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. 

ON THIS DAY: Boom Boom Afridi !

On this day in 1980, Shahid Afridi was born, allegedly with perfect facial hair and golden highlights. Alright, that last part might not be true..

Famous for his big hitting, and his regular retirement, the Pakistani allrounder is idolised at home. 

His first International knock was a 37 ball century, and he has built a reputation as an unreliable albeit thrilling ‘biffer’ since then.

Afridi has often been typecast as a slogger, with his bowling is often omitted from his profile.

In truth, especially nearing the end of his career, Afrid’s bowling is his strong suit, with 393 ODI wickets, which is a considerable achievement.

In addition to smashing a 37 ball hundred in his first ODI innings, he took 5 wickets on Test debut.

ON THIS DAY: Sachin’s 200 in an ODI

Screenshot 2015-02-23 23.50.05On this day in 2010, Sachin Tendulkar broke a world record, just for a change, by becoming the first batsman in history to hit 200 in a 50 over International.

The little master’s record broke one that stood for 13 years, jointly held by Charles Coventry of Zimbabwe, and the silky smooth Saeed Anwar. 

Sachin’s 200 came up in just 147 balls, and helped India to beat South Africa by 153 runs.

Dale Steyn conceded 89 runs off his 10 overs, and not even an Ab de Villiers century was enough to save the game.

Despite breaking a long term record, Sachin has since lost his record, and the 200 mark has been surpassed three times more, including a 250 from Rohit Sharma.

In spite of this, Almost exactly a year later, Sachin would be held aloft by his team mates, winning the World Cup in glorious style. This was a building block to one of the best limited overs sides in history.