March 2012

FAREWELL TO THE WALL

by maxbenson 9. March 2012 11:06

@sofa_maxb

‘’My approach to cricket has been reasonably simple: it was about giving everything to the team, it was about playing with dignity and it was about upholding the spirit of the game.’’

The retiring words of Rahul Dravid – the living definition of conscientious and a man whose love for Test cricket will forever course through his veins and our minds.

After more than 24,000 runs in Tests and ODIs and a world-beating 210 Test catches, the time has come, at 39 years-of-age, for one of the best batsmen we have ever seen to step aside, grace and dignity predictably intact.

It is testament to the genius of Sachin Tendulkar that a true great like Dravid was often cast coolly in the shadows, and few articles about him pass by without mention of this fact. Dravid deserves far more respect than that. He should be mentioned in his own right.

In excelling at the top of his sport for a decade and a half he became the second most prolific batsman in Test history, just behind Tendulkar, his long-time partner at the crease. It will be a good while before another Indian batsman reaches those heights, if it's even possible, but more worrying for all of cricket is that the appreciation for what took Dravid to the top diminishes in his absence.

For the man from Bangalore is much more than the tens of thousands of runs he compiled over the years. Those oft-forgotten quiet qualities so readily mistaken for fear or awkwardness were among Dravid’s greatest and it only worked because they were no facade or affectation.

Sport needs its mercurial characters and box-office exhibitionists, and there was an increasing clamour throughout Dravid’s career for those swift of blade and sharp of tongue. Shahid Afridi. Kevin Pietersen. A hundred more.

But successful teams need constants. They need men whose resolve, character and discipline can lift the rest up to their level. Dravid had enough of all three for a whole touring party. And he never felt the need to shout from the rooftops about it.

He was the fulcrum around which the flair of Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman et al could thrive. It took India to the top of world cricket, to the immense pride of an enthralled nation.

Watching Kapil Dev lift the 1983 World Cup on television switched Dravid on to the possibilities of a career in cricket. 13 years later, he made 95 in his first innings on the same Lord’s turf in what became The Wall’s trademark obdurate manner.

It is somewhat against the grain for such a ruthless compiler of runs to be so mindful of the team’s fortunes rather than his own. He moved up and down the order to suit the needs of those around him and even served as a capable wicketkeeper when the need arose. Here’s hoping his legacy includes a young Indian batsman or two making the grade having been equally enchanted by his prowess, respect and unyielding strength of character.

Rahul Dravid is enduring proof that the good guys can succeed, and then some.

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GREAT EXPECTATIONS

by maxbenson 5. March 2012 13:39

@sofa_maxb

Going unbeaten through 2012 was the stated aim and it’s a case of so far so good for England’s women as they completed a whitewash of New Zealand in the early hours of this morning.

Sarah Taylor’s unbeaten 109 and 84 from Lydia Greenway in a double century stand steered their side to comfortable six-wicket win against the Kiwis. It wrapped up a 7-0 drubbing over the three ODIs and four Twenty20s, with the fourth scheduled T20 in Invercargill washed out without a ball being bowled.

They have now won 14 straight games under the stewardship of Charlotte Edwards - herself a centurion having belted an unbeaten 137 off just 88 balls in the penultimate game in Lincoln – and could hardly have made a better start to a tough year of cricket at home and abroad.

This continued development with a young squad is particularly heartening given the hole left by the retirement of the great Claire Taylor in July last year. It also demontrates that the investment in the England Women's Academy is starting to pay dividends, with a bright future very much on the cards.

The only gloom for the tourists on the land of the long white cloud was the question raised over the legality of Jenny Gunn’s bowling action. The all-rounder was reported by umpires after the first ODI in Lincoln and, although cleared to continue playing for the time being, she must now submit an ‘independent analysis’ of her action to the ICC.

A break from competitive action now comes until June brings the next test of their world-dominating credentials when India land for T20s at Canterbury and Chelmsford. Five ODIs follow, beginning with a showpiece fixture at Lord’s on July 1st.

A challenging summer ends with five T20s against the West Indies before they decamp, along with their male counterparts, to Sri Lanka for the ICC World T20. The tournament could prove to be a pinnacle for England, as they seek to regain the title they took at the inaugural final at Lord’s in 2009.

Australia took the crown in 2010 as top-of-the-world England tumbled out in the group stages, so what better incentive than to steal the cup back from the Old Enemy?

England’s summer opponents have just completed a tight series in the Caribbean, with the hosts narrowly coming out on top in the five T20s and three one dayers. Both pose a threat for Edwards’ charges, with India boasting the world’s top-ranked batter and bowler in former captain Mithali Raj and medium-pacer Jhulan Goswami.

20-year-old Jamaican Stafanie Taylor, meanwhile, remains one of the game’s brightest prospects with bat and ball and will play an integral part when her side kick off the T20s at Chester-le-Street on September 8th.

Much to play for in an exciting 2012, then, with England’s women and men both striving to meet great expectations in all forms of the game.