VIEWPOINT – The case for the non-Test nations

  The Irish veteran Trent Johnston recently lashed out at all those who refer to the non-Test playing nations as ‘minnows’, a term which he feels is deriding to all developing teams. Johnston’s grudge was that teams like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe refuse to play teams like Ireland and Afghanistan, and went on to cite that the former two’s apprehension of losing to the latter two is the reason for their refusal – obviously buoyed by the fact that Ireland beat both Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in the World Twenty20 warm-ups. 

  Johnston, 38, also said that since the top eight nations obviously could not get time from their packed schedule including the myriad T20 leagues, it is expected that the bottom two Test teams play the Associates on a regular basis. He then went on to state that calling the non-Test nations as ‘minnows’ was absolutely discouraging, and that he was sick of hearing that term time and again before a major tournament approaches.                                        ImageTrent Johnston takes off after striking the winning six against Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup

  Though Ireland have quite some way before they could become an elite nation, Johnston’s claims are definitely not unjustified. On one hand, the ICC says that it supports the development of the lesser nations, while on the other, it simply does not organise enough fixtures for teams like Ireland and Afghanistan in the 50 overs format – even though Afghanistan’s fixtures against Australia and Pakistan this year have been an encouraging sign – games in which the Afghans were far from being a ‘minnow’. Also, Johnston’s frustration might have also stemmed from the barriers that hinder Ireland’s rise as a top cricket nation – the most unfair being that of England whipping off the cream of Ireland’s talent – a rule that seriously needs to be scrapped if the ICC actually care for the sport’s development. 

  There are many who believe that the non-Test teams should not be part of major tournaments – why, the ICC itself had decided to do away with such teams in the 2015 World Cup, before they rightly took back the decision due to a furore in the non-Test ranks. How on earth can a tournament be called a ‘World Cup’ without the odd upsets? Kenya, Ireland, Canada and Netherlands all have had their moments in either the World Cup or the World T20, and instead of encouraging them to the fullest, the commercially-driven ICC has just not done  enough in the last decade or so (Kenya’s decline being the most glaring failure). In fact, the last Test nation to make a long-term impact was Sri Lanka, and that was 30 years ago.                   

Image Netherlands celebrate after shocking England at Lord’s at the 2009 World Twenty20 (source – theguardian.com)

  Admittedly, the presence of non-Test nations in world tournaments will make some of the matches one-sided – but that is exactly how they will learn. The 2007 World Cup was being termed a a dull affair just because Ireland and Bangladesh qualified into the next round at the expense of Pakistan and India – the two teams guaranteed to bring in the gate receipts. Sadly, instead of applauding the feats of Ireland and Bangladesh, the format of the tournament was blamed for India and Pakistan’s exit – when the truth was that the two Asian powerhouses were simply not up to the mark, and that they were undone by two better teams on the day. And the real reason why the tournament seemed boring was because of Australia’s ruthless domination (resulting in one-sided matches), and not because of two deserving teams unexpectedly qualifying for the Super 8. 

  The road ahead for the Associates and Affiliates will be certainly rocky. Afghanistan, in fact are yet even become an Associate – it just says how amazing their progress has been in the last few years. As for Ireland, the talent drain continues, with seamer Boyd Rankin becoming the latest to move to England in the hope of a Test cap one day. The rest of the nations are still way behind both Ireland and Afghanistan. Kenya’s glory days are long gone, and the ICC can be partly responsible for it. 

  Thus, instead of deriding these gritty teams and questioning their presence in world tournaments, the need of the hour is to plan a road-map for them to elevate to Test status as soon as possible. Let us accept it, such tournaments would not be worthy of being called global tournaments without their presence – it would rather be a tepid ‘members-only’ affair. After all, the best match of the 2011 World Cup was not the semi-final or the final, it was Ireland’s astonishing win over England – without which the tournament would have been so much less glittering.

  As for Johnston, whereas he has done enough for his team to get them where they are, pity that the money-driven powers-that-be haven’t. 

RECORD BOOK – International Twenty20’s first ‘trickster

  The first ever World T20 was held in South Africa back in 2007 – at that time it was taken as more of a hit-and-giggle fortnight of cricket, and indeed, it was unheralded India – just six months after their World Cup disaster – who took home the inaugural trophy, sparking off a T20 revolution. 

  Bangladesh had upset West Indies in the group stage of the tournament to ensure an entry into the Super 8, and were drawn to meet world champions Australia at Cape Town in the first game of the second round. Australia themselves were upset by Zimbabwe in the league stage, and were lucky to sneak into the next round thanks to an easy win over England. After being put into bat, Bangladesh reached a safe 40/0 in the 7th over before the first wicket fell. Despite losing two more wickets, they looked good for a competitive score when placed at 108/3, in 16.2 overs – when the fiery Brett Lee decided to put himself in the record books.                                       

ImageBrett Lee celebrates his hat-trick at the 2007 World Twenty20 (source – t20worldcupcricket.com)

  Shakib Al Hasan tried to slash the third ball of the 17th over but it only went straight into Adam Gilchrist’s safe gloves behind the wicket. In came Mashrafe Mortaza, who was promoted to give a hopeful punch towards the end. The fourth ball of the over was pitched onto the stumps by Lee, and by the time Mortaza could get it away, he was cleaned up. Two in two for Lee. Alok Kapali came in to face the hat-trick ball (incidentally, himself a hat-trick taker as well as a hat-trick victim in Tests). He duly became a victim again, as Lee trapped him plumb in front – he could do no wrong in that over – to record the first ever hat-trick in Twenty20 internationals. Lee also became the first, and still the only, to record hat-tricks in world championships of two different formats – having already taken one against Kenya in the 2003 World Cup. 

  Bangladesh slid from 108/3 to 108/6 due to Lee’s record feat and struggled to just 123/8 eventually, losing 6/41 in the last 7 overs. The Australian openers Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist then went berserk, slamming 7 sixes among them in a stand of 104, as the Aussies surged to a 9 wicket win with 37 balls left. 

  No prizes for guessing who the player of the match was. Lee finished with 3/27, and was later joined by New Zealanders Jacob Oram (2009) and Tim Southee (2010-11) in the list of T20 international hat-tricks. However, he remains the only one to accomplish the feat in the World Twenty20 thus far. In the next edition of the tournament in 2009, Lee was taken for 95 in 8 overs in the two matches Australia played before being knocked out. He did not play in the 2010 edition.  

Match Scorecard – http://www.espncricinfo.com/twenty20wc/engine/match/287866.html

FAMOUS TEST MATCHES – New Zealand v England, Wellington 1977-78

  This was the 48th Test played between England and New Zealand, and the first one was played 48 years ago – New Zealand having not won a single Test over them. England had started the season with a 3-0 win in the Ashes, before settling for a 0-0 stalemate in Pakistan, and were expected to beat the Kiwis, as always had been the case. The opening Test was played at the Basin Reserve in Wellington. 

  England, led by Geoff Boycott, and with Bob Willis, Mike Hendrick, Chris Old and Ian Botham in their seam department, inserted the hosts in. New Zealand started off solidly, with John Wright leading the way – he scored a patient 55 off 244 balls, and was 4th out at 152, immediately as the second day began. Bev Congdon chipped in with a gutsy 44 at No.5 before Old took his number. Old went on to pick 6/54, as the home side collapsed from 191/4 to 228 all out. England ended the second day at a comfortable 89/2, with the dependable Boycott still at the crease with 36*. But the home pacemen Richard Hadlee and Richard Collinge kept on chipping away with wickets on the third day, with Boycott 6th out at 188, scoring a typical 77 in 302 balls. England too suffered a collapse, as they went from 183/4 to 215, ensuring a narrow lead for the hosts. 

  The 4th day turned out be highly dramatic, as 18 wickets tumbled, and the match swerved this way and that. New Zealand’s openers calmly extended the lead, and were looking set at 54/0, before Willis decided to spice up things. After Old removed Robert Anderson for 26 (the joint-highest score in the innings along-with extras), Willis (5/32) took over, and proceeded to grab 5 out of the next 6 wickets to reduce the hosts to 104/7, before they folded up for 123. New Zealand had lost 10/69 and 9/41, and a match which looked to be in control had almost slipped away – England needing a modest 137 to go one-up in the 3 match series.

ImageThe legendary Richard Hadlee bagged ten wickets in the historic Test (source – espncricinfo.com)

  However, on a pitch of uneven bounce, New Zealand’s pacemen were all charged up, and following their decent first innings show, were determined to make a match out of it. Collinge bowled Boycott for 1, and then removed Geoff Miller and Derek Randall to set the tone, and what followed was one of the most memorable bowling spells by the great Richard Hadlee. To make matters worse, opener Brian Rose retired hurt with a bruised arm at 14/2. Hadlee had Graham Roope caught behind for nought before nailing Botham, and when Bob Taylor was run out, the score read 38/6 – England still needing 99 to prevent New Zealand from notching up their first win over them. But further disaster struck, and England ended the day at 53/8 – rain being their only hope.  

  And rain it did, on the final morning, but just for 40 minutes. When play resumed, the hosts bagged the final two wickets in 49 minutes in an understandably emotional atmosphere. The crowd gathered in front of the pavilion and sang “For they are jolly good fellows”, followed by three cheers. Hadlee finished with 6/26, and 10/100 in the Test, as England were shot out for 64 in 27.3 overs, beating their previous lowest against New Zealand (181 in 1929-30) by a safe distance. Except for an over by Dayle Hadlee (Richard’s older brother), the younger Hadlee and Collinge (3/35) bowled unchanged to destroy England. 

  This 72 run win was New Zealand’s finest hour yet, and fittingly, their greatest cricketer – Richard Hadlee played the pivotal role in the victory. The series ended in a 1-1 draw, but New Zealand had got their moment of glory.

Match scorecard – http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/63203.html

GUEST SECTION – The selection headache: Experience v/s form

  Experienced players play a huge role in any side but when they are out of form it gives the selectors a big issue to deal with especially if its’ a class player in question : Should they retain the experienced player or drop him and go for a newcomer? Here we look at both options and scenarios they provide:

WHEN EXPERIENCED PLAYER IS RETAINED 

PROS: THE EXPERIENCE The experienced player uses his experience and puts his team in command or rescues them fulfilling the main reason why he is still retained in the team. This has happened to many players who were questioned on their place in the lineup before hitting back with some even on verge of being dropped.

CONS: WASTE OF PLACE A player out of form and continues his bad form just uses ‘space’ in the team line-

Not so easy to drop someone like Sachin Tendulkar

up. It will block another player from showing his talent and winning the match for his team.  The “waste-of-place” scenario gets even more attention when the player has reached his “retirement age”. A small dip of form and criticism arrives that “the player is too old” and he is taking up place. He might come back with a good knock and the claims will be silenced. If the player continues his bad form, the criticism mounts up.

WHEN EXPERIENCED PLAYER IS DROPPED IN FAVOR OF A NEWCOMER 

PROS: NEWCOMERS SHINE The scenario leads to players who.have played on circuit for long time never to be seen again. Newcomers get a lot of chances but only some of them are grabbed. This has pushed many out-of-form first-team players to fringes and some of them have never returned back to international fold or struggling to. Selecting newcomers shows development for future and helps them learn a lot of things which could help them for future tours.

Virat Kohli has grabbed opportunity to cement his place

CONS: LACK OF EXPERIENCE Sometimes, how talented a player is, he still struggles in tough foreign conditions. The need for experienced player arises in such situations since experienced player has some knowledge of these conditions. Opposing captains tend to set attacking fields for newcomers and tend to make it tougher for them. 

BOTTOM-LINE

  Both experienced and newcomers are needed and to be successful. The timing is important – bringing in youngsters too late will result in player struggling to find his feet – the situation many teams face after a class player or especially when “legend” retires. Time it too early and you can miss valuable services of legend. It’s a tough situation and the job of a selector is not that easy. The right balance can establish a very good side.