Monday, September 20, 2010

The Story We Already Knew

The manner in which Andrew Flintoff chose to acknowledge a fitness battle lost even as the tightest County Championship for years was coming to its conclusion did him little credit. What abject, thoughtless timing, a slap in the face for the game that nurtured him and set him on the road to fame and considerable fortune.

He and his advisers are sufficiently familiar with the machinations of many media desks which know little of county cricket and care even less, seeing only celebrity and names, to understand what would be placed top of the agenda. It is an uncharacteristic faux pas at odds with someone known for the generosity of his spirit. The stories of coming engagements with teams around the world were pipe-dreams: his management have been concentrating for some while on how best to handle his exit from the game and non‑cricketing future.

He was never one of the great all‑rounder’s, but a considerably better one than his statistics show superficially. He had the capacity to impact. He could take a game and tear it from the grasp of the opposition like no other contemporary in the England side. He was utterly indefatigable, never more so than in his heroic bowling at Lord's last year which won England the match and which perhaps precipitated his departure to the orthopedic operating theatre. When, in what was his last significant act for England , he ran out Ricky Ponting at The Oval last year, with a direct hit from mid‑off, it was a moment of inspiration. Only gifted players can produce such game-breakers on cue.

Since announcing his retirement from the game there have been suggestion and comparison with the greats of the ‘All rounder’ community most notably Botham, a man with the same attacking streak and an instinct to rise for the big games. Yet this comparrisomes leaves Botham looking a lot more average than he truly was. Flintoff was a Hero, one who turned up when the crowd wanted, but was found lost and wanting when captaining in series other than against Australia. Unquestionably, except in his own mind, he was a better bowler than batsman, a rampaging world-class fast bowler whose paltry three five-wicket hauls do not remotely do him justice. At times, perhaps, while physically menacing, and bowling the heaviest of balls, his direction of attack, which slanted in to right‑handers as his delivery arm went beyond the vertical, was not so disconcerting to the best players: the Australian batsman Michael Slater once confided how he found him comfortable to get away through midwicket on the angle.

As a batsman Flintoff never really had a true role in the line-up as his lack of technical footwork left him open to good bowling, what he did offer as a batsman was more in the way of heart and strength, but lacked the ability to trickle sneaky runs in tight matches preferring to smash the ball to all parts of the ground.

Sport needs its heroes and Flintoff became that. Here was someone whose achievements were beyond reach of the aspirations of the public, yet who remained one of them. He batted as they would like to bat and bowled as they would want. He was personable, liked his ale, got into scrapes. His football style celebrations after taking a 5 wickets became his cricketing logo, and the marketing machine went into over drive after the 2005 Ashes series. The following series away from the comfort of England proved that he was just a myth rather than a magician as his side was toppled 5-0 in a series dominated by cricketers of a different world-class.

I’m sure as Flintoff reclines back into the armchair of retirement and takes phone calls from a raft of talk shows, corporate events, dancing with stars and possible exhibition matches that he would have thought to himself that for the 4 years that his lime light lasted that he used it well and to his advantage. As a cricketer Flintoff was merely a man who played a couple of good innings in a cricketing era when the camera has every angle, and for a player who struggled to play certain angles on the pitch he was deft at playing them off it.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tasmania go Dutch

In Australian T20 Big Bash news a small yet ground breaking little story has emerged, as Tasmania have announced the signing of Netherlands all-rounder Ryan ten Doeschate for the Big Bash 2010-11.
"His credentials suit what we need perfectly," Tasmania coach Tim Coyle said in Hobart . "He's an attacking, hard-hitting player who clears the boundary regularly, a very handy bowler and an excellent fieldsman"

Ryan ten Doeschate is the big name of the Dutch national side thanks to both his success with Essex , and a stunning season in the ICC Intercontinental Cup in 2006. He broke David Hemp's record for the competition's highest score by hitting an unbeaten 259 and finished with the extraordinary average of 228.66 including four successive centuries. He also finished as the Netherlands ' leading wicket taker in the tournament. Since joining Essex his cricket has gone from strength to strength and led the batting averages for Essex in England 's Friends Provident t20 this year, making 296 runs in six matches at an average of 59.20. He also had best economy-rate for his side, conceding 6.81 runs an over. Essex won 10 of their 16 group games in the Friends Provident t20 and finished second in the South Group. They lost the semi-final to eventual champions Hampshire.

The ground breaking selection of Dutch player to play in an Australian competition for the first time, is a glowing example for the ICC’s push to further enhance cricket in traditionally non-playing nations. With teams traditionally selecting West Indies or Indian players to fill the roles as overseas players this has come up with contract issues with many players having signed with 2 clubs, in both the IPL and Big Bash. In one case leaving Victoria without their skipper Cameron White for this season’s Champions League. Selecting a player such as ten Doeschate allows full use of him for the whole of the competition.

I for one like the impact that international players have on competitions, and feel allowing two per side doesn’t stop any youngster who deserves a game getting one and only adds more to the Big Bash than it takes away. I’m looking forward to watching the Dutchman’s progress though the tournament where he will join Pakistan fast bowler, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, as Tasmania's two international players this season, the Big Bash starts Dec 30 to Feb 5.

Twittering Twits

Now here at the Cricket Observer I have only just been getting into this tweeting ‘thing’ after being shown the ability to stay up to date with score lines and emerging news at a moments notice. As well as a new way to keep in touch with readers of the blog who wish to be followers. And if Bumble can do it then I feel like I’m missing out on the opportunity.

Cricket is game especially when batting where one must find a way to stay amused, some cricketers in the old days used tricks, pranks, gags or just some lively banter about weight issues, girl friends or little jibes at technique. All done while sitting on the balcony waiting for your turn to stroll out onto the field. It seems that these idle moments have been given the perfect solution, Twittering. All cricketers are doing it now, and some to great effect with Graeme Swann taking up cult status with his constant streams of useless, and witty banter about teammates. Yet as this new domain opens up of course there is always going to be issues, the most recent being Dimitri Mascarenhas, the Hampshire all-rounder who has played sporadically for England’s T20 and One-day sides over the last year, can expect a knock on the door from the ECB in the coming days after his recent twitter about national selector Geoff Miller. Describing him as a “kn*b” and “a pr*ck”

One post sent from the Twitter account @DimiMascarenhas read: "Geoff miller is a complete kn*b. He had no clue what he is doing. Fing pr*ck."

This after only just recently seeing the headlines when Pieterson recently described himself being dropped from the one-day squad as a “f*ck up” The governing body would most likely look more harshly on an outburst directed so personally at a selector than the post from Pietersen. This coupled with last months outburst from Under-19 international Azeem Rafiq who was banned from all cricket for a month and fined £500 for a tweet where he described John Abrahams, its elite player development manager; as a “useless w*nker” and England are not the only team with these issues the earliest problems with social networks was Phillip Hughes discussing his non-selection from the test side for the Test match at Lords during last years Ashes Series. What is that makes not just athletes but people behave differently on social networks?

You would never, well I’d hope not, yell this sort of language out at your coach in a public place during a nets session, say while children are watching. So what then gives you the ok to do such a thing via a multimedia stream. All this shows is a bratish and cocooned lifestyle that some of today’s cricketers are living in where they feel that they know all, and nobody else knows any better. Pietersen has only just recently in a county match made his first century in 18 months, and had shown in the Lords Test match against Pakistan that his head is just not in his game at the moment, to come out brand his non-selection as a “f*ck up” only makes him look foolish when England go on to beat Pakistan in the first of the T20’s without him in a comfortable manner. And Dimi has no leg to stand on, literally for his outburst. As a player that started the county season with a serious ankle injury due to chasing IPL riches and really has not made much of an impact in the young up and coming squad of Hampshire; even struggling to find himself a place in the T20 Finals Day, so where he thinks that by abusing a selector is going to help his already slim chances I will never know.

Twittering is sure to help bring some players ‘to life’ and give the followers a chance to see what some of the worlds best players are up to on a daily basis and for this reason it’s a great idea to further push cricket into the future. But discussing what players views are on coaches and selections, items that are strictly for the selection table or locker-room and should not be open to a wider audience. Cricket does not need to be a the soap opera that footballers lives have turned into, being used to slap up a few minor celebrities on a glossy page. Let’s keep the tweets either mindless locker-room banter or discussions on what training is like and I’m sure all will be fine for both selectors and those wishing to be selected.

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Fix Is In

Pakistan in a match fixing scandal, oh how we were all warned.

And now we are all up in arms as this will ruin cricket forever, tarnish the game and send it back into the dark ages. Cricket will not die, but Pakistan cricket may. For most of this summer there has been a warm sense of hope for Pakistan cricket with England/Lords taking on the role as big brother and giving them a leg up by allowing a vast amount of ODI, Tests and T20’s to be staged across the country, some to the detriment of the grounds. And having had what is only described as an up and down tour, where the brilliance and has been shadowed by some foolish cricket, it has now stepped into the dark alley of despair.

Salman Butt along with 2 other highly rated blowing prospects has been marked with the brush that always stains. All 3 are deemed innocent until proven, but the evidence doesn’t look good. And the cat calls and yelling from all those in the press and outside the ropes is for the tour to be cancelled and Pakistan banned. This is silly and will destroy cricket, for these 3 have done something wrong, not the team. Pull them from the squad and let the tour continue. The bigger issue of the overall rife of bookmakers in cricket and the scourge of ‘spot betting’ is part to blame for this issue, its ridiculous to be able to bet on a no-ball [or the amount of them] in an over and opens the game to its earliest history of match fixing in the 1800’s between land owners and crafty ‘professionals’ We cannot allow this sort of gambling in any sport, but most of all in cricket.

Are the bookies or the players to blame? It is a hard choice and one that from behind a keyboard or TV screen we all say ‘No’, ‘never would I ruin the spirit of cricket’. Yet you must remember these are cricket players that have been denied a right to earn further money from the game due to terrorist attacks back home and the banning of Pakistan players from the lucrative IPL, has left them short in the pocket compared to others and I dare say feeling a little grieved at the situation, so a man pops up and offers a few 100k to throw down a few wide balls and now your mind thinks differently. The subsequent week has been extraordinary, including one of the most surreal sessions of Test cricket ever played; but while there is an understandable desire for swift resolution, the complexity of the case and the need to get any punishments absolutely spot on means that the ICC must take its time here.

We knew the summer was going to belong to Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif, but we thought it was for what they did with the ball, not their front foot. If they did bowl deliberate no-balls - and the evidence looks horrible, particularly the picture of Salman Butt starting at the bowler rather than the batsman - it is obvious that they must be dealt with severely, yet the widespread calls for life bans are surely, at this stage, over the top. Given the natural disaster currently affecting Pakistan , it should not be too difficult for us to get some perspective. The News of the World described it as "a kiss of betrayal", but it wasn't: it was the kiss of a kid who adores the game. He may have done something gravely wrong; if so, we must hope the ICC does not compound it with a hasty and excessive punishment.