Friday, 22 March 2013

West Indies still have issues to deal with, but who'd be Zimbabwe?

A 2-0 series win, one by an innings and the other by nine wickets, can cover a multitude of sins. West Indies don't have that many to cover, but there remain problems. But Zimbabwe can take few positives from a poor tour, and look nothing like a Test team.

The main problem for the visitors was their batting, in four Test innings they put up totals of 211, 107, 175 and 141. Only Tino Mawoyo made it to 50 in the series, and he could go no further, departing for just that. Brendan Taylor had a poor tour overall, and scored 72 runs at 18 in the Tests. Other than him, the biggest disappointment in the batting was Vusi Sibanda who hit some crisp strokes, made a start in all four innings, but failed to get past fifty once. His talent is such that he's worth persisting with for Zimbabwe, but he's got to start scoring big runs soon.

The visitors bowling was the reverse of the West Indians, with the seamers bowling well and the spinners struggling. Kyle Jarvis took a five-for in the first Test and generally looked threatening, whilst Tendai Chatara showed enough to work with. On the spin front, Ray Price was as reliable as ever and strangely dropped for the anaemic Prosper Utseya for the second Test. Leg-spinner Graeme Cremer took some punishment across the two Tests, and failed to get the help from the surfaces that was there, never spinning the ball hard enough.

Zimbabwe will never improve until the facilities are better back at home, and they get to play more Test matches. At the moment, they are barely good enough to be a Test nation, and unlike the likes of Bangladesh they don't have many big weapons in the one day game. The batting is weak, Brendan Taylor is no Andy Flower, and while the opening partnership has potential, the lower middle order looks poor. Kyle Jarvis needs a partner, and if Glen Querl wants to play for Zimbabwe that gives them another good swing bowler. Add a tall quick bowler from somewhere and there is the makings of something there, but the question on who's going to replace Ray Price in the long run is no closer to being answered.

On the bowling side of things for the West Indies, Shane Shillingford dominated, taking 19 of the 40 Zimbabwe wickets to fall in the series. Marlon Samuels picked up some 10 cheap wickets with his javelin balls, Sunil Narine must be kicking himself. Best and Roach were below par but Shannon Gabriel seems to have cemented his place in the team with some disciplined bowling at a sharp pace, and was unlucky not to have taken the new ball at any point.

Batting wise, they put up good totals first up in both Tests, and only Bravo and Powell missed out on significant scores in either Tests. Darren Sammy and Dinesh Ramdin turned the First Test with their partnership, but both may be batting a place to high when it gets to playing against better quality opposition.

That's the main problem the West Indies will have to deal with: team balance. Darren Sammy shouldn't get in the team as a player alone, his bowling has gone downhill, and his batting hasn't improved enough to make him a genuine all-rounder to bat at number seven. He's been an inspirational captain, but he's no Brearley, and against better opposition he will either negatively affect the bowling or the balance of the side. There's no easy answer, but the selectors will have to come up with one before the Pakistan series at home.

Zimbabwe's next assignment is a home series against Bangladesh, where they should compete more. Their comeback Test, back in 2011, was against the same team, and they fought out a convincing win. Bangladesh have improved since then, and Zimbabwe have gone backwards. It will be a tough test for both teams, and it's a shame it's only two Tests. In series between two evenly matched teams like these, there should be at least three, ideally four Tests. Neither team plays enough Test cricket, this should be their chance to change that. Unfortunately, money talks, and the series isn't a big enough draw to merit more matches.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Hometown glory for Shillingford

Shane Shillingford is not a glamorous spinner. He's never been picked in the IPL auction, he's never had overwhelming success at any level, but slowly and surely he's establishing himself as West Indies' premier spinner. He could have considered himself unlucky to have been dropped for the effervescent Sunil Narine, not long after taking the first 10 wicket match haul by a West Indian spinner since Lance Gibbs, but he looks set for a long spell in the side now after picking up 5/59 on the first day of the Test against Zimbabwe.

Shillingford teased the Zimbabwean batsmen with turn and bounce along with just enough flight. He had them playing back to full balls, bowling spitting cobras jumping off a length which weren't even the wicket-taking balls. His first and last came from doosras, bowling Masakadza and trapping Chatara LBW. In between he got rid of Brendan Taylor reverse-sweeping and playing on, Waller slogging one up in the air and Utseya LBW to an off-break.

It can be argued that West Indies erred by not picking a second spinner. Veerasammy Permaul was the other option in the squad and can generally be relied on to provide an accurate spell of left arm spin, albeit from a remarkably fussy action akin to Phil Tufnell on speed.

Perhaps a better option would have been Sunil Narine, who would have provided some of the same qualities as Shillingford, but would not have duplicated him. Most selectors are reluctant to play two spinners of the same ilk, but Shillingford and Narine are hardly the same bowler. Shillingford is more of a wristy off-spinner, whilst Narine bowls more of a finger-spin, and whilst both have doosras, Shillingford's is the back of the hand version, whilst Narine bowls the knuckle/carrom ball.

The depth in West Indian spin bowling is better than it has perhaps ever been. Even in the days of Ramadhin and Valentine, or of Lance Gibbs, there was little below that level. Now Shillingford, Permaul and Narine compete for the Test spots, whilst Nikita Miller takes bucketloads at First-class level, and Devendra Bishoo seems forgotten. Add the likes of Yannic Cariah, Odeon Brown and Ashley Nurse amongst others and the spin warehouse is well stocked.

This abundance of spinners makes it all the more impressive that Shillingford is on top – for the time being – and his experience has won out over the more green Narine. Shillingford is over 30, and after his first five Tests in 2010 brought him 14 wickets at 56.79, he came back in 2012, and in his last five (including the ongoing one) he's picked up 29 at 23.10. Now he's got to continue this success, West Indies' next Tests assignment should be Pakistan in June, and he's a certain pick for that series. After that his long term future is in his own hands.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Embrace the ambidextrous

Just imagine this. A crafty young mystery spinner bounces towards the crease. Think Akila Dananjaya. He's the Sri Lankan who claims to be able to bowl all the balls, and who knows, maybe he can. His ESPNCricinfo profile proclaims that he is "Able to deliver a legbreak, googly, carrom ball, doosra and a stock offspinner." What you don't know is that this mystery spinner can also do that all again left-handed.

Of course, the rules of cricket would demand that he inform the batsman each time he switches bowling hands. All mystery, and the element of surprise is lost. No wonder there are very few ambidextrous bowlers in cricket. Hanif Mohammed could bowl finger spin with both hands, and a few others are said to have bowled with their wrong hand at a point, generally as a bit of fun, not as a serious endeavour.

But it could be turned into a serious, if niche, endeavour if the law no longer required bowlers to inform the umpire in change of action. Bowlers could switch their action at will to adjust if the strike changes from a left-hander to a right-hander or just confuse bowlers who never know what angle the ball is going to come from and out of which hand as the bowler bounds to the crease. Spin bowlers could gain the most advantage from this, turning the ball both ways, using the same skill-set but different hands.

Ambidexterity is a skill rewarded in most other sports. Footballers who are genuinely as good with either foot are highly prized, rugby players are expected to be able to throw to either side, and there are no rules (as far as I know) preventing golfers driving in a right-handed stance before putting left-handed. Baseball players who can bat either handed are highly prized, and pitchers who pitch either handed rare but not prohibited.

Yet cricket promotes the inequality of batsmen being able to reverse-sweep and switch-hit, without bowlers able to counter with an innovation of their own. It's not like batsmen need more of an advantage in the modern game of big bats with edges as large as middles and postage stamp grounds with 60 yard boundaries. 

Innovation has long been frowned on in cricket, when the googly was first invented it was derided and claimed to be morally wrong, tricking the batsman in such a way. There are palpitations amongst many about the doosra and its legality, despite the fact that several bowlers have been show to be able to bowl it without chucking.

It's time for cricket to embrace the ambidextrous, add another dimension to bowling and reward those who are, and those who can make themselves ambidextrous. Give it ten years and maybe the next generation of mystery spinners might come along and take the opportunity literally with both hands.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Australia's spin options for the second Test

Nathan Lyon

The ghost of Clarrie Grimmett
Yes, he may not be able to take corporeal form, but even without a body, the legendary Australian spinner must be better than Nathan Lyon. Never played a Test in India, and he can rectify that now, if John Inverarity can conduct an effective seance.

Xavier Doherty
Wins one point for being called 'Xavier', and should be an automatic selection if you want to get Kevin Pietersen out for 227. Puts a lot of energy into his action, none of which is imparted on the ball

Steve Smith
Looks a little bit like Shane Warne, and bowls leg-breaks. Fuck it, let's play him

Glenn Maxwell
The big show. Could be the next Colin 'Funky' Miller, or the next Jason Kreizja. You'll only know if you pick him. 

Fawad Ahmed
Quick, someone get him a passport. An Australian one, I'm sure he's already got a Pakistan passport. Just send Doherty home and give Fawad his passport.

Bryce McGain
Surely he deserves another chance. Hasn't played first-class cricket since October 2010, but he's not a bad bowler despite what people in South Africa might think.

Steve O'Keefe
Is it too late to belatedly fly the man nicknamed 'Sock' out to India. Well, unless the spinner has wings, which I assume he doesn't, yes. If O'Keefe does sprout a pair of wings, he should get them flapping in the direction of Hyderabad, as well as a spinner Australia could do with a flying fielder.

Adam Zampa
Ok, I'm taking the piss now. Not as good as everyone thinks he is, plus like O'Keefe and McGain he doesn't possess wings.

A wax sculpture of Shane Warne
Wait, that's the real Warne? What the fuck has he done to himself since he retired. He's not retired? Well, he wasn't that good in India, and was turd in the BBL.

I'd take my chances with a spin trio of the ghost of Clarrie Grimmett, Fawad Ahmed disguised as Xavier Dohery and flying Steve O'Keefe.