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News: Zim to play as SA’s 7th Franchise…

November 22, 2007 7 comments

I am not all too well aware of SA’s franchise system, but I think that this essentially means that Zim, who were playing at the SAA provincial level, will now be playing at a higher level, at least for the one day league.

Btw…. if the Franchise has 6 franchise players, then are only 5 Zimbabweans going to play in this Zim team? Or are some of the Zim players also considered to be franchise players now? I think that a couple of them, Taibu and Taylor, are definitely SA franchise standard.

I initially thought that this is also the way forward for other neighbouring SA countries, like Namibia. But I read now that this was done specifically due to ICC’s request to provide better standard of play for Zim.

Categories: Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe

News: Zim push SA….

September 15, 2006 1 comment

SA managed to win the game by 5 wkts in the end, but Zimbabwe did put them in a sopt of bother a couple of times during the match. The first was when Zim was batting, and they were 140/3 in the 35th over. It looked like they would easily post a total close to 250. They didnt, and made only 201, scoring only 61 runs in the last 15 overs. The second time was when they were bowling, and had SA at 33/3 with both Gibbs and Kallis gone. Zim should have managed to push SA harder from there on, but they let off the steam, and SA more or less got home easily.

I do not understand why Pyanagara, Hondo or Mpofu are not in the Zim team. Ireland looked promising, but I think he has a way to go. Even Mahwire could have been in the team as a third seamer instead of Ireland.

The other thing I dont understand is why Chigambura does not bowl. I have seen him bowl and he is a fairly decent medium pacer, definitely better than what Matsikenyri is as a spinner.

But overall, Zim performance was acceptable. They should try not to make too many changes going forward and try to give as much experience as they can to the young team.

Opinion: An opening for Second tier countries…. but not all…..

March 27, 2006 1 comment

One thing that the developing Cricket world usually forgets is that the English county teams, at least 10 of the 18, every year embark on a 10-14 day pre season tour to warm up for the county season. In all cases, they tour countries NOT in Europe, because the weather in March and April is still too cold to play cricket. For example, this year Essex, Somerset, Gloustershire and Notingamshire toured SA, Surrey and Middlesex are touring India, Durham is touring UAE, and Lancashire is touring St Kitts (part of WI Leeward Islands). One can see that the objective is just to warm up, because the county players are actually looking for opposition which is slightly weaker than the county sides that they will face in the season. Also, due to cost factors, the county side manages to stay put in one city, and tries to play the games with club opposition, and not domestic sides of the country they are touring. The exception is UAE, as was Zimbabwe in the 1980-1991 period, where they actually play against the national side under the logic that the national side is still weaker than the county opposition in the season.

The main point is that the cost of the tour is borne completely by the English County touring. The home side has minimal cost.

The new cricketing nations, or minnows as they are called, should make use of this as much as they can. For example, why doesnt the Kenyan Cricket board invite a county side to tour them instead of SA. It is going to be slightly cheaper for the English county as well. Namibia can do the same. So instead of 4 county sides touring SA and playing against the University teams or club teams over there, they can play against National opposition from Kenya or Namibia. I dont think the national teams from the second tier are that much weaker compared to clubs in the test nation. Maybe domestic teams from test sides are stronger, but not club sides.

The asian countries which can make use of these tours are UAE, Nepal and Malaysia. UAE is already doing it, and this is their second year running so that is excellent omen for them. Nepal and Malaysia need to step up. They have the facilities to host a cricket side for 2 weeks, and they have the grounds to play the games as well. It would be good for for them if the tours can take place in these countries instead of India.

Finally, regarding the Americas, instead of WI, the tour can go to either Canada, Bermuda or, surprise surprise, Argentina. I dont think Canada would be able to host the touring side because they are unable to get their team together due to the expenses involved in travelling. Bermuda apparently does not have the facilities (though it is surprising to me that they dont), and apparently there is a problem with the pitches on which they play. Argentina then appears to be the best bet for the touring side, and perhaps the MCC that had such a good tour of Argentina in Jan 2006 can put in a few good words for the country's cricket future.

This is just an idea, that associations need to think upon. Zimbabwe played at least 2 county sides every year from 1980-1991, and that was instrumental in their raising the standard of the game in both the first class and the one day format. It also gave great exposure to the Zimbabwean players to the county circuit, and many of them ended up becoming professional cricketers in the counties that they impressed on their tour e.g. Kevin Curran etc.

Professionalism in the Associates

February 23, 2006 5 comments

I was talking to someone yesterday and I realized something. Something that is fundamental to raising the standard of the associate nations compared to the test teams.

Nepal just beat NZ and SA at the U19 level. Now, if you were to take the same players from these countries 10 years into the future, when they are all 28-29, and have a rematch, what do you think is going to happen? In almost all cases, NZ and SA are going to beat Nepal by margins of 100 runs.

So what will happen between now and the next 10 years that such a dramatic difference in standard is going to be created?

The biggest reason would be that the Nepalese boys are going to go on with their lives, they will get a regular job, and cricket for them would end up being only a hobby, a recreation for the weekends. The NZ and SA boys are however going to go back and find contracts with their domestic teams, or retainers from their cricket bodies, and will be practising their cricket 8 hours a day/5 days a week and also get paid well for it. They have the environment to become professionals, while the Nepalese dont.

The problem for the Nepalese players is, that they cant even look around for professional contracts. India, the country which is a stone throw from Nepal and has a lot of money in Cricket, has virtually no interest in their domestic cricket, and has tonnes of players waiting on the sidelines for their domestic teams who are either better or as good as the Nepal players. In any case, there is a general tendency in test nations, the nations that have some salaried first class cricketers, to employ their own players in the domestic system, because no test country has a domestic system which is a product unto it’s own or has any passion associated with it. I noticed something strange, but understandable last year when Bangladesh was touring England. Though the matches were one sided, the attendance in the Eng v Ban matches was still higher than what England gets in their county setup, despite those matches being better contests. Unfortunately, when it comes to cricket, people have passion ONLY for the national country teams.

The only associate countries getting any chance in other’s domestic are the Ugandans and the Zimbabweans. This usually happens because SA have a policy to incorporate black cricketers into their leagues so that they create good role models for the black kids in SA. In any case, I dont think that the Ugandans, Zimbabweans or the Kenyans play in South African first class cricket. I think its just some second or thrid tier clubs. I have heard that some Cook Islands players play in NZ domestic, but we are not talking about 20 players, but perhaps 1 or 2.

Now, both Nepal and Uganda have the crowds, and they have the interest (about 10K registered players in Nepal and a whopping 34K in Uganda). But their cricket associations cannot afford to invite other teams and host them for a month long tour. The only associate association that is financially strong enough to host other teams is UAE.

Hence spurring the cricket industry in a country is a different problem that the ICC faces, and it is definitely not helped by the fact that there exists no passion for any country’s domestic game. Otherwise, lets say that the European countries in Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland and England had the passion for their own club cricket like they have for their football, then most of the players from the associates could have gotten employment in them, and once you had about 10 professionals from an assocaite country, you would know that their national team would be one of good standard.

As an endnote, I would like to mention this MLB backed World Baseball Classic which is a baseball world cup taking place in march. Now there have been baseball world cups before, but this is the first one that is backed by MLB, and hence this is the true world cup with the best players playing in them. There are 16 teams participating, and except for Taiwan, all other teams are composed of MLB players. The whole South Korean and Japanese teams are comprised to players who play in the MLB. Now when they will compete, they will be able to compete well in the world cup (there should not be many one sided competitions) because there is no amateur v professional battle like in cricket. That would in turn spur the baseball industries in these countries (well, baseball in Taiwan, Japan, Domican Republic, Cuba and South Korea doesn’t need any spurring) but it would in other countries like China, Italy perhaps.

It is so pathetic, that despite having a viewership of over 2 billion, cricket is stuck in a limbo in this regard, and can do nothing like the MLB.

Give Bangladesh a break….

January 6, 2006 Leave a comment

Ever since their promotion to Test Cricket, Bangladesh have been at the end of everyone’s criticism. Most common criticisms are based on  the argument that they are devaluing the Test Cricket records and also are a threat to the integrity of the game.

When South Africa started playing the game, way back in 1890, their team was perhaps way worse than Bangladesh’s is today. Between 1890-1902, all the scorecards from South African Test matches are laughable. Their second test at Newlands in 1889 had Eng batting first and making 292, and in reply the south africans first were all out 47, and then following on were all out for 43. John Briggs took 7/17 in the first innings, and 8/11 in the second innings for England. After this masterful ‘Test’ performance, South Africa were given a break for 3 years, and England toured them again in 1892. South Africa, after having practised a lot in the last 3 years, managed 97 in their first innings and 83 in the second. Perhaps seeing that they hadnt improved that much, England decided to give them another 4 years this time and toured them again in 1896. England were bowled out in the first innings for 185, but SA again failed to cross the 100 run mark and were dismissed for 93. England did not enforce the follow on for some reason, perhaps to get some cricket going, and made 226 in their second innings, giving SA an approximate 315 run target. SA however surpassed everyone’s expectations and were dismissed for a fighting 30 !! Their highest invididual score was 10, with George Lohman getting 8/7 (8 wkts) for England in the second innings! Their scores for the next few games were the following:

1896 – 2nd Test: Eng 482, SA 151 & 134
1896 – 3rd Test: SA 115 & 117, Eng 265

It was 10 years after their elevated test status, that SA gave a close sembalnce of a test cricket nation. In the first test in 1899, they first dismissed Eng for 145, then put on 251 taking a 100 run lead, and then dismissed Eng again for 237 setting themselves up with only 133 or so to win. However, they ended up getting dismissed for only 99. The second test was similar. They first dismissed Eng for … surprise… 92, and then put up 177. Perhaps England were complacent in the first innings or something, but they put on 330 in the second innings, leaving SA with only 245 to win. SA managed another fighting 35 !!

However, from the 1902 series onwards, SA did manage to perform well, and I would actually count their 1899 series as a test performance as well.

But what about the first 10 years? Were Lohman’s or Briggs’s figures test level? Do they deserve a standing in test cricket, equivalent to what these bowlers were earning against Australia at that time? Does England deserve to have a test record for dismissing a test team for 30? or 43? or 47?

The point that I am trying to make is, that the integrity of Test Cricket was already dented quite a lot in the first 10 years of SA’s beginnings. Almost all bad records were against them at the time. Nobody cares today, because SA is one of the strongest teams today and people do not look at records that far back.

Assuming that Bangladesh were to become a reasonably strong team in 4-5 years, nobody would really care about what happenned in the first 10 years of their test life, just like nobody cares about SA test history going that far back. To SA’s credit, they have never really called for stripping of Zim or Bang test status; this shows that they know their history very well.

The reason why I state that SA’s 1890 team was perhaps much worse than Bangladesh’s is today is because the England team at that time was not a professional cricket outfit. They were amateurs, who played the game well, but it was a game for them, not their profession. They did their regular jobs, and showed up on weekends to play cricket, and eventually got selected. Plus, England perhaps did not send their strongest possible team to play SA anyway in those days. At least on one occasion, Eng were playing a simulataneous series against Aus in Eng and SA in SA, and in that case it is safe to assume that their stronger team was playing against Aus.

Some people also refer to the fact that it is not possible to compare eras, and that batting was much more difficult back then as compared to today. This argument is wrong. If batting has become easier today because of better picthes and better gear, it has also become easier for bowlers to study the batsmen, look at their footage, find areas of weakness and try to exploit them. The fielding standards have imporved dramatically, and catches are not dropped as much today as they were in the past. Along with batsmen’s gear, wicketkeepers gear has improved as well, and there are fewer catches popping out behind the stumps. But even if this argument was taken to be correct, and batting was more difficult back then, we are talking about comparative standards. If SA could not manage to reach half of Eng’s despite playing two innings, there was definitely a problem. It is definitely a comparison that tells you something.

Similar things have happenned with Sri lanka and New Zealand, although their losses were not as pronouced as Bangladesh’s are today. There are a few reasons why this is the case.

Today, test cricket is drastically different than what it used to be 20 years back. Today, teams try to play quicker and win, whereas 20 years back it was a big event if a test match in a series had a result. Majority of the games in those days were drawn, and teams played less and less attacking cricket. While the game has changed now, and it has changed for the better and is more entertaining for the spectators, the obvious byproduct is that the difference between the weaker test nations and the stronger ones is amplified.

The second difference is that there is now a global audience for cricket, so it would be fairly common to see people in Pakistan watching a test match between Bangladesh and England. This was unheard of even 15 years back, when countries would have live exposure to only the games featuring their own team. So while a mismatch would go relatively unnoticed back then, today there are people sitting and watching them, and the commentators are trying to find something interesting happenning in the match. Also, this whole hooplah about TV Rights etc has shown up and it is adding a new dimension to the development of the game.

The third reason is one that people dont really think about. Bangladeshi team has an unprecedented amount of pressure on them. Think about this. Usually, when a country starts playing cricket, the expectations are low, and the interest level is low. Once the country starts doing well, the interest level grows and the expectations become higher. Once the team starts doing exceptionally well, the whole thing becomes a passion. But Bangladesh, on the account of having been part of Pakistan for 24 years, already has passion for the game, yet their team has just started out. No other country in the first 5-6 years have had to bear the kind of pressure that the Bangladesh team has been subjected to from their crowd since 2000. This is new grounds as far as comparison of test nations is concerned, and needs to be taken into consideration as well. The added pressure definitely bears down on the players; they know that millions are following their performance passionately.

Talking about passion, if I were to select 1 country in the whole world which loves cricket, it would not be Pakistan, Australia, nor even India. It would be Bangladesh. Which other country can boast that they will get a 36000 capacity stadium filled with people for an U19 world cup final, in which the host country is not even participating? People have said that so many losses will make people lose interest in Cricket in Bangladesh, and that usually happens, but not in the case of Bangladesh. They seem to be getting more and more into the game.

So much passion and interest usually means that it is only a matter of time before the country starts becoming good in the game. In December 2005, this theory was proven correct to some extent when Bangladesh U19 beat Eng U19 3 times, Sri lanka U19 3 times, and Pak, Zim and SA U19s once within a span of 30 days. Going into the U19 World Cup, they are one of the stronger teams, even one which has a fairly realistic chance of finishing in the semi finals of the tournament.

Why is it that this has happenned? I mean, the U19 tournament has been taking place since 1998, and one never saw such a strong showing of the Bangladeshi team. The main reason is that because of the extra money that Bangaldesh has been able to generate, they have invested in a junior training program that was able to nourish their talent to the best of their abilities. And why has better talent started showing up? Because the kids now know that there is a good, stable, long term future in the sport. They do not just play cricket to represent Bangladesh in a single ODI once every 5 years in the Asia Cup, but they want to make a career out of playing cricket year after year, throughout their life. They have local heroes in M. Ashraful and Masharafe Murtaza who they want to emulate, and overall, they work harder at their game and want to improve to the best of their abilities. They know the stats and also want to play cricket that matters in the global history of the game. That is what passion, mixed with a regular cricket calender will do given due course of time (which seems to be about 10 years).

Gone are the days of 1890 South African team where you would play a series after 3 years, and still be able to hold public interest. Today, if you want to excite a country about talking up a game professionally, you have to show them the full path to what is possible, and you have to show it to them regulalry. If Bangladesh were to play 1 series every two years, then people would not look at the game favorably as a profession, and may perhaps even lose the passion for the game for some other sport like football which is shown regularly. The only way it seems that you can achieve that, and not have a significant dent in the test records is to have one weaker team for a few years in the big league.

Finally, the problem in Test cricket of mismatches today looks more pronounced because there is not one but two weaker teams. Zimbabwe recently have become even weaker than Bangladesh, whereas 3 years ago they would have been able to challenge the likes of New Zealand and West Indies easily. But Zimbabwe becoming weaker is not the fault of Bangladesh, it is the fault of the ICC and the member countries which are refusing to vote for a change in Zimbabwe cricket administration. In fact, if the ICC was to strip one team off the status, it would be the weakest team i.e. Zimbabwe and not Bangladesh. I personally find it extremely odd that the ICC member countries would constantly complain about the standard of Zimbabwe cricket, and at the same time prevent the ICC from interfering into their setup and fix the problems that have in the last 2 years destroyed at least 10 international standard careers in that country (Taibu, Ervine, Carlisle, G. Flower, Wishart, Streak, Campbell etc.). Zimbabwe and Bangladesh should not be put in the same boat regarding standard. In one case, there is great hope, and some results at least at the U19 level are showing even now. In the other, the future is as hopeless as the recent past.

Cricket is not an easy game like Football. There are a hundred and one things that a player has to master, and has to master at different levels in order to do well at the highest level. It takes a very long time to master the cricket, and if you are even found wanting in one area you can be excruciatingly defeated by the big boys. It is the mentality of the exclusive club which has led to only ten test teams today, and only a few more ODI teams now. Belgium and Holland have been playing cricket since 1905, but they were never given regular series against the big teams to get their standard up. If that had been the case, they would have had good standard teams today, and one would not be wondering about what to do quickly in terms of raising their standard today. So if the cricket world goofed up in the last 100 years in keeping the game exclusive to themselves, then in the era of expansion today they have to bear the byproduct of the mismatches. The same is the case with Bangladesh. Their passion and interest in the game is unmatched. Give their cricketers the oppurtunity to make careers out of the game and get serious beyond sunday league, give their spectators a regular calender to follow, and a team to follow. Things will improve quite a lot in the near future, especially if Bangladesh does not have the added pressure of the world scrutinizing each run they make.

At the momment the ICC has given ODI status to 6 other teams. Out of these 6 the top 2, namely Kenya and Scotland are going to be given 2 series against a full test member every year, and the rest are going to be given only 1 series against a test nation. In addition to all this, the ICC must have a team that they give unlimited exposure to, and that team at the momment is Bangladesh. Within a span of 3-4 years, Bangladesh is going to graduate to a competitive cricket team in all forms and hopefully then the ICC can make one of the the other teams a full ODI member and give that team unlimited access to ODI cricket. The Zim crisis is a totally different problem and needs to be solved differently, it has nothing to do with the development process. The problem with Zim is that getting them to play more cricket doesnt seem to be the answer, because their management keeps on firing their players and hiring 16 year olds to represent the country almost every year.