Archive for March, 2010


Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Ranji Cricket on the Brain

From Cricket on the Brain by “M.C.C.”, London, 1905.

Happy Birthday, Clem Hill

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

On this day, 18th March, 1877, Clem Hill, arguably Australia’s greatest left-handed batsman, was born.

He was pretty badass. A child prodigy, he scored 360 for Prince Alfred College at the age of 16, and in his career as Test cricketer set records that stood until Don Bradman and Jack Hobbs broke them. One of the “Big Six” in the 1912 dispute with the Australian Board of Control, he flattened a selector with a vicious right hook (he also bowled right-handed) and almost defenestrated him. There’s not many cricketers who’ve almost succeeded in throwing a selector out of a third storey window, but there have been doubtless many since who wished they could have followed his example.

One of his finest innings was scored in between bouts of throwing up on the Adelaide wicket in 1908 after he’d been in bed with gastric flu for three days and England were well on their way to victory. Afterwards dubbed “Clem ‘Ill” by the press, he batted for 5 hours 19 minutes for 160. He pulled Australia from the mire of 180 for 7 with a record eighth wicket partnership of 243 with Queensland’s Roger Hartigan, and England were beaten by 245 runs.

He was the original “nervous 90s” specialist, being out for 99, 98 and 97 in consecutive Test innings. He is also the only Australian batsman to be dismissed twice in Tests for the unlucky score of 87.

As a batsman, he was rated second only to the great Victor Trumper. He relished taking on the quicks, and great England fast bowler Tom Richardson once said to him: “You make me feel I took up fast bowling for your benefit.” His hook was a statement of powerful attack and no little courage in those days before helmets and grills. Always eager to get off the mark, he would often take a single or more off the first ball he received – the Golden Age’s equivalent of Kevin Pietersen’s “Red Bull run”. Known for testing the nerves of wicketkeepers, about a third of his strokes were made outside his crease, and his method of recovering his ground was to swing the bat right over his shoulder upon completion of his stroke and smack it down on the crease with an alacrity that, in pre- third umpire slow-mo replay days, would have the umpire puzzled as to whether the bat had come down before the bails had been taken off.

No slouch in the field, in 1902 he ran 25 yards to take a spectacular diving catch on the Old Trafford boundary in a Test Australia won by 3 runs.

When not being wound up by selectors, Hill was happy-go-lucky with a sunny, even temper. He was an extremely popular Australian captain, even when his side were losing.

Even away from cricket his life was eventful. In 1913 burglars broke into his house, removed his safe while he was asleep and blew it up in the garden. They stole £500 pounds worth of jewellery, but didn’t take any of the bats he had been presented with, so they couldn’t have been cricket fans. In 1909, during a car ride with a couple of South Australian team mates, his car overturned with their chauffeur pinned underneath it. Clem, with help from his team mates, lifted the car off him. Three years prior to this a wagon had driven into the back of his horse-drawn trap while out for a drive with the missus.

He died on September 5th 1945 after being thrown from a tram. He didn’t have much luck with wheeled vehicles.

He is one of my favourite batsmen of all time.

Happy birthday, Clem Hill.

Clem Hill

Clem at the crease

Rahim Delay

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

Graeme Swann took 10 wickets. Alastair Cook brought up his maiden Test ton as England captain with a 6 on a wicket so flat you could have used it as an ironing board. England racked up runs gifted to them by Shakib Al Hasan’s blunder in choosing to bowl, and aided by a weak Bangladesh bowling attack Ian Bell scored 84 and 39 not out. England still took five days to win.

Alastair Cook didn’t enforce the follow-on despite being 303 runs ahead. Graeme Swann later attributed this to the tiredness of the bowlers who toiled all day on a wicket which admittedly offered nothing to the seamers. But if the rain which was forecast but never showed up had curtailed the match on Day 5 questions would surely have been asked. Swann bowled 78.3 overs, 36 per cent of the entire overs bowled by England in this Test match. Whether it was solely Cook’s decision, or whether Andy Flower had input as to whether or not pick James Tredwell and thus burden Swann with the lion’s share of the bowling, we will perhaps never know.

The fact is that over-cautious captaincy and short-sighted selection along with an opposition that refused to lie down and die quickly prolonged this Test match far longer than it should have been. This is not to denigrate Bangladesh: many have argued that they do not deserve Test status but they did improve throughout this match. Tamim Iqbal is a superb talent: he top-scored in Bangladesh’s 1st innings with 86, and his swashbuckling 125 in the first ODI was sublime. He is only 20 years old so there is still time to get that rashness out of his system that sometimes results in the needless squandering of his wicket. Junaid Siddique also scored a maiden century and Swann’s sendoff was perhaps a tad ungracious, but at the same time a reflection of just how big a thorn in England’s side Bangladesh’s resistance had become.

Mushfiqur Rahim’s been the player who has really impressed me, though. He kept the first innings going with a doughty 79 and a wild swipe dancing down the wicket to Graeme Swann got him out for 95 in the second. His 167-run partnership with Siddique kept England waiting for victory, with not a single wicket falling before lunch. He’s also only 5ft 4″ and his interview with Bob Willis at the end of Day 4 was worth its weight in gold for the mind-boggling discrepancy in scale. His work with the gloves is questionable but surely there’s a case to be made for pushing him up the order. Bangladesh will also be hoping Raqibul Hasan has a change of heart regarding his retirement from international cricket as they could do with him at number 4, with Tamim and Junaid opening and Mushfiqur at 3. Shahadat Hossain and Imrul Kayes should probably be dropped, with Shafiul Islam coming in for Shahadat, who’s been vociferous but toothless in this match.

James Tredwell must play in the next Test to provide support for Swann. Michael Carberry should be the one to make way as on a Dhaka deck that threatens to be flatter than this one it could be argued England already have enough batsmen and Carberry has not done enough to give the selectors a reason to retain him. This means that either Trott or Bell should open with Cook: Bell would be my preferred option as the last thing a brooding Jonathan Trott needs is to be shunted up and down the order. Broad looks tired and not altogether fit; they should rest him for the next Test and play Plunkett. The ECB says Paul Collingwood isn’t injured but he required a cortisone injection in his left shoulder and didn’t bowl, so he too remains a concern. Finn, aside from a nervy first spell, deserves more opportunities beyond this tour and it’ll be interesting to see him on a wicket with more bounce.

Cook’s captaincy hasn’t convinced me of anything other than competence displayed within the cautious cradle of a temporary appointment. His is a place-holder captaincy for a resting Strauss and his inexperience showed. Bangladesh, though, fought with honour and refused to be pushovers, and hopefully they can continue improving.

Swann was again superb, and Pietersen’s return to form encouraging. It would be nice, though, to see an England that didn’t make victory such hard work.

I Am Michael Clarke To KKR’s Lara Bingle

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

One is high maintenance, mired in controversy, conflict and off-field dramas that affect on-field performances. The other is Lara Bingle.

I’m talking about the Kolkata Knight Riders, my IPL “franchise” of choice, the team I nailed my colours to when the bloated behemoth that is the IPL bandwagon first rumbled into view in 2008.

Parallels between KKR and the Bingle imbroglio are inescapable. Back in 2006 Michael Clarke was introduced to Bingle on some reality TV show and she was probably wearing something tight and low-cut and Pup’s brain most likely fizzled, sparked, shut down and started playing that Wurlitzer organ music you hear at circuses. He fell, and fell hard. KKR has a take-me-to-bed line-up that bypasses the brain and goes straight for the groin region. Chris Gayle; Ricky Ponting; Brendon McCullum; Ishant Sharma when he still bowled at 145kph. As the eye-popping auction prices registered and the line-up fell into place it was like a tongue in the ear, hot breath on the neck and a whispered “Where the bloody hell are ya?” That team for the first match was my Fingal Spit; to say I was besotted was like a man wandering into the world’s greatest strip club and being told you can have this, you can have it all, even though, looking back now, the girls had serial killer eyes, the music playing was Combichrist’s “This Shit Will Fuck You Up” and the bouncers looked like they wanted to throw my still warm body out of a fast-moving vehicle.

Brendon McCullum’s orgy of hitting in that first match at Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy Stadium was the sweaty, frantic consummation of my absolute infatuation. A six-fuelled marathon of boundaries scored and deliveries dispatched to every part of the ground, it was T20’s equivalent of the greatest fuck you have ever had, or ever will have. It went on and on. Parts of me eventually started aching. It was so good it left me feeling like a spent, limp dishrag. It was so good I found myself thinking: “This could be it. This could be the one.”

It was always going to be tough for things to carry on this way. The first match had been enough to convince me to let the team move in, bringing its yapping Pomeranian and leaving its feminine hygiene products scattered around my bathroom. It took a while for me to realise, as KKR’s star fizzled and dimmed, as the team stumbled from one inept defeat to another, that there were things about my chosen amour that could, let us say, prove to be matters for concern and that may even, in time, jeopardize our relationship. But, like the vacuous reality behind the facade that emerges when Bingle opens her mouth in interviews, it was easy to ignore that all was not a bed of roses. Besides, we looked smoking hot together: everyone knew KKR was packed brimful of superstars; they were the “it” team, and surely it could only be a matter of time before success was theirs again. Wrong: they never even made the semis.

2009 was when the shit really hit the fan. It was the year of meltdowns, player mutinies, Fake IPL Player and Sourav Ganguly throwing hissy fits over anything that offended his sense of self-importance. The team changed captains more times than Bingle changes her managers. Fake IPL Player was, of course, the Brendon Fevola shower photo: a muck-raking deluge of truths, half truths and innuendo that hinted at just enough unpleasant goings-on to give me grave misgivings about our future together. I, like Michael Clarke, began to feel “lost and confused”. I was now beginning to realize that my team was beautiful, bat-shit crazy and baggage-laden. And maybe even, in the cold light of day, actually not that hot.

As if things couldn’t get even more ridiculous, on the eve of IPL 3 I learn that like, Bingle with her shady Sydney connections, KKR have signed a new shirt sponsor which happens to be a company whose owners are implicated in a murder investigation. And the worst thing is the new colours are gold and purple. Purple. For christ’s sake, no one looks good in purple.

But, though I should know better, I am besotted still. Dav Whatmore has been brought in as coach to replace John Buchanan who along with all his cod-psychological bullshit has been given the heave-ho. Wasim Akram – WASIM FUCKING AKRAM – is bowling coach, sorry, “mentor”. Chris Gayle will be available for most of the tournament, Owais Shah has been brought in from Delhi to bolster the batting and Brendon McCullum and Shane Bond will no doubt fly out on the first flights available after fulfilling their international commitments.

It is memories of McCullum’s 73-ball 158* in that match at Bangalore that keeps me coming back for more. Thinking about it even now gives me sweaty palms and reaches parts of me other IPL teams cannot.

So, I am not yet ready to call in the removal vans, drop-kick the Pomeranian off the balcony or demand the return of my 4.7-carat loyalty to this team. The future will undoubtedly hold more scandals, more meltdowns, more player revolts; but all I have to do is imagine McCullum’s incendiary innings and all reason and sense of reality goes out the window, my brain fizzles, sparks and shuts down and starts playing that Wurlitzer organ music you hear at circuses.

Maybe it really is love, after all.