Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fast Bowlers and Meditation

Australia should not, and will not, be overly discouraged by their loss to Zimbabwe the other night. Zimbabwe have been fanning about the Carribean for the past two and a half months and while still really a mongrel of a team feature some class performers including Hamilton Masakadza, the hero of the other night Elton Chigumbura, and the real pedigree among the nation's vast cohort of spinners, Ray Price. Practice matches are a laboratory for cricket to experiment and observe and should not be treated with undue seriousness. It is lamentable that they have become so greatly curtailed in the interests of squeezing more representative games into the international calender. It is my belief that, in the Australian summer at least, touring teams have become severely handicapped by their absence often not hitting their stride until well into the second Test.
Regardless of this practice match there are some real worries for the Australian side who performed miserably at the previous two tournaments. I shall air my surmises of the team.

If we apply Freytag's model to the tragic collapse of Brett Lee's career, the unfortunate bowler's muscle strain is a pathetic wrench in the falling action, a dumb miserable blow to the already gutted audience. We might mourn the wretched creature's fortune at another time but this calamity is not so pitiable for the resilient nation. Though posing a nasty threat at this point last year, it has since been proved that Australia's well of fast-bowling reserves runs as deep as the sage wisdom of Whoopi Goldberg. There will undoubtedly be grumbling over the decision to select Ryan Harris over Doug Bollinger for the tournament. The ebullient Bollinger is presently the pick of the nation's bowling and is enjoying unsurpassed form. Bollinger went to the heart of the nation over the summer with his daft humour and unflagging enthusiasm to sign autographs. The Moirae asigned cricket is a creative weaver and perhaps the good sir is yet to feature in Carribean. For now though he must be resigned to the inchoate realm of speculation. Should he maintain his form across the year the bowler will prove a real force in the next Ashes and could effect a domination over the English.

Johnson and Hauritz are class bowlers and given recent history should put in solid performances. The other bowlers are still somewhat unknown to many ears. Harris is a workman; productive and efficent. When compared with the charismatic and exhibtionist bowling artists who have endeared themselves to the public Harris is undemonstrative. Dirk Nannes with his foreign name and middle class good manners is generally mistrusted by the public. Though he has not exactly distinguished himself in the few games played for his nation, in the IPL Nannes has been instrumental for Delhi and one of the pre-eminent quicks in the last two tournaments. The denizen of the Japanese alps is also the most educated and refined member of the squad as well and probably has a beautiful snow-boarding girlfriend. Both should be decent though unlikely to effect a place within the bosom of this sporting land. Shaun Tait is a more risky prospect. The hallmark of the ungainly slinger has been inconsistency. Tait produced a supreme couple of overs in the March, Auckland twenty over game placating the tearaway McCullum only to make an offering of the game with his dog of a super over. He was alternately sublime and awful for Rajasthan as with the Bushrangers during the Big Bash. Tait has made an audacious move in restricting his appearances to the the twenty over format and if he plans to make a functional career he must become a dependable, match winning performer. Otherwise he, and his poorly back will have to disappear back to the wilds.

Bollinger aside the nation should take heart in this predatory group. Potentially alarming though is the abundance of all-rounders in the squad: Daniel Christian, David Hussey, Steven Smith, Shane Watson, and Cameron White. Add to this Michael Clarke, who boasts prodigious proficency in both pursuits as well as the legitimate claims to batting from Johnson and Harris. This leaves only David Warner and Michael Hussey along with the keeper Haddin competing with bat alone. What has been proved this IPL is that a long tail can produce complacency as with Bangalore or Mumbai. Far more effective is having a group of specialist batsmen to establish an innings and a rabid flurry from any old bloke to end it. Bowling options should not be placing these players into the squad over more promising batsmen such as Phillip Hughes or George Bailey. If Michael Hussey is to play Twenty Twenty he should be featuring near the top of the innings. Effective batting should be emphasised to the all-rounders, especially Watson, White, and David Hussey. Dearth of batting could prove the weakness in the Australian squad.


A final word on the IPL. With the suspension of Lalit Modi and the shambles that the tournament has stumbled into the chaos doubters claimed was inevitable. Whatever his immediate fate though, Modi's legacy is established. The model of a twenty over tournament with star power has been adopted in Australia, England, and South Africa. The IPL will continue and grow in size and these other tournaments will become complimentary to it. Hopefully the Big Bash will grow with time to include New Zealand as well as the Australian states.

The increasing commercialisation of this year's tournament was both startling and annoying though and made the previous two contests positively tasteful. Furthermore it was stupid. There was a great sense of fun at the first tournament, and a strong sense of India. Celebrations were gaudy but undeniably of that nation. This has gone. Temporarily adopted for the move to South Africa, the Aryan cheerleaders were retained, incongruous and unconvincingly executing sloppy moves. Bring back the Indians.

While in previous tournaments the DLF maximum and Citi Moment of Success were terms to be endured this manner of infiltrating the consciousness flourished in this years coverage. I got the shock of my life when the IPL coverage started slipping in short little advert bytes here and there, inevitably the one of Sehwag and Gambhir yelling Vira at each other. Karbonn Kamal catches is ruefully acceptable but the MRF blimp! With each new match an extra shot of the blasted blimp was brought into the game and the poor commentator, probably at gunpoint, would have to interrupt speaking about the game to make some inane dribble about the broadcasting partner. Then in the final two weeks the advert blips doubled and two clips were sneaked in between balls. Now the wider world has been introduced to Peak energy bars and the Beeping Amazing Man telephone. These adverts mean nothing to those outside India. We already have to brave the incessant appeals of Ashley and Martin, and Tim Cahill scoring a penalty for Weetabix. It is bad enough that the IPL gives such inept commentary from Pommy Mbangwa and Sunil Gavaskar. Hopefully the demise of Modi will mean a rethinking of some of these foolish decisions.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Demise of Johnson

Mitchell Johnson debuted against Sri Lanka in 2007 and made great impression both with his bowling potential and what a nice boy he was. He has delivered with the former and we have witnessed the initial step in the career of a great bowler. Steady development bloomed into a first rash of success, (exemplified in South Africa), a temporary setback of form, (the second test at Lords was a shocker), in which pedigree has prevailed. We have a class bowler who in his last outing at Hamilton picked up 10 wickets. Further Johnson has endeared himself to the batophilic world with the revelation of his fine strokesmanship. The charming young man who introduced himself has suffered a disappointing development of character though and tragically slumped into bogan status. The latest evidence of this is a coloured ink job that adorns the right arm and appears to be some sort of fish or dragon executed in the faux Asian style. The confusion over the animal is that it appears to be caught in a net but is also bedecked with flames.


It is difficult to clearly chart the disinegration of Johnson's moral fibre. A quick survey of the internet offers telling influence though.


The apparent change occured in Johnson during the most recent Ashes tour. The resplendent hero of South Africa and heir apparent in leading Australia's bowling attack inexplicably fell to pieces. The reasons for this are the matter of Woman's Realm, what concerns us is how the man countered this setback. Rather than face his problem with humility or diligently devote himself to his craft, Johnson carried himself the brute's way, with arrogance. Of course the only way to explain oneself after doleing out loose delivery after another is to hoot at the batsman. And so the young lad turned nasty and developed into a cawing ninny.


Unfotunately like the child pulling faces in a changing wind, Johnson's lamentable lapse of character has stuck. The man is a fine cricketer with an exciting mature career ahead of him. I don't mean to traverse the avenues of gossip but may I indulge in a memorable moment from my attendance of the test against the West Indies this summer? A broiling summer's day, the fourth of the match and perhaps the best of the summer, was usurped by the great commotion generated in the Member's Stand on the appearance of Jessica Bratich. Drama had caked the heavy air as the West Indies threatened to claw their way to an unlikely victory. Drama dissembled with the removal of Deonarine. Sensation overtook with the arrival of Miss. Jessica. The midday's pitch of heat gave way to the golden warmth of late afternoon accompaned by an ocean breeze, the ground's salvation. And their in our midst was celebrity, sauntering into the magnificent day's afterglow in an orange summer dress. She didn't watch much of the game but as I discretely glanced at the lady among the craning necks of my fellow citizens, what struck me was the devotion, (which I imagined), that lay behind those fancy looking sunshades. As the all-but-victorious Australian side came from the field, this sylvan dame leaned across the metal barrier which seperates spectator from god, and he, relaxed masculine Titan, indolently paused to converse with his beloved. No doubt they discussed something terribly quotidian like dinner plans or where the car was parked but all us mortals gazed on in envy and in one folorn sigh exclaimed, 'Here is one to be envied. A man who has the adoration of his lady.'

The Twenty Twenty world championship will be our first oppurtunity to witness the latest folly that adorns Johnson's arm and no doubt we will jeer and scoff. Character is important though. This is what transforms prowess into elegance. And for Johnson the pretty bird has flown.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ross What is Going On ay Bro?

A BASHFUL ROSS TAYLOR- One of the many subjects we shall cover today

Tonight is a rest sleep in the IPL. That wyrd existence occuring between semi-finals and final and not-so-important final. I have been mulching around recalling how empty my life was before the IPL started and wondering in general, how is one supposed to conduct a life? All of this is rather heavy material but for the moment there is important news to recount.


The Royal Challengers of Bangalore were daft to lose their game. The Challengers came to the pitch sharp and focussed. Steyn, as is his wont, bowled like a man possessed. Virat Kohli executed an exemplary run out. Kevin Pietersen not only took a brilliant catch but gave a masterful bowling performance. In fact the great man was almost nice to his team mates. The victim of his ire tonight was Ambati Rayudu, who after backing away from a couple of deliveries might as well have backed into Pietersen in heavy traffic with the verbal response he recieved.
The reason the team lost though was because Vinay Kumar was ineffective and gave away two very loose overs, and Jacques Kallis' bowling and batting form have gone away with the fairies. After sweeping through the top order these two were obliged to bring home the bacon and failed. The excesses of the other bowlers may be forgiven in their achievements but these two may not. Jayudu made a platform, Tiwary, with rather inelegant batting, gave them a match winning half century, and Pollard a crowd pleasing garnish.

As for the second innings... Certainly Malinga gave an inspired performance. Similar was the (questionably) heroic quota of Mr. Pollard. Yes the openers failed, Uthappa looked good but was unlucky. For me the biggest loser though was Ross Taylor. This man is potentially the greatest batsmen of his generation. A classical strokesman, excellent footwork, and feline reflexes. When I first saw him play Australia in 2008, gosh I was an excited fellow. Gone this summer though is Ross' daemon. From the outset he was listless in the Australian tour. In the Auckland 20/20 where McCullum made such an audacious excursion, Ross' clumsy cameo nearly derailed the whole show. Matters did not improve. Yes the century at Hamilton was decent but this was an oasis in a very bleak and dusty desert. Taylor should have been dropped when it became apparent (and it was apparent early on) that he was out of form this IPL. His presence barred Cameron White and the even more talented Roelof van der Merwe. (Incidentally did you know that a van der Merwe joke is the term used to classify a jest aimed at an Afrikaner?)

Luteru Ross Poutoa Lote Taylor

And as for last night: MATTY HAYDEN YOU ARE FINISHED SON. You hung about the Australian team a summer too long and that tarnished your very decent, if in my books bullying and dull, career. And now again. This IPL has been a shocker for you. Retirement is actually pleasant. You have your riches, the consolations of all that is comestible, and the greatest mystery of life, the contemplation of god to occupy you. You were dropped twice and then still got out. A very neat piece of work from Srikkanth the Younger gave Chennai something to cling to though and an all round exellent bowling performance gave them the victory.

Other news clouds the cricketing horizon though. The IPL is in big trouble. It is very hard to know just what kind of trouble this is because the accusations flying around are more sordid than than the scum marring Marlowe's Los Angeles. Lalit Modi, the omniscient master of the entire enterprise stands at the centre of these accusations and it is likely that he and John the Baptist will soon share something in common. And not sanctity.

Did you know, dear reader, that after delinquent school career, the future entrepreneur went off to the United States for a college education at undoubtedly great expense. On some wild debauch Modi found himself convicted for trafficking cocaine and assault with a deadly weapon. One would think one skeleton in the closet would be enough. But a month later, this rather assiduous looking gentleman ended up in the slammer again for kidnapping. How wild is he? We escape all this in the West but at some point in the not so distant future you will find a small pronouncement in small type at some obcure place in the newspaper relating all this business. There is collusion to do with a conflict of interests, tax evasion, dodgy deals to do with the new franchise of Kochi, match fixing, and most recently, (echoing the fate of the Melbourne Storm), extending salary capping. These are fierce waters here and where the league will be at the end of it all is anybody's business.


A final world on the World Twenty Twenty Championship which is to start this time next week. Personally I have been quite skeptical of this contest. The IPL gives me enough taste of 20/20 to last me until the Champions League. The ICC is just a sort of dorky kid at school trying to get in on the action. Having a world tournament every year is overkill. Yes this new format is exciting but putting your official touch of death upon it mars it. No-one cared about the last one in England, the only reason anyone would care more now is that it is in the Carribean. Having made this gripe no doubt I will be badgering it on and giving purpose to my life and material to this blog for the next month.

However what I am really excited about in this competition is the entry of Afghanistan. There is a war on in this nation and lo! they have a cricket team. They mauled all the other minnows the ICC has mothered these past few years (excepting Ireland) and have now joined the world on centre stage. I do not by any means think we are going to see clever cricket. What we will hopefully see is Romance in its essence. Gallant and unschooled displays of batting. Sloppy fielding. Unbridled enthusiasm. Lord knows whether they know how to bowl. Even if we gripe on like the MCC throughout the whole of the tournament, Trumper will be sure to keep its readers informed as to the magnificence of Afghanistan.


Two finals this weekend. Its like when you get to your birthday and its all a bit of an anti-climax really. Oh, don't be a drop kick Benjamin.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Pack of Daisies? Are They Sonambulents? Nay, These Are Our Players.

One of the most refreshing aspects of the IPL is the relative lack of sledging. Harbijhan and Gangully are still liable to lambast their own team members and that erstwhile twerp Shane Watson found pegging a ball into the back of Albie Morkel worthy of giggling like a girl with pig tails, but by and large there is a fair amount of good will between the members of opposite teams. Perhaps the Kingfisher Fair Play Award is taken rather seriously? More likely players do not feel the same passion for the IPL that they do for their nation. However they still seem pretty excited whenever they take a wicket. Perhaps cricketeers are just better people these days.

At its best, and this is rare, sledging is witty, barbed, and off-putting. For the most part though all that is achieved is unimaginative and crude. In the most recent Ashes series, Cricket Australia released an injunction to its players to refrain from taunting and indecent behaviour. Though this enraged Greg Matthews amongst others it was rather nice to see the cricketing authorities take these matters seriously. One would hate to see the bickering between players return to its nadir of Glenn McGrath's hypocrisy claiming a righteous defense for his wife having started a nasty little interchange.

Its business time in the IPL though. Two fanstastic matches last night. The match from Dharamsala was the more picturesque and high octane. It seemed so unlikely that Chennai could succeed after Shaun Marsh's fantastic innings, but quality performances from the team's middle order players brought them into the semi-finals. I think the Dalai Lama had left long before Dhoni's 30 runs off the final two overs though. The cameras swang back to his holiness in the first innings more often then they draw our attention to the MRF blimp. He proved curiously absent for Chennai's knock though.
Looks like an inspirational film doesn't it?

Seeing Matthew Hayden cry was quite gut wrenching. I've never particularly enjoyed watching the man play but as he sat on the bench after his soft dismissal surreptitiously sobbing the most manly, choked back tears I felt awfully sorry for him. I fear he is just getting a bit too old to play. Certainly he is still just as capable of hitting very well but his timing has gone as a result of absence from play. Similarly Shane Warne, while delivering some masterful spells in this tournament has also produced some very ordinary bowling. I would be surprised if these two will return next year, I think they must feel rather embarassed when they see their powers wane.

Adam Gilchrist is also suffering from the same blight. His mistimed stroke last night was a shocker. The taut, low scoring match between Hyderabad and Delhi was thrilling though. I am disappointed that Mitchell Marsh did not make quite the substantial impact I keep hoping he will make. His bowling has been quite decent. Last night he took Warner's wicket in the second over and bowled a very nice penultimate over. In both of his batting appearances in this tournament he has failed to fire though. I am scared that the Chargers will drop him for the finals. I hold such high hopes for this wonderful young player. Not only is he a cracking all-rounder but in interviews he seems such a nice boy and he is so enthusiastic. My greatest wish is that he will captain Australia someday.

Hallo Mitchell!

So tonight a dead rubber between Kolkatta and Mumbai and then onto the finals. Won't life be empty when it is all over.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Whats it All About K.P.?

Kevin Pietersen's 62 from 29 deliveries brought home the Royal Challengers of Bangalore the other night. His innings proved the salvation in an otherwise undignified run chase of Rajasthan's measly total of 131. However he looked like a complete twit doing so.

Recieving an annual IPL contract of US$1.55 million dollars one would imagine performances such as these would not be an infrequent occurence. Pietersen's IPL career is far from distinguished though. This princely sum was granted following revelatory initial appearances with England, including proving the mother country's only player with a spine in the woeful Ashes of 2006-2007. The cricketing world gasped at the riches of this strange new existence while Pietersen's celebrity grew. The inaugral 2008 season was a forgettable time for Bangalore, Pietersen's belated entry was diverting but ultimately ineffective.

Following this Pietersen's career soured. In their infintesmal stupidity, the ECC appointed him captain of his adopted nation because he was then their most exciting player, a strategy that had already failed with Andrew Flintoff. Though initially commanding a fantastic one day series victory over South Africa, our hero managed to botch everything up, derailing the team with his arroagance and culminating in a very public spat with Peter Moores that ended Pietersen's leadership.

The 2009 IPL was a further lesson in the ugly character of Kevin Pietersen. Rahul Dravid was sacrificed for the team's poor performance in the previous year and in a bizarre and ill-advised move the top job was given to our Kevin. Not only did he proceed to fail with bat and ball, (the gallant captain felt no shyness in continually bowling himself,) he also managed to incur the rancour of his players and officials in much the same way as previously achieved in the ignoble captaincy of England. It came as a relief then when he left midway through the tournament to play a test series against the West Indies. Anil Kumble replaced Pietersen as captain and led the Royal Challengers to an unlikely renaissance, only narrowly losing to Hyderabad in the final.

Pietersen's stock has dwindled substantially this past year and indifferent form paired with injury has made for a bleak period in the player's career. However he has proceeded to act like a prat in this IPL. Unable to accept his utter in eptitude in captaincy he skulks about the field barking orders that nobody listens to. Apart from an unconvincing 60 odd runs earlier in the tournament and Wednesday night's effort his batting has been incredibly lacking. When dropped for a couple of games he bleated in his News of the World column about the huge injustice dealt him, an act of puerile self-indulgence. In this same column, for some added bile, the player aimed barbs at his English teammates Stuart Broad and James Anderson, claiming their indolence in rejecting the Indian franchise with excellent oppurtunity it affords leading up to the World Twenty 20 tournament.

On Wednesday, Pietersen did two remarkable things. He took a beautiful catch to dismiss Shane Watson, and while his team fell about him he made a very decent innings. Still though this does not excuse his arrogant behaviour. During the strategic time outs, the player absented himself from the team huddles, milling on the outskirts and absently eyeing the crowd. His self-absorbtion was perfectly displayed when run out by his partner Virat Kohli. This has been typical this IPL and a complete lack of communication between batsmen led to the pair occupying the same end. Probably it was Kohli's fault as Pitersen made clear signal but the South African-come-Englishman's petulance on being run out is unexcusable . He swore and cursed at Kohli and in his very slow exit from the field turned to the centre some half-dozen times to meet the Indian's eyes and deliver a piercing look of hatred. The photo below does ill-justice to the vehemence of this display.

Pietersen's presence in the team keeps out Cameron White, a very able player. Further the bench is warmed by the highly talented Roelof van der Merwe and the Australian Steven Smith. Surely it is better management to drop this unruly lout for one of these keen young players?

In other IPL news Chennai and Delhi played out an at times thrilling but ultimately fairly dull match last night. Fantastic bowling was undone by some very ordinary cricket. Gambhir's disciplined half-century gave Delhi the victory but the captain almost undermined this with some poor bowling changes made in the middle of the previous innings. One can't help but feel that the quality of the IPL has dwindled somehwat of late. I hope it picks up for the finals.