Numbers Up!

Numbers on shirts during the Ashes. Farewell tradition!

Now obviously players participating in the County Championship wear numbers on their shirts and I can understand the logic in that. In Test match cricket though, I’m not so sure. Beamed on TV players are easily identifiable and even for those at the ground, isn’t trying to figure out the identity of the players part of the beauty of attending? The scoreboard will tell you who is batting and bowling. You know who the wicketkeeper is and can soon figure out regular field placements.

I think that the qualities of both Test and T20I cricket are enhanced by maintaining as much difference between them as possible. Keep the flashing bails, coloured clothing and names on shirts away from the most testing form of the game please.

Oh, errr, ignore my custom kit creation in the pic above… hypocrite!

Cricket Captain 2018: You Win Some You Lose Some!

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Following Test success we played Ireland again, this time in yet more limited overs matches. Having won the previous ODI series against the shamrock side by a margin of 3-0, we soon assumed an unassailable 3-0 lead in this series too, making it six wins out of six in the format against the Greens. Only after clinching the series did we let our guard down having rotated the squad, the series finishing 3-2.

In the opening encounter we posted 337-3 however an incredible maiden bowled by spinner Andy McBrine in the final over of our innings left Najibullah Zadran (98 not out) and captain Ashgar Stanikzai (99 not out) short of their centuries. This was despite compiling an unbroken partnership of 205. Ireland reached 165 without loss courtesy of Ed Joyce (108) and William Portefield (85) but crumbled to 271 all out. Twenty-one-year-old debutant spin bowler Zia ur-Rehman claimed figures of 3-63 from his full allocation of overs on debut.

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Opening batsmen Usman Ghani and Mohammad Shahzad etched their names into the record books.

In the second match, Mohammad Shahzad (223 not out) and Usman Ghani (138) compiled a gargantuan first-wicket stand of 364.

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A breakdown of Mohammad Shahzad’s monumental knock, beehive included.

Shahzad’s 223 came from just 165 deliveries and included a whopping 40 fours (160 of his runs!). The only wicket to fall came when Ghani was run out off the last ball of the innings.

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Painful reading for Irish fans!

The partnership was only eight runs short of equalling the world record for any wicket in ODI cricket set by West Indies duo Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels just three years ago. Ultimately we defeated Ireland by 146 runs.

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Not for the first time, Andy McBrine frustrated our bowlers as Ireland recovered from 58-6 to post 197.

In the third game we had Ireland in all sorts of strife at 58-6 but lower order batsman Andy McBrine, who frustrated us with a fifty in the Test, did so again before being stumped of Mohammad Nabi for 62. Leader of the attack Hamid Hassan…err, led the attack with figures of 4-37. The insatiable Mohammad Shahzad just picked up where he left off in the last match and carried the team to victory with an unbeaten 88. We won by seven wickets to seal the series.

For the fourth match we rested Shahzad and Hassan and paid the price. We were going steady at 80-0 (Ahmadi 44, Ghani 39) but could only double our run tally for the loss of all ten wickets. Beanpole Boyd Rankin claimed 5-30 to bundle us out for just 160. Despite some serious nerves, Ireland got home with four wickets in hand. Eighteen-year-old debutant wicketkeeper Ikram Ali Khil snaffled the first two Irish wickets in style but it wasn’t enough.

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Noor Ali Zadran returned to form in style but also in vain.

In the final match, we generously invited Ireland to bat first and they posted 266-5 from their fifty overs. After scores of 28, 11 and 8, Noor Ali Zadran returned to form in spectacular style with a knock of 159 but was run out near the end as we fell five runs short. Only opener Javed Ahmadi (42) offered anything else with the bat, the next highest score being only 12.

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Confirmation of the 3-2 series win.

Unfortunately the theme of one side dominating over a period of matches remained when we headed into the T20I series. Ireland won the first two matches to make it four wins on the spin against us in all formats before, as Ireland did in the ODIs, we won the dead rubber.

Such was Ireland’s onslaught in the opening exchanges of the first match (38-0 from 3 overs) that we adapted our tactics by bringing on spin during the powerplay. Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi both struck in their first overs but Ireland still totalled an imposing 184-9.

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Hazratullah Zazai came into the side at the top of the order and duly took his excellent domestic form onto the international stage.

Despite Hazratullah Zazai’s 73 from only 49 balls and despite losing only three wickets to Ireland’s nine, we succumbed by 28 runs.

In the second match we fell fifteen runs short when chasing 163. Dave Rankin (38) was dropped, including early on, twice by Mohammad Shahzad who was not wearing the gloves but stood at slip.

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The highest partnerships for each of our first three wickets in T20I cricket have all been recorded during my tenure.

In the final game, we gained an important consolation victory to end the bad streak. Shahzad (102 from 73) and Zazai (58 from 45) batted the entire twenty overs without being dismissed. 163-0 was not a massive score though but we kept Ireland down as they fell 24 runs short. Slow-left-armer Sharafuddin Ashraf claimed outstanding analysis of 3-12 from four overs and there was a welcome return to form for Rashid Khan.

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Coming in off the back of strong domestic showings, leg-spin sensation Rashid Khan returned to the side and returned to form.

Khan claimed two wickets in each match to finish the series with six wickets at 16.50.

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Mohammad Shahzad’s insatiable appetite for runs just doesn’t quench. Whatever the format, wherever the location, whoever the opposition… runs, runs, runs!

It was disappointing to concede ranking points in the T20I format but it’s been a fabulous year for our side. We look forward to next season with much anticipation and are confident of putting in a good showing at the 2019 ODI World Cup in England. Look out for the squad announcement nearer the time.

Cricket Captain 2018: Afghan Ascending!

Following our seismic victory against India on Test debut, we entertained Ireland for a limited overs only tour. We were ruthless against our old Associate adversaries, winning both series.

We claimed the T20I series 2-1, only losing when having already assumed an unassailable 2-0 lead. A magnificent undefeated partnership of 171 between Noor Ali Zadran (80*) and Najibullah Zadaran (85*) helped us recover from 4-2 to win the first match. Right-arm-quick Yamin Ahmedzai’s 5-29 led the way in the second.

We then emphatically won the ODI series 3-0. The scintillating form of our opening batsmen, Mohammad Shahzad and Usman Ghani, laid the foundations for our victory. The pair compiled partnerships of 109, 166 and 84 in the three matches. Ex-England duo Ed Joyce (107) and Boyd Rankin (7-46) could consider themselves extremely unfortunate to be on the losing side in the first match of the series. In the second, the record-breaking 166-run partnership between Shahzad (116) and Ghani (93) more than laid the foundations for a successful chase of 289. In the third match, part-time spin bowler Rahmat Shah claimed figures of 4-14 whilst Ghani (80) continued his strong ODI form after a disappointing T20I series to seal an emphatic whitewash. He has though thrown his wicket away on more than one occasion when a hundred looked on the cards.

Then came another great Test match, our first at home. The easy option would’ve been to select the XI that downed India but given the time that had elapsed since that glorious occasion and taking player form and conditions into consideration, we bravely made four changes. Najibullah Zadran and Hamza Hotak were dropped altogether, a decision based primarily on poor domestic form. Mohammad Nabi, who performed well with the ball in the white-ball matches but had been playing almost exclusively T20 cricket and Dawlat Zadran, who made a vital 53 against India, made the squad but not the playing XI. Without a club, Zadran may struggle to represent Afghanistan again.

Twenty-year-old batsman Nasir Shah beat off lots of competition for a middle order berth. Knocks of 234 and 84 in the most recent round of First Class matches cementing his place. Karim Janat, who performed well with the ball in the limited overs matches combined with scoring 126 in his last domestic match also debuted. Yamin Ahmadzai was rewarded for his five-wicket haul in a T20I and consistent threat with a Test debut at the expense of Zadran. Eighteen-year-old spin sensation Qais Ahmad held off more experienced internationals for the sole spin bowling spot. Rashid Khan failed to make the squad and still awaits a Test cap.

Having won the toss, we chose to bat but stumbled early on and at 276-7 the innings could’ve petered out.

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A breakdown of Haji Murad’s Test best innings of 96 in our first innings. As the above graphic demonstrates, the wicketkeeper cut well and scored heavily on the leg-side in front of square.

Heroically, Haji Murad (96) found support from the lower order to lift the team to 398 all out. Yamin Ahmadzai (37) and Fareed Ahmad (28) provided excellent support. Wicketkeeper Murad, who performed so well against India, was cruelly denied a maiden Test century courtesy of an outstanding catch from Peter Chase. What the lanky quick was doing positioned at short leg is anybody’s guess but he held a stunning catch. The tireless Chase also stuck at his main task to finish with exhaustive figures of 4-157.

Ireland then reached 53 without loss before capitulating to 208-9. It should be noted that after suffering the dejection of so narrowly missing out on a Test century, gloveman Murad snaffled an outstanding leg-side catch to make the breakthrough when Ireland were going strong. Andy McBrine (50 not out) and Craig Young (27 not out) bookended the innings with another 53-run partnership to revive the tourists. Young was forced to retire hurt however so as was the case in our first Test against India, the opposition found themselves a bowler light for our second innings of the match. I hope that sceptics won’t point to Young’s misfortune as pivotal. We gained a 137-run lead on first innings after all.

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Debutant Karim Janat claimed the prize scalp of Irish veteran Ed Joyce with his first ball in Test cricket. Janat would fully justify his selection in the Test side with a strong all-round showing.

Absurdly, Karim Janat and Usman Ghani both claimed wickets with their first deliveries in Test cricket. Nasir Khan claimed one with his third and the part-timer went onto claim excellent figures of 3-25 to lift his confidence having only made 13 batting at four in the first innings. Qais Ahmad also didn’t have long to wait for his first Test wicket, striking after only a few overs.

We then posted 291-8 declared in our second innings. Messrs Shahzad (49) and Ghani (51) maintained their outstanding combo with an opening stand of 88.

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Debutant Nasir Khan’s measured knock of 72, dominant on the off-side, in our second innings helped put us firmly in the driving seat before a rush of blood to the head saw him frustratingly throw his wicket away!

Young Khan made 72 and looked destined for a debut ton but was rather foolishly stumped for 72. We lost a few wickets unnecessarily in the limited overs matches and need to eradicate occasional poor shot selection from our play. Khan compiled 121 with Karim Janat (61) who would fully justify his inclusion in the side via performances with both bat and ball. Spinner George Dockrell claimed match figures of 7-157 for Ireland. He was unlucky not to take more wickets and to finish on the losing side.

Staring down a daunting target but having made an encouraging start, Ireland then collapsed from 107-1 to 210 all out as we maintained our 100% winning record in Test cricket. We didn’t panic after Ireland made good progress early on before a double strike from Karim Janat (2-24) halted the visitor’s progress. Dave Rankin top scored with 48 but young spinner Qais Ahmad (3-50) wrapped things up after the pace bowlers had done their bit.

That’s two wins out of two in the Test arena and now it’s onto yet more more white-ball games against the side form the Emerald Isle. We’ll be looking to maintain our dominance against our friendly foes, continue to breed competition amongst the squad and develop our game in all formats.

Cricket Captain 2018: Omani Odyssey!

It was both an honour and a privilege to perform the dual role of Team Manager and Coach of the Oman Men’s Cricket Team at the T20I World Cup in India. I’m immensely proud of the effort of the squad and how competitive we were at various times in the tournament. I’m only sorry that we were unable to achieve even one victory for the people of Muscat and beyond to celebrate.

Here’s a recap of how our matches played out.

Match One versus Ireland

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Despite losing the toss and being put into bat, we soon reached 82-1 against Test nation Ireland. At the top of the order, Khawar Ali’s 38-ball 54 laid the platform for a competitive total before Aaqib Ilyas’ 42 not out from thirty deliveries helped us kick on. Frustratingly, very few runs came from the last two overs. Seamer’s Shane Getkate’s three-wicket over and Craig Young’s outstanding analysis of 2-17 from four overs, saw us collapse from 148-5 to 149-9!

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We kept Ireland in check during the powerplay but our spinners lacked both control and penetration as Ireland coasted towards victory courtesy of messrs. Stirling 74 not out and Porterfield 73. Only a late run out of the latter helped us avoid a ten-wicket defeat.

Match Two versus Netherlands

Again, we lost the toss but this time were made to bowl first. What’s frustrating about Netherlands massive total of 216-5 is that, in part at least, our bowlers performed well. Spin duo Mehrab Khan (2-40) and Khawar Ali (1-31) were much improved from the Ireland match but a third spinner, the experienced Ajay Lalcheta, brought in having been omitted for the opening match, was expensive, conceding fifty-two wicketless runs from his four overs. Who else but Ryan ten Doeschate (67 not out) was destroyer in chief.

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Khawar Ali then followed his 54 in the opening match by carrying his bat when making an excellent 86 not out. He faced exactly half the innings’ deliveries and twenty-five of his runs were gloriously driven through the extra cover region as the above graphic demonstrates.

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He shared an opening stand of 54 with Zeeshan Maqsood. Maqsood swashbuckled 35 from just sixteen deliveries to keep the Dutch honest. Ali then went onto share a stand of 70 with gloveman Naseem Khushi. Khushi only fell for 30 to the last delivery of the innings.

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Our effort of 173-6 is something to be proud of but having conceded 216, we fell short by 43 runs. As with the batting, it was a player with exhaustive experience of county cricket that proved the difference. Roelof van der Merwe finished with figures of 5-25. Take away the county stars and there really isn’t much between the two teams.

Match Three versus Bangladesh

In our final match against the mighty Bangladesh, we made it a hat-trick of toss losses and if we thought that Netherlands’ 216 was an imposing total, The Tigers 270-4 was always going to be an ask to chase down!

If you blinked, you’ll have missed Tamim Iqbal’s amazing 101 from a meagre 47 balls. Animul Haque (54 from 26) helped Tamim put on a gargantuan 153 for the first wicket. Shakib Al-Hasan then smacked 62 from just 22 deliveries to propel Bangladesh to within sight of 300!

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Debutant Jayesh Odedra’s international debut (4-0-63-0) was one to forget and he may never get another chance.

Mehran Khan’s 2-56 meant that he finished the tournament as our leading wicket taker with four victims at 34.00 apiece. His economy rate of 11.33 is nothing to write home about however.

Khawar Ali followed up his 54 and unbeaten 84 with… a golden duck, to end his World Cup on a low. He did finish as our leading run-scorer with 140 runs at an average of 70 and an impressive strike-rate of 141.40.

Against Bangladesh, it was his namesake Aamer Ali (28 from 18) and Alyas Iqbal (38 from 20) who put on an entertaining 58 to help us put a score on the board and avoid a truly embarrassing scoreline. Ilyas finished the tournament with 91 runs at 45.50. Noorul Riaz, a thirty-nine-year-old batsman who before the competition had played only one List A game… and duly ducked in it, followed up his nine against Netherlands on international debut with an ability demonstrating 39 not out. Throughout the tournament our batting unit fully committed to playing a selfless and attacking brand of cricket.

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The efforts of Ali, Ilyas, Riaz and co. amounted to 150-9 from our allocation. A respectable effort against a Test nation but still 120 runs short of parity.

In summary, I’d like to put on record my appreciation for the efforts of the team during the World Cup. As hinted at, every individual in the squad committed to the tactics of the collective and gave their all in the pursuit of glory. Though we were soundly beaten, we did manage to express ourselves against two Test playing nations and the most experienced non-Test playing nation. I’d like to thank the Omani Cricket Board and the fans for providing me with this wonderful opportunity and the support provided. Having reached the conclusion of my contract, we part on good terms and I wish all involved with Oman cricket the very best in years to come.

China’s Batting as Brittle as Porcelain… or Fine China Even!

China Women succumbed to a record-breaking defeat at the hands of UAE in a T20I encounter in Bangkok today. Both the margin of defeat (189 runs) and their brittle batting effort (14 all out) mean the players enter the record books for all the wrong reasons!

With T20I status now applied all across the globe, it’s to be hoped that such humbling defeats don’t discourage players from emerging nations and that cricket continues to evolve into a truly worldwide sport.

It was Kings of Convenience who said that “Failure is always the best way to learn”…

Looking forward to China posting competitive totals in the future.

Predicting England’s Next Test Cap

Who will be England Test cricketer number 690?

Silly Point has a go at guessing who will be next to don the Test whites (Or cream!) of England.

Will it be a player plucked from the county scene, a franchise star or a groomed England Lion?

Silly Point predicts that England’s next new Test cricketer will be… Jason Roy!

Whilst we’re at it, we may as well do ODIs as well.

Silly Point boldly predicts that England’s next debutante in One-Day International cricket will be… Jofra Archer!

In the past, some of England’s selections have been…. boggling! The days of picking rabbits out of hats seem in the distant past however. As for the team’s next new blood in T20Is, how about… Jamie Overton?

Such is both the competition and make-up of England’s current squads in each format, that it’s difficult to see how and where new players can sneak in. A recall for an already capped player wouldn’t necessarily be the backwards step that it would’ve been considered in the past, only an acknowledgement of England’s current riches.

Players such as Joe Clarke (Off-field activities) and Matthew Parkinson (Injury) would’ve been serious contenders but I was dissuaded due to their current circumstances. Of course they may yet be England’s next new caps!

Disclaimer: Please note that I’ve ignored players such as Joe Denly and Olly Stone who are uncapped at Test level but in the squad for the West Indies series. My selections are based on further ahead or if any other players are to be called up during said tour.

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!