical issues whilst batting that has seeped into his mindset. Nevertheless, the captain needs to lead in more than one regard.

Ricky Ponting was not the greatest tactician, but sure as hell he could bat in a One Day game. 

When Cook first took over the captaincy, his ineptitude as a ODI skipper was covered up in part by strong form. Less questions were asked because less questions needed to be asked. 

Since 2010, he has the most Test runs (4769 runs) including 15 hundreds and 18 fifties, in less than 60 Tests. He deserves some credit for that, in addition to the tidal wave of comment about his sacking. He deserves to be acknowledged for the positives that he has contributed. 

As the New Year comes in, Alastair Cook will be popping a bottle of champaign open,  because for the first time in ages, there is not going to be any controversy, 

There are no disruptions in terms of personnel, and he is no longer in charge of the ODI side; which will be a welcome relief. He won’t have the pressure of proving himself in something he is uncomfortable in, nor to prepare for the world cup. 

With the next England test months away, he can in effect, take a break. He can get himself right.

He can finally get back to doing what he does best. 

Scoring a lot of runs for England in whites. 

The cricket world wants Alastair Cook back to his best. 

Someone rescue Alastair Cook before it’s too late.

Alastair Cook is the England captain, and a phenomenal batsman, but the captaincy that he has been saddled with is crushing the team, and him, and its too heavy a price to pay any longer, especially when he just isn’t that special with captaincy.

He is currently being held to ransom. Unable to escape due to the criticism he would come under for shelling it, Cook is waiting for someone to pull the trigger. Cook is putting on a brave face. He is trying to improve his captaincy.

He is trying to cope. But, like an injured animal that tries to get back up; he is just not able too.

One could understand persevering with Alastair Cook as a captain if he was Mike Brearley. But he isn’t. In holding captaincy across Tests and ODI teams, he is placing so much unwarranted pressure on his batting, that it is causing him to fail.

He is holding his primary attribute (his batting) hostage.

As the captaincy causes him to buckle under pressure in the middle, his runs have dried up due to his mind being elsewhere.

As his runs dry up, he can no longer justify his place alone on runs, and in a horribly dynamic fashion, his captaincy comes under even more pressure as a result.

Yet, even through bad form, the talk is not really about dropping him. It is about getting the old Cook back. 

As Test captain, his runs have remained broadly the same as a captain, and as not captain; as he averages around 45. It’s very steady. Taking the captaincy away, may help his batting by allowing him to refocus.

But, the statistics would suggest he can probably do it both ways. Removing the captaincy would be done more to assist the team’s handling, than Cook’s form.

He is a world class player, and needs no lectures on how to bat.

As ODI Captain, he has scored 4 out of his 5 hundreds as captain, albeit not for two years has he actually produced one.

Unfortunately, these runs are in vain, when one considers that In the last two years, both his form has slowly deteriorated, and the team has suffered as his morale has been projected onto the overall unit.

In Tests, since the start of 2013, he has averaged around 33 for both 2013 and 2014, and has just 9 fifties and 2 centuries to his name. In terms of his personal record, it is pedestrian.

As Cook has dropped off, so have England, winning just eight out of their 22 Tests since the start of 2013. Not for one second would I suggest that his bad form is the reason for England’s. There are many many factors as to why; but it certainly would help to have a rock solid opener at the top of the order, that isn’t perpetually thinking about the pressure he is under due to external factors.

In the coloured kit, he has scored just over 900 runs in the last two years in ODI cricket, with just six fifties in 35 innings.

Similarly to the Test arena, just 19 out of 45 ODIs have been won under Cook since the start of 2013,  with just 3 wins in 2014.

Cook is like a really valuable ornament, that is currently being used as a doorstop. A valuable ornament would probably make quite a good doorstop, provided it was heavy.

But, nobody in their right mind would place such a valuable piece in such a potentially damaging position.

Alastair Cook needs to be protected for his primary role. Batting. He is not a dreadful captain, but it is certainly not worth jeopardising his primary attribute for his secondary attribute.

Let’s get him out before it’s too late, especially in One Day cricket. Please.