Saturday, March 31, 2007

Action Men

I've mentioned here before that, having recently had shoulder surgery, the sight of Malinga bowling makes me wince. The thought that a generation of Sri Lankan kids are going to be mimicking that action is something that should have Colombo orthopaedic surgeons rubbing their hands with glee at all the extra shoulder reconstruction work they'll be picking up - Lord knows that must be in clover already with the number of arms they've had to 'straighten' since Murali hit the big time.

As kids growing up in the Seventies, we had a whole range of actions to imitate in our games of park cricket. We'd sit in front of the television committing various actions to memory and then spend hours demonstrating our powers of mimicry.

As the only southpaw in the gang that used to meet over at Kings Georges Recreation Ground, I had the left handers field to myself. I could do a very passable 'Underwood', a pretty good 'Sobers' (the longer run up) as well as a fair 'Bishen Bedi' (no run up whatsoever and a permanent enigmatic smile on the face.)

The right handed version of Bedi was normally described as the 'Illingworth' - the only difference being the facial expression which became 'thoughtful' - probably because none of us knew how to do a 'bloody minded git' at that age.

Everyone had their own specialities - some were very esoteric. Remember Inshan Ali? Big Keith was the first to perfect his wristy toss of the ball from one hand to the other before he started his run up. It became his party trick until he reached puberty and found better things to do with his wrist.

The elder Wheeler brother could do a very good Kerry O'Keefe - and could probably turn the ball just as far as O'Keefe ever did, whilst his younger brother Peter could produce an extraordinary Tony Greig, striding to the crease in huge bounds like a high-jumper - and even managed to adapt his act when Greig suddenly took up off-spin on the 1973/74 tour of the West Indies.

We all struggled with the 'Mike Procter' - ending up sprawled on the wicket through trying to bowl off the wrong leg, and we nearly tore our arms out of our sockets perfecting the whippy 'John Snow' - and then compounded the shoulder problems with the 'Jeff Thomson' - which was adapted by subsequent generations into the 'Fatima Whitbread'.

Dennis Lillee wasn't too difficult - added points given for doing the trademark flicking away sweat with the index finger. The 'Willis' was easy too - run in like a total lunatic with limbs going in all directions and then propel the ball as hard as possible towards the batsman.

Another favourite was the 'Chris Old' - an orthodox straight run up culminating in a blur of activity in the bowling stride. Graham Gooch later entertained fifth day crowds at dead test matches with a run through of his repertoire. His 'Old' used to end up clutching an imaginary strain in his thigh!

We went to great lengths to get our replaca actions as near to reality as possible. When John Arlott described Asif Masood's run up as being like 'Groucho Marx chasing a pretty waitress' Stevie Jones went to the local library to check out who this 'Groucho' was. He reported back, somewhat baffled, that it was 'some American guy with glasses and a big cigar'. Clive, whose Dad was a millitant trade unionist suggested that Arlott had meant Karl Marx - but that just deepened our confusion.

Around the same time Clive fell out of a tree and broke his right arm. In the period it was in plaster, he not only perfected a superb 'Phil Edmonds', but was also told by his doctor that when the plaster came off his arm would be temporarily slightly withered, so he - rather tastelessly I feel, assured us that he'd be doing a 'Chandrasekar' before too long.

Some we never perfected, and some were just too boring to bother with. We found Max Walker's tangle of arms and legs impossible. It resembled someone doing the butterfly stroke standing up - and none of us could do the butterfly either. In the boring category were Indian seamers Madan Lal & Abid Ali, and two off-spinners Pat Pocock and Ashley Mallet.

Sometimes a simple prop could tip the balance between an also-ran action and something clearly recognisable, and admired by the rest of the gang. A weeks pocket money was spent on a couple of white towelling wrist bands from the local sports shop - and hey presto, I was a left-handed Richard Hadlee.

Mention of Hadlee brings me to the serious point of this post. For the best part of the 70's and 80's, the New Zealand bowling attack was effectively Hadlee, plus four others. A whole generation of Kiwi youngsters, therefore, grew up with only one homegrown bowling action worth copying. Luckily for the future of New Zealand cricket, Hadlee's action was as close to near to perfection as makes no difference, which has resulted in a seemingly endless supply of New Zealand bowlers with excellent 'repeatable' actions - side on delivery, left arm up high, good follow through.

Might England's 'lack of fast bowling' woes in the 80's and 90's have anything to do witb the lack of decent role models? After all, the 'Willis' was fun to do, but eventually you'd give up and go and do something less taxing on the human frame like prop forward, or linebacker.

While you think on that - I'm off out into the back garden to perfect my 'Monty'...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Up for the Cup

Random thoughts and idle musings as the second phase kicks off: -

- We now have a best part of a month to look forward to with a meaningful game of cricket every day. The time difference means that most of the game is in prime time, even for us wage -slaves who do the 9-5 shift.

- There have been some comments in the press about how the lack of India and Pakistan in the Super 8's somehow detracts from the competition. One of the BBC Five Live reporters went as far as to say that "it shouldn't be allowed to happen again" - which at a time when the words 'match fixing' are on everyones lips, is a rather ill-advised comment.

- Talking of match fixing, Ireland beat Pakistan fair and square - Pakistan lost because they didn't play well enough on the day. Same with Bangladesh over India. If people don't like sporting upsets like this, maybe they should just stick to watching sports where a small number of teams are totally dominant and win everything - the English Premiership for example.

- I've learnt more about sports betting in the past week than I did in the previous 42 years of my life. Next thing you know there'll be a feature on Blue Peter - 'Here's a match I rigged earlier...'

- Who'll be in the 'Final Four'? Australia, Sri Lanka, South Africa look pretty certain to make the cut, and I'm guessing that the final place will come down to a 'winner take all' match between England and the West Indies. England need to win a minimum of two games out of the four they have against Australia, Sri Lanka, South Africa & West Indies.

- Much has been made in the media about the fact that the head of the police investigation into Bob Woolmer's murder is an ex British detective. Presumably this is supposed to offer some sort of reassurance that Dibble will get a quick result and that good old Anglo Saxon justice will be seen to be done - rather than having to trust things to the 'colonials'. On the other hand, based on previous Scotland Yard performances, we can obviously expect confessions to be beaten out of suspects, evidence fabricated and prime suspects to be walking the streets years later due to downright incompetence.

- Talking of the investigation, has Freddie Flintoff been interviewed yet? After all, he was caught fleeing the island on a pedalo...

- It's too late now, but why hasn't Steve Tikolo ever played County Cricket?

- On the face of it, Australia have been pretty dominant so far - but against South Africa they were only a couple of salt tablets away from losing, having posted the highest ever World Cup score.

- In the next couple of weeks England are going to have to chase a 300 plus score to stay in the competition - with a top three of Vaughan, Joyce, Bell.....

Friday, March 23, 2007

Yours is no Disgrace

There's a well known journalistic trick, whereby you pose a false proposition early on in the article and then spend the rest of the article knocking it down in order to make your case and justify your argument.

The propostion that Simon Hattenstone poses in this Guardian article is that Andrew Flintoff has become a national disgrace - and by definition, those of us who censure him for his pedalo antics are being hypocritical because we were happy to laugh at his drunken behaviour after the 2005 series, and are now critical of him for doing exactly the same thing in the West Indies.

I'd say the national response (if there is such a thing) is more subtle than that. Without trying to sound too much like a censorious teacher, I'd suggest that we're annoyed with Freddie because he's let us, and himself down - and, more importantly, because we fear that his drinking antics are going to detract from his effectiveness on the cricket field.

We waited eighteen years for someone to come along who could stand up to the Australians for us - look them in the eye and not blink. Glory be, in 2005 Flintoff did just that - but now we see that he's on the road to pissing all the talent down the drain, and we'll end up with a shell of a player whereas before there was a world-beater.

Ian Botham has adopted similar line to Hattenstone, along the lines of 'drinking never hurt me, therefore let him carry on drinking'. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but after the 1986/87 tour Botham was a total shadow of his former self - partly through injury, but partly, I'd suggest, because he body finally rebelled against the excessive revellry and lack of sleep. Hattenstone quotes Beefy saying that 'sleep is overrated'. Oh, ha bloody ha... how terribly radical and extreme. Let's encourage all our professional sportsmen to stay up all night on the lash, and then see how well they do the next morning.

Hopefully, losing the vice-captaincy has been the wake-up call that Flintoff needs to bring him to his senses. However, I have a little nagging feeling that it won't. I fear that some of his so called mates (that means you Steve Harmison, judging by this article) will tell him not to worry, that the Fletcher response has been a terrible overreaction, and that Freddie should just carry on as he is now.

If that happens it'll be the Australians who'll have the last laugh, and a generation of English supporters will never forgive Flintoff.

Cricket's Darkest Hour

Where the hell do we go from here?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Golden Years

"Those were the days my friend,
We thought they'd never end..."

Most of the tributes paid to Bob Woolmer have concentrated on his coaching achievements with just a passing reference to his domestic career, but for a generation of Kent fans who are now over 40, memories of Woolmer will automatically kindle stronger memories of the 1970's - a magical decade of success which I'd suggest is unequalled in domestic cricket. Ok, I'll accept Surrey's run of seven championships between 1952 & 1958 as coming close, but it's well known that they used to doctor their Oval wickets to suit their bowling line-up, whereas the only 'doctoring' Kent needed to do was of the 'witch' variety - pray for rain and then mutter 'Underwood' into the opposition dressing room!

In a nine year period from 1970, Kent appeared in no less than six one-day finals (winning four) as we 'White Horse' fans all came to memorise the underground timetable between Charing Cross & St Johns Wood. On top of that, there were three County Championships and three Sunday League titles thrown in for good measure. if you're scoring at home, that's ten trophies in nine seasons. All this was achieved with a team continually denuded by international call ups Denness and Luckhurst made regular appearances, Knott and Underwood were virtual ever-presents in the England team, - and then from 1975, Woolmer joined them.

In the early 70's Woolmer spent his time batting nine behind a phenomonal batting order than included the aforementioned Luckhurst Denness,and Knott, plus Alan Ealham, Cowdrey and overseas stars John Shepherd and Asif Iqbal - plus occasionally Bernard Julien - the first 'next Gary Sobers'.

His medium pace bowling was more important at that time - think Paul Collingwood, but with a much better inswinger, whilst his batting was considered little more than 'steady'. On the face of it, therefore, his selection for England in 1975 was something of a surprise. Fred Trueman's comment was that 'I'm three yards faster than him, right now' (yes Fred, and five stone heavier and seventeen years older) A ton against Lillian Thompson in his second test silenced the doubters and secured his place.

Back at Kent, Cowdrey had retired, Luckhurst had moved onto the coaching staff and Denness was shortly to move over the river to sample the scenic delights of Essex, so at last there was some room at the top of the order - an opportunity Woolmer grabbed with both hands.

His batting style was classical - unhurried and correct, with perfect strokeplay - you could almost call it 'Cowdreyesque'. This piece by Mike Selvey in yesterdays Guardian sums it up nicely. (Scroll down)

He seemed to excel in one day finals - there was a fifty in the B&H final in 1976, followed by another one, in a losing cause, the following year when he was the only Kent batsman who managed to handle a rampant Mike Procter. At one stage Kent were 50-5, of which Woolmer had 38 not out and no one else had got beyond 5. 1977 also saw more test runs against Australia as England regained the Ashes. He scored two consecutive centuries against the old enemy that summer - and all his three test tons were against the 'Baggy Green'.

Then came the Packer Revolution, and things would never be quite the same again. Half the Kent side, including Woolmer, signed up for the circus - and by the time the dust settled and peace had broken out, the names on everyone's lips were Botham, Gower & Gooch rather than the old guard.

For Kent, there was another season of success in 1978 as they won a further County Championship by a landslide as the ban on Packer players meant all the internationals were available all season, and another B&H trophy with Woolmer scoring yet another fifty in the final - three on the trot must be some sort of record.

The 1978 season, however, is now regarded as some sort of 'last hurrah' as gradually the team was broken up and the 1970s elite retired one by one. There have been Lords finals since, but the record has been played six, lost six. But then Woolmer didn't play in any of them so it's no wonder Kent lost them all.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Too Drunk to Field?

Two different issues: -

1) Leaving aside the 'Freddie pissed on a pedalo' story for a second, the subtext of this story seems to be that four players were seen in a nightclub more than 24 hours before the Canada game. They were grassed up by some England supporters - presumably for the going rate for that sort of thing which has always been thirty pieces of silver. Our wonderful tabloid press then contacted the England management and asked what they were going to do about it.

Management response should have been 'it's an internal matter and will be dealt with internally' - instead we get a very public notice of fines and tickings off.

Who's in charge of the England squad anyway - Duncan Fletcher or the editor of the News of The World?

2) No one seems to be sure of the whole Flintoff story yet - but if what the BBC are saying is true (and you can normally depend on the Beeb to get things pretty straight), then the punishment is probably about right. Freddie is a senior member of the squad, vice captain to boot, and needs to be setting an example.

His only defender in the press seems to be Ian Botham, which hardly comes as a surprise. After all, Graham Gooch is still getting a laugh at cricket dinners with his story of being out for a 6am run on one England tour, and meeting Beefy on his way to bed after a night on the lash.

Wonder what the punshment would have been had England's opponents today had been New Zealand rather than Canada?

Friday, March 16, 2007

A Riot of my own

From the 'who'd have thought we'd live so long' archives...

This came out THIRTY YEARS AGO.

Go on, have a pogo round your room - you know you want to...

And what's it got to do with cricket? Well, very little to be honest - apart from providing an opportunity to shoehorn in this quote that's been in my 'drafts' box for months: -

"Cricket makes no sense to me. I find it beautiful to watch and I like that they break for tea. That is very cool, but I don't understand. My friends from The Clash tried to explain it years and years ago, but I didn't understand what they were talking about."

Jim Jarmusch

Monday, March 12, 2007

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Even Better than the Real Thing?

Harrowdrive has a nice piece on a fairly recent phenomenon that irritates the hell out of me - the idea that 'so and so' is ready to be picked for the Test/ODI side because he's been performing well in the nets.

The contrast between net sessions & playing in the middle are immense. Both have their purpose, but to say that someones net form can justify them being picked for the full side is total nonsense.

Understandably teams have issues with tour schedules that limit the number of warm up games before Test Matches start - but there are simple solutions to the lack of competitive play. Why not arrange your own games 'off schedule' against local club sides, or at least get games for a couple of players you feel might need some match conditioning.

Or even, as Greg Chappell suggests in the link, sort out your own scenarios out in the middle.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Balcony Scene

During a drinks interval at a test in the 80's, the TV camera panned round to the England balcony where the players were going about their business as their batsmen did battle out in the middle. Ian Botham was sitting down utterly engrossed in a magazine. The camera focussed on him for some time. In the commentary box Richie Benaud wondered aloud what Beefy was reading - the colour summariser suggested 'The Cricketer'. Someone watching TV inside the changing room obviously told Beefy was on camera. He then held up his magazine to reveal a Playboy centrespread! Silence on air for the next five minutes - hysterical laughter in every living room in the country.

The current England changing room balcony scene is slightly less adventurous. No one is openly reading pornography - although Ian Bell does tend to disappear suddenly without warning quite a lot. KP and Freddie are normally standing at the back in skimpy T shirts that wouldn't look out of place in Old Compton Street, comparing muscles and 'tats. Ed Joyce usually has his headphones on - you'd like to think Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers or Van Morrison, but suspect Val Doonican and Ronan Keating. Andrew Strauss is putting on his kneepads in order to persaude anyone who needs persauding to let him open in the next game, Matty Hoggard is walking an imaginery dog around - and so on.

At one end of the balcony sits an impassive figure. What's Duncan Fletcher doing? Well, to quote Edwin Starr -"absolutely nothing" (say it again!) He's staring, unblinking at what's going on out in the field behind an effective mask of total and utter inscruitibility, which suggests that he must be a fantastic poker player. His lack of movement make the legendary Egyptian sphinx look animated in the extreme.

I'll admit that other international coaches also tend to sit pretty still and concentrate entirely on the game - after all, it's what they're paid to do, but they all betray some flicker of life every now and again. Bob Woolmer, for example, occasionally lets his eyes wander down to the laptop screen in front of him where he's surreptitiously watching downloaded episodes of Beavis & Butthead, whilst John Buchanan is 'lying with his eyes whilst his hands are busy working overtime' out of camera vision - in Buchanan's case they're sticking pins in the voodoo doll of Shane Warne in his lap. Fletcher is in a different league though - it's almost eerie.

Then it suddenly dawned on me - maybe what we're witnessing is something darker. Maybe there's a 'Weekend at Bernies' situation going on here. Maybe Fletcher actually died a couple of weeks ago - spontaneous combustion, a freak gardening accident, choking on vomit - who knows? The England squad then took fright at the possibility of a messy investigation by plod, and ever since they've been carrying him round from ground to ground, propping him in his usual seat on the balcony and hoping for the best.

If it's true, then there's a good chance that they could get away with it. The only time Fletcher appears in public, apart from on the balcony, is at press conferences where his performances tend to be at the narcoleptic end of the scale anyway. Freddie is a man of many skills, so surely ventriloquism isn't beyond him. A quick nudge on Fletcher's shoulder anytime the coach is asked a question, followed by Freddie muttering something in a South African accent about keeping focussed.... It's foolproof!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Career Opportunities

Nari Contractor
Farouk Engineer
Mark Butcher
Bert 'Dainty' Ironmonger
Peter Loader
Bernard Constable

Des Hoare....

Monday, March 05, 2007

I'm so Bored with the USA

Thought I'd link to this article if only as an excuse to shoehorn a Clash reference onto the site!

Actually, I seem to recall some talk a few years ago that a couple of games in this World Cup were going to be played in Florida.

My recollection is that the USACA were very bullish about the whole idea, though 'bullish' is something of a default position when it comes to US spokemen for most things. There was talk of 20/30,000 attendances, purpose built stadiums and so on.

Anyone else remember this?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

England's Dreaming

(Second in a series of articles about previous World Cups. This one takes us back to 1979)

England have appeared in three World Cup finals – 1979, 1987 & 1992. On the face of it, the stats suggest that they could have won two of these - 1987, where they were by the far the better side on paper, but played appallingly, and in 1992 against Pakistan, where they peaked too soon and were playing against a team seemingly inspired by higher forces.

The West Indies final of 1979, however, is often written off as a stuffing by a rampant team, and certainly the bald statistics of the result – a 90 plus run margin, would bear out this judgment. But a revisionist view of history suggests that had it not been for an appalling selection error before the game, and some perverse tactics during it, England could very easily have pulled off an unlikely victory against the reigning champions.

Four years on from 1975, and there had still only been 60 ODI games played by the time the second World Cup started, and after eight years. In contrast, there have been more than 60 ODIs played since the start of this year!

England were in a group with Canada, Australia & Pakistan. Canada were polished off in around the same length of time it takes to sing the 'Lumberjack Song', Australia were beaten quite easily, so the final game against Pakistan at Headingley was, therefore, only really crucial in terms of deciding semi final match ups. (West Indies and New Zealand qualifying from the other group)

However, it was events at Headingley that became critical in England's decision making from that point - and could be said to have a bearing on the ultimate destination of the World Cup.

In cloudy conditions, and on a very slow pitch, England only managed 165-9. In response, Mike Hendrick tore out the Pakistan top order and England looked set to win easily. Asif Iqbal hung around though, and looked as though he was going to see Pakistan home, at which point Brearley took off Phil Edmonds (who was getting no help from the pitch) and turned to Geoff Boycott's very occasional medium paced seamers. Boycott, turned his cap round, trundled in and took two wickets ending with figures of 5-1-14-2. England won by 14 runs.

Prompted by Boycott’s success, England then left out Edmonds for the side to play New Zealand in the semi final and went in with just four front line bowlers, relying on Boycott, Graham Gooch and Wayne Larkins to bowl the extra 12 overs. Again the gamble paid off as Boycott bowled nine over for 24 and took the wicket of Geoff Howarth. England squeaked through again, this time by nine runs.

On the morning of the final Bob Willis declared himself unfit.

(Quick digression here – we at TRSM have said some pretty scabrous things about Willis’s performance in the Sky box, but we take our hat off to probably the bravest person ever to play for England. Wilis's knees were so shot - even by 1979, that he often had to go out and run for an hour or so, simply to get loose enough to be able to bowl. At times just running in to bowl was an extraordinary achievement - so to lead the England attack and pick up 300 plus wickets is quite simply remarkable.)

With Willis absent the England side matched that for the semi final - Edmonds returned and it was four front line bowlers again.

Boycott’s success with the ball had blinded the selectors. The ploy of ‘fiddling’ an allocation of overs might work on helpful pitches against Pakistan tail enders or the cautious New Zealanders, but as any Catholic priest will tell you, ‘fiddling’ can get you into big trouble, and there’s a big difference between bowling to Asif Masood on a green top and a rampant IVA Richards. Surely the selectors should have taken into account that Lords would be a near perfect batting track – and that there weren’t really any gaps in the West Indies line up where the overs could be slipped in.

As it was, 4 wickets were down for less than 100 - one more wicket then and England would have been well on top. But Brearley had to take the pressure off where a fifth bowler would have kept it on. Richards (138*) and Collis King (86 off 66 balls) went bananas for twenty overs and the combined analysis of Boycott, Gooch and Larkins was 12-0-86-0. England were left chasing 290 rather than a potential 260.

All the main bowlers went for 4 or less an over. Someone like John Lever would surely have done a similar job - or even Geoff Miller, who’d appeared in the earlier games, and who would have also brought his memorable 'porn-star moustache' to the party – a huge bonus! If strengthening the batting was the issue, well Miller was no slouch with the willow wand, and the England line up already contained Ian Botham - plus Old and Edmonds who knew one end of the bat from the other - effectively batting down to Bob Taylor at number nine.

Let’s leave aside the fact that Brearley/ Boycott as an opening pair was hardly likely to have the West Indies bowlers quaking in their boots. Without getting all Darwinian on you, with Joyce/Vaughan looking the likely first choice pairing for the upcoming World Cup (Coincidently another Middlesex/Yorkshire pairing!) you start to wonder just how far English tactical thinking has evolved over the past twenty five years - if anything it seems to be regressing.

By tea - England were 79-0 off 25 overs. A bit slow - but probably par for the course against Holding, Garner, Croft and Roberts. The required rate a manageable 6 an over. At that stage the thinking surely had to be to get some stroke players out there as soon as possible after tea. Bear in mind that the West Indies had their own ‘5th bowler’ issues, and Richard and King were going to have to bowl 12 overs themselves. Far better they have to go up against Gooch, Randall, Gower, Botham and Larkins than the openers, and far better to give them enough time to settle in – surely?

Cue the second brain-fart of the day.

In the immediate after tea period Richards and King restricted England to 50 runs off 13 overs as the watchful opening pair made no effort whatsoever to open up and go over the top. I suppose you wouldn’t expect the stubborn Boycott to fall on his sword (‘Get meself out? Booger off skipper – I’ve only been in thirty overs!’) But you’d imagine that Brearley the master-tactician, lauded in most circles because he beat a Packer-whacked Australian team 5-1 in 1978/79 and then rode Botham to victory in the 1981 hurdles, would have had an idea of what was required – wouldn’t you?

I find it extraordinary that more hasn't been made of this. Brearley and Boycott took no risks whatsoever. It reached farcical proportions when Clive Lloyd deliberately dropped Boycott. Brearley was finally out at 129 in the 38th over – the rate was up to 7.3, which against Garner, Holding and Co was a next to impossible target.

Even more frustratingly, Graham Gooch then showed what might have been by walloping 32 off 28 balls. He and the ebullient Randall added 48 quickly, but from 183-2 with 12 overs left Joel Garner came back on, the whole edifice collapsed like Jeffrey Archer's legal defence, and it was Finals 2 West Indies 2.

Looking through Gary Gilmour's Eyes

With World Cup fever gripping the nation (?!) here's the first in a series of articles looking at previous World Cup competitions - not particular pattern or formula, sometimes it'll be a high level overview, and sometimes I'll pick on some particular issue and give it a flogging. I've no idea how far we'll get with this. Let's face it, during England's recent World Cup escapades (1999 comes to mind) I've started to lose the will to live, so committing ideas to paper/WP may prove rather a traumatic experience.

First stop is 1975.

Here's a statistic that I found stunning when I first looked it up - there had only been 18 One Day Internationals before the start of the 1975 World Cup. Of those, England had appeared in over two thirds. The West Indies, Pakistan and India had appeared in only a handful of games between them. For comparison, the most recent 18 ODIs all took place in the last THREE WEEKS!

So when the teams were gathering for the inaugaral World Cup, there was very little 'form' for bookmakers to study. The West Indies were probably favourites, if only because the one-day format suited their style of cricket and the fact that a lot of their side had excelled in English domestic one day cricket. Pakistan were also fancied as they could put this fearsome line-up out - Majid Khan, Sadiq, Zaheer, Mushtaq, Asif Iqbal, Wasim Raja, Javed Miandad, Imran, Wasim Bari, Asif Masood, Safraz Nawaz. Obviously it wasn't to be for Pakistan this time, but it's worth noting that two of that side had their day in the sun no less that seventeen years later! England had a pretty solid side, and the Australians looked strong - fresh from giving England a good shoeing earlier in the year thanks to that stunning Aussie wench - Lillian Thompson.

England and New Zealand got to the semi finals in rather sedate fashion from a group that also featured India and 'East Africa'. Who they? Well, to my mind, 'East Africa' is Kenya, and possibly Uganda - both of which were happliy independent by 1975, so I'm not sure why we had to suffer the empire throwback of a name which conjours up echos of tea plantations and 'White Mischief' - presumably designed to keep the MCC 'dribblers' happy and make them think it was still 1923. Their wicketkeeper was a guy named Hamish Macleod (tartan has always been big business in Mombassa) and their skipper was Donald Pringle - Derek's old man - obviously Kenyan through and through...

Anyway, England made short work of India, thanks to Sunil Gavaskar not realising it was a one-day game, saw off NZ thanks to a Keith Fletcher ton, and then spent a happy early evening sipping pink gins and playing canasta with the 'Happy Valley' set after they'd polished them off by about 700 runs at around half past three.

The best games were all in the other group - the 'Group of Death' if you will, where West Indies, Pakistan and Australia fought for the two semi-final places alongside Sri Lanka, still then only an associate member.

Dennis Lillee inspired Australia to victory over Pakistan, who then had West Indies eight down with 80 still required to win, and contrived to lose by one wicket in an extraordinary finish.

The scenes at The Oval for the West Indies v Australia match up were extraordinary. West Indies fans were scaling the walls, throwing their ticket stubs back to friends waiting outside and smuggling themselves into the ground in delivery vans to see their heroes. One estimate was that there were 40,000 shoehorned into the ground - double the official attendance. Alvin Kallicharran single handedly destroyed the Australian attack in thrilling fashion to ensure West Indies topped the group and thus got a fairly easy passge through to the final via victory over the Kiwis.

The other noteworthy event in this group was the performance of Sri Lanka against Australia - which was a huge step on their way to attaining full status - the famous 'would you like to press charges?' comment after Jeff Thompson had hospitalised Gehan Mendis with a yorker came here.

The other semi final was England vs Australia at Headingley. Rumour has it that it was so cloudy that those in the top ten rows of the Western Terrace had to wear oxygen masks. Gary Gilmour produced a classic left arm seamers spell to reduce England to 52-8. 3 caught behind, 2 LBW and 1 bowled by the 'nip-backer' - he ended with 6-14. Denness & the tail took the score to 93.

The England bowling line up was none too shabby for the conditions and Snow, Arnold and Old had the Aussies 39-6. But ultimately there weren't enough runs to play with, Gilmour rode his luck with the bat to finish with 28 not out and the Aussies went through.

Thousands of words have been written about the final so there's little point rehashing it with a blow by blow account. Suffice to say that I was glued to the television for the whole length of it. (nine hours plus) Clive Lloyd played one of the defining one day innings, Australia confidently chased a seemingly insurmountable target only to shoot themselves in the foot with run-outs - not once or twice but FIVE times. It ended past eight o'clock - with another run out as Lillian Thompson got her knickers in a twist going for a short single!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Stiff Little Fingers

I've heard of suffering for your art but Jacob Oram is close to taking it to an entirely new level entirely.

What's not clear is whether he's planning to perform the 'operation' himself...

There was once an American Baseball pitcher called Mordechi 'Three Fingers' Brown - but that particular moniker was derived through an accident with some farming equipment rather than any descent into the realms of self-harm.

Middlesex and England spinner Fred Titmus lost some toes on his right foot, but again that was due to an accident, rather than disappearing to his hotel room with a bottle of brandy and a meat cleaver, which is what Oram seems to be implying.

The Needle & the Damage Done


The odds on Pakistan just lengthened rapidly.

It's a shame really. As I've said before, any big tournament like a Cricket World Cup needs its share of big characters to fill the stage - and they don't come much bigger than the Rawlpindi Express.