Posts Tagged ‘pakistan’

Cook Leads England’s ODI Revival – A New Dawn Or A False One?

England’s one-day cricket performances in the last week have provided a refreshing change for fans who were dismayed by the 3-0 Test series defeat to Pakistan.

Alastair Cook

England captain Alastair Cook has led by example for his side in the UAE © REUTERS / Action Images

Alastair Cook has led from the front and by becoming the first England captain to score back-to-back ODI centuries has firmly delivered another riposte – if one was needed – to lingering critics of his suitability for the limited overs side.

Steven Finn has taken consistency to a new level by twice returning figures of four for 34, Ravi Bopara has batted with a new-found maturity to score two important half-centuries and Samit Patel has been a match-changer with the ball and in the field.

Two wins do not, however, make a world-beating team, but could this series be a new dawn for England’s one-day side? Or are you still unconvinced that this team has all the options covered?

Consider that England have not beaten India, Sri Lanka or Pakistan away from home since 2007 and contrast with the way that they have outplayed Pakistan so far in the UAE. Consider that even with misfiring batsmen (Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan) they have been able to set defendable totals. Consider that Tim Bresnan cannot even get into the team at the moment such is the way that Finn has grabbed his opportunity.

But how long can it last? Over the years, we have time and again proclaimed series performances as ‘new dawns’ for English cricket only for the reality to be anything but. Wins in Sri Lanka in 2007 and then over Australia in 2010 at home didn’t see the team kick on and produce the performances they needed to at the World Cup in 2011.

Perhaps we would be better served by looking at the longer term. England are building towards the next Champions Trophy (2013) and then the World Cup (2015) so the goal is to have a settled, winning team by then. A few hiccups along the way can probably be expected. But one thing is for sure – under captain Cook in the UAE – so far, so good.

What do you think – another false dawn for England’s ODI team or are England on track? Or is it simply too early to say?

 

England On The Back Foot

“I felt it was better to play him off the front foot.”

Those were the words of Nick Compton, who made 95 against Saeed Ajmal and his Worcestershire team-mates last July, when the Pakistani mystery man was turning his arm over for the Pears.

Eoin Morgan

Morgan goes back to a ball from Abdur Rehman and is bowled. Credit: Action Images / Paul Childs Livepic

Somerset racked up 591/9 before declaring and went on to win the game. Ajmal ended with five for 150 from his 51 overs.

“I stood on off-stump and looked to play very straight,” Compton added. “Ajmal’s not a big spinner of the ball and his main weapon is pace through the air, and I felt it was better to play him off the front foot. (He also used the sweep to great effect). The fact that he can skid it on and it might not bounce as much or go the other way, if you sit back I think you’re guessing and you haven’t got as much time to react.”

England might consider those words as they reflect on the wreckage of back-to-back defeats against an Ajmal-inspired Pakistan.

Granted – the pitch at New Road was a good deal flatter than those in Dubai, and particularly in Abu Dhabi. Granted – it was Abdur Rehman who caused the bulk of the damage this time around. Nevertheless the point still stands.

England were rooted on the back foot and seemed loathe to do anything that might be construed as a ‘lunge’ lest they incur the wrath of the traveling press. Gone were the days of Duncan Fletcher’s forward press, the Sky commentary team’s ’beloved’ sweep shot, or the advance down the pitch to meet the ball like a man. Instead we were greeted with the sight of one after another of England’s batsmen giving the impression of being perched on a shooting stick.

Ajmal and Rehman both bowl with relatively low arms, and, for spinners, relatively quickly. The pitches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are not renowned for their excessive or uneven bounce. The situation cried out for sweep – even the reverse sweep. Instead the Englishmen were paralysed with fear.

When the Pakistanis batted they used the sweep, only sparingly admittedly, but they paid heed to the another of Compton’s well-reasoned points – play straight. Misbah-ul-Haq walloped Panesar over long-on on a couple of occasions, while over-pitched deliveries from both Swann and Panesar alike were drilled down the ground.

Maybe England need to re-think their method against spin. It shouldn’t be too hard. Their coach, Andy Flower, was one of the finest players of spin bowling around and I seem to remember he was rather partial to the odd sweep shot too

A Busy Week In Test Cricket Lies Ahead

It might be cold and dark here in the UK but in warmer climes, we have a busy week in the world of cricket ahead as three Test matches get underway.

In Adelaide, Australia take on India as they bid to seal a 4-0 series clean sweep although on a pitch expected to take turn, could this offer India a chance at reacquanting themselves with a winning feeling and will Sachin Tendulkar score his 100th international century?

Then in Abu Dhabi, Pakistan take on England in high spirits following their ten-wicket win in the opener in Dubai. England must improve on their performance if they are to stay in the series and must play especially well to overcome a well-discplined and well-drilled unit.

Finally, New Zealand meet Zimbabwe in Napier. Having almost produced an upset win in Zimbabwe when these two teams met last year, this match could well be worth watching. New Zealand have named uncapped players Kruger van Wyk and Sam Wells in their squad and they will not be taking Zimbabwe lightly.

Tillakaratne Dilshan

Tillakaratne Dilshan - captain no more

New Zealand’s last outing was a memorable win against Australia and they will hope that victory can be the springboard to further success.

Going one step further than New Zealand with their team selection is Australia. They have named an uncapped player – George Bailey – as their new Twenty20 International captain.

They play India in two T20s on 1st and 3rd February and have also recalled 40-year-old left-arm spinner Brad Hogg. Uncapped James Faulkner also makes the squad as erstwhile captain Cameron White and ‘Mr Cricket’ Michael Hussey miss out.

White is not the only player to become an ex-captain this week after Tillakaratne Dilshan resigned as Sri Lanka skipper to be replaced by Mahela Jayawardene.

For Australia, the road to the ICC World Twenty20 later this year starts here. But what are you most looking forward to watching this week?

What Does 2012 Hold In Store For Cricket?

2011 in cricket was a year of incredible highs – particularly if you were a supporter of India – and incredible lows – but what lies in store for cricket in 2012? Will 2012 be able to match the rollercoaster ride we had last year?

Although not as high profile as the Mohammad Asif-Mohammad Amir-Salman Butt spot-fixing controversy, cricket will be heading to court again shortly when Mervyn Westfield stands trial for the same offence in January. Surely seeing fellow players thrown into jail for their misdemeanours will be enough to prevent any other players attempting to illegaly manipulate games in the future? We can but hope.

On the pitch, the ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka offers India a chance to put their dismal Test form (at least away from home) of late to bed and I expect one of the three top Asian teams to win the tournament. Sri Lanka are a class act at home, India always perform well there and Pakistan cannot be discounted having never failed to reach the semi-finals to date.

The Women’s tournament is wide open – wider than before as conditions should bring India closer to pace-setters Australia, New Zealand and England.

How England go about defending their newly-acquired number one status in Tests will be fascinating. In taking on Pakistan and Sri Lanka away from home followed by South Africa at home – a series all the more poignant following the passing late last year of Basil d’Oliveira, the man whose name is on the trophy the two sides compete for – they have three huge challenges. Win two of those series and they will have done themselves proud.

Lose two – and especially if they lose to South Africa – and it will again be back to the drawing board for Andy Flower’s men but they have never had a better chance to cement themselves as world leaders and begin to work on that legacy that Flower and captain Andrew Strauss are fond of reminding us about.

Talking about world leaders, Haroon Lorgat stands down as ICC chief executive in July. Can we expect big changes once he has gone? Unlikely but it will be interesting to see what new direction, if any, his replacement will go down.

2011 saw the emergence of a number of young cricketers, from Devendra Bishoo to Jonathan Bairstow to Ravi Ashwin on the world stage. The World T20 could offer the opportunity for more stars to be born.

Keep an eye on the West Indies – in the likes of Kraigg Brathwaite and Kirk Edwards, not to mention Darren Bravo, they are bulding a formidable batting line-up and all this without Chris Gayle or Ramnaresh Sarwan. If the stand-off between the WICB and its former captain can be ended, then don’t be surprised if the men from the Caribbean enjoy a strong year.

What are you most looking forward to in 2012? Which teams and players do you foresee enjoying success?

 

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.

The Amazing Anisa Mohammed And Promising Signs For Women’s Cricket

Off-break bowler Anisa Mohammed today starred with career-best figures of seven for 14 as West Indies demolished Pakistan in the final of the Women’s World Cup Qualifying Tournament. This means that she now has the remarkable figures of 30 wickets at an eyewatering average of 5.3 from her nine matches against Pakistan.

Her form in the competition, along with that of her teammates such as Stefanie Taylor, who was named Player of the Tournament, meant that the West Indies continued their march up the women’s cricket rankings.

However, while the West Indies’ progression has been excellent, it is the performances of the Asian sides in the tournament that will most hearten the ICC. Pakistan reached the final and lost only to the eventual champions, while Bangladesh finished in fifth to secure ninth place in the world rankings and earn ODI status. Sri Lanka also performed admirably in defeating South Africa to take third place.

All of this marks a significant shift in the women’s game which, despite having a relatively long history in Europe, was conspicuous by its absence in Asia. Not so long ago the three countries mentioned above didn’t even field a side, as cultural factors meant that women who played sport were frowned upon. Indeed, around the time of the birth of Pakistan’s national team players faced protests and court action from the government if they tried to play.

All of which makes their performances in this competition all the more remarkable. Credit must be given to the ICC, as well as the players and individual boards themselves, for this transformation in their fortunes; a transformation that is surely a step in the right direction for widening the following of the women’s game.

Seven Days Is A Long Time In Cricket

Has cricket ever known a seven days like the ones we have just witnessed? From the ridiculous to the sublime and from ecstasy to tragedy, we have seen most of it.

For just the second time in the history of Test cricket, a part of all four innings was played on the same day when South Africa, having folded to be all out for 96, dismissed Australia for a staggering 47 and it needed a last-wicket partnership to prevent them from setting an unwanted record for the lowest Test score in history.

We then had Shahid Afridi’s latest comeback from retirement and although he last played for his country in May, he said he had spent the ‘long time’ away from the side wisely. Whatever he had been doing seems to have worked as his three wickets earned him the man-of-the-match award in a comprehensive nine-wicket win over Sri Lanka and he struck with just his fifth ball back. Who writes his scripts?

In among that we saw Sachin Tendulkar score his 15,000th Test run but miss out on his century of international centuries and a graceful VVS Laxman guide India to a thrilling win over the West Indies. Their squad was then rocked when news of a horrible bus crash in Saint Lucia – captain Darren Sammy’s home – filtered through and they are paying tribute by wearing black armbands for the second Test.

I have queried elsewhere whether it is the retirement of Tendulkar that will cause India the most problems as for me, Dravid and Laxman are just as irreplaceable. Exciting times ahead for the Indian selectors in the next five years.

At the end of the week, esteemed journalist and former Somerset captain Peter Roebuck committed suicide in South Africa, cricket losing one of its great characters and it is both tragic and sad that he should have chosen to have taken his own life just as too many other former players have done over the years.

Too often, words such as ‘tragedy’ or ‘disaster’ are bandied about when a team is well beaten, dismissed cheaply or a player misses out on a personal milestone. Perspective. Out of focus.

The last seven days have – unfortunately, but perhaps necessarily – reminded us what those words actually mean.

How Big Is Cricket’s Match-Fixing Iceberg?

With three Pakistani cricketers behind bars tonight and the trial itself throwing up more questions than answers, was the judge, Mr Justice Cooke, right when he indicated that this case represented the ‘tip of the iceberg’ as far as fixing in cricket is concerned, and if he was, just how big is the iceberg?

The most astonishing day of an astonishing trial came yesterday when agent Mazhar Majeed, under cross-examination prior to sentencing, admitted that corruption was rife in the Pakistan team and that there were competing cells engaged in corruption within the team. Majeed alleged that a player, named only as “X” and not involved in this trial, was the creator of this particular cell, in collaboration with Salman Butt, and that he paid £65,000 to fast bowler Mohammad Asif to “buy” his loyalty.

Now how seriously these claims, made by a man who boasted that he knew Brad Pitt and Roger Federer, should be taken is open to debate. Indeed, if they were isolated allegations then they could be dismissed as the deluded utterings of a power-hungry man, but they are backed up by startling evidence – both new and old.

To begin with, the News of the World investigation named several other players in connection with the scam last August, including Umar and Kamran Akmal, Imran Farhat and Wahab Riaz – all of whom have since played for Pakistan – and claims that were repeated in court by Majeed. Thankfully the ICC is at least considering launching an investigation into some of the claims, but their Anti-Corruption Unit have no police powers and some vital evidence is known to have been destroyed.

As for the PCB itself, they too are making small steps in the right direction. Their new team, led by the impressive Misbah-ul-Haq and boosted by a couple of potential new heroes in Junaid Khan and Azhar Ali, is going about its business in an understated but successful way in the UAE, and chairman Ijaz Butt has been relieved of his post. However, the reactions of a minority of their ’fans’ and some of the players’ families are alarming - a select few have suggested that the three players were victims of a set-up operation – while the feeling persists that if more had been done after the conclusion of the Justice Qayyum report a decade earlier then cricket may have been spared its present pain. It is a sad fact that players implicated in that inquiry, and in others since, continue to play and coach cricket in countries all over the world; a fact that serves to remind us that this is far from being a Pakistani-only problem.

Indeed, it would be easy to turn this case into a vilification of one country’s sportsmen as is so often the case, but the problem runs far deeper. Australians have been implicated in the past – Mark Waugh and Shane Warne are still under suspicion in some quarters – while Hashan Tillakaratne has warned of the problems in Sri Lankan cricket only to be silenced. English county cricket has the ongoing case of Essex bowler Mervyn Westfield, with Marlon Samuels of the West Indies; Herschelle Gibbs from South Africa and Maurice Odumbe of Kenya all linked to cases in recent past. The IPL and ICL have also been plagued by whispers over the years, as a format that is ripe for corruption is played among teams that have no real identity. Meanwhile the increasing television coverage of worldwide domestic cricket is making it ever easier to bet on games played many hundreds of miles away, thus creating the perfect conditions for corruption to thrive and leaving the impression that the Judge may just be right when he said that it could be the tip of the iceberg.

What do you think is the answer and if you were charged with cleaning up cricket what would you do? Please let us know in the comments below.

What Is The Future For Test Cricket?

As I watch pictures of Pakistan playing Sri Lanka – putting them to the sword to be honest – in Abu Dhabi in front of a sparse crowd, what does the future for Test cricket hold?

What does the future hold for Test cricket?

Sri Lanka and Australia played out an entertaining Test series recently, but the crowds didn't come. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte (SRI LANKA - Tags: SPORT CRICKET) Picture Supplied by Action Images

Even allowing free entry to the ground has not resulted in the masses pouring in and it is clear that only a select few Test series (England-Australia, India-Pakistan, for example) will fill stadia, which is a great shame for those of us who enjoy the battles that Test cricket provides.

Former Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan has told the BBC in blunt terms that without playing more One-Day International and Twenty20 International cricket, the boards will simply run out of money and then there will be no more cricket at all.

Test cricket is the true test of a player’s range of skills but with the increasing dominance of the shorter forms of the game, will it still have a place in, say, ten years time? Will we only see an even more select band of nations (those who feel they can afford it) playing five-day cricket in the future?

And will coaching methods and programmes change, instead guiding players from an early age to follow the money and specialise in limited overs cricket rather than all-round technique?

Shahid Afridi – In, Out, Retired, Back, Retired, Back Again?

When is a retirement not actually a retirement? I think you know the answer to that one as we report today that Shahid Afridi looks as if he is ready to return to international cricket.

Shahid Afridi

Shahid Afridi - Would you pick this man? Credit: REUTERS / Action Images

While he did state in May that he had retired from ‘all international cricket’ he then went on to say:

“This current board treats players roughly and I will not play under this set-up. But if this set-up is changed only then will I consider coming back because I have always played for my people and will play for them.”

So, now that Ijaz Butt and Waqar Younis have departed, Afridi has stayed true to his word and is, we understand, ready to serve his country once again.

The question is, has he burned one bridge too many? Will the selectors decide that enough is enough and it is time to invest in the young players (Adnan Akmal, Aizaz Cheema, Junaid Khan) that they blooded in Zimbabwe and build for the future.

Put yourselves in the shoes of the PCB selection committee. Would you pick him? And would you install him as captain?

We’ve already seen a positive response to the news on our Facebook page, but let us know your thoughts.