What JRod said.
The Internet is terrible in New Zealand. It is expensive, it is hard to setup, the caps are low, the speeds are laughable, and if you live in a shared house with a pair of computer geeks and a foreign exchanger with an easy schedule, every tiny bit of memory becomes a precious commodity. You don't want to be left with half a month of 16-hour winter nights at compromised dial-up speeds. It's like leaving Jack in a remote hotel to do all work and no play.
So I never watch cricket on the net while I'm here. Not only does it it suck up that precious bandwidth like a leech, the feeds also take an age to find, they're as grainy as Real Player porn from the 1990s, and somehow I'm always missing a plug-in.
Well, this early morning I said fuck all that and, even though my first class of a new semester started in less than 5 hours, I decided to watch live streaming cricket on the net. (Thank you, Crax Tv.)
Why? Because when a sultry Karachi night unveils the new Best Player in the World, you just have to watch. No matter what.
Asia Cup final, 2008.
6 for 13, off 8 overs.
India all out for 173.
Ajantha Mendis... the world is at your feet.
so, about three weeks too late, Muttiah Muralitharan nabs the record for most
Test wickets. Here's a prediction: Shane Warne will come out in the next
few days and make some controversial comments, or write an inflammatory column,
or get himself busted texting some underaged school girls after a heavy night
in town. Anything to get back in the spotlight. (He might get his wingman Terry
Jenner to start things up, after which Warne will be asked by the media
"to respond to Jenner's allegations," or something of the kind. You
Anyway, to commemorate Murali's feat, here's my take on the great man, from a few months ago..
Also (via King Cricket) a descriptive account in the Guardian of what it's like to face Muralitharan in the flesh.
at Cricket with Balls, Uncle J Rod takes a break from penning odes to Natalie
Portman and pushing pins into his Brad Hodge voodoo doll to hail the genius
of Kumar Sangakkara. Good timing on it as well, since Sangakkara then went on to
score a fluid 92 that same day and almost singlehandedly kept Sri Lanka
competitive in the first Test match of their home series against England.
While I definitely agree with the sentiment, I think Uncle J Rod gets the nomenclature wrong. Maybe it's just my anti-imperial contrariety showing here, but I think "king" is not the right term to use with Sangakkara. We need something better, something more in tune with the times; a term that conveys the sheer greatness of the man, his superior skill, and his clear standing above all others in his field (without reinforcing bullshit colonial myths about the superiority of royalty).
So how about this, instead: Kumar Sangakkara, the Heather Brooke of world cricket.
(Much better than any old King, no?)
wouldn't be a tour of Sri Lanka without a bomb
blasting somewhere in the country -- yet nowhere near the visiting team --
followed by the media making a bigger deal out of it than they probably should.
To England's credit, it seems like the team is staying and the tour is set to
go ahead. (Much to the player's chagrin, I presume. For a second there they
must have thought they would get out of the vicious shellacking they're set to
receive from a Sri Lankan team straight off a testing Australian tour. No such
Contrast this to South Africa's position last year, who decided to pull out of a triangular ODI tournament in the country after a similar blast. I never quite got that one... aren't there about 2,500 homicides in Johannesburg alone every year? You don't see the South Africans boycotting games at the Wanderers, do you? Why should the SSC ground in Colombo be any different?
as in Rasheed Wallace, the NBA power forward. After helping his team, the
Detroit Pistons, win the championship in 2003, Wallace was asked what he would
say to President George W. Bush when visiting the White House to be
congratulated. Wallace responded, "I don't have (shit) to say to him. I
didn't vote for him. It's just something we have to do."
I always wished cricket had a few more guys like 'Sheed. Hotheaded talents who shoot their mouths, speak the truth, don't care about consequences, but are still too gifted for any team to risk antagonising or dropping. Next to guys like Wallace and Allen Iverson, even headcases like Andre Nel and Sreesanth are made to look like little castrato choir boys. In cricket, everything runs according to script, and those who flub their lines are immediately disciplined. The extremes we get are either irrelevant grey-beards, like Bishan Bedi, devoting their lives to self-justifying libel campaigns; or goofy foot-in-the-mouth types, like Dean Jones, inadvertently unleashing Id droppings right in the middle of the commentary box.
That's why, I am hereby starting a new feature, the 'Sheed Award, given out to any cricketer who manages to provide us with something more than the corporate stooge platitudes and weightless jocko catchphrases that we're sadly grown accustomed to from interviews and press conference, and instead gives us something true and meaningful and honest. The inaugural winner of the Award should not be too hard to guess: it's Marvan Atapattu, after last week's "muppets" comment regarding the Sri Lankan selectors. As you can imagine, I was ecstatic after hearing about Atapattu's outburst.
First of all, because it came out of nowhere. It happened in the middle of a Test, for no particular reason, following no specific provocation. Second, because the accusations he was making were most probably true. The Sri Lankan selectors have always been rather conservative and inert, and they have definitely made a few strange choices recently. (I'm not sure how much they influenced the decision not to include Lasith Malinga in the eleven for the first Test, but it was an astoundingly poor choice either way. No matter what his form may be, you don't take out Mr. 4-in-4-with-Valderrama-streaks for a medium-pacer. You just don't.)
Thirdly, and most importantly, because of who it came from. I always pictured Marvan Atapattu as a calm, docile man; humble; reserved. He seemed like a hard worker; like a family man. With a kind wife. And a pair of girls. And a dog. His old pictures suggest this, as well as portraying him as somewhat of a worrier; an introspective thinker, overcoming inner doubt through discipline and diligence.
Now, he's looking like a bad-ass. A total character re-invention. Take a look at the photo below.
Doesn't he seem like some kind of intense mind-over-matter guru, with a low pulse and an eagle-stare? An expert in four different kinds of martial arts (one of those still illegal in most countries), sleeping on bamboo mats and eating raw egg milkshakes for breakfast? I hope he gets a massive double-hundred in the next Test (it would be his seventh), and I hope the muppets are forced to keep him in the team against their wills, and I hope he keeps the new persona up so I can keep handing him more of these Awards.
if the photo wasn't enough proof of his cred, how about the fact that his middle name is Samson?)
Tomorrow, at the Gabba in Brisbane, Sri Lanka and Australia will play the first Test of the newly-christened Warne-Muralitharan Trophy series. (Yes, that's what it's called. What I'd like to know is why the Australian name always comes first in those bilateral series... Chappell-Hadlee, Border-Gavaskar, etc.) I have refrained from commenting on Sri Lanka's tour so far, since I was waiting to see how they'd fare in the warm-up watches. I waited because I understood the grave importance of this series, not only for the balance of power in cricket, but also for my own future enjoyment of the game.
See, I have a conflict of allegiances here. I
happen to be both pro-Sri Lanka and virulently anti-Australia, and I'm not sure
which of my positions should take precedence. That might not make a lot of
sense at first, since the two views seem perfectly complimentary, yet there is
a certain logic behind it. If we were to take this series in isolation, then
sure, I'm all for Sri Lanka, and will cheer for them every step of the way. But
looking at a cricket series in isolation is not only pointless, it is also
virtually impossible -- it would involve consciously erasing all previous
knowledge about the game from the mind, as well as any future hopes or
expectations. It would turn the game into a purely superficial spectacle,
devoid of the richness of history and narrative context that make cricket such
a fascinating game to follow. (And believe me, if mindless sensory thrills are
what I'm searching for, Test cricket would be waaaaayyyyy down on my list of
places to look.)
So what is the context of this series? What does it represent? The most obvious (and important) point is that it will be the first series without Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath leading the Australian bowling attack. This is no small matter -- the two of them combined for more than 1,200 Test wickets, led their team to international domination for almost a decade and a half, and virtually destroyed the careers of countless players, from Jimmy Adams to Darryl Cullinan to every Pakistani opener since 2000. They (Warne and McGrath) were the ying and yang of the Australian Machine... one a blonde virtuoso playboy with a flair for the theatrical, the other a pulseless country savant with cocked wrists and a ridiculous haircut. On paper, they seemed like the oddest of couples, yet they complimented each other on the field better than any pair this side of Jordan and Pippen.
Now they're both gone, and for the first time since, um... forever... Australia go into a series with arguably the weaker of the two bowling attacks. Mitchell Johnson has yet to play a Test, Brett Lee is older than he looks and has never really dazzled in Tests, and Stuart Clarke is a glorified extra at best. (As for Stewie McGill, let's just say that, like Shooter McGavin, Muralitharan eats pieces of shit like him for breakfast.)
And yet, I have the strange suspicion that none of that will matter, since the Sri Lankan batting looks so frightfully out of form. Normally, that wouldn't be such a major concern, since the team has a good mental outlook and usually finds a way to stay competitive in any contest through sneaky 40-run partnerships in the lower middle order and dedication by the tail. However, this is Australia we're dealing with here, and I don't think a bunch of quiet first-innings 280's will be enough to deal with a batting backbone of Hayden-Ponting-Hussey-Gilchrist. It just seems like too much of an ask. (Sangakkara's torn hamstring would generally piss me off, but it wouldn't really be a tour of Oz without some sort of punch-to-the-balls injury like that to the touring team.) Unless Murali and Malinga somehow come up with three or four freakish displays of Pantheon-level classic bowling, I don't think Sri Lanka have enough to win it.
Which is why, as much as it pains me to say it, I think the best hope for the future (a bright, just future, with competitive cricket played all around the world and no one team ever dominating all others) might be for Sri Lanka to lose this series somewhat comprehensively. If they go out there and play hard, keep it tight, never give anything away, test the Australians and make them work hard for every run and wicket... they'll probably still lose. But at the same time, they'd also be helping Australia immensely -- to move on after Warne and McGrath, to give the youngsters valuable challenges and experience, and to take mid-tier Test players (like Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds) to a whole new level. Australia would only come back stronger, and the chance for world cricket to turn over a new leaf would have vanished.
On the other hand, if Sri Lanka get pummeled two-nil, with Hayden and Ponting hitting unmemorable centuries and McGill bagging a couple of profligate 10-for's, nothing will have changed. The fans would get (even more) cocky and arrogant, McGill would stay in the squad, Bracken would stay out of it... and as a whole, Australia would gently let down its guard. Then, India can come in undetected and land the killer blow that would make the entire Australian cricket establishment see stars for months.
No, actually, you know what... I can't do it. There is no possible way I could cheer for Australia to beat Sri Lanka. (Especially after the scars of the World Cup final.) So I guess all that's left to do now, like Maggie's farmhand, is to fold my hands and pray for rain. May we see a dark cloud hover above the entire Australian eastern seaboard and make it pour down relentlessly for two weeks or so. Not only would it wash out both Tests in the series (more on the categorical idiocy of holding 2-Test series later), but it might also help alleviate the drought that's plagued the country for the past decade or seven.
You can't say I'm totally anti-Australia, after all.
did Muralitharan do? I don't get it. Was it something he said? Maybe I didn't
catch it. (I've been busy working on some long, esoteric undergrad essays recently; it's
quite possible that it could have slipped past me.) All I can remember is
him minding his own business, trying to get back to full fitness for the
upcoming international cricket season. Then one day Sreesanth started talking
shit to the Australians on the field. Then Harbhajan joined him. Then the
Australians talked back. Then some Indian fans were photographed letting out
their Ids on Andrew Symonds. And now somehow Murali is going to have to
grin and bear the racial abuse of the entire hill section at the Adelaide Oval?
I don't quite see the link.
(Congrats to Jason Gillespie, by the way, for helping fuel the fire of idiocy that is steadily burning around this non-issue. Thanks, Dizzy – you can now go back to loading Wolfmother's road gear into the tour bus, or whatever it is that you do with your
mullet time these days.)
It's Aravinda de Silva's 42nd birthday today,
and I was hoping to post a video of one of his many glorious innings, but all I
could find on YouTube was some grainy straight-off-the-TV
footage of four of his boundaries from a one-day innings against India in
1998; and this, the trophy ceremony from the 1996 World Cup Final, when de
Silva won Man of the Match:
(I love how many hangers-on there are onstage -- it's like the scene at the end of "Happy Gilmore," when Happy beats Shooter in the putt-off and wins the golden jacket. I half-expected Mark Taylor to jump in at some point, grab the MoM trophy and run off with it, leading to some scary Sri Lankan building site foreman with a pituitary disorder and a nail through his skull to start chasing after him.)
For a much better display of de Silva's undeniable magic, how about cricinfo's account of my favourite single delivery in the history of cricket, during the 2002 Champions Trophy Semifinal:
6.5 de Silva to Hayden, OUT: down the track comes Hayden, trying for
the huge heave-ho over midwicket. But he doesn't keep his eye on
the ball, which keeps low and straight and crashes into the
stumps. The bowling change doing the trick here.
I still remember how cathartic that moment was. Some context: Australia won the toss and chose to bat
first. They were in one of their ridiculous ‘swing viciously at the every
delivery and just let the other team drop their way to a loss’ moods that day,
and by the sixth over were already racing along at 8/over. Then de Silva came on and triggered the most delicious of collapses you could imagine. The
symbolism was so apt, it gave you goosebumps – this little pear-shaped Sri
Lankan part-timer, being asked to stave off the Imperial onslaught in the 7th
over of the match. He faces big, fee-fi-fo-fum-ing Matthew Hayden, more than
ready to inflict some serious damage… and he bowls him, straight through the
gate. Australia are all out for 163, de Silva ends up with bowling figures of
10-2-16-1, and Sri Lanka chase down the score with 7 wickets to spare. Can it
possibly get any better?
AUSTRALIA v. SRI LANKA, Final (April 28)
Nothing a rum and a quick J can't fix. The asking rate is 7.47 per over. Here's the chase:
... So I guess it's all up to Jayasuriya now. His average against Australia does not inspire much confidence: 22.5. It's all about attacking Tait and Watson and cruising diffidently against McGrath. This ain’t the 1990s… this score can be chased. ...
... McGrath comes on to bowl for the last time in his career. To Jayasuriya, who is most likely also batting in his last international innings. ...
Ricky Ponting really goes all out with those spitballs he hurls onto his hands
before fielding, doesn’t he? They’re not scattered droplets of saliva on his fingertips; they’re huge slimey globs he smears all across his palms. ...
... McGrath is bowling superbly and there seems to be no way anyone could play him right now. So this is it -- McGrath and Gilchrist doing it for Australia. Again. And if Warne had been here, I’m sure he would have contributed as well. That trio represent the primary reason for Australia’s dominance in the past decade. They are three absolutely unique freaks of nature; the kind of sporting geniuses that usually only come along once or twice per generation. And Australia had THREE of them at the same time. You could surround them with a bunch of under-15 Zimbabwe club players and I bet they would still win more often than not. ...
... Thank god for Watson and his flavourless fast-medium. Between him and Tait, Sri Lanka are staying in this match. They also have Hogg to bash around if needed, so there’s no reason to panic yet. ...
... Jayasuriya hit the first mis-timed four of the Sri Lankan innings, over long-on. Make that Australia: 23, Sri Lanka: 1. ...
... Sangakkara has found a streak of form out of nowhere and is creaming the bowling to all parts, doing it with nothing but classical strokeplay. Out of the blue, on the third ball of the 13th over, he suddenly went up the pitch to McGrath and pulled a massive six. He then hit another two dismissive fours to finish the over and is looking as good with the bat as he has all tournament. ...
... Sri Lanka's second fifty of the innings came from 27 balls. They are now ahead of Australia's pace and both batters are looking comfortable at the crease. Did someone say "Wanderers '06 all over again?" ...
... And then
Sangakkara pulls a fuller ball by Hogg and spoons it straight to Ponting at
mid-wicket. The partnership is dead. ...
... J. mentions how Jawardene looks completely in control from the first delivery. He really has become a middle-order monster in recent times, and is proving it during this World Cup. ...
... You are kidding me! Jayasuriya gets bowled by Clarke with a ball that essentially rolled on to the stumps after pitching. Why Sri Lanka are being made to bat on a sticky wicket in 2007, I have no fucking idea. It has been drizzling for quite a while now, and the wicket even looks damp -- a muddy, dark brown colour. But since Sri Lanka are on the wrong side of Duckworth-Lewis, they still have to attack like maniacs, just in case the umpires decide to pull them out of the field sometime. How many more obstacles does Sri Lanka need to face today? ...
... It looks like a Rastaman has come out with a sack full of herbal refreshment for the players. Oh no, it's just some sawdust for the bowlers. Any more time you want to waste there, Ponting? ...
... So they come off the field right as the rain starts belting down. Sri Lanka are doomed. ...
... Now to add insult to griveous injury, we get Mark Nicholas and Michael Atherton, the two most condescending and arrogant-sounding commentators on the scene, sitting in the commentator's box to finish the game. Please kill me right now. ...
The sight that will define this World Cup: Percy Sonn, the CEO of the ICC, looking like a Banana Republic leader about to be deposed by the military, standing on the makeshift podium, in the dark, as the crowd hisses and booes.
Tony Cozier thanks the groundstaff for "perhaps the best of all" pitches they produced this tournament. Yeah, the Australians would like to thank them immensely.
Jayawardene was asked to talk about the players from his team who will probably not make it to another World Cup. He talked about Jayasuriya, Murali, Vaas, Atapattu, but forgot to mention Russel Arnold. Not even his teammates remember his existence! It's no surprise that Arnold's first-class team is called "the Nondescripts". (That is 100% true, you can check.)
Ricky Ponting accepts the trophy and answers the typical questions. Now that I think about it, I guess he's a smart choice as captain and ambassador for Australia, since his facial features really are quite marsupial. He has the koala-in-the-headlights look mastered. Tourism Australia should give him a call sometime.
AUSTRALIA v. SRI LANKA, Final (April 28)
The match has been cut down to 38 overs, so instead of posting at 10-over intervals, it'll have to be every 8. (Well, three lots of 8 and then two 7s. Does it matter, really?)
... As if Australia needed some extra luck, Ricky Ponting has again won the toss, and the Australians will be batting a shortened innings. This is the second consecutive final where they have won the toss (and it might as well be the third, since Wasim Akram basically shot himself in the foot by batting first in bowler-friendly conditions in '99). Uh-oh. ...
... Now that's the Hayden of old: 11 off 27 deliveries. A valuable time-waster at the top of the innings. For a long time, he and Damien Martyn were the only thing that kept Australia's opponents in the game on flat pitches. You actually had to cheer for Australia not losing wickets, if only because it meant Haydos and Damo were keeping the strike rate at around 5, rather than the 6+ that Ponting or Symonds guaranteed. ...
... 46 for 0 at the ten over mark. Considering that the pitch looks flatter than Mischa Barton and there is no swing for Vaas to exploit, I'd say that is a great start for Sri Lanka, albeit without an early wicket. ...
... Dilhara Fernando dropped a tough c & b chance off Gilchrist at the start of the 11th over. The next three balls went for four, four, and six. How long before we see the first no-ball? What's the over/under? I say third ball off his next over ...
... Muralitharan has come on and the fate of the Sri Lanka's today could hang on what his first few overs yield. Dilshan is at the other end, trying to stay as inconspicuous as possible so he can steal a few cheap overs before anyone notices that he can be carted for 20 runs in an over without too much effort. ...
... Gilchrist has decided that this is his day, and there's nothing anyone can or could do it about. Not Murali. Not Malinga. Not McGrath, or Bracken, or Warne, or Dennis Lillee, or Keith Miller. ...
... Great, Hayden's hitting edges to third man for four now. The eighteenth over, bowled by Fernando, went for 13 runs and not one of those came from anywhere near the middle of the bat. The beach ball is now out in the stands, the Mexican wave is probably not too far off... just another day of unbearable Australian dominance. ...
... Mark Nicholas is just going through all the random factors that have gone against Sri Lanka today:
-- They lost the toss.
-- The game was cut to 38 overs, which helps the Australian big hitters.
-- Although the air was humid, there was absolutely no swing for Vaas.
-- Muralitharan has less overs to bowl and be dangerous.
-- The ball will get less scuffed up for someone like Malinga to exploit the reverse swing. ...
... Gilchrist gets to his hundred with a top-edge for four over the infield in the second Powerplay. Australia have raced to 150 in no time and I doubt they've timed more than 50% of their balls. Hayden has yet to hit the middle of the bat in 50 deliveries and has somehow reached 38. Gilchrist has indeed smashed a few meaty sixes and fours, as he will do whenever he stays at the crease for any extended period of time, but he has mis-timed just as many of his shots. This is beyond ridiculous. ...
... So is Gilly going to get a double-century in a World Cup final, off 38 overs?! Is that the plan for today? I can't believe this shit is happening again. Another absurdly flat pitch, another small ground, another toss won by Australia, another ugly pummeling. It's been four years since the massacre at Jo'burg, and look how little things have changed. ...
... So much for consolations: Gilchrist just got out for 149, and now Andrew Symonds (career strike rate: 92.3) comes in to bat. ...
... Mark Nicholas must need a change of underwear pretty soon. That pre-cum should be accumulating at a scary rate the way he’s going on about the Australians. ...
... How many edges have gone to the third man boundary now for four? Eight? Ten? Malinga did nothing wrong in his 7th over, and he still got hit for thirteen. ...
… Watson was made to look very, very ordinary by Malinga. He was trying to be cute by paddling the ball around the corner, but was too slow and ungainly and only succeeded in getting himself bowled. ...
... Some amazing death bowling by Malinga and Fernando, given the situation. (78 off the last 10)
I’m a little shell-shocked at the moment, to be honest. Hopefully I can get my bearings back before the chase.
It’s here at last. After that vicious wait, the Final. The two best teams; both in form and both hungry. I have been asking people around here for their predictions, and although the consensus is that Australia will win, most people are at least giving Sri Lanka a chance. Almost everyone wants the Lankans to win, but they’re all so accustomed to Australian domination that they can barely even conceive the possibility of a different outcome.
I think a good case can be made for Sri Lanka's chances of victory in the final, much better than the chances the odds-makers and the general public seem to give them. In order to make the case, I think it would help to appeal to a useful tool commonly employed in metaphysics: the theory of Possible Worlds.
[Note -- I didn't actually manage to make live notes during either of the Semifinals. I did not have my notebook with me in the stadium for the NZ v Sri Lanka match, and then we overslept by half an hour and missed most of South Africa's collapse the next morning. These are all notes jotted down from memory that second night.]
NEW ZEALAND v. SRI LANKA
-- Best live moment of the day: The Over of Plays and Misses by Ross Taylor, against Malinga. After having the ball beat the bat for the first five deliveries of the 8th over, the entire crowd erupted in cheers when Taylor finally managed to block the ball on the sixth. He even raised his bat to the crowd in acknowledgment, with a look on his face (showing on the big screen) that could do nothing but say, "Yeah... I know. Completely out of my depth. No need to mention it."
-- After having eaten countless overpriced, tasteless meals on various grounds around the world, I can now officially give out the award for the Worst Food To Buy At A Stadium, Ever: spicy peppered prawns. I don't know what motivated me to buy that concoction; maybe the fact that they were a little cheaper than the Escoveitch fish and a little more exotic than the bucket of KFC.
They come in a little plastic bag, which is itself inside a bigger paper bag with a napkin in it; a dozen or so full prawns, smeared in garlic and spicy seasoning. First you have to stick your fingers inside the greasy bag and pull out a prawn by either the head or the antennae. You then take off the head and peel the body, above the plastic bag, and throw the discards into the gap between the plastic and the paper; except sometimes they fall inside the original bag by accident and you have to fish them back out, or sometimes you miss both bags altogether and they land right on your shoe.
But that's if you manage to peel the damn things in the first place. Since the prawns are so old and stale, the shells were soft, sticky, and impossible to remove. The meat was flaky and yellow, the taste was gummy, and the thick black intestinal vein running down the back of the prawn could only give you the creeps if you stared at it for too long.
-- Sabina Park, although full enough to provide a lively atmosphere, was still not packed to capacity. For a World Cup semi-final. That is criminal. Everyone you ask about it will tell you it's all to the Indians ("the Indians" becoming a big catch-all clause for every source of negative spectator behaviour in this World Cup). The taxi driver from the airport in Kingston offered me tickets to the finals, which his cousin purportedly obtained in batches after the first round from a group of bitter Indian supporters.
Is it all the Indians’ fault? If India had gone through to the Super 8s and to the semis, would we have had some full stadiums? I doubt it. It seems like interest for the event was low across the board, and India's (and Pakistan's) early departure only exacerbated the problem. For the lack of original interest, you can blame the ICC and the organising committee. Because I can't think of any other reason why people would have no interest in attending an important international tournament in a place of such beauty and tranquility as the Caribbean.
The Money Lasith Malinga is almost beyond words: a complete freak of nature; a finely-tuned yorker-machine; wild, threatening, and a joy to watch. You’d also be a fool to underestimate the effect of Sri Lanka's collection of left-armers, part-timers, and slow-armers choking the life out of your innings with the ball in the mid-overs. They have done it for more than a decade, and are very good at what they do.
Sanath Jayasuriya can never really be removed from this category, and the Caribbean air has had a rejuvenating effect on him, but at this point in his career, he's only realistically good for about one in three -- one big innings for every two dangerous starts. The Jayawardene/Sangakkara combination in the middle order adds up to one true match-winner with the bat; they both have the skill and experience, and the one often makes up the slack when the other isn't firing.
Ponting 0 [run-out <........>]
There are no Spidermen in the squad (Dilshan is probably the closest they have, and he has had 4 run-outs in a single game. Against Australia, no less) but they are busy, professional team on the field, and when buoyed by form and confidence, they swarm on to you like noisy, chirping locusts on a muggy, tropical night. They are also the only sub-continental team that takes advantage of the language barrier, hollering at each other in rapid-fire, high-pitched screeches and yelps; as a batsman, you must often feel like a scared explorer rafting through an unknown river, deep in the heart of darkness.
Rattle n' Hum
A history of animosity exists here (take a bow, Mr. Ranatunga), and the constant tendency of resorting to "chucker" sledges means the Australians are still a little shaken by Murali’s genius. Plus, the sight of Jayasuriya bottom-handing his first ball over the covers for 6 is a great way to get the Aussies' pulses rising. However, Sri Lanka have no real in-your-face douchebag (a la Andre Nel, Glenn McGrath, Kevin Pietersen) to sling shit when necessary -- as a whole, they just seem a little too graceful and dignified to include any out-and-out pests in their team.
The batting lineup after no. 4 drops off in quality somewhat, but the recent addition of Silva has alloyed the brittle middle order. Their biggest weakness is the lack of a true six-hitter lower down on the card, which means that chasing anything over 300 will depend hudely on Jayasuriya's efforts at the top. Russel Arnold is great for giving a sub-par score some respectability, getting you from 150 to 230 with his inconspicuous dabs for singles and two, but he lacks a little Body Mass to intimidate anyone at the death.
As for the bowlers, Malinga can be as expensive as anyone using a catapult to deliver the cricket ball is bound to be; Maharoof and Fernando can chip in with vital wickets when needed, but their role, in essence, is just to sneak in a few cheap overs early into the proceedings to avoid Murali having to bowl in the Powerplays.
Mental As Anything
Of all the Asian teams, they are by far the most mentally apt. They are a team that knows itself well (both as players and as human beings), they know what they are capable of, and they have been coached effectively on how to maximise their strengths and hide their weaknesses. They rely very heavily on the Talisman Effect (the Jaya's and Murali's of today; the De Silva's and Ranatunga's of the past), but at least they know how to win, and they are the only team to have beaten Australia in either the semi-final or final of a major international tournament in the past 12 years (1996 World Cup final and 2003 Champions Trophy semi-final).
At the same time, it's been a while since they had a major victory away from home, and they don't quite have the armour for a balls-out slogfest, if that's what the game descends into. If they don’t get tangled up by New Zealand beforehand, their fate in the final may well be decided by the curator at Kensington Oval; if he serves up a pitch full of bounce and life, the Lankans could be vulnerable. (Fireworks from Malinga might be their only hope in such a case.)
Lasith Malinga is almost beyond words: a complete freak of nature; a finely-tuned yorker-machine; wild, threatening, and a joy to watch. You’d also be a fool to underestimate the effect of Sri Lanka's collection of left-armers, part-timers, and slow-armers choking the life out of your innings with the ball in the mid-overs. They have done it for more than a decade, and are very good at what they do.
I have to admit, during the recent Ashes series, I held a faint hope that England could somehow scrape out a draw in the end (I was never delusional enough to think they ever had a chance of winning), only because I believed that could have triggered Shane Warne’s return to one-day cricket just for the World Cup. Between his Leviathan-sized ego and pathological sense of competitiveness, I knew Warne would never have allowed himself to end it all on a sour, or even unresolved, note.
Now, I’m not sure if that would have meant he’d come back from retirement for yet another pyjama party, or simply grind it out a little while longer in Test cricket until he found that perfect “This Is Your Life” moment on which to leave. But I think the odds would have been high on an ODI-comeback, due to convenience and timing, if nothing else.
Even though his presence would have made the task of beating Australia a whole lot harder, I still wish Warne was here for the World Cup. I know it’s been said many times, in many ways, but the guy really is a sporting genius. It’s still a joy to watching him weave those intricate webs of deceit around unsuspecting batsmen. But more than that, I just love the practice of spin-bowling in itself -- it is one of the most unique and captivating facets of cricket.
You wouldn't know it from their profiles or from the hype, but cricket's most fascinating rivalry is getting its World Cup installment today.
New Zealand and Sri Lanka have a lot in common: they are both small islands with limited talent pools, professional teams with a hard work ethic and no real douchebags to mention. Naturally, they are often outshined by their bigger, flashier neighbours, but both of them have the strange ability to always remain competitive and keep any contest interesting.
The two teams have seen a lot of each other in the past few years, most recently during Sri Lanka's tour of New Zealand late last year. The results from that tour: Drawn Test series (1-1), drawn Twenty20 series (1-1), drawn ODI series (2-2). Apart from the fact that even-game series should be banned, that just shows have evenly matched and aware of each other's abilities both teams are, and how unpredictable their matches can be.
With that in mind, what better opportunity to shake off the morning-after fog of another night of cheap rum than a nice stream-of-consciousness summary in 10-over segments:
... The moment I turned the TV on, the Hawkeye replay of Fleming's lbw wicket was being shown. I then went to get some orange juice from the kitchen and Ross Taylor got out before they even had time to show his ODI record on the screen. New Zealand could get spanked out of the ground today -- this is the first time they've had to play quality opposition in the tournament. Are the Kiwis really in form and dangerous, or did they blow their load too early against the dregs of world cricket? We'll find out very soon ...
... Scott Styris, the man with the second highest strike rate in World Cup history and a face only a mother can love, finally gets off the mark after playing out about 7 maidens of perfect Vaas balls ...
... Farveez Maharoof, the walking barometer of Sri Lankan fortunes, comes on to bowl in the 6th over. If the Lankans are bowling well, applying pressure, and taking wickets, Maharoof looks a tight, economical seamer who is awfully hard to get away. If the team is getting carved, he looks slow, predictable and deliciously hittable.
... Judging from his posture, I'd say Chaminda Vaas went to the same pediatrician as Forrest Gump. You could rest a champagne pyramid on that back ...
... Wicket off a no-ball for Maharoof. That surely won't affect him mentally, right? ...
... Wrong. He then gets hit for two consecutive fours by Styris. Sangakkara doesn't mess around after that. He just dons the helmet, stands up to the stumps and cramps the batters into slowing down. I wouldn't be surprised if he tried it with Malinga bowling one of these days. …
... Further proof that not even Kryptonite can stop Sangakkara at the moment: he was standing up to the stumps (what else?) to Vaas, and he caught a sweep off the face of Styris' bat with his balls. That's right, with his testicles. Asad Rauf, with the vacant visage of a man with nothing but tumbleweeds and lbw decisions in his mind, gave it not out. ...
... Craig McMillan coming in at no. 5 to stave off a top-order collapse? Is it 1999 again, or something? What's next, get Chris Harris to open the bowling with Shane Bond? ...
... The Mid-Life Crisis Pair are at the crease right now. I don't know if they consulted each other on the matter, but Oram and Styris have the same ridiculous set of blonde highlights in their hair, which go great with their budding laugh lines and crow's feet on their faces. ...
... Where would NZ be without Scott Styris? He has only gotten out once during the whole World Cup, and today he's the lone reason why the Kiwis weren't skittled out for 70. I don't where they found the guy, I don't know what he was doing for those 11 years of professional cricket before he joined the national team, but he's now a genuine match-winning batsman and the most complete player in that team since Chris Cairns. ...
... The trademark SLankan strangulation by spin has begun, and is already reaping benefits. McCullum complains about his dismissal, claiming he never hit a ball that went straight to bat-pad. Too bad the umpire actually gave it out lbw, Mr. McC. ...
... How the hell did New Zealand manage to get itself two 9-foot-tall freaks in their lineup? You could probably fit three whole Sri Lankans into Fulton's left sock and another three into Oram’s protective box.
... Is it that hard to get someone who actually knows how to bowl for local TV ads? As is to be imagined, the cricket theme is being used for a lot of ads here in Tobago around this time. The problem is that they've chosen actors who have obviously never played cricket, so you get egregious throws off five-pace run-ups, clonked off the front foot with awkward tennis shots. Hell, couldn’t they just have asked Sherwin Campbell or Ricardo Powell to play a few strokes in front of the cameras for them? I’m sure they need the work. ...
... Dilshan bowls a maiden to James Franklin in the 46th over. Fuck 1999; are we back to 1979? ...
... A commentator's wet dream of a century by Styris: he came in under pressure, started slowly and looked shaky, could have been out a couple of times; but he dug in, worked the ball around, was there for the close, and ended the innings with a flourish after scoring more than half his team's runs. As far as degree of difficulty, I'd say that was easily the best hundred of the tournament so far. ...
New Zealand did well to post a score, let alone a competitive one. It still doesn't seem like it will be enough, though, unless Bond can get Jayasuriya (and a few others) out early. Even so, games between these two teams usually manage to become thrilling no matter what, so who knows what can happen?
ENG v. SRI LANKA (33rd match)
Here comes the chase:
… For anyone who needed proof that Sangakkara is the best keeper in the world at the moment, take a look at Michael Vaughan's dismissal: a catch on the legside while standing up to the stumps to Vaas. …
… So is Michael Vaughan in the team as a specialist captain who can bowl a little? Before today’s duck, his average for the year in ODIs was 17. Oh and should we mention that he's yet to score a one-day century in his career? ...
… Ian Bell is in now, looking like an undergrown version of Vincent from the old "Beauty and the Beast" TV series. ...
… England's chance of victory walks to the crease now at 15 for 2. I'm not sure even they realise how much they rely on Pietersen, now that Flintoff has reverted to his pre-Ashes batting inconsistency. ...
… Is it healthy to eat bacon sandwiches twice a day, every day? (Damn, it’s hard to do stream-of-consc when you also have to cook lunch at the same time.) ...
… As far as I can tell from my vantage point by the stove, England are cruising on a wave of KP, as they often do. Pietersen is driving everything on the up, and connecting, while Bell continues to make his living off the legside. …
… And Ranjith Fernando finally makes it to the commentary box, halfway through the second innings! Did he think this was a day-night game? At least he's in time for Murali's spell. …
... Jayasuriya just helped Murali's cause immensely with a freaky flick run-out. Now they can take the third Powerplay and have Murali facing a new batsman. ...
… And that's the game: Pietersen c & b Muralitharan 58. Well, not quite the game, but the gamblers definitely concur: as soon as KP got out, the odds from Bet365 turned for Sri Lanka. I guess Flintoff's stock is on the drop. …
… KP is fuming as he walks back to the pav – he looks like he’s about to greet the first person who says a word to him with a punch to the Adam’s apple. ...
… Too many wickets for thought. Flintoff batted like a schoolboy and skyed a half-volley; Collingwood got out to the plumbest lbw I’ve ever seen in my life. Surely this is it for England. ...
… "Skyed" can't be a real word, can it? ...
… Now that I've watched Paul Nixon bat for a while, I've realised that he wasn't wearing a mouth-guard as an addition to a helmet, he was wearing it as a replacement for it. I had it all backwards: it’s not that he’s been hit so often that he needs extra protection; he’s been hit so often that he’s quite used to it by now. But hey, if you asked me to name the “international player most likely to have been repeatedly hit on the head by hard flying objects” just based on his mugshot, I’d pick Nixon without hesitation. …
-- [45th Over] --
It's tense as all hell now. I'm not sure why, since neither one of the two batters, Nixon and Bopara, has shown the ability to be a 10+/over boundary-hitter. Nixon is very quick on the reverse-sweep, however, so I'm sure there will be action in all directions.
… And they did it!! A thrilla in Antigua. When was the last time we had a match decided on the last ball?! …
… So is hitting a reverse sweep for six really that great an achievement? Nixon’s looked disconcertingly easy. …
… Why oh why was Fernando given the ball for the last over instead of Vaas? I know he pulled it off in the end, and Vaas had had a forgettable game up to that point, but surely seniority rules apply here. Unless Vaas was offered to bowl and refused, I don’t see why he would be snubbed at the death. …
… D. Fernando, sounding pre-pubescent in his post-match interview with Michael Atherton, expressed his excitement about the win, while at the same time praising the efforts of "Bopara and the other guy [sic]" from England. ...
… The rest of the commentators are running bets to see how many times they can fit the phrase, "this is just what the World Cup needed", into the remaining 10 minutes of coverage. ...
… Kevin Pietersen is still fuming -- it looks like the only thing that can take his mind off the loss is a meaningless one-night stand with a club skank later in the night. …
So Sri Lanka are almost through, while England have to beat Australia in a few days just to have a chance. As Richie would say, "super day of cricket, that".
Time for a bacon sandwich.
We were planning to go surfing today, but the prospect of typing some morning-spliff stream-of-consciousness while watching Sri Lanka virtually sealing a semi-final berth was too good to pass up. So here they are, scattered brain droppings in 10-over segments from the England v. Sri Lanka game.
… A solid start from Sri Lanka. They're batting on an odd-looking pitch, slightly resembling one of those miniature zen gardens that were all the craze in yuppie circles in the early 1990s. ...
… Jayasuriya got out early, so the Lankans target was duly adjusted from "Any score is possible" to "As close to 280 as we can get." ...
… Mike Atherton just described a bunch of Saj Mahmood's qualities, including his height, his brain, and his athletic ability. The downside? "He's never been particularly accurate." Um, okay. …
… Three English commentators and two Indians. Did Ranjith Fernando take the day off to go snorkeling, or something? ...
… Q: Is Monty Panesar actually a bad fielder, or has he just been told he's a bad fielder so often that he gets nervous every time the ball heads in his direction? ...
… I guess Mahmood's "other" qualities are coming to the fore, since he just got the wicket of Sangakkara with a wide full-toss. …
… Ian Botham sounds like he's suffering from a case of early-morning indigestion. He's just letting Sanjay Manjrekar state the bleeding obvious and then jumping in every so often to express cranky bewilderment at something England are doing. ...
… Has Paul Nixon been hit in the face so often that he needs a boxing mouth-guard every time he stands up to the stumps? ...
… Upul Tharanga is getting some flak for playing a slow innings lacking impetus. I'll be generous and just call it "Vaughnesque." …
… Sri Lanka look completely unperturbed in their batting. They're just taking their innings at a canter; working the singles and two's; nursing Tharanga into form. It doesn't appear as if they rate England's chasing abilities very highly -- a 5-0 mauling can do that to you, I guess. ...
… Do Sri Lankan team shirts only come in two sizes? All you ever see are the tight, chest-hugging Jayasuriya numbers, or the loose, skydiver-in-a-wind-tunnel XL tents that Russel Arnold favors. …
… I didn't catch the entire statement, but I heard Mike Atherton say something containing the phrase "England's excellence today". Excellence? Is English cricket in such a fucked-sorry state that allowing the opposition to a par score after putting them in to bat is now considered an "excellent" bowling effort? Good, yes. Commendable, fine. But "excellent"? ...
… Botham and Atherton are in full polish-England's-knob mode now. You'd think England just skittled them out for 120 or something. Am I the only who seems to remember that Sri Lanka have what is probably the best bowling lineup in this tournament (the most explosive pace bowler, the best spinner, the best supporting-spinner, and the most accurate swing bowler)? ...
So 235 it is -- Bet365 has the odds for the chase at 1.66 for England and 2.22 for Sri Lanka. I'm sure Beefy and Athers will agree. Is Ranjith still unavailable for comment?
Another YouTube moment robbed from the fans. This is now the best form we have to enjoy a classic passage of World Cup play. Thanks, ICC.
AJ Hall c Tharanga b Malinga 0 (2m 1b 0x4 0x6) SR: 0.00
Malinga to Pollock, OUT, BINGO! Finally Malinga strikes, that is a superb bit of bowling. It's a slower ball on the stumps, Pollock just does not pick it, plays inside the line of the ball and loses his leg stump. Even with the game all but gone Sri Lanka are fighting. Pollock played a good hand but now he's gone! SM Pollock b Malinga 13 (23m 24b 1x4 0x6) SR: 54.16 44.6
Malinga to Hall, OUT, ANOTHER! Andrew Hall goes off the very first ball! It's another speared-in yorker, Hall just about manages to dig it out, but he can't keep the ball down ... it bobs up into the air for the man at cover to pouch easily! Is there a twise left in this game Malinga on a hat-trick. What a funny little game this has been. 46.1
Malinga to Kallis, OUT, Would you believe it? Malinga has got the hat-trick! Full, furious, outside off stump, Kallis goes for a square-drive and nicks it behind. Loud appeal. Kallis stays rooted. Even louder appeal and Harper raises the fatal finger. SA eight down and choking real badly. JH Kallis c Sangakkara b Malinga 86 (187m 110b 4x4 0x6) SR: 78.18 46.2
Malinga to Ntini, OUT, And then they were one! Malinga gets four in four. Unbelievable! Screaming yorker and Ntini drives, plays all over it and ball crashes into the middle stump. Malinga is slinging down magic deliveries and SA are nine down. M Ntini b Malinga 0 (2m 1b 0x4 0x6) SR: 0.00
AJ Hall c Tharanga b Malinga 0 (2m 1b 0x4 0x6) SR: 0.00
It wasn't even full. The stadium, it wasn't full. That's the image that struck me the most from the India v. Sri Lanka game yesterday. It wasn't India's umpteenth under-whelming performance in a major tournament, or the clinical flamboyance of a Sri Lankan team that is looking more dangerous and more confident by the day. It was the empty stands. Queen's Park Oval is not a huge venue -- it holds about 25,000 on a good day. We are being told all the time that India is home to the largest market and the most rabid cricket following in the world, and yet you're telling me they couldn't manage to pack a few thousand bodies into a picturesque Caribbean ground for the most important one-day game their team has had since the 2003 World Cup Final?
So now both the big Asian teams are gone, an outcome some might call disappointing if it wasn't at the same time so predictable. Does it really matter though? Probably not -- the Pakistanis have way bigger issues to worry about now and can't seem to want to hop on a plane out of the continent quickly enough. The Indians haven't looked like they could threaten New Zealand, let alone Australia, in years, so an early exit at least helps to keep their national agony prompt and gives them a few extra weeks for the inevitable processes of soul-searching and re-building.
Anyway, here are some scattered live observations made during yesterday's massacre:
-- Here's a great (non-bowling) reason why Muttiah Muralitharan is such an entertaining, indispensable character in world cricket: after he took a blinder of diving catch to get rid of Ganguly, he threw the ball in the air to celebrate, like all cricketers are wont to do; but then he got scared that the umpires might believe he threw it up too early and without being in full control, so he ran in the opposite direction to re-catch the ball, went for another full-length dive and ended up dropping the ball comically. The ball was definitely out and all his teammates were already running in to congratulate him, but Murali ended up looking like a little kitten who kicks a ball of yarn but then gets surprised by its movement and starts chasing it frantically. Priceless.
-- Arbitrary ICC Regulation Put In Place For The World Cup That Only Serves To Kill The Fan Experience of the Day:
No paying spectator can leave the stadium's grounds during a World Cup match. If you want to leave at any point, they expect you to buy another ticket to come back in. If you ask me, that is just blatant discrimination against those fans who are unwilling to stand in line during the lunch break to get overpriced buckets of KFC or lukewarm roti at the concession stand, and who'd rather pop out to the park for a quick joint to liven up the afternoon run chase.
-- It's nice to see Russel Arnold keeping alive the long-standing Sri Lankan tradition of "fielding at least one player who looks like he has recently been through a famine." Arnold has taken the role over from Upul Chandana, who had held title for years with a face that seemed almost custom-built for a World Vision ad. I think his bio picture was even Photoshoped to remove the buzzing flies.
-- Sachin Tendulkar has really mastered the art of the memorable entrance. He comes out of the pavilion and onto the field at the just the right moment, strolling at a perfect pace; slow but determined. He crosses the outgoing batsman early, close to the boundary, so he can bask in the lone limelight for as long as possible. He seems to time it so that his name is announced over the P.A. about halfway through his walk, a steady roar building around the stadium as spectators turn their heads to see a diminutive legend in the flesh. It doesn't matter how badly his form may be, or how old he might get, he makes every trip to feel like a special occasion for the fan; a true experience; an event.
And then… he gets bowled for a duck by Sri Lanka's fourth best bowler.
We attended our first live game yesterday, Sri Lanka v. Bangladesh, at the Queen's Park Oval in Port of Spain. The stadium (if it can be called that, even with the additional stands built just for the World Cup) was barely half-full, with small pockets of vociferous partisan supporters livening the scene, but mostly just a selection of sedate locals enjoying a calm afternoon of cricket. The result was unsurprising, but served well as an appetiser for the big feast on Friday, the India v. Sri Lanka clash.
Some scattered observations about the match and locale:
-- I had wondered ever since we ordered the game tickets last year what the offer of a "Party Stand" entailed exactly. I knew it might be too much to ask for an actual party atmosphere, given the regulations and security guidelines imposed by the ICC to prevent the spread of too much fun around the grounds, as well as the fact that this was a first-round game held in the middle of the week between two small teams with modest followings. What we got instead from the Party Stand were eight drink vouchers and one meal voucher each, which actually seems like a fairly decent trade-off. Pump enough alcohol and tepid fast food into any fan's system, and any stand becomes a Party Stand, really.
-- Trinis like their music, and they like it loud. Between every over and during every extended break, the house speakers blared short deafening snippets from high-tempo tunes. I'd be all for it, if it wasn't for the utterly humdrum selection of tracks. As far as I can remember, all they had to offer were a few local remixes of overplayed hip-hop-lite hits, an Afro-Cab version of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" sung in Spanish, and a terrible corporate anthem about cricket, full of lines about "the spirit of the game" and "spreading peace and love."
-- In the playing field, the big difference between the so-called 'minnows' and the Big Boyz appears to be how they deal with adversity. Any score to chase beyond 250 makes teams like Bangladesh wilt easily, never even looking like they have a chance. Lower-tier ODI teams like England and West Indies, who just as often face scores slightly beyond their reach, rarely have that deflated look about them right from the start of their innings. Maybe they've just been faced with those situations so many times that they've grown to learn how to hide the obvious and delay the inevitable for longer. Practice makes perfect, after all.
-- Kumar Sangakkara is well on his way to reaching legendary status in his island. He already exudes an air of confidence and know-how on the field that few modern players can claim. Another four or five years at that level and he might reach a similar status on the global stage -- if he doesn't, at least he'll be certain to settle into a nice role as a respected elder statesman and trusted analyst in his retirement.
Even though he has only been at it for a short time, Mukul Kesavan has quickly shown himself to be the best of the cricinfo bloggers, by some margin. One of his most recent posts, A Martian picks... Sri Lanka!, is a joy to read, and I can't say I disagree with a single word in it.