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Archive for March, 2010

Previous Performances: 2007 –  Super 8’s               2009 – Super 8’s

Group – D with West Indies and Ireland

Form (recent first) LWLWNNLWLW.  Which quite neatly sums up England in this format.  They have neither lost or won more than one game in a row since the start of the last World Cup.

Odds – 12/1

Captain – Paul Collingwood

Key player – Man of the moment Graeme Swann just keeps going.  With spin expected to play a major part in the tournament, England will be looking to him as an attacking threat rather than someone who will keep an end tight.  Also offers some handy lower order hitting, and England would do well to nudge him up the order a couple of places.

Strength – Everything finally appears to be coming together.  The bowling attack is showing promise of devloping into a good unit, and they probably have the deepest batting line up in the tournament.  England also now have an athletic fielding outfit which will be the envy of most sides, and have somehow ended up in far and away the easiest group.

Weakness – After 16 goes, they are yet to find anything like a decent opening partnership.   So much relies on Collingwood, Pietersen and Morgan finding the boundary that if any of those three have a poor tournament England will struggle to post the really imposing totals.

Can they win it?

Prediction – Super 8’s.  England are better, but still not quite good enough.

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OK, so this was going to be an IPL rant.  Two things have changed that – firstly, it seems quite easy to have a pop at it.  Instead of “tea breaks” there are “Time Outs” and “DLF Maximums” have replaced well run twos.  Finding fault with that is just too damn easy.  Secondly, I have actually quite enjoyed the bits of it I have seen.  Granted, it is the “American Pie” to test match crickets “Shawshank Redemption”, but if you treat it as such it can be a decent couple of hours of fun.   Here are the best bits so far:

 Jaques Kallis

 When I saw VVS Laxman playing ugly hoick after ugly hoick, I wanted to cry.  It felt like watching “Dumbo” when the circus director makes the baby elephant become a clown – “he can do so much more than that!” I wanted to scream at the television.  It was distinctly uncomfortable viewing.

Yet, on the flip side was Jacques Kallis.  Now, big Jacques is hardly the most popular man in world cricket.  But watching him manoeuvre the all around in this format has been one of the great pleasures so far.  Normally, to watch a Kallis masterclass you have to sacrifice 10 hours of your life.  Now, we can watch him knock up leisurely 80 in a lunch break.  Suddenly, a guy dropped from the national side for batting too slowly 3 years ago has become the best player in the IPL.  Apparently, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

 The Mongoose

 Not for the alleged big hitting that it now gives him.  Imagine a troll who has had his club removed and replaced with a bunch of flowers, and that is a pretty good representation of how big Haydos looks grasping his mini bat.  It is almost impossible to take him seriously, even when he is hoofing the ball into orbit.  Surely 10 extra metres and a zero on the end of his paycheck isn’t worth this?

 Cut Down to Size

 Exhibit A – Shane Warne sees his star-studded side get thumped everywhere by a vicious Yusuf Pathan.  Never one to go over the top, Warne casually calls it the best innings he has ever seen. 

Exhibit B – Days later, someone bowls a bouncer at him and realises he doesn’t have a clue what is going on.  Not many players get the opportunity to get tall flower syndrome in the IPL – watching a player get built up then quickly knocked down is the basis of English sport as a whole, which may be why it strikes such a chord.

 Typical England

 England players love to give their selectors a headache.  Outcasts Ravi Bopara and Owais Shah have bashed the ball around with gay abandon, looking for all the world like seasoned pros.  Meanwhile, amongst the players who actually might get a game for England, Michael Lumb has looked out of his depth, Mascerenhas is now injured, and Eoin Morgan has done a bit of general fielding before watching everyone else have a bat.  Allegedly, Graham Napier is with a franchise too, although I refuse to actually believe this.  No wonder Andy Flower is losing his hair.

 The TV Coverage

 Wherever it is, it is of course horrendous.  Yet bear with it, and it is horrendously brilliant.  In India, Ravi Shastri does an excellent turn as the slightly unhinged uncle, while Robin Jackman waxes lyrical about the state of the outfield to anyone who will listen.  Back in England, awkward looking presenters talk to even more awkward looking studio guests.  The best bit of analysis so far?  Clive Lloyd suggesting that the Royal Challengers were “in a strong position to win this game” against the Royals.  At the time, Bangalore needed 8 runs to win from 11 overs with 10 wickets in hand.  Thank God for the ex-pros to keep us mere mortals informed! 

 Super Overs

 For the man who is bored by the middle overs of a T20, although admittedly with all the fussing around with field changes, interviews and bat changes a One1 seems to take about an hour to complete.  Most hilariously, both sides actually struggled to see out the over.  Dumbing down cricket?  Probably.  Great fun?  Certainly.

 Mixing it Up

 What makes the Premier League boring is the brain-numbing inevitability of it all.  Man United or Chelsea will win, maybe Aresnal or Liverpool will challenge if they mess up.  The IPL has no such problem.  Rajasthan have gone from champions to laughing stocks in two short seasons. Meanwhile, the Knight Riders have gone the other way.  The best reason anyone can come up with for this?  Why, the fact that they have changed their kits of course.  Ah, sod it – you’ve got to love the IPL.

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A couple of things have come up today as I wait for England to flap unconvincingly towards victory.

The first is poor old Pudsey, who has been sent home a whole day early from the England.  If that doesn’t make his winter, I am not sure what will.  And get this – the news is that he has gone home so that he can get his elbow fixed before going on holiday.  Ha!  What pray tell has he been on for the last 6 months?

The second is not quite as funny.  A new article on Graeme Swann is up on cricinfo by Peter Roebuck, and it is not a bad read.  Now, the history of Roebuck and his popularity among old county colleagues is fairly well-known, but I usually make time to read his articles as he does tend to, rightly or wrongly, provoke debate.  However, today threw up an interesting issue.  Roebuck stated;

“Of course, nowadays archetypes are not so easily outlined. Much can be told from the comedies shown on television and the novels appearing in bookshops. England has become a far more cosmopolitan society. Nationalists argue that the diversity is the very cause of the decline. Patriots suggest it is a deterioration, the inevitable result of the tiredness caused by social upheaval, world wars and a long period of high achievement and attendant pressure. Optimists like your correspondent are convinced that the fightback will be led by these new communities who arrive seeking opportunity and ready to roll up their sleeves.”

Which I have to say I very much agree with.  Yet read http://www.cricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/422153.html, published just 6 months ago, and it tells a different story.  Far be it from me to turn into some form of sporting Inspector Morse, but I would be genuinely interested to know why his opinion has changed.  I found some comments in that article, particularly the ones that suggested that Monty Panesar and Ravi Bopara could not be counted as proper products of English cricket, to be a little out of line.  Clearly that opinion has changed, and I am delighted to see that.  A follow-up article on why would be interesting reading though.

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Previous Performances: 2007 –  Super 8’s               2009 – R1

Group – A with Australia and Pakistan

Form (recent first) – LLLLLLLLLL.  Hmmm. 

Odds – 80/1

Captain – Shakib-Al-Hasan

Key player – As important as skipper Shakib is, without a decent contribution from Tamim Iqbal it will all probably be irrelevent.  On merit, Tamim is considered one of the most brutal batsmen in world cricket.  The Tigers will need him to get going at the top of the order to make sure that they have a score that can be defended by their wide selection of wily spinners.

Strength – Their sheer inexperience leaves them pretty much fearless, and this has led to them shocking everyone (bar, rather inexplicably, England) at some point.  They have the indivduals to cause upsets, of that there is no doubt.  Although they will be unfancied to qualify for the Super 8’s, the match against Pakistan ought to be the game of the 1st Round.

Weakness – Seamers.   If someone takes a liking to the spin attck, and Australia and Pakistan are filled with players who are capable of doing just that, there is no Plan B.  Their fielding also lurches between fair and downright awful, which tends to be shown up even more in the shortest form of the game.

Can they win it?

Prediciton – First round.  In fairness, they have every chance of knocking over Pakistan, but I will sit on the fence and call a narrow loss to them to go with a thumping from Australia.

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A rather unexpected realisation dawned on me at the end of last week.  I actually quite like Kevin Pietersen.

I know this is a quite uncool thing for a fully grown adult to say.  Adults who love KP are generally wallies who bat with a Woodworm in village cricket and still think Nasser Hussain is England captain.  He is full of traits uncommon to international cricketers – he is brash, he is cocky,he is media savvy – and generally I am suspicious of that.  To cap it off, he is good friends with Piers Morgan.   I should hate Kevin Pietersen.

Yet, when he played that putrid shot on 99, I could not help feeling sorry for him.  In fact, it was more than that.  He was so near, and yet so far from banishing his demons.  The poor bloke looked like he was going to cry.  I have not felt that devastated for an England cricketer since Paul Collingwood missed out on what I was sure would be his only chance of a test hundred in Pakistan in 2005.  Incidently, Colly notched up his 10th century in the same innings that Pietersen fell so agonizingly short, which doesn’t say much for my predicting skills. 

Pietersen must be the most misunderstood cricketer of his generation.  Yes, he was pushed from the captaincy, and yes, what he did was wrong, but people tend to forget that he was trying to encourage some much-needed improvement in English cricket.  Far a time, England were a bit of a rabble.  You half expected them to come out in twos and threes after tea, a couple of them stubbing out their post-feed cigarettes on the outfield.  Pietersen wanted to shake that up, and events since he was dismissed have proved him to be pretty much bang on the money. 

Whatever he does, he cannot win.  He is the hardest trainer in the side, and this seems to be yet more proof that he is aloof.  He is one of the few men to actually successfully create their own shot, and we label him a showpony.  I have never heard a single word from an England teammate criticising him, yet he is labelled a bad influence on team unity.

It is easy to call Pietersen a big head, and assume that he thinks himself the best player in the world.  For me, there is a subtle difference – he wants to be the best player in the world.  When he needs, it he asks for help – just witness him picking the brains of Rahul Dravid and Andy Flower last week.  In the days of player burnout, and certain individuals choosing the easier more lucrative T20 format, Pietersen openly admits to “enjoying” training and fitness work.  Now, isn’t that in the least bit refreshing?  Yes, it gives him the appearance of the school swot, but what is wrong with that?  After all, the school swots become the brain surgeons and the nuclear scientists. 

He has also been very quiet since his injury, which is very unusual.  Normally, he is the first to line up for the cameras, metaphorically flexing his muscles.  And I have even missed that.   When he finally spoke out last week, blasting “Cricket is a game for men.  It’s not for girls!”, I couldn’t help but giggle.   In an age where cricketers, particularly English ones it must be said, are “hitting the right areas”, “doing the hard yards” and “coming to the party”, Pietersen ruthlessly cutting down anyone who rubs him up the wrong way always cheers me up, although Samit Patel may disagree.  He is like a roaming, cricketing version of Charlie Brooker.

Ask anyone for a great role model for kids, and it is highly unlikely that Pietersen would be top of the list.  Hell, he probably wouldn’t be near the top of mine.  But I have to ask – why not?

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No, I haven’t done anything in the last couple of days.  So, as it is Friday, it’s time for a tenuous-at-best comparison of popular musical figures to some of the best players in the world!  And Graham Onions!

Sachin Tendulkar – Coldplay

Universally popular and completely inoffensive.  A dodgy period in the middle of the noughties, but now getting bigger and better with age.  Will probably go on forever.

Kevin Pietersen – Eminem

The kids love him, the adults remain suspicious.  Revolutionary?  Certainly.  Will he be remembered as a great in 20 years?  Questionable.

Graham Onions – Franz Ferdinand

Does something brilliant, which everyone who matters seems to have forgotten about a week later.  Is quiet for a little while, then does something brilliant again, which everyone who matters forgets about immediately again.  Repeat.

Rahul Dravid – Radiohead 

Often mentioned as the favourite of someone who likes others to know how intelligent and knowledgable they are.  In reality so incredibly efficient that watching/listening to them becomes incredibly boring.

Daniel Vettori – U2

Have fingers in almost every pie going.  Ability has pretty much ceased to be important – without them, charity cases would fall apart.

Brad Haddin – JD Fortune (INXS)

On an absolute hiding to nothing.  No matter how good they are, everyone will always say that their predecessors were better.  And they will be right.

Shakib-Al-Hasan – Jack White

If you want things done properly, do it yourself.   Every time they leave it to the others, the whole thing falls down in a crumpled heap.

Ray Price – Nana Mouskouri

Allegedly one of the most successful in their field in the world.  Yet ask anyone on the street, and you will be met with a resounding “Who?”.

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It is typical of a Test match involving Bangladesh that the only newsworthy story to come from it is that both captains made a couple of boo-boos.

Let’s take Shakib first.  He wins the toss and bats on a pitch that looks like it has been lifted off the M25, and he is bit of an idiot.  England rack up nigh on 600, and he is the stupidest captain of all time.  Bangladesh reach lunch on Day 5 with the draw becoming an increasingly possibility, and everyone starts to backtrack.  England looks toothless, Bangladesh look comfortable.  Maybe he knew exactly how the pitch would play as the game went on?  Then, as is their wont, the Bangladesh tail folds and he is back to being an idiot again.

Then there is Alastair Cook.  For me, one decision was wrong for the right reasons, while the other was right for the wrong reasons.  Clearly, England should have picked two spinners.  But with no Test matches due to be played in the subcontinent for almost two years, is it surprising that they prefered to have a look at Carberry and Finn instead?  It is highly unlikely that Tredwell will get a game after this series for another 18 months.  The one mistake England made was dismissing the Bangladesh threat entirely, but considering they have left their best batsman and best seamer at home, why does this surprise anyone?  As for criticism of refusing to enforce the follow-on, it was never going to be an option with only 4 bowlers.  With the team he had, Cook made entirely the correct decision.

So yes, they made mistakes.  But on a pitch where two decent sides would probably be just about finishing their first innings right about now, we ought to be grateful that they made them.

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