Dmitri #6 – Virat Kohli

kohli

First up, let me tell you about some biases I have. When I played cricket I was a batsman. I didn’t have a lot of time for the bowling art. They always gave me the hump. So naturally I am going to be biased in favour of batsmen. The two previous winners of a Dmitri for international cricket were Brendon McCullum and Steve Smith. This year, due to a bit of late season / late year bias I have decided that the player that had the most effect on me, and on the cricket landscape from my perspective wasn’t his colleague Ravi Ashwin, but the skipper himself, Virat Kohli. If it were test cricket alone Kohli would be near to the player of the year, if not the winner, but because he scored all those runs, allied to his phenomenal record in ODIs, his more than decent T20 record (yes, a record, by far, in the IPL for runs in a season) and it actually seems ludicrous if he isn’t your player of the year.

I’ll also admit another bias. If you piss off our bleeding hearts, both among the twitterati and the print media, and our precious little players, then yes, you have a little plus point in my eyes. You have to be a total Shane Warne for me to get angry with you. Yes Kohli can be a little punk on the field of play, but when that’s a Ben Stokes or James Anderson we laud their competitiveness and fire. When it’s in the opposition they are an arsehole. Have a think about that for once. I’d love to have Virat on my team.

Virat Kohli had an almost impossible act to follow. The next gun middle order batsman after Sachin Tendulkar had to be something else to even get the praise that the Little Master seemed to attract without, later in his career, any need to actually produce much. Kohli was one of those fighting around to take the mantle over, and yet it took him a bit of time to make his way in test cricket, scoring his first ton in his 8th match. He is 28 and has played around 80 fewer test matches than Alastair Cook, who is four years older by way of comparison. Kohli still has just 4209 test runs, almost 7000 adrift of Cook. Kohli has only just, after a massively phenomenal year, got his test average above 50. In many ways looking at his career test stats, he’s a late bloomer, and yet already he has a tremendous aura about him. Of course, he still has to do it in England, they say. I’ll be interested to see what 2018 brings.

Much of that aura is to do, I think, with the way he contemptuously dismisses everyone in ODI cricket. He averages nearly 53 in the limited over form of the game over his career, and as stated, in 2016 he has been phenomenal. He has 26 hundreds. His record in chases is spellbinding. Creating an aura is a pre-requisite to sustained great performance, because psychologically you fear what a man can do. You fear what Kohli might do to you in the ODI game, and then when the test performances follow, you might start fearing him in his all-round batting game. This year he put it all together.

In 2016 he scored 1215 runs at over 70 with four scores over 100. Three of those were double tons. All of those came in the second half of the year. India did not play a test before July. In 10 ODIs this year, Kohli scored 734 runs at an average of 92.37 with three centuries. In 2016 Virat played 15 T20 internationals, averaging a rather impressive 106.83 (helped by a ton of not outs) and with a top score of 90* in his 641 total runs. That’s not bad, don’t you think?

Then comes that aura. The captaincy of India in the test form has been something to behold. Tactically there might always be some issues, but what leadership has done has appeared to galvanise his resolve as a test bat. We saw it in the five match series, with a potentially test saving innings at Rajkot, an exhibition of vivacious batting in Vizag, a useful half century at Mohali and then the masterclass of Mumbai, a double century that took the breath away. Of course, it would never happened if Adil Rashid……..

He was all over the England team in the field, an aggressive presence, indulging in some back and forth which seemed to upset the cognoscenti. “He is not the most popular player among the England team” was used more than once than my upcoming Dmitri winner, as if this actually matters.  I’m sure Kohli couldn’t give a flying one what the opposition think about him. He’s a winner, and he wants to win and attack at nearly any opportunity. Having great wickets at home surely helps, but I can’t forget his performances last time in Australia too, where he looked magnificent. His energetic captaincy is in contrast to MS Dhoni’s test efforts. Where MS seemed not to give a FF about tests and captaincy, especially later in his career, Kohli takes every setback like a personal affront. If Virat Kohli were English, would you not want him as your captain, or would you worry that it might affect his game?

Kohli is the nearest I’ve come to watching Brian Lara. I might actually make a point of stopping everything I reasonably can to watch him bat. He’s that good. Both in terms of ability and fun to watch. Like the other members of the core four – Smith, Williamson and Root – he appears to wield a very long bat. It’s not technical, it’s not any great analysis, but the bat just appears longer in their hands than many others (AB seems to have a short bat to me – it’s nonsense I know, but I hope you get the sort of idea I’m on about). They all seem to be able to wield the willow with a lovely backlift and follow through (Smith, maybe not. He has a technique only his mother could love). Kohli’s bat also seems lightspeed fast. There’s wrist work, but it’s Lara-like, not traditional Indian style. It’s the crack and the pace of the bat that seems special. It’s all pretty woolly I know, but there’s a perception of pure pace when Kohli hits it. He can find gaps, he can manoeuvre fields and shots with the best of them, and he is, when not batting against you, a joy to watch.

He’s also massively, massively important for the game. Virat Kohli evidently loves test matches. He looks as though he relishes his own performances in the elite form of the game and that of his proteges. He wants India to dominate test cricket. He wants to dominate test cricket. It is great he’s a brilliant white ball player, but in a world where test cricket is constantly seen as under threat, it is vital that THE icon in THE largest cricket playing nation does not treat test cricket as a chore. Kohli can fill test grounds. In India. That is massively important for the game. Arguably, from our test-loving perspective, he is more important than Tendulkar and Dhoni. He’s a player we need now, and we need him to be this Virat for a number of years yet.

In retrospect, Virat was a slam dunk for this, wasn’t he? Bias or no bias.

Advertisements

Dmitri #5 – Pakistan

salute

You can probably guess that the individual world player award is going to go to a non-Pakistani player given this collective award, and you would be right. Misbah-ul-Haq, Yasir Shah and Younis Khan all played really well, as did Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq (Ali making a double hundred as I write this piece), but I’ve decided to go elsewhere for that particular Dmitri. However, for an “award” founded on the influence and debate-stirring on a blog, to ignore the tourists of 2016 would be remiss. The good commenters on this blog showed plenty of excitement and happiness at the style of play, the quality of the matches and a somewhat unexpected tight contest. So for Dmitri #5 I am awarding this highly prestigious and awe-inspiring gong to the Pakistan team.

Once they get over their excitement let’s look at why. All through my cricketing life there’s been a special sort of loathing for Pakistan – they were the ones who were quite clear in calling for neutral umpires as they considered David Constant (and others) to be biased. However, we could call their umpires anything under the sun, and did, especially in 1987! They also had players who could be called abrasive – Javed Miandad, I’m looking at you – and would not take a step back, as they showed when winning here in 1987 and 1992. Then there was reverse swing, so lauded in our press now as a skill Anderson and others possess, but at the time of Pakistani mastery, was seen as cheating and ball tampering. There have always been murmurs, and louder, of corruption, match fixing et al, as well as the nonsense at the Oval in 2006. Relations between England and Pakistan have always been “difficult”. Then 2010 seemed to prove all the naysayers right. They were up to their eyes in spot fixing, and three big players were booted out. When their premier spin bowler was effectively booted from the game for chucking, it seemed as though Pakistan were dead in the water. Where was there to go? No home. No throughflow of players despite the talent, the regurgitation of the Akmals, and the presence, always of Shahid Afridi, for good or bad. Within their ranks, they had a true leader. He was just, well, old.

Under Misbah-ul-Haq Pakistan briefly reached the status of world number one in test cricket. Given the team plays no series in its home country, this is possibly the most remarkable achievement in recent times. Of course they are formidable in the United Arab Emirates, and play very well in those conditions, but they have taken some of their form outside of the cosy confines of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah to be able to top the rankings. While they are not unbeatable on their travels, as New Zealand showed, and Australia are going someway to doing so, they are capable of exciting and dashing cricket. They also have that steel in them as well. Azhar Ali has scored a triple hundred and double hundred this year, while converting from a number three batsman to an opener to fill a vulnerable position. Bookending the top order is unsung hero Asad Shafiq, a gutsy, game fighter of a batsman who has given England more trouble than they would have liked. They have another punchy keeper, Sarfraz Ahmed, who is threatening to become a front-line level batsman, capable of match turning knocks.

The bowling is a bit hither and thither. It can look good on its day, but also veer well of tangent. This applies to the seamers, who on paper look a more than useful battery of quickish bowlers, and with decent spare capacity in case of injury. The spin of Yasir Shah is lethal in suitable conditions. He is a clever bowler, not a massive turner of the ball, but constantly at you – more your Kumble than your Warne. They do seem to go through massive dry spells without wickets, perhaps allowing too many games to drift.

Which leads us to the old duo in the middle order – Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq. They cannot go on forever, and undoubtedly this will be the last time we will see them playing tests on English shores (or should I doubt that). For long spells of the test summer, Younis looked like someone had him on remote control and was playing him around like an idiot. He couldn’t keep still, got himself in dreadful positions, looked totally awful. Then, when his team needed an innings to punish England for their lax batting at The Oval, Younis came through with a double hundred. At times it wasn’t pretty, but the old stager wasn’t to be denied. Combining with Asad Shafiq, he took Pakistan to a dominant position, over 200 in front, and let Yasir Shah do the rest. Pakistan walked away with an honourable 2-2 draw and put to bed the rubbish emanating from some of the press corps about how fortunate they might have been to win at Lord’s.

Because it was at Lord’s that Pakistan made massive headlines with their play, and their celebrations. For most, the sight of Misbah doing press-ups after his hundred was a joyous one. It was a “I can still do it” moment (in my circle of mates we call this a Spacey, after his role in American Beauty), and most bought into it. When they repeated the celebration as a team at the end, in front of the Lord’s position, some wanted to make a point that it was “rubbing our noses in it”. I don’t know who could have thought, that, or why. But some did. Sport has a lot of growing up to do, and also needs to shed itself of its damn self-righteousness. Pakistan had been a joy for the four days, England contributed to a really good game of cricket, and the game was the winner. What might have been lost was the credibility of the 7-0 merchants prior to this summer’s test matches.

This blog appreciated the series, loved its competitiveness, including an excellent win from behind at Edgbaston by England, and had real empathy for the team’s characters and characteristics. So to Misbah and his team, thanks for a cracking series, and for the entertainment you gave us.

Dmitri #6 will be the International Player award. Coming soon.

Dmitri #3 – Jonny Bairstow

Image result for jonny bairstow

The very short tradition of the Dmitris is that one goes to an England player who has performed well this year, and who hasn’t won the award before. In 2014 I shared it between Ali, Ballance and Buttler – the new hopes for English cricket. In 2015 it went to Joe Root. For much of 2016 it was an even battle between Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes. It was desperately close, and it has to be said, the recent tour has not favoured the Warwickshire man (although he’s an absolute dead cert for a Wisden Cricketer of the Year, eh, Lawrence?).

Jonny Bairstow has been a rescue act all year, scoring the most runs by a wicketkeeper in a calendar year (aided by having 17 test matches to do it, but still magnificent) and doing so by refining his game without totally reining in his natural attacking instincts. He brought in 2016 with a superb, emotional, 150 in that carnage in Cape Town. It may have been overshadowed by Ben Stokes rampage but it was incredibly important, as his batting at that time had to mask some of his keeping inadequacies. What was also lost that on a nervy Day 5 he steadied a very rocky boat with a 30 not out. That would be much of his role for the rest of the year. Jonny Bairstow had so many rescue acts to perform, he’ll be auditioning for the role of Scott Tracy in any Thunderbirds movie.

The thing I also liked about his three centuries were they were all decent scores post that mark. 150 not out, 140, 167 – a DBTA of 78.5 – and although his problem now seems to be converting 50s into 100s, that is a much better problem than having extended barren spells as Jos Buttler went through before he was dropped. Bairstow has had two single figure scores in tests in 2016 (Cook has had 6, Moeen has had 8, Stokes has 4 (all on this Asia tour) which shows his consistency.

Bairstow came into the team in 2012, on the back of a brilliant ODI the year before, but never settled, and then found himself thrust in the limelight of the KP phone hacking scandal! His 95 at Lord’s was ridiculously lauded by Shiny Toy – who said if he’d made a hundred it would have been the greatest first century he’d ever seen – but once he’d lost his place (after a not bad Ashes 2013, but not a convincing one), and with Buttler the coming phenom, opportunities looked scarce. Given the hospital pass of replacing Prior at the end of the Difficult Winter, he was replaced by him again in early 2014, and waited his chance. He returned for the last three tests of the 2015 Ashes, outscoring Australia’s first innings on his own at Trent Bridge, and then hasn’t missed a test since. He’s one of the first names on the team sheet.

He’s also a fine ODI player, but is part of the logjam. He doesn’t let us down when he does play as his match and series winning innings in the 2015 matches v New Zealand shows.

He’s also improved his keeping – Chris is a much better authority than me on the technical aspects – and I don’t see any reason why Buttler should take the gloves from him.

So Jonny Bairstow is this year’s winner. Over 1400 runs, a sound old record, a man in possession and tenaciously holding it. Well played, sir.

The 2016 Dmitris – #2 – 6 6 6 6

Image result for carlos brathwaite

When blogging you can get a bit caught up about what happens now, in the recent past. It’s why many of the awards get given to those who achieve late in the year, how lists are skewed towards the modern era, and not the old. It seems a long time ago now, but the busiest day on the blog this year, outside of the infamous List, and more of that later in the year, was in the immediate aftermath of the World T20 Final. I sort of think of that final over as a “Sliding Doors” moment. To guess the true significance, from my perspective, of it, is to hypothesise on what might have been.

I think the key post that frames the impact I thought might be coming our way is the one I wrote on 26 January, and called Schism. It aches me, genuinely, that as a result of actions in 2014 England supporters, the ones we encounter on social media, split down the middle.  Team Cook (ECB) vs Team KP (Outside Cricket). The two sides entrenched, in many ways not seeing each others point of view, but letting the frustration of the other side refusing to “buckle” reinforce matters more. I try to see things from the anti-KP brigade, and I just can’t. I accept that. I write about it. How difficult it is to think that people can take a load of media-assembled points and run them as fact without doing the thinking themselves. About how it is evident, to me, that the ECB leaked like my old shed roof and yet this was acceptable because it was getting the man. I try to explain this pull, this wretched feeling that something went so disgustingly wrong, that there were people who would rather side with the authorities than with a maverick, not seeing the bigger picture.

The Ashes in 2015 brought out the worst in the pro-ECB masses. It put us in our place. We were there only to be told to toe the line, get in with England and Cook, and yet people still kept on keeping on. There was still a tough core of people on here who would not get over the issues, not move on, not get into line. Maybe it brought out the worst in us. A peevish refusal to accept the position, almost that to give up would be to betray what we had putout there in the previous 18 months.

Over the preceding winter to the T20 competition KP started to hit form in the Big Bash. While certain people talked up a potential recall to the England, we all deep down knew it would never happen. Too many egos at play, too much water under the bridge. But it still rankled. A brilliant T20 performer left kicking his heels, undoubtedly good enough to get in the team, but kept out by a concept, a grudge, and stupidity.

What was so important about the loss in the World T20 Final is what it prevented from happening. It’s almost sacrilege to say it was a good thing England lost, and I can’t quite go that far. Was I crushingly disappointed? No. And I like this ODI/T20 team because it doesn’t, or at least didn’t, carry the baggage the test team did. But it was the way the press, the acolytes, the hangers-on were lining up what they would say if the victory had been sealed. Within a year Comma would be vindicated, feted as a genius, a man who turned water into wine, a man who could do little wrong. Look at us 8 months on, and see where we are now – a bedraggled test unit, at the end of their tether – and see how the climate has changed. Then there would be the ample opportunities to stick the knife into Kevin Pietersen – don’t they always – and us. People like us. Those who despise the ECB. Those who had excoriated a supine, pliant media for their obsequiousness. We would have seen the Ashes 2015 aftermath rerun – a time of vile abuse, of crass stupidity, and a downright unpleasant time to be blogging. It really ceased being fun.

Carlos Brathwaite also brought joy to the West Indies. Some of the players in that team it is very fair to say do not command respect. Gayle’s behaviour in Australia last winter being the most prominent, but Dwayne Bravo and Marlon Samuels aren’t exactly angels, and as for ‘Dre Russ, we are still awaiting his drug hearing. But there’s something about a West Indies success that just rouses you. Well it does me. It’s not being a hipster, but more in touch with my youth and their all conquering team. Those glimpses are more fleeting, their cricket more fragile – that word again – and thus unrestrained joy, especially at the expense of a cocky, arrogant foe (and England are that, whether we like it or not, we are not well liked in international circles) could be understood. Newman went ballistic at it, acting like a child, telling them off for celebrating in front of us, being mean spirited, and, worst of all, adding on to their U-19 success on the back of a Mankading, evidence of not playing the game in the right way.

That over changed a lot, and in many ways the blogging landscape has calmed down a lot since there. There’s not the visceral anger there once seemed to be. The usual suspects still have their ways of cheesing me off, but there’s not that need to fight as much. I think an England win might have exacerbated it. Not that that is at all important, and this isn’t meant to be a (totally) self-centred piece, but the anti-KP/ ECB fanboy/girl mob got to feel real pain, even if it was fleeting, even if it was in a tournament we all thought we had no chance in. It may have turned a cricket team’s fate, as their test team now looks a little better, but with still a long way to go. It was a cracking tournament and England played very well, and we can build confidence upon that display, in very testing conditions. But in the end, one of the most amazing finishes you are likely to see impacted very widely, and possibly, just possibly, the corner was turned on a number of fronts, big and small.

So, for Dmitri #2, a little obscure, a little tangential, and maybe a little controversial, I give you 6 6 6 6. Remember the Name…

The 2016 Dmitris – #1 – Tim Wigmore

It’s that time of year again. December brings the Dmitris. Like Wisden Cricketers of the Year but on a shoestring budget. Like Sports Personality of the Year but without a gala occasion and no Andy Murray. In the past two years they have been awarded to people, groups of people, numbers, teams etc. They aren’t all about merit, but significance to the blog, and major events. I’m not limiting them in number, but year 1 had 10, year 2 had 7 (I think).

The first Dmitri this year is awarded to a journalist who I think has contributed to matters discussed in this blog, and who I know a number of you regard highly. It is for Tim Wigmore, who finished a very close second in the Poll for favourite journalist.

OK, let’s get something out of the way. I’ve met Tim a couple of times, and also spoken to him a little off line, but not a lot. So this is most definitely not an award because I am in any way friendly with him. However, my votes, which count for more in the poll (because I’m an authoritarian dictator) did propel him over long-time leader Jarrod Kimber into the top spot for a while before a usual suspect had a late rally. Jarrod did not make my top three this year, although that’s not any major reflection on him – he did not make Death of a Gentleman this year after all!

So why Tim? Well, first of all George and Jarrod have won a Dmitri and so they can’t win it again! The poll is separate, but influential in the Dmitri awards. He was by far the highest scorer of those that have not got one. There are many reasons why. What we see from Tim is pure grunt work. He’s not a test match reporter like his more glamorous peers, but he’s very much an international cricket man. His work on the Associate nations, especially in The Cricket Paper, is absolutely top notch, but it isn’t confined to that – his work for cricinfo and occasional forays into the national press resonate. He attacks his subjects with brilliant passion, has a wide range to his brief, and importantly to us on here, he goes on the attack when he thinks the game is going wrong, and because he so transparently believes in his position. I think he’s the best out there at what he does.

The Editorial board were discussing this at our meeting on 22 November, and compared his output to others in the up and coming group. Compared to Chris Stocks and Will McPherson, we thought Tim had the better pieces, the more tricky and meaty subjects, and yes, we probably had less cause to be annoyed at the pieces than with the other two.

I wish Tim all the best going forward, tackling the Associate agenda with the gusto he’s shown so far, doing the grind on the county scene, and hopefully getting the big break if he so wants it. Let’s put it this way, without his input into the Cricket Paper, we’d be left with a lot of Stocks and Pringle. Good for copy on the blog, but not on my blood pressure.

So the first Dmitri of 2016 goes to Tim, for the slot reserved for our favourite journos, and joins Dobell and Kimber/Collins in the Dmitri Award Hall of Fame. As great an honour as there is in the game I’m sure! But it’s a clear message from us that Tim should keep on keeping on.

The Final poll results will follow in the next few days.