MARCH 26, 2015

West Indies cricket

The myth of Sylvester Clarke

In his piece for the Guardian, Jon Hotten explores the unpredictability of former West Indies pacer Sylvester Clarke, whose name resonated in the game much like Sonny Liston in boxing.

Whether he was the quickest of his time is a moot point. Geoffrey Boycott, who faced them all, thought that Jeff Thomson and Michael Holding at their peak were the fastest. What set Clarke apart were two things. The first was his attitude at the crease. He was in a way unknowable; wordless, dead-eyed. All that was clear of his personality was the way he bowled - with bad intentions. Once, challenged by an umpire for repeatedly pitching short, he turned around and said: "It ain't no ladies game, man." The second was that his pace was accompanied by steepling bounce, and worse than that, an action that made it unpredictable.

From a short, slow-ish run his natural line was towards the batsman. Dennis Amiss, who made a double hundred against Holding and Andy Roberts at the Oval in 1976, called it "the trapdoor ball", because it was hard to pick up and then it just kept zoning inwards at the throat. Any batsman will tell you that the worst kind of bouncer is the one that follows you. Sylvester's could be like a heat-seeking missile.

MARCH 16, 2015

World Cup 2015

Cricket then, couture now

Writing for Cricbuzz, Jamie Alter sheds light on Robert 'Bert' Vance, who was infamous for conceding 77 runs in an over for Wellington against Canterbury in 1990. Alter also probes into Vance's family business - bespoke suits.

It didn't quite go to plan. Vance bowled a series of no-balls - only one of his first 17 were legitimate - and ended up conceding 77 runs in the over. As the former New Zealand batsman John Morrison remembers "Bert wasn't the best option, in hindsight. I was the coach then, and we were trying to lure Canterbury into a close chase for runs which they'd given up on. It ended up being his main claim to fame, unfortunately."

MARCH 13, 2015

England cricket

England are bad and boring, too

England, over the course of their many calamities, used to have the "grand, curdled talents" to at least make them watchable, says Barney Ronay in the Guardian. Even that has been lost:

And so here we are now with an England team it is almost impossible to get a genuine look at, an amorphous blob without edges, or areas of interest, so boring that even the debrief, with the same old talk of mindsets and sacking the coach, seems interminably dull.

The fact is in the end England were beaten by teams who simply had more ragged edges, more extreme qualities, more sense of waspish energy. With this in mind perhaps the best place to start is with something else that seems to have disappeared from English cricket. In the end maybe it all comes back to fast bowlers.

MARCH 11, 2015

Stats have taken England down a cul-de-sac

After the World Cup exit, England coach Peter Moores said he would need to look at the data but the satnav appears to have taken the side down a cul de sac, writes Marina Hyde in the Guardian, with too much reliance on technology instead of tactics

This is now a state-of-the-art cock-up, so let's not rule out any theories at this stage. My own suspicion is that the software has become sentient and is now actively working to sabotage the England one-day cricket side. It's a small start, admittedly - but give it time and it'll become Skynet.

MARCH 06, 2015

Misbah on his captaincy 'education'

Misbah-ul-Haq on what it takes to captain Pakistan, and what captaining Pakistan has taught him, in an interview with the BBC's Stephan Shemilt.

As he watched from afar, Pakistani cricket was plunged into darkness by the spot-fixing of captain Salman Butt and fast bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir. In the aftermath, the national side turned to Misbah's calming influence. His first match as captain was also his Test recall. "I realised it was time to take responsibility," said Misbah. "You have to stand up, show the world that you are a good cricketing nation, not only with your performances, but also your conduct and behaviour. You can still be professional, you can still amaze people and fans can enjoy your cricket. That was the challenge at that time."

MARCH 04, 2015

'I didn't enjoy cricket in the same way'

Rory Hamilton-Brown was once tipped for England but he announced his retirement at the weekend, aged 27, due to injury. Hamilton-Brown is now pursuing a career in finance and has spoken to Lawrence Booth, in the Daily Mail, about how the death of Tom Maynard in 2012 changed his life:

"I never enjoyed cricket after Tom died in the way I had before," Hamilton-Brown said. "Nowhere near as much. I can't answer why. I only know that I didn't enjoy cricket in the same way."

Does he still think about Tom? "I do. It's a difficult one. Everyone talks about a process afterwards, and for me it's still a process going forward. There are still a huge amount of unanswered questions in my mind."

MARCH 04, 2015

World Cup 2015

Sinclair's battle after cricket

Jobs in the media, life as a coach, moving into administration or a role as an ambassador. For some former cricketers finding work after the playing days are done is not a worry, but for many it becomes a nightmare. A life changing one. Mathew Sinclair, the former New Zealand batsman, scored a double hundred on debut and another two years later but when he hung up the bat there was no easy path to a 'normal' life. He opened up to Sriram Veera in the Indian Express.

It was a time of bitterness and anger too at the rough card life has dealt him. "I would sit in the nights and wonder 'how the hell did I get myself into this position! How I have f**ked up'." Sinclair wasn't mentally ready for such a severe slide. Depression was gnawing the corners of his mind and he knew somehow he had to avoid stewing in self-pity. Putting himself out there on the radio like that to listeners nationwide was one such thing. "It was funny actually. A caller suggested I should become a drain cleaner, someone else said curator." He hoped something would open a door for him.

MARCH 04, 2015

World Cup 2015: England

Computer says...

England are obsessed by numbers, although 42.2% of the team insist they are not. In the past it helped them to much success, but that was with a more experienced team that could still think on their feet. In his latest Spin column, Andy Bull, argues that there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to how much to believe the computers.

England's over-reliance on the numbers has become a theme in the coverage of the team, particularly among ex-players. You can hear it when they bemoan, among other things, England's reluctance to bowl yorkers at the stumps. That's a tactic that has worked for years, one that has been honed by hard experience. But England's analysis has told them that slow bouncers and full balls sent wide of off-stump are harder to score off. The thing is, in an age when all teams are using computer analysis, a tactic isn't good or bad because it looks that way, or because it is different to what has been done before. It is simply good if it works and bad if it doesn't.

MARCH 03, 2015

World Cup 2015: New Zealand

When 12-year-old Williamson used Graham Thorpe's bat

There were early signs of Kane Williamson's genius. The New Zealand Herald has re-published three articles from 2003, when Williamson was 12, that tell of his exploits, and not just in cricket. The first article describes how he scored a ton of runs with former England cricketer Graham Thorpe's bat, and the third narrates how good he was at rugby too.

But even Thorpe would struggle to match the majestic deeds of 12-year-old Williamson. Williamson led Bay of Plenty Coastlands to the Northern Districts under-14 title last week in Gisborne. He amassed an incredible 420 runs in just four visits to the batting crease - pummelling unbeaten Bay of Plenty's opposition with scores of 101, 128no, 100no and 91no.

Thorpe's former test bat had been sitting around virtually unused for almost two years before Williamson picked it up. Aldridge, father of Northern Districts allrounder Graeme, got the bat from Mount Maunganui's Jim Irwin. Irwin had been given it by Ireland international and Surrey-contracted seamer Mark Patterson, who played for Mount two years ago. "Mark got the bat off Thorpe (his Surrey teammate) when England were out here at the beginning of last year and gave it to Jimmy before he left,'' Aldridge said. "I was doing some work for Jimmy and he asked me if I knew anyone who might want it. Kane sprang instantly to mind.''

MARCH 02, 2015

World Cup 2015: England

England - predictable and stubborn

In his column for the Telegraph, former England captain Michael Vaughan does not hesitate to list down the reasons behind England's poor run in the World Cup so far, particularly with the ball. He talks about the inflexibility in the batting line-up too, and says the culture in the team and setup need to change.

But the problems run deeper than Peter Moores and Paul Downton. Our stock of talent is just not strong enough. Why is that the case? We have all the facilities, the coaches, the player performance pathways and academy squads in place but for some reason we can't produce fast bowlers or spinners. We are pretty much the only team in the world that does not have a genuine fast bowler. Even India have Mohammad Shami now and he is bowling quicker than our guys. Chris Woakes has become our fastest bowler. How has that happened? Yes we have problems with the coaching of the team because the players are not getting any better but the system is not producing the talent we need. I do not judge England's seam bowlers not against Mitchell Starc or Trent Boult. We have not got their pace. But I judge them against someone like Tim Southee. He is an English-style seam bowler and he is moving the ball. Why are we not moving the ball? It must be length. It can't be the batch of balls. Where are the spinners? Why have we not got a left armer or any variation in this World Cup when we have had four years to plan. We have no alternative to right-arm 84mph seam bowlers and an off spinner. It is an attack that resembles a bowling machine.

MARCH 02, 2015

World Cup 2015: New Zealand

Sir Richard...now Sir Brendon?

Brendon McCullum is receiving levels of attention and admiration rarely handed to cricketers in New Zealand as he fearlessly leads their World Cup campaign in the field and with bat in hand. In the New Zealand Herald, Chris Rattue is the latest to laud his performances and even those who had doubts when he was promoted to the captaincy can't help but be pulled along with the tide of emotion

There will be different perspectives on the McCullum path but one thing is certain - his image has undergone a u-turn. Saturday's World Cup victory over Australia was almost too perfect for words - a rare case in sport of the outcome beating the hell out of the build-up. A tournament crying out for a nail-biting finish between heavyweights got it. McCullum provided the subplot of quiet courage, taking a savage blow during another terrific innings.

FEBRUARY 27, 2015

World Cup 2015

Mahela-Sanga, a 'hyphenated hosanna'

In the Sydney Morning Herald, Greg Baum pays tribute to Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, who have been inseparable in the minds of followers for nearly 15 years.

Together, you've graced all the grounds and ennobled all the occasions. Once, in a Test against South Africa in Colombo, you came together at 2/14 and put on 624, the biggest partnership for any wicket, anywhere, in first-class history. As the record neared, you both grew nervous as schoolboys; this was not the time to let down a mate. You didn't. They lit fireworks for you then, and they are lighting them still.

You were still at school when you first met, and were rivals then. Eventually you came together in the national team, alone in your age group in that team. Soon, you would prove a class apart. Fortunately, you enjoyed each other's company, off the ground as well as on. In aggregate, you've made around 53,000 international runs, Test, one-day and T20, when it came along. You've both captained your country, to a World Cup final each, losing both, and the bitter memory drives you on still.

FEBRUARY 24, 2015

World Cup 2015

McCullum and Carter: two World Cups?

Brendon McCullum is the focus of most of New Zealand's attention at the moment, but later in the year that will shift to another famous son, Dan Carter, when the rugby World Cup takes place. In the Daily Telegraph, Steve James looks at two sportsmen whose careers are intertwined back to their school days.

There is talk, and it is not idle, that New Zealand could even win the World Cup with McCullum at the helm. While McCullum's star keeps rising, so Carter's seems to be fading. Why the comparison? It is not about the opinion I expressed recently in this column about the relative merits of the CWC and the Rugby World Cup (the latter is much more important), but rather it is about the manner in which the careers of Carter and McCullum have enfolded, and, more importantly, how they began.

FEBRUARY 23, 2015

New Zealand cricket

Chris Harris: Medical rep, father, fighter

In his piece for the Indian Express, Sriram Veera explores Chris Harris' transformation from a versatile allrounder to a medical representative, who spends hours in the operation theatres, assisting surgeons. Then he wraps up work and goes home to play with his daughter, who suffers from hemiplegia.

Five years ago, when Harris's daughter Phoebe was born, she wasn't breathing. Her twin brother Louie, who was pushed out second, breathed first. As the doctors tried to resuscitate her, Harris was in great anguish for three to four minutes before he heard her scream. In a few weeks, though, the doctors discovered that there was a slight discrepancy in Phoebe's left side and right side -- she had hemiplegia which causes problems in movement and coordination. Although the muscles are fully formed, messages from the brain have trouble getting through -- her right side would move but her left wouldn't, and it has led to some trouble. Like a black eye on her second birthday when she fell down and hit a table. He and his wife Linda, who had to spend 7 weeks on the hospital bed after Phoebe's birth, are still learning to deal with it.

FEBRUARY 22, 2015

World Cup 2015: India

Dhawan's rise thanks to romance and Facebook

Shikhar Dhawan turned his form around with a century that set up India's win over South Africa in Melbourne but, writes Dileep Premachandran in the Guardian, his rise from misguided talent to international match-winner is even more intriguing:

We do not know whether Shikhar Dhawan possesses a Moleskine notebook or not but if he was ever to jot down his story, it should surprise no one if it was titled: How Facebook Changed My Life. Back in 2004 he had been the leading run-scorer at an Under-19 World Cup. After that, he spent more than half a decade treading water. There would be the odd sparkling innings for Delhi but as the years passed, those that watched him wondered how badly he wanted to make the step up. Those younger than him - Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma being the most prominent names - established themselves in the Indian side even as he remained on the fringes.

Then, Dhawan came across the Melbourne-based Ayesha Mukherjee, of British-Bengali origin, on Harbhajan Singh's Facebook friends' list. On an impulse he sent her a friend request. By late 2009 they were engaged. They married in 2012. A year later Dhawan destroyed Australia on his Test debut, carrying that form forward into the Champions Trophy, where he was player of the tournament.

FEBRUARY 22, 2015

World Cup 2015

Investigating ODI myths

Once teams scoring more than 300 could be confident that it was a match-winning total. Now, however, the big scores are being chased down more frequently. With such a rapid transformation in ODI cricket over the last few years, Jonathan Liew - writing in the Telegraph - looks at a few preconceptions surrounding the ODI format - like the assumptions of what a safe score is and the importance of the first 10 overs - and examines their relevance in the current context of the World Cup.

A surprising number of the old maxims hold true. Doubling a team's score after 30 overs still just about works (it's actually nearer 31 overs, but same difference). Seeing off the new ball(s) is as important in 2015 as it was in 1975.

But for fielding captains as well as batting captains, the modern one-day international is much more of a juggling act than ever before. It's not fashionable to dole out praise to governing bodies, but the new regulations have breathed unpredictability and variety into a format that looked on the verge of extinction just a few years ago.

FEBRUARY 21, 2015

World Cup 2015

England v Scotland - a banana peel waiting to happen

In his column for the Telegraph, Geoff Boycott says that Scotland could fancy their chances of beating England after the side's poor start in the World Cup and suggests a few changes England can make to freshen things up.

After the New Zealand hammering they have to make some changes to the team to freshen it up. We need some purpose and energy with bat, ball and in the field. Surely they can't stick their heads in the sand and pick the same team. Steven Finn has to go along with Gary Ballance, and England hope that does the trick.

Coach Peter Moores, and captain Eoin Morgan, can talk all they want and use the excuse they have just lost to two of the favourites to win the tournament. They can say it has not changed their focus and belief that England will get to the quarter-finals and might still win the World Cup. But you would be hard pressed to find any England supporters who believe that.

FEBRUARY 19, 2015

World Cup 2015

The comeback of the year?

Grant Elliott's recall to New Zealand's one-day side is shaping as a selection masterstroke as he adds solidity to the batting order and provides some nagging medium pace. Ahead of the World Cup he spoke to Alexander Bisley for a Guardian sportsblog where the conversation turned to an infamous incident at The Oval in 2008 early in Elliott's career

Though it would be entirely understandable if the incident had provided added motivation for his appearance against England in the Black Caps' third World Cup outing, in Wellington on Friday, Elliott remains gracious. "Oh, heat of the battle," he says. "It was a tough situation for [Paul] Collingwood." He gives the then-England captain the benefit of the doubt, even though Collingwood later apologised for the incident. "Collingwood didn't see what was going on, so I guess he was going on the words of all his senior players."

Meanwhile, as New Zealand and England go head-to-head in Wellington, Chris Rattue, writing in the New Zealand Herald picks out sporting battles between the two countries from a various fields.

FEBRUARY 19, 2015

World Cup 2015: India

Why should I support India?

The team isn't representing the nation, but a private trust worth several thousand crores of rupees, argues Jayaditya Gupta writing for Live Mint.

The question on my mind has always been this: How does one square the near-virulent antipathy towards the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) with support--even adulation or idolatry--for the team that wears its logo? This is not India, this is the BCCI's team. The BCCI today, in India and in the eyes of the cricketing world, is a discredited organization, whose various administrative decisions over the past five-odd years are the subject of judicial and governmental scrutiny. It is rotten at the top; so rotten in fact that the top exists at the mercy of the Supreme Court. Am I am supposed to place my unflinching, unquestioning loyalty in the team and system it controls so tightly?

FEBRUARY 18, 2015

World Cup 2015

The joy of the dot

The early stages of the World Cup, with the exception of New Zealand's match against Scotland, have been dominated by bat over ball - as many expected would be the case. The final 10 overs of an innings have been especially brutal with run-rates in excess of ten-an-over. However, writing in the Age, Greg Baum delves a little deeper having watched India take on Pakistan and revels in the value of a dot-ball and the match-changing potential of a maiden over.

But because the number of available deliveries is rationed, even a dot ball implies runs that can never be recovered. Six dot balls is a maiden over's worth of them, not a wicket as such, but having the effect of one. In Test cricket, crafty bowlers build dots into maidens, maidens into miserly spells, and are admired for their skill. In contracted forms of the game, a maiden at the right time can be as good as a spell, a dot as good as a maiden. It is skill in itself, not of attrition as in Test cricket, but of nerve and knowing.

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