Archive for July, 2010

Boom Boom, Bust

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Judging by Pakistan’s showing in the first of their neutral Test series against Australia at Lord’s, Headingley better be baking hot with bright sunshine and a dry pitch or they are pretty much screwed. Chasing a total of 440 was always going to be a pretty stiff task, but yet again, and with depressing predictability, a crumbling middle order failed to follow the example of Salman Butt in batting with anything resembling responsibility and Pakistan were bundled out to the tune of a 150-run loss. In hindsight, Butt’s innings of 63 and 92 look positively heroic.

Add to that captain Shahid Afridi’s resignation minutes after the end of the match and the confusion that followed – even Ricky Ponting had to ask a reporter what the heck was going on – and Pakistan cricket is in crisis. Again. I am saddened by Afridi’s resignation, though seeing the way he batted I understand his reasons  – “I have struggled to adapt to this form of the game,” he said – but quite what the resignation of the captain is supposed to do to the morale of a team that’s just been thrashed within 4 days is anyone’s guess.

I was at Day 1 of this Test, and while the weather was bloody cold, and the walk from Baker Street tube station seemed to take longer than last year, the upside was that things were looking pretty good for Pakistan at stumps. Mohammad Aamer was bending it like a banana. That added to the devastation caused by Mohammad Asif either side of tea, and Simon Katich’s gritty stickability and Michael Clarke’s elegant innings aside Pakistan looked in a strong position with Australia 229-9.

Pup cover drive

Michael Clarke drives

Day 2, and the days thereafter, were an utter disaster for Pakistan. The team is not short on young talent but they batted like Ritalin-deprived four-year-olds with attention deficit disorder, the captain being the most obvious culprit. Their abject display turned an intriguing match into an all-out drubbing. 148 all out first innings followed by an Australian second innings that set them 440 to win – yeah, all we misty-eyed romantics liked to fool ourselves there was a chance Pakistan could pull off the impossible and make history, but then we woke up.

A few of the main points that emerged for me from this Test:

Pakistan Cricket: Situation Normal, All Fucked Up.  Afridi never wanted to be the Test captain. He didn’t bat like he was the Test captain. Now he has resigned as Test captain. Salman Butt is the new captain. He will be Pakistan’s third captain in three Tests. As I said on Twitter while the Pakistan run chase was rapidly going tits-up, sometimes I think I have it tough being a Leicestershire fan; if I was a Pakistan cricket fan I’d be running myself a hot bath and looking for the razor blades.

That said, Mohammad Aamer: how good could this kid become? General consensus is that Wasim Akram wasn’t even as good as this guy when he was his age. That is, quite frankly, terrifying. Umar Akmal didn’t give us the big innings we’d have liked to have seen from him at Lord’s but we all know he is an exceptional talent. He will get his name engraved on the honours board at some point in the future, this is certain.

Speaking of the honours board, aye, we all had a bloody good laugh at the fact that while Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne’s names are nowhere to be seen, Shane Watson and Marcus North’s names are (initial reaction from many on Twitter on news from Lord’s that Shane Watson’s was the first name on the new neutral honours board: “Burn it”). But you have to hand it to Ponting, when the front-line bowlers weren’t doing the job – when the ball wasn’t swinging or seaming the bowling was utterly innocuous – it was the part-timers who delivered. While the whole four/five bowlers debate goes on as regards England’s Ashes line-up, Ponting seems to like the challenge of conjuring something out of nothing in a way I can’t imagine Andrew Strauss would. Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen can turn their arm over (there’s also Collingwood’s off-cutters but that shoulder is a worry) but that’s not really seen as a serious option.

Ricky Ponting is still a sore loser. While all the talk was of that elbow barge between him and a celebrating Mohammad Aamer, no one seems to have noticed the fact he walked deliberately into Mohammad Asif’s upraised arm while the bowler was celebrating with his team mates with his back turned. There is no way Asif could possibly have seen him. It’s like that bit in the Simpsons where Bart starts windmilling his arms around and says: “If you get hit, it’s your own fault.” Lisa responds: “Ok, then I’m going to start kicking the air like this. And if any part of you should fill that air, it’s your own fault.” For christ’s sake!

Mohammad Asif

Mohammad Asif

Finally, the debutants. Azhar Ali and Umar Amin showed promise in the second innings but given their youth and inexperience, their inclusion was always going to be a gamble. It’ll be interesting to see if they can bounce back at Headingley.

Tim Paine, who I bigged up in my last post, did a sterling job with the gloves on debut. Tidy and athletic with a couple of good diving stops he pulled off a smart stumping to get rid of Salman Butt in the second innings. He was nervous as hell when I watched him bat on the first day – “I couldn’t feel my feet,” he said afterwards – and this was reflected in his 7 runs off 46 balls, but he did a lot better with 47 in the second innings and there is no question he belongs at this level. Brad Haddin should watch out, because this kid’s going to be breathing down his neck from now on. Steve Smith, orthodox legspinner, unorthodox batsman, also acquitted himself well with 3 wickets, and given he is only 21, shows every sign of maturing into a fine cricketer.

Paine gets a boundary

Paine gets a boundary

Who knows what Headingley will bring? For once I’d like to see a settled Pakistan team give a good account of themselves while making good on all the talent and potential the team possesses. The weather doesn’t bode well, with overcast conditions, rain and even thunder forecast for the next few days, but it’d be nice to see a decent contest rather than a one-sided hammering. We’ll see.

T minus 12 hours and counting

Monday, July 12th, 2010

At 10:30 tomorrow, Tim Paine will become the youngest Australian Test wicket keeper since Ian Healy.

Handed a Cricket Australia contract back in April in recognition of his performance in last year’s ODI series against England, the 25-year old will be looking to cement his place as heir apparent to an injured Brad Haddin, who has been forced to sit out this two Test series against Pakistan with an elbow injury.

Paine’s form in this year’s ODIs hasn’t been on the same stellar level as that 111 he made at Trent Bridge, and he seemed to struggle as opening partner to Shane Watson, though he made 44 at Old Trafford and 54 at Lord’s. His batting seemed to me to be a mixture of the laboured and reckless, as if he wasn’t sure how to approach or pace his innings, causing him to over-complicate the job in hand before letting impatience get the better of him. It was as if he was thinking too much about the future – the weight of expectation after last year’s performances, the Cricket Australia contract and his ambitions to become Australia’s Test keeper when Haddin hangs up his gloves – rather than concentrating on the now.

I know this is a horrendously over-used cliché, but he needs to relax and keep it simple. Batting further down the order – he usually occupies the number 6 spot for Tasmania in Shield cricket – and without pressure to score runs quickly will help him. His keeping is a work in progress: the tour match in Derby was his first time keeping to the red Duke ball and he dropped Chris Rogers who went on to make 93, but that will improve through time and practice (cf. Brad Haddin, Matt Prior, Alec Stewart and others not seen as “natural keepers”).

I’m a fan of Paine – I watched him in the nets at Old Trafford last year for the rain-aborted Twenty20 International against England and admired his enthusiasm and aggression at Trent Bridge, and I’m hoping he’ll do well in this series.

Tim Paine in the nets

Tim Paine in the nets at Old Trafford 2009

Also, his 82-year-old grandmother will be watching in the stands, and that will be a pretty big incentive, too.

Good luck, Tim.

The day they held a tour match and no one came (including most of the players)

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

“The Pakistan tourists are coming!” screams the splash page for the Leicestershire County Cricket Club website. “The team features Shahid Afridi… wicket keeper Kamran Akmal and leg spinner Danish Kaneria… opener Salman Butt and Mohammed Aamer…”

Well, out of those listed only Salman Butt was playing, captaining a 2nd string Pakistan team against a 2nd string Leicestershire team (Nadeem Malik captaining, 30-year-old Steve Adshead with the gloves). Two days with a maximum of 100 overs per innings – this was only ever going to end in a draw, but it was a disappointment to the small number of us who did turn up that there was no Afridi, no Akmal brothers, no Mohammad Aamer: it was all a bit of an anticlimax, to be honest.

Having a nice sit down

Having a nice sit down - it was that kind of day

Contrast this with an almost full-strength Australian side playing at Derby on the same days, and the rumblings of discontent were audible among the usual suspects who turn up (rain or shine, including yours truly).

It would help if the club advertised these things better. A small advert in the Leicester Mercury ain’t gonna pull the crowds in. There was the same low attendance for the West Indies tour-match last year due to lack of advertising, which compounded itself farcically with the start day being rescheduled to a day earlier than originally advertised on the club website,  resulting in marginally better attendance on Day 2 as folks who’d booked the day off work in advance rocked up and wondered why play had already been underway for a whole day.

The thought also did occur to me that there would have been a delicious irony had Australia played at Leicester instead, given Ricky Ponting’s much publicized love of the city, but never mind.

It wasn’t all exactly thrills and spills, but then I’m usually happy as Larry sitting on a bench in front of the Meet digesting my sandwiches during a particularly somnolent lull in play during a 4-day county game, the run-rate flat-lining, eavesdropping on the old codgers arguing over whether Sobers or Miller was the better all-rounder, has anyone seen Pete and is his sciatica improving, and  how scientists have discovered watercress can cure cancer, apparently – enough to keep me occupied. I felt sorry though for the occasional visitors and the clutch of Pakistan fans who turned up – young kids, some teenagers, a couple of families – in all likelihood with the hope of seeing Afridi et al do their stuff.

Saeed Ajmal bowls

Saeed Ajmal bowls

The day wasn’t completely devoid of anything interesting – Greg Smith, returning from completing his studies at Durham University, signalled his intent to challenge for a place in the 1st team with a useful knock of 87 before being skying an easy catch to Saeed Ajmal at square leg, and Josh Cobb was involved in a farcical runout when looking set on a score of 23, which included 5 fours. Wayne White again proved his value to the side, finishing on 65*.

Josh Cobb

Josh Cobb looked in good touch before being run out

I didn’t go to Day 2, but by all accounts I didn’t miss much: Leicestershire closed their innings on 296 and their bowlers toiled all day for little reward, with four out of the seven wickets due to the Pakistan batsmen retiring to give someone else a hit.

So what did we learn of Pakistan’s form going into the first Test at Lord’s on Tuesday on the basis of their match at Grace Road? Not a heck of a lot. What did we learn from Australia’s match against Derbyshire? That Chris Rogers should probably be playing in the Australian Test team.