Five Great Performances from Ricky Ponting

For the past few months, the Lord’s Cricket Ground has gone to the effort of asking modern-day cricketers about their All Time XI, that is, the best eleven players they have seen and/or played with or against, arranged in some semblance of a batting order. Now, you can see these online on their Youtube channel, which, incidentally, has some nice HD-quality footage of cricket at Lord’s. But the remarkable thing about these All Time XI’s is that Ricky Ponting features on nearly all of them. Despite all the hoopla about his sometimes overly aggressive gamesmanship – there were certainly times he and his side earned the moniker “the ugly Australians” (one that dates back to the 1970s) – such is the respect for his batting and captaincy achievements that he is consistently etched in as both captain and first drop by his peers. In an attempt to educate myself on why he was held in this atmospheric regard, I have collated five of his best Test match performances. Continue reading

Future Test Stars XI

[Minimum qualification – At most one Test century or one five-wicket haul]

  1. Sami Aslam (Pakistan) – Having scored an impressive 82 and 70 against Anderson, Broad and Woakes in the recent Test at Edgbaston, Sami Aslam seems to be one half of the solution to the decade-long mystery of the Pakistan opening positions. To play so well in foreign conditions and against a high class pace attack is noteworthy for any international batsman, let alone a twenty-year-old.
  2. Cameron Bancroft (Australia) – Although he has yet to play a Test, this 23-year-old’s ability to apply himself and occupy the crease for long periods of time has been well-noted by Australian selectors over the past several Sheffield Shield seasons. With Joe Burns’ deficiencies against spin being exposed in Sri Lanka, Bancroft will surely get a chance to show his wares in the 2016/17 home summer.
  3. Kusal Mendis (Sri Lanka) (captain) – Scoring possibly one of the greatest hundreds ever made by a Sri Lankan a couple weeks ago, Kusal Mendis has demonstrated why Kumar Sangakkara cited his name when listing his favourite cricketers to watch. As a former Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year, Mendis follows in the footsteps of Sanath Jayasuriya and Mahela Jaywardene, who were similarly prodigiously talented from a young age.
  4. Jermaine Blackwood (West Indies) – Having been given permission by his captain Jason Holder to play his natural game, the talented stroke-maker scored two boundary-saturated fifties in the recent Test against India. If he can continue to play in an unrestricted manner, he could produce match-winning performances such as his run-a-ball 85 against England in a low-scoring match in Bridgetown last year.
  5. Mitchell Marsh (Australia) – The fact that he has played seventeen Test matches without a century or five-wicket hauls and is still not in danger of being dropped illustrates just how highly regarded Marsh is. But, as a hard-hitting batsman and incisive fast-medium bowler, he fits the archetype of the classical, match-defining all-rounder that Australia has been searching for since Keith Miller.
  6. Corey Anderson (New Zealand) – Ever since he bludgeoned a 36-ball ODI ton – then a record for the fastest such ton – Anderson’s aggressive batting has been well-known by the cricketing community. Combined with his handy mediums, he looks set to be New Zealand’s premier all-rounder provided that he remains injury-free.
  7. Jos Buttler (England) (wicket-keeper) – As the owner of a few outrageous – well at least, outrageous by English standards – ODI centuries, Buttler’s batting talent is manifest. Although he will likely come back into the England Test side as a keeper once he returns to form, freeing up Jonny Bairstow to focus on his batting, there has been talk of his inclusion as a specialist batsman.
  8. Mark Wood (England) – Having played a crucial role in winning the 2015 Ashes, Wood should be able to come back into the England Test side in the near future. However, his lively fast bowling seems to place a tremendous strain on his body, which should be heavily monitored by the English set-up.
  9. Pat Cummins (Australia) – After being named player-of-the-match in a Test match at the age of eighteen, Cummins was hailed as the next [insert pace legend] by the cricketing media. However, he has been held back by injuries over the past few years, leading to a severe deficiency of red-ball experience. But, as he is only 23, he still has plenty of time to develop.
  10. Lakshan Sandakan (Sri Lanka) – Bamboozling the Australian batsmen in Pallekele on his recent Test debut, Sandakan is a rare talent with an even rarer bowling style – in the history of Test cricket, there have been very few successful left-arm unorthodox spin bowlers. With 164 first-class wickets at an average of 22.75, Sandakan is an impressive 25-year-old slow bowler.
  11. Mustafizur Rahman (Bangladesh) – As I have written before, Mustafizur Rahman will be one of the premier quick bowlers in the world in a few years. Having achieved extensive success already in the international limited-overs arena, Mustafizur will be looking to translate his white-ball form into red-ball form, utilising his variations and bowling intelligence.

ICC Test Team Rankings Maths

With only ten points between the top four Test countries, the three ongoing major Test series – England v Pakistan, West Indies v India and Sri Lanka v Australia – have the potential to shake up the official ICC Test rankings. As such, this is a simple guide to the scenarios that we will lead to different countries topping the rankings.

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ODI Specialists XI

[Minimum qualification: 30 Tests or less in a career or (if currently playing) little chance of exceeding 30 Tests]

  1. Nick Knight (England) – The stylish opener with a certain flair deserves to be remembered as one of England’s best one-day players, playing at a time when the English were struggling to make an impact. However, his reputation seems destined to be marred by his stuttering Test career.
  2. Upul Tharanga (Sri Lanka) – Tharanga, an aggressive opener, has formed successful partnerships with both Sanath Jayasuriya and Tillakaratne Dilshan. At the age of 31, he has managed to already play nearly 200 ODI’s but has flitted in and out of the Test side for a career of just 23 Tests.
  3. Darren Lehmann (Australia) – Given his marked impact as the coach-saviour of the Australian national side, people might forget one day that he was an excellent strokemaker in the one-day format. Blocked from the Test side during Australia’s dominant reign in the 1990s, Lehmann could only establish himself in the side after the age of 33.
  4. Andrew Symonds (Australia) – After being barred from the national set-up after a series of off-field issues and falling out of love with cricket, Symonds’ international cricket career ended in 2009 at a time when he was producing peak performances in all formats. However, he left the one-day arena with a formidable record as a belligerent batsman, electric fielder and handy bowler.
  5. Brendan Taylor (Zimbabwe) (wicketkeeper) – Putting his county duties above his international duties for Zimbabwe due to financial reasons, Taylor looks unlikely to add to his tally of 23 Tests, which would have been more if Zimbabwe had been available for Test cricket. However, he is likely his country’s best batsman since the Flower brothers.
  6. Michael Bevan (Australia) – Regarded as the best finisher in the history of one-day cricket, Bevan had the ability to both save an innings after an initial collapse and force the issue at the end of an innings with a boundary blitz. While you might point towards MS Dhoni and Michael Hussey as possible betters, it should be noted that Bevan was the one who invented the style these two would later adopt.
  7. Shahid Afridi (Pakistan) (captain) – The ballistic batsman in Shahid Afridi – in his first ODI innings, he swung his way to a hundred off thirty-seven balls – often overshadows the cunning legspinner in him. With nearly 400 wickets in 398 matches, his cricketing brains were much more evident in his bowling than his batting.
  8. Ajit Agarkar (India) – A Indian bowling all-rounder with serious batting talent – in his brief Test career, he hit a Lord’s Test century – will always draw comparisons to the great Kapil Dev. While he didn’t quite live up to these standards, he enjoyed an extensive one-day career with nearly 300 wickets in less than 200 matches.
  9. Brad Hogg (Australia) – The wily left-arm unorthodox spinner had big shoes to fill after the unexpected omission of Warne for the 2003 World Cup. With his tongue sticking out and a ball thrust into his hyper-active hands, Hogg ended up starring in two unbeaten World Cup campaigns for the green and gold.
  10. Nathan Bracken (Australia) – It was unfortunate that the left-arm swing bowler’s career ended right when the modern Twenty20 phenomenon was taking off with the IPL: his control over his variations would have outfoxed many a heaving batsman, providing him with T20 riches and fame.
  11. Shane Bond (New Zealand) – In an injury-stunted career, Bond’s fragile body could only really withstand the strains of one-day internationals. When he could get on the park, his bowling was destructive: against the top-ranked Australians, he took 44 wickets in 17 matches at an average of just 16.

Why five-day draws make cricket special

After any game of a team sport, the most common question asked is “Who won the game?” In almost any other sport, there is a definitive answer (for a definition of the word “definitive, refer to this video). In football, there is the answer that it was a draw, where the scores were tied. However, in the case of football, the game has an upper limit of 120 minutes. Given that the non-result in football seems to turn people off the sport – particularly Americans – the idea of a 5-day, 30-hour match ending with no result would surely boggle the mind of every Tom, Dick and Harry of the non-sport-following community.

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Greatest Test XI of the 2000’s

  1. Matthew Hayden (Australia) – The left-hander was a domineering presence at the top of the order, combining with Justin Langer to produce the most prolific opening partnership of the decade. Although sometimes criticised as a “flat-track bully”, his record speaks for itself, particularly in India where he scored 1888 runs at 59.
  2. Virender Sehwag (India) – Defying logic and conventional technique, Sehwag scored boundaries as if they were a constituent part of his life force: his career strike-rate of 82 is the highest among all batsmen with more than 2000 Test runs. It is not as if his approach restricted his ability to score copious amounts of runs, as illustrated by his two Test triple-hundreds.
  3. Ricky Ponting (Australia) (captain) – As probably the most distinguished batsman of the decade, Ponting will lead both the batting order from first drop and the team as captain. His record is remarkably consistent with batting averages of at least forty against all opposition.
  4. Sachin Tendulkar (India) – A near-deity in the gaze of the Indian population, Tendulkar scored his runs with a subtle imperiousness which led to comparisons with Don Bradman – even Ponting said that he was the greatest after the Don.
  5. Brian Lara (West Indies) – Lara, most well-known outside of cricketing circles for his record Test innings of 400, had the ability to take possession of a match with a boundary-laden innings. Against the dominant Australians, he produced some of his top performances with 9 centuries in 31 matches.
  6. Jacques Kallis (South Africa) – Apart from the ultra-talented Garry Sobers, Jacques Kallis is perhaps the only other Test all-rounder with a near-infallible record: he averaged fifty with the bat and thirty with the ball in an extensive career. Although he didn’t dominate the headlines with spectacular performances, he is widely considered a giant of the modern game.
  7. Adam Gilchrist (Australia) (wicket-keeper) – Revolutionising the role of the Test wicket-keeper, Gilchrist was one of the best batsmen in the world and he did this all from the number seven position. His natural game, summarised as “see ball, hit ball”, produced 17 hundreds in a 96-match career.
  8. Shaun Pollock (South Africa) – A resourceful lower-order batsman and incredibly persistent seam bowler, Pollock is a constant in any list of the top Test cricketers of the 2000’s. With a batting average of 32.31 and bowling average of 23.11, his statistics eclipsed that of the great all-rounders of the 1980’s, but, like Kallis, is not spoken of in the same breath.
  9. Shane Warne (Australia) – Reconstructing his game after consistent issues with his shoulder and time out of the game due to his infamous diuretic situation, Warne managed to take wickets at a prolific rate again in the 2000s. His ability to out-think the opposition batsmen more than made up for the loss of his variations such as the flipper.
  10. Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka) – Partnering Warne in the most deadly spin combination that history will never see, Murali and his 800 Test wickets was certain to be in such a side. With only Chaminda Vaas providing him adequate bowling support, Murali took it upon himself to win many a match for Sri Lanka
  11. Glenn McGrath (Australia) – Accurate beyond belief, McGrath’s game plan is sometimes oversimplified by casual spectators. Although it is indeed true that it was centred on a nagging line and length, he had a very astute cricketing intelligence to back it up: the fact that he remembers all of his 563 Test wickets speaks to a savant-like bowling mind.

Record Watch (August)

Monthly update on upcoming Test records/milestones and ones achieved last month

As the Test series roll on, record and milestones tumble for players from all sides. While these might seem like statistical oddities, they often say quite a lot about the longevity of a player or the rapidity of their rise. Continue reading

CPL 2016 Team of the Tournament

  1. Johnson Charles (St Lucia Zouks) – Charles, an incumbent opener for the reigning World T20 champions, has muscled his way through CPL 2016, topping the run tallies with 410 runs. With the highest number of fifty-plus scores in the competition, he has been a key member in the St Lucia Zouks’ late season resurgence.
  2. Hashim Amla (Trinbago Knight Riders) – Although his season has tapered off towards the second half, his elegant style of run accumulation has produced a sum of 363 runs at a respectable strike-rate of 124.74. Although at the age of 33 he still has a few more years of international cricket, he looks well set to pursue a post-retirement career as a hired T20 gun.
  3. Chris Lynn (Guyana Amazon Warriors) – Although it probably would have been preferable to the Australian Test set-up for Lynn to participate in county cricket, refining his red-ball skills, experience against quality opposition in foreign conditions is always good for Australian batsmen. His ability to adapt his game to West Indian pitches bodes well for the future.
  4. Colin Munro (Trinbago Knight Riders) – The left-hander from New Zealand has the ability to inject dynamism into any T20 line-up: he is the owner of the second fastest T20I fifty off 14 balls (second to Yuvraj Singh’s mutilation of Stuart Broad’s bowling in 2007). This CPL season has seen his first T20 century, which he scored off 65 balls.
  5. Shane Watson (St Lucia Zouks) – Collecting 283 runs and 12 wickets in 10 matches, he has certainly satisfied the Zouks’ expectations of him for both bat and ball. Although his bowling form was simply a continuation on from IPL 2016 where he was a leading wicket-taker, his batting signalled a return to form as he capped off the season with four consecutive 30-plus scores.
  6. Nic Pooran (Barbados Tridents) – Pooran, a future star for the West Indies, has showcased his ball-striking ability with 217 runs at an exclamatory strike-rate of 197.27. Although he will only turn 21 in a couple months and has plenty of time to develop, the West Indies might turn to him, given Ramdin has fallen out of favour with the selectors.
  7. Dwayne Bravo (Trinbago Knight Riders) – Bravo, the leading wicket-taker of the competition with 19 wickets in ten innings, combines his skilful bowling with some handy ball striking. The fact that he has topped the wicket tallies of so many IPL’s and CPL’s demonstrates just how capable his bowling intelligence is, given that he doesn’t have express pace or a potent ability to move the ball.
  8. Sohail Tanvir (Guyana Amazon Warriors) – The canny quick has returned to top form, bowling economically and incisively for Guyana. Given Pakistan’s poor performance in the 2016 World T20 which prompted much soul-searching, Sohail Tanvir’s potential return to Pakistan colours is on the cards.
  9. Sunil Narine (Trinbago Knight Riders) – Unlike Saeed Ajmal, Narine has demonstrated an ability to adapt to a new bowling action. Although his bowling is not quite up to the impossible standards he set himself, he managed to take his 13 wickets at the very restrictive economy rate of 5.35.
  10. Dale Steyn (Jamaica Tallawahs) – Although American fans would be disappointed to not see him in Florida due to his required appearance at a South African awards presentation, he illustrated that he isn’t just potent with the red ball: compared to his supreme Test record, his Twenty20 stats are merely human. 12 wickets at 14.66 in 7 innings are certainly adequate for Steyn’s standards.
  11. Adam Zampa (Guyana Amazon Warriors) – A potential bolter for future Australian Test squads, Zampa has developed his spin bowling skills considerably since donning the green and gold colours at the start of 2016. Although he isn’t the next Warne by far, he has demonstrated remarkable control for a young leg-spinner.

Natwest T20 Blast 2016 Team of the Tournament

  1. Michael Klinger (Gloucestershire) (captain) – As a seasoned county professional and domestic stalwart, Klinger has once again produced for Gloucestershire with a chart-topping output of 530 runs at 53. Despite his copious run-scoring, Michael Klinger, now 36, has yet to represent Australia in any format. Given his vast experience in England, there is a chance he could get selected for the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy in England.
  2. Jason Roy (Surrey) – The incumbent short-form opener for England has dominated the blast with his powerful strokeplay. Having experienced success in the T20 Blast in previous years – he topped the charts in 2014 – his hefty run tally of 495 runs at a strike-rate of 164.45 caps off yet another consistent domestic T20 season.
  3. Colin Ingram (Glamorgan) – As a Kolpak player for Glamorgan, a great deal is expected of Ingram, who has not failed to deliver this T20 season: 5 of his 13 innings were fifty-plus scores, including a thumping 101 off 56 balls against Essex. His aggression at number three, from where he played some very useful innings for South Africa, was a major part of Glamorgan’s path towards a home final.
  4. Sam Northeast (Kent) – The twenty-six-year-old captain of Kent has led his county from the front, scoring 462 runs across 14 innings at a rapid strike-rate of 145.28. Northeast, a former star schoolboy cricketer, is delivering on the leadership potential he has shown since adolescence.
  5. Liam Dawson (Hampshire) – A promising all-rounder already established in the England Lions set-up, Dawson had another substantial season with both bat and ball: he contributed a solid 299 runs in 12 innings and 19 wickets at an economy rate of 6.72 with his left-arm orthodox spin.
  6. Daniel Christian (Nottinghamshire) – On the fringes of Australian limited-overs selection, Christian displayed the full range of his power hitting this season as he muscled 304 runs at an average of 51 and a strike-rate of 171. Although his quick bowling seems to have taken a backseat in favour of his batting, he more than made up for it with the bat with three fifties.
  7. John Simpson (Middlesex) (wicketkeeper) – Although the 2016 Natwest T20 Blast has not been a great season for wicketkeeper-batsman, Simpson has been a very solid contributor to Middlesex’s fortunes, attaining 8 catches, 3 stumpings and a handy 235 runs at 23.5 and a strike-rate of 142.42.
  8. Benny Howell (Gloucestershire) – Topping the wicket charts for the Blast with a total of 23 wickets in 13 innings, his medium pace seamers formed an integral part of Gloucestershire’s journey to the top of the North Group. Restricting opposition batsmen with a stifling economy rate of 6.69, he can also contribute with the bat as he plays in the top seven in all formats for his county.
  9. Tim Bresnan (Yorkshire) – Losing the nip that made him a fixture in the international sides, Bresnan is now a dutiful performer for Yorkshire. His seam bowling can still challenge the best of them however, while he could still hit out with a strike-rate in the 140’s.
  10. Michael Hogan (Glamorgan) – Another Sheffield Shield export, Hogan has enjoyed quite a few successful county seasons with Glamorgan with his brand of subtle fast-medium bowling. Taking his 16 wickets at an economy rate of 6.49, he continued to perform for his county side.
  11. Timm van der Gugten (Glamorgan) – The tall Dutch fast bowler enjoyed a particularly successful season overseas in the Blast, forming a miserly partnership with Hogan. His performances bode well for the aspiring Dutch Associate side.