What happens when our heroes retire?

I had a dream last night, or rather a nightmare, that AB de Villiers retired from international cricket.

It was a terrible dream yet it was one that wasn’t completely unreasonable. In the morning, I switched on my computer and frantically googled ‘AB de Villiers retired’ and nothing new came up. I felt a deep relief but the thought stayed with me. AB de Villiers is missing his third consecutive series having not missed one in his first 98. People age and as difficult as it is to imagine our heroes as regular people, they are.

I’d had this thought before, it crossed my mind when India’s golden four retired from the international stage, when Brian Lara retired, when Kumar Sangakkara retired. The list went on and on from Shane Warne to Jaque Kallis and I realised how often I had I said to myself “who will I even want to watch now?” or “Cricket won’t be the same without …” It made me think how many times had I questioned what the game would be like without this person or that person. I realised that people must have been thinking this since the beginning of the game. What did people think when Donald Bradman retired, or when Imran Khan retired.

Gary Sobers retired in 1974 but that same year, Viv Richards made his debut. Players come and go, they make new marks and we discover new heroes. New players with new skills. Wasim Akram introduced the world to reverse swing, Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee introduced the world to 100+ mph deliveries. Who knows what the next cricket match holds for us.

My religion on Facebook may still be ‘Sachinism’ and I may always compare all players to him and Rahul Dravid, but I was rooting for Wahab Riaz with every fibre of my being in the 2015 quarter final against Australia. When Rahat Ali dropped that catch I felt my heart sink. I have written about that piece of bowling on countless occasions but that display of bowling will be ingrained in my mind forever. I watched him throw lightning bolts again this summer against England, live at the home of cricket, and was once again mesmerized.

Cricket is an ever changing sport. No two players are the same and that’s what makes it interesting, if everyone was a Sachin Tendulkar, we would get bored of it. Everyone has their own personality, their own technique, their own flair. There are always new talents revealing themselves and we may never have another player with an average of 99.94, one scoring 100 100s or one scoring 400* but records are made to be broken and they wouldn’t be records if everyone could do it.

With the women up and coming, young players like Haseeb Hameed and Karun Nair breaking onto the scene and with the likes of Virat Kohli and Joe Root around, we will never be short of new heroes.

(but luckily AB hasn’t retired just yet)

Cricketing superstitions

All sportspeople have their pre-match rituals, Rafael Nadal had to decline a meeting with the queen during Wimbledon to not mess with his winning routine. Cricketers are very superstitious about which pad goes on first and which bats and gloves they use but here are 12 of the more individual ones.

1. Every time the South African Neil Mckenzie went out to bat he had to make sure all the toilet seats are down and checked the lights eight times. He was most famous for his habit of taping his bat to the ceiling of the changing room. McKenzie also feared treading on the white lines of the cricket pitch (which must have made batting rather difficult).

2. It was David Shepherd who popularised the practice of keeping one foot off the floor when the score of 111(Nelson) was reached. On 11/11/11 South Africa needed exactly 111 runs to win a Test against Australia. Umpire Ian Gould, and a good part of the crowd, spent that minute hopping on one foot.

3. Virender Sehwag used to wear a number 44 jersey but that wasn’t turning out to be too lucky for him. So after consulting a numerologist, he decided to wear a numberless shirt and since then, the bowlers rarely got to see the back of that jersey.

4. Duck seemed so ominous to Steve James (Glamorgan) that he refused to eat it! He also wouldn’t even let his children have a rubber one to play with in the bath until after his career was over and he had retired when he also finally tried duck.

5. Anil Kumble became the second man to take all 10 wickets in a test innings against Pakistan in 1999. During the match, Kumble got a wicket every time he began by handing over his cap and sweater to Sachin Tendulkar

6. England cricketer Sir Len Hutton always carried a five-shilling coin with himself which was given to him by his grandfather’s friend with recommendation never to part ways with it as it might bring bad luck to his game.

7. For Jack Russell, twenty cups of tea per day was standard. He would dip the tea bag in once, and then hang it on a nail, ready for the next cup. The story goes, in 1989 at The Oval, he used one bag for a whole Ashes Test match. He also likes his Weetabix, soaked in milk for precisely eight minutes.

8. Mark Ramprakash chewed the same piece of gum for the duration of his innings. He batted for long sessions facing ball after ball and top scoring in first class with 301* and reaching 131 centuries (that’s a lot of time per gum). He was known to place his gum on the top of the stumps before heading off for a break, and pop it back in his mouth when he returned.

9. Sourav Ganguly and the photo of his Guruji (spiritual teacher) in his pocket. He always made sure his guru’s photo was in his pocket whenever on the field. He also wore rings and maalas (prayer beads) which he believed were lucky.

10. Steve Waugh one of the most famous Australian captains used a red rag to wipe away some sweat during a Test match against England at Leeds in 1993. He went on to score a hundred and kept it in his pocket when batting for the rest of his career. However Marlon Samuels asked Waugh for a piece but hasn’t scored very much since!

11. Mohammad Azharuddin and his black tabeez. A ball hurled towards his legs usually ended up at the fence. He was brilliant in the field as well and always wore his black tabeez. However, whenever he was batting, he let it hang out of his jersey to bring him better luck.

12. Michael Clarke believes in listening to loud music before going out to bat, saying that it is lucky for him and also helps him concentrate better.

Match-intervention or match-fixing?

On Friday, Middlesex won their first County Championship title in 23 years.

As a Middlesex girl, I’d seen my fair share of county championship games but this decider-game at the Home of Cricket between Yorkshire and Middlesex was one that excited me almost as much as watching India does. The title was still up for grabs, a three-way contest between Yorkshire (who needed 350 in the first innings and a win), Middlesex (who needed a win) and Somerset (who needed them to draw).

Middlesex had set Yorkshire a first innings target of 270 but to stay in the county race, they needed to get to 350 runs within 110 overs. It was in true dramatic style that a 10th wicket partnership between Tim Bresnan and Ryan Sidebottom saw Yorkshire over the 350 mark (with an hours break at 349) and gave the defending champions a 120 run lead.

A 200 run partnership between Nick Gubbins and Dawid Malan meant the game was looking more like a draw and more like a win for Somerset who had beaten Nottinghamshire by a resounding 325 runs. The two well-matched teams were still neck and neck battling it out by lunch on day four to no avail.

So they decided to get a result. Neither team benefitted from a draw so the two teams agreed to intervene. Both sides agreed on an equation. One that would allow Middlesex to set a target for Yorkshire to chase – almost nullifying the first two innings to set up a sort of one-day decider.

240 in 40. That was the agreed target between captains James Franklin and Andrew Gale. The target that Yorkshire needed to chase down for the title. They had agreed to speed up the game for half an hour and allow Middlesex to reach a lead of 240.

To achieve this situation however, Yorkshire had to serve up balls on a silver platter. Their opening batsmen Adam Lyth and Alex Lees came on to bowl and were dispatched for 128 runs in 11.5 overs at an RR of 10.82. Boundary after boundary came with the odd wicket inexplicably falling here and there. Brooks standing at square-leg held a catch of Lees’ bowling that he appeared to really not want to take and Lyth held a caught and bowled. The players were smiling unsure about how to react to such a debacle.

The teams were artificially creating a result, not to specifically benefit/sabotage each other but to push the game along. They did not together decide on who would win but they did ensure someone would win. Was it legitimate and in the spirit of the game? Would a draw have been the right thing to do? To have the game wane and taper off (in favour of Somerset) with the knowledge and ability to do something about it? Both teams were prepared to lay it all out there for the chance to win so they took the game into their own hands.

Middlesex declared on 239. With 40 overs to go it seemed like a very generous target especially in modern day cricket but it appeared all too much for Yorkshire. A small enough target to entice but a long enough game for the batsmen to think twice.

The equation moved to 153 off 20, then 87 off 10 and Toby Roland-Jones took the game home for Middlesex with a hat-trick to remove Yorkshire’s lower order and win them the County Championship title after 23 years, dashing the dreams of two other counties in the last and final over of the 2016 season. Any other game and the teams might have blocked it out for a draw but this was an all or nothing situation. Both teams had done their part and a game that was at an impasse was brought back to life.

However with the county championship decider being manipulated into a result are we likely to see more controlled target setting and match handling? Will it change the four-day game in the future? For the better?

Yorkshire v Middlesex: The adventures of Sidebottom

The end of play on day 3 and Yorkshire had kept hopes of winning their third consecutive county championship title alive. Having played only 4 specialist batsmen and collapsing to 4-53 with three ducks, the visitors still needed 297 runs to stay in the race.

Middlesex had set a target of 270 thanks to Nick Gubbins’ 125. However he had very little support as the next highest score of the innings was a 48 from captain James Franklin. They scored very slowly and on the second morning, Jack Brooks cleaned up to take six-for after Tim Bresnan broke Middlesex’s main partnership.

It was a hard-earned century from Bresnan and half-century contributions from Andy Hodd and Azeem Rafiq that got Yorkshire close to the line. Middlesex dropped too many chances and allowed the game to be taken away from them.

Rafiq fell when Yorkshire were on 318 (32 runs short of their bonus points). Steven Patterson made a handy 11 to bring them up to 333 but five balls later Yorkshire were 9 down.

Then came in 11th man Ryan Sidebottom in the 95th over to bat with Bresnan as they were 16 runs short of their batting bonus point. The man who had grittily batted out top stop Somerset winning the title once before and he was about to dampen their dreams once again.

Sidebottom got off the mark on his second ball only to find he would be facing Steven Finn at the other end. He blocked out ball after ball after ball to keep Yorkshire in the race. He kept out Yorkers from Tim Murtagh and survived LBW appeals from Roland-Jones. Single by single the final pair fought their way to 349 with Sidebottom 2 from 38.

It was then the umpires took out their light meter as Yorkshire were just one run short of their bonus point and took the players off the pitch. As if the last 10 overs had not been dramatic enough, the crowd were kept waiting for over an hour before play resumed.

As fate would have it, it was Sidebottom who clipped a 4 off his legs from Roland-Jones to get them over the line. His reaction as he ran between the wickets was that of a man who had just won his team the championship. As he punched the air a loud roar emanated from the crowd. He had given them a chance.

Why just women’s cricket week?

While the 2016 was a breakthrough season for women’s cricket, in many ways it was a missed opportunity.

The first ever women’s cricket week began on Saturday 2nd July as Sky partnered up with the ECB to encourage females of all ages and from all walks of life to get involved in cricket.

The initiative was created to boost coverage and participation in the sport. It was centered around the England v Pakistan Ladies T20 series that was broadcasted live on Sky Sports. Ladies clubs from all around London were covered including Harrow Town Ladies in an attempt to promote club cricket. The initiative was a big success as more people got the opportunity to watch women play on the international stage, but one week is not about to change the face of women’s cricket.

Women still do not receive the same coverage as men. International men’s series’ both home and away are given full exposure. Not only that but men’s domestic cricket is given more exposure than women’s international cricket. It’s no secret that men’s sports are, on the whole, more popular than women’s but how is that supposed to change if games are not covered and priority is given based on current viewership? How are young girls supposed to develop a deep interest in sports without role models to aspire to on TV.

The last time the England women played a fixture at the Lord’s cricket ground was in 2013. Should their games not take priority over T20 Blast games or other county games? During the Kia Super League only one of the Surrey Stars home games was played at the Kia Oval whilst the other was played in Guildford. More than 2,000 people attended the Surrey Stars v Yorkshire Diamonds game at The Oval and it was a great opportunity for young players to play on the big stage. The final was held at the Essex County cricket ground and attracted a much smaller crowd than that at The Oval. There was no fixture set to be played at Lord’s within five days of the final either side and it would have been a great opportunity to showcase women’s cricket at ‘the home of cricket’..

The Kia Super League (coming straight after Women’s Cricket Week) was the perfect platform to build from but the ladies received no live coverage from Sky throughout the tournament neither was there anywhere else to stream live games. Much more could have been done for the ladies to increase support and awareness of the league online and via social media. The KSL final came the day after the T20 Blast final; it was the perfect time to promote the women’s game but very little was done.

And now? There may be a little more awareness of the England ladies whereabouts but as they begin their tours in the West Indies and Sri Lanka, without any real coverage or highlights for the home crowd all the momentum built up over the summer will surely die down. We can only hope that as support for the KSL grows, the ladies will be given a lot more attention and support and women’s cricket week will no longer be needed.

Pakistan’s #5.67

Pakistan rose to the No.1 ranked Test team after drawing the series with England 2-2. They had a little bit of help from mother nature as the rain set in at the Queen’s Park Oval to stop India’s 3-0 sweep and from Australia’s inability to play spin but their performance in England showed they were worthy of the spot. But is a team’s worth based solely on their ability to play Test cricket?

Test cricket may be the most grueling format, the hardest format and the most respected but are we now ignoring Pakistan’s rank #9 in ODIs and #7 in T20’s? Two forms of cricket they once dominated with the likes of Saeed Ajmal, Umar Gul and Shahid Afridi being leading one day wicket takers. Does their No. 1 Test rank – the spot that every team strives for – mean they’re now classed as the best in the word?

Pakistan have done a wonderful thing over the past five years. Or rather, Misbah Ul Haq has done a wonderful thing. From the depths of despair when Pakistan were facing their darkest hour he took over and pulled them up towards the light. He marshaled his troops, rallied the country and brought Pakistan to the No.1 spot in Test rankings. A team without a home. A team that has not been able to play on their own soil for the past seven years. Yet still they somehow managed to create talented and unique players that brought them up to the no.1 ranked team. Players like Mohammed Amir who was reborn to cricket this series, like Wahab Riaz who can bowl bolts of lightning as if Zeus himself was playing cricket, like Misbah who fixed and lead a shattered nation. Pakistan’s rise to the #1 rank is a real disney fairytale ending. I believe very few other teams could accomplish what Pakistan have given the challenges they have faced.

Life would be that simple if Test cricket were the only format of cricket (and I wouldn’t mind that at all) but it’s not. Pakistan have had an extremely tough time in one day cricket. Once one of the best T20 sides, they have slipped down the rankings. Can we truly judge a team based solely on their Test performance? Pakistan’s overall ranking over the three formats is 5.67. Yet India’s combined average is 2.33, South Africa’s is 4.33 and England’s is 4.67. Can we truly even accept a Test no. 1 rank when Pakistan haven’t played the no.2 ranked team, India? nor have they played Zimbabwe or the West Indies in five years. A potential word championships in Test cricket could do wonders. Just as there are reforms set to create a more inclusive ODI structure, the ICC must consider changes to Test cricket.

England’s complete dominance over the first three ODIs has semi stolen the spotlight from Pakistan’s triumph. A world record of 444-3 was scored at Trent Bridge against a similar bowling attack to the one that had earned Pakistan that no.1 rank. A bowling attack that had almost taken England apart in one format was  being smashed to all parts of Nottingham in another. Pakistan may be missing some key experience in their line-up but they do not lack the ability. There has been an abundance of misfields, and bowling errors, especially in the latest ODI. Both Hales and Morgan were dropped, Riaz took wickets off no-balls and ended on the second most expensive ODI figures. Balls found gaps in long barriers, found the floor when they should’ve found hands and found bat over and over and over again.

Pakistan have a lot of work to do in their one day department. They are currently risking their automatic qualification for the 2019 World Cup in England and with the Champions Trophy only a year away they will have to pull their boots up.

 

The Amir-acle rebirth

Six long years of life outside of international cricket  and on the 14th of July 2016, it was finally time for Mohammed Amir to make his long- awaited return to the stage.  It was a momentous Test at Lords, Amir was coming back to the place where his career was brought to an abrupt halt. The place where he broke the hearts of millions and brought Pakistan into their darkest hours. Except this time he was returning as a new man, a man who had been through the gates of hell and emerged the other side purged of his sins, a man who was playing his first Test match for the second time and this time he finished it in true cricketing spirit.

It was a momentous Test not only for Amir but for Pakistan. The scandal was Pakistani cricket’s 9/11. It was their darkest moment in sport and it crushed the hopes and dreams of fans everywhere. Pakistan and Amir had repented and this Test was the time to regain some of that lost belief and support from the 2010 scandal. It was the time to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. A time to rebuild from the depths of hell and by close of play on day 4, Pakistan had not only built a ladder back up, but had constructed their one world trade centre and shown the world that nothing would keep them down.


Pakistan, led by their captain Misbah Ul Haq, won the toss and elected to bat first. They never looked settled and wickets fell at regular intervals with Chris Woakes removing both the openers. Pakistan had beaten England in the UAE only last year but this was different. They were facing England, in England. Pakistan hadn’t played a bi-lateral series outside of Asia in three years, and they hadn’t played in England since 2010. At 3-77, the Pakistani captain, aged 42, strolled in to bat. Batting was never Pakistan’s strongsuit. Misbah had been the pillar that held them up for the past six years. He sweat and toiled and slowly kept the board ticking playing ball after ball after ball. He steadied the ship for a while before England’s veteran bowler Stuart Broad struck. Younis Khan fell and Pakistan were 134-4 but Misbah was still at the crease.

Asad Shafiq was the next man in at 6. He and the captain steered the visitors and put on a partnership of 148 runs. It was in this partnership that the Pakistani captain, who had never batted in a Test in England before, jogged through for a single to join the Lords honours board. Misbah had just become the sixth oldest man to score a century and the oldest captain to. He gestured to his team before saluting the Pakistani Army whom with the team had trained, by dropping down to do push-ups. It was a momentous occasion for the captain and he had gone and stolen Amir’s limelight for the day.

It was the Misbah show.

On day two however, wickets continued to tumble, Amir and Yasir Shah added a few but Pakistan were restricted to 339. Chris Woakes bowled superbly ending with a six wicket haul but it was time for England to bat and for Amir to make his real return. He was given the new ball. A second chance sat in his hand and he embraced it. This new man showed intent, he asked questions and he was floating on air. He bowled with the same zest and zeal as if the last six years hadn’t happened. Mohammed Amir was reborn. It wasn’t all a fairytale however. That first wicket refused to come. It eluded him as Mohammed Hafeez dropped a sitter, Cook was given a second reprieve off Amir’s bowling and it wasn’t until Yasir Shah had stolen the show that Amir finally got his man.

England struggled against the leg spinner. Alastair Cook and Joe Root were cruising until he was brought on and then England imploded. They had faced swing, bounce, pace and had survived but against Yasir they played rash shots. Apart from Cook and Root, it was only the bowler Chris Woakes who scored 30+. England who bat so deep could just not dig in against the leggie. Just like Pakistan, England were done the next morning before lunch only trailing by 67 runs.

Pakistan came back to bat with a small lead a hell of a lot of belief. England’s highest successful chase in the last decade at Lords was 282 against New Zealand in 2004 so they just needed get there. It seemed no one wanted to take the reins though. Hafeez decided to give the fielders some catching practice, and Woakes continued his good form. Not even the captain could stick around. Misbah went for his signature shot against Moeen Ali. For once in his career the ball did not stay hit and Alex Hales took a superb running catch in the deep. It was only a fifth wicket partnership of 69 between Asad Shafiq and Younis Khan and a personal best of 30 from Yasir that kept Pakistan in the game.

Stuart Broad picked off the final two wickets on the morning of day 4 within 15 minutes.

Pakistan had 283 to defend and England had two days to bat.

Amir started the fourth innings poorly with a short and wide ball that Cook smashed for four. The Pakistani bowlers struggled to keep their line and force errors. It only took one good ball though. One great ball. A beauty from Rahat Ali removed Cook and let the visitors breathe. Rahat continued to bowl superbly and England continued to bat poorly. Joe Root’s decision to go for a ball that there was no need to go for epitomised their whole innings. This was England’s middle order’s first real test. James Vince and Gary Ballance stuck around and played a few shots. The Pakistani bowling was becoming loose, the fielding was resembling the shambles of day one and England were slowly inching closer to their target.

Yasir Shah then switched ends. England were at 135-4 when he picked off the fifth wicket of Gary Ballance (much to the relief of Younis Khan who had dropped him already) and he was once again looking dangerous. In his next over, an irresponsible Moeen Ali having faced four balls swung for the ball as if he was opening the batting with England leading by 200 runs. Yasir clean bowled him and within 10 minutes Ali was walking back to the dressing room potentially for the last time.

It was Johnny Bairstow the in-form man and the bowling hero Woakes sitting at the crease with England six down. The runs dried up, England were no longer cruising. Yasir was bowling wicket to wicket and the seamers were bowling wide of off-stump. Misbah was forcing England to make the next move. Just as he had tried in the third innings to take on Ali, he was dangling the carrot for Bairstow and Woakes. Neither went for it, they continued to take the singles and the scoreboard kept ticking over. England still had a day to bat, they did not need to play the rash shots that the top order had played.

Then Wahab Riaz came back to bowl. It was one of those spells that cannot be written down on paper. A few runs came from it, no wickets came but it was magical. The energy at Lords changed completely. The tension could have been cut with a knife. Wahab almost had Woakes twice, he was getting reverse swing and hurling missiles at these two men. He almost had Woakes twice, he was almost banned from bowling in the rest of the match. Wahab Riaz had one of his magical spells that most bowlers could only dream of delivering. He shook England and the mistake finally came.

With less than 100 runs to get, Johnny Bairstow cracked. He steps back and Yasir bowls him. You could see the anguish on his face. It wasn’t one of Wahab’s magical balls but after 147 balls, he cracked.Two balls later, Amir smashes through Stuart Broad’s defences. There was no warning, no bouncer to throw him off. Pakistan meant business. They were there to finish it off. Yasir Shah took his 4th wicket of the innings and 10th in the game as he removed Woakes and in the end it was a fairy tale finish for Pakistan with Amir clean bowling Ball to win them the first Test by 75 runs and celebrates as he did six years ago with his arms spread wide running across the pitch.

Pakistan ended the Test together. Misbah had lead them out from their darkest hours and with a salute to the army and they drop down to do push ups. As a team.

 

 

 

England women set the bar high

Last week signified England’s first ever Women’s Cricket Week. It was a partnership between the ECB and Sky Sports to help develop and promote Women’s Cricket by dedicating a week of airtime and exposure to the women’s game. The week ran in conjunction with the England v. Pakistan Women’s bilateral series which consisted of three ODIs and three T20s. It was a week for the England Ladies to capitalise on the publicity and show their worth, and they did not squander the opportunity.

The series was coming at a critical time for the England Ladies, their veteran captain of 10 years along with two other senior players were gone from the team and with the spotlight on them for the week, there was nowhere for the newer and younger players to hide. The new team lead by Heather Knight started their campaign off superbly with a seven wicket win against the visitors. Captain Knight led from the front with a 5-for and a solid 50. The Pakistan ladies were bowled out for 165. Pakistani opener Sidra Ameen scored a stabilising 52 but there was no one else to back her up as only one other scored above 20. England’s opener Tammy Beaumont responded with a solid 70 off 75 balls and along with Heather Knight they sealed the first game of the series.

The ladies went on to win the next two ODIs very convincingly with each margin bigger than the previous. A 235 run partnership between openers Lauren Winfield and Tammy Beaumont and a quickfire 80 from Natalie Sciver saw the ladies reach an impressive 378 runs. Pakistan seemed to crumble under the mountainous score and only Bismah Maroof appeared to believe they could chase down the score. The visitors were once again bowled out for 166 – one run more than their previous innings. The third and final ODI saw Beaumont achieve back to back centuries with a match winning 168. An innings that alone beat the entire Pakistani team’s score of 164. The England ladies were off to a fantastic start with a 3-0 ODI series win heading into the T20s.

The Pakistani men are known for their impromptu t20 ‘turn-ups’ so this was no time for the England ladies to take their foot off the pedal. Once again the openers Winfield and Beaumont set up the innings with 74 and 82 respectively leading the hosts to 187, their highest ever total in T20 format. Pakistan were unable to respond and the second two T20s following suit. England continued to play as if the series was in the balance even through the final T20. England once again white-washed the visitors and showed the world they didn’t need anyone to hide behind. All the players stepped up their game and set the bar very high for the men’s series.

ICC propose an inclusive ODI structure

The ICC have developed a new ODI structure which may add some relevance to what is now considered by many (bar the World Cup) to be an irrelevant format. It doesn’t have the entertainment factor of a T20, yet it is not as highly regarded as a Test match.

The new structure is to take a league format (almost resembling club and county cricket) where each country would play a three match ODI series against each other over a three year period. The new structure would include all ten Test playing nations plus Afghanistan, Ireland and one other associate member nation. This would amount to 36 ODIs with the fourth year reserved for World Cup preparations. The idea is to give bilateral series’ some context and something for fans to follow. However one of the problems teams may face with the series’ being played either at home or away is the big teams using their power to enforce a home series to gain advantage. Teams like Afghanistan are likely to struggle through the new tournament style structure. On the other hand they may benefit from the chance to play in other conditions especially for their World Cup campaign.

The new system would still allow other nations to progress as the team finishing last would be relegated into the tier two of international cricket, The World Cricket League Championship, after play-offs against the winner of the second league. Just as it would allow teams associate members to be promoted, it would also allow full member nations to be relegated. This may affect teams like Zimbabwe who only last week really struggled against a second-rate Indian team. Their 3-0 loss at home was one of the most comprehensive defeats in recent time.

The reforms are intended as a minimum schedule for each country and they are free to decide when the league matches are to be played. This should give teams enough freedom in their schedules whilst also maintaining inclusivity of some non-Test playing nations allowing them to develop. This would be extremely beneficial for associate nations regarding sponsorship and overall development, it would also mean the World Cup qualifier rounds could become a hell of a lot more interesting.

One other problem the new format could face is the constant conflict between the India and Pakistan. The problems between these two countries have meant series’ have been few and far between without a bilateral series being played since 2008. It could however give the Ashes ODI series more relevance with the Test series usually taking the limelight.

Decisions on the structure will be discussed further at the ICC annual conference at the end of the month. Hopefully, we will soon see associate members playing more top-class competitive cricket.

A whitewashed washout

The third and final Test of the England v Sri Lanka series came to an end in classic English fashion with rain stopping play. The Test was perfectly poised for an exciting day five at the home of cricket. Sri Lanka’s openers had lasted through the night. With 10 wickets in hand and one of the best pitches on offer, the game was still (sort of) in the balance.

The lead up to the series had not been favourable for the visitors. They faced a second rate attack in Essex in their first warm-up game (where they were still bested by an 18 year old on day one). On day two, fast bowler Dhammika Prasad (who had knocked over England in 2014 to win them the series) injured himself just a day after former Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya had regaled their bowling attack calling it the best in the world. It was clear that Sri Lanka were missing him in their bowling attack as Leicestershire cruised past their total of 367 in the second warm-up. Things were not looking good.

The first Test of the series started tamely and as expected, England cruised to 49 without loss. A fantastic debut from Dasun Shanaka saw the hosts wobble as he took down England’s captain and wonder boy Alastair Cook and Joe Root. At 5-83 it was looking as though there was some truth to Jayasuriya’s claims. That was however the extent to which Sri Lanka showed up through the rest of the game. The 6th-wicket partnership between Jonny Bairstow and Alex Hales was worth more than Sri Lanka made in either innings.Only two batsmen scored 30+ runs. The visitors were wiped out by England’s dynamic duo, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad with Anderson taking two five-wicket hauls. Sri Lanka lost the match by an innings and 88 runs.

The second Test of the series began in worse fashion than the first for Sri Lanka. Not only were they were missing their new star Shanaka but they were missing another seasoned quick in Dushmantha Chameera who also fell to injury. Angelo Mathews’ men picked off wickets here and there but England were cruising. It seemed Sri Lanka were waiting for wickets rather than taking them. They fielded poorly on the second day dropping more than a few catches and leaking runs. Seven of the English batsmen played with strike rates above 50 and Moeen Ali scored 155* to guide the hosts to 498/9 where they declared.

Sri Lanka barely responded. It seemed the usual fighting spirited Sri Lanka were still on the plane to England and hadn’t yet arrived. Again only one batsman scored above 30 and they were all out for 101. Sri Lanka were once again forced to follow-on for the second time in a row. However it appeared their plane arrived just in time for the second innings. Kaushal Silva, Angelo Mathews and Rangana Herath all scored 50s and a spirited century from Dinesh Chandimal forced England to bat again. The hosts only needed 80 to win but Sri Lanka’s second innings score of 475 gave England something to thing about.

The third and final Test was Sri Lanka’s chance to save face. Save themselves from a 3-0 whitewash. Once again it was a wobbly start from England with the out of form Nick Compton failing to get runs again and possibly playing his last international Test. It was Jonny Bairstow who saved the day for England and made up for some of his fumbles behind the stumps (but not before Sri Lanka dropped him and gave him the chance to). Bairstow went on to make 167* and pulled England to another daunting total of 416.

Opener Dimuth Karunaratne finally turned up to the series and along with Silva they put on an opening partnership of 108. They ended day two on a very respectable 162/1. The game was still in the balance. However there wasn’t much more fight from the other batsmen on day three as England steamed ahead and bowled Sri Lanka out for 288. Day three brought some interesting debates back to the table about DRS as Alex Hales was given a reprieve by a mistaken no-ball. It was a poor decision against the visitors. They had already dropped Hales twice and once again his wicket eluded them. England declared on 233/7 and left Sri Lanka with 12 overs to face before close of play on day four. Sri Lanka’s openers once again saw out the overs and left the team with 10 wickets in hand and a target of 362.

It could have been a marvelous day five at Lords had the sun come out. Only 12.2 overs were bowled and both sides appeared to know the Test was going nowhere during them. Rain continued to pour through the day and the grey clouds did not budge for a result.

Sri Lanka will feel they had a lot of misfortune through the series with the injuries and the bad reviews but they have a lot of work to do before their next international series.