Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Who are cricket's future greats?

I Officially love this article from Peter Roebuck...............

Over the last 30 years cricket has been blessed with greatness, a trait currently in short supply. Indeed the game has been lucky enough to produce great teams and great players at the same time, a combination that cannot be taken for granted. Great cricketers can emerge without teams of equal standing, but it does not work the other way around. It is hard to imagine a team rising to greatness who lack players of the highest calibre.
Greatness sustains every sport because it reveals its possibilities. Then the execution itself becomes transporting. However, greatness in any arena is easier to observe than define. At once it is a state of mind and also an ability to turn the exceptional into the routine. Certainly it is not enough to play a few great innings, let alone just great strokes. It demands staying power, not flashes in the pan. Longevity is demanded at the door. Substance, too, is more important than style. A cricketer need not attain beauty to rank amongst the finest. Mind you, beauty need not be defined in purely aesthetic terms. To my mind Glenn McGrath was an immensely satisfying bowler to watch. Just that he was driven more by science than artistry.
In this year's French Open, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic produced some stunning strokeplay and extraordinary matches. Truly it was a shame anyone had to lose - the relentless Spaniard, the graceful Swiss or the savage Serbian. It was a privilege to watch these athletes and craftsmen playing at their peaks as they tried to secure a prestigious title. Contrastingly the women's section was dull, uplifted mostly by the performance of Li Na, a cheerful Chinese competitor with a remarkably short name. Of course women's tennis has also had its purple patches and fierce rivalries.

It is rare in any sport to find three players of the highest standard competing at the same time. In boxing it happened when Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman were competing for the heavyweight title, and when Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard were fighting for various belts. In another era all of these mighty pugilists would have dominated for a decade. Instead, they provided some of the most compelling confrontations any sport has known.

Since the 1970s cricket followers have been able to watch two great teams, or at any rate two great traditions, because the sides in question were by no means static. It is not quite accurate to say that the West Indian outfit that dominated the game from about 1977 to 1991 was a great side. Rather, it was several teams containing a handful of the best players the game has known, including umpteen speedsters, a commanding opening pair and a brutal middle order.

The same applies to the Australian line-ups that replaced West Indies at the top of the rankings. Under various captains Australia were well-nigh unbeatable from about 1995 to 2005. In that imposing period the team contained a powerful opening pair, a strong batting order, two brilliant glovemen, and an exceptional pair of bowlers. Like the Caribbean combination, the line-ups included not only great players but arguably the finest occupants of particular positions the game has known. Malcolm Marshall, Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist cannot have been surpassed, whilst Viv Richards was outstripped only by a batting freak.

Cricket was uplifted by the sustained excellence and majestic ruthlessness of these predatory outfits. Even non-cricketers could appreciate their skills and supremacy. Sporting greatness reaches across the divide. Non-devotees can relish the sight of a dazzling ice skater or a breathtaking horse. Outsiders can admire the soccer played by Pele's Brazil and Messi's Barcelona. Indeed, it's the same with sportswriting: the best are readable regardless of their field because they tell us wider truths and paint universal pictures.

Although all have their strong points, none of the current teams is the equal of those two outfits. At present cricket knows not collective greatness. India have a brilliant batting order, South Africa have a stirring middle order, Sri Lanka have a strong top four, and England have balance and grit. Put these qualities together and greatness emerges. But perhaps it's just as well that these teams are not so much dominant as competitive because it means that the top position is there for the taking. Nowadays contests between the leading four or five sides are beyond prediction.

If greatness has for the time being vanished in the collective, it persists in the individual. India offer Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, whilst Rahul Dravid is still managing to look at once frail and indestructible. Jacques Kallis continues to pile on the runs for his country, Kumar Sangakkara has retained his glory, Ricky Ponting seems to be in decline but he too reached the pinnacle.

Most of these players, though, are approaching the end of their careers. In part, that is unsurprising. Greatness is not a tag to be bestowed upon every talented lad enjoying a hot spell. Rather it is hard-earned, the result of a long period of high productivity in the toughest company. Only in the rarest cases can a novice be saluted - after all, those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first call promising.

Tendulkar's greatness could confidently be acclaimed even in his teenage years because he had a settlement about him that indicated durability. Few sportsmen attain the inner peace that has been his natural mood. Tendulkar's turmoils have been superficial; it has been part of his secret.

But the game needs to find a new generation of players whose accomplishment excites the crowds enough that a buzz goes round the ground at the sight of them marking out their run or walking to the middle. Amongst bowlers Dale Steyn comes closest. At his sharpest he delivers sublime outswingers and conveys hostility, a combination that appeals to spectators but not opposing batsmen. Can anyone else stake a claim to greatness with the ball?

Top eight current bowlers (qual 30 wickets and avg under 28):

Dale Steyn - Matches 46 Wickets 238 Average 23.21 Strike Rate 39.9

Stuart Clark - Matches 24 Wickets 94 Average 23.86 Strike Rate 54.7

Mohammad Asif - Matches 23 Wickets 106 Average 24.36 Strike Rate 48.7

Doug Bollinger - Matches 12 Wickets 50 Average 25.92 Strike Rate 48.0

Steven Finn - Matches 12 Wickets 50 Average 26.30 Strike Rate 40.5

Chris Tremlett - Matches 8 Wickets 37 Average 26.72 Strike Rate 53.7

Graeme Swann - Matches 31 Wickets 138 Average 27.48 Strike Rate 56.6

Darren Sammy - Matches 13 Wickets 39 Average 27.66 Strike Rate 58.8

Amongst batsmen, quite a few average over 50 these days, and some a good deal more. However, 50 is no longer a reasonable dividing line because more runs are scored. Better to raise the benchmark to 55, and better still to rely on judgement. For instance, it is far from clear that Jonathan Trott and Alastair Cook can, or indeed ever will, deserve the mark of greatness. That is not to belittle their skills or temperament. Cook has an unflappable outlook, a well-honed game and a depth of determination not even a farmer's genial grin can conceal. Trott has an ability to occupy both his own space and the crease for long periods. Both are expert practitioners. But does not greatness demand a little more?

Top 10 current batsmen (qual 20 innings and avg greater than 50)

Jonathan Trott - Matches 20 Runs 1863 Average 64.24 100s/50s 6/6

Jacques Kallis - Matches 145 Runs 11947 Average 57.43 100s/50s 40/54

Sachin Tendulkar - Matches 177 Runs 14692 Average 56.94 100s/50s 51/59

Kumar Sangakkara - Matches 96 Runs 8307 Average 56.12 100s/50s 24/34

Ricky Ponting - Matches 152 Runs 12363 Average 53.51 100s/50s 39/56

Virender Sehwag - Matches 87 Runs 7694 Average 53.43 100s/50s 22/27

Mahela Jayawardene - Matches 118 Runs 9620 Average 53.14 100s/50s 28/38

Thilan Samaraweera - Matches 65 Runs 4479 Average 53.32 100s/50s 12/26

Rahul Dravid - Matches 150 Runs 12063 Average 52.44 100s/50s 31/59

Mohammad Yousuf 90 Runs 7530 Average 52.29 100s/50s 24/33

Of the current England batsmen, Kevin Pietersen has the most obvious claims to greatness. Indeed, he set out to achieve greatness, while Cook and Trott set out to score lots of runs. And he made it. At his best Pietersen relished the biggest stages, cut a swathe through the best attacks. He seemed destined to last the course. Then he fell back, became self-indulgent. It was as if he had not quite understood the process and had surprised himself. After all he had not been a heavy scorer in his youth. Now cricket awaits a second coming, founded not upon will power but knowledge, not upon ego but experience.
As is stands, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers seem closer to meeting the criteria. Amla has Cook's serenity but a more developed game, whilst his comrade has the range of shots and aggressive attitude needed to dictate terms. It's hard to think of anyone else with the required credentials. Plenty of admirable batsmen could be mentioned, and a few handy bowlers, but greatness eludes them. Obviously retirees cannot be considered.

At present cricket has an abundance of contention and excitement but lacks greatness' allure. Can it fight its way through the current strictures? It's not to be underestimated. Greatness has emerged from all sorts of unlikely places - biscuit factories in Kandy, sugar plantations in the Caribbean, backyards of Cootamundra, coal-mining towns in Yorkshire. Still, it would be reassuring to see one of the current crop of gifted Indian batsmen or a young West Indian or a rugged Australian or an accomplished Pakistani or an untamed Lankan or a blazing Trinidadian join the ranks, just to confirm that it can be done.

Peter Roebuck is a former captain of Somerset and the author, most recently, of In It to Win It

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The 12th Man - It's Just Not Cricket

"It's Just Not Cricket" is a the debut single of The Twelfth Man, a series of comedy productions by skilled impersonator Billy Birmingham. It was the first single released off the album of the same name, It's Just Not Cricket.

The single, released in 1984, gained popularity in Australia, topping the charts for three weeks before being beat off by Wham!'s single "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go".

The 12th Man - Still the 12th Man

Still the 12th Man is the fourth album released by The Twelfth Man. Released in 1992 for the season 1992-93, it reached number one on the ARIA Album Charts.
A day in the life of Richie Benaud, the "captain" of the Channel 9 cricket commentary team. Resembling a game between Australia and Pakistan, this album includes Bruce Reid literally falling apart, Tony Greig and Bill Lawry hijacking the commentary box and Max Walker streaking and hijacking the commentary box. In fact, it gets so bad for Richie that he has to leave early. This album also contains his hit single Marvellous!, as the last track.

The 12th Man - Wired World of Sports II

Wired World of Sports II is the fifth album released (eighth release overall) by The Twelfth Man. Released in December 1994, it reached number one on the ARIA Album Charts. It also won two awards at the 1995 ARIA Music Awards for Highest Selling Album and Best Comedy Album.
A day in the life of Max Walker, who has to prove during the broadcast of Wired World of Sports that he is fit to rejoin the Channel 9 cricket commentary team. This results in the abduction of Ken Sutcliffe, his rival for the position on the commentary team, and something known as the "Maxophone" (Max blowing his nose to the tune of the Wide World of Sports theme).

The 12th Man - Bill Lawry...This Is Your Life

Bill Lawry... This is Your Life is the sixth album released (eighth release overall) by The Twelfth Man. Released on December 7, 1997, it reached number one on the ARIA Album Charts.
An episode of This Is Your Life is aired about Bill Lawry, with many of Bill's friends and rivals making appearances. There is a running gag throughout that Ritchie is none too impressed by Bill receiving an episode of This Is Your Life before him and not inviting him to a party in the city. Another running gag is Bill Lawry repeatedly calling host Mike Munro, Matt Munro.

The 12th Man - The Final Dig?

The Final Dig? is the seventh album released (eighth released overall) by The Twelfth Man, released on December 3, 2001.

The Final Dig? went to number one on the Australian ARIA Chart and went multi-platinum.

Richie Benaud decides to retire. Channel 9 Commentary Team Selection Committee has to choose a new Commentary Team Captain for when Richie Benaud retires to his vineyard estate, 'Verdaflore', in the South of France. In the running for the Captain are all the current commentary team of Bill Lawry, Tony Greig, Mark 'Tubby' Taylor, Ian Healy and Ian Chappell. Richie gives them advice on how they can improve their chances of being picked as commentary team captain. He advises Tony to get a hairpiece (Tony takes Greg Matthews' advice on the matter and buys a wig from Advanced Hair Hats with a ponytail), Bill to get several centimetres of his nose cut off (Bill's nose job results in Richie vomiting at the sight of it) and Ian to take some speaking lessons (Ian shows Richie what he has learnt from the class during a match, which pleases Richie).

There is outside chance on Hansie Cronje and also former Kiwi Captain Martin Crowe. Audition tapes are also sent in by Ray Martin, Mike Munro, Eddie McGuire, Darrell Eastlake, Ray Warren, Molly Meldrum, Max Walker and Jim Waley.

Kerry Packer then announces that Darrell "HUGGGGE" Eastlake and Max Walker will become the new captains. Richie hates these two, and decides to stay on for another season - just as Kerry planned.

The 12th Man - Boned!

Boned! is the eighth and final album to date, released by The Twelfth Man, released on 2 December 2006. The album's title Boned! comes from the press reaction to the Mark Llewellyn affidavit that revealed that the then Channel 9 Television CEO Eddie McGuire wanted to sack, or "bone" Today presenter Jessica Rowe.[citation needed]

Boned! officially debuted on the Australian ARIA Charts at #1 on 11 December 2006 and has been given 4x Platinum accreditation, with at least 280,000 copies being sold to date.

Due to the recent spree of cost-cutting at the Nine Network, new CEO Eddie McGuire has "boned" the entire cricket commentary team, and replaced them with one person; The Twelfth Man himself, Billy Birmingham. Naturally, this gets the team's captain Richie Benaud incredibly mad, as Birmingham has made a living from impersonating them for over 20 years, with no compensation what so ever. This marks the debut of Nine's English commentator Mark Nicholas as a character, as does Alan Jones and Eddie McGuire.

This has led to Richie attempting to get himself and the team their jobs back by running "Operation Kill Billy". This includes appearing on Alan Jones's breakfast program and starting a petition, all to no avail. Also he seeks the assistance of the Prime Minister John Howard to get their jobs back.

Their plans are interrupted briefly by an injury crisis for the touring English cricket side (described as a "complete spare parts side") which sees both Tony Greig and Mark Nicholas being recruited into the team for a test being held at the WACA Ground, without much success. Mark and Tony get badly beaten up by the 'conquering' Australia.

Richie engages the help of Australian music legend Michael Gudinski, and then Australian Idol host Andrew G (according to Benaud "Andrew V from channel G") who attempts to teach the commentary team how to speak like rappers. The team does a cover version of Birmingham's hit "Marvellous," with a modern rap rock edge, which fails badly. The song features backing vocals from Jimmy Barnes (and his children), and Johnny Diesel.

In the end, Billy tenders his resignation to McGuire, stating that it is the most he has ever worked, and that the job affects his love for the game of golf. Richie and the team, unaware that Birmingham has resigned, pays him out to the tune of several million dollars, which Birmingham sneakily accepts anyway, resulting in a furious reaction from Benaud upon learning he needn't have given him the money.