Archive for December 2011

Positive Signs For Cricket in 2011

With the cricketing year now over following the conclusion of the two Boxing Day Test matches, it is time to reflect on what the past 12 months have meant for cricket as sport. There have, of course, been low points as well as high, with the spot-fixing trial in October a particularly sobering one that laid bare the stranglehold that corruption has on our sport.

However, a New Year is not usually a time to dwell on past misdemeanours, and this one is no different. While there have undoubtedly been low points, it is my opinion that 2011 has witnessed a record number of high ones. From the increasingly excellent performances of all of the Test-playing nations, through to the positive signs at board level in Pakistan and Zimbabwe, and including the re-emergence of fast-bowling as a force to be reckoned with, 2011 has provided many enlightening moments.

The Test game has shown signs of rebirth, with many of the matches closely fought, as teams such as Zimbabwe – who enjoyed a triumphant second coming in August against Bangladesh; the West Indies and Pakistan - seemingly showing a much steelier resolve under their new captains; New Zealand – who triumphed over Australia; and even Sri Lanka - showing signs of moving on from the Muralitahran era – all combining to make Test cricket more competitive and less predictable. The underlining factor amongst all of this is surely that the game’s administrators have finally grasped the need to produce more ’sporting’ pitches.

The appointment of Zaka Ashraf as PCB chairman to replace the discredited Ijaz Butt is also a positive sign for the administrative side of the game, as is the ICC’s determination to make member boards less political in their make-up. Indeed, Ashraf has already shown an admirable resolve to move on from the isolationism that accompanied Butt’s final months in charge and is already making positive noises about restoring cricketing ties with India and bringing international cricket back to Pakistan by the means of a home series against Bangladesh.

However, for me, the most reassuring sign coming out of 2011 has been the sight of the first shoots of the game’s regrowth in Africa. Zimbabwe’s better-than-expected return to the top table has been well documented, but it is the organisation of that country’s domestic structure that is most exciting for the future of the game. In spite of cricket all but disappearing during the middle of the last decade, it has re-emerged as a more vibrant beast and is now much more representative of the broader Zimbabwean population. The selection, this time on purely meritocratic grounds, of black cricketers such as Keegan Meth, Brian Vitori and Njabulo Ncube, and seeing them playing under a captain such as Brendan Taylor, who clearly understands the weight of responsibility placed on his shoulders, is a sight that should give hope to cricket lovers everywhere.

And it is not just in there where African cricket is thriving. Kenya, led by their talismanic CEO Tom Sears, have finally got around to organising a meaningful domestic competition, while the player/board disputes appear to have finally been resolved; and Uganda has continued its steady, and thus far unnoticed, ascent towards cricket’s top table. Indeed, the two Ugandan teams that were invited to participate in the Kenyan domestic competition more than held their own. Nigeria, Ghana, Botswana and Namibia are also showing tentative signs of growth and are providing a timely nudge to the ICC, which seems intent on forcing cricket on America, as to the where cricket’s future may lie.

Australia Have Had A Poor Year – The Stats

Australia will soon name their squad to take on India in the first Test which begins in Melbourne on Boxing Day and already their cricket fans are predicting the worst.

Michael Clarke

Michael Clarke has mush to ponder ahead of the Boxing Day Test - credit: REUTERS / Action Images

Missing Patrick Cummins and Shaun Marsh as well as having a string of other players nursing injuries, there seems to be little optimism that the Baggy Greens can overturn a seven-run defeat to New Zealand in their previous match and offer India a stern challenge.

New coach Mickey Arthur enjoyed a honeymoon period lasting around seven days before his side unravelled dramatically in Hobart to hand New Zealand a first win in Australia for 26 years.

Using the Cricket World Most Valuable Player ratings, it is even more clear that Australia have had a poor year – the MVPs only take performances from the last 12 months into account to give a true barometer of who is in form at any one moment in time.

Batting: 1 rating point is roughly analagous to an average of 1 run. Aside from the injured Marsh, who is in sixth place with 66.9 points, the top Australian batsman in the Test batting ratings is Michael Clarke, who has 44.1 points at number 22 and is followed immediately by Michael Hussey (43.9) one place behind. That translates to a reasonable year but not outstanding, and Clarke’s figures are boosted by his outstanding form since taking over the captaincy.

Next up for Australia is Usman Khawaja – very much a work in progress – down at 53rd with 29.5 points and you have to drop to 56th to find Ricky Ponting, Phil Hughes is 60th, Brad Haddin 64th and Shane Watson lies 77th.

Bowling: It does not get much better in the bowling rankings although Ryan Harris and Nathan Lyon are top of the pile in 20th and 21st place respectively. Shane Watson is in 29th, Peter Siddle 34th but Mitchell Johnson, to confirm what we probably already know, is down in 44th place just a few places above Hussey (49th) and Clarke (50th).

We wait with bated breath to see just how ruthless the selectors might be but the evidence based on the ratings would only guarantee Clarke, Lyon and Harris a place in the line-up. Time was when Australia dominated the ratings, both as a team and players.

Those days are now gone but can the likes of Marsh, James Pattinson, Cummins and Khawaja launch their team back to the top? India themselves aren’t able to call upon a fully fit squad of players so might the series turn out to be a little closer than Australian fans fear?

Save the date

December 2006:

Test batting top ten: Mohammad Yousuf, Kumar Sangakkara, Ricky Ponting, Kevin Pietersen, Michael Clarke, Mohammad Hafeez, Michael Hussey, Mahela Jayawardene, Alastair Cook, Paul Collingwood

Test bowling top ten: Muttiah Muralitharan, Stuart Clark, Corey Collymore, Anil Kumble, Mohammad Asif, Monty Panesar, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, Jerome Taylor, Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hoggard

December 2011

Test batting top ten: Brendan Taylor, Tino Mawoyo, Kirk Edwards, Kumar Sangakkara, Tatenda Taibu, Darren Bravo, Shaun Marsh, Ian Bell, Vusi Sibanda, Angelo Mathews

Test bowling top ten: Saeed Ajmal, Pragyan Ojha, Ravi Ashwin, Praveen Kumar, Stuart Broad, Rangana Herath, Shakib Al Hasan, Ray Price, Daniel Vettori, Junaid Khan