The reasons behind Michael Clarke losing his mojo

Australia’s captain is putting on a brave face, but to everyone that has watched him over the last few weeks, he looks like a broken player mentally, physically and technically.

For the last few years, his runs, his hundreds and his average have peaked and dropped dramatically. In 2012 and 2013 he struck over 1,000 runs in each year, and nine of his 28 career hundreds, averaging 106 and 47 respectively.

He declined, averaging just 35 and 24 in 2014 and 2015, with only two tons in 2014, and not even a 50 this year, so far.

With just 94 runs in this Ashes series’, of which he is losing 2-1 with two to play; it is clear that there is clearly something wrong. A player with over 8,500 runs doesn’t just stop being good.

Here are a few reasons as to why he could have lost his mojo. Some of the things can be remedied, others can’t.

As he walked off the pitch at Edgbaston after a crushing eight wicket defeat in the Ashes, he told Mark Nicholas, his team were playing with 10-men. When a captain feels like he is not part of the side, it will bring the whole side down.

He needs to find a way of bringing himself back into the forefront of the side, and not being shy about it. He needs to bat in the place he will score the most runs, firstly.

Currently batting at number four, he has had a miserable time. He is not a number four. He flourishes at number five, with 70 of his 113 Tests at five, 20 of his 28 hundreds and 20 of his 27 fifties, in the position. At five he averages over 60, which is double that of what he averages at number four [just 30.89]

Not wishing to reduce Clarke’s problems to a quick move down the order, it would certainly seem sensible to put your most experienced and arguably best batsman where he is most likely to score runs that the team needs.

Clarke is not in great form lately, so it would be understandable if he was shy about asserting himself. But he has too. He has nothing to lose, because at this rate, he will be out of the side. 

Michael Clarke is no more the golden boy. The number one Test ranked batsman is Steve Smith, the new number three with the swanky average of 50, and he is clearly seen as the heir to the captaincy. 

As Michael Clarke has watched his role as the primary batsman in the side, captain, leader, and man people look to in order to take responsibility disintegrate before him; he must feel under increasing pressure. The next generation is already in the side and pulling weight, and it’s only inputing more pressure. 

It is with regret that this needs to be written at all, mainly because it’s hard to substantiate. But sometimes in sport you have a gut feeling. When Phillip Hughes tragically died, Michael Clarke wore a very heavy burden. He was clearly personally and emotionally affected in a way that will never go away. 

In an instance, he became not just the captain of Australia reacting to a tragedy of a team mate, but he spoke on behalf of millions of cricket fans all over the world, about a close personal friend.

He addressed press conferences and his memorial, being reduced to tears. He became the dignified voice of cricket mourning, and no doubt had huge emotional energy sapped from him.  

As the captain, he has to hold it in. Every time he faces, every time there is a bouncer, every time someone gets hit. It would be impossible to prove that this is a factor for his decline, but this is a player that will surely always be affected, and will never recover from this tragedy. 

Lastly, when a player has to manage persistent injury, it affects them psychologically.

It’s on their mind, restricting one’s natural game.

He spoke about his rigid fitness regime, and level of professionalism. It would seem he is working harder than ever to ensure this injury does not flare up. But where is the room for enjoying the actual cricket, when there are additional pressures too? 

His back, his form, his captaincy his responsibility; are all building up in a pressure cooker. Not only because of questions of fitness, focus and drive to play the game, but at 34, he won’t have that much time to turn it around one would think.

Michael Clarke is obviously a fine player, but for a culmination of factors has fallen away rapidly in the last year. Australia need a captain that leads by example, so it may be time to address these concerns head on, or move on. 

England’s opening roundabout is due to legacy

The problem England have is not going to be solved by dropping people – if the replacements aren’t much better. They’ve already shown with Moeen, that sometimes picking modesty can work out well, if you know their limits – and stick with them for a while. 

Since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012, England have tried to fill his enormous void with a number of modest replacements. 

Of course, external issues have played their part on the side’s performance, but nobody can escape the inexcusable roundabout that has been in full swing at the top of the order. 

In order, these replacements were Nick Compton, Joe Root, Michael Carberry, Sam Robson, Jonathan Trott, and the most recent spare part; Adam Lyth. 

All were picked on perfectly good merit. They are all fantastic batsmen, churning out hundreds, and occasionally thousands of runs a year. They were inignorable. 

So far this is how they’ve turned out opening the batting for England: 

  • Nick Compton – Tests: 9, Runs: 479, Hundreds: 2, Fifties: 1 – Average31.93
  • Joe Root:  Tests: 5  Runs: 339, Hundreds: 1, Fifties: 1  – Average: 37.66. 
  • Michael Carberry: Tests: 6 , Runs: 345, Hundreds: 0, Fifties: 1 – Average28.75
  • Sam Robson: Tests: 6 , Runs: 336 , Hundreds: 1, Fifties: 1  – Average: 30.54 
  • Jonathan Trott:  Tests: 4, Runs: 155, Hundreds: 0, Fifties: 2 – Average: 19.37 [Trott also opened in 2010 during a tour to Bangladesh]
  • Adam Lyth*: Tests: 3, Runs: 193, Hundreds:1 , Fifties: 0 – Average: 32.16

The average lifespan of a makeshift England opener since 2010 is:  

Tests: 11, Runs: 307, Hundreds: 0.83 , Fifties: 1 – Average: 30.06

Ironically, in that time, Alastair Cook’s run scoring drought also occurred. Not that there is any hard proof that correlation equals causation. Except it probably does, because he is a bloody good batsman and something must have thrown him off course. 

The fundamental message here, is that England keep trying batsmen out that are really no better than each other at the job. 

They refuse to settle and just back one man to do a job – so they pick a different man; only to be led to the same disappointment. 

Compton, Carberry, Robson and Lyth are all very solid county opening batsman – but they are not world class Test openers.

So what should England have done?

From the Twitter-sphere at least, there are two general outcomes. 

Either, they should have just stuck with the first cab off the rank – Nick Compton, who got the longest shot of the lot [so far] with nine Tests. *OR*, England could have kept up with ‘Golden Boy’ Joe Root, who opens for his county.

What is clear, is that with the ball, they did something which has worked. They picked one person, and backed them, and Moeen Ali has not just settled, but flourished..

Picking Moeen Ali as the spinner in this side has been somewhat of a coup for so many of the cynics out there.

What he has done, is grown into a very difficult role – he hasn’t complained, at all. He has tried exceptionally hard and just got on with it. 

There is full awareness, he is not Muttiah Muralitharan. [If he was, England probably wouldn’t appreciate it anyway.

But, simultaneously, nobody is demanding him to be that. He is a batting allrounder that bowls quite well. It’s solid and steady and England know what they’re getting. 

So why have England continued to go round and round with their openers – arguably causing instability at the top of the order, which is where the base for the innings is laid; but they have not messed around with the spinner? 

The reason – is legacy. 

England have produced many fine opening batsmen over the years. Just to name a few – Graham Gooch, Herbert Sutcliffe, Geoff Boycott, Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton, Michael Atherton, Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss, Marcus Trescothick, John Edrich and Michael Vaughan. And I’m sure there are many more.

England fans expect something great from our openers. Fans expect great England openers, full stop. At the very least – there is an expectation, that the openers will turn into something great. 

England don’t expect great spinners. There is satisfaction with defensive spin bowling. That’s England picked Ashley Giles in 2005. It’s why they were so ecstatic when Graeme Swann emerged. We’d never seen anything like it. 

England need to stop this roundabout, searching for a great opener. 

England don’t have one at the moment. 

Back someone – run with them for a prolonged period of time. They won’t produce greatness, but at least it will be something to work with. 

Why England’s new talisman should heed the warnings of the past

When Ben Stokes picked up the man of the match at Lord’s on Monday, the names Flintoff and Botham were being thrown around, but it wasn’t just for the cricketing comparison. 

When we think Botham and Flintoff, there is a attachment to their individual success, and to them as characters.

It transcends generations, to the point that even young fans that never saw one or either of them, make the comparison.

In other words, they become sporting icons in a theatre of dreams.

With Freddie especially, there was always another side to these sporting heroes.

Yes we saw them as having superhuman powers, but we also saw them as just ordinary blokes. They were fun, fallible, human and when they made mistakes, we kind of understood a little more. 

Importantly, when they made mistakes, they could always make up for it in sheer ability. 

No matter how bleak the situation, Freddie would get us out. Beefy would find a way, and then they’d hit the pub. 

Compared to Andrew Strauss who could have been a member of Parliament, or Kevin Pietersen, who perhaps could have been in a boyband – ‘Freddie’ was just your average a ‘fat lad’ from Lancashire.

Now, It may seem trivial, but it is also highly important not to underestimate the value of ordinariness. It was not only his batting and bowling that won Test matches, but his personality was hugely enfranchising. It got people on side. 

It got people watching, playing cricket, queueing up for hours to get in, and most importantly; it got it onto the front and back pages.  

Cricket became popular, because it was something people could tap into.  

Ben Stokes walks out onto the field with spiky ginger hair, he is tenacious, clearly absurdly talented – but also a bit of a hothead. Nobody is quite sure whether he’ll smash an 80 ball century, pick a fight with the opposition, or be dismissed in the silliest of ways. 

And that is why people watch sport. 

It was commented upon by numerous observers during the last Test, just how hard this guy hits the ball. It is almost like he is using a slab of marble. That is the spine of the Flintoff comparison on cricketing criteria. But when he gets the ball, he also seems to try his heart out. 

He bowled exceptionally well in the first innings at Lord’s but was wicketless. Come the second innings, his two  wickets in two balls, Williamson and McCullum; took England on to another level. Twice in the game, he changed its course, and it put the team on cloud nine.  

He is a kind of player that makes things happen, but like Freddie, it will never just be about ability. He latter will of course be remembered for his Ashes displays, but also for his fallible human antics, including his drinking, for the pedalo incident, for his early career slacking, and no doubt other misdemeanours. 

If one casts their minds back to 2013, Stokes’ misdemeanours have already begun, and we all look on at this rising star, as a potential new Flintoff in this regard too.

He was sent home alongside Matt Coles from an England A tour, for consistent late night drinking. 

In 2014, Ben Stokes broke his hand after punching a locker, putting him out of the World twenty 20.

In the West Indies, he was consistently the one player that was being confrontational with the opposition – and in particular Marlon Samuels; which was never nasty, but noticeable. 

Nobody wants dour cricket played by ECB prototypes 1-11 – but there must be a recognition that a talismanic and highly individualistic and exciting player, will sometimes be hard to control. 

Despite being only 23, he has already taken risks – on and off the pitch.

He has already stunned crowds and won matches. 

He is on a learning curve and will no doubt, just like Flintoff, continue to cross swords with authorities. But there is no doubt that his talent should lead to to substantial success.

Stokes needs to find that crucial balance between being a talisman on the pitch, whilst not letting it get the better of him.

Flintoff managed too nearing the end of his Test career, and it eventually even led to captaincy. 

Stokes is a phenomenal player with the capacity to lift and even carry his team. But he is also a flight risk, if he can’t handle his own ego. 

#ECBvKP: Inconsistent reasons for snubbing KP shows real lack of trust in this relationship

It’s not very often I start cricket articles with quotes from Russell Brand. But the quote works, so I am going to throw away all my values, and do it. 

“When I was poor and I complained about inequality people said I was bitter, now I’m rich and I complain about inequality they say I’m a hypocrite. I’m beginning to think they just don’t want inequality on the agenda because it is a real problem that needs to be addressed. -Russell Brand

I suspect that Kevin Pietersen could probably adapt this quote quite favourably.

Perhaps something along the lines of: “When I scored runs for England and complained they said I was bitter that I couldn’t go to the IPL. Now I’m playing county cricket and they say I’m a hypocrite. I’m beginning to think they just don’t want the fact that I was dropped for no reason, despite being England’s top run scorer, and since being dropped England have been terrible anyway… to be on the agenda because it is a real problem that needs to be addressed”.

I mean, it’s not as catchy, but it covers all the major points. 

By now, we know the story.

He was dropped for no apparent reason.

Something to do with dressing room drama. 

He was told the only route back is to score runs in county cricket, even though he wasn’t dropped for cricketing reasons, apparently. 

He quit the IPL to focus on playing cricket in the UK to get recalled.

And now, he has been told, after scoring 355* for Surrey, that he will never be in contention for England, by former team mate Andrew Strauss. 

According to the BBC, Andrew Strauss said the following: 

“The truth about Kevin is that he is a phenomenal cricketer. But over months and years, trust has eroded between Kevin Pietersen and the ECB.

“There is a massive trust issue between me and Kevin.

“While there is no trust between Kevin and the ECB, it is our opinion he cannot feature in our short-term plans. Long-term, who knows?”

He went on to declare the following:

Screenshot 2015-05-12 19.16.26

There you have it. Even if he goes and scores a thousand runs by June, he is not in contention.

The reason is trust, apparently. 

In other words, nothing to do with cricket at all. 

Strauss pitied KP, by offering him a consultancy role [VIDEO]

The news somewhat rubbishes the idea that it was ever anything to do with his commitment to the IPL. It wasn’t.

It was about an internal issue within the dressing room, undoubtably connected to his comments to the South African team during their tour of 2012. 

If the ECB did not want to select KP however, they could have just not selected him. Why did they have to make this ridiculous public announcement, singling out one player, that was never going to be in contention for non-cricketing reasons?

Infact, why did they even make it known to KP that it was a situation redeemable by playing county cricket? It is perfectly apparent that it isn’t.  They could have just announced the squad, allowed speculation, and when KP was not included, people would just have continued.

The reason there has been this media attention surrounding the non-selection of KP, is for a self fulfilling prophecy. 

The ECB have painted a picture of KP as an arrogant self centered, self styled maverick, that everyone must always be talking about, and who is bigger than the team.  By creating this media storm, it reinforces this perception. He will never be able to fit cosily back into the ‘team environment’, because of all of this media attention. You know the media attention the ECB are creating. 

As England slip down the rankings, and the impending gloom against Australia and New Zealand zeroes in, most fans are entirely fed up hearing about it. Play him. Don’t play him. Jump off the cliffs of dover for all most people care.

All England fans really want is good cricket. 

We don’t even necessarily demand winning for the extortionate prices we pay; but we want to see a good day of cricket.  

Sorry ECB, but, Alastair Cook and James Tredwell’s loopy off spinners won’t fill grounds or ensure that Test cricket keeps going.

The fact that over a year after he was dropped, people are still talking about him, following his innings intently, and buying into this hype; shows that there is still a willingness and a hunger to see him again.

That is a testament to the mark he left on cricket.  Whether KP should have been dropped for reasons other than cricketing reasons is not particularly important anymore.

What is intolerable, is the insatiable desire for a character assassination of one of England’s most loved players. 

People often wonder, why KP didn’t just go to Surrey straight away and score lots of runs to pressurise the ECB straight away.

Quite honestly, it would not have mattered. The ECB have a vendetta against him, and would have found a reason not to select him at whatever cost. The fact that the ECB stopped him from playing in the IPL when he still played shows a lack of aspiration for England players.

When he was not an England player, they said the only way back was to quit the IPL to play county cricket. Now he has, they have said that is also not good enough. It was never about the runs. 

When the ECB given consistent reasons for non selection related to cricket, and then turn their backs and say it is to do with ‘trust’; all of a sudden, it is clear that only one party is not one that can be trusted

England lack a maverick to balance their blandness

Kevin PietersenThere are many maverick players in the world, but unfortunately, none are wearing three lions. This is not just an issue of ‘excitement for fans’, but the fundamental balance of the England team suffers.

The one who cannot be named used to be that man. Many want him back. But let’s be clear here: What is needed, is to replace his runs, not him personally. 

Statistically, England have lots of very solid batsmen.

But this is in the same fashion that you might bake a cake with lots and lots of good flour and sugar.

You need other things to make it taste nice.

Alastair Cook and Ian Bell are the experienced substance of the team, with 15,000 Test runs and 46 Test hundreds between them.

Joe Root and Gary Balance are the emerging stars, in the middle order.

But there is no sugar or eggs or yeast. There’s no kick of brandy either, to separate it from the blandness.

England miss that combative player.

And let’s be realistic here. Nobody is calling for a T20 batsman in the middle of a Test match. Kevin  Pietersen’s strike rate in Test cricket (61.72). Cook’s is 46 and Bell’s 45. It was his attitude. His willingness to take on the attack and fight fire with fire, but also his ability to bat at a quicker pace, and consistently get scores.

Cook and Bell are lovely to watch on a sunny day at Lord’s.

But could they hurt you?

Could they take to pieces?

Certainly not at the moment. They set up an innings, for someone to do that. It would be like South Africa having a whole team of Hashim Amlas’, with no killer Ab de Villiers.

In the last three years, Bell has averaged a meagre 33.60, 41.87 and 34.76 and Alastair Cook,  has he only scored two hundreds in his last 40 Test innings. They may be right up in there in the record books, but you win games by scoring runs, not by playing top trumps.

The news that England had recalled Jonathan Trott to the England squad was welcomed, but consider the fact that England are now going to include a likely top five of Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Gary Ballance, Ian Bell and Joe Root. Realistically, there is no single standout player in this top five.

Nobody is ‘scary. ‘ It’s grey. It’s one paced, and a little monotonous. 

Let’s see if this ‘thrilling’ lineup can compete with the IPL, or even with County cricket, where the likes of Pietersen, Sangakkara, Che Pujara and others will be performing. 

England’s only option to reverse the malaise is to redress the makeup of their side.

This is not about personnel, but about roles.

Who is going to lay the base? Who is going to use that base to attack further? Who is going to hurt the opposition.

England need to reverse the malaise in batting form by balancing their top order. To do this, an attacking batsman simply must be allowed some time at the crease and an affect on the game.

There are a number of options England could have to look at.

They could recall Kevin Pietersen. They could call up someone like James Taylor or Jason Roy. They could promote Jos Buttler or give Moeen Ali the role of attacker in the middle order. Or they could search County Cricket for an appropriately attacking batsman – such as Alex Hales.

What is clear, is that prizing out a batman who was known for his attacking style, and not replacing them will leave a large hole. The top order is now dominated by a one paced style of batting.

England do not necessarily need KP to return. But, they do need to figure out a way to replace what he did. Score a lot of runs, score a lot of hundreds, and score runs when it mattered.

The World Cup was stage managed hitting, and it could be the death of ODI

The World Cup was a desperate attempt to be something it isn’t, with a horribly stage managed display of industrially produced six hitting. If One Day cricket is to survive, it must start to carve out a niche, and recognise its place within the rhythm of the cricketing calendar. 

The ICC praised the glorious 2015 World Cup with a headline on an article on their website that Peter Moores would have been proud of:

‘STATISTICS SHOW RECORD-BREAKING WORLD CUP IS MOST ENTERTAINING IN HISTORY’.

The article says that ‘After the 42 group games, the average run rate for the competition looks set to average more than five runs per over for the first time in the history of the competition. 

“So far runs have been scored at 5.07 runs per over, at an average of 28.43 runs per wicket, beating the previous best of 4.95 in 2007.’.

By the end of the tournament, the overall run rate was 5.6 runs per over. 

But, this was man made carnage. 

This World Cup had a number of crucial elements fixed, which created a concoction of chaos for bowlers.

There were of course shorter boundaries, allowing for quick constant runs. There were two new kookaburra balls, meaning both less swing for the quick bowlers.  

In terms of fielding restrictions, a change was made in 2012, whereby a maximum of four fielders were allowed outside the 30-yard circle for the majority of the innings.

Oh, and instead of three blocks of power plays, there were two blocks: the first in the opening ten overs, when only two fielders are allowed outside the ring;  and the second, a five-over block taken by the batting side before the 40th over, restricting the number to three outside the ring.[ESPN Cricinfo].

In other words, it was a rigged game. 

Someone decided to throw out of the window tactics and subtlety, and put it on to the ‘crash bang wallop’ setting.

Like a stage production, It went to a script. 

The Associates had fun, but got nowhere. But sixes were hit. England flopped. A few sixes were hit [against them]. Pakistan and the West Indies fought hard and fell short. But sixes were hit. Sri Lanka were underestimated. But sixes were hit. South Africa got a Semi-Final. But Ab de Villiers hit lots of sixes on beast mode. Australia (the villain) beat their co-Hosts New Zealand in the final, then the Channel 9 team was let loose.

“It was the greatest World Cup ever”, and a thousand other cliches.

It wasn’t ‘boring‘, but after the 400th six, it did get a bit tedious. Oh, he’s scored a double hundred again.. someone wake me up when he breaks Lara’s 400. 

It was microcosmic of fifty over cricket as a whole; trying to be something it wasn’t.

Unlike the IPL which has genuine raw support and appeals to people as a a short sharp burst of drama, this was dragged out. It was mass produced six hitting forced down people’s throats.

The World Cup in 2015 World Cup saw a staggering 38 hundreds, compared to 24 in 2011 and 20  in 2007. Even before the quarter and semi final stage, there had been more centuries and scores of over 300 than any other previous World Cup. 

The next World Cup organisers should do the humanitarian thing, and replace bowlers with bowling machines. 

If 50 over cricket wants to survive, perhaps it should look back to 2003. 

Run rates were steady. Around one, with Australia narrowly pointing their noses over two.

It was exciting and engaging cricket, because it was unique and had character.

There were plots and sub plots.

Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee were genuinely hostile. Andy Flower’s black armband. Muttiah Muralitharan versus Shane Warne. The legendary Kenyan upset, a host of other things. It wasn’t just crash bang wallop, because it didn’t need to be. It was 50 over cricket with a unique flavour.

Admittedly T20 was not a dominant force at the time, but nevertheless, there was still an appetite for this brand of aggressive must thinking cricket. 

One day cricket must start to distinguish itself from T20 cricket, and not try to become like it. 

If it tries to emulate something which is hugely popular for two key specific reasons, it’s time frame and intensity, then it will fail. 50 over cricket will be like the embarrassing dad wearing Topman skinny jeans and red converse in front of their T20 son. 

One Day cricket needs to do some soul searching and recognise that it will not survive unless it is itself. It has had success when it has been itself. When it has embraced a balance between bat an ball, and between the pace of Test cricket and T20. 

This World Cup will be remembered as the World Cup that everyone knew the result of before it started. It was like watching a film that you have seen a thousand times before. It was enjoyable, but it wouldn’t hurt to see something different. 

One Day cricket is huge in the sub continent especially, and it a perfect stepping stone for the associate and Test playing nations. 

It needs to exist, and without it, there would be no middle ground between the oldest and newest forms of the game.

If 50 over cricket turns into 20 over cricket, it will die, and with it, cricket will lose all of its subtlety. It will become a sport of two extremes. 

South Africa were a Jacques Kallis away from success

Screenshot 2015-03-26 23.23.15

Whilst it is easy to get caught up in South Africa’s explosive World Cup exit, what the Proteas was an unreliable set of supplementary bowlers, who couldn’t fill the Jacques Kallis gap.

For many years, Jacques Kallis was the star studded batting allrounder.

With over 25,000 International runs and over 60 International hundreds, the focus was always his runs. 

His wickets and catches made a priceless batsman into a formidable allrounder, injecting class and strength into every facet.

Although never prolific as a wicket taker with just 2 five and 2 four wicket halls, his 231 ODI wickets at a miserly average of 31 shows his importance.

The wickets also offered a rest to other senior bowlers, and his spells regularly took wickets, with one coming every 39 balls (6.3 overs) in ODIs. At under 5 runs per over in ODI cricket, Kallis was also control. 

With regular wickets, a solid economy rate, surprising pace, vast experience, and a good way of offering frontline bowlers a rest, he always chipped in somehow.

Despite playing in the Big Bash, and despite retiring from Tests to try to focus on playing in this World Cup, it was ultimately one step too far.

All of a sudden this allrounder was plucked from the South African side, and all the focus was the runs again.

Who would score his mammoth contribution of runs? No worries.

Hashim Amla, AB De Villiers, David Miller and Faf, etc, will surely do. 

In reality, South Africa were very heavily dependent upon their run scorers, because their bowlers did not actually have such a stellar tornament.

During this World Cup South Africa struggled to maintain pressure for 50 overs. There were too many weak links. Too many holes in the pipe that leaked with the ball.

In this world cup, Imran Tahir, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander all contributed, although they were all under pressure.

Imran Tahir’s nine wickets at 21 is close to his ODI career average of 20.51, and Morne Morkel’s 15 wickets at 17 is better than his ODI career average of 23.98.

But, Philander and Steyn in particular struggled. Philander averaged 33.75 which is a whole ten runs more than his career average of 23, and Dale Steyn’s 31 was also higher than 25.

Screenshot 2015-03-26 22.36.15

With frontline seamers struggling, and placing pressure on others, the alternative was to try other options. South Africa’s part timers had to fill in overs. 

JP Duminy took six wickets, including a hat-trick against Sri lanka. But he also went at nearly six runs per over. He was perhaps the best of the replacement-Kallis’s. 

With the exception of Parnell, who played just a single game, only one other supplementary bowler took a wicket (AB de Villiers.. is there anything he can’t do?), and only one other bowler kept their economy rate under six runs per over (Behardien) at 5.81.

Screenshot 2015-03-26 22.27.19
(Columns denote Games, Innings, Overs, Maidens, Runs, Wickets, B/b, Average and Economy.)

Arguably, South Africa’s front line attack of Steyn, Morkel, Philander and Tahir is as powerful as that of Mitchell Johnson and Starc, or New Zealand’s Tim Southee and Trent Boult. 

But, if one of the South African quicks fails, the pressure is piled on, and the attack seems to capitulate. 

If Steyn is not taking wickets, unlike Australia who can bring on a Shane Watson, Glen Maxwell or James Faulkner, South Africa seem to be very thin. 

As a unit, South Africa look fearsome, but they lack that depth all-rounders and range of multi-faceted players. One only has to look at India’s bowling stocks to see this is very valuable. 

There are strong options up front; Ravi Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Mohit Sharma and Umesh Yadav. But, there are also a lot of supplementary bowlers who have a role. Suresh Raina and Ravi Jadeja both bowl at under five runs per over, other bowlers such as Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli are made obsolete as last resort fill ins. 

India have a method. South Africa have a lot of raw energy and hope, but it feels slightly kamikaze and scattergun at times.

Screenshot 2015-03-26 23.13.21

When it comes down to winning, a thin-ish layer of quality cannot cover up for a lack of substance throughout the side as a whole. 

South Africa remain a side with formidable talents, like Amla, De Villiers, Steyn and Morkel. But, if they are competing with similarly talented sides, it is the margins that will win it. 

The Proteas missed that edge that gave them the final inch to get over the line. They are a fine side, with power and pace and hostility, but they were just a Kallis away. 

Afghanistan’s Calypso Cricket must be shelved to progress

‘Everyone loved us, we were the Calypso cricketers – we would do the entertaining and they would win’  –  Mohammed Nabi.  Well actually, the quote is by Deryck Murray, ex-West Indies cricketer, but it could very well be the former.

The ‘calypso cricketers’ of the world, are amicable, popular and fun to watch, but ultimately losers.

Historically attributed to the West Indies before their domination began – the terms represents a side which is given only tokenistic respect out of their trying. But everyone knows that if things got serious, the pressure can be turned on. 

Afghanistan is an emerging force of Associates cricket, but they have also has fought long and hard to be recognised in cricket terms, and not just for their legitimate tale of emerging out of the ashes of a war torn country. 

Afghanistan are also in quite an awkward transitionary period, between being the best of the rest, or the bottom of the elite pile.

This transition is being made during a turbulent time for Associate nations, whereby the World Cup is going to be reduced, and opportunities to play Test playing nations are few and far between. 

The reality for the Afghan side, is that since 2009, they’ve played 51 ODIs, and have won 25, but only 15 of those 51 ODIs have been against Test playing nations. Only three of those games have been wins (against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.)

Their opportunities for exposure are few and far between, and when they do arise, Afghanistan seemingly resort back to their happy go lucky attitude. 

Against non-Test playing nations, they have won 22 out of 36 games, which is well over half. But it is not going to really inform their progress beyond that stage. 

They are comfortable and cruising, until they face tougher opponents.

Since 01 January 2012, Afghanistan have hit a staggering 40 sixes in 12 matches against Test playing nations (3.3 a game), compared to Ireland’s 18 sixes, in 7 games (2.5 a game).

Ireland have hit three hundreds in that period to Afghanistan’s one, and Ireland average more per batsman. 

Ireland are cautious and concise. Afghanistan are kamikaze and gun hoe. 

Screenshot 2015-03-19 22.55.18 This dosn’t mean that Ireland don’t hit sixes of course.

They do. But instead of walking in to the room and shooting in the air at random, they chose their opportunities. 

Kevin O’Brien’s century against England in 2011 was the fastest in World Cup in history, off just 63 balls. But, it was mature and calculated.

It was not slogging the ball up in the air.

Against the U.A.E. Kevin O’Brien, (50 of 25 balls) and Gary Wilson (80 off 69 balls) similarly took Ireland from a position of mire, to victory through precision. It was brutal at times, but it worked. 

Gary Wilson said in post match interview: “I just poked it for one and he [Kevin O’Brien] hits it out of the ground. It was great” There is a plan.

Ireland now have three of the top 10 highest successful run chases in World Cup history: 328 against England in 2011, 307 against the Netherlands in 2011, 305 against the West Indies. And, for good measure, their successful 2015 World Cup chase against the U.A.E. is in the top 15. 

Ireland are intent on at least trying to win. They don’t panic and just try to blast the ball up in the air. That is why people love to watch them. 

Because Associates get such a minimal opportunity, there is no margin for error. As William Porterfield, Ireland’s captain, pointed out in another post match interview against the U.A.E:  “We need fixtures. We’re crying out for that.. We’ve talked about World Cups and they’re four years apart. We’ve played nine games against top-eight teams since 2011. Nine games in four years is nothing really. We need to be playing more.”

Afganistan without a doubt, use sport as a form of expression, but unfortunately there isn’t much room for emotive cricket, if you’re losing.

In a recent article on ESPN Cricinfo, Afghanistan’s Hamid Hassan was said to have came off the ground crying, during a division three match.  He spoke to the Documentary maker Leslie Knott, (Out of the Ashes) who asked him why. Hassan replied: “I have seen people die and I have not shed a tear. But there is something about cricket that gets me here [pointing to his heart]. Cricket is our chance.”

They clearly don’t fear a game of cricket. They certainly don’t fear getting out or getting hit, given the World Cup is scheduled to be reduced to 10 teams, perhaps they do have something to fear. 

Afghanistan’s fearless emotive cricket is certainly exciting to watch but, it is also potentially blinding them to what they really need.

What do they need?

It is somewhat indefinable. How can one go about methodising injecting patience and consistency? Ultimately it is a team that is poorly funded and has increasingly jeopardised opportunities facing quality opposition? It’s not an easy task. Unlike Ireland’s top order, who all have the option of County cricket, which they take up, Afghanistan don’t. 

Afghanistan needs opportunities to build their abilities domestically to play more games Internationally.

Most importantly however, batsmen need to foster a greater sense of collective responsibility to the team. Calypso cricket will never bring them much success beyond being admirable losers. 

On this day: Brendon McCullum becomes the first Kiwi triple centurion

On this day in 2014, New Zealand’s star batsman Brendon McCullum smashed a memorable triple century for New Zealand against India, in Wellington. 

After collapsing to 192 in the first innings, before having 400 plus piled on, it looked bleak for the hosts. Nearly 250 runs behind it would need a mammoth effort to overcome.

The pocket rocket of a batsman came to the crease with the score at 52-3 in the second innings, and the score soon plummeted to 94-5. It didn’t look too promising. 

If I had told you at the time, that the next wicket would fall with the score on 465, you’d probably laugh.

After McCullum’s mammoth partnership with keeper BJ Watling which took the score over 450, nother mammoth stand followed with Jimmy Neesham, who struck a century, on debut. 

In scoring a triple century, McCullum  not only passed the 299, set by Martin Crowe 23 years previously, but also became the first Kiwi to pass the 300 mark in Tests

On This Day: Glenn McGrath

Screenshot 2015-02-09 23.47.50On this day in 1970, arguably one of the best ever seam bowlers is born, Glenn McGrath.

Now, he didn’t have the sheer raw pace of Brett Lee, nor was he someone that got bounce and movement like Malcolm Marshall. Infact, if you didn’t see his statistical record, you may think ‘what is all the fuss about?’

In truth, Glenn McGrath was one of the best, because he mastered the basics the best.

As a young cricketer, you’re told to hit the top of off stump. 

That is what he took through his entire career, taking 563 Test wickets, not to mention his stellar limited overs career, taking 381 wickets, at an average of 21 and 22 respectively. 

As an Englishman, the day McGrath retired, was the day I breathed a sigh of relief. 

But in truth, I loved watching his skill control, and he remains one of the key factors as to why I play cricket. 

Here are some of my favourite clips of Glenn McGrath:

Nobody can forget his 5-21 against England at Lord’s in 2005

Known for being exceptionally poor with the bat when he started off, his batting became somewhat of a cult. 

He will primarily of course be remembered for his outstanding bowling, but his fifty against New Zealand will also rank very highly. 

And THAT catch of course…