Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 4, 2011

The Final Over of the Week in World Cricket December 4 2011

"Hi. We've still got it, us two, haven't we? "

Ball One – One of the pleasures of researching this column is stumbling across snippets in the backwaters of cricket that only the all-seeing eye of the web can reveal. Wondering whether Theunis de Bruyn was any relation of solid pro Zander, I came across a Bradmanesque run of scores. The young Saffer’s innings over the last month for Northerns Under-19s read – 101, 32, 7, 48, 109, 169, 93, 81 and 139. A man on the move.

Ball Two – After India’s much vaunted top order failed in the Tests in England and South Africa’s 96 all out being trumped by Australia’s infamous 47 on the mad day at Newlands, New Zealand’s top order collapsed twice to Australia’s callow attack at the Gabba. Pound for pound, there’s just as much talent in the Kiwis’ top six as there is in the Australians’ (betting without Phil Hughes), but it was old hands Ponting, Clarke and Haddin who were the difference between the teams (fellow veteran Vettori also scored when team-mates failed). I remain convinced of two things: this New Zealand batting unit will fire soon and fire frequently enough to win Tests, ODIs and T20Is; and that there’s never been a time when experience has counted more in Test match batting. We may have seen a changing of the guard in Australian pace bowling (Mitchell Johnson and Dougie Bollinger are surely finished and it looks a long way back for Ben Hilfenhaus) but Ponting and Hussey may be needed for a season or two yet.

Ball Three – Cricket, like life in all its messy glory, doesn’t develop the way one might predict nor the way one might hope – hell, not even the way it was planned! When Bangladesh were awarded Test status and began to play a full part in the ODI schedule a generation of players ago, the expectation was that the undoubted talent the Tigers’ disposal would blossom, as they were exposed to international players and gained the all important experience to which I refer above. But it’s not happening is it? Hammered twice by a good (but obviously not as good as it might be) Pakistan side, the Deshies have lost another series and, more importantly, demonstrated that far from progressing, they are regressing. What to do to support cricket in a huge nation with a passionate support? I don’t know, but carrying on as we are waiting for a Ranatunga to emerge to lead a Jayasuriya, a de Silva, a Vaas and a Murali, isn’t working, so it’s time for a different approach. A season or two of five day matches against England / SA / Aus / Ind development squads might serve them well.

Ball Four – It’s always nice to see connections between the recreational game and the professional (or, in this case, semi-professional) game. A couple of brothers might share all ten wickets once or twice in a club season, but it doesn’t happen often higher up the pyramid. So well played Namibia’s Scholtz brothers – I hope your parents were in Pietermaritzburg to see it.

Ball Five – This column has been tracking Steve Finn’s New Zealand summer in which his fortunes have been, well, let’s say mixed. In Otago’s latest match at Wellington’s windy Basin Reserve, the England man will not have enjoyed his team’s 286 run defeat nor his being outbowled in Wellington’s first innings by his fellow opening bowler Neil Wagner by a mere seven wickets to none. Finn did come back to take three second innings wickets and delivered 47 overs in the match. The young man has heart and resilience and this tougher than expected spell in the backwater of New Zealand domestic cricket will have taught him a lot. I’m still backing him to take 100 more Test wickets than Steve Harmison.

Ball Six – Cricinfo lists the following tournaments in which representative cricket was played last week. Test matches | One-Day Internationals | Twenty20 Internationals | CSA Provincial Three-Day Challenge | National Cricket League | New Zealand tour of Australia | Plunket Shield | Quaid-e-Azam Trophy Division One | Quaid-e-Azam Trophy Division Two | Ranji Trophy Elite | Ranji Trophy Plate League | Sheffield Shield | Bangladesh A in West Indies unofficial ODI Series | Ford Trophy | Franchise 1-Day Cup | Premier Limited Over Tournament Tier B | Ryobi One-Day Cup | CSA Provincial T20 Challenge | Stanbic Bank 20 Series | CSA Under-19 Competition | Action Cricket Cup | Action Cricket Twenty20 | Asian Cricket Council Twenty20 Cup. In the time-poor 21st century world mired in economic crisis and with a serious playing base in only a dozen or so nations, cricket is struggling to retain its place in the world you know? Well – maybe not.

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Responses

  1. Early days, but considering the 5-fors being picked up on debut by 3 Australian bowlers recently, is Clarke the luckiest bastard ina baggy green or Ponting the unluckiest? (you just know that if Clarke was in charge in India, Smith would have hit the stumps instead of giving away 4 over throws).

  2. TT, at risk of sounding like a teacher… do you have any evidence for your views on the right way forward for Bangladesh, or for that matter, did anyone have evidence that a team will develop with international exposure?

    I’d argue that playing against, as opposed to with, good players makes little difference to performance. There is no “development pathway”; a team is as good as its cattle. South Africa and Zimbabwe both returned to test cricket at the level they’d be expected to, given their players – Sri Lanka became a good side when they got Murali, and they’ve been poor since he left. Bangladesh lack good bowlers (though they can dry up runs with spin on low flat pitches), and their top-order is weak, although a couple of players have talent. Playing a development side won’t make a difference, unless what you actually mean is: “Bangladesh don’t deserve to play top quality opposition”. In which case, don’t be mealy-mouthed about it. As I’ve argued before, teams need a structure that allows them to test themselves against sides above them occasionally, but mostly play sides on their level – development sides are not only demeaning but likely to kill any interest they might have in test cricket.

    That said, I detect an unfair bias against Bangladesh when they fail. They are not regressing, I track this pretty closely and they are significantly better now than they were in their post-introduction nadir. By contrast you praise New Zealand’s talented but wasteful batting, when all the evidence indicates that they are steadily regressing. In fact, by my ratings they are now closer in ability to Bangladesh than to Sri Lanka, ranked 6th, and more likely to lose to Scotland than to beat England. New Zealand are a better side than Bangladesh, but not much better, yet noone seems to be suggesting that after almost 20 years without a victory against Australia they ought to be limited to playing Australia A.

    • Russ, I’ve a question. While every sitiation is different could New Zealand, and Australia’s refusal to play them in the early days be used as a case study? Or is it a case of there will always be 3 or 4 strongish teams and all the rest should just play each other until such time as a Hadlee or Crowe or Murili comes along and they can compete a bit with the big boys?

      • Jim, because circumstances are unique, any case study has to be compared against a historical fiction, but they are worth studying. New Zealand are a good example of what TT suggested: games against “lesser” nations and Australia’s A side. Australia didn’t completely ignore them, touring in 49/50, 56/57, 59/60, 66/67 and 69/70, sometimes with strong sides (56/57 is practically the test side, 66/67 and 69/70 were at the same time as South African tours – and of course one of the major reasons for inviting NZ to the table was the hole they left in the fixture list). NZ won one game, Australia two, the other 12 were draws as they were 3 or 4 day games. But NZ didn’t improve over that period. Not until Turner, then later Hadlee and others played county cricket did they have their first period of relative success but it isn’t clear whether that is because they became professionals who could devote themselves to cricket, or whether they were just better players.

        I think if we look at football, a well developed sport, it is the case that there are sides that are always strong (or rarely weak), because of their base of population, strong economies, and developed systems. The 8 World Cup winners, Netherlands and Portugal), dominate the sport. Similarly in cricket, you are right that that there will be 3 or 4 generally strong teams, and that the question is how to manage the more occasionally strong teams.

        To me it is obvious that there needs to be a balance between having competitive games between teams of equal skills, and offering regular opportunities to test those skills against better sides. It is a given too that, if cricket wants to expand, not all sides can play each other, and some system needs to be in place to allocate games. The current solution to not expand and not be meritocratic isn’t working, but for some reason the blame tends to fall on Bangladesh for being inadequate, rather than the unrealistic expectations of the system. A meritocracy would resemble what you describe: a handful of good sides near the top, and others move in and out depending on personnel, but mostly playing amongst themselves. Most people prefer tiers to achieve this; I think they are too rigid and overly exclusive, when a stage competition would achieve the same goal and add that element of romance that leagues don’t have. And of course there are a large pile of financial issues that matter a lot at stake.

        • Russ – thanks as always for the considered comments.

          I have no evidence that the way forward I suggest for consideration is the right one. Had I such, I would have given it and been less equivocating in my thoughts.

          I do know that it’s hard to improve as a batsman while you’re sitting in the pavilion out for a score below 25 or so – that’s happening to too many Bangladesh batsmen too often under current arrangements. I also know that it’s hard to develop consistency as a bowler when you’re defending less than 200 in an ODI or the opposition are looking to go at 8 an over.

          If batsman had the chance “cash-in” with big scores more often, they would become better batsmen in the all important period going from 0 to 20. Bowlers with big scores to work with need not fear the one bad over and relax more into their work.

          Too many Bangla batsmen spend too little time at the crease and too many Bangla bowlers bowl in hope rather than in expectation. That’s not going to change if they lose so many matches by such big margins.

          • TT, apologies for the slow response, I spent the end of last week writing on ICC governance, then went away for the weekend.

            I do and don’t disagree with this. There are two types of players struggling at the top level:

            Those with talent who aren’t used to the gap. Duncan Fletcher once wrote that the biggest difficulty for Zimbabwe early on was adjusting to 140km/h+ bowlers instead of 120-130. But playing is a poor substitute for practice when you might only face an over before they work you over, and Bangladesh’s talent won’t improve until they get to bowl against batsmen who don’t gift their wickets, and bat against bowlers who can test them.

            The second type are those without the talent to succeed. Dropping those players down a level will improve their performance, but they will struggle again when they step up.

            You’ll get no argument from me that Bangladesh ought to play more games against the level below (the associate nations, particularly), but because it is better for cricket to have competitive games, not because I believe it will help them improve much (although learning how to play from winning positions is a skill they sorely need). But as I said to Jim, if they play in a system that forces them to always play teams above them, then that is a problem with the system, not Bangladesh.

            • “But as I said to Jim, if they play in a system that forces them to always play teams above them, then that is a problem with the system, not Bangladesh.”

              I could not agree more Russ.

  3. Fighting batsman. Bit in a revival phase. I am sure one good innings against India and he will be on a roll again. But at the same time I Feel this time India has the best chance to win a test series in Australia. If not now.. maybe never!


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