Harare Sports Club

Test Match Thrillers and an A Team Killer: India and Pakistan miss the rain and a future Protea nails 200 in Townsville

Rain nearly saved Pakistan and it should have saved India, but it denied both sides a reprieve and ensured thrilling finales to two Test Matches over the weekend. England’s destruction of India at Old Trafford was stunning and the quality of cricket on display at the Galle Fort in Sri Lanka was just as fine. The standard was high in (Cape) Townsville too, where South Africa A hammered Australia A in a solid game of cricket at the Riverway Arts and Cultural Precinct.

South Africa might have found a replacement for Jaques Kallis. Actually, cancel that. Kallis is irreplaceable. But, they may have uncovered a future Protea. Rilee Rossouw nailed a superb 231, which killed Australia A’s hopes on a wicket that saw them bowled out twice in four days. Rossouw averages 45 from 72 First Class matches and must be on the edge of Test selection. Temba Bavuma asserted himself with a grafting 162 and Australia A – consisting of 5 internationally capped and 3 Test Match capped players in Phil Hughes, Moises Henriques and Mathew Wade – simply couldn’t match South Africa A. The visitors attracted plenty of vocal support too with many local club cricketers attending, enjoying a few beers and creating a bit of good natured atmosphere from the hill.

But, could the crowds be better? If the small crowds during match 1 are anything to go by, then it would seem that Cricket Australia, Townsville City Council and perhaps the local cricket administrators could do more on the promotions front. On Friday afternoon that little stadium should be heaving with blue and white collar workers and it wouldn’t take much imagination or creativity to spark interest and greater involvement from local businesses and large employers. On a positive note, Cricket Australia announced today the sport has one million participants in Australia, a great result that should be the basis for further expansion.

The two A teams go at it again in Townsville this week beginning on Thursday 14 August. Peter Forrest and Clint McKay have been added to the Australian side and Phil Hughes has taken the captaincy off Moises Henriques who is out injured.

The scene in Townsville resembles Newlands in Cape Town as Gurinder Sandhu steams in and attempts to get a much needed wicket for Australia A against Sth Africa A.

On the Test scene India’s weak surrender to England on the third day in Manchester has created an alarming dilemma for MS Dhoni: where to find players who want to fight? India only needed to survive one afternoon. It absolutely pissed down with rain all of the next day. I mean, blokes were chipping catches to short fielders and trudging off as if preferring to escape to the hotel games room. Unbelievable. England’s bowlers were good, but not quite this is an unplayable Mitchell Johnson who’s going to kill you good.

Two weeks ago India led the series 1-0, perhaps mostly because England were poor and lacked tactical direction. Since then India have been reclassified as an invertebrate species and England have reacquainted with the spinal column and retaliated with more discipline and application. Leading 2-1 England can’t lose the series now, at worst they’ll draw it if India bounce back, but England should win 3-1 with a resounding victory at The Oval Test, which begins Friday. Will England miss Stuart Broad if he fails to play after breaking his nose? Probably not. Moeen Ali will simply take another 5 for and finish the job Jimmy Anderson is likely to start.

Stuart Broad’s broken nose

Perhaps the most startling result occurred in Sri Lanka. Wow. Is Test Cricket alive or what? Pakistan made 451 in the 1st innings with Younis Khan amassing 177. Bang that’s it. It’s going to be a draw. The Galle wicket will be a road. Sure enough Sri Lanka pump out 533 and you’re thinking, yep, draw. But, here comes Sri Lanka’s spin king Rangana Herath and there goes Pakistan for 180 on the final day. A lead of only 98. 126 balls remain in the Test Match, are they going to go for it? You betcha. They peel off the runs with 5 overs to spare. Seconds after the celebrations begin the rain falls on the Dutch fort and rolls across the ground. Pakistani players were last seen kicking the ground, while locals danced and sang in the rain. One of the great Test victories.

No I haven’t forgotten to mention Kumar Sangakarra… he smashed 221 in Sri Lanka’s 1st innings, his 37th Test Match tonne. He averages 58 from 125 Tests. In fairness Sri Lanka don’t play as many top line Test Matches as Australia, England or South Africa, but he would waltz into any of those nations’ teams and score just as many. A timeless legend.

At the Harare Sports Club Zimbabwe made a competitive 256 against South Africa who are 4/201 in reply. It is great to see Zimbabwe back in Test Match action and so far they are holding their own against a rebuilding, but still very good South African team.

The Ashes are over, but the need to promote cricket has never been stronger

Ashes Finale

The Ashes in England are over. England 3 – Australia 0.

Much has been said of the series, elsewhere and on this blog. The scoreline suggests England were totally dominant and battered Australia, but those of us that followed almost every ebb and flow of the series are acutely aware of a few moments when Australia had the ascendency, and could have won Test Matches.

Australia lost by only 14 runs at Trent Bridge and were annihilated at Lords. They had England on the ropes on the last day at Old Trafford, before rain stole almost a full day’s play. Australia were 1/150+ chasing 290odd at Chester le-Street, but capitulated, all out for 220odd. The final Test at the Oval in London was an unusual finale.

To some degree it was framed by the “dead rubber” context, but with an Ashes Series in Australia soon after, and many of the baggy greens playing for their careers, the outcomes were always going to provide a platform of intense speculation.

In the end, the match was a draw, mostly shaped by rain and bad light. Despite the draw the final day provided plenty of drama after Australia gallantly chased the win (at first), with a quickfire 2nd innings and sporting declaration. England began their last day chase of 220odd cautiously, but the game eventually resembled an ODI. England were close to victory, they only needed 20odd runs off the final four overs. Michael Clarke looked to the umpires for a bad light ruling, and they obliged, attracting the criticism of many cricket fans around the world.

Bad Light

Interpretations of bad light, the rules, the circumstances, the use of floodlights, the colour of cricket balls and the perspectives guiding the “safety” of players need to be closely examined by the ICC.

Let’s be honest, the ICC probably won’t do anything about it soon. From the outer they appear to be an intensely conservative and slow moving, perhaps dysfunctional beast. Cricket in Australia suffers immensely from a lack of quality, progressive and visionary administration. They’re not alone.

The Promotion of Cricket

One example of the ICC’s failings lay in the concept of promoting cricket. I’ll be brief.

Australia tackled Scotland in a full international 50over match in Edinburgh the other night. It was neither promoted or televised in Australia. Why?

The match was an official part of Australia’s 2013 tour of England and Ireland. Scotland are struggling to develop cricket north of Hadrian’s Wall, they could do with some assistance. An ODI against one of cricket’s heavy weights helps, but hardly, when it’s not televised and beamed around the world. England played Ireland in an ODI too, and it was not televised. Ireland are one of the strongest emerging cricket nations who have already – in my opinion – established a formidable case to play 2nd tier Test Cricket.

Cricket Australia, the ECB and the ICC must assist these developing nations in a variety of ways, but one method would be to ensure that these matches are part of negotiated television deals.

Speaking of television. I pay over $100AUD per month to Foxtel for a satellite television package. It has about eight full-time HD sports channels, and several others, but I can’t watch the Pakistan versus Zimbabwe Test Match currently being played at Harare Sports Club. Instead there are endless replays of NRL, AFL and EPL games from 1972 and a whole bunch of rubbish sports like BMX Championships and 2nd rate college football games from the US. Get the LIVE TEST MATCH CRICKET ON please.

Going into Day Three the Pakistan v Zimbabwe Test is shaping up to be a great contest and both nations – who struggle for a variety of reasons – need positive assistance to grow their cricketing profiles.

What can cricket’s strongest boards and the ICC do about this? A heck of a lot more than they currently do…

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