Home Tags Posts tagged with "Chris Gayle"

Chris Gayle

Shahid Afridi <em>Picture: Harrias</em>

Shahid Afridi Picture: Harrias

Technically, it’s at the six-sevenths stage – 42 matches down, seven to go – but this feels like the pivotal point in proceedings. The tenth cricket world cup, being played across India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, has reached the end of its group stage and the knockout matches – the proper, consequential contests – await.

In the tournament preview, it was argued that the good side / poor side imbalance of the two seven-team groups would lead to “a strong sense of a month having been wasted”. Well, that’s been the case in terms of which teams failed to qualify: Zimbabwe, Kenya and Canada from Group A, Bangladesh, Ireland and the Netherlands from Group B. So far, so straightforward.

Group A was something of a pointless exercise – literally so for Kenya, who plunged from semi-finalist status eight years ago to played six, lost six this time round. The top part of the group was glorified net practice, mere jostling for position.

Donate to us: support independent, intelligent, in-depth Scottish journalism from just 3p a day

Many of the matches were stupidly one-sided: New Zealand twice won by ten wickets (against Kenya and Zimbabwe), Sri Lanka beat Canada by 210 runs. Even the mini Tri-series between the minnows failed to produce any close contests: Zimbabwe beat Canada and Kenya by 175 runs and 161 respectively, Canada beat Kenya by five wickets.

The markedly stronger Group B, however, was a different matter. The predicted qualifiers again made it through, but the group provided almost a tournament’s worth of entertainment in itself – largely due to the efforts of England. Rarely can such a sequence of crazy, umbrella-chewing games have been played in top-level sport – recent Scottish football qualification campaigns had nothing on this. Thus far, almost all the enthralling matches have involved England – winning narrowly, losing spectacularly, or enjoying that rare bird among cricket results, the tie.

As the BBC’s Jonathan Agnew noted after qualification had been secured by the (inevitably tight-squeeze-ish) win against the West Indies, there is no point in Andy Flower, Andrew Strauss and co worrying about the Irish defeat: Kevin O’Brien’s onslaught was a once-in-a-lifetime, force-of-nature innings, against which any team would have wilted.

O’Brien’s name will be added to the list of extraordinary one-off batting assaults – a list stretching from Ted Alletson to Nathan Astle. It didn’t provide much overall information, but it did add hugely to the atmosphere of what already appears to be a happier, more enjoyable – for players and crowds alike – tournament than the 2007 edition in the West Indies.

The Bangladesh defeat, however, was different. Losing straightforwardly to a team that could only muster 58 against the West Indies and 78 against South Africa really shouldn’t happen. As in the close shave against the Dutch, a tired-looking England outfit seemed uncertain in terms of tactics and friable when things start to go wrong.

Despite all the English brinksmanship and crowdpleasing, the match of the tournament thus far was the South Africa–India encounter at Nagpur. Seen by various pundits (the present writer included) as a trial run for the final, this was a remarkable affair. Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambir swaggered through the first 39 overs, racking up 267 for 1, at which stage it was simply a question of how far above 350 they could reach. But nine overs, nine wickets and just 29 runs later, South Africa had a target to chase. And chase it they did, with Robin Peterson – rapidly becoming a real star – thumping 4624 when they needed 13 from the final over.

Now, with just eight teams left and an unfussy knockout format, it’s engagingly open. Australia’s defeat by Pakistan in their final group match not only ended a 12-year, 34-match unbeaten run, but also meant that every team had lost at least once. India and South Africa remain the strongest, best-balanced outfits, but the field has bunched.

All four quarter-finals are intriguing. First – today, in Mirpur – comes Pakistan–West Indies, which has the air of two teams vying for a losing semi-final slot. Chris Gayle, on his day, is the most destructive batsman in world cricket, but his day comes only occasionally. Darren Sammy’s team is the flimsiest of the eight, having qualified courtesy of wins against the weaklings.

Pakistan remain, as ever, an enigma, and could yet march through and win the whole thing. Shahid Afridi’s batting mostly misfires these days, but his haul of 17 wickets, the most by any bowler, has helped greatly. Pakistan are a good bits-and-pieces side, and ought to reach the semis.

There they would meet the winner of India–Australia. On paper – and how strange it is to write this – Australia are very much the underdogs. Their batting, even with Michael Hussey now back in the team, stutters more than Colin Firth. The pace attack, Brett Lee excepted, looks uncertain in the radar department. India, by contrast, have a tremendous top order, with Tendulkar seemingly destined to “do a Boycott” and reach a lifetime landmark – his 100th international 100 – on his home ground in the final.

Yuvraj Singh is having a good tournament, while Virat Kohli is a classy strokemaker. But there are doubts. The lower-order hitters, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan, haven’t really sparked, the bowling is insipid at times, and that collapse from a position of huge strength against South Africa might come to be seen as telling.

The construction site that is the Australian team could yet grind out a win – or three – with Ricky Ponting hitting form one last time and the team coalescing around him. Tim Nielsen, the Australian coach, described Thursday’s Ahmedabad game as “a mini-grand final”. But it’s hard to see his team progressing, and an India–Pakistan semi looks likely. That would put Old Firm tensions into perspective: no one at Parkhead or Ibrox has access to nuclear weapons, after all.

The third quarter-final, New Zealand versus South Africa, will also be fascinating. The Proteas have the best attack (Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir, with Peterson proving to be a “finisher” with ball as well as bat), and have moved to overall-favourite status. Their batting is in no doubt: AB de Villiers, averaging 106, was born to play in the world cup, and he is supported by a strong cast. In 11 days’ time the “choker” tag could well have been seen off by sheer skill and strength.

That said, New Zealand were dark horses at the start and are an even stronger outside bet now. Losses to Australia and Sri Lanka were offset by solid wins, and their extraordinary late-innings blitz against Pakistan was the undoubted Group A highlight (but probably said more about Afridi’s team than Daniel Vettori’s).

Then there is Sri Lanka–England. It’s to be played in Colombo, and home advantage could prove decisive. If Kumar Sangakkara wins the toss and helps his team rack up 320-plus, that should be enough. But England – the wayward and currently dropped James Anderson aside – have mostly been a handy bowling unit, with Tim Bresnan, James Tredwell and Graeme Swann performing well. Their having been joined by a bloke named Jade seems curious, however.

The batting has just been on the healthy side of curate’s egg status, with the ultra-consistent Jonathan Trott and the patchier-but-classier Strauss nos.2 and 3 behind Sangakkara in the tournament run-scorers list.

England, though, need to get their batting and bowling departments having good days together, not alternating like weather-house figures. Just as significant, however, might be their battle-hardened status after the run of tight games. Writing in the Guardian before the final group matches, former England coach Duncan Fletcher had this to say: “If they qualify England will be a dangerous team to come up against. They can take a lot of confidence from the fact that they are used to playing under the pressure of knowing that they will be knocked out if they lose. Other sides are going to have to readjust to that change of pace, which is a sharp switch to have to make when you have been playing soft games in the group stages. England have quite an advantage because of that.”

That seems a reasonable assessment. Although England might quietly regard pre-tournament expectations as having been met were they to lose in Colombo, just now they are in a remarkably strong psychological position. Whether they have it in them to push on and win the trophy for the first time remains to be seen.

Donate to us: support independent, intelligent, in-depth Scottish journalism from just 3p a day

Samuel Beckett, an Irish cricketer

Samuel Beckett, an Irish cricketer

Wednesday’s Irish victory at the cricket world cup was remarkable in various ways, not least in how it was achieved. England might not be likely cup winners, but they’re not as bad as some believe, and their 50-over score of 327 for 8 would have been hard for one of the Test-playing sides to beat, never mind one of the associate teams.

Andrew Strauss’s men, however, are proving to be both careless and complacent when in control, and their inability to score more than 33 from the final five overs gave the Irish some tiny hope that wouldn’t have been there with a target of, say, 348 rather than 328.

At 0 for 1 (when captain William Porterfield dragged Jimmy Anderson’s loosener into his stumps), then 111 for 5 – and needing to score at eight-and-a-half an over – the Irish didn’t have a chance. Then came Kevin O’Brien and his century off just 50 balls – the sixth-fastest hundred ever scored in a one-day international and comfortably the fastest in any world cup match, beating Matthew Hayden’s 66-ball effort for Australia against South Africa in the 2007 tournament.

Find out about donating to The Caledonian Mercury

The 26-year-old Dubliner blazed away with 13 fours and six sixes, highlighting another English failing in the process: they become flappy and ill-disciplined if the attack is carried to them. This also happened in the win over the Netherlands and the tie with India – both of which were tremendous contests. If there is one criticism that cannot be laid at England’s door, it’s that of serving up dull cricket: the three most enthralling matches in the tournament thus far have been the three involving the men from the shires.

The irony is that England are still much more likely to qualify for the knockout stages than are Ireland, who had earlier lost a tight and crucial match against Bangladesh, the most minnow-like of the major nations. England still only need to beat two of South Africa, the West Indies and Bangladesh to progress (and against the latter pair they will start as favourites, albeit wobbly ones), while the Irish must hope for another miracle against India, the West Indies or South Africa and then beat the Dutch in their final group-stage game.

Chances are they won’t do it, but Kevin O’Brien going forearm-to-forearm with Trinidad’s Kieron Pollard in a tonkfest at Mohali on Friday week ought to be entertaining. Until O’Brien’s wonder-innings, Pollard had perhaps been the most crowd-pleasing player in the tournament, shambling to the wicket against the Netherlands wearing what looked suspiciously like one of Richie Richardson’s old wide-brimmed hats and proceeding to launch the ball to various far corners of Delhi.

Despite Wednesday’s heroics, was the defeat of England really a long-term significant Irish cricket performance, or just another in a sporadic series of impressive one-offs? Irish cricket has had a long and meandering history, dating back to country-house games at Coole Park of Lady Gregory fame. Cricket even cropped up in one of the most celebrated poems of William Butler Yeats, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, but it was the kind with six legs rather than six stumps: “And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, / Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings”.

A more valid Irish literary connection comes courtesy of Samuel Beckett, known to any half-decent pub-quiz aficionado as the answer to the question: “Which Nobel laureate appears in Wisden?” The creator of Krapp and Godot “had two first-class games for Dublin University against Northamptonshire in 1925 and 1926, scoring 35 runs in his four innings and conceding 64 runs without taking a wicket.” He was a “gritty” left-handed opener and “a useful left-arm medium-pace bowler”.

Kevin O’Brien would certainly win more prizes and be bought more drinks than Beckett on Wednesday’s evidence, however – and the man who wrote “Try Again. Fail again. Fail better” almost certainly never dyed his hair pink for charity.

As regards notable Ireland matches to rival the events in Bangalore, the candidate most often mentioned was the 2007 world cup victory over Pakistan in Kingston, Jamaica. This might not have been so dramatic in individual-performance terms (Kevin O’Brien’s brother Niall was the hero that day, scoring 72), but it effectively knocked the Pakistanis out of the tournament on the same day that Bangladesh did the same to India.

That Ireland–Pakistan encounter, however, has long been subject to doubt about possible – but never in any way proven – dodgy dealings on the Pakistani side. This was clearly not an issue in Wednesday’s match, given how utterly and genuinely gutted the English players looked at the end.

Then there was the 2004 game against the West Indies in Belfast, when the Irish chased down 292 to beat a side including Brian Lara, Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul with more than three overs to spare. That, though, was just an early-tour warm-up, of far less consequence than the 2007 and 2011 real-tournament upsets.

Having said that, could the only true rival to Wednesday’s mayhem be a half-forgotten festival-friendly fixture played in 1969? As a diversion during their tour of England, a strong West Indies side faced the Irish in Derry. The visitors’ batting line-up included such luminaries as Basil Butcher, Maurice Foster and a young Clive Lloyd, along with the great Clyde Walcott, who was managing the team and turned out for the occasion.

The match was a curiosity even in organisational terms, with the old-fashioned idea of squeezing in two innings each during just one day’s play – with the proviso that if time ran out, the winner would come from the first-innings performance. It was clearly a light-hearted occasion, offering the West Indians an escape from the formal rigours of the main tour. But that didn’t excuse or explain what happened: the visitors batted first and were reduced to 12 for 9, before Grayson Shillingford and Philbert Blair dragged the total up to the giddy heights of 25.

For Ireland, Dougie Goodwin took 5 for 6 and Alec O’Riordan 4 for 18, and the home side reached 26 – for what proved to be an eventual victory – with the loss of just one wicket.

Stories abound about this match, including suggestions that the West Indians were plied with oceanic quantities of Guinness the night before – a traditional and perfectly acceptable form of match-fixing.

Even Wednesday’s events in Bangalore didn’t match that for strangeness. But if the current Irish one-day squad can conjure up another great day and somehow reach the knockout stage of this world cup, then Kevin O’Brien’s batting will surely come to be seen as the finest of all achievements by an underrated cricketing nation.

Find out about donating to The Caledonian Mercury