Archive for category Bangladesh

On Expecting the Expected

Ever since it became apparent on the second day of the first Test in Ahmedabad that New Zealand weren’t in fact going to be crushed into dust by India, as everyone and their grandmother had predicted, I’ve been giving Dileep Premachandran a hard time for this article. (Mostly because he called Chris Martin “ready for the knackers’ yard” and anyone even casually familiar with me or this blog probably knows that suggesting Chris Martin is anything less than completely awesome is, in my opinion, punishable by torture and execution.)

But.

Truth be told, I was predicting the same thing everyone else was. I believe my exact words were “Vettori’s 100th Test appearance for New Zealand is going to be a nightmarish, bloodstained massacre.” If I felt any ambivalence I disguised it well.

I love New Zealand (yeah, not news, I know). I have a massive amount of faith in their players. I know that they have an uncanny ability to come good when appearing totally down and out. The fact that the spellcheck on WordPress still doesn’t recognize ‘Zealand’ as a word AS IT IS DOING RIGHT THIS FUCKING MINUTE sends me into a mini rage spiral. Still.

It was impossible not to. One of the oldest cliches in cricket is that anything can happen, but that’s sometimes just not true. Put Canada into the field with Australia and there’s a 99.99% chance that you could correctly predict what would happen. It’s like the lottery: technically, yes, there is a chance of winning, but you have a greater chance of being struck by lightning, twice, in the same place on your body at the same time of day while wearing the same 6 items of clothing. After the Bangladesh tour, with India coming off beating the mighty(ish) Australians 2-0, it would have just been unrealistic to think that the Kiwis – in a Test series no less (statistically the format in which they have been least successful in recent times) – would be anything other than woefully outmatched. They no longer had Bond or O’Brien. Their batting lineup was shakier than a house of cards on a seesaw in an earthquake. They had just emerged from a series in which they had failed to win a single ODI…against Bangladesh.

If the New Zealand team were a horse, it would have been taken behind some sheds and shot as an act of mercy.

There is very rarely anything nice about being proved spectacularly wrong, but (as England fans who were around in the 90s and early Aughts will attest) there’s nothing better than the team you love winning when you had prepared yourself for them to lose. It’s SO much better than an expected win. It more than compensates for the contrasting feeling – losing when winning should have been a foregone conclusion. It may in fact be one of the best feelings there is for a sports fan.

Shane Bond has said publicly that he’s always hated the ‘underdogs’ tag New Zealand have long been saddled with for this very reason, that they were expected to lose and winning was a bonus. And I agree with him. It’s not healthy for the team to think that way. It’s probably more than a little pathetic for the fans to constantly think that way. But it’s so hard not to, when it means that you occasionally get to experience this feeling. Because, for real, it feels fucking fantastic.

Or maybe I’m biased and the feeling is heightened for me because my long-beloved Chris Martin took 5 for 63 when certain people-who-will-not-be-named-except-that-their-first-name-rhymes-with-Felipe-and-their-last-name-is-Premachandran had written him off as old and past it. It’s possible.

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Waiting on the gentlemen

I’m a fan of bowlers. Spinners especially. In the batsman-dominated and batsman-friendly modern game, I’m usually one of those people that seethes over flat decks and run-glut games and gets disproportionately excited when a spinner notches up some great figures. Good economy rates racked up by slow bowlers make me extremely happy, which is something I’m almost certain I can’t say about most other women I know. I do have a healthy admiration for quality fast and seam bowling – I could watch Shane Bond all day every day if it weren’t for the fact that it would kill him very quickly, and he, Chris Martin and Iain O’Brien were three of the main reasons I became a Kiwi fan – but spin is the ultimate fascination.

I also quite like Graeme Swann. He’s an excellent bowler, he’s refreshingly witty and straight-spoken unlike a lot of his anodyne contemporaries, and he’s usually an amusing Tweeter. Got to love a man who can make you laugh and bowls smart finger-spin.  (Daniel Vettori bowls extremely smart finger spin, and is far foxier than Graeme Swann to boot, but isn’t nearly as funny. Except when he makes unwise choices regarding his hair, but that doesn’t really count. Oh well.)

Earlier today, Graeme Swann, bowler of offspin, became the first Englishman in over 50 years to take a 10-wicket haul in a Test match, and the first to ever do so in the subcontinent. It’s a tremendous achievement, and one that he fully deserves – his talent and performance for England over the past little while leaves no doubt about that. But Swann – so affable, so popular – managed to tarnish his own achievement at the eighth wicket, when he finally got rid of Junaid Siddique to end the staunch rearguard resistance Siddique and Mushfiqur Rahim had mounted for close to 70 overs.

Yeah, he gave him a send-off. Complete with bellowed ‘Fuck off!’ and fist-pumping. Real classy, Graeme.

Let’s review a few things, shall we? First, you’re 31, Junaid is 22. HE’S A CHILD. He also plays for Bangladesh, the team you might remember as the one that always almost makes it but doesn’t quite, except for that one time against Australia that I still think about when my mood is scraping the floor and I need cheering up. Also, it’s not Junaid’s fault that you have an uninspiring and ludicrously overcautious captain, or that you and your fellow bowlers couldn’t get him or the other plucky kid battling to save a Test for his country, Mushfiqur Rahim, out earlier. The whole thing seemed to represent England’s general mood, which was sheer disbelief and something almost like righteous indignation that Bangladesh were proving so hard to dislodge, very much, “Oi! I know WE’RE crap, but you’re supposed to be MORE crap! What the fuck d’you think you’re doing, screwing with the script?!” Sorry, boys, that’s not how it bloody well works.

All these factors aside, Junaid played brilliantly, as did Mushfiqur, and they deserved to be shown some respect. England have been guilty of this several times on this tour, starting off with Paul Collingwood’s dickish crack about wooden golf clubs, and elsewhere today when Stuart Broad, having got Abdur Razzak out lbw, didn’t bother to make anything remotely approximating an appeal, not even turning around to so much as look at the umpire for confirmation. I’ve heard comments defending Swann by stating that his gesture was actually a backhanded compliment to Junaid, showing how important his wicket was, and Broad by calling his move merely overconfident, and those comments aren’t without merit, but what it looked like was disrespectful, juvenile and arrogant, particularly in light of the fact that England’s performance has actually been fairly flat for much of this Test.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating: there seems to be an epidemic of this kind of shitty classlessness infecting international cricket, and God how I hate it. New Zealand v Australia has already given us a massive dose, and the stage seems to be set for more of the same with Michael Clarke’s return for the Tests after his personal problems with his now ex-fiancée. Chris Martin proved once more why I adore him so by stating earlier today that in his opinion, the crowds will run wild with this, but the New Zealand players shouldn’t. They won the ICC Spirit of Cricket award last year, and this is a golden opportunity for them to prove that it’s not just BS, and that it is still possible to play hard and be uncompromising while still being gentlemen by not bringing up a man’s private heartache in an attempt to fuck with his head on the field.

Please, New Zealand, as a fan, I’m asking you nicely: don’t do it. Please. It’s not worth it. To Daniel Vettori: I get the feeling that you overlook Tim Southee’s tendency to be a douche (he certainly was against Bangladesh) because he is a young, spirited and talented player, but you’ve got to impress on him how important this is.  Because it really, really is.

I’ll be watching, and hoping. Please don’t fuck this up, New Zealand.

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Atlas Sighed

There’s been a trend in recent years of younger men captaining their national sides. The current captains of India, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Bangladesh are all in their twenties. (I am going to leave Pakistan out of this equation because their captaincy issues – well, issues in general – are myriad, and give me stress headaches when I think about them.) England and Sri Lanka have guys in their early thirties, and Australia has either a 28-year old or a 35-year-old depending on what format they’re playing.

Chris Gayle and New Zealand’s Daniel Vettori have a couple of things in common – they’re both national captains, they’re both 30 years old, both are key players in their respective IPL teams, and they both put in an all-rounder’s version of what is usually called a captain’s knock in ODIs this past week – Vettori’s a fighting 70 off 49 and 2-43 from his ten overs against Australia, and, against Zimbabwe, Gayle’s an 88 off 111 and 1-25 from his ten (he also took a catch and was instrumental in a runout.) Gayle’s performance helped the West Indies win, Vettori’s wasn’t quite enough to allow New Zealand to do the same.

Here are ways in which they are different. Gayle has a carefully cultivated image as Mr. Cool, all shades and bling and diamond earrings; while Vettori is occasionally bearded, laconic, and wears prescription glasses – you know, like a geek. Gayle loves his lucrative high-profile endorsements and his million-dollar-deals; Vettori, presumably content with the not-inconsiderable revenue from his own IPL contract, is known for commercials promoting sunglasses for schoolchildren, New Zealand Libraries and Visique Optometrists. Despite both being key batsmen for their sides, Gayle is a top-order striker of skill and elegance, where Vettori comes in at number eight with a small and homely repertoire of shots that somehow brings him lots of runs.

Those don’t really matter very much, though; they’re just interesting tidbits of trivia.

Here are the important differences.

What he just about failed to do the other night, Vettori does all the freaking time. He’s New Zealand’s rock, a man who started out as a bowler of finger-spin in a country filled with quicks because of its fast seaming wickets and made himself one of the best in the world at that, and then worked on his mediocre batting with single-minded focus that couldn’t make it any prettier to look at but did quadruple its effectiveness. He’s now New Zealand’s talisman, their beardy lanky Superman who does it with his glasses on. The side has suffered in ODIs, where they are usually strongest, with the loss of people like Jesse Ryder and my beloved Grant Elliott to injury, but it’s Vettori’s presence or absence that makes or breaks this team. Ever since he took on the responsibilities of national selector, coach-of-sorts and Lord knows what else, the jokes have been coming thick and fast – it’s only a matter of time before the ‘Vettori for PM’ shirts hit the market. They already have ones reading ‘Give Dan More Jobs’ – in what I can only assume is a fatalistic attempt to see just how many things can be dumped on him before he cracks, like a reverse game of Jenga with weights added instead of bricks taken away…and, you know, a real-life dude instead of a toy tower. (Or, as Dave Tickner has pointed out, a really sadistic real-life version of Buckaroo. Crickaroo?) The sight of him coming in late in the game, face set in concentration, to save the innings and take New Zealand home, has become so familiar it’s a wonder they haven’t come up with ‘doing a Vettori’ as verbal shorthand for it, like the way ‘being Mankaded’ came to represent being run out by the bowler because you backed up too far in anticipation.

The reason I’m mentioning all this is to explain why, despite Gayle’s performance and the fact that it was the only thing that saved the West Indies from another in a long, long string of emphatic and embarrassing defeats, I haven’t written a post praising him, and don’t plan to. He doesn’t deserve it. The contrast between him and a man like Daniel Vettori is significant because of their many similarities in age, IPL-involvement and all-round ability, but there’s another comparison I can make that’s even more telling: with Bangladesh’s captain. Another man who this week has had, like Vettori, to be key bowler and batsman for his side while also serving as their leader, only to fall agonizingly short of victory (in his case, to England.) And having done that, to face the international press with grace, optimism and a relentlessly positive attitude.

His name is Shakib-al-Hasan. And he is 22 years old.

So this, Chris Gayle, is why you don’t deserve to be praised. You don’t get to come in after months of fuckery and think you can make up for it with one game. Not enough. You’ve been put to shame by a No. 8 batsman and a kid barely out of his teens – in my humble opinion, they are twice the captains, twice the cricketers, and, yes, each of them is twice the man you are. It’s clear you have an extremely high opinion of yourself; well, take off them shades, boy, I’ve got a photo to leave you with.

This is Daniel Vettori the other night, in the process of trying desperately to take his team over the line. Fun fact: Dan’s got chronic back issues, stemming from an incident in his teens when he actually broke his back; an injury to his bowling shoulder that he’s opted not to have surgery on because that would mean not being able to play for up to 12 months; and on the morning that photo was taken, a stiff neck that almost forced him not to play in the match at all.

Yes, that is him diving. After having spent the first session in the field, and already having batted for an unknown period of time. That’s commitment, Chris. (It might also be stupidity, but it’s certainly not stupidity on the level of some of the stuff you’ve come out with.)

Commitment.

Look it up.

And when you’re done, go talk to young Shakib and take notes on how to be a real man.

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Ah, poetry

Today was a grey day.

Literally, because the weather gods, having well and truly lost their marbles, decided that pouring rain, thunder and lightning were exactly what this corner of the Middle Eastern desert needed this week. And metaphorically, because young Shakib-al-Hasan and his valiant Bangladeshi tigers once again almost won a cricket match before having it slip away agonizingly at the last minute – this time courtesy of an England player who isn’t even English. (Although, half the England side are, you know, South African, so I’m not sure what the deal is with all the fuss being made about Eoin Morgan being Irish. I just figured I ought to mention it.) I would mention his excellent steely-nerved hundred, but I kind of wish he hadn’t made it because it was the sole reason that England ended up winning, so it may take a few days for the rawness to subside before I can appreciate it for what it was.

But, courtesy of the wonder that is Twitter, I have found the key to brightening up any day – even if you’re a Bangladeshi supporter and have had to install extra drainage on account of your house being constantly awash with your own tears, and extra handrails because the constant abrupt swinging back from the edge of victory to the grim depths of defeat is making you dizzy and prone to falling down a lot.

I have linked to Dave ‘The Bard’ Bird’s cricket poetry website already – it’s over there at the right-hand side of the homepage – but one of his more recent mad genius offerings deserves special mention because he produced it totally out of the blue and it just happened to be a tribute to one of my favourite players of all time.

I have reproduced it in full below, with Dave’s permission:

Ode to Lance Klusener

-David Bird

Klusener could whack it, yes Lance,
To spinners, down wicket, he’d dance,
No defensive tricks,
He smote them for six,
The same for the quicks without prance.

Sometimes he could bowl pretty quick,
Sometimes the batsmen he’d trick.
Gave balance to the side,
Served country with pride,
All without ever being a prick.

His best score V England, remember?
Our bowlers he got to dismember.
Zulu hit it so high
Way up into the sky,
It didn’t come down ’til November.

Dave adds, as a side note: ‘Lovely Long-Limbed Lance was, challenged only by Jonty Rhodes, my favourite South African cricketer for YEARS.’

Mine too, David. He wasn’t even second to Jonty – or anyone else for that matter – in my book. I even have the song ‘Impi’ on my iPod because of him. I may go hunt down highlight reels of him playing to help me get over the match result today.

The rest of you, get on over to David’s site and immerse yourself in mad limericky genius. Go on. Why are you still here??

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So. many. centuries.

Petersen. Amla. Tendulkar. Sehwag. Laxman. Dhoni. Guptill. McCullum. Mahmudullah.

Three of those scored over 150, three of them were maiden centurions, one was a debut centurion, all of them were vastly different types of centuries. This is why I don’t like stats: as it stands, all those are recorded the same way, implying that they were somehow alike, which they weren’t. No two centuries ever are. I have no doubt that Tendulkar still feels the thrill when he notches up another one, but it can’t possibly compare to what someone like Alviro Petersen must feel, scoring a Test hundred on debut against the world’s #1 ranked team in an atmosphere like the one at Eden Gardens. I don’t know Petersen from Adam, but even I was overjoyed for him.

There is also, I would argue, a huge difference between scoring 115 runs and scoring 183, and so the latter should be recorded as a different level of milestone, but that’s an argument that’s been made before and I really have nothing new to add. I might just be having a Pollyanna moment, but it just seems a little unfair to the guy who’s sweated it out for two more hours and 70-something runs.

I am a touch disappointed that Shakib-al-Hasan’s name isn’t up there. He made it to 87 (insert superstitious muttering about the curse of being 13 short of a landmark here) before he edged one from Chris Martin through to the keeper. The way I feel about that is essentially the way I feel about Bangladesh v New Zealand overall – completely torn. I’m always thrilled when Chris Martin does well, as he is one of those players I am incapable of being objective about, but when he took that particular wicket at that particular moment there was a little voice in my head whispering, ‘Damn, Chris, you know I love you, but you couldn’t have done that juuust a few minutes later?’

But of course, there was V.V.S. Laxman to make everything all right by scoring his hundred. Sehwag is more fun to watch, Tendulkar is a legend and it shows, Dhoni was all grit and muscle, but there is nothing quite like a V.V.S. hundred. He doesn’t even need to score a hundred, really, for you to appreciate his batting, but you always want him to because that will mean you can watch him longer and he will be justly rewarded for putting on such an exquisite display of batsmanship. He’s all elegance, all timing; he’s just so damn pretty to watch. (And besides, Laxman being Laxman, it genuinely couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.) Everything about a V.V.S. hundred makes me happy – his strokemaking is a pleasure to watch, there’s no need to waste energy trying to separate the awesome cricketer from the douchebag personality beneath as it is so often necessary to do, and when the moment comes and he raises his bat to acknowledge the fans and his teammates, you have that fabulous smile to look forward to.

AWESOME.

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Oooh. Burn.

It won’t be easy to find a golf course in Bangladesh; if there is one, they’ll probably have wooden clubs.

Wow, Paul Collingwood. I didn’t know it was even possible to offend golfers, carpenters, and the people of an entire nation in one brief sentence, but the ease and verbal dexterity with which you’ve just accomplished that takes my breath away.

I thought I had reached the apex of disliking you (since you’ve thus far been nice enough, by and large) when you screwed over my beloved Grant Elliott at the Oval back in ’08, but you had other ideas, didn’t you! Who would have thought you’d be so full of such unfortunate surprises?

Edit: Purna has more on why this was such a dick move, including a link to a great post by Nestaquin of 99.94 which additionally proves that Collingwood wasn’t just being a massive prick, he was also being an incredibly ignorant massive prick. It’s all the more bizarre because, as Purna points out, as a cricketer the man is rather admirable, and as I mentioned earlier, hasn’t done or said a whole lot else over the years that’s been particularly hateful.

Seriously though, the more I think about this the angrier it makes me. What really makes it special (read: excruciating) is that he was evidently trying to be funny. “These subcontinentals and their grinding, grinding poverty, am I right? You just can’t get the facilities these days.” Oh, Colly. You’ve got me in convulsions over here.

Wait, no, that’s just nausea. My bad.

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Hurts so good

Bangladesh v. New Zealand.

This is not, I will admit, a contest to set the world on fire. Certainly not in comparison to India v. South Africa, which starts the day after the first ODI at Napier and will in all likelihood draw the attention of most of the cricket-watching world, including probably a good number of less-than-patriotic Bangladeshis and Kiwis. (Yeah, you know who you are. Shame on you.)

Logically, it shouldn’t have been a tough call, which series to watch. On one hand, my national side, riding an unprecedented wave of not-being-crap, facing a wounded, cornered tiger of a South African team: one supremely confident side on home turf facing one with a severely dented collective ego to rebuild and an extremely large point to prove. Both high-ranking teams with explosive, brilliant players. There is no way that this series will fail to entertain.

By contrast, there is New Zealand facing Bangladesh – the perennial runners-up versus the eternal optimists. New Zealand are, as has become the norm for them, without several of their key players because of injuries – Jesse Ryder, Shane Bond, Kyle Mills and one of my personal favourites, Grant Elliott (yes, really. Shut up! He’s awesome), are all MIA, which has the effect of making the series much less interesting (to me, anyway) while affecting the probable outcome very little. Because Bangladesh have just been pounded into the ground, then dragged back out only to be fed through a meat grinder and then tossed down a mine-shaft by India, and New Zealand have turned winning ODIs while shedding players like autumn foliage into something of an art form. Making predictions in cricket is a fool’s game, but you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a convincing rationale for this being anything other than a series weighted heavily in the Kiwis’ favour.

So, no contest, right? India-SA all the way. Unfortunately, no. Because I love NZ, and I love Bangladesh possibly even more, so I’ll be watching every moment, if not necessarily from the edge of my seat. This might seem like a good thing, in that either way a side I like is going to come out on top at the end of it all, but in actual fact it’s an extremely surreal feeling. I’m not entirely sure that I like it. When New Zealand pummelled Bangladesh to a pulp at the T20 in Hamilton, I experienced something of an epiphany: this must be what genuine, bona fide masochism feels like. There’s the pleasure of your side sailing effortlessly to a thumping win, mixed in with the simultaneous anguish of your side suffering a thorough walloping.  It’s probably not quite on the level of whips and chains and weird arrangements of rope, but I’d be willing to bet it’s on the low end of the same scale.

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