Archive for category England

Say Goodnight and Go

So this is how it ends for Ricky. I had truly hoped it wouldn’t happen this way. He was never my favourite player in the world, but he is still Ricky Ponting, bona fide legend, one of the best there’s ever been with a bat and in the field. One day, even his hairy arms and that constant disconcerting hand-spitting will be discussed with respectful awe, in the tone used to discuss those chosen, near-mythical few, because he is a legend and there’s probably not a cricket fan in their right mind who would seriously attempt to dispute it.

Today, though, seated behind a table with flashes going off left and right in his face, he looked almost painfully human. Ricky is not a small man. He’s still in the shape that befits an elite sportsman, and he remained entirely composed, not visibly distraught, not stricken or anguished. But he looked, even if only infinitesimally, diminished, because there was no way to escape the fact that he was there not to announce a decision of his own choosing, that he was there because the axe had been dropped and everything about Ricky that makes him legendary wasn’t enough to stop it. He was there because he had not seen the writing on the wall, had not taken the many chances tacitly offered to him to accede to the inevitable on his own terms. Dignified as he was, he was there to talk about the fact that someone had been forced to finally tell him what they’d been hoping he’d figure out for himself but didn’t, and with such a thing comes stinging humiliation no matter how you try to slice it.

Oh, Ricky.

I started watching cricket properly late in life. In 2005 I still didn’t know too much about things, but I knew enough to quake slightly for England when Steve Harmison’s bouncer smacked into the side of Ricky’s head on Day 1 at Lords and sliced open his face. It was as reflexive as when, in the split second after you see someone tread on a cat’s tail, you know with complete certainty that bloody retribution will follow. It’s the natural law of things. In 2005, I didn’t have to formulate a conscious thought to know for sure – for SURE, beyond a shadow of a doubt – that cutting Ricky Ponting’s face open would result in truly terrible vengeance, so much so that I didn’t even have to particularly like England to wince at the thought of the ravaging that awaited them.

That Ricky seems a distant, dim memory now. Even though Ricky will still play Tests, even though I have no doubt that he will still continue to prove his immense worth there, he’s not the same Ricky.

He’s never been a favourite. I’ve never even really liked the man. But that still makes me sad.

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…aaaaand we’re back.

Well, that was anticlimactic.

My training is scientific, so it’s impossible to watch this New Zealand side play without my brain almost involuntarily formulating a giant experiment to evaluate how they perform under different levels of expectation. Is there really something to this wretched underdog thing that Shane Bond hates so much? Test it! Send them into three series deciders, one as favourites, one as 50-50-too-close-to-call competitors, and one as these-jokers-haven’t-got-a-hope-in-hell rank outsiders. Repeat several times to get a decent sample size, play the same 11 every time at the same ground against the same opponent (preferably a consistent side – Lanka? SA?) to reduce the number of variables. It would make a fascinating research study, albeit one that might be a little bit hard to get funding for.

Normally I wouldn’t advocate treating international-level sportsmen like lab rats (even though it would be frankly awesome to see Alastair Cook frantically trying to find his way though a giant hedge maze to the Maybelline stand at the other end) but honestly, there might really be no other way to explain this NZ side.

This is not to say that the NZ setup should feel badly about this series. They performed far above anyone’s expectations – so much so that the third test shitshow was even more bizarre because of the gritty fighting that had come before. Verily, New Zealand cricket, you are a mystery wrapped in an enigma sprinkled with really hot men.

I know I’m probably supposed to be writing about the Ashes, but everyone else in the known universe, along with their great-aunt and their great aunt’s cocker spaniel, seems to be providing fairly comprehensive coverage already, so I will abstain. I will say, though, that of all the members of the England Test side, I would never in a million years have thought that Tim Bresnan would be the one with the most rhythm.

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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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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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Hot Fuzz

It can’t be easy being Hashim Amla.

He’s got to deal with tin-eared commentators calling him a terrorist; having his personality, batting skills and even other less singular aspects of his appearance (he’s got very nice eyes, for instance) largely ignored, and – even assuming heavy patronage of this place – what must surely be a real bitch of a grooming routine to undertake in the mornings. (Let’s not even start on the secret, bitter rivalry that I am certain would exist between him and Mohammad “MoYo” Yousuf for the title of Greatest Cricketing Beard were it not a totally imaginary award that I just made up right now.)

The beard, one might argue, seems to be far more trouble to Hashim than it’s worth, despite how important it is to him for a combination of religious and cultural reasons.

But Hashim isn’t the possessor of the only noteworthy beard in international cricket – the others might not be as spectacular, or luxuriant, but they’re attached to some pretty significant individuals. Kiwi Übermensch Daniel Vettori has sported one for a while now; ranging from ‘scruffy-librarian’ to ‘antisocial lumberjack’ in length and appearance depending, I assume, on his mood, the conjunctions of Mercury and Venus or possibly just whether or not he slept through the alarm that particular day. Mohammad Yousuf, as has already been mentioned, has a chin-shrub to rival Hashim’s. And Dutch-Australian Renaissance-man Dirk Nannes is usually seen with nifty European-style facial topiary.

The other thing these men have in common is the fact that they’re all, usually, pretty damn spectacular on the pitch (not always in the field, though. Sorry, MoYo, I calls it like I sees it.) I’m not saying that beards have the Samson-like ability to grant their wearers exceptional cricketing skill and/or matchwinning ability, but consider this: on his return from Achilles tendon surgery, the usually clean-shaven Kevin Pietersen and his natty Malevolent-18th-Century-Marquis-style goatee almost blasted England to a series win against Pakistan in Dubai.

Then, more recently, in the opening T20 of Australia’s New Zealand tour, the hosts were thumped by 6 wickets. This is what Daniel Vettori looked like at the toss, still cheerful despite the heightened risk of sunburn awaiting him in the field…

…and here’s Dirty Dirk Nannes, who took two wickets at 5.50 in a victorious cause.

Draw your own conclusions.

(Not to further bias anyone, but what other explanation could Wayne Parnell, a young man of more-than-average good looks, have for persisting with this? Ain’t because of any favours it’s doing him in the attractiveness stakes, that’s for damn sure.)

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Getting down

Sarfraz Ahmed and Eoin Morgan go low to a delivery from Shoaib Malik. England v Pakistan, 1st T20 at DSC Cricket Stadium.

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Yeah, it’s another post about me. Sorry.

So I went to this match over the weekend. Given that I’m neither English nor Pakistani, that T20s are my least favourite format of the game by some distance, and that this was one of only two matches in a largely meaningless series, it should not have been a particularly huge deal. Thing is, I don’t get to watch cricket in the flesh, in actual stadia. Like, ever. Doesn’t happen. Hasn’t happened, as a matter of fact, since I was about 9 years old, and I’m in my early twenties now. So even given all those dampening factors, I had been nevertheless bouncing around like an overcaffeinated Red Setter for about a week beforehand.

I went, I watched and I wrote. Specifically, I wrote a Fan Following report for Cricinfo’s Page 2, which you can read here.

I also took approximately 580 photos, a few of which you can see here. I picked the best ones, honest.

You thought I was kidding, didn't you?

Enjoy!

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