On Reflection

It's hard to believe that it's barely been three days since the only story in town broke. It already seems like weeks, but the dust has barely settled.

The best moment I've had over the last few days was reading on Cricinfo yesterday - while loitering around Horse Guards Parade, of all places - that the ICC has scope for leniency when it comes to the imposition of suspensions for activities such as 'spot-fixing', and that, should it come to it, they'll be able to take into account Mohammad Amir's youth and possible naivete, which may mean that he could end up with a ban of 'only' five years rather than something much longer. Immediately after the event I got caught up in the prevailing mood which seemed to be suggesting that a life ban was the only acceptable outcome, and the thought of that happening to Amir was starting to genuinely upset me.

So, the future may not be quite as bleak for Amir as it may seem. Or, then again, it might.

Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif appear different. They've been around for long enough to really know the implications of what they were doing, and for all my deep admiration for Asif's bowling, if it's shown that they were complicit in this I'll be happy to see them both out of the game for good.


History Repeated as Tragedy

On a grey, slightly chilly, autumnal morning, Lord's, on this of all days, was a strange place to be. The air of confusion, regret and uncertainty was tangible, and more MCC members were reading the News of the World than can ever have been the case before. Buying it felt a little dirty, but it had to be done.

Although Umar Akmal finally showed his true colours, defeat came quickly, but the ramifications of what may have been done in the course of that defeat will take a lot longer to play out. On the face of it, the evidence is strong, and, if it's as solid as it appears, the ICC will need to hit this one hard to stand any chance of rolling back what may, in the Indian sub-continent at least, be a rising tide of corruption.

No matter the lifelines it's thrown, it seems as though Pakistan cricket will always find a way to drag itself back into the mire. But, as it sinks, individual images linger.

From Lord's I'll go with the haunted, shuffling figure of Mohammad Yousuf, dismissed twice in an afternoon on Saturday and looking for all the world like a shattered man. This was someone who lived and played through the last great series of Pakistani match-fixing scandals, and, in retrospect, you have to wonder whether his crushed demeanour reflected the fact that he had discovered that history was repeating itself.

And then you had Mohammad Amir, striding off after succumbing to Graeme Swann for his second duck of the game. If things go badly for him it may be the last thing he ever does on a Test match field.

For Test cricket to lose a player of his staggering ability so soon would be little short of tragic, and, for his career to end prematurely would be unutterably sad. This time, though, people really need to hang for this, and if the case against Amir and others is proved, there should be no coming back.

We move on. Or we try to. This, like a partnership between Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad, will run and run and run.


A Sense of Belonging

Until today there was an uncertainty about Jonathan Trott's status in the England side. Of course, there was a nerveless maiden century in the deciding Test of an Ashes series, and a double century at Lord's, and a record-breaking ODI partnership, but there was also the timewasting fussiness of his guard-taking ritual, more than a hint of strokelessness under pressure and an innate lack of charisma and batting elegance. Earlier in the season it began to look as though many in the media wanted him to fail, simply so as the sainted Eoin Morgan could be welcomed into the Test side.

Today, though, he resoundingly came of age with a truly magnificent combination of patience, technical rigour and impeccable shot selection; as good a century as has been made in England colours in the past couple of decades.

And Stuart Broad, for once rejecting hubris in favour of simply showing what he can do with a bat in his hand, was equally impressive.

As the runs mounted, their body language between overs reflected the way in which their partnership moved from uncertainty to realisation to fulfilment. By the end they were pumping each other's hands like long-lost friends, and they resume tomorrow at 11 requiring a further three runs to break a record which has stood for 79 years.

If Jonathan Trott lives to be 79 he'll never play better.

This is a player who really belongs.


(Raining) Cats and Dogs

I'm in London for the Test, just down the road from Lord's. It's raining cats and dogs. Even with the famed Lord's drainage, early play tomorrow looks a tall order indeed.

If I was Graeme Swann I'd probably tweet about it. And if I was him I'd be staying in a better hotel.



International cricket - all international sport, in fact - is a cloistered world, inhabited by privileged people. People, on both sides of the boundary and touchline, with the talent and good fortune to be able to earn what, by most people's standards, are huge riches, while doing something they'd happily do for nothing if their lives had turned out differently. Not that everything (unless, perhaps, you're a member of the media) is wine and roses; playing professional sport well requires a high level of discipline and far more hard work than many people realize.

Perhaps it's because of this - the fact that their own lives are so pleasurable and absorbing - that people in sport often seem so unaware of what's going on in the outside world.

Like my fellow blogger at the idiosyncratic and excellent Down at Third Man, I've been surprised and concerned (to put it mildly) that there's been very little mention of the Pakistan floods during the media coverage of the Test series. Pakistan is nothing if not a country at the heart of the world cricket community, and one which required a huge amount of solidarity and support from the rest of that community even before the latest disaster came its way. Now it needs even more.

As I type, TMS is doing its bit to redress the balance by interviewing James Caan, who's heading a fundraising campaign on behalf of the British Pakistan Foundation and is about to travel to Pakistan, but much more can, and should surely, be done.

Watch this space, and, in the meantime, visit Third Man's Facebook page here.


Chaos Theory

More often than not Twenty20 finals day ends in thinly-veiled chaos.

Saturday was one of those days. It ended at nearly 11 p.m. with the faintly surreal sight of a middle-aged man with a pot of paint and a big stick emerging into the glare of the Rose Bowl floodlights to paint a couple of white lines on a strip of turf as many thousands of cricket fans laughed, drank, cheered and looked at their watches. Oh, and wondered who out of Hampshire and Somerset would end up winning the thing.

The cricket wasn't bad either, with Jos Buttler showing a wider audience the virtues which those of us who inhabit Gimblett's Hill at Taunton have known about for a while. A technique both unfussy and innovative, backed by the iron temperament of the natural finisher. No sooner has the world started to recognize the remarkable ability and potential of Eoin Morgan than someone else comes along with many of the same qualities.

And then there were two of the most naturally rhythmical left-arm spinners you could ever wish to see. For once, though, Murali Kartik was put in the shade by Hampshire's highly-impressive 19 year-old from the Isle of Wight, Danny Briggs. In a snatched post-victory interview Briggs said something along the lines of 'I didn't know this many people watched cricket'.

You'd better get used to it, Danny, because, where you might be heading, they assuredly do.


Rebuilding Respect

Regardless of what happens now - and as I write England are well on the way to victory - there was, in a counter-intuitive, old-fashioned, slightly grim way, something uplifting about yesterday afternoon's proceedings at Edgbaston.

After their shambolic displays with the bat and in the field on Friday and Saturday, and with Graeme Swann wheeling away with a venom few in the current international game can match, Pakistan needed something different, both to preserve their own credibility and to revive a series which was beginning to look like a barely-twitching corpse a matter of days after it had started.

The combative, brave and occasionally stylish batting of Zulqarnain Haider, Mohammad Aamer and Saeed Ajmal, did just that, providing a template for their supposed superiors at the top of the order (although much of the devil seemed to have gone both from the pitch and England's bowling by the afternoon) and showing that all is not lost. On a ground that currently resembles a building site, this was the brick-by-brick rebuilding of Pakistan's self-respect.

God, they need to learn how to catch, though.


The More Things Change...

In a performance which, in the field anyway, went beyond the realms of mere competence and into those of outright brilliance, James Anderson was England's stand-out player.

It was time. He's had an uneasy few months in the one-day game, omitted entirely from the T20 triumph in the Caribbean and intermittently expensive in the ODIs against Australia and Bangladesh. But he remains a bowler of talent, ingenuity and skill, best suited to the rhythms and attacking imperatives of the five-day game, especially when the conditions weigh as heavily in his favour as they did at the weekend.

As Vic Marks has written, he's the best exponent of genuine swing England have had since the heyday of the young Ian Botham, who, for anyone too young to remember him at his best, could really, really bowl. From visual memory (no speed guns then), Botham wasn't as quick as Anderson usually is, although, when riled by a batsman, an umpire, an Australian or any combination thereof (which was often) he could really charge in. Though attacking by nature Botham at his best probably had a slightly more consistent command of line and length than Anderson, reflective of the era in which he played and a parsimonious Westcountry cricket education at the hands of Tom Cartwright.

Plus ca Change. For Ian Botham at Lord's, June 1978, knocking over a range of hapless Pakistani batsmen like so many skittles, read Anderson at Trent Bridge, August 2010.

But sterner challenges, presented by the batsmen, pitches, cricket balls and climate of Australia, lie ahead.


Go Back To What You First Thought Of. And Ignore It.

On balance, it's probably a good thing that I didn't write what I was thinking of writing before the Trent Bridge Test began, namely that Jimmy Anderson 'needed a big performance'. I've learnt from experience that the immutable Law of Sod as applied to blogging means that as soon as you write something like that it's rendered redundant by events which, in retrospect, have a terrible inevitability about them.

With this in mind, I won't be writing anything similar about Kevin Pietersen (for a week or two, anyway).

I'm not too sure about the Pakistan team, though. They, with bat and in the field at least, are really struggling. And I'm not sure that they're capable of proving me wrong.

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