It’s all just a commodity

So South Africa won the Australian one-day triseries for 2001-02. They defeated New Zealand 2-0 in the best-of-three final, and congratulations to them. We should be thankful to them, too, for sparing us from an episode that would have shown us just a little more evidence that cricket is nothing but a commodity for television.

Game three of the finals was all set to be another day-night clash at the venue where night cricket all began, the Sydney Cricket Ground. Yes, what was meant to be: A 2.30pm start on a Sunday afternoon. Thirty to forty thousand chanting, screaming fans, a live nationwide telecast into evening prime-time, a ratings bonanza for the National Nine Network, and an Australian team with a shot at the title.

But there came to be a problem with this. Australia failed to make the finals, for only the third time in the 23-year history of the competition. The alarm bells were ringing at the Packer family’s Channel Nine at the beginning of the week. A Sunday night’s TV schedule taken up with a sporting event involving <i>two</i> overseas teams, and no Aussies in sight? And a chance that the game might not happen at all.

The solution? For Channel Nine to move their television program, er, cricket match to a less ratings-dependant timeslot. In other words, to get it changed from a day-night game to a day game, with the customary 10am morning start. Nine approached the Australian Cricket Board early last week with the request to shift the timing of the third final. The ACB, after consultation with other affected parties, including the South African and New Zealand camps, and the local state (New South Wales) association, agreed. The first international cricket match in Australia to be rescheduled because of television programming concerns was all set.

Thankfully, the South Africans won the finals in two: an eight-wicket rout at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in front of 20,000 spectators and 80,000 empty seats, and a hail-struck second final at the SCG where about ten thousand of the sell-out crowd didn’t bother turning up. The farce of rescheduled third final never came to be. South Africa proved they were the best team of a tri-series which didn’t rise to any great heights, beating a New Zealand team which had a better-than-expected tour of Australia, but ran out of puff when it mattered most.

And it was the tournament where the wheel came off the home side’s World Cup defence strategy.

The series had its share of outstanding individual performances on the field. Chris Cairns’ superb match-winning century against South Africa at the Gabba was one, Michael Bevan’s hundred, less spectacular but just as significant, against the Kiwis in Melbourne was another. The bowling of Shane Bond, who wasn’t even in the tour squad at the start of the season, was a revelation for New Zealand, the 26 year-old fast bowler’s 21 wickets for the VB Series putting him well ahead of any other player.

It was a series which, for me, was better remembered for other things. Glenn McGrath receiving a one-match suspension for an indiscretion while – of all things – batting, was just the start.

Visiting captains Stephen Fleming and Shaun Pollock complained that the tournament itinerary favoured Australia. There is no doubt that the dates and venues of the match-ups was set (as they are every year) to maximise the drawing power at the gate of the Australians. But hey, who was that team that came last again?

There were the divided opinions on the bonus point system, already familiar in Australian state competition but new to international play. The divisions grew wider after Fleming’s admission that he deliberately conceded a bonus point when his side was losing to South Africa in Perth.

And there was the running battle of Steve Waugh versus the South African press corps. An embattled figure with Australia’s 14-into-11 rotation policy crashing to Earth, and with his own form coming under question, Waugh’s off-the-cuff asides at press conference were being pounced upon. An apology was forthcoming after an apparent remark that doctors “didn’t find a brain” when they did a CAT scan on South Africa’s Steve Elworthy. A comment, as he was leaving a difficult press conference, that the media were a bunch of “cockheads”, met compassion from the ACB’s chief executive. Maybe because, by their very nature of their jobs, the media are.

If there’s good to be had from the 2001-02 international season from an Australian point of view, it is that the New Zealand cricket team can now be seen as credible rivals to the Australians, not unlike (politics permitting) India and Pakistan. There are so many sports in which Australia and New Zealand are bitter, but healthy rivals, and the instigation of a cricketing equivalent of rugby’s annual Bledisloe Cup between the Trans-Tasman foes would, if it were to happen, be a ratings bonanza for the Nine Network.

Oops, there’s that talk of TV ratings again.

As a postscript, an ironic observation that I couldn’t help making: the potential third final was bumped from the TV schedule by the Keanu Reeves science-fiction movie “The Matrix”, which was filmed at Fox Studios Australia, literally right next door to the SCG.

Pakistan to replace WI on Sri Lankan tour

Pakistan will play one Test and three one-day internationals in Sri Lanka in January following the cancellation of the West Indies’ tour.

The West Indies Women’s Cricket Federation decided last month that they would not proceed with their tour of Sri Lanka and Pakistan because of security concerns related to geopolitical instability in the south Asian region.

The Pakistanis have taken up the tour itinerary originally laid out for the West Indians. They will arrive in Sri Lanka on January 18. A four-day Test match at the Colts Ground, Colombo on January 20-23 will be followed by three ODIs – the first (January 26) at Asgiriya Stadium, Kandy, and the others (January 28 and 30) back at the Colts Ground.

In other Sri Lankan news, national team coach Guy de Alwis has resigned due to work committments. De Alwis, a wicketkeeper who had represented the Sri Lankan men in Tests and one-day internationals between 1983 and 1988, has been replaced by Nihal Kodituwakku.

WI shelve Asian tour but plan home triseries

The West Indies’ plans for their first international tour since the 1997 Women’s World Cup were shelved during November. The West Indies Women’s Cricket Federation cancelled its tour of Sri Lanka, scheduled for January, and abandoned tentative plans for a visit to Pakistan immediately afterwards.

The war in Afghanistan, and broader concerns about security in Sri Lanka and globally, were given as the reasons for the cancellation of the tour. Pakistan have since agreed to play the tour dates in Sri Lanka vacated by the West Indians.

Meanwhile, plans are afoot to bring all three teams – West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – together for a triangular series in the Caribbean in 2002. The West Indies Cricket Board’s (WICB) website reported recently that WIWCF treasurer Jocelyn Opadeyi had said that Pakistan had been invited to play five one-day internationals in the West Indies along with three Test matches. The Tests would, according to Opadeyi, be played in Trinidad & Tobago and St Vincent & The Grenadines.

If the Sri Lankans accept their invitation, it is likely that a triangular one-day series will be held in about March.

West Indian women’s cricket has been in the doldrums at an international level for many years due to the lack of financial support. They have not played in any full international competition since the 1997 World Cup in India, having failed to qualify for the 2000 tournament in New Zealand. They last played Test cricket in 1979, in England, while only two women’s Tests have ever been hosted in the Caribbean – both against Australia in Jamaica in 1976.

Top ten things you didn’t know about Martyn Ball

10. He played for Young England in 1989.

9. His nicknames (according to “The Cricketers’ Who’s Who”) are Benny and Barfo.

8. He is Gloucestershire’s only player on the Test leg of the Indian tour.

7. It took eight years at Gloucestershire before Ball was awarded his county cap.

6. The reason the England selectors selected him yesterday for the tour of India is that they wanted to replace Robert Croft with a “like-for-like replacement”. Yes, they wanted a bowler just like Robert Croft…

5. Or maybe it was because they both have two middle names – Martyn Charles John Ball and Robert Damien Bale Croft (and that reminds me to give a special cheerio to Philip Clive Roderick Tufnell)

4. In the 2001 English first-class season he scored 379 runs at a batting average of 29.15, with a top score of his three half-centuries of 68. (Now maybe this is the “like-for-like replacement” of Croft they were talking about.)

3. In his 14-year first-class career for Gloucestershire, Ball has taken 291 wickets for a career bowling average of 37.01

2. He was equal-46th leading wicket-taker in the 2001 English first-class season, with 34 wickets.

And the Number One thing you didn’t know about Martyn Ball is:

1. He exists!

Originally published on rec.sport.cricket following the news that Martyn Ball had been included in the England squad for their 2001-02 Test tour of India.

New Zealand women’s tour of India cancelled

[This article was originally published on the defunct Cricketwoman website in 2001. – RE]

The New Zealand White Ferns tour of India set down for late November and December has been cancelled due to security concerns.

The decision to call the tour off was announced on November 1 by New Zealand Cricket chief executive Martin Snedden, who said in a press release that it was an “extremely difficult decision” to reach, but that “the level of risk which exists here [in touring India] is unacceptable.”

Snedden went on to say that, unlike security arrangements promised by the Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) for the English men’s tour of India, which begins in a fortnight, the Women’s Cricket Association of India (WCAI) would be unable to organise special security arrangements. Snedden added that the WCAI is an organisation which has a voluntary administration and few resources.

Snedden said that the players had not been consulted about the cancellation of the tour. “This is a team of amateur players. It did not seem right to me for New Zealand Cricket to place any degree of responsibility on the players to make the decision.”

CricInfo reports that New Zealand captain Emily Drumm felt “gutted” when she learned of the tour’s cancellation, but had no problems with the decision made by NZC CEO Snedden.

WCAI secretary Anuradha Dutt was reported by CricInfo as expressing regret upon receiving notification of the NZC’s decision. Disagreeing with Snedden’s viewpoint, Dutt said “I can’t really imagine the New Zealand women being in any real danger in India.”

“They’d be much safer here than in many western countries,” Dutt said. “But it’s their psychological perception that matters, and I can’t really make a decision for them.”

New Zealand were to have played three tour matches, five one-day internationals and one Test between November 29 and December 21. The first five matches on the tour would have been played at Delhi and neighbouring Faridabad, before moving north to Chandigarh – approximately 200km from the Pakistani border and 700km from Afghanistan – for one match on December 6. The remaining matches on tour were set for Lucknow, Calcutta and Jamshedpur, in the north-east of India.

The White Ferns, who were unable to secure a replacement international series, will now have to wait until their three-ODI tour of Australia in February for their next international experience. India are scheduled to receive the England team in February before visiting South Africa.

Further information:
NZC press release

CricInfo report on Anuradha Dutt’s reaction

Was this the greatest World Cup final ever?

“Today’s game – won by New Zealand by four runs with five balls remaining – was filled to the brim with drama and tension. For me, it surpasses the encounter at Lord’s in 1975 between the West Indies and Australia as the greatest World Cup Final, men’s or women’s, of all time.”

More of my account of the 2000 Women’s Cricket World Cup Final at Cricinfo.

Murali no-balled for throwing

I wrote this article, filed at the innings break in England’s ODI against Sri Lanka at Adelaide Oval, for the 23 January 1999 edition of the daily email publication Cricinfo365. The complete day’s edition is sourced from archive.org’s Wayback Machine here

Continue reading “Murali no-balled for throwing”

Ricky Ponting’s public humiliation

I wrote this unbylined article for the 21 January 1999 edition of email publication Cricinfo365. The complete edition is sourced from archive.org’s Wayback Machine here. This article is also available on Cricinfo at http://www.espncricinfo.com/australia/content/story/80456.html. Continue reading “Ricky Ponting’s public humiliation”

Australia 2 West Indies 0: A dynasty disintegrates

Tuesday December 3, 1996: I visited the Sydney Cricket Ground and witnessed a great day’s cricket, but I have also witnessed the demise of a cricketing power that I have known and loved for over two decades.

After an enthralling if tight first four days of the Sydney Test between Australia and the West Indies, the visiting side needed 313 runs to win with ten wickets in hand – a huge task seeing that runs had been hard to come by, also hard for the bowlers as wickets too had been hard to take. But Australia did have one S.K.Warne in its side, so anything was possible. At one stage or another of the pre-lunch session, everything became possible.

Sherwin Campbell fell to Glenn “Millard” McGrath in the third over of the morning, leg before wicket. The following over, and Robert Samuels was out, bowled by a ripsnorter from Warne which pitched way outside the left-hander’s off stump and came back miles! When have I seen a video replay of a wicket attract such an ovation from the crowd? More about that later in the day.

Next over, and McGrath bowled a bouncer to Lara, who started a hook shot, and then pulled out… almost. The faintest of bottom edges, and into Healy’s gloves. Was it a clean catch or did it touch the ground first? David Shepherd said yes – eventually. Lara was gone, having gone only halfway to matching his 1st innings effort of two. I get the impression that Lara is not enjoying his cricket these days. 35 for 3 – some of the wags around me in the Bradman Stand are getting ready to go home before lunch!

This brought Hooper and Chanderpaul together. Chanders has the reputation of being a grafting batsman, but if this was the time to start playing for a draw, he was going for the win. After McGrath dropped a firm c&b chance, Chanders started blazing, he took to Warne’s bowling and, with solid support from Hooper, knocked up a quick century partnership, and achieved his own 50 in thirty-eight balls. Close to lunch, the Windies had seven wickets in hand and needed less than three runs an over for the rest of the day. If Hooper and Chanderpaul could keep up their blistering pace the match could be theirs.

Then… Ripsnorter Revisited. Warne gave Chanderpaul the same fierce-spinning delivery that removed Samuels earlier in the day, and with the same devastating effect. Chanderpaul bowled for 71 from 67 deliveries, and that was lunch. 152 for 4, 125 runs in the session. Could Jimmy Adams carry on after lunch where Chanders left off?

No.

Adams came and went, having totally monopolised his five-run partnership with Hooper. Carl knew that now it was time to play for a draw, and it took him around half an hour to advance from his lunchtime 48 to 50. At 57 he edged Michael Bevan to Taylor at slip. Taylor finger-tipped the ball, and as he fell backwards kicked the ball into the air and caught it. Hooper was on his way. Time to call off the “Classic Catches” competition now. The replays on the giant screen brought gales of applause as every conceivable angle was shown. This piece of video footage is going to be replayed ad infinitum for years to come.

Six down, Ian Bishop, the late-order hero of the first innings, came in to partner Courtney Browne. Courtney must be sooo popular in the West Indies camp these days. His latest contribution to team morale was to turn back Bishop’s call for a quick single and leave him stranded, run out without scoring, second ball. Ambrose came, saw, got conquered. No addition to the score, Bevan scoring his second success of the afternoon with his slow chinamen. And to think the Australian selectors were looking to Brad Hogg as their next spin sensation.

The game is slipping away. Benjamin goes, and then Walsh provides some brief excitement, including the only six off the day, before he holes out to Millard McGrath, and the match is over, fifteen minutes before tea. Australia have won by 124 runs following on their 123 run victory in Brisbane. The series stands at West Indies 0, Australia 2, with three to play. (I could predict a 125 run victory in Melbourne but, well…) Including Sabina Park 1995, that represents three Test wins in a row over the Windies.

Where does this leave the once-mighty West Indians? They were flogged 5-1 by Australia in 1975-76 but at least that was a great side (Lloyd, Richards, Kallicharran, Roberts, Holding, Boyce, Derryck Murray, Gibbs…) These guys today seem to be in the right place at all the wrong times. Ambrose is past his best. Lara doesn’t seem to care. Adams – was he really Coopers & Lybrand’s no.1 player in the world two years ago? Courtney Browne – rhymes with clown! If I were the WI management I would be packing his bags for Barbados right now. And the fielding is a pale, even embarrassing, shadow of the Lloyd/Richards days.

Where are the spinners? Where is Dhanraj, who took 16 wickets in a Red Stripe game last season and a hat-trick in the Shells and Sandals one-day final in October? Where is Robert Haynes? Where is Nagamootoo? (Spin bowler S.Chanderpaul even.) Can Roger Harper not be trusted with more than ten overs an innings? It is time the selectors took a reality check – the twenty-year fast-bowling dynasty has disintegrated.

The plusses are in evidence: Sherwin Campbell is performing well, and may have scored another ton in this game if it weren’t for Greg “Waqar Younis” Blewett. Hooper is batting with more maturity than he is generally credited for. Maybe it’s time he gave up his bowling. If Lara has blown his chances of being the next WI captain (as I believe he has), then would Hooper rise to the responsibility? And Chanderpaul is remaining incredibly consistent, today’s cameo being his eleventh half-century of his Test career. If and when he can convert the 70’s and 80’s to hundreds and two-hundreds, then he will become one of the great West Indian batsmen. He is only 22 years of age, and can potentially take over Brian Lara’s huge mantle. As long as he doesn’t take over Lara’s huge head.

Finally, this day was a real pleasure for me, a too-rare visit to the SCG. I was privileged to see Chanderpaul at his best, and to see, before lunch, one of the great sessions of Test cricket.

Note: Posted to rec.sport.cricket and published on CricInfo Interactive.