Saturday, March 08, 2003

World Cup Update, and Some Thoughts on Bangladesh's (and Potentially Kenya's) Test Status.

The Super Six stage of the World Cup got going yesterday, with two matches: Australia versus Sri Lanka and India versus Kenya. On form, you would expect victories to Australia and India, and that is what we got. However, the quality of the cricket was excellent.

In 1984, Vivian Richards, the great West Indian batsman, scored 189 not out in a one day International against England. In those days, scores in one day games were lower than they are today, because cricketers hadn't yet mastered one day cricket. Centuries were rare, and many people would have said that a score that high was not possible in a one day international. However, Richards did it. After that cricket fans became aware that a very good batsman could conceivably score a double century, 200 runs, in one day international cricket if he batted for the entire innings (or almost the entire innings) and absolutely everything went right. Since then, we have been waiting for this to happen. In test cricket, where there are no limits on how long a player may bat, double centuries are considered a major achievement, but they are not all that uncommon. A few are scored every year. Most top notch batsmen score at least one in their careers. However, in one day cricket, we are still waiting.

In the 19 years since Richards achieved his feat, a number of players (including Richards himself again) have managed similar scores to Richards. The highest individual score in a one day international is now 194, by Saeed Anwar of Pakistan, against India in 1997. Nobody has got to 200. However, there have been plenty of occasions where a player has started batting and has been going so well that what goes through a spectator's mind is "If this player keeps going the way he is, he will get to 200".

This happened today, although it was always a very optimistic thought. Australian wicketkeeper and opening batsman Adam Gilchrist is one of the finest batsmen in world cricket, test or one day. And he scores his runs fast. Today he opened the batting for Australia, and scored 99 off 88 balls in 29.5 overs. Given that scoring is usually faster in the last 20 overs than the first 30, and that he had had less than half the strike in the first 30 overs but would probably have had more of it in the last 20, my mind wandered to the thought of what Gilchrist might be able to get in 50 overs, and the result rested somewhere around the 200 mark. Gilchrist has always struck me as someone who could do it if he had a really good day. (This is obviously also true of Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, and also Sanath Jayasuriya of Sri Lanka).

These hopes were of course dashed when Gilchrist was run out for 99. He had got less than half way there. Still, though, he had given Australia a great start, and captain Ricky Ponting was able to go on to score 114 and Damien Martyn scored a useful 52. Australia were 2/290 after 45 overs. At that point, I thought that they could get as many as 350 by really going for it off the last 5 overs. However, for some reason (perhaps good bowling) they couldn't. Ponting and Martyn got out, and the batsmen were only able to add 29 off the last five overs. When you have wickets in hand then the last five overs should be the highest scoring of the innings, but in this case they were below average. Possibly the absence of Andrew Symonds due to injury did harm the situation here. He is a perfect player to hit sixes at the end.

In any event, 5/319 was likely enough. Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya is one of the few players capable of chasing that sort of total (his highest score on one day internationals is a hugely impressive 189). Unfortunately, his thumb was broken by a fast delivery from Australian fast bowler Brett Lee, and he had to retire hurt after scoring just one run. After that Sri Lanka seemed to give up, and didn't seriously chase the target. Veteran batsman Aravinda de Silva played curiously. De Silva and Jayasuriya are clearly the two best batsmen to play for Sri Lanka since Sri Lanka achieved test status in 1982, and it was brilliant batting from the two of them together that won the World Cup for Sri Lanka in 1996. De Silva has been playing for Sri Lanka since 1982, and is playing in his last tournament. He is still very good, although not as good as he was a few years back. Yesterday, though, he came in at 3/47 in the 13th over, and started batting quite slowly. He was clearly the only player in the side at that point who had any chance of being able to win the game. However, he didn't. He batted carefully at first, and then only really got going when the required run rate was so high as to be impossible. If Sri Lanka was not chasing such an imposing target, then his 92 would have been a really fine effort (and it was certainly a great innings to watch towards the end). As it was though, it seemed that he had given up on winning before he started, and he therefore simply decided to try to score one last World Cup century against the Australians. I would have liked to have seen him come out blazing, determined to go out trying to win the match. It wasn't very likely that he could have done this, but it sure would have been something had he succeeded.

From the Australian point of view, the fact that De Silva did eventually get going and got their score to 223 in the end was perhaps something of a disappointment. Their bowlers got on top early, reducing Sri Lanka to 4/48 and then 7/149, but they couldn't finish them off until McGrath was brought back at the end. Either they lost concentration after the game was clearly already won, or they are missing Shane Warne in the middle of the innings. Still, a very easy win by 96 runs. Australia remain impressive, but they are still just slightly below their best.

In the India versus Kenya game, Kenya batted first, and scored solid 6/225 off their 50 overs. Kenya were never going to get a huge score, but were clearly determined not to be embarassed by India. This was set up by a good, solid 79 by Kennedy Otieno, and some good hitting at the end from Maurice Odumbe got them to this respectable total. In return, India got off to a bad start, losing Tendulkar early and falling to 3/24 off 9.2 overs. At this point, it appeared that an upset was possible. Kenya were very enthusiastic in the field, and looked a chance to cause another big upset and wrap up a place in the semi finals. (This one would have been even bigger than the one against Sri Lanka). For the next 20 overs, India were sluggish, apparently finding it difficult to score at a decent rate. Eventually, though, the inevitable happened, and the class of the Indian batsmen did show. Indian captain Sourav Ganguly scored a fine captain's knock of 107 and an excellend 58 in support from Yuvraj Singh meant that in the end India scored a pretty easy six wicket win.

Still, Kenya played well. One has to think they are a chance to beat Zimbabwe and so make the semi-finals. That Kenya v Zimbabwe game next week should be a very interesting one. Although Kenya have been aided by a default, one thing has become very clear in this tournament. Kenya (who do not have test status) are a significantly better team than Bangladesh (who do) and something has to be done about this.

Bangladesh being given test status coincided with the ICC introducing a World Test Championship, requiring every test side to play a series against every other side over a five year period. This requires that (including Zimbabwe) each test side play a minimum of 45 matches over five years. This has meant that Bangladesh are playing far more matches against much better opposition than most previous sides have played immediately after getting test status. This has allowed players from certain other sides to boost their averages against Bangladesh's sub-standard opposition, and it has also not been good for Bangladesh. Playing good opposition once in a while is good, but getting thrashed ten times a year in tests and more times in one day matches is not good.

When Bangladesh were granted test status, a new half way "One day international" status was created for Kenya, which meant that their one day matches counted as full internationals and they therefore got one day games pretty regularly. Kenya have improved since then, and in retrospect it seems that it would have been a good idea to promote Bangladesh to this status too rather than give them test status. Alternately, they could have been given test status so their matches counted as full internationals, but not given entry into the ICC test championship until they improved. That way, other sides could have played one off matches against them from time to time without giving them the full grind of year round cricket.

In any event, I don't think the status quo is sustainable. For one thing, Kenya deserve equal status to Bangladesh. I suspect it is politically impossible to take away Bangladesh's test status, but I think they should no longer play towards the ICC's Test Championship. It would probably better if they and Kenya only had the one day international status that Kenya have now, but it is probably too late for this. Bangladesh should go back to a state of affairs where they play the odd one off test against better opposition and play in one day international tournaments from time to time. Kenya should be given similar status. It should be made very clear what either of these sides need to do in order to be allowed to play in the ICC test championship in future. This should simply be based on performance. If they can win test matches against two separate opponents from the "better" test teams within a certain period (two or three years) then they should receive promotion. Otherwise they stay where they are.

I don't think this solution is idea, but it both gives us a more satisfactory status for Bangladesh, and rewards Kenya for their performances in this tournament.

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