World Cup Match 15 – South Africa vs West Indies

When you’ve lost the first three matches, and need a win to have any realistic prospect of qualifying for the semi-finals, what you really need is a dodgy weather forecast.  Today in Southampton there are showers.  All day.  It’s not promising.

Still, it will give the opportunity for plenty to lament the unique phenomenon that rain only ever happens in England.

If a game is played, it looks a tough ask for South Africa to resurrect their World Cup, and the various pieces of information coming out concerning AB De Villiers late bid to be included in their line up implies a squad ill at ease with itself.  That he would have strengthened their line up is not in question, that it appears they bent over backwards to encourage him to be part of the side only to be knocked back until the 11th hour is very much the Cricket South Africa line.  Whatever the truth of it, it has been a distraction at best, though it doesn’t explain the supine performances to date.

Yesterday’s India – Australia match, magically assigned a Sunday when coincidentally Indian television audiences might be at their height, was far more one sided than the raw scores might suggest.  Australia were never in it, despite Malcolm Conn’s description of their chase as a “brave” one.  It was a curious innings from David Warner, who looked hideously out of sorts, and left the subsequent batsmen with a near impossible task.  Perhaps it would have been better if the bails had been knocked off early in his innings.

Ah, the bails.  On five occasions this World Cup the ball has struck the stumps hard without them being dislodged, the zing bails apparently being heavier and the stumps themselves heavier.  Since it’s the same for both sides, it perhaps doesn’t matter overly, except that it is remarkable that it has been ignored as an issue in favour of the bling of them lighting up.  In a wonderful example of the kind of daft controversy cricket can embroil itself in, there has been lengthy discussion of the depth of the grooves, the weight of the bails themselves and even how firmly the stumps are held in the ground, with Scyld Berry offering up the solution of watering the holes rather more to loosen the stumps.  On such subjects, it’s far from impossible to have no view on it whatever, but to be deeply amused that it has come up at all.

Assuming there is any play today, comments below!

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England vs Bangladesh – Comfortably Done

In most ways, England’s exceedingly comfortable victory over Bangladesh was entirely to be expected, and occurred more or less as it should have, given the difference in playing resources.  But England’s defeat to a Pakistan team who consistently send people to a thesaurus to check for synonyms for “mercurial” lent a slight air of doubt about how well England are equipped to win the competition.   It’s the natural state of being for most England supporters to be pessimistic about their team’s prospects, having been magnificently unsuccessful in ODIs for 40 years, even when they’ve had a good team.  But just as one defeat oughtn’t have led to increased resignation that it would all happen again, nor should this dominant display lead to any greater certainty about their prospects.

England are a very fine team indeed, with a batting line up that has now broken an all time ODI record by passing 300 six matches in a row.  That is a fine level of consistency, and a mark of how far they’ve come in the last few years that the 311 in the South Africa game felt a disappointing total, and the 386 today a return to what might have been expected.  For a team as good as England’s, reaching the semi-final stage ought to be reasonably straightforward, and from that point knock out cricket is an entirely different beast.  That’s not to say that England are definitely going to qualify, for the matches against Australia, West Indies, New Zealand and India are fraught with peril.   But it is to say that a side with aspirations of winning the competition ought to be confident.  There are two ways of looking at it – that all of those games are a danger, certainly, but with six wins likely to be enough, two victories in the bag, and barring major surprises, wins against Sri Lanka and Afghanistan to come, England should only need two victories against the heavyweights.

Bangladesh are of course one of the lesser fancied teams in the competition, but they are not the minnows of years past either (though it must be noted those minnows despatched England in both 2011 and 2015), and despite falling a long way short of England’s total today, they still showed they are far from a poor side.  A routine win, certainly, but one made routine because of how good England were.

Jason Roy was the star of England’s innings, his 153 coming off a mere 121 balls, and fairly evenly paced from the start.  Even after such a score, the manner of his dismissal caused a degree of disquiet, which perhaps goes to show little has really changed.  Having hit the first three balls of Mehidi’s over for six, Roy clearly had every intention of aiming for six sixes in the over.  The fourth ball was every bit as much there to hit as the previous three, but he lost his shape and skied it.  It wasn’t an outrageous shot, by any stretch, so it was more a matter of execution than intent, and there is always the danger in basing judgements on outcome.  “Great shot, great shot, great shot, you idiot£ is an invariably unfair way of looking at it.  Still, it can be argued that he was seeking a personal milestone rather than a team one in so doing.  Perhaps that is a fairer point to make, but it does apply to most batsmen much of the time, it is often a matter of degree. The intent though, and the sheer confidence behind it, were welcome.

Bairstow and Root performed their supporting roles well, while Jos Buttler, promoted up the order, was as explosive as ever.  One particular shot, his weight entirely on the back foot, was utterly outrageous – a straight hit out of the ground and into the river Taff.  The joy of watching a special talent in any sport is not so much in seeing exceptional competence, it is in watching someone do something that leaves the observer scratching his or head and wondering how the hell he’s done it.  Such players are rare and precious.

Of more concern was Buttler’s clear discomfort during his innings, and while his practising his wicketkeeping in the interval to see how fit he was to do so was reassuring, it was surely sensible for him to have the second half off and let Bairstow take the gloves.  England are a strong side, and not reliant on one player, but Buttler adds an X Factor that cannot be replaced.  The England medical team will doubtless play down any worries, but as was once said in a different context, there is a massive trust issue there.

After a slight collapse around the 340 mark (it remains ludicrous such numbers are regular landmarks in an England side) the innings was finished off in some style by Liam Plunkett, whose late innings hitting has been a precious resource for England on a fair few occasions.

387 was always likely to be beyond Bangladesh, and so it proved.  Jofra Archer produced a peach to dismiss Soumya Sarkar, the ball flying off the top off of stump and over the boundary without bouncing.  Incidentally, it’s worth noting that those who deride critics of the game being behind a paywall often pipe up that clips on social media are an adequate substitute in the modern world.  The clip of that happening did indeed get lots of attention in a tweet:

Note that the upload of a few seconds of action has now been deleted by the rights holder, an act consistent with the ongoing removal of historical cricket content on Youtube, and the act of commercial entities and a cricket structure that has no idea how to market itself to a wide audience.  Football might do the same thing to some extent, but not to the extent cricket does.

Archer bowled swiftly, with serious threat and with intelligence as well.  Whatever the comment around his qualification for England, he has added a significant new dimension to this side.

Bangladesh didn’t wilt, the increasingly impressive Shakib scoring a fine century, but the ever rising required run rate meant that the outcome of the game was in little doubt.  Woakes was a bit expensive, but Archer and Stokes in particular looked dangerous.  England are back on track, and have nearly a week off before facing a highly dangerous West Indies team.

But so far, overall, not too bad.

World Cup Matches 12 & 13: England v Bangladesh, New Zealand v Afghanistan

Assuming that the weather doesn’t intervene, England have the chance to show that the defeat to Pakistan was nothing more than a blip. There’s a bit of World Cup history, for Bangladesh have defeated England in the last two competitions, and of course knocked them out last time, as skipper Mashrafe Mortaza was quick to point out. It may be a much different England team, but Bangladesh have improved too, their victory over South Africa was a mere mild turn up, not the major surprise some pretended it was.

Still, a team with pretensions of winning the World Cup really ought to win and win comfortably, defeat today would be something of a crisis.

In the later game, New Zealand are of course strong favourites, and have been quietly and impressively going about their business. At this World Cup there are more dark horses than at a point to point meeting, suffice it to say that they look dangerous enough to anyone. Afghanistan’s achievement is their continual and rapid improvement. It’s not patronising to regard them with astonishment and awe, but this looks a tough day in prospect for them.

Comments below, and we’ll do a proper review on the England game later.

World Cup Match 11 – Pakistan vs Sri Lanka

The weather forecast is grim. Truly grim. The chances of any kind of game today look minimal, with a sheet of rain across the south, and a venue that tends to be wet even when the rest of the country is dry.

It’s inevitable of course, and will cause some of the usual suspects to recoil in horror that there is such a thing as rain, but it probably doesn’t do too much harm to either side in the scheme of things given the format.

Yesterday’s game between Australia and the West Indies represented something of a triumph for the Aussies who recovered from 38-4, and indicated that they really are a threat to anyone this time around, without being quite convincing. It was the umpiring that caused the most discussion, Chris Gayle being given out wrongly twice, before a third slightly marginal lbw that should have been a free hit given the huge missed no ball the ball before.

It was poor, but umpires have bad games too, and the West Indies only got into the World Cup on the back of an umpiring error in the first place. Still, there will be two officials who will be unhappy with their own performances alright, even if blaming the umpires is an age old tactic.

Comments on the rain below.

World Cup Match 10: Australia vs West Indies

Perhaps the trick to make a World Cup interesting is to add a pinch of Bangladesh – two games so far, a win and a defeat, and both eminently watchable. This is, of course, the nation that booted England out of the 2015 World Cup so unceremoniously and spectacularly.

Yesterday’s match against New Zealand was one of those where every time you felt the Kiwis had got control, they lost a wicket, often through that particular joy of cricket, the ridiculously daft shot out of nowhere. There were a fair few of those on display in the first game too, though Bumrah’s opening spell will deservedly get most of the headlines for that one. India looked decent enough elsewhere, as far as can be determined from a single game.

South Africa on the other hand have one foot already on the aircraft home – three defeats out of three doesn’t put them out of the tournament, quite, but it does leave them needing to win at least five of their remaining six games to have any realistic kind of chance. Given the entire format of the World Cup is to maintain it for as long as possible, this might well be the earliest a team has managed to get themselves on the brink of elimination in decades. In their favour, it can be pointed out that they have played England and India, rankings wise the two best sides in the world, and perhaps teams the Proteas might be expected to lose to. But then they lost to Bangladesh as well, have batted badly, bowled worse and caught abysmally. The loss of Dale Steyn is a blow to the tournament, and to cricket fans everywhere, but South Africa’s problems are deeper.

Today’s game is Australia vs West Indies, and one that might just be an intriguing one. Australia with their returning bad boys look a vastly stronger outfit, while the West Indies have arguably the most potent pace attack in the competition, and the possibility of a Chris Gayle Day leaves every opponent slightly nervous.

Is it too much to hope from this World Cup a tournament where everyone beats everyone else? Perhaps. And perhaps in the long term such a hope would be the most damaging, as it would re-inforce the ICC’s claimed motivation for making it a 10 team World Cup. That’s the trouble with cricket these days – wanting good cricket has to be with an eye kept on how the bastards will use it.

Comments as ever below!

England vs Pakistan: World Cup Match 6

At the fifth time of asking, we finally got a good game in the shape of Bangladesh versus South Africa.  It’s been an interesting response to it from some quarters, Bangladesh’s victory treated as a major shock, which it surely isn’t.  A small surprise perhaps, and maybe a hangover from the view of Bangladesh from years past.  They’re a reasonable enough side, and more recent quarter finalists than England for a start.  But it was an entertaining, enjoyable game throughout, and one that the tournament needed.  South Africa were rather poor, and are now in a bit of trouble.

England and Pakistan start their second round of matches with India still yet to play, having apparently negotiated a three week gap between the end of the IPL and the start of their World Cup campaign.  It’s a remarkable thing that the World Cup can be manipulated according to the needs of another tournament and constituent country, and while in itself it doesn’t overly matter, it’s indicative of the weight of power that can be brought to bear.  Equally, India have five matches at the weekend to England’s two, which makes no sense whatever in terms of promoting the competition in the host country, but perfect sense financially and in terms of the TV audience.  Strictly speaking, in purely ticket selling terms, it is logical (if counter-intuitive) to have the less attractive games at the weekend, given England matches will likely sell out whenever they’re being played, and others might not.  But it isn’t how it would be done if thinking from a promotional or public relations perspective, to generate momentum within a tournament location.  As ever, there’s the choice between imagining this things happen by accident, or being deliberately planned.  Given how India and Pakistan amazingly always manage to draw each other even if there are groups, there can’t be many who think it’s the former.

As for today’s game, England’s domination over Pakistan in the warm up series (“It’s not a warm-up game. It’s a bona fide series between England and Pakistan in the lead up to the Cricket World Cup” – Tom Harrison) means that sod’s law suggests this is the one that England will stuff up, naturally.  But Pakistan opening game was not remotely reminiscent of the weaker, but competitive side that managed to score heavy runs against England only to have to concede to a stronger batting line up, it was one that was timid and fell apart in the face of hostile West Indies bowling (1983 says hello).  Assuming England play Jofra Archer, and maybe even Mark Wood having seen the West Indies game, it can surely be imagined that they’ll be facing more of the same today.

For England, it’s all pretty serene.  A second win today, and they’re well on their way to the semi-finals.

Comments below!

World Cup Match 5 – South Africa vs Bangladesh

Much has been said and written about the start of this World Cup and the one sided games thus far. It’s certainly true that the only one with any real degree of doubt at the half way stage was the opener between. England and South Africa, and that uncertainty didn’t last overly long.

Yesterday Sri Lanka were demolished by New Zealand, while Australia comfortably overcame a spirited Afghanistan side. But we’re still waiting for a close game. This is sport, it happens, but it is relevant to highlight this when referring back to Dave Richardson using the argument of more competitive games as an excuse for booting out the Associates:

“Every match should be very competitive, and having 10 teams at the 2019 World Cup will ensure that’s the case”

He deserves all the stick he gets for the breathtaking stupidity of that remark, and to be reminded of it constantly. One sided matches happen, they always have and always will, but when used as a reason to turn the World Cup into a private club, opprobrium ought to follow.

And so today we have South Africa playing their second match, with India not scheduled to begin their World Cup until Wednesday, thanks to their insistence on a break from the IPL. Maybe today will be the tight, tense game we’ve been waiting for. Maybe.

Comments below as ever.

West Indies v Pakistan – World Cup Match Two Open Thread

England’s rather impressive opening day win over South Africa has the tournament up and running, and for the sake of the competition, Ben Stokes’ extraordinary catch has created a moment that can be played across the news broadcasters. It’s a small thing, and pales in comparison to the obvious equivalent had the wider public seen it as it happened. But to have such a moment on day one can’t but help. A bit.

The second match on the schedule is the one at Trent Bridge between the West Indies and Pakistan. Pakistan come into the game on a superb losing streak which has now extended to their last 10 completed official matches. Yet in many quarters they are still deemed favourites for this one. The West Indies racked up 421 against New Zealand and their batting potency makes them both unpredictable and exciting. In essence, this is one where really anything could happen. That’s a good thing, right?

Feel free to join the conversation below!

World, Shut your Mouth: The 2019 World Cup

Thursday morning will see the start of the 12th cricket World Cup, as hosts England take on South Africa. The tournament remains below the radar in the country in which it is held, with tickets available for most of the matches and as ever coverage only on pay television. It has been heavily criticised for being just about the only supposedly global tournament to reduce the number of finalists by eliminating smaller countries before it starts, and it still goes on for the better part of two months before unveiling the winner. It’s for that reason many find it hard to get excited in advance – when the end is so far away, the beginning seems barely part of the whole.

And yet. For England in particular, this is what they have been building towards since the omnishambles of four years ago. Test matches, so long the priority for the ECB, were unceremoniously shunted aside in a clear desire to capture the 50 over crown. To a fair extent, the re-prioritising has been successful, as England enter the tournament as favourites and at the top of the rankings, while playing a style of the game that is utterly irresistible much of the time, and falls flat on its face occasionally.

Lifting the trophy on 14th July would represent a justification of sorts, even if controversial in and of itself among England supporters. It is therefore hugely ironic on the one hand, and indicative of the muddled approach at the top of the game, that England’s last warm up before the competition took place at the same time as the last 50 over domestic final as a mainstream cricket event.

That the ECB scheduled an England match at the same time as the Royal London One Day Cup final is one thing – given the way county cricket has been repeatedly scheduled to make it as hard as possible for supporters to attend, suggesting it might be deliberately spiteful is no longer an extreme viewpoint – but scrapping top level 50 over cricket domestically entirely, and because of a new, untried format, is astonishing, even by ECB standards. Some argue that T20 skills translate so directly to 50 over cricket that it will matter little, but any tail off in England performances over the coming years will be linked directly to this decision.  It is of course all about ensuring the Hundred takes priority, and if you haven’t read Danny’s piece transcribing and responding to Three Quarters Of a Million Pounds a Year Man Tom Harrison’s interview on BBC Radio, then please do click here:  Dissecting the Hundred

The ten team tournament does at least have one positive, in that the round robin nature means everyone plays everyone else, but most important is the lack of quarter finals, which have the effect of rendering the whole group stage largely pointless. To move straight to the semi-finals means that there is peril and jeopardy in each game – every defeat is damaging, every win vital. Whether that is worth the justification for removing what were once associate members is a different question.

England’s form coming into the World Cup has been quite remarkable, a 70% win rate in the 2 years before bettering by some distance any of the winners in the last three editions.  Yet even with the addition of Jofra Archer, it is predicated heavily on the power of the batting line up.  England don’t appear to be one of those sides boasting prowess in all facets of the game, albeit the high rate at which they leak runs does need to be placed in context:  it is a function of England racking up huge scores themselves to at least some extent.  England might be favourites, but they have a slight sense of vulnerability about them that will need to be answered in the semi-final and final stage.   India will feel they are equivalent, while Australia and New Zealand in particular might feel they have a puncher’s chance – particularly in the former case now that Smith and Warner have returned. On which subject, the bleating about the two of them being booed yesterday was remarkable. Of all the things to become annoyed about currently, this is surely an awfully long way down the list.

Afghanistan are probably the second favourite team in the tournament for most, given both the political background, and the way the ICC so often actively work against the game being taken to new outposts.  They continue to get stronger, and if they can pick up a scalp or two, it will be celebrated by all bar the teams they beat.  Their bowling attack is potent enough to cause problems that’s for sure.  Of the rest, it’s South Africa who have been in the best form without causing many to suggest they’ll go and win it, while Pakistan….who the hell knows and the West Indies may, just may, have turned a bit of a corner.

Of the individual players, Jos Buttler and Virat Kohli are the two most obviously box office.  But a World Cup can bring to the fore someone less heralded.  That it will probably be a batsman is just where the game is now, and all the insistence that 270 makes for a more interesting game is so much humbug.  Close games make for the interest, not the score.  Low scoring matches tend to be the most tense because every single ball matters – the same reason a tight Test match is riveting – but to suggest 270 is the optimum scoring level is to ignore decades of everyone drifting off to sleep in the middle overs of an innings when the batsmen just took the singles on offer and the bowlers were content to let them. The balance between bat and ball has always been an issue in limited overs matches of whatever duration, but let’s not pretend there was a golden period where it was perfection.

Ticket prices have always been a factor in World Cups, the empty stadiums in the West Indies in 2007 being the nadir both in terms of unaffordability and the resultant depressingly empty grounds.  England this time around should be rather better, though it appears few are sold out at this stage.

As for us on here, we will be trying to cover each game, even if it’s just a couple of paragraphs to lead into it, and who knows, we might even live blog one or two as well.

England vs Pakistan: T20 match

Given the upcoming World Cup, and the five ODIs scheduled between these sides as part of the warm up for it, this particular encounter seems rather pointless. Still, that doesn’t usually make any difference, and at least this format of the game will be played in England in future.

The downgrading of the domestic 50 over competition to a “development” one from next year is one of those idiotic ideas that we used to be derided for on here as wildly exaggerating when we suggested the ECB would do it to make room for the Hundred. In future, players will only be exposed to 50 over cricket as youths, or when they play for England. What could possibly go wrong?

These days, the ECB are defended from accusations that they are deliberately malignant, that they aren’t really trying to kill cricket as a game in favour of a cash cow of 16.4 over thrashes. It’s probably true as well, they aren’t out to wreck the game on purpose. The problem is that it’s hard to tell what they’d do differently if they were.

We’ve had something of a break on here over the last couple of months, but as the cricketing summer gets under way, we’re back in the saddle.

Comments on today’s knockabout match below.