Monday, March 30, 2015

On the British programme Top Gear, they have a segment called "a star in a reasonably priced car".

This car, a Suzuki Liana, is, much like Brendan McCullum's batting philosophy, decidedly average. The driver, a star in some sphere of life, is not. He or she may be an actor or a sportsman or woman or some celebrity of note. Whoever it may be, they have achieved more than the Suzuki Liana ever will.

The New Zealand Cricket team is, in a way, the equivalent of the Liana. It's reliable enough but it sure isn't fancy. It will do a reasonable job, to a point, but it will never win you anything when it counts.

Trent Boult, though, is that star in a reasonably priced car. No matter the average state of the vehicle he is driving, he'll find a way to extract higher performance levels from it.

New Zealand's best bowler by bounds, this leftie can swing and seam and send a foe tumbling with Yorker's to crush a dream or three. Without this Tauranga raised twenty-five year old and his twenty-two World Cup wickets, there would have been no final's appearance for this team.

Even on a day when the batsmen wore the tag of chokers with distinction, here was Boult to bolt down Australia, despite New Zealand having set their neighbours a measly one hundred and eighty-four to win, with a wicket in his first over.

They didn't win a match nor glory but ten over's later, and one for forty, one could never accuse Boult of misfiring under pressure. No matter the situation, this easy going swinger has a delivery to suit his every whim. Over the wicket or around the wicket, no wicket has tamed this talismanic wonder with a average of fifteen for the tournament and a career average of twenty-four.

And, until recently, the New Zealand selectors would not countenance the possibility of Boult playing a onedayer. No longer. For, now he is the first selected, and even on a day when conditions did nothing but humour him, he still contented himself with a display unmatched by any of his teammates.

With his Captain appearing to lose his nerve for all out attack, Boult hung tough and displayed his substance. Unlike some others.

Not so easy, is it, Captain Courageous, when you're not on top and up against a fearsome foe, to attack at will. There was a potential catch go missing as McCullum pulled back from all out attack. Maybe he is not as confident as he portrays himself to be. So easy it is to talk big when you are winning.

For all his pre match bluster about not been intimidated and believing in themselves, McCullum failed to show complete faith in the one man who never lets him down: Trent Boult.

A second wicket came beckoning when Boult did what Boult more often than not does; put the cherry on the correct line and length and caught the outside edge of an Australian batsman's bat.

Except that Captain Courageous mutated into a lily-livered yellow belly, removing third slip, and a chance to turn the match went begging.

Sure, they didn't have the runs to play with, and yes, there has to be a balance between all out attack and being too negative. Just play what is in front of you.

Except that you have the one star at your disposal that may change the game for you. Back him.

After all, Boult backs himself. Does each and every match. That, skill, copious portions of hard work, and it isn't hard to see why those selectors eventually saw the light.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Every sport has its share of lunatics. Unfortunately, some of them occasionally manage to take control of the asylum. In cricket's case, that asylum, the ICC, has had some of the inmates run amok. It wouldn't be the first time, it sure won't be the last. And, man, what fun these paupers of intellectual endeavour get up to.

The latest genius notion that their oh so virile minds could conjure up was to eliminate the break between innings if the side batting first was all out before the allotted three and a half hours. So, as in the case of last evenings encounter between South Africa and Sri Lanka, when the latter were dismissed for one hundred and thirty-three runs after only thirty-eight over's, instead of taking the normal thirty minute break, the former had to face their first ten over's, then, and only then, could the normal tea break be commenced.

Oh how fair. South Africa's reward for bundling out a foe cheaply with superbly accurate bowling was to have the momentum of their innings broken when they were going along nicely with forty runs on the board and only one wicket down.

Sure, South Africa still went on to win comfortably, and, yes, you could argue a rain delay can have the same effect. Except that there was no inclement weather, therefore rendering that argument obsolete.

But, before we finish, let us point out something somewhat more valid. And that is, as someone pointed out yesterday, New Zealand recently removed their opposition so quickly and forcibly that they had time to wipe off the majority of the deficit before the lunch break. Let the word "majority" be stressed, for with approximately fifteen runs needed to win, yep, you guessed it, the ICC's rule book intervened and forced some grub down the oesophagus's of both sides.

Which is all fine, I suppose, except that all but a hardy few in the crowd chose to go home early. It may not have been a classic encounter, but, still, why not advertise your sport in the best way possible.

And one of those concepts would be to have the viewer get value for money and witness the whole match.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ireland have come so far and are so near, yet a quarterfinal is still many a mile away.

On six points, in pool B, with three wins, one more and they will garner a coveted position in the final eight. Having lost to India, today, they must now turn their attention to Pakistan on Sunday. Draw or win and they're in, lose and they're not. Be negative and hope for a wash out, that'll do too.

That win seems far away. Some say five days, others say when the Irish come to grips with the vagaries of World class spin bowling, then they can play with the big boys.

Ranked eleventh in the world, it is not often they are greeted with the opportunity to compete against the heavyweights. When it does come they are regularly found wanting. On the most docile of pitches, at Hamilton's Seddon Park, they sauntered their way to eighty for the loss of none against the Indian pacemen. Which, at first, appears contrary to the point. Until, that is, R Ashwin was brought on in the fifteenth over. And how it all changed.

Suddenly the Irish, who seemed comfortable with pace, threw open the notion that they are clueless against spin. They spied this attractive looking cherry, but try as they might they were out of sync with its flight. From crashing and bashing fours off of pace to being teased with turn and variations of speed by Ashwin, Ashwin scattered this pitch with the ash of Ireland's hopes.

Ireland's batsmen had no chance of sashaying down the pitch to the pitch of the ball. When they attempted to do so they were outsmarted. From the moment Paul Stirling, who was beaten in the air by this spinning maestro, holed out to long-off, the rot set in.

From a run rate of six an over to four and a half in the space of only a few over's, Ireland's batsmen could do no more than awkwardly block. Eight over's later and he had gone for a miserly nineteen runs. It was only in Ashwin's final two over's that Niall O'Brien decided to take to him, blasting a further nineteen off twelve deliveries.

Still, by then, the damage had been done and any hope of the men in green achieving three hundred plus had disintegrated. With their own attack lacking a spinner in the same class as Ashwin, and pacemen for whom the radar gun barely registers one hundred and thirty clicks, India's star-studded batting line-up were never going to be troubled gathering in this meagre total of two hundred and fifty nine.

India achieved this with over ten over's to go, exposing this minnow's myriad of weaknesses in the process.

But now Ireland know what they are up against on Sunday. Pakistan may not be quite the same level as India, but they are not far off. They have a useful leg spinner, too. So that particular headache isn't going anywhere.

And until the men in green can improve their abilities against spin, they may be even greener with envy at the sight of others going for glory in the quarterfinals.

The swarming sensations of swing and seam and speed sparring with a mind shattered by swing and seam and mixed with the stalking assassin of speed, those spirits echoing the enclave of each and every batsman belittled by belligerent bowlers pulverising the psyches that plead

Monday, March 9, 2015

Don't underestimate Sri Lanka.

Yes, they lost to Australia, last night. Yes, they lost by sixty-four runs. Which on the face of it sounds comprehensive. But any team would struggle to rein in a total of three hundred and seventy-six. Bat first and win a match.

Today's one dayer's are tailor made for batsmen batting first. Flat pitches, power plays, bigger bats, the opportunity to bat without the pressure of chasing, you name it, they've got it. The flick of a coin effectively decides eighty per cent of matches.

And yet, with all this against them, Sri Lanka gave this chase as good a shake as any could or would have. In reality, these are two evenly matched sides. There were mitigating factors, too, in Sri Lanka's favour. Kumar Sangakkara was given out caught. That was fine until the review showed him to be the victim of a no-ball. At least most of us could see no part of James Faulkner's foot behind the popping crease. Apparently the bowler gets the benefit of the doubt. Bizarre.

And then, just when Dinesh Chandimal was blasting away at a strike rate of well over two hundred, his gluteus maximus gets notions of seizing up. It seems maximus successfully separated gluteus from victory. For, if Chandimal had been able to stick around, this contest could have been oh so different.

Sure, could've, would've, should've. So many variables.

What it does do though is shine some light on the chances of Sri Lanka going forward. Only two months ago Sri Lanka were being written off, having suffered a thumping series loss to New Zealand. The World Cup was not two months ago. It is in the now. And Sri Lanka appear to be peaking nicely.

They are served well by any number of World class batsmen such as Kumar Sankakara, Tillikaratne Dilshan and Mahele Jayewardene. They have a middle order that can score rapidly in the form of Angelo Matthews and Chandimal. They handle world class attacks as well, if not better, than any other. And they'll have to.

For the likes of Australia have a superior set of leather lovers to fling ferocious missiles from awkward angles and heights each and every delivery.

The Sri Lankan bowling attack may not be as strong as Australia or South Africa's, but they do have Lasith Malinga and Rangana Herath. One of the best one day bowlers in Malinga, whether it be at the beginning of an inning or at the death, he is potent. In fact, if anyone in the World deserves the moniker of doctor death, it is Malinga.

No one in the game can deliver an in-swinging yorker with the express aim of crushing a batsman's aspirations better than Malinga. No one can deliver a slower ball better than Malinga. His ten over's are worth the price of any two bowlers in the game.

Herath is a spinner of class. Out injured with a hand injury at this moment, if he recovers in time for the quarter-finals, an essential element will have been added to Sri Lanka's ability to cook up a storm.

Their likely quarterfinal opponent is South Africa. A team not known for handling pressure well, a choke, for them, is always a possibility. Loaded with talent South Africa may be, but nevertheless, they have already lost to India and Pakistan in this World Cup. Confidence cannot be on a highveld at present.

If Sri Lanka win that, a semi-final against New Zealand, at Eden Park, beckons. And, outside of Kane Williamson, New Zealand's batsmen should not be trusted to perform under pressure and even more so the scrutiny of Malinga, a bowler they are notoriously fragile against.

Don't be surprised to see a final between Sri Lanka and India, two teams not mentioned at the start of this World Cup as potential winners.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A rather uncommon occurrence occurred in the world of sport today: An Australian admitted to his team suffering from mental frailties.

Yes, you heard it right, an Australian. They who know no weakness, or at least pretend so. And no less a competitor than Mitchell Johnson. The same Mitchell Johnson whose Neanderthal tendencies can be as expedite as his one hundred and fifty kilometre per hour missiles that he passes off as bowling. The same Mitchell Johnson who thinks nothing of attempting to maim a foe with those callous missiles and spends inordinately large amounts of his playing days on a grassy expanse over-indulging in the dubious art of sledging. The one you always suspected that any intellectual point made would be too acute for the bluntness of his grey matter to feel that said point.

And yet, yet, here he is announcing to the cricketing world that the Australian batsmen didn't handle the pressure and atmosphere during the middle stages of their inning last Saturday against the kiwis.

Who knew Johnson had it in him to act in slightly more refined manner than normal? Not many.

Whether it be by design of team management, whether it be an honest observation off the cuff, it is to be commended.

For to admit is to accept which augers well for their future. To accept a negative is the only way one can turn a negative into a positive. The Australians, if they are been genuine, have taken the first step towards learning to handle such situations in a superior mode to which they did on Saturday.

To be fair to all concerned this was an atmosphere of such hostility for which the like has rarely been seen in this part of the sporting world. That most of the Australian batsmen failed to cope with this situation is of no real surprise.

Realising that they are not alone should follow close behind. There is not a team in the game that could have withstood the ferocity of this braying mass of unadulterated human jingoism.

No man nor woman is without fault, no man nor woman is without frailties. Many may convince themselves into thinking otherwise, afraid to show any sign of weakness, cajoling themselves into believing that all is okay, but only the truly weak do streak through life unaware of the absurdities of their stripped down propaganda.

So the lessons must be heeded and they needed to be after such an abject display, for the result of this match was nowhere near as close as the scores suggest. Take out Tim Southee's meltdown under the pressure of local expectations and the Australian's would surely have been harassed out for thirty runs less.

For once, though, we are seeing those from across the ditch displaying the humility required to expand their mental horizons, to explore the realms of higher achievement. And life will undoubtedly become easier not just for admitting a weakness, but also, if they do qualify for the final, it will be in Melbourne.

Then let's see how mentally tough their foe is.