Cricket Week

Hey, I have a new radio show, podcast thing over at Talksport 2.

It is with my friend Jon Norman, who in his last cricket match had a strike rate of 133.33.

We talk amongst ourselves a wee bit. Then talk to others. Foxy Folwer. Stuart Broad. Carlos Brathwaite. And even the Sam Collins.

We also play Roots Manuva and Paul Kelly songs about cricket.

And sometimes we make little radio docs about old cool cricket moments.

So go to itunes, and listen, review, rate, tell everyone.

Cricket Sadist Hour: live from lord’s

We talked about Amir until someone else talked louder.

And other things cricket.

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cricket sadist hour: 100% chance of cricket podcast

Chat about groins and funny dismissals.

Chat about that last over and stuff.

Chat about T20 tactics.

And chat about Sri Lankan cricketers that we haven’t really heard of.

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two men out: yes, virat

Andy goes on holiday but that doesn’t stop him talking about Virat, or the Afghans great win against West Indies. Jarrod says goodbye to some teams.

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Two Men Out: Bangladesh Horror Over

What are Pakistan actually playing.

The prefect tactics in a low chase.

And Bangladesh’s over.

shahzad: the real life cartoon character

Mohammad Shahzad is facing completely the wrong direction, later he’s on one leg, at another time he’s slicing the ball like a roadside salami salesman. If someone showed Shahzad the textbook, he’d lean back and hoick it as hard as he could.

Sometimes for six, sometimes straight up in the air.

For the 2015 World Cup there was a Shahzad shaped hole in Afghanistan’s team. And it is a sizable hole. Shahzad is more large Big Mac meal than the kale and quinoa salads of most pro cricketers. That was ultimately the reason he didn’t make that tournament. But in his case, size doesn’t matter.

Of course he bends over to take deep strained breaths 15 balls into his innings. Of course he doesn’t find as many singles as other batsmen. And of course he can’t whip around to stop a leg bye being taken. But he can keep, and he can hit.

In his mind, he is trying to emulate his idol MS Dhoni but, like some of the most interesting musicians in history, while he is just trying to copy his hero, what he makes is wonderful and original. Dhoni might be the king of the helicopter shot, but Shahzad is the one true master of the agricultural afghan drunken samurai method.

It’s not pretty, or classical, or even approaching stylish. It’s a spit in dirt, your uncle after one too many, a beer belly on a male model. Shahzad hitting through the covers is about as ugly as cricket gets. It’s a cross-bat cover-sweep slog-slap. When it goes wrong it either gets bunted into the ground like a disgusting mistake, or flies up in the air to be caught. When he gets it right it just flies, it feels like he has hit it so far the fielders are diving for safety, not to stop the ball.

He doesn’t just hit – although he does just hit – he actually puts together innings. There is a method, although not one he would share or teach to anyone, to his madness. His method, obviously, but somehow with all the swinging, hoicking, slapping and missing, he does make real runs. This is a man who made an unbeaten 215 in a chase of 494 against Canada. A man with the sixth-highest score in T20Is. A man who once beat Zimbabwe all but on his own in an ODI. And who is currently ranked 12th in the world in ICC rankings for T20s.

He doesn’t make sense; he doesn’t have to.

There is not a moment he is not entertaining. He laughs, gets angry, pulls faces, hits redonkulous shots, makes jokes with the press, and translates his own press conference answers into English. At one stage in this match Ian Gould, the umpire, just flicked his helmet like he was a cheeky school boy. He lives his life with his heart, and pretty much every other single organ he has, on his sleeve.

If you can tell something deeply personal about someone from the way he bats, Shahzad lives a life worth living.

People tend to focus on the boundaries of a batsman, but for Shahzad the plays and misses, the mishits and the stupid batting choices are just as exciting. When he gets out it looks terrible, but then again, so do some of his best shots.

Against Scotland he played a back-foot inside-out drive to a ball angled in that even if he middled it would have been the worst shot played by another player that day. Instead he hit it straight up in the air, and confirmed it as one of the worst shots of the day, beating some of his previous boundaries. Against Hong Kong it was the run-down-the-wicket swipe to the leg side that gets caught on the off side. But it also wasn’t any uglier than the six he donkey-hurled over wide mid-on earlier.

This is not an international batsman; this is a cartoon character in human form.

When he was out, he just shrugged and walked off. There was no disappointment, he’d done well. He was happy with his lot in life, and this game. He was supposed to be upset with giving his wicket away – again. He was supposed to be disappointed that he didn’t reach his 50. He was supposed to be frustrated that he didn’t see the match through until the end.

Then again, with his technique, he wasn’t supposed to make runs in the first place.

Scotland’s lasting silence

Second ball George Munsey tried to reverse sweep. Third ball as well. The fourth ball he smashed a reverse sweep. The fifth ball as well. Scotland were chasing 147. Scotland were trying to make some noise.

The last ball of the first over Munsey came down the wicket. He looked lost the minute he left his crease. Whatever shot he had in his mind, whatever fantasy of destruction was playing, out on the field there was a confused batsman, way out of his crease, trying to invent a shot that would save him. It didn’t.

For Scotland, nothing ever saves them.

Twenty games. That is how many times Scotland have lined up in a major ICC tournament. One has been washed out. 19 have been lost. Twenty matches in 17 years, scattered around when they somehow qualify by overcoming years of amateur, shambolic administration, or when the ICC allow enough spots for them to claw their themselves into.

Eleven of those were colossal smashings. Bowled out for 68 against the West Indies in the 99 World Cup. Making 136 against Netherlands, and having it chased in 23.5 overs in the 2007 World Cup. And losing a T20 game by 130 runs to South Africa.

They have also gone close. In the ’99 World Cup they were chasing a low Bangladesh total confidently before they collapsed horrendously. They had Pakistan 116 for 6 in their first game of the ’07 WT20 before Pakistan regrouped. New Zealand only beat them by three wickets in the 2015 World Cup, and they made Bangladesh chase over 300 to beat them. And then there was Afghanistan in the same tournament.

Their 210 total seemed safe when Afghanistan fell to 132 for 8. It felt safe again, after a small scare, when it was 192 for 9. It wasn’t. Afghanistan won their first ever match in a World Cup, and the Scottish changeroom went into the eerie silence they know too well.

Their fans live with this, many of them travelling to these games. They are passionate, loud, and used to disappointment. Their off field organisation has improved so much in the last year that it’s like this is a different set up. They have never been closer to professional.

And this may be the best group Scotland has ever produced. A group that since the last World Cup has played in one ODI. This is a proper cricket country, with a long history, hungry to improve and embarrassed to be the world record holders for the most losses without a win in a major ICC tournament.

Kenya, Canada, Netherlands, UAE, Hong Kong and now even Oman have won matches. But Scotland just don’t win.

In the first game of this tournament they were smashing Afghanistan around everywhere. Eighty-four runs without loss from 8.4 overs, chasing 160. Captain Preston Mommsen called it a “world class partnership”. The next ball they lost a wicket. It took them nine overs to hit a boundary after that; they ended up 14 runs short of a total they had almost broken the back of.

Today Zimbabwe made it to 147. Scotland weren’t perfect in the field, they dropped Sean Williams which cost them. Matthew Cross, their gun keeper, let a ball go straight through his legs and fumbled another. Even their one great highlight, the catch of Michael Leask, came about because he dropped a simple chance.

When batting, after Munsey’s wicket, Scotland kept attacking. Michael Leask, who’d been sent up the order to make some noise, moved down the wicket confidently, swung his bat beautifully, and stared straight down the ground hopefully, where he was aiming. Behind him the bails were taken off. It was almost as if he was staring at some alternate reality where things went Scotland’s way.

Scotland lost four wickets by the 19th ball. The press scorer had no time to announce them one by one, and instead grouped all four of them together.

But Scotland didn’t roll over. They kept fighting, and with Mommsen and Richie Berrington at the crease they got back in charge, and got themselves in a position to win. Even after Mommsen was out, even after Scotland had lost, Mommsen was still fighting. He laughed off thoughts that this was anything but a qualifying event. And then spoke about life as an Associate.

“I don’t think people understand the pressure that comes from being an Associate team. Every time you take the field, no matter what kind of cricket, T20, ODI or four-day cricket, you are playing for something. You’re playing for money, you’re playing for funding, you’re playing for opportunity. Associate cricket is about winning at all costs, and that is the nature of the beast, and it is a beast.” He was right, but his comments won’t make much of a noise in this tournament.

When he found cover, his team needed 55 off 35 balls with five wickets in hand. There was still some fight left and with Josh Davey hitting big, Scotland then needed 24 from 13 when Donald Tiripano bowled a slow half-tracker to Richie Berrington.

A limp ball, a limp shot, and ultimately a limp finish.

After the last wicket, when Ali Evans stumps were in random areas behind him, he just stayed on his knee. Staring. Not moving. Even when Mark Watt walked over to him he didn’t talk. They just shared the silence. Scotland’s silence.

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