Culture Changes

Elsewhere, the poor crowds are starting to cause comment, and a range of reasons is being advanced, including high prices, the Caribbean last-minute culture and the banning of the type of displays of support which have always been commonplace in the West Indies.

Here's Cricinfo's take on things, with some well-judged and wise words from the great BCL.

Four in Four

I first became aware of Lasith Malinga a few years back, when, so the memory tells me, Sri Lanka were playing Australia in the 'Top End' series in Cairns and Darwin. A few glimpses of him on Sky during those Tests were enough to indicate that here was an interesting customer. Pacier than any previous Sri Lankan bowler and with an action so slingy that he made Fidel Edwards look like Shaun Pollock, it was clear that he was one to watch.

That he remains, and last night he became the first bowler in ODI history to take four wickets with consecutive balls, although his efforts weren't quite enough to prevent South Africa winning. With Australia completing a comprehensive dissection of the West Indies in Antigua, it's all too easy to start wondering if anyone else can challenge them over the next month, but at least both Sri Lanka and South Africa look as though they might be able to give them a run for their money (although the Proteas, of course, have already tried and failed once). The next few days will confirm where England and New Zealand, the only other possible contenders beyond those already mentioned, stand.



An interesting article in The Times by Christopher Martin-Jenkins, arguing that no other country currently has as much young seam bowling talent as England.

I like Plunkett (but he's still got plenty to do); Anderson, when fit, looks to be getting back to where he was a few years ago; Mahmood continues to look unconvincing to me and I've hardly seen Onions. I have, however, seen plenty of Stuart Broad, who could be the best of the lot.

CMJ may be right, but, given the historic attrition rate among young English seamers, it'll be interesting to see where all these bowlers are in five years' time.


Selection Issues

As I said yesterday, I thought that there was some promise about England's display against Kenya, but there are still aspects of the side which concern me.

In Michael Vaughan and Ian Bell they have two top-order batsmen with a combined total of 119 ODIs and not a single century. Okay, we're probably in a situation (with Strauss out of one-day favour and Flintoff sacked) where Vaughan has to play for his captaincy alone, and you won't find a bigger admirer of Ian Bell than me, but this is one reason (unless, of course, they both start scoring hundreds PDQ) why, although England could be contenders, they surely won't be winners of the competition.

I'm also unsure about the balance of the bowling and would prefer to see Jon Lewis in the side somewhere, although I can't see much changing this side of the Ireland game.

But at least they're through.


Heavy Blows

Although I spent most of the afternoon out watching rugby in the glorious Devon sunshine, yesterday seemed to me like the day when the first Caribbean World Cup really hit its stride.

England eased past Kenya with the type of display which has all too often seemed beyond them in the one-day arena, typified by some excellent fielding and a characteristically smooth and stylish innings by Ed Joyce. The signs are that they're starting to regain their focus and may just be able to get back to the form they were showing at the end of the Australian tour, but it'll be difficult to be certain about this until they play another major nation. And, with Ireland awaiting them in Guyana as the Super Eights open, it'll be a while before that happens.

However, the day's other game, between Australia and South Africa in St.Kitts, showed England what they're up against. Here were two of the game's biggest beasts flexing their muscles and landing some heavy blows in glorious weather, amid breathtaking scenery, in front of a large and noisy crowd and on a pitch oozing runs. In the end, as 377 played 294, Australia were the ones left standing, and you have to wonder who, when they're playing like this, will be able to live with them. The type of coruscating strokes which flowed from the bats of Hayden, Gilchrist, Ponting and Clarke are a given, but they'll be especially happy with the way their bowling and fielding stood up to the pressure which South Africa applied. The ageing McGrath (much like the ageing Shaun Pollock) took some stick but Nathan Bracken and Shaun Tait, whose brand of 90 mph plus inswinging yorker has barely been seen on the international stage since Waqar Younis was at his best, held things together and made important breakthroughs when they were most needed.

They'll take some stopping, and, of the teams I've seen so far, Sri Lanka look best placed to do so, although it's hard to judge where the West Indies stand and they certainly can't be ruled out.

Nor can South Africa, and the lasting impression left by their innings was the strokeplay of AB de Villiers, the achingly talented and versatile former prodigy who's had a few troubles over the last year or so, but who, at Warner Park, showed what he can do when the muse is really with him.

This, it seemed to me as I watched the highlights this morning, was how the World Cup in the West Indies was meant to be, and it went some way towards blunting the pall of gloom cast by the Woolmer murder and confirming the correctness of the ICC's decision to continue with the competition.

If this is what it's going to be like, then bring it on.


Fading Reputations

After yesterday's game at the Queen's Park Oval it now seems almost certain, unless the tournament's ultimate whipping boys, Bermuda, can beat Bangladesh, that India are out of the World Cup.

Homer, at My Two Cents, posted a very comprehensive and thought-provoking critique of the position in which Indian cricket found itself before the Sri Lankan defeat. And the way in which the game unfolded - early promise with both ball and bat falling away in the face of the pressure created by an opposing team full of discipline, focus and, yes, brilliance - won't have done anything to quieten the voices of those who see a painful contrast between the effervescent Sri Lankan side, which looks a genuine title contender at this stage, and an Indian team which has suddenly started to look its age.

Kumble is 36, Ganguly rising 35, Dravid 34, Tendulkar 34 next month. Sehwag is younger, but struggles for form like he never has, Yuvraj consistently flatters to deceive, Harbhajan and Pathan drift in and out, fighting their own demons.

Of those not in the West Indies, Laxman won't see 32 again, Jaffer provides occasional glimpses of class but won't rescue any fading reputations and virtually everyone else remains either unproven or untried.

Only in the seam bowling department do things look at all stable, with Zaheer retaining his discipline, Patel fit again and Sreesanth waiting in the wings for greater Tests.

Trying times lie ahead.



I've just got up on a grey Friday morning in south-west England to hear that Bob Woolmer was murdered.

Shocking, but it had been hinted at for a few days so it didn't come as a complete surprise.

All that can be said at this stage is that one hopes that those responsible are caught quickly and that some of the theories being peddled about match fixing and the involvement of members of the Pakistan team turn out to be groundless.

In the meantime, the World Cup continues.


Some Things Are Best Not Talked About...

With so many theories doing the rounds (many of them 'conspiracy theories') about the death of Bob Woolmer, I've decided that I'm not going to comment any further about it until some solid facts emerge.

It seems to me that this by Sambit Bal is of far greater interest just at the moment.

Whether Woolmer died of natural causes (which still seems the most probable option), was murdered or committed suicide, Bal's criticisms of where world cricket is at right now demand consideration and reaction from those who run the game.



While everyone's having their say about Flintoff - and all I'll say in closing is that I think the management got it just about right and it'll hopefully knock some sense into him - I'd prefer to concentrate on what was another pretty average performance against Canada yesterday. A team of England's (theoretical) strength should really have eased to a total of more than 300 and bowled the opposition out. I doubt if many of the serious title contenders would have failed to do so.

To me, the only real plus was Ravi Bopara's performance; nice strokes, rapid running, waspish bowling and plenty of East London attitude.

He looks like he might be around for a while. At the moment it's a little harder to say that about England.

Paying Tribute

The tributes and valedictions for Bob Woolmer roll in. As usual, Osman Samiuddin strikes just the right note with a mixture of reminiscence and respect.


Bob Woolmer (1948-2007)

It's been quite a busy day. I've just heard on the radio that Bob Woolmer has died, rendering what I wrote this morning completely meaningless, and Pakistan's exit from the World Cup utterly irrelevant.

He was a very good player, who made the first complete Test century I saw live, for England against Australia at Lord's in 1977, and a great coach, whose influence will be remembered with gratitude in many parts of the cricket world.

At Canterbury, where he played all his county cricket for Kent, at Edgbaston, where he coached Warwickshire to a raft of trophies, in Pakistan, and perhaps most of all in South Africa, where he made his home and went from coaching club cricketers in Cape Town to making the national side what it became in the era of Cronje, Rhodes and Donald.

More later, I'm sure.

Staying Upright

I'm not sure I can get too excited or concerned about the performances of England's cricketers over the last few days, either on or off the field.

Personally I've never felt there was anything too dreadful about players going out after a defeat and having a drink or two to get it out of their system.

However, knowing what the British press is like and how many England fans were around to witness what was going on, it does seem a little weak-brained to do what Flintoff's alleged to have done.

Still, as long as he can stay upright during the game against Canada this afternoon, his team should be okay.

Come to think of it, they should be okay even if he can't.

POSTSCRIPT: Writing during the interval in the game against Canada it looks as though England, having scored 279 for 6, should indeed be okay. Flintoff, though, isn't there, upright or otherwise, having been dropped from the side and fined for his conduct, along with five other players. What has made things a bit more eyebrow-raising is the revelation that there have been a number of other incidents for which Flintoff has been warned in the past, making the hard line taken by the England management on this occasion all the more understandable, and, indeed, essential. It's also been made clear that he won't be taking over as captain if anything happens to prevent Michael Vaughan taking the reins during the rest of the World Cup.

Hopefully this will sort things out, but it's disturbing to learn that there have been other incidents in the past, especially during the Australian tour earlier this winter, when, in case anyone has forgotten, England struggled a bit.

Moving Forward

Talking of the advance of the lesser nations, it's good to see Bangladesh just starting to get things together on a relatively consistent basis, and the performances of their age-group sides in recent years tend to indicate that they'll keep moving forward.

As for India, well, unlike Pakistan at least they're still in the tournament.

But they have a lot of work to do.

No Gambling Allowed

Elsewhere, Pakistan are gone already, undermined by their weakened side, a lost toss on a sporting pitch, and the fighting Irish.

They've done some very good things under Bob Woolmer, but all good things come to an end.

And, for those in charge of Pakistan cricket, it happens with a thundering inevitability.

Bob Woolmer still in charge of Pakistan in a few months' time?

You wouldn't bet on it.


Those of us who've been watching England for many years are all too familiar with batting collapses, but the one which Ireland induced from Zimbabwe was a classic of its kind, reminiscent, I suppose, of England in Adelaide in January or even of Andrew Flintoff falling out of a Pedalo at four o'clock in the morning.

I watched it live, and there was an inevitability and even a sadness about it. Ireland the confident underdogs, products of a stable, economically burgeoning country, Zimbabwe their supposed superiors but wracked with fear. Fear of defeat, sure, but also the type of fear which comes from trying to function in a society that's been falling apart under the hand of Mugabe since...oh, since well before the likes of the Flower and Strang brothers, Murray Goodwin, Neil Johnson, Heath Streak and Tatendu Taibu graced a side which would once have eased to victory over Ireland like a Sachin Tendulkar on-drive.

There are many worse things in life than defeat (or even tieing a game you should have won easily) on a cricket field.

Living in Zimbabwe is one of them.

Matches, Mismatches

As they get longer and longer I find that cricket World Cups are becoming more and more like long innings (not that I have much experience of those, but I have watched a few and know, in theory, how to play them). In the first few days (or the first few overs if you're batting) you've just got to get yourself in, not take too many chances, and pick up runs when you can. As time passes you can open out more and it becomes a lot more satisfying. You can then get a beer from the fridge, sit back and enjoy what you're watching, or contemplate what you've achieved.

For this reason, and because I've been far too busy watching the climax of the Six Nations rugby and earning a living, I haven't seen a huge amount of the World Cup so far. Just enough to know that England are doing their best, after a brief reversal of fortune in Australia, to regain the type of form which we all expect from them in one-day tournaments, namely an insipid blend of clumsy mistakes and lazy ill-judgement, sometimes extending to what the players do after the games have ended.

I also noticed that Herschelle Gibbs had managed to hit all six balls of an over from the aptly named Daan van Bunge for six, creating an ODI and World Cup record, although I'm not really sure what that proved as Gibbs probably played more testing innings facing his mates' bowling in the park back in Cape Town while he was growing up. I was thinking of posting something about the pointlessness of matches such as South Africa v The Netherlands, which I wouldn't bother watching in a month of Sundays, Gibbs or no Gibbs, but then, as the last few days have shown, for every Netherlands or Bermuda, there is a Kenya (2003 vintage) or an Ireland, and, however badly they suffer, players from the real lesser lights seem to love the opportunity to be humiliated, so why should that pleasure be denied to them?

After Ireland had completed their victory over Pakistan last night, Charles Colvile, in a rare outburst of perspicacity, said on Sky that Ireland's progress was a tribute to the time and money invested in the development of the game outside the Test countries by the ICC.

For once in his life, he's right.


Home Advantage

I didn't see a lot of it but it seems as though the West Indies played quite well at Sabina Park and managed to turn over both Pakistan and the form book. But then, if you look a little closer and think about it a bit more, you soon realise that with these two sides there's no such thing as a form book and it wasn't any real surprise that home advantage counted.

So, West Indies to blaze a trail through the competition over the next month, leaving everybody in their wake?

Well, that would be a real surprise...


Heart of Darkness

With the West Indies' first World Cup about to begin, there's a very interesting article in TWC by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan about the 1983 West Indian rebel tour to South Africa.

It takes you back to the era in which I grew up as a cricket fan. When any contact with South Africa elicited a range of responses. At times just mistrust, at others open hostility. Nowhere was the latter more true than in the West Indies.

Of course, the decision to tour was chiefly influenced by money, which, along with regular employment outside cricket, was in short supply in the Caribbean at the time.

But, as Vaidyanathan illustrates, that decision had profound consequences for most of the players involved. Only one, Ezra Moseley, ever played Test cricket after the tour, others, shunned in their homelands, drifted abroad. Sometimes, as with Lawrence Rowe, who went to the United States, the primary motivation was to develop business interests outside the game. For others, like Franklyn Stephenson, easily the finest West Indian all-rounder of his generation, who chose to play out his days in Nottingham and back in South Africa, cricket held sway.

Some - Richard Austin, David Murray and Herbert Chang - slid into mental problems, financial insecurity and drug addiction.

In retrospect, with the World Cup almost upon us and South Africa a major player, it can be argued that while sporting isolation unquestionably had a profound influence on the fight with apartheid, the rebel tours were also a worthwhile part of the struggle in that they showed white South Africa what it was missing.

The World Cup is going to raise a lot of questions about the modern West Indies. The tour to South Africa, almost a quarter of a century ago, raised many more.

Maybe I'll manage to answer some of them over the next seven weeks.



As an amateur cricketer - and a pretty poor one at that - it's always nice to come across aspects of the professional game which make you feel as though, in some senses, the players plying their trade in the West Indies over the next month are just like you.

This being the case, I had a particularly wry laugh at a quote from Shane Bond in the latest issue of The Wisden Cricketer.

When asked if New Zealand had a team song, Bond replied that they didn't.

'We just have a couple of drinks, sit around and talk crap'.

Phoney War

So, the Phoney War continues. There hasn't been too much of interest to anyone apart from the most pitiful one-day junkie (and the Sky Sports commentary team), although Bangladesh did manage to turn over New Zealand and Ireland had South Africa sweating for a while. However, yesterday's results may be more significant, with Australia reverting to type and comfortably beating England, India, with Munaf Patel hitting his ODI stride, cleaning up the West Indies and South Africa, who suddenly appear vulnerable, losing to Pakistan.

I saw very little of the England game but what I did see involved some fairly shambolic bowling and fielding from England, although Michael Vaughan did at least pass fifty in an ODI for the first time since goodness knows when.

Of course, it wasn't an 'official' international, which is a good thing, really, since Australia weren't the only side reverting to type at Arnos Vale yesterday.


Sounding Off

With the World Cup looming it was interesting and in some ways pleasing to have the clock turned back to the autumn and to hear that Chris Read had spoken of his disappointment at the way he was treated by Duncan Fletcher in the early stages of England's tour of Australia. Perhaps the only surprise was that he hadn't done so already, but then again it was hardly likely that he would start sounding off while the tour was still going on, especially as he did, eventually, make it back into the side at the expense of Fletcher's long-time favourite, Geraint Jones (and whatever happened to him?).

However, the relative moderation of Read's language (he gave a typically quietly-spoken and articulate interview in which he used the word 'bewildering' to describe his treatment) pointed to one of his central problems and perhaps the major reason, together with his batting, why he (and, in all probability, Jones) is history at Test level - the fact that, unlike the blessed Paul Nixon, he isn't (so those in authority doubtless think) quite voluble or aggressive enough. For weeks now the media's been full of the choicest cuts from Nixon's repertoire of sledges, and there's been little wrong with that, other than the fact that one likes to think that there should be a bit more store set on how well you can keep and bat, rather than how well (how crudely, how bluntly) you can wind up the opposition. This said, Nixon has ticked those boxes well enough too and appears to me to be nailed on to start the 2007 English season as England's Test keeper, unless something goes drastically wrong in the West Indies.

Unlike a good many people I was relatively ambivalent about the selection of Jones at the start of the Ashes series, mainly, I think, because I couldn't see Read functioning very well with the bat in Australian conditions and also because I reckoned that Fletcher never really liked Read anyway and seemed to have a bit of an obsession with Jones. To me the recall of Jones for Brisbane seemed inevitable, so perhaps, subconsciously I felt it wasn't worth fussing about it. With hindsight, though, it was a glaringly disrespectful piece of man mismanagement and Fletcher still stands condemned as a result of it.

True, the late victories in the CB Series have bought him some time but I'll still be surprised if he's not gone before the end of the year, whether or not (and it will surely be not) England win the World Cup.

Chris Read seems a very level-headed and sensible man, probably the type to forgive and forget as he resumes the county career which will probably be his main source of income well into the future.

I don't think, though, that he'll be inviting Duncan round for tea anytime soon.


World Cup News

An interesting piece from Cricinfo by Osman Samiuddin, which suggests that the PCB's decision not to take Shoaib and Mohammad Asif to the World Cup may have had more to do with drugs than injuries.

Meanwhile, Jacob Oram states that he'd be prepared to have his injured finger amputated in order to allow him to make it to the Caribbean.

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