February 2011

What Do You Mean Boring? This World Cup Is A Thrill A Minute.

by daniel 23. February 2011 18:28

Now look here. It’s high time everyone just stopped moaning about what a ridiculously bloated tournament this is. Enough of the barbed comments concerning the idiotic fixture schedule that sees game after game of stultifying tedium played out before we get to a decent clash of heavyweights.

 

It’s not as if anyone’s got anything much better to be doing, and today’s thrilling 200+ run win by Pakistan against the dismal Kenyans was still more fun than sticking rusty nails in your eyes or watching behind the scenes footage of Kate Middleton’s hosier preparing her expertly crafted wedding seams for that oh so special day in April.

 

So don’t come crying to me after this world has been ravaged by plague, war and apocalyptic doom, dragging a bundle of torn rags and foraging for nuts in an irradiated forest complaining that if you’d only paid more attention to Sri Lanka’s heart stopping 200+ run win against Canada at least you’d have memories of happier times to comfort you in the long days of doom ahead.

 

This is the World Cup for heaven’s sake, and if you can’t get excited about New Zealand’s coruscating ten wicket demolition of the possibly even more hapless Kenyans than today’s Kenyans then you’ve no right to call yourself a cricket fan.

 

So assuming that on that basis you don’t call yourself a cricket fan and may possibly have missed some of the fantabulous action here are some things we’ve learnt from the first five pulsating days of the biggest carnival of cricket in our life times.

 

  • Kenya are truly dreadful
  • Canada are not quite as dreadful but still pretty woeful
  • Zimbabwe aren’t dreadful at all but can’t bat for toffee
  • Bangladesh are playing the long game. Their determination to accrue every last run means they’re eying net run rate as their route to the quarter finals. I hope they succeed. That kind of smart cricket deserves reward
  • Sehwag is without doubt the most charmingly lazy man ever to have stepped on to a cricket field. He makes Inzamam ul Haq look like an over eager triathlete. Say what you like about Inzi but at least he’d turn up to field in the actual matches every now and then. But all that just makes me love Sehwag even more.
  • It’s way past England’s bedtime. They got all excited during that Ashes thingy but now they’re overtired. They can’t even be bothered to show off. Feed them, wind them, and let them go home. Now? Why not? It’ll save us all from the mega tantrum when they get walloped by Ireland.
  • No one, still, has worked out when to take the batting power play. If I’m allowed to continue this column you will probably encounter my hyperbolic vexation over this issue at least 20 times before the tournament is finished. It isn’t difficult. Do you have two set top order batsmen in? Yes. Really? Take the power play. Now? Yes, right now.
  • I’m not sure if I believe in dew anymore. Apparently the dew point in Nagpur was supposed to be 15 degrees Centigrade. I think that guy in the tractor with the rope is a fake meteorologist hoodwinking the authorities and moonlighting as a driving instructor to make extra rupees between innings.
  • The Netherlands’ opening bowler Bukhari looks a lot like Robert Key. Well, he looks like Robert Key looks when Key gets out. That sort of sad moon faced gaze into nothingness that smacks of bewilderment and crushing disappointment. Check it out. It will startle you.
  • If you combined Zimbabwe’s bowling attack with Bangladesh’s batsmen you’d have a more than handy team. Unfortunately neither side has a seamer who could hold a candle to Afghanistan’s Hamid Hassan. Perhaps next time they could have a combined associate XI. In fact, now I think of it, that is the solution to the entire conundrum of what to do with the second tier nations, and really I should stop this blog and start all over again with that as my over arching theme but I’ve got to commentate on SA v. WI tomorrow so must get to bed.

 

So if you have, for some unfathomable reason, not been paying close attention to the cricket so far, don’t worry. There’s another month before the quarter finals for you to catch up. And I predict Australia v. Canada will be an absolute thriller.

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Thank God That's Over. Now For A Different Kind Of Marathon

by daniel 7. February 2011 15:23

So finally England’s marathon tour of Australia is over. By the end of it Swann, Bresnan, Morgan, Tremlett, Collingwood and Shahzad were barely walking wounded. Australia had suffered a fair share of injuries themselves and the Test Match Sofa commentary team was down to the bare bones. Hendo has disappeared with Possibly Dead But There’s No Way Of Finding Out Without Calling Hospitals, The Police and The Morgue Syndrome. Everyone else is just terminally bored.

From the look of the small crowds attending the last couple of ODIs, even the fans have succumbed to sickness, injury and advanced ennui.

The teams that took to the field at the WACA bore no resemblance to the sides the two countries will put out for the World Cup, and consequently the cricket was pretty poor fare.

Australia batted first, got into terrible trouble at the top of the order (as has been the case for most of the series) and then found someone who miraculously knew how to bat. On this occasion it was Adam Voges proving the selectors must have a screw loose if they really think Steve Smith is the answer to anything.

His 80 off 72 balls with only four boundaries on a two paced pitch was a masterclass in how to bat the middle and final overs. At no stage in this series has any England batsman showed the equivalent game intelligence and this has been the difference between the two sides.

Indeed it is rather fashionable for TV commentators to dwell on the relative runs scored by the sides during the power plays. If you did that in this series you would find England just ahead. For a real measure of how to dominate ODIs, however, you should look at the middle overs; the period of lull between the fireworks of the power plays. It is in these passages of the games that Australia have massively outperformed England thanks to excellent contributions at different times from Watson, Marsh, Hussey, Voges and, Godammit, even Clarke once.

For England the lull overs have been explosive but in the wrong way as wickets have tumbled to a succession of collapses that wouldn’t look out of place on the London Stock Exchange. They have been beyond dreadful. I’m frantically searching for an existing word but in its absence I hope “Derspunkingly shite” will suffice.

At Perth it was the 6th different new ball pairing of Plunkett and a revived Anderson who kept Australia in such check that they had reached only 55-2 at the end of the first 15 overs. But Hussey and Voges took advantage of England’s thin resources with a partnership of 95 in 14 overs and an eventual total of 279 looked well beyond England’s reach.

That view was confirmed when the recherché opening partnership of Strauss and Davies, reunited with Prior dropped down to six where he is far more suited, departed inside two overs with neither registering a run. Strauss thus neatly book ended his tour with ducks at Brisbane in the 1st test and now at the WACA.

When Trott, Pietersen and Bell contrived to boost the confidence of the home town, milky eyed, Oedipal and normally wayward Johnson to leave England 64-5 the match was as good as over.

England finally lost by 57 runs with six overs remaining, yet again failing to see out their allocation, and in so doing conceding the series by six matches to one.

It’s hard to believe that the best preparation for the World Cup for either team was a seven match series in Australian conditions. Both sides will now head to the sub continent with barely a break, though the Aussies will at least be confident.

We can only conclude that Cricket Australia and the ECB reckoned on making so much money from these pointless games that however witlessly one side played, it would all be worth it in lovely shiny dollars. Well it wasn’t. It was frankly a gigantic waste of time that has threatened to relegate cricket back to the media margins it had struggled so hard to escape from during the Ashes series.

Everyone knows administrators have concerns that don’t feature for the average fan, but given how consistently shite Australia’s cricket was during the Ashes I’m tempted simply to assume that the fixture list merely reflects a trend of incompetence that runs through Australia’s top brass. The fact that Giles Clarke agreed to it should come as no surprise (though I don’t suppose we’ll ever get him to comment as he’s too busy avoiding Stanford’s creditors to give actual cricket administration much of his time right now).

There is a strong suspicion that the England bowlers will be ready by mid February and were in fact relieved of their duties to get rest before the World Cup. Judging by the ruthless manner Flower sent them to Brisbane to avoid the Hobart match prior to the first test, it would seem likely that once more the coach is one step ahead of his clueless paymasters.

As for the Sofa team we now have two weeks to refresh our weary minds before the jamboree begins on 19th February. I for one cannot wait to watch teams other than England and Australia. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Sri Lanka finish up on top. After all, they’ve had the best preparation. The persistent rain has meant they’ve hardly played a match in two months, and this tournament is going to be another marathon.

For a list of World Cup matches covered by Test Match Sofa go to www.testmatchsofa.com/schedule. Hopefully Hendo will have surfaced by then.

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I Blame Trott.

by daniel 2. February 2011 13:55

OK. So having endured five matches of remorseless batting mediocrity we were finally treated to a virtually flawless display from England led by the matchless Jonathan Trott, whom regular readers will know was not my first choice to bat at number three, or indeed bat at all.

His chanceless 137 from 126 balls was the cornerstone of a surprisingly measured and occasionally explosive England innings. Naturally, like the rest of his team mates, he succumbed to near life threatening injury towards the end of  his innings, and throughout was accompanied by a moistened cravat to ward off heat stroke that bedecked his neck in the jaunty style of a 1950’s French movie star.

He had been throughout the series to date the one English batsman who looked capable of playing the anchor role, but at Sydney he went further, moving through gears that even his more ardent supporters didn’t believe he possessed.

In partnership first with Strauss, whose 63 from 69 balls was the usual mix of magnificent drives and pulls as well as over earnest charges down the wicket that yielded nothing, and latterly with the rest of England’s middle order, he shepherded England to the massive total of 333-6.

For once Pietersen and Morgan both chipped in and despite the ease of the wicket there was every reason to suppose that England had finally found the form that would make them genuine World Cup contenders.

Worryingly, though, Collingwood limped off at the end after being hit in the thigh by a Tait full toss and was also suffering from a sore back. With England already shorn of their first choice bowling attack and relying on Collingwood and Trott to be the fifth bowler Strauss was going to need his pack leader Anderson to produce something special. And what he produced was truly special, though perhaps not in the way Strauss had anticipated.

Between himself and Woakes, he managed to get Australia off to a flier, the first ten overs disappearing for 79 runs. There were the usual array of excellent drives and hoiks from Watson and Haddin, but there was a more unusually massive array of dreadful filth from Anderson. Full tosses sprayed on to the pads.  Slow ill directed long hops were dismissed with casual and haughty abandon. And this by Watson and Haddin who have absolutely no business being either haughty or casual.

On the Sofa we comforted ourselves with the thought that at least the game was going to be interesting for a while. But we hadn’t banked on Woakes and especially Anderson slipping into unimagined further troughs of incompetence.

Indeed, the only time Strauss had control in the field was while Pietersen and Yardy were bowling.  Trott manfully overcame his life threatening cramp and bowled 4 overs of barely threatening dobbers to make up the numbers.

Earlier Watson, to the surprise of absolutely no one, got out immediately on registering his 50. Callum Ferguson came in for his first knock of the series and looked assured if lacking menace.

For once, Australia’s reply was built around a genuinely fluent innings of 82 off 70 balls by Clarke, though it is hard to tell whether the hopelessly pilloried stand in skipper had miraculously rediscovered his touch or simply couldn’t fail against the substandard offerings of England’s variously wretched “attack”.

In partnership with David Hussey he steered Australia to the brink of victory, negotiating along the way some of the most heinous garbage ever served up in a powerplay by England’s front line seamers.

But the reintroduction of Finn generated the breakthrough for England, at which point Australia suffered an attack of the yips.  Had the otherwise admirable Trott held on to a good chance offered by Clarke in the closing overs, England may have scraped an undeserved victory. But it was not to be.

Somehow England had managed to paper over the cracks in their bowling resources for five matches while their batsmen played as if they longed to be elsewhere. At Sydney the roles were reversed.

None of it really matters of course. The team will be very much different come the World Cup and this was the second deadest of all dead rubbers. The deadest is to come on Sunday morning. And when that last pointless rite is finally played out in front of another half empty stadium, we can finally put the series to bed, and from an England point of view erase just the last three weeks from our memory.

Meanwhile just keep repeating the comforting mantra: we won the Ashes. Yes, we won the Ashes.

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I Blame Trott.

by daniel 2. February 2011 13:55

OK. So having endured five matches of remorseless batting mediocrity we were finally treated to a virtually flawless display from England led by the matchless Jonathan Trott, whom regular readers will know was not my first choice to bat at number three, or indeed bat at all.

His chanceless 137 from 126 balls was the cornerstone of a surprisingly measured and occasionally explosive England innings. Naturally, like the rest of his team mates, he succumbed to near life threatening injury towards the end of  his innings, and throughout was accompanied by a moistened cravat to ward off heat stroke that bedecked his neck in the jaunty style of a 1950’s French movie star.

He had been throughout the series to date the one English batsman who looked capable of playing the anchor role, but at Sydney he went further, moving through gears that even his more ardent supporters didn’t believe he possessed.

In partnership first with Strauss, whose 63 from 69 balls was the usual mix of magnificent drives and pulls as well as over earnest charges down the wicket that yielded nothing, and latterly with the rest of England’s middle order, he shepherded England to the massive total of 333-6.

For once Pietersen and Morgan both chipped in and despite the ease of the wicket there was every reason to suppose that England had finally found the form that would make them genuine World Cup contenders.

Worryingly, though, Collingwood limped off at the end after being hit in the thigh by a Tait full toss and was also suffering from a sore back. With England already shorn of their first choice bowling attack and relying on Collingwood and Trott to be the fifth bowler Strauss was going to need his pack leader Anderson to produce something special. And what he produced was truly special, though perhaps not in the way Strauss had anticipated.

Between himself and Woakes, he managed to get Australia off to a flier, the first ten overs disappearing for 79 runs. There were the usual array of excellent drives and hoiks from Watson and Haddin, but there was a more unusually massive array of dreadful filth from Anderson. Full tosses sprayed on to the pads.  Slow ill directed long hops were dismissed with casual and haughty abandon. And this by Watson and Haddin who have absolutely no business being either haughty or casual.

On the Sofa we comforted ourselves with the thought that at least the game was going to be interesting for a while. But we hadn’t banked on Woakes and especially Anderson slipping into unimagined further troughs of incompetence.

Indeed, the only time Strauss had control in the field was while Pietersen and Yardy were bowling.  Trott manfully overcame his life threatening cramp and bowled 4 overs of barely threatening dobbers to make up the numbers.

Earlier Watson, to the surprise of absolutely no one, got out immediately on registering his 50. Callum Ferguson came in for his first knock of the series and looked assured if lacking menace.

For once, Australia’s reply was built around a genuinely fluent innings of 82 off 70 balls by Clarke, though it is hard to tell whether the hopelessly pilloried stand in skipper had miraculously rediscovered his touch or simply couldn’t fail against the substandard offerings of England’s variously wretched “attack”.

In partnership with David Hussey he steered Australia to the brink of victory, negotiating along the way some of the most heinous garbage ever served up in a powerplay by England’s front line seamers.

But the reintroduction of Finn generated the breakthrough for England, at which point Australia suffered an attack of the yips.  Had the otherwise admirable Trott held on to a good chance offered by Clarke in the closing overs, England may have scraped an undeserved victory. But it was not to be.

Somehow England had managed to paper over the cracks in their bowling resources for five matches while their batsmen played as if they longed to be elsewhere. At Sydney the roles were reversed.

None of it really matters of course. The team will be very much different come the World Cup and this was the second deadest of all dead rubbers. The deadest is to come on Sunday morning. And when that last pointless rite is finally played out in front of another half empty stadium, we can finally put the series to bed, and from an England point of view erase just the last three weeks from our memory.

Meanwhile just keep repeating the comforting mantra: we won the Ashes. Yes, we won the Ashes.

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