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 25, New Zealand vs South Africa

Into the second half of the tournament, and for the sake of the competition, South Africa need to win this one. The Big Three are fairly clear, and the prospects of them being turned over sufficiently to open up qualifying seem remote. And thus, while the concept of all playing each other is not inherently unreasonable, if there is a huge difference in resources that translates into playing success, we may end up with up to a quarter of the games rendered irrelevant in the latter stages.

There were some who pointed this out long in advance, and fair enough too, but the format in general can work passably so long as there’s competitiveness and hazard between the sides, and barring Pakistan’s win over England, that hasn’t happened. And that above all is what makes for turgid viewing, and would do however it was structured. Nevertheless, it’s fair to make the argument that structure can determine the jeopardy and that this one actively works against that.

England’s demolition of Afghanistan’s bowling yesterday was not unexpected, but it is still worthy of note, given their propensity to do it to anyone if it’s their day. The absence of Roy might be a blow, but Morgan’s tour de force emphasised that come the business end of things, England can destroy anyone. Whether they go on to win the World Cup or not, they are an extraordinary batting side.

Comments on today’s game (and whatever else takes your fancy) below:

World Cup Match 24: England vs Afghanistan

England will need to be careful….potential banana skin….talented Afghanistan team…

Let’s be honest, anything other than a thumping England win will rank as a major surprise.  Afghanistan’s World Cup experience has been a miserable one, riven by internal dissent and unable to compete adequately on the field.  It doesn’t mean that their story over the last few years is any less extraordinary, but it does mean that in the here and now, the one nation the ICC could point to as representing growth in the game looks rather out of its depth, and pretending otherwise to try and kid prospective watchers that this is  vital game would be dishonest.  It’s not to say that it’s impossible for Afghanistan to win, or even for it to be a close match – sport can throw up the unexpected after all – but not impossible is a limited sell as an event.

However, only a few years ago, the Afghanistan national team were playing village cricket clubs in Sussex, and losing.  That they are in a World Cup is something to celebrate, irrespective of how it’s gone for them so far.

For England, the loss of Jason Roy probably isn’t so important for the next couple of games, but the reported hamstring tear doesn’t sound too promising, despite England’s hopes that he’ll be back before too long.  Naturally, this injury led to speculation about whether Alex Hales would be brought back if it proved to be serious, speculation that was fairly quickly damped down.  There has to be some amusement here, England never seem to learn that making definitive statements to try to appear strong gives no wriggle room later on.  It’s not that England were wrong about him, it’s not that England should have kept him in the squad then, or bring him back now.  It’s that by using loaded phrases like “lack of trust” (again with the trust thing) and now “stigma” they give themselves nowhere to go.

This may be deliberate on the part of Morgan, to ensure there is no possibility of Hales coming back, but if so that would be a fairly unhealthy state of affairs in itself.  There are different views concerning how Hales was treated, and how he behaved.  He’s hardly the most sympathetic of characters given his recent conduct, and brought much of it on himself. But England’s continuing ability to end up selecting sides for reasons other than cricketing ability remains an irritation, as does the inconsistent application of the rules depending on whether a face fits properly.  In each and every case a justification can be found either way, but there remains institutional favouritism within the ECB.

Comments on the game below!

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 Matches 8 and 9 – India v South Africa & Bangladesh v New Zealand

So enter the giants. Bring on the gladiators. Bow down to the titans. India belatedly join the “party that is gripping a nation”, and in front of them is a team that if it loses, might as well ensure they are on that flight to Johannesburg prior to July 14. The stakes are high.

You’ll be thankful that this isn’t a 1000 word epic. There are two games scheduled for 5th of June, and India are on first in Southampton. Highly favoured, they won’t be overly concerned that they have had to wait, or really what they’ve seen from their opponents. Their’s will be a more intense campaign, but not that much. A tournament where there is still four weeks of the qualifying competition to run allows such indulgences like waiting a week to start!

The second game puts together two unbeaten teams up against each other. Bangladesh return to the scene of their triumph on Sunday with a hope to repeat the formula. New Zealand blew Sri Lanka away on a lovely green surface in Cardiff and look a formidable unit. While you have to favour the Black Caps, Bangladesh aren’t to be taken for granted. One of my favourite cricketers, Mushfiqur Rahim, is always a key man for the Tigers, and his lovely knock on Sunday got a little overshadowed by Shakib, but was utterly valuable (going to a country like Bangladesh makes me want them to do well. I loved my time there). By all reports their fans were brilliant on Sunday and brought a great sense of occasion to the match. Good on them.

The match between Sri Lanka and Afghanistan was the first one that was weather affected, and yet there was still a pretty gripping contest (due to disruption in London, I had to work from home, but I’m not going to watch cricket, sadly, if I have to work – honestly). Sri Lanka got off to a great start, collapsed in a heap, eked out something competitive, and then Afghanistan got off to a half decent start, collapsed in a heap, rebuilt a little, but then fell short. The bowling attack may sneak them a game during the tournament, but the batting looked a little short for Afghanistan today. They are by no means outclassed. I am watching the highlights and what a really good comms team they had on today. Doull, Smith, Mitchell, Sanga and even Pommie was OK today too. Nothing pants on fire enthusiasm, no screaming and hollering, just adult commentators treating their audience as adults. It will never catch on.

As we have seven games under our belt we have two hundreds. One suspects India might add to that total today. Let’s see if they are for real. South Africa are in turmoil, and it will be a huge upset if they win. It is especially sad, though sadly not unexpected, to see Dale Steyn won’t be playing a part. I saw him in his first series back in 2004/5, and he had an action and pace to die for. He’s been an amazing player, but time stands still for no-one, not even a warrior like Dale Steyn. It’s terribly disappointing.

Comments below.

World Cup Match 7: Afghanistan v Sri Lanka

Today sees the game which might, just might, sort out who finishes 10th in the competition. Yes, it’s a bit early to say that, but given their performances on Saturday, worthy though Afghanistan’s was, there is a sense that neither of these two teams will be in the shake up when the group phase ends in about a month or two’s time. The game is being played at Cardiff, and the rain radar looks less than great, so it may be that this is all for nought in anyway. Let’s hope not. Afghanistan look a particularly intriguing team, and in many ways are the poster child for all those, very vociferous, advocates of a larger World Cup (in terms of participants, not games).

Comments, as always, below.

As for yesterday’s events in Nottingham, it was always going to be interesting to see how England fans and media (and soon to see also how the players) would react to the first reverse. It was always going to happen, but maybe it was envisaged that it wouldn’t be this early in the competition, and that the early loss, if there was to be one, would be against South Africa (who may also be scrapping for 10th place if their form is maintained!). The immediate response, judging by Sky and some of Twitter, is that this was a freakishly bad fielding performance, that England will need to improve, but we really are very good at this format and so no worries fellow travelers.

As Lee Corsey on College Game Day (obscure US reference) would say “Not so fast”. Now I know a fellow writer is more sanguine about the loss, but I didn’t get to this point in my blogging life without knowingly under-reacting, and in truth I genuinely don’t think I am. I think the ability of this England team is under question because it has not won the massive game. That’s because they have, really, only had one, which was a semi-final against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy. I might let you have Australia in the opening game of that tournament, if Australia were ever that bothered about the Champions Trophy, which they hadn’t been much previously. I thought, last night, about England football team’s qualifying performance in the lead up the 2010 World Cup, and how we won 4-1 and 5-1 against Croatia, and dropped points in a game that really didn’t matter because we’s already qualified. We then made a horlicks of the main tournament.

It’s always a bit arrogant to say England try their hardest in routine ODIs, and other teams don’t really care that much, but maybe there is a small case to say this is true here. After all, the pressure was put on in 2015 when Andrew Strauss said we would focus more on white ball cricket, and that has certainly been the case – other nations don’t make it so blindingly obvious. The media have, by and large, got on board with this, and perhaps explaining away or excusing some issues with the test team as if there is a trade off for the white ball team’s success. And it has been successful. England have been an entertaining batting side to watch, while the bowling leaves a little to be desired. Indeed, if ever the team plays to a less than full audience on these shores, some of the key media figures exhort the host to lose fixtures because they won’t pay exorbitant prices to watch “the greatest England ODI team ever” (a title I will not anoint them to until they match what the 1992 team did).

There’s always a problem commenting on a game I haven’t watched. But I knew from the outset of the run chase that chasing 349 to win in a World Cup isn’t like chasing it down in the 3rd ODI of a tedious five match series where each squad is chopping and changing its players. The jeopardy of defeat is much, much higher. If you are thinking you can lose just three games to be certain to qualify, England will need to beat two out of India, Australia, New Zealand, and I am going to throw our kryptonite, West Indies, into that mix. And that’s taking for granted Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, which may be foolish. This isn’t a bump in the road, but a clear warning sign. England played tightly against South Africa, but had enough to beat them. They got lured into a pace attack and bouncer strategy by Pakistan’s atrocious first game. By the time the messages appeared to get through, Pakistan were off to a decent start, and 348 was possibly reining them in a bit. There’s a lot of positives taken from Root and Buttler making hundreds, but the supporting cast did not step up and that’s a concern. Given the nature of pitches and boundaries, this won’t be the last time we could be chasing 350. It’s not easy, and perhaps the sin of this team is that they’ve made it look like it during the cricket equivalent of the “qualifying campaign”.

Pakistan are a walking cliche for unpredictability, and so losing 11 in a row and then beating the “World Champion Elect” seems like a Ruiz felling Joshua. But it really shouldn’t be. They have talented batting, and the bowling can never be taken for granted. Sometimes they lose their minds, sometimes they put it together. It makes them eminently watchable, and a dangerous foe. For all the beatings England have administered to them in bilateral series, they’ve now played them, as New White Ball England, twice in major competitions and lost. It’s when the game is played that really matters.

So yes, I am concerned for England. Contrary to the views of people who hate this format, this loss does matter. With ten teams, a 5-4 win loss record could be recorded by the 5th and 6th place teams if one or two of the countries fail to raise themselves if they know elimination is certain. England have Bangladesh up next, on Saturday at Cardiff, and then face the West Indies the following Friday in Southampton. We will have a feel for how the qualification is going by then, and if England sit at 2-2 in the win-loss column (and let’s definitely not take Bangladesh for granted) then the alarm bells will be ringing.

One last note. I have to say it. While I’ve made most of my peace with England’s cricket team (as if they give a stuff), the whole long-term problem with what happened in 2014, and what Harrison is doing now, is that these defeats don’t sting like they used to. An England football defeat stings much more, especially under this Southgate team. This doesn’t. They seem decent players, hell, I like quite a few of them. But it doesn’t matter that much to me. We had a word with a media guy a few months ago who thought that if England got on a roll, the country would go mad for this tournament. I said that how could they? They won’t be able to watch it if they don’t have Sky. And some cricket fans like me are so cheesed off with the suits who pick the boots, that we’ll see any victory marred by the ECB patting themselves on the back for coming to the conclusion that the 2015 World Cup was a bit embarrassing. Because we know that this would give Citizen Kane Harrison even more fuel for his ego-driven campaign to destroy English domestic cricket as it exists now. (Oh yes, we saw the Standard article, where Harrison is bathing in overwhelming support none of us have noticed). So while Buttler makes hundreds, Joe Root plays the anchor as the others hit around him (a run a ball hundred is an anchor role these days), and the entertainment is there, the suits have ruined it.

Actually, while I am here, I have one last note. Notice how Australia have seamlessly assimilated Smith and Warner back into the fold, with the media it appears massively behind them, despite them “shaming the nation” and in the case of Warner, reports that he’d been “ostracised” and “made to dine alone by the team” and being the outcast blamed for the sandpaper incident. Notice how prime outlets like ABC are confident enough to have articles using these two to have a pop at England fans for understandable wind-ups (and calling England fans boorish). Notice how the “abuse” is seen as a positive for Warner, that it will make him play better. Notice that picture of Warner taking selfies with Aussie fans? I have. Perhaps our suits, perhaps our hierarchy should stop babbling on about culture and trust, and pick our best players on every occasions. It seems other nations just try harder and don’t hang themselves on managerial and coaching gods, but on players. Who play. And yes, I am talking about Pietersen. Of course I am.

OK, enough from me. Comments below on today’s action…..

T20 World Cup – England v Afghanistan

Note – Sean has a post below, and I’ve stuck a new one up as well. But I need to set up tomorrow’s game…
An early start for this one, as England seek to solidify their position going into the final round of games. Despite the fantastic win against South Africa, the chasing down of a mammoth total did not do a huge amount for the net run rate, and so it probably means that to qualify we will need to beat Sri Lanka and hope South Africa lose to West Indies or give them a huge beating (assuming South Africa beat Sri Lanka, of course).
There’s the danger. Afghanistan are not to be treated lightly. England can be vulnerable to non test playing nations in these competitions. We can’t assume a team that puts up a spectacular performance like they did with the bat on Friday, can just repeat it. England should win, but it doesn’t mean they will win. The unspoken words are that we don’t need to just win, but win very very well.
Comments below, as per usual. After this game we’ll see where the land lies. We have Sri Lanka to play on Saturday, and then we have to wait for three other games in the group to play out. We’re by no means certain of qualifying even if we win the last two games.
And I’m noticing that I’m still using “we” for England. It’s still there. Somehow. Lord knows the authorities that run our game don’t deserve it.

2015 World Cup – Game 38 – England v Afghanistan

Good god, do we have to play this match? The team has nothing to gain and everything to lose. Afghanistan could not pick a better time to play us.

With our hands over our eyes, with our memories of burger sales staff at Schiphol Airport (I’ve been through there and never seen it) and such like, Sydney is the venue and problems lie ahead. The forecast isn’t special so we may be spared a result, who knows.

All comments on this game in the usual place.

2015 World Cup Game 17 – Scotland v Afghanistan

Short post to introduce the game tonight. Scotland will be batting first in this battle of the associate nations. If it lives up to the Ireland v UAE match then we are in for a cracker.

I had a late evening so not able to comment on the information paper provided by the ECB. It seems beyond parody to me, especially the re-name.

I’ll have a say….

But keep coming with your comments. Really appreciate them.