Tag 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.

Pakistan’s method can’t last in the modern game

Going against the grain of popular opinion is quite a Pakistani cricket ‘thing’, but this current side is actually opposed to having a recipe for success in modern Test cricket.

They’re one-nil up in a series against England but after one-and-a-half Tests, they look shot already. 

This is because the structure of their XI is a little backwards, inflexible and anti-modern.  

In the bowling department they lack options, in the field they lack dynamism, and with the bat, are too heavily reliant on an ageing creaking 42-year old captain and his 38-year old right hand man.

Their side is plagued by rigidity and a lack of options.

They have no allrounders, with Mohamed Hafeez unable to bowl.

Their side is strictly precipitated into bowlers and batsmen, with Wahab Riaz coming in at number eight, giving Pakistan possibly the longest tail in the world.

For some, this isn’t a problem.

Their dysfunction is a crystallisation of Pakistan cricket. And, given their consistent success and production of quality, who can argue in many respects? And, after all, they won at Lord’s. 

But, in truth, their current structure only works if everything clicks, which isn’t every time.

In modern Test cricket, there are higher run rates, lower over rates, flatter pitches and more cricket on the schedule. 

Bowlers are bowling so much more than they were even 10-years ago.

Fatigue and injury has never been more of a factor, and taking catches and fielding in a dynamic fashion to limit run scoring has never been more important. 

This is especially true, because Pakistan are only playing a four man attack. If everyone performs, like at Lord’s, then it it’s not a concern. But more often than not, at least one person won’t perform. Their spinner, Yasir Shah, who took ten wickets in the first Test bowled 54 pedestrian overs at Old Trafford, taking 1-213.

There was not just no plan B, but it didn’t really feel like he had a plan A. England played him very well, because they learned from their mistakes. 

In that respect, whilst it’s true that Pakistan have a lot of quality in their side, and it’s no surprise they won the first Test; it’s also no surprise to now see them faltering.

They are showing signs of tiredness and a lack of enthusiasm. They are running out of ideas, and aren’t able to innovate when things go wrong. 

Compared to England, who have a young top order, bat right down to number 10, with four seam options and a spinner, Pakistan look ominously lagging in depth.

They struck the first blow at Lord’s’, but it seems that in doing so, they used all their gas up. 

England can now overtake them.

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.

England’s approach to building a team is the problem

England’s problem is not just who they’re picking – but the fundamental approach they have to building a balanced side. 

The malaise of English cricket in the last 12 months stems from a culture of short term fixes for fundamental problems. 

A lack of reliability has resulted from players not knowing how to play in a particular situation, because they haven’t been there before.

The problems are, as everyone is all too aware, at the top of the order both with a lack of opener and number three, in the lower-middle order at five, six, and seven, and in the spin department. 

They are underlying issues. A hangover of a poorly managed transition after a spree of retirements and sackings.

Starting with Andrew Strauss’s departure in 2012, Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott, Graeme Swann, Matt Prior, and two coaches, have all not been properly replaced.

England have gone for quick fixes, over long term solutions. 

Whilst successes are clear, namely; Alastair Cook, Joe Root, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, the failures are too big to be compensated for, by this. 

Even when England have won in this period, they have done so due to the successes of those major players, in spite of lacking of support from others.

In the Ashes of 2015, only two English centuries were scored, both by Joe Root. The reason England won, is because Australia were arguably poorer.

Despite scoring three centuries – the Aussie side imploding after the second Test cost them the series’, ultimately.

England lost against Pakistan, because their brand of cricket was not sufficient to beat an opposition playing well.

The refusal to acknowledge a problem with Ian Bell, who averaged 33, 41, 34 and 25 in the last four years, offers an insight into why England as a whole are not performing as strongly, and are only able to win when others play equally poorly. 

It seems there is always one more chance for Ian Bell. Despite just 215 runs in the five Tests in the Ashes, Bell was selected for Pakistan, and only today, England coach Trevor Bayliss said: “”Ian has obviously got a lot of experience which the team needs at this stage”, in a hint that he will be included for South Africa. 

Why is it that Ian Bell, will carry on playing despite a clear decline in form over four years, but the plethora of openers, for example, are not afforded chances.

Are established players ‘too big to fail’, or are incoming players just not worth working on?

Finding an opener has not been hard, they just haven’t been good enough.

But at the same time, Nick Compton and Michael Carberry were not more reputable than the Sam Robson or Adam Lyth. They all scored the required domestic runs to make the grade. They  couldn’t step up, so were scrapped.

The problem at the top of the order is presented as a running problem, but an independent one. But, it is directly linked linked to the issues in the lower order. 

Having an aggressive lower middle order is fine, if the top order is firing, and if they know how to play in that situation.

But Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow consistently coming to the crease after early wickets have fallen is not ideal.

At best, it’s not fair, and at worst, it is jeopardising their international futures, by undermining their roles from the word go. 

In the U.A.E, like in the Ashes, only one batsman produced a century. Pakistan scored five, in three Tests. 

Moeen Ali scored just 84 runs on the tour as a makeshift opener, whilst Ian Bell hit just one fifty at number three. 

As these lack of runs exposed the middle order, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes averaged 22 and 14, and Jos Buttler just 8.5. 

Now of course, they do have to take responsibility. I’m not seeking to absolve them of that. 

But at the same time, they are thrust into unfamiliar positions, exposed to harsh conditions, and then scalded as the problem when they fail. Whilst Bell is penned in for South Africa, Buttler was dropped. 

It’s hardly a good process to blood new players, and ensure they flourish in the future.

England’s problems may stem from unresolved crises of the past, but they have been exacerbated by an unwillingness to solve them.

A policy of unconditionally backing established players has been adopted, at the cost of new and fresher players, who are seen as disposable. They can be exposed to unfamiliar situations, and conditions, and if they fail to step up, just chuck them out. 

This is an unsustainable approach and needs to be fixed with a more holistic and permanent solution. England’s problems are linked together, and cannot be solved by just reshuffling the pack every single series.

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.