End of the road for Shoaib?

He’s managed to get himself sent home from the Twenty20 World Cup after an incident with Mohammad Asif in which he is alleged to have hit Asif with a cricket bat. Pakistan’s cricket authorities can be very forgiving, but you have to wonder if that won’t be the end of Shoaib, at least for the time being. It’s a shame, because in his pomp, Shoaib Akhtar was a magnificent sight, the very model of a modern speed demon. He made a major impression on the world stage in the 1999 World Cup and he impressed Australians like Steve Waugh on the need for speed in an attack, thus paving the way for the career of Brett Lee.

2007 Cowdrey Lecture

Have you read this year’s Cowdrey Lecture, delivered by Christopher Martin-Jenkins’? Hmm, thought as much. Well you really ought to, not least because this year marks the first time in its brief seven years that it hasn’t been delivered by a professional cricketer. And it is fascinating.

I confess not to have read it all, yet, but am working my way through it and finding myself nodding all too frequently. Pleasingly for me and my employers, he mentions Cricinfo (and, revealingly, by name and not “the cricket website Cricinfo” as we are so often called. Clearly the brand hasn’t extended that far yet…) while raising a very good point about the access to, and interest in, county cricket.

Cricinfo recorded 29 million page views from 7.5 million visits to county cricket alone in 2006 – and has already had 19 million this season so, despite the rain, they expect the figure to be exceeded. Obviously because a great many people want to find out the latest scores. Sadly, if they are on the move in their cars they can listen for them in vain; and when they are given it often seems to be as a breathless afterthought following the big story that Scunthorpe’s millionaire chairman has denied rumours that their controversial manager Bruno Boscovic is going to be sacked. Or, more to the point, some utterly mundane comment by Jose Murinho such as he thinks that Chelsea have the players to win the Premiership. What a surprise. The media has been conned to a dangerous extent – if you value the variety of life – into becoming a sort of spin machine for the all-pervading, all-powerful Premiership. Also into the belief that it can’t be of interest if it’s not on television.

Regular or past readers will know of my near-hatred of football, and it is primarily for this reason: that it consumes so much media attention, undeservingly so. But hey ho (Flint), that’s the way of the world.

The lack of fast bowlers also come under Christopher’s scrutinous gaze – and he reveals that changes are afoot to decrease the boundaries. My boss and I went to The Oval earlier in the season and I was absolutely shocked at the shortness of the boundaries. Cynics argue that they are brought “in” from their original position in order to maximise the chances of sixes, increase the number of runs scored in a day and generally get the game finished as quick as possible. The evidence is damning too.

But there is a tremendous amount to be thankful for in the contemporary game – in many respects the standards are higher than ever. There are some magnificent batsmen in world cricket and some magical spinners too. The fielding is sensationally good. It is the fast bowlers who are in short supply in the current phase of a game that has always evolved. In the eternal struggle to find that essential balance between bat and ball what we need is a determined effort to lengthen boundaries – happily both the MCC World Cricket Committee and the new ICC Cricket committee are agreed on that but there is no evidence yet of boundaries being stretched to the furthest practical limits on all grounds as they should be.

Do give it a read, and offer your thoughts of the points he raises.

The problem with Harmison

I have a feeling I'm going to be chuntering and shaking my head long into my grey years well after Steve Harmison retires. I still wax lyrical about him to all my friends, as well I should. Here is a bowler so frighteningly good "on his day" as to make his path to greatness a formality. Yet we now all know this will never happen.

And we thought we had problems with Andrew Caddick. His partnership with Darren Gough was a vital cog in England's resurgence in the early 2000s yet Caddick was England's Jekyll & Hyde. Which will turn up today? We never knew, and we're similarly in the dark about Steve Harmison. We just don't know. Another dreadful display against Australia no doubt has Ponting and co. licking their lips at the dross he might serve up. They'd be wise not to get too cocky too soon, though; Harmison can destroy a side in about 40 minutes if he so chooses. Equally, his confidence can be ruined in half that time. Reason I'm rambling is this:

But paceman Steve Harmison showed again that while he has developed since his last tour of Australia, the danger of him turning in horror performances remains as clear and present as it was when his rhythm deserted him in Perth four years ago.

I'd forgotten the horrors of listening to that tour four years ago, and of Harmison's yips and general inadequacy. He has improved in consistency since then, and delivered match-winning performances to remind us of his potential. But the p word is not one we should associate with him now. As he himself admitted this week, prior to England's game against Australia, he is an experienced bowler now. Yet why, and how, is he still utterly unable to bowl like one?

Oh woe is us. 

Never too old to learn

Brett Lee is making good use of his time in Bangladesh, talking to Wasim Akram about reverse swing.

Wasim Akram has given Brett Lee, the Australian fast bowler, a tip or two on reverse-swing and believes he will unleash it on England in this winter’s Ashes. Lee and two of his Australian bowling mates, Nathan Bracken and Mitchell Johnson, approached Akram, now a television commentator, during the second Test against Bangladesh earlier this week.

“These guys want to improve, so they want to ask the top cricketers [for advice] and that’s good,” Akram told AAP. “I did tell them the little details about reverse-swing. I think soon in the Ashes we will be seeing Brett Lee bowling reverse-swing.”

Akram, perhaps the finest practioner of the art of reverse swing, tormented many batsman during the 1990s in partnership with Waqar Younis. “It was about action, about seam, a lot of talk about reverse-swing,” Akram said. “Brett Lee is a sight to watch in world cricket. Any bowler comes to me from any nationality, I am there to help.”

I’m very glad to see the Australian bowlers go out of their way to learn. Wasim Akram was one of the all time great bowlers, a player I loved to watch, and I’m glad that he’s been willing to teach. One of the best ways for players to learn is to ask, and I hope that when he’s retired, Lee in turn will help all comers in the finer points of fast bowling and reverse swing.

1000 Murali wickets

I think it was Courtney Walsh who first broke through the 500-Test barrier and, at the time, I remember feeling utterly amazed that anyone could have got so far. I was equally doubtful that anyone would ever better it. Since then, Shane Warne and Muttiah Muraliatharan have waltzed past it as though it were nothing; Warne broke past 600 at Old Trafford in the summer. Today, though, Murali has gone past 1000 international wickets! It makes Walsh’s effort look pitiful and feeble*

Rather appropriately, his 100th wicket was controversial: “Khaled Mashud was given out caught when the ball only hit his pad” (S.Rajesh / Cricinfo)

* I am, of course, joking. It’s all very well for these glitzy spinners to take hundreds of wickets, but it’s all the more incredible for a fast bowler to manage it.