West Indian Madness, IPL Blues and ICC In Seeing Sense Shocker

20 04 2011

An Empire No More

We came across a wonderful documentary the other day called ‘Empire of Cricket: West Indies’. As a history of the West Indian game and a commentary on how the game developed, grew, came to an intimidatingly excellent level in the 1980’s before sliding into it’s present mire, we haven’t seen anything else that does it better.

Interlaced with fantastic old footage of the greats including Learie Constantine, George Headley, Sobers and of course the more modern pantheon of Sir Viv, Lloyd and their fast bowling machines it is well worth a watch. As with many pills and medicines, this reminder of glory days past had a distinctly disappointing side effect though as, inevitably, the final 10 minutes of the documentary focused on the regions current cricketing woes. A state of affairs that as cricket fans depresses us deeply.

The West Indies have been in the news this last week or so once more for two reasons. Firstly the blogging world’s version of Wikileaks, WICBExpose, has come to prominence (thanks to Jrod of Cricketwithballs for highlighting it to the wider community) and then, secondly, the WICB announced their squad for the upcoming ODI and one off 20/20 international series against Pakistan leaving out Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shiv Chanderpaul.

Apparently the board are keen to promote youth and build a team for the next world cup in 2015. A glance at the team they have selected though would probably have caused Learie Constantine to blanch had the great man been around to see it though. With the honourable exception of the Bravo brothers, the rest of them are probably journeyman at best and it is difficult to see them presenting much of a challenge to even the most fractured Pakistani team.

By removing these three experienced players the West Indies board have deprived the team of what little experience and possibly class they have (a look a the batting statistics across all three forms over the last two years backs this up). A team that is looking to recover from the doldrums of the last 10 years can ill afford to rid itself of this sort of ability (even if as the rumblings say the players in question are not perhaps as motivated as they should be) and, to us at least, this is more evidence of mismanagement of cricket in the Caribbean.


IPL Blues

It can hardly be a good thing when only two weeks into a seven week tournament we are already suffering fatigue at the incessant nature of the event. Readers who have been with us for a while will know that the IPL is not our favourite cricketing event around to start with, yet this year the never ending branding, commercials and sheer razzmatazz is effecting us earlier than usual.

Part of the blame for this it has to be said can be put down to Danny Morrison particularly, although some of his co commentators are blameless either. It is a strongly held view of ours that Morrison should never be allowed near a microphone ever again. Not only is his over hyped and over excited brand of commentary irritating, it is actually managing to detract from the cricket. We understand that the IPL organisers want people to engage with the cricket – and the commentary is a crucial part of that – yet the opposite is actually happening in our case.


Good News For Associates?

A Cricinfo piece today tells us that the ICC may well be rethinking their decision exclude the associate nation teams from the next cricket world cup in 2015. The ICC are apparently going to reassess in response to strong and widespread criticism of the decision to make it a ten team event. To tell the truth even we at the Compulsive Hooker were surprised by the level of dismay at the ICC’s decision and are pleased that it may yet be rectified.

Ireland will of course be happy but, if as Sharad Pawar suggests, it might be a 12 team tournament instead, our outside bet for the final slot would be Afghanistan…


A Day For Test Cricket Lovers and Chris Gayle

16 11 2010

Yesterday was one of those brilliant days that test cricket lovers enjoy so much. With three separate games going on – one in Sri Lanka, one in India and one in Dubai – it was a joy to switch between the three. Sometimes watching McCullum score what could yet be a match winning century against India; sometimes watching Amla and Kallis setting South Africa up for what will surely be a final day win; and on other occasions watching the coolest cricketer in the world, Chris Gayle, scoring a remarkable 219 not out.

Slightly inevitably, given the fact that Gayle was batting and taking into our account soft spot for the West Indians anyway, we spent most of the time marveling at the power shown by the big Jamaican. In an innings described as ‘mature’ by both the commentators and Cricinfo’s ball by ball coverage several times, he still managed to score at more or less a run a ball and, remarkably, has so far hit eight sixes.

There was a time when a test match innings containing even two or three sixes was worthy of special mention, yet, in this mornings press there wasn’t even much mention of it. It seems that in this modern day and age Gayle was simply doing what is expected – or certainly at any rate, what is expected of him!

What was also notable was the precise yet still infinitely casual manner of his batting. When he hit a six it wasn’t the bludgeoning carve so often seen from him in the shorter forms, but a studied cricket shot that somehow, despite the apparent lack of effort, still went an extraordinary long way.

Having been relieved of the captaincy for this tour we had wondered how he would respond, and, if this is the way he intends to play, the rest of the world better look out. Gayle has long been someone who probably hasn’t done justice to his enormous talent – something that will be an enormous boon to the West Indies should he now push on.

A quick mention for Darren Bravo too. Dwayne’s younger brother, Darren looked calm and collected on his test debut scoring a fine 58 at number 3. Watching him cover drive for four one was strongly reminded of Brian Lara – an unwanted comparison for any young cricketer – yet from a style perspective at least it was uncanny. If Bravo can score even half the number of runs Bravo did – the West Indies will be happy.

In India Brendon McCullum showed further evidence that perhaps finally he is turning into a top class test match player. With the Indian’s achieving a 127 run lead in the first innings it was crucial to New Zealand that someone stood up to ensure that, at the very least, they did not lose the match.

With the final day having got under way at Hyderabad, McCullum is currently 168 not out and the Black Caps lead stands at just over 200 runs. It is unlikely that there will be enough time to go for the win or that they would have enough fire power to get through the superstar Indian line up – yet this match marks another success story for the Kiwis. With their chances written off in all quarters after their heavy defeat to the Bangladeshi’s last month, this tour (providing they don’t lose today) has already been a victory of sorts. With a draw here you never know what might happen in the third and final test…

Finally in Dubai for Pakistan’s ‘home’ test series against the South Africans, the class of the visitors appears to have told. With the pitch in the new Dubai cricket stadium holding up – a triumph for the Dubai authorities – Amla and Kallis both scored hundreds whilst setting Pakistan 451 to win. Pakistan have started reasonably well but with two men out for 109 and the Pakistani psyche hardly set up to play for draws, we suspect that Steyn and co will roll them today.

Please click on the country names for links to the live scoreboards of the Pakistan match, the West Indies match and the Kiwi game – should you be interested.


Pace Rising & West Indian Trials

14 06 2010

Steyn & Morkel

Most commentators looking at the world of test cricket will agree that one of the factors contributing to the increase in batting averages and aggregate runs over the past decade is the current dearth of fast bowling talent around the world. Any signs that the fast bowling talent wheel is turning once more the other way is welcomed. Yet you have to feel sorry for the side that are welcoming this swing of the pendulum; especially when this side is the West Indies.

To be entirely fair this is a little glib, the world, after all, has been aware of Dale Steyn for two or three years now and he has hardly suddenly been a revelation in this game. With over 200 wickets in 39 test matches at an average of 23 per wicket he has already been hailed as the worlds premier fast bowler. What he does have now though is a partner who, over the past 6-12 months, has come through and looks just as dangerous in his own right. Morne Morkel has made the jump from gangly bowler of liquorice allsorts, as liable to go for runs as to take 3 wickets, to fully fledged world class pace man.

Watching these two run in at the West Indies batting line up, which is shaky at the best of times, was not an enjoyable thing. Yes it was proper test cricket, particularly when Chris Gayle was batting in the second innings and therefore enjoyable, yet several of the Caribbean’s finest appeared to be walking wickets. It was almost a relief when Travis Dowlin and Brendan Nash were dismissed as they looked to be having such a torrid time they seemed to be in shock.

The three players who have the proven ability at the top level, Gayle, Chanderpaul and Bravo all hung around for a bit (Gayle with typical bravado) at some point of the match but it was never going to be enough. Chanderpaul, truth be told since his extraordinary run of scores back in 2008, has struggled of late and has seen his average drop below 50. Perhaps in another situation or during a happier time of West Indies cricket, Chanderpaul may have retired by now to be recognised as an exceptional servant to cricket in the region. In the current team, and with Sarwan out for the time being, they need him; even when he is so clearly not in form.

Listening to Ian Bishop and Tony Cozier commentate during the game you realise just how endangered West Indian cricket is at the moment. They indulged in a long discussion about what it means to be West Indian and a cricketer in the modern Caribbean world and the upshot was that it doesn’t mean nearly as much as it used to. With this identity disappearing, aided no doubt by the poor performance of the West Indies over the past 15 years, it is more crucial than ever that they start winning again. Everyone loves a winning team but, with no role models to inspire up and coming cricketers plus the dangers of the path Kieron Pollard for one is following, it becomes more unlikely as time goes on for the quality of player needed to be developed.

A Proper 20/20 Tournament: World Cup 2010

28 04 2010

With only two days before the World 20/20 cup gets under way, the Compulsive Hooker thought we would take a look at what we think might happen. It is unlikely that any predictions we make will come off as our track record in this sort of thing is usually appalling.

Contrary to what regular readers might think (and to tell the truth it has surprised us too), we are actually quite excited by this tournament. For us this competition is likely to be what every 20/20 tournament, and indeed any cricket tournament, should be with the focus going entirely on the cricket itself. The IPL of course from a cricketing point of view had its moments, yet it is irrevocably sullied in our eyes by the never ending circus and incredible levels of marketing surrounding it, not to mention the alleged misbehaviour behind the scenes.

With match fixing, or more recently spot fixing, firmly back in the limelight it is crucial for crickets image that this tournament passes by without this particular shadow being cast over it. 20/20 cricket is a game which in many ways lends itself to match fixing, as in the shorter form of the game a wicket or a bad over has a larger significance than in other forms. With less money flying around in the Caribbean, and therefore less temptation to indulge in these nefarious practises, hopefully we can have a controversy free tournament.

And so on to the cricket.

Group D

England: Touted as undercooked by their coach and several pundits in the media, we have a sneaky suspicion that now they have got rid of Mr. Trott at the top of the order, England may surprise a few people. Collingwood and Morgan are key in our opinion, with the Durham man probably one of the single most important players to his team in the whole tournament. With West Indian pitches a far cry from the pacey tracks of old, Swann certainly and perhaps Tredwell could also be important in taking the pace off the ball.
Prediction: Semi’s

Ireland: Having lost their best players in Joyce and Morgan to England, this could be a tough tournament for the Irish. Talking a good game behind the scenes, yet recent results haven’t gone their way and they look limited, particularly in the batting. If the O’Brien brothers don’t fire there is not a great deal else with the greatest of respect to skipper Porterfield who is perhaps more of a 4 day player.
Prediction: Fail to qualify from group stages.

West Indies: Who knows quite honestly! If Gayle and Pollard fire then anything is possible and with the benefit of home support, perhaps this could be there year. On the other hand they are just as likely to lose to Ireland and fail to qualify at all. There is a backbone of quality there with Chanderpaul and Sarwan also being destructive players in this format, yet we worry about them! New coach Ottis Gibson needs a good tournament after their travails against Zimbabwe recently. After Afghanistan, we will be supporting the West Indies as it would be a wonderful boost for cricket in this region.
Prediction: Knocked out at Super 8’s stage.

Group C

Afghanistan: We have detailed their rise on this site before and it is truly one of the most inspiring stories to come out of that war torn country. (Click here and particularly here for more on this). With undoubted talent in their ranks and confidence overflowing it is not a totally far fetched proposition that they could beat one of India or South Africa. Officially the Compulsive Hooker’s favourite team in the tournament, we will be covering their every move.
Prediction: We would like to say Super 8’s but out head tells us that India and the Proteas will be too strong. Lets hope not.

India: As at the last tournament, they go in as odds on favourites and have bags and bags of talent. With Sachin at the top of the order and class acts such as Raina, Gambhir, and Yuvraj Singh it is truly a batting line up to give opposing bowlers nightmares. The bowling however is relatively weak and will be relying on the batting to win them games. Under the huge pressure of expectation as always, we feel that this could be their year.
Prediction: Finalists

South Africa: Crickets perennial chokers have as good a chance as anyone in this years tournament. With quality throughout their ranks and in all departments (providing they get rid of JP Duminy), they should provide India  with genuine competition for top place in the group stages. Look out for Kallis to continue his IPL run scoring antics and prove to everyone that he is not the one dimensional player of legend. Loots Bosman could also be key on as a big hitting opener.
Prediction: Semis

Group B

New Zealand: Solid performers in 20/20 cricket, they are the only people to have beaten Australia this Summer down under in any form of the game. If McCullum and Taylor come off more than once, Oram and Bond stays fit and Vettori continues to weave his magic spells, then they have a real chance. Strength in depth is not their forte, they could suffer if one of these five get injured. Unlike some other sides, the Kiwis will be looking to win matches with their bowling for which Shane Bond in particular is crucial. Probably one of the best fast bowlers of the past 15 years, it is a crying shame he has not played more. As cricket fans it is important to enjoy watching him while he’s fit.
Prediction: Could easily win it, but we are going to go for the Kiwis to be knocked out at the Super 8 stage.

Sri Lanka: Another dark horse with high levels of innate quality that could see them all the way. Sangakarra, Jayawardene and the evergreen Jayasuriya they have plenty of runs in them. Look out for Dilshan and his famous ‘scoop’ shot, though, as in the past year he has lost little in comparison to Sehwag, which is saying something. Murali will keep it tight although it is more than likely that, like India, they will be relying on their batsman to win them games.
Prediction: Winners. Big call but we have to pick someone!

Zimbabwe: Fresh off a brilliant win against Australia last night in the warm up games, and having taken a couple of wins of the West Indies recently, they should not be underestimated. Tiny Tatenda Taibu, Hamilton Masakadza and newly signed county overseas player Elton Chigumbura will be the most valuable players in this side. Andy Blignaut has recently come back into the side after a self imposed exile and will be keen to make up for lost time too.
Prediction: Sadly they having picked the other two sides from this group to go through we must say they will exit at the group stage. Don’t be surprised if they manage to pull something off though.

Group A

Australia: Australia are coming off an exceptional home Summer, only having lost to the Kiwis in any form of cricket. A very effective unit with big hitting capabilities in the shape of David Warner, Shane Watson amongst others, they will be very hard to beat. The bowling is strong with Doug Bollinger in particular looking like he will be a real handful. Johnson too will be a threat, although he is the type of bowler that could end with figures of 3-42 from four overs as easily as not. Look out for Dirk Nannes and (even though we hate to say it) Nathan Bracken too.
Prediction: We hope first round exit, but we think it will be Super 8 stages. Equally it would be typically Australian to go and win the whole thing, yet we have picked the Sri Lankans for that so Super 8’s it is!

Bangladesh: A side that despite having a number of talented players, never quite seem to perform all at the same time. We suspect this could be a tough tournament for Bangladesh unless Tamim Iqbal fires regularly. Shakib will provide control on the bowling side of things, yet in a tough group we feel it will be too much.
Prediction: Group stage exit.

Pakistan: Last years champions and as dangerous a team as you could find on their day, we however feel they will struggle in this years tournament. In fighting has been rife and with several important players banned/retired in a fit of pique, this could be a tricky tournament. ‘Boom Boom’ Afridi captains and remains key to their progress, providing of course he doesn’t get hungry again….
Prediction: Super 8’s. Inconsistency to let them down.

County Cricket, IPL and the MCC

14 04 2010

It may have been noticed that the Compulsive Hooker’s offerings have been rare over the past week and a half. From today, however, we are back to normal and have much to talk about. Some of it is news a few days old, but due to other commitments we were unable to publish anything about it at the time, so forgive us if you feel the opinion we offer isn’t as topical as it might be!

County Cricket

Beginning with cricket and the first round of the County Championship matches, the stand out performer bearing an English passport was undoubtedly Steve Finn who took an incredible 14 for 106 in the match. This included an amazing 9-37 in the second innings as Worcestershire folded for a mere 119. Unbelievably, Middlesex and Finn went on to lose the match by the sizeable margin of 111 runs as the Middlesex batsman folded in the 4th innings chasing 281. Rarely can a bowler have done more for a side, only to see them lose.

On the positive side for Finn, Andrew Strauss, who missed the Bangladesh leg of the Winter tours, will have been highly impressed and it can only have done his prospects of a longer run in the test side good. Finn probably only rated as a ‘solid’ performer in Bangladesh, with Cook on occasions seeming reluctant to throw him the ball, yet if he can maintain this sort of form, who knows where he might find himself at the end of the Summer. Maybe even on a plane to Australia!

For Worcestershire this represents a magnificent start to a season in which they were deemed one of the favourites for the wooden spoon in Division II. Looking at their team, excluding it must be said the Australian Phil Jacques, the names are a roll call of journeyman (and worse) cricketers. Vikram Solanki is probably their best known player having played a handful of one day games for England, and with this in mind they must be secretly relieved to have got off to such a good start.

With changes seemingly inevitable in the format of the County Championship, it is imperative that sides like Worcestershire, Derbyshire and Glamorgan remain competitive in all formats. If they don’t it will simply provide more ammunition for the advocates of the conference scheme amongst other things. For a superbly argued piece on why these changes should be either avoided due to the high number of false premises these changes are being based upon, read George Dobell’s piece ‘Heading into the abyss’.


IPL Continues Inexorably On

It seems to us that the IPL has been going on for at least 3 months already. Having checked on Cricinfo, it seems scarcely believable that in fact it has only been on for the relatively short matter of 1 month and 2 days. The Compulsive Hooker must confess that we were hardly enamoured by it at the beginning, yet surely the masses of Indian (and other nationalities following it closely) must have got bored by now.

20/20 cricket is a game by definition that is over in a flurry of big hits almost before you’ve realised it’s begun. In many ways this is perfect for the modern high speed, always in a hurry world, Yet the complexities of the game have been lost and certainly its ability to surprise. We read a statistic somewhere recently, that in this years competition, a six has been hit every 24 balls. A quick look at the ‘Most Sixes’ table reveals that most batsman have been scoring at least one six per innings, with Yusuf Pathan, Chris Gayle and Uthappa all scoring 2 per visit to the crease. Even Jacques Kallis, usually more of a Boycott type player, has scored a four or a six every 5 balls. (In actual fact his enormous success in this format is a real shot in the arm to those who suggested that his game was limited, proving that the great players are always adaptable).

Cricket, as mentioned above, is a game in which the element of surprise is key. 20/20 cricket has lost this with so many balls disappearing for four or six, wickets going down due to ridiculous shots rather than an inspired bit of bowling and the  consequently the sheer predictability of it. As calls are made once more for an ‘English Premier League’ based on franchises around various cities in the UK, we really hope that the powers that be resist this particular sirens call. In the recent few weeks, authorities such as Adam Gilchrist and India’s Sports Minister M.S. Gill have said that any more 20/20 cricket would be harmful towards itself as well as test cricket. In Mr. Gill’s case he also criticised the B.C.C.I. for their apparent conflict of interest regarding their financial backing of the IPL. With the more powerful English counties uniting with the ECB to try and push this idea through, potentially at the expense of the lesser counties, the danger has never been more apparent to the English game.


M.C.C. to Sponsor Australia vs Pakistan Series

Good news emerged from Lords yesterday, with the MCC agreeing to sponsor the Australia versus Pakistan series to be played in England over the Summer months. With the PCB unable to hold home test series due to the unstable nature of their country’s politics, it is good to see the traditional guardians of the game step up with the necessary financial backing. This will be the first time that the MCC have ever sponsored a series and it should provide an enormous fillip to Pakistani cricket. Pakistan have long been a country who produce exceptionally talented, if a little mercurial, cricketers and a strong Pakistan is essential for test cricket in particular. Whilst recent results have gone against them at the hands of a dominant Australian team, they possess enough young talent, that given exposure to top level cricket will mean their demotion from the top table of world cricket is not a long one.

From Australia’s point of view this gives their players an ideal opportunity to experience English conditions and measure themselves directly against the English team who are also playing Pakistan at home this Summer. As English supporters, the Compulsive Hooker hopes that they struggle and Pakistan post and unlikely win over the men from down under.

Kiwi Guts and West Indian Failings

9 03 2010

New Zealand have, this morning, slipped behind in their one day series against Australia, going down by 6 wickets. After a blip in the first game, the Aussies are back on track and in this game rode a steam roller over the Kiwi bowling attack.

This notwithstanding, the Kiwi cricket team are a marvel of world cricket and long have been. From a relatively small playing populations, they consistently find players who can mix it with the best teams and frequently trouble their neighbours across the Tasman sea. They are the kings of bits and pieces cricketers, with the honourable exceptions of Dan Vettori, Brendan McCullum, Ross Taylor and potentially Martin Guptill who are very good players. Yet all of these bits and pieces players chip in at some point when they have to.

Indeed it is our view , that, as the West Indies prepare to meet Zimbabwe in the deciding game of their current series tomorrow, the Windies would do well to take a leaf out of the Kiwi book. In terms of raw talent the men from the Caribbean probably outshine the Kiwi’s, yet they seem locked in a cycle of defeat and often simply don’t appear to have the stomach for the fight. 

In their current series they have already managed to lose a 20/20 and ODI to the Zimbabweans, which when you have players like Gayle and Chanderpaul is criminal. Chanderpaul, it must be noted, we except from these criticisms as he has proven time and again to be one of the best players of his generation. Gayle et al on the other hand underperform so frequently that you have to wonder what is wrong. The eternal politics and machinations of the WICB don’t help matters and the lure of the 20/20 dollar is probably affecting their performance, yet it seems there is something else missing.

Perhaps it is pride. Pride in the badge and honour of playing for a united West Indian team, which once so evident in players like Viv Richards, Richie Richardson, Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall doesn’t appear to be there anymore. Cricket is of course their job and their livelihood and as such would be a drag on certain occasions, yet playing for your country should be more than that. Perhaps it is a possible burn out factor caused by the proliferation of test, one day and 20/20 cricket in the last 20 years but whatever it is, it needs to be addressed and quickly.

Chris Gayle has come in for much criticism over the past couple of years with his actions surrounding the IPL, seemingly lackadaisical attitude  and his stated preference for the shorter form of the game. Ottis Gibson, the Windies new head coach, must work with him to ensure that he is fully on board and motivated. Without a strong figurehead any team will suffer, and to have the most important job in West Indian cricket in the hands of someone who doesn’t appear to be totally committed is a mistake. As a captain he is tactically sound and we know he is capable (consider his recent crucial hundred against Australia before Christmas) of performing when the chips are down. He must simply do it more often. 

We read somewhere (please correct us if our memory fails to serve) that in their last 64 games, the West Indies have only won 7 games. Bangladesh have won something like 5 in the same period, as have Zimbabwe. This is as damning a statistic as there is available and if the situation does not improve, cricket will suffer dreadfully over the next 20 years in the region. Nobody likes losing again and again, and so to inspire new youngsters and even to keep such potentially brilliant individuals as Dwayne Bravo from becoming a Flintoff style free lancer, they need to rectify this record.

The cricket world needs a strong West Indian team, as with Pakistani cricket also appearing to be collapsing inwardly and struggling with factors outside of their control, there appear to be only 6 strong nations playing the game today. The Windies and their fans provide a vitality and spark, without which cricket would be much worse off.

Ponting Kettle Black

23 12 2009

Ponting arguing with an umpire. Again.

I have just finished reading an article about Ricky Ponting in which he talks about the recent series with the West Indies and in particular the discipline of his players. Apparently he has demanded a greater level of discipline from his players after there being one or two flare ups during the aforementioned series notably with Sulieman Benn, Haddin and Johnson.

Now undoubtedly he has a point that there is no need to be pushing and shoving each other in between balls. However it does strike me that in these types of attitudes the Australians take their lead from one man only, Ponting himself. I have lost track of the times in which he has lost his temper, put so much pressure on umpires it is verging on dissent (including charging to within feet of them), acted like a petulant schoolgirl (see Ashes 2005 Pratt run out) and generally not handled himself in a way befitting of being in the most important job in Australia.

During the last ashes series Ponting was quoted a couple of times saying something along the lines of ‘only one team is playing this in the right spirit etc etc’. Conveniently forgetting that every time he questions an umpires decision, claims a wicket when he knows someone is not out, doesn’t walk and many other incidents such as these – he too is guilty of not playing within ‘the spirit of cricket’.

In short every cricketer indulges in a bit of underhand play and Ponting needs to simply stop going on about it and clean up his own behaviour. Perhaps then his team wouldn’t get involved in incidents like the Benn-Haddin-Johnson menage-a-trois.

Whilst on that last game, I thought Watson’s celebration when he dismissed Gayle was perhaps the most ridiculous and over the top I have ever seen. It also looks like an afterthought as there is a definite pause between the fall of the wicket and Watson deciding to roar.

My love for Aussie cricket has never been high and sadly it is now reaching new lows. With the respect levels gone too since Warne and the rest retired they don’t seem to have much going for them!

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