Afridi Retires From Test Cricket

17 07 2010

Shahid Afridi has announced his retirement from test cricket only two games after his much heralded return to the format. In a very honest and forthright press conference he acknowledged his failings, saying that temperamentally at least, he is not able to play test cricket.

Whist we admire his honesty we do find it a slightly astonishing statement. By their very nature, professional sportsman are usually driven to excel in their chosen sports and strive to be the best that they can be. Afridi is obviously talented and possesses the required skill set to succeed (and indeed his record is actually pretty reasonable), yet, where his major failings clearly lie is in his mental framework. Seemingly, he does not possess the will power to temper his normal attacking urges and, for this reason, we don’t think he is doing the right thing for Pakistan. With a little more control there is little doubt that he would be amongst the best eleven cricketers in Pakistan and for the nations sake we felt perhaps he could have tried harder.

Above all though we are simply disappointed from a fans point of view a Pakistan side with Afridi playing is infinitely more exciting than a team without him.


Watson and Afridi: Studies in Irritation

15 07 2010

Another great day of test cricket yesterday at Lords, albeit one in which the Australians assumed the ascendancy rather than our preferred choice, Pakistan. It was a day which threw up some exciting moments interspersed with some really quite extraordinary ones. Let us now go through the main contributions:

Shane Watson

A friend of the Compulsive Hooker, occasional contributor Dingo, has long been saying that Watson is a better all rounder than Flintoff and, appallingly, he now has further evidence to use in this argument after one of the most extraordinary bowling displays at Lords ever witnessed. Extraordinary because it must be rare that such an innocuous and friendly bowling display takes five wickets and appalling because it is Shane Watson that has achieved this… Watson is a man of many obvious qualities; a good batsman with a tendency to get out when set, a purveyor of medium pace trundlers, immaculately coiffured hair, an impressive ability to show show his feminine side and a world class pout – yet despite this he is almost universally disliked by fans in all countries…

We dislike him mostly due to his sulky demeanor as few players look closer to breaking down and crying when something goes wrong as Watson does. Yet we have now discovered a worse side to him, one that makes us cringe even more, and that is when things are going unbelievably right for him that he ends up being the first on the new Neutral Honours Board at Lords.

His figures of 7.5 overs, 5 wickets for 40 runs make for all the more interesting reading when you realise that approximately 28 of these runs came off him in the space of about 12 balls during Shahid Afridi’s whirlwind innings. Four of his wickets were proper batsman, all of whom were dismissed LBW, bowled or in Afridi’s case tricking him with a slower ball, leading us to assume that some strange mystical powers were at work on Watson’s behalf. Quite honestly there can be no other explanation.

And no Dingo – this does not make him better than Flintoff – it simply means that the Pakistani batsman are hopeless.

Shahid Afridi

Afridi has tricked us. As we posited here, we had discussed the possibility that perhaps the captaincy had given him an air of responsibility and he would be a revelation in this test series. Sadly for Pakistan, this particular leopard has failed to change his spots and played an innings of breathtaking irresponsibility yesterday. Walking in five wickets down, with a deficit of around 150 runs, a calm head was needed. Instead what he brought to the part was a village green attitude of ‘if I can reach it – its going’! We can understand what he may have been trying to do in that there have been some great counter attacking innings played from similar situations, yet there is a difference between counter attacking and choosing the balls you are going to try and go after rather than simply swinging from the start.

Pakistan’s side is a very inexperienced one with debutants at numbers 3 and 4. They need guidance and an example set by their captain – not what appears to be an exercise in self destruction. Some people may argue that this is the way that Afridi bats and therefore we can’t be too critical. However this is absolute rubbish and we hope that Waqar Younis, Pakistan’s team coach, pulls him up in private.

Match Situation

Australia comfortably on top although there still appears to be some movement for the bowlers. If Asif and co can knock over the rest of the Australians quickly, the Pakistani first innings collapse not withstanding, they may be in with a slight chance. It is Australia’s game to lose though – no doubt about it.

A Day For The Purists and Pakistan

14 07 2010

What an absorbing day of test cricket that was! Brilliant because it was a balanced affair between bat and ball, with runs available if the batsman were willing to graft; movement throughout the day for the bowlers if they got it in the right areas; and all of this at a busy Lords cricket ground with Australia, if not quite on the rack, certainly in trouble. As England supporters we cannot help but feel joy when we see a scorecard of 229-9 and Australia batting – as everything from the South Africa England series earlier this year has been touted as a sign or omen for the Ashes, we cannot help but think this is a good one for England!

Of course Pakistan have yet to bat and it is fair to say that their bowling far outweighs their batting at this stage. Indeed in this test match we have two players making their debut at 3 and 4 which seems slightly dangerous when considering your opposition is Australia and their best player, Umar Akmal, has only played a handful of matches himself. Akmal is however a brilliant player as anyone watching the recent 20/20 internationals can testify and so hopefully can lead from the front.

It is the bowling that we want to talk about really as in Mohamed Asif, Mohamed Aamer and Umar Gul they have three top quality operators. Gul was guilty of bowling too short but Asif and Aamer were outstanding. It is an odious thing to compare anyone to Glenn McGrath, but in this case Asif’s performance was so similar to the great man that it was uncanny. 80 miles an hour, moving both ways and, when you consider this was at Lords where so often McGrath struck terror into English hearts, we couldn’t help but feel glad – finally the Aussies getting some payback! Asif has had a troubled time with injury and other slightly more nefarious issues going against him since his debut five or six years ago but his burgeoning record of 86 test wickets in 18 matches at an outstanding average of 23.01 indicate that he is up there with the best.

Mohamed Aamer on the other hand was quick, dangerous and quite incredibly only just 18 years old. He must be close to being amongst the best teenage fast bowlers ever which, when you consider he grew up playing cricket with a tape ball in a small village outside Rawalpindi, is quite extraordinary. English coaches at public schools with all possible facilities must be wondering where they have gone wrong…

The other piece of the puzzle was completed by Danish Kaneria who proved that the pitch was not simply a seamers paradise by bowling a testing 18 over spell and picking up two wickets. His setting up and wicket of Mitchell Johnson in particular was a joy to watch.

Looking ahead to day two, we worry that the Australian bowlers will be just as clinical as the Pakistani’s and, as mentioned above, they will be bowling at a much greener batting line-up. Afridi, in his first innings back from self imposed test exile, will be key as it is imperative he leads from the front and does not get himself out playing a silly shot. Salman Butt, who despite having played a good number of tests has never really established himself, and the Akmal brothers will also be important in what should be another intriguing day of test cricket.

Murali’s Magic, Afridi’s Leadership and Bell’s Tolling

7 07 2010

Murali Retires

Muttiah Muralitharan, a cricketing legend and undoubtedly one of the finest spinners to play the game, has announced his retirement from cricket after the first test match of the Sri Lanka India series later this July. Whilst it is fair to say that Murali has not been in top form over the past year, his bowling average has ballooned during this time, both Sri Lankan and world cricket will be poorer for his absence.

A look at the stats (792 test wickets at 22.71, 515 ODI wickets at 23.07) mean that Sri Lankan cricket in particular will find it difficult to replace him and it really brings an era to a close. When Murali started Sri Lankan cricketers were still regarded in much the same way as Bangladesh or perhaps the West Indies are today and it is partially down to him that they are now regarded as one of the major players in the world cricket.

From a world perspective, we will miss seeing his smile and the evident enjoyment he gets from the game, although we will not miss him running through English batting line ups time and time again. His 16 wickets at the Oval remain writ large in our memory and ensured that he inspired the same level of fear as Ambrose, Walsh, McGrath and Warne to name a few others.

So thank you Murali – you will be missed!


Afridi: Pakistan’s Saviour?

A good result again for Pakistan in the second of the 20/20 games against Australia which will undoubtedly give them some confidence moving into the test and one day series.

Shahid Afridi is rightly being given a good deal of credit for this win and, whilst it is obviously far too early to see what difference he will make in the long term, it does appear he has got what was previously a disparate and unhappy group of players going in the same direction.

Who would have thought it – Afridi could be the saviour of Pakistani cricket!


The Majesty of Bell

We would bet that sentence hasn’t been written too often before! Any spectators at the New Road ground in Worcester would have been treated to quite some match yesterday between India A and England Lions, ending as it did in that rare cricketing thing, a tie.  Throw in 686 runs and 16 wickets, plus an apparently magnificent 158 from Ian Bell, we are genuinely sorry we missed it as matches like this come along very rarely.

Bell had suggested that he had been working on his technique with regard to big hitting by copying Luke Wright (perhaps not the role model we would have chosen), yet yesterdays innings was apparently an orthodox one with only one six, showing that you don’t have to bat like Eoin Morgan to score runs in the 50 over format. With Ravi Bopara also scoring a 150 plus innings a couple of days ago England look like they are finally creating some depth in the limited overs department. There will always be doubts over the temperaments of these two but they have proved that they remain highly talented batsman and will undoubtedly get another shot at the big time before too long.

Proper Cricket and Sleeping Australians

29 06 2010

Bradders writes:

Pakistan Arrive

Proper cricket is finally back on the agenda with the ‘hit and giggle’ 20 over stuff on pause for the moment. Along with the current round of county matches, Pakistan, without any fanfare, have slipped into the country and are currently engaged in their opening tour game against Kent.

Sadly this is a virtual Kent second team with only Joe Denly and Azhar Mahmood of the true regulars in the side. Apart from the fact that this is probably not as high intensity an opening game for Pakistan as it could be, and therefore probably not as good preparation as it might be, I feel that Kent may be missing a bit of a trick. It is clear in the memory that 90’s, and certainly before that, the matches against the touring sides were an opportunity for the best players to showcase themselves to the England selectors and also for the county to get some much needed people in through the turnstiles. It was a regular draw for us as Kent supporters and I used to go to the St. Lawrence Ground with regularity to watch these sides.

These days with central contracts and team England being more of a closed shop it is unlikely that a single performance could have the same impact as it once did. Factor into the equation that with the surfeit of shorter and more viewer friendly 20/20 games around a three day game is likely to get less interest. This has been a gradual shift over the last decade and one that, in our opinion, the game is poorer for.  One of the best days of cricket I have ever witnessed was a Kent versus Australia match around 1997 where Mark Ealham played a quite brilliant innings, scoring a quick 60 odd I think it was as Kent crumbled around him. Later in the day Mark ‘Tubby’ Taylor scored a good not out fifty and, with some wristy Mark Waugh strokes thrown into the mix, it was a day to savour.

Focusing on the game itself;  it is good to see Robbie Joseph come back from long term injury to play a part in this game. As a relatively recent England A tourist and still only 28 there is still time for him. Joseph was a season or two ago rated as one of the quickest bowlers in the country by none other than Justin Langer and as such is a fairly rare breed. Joe Denly will be another looking to make an impression here as he has endured a poor season and has slipped off the England radar, even being left out of the England Lions team to be captained by Alistair Cook. A score here will remind the England selectors of his presence and get his season back on track.

For Pakistan Shahid Afridi’s new found responsibility clearly only extends to the shorter versions of the game having top edged a swipe down to third man for a fourth ball duck. Whatever happens on this tour; it is unlikely to be boring as Afridi is a man who plays with the sort of attitude you might have expected in a Gentleman vs Players game from the 19th Century. Perhaps the opposition was not testing enough for him and he was simply bored, but we are sure that, come the tests we will continue to witness the full flowering of Afridi’s undoubted talent, notice of which he gave in the recent Asia Cup with two fine hundreds.

Alternatively of course he could defy these burgeoning hopes we are carrying for him and implode spectacularly in a flurry of slogs, top edges and stumpings!

Umar Akmal served further notice of his immense talent scoring a fine 153 and Pakistan will probably rely heavily on him and his brother for runs over the coming test series. The younger Akmal has the sort of ability to go on and be the next world class Pakistani batsman in the mould of Inzaman and Miandad, and just to add further pressure, Pakistan have probably never needed a player of this stature more than at the current time.


Let Sleeping Aussies Lie

Whilst it would be undoubtedly premature and highly foolish (the phrase red rag to a bull comes to mind) to be talking about a shift in power in the cricketing world from Australia to England, one can’t help but feel that Australia will do well to avoid a whitewash in this current one day series. If England don’t fall off their game, as they did towards the end of the third match on Sunday, then it will be theirs to lose rather than Australia’s to win.

What I am particularly enjoying at the moment though, is the headlines that are coming out of the various press releases and conferences held by the Aussie team. Doug Bollinger has been quoted as saying that they ‘are aiming for a strong finish’ and that a ‘whitewash would be devastating’. These sort of comments, coming as they do with the standard PR rubbish Martin Johnson’s rugby team have become so good at, i.e. ‘if we all perform then there is no reason we can’t win’ and ‘we just need an extra 10%’ are brilliant when viewed from the winning sides perspective!

Mind you, I am concerned that having written this article it might jinx England and rouse the sleeping beast that is Australian cricket. Perhaps this is the Englishman in me coming through after years of batterings at the hands of the Aussies and I should ignore it and just be confident, yet just in case, I have touched the wooden table and crossed my fingers…

Middlesex Magic & ‘Boom-Boom’ Domination

16 06 2010

Gilchrist and Morgan Magic

Now this is an innings we would have paid to watch!

Courtesy of Cricinfo

Adam Gilchrist and Eoin Morgan going hell for leather at the ball? That Australian limited overs specialist Shaun Tait bowling four overs for 52 runs? Brilliant.

Looking at this side Middlesex must be early favourites for this competition.  20/20 is a game all about batting and any team with Warner, Gilchrist, Shah and Morgan has a head start on most!


Afridi’s Brilliance

Moving to fifty over cricket we watched a quite brilliant innings by Shahid Afridi last night in the opening game of the Asia cup. For many years we have watched Afridi play, marveling at his ability to strike a cricket ball more cleanly and further than most people in the world, yet there has always been a ‘but’ in there. Clearly hugely talented, the frustration was that he is not making the most of this ability due to a lack of responsibility.

Over the past couple of years this concern had diminished somewhat as he had made only one fifty in this time and he was accepted for what he is rather than what he could be. During this period he had been in the side as much for his bowling as his batting, yet now, with this innings under his belt and the captaincy of Pakistan in all formats to give him that added responsibility, perhaps we will see a new and improved version. It could well be too much to ask as it is rare that a leopard changes it’s spots, but Pakistan need Afridi and a little more consistency would go a long way.

Whether this is simply one occasion that he came off or is actually a step down the road to more consistency for Afridi, we cannot wait to see him in action this Summer against Australia in the UK. He remains one of the games great characters and is exciting simply because of what ‘might’ happen when he plays and so, all this said, we don’t want him to change too much!

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.

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