The former England captain's take on the fortnight in cricket

'This may be Gayle's last chance'

Adrian Barath's heroics, Sri Lanka's spin woes, England's chances in South Africa, and the free to air issue (08:33)

November 30, 2009


The Tony Greig Show

'This may be Gayle's last chance'

November 30, 2009

Adrian Barath jumps for joy on reaching a century on debut, Australia v West Indies, 1st Test, Brisbane, 3rd day, November 28, 2009
Adrian Barath "Those of you who haven't seen him play are in for a treat" © Getty Images

India v Sri Lanka: There are many Sri Lankans who think their current Test team, led by Kumar Sangakkara, is the best to have ever represented Sri Lanka in the Test-match format. I don't think this is the case, largely because most of the top batsmen in the world have seen so much of spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan that he has ceased to be as dangerous as he once was. This is not in any way meant to detract from the brilliance of Murali - the fact is, his doosra is no longer the problem it was for many of the top players. Despite this he remains the world's leading wicket-taker and that is something that no one can ever take away from him. There is no doubt that Murali is now happy to phase himself out of the big time, although it does seem that he is hanging in an effort to help Sri Lankan cricket.

Ajantha Mendis has also been worked out. The Indians in particular had all sorts of problems with Mendis, but like Murali, his mystery deliveries are no longer causing the problems they used to. Again this is understandable, as all the best players in the world have now had a good look at him, and at worst have devised plans to counter this brilliant young bowler's ability to bamboozle. This being the case, the current Sri Lankan bowling attack is definitely not as good as it was a few years ago.

The batting is a different matter. In Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayewardene they have three of the world's best, and I think there is a strong case in favour of them being the best batting line-up Sri Lanka have put into a Test.

Sri Lanka now have their work cut out if they are to win in India for the first time. India must be feeling secure in the batting department; superstars like Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag are always going to worry opposing teams, but with two centuries in two Tests, Gautam Gambhir has established himself as one of the best opening batsmen in world cricket. Rahul Dravid is also back to top form after a year or so of scratchy form, but he is still under pressure to keep the young talent at bay.

Australia v West Indies: The first Test between Australia and West Indies has, as expected, been a one-sided affair, all over in three days. There may be those of you who thought the Windies would fare better but I certainly didn't. Sure, they were a little unlucky to lose Ramnaresh Sarwan to a freak injury the day before the Test; he has after all been their leading batsman over the past year, but I can't believe that West Indies thought they could fly into Brisbane, play one warm-up match and hope that would be enough. Teams need at least three tough matches in Australia before the first Test if they hope to cope with Brisbane conditions.

The last 20 Brisbane Tests have produced 16 wins for Australia and only four draws. Visiting Test teams have not won a Test in Brisbane since 1988. Teams have in the main been underprepared for the extra bounce, and as a result invariably find themselves 0-1 down.

The next Test is being played on the flatter Adelaide pitch, so there is a chance that the West Indian batsmen will fare better, but they need Sarwan and he needs appropriate support from Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and newcomer Adrian Barath. If this is not forthcoming they will go down again.

Nineteen-year old Barath was a breath of fresh air for the Windies. He became the youngest West Indian to score a Test ton, following in the footsteps of the great George Headley - the black Bradman. The Test rookie also became the youngest player to hit a century against Australia since India's Sachin Tendulkar almost 18 years ago. Those of you who haven't seen Barath play are in for a treat. He loves his back-foot shots and is very severe on anything outside the off stump.

There is also no doubt that Gayle's captaincy is under the microscope. It may even be his last chance as captain. He has to perform well as captain and see to it that he comes away from Australia with a group that is pulling together. If he doesn't, there will be increased pressure to give Trinidad's Daren Ganga a chance to captain the team.

Australia will be happy with their start to the series and they will take this team into the Adelaide Test, although there may a change to the XII with a spinner replacing fast bowler Doug Bollinger. If the Aussies do go with two spinners in Adelaide, there is a good chance that Mitchell Johnson will miss out.

Pakistan v New Zealand: Given the way the first Test between New Zealand and Pakistan unfolded, it's hard to predict how the rest of the series will go. One way or the other both teams will be happy to have fast bowlers Shane Bond and Mohammad Asif back in action.

Back in 2007, Bond was troubled by injury and decided he needed a break, and with hindsight that was a good decision. Asif on the other hand has had a tough time; his absence from the big time was enforced as a result of the drug accusations levelled at him in Dubai, but he too has risen to the occasion and along with Umar Gul and Mohammad Aamer will have a few batsmen jumping around. Nineteen-year-old Test debutant Umar Akmal is another exciting young player. Daniel Vettori will be thrilled to bits with his team's victory. Vettori seems to be able to bring the best out of his team and Pakistan will have to play well now to win the series.

"Anyone who thinks throwing a few dollars at grassroots will fix everything is wrong. In any event the Ashes only come around in England every four years, so even if all homes in the UK have access to it that is not going to be enough to make a difference. All international cricket in the UK should be on both free-to-air and pay TV, and may the better man win"

South Africa v England: England's tour of South Africa is well underway and England will be satisfied with their initial results and the form of Paul Collingwood and Jonathan Trott in particular, but England's run of six successive 50-over wins over South Africa ended when the South Africans bounced back to level the ODI series. The South Africans are a settled side despite the absence of the world's leading allrounder Jacques Kallis, and with AB de Villiers playing so well I expect South Africa to win unless Kevin Pietersen also finds form because he is one of the batsmen in world cricket who can single-handedly change the course of a series.

The free-to-air issue: It's been announced by the British government that the home Ashes series in England may be elevated to one of the so-called crown-jewel events of British sport. This means it would be compulsory to show the Ashes on free-to-air television. While this will again make cricket more accessible to the British public, it could lose the ECB some of the millions they receive from pay channel Sky for exclusive rights to English cricket. There are some English administrators who say this would damage cricket funding at a grassroots level. I don't buy this argument.

At the moment 60% of homes in the UK do not have pay TV; therefore more than half of the UK population does not get the opportunity to watch England play any form of live cricket on television. This must impact the game in England, and I know from first-hand experience that youngsters who get the cricket bug have a better chance of becoming good at the game if they watch their heroes on television.

Anyone who thinks throwing a few dollars at grassroots will fix everything is wrong. In any event the Ashes only comes around in England every four years, so even if all homes in the UK have access to it that is not going to be enough to make a difference. All international cricket in the UK should be on both free-to-air and pay TV, and may the better man win. At the moment more people watch delayed highlights of internationals than watch the games live simply because pay TV can't deliver the biggest audience.

UDRS: The ICC's umpire decision review system has been implemented in Australia and New Zealand, and while there are a few issues that need to be ironed out, the general consensus of opinion from the players, umpires and those close to the game is positive. There will always be a few detractors but it must be remembered that the object of this exercise is to eliminate bad mistakes, and unless the mistake is bad the original umpire's decision will stand. I am still not sure that we need the involvement of the players in the process. I would prefer to have the third umpire or the match referee simply impose himself on the standing umpires if a bad mistake is spotted.

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