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

'Yousuf is a reluctant captain'

Pakistan implode, South Africa struggle, and why Gavaskar's comments are not justified (10:07)

January 11, 2010

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The Tony Greig Show

'Yousuf is a reluctant captain'

January 11, 2010

Kamran Akmal looks dejected after dropping Peter Siddle, Australia v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Sydney, 4th day, January 6, 2010
"I feel desperately sorry for this likeable young man but all the sympathy in the world won't help until he fixes the technical problems he has with his keeping" © Getty Images

News of the week
The start of a new decade warrants a few observations on the past decade.

There is little doubt that the advent of Twenty20 cricket has created more debate than anything else that has happened in the period. Players are excited about the massive amounts they are now able to earn from the game, and administrators, while also excited about the popularity of the latest format, are worried about its impact on the status quo. They are also seriously worried about the financial power it has given India. We go into the new decade hoping that the ICC are able to come up with a formula that keeps everyone happy, because if they don't, cricket could end up in crisis

Test cricket has experienced a wonderful decade and there is every reason to believe that it will get even better. There have been more wins and less draws in the decade, and this alone is reason to celebrate. There is also every reason to believe that most of the groundsmen around the world have got the message that result pitches are decidedly better than the flat batting pitches that became so popular in the nineties. It is also pertinent to point out that the doomsdayers who predicted that the advent of ODIs would ruin batting have been proved very wrong. The opposite has happened, with batsmen scoring runs at a far better rate than before, despite our inability to improve over rates.

Batsmen clearly ruled the roost in the 2000s, but despite that, it was also the decade with the lowest percentage of drawn Tests in almost 100 years. The dominance of bat over ball continues to be a worry for the game, but this can be addressed by the groundsmen, who have started to understand the importance of bounce to all types of bowlers.

The Sydney Test
While Pakistan's Mohammad Yousuf and Kamran Akmal must shoulder most of the blame for missing a wonderful opportunity to level the series with Australia, one shouldn't undervalue the Aussie fight-back.

Sure, we all found it very hard to relate to the ultra-defensive tactics employed by Yousuf on day four but we have seen other international teams use a similar approach and succeed. If captains give singles to recognised batsmen in the hope of bowling to the tail, they usually have only two balls every over at best to do the job. Michael Hussey has learned well from Adam Gilchrist over the years and Peter Siddle took his determined cue from the many Aussie tailenders who during the past decade have put together big lower-order partnerships. Yousuf should have changed his plan as soon as it became clear that Siddle was comfortable. Much is made these days of the contribution of the coaches, so Intikhab Alam and Waqar Younis, who one must assume are part of the Pakistan brains trust on this tour, must also take a share of the blame.

Meanwhile Hussey must be counting his blessings - to be dropped thrice is bad enough but for all three to be catches to the keeper is incredible. Akmal has described his terrible outing in the Sydney Test, as a "scary dream" and today in Pakistan it is being reported that another reason for Akmal's problems may have been because he was required to do all-night babysitting sessions during the Test: eyewitnesses say that Kamran was often seen pacing the corridor with his baby in his arms. I feel desperately sorry for this likeable young man, but all the sympathy in the world won't help until he fixes the technical problems he has with his keeping. An embarrassed Pakistan Cricket Board has summoned replacement keeper Sarfraz Ahmed as part of a rescue mission for Thursday's third Test in Hobart.

"I certainly don't think Sunny's allegation is valid; in fact, more often than not the sons of those in a position of authority are treated more harshly. Broad is a competitive young fast bowler, who from time to time is going to be aggressive and sometimes may well overstep the mark, but he will also receive his share of the punishment that is dished out"

Meanwhile Yousuf was quick to take the blame highlighting the shot he played as pathetic and the reason why his team lost. Yousuf strikes me as a reluctant captain and whatever happens the PCB must see to it that this enormously talented batsman continues to play for Pakistan.

Pakistan's loss in Sydney was almost predictable once they had to score in excess of 150. The only factor in their favour was a very average Aussie bowling attack but to their credit they rose to the occasion and once again Pakistan imploded.

One should never deprive any team of their moment in the sun, but the Aussie celebrations when they won were reminiscent of an Ashes victory, which to me is an indication that this Aussie team recognises that its future Test victories are going to be a tad more difficult than they have been in the recent past. Unlike Pakistan they will be secure in the knowledge that their catching and their tactics will more often than not be their strength.

The Cape Town Test
The England team will be feeling relieved about their narrow escape in Cape Town but they will also be quick to point out that this was not a one-off. Over the years England teams have developed a reputation of playing for a draw until the chance of a win materialises. This approach made them hard to beat. It seems that the current team has successfully adopted the fighting qualities of yesteryears and as a result is now likely to win the series in South Africa in a fashion similar to the way they beat Australia at home last year. Fighting back in what seems like a lost cause is a quality that breeds fast in a team that regularly plays well with its back to the wall.

South Africa on the other hand will be losing confidence, especially when it comes to finishing their opposition off. There is no doubt that tailenders are becoming harder to remove as they all realise how important it is to stay with the many wicketkeeper-batsmen playing all forms of the game these days. There is also an art to getting rid of tailenders, which usually revolves around getting them before their confidence kicks in. In the old days they used to worry a little more about being hurt; not so these days with the availability of all the very effective protective equipment.

There are those critics who think that South Africa's No. 2 status in Test cricket is too high, but this is a little harsh. They, along with all, bar a couple of the Test teams, are neck and neck in the table, and in any event series victories to Australia and England will close the gaps even more.

England will be thrilled with the re-emergence of Ian Bell. He is a classy player who has lacked confidence. After being dropped in the West Indies, rather than stew on his plight he decided to make himself tougher and physically better, so he embarked on a series of gruelling boxing sessions with England's head of security. Apparently the footwork and hand-eye co-ordination in boxing was very handy and put Bell in a tough place. So far so good.

Kevin Pietersen, on the other hand, has not measured up against South Africa and he will be a little worried about his inability to convert a start into a big score. Like so many seriously gifted players Pietersen may just be a little too laidback. He knows that a big score is just around the corner, and let's face it, his place in the team is not in jeopardy. It's also just possible that he is still smarting as a result of having the England captaincy taken away from him.

One of South Africa's favourite sons Makhaya Ntini went wicketless at Kingsmead and was dropped in Cape Town, and depending on the fitness of the other bowlers could find himself on the sideline again at the Wanderers. Such is the importance of Ntini to South African cricket that he is being given every chance to prove his worth, but 13 wickets in six Tests during 2009 is an indication that time is running out. Ntini is not going to make a decision on his career until after the forthcoming Wanderers Test.

The Australians rush towards Nathan Hauritz after the final wicket, Australia v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Sydney, 4th day, January 6, 2010
"The Aussie celebrations, when they won, to me, are an indication that this Aussie team recognises that its future Test victories are going to be a tad more difficult than they have been in the recent past" © Getty Images

The ball-tampering controversy
The ball tampering controversy in Cape Town was blown out of all proportion. Both Stuart Broad and James Anderson are fully aware of the consequences of fiddling with the ball, and if the South Africans had a problem they should have reported it right away and allowed the match referee to do his job. Ball-tampering causes reverse swing and as soon as reverse swing starts, umpires should be calling for the ball on a regular basis. I have no doubt that every team in the game is working hard to come up with ways of making the ball reverse because it is so effective when it happens.

Gavaskar on Broad
I am asked regularly about Sunil Gavaskar's comments that Broad gets away with his petulant on-field behaviour because his father is a match referee. I certainly don't think Sunny's allegation is valid; in fact, more often than not the sons of those in a position of authority are treated more harshly. Broad is a competitive young fast bowler, who from time to time is going to be aggressive and sometimes may well overstep the mark, but he will also receive his share of the punishment that is dished out.

ODI series in Bangladesh
There is no doubt that Bangladesh is beginning to warm to ODIs, and there is good reason to believe this improvement will translate to the Twenty20 format. Their batting performances in the current tri-series are an indication of what they are capable of but they are suffering from "the good-pitch syndrome". Their batsmen pile on the runs but the bowlers can't protect the total. Until Bangladesh start unearthing bowlers capable of not only restricting the opposition but bowling them out, they will not win many matches. To do this they must start making pitches that encourage their bowlers. Sri Lanka went through similar problems until Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas appeared on the scene.

Posted by Hansarya on (January 12, 2010, 3:15 GMT)

How can we ever forget what Mike Denness did to six Indian players in South Africa. I mean he did not even give any explanation. And no Indian cricket fan can ever forget that! Of course Broad gets away with whatever he does!

Posted by gung-ho on (January 11, 2010, 15:57 GMT)

I for one would take whatever Tony Greig says with a pinch of salt - in fact, I would rather listen to someone like Boycott. His commentary is almost always a bunch of superlatives so connected that it conveys no sense - "oh that's high in the air - its going all the way - oh no, its going to be caught - oh boy - wonder what he was thinking when he played the shot - oh isn't that beautiful." - nothing much has changed - his "technical analysis" or "retrospectives" should not mean much to any cricket enthusiast.

Posted by JGuru on (January 11, 2010, 11:49 GMT)

It is certainly true that this decade perhaps had seen best of the test matches as most of them ending with a result. Most of the matches held in Australia produced results more than in cricketing nation. The reason could not just be that the best pitches in the world for test cricket happens to be in Australia but also the attacking attitude exhibited by the Aussie captains which often forced results. Pakistan was squared up in Sydney and they have got just themselves to blame and Aussies supreme self confidence defeated Pakistan. South Africa should feel extrmely bad for not being able to convert excellent opportunities to victories. They do not lack depth in their bowling but they certainly miss the Killer instinct required to finish off matches. Steyn and Morne are lethal fast bowlers. May be they have to be bit more focussed to win more matches.

Posted by Notout_Naveen on (January 11, 2010, 8:13 GMT)

i think sunny coments r r8.. broad inspite of crossing line many times hasnt been punished yet! question is not to make him punished but he is taking influence a bit granted..if u see the punishment history subcontinent team always had a raw deal!

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