99.94 welcomes new readers with a short note about its regular weekend column. The Final Over of the Week is not a summary, it is not comprehensive, it is not an account of the six most important events in cricket this week. It is an over – with a few deliveries that hit the seam and move away, a yorker or two and, no doubt, a half volley and a long hop from time to time. Just like an over, it is the product of its bowler (author) who knows his field (readership) and strives, not always successfully, to bowl to it. Like an over, it starts afresh whether its previous edition was a double wicket maiden or was ChrisGayled for 28.
Ball One – One way to win an ODI is to find a man to score a century at about a run a ball while his partners bat around him. But find two men to score a century and surely that’s the match won. Except, of course, even in cricket’s most formulaic format, there are always more ways to lose a match than to win one. New Zealand skipper Ross Taylor delivered the anchoring ton, while next New Zealand skipper, Kane Williamson, smashed the accelerating century in Bulawayo’s dead rubber. It wasn’t enough for the Kiwis, as Malcolm Waller’s cool head saw Zim over the line, courtesy of three dropped catches from, yes, Ross Taylor. No total is big enough if good batsmen are gifted second, third and fourth chances.
Ball Two – England’s women backed up their 0-3 whitewash of South Africa in the ODI series by cruising to a three wicket win in the first of three T20Is. Few teams in world cricket are as disciplined in the field as England’s women and that attention to detail was on show again as just three extras (all wides) were conceded in the South Africans’ innings. With just 40 extras conceded in the ODIs, this stat is a testament to the side’s professionalism and a vindication of the ECB’s approach to managing the squad.
Ball Three – It can’t have been much fun watching Simon Katich bat out a draw for New South Wales against Victoria, but the spiky Western Australian is providing plenty of fireworks off the field these days having re-ignited his feud with Michael Clarke (who appears to have more enemies than a polite young man should). As is the way with sport nowadays, the full pomp and circumstance of a hearing with determine Kat’s fate – wouldn’t it be nice to hear someone say that these things happen and we’re getting on with the game – and it’ll need quite a rapprochement for Kat to get back in an Australian XI. That’s a shame, because, even with Clarke’s team showing encouraging signs, the contention that Australia can field eleven players with more to offer than Katich is unsustainable – now he’s bowling a bit, he’d probably get in for that skill alone!
Ball Four – Sport is the great unscripted drama and needs its unpredictability to stay within the bounds of that cliche, but, as with so many good things, too much unpredictability can harm the spectacle. In the Ryobi Cup match that followed up on Ball Three’s Sheffield Shield draw, it was no surprise to see a class act (on the field anyway) like Brad Hodge make 144, helping the Vics to post a daunting target of 318 in 49 overs. Did I say daunting? Once Daniel Smith got to work, the target looked as soft as a two minute boiled egg, as he helped himself to 185* (124 in boundaries) to secure the win with 50 balls in hand. If Smith were a youngster announcing himself on the national stage or an old hand turning back the clock, there would be much cause to rejoice: but he is a journeyman pro whose previous 87 state matches yielded just 8 half-centuries for a keeper-batsman who has never been near selection for his country. Good on him – it was his day and he cashed in – but one day cricket matches are being won too frequently by players simply teeing off, getting their eye in, and winning a match almost single-handedly. There’s a randomness about such innings, the unpredictability of which detracts from the game rather than adorns it.
Ball Five – The kings of cricketing unpredictability are, it goes without saying, Pakistan, whose conveyor belt of mercurial talent shows no sign of grinding to a halt even if some players are in court, at home or, well, who knows where. After the bat-dominated draw in Abu Dhabi, the Second Test vs Sri Lanka was played on Dubai’s more balanced wicket and Pakistan’s balanced attack (a right and a left quick, a right and a left spinner backed up by Mohammad Hafeez’s under-rated slow stuff) proved too much for the Lankans. Pakistan’s second string (or is it third string) bowling unit never allowed a partnership to build beyond 75 and, if you keep taking wickets, you will win cricket matches.
Ball Six – Speaking of absent friends, while West Indies are locked in a fierce struggle in the second and decisive Test in Dhaka, Chris Gayle is raising the domestic one-day trophy after his Jamaica side cruised to a win over Trinidad and Tobago. He may be er… difficult, but the game needs the big-hitting opener back on its biggest stages – and surely he must want to be there too.
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