Archive for the ‘ireland’ Category

England and the Turkey Baster of Test Supremacy

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

It’s cool that you get an actual trophy for being the world’s number one Test side.

That the ICC, in its wisdom, found it suitable to bestow on the reigning table-topper a mace which looks more like a tent peg, majorette’s baton, turkey baster, or artificial inseminator used on a cattle farm, does admittedly tend towards a more “what the heck is this?” reaction, rather than, “wow, this’ll look great on the ECB mantelpiece”.

This is of course not helped by an image of Kevin Pietersen, in the England dressing room at yesterday’s close of play, brandishing it whilst clothed only in a towel and not looking at all camp in the slightest.

Anyhoo, England are number one. Day 5 at the Oval, the last day of the English Test summer, proved to be a slightly tense affair, at least during the morning session. For the first time this series India, following on, managed to last an entire session without losing a wicket, but when Amit Mishra finally fell after lunch for a valiant 84, the end was swift in coming.

Graeme Swann, who has already had the death knell sounded prematurely on his career by at least one journalist alert to his relative paucity of wickets lately, roared back into the spotlight he so adores with a six wicket haul. England’s batting had again been rock solid as the batsmen made the most of a flat deck prior to its last day disintegration and Swann’s rampage.

Sachin Tendulkar, more likely unsettled by Mishra’s wicket rather than the prospect of being out in the 90s for the ninth time in his Test career, fell on 91 to a brave lbw decision given by umpire Rod Tucker, who even now is probably fleeing the country having changed his name to “Todd Rucker” and wearing comedy beard and glasses to avoid recognition. It was a marginal decision, but the correct one – even had lbw referrals been allowed in this series, Hawk Eye would have shown the ball clipping the top of leg stump.

While not quite as invested in the cult of Tendulkar as so many are, I have to admit to mixed feelings on the Little Master failing in his bid to bag that hundredth hundred in these Tests.

Had he reached that ton, the talk would have been on nothing else. It is, fundamentally, a contrived statistic – “52nd Test century” would not have sounded as significantly monumental – and scored in the context of a series lost 4-0, especially when placed against Rahul Dravid’s epic, battling first-innings 146*, it would have meant very little.

Coming at the end of a Test series in which India managed to score 300 only once – exactly that and no further – as one player after another fell by the wayside due to injury and unfitness, as the world’s erstwhile number one collapsed like a bloated behemoth under the weight of its own hubris against a side hungry, honed and ready for the kill… a Tendulkar milestone under these circumstances would have provided only bathos in a series that’s been nothing from India’s point of view but a long extended failure.

Worse, it would have overshadowed the bright light of Rahul Dravid’s star which has shone undimmed through this series, along with flashes of spark from Praveen Kumar (what a lion-hearted character he is). No doubt it would also have been used to go some way towards papering over the cracks of India’s many failings.

Good umpiring, as Rod Tucker demonstrated, is no respecter of reputations. And neither is this England team.

I can’t help, though, but wonder whether this is simply a blip on India’s part, or the outward manifestation of a more insidious decay. While the team is on the verge of straddling that uncomfortable territory known as “transition”, with its galacticos looking towards retirement sooner rather than later, and its young hopefuls still inexperienced and making their way, I doubt anyone could ever have foreseen them being on the receiving end of such a thorough hammering. Kris Srikkanth, India’s chief selector, has been quoted as saying of his selection committee, “I can proudly say that we have done a good job” – uncomfortably reminiscent, not only of the band playing blithely on while the ship is busily humping an iceberg, but of Andrew Hilditch’s similarly self-deluded sentiment in the wake of Australia’s last Ashes drubbing.

While the England lads are no doubt nursing well-deserved hangovers, there remains a salutary lesson in all of this. Ian Botham thinks England can be number one for at least the next 8 years. The fall from the number one spot may come sooner than one would like, due to reasons entirely outwith England’s control: South Africa have Test series coming up against Australia, Sri Lanka and New Zealand, the first two of which will be at home. England do not play another Test till January.

There is also the small matter of ODIs, a format England have hardly excelled at of late. Prior to a five-match series against India, England play Ireland on Thursday, with many senior players being rested, including the captain, Alastair Cook. It’s understandable that the bowlers, especially, should be given a break, and I’m excited at the fact James Taylor has received a call-up, but the inexperienced nature of the squad (Mike Atherton, in an understandable slip of the tongue, referred to it the other day as the Lions squad, ten of whom have been included) has rather pissed Ireland off.

This is not surprising when not only are England resting Cook and other key players, but Eoin Morgan, an Irishman, will be captaining them. The match also seems to be a glorified fitness test for Jonathan Trott, who appears to have recovered from his shoulder injury. All this on top of the fact England were soundly thrashed the last time these two sides met, and you could forgive the Shamrocks for thinking that the latest England tactic consists of “thinly-veiled insult”.

This match has “banana skin” written all over it. As long as Taylor gets a ton, I’m not too fussed.

But if you are an England fan, you’re already resigned to England being shit at ODIs.

By the grace of Flower’s canny management and the team’s superlative performances, it seems England have ascended to the lofty heights of Test supremacy. Rather than fret over hyperbole, ODIs, talk of “sporting dynasties” and what may happen in the future, I am content, at least for the next couple of days, to savour the fine wine of victory and watch endless repeats of the highlights.

It’s still a daft looking trophy, though.

No Canucks, Clogs or Irish

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

If the ICC was a 1950s English boarding house, this is the sign it would now be displaying in its front window.

As of yesterday, the ICC has confirmed that not only will the 2015 World Cup be limited to 10 teams, but that, for the first time since 1975, there will be no qualification system to determine which teams will be allowed to participate.

This means there will be no Associate nations at the next World Cup, nor any system which would allow them even the chance to take part.

The ICC has said there will be a qualification process in place for the 2019 World Cup. To be honest, I will believe this when I see it.

That is eight years away. Eight years is a long time in cricket. Eight years is more than enough for the game to wither and die in countries whose national teams are scrabbling with everything they have, often very little, to gain a toehold on the cliff-face that is the path to Full Member status.

With this move, the ICC has not only denied the Associates this toehold; they have stamped on their fingers, kicked their hands away and spat in their faces while watching them fall.

Kevin O’Brien scored the fastest century in World Cup history when his team knocked a punch-drunk England to the canvas in 2011. In 2015, his record will be nothing but a statistic, a historical curiosity, because his team will not be there.

His team could give any of the Full Member nations a run for their money on any given day.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe retains its Full Member status thanks to the grace of India. The money it receives from the ICC is requisitioned by a genocidal dictator for his own use. Its cricket generates no money through TV rights, and the team have been beaten soundly by every Test nation they have played against. Touring there is fraught with moral and political implications. Many of its cricketers have fled the country through fear or desperation.

And yet, to the ICC, this is acceptable.

In freezing out the Associates it has succeeded in making the 10 nations who will play in the next World Cup into a cosy cartel. It is a shocking, deeply damaging move made by venal, power-hungry nabobs who are a law unto themselves and accountable to no one.

They should, quite frankly, be fucking ashamed.

Their promise to consider a 12-team format for 2015 was a lie.

Their dangling of the carrot of a qualification process for 2015, to allow even the possibility of the Associates’ participation, was a lie.

Their mission statement, to “continually develop the quality of national team Programmes in order to close the gap between ICC Associate and Full Member playing standards” is a lie.

If you are as disgusted by this as I am, then I urge you to email the ICC at and let them know.

While you are doing that, you might also ask them to lay out clearly and precisely the path a nation’s cricket association must follow in order to progress to Full Member status. I have looked everywhere on the ICC site, but an explanation of this process does not seem forthcoming.

In eight years, cricket in Ireland, Scotland, Afghanistan and other Associate nations could be dead in the water. There will be no incentive to progress, and no perceived reason to give them financial support or assistance with coaching and development.

That the ICC should act in a way that betrays the spirit of the game they purport to protect is rightly seen as unacceptable by the vast majority of those who love this, our most beautiful of games.

Don’t let the bastards ruin everything. Make your voices heard.

Green does not mean go for Associates

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Oh, Bengaluru.

First, you give us a thriller that ends in a tie. Then you give us this.

Kevin O’Brien (big lad, ginger, knows how to hit a cricket ball) out Kieron’d Pollard, out Viru’d Sehwag and eclipsed both Sachin Tendulkar and Andrew Strauss in cracking the finest innings yet seen at this World Cup, and the fastest World Cup ton ever scored, off only 50 balls.

O’Brien fell for 113 and it was left in the capable hands of John Mooney (who also took four wickets) and Trent Johnston to finish it off with 5 balls to spare. Alex Cusack also deserves a mention – his sixth wicket partnership with O’Brien was worth 162 and set Ireland up for the win.

Cue much rejoicing, and probably a fair few sore heads this morning.

This is two matches in a row that England have scored over 300 and failed to win. It’s not the batting that is the problem – though the mini-collapse at the end of yesterday’s innings was slightly worrying – but the fielding and bowling have been beyond diabolical.

Dropped catches, lousy fielding, “gimme” balls served up on a plate for batsmen to paste all round Chinnaswamy Stadium – the daft thing is, they played exactly like this against the Netherlands before raising their game against India. No doubt they’ll pick themselves up, dust themselves down and give an account of themselves against South Africa on Sunday more in line with expectations that usually surround an Ashes-winning team.

Whether it be tiredness, complacency, or a mixture of both: England cannot keep fucking up against, what is, on paper at least, lesser opposition.

Should they make it to the quarters they will not have the luxury of being shit one match and then perfectly up for the challenge the next.

But focusing on England’s failings is to unfairly take away from Ireland’s street-fighting victory. Kevin O’Brien is one tough bastard. He spent one season playing Twenty20 for Nottinghamshire but it didn’t take; before that, though, he was Ireland’s hero in the 2007 World Cup, chipping in with bat and ball and helping his side to a famous win over Pakistan.

This team is up for a fight and they know how to scrap. They were 111-5 at one stage and Strauss admitted “things were looking pretty comfortable”. Not for long. Give Ireland a chance to get back in the game and rediscover the have-a-go hero inside them, and you will be in the shit. They will take you on and if you let them, they will rip your testicles off, and then smear them all round the ground. If you want to help them out with some shitty bowling, and Barnum and Bailey Big Top fielding, well, that’s fine – thanks very much.

But in the great scheme of things this doesn’t mean a heck of a lot when it comes to advancing the cause of Associate cricket in this tournament, certainly not where the ICC is concerned.

I’ll agree, the “minnows” have, based on results, not exactly provided much in the way of an argument to the contrary.

The Netherlands may have given England a scare recently, but they were rolled comprehensively in their match against South Africa today. Kenya seem to have gone backward since making the semi-finals in 2003. Canada and Zimbabwe have had brief moments where they’ve had their opponents on the back foot, but in the unforgiving cauldron of 50 overs against Test-playing nations they have struggled.

The ICC obviously regard the Associates as a diseased limb that needs to be excised from the main trunk of the tournament to maintain its health. They point to criticism of the 2007 event, which was regarded as too long and with too many meaningless matches.

But when you look at the change that has been made for the next World Cup in 2015, this is transparent bullshit. The teams will be reduced from 14 to 10, but this will not mean the tournament will be dramatically shortened – 49 matches will be played this year, 48 in 2015 – so the idea that the tournament will be “streamlined” is patently nonsense.

A sop was thrown to the Associates with the announcement that the Twenty20 World Cup would be expanded to 16 teams in 2012. For most cricketers, though, their ambition is to play Test cricket, still the pinnacle of the sport, and no nation will ever be promoted to Test status on the back of its Twenty20 results.

The international 50-over format is currently the only way Associate nations have of advancing towards Test status. From 2015 that will exist no longer. When the decision to reduce the teams was made back in October of last year, the ICC “announced it had asked its governing council to examine the issue of qualification for ICC global events, as well as opportunities for Associate members to play ODIs, and make recommendations to the board”. So far, nothing has come of this, and one could be excused for thinking this does not seem to rank very highly on the ICC’s ladder of priorities.

What does seem to matter, however, are full stadiums, as little chance as possible of India exiting the tournament early, and a Full-Members-Only Club that is closed to outsiders who constitute too much of a gamble when it comes to providing publicity or ticket sales.

There are those who would say that being bludgeoned into the ground by stronger opposition does the smaller teams no good, that they will learn nothing from being comprehensively outplayed. Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene disagrees: “The more games they play at this level, the more they will improve. For us, it is always good to have these countries playing in big tournaments. That was how we learned. Hopefully, they will do the same”.

The development and growth of Associate cricket is essential for the sport. In 2015, the ICC has virtually ensured it will be all messed up and with nowhere to go.