Enough to Make Warnie Proud

Today, Michael Clarke following in the footsteps of his great friend Warnie, shone on the cricket field, in the face of great personal crisis.  Clarke seemed to have forgotten how to score runs early in the innings but late in the day, the runs flowed as he ended the day on exact on hundred big ones.

Earlier in the week, Clarke told the press that Warne had been a great support to him and that they are very close.  Apparently, Shane was very excited when Pup rejoined the tour of New Zealand.  All this was news to me but it makes sense.  Clarke is a cricket super star (though not in Warnie’s league) and he is also enjoying the riches and public life the come with it.  And with Warnie as his mentor, perhaps it is no surprise that he is experiencing relationship failure.

It was an interesting day of Test cricket.  New Zealand had Australia in trouble but North trumped Hughes – the stakes are a place in the second Test, if and when Watson returns.

Play on day 2 starts shortly.  Will Clarke get off the mark on Day 2?  Will New Zealand take a few quick wickets and get back into the match?  Will I get a chance to see or hear any of the match?  How much will the Vics win the Sheffield Shield by?  Can Rajasthan take a trick?

Pakistani Purge: Political or Pure?

Pakistan recently returned from a dismal tour of the Antipodes.  The team showed all the hallmarks of a typical Pakistan team.  Lots of talent – much of it wasted, dropped catches, losses snatched from the jaws of victory, in-fighting and bickering and some ordinary on-field behaviour thrown-in.  Following this pathetic but unsurprising performance the Pakistan Board of Control (PCB) has issued what is a rather surprising list of reprisals.

The Akmals, Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik all received strong punishments – this was not unexpected.  Kamran Akmal played terribly and was vocal about his dropping.  His brother, Umar, played up, faking injury before the next match (obviously in protest).  Afridi was ever the goose and who knows what he will do next. These were the punishments: Shahid Afridi and the Akmal brothers were fined Rs2-3 million [$24,000-35,000] for various misdemeanours and put on six-month probations.  Shoaib Malik and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan received on year bans!

The shock was that the PCB has summarily executed the careers of their two best players.  Mohammad Yousuf  (the batsman formerly known as Yousuf Youhana) and Younis Khan have both been suspended from international cricket “indefinitely”.  Totally and utterly un-bloody believable.  Yousuf and Younis are not only giants of Pakistan cricket but they are giants of world cricket.  I’m not suggesting that such status exempts players from just punishment, but what exactly have they done?

It is impossible to know exactly what happens behind the closed doors of any cricketing administration, and that includes Pakistan.  It is probably true that in the case of Pakistan, a lot more goes on behind closed doors than other administrations.  Therefore, we are more in the dark than in other cases.

What we do know is that Pakistan was thrashed on the tour. They started with New Zealand and experienced the high point of the entire tour with the first match.  They won the 1st ODI.  Aside from that, they won the second Test and levelled the series.  They didn’t win again and indeed, lost every match against Australia, including the second Test, where they had played themselves into a near impregnable position.  Mohammad Yousuf led the team badly and he didn’t handle the press conferences particularly well but he did take significant personal responsibility for the team’s losses.

But there was some intrigue.  He repeated and publicly sent SOS calls for Younis Khan to be sent over.  Younis never materialised.  Why not is unclear – the PCB seemed to have no intention of sending him and it is doubtful as to whether Younis himself wanted to go to Australia.  Yousuf was also vocal in his support for axed wicket keeper Kamran Akmal.  It is easy to see how these actions might have caused some embarrassment for the PCB.

However, administrators are supposed to resolve problems.  Pakistan cricket cannot afford to so easily dismiss the pillars of their team.  While Yousuf and Younis may have needed some wise counsel and discipline, their punishments seem outrageous.  This is heightened when compared to the lax treatment of certain pampered, lazy, under-achieving drug cheats in recent years.

I concede it is impossible to know what discussions have been held with Younis and Yousuf.  Perhaps the players were difficult.  It is hard to know what has gone on with Younis in the past few months.  In my opinion, the PCB has shot themselves in the foot. They have crucified Pakistan cricket and world cricket suffers for it. The public dismissal of these players, champions who have served their troubled country well for many years, is not only shabby but at face value, it leaves little possibility of reconciliation or restoration.  Then again, I might be over reacting.  The punishment of “indefinite” is vague in any language but in Pakistan, it could mean anything (or even close to nothing).

I’ve heard that life in Pakistan is hard and I believe it.  Pakistan is a relatively young country, being prised away from India in 1947 at the same time that India was prised away from the British.  During its time as a nation, it has known civil war, war with India, and constant border conflicts.  It has been torn by militant religious groups and their brutal conflicts and more recently is an epicentre for terrorism.  And I almost forgot to mention that India is its less troublesome neighbour – it also shares a border with Afghanistan.

Life for Pakistani cricketers and cricket fans includes all of these conditions.  In addition, on top of the usual team turmoil and captaincy spills, they have had to endure match fixing and ball tampering scandals and importantly, the loss of international cricket on its home soil.  In fact, the tour of New Zealand was Pakistan’s “home series” against the Kiwis.  It is difficult to know when cricket may actually be played again in Pakistan.  The current players can’t even make some easy money from IPL.  In the recent IPL auctions, all Pakistan cricketers were rejected – and the Pakistan cricket team has the best T20 players on earth – they are the World Champions.

Pakistan’s next Test series is against Australia – their home series, in England.  And they have decided to undertake this without their two best batsmen.  And that is aside from the T20 World Cup, where they will be defending their title.  Good luck.

Evergreen Styris Sizzles as Mitch Melts Down

Ross Taylor took out the man-of the-match award, and fair enough, but it was veteran all rounder Scott Styris who ensured that Australia’s late season wake-up call continued.  All summer, Australia has bathed in the success of an undefeated campaign.  Win after convincing win.  However, many had doubts about the strength of their opposition.  It was suspected that the status of the West Indies and Pakistan was weak, but just how weak?

One clue was that the West Indies returned to the Caribbean to be beaten in a T20 by Zimbabwe.  And now more evidence.  New Zealand has not exactly had a taxing summer, “locking horns” with Pakistan (and not prevailing) and then Bangladesh.  However, they have already managed to beat Australia twice.

Unsurprisingly, the ugly Australians made an appearance.  When are these guys going to grow up and start losing graciously?  Answer: When they get a new captain.  There is nothing to be proud of in behaving well when you win.  Johnson got so worked up about being belted by Styris that he head-butted him.  Styris was wearing a helmet but that is no excuse for Johnson.  And what did he receive as punishment?  A fine.  A slap on the wrist.

But back to Styris.  I was surprised to see him in the line up yesterday.  Not that I don’t regard him well – he is a fine cricketer – a world class ODI all rounder, in fact.  The surprise was that I thought he was history.  I’m ashamed to say that I don’t follow New Zealand cricket closely, but I do at least glance at the scorecard of every international cricket match.  And I didn’t recall noting Styris this summer.

Having done some research, I can announce that Styris is almost 35 years old and has been playing for the Black Caps since 1999.  And it is true that he did not play for New Zealand this summer.  He has not played a Test match since 2007 and he played just four ODI matches last year.  Yet, there he was, coming to the crease with the match in the balance (NZ required 72 runs from 11 overs with five wickets in hand) and Taylor just dismissed.

And it got harder from there.  Wickets continued to fall.  At the fall of the eighth wicket, 30 runs were required from just 22 balls.  It is an indication of Styris’ class that this was achieved with ease (and had a fight with Johnson on the way).  The scores were tied still with five balls to go and Styris clubbed a six to settle the matter, just to bore if up the Aussies. Styris and Bond actually scored 35 from just 18 balls.  Sensational stuff.

John Howard for President

John Howard is to be made president.  How strange.  To a leader who was a conservative and a royalist, the term “president” would seem to be anathema.  However, this is not the case for the former Prime Minister of Australia when it comes to the ICC.

John Howard has been nominated by the Australian and New Zealand cricket boards to become ICC Vice President.  This follows a long stand-off between Australia and New Zealand while they debated the relative merits of their own candidates.  For the record, New Zealand preferred Sir John Anderson, their former chief.  So did Roebuck, but who cares – just because Anderson has experience in cricket administration.

With the way the ICC works, in 2012, Howard, who will be 72 years old will become something he would never have believed:  The President.