The Matthew Hayden show

Prior to the penultimate game of the Super Eight’s, Matthew Hayden was just three runs behind the tournament’s highest run scorer in Jacques Kallis. He was favoured to move into pole position but has surged to it with yet another century of muscle and class. Is he playing better than his golden year of 2001? While most teams are struggling in the first ten overs (the average being 36 runs for 1.4 wickets) Hayden hasn’t set a foot wrong. Gilchrist seems to be rather quiet but is himself averaging 37 with the bat in the World Cup.

The pre-match news is Shane Bond is out crook and Jacob Oram having earlier been ruled out. Mark Gillespie and Michael Mason play in their place. Shane Watson makes a welcome return for Australia forcing Brad Hodge out. Shane Bond was the real danger man for Australia, a bowler who seems to have the wood over the Aussies. New Zealand will surely miss him.

Australia have moved into a more than healthy 215-2 after 32 overs and look to post a really big one. In light of recent adventures New Zealand might fancy their chances in getting them.

Check out the scorecard here and leave your comments below.

Brian Lara retires from international cricket

Tis the season of resignations but I’m slightly surprised that he’s not staying on for the Tests this summer. I suppose there’s only so much one man can burden; his shoulders must be aching after a decade digging West Indies out of a mess (often digging in vain). What a complete and utter privilege it’s been, though, watching his career. Yes, it’s been bitter-sweet as an England fan in particular – the 375 will live with me forever; the 400 less so. But few sporting figures in a spectator’s lifetime directly influence their enjoyment of the game. They are rare, and Lara was unique; West Indies were a one-man team with depressing regularity.

Has any player been so burdened by the weight of expectation? Richard Hadlee was one, Sachin Tendulkar another (but he has had a number of other players, not least Rahul Dravid, bat around him). Mike Atherton in the nineties. But Lara, despite his flaws (notably with captaincy), remained near the top right to the end. There were breathless highs and inexplicable lows. He often got out to a Gower-like flash yet he was capable not only of breaking world records but his own world records. Steve Waugh (or was it Mark Taylor?) maintained that the only way to keep the runs from flowing was not to sledge him. Lara loved a fight, a good old-fashioned playground scrap. Deny him a battle, verbal or otherwise, and he was half the man. A bloody legend, that’s what he was.

I did a gallery of his career about a year ago which is in the process of being tweaked, but have a look anyway if you like. Your favourite, most memorable Lara moments please…

Duncan’s departure

We knew it was coming, so it came as no surprise that Duncan Fletcher today resigned as England coach. As Andrew Miller notes in his piece, all coaching careers (like politicians’) have to end in failure. Fletcher, for all his faults in the past 18 months, has been the single most important figure in the English game over the last eight years. England needs someone new, less jaded and cynical – a bright-eyed replacement with fresh ideas. But let’s not forget what he has given to his adopted country.

Your thoughts? Are you sad, surprised or sullen about his resignation? Who should replace him?

Wherefore art thou, Pakistan?

In the last couple of days we’ve travelled west to Grenada, where we watched a second one-sided match in as many days. Indeed, we made it to the lovely ground here with Ireland languishing on 60 odd for 9. About an hour and ten overs later it was all over, with Mahela Jayawardene playing some memorable shots.

While the Irish have done themselves proud in this tournament, it was a shame for the organizers here that the match was never likely to be a contest. What a difference it would have made if the Pakistanis had got their act together so many weeks ago. At lunchtime, when the match had long finished, there was a heart rending scene as local boys and girls performed a well choreographed dance to highlight AIDS awareness to empty stands. It should have been appreciated by thousands of fans waiting for a tense run chase between fierce rivals. The Grenadians had done all they could to stage a party, but the guests of honour hadn’t shown.

Talking of no-shows, I couldn’t have been more wrong about England. Strauss didn’t get his ton, the Boks didn’t choke and we hardly raised a whimper in the whole tournament. Again, what should have been a marvellous sporting occasion was a total anti-climax. The Baijans, likewise, could not have done more. A friend on the boat Richard Butler was beside himself with frustration. “What is most galling,” he said, “is that England have not played any attacking cricket. They have died wondering.” To see AB de Villiers, Graeme Smith, Jayawardene and Sanath Jayasuriya giving it a lash has shown what can be done.

With luck, tomorrow’s game will be 100 overs long! No predictions this time. Just a full game will do me fine.

Ian Valentine is a freelance journalist blogging his diary of the World Cup for The Corridor

Live chat: West Indies v Bangladesh, Super Eights, Barbados

It seems like Bangladesh have had a good World Cup after bashing a couple giants, but find themselves languishing at the footer of the Super Eights table. The West Indies have been highly disappointing in the second stanza having breezed through their pool grouping but they’re also stuck low on two points. As Dileep Premachandran over at CricInfo writes:

It will have escaped no one’s attention that West Indies are currently level on points with Bangladesh and Ireland, an unacceptable state of affairs in a region that dominated the game for nearly two decades.

It’s statement time. Brian Lara is in the final breath of his cricketing career and one might hope that the embattled West Indies could dig a couple specials out to end in a way he might deserve. Bangladesh can foil that and go a long way to secure themselves a final six finish. That would be a grand achievement for the nation.

Check the scorecard and leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Mick Jagger and Trevor McDonald

Not a headline I think I’ll ever have to type again but, who knows, maybe they’re best buddies. Here are two Knights of the realm; Mick Jagger:

Mick Jagger at the World Cup

And here’s Sir Trev “bong” McDonald:

Trevor McDonald at the World Cup

Photos courtesy of Ryan’s brilliant photostream.

England pay price for West Indies’ decline

I don’t necessarily agree with that headline, but I am interested by the observation which Mihir Bose makes at the BBC:

England have been humiliated in the tournament and what is more the English team has no Afro-Caribbean cricketers, as they did in the 1980s. Their place in the main has been taken by Asian cricketers. There are complex reasons for this but interestingly one is the decline of West Indian cricket. This is certainly the view of David Morgan, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board.

He told me: “When immigration was peaking in the 60s and early 70s, we had 20 or 25 Afro-Caribbean cricketers playing in our county championship. It was also at a time when West Indian cricket was right at the top of the tree. But since then there has been a decline in the fortunes of the West Indian cricket team.”

Bose goes on to say, in a roundabout way, that England are paying the price for West Indies’ decline. Is this strictly accurate? Isn’t he underestimating the Afro-Caribbean population of Britain, the vast majority of whom would count themselves as British, regardless of where their grandparents hailed from? Or do people whose families once came from a different cricketing country look to the land of their forefathers as their primary inspiration?

Either way, the ever decreasing number of Afro-Caribbean players in the UK is certainly a shame when you look back at those who have represented England and what they offered. Gladstone Small, Norman Cowans and Devon Malcolm all had varying degrees of success (and pace) but I don’t believe that a sudden surge of Caribbean flair (a misleading statement in the current climate, anyway) into the Championship would benefit the national side in the short term.

It’s a fascinating concept: a player whose family originate from another country who wishes to emulate his heroes playing for England. While West Indians have been lacking from English cricket, the rapid rise in dominance of the subcontinental teams has seen a vast surge in Asians playing county cricket and for England.

Some interesting thoughts from Bose though, whether you agree with them or not. Of particular note is the realisation that, on Saturday, England and West Indies face off in an utterly meaningless encounter. The hosts, who dominated the first two World Cups in England 30 years ago, against England who have never looked like winning it. Ever.

Nicholas goes into bat for Strauss

Mark Nicholas has come out in favour of giving the English captaincy to Andrew Strauss. Before the Ashes series, and how long ago did that seem, there was a clear choice to make for the English selectors- Strauss or Flintoff. They chose the latter and everything went downhill for England from there. This didn’t entirely surprise me- my spies in England had already told me that Flintoff was no great shakes as a leader. But for Strauss, leading this newly minnowed side is going to be a different proposition then the England of late 2006.

If there is to be a change of captain, Strauss does seem the logical candidate. But without a change of coach, it is a job half done.

So. What did you make of England’s performance today?

Michael Vaughan was booed and jeered at the post-match presentation. South Africa were at the top of their game today, and deserve plaudits, but England struck me as woeful. What changes would be at the top of your list?

Live chat: England v South Africa, Super Eights, Barbados

I can’t believe it’s come to this. South Africa were the No. 1 ranked team in the world a fortnight ago, mixing brilliance and audacity with complacency and bottling. England really could make the last four, like it or lump it. Do they deserve to be there? Do they heck. But it would shake things up and give them genuine belief they can make the final.

With Pietersen facing the country of his birth, today’s match ought to be a real firecracker. Check the scorecard and leave your thoughts in the comments below.