Month: December 2007 (page 1 of 4)

Shivnarine Chanderpaul: Lord Megachief of Gold 2007

He’s got more than his fair share of elbows and knees, but that hasn’t prevented him being given the highest honour in international cricket; the award that the players most respect and yearn for. This year’s Lord Megachief of Gold is Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

England might have spent most of winter watching Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene do their thing, but every match they played against West Indies revolved around this man.

Chanderpaul started the year with 149 not out off 137 balls against India and pretty much took it from there. He averaged 76 in one-day internationals in 2007, hitting four unbeaten hundreds in 20 matches, but it was Test cricket where we spent most time watching him.

The West Indies played England this year and lost 3-0, but that was no fault of Shiv’s. His five innings in the series were 74, 50, 116 not out, 136 not out and 70. In the other Test he’s played this year, against South Africa, he hit 104 and, disappointingly, eight.

We saw that 116 not out at Old Trafford. Much of it was made on a fifth day pitch and in the company of tail-enders and it was an absolute masterpiece. A real, genuine, stand-the-test-of-time, against-the-odds masterpiece. It wasn’t first-day domination on a flat pitch, punishing the bowlers. It was an innings where the conditions, the bowling and the match situation were against him.

When the West Indies lost their last wicket, Shiv shook his head in disappointment. Never mind that he’d played a superlative innings, it was worthless to him. All he’d wanted was to succeed in what would have been a world record run-chase.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s the perfect example as to why you shouldn’t think of batsmen as solely one-day players or solely Test players until you’ve seen them in both formats.

If the first time you saw him was in a one-day international, playing the ball over the top and squirting it into ‘unusual areas’, you’d think he’d never make a Test player. You’d say his ‘technique’ was no such thing.

Conversely, if the first time you saw him was in a Test, as he batted for ten hours scoring about one run an over, you’d say he didn’t have the range of shots or the speed of scoring to warrant a place in a one-day side. Just goes to show that the best batsmen are adaptable.

It also shows that sidling around the crease like the Artful Dodger with rickets is no barrier to success.

Did Graeme Smith try to be clever?

I ddidn't want to face the first ball - that's all it wasSouth Africa are currently ranked second-best in the world. The West Indies are ranked second-worst. The Windies had also come into this Test on the back of defeat to South Africa A, so when Graeme Smith won the toss, he put his opponents in to bat. This didn’t turn out all that well.

People seem to think it looked like a ‘bowl first’ pitch, but we don’t know about that. The West Indies topped 400 after all and just how often do you bowl first? To us it was the kind of move that said South Africa were already certain that they were going to win and all they were concerned about was how they were going to do it. This is never the way to beat a team. Your attitude’s wrong for one, but there’s also the chance that you might rile your opponents into overachievement.

If it really was just a case of misreading the pitch, fine, but if the sensible move would have been to bat, Smith should have done that. Be cold and calculating about it, be clinical. Make your grand statements of intent from a position of strength.

Or just play better. You can overcome quite a lot, if you just do that.

The Chris Gayle era

Napoleon complex put to great useThe West Indies won a Test – and they were away.

The West Indian batting is still woefully fragile. Their fielding, while far-improved in this match, will surely take a good while longer to repair from what we’ve seen in the past – progress can only ever be so fast. Their seam bowling, however, really isn’t bad at all.

Long-term readers will know that we’ve rated Fidel Edwards for quite a while; Daren Powell’s been sending the ball where he intends it of late; Jerome Taylor’s quick and increasingly reliable; and Dwayne Bravo’s bowling record is totally unflattering and misleading. Oh and they’ve got a fifth seam bowler, Darren Sammy, who’s taken seven wickets in a Test innings before now. Handy back-up.

In truth, the Windies caught South Africa overconfident and, in the parlance of modern sport, undercooked – a number of the side had been granted overlong rests right up until this match. South Africa are unlikely to be so accommodating again.

Even so, the Windies don’t get away wins very often and maybe now they know what it’s like, they might make a bit more effort to do it again. Maybe the Chris Gayle era will be one characterised by professionalism, determination, effort and responsibility. Wouldn’t that be an irony tastier than the best of Christmas leftovers?

Windies’ early work keeps them on top

Futile attempt to conceal oversized chinIf there’s one cricketing nation that’s quite reliable, other than Australia, it’s South Africa – particularly at home. If there’s one cricketing nation which is quite unreliable, it’s currently the West Indies – particularly away from home.

So how did the Windies rack up 400 and then dispatch South Africa for under 200? Er, they played quite well. Sometimes it happens. They’re reverting to type a bit as we write, but they’re still in a strong position. At 146-8 they’re 350 ahead on a pitch where the scores have been progressively ensmallening, so they’re still okay.

Elsewhere India are letting everybody down, even the majority of Australian fans who are going to start going off cricket if something interesting doesn’t happen to their side soon.

There’ll probably be the odd update over the weekend, because we’re struggling to know what day it is at present. However, the big day’s Monday. We’ll be announcing the winner of our new, already highly-respected, annual award. So who will be granted the title Lord Megachief of Gold 2007? Meet us here on Monday to find out.

Brett Lee’s actually good nowadays

Please turn shit againStuart Clark got the better figures, 4-28 and got the best batsmen out, but the story’s about Brett Lee today. He took his 250th Test wicket, but there’s more than that.

This is Australia’s third Test since Warne and McGrath retired and every time Australia’s opponents have batted, Brett Lee’s taken four wickets. 4-26, 4-86, 4-82, 4-87 and now 4-46. It’s increasingly difficult to overlook the fact that suddenly, with infuriatingly immaculate timing, Brett Lee’s a great bowler.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that he’s always been a great bowler, but he actually hasn’t. Those 250 wickets have come at an average of over 30, which is by no means bad, but it’s a long walk from the 21.62 that Glenn McGrath boasts. It’s even inferior to Matthew Hoggard’s 247 wickets at 30.01. Matthew Hoggard’s an excellent and well-respected bowler, but people never think he’s got a better record than Lee.

It’s particularly puzzling that English people are terrified of Brett Lee. We’ve always been quite keen on seeing him turn his arm over in Ashes contests. He’s taken 62 wickets at 40 against England. That’s crap.

But those glory days look long-gone now. For some reason, at the age of 31, when pace should be beginning to desert him (and Lee’s a bowler who’s all about pace), when it seemed he might never push on after years in the Australia side, at the exact moment it was most needed, he’s come good. That’s what can happen if you invest in a player.

A lot of nations identify promising youngsters, but they get so carried away that they keep on doing it, creating a team of perpetual promise, but never the experience that should ensue. The trick is to identify the right player and STICK WITH THEM.

It’s Shiv and he’s scoring a hundred

A rare straight-limbed momentWe haven’t seen it, but we bet it was beautiful.

We could watch him play those lithe, supple shots all day. He doesn’t look at all like the chimney sweeps in Mary Poppins when he’s at the crease. He doesn’t rock from side-to-side like a dancing cockney when he ambles down the pitch. And he doesn’t jab his bat out in front of him like it’s an unwieldy, sooty, overlong brush.

He’s all poetry, is Shiv.

Alastair Cook papers over some cracks

Such knock-kneed constricted-armed eleganceThe quiet, southern, well-kempt, left-handed Michael Atherton for the 21st Century (actually, maybe he’s not Michael Atherton, thinking about it) brought the merest hint of pride back to shameful, shameful England with what we can’t help but describe as a rearguard hundred.

Alastair’s very much a rearguard hundred kind of a guy. How very English. Hopefully he won’t be called upon to score too many over the next decade or so, although judging from this Test, it’s a good job he’s getting the practice in.

Anyway, well done. Not the very best way to end the cricketing year, but better than last year at least.

Sri Lanka v England, third Test, fifth day at Galle
Sri Lanka 499-8 declared (Mahela Jayawardene 213 not out, Chaminda Vaas 90, Tillekeratne Dilshan 84, Steve Harmison 3-104)
England 81 (Chaminda Vaas 4-28)
England 251-6 (Alastair Cook 118, Muttiah Muralitharan 3-91)
Match drawn

Andrew Flintoff’s impact

If I can take 2-70 today we'll be right in the mix - or maybe I'll try and get a hattrick this overAndrew Flintoff’s been away quite a long time now. He hasn’t featured in full health for England for even longer. We were starting to forget what was so good about him, but we think we remember. It’s because he has an impact.

Career averages of 32 with both bat and ball aren’t earth-shattering, but Andrew Flintoff can affect a Test match. Test matches have corners when Flintoff plays, they don’t trundle down the straight and narrow.

He might not always contribute (at least not with the bat) but he can produce those exceptional performances we were on about that win Test matches. You can’t foresee the exact course of a match before it’s even started when Andrew Flintoff plays and if you really need a wicket, he’ll damn well get you one, more often than not. Except for that Lord’s Test against Sri Lanka we were on about yesterday – we’re not forgiving him for that one.

Don’t misread this as sepia-tinted Andrew Flintoff worship. It’s nothing to do with wanting him back. It’s to do with wanting the 11 current players to influence proceedings.

Maybe if everyone should stop ‘putting their hands up’ and instead use those palms and digits to set about winning a Test match.

England’s learning curve away from home versus Sri Lanka’s

We're a young side, but we really aren't learningIt’s bad when the aftermath starts on day two. We didn’t realise we’d be so much further on by day three though.

We’re struck by the contrast with Sri Lanka’s tour of England in 2006. When Sri Lanka arrived, they were, without wishing to be disparaging, ripe for the taking. They were generally quite a young side with very minimal experience of English conditions. Their openers looked particularly vulnerable as both were inexperienced thanks to the temporary retirement of Benevolent Uncle Sanath. England A annihilated them in a warm-up match.

In the first Test, England hit 551 and Sri Lanka followed-on after making just 192. ‘Ah, poor Sri Lanka’, thought England’s players and proceeded to lose all sense of urgency. England may have dropped no fewer than TEN catches in the innings, but Sri Lanka’s 537-9 to save the game was the worthiest display of determination and learning-on-your-feet we can remember. The innings is remembered for Jayawardene’s hundred, but five other players hit fifties – some supremely Tavaré-esque.

England won the second Test and kidded themselves that they were still miles better than Sri Lanka. In the third, the two sides matched each other run-for-run until England found themselves batting last against Murali and realised that actually, they weren’t better. Series drawn.

Then, in the one-dayers, these young Sri Lankans, who were so unfamiliar with English conditions, carried out the most efficient demolition job on a home side in recent memory, winning every game. In the fifth and final match, Sri Lanka chased 321 inside 38 overs – Upul ‘vulnerable opener’ Tharanga hitting his second hundred of the series.

Compare that to this England side, who won the one-day series a month ago and since then have gone precisely nowhere – at best.

Sri Lanka v England, third Test, third day at Galle
Sri Lanka 499-8 declared (Mahela Jayawardene 213 not out, Chaminda Vaas 90, Tillekeratne Dilshan 84, Steve Harmison 3-104)
England 81 (Chaminda Vaas 4-28)
England 2-0

Ricky Ponting goes through some rather spectacular motions

Summat do, innit?No, he hasn’t risked eating cream cheese in Karnataka and isn’t enduring THOSE sorts of spectacular motions (just say no, kids). He’s just going through the cricketing motions, only ‘going through the motions’ for Ricky Ponting involves scoring unbeaten hundreds. He operates at a higher level, this batsman.

Australia won two one-day internationals against New Zealand and are therefore better than them. Ricky Ponting scored an unbeaten hundred in each match and is therefore better than most other batsmen.

Was it really worth doing this? Why didn’t they just take a week off?

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