Category Archives: Test Cricket

Younis Khan: The most underrated great

Younis Khan’s retirement will see one of the last true greats of the last 20-years leave the game, and perhaps the most undervalued and underrated.

Pakistan’s leading Test run-scorer is rarely mentioned in the company of other legends, unfairly.

He’s not got the flair of Brian Lara, so he doesn’t get bums on seats.

He doesn’t have the signature shots of Ricky Ponting, that make you watch hours of footage.

Nor does he have the technique of Rahul Dravid, that coaches study to pass on to the next generation.

Younis is scrappy, hap-hazard, and unorthodox. But what got him through so many innings has been his mind.

His feet might not have been moving.

Maybe he played a missed a few times.

Maybe he nearly ran three of his partners out in a twenty minute period.

It didn’t matter. Push through, and if there’s a landmark to reach, it’s all the more frustrating for a fielding side when he gets there, having given chances.

In some respects, Younis’s game-plan was to lure oppositions into a false sense of security.

He made them think that they could get him out because of the holes in his technique.

It was a clever ploy, and allowed him to be the perfect decoy to other Pakistani greats who were more flamboyant, or perhaps technically sound.

At one end, you had Younis jumping around and flapping outside off stump, and the other end, such greats like Mohammed Yousuf, caressing the ball effortlessly, or Inzamam Ul Haq, and in more recent times, Misbah, crashing the ball to the boundary.

He is the scrappy supplement to aesthetically pleasing batting, but this isn’t meant to be patronising. Nor, is it meant to imply he only had success because of others.

Ahead of the West Indies series, he averages 53 in over 115 Tests, which is phenomenal. Indeed it’s ’s a higher average than Inzamam (50) and Yousuf (52).

Currently, he stands on 9977 Test runs, which means bar a rotten series’, he should become the first Pakistani to reach the historic 10,000 mark.

Younis will also go down as having an exceptional conversion rate and therefore reliability. He scored 34 centuries and 32 fifties. Not many batsmen retire with more hundreds than fifties. Sachin had 51 tons to 68 fifties, Kallis 45 to 58, 41 to 62, and so on. But not only that, on 19 occasions his tons have been in a wining cause.

He scores important runs, and no more so was this apparent in the U.A.E, away from home. In 27 Tests in the U.A.E. Younis cracked 11 centuries and seven fifties.

Oh, and he scored a ton in 11 countries, which is an incredible feat.

All-in-all, Pakistan are going to lose a character.

They are going to lose their leading run scorer, possibly their best ever and most reliable performer.

He, alongside Misbah, will leave a gaping hole in the side, and for international cricket, one of the last true modern greats of a generation will depart.

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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.

Let’s stop this race to the bottom

If poor quality cricket is seen as more entertaining then good quality cricket, then all that will happen is the degradation of the sport.

Last week two Tests concluded.

Australia lost to South Africa, after being humiliatingly bowled out for just 85 in 32.5 overs.

England drew with India, after two mammoth totals were unable to separate the teams.

If a martian landed on earth, and had the option of watching cricket for the very first time, I have little doubt which they’d chose.

They chose the calamitous collapse down under, not the hard grind in the sub-continent.

Fortunately, Test cricket’s popularity is not determined by extra-terrestrial beings, but by fans of the sport.

In the concluding day of these two test matches, a martian seems to have written an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald however.

This particular being, known locally as ‘Malcolm Knox’, claims that “While Australia destroy themselves, England destroy the game”.

He writes in his article, “…while Australia are lambasted for playing their own way, a feckless younger generation putting entertainment ahead of survival, Cook cruises like a stately zeppelin towards his fifth Test century in India, more than any other visitor.

As he did so, televisions were switched off across the subcontinent, and left on only in places where the only alternative was to look at the rain”.

His logic, is: ‘Sure Australia were bad, but at least people watched it’. It’s is the kind of lowering of standards, that does long term damage. It’s the kind of attitude that encourages people to say “what’s the point of Test cricket..”

What’s more, India and Australia have fairly similar win records at home. The difference, is Australia lose a lot more, because they are more gung-ho, or perhaps more willing to take risks.

Since 2007, when a number of Australian greats retired and the IPL was set up, India and Australia have fairly similar records for home test wins.

Out of 52 home Tests in Australia since, 33 have produced home wins (63%). India have won 28 out of 45 home Tests (62%).

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India’s home record since January 2007

The difference, is Australia have lost 10 Tests, India have lost four.

Australia think results are key. 82% of home Tests have produced definitive results. Yet, India know how to draw. They have produced 13 of them (28%).

Malcolm Knox may consider a draw to be ‘boring’, but one needs to look at the bigger picture.

Most teams would rather draw in the short term to win in the longer term. You’d rather be 0-0 in a series than 1-0 down. Right?

If a batsman, or a team is capable of holding out, then fair play to them. Right?

England, and indeed Alastair Cook, certainly showed this during his 235* at the Gabba, Malcolm?

This simplistic view that Test cricket must produce results or else it’s boring, is exactly the type of attitude that will kill the game. It’s selling the game’s soul for a cheap illusion that it’s exciting.

The entire point of Test cricket, is that it tests you. It’s supposed to be an endurance race. A long game, and sometimes, an indecisive dead-heat. Indeed, some of the best Tests ever seen have been draws.

Sometimes it can be frustrating to watch Alastair Cook.

But, he did exactly what was required of him, leading a side that just slipped up against Bangladesh.

They served a moral victory in many respects.

Whilst every team wants to win matches, forcing results for the sake of it, and branding it ‘entertainment’, is a lowering of everyone’s standards.

It’s a race to the bottom that Test cricket just doesn’t need.

Why England should beat a wounded South Africa

If England cannot beat a bruised South Africa, we will be able to see just how far behind they are against the world’s best team.

Despite a disappointing 2015 for the Proteas, major similarities still exist between the two sides.

Out of the seven Tests South Africa have played this year, they have only managed to win one, versus the West Indies.

More pressingly, the main reason for this is a lack of top order runs.

In 2015, only one Test century has been scored by a South African batsman, Ab de Villiers. The star man is languishing at number 38 on the international Test runs list for the year.

Whatever the averages on paper, it’s just not sufficient to maintain their space on the rankings.

South Africa have lost many players due to retirement and injury over the last few years, and this has placed a huge burden on de Villiers and captain, Hashim Amla.

It’s clear they are struggling, but is their position strong enough to overcome England?

In some respects, the same issues exist for England, but in a different way.

There is an over-reliance on two key batsmen for the touring side, but unlike the South Africans, these two have hit form, so the issue has not been as exposed.

Over the last year, the world’s top two run-scorers have been England’s Alastair Cook (averaging 59) and Joe Root (averaging 61).

Contributions from elsewhere have been few and far between, with the only other centuries coming from Adam Lyth and Ian Bell (both dropped), Gary Ballance (unsure as to whether he’ll play) and Ben Stokes.

So in the touring party, it really is two batsman from either side pulling the weight.

If England want to win they must press South Africa’s major pressure points, better than South Africa do to England.

South Africa, unlike England, don’t have a weight of runs behind them, and the introduction of inexperienced players will exacerbate this problem.

South Africa have uncharacteristically selected a lot of new faces. These include Dane Piedt, Rilee Rossouw, Stiaan van Zyl, Temba Bavuma, Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abbott and Dean Elgar. None have played England.

Of course, England have selected new faces too. But they have played South Africa before, or at least, have had experience and some success in Test cricket before.

James Taylor and Jonny Bairstow, have faced the South Africans, whilst Nick Compton, Garry Ballance and Moeen Ali, are all in their mid to late 20s, with some Test success.

England and South Africa are both in no means good form. They both lost their immediate last series. In many regards, they face similar challenges, but the home side are feeling it more acutely.

Without runs on the board, the two sides’ bowling attacks; which have a mix of experience and pacey youth, will be under more pressure.

Whoever gets more runs on the board will give their bowlers a greater opportunity to have an impact towards winning Tests.

This could be England’s best chance to overturn the South Africans at home for a decade.

The Proteas side may have the advantage of reputation and playing at home, but England are about to play a wounded beast, and they really should win.

If they can’t overcome them, it will show that even a resurgent England cannot beat a weakened and bruised South African side, which goes some way to highlighting the gap in quality between the two.

India must find balance between home advantage and good Test cricket

India’s use of home advantage isn’t unfair, but it does produce one-dimensional and turgid cricket that nobody would want to watch. 

If Test cricket is to survive, it must be embraced by India, in such a way that makes people want to watch it. 

The most recent series between India and South Africa, blunted the Proteas usually explosive batsmen.

On the one hand, it was a brilliant assertion of Indian home advantage, as India won 3-0. But it also turned me off watching.

As a neutral, I found the cricket as I would expect too.

A little bit predictable, almost scripted, and very dry.

It was a series, engineered to be dominated by certain players.

Spinners, and by Indian batsmen who can play spin.

Neither of these facets, South Africa have in abundance.

When sides tour England, the pitches help seam bowlers and batsmen who can leave the ball.

There is, one cannot stress enough, nothing wrong with preparing pitches to suit a home side. 

But, there has to be a contest generated, or else it stops being entertainment, and begins to be a foregone conclusion. 

In the most recent series’, of the top six run scorers, five were Indians.

Only two South African fifties were scored in the duration (both by Ab de Villiers), with only one South African averaging over 30 (again, Ab de Villiers).

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The top two wicket-takers in the series, were the Indian spin twins Ravi Ashwin and Jadeja taking 31 and 23 wickets.

Nobody else in the Indian attack passed seven wickets.

Following the 3-0 victory, India should have been triumphant. But, all the conjecture was about the pitches.

Not necessarily because they were ‘bad pitches’, but because it produced boring cricket. 

In the first Test, both sides made a turning pitch look a lot worse than it was. Four low-scoring innings of 201, 184 200 and 109 suggest an inability to play the surface, as the match finished in three days. 

The second Test was of course washed out.

The third Test at Nagpur however, was rated as a ‘poor’ pitch by the ICC, whilst the final Test produced a block-a-thon.

In that final Test, in the fourth innings, Amla scored 25 off 244 balls, De Villiers 43 off 297, with the overall team going at under one run per over for 143 overs.

When asked about the state of Indian pitches during the series’, Indian spinner Amit Mishra said: “We also get seaming pitches when we go out of India. We also adjust. We don’t complain. They need to adjust.”

To an extent, he is right. But on the other hand, he is also missing the point: The brand of cricket these pitches produce is exceptionally negative.

No pitch curator would dream of creating such a surface for a T20 or ODI match, in which there is a desire to produce exciting cricket. 

The droll cricket in this series may be something one can appreciate. Especially if you’re sitting behind a screen looking at a scorecard years down the line, admiring the resilience of AB de Villiers.

But in reality, every cricket fan hopes that a block-a-thon, never happens if you’re in the ground yourself.

I would certainly be angry if I turned up at Lord’s and saw 143 runs in 143 overs. 

India need to find that balance between home advantage and producing good cricket.

At the moment, they are experts at the former, and failing miserably at the latter.

 

On This Day: Glenn McGrath

Screenshot 2015-02-09 23.47.50On this day in 1970, arguably one of the best ever seam bowlers is born, Glenn McGrath.

Now, he didn’t have the sheer raw pace of Brett Lee, nor was he someone that got bounce and movement like Malcolm Marshall. Infact, if you didn’t see his statistical record, you may think ‘what is all the fuss about?’

In truth, Glenn McGrath was one of the best, because he mastered the basics the best.

As a young cricketer, you’re told to hit the top of off stump. 

That is what he took through his entire career, taking 563 Test wickets, not to mention his stellar limited overs career, taking 381 wickets, at an average of 21 and 22 respectively. 

As an Englishman, the day McGrath retired, was the day I breathed a sigh of relief. 

But in truth, I loved watching his skill control, and he remains one of the key factors as to why I play cricket. 

Here are some of my favourite clips of Glenn McGrath:

Nobody can forget his 5-21 against England at Lord’s in 2005

Known for being exceptionally poor with the bat when he started off, his batting became somewhat of a cult. 

He will primarily of course be remembered for his outstanding bowling, but his fifty against New Zealand will also rank very highly. 

And THAT catch of course…

Why Kumar Sangakkara is very good, but not a great

Kumar Sangakkara’s astonishing statistical record has often led people to attribute him to be a true great of the game. At closer inspection he has not had as tough a route as others, and this title needs reconsideration. 

Before you quit this post because you love watching Sangakkara so much, let’s get a few things straight.

He is cricket as an art form.

I love watching him, and he is certainly in my top one favourite batsmen ever. 

Nobody disputes he is an exceptional talent, with longevity, class and ability, but there is certainly a case that two of his major his flaws been glossed over because of how good he is to watch.

Let’s take a look. 

Sangakkara has done it all. His Test average is nearly 60 (58.66), he has over 12200 Test runs, 38 Test hundreds and 51 Test fifties. This has all been done over the course of 130 Tests, and he is also the fasted batsman, in terms of innings, EVER, to reach 12000 runs, which is an achievement that he reached in 23 innings fewer than Sachin Tendulkar, as you can see below.

He is pretty damn good at batting.

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So, I’m guessing your now thinking how an earth can this man seriously be brought down.. 

Sub-Continental runs are not less valuable than runs outside, but Kumar Sangakkara has got a notoriously Sub-Continent heavy record.

It is an undeniable fact.

Sangakkara has scored 30 of his 38 Test hundreds in Asia (75%). He has scored 9158 of his 12203 Test runs (75%) in Asia.  

Compared to two other sub-continental greats, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, no number of velvety Sangakkara cover drives can make up for the disparity in consistency. 

Sachin, by comparison, of course played more Tests, with 200. But he scored 33 of his 51 Test tons in Asia (64%), which is much better than Sangakkara. Dravid had a better record too, with 22 of his 36 Test tons (61%) in Asia, and 7370 Test runs in Asia (55%), which is again better.

So yes, Sangakkara did get to 12000 the quickest, but he also scored a lot more runs in conditions which were more favourable to him.

In non-Sub-Continental conditions, Sanga has had much more limited success. In South Africa he averages 35, in the Caribbean just 34, and in England 41. This does not extend to Australia and New Zealand, where he has averaged over 60. 

It is clear, that Sangakkara, at least compared to the two other Asian ‘greats’ has a poorer record outside of Asia, and heavily relies on conditions closer to home. 

For that reason, he is not a great, because his record has been vastly inflated.

The only real other chink in Sangakkara’s record is the fact that he scored a lot of runs against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, compared to his closest contemporaries. 

Sangakkara’s seven centuries against Bangladesh,  including 1816 runs vastly outweighs his closest rivals, and this also further inflates his record. 

Bangladesh are not very good at Test cricket. In their history, they have won seven games, all against the West Indies and Zimbabwe.

Sangakkara’s seven centuries constitute 18% of his overall career Test centuries and 14% of his runs, and they don’t reflect a true great, when considered with the previous angle of having a poor non-subcontinental record. 

Versus Bangladesh, Sangakkara’s contemporaries for greatness, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis scored 1957 runs combined. This is only marginally more than Sangakkara did alone, and echoes just how significant Bangladeshi runs are for the Sri Lankan number three, and for Sri Lanka as a Test team as a whole. They clearly play them a lot.

Ponting scored just 6% of his 13378 Test runs against Bangladesh, with Sachin Tendulkar (5%), Rahul Dravid ( 4%) and Jacques Kallis (2%) all taking a much more arduous route to the top.

Now of course, a player can only score centuries against who they play.

Not for one moment would anybody criticise Sangakkara for scoring those runs.

But his nine centuries versus Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in 20 Tests he played against them, causes his average to shoot up from 53.83 to 58.66. 

The threshold for greatness must be high, and this must be taken into consideration. 

Can he seriously be considered a great when he has ultimately filled his boots against a very poor opposition to prop up his figures?

Can he really be called a great when he has relied so heavily on conditions that are so familiar to him? Perhaps there is an argument that he shouldn’t be. 

Of course statistics are not everything. 

Players are considered greats for a plethora of reasons.

Don Bradman is considered the best for his average and his consistency.

Brian Lara for his spark, and for twice breaking the world record highest test score.

Sangakkara is seen as a great by many because he makes batting look sexy and easy. He is a joy to watch, and he always goes big, with 11 double centuries to his name , which is second top.

Without a doubt, Sangakkara will be viewed as an incredible batsman, and probably the best Sri Lankan, after Murali.

He plays every shot, he can bat in every style in every format, and he is a very cool and classy head. But great? His reliance on runs versus vulnerable opposition in conditions that benefit him will differentiate him from those that were able to do it against everyone, everywhere.

To prove this is *nothing* personal against you Sanga, here is my an awesome video.