Category Archives: Cricket

Cook’s inflated greatness

Alastair Cook is the first English batsman to break into an elite of modern-great players, but his career has been inflated by how much England play.

Without a doubt, England’s captain is one of, if not them greatest English batsmen.

He will no doubt be one of the best Test batsman ever too, by the end of his career.

But, he has had a big advantage, in that he plays more than double the amount of cricket as some of his closest contemporaries.

Of the top 20 batsmen on the ‘most Test runs list’ of all time, only Allan Border, Graham Gooch and Javed Minded retired before the year 2000.

The record books have been redefined in the last 15-20 years, and England missed the boat, with England’s captain one of only two Englishmen in the top 25 top run-scorers ever.

The main reason Cook is viewed with such admiration in world cricket, is not because of his swashbuckling style or awe-inspiring power; but because he’s the first.

He has been playing in the golden age of batting, in the shadows of legends such as Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis, and he’s the first to break into that elite group.

His breakthrough into the top 10 is historic, and is on top of an array of other impressive records he has been piling up.

But he isn’t in the same category of greatness as Lara, Tendulkar or Kallis.

Cook is a grinder, not a genius. Bowlers don’t fear him.

He has this pile of runs, because out of the top 15 Test run scorers in history, Cook plays the most Tests per year, on average.

This is a major advantage when it comes to accumulating:

  • Sachin Tendulkar played 200 played Tests between 1989-2013 = 8.3 Tests per year 
  • Ricky Ponting played 168 Tests between 1995 – 2012 = 9.8 Tests per year 
  • Jacques Kallis played 166 Tests between 1996 – 2013 – = 9.8 Tests per year 
  • Rahul Dravid played 164 Tests between 1996  -2012 = 10.25 Tests per year 
  • Kumar Sangakkara played 134 Tests between 2000 – 2015  = 8.9 Tests per year 
  • Brian Lara – 131 played Tests between 1990- 2006 = 8.18 Tests per year 
  • Shiv Chanderpaul played 164 Tests between 1994 – 2015 = 7.8 Tests per year  
  • Mahela Jayawardene played 149 Tests between 1997 – 2014 = 8.7 Tests per year  
  • Allan Border played 156 played 1979 Tests between 1994 = 10.4 Tests per yea  
  • Steve Waugh played 168 Tests between 1985 – 2004 = 8.84
  • Sunil Gavaskar played 125 – Tests between 1971-1987 = 7.8 Tests per year 
  • Younis Khan played 118 Tests between 2000-2017 = 6.9 Tests per year 
  • Graeme Smith played 117 Tests between 2002-2014  = 9.75 Tests per year
  • Graham Gooch – played 118 Tests between 1975-1995 = 5.9 Tests per year 

Alastair Cook played* 144 Tests between 2006-2017 = 140 Tests  in 11 years = 13 Tests per year.

A mind-boggling amount of cricket.

His 31 Test tons and 55 Test fifties are invaluable to England over the last decade, and makes Cook is a great player, of that there is no question.

But he has had, in some cases, double the amount of playing time as others in the same bracket.

If any other batsman on this distinguished list, with a bigger average (all of them) or a more dominating batting style (all of them), had the opportunity to play 13-14 Tests a year, they’d get a lot more runs.

Not for one moment would I challenge Cook’s right to be in the upper-echelons of cricketing greatness.

But if he ends up at the top of the pile at the end of his career, ahead of Sachin and Ponting and Kallis, it doesn’t make him the greatest.

When looking at ‘the best’, it’s not just about numbers. It’s about how. It’s about the rate at which greats accumulated their greatness.

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A legacy over a goodbye

Every fan is invested in the career of their favourite players, and I’d rather remember a great legacy like that of Kumar Sangakkara than a grand goodbye like Sachin’s.

I loved watching Brian Lara.

I was upset when Lara retired, not just because he would be no more, but because I felt he went prematurely. He retired in 2006/7, when he was 36, but when I was just 13.

This feeling of being robbed of some sumptuous Lara runs was compounded when contemporaries like Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid, Shiv Chanderpaul and others, continued right until they were 40.

The question of when to go is really a dilemma that bugs fans as well as players.

On the one hand, you want to see your favourite players play on and on, but on the other hand, everyone forges a legacy, that must end at some point.

I remember Lara walking off in his final innings, thinking that he could have carried on, but in recent years, I’ve had to change my view.

His abrupt ending was not right, but at the same time, Sachin Tendulkar’s legacy was arguably tarnished by his decision to play on too long.

He played on until 2013, when he was 40. But he had scored just over 500 runs in his last 15 Tests. He was playing for numbers and records, chasing a nice figures, like getting to 200 Tests, 100 international hundreds, and 15,000 runs.

Like the three bears, if Sachin played too long, Lara was cut off prematurely, one batsman got it just right, and is perhaps the model for future great retirees.

Despite being fifth on the all-time Test run scoring list, Kumar Sangakkara is so often overlooked as a true ‘great’.

But, perhaps one hallmark of greatness, is knowing when to quit.

His exit was slow, starting with International retirement in 2015, done at a time when he could have continued. He scored 1,400runs in 2014, averaging over 70. He left us wanting more.

Despite no more international ambition, unlike Sachin and Brian Lara, after retiring Kumar Sangakkara climbed down to domestic cricket. He scored a thousand First Class runs for Surrey, averaged in the mid-forties in List A cricket, and got through 46 T20s in 2016.

He recognised that retirement is a process that requires the sequential relinquishing of responsibilities.

This week, in an interview with Island Cricket, the Sri Lankan Legend shows no regrets. Speaking about his retirement, he said: “..my mind was made up at that time and I was not going to think of reasons that were quite selfish [to continue].

“..in my view, when you know it is time to go, no matter what is in front of you, you have to make a decision and stick to it..”

He fulfilled his desire to carry on in some capacity, whilst not jeopardising the legacy he’d built up.

Sadly, he has got to the bottom rung of the ladder.

He has just been dropped by his Big Bash League side, the Hobart Hurricanes after scoring just 173 runs at 14.41 without a fifty.

Damian Wright, the coach spoke about dropping Sangakkara, saying it “was comfortably the hardest thing I’ve had to do… because of the quality person that he is”. He says: “You could feel he probably knew it was coming. He was pretty apologetic that he hasn’t gone as well he would have liked it.’”

Retirement might be hard, but remembering a batsman’s retirement is the biggest curse a player can have.

I’ll remember Sachin walking down the steps for the last time, and I’ll remember Lara walking off for the last time. I can’t remember Sanga’s last Test.

He showed no regrets about retirement or bitterness from his decline. He showed no greed to carry on for Sri Lanka, but a hunger to continue in another capacity.

Not being able to remember Sangakkara’s finale is the biggest complement one can pay him.

Let’s stop this race to the bottom

If poor quality cricket is seen as more entertaining then good quality cricket, then all that will happen is the degradation of the sport.

Last week two Tests concluded.

Australia lost to South Africa, after being humiliatingly bowled out for just 85 in 32.5 overs.

England drew with India, after two mammoth totals were unable to separate the teams.

If a martian landed on earth, and had the option of watching cricket for the very first time, I have little doubt which they’d chose.

They chose the calamitous collapse down under, not the hard grind in the sub-continent.

Fortunately, Test cricket’s popularity is not determined by extra-terrestrial beings, but by fans of the sport.

In the concluding day of these two test matches, a martian seems to have written an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald however.

This particular being, known locally as ‘Malcolm Knox’, claims that “While Australia destroy themselves, England destroy the game”.

He writes in his article, “…while Australia are lambasted for playing their own way, a feckless younger generation putting entertainment ahead of survival, Cook cruises like a stately zeppelin towards his fifth Test century in India, more than any other visitor.

As he did so, televisions were switched off across the subcontinent, and left on only in places where the only alternative was to look at the rain”.

His logic, is: ‘Sure Australia were bad, but at least people watched it’. It’s is the kind of lowering of standards, that does long term damage. It’s the kind of attitude that encourages people to say “what’s the point of Test cricket..”

What’s more, India and Australia have fairly similar win records at home. The difference, is Australia lose a lot more, because they are more gung-ho, or perhaps more willing to take risks.

Since 2007, when a number of Australian greats retired and the IPL was set up, India and Australia have fairly similar records for home test wins.

Out of 52 home Tests in Australia since, 33 have produced home wins (63%). India have won 28 out of 45 home Tests (62%).

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India’s home record since January 2007

The difference, is Australia have lost 10 Tests, India have lost four.

Australia think results are key. 82% of home Tests have produced definitive results. Yet, India know how to draw. They have produced 13 of them (28%).

Malcolm Knox may consider a draw to be ‘boring’, but one needs to look at the bigger picture.

Most teams would rather draw in the short term to win in the longer term. You’d rather be 0-0 in a series than 1-0 down. Right?

If a batsman, or a team is capable of holding out, then fair play to them. Right?

England, and indeed Alastair Cook, certainly showed this during his 235* at the Gabba, Malcolm?

This simplistic view that Test cricket must produce results or else it’s boring, is exactly the type of attitude that will kill the game. It’s selling the game’s soul for a cheap illusion that it’s exciting.

The entire point of Test cricket, is that it tests you. It’s supposed to be an endurance race. A long game, and sometimes, an indecisive dead-heat. Indeed, some of the best Tests ever seen have been draws.

Sometimes it can be frustrating to watch Alastair Cook.

But, he did exactly what was required of him, leading a side that just slipped up against Bangladesh.

They served a moral victory in many respects.

Whilst every team wants to win matches, forcing results for the sake of it, and branding it ‘entertainment’, is a lowering of everyone’s standards.

It’s a race to the bottom that Test cricket just doesn’t need.

Taskin should play county cricket, before Tests

Bangladesh produce plenty of talent, but too often it’s squandered and ground into the dirt. With their latest new hope, they should take some time to nurture that potential instead of throwing him prematurely into the lion’s den.

Taskin Ahmed is just 21-years old, but after moderate limited overs success, he is already being drafted into the Banglesh side’s squad for the longest format against England.

He would be an ideal Test bowler. He has good pace, the ability to move the ball and a very economical action. Having had success in limited overs cricket, it’s also clear he knows how to use variations and keep his nerve.

He is reminiscent of a young right-arm Chaminda Vaas in some respects.

The prospect of drafting this young seamer into the Test side has been criticised as having the capacity to ‘destroy‘ him, by Head coach Chandika Hathurusingha.

Hathurusingha says the move would be damaging because Taskin isn’t accostomed to the format, having last played a First Class game in 2013.

If Bangladesh want to see Taskin have a long and prosperous career, which one would assume they do, then airlifting him into Test cricket isn’t a good idea.

I know it’s months away, but the best option for a bowler of his ability and that his stage of his career, is to hone his skills for the long term future.

He should be playing some domestic cricket in more seamer friendly conditions, the UK.

Taskin would be ideal for county cricket, and it would perhaps a watershed moment for Bangladesh, in having an overseas player in England, which isn’t common.

Over the last 20-years, Bangladesh have snatched at young talent.

They’ve smothered their ability to grow, and one once-exciting prospect after another has fizzled away, because they were thrown into the deep end too early.

Taskin is a bowler of immense potential, and needs to be given more time and experience to hone his skills.

I know it is hard to stomach for Bangladesh fans, as they want their star man to be ready now. But he should wait a little longer, and build up both the hunger and skills necessary for longer-form cricket.

All he’d need is a county willing to take on a young enthusiastic bowler, and for Taskin to be willing to travel.

 

Pakistan’s method can’t last in the modern game

Going against the grain of popular opinion is quite a Pakistani cricket ‘thing’, but this current side is actually opposed to having a recipe for success in modern Test cricket.

They’re one-nil up in a series against England but after one-and-a-half Tests, they look shot already. 

This is because the structure of their XI is a little backwards, inflexible and anti-modern.  

In the bowling department they lack options, in the field they lack dynamism, and with the bat, are too heavily reliant on an ageing creaking 42-year old captain and his 38-year old right hand man.

Their side is plagued by rigidity and a lack of options.

They have no allrounders, with Mohamed Hafeez unable to bowl.

Their side is strictly precipitated into bowlers and batsmen, with Wahab Riaz coming in at number eight, giving Pakistan possibly the longest tail in the world.

For some, this isn’t a problem.

Their dysfunction is a crystallisation of Pakistan cricket. And, given their consistent success and production of quality, who can argue in many respects? And, after all, they won at Lord’s. 

But, in truth, their current structure only works if everything clicks, which isn’t every time.

In modern Test cricket, there are higher run rates, lower over rates, flatter pitches and more cricket on the schedule. 

Bowlers are bowling so much more than they were even 10-years ago.

Fatigue and injury has never been more of a factor, and taking catches and fielding in a dynamic fashion to limit run scoring has never been more important. 

This is especially true, because Pakistan are only playing a four man attack. If everyone performs, like at Lord’s, then it it’s not a concern. But more often than not, at least one person won’t perform. Their spinner, Yasir Shah, who took ten wickets in the first Test bowled 54 pedestrian overs at Old Trafford, taking 1-213.

There was not just no plan B, but it didn’t really feel like he had a plan A. England played him very well, because they learned from their mistakes. 

In that respect, whilst it’s true that Pakistan have a lot of quality in their side, and it’s no surprise they won the first Test; it’s also no surprise to now see them faltering.

They are showing signs of tiredness and a lack of enthusiasm. They are running out of ideas, and aren’t able to innovate when things go wrong. 

Compared to England, who have a young top order, bat right down to number 10, with four seam options and a spinner, Pakistan look ominously lagging in depth.

They struck the first blow at Lord’s’, but it seems that in doing so, they used all their gas up. 

England can now overtake them.

England’s search for instant success has damaged long term options

The way in which England have disposed of their opening batting options in the short term has made it difficult to reselect them in the longer term without unbearable pressure.

The main credentials needed to fill the poisoned chalice has been a good record in domestic cricket, and who can argue with that convention in theory.

Yet, one only has to look at the returns to realise that all have been inadequate. 

Only Nick Compton managed more than one century, and with the exception of Joe Root who averaged 37 in the role, all others averaged 31 or below. 

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They all have similarly disappointing records because they were all picked and dropped with a similarly impatient attitude and unreasonably unbearable weight of expectation.

Even those with moderate success, such as Michael Carberry who scored 281 runs in a disastrous tour to Australia, were dismissed. 

Indeed, invincible Joe Root, who had the best least worst time, was taken out of the position. 

They were all removed because they didn’t translate their county runs into international runs, instantly. 

There was a plethora of reasons as to why:

Sam Robson showed frailty on both edges.

Despite being second top run-scorer for England in the 2013/14 Ashes, Michael Carberry continuously failed to convert starts to fifties. 

Nick Compton got tangled with mental and technical knots and Adam Lyth looked as if he lacked control outside off stump.

Almost like a frankensteins monster of openers problems – they all had frailties. 

But problems can be solved. 

All of the players were expected to have an instant success, and when they didn’t were got rid of, only for the next to be expected to do the same. 

In reality, this process was ill-thought, because none of these openers are really any better than the other. 

They are all successful domestically. They all scored runs, all had a shot at the big time, all failed, all dropped, all re-integrated back into domestic cricket, all scoring buckets of runs once again. 

If these openers are ever reconsidered, which judging by Alex Hales performance in South Africa may be likely, there needs to be a clearer message as to expectation.

It would be unreasonable to re-select a player for example, for the exact same reason as before (good domestic form), with the hope of immediately translating that on to the international stage.

England need to say why a player should be re-selected; such as a technical improvement, but they also need to be more patient. Sometimes batsmen do struggle when they first emerge, especially in such a high-pressure position. 

By the position’s every nature, openers are exposed right away to the toughest conditions. If an opener fails they leave virtually no impact on the game. 

The way England exhausted their options so rapidly has made the position taboo.

England have given an unreasonably small margin of error for failure, and even smaller room for improvement in the role. 

Reselecting any of the discarded openers must come with a clear message of faith in ability or improvement. 

All cricket is #ProperCricket but County is more proper than others

If County Cricket is ‘#ProperCricket’, then what does that make non-County Cricket? 

As the county season and IPL cricket launch at the same time, they have to compete with each other for viewers and players.

With a new sponsor in Specsavers, County Cricket launched a brand new hashtag for the season: ‘#ProperCricket’, to try and drum up support, and importantly, give it some identity. 

Unlike in previous years, when it was sponsored by Liverpool Victoria insurance company, and the hashtag was simply ‘#LVCC’, this year, organisers have decided to make a point.

2016 is the year of proper cricket. 

All that improper cricket can stop, right now. 

When I first read this, I wasn’t sure if I was missing something.

Maybe organisers were referring to cricket as seen in the Mitchell and Webb show? I mean it’s unique.

It feels like an arrogant assertion, that County Cricket is ‘proper’. Almost like other forms of cricket are less-so? If one looks up in the dictionary, the definition of ‘arrogant’, it is: “having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.

I know it’s only a hashtag… no doubt some will now whinge at me for being petty.

But, its no coincidence, that it has been launched at the same time as the Indian Premier League begins, and just after the World T20 ended. 

If you want proper cricket, you can watch any kind of cricket. There’s no such thing as ‘proper cricket.’ It’s jus called cricket. 

Perhaps organisers of County Cricket could explain the definition of ‘proper cricket’ beyond it being ‘unique.’ Why is unique proper?

The IPL is watched by millions. 50 over cricket is watched by millions. Test cricket is probably not followed by as many so regularly. But because it’s the oldest, it doesn’t make the longest format ‘proper.’

It uses the laws of cricket. It uses many English cricketers, that opt for it instead of playing ‘proper’ cricket.

I know it’s only a hashtag, but perhaps it’s a signal of a part of First Class cricket’s problems.  

It needs to get past the notion that it is the pinnacle of the game. I, and millions of others, follow County Cricket year on year, but it’s not mutually exclusive with other forms.