2 Videos For a Lazy Thursday

25 Feb

You know just how lazy this is? Firstly, it was meant to be 5 videos and secondly, it was meant to be uploaded last Sunday. Yeah. It’s really, really, really lazy that I couldn’t be arsed to find 3 more videos and didn’t fancy the faff of doing it last Sunday. So here are 2, yes just 2, videos. Enjoy.

*EDIT* – as evidence (?) of aforementioned laziness, this post was apparently published on the 25th of February. I absolutely guarantee that it was published on the 6th of March instead. Anyway whatever, watch these videos that I found for you, yer slob.

1) Fred Trueman congratulates Dennis Lillee on his 300th Test wicket

In this video, Trueman sups on a pint of bitter whilst congratulating Lillee on going past both he and the West Indian Lance Gibbs on the all-time Test wicket-takers list. That’s how it starts, anyway, before Trueman has a moan at both Yorkshire and England for not sending him a telegram to congratulate him and then tells us all about his favourite wicket. With smoking pipe in hand this is, as the esteemed Robelinda2 tells us, ‘gold’.

2) Ronnie Irani warms up on the boundary

On the ill-fated English tour Down Under of 2002/03, there were minor positives. Michael Vaughan announced himself, the English competed gamely and Ronnie Irani did this in the dying overs of the first ODI at the SCG. Mimicking something Merv Hughes used to get up to, he gives Nasser Hussain something to laugh about. It also gives us a fleeting glimpse of Gareth Batty playing cricket for England, which is rare.


The Sun Also Rises

23 Feb

As the sun began to set over the Azad Maidan in a hazy mid-November dusk, Prithvi Shaw tucked his bat under his arm and walked off unbeaten on 257. Over a billion Indians had given their final farewell to Sachin Tendulkar a few days earlier and with this 14 year old the burden of carrying their hopes seemed to find a new recipient.

It was on these same dusty orange pitches in 1988 that Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli put on 664 runs in a Harris Shield game, a partnership that still resonates around the world. Down the same threadbare pitches as Shaw they danced, silencing the boorish drone of the late afternoon Mumbai traffic.

Tendulkar was many things – master batsman; role model extraordinaire; advertising gold dust – but most of all he was a modest man who chose dignified silence and weight of runs to speak for him. He spent his entire career allowing the big players of Indian cricket to burn brightly and fleetingly: first it was the same school friend, Kambli, who allowed himself to believe his own legend, and eventually was consumed by celebrity. Then Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag came and went in a blaze of glory and controversy all whilst Tendulkar shied away from the limelight. As his career progressed from teenage starlet to wizened and fabled hero he saw it all, absorbing the adulation and expectation.

Yet his last years were not golden ones. He failed to score a Test century in the last 24 months of his career and the vultures were circling overhead long before he announced his decision to retire as the world watched the great man scrape and forage uncomfortably, willing him to find a final innings to savour. The last two fruitless years were not pretty, nor were they deserving for a man who had meant so much to so many people.

What about his highlights, then? For there were moments which brought India, and the cricketing world, to a standstill. His three shot salvo that went ‘six-four-four’ against an electric Shoaib Akhtar in the 2003 World Cup. The year of 1998 against Australia, the world’s best team, in which he averaged 97 runs per innings across 12 visits to the crease. Then 10 years later and the fourth-innings 103* versus England in Chennai, as he led India’s colossal chase of 387 to win the match.

And all this achieved whilst he had the pressure of being the latest in the line of prodigious Indian batting talents. From Ranjitsinhji, the British Indian who revolutionised batting, through to Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar and Mohammad Azharuddin, India has a rich history of strokemakers. Tendulkar found himself tasked with the responsibility of continuing this legacy with the dust of the Maidan still on his whites when, at the age of 15, he scored a century on his Ranji Trophy debut.

Whilst he was at the crease the nation would stop working and there would be hope for India’s innings. Whilst his supporters felt that his achievements meant more than life, the little man in the middle did not. He was still the boy at the Maidan, scoring centuries with his friends against the din of his beloved hometown, which was diminished beyond the sound of his bat on ball. Cricket was just cricket, no more, no less. And as the sun set on his career, Indians were lost as they sought a new idol.

Back at the Maidan, and the day after he had begun his innings, Prithvi Shaw was finished with 546 runs after batting for a day and a half. The extraordinarily talented young man appeared to herald in a new time – a new sun – for Indian cricket.


16 Feb
Mitchell Johnson has more than his moustache to thank for his rejuvenated career

Mitchell Johnson has more than his moustache to thank for his rejuvenated career

In 2012, Mitchell Johnson was at a crossroads in his career. After starting with such a bang he had faded to so much that he had become an international laugh stock. He was humiliated on and off the pitch and for anyone that is a tough spot to be in, but for Johnson – not the toughest mentally who put lots of pressure on himself – it was nigh on unbearable.

Enter Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith. An Australian soldier who won both the Medal for Gallantry and the Victoria Cross for Australia, ‘RS’ saw plenty of action in Iraq and Afghanistan and became a celebrity both in Perth, his home-town, and Australia as a whole. Johnson and Roberts-Smith met two years ago when Johnson was looking to anyone he could for help – and he found what he was looking for. Essentially, Roberts-Smith brought out the mongrel in Johnson that was lurking beneath the surface, and turned the boy who is, by all accounts, a perfectly pleasant person, into the man who has no remorse for the damage he can inflict with the ball. The talent was always there, but it just needed to be coaxed out of him.

Most important of all was the lesson of perspective. By teaching Johnson that there was more to life than cricket, and that there are people who have things considerably worse, the pressure was lifted from his heavily tattooed shoulders, and the burden was gone. This eye-opening realisation can come in various forms.

Stress-related illnesses can take down people in all professions and cricket is no different – so when Jonathan Trott returned home from the recent Ashes tour there was plenty said about the health of someone being infinitely more important than the result of a cricket match. And although the tour was disastrous, the felling of a giant of English cricket in such a way asked new questions of the training regime and intense playing schedule that England undertake. As a result, the coach who implemented the regime left his post, and English cricket is due a major environment upheaval.

Key to that upheaval will be captain Alastair Cook, who was half the cricketer he can be on that tour. Leaving Australia in early 2014, he returned to his farm in Bedfordshire with his pregnant wife. It has been widely reported that he enjoys taking his mind off cricket by lambing and with a lamb of his own on the way he will undoubtedly see that there is more to cricket, even after a tough day on the pitch.

Yet there are times when an incident which should lend perspective fails. New Zealand batsman Jesse Ryder was assaulted following a night out and left in a coma in 2013, a serious attack which threatened his life more than his career. He recovered sufficiently to make his return for the Blackcaps but, on the verge of a Test recall against India and being named in the World Twenty20 Cup squad, he was reprimanded following a late night out in Auckland. Dropped back to domestic cricket and not named in the World Cup squad, Ryder has set his own career back immeasurably after this indiscretion – the latest in a litany of alcohol related issues.

Obviously it is wrong to make assumptions on why Ryder breaks rules and damages his career, but following the attack on him last year he gained a huge amount of support from around the world. It would be disappointing if he can’t back up his talent with the maturity required to make it on the international stage.

Perhaps what Ryder needs is a mentor from outside the world of cricket. Johnson’s meeting with Roberts-Smith, however it came about, was the spark he needed to reinvigorate his career and rediscover his love of cricket. If Ryder and Cook can do the same they’ll be better for it.

5 mostly unrelated cricket thoughts

10 Feb

1) New Zealand are getting quite good

Beating India in your own conditions is not difficult, but for a small nation that is widely disregarded it is a huge achievement for New Zealand. More so considering they have just won the limited overs stuff against the same opponents and now have managed to translate ODI form into Test form. There are questions over the Blackcaps – BJ Watling has a distinct technical fault in his keeping whereby his weight shifts to the leg side before he adjusts and moves back to the off; Corey Anderson is neither a Test match bowler nor a Test match batsman; Peter Fulton is floundering at the top of the order and surely just keeping the spot warm for Martin Guptill; they lack a Test match quality spinner. However, beating one of the 3 super-powers in World cricket is a huge coup and warms the cockles of all but 1.6 billion of the cricket loving family.

2) Eoin Morgan wants another crack at Test cricket

He burst onto the scene as a spunky youth with fancy shots and the most battled hardened stare since the callow boys returning from the Western Front. Yet, as so often happens in Test cricket, he was found out and then booted into the long grass by the selectors. But now with KP jettisoned like a space-dump he has stuck two fingers up to the IPL by withdrawing himself from the auction. Setting his sights on scoring heavily for Middlesex in the Championship, he is gunning down KP’s vacated number 4 spot. His First Class record is ropey at best (average of 34.45 with 9 centuries) but he has the resolve and nous to have a second crack. More over, the fact that he’s turned down a contract worth roughly $1 million in order to play Test cricket will be welcome relief for the ECB given their horror week. So what about that week?

3) The ECB are having a stinker

Firstly they (Paul Downton, the new MD, and also James Whitaker, the National Selector) demand that there is only one coach for all 3 teams. Not unreasonable, as that would surely result in a more cohesive unit – until you look at the amount of cricket England play. From the 1st of January 2012 to the 1st of January 2014 they played 86 matches across all formats, spanning 202 days of cricket. For one man that’s a lot of work, before the time spent away from home is factored in. Ludicrous. Secondly, firing KP was probably the wrong call. Yet it’s the nature of the business, so fair enough, as long as good reasons are cited. Have they been cited? Has the ECB given a couple of a reasons that would justify sacking the leading run scorer England has ever produced? Have they heck. Instead, they’ve basically called Piers Morgan a poo-poo head in the world’s worst press release and then implied that if you are ‘outside cricket’ and your opinion is not in line with their own you’re worthless and a nobody. This threw up a whole new bag of issues – a) what does ‘outside cricket’ mean, and who is ‘inside cricket’?, b) are we not allowed to question decisions made by the ECB or are we supposed to blindly follow them?, and c) if we disagree with the ECB does that mean we agree with Piers Morgan? Time to bathe in bleach again guys!

4) South Africa are going to drill Australia

Australia’s top 6 are shaky at best: throughout the Ashes series England ripped the head off, only to watch Brad Haddin bundle them out of trouble with a cavalier 70-odd. Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander are better than England and on the green seamers that have been prepared in Centurion, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town they will tear through the Aussie rotters. Mitchell Johnson will be exposed as the average bowler that he is (seriously, it’s just quick and mostly short. Until he has a series where he perpetually swings the ball like Trent Boult he will be forever an average – if very fast – bowler) and South Africa will still be number 1 at the end of the series. They might want to find a spinner soon though, because Imran Tahir is dreadful. For example – try Simon Harmer. 175 First Class wickets, he can bat, and he’s just turned 25. One for the future, definitely.

5) The Big 3 takeover has happened and it’s bad

The formation of the ExCo is the thrust of the changes – the committee on which there will always be a representative from Australia, England and India who will be able to decide the future of cricket. Those three nations will take more money from the ICC and they will play each other more frequently than any of the ‘smaller’ nations because it will be more financially rewarding when taking these series ‘to market’. Until the FTP up to 2023 is released we won’t know how bad it is, but… it’s going to be bad.

Big Three takeover approved

8 Feb

iccToday the worst was confirmed for cricket fans around the world, as the ICC board approved changes to governance, competition and financial models. Most alarmingly of all was the announcement that current head of the BCCI, N. Srinivasan, will be the new ICC Chairman from July 2014. Srinivasan, who heads the only national board to dispute the worth of the DRS in all cricket, owns the IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings and has had multiple charges of corruption laid at his door.

The changes that will sweep cricket were contested at a meeting in Singapore – no doubt to take it away from the mainstream cricketing world, and the inevitable protests it would cause – and although the Sri Lanka Cricket Board and their Pakistani counterparts abstained form voting as they stated they needed more time to discuss the changes, the other boards voted in favour, and they were carried. The consequence of Pakistan refusing to back India’s charge will most likely have profound consequences on the chances of an India v Pakistan Test series.

The Test Championship has been shelved in lieu of the ICC Champions Trophy being resurrected. The Test Championship was always a poorly constructed competition, that never looked like the future of Test cricket. Though the ICC seems to have over-complicated it in order to cover up the fact that it wouldn’t be as financially beneficial as official ODI events. However, a four year system in which each nation plays home and away Test series and then the top two teams play a final is a simple plan that would have been easily organised.

Instead, the 2017 and 2021 Champions Trophy tournaments have been scheduled – whilst contractually binding bi-lateral agreements will be organised ‘as a matter of urgency’, meaning the Future Tours Programme will be booked up until 2023. Whether or not this version of the FTP will be as contractually binding as the previous incarnation (one remembers the BCCI bullying Cricket South Africa over their tour in November 2013, before eventually dropping Test matches so Sachin Tendulkar’s final game could be played against the West Indies at his home ground in Mumbai beforehand) remains to be seen. But what is certain is that the ‘Big Three’ – Australia, England and India – will have far more control over who they play and when, so as to maximise the revenue they can earn through selling television broadcasting rights.

The ICC also announced that Associate Members will have more of a chance at playing Test cricket, as the winner of the next ICC Intercontinental Cup will take part in a play-off against the lowest ranked Full Member – and if they win will gain full Test status. What the ICC did not make clear was in which format the play-off match would take place (whether it would be a 4 day game or a 5 day game) or what would happen if the Full Member nation lost the play-off. Whether or not their full Test status would be rescinded or if the list of Test playing nations would grow continually was not specified.

Finally, one of the most telling parts of the release from the ICC was the oblique admission that there were huge concessions made by all nations – especially the smaller ones – in order to get these new regulations passed. And although the ‘Big Three’ have all the power, India are of course the biggest winner. With Srinivasan (whose son-in-law was arrested on suspicion of involvement with illegal betting last year) heading up the ICC come July, one nation will gain a huge amount over the others.

Promotion of the world game is implicit in the founding of the ICC but the fact that one nation will now have a much bigger slice of the pie means that this will take a back seat. All cricket fans can do now is sit back and watch the rich nations get richer and the poor nations get poorer.

The kindness of strangers

24 Jan

The nice thing about this ‘job’ is that on the whole the people are friendly – maybe it’s because cricket is, by nature, a friendly sport; perhaps it’s because those who are privileged enough to write about it get to do something they love, rather than something they resent. Unfortunately, I have come across unfriendly cricket writers and those who are not interested in the travails of a young wannabe. But sometimes there is someone who will eagerly go the extra mile.

On Thursday, Kim Jones passed away. Kim was the owner and editor of SPIN magazine, and a lover of county cricket.

In March of 2013, as green as the fresh shoots that were emerging from the dirt, I emailed Kim asking for advice on getting into cricket journalism and writing. I sent a similar email to a lot of other journalists, yet he was the only one to respond. And rather than posting a generic ‘keep going’ reply, he gave me actual, worthwhile advice. His reply was longer than my original email, and he asked me to keep in touch. And so I did. We exchanged emails for a month or so, and as our familiarity grew I got a glimpse into the great sense of humour that lay underneath his vastly knowledgeable outer shell.

Once I told him about The Cricket Magazine he was nothing but supportive, and gave me some more encouragement into how best to get the word out, as well as some titbits on writing about the sport.

I didn’t know that Kim was unwell. An eyebrow was raised when his Twitter account went quiet, but when a new one sprung up, I just assumed he’d forgotten his password, or fancied a fresh start. So when I saw George Dobell and Lizzy Ammon, who both worked with him at SPIN magazine, tweet on Thursday night that he’d passed away, I was surprised, shocked and saddened.

Kim took time out of his busy schedule to email a nobody with advice and his genuine interest in me blew me away. As often happens when someone passes, one selfishly regrets things – hoping that those feelings will alleviate the guilt that’s left behind. And, selfishly, I regret not emailing him and simply saying ‘thank-you’, and telling him of how the site has gone since his initial encouragement.

From the reaction on Twitter, I am not alone in being touched by his generous spirit. The man behind ‘AltCricket’, Nishant Joshi, tweeted of a similar experience to mine.

Whilst his love of county cricket was not lost on those who play it – especially those from his favourite county of Warwickshire.

Kim was a good man. He was thoughtful, kind, genuine and honest. He willingly emailed someone he didn’t have to, because he wanted to help them. And I will miss him.

England finally find their rhythm

24 Jan

177437After 91 days of misery, and 9 straight international losses, England finally broke their misery. A resounding 57 run victory in the 4th ODI against Australia is scant consolation for the loss of the Ashes and the ODI series, let alone the senior players that are battered beyond repair, but this win will mean a lot to this team – especially considering it is, effectively, a third string line up.
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