Musings on individual records in a team game

I read an interesting article by former England captain Mike Brealey that was published on the weekend. He was mostly talking about Andrew Strauss’ philosophy on declarations, but he had some remarks about Mahela Jayawadene’s attempt to get the world batting record as well.

Meanwhile, 6,000 miles to the south east we have the spectacle of Sri Lanka batting on to a lead of 587 in the hope of a world record individual Test score for Mahela Jayawardene against South Africa at Colombo. Fortunately, he did not get it.

What has happened to the team game when several pointless hours are pressed into the service of individual glory and local prestige? I think a narcissistic attitude is fed by pressures from the social network. Jayawardene’s quest for personal glory at the possible expense of the team must have been amplified by nationalistic excitement. He was carrying the projections of a nation. Not only had Sri Lanka just seen their heroes compile a world record partnership (624, overtaking the previous best by their compatriots Sanath Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama’s 576, also in Colombo, in 1997), they had the chance of this other record.

I hope I am not being too puritanical, or too carping, here. Certainly personal landmarks are important. Strauss would have been foolish and heartless to have declared before Bell got to a hundred, especially when he was furthering England’s cause so admirably. And if England had had wickets in hand, perhaps there would have been more of a case for batting on into Saturday.

I think there is a fair case for having an extra world-record holder in your side. I have to say that I think Brealey IS being a tad too puritanical on this score. For a country like Sri Lanka, which doesn’t have life so easy in its day to day business, what with tsunamis and civil wars, a bit of nationalistic excitement about the cricket is a positive, not a negative.

Desperately seeking authority

Andrew Strauss celebrates his hundred against Pakistan at Lord's

Andrew Strauss was given the unenviable privilege of captaining England in the first Test against Pakistan at Lord’s. He is not only a stand-in, but a stand-in for a stand-in (a double stand-in?). He failed to summon or convey any sense of authority in the first three days of this Test yet today struck a hundred to silence those who, perhaps, felt he was weak of character and lacking in authority. However his quality and authority as a batsman has never been in doubt, and the first three days remain a slight concern.

He joined unique company, too, today; only Allan Lamb and Archie MacLaren have made hundreds on their captaincy debut. To do it at Lord’s, his home ground and where two years ago he made a hundred on his Test match debut, gave the occasion added posterity and wistfulness. His celebration on reaching three figures was noteworthy too; gone were the youthful arm-swinging and bat-waving of 2004. In its place, both arms were calmly raised in a gesture which perhaps signalled his relief in leading from the front as he intended. Although he had just run out Ian Bell…

He is no Flintoff. There is a diffidence and reverancey to his character; he is a potentially fine writer on the game, an erudite reader of match situations and ever since his debut has been earmarked as a Future England Captain. Unlike Flintoff’s “follow me into battle, guys”, his calm air might serve him and England well in the forthcoming months.

The first three days are nevertheless a real concern though. Nothing much happened. And when nothing happened, he did little to affect a change. A resigned smile, hunched shoulders and much chewing of nails did little to stop Mohammad Yousuf, much as it will do nothing to stop Ricky Ponting and co. in the winter. Without the tongue-lashing of Michael Vaughan England rather drifted along. Well done, Strauss, but Flintoff’s my man for the Ashes.Desper

Prince of South Africa

Patrick reminds me of the news Ashwell Prince has been appointed the South Africa captain for their tour of Sri Lanka. Graeme Smith, seemingly like most cricketers these days, has an ankle injury. But Prince’s elevation is noteworthy as he becomes the first non-white captain of his country.

Stop being chummy, you chummers

From Lawrence Booth’s Spin column this morning:

The seeds of England’s affable uselessness (“It’s OK to be beaten by
Mahela Jayawardene and chums: they’re a good bunch of blokes”) were
sown on the last tour of Sri Lanka in 2003-04. Nasser Hussain spotted
the danger: “I had watched how matey some of our players were with
Murali, particularly Freddie Flintoff,” he wrote in his
autobiography, “and I became concerned that this was having an
adverse effect on the side.” Hussain’s decision to get nasty as
Murali walked out to bat in the second Test at Kandy came about
because “I wanted him to feel he was in a hostile environment, not a
friendly one.”

This is not to suggest that England start calling a member of the
opposition a cheat, as Hussain did. It is merely to illustrate that -
in the absence of a hard-nosed leader – England have lost their bite.
The Spin observed the off-field interaction between the English and
the Sri Lankans in this summer’s Test series very closely and it kept
reaching the same conclusion: Flintoff needs to add steel to his
repertoire, otherwise he will always hover in a lower captaincy
league than Hussain and Michael Vaughan.

Spot on. Mateyness has no place, especially when we’re losing so spectacularly. They all need a royal kick up the backside.

The limiting factor for West Indies

When the captain of your country (countries) turns up to lead you in a Test match, you have every right to feel confident in his ability. Confident that the selectors chose a born leader of men; someone with whom to go into battle. As captain, you also might expect to have a degree of confidence in the men you have chosen. WRONG. If you’re a West Indian captain, you have no say in such matters – pah! The very thought! – which, as Brian Lara is finding out, is a bit of a problem. Yes, the pitch can often be a lottery…but in “home Tests,” generally speaking, the home side holds the aces. They have a whole nation of cricketers to choose from. Not West Indies! Ohh no.

“My only concern is the combination for the final Test,” he said while analysing his team’s performance. “We played an extra batsman here but if you want to get 20 wickets, we need to put players there to get us those wickets. It’s left upto the selectors, let’s see what happens … Guys who’ve been here have done a tremendous job throughout this series, performing on surfaces that really haven’t helped them. Two days rest between Tests and to go back to the reserves and pick fast bowlers would be showing a weakness. Very confident with the likes of Corey Collymore, [Pedro] Collins, [Jerome] Taylor – coming into his own – and Bradshaw has been good. Maybe an addition would be a good choice and we will have the final decision a day before the match.”

The selectors must be loving it, rolling on the floor watching Collins, Taylor and co. all struggle to take the wickets. “If only they had another bowler, eh? Moohhahahahaha” they chortle from the hideaway selectors’ mansion, hidden inside a cave under the sea.

Andrew Strauss in line for captaincy

As soon as he hit a hundred on his debut in 2004, Andrew Strauss was talked of as a future England captain. Since then, despite a recent minor-blip in form, many have spoken that he should have taken over from Michael Vaughan when he missed England’s tour of India and not Andrew Flintoff.

Following England’s defeat in the final Test against Sri Lanka, Flintoff’s “follow me, lads” style of captaincy has received criticism from Mike Atherton, among others, and it’s noteworthy that Strauss has been chosen. This surely represents the first signal that it is he, rather than Flintoff, that Duncan Fletcher and co. want to lead England in the post-Vaughan era (which could come sooner than we think).

England face Ireland tomorrow for the first time, at Stormont, before a Twenty20 against Sri Lanka at the Rose Bowl on Thursday ahead of the first one-dayer at Lord’s on Saturday.

Andrew “Roy” Symonds starts repaying what he owes.

Andrew Symonds’ big night out on the day before an ODI against Bangladesh in 2005 will go down in infamy in Australian cricket lore, and probably will be celebrated in Bangladesh for a while to come as well. But he did redeem himself somewhat with a match-winning century in Dhaka to win the 2nd ODI for Australia yesterday.

It must be said, in all honesty, that at the moment he looks like he’s been on an even bigger bender then his 2005 effort. The dreadlocks look scruffy and the beard makes him look like a vagabond. At the moment, if any Australian cricketer is crying out for a makeover by the folks from ‘queer eye for the straight guy’, it is Symonds.

He may look like a drunken derelict, but his 5th ODI century for Australia was a most sober and abstemious effort. He came in with a bit of a crisis happening and Australia struggling after losing 3 for 10 after Adam Gilchrist got interrupted just as he was really warming up. That brought to mind his innings in Sydney against Sri Lanka, where Chaminda Vaas roughed up the Australian top order. Starting this time at 3 for 65, he combined with Michael Clarke to compose a brilliant but ungainly knock.

It’s one thing to score a glittering century on an easy paced but reliable SCG wicket; this wicket at Dhaka was simply diabolical. It was slower then a Madagascar sloth and deader then WG Grace. He came out wearing a helmet but there was no way Mashrafe Mortaza was going to get a bouncer to get beyond rib high at best. Pitch preparation is a black art at the best of times, but whoever was in charge of this one should hang his head in shame. Bangladesh may be poor, but if they can afford to put on a gloriously manicured outfield, there’s no excuse for a pitch like this.

So once the fast men finished their spells with the new ball, we had the rather dreary sight of spinners bowling and the batsmen working them over for singles. It is this sort of cricket that drove the ICC in frustration to introduce monstrosities like power-plays and supersubs. It is hardly the batsmen at fault in situations like this; in Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds, Australia had two of its most positive minded batsmen at the crease. But Clarke only scored 2 boundaries in his 54.

Credit must go to the bowlers, especially the redoubtable Mohammed Rafique. The veteran spinner has clearly been the pick of Bangladesh’s bowlers right through this Australian tour. Of course, it does help his cause that as a slow left arm spinner, he is a member of the spin caste that has troubled Australians the most over recent years. Daniel Vettori is another that springs to mind.

So Symonds played Rafique with respect, picking him off, working him over for the singles, and waiting for the loose ball from the other end. These were not in short supply once Bashar had to face the chore of juggling to find ten overs from his ‘fifth’ bowler, but again the conditions conspired, and the lack of bounce clearly frustrated Symonds. However, instead of losing his head and his innings, he managed to keep his composure, and his wicket, and in the end his century came off 122 balls; slow by his standards but fast in the conditions.

Bashar perhaps missed a trick; he seemed content to allow Australia to pick off singles, and I wonder when a captain is going to be bold enough to try keeping his inner fielders close enough to the batsmen to make singles hard work. It could have paid dividends.

But it was never tried, so they tied Australia down for a while but they could not get them out though, and a late burst saw Australia through to 250. And once the Australian fast men knocked off the top order of Bangladesh’s batting, that was it as a game. Habibul Bashar played a good captain’s knock to ensure Bangladesh had some respectability with their reply of 183, but Symonds was the man who made the difference. And a good thing too, because against this opponent, Symonds owed his country a match-winning innings or three.

It’s de-ja-vu all over again.

Brian Lara has been appointed captain of the West Indies, for the third time. West Indies cricket’s blogger-in-Chief, Ryan Patrick, has plenty more.

Chanderpaul resigns as West Indies captain

He’s made the move to concentrate on his batting. That is probably a good move- when he was in Australia last summer, he was a shadow of his fomer self. West Indies will have to think long term about his replacement. I’d bet on Ramnaresh Sarwan if forced to guess.

Ricky Ponting seeks asylum in Nepal.

Brett Lee, with the new ball, against Bangladesh, has the attacking field of..erm.. one slip??

I can’t believe my eyes, folks.

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