Month: March 2014 (page 1 of 3)

Rangana Herath is some kind of homicidal capybara

As assassins go, Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath is sort of chubby and non-threatening looking. However, after taking five wickets for three runs in 3.3 overs, New Zealand were left feeling like they’d been gummed to death by a capybara. If that weren’t enough, there were two run-outs while he was bowling as well.

It was soft, dreamlike carnage, like choking on blancmange or being smothered by Egyptian cotton with an unusually high thread count. Full credit to the captain for bringing him on so early. Nominally, that captain was Lasith Malinga, but being as he didn’t seem to know his team at the toss and judging by the flailing arms of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara in the field, that was little more than an honorary position.

Oh for complacency to be an option

Stuart Broad cited batting complacency as the main reason for England losing to the Netherlands. Ashley Giles agreed, saying that was the only possible reason for the defeat.

“They’re not playing well enough to be complacent,” pointed out Mike Atherton.

We’re not as downbeat as you might think about this result. There’s been a lot of instant ire from England fans, but this was just getting splashed by a passing car after being run over by a 4×4 – a final indignity before the ambulance arrives.

Cricketers think momentum’s a positive thing, but England have had negative momentum all winter and so a dead Twenty20 match against an associate nation was always likely to be the perfect way to round things off. The will to win will always triumph when pitted against a fear of failure and this was a match where England had nothing to gain. They’re not a particularly good Twenty20 side at the best of times, but downbeat and struggling for motivation, they’re absolutely toss.

Winter over.

Death by seam bowling

So close to conceding five runs or fewer off that delivery

We’re not in favour of demonising individuals. But three runs, Jade. Three runs. That’s all that was in it.

Couldn’t someone have saved three runs somewhere along the way? Maybe Jos Buttler’s missed stumping proved costly. Would a specialist wicketkeeper have made the difference, or would that merely have meant a few more overs of AB de Villiers?

But it’s hard to look past England’s bowling as being the reason for defeat and specifically the death bowling. England like to go with fast-medium. We’re not sure that’s the right choice.

It’s hard to weigh the statistics being as bowling in the powerplay and at the end tends to mean going for more runs than those who bowl in the middle no matter how well you perform. At the same time, England’s most expensive bowlers in this tournament have been Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad and Jade Dernbach. In fact, over a 34-match Twenty20 international career, Dernbach has conceded on average 8.71 runs an over. That’s a big enough sample to draw conclusions, no?

Also, look at the most economical bowlers in the tournament so far: Mahmudullah, Narine, Shakib al Hasan, Ashwin, Mishra – these are all spinners. Santokie, Malinga and Steyn have been the only seamers to have much success and yet Tredwell, Moeen Ali and the medium-pace of Ravi Bopara haven’t bowled a right lot for England. It doesn’t feel like they’ve been playing the odds.

Would these bowlers have done better than the seamers at the death? They couldn’t have done much worse.

James Faulkner can even make Chris Gayle lose his cool

“I don’t particularly like them,” said James Faulkner before Australia played the West Indies. He must positively detest them now.

Here’s another Faulkner quote.

“If you can do something to upset somebody and upset their team, it goes a long way towards doing well as a group.”

He got that the wrong way round. The West Indies did well as a group to chase 179, which surely upset the Australians, and the fact that it was Faulkner bowling the final over when Darren Sammy hit successive sixes to win the match has doubtless upset him specifically.

Sammy said:

“The Australians normally have a lot to say. We are here to play cricket.”

Which isn’t to say that the West Indies are mutes. They just save their talking for after the matches. Sammy couldn’t help but remark that his team had handled the pressure better than the Aussies. Faulkner was unavailable for comment.

The Windies also save their bat-flinging and cool-losing for after the match. The willow of Dwayne Bravo may not yet have returned to terra firma, so high was it thrown, while the emotions were sufficient for even Chris Gayle to finally lose his cool.

And oh how he lost it. This video of the celebrations doesn’t even show Gayle’s immediate reaction to the winning six, when he screamed so hard he actually fell over.

Moeen Ali and “planning for the future”

The concept of ‘planning for the future’ is often used to explain the inclusion of younger players in favour of perhaps superior older players. This preference is often presented as being ‘an investment’. That, on the face of it, is a perfectly valid modus operandi. It gives the sense that there is some overarching strategy.

The problem comes when investments aren’t given chance to mature or when other decisions indicate that selectors don’t put as much store in investment as they claim to. Our issue with Moeen Ali’s selection in England’s World T20 team isn’t that we think he’s a bad player; it’s that we think a player of potential is being treated badly.

As recently as January 2014, Moeen Ali wasn’t even in England’s Twenty20 squad. Come the World Cup – which doesn’t exactly arrive unexpectedly – he is batting at number three. We know that there has been an injury to Joe Root and an infamous sacking, but in the shortest format, the top three are disproportionately important. You’d think you’d have seen the batsmen occupying those slots at some point in the last couple of years.

England will frame this as being ‘a great opportunity’ for Moeen; a ‘chance to show what he can do’. But he’s basically been set up to fail. They haven’t invested in him. They’ve stuck a quid in the slot in the vague hope that he’ll pay out. If he doesn’t, they’ll shake him and kick him and be more reluctant to ‘invest’ a second time.

Alex Hales gets England’s first T20 hundred – and a surprise win

“It’s all over baby, because this one’s headed to the moon!”

You can always rely on Danny Morrison to deliver fitting commentary on the denouement of a compelling match. A few minutes earlier, he’d used the word ‘whippage’. He was on form.

So was Alex Hales, who hit the first Twenty20 international hundred for England – partially making up for the disappointment of being dismissed for 99 against the West Indies in 2012. Eoin Morgan hit the middle overs sixes and then Ravi Bopara somehow hit boundaries off Lasith Malinga at the death to keep things manageable. Hales did the rest.

A large proportion of ‘the rest’ came in one Ajantha Mendis over, which went for 25, but there was more to the innings than that. Chasing down 190 is no mean feat.

Other than that, England were dreadful, dropping as many catches as they took and one more than the umpires thought they took – third umpire, Steve Davis, brushing the vodka bottles asides to mash the ‘not out’ button with his face in response to a Mahela Jayawardene golden duck.

England probably have to beat South Africa to qualify for the semi-finals. And the Netherlands.

Moeen Ali v Lasith Malinga

Lasith Malinga has got a rough idea what he's doing in Twenty20 cricket

In Cricinfo’s preview, it is suggested that England might target Ajantha Mendis. That is the best plan going: England batsmen targeting a weird spin bowler – England’s batsmen being famously good against weird spin bowlers. But it’s that or try and hit Lasith Malinga for six, so attacking Mendis it is.

It will take a marked change in fortunes for both teams if this is to end in an England win. The contrast is great. Sri Lanka settled on a way of playing quite some time ago and it works for them. For their part, England are trying things. ‘You never know’ seems to be their motto. Sri Lanka can afford to leave out wily old Rangana Herath who goes at less than a run a ball in domestic Twenty20 and not much more than that in the six internationals he’s played. England have Moeen Ali at three.

We’ve mentioned Ali before and we don’t want you to get the impression that we don’t rate him. He’s a good player, we expect to see more of him and we’ll be willing him to do well when he comes to the crease. We’re only being critical of the fact that England are entering a must-win World Cup game with a pivotal batsman for whom “the 36 against New Zealand revealed glimpses of his ability” according to that Cricinfo preview.

Ali’s international experience is genuinely measured in weeks. That’s not his fault, but we don’t really buy the argument that inexperienced players often play with greater freedom. That’s just rhetoric masking the fact that your planning was crap. In knock-out matches (which this basically is) you’re usually better off with players who are numb to the less important aspects of playing for your country.

A 32-ball Moeen Ali hundred will not disprove this. All that would mean is that England’s selectors and management got lucky. If they truly knew he was capable of such a thing, he should have been brought into the side months ago.

England’s World T20 campaign so far

There was lightning and then some of you made a decent fist of defining what a ‘ferret’ is. Wine was drunk, commetators were pilloried, Cricinfo scorecards were badmouthed. Business as usual. We feel we’re now right back up to speed in time for the remainder of the tournament.

We’re particularly looking forward to Wednesday’s match, which is no match at all. Who will win? Can anyone win? How will we know if someone wins and does it matter?

Then, on Thursday, England will lose to Sri Lanka. Will Lasith Malinga need to bowl four overs?

Or could England find ‘that spark’. Tim Bresnan defines this mystical thing thus:

“Stringing together everything at the same time is a problem for us. If we can find that spark and everything clicks, we can beat anyone in the world.”

So ‘that spark’ is basically batting, bowling and fielding better than whoever they happen to be playing. Becoming the best team in the world is the spark England need to get them going.

What happened in the England v New Zealand match?

We’re going to miss this match, so you’re going to have take up the slack and deliver our usual insightful, in-depth reportage in the comments section yourselves.

If you divvy the work up between a few hundred of your pets, we’re sure you can produce something approaching our usual quality. Infinite monkeys and all that. You will probably get more accurate results if the pets are angry, tired, hungry, or all three. But don’t be cruel to them in the name of art. It is unacceptable to do anything in the name of art, except for the destruction of art.

Blame our Dad for ageing if you’ve got a problem with our absence. Sometimes it seems like not a year goes by without him having some kind of birthday or other. And not a decade goes by without there being a big song and dance about it (albeit with no actual singing or dancing, because he’s a real man).

Meet you back here in a few days. We will review the comments upon our return and take your words as gospel for the remainder of the tournament.

India v Pakistan was actually quite, quite rubbish

We can officially reveal that India v Pakistan in the World T20 wasn’t quite interesting enough to prevent keen cricket fans from going out to buy eggs and then out again, a second time, to post something.

To put this in context, we would rank posting letters right up there with opening letters on the list of things we will try and postpone indefinitely. The ideal scenario for us is when we postpone the posting of something for so long that it no longer needs posting and can instead be thrown away. During India v Pakistan, we thought: “Hmm, might as well as post that.” But not only that. We then actually did it, which is another step altogether.

It was Pakistan’s fault. Quite often they never really get round to starting their innings. You think, after about 10 or 12 overs, that they might begin soon, but then they don’t. Next thing you know, they’ve made 130 and the match is basically over.

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