November 13-20 November 20, 2005

Donald Rumsfeld, dogs' tails and Hoggard's genius

Dogs' tails, Donald Rumsfeld and the genius that is Matthew Hoggard

Shabbir Ahmed's antics will be missed, not least by Pakistan in the second Test at Faisalabad © AFP

The return of The Tailenders. Never mind Pakistan's win, or England's return to planet earth, or even Shabbir Ahmed's wonky arm, the real story of the first Test at Multan was the return of genuinely hopeless tail-end batsmen. Not since the days of Peter Such, Courtney Walsh and Phil Tufnell have we had such cause to mock the afflicted. Shabbir displayed enough muppetry: he faced five balls at Multan, missed four of them - including the one that bowled him middle-stump around the outside-edge - then snicked his first of the second innings to the keeper. Sadly, having been reported by the two umpires in the first Test, he's been forced to make way for Rana Naved-ul-Hasan.

The killer from Kingaroy. Matthew Hayden is back to his bish-bash-boshing best; an innings of subdued violence from him against West Indies was cut short on 110, but he was proud of his knock nonetheless: 'It was great to refocus and refresh in England because I wasn't batting badly but I was caught all the time in the 30s. I didn't have the right strategy to push on with good balance and patience." Nothing to do with England's excellence, of course, Matthew. Or the short mid-off. Or England's mastery of reverse-swing...

Shades of Anwar in Butt Saeed Anwar, that most elegant of left-handers with elasticised wrists, forsook cricket in favour of teaching the Islamic faith following the death of his daughter four years ago. But Pakistan might well have found his replacement - and a decent opening partnership - in Salman Butt. Butt's splendid hundred, preceded by 74 in the first innings, wasn't as destructive as an Anwar special - nor quite as daring - but there was enough to suggest that Butt has the substance and determination to allay his natural flair.

'If Bob thinks I'm a bit of a genius, who am I to disagree?' © AFP

I'm a genius. Matthew Hoggard has been likened to many things, not least a cartoon character, but few have had cause to mention his genius. Until now. Hoggard's ball to Inzamam-ul-Haq in the second innings was named the ball of the match by Pakistan's coach, Bob Woolmer. Such high praise flattered the floppy-haired one, but he was honest enough to admit his incredulity: 'So I got it in the right place but, other than that, there was a bit of luck involved. But if Bob thinks I'm a bit of a genius, who am I to disagree?'

Quote of the week `We've started well and finished badly, we've started badly and finished well, we've started well and finished well, and we've started badly and finished badly.' Duncan Fletcher covers every possible angle in speaking about England's defeat. Close your eyes and it could almost be Donald Rumsfeld speaking to the senate: "There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns..." Potential job-swap in the pipeline?

All's well again between captain and coach. Or is it? © AFP

Best of mates, honest. Sourav Ganguly has kissed and made up with his coach Greg Chappell, and the pair are best mates again. That's what we're led to believe, however. "I've always respected Greg," said Ganguly on Friday. "Both Greg and I are mature and can handle situations." Meanwhile, Ashok Malik, Devangshu Datta, Harsha Bhogle, Mukul Kesavan and most recently, Sambit Bal, are discussing the state of Indian cricket at our blog, Wicket to Wicket. Sambit is rightfully concerned about the BCCI president, Ranbir Singh Mahendra, publicly supporting Ganguly - for Mr Mahendra has no say in selectorial matters. This has, rather understandably, led to some interesting comments from readers. "If there is talk about Ganguly coming back to the Indian team for the one-dayers, then what about the player whom the Australians regarded as the best batsman - VVS Laxman?" said Krishna Swamy.

What an expensive beech. Kent has a history of trees growing in (and falling down on) cricket grounds. First to fall was the infamous and enormous lime tree at the St Lawrence ground in Canterbury, which was replaced in March. Next, and no doubt not the last to topple, is a beech tree at the Matfield ground which caused an astonishing £10,000 worth of damage to the club's pavillion. When will they learn to grow willow trees? At least they could harness its other well-known uses, not least that of making bats. I've yet to come across a lime or beech-based bat, although Ricky Ponting will no doubt be first in line to commandeer its use.

England's Nazi tactics backfire. Peter May, not the former England captain of course, likened England's defeat to Pakistan 'like the Nazis advancing on Stalingrad - marching forward with ill-deserved confidence and woefully ill-equipped for the conditions, the invaders' weapons redundant making brutal defeat a crushing inevitability.' On that basis, and if England win the second Test, what Nazi-based reference will May come up with next?

It's a dog's life. Hardly a week goes by without Shoaib Akhtar appearing in the headlines. So when he's participating in a Test match, the quotes come flooding in with unabated regularity. In October, Shoaib was less than impressed with ESPN-Star's comments about him, when the programme said "a dog's tail will never straighten" in reference to his fitness record and commitment. Bob Woolmer, his coach and probably not his biggest fan, countered this in a recent press conference: "Akhtar has been a model of behaviour," said Woolmer. "His attitude has been fantastic and he is an asset for Pakistan. He deserved the criticism he got, but he has come back greatly: maybe a dog's tail can straighten."

Will Luke is editorial assistant of Cricinfo.