The Reverse Sweep: Cricket’s Talking Points of the Week

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This week as the one day series with Pakistan starts, we look at the final pieces of England’s World Cup jigsaw. We also look back at the Qayyam Report of 2000 and its impact on the current crisis enveloping Pakistan cricket, as well as Shoaib Akhtar’s fielding, Kevin Pietersen’s poor sense of geography and cricketers on Twitter.

The Reverse Sweep is an irreverent and acerbic round-up of the week that was in cricket. For similar musings on the sport that God would play, please visit our blog also entitled The Reverse Sweep – selected as one of the 50 best cricket web sites in the world by The Times. Alternatively, you can read our regular column on CricDude, or follow us on Twitter @TheReverseSweep.

England aim to put final pieces into World Cup jigsaw

Whilst the Pakistan cricket team descends further into chaos after two heavy defeats in the Twenty 20 internationals and Shahid Afridi admits that captaining the side is ‘very hard’, England will be looking to put the final pieces of their World Cup jigsaw in place when the one day series starts.

It is only a year since England reached their nadir in one day cricket when they were smashed to kingdom come by Australia in the Nat West Series that followed the Ashes. Since then of course, England have adopted a more positive and aggressive approach, which has paid dividends. An improved performance in the Champions Trophy was followed by series wins in South Africa and Bangladesh, before revenge was gained against the Australians in the Nat West Series earlier in the summer.

However, there is still some work for Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss to do as evidenced by the poor defeat to Bangladesh at Bristol and the two dead rubber losses to Australia when a 5-0 whitewash had looked on the cards.

Flower and Strauss also need to put the finishing touches to their first choice XI and doubts still remain over who will open the batting with the captain, who bats at six, who will keep wicket, who will be the second spinner and which seamer will join Stuart Broad and James Anderson in the attack.

The rags to riches to rags again story of Craig Kieswetter means that the selectors have decided to opt for Surrey keeper Steven Davies for the five matches against Pakistan. Presumably Davies will open the batting with Strauss, so he could prove a like for like swap with Kieswetter. Davies is arguably a better keeper than Kieswetter, but whether he is the aggressive opener that will be needed for sub-continental pitches is another thing. Ravi Bopara is another possible candidate to open the batting, but may be better at number six.

Assuming that either Davies or Kieswetter will eventually win the selectors vote to partner Strauss, that means the four middle order places can be filled by batsmen. The decision to drop Kevin Pietersen from the squad gives Jonathan Trott, who currently averages over 70 in ODI, another chance to nail down the number three spot.

It is hard see England going without Pietersen in the long-term, so with Eoin Morgan and Paul Collingwood probably also racing certainties for the World Cup XI, that leaves Trott, Bopara, Ian Bell and Luke Wright battling for the final batting spot. Bopara is arguably best suited to the number six spot as he can bat in several gears and is also a useful medium pace bowler, but if Trott keeps getting the runs (if you pardon the pun) then he will be hard to ignore.

Michael Yardy seems to have the vote of the selectors for the second spinner position and his batting adds another string to his bow. He is not a great spinner of the ball, but his darts have proved pretty effective. Two spinners will be required on sub-continental pitches, so maybe the selectors have missed a trick by not blooding Adil Rashid to provide them with another option here.

With Graeme Swann, Broad and Anderson nailed on certainties for the World Cup XI that leaves one spot open. Given that the selectors have chosen not to give Steve Finn a try in the 50 over format, it would seem that the choice boils down to Ryan Sidebottom, Tim Bresnan or Ajmal Shahzad. The latter would seem best suited for sub-continental pitches but he is also the least experienced of the three and the selectors seem to like the whole-hearted but limited Bresnan.

Pakistan’s current problems mean that they are unlikely to cause England too many problems during the series. However, it should be interesting to see how the 6’10” fast bowling giant that is Mohammad Irfan fares. With Umar Akmal, Afridi and Saeed Ajmal all being excellent one day players, Pakistan should win one game. So we go for a 4-1 series win for England

Qayyam whitewash led to current malaise in Pakistan cricket

With all the corruption allegations surrounding the Pakistan team, it seemed an apt time to revisit the Qayyam Report, which looked into a series of match-fixing claims made against the Pakistan in matches during the nineties. The report makes for shocking (and lengthy) reading as it seems pretty clear that match-fixing and corruption was endemic in the Pakistan team during that period. Most players are implicated except Rashid Latif and Aamir Sohail and legends like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Mushtaq Ahmed seem to have been amongst the ringleaders. Of course as it turned out only the 37 year old former captain Salim Malik and Ata-ur-Rehman (who hadn’t played for Pakistan since 1996) were give life bans. Wasim and Waqar were among those censured, but from reading the report again seemed to have got away with murder. Even Judge Qayyam himself later admitted that he had been lenient with some players because he “had a soft spot for them”. If stronger action had been taken by Qayyam, it is unlikely that current members of the Pakistan team would have been as easily tempted as the allegations suggest they have been.

Corruption or just dreadful fielding

We didn’t pay too much attention to the two Twenty 20 internationals between England and Pakistan, but we did tune in to the latter stages of England’s run chase in the first match. At the time Eoin Morgan and Michael Yardy had just come together and the match appeared to be in the balance. Then in the space of two overs Shoaib Akhtar made two schoolboy blunders in the field. The first slip saw Akhtar fumble badly to enable England to score a much needed boundary. The second was even more costly, as Akhtar dropped an absolute sitter to reprieve Morgan. Normally, of course we would just have thought that it was just a case of bad fielding, but with all the fixing allegations surrounding the Pakistan team for a minute we wondered if something more sinister was afoot. And that is the worst thing about the current allegations – it makes you doubt what you are watching.

Kevin Pietersen isn’t very good at geography

Now we know that Kevin Pietersen isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the box, but it would seem that when it comes to geography he is an absolute dunce. Earlier in the season he suggested that he wouldn’t be looking to renew his contract with Hampshire because “geographically it just doesn’t work. I live in Chelsea, despite the Rose Bowl only being a two hour drive from his home. So it is amusing to see that as KP continues to strive to rediscover his best form, he has now agreed a short stint with Kwazulu-Natal in October. Now that is a long way from Chelsea!

Yet another twit…

What is it with cricketers and Twitter? Just one week after Kevin Pietersen (supposedly mistakenly) announced on the social networking site that he was being dropped by England, Dimitri Mascarenhas also erred by tweeting a strong broadside against Geoff Miller. A contrite Mascarenhas later told The Guardian “I have learnt a great deal about the dangers of social networking sites and encourage other players to think carefully before signing up to them. I was out with a few mates, it got to the early hours and as you do, you think you’re invincible and I did something very stupid.” Whatever happened to just having a greasy kebab and hitting the sack after you’ve had a few beers?

…and finally, the quote of the week

Geoff Lawson knows a thing or two about Pakistan cricket having once been their coach. As such he’s had quite a lot to say about the current spot-fixing controversy and has pleaded that some understanding be given to the three players in the dock. He hasn’t been so complimentary about the Pakistan Cricket Board and its joke of a Chairman Ijaz Butt however. Speaking on Cricinfo, Lawson said of Butt:

“He hides from a crisis, he is not a leader and when Pakistan need a strong leader and people to show them the way forward, they are not getting it from their board.”

Lawson seems to have hit it on the head as far as we are concerned.

That’s all for this week folks.

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