Sunday, April 27, 2003

Cricket Update

Two test series have started this weekend, one between South Africa and Bangladesh in Bangladesh, and another between New Zealand and Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka. Plus Australia are playing a practice match against University of West Indies Vice Chancellor's XI in Barbados leading up to the third test against the West Indies starting on Thursday.

First, though, cricket politics. The England cricket board has been accused of "colluding with Zimbabwe selecting only players uncritical of its President Robert Mugabe to tour England in May". The story here is that the England board was very concerned that Zimbabwe would cancel its tour of England due to England's refusal to play in Zimbabwe in the World Cup. The England board is financially stretched, and needs the money from the tour, and thus was willing to agree to almost anything to have the tour go on. This is deeply unimpressive on the part of the England board, but I don't really get the fuss. Two players protested against the Mugabe government by wearing black arm bands in the World Cup. After that, they were not selected, were unable to return to Zimbabwe, and attempts were apparently made to have one of them arrested for treason. After that, is there anybody in the world who does not think that political considerations are not being taken into account when choosing the Zimbabwean cricket team? It might surprise me a little if the England board agreed in writing to acknowledge this, but surely it is something everybody knew already.

England were never quite clear about whether they boycotted the game in Zimbabwe for moral reasons or simply for reasons of safety. At the time, they received credit from some quarters for staying away. However, given the England board's eagerness to have Zimbabwe tour England, one can only be cynical about their motives. Given the state of Zimbabwe, and the dropping of Henry Olonga, and the attempts to have him arrested, it is obvious that Zimbwean cricket (along with the rest of the country) is being ruined by the Mugabe regime. I think it is time the rest of the world acknowledged this, and stopped playing against them. I do not believe that the Zimbabwean tour of England should go ahead, and I believe that the Zimbabwean tour of Australia at the end of the year should also be cancelled. I am not expecting either of these things to happen, however, unless the situation in Zimbabwe deteriorates a lot more. (Sadly, this could happen).

Now, actual cricket. Firstly, South Africa have beaten Bangladesh by an innings and 60 runs in three days in Chittagong in Bangladesh. Sadly, this result simply confims that Bangladesh's test status is a joke. They are not good enough to play at this level, particularly the number of matches forced upon them by the ICC test championship schedule. I defended their elevation for some time, but their performance in the World Cup made it clear that they cannot compete and that there are several non-test countries (most notably Kenya) that are considerably better than they are. Something needs to be done about this.

One aspect of the problem is that playing Bangladesh regularly is inflating the statistics of players from other teams who play them a lot, and devaluing the importance of test matches. Sri Lanka have fielded what are essentially second eleven teams against Bangladesh, and have devalued the test caps of their players as a consequence. Plus, there are things like what happened in this match. For South Africa, Jacques Rudolph and Boeta Dippenaar put on an unbroken partnership of 429, and Rudolph scored an unbeaten 222 in his first test match. The partnership was the sixth highest in all test cricket. Normally, such achievements would be things to really take note of, but in this case I just have to yawn. These sorts of things are happening against Bangladesh a lot. Heaven knows what the Australians will do to them in June.

One good thing to come out of the match is ten wickets to Paul Adams of South Africa. Adams was the first non-white player to play for South Africa, and is a left arm wrist spinner (like Brad Hogg for Australia) with a very strange action. At his best he has looked an excellent bowler, but he has been plagued with spells out of the South African side due to injuries or bad form. If he is fit and back in form, this is great. Of course, we have to wait for some good opposition to know what this really means.

In Colombo, Sri Lanka are playing a game against New Zealand. A long way into this post, I have finally got to a discussion of two excellent cricket teams playing one another. This is something of a a relief. Sri Lanka are very hard to beat at home, but New Zealand got off to a great start due to a superb 274 not out from New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming. Fleming played one superb innings in the World Cup against the West Indies, demonstrating that he is a better batsmen than many of us realised. Although New Zealand faded as the World Cup went along, the innings in this match confirms what we saw in that innings. A great effort. New Zealand declared their innings closed at 7/515. Sri Lanka slumped to 4/134, but as I write they have recovered to 4/267 thanks to Jayawardene and Tillakaratne, and the game has stopped due to rain. There are only two more days, and a draw looks the most likely result in that game, unless New Zealand can take the last six wickets for less than 49 runs and enforce the follow on. This seems unlikely. Sri Lanka will be happy with the form of Jayawardene. He is one of their best players, but he played almost unbelievably badly in the World Cup.

Finally, The West Indian West Indies Vice Chancellor's XI scored 290 against the Australians. This was almost entirely thanks to one good partnership of 195 between Chris Gayle (who ended up with 129) and Jason Haynes, who scored 58. (I wonder if Haynes is any relation to the great West Indian batsman Desmond Haynes?). Otherwise, though, they didn't do much at all. Still, given that the West Indians have recalled Gayle for the third test, they will be happy with his century. Glenn McGrath is back in the Australian side, and took 2/41. The question of which Australian bowler to drop in favour of McGrath in the next test was probably made a little clearer. The two most likely candidates are MacGill and Hogg. MacGill took 5/40, and Hogg took 3/94. MacGill's wickets were top order players, while Hogg got the tailenders. MacGill is probably the frontrunner to keep his place, as he is the more conventional type of bowler. However, Hogg is the better batsman of the two, Hogg has probably bowled better in the first two matches, and while he is a less conventional left arm wrist spinner, there are a number of good left handed batsmen in the West Indian side, which means that the advantage of a right handed wrist spin bowler spinning the ball away from the batsman will be nullified a little. I take back what I said about it being clearer. I have no idea. (I still have a hunch they will select MacGill though).

In reply to this, Australia romped to 0/61 by stumps. There still do not appear to be any West Indian bowlers worth mentioning.

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