Where in the World?

From the time Wasim Jaffer re-announced himself in international cricket with 81 and 100 against England at Nagpur in early 2006 I felt that he had something. Sure, I'd seen him in England in 2002 and he played a few classy strokes then, but there was little in the way of substance and he failed to convince me that he'd ever do much outside India.

Now, though, with good runs in England, South Africa and the West Indies behind him, he's an entirely different proposition, and today's masterwork was the apogee of his career.

He retains the habit of getting out when apparently well set, with the result that his average, climbing into the forties in his current innings, remains a little on the low side for a player of his talent, but all the other ingredients of a high quality Test player are there. His undefeated 192 today was adorned in particular by his uniquely sweet cover driving off front and back foot and a succession of wristy flicks through the leg side, chiefly off Kaneria, which were suffused with rare timing and elegance. All in all, an innings for which 'good' is a wholly inadequate description, and I couldn't get a nagging question out of my mind afterwards.

Where else in the world today can you see batting as good as that?


Genius at the End of the Day

The retired Lehmann, one of the greatest batting geniuses I ever saw, chats with Jenny Thompson here.


Bopara and Shah

I haven't been posting much recently, for which apologies. Something to do with spending time rearranging my house, standing on a freezing touchline watching thirty public schoolboys attempt - and largely fail - to play rugby and toasting the past cricket season over several pints of Otter and some food with some mates from my club.

During the past few days, when I've been in, I've had the first India-Pakistan Test on, but never managed to watch much of it, which meant that I was left with a pretty sketchy idea of what went on. It was good to see Munaf back, even if he didn't pull up any trees, and there was penetration with ball and bat from Kumble, Laxman, Ganguly and Jaffer. India looked worthy winners of a tight contest, which augurs well for the rest of the rubber.

England, meanwhile, continue an uneasy build-up to their first Test in Sri Lanka, with the most interesting sub-plot for me being the contest between Owais Shah and Ravi Bopara for the final batting place. While seeing the merits of both, I always felt that Bopara was likely to nudge in front because of his youth and ability to bowl (if not his 'bowling ability'). Having scored 47 to Shah's 26 today and taken two wickets with the new ball after Harmison and Anderson went lame, you have to feel that the deal is all but done, however high Moores' regard for Shah.

Ravi seems sure to be there, but who (apart from Hoggard and Broad, the most nailed-on debutant for years) will do the rest of the bowling?



And then there's Atapattu. As I said last week, I'd have loved to have seen him have another tilt at England but, having signed his own death warrant with his comments about the Sri Lankan selectors, he's nailed it to the wall by announcing his retirement, going out with a typically well-constructed 80 at Bellerive.

His career's many stages are summarised here.

Questions, Questions

The last week's action from around the world begs a few questions. Such as, just how many runs can Jacques Kallis get, and how many centuries can he make? The answer to both, of course, is that no-one knows, but there doesn't seem to be any sign of a diminution in his desire for runs or any dilution in the purity of his technique, especially when faced with a New Zealand attack which, on what little I saw, had 'cannon fodder' written all over it.

But then we know all about Kallis. Of far greater significance for South Africa's future have been the runs made by Hashim Amla and the wickets taken by Dale Steyn. Amla, like Kallis before him, owes his place in the side to the belief and persistence of the South African selectors, who've stuck with him through some difficult times, while Steyn's looked like a series of wicket hauls going somewhere to happen since his debut against England some three years ago. I think a good deal more will be heard of them both, especially Steyn.

Another pertinent question after Hobart is 'just how good is Kumar Sangakkara'. Well, I remember describing him once before as 'one of the finest cricketers on God's earth', so it's obvious where I stand. I haven't seen what went on today yet, but Peter English pays a fulsome tribute to his latest epic here.


You Must Be Kidding

One of the other blogs which I always enjoy reading is Patrick Kidd's Line and Length. Patrick has the great advantage of being paid to write about sport for The Times and so is literally paid to blog, unlike most of the rest of us who do it because we have opinions and like writing (not that Patrick doesn't have opinions or like writing, I'm sure).

Mind you, being paid doesn't mean you're immune from the perils of mad people visiting your site. For some time now, a certain 'Mr.A.Nel' has been leaving 'interesting' comments in response to entries such as this.

Now I've got no idea whether Andre Nel is really leaving comments on Patrick's blog (do you, Patrick?) but, if he is, he seems to be at least as unhinged as he always appears on the pitch. And that, my friends, is quite worrying.

Decent bowler, though (I have to put that in in case he comes after me as well, but I do actually rate him).

A Load of Balls

It seems as though every branch of the media in Britain has latched on to the story that MCC are going to trial the use of a pink cricket ball next season with a view to finding a one-day ball which doesn't deteriorate as rapidly as 'conventional' white ones do. The full story wasn't, of course, explained when the story was first covered on the radio yesterday morning, and it sounded initially as though red balls were going to be replaced by pink ones. Which, in turn, made me wonder whether it was April 1st, realise it wasn't and then forget all about what seemed a deeply implausible story until I heard John Stephenson discussing it on the radio some hours later.

Personally I dislike pink, but if the results of the experiments prove positive, why not?


Playing the Joker

Leaving aside what's been happening on the field, I'm enjoying the saga of Marvan Atapattu's none-too-subtle dig at the Sri Lankan selectors, whom he described as 'muppets headed by a joker'.

I'm not aware of all the history involved, although you can't help feeling that if Atapattu wants to extend his lengthy and recently resurrected Test career even further he's picked a strange way of going about it.

And I'd be very disappointed if he doesn't line up against England. For a very long time now he's been one of the most deliciously orthodox, quietly stylish and under-rated batsmen in world cricket, and anyone who can forge a career such as his after scoring just one run in his first six innings in Test cricket must have something going for him.


Going On Abroad

With winter showing its hand in England and little happening on the cricket front - apart from Fletcher flogging his revelations around the nation's TV and radio studios - the eyes turn to what's been going on abroad. India keeping their noses ahead of Pakistan in their ODI series, Australia putting Sri Lanka to the sword at the Gabba, and Graeme Smith's Proteas making short work of a New Zealand side which looks overmatched, especially now Shane Bond is heading home.

It was gratifying, if not surprising, to see Phil Jaques make his first Test hundred. He's played a lot of county cricket in recent years, and, after seeing him make one of his routine double hundreds at Worcester in the summer of 2006 I was sure he was going to be the next opener off the Baggy Green rank. For such a classy operator he's starting his Test career late at 28, but Adam Gilchrist was around that age when Ian Healy finally allowed him into the side, and he hasn't done too badly in the years since. I reckon the world's bowlers will be seeing a lot more of Jaques over the next few years.

In South Africa it was Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn who caught the eye; I've paid enough tributes to the remorseless and peerless Kallis for the time being. The Wanderers innings may be the start of something big for the man with the finest international cricket beard since Saeed Anwar, while the pacy and aggressive Steyn also seems to be settling in for an extended run in the side, taking some of the pressure off the indefatigable Makhaya and dovetailing nicely with the less pacy but more aggressive Nel.

For all these sides it'll be a long English winter. This is just the start.


Wondering What It's Like

I don't usually write about rugby here - it's a cricket blog, after all - but I spend a lot of my time during the English winter watching the game, and occasionally you come across something which you not only enjoy, but which makes you think a bit more about the wider resonances and parallels of what you've seen.

Last night I had the pleasure of watching Joe Roff, 86 Australian caps and two World Cup finals behind him, play for Oxford University against the second team of my local club, the Exeter Chiefs. Unsurprisingly he excelled, while at the same time gliding through the game with the type of effortless poise and command that not only signifies a gifted sportsman but also one playing in a game far below the level to which he's accustomed.

It's hard to come across such experiences in cricket. No international in my experience has retired at 29 and gone back to university as Roff has, so you can only think of the times you managed to see one of the game's more gifted batsmen ply their trade against an attack that simply couldn't touch them. My most penetrating memories revolve around Lara at Trent Bridge in 1995, and, more vividly, a fifty by Darren Lehmann at Taunton when he looked as if he could have humiliated the Somerset bowlers while batting with a stump and only got himself out when it all became a little too easy.

At the end of the first half there was the type of exchange between players which is commonplace at any level of the game - a bit of grappling, a few random and harmless punches, a release for surplus aggression. Roff stood well away from it and trotted off, smiling to himself. He'd seen it all before. He'd been to places his compatriots and opponents could only dream of going, where the stakes are overwhelmingly high and the blows really hurt.

Those of us who spend our time on the sidelines, or vainly trying to emulate the actions and experiences of our heroes, can never really go there either. The best we can do is to see those places through their eyes and wonder at what it might be like.

Subscribe in a reader