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…..

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Enter Darkness…. Some Quick Notes From The End Of The First Test

You see, the thing with Test cricket is very rarely is a game totally dead. It only takes a combination of some inspirational cricket, a scrambled mindset, a bit of daftness or two, and it is game on. It is what makes this game so bloody great. We’ve been hooked on that finish – well I know I was.

Now if you excuse me to make some comments, given I’ve lost what talent I had, and am wierd and a coward (Hinge and Bracket again), let’s run through some intitial thoughts:

  • Let’s not be silly and pin this on Cook’s failure to up the ante. At the start of the England innings our aim was to draw this test. Given 2012, given the experience of the team in these conditions, given how the spin bowling performed in the first innings, the knock by Cook was what we needed. It ensured we would not lose in a game where the chance to win, no matter how bloody well we played, was remote. This was sit-in cricket, which won us the series in 2001. If you don’t believe me, read Michael Henderson on Mike Atherton’s century in that match.
  • I said we needed one of our more flair players to really make a big score. Sadly they made half centuries. That’s not really a knock on them, but if one had stayed there we might have been able to declare a half hour earlier. I think Cook got the declaration pretty much right and was impressed, yes impressed, with his captaincy. This doesn’t absolve his sins in my eyes, but unlike others who pop, shows that I do come to fair assessments. Meanwhile, those lot were blathering on about KP. Says much.
  • Well done Adil Rashid. I’m proud he shoved the garbage back down the throats of his critics. The bar is set ludicrously high for our leg spinners, thinking we’ll have a Warne or a Mushy and if we don’t then let us not bother. Given our ability to scorch the tail has been a sore point for a while now, Rashid’s evisceration of the lower order batting was mightily impressive. He bowled with flight, he got enough turn, and his fielders did the rest. Moeen was a really good partner too, and Anderson bowled excellently up front. This was a really good team performance.
  • I do hope no-one goes on about time-wasting. England are just as adept as the opposition at this. We know this. This is no morality game. I might be being cynical, but in the last two overs Bell and Root decidedly did not go airborne, while Jonny B is trying to cart it to all parts. Better not have been some average harvesting there (I know Root skied a couple up in the air…..)
  • Matt Prior in the studio. FML.
  • On to Dubai for the next match. There’s always something about a Pakistan test series that just has that edge and it’s really great we are playing them. It’s such a refreshing change from Australia and India. I’m going to enjoy this winter.

Please add  your thoughts. I might do some more on the match later.

PS – You might be interested in this….Hinge and Bracket.

Day 5

After an almost two month hiatus it’s back to normal. We see the puritanical, pompous muppets firing at the blog and its commenters for the same old reasons. We ain’t cheering hard enough.

Some on here aren’t England fans, if they hadn’t noticed, and a lot of those who comment who are from these shores still feel betrayed. All the paeans to our glorious leader aren’t going to change that. If anything, they exacerbate matters. It’s really not that hard to understand if you try.

Instead we got a load of old twaddle and a promise that the chief muppet won’t comment on here. We can but hope. I offered him a genuine opportunity to write something on his blog about the achievement of Alastair Cook in becoming the highest non-Asian test run scorer in Asia, but he declined and gave me some links to his KP pieces? I’m as confused as I was before.

So, we come to Day 5. I saw something that said the draw was 20/1 on, and I think that’s generous. For England to have won, that lead needed to be 80 or 90 and perhaps have a little dart tonight. I don’t blame them for being cautious, and for grinding Pakistan into the dust of Abu Dhabi, not at all. This is a step up from the capitulations on good batting tracks at the Oval and Lord’s and a necessary one. Root, Bell, Stokes and to some extent Buttler got some batting time under their belts, but we needed a dasher to make a dasher’s hundred on a non-dasher’s pitch and I’m not going to stick forks in them for not doing so.

As for Cook, I’m afraid people who don’t want to understand aren’t going to be persuaded. Back in 2011, when Cook was piling on 294 in much the same way as he did in Abu Dhabi, even some of his staunchest allies complained that it was all a bit too self-serving. I thought that harsh in a game where time was absolutely no issue. I was egging him on to get 300. I’m a fan of triple hundreds. I love the quiz on Sporcle about test 300s, often forgetting Younus Khan, for instance! England haven’t had one since 1990. They haven’t had one away since the 1930s.

Times have changed. If this were Root, if this were Ali, if this were Bell, if this were Bairstow, if this were Stokes, I’d have loved to see 300. But it’s Cook. And I’m afraid I just don’t like him. So while I sit here and say it was an excellent innings, it has pulled England by their bootstraps to a position of total safety, and it is an innings no-one else in the England team of the past 20 years could have played, do I rejoice? No. We all know why, and I’m not going into it. To pretend that I’m joyless, or sour, is to miss the point. Was Cook’s innings a joyful one? No. No-one is going to re-watch it for its aesthetic beauty or languid strokes. You are going to sit back and go “that was some effort. What concentration. What ability” but there’s no joy there. He’s done a magnificent job. I just don’t like him. That’s it. In the same way our critics didn’t like someone else, but we’re not allowed to mention that, because we’re obsessed.

On to the pitch and the utter nonsense being spouted about “pitches like these will kill test cricket”. If every dull game at a World Cup football Finals would lead to these calls, then the internet would blow up. For every good Champions League tie, there are a load of god awful ones. I’ve been to nearly 1000 football matches. I’d say 20% have been shockers. You aren’t guaranteed great entertainment on any surface. Spare me, please.

This pitch is as skewed against bowlers as Trent Bridge was against batsmen this summer. But that doesn’t matter, because England win on the latter, and have a tendency not to on the former. In 2012, South Africa made 600+ for the loss of 2 wickets and Anderson, Broad, Swann et al looked no more likely to get a wicket than they did in Abu Dhabi. But as we got humped on that surface, nothing seemed to get mentioned. If chances were taken in this match, the game would be a fair way more advanced. They weren’t. I’m not saying this is a great wicket – it clearly isn’t – but spare me the “death of test” twaddle. England getting a draw here will be a very, very decent achievement.

If you watched the 2000/01 series in Pakistan we endured 14 days of toil, attritional cricket, lit up at the end by the drama of Karachi. In 2005/6 we saw Pakistan pile on runs and England fail to cope. In 2011/12, we saw a team all at sea against spin. England have piled on well over 500. It’s a very good base to prepare for the next game.

I know the last two months have been slow on here. That’s been because I’ve found more interesting things to do, work has been busy, I got a great trip to Johannesburg, had tons of home media issues to sort (seems to be almost there) and, well, I was knackered. I’m not sure I feel that energised now, but I’m sure as hell not going to be fed a pile of old cack by people who, as usual, wilfully misrepresent what we do here. I’m thrilled so many have returned for these test matches. We’re back to well over four figures a day again, and it’s terrific. TLG will be returning soon, the cricket will keep us going, and the media will make us howl.

Plus ca change, you vile lot. Plumbing the depths. They do make me chuckle.

Comments on Day 5 here. We’ll do a round-up at the end of proceedings. As always, you may not agree with me, but you can disagree here. I won’t take it from those who do it from the sidelines, and I will remain like that. It’s much easier when you are a contented person, and at the moment, life isn’t too bad at all.

UPDATE – Twitter is funny this morning. I mean rib-achingly funny.

2015 Test Century Watch #21 – Azhar Ali

Pakistan batsman Azhar Ali runs as rain falls during the third one-day international (ODI) match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan at the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo on June 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/Ishara S. KODIKARA        (Photo credit should read Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/GettyImages)
 AFP PHOTO/Ishara S. KODIKARA (Photo credit should read Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/GettyImages)

Azhar Ali – 226 v Bangladesh at Mirpur

Mohammad Hafeez’s Pakistani record against Bangladesh lasted a week. I had a hunch this man might get close when he rested overnight on 120-odd and so it proved. An old fashioned test batsman making a really high score to set his team on the right path. It’s time for some stats.

This is the 15th highest score in tests by a Pakistani batsman and the 39th test double century. It is Azhar’s first test double, as he passed his previous best score of 157 made against England and Sri Lanka in 2012. This is his 8th test ton, half of which have come against Sri Lanka. He took his average from 41 to over 44 in this innings, and also passed 3000 runs in test matches. His previous best against Bangladesh was the 83 he made in Khulna in the previous test.

I have done the Pakistan and Bangladesh stats to death already, so let’s look at the number 226. Have you seen one, Dmitri? Given there have been just 8 scores of 226 in test history, the answer is likely to be no, and so it is. There have been recent 226s in this country – Kevin Pietersen made one against the West Indies at Headingley back in 2007, while Jonathan Trott also made this score against Bangladesh at Lord’s in 2010. Azhar’s is the second in Bangladesh – Neil McKenzie made 226 at Chittagong in his record stand with Graeme Smith back in 2008. Bridgetown has seen two scores of 226, and both by Barbadians – Sir Garfield Sobers made one in 1960 v England, while Gordon Greenidge made his score against Australia in 1991 (when, if memory serves, they were thinking of dropping him for poor form). Brian Lara is the third West Indian to make 226, completing his effort in Adelaide against Australia (of course), while our history slot looks at the first 226, made in 1931 by someone who specialised in large innings.

The first score of 226 was made by Don Bradman, and it wasn’t his usual foe (England) he made it against. This was made at Brisbane against South Africa, and his individual score was higher than both South African innings in this game (170 and 117). Bradman made 200 on the first day, and Australia made 450 in the first innings, but this test still managed to go SIX days (yeah, yeah, two of them were rained off) in a timeless match. Interesting that South Africa had a Morkel in their team….

226 is the 136th= highest score in test cricket. Still the holy grail of 229 has not been scored in the history of tests (it must go soon, surely….). 228 still has been scored just the once (Herschelle Gibbs), while 227 has three instances, 225 has three, 224 has six, 223 has nine, 222 has five, 221 has five and 220 has three. Must be something about 223 and 226!

Azhar Ali’s 100 came up in 212 balls with 10×4, and his 200 came up in 406 balls with 19×4 and 1×6. His total innings lasted 428 balls with 20×4 and 2×6.

2015 Test Century Watch #20 – Younis Khan

Younus-Khan_1500837cYounis Khan – 148 v Bangladesh at Mirpur

Ah, the old warrior, fresh from missing out in the runfest at Khulna, has cashed in today with a 148 in the second test. This was his 29th test hundred, made in his 98th test match, and he continues an exemplary conversion rate which means when he reaches 50, he makes it to 100 every other time. This is his 12th highest test century, not even half way to his career best of 313 against Sri Lanka in 2009 in Karachi.

This is Younis’s third test ton against Bangladesh, with the other two both coming in Chittagong, where he made 200* in 2011, and 119 as long ago as 2002. His previous best at Mirpur was 49. This was the 18th test century made by Pakistan against Bangladesh (number 19 followed three overs later) and Younus joins Mohammad Hafeez as the only Pakistanis to make three test hundreds against them.

Let’s do 148, and ask the question. Have you ever seen a test 148, Dmitri? Ah, funny you should say that but…no. I thought that might have been the score of one of Ponting’s tons in Adelaide, but it isn’t. This was the 31st test 148, and some that my readers may remember include:

  • Rahul Dravid at Headingley in his 2002 “we don’t seem to be able to get this chap out” tour.
  • Alastair Cook’s 148 at Adelaide in his tour for the ages in 2010/11, where he followed up his 235* with this knock. Those were the days.
  • One for Arron, Robin Smith’s 148* at Lord’s in 1991 when he marshalled the tail superbly and made a magnificent hundred.
  • Tim Robinson’s 148 in 1985, allied with David Gower’s 215, was a joy to watch one glorious Saturday afternoon. Have that on video somewhere…

However, as I always try to do, I want to pick out the old or the obscure, and the first 148 was made back in 1884. It’s almost astonishing that another man was not dismissed on this score for 87 years after that (MAK Pataudi), but back in the day Allan Steel made 148 at Lord’s in 1884 to help England to an innings victory over the Australians. I liked this description of him from Cricinfo:

Though not a regular captain of county or country, he had an improbable run of success as skipper: Marlborough over Rugby, Cambridge over Oxford, Gentlemen over Players, Lancashire over Yorkshire and England over Australia.

Bet he’s on Metatone’s Mafia hitlist (well, he’d been dead over a century, so that’s probably pointless). Anyway, the almanack entry gives you the facts of the first test 148.

Les Ames made an unbeaten 148 against South Africa at The Oval in 1930, and Kenny Barrington an unbeaten 148 against the same opposition at Kingsmead, Durban in the period intervening Steel and Pataudi. Tony Greig made two scores of 148 in 13 months – once in India at the Brabourne, Mumbai, and once in Bridgetown. Greig and Dravid have been dismissed twice for 148, while Barrington and Tendulkar have a dismissal and a not out to their name of that score.

This is the second 148 of the year. The first being made by AB DeVilliers against the West Indies in Cape Town. That century watch can be found here

This was the 26th test hundred made at Mirpur. At time of writing, given Azhar Ali is not out overnight, Younis ranks in 6th place, has the highest score for Pakistan (beating Taufeeq Umar’s 130) and was the second Pakistani to make a hundred at this venue (again, obviously, Taufeeq being the first). The ground record is held by Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Mahela Jayawardena who both made unbeaten 203s.

Younis Khan’s century came up in 142 balls and contained 9 x 4 and a six.