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R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja want to go home

Probably. We wouldn’t blame them one bit.

Imagine being down the pub with your mates, talking about cricket. The company’s good, the beverages are exquisite: you’re in your element. The next day, you find yourself in an overpriced city centre drink hole along with some colleagues. They’re talking about potential comings and goings during football’s winter transfer window. You stand awkwardly, sipping some sort of acrid liquid which you’d assumed was the best option available to you. You’re not in your element.

In his last international match – a Test match against South Africa in Delhi – R Ashwin bowled 49.1 overs in the second innings, taking 5-61. He took 31 wickets in the series at an average of 11.12, conceding 2.09 runs an over. For his part, Ravindra Jadeja took 23 wickets at 10.82 and conceded 1.76 runs an over.

The pair were strike bowlers, holding bowlers and they barely took a break. They did everything.

But cricket encompasses a lot. Today, in a one-day international against Australia, Ashwin took 2-68 off nine and Jadeja 0-61 off nine. They were bit-part players and, but for Ashwin’s wickets, it could even be argued that they were liabilities.

So it goes. Sometimes all you can do is sip your Amstel and try and make the best of things.

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Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif are back

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

As in ‘returned’. What else would the word ‘back’ mean in that context? It’s not like there’s an ambiguous apostrophe-S in there or anything.

Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif both played for Water and Power Development Authority against Federally Administered Tribal Areas in one of those somehat fictional sounding domestic fixtures in which Pakistan specialises. Butt made a ton.

Back when Asif, Butt and Mohammad Amir were banned, we wrote that a reformed cricketer would acknowledge wrongdoing and accept a fitting punishment that would serve the greater good of the sport. Whether you believe him or not, this is pretty much what Amir did. The other two, less so.

Butt spent most of his ban denying that he did anything, while Asif is just a dick and therefore saw no real need to apologise or seek redemption. As far as we can tell, he simply doesn’t care. He probably passed his time away from the sport shoplifting from charity shops and throwing his plunder into the river in a bid to clog it up.

Despite the protestations of some of his team-mates, Amir is now returning to the Pakistan side. The selectors said they went purely on ability in making their decision. By that rationale, it surely can’t be long before his one-time new ball partner also makes a return. Amir was good, but he was hit and miss. Asif, as unpalatable as it may be, was always better.

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Is AB de Villiers captaincy material?

AB de Villiers of South Africa batting on Day 4 of the 3rd Investec Test Match between England and South Africa at Lord's Cricket Ground in London, UK.

Photo by Sarah Ansell

We were going to do a half-arsed box-ticking update today, pointing you towards Cricket Badger and our latest Cricinfo Twitter round-up, but the latter seems in no hurry to appear, so we thought we’d better write summat.

Let’s talk about AB de Villiers, who despite being a vehement letter-C denier has gained a (c) for this series at least. Will he make a decent captain? People generally seem to think he’s the best man for the job. This is faintly surprising to us because we’ve got a vague and distant memory of de Villiers being described as something other than razor-sharp.

Perhaps it’s a false memory. Perhaps it was just a joke that took on an exaggerated form inside our head where de Villiers was so dense you actually wanted to strike him for his relentlessly frustrating lack of comprehension.

Either way, it’s a total myth that he’s great at everything.

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Why a declaration from both teams is rarely a good sign

Cricket - Investec Test Series 2015 - England v New Zealand - Lord's Cricket Ground, London, England

To have one team declaring indicates dominance. To have two teams declaring generally indicates a poor pitch. Catching the ball helps of course – unless you’re playing a Shane Watson XI and therefore have no need of such frivolities.

With nothing to bat for beyond a draw, England did at least demonstrate that wickets could fall at Newlands. It makes you wonder whether they should have put South Africa into a similar position by batting on and making 800 in their first innings. That would have gone down well with the declaration police.

They didn’t though. They settled for a mere 629 and Hashim Amla was sufficiently unimpressed that he declared two runs shy of that total, almost as if to patronise England by deliberately handing them a moral victory.

In the overall postive-taking stakes, you’d have to say that South Africa have somehow emerged ahead though. A narrow defeat in the fourth session of the Test was followed by Amla himself batting for the kind of eternity that against all logic promises additional eternities to come.

After that, Temba Bavuma made a hundred and the nation started to feel that having to squeeze in one representative from the ethnic group that comprises 80 per cent of its population wasn’t necessarily such a great hardship. They then achieved the seemingly impossible and took some wickets.

Quite why anyone would ever sniff at a cricket performance is beyond us, but South Africa’s efforts in this match are particularly undeserving of such an act. Pitches can never be so flat as to preclude stupidity and poor decision-making and both of those traits are generally more likely when you’ve just conceded a whopping great first innings total in bombastic fashion.

South Africa, however, have history when it comes to tackling epic batting challenges. They remain bloody annoying to play against.

Oh, and apparently Hashim Amla’s just stepped down as captain. Probably should have written the whole article about that with hindsight.

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Chris Gayle and the fine line between stupid and clever

chris-gayle

If you don’t already know, Chris Gayle’s unique selling point is that he likes women. That’s how he defines and sells himself. Quite how vacuous a person has to be before they decide upon a characteristic shared by 90-odd per cent of men as being somehow self-defining is beyond us.

To make it stick, Gayle goes all in. The latest example saw him attempting to chat up a female reporter during a live TV interview. He did it because HE REALLY LIKES WOMEN – NO, LIKE WAY MORE THAN YOU DO.

Unsurprisingly, she wasn’t interested.

It’s a fine line between stupid and clever

There’s a definite line between being ‘a character’ and just being sleazy and disrespectful. For example, when Gayle ignored the ramblings of old Etonian, former MCC president and ex-England manager, John Barclay, and asked him, “You get much pussy?” – that’s funny. It’s totally inappropriate, but there’s a certain power dynamic at play where above all it just seems mischievous or amusingly oblivious.

When a reporter asks you a direct question and you ignore what she’s saying to make a comment about her eyes, that’s different. That’s not mischievous. That’s undermining her and making it impossible for her to do her job. In this instance, Gayle is the megabucks sports star; one of the big names of the whole damn event. It’s a different dynamic.

A lot of people working in sport apparently don’t see the difference.

The furore

As much as this is about Chris Gayle and what he said, it’s probably more about the world that created him. Most people commenting on the issue have pointed out that he’s been swanning about behaving like a naughty 13-year-old for many years now and has not just been left unchecked, but has effectively been encouraged. Chris Rogers makes the point that Gayle’s laddish reputation has seen him put on a pedestal by the media.

We have the dubious pleasure of having to trawl through all of Gayle’s tweets once a fortnight as part of our Twitter round-up for Cricinfo. The thing that always strikes us the most is not so much how he relentlessly promotes himself as some sort of fun-loving ‘player,’ but that there’s always someone who finds him funny. He can say anything, literally anything – usually something totally straightforward about how he likes to party or how he likes women – and some retard will tweet him to tell him he’s ‘hilarious’.

We always assumed it was 12-year-old boys for whom English was a second language, but maybe it’s sportsmen and members of the media.

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They’re playing Hashim Amla’s song

hashim-amla

During Sunday’s play, the England and South Africa supporters did a duet, trading verses of their respective Moeen Ali/Hashim Amla songs which both employ the tune of No Limits by 2 Unlimited.

It was really rather entertaining – although they persisted for so long that we can still hear it in our mind’s ear well over 24 hours later. Watch it for yourself. We especially like the bit where the South Africa fans all duck down and bob rhythmically when it’s the Moeen Ali verse.

If you watch the video, you can clearly see that Hashim Amla enjoyed it. Perhaps this was the moment when he shrugged off the despondency that afflicted his batting throughout 2015.

This is not good news for England, because history tells us that once he’s up and running Hashim Amla WILL NOT GO AWAY.

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Why it’s time to drop Ben Stokes

Cricket - Investec Test Series 2015 - England v New Zealand - Lord's Cricket Ground, London, England

Ben Stokes makes things happen. Against South Africa in Cape Town on the second day, he made time distort such that England appeared to make 312 runs in just 38.5 overs.

At one point the TV commentators were reduced to debating whether the ball had landed on the railway line or in the brewery. After a while, Mike Atherton thought of something else useful to say. He pointed out that Jonny Bairstow was also batting.

Most people hadn’t noticed, even though the Yorkshireman was midway through making 150 not out off 191 balls – celebrating three figures in such a way that it left no doubt that this was the Test hundred that his late father, David, had never made.

That Bairstow became a sideplot was down to the sheer all-consuming brilliance of Ben Stokes’ innings. Carnage has rarely been so enduring. As it was a Test match, there was none of that running out of overs and giving someone else a go bollocks. He shifted into 86th gear early on and just remained there, entirely unaffected by any kind of deadline.

If he was seeing it like a football, then he was seeing it like a neon football having had special neon football tracking cyberware installed in his eyes. He hit the ball hard. He hit the ball hard a lot. The innings was basically Ben Stokes’ greatest hits.

The impact was such that at the lunch break, Nasser Hussain was actually sombre with admiration. His brain simply didn’t know what to do. It settled on sombre, which was obviously wrong, but also understandable. This was uncharted territory. Asked how the England team would be feeling, Ian Botham said they would be “literally circling the moon”. Perhaps he meant on a diagram of the solar system. This would be a strange way to celebrate one of the great partnerships, but just what was the correct response?

If momentum really were a thing, Stokes won’t be coming to a stop until some point in 2017. Conversely, he may never be due again.

They should probably drop him.

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Ben Stokes hits the ball hard

Cricket - Investec Test Series 2015 - England v New Zealand - Lord's Cricket Ground, London, England

Ben Stokes greeted the second new ball as if it were a rampaging arcade machine and he were Kung Fury. After five balls with it, he was 16 runs better off.

As ever, he had hit the ball hard. The ball knows when it’s been hit by Stokes. It will almost certainly have lost its hearing upon impact, but the rest of us will have an abiding memory of a clean percussive sound, the like of which you simply don’t hear coming from the bats of too many other players.

‘He hits the ball hard’ is an increasingly common cliché. What people generally mean when they say it is ‘he hits the ball in the air’ – but it’s not the same thing. Pretty much any batsman can clear the rope these days, but there are only a few who really sting a fielder’s palms.

We suppose it’s easier to gauge how hard something’s hit when it’s arcing through the air rather than pinging back off the boundary boards. As often as not, Stokes hits the ball along the floor. He hits it hard though. He hits it as if he was once struck by lightning and bitten by a cobra, becoming The Chosen One in the process.

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Alex Hales doesn’t have to live in a grey pigeonhole

alex-hales

Photo by Sarah Ansell

One of the worst things about Twenty20 cricket is that it’s provided a label for one particular shade of grey. We don’t know which one. Battleship grey maybe. Or gunmetal. It doesn’t matter. The point is, you label something and it becomes a ‘thing’ – something distinct, something fixed.

Alex Hales is a Twenty20 batsman, you see. People say he’ll bring a Twenty20 approach to Tests and because of this he effectively becomes some sort of experiment into which format is ‘better’. If he fails, the long format remains the true test. If he succeeds, Twenty20 marches on.

But Alex Hales isn’t Twenty20’s nominated representative. He’s just a cricketer. He plays all formats. He succeeds to differing degrees in each of them. He may take a different approach to other batsmen, but that’s true of absolutely everyone. Even Chris Martin. Especially Chris Martin.

David Warner is another who remains branded a Twenty20 cricketer, despite the fact that he recently skipped a very well-viewed Australian Twenty20 tournament in a bid to ensure he was at his best for Tests. Much like Virender Sehwag – another batsman who was often jammed into the wrong pigeonhole following the rise of Twenty20 – his record is far, far better in the longest format. You could argue that Warner is a Test cricketer who bats aggressively rather than a Twenty20 cricketer who plays Tests. But that’s missing the point. He’s just a cricketer. It’s all cricket.

At lunch on the first day of his second Test, Alex Hales was on 38 off 84 balls. He was the wrong grey for his normal pigeonhole. Instead, he was a perfectly effective birdshit grey – and rumour has it he can also mix plenty of other shades.

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Kane Williamson: Lord Megachief of Gold 2015

Our annual Lord Megachief of Gold award is the highest honour in cricket. The title is recognition of performance over the previous calendar year. Here are all the previous winners.

Last year, the Lord Megachief of Gold award was split with both Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews honoured. This year, one man is out there on his own.

Photos by Sarah Ansell

Photos by Sarah Ansell

All aboard the Kane train

Destination: who knows? But the journey will take a while and it’ll feature many, many runs.

A number of players have made 200-300 Test runs more than Kane Williamson in 2015. All of them have played at least 50 per cent more matches. He averaged 90.15 for the year.

New Zealand only get short tours – batsmen don’t get long to acclimatise – but yet in every series he played, he made a hundred. Against England, at Lord’s, he made 132. Against Australia he made 140 at Brisbane and 166 at Perth. The year was also bookended by contrasting hundreds at home against Sri Lanka.

In Wellington, back in January, he made light of a 135-run first innings deficit and made 242 not out in the second innings. He trumped Kumar Sangakkara’s 203 and New Zealand won. It would have been a passing-of-the-baton moment if cricket had a baton to signify its finest batsman – which it doesn’t. It has a mace for best Test team though. Against that backdrop it doesn’t seem all that ludicrous to introduce a Baton of Blinding Batsmanship.

More recently, Williamson made a hundred in a fourth innings run-chase. You don’t get many of those. He alone contributed what you could realistically have expected the entire team to muster in those circumstances. New Zealand won.

Cricket - England v New Zealand - Investec Test Series - First Test Day 3 - Lord's Cricket Ground, London, England - 23 May 2015

How?

In that mammoth double hundred in Wellington, Williamson made just 72 in boundaries. That’s not the way big innings are built in this day and age. When there’s a high score in New Zealand, it’s often at a small ground. There was no inflation here though. He faced 438 balls and just 18 of them went to the fence.

In contrast, when he made 140 in Brisbane, 96 runs came in boundaries. It’s almost like he was a different batsman, which in many ways sums up his brilliance.

In summary

Oh, by the way, Williamson was also the second-highest scorer in one-day internationals and during the World Cup, he demonstrated how to hit a six.

We hereby move that henceforth, whenever Williamson comes in to bat, all commentators must intone the words: “New Zealand are about to administer the Kane.”

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