Wednesday, 31 August 2005

Dan on...the End of the Fourth Test/Era

So much has been said already on the third close finish in four classic Ashes tests that I risk repetition by saying anything at all. Nonetheless, I can't resist adding my two cents in respect of the final hour of that test, where Warne and Lee showed all the qualities that make the game great. Australia had disgraced themselves by following on for the first time since 1988 and, after no batsman stood out in the second innings, had no hope in hell. 129 runs and all the time in the world. How hard could it be?

But Warne took a wicket with his first ball. Not as breathtaking as the first ball he bowled to Mike Gatting in a previous Ashes series, but still as lethal. He went onto take another 3. And Lee bowled with such fire, steam and passion that he almost made me think Australia could burgle a win. His ball to bowl Flintoff was quite sensational.

In those performances however, once you cleared away all the smoke, you could see the wonder that is the decline and fall of Australian cricket. By playing as they did - and the way they have throughout the series - Warne and Lee painfully showed up the Australian side as very mortal by comparison. Time was when the whole Australian team had that fire and self-belief. Because those who didn't weren't in it. Now you can see who has it and who doesn't. And that is the mark of a team beginning their descent from great to merely very good.

Sunday, 28 August 2005

Ben on ... Mike's winning reminiscence

The best accounts of the great tests as remembered by Cricinfo readers are given here, but I have reproduced the standout essay below.

Greatbatch and 14 hours of adhesion
Michael Thorn on Perth 1989-90

In November 1989, New Zealand played Australia in a one-off Test at the WACA. New Zealand were without Richard Hadlee and Andrew Jones, and were expected to lose heavily against an Australian team that had been rampant in England. The game started predictably enough when Australia won the toss and ground out 521/9. David Boon scored a double-century and Dean Jones was given out to an appallingly bad lbw decision on 99. By the time Jones was dismissed, I had lost almost all hope of New Zealand escaping defeat, so to make up for it, brainless teenager that I was, I jeered at my television as Jones walked from the pitch and tried to soak up as much malicious glee as I possibly could from his expression of anguish.

New Zealand started day three with nothing ahead of them except for the distant hope of a draw and the more obvious prospect of a heavy defeat. Terry Alderman bowled Robert Vance almost as soon as play got underway and that brought Mark Greatbatch to the crease. The scorecard tells me that Greatbatch must have spent some of the next three days sitting in the stands and that other people must have batted, but if that's true, I don't remember it. What I can remember is that for 221 minutes in New Zealand's first innings and for 655 minutes in the second, Greatbatch stood firm.

Carl Rackemann was ferocious and had the ball bouncing and screaming from the hard and fast WACA pitch, but each of his rockets was met by a Greatbatch defensive stroke which dropped the ball, quiet and dead, to the ground. Even more strongly, I can remember the faint prospect of a draw looming larger and larger and this causing a fear of that hope being crushed to grow at an exponential rate. There were no flashy strokes and no prospect of a New Zealand victory, just a solid forward-defensive shot that acted like a hypnotist's charm, a buzzsaw of tension and a building realisation that there was a damn sight more to cricket than jeering at Dean Jones.

Michael Thorn is a 30-something writer of dull policy in Wellington, who occasionally escapes the drudgery of work to update a blog on NZ cricket, http://mikeoncricket.blogspot.com/.

Mark Greatbatch just went on batting as Australia were left panting © Getty Images

Saturday, 27 August 2005

Ben on ... a rather unfortunate juxtaposition of quotes on the Cricinfo "Quote ... Unquote" section

"Just 500 metres from the ground people are being beaten to death and crippled while a game is going on. The ICC is disgusting in the way it has handled cricket issues in Zimbabwe."
Zimbabwe opposition MP Roy Bennett, himself arrested and beaten by the Mugabe regime, hits out

"There's nothing like the sound of flesh on leather to get a cricket match going."
Former Australian fast bowler Geoff Lawson shows that even in retirement he thinks like a quickie

One last word before I go

A last note before I get on the plane. Dan has already commented on Shane Bond's sensational return to form, so I will instead focus on Scott Styris. What. A. Bloody. Stupid. Shot. To. Play. With. The. Score. At. 36. For. 3. Unbelievably. Stupid. Moron.

Dan on the return of Mr Bond

Alright. So it was on a dodgy pitch, in a messy Zimbabwe, against an underprepared Indian side, in the shadow of what may be the deciding Ashes test of the most interesting series in 20 years, but still...top work by Shane Bond. 9-3-19-6. The best bowling figures by a New Zealander in an ODI. The man is making a strong bid for late inclusion in a certain World XI.

Friday, 26 August 2005

A holiday in the clouds

I am taking a week off to sit on a tropical beach sipping exotic cocktails served in coconut shells. This means some good news and some bads news for us all.

The bad news for you lot is obvious, I won't be around a computer - let alone a television with cricket coverage - for the next seven days and that means little or no new posting from me on Mike on Cricket. The good news is that Ben, Dan, Marie and Karl are all around and they will hopefully step into the breach.

I also have to suffer some bad news. I am going to have to wait a week until I find out the result of the fourth Ashes test and the one-dayers in Zimbabwe. Not only that, but the weather forecast for the Pacific atoll I will be visiting seems to involve an awful lot of cloud, the chance of an odd spot of rain and not a lot of sunshine. Luckily I still have some good news to console me. The slightly iffy weather does mean a good swell and surf at my beach is meant to be glassy all week long with an average wave height of 2 to 2.5 metres. The second bit of good news is that the 2005 New Zealand Cricket Almanack has just been released so even if I have to spend the whole break inside, it won't be wasted.

Take care and see you all in week's time.

New Zealand vs India

Will tonight's contest finally give New Zealand fans the high standard of cricket we have been waiting for? Not if you ask Stephen Fleming, who believes that the Indian side's preparation has left a lot to be desired. Even if the Indian side is rather underdone, tonight's game should still give us an opportunity to judge whether the New Zealand team really is a good one, or whether we have just been flattered by a very poor Zimbabwe side.

Zimbabwe, the ICC and politics

As we all know, cricket in Zimbabwe is currently under siege from two entirely different fronts. Firstly, it is being attacked on the basis of human right breaches in that country. Secondly, it is argued that the results on the field are so poor that Zimbabwe should not be allowed to play international cricket. I think, to begin with, we should look at these two arguments seperately.

In relation to human rights abuses it is clear that the ICC is going to continue to refuse to act. This morning it reiterated that it "does not make decisions on political grounds".

In relation to the standard of cricket in Zimababwe I think John Wright has added a very sensible perspective to the debate. I think everyone acknowledges that Zimbabwe currently has a very poor side. But we should recall that they beat New Zealand in a one-day series as recently as five years ago. We should also keep in mind that most countries have gone through bad spells before - none more so than New Zealand. As Wright points out, the fact that Zimbabwe is currently a poor side is not the issue. The issue is whether they have the infrastructure, resources and support to improve. At this stage that looks very unlikely.

The infrastructure of cricket in Zimbabwe is an issue for a number of reasons. First there is the issue of the players' revolt. While fault can be found on most sides for this revolt, the fact that it was so badly handled is entirely the responsibility of management. The role of management is to guide, lead and support and it clearly failed on those counts.

The second reason why the infrastructure is an issue is the relationship between the board and the clubs it apparently represents. The Zimbabwe clubs revolted against the board in December 2004, an act which led to the suspension of first-class cricket. Again this is a management issue and comes back to a failure of the board.

The third issue in relation to infrastructure is the fact that there is little interest left in the game. This can be partially attributed to decline of the side and the internal revolts, but can also be attributed to the game's close association with Robert Mugabe. Traditionally cricket in Zimbabwe was a pursuit of the land-owning middle-class, the natural enemies of Marxism and therefore of Robert Mugabe. Because of this enmity, it is in Mugabe's interest that cricket in Zimbabwe continue as it gives an whiff of normality to a middle-class which is actually under attack. Added to this is the fact that Robert Mugabe is an avid fan and that he is the patron of the game in that country. All of this means that to watch or play cricket in Zimbabwe is to indicate a level of support for Robert Mugabe. Predictably this has meant that the traditional support base has eroded. Few of Mugabe's supporters seem to show much inclination to fill the gap - the poor standard of the national side being an obvious stumbling block to finding a new audience.

We have already seen that there are two problems facing cricket in Zimbabwe and one of them is directly attributable to the human rights abuses committed by Robert Mugabe and his colleagues. The second problem is the infrastructure of cricket in Zimbabwe and the problems associated with this infrastructure can all be connected to either the management of Zimbabwe Cricket or the political situation. Zimbabwe Cricket is headed by Peter Chingoka, a friend of Robert Mugabe and a man appointed at his request. Management and the political situation are therefore one and the same issue.

The ICC does not accept that human rights abuse in Zimbabwe is a reason for it to take any action. But the ICC does have a responsibility for ensuring that Zimbabwe has the infrastructure, support and resources to support a test-class national side. And for as long as Zimbabwe Cricket continues to be run by Robert Mugabe and Peter Chingoka, the ICC will fail to meet those responsibilities. The ICC might well state that it "does not make decisions on political grounds", ultimately it will have to.

Karl on The Return of Wrighty

Stuff has an article on John Wright's upcoming stint as coach of the World XI against Australia. Of most interest for New Zealand fans is the last couple of paragraphs:

He does say there have been "three or four opportunities" to get back into coaching but he's turned them down because they involve being based overseas again.
...it depends where the opportunities are but I like New Zealand.

How that will work out in the medium-term will be interesting to see, but it's great to see a talented coach committed to New Zealand.

Thursday, 25 August 2005

A rout

Rout is too sharp a word for last night's match, it was a long, drawn-out, predictable and brutal slaughter. I actually got to the point where I just couldn't watch the television any longer.

Zimbabwe might have been bad, but no matter what you say about the class of their attack there was no denying that Lou Vincent is in cruelly good form. The sometimes very quick Andy Blignaut's second ball was a bouncer which Vincent hooked for six off his front foot. Some of his shots reminded me of Nathan Astle at his best, the front foot planted and the bat swung in an uncompromising arc. It made batting look an exceptionally uncomplicated task.

Vincent now holds the record for the highest score by a New Zealander in a one-day match, and sits 10th equal overall. An article in Cricinfo implies that Vincent's record, amongst the others set in this game, has been cheapened by the abject state of Zimbabwe cricket. In response it should perhaps be pointed out that the score Vincent beat, 171 not out, was scored by Glenn Turner against East Africa in 1975 and that the New Zealand total was shy of a world record set by Sri Lanka against Kenya in 1995/6. If we are going to criticise Zimbabwe in this arena, then perhaps we should also turn our attention to the status of all the minnows allowed to play one-day international cricket.

The Herald gives us the best coverage of the match, including some classically irrepresible quotes from Vincent, but like most of the other coverage it fails to say much about the Zimbabwe innings. I guess it must have seemed to ultimate anti-climax after 44 overs of slash and burn batting. For the record Zimbabwe made 205 in 43 overs with young Brendan Taylor (36) and Heath Streak (45) top-scoring. Chris Cairns took a battering on his return to the side (2-72 off 9 overs), but the rest of the attack bowled tightly. Pick of the figures were Dan Vettori (3-29 off 8) and Andre Adams (2-22 off 5).

Wednesday, 24 August 2005

The one-day series

You might not realise it, but the one-day series between New Zealand, India and Zimbabwe is about to get underway. Luckily Cricinfo is ready (as ever) to step into the breach and give us the low-down.

Super Series XI

The ink is still drying and yet the arguments over the selection of the Super Series XI have already begun. Osman Samiuddin, Pakistan editor for Cricinfo, is pretty het up at some of the selections - particularly over the exclusion of Chaminda Vaas. Meanwhile an Indian press agency (in an article picked up by a number of papers) has stated that Pakistan is "in shock" over the exclusion of Inzamam-al-Haq from the squad.

The organisers must be well pleased. The entire selection process, with its slow stripping away of layers upon layers of players, appears to have been carefully orchestrated to maximise interest in the selection of the final teams. Controversey means interest and interest will mean viewers.

I agree that Inzamam was unlucky and that some players have been included more on the entertainment value associated with their names than their actual form (Shoaib Akhtar and the out of form Sachin Tendulkar being the two most obvious), but that doesn't particularly worry me. These matches are all about entertainment and should not confused with anything more serious than that.

Tuesday, 23 August 2005

Jake on the comeback trail

According to the Herald Jake Oram is on the comeback trail and bowled well in the warm-up thrashing of a Zimbabwe Country XI.

Meanwhile the Indian side is making a complete hash of things and they haven't even reached Zimbabwe yet. Greg Chappell needs to pick up his game if he is to make the same impression as John Wright did.

Monday, 22 August 2005

Monday's news

There is not a lot to get excited about this morning. But then it is a Monday after all. Best of the stories is the rumour in the Dominion-Post that John Wright is going to coach the World XI due to play Australia in October. In less interesting news, the Herald tells us that John Bracewell might use a batsman as the substitute in the one-day series which starts this Wednesday. And Cricinfo reports that two British politicians have written to the ICC requesting that Zimbabwe be kicked out of international cricket because of human rights abuses in the country.

Saturday, 20 August 2005

Poll results and a new poll

It seems not many of you wanted to express your view on the Zimbabwe tour. Only ten of you voted. Four of these were happy to watch the tour without guilt, three of you felt a little bit guilty but watched and three swore their morals prevented them from taking any interest. Hmmmmm. I suspect at least one of those in the latter group couldn't resist at least the odd peek.

A couple of weeks I polled you on the outcome of the Ashes. No-one gave England a sniff in that poll and the overwhelming majority predicted a complete thumping. So let's run the same poll again and see what happens this time.

Fleming and Bond

Hmmmm, everyone seems to use terms like 007 and "James" when talking about Shane Bond, but I just realised that the author of the James Bond books was one Ian Fleming. Let's hope our Fleming can continue to author many more successes involving his Bond.

Hmmmm.

The reason I came up with that terrible metaphor is because Cricinfo's the numbers game has just presented a statistical analysis of those two players.

Author S Rajesh points out that Bond's strike rate at 50 test wickets is one of the best since the Second World War. Bond's rate of a wicket every 38.60 balls is significantly better than, say, Richard Hadlee (58.64 at the same point as Rajesh points out, and 50.85 over his entire career). Rajesh qualifies his praise of Bond slightly by pointing out that 24 of his wickets have come against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

I am confused at one aspect of Rajesh's analysis of Fleming. He says that Fleming has an exceptional record against spin and a terrible record against Glenn McGrath - but then quotes a batting figure against spin of 32.50 and against pace of 79.92. Perhaps that is a typo. The most interesting aspect of the analysis of Fleming is that his batting average in New Zealand is 32.36, while overseas it is 44.81. Perhaps this says something about the traditionally low-scoring New Zealand wickets, or perhaps it says something about Fleming's struggle with the seaming ball (perhaps also demonstrated by his average against McGrath).

Friday, 19 August 2005

Scheduling

Pakistan are putting in an official protest over the ICC's Future Tours Programme. This is the ridiculous system that gives most of us nothing but two-test series as all the cricket playing nations race to play each other twice every five years. Pakistan are to ask that the the programme run over six years instead of five and this comes shortly after several of the Pakistani players asked for an end to the two-test series. I am sure most of us would much rather see the return of the longer test series - where cricketing fortunes are allowed to ebb and flow far more than they are doing so well in England at the moment, so let's hope New Zealand Cricket gets on board.

Another poll

Cricinfo is asking people to send in a paragraph about their favourite test. They have already published Dylan Cleaver's memories of the Dunedin test of 1980, but I am sure you lot can think of more classic matches.

Series summaries

Cricinfo provides us with two summaries of the recent test series in Zimbabwe. The first highlights the return of Shane Bond. The second, by Andrew McLean, asks and then attempts to answer a number of important questions posed before the tour began.

Both articles highlight the fact that New Zealand is not scheduled to play another test for seven months. McLean, however, hints that this might not turn out to be the case and that something is up with the scheduling of the tests against South Africa (which have already been moved from October 2005 to April 2006). It would be great if that were true and we could get some test cricket this summer.

The New Zealand Herald gives us a third series summary, but apart from a few extra words about recreational activities it doesn't add much.

Thursday, 18 August 2005

Win a trip to the World Cup

The New Zealand Cricket website is running an online competition with five trips to the West Indies for the 2007 World Cup up for grabs. Entry is free. The only condition is that you have to take me with you if you win...

The Fans XI

Cricinfo is running a poll to detemine who readers think should be in the two World XI teams which will face Australia in October. You should go and vote in it to make sure the New Zealand team is properly represented. Interestingly Cricinfo has inserted Shane Bond and Jacob Oram into the line-ups as players "who should have made the short-list" and you can select them in your teams alongside Dan Vettori and Brendon McCullum - who actually did make the short-list.

In drawing up your team you can ask Cricinfo to tell you how well each player has performed in the past twelve months. Dan Vettori's figures make particularly interesting reading when you do that. 9 test matches, 498 runs scored at an average of 49.80 and 49 wickets at an average of 22.71.

Another day, another win

Most of the coverage calls the Bulawayo match another "crushing victory" for the New Zealand side. I think that is a little harsh on a Zimbabwe side that improved markedly since the first test. That improvement did not stop that most genial of Trinidadians, Phil Simmons, from getting the sack as Zimbabwe's coach.

The conclusion of the game was almost as much a farce as the handling of Simmons' dismissal. For those of you who have not seen it, Blessing Mawhire was so busy waving to the crowd to celebrate his maiden test 50 that he failed to notice that his batting partner, Christopher Mpofu, had set off for a second run and was standing almost behind him. At the other end of the pitch a somewhat sheepish Brendon McCullum took the bails off and the New Zealanders began to celebrate their victory.

Sadly Zimbabwe had their share of bad luck in the second innings. Not only was Mpofu run out, but so were Stuart Carlisle and Craig Wishart. Carlisle must have been particularly aggreived given that he had just done the hard work and seen off Shane Bond's opening spell, while Wishart didn't even get to face a ball.

The short test series is now over and it is hard to see many positives to come from it for New Zealand. Clearly Shane Bond's rehabilitation is one. The New Zealand quick took his tally of test wickets to 56 at the impressive average of 20.80. James Franklin and Dan Vettori also proved a few points with the ball and Vettori confirmed his status as an all-rounder with that fine century at Harare. The top order continued to prove a concern and I think the selectors are going to have to take a long, hard look at who is going to open against the West Indies this summer.

Despite the one-sided results, the Zimbabwe side might take some comfort from their performance in the series. Tatenda Taibu proved he is of real international class as a wicket-keeper, gritty lower-order batsmen and captain. Heath Streak showed he is still a classy swing bowler and some new talent was revealed in Blessing Mawhire, Keith Dabengwa and 19 year-old Brendan Taylor.

I don't think we need to go too much into the obvious negatives of the series. The Green party and John Minto have already gone over those far too many times.

Anyway, now its on to the first of the many one-day series we are going to have to sit through this summer.

Wednesday, 17 August 2005

A round-up of the papers

Cricinfo has kindly compiled the best of the coverage of the third Ashes test for us. Most amusing is the revelation that the sudden popularity of cricket has seen sales of cucumber, scones and tea rise by 20%.

6000 test runs

Stephen Fleming became the first New Zealander to score 6000 test runs last night. In typical fashion the skipper was then dismissed when it looked like a century was there for the taking. Nathan Astle had no such trouble, although his unbeaten 116 was a more subdued innings than normal. As Astle later explained to the New Zealand Herald one of the better aspects of this innings was that he usually starts the season poorly. A few innings for Durham warmed him up nicely and he has hit the cricket season already in top gear.

It is difficult to watch the cricket in Zimbabwe. The fact that the matches are so one-sided is one issue. The fact that you find yourself willing on the wrong team is another (did anyone else cheer when debutant Keith Dabengwa got off the mark with a six from Dan Vettori?). But by far the most problematic is the complete lack of atmosphere. This article on Cricinfo discusses the issue. I guess we should remember that test matches in New Zealand have attracted similarly tiny crowds though.

Tuesday, 16 August 2005

England goes cricket mad

The Sydney Morning Herald tells us how the third test pushed football off the front and back pages of the English dailies.

Old Trafford

...it is in these sorts of circumstances that you can normally expect besieged captains to come out and score a stunning century.


Ahem. Cough.

Cricinfo is already calling this game "the draw that roared". Two tests, two cliff-hangers. This series is building into an absolute classic. Ten days seems a hell of a long time to wait until the fourth test begins.

Sadly the result means that I have to buy Dan a bottle of something "nice and cool" when he pops back into the country in the next few months. Any recommendations?

Bulawayo

Shane Bond has now taken 51 wickets in 12 tests. I am pretty sure no New Zealander has got to the mark as quickly. I believe Chris Martin held the previous record and it took him until his 13th test to take his 50th wicket.

Bond himself admits that he is bowling within himself, and yet he was consistently bowling at above 140kmph while I was watching last night. Not yet full pace, but certainly heading in that direction.

Meanwhile Zimbabwe can take some heart from their performance on day one. 231 is a huge improvement over the efforts in the first test and Tatenda Taibu has shown, not for the first time in his career, that he is a real talent with a huge amount of determination.

Karl on ... is Chris Cairns a physics genius?

An article in The Guardian says the key to hitting big sixes is about understanding the basics of physics.

Monday, 15 August 2005

That thing the press does

An excellent article in yesterday's Herald demonstrates how much power the written word can have. I note that this article is on Cricinfo's list of recommended web links, so people within the ICC with the power to make changes will have a chance to read it.

Cracks appearing in the Australian side

According to this article in Cricinfo Shane Warne and Ricky Ponting had to be separated by Adam Gilchrist after a stand-up row during the second test. It also seems that Warne's mood has not improved since then. Being dismissed in the 90s, missing a catch at slip and watching Gilchrist fluff two stumping attempts won't have helped his mood.

Mind you, it is in these sorts of circumstances that you can normally expect besieged captains to come out and score a stunning century.

Second test previews

The Bulawayo pitch is dry and will suit the spinners, so Richard Boock thinks the selectors might aim to include Paul Wiseman in the team. The problem with this proposition is that it means one of the pace men will have to be left out - and after the first test performance who could you possibly drop? Cricinfo puts Richard's speculation about the team to rest by reporting that the same XI will play.

Boock's article also contains quotes from John Bracewell who discusses the New Zealanders past tendancy to cruise after a big win.

Our final preview comes from the NZPA who include quotes from Chris Martin and Hamish Marshall, who don't think Zimbabwe will roll over quite so easily this time.

Sunday, 14 August 2005

Openers

The Herald on Sunday, and Ken Rutherford in particular, is having a lash at New Zealand Cricket for pushing James Marshall and Lou Vincent to the top of the order and for failing to do anything to develop future opening batsmen.

Saturday, 13 August 2005

The Herald

Saturday's New Zealand Herald has a couple of articles of note. First up is a piece on Chris Cairns receiving his Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Second up is a column by Richard Boock talking up James Franklin. And finally, in a moment of breath-taking hypocrisy, Adam Parore accuses the Australians of having big mouths.

Jeetan Patel

Wellington offie Jeetan Patel seems to be on a fast-track to the New Zealand team. I am not entirely sure why. His domestic record is not great and, as far as I can tell, his only claim to a place is on the basis of a tight performance in a single one day match for Wellington last season. Helpfully Stephen Fleming was Patel's captain in that match.

The fact that player's are getting called up on the basis of a single performance harks back to the bad old days of New Zealand cricket. Back in the days when we were as bad, if not worse, than the current Zimbabwe side. Back when players could get selected for a major international tour without any first-class experience simply because they impressed a selector watching them in the nets. I see no reason why Jeetal Patel (86 first class wickets at an average of 40.55) should be on that fast-track ahead of someone like Bruce Martin (137 first-class wickets at an average of 29.66), and a whole myriad reasons why not.

Poor Zimbabwe

According to Cricinfo Phil Simmons is about to be sacked as Zimbabwe's coach. In the words of the Zimbabwe Independent he is a "gentle giant" and is just too nice to push the side hard enough.

In another article Cricinfo reports on the Zimbabwe Cricket Board's defense of the side's test status and on the views of others within Zimbabwe, including a couple of quotes from this excellent piece in the Zimbabwe Independent - which deserves to be read in full.

Friday, 12 August 2005

James Edward Charles

Jimmy Franklin is interviewed in a New Zealand Herald article which also reveals some of the less intelligent members of the New Zealand cricket team have visited Victoria Falls on this trip. Expect to see pictures of their happy, touristy faces to be plastered all over the Zimbabwe Herald in the next couple of days.

Ponting on the back-foot

Ricky Ponting's latest column in the Australian is a very defensive piece. Getting into a debate with journalists about whether his side is too arrogant is probably not what the Australian captain should be doing in the middle of a tight test series. Mind you, at least he does have some praise for Stephen Fleming - even if it is at the expense of New Zealand's bowling attack.

Zimbabwe = New Zealand

Richard Boock has lept to the defence of the beleagured Zimbabwe side - pointing out that the New Zealand team was far worse for far longer.

In a second piece Boock turns statistician and looks at the Edgbaston and Harare tests.

The duel

Peter Roebuck has an excellent piece in which he analyses the minutiae in last night's duel between Glenn McGrath and Marcus Trescothick.

Ashes third test - day one

Day one of the third test did not provide the thrill a minute highs of the second test, but the outcome for the series might be very important indeed. For England, everything is coming right. Their problems coming into the match were the batting form of Michael Vaughan and Ian Bell. By the end of the day Vaughan was in the pavilion with 166 next to his name and Bell had ground out an unbeaten half century. Meanwhile the problems facing Australia just seemed to get worse. While McGrath and Lee returned from injury, Michael Clarke was invalided off the field after only a handful of balls. Gillespie continued his run of terrible form and five easy catches went begging. Adam Gilchrist had a shocking day behind the stumps and Ricky Ponting's captaincy was listless and uninspired.

Momentum is England's now, but the Australians showed at Edgbaston that they should never be written off until the last ball has been bowled.

Thursday, 11 August 2005

New Zealand bullies

John Bracewell wants the New Zealand team to continue bullying the Zimbabwe side during the second test scheduled to start in Bulawayo this weekend. He also praises the New Zealand attack in this article from the NZPA.

The first test was meant to last five days. It barely lasted two. This article reveals that the New Zealanders spent one of their extra days off either playing golf or going on a drive to check out the wildlife. I suppose they had to fill the day somehow, but you think they would have known better than to provide Robert Mugabe with some "happy tourist" photo opportunities. Mind you, at least they didn't repeat the Australian's mistake and visit Victoria Falls.

In other news, the demoralised Zimbabwe team will be boosted by the return of hard-hitting, quick bowling, former male model Andy Blignaut - who has been clocked bowling at over 145kmph.

The season ahead

The schedule for the upcoming season has been announced. It consists of lots of one-dayers (a three match series against Australia, a four match series against Sri Lanka and five matches against the West Indies) and not much else. The West Indies have kindly agreed to play a three match series to partially compensate for the missing test matches against Zimbabwe, but that is still not a lot for those of us who love the longer form of the game.

The first test against the Windies will be played at Eden Park on the 50th anniversary of New Zealand's very first test match victory. Appropriately enough it was the West Indies we played to achieve that win way back in 1955/6.

The full schedule is:

* Chappell-Hadlee Trophy one-day series against Australia

December 3 - first one-day international (ODI) at Eden Park, Auckland
Dec 7 - second ODI at Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Dec 10 - third ODI at Jade Stadium, Christchurch

* One-day internationals against Sri Lanka

Dec 31 - first ODI at Events Centre, Queenstown
January 3 - second ODI at Jade Stadium, Christchurch
Jan 6 - third ODI at Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Jan 8 - fourth ODI at McLean Park, Napier

* West Indies tour

Feb 16 - Twenty20 international at Eden Park, Auckland
Feb 18 - first ODI at Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Feb 22 - second ODI at Queenstown Events Centre, Queenstown
Feb 25 - third ODI at Jade Stadium, Christchurch
March 1 - fourth ODI at McLean Park, Napier
Mar 4 - fifth ODI at Eden Park, Auckland
Mar 9-13 - first test at Eden Park, Auckland
March 17-21 - second test at Basin Reserve, Wellington
Mar 25-29 - third test at McLean Park, Napier

Ashes - third test preview

Yesterday an obscure 30 year-old Australian medium pacer with a first class bowling average of over 31 received a call-up from the selectors, Brett Lee was in hospital with a drip in his arm, Glenn McGrath was limping around on crutches and Ian Chappell was calling Ricky Ponting's side "over-rated".

Today Brett Lee has been passed fit, Glenn McGrath is making a rapid recovery and Peter Roebuck is telling us that the Aussies are going to kick English butt.

Lets just hope that the preview doesn't turn out to be more entertaining than the cricket.

The cupboard is bare

Poor old Zimbabwe. Their convenor of selectors has admitted that the team dismissed twice in a day contained the best batting line-up the country can offer. Someone has to pay the price for their defeat though, so it is going to be the bowlers. Chris Mpofu and Graeme Cremer both look like getting the chop. And that is a little sad really. Both bowlers are still in their teens and I thought both showed promise. Admittedly they lost their heads during the assault by Vettori and McCullum, but Mpofu at least can point to a leg injury as a reason for his lapse. Prior to receiving treatment for that injury I though Mpofu looked truely classy. He has a smooth, elegant action and seemed the quickest of the Zimbabwe bowlers. He also looked one of the more committed players on the Zimbabwe side and seemed to be almost in tears after his first innings dismissal.

Wednesday, 10 August 2005

Records, records, records

The Black Caps website has a nice breakdown of the records broken by the New Zealand team during those frenetic two days in Harare.

ICC player rankings

So what did the Harare result mean for the ratings of the players involved? Well Daniel Vettori was the biggest beneficiary, moving up to 16th in the bowling charts, reaching an all-time high batting placing of 49th and becoming the world's 5th highest rated all-rounder. Brendon McCullum also reached a career high, with his ability with the bat now putting him at 44th on the list, just ahead of English tyro Kevin Pietersen. The other significant movement comes from Shane Bond, who makes an instant return and appears in the bowling charts for the first time in over a year at number 29. There are no New Zealanders in either the top 15 batting or the top 15 bowling charts. Stephen Fleming is our top batsman at 21 and Vettori is our highest ranked bowler.

The new ICC ratings website makes all of this annoyingly tricky to discover.

More on the Harare debacle

Richard Boock stands in one corner waving his arms at us and yelling "good for New Zealand, bad for the game", while in the other corner a more subdued Cricinfo mentions that Lawrence Moyo's piece in the Zimbabwe Herald (linked in the article below) is very courageous and so contrary to the party line that it might cause ructions within Zimbabwe Cricket.

The end is nigh for Zimbabwe

Cricinfo's managing editor, Martin Williamson, believes the game in Zimbabwe is in an almost terminal decline and even Robert Mugabe's mouthpiece, the Zimbabwe Herald, seems to agree. The Herald article is mostly a good one, so you should go and read it. It was written by Zimbabwe's "cricket writer of the year" after all. The fact that this award was made by Robert Mugabe can perhaps be seen in the statement near the bottom that:

...the New Zealand cricketers earned themselves a good three days to go on a tour of the country's holiday resorts with Kariba and Victoria Falls being first options.


Given the warnings from Phil Goff about Mugabe using images of players frolicking as propaganda, I suspect that any New Zealand cricketer who goes anywhere near a holiday resort while in Zimbabwe won't get much of a welcome home.

Tuesday, 9 August 2005

Shortest tests of all time

The StatsGuru at Cricinfo tells us that the Harare match is one of the shortest tests of all time, by both time and number of balls bowled. The game only lasted 1011 balls and was over in less than two days. It should be noted that New Zealand's thrashing at the hands of Australia in 1946 (our only test against them until 1973/74) was significantly shorter and our batting in that game was even worse than Zimbabwe's. In our defence however, we did manage to restrict Australia to 199/8.

The paper round

Okay. Cheer yourself up again. Cricinfo has kindly presented us with the best of the British press coverage of the Edgbaston match and has included links to all the articles.

Test cricket at its worst

Isn't it depressing to read Dan's post about the Ashes, to reflect on the excitement and drama of those dramatic four days at Edgbaston and then to watch the sorriest of matches in Harare. I feel depressed this morning and desperately sorry for Zimbabwe's cricketers. What an utterly demoralising result this was for them after such a promising start to the first day.

First up, it should be acknowledged that the New Zealanders bowled magnificently. Bond, Franklin and Martin all bowled as fast as I have seen them bowl, all pitched each ball on an immaculate line and all got the ball to swing late both ways. To see Bond bowling again - and bowling fast - was thrilling. The ball that he bowled to get Wishart in the first innings will get replayed a million times this summer.

Secondly, all the luck was with the New Zealanders. Brendon McCullum could have been dismissed a number of times in his innings and Dan Vettori's bowled-but-not-bowled has to be the jammiest escape in the history of the game, while the Zimbabweans received the odd strange umpiring decision at their expense and Brendon Taylor was run-out backing up in the most unfortunate of circumstances (the ball was hit powerfully at Scott Styris but deflected off him and onto the stumps).

But having said all that, the Zimbabwe batsmen were woefully lacking in technique and confidence and just allowed the New Zealanders to dominate.

Was it test cricket? Yes. Did it deserve to be called test cricket? No.

You can read about it if you want. The Herald has coverage. And so do Cricinfo and the BBC. But all the stories make for sad reading.

Monday, 8 August 2005

Dan on...the greatest Ashes test of his lifetime

The papers here are puffed up with pride over the sensational ending yesterday. One of their main concerns is, incidentally, well-known to New Zealand cricket fans - to stick it to the ever-encroaching winter sport season, in England's case the Premiership, which began again last weekend.

The Guardian has hailed the result as the salvation of test cricket from the grasp of football for generations to come. And, although Harmison showed incredible pluck in hanging on the last wicket, everyone loves an all-rounder and Flintoff is now regarded as emerging from Botham's shadow to be the greatest English all-rounder in generations.

He did play magnificently - not only in his deeds but also in his presence. The turning point of the match for me was Harmison's slower ball yorker to Clarke in the final over of Day 3. And this was at least partly the result of Flintoff getting right under Clarke's skin and causing Clarke to lose composure. Sounds like an Australian tactic to me...

Bring on the the Third Test!

The joy of test cricket

Is anyone else feeling exhausted and somewhat twitchy this morning? What an incredible night's cricket. Initially there seemed no comparison between the dull start at an empty Harare stadium where New Zealand are taking on Zimbabwe and the supernova over at Edgbaston where England were taking on Australia. But then, just as England finally strangled a gasping Australia (thanks to a dodgy Billy Bowden decision), Brendon McCullum decided that it was time to start throwing the bat around. From 113/5 were raced to 452/9, with 219 runs coming in a frenetic last session. But I am sure that the papers can tell you all about that. Personally my brain is too frazzled to do much more than pour another cup of tea.

Sunday, 7 August 2005

Previews

Over at Cricinfo there is a rather bored sounding preview of the test series while Andrew McLean gives us a bit more insight and passion in his own column.

Both the BBC (who also provide a short and dull preview) and Cricinfo are understandably far too caught up in the thrilling second Ashes test to worry too much about a game involving Zimbabwe and New Zealand so we can forgive them.

There is nothing available online from the Sunday Star-Times, but the New Zealand Herald is awash with coverage. Chris Cairns talks about New Zealand's need for some decent opening batsmen, Dylan Cleaver discusses the same topic and speculates on Stephen Fleming's retirement date. In an almost cricket-related article Dylan also discusses what inflation in Zimbabwe means to the New Zealander's tour allowance.

In the Zimbabwe papers, there is a discussion on the make-up of the Zimbabwe side in the government controlled Zimbabwe Herald while the anti-Mugabe Independent surprisingly has a piece encouraging people to go to the cricket and talking about how important the games are to "give Zimbabweans another reason to be proud of who they are". The same paper contains yet another preview for those of you not completely previewed out.

Saturday, 6 August 2005

Karl laughs at ... Everybody Loves the Russian

I just saw the ad for the Cairns fudge, and oh how I laughed! Chris, with you bedroom eyes. And I assume that's your wife there with you. With the Russian between you! I might just have to buy some Cairns Russian fudge...

Vincent to open

The squad of 12 for the first test has been announced. Oram is the surprise player left out, apparantly because he is being considered as a batsman only. Craig Cumming also misses a spot and Scott Styris has made the team. Richard Boock thinks Styris' bowling is the reason he got the nod. The team is:

Stephen Fleming (captain)
Daniel Vettori (vice-captain)
Nathan Astle
Shane Bond
James Franklin
Hamish Marshall
James Marshall
Chris Martin
Brendon McCullum
Kyle Mills
Scott Styris
Lou Vincent

Friday, 5 August 2005

Warm-ups

Good grief we must be hungry for cricket news after a long break. The NZPA has just released an in-depth review of a Black Caps training session.

Journalists in Zimbabwe

Here is a fascinating piece on who is sending journalists to Zimbabwe to cover the tour and what other methods of getting stories news agencies are relying on.

Team for the first test

Richard Boock thinks Stephen Fleming might be pushed to the top of the order for the first test to make room for Scott Styris in the engine room. Styris, of course, is not currently in the team, has been in poor form for Middlesex (scoring 382 runs at 25.46) and has all the brain-wattage of the broken light bulb I spent an hour trying to remove from an over-elaborate light-fitting last night.

If you follow Richard Boock's logic then either James Marshall or Craig Cumming will have to be dropped - and in my opinion both have performed well enough to be retained. If Styris were to come into the side at the expense of someone in the middle order instead he will have to dislodge either Hamish Marshall, Nathan Astle or Lou Vincent - and all have scored centuries in their last couple of test innings (Vincent's being a double).

To my mind if you use Boock's logic and then apply some commonsense the most likely batting order is:

Cumming
James Marshall
Fleming
Hamish Marshall
Vincent
Astle
Oram
McCullum
Franklin
Vettori
Bond

The one problem with this line-up is that half the bowling attack (Oram and Bond) are returning from injury and I suspect the selectors will still have some lingering doubts about the ability of either to bowl for an entire test match. Especially if they only want to use Bond in short bursts - something that will put extra pressure on the two other seamers, Franklin and the recently crocked Oram.

If a batsman was going to be dropped from the line-up, then I think the selectors are likely to go for a specialist bowler as a replacement and not Styris. That specialist bowler would probably be Chris Martin, who seems almost impervious to injury and has the ability to bowl all day. In taking this step they would find some reassurance in the realisation that the tail includes batsmen of the ability of Oram, Vettori and Franklin and has room for a bunny.

Geoff Longley follows this line of thought in the Press and thinks that Cumming should be the one to give way for Martin. His reason for this is that Cumming's technique is still questionable given the number of LBW decisions against him and that he hasn't had much recent cricket. Longley's XI is:

Fleming
James Marshall
Hamish Marshall
Vincent
Astle
Oram
McCullum
Vettori
Franklin
Bond
Martin

Thursday, 4 August 2005

Ancient cricket

According to this web resource for American schools the ancient Greeks might have played cricket. If you scroll down the page till you find the entry entitled "Greek Cricket" you will find three images. I have posted one (and you can click on it to blow it up a little) and there is another which is virtually the same. The image between these two is interesting though. On the left is what appears to be a very large set of stumps (or "goal" as the Americans call it. Frickin' Americans) and a bloke with a stick. Its all probably bollocks of course. Cricinfo tells us that cricket was probably developed in Northern Europe and appeared some time between when the Romans left England (c.400AD) and when the Normans arrived (1066AD).

Anyway. If you found that interesting keep scrolling down the page of ancient ball games and check out the ancient Greeks playing hockey. Now there is a convincing portrayal of a sport some of us are still playing today. And if you still find the topic interesting, go to this page and find out more about the game described by an ancient version of Murray Mexted as follows:

"He seized the ball and passed it to a team-mate while dodging another and laughing. He pushed it out of the way of another... All the while the crowd resounded with shouts of Out of bounds, Too far, Right beside him, Over his head, On the ground, Up in the air, Too short, Pass it back in the scrum."
Chris Nevin keeping wicket to Kyle Mills. c.400BC

Some talking

Aha! A journalist has finally got some words out of the New Zealand cricket team. Oddly enough the words all relate to cricket. And some of them relate to Shane Bond and include the coaches view that he is back bowling with "genuine pace".

First test speculation

Richard Boock has confirmation on yesterday's rumours about the make-up of the Zimbabwe side - indicating we will be in for a tougher series than we anticipated. Meanwhile manager Lindsay Crocker is deflecting any questions about political aspects of the tour.

I watched TV3 news last night and they have sent a journalist to Zimbabwe. It will be interesting to see how much freedom he will have to cover anything other than the cricket.

Wednesday, 3 August 2005

Doug Cowie

Doug Cowie, one of New Zealand's most experienced umpires, has just announced his retirement.

Ian Butler

Hum. This is ominous. Ian Butler has turned down a tour to Sri Lanka with the New Zealand 'A' side. It could be that he is still returning from injury, but I smell disillusionment in the air.

New Zealand players unlikely to protest

According to the Press and player's representative Heath Mills the New Zealand cricketers are unlikely to take any protest action while in Zimbabwe. Heath Mills is also talking rather ominously about "issues" and the re-negotiaton of players' contracts.

The Zimbabwe team

Richard Boock seems to think he has the inside oil on the make-up of the Zimbabwe team for the first test, and it contains a surprise. The surprise is the return of so many of the "white rebels", including pace bowler Andy Bliganut (who spent some of his exile as a male model), batsman Stuart Carlisle and opener Craig Wishart. I am not sure whether this marks the end of the disputes which have riven Zimbabwe cricket, or whether it says something about the political situation in Zimbabwe, or whether it is empty of any meaning whatsoever - but it certainly should mean that we are in for a more competitive series than we were expecting. The transport woes and the lack of preparation by the New Zealand side will only amplify that.

Tuesday, 2 August 2005

International innovations

The Leicestershire Cricket Club and a group of backers have established an international Twenty20 club competition. New Zealand and Australian teams are not involved at this stage, but the English domestic champions will be involved along with a Pakistani invitational team, a Professional Cricketer's XI and Mark Richardson's Lashings side. Given the popularity of Twenty20 cricket in most parts of the world it doesn't seem that we are too far away from a Champions League or Super 12 for club cricket.

Meanwhile the Asia-Africa cup pits a side made up of Asian players against a side made up of African players. This seems more like an attempt to create equivalents of the Lions rugby side, and most of us know how unsuccesful that has been recently. Like the Best vs the Rest games in Australia later this year, I suspect this competition won't have much of a long term future. Amalgam sides never seem to play with much passion.

New test rankings

The arrival of August means that test matches played before August 2002 are now ignored for the purposes of the test rankings. This means New Zealand has suddenly rocketed to fifth place, despite not much change to its points total, thanks to Sri Lanka and Pakistan slinking backwards.

Monday, 1 August 2005

Stumped by Zimbabwe

At last I have found a decent, in-depth piece of journalism on the vexed subject of the tour to Zimbabwe. David Beatson, in the Independent (the New Zealand business paper, not the British broad-sheet), has actually done some reading and he makes some very valid arguments. His primary achievement is to actually have read the UN report on Zimbabwe and to see past the sound-bites.

Beatson tells us that the UN concluded that a) Zimbabwe had been warning the world about its housing crisis and requesting international support to help it meet its obligations for 10 years to no avail, b) the "clean-up" policy was developed without government input (or even awareness), c) the policy was then taken up by overzealous officials who twisted it to fit their own agendas, d) that despite this a process was still put in place to give local authorities and affected communities appropriate notice and that e) overzealous Police ignored this process, pushed ahead with demolitions without notice and then extended them well beyond the borders specified in the programme design. The UN concluded that what happened was a humanitarian disaster, but that trying to bring the Zimbabwe government before the International Criminal Court for committing a "crime against humanity" would not achieve anything helpful and would probably fail anyway. The UN report instead suggests that the Zimbabwe government pay compensation to the victims, open the country so humanitarian aid can be delivered and start an independent inquiry or inquest "to hold the operation's architects to account for giving improper advice that caused the deaths, injury and destruction".

In my opinion, none of this exonerates Robert Mugabe. He was clearly the only one with the power to have bought the policy into being without his government's knowledge or approval, he failed to put decent mechanisms in place and he has publically defended the results. But it seems that Zimbabwe still has some remnant of democratic process and the lack of governmental approval means that, to some moderate degree, Mugabe is being held to account. The UN report notes that there is now a clear division in Zimbabwe's political leadership, that one member of government has subsequently resigned from both parliament and the central committee and that others in government have clearly expressed concerns and objections.

Beatson's article might not make you feel any better about the situation in Zimbabwe, but it might make watching cricket there a little more bearable. Even better, if anyone in the New Zealand government reads Beatson's article and hears the UN's call for a pragmatic response then we might actually see something constructive being done for the people of Zimbabwe.

The tour begins

The New Zealand team beat Namibia in two one-day matches over the weekend. The side was pushed hard in the first match, but won the second easily. Dan Vettori clearly had a bit of rust to shake as he went for 80 runs in the first match, but recovered to take 3-24 off 8 overs in the second. Shane Bond also bowled well in the second match while most of the top order were amongst the runs.

Too much to read, too little time

A whole armada of good cricket writing has just sailed into port.

Vic Marks, former England offie and author of one of my first cricket books, has an excellent piece in the Observer comparing Kevin Pietersen to Graeme Hick.

Harry Pearson, author of one of my favourite sporting books, has a typical bizarre offering in the Guardian announcing the long-deceased WG Grace's, ummm, recent retirement from test cricket.

Back to the realm of the sensible and Byrony Gordon records her first taste of cricket (via Twenty20) in the Sunday Telegraph.

And finally back to this side of the world where the Antipodean doyen of cricket writing, Peter Roebuck, tells the Sydney Morning Herald that the Australian team has moved back into top gear.