Tag Archives: ICC World Cup 2011

Dhoni’s Command Performance


Congratulations India, thank you Sri Lanka.

After all, the ICC World Cup was great theatre.  It’s denouement in yesterday’s finale fulfilled if not exceeded expectations.  For the cricket devotee it was high drama with endeavour, responsibility, depth and that ambivalent of all qualities, leadership, providing grand entertainment for a billion and more spectators, with the limelight illuminating the nature of the human experience.

The insincerity of the ‘Spirit of Cricket’ was exposed at the toss.  But the funny business backfired.  This was a great toss to lose, as later a carpet of dew robbed the side bowling second of the grip needed for their spinners.  

Seeking to define a quality so often eradicates it.  The spirit of cricket comes not from its external codification but from the interplay of the performers who cannot help expressing the light and darkness of our humanity.

This was a day which would test the depth of talent on each side.  Both sides knew that on the Wankhede wicket the traditional opening bowlers would have their best chance of the tournament – no need to improvise and surprise. 

Khan was the first of a number of players through the day who seized the responsibility on offer. His opening spell with its first three overs maidens set tight bounds for Sri Lanka’s run getting – five overs for six runs and the wicket of Tharanga ensured that Sri Lanka would have to work hard to set a winning score.

And they did labour effectively with first Dilshan  (33 from 49) and Sangakkara (48 from 67) putting on 43, then, Sangakkara and Jayawardene, whose orthodox  technique alone seemed capable of propelling a batsman at a run a ball, added a further 62. 

Jayawardene amassed runs as a magician conjures coins with an illusionary absence of effort and guile. Samaraweera (21 from 34) proved an able assistant to the great run maker, but Third Man sensed that Sri Lanka were aiming for 260 and not 300.  This was not the act of the tightrope walker hazarding life and limb.  It was the judgement of the theatrical memorist, the human calculator.

But this computation produced the dramatic line of the match.  At issue not only whether Sri Lanka could achieve their target but, more vitally, whether or not the target was, in its misjudgement, the stuff of tragedy.

Cup Finals demand that the best deliver, but they also demand that those further down the play bill create the atmosphere in which the stars shine. 

 Coming in at 182 for 5 at the end of the 40th over, Kulasekara could have walked on and walked off as quietly as a shield bearer in Scene Three or as meekly as Kapugedera (1 from 5) had before him.  But he seized his day, speaking his lines fluently (32 from 30) and in so doing allowed Jayawardene to grace the end of Act One with as worthy a century (103 in 88 balls) as any ‘neutral’ or ‘partisan’ could have wished for.  This was the innings of a true champion, but was his part that of Hector, heroic loser, or of Achilles, doomed to win?

Now, as Act Two began, Malinga followed where Khan had strode in the game’s Prelude.  With his second ball he pinned the jumping Shewag in front of the wicket and soon after persuaded Tendulka, who had previously bothered only to employ the middle of his bat, to try its edge. 

All India looked into the pit and saw fire and dragons.

The new generation of Gambhir (97 from 122) and Kohli (35 from 49) accepted the responsibility of the older generation’s legacy and took the score to 114 before the latter was caught and bowled by Dilshan’s Ariel. 

At this point Sri Lanka’s calculations looked astute, but with its magical appearance dew was forming on each blade of grass on which the drama was being played, confining the spinners to bit parts.  Also, in the wings, the real hero of the action was about to make his entry.

At the fall of Kholi, MS Dhoni, now exercised his courtly privilege, took up his gauntlets and advanced to the middle of the stage ahead of that other leading actor, Yuvraj, from whom he proceeded to steal the show. 

Dhoni’s relentless pursuit of the Sri Lankan total might have inspired awe but this man is a great human being, his feet of clay openly displayed beneath his costume.  He is modest.  He thinks of others.  Beside him his fellows reach the heights of their potential.  He is the great facilitator.  He calmly merts criticism with a winning smile and pushes on with his rich source of self-belief sustaining him.  Above all he is generous.

Leadership can so easily stifle initiative, smother freedom and restrict responsibility.  It is well to be suspicious of it.  Charisma is a self induced deception on the part of the follower, not some supernatural power possessed by the followed. 

At other times so-called leadership is no more than naked authority, the exercise of power over people, a dehumanising restrictiveness, a fear of the ability of others and a drive to suppress.

But in MS Dhoni (91 from 79) we have the rare quality of leadership which is nurturing.  Every culture seems to have its mythic leader, their qualities the stuff of books and plays.  Few pacing this earth can match such ideals.

How fitting that this cricket tournament, this World Cup, should shine a spot-light onto one so fine; one truly who merits the ‘bill matter’, The Noble One. 

The Great Dhoni finished it with a six.  Well, it was in the script.


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Sri Lanka and England: The Carefree v The Careworn

Before leaving the field at ‘half time’ in the fourth quarter final of the ICC World Cup 2011 played in their own back yard in the R Premadasa Stadium, Colombo, Sri Lanka openly and confidently celebrated keeping England to 229 off their fifty overs.

Not for a moment did they reflect that this score was ten runs more than New Zealand had defended against South Africa the day before in Mirpur.

Carefree is defined as being free of trouble and worry and care and such is Sri Lankan cricket with its full hearted pace, its innovative spin and its ambulant batting.  

After the interval this carefree culture enabled Dilshan and Tharanga to treat the ecstatic home crowd to an exhibition of fluid stroke-play with their high back-lifts, full swings, unfettered footwork and flourishing blade-work which took Sri Lanka to a ten wick annihilation of their opponents.   

In contrast, careworn England displayed the effects of worry and anxiety.  Confined to the crease by burdensome responsibility and intimidated by constant scrutiny, their cricket was riddled with pessimism, deeply defensive and as intrinsically negative as Sri Lanka’s was positive, optimistic and attacking.

Cricket proceeds from a frame of mind.  As the young of today would say, “It’s chicken oriental.” (trans: It’s mental)

Andrew Strauss was more expansive but no less accurate, commenting openly,  “I thought [it] was a good example of playing with fear. We were very tentative and we obviously had a very poor start,” he said. “We are paying the price for that tentativeness.”

Knowing what went wrong is 95% of putting things right.  The 5% is process.  England are unlikely to enter the next world cup on the back of a demanding Ashes Test series followed by a heavy schedule of seven ODIs against Australia and a couple of days R and R in the VIP lounge at Heathrow Airport.

They are unlikely to lose through injury such vital ingredients of their batting and bowling attacks.  They will not be playing on sub-continental wickets.

But in 2015 they will still have to field five or six batsmen with free swinging bats and the aggressive footwork that is not just successful in Asia and not just successful in T20.

They will still need to find four or five spinners with the arsenals capable of beating both sides of the bat, and a handful of seam-up bowlers with the disguised variations of pace and movement now required to challenge the world’s top batsmen in each form of the international game.


It will require drier, faster, bouncier, dustier wickets with their rewards to pace and spin.  It will require more encouragement and permissiveness for batsman to dance down the track and hit the ball in front of the wicket.

Above all it will require a revolution in the chicken orientality with which players in England go about their business.  At this point in their careers Strauss, Flower, Vaughan and Graveney have the experience, the authority, and the imagination to lead that revolution through the academies, the development teams, the counties and the national side.


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Going Mental in Mirpur or Don’t You Just Love It When a Plan Comes Together

“Positioned for success.”  That’s the promise of the five star Pan Pacific Hotel Sonargaon in Dhaka, with rooms, so the brochure informs visitors, that exude the calm, harmony and diversity of the Pacific – a real home from home for the Black Caps of New Zealand preparing for their semi-final against the Proteas of South Africa suitably encamped at the overrated Sheraton.

With the aid of the World Cup Blimp and the best surveillance technology the Squire’s money can buy, Third Man was able to monitor a conversation in one such room in the Sonargaon yesterday and even grab the exclusive shot revealed above.

Kiwi captain Daniel Vittori, head coach John Wright and bowling coach Allan Donald were developing a game plan around the ‘C’ word.  They calculated that the average winning score at the Shere Bangla National Stadium was 250.  They factored in that if The Chokers batted second on this slow and low track the winning score could be trimmed to 230.  Then they worked out that they could best reach that target if they kept at least 7 wickets in hand at the 34th over mark almost regardless of the runs on the board at that stage.  They reasoned that the remaining 65 overs of the match would become purely and crucially a mental battle, and a battle they knew they had the will to win and that their opponents didn’t.  It was an audacious if simple strategy.

Finally, the three grey heads broke out of their huddle to share their plan with the rest of the squad and spent the rest of the evening reminding the top five batsman, “Two of you must still be there at the start of over 36.”

The brilliance of the Black Cap’s victory today by 49 runs with a comfortable 40 balls in hand was down in no small way to the steadfastness and sense of belief with which the New Zealanders carried out their simple game plan.

When they lost their first two wickets for 16, Jesse Ryder and Ross Taylor resisted their natural attacking impulses to stack up a 114 run partnership that took their side from the fifteenth over to almost the end of the 33rd

As successive non- Kiwi TV and Radio Commentators sucked their teeth and scratched what hair they had, little did they realise that not only was the innings going according to plan, but that plan was in fact coming together like an unyielding vice crushing the mind of each South African.

The Black Cap’s final tally of 221 for 8 was ten or so runs short of their target, but their ability to scrap for dear life would ensure that, during the next three hours, the Proteas would have to face their demons.

Amla cut a ball from McCullum (N) down onto McCullum (B’s) foot where, behind the stumps, it helpfully ricocheted to Vittori at slip, sending an early frisson down the collective nervous system of the Proteas.  But Smith and Kallis put on a reassuring 61 before the South African skipper gave a catch to substitute How off the bowling of Oram. 

This brought the sublime de Villiers to partner Kallis, perhaps the greatest player of this form of cricket.   By the 25th over the score had moved in measured fashion to 108 for 2;  neatly halfway there at the halfway point.

The Kiwi’s never faltered.  The captain, with his cunning use of bowlers and attacking fields, never gave an inch of ground, never stopped applying the kind of mental pressure that comes not from sledging but from cricketing skill and self-belief.

South Africa lost 6 wickets for 38 runs as Kallis played a big shot at a bigger boundary, Duminy hit over a ball from McCullum and du Plessis obliged by running out de Villiers who did not look like getting out in any other fashion.

It is possible that du Plessis will become the scapegoat for this latest example of The South African Choke.  In six times of trying, South Africa had never won a knock-out game in a World Cup (that Counts).  Faf did his best to resist psychological dissolution, with a six and three fours in a score of 36, and with Morkel took the score to a hope-inducing 172 with 50 needed from 43 balls.  But it was too much on such a wicket.  His end came as down on one knee he valiantly drove Oram  into the safe hands of Southee at cover.

  The final wicket fell without further addition to the score amid scenes of celebration on the one hand and utter despair on the other.

The decisive plan had come together. The architects, Wright and Donald, looked on with satisfaction as their master mason, Vittori, took his side on a victory lap before disappearing into the sanctuary of the dressing room. 

This is developing into a fantastic world cup.  Total cricket, has come not in the form of batsmen pursuing unguarded attack, but on absorbing wickets from clever captaincy, relentlessly committed bowling and resolute batting, which have produced clashes of cricketing intensity worthy of a Cup That Counts

The mentally strongest have won, the weakest ultimately obliged by force majeure to surrender their grip.

Today in Mirpur the crowd went mental and so did the cricket.

EPILOGUE: Over at the Sheraton, late into the night, options on flights to Colombo were relinquished, bags packed and African souls searched.

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Prana and Match 36

Yesterday in Chennai England had to beat the West Indies to stay alive in this tournament. 

A potential enters the body of a cricket match at the toss, it travels through all the parts of the game until it leaves one side at the moment of defeat.  This is Prana, the force that strings together the bodies, minds, and wills of the players, like beads on a strand.

As any gardener knows, the life force never fails to surprise us with its vigour.  If frost or drought appears to kill our favourite plant, we should not root it up and cast it aside too soon.  Who has not smiled and reflected on the power of life as they have spied green shoots appearing from the driest deadwood previously discarded in the compost heap?

It is unlikely that such thoughts entered the heads of Sammy and Strauss as they swapped team lists and made their way to the middle. 

Yet Prana was to be stronger in the body, the mind and the will of England on that day.  It was active from the vital toss which they won and which allowed them to set the total that the West Indies would chase. It was not to be a very strong total and it might have been even weaker.

Strauss and Prior set off vigorously with the ball making its lively way at pace from the wicket as if the West Indies were playing at home on some old Kensington shinning track. 

Prior looked like a man drowning, out of his depth and seeing his life flash by him in an instant at this level and it only required a straight one from the rookie Russell to scythe him down.

Strauss, at the other end, has developed a secret formula for operating in One Day Internationals which he keeps to himself but which is revealed in movements of his stance immediately prior to delivery; stepping leg side now, or off side next, advancing for this one or staying back for that with each of these selected gambits accompanied by its appropriate attacking shot. It is the forceful, physical manifestation of the England captain’s favourite aphorism; ‘never send your body where your mind hasn’t first been’.

But throughout a frenetic day, no batsman truly flourished, no one scored fifty, and so, almost predictably, Strauss succumbed at 31 hooking, Trott at 47 playing against the turn of a second new-boy, Bishoo, and Bell at 27, surprised by the pace and a hint of reverse from the Marshall-like Roach.

In many cricket matches runs are punctuated with wickets, like heat-waves interrupted by thunderstorms.  In some, the drama is revealed in the punctuation of a stream of wickets by runs, like the buds on a hibiscus tree.  This was one such match, but no less exciting for that.

At 151 for 6 in the 33rd over, England’s chances of winning looked exhausted.

The West Indies relaxed.  Their fielding and demeanour waned.  Sammy took off the conscript Bishoo with two of his ten overs unutilized.

Theis gave a breathing space to the spirited Wright (44) who, first with Tredwell (9) until he self-destructed on the crucifix of a mis-field, and then with Bresnan (20) revived England’s hopes so that, despite wasting eight of the allotted balls, they harvested a robust 243 on a wicket that had provided Bishoo and Benn with sufficient bounce and turn to excite the digestive juices of England’s experienced off-spinners, Swann and Tredwell.

Will power is a wonderful thing and the West Indies decided to rely on it to take them to victory. The insouciant Gayle swatted eight fours and a six on his way to a typically nonchalant 43 in 21 balls.  But Tredwell from around the wicket slid one on to fasten him ‘leg before’. 

Then entered Sammy (41), who had elevated himself from a scorecard six to a real-time three and would have perished for nought, if England has had a short leg rather than a leg slip. Given a second life, he lifted three enormous sixes ten rows back into cow corner. 

Yet in this innings, like the first, runs were but an interruption to the steady flow of falling wickets and at 150 for 6 it was this time England who seemed to have strangled the very breath out of the Windies. 

At which point Russell, entity unknown, strode to the wicket to join Sarwan who, batting at six and knowing that there was an abundance of balls remaining but a fast growing scarcity of wickets, was endeavouring to husband those which remained.

Russell showing yet again in this competition the fearlessness of inexperience made hay at the expense of England’s pace attack, garnering the day’s top score of 49 in 46 balls.  When in the 42nd over he faced Tredwell at 222 for 6 the West Indies now had their foot firmly across England’s wind pipe needing just 22 to win with the largesse of 52 balls and four wickets in hand.

But England were stronger in their conviction.  Their off-spinners still had a handful of overs remaining.  And so it was that Tredwell trapped Russell.  Swann had the doughty Sarwan snaffled at short leg and then Roach netted second ball. 

At which point Benn mindlessly sacrificed himself to the powerful arm of Trott who threw with steadfast aim to Prior with the toiling batsman well short of his ground.

England’s life force had endured by 18 runs with more than five overs remaining.  It may still be snuffed out by the exertion of other teams, but there is a strong likelihood that they will subsist into the quarter finals. 

Then we shall see whether spring time has truly come for England or learn that winter has another cold snap in store, finally, to freeze their vitals and extinguish their Prana.

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Red and Blues

England stand a good chance of winning the ICC World Cup 2011.  The task is straightforward; they must win their next four matches.  They are capable of beating any team in this competition as they have shown with their performances against India and South Africa.

Of course they are capable of losing to almost any team in this competition too, but this is as much the nature of one day cricket where there is scarce time and balls to even out the uncontrollables that habitually come in lumps.

England had the worst of the conditions in their match with Bangladesh.  They batted on a slow and low wicket, conducive to spin, but bowled on a surface with enough zip to delight the batsmen and had to do so with a ball as slippery as a turbot. 

There is only one thing harder than defending a total with a wet and bloated red cricket ball and that is defending the same total with a wet and bloated white cricket ball.

Batting on a slow and low wicket places an enormous premium on a batsman’s balance and a technique built around a strong back leg that anchors and braces the base.  Just look at the physical foundations on which the great Tendulka and Sehwag form their strokes.

Somewhere close to the top of a list of batting bulwarks lead by these two wonderful batsmen is Eion Morgan. Morgan gave a fine demonstration of balance and bat control built around the firmest of bases, the two legged tripod of mythic zen control.

On such a wicket batsmen have to get close to the ball and be firmly grounded in order to get sufficient leverage.  This is Morgan’s natural technique added to which he arrived at the wicket with less mental baggage to juggle than his team mates. 

Their approach was typical of modern attack with its formula of clearing the front leg and opening the chest, the downside of which is that it so easily takes the batsman’s eye and weight away from the ball.

This is fine when the ball is coming on and there is pace to be converted into force.

On a slow wicket, however, it is not room that is required but the good old fashioned proximity that takes the head to a position over the ball and produces a point of contact ‘under the nose’.  In short, cricket striking not baseball striking.  

It is difficult to adapt to such conditions during a match when pressure speeds up time and redoubles the mental confusion, especially when this is not your grooved technique.  But those horrid conditions have come and gone and, if their mental consequences are safely quarantine, the experience should not influence England’s approach to the next match.

Chennai awaits them.  The West Indians await them.  Gale awaits them. Opportunity awaits them.  How badly do they want to stay in the competition?  That will be the most significant determinant of the result. 

Come on you red and blues.

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When Trust Has Gone a Stain Remains

Yesterday New Zealand scored 100 runs from the last 29 balls of their innings.  A liberal supply of knee-high, leg-stump full tosses had been dispatched sometimes literally out of the ground at Pallekele which was holding its first one day international.

From the moment they took the field to the moment they lost their last wicket Pakistan were frankly shambolic, giving away a glut of extras, overthrows and dropped catches.  They bowled at the death like they were playing in a benefit match on a Bank Holiday Sunday.  In reply they batted like zombies. 

Ross Taylor scored 62 runs off the last 16 balls that he faced.  But his innings had begun uncertainly to say the least.  Planting his left leg a few inches in front of him and wafting the bat far from his body and out in front of him he had repeatedly flirted with danger and over balanced hideously.

Nor was Taylor the only Kiwi to struggle at the outset despite the fodder on offer. But the more tentatively New Zealand batted the worse Pakistan bowled and fielded. 

At ‘half time’ and at the end of play, the Cricketainment Industry moved into full gear expressing awe at the late onslaught triggered by McCullum, effected by Taylor and ably assisted by Oram.

Not one eyebrow was raised among the commentariat at this abrupt change in Pakistan form, which prior to this had delivered them comfortable and impressive wins and the accolade of ‘Team Most Likely …’

But we have been here before; in the Caribbean against Ireland in the last World Cup four years ago, at Sydney two years ago and at Lord’s last summer.  Bizarre misses, inexplicable bowling changes, sudden reverses in the batting fortunes of opponents, reckless shots and feeble defences. 

Yesterday one Pakistan batsman played three inches down the wrong line of a straight delivery.

It may be that Ireland won fairly and squarely four years ago (and their result against England in this competition is proof of their potential to upset good sides), but in years when they tell their grandchildren can those cricketers in green be certain there were not two sides out there playing for an Irish victory?

It may be that Broad and Taylor played exceptional innings, but in their private moments will the memories be tarnished by a niggling doubt?

Why is it not possible to accept that we saw yesterday another remarkable match and another remarkable innings?

Because the failings of the PCA and the ICC to convince us that they have rooted out corrupt practices mean that we really don’t know for what the match was remarkable – cricketing skill or cricketing manipulation.

If this was horse racing, there would be a steward’s enquiry.  But in cricket the silence of the infrastructure that administrates and reports on the industry is deafening.

In the image above, people appear to be standing and walking on the ceiling.  The image is warped and the moving figures blurred which makes us suspicious of what we see. 

We are right to have our doubts.  It is a photograph of a mirrored ceiling at the entrance to the Baltic Exchange in Newcastle on a busy and sunny Sunday afternoon.

Trust is of such importance to man as a  social animal that its loss is immediately replaced by distrust.  There is no neutral, intermediate stage.  Trust lost, leaves a stain, an imprint which is substantial, tangible.  It is mistrust.

Sadly, it has come to this.


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Why We Need a Commentator’s Referral System

The BCCI may have the luxury of being able to write to the ICC to complain about the umpire referral system being used at this World Cup, but they and all participants in this tournament are the lucky ones.

It was rough justice on Yuvraj Singh and M S Dhoni that Mr Bowden was not forced to change his mind when he failed accurately to predict the onward flight of one of Yuvraj’s deliveries to Ian Bell which the admittedly cheaper alternative to Hawkeye being used by the ICC in this tournament suggested would have knocked all three stumps out of the ground, but at least there is a system for them.

This is not so for your average viewer or listener who (perhaps since the departure of Richie Benaud) has had to put up helplessly with a never ending flow of bellyaching from old pros engaged by broadcasting companies to carp and grouse as if all viewers and listeners really wanted was to hear the grumblings of these old curmudgeons.

Do they never ask why Benaud was so popular?  Simple he didn’t whinge.

Dhoni’s torment is as nothing to the mental torture listeners to Test Match Special have had to stomach listening to the bellyful of tripe offered up again and again by Geoffrey Boycott over the last week.

You might think that England supporters were devastated to lose to Ireland. Not so, England supporters were devastated at the prospect of hearing that opinionated killjoy wrap himself up in one of the dozen wet blankets he keeps about him and parade into one studio after another slagging-off cricketers who on a grey Tuesday afternoon in Chelmsford provide more bright cricket than he did in a life time at the wicket. 

It was just twelve minutes into the Melbourne Test match when Boycott declared that England had “no chance of winning this match … I know because I’m paid to know these things” (a match that England let’s remember won by an innings three days later) that Third Man decided to take himself down to the see the village blacksmith across from his cottage in World’s End to see whether jointly they could knock up some instrument that might sort out once and for all such commentator errors that too often blight our pleasure.

Third Man had long wondered, if exasperated cricketers could have resort to a system for referring umpiring decisions, why viewers and listeners were not able to make use of a Commentators’ Referral System.

The straightforward set-top-device which Third Man has branded BellyAche is the result of those labours down at the smithy.  The idea was simple, but it required some ticklish maths to figure out the details.  The broad explanation is this; the discrete black box which can be connected to your TV or radio contains a hard disk that records and categorizes the stated opinions of all commentators earning their living pontificating on the events at cricket matches across the globe.  These are cross-referenced for contradiction, deviation and hypocrisy with a pundit’s previous pronouncements and approach during his playing career.

At the flick of a switch, BellyAche is able to plot three paths on the screen (see prelim sketch above); yellow for the  commentary itself, white for the historic path based on the celebrity’s cricketing proclivities, former pronouncements etc. and finally green for a fair description and explanation by a reasonable person with no axe to grind, favour to gain or fortune to make. When the lines diverge by an amount set by the user, BellyAche turns down the sound.

There were times yesterday when England were batting or starting their assault on the South Africa batsmen that the three lines were diverging by more than the width of a second set of stumps.

This we learned was the worse side that had ever left England’s  shores.  The field placing and bowling selections of Andrew Strauss were bad, but they were always bad. His great weakness as a cricket has always been his captaincy. The shot selection by all of England’s batsmen was heavily questioned, some commentators criticising shots square of the wicket whilst others condemned anything straight.  Their ability to play spin, pace and lack of pace was feeble. 250 might have been enough.  Broad was completely undercooked and perhaps should not have played at all in the opening round.  Anderson was a pale shade of his former self, an embarrassment, really.

Listeners on the radio require description and information.  As with TV viewers they also require explanation, why something is tried and why it may have worked or failed.  That is the closest to negativity that is needed. 

What really is not needed is opinion.  Criticism tells us more about the critic than what the critic is watching.  We are not interested in the commentator except as someone who can with a word or two open a door to enrich our understanding with information, explanation and insight – everything else just gets in the way – it is noise pollution.

The paying audience deserves this referral system as much as any batsman or bowler and Third Man is campaigning for it’s central adoption by the Powers that Be.   Until such time a set of rudimentary drawings can be emailed to any reader wishing to make their own.


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Conjunction of the Spheres – Bangaluru Style


Stuff happens.  Sometimes, when men and women play with time and space, patterns emerge.  As India and England began their first encounter in the ICC World Cup there were, however, few signs of untoward conjunctions. 

Those who eagerly traverse the Twittersphere looking for runes to read would have done well to note a tweet from that Mighty Magus, Shane Warne. Unable pre-match to chose between the teams, the Wizard of Oz half joked, “It’ll be a tie”  (for the which he might have given odds of 1,000 – 1).

Note to the wary: Beware Mighty Magi who half-joke.

At first, though, the times looked all a-kilter.  On a flat and tacky deck in Bangaluru, Sahwag’s bat persistently preceded the ball into the space marked ‘Contact Zone’.  The first time it did so, the white sphere shot skywards towards second slip eluding the outstretched hand of Graeme Swan by millimetres and microseconds – an improbable start.

Repeating the partial eclipse of bat and ball, Sehwag, then squirted the orb squarewards in a looping trajectory just over and beyond a diving Bell (irresistible pun) leaving Anderson the bowler, in a time and space of disbelief.  Impossible.

The first pattern to emerge in this awesome encounter between the best on the planet whose batting power stretched before England like a beam of light heading towards the edge of the universe: Tendulka, Sehwag, Gambhir, Kholi, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Pathan, Harbhajan et al … and the Ashes victors who had been all but humbled by the Dutch and whose form coming into this match was questioned even by their staunchest supporters … yes the first pattern to emerge, therefore, was one of disarrangement, as Sehwag continuing to err in bringing bat and ball in line again played a nanosecond too soon – the ball’s predestined elliptical orbit this time describing a route over the head of an out-of-position mid-on.  Impenetrable.

From that moment on, and across the remaining 99 overs, the stuff began to configure.  Sehwag found the middle and the boundary (an oxymoron which can only be achieved in cricket) and produced a pressure-free atmosphere in which Tendulka could harmonize body and bat with sufficient time to treat the millions tuning in through their cathode rays and flat screen sets to the music of the spheres in a flawless innings of 120.

Surely this match, if not this entire tournament, could not produce a better example of batcraft?  But to believe that was to ignore the power of the developing patterns and symmetries in this matchless match.

At the halfway mark, Third Man’s patent predictor suggested a final score of 340, but at the end of the 30th over a simple doubling of India’s score – the more normal forecasting device – gave India hope of 360.

We had witnessed one great innings and were to witness another, but before that Bresnan, who had already removed Sehwag, returned to take four further wickets to deprive India of a stellar score and to keep them tied – yes tied – by a gossamer thread to Mother Earth at 338. 

Brezzer’s figures were with an economy rate of 4.8 runs an over.  The nearest effort by an England bowler was 6.4 and the worst 9.25.  India’s best would be Bhaji with 5.8 and even the sage-like Zhan’s three wickets were obtained at 6.4 runs an over.  Such was the carnage bowling took on this benign wicket, but such also was the eminence of the Yorkshireman whose 5 wickets were surely the equivalent of an innings of 169 runs and deserved for him the title of Man of the Match (which no doubt went to a batsman).

And from the start of England’s innings this appeared ordained to be the bright and hoped for example of Total Cricket with Strauss and Pietersen playing without fear from the off. 

Pietersen fell at 68 to the third ball of the ninth over when his blistering straight drive was parried by Patel who caught the rebound seated on the ground like a child at a birthday party accepting a rabbit from a hat.

Bell brought to the wicket craft to equal Tendulka’s.  They do things right, they do things well, they exhibit a balance that is near perfection and to see them both at their best on a single day is good fortune in deed.

At the other end the England Captain selected his shots with the precision of a great engineer building a bridge across a broad bay.  Give me a lever long enough and I’ll move the world, had said Archimedes.  Strauss effortlessly levered his way to 50, then, 100, and beyond to the 150 mark.  Nothing seemed able to stop him and England, at 281 for 2, from moving the Earth.

But Bell, suffering from cramp, begged his captain to allow him to kill or cure the pain and restriction with a swipe or two.  Strauss called the batting power play and Bell immediately skied to extra cover.  The batsmen having crossed, Strauss was instantly pinioned – hey-presto – by speed of hand from Khan the Incontestable.

After a time of turmoil and falling wickets, England’s collapse looked terminal when Yardy departed with 32 still required off 15 balls.

But the Chinnaswarmy Stadium offered not only a flat track, but short boundaries to provide an environment more suited to Total Cricket than Total Collapse. 

Dhoni chose Chawla to bowl the 49th over with England requiring 29 from 12.  The choice seemed acute when the first ball confined the batsmen to a single.  But then Swann swiped the ball over the midwicket boundary for six and Bresnan smote the fifth in the same direction for another six.

Hope had briefly returned to English hearts with 14 required from 7, but Brezzer missed the next by a mile and was bowled.

The young and inexperienced Shazad strode to the wicket – exactly the qualities Total Cricket demands in this situation.  Swann’s 2, then a single off the first two balls seemed a capitulation, but  that single had brought Shazad and his fearlessness to the time and place of his fate.  He struck his first ball for a six straight that skimmed like a shooting star to the blackness of the sightscreen behind Patel.

Five runs were required from three balls and the batsmen ran a bye to the wicket keeper.  From the second to last ball Swann running frantically and India fielding clumsily, completed a second run. 

On the identical 5th ball of the 49th over in India’s innings, Khan had similarly called for two but the laws of symmetry had ended there.  Khan had not made his ground and, worse, Patel had placed his bat on the line of the crease.  That line belonged to the umprire, aptly named Erasmus, who smiled the smile umprires smile at such times because they love nothing more than to signal and shout ‘one short’. 

This is where Total Cricket brought us yesterday.  To a point in time and space at which a wicket would win it for India, a single would bring the conjunction of the scores in the freakish feature of a Warned tie, and two or more would give England the magician’s cape.

Swann’s single to mid-off was both climax and anti-climax, coincidentally bringing relief, regret and rejoicing in the Total Conjunction of one of the great 50 over matches of All Time.

As the Mighty Magus might have said, “What other result could there possibly have been?”

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Gauging the Success of the World Cup

The long days of predictably over-hyped waiting are nearly done.  The opening ceremony and first match are only hours away.

So, Third Man thinks it would be a good idea in advance to put together a list of ten criteria by which the success of the Tournament can be judged.

Looking down from the vantage point of his World Cup Blimp, as it drifts towards the Wankhede Stadium on the night of 2nd April these will be Third Man’s yardsticks by which to gauge the significance and true value of the World Cup in 2011.

  1. It may be too much to ask for a ‘great’ and closely fought final.  Finals are nervous affairs.  They sort the greats out from the very goods and often the greats are disproportionately found in one side or another.  The greats have enormous will power which comes to the fore on the big day. Let’s say that to be a successful Final at least one of the greats of the game plays a memorable innings or rips out some key batsmen in a match turning spell. 
  2. It is in the semi-finals that we often get the best matches.  Players are freer to express themselves.  More players play above their potential and fewer circum to ‘Big Day’ nerves.  We want two really close semi-final matches.  Perhaps we should ask for one to be dominated by the ball and one by the bat.
  3. In the quarter finals a good Tournament would produce four contests between well matched sides.  One might be dominated by the bat and one by the ball, but wouldn’t it be good if two were tussles between great bowling sides against great batting sides.
  4. In terms of individual performance, cricket lovers revel in both nostalgia and change.  We love to see those playing their last big tournament to give us one last sight of their greatness, where the sense of occasion – ‘my last World Cup’ produces a final flowering of their unique talent and unique style.  But we also love to see the ‘new boy on the block’ breaking through – our next heroes arriving on the scene – the David slaying a few Goliaths.  Something we can tell our grandchildren. “I saw him in his first World Cup; you would not believe the impact he made, like a storm coming out of a blue sky.’
  5. We will want to see strategic innovation by at least one team.  A new approach, probably an extension of what is happening in the 120 ball/T20 game into the 50 over/ 300 ball game.  Perhaps the Total Cricket of permanent attack from a batting side.  The playing surfaces will obviously dictate the general level of scoring, but let’s hope at least one team takes the ‘par’ 50 over score for a ground and increases it by 25% producing a real step-change, the first glimpse of a new normal.
  6. We will want to see tactical innovation from captains and managements.  We want to say to ourselves, ‘Why did nobody think of doing that before?’
  7. We will want to see technical innovation.  Perhaps a perfection of some of the shots and disguised bowling being developed in the T20 laboratories.  The new Dilshan.
  8. Recoveries and counterattacks bring thrilling cricket.  Performance through pain, the shrugging off of injury. The determination that comes from bravery.  We must have three or four of these ‘stories’, these new myths.   Well, great matches are great stories, aren’t they? And cricket is creation of myth, yes?
  9. Great rivalries are also the stuff of the best cricket.  We need to see the conclusive confrontation of bowlers and batsmen who have gone head to head in all forms of the international game under the lights of this tournament.  We want the head to head and toe to toe contests that take place within this marvellous team game to be settled.  We want winners and losers
  10. But we also want these great confrontations to end in good grace with acts of humanity and mutual appreciation.  We want magnanimity, generosity, mutual regard and respect.  

This is how Third Man will notch the score.

P.S. Can we have some fresh and imaginative commentary too, please – let the cricket do the talking.


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Paradise Regained – The Return to Eden: Window on the Whirled Cup I

Third Man’s World Cup Blimp – a non rigid, buoyant airship – will after all be seen at Eden Gardens, provided you view the tournament from the window of his Time Machine – note the early and tantalising view recently glimpsed above.

ICC inspectors have given the thumbs up to three world cup matches at Eden Gardens in March.

But this great coliseum of cricket, that holds in excess of 100,000 people, will not stage one of the few eagerly awaited first round ties: resurgent England against indomitable India.

Their match scheduled for 27th February will now take place in Bangalore where the non-rigid, bouyant Mayor has already made known his lengthy list of required freebees.

The 2011 World Cup is a massive test for the ICC after the last event staged in the West Indies left so many questions unanswered: odd and questionable results, over priced tickets and wasteful redevelopment that replaced warm vital heritage with concrete, sand and chillingly soulless stadia.

Cricket does not respond well to austerity.  The 50 over format is losing support.  The need to help emerging nations but at the same time maintain interest at the start of the competition is a difficult if not impossible balancing act.

Tournaments have really only been successful when the very best of the world’s cricketers have produced radical reinterpretations of the game that gave rise to transformative strategies, changing for the better the way the game is played at every level and in every form.

This was the case thanks to the early West Indian campaigns which not only brought forth great innings by Kanhai and Lloyd who in the first final came together at a rocky 50 – 3 and put on a total of 149 but also gave rise to the unyielding Australian response that got within 17 runs of their the then massive 292 run target. 

Or the response the Caribbean side’s 1979 Oval semi-final score of 293 for 6  engendered from Pakistan’s Majid and Zaheer who accelerated with breathtaking elegance from 10 – 1 to 176 before Zed was dismissed by Croft for 93, challenging the hitherto hegemony of power with their graceful wristy stroke-play.

It was also the case in 1983 when India showed how to defend a meagre total of 183 when their six bowlers confined the brightest of batsmen: Greenidge, Haynes, Richards and Lloyd, to three runs an over and defeat by 43 runs in an innovative orchestration of pressure that achieve the most unexpected of victories. 

And finally, in1996 at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, it was also the stage on which the Sri Lankans unveiled ‘fearless’ cricket with their blistering, relentless jaw-dropping counterattacks, match after match. 

Cricket would never be the same after Sri Lanka, chasing Australia’s 241 and having they had lost the explosive Jayasuriya to a run out, and his fellow opener Kaluwitharana for 23,  de Silva and Gurusinha continued their by previous standards reckless assault on McGrath, Fleming, Warne and Reiffel to blow Australia away with twenty balls to spare.

Each of these moments created by the World Cup were turning points in the history of cricket – some were pure innovations, others the rediscovery of lost approaches but each were felt by those watching or listening across the globe to be pivotal turning points through gates into a new Eden, where a fresh conception of what cricketers could achieve changed the nature of cricket itself.

That role of hot house laboratory appears now to have moved to the T20 arena. It could be that the innovations of 120 ball, 10 wicket innings will find a powerful new expression in the 50 over format over the coming month.  If not, then, its undisguised purpose will be that of a cash cow providing a few corporate freebies for the likes of the Mayor of Bangalore.

In his 1941 essay “The Lion and the Unicorn“, George Orwell referred to a stereotype he nicknamed the Blimps who he characterised as having lost their vitality over the previous thirty years, “writhing impotently under the changes that were happening.”

The next forty days and forty nights will tell whether Third Man’s World Cup Blimp is an accurate charactisation or whether the tournament that once regularly replenished the eternal springs of cricket is once again “the potent fountain for the changes that are happening” and cricketers and cricket lovers once again regain Paradise through the Gates of Eden.

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