Thursday, 25 February 2010

The Little Master does it again

Just when you think Tendulkar can't get any better... he does.

The Little Master ripped through the South African bowling attack to become the first player to score a double hundred in one day internationals.

His unbeaten 200 off 147 balls, which included 25 fours and three sixes, passed the previous joint-best of 194, set by Pakistan's Saeed Anwar in 1997 and Zimbabwe's Charles Coventry last year.

It left the adoring crowd in raptures and helped India on their way to a massive total of 401-3, a target South Africa fell well short of when they were finally all out for 248. Tendulkar's mammoth effort ensures the series goes India's way and they will no doubt have their eyes on a whitewash when the sides meet again on Sunday, a feat the cricket betting suggests the side is capable of.

It makes you wonder how Tendulkar maintains such sky high levels of performance. At 36, with 30,000 runs under his belt spanning 20 years you could forgive him for winding down a little, but such is his professionalism he continues to strive for new heights.

Tendulkar finished with a strike rate of 136.05, which is the second highest of his 46 ODI centuries, but the best against a top-class team - against Kenya in the 1999 World Cup he scored an unbeaten 140 off 101 balls, a strike rate of 138.61.

The knock takes his overall century tally in international cricket to 93, and ten of these have come in 34 innings in the last 12 months - showing that he is indeed improving with age.

This wasn't a novice bowling attack he was facing either, it was a very talented South African side. This didn't seem to matter to Tendulkar as he dispatched the ball around every corner of the Captain Roop Singh Stadium in Gwalior.

He wasn't dropped or and didn't offer a chance to the South African fielders, making it a flawless innings.

It merely confirms his status as one of the world's greatest cricketers, not just in terms of raw ability but in longevity, commitment, enthusiasm and professionalism.

If Tendulkar can maintain this form going into the World Twenty20 then you can expect India's online betting odds for the tournament to get even shorter.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Afghanistan: From refugee camps to the World Twenty20

Journeys do not come much more extraordinary than this. Two years ago, Afghanistan were in Division Five of the World Cricket League, alongside such cricketing non-entities as Germany, Botswana and Japan. Yet in April, Afghanistan will be in the Caribbean for the World Twenty20. It is a staggering rise by any accounts - even forgetting for a moment which country it is.

Home advantage is often talked of as being crucial in sport - Afghanistan can only dream of it. They cannot even train at home, doing so in Dubai instead, as their country is still the scene of terrible conflict. But their exploits on the cricket pitch have been celebrated passionately, invoking clich├ęs about the power of sport to bring joy to people's lives even in the bleakest circumstances.

How on earth has cricket managed to make such an impact in a country with so little? Afghan refugees in Pakistan, where the popularity of cricket makes football in England seem a minority sport by comparison, began to pick up the game in the 1990s, forming the Afghanistan Cricket Federation in 1995 from Pakistan.

There was, however, a minor issue that prevented the game gaining popularity in Afghanistan: all sport was banned by the Taleban. But in 2000 cricket became the first and only sport to be permitted by them. In 2001 the Afghanistan Cricket Federation was elected as an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and, in extraordinarily trying circumstances, cricket began to take hold. Their fledging national side were marooned when in Pakistan playing local sides, as the UK and US invaded in October 2001.

Afghan cricket certainly does not conform to the stereotype of the game in England, played on village greens in the shires. There is only one grass wicket in the country. There are cricketing academies popping up as the national side's success has grown, but fundamentally cricket is a game played on the streets in an incredibly disorganised manner. On rare occasions when it has been more organised, it has often been on the Ghazi Stadium. This is rather more noteworthy for being the home of Taliban executions.

Funding issues could have prevented Afghanistan from competing on the world stage. But the Asian Cricket Council has been paying for travel and accommodation fees. This has allowed the natural talent of the Afghans to come through spectacularly. Since scraping past Jersey by two wickets in the final of World Cricket League Five in May 2008, Afghanistan now find themselves in World Cricket League One, putting them in the top six non-Test-playing nations. They recently defeated Ireland in the final of the World Twenty20 qualifiers to secure their place in the tournament proper. They would no doubt have relished their victory over the United States en route.

The sheer enthusiasm for cricket in Afghanistan is startling. Though exact figures are hard to come by, the Asian Cricket Council estimates there are currently 320 cricket clubs in the country. Furthermore, and highly encouragingly for cricket's future growth there, Afghanistan has age group sides that take matters very seriously. Whilst the senior side qualified alongside Ireland for the 12-team Twenty20 World Cup, the under-19s were in New Zealand. Things went rather less well, with the Afghans finishing bottom of the World Cup. Cricket in Afghanistan is now a very serious matter, the one sport in which they can compete on the world stage.

There are certain expectations to meet. So much so that the U19 coach had an angry phone call from President Hamid Karzai to inquire about their disappointing performance.

Happily, any such calls to the senior side's coach recently have been rather more celebratory in nature. Over the last two years, ICC events have taken Afghanistan on a jet-setting tour from the Channel Islands to Dubai via Argentina, Tanzania and South Africa. The chance to upset South Africa and India in the World Twenty20 is deserved indeed.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Stubbornness to cost the domestic game once again?

After every defeat for the English cricket team the papers are full of boring old cliches asking how the country that invented the game can be so poor at it.

The English summer sport has been taken and perfected by the other Test playing nations.
Sadly it seems this ability to invent but not innovate is stifling the English game once more as officials struggle to deal with the future of another English invention - Twenty/20 cricket.

English county sides look set to miss out on the lucrative Champions League after IPL commissioner Lalit Modi refused to change the dates of the tournament despite the fact it clashes with the end of the English season.

Such an act is an indication of the growing power the IPL has over world cricket.

Seven years ago the ECB and the counties struck upon a brilliant idea to revitalise the domestic game with the invention of the Twenty/20 Cup. It proved a master stroke as bigger crowds and new excitement breathed fresh life into English cricket. The game soon spread is now a worldwide phenomenon.

But while the authorities have stood back and admired their handy work, the rest of the cricket world has sought to innovate and maximise the new game's money-making potential.

Where better than India, where cricket is big business, to perfect the Twenty/20 competition? The IPL did just this.

The IPL's success gave the authorities in England the perfect chance to modify the domestic game accordingly. But once again the archaic and rigid county structure has held the game back.

After the inaugural IPL the MCC's chief executive Keith Bradshaw and the Surrey chairman David Stewart suggested a tournament comprising of nine franchised teams. They would play 57 matches over 25 days at the Test grounds, but the sides would include representatives of other counties.

It was a chance to take aspects from the IPL and apply them to the English game in a truly revolutionary way. Revenue streams would have also been shared between all the counties - including the minor ones.

But in an act of self-preservation, stubbornness and short-sightedness the proposal was rejected, so an opportunity was missed.

Instead we have watched the IPL boat go by and become such a successful and influential behemoth that Modil could end up dictating the English domestic fixture list.

There is no doubt some of the smaller counties need more funds to survive, but I can't help feeling they have missed a glorious opportunity.

By rejecting the EPL proposal in what they thought was an act of self-preservation, they might have sealed their own fates.

Meanwhile, England are set to face Bangladesh in a test series. The cricket odds suggest the visitors should win comfortably, but the Tigers have been improving steadily over the last few years.

If Bangladesh do manage to upset the cricket betting and win, or even just tie, the series, it is likely Andrew Strauss' decision to miss the tour will be further criticised.