Feeding a Delusion

Owing to a surfeit of things going on in my life - the main one, unfortunately, being the requirement to earn a living somewhere where I can't watch cricket* - Eoin Morgan's latest tour de force largely passed me by. But, to a certain extent, however good it was, the innings shouldn't have told anyone anything they didn't know about the man and his exceptional ability and potential. The fastest-rising one-day batsman on earth? England, yes, that's England, have him, and the confidence generated by his presence and the World T20 triumph continues to course through the side. You could, unless you were someone with experience of watching England over many years and a sound grip on reality, think a new era had arrived...

Elsewhere in the world things are a bit less exciting. South Africa and the West Indies, with a mere five days at their disposal, could only stagger to a draw on a St.Kitts shirtfront. While games such as this may serve to briefly foster the illusion that the West Indies can still compete with the best the world game has to offer, they're feeding a delusion and doing the wider sport damage at the same time.

It's been said before, but I'll say it again. Pointless Tests such as this will send Test cricket to the grave faster than a decade's worth of Twenty20 matches.

Over to you, ICC.

* I understand that all over England people are being given permission to watch the England football team play Slovenia in the World Cup this afternoon. Personally I'm happy to miss the game, but, with a precedent thus set, I look forward to the mass absenteeism that's certain to greet England's next Test series. Oh, sorry, I forgot. It's cricket and it's not the Ashes, therefore nobody in their right mind would ever be interested...


Harsh but Fair

You know how it is. You get on a bus and sit down, minding your own business.

Soon after you've taken your seat you become aware that the bloke behind you is taking part in a loud mobile phone conversation, which you can't avoid listening to. It's usually banal, but sometimes it's interesting and sometimes it's amusing. Rarely, in England, will it feature anything whatsoever to do with cricket.

Most of today's was about horses and horse racing, which have never done much for me, but then the conversation turned to the ridiculous performance of the England football team in last night's World Cup game against Algeria in Cape Town.

Talking about the reaction of one of his friends to the circus which was unfolding before their eyes, I picked up the words:

'He said it was worse than watching Graeme Smith bat'.


Market Forces

If there's one thing West Indian cricketers do consistently these days, it's losing. In Port of Spain, the Test side were thrashed by South Africa, while in Leicester their A side went down to an India A attack led by an eighteen year-old who'd never previously played in a first-class game but who took 13 wickets in the match.

Kieron Pollard probably wouldn't have helped either side very much, but then he never had the opportunity to, having decided to forego the A tour in favour of a T20 contract with Somerset. With fast runs, wickets, a six which damn nearly cleared the Lord's pavilion and a brilliant run-out as part of an improbable Somerset win at the Rose Bowl on Friday night, the county doubtless view his salary as money very well spent.

The West Indian authorities aren't impressed with this, seeing it as an indication of the fact that, for a young West Indian cricketer, the opportunity to wear the crimson cap isn't the peak of his ambition. Regardless of the fact that Pollard had apparently signed his Somerset contract well before the West Indian tour party was announced, his decision encapsulates the changing priorities of many within the game. For all its tradition, complexity and lost glory, West Indian Test cricket can't provide the rewards that an IPL franchise or an English county can, added to which it's bloody hard work to get to the top.

In the matter of Test cricket, as with anything else, market forces pay no respect to tradition. Players like Pollard are in the position which all of us would like to be in. Less work for much more money. Who could honestly say that they wouldn't do the same?

What is more concerning for the future of the longer game is the question of how the future is viewed by players who are yet to make it to the top. Will they regard Test cricket as the summit of their ambitions, or will they prefer the money available elsewhere for comparatively little effort? I don't know, but I have a suspicion that many will choose the latter option.

Kieron Pollard's decision may be the thin end of a very large wedge. Never mind the West Indies Cricket Board, all those who love and respect the first-class game have more than enough reason to worry about the future.


A Giant Amongst Pygmies

All the talk on Radio Five Live this morning - largely thanks to what Geoff Boycott and Michael Vaughan said on TMS yesterday - appeared to be about the future of Bangladesh as a Test playing nation.

True, Bangladesh were abysmal in the final two sessions of the Old Trafford Test, and, once Tamim was out early yesterday afternoon in overcast, seaming conditions, it was only a matter of time before the end came. But, in the short attention-span world of the media, it's easy to forget that they're improving (albeit very slowly) and it would make no sense to downgrade or remove their Test status after just ten years. Vaughan's lazy comment that a Test-class batsman only had to concentrate to make a century against Bangladesh didn't say much for the 'concentration' of most of England's batsmen, but Boycott made a worthwhile contribution with his commonsense suggestion that the ICC should pay for Bangladesh to tour the world playing domestic sides in unfamiliar conditions. Not that that's very likely to happen.

So, for the time being, Bangladesh are stuck with having to rely on a timid, ineffectual bowling attack and an order propped up by the mighty Tamim. In him, they at least have a batsman of world-class behind whom they can rally. However, as opposing sides begin to probe his weaknesses and the pressure of carrying the side begins to weigh him down (if it ever does), they're going to need others to step forward. No wonder Jamie Siddons doesn't have any hair.

As the Third Man highlights here, a good start might be for the others to do what Tamim, for all his gifts, apparently feels he does better than his less talented compatriots.

Work harder.


Good Impression

When he was first drafted into the England squad at the start of this year, I had my doubts about Ajmal Shahzad, and expressed them here. I hadn't heard of him doing much in county cricket, and instinctively had my doubts about someone who, at the age of 24, had only played twenty-odd first-class matches and had never taken more than four wickets in an innings.

But then I'd never seen him bowl. Someone with a lot more knowledge of what to look for than me had seen something they liked, and off to Bangladesh he went. Until yesterday, though, he'd barely been seen in an England shirt, so we were all still guessing.

After a short, nervous contribution with the bat, he bowled his first spell during Bangladesh's Tamim-inspired opening onslaught. Once more he looked like someone who wasn't really sure that they belonged - hardly an unusual sentiment for a Test debutant with a limited and uneven record behind him - but in his second spell of the day it was finally possible to see for ourselves what the England hierarchy have seen in him.

A technically-correct but whippy and fluent action, sharp pace and a hint of swing was enough to see off three members of the lower order, and confirm Shahzad's place among the long list of bowlers who, while far from automatic choices, could well play a significant role in England's Test series against Pakistan and beyond.

And with uncertainty about the fitness of two other members of that group - Graham Onions and Tim Bresnan - Shahzad could be closer to playing a central role than he would, for all his obvious confidence, have believed a few days ago.

As and when the weather relents, his big challenge will be to build on what he did in the last hour yesterday, and it's going to be fun watching him try.

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