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June 12, 2009

Pietersen inspires England to victory

There is no doubt that Kevin Pietersen's 58 runs helped England  improve on their batting performance from the embarrassing defeat to  Holland. However, it wasn't just Pietersen's runs that gave England much needed lift during their vital victory over Pakistan yesterday.

From the moment that England's best batsman declared himself fit, the hosts had the edge on Pakistan. The fans were more optimistic, the  batting line-up was stronger and the rest of the team would  have been reassured by Pietersen's presence.

The Hampshire man is a very influential character and is one of  England's few world-class professionals, so his availability was crucial to the victory. KP can make something happen himself or he can inspire others to lift their game. Either way, it was fantastic to see him back and batting well.

As for the game as a whole, well it was much better from Paul  Collingwood's men. In the shortened forms of the game, whether that be  Twenty20 or One Day International, England seem to have performed at their best when they are faced with a MUST win. They don't enjoy being overwhelming favourites that much.

The batting was a lot better than against Holland. Luke Wright was destructive at the top once again, Kevin Pietersen and Owais Shah built an important partnership and Dimi Mascarenas and James Foster finished the innings off well. In the end, 185-5 was always going to  be a match winning score.

In response, Pakistan struggled to get going. They lost Shehzad early  on and when Stuart Broad took two wickets in two balls to reduce them  to 41-3, the game was as good as over. They were constantly behind the  rate and only captian Younis Khan made an impact with an unbeaten 46  as Pakistan finished on 136-7.

As far as England's bowlers were concerned, Stuart Broad bounced back from his nightmare last over against Holland with figures of 3-17. Everyone performed a valuable role though - including man of the match  Luke Wright - and only Adil Rashid finished wicketless. It was a  superb team effort.

Overall, the two performances from England so far couldn't have been more contrasting. This means that it is very hard to predict how far  they will go in this competition. They are capable of winning it, but they are also capable of not winning another game.

Which team will turn up in the super eights? Hopefully the one that was on show against Pakistan yesterday.

June 03, 2009

Collingwood confident of Twenty20 success

Ahead of England’s World Twenty20 campaign, captain Paul Collingwood has claimed that home advantage could be enough for his side to have a genuine chance of winning the tournament which gets underway on Friday.

The hosts take on Holland at Lords in the opening game and Collingwood is confident that this can be the start of a successful couple of weeks. He says that he and his team ‘know the wickets and venues well’, something which could give them an advantage over the other teams.

England’s confidence is certainly high after the comfortable Test and ODI series victories over the West Indies, so perhaps Collingwood is right to feel optimistic. The combination of self-belief, being familiar with the conditions and having the fans behind them could be enough to make England contenders.

They must surely do better than they did in the inaugural World Twenty20 tournament back in 2007. During their time in South Africa, Collingwood’s men only won once in five matches and had a thoroughly miserable time.

England are in much better shape this time though with players such as Ravi Bopara, Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Graeme Swann starting to establish themselves as world-class cricketers. Then, there is the returning Kevin Pietersen to throw into the mix. Overall, the squad looks strong.

Speaking about Pietersen, Collingwood said that the former captain is ‘raring to go’ in this tournament after failing to make an appearance in the recent ODI series against the West Indies. KP hasn’t got the best record in Twenty20 games, so perhaps it is time he put this right.

As for England’s chances of winning the tournament, Collingwood reminded everyone how no England team have won an ICC event before. However, ahead of the warm-up games, the temporary skipper believes that he and his side have a ‘huge opportunity’ to continue the momentum picked up in the early part of the summer.

If you're looking to make a Twenty20 bet, personally, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if England made the semi-finals, at least. They are a happy dressing room right now and should have enough to progress in the competition. As for winning the whole thing, well I can’t look too far beyond current holders India. Their line-up looks formidable.

And, by the time all this is over, we might be able to make slightly more informed Ashes bets!

By the way, if you fancy seeing what I am up to, you can follow me on Twitter @Thomas_Rooney

March 30, 2009

Strauss deserves more credit

Since taking over the captaincy from Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Strauss has been in excellent form with the bat. In the test series against the West Indies he scored three centuries as he averaged 67.62 and so far in the One Day Internationals, he has hit one century and averages 67.

This, by anyone’s standards, is fantastic. However, the fact that Strauss has performed as well as this during what has been a difficult time for England, is something that deserves a lot of praise.

Not many previous England captains have raised their game with the bat and this makes Strauss’ performances all the more impressive. He loves responsibility and he enjoys leading from the front. Two essential attributes if you want to be a successful cricket captain.

Having looked at the statistics, it seems clear to me that Strauss hasn’t received enough credit for his form with the bat. This is probably because the team hasn’t been winning much and, as captain, he
shares some of the blame for this.

However, imagine for a second that Pietersen was still captain. Then imagine that he had scored exactly the same amount of runs that Strauss has this winter. It is fair to say that the press would be
raving about him as one of the best players around.

Strauss hasn’t enjoyed as much attention for his runs and even though this is probably the way he likes it, it seems important to show some appreciation for the job he has been doing. The results haven’t always been great, but this hasn’t been anything to do with Strauss’ role as an opening batsman.

The latest knock from Strauss led England to victory in the 4th ODI yesterday and it was an innings that showed how he can perform in this form of the game. The Middlesex man hit an unbeaten 79 to help his team chase down a revised target of 135 in 20 overs.

It also proved something that I believed to be the case since the humiliating Twenty20 defeat a couple of weeks ago. If Strauss is going to play in the Twenty20 team, he should open the batting. He is capable of scoring quickly and shouldn’t mess around with coming in down the order.

As for the team as a whole, well they have the chance to finish the tour on a high this Friday. With the series tied at 2-2, the game in St Lucia acts as a decider for the two teams.

Victory would not only be an excellent way to end a rather forgettable winter, but it would be an appropriate reward for Strauss and the way he has batted since becoming England captain.

By Thomas Rooney, a sports writer who blogs about English cricket.

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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