You’ve got to hand it to us, we can call matches incorrectly with the worst of them. Almost as if they were goaded into it, Sri Lanka have done everything in their power to make our assessment of them the day before yesterday seem almost criminally inaccurate.
We called them insipid. They recovered from being five wickets down in their second innings and still near enough 100 behind to set India 176 to win. The turnaround began at almost exactly the moment we accused them of ’embarking on a second round of divdom’.
We said that Rangana Herath appeared to have lost the ability to take wickets and lead the attack. He has just taken 7-48 to bowl India out for 112 to win the Test.
The murderous capybara is back and we can again comfort ourselves with the thought that Planet Earth wouldn’t have to consider selecting Nathan Lyon – which is just as well as with his misshapen Mekon head, he’s clearly a Treen sleeper agent.12 Appeals
For those who don’t know what Sri Lanka v India is, it’s kind of like the Ashes, only they don’t make the losing team play a fifth Test. Or a fourth one.
Sri Lanka seem to have turned a little bit insipid. They coped with Muttiah Muralitharan’s retirement surprisingly well considering their entire gameplan hinged on him for a decade, but now some cracks are appearing. Mahela Jayawardene has gone and Kumar Sangakkara will follow him shortly, on top of which the surprisingly effective Rangana Herath appears to be becoming less effective just as his wickets were ceasing to be a surprise.
Last year Pakistan toured Sri Lanka. In two Tests Herath took 23 wickets. All that was missing was some boggle-eyed grinning and it would have been just like Murali was still around. This year Pakistan again toured Sri Lanka. Herath took two wickets in two Tests and was dropped for the third. That’s a pretty marked contrast.
Against India, Sri Lanka batted like divs to make 183, conceded 375 and now appear to be embarking on a second round of divdom. It isn’t glorious.21 Appeals
Remember The Magic Numbers? Are they still going? Wikipedia says they are. Chart positions say they aren’t really.
But this post isn’t about The Magic Numbers. It’s about Kumar Sangakkara’s magic numbers. Scorecards never tell you the full story, but when a batsman’s made 203 out of 356 in response to the home team’s 221, you have a pretty comprehensive synopsis. How could that be anything other than an exceptional innings?
Without wishing to sound like we’re announcing the National Lottery results, here’s another magic number for you as a bonus. In the 82 Tests in which he hasn’t kept wicket, Kumar Sangakkara’s batting average is 69.85.
That number again: 69.85.18 Appeals
We’re never sure why people are so averse to comparing apples and oranges. They’re both fruit, after all. It’s not like comparing ox heart and communism. Like apples and oranges, Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews are quite different, but also have rather a lot in common.
Why a dual award?
There were plenty of other contenders this year. Kumar Sangakkara couldn’t stop scoring runs and Steve Smith developed a real taste for the Indian bowling, while last year’s Lord Megachief of Gold, Dale Steyn, has become so relentlessly brilliant that people don’t even bat an eyelid when he takes 39 Test wickets at 19.56.
However, Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews have been the players who have stood out for us. We have spent the last week or so trying to choose, but their cases are so different that it has been like comparing crisps with ennui. In the end, we decided that as captains of lower profile Test nations who have led by freakish example, they both have an equal claim to the title, even if they have reached this point via entirely different routes.
The highs and lows
We’ll start with McCullum because his case is more obvious. Until recently, he has always been far better in one-dayers than Tests, but in 2014, he averaged 20.33 in one-dayers and 72.75 in Tests. But even that doesn’t really give the full story because between the middle of February and the end of November, he didn’t get past 50 in the longest format.
Truth be told, McCullum didn’t register a single Test fifty all year. He was only an ounce of extra heft away from not having made a score between 100 and 200 either. His 134-ball 195 against Sri Lanka on Boxing Day seemed an almost childishly needless means of pointing out to everyone that he could also score normal hundreds as well as doubles and triples.
New Zealand won that match – their last of the year – just as they’d won against India in their first match of the year when McCullum had made 224. One match later, he made 302 after his side had surrendered a 246-run first innings lead to earn an unlikely draw. You can’t say he doesn’t influence matches and nor can you say that he doesn’t make the most of good form.
McCullum’s crowning achievement came in November, however. Australia had just demonstrated how hard it is to even compete against Pakistan in the UAE, let alone win, and the ‘home’ team had at first carried on in much the same vein against New Zealand. But a Kiwi side hewn in McCullum’s stumpy-but-still-up-for-a-fight image was having none of it. They drew the second Test and then minced Pakistan in the third.
Mark Craig was man of the match, but McCullum made 202 off 188 balls. It’s hard to respond to something like that and Pakistan couldn’t.
The bit in-between
Angelo Mathews has been harder to spot. Not for him the double hundreds. In fact, even the single hundreds feel like aberrations. Mathews’ year has been almost the exact opposite of McCullum’s. He seems to have made 50 almost every time he has gone out to bat.
Only once in 20 Test innings was he dismissed for a single-figure score and despite only two hundreds, he averaged 77.33. If this is starting to sound like a celebration of mediocrity, factor in his one-day knocks and you start to get a feel for the scale of his achievement. Over 31 50-over innings, he averaged 62.20 and even when his team was rubbish, he was good. In five sad defeats to India, he delivered 92 not out after arriving with the score reading 64-3, 75 after arriving at 42-3 and 139 not out after arriving at 73-3.
Quite simply, he never lets his side down. At times in the past, he’s seemed a trifle bits and pieces. But nowadays his bits of bowling arrive alongside some magnificent pieces of batting.
His all-round performance at Headingley must rank somewhere reasonably high in some list or other of good cricket things. We’re not going to define that list or choose the ranking because that could only elicit nit-picking which is surely besides the point.
Mathews had taken 4-44 in England’s first innings when he walked out to bat. His side were 68 ahead with four wickets down and had just expended an extraordinary amount of energy in securing a nine-wickets-down draw in the first Test (a match in which he had made 102). Pretty soon, Sri Lanka were seven down and just 169 ahead. Surely the reservoirs of self-belief were running dry?
At the time, we wrote about how batting with the tail is an amorphous puzzle where your goal oscillates between singles and boundaries with the field waxing and waning constantly. In short, it’s mentally exhausting, yet Angelo Mathews took his side from 277-7 to 437-9.
Even then, he wasn’t done. England fought back through Moeen Ali. When you’ve poured so much into a game and it seems it’s still not enough, you can crumple or you can redouble your efforts. Quite how you accomplish the latter is beyond us, but that is presumably what Mathews managed in captaining Sri Lanka to their first proper series victory in England.
Between them, they’ve got it all covered. Take a bow, Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews – the sides you captain are better for your presence. You are 2014’s Conjoined Lord Megachiefs of Gold.21 Appeals
Today we’re going to direct you towards two pieces of ours which appeared outside the kingdom.
First up, our latest King of Cricket is Murali. Don’t worry, it ain’t all numbers. It’s about the joints, the graft and the batting really.
Secondly, last week’s Cricinfo piece, entitled English cricket rocked by non-Cook related incident. As an added bonus, that one contains a little bit of Nick Knight.
Almost inevitably, Cook is in the news again today. Paul Downton has given another interview, which basically means Cook’s relationship with the public has dropped another few notches through no fault of his own.
Downtown has an incredible knack for alienating people. When he speaks, what you’re left with is a strong sense that someone has wagged their finger at you and told you they know best.
Apparently he sits in on selection meetings these days. He says he is happy with the selectors he employs (his words) and happy with the decision to continue with Cook as captain, but that the selectors will meet to discuss everything on Friday. Presumably they won’t be jumping at the chance to make their boss unhappy.
Asked about Cook’s form, Downton said: “Yes, he’s in miserable form. But form can change. I’d suggest he’s ‘due’ – wouldn’t you?”
We’ve covered this before, haven’t we?
Another highlight is: “He’s the natural leader of that group of players.”
A natural leader in the sense of being a great orator? A natural leader based on the fact he’s getting great results? What is a natural leader? Is that how leaders are identified; by their nature? Do the ECB do a DNA test? What chromosomes are they looking for?
The ECB really are beyond parody now.
Downton finished by saying: “I want to enfranchise everybody and I want them to be part of what’s happening in English cricket.”
Remember kids, if you’ve been enfranchised by a stockbroker, you should inform a parent, teacher or policeman immediately. It’s not your fault.13 Appeals
Here’s a joke for you: What do a 35-over a side game in Habantota and a 50-over match in New Zealand or Australia have in common?
Pretty funny, eh?
In the third match of this series, Sri Lanka were positively blown away by England’s tactic of randomly selecting a load of seamers and sacrificing a decent top order batsman who isn’t Alastair Cook. There was also a counterargument to our assertion that Alex Hales and Moeen Ali would constitute a great opening partnership when the two revealed a worrying inability to remain at opposite ends. Boundaries only please, lads.
And boundaries only for Jos Buttler as well. Joe Root’s non-dismissal off a no-ball seemed to precipitate a fourvalanche from the softly spoken pseudo-wicketkeeper (who actually hasn’t done too much wrong behind the stumps).
England’s lower order sloggery has never really been the problem though. Getting into a position where sloggery can be executed has been the problem and you could argue that a 35-over game sees the removal of the 15-overs of nurdlesome proactivity during which England’s batsmen traditionally like to perform seppuku.23 Appeals
That’s okay. That’s what these tours are for. Moeen will have learnt from this. From now on, he’ll know that 119 off 87 balls simply isn’t enough and he’ll instead score 180 off 110 balls or whatever.
Other than that, one of the great joys of the first one-day international between Sri Lanka and England was in seeing Alastair Cook being given out three times – at one point off two successive deliveries. Did England’s mighty stuttering captain let this stop him? Did he heck. Well, okay, he let the third one stop him, but he’d already rollicked his way to 10 off 17 balls by then so it really didn’t matter. That’s really not a bad strike rate when you consider that three of those 17 deliveries were dismissals.
Ravi Bopara was the most economical bowler, so he was limited to just four overs. James Tredwell finished his spell with sixes and then outs – a pair of each. Harry Gurney bowled six wides. Sri Lanka also played.18 Appeals
Can New Zealand do what Australia couldn’t and give Pakistan a decent Test match? Brendon McCullum’s already made a major contribution to his team’s cause in the second Test by winning the toss.
We don’t actually know whether McCullum went for heads or tails or whether he just passively watched the coin arc through the air after Misbah-ul-Haq had called. Whatever he did, all those hours of coin-tossing practice have been entirely vindicated and New Zealand are currently 145-1. (Update: Now they’re 159-2 and that vindication is a little less apparent).
Perhaps concerned that their attack was becoming too experienced, Pakistan have dropped ‘Imran Khan 2: Not The Same Khan’ and given a second Test to Ehsan Adil.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul is master of the forlorn rearguard. He can’t avert defeat, but by God he can postpone its arrival for a bit. Misbah-ul-Haq is another practitioner. For a while, he cornered the market on the captaincy version of this innings – particularly in one-day cricket.
There is no innings so depressing as the captain’s face-saving one-day knock. As the run-rate rises and the chances of victory recede, everyone still has to play out the overs, even though one team can’t win or play for a draw. What we are seeing is one man trying to lead, only being as pretty much everyone else is out, there isn’t really anyone to follow.
Angelo Mathews seems to be finding himself in this sort of position increasingly often. The one-day series against India probably isn’t representative in that Sri Lanka weren’t prepared and didn’t really field their full strength side. Nevertheless, in five matches Mathews delivered 92 not out after arriving with the score reading 64-3; 75 after arriving at 42-3; and 139 not out after arriving at 73-3. Sri Lanka lost all three matches and the other two in the series as well.
Sri Lanka have a way of getting themselves in order for big tournaments, so this might be a blip. But it might also be a window into a future without Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.4 Appeals
Younus Khan’s just made his third Test hundred on the bounce. We mentioned that he was underrated after the first one. Let’s revisit that.
We all know Younus averages some way north of 50 and that he’s now made Test hundreds against every nation, but let’s dig a little deeper. Last time we mentioned that only 19 of his 93 Tests have been played truly at home and that hints at what’s so great about him. He’s adaptable.
The first of this trio of hundreds saw him construct non-scoring foundations for his innings. Since then, he’s become ever-more expansive. This third hundred came off 128 balls.
But it’s conditions as well. Not only has Younus scored a hundred against every Test-playing nation, he’s also scored one in every country bar Australia, where he’s only played three matches. Only in South Africa and the West Indies does he average less than 40 and only in the Windies does he average less than 30. There are always gaps and that’s some CV.
Midway through our Cricinfo piece about how Pakistan and Australia have prepared for this Test, we poked fun at Australia’s tendency to believe that their success is directly linked to how attacking they are. It was therefore quite amusing to see that they’d tweaked their team and brought Glenn Maxwell in to bat at number three.
Maybe it’ll work.
YouTube can make wasters of us all, but every now and again a long shift is justified when you catch a glimpse of what must rank as being one of the all-time great cricket banners.17 Appeals
The final pole was taken with just a cherry to spare. But just as a snatched draw wouldn’t have erased England’s shoddy cricket from the previous day, so falling short shouldn’t negate the efforts of Moeen Ali and Jimmy Anderson. Jimmy was basically in tears when Mike Atherton tried to interview him afterwards, but he can comfort himself with the fact that most of us will remember his efforts just as fondly as if he’d seen the job out. Sometimes it’s about how you lose.
Jimmy played 55 balls in making the best duck we’ve ever seen. Moeen Ali played 281 and hit a hundred in the process. As first Test hundreds go, it was just about as good as you get.
Moeen batted proactively to lubricate a partnership with Joe Root that would otherwise have seized up, he marshalled the tail and he did it all with such profound unarsedness that you can’t imagine he’s ever been nervous about a single thing in his entire life. To take England from where they were in the morning to within two balls of a draw was immense. If you were wondering how he might respond to pressure, this provided a pretty clear answer.
It’s hugely annoying when people describe cricket in football terms, but in this instance it’s instructive (and also pertinent being as the action played out concurrently with a deathly dull World Cup match).
In football terms, the situation was this. There were going to be 60 more shots on your team’s goal, they had an outfielder between the sticks and if they conceded even once, it was 10 days’ play and 10 days’ efforts flushed down the khazi.
That puts the tension in perspective. In short, it simply could not have come about in ‘the beautiful game’. You might get 10 minutes of tension in football. In cricket, you can get an hour or more. As the minutes tick by, it becomes more and more intense until you start wondering whether it’s even safe to watch; whether there might actually be a physical risk to subjecting yourself to this.
Your hopes could be dashed by any delivery and being as number 11 will always be at the crease in these situations, the fragility of it all is even more pronounced. There are no short cuts to these sorts of finishes and that is precisely why Test cricket can never die.37 Appeals