World Cup Match Number 39 – Sri Lanka v West Indies (But the Aftermath After That)

First, let’s talk about tomorrow’s game between Sri Lanka and the West Indies. It is being played at Chester-le-Street. Sri Lanka come into it on the back of a dreadful performance against South Africa, West Indies hardly performed better against India. It’s a clash of two form teams.

Sourav Ganguly announced towards the end of the game today that Sri Lanka were now out of the tournament. They can still get 10 points, and Ward says that they can’t (so I’m assuming wins is the first tie breaker, then net run rate). Oh stuff it, let’s assume they can’t. So this is the first proper meaningless game of the tournament. Please inundate us with comments as the qualification basically boils down to this. England beat New Zealand and the four semi-final places are decided. If they don’t Pakistan will need to beat Bangladesh, assuming India beat Bangladesh in their meeting on Tuesday. More of that later.

Today was a must win for England, and win it they did. They did it in their template fashion – the openers went off on one, one of them made a hundred, consolidation with Root, and some pyrotechnics at the end. Maybe not the full scale fireworks show we saw in warm-up games, or against Afghanistan, but in its own way, against Bumrah and Shami, impressive enough. England made 337 for 7 in their 50 overs. A formidable score requiring a record run chase for the World Cup to win.  If Root had pouched Rohit when he was on 4, it would have been more formidable still!

I have to say, I was raging at the last 5 or so overs from India, and more importantly, in the comm box, so was Sourav Ganguly. There is, I believe, a clause in domestic India coverage that criticism of the international team is to be avoided, but good grief, how could you watch that and think anything other than anger.

England bowled well. They never let India get away, but it was telling that the only six of the innings came in India’s last over. That Dhoni even tried to do it then was taking the michael out of the punters. India started slowly, but Kohli and Sharma were knocking off the 8 an over needed during the middle spell, and with 12 overs left India were just 13 runs behind where England were – and as I said, it was a decent finish to the England innings but not unrestricted carnage. India finished just five down. FIVE. And for three of the last four overs, they seemed happy to push singles. It confused the commentators, and they were, you sense, putting serious bite marks in their tongues.

Sanjay Manjrekar, to his credit, asked Virat about those last five overs, and Kohli batted it away – what else could he do – by saying you’d need to ask those players their thought processes, but then talking some old nonsense about short boundaries, and England being well above par. The suspicions could not, and should not be allayed, but let’s take the most charitable explanation. England bowled well and restricted them, so the target was impossible.

All players owe it to themselves, and their players, to go for the win. India have a proud history, a very good team, with IPL hardened chasers, for whom 200 in 20 overs is something to be relished. 70 off five with five wickets left is something to tee off to attain. India have no real worries over net run rate, are probably nailed on for the semis, so the least they could do was have a go. Sourav was saying you can’t lose that game with five wickets remaining. You just can’t. If you are treating this as batting practice you are selling your fans, the people you need to pay your way, short. If you are taking them for granted then more shame on you. If one of the reasons I have seen has been given, that to lose this helped keep Pakistan out, then more shame them. Dhoni should explain himself. He really should. But let’s be real here. That’s not going to happen. Any Indian friends on here, if you come across anything on the wires in India, do let us know.

Look, I don’t want to take anything away from England. I feared for them today. They were taking a gamble on Roy’s fitness (and naughty that a bruised arm was allowed to be the reason he stayed off the field for the second innings – did he learn that from KP’s calf), but the 66 (aided by a catch off a wide! I’ve been there Jason) was a great start. Jonny Bairstow made a hundred, and well done to him. I loved that he went off on one this week, and the same old bores reacted the same old way (Vaughan – would it have been ok if he’d finished his conference “hashtag just saying”), and then came out and made a century. Ben Stokes was magnificent again – he really is having a superb tournament and showing the complete skills as a batsman he can sometimes show. Root caused some consternation with his knock, but he ensured there wasn’t a cascade of wickets and then probably kept Buttler out of the picture for a little too long, but 337 against India was always going to be a hard nut to crack.

The bowlers started well, and although Sharma and Kohli milked the overs of Stokes and Adil, Plunkett came on and removed Virat and it was pretty much downhill from there. Rohit’s century never seemed to be the killer knock, and even in the late 20s, early 30s overs he was still blocking back after hitting an early four in the over. A couple of barrages of fours might have caused some wobbles, but the wild wahoo just after he completed his century did for Rohit – a shot out of character and out of his class. The way Pant started, I think I would have wanted to get out of there! Had he overdosed on blue smarties, because he was driving me mad? (A word for the catch Woakes took to get rid of Pant, another superb effort).

England play their final game on Wednesday against New Zealand, who have put a couple of poor performances in for their last two games (and remember, were a missed catch by Boult from being beaten by Brathwaite last weekend). England have a dreadful record against New Zealand in the World Cup and will need to end that run. It is very likely that they will need to do so. India play their penultimate game against Bangladesh on Tuesday – a rapid turnaround, unexplainable for this tournament. If England lose, then Pakistan’s game on Friday against Bangladesh becomes the game to focus upon.

England win, go to 10 points, and will feel good about themselves. India will no doubt keep their thoughts to themselves. A penny for them.

A curious day. A curious game. A curious finale.

More curious comments below, please.

World Cup Match 38 – England vs India

It’s difficult to know whether to laugh or cry. Still in the group stage, England are near enough already playing the knock out stages, following Pakistan’s last gasp win over Afghanistan. It wasn’t meant to be this way, with the ECB expressing their determination four years ago to prioritise the one day side over the Test team, and with an undoubtedly powerful England batting order smashing teams to all parts in the years running up to the tournament. Whatever the cause, it’s gone rather wrong here, and instead of a serene march to the knockout stage, England instead will probably have to win against both India and New Zealand to get through.

There have been some items of misfortune – Jason Roy tearing a hamstring was less than ideal, but England have also brought much of it on themselves, both on and off the pitch. The removal of Alex Hales from the squad looks like so much hubris, and did so at the time. Certainly, a case could be made for it being principled, but since principles are a movable feast within the ECB hierarchy, it was hard to accept that at face value, particularly given the mess made of it. It smacked of expediency at the time and looks unwise now. It’s certainly not to say that England wouldn’t still be in this position with him in the side, but it is to say that assuming that England were so powerful it wasn’t much of a risk to kick him out has deservedly come back to bite them. Not for the first time either, and as ever, one is left wondering whether the same action would have been taken with a player deemed more critical to the team at the time.

Instead, James Vince played, showing all the shots, and getting out. His lack of permanence, the situation in which England find themselves in and the lack of a decent understudy all mean that England are quite likely to take a risk on playing Jason Roy today. He’s certainly needed.

Jonny Bairstow’s comments in the media did have a kernel of truth in them, for it is certainly the case that the media are always quick to leap on failure, but it isn’t the media that have lost three games already, and it isn’t the media who have put England under such pressure at such an early stage, they’ve managed that all by themselves. Failure is inevitably going to attract criticism, whether from former players, the media or fans, and particularly so when England’s tag as favourites at the start of the competition did have at least some grounds for it.

Now, England are perfectly capable of winning against India, and indeed against New Zealand too. Indeed, they’re quite capable of winning the next four and lifting the World Cup, but as things stand, and given the uncertainty in the side, it’s not something anyone would feel too confident about. Perhaps in some ways it benefits them to focus minds on the next game rather than any further than that. And should they win both group matches remaining, they’ll be battle hardened in a way that none of the other teams are. This is what’s known as taking the positives.

Should England lose though, there is the added awkwardness in the ECB’s decision to effectively abolish 50 over cricket as a top level domestic competition from next year, and if for no other reason the ECB will be praying that England pull the fat out of the fire this time around to avoid even more awkward questions about future World Cups. That’s one for the future, for today it’s simply about finding a way to win, on an Edgbaston pitch that may well be conducive to spin again.

Comments below

World Cup Match 36: Pakistan vs Afghanistan, New Zealand vs Australia (and a few other bits)

It’s been an interesting insight into the World Cup from outside over the last week. I’ve had a client over in the UK with me, a German resident in California, and someone unaware of cricket beyond it being a funny little game played by the strange English amongst others.

First day in London he saw a bit of one of the games on the TV, and expressed having no idea what was happening, but that it looked like the crowd were having fun. Knowing I was a cricket fan, he asked about the game, and what was happening – not so much about the World Cup itself, beyond wondering why there was so few teams in it, but more about the sport and to get a handle on how it is played and what the idea of it was.

Like any unfamiliar sport (and trust me, my eyes glaze over when Sean and Peter get all enthusiastic about rounders, fake rugby or whatever else it is they play in the States), he didn’t really know what was going on, but he was sufficiently interested to ask. Cricket does itself no favours by revelling in the pretence that it’s a complicated game, when it is no such thing. The explanation took 30 seconds and he had a fair handle on what was happening. All sports are complex in the details, but cricket is and always has been a chuck-ball-down-and-hit-it kind of game in its essence, and one easily grasped in its fundamentals.

For the remainder of his time here he had a passing interest. Not the one of a convert, but that of someone who likes sport and is aware of it going on. He noted in a WhatsApp message that the Australian team were outside his hotel as he got back one afternoon for a start. Naturally, being busy meant I saw very little of the play in any of the games, though a meeting that adjourned to a London pub offered the England-Sri Lanka game on the TV. Or at least it did until the start of the England U21 football match, at which point, and with the cricket very much in the balance, it was unceremoniously turned over. That match went about as well as the cricket did, incidentally.

Likewise, the Women’s World Cup got far more attention and discussion between us during the week, notably the German, English and American teams’ progress, and the vagaries of VAR. Towards the end of his trip here finally came his summary about the cricket – “no one here seems very interested”. Ouch.

He’s not wrong, and the viewing figures for the Women’s World Cup make it very clear where public attention is aimed, even before Wimbledon begins which will dominate airwaves, print and screens. How depressing, that what should be the opportunity for cricket to showcase its wares worldwide remains an exclusive club, not just for the competitors, but also for those observing, or not observing as is the reality.

While I may have been keeping up to date with the action, it feels like I’m one of a die-hard band who love a sport that has gone beyond being sneered at (remember the days when we used to have to defend cricket? Doesn’t happen now), and is so irrelevant to the wider country that it is simply ignored. Just like a veteran rock band’s latest tour, the response is more likely to be surprise that it’s still happening.

England’s travails have had the side effect of making the latter group stage much more interesting, a noble and selfless gesture on their part as most would agree. Pakistan are one of the teams that can overhaul them, and today’s game against Afghanistan should allow them to go above the hosts, albeit having played a game more.

In the other match, Australia and New Zealand are almost there, so while it will be an intriguing match up, it offers little beyond practice for the semi-finals and a bit of jockeying for position. Loading the key games towards the back end of the tournament may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but only in an organisation so lacking in confidence in its own sport that it feels an ordinary draw at the business end would lack inherent drama.

Comments as ever, below.

World Cup Match 35 – Sri Lanka vs. South Africa (and the odd other thought)

Yesterday saw India’s inexorable march towards the semi-finals continue as their bowling attack took apart the West Indies batting unit, all but securing their slot in the knockout rounds.

India’s batting was again good, but not great, with first Kohli and then latterly MS Dhoni allowing India to post 269 from their 50 overs. This seemed at best a par score at half time until India’s bowlers made early inroads into a weakened West Indian batting line up and provided them with the chance to easily close the game out with the West Indian team folding to 143 all out, which is certainly a crushing win on paper at least. From what I have seen of the Indian team so far is that they are heavily reliant on Rohit or Kohli to score big runs, which allows the like of Dhoni and Pandya to come in and hit it to all parts at the end of the innings. This hasn’t happened regularly enough yet, although Kohli does look in sublime touch; however if you can get rid of both Rohit and Kohli early enough, then this batting line does look like it could fold for not many. That being said, the Indian bowling attack has been superb this tournament. Bumrah has to be one of the best one-day bowlers in the world at the moment and has been ably assisted Shami and Panday in the pace department. Their spinners however, look even better with both Chahal and Kuldeep not only able to keep the runs down but also get wickets at vital stages. If the pitches in the knockout rounds closely resemble those that we have encountered this week, then India have to be strong favourites to win the World Cup.

As for the West Indies, this has been a hugely disappointing tournament for them with only Brathwaite, Cottrell and Hettmyer contributing regularly. The West Indies have all the tools to be successful in the one-day format, but actually have the application to display those tools regularly has once again proven a step too far.

In other news, it was a certain South African born, ex-English batsman’s birthday yesterday and to coincide with this, Barney Ronay wrote a very good piece in the Cricketer about it (it was never going to be Simon Hughes, who probably thinks Paul Downton should still be in charge of English cricket):

https://www.thecricketer.com/Topics/premiumfeatures/the_backstop_english_cricket_needs_kp_zing.html

Ronay is a funny journalist, a bit like Jonathan Liew in a way, in that he is very capable of writing some superbly insightful pieces but equally he can also try and a be far too clever for his own good, in that if he was an ice-cream then he’d lick himself. This was definitely one of his better pieces. As this piece might be behind a paywall now, some of the more interesting exerts were:

First, he was right about pretty much everything that got him chucked out of the England team. Yes, everyone plays at the IPL now. Yes, you should just bat like that. And it’s OK to whistle. 

And secondly the ECB is making another mistake in failing to use KP in any role as it tries to build the future, to hurl a grappling hook back to that great lost moment and conjure out of the air the kind of crossover glitz KP understood more instinctively as a punkish 24-year-old than anyone else involved in English cricket.

Ah yes, the whole dressing room culture piece rears its’ ugly head again, you can’t play for England if you’re not from the right family or you’re a threat to dressing room harmony. Talent doesn’t matter, just a willingness to nod when whichever mindless bureaucrat asks you to. After all, why on earth would you be still be playing James Vince if he wasn’t great in the dressing room (which is where he should remain from now until eternity). Non conformists need not apply.

We want skunk-haired glam now, more of it, as much as you have. And Pietersen, the last real star English cricket produced, isn’t involved in running anything at a time when English cricket wants above all to produce stars.

Well yes many of the fans do (and I might conjecture that some individuals would rather set fire to their house instead) but doing what the fans want  and what is good for the game is always a distant last on the ECB’s wish-list, hence why we have this farce of a tournament on our doorsteps putting the very health of the sport in grave danger. Anyway I digress….

As for today’s game, we have a Sri Lankan team who still harbour some hopes in reaching the last four, especially after their recent defeat of England, against a South African team playing for nothing but pride now. Sri Lanka will once again be reliant on one of their openers to get a decent score as well as hoping that Angelo Matthews has batted himself into some form alongside the canny Lasith Malinga making early inroads into the South African attack. As for South Africa, it very much depends if they really want to make a game of this or whether they are mentally packed up and ready for the trip home.

As ever, feel free to leave any comments/thoughts on the below:

 

World Cup Match 34 – India v West Indies

Exactly a week ago, the day before England’s game against Sri Lanka, I derided the World Cup’s format and scheduling for being predictable and boring. Far from being a string of dead rubbers, now England’s only chance to absolutely guarantee reaching the semi finals is to win their next two games.

Pakistan’s performance yesterday will worry many people in the England camp, with the men in green managing to see off what had been, prior to the game, an unbeaten side in the competition. Having won that match against the odds, Pakistan could quite conceivably win their remaining two games and leave England needing at least a win and a draw/tie to qualify.

In other England news, it seems like Archer and Rashid may be nursing injuries. Whether the injuries are serious enough to affect their places in a must-win game, particularly Rashid since his replacement would be significantly inferior, remains to be seen. Personally, I dislike teams picking injured star players as it’s a gamble which rarely pays off. If Roy, Rashid and Archer are forced to play at sub-par levels, I think that says everything you need to know about England’s strength in depth (or lack thereof) and the coach’s lack of faith in their squad members.

Today’s game between India and the West Indies is not quite a dead rubber. India could mathematically fail to reach the semi finals and the West Indies could mathematically reach them, but either possibility is currently vanishingly small. Hopefully this means that the Indian team might relax or the West Indian team go out with guns blazing, giving us a decent contest to watch. After England’s two losses, India are currently the number one ranked ODI team in the world. I suspect they won’t want to surrender that crown as meekly as England have in recent weeks.

In case you missed it, the name for Surrey-based The Hundred team leaked yesterday morning. The team playing at The Oval will be… the Oval Greats. This joins the Manchester Originals, London Spirit, Leeds Superchargers, Birmingham Phoenix, Trent Rockets, Southern Brave and Welsh Fire as the names for the new teams. It’s hard to make fun of them, if only because they seem to be self-parodies. They’re neither fun nor boring, which are probably the two best options if you were creating new team names. An amusing name like the Rocket City Trash Pandas (an American minor league baseball team) ensures strong merchandise sales and can help garner interest from non-sports journalists and tv shows. An intentionally dull name (such as just calling the teams Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, etc.) makes it clear that that the focus is on the sport and the players. Picking safe, tested, mediocre names like ‘Phoenix’, ‘Rockets’ and ‘Originals’ is just the latest move by the ECB seeminly designed to drain almost any enthusiasm about the new competition out of English cricket fans.

As always, please comment on todays game, your ideas for The Hundred team names, or anything else, below.

Match Number 33 – New Zealand v Pakistan (and a few other musings)

Any of you wondering whatever happened to Comical Ali, the faintly ludicrous former Iraqi press officer, the butt of many jokes. He may have been such a character, but he was just doing his job. After all, if he hadn’t said what he had, old Uncle Saddam may not have been too chuffed. And when Uncle Saddam got cheesed off, well, it was off with your cheese. Or something like that.

Image result for comical ali
Here’s Farby!

I wonder who is the man standing behind the set at Sky Debate HQ after the performance of the man we like to call Chuckles – Paul Farbrace. If you had just watched the “Debate” on Sky, one could be forgiven for thinking that losing on the three occasions (out of four) England have chased was nothing to worry our pretty little heads about.  Sky’s Debate became more like a North Korean broadcast, with Willis there to be the state agent provocateur. Do not worry, England will be fine, win four games and be world champions. They’ve not become a bad team overnight. Don’t worry.

Well, that’s if you worry about that sort of thing. Past performances of useful idiots like Chuckles, and the Uncle Saddams at the ECB have taken away many of those stomach churning, teeth grinding fear moments from my emotional lexicon. I watched the scores on ESPN Cricinfo, and later caught the “bitesize highlights” and can only say to you good folk, “what did you expect?” My Kiwi colleague in the office keeps winding me up, and wonders why I don’t react as if this is a knife to my gut. I don’t have it my heart to get disappointed any more. How can you be disappointed when an opening bat keeps getting picked, despite keeping on failing, because he has loud supporters in the media and occasionally plays a lovely cover drive. You don’t pick players like that and be disappointed.

Dmitri has been in Paris, and returned last night speaking in the third person and referencing a DJ. I might as well have been in Paris given the visibility of this fixture. It speaks volumes that the organising authorities, absent of making this the opening match of the tournament, sat down at their Ipad, because the mumz and kidz love em, and thought “let’s put England’s biggest match on a Tuesday, right in the middle of the competition”. What a top idea. No, we’ll make sure India have their big three games – Pakistan, Australia and England – at weekends, but make sure this game, the one I think means most to both teams in midweek. You could laugh, if you wanted, but this sport is run by clowns, no matter how much supporting Twitter feeds love to trust these same bodies to run a major competition without alienating fans. I sometimes wonder if the ICC and ECB actually want to alienate everyone outside of India. Mumz and Kidz don’t really need to be “engaged” until next year.

So, England lose and now we work out if we can get by winning one of the last two matches. Chuckles is having none of it “England will be thinking they can win both games” in as stunning an insight as I’ve ever come across in a sporting pundit space. Well, I’d hoped that the world number 1 team would expect to win home fixtures, and I would hope that the world number 1 team wouldn’t be totally bottling it. I would also hope that the world number 1 team, in case you’d forgotten that Chuckles had mentioned it, might have more than the brains of rocks they’ve displayed every time they have been remotely under pressure, and I hope the world’s number 1 team have finally flaming well realised that James Vince is not your man.

But let the real post mortem wait. If we don’t make it, let the real blood-letting begin. Because we need to get behind the lads, who will need to do the basics better, and do an impersonation of Australia, who, by and large, don’t bottle it when they mouth off and walk like they own the place.

Watching Chuckles call all the players world class that he did, and advocating that we should pick Jason Roy if he could walk (more Willis than Chuckles to be fair), seemed funny. But it isn’t funny. England are not playing on roads, are not playing one-off series where teams shuffle the packs, and are now finding out that this is very, very tough.

Tomorrow’s game is between New Zealand v Pakistan. England fans will be cheering on New Zealand with some gusto. They can clinch their semi-final spot by winning, and in doing so will draw Pakistan further away from a semi-final spot. A Pakistan win and the heat will well and truly be on.

Propaganda once sang “sorry for laughing, there’s too much happening”. I am stuffed at work on the run up to my break in a couple of weeks time, Chris is busy with work, and Sean is stuffed too. Danny’s head has exploded over the Hundred. I ventured into a debate on Twitter and instantly regretted it. The World Cup has livened up as England have been found out a little, and for that we owe our team a great debt. Watching the media and the England diehards in the next week or so is probably going to be more entertaining than the cricket. And the ECB will be in church all week to pray for divine assistance. Next up for England is India at the weekend, in Birmingham. I venture that the majority of fans won’t be cheering on England. As Propaganda also sung, the first cut didn’t hurt at all (Pakistan, only a blip), the second only made us wonder (Hmm, two bad days, maybe a bit of a headscratcher), and today, the third has had us on our knees (we might be doomed). England are bleeding, and there are plenty starting screaming.

Comments on New Zealand v Pakistan, being played at Edgbaston, below.

World Cup Match 32 – England vs. Australia.

Today saw another pretty one-sided, turgid affair with Bangladesh comfortably beating Afghanistan on a pitch that was well suited to their spinners. The pitch at the Aegeas Bowl has become consistently slow and low as the tournament has gone on leading to some fairly dull cricket for those watching. At least today’s game is the last one to be scheduled at the Bramsgrove Bowl as England certainly wouldn’t fancy batting on that pitch, which was similar to the one at Headingley and it is quite possible England would have collapsed in a heap for 150 all out playing silly shots and aiming for 330 when 260 is a par score on such pitch. It doesn’t look like this will be the case tomorrow after seeing George Dobell’s earlier tweet:

If England’s game plan is to have a pitch that does something for the quicks and if they do plan to leave some of the grass on this, then their plan is not without huge risks as the Aussie bowling attack of Starc, Cummins and company will be licking their lips at the prospect of bowling to a weakened England batting order with some help from the pitch. Even if they do take some of the grass off the pitch, then it would be a huge surprise if there is much turn for either of the side’s spinners, as England no doubt don’t want to be undone the way they were undone at Headingley. Is this particularly fair to both sides, probably not, but in a way, it piles more pressure on this English team to perform tomorrow in the hunt for a semi-final slot.

We now know that Jason Roy has once again been ruled out of this English side, so we get to have the pleasure of seeing James Vince open the innings, play a couple of pleasing cover drives and then get out at slip chasing a wide one for a pretty but ineffective 15. It was Shane Warne who said that Monty Panesar “rather than having played 33 Tests, had merely played his first one 33 times.” The same argument can be made about James Vince who it seems hasn’t learnt a single lesson in his time in an England shirt and is in the team not on merit, but because he has ‘the right values’. Either that or he has some serious dirt on Ed Smith, naturally the latter would be funnier to see. This absolutely has to be last chance saloon for Vince, another failure would surely make his place in the team untenable and anything less than a serious, match influencing knock should not be tolerated. The so-called ‘put up or shut up’ time has come for Mr Vince.

As for the rest of the side, if there is unlikely to be much turn or some grass is left on the wicket, then you would expect England to rest one of their spinners in favour of playing Liam Plunkett, who has the uncanny knack of taking wickets in the middle of the innings. One would suggest that Moeen is at greatest risk, especially after his performance with the bat in Leeds, where it was suggested rather kindly that he has dumplings for brains at times. Rashid is also bowling well, but as is often the case, England have a history of dropping a bowler every time the batsmen fall in a heap, so Moeen’s perceived superiority with the bat might elicit favour. The England selectors normally have a habit of making the wrong decisions, so expect Moeen to open and Root to be dropped!!

As for Australia, they are likely to stick with the same side that comprehensively beat Bangladesh with their hopes that either Warner or more likely Finch can get them off to a flier whilst the rest of the batsmen bat around Steve Smith who will hope to anchor the innings. I still think Australia’s bowling attack is a little weak, especially if you can see off Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins with the new ball, so ideally, they’ll want the pitch to be doing something or to bat first and put runs on the board to create scoreboard pressure for England.

Make no mistake, this is a massive game for England with a loss meaning that they are likely to need to beat India and New Zealand to progress to the Semi Finals. If England collapse in a heap once again, when the pressure is on, they’ll be a whole lot of red faces at the ECB’s headquarters and some pretty difficult questions coming their way. Not that Geoffrey Boycott seems worried with the upcoming game, after all we won 2 World Wars! What a complete and utter plumb!

What? Someone say he wasn’t talking about England’s chances at the World Cup? I must have misunderstood….

As always, please do leave your thoughts below…

World Cup Match 31 – Bangladesh vs. Afghanistan

After two hard fought and closely contested games on Saturday, which were a great advert for the game of cricket, it was all ‘after the mayor’s show’ yesterday as Pakistan outclassed a poor South African team who are now officially out of the World Cup.

Let’s be totally candid, South Africa have been playing outdated, insipid cricket for the whole tournament with their tactics more akin to those that England were rightly pilloried for after the 2015 World Cup. Once again, many of their batsmen got off to a slow steady start but none of them were able to convert their innings into something substantial, leaving the tail with the hopeless job of needing 12 runs an over plus when they came in. It’s a shame in many ways as South Africa have always been there or there abouts in major white ball tournaments, but a mixture of poor coaching, ponderous batting and strange team selections have left them massively behind the 8-ball. It would not surprise me if heads roll on their return to South Africa and we have probably seen the last of the likes of Duminy, Amla and Tahir (who has bowled pretty well TBF) in their white ball team. Even Graeme Smith was mystified at the approach his team took in trying to chase down Pakistan’s score:

As for Pakistan, this was one of their better days of the tournament. Haris Sohail came into the side and looked a class act with the bat, which has many of us scratching our heads as to why they stuck with Shoaib Malik for so long, with good contributions from the two openers and Babar Azam, who I’m a huge fan of. Their bowlers also offered a lot more control as both Wahab and Amir, the latter of whom is having a stellar tournament so far, bowled with pace and accuracy as well as their spinners bowling with control and good variations. Pakistan are not out of this tournament yet and if they continue to play like they did today, then they are a threat to any team; equally they are also able to fall flat on their face like they did against India, you just don’t know with Pakistan.

As for today’s game, we head back to the Kolpakshire Bowl for a strong Bangladesh team against an Afghan team that were so close to beating India on Saturday. Bangladesh will naturally start as favourites with their star all-rounder Shakib Al-Hasan lighting up the tournament so far, but it will be interesting to see if Afghanistan can maintain the same level of intensity that they showed against the Indians or whether they will be unable to shake the disappointment of Saturday’s result.

As ever, feel free to share your thoughts below:

 

 

World Cup Match 30: Pakistan vs South Africa

A more or less dead rubber game today, one that technically still might matter, but in reality won’t. Perhaps it will be as good as yesterday’s two games, that both went the wrong way in terms of results to breathe life into the competition, but were still objectively thrilling games of cricket.

For Afghanistan, the feeling persisted throughout that they weren’t quite going to get across the line, and if Mohammed Shami’s hat-trick was a spectacular way to finish it, it was the loss of Mohammed Nabi’s wicket that finally killed off the run chase. What an effort from him. And what a shame it didn’t quite happen. The 2015 Rugby World Cup was lit up by Japan’s victory over South Africa, and cricket had its own edition in 2011 when Ireland beat England. This would have been just as notable, and in a tournament where such teams have been excluded from the party, a reminder that it’s not all about the big three.

In the other match, a Brathwaite causing batting chaos is not so rare, it being a Carlos doing so is. That last wicket, caught on the boundary, and his reaction to falling inches short of winning the game was the highlight of the World Cup so far, and one personally watched by half a dozen people huddled around a phone in the pub. Offer people drama, they’ll watch. But even with England’s defeat to Sri Lanka, even with two terrific games yesterday, the end result was to re-inforce position of the top four.

Comment away!

World Cup Matches 28 & 29 -Afghanistan v India & New Zealand v West Indies

A couple of days ago, I wrote about how boring and predictable this World Cup was and how I wasn’t really paying attention to it any more. Well, England managed to reawaken my interest in an unexpected way yesterday.

In some senses, it should have been a predictable result, since Sri Lanka had won the last three World Cup games between the two sides. However, a lot has changed since 2015. Sri Lanka have been unable to replace key batsmen like Sangakkara, Jayawardhene and Dilshan, and their key bowler 35 year old Malinga now has a body more reminiscent of a middle-aged dad than an international sportsman. England, on the other hand, have replaced Ian Bell and Gary Ballance with good ODI batsmen (and James Vince).

Most fingers are being pointed at the pitch, which was quite a bit slower than you’d normally expect from Headingley. That doesn’t entirely explain away England’s poor performance though, since they did manage to win last year’s ODI series in Sri Lanka 3-1 in what must have been similar conditions.

I personally blame James Vince, or at least his (and Liam Dawson’s) selection. England’s surge to number one in the ODI rankings has been powered by their phenomenal batting. Since Trevor Bayliss took over in 2015, seven of England’s current World Cup squad average over forty with a strike rate around or over one hundred. The two batsmen who don’t are Vince (Ave: 26.50 SR: 89.22) and Dawson (Ave: 7.00 SR: 82.35).

There is a batsman with a significantly better record than Vince available: Alex Hales (Ave: 41.28 SR: 96.00). Hales was excluded from the team by the ECB due to his behaviour off the field, but the real cause of his omission is that he isn’t well-liked within the dressing room. For all Ben Stokes has done wrong in recent years, you can see he has been welcomed back warmly by the ECB and the team in general. Whilst Alex Hales is undoubtedly lucky to be available (The punishment for a second recreational drug finding in most sports is at least six months), the primary reason for his removal from the squad seems to be not coming clean with his teammates beforehand or apologising profusely enough after it was revealed.

At the time, the ECB probably thought it would have little impact on their campaign because they believed there was an abundance of talent just waiting for an opportunity at the international level. Eoin Morgan trashed Hales when given the opportunity, saying that, “Unfortunately Alex’s actions have shown complete disregard for those values. This has created a lack of trust between Alex and the team.”

Now England are in a situation where they are missing a world-class opener and they genuinely need to win at least two of their next three games to guarantee qualification for the semis. Those three games are against the top teams in the competition, New Zealand, Australia and India. Three teams who would love to knock a dangerous England team before they can even reach the semi finals. Can England afford to wait another game or two for Roy to regain fitness? Can they afford to keep playing Vince?

You would think that potentially failing to reach the semi-finals in a home World Cup, the format of which was designed to make such an event extraordinarily unlikely, would be enough to make the selectors and team swallow their pride. Unfortunately, as most of our readers know, that isn’t how the ECB works. Having spent the last four years devoting most of their resources towards winning this competition and hiring a white ball-centric head coach, they are still prepared to see it collapse in flames rather than admit they might have been wrong.

All of that said, England should still have enough to limp into the knockouts. Just one win from their last three games should be enough to ensure qualification unless Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, or the West Indies manage a truly remarkable run of form. England’s aura of invincibility has completely disappeared though. Australia are the only other team in the top four to have lost a game so far, and that was against fellow top team India.

The England team will be watching tonight’s game nervously, because if the West Indies can win the game against New Zealand then they could potentially mount a charge for the fourth spot. Given the form of India and Afghanistan so far in this World Cup, I’m not expecting an upset in the morning game. That said, they did tie their last ODI meeting in last year’s Asia Cup so perhaps Afghanistan can pull out another big performance.

If you have any comments about England’s performance, todays games, or anything else, please post them below.