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December 18, 2009

Thoughts on the Review System

I am going to come out and say it straight away - I am not a fan of the review system. It takes something away from the greatest sport in the world.

I don't want to be celebrating a wicket, forget about the new rule and then be forced to wait for the decision to come through. Then, either the decision is overturned and my celebrations were a waste or the decision stands and it feels like a bit of an afterthought.

While the change won't have any impact on England South African Test odds, it does seem to have taken something away from the game.

To be honest, I didn't think there was much wrong with just the umpires doing their jobs, at least everyone knows where they stand. Yes, there may well the occasional wrong decision, but that's all part of the game.

The review system should only be used to prevent absolute howlers. In this sense, I think the power should be taken away from the players. At the moment, they are using the 'might as well challenge it' approach, which doesn't suit the game.

When one of a team's best batsman is given out, they think they should challenge it just on the off chance that they will be able to keep their star man in. Again, not quite what the system is intended for.

Likewise, the bowling side might challenge an LBW decision if it concerns an opposition player that is taking the game away from them. They might not think it is definitely out, but if there is an outside chance Hawkeye will say it is brushing the off stump, they will challenge the decision.

So, unless things improve in this sense, I think the decision to refer should be taken away from the players. Let the Umpires or whoever watches the replays decide if a decision should be reviewed.

Again though, there are flaws to this system. Which is why I think it should have been left how it was. If England take a wicket to 'win the series' and I celebrate like a mad man before realising the decision has been overturned – I'm not going to be happy.

The umpires are of the highest quality and they should be left to do their job.

In other sports new, the odds for the 2010 Cheltenham Festival are really starting to hot up.

Blog by Thomas Rooney, Professional Sports Writer


July 04, 2008

The State of the Union – and what a state it is in.


The issue of cricket in Zimbabwe has long been a political hot potato. At the 2003 World Cup, hosted in South Africa and Zimbabwe, for example, England and New Zealand both refused to play matches in Zimbabwe. Their official reason was the safety of their players and staff but undoubtedly there was a cocktail of concerns surrounding the decision, not least the ever worsening political situation surrounding Robert Mugabe, his regime and its human rights abuses. Two Zimbabwe players, Andy Flower and Henry Olonga both famously and very bravely sported black armbands for their opening match to demonstrate the ‘death of democracy’ in their country.


For this reason there has been regular pressure to be placed on the ICC to restrict Zimbabwe’s participation in international cricket. The precedent, some have said, had been set with South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s when they were suspended from international cricket (and other sport) due to the apartheid policies in place in the country. Of course it does seem unfortunate that a country’s sportsmen should have to suffer because of a political situation out of their hands and this was a voice put forward by the players who participated in rebel tours to South Africa in the ‘80s; that sport and politics should not mix.


A claim not entirely without merit, of course, for reasons which are obvious but it is also necessary to look at the wider picture and weigh up whether the means justify the end. The vast majority of protests affect more than those directly responsible for the problem; a picket will disrupt to some degree the every day lives of passers by or a boycott of a company may affect lower levels of employee. It is in my view that the grave human rights abuses taking place under the Mugabe regime (and they are indeed very grave although I will attempt to keep this article closer to cricket than it is to politics) are so abhorrent that such a move to ostracize the Zimbabwe cricketers from the international arena would not be superfluous. It is peaceful but firm and will make a bold statement to the people of the world and the authorities in Zimbabwe that their actions will not be tolerated.


Furthermore, it is often claimed that sport and politics should not mix and this is an argument given for not taking action against Zimbabwe in the sporting arena. In this case, however, sport and politics are inextricably linked. It is not through the voluntary involvement of the sports governing body through which they have been linked, much on the other side of the fence. Robert Mugabe and his people have involved themselves with Zimbabwe Cricket. Zimbabwe Cricket have involved themselves with the Mugabe regime. It could be argued that this is necessary because of the situation in Zimbabwe: that you cannot guarantee funding or even survival as an organisation in Zimbabwe today and as such it has been necessary for ZC to get into bed with Mugabe in order to stay afloat.


This argument does not wash with me. The sheer existence of Zimbabwe Cricket gives Mugabe a legitimate place on the international stage. A platform through which to spread propaganda. An organisation through which to hide many of his misdeeds. The ICC’s nonchalant acceptance of the Zimbabwe Cricket Board as part of its own organisations higher echelons and its lack of accountability is all but an approval of Mugabe’s actions. I, and I’m sure many human rights campaigners and political activists, would much rather the Zimbabwean board took a stand and prevented themselves from being as cosy with the regime as they are. I would rather the organisation folded and did not give Mugabe a platform than existed as a puppet of a murderous, torturous dictatorship.


Cricket would not suffer from Zimbabwe’s absence. The standard of cricket in Zimbabwe has been steadily falling for years, culminating in embarrassing results such as losing to Ireland in an ODI in 2007 and their suspension from Test cricket since 2005 due to poor performance. It would be a moral decision that the organisation could be proud of that would have no adverse affects on the world cricket arena.


As it panned out at the ICC’s annual conference in Dubai (moved from London because the British government took a stand and put obstacles in the way of Zimbabwe Cricket’s attendance) Zimbabwe were not stripped of their Full Member status of the organisation. Zimbabwe were allowed to get away with ‘withdrawing’ from the Twenty20 tournament next year to be held in England ‘in the interests of the game’ citing that they ‘did not want to gatecrash’. This is a disgrace. It is the right end result for the short term: there is no way that the tournament could have been credible given all the pressure on the ICC to exclude Zimbabwe, had they have taken part. Nonetheless, the result achieved once again gives Peter Chingoka of Zimbabwe Cricket and therefore indirectly Mr. Mugabe, the opportunity to appear to be the ‘good guys’. They can claim to have made their decision in the best interests of the game and makes them appear to have a social conscience.


With even the South African cricket board now breaking ties with Zimbabwe all that would have prevented the removal of Zimbabwe from the full member panel would have been the Asian block, headed by India. Unfortunately the Indian board appears to be led more by furthering their own aims and maintaining their strong, almost controlling, position at the ICC. They could not afford to lose the vote of Zimbabwe who often concedes to India’s wishes in return for the Indian board completely absolving itself of any morality and conscience and permitting the existence of the Zimbabwe board on the world stage.


It is preferable that Zimbabwe do not participate in next year’s Twenty20 tournament. It is regrettable that Zimbabwe has been ‘allowed’ to withdraw rather than being forced out through an ejection from the highest status of member country. As Martin Williamson stated, “anyone who believes that Zimbabwe Cricket withdrew from the World Twenty20 ‘in the interest of the game’ probably believes in Santa Claus.” It is a sad state of affairs when a moral stance cannot be made on such a grave political matter because a group of countries would rather do what is better for their bank balances than what is, simply, better.

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March 19, 2007

Supporting the underdog

The World Cup is now well and truly underway and it has already produced a few surprises. Non-Test playing nations have been World Cup cricket since the tournament started with Sri Lanka (not a Test playing nation until 1981) and East Africa invited to play in the inaugural World Cup in England in 1975.

The inclusion of the lesser nations has lead to criticism from a number of senior figures in world cricket, saying that they devalue the tournament and provide meaningless games but they have provided enough upsets along the way to go some way to silencing their critics.

It took the minnows a while to get themselves into winning ways in World Cup cricket. There were no wins for the non test playing teams in the first two World Cups but despite this Sri Lanka did put up a decent fight against Australia in a group match in 1975. Australia lost the toss and were sent in to bat and in doing so attained what would then have been a colossal target of 328/5 from their 60 overs.

Ranjit Fernando got Sri Lanka off to a brisk start as he fulfilled what was possibly one of the earliest examples of a pinch hitting role. He fell for 22 off 18 balls at the score of 30/1 but his partner Sunil Wettimuny battled on and provided an anchor role for the other players to bat around. He eventually finished unbeaten on 53 after having to retire hurt. Sri Lanka eventually reached 276/4 from their allotted 60 overs and lost by 52 runs. It is perhaps not the result that is significant but the margin of it.

The fact that they only lost four wickets in their chase and still reached what would have been a challenging total in 1975 had they been batting first shows that the team had talent and determination.

The 1983 World Cup included tournament debutants Zimbabwe (who didn’t play their first test match until 1992.) There was a sixteen team qualifying tournament (which would later be known as the ICC Trophy) for the main event which took place in England in 1982 and only the eventual winner would be invited to play alongside the full member nations the following year.

It was a very professional and determined Zimbabwe team which came to England in 1982 and finished the tournament undefeated by beating Bermuda (who incidentally are playing their maiden World Cup this year) in the final.

Captain Duncan Fletcher (yes, the very same who is now England coach) hired South African rugby international as a coach and he brought with him a vigorous training program and a winning attitude. In the ICC trophy of 82, Zimbabwe played with a determination to win that meant finishing games early which caused lost revenue and upset crowds.

It was undoubtedly the professionalism that was brought to the Zimbabwe team that allowed them to win their maiden World Cup performance against Australia by 13 runs at Trent Bridge. They lost their remaining matches and didn’t make it through to the semi final stage of the tournament but they showed the potential that led them to be awarded Test status in 1992.

There have been a range of upsets in subsequent World Cups, possibly the most notable being Kenya’s performance in the 2003 World Cup where they reached the semi finals, the furthest that any of the minnows has ever gone in a World Cup.

Kenya’s performance in 2003 has perhaps been undermined by the fact that they received bonus points from a number of teams refusing to travel to Kenya to play for security reasons but they did manage to beat Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, Test Nations each of them, during the course of the tournament.

The current World Cup contains 6 associate members, the most there has been in a World Cup tournament and they are of mixed quality. Bermuda, Holland and Canada are not likely to provide any upsets in the tournament (although you can never discount anything in one day cricket) and Scotland also seem to be lacking the sparkle that teams that have caused unexpected results have had.

Kenya and Ireland however, are ones to look out for. Ireland especially are on top form, having tied with Zimbabwe and beaten Pakistan so far and look almost certain to qualify for the Super Eight stage.

The ICC is trying to spread cricket around the world and Ireland have certainly benefited from the ICC’s Associate tournaments such as the Intercontinental Cup which is a first class tournament for the minnows and the International Cricket League which is a One Day Tournament which was set up for the World Cup qualifiers to gain some match practice.

With a decent domestic structure in place in Ireland, as opposed to them relying on fielding a single team in the English one day tournament with the same status as a county, would help the nation develop. Ireland need to have a professional system in place so that their players can devote all their time to cricket and not have to use their holiday time at outside jobs to play for their country as they currently do.

The ICC’s Malcolm Speeds hinted in an interview on BBC’s Test Match Special radio coverage of the World Cup that the ICC would be looking to introduce one or two more nations to test status within the next ten years and if Ireland do implement a strong professional domestic structure they could well be a serious contender for a place at the top level of cricket.

Although not technically a minnow, Bangladesh are on of the lesser teams in world cricket today and have also got a good chance of an unexpected place in the Super Eights after a comprehensive win against India on Saturday. They have shown some promise of late in both Tests and ODIs; only a year ago they ran Australia very close to the wire in the first test of a two match series in Bangladesh.

With the double upsets of Saturday, both Ireland and Bangladesh will have the momentum. For the sake of the tournament and to add a bit of spice to some of the matches in the Super Eights, let’s hope they can carry it on and perhaps make it a World Cup for the underdogs.

Many people, players and commentators, complained about the number of lesser teams in the World Cup this year. It certainly seemed inevitable the structure meant that the progress of teams could be easily predicted. With each group containing two major nations and two lesser nations it appeared that the two major nations would progress and the two lesser teams would fall out but some spirited displays by the minnows have brought another level of excitement to the tournament and will hopefully raise the profile of the game in areas where it is not quite so well known.


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