What are Pakistan actually playing.
The prefect tactics in a low chase.
And Bangladesh’s over.
What are Pakistan actually playing.
The prefect tactics in a low chase.
And Bangladesh’s over.
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.
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.
My first helmet was white.
I did not want a helmet. I did not see the need. But I was told I had to have one. I said fine, but I will only wear it if it was white.
Martin Crowe wore a white helmet.
In 1992, as a 12 year old captain, I opened the bowling with a spinner. There was no need. There was no overlying tactics I thought could work, I just did it.
Martin Crowe opened with a spinner.
I started wearing a thigh pad. I didn’t really need to, but I wanted to. I had to find the right one. It had to look a certain way on my thigh. It had to look large, and square, and like a knight going into battle. Godlike.
Martin Crowe had a thigh pad like that.
All my cricket shirts were short sleeved. I wanted one long sleeve shirt. I also wanted a white headband, to go under my helmet. We didn’t have the money for these frivolous things.
These Martin Crowe things.
To me, and many of my friends, Martin Crowe was the coolest man alive. There is nothing his cousin Russell could ever do on a screen that would ever equate to what Martin did on the field, for us.
We were Australian, we were supposed to patronise him, or see him as the enemy, we couldn’t, he was Martin Crowe, he was perfect. He was our hero.
Martin Crowe was like a beautifully illustrated coaching manual come to life. He managed to play forward, and still late. He rotated the strike right up until the moment there was a ball he could hit for four, and then it went. His batting was calm and complete. There was no histrionics. He wasn’t a man who got sucked in to conflicts, he just batted, perfectly.
When Martin Crowe pushes through point, you will feel like you have seen Jesus singing Johnny Cash covers in star wars cantina.
When reverse swing became a big deal through the skill of Pakistan, it was Martin Crowe who worked it out in a way that no one else could. They would bowl faster, they would swing the ball more, and he would just continue to beat them. They had this magical mystery pace ball, and him, like, some guru, just handled it, dismissed it, and looked beautiful while doing so.
His batting average was 45, but he didn’t bat in a soft era, he batted in what was one of the hardest. He had to face the West Indies at their best. Willis and Botham. The Pakistanis and their swing. Lillee and Warne. And then the South Africans showed up. Bowling has rarely been better. Crowe was there for all of it. Playing forward, playing late, playing perfect.
When Crowe brought up his hundred in the 92 World Cup against the Australians, an innings of straight drives you’d cry about and pull shots you’d want to be able to tell your grandkids about, the crowd swarmed on. But these weren’t just drunken morons, this was kids. So many kids. They loved him. I loved him. We were all right to do so.
The Gabba Test was one of the first Tests I really remember. My dad had pulled me in front of the TV to see Hadlee, to see his god. But it was where I saw mine.
You know what Crowe did. He was perfect, for 328 balls he batted, he hit the ball through point like a poet, flicked off his pads like the ball deserved it, drove as nature intended it and pulled with complete control. Crowe ended on 188. Hadlee’s nine for couldn’t do what one shot from Crowe did to me.
Years later I was in Mumbai for work, I was waiting for someone in the lobby of a hotel and I heard, “Kimber, Kimber”. I looked over and this white bald man was running across the lobby. I had no idea who this was, and then suddenly, in front of me, was my hero.
“I knew it was you because of the cap, it’s so great to get to meet you”.
I think I underwhelmed him somewhat. As I could barely speak. My hero had run up to me. It was supposed to be the other way around. Eventually I told him that I wore a white helmet like him as a kid, and he just got shy and changed the subject. He told me he had read everything I had ever written on cricket with balls. I instantly wanted to go upstairs and edit all of it to make it better, not perfect, but as close as I could get to it.
I heard him talking to a friend of mine, the creator of cricinfo Simon King, and within minutes he was like an open wound, so honest, overwhelming honesty about his biggest failures, personal and cricket. He also chatted to Simon’s wife, an American, who he was as open with, and as honest with, and nice to, even though she had no idea why the rest of us were acting so weird with him.
She later told me she went upstairs and searched him on Wikipedia, and she couldn’t believe it was the same guy she had just met, he was so normal and nice. I told her that Wikipedia couldn’t even begin to adequately describe how most of us felt about him. But she already knew that just from our faces. Every moment we were with him.
Right after the World Cup final we were filming Two Men Out next to the MCG. A man ran over to stand between us, it happened a lot outside grounds when you had a camera. Usually I would shut them down pretty quickly, and I angrily turned to do so. But, it wasn’t a man. It was my hero.
He wanted to watch us film the show. His team had just lost, and he was upset, but he was still excited, to be out, to be here, to be alive. We asked him to film a skit, he did it. He was great.
Just before he left he found time to ask my wife how she could possibly handle living with me. It was textbook banter, you could tell he had used that line 1000s of times before. But like his shots through point, it didn’t matter if it was the first one or the last one, it just mattered that he did it perfectly.
It was his last bit of energy, he was spent, you could see it, even through the happiness. I knew that as he walked towards the Yarra that night I would probably never see him again. I was happy, I had just spent time with my hero again, and I was sad, as I never would again.
Every couple of weeks I thought about sending him an email of the Martin Crowe chapter from my book. But I never could, it was good, but it wasn’t good enough.
It wasn’t Martin Crowe good. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t worthy of the hero who wore the white helmet. It wasn’t perfect.
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