Cricket news from ESPN Cricinfo.com

Friday, 17 October 2014

Prosecution Call for Pistorius to Sit Through Entire India-Sri Lanka ODI Series

Pretoria - In closing arguments ahead of Oscar Pistorius's sentencing for culpable homicide next week, chief prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, called for the fallen idol to have to watch all five of the hastily scheduled India versus Sri Lanka ODIs. Nel - who is known as "The Pitbull" because he shares a surname with snarling fast-bowling gargoyle Andre - argued that this punishment would be "far more unbearable"for the disgraced athlete than the maximum custodial sentence of ten years. 

Addressing the court, an impassioned Nel implored the trial judge thus: "My Lady, we accept that this was all clearly a bit of an accident which could have happened to anyone, but even so, the prosecution feels that the state must send a message that shooting people for going to the toilet isn't really on. A long prison sentence was our initial preference, but in light of developments in India, we believe being forced to repeatedly watch Thisara Perera bowl to Ambati Rayudu in the middle overs on a road is the worst possible punishment anyone could ever face."

Legal observers feel Nel has little chance of having his wish granted because a sentence of such utter depravity may well infringe Pistorius's human rights. However, there were signs of a compromise being reached when the chief prosecutor indicated that he may accept the defence's plea bargain of Pistorius being spared both prison and Laxman Sivaramakrishnan's commentary "if he watches a YouTube compilation of Dwayne Bravo's hilarious dance moves on loop for six months." The trial continues. 

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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Cricketers on Holiday: Memories and Regrets

The domestic one day cup final at Lord's is not only one of English cricket's gala events, but also a rather sad indication that summer is coming to an end. For some, this is no bad thing. Philip Larkin, for instance, wrote in his verse Mother, Summer, I of “an autumn more appropriate”, explaining that he was relieved the beauty of summer had finished because the sunny weather carried with it the obligation to have a carefree and joyous time, something which was entirely against his natural character. Many traditional cricket fans possibly find that poem of great comfort whenever they accidentally tune in to the IPL, but the point is that most souls, Larkin aside, do regret the days shortening gloomily and the leaves turning so prodigiously their action may well come under ICC suspicion. So, in order to try and preserve the spirit of summer for just a little while longer, we asked some of cricket's leading luminaries to give us their favourite holiday memories of their younger days:

Luke Wright, Sussex and England
“Coming from Grantham we often used to head off to nearby Skegness. I remember one time I was walking behind an old man on a packed beach and he dropped a pound coin. Of course, I immediately picked it up and gave it back to him. He was very grateful, but then everybody on the beach stood up and started cheering and applauding my honesty. Then the local paper came down and took my picture and in the end the town mayor held a huge street festival in my honour. It was all a bit embarrassing really, just for doing something almost everyone else would would have done, and especially as there were loads of people watching me anyway. I'm glad we don't have this sort of bemusing veneration of subjective morality in cricket.”

Alastair Cook, England Captain
“Nowadays, of course, leading England and practising my resolute look into the middle distance doesn't leave me much time for summer holidays, but back in the day I'd often pop down to Southend-on-Sea with the folks. One of my favourite activities was actually Go-Karting and even back then I was already something of a strategist. A lot of the other kids would zoom off at the start, rather naively thinking this was the best way to win, but I liked to keep a steady pace at the back of the pack. After studying Go-Kart algorithms on my Commodore 64, I'd worked out that nobody wins a race unless they finish it so when all the other drivers crashed into each other or the track barriers and had to retire I'd feel pretty vindicated with my victory. My best friend Graeme kept pointing out that I only ever won about one in every nine races, but I solved that problem by saying Graeme couldn't be my friend any more and not speaking to him.”

Andrew Gale, Yorkshire Skipper
“I'm not a big fan of overseas, but I recall one year me and some mates went to South Africa to do some fruit picking. We had all the right work visas and stuff, but the local farm workers kept telling us to go home because we were taking their jobs. I'm afraid I've subsequently found this blinkered attitude rather typical of foreigners as a whole so now I just tend to holiday in Britain during the off season. A couple of weeks at a B&B in Leeds in mid-November is my idea of heaven.”

Bob Willis, Sky Analyst
“I'm from County Durham, so it wasn't uncommon that we'd go across the border to Scotland for our holidays. One year in the early sixties we stayed near the Queen's country retreat of Balmoral and I actually got to play croquet with some of the younger royals. I'm obviously not one to moan, but what should have been an incredible experience was completely ruined by the weather. “This rain's bloody terrible, isn't it, Robert?”, said one of the soaked through princes, turning to me with a disappointed sigh. I shook my head in sympathy: “Absolutely awful, Charles,” I replied.

Geoffrey Boycott, England and Yorkshire opener
“When I were young, the only holiday I wanted were taking a quick single up the other end if Mikey Holding was on! He were quick. Sorry, what was the question? My favourite holiday when I was a child? Oh right, well I remember my mother did take us along to Scarborough a few times. She'd make a lovely picnic, a few sticks of rhubarb, and then let me play beach cricket with all the other youngsters. People don't realise, but it could be very hot in Scarborough in the summer and, of course, in those days beaches were uncovered so there were no sun umbrellas available. Didn't stop me batting for long periods, though, and I never got burnt like my dear old mum. I'd say to her, “You've caught the sun” and she'd reply, “What? In my pinny?” and I'd say, “You could have done! Underrating the danger of UV rays is that easy!”. Then I'd have a little chuckle to myself and get back to batting. I bloody love beach cricket. You can barely score a run even if you want to. Happy days.”

Nick Knight, Sky Sports Commentator
“Was one of the great joys of going away on holiday helping my mum to pack? Yes, I suppose it was. I recall watching her look things out to put in her suitcase and being enthralled by which ones she ultimately decided on: Sun cream.....should take it............does take it!! Hair dryer.....should take it.........does take it!! Inflatable lilo......should take it.......Oh, no! Doesn't take it!! Did I use to love that aspect of going away? Yes, I guess I did.”  

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Friday, 19 September 2014

ECB decide Gale To Be Booed By India Fans For Two Matches


It was today announced that Yorkshire captain, Andrew Gale, will be sanctioned for his outburst at Lancashire's Ashwell Prince by being booed for two matches by the Indian fans who recently abused Moeen Ali. The ECB disciplinary commission which imposed the measure said that they believed the best way for someone accused of doing something which people weren't completely sure was racist to be punished was to be subjected to an ordeal which people weren't completely sure was racist. 


Speaking after the hearing, ECB chairman, Giles Clarke, explained the thinking: “While we don't think that telling someone to, “Fuck off back to your own country” is terribly pleasant, we couldn't quite agree on whether the words 'You Kolpak fucker' were racist or merely an expression of Mr Gale's frustration at present EU employment law as it affects Britain. In his evidence to the commission, Mr Gale claimed that he only used the word 'Kolpak' to save time because his side were trying to get in another over before close of play. Had he not been in such a rush he said he would have elaborated upon his point by instead shouting, 'Fuck off back to your own country, you economic migrant whose legal right to work here I take issue with'. We, er, again weren't entirely sure if that was racist either so in the end decided that the best thing to do would be for Mr Gale to be given a dose of some possibly racist medicine by being possibly racistly booed by some possibly racist Indians. It's a pickle to be honest.”

When it was pointed out to Clarke that a few Indian fans jeering Gale would probably be construed as just a bit odd rather than in any way racist, the ECB chairman responded that in addition to the booing, the Yorkshire skipper would also be banned from eating any biryani cooked by Ambati Rayudu for three years. "We are determined to take a very firm stand indeed on possible racism,” he said very firmly.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Will Cook fuck the fuck off?

There's a bit in The Thick of It, the expletive-laden BBC political comedy, where spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker - Dr Who to younger readers - tries to convince minister Hugh Abbott that there is such a thing as "a good resignation". Abbott responds incredulously, astounded at the idea any falling on his sword could have a positive, but Tucker reassures him thus: 

"Look, people really like it when you go just a bit early! You know; steely jawed, faraway look in your eyes! Before you get to the point when they're sitting round in the pub saying "Oh, that fucker's got to go!", you surprise them! "Blimey, he's gone! I didn't expect that! Resigned? You don't see that much anymore! Old school! Respect! I rather liked the guy! He was hounded out by the fucking press!" How about that, eh? What a way to go!" Abbott instead chooses to cling on, later in the episode expressing regret that he's missed his "ideal resigning point." 

Quitting the captaincy of your country because you no longer think you're up to it - ask Michael Vaughan - must be one of the most distressing things a sportsman ever has to do. It's wholly understandable Cook should want to stay in position, but everybody in world cricket except the ECB can see he missed his ideal resigning point as ODI skipper a long, long time ago. You'd have to be pretty mean-spirited to ever describe someone as docile and inoffensive as Cook - however blindly stubborn he is - as "a fucker", but the anger towards him down the pub is real nonetheless, even if it's still substantially dwarfed by the, fully justified, anger on Twitter. 

Slow-moving, doomed and a relic of the last century, the England ODI side have become cricket's Titanic, the only difference being the Titanic wasn't actually captained by the iceberg. The ECB won't change course and sack Cook because it would be an admission of their own longstanding ignorance and failures concerning the trends of global limited overs cricket. It's Cook alone who can save England from himself and no one would think any less of him for doing so. It will be far too late, but by sacrificing himself for the good of the team - the most selfless act any captain can undertake - Alastair Cook can still have a good resignation. 

Friday, 29 August 2014

Jesse: The Movie

Enough Said was James Gandolfini's final film before being all too abruptly whacked by the beyond. He plays a divorcee, unavoidably of some physical presence, who inadvertently starts to date his ex-wife's new masseuse. She's played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, carrying her Veep form onto the big screen to such great effect she makes AB de Villiers look out of nick. 

Though ostensibly a romcom, it barely feels like one given it isn't overly formulaic and makes a convincing attempt at gently exposing the flaws of adults passing into middle-age. One of the tenets of Gandolfini's character - one of the reasons for the breakdown of his marriage - is that he's a bit of a lumbering slob, a point illustrated in one scene where his and Louise-Dreyfus's attempts at stepping up their relationship in the bedroom are thwarted by his clumsy pawing and heaving stature. The only problem with this facet of the story is that, for all his genius, Gandolfini isn't overly convincing as a cack-handed brute. It's no comment on his flawless acting. It's just that he belongs to a very specific category of colossally-framed men which exude grace rather than oafishness. 

Jesse Ryder's dimensions aren't quite on a par with Gandolfini's but he shares that unshakable inability to make a surfeit of flesh look inelegant. On Thursday, he batted in vain for 90 in the Royal London Cup quarter final, at the start of his knock playing the ball as often as possible right beneath those eyes which are part eagle and part traumatised Nam vet. He was initially cautious trying to scaffold Essex's rickety chase, but the photon off side slashes and drives started to emerge, their ridiculous power and pace emphasised, not that it were needed, by the cosy boundaries of Chelmsford. In this mode, there's rarely an ounce of energy misplaced in them, just a happy consummation between timing and muscle. There's rarely an ounce of energy misplaced in anything he does. He even fist-bumps the way you imagine Baloo might fist-bump Mowgli if they'd ever batted together, a gentle paw barely impacting the knuckles of his fellow batsman. 

Towards the end of his knock he took his Kiwi colleague Jeetan Patel, a pivotal figure this success strewn last couple of weeks for Warwickshire, for a couple of sixes. The first he anticipated the turn precisely, his perfect, louche, southpaw Mickelson swing sending the ball arrowing back immediately back over the bowler's head. The second he played squarer, across the line and against the turn over wide long on, but it was as pure a straight drive as imaginable. Ryder's bat and tyrannical forearms ended up above his head as the familiar dark bit of cloth he has hanging out of the back of his helmet bounced off the base of his neck. That piece of fabric is a great thing, after a long stint in the middle giving him the air of a world-weary Mongol warrior who's nonetheless still utterly committed to the aesthetics of combat.  

For all the grace and thrills, there's something a bit sad about seeing him bat like that, knowing all the strength, beauty and luthier's touch is part of the same person who's suffered the problems he has as you can't help but wonder just how far he's come in finally overcoming them. Largely succeeding, Enough Said works incredibly hard to be bittersweet. Jesse Ryder, cricket's Gandolfini, last night nailed it without trying. 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Moeen and the World's Murky Matrix

This morning the campaigning media organisation, Exaro News, was preparing to publicise they had eventually secured the release of a police report handed to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in 1970. The document outlined the police's strong belief that the Liberal MP for Rochdale, Cyril Smith, was a long term sexual abuser of children. The report was suppressed and never acted on and so Smith, a friend and most likely paedophilic cohort of Jimmy Savile, was left unprosecuted and free to carry on his behaviour for decades more until his death in 2010.  Another public figure, another grimy cover up. 

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At around the same time on Test Match Special, Jonathan Agnew and Vic Marks were discussing the ICC's decision to ban Moeen Ali from wearing two wristbands which stated "Free Palestine" and "Save Gaza". Despite the support of the ECB, Ali was censored by cricket's world body because, according to a spokesman, "equipment and clothing regulations do not permit the display of messages that relate to political, religious or racial activities or causes during an international match". Marks was his usual phlegmatic, sharp self, adopting the persona he always does for complex matters, one of resigned regret that the world throws up such thorny matters but attempting to see the nuances. Agnew was rather firmer, suggesting that there should be "zero tolerance" of any such political statements on the cricket field. He then seamlessly moved on to talk about the British military charity, Help for Heroes, whose logo was being worn on the England players' collars, including that of Ali himself. Regardless of one's views on Gaza or the British Military and government's various foreign interventions, it was peculiar that neither Agnew nor the ICC had spotted the apparent double standard. 

During their chat on Ali's stance, Marks and Agnew had brought up Basil D'Oliveira, the South African born cricketer who in 1968 was barred from playing for England in his apartheid-blighted home country because of his skin colour. The inference was that Dolly differed from Ali in that he never mentioned his absurd predicament on the field and so was thus dealing with political matters in a more refined way than the present England all rounder. This point overlooked the fact that D'Oliveira was so trapped in a mesh of political and racial politics he had no option but to allow others to fight his cause for him, most notably another TMS commentator, John Arlott and the Reverend David Sheppard (a Test cricketer who went on to become the Bishop of Liverpool). That particular 1968 tour was eventually called off, but South African sports teams were still allowed to visit Britain, although the Springboks rugby tour of 1969 was severely disrupted by protesters led by a young Kenyan-born anti-apartheid student campaigner who was to go on to become a UK foreign office minister and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The actions of that activist and his fellow protesters extended to sabotaging the Twickenham pitch with nails and eventually the situation was deemed so parlous that the scheduled 1970 visit of the South African cricket team was also eventually cancelled, much to the disappointment of both the two nations' cricket boards and governments. 

The student continued his anti-apartheid protests, becoming no stranger to court fines, but things took a more sinister turn in 1972 when an attempt was made on his life, by - it is strongly alleged - the South African secret service. The letter bomb sent was opened by his sister but thankfully malfunctioned. Four years later, the student was prosecuted for allegedly stealing £490 from a branch of Barclays Bank. The case was one of clear cut mistaken identity and he was acquitted amid suspicions he had been framed by the same organisation who had sent the letter bomb. So pitiful was the prosecution's case, there were calls for the DPP to resign.

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The other cricket-based political controversy which was brought up today in light of Moeen's wristband ban was that of Andy Flower and Henry Olonga protesting against the 'death of democracy' in Mugabe's Zimbabwe during the 2003 World Cup. Then the British government left England captain, Nasser Hussain, twisting in the wind over whether or not his side should fulfill their fixture against the hosts in Harare. In the end, Hussain chose not to, incurring the wrath of the ICC and the loss of a couple of group points, although by this point matters on the field seemed rather inconsequential. Eight years earlier (when an opposition MP), a member of that 2003 Blair government had written a thriller called "The Peking Connection" in which a sympathetic portrait of a Mugabe clone had been painted, with the MP allegedly even going on to present the book in person to the Zimbabwean dictator. For those brought up in the shadow of British colonialism and apartheid, as the politician was, viewing Mugabe as a bulwark to the ills of white men rather than the land-grabbing tyrant he was to become was a not uncommon view, but ultimately a very damaging one. Mugabe stayed in power and by 2003 Flower and Olonga were suffering along with millions of their countrymen. The novelist, by that point a minister, had also become one of the dictator's biggest critics. 

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The Director of Public Prosecutions who decided to try the anti-apartheid student for robbery in 1976 on flimsy evidence but, for whatever reason, decided to let the police's deep fears about Cyril Smith in 1970 go unheeded was the same man, Sir Norman Skelton. That victimised student himself was the same man, Peter Hain, who went on to become a government minister, apparently shifting his views on Mugabe along the way. 

It's a murky, dirty, interconnected matrix of a world whose permanently fluctuating ills are inbred over decades and centuries. Sport and cricket cannot pretend they do not play or haven't played their part or that they are not firewood in the furnace of geopolitics. Flower, Hain, Mugabe, Skelton, Olonga and D'Oliveira are all interlinked, tenuously in some instances, but interlinked nonetheless.

In the context of all the above, banning a pair wristbands ranks fairly low on the list of establishment cover ups, but the ICC looks hypocritical for telling Ali to shut up about his choice of political gesture while allowing the England team to so overtly display their collective one. Even if we eschew history and accept the facade that cricket and politics don't mix, then the sport's governing body should go about maintaining such a facade in an even-handed manner. The very least Moeen Ali should get is a statement from the ICC clarifying why his wristbands weren't permitted but his collar logo was. When those in authority can't adequately explain why they want things kept quiet, it's always time for everyone else to start shouting just a little bit louder. 

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Government Threatens To Pull ECB Out Of ICC


Moves were afoot in Westminster today to pull the English Cricket Board out of the International Cricket Council. After growing public dissatisfaction with the world game's governing body, which one minister described as being “run by mucky foreigners who can't really be trusted and are only interested in screwing over poor Peter Moores", the Conservatives see the decision to free the ECB from its shackles as a sure fire vote winner ahead of next year's general election. 

The latest row comes after the decision of the ICC to level charges at England bowler, Jimmy Anderson, for making derogatory remarks about another player's handbag. Sources close to Number Ten suggested that “this wasn't what the ICC was set up to achieve” and that the organisation should "stick to upholding the spirit of cricket by keeping an eye on dusky elbows”. 

Although some recently sacked moderate ex-members of the cabinet said threatening to take your ball home was a slightly childish approach which could undermine decades of progress in the field of international cricket rights, the Daily Mail was quick to support the plan. In an editorial which also praised the “"chic Mediterranean dress sense” of the ECB's “shapely” chairman, Giles Clarke, the respected tabloid stated: “FINALLY, the government is doing something about the meddling ICC. Not only does it persecute decent, hard-working men from Burnley, but has also in recent times overseen moves - which apologists naively claim are merely cricket fixtures - allowing thousands of Indians to flood into English cricket grounds. Enough is enough.” 

The controversy is in danger of overshadowing arguments about the Lord's pitch for Wednesday's Second Test, but new ICC head, N Srinivasan, struck a conciliatory tone by surprisingly supporting the British plans. Speaking from Dubai, the ex-BCCI president explained that, “Threatening to pull out of the ICC is a mature and adult way to act which has certainly done me no harm”. He went on to stress he had done nothing wrong.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Cricket's Biggest Scandals...as explained by Luis Suarez

Life is full of dubious excuses: "The dog ate my homework"; "Before I sat down somebody swapped my chair for a hoover nozzle"; "I honestly had no idea she was your sister." In all human existence, however, few people can have absolved themselves of responsibility for wrongdoing quite so innovatively as Luis Suarez when explaining his decision to treat Chiellini's shoulder like a pastrami sandwich: 

"In no way it happened how you have described, as a bite or intent to bite. After the impact … I lost my balance, making my body unstable and falling on top of my opponent. At that moment I hit my face against the player leaving a small bruise on my cheek and a strong pain in my teeth."

Having been banned for nine international matches and all football for four months, Suarez has got quite a bit of time on his hands. To help fill the void between now and his return to competition, Pavilion Opinions caught up with the Uruguayan and asked for his interpretation of some of the more controversial incidents and scandals in cricket's history. 


Trevor Chappell bowling underarm to prevent New Zealand hitting the six they needed to draw a 1981 ODI 




"As Trevor approached the crease, he had no intention of bowling an underarm delivery. However, a strong downward gust of wind blown into the stadium by the English media caught hold of his shoulders forcing him onto one knee. He tried to resist, but eventually the pressure was so great he had no choice but to also relinquish his hold on the ball thus propelling it along the ground. Richie Benaud said it was one of the worst things he'd ever seen on a cricket pitch. It is no surprise Mr Benaud worked in the English media for many years." 

Freddie Flintoff drunkenly setting sail in a Caribbean pedalo, World Cup 2007 

"As Fred approached the pedalo, he had no intention of getting in it and attempting to sail back to Morecombe for a kebab because he'd drunk fourteen rum and cokes and was a bit peckish. However, as he took a light stroll on the beach he lost his balance for reasons which remain unexplained, making his body unstable and causing him to fall on top of the pedalo. The impact left a small bruise on his thigh and a strong pain in his head, although admittedly this did not become fully apparent until the following morning."


Afridi biting the ball, 2010


"As Afridi approached the ball with his teeth, he had no intention of biting it. However, as you can clearly see in the footage, the English media forced the ball up into his mouth whilst alerting the complicit umpire - I have checked Cricinfo and discovered Patrice Evra was standing in this match - to his alleged crime. It comes as no surprise that the ball got off without even a warning from the ICC." 


Mohammad Amir bowling a huge spot-fixing no-ball, Lord's 2010



"As Amir approached the crease, he had no intention of bowling a no-ball bigger than my incisors. However, when he got into his delivery stride he mistook the white line of the crease for a colony of silkworms crossing the pitch. Immediately remembering that the lovely new pajamas he had recently bought from Marks and Spencers were the end product of these remarkable creatures, he of course stepped over them. Thanks to a conspiracy by the English media, who decided to print a selection of cast-iron facts and irrefutable video evidence, the English criminal justice system - again, English - did not believe this perfectly logical explanation. Also, he is from a small village." 


Sreesanth taking money to concede a certain amount of runs, IPL 2013

"As he approached the crease, Sree intended to bowl badly because he is a corrupt little sod. Sorry, there are some people even I can't make excuses for." 

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Well, some fascinating insights from Luis, there. He's certainly challenged a few perceptions. Next week, we ask former France captain and genius Zinedine Zidane how Alastair Cook can keep a cool head in a crisis. 

Monday, 23 June 2014

Angelo and Demons

"It's better to be feared than loved," said weaselly old Machiavelli in The Prince. For international cricket captains, it's better just to win matches and then you don't have to give a monkey's what anyone thinks about you. At the moment Alastair Cook is neither feared, loved nor winning matches and, barring a miraculous England batting effort on Tuesday, is going to have to do a lot of thinking of his own about whether or not he can possibly restore authority to his status as English cricket's on field monarch. 

The England skipper has always had the slight air of the fairytale prince about him, with his chiselled jaw and uncomplicated heroics giving the impression he often knocks off - or used to - one of his ridiculously numerous Test centuries and then climbs effortlessly up a castle turret to wake up a slumbering princess with a smooch. He is, as far as one can see, a perfectly charming if rather aloof man, notwithstanding what many regard as his not altogether chivalrous behaviour in English cricket's joust with Kevin Pietersen. He has understandably become a lightning rod for his team's rotten displays, but also and probably unfairly for the resentment and distrust England supporters have of the ECB, not least as its chairman rather shamelessly jets off to Melbourne to rubber stamp the Big Three's shoddy plan to turn cricket into a global cabal. The talk of 'values' and Cook's family being 'the right sort of people' is a significant reason - alongside the small matter of many defeats - why fans are so reluctant to give the new era such little patience, despite the international emergence or reemergence of some genuinely fine cricketers such as Jordan, Ballance, Robson and Plunkett. Cook himself has occasionally got lured into using this sort of abstract corporate speak to try and cover up what's been recorded in the scorebook in the last eight months, but he's largely been hoisted on the ECB's petard of moralising lick-spittle. 

Regardless, it is with Cook himself that the buck must reside for England's recent run of humiliations and the present impending defeat. The very same characteristics that mean he has been such a wonderful, statistically superlative batsman for his country - resoluteness, conservatism and a willingness to play well within the boundaries of the conventional - are exactly the same traits which have led to his recent failures as captain. As his opposite number, Angelo Mathews, went about compiling a near Graeme Smithian second innings captain's knock to thwart the English, Cook appeared impotent and iron-brained in his inability to discard the rigidity of his failing tactics. Just as opposition bowlers have turned his once admirable refusal to score in "the V" into his biggest weakness, opposition batsmen shepherding the tail can now see his predictable efforts at kidology a mile off - "Take a single? No thanks, but I'll certainly enjoy the lack of close fielders and the pressure being off for a few balls before picking my moment for a boundary." 

It gives little pleasure to have to acknowledge that last summer Shane Warne with his garrulous "lose to win" diatribes about the England captain being too inhibited was, in fact, a sort of brilliant Botox Nostradamus. Cook last week felt compelled to publicly address these accusations, labelling them "personal" and stating that "something needs to be done." It was an absurd comment that sounded like something powerless and broken Uncle Junior in The Sopranos might utter as his henchmen politely nodded but then stared at their shoes and each other in the sad knowledge their superior no longer carried enough weight to get anything done about anything. Cook is probably as unlikely to cry in public as he famously is to ever sweat, but his outburst was that of a man in danger of drawing comparisons with the epitome of captaincy's cruel daggers, Kim Hughes

At the very least, Cook should step down as ODI captain to take the pressure off both himself and the selectors. His record in the format is impossible to dismiss, but it's very hard not to believe that, with the undoubted IPLisation of the one day format and England's recent results and performances, he is doing the cricketing equivalent of bed-blocking and his staid approach at the top of the order infecting those around him. Whether he stays as Test captain for the long term is not a question likely to be resolved until after India have been and gone. On Test Match Special as England capitulated, Jonathan Agnew today suggested that some English supporters were enjoying seeing their side suffer. That's a simplistic and lofty assessment. No one - regardless of their stance on Pietersen and the ECB - enjoys in any real sense seeing their national team humiliated and someone as ostensibly pleasant as Cook endure such a torrid time. However, as Machiavelli also rather obviously noted: "Whoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times". If Cook is unable or unwilling to do so, then the times will continue to change, but England's Test results simply will not. 

Friday, 13 June 2014

How to stay true to cricket during the football World Cup

Despite an ever-growing choice of alluring franchises, the cricket fan remains a fairly loyal beast. Supporters also rarely switch allegiances between countries, certainly less so than players, and county fans can't even abide a change of name - witness the hullabaloo over the Birmingham Bears - let alone a change of side. However, for any cricket fan thinking of having an affair with another sport, the football World Cup with all its saucy stepovers and wall-to-wall media promiscuity presents something of a tempting opportunity. So, if your cricket-married eyes are starting to wander lustfully towards Brazil, here's a brief reminder why you should stay loyal to willow and leather.

1) Decency
Cricket is of such innate decency that a player can be fined for looking at his bat ruefully for half a second after being given out leg before. In football, by contrast, players constantly get away with directing language at referees of the sort which cricket normally only witnesses after David Warner has had a convivial evening and then taken to Twitter. Is that really the sort of sport you want a fling with? I accept Colin Croft once deliberately ran into umpire Fred Goodall, but he was quite a portly figure to avoid and the worst form of dissent you normally get in cricket is a bowler retrieving his sweater in a slightly churlish manner. In any case, you never get cricketers actually attacking each other. Ok, fine, there was that thing with Lillee and Miandad and Praveen Kumar did on one occasion physically assault a batsman, but he's from a family of wrestlers anyway so we can just put that down to genetics.

2) Honesty
Chaos theorists talk about the butterfly effect whereby a small event can have huge consequences on the other side of the planet. You can often see this in football. For example, when a butterfly flaps its wings in China, there's a good chance Luis Suarez will fall over in Brazil. Footballers are in fact so addicted to diving that the sport had to invent a euphemism - simulation - just to cover up its dishonesty. Imagine the lies they'd tell you. Cricket, however, is a gentleman's game based on mutual trust. What's the difference between footballers diving and cricketers not walking, you ask? Fair question, but when a player, Stuart Broad for example, stands his ground he's actually being respectful to the umpire by allowing the umpire alone to make the decision. The supreme Jack Hobbs went as far as to reason that the official might be unduly embarrassed by a batsman eventually walking if he'd initially been given not out. So you see, even when cricketers are being morally dubious, they're actually being noble.

3) Technology
Football lays claim to being more dashing and attractive than cricket because it doesn't allow its luscious flow to be interrupted by video reviews. That's all very well, but I suspect most Croatian fans would have warmed to the idea of DRS after Fred's simulation of a dropped sack of potatoes in the World Cup opener. It's true cricket's man and machine combo can of course make mistakes, especially when the man is Billy Bowden and the machine is a TV screen. On balance though, Cricket's use of technology is Blu-ray to football's Betamax. Also, if you can make a bail flash why not a net? You see, cricket even has more bling than football, so why go cheating?

4) Corruption
I acknowledge it's very easy for the current cricket fan to think along these lines: “So, the prospective head of the ICC owns a franchise being investigated for illegal betting and is also the father-in-law of one of the key suspects. Come to think of it, he's also been banned from running his national board by his country's Supreme Court. Hang on a minute. I'm being treated like a fool. Maybe I should just run off with football ?” Ok, now just wait up a second. I accept you feel you're taken for granted, but one thing you can say about N Srinivasan is that he's not Sepp Blatter and, let's be honest, FIFA somehow manages to make cricket's governing bodies look like a hybred of Florence Nightingale and Desmond Tutu. This is no time to gift Sepp your heart.

So, come on. It's fine to glance longily at football's showy attractiveness during its encroachment on the English summer season, but try and control yourself. The World Cup can only ever be a fleeting summer romance. True love lies in cricket. Most probable in Moeen Ali's timing. 

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