Category Archives: afghanistanis

Mr Moles and Afghanistan

Andy Moles was discarded by New Zealand. And Scotland. Kenyan cricket collapsed while he was there. And he has been overlooked by England. Moved on from county cricket. There are reasons, there are stories. But Moles hadn’t coached at international level in four years before Afghanistan brought him in.

Moles is a product of the day-in, day-out county machine. He is a born and bred Warwickshire trophy winner. He’s played in more matches than most people will ever see. He probably knows which services on the M1 have the best pastries. There isn’t a surface type he hasn’t played on, a bowling trick he hasn’t encountered or a match situation he hasn’t lived through. His brain is an encyclopedia of cricket experiences. He is a direct disciple of Bob Woolmer.

Moles is the man the English and international games moved on from, and so he went to one of the most dangerous places on earth to take his last chance, and now he has a team dangerous enough to beat the dispirited team of his birth.

It is quite a change for Moles. The life of an international sporting coach doesn’t come with strict guidelines about only eating in your hotel and watching out for kidnapping threats. But for Moles, much like this team, this is seen as a last chance to prove that he belongs at this level. Both are fighting for their future. A win over England, even this England, will help with that.

“Out bullied” is the phrase Andy Moles used when Afghanistan lost to Australia. This was not an accidental phrase. He had used bully many times in the lead-up to the match. “Afghanistan have been a bit of a bully in Associate cricket. They are bigger, stronger and they hit harder. Now we’re playing the bigger teams and they’re going to try bully us. This is an opportunity to show character and heart.”

Moles is a teacher, bullying was his lesson from the WACA.

“Boys, are you okay? Have you done your stretches, are you rotating amongst yourselves? Don’t kill yourself. Look after each other. It’s a hot day.” That is Andy Moles. To the net bowlers. Not his team. Not young men he has met before. But this is Andy Moles. A teacher. A coach. A parental force. The net bowlers, most in their teens or their early 20s, wait for Moles to move away and then chat about how they should rotate.

“They’re responsible for their game, I’m just here to give them a benefit of my experience of playing and coaching around the world,” says Moles.

There is so much talent in the Afghanistan team. Even when they collapsed against New Zealand to 59 for 6, they still made 186 against one of the best bowling attacks in this World Cup.

Their talent has not even been fully squeezed out in the matches yet. His players are capable of almost anything. You see it in the nets every time they play. Their batsmen have the ability to take almost any ball and just destroy it. Net bowlers across Australia and New Zealand have stood at the back of the nets, yelling “shot” on a seemingly continuous loop. The only time their batting has been tested in the nets is when their bowlers come on. “What do we do, we play straight,” is Moles’ much-repeated phrase.

Moles doesn’t over-coach his players. “They’re responsible for their game. I’m just here to give them a benefit of my experience of playing and coaching around the world.” A bowler wants to have a rest, he tells Moles he is too tired to go on. Moles asks him if he wants to bowl another over, just so he knows he can bowl even when he’s that tired. His bowler agrees. “That is your area, never leave there.” The bowler is Dawlat Zadran. He listens intently as Moles talks to him, and then jokes to Hassan out of earshot. The next day, against Australia, Zadran bowls an extended spell in the WACA heat where he stays in the right area.

At times you would think that Moles’ job is nets supervisor. Unlike other coaches, he doesn’t stand at the back of the nets or have long talks with people. He puts up the coaching aids. “We need a spinner over here. How are you feeling? Good, well go into the last net.” He places the shoes down for yorker practice. He gets the balls out for each net. He makes sure the right bowlers are tackling the right batsmen. He moves from place to place, a few quick words, “15 minutes”.

There are times when it’s as if he’s organising a school fete and not coaching an international cricket team.

When the umpires come into the nets to do their umpiring sighters the day before the game, Moles chats to them all like old friends. He introduces his bowlers and his captain to them as well. When Hassan is waiting for a hit, he yells out that if he doesn’t get in now, he won’t get a hit. “Five minutes boys, and then we’re done.”

Then Moles goes on to the interviews. Moles gives more interviews than other coaches. If you stop him, he’ll give you five minutes. He knows part of his job is to promote this team. He knows that this might be the last job he has where people want to ask him things.

Moles is in the Perth sun talking to another journalist about “the story of his boys”. Moles is asked this a lot. Moles gives the reporter what he needs. He talks about their personal toughness and their toughness as cricketers. He talks about what they have overcome and their new challenges. “I promote them to ask questions. Why are we doing this? I want them to challenge me as I’m trying to challenge them. And that is the learning environment.”

Around him, someone jokes that they heard a story that the Afghan players were asked about what they liked in Australia and they replied, “the women”. Yet, in this environment, it is the cricketers who are the attraction. Their stories, their pace, their hair, their headbands. They are at times cricket fetish items. Objects of lust and cricket satisfaction. Their lives have never been more different to the old stories told about them.

The refugee-camp days are their memories. Now they have to stop for selfies, tell stories about their childhood, meet politicians, learn what representing their country means, and deal with celebrity. And play cricket.

“The last job I did before here, I worked with an NGO in Cape Town with disadvantaged people. That was about building people. And I see this as the exact same challenge. If we build human beings to get them to understand the need to take responsibility, to know their role in the side – don’t blame others, don’t make excuses – if we bring all that alongside play straight, watch your grip, keep your balance when batting…”

As Moles chats to another reporter, a player walks by. He is flanked by a no-nonsense WACA security officer. But the player is smiling. He sees that Moles is trying to give a detailed answer, so he stamps his studs on the ground as loud as he can, while walking in a funny manner. He also makes funny faces as he walks past. Moles doesn’t react at all. He ignores the silliness and focuses on talking about cricket. The player is the captain, Mohammad Nabi.

Afghanistan’s cricket is not as good as it could be. Some of the players turned up nearly 10kg heavier for their pre-World Cup camp than they should be as professional athletes. They still have too many fielders who don’t seem to know how to dive. They lost a bowler from running on the pitch after seven balls. They follow up perfect yorkers with a bucket of full tosses. Their batsmen stroke the ball with ease, before bludgeoning their own innings to death.

“Every coaching job has it’s own challenges. Here they’ve not played much cricket, they’re naïve at times to the technical and tactical parts of games. So I’m trying to expose them to a different way of thinking, a different train of thought. It is an education.”

Education is never far away. You get the feeling that at times Moles is trying to educate the press as to the difference between his players and a player from England, or even a player from Scotland. “We were here in September and four of our guys were caught pushing at the ball by the second slip. Other people who come here have a knowledge and an understanding. Whereas these guys don’t really have that knowledge of history, of what happens at the WACA. Their backgrounds sometimes mean they don’t even have TVs.”

There have been times in the nets when you are watching international-quality cricket, and at others it seems that you are watching a bunch of kids learning the game. Shapoor was bowling no-balls in the nets. Moles went over and asked him if he was sure he had measured his run-up correctly. Shapoor then measured his run again, changed it slightly, and stopped bowling no-balls. The word “responsibility” was used by Moles. Shapoor had learnt his lesson.

Moles often sits the team down and takes them through a new cricket skill. Something they should already know but don’t. “A lot of the basic things that most 19-20-year-olds have from watching TV, from being exposed to quality coaching, these guys haven’t got that. It’s about dropping teardrops of ideas every now and again. When you think they’re ready for it, you drop another idea. If two or three of them think it’s good and one doesn’t, fine, I’ve got no issue with that, but later I’ll drop another piece of information. It’s their game, it’s not my game. Coaching is about trust, and if I give them information that they buy into and they change their bowling action and have a loss of form, they could lose their place in the side”.

Moles is training his boys differently from the other 13 teams. It is more classroom than cricket net. As he says, “Coaching is educating.”

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Afghanistan’s first day

Michael Jordan. Lionel Messi. Mohammad Nabi.

These are the replica shirts on the back of the Afghan kids in the crowd. Mohammad Nabi walks his team out onto the field. Mohammad Nabi walks his team into the World Cup.

Afghanistan doesn’t have to rely on imported heroes anymore.

Hamid Hassan is strapping. Other words do not do him justice. He has large shoulders. Large hands. Large pecs. Large glutes. He is an immense hunk of muscle.

Hamid Hassan has an Afghanistan colours headband on. Stickers of Afghanistan colours on either cheek. He looks like a fast bowler. He bowls like a fast bowler. And when he completes his first ball, he has started Afghanistan’s World Cup history.

The crowd cheer like mad. Another cricket journalist says, “That’s a big cheer for a dot ball”. It’s not a dot ball. It’s a wide. They have cheered a wide. Their wide. Their first wide in a World Cup.

Hassan is one of the many players in this side who was a refugee. His family did not encourage his cricket. He cites Rocky Balboa as a hero. Hassan is more of a hero than any made-up character.

When his body is fit, he is one of the fastest bowlers in the world. He once took a five-wicket haul in an ODI against UAE. This is his 25th ODI but only his second against a Test-playing nation. The only other one was also against Bangladesh.

Hassan starts very fast. He appeals like crazy against Tamim Iqbal. All the newsrooms in the world use the image of him appealing. Hands out, mouth wide open, a scream at the umpire. Hassan might be appealing, but he is also screaming that Afghanistan are in the World Cup.

The appeal is amazing, and in vain.

Afsar Zazai was in the nets the day before, standing up and taking edges like a pro. His hands are quick, and soft. His footwork looks so sharp. He outshines many Test keepers. Peter Anderson, an assistant coach, asks to give him some full ones outside off. “No, full down leg”. He gloves them all perfectly.

The next day he is in mid-air. Diving. Flying. For a nick. The ball drops on him and he plucks it with his left hand. All cricket fans in the world swoon. But while he is still flying the ball starts to come out, he clutches at his with his right hand. He keeps it in.

According to Sid Monga, “Afsar’s family live in a small house with a temporary roof that can’t offer proper protection from the snow.” His hands are his family’s chance. His hands are magnificent.

Afghanistan have their first wicket in a World Cup, caught Afsar Zazai, bowled Mirwais Ashraf.

In 2009 Afghanistan lost a match in ICC World Cricket League Division Three. There were few in the ground. The games weren’t telecast around the world. The cricket world largely ignored it. But Hassan came off the ground crying. Documentary maker Leslie Knott, part of the team behind Out of the Ashes asked him why. “I have seen people die and I have not shed a tear. But there is something about cricket that gets me here [pointing to his heart]. Cricket is our chance.”

A chance cricket didn’t want to give them. This might be their last World Cup. Cricket has told Afghanistan it doesn’t want it. The ICC originally wanted a ten-team tournament. They have already announced the next two tournaments are for ten teams. The Test-playing nations don’t care about the associates. They pay lip service, but the proof is in the contraction. Under the old ICC rules, Afghanistan couldn’t be a Test playing nation, as they aren’t even a Commonwealth country. They are not one of the special private club.

The members don’t want them in “their” World Cup.

They clearly aren’t here. They couldn’t say that if they were at the ground. They couldn’t say it as the fans join in for chants. As they proudly wave their colours. As they line up to have their faces painted. As they cry with joy. As the slam their drums, jump on seats and scream in delight with every meaningless act.

They couldn’t say that as Shapoor Zadran runs in.

Shapoor is glorious, even in the nets. His run-up is almost double the length of his fellow bowlers’. His run-up is beautiful, his hair is beautiful, his action is beautiful, his follow-through is beautiful, his appeals are beautiful. Beautiful.

At one stage Shapoor bowls a quick short ball outside leg stump. The batsman misses it outside offstump. The keeper takes it in front of first slip’s throat. Any cricket official who tries to limit associate cricket should have to face Shapoor on a bouncy wicket first.

When Afghanistan struggle, they throw him the ball. He bowls fast around the wicket. It is Imran. It is Wasim. It is Shoaib. It is Shapoor.

The crowd chant. Shapoor, Shapoor, Shapoor.

Two quick wickets fall to him. It is quick, it is skillful, it is fast bowling and it is Afghanistan cricket.

Shapoor has been around a long time. When Afghanistan played their first international against Oman 11 years ago, Shapoor was there. So were Asghar Stanikzai, Mohammad Nabi and Nawroz Mangal. Their first recorded match as a side was 14 years ago when they played Nowshehra in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Grade II, Pool B, Group I. Nawroz Mangal played in that too. Against Oman he made 101.

Nawroz has been a source of pride for 14 years. Before most of his countrymen knew what cricket was. He looks far older and wiser than the 30 years his profile says he is. He has been a captain, a leader, and a rock of Afghanistan cricket. Today when he bats it is 3 for 3. He has been involved in more collapses than any batsman should ever be a part of. Today he tries hard, and stops the flow of wickets, but his 27 isn’t enough.

Andy Moles is trying to produce more players with the sensible nature of Nawroz. He talks of education, and he runs his net sessions like a schoolteacher. He puts the shoes out for the bowlers to aim at with yorkers. He organises who will be in what net. When a bowler oversteps, he forces them to recheck their run up. He shouts things like “last 15 minutes” and “you better go in now if you want a bat”. And all the coaches repeat the “keep your head down” mantras as often as they can.

This is a different Afghanistan than the one we’ve seen before; in the nets and in the middle, they have a new discipline. There are very few crazy slogs or loose balls. They play to plans and try to use their natural skills while curbing their natural enthusiasm. Moles is trying to Steve Waugh the whole side. Cut off the edges, make them harder and make them better.

Greg Buckle wrote in the Daily Telegraph about how Moles was teaching the team cross-seam bowling at training just before this match. He is a cricket educator. Just a few months ago Moles told ESPNcricinfo, “Sometimes you hear a boom go off somewhere when coaching in the middle. You see Black Hawk helicopters flying over the ground, going on missions and coming back. Like coaching in a war movie.”

They have come along way from the Taj Malik days.

Taj Malik was Afghanistan’s first coach. Taj is the embodiment of every club-cricket hero in the world. There is nothing Taj wouldn’t do for Afghanistan cricket. He played coached, administered, smoked and bled for his team. And it was his team. Without Taj’s passion and inspiration, Afghanistan might not be here. He will teach kids on the street, or coach the national side. Taj is the man who walked back home from Pakistan to give his country cricket.

Taj once declared he would throw himself in the Atlantic if Afghanistan didn’t win a lowly ICC tournament. When Afghanistan cricket grew, it outgrew him, but he planted it.

A braggart, and a dreamer. He is Afghan cricket. He is cricket.

Taj is not at the ground, he is back home. But this is his day, as much as it is Afghanistan’s and cricket’s.

On the field their biggest hero Hassan is coming back on for this third spell. His pace has gone. Earlier in the day he was quick, then he tried to field a ball by sliding feet first at it. He missed it. And looked silly. Now his proper quick bowling is more fast-medium than fast. After seven overs he has taken no wickets, and conceded 41 runs.

Bangladesh have a massive partnership, their batting stars are just about to take the game away from Afghanistan. The first ball of Hassan’s eighth over is a horrible full-toss, the next ball is a poor short ball, he looks slow and tired as Shakib Al Hasan picks up ten easy runs. The third ball he finds a dot-ball with a yorker.

The fourth, with Shakib on fire, he bowls a clever slower ball.

After he finishes the ball his big frame turns slowly around and walks back to the mark. His team-mates come in to celebrate his first World Cup wicket. By the next over he has taken another, this time he pumps his fists and has that Rocky spirit in his eyes.

His pace is gone, his body is failing, he is off eight paces, and he is still fighting. The crowd scream Hassan, Hassan, Hassan.

Samiullah Shenwari bowls seven balls, for two runs. Then is taken off. He is a legspinner who has been told three times he is running on the pitch. Afghanistan have overcome war, poverty and devastation, but even they can’t beat the laws of cricket.

In the press conference Andy Moles says he never noticed Shenwari had a problem with running on the pitch. He was probably too busy making sure there were enough balls and the right people were in the right nets.

Shenwari has little follow-through, and even less reason to be on the pitch, but he’s taken off and Afghanistan lose a bowler. A good bowler. One who averages 30 with the ball and goes for less than five an over. With the bat Shenwari looks good. Of all the Afghanistan top order he is the most composed, scores the easiest and moves towards a comfortable half-century.

But he goes for a second, when there is not quite a second there. Brilliant fielding from Sabbir Rahman fires the ball back to the keeper and Shenwari dives. He lands in the turf. His face is down. He doesn’t get up. The replays are looked at by the third umpire. Shenwari’s body language is even more conclusive. He is out. He has run on the pitch, and then been run out. Shenwari’s run is over.

Shenwari leaves Mohammad Nabi at the crease, and little else.

Afghanistan need practically ten an over, but the crowd is cheering for Nabi. Nabi, Nabi, Nabi.

From the book Second XI, Tim Wigmore recounts this tale. “In May 2013, Nabi’s father, a wealthy car salesman, was abducted from his car in the city of Jalalabad. For more than two months, his father’s whereabouts were unknown, despite a concerted effort by the government to find him.”

Nabi’s father was found just before he had to play World Cup qualifying matches against Namibia in Windhoek. With his father only safe for a few weeks Nabi smashed 81* off 45 balls. Then he took 5 for 12. Namibia only managed 18 more runs than Nabi made.

Today Nabi makes them chant his name. When they have no hope, he scores at better than a run a ball, he hits boundaries, his fans say Nabi, Nabi, Nabi. His final shot is one of a man who knows he can’t get them home.

Nabi leaves the ground with a defeated shrug.

Before the game young kids hold a flag in the shadows of the former MCG scoreboard. Their job is to take it out onto the ground. A simple gesture that has been done many times in this World Cup.

The Afghan crowd scream as their flag is taken onto the ground.

A man wearing an Afghanistan shirt, with his face painted in his country’s colours, is quiet. Around him are flags and his colours. There is another man painted from his waist to his hair in Afghan colours. Others are in replica shirts, branded World Cup shirts, homemade Afghanistan flag shirts and traditional Afghan clothing. It is a typical cricket scene. But as that flag moves from under the old MCG scoreboard out onto the ground, the quiet man eyes start to well up.

He’s crying. He’s smiling.

This is just a flag ceremony. Just a cricket game. Just an ODI. Just a World Cup game. It’s also the first time he has seen his Afghanistan walk out in a World Cup.

Shapoor, Shapoor, Shapoor. Hassan, Hassan, Hassan. Nabi, Nabi, Nabi.

Afghanistan lose. Their fans leave the ground with the same face losing fans from all over the world have. That look of emptiness once the hope has gone. A few hug each other. One shouts, “Well done. Afghanistan” at no one in particular.

Then a song starts. It is Joy Bangla. A song of hope and of a new beginning about Bangladesh coming out of war and into brighter days. The Bangladeshis sing along as their players do a victory lap. A few Afghanistan fans dance along as they leave the ground.

It’s not their song. It’s not their win. It will forever be their day. Afghanistan, Zindabad.

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Forget the ‘M’ word

Minnow.

Noun
• a small freshwater Eurasian fish of the carp family, which typically forms large shoals.
• a small or insignificant person or organization: the paper is a minnow in the national newspaper mass market

“We’re not minnows.”

Trent Johnston, 2012.

Odd terms in cricket seem to be the norm. The original meaning for Chinaman allegedly comes from when an English player couldn’t believe he’d been bowled by a West Indian player of Chinese heritage and said in a largely racist way: “Fancy being done by a bloody Chinaman.” If a player said anything like that today he’d hounded in the press and suspended by the ICC. But yet we still call left arm wrist spinners, like Brad Hogg, Chinaman.

It’s doubtful that in modern cricket we’d ever have another racially motivated term come through. New deliveries are usually named by the bowler, a quick thinking member of the press or Tony Greig. And shots are mostly named after the batsman who plays them, or just a simple way of describing the shot.

If you aren’t one of the eight main teams in cricket, the boys club as the outsiders call it, you’re referred to as a minnow. A small fish of insignificance. Hardly worth talking about, mostly patronised, not seen as professional or good enough for teams to tour. In the 1983 World Cup the minnow Zimbabweans defeated the mighty Australians. In 1999 Zimbabwe played magnificent cricket. In 2003 John Davison set the tournament alight for Canada, and Kenya made the semi finals. In 2007 Ireland defeated Pakistan, and in 2011 they beat England. Over the years Bangladesh have often claimed big scalps as well.

That’s not even to mention that the very host of this tournament was a minnow who only 13 years after gaining Test playing status won a World Cup. Sri Lanka are the ultimate heroes for countries like Ireland, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and even Bangladesh. They went from non-Test playing to World Cup-winning in 13 years. When was the last time they were referred to as a minnow?

Minnow is a term I’ve always used. Associates and affiliates makes the teams sound like their insurance firms, and minnows is the term that everyone not associated with the non-Test playing world uses frequently.

Until a few days ago I never even realised that the smaller nations hated the word minnow. After a chat with the Afghanistan photographer and Ireland’s Trent Johnston, hate is the exact word some of the people from the associate nations feel about the word minnow. They feel it denigrates them as cricketers, patronises them, and doesn’t take their deeds seriously. Johnston probably has more right than most to hate it. He’s spent years being branded this way: “I’m sick of hearing minnow on the TV”. Perhaps the worst time for Ireland was the two months of constant minnow referencing when Ireland made the latter stages of the 2007 World Cup.

Afghanistan’s cricket team is their No. 1 ranked sporting team. According to Johnston, the Irish Cricket team is the No. 2 ranked sporting team in Ireland. These are not minority players or freak shows. Afghanistan, Ireland, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe have probably spent more time preparing for this tournament than any of the major teams. This is their main chance of notoriety. They are full of professional players, coaches, analysts, fitness staff and administration. They came here to win. So far, with two of them heading home, and only must win games for Ireland and Bangladesh left, their chances are slim.

When they do win, they’re seen as comedy upsets or plucky amateurs who’ve downed the arrogant professionals. None of these teams win enough for their own liking. They all do what they can do to improve with average facilities and little finances. They’re aware they need to win more consistently to gain our ultimate respect.

But perhaps these sides have earned enough of our respect for us to stop using a word they believe, quite rightly, belittles them. We could stop using the term minnow in honour of all the time and effort professionals and amateurs have put into making their national sides stronger, especially those from nations that aren’t traditional cricket playing nations. These people have grown the game, often in places where it needs the most help, and I think the least we can do is just stop using a term they don’t like.

It’ll be hard for cricket fans and the media to stop saying it; it’s inbred so deep in cricket’s odd lexicon. But the good thing about cricket is that no one will settle for associates or affiliates as the name for long before someone comes up with something better. This time, perhaps it will be something a bit more respectful than calling anyone who doesn’t win regular Tests a small fish of insignificance. Cricket doesn’t really need the “M” word, but it does need sides like Ireland and Afghanistan.

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minnows good enough to abuse now

When an Australian fielder leans in to talk, there is a good chance a batsman is getting some flak.  It could be professional advice, career counseling or questions about his family, but the batsman is getting chirped, sledged or mentally disintegrated.  Usually the word cunt is used, occasionally cock or mother fucker, and for those who play in the IPL, benchod.

Ireland were probably called some of those yesterday.  From the first ball Australian fielders were leaning in, sometimes in unison with an aggressive clap, and saying things that seemed to upset some of the Ireland players.

It wasn’t that many years ago that Australian players took to the field against a minnow with grins and little preparation.  Not anymore.

While the ICC limited overs rankings mean little to anyone ever in history of humanity, Australia wouldn’t want to be below Ireland on the rankings.  And so they played Ireland the way they play anyone, with aggression.

It’s also clear they had a fair bit of analysis on the strengths of the Ireland side, and shut them down.

It was in the 09 World T20 that New Zealand’s Iain O’Brien was smashed in the first over of the match against Scotland for 16 runs.  O’Brien had been given a plan on how to bowl to Watts, and he’d executed it, except he was actually bowling to Watson.

That is less likely now.  Many of the airlines that flew into the ground had the ICC road to the World T20 playing on their planes.  You could watch your opposition as you ate your complimentary nuts.   That’s not even including how much video is actually around on these players.

There is probably more video of Trent Johnston than there is on George Bailey.

The minnow teams of the past were often one man affairs.  Every successful team had a John Davison type player.

Now with Ireland and Afghanistan, it’s a team thing.  It seems like from 1-9 you could bat the Afghanis in any order and not lose much.  Ireland is the new New Zealand.  Everyone seems purpose built to fit into the team and make it just a little bit better.  And in the case of Ireland and Afghanistan, these are teams dominated by local players, not imports.

But what was also there was a belief that both teams belong.

Gary Wilson attacked David Warner verbally.  Wilson wanted Warner to know Ireland weren’t give up after an average first innings total.  Later on I think it was Naib bowling when Kohli came down the wicket and pushed the ball back before having it thrown by him it a fit of anger.

It wasn’t quite a Stuart Broad throw (no fingers were broken), but it showed intent, and got the full stare of menace from Kohli in return. It wasn’t that long ago Kohli and Warner were staring each other down in Perth, now minnow players are doing it.

It’s doubtful that minnow teams, even ones not at the level of Ireland and Afghanistan, will probably ever be taken as lightly as the great UAE side of the 96 World Cup.  The term minnow may not even be used in a few years.

Afghanistan and Ireland are a long way from being regular international winners, but if you can upset an Australian or an Indian, without even playing a shot, something has definitely changed in world cricket.

Perhaps that’s what Gary Wilson was telling young Mr Warner. Or, maybe he just called him a bellicose troglodyte.

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how shapoor are India?

Hands are made for self love and putting together things you’ve bought at Ikea.

In cricket, they are also used to catch the cricket ball when the striking batsman has lofted it.  In the case of Afghanistan, hands are made for deflecting the ball oddly and then placing on your head to show your anguish.

On the flight on the way over I watched the Road to the World T20 thingy that the ICC made about the minnows trip to the big show.

This video showed about 1539 occasions of Afghani players clean bowling random batsmen with pace or swing.  It didn’t show many catches.  I thought this was because they didn’t need to catch the ball, but now I see it might just have been because they lacked the hand eye coordination and soft cupping technique to pouch them.

Had they taken any of the 73 or so they seemed to drop, India might have had some trouble in this match. Not trouble, trouble, but trouble nonetheless.

As it turned out it was a decent work out for India as the Afghanis were like that bloke at a party you can’t stand, they wouldn’t go away.

So far in their development that Afghanis haven’t mastered batting, but hitting, oh hitting they do.  They all seem obsessed with Dhoni, and that’s no bad thing.  It’s 11 excitable tailenders, like if we cloned Staurt MacGill and Murali and let them bat together over and over again.

India should have shut them down a bit more efficiently, and those nervous about the bowlers will be nervous about the bowlers.

Except for Yuvraj who tricked the Afghanis with his club cricket bowling.  That’s their fatal flaw, not enough club cricket.

India work their way well into tournaments, so maybe that was this.  Or perhaps they were all trying to work out at once how the IPL would be blamed for all of this.

Of all three major sides so far, India were the least impressive, or Afghanistan the most impressive of the minnows.  It means India is the only team that had a good run out and went through all their options.  That’s a good thing, unless their options turn out to be rubbish.

It’s also quite clear to me now that there is no way England can beat Afghanistan.  They’ll walk right into that Afghani helicopter.

Result: Shapoor is an impressive slab of man with Shoaib’s Hair and cold dead eyes.  And thanks to Yuvraj we now know that shitty left arm spin is not affected by chemo.

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Out of the Ashes competition

I’m still getting entires to the competition, but it is over.

My ten DVDs haven been given away.

I am a giving man, so I’ll tell you about the King’s competition.

The sleeker sexier 2.0 King cricket is also giving away 10 copies of the DVD for those who follow these instructions:

  • 50 words on how you’d get any non-Test playing nation to the 2015 World Cup
  • Send your entry to king@kingcricket.co.uk
  • Last day for entry

So, if you still want a DVD, but had a shit cricket origin story, get over to king cricket and work it out.

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Out of the Ashes: Cricket Origin stories

In honour of Taj Malik, cricket and Out of the Ashes, here is a few cricket origin stories for you. These are the competition winners each of them owning a copy of Out of the Ashes on DVD.

Andrew Lunn:

I was first introduced to cricket by my Dad. He would sit there for hours watching cricket on the BBC and I never took much interest at first. In fact, at first, it bored the hell out of me and I could not understand his fascination. As soon as he stuck it on I would just go and kick a ball about in the garden.

Anyway because I could see how much it delighted him to watch cricket, my curiosity was aroused and I forced myself to sit there and watch it with him. At first maybe I was just enjoying it because he was enjoying it but slowly over time, maybe many months, I started to pick up on the vagaries and wonder of the sport. Discussions of short legs and silly mid off’s were the spark in my young mind to make me think there was a lot more to this sport than meets they eye. I just had to know more.

One of my earliest cricketing memories was staying up late to watch the Ashes down under with my Dad. It was about 11pm and the hype had been building all day, because England were almost in a strong position and Gooch was at the wicket. My Dad and I spent all day wondering if Gooch would take the Aussies apart. Anyway 12 o’ clock arrived and Craig McDermott with his war paint on came steaming in. He bowled a full toss! Go on Goochie, smack it for six! Instead he smacked it straight back to McDermott for a caught and bowled. Classic Moment! From that moment on and for the next ten or so years I got used to fearing the hell out of the Aussies. They were absolutely awesome but I didn’t care. In fact part of me almost revelled in their glory. What other sport can make the viewer admire the opposition in such a way.

Needless to say I have been hooked ever since. Cheers Dad!

The Alt Cricket Almanack:

Ravi Shastri introduced me to cricket. I met him when I was 10 years old. He told me: “If cricket is the earth, then I am your sun.”  Rameez Raja appeared from the shadows, brushed Shastri aside and said: “Yes son, and I am your moon.” They then both proceeded to explain to me the vagaries of cricket. I asked them about the LBW law, but they just said it was so complicated, that they’d been in the game for 20 years and even they didn’t understand.  So they called in Rudi Koertzen and Daryl Harper. They proceeded to argue that sometimes it was just ‘necessary’ to give a batsman out, even when the laws would advise otherwise. The conversation descended into an argument about racism, cheating, and ice cream. Towards the denouement, an elderly lady with a delightful northern accent interrupted proceedings. She brought out a tray, with a steaming pot of tea and home-made strawberry jam scones.  Everybody shut the fuck up, looked at each other, and proceeded to scoff. It’s irrelevant that Harper and Koertzen refused to share the same pot of tea as the other two. On that day, I experienced cricket’s extremist tokenism, made-up rules and awesome teas. I was sold.

Jeffdreadnought:

Introduced by a teacher called Johnson

Who always took nets with his pads on

He coached a mean drive

But mainly took pride

In a craftily found single run

Abhishek Phadnis:

Javed chacha, our geriatric Hyderabadi manservant (and the only bowIer I ever hit for six. He was eighty-four at the time and the boundary was nineteen yards).  A devoted fan of food, Venkatapathy Raju (yes, parochialism is blind, tone-deaf and retarded) and Indian cricket, in that order, chacha declared Raju’s omission from the Indian team a CIA conspiracy and announced he’d fast until Raju was reinstated. He was discovered discreetly tucking into a kebab six minutes later.

Ben Tumilty:

My teacher introduced me when he found out I was a leftie, as he needed an ‘awkward’ bowler, which I presumed meant ‘shite’. I picked it up from there, yet my batting is probably more ‘awkward’ than my bowling nowadays… Yup, I’m still shite.

James Frost:

I was introduced to cricket by Steve Harmison. Before that 7-12, english cricket was just bad news in sports pages and a cursory glance at Middlesex results (inevitably more bad news). Since that spell of bowling I’ve been hooked – I just watched the entire Pakistan – NZ ODI series!

Gareth Davies:

Mike Lloyd when I was ten. In the cricketing hotbed of South West Wales. I was immediately introduced to the concepts of “joining the dots” and “pre-ssure, pre-ssure!” He’d coach the under-everythings 4 nights a week and play on Saturdays and Sundays. He’s still miles, miles better than me. LAAARVELY!!!

Kartik:

My dad introduced me to cricket during the 1996 cricket world cup. The cable television that my brother and I had for so long begged for suddenly became a reality and we were soon finding that supersport was a far better channel than the cartoon network. The rest is history…

Mitch Hume:

Mum was born with a spinal problem where two of her cervical vertebrae were fused together, meaning she was hospitalised and had very limited movement until the age of 10. She would often lie immobile in bed and pass the time by listening to cricket on the radio. Surgery partially rectified her mobility issues, but she maintained a love of cricket which I inherited at a very early age. Due to her back problems she could never throw overarm, but she keenly became my first fielding coach and would spend hours using freakish wrist dexterity to flick a ball underarm everywhere in our backyard for me to take those speccy catches every 8 year old kid loves to try.  As a result I became a reasonable wicketkeeper, but (possibly, most likely not) due to my coach’s inability to bowl, crap batsman. It mattered little – mum was always my number one fan, and could tell me exactly what happened after attending every game of junior cricket as a scorer, and a good deal of senior cricket too, often to my teenage embarrassment. She’s still turning up, and I’m 24, but now I appreciate it a lot more.

Eddie Hunter-Higgins:

My brother (nine years older than me) was the one who introduced me to cricket.He would thrash me everywhere goading me for poor fielding and leg side balls. When I occasionally got to bat he would bowl vicious bouncers at me and use a ball that was half burnt to swing more. But still I loved every minute of it trying to best him and now I am a complete cricket fanatic watching every minute of cricket that I can and follow it all over the world.

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Out of the ashes review and competition

Cricket blogging is a largely solitary experience. It’s usually me in a dank corner mumbling to myself “bloddy Hauritz, I’ll get him, I’ll win”.

Then every now and then, people contact you.  Mostly it’s a company who are offering you something vaguely cricket related that your readers will love, but just once it was the director of a cricket film.

I was given the film ‘Out of the Ashes’ not long after i’d seen fire in babylon, but due to the actual Ashes, it just travelled around Australia with me.  One one night back at my parents place, I told my mum about it, and she demanded I put it on.

My mum aint no cricket nut, her trip to the boxing day test this year was her first test match to the G since she used to go to perve on DK Lillee’s chest.

She loved this film. She was cheering, laughing and crying as these kids try and make in in the world of sport and are utterly unsuccessful at picking up in Jersey. I now think she has a crush On Taj Malik, the coach.

I loved it too.  That two cricket documentaries like this and fire in babylon can exist at once should encourage people with money to fork it over for more cricket films, because they are clever, well made, inspiring tales that are entertaining to watch even to a casual cricket fan.

Cricket boards try to get new followers in with stupid cheerleaders, fireworks and rubbish websites, but a great film can convert someone just as well, is often cheaper to make and will last a lot longer than fireworks.

In this film you aren’t following Afghanistani cricketers, you’re following cricketers.  It doesn’t matter where they come from, as important as that might be, these are just a bunch of young out of their environment cricketers who are trying to come together as a team.

Their coach, Taj Malik, is someone from every cricket club in the world.  The man who will stand on the street and teach two kids the game just because he loves it.  To me he is cricket. He is everything that is great about the game. And if I ever were to meet Tak Malik in the street, I think I’d just hug him for as long as I could before he wriggled away and ran.

I could give this film a real review.  Could talk about the excellent pacing, amazing camera work, classy editing and amazing story, but I won’t, I’ll just say this, if you ever find yourself in a situation where cricket pisses you off, buy, rent or steal this DVD, because if this can’t restore your faith in cricket, nothing can.

Cricket With Balls has managed to steal 10 copies of this film from the distributors while they weren’t looking. They can only be posted in the UK, but if you want one, email me at answers@cricketwithballs.com with the name and a brief story (50 words or less) of the person who introduced you to cricket. My ten favourite will get the DVDs and I’ll post your words up here.

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the world t20 team report card

Afghanistan – Turned up with a bowling unit that most Minnows would be proud of, but their bowlers also ended up being their batting.

They were very loud, but showed real aptitude, but were kicked out of the library after being caught urinating on the technique books.

Australia – Finally selected a T20 team and got a test player to captain it. Took the gamble on 3 front line bowlers and it worked until their batsmen bottled it in the final.

Bullied their way around the schoolyard, and everyone sucked up to them. Next time they should stay focused until the end of the day.

Bangladesh – Tried hard at times but never had the firepower to scare Australia or Pakistan.

Truancy is a problem, if Tamim isn’t around the rest of the boys lose confidence. Perhaps they were promoted too quickly and could do well if they were to repeat this grade a few times.

England – Was the best performed and coached side in the entire tournament, Wright at six was a gamble, but their middle order stuck around and they deserved to win.

Polite, courteous, well mannered and simply a delight to teach. About time too, before this they were a disorganized bore that should have been spanked daily.

India – Arrived with a hangover, played like they were in a coma, picked the wrong side and then performed like their entire family had been killed by drunk drivers.

Spank them, send them to bed without their dinner, cut all extra curricular activities and make sure you give them a curfew.

Ireland – Showed yet again that they are a plucky yet largely untalented bunch. Bowling display against England was a masterclass in bowling slow seam.

Since Eoin has moved classes the Irish boys have looked slightly stupid, it might be time for remedial studies, again.

New Zealand – At times it felt like they were in the tournament, but that they also weren’t. They beat 2 of the Semi finalists, but not in the semi finals.

A very eager student who would do extra work than required, it was just that their best work was only just a pass.

Pakistan – Were shocking, brilliant and wonderfully insane, just like Pakistan should be. Need a captain, not an excitable poodle.

Were truant at the start of the semester, then came in late doing lots of work to try catch up. They almost passed but it wouldn’t be fair to students who turned up all the time, like M Hussey.

South Africa – had one of the bowlers of the tournament in Charl Langeveldt, and almost no one else. Picked the wrong team, stayed with the wrong teamand then failed to actually chase Pakistan’s total.

These boys are clearly too old for schooling, and didn’t look interested either. Perhaps getting them into the workforce would benefit them.

Sri Lanka – Surfed the wave of Mahela all the way to the finals, but outside of him and some isolated performances they were pretty ordinary.

Had one mature age student who was of no use, a cool student who didn’t seem interested and some experimental student who produced very little. Very disappointed in them.

West Indies – Teams who host these tournaments are usually useless, the West Indies proved that rule.

The entire class sit around waiting for Chris Gayle to do the work, and he can’t always be bothered. Andre Fletcher needs private tuition or home schooling.

Zimbabwe – Had a great array of spinners and almost entirely nothing else. Played good honest cricket, but are missing several components.

They seemed to be driven by fear of being spanked by their parents, but are generally a very poor academic group. I don’t want to alarm anyone, but Ray Price is surely too old to be at school, and I think I saw him beat up the Lunch Lady.

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