KP too good for dreary, old-fashioned England

So the fallout of England’s winter continues unabated. Prepare yourselves for the mother of all introspection.

I just read the following on Twitter:

 

There’s only so much room and dispensation for mavericks. Well, I don’t know who Steve Booth is, but it’s fair to assume he’s probably British and supports the England cricket team, and I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that his view is shared by many England sport fans. And if we learn nothing from the bleach-clean of this England team in the last few weeks, you would hope that the treatment of Kevin Pietersen is one lesson we may in future look back on with regret and a turning point in the attitudes towards our sportsmen.

What’s wrong with having a maverick?

Steve Booth is wrong – all the best teams in the world have had mavericks, and often relied upon them. West Indies: Lara, Richards, Gayle and others. Australia: Warne, of course. India: Ganguly perhaps. Pakistan: where do we start? And what about Sri Lanka? Muttiah Muralitharan, maverick arm himself. What about football? Was Pele a maverick? How about Campese for Australian rugby, or Jonah Lomu?

And yes, of course they are more likely to unsettle an established team. They might be born with fractionally better eyes, faster reactions, bigger muscles or a desire to succeed and win which outstrips their peers, but in nearly all cases they train and prepare incredibly hard, not a trait you associate with these so-called geniuses. And to reach that level of commitment requires the hardest of noses, the most stubborn of chins and a bloodymindedness likely to rile even the most zen of managers and captains. So, how exactly are these managers and captains managing and captaining?

What Steve’s comments show is that it is England who can’t cope with mavericks. As a country we still can’t hug and celebrate our winners in the same way other nations can and do. To most people’s astonishment, particularly our own, Great Britain took home a stash of gold at the London Olympics and the nation unshackled its chastity belt to experience an orgasm of celebration. That was unprecedented. England won the 2003 Rugby World Cup then quickly sank back down to its knees, only occasionally stumbling on to its haunches. England winning the Ashes in 2005 was another rare event, the rarest of its type given how closely fought that series was, but the following series confirmed England wasn’t ready to take on the world. Several players fell by the wayside through injury, so we can’t blame the nation’s psyche entirely of course. But it’s further evidence of a country far more comfortable appreciating the rich light of a winter’s afternoon than bask in summer’s victorious glare.

Pietersen needs attention and the warmth of adulation in a way few English cricketers, or fans, can get their heads around. This isn’t to diminish other players’ guts, determination or desire to succeed; for them, contributing to the team may mean just as much (or in some cases more) than dominating an entire series with two swashbuckling, daring innings. But England have been too inflexible, conformist, conservative and rigidly uninventive to accommodate a man willing to forsake the country of his birth in order to show the world his true talents. You only need look at the funereal approach to entertaining its fans in the last two or three seasons to know that those in charge were terrified of anything, anyone, threatening risk.

And what’s worse is that this move smacks of the ECB attempting, rather pathetically, to make a bold statement. “It’s time for a change. Time to clear the decks and start afresh.” Does that include dumping your best player, your prized asset – in fact, the only asset that competing teams are scared of? Oh, right. You really do have no idea how to manage different characters.

Pietersen came into the side a showman, a grinning entertainer bereft of insecurities, bereft too of political nous and gravitas, but too gloriously naive to realise his adopted country required it of him. He departed without so much an ovation, though the applause by his fans will ring loud in the ears of the ECB for years until England finds a cricketer with Pietersen’s skill and Andrew Strauss’s sober diplomacy. I suggest such a beast doesn’t exist, and for that we should be thankful.

Cruel game for those on debut


AFP

How bad must Malinda Warnapura be feeling? To get a Test golden duck is bad enough, but a golden duck on deboo, as Richie would say, against Bangladesh on a featherbed when your partner gets a ton must be crushing. He’s unlikely to bat again in this match and may not get another innings if Upul Tharanga returns from injury.

The only other deboo goldie I can remember was Alan Wells in 1995, caught Sherwin Campbell, bowled Curtly Ambrose. Again, most other batsmen did well on that track, including two hundreds (Lara and Hooper) and six others who made it to 80 and didn’t convert (four were out in the nervous 90s). Wells did at least make an unbeaten 3 in the second innings, but that was his lot.

I’m sure there were others?

Do it, Shiv


© Getty Images
Modern Test batsmen talk long and hard about ‘playing for the lads’, belittling their own efforts as part of a team collective, which is all very commendable and, of course, a load of old baloney. The best batsmen are selfish and will, more often than not, bat for themselves, which is fair enough. And while they wouldn’t ever wish misfortune on their team-mates, the very best Test innings usually demand that most of the ‘lads’ get out cheaply, while our hero achieves team glory almost single-handedly.

With this in mind, I was trying to think this morning of the best innings in recent memory, where the successful batsman must have stood at the crease during his knock in the second innings thinking, “if I’m out, that’s it”. Laxman and Dravid against the Aussies at Eden Park in 2001 was a great example of one more wicket and it’s over; as was Athers’ 185 at Jo’burg in 1996; or even Mahela Jayawardene’s hundred at Lords’ last year. The problem with being an Aussie batsman is that there is usually at least one other who makes runs too, but Ponting’s rear-guard 156 at Old Trafford in 2005 stands out. I am sure there are many others, not least by Adam Gilchrist, although did they ever avert certain defeat?

My favourite for sheer excitement was Lara’s unbeaten 153 to beat the Aussies at Bridgetown in 1999. If Shiv Chanderpaul goes on to score 160 to win today, will that be even better? Agreed, Harmison and Plunkett are not McGrath, Gillespie and Warne. And there won’t be the same swash-buckling bravado. Besides, he hasn’t done it yet! But could anyone begrudge the West Indies this moment?

England v West Indies, Super Eights, Barbados

It’s a day of last hurrahs. England’s final match; West Indies last game; Duncan Fletcher’s and Brian Lara’s last in international cricket and, apart from those departing, it’s an utterly meaningless encounter. Due to Fletcher’s retirement, England are apparently now up for the match (which is nice). All we want is a Lara hundred though, don’t we?

Leave your wibblings below and keep an eye on the scorecard.

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…

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.

Cartoon of Brian Lara

A cartoon of Brian Lara following the West Indies’ dismal display against South Africa

Thanks Ryan

Life of Brian

“He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy!” so said Brian’s mother in Life of Brian.

Life of Brian

Brian Lara isn’t the Messiah either, and I doubt his mum thinks he’s anything other than God’s gift to batting – and so do we. Commentators wet themselves at the very sight of him walking to the crease, adding his middle-name for added gravitas. “Brian Charles Lara has another hundred”. It always annoyed me hearing people get so sickly about one man’s genius, but it’s hard to deny them their enjoyment any longer. Another monstrous pile of runs today and he’s unbeaten on 196.

Who’s to say by tomorrow afternoon he won’t be approaching 400? Again.

Mahela Jayawardene gives South Africa a hiding

He’s approaching Brian Lara’s record score of 400. After losing Sangakkara for 287, to bring to an end the all-wicket record partnership of 624, Jayawardene has kicked on, to now be 373 not out of Sri Lanka’s 4 for 754. There is still two full days to go for Sri Lanka to go so do not expect a generous declaration anytime soon!

Ashwell Prince’s debut Test as South Africa captain is proving to be memorable in more ways then he would like.

Update – Top-shelf mozz from the Corridor, as Jayawardene is bowled for 374. Only Lara (twice) and Hayden have scored more.

West Indies v India, 4th Test, 3rd day

Fascinating Test match at Kingston. West Indies wrapped things up pretty quickly to dismiss India for 171. That left Windies 269 but they’ve already lost four – including Brian Lara and Shiv Chanderpaul.

Sreesanth celebrates a wicket
Copyright Associated Press

All is not lost, as Ramnaresh Sarwan – the guts of the side, as far as I’m concerned; the real bare-knuckled streetfighter – is still there on 43, and they need another 164 to win. One thing’s certain: it won’t be a draw.

Money’s on India, but COME ON Windies! Live scorecard.

Update: bugger. Sarwan gone for 51.