Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Saving the ICC from their own stupidity

Today brought the very welcome news that the 10-team World Cup format may not be so final after all. If they want to maintain the integrity of the sport by making the World Cup more than just an invitational trophy, the ICC face some difficult decisions - made all the more so by their own essential impotence. When the 10 full members run the game, it is easy to see why self-interest reigns supreme.

So it may well prove difficult for the ICC to get enough of the full members to vote for a qualification tournament; Bangladeshi and Zimbabwean turkeys are unlikely to be great fans of Christmas. Instead they may try and devise a new format. To the greatest degree possible, it must (a) match the ICC's TV contract with ESPN-Star, which requires a minimum of 48 games in the World Cup and (b) ensure India play as many games as possible. These are the depressing realities.

Within these not inconsiderable constraints, what is the best we can hope for?

My proposal would be for two groups of six, which would make for 30 round-robin games.
Ideally I would then like the group winners to progress to the semi-finals, and the second and third sides to play off against each other, but that format would mean the ICC would have to pay a lot of compensation.

Alternatively - and more financially viable (how depressing it is how finances cannot be separated from any discussion of World Cup formats) - the top four could go into a Super Eight phase. Now, I know - cricket has not had good experiences with Super Eights / Sixes in 50-over World Cups.

But two groups of four, along the lines of the format used in the World Twenty20, would possess an excitement wholly lacking in the miserable 2007 tournament, when the Super Eights seemed to never end.

These groups could consist of the top and fourth ranked side from group A in the opening stages, alongside numbers two and three from group B (and visa versa). No points would be carried forward, as this is always liable to be messy. But crucially, the positions of any sides level on points after the Super Eights would be determined by what position they finished in the first round groups. This would create a real incentive for sides to win their groups in the first round - one conspicuous by its absence in the recent tournament.

There would therefore by 12 Super Eight games (each side playing the others in their group), bringing the total number of games to 42. Add in semis, a third-placed play-off and the final and that brings us to 46, minimising the damage to the ICC.

Perhaps it's not quite ideal - what tournament structure is? - but this format both protects the full members and gives an incentive to the associates to progress. Above all, it would create a much more vibrant and exciting tournament than the current planned format for 2015.

We'll see what is announced at the ICC's meeting in June. In the meantime, what an opportunity for Ireland. If they were to win one of their two ODIs against Pakistan in May, let alone both, while getting large crowds in, the case for the reversal of the scandalous decision would grow greater still.

Monday, 18 April 2011

How a six-team Test championship would work

Further to my previous post calling for two Test divisions of six nations each, here is how it would actually work:
  1. Every side would have to play every other in their league home-and-away, in at least three match series, over a four-year cycle. This means every side would have to play a minimum of 30 Tests every four years for the purposes of the Test championship.
  2. Sides would be free to play longer series (four or five Tests) should they please - so the Ashes could continue in exactly the same way.
  3. Sides would also be free to play Tests against countries outside their division; New Zealand would therefore be able to play around 20 Tests against sides in the top division (when they were outside) every four years. This is only slightly less than they do at the moment. The Ashes, for example, would continue in an identical way even if Australia continued their slump and were relegated.
  4. The points system would work as follows. For every series in the division, there would be a total of six points available. Five of these would be allocated according to the games (so there would be 1 point available per victory in a Test in a five-match series, but 1.67 per victory in a three-Test series, preventing teams getting an advantage for playing more). The points system would encourage attacking cricket - both sides would only get one-third of the points available for a game if they drew it - and also ensure 'dead rubbers' retained a real relevance. There would also be a one-point bonus for a side winning a series.
  5. The culmination of the four years would be the play-off matches - providing Test cricket with a showpiece event it needs. Matches would be played at a country that won the hosting rights. The play-offs would consist of the top two sides in the top division playing three Tests to determine the Test champions of the tournament. During the breaks between their Tests, there would be the play-off series, also of three Tests, between the bottom (sixth-placed) side in the top division and the winners of the second division, with the winners earning the right to play in the top division for the next four-year cycle. Pitches would be prepared by an independent body, designed with results in mind. In the event of a drawn series, the winners of the second division would be promoted, thereby encouraging the higher-ranked side to play attacking cricket and prove they deserved to remain in the division.

To show how it would work in practice, here are two prospective schedules. The first is for England in division one; the second for them in division two (NB assuming New Zealand replaced them in division one)
Division One
Year 1
Home – New Zealand 2 Tests; India 4 Tests
Away – South Africa 5 Tests; West Indies 2 Tests
Year 2
Home – Ireland 1 Test; Australia 5 Tests
Away – Bangladesh 1 Test; India 4 Tests
Year 3
Home – Sri Lanka 3 Test; Pakistan 3 Tests
Away – New Zealand 2 Tests; Australia 5 Tests;
Year 4
Home – West Indies 2 Tests; South Africa 5 Tests
Away –Pakistan 3 Tests; Sri Lanka 3 Tests; then Test championship
Total number of Tests – 50
Division Two
Year 1
Home – Afghanistan 3 Tests; India 3 Tests
Away – South Africa 3 Tests; West Indies 3 Tests;
Year 2
Home – Ireland 3 Tests; Australia 5 Tests
Away – Bangladesh 3 Tests; India 3 Tests
Year 3
Home – Zimbabwe 3 Test; West Indies 3 Tests
Away – Australia 5 Tests;
Year 4
Home – Ireland 3 Tests (away, but played during English season); Bangladesh 3 Tests; South Africa 3 Tests
Away – Zimbabwe 3 Tests; Afghanistan 3 Tests; then Test championship
Total number of Tests – 52
Even in division two, England still have 22 Tests over three years against the biggest crowd-pullers – Australia, India and South Africa.
(Teams in italics are those outside England’s division)

Why six team Test divisions is the answer

Amidst all the rightful uproar over the exclusion of the associates from the 2015 World Cup, Test cricket has rather been ignored. Yet the perennial issue of how games can be more competitive, and be lent real context, is only going to become more pressing when Zimbabwe return to Test cricket in a few months.

Let’s be honest – it’s going to be pretty unpalatable. Against everyone except Bangladesh, Zimbabwe will get thrashed. A 38-year-old Murray Goodwin would be their best batsman if he revoked his international retirement. Heck, if Andy Flower fancied a new challenge I’m sure he could get back in the side tomorrow. Damning evidence of how uncompetitive Zimbabwe will be came during the World Cup, especially a ten-wicket loss to a New Zealand side that lost 4-0 in an ODI series in Bangladesh five months earlier. They certainly didn’t look much like a side who have earned their Test status back – rather, one who will simply massage the statistics of their opponents.

Whenever there are some ugly mismatches in Tests, discussion of a Test championship is never far away.  The usual call is for two divisions of eight, with Bangladesh and Zimbabwe joining the minnows in the second tier. Yet this really wouldn’t help the problem. In division one, thanks to the weakness of the West Indies and, to a lesser extent, New Zealand, one-sided games would remain. And they would be plenty in division too, too; Kenya, Canada and Scotland would be to that league what Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are to Tests now. These sides would have neither the levels of cricketing interest nor the quality of players to make the exercise anything other than futile.
Promotion and relegation between the leagues would provide the context for the games but imagine the repercussions if the Windies slipped into the second tier? It’s no exaggeration to say Test cricket could completely collapse. Sponsors would run; players would prioritise lucrative Twenty20 even more than they do today. Fans, used to seeing Australia, South Africa and India, wouldn’t touch games against Kenya and co. Remember, too, that England were ranked ninth as recently as 1999 – how would they have fancied five years, sans the Ashes, slugging it out with the Netherlands instead? The gap would make that notorious chasm between the football Premier League and Championship appear trivial.
A much more sensible solution, previously not suggested, is two division of six. This is how it would work.
Every four years, the Test league would take place. Each side in division one and two would be required to play every other side in their division in home-and-away series of at least three matches. Every game would count towards the league standings. The culmination of the four years would be a three-match series played between the sides ranked first and second in the top division. Simultaneously, there would be a three-match play-off series between the bottom-ranked side in the top division and the top side of division one. And there could be something similar, though not granted Test status, between the bottom-ranked side in the second division and the winner of the ICC Intercontinental Cup, which would continue. This would provide Test cricket with the showpiece it badly needs, giving players and sides a tangible aim every four years. Winning the championship would captivate in a way that reaching number one in the Test rankings simply does not; sides like New Zealand and West Indies, which currently bumble along thrashing those ranked below them but struggling against the rest, in the limited Tests they play against them, would have something realistic – promotion or avoiding relegation - to aspire to.
Division two would produce some competitive and intriguing cricket. I’d much rather watch Ireland tussle Bangladesh than Shane Watson pulverise the Tigers. It would also provide those outside the current Test-playing nations the matches they need both to improve as teams and further increase the popularity of the sport. Mercifully, the charade of the best minnow players qualifying for other countries to play Tests would end; George Dockrell wouldn’t need to worry about England.
So far, so good – but surely Australia, England and India would block such a championship, fearful of how much revenue they would lose if they suffered relegation? But the great strength of this format is its openness: teams would only have to play 30 Tests every four years against those in the same division. Given that England played a total of 50 Tests in the period between the last two World Cups, this leaves ample scope for other fixtures. So New Zealand and the West Indies would not suddenly be cut-off from the sides in division one. The Kiwis played only 25 Tests against sides ranked above them between the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, and could expect to play division one sides in 20 Tests over four years under this system.
India and friends wouldn’t have to worry about losing out on revenue if they were relegated. If England were, they could still play home-and-away Ashes series of five Tests apiece, as well as, say, three-match contests against India and South Africa home-and-away over four years in division two. Relegation, though a great embarrassment, wouldn’t be the sporting and financial catastrophe it would be under eight-nation divisions.
Undeniably, this change would make Test matches a much more appealing prospect: more games would be played between sides of the same standard; there would be more overall meaning; and there would be a thrilling climax every four years. To those crying ‘but what of the statistics?’, cricket needs to get over its numbers obsession. Iran’s Ali Daei has more international goals than anyone else, but no one thinks he’s better than Pele. Besides, it wouldn’t require a degree in mathematics to see the difference in Test stats between division one and division two.
Under this system, all sides would become aspirational. Far from destroying Test cricket in New Zealand and West Indies, the challenge of getting promoted would be reinvigorating, in a way their current schedules clearly are not. There would be a very welcome bonus, too: as all league series would have to be at least three Tests, that miserable specimen known as the two-match series would become virtually extinct. If cricket is to be expanded, as it should, this is how.

See my post on How it would actually work

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Gloucestershire: 2011 Season Preview

2010 in a nutshell:

2010 was a somewhat disappointing year overall for the Gladiators. In the County Championship the club finished fifth in Division Two after a fairly disastrous end to the season. Once again it was generally the bowling which was the stronger suit for Gloucestershire, so much so in fact that two thirds of their 2010 County Championship wickets came from players who have been drawn away to supposedly bigger and better things. The biggest negative for Gloucestershire was undoubtedly the ease with which they were turned over on no less than nine occasions (matched only by Warwickshire). At home they won just two County Championship matches, not good enough. In the T20, Gloucestershire finished bottom of the Southern Group, enough said. It was a slightly better story in the 40 Over League, where the Gladiators narrowly missed out on the knockout stages, finishing third by just one point in Group B. Overall, it was a season to forget, although there were glimpses of the potential residing at this club of great history.

2011 prospects:

Departures galore across the disciplines will hurt the Gladiators, but not perhaps as much as people first may think. A promotion challenge is an outside possibility, but without a top quality spinner in the County Championship, and with a number of inexperienced players throughout the side, the consistency of performance will probably not match that required for a serious push. Much more likely is success in the T20, aided by the signing of the magical Murali, somewhat of a miracle for a club so strapped of cash. This alone would be a welcome change from last season, when the club faired so badly. A lot will depend on how quickly the new youngsters and new overseas signing, Kane Williamson, adapt to county cricket.


The top order has undergone a bit of an overhaul, as in been replaced! Kadeer Ali was let go and William Porterfield is now plying his trade at Warwickshire. Allrounder Rob Woodman and very surprisingly, wicket keeper Steven Snell, were also released. Finally, James Franklin has been replaced by fellow Kiwi Williamson, a destructive player with bags of potential. Ian Cockbain, Richard Coughtrie and Chris Dent face a tough time in their first full seasons with the club and this is why I expect the batting to once again be the county’s downfall across the competitions. Will Gidman meanwhile will hope for more action than he had at Durham, now that he has been reunited with his brother once again. The burden will rest largely with Captain and talisman Alex Gidman and overseas player Williamson, who will bat at three. Hamish Marshall along with veterans Jonathan Batty and Chris Taylor will also be looked to for significant contributions across the three formats and a bit more consistency than they were able to muster last year.


The departures have been plentiful. Steve Kirby has moved on to Somerset in the hope of international honours as he approaches the twilight of his career. The great find of last season, Gemaal Hussain rather did the dirty on the club that gave him a chance and joins Kirby at Somerset for this season. Franklin hasn’t come back this year and even Anthony Ireland has moved on to Middlesex. However, what appears depressing to begin with could in fact become a major positive for the club. Young fast bowlers are coming through the ranks and there are high hopes for Liam Norwell (right arm fast-medium) especially, along with David Payne (left arm fast-medium) and Ian Saxelby (right arm medium, who can bat). Led by the evergreen Jon Lewis, who is fast becoming an allrounder it seems, there is real hope for the seam attack this year, so expect the bowling to remain pretty strong despite the departures. The problem then? Spin, or the lack thereof yet again. Gloucestershire will again be dependent on the inconsistent twosome of Vikram Banerjee and Richard Dawson (now also the spin bowling coach), apart from when Murali arrives for the T20 of course. If only he could play all year...

Probable side:

Batty (wk)
A. Gidman (c)
W. Gidman
Payne (Banerjee)

An all pace attack is likely more often than not in the County Championship, given the relative weakness of the spin options available.

Key Man:

My pick is Alex Gidman, Captain, talisman and a supremely talented and dangerous player, who has been on the verge of England selection for the past few years. He can be a destructive player, whose allround contribution and leadership of those younger players will prove decisive on many occasions for Gloucestershire this year. He will have to massively improve on last years’ efforts though, when he averaged just 23.

Rising Star:

Liam Norwell is a young right arm English bowler capable of making the breakthrough this year and more than that, making a real contribution to the county’s success. If he performs as well for the Gladiators as he has for the youth team then the county will find themselves with a more than adequate replacement for the likes of Steve Kirby and Gemaal Hussain.

Captain and Coach:

Alex Gidman has already been mentioned a lot, indicating the county’s reliance on him. As a Captain he leads by example and hopefully the younger additions to the side will follow in his stride. As for the coach, John Bracewell, he has always been considered as a bit of a one day specialist, but he will be desperate to improve the clubs fortunes in the longest and shortest versions of the game. His nurturing of the young talent in this side will be key to Gloucestershire’s chances of success and he will need to get the blend of experience and youth right throughout the season.


Just outside the promotion places in the County Championship and progress to the knockout stages of the T20 Cup. Finals day is a possibility if the batting clicks for the Gladiators, but it rarely does. The 40 Over League will probably be used as a breeding ground for some more youngsters meanwhile.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Essex: 2011 season preview

2010 in a nutshell

One-day fun days accompanied by self-destruction in the championship. A first season in Division One since 2003 ended, as it had done on the two previous occasions that Essex reached the top tier, with relegation. After thumping eventual champions Notts and drawing with Yorkshire in July, Essex had 107 points from 11 matches and faced relegation rivals Warwickshire (twice) and Kent in their final five games. They lost four (only drawing with Durham after relegation was confirmed), bowled out for less than 200 seven times in 14 innings, and mustering just 19 points. You don't have to be Good Will Hunting to work out that equation.

Still, there was the usual proficiency in the short forms to enjoy. Ryan ten Doeschate, despite missing a chunk of the season with injury, showcased the abilities that would later inspire the Netherlands at the World Cup, while Ravi Bopara and the ever-in-bloom Grant Flower (who notched two 40-over tons at the age of 39) also scored heavily as Essex reached the semi-finals of both the Twenty20 Cup and the CB40 competition. However, Dwayne Bravo was bussed in to fairly disastrous effect for T20 finals day, while a Trescothick-inspired Somerset ended hopes of a fourth one-day title in six years.

2010 prospects

I write this after the first game of the season (defeat to Kent) and in the midst of a first-innings collapse against Middlesex, so the forecast looks a little bleak right now. The addition of Owais Shah (currently at the IPL with Ten Doeschate) should strengthen the batting, while the return to the second tier will hopefully give the likes of Jaik Mickleburgh, Tom Westley and Billy Godleman further opportunities to develop. The bowling attack, led by the supremely reliable David Masters and with South Africa's Lonwabe Tsotsobe as overseas player, looks as good as any in Division Two - if, unusually for Essex, a little light on spin options.

However, if Bopara joins Alastair Cook on England duty for much of the summer and the likes of Mark Pettini and Matthew Walker fail to contribute significantly, captain James Foster is going to need shoulders like Atlas to lead Essex up again. The Eagles were somewhat fortunate (and probably unready) to win promotion two seasons ago, so don't be surprised to see them fiddle around in the middle of the Div Two pack in 2011. Essex's focus is likely to remain on both the one-day competitions - T20 at Chelmsford is the county's real money spinner, after all - and with Ten Does and Scott Styris in the side for the 20-over format, a real crack at lifting the trophy for the first time is expected.

Likely team

With everyone available, this would have been my first-choice line-up before the start of the season:

Cook, Mickleburgh, Shah, Bopara, Walker, Ten Doeschate, Foster (wk), Masters, Phillips/Wright, Tsotsobe, Chambers

However, with the emergence of Reece Topley (see below) and the absence of key players due to the IPL and international call-ups, the team is more likely to look something like this:

Godleman, Mickleburgh, Bopara/Pettini, Walker, Westley, Foster (wk), Phillips, Masters, Tsotsobe, Chambers, Topley/Wright

Key man

James Foster has had more than enough on his plate in recent seasons, what with keeping wicket to almost Russellian standards and maintaining a batting average in the 35+ region, all the while trying to catch the selectors' eye. Now he's got the captaincy to manage too. After the pressure proved too much for Pettini midway through last season, Foster carried out an adroit balancing act that didn't seem to greatly affect his form (he finished as joint leading run-scorer in the championship) - but he'll have to do the same in spades this year if he is not to be overwhelmed.

Rising star

Reece Topley - who doesn't even have a first-team profile on the Essex website - is a 6ft 7in 17-year-old with two five-wicket hauls to his name in as many championship appearances. The son of former Essex bowler Don Topley, Reece made his first-class debut against Cambridge at Fenners in March and is about as raw as 18 ounces of blue steak, but he seems able to extract swing as well as the bounce that comes with his lofty action. Comparisons with Steve Finn and Chris Tremlett are to be expected, though Essex should be wary of exposing such a prospect to the effects of burnout.

Coach and captain

Foster has taken on the armband, such as it is, and there is little doubt that he is the most inspirational of Essex's senior players. At 31, his England chances now appear to have receded terminally, but his nous at this level is invaluable. Paul Grayson remains head coach and he is as enthusiastic and straight-talking as ever. The Yorkshireman seems to recognise that the batting is too frequently of the papier mache variety - whether he can fix that, as a former top-order player himself, is the big question.


Coloured by the dismal start (we're now following-on at Lord's), I'd say a four-day challenge is remote, given the amount of young players likely to make up the bulk of the side. Mid-table consolidation coupled with T20 mastery seems like the best outcome.

Replacing Colly

It is a remarkable fact that of the seven batsmen who represented England in the epic 2005 Ashes series, four played in the last test match. While bowlers have come and gone, there has been a remarkably stability about the England batting order, with five of the top six in the recent Ashes series having more than 50 caps for England (and few would bet against Jonathan Trott achieving the same longevity). This has led to accusations of a closed shop in the past as the incumbent batsmen have been persevered with, but it does mean that when a place comes up in the batting order, there is a genuine feeling of “who can grasp the nettle”.

Paul Collingwood’s timely retirement from Test cricket gives the batsmen that first opportunity at permanency since Andrew Flintoff’s body decided enough was enough in 2009. Colly was an obdurate (the word “nuggety” will be a lot less used now) test batsman, averaging over 40, typically when the runs were needed most. His bowling was no more than handy at test level (only 17 wickets) but his fielding was outstanding and in the most recent series, probably his greatest asset. So who are the contenders?

Eoin Morgan (Middlesex) Probably the favourite having played against Pakistan last summer when Ian Bell was injured and carrying the drinks in Australia. He did score a century last summer, but that innings accounted for more than half of his runs in his eight innings. Only seven first class tons in nearly 100 innings do not seem the form of a batsman who can go on to play the big innings required at Test level. A critical part of the One Day squad, he is clearly well thought of, but would need to put to rest the perception that he is a one day specialist quickly.

Ravi Bopara (Essex) He had an extended chance before Trott was selected and while he utterly dominant against a poor West Indies team, he was dismantled by Australia in 2009. He is probably the most like for like replacement in that he also bowls handy medium pacers, but is likely to find his niche in the One Day team. Unfortunately, not quite good enough for Test cricket.

James Taylor (Leicestershire) A young man with a very bright future, he was young cricketer of the year in 2009 he scored prolifically for Leicestershire last season and impressed with the England Lions in the winter, second in the batting averages among the recognised batsmen. His time will come, but with his runs mainly having come against Division 2 opposition, he will need to continue to impress at Lions level to press his claim.

James Hildredth (Somerset) The man to beat Taylor in the Lions averages, which he managed while captaining the squad. Hildredth has long been seen as a talented cricketer, but it is only in the last two seasons that he has put the promise into practise, being a vital cog in Somerset’s push for trophies last season. Justin Langer rates him very highly and he is a very strong contender.

Andrew Gale (Yorkshire) Another man who has captained the England Lions and had a successful tour as a player over the winter. Gale took a while to break into the Yorkshire squad, but having done so, he has flourished, particularly as captain. He is a batsman who seems to deliver when it is needed most and the pressures of captaincy have enhanced rather than detracted from his game. Should he be given the chance and take it, he is also a real alternative to Alistair Cook as the next England captain.

Adil Rashid (Yorkshire) A bit more left field this suggestion, and certainly not a like for like replacement. However, with Matt Prior averaging well over 40 in test cricket, there would seem to be little reason to suggest that he could not bat at 6, with Rashid batting at 7 as a bowling allrounder. This would allow England to play with two spinners and with the likes of Broad, Bresnan and Swann, still maintain a strong batting line up.

My choice: The Rashid experiment may need to wait until later in the season. Test cricket in May is not the time to experiment with a new leg-spinner, as Chris Schofield could probably testify. For me, Hildredth just edges it over Gale to be given the first opportunity.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

A new Caribbean dawn? Pull the other one

After their latest cricket humiliation - the 10-wicket defeat to Pakistan at the World Cup - West Indies coach Otis Gibson has taken some pretty serious action. From the ODI squad for the upcoming series against the same opponents, he has dropped Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan and, most eye-catchingly of all, Chris Gayle.

Given that Chanderpaul is nearing 37, his omission isn't very surprising: he has no chance of playing in the next World Cup. The death of ODIs may have been greatly exaggerated, but the death of bilateral ODI series has not been. Where they are interesting, it tends to be because they are played before the Test series, lending them context. Piggy-backed onto the end of the Tests, they are essentially meaningless. So it makes sense to ditch Chanderpaul, in this form of the game at least.

Sarwan and Gayle, however, are both 30, so clearly haven't been dropped for reasons of age. Sarwan has struggled for form for some time now, and was never fluent at the World Cup. Gayle was, but the view that he doesn't care much has always lingered, albeit unfairly at times. If you are trying to build a new team with spirit and work ethic, it probably makes sense to dump Gayle. Keeping him in, for all the brilliance of his batting, risks sending a symbol that it's fine to act in such a nonchalant way with so little apparent passion for the West Indies (with his decision to arrive back from an IPL stint only two days before a Lord's Test perhaps the best example of this). To a degree, Gayle is probably slightly unlucky - he strikes me as a man for whom, like David Gower, endless hours of training would be counter-productive. Nevertheless, dropping him is a powerful symbol.

Yet the most disheartening aspect of the selection news concerns two all-rounders who should be integral to a West Indian revival. Both Dwayne Bravo and Kieran Pollard will miss international fixtures to play in the IPL - and the West Indies board don't even bother threatening not to select them in future. Of Pollard, the statement even said, "It was mutually determined that Pollard would be best served by being allowed to hone his T20 skills in the Indian Premier League, which will bring future benefit to West Indies cricket". Who do they expect will believe that?

With commitment levels like that from their best players, it is no wonder the board have said they want to make it 'special' to represent the West Indies again. And it's why talk that the West Indies won't exist as a cricketing entity in 2020, but a series of nations, continues to linger.

Friday, 8 April 2011

World Cup petition

Just a quick note on the World Cup petition we've put together - so far we have had over 1300 signatures, which is a great effort. I have also had an email from the ICC's legal team (some people were using their chief executive's email address, but I've since increased security to prevent this from being possible) - that they know about it must be a good thing.

Anyway, do try and spread the word if you can. In the meantime, check out this interesting article calling for a 20-team World Cup on Idle Summers - it makes business and cricketing sense. Not sure that would be my number one option but, but I'd certainly prefer it a great deal to a 10-team tournament!

A new county season - will Somerset actually win something?

So today marks the beginning of the new county season, less than a week after the World Cup final. Cricket really is a 365 day a year sport.

Somerset look like they might be able to improve on their treble of near misses last year. As well as powerful batting - Trescothick, Hildreth, Kieswetter - they have boosted their bowling attack. Steve Kirby is an astute signing, while overseas spin, in the form of Ajantha Mendis and then Murali Kartik, will get plenty of wickets, especially given that most English batsmen seem allergic to using their feet to spin. And George Dockrell could be an excellent signing too.

In the meantime, here are 10 county players to watch (click the links to read why)-
Simon Jones
Alviro Petersen
Owais Shah
Amjad Khan
Graham Onions
James Taylor
George Dockrell
Danny Briggs
Jonny Bairstow
Tom Maynard

What are your thoughts on the list? And, indeed predictions for the new season?

County men to watch - Danny Briggs

Briggs is a left-arm spinner whose action evokes that of Dan Vettori. He benefited from the England Lions tour more than anyone else, claiming 33 wickets at under 20 with guile and plenty of turn. Briggs out-bowled Adil Rashid on that tour – and it may not be too long until he overtakes Monty Panesar as England’s second choice Test spinner. Unusually for a slow bowler yet to turn 20, Briggs has also fared outstandingly in the hustle-and-bustle of Twenty20.

County men to watch - Jonny Bairstow

Like his father, Jonny is a Yorkshire wicket-keeper and he too could play for England. In both his seasons for Yorkshire, Bairstow (21) has averaged in excess of 40, as well as impressing on the recent England Lions tour to the Caribbean. A natural behind the stumps and a resolute batsman, Bairstow knows some long innings – he has 15 first-class 50s but is yet to score a hundred – will put him in contention for a winter touring spot.

County men to watch - Tom Maynard

Amidst the chaos that saw Alviro Petersen appointed new Glamorgan skipper, Tom Maynard left the club. Though his time at Glamorgan was characterised more by rich potential than performance, fans were sad that a man of his stroke-playing ability had left. A move to Surrey could provide the spur Maynard, 22, needs to achieve more consistency, especially in first-class cricket. If he can manage that, his clean-hitting is such that the next World Twenty20, to be held in the autumn of 2012, is a realistic aim.

County men to watch - George Dockrell

Dockrell starred for Ireland at the World Cup, most notably dismissing Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni. Just 18, Dockrell is a left-arm spinner who gives the ball a pleasing flight, as well as getting probing turn and bounce. But his biggest attribute is his relentless accuracy. Aided by an admirable temperament, Dockrell picked up 2/23 from his ten overs against Bangladesh. Somerset recognised his potential, handing him a two-year contract last year, and he could be a huge asset towards the end of the season.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

County men to watch - James Taylor

Taylor may be tiny – just 5ft 5in – but so have many of the finest ever batsmen. The 21-year-old has excited judges more than any prodigy since Ian Bell, and with very good reason. So far he averages in excess of 45 in both first-class and one-day cricket, and has already displayed a relish for long innings in hitting two double centuries. The responsibility of being Leicestershire’s best batsman seems to inspire him and, after averaging 58 for the England Lions, how far away is a first Test cap?

County men to watch - Graham Onions

Onions admits he watched the Ashes with no little frustration – the man who dismissed Shane Watson and Mike Hussey with the first two balls of the day at Edgbaston in 2009 could easily have been there. Having not played since January 2010, Durham will need to manage his workload sagaciously. If they do, he could soon add to his 28 Test wickets, which have come sat a very respectable 31 apiece. That he remains in England’s plans was made clear when he was named in the England Performance squad for this season.

County men to watch - Amjad Khan

A bowler capable of generating reverse swing at great pace, Khan was handed a Test cap in the West Indies in 2009 – only Darren Pattinson trumps him in the ranks of unlikely England Test players over the last decade. Thereafter, he has slipped into anonymity, and the Danish-born quick will hope a winter move from Kent to Sussex can reinvigorate a career that risks being ravaged by injury. Sussex will need him to be a success to remain in Division One.

County men to watch - Owais Shah

Controversially released by Middlesex last season – made all the more acrimonious because he found out through a journalist – Shah moved to Essex. With his desire to rebuild his reputation, expect Shah to score plenty of runs, mixing classical shots with his own idiosyncratic ones, though he will miss the start of the season due to IPL commitments. At 32, he says he retains ambitions of playing for England. Though he averaged over 50 in all three forms of the game as an overseas player in South Africa during the off season, Shah, seemingly blacklisted from the England set-up, will need to score monumentally to earn a recall.

County men to watch - Alviro Petersen

Our second man to watch is new Glamoragn skipper Alviro Petersen.
Glamorgan played a high price indeed for his signing. After his appointment, ex-skipper Jamie Dalrymple left the club, director of cricket Matt Maynard resigned and his son, promising young batsman Tom, followed out the door. Even without the winter upheaval, Petersen already faced a tough challenge – joining a new club as captain is notoriously difficult. The best way to stabilise matters will be to make runs. Petersen, who scored a century on his Test debut in India last year, should bring solidity to Glamorgan’s top-order, and will probably bat at three.

County men to watch - Simon Jones

I've picked ten county men to watch, which I'll be posting. I begin - perhaps more in hope than expectation - with Simon Jones.
Though he has had almost as many attempted comebacks as George Best, Jones is still only 32 and – until his next injury, at least – can still produce terrific spells. That much he proved with some outstanding bowling for Hampshire in the Caribbean Twenty20 tournament. With yorkers, well disguised slower balls and more pace than one would expect considering his injury record, he took 12 wickets at ten apiece, prompting dreams he could again represent England – most likely as a strike bowler in the shorter formats.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

2011 Season Preview - Yorkshire

2010 in a Nutshell

Favourites to go down at the beginning of the season, Yorkshire nearly ended up winning the Championship, being one of three teams still in contention on the final day of the season. The capitulation to Kent when trying to push for a positive result cost in the end, but third place was a good return on the year with a young home-grown (ish) team

On the batting front, it was a standout season for Adam Lyth. Promoted to opener, he scored 1500 runs to beat Rudolph to the top of the averages. Anthony McGrath also topped 1000 runs, while Jonathan Bairstow, in his first full season, and captain Andrew Gale also got close, despite Gale missing matches to captain England Lions.

Adil Rashid topped the bowling list as well as averaging 45 with the bat. Less heralded were Steve Patterson and Oliver Hannon Dalby who took their chances and plenty of wickets while Tim Bresnan and Ajmal Shahzad were away with England.

In the One Day competitions, getting to a semi-final in the Clydesdale Bank trophy was almost exclusively down to Rudolph, who scored 755 at nearly 95 opening the batting. He will be missed this year. The less said about the 20:20 campaign the better.

2011 Prospects

Jacques Rudolph has gone, while Ryan Sidebottom has come back. This obviously strengthens the bowling considerably while weakening the batting. It also means that there is likely to be an all Yorkshire team this season. Joe Root or Joe Sayers (hopefully now fully recovered from illness and injury) are likely to be those to benefit from the additional batting place. However, with Lyth and Gale looking at the vacant place in England’s middle order, the likes of McGrath and Bairstow will also need to step up to the plate to make up the missing runs.

The return of Sidebottom could mean a pace attack of Sidebottom, Bresnan and Shahzad. In reality Bres in particular will not be seen much in Yorkshire this season following his excellent winter with England, which may give a chance to the promising Moin Ashraf. The spin attack also looks strong with Adil Rashid looking for force his way back into England reckoning, with David Wainwright and Azeem Rafiq as back up.

Likely team

I’d go with

Joe Root, Adam Lyth, Anthony McGrath, Andrew Gale, Jonathan Bairstow (wk), Adil Rashid, Tim Bresnan/ Steve Patterson, Ajmal Shahzad, David Wainwright, Ryan Sidebottom, Oliver Hannon-Dalby

With Joe Sayers and Moin Ashraf in waiting.

Key Man

With the return of Ryan, Adil Rashid’s runs may be more critical than his wickets this season. However, in the absence of Bresnan, Rashid is the critical part of this team with bat and ball. A standout season could see the Pennant return to Headingly and England working out how they can play him and Swann in the same team.

Rising Star
Over the last three years, Andrew Gale, Adam Lyth and Jonathan Bairstow have established themselves as highly promising batsmen. This year, it is the turn of Joe Root.

Coach and Captain
Same as last year, with Martyn Moxon and Andrew Gale. Gale won a lot of plaudits for his captaincy as well as his batting last year. He's a strong contender for Paul Collingwood's spot in England's middle order and it's not beyond the realms of possiblity that he could be England's next captain.

Yorkshire, Durham, Somerset and Nottinghamshire will be the top 4 in the Championship in some order. I don’t expect any excitement in the shorter form of the game though!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Petition - Keep the world in the World Cup

In my outrage at the ICC's decision to (a) limit the next World Cup to 10 teams (meaning Bangladesh and Zimbabwe will be ensured of nine games each) and (b) make the tournament a closed shop - even though Ireland are ranked above Zimbabwe - I have made a petition.

Please sign it here - and spread the word if you can.

World Cup 2011 Dream Team

Ignoring for a moment the controversy about the ICC's quite outrageous decision to exclude the minnows from the 2015 World Cup, here is a team of the tournament.

Sachin Tendulkar
An inevitable pick. Tendulkar batted as well as he did in the 1996 World Cup, when he was top scorer. He was 18 runs off being so in 2011, and his centuries against England and South Africa were both magisterial, showing how devastating orthodox batting can still be in ODIs. It’s unlikely he will play in 2015 – but not completely preposterous either.

Tillakaretne Dilshan
Though there was barely a Dilscoop in sight, Dilshan consistently got Sri Lanka off to brilliant starts, scoring two centuries and a disciplined 73 in the semi-final. No one scored more runs than his 500, and there were also eight wickets with his canny offspin, including a spectacular caught-and-bowled in the final.

Jonathan Trott
Certainly not a fashionable selection, but Trott was simply the most consistent batsman in the tournament. In six of his seven innings he managed at least 47, unobtrusively accumulating at the formidable average of 60. To those who deride him for being too slow, it’s worth pointing out that Trott’s strike rate was 80, eight more than those of Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis.

Kumar Sangakkara
Sangakkara averaged 93 with the bat; always a model of calm at the crease, his off-drive is one of the finest sights in cricket today. He also kept well and captained intelligently, utilising his spinners to suffocate England and New Zealand in the quarter and semi-finals, and would have hugely deserved to be a World Cup winner.

AB de Villiers
It was de Villiers’ run out in the quarter-final that had everyone mentioning South Africa’s history of chokes. He batted so serenely all tournament, able to change tempo at will, that all looked well with him at the crease. De Villiers hit two centuries and a 39-ball 52 in the win against India, combining finesse with six-hitting ability, as well as fielding with his trademark vivacity and athleticism.

Yuvraj Singh
It’s remarkable to think he was dropped less than a year ago, seen as unfit and unfocused. Yuvraj was deservedly named man of the tournament. With the bat, he was explosive yet possessed a calm it has often lacked, as a tournament average of 90 proved. As India’s fifth bowler, he was terrific, bowling his left-arm spin with control to claim 15 wickets.

MS Dhoni (wicket-keeper, captain)
Dhoni’s nerveless 91* was one of the greatest innings ever seen in a World Cup final. While he played big shots, these were done with selectivity and an absence of risk. Winning the man of the match award in the final was reward for leading India superbly throughout, shuffling his bowling intelligently and being more willing than most skippers to keep slips in during the middle overs.s

Shahid Afridi
No one knows quite was happened to the batting but as a pure spin-bowler Afridi was the tournament’s best. His top spinners were consistently hard to dominate, while he surprised batsman with quicker balls and occasional googlies. In total he claimed 21 wickets at fewer than 13 apiece. He also proved a good leader of Pakistan, with players seeming to genuinely enjoy playing under him.

Tim Southee
Few expected New Zealand to make the semi-finals; that they did was in large part down to Southee, who provided the wicket-taking threat his side have lacked since Shane Bond’s retirement. With good pace, late swing and a useful bouncer, Southee claimed 18 wickets. The 2015 tournament will be in New Zealand; Southee will be 26 then and should cause great damage.

Zaheer Khan
India were nothing like as formidable with the ball as with the bat, making Zaheer’s performance critical. He rose to the challenge magnificently, bowling with subtle variations – including a bare-knuckle slower ball that dismissed Mike Hussey – and great skill from both over and round the wicket. Zaheer relished bowling during powerplays, and his match-turning yorker to Andrew Strauss was a contender for ball of the tournament.

Dale Steyn
Steyn’s spell to transform the game against India – five wickets for four runs in 2.4 overs – was the product of one of the game’s most lethal Yorkers, which were lethal throughout the tournament. He is also a thinking bowler – more so than he sometimes gets credit for – and used slower balls and bouncers with selectivity to thrive on the subcontinental tracks. Steyn’s twelve wickets cost just 16 apiece, with a parsimonious economy rate (4.15) too.

Twelfth man: Ray Price
A surprising pick, but Price was outstanding for Zimbabwe, going for just 3.44 runs an over during the six games, as well as claiming nine wickets. His guile means he is well-suited to bowling his left-arm spin during the powerplays, as was illustrated with 2/21 against Pakistan. Price’s facial expressions after deliveries also never failed to provide humour.

See how it compares with our XI of the last World Cup.

Helping out the ICC – and boy do they need it

Tim has covered the main points that are wrong with the ICC’s decision to restrict the number of teams in the next World Cup. I would only point out additionally that the next World Cup is in effect a closed tournament. There is no scope for anyone to qualify and in my mind is not a genuine world tournament.

However, where the ICC have got something right is that the tournament needed changing. The tournament goes on for far too long, there are still too many games and until something more positive is done to help the likes of Kenya and Canada, too many of the games involving the Associate teams were non-contests. Given the current spirit of “We’re all in this together”, here is my format for the next World Cup.

Number of teams: 12
The eight quarter finalists from the 2011 tournament qualify automatically. The other four have to compete against other interested nations to qualify. In future years, nine teams will qualify from the previous tournament Teams to be split into two groups of 6 playing round robin. The top four teams go into quarter finals. The other two teams go into a play off.

Two games per day. This gives 15 days for the first round of matches, but allows for 3 weekends of play.

The two play off matches between teams 5 and 6 in each group come before the quarter finals, filling the off days.

One quarter final per day(Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday). Play off final for a place in the next World Cup on the following Tuesday

Semi finals Wednesday and Thursday

Final on the Sunday

This gives us a tournament in four weeks, gives the best teams the best chance of winning the tournament but also gives the developing teams something to play for all the way through the tournament. More importantly, it means that the World Cup is not a closed shop for the established teams, but other countries get the chance to play on the biggest stage.

Oh ICC, what have you done?

So two days after the end of an enthralling World Cup, what do we get? The decision to limit the 2015 World Cup to ten teams and, moreover, give no opportunity whatsoever for other sides to qualify is staggering in its closed-mindedness. It suggests the ICC is nothing less than a cartel motivated solely by money. Which is probably about right.

There is simply no justification for the decision. Cricket should be allowed to grow in the countries that have shown progress - none more so than Ireland. Imagine, if you will, how well Ireland could have done with their best player - Eoin Morgan - not taken away from them by England?

Instead, the associates have effectively been told they are wasting their time trying to improve in the longer formats of the game. The message from the ICC is that they should stick to Twenty20 - made into a 16-team tournament in the most futile of gestures. Just when Ireland and a few others - most notably Afghanistan (who would have qualified for this tournament had the qualification process not been concluded two years ago, and almost certainly given a better representation of the minnows than Kenya and Canada, another mistake on the ICC's part)- seemed on the cusp of genuine progress, they have been told it's all a waste of time.

Instead we will witness a 10-team round robin, which will actually be more shorn of drama than this World Cup. Unless they improve a great deal, we will have to witness Bangladesh, ZImbabwe and even the West Indies being continually thrashed. A different format with more teams would actually have reduced the number of games between the best and those outside the top eight.

Today is indeed a dark day for the game, just as the Irish are proclaiming. As an interesting aside, I'd be fascinated to see the TV ratings for the games this tournament. Fans love underdogs and upsets, and I'd wager that Ireland's victory over England, as well as the Netherlands' game with England, pulled in significantly more than, say, New Zealand's game against Zimbabwe. It may actually be that, in limiting the tournament to ten and creating no scope for any sort of fairytale qualification (such as Afghanistan's to the last World Twenty20) the ICC are actually reducing the commercial value of their product - and how apt that would be.

William Porterfield was right when he said the 2015 tournament will now be nothing more than a "glorified Champions Trophy". It will be much the poorer for that.

Tell the ICC what you think - email or complain on their twitter account. The Cricket With Balls campaign against the decision can be found here.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Tournament review: India

Concluding our tournament reviews, here is an assessment of how the winners did.

The pre-tournament favourites proved triumphant, their batting strength simply proving overwhelming, even when their two star batsmen made a combined 18 runs in the final. Sachin Tendulkar scored more runs than any other Indian by a distance, but this side does not lean on him as previous ones did. India’s bowling and fielding were considerably weaker, but the excellence of Zaheer Khan, aided by Yuvraj Singh’s surprising 15 wickets, prevented this from costing India. They were highly worthy winners.

Star man

Hard to look beyond Tendulkar, but Yuvraj’s performances were so brilliant you have to. He averaged 90 with the bat, with four half-centuries, including a match-winning one against Australia, and a century against Australia. Yuvraj’s bowling was almost as important, and his two-wicket hauls in the last three games, prevented the lack of five bowlers from hindering India.


Yusuf Pathan entered the tournament amid much hype, having just hit a 70-ball 105, with eight sixes, against South Africa. But his power lacked any selectivity in the World Cup. An average of less than 15 before being dropped was the miserable result.


Gary Kirsten will be hard to replace as coach, but with MS Dhoni so formidable as a captain, expect good results for India to continue. They will need to be sagacious managing the workloads of players, something they have done superbly with Tendulkar of late.

Tournament review: Sri Lanka

Continuing our tournament reviews, here is an assessment of how losing finalists Sri Lanka did.

Brilliant top-order batting and an array of bowling options that always threatened meant few were surprised by their run to the final. Had Muttiah Muralitharan been fully fit, they may have won. Still they have much to be proud of, led by an opening pair that twice added more than 200. Kumar Sangakkara was exceptional as skipper, Lasith Malinga always exhilarating to watch.

Star man

Though several excelled, it’s hard to look past Tillakaratne Dilshan. His explosive batting earned 500 runs – more than anyone else in this World Cup – while he also chipped in with eight wickets with his canny off-spin.


Hard to pick one, but Chamara Silva was never fluent with the bat, and was dropped for the final.


Several spinners will aim to be the ‘new Murali’, with Ajantha Mendis, omitted for the final, perhaps the most promising. With Dilshan, Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena all at least 33, new batsmen are probably an even bigger priority. They are also looking for a new coach.

Tournament review: West Indies

Bowling Bangladesh out for 58 was perhaps the most impressive feat any bowling side managed but West Indies still can’t win against the ‘big eight’, having failed to do so since 28 June 2009. They seem to lack belief against the best, as the manner in which they subsided against Pakistan after Chris Gayle’s dismissal was testament to, and weren’t helped by Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shiv Chanderpaul enduring grim spells. The bowling was better, with leg spinner Devendra Bishoo impressing.

Star man
Kemar Roach showed himself to be a genuinely incisive quick, and claimed 13 wickets – but he needed more support.

Sarwan and Chanderpaul failing to manage a 50 in 11 innings between them, utterly lacking in any fluency.

They look a better-balanced side without skipper Darren Sammy – Andre Russell is a similar player but superior with bat and ball – so his position may come under threat. Coach Ottis Gibson has promised big chances after the quarter-final humiliation, and this side does have better players than the performances suggest. Vivacious all-rounder Dwayne Bravo will be key on his return.

Tournament review: Bangladesh

Continuing our tournament reviews, here is an assessment of how Bangladesh did.

Hosting World Cup games for the first time, Bangladesh recorded a memorable win over England – but were bowled out for 58 and 78 either side of that game. As that stat makes apparent, their batting retains a penchant for spectacular implosion. Their array of spinners were hard to get away, but they too seldom possessed wicket-taking venom. Many expected Bangladesh to reach the quarter-finals, and they were a disappointment, even if the England win was amongst the most memorable in their history.

Star man
Shafiul Islam was unheralded before the tournament, but proved Bangladesh’s biggest match-winner. A brilliant spell of 4/21 secured a tight win over Ireland before he belied any batting degree to loot 24* against England. But his performances were woeful in Bangladesh’s three defeats.

Tamim Iqbal has been called the ‘Bangladeshi Sehwag’. He sparkled intermittently, but an average of 26 was extremely disappointing. His first-over dismissal against the West Indies precipitated the lowest score of the entire tournament.

Should continue to improve, albeit not at the rate the ICC would hope after all they have invested there. Their batting needs more to learn more discipline, but that has been said for the last decade.

Tournament review: Canada

Continuing our tournament reviews, here is an assessment of how Canada did.

Did as well as could reasonably have been expected. Canada beat Kenya convincingly – the only game they were expected to compete in – and reached 150-2 in the 29th over against Australia, as well as bowling Pakistan out for 184. In Ashish Bagai and Jimmy Hansra, they had a pair of fluent stroke-makers, while Harvir Baidwan’s seamers and Balaji Rao’s leg-spin were a threat.

Star man
Stylish and never overawed, Ashish Bagai took them to victory over Kenya, and then scored a commanding 84 at almost a-run-a-ball against New Zealand. He also kept wicket with great skill.

John Davison clubbed a brilliant 111 against the West Indies in the 2003 World Cup but, at 40, could barely muster a run.

Cricket needs to expand beyond the expat communities in Canada, and some respectable displays may have helped to do that. There are real plans to spread the sport in Canada, but it will be no easy task, especially as this could be their last ever appearance at a 50-over World Cup.

Tournament review: England

Continuing our tournament reviews, here is an assessment of how England did.

A plain side, batting and bowling with orthodoxy, England were nevertheless
described as the tournament’s entertainers, and that is what they were. England produced a series of enthralling games in the group stages and, in conspiring to lose to Ireland and Bangladesh, helped to preserve interests in the tournament. But their thrilling run ended with an ignominious 10-wicket defeat in the quarter-final, with a depleted bowling attack lacking in threat. In the final analysis, a lack of power in the batting and the absence of good spin options to complement Graeme Swann were hurdles they couldn’t have overcome even had they had the best preparation in the world.

Star man
He seldom oozes star quality, but Jonathan Trott produced a tour de force, with 422 runs at 60, and, though you wouldn’t know it, a strike-rate of 80. Critics of him should acknowledge he played his role brilliantly, but was let down by a lack of support.

Jimmy Anderson’s role in the Ashes win isn’t about to be forgotten but he lacked any control in this tournament. By the end, even his captain was saying he was burned out.

Andrew Strauss is likely to resign as one-day skipper. His successor will find a side well-suited to English conditions but in need of more oomph with the bat and variation with the ball.

Tournament review: Kenya

Continuing our tournament reviews, here is an assessment of how Kenya did.

How far they have slipped since reaching the semi-finals in 2003. Kenya were the worst side in the tournament, the side damaged by factionalism as well as an absence of skill. Getting bowled out for 69 in their tournament opener was a start they never threatened to recover from.

Star man
Collins Obuya deserved a century against Australia but was left stranded on 98*. He handled Tait, Lee and Johnson with the assurance of a Test player, and scored 243 runs in the tournament, 110 more than the next most for his side.

Having scored 74 against South Africa in only his fourth ODI, Seren Waters, who is part of the set-up at Surrey, was viewed as Kenyan cricket’s great hope. He still is, but managed only 38 runs in four innings before being dropped.

Given how far they’ve slipped, they may not even qualify for the 16-team World Twenty20 next year. The board have announced a review into their World Cup, which at least acknowledges all is not well with Kenyan cricket.

Tournament review: Netherlands

Continuing our tournament reviews, here is an assessment of how the Netherlands did.

Began the tournament so well against England, but that proved their high point. Thereafter they struggled, twice losing by over 200 runs, with the side overly reliant on Ryan ten Doeschate. The bowling was a real problem, though left-arm spinner Pieter Selar has promise. In the final game of the tournament, Ireland overhauled their total of 306 with absolute ease.

Star man
Ten Doeschate came into the tournament with a reputation as the best associate player in the world, and, with a century that fused brawn and finesse against England, he quickly went about justifying it. He later scored a 50 against Bangladesh and another century against Ireland, as well as bowling usefully.

Alexei Kervezee is a regular for Worcestershire, with an array of classy shots. He was expected to back up ten Doeschate, but the 21-year-old seemed overwhelmed, averaging only 13.

Cricket remains a minority sport in the Netherlands and that isn’t about to change. A few more ODIs and Twenty20s against the big sides, and regular appearances at World Twenty20s, is probably the summit of their ambition.

Tournament review: Zimbabwe

Continuing our tournament reviews, here is an assessment of how Zimbabwe did.

With their array of spinners, Zimbabwe had realistic hopes of achieving an upset, probably against New Zealand. In the event their batting folded against the Kiwis, who raced to a 10-wicket win. It was much the same throughout, with Brendan Taylor’s clean-hitting 80 against Sri Lanka the exception. The bowling was a little better, albeit over-reliant on Ray Price. That Ireland did markedly better in a tougher group told its own story.

Star man
Ray Price is renowned for his on-field theatrics, but he is also a left-arm spinner of great guile. Adept opening the bowling or operating in the middle overs, he claimed nine wickets whilst going for only 3.44 an over.

Skipper Elton Chigumbura has a reputation as a big hitter, but he averaged less than 20, while his bowling went for over seven an over. The stats suggest the captaincy has reduced his effectiveness.

Their return to Test cricket this year could be painful if their World Cup performances are a good guide. With batting prone to collapsing and an abject shortage of quick bowling they need to entice players like Sean Ervine, who has chosen Hampshire over his country, back to protect their competitiveness.

Tournament review: South Africa

Continuing our tournament reviews, here is an assessment of how South Africa did.

The cliché that South Africa always choke in World Cups was given new credence by their spectacular implosion against New Zealand. In topping their group ahead of India, South Africa showed they possessed a range of wicket-taking options they have not always possessed, with Imran Tahir exceptional. The batting, led by AB de Villiers, was also powerful. Yet they were ultimately exposed by a weak lower middle-order, with Johan Botha (ODI average of 19) never good enough to be a number seven.

Star man
It could have been de Villiers, Tahir or even Robin Petersen, but Dale Steyn showed his class again. His bowling against India, when he claimed five wickets, part of a total of 12, to trigger a collapse of 9/29, showed off the brilliance of his yorkers.

Outgoing captain Graeme Smith failed to score a half-century in the tournament, suggesting he may find it hard to continue to merit a place in the ODI side.

They remain an excellent side in all three formats, but the c word will remain their biggest nemesis. Need some allrounders – Albie Morkel, perhaps? – to ensure they bat deeper. In search of a new coach too, Gary Kirsten would do very nicely.

Tournament review: Pakistan

Continuing our tournament reviews, here is an assessment of how Pakistan did.

An honourable semi-final defeat was better than many had expected of Pakistan – and if they hadn’t given Sachin Tendulkar so many lives, they could well have made the final. Key to their success was their varied bowling attack, with Shahid Afridi and Umar Gul superb until the semi-final. But their batting always looked prone to collapse.

Star man
Shahid Afridi finished as the tournament’s leading wicket-taker, the subtle variations and accuracy of his leg breaks claiming 21 scalps in just eight games. But don’t mention the batting.

It was hoped that 19-year old Ahmed Shezhad would bring much-needed solidity to the top order. Instead he managed 44 runs in five innings.

Invariably hard to assess. If they can shore up their top order they will become even more dangerous but, with Younis Khan and Misbah ul-Haq nearing the end, it could get even worse.

Tournament review: New Zealand

Continuing our tournament reviews, here is an assessment of how New Zealand did.
Did better than probably even they expected to reach the semi-finals, beating Pakistan and South Africa. Ross Taylor’s 131* against Pakistan was one of the innings of the tournament but Jesse Ryder and especially Brendan McCullum did too little to support him. With the ball, Dan Vettori disappointed somewhat, but the unheralded Nathan McCullum was outstanding in the victory over South Africa, as was Jacob Oram. And, in the great Kiwi tradition, the fielding was terrific.

Star man
Bowling coach Allan Donald’s praise – that Tim Southee “could become the best swing bowler in world cricket” is understandable. With late movement allied to pace, Southee was never short of wicket-taking venom, taking 18 wickets at an average of 17, including 3/25 against Pakistan.

Opening the batting, McCullum was too often guilty of injudicious shot selection, failing to pass 16 in five innings against quarter-final qualifiers.

The wily John Wright has already made a difference as coach. Though Vettori has quite as ODI captain, with Taylor the likely replacement, New Zealand will be optimistic about continuing their improvement, especially if Southee, Ryder and Kane Williamson develop.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Tournament review: Australia

Continuing our tournament reviews, here is an assessment of how Australia did.

Their 34-game unbeaten run in World Cups was ended by Pakistan, and they were then beaten by India in the quarter-final, prompting Ricky Ponting to resign. Ultimately they paid for having no spinner worthy of the name, with Jason Krejza invariably ineffective. Their policy of having three wicket-taking quicks worked to an extent, but always risked being one-dimensional in the sub-continent. Australia’s batting was over-reliant on Shane Watson and Michael Clarke.

Star man

Brett Lee, 34 but as ebullient as ever, claimed 11 wickets, including 4/28 against Pakistan.


Cameron White has a reputation for late-order destructiveness, so a tournament average of 17 proved a major hindrance for his side.


They now have a new captain in Michael Clarke; don’t expect their rut to go on too long. Never seem short of batsmen, but their one-day bowling will suffer after Shaun Tait’s decision to only play Twenty20, especially with Lee ageing. Need a spinner from somewhere.

Tournament review: Ireland

Beginning our assessment of how each of the 14 teams fared in the World Cup, this is the verdict on Ireland.

Ireland's remarkable victory against England, inspired by Kevin O’Brien’s blade, was a stunning riposte to the ICC’s decision to limit the 2015 World Cup to ten teams. Yet, in spite of that, Ireland will reflect on the tournament with genuine disappointment – had they beaten the West Indies, as they may well have done had they not dropped Kieran Pollard early on, they would gave qualified for the quarter-finals. Their top-order batting disappointed, with the top four only scoring two fifties between them in the five games against Test opposition, and panicking against Bangladesh when Ireland should have won. With the ball Ireland were always combative, though Boyd Rankin disappointed - and they were arguably the best fielding side in the whole tournament, with an admirable ability to conjure direct hits.

Star man

With flight, guile and unrelenting accuracy, George Dockrell claimed 2/23 against Bangaldesh and two more wickets, including Sachin Tendulkar, against India. Aged just 18 and with a Somerset contract, Ireland will be nervous of him following Eoin Morgan’s path.


Paul Stirling hit a spectacular 72-ball 102 against the Netherlands but the opener only managed 56 runs in Ireland’s other five games opening.


Proved they are the best associate – and they showed themselves a better side than Zimbabwe to. Need more games against Test-playing sides, and they have four to look forward to this summer, to build on their excellent progress. They will await the ICC’s decision on qualification for 2015 with interest – it will be an outrage if Ireland are denied the chance to qualify.