World Cup geek squad podcast

After being outed as a new breed of cricket geek, I’m about to confirm that.

For this World Cup I’m chatting to John Buchanan, and hopefully Trent Woodhill, about the trends and tactics of the World Cup.

This is for proper cricket nerds, it’s not full of penis gags, it’s full of World Cup trends and the like.

The first episode is here. Flexible batting orders and other stuff.

The second is here. Four men out, left arm freaks and my endless search for keeping analytics.


Warner’s WACA

Shane Watson is dropped for bad form in his last ten ODIs, spread out over more than a year.

Third ball of the match David Warner gets a short ball from Dawlat Zadran. He moves back into position. The ball should fly over deep midwicket. Instead it limps back to mid-on. Warner drops his arms in disappointment and then looks at the wicket, as if it has let him down. As if this lack of pace is somehow an affront to his personality.

This is, after all, Warner’s wicket. The wicket where he scored his Test high score. One hundred and eighty runs from one hundred and fifty nine balls. With a red ball. During the day. Wearing whites. Now he was after Afghanistan.

This is Warner’s WACA. And the pitch had better wake up and recognise it.

Can Aaron Finch, or the Australian top, middle and lower order, handle the swinging ball?

Eight overs into the match, Afghanistan has two slips in place. Warner has hit two boundaries. Australia have hit two boundaries. Afghanistan’s greatest bowler Hamid Hassan is bowling on cricket’s bounciest surface. At the other end, Dawlat is bowling a very tidy spell: four overs, one wicket maiden, and only 14 runs. Afghanistan have not landed any killer blows, but they are there, still.

First ball of the ninth over, Warner crashes a drive through the off side. Last ball of the over Warner crashes a pull through midwicket. The next over Hassan touches 145kph and then crashes into Warner three times.

There seem to be only four batsmen in the Australia side, and then gamble, gamble, gamble, and gamble.

In the first five years of his ODI career, Warner was ok. He averaged barely more than 30, he struck at 83. He had two ODI hundreds, both in one series against Sri Lanka. He had been in and out of the side.

In ODIs, David Warner hasn’t always been David Warner. Trapped in this limbo between T20 Warner and Test Match Warner, he has just muddled through.

Warner could bat like he does in Tests for 50 balls and like he does in T20s for 25 balls, and destroy most teams. But it’s that pacing of innings he has seemed to struggle with. In a game of role players, he’s never truly understood what his role his.

A strike rate of less than 100 would suggest he’s not been told to smash it from the start. And a conversion rate of two hundreds in his first 50 games means he’s not really playing for the long haul.

What should ODI Warner be?

There are three knockout games to come: can Australia win all three without a frontline spinner?

Pull. Pull. Cover drive. Pull. Pull. Slap. Slap. Pull. Cut. Cut. Drive. These are David Warner’s first 11 boundaries. These are Australia’s first 11 boundaries.

It is batting. There is little slogging. Warner waits for bad balls, he puts them away. On rare occasions, he gets impetuous and treats normal balls as bad balls for the hell of it. But this is just quality batting. Quality batting at over a strike rate of over 100. He has 79 off 68. Or, more importantly, 79 out of 109.

There is Steven Smith at the other end, doing a very good Damien Martyn ODI innings imitation, but he is barely needed. When Smith scores a boundary, it’s not a slap. It’s not a pull. It’s just a tickle down the leg side. It is the Rest of Australia’s first boundary.

Is Mitchell Johnson still capable of destroying entire nations with the ball?

It doesn’t matter how good your form or rhythm is or whether it is swinging or seaming: if you are a fast bowler, and the batsman is scoring off you at the WACA, you are going to bowl a short ball to sort the batsman out. That is your birthright on this pitch.

Hassan tried this with Warner. Around the wicket, trying to squeeze those muscular little arms, he dropped short. Warner clubbed it. It was more of a broadside at the Associates than anything the ICC is planning to do. Mid-on saw the shot and turned to retrieve the ball. It clunked its way down to long-on.

Hassan barely turned around to see it.

If the rumours are true, Pat Cummins might not play again this tournament due to an injury, leaving Josh Hazlewood with a few very important games for a man his age.

When Warner brought up his 100th run with an inside-edged single, Australia had not yet reached 150. It was barely 25 overs into the match. Warner had enough time to make another hundred. Maybe two more.

A few overs later, he was dropped off the bowling of Mohammad Nabi. It was a chance, a tough one that hit Afsar Zazai on the chest behind the stumps.

Warner had been almost mute in comparison with what happened next.

He swept a six. From the fast-medium stylings of Dawlat. You know what they say about it being hard to hit low full tosses for six? Warner suggests otherwise from the next ball. The crowd catches another one. The next one almost takes the hand clean off a small boy. When Afghanistan find the yorker, Warner finds the edge and still gets a boundary. When they miss the yorker, he just hits them for six. Afghanistan try full and wide, Warner ignores the straight and leg-side boundaries and just scores fours through point.

Warner had long ago taken down Hassan. In this period he adds both Zadrans, Dawlat and Shapoor. Dawlat never recovers.

For the second time, Warner hits 10 ten boundaries without Smith hitting one. Five of them are sixes. He bests his previous best. He scores Australia’s highest individual score in a World Cup. Australia are going okay against Afghanistan. Warner is ending them.

Is this Australia team really good enough to win the World Cup?

The ball flies straight up in the air. It stays up there for a long time. Nabi is under it long enough to finishing writing a prequel to War and Peace. The ball comes down with ice on it. It hits his hands, and tries to escape. Nabi holds it with as little of his hands as you can to take a catch. Warner is out; Afghanistan will not reach his individual score.

Warner has batted Australia beyond critical questions. He’s batted them into a beautiful land of pull, slap and crash. Warner makes 178 off 133 out of 274. Afghanistan make 143 off 225.

Tagged ,

Unloved UAE

Amjad Javed, Khurram Khan and Krishna Chandran Karate play cricket for the United Arab Emirates. They also work for one of the national airlines of their country, Emirates.

Emirates is one of the major sponsors of the World Cup. Emirates has spent millions putting its banners up around the ground, sponsoring the reviews, playing its theme tune and generally making it known that it is the official airline of the World Cup.

The World Cup is a billion-dollar event. Companies like Emirates spend millions to align their brands with it. But the Emirates employees who are out in the middle, they are doing it as amateurs. When Khurram plays a cut shot so sweet you could taste it, Javed stands over his run-up like an Olympic diver, and Chandran plays and misses at an outswinger by an infinitesimal amount, they are part of the event, part of the vision statement. But they are the freaks.

Virat Kohli has his stats shown on the screen. The UAE players have their day jobs shown.

At best they are company cricket ringers. Brought in to fill a job as a day-wager, or receptionist, or clerk, but they also play for their company’s team. Of course, even that can go sour, as Paul Radley pointed out recently in the Cricket Monthly, with the case of Rohan Mustafa: “He almost missed out on making the final World Cup squad due to a work dispute brought about, predictably, by cricket. Without written permission from his employers, he played in a domestic match for another corporation. It infuriated his boss to the extent that he brought a case against Mustafa for absconding from duty. The claim was upheld in court and he was told to leave the country immediately.”

After the Emirates Cricket Board intervened, Mustafa received a new visa. Today he took a sensational one-hand catch at backward point and reviewed a decision while he was batting. That was from a ball he at no stage saw. The first time he saw it was on the big screen showing him how far he missed it by, and that he was playing a shot that doesn’t actually exist. Had his visa still been revoked, though, the catch would have got it reinstated.

Mustafa is not an Emirati. Most of this squad are expats, even Amjad Javed, who was born and bred in the UAE. Their captain is Mohammad Tauqir, who is Emirati. After a two-year retirement, and despite the fact he was 43, he was brought back to lead this team. Against India, he played a sweep shot so poorly he started to fall over before he was bowled. His first over went for 11. Later he said: “We need to do the basics right.”

When Australia played Pakistan in the UAE in 2014, they used Saqlain Haider (the back-up UAE keeper), when Brad Haddin couldn’t keep. Australia didn’t play the UAE. No one does. The ICC’s headquarters are in the UAE. Two other teams at this World Cup use it as a base. Everyone flies through it. The IPL was there. Sharjah has hosted more ODIs than most of us have been to. And yet it seems it is almost impossible, with all these tours, flights and training for international teams to actually play the UAE. As if full Test nations are allergic to them. Afghanistan, based in the same region, provide occasional games. Late last year, UAE beat them 3-1 in an ODI series.

Prior to the World Cup, the last time UAE played a full ICC member was seven years ago. “The whole tournament is a learning experience for us,” was how Tauqir talked about the pinnacle of cricket. They are using it to get better. This is their chance at improvement – the rest of the time they have to daydream about what it’s like to bowl to Chris Gayle. Here, they will learn, the hard way. Naked and alone in front of everyone at a World Cup. Not in an ODI in Dubai, or Trinidad, years earlier.

How do you improve if you don’t play the best teams? Should the UAE players visualise Umesh Yadav in training camps? Have their friends sledge them in Jamaican, South African and Indian slang from outside the nets? Pay tweeters to harass them? Until you have walked out on a ground knowing that the opposition has more analysts than you have players, you can’t truly know what top-level international cricket is like.

“The more we play against bigger nations the more we learn” Tauqir said. But what if they don’t want you to learn, they don’t care if you learn, or generally care if you exist?

The ICC tries to prepare them. By that, I mean the hard-working professionals who work for the ICC, not the chairmen who sit around counting “their” billion-dollar contracts and shooting off their mouths that the Associate sides are not good enough. The ICC got them Paul Collingwood and Mohammad Nazir to help out. It let them use its facilities. It gave them a small amount of money to keep them afloat.

That money doesn’t change that the UAE players have to work proper jobs, have had a retired player replace their captain, don’t hold passports for the team they represent. It doesn’t change the fact that cricket teams ignore them, that the sport itself is trying to get rid of them. They already know they probably won’t be in the next World Cup.

And there they are in Perth. At the WACA. Where professional teams, even the home team, have been humiliated.

The UAE were sent to Australia to acclimatise. They were even sent to Perth. They even played one whole game at the WACA. Before this game they even had one whole day at the WACA to train. They spent the other day travelling from Brisbane.

One game, one day, and then a World Cup match against India. At cricket’s most brutal ground. A ground that many teams have never acclimatised to, and all they had to do was play the world champions.

A bunch of amateurs in a billion-dollar tournament against a team of millionaires – what did cricket think would happen?

It happened. All day. Hook shots so late, the ball had already been forgotten. Batsmen handling swing like it had just been invented. Chandran’s entire innings was like watching a kitten take on a tank. They were at times beaten by pace, swing, seam, spin, lack of pace, straight balls, carrom balls. Oh, and bounce.

The UAE cricketers know about the WACA. Tauqir called it the “most difficult wicket in the world”. They’ve probably seen illegal videos of Curtly Ambrose destroying Australia, or that wacky one where the pitch cracks almost killed the New South Wales 2nd XI. They knew the bounce would be tough. They tried to hook and pull, and at times, very fleeting micro moments, they handled it beautifully. Mostly, it took their wickets, through pace or spin.

They were playing like a team trying to prove a point; they did prove a point, the opposition’s point. Those who want to get rid of teams like UAE will use this match to point out that Associates aren’t good enough. They will ignore the fact that West Indies got beaten in just such a lopsided game against South Africa. They will ignore the fact that UAE showed in their first game that cricket is actually stronger than even those who run it believe. They will ignore the schedule. The fact it was at the WACA. Anything. “They are just not good enough.”

According to Tauqir they had “two good games and one off day”. Associates aren’t allowed bad days. Netherlands had two bad days and lost their ODI status. The Full Member teams could have 200 bad days and only lose games.

While Emirates branding is everywhere at the ground, it is oddly not on the UAE team shirt. Emirates could easily spend 10% of its World Cup sponsorship on the national side. It doesn’t. It could easily have done a deal with the ICC where it asked to hold back some of that money and use it to make “their” side professional. It didn’t. The UAE players are used to this lack of support.

Their bosses don’t always support them. The major cricket teams don’t always support them. Cricket doesn’t always support them.

Today they didn’t support themselves. And while everything else might have led them to this place, it is the fact that they let each other down that will sting the most.

These are men who train every night of the week despite working full time. They are committed to cricket. They are working on their games. They are learning. They are amateurs. They are proud. They are cricketers. They should be angry with themselves.

“The Indian team is more professional,” Tauqir mentioned at one stage. “Professional”. How he must dream for such a day. The Indians are idolised, pampered and rewarded. His men are unwanted, unpaid, uninvited. And today they underperformed.

The Mistakes of Pakistan

Misbah-ul-Haq didn’t drop a catch. Misbah didn’t misfield the ball. Misbah didn’t throw wildly. Misbah didn’t kick the ball. Misbah didn’t bowl head-high full tosses. Misbah didn’t fall over.

Misbah’s one mistake in the field was taking a ball at mid-off, and instead of shying at the stumps as the West Indian batsmen seemed to mock him by walking their single, he held the ball. He saw little point in it with the opposition score at nearly 300. The ball before was a six, there would be two more in that over.

It was a mistake, perhaps, but one of a broken man. And Misbah had not yet batted.

There was a moment earlier when it appeared like a Pakistani fan had entered the field. This man appeared lost, out of shape and middle-aged, and was suddenly thrust into the spotlight when a thick edge circled above him at third man. It was unfair to ask this man to complete a task as tricky as catching a ball struck in his general direction. Later another one would be hit to third man. An unusually tall man of limited coordination was there, perhaps a security guard who has wandered in the wrong direction.

Both balls hit the ground.

Neither were crowd members though; the latter was Mohammad Irfan, of whom fielding seems an unnecessary punishment. And the former was Nasir Jamshed, who made such a mess of a relatively simple catch that he picked up an injury, left the field and didn’t return for the rest of the innings. When he batted, Jamshed would face two balls. In total, he made two mistakes in the 5.1 overs he was actually on the ground. A mistake every 15.5 balls.

Then there was Umar Akmal. Reporting the keeping of any of the Akmals almost feels like bullying. The first time he believed an edge had been taken, he was so nervous he bumped the ball up and only took it again because he’d rebounded it so high it sat up for him. There was no edge on it, though, so who knows what imaginary deflections the ball took in his mind. Later he would drop an actual catch. It was regulation for an international keeper, but not so for Akmal.

Then the slow bowling of Haris Sohail. The ball landed on the pitch, stayed there for a moment and then travelled away very slightly from the batsman. Lendl Simmons is beaten, by the extreme lack of anything on the ball. He tried to cut it; he had enough time to turn around, back away, and cut it on the legside. But that severe lack of pace did him in. And this is the bit where the ball goes into the keeper’s hands, and he oohs, and/ or aahs as it nestles safely into his gloves. This ball barely touched the glove at all. For a minute, in front of thousands at the ground, millions on TV, Pakistan’s wicketkeeper turned into a stage prop. From a distance he looked like a person, but upon closer inspection he was actually just painted on a piece of plywood.

Shortly after to prove he can move again, Akmal runs around the batsman when the ball is blocked in front of him and flicks it back at the stumps. Which almost gives up a run. When Akmal bats, his first mistake is not taken by West Indies, and he doesn’t make another until he is 59.

There was, probably, a time when Shahid Afridi was a top quality fieldsman. That time was hard to remember as he dropped, not one, but two, pull shots. Later, as two fielders in the ring refused to go and pick up a boundary, Afridi stood just as close as them to the ball, but turned his back. Afridi made less mistakes than his entire top order with the bat, but was still out off a full toss.

It was rumored that Grant Luden, the Pakistani fielding coach, tried to resign before this match. It was because some players were not respecting him. They took that disrespect to amazing levels on the field. There were no fewer than seven mistakes by Ahmed Shehzad alone.

Shehzad was at point, the position you put your best fielder. He moved to balls quicker than most of his team-mates; he fumbled them much in the same manner. He batted in their manner also. At one stage, when Shehzad’s hands could take no more beating, he thrust his groin at the ball to stop it. Here was Pakistan’s point fielder, in the ring, with the ball right there, and the West Indies jogged a single as he writhed in agony. There he laid, the perfect representation of Pakistan’s fielding: painful and almost untreatable.

Wahab Riaz’s pitch map looks like he vomited it up rather than bowled it. Before each slower ball it seemed like the Pakistanis had informed West Indies of their decisions. They bowled at the death like their plan was to have no plan. When they did get it right with the ball, they were unable to build any pressure as they had precisely no fielders on the field who could ever stop a single. If the West Indies laid bat on it, it was runs. This one recurring mistake from Pakistan almost led to a run out when Darren Sammy declined a single, shocking Simmons enough that he could have been run out had Sohaib Maqsood picked the ball up and thrown straight. He didn’t pick it up. They didn’t all day.

The West Indies mistake was somehow not making 400, or, 500.

Younis Khan had balls go straight through him at short cover, and then perhaps his best bit of fielding almost ended up terribly when his throw at the stumps hit Darren Bravo on the helmet. When Younis batted, he was gone so quickly it would be hard to call it a mistake. But he has averaged 21 over the last three years in ODIs. His selection in the first place might have been the error.

If you get into Pakistan selection bloopers, you might never come out. You could be drowned in Sarfraz Ahmed queries, or bemused by the missing person case of Fawad Alam, or why on earth Yasir Shah was dropped. Everything Pakistan dropped made them look silly.

There is also the case of Haris, who in his entire career has bowled 68 balls in first-class cricket, and had bowled two forgotten overs in List A matches until the end of 2014. He was Pakistan’s fifth bowler. Ajmal is out. Hafeez is out. At one stage, possibly exhausted from bowling nine overs, he didn’t even see what should have been a simple catch at deep point. It dropped seven feet from him. Bat in hand, he simply guided a ball to gully. Sohail summed up Pakistan: He shouldn’t have been bowling, he was rubbish in the field and he somehow managed to bat worse.

When Misbah was asked whether the batting, the bowling or the fielding was worse, he just smiled and said “Everything.”

Misbah made a mistake when he batted. By then, the mistakes the team had made ensured the match was gone. But his mistake was largely indistinguishable from that 73654 that Pakistan committed before him.

At the press conference, Misbah either used gallows chuckles or cold, hard stares at the floor. The smile was for the ridiculous nature of the question; the stare was for the cold, hard reality of the answer. What is Misbah to do? He tried talking to his bowlers. He tried hiding his fielders. He tried batting for his team. Nothing works. There is nothing to work with in his squad. There is no hope, no form and no magic.

Just mistakes. Pakistan’s mistakes. Misbah’s mistakes. Mistakes.


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