MS Dhoni and Everything Wrong with Cricket!

Imagine that you were playing village cricket and the batting side’s captain walked into the middle to contest an umpiring decision. You’d think that the player in question was pathetic and their actions unacceptable. You’d think that they were setting a disgraceful example to kids wouldn’t you!

MS Dhoni did such a thing in a recent IPL match and bar a small and utterly meaningless fine, got away it. Whether or not the umpiring decision was correct is irrelevant. It’d be fascinating to know what the reaction would’ve been had the player in question not been Indian.

Cricket has been played for over 150 years and players have been getting ‘rough’ decisions all over the globe everyday. Few players anywhere at anytime have likely acted with the lack of grace that MS Dhoni did.

Nothing about our game should make anyone angry or disappointed, with the performance maybe but certainly not with conduct.

Has MS Dhoni apologised? Is he embarrassed or is he revelling in the attention? I have no idea but what I do know is that his lowest of the low actions were totally out of place at all levels of our beautiful game.

James Astill: The Great Tamasha Book Review

As with Peter Oborne’s A History of Cricket in Pakistan, when reading James Astill’s The Great Tamasha, not only do you learn about cricket but the country as a whole.

Firstly, let’s get the criticism out of the way. Occasionally Astill dismisses the careers of some domestic players whose batting averages weren’t particularly lofty. Whilst he draws attention to the fact that many players were presented with opportunities that they didn’t merit, one or two mentioned deserve a little more respect. There are ranges in people’s abilities in all walks of life and not every batsman in Indian domestic cricket can average north of sixty.

Moving on, what rings true in Astill’s work is that he’s clearly immersed himself in local culture. He’s lived and breathed the streets, slums and cricket fields of India and not just the tourist spots. Astill performed many interviews with folk who are or were involved in the game at all levels of the cricket spectrum. It is interesting to have read this book five or six years since publication. The IPL is clearly still very much part of the cricket calendar even though there was great uncertainty and controversy during and before the time of writing.

Lalit Modi courts a lot of page time as do the owners of the IPL franchises. Astill’s explanations of why Indian’s watch cricket and their reasons for doing so are particularly insightful.

For enthusiastic fans of the global game, this is essential reading and scores…

84 not out

Cricket Captain 2018: Afghan Dreams Can Come True!

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When I accepted the challenge of performing the dual role of National Selector and Coach, ultimately being Team Manager for the Afghanistan Men’s National Cricket team, though I knew that a new dawn was about to commence, little did I envisage that the players would be writing history on such a grand scale so early in our relationship.

Having lost a competitive T20I series against Bangladesh 2-1, even if the deciding match looked a little one sided, we headed to India for my adopted nation’s first ever Test match. When a Kohliless India won the toss and chose to bat on the first morning, the following eleven men became Afganistan’s first ever Test cricket team:

Ashgar Stanikzai (c), Mohammad Shahzad, Usman Ghani, Noor Ali Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Mohammad Nabi, Haji Murad (w), Hamza Hotak, Dawlat Zadran, Fareem Ahmad, Hameed Hassan

By the time India neared 100 without loss on the first day, romance had been replaced by reality on our Test debut. With the score on 97 however, Shikhar Dhawan was run out for fifty exactly. That leaves a tricky quiz question regarding who took Afghanistan’s first ever Test wicket. When Cheteshwar Pujara perished for 91, the second wicket to fall, it was left-arm quick Fareem Ahmad who claimed the honour of being the first Afghanistan bowler to take a wicket.

India closed the day on 268-3 and though we lacked penetration, we had contained our hosts and not yet allowed them to amass a terribly imposing total. On the second day, India progressed to 326-3 before Ahmad (3-127) led the fightback to restrict them to 444 all out. As well as Pujara’s 91 and Dhawan’s 50, Murali Vijay contributed a determined 90.

Our batsmen were not to be intimidated however. Mohammad Shahzad (29) and Usman Ghani (60) put on 83 for our first ever Test partnership. Rahmat Shah, who didn’t feature in the Bangladesh matches, followed Dhawan’s example by scoring 50 exactly. Making India bat again had looked a certainty but a little middle order wobble caused concern. It was left to 29-year-old debutant wicketkeeper Haji Murad to come to the rescue. Before the match, I’d decided that it was far too much to ask even a player as talented as Mohammad Shahzad to both open the batting and keep wicket. I didn’t want him wasted down the order though, so I insisted that he reside at the top of the order. That left a difficult choice as to who to select behind the stumps. There was some reticence when I selected an uncapped (In all international formats) nearly thirty-year-old to gatecrash the big occasion. Oh how it turned out though! Murad made an assured 45 alongside Dawlat Zadran (53) in a magnificent partnership of 90 for the eighth wicket to help us avoid the follow-on. Zadran had been disappointed not to play in the T20Is against Bangladesh and responded by making vital contributions throughout his country’s first ever Test match. His attacking 53, which included seven fours and a six, was his highest score at any level while Ravi Ashwin claimed strong figures of 5-97 for India.

India then wasted a promising start for the second time in the match when 213-3 became 296 all out. Shikhar Dhawan top scored with 89 while Ajinkya Rahane made 52. There were contributions from all our bowlers including part-time spinner Rahmat Shah. Shah claimed a crestfallen Karun Nair for just 8 to the last ball of the day in his first over. Perhaps the most crucial wicket to fall however would be that of Umesh Yadav. Yadav was forced to retire hurt first ball and would not be able to bowl when we came to bat second time around.

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We were set 413 to win, just five short of the highest run chase in Test history. Rahane surprisingly opened the bowling but was ineffectual alongside an expensive Ishant Sharma. Sharma (18-0-92-0) conceded his runs at in excess of five an over. Mohammad Shahzad (148) and Usman Ghani (83) put on 163 for the first wicket. Shahzad also compiled 106 with Noor Ali Zadran to take us to 269-1 and make the entire cricket world turn their heads and believe in the impossible. Even a cricketer as exuberant as Shahzad was restrained in his celebrations upon scoring his country’s first ever Test match hundred. He knew that although his innings was special, it could yet be part of something incredible. There was a wobble as India opened the door. 304-2 became 373-7 resulting in a nervy tea for our boys on the fifth and final day.

Debutant Haji Murad (21) played his part again but it would be captain Ashgar Stanikzai (57 not out) who would write the script. He put on an unbroken 41 with Zadran and had the honour of hitting the winning cover drive for four to seal an earth-shattering victory that sent shockwaves throughout the cricket world and announced Afghanistan on the Test stage.

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Credit to India for their grace in defeat. The absence of their captain and of a member of their bowling attack in our second innings proved fatal but for Ravi Jadeja to bowl only eight overs in the entire match was criminal. I take little credit for this victory. I have been with the boys for only a short time and they are a truly talented bunch. It is they who performed and etched their place in cricketing history. Their names and their exploits will be spoken about in a hundred years time. Whatever happens in their careers from this point forth, they will always have the first Test against India to reflect upon with immeasurable pride.

Disclaimer: Don’t ask me how Dhawan robbed Shahzad of Man of the Match!

Sachin: A Billion Dreams DVD Review

How fitting that I should be reviewing Sachin: A Billion Dreams, at a time when http://www.sillypointcricket has recently surpassed The Little Master’s’ Test tally of 15,921.

It’s getting on for two and a half years now since I commenced writing this blog and I’ve since added audio and even brought YouTube videos to the crease. This has, for the most part, been done without the help of social media. I’m not on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook etc and realise how putting some effort in on those mediums could help raise the profile of both me and my blog… but ‘life’ must take priority, sometimes at least!

Anyway, onto the task at hand… Sachin: A Billion Dreams.

I was worried that the film would be a little self-indulgent and sickly but I must say that I really enjoyed it. It does though highlight what a difference opportunity and practice make. It’s exquisitely shot (Rather appropriate) and provides an insight not just into Sachin or cricket but India in general. At two hours twenty minutes long, it’s a decent Test dig but there is a man’s childhood and twenty year career to cover!

For cricket tragics like myself, it’s well worth watching.

Sachin: A Billion Dreams scores… 90 not out

Something in the Genes!

They’re not bad these Curran brothers are they?

I don’t actually think that most diehard cricket fans were surprised at how Surrey’s Sam Curran has taken to Test cricket. He’s an absolute star, capable of batting at six (Maybe higher) and opening the bowling for his country. His left-arm variety will be essential to England’s attack and compensates for any perceived lack of pace. I previously said that he is the axis around which England should build their team but given England’s abundance of all-round talent, just to be a cog will suffice. He’s already made his buck courtesy of the IPL (He’s been snapped up by Kings XI Punjab) but hopefully he’ll keep his feet on the ground and stay engaged with the longest form of the game as well as the pyjama affairs.

Brother Tom struggled for wickets in the 2017-18 Ashes series in Australia but displayed chutzpah with both bat and ball. He performed well in white-ball (ODI/T20I) cricket and it’s a shame that injuries limited his England outings in 2018. He’s been on absolute fire for Sydney Sixers in the Big Bash this winter, already claiming a hat-trick of three-wicket hauls and scoring a swashbuckling half-century. I still think he’s capable of being a viable Test option for England at least in home conditions. He and Sam clearly have attitude which I like. It’s not ugly but there’s a little bit of ‘In your face!’ and that’s healthy against some competitors.

Then there’s brother Ben. It would be easy to get discouraged by being a little behind his brothers or for him to be the butt of jokes but BC has won a contract with Northamptonshire on the back of an encouraging showing late last season. That included signing off with a match-winning 83 not out against Sussex in the County Championship and he’ll be keen to kick on this term for a side that have lost Ben Duckett to Nottinghamshire. How far BC can go remains to be seen. There’s no disgrace in having a solid county career without international recognition but whilst Sam and Tom might look destined for greatness, remember how compatriot Steven Finn as well as India’s Irfan Pathan sadly fell away. In the case of Ben, we might yet see a Mike Hussey style post thirty Test debut followed by thousands of runs!

It’s Back to the Cricket…

Face it folks, Christmas is over… so it’s back to the cricket and there are Test matches galore all over the globe this Boxing Day…

Australia are hosting India where Mayank Agarwal has registered an encouraging 76 on debut for the touring side:

http://www.espncricinfo.com/series/18693/scorecard/1144995/australia-vs-india-3rd-test-india-in-aus-2018-19

Sri Lanka take on New Zealand for whom Tim Southee struck a typically Tim Southee-like 68 to rescue his side from the depths of 64-6 to what will be a competitive 178. He then went onto claim three wickets before Sri Lanka planted the seeds of recovery:

http://www.espncricinfo.com/series/18812/scorecard/1153839/new-zealand-vs-sri-lanka-2nd-test-sri-lanka-in-nz-2018-19

Meanwhile in South Africa, Imam-ul-Haq is already back in the hutch having dined on duck not turkey for visitors Pakistan:

http://www.espncricinfo.com/series/18649/scorecard/1144153/south-africa-vs-pakistan-1st-test-pak-in-sa-2018-19

Will Marsh Come in Handy?

If, as predicted, batsman Peter Handscomb is dropped from Australia’s Test side once again, then it’s hard to see much of an international future for the twenty-seven-year-old. That said, teammate Shaun Marsh has had more lives than a suicidal cat, so maybe PH will be back again in time to be dropped again this time next year!

India have kept ‘Pistol Pete’ down just as England have before them. At 27, Handscomb is no pup. He’s acquired plenty of experience playing in both his homeland (Australia) and his motherland (England). In truth, it would seem a sensible move for elitely honest Australia to bring in Mitchell Marsh. MM’s contribution could help alleviate some of the strain on the hosts’ pace bowling attack. As for his potential output with the willow, despite an inauspicious start, Marsh has previously stepped up at crucial times but Australia desperately need an entire batting order that can contribute as is the case with the England side. India, whilst having non-existent openers but a respectable lower order have, most crucially, a number of middle order batsman for whom scoring a century is not as rare as a lunar eclipse! What Peter Handscomb would give to score a ton… or even another chance!

Disclaimer: You Watch, he’ll play and score a hundred!