Archive for March, 2011

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.

Business end could prove to be sharp pointy stick for England

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.

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.