Archive for the ‘west indies’ Category
Thursday, October 11th, 2012
When Sri Lanka’s third wicket fell in Sunday’s World Twenty20 final, Mahela Jayawardene turned his eyes upwards. With 51 runs on the board at the halfway stage and chasing 138, it could have been a plea for divine intervention. It could have been simple exasperation. To all the rest of us watching, it signalled the tantalising – and momentous – possibility that the West Indies’ long, turbulent years in the international cricket doldrums might finally be coming to an end.
It was a notable reversal of fortune from the previous time the two sides had met in this tournament: in their Super Eight game Sri Lanka had won by 9 wickets, with only a 65-run partnership between Dwayne Bravo and Marlon Samuels saving the Windies’ blushes. In the final, it was Marlon Samuels again who stepped up when everyone else – including the big-hitting Chris Gayle – fell around him. From 32-2 after ten overs – an uncharacteristically slow start for the West Indies if ever there was one – he managed to drag his team to a total not only respectable but, as it turned out, defendable. Sri Lanka were all out for 101 in 18.4 overs and the riotous celebrations began. A harsher critic might say that the Lankans bottled it, but it was tough not to feel for Jayawardene when he resigned his captaincy soon afterward; rarely do cricketers come classier than him and, up until Sunday, his team were arguably the best allround side on display throughout the competition.
But nowhere is the spirit of carpe diem more important than in T20, and in a game where moments prove decisive and a well-timed runout or booming six into the stands can turn the game, the Windies seized every opportunity as the Sri Lankans faltered.
While it’s premature to talk about a new dynasty in West Indies cricket, boy was this victory great to see. Marlon Samuels’ continued rise in stature and maturity will come as no surprise to those who saw him in England earlier this year, and Darren Sammy may be a cricketer of limited talent but has proved an inspirational captain, truly the raising-agent in the West Indies’ recipe for success. Both men spoke from the heart in the post-match presentation about how much the victory meant to them, Samuels almost defiant in his jubilation. “We will celebrate as long as possible and enjoy the moment. This is a moment to cherish, and cherish forever. The entire Caribbean embraces it. The sky is the limit and words can’t really explain it. It means the world to us.” Perhaps most encouragingly, he added, “We want to be on top, even in Test cricket, as Test cricket is the best.” While that will take some leap, and considerable domestic and administrative reorganization for that to happen, what is most important is that this is a team that now knows it can win. It has started to believe.
I have to say I enjoyed this year’s World Twenty20. Reservations about the format remain, and while the concerns of the administrators of Associate nations who want their sides to face Full Member opposition more often remain valid – how else are they to improve? – the fact the “minnows” failed to punch above their weight will, sadly, have provided ammunition to those who are against an expanded format. But set against the interminable 50-over version, this was a short, sharp, enjoyable tournament with cricket of high quality. The likes of Chris Gayle, Shane Watson, Ajantha Mendis and Virat Kohli displayed superlative skill and gave us great entertainment.
England, on the other hand, failed to get the pulse racing, with a campaign that, with the exception of their victories over Afghanistan and New Zealand, careened from the merely lacklustre to the downright clueless. Over the last few months, team England has started to resemble a punctured tyre with the air slowly leaking from it; with the absence of Kevin Pietersen their stumbling route to the exit proved a flat affair indeed. Andy Flower tried a few different patches to slow the bleeding, but it all smacked of desperation. Samit Patel, dropped for the New Zealand game because he’d been tonked round the park by Chris Gayle in the previous match and gone for 38 runs, was replaced by slow left-armer Danny Briggs, who ended up being tonked around the park by James Franklin to the tune of 36 runs; Patel, brought back for the match against Sri Lanka, ironically proved to be England’s standout batsman with a fine knock of 67. Equally baffling was the selection of Ravi Bopara who, chronically down on confidence and runs, couldn’t get back to the pavilion fast enough when he was bowled by Jeevan Mendis. Sadly, that ill-timed call-up may have torpedoed his international career for good.
Lasith Malinga was magnificent in that match, putting paid to criticisms that he’s lost his nip, but it was England’s woefulness against spin that had fans tearing their hair out in despair, especially looking ahead to the winter tour to India. The matches against Sri Lanka and India showed England at their very worst: an inexperienced batting lineup unsure whether to defend or hit out in a display akin to a headless chicken running erratically around a farmyard while its executioner calmly waits for it to exsanguinate.
Pietersen impressed as a pundit in the ESPN studios when he should have been playing. It’s hoped he’ll be added to the squad for India, but this is dependent on the results of a “process of reintegration” he must complete before he is welcomed back into the fold. After boggling at the bizarre nature of the press conference in which ECB chairman Giles Clarke compared Pietersen to a criminal being reintroduced back into society – this from an organization all too quick to jump into bed with a crooked Texan billionaire – I was wondering exactly what this process might entail. My eyebrows having been further raised by David Collier’s comment that South Africa “provoked” Pietersen into sending the texts that saw him dropped for the Lord’s Test, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say they fair leapt off my forehead when I read in this week’s edition of The Cricket Paper that Pietersen, currently in South Africa for the Champions League T20, “is set to remain with the Delhi Daredevils for as long as they continue in the tournament, but he is also expected to undertake a potentially exhausting series of long-haul flights to and from the UK, in order to try and make peace with players on an individual basis, possibly with the aid of a ‘trained disputes mediator’.”
One of Pietersen’s supporters through all of this has been Chris Gayle, back destroying bowlers on the world stage after a bitter rift between himself and the West Indies Cricket Board. The Windies are a better side with Gayle in it. England, similarly, are a better side when Kevin Pietersen goes out to bat for them. Surely, it’s time now to move on from all this nonsense.
Wednesday, June 27th, 2012
In terms of eloquence, it was never going to match Kumar Sangakkara’s wonderful tour de force last year, but Tony Greig’s Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture certainly pulled no punches when it came to India and its influence on the world game.
In a room filled with cricket’s great and good and redolent with the smell of smoke from burning bridges by the end of it, Greig’s forty-minute speech used the word “India” fifty-two times in total as he took the BCCI to task for its self-interest and greed and for pursuing a policy bent purely on the maintenance of power and of getting one over on its erstwhile colonial oppressors.
“India is preoccupied with money and Twenty-20 cricket, and sees its IPL and Champions League as more important than a proper international calendar,” he said. “To compound the problems, India has not only sold part of the game to private interests but some of her administrators are seen to have a conflict of interest, which makes it more difficult for it to act in the spirit of the game… The net result of this is Test cricket is suffering… We can huff and puff as much as we like and have all sorts of external reports but this situation can only be resolved by India accepting that the spirit of cricket is more important than generating billions of dollars.”
Strong stuff, but after the initial collective thud of jaws dropping you got the feeling there may have been one or two heads in the room nodding in agreement.
He also took aim at the BCCI’s resistance to umpiring technology, its “indifference” towards anti-doping and corruption and problems which “could be resolved if India invoked the spirit of cricket and didn’t try and influence its allies in how to vote”.
Greig, of course, isn’t the first to criticise the Indian board for its selfish lack of interest in the wellbeing of the sport – Lawrence Booth issued a reminder to the BCCI not to abuse its “special gift: the clout to shape an entire sport” in his notes to this year’s Wisden Almanack – but no-one does “damn the torpedoes” quite like Tony Greig, and whether he will ever be invited back to India for a commentary stint in the future is anyone’s guess. You might think it, but Tony will damn well say it, and let’s be honest, many of us agree with him that India’s control of the sport at the highest level is deleteriously disproportionate.
Having said that, there is something slightly incongruous about a man taking a cricket board to task for its blatant commercialism, and the damage caused by government interference in the sport, when, as “tourism ambassador” for Sri Lanka, he managed to shoehorn a thinly-disguised advert for a hotel into his commentary during England’s recent Test series there. He also, unfortunately, joins the ranks of those bamboozled by bullshit and bad science in dragging up that long-discredited old chestnut of lie-detector tests to root out corruption. That and the fact that Greig – the man who was involved in the notorious 1974 runout of Alvin Kallicharran – was the man delivering the speech, and Stuart Broad – a man who thinks every lbw he goes up for is out, and when he is batting he never is – was involved in the panel discussion afterwards, might have made you do a double-take on seeing their names attached to a “spirit of cricket” lecture.
Anyway, whether or not you agree with what Tony Greig had to say, his speech was certainly not dull, and you can read the full transcript at the Lord’s site.
And so we come to that part of the year when students the length and breadth of the country are goggle-eyed through too much revision and Red Bull, and the “mid term report” metaphor gets trundled out and applied to England’s performance halfway through the international summer. The consensus seems to be Team England haven’t just performed with flying colours so far, but are on course for an A+ grade by season’s end.
Let’s not get carried away. The West Indies series was less a prelim than an open-book exam; for all our fervent hopes that the Windies would present England with some semblance of a challenge – and that’s not being patronizing though it’s easy of course to be magnanimous when you’re winning – a competition never really materialized. Comprehensive victories by England were expected in the Tests, but less so in the ODIs and certainly the T20 match last Sunday was expected to provide a more level playing field, but only served to highlight the Windies’ frailties. Last time the West Indies visited England it was Shiv Chanderpaul who was the side’s star; this time around Marlon Samuels won cult hero status – that doughty, crease-occupying 76* at Trent Bridge showed how much he has matured as a Test batsman. Tino Best provided some entertainment as well, and you’d have needed a heart of stone not to feel for him when at Edgbaston he fell just 5 runs short of the first century by a no. 11 batsman. But the team never really clicked as a unit, and in the case of offspinner Sunil Narine, preceded by a large amount of hype on the back of 24 wickets in the IPL, there was only disappointment and a distinct lack of the “mystery spin” we were promised, though conditions weren’t exactly beneficial for him.
It’s infuriating when there’s a missing ingredient that stops true potential from coming to fruition and producing success, but from a Leicestershire fan’s point of view it was nice to get a glimpse of that potential when the Windies played a tour match at Grace Road and Darren Bravo, who never really fired in the Tests but made 66 against Leicestershire, gave all of us watching a reminder of the beautiful strokeplay that brings out those Brian Lara comparisons.
Darren Bravo at Grace Road
England now face Australia in a series of five ODIs, starting on Friday, and while Bill Lawry might be taking things a bit far in trumpeting Australia’s seam bowling attack as the best in the world, they’re sure to provide a far stiffer examination, and better preparation for facing a South African squad that looks, quite frankly, intimidating in its strength and depth.
I’m aware that this post is starting to resemble a smorgasbord, or a salmagundi if you will (hodgepodge if you want to be less charitable) but it’s a been a mixed fortnight in terms of cricket news, from the tragic (the passing of Tom Maynard) to the ridiculous (Andrew Flintoff’s reference to Mike Atherton as a “fucking prick”) and the downright predictable (yet another kiboshing by the BCCI of a move at ICC Board level to make the decision review system mandatory across the board).
Tom Maynard’s sad death deserves more than just a footnote, but as yet it’s hard to make sense of the sequence of catastrophic events that led to a talented young cricketer being hit by an underground train in the early hours of Monday, June 18th. What made the news harder to take in was the fact he’d only been on television a couple of days before, talking about a future which he was hoping would involve playing for England.
Last week I wrote my own tribute to another bright light that was snuffed out too soon for World Cricket Watch on my favourite cricketer, Victor Trumper. Trumper accomplished much in his short life before he was taken by illness at the age of 37. With Tom Maynard, only 23, we will never know what he could have gone on to achieve. We like to believe that life, most of the time, and discounting the odd random variable, is something we can more or less control. But when events like this happen, everything we think we know about the natural order of things is thrown into chaos; death becomes, in the words of writer Edward St. Aubyn, “a scandal, a catastrophic design flaw; it ruins everything”.
Rest in peace, Tom.
Tuesday, May 15th, 2012
Amidst all the dire weather we’ve been having lately, one thing that has brought a smile to my face was an article by Christopher Martin-Jenkins in The Times last week.
In it he wrote of his slow recovery from illness, which has involved chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a series of seven operations. He won’t, he says, be able to attend the first Test at Lord’s next week, but is looking forward to watching it on TV, with great anticipation: “Never, truly, have I so looked forward to a Test match.”
It’s an article that gladdens the heart, not just because CMJ is on the mend, but because his joyful anticipation of the start of England’s international summer crystallizes all that is good about cricket and being alive to see it.
Not only that, but with the weather set fair for at least the next few days, it seems, after a false start involving much rain and many interrupted days of county cricket, with the first Test against the West Indies only days away, like we might be getting a summer after all.
I wish I could be as optimistic as CMJ about the Windies’ chances, though.
Their preparation has been shambolic. They arrived in the the UK last week in dribs and drabs due to visa cock-ups, and an eleven minus captain Darren Sammy were comprehensively demolished by England’s second string in the Lions game at Northampton. True, their batsmen did put up a better showing in their second innings, and Darren Bravo’s 57, following on from his 51 in the first innings, gave the pundits a chance to dust off those Brian Lara comparisons. But one respectable innings total and a couple of decent individual performances won’t win you a Test match, and certainly not against a full-strength England side.
That’s not to say there isn’t talent in the West Indies ranks – far from it. Their seam attack in English conditions could cause the home side some problems, though our batsmen have been more vulnerable to spin recently, as that embarrassing winter tour in the UAE demonstrated. But even then, bowling out this formidable England batting lineup twice seems like a mighty big ask, and their own batting looks brittle and inexperienced; one fears Shiv Chanderpaul will once again be asked to bear a heavy load on those diminutive shoulders.
When this West Indies team takes the field at Lord’s, it will be notable more for its absences. Chris Gayle, of course, is the most high profile. To a neutral, the conflict between him and the West Indies Cricket Board has been a long-protracted soap opera, a jaw-dropping saga of board-versus-player pettiness and pomposity. That finally seems to have come to an end now, with Gayle likely to be selected for the limited-overs matches that follow the Tests, though it seems the board administration took one more opportunity to place Gayle on the naughty step when it questioned his attitude for requesting clarity regarding his international future before turning down a T20 contract with Somerset.
Other notable absences include Dwayne Bravo and Sunil Narine, who, along with Gayle, are currently making the most of lucrative contracts in the IPL, the tournament that to the WICB represents such a huge stumbling block on the road back to the glory days for its national team.
In an article in The Cambridge Companion to Cricket, published last year, Hilary Beckles, a director of the West Indies Cricket Board, wrote: “No previous generation of West Indian cricket leaders has had as divisive an impact on Caribbean development discourse as that of Lara and Gayle. The failure of their teams to compensate for the spreading sense of despair in West Indian socio-economic decline and political disillusionment led to an intensely critical perception of both as politically unfit for the role of leadership. The public feels, furthermore, that despite its insistence on the team having an important political role ‘beyond the boundary’, the game has been hijacked by an uncaring cabal of mercenary money seekers, players without attachment to traditional sources of societal concerns.”
This, in a nutshell, is the conflict that lies at the heart of the mess West Indies cricket is in. To reinforce the credo of country before self the WICB has taken a route that favours the dictatorial over the constructive, and as far as individual player selection goes has discarded the disruptive in favour of the malleable.
It’s not an approach that makes much sense. It seems counter-productive to dispense so drastically with experience for the sake of unquestioning obedience. There also seems to be a lack of transparency as to why certain players have been discarded. The most notable of these are two players currently plying their trade – and scoring runs – in English county cricket.
Ramnaresh Sarwan has so far been a valuable addition to Leicestershire’s ranks this year, and while he could have been forgiven for rethinking his decision to sign for the Foxes in light of April weather that required a minimum of three jumpers, he quickly figured out the best way to keep warm at a chilly Grace Road is to score runs, and lots of them. You’d think his 105 against Derbyshire a few days before the squad was announced, as well as a Test average of 40, might have put him in with a shout of selection, but it seems other factors might have told against him.
He cites his closeness with the West Indies Players’ Association, which has a long history of conflict with the WICB, as the likely reason. “There are a few in the Caribbean who have been targeted and I am one of them,” he says. “I am trying not to focus on it too much, I am just happy to be here at Leicestershire. I do not have to worry about any coaches telling my fellow players that he wants me to fail and that he does not want me in the team.”
Brendan Nash, dropped from the West Indies squad last October while vice-captain, became so disillusioned with his treatment by the WICB that he moved back to Australia to play grade cricket for Melbourne’s Doutta Stars, saying he had no intention of returning to Jamaica in the near future. He is now scoring runs for Kent, and like Sarwan his experience has proved invaluable. He admits now his international career is probably over, but is still not sure entirely why.
“Looking back on my five years in West Indies cricket, it is a structure that is designed to make you fail,” he said. “I think I speak for a lot of guys when I say they are unsure what they need to do and why some people are selected, whether they are just from the right island, or what.”
Given their bowling attack, and the erratic but undoubted talent of the likes of Darren Bravo, green shoots of recovery do seem to be appearing for the West Indies, and – credit where credit’s due – Darren Sammy has grown into the leadership role beyond that of specialist coin-tosser to instil some team spirit into his troops. But when coach Ottis Gibson states: “If we can take this Lord’s Test to four days, that will be great,” it seems those shoots may yet be rooted in shallow soil.
Come Thursday, England’s goal will be to make them wilt.
Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011
England: you unpredictable, inconsistent, crazy, mad bastard of a side.
I’d come to terms with the fact they’d be going out of the World Cup in the group stages. I was sad but resigned. Hell, I was even taking a leaf from Michael Vaughan’s book and looking for the dreaded “positives”.
Bowlers who needed a rest. A big summer of cricket to prepare for: Sri Lanka in May, India in July. And England still have the Ashes. ODIs – well, who gives a shit about them anyway.
And yet. Part of the deal that comes with being an England fan is you pretend not to care. You are punch-drunk with continual beatings and shambolic performances to the extent where you find solace in criticism. A good rant can be therapeutic. It’s healthier than turning to drink.
And yet somehow we’ve come through all that, and hope – thankfully – has a habit of springing eternal.
There were a couple of results that needed to go England’s way, but they helped themselves by beating the West Indies in a match which was in turns infuriating, bizarre, topsy-turvy and finally, heart-stopping.
“Do you enjoy captaining this England team?” Andrew Strauss was asked at the post-match presentation. “No,” was his commendably direct answer. Let’s hope England afford Strauss a little more job satisfaction at the Premadasa, where they will face Sri Lanka on Saturday.
And let’s also hope England win the toss, because 66 per cent of the day-nighters that have been played at the ground have been won by the team batting first.
Whether or not James Tredwell and Luke Wright will be retained after their match-winning efforts against the Windies remains to be seen. I’d like to think Strauss’s selection process will be guided more by cold logic than sentimentality, but it would be difficult to drop these two after they saved England from an early flight home.
Nevertheless, Sri Lanka, with dynamic opening duo of Tharanga and Dilshan and double class-act of Sangakkara and Jayawardene, will be the overwhelming favourites. England are more battle-weary than battle-hardened, and while all the quarter-finalists have shown chinks in their armour, England’s looks less like it has chinks in it than it looks composed almost entirely of rusty old frying pans and welded together by some bloke called Dave in a south London chop-shop. Whether this will be enough to see off the likes of Ajantha Mendis, Lasith Malinga and some chap called Muttiah Muralitharan is anyone’s guess – because really that is as accurately as you can forecast an England performance these days.
But, somehow – defying logic, common sense, and the form-book – England have made it this far. Any match from here on could prove to be the final curtain, but given their gloriously roller-coaster campaign, at least they can say they did it their way.
Before that, though, there is much to look forward to. Pakistan versus the West Indies should be gloriously anarchic; we will most likely be waving farewell to the boys from the land of the long white cloud; and Australia will be out for blood against the mighty India in the wake of their defeat by Pakistan and the rumours that say Ricky Ponting’s days as captain are numbered.
It’ll be a surprise if anyone other than South Africa, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan go through to the semi-finals, but in a World Cup that’s proved vastly more entertaining than its 2007 counterpart, none of this should be regarded as being set in stone.
Wednesday, March 16th, 2011
England have been beaten by Bangladesh and Ireland. They have tied with India.
Graeme Swann’s pissed and moaned about having wet balls, Jonathan Trott’s been criticised for his scoring rate and been blamed for the national debt, global warming and the fact Wagon Wheels are not as big as they used to be, and Kevin Pietersen’s had enough and fucked off home.
If England do not beat the West Indies tomorrow, their 2011 World Cup is over.
It’s all gone horribly wrong. But to be honest, I’m having a real problem getting steamed up about it because that would presuppose I ever thought England had a real chance in this tournament anyway.
Paul Collingwood said the other day only 4 wins stood between England and WC glory. I love you, Colly, with an indecent passion reserved for gritty ginger Northerners, and am mourning what looks to be the last days of your England ODI career, but this is less a case of “cheerful optimism” as “having a fucking laugh”.
It’s not all bad, of course. Eoin Morgan marked his return to the side in the match against Bangladesh with a palate-cleansing 63. A batsman who thinks outside the box and takes the bowling on, it is good to have him back. His compadre in England’s only notable partnership in that match, Jonathan Trott, has proved England’s most consistent scorer, yet still receives criticism – unjustly – from some quarters for not scoring quickly enough.
Aside from that, it is easier to list where England have been woeful.
Jimmy Anderson has not just hit the wall: he has crashed into it full tilt and brought the whole edifice down on top of him. The seemingly endless stream of leg-side wides he bowled at the end of Bangladesh’s successful run-chase was excruciatingly tough to bear for an England fan; it was like watching a man whose foot is nailed to the floor but who has no idea why he is going round in circles. He looks gaunt, exhausted, and a shadow of the bowler he was in the Ashes.
Kevin Pietersen showed signs of starting to gel with Andrew Strauss at the top of the order, and his departure from the tournament to seek an early date with a surgeon to fix a hernia has seen Matt Prior return to the opening spot – with the result being as underwhelming as it was when he was in the role previously. There has been the suggestion that Ian Bell or Ravi Bopara may be pushed up the order.
And it’s not just fatigue that is sweeping through the squad – Stuart Broad is another who has shipped out because of injury, but not before being stricken down by the usual, delicately-termed “stomach complaint” and twice at that, losing 5kg in the process. Within the last couple of days Andrew Strauss and Graeme Swann have been similarly afflicted, and now Ajmal Shahzad as well.
Strauss is recovered, Swann was at training today though not yet one hundred per cent, and Shahzad is a serious doubt for tomorrow. This is a real blow, given that England got the ball to reverse swing at Chennai when they played against South Africa.
The form is dodgy, the omens – and players – are ill; England have ensured that by failing to string together a convincingly coherent performance with both bat and ball that their fate is not only in their own hands but in those of others.
Ultimately, should day 27 of this World Cup prove to be their last, they will have no one to blame but themselves.