Hardman's Thoughts

Pretty much everything…


Leave a comment

No panic necessary – why betting shops aren’t worried by cricket scandals

In the last six years since Pakistan toured England, a new word dominated coverage of the sport. So, how are those handling money dealing with potential corruption?

Any cricket fan can tell you where they were on the morning of the 29th August 2010.

England’s Lords Test against Pakistan that year should have been remembered for the host’s first innings, as they recovered from 102-7, to post 446. Mohammed Amir, then 18, had ripped through an impressive top order, before Trott and Broad rescued England, with the latter scoring his first (and to date only) test century.

Pakistan collapsed when replying. And by lunch on the fourth day, England had won by an innings and 225 runs, yet the mood was far from celebratory.

Why?

Just a few hours earlier, three members of the Pakistan side – Amir, fellow fast bowler Mohammed Asif and captain Salman Butt – had been accused of cheating. The News of the World ran a sting operation against a Pakistan agent, who claimed that certain balls were going to be no balls.

Spot fixing.

The term, relatively unheard of away from the subcontinent before, has dominated cricket news for the last six years, culminating in Mohammed Amir’s return from his ban. In a coincidence to end all others, his first test match just happened to be where he played his last.

All sports fans want to watch a contest, trusting that every moment is genuine, that no battle is decided prior. So, need they be worried? Is the integrity of cricket beyond all help?

Rupert Adams, the media relations officer at William Hill betting company, has a reassuring message for worried followers: “It is extremely hard to defraud the industry for certain sums. The reality is, the turnover is tiny.”

William Hill, and Rupert assures me they aren’t alone, have a method for detecting and flagging suspicious bets.

“We have risk systems which are extremely good. They are based on an algorithm which knows what average bets and payouts are likely to appear from every outcome.” He explains: “If there is a deviance, even of not that much, the bet is red flagged.

“We put these in front of our senior compilers and see if they can find a reason. If there is no explanation, we speak to our competitors and see if they are witnessing an abnormal pattern. If they are, we speak to the gambling association and say the bet is not up to scratch.”

If that is the case, the company will suspend betting. Rupert describes these occasions as “rare”.

Even so, recent years have shown that spot fixing happens at the highest level. Essex bowler Mervyn Westfield admitted to accepting money in return for conceding a certain number of runs during an over of the Pro-40 match against Durham. Over in India, numerous editions of the IPL have been hit by spot-fixing allegations, suspensions and arrests. So clearly, despite Rupert’s confidence, spot fixing still goes on.

He concedes that his assurances are only valid for professional, legal bookmakers: “The illegal bookmaking side is where it happens. The illegal bookmakers are run by gangsters.”

Organised crime. A murky theme that has run through sporting contests for generations; one which is yet to fade.

As recently as 2014, the director of the World Anti-Doping Agency, David Howman, told a conference that criminal groups control “at least 25% of the world’s sport”. Ranging from drugs to fixing, it’s a shadow that will be hard to cast.

Nevertheless, Rupert’s overall message can be summed up in his line: “We think it’s a lot less endemic than people think.”

But what is the view within the game? Alastair Cook caused some controversy this summer when, on the eve of Amir’s return, he declared: “If you are caught match-fixing you should be banned for life.” He later confirmed that he was fine with Amir playing, as the Pakistan bowler had served his sentence.

There are, however, huge waves of support for Amir. Simon Goodley, wrote in The Cricketer: “Amir made a reprehensible mistake – but which of us does not regret any actions at that age?”

He went on to say that the story has been reported wrong – that it isn’t a betting scandal and that without the News of the World’s intervention, nothing illegal would have happened.

While possibly a fair point, it won’t undo the damage that the last six years have done. Has the fall-out turned punters away from betting on cricket?

Rupert doesn’t believe it has: “We feel largely comfortable with all sports. If people are betting on sports, they know what is going on.”

Indirectly referring to the Amir incident, he states: “We don’t bet on no-balls, but if we did, even £15 on the next ball to be a no-ball would be too much, and we would red flag it.”

At any one time, William Hill will have as many as 30 live markets running on cricket matches. These include outright winner, first or second innings score, lead by and next dismissal.

Rupert said that they don’t bet on the “minor moments” which could be fixed, adding: “A batsman could potentially impact on how he gets out, but it would still be difficult to make sure he’s caught or bowled etc.”

In a summer dominated by a major doping scandal before the Olympics, Rupert recalls a meeting with the IOC during which “a man stood up and said fixing was the biggest threat the Olympics face, not drugs”. Rupert remembers thinking that none of their evidence suggests that. Interestingly, Rupert can’t recall ever having a meeting with cricket’s authorities regarding any suspicious betting patterns.

Overall, Rupert Adams is very confident that punters can continue betting on, and watching, sport, without fear that their money is being wasted on an already decided outcome. More so, he doesn’t believe that continued scandals will turn people away from sport. The only worry comes from illegal dealings.

Mohammed Amir accepted money as an 18-year-old in return for bowling no balls. It will almost certainly happen again in the future, but the message from bookmakers is clear: there is no need to worry; these incidents won’t affect the future of cricket.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

My dejection at England’s victory

Before we delve any deeper into this piece of writing, I can guarantee you that, if this was published somewhere of slightly higher profile than Hardman’s Thoughts, at least one whackjob on Twitter would read the headline and declare me anti-English.

(Also, if you are here expecting a rant on Brexit then you will be bitterly disappointed.)

I would like it known, although it needn’t be said in all honesty, that I am not anti-English. I will always support England, in all sports, and will always want them to do well. Next month I will be attending England v Scotland at Wembley, and while my loyalties aren’t as clear cut as when we play Germany or Slovenia, I will still want the Three Lions to take the three points.

But some things transcend supporting.

Or maybe my emotions after England’s 22-run victory over Bangladesh in the first test are exactly what supporting feels like.

Not supporting England necessarily, but supporting cricket.

After some mediocre, ok that’s too kind – dreadful, top order batting from England, but some even worse lower order stuff from Bangladesh, the Test was, cliché or not, in the balance on the eve of the fifth day.

Bangladesh needed 33 runs to pull off a famous victory; England needed two wickets to avoid embarrassment.

Famous victory? Embarrassment? Bangladesh have only won seven of their 94 tests. Five were against Zimbabwe (so, and no offence to Zimbabwe, can be discounted) and two came against weak West Indies sides (again, we can probably discount these).

Beating England in the first of a two-match series would not only guarantee their first victory over a big nation, it would also mean they were in with a genuine shot of winning the entire series. Now, that’s impossible.

Whenever I considered the situation on Sunday, I admit I was worried. Worried that England were about to lose to Bangladesh, worried about the headlines, needless inquests and snarky comments from ex-pros that would follow.

When I woke the next morning to see England had triumphed, a moment of relief was followed by unexpected dismay.

It had hit me that cricket had missed a glorious opportunity to improve (not to put too much pressure on Bangladesh’s final pairing of Sabbir and Shafiul – thankfully I doubt they’ll ever read this).

I spent a lot of time this summer writing about cricket. My whole final project was dedicated to it, and a lot of that regarded the globalisation of the sport.

Test cricket is the pinnacle of the sport. Only ten nations contest it. Although, it’s worth pointing out “contest” is a tad misleading. It suggests equality. And equality is far from the situation cricket finds itself it.

Of the ten, you can only argue seven are competitive. Zimbabwe hardly play and almost never win. West Indies have lost interest in it and are ruined by contract disputes regarding their best players. Bangladesh play, and try their best to compete, but are seen as pushovers and easy targets. A series against any of those is, sadly, a chance to blood some youngsters in and rest the senior players.

Bangladesh are, beyond doubt, an improving nation. England beat them in the recent one-day series, becoming the first team to achieve that, in Bangladesh, in seven attempts. Recently, South Africa, Pakistan and India have all been felled. Positive signs.

But back to the point, only ten contest Tests.

Ten nations. There are over 200 nations in our world. Only ten play cricket over five days. That’s equivalent to only ten nations playing 11-a-side football over 90 minutes, while only some of the rest play 5-a-side over 20. Sure, they meet every couple of years in World Cups, but their performances are chirpy, spirited and occasionally thrilling without ever truly threatening triumph.

It sounds ridiculous right?

It’s not just me who thinks there is something fundamentally wrong with that?

And how can we realistically expect it to improve if three of those ten aren’t pulling their weight?

So, imagine if Bangladesh had dragged themselves over the line against England?

Imagine if they went on to win the series?

Bangladesh already have an exciting crop of youngsters (and if you want a positive spin on Monday – read James’ excellent blog), a victory would have given them encouragement and something to say, “Yeah, my country did that”.

Instead, they continue to be the plucky losers. The history books won’t regard this as a close loss; instead it will always go down as just a loss. If they won, the margin wouldn’t have mattered – the “W” it produced would.

Bangladesh will win a test match against a big nation one day. They might even do it in the second test. But this year has already seen an upsurge in support for smaller nations of the cricketing world, kick-starting a test series with a victory to shake up the existing order would have been just perfect timing.

Of course, I would have preferred it if England weren’t on the receiving end, however, I am a cricket fan first and foremost and an England fan after that. I would rather see England lose in 2016 and have the sport exist for generations to come on a global stage than see England win in 2016 and have the same global situation in 2026, 2036, and 2046.

Alas, the moment has gone and the time passed.

It’s very possible I’m being too dramatic here (a recurring theme in my writing), and positivity has to be the order of the day in the Bangladesh dressing room (again, I doubt any of them will read this), however caution needs to be had at every turn. Every moment in sport can change the path we are on, and this, to me at least, felt like one.

It’s not dramatic to say at least it shows test cricket is alive and well in corners of the globe we thought it was lost.

So, congratulations England but my heart goes out to Bangladesh. I, subconsciously at least until the result was confirmed, was willing you to create history and I’m gutted another opportunity was lost.

And just in case you are reading this, keep your heads up and come again. You’ve played too well on this tour to go away with nothing to show for it.


Leave a comment

Is a resounding victory the wrong time to pick at flaws, or the perfect opportunity to improve the minor faults?

This summer has been good for the English cricket side. After dispatching Sri Lanka, they bounced back from a defeat in the first test against Pakistan to dominate the second, winning by 330 runs.

It seems harsh to be critical of members of that 11, however the side is far from perfect and certain aspects of it need changing if we want to guarantee victory over a very competent Pakistan outfit.

The Batting
For me, this is the biggest concern. Scores of 589-8 and 173-3 in the OT test might appear to show confidence and class in a batting line up full of potential, however those scores don’t tell the whole story.

Of the 762 runs scored by England over the two innings in Manchester, Alastair Cook and Joe Root rattled up 506 of them. That’s a whooping 66% of the total! Johnny Bairstow and Chris Woakes were the only other batters to get a half-century, no-one else scored more than Ben Stokes’ 34.

The five names mentioned above are all, when fit, guaranteed starters. But we can’t rely on just five batters. The other four in the side (Alex Hales, James Vince, Gary Ballance and Moeen Ali) all have question marks above their heads and on their selection.

Alex Hales, due to his fine series against Sri Lanka, has guaranteed himself the next two tests. However, he needs to improve against good seamers, and needs to relax in the test arena and play like he does against the white ball.

Gary Ballance has only just come back to the side since he was dropped at the start of last summer. In his two tests back, he hasn’t made a 50 and looks nervous. It would be harsh to drop him after such a short run back, however, no international side can carry a passenger, and his fine start in an England shirt looks a long way away.

But Ballance might be saved by the inability of James Vince to learn from his mistakes. Every innings Vince has played in a white England shirt (7, with an average of 18.57) has been exactly the same. He’s walked out to the middle, played a few lovely drives but has eventually got out driving. He hasn’t scored a 50 in 5 tests, and England need to have a serious think about whether he is the man for the job. For me, his time is up, and needs to return to county cricket.

The solution? It’s simple. Bring back Ian Bell. Bell is one of England’s greatest batters of all time, and is the perfect man for this series. During his England career, he batted at 30-3, or 200-3, scoring runs in all situations. He is similar to Vince, in that he has the shots, but he learnt control and when to play them. Vince could learn a lot from watching how Bell has scored his 22 test centuries, and the Warwickshire captains recall might be exactly what Vince needs.

Bell is not a step back. Yes, he’s 34, and yes he’s played before, however why is returning to a tried and tested player a backwards step? Ian Bell has played many an important innings for England, and he is the player who will sure up our batting line up for the last two tests, guarantee the series win against Pakistan, before stepping aside for younger talents in Bangladesh. Bell was unceremoniously dropped from the England side, and this is a perfect opportunity to say goodbye and end on a high.

Other options include Scott Borthwick, Ben Duckett, Daniel Bell-Drummond and Jos Buttler (when fit). All will play test cricket regularly, but maybe this summer is too soon for all except Buttler. I would expect Buttler to play in the next test, if he hadn’t broken his finger.

The Bowling
James Vince might be saved by something else. Ben Stokes got injured again during the Old Trafford test, therefore hurting our chances with both bat and ball.

Chris Woakes has been a revelation this summer (and can I just say how delighted I am by this – he’s always impressed me, and I’m just over the moon to see him bowling so well), with James Anderson and Stuart Broad going nowhere as well. That’s a formidable pace attack, although England like to go with four seamers and one spinner in England conditions – so expect another bowler to come in at Edgbaston.

Maybe expect two. Adil Rashid is knocking at the door, and Moeen Ali continues to underwhelm. For what it’s worth, I want to see Moeen given until the end of the summer, however he needs to pick up wickets in Birmingham. Cook has stuck by Moeen through thick and thin, and needs that faith returning soon.

Back to the pace attack, and Steven Finn seems shot of confidence and out of rhythm. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s a wonderful bowler, however you can’t keep bowling someone in his state of mind. The best bet for Finn would be to return to Middlesex.

So, who will replace Stokes’ bowling? Mark Wood is back bowling for Durham, and he has to be first choice. A bowling attack of Anderson, Broad, Wood and Woakes is about as good as England can offer at this moment in time, and would surely guarantee victory over Pakistan. And all this is harsh on Jake Ball, who did nothing wrong in his first test at Lords, or Toby Roland-Jones who warranted his call-up.

England’s bowling is in better shape than their batting, however, even that can be improved.

Verdict
My side for the test at Edgbaston would be:
Cook, Hales, Root, Bell, Ballance, Bairstow, Moeen, Woakes, Wood, Broad, Anderson

If Buttler is fit, I would bring him in for Ballance and bat him below Bairstow.

So, is a resounding victory the wrong time to pick at flaws, or the perfect opportunity to improve the minor faults?

For me it’s the latter. England need to continue this winning mentality, and perfecting the line up is the best way to avoid complacency and continue competition.

What would you do? Let me know in the comments below!


Leave a comment

Ramble #9

No To Big Sam

Sam Allardyce would be the worst possible manager England could choose. 

Talk about a backwards step!

Ok, yes, the Hodgson reign was bloody awful. And the scars from the last two tournaments are still raw, and won’t be forgotten for a long time. 

But Sam Allardyce as England’s saviour?

Give me an effin’ break! 

At least Hodgson tried to bring some youngsters in. He’s played Stones, Dier, Sterling, Alli, Barkley, Kane, Rashford etc  – the problem was he seemed to lose faith once the tournament started. 

BBC have written an article about what Big Sam would bring to the England set-up. It’s terrifying, and I can’t believe anyone would ever want it!

I quote:

with his love of veterans, could he tempt Major League Soccer duo Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard out of international retirement?

Only a hypothetical, sure, but a terrifying one – no? Haven’t we left our not-so Golden Generation behind?

Sam Allardyce has managed 467 games in the Premier League. He’s only won 33.6%. His sides have conceded more than they’ve scored. I’m sure that’s exactly what we all want from our new England manager!

For comparison, David Moyes has a win percentage of 41.2% from almost as many games. And before you say he’s managed better sides, I ask you this: was his Everton better than Allardyce’s Bolton? Even as the most biased of Evertonians, I would dispute anyone who says we were. 

_90375450_managerstat_snip.jpg

Tell me that inspires you, tell me you’re optimistic?

Do any of those stats really inspire you that he’s the man for England? Because God help you if they do.

Ok, Allardyce for England. Why do people want him? Well he brings a level of confidence, he’s well drilled, has good tactics and takes no nonsense from anyone.

Quite frankly, they aren’t super-special qualities. They’re strikingly average, and I would expect them from any manager we pick. 

Sam Allardyce is a poor man’s Harry Redknapp (who, by the way, has a win percentage of 36.8% in the Premier League – another awful “legend”). Allardyce is great at helping teams survive and manipulating the transfer market to suit them.

Take Sunderland for example. Allardyce has done well there. I saw it with my own eyes when they thrashed the awful Everton side we had at the back end of last year. Sunderland is where Allardyce can thrive. Not England. 

Do England have a transfer market? No. Have England really sunk to being just “survivors”? I’d like to think not.

Maybe we have, maybe I’m being naive. But I’m not expecting us to go out there and get a Guardiola, Conte or Mourinho. I wouldn’t even expect Van Gaal.

I just want someone with international and  Champions League experience. Someone who’s managed the big boys and dealt with their egos, who can relate to the press and not turn people off and who has a winning mentality. 

Jurgen Klinsmann, anyone?

Not Sam bloody Allardyce, that’s for sure. 

We made progress under Hodgson. He was the wrong man to see it through, but we laid groundwork for a brighter future. 

Groundwork which is now being undone because we seemingly have an obsession with narrow-minded, brain-numbingly average English managers.

Maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe, in 2018, we will reach the semi-finals of a major tournament. Andy Carroll will be heading in our only goals in the 70th minute, and then we will put our necks on the line to hold on (probably with John Terry and Joleon Lescott at the back). Sam Allardyce will be praised as the hero of English football.

Likely?

Give me a break.  


Leave a comment

Euro Stories (Pt.2)

1.  England and Croatia

England made six changes when approaching their final group game, knowing a win would see them qualify in first. Croatia made five in exactly the same situation.

England were expected to brush Slovakia aside, no matter how many alterations they made. Croatia were always going to lose to Spain, whatever they did.

England laboured to a draw, Croatia bounced back from an early goal to deservedly beat Spain.

The difference? England’s players looked uninterested in playing for each other, bored of trying to win and expected just to turn up and gain the three points. Croatia’s wanted to stake their claim for a first team place in the next round.

Take a look at the midfield. England played a brilliant, but tiring, Eric Dier, alongside a half-fit Jack Wilshere and an uninspiring Jordan Henderson. Croatia had lost Modric to injury so brought in the impressive Rog, and dropped Brozovic for the brilliant Pjaca.

England paid for being negative, Croatia were rewarded for being positive, although in the short run it doesn’t appear to have paid off. Croatia get Portugal in the next round, England have Iceland.

However …

2. Sergio Ramos

As it turns out, Croatia were screwed either way with their group. Win and they get Portugal, lose and they get Italy.

Which is why you need to look beyond the second round, and start plotting a route to the final. It is without question that had Spain won the group, they would cruise into the final.

Croatia’s route is: Portugal, Poland-Switzerland, Wales-Northern Ireland-Belgium-Hungary. Spain’s is: Italy, Germany-Slovakia, France-Ireland-England-Iceland.

So Sergio Ramos has a lot to answer for.

Why? He took the penalty away from Cesc Fabregas. He ignored Andres Iniesta and David Silva. The score was 1-1, another Spanish goal would have meant Croatia had to score 2 to win the group. In 20 minutes, that would have been unlikely.

Ramos missed. Croatia scored. And, if Spain fail to get to the final, there has to be a backlash against their captain.

3. Iceland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Slovakia, Albania

I’ve mentioned the debutants on many occasions. I was looking forward to seeing them all play, and none has let me down.

Wales won their group, Iceland qualified in second while the other three all finished third. All were competitive, and, until Portugal’s comeback against Hungary and Ireland’s late winner against Italy, all were progressing to the last 16.

As it is, we say goodbye to Albania. But we can continue watching the other four, and with Wales taking on Northern Ireland, at least one will be in the quarters.

None of them match the brilliance of Iceland. They’ve riled Cristiano, frustrated Hungary and broke Austrian hearts. They deserve to qualify, and I would genuinely love them to go far in this tournament.

They play England in the next round, with their late goal denying us the chance to play Portugal. My heart wants England to win the tournament, but I wouldn’t be sad if Iceland dumped us out.

Losing to Portugal would have been another chapter in Ronaldo’s sickening ego-fest, losing to Iceland would make us part of one of the greatest sporting stories of our lifetime.

That’s why I was delighted when Iceland scored their winner. That’s why I wouldn’t mind losing to them.

4. The format

I think I’m alone in this, but I have absolutely loved the new format.

Yesterday, Republic of Ireland knew winning would see them qualify, no matter what happened in the other match.

Under the old system, their 1-0 triumph over Italy wouldn’t have been enough.

Assume Sweden beat Belgium and Ireland beat Italy. Italy would have 6 points, Sweden and Ireland 4 and Belgium 3. Sweden would go through on goal difference (they didn’t lose 3-0 to Italy).

If Sweden and Belgium drew? Belgium would have four points, and would progress due to their victory over Ireland (H2H is the first criteria for qualification).

Under the old system, Ireland were almost certainly out. Under the new one, qualification was in their hands.

Doesn’t that justify it? Doesn’t that prove it’s worth?

Third place sides should qualify more often. It made the final round of group matches much, much, much more exciting.

5. Predictions

Quarters:
Poland – Croatia
Wales – Belgium
Germany – Spain
France – Iceland

Semis:
Croatia – Wales
Germany – France

Final:
Croatia – France (with France winning at home)


Leave a comment

The Unexpected Final

If you had asked all cricket fans to predict which two sides would reach the 2016 World T20 Final, I can’t imagine any would have said West Indies and England. Sure, maybe the odd patriot would back one or the other, but no one (and I’m including Eoin Morgan and Darren Sammy here) would give you both.

Especially after Gayle’s pummelling of the England attack in Mumbai last month. Especially with India lurking in the semi finals. Especially as Afghanistan beat one and came close to beating the other.

It’s a final that, in many ways, is fantastic for the sport. West Indies have been in dire straights in red ball cricket for an incredibly long time, yet they have a huge, passionate fan base who crave the glory days. A route back to the dominant sides of days gone by through the white ball seems possible with this, the success of the women and the victorious under 19 lot.

For England, neutrals around the globe have welcomed this fresh side. A side not haunted by failure or scared to lose. A country whose board has begrudgingly and belatedly accepted the power of one day cricket, and assembled a side capable of delivering success and excitement in equal measure.

I said at the start of the tournament, a strong West Indies means a strong cricket. The same rings true for England, and if both are strong, then cricket has 6 or 7 (New Zealand are making huge strides towards the traditional elite, Bangladesh continue to grow) sides who can all compete for major honours. Gone are the days of Australian, Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan dominance on the shorter forms.

239095.jpg

This final will make history. For the first time, a side will win their second T20 world cup. England or West Indies will become the most successful nation ever at T20 for the next four years. Whilst maybe believable for the Windies, be honest, did you ever think you’d hear that about England?

The two semi finals, however, continued two traditions. New Zealand’s loss to England meant that, in 6 attempts, no side has ever gone undefeated. India’s loss to West Indies the next afternoon extended the jinx the tournament has on the hosts. Australia will look to rectify both of those in four years time.

The West Indies are comfortable chasing, they’ve done it in every one of their matches so far. England also prefer chasing, so expect whoever wins the toss, dependant on conditions, to put the others in.

One aspect the final may be decided on is how the side defending reacts to that, which may put England in the ascendancy. West Indies haven’t defended a total, England have. Successfully. Twice.

chris-gayle-world-t20-century

Before the semi-final, West Indies would have been worried about how they cope when star man Chris Gayle fails. However, he failed in the semi-final and the Windies still managed to chase a score of 190+. With that fear allayed, they go into the final in a rightly confident mood (when are they not confident?!). That being said, getting Chris Gayle early will still be key to England’s chances of winning.

England’s best chance of winning lies with the form of Joe Root. If he can bat for 10 or more overs, he will assess the pitch and bat accordingly. He will always score runs, and always get them at such a rate that it doesn’t hinder the side. Either he will allow Roy or Hales to get a flier, rebuild with Morgan or assist Buttler and Stokes in the slogfest at the end. Joe Root is a danger whenever he bats.

Spin will always play a big part in India; however, I think that this final will be decided by which team gets the death overs seam bowling right. Chris Jordan and Ben Stokes have performed magnificently in the last four overs in the last two matches and that will be crucial in limiting the West Indies to a manageable total. On the other side of the park will be Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell. Which pair performs best could well decide which way the final goes.

ben-stokes-england-2603

Both captains haven’t been in the best of form. Usually this would be problematic, however the strength of their respective captaining rescues them. Darren Sammy can offer experience and power with both bat and ball, while Eoin Morgan will always keep a cool head whatever the situation. They are also big game players, and I have a feeling one of them will fire on Sunday.

So, what will it all come down to? For me, it’s the bowling. The batting is fairly equal, and both bowling attacks will need to restrain some of the biggest hitters in world cricket. A final containing Chris Gayle, Lendl Simmons, Marlon Samuels, Jason Roy, Joe Root and Jos Buttler is immensely exciting, but it’ll be just as thrilling to see how Samuel Badree, David Willey, Adil Rashid and Sulieman Benn react.

Essentially, what I’ve said in this preview is to watch all eleven members of the respective sides and one aspect of them will decide which way the final goes. It’s obvious, but it’s true. I have a couple more pointers to leave you with.

Firstly, this tournament proves T20 is for the batters. It’s no coincidence that, on paper, England and West Indies have two of the best batting line-ups in the world. India’s is probably better in theory but they didn’t fired. No side had a great bowling line up, but the ones with the best couldn’t cope when facing England or West Indies. All this does is backs up my point that the bowling will decide who lifts the trophy.

article-urn-publicid-ap.org-0f6baa4467044876a6330e953c0cd23b-5GqmOhTZWt230bb564a491d0e690-895_634x746.jpg

Secondly, this is the closest final I can remember in years. Unfamiliar conditions may play a part, but then both sides have that to deal with. Both sides have the same strengths, both the same weaknesses. A fielding mistake here, a fielding mistake there, a bad decision or a poor shot and the final, and the chance at history, is gone.

I’m very much hoping that England win, but a West Indies one would be no less than they deserve.

Meanwhile, I am wholeheartedly backing the West Indies in the women’s final. Them beating Australia, and breaking the stranglehold of the top 3, would be the best thing to happen in women’s sport for a long time.


Leave a comment

Cricket Matters

Shock after shock after shock:
I’m thoroughly enjoying the super 10 stage of this World Cup, it’s the most exciting I can remember for a long time.

Why? In the first match, hosts and favourites India restricted dark horses New Zealand to 126 from their 20 overs. It was expected to be an easy chase, especially as New Zealand had left out 2 or 3 of their front line bowlers. What India didn’t factor in was New Zealand’s spin trio of McCullum, Santner and Sodhi. India were skittled for just 79. The tournament had started with a bang, India losing, chasing a small total, on a spinning track.

india-m6.jpg

The very next day, Chris Gayle made England look very average with one of the best centuries you will ever see. The Windies chased down 182 with the best part of two overs remaining. As an Englishman it was frustrating to watch, but for the rest of the world it was majestic. I’ve said it before, and heard it said millions of times, a strong West Indies means a strong cricket.

It got better. New Zealand won a close match with rivals Australia before South Africa swatted a poor English bowling display for 229. It was the sixth highest T20 score in history, and included three quick fire 50’s from De Kock, Amla and Duminy. South Africa lost.

In a World Cup where India couldn’t chase 126, England raced to 229 with an over remaining. The 230th run came up 4 balls later and England, led by Joe Root and Jason Roy, had pulled off one of the greatest victories of all time.

A few weeks ago I compared this England side to the one, which went to the last World Cup in India. At that one, England pulled off a shock victory by defending 171. There’s something about India and playing South Africa that allows England to play out of their skins!

chris-gayle-world-t20-century.jpg

The woes of pace:
Talking about England, a little needs to be said on team selection.

Side: Roy, Hales, Root, Morgan, Buttler, Stokes, Ali, Rashid, Willey, Jordan, Topley
On the bench: Billings, Vince, Dawson, Plunkett

With scores of 182 and 230, there obviously isn’t a lot wrong with that batting line up. Roy and Hales can get England off to a flier, Root and Morgan are our best batters against spin and that’ll allow Butter and Stokes to explode at the end.

The problem is our bowling. Those batting scores are great, but the fact we’ve lost one and narrowly won the second suggests we have serious problems in the bowling department. Chris Jordan had a decent match in the first, but got taken for 49 in just two overs against South Africa. Willey’s economy rates are 11 and 10, Topley’s are 10.15 and 16.5 while Stokes’ are 14 and 11.5. In good news, Ali and Rashid are bowling well!

237373.jpg

There’s no question that one or two of our pace men need to be rested for the next match against Afghanistan. For me, it’s Jordan and Topley. There’s talk that Jordan is in the side for his yorkers and death bowling, however none of that was evident against South Africa. The other is Willey or Topley, I’d go with Topley because Willey with the new ball is getting some swing and looks more dangerous.

Who comes in? I think Plunkett has to. He has more pace and bounce than any of our bowlers and usually does well when playing for England. The second replacement is more difficult. I like the idea of going to five bowlers, there will be less of a “someone else will bowl well” attitude, and plus Vince and Billings are good young batters who deserve a chance on the world stage. However, that’s not what I’m going to recommend. Instead, I think Dawson should come in. Liam Dawson is a 26-year-old spinning all-rounder who can offer an extra option with the ball while strengthening the batting at the same time.

At some point this summer I hope to outline a plan for a three-tier test championship as well as taking a look at how the planned changes to the county championship will affect the county system.