A Change is Coming

16/05/2010

The media attack on the Protea’s has been brutal since their tepid performance at the T20 World Cup in the West Indies. As cricket fans sit back and watch the final between the two best sides by far in the tourniment, Australia, who will hold all ICC trophies should they win, and an England side inspired by 3 South Africans at the top of the order, and an Irishman in the middle, the Protea’s will take stock.

The criticism directed at Smith and his team has been scathing, and led by many past players. South Africa go into ICC events amongst the favourites, and generally get to the semi final’s before crashing out. However the last two ICC events, the Champions Trophy, which they hosted, and this T20 World Cup, has seen the Protea’s fail to reach the knock out rounds.

Once people have calmed down and reviewed the past weeks properly, then only should we begin to properly discuss what needs to be done as the Protea’s look to put an end to their ICC events drought. There have been calls for the heads of Smith, Kallis and Boucher as many give opinions based solely on emotion.

Kallis was the Protea’s top run scorer in the T20 World Cup. Added to this was his bowling, which was as good as we’ve seen for a very long time. He may be 34 but shows no sign of declining standards. Anyway suggesting that Kallis should go have motives beyond cricket. The great man should not be hounded out of the national set up but rather carry on leading the batting attack. Just as India have looked to keep Tendulkar going for as long as his body will allow, so should South Africa. The reality is that Kallis, as an allrounder, will not last as long as Tendulkar. He could prolong his career by becoming a pure batsman who bowls occasionally, as Steve Waugh became during the twilight of his career. Sadly, as I’ve said time and time again, Protea fans who don’t appreciate the greatness of Kallis will when we no longer have him to call on.

South Africa did not go into this competition and choke. They were badly off form. Man for man they are still one of the best and most balanced side in the world. Unfortunately very few of their players got any IPL time and the patchy limited over form, that stretches back a year, has clung on.

Form is one thing but there are some aspects of this last week that need to be addressed. The team were tepid and lacked any spark at all. The chases against England and Pakistan lacked energy and most alarmingly, any idea. Their was no urgency in a do or die chase against Pakistan, until Johan Botha came in at the end. The big hitting Albie Morkel was nudging the ball for singles, when clearing the stands was needed. Going down swinging is more preferably than feebly scratching around. That is the aspect that needs to be addressed and sorted before all else.

As for the team – changes will be made. Freshening up needs to be done soon with the next World Cup under a year away. The issue of captain is one that maybe should be left till after the world cup. Smith has led the team for 7 years, and while his record in Tests is good, he would not be happy with the major tournament record. If it was his planning and tactics in the chases against England and Pakistan than maybe a change is needed.

Andrew Hudson, the new head of the selection committee has spoken about any changes needing to wait for a full review by all involved. Wise words. His calling up of David Miller to be added to the squad for the West Indies tour though speaks volumes. A fresh face, and young blood, has been added to an experienced and maybe shell shocked team. It’s also an addition that shows Hudson is well aware of the short comings of the team. Miller is a powerful hitting batsman who boasts a T20 strike rate of 131 and List A strike rate of 109 as well has averages of 40 and 35 in each. The ability to find the boundary has been left on Morkels shoulders, and with the help of Miller, South African batting line up could be set to again pose a threat.

While changes should not be made for changes sake, you’d have to say that the likes of Colin Ingram, Riley Roussow, Stian van Zyl, Darren Smit and Rusty Theron will be looking to get their chance in a youthful influx and fresh changes to the Protea’s set up. Changes that will hopefully bring about success that the country has been starved of for years. David Miller will look to lead this influx, starting in the West Indies next week.

pic from cricinfo.com


No Uthappa?

16/04/2010

, Tendulkar and Raina have probably been the best batsman in the 3rd IPL, with the former two battling it out for the leading run scorers cap, the orange cap. Raina has not been as prolific but oozes class whenever he comes out to bat, and unlike Kallis and Tendulkar, he does not open, something that may have cost him a few runs, and something the Super Kings should really consider. Especially with an aging Hayden misfiring. While they may be the leading run scorers, the most destructive batsman has been Robin Uthappa, Kallis Bangalore Royal Challengers team mate. Yet Uthappa can’t make it into the Indian T20 World Cup squad.

Uthappa has hit the most 6’s, easing past the big hitting, if inconsistent Yusuf Pathan, but more than his ability to clear the boundary, almost at will, has been the consistency at which he is able to find the big shots game in and game out. Hitting ability, and the ability to close of innings and matches this well hasn’t really been seen since Lance Klusner used to do it at his prime for South Africa. Bangalore owe much of their success this season to the batting of Kallis, along with cameo’s from Pieterson, Dravid and Kholi, together with a well balance bowling attack, but the real clincher has been Uthappa. He’s given both chases and setting of totals an impetus that has taken the team to the next level. The ease and distance he’s been able to hit top bowlers and struggling ones alike has been remarkable. Yet he can’t get into the Indian team.

It seems Indian cricket may be suffering from a celebrity culture that takes places away from deserving players. It’s what happens on the field that counts. Tendulkar isn’t in the T20 team, which means that there’s one less batsman for Uthappa to get past. Of those chosen, Dhoni is captain and must play, Sehwag and Gambhir have not fired yet this year but you’d imagine they will start as the openers, Raina would come in next. But are the rest more worthy than Uthappa? Karthik is the reserve keeper and a good batsman, but better than Uthappa, who’s been keeping for the Challengers? Sharma has obvious ability and talent but like Karthik has been out batted by Uthappa. Yusuf Pathan and Jadeja are there as spinning all rounders so Uthappa wouldn’t be up against them. But Yuvraj Singh? He has shown an alarming lack of form and even more horrific lake of motivation this season. He has put the lack of form down to returning from injury, which would perhaps be believable if he hasn’t looked like a sulky teenager having been grounded. He lost the captaincy this year and has looked like he wants out ever since. And he’s been picked ahead of Uthappa? Clearly the celebrity of Yuvraj has been picked ahead of Uthappa.

So what has Uthappa to do to get past the bigger ego’s and reputations in the Indian team? If he’s not going to be picked on this form it’s hard to see him ever being picked. At 24 he still has many years ahead of him. Enough time to move to South Africa and qualify for the Protea’s. We’d have him, even if India won’t.

pic from cricinfo.com


Pakistan Victory is a Victory for World Cricket

22/06/2009
pic from Associated Press

pic from Associated Press

Pakistan’s victory in the T20 World Cup in England was a win for world cricket. The problems that the country is facing has meant that they have had the hosting of the next ICC World Cup taken away from them, no country will tour Pakistan,because of the volatile climate there but specifically because of the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team, the last team to tour Pakistan. Pakistan are in cricketing limbo, without a home and without a clear future. They needed this, and so did cricket.

Before the T20 World Cup began the favourites were seen as the defending champions India, and the always strong Australia and South Africa. After the first week the clear favourites were South Africa and Sri Lanka. India made it past the first phase but were on the whole disappointing. They failed to win any of their Super 8 games and were sent packing. The blame was put on IPL fatigue. Yet only Wayne Parnel from the South African starting 11 didn’t play in the IPL, and they seemed not to feel the effects. Australia didn’t get past the first phase, losing to Sri Lanka and the West Indies. Only South Africa coped with, and lived up to, the favourites tag. Pakistan weren’t talked about.

They did what was needed to get through the first two phases and onto the Semi Finals. And then they came alive like only Pakistan can. The best team doesn’t always win the tournament, the best team on the day does. South Africa were the best team in the competition. The team was well balanced, had defined roles for each player, and was consistent and ran like a well oiled machine. Pakistan were the spanner in the machine. The flair and talent available to Pakistan is amazing – the consistency is not. But when an individual comes off Pakistan will beat anyone. It is perhaps unfair to say that Afridi single handedly beat South Africa, but that’s what it would have felt like. His batting had been terrible in the first 10 days of the World Cup, but pushed up the order in a gamble that paid off spectacularly, he got Pakistan to a total that was just enough to send South Africa out of yet another semi final. This was no South African choking. They fought and battled to the very end, but on the day they were beaten by Afridi with the bat and ball, and Umar Gul’s death bowling. No other team would have gotten to within 7 runs of Pakistans total batting second on that pitch.

In the final against the other then unbeaten team, Sri Lanka, Pakistan bowled and fielded as a team. On the rare occasions that they manage to do so they are very affective. Again it was Afridi with the bat, having found his form and confidence, that took Pakistan a step further than they managed two years ago in South Africa.

While it may seem that Pakistan stuttered into the semi’s before awakening in time to march towards the title, a look at the stats shows that they were in fact the best bowling team in the World Cup, and ended with the best economy rate as well as the leading wicket taker. They didn’t start spectacularly but they the were effective and did the job in the end.

Pakistan cricket has been in the news for all the wrong reasons for the past year or so, let them revel in the limelight of a job well done – and deserved.


Ireland Do It Again!

08/06/2009
pic from Associated Press

pic from Associated Press

 

Ireland beat Bangladesh to progress through to the Super 8 round of the T20 World Cup, and send their Test playing opponents home. This is the second time Ireland have beaten Bangladesh, having also beaten them in the ICC World Cup in 2007, where they also beat Pakistan and tied with Zimbabwe. The plucky Irish, still an associate member of the ICC are punching above their weight on the big stage and are fast become everyones second team.

While Holland beat England in the opening match and Scotland gave New Zealand a bit of a scare on Saturday, before being crushed by South Africa, it’s Ireland who look the best of the so called minnows. The team is well made up, and well coached by West Indian Phil Simmons. They show enthusiasm in the field, and go about their batting and bowling as best as they can. Where they have out performed their other smaller teams, and backed up their surprise results in the 2007 World Cup, has been their approach to their cricket. They play as a team. While the Scots tend to have a couple of good performers per match, not backed up by the full 11, the Irish have all pitched in.

The O’Brian brothers stole the show with their batting today, Niall, who was also excellent behind the stumps, took the Bangladesh attack on, scoring a boundary laden 40 from 25 balls, including three 6’s, and brother Kevin came in and finished the match for the Irish with an unbeaten 39 from 17 balls, taking his team home, and through to the next round.

While the minnows in these tournaments tend to look like amateur cricketers, enjoying the chance to play on the big stage against many of their heroes, and enjoying the holiday from work, the Irish look like real cricketers. They came with every intention of causing an upset and getting through the first round, and not merely making up the numbers and relishing the occasion. They way they paced their innings and talked about it suggested professionalism that bodes will for the men in green.

Ireland take on the champions, India, on Wednesday before they begin the Super 8 phase. While they will no doubt enjoy themselves tonight and have made their point in the tournament, don’t bet against another upset from the Irish in the coming matches. No doubt they will be taken seriously by all – and rightly so.


T20 World Cup 2009 – Preview

31/05/2009

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The final of the IPL was a week ago today – andin 5 days time the opening match of the T20 World Cup, between hosts England and the Netherlands, takes place. It really is a crowded international schedule these days.

The previous, and inaugural, T20 World Cup was hosted by South Africa and won by India two years ago. The hype and excitement of that tournament added energy and freshness to the cricket world, yet this years edition has been more understated. That probably has a lot to do with the circus that is the IPL, yet one has to feel that those marketing the World Cup in England could perhaps do a better job. World Cup’s shouldn’t sneak up on you. The IPL should have been the appetizer to the main course, which starts next week. Lets hope the cricket does a better job and all the right noises are made after.

When T20 cricket launched itself onto the world stage it was viewed as pure entertainment, a hit and miss form of the game, and not taken too seriously by those on the field. There was almost a feel that it was more about luck than skill and not much could be done to curtail the individual. It wasn’t cricket – it was glitz. Barely two years since and how things have changed. T20 is very much a skill based, tactical battle, that seems to sharpen skills, rather than deplete them. The cream always rises, and T20 has seen it mastered by the great players, the players who have excelled in Test and ODI cricket, and not the close your eyes and swing variety. T20 is real business and will be fought out by the best players  over the next few weeks.

The favourites for the crown will be the same for any cricketing competition held at this team, no matter what the format. Defending champions India have perhaps benefited the most from the IPL as their pool of players playing at a higher level has increased to one meaning a squad of 50+ players could easily be assembled. Their opening combination of Sehwag and Gambhir didn’t really fire during the IPL andwill be looking for form in England. The early swinging ball may not be to their liking, but both will be looking to get the team out of the boxes fast and not just solidly. There after the hitting power in the Indian squad is phenomenal. Anyone of Dhoni, Yusuf Pathan, Raina, Yuvraj and Rohit Sharma will be able to single handedly build a total. If the batting comes off India will be hard to beat. The bowlers have a less solid look to them. Sharma, Pathan, RP Singh and Kumar will be complemented by the spin of Harbhajan and Ojha, but the key may be the form of Zaheer Khan. Zaheermissed the later part of the IPL with a shoulder njury. India’s success may depend on how quickly he recovers his form back.

Australia go into this World Cup without the favourites tag that has accompanied them for much of the last 15 years. Their squad is solid if not spectacular, but would have benefited from the rest they forced on much of their IPL contingent. The Aussies will be looking to get their hands on the only ICC competition that isn’t there’s right now. They will also be using the World Cup to get them off to a good start to their Ashes series. The dark horse tag, rather than favourite tag, may help the Aussies this time, although they have never been burdened by being favourites.

South Africa crashed out of the last edition with a loss to India in their last 2nd phase group game. It was their only loss in the competition and heir only poor performance. Smith’s men felt hard done by, given that 3 of the 4 semi final teams had lost more than them. They will be looking to get things right this time around, and maybe without the expectation of being hosts or favourites, may have more freedom to carry them forward. The balance of the squad is perhaps the best since South Africa returned to international cricket in 1992. Half the squad didn’t feature much in the IPL and should be well rested. Albie Morkel and Smith had poor showings with the bat last month and will be looking to fare better for their country then they did for their IPL teams. Yusuf Abdulla was the revelation of the first hald of the IPL, leading the wicket table at that stage, before being left out for the returning Brett Lee. He will look to carry on with that form, while at the same time showing the Kings 11 that they should have stuck with him. Abdulla, Albie Morkel, Kallis, Steyn and Parnell all offer swing, while Morne Morkel, with bounce and pace, and the spin twins of Botha and van der Merwe, make the attack a potent and balanced one. JP Duminy and AB de Villiers stared with the bat in the IPL and will be looking to carry that form. The squad boasts some of the best fielders in the world, and carries no real weakness. Solid batting, big hitting, depth, pace, swing, bounce, and spin. South Africa are looking good.

With England looking to make the most of home conditions, and momentum, following an easy convincing series win over the West Indies, and New Zealand always handy on the big stage, there are a fair amount of dark horses to watch out for. Pakistan have had very little cricket and havemuch to prove. The best outside bet however may be Sri Lanka. The seeding for the World Cup is based on the previous edition. This means that if all the top teams get through the opening phase, and they should have little trouble here, the big three favourites, India, Australia and South Africa willfind themselves in the same group, playing for 2 semi final places. Sri Lanka will be in the other group and should have an easy march trough to the semi’s. The batting lineup is a strong one, with Jayasuriya, Sangakkara, Dilshan and Jayawardene all able to adept to the needed situation, and in Murli and Malinga, they have two bowlers who won’t make any total look safe.

Sri Lanka will be hoping that the big three all batter and bruise each other, weakening themselves for a possible semi andfinal show down, while the big three will be hoping that a harder run in, and an easier one for Sri Lanka, will leave them better prepared.

The winners should come from those four. However little will be taken for granted, and with a World Cup crown up for grabs, all will be giving there all to get their hands on the crown. The shorter format leads to greater chances of upsets, so the slightest complacency will be punished. If the weather plays its part we should be treated to some great cricket, hopefully cricket worthy of being the main course to the IPL appetizer.

 

pic from cricinfo.com


T20 Tri-Nations Series

02/10/2008

Cricket South Africa announced that a Tri-nations T20 Series will be held next year, featuring South Africa, Australia and India.

T20 continues to be the fastest growing brand in the cricketing world, with more and more of the action packed, fast paced, form of the game being demanded by audiences, TV and sponsors, if not the players themselves. The business of sport has made this growth inevitable, even if purists see it as encroaching on the Test and 50 over cricket. But make no mistake, sport is a business, and in the end money will win, and T20 will continue its rapid growth. There was a time, perhaps in the amateur days, with cricket, and sport in general, was about competition and entertainment. Those aspects still exists, but these days there is the business of sport, and the business of entertainment, where huge amounts of money, especially in India with respect to cricket, will form the basis of choosing a direction for the sport. All of this means that next years already crowded international cricket schedule, one that includes a South Africa v Australia series, a South Africa v England series, an Ashes series, the T20 World Cup in England, the IPL, a Champions League for domestic T20 winners, and a date and perhaps venue for the postponed ICC Champions Trophy still to be found, will now need to make room for a T20 Tri nations Series.

The model for the series is yet to be finalised, but is thought to be similar to the Tri Nations Rugby series, featuring South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, where the three teams play each other both home and away. This years Tri Nations Rugby saw each team play 3 games at home and 3 away.

One potential problem that the series will have to overcome is the ICC’s regulations for international T20 games, which says that each country can only play 7 T20 matches a year.

In the end money will speak louder then those worried about over exposure and too much cricket, and the series should go ahead. The inclusion of India in the series means that incoming money will be at a maximum for a cricket series, and this will be the motivation to get the series the green light.

It has not yet been stated whether or not this is a planned annual series, like the rugby edition, but cricket fans should have more cricket to look forward to next year. T20 is expanding, and the entertainment should be growing too.


The Zimbabwe Issue

08/07/2008

While we’d all like to believe that sport and politics shouldn’t mix we inevitably find that they do. Generally it’s politics pushing it’s way and forcing itself on sport. The issue of Zimbabwe is one where it seems that opinion is divided almost evenly about whether politics should gatecrash sport. But what should be done?

England have pulled out of touring Zimbabwe, South Africa have cancelled their agreement with Zimbabwe, an agreement that saw Zimbabwe take part in South African domestic cricket, New Zealand have said that they will tour, unless otherwise told, Pakistan A have likewise said they will go to Zimbabwe, and Zimbabwe have pulled out of next years T20 World Cup in England – after being told their players and officials would not receive visa’s. India have put their power behind not excluding Zimbabwe from the ICC and removing their status. Is all of this necessary?

It took over 20 years for when South Africa was barred from international sport to the ending of Apartheid. In the end sport did not matter or make much of a dent. The ruling party had to cave in in the end, but it was not because of sport that they did. The difference here is that South Africa’s discriminatory laws were voted in and practised by many of the minority white population, year after year. The Zimbabwe situation is different. A dictator and his party are forcing themselves on the people and will not go away.

The threat of sanctions is a popular option by many in the west but it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem. Mugabe does not care about the people of Zimbabwe. Sanctions will harm and kill the people, while Mugabe will be unaffected. So why would he care if sanctions were forced on the country?

The same applies to sport. What ever the ICC or individual countries apply with respect to Zimbabwean cricket will not effect or harm Mugabe in the least. It will have no affect at all on the worsening situation in the country, in terms of a solution, but will harm the Zimbabwean people. South African players have said that they will not tour Zimbabwe. This is all acceptable as it is their safety that is at stake. So if any sportsman says that they will not tour on safety grounds then this must be accepted. Politically they should not have a say. Zimbabwean sports teams should be allowed to continue to tour other countries. The players need to earn a living in a country that food and basics are alarmingly scarce and expensive. Denying them this right is hurting them and their families, while Mugabe continues to live it up at their expense.

Robert Mugabe does not care about the people of Zimbabwe. That much is evident. Sanctions and sporting bans do not effect him but only the people of Zimbabwe, and he will not budge to help them. Sanctions and sporting bans are not the solution to this problem, and thus should not be implemented. The Zimbabwean cricket players should not be prevented from earning a living when it does no good at all to the situation in the country. They are not at fault and should not be made to pay for the madness and brutality of one man.