World T20 Qualifiers Weekend

WT20Q

The entrance to the Grange club for the T20 qualifier

A weekend of international Twenty20 cricket was to be had in Edinburgh this weekend at the Grange club in Stockbridge. The qualifying tournament for next year’s T20 World Cup in India is being held in Scotland and Ireland over the next couple of weeks, with a round robin group being held in each country before the knockouts take place in Ireland. The Grange held three matches over the weekend, all of which were broadcast on Sky Sports.

Having started playing cricket (fairly badly) for the mighty Tranent in recent weeks, I have a bit of a new-found appreciation for just how difficult cricket is to play well. As such, even in this range of second-tier international matches, it was obvious just how good the cricket on show was.

Scotland v Netherlands, 11 July, 10am

Up first, as Saturday’s only game, was Scotland’s match against the Netherlands. The Scots had started well, tonking Namibia on Thursday, while the Dutch had lost to Afghanistan on Friday.

There's some Dutch blokes batting out there (honest)

There’s some Dutch blokes batting out there (honest)

On a very pleasant morning in Edinburgh, the Netherlands won the toss and chose to bat. Wesley Barrasi’s quick 75 from 40 balls got the Dutch off to a flying start – him being dropped twice, including one absolute dolly, didn’t really help. Despite the excellent bowling of Ali Evans, who took 5-24 off his 4 overs, the Dutch pressed on the accelerator through their captain Peter Borren, scoring 57 from just 28 balls. Those two scores, and some rather ropey bowling from Scotland’s 5 other bowlers, saw the Dutch post a strong total of 191-6 off their twenty overs.

Scotland doing some batting

Scotland doing some batting

Scotland’s reply didn’t start too cleverly, as Kyle Coetzer firstly ran out the batsman at the non-striker’s end as his shot hit the stumps with the score on 2, and was then caught with the Scots only on 10. The wickets then fell regularly as the Scottish batsman kept trying to hit big, but failed to reach the boundary and invariably found a Dutch fielder.

Undoubtedly the best catch was taken by Bukhari, who caught Berrington’s heave into the leg side having run round from square and dived forward to take the ball. Preston Mommsen provided some resistance, posting 68 not out to take the score from 79-7 to 159-7, but Scotland lost their last three wickets for nought, and ended losing by 32 runs.

One Scottish batsman leaves, another arrives - this was an unfortunately common sight this weekend

One Scottish batsman leaves, another arrives – this was an unfortunately common sight this weekend

A well deserved win for the Dutch, who hit big and then placed their field absolutely impeccably to deny Scotland the win.

Netherlands 191-5 (20 overs); Scotland 159 all out (19.5 overs) – Netherlands win by 32 runs

UAE v Netherlands, 12 July, 10am

Today’s cricketing feast saw two matches at the Grange club. The first was between conquerors of Scotland, the Netherlands, and losers to Scotland, the United Arab Emirates. The Dutch won the toss again and this time chose to field.

Some UAE batting action

Some UAE batting action

Despite a fast start from the UAE, scoring more than 20 in the first 2 overs, they were soon pegged back. The spin of Roelof van der Merwe was particularly effective, the South African born bowler’s figures a miserly 2-10 off his four overs. Peter Borren was again at the fore taking a wonderful one-handed catch to dismiss Mohammad Naveed. Off their twenty overs, the UAE could only muster a meagre 119-7 – just less than a run a ball.

A huddle for the UAE before they go out to field for the Dutch innings

A huddle for the UAE before they go out to field for the Dutch innings

The Dutch response was reasonably boring, if utterly clinical. While they didn’t hit it out the park as they did against Scotland yesterday, there were good contributions from massive Dutch-Aussie Ben Cooper (50 from 38 balls) and a nice cameo yet again from captain Peter Borren. Borren finished proceedings with a six off the first ball of the eighteenth over, giving the Netherlands a very comfortable 7 wicket victory.

UAE 119-7 (20 overs); Netherlands 125-3 (17.1 overs) – Netherlands win by 7 wickets

Scotland v Afghanistan, 12 July, 2:15pm

And so to the main event. With a good sized Afghan crowd in, and far more Afghan flags on show than Saltires, the crowd were mostly rather pleased when Afghanistan won the toss and elected to bat.

Some Afghan supporters, adding some noise and colour to proceedings in Stockbridge

Some Afghan supporters, adding some welcome noise and colour to proceedings in Stockbridge

I spent some of the first over, particularly when Afghanistan were 2-1 after an early LBW decision went Michael Leask’s way, hoping that Afghanistan might not go as big as the Dutch did on Saturday. Unfortunately, I was very wrong. Wicket keeper Mohammad Shahzad set the tone for the Afghans, scoring a fantastic 75 off 36 balls, which included 7 huge sixes. There were runs and high strike rates all the way down the order for Afghanistan – Najibullah Zadran and Mohammad Nabi made telling contributions with both scoring over thirty from twenty or so balls.

Afghanistan batting - and very well

Afghanistan batting – and very well

In the end, run outs were the best wicket taker for Scotland, as Afghanistan piled on the runs to finish 210-5 off their 20 overs. The highest T20 score for a nation quickly establishing itself as the second-best Associate side, and whose public clearly love their cricket and their cricket team.

Scotland’s reply was, unfortunately, a little on the meek side again. Disciplined fielding and bowling from the Afghans particularly limited Scotland’s accumulation of runs in the early overs. Preston Mommsen again contributed, this time with 44 off 20 deliveries, and Matthew Cross provided another outlet scoring 37 off 22. Yet again, though, the wickets fell regularly and Scotland couldn’t get enough big hits in to put any kind pressure on the Afghan bowlers.

That unfortunately familiar sight, again, of one Scotland batsman passing another

That unfortunately familiar sight, again, of one Scotland batsman passing another

Scotland eventually fell short with 4 balls to go, the last three wickets again falling quickly with the Scots going from 171-7 to 173 all out. Mohammad Nabi and Hamid Hassan both bowled excellently, taking 3 wickets for 20-odd off their four overs. The better team clearly won the day, and it was frankly an absolute joy to watch the Afghan crowd celebrate with their team. A more friendly and knowledgable bunch of supporters, you would be hard-pressed to meet.

The Afghans celebrate with an invasion of the outfield - and why not

The Afghans celebrate with an invasion of the outfield – and why not

A great weekend of second-tier international cricket in Edinburgh, then – and once again Scotland showed that it is more than capable of putting on good quality international sporting events.

Afghanistan 210-5 (20 overs); Scotland 173 all out (19.2 overs) – Afghanistan win by 37 runs

Richie Benaud – 1930-2015

Like Bill McLaren, Ted Lowe and Sid Waddell before him, another of the greats of television sports commentary has passed on. The news in the early hours this morning of Richie Benaud’s death, having had a decent knock (as he may have put it) at 84 years old, was treated with a great deal of both sadness and fond nostalgia across the cricketing world.

His death is poignant from my own perspective too. That calm, lilting, slightly deprecating tone has as much to do with my early memories of watching cricket on the TV as England collapses and Geoff Boycott shoving his car keys in the ground.

Benaud’s undoubted talent, a talent somewhat lacking in today’s sport commentary world, was to let the sport do the talking. As far as Richie was concerned, less was unquestionably more.

Richie Benaud, in his cricket-playing days

His 8 rules of sports commentary have been pinging about on social media today, but they ring true as ever today in a world of commentators who are by and large madly in love with the sound of their own voices:

  1. Never ask for a statement.
  2. Remember the value of the pause.
  3. There are no teams in the world called “we” or “they.”
  4. Avoid cliches and banality such as ‘he’s hit that to the boundary’, ‘he won’t want to get out now’, ‘of course’, ‘as you can see on the screen’. .
  5. The Titanic was a tragedy, the Ethiopian famine a disaster, and neither bears any relation to a dropped catch.
  6. Put your brain into gear before opening your mouth.
  7. Concentrate fiercely at all times.
  8. Above all, don’t take yourself too seriously, and have fun.

I also enjoy what he considered his commentating mantra, namely “My mantra is: put your brain in gear and if you can add to what’s on the screen then do it, otherwise shut up.”

These are all beautifully exemplified in a number of clips that are thankfully on YouTube. Firstly, this one from the 2nd test at Edgbaston in 2005, when England beat Australia by 2 runs, one of the most excruciatingly tense finishes in Test cricket history. Watch the video from 8:48 onwards for the decisive ball:

At the moment the wicket is taken and an extraordinary match comes to an end, Richie simply says “Jones! [the wicket keeper taking the catch] Bowden! [the umpire raising his finger] Kasprowicz the man to go.”

In anyone else’s hands, that moment would have been either shouting and bawling, or just non-stop chatter. Instead, Benaud lets the scene do the talking – the ecstatic English crowd and players juxtaposed with the utterly dejected Australian team while putting across the minimum information and calmly setting the scene. “If you can add to what’s on the screen then do it, otherwise shut up.” Indeed, Richie.

The next little bit of footage is from day 5 of the fifth Ashes Test in 2005. This was Richie’s last live broadcast on British television. It’s announced as such by the chap over the tannoy at the Oval and leads to applause from all round the ground. He starts his little goodbye at 5:01 in the video below, as ever in an understated, laconic fashion. What I absolutely love about this is at 5:58, he shows his wonderfully understated quality as he segues straight from his goodbye to a wicket.

At the end of the clip, he just hands over commentary as if an era in British broadcasting hadn’t just come to an end. Not stealing the show, not harping on about previous amazing things he’d seen and done (Clive and 1999 comes to mind), he just says what needs to be said and bows out with grace.

The final clip here shows Benaud as a man who believed that cricket was only a game, that sportsmanship was at its heart. As a man who played 63 Test matches, scoring more than 2,000 runs and taking nearly 250 wickets into the bargain, he had more right than anyone to talk eloquently and in a forthright manner about the game he loved.

His forthrightness was exemplified after the appalling underarm ball from Australia’s Trevor Chappell in 1981. To briefly fill things in for those who are unaware, in February 1981 Australia played New Zealand in a One Day International in Melbourne. New Zealand needed a six off the last ball to tie the match. Australian captain Greg Chappell instructed his brother to bowl underarm so as to completely avoid a six being scored.

Richie was not best pleased, as the video below demonstrates. What I love about this clip is he throws his allegiances out of the window – it’s not OK because an advantage has been gained for his countrymen. As rule 3 above says, there is no such team as “we” – he has a right good go at the captain of his country’s cricket team. I take what he says as “this is my sport you’re messing with, kindly stop it.”

In all, a gentleman, sportsman and journalist of class and understated wit. He will be sorely missed.

Predictions for 2014

I did this at the beginning of 2013 and didn’t do toooo badly, so here goes for the upcoming 12 months of sport.

The Premier League title in England will go to Manchester City, with West Ham, Cardiff and Sunderland being relegated (going against my relegation predictions at the start of the season).

Celtic will once again win the league in Scotland (shock), with Hearts joining Rangers in next season’s Scottish Championship. East Fife will just about stay in League 1 but not without some nervousness (again).

I fancy Bayern Munich to provide a bit of an historic moment and retain the Champions League. I frankly don’t give a monkeys who wins the Europa League – I’ll say Ajax. I think the World Cup will be won by Brazil, laying to rest the ghosts of 1950.

In the realms of other sport, I think Europe will retain the Ryder Cup, and Rory McIlroy might actually win a major this year. I reckon Tiger Woods will get his first major in many years too.

Andy Murray won’t win a grand slam title this year (I hope I’m wrong), with Djoko and Nadal sharing the four titles – though I also think Wawrinka has a good chance of winning one.

The Commonwealth Games will be a rip-roaring success, showing Glasgow and Scotland at its best. I still think we won’t beat our 2006 tally of gold medals, however. As ever, Australia will finish top of the medal table.

Finally, England will tie the series with Sri Lanka, and lose to India as the post-Ashes rebuilding process begins.

As with last year, I’ll provide an update to this later on in the year to assess my performance. Later this week will be a review of 2013 from my perspective.

Predictions for 2013

At this time of year, having done a fairly brief review of 2012, it seems only right to do a small set of predictions for the year to come, which I will no doubt get mostly entirely wrong. Here goes (feel free to disagree):

Football

Manchester United will win the Premier League; QPR will stay up while Reading, Southampton and Newcastle will go down. Chelsea will retain the FA Cup and win the League Cup too.

Celtic will win the SPL; Dundee will get relegated. Celtic will also win the Scottish Cup, while Inverness Caley will win a first major trophy in the League Cup.

The Champions League will go back to Barcelona, and I think Dortmund will get a long way in the tournament too. Napoli will win the Europa League, ending Atletico Madrid’s domination of the competition which subsequently will lead to Falcao departing for either Real Madrid or Chelsea.

Rangers will win the Third Division, and the proposed league reorganisation will result in them jumping to a new second tier. East Fife will stay in the Second Division.

Brazil will win the Confederations Cup on home soil, raising hopes to be subsequently dashed in 2014. Tahiti will get absolutely blitzed in their three matches and the entire concept of the tournament will be called into question (the draw will be covered in a separate post later today).

Nigeria will win the Africa Cup of Nations, with Cote d’Ivoire again not living up to the hype. Dider Drogba will retire from international football after the tournament.

Other Sport

In tennis, Andy Murray will win another Grand Slam in 2013, with Federer and Djokovic sharing the others.

As far as the big cricket this year is concerned, England will win the Ashes  at home in the summer; the Australian series will end in a 2-2 tie with England therefore retaining the urn.

Mo Farah will win one gold at the World Athletics Championships; Jess Ennis will come second. Team GB will win two golds in total.

Rory McIlroy will win two Majors in the golf, with a first-time winner for one of the others.

In the rugby union world. Scotland will have yet another awful Six Nations, with England running out Grand Slam and tournament winners.

Chris Froome will win the Tour de France, with Bradley Wiggins helping him to do so.

That probably covers all the vaguely interesting sports. Let me know if you think I’ve missed anything, or if you disagree with anything.

Honours and Sport

A bit more off-topic action in today’s post. There has been rather a lot of discussion in the last few days as to how, and indeed if, the UK’s various gold, silver and bronze medallists from the recent Olympics should be rewarded by their nation. Knighthoods have been suggested for some (particularly for Bradley Wiggins and, to a slightly lesser degree, Mo Farah), and the debate has now centred on where the cut-off is. Should all the gold medallists get at least an MBE? All medallists get at least an MBE?

The issue the Main Honours Advisory Committee (the “Committee”) now has in recommending honours to the Queen for New Year is that, in the past, they have rather been thrown around like sweeties. Given the precedents set, it might be difficult for the Committee to do anything but hand out at least MBEs to at least every gold medallist. The following give some interesting past examples of Honours which were perhaps handed out a bit too hastily:

Paul Collingwood

One of the more controversial sporting honours recipients (courtesy of Binguyen on Wikipedia)

Paul Collingwood MBE – New Year’s Honours List, 2006

Paul Collingwood is a fine cricketer, and was a sound international cricketer, no question, who served his country well. What is perhaps less clear is his contribution to the Ashes in 2005, which led to him and his team-mates all receiving, at the very least, MBEs. Collingwood was in the squad throughout that relatively historic series, but didn’t feature until the fifth Test at the Oval. His contributions of 7 in the first innings and a fairly gutsy 10 in the second helped England over the line to draw that final Test and win the series outright.

What I’m a bit less clear on is why those actions deserved an MBE. Yes, he was part of a winning team, but his 17 runs compared with Kevin Pietersen’s 473 is a bit on the low side. Indeed, you could argue Gary Pratt provided a more defining moment in those Ashes, and all he got was a trip on the booze cruise to Downing Street. To be fair to “Colly”, his contributions in the 2009 series in particular possibly absolve him of some of the disdain for his honour, but the timing was a bit off.

Robbie Earle MBE – Birthday Honours, 1999

Robbie Earle has always struck me as a likeable, if slightly misguided and overpaid, chap. His MBE in 1999 was for services to football. Having had a bit of a scout about, I’m not entirely sure what he did above and beyond playing for Wimbledon and Jamaica to receive such an honour, although he does seem to have done a lot for Kick Racism Out of Football. Having said that, in 1999, Helen Rollason (the late BBC sports reporter) also received an MBE for her charity work and fighting terminal cancer while still appearing on the news with regularity. Robbie was the captain of Wimbledon. I’m not having a go at him; I’m pointing out that perhaps the honours system works in a bizarre fashion, and continues to do so.

Sir Nick Faldo – Birthday Honours, 2009

There’s no doubt that Nick Faldo achieved a lot in his career. A fine golfer, a worthy winner of six major championships (3 Masters, 3 Opens). His last major triumph came in 1996, defeating Greg Norman in the Masters in an incredible final round turnaround. He’s designed golf courses, captained a wildly unsuccessful (by modern standards) European Ryder Cup team and been annoying on the telly since. His knighthood in 2009 for “services to golf” was, therefore, something of a surprise; at the rate Rory McIlroy is going with major wins he can expect an knighthood at least before he’s 30.

Barry Ferguson MBE – Birthday Honours, 2006

To be (vaguely) fair to Barry Ferguson, it’s perhaps his conduct since the receipt of his MBE which has made him seem particularly undeserving of the award. He’d hardly been a 28-year-old angel up to that point, but his conduct during the World Cup 2010 qualifiers in particular make those 3 letters after his name seem rather disingenuous. Barry had seemingly done a lot of work for the Rangers Charity Trust to go towards the receipt of his award. Nevertheless, a Scottish footballer who’s won a few titles and did a bit of charity work, then gave the world the finger on live television is a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Based on the list above, then, and no doubt countless other examples that some may care to mention, there is a difficult balance to be struck when it comes to Olympic honours. It’ll be interesting to see how the Committee chooses who gets what. Given the precedents previously set, someone will no doubt emerge from this process, come 1 January 2013 (although thats when they’re announced, the potential recipients find out rather earlier), a little upset.

Segue to Cricket…ICC follow FIFA’s lead in making sound sporting decisions for the good of the game

Perhaps a bit out of place for a football blog, but I’m going to do it anyway. Cricket is probably my second favourite sport after football (perhaps tied with rugby union), one that I will quite happily get up in the middle of the night to watch if the mood takes me (see Ashes 2010-11 for a prime example).

The recent Cricket World Cup also had me glued to Sky Sports whenever I could (which unfortunately wasn’t all that often, given the during work start times for most of the matches). Undoubtedly the highlight of this Cricket World Cup, and the last for that matter, for the neutral, have been the performances of the wonderful Irish team.

In 2007 (I hasten to add, their first World Cup), they somehow managed to salvage a tie against Zimbabwe when the Zimbabweans needed 15 runs from 36 balls to win the match. This was followed by a momentous 3-wicket victory against Pakistan (which knocked the former winners out of the tournament on St Patrick’s Day), followed by a creditable performance, which included a victory against Bangladesh, in the Super 8s. In short, they made what was a long, boring World Cup actually quite interesting.

2011 was no different, the characters from 2007 (Trent Johnston and Niall O’Brien among many others) being bolstered by talented young fellas plying their trade in the English county game, such as Paul Stirling and George Dockrell. It was a similarly triumphant story for a relative minnow of the game. An unfortunate 27-run defeat to Bangladesh was swiftly followed by an astounding 3 wicket win against England, which also brought about the fastest World Cup century and the highest World Cup run chase. They followed this up with a creditable 5-wicket defeat to India, and a 6 wicket win against the Netherlands, achieving the third highest World Cup run chase to boot.

And, finally getting to the point, how have they been rewarded for the 2015 World Cup, to be held in Australia and New Zealand, given the relative shaking they have given the cricket world in the last 4 years? The answer is with sod all.

The ICC voted in Mumbai on Monday 4 April to confirm that the 2015 World Cup would be a closed shop, open only to the 10 “elite” cricketing nations. This despite the fact that that “elite” includes Zimbabwe, who are beginning to find their feet again (though not exactly harking back to the Henry Olonga days just yet), but are currently below Ireland in 11th in the ICC’s One Day International rankings. Yet Ireland have no way at all of qualifying for 2015, whereas the Zimbabweans have been given a free pass to the tournament. The ICC’s method of making up for this utter injustice is instead to say “oh but the T20 World Cup will be extended to 16 teams.” To which I would be tempted to say – so what.

The ICC’s alleged aim has been to move cricket away from its traditional strongholds and develop the game in other countries. One wonders what kind of incentive this attitude is meant to provide. Irish cricket has clearly come on leaps and bounds since 2007 and this showed through their performances in this year’s World Cup, partly because of great performances from talented youngsters like Paul Stirling and George Dockrell. The chances of those two, and other upcoming Irish talent, actually playing for Ireland come the World Cup in 2015 are incredibly slim.

In bringing this abhorrent situation about, the ICC have chased the shiny dollar (in this case mainly the rupee provided by the BCCI), and in doing will undoubtedly halt the spread of the game at a high level, which is supposed to be their ultimate aim. I suppose it should in some way be heartening, but at the same time utterly demoralising, that maladminstration at a global level isn’t endemic solely in football.