More Rain – And Putting The Ban Into Bancroft

All this scratching is making we twitch.

With all due respect to the very limited action available to the hardy souls in Auckland, the story of today is without doubt Australia being hoisted on their own petard. Let’s be charitable here and say let the investigation run its course and it would be premature to rush to judgement. Then remember back less than three months to Channel 9 and its shenanigans over a dubious looking moment with Jimmy Anderson. There was no measured calm, no looking for innocent explanations, no trying to get the facts. They were, quite blatantly, playing the 12th or 13th man for Team Australia, and the media out there duly followed. We see it, we get mad by it and yes, in just a small way, we might even envy their loyalty and support. But it’s not looking to secure justice and fair play.

Yes, I know, I am being hopelessly naive, and yes, I know, I’ve probably crossed a moral line or two playing sport too. But we are going to get nowhere if we start denying the obvious. Let’s wait and see what happens later in the day, but at the very least Bancroft is guilty of misleading the match officials, which is what Burge threw the book at Atherton for. I was at the Oval in 2006 when Pakistan were accused of ball tampering, and all we had to go on was announcement of a 5 run penalty. When we put two and two together, we thought there might be trouble. And trouble there was. This gets to be an emotive subject.

I know we have some Aussies who come on here regularly, and I know we can’t put this on all of them because it would be silly. But I do put it on large swathes of their media that allows, even laughs, at people like Malcolm Conn having a pop at England picking players with perfectly legitimate links to England, while ignoring Usman Khawaja or Andrew Symonds with less tangible birth links (and for the record, absolutely they should be playing for Australia). You can’t chuck this nonsense out and (a) not expect it back and (b) to be bloody ridiculed for it. For years the Australian team, and its dutiful press corps, by and large have been fine and dandy when they are dishing out the stick to the opposition. If it is because you are being beaten, you are crying. If it is because you are in a tough game, it is mental disintegration and what test cricket is about. If you are winning…..it’s Australian spirit, never say die etc. And by and large I really don’t care. But you don’t and never should, get the privilege of defining a line. Yet in this series they are telling us South Africa are crossing it.

(Update – Of course, I forgot Lehmann’s part in all this. Just like some football managers, when his boys do it, it’s fine. When his team does it, it’s within the line. But when an idiot South African fan dispenses it back, it’s off we go. You can’t run with foxes and hunt with the hounds. These things have a tendency to bite you on the arse. Which is why England should keep quiet because we definitely head butt the line too.)

Now Australia are faced with dealing with a really sticky situation with Cameron Bancroft. It does not look good. The press all over the world will be watching. In turn I’ll be watching the Aussie media. On Sky Graeme Smith put Allan Border on the spot about it, and AB, as loyal to the Aussie cause, as gritty and determined as they come, a player I admired (save that Dean Jones macho bullshit nonsense in Madras) was put in a spot. Did he jump to a conclusion and be berated as disloyal, or play it safe. He trod a careful path “it doesn’t look good, and if he’s found guilty he will have to pay the penalty”. Can’t say fairer than that. This is going to run and run. (Update – 2 hours on and Malcolm Conn is silent. Maybe it’s past his bedtime.)

Aside from all the nonsense, this is a cracking series, and this is another good match. A pity the two teams have acted like bloody children. It’s taking away from the spectacle, not adding spice. We know how competitive the two teams are.

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Beautiful Newlands…. Any excuse to get this picture out

A story is breaking that Virat Kohli is going to miss Afghanistan’s first ever test match to play three games of county cricket, probably for Surrey. Sadly for us Londoners the only home game he will play if he does is at Guildford, which although great for a day out, is not so great if there’s going to be a large crowd. Anyone fancy a day at the Ageas Bowl for his first game? I think this speaks much about the game – county cricket still has some attraction otherwise why would Kohli bother; some test matches aren’t quite as important as others; and England helping out an opponent by giving him early match practice is laudable, in my view now. I’ve changed my tune and would rather see a well prepared, in tune India play England than some outfit ill prepared and waiting to go home. I maintain my point. Test cricket really needs Virat Kohli. If he turns his back on it (and I know he sort of his for the Afghan test) then the game might be in trouble. He’s the world’s most important cricketer right now and it’s not even close.

We’ll probably come back to the Colin Graves and Glamorgan story. Again, if the story stands up, you’ll count us shocked. Really shocked.

So to Day 4 at Auckland. England don’t deserve to be saved by the rain and they should at least have to have earned a draw by batting time – a thing we have been dead good at in recent years. The weather forecast appears better tonight. New Zealand should look to add 120-150 quick runs, get up to 350 if they can and stick us in. Some might say they should go earlier and I wouldn’t argue. Then England will need to earn some pride back. It’s by no means acceptable, and that 58 should be remembered for quite a while, but it would be a start. This team has been papering over cracks with its home form. There’s a lot about “no-one wins away” but we aren’t even competitive. That has to change.

Comments on all of this immediate, reactive nonsense below. Comments on the test should also follow.

UPDATE – They have confessed. It was a leadership group decision. Smith as captain has to go. Absolutely no questions asked. Warner as vice-captain cannot take that position up either. At the moment they are protecting Lehmann. That’s not going to work either.

UPDATE @ 10PM UK TIME…

Well, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since the afternoon. Chris is possibly going to be on tomorrow to give his verdict on Day 4 and some comment on today’s events.

I genuinely believe that Steve Smith is dead in the water. If he survives this, I’d be genuinely shocked. The next in line would be David Warner, but he has to be part of the “leadership group” mentioned in Smith’s mea culpa. It’s not the ball tampering, which is ludicrous and to some extents serious enough. But it’s conspiring to do so, within a structure within the team, and then getting the sap with the fewest caps to carry it out. More will come out about the whys and hows, but this isn’t an international captain, nor a vice-captain showing leadership. Those who think this is purely about ball-tampering are off their minds.

Australia find themselves in a bind purely of their own making. They have been holier than thou in terms of their cricket for a good while, and the mask, however slightly, has slipped. People can abide cheats – players who have pushed the margins of the rules, who have appealed when they know it is not out, who have even pushed the line of acceptable banter – but they generally can’t abide hypocrites. Loads of people have sledged, but why do you think people go at Warner? Because he can throw, but he can’t catch. Smith and the whole “Baggy Green” ethos is in tatters, and he is the one at the helm of his ship. “Oooops, I’ve smashed this one into the iceberg, but I’m just the man to rearrange the deckchairs…”

The issue isn’t for me to say Steve Smith should be sacked – I think he should but that is a call for Cricket Australia. What this is also not about is the technical issue of ball tampering. What is in question is leadership and the way the game is played. Cricketers have cheated since the beginning of the day and always will. Much of it comes from the flow of the game. It isn’t pre-meditated over a lunchtime chat to take something out into the middle and blatantly use it on the ball. Some will say Smith shouldn’t be the one to take the fall. Let us see. Commercial and reputational interests conquer all, and this is not a good look, right or wrong, and they will decide the fate.

It’s been a funny old day….

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Dmitri #6 – Virat Kohli

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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.