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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England vs Sri Lanka: 1st Test, day one

Unless the team batting first has an absolute horror then the first day invariably leaves the spectator unsure of where the match is going, even more so if a session is lost to the weather.  171-5 is not a great score, that’s certain, but as ever with Headingley the context of the overhead conditions and the pitch may mean it is better than it first appears.  Equally however, the movement off the seam and in the air was anything but prodigious – enough to keep the bowlers interested and the batsmen wary, but no minefield.  Therefore conclusions are entirely impossible to draw except to say that both teams will probably be fairly content with their work overall.  Sri Lanka have dismissed half the side and will hope to wrap up the rest reasonably quickly, while England have recovered well from the parlous position of 83-5.

That they did so was down to one player batting against type and another who is finding Test cricket rather easy at the moment – with the bat anyway.   Alex Hales found himself in the probably unfamiliar position of having to hold the innings together, and as a result batted cautiously throughout.  Without his knock England would have been in dire straits.  And yet it is to be hoped that Hales doesn’t see this as his role in future, for there are much better defensive openers in the game than him, and in the South African series he appeared to be struggling to try and play a game different from that at which he excels.  He does have technical limitations, but so does David Warner, and it isn’t a problem there because his role is to be the dasher.  When in, such players are devastating, but they can be knocked over cheaply by quality bowling.  Today Hales had little choice and deserves immense credit for battling his way through, but it would be a waste of what he is capable of if that is to be how England see him batting, for it is hard to see how he can succeed over the longer term.  But as England’s David Warner, well it might still be a long shot to be as effective, but it’s probably his best chance.  Today however, it was just right.

Jonny Bairstow is either in the form of his life or has thoroughly found his feet at the highest level, and perhaps something of both.  Middle order players who can turn the tide are invaluable, and England have a couple in the shape of him and Ben Stokes.  Ah yes, Ben Stokes.  It didn’t take long for the knives to come out concerning a poor shot.  As needs repeating time and time again, Stokes plays this way.  You cannot stand and cheer if the ball he was out to had gone just out of reach of the fielder and sped away for four – same shot, different outcome.  When Stokes is batting well, he chances his arm and gets away with it, the margins are that narrow, and it is as it always was, two sides of the same coin.  The glory of run a ball double centuries come with the disappointment of poor shots for not very many, it really cannot be something people have both ways.  His overall performance is the key, because there will be glorious highs and abject lows.

Naturally, the pre-match build up and the rain breaks were dominated by the whole story around Alastair Cook approaching 10,000 Test runs.  Sky went as preposterously over the top as they always seem to with all things Cook, offering an interview that was about as incisive as a This Morning chit chat, with unquestioned adoration of the Great Man throughout.  Cook did say that he just wanted the whole thing over with, and that would be quite understandable, for the use of him as an icon by broadcaster, media and the ECB is not his fault.  They have successfully turned what is undoubtedly going to be a fine achievement into something that has created serious irritation at the nature of the idolatry.  It’s quite an achievement, and it is to be strongly suspected that Cook is uncomfortable with the circus.  It’s a great pity, for achievements should be celebrated, instead they are having to be qualified because of the excessive claims.  Cook will get to 10,000 and he will and should be extremely proud of himself for it.  He’s been a fine player with power to add.

For Sri Lanka the man of the day was clearly Dasun Shanaka, who received his first Test cap before play began, and then came on as the fifth bowler just before lunch and promptly removed Cook, Compton and Root in the space of eight balls.  As debut victims go, that’s not bad at all.  He lacks pace, and bowls the kind of line and length that should have county coaches purring, and the ECB grinding their teeth having so recently announced the death of such bowling in the English game. Headingley has often rewarded bowlers of this nature, being the only ground where (back in the days they actually got more than the occasional Test) the phrase “horses for courses” would routinely make an appearance pre-selection.

One final thing to note, in two sessions of play only 53 overs were bowled.  It is unlikely this would have speeded up in the final session, and quite clearly the ICC no longer care, for fines for slow over rates appear to be a thing of the past, let alone suspensions.  It is of course one day, and one curtailed day at that.  But the pattern has been in place for quite some time.

My flight tomorrow is at 16:05 from Heathrow, so that is it from me for this Test and this series, though I daresay something will annoy me enough to post over the next month.  I’ll probably add some travel observations to my travel blog (I’ve already put up an intro for this trip – and if you’re interested in Myanmar, there’s plenty there from the last one), which is http://www.thelegglance.wordpress.com if you feel so inclined to say hello, otherwise, back in mid June!

Enjoy the rest of the Test – oh and day two comments below.

Chris

Dubai Day 3 (and a bit on today)

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - MARCH 2:  Tiger Woods of the USA hits balls from the heli-pad on top of the Burj Al Arab Hotel before the 2004 Dubai Desert Classic played at the Emirates Golf Club, on March 2, 2004 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)  *** Local Caption *** Tiger Woods
 (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
*** Local Caption *** Tiger Woods

Day 2 is in the books and a fascinating Day 3 is in prospect. An unexected day’s leave, caused by circumstances beyond my control, meant I could watch much of the last two sessions of play (and meaning that I missed the first).

England started brilliantly, getting Misbah in the first over, and then knocking over the rest in reasonably short order. While the stats show that scores over 400 are not common in Dubai, 378 must seem like a bit of a disappointment when considering the score at the start of the day. Mark Wood’s figures of 3/39 were massively impressive and a real hopeful sign for the future. Of course, when it comes to our rider of imaginary horses, we are always worried about his health.

England’s response started as many seem to these days. An early wicket, albeit through a wonderful catch at short leg, meant the Moeen experiment still remains a question to answer. That said, we’ve been looking for an answer to the other opening slot for a while now. Then Bell had a feeble nick off to Imran Khan. 14 for 2. Bell is definitely in the firing line, and he might seek advice from Trott on how to face that, with people acting like he’s got the eyesight of someone at 73, not 33. He’s in an awful rut, and maybe it is time to go somewhere else. But then, I don’t think we should exclude players because their faces don’t fit.

Those of us purporting to be anti-England must have been cock-a-hoop. We must have been fuming when a sweep shot from Cook plonked onto the bottom of the stumps and failed to dislodge a bail.

Cook and Root passed half centuries, quite serenely, and then Yasir Shah, who might as well have been Lord Lucan given the expert knowledge the English cricket fraternity had demonstrated about him (recalling this excellent article from the archives), unexpectedly broke through when our lovely leader clipped a ball to leg slip. His 65 was not quite as good as his 263, but he does look somewhere near his best (best illustrated by his confidence on the drive). This, of course, gives the lie to the “near his best” codswallop around the time of that legendary, scratchy, 95 at the Rose Bowl or whatever it is called now. A solid, hard to dismiss, and scoring at a reasonable pace Cook is something any team needs. With Warner out of form (relatively), Rogers retired, and most of the other countries in flux with their openers, Cook is the best around, probably, at the top of the list.

What can one say about Joe Root? Well, let’s not get overboard too quickly would be my first thing. I remarked on Twitter that his current form reminds me of the way Michael Vaughan was playing in 2002-3. The standard of opposition was better, but peak Vaughan was a big hundred in waiting. Root is giving off an aura something like it. I maybe in violation of my own advice! Root’s footwork and reactions are just wonderful. He gets into position, he can manipulate the ball, and he is pretty solid in defence despite the early working over by Wahab Riaz. He needs to go on to make a big hundred here to keep England in the position they’ve created. The problem here is that maybe we expect Joe to do it all the time, and then when he has the dips in form that are inevitable in test cricket, we might be in trouble.

Jonny Bairstow started very scratchily, but did open up and attack, and then made some runs. Bairstow, in my eyes, is not a keeper we could trust and not a middle order batsman we can rely upon. He falls between two stools in my eyes, but I’ve been wrong before and will be again.

So, Day 3 beckons. England 190-odd behind. Seven wickets in hand. Game in the balance. Worries about our middle order are mentioned freely in the commentary box. I am not sure I’ll be awake for the start of play.

In Colombo the visitors crumbled to 163 all out, with, yet again, most of the line-up getting to double figures. 47 was the top score, by Kraigg Brathwaite, and the spread bet line should certainly be revised after Herath took just one of the ten to fall. Dhamikka Prasad took four, suggesting this isn’t just a spinners surface. Sri Lanka are 76 for 2 in their second innings, 113 in front and looking good. Day 3 provides West Indies with a seemingly final hope.

New Zealand kicked off their tour of Australia with a match under lights and using a pink ball. I’m going to leave it with the Adam Voges thing on social media (which I didn’t see…and isn’t on his twitter feed)

Maybe it’s this quote….

“There wasn’t much pink left on it by the end of the game,” Voges said. “The one that got hit onto the roof [by Martin Guptill] and didn’t come back was 28 overs old and it looked like it was 68 overs old to be fair. To be honest, it didn’t hold up very well at all tonight.

“It looked as though the lacquer had come off and it was turning green basically. There were bits of pink left, but it was more green than pink by the end. I know that it stopped swinging, there was no reverse-swing or anything like that because both sides get chunked up equally, but yeah the older it gets, I can’t see it being any easier to see.”

We’ll be debating that, I’m sure.

Comments on the days play tomorrow, and any other observations, please fire away. Note – I’ve not read the press pages. I still need to have my dinner.

Finally, thoughts with my Aunt. Vascualar dementia is a cruel, horrible curse, and it looks likely to take her soon from us. My wishes and strength to her daughter, my cousin, and her kids, and most of all to my lovely uncle. We are all powerless as the disease takes someone we care about away from us. Love you Auntie. Say hello to Dad.

2015 World Cup Quarter-Final – Sri Lanka v South Africa

Feel free to comment, and that includes all the journos who had to fly home because their newspaper budgets don’t stretch to watching the denouement of a major world tournament because England have been knocked out. You want an indication of how cricket is falling out of our fabric of sporting life?

Still, never mind. We were never any good at this one day lark.

Enjoy proper players playing properly because they aren’t paralysed with fear and their coaches aren’t in love with Moneyball. Well at least until South Africa come out to bat, but then again, they are there at least.

Comments below.

2015 World Cup – Game 22 – England v Sri Lanka

Wellington. Eight days ago. Annihilation.

Welcome back England, for an important game in the qualification process. Win, and we may get South Africa or India, lose and we may get South Africa or India. There’s a lot riding on this one. Actually, that’s being facetious. The big game in this group may not be this one, although winning it would help, but the one against Bangladesh. I’m looking past Afghanistan which may not be wise, but the Sri Lankans have alread buried Bangla and struggled past Afgha, so they have their two wins out of the way.

This thread is for comments as the game goes on. Also, follow my other alter ego, you know what it is, on Twitter for comments through the evening.

The past form guide isn’t good. We lost in 2011, in the quarters, in a stuffing. We lost in 2007, in the Super 8s, when Ravi and Paul Nixon came so close to snatching a win, which I was trying to listen to while at the same time listen to my future wife in the car back from Heathrow Airport, having not seen her for around 2 months! She still doesn’t understand this obsession with cricket. In 2003 we didn’t meet, whereas we did in 1999 when we won a low-key damp opening day game (I had a George Sharp anecdote re no play at The Oval, then found out it was another time – probably 2004… only five years out). Then there was Faisalabad in 1996, memorable for the brainstorm of picking Phil de Freitas and getting him to bowl spin! Brilliant times. Oh those Illingworth years….