Archive for the ‘pakistan’ Category

The new ruthlessness

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Eoin Morgan won’t be accompanying the England squad on their forthcoming tour of Sri Lanka.

While Kevin Pietersen suffered the lion’s share of the critics’ scrutiny throughout the just-concluded UAE tour (has there ever been a modern-day England batsman laden down with so many ridiculously high expectations?) he at least redeemed himself with a return to runs and the old KP swagger. Morgan failed consistently in all formats. So, in the Test series – an ignominious 3-0 loss – did every one else who purported to be a batsman, but unlike Pietersen and Strauss, the slack the selectors were willing to extend to Morgan could only extend so far.

The wafts outside off stump; the dilemma of whether to go forward or back; that increasingly-exaggerated trigger movement of a man lowering his privates into a scalding bath: this is a man who is in desperate need of runs and confidence. Andy Flower has signalled his disapproval of Morgan’s likely decision to honour his IPL contract, but whether it’s a 20-over match in the steamy heat of Bangalore before 40,000 screaming fans, or a cold April day at Taunton, the bloke just needs to feel bat on ball. Morgan’s IPL stint last year had less bearing on his selection for that summer than his 193 for the Lions against Sri Lanka: an innings in which predicted shoo-in Ravi Bopara (who turned down an IPL contract) could only manage 17.

Morgan’s non-selection for the upcoming Tests in Galle and Colombo, however, does signal a pragmatic ruthlessness on the part of the selectors. For once this is not a change born of panic, or a we’re-making-this-up-as-we-go merry-go-round of addle-brained chop and change. Perhaps taking a leaf from Australia’s book, the England management have a goal in view and a plan in mind. Nurture where necessary; jettison the expendable.

In Australia’s case this meant axing Simon Katich from Tests, giving Cameron White the bum’s rush from T20s – both as captain and as player – and ending Ricky Ponting’s ODI career. Regardless of the seeming unfairness of a couple of these decisions, you can’t say new chief selector John Inverarity does things by halves. It’s an approach that has borne already ripening fruit, with a potent pace attack comprising new blood and rejuvenated older campaigners, a gritty opener in Ed Cowan to complement Dave Warner’s freewheeling pyrotechnics, and new keeper Matthew Wade putting pressure on the increasingly out-of-favour Brad Haddin.

India’s future development remains stuck in neutral so long as their selectors refuse to make such bold moves; you get the feeling their re-ascendancy to the top would be under way already if they had a Flower or Inverarity at the helm.

Of course, as far as England and Eoin Morgan go, one wonders whether the IPL is really the demon it’s made out to be. Runs for Morgan for his Kolkata team could come in useful; England after all have a T20 world title to defend in September.

I’ve never been one of Ravi Bopara’s biggest cheerleaders, but I do think it’s right and fair he is given another opportunity, and while Samit Patel will doubtless lose out to Ravi for the no 6 position, his inclusion in the squad signals recognition of a renewed commitment towards playing for England at the highest level and to leaving the hotel buffet and the Bounty bars the hell alone. I liked Samit’s little cameo in the final T20 which included a lusty six back over the head of Saeed Ajmal; I liked too the clap on the back from KP as he went off. The team were apparently informed after this match who would be going to Sri Lanka; by this point Morgan must have known his time was up.

Perhaps a 50 in the ODIs or the T20s could have saved him. Perhaps not. It’s been a back-asswards tour; players noted for their ability against spin (Morgan and Bell) have failed and England were whitewashed in the format in which they are currently the world’s best. They then proceeded to give expectations another hefty kicking when they clean-swept the ODIs, a format the opposition were expected to favour. By all accounts spirits were high when the England team landed at Heathrow today; that might be tempered slightly when, as is most likely, South Africa wrest away that number one spot when they take on New Zealand in the 3-Test series starting next week.

Sri Lanka would seem the easier prospect after Pakistan. England will have momentum, two warm-up games and no Saeed Ajmal to keep them awake at nights. But after this series I’m predicting nothing, only that Andy Flower has no doubt planned for every eventuality.

England fail to banish winter blues

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

“Playing for pride”: the refuge, some cynics might say, of the loser, the has-been, the fighter past his prime, the team for whom a campaign has not exactly gone according to plan. Playing for pride is the only thing you have left when the main prize is gone, and England find themselves in this position going into the third Test at Dubai on Friday.

I don’t think anyone seriously believes England were arrogant enough to expect that this tour would be a cakewalk. The more cautious among us might have been fairly philosophical over the loss in the first Test: “ring-rusty”, “long lay-off” and “challenging conditions” were just some of the reasonable explanations bandied around to excuse the team’s flat-footedness against spin – though the sour grapes directed at the legality of Saeed Ajmal’s doosra threatened to turn into a very bitter vintage indeed in some sections of the media.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose one Test might be regarded merely as a blip; to lose two starts to look like a malaise.

It would have been reasonable to expect England to learn from their Dubai disaster and come back and win at Abu Dhabi. They almost did. Ultimately, though, we were treated to the horrifying spectacle we thought we’d left behind us after the horror days of 2006-7 and more recently Jamaica in 2009; a procession of veal-eyed batsmen stumbling through a dark smog of panic and indecision, misjudging spin, misreading length, and unsure whether to play forward or back as if they were in the throes of some kind of nervous hokey-cokey breakdown.

A target of 145 started to look like 300 when they were 5-56; by the time they were all out for 72 it resembled some mythical, unattainable object, like a phoenix egg, or a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. You have to laugh, but to do so, you’d have to block out numerous flashbacks and the memory of sitting curled up in the corner of the living room in a foetal position.

The bowling was fine. Monty Panesar, back in the side after 29 Test matches, made his comeback in some style with 6-62 in Pakistan’s second innings, and has surely nailed down a spot in the side for the upcoming tour to Sri Lanka, where, the curators assure us, raging turners will be laid on for our bamboozlement. Stuart Broad, too, has had an excellent series so far, making up for all those wasted deliveries banged in short against Sri Lanka last summer while drunk on delusions of being England’s “enforcer”. His 58* with the bat was handy, too.

Once again, as in Dubai, it was the batsmen who let the side down. The false hope of a 139-run partnership between Cook and Trott in England’s first innings was dashed in their second. I’m sure you’ve digested the match reports in all their disbelieving horror. Cook and Strauss are too similar as an opening partnership, given their molasses-like commencement of the run-chase; Ian Bell still cannot read the doosra; Eoin Morgan continues to show plenty of confidence off the field but not much on it; Trott’s inability to bat at 3 due to requiring close proximity to a toilet meant it was all Trott’s trots’ fault, and the not-insignificant fact of having captained England to victory in two Ashes series and the number one position is all that seems to be saving Strauss from a more intense examination as to his current inability to score. Meanwhile, Kevin Pietersen is still not English enough. This, in a nutshell, is how England’s shambolic performance was summed up in various quarters the day after, with a bit of added subtext (because let’s be honest, you’d have to be insane to seriously consider dropping Pietersen even given his current dip in form).

Andy Flower has acknowledged the cries that something must be done by saying he is not afraid to make changes. The majority view seems to be Ravi Bopara in for the struggling Morgan, but I cannot see how Bopara would be a significant improvement other than that he offers another bowling option. Given the panic that swiftly infected England’s run-chase, it’s hard to see how Ravi could have rescued them. Morgan deserves one more chance, though that swivel-wristed bossing of the bowling he displays in ODIs seems to have gone strangely AWOL in Tests.

One could say a change more immediate and effective would have been to put Swann or Broad in at 3 in place of the ailing Trott instead of the discombobulated Bell, but then it takes two to make a partnership, and there were precious few of those. Flower, though, is not one for snap decisions, so I’ll be surprised if he makes one now regarding Friday’s lineup.

Credit, of course, must go to Pakistan. I’ve not once seen the word “mercurial” applied to them in the last couple of weeks, and that has been entirely to their credit. The leadership of Misbah ul-Haq has been a prime factor in this. He is cut from the same captaincy cloth as Strauss; he is calm and unruffled, tends towards the conservative at times, but leads by example and is a fine ambassador for his team. As well as a superb spin attack, the team has two bright young stars for the future on the batting front as well in Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali, and the PCB are now mulling over whether to retain Mohsin Khan as coach, or hire Dav Whatmore: to shake things up now with a new coach could potentially undo the progress the team has made since the dark days of 2010 – days which everyone would like to forget.

* * *

I see the shortlist of players up for auction in the IPL on the 4th of February has been announced, and glancing down the list of names I was surprised and pleased to see the name of Mal Loye, formerly of Northants, Lancashire and (briefly) England. Loye was released from Northants at the end of last year, and while it’s understandable given his absences due to injury were getting longer, I always felt he was treated rather shabbily by the England selectors after his fireworks in the 2007 Commonwealth Bank series, and should have been given another chance. Any IPL franchise with a spare $50,000 could do a lot worse than snap him up. You might not get many matches out of him before bits of him start seizing up and falling off, but you’ll be guaranteed at least a couple of DLF maximums over square leg off the quick bowlers, and who wouldn’t pay to see that?


England ride razor’s edge to quarters

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.

What are the odds?

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

I saw an awesome day’s Test cricket at Lord’s on Saturday. Jonathan Trott knocked off the run needed to take him to 150 in a record-breaking stand with Stuart Broad, who with his maiden Test hundred seems to be rediscovering his stroke play in timely fashion for the Ashes. England ended on 446, Pakistan were blown away for 74 all out and following on, finished the day on 41-4. For £75 a ticket, I saw a lot of wickets for my money.

Then I got home and switched on the television.

I saw that the News of the World had broken a story (cleverly, too late for other papers to jump on, so all the other Sunday morning cricket reports were purely about England’s superb bowling performance), the facts of which are now burned onto our appalled sensibilities. It concerned a dodgy Pakistan players’ agent, £150,000 in used 50 quid notes, and three no-balls delivered on Days 1 and 2, in varying degrees of obviousness, by Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif, with the collusion of captain Salman Butt.

I loathe the News of the World with every fibre of my being. Their offensive, emotive brand of sensationalistic journalism sparks a brand of rage in me not much else does. In a crass opinion piece they not only devalued Broad’s maiden ton but sank low enough to mention his dead stepmother, Miche, to whom Broad’s thoughts turned on reaching his century: “Sorry Stuart, it means nothing.” A small boy, “pulling at his dad’s coat tails full of excitement”, his dreams betrayed, was also mentioned. I am surprised they didn’t manage to shoehorn in a drowning puppy, or accuse the Pakistan team of throwing cats into wheelie bins. Yes, I would think it’s fair to say my loathing for the News of the World is pretty much boundless. To coin a phrase, I wouldn’t wipe my arse with it if it was on fire.

But let us be honest, the evidence looks pretty damning. The only thing that could possibly have looked more suspicious about Mohammad Amir’s first no-ball was if Salman Butt had already had his hands full of sawdust as the bowler began his run-up. And the worst thing about it all is: how much of what we saw in this series, or indeed any other which Pakistan have taken part in over the last few years, is real? Test cricket is in the crapper, attendance-wise, but it does not need this type of publicity.

If there is a tragic figure in all this, it is, by common consensus, Mohammad Amir. Michael Holding was on the verge of tears on Sky Sports as he discussed how the career of this amazing young talent is now in doubt. Ramiz Raja thinks that due to his youth it is “possible he could have been drawn [into wrongdoing]”, and former Pakistan coach Geoff Lawson has reminded us not to judge these players “by the standards of our own country, when their situations are vastly different”. The possible threat of kidnapping and violence towards players’ families has also been mentioned.

Immediate reaction from cricket lovers such as myself ran the whole emotional gamut from disbelief, anger and sadness to “ban the whole bloody lot of them”. But it is clear that there are several things that need to happen.

Firstly, the ICC need to grow a pair. Pakistan cricket is worth saving, but not in its current corrupt state. Past punishments imposed by the Pakistan Cricket Board have been arbitrary and meaningless; vested interests and political manoeuvrings take precedence. Not only does the PCB need to get its house in order, but the ICC need to take charge when scandals like this threaten to ruin the international game.

Sadly, there are those in the ICC who have their own vested interests, and so this will not happen. And let’s face it, it doesn’t say much for the effectiveness of the ICC’s Anti Corruption Unit if it takes a reporter from a red-top scandal rag with a suitcase full of cash to expose only the tip of what may turn out to be a very large iceberg. Haroon Lorgat, the ICC’s current appointed deckchair-arranger, has given a statement saying that if any of the players are found guilty, “the appropriate punishment” will be handed out. At this point, such a promise sounds merely like empty bluster, and pretty meaningless given the ICC’s inability – or unwillingness – to tackle the root of the problem.

Of course, whether Giles Clarke has any right to be on his moral high horse in his refusal to shake Amir’s hand or look him in the eye during the post-match presentation is another question, considering the marked contrast between this and his welcome of a Texan, now being investigated for fraud, and his perspex box of dollars. Stony-faced and unsmiling at spot-fixing’s sullying of this series at the Home of Cricket, he obviously had no problem with Allen Stanford’s sullying of the Nursery ground by landing his gold-plated helicopter on it.

Unfortunately it seems, as with so much else, everything comes down to money – or lack of it, in the case of Pakistan’s cricketers.

While the angry bastard in me rages at corruption, nevertheless, the romantic in me clings to Stuart Broad’s comment that “whatever the true story is, I have absolutely no doubts that Pakistan were giving everything to try to win that match. It was proper competition, as it has been throughout the series”.

So while it may turn out that I have not been the only one who got my money’s worth from this Test I will also remember Trott and Broad’s partnership and Swann’s bowling for what they were – fine achievements that may have been over-shadowed by this story but not blotted out by it. Cricket is too precious to me for my enjoyment of it to be sullied by venality. And besides, there is an Ashes series to look forward to.

Amir bowls

Mohammad Amir bowls (a legitimate delivery) at Lord's