First up, this is my first scribbling since 22 March. There are many reasons, one of which is laziness, another one of which is boredom with cricket, and especially the social media that surrounds it, and the authorities that run it. But through everything, cricket still matters. It is still a sport that means too much to too many for it to stay out of your conscience for too long. So last week I bit the bullet, had to turn down tickets for today, but thought I’d watch the opening match of the World Cup at home.
The Cricket World Cup is a curious thing. Unlike it’s football counterpart, it doesn’t have the sense of gravitas among the general public. Some of this is to do with its shorter history, another is due to the respect to which the format is held, and to some extent the priorities the ordinary fan has for this summer.
But let’s get to the game today. England are going into the tournament as favourites, and I note from the tedium of some of social media that they are supposed to apologise for having played well in the past few years. While the traditional media report back all that culture trust and other management speak garbage that you’d think we’d all be immune to by now (Steve Archibald had it right), the rest of the world read this as arrogance. I know few cricket fans who don’t think that the key weakness, namely the early collapse, won’t sink us at some point. Cardiff 2017 rings too many bells for too many England fans to think the name is on the trophy.
South Africa won the toss on a dry, but hardly tropical, day south of the river, and decided to insert England. The view is England like to chase, and that the real issues come when we are asked to bat first. South Africa decided to open the bowling with Imran Tahir. Nasser did his usual old nonsense about it designed to get Jason Roy (harking back to a previous World final) and then, once Roy had taken a single, saying that Jonny Bairstow was a good player of spin. To a general laugh at chez Dmitri, YJB nicked the first ball he faced and Tahir did that thing that makes me want to strangle him (that absolutely effing nonsense celebration – as I write, its on the screen. I really, really hate it).
Jason Roy looked a little iffy, with a tendency to drive in the air through backward point, while Joe Root looked much more solid (a cover drive for the first boundary was absolutely beautiful). These two didn’t consolidate, because consolidation isn’t five-to-six runs an over. Both fell just past their half centuries, wickets I missed, but Roy in particular will be disappointed by his dismissal. Roy, when he clicks, makes making those tons look stupidly easy, but he needs to be in rhythm, and I never felt he had that today. Even so, to make a 50 while not at his best is really still useful. England avoided the 50 for 3 that kills the test team, but at 100 for 3, the high 300s were really out unless Buttler clicked.
Morgan and Stokes put together another very decent partnership, with the captain looking in excellent nick. A partnership of 116 was ended in the 37th over when Morgan didn’t quite get hold of a lofted drive and was caught very well by Markram on the boundary. Morgan hit the only three sixes of the innings, but the target now looked nearer 350 than that all pervading 400 that England are supposed to get because they are arrogant, etc. etc. What looked to have happened was England assessed this wicket early and thought 350 was at the top end of what could be got at the halfway stage.
311 would seem, therefore, to be a disappointment. I tweeted with about 10 overs left that England would need to hope that 300 would be enough. Buttler didn’t fire, making 18 before chopping on. Moeen Ali, who hasn’t been at his best with the bat recently, also got himself out for 3. The England tail, that boasts a number 11 that has quite a few first class hundreds, stuck together with Ben Stokes who made a mature 89, before getting out in the penultimate over. 311 for 8 was the final score, but there was time for Jordan Archer to get out on the field of play, and hit a couple of very nice shots. He came out and looked like he belonged. Small signs of what was to come, maybe?
I was intrigued by the reaction to 311. There was a sense of gloom. Many thought it was 25 light, and there seemed a lot of “big-upping” what was a pretty routine bowling attack. Rabada is a fine test bowler, but I’m not sure of him in the ODI format (maybe I don’t see enough). Ngidi was OK, Tahir was his usual self, Phehlukwayo was the most economical, but the attack wasn’t fearsome. South Africa are caught between two stools – they don’t appear to have world class allrounders to call on, and that Duminy is in the team is great news for us, because D’Arthez loves him, but bad news for a nation with aspirations to go far.
I remembered a Champions Trophy game, I think, when Sri Lanka chased down a score like this at the Oval as if it were a walk in the park, and there are question marks that this ODI team is a little too dependent on the batting. The sense was that one of De Kock or Du Plessis was going to need to fire with a big hundred, or Amla would anchor the innings. Jofra Archer put paid to two of those three legs of the tripod – I missed the bouncer that took out Amla, who looks for all the world as if this tournament is one too far for the great man – but did force Du Plessis into a hurried hook shot which was pouched on the boundary. The hyperbole over Archer was stoked to white hot, which always has me recoiling in horror at the sheer lack of thought that goes into it. Because Faf was the second wicket in an exciting opening spell he removed key man. Because he was quick he’s different. Let’s simmer down.
Archer had got Markram to nick a pretty pacy delivery to Root at slip prior to Faf. South Africa looked in strife at 44 for 2 in the 10th over. The tail looks to start early with South Africa.
Rassie van der Dussen had had a decent winter of ODI cricket (after today he still averages 80 in 10 games) and looked the part today. Together with de Kock, the South Africans went from consolidating, to rebuilding (whichever you want to take first, I don’t care) to beginning to threaten. de Kock had a great escape when the ball hit the off stump, the lights went off, but the bails didn’t. Perhaps FutureBrand could look into how these wonderful pieces of equipment could be enhanced so that genuine wicket-taking deliveries aren’t denied because the bails are too heavy. It’s a simple task compared to coming up with exciting names for Hundred team names. With that tenuous poke over with, the report can go on to say de Kock passed fifty, unfurling some excellent lofted shots, and just as I started to think there was a chance, he took one risk too many and was caught on the boundary after a Plunkett half-tracker didn’t get the punishment it deserved. I prefer my middle-order seamers to be lucky and good. And Liam is a good Surrey man (we won’t mention Edgbaston in this report).
129 for 3 brought in JP Duminy. As in JP Duminy is the future and always will be. I still have that innings of his against Australia all those years ago on DVD, and in trying to attain that superlative knock again has always been the holy grail. He’s an experienced campaigner now, and he always looks the part. Maybe his grizzled look, his steely nature, his potential could come to the fore. There was a beautiful dance down the pitch to Moeen and a whip over mid-wicket for a glorious boundary. He’s in, now. JP looks likely. Oh no. Oh no. What is D’Arthez going to think about that shot? Off you go JP. 142 for 4.
The Ben Stokes created a run out, took the last two wickets and took a catch, as the rest of the team, Rassie aside, subsided, and England won very comfortably by 104 runs. Archer took three wickets, and everyone can act very, very smugly. Lord, we can even ignore Denis channelling his inner Malcolm Conn.
Oh yes. The catch. Allow me this one little rant. As a sporting culture these days everything has to be the greatest ever. It’s the greatest ever batsman, greatest ever run out, greatest ever ODI player, greatest ever shot. Everything really, really good in sport has to be the greatest ever or its not worth bothering with. The thing with this is when something absolutely gob-smackingly awesome takes place before your eyes, and those people who have labelled things above the ordinary into the stratosphere go beserk over something, it has little effect. Discount the opinions of these fools. Judge by your own eyes, and put it into your own memory bank. Stokes took an awesome catch with the ball over his head – he admitted he’d made a mistake coming in too far – and yes, I was amazed. Remember something, people. Take the sport you watch, enjoy it your way, and trust your own judgement. Watch it on terrestrial TV (I know, an old name), tonight at the witching hour, or get it off social media. And don’t go on Twitter to say you want to marry that catch as if you are some edgy, top writer.
So, one win for England, probably another 5 needed out of 8 to get to the semi-finals, possibly 4. England didn’t seem near the very best with the bat, but were solid in the field and got the key men out before trouble befell them. There looked more in the locker. South Africa looked a little off the pace, but they are going to need to take early wickets and keep scores down with that batting line-up. England may not top 400 in this competition because this is proper cricket, not glorified friendlies, and whether they can go hell for leather when the intensity rises is going to be a key question. 311 was enough today.
A few other observations. The coverage didn’t annoy me. This may be because there was an absence of Slater, Nicholas, and others I’m not a huge fan of from the ICC cast list. Nasser was too enthusiastic, and needs to wind it in. Smith and Pollock are absolutely fine. Isa Guha is really good, she just needs to keep the shouty bits down, but she’s a real plus for me. Atherton fits in beautifully when he doesn’t have to bantz. Kumar Sangakkara could read me my Tax Demand, and make it sound like the finest poetry. Ganguly was neither here not there, and in this era of commentary, that’s fine by me.
We have an opening thread for tomorrow’s game, but any comments on today most welcome. As you can see, being away hasn’t induced brevity. Do follow our Twitter feed (although I’ve taken Twitter off my phone for my sanity) and our individual feeds. We are going to try to cover this 6 week epic. By the time it has finished, I’ll be in my next decade of life. It goes on that long.
Cheerio. Back soon.
Dmitri, I thought Roy looked not quite ‘on’ against Pakistan too. It’s fair enough: he’d been injured, not too much time in the middle. I agree he isn’t quite right yet, but as you say, bloody hell, if he’s still getting runs like he is when not fully firing…
As for Archer, I’m going to jump on the bandwagon that this chap is the absolute business. Every format, I think he’s in, and brilliant. I can’t name anyone (bowler) we’ve had like him.
Nice to see you back boss! And yes, the greatest Eva!!! obsession does get very tedious. And you are right, when everything is the greatest ever there is nowhere to go when something really great happens.
But that is where the greatest button on the remote control comes in. The mute button. I use it more and more, it’s wonderful! One push of the button, and silence. Bliss.
I knew that greatest-ever-itis would make an appearance in your column today.
TMS were going a bit OTT about it. Charles Dagnall described Stuart Broad’s face when Stokes pulled off that other spectacular catch during the 8-15 at Trent Bridge as “iconic”. Leaving aside that everything’s iconic these days (a massive pet hate of mine), I still find context quite a big deal when assessing greatest ever things. I fear this kind of approach is going out of fashion. But just to say, if the athleticism is similar, I’ll vote for “precipitating a stumble through a small run chase leading to defeat by 12 runs” or “stopping a rampant Gilchrist from preventing a follow-on in what might be a rain-affected Test with the series at 1-1” over “getting a lower order batsman out in a group stage ODI when they’re over 100 adrift”. If it’s all the same to ECB TV.
I worked for at the very least seconds on this. So I’m damn well going to include it here:
We have learned in the last five years how close the media have become with the governing bodies. Harrison referred to Sky as “partners” which is quite worrying for so called independent journalism.
Therefore, we have to question if it isn’t written into the contract to hype up the product?
This might explain your very accurate graph (snigger) about how the “greatest ever” has mushroomed at an alarming rate in only the last decade.
Eat your heart out Don Bradman….
I doubt it’s contractual. Rather, TV company executives are likely of the opinion that the best way to keep audiences hooked to their product is to tell them they should be excited. It’s the same across all T20 competitions around the world, and football coverage, and Formula One, and likely most others. Commentators are now more likely to say a 0-0 game was “tense” rather than a “bore draw”, for example.
On that, I do think it’s interesting that only the BBC will ever openly talk about how a football match is terrible.
Now you come to mention it, you are right. ITV sometimes do it, but when the game is dull, they say so. Sometimes with BBC I think they set the bar too high anyway. Most games of football are very ordinary – certainly the ones I watch – so a bona fide good or excellent game stands out.
“Intriguing” is their favourite. If a game is “intriguing” you could have kipped through it, and not missed a thing.
There is a fantastic article out there about US sports commentary legend Bob Costas, and the NFL. After a while Costas couldn’t keep quiet about the concussion / brain injury issues, and in his regular monologue he went to town on it. The result was that he was removed / removed himself, but his TV company, NBC, were terrified of losing their prime slot. See also ESPN, who took down a soap opera based on NFL players because it upset the “Shield” because they were scared witless of losing the TV rights. Since then, maybe coincidentally, the quality of the games on Monday Night Football has diminished.
As you say, it’s partners now. Hand in glove. Dishonesty. All about a product.
I should also mention that Tufnell used the term “catch of the century” on TMS, which has now gained some currency elsewhere. Thus it’s only fair to record that the immediate reaction of Natalie Germanos (South African commentator), which was “(oh) come on Tuffers”.
Duminy has played ODIs for almost 15 years now. He has a grand total of 0 centuries against all teams in this competition, as a veteran of nearly 200 ODIs. He has one against the Netherlands, and three against Zimbabwe.
In terms of runs scored against the major 7 teams (excluding Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and the new entrants Afghanistan and Ireland), without ever getting to the three figure mark, he only finds Boucher, Russell Arnold, Kapil Dev and Imran Khan ahead of him. Imran Khan even boasts a higher batting average, and rumour has it he was somewhat useful with the ball as well, never mind that Imran played in an era were average scores were quite a bit lower than they are nowadays. A personal best against these teams of 82 is not exactly inspiring much confidence either.
A grand total of 0 50s in 18 innings against England would have inspired much confidence in the SA supporters. He has improved that statistic by going for 0 out of 19. As a finisher he has a lower strike rate than the openers (irrespective where he comes in).
Seriously, what does JP Duminy have to do to get dropped? Score runs? He tried everything else to get dropped and all that has failed.
South Africa seem desperate to try and win the World Cup with 2.5 batsmen; 3.5 if van der Dussen comes good (Faf has been in horrible nick in ODIs as well, Amla is past it, and I don’t think any bookmaker will take bets on Duminy and Miller averaging less than 20 this World Cup). That won’t work.
So congrats to England supporters, but this is the weakest ODI side SA have probably fielded in a World Cup.
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Nice post Mi’Lud, any comment on the musical accompaniments…one of the greatest ever covers of Smoke on the Water?
I missed that, but Smoke on the Water is such a dull riff, I’m surprised anyone gives a shit.