First and last – Shaun Tait

First coach? My first coach was my dad Phil. I was a young kid bowling in the backyard in Adelaideand my dad decided that I was going to be a fast bowler. I was bigger than the other kids and he showed me how to get the ball to come out quickly.

First wicket as a professional? My brother was playing club cricket for Chepstead as a local (he has a British passport) in 2009 and I joined him for a while. I bowled off just five or six paces, made some great friends and went back to what cricket was all about.

First time you bowled 100mph? I first bowled 160km/h at the MCG in the second ODI against NZ. I had known I was capable of it but I didn’t exactly expect it to happen that day – it just did. I’m not sure you can always trust the speed gun but on the whole I think it is accurate, even though there are some days when it does funny things like give higher readings from one end than it does from the other.

First time you hurt someone? In an U16 club grand final I hit a batsman on the back of the head – he wasn’t wearing a helmet and had to be carried off on a stretcher. I knew the guy and it didn’t feel good but it helped us win the game. If you can’t get him out, knock him out! Hurting batsmen can gee the team up a bit but it isn’t a good thing. My job is to try to bowl well and take wickets.

Last thing you cooked? Shrimp on the barbie (wink).

First job? My parents owned a fruit and veg shop and aged 10 or 11 I was paid $5 to sweep the storefront.

Last sports event you paid to see? Last year I went to see the New York Yankees. It was great fun – I can’t say I followed the game so closely but it was enjoyable just watching the people in the stands and the entertainment. It was nice to innocently sit in the crowd with a hot dog.

First Test? My first Test was at Trent Bridge in the best series ever, the 2005 Ashes. It was a huge occasion and I did well in the first innings taking three wickets, but the second dig wasn’t as good – I went for about a run a ball and didn’t bowl much.

Last ODI? My last ODI was the quarter-final of the World Cup versus India in Ahmedabad. It was disappointing to lose the game but we put up a good fight and there was no shame in losing to the side that went on to win the tournament.

Last time you didn’t bat at No 11? In an IPL game against Kolkata the other day, Warnie sent me up the order to number 10 and I was out for a golden duck. I guess I’m a number 11 bat.

First stint in county cricket? I had a four-week County stint for Durham in 2004 and it didn’t go well at all. I bowled loads of wides and no-balls and just couldn’t maintain any rhythm or discipline. I realised then that I needed to go home and work a lot harder on my game and come back as a stronger cricketer.

Last stint in county cricket? I played T20 for Glamorgan last summer and it went OK but I had a few elbow problems. My fitness is much better now though my elbow is never 100%. People will criticise me for retiring from Test cricket and call me a gun-for-hire but T20 cricket suits me as it is a way I can prolong my career.

First match-winning performance? My first big match-winning performance was probably at U16 level when I took thirteen wickets in a match – in the second innings we bowled them out for 20 runs!

Last match-winning performance? My first and last hat-trick was for the Sturt club side in 2004 but I think I still have another one up my sleeve.

This interview appeared in the Surrey programme for the 2011 season. Tait represented the County in the Friends Life t20.

Q & A with Hashim Amla

Nick Sadleir: What is your first cricket memory?
Hashim Amla: Playing with my brother (Ahmed Amla, Dolphins, 106 first-class matches at an average of 35). My earliest memory is of playing with him in our little courtyard at home. He is four years older than me and it helped having two guys to grow up together. Because his friends were older than me and I tagged along and played with them, it helped me to play with the older guys. In the long run you never know but looking back, perhaps that was the stepping stone – having to face different bowlers who were older and more experienced than me.

NS: You were married not too long ago. Is it tricky being away from home for most of the year?
HA: I was married a year ago so I’m still getting used to experiencing the fact that I’m on the road a lot of the time. But I have enjoyed it so far. It is a great privilege to travel the world playing for one’s country. And I still get to take time out and enjoy whatever country I am in and also to spend with my family.

NS: Was not playing in the IPL a good chance to work on your batting by playing first-class cricket?
HA: Absolutely. I had the chance to spend a month with Nottinghamshire. And I had a great time over there playing on some different pitches.

NS: You scored a hundred on debut for them, didn’t you?
HA: Ha ha yes, fortunately I did. While the T20 World Cup was on, I was able to take the place of their overseas pro, David Hussey. So I covered for him and I was very fortunate because it went well (Amla was a run-scoring machine all month at Notts) and gave me the chance to play some good cricket before coming on a big tour.

NS: Last year you had a good stint at Essex – also making a hundred, a big 180-odd, on debut for them?
HA: Well it is always nice to start well. It helps you to settle down, takes the pressure off the rest of your time at the club.

NS: And I seem to remember a century on Pro40 debut for Essex as well. They were calling you W.G. (as in W.G. Grace) in Chelmsford.
HA: (Modest laughter)… When it rains it pours sometimes you know. It’s all part of the experience, I’ve enjoyed my time in England. I guess I have just been fortunate to have two good county stints. It has really helped my game.

NS: What was your most special innings ever?
HA: That’s a tough one. Although it was a losing battle, we couldn’t quite hold on for a draw. But in the second innings this year at Eden Gardens, Kolkata, we almost hung on for a draw. (Amla made 114 in the first innings and stood alone in the second innings with 123 not out. South Africa capitulated with only a couple of overs remaining on the last day).I got a hundred odd and if we had held on it would have been so special if we had survived. Scoring 250 in Nagpur was special, as is any other century or accolade, but because of the intensity of the fight, I hold that second innings at Eden Gardens as one of the most memorable ones.

NS: My favourite innings of yours was when you saved South Africa from an almost certain loss by blocking out a draw at Lord’s for two days.
HA: Certainly that was a special one. You always just want to do what is required for the team. I guess my 250 in Nagpur was important because it set up victory for the team. As you’ve shown, it is hard to isolate a favourite innings.

NS: You were an integral part of the first South African team to ever win a Test series in Australia. What was that like?
HA: It was a lovely experience. It was my first time with the national team in Aus and there have been a few teams who have gone there before and not won. So I got the feeling that players in our team who had been there and done badly really appreciated a lot more than we did. But it was a special experience. Australia is a lovely place to tour and the cricket was very intense so that was great.

NS: Does it feel like the South African team has lost their way a bit since then? Maybe struggled to live up to that performance?
HA: Well that is a tough one. We came back and Australia beat us at home. We have been pretty consistent in Tests though over the past few years. In ODIs we are still trying to build our team. But in the Test arena I think we have been one of the best teams in the world. We basically are just trying to keep on improving.

NS: You have managed to score hundreds at will in Test cricket, but you haven’t yet cemented your place in the ODI team, despite a good average and strike rate.
HA: I wouldn’t say hundreds at will – I wish it was that easy! But yes in ODI cricket I have been in and out of the team, often when Graeme has been injured. I feel I have made an impact in ODi cricket but I would like to score more hundreds.

NS: Can you see a situation where teams start fielding entirely different squads, even coaches, for the various formats of the game?
HA: I think the issue of different teams is evident around the world. It has started already, especially when it comes to T20 specialists. Different coaches – I don’t see it yet in the near future, Players are developing their own skills and trying to adapt quickly between the formats though.

NS: Jacques Kallis has said that it has been disruptive working with Duncan Fletcher and now he’s gone (Fletcher hasn’t worked with the SA team since Mickey Arthur resigned early this year). Did you learn much from him?
HA: Yes, I definitely learnt a few technical things from him. My game I pick up here and there but I didn’t get to spend enough time with him for us to develop a long bond, which Jacques did. But we know how technically sound Kallis is anyway.

NS: Has it felt like the Proteas have been in a transitional phase since Mickey resigned? Does South Africa have the right personnel to get to the top of the rankings and stay there?
HA: We definitely have the right personnel to do that. I played under Mickey for most of my five-year comeback career. Mickey was around for quite a while and adapting and changing isn’t easy but it is part and parcel of the game so I think everyone has handled it well and moved on.

NS: Hash, how do you stay so focused when you are out in the middle for hours and hours at a time? What’s going through your mind out there?
HA: Batting is just about taking it one ball a time and that’s all I’m trying to do. Fortunately you have a partner out there for company. Sometimes it gets humorous out there. But the thing is to just keep guiding each other, especially on a hot day. The thing is to keep reminding each other about the simpler things but the real motivation is that you are playing for your country and you want to do as best you can.

This interview appeared in the July 2010 edition of Spin Magazine.

Lalit Modi: How we made the IPL happen

Lalit Modi, chairman of the IPL, and Andrew Wildblood, Senior Vice President of IMG, the sports management company that helped make the IPL happen, sat down in Johannesburg with SPIN’s Nick Sadleir.

Lalit, you seem to have been at almost every IPL game this year…

Lalit Modi If there are two games on the same day in different cities, I leave the one game 20 minutes before it ends and I get to the other one twenty minutes after it starts.

Andrew Wildblood Lalit doesn’t have to suffer the indignity of commercial travel.

There must have been plenty of unknowns, shifting venue at such short notice…

LM Everyone told me it would be impossible. They said I was wasting time and money. I said, ‘Well, we are going to do this’.

AW Lalit called me at five in the morning one day and asked what the hell I was doing sleeping when there was work to be done. He said that the IPL couldn’t happen in India. I told him if we could do it in India, then we could do it anywhere!

He told me to meet him in Johannesburg the next day. So he came in his plane and I came down on a BA (flight).

LM We landed here, met the agencies, got Etienne de Villiers [until recently the head of the ATP tour] and Francios Pienaar [Saffer rugby legend, still very influential in SA sport and business] on the case. Etienne and Francois have been with me every single day for over two months – they moved out of their houses and into my hotel and have come with me everywhere.

You spent a lot of money advertising in SA…

AW Yes, Lalit uttered the immortal words – “I don’t want share of voice, I want all of voice.”

To pretty much sell out 59 games during the South African rugby season is good going….

LM The advertising agency gave us a budget of $3.5m. They said that was what they thought was appropriate and that it was probably the biggest advertising expenditure by any brand at any one particular time. Of course they expected us to cut it because all clients cut the budget. So I told them to multiply it by five. They told me I was wasting money on trying to fill the stadiums. I told them they should worry about the campaign and I will worry about filling the stadiums.

Andrew, when were you first involved in the business side of cricket? 

AW In 1989, when satellite broadcasters were first finding their feet.  I come from a generation whose only live football match in a year was the FA Cup final. In those days, sports revenues were driven by gate. The concern was that if you put everything on TV then you would diminish the value of the ticket revenues. We at IMG started to realise that the value could actually be in the television and not in the gate.

In 1990 England were touring the West Indies and the West Indies cricket board came to see us and said, “We are the most successful cricket team in the world, yet we are bust. What can we do?” When we told them that they could put this series on television they said they had approached the BBC who had said it was impossible – because the logistics of getting a production crew between the islands was too expensive. We said we could do it, sold the rights to Sky, and every ball was broadcast live.

So the IPL is not the first time you have turned cricket on its head…

AW I then went to India where a similar situation existed because their television infrastructure was not suitable to creating a level of coverage that was consumable internationally. They didn’t have the equipment or the people to do it at that time. So we took a huge quantum leap. But even in 1990 our broadcast in the West Indies was only filmed by seven cameras. Here we have at least 36 cameras in each game.

Throughout the 1990s we covered almost all the international cricket in the West Indies, India and Pakistan. We organised the Sahara Cup in Canada and the World Cup in Pakistan…

Has IPL been hurt by the global recession?

LM I would have said it is pretty recession proof.

AW I think a combination of uncertainty in world economics, Indian elections and the move to South Africa meant that we did not sign two other official partners. We had had some good conversations going on that started to die when the uncertainty came in as to whether this year’s event would happen or not.

What this guy (Modi) does unbelievably well, is to not let anything get in his way. One thing I have had to learn about Lalit is that differences in opinion are nothing personal – they are just for that moment. We get things done, move on and are then friends again. Without that energy, drive and commitment, and without the backup of IMG, then this wouldn’t happen.

LM I have the vision and I know what I want. And when it comes to implementing that, these guys (IMG) are the very best.

So, IMG runs the show?

LM Yes, they run the show.

How has the IPL transformed Indian cricket?

 

AW We realised that in order for the tournament to be respectable then we had to do something that benefited Indian cricket. So we implemented a minimum number of under-23 players, and a maximum number of foreign players, in each side. There must be at least seven Indian players in each team. That makes at least 56 Indians who otherwise would not be exposed to international cricket.

So it is unlikely that we will see the cap on international players increased from four, as called for by Kolkata’s John Buchanan?

LM No no, it’s not going up, it’s not going up!

AW People bully him about it all the time.

LM It’s not going up, it’s not going up! Not while I’m the commissioner. They can remove me and take it up, if they like.

It seems a lot of money is wasted on international stars that can’t get a game.

LM It is not wasted. Their experience counts for a lot. Look at Glenn McGrath sitting on the bench and giving pointers to Dirk Nannes…

AW The irony of it is that McGrath is coaching the guy who is keeping him out of the team! [Laughs]

What do you say to people who accuse you and T20 of killing off the old game?

LM If you do a survey around the stadium at an IPL match, you will find many people who have never watched a match before. They are getting a taste for the game, and many of them will graduate to Test cricket. They will then watch their stars performing in every version of the game. We are only increasing the base. The base is small and is quickly becoming bigger. Twenty20 is going tohave compounding effect on all parts of cricket.

Lalit, did you know that there was such a large and cricket-crazy Indian population in South Africa before this tournament?

LM No… But we do now!

Is it true that a senior television person in India told you that he had little interest in screening Test matches?

AW Yes, Kunal Dasgupta (then CEO Multi Screen Media, Sony) told me that and it was then that I realised that something had to be done about Test match cricket, to shake it up. But no one has ever done anything about it except the Australians, who took it from a 2,5 runs per over to a 4 runs per over game. That made it a lot more exciting and greatly increased the chance of getting a result.

Would you support night Test matches?

AW Funnily enough no – I think that would fundamentally change the brand. What I would support is: four day Tests with 100 eight ball overs a day, massively punitive fines if you don’t deliver your overs. There is a lot of stuff you can do without messing with the fundamentals of the game.

If you have eight-ball overs the amount of time you save is huge. An over is only six balls long because that is half a dozen. Don Bradman was a huge advocate of eight ball overs and who are we to argue with him?

Ali Bacher told me the other day that twenty five years ago he received a five page document from Bradman on why he supported eight ball overs and Bacher hugely regrets throwing it away.

This interview appeared in the June 2009 edition of Spin magazine.

South Africa’s recipe for success

No visiting team since the West Indies under Clive Lloyd in 1992-93 had won a Test series in Australia. However the baggy greens were a side under pressure this season: not long after a 2-0 drubbing in India an unsettled Australia, who have now not named an unchanged side for any of their last 14 matches, went to battle with a team on an upward path.

Matthew Hayden and Michael Hussey went into the South Africa series bang out of form, frontline bowler Stuart Clark was out injured and it was clear when Australia were 43/3 at drinks on the morning of the first Test at Perth that the tourists had a chance to win in a country where all nine previous attempts over a period of a hundred years had proved unsuccessful.

South African coach Mickey Arthur has revealed the blueprint behind his team’s success, a strategy that mirrors the one used by England to win the Ashes in 2005, under the coaching of Duncan Fletcher. A committed backroom team that includes Fletcher and mental conditioning coach, former English off-spinner Jeremy Snape are all to be given credit for the Proteas’ recent series win.

Arthur has also told how he made each player sign a pledge to excel and has described the broad vision of the brand of cricket his team needed to play in order to be the best side in the world. This vision was translated into a concrete strategy and executed to the letter with team captain, Graeme Smith, and Cricket South Africa CEO, Gerald Majola.

Each of the South African batsmen signed a pledge saying that the top six batsmen are responsible for scoring 300 runs in each innings. The bowlers signed one promising to take 20 wickets in each match.

Arthur reluctantly acknowledged the similarities to Fletcher’s side of 2005: “We identified the components we believed we needed to win, then we identified the players and we backed them. There’s a similarity to the England team of a couple of years ago, sure, but we didn’t build our plan based on that. Dale Steyn and Steve Harmison, Andrew Flintoff and Jacques Kallis, Ashley Giles and Paul Harris, there are some very similar cricketers, but there’s a lot else that goes on behind the scenes which makes a difference.

“My partnership with Graeme has been key, in that we both really believe in each other. It is like a marriage. When a dressing room sees a captain-coach relationship like this, with a united goal and no egos, it is very powerful.

“Gerald has been amazing even at the worst times. The last time we were in Oz we were drubbed 3-0 in the Tests and were being smashed in the one-day matches. Gerald flew over and assured us of his full backing. It is a triangle – Gerald, Graeme and me.”

In a country where the meddling of politicians in the racial composition of the national team has been a continuing area of conflict, the fact that every player in the South African Test team deserves his place on merit is a tribute to Cricket South Africa’s transformation program. Coloured batsman Ashwell Prince was unfit to play any part in the series and was replaced by JP Duminy, whose match-winning 50 not out at Perth and fairytale 166 in Melbourne were both testaments to this successful transformation.

An equally significant transformation can be observed in the South African captain, Smith, who has completed a virtual metamorphosis in his evolution from the overconfident, unpopular and brash young captain of five and a half years ago to the wise and highly respected leader he is today.

Smith leads by example and has a reputation as the bravest man in cricket, after repeatedly batting in agonising pain. His 154 not out at Edgbaston was completed with excruciating tennis elbow and was probably the finest century made in 2008. Not only the top run-scorer of 2008, Smith is also currently the longest serving captain in the Test arena. He is only 27 years old.

“I was 22 when I took over and it felt like everybody was critical of my appointment,” said Smith on New Year’s Day. “I thought – rightly or wrongly – that many people at home were setting me up to fail. So I wanted to prove them wrong, I thought I had to lead from the front and stamp my authority on proceedings.

“It wasn’t necessarily the right way to go about things and it wasn’t really ‘me’, but that’s the way it was. I’m pleased to say I’m a lot more comfortable in my own skin now and a lot more relaxed about just being me and concentrating on my cricket and doing as much leading by example as I can.”

There is no doubt that team psychologist, Jeremy Snape, has been instrumental in Smith’s transition from hot- to cool-headed captain. Snape first worked with Smith during the Rajasthan Royals’ triumphant IPL campaign, and although Smith is unlikely to admit it, the time spent under Royals’ skipper, Shane Warne, has proved invaluable to the development of his leadership skills.

South Africa has won all but one of its previous ten Test series, including its first win on English soil since 1965. The exception was a drawn series in India last year, which the visitors led 1-0 into the minefield of a battleground that was the dusty cracked pitch at Green Park, Kanpur.

In each of the first two Tests in this series, South Africa won from positions where no script could be written to do so. Again in the third, the visitors very nearly drew a match that looked all but lost, displaying a new strength of character and depth of resolve in this young team’s game. Before this series it looked as if India were due to replace Australia as the best team in the world, but the race is now wide open.
This article appeared in the Times of India in January 2009, after South Africa’s Test series win in Australia.

The batsman’s ego – a double-edged sword

Batting is largely a selfish pursuit. While making runs is what wins matches for the team, I can’t help but notice that so many of the world’s best batsmen are highly egotistical fellows. An arrogant and resolute self belief is many a sportsman’s most valuable trait but it is also so often his downfall.

Kevin Pietersen is probably the best batsman in the world and he knows as much. His stubborn confidence in his abilities is indicative of the fact that he genuinely believes that there isn’t anything he cannot do with the bat – a conviction that usually stands him in very good stead.

There is only a sheet of glass between my seat in the Rugby Stand end at Headingley and the players pavilion on my left, and I spent a long while this morning watching Kevin Pietersen warming up his body and mind while waiting to bat when the defiant nightwatchman James Anderson was finally dismissed. He caught my attention because of the enthusiasm of this preparation; the focus in his eyes and the vigour with which he stretched his body and knocked his bat on the concrete floor.

Despite standing in the field for six of the previous nine days, KP looked like a man possessed and as I observed his behaviour I suddenly realised that he believed he was going to win a pretty un-winnable match for England. At the time England were two down and still 220 runs short of wiping out the South African first-innings lead of 319 runs.

But stranger things have happened at Headingley. Most readers would either remember or would have heard of the 1981 Ashes Test when England had followed on and were 135 for 7. Ian Botham then unleashed that extraordinary 149 not out and Bob Willis bowled the Australians out to win by 18 runs, thereby beating the odds at the local bookies of 500/1.

It was clear to me that Kevin Pietersen imagined, even believed, that today he would do something similarly heroic. He beat his chest and then walked to the middle, and at a time when a demoralised England needed to bat out two full days for a draw, KP struck 13 magnificent runs in only four deliveries and then edged the next ball from Jacques Kallis to Mark Boucher.

KP was not the only one to get out to a ball he could have left. In fact six of the ten England dismissals in the second innings would have been avoided if the English batsmen had just watched the ball go past the off stump. The same goes for at least as many of England’s first-innings dismissals.

Michael Vaughan seemed to accept the inevitable loss during the afternoon session and popped by the press box to demand a humorous word with a certain tabloid cricket correspondent who was responsible for today’s newspaper headline, “Vaughan the Prawn!”.

We had just recovered from this hilarious episode when Pietersen came in to ask if he could borrow some binoculars. A journalist from an English daily passed him a pair and KP, noticing they were very small, asked in a strong South African accent, “Do these f***ing things work?”

The journalist’s reply came sharply: “They were good enough to see your dismissal, KP!” I don’t think Pietersen will be giving that paper any interviews in the near future.

This article appeared on Cricket365 in July 2008, during South Africa’s tour of England.

Ganguly calls it a day

Sourav Ganguly’s decision to retire from international cricket came about in the most quiet and unexpected manner. During a press conference two days before the first Test here at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, Ganguly shocked all by saying, “I want to mention one thing. I will retire at the end of this series.”

A controversial character the Prince of Calcutta may be, but knowing the fighting individual he is, I can’t help but wonder exactly which of the various pressures pushed him to throw in the towel.

Last week Geoffrey Boycott suggested that India’s fab four of Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Ganguly were over the hill. “The great Indian batsmen are long in the tooth and approaching the end of their careers. Some of them are desperate to prolong their international life spans, not just because they love the game but probably because of the endorsement deals available,” Boycott wrote in his column for The Telegraph. “But none of them are the force they once were,” he added.

Despite special performances in the second and third Tests of the drawn series versus South Africa earlier this year, it is well known that the Indian selection committee has long been losing patience in ‘Dada’, as he is affectionately known by millions of fans. But judging by the way the story hit television headlines when it broke on Tuesday night, the timing of Ganguly’s decision was not anticipated by the media.

Ganguly may well have been pressured into retiring by the BCCI, perhaps by being told that his place in the side was not safe for the series. Unless he fails dismally in the first few games, he is at least guaranteed a spot in the line-up for all four Tests after announcing his retirement up front.

Ganguly has been good to Indian cricket, indeed he was their most successful Test captain. But not everyone in India will be sorry to see him go. His arrogant antics, which range from refusing to carry the drinks as 12th man against Australia in 1991/92 to keeping various captains waiting at the toss, have earned him a fair share of adversaries.

This exit strategy allows him an opportunity to go out on a high. What a pity the fourth and final Test isn’t at Eden Gardens.

This article appeared on Cricket365 in October 2008 ahead of the Test series between India and Australia

India collapse in Ahmedabad

Sometimes referred to as the armpit of India, Ahmedabad is the capital of the dry state of Gujarat. It is dry because most of the state is desert and because alcohol is prohibited. The ground is often described as the worst venue to tour on the international circuit. But I can report that this reputation is undeserved and that Ahmedabad is a spread out and pleasant city where traffic jams have nothing on the groaning metropolises of Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Delhi. The local cuisine is probably the tastiest in India, tourists are not hassled and the abundance of trees along the Sabarmati River helps one forget about the environmental disaster that is India in the 21st Century.

Or perhaps I am in such jolly spirits because of South Africa’s brilliant performance with the ball today, bowling out India for a paltry 76 runs and following it up with a solid 224 for 4 with the bat. And I smuggled in a good bottle of brandy. And I can have a delicious three course meal for under a dollar and then watch an ICL semi-final and the first day of the second West Indies versus Sri Lanka Test tonight.

India won the toss and elected to bat on a greenish pitch. The decision was a formality despite the unexpected grass cover. The only time a team has ever chosen to bowl first at this stadium was in the first Test at the ground in 1983/4, and that was only because the Indians had no desire to face the formidable attack of Marshall, Holding and co.

The first rule when batting first in Test matches in general and greentops in particular, is to survive until lunch with only one or two wickets down. India knew that there was some life in this pitch – that is why the team spent as long as an hour looking at the strip yesterday and the intelligent engineer that is Captain Kumble played RP Singh ahead of the third spinner, Mr Piyush Chawla. However, Gujarat is virtually a desert state and with ground temperatures measuring up to 48 degrees, this track will dry out and take significant turn. In plain and simple terms one does not want in such conditions and it was a fair toss to win.

The advent of limited overs cricket brought more attacking stroke play to Test match cricket. As a result, draws are far rarer than they once were and this trend is being quickly exacerbated by the current Twenty20 phenomenon. One can only score run-a-ball triple centuries on very flat pitches and today India showed their fans a perfect example of how not to post a first-innings total.

The fashion in which Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Morne Morkel ripped through the best batting line-up in the world (sans Sachin) was remarkable. Equally remarkable was the fact that the experienced, high averaging Indian top six threw away their wickets with gay abandon. Balls that deserved utmost respect from the best pace attack in the world were flashed at without thought or foot movement. The bowling services of Paul Harris and Jacques Kallis were not required as India were all out in exactly 20 overs.

Irfan Pathan top-scored with 21 not out and extras came second with 19 runs, 11 of which were leg-byes. Dhoni made 14 runs, out swiping greedily at an accurate length ball from Morkel when his team was in dire straits at 55/5. Impatience and frustration are no solution to tricky times in Test cricket. No other batsman made double figures. It is of course true that on another day inside edges may have found boundaries rather than stumps but South Africa created opportunities while India self destructed.

The lack of shot-selection discipline will be of grave concern to Gary Kirsten whose success at his job of coaching India will be measured by the performance of his team. Take away one innings from Mr Sehwag and that performance has been well under par. The journalist next to me remarked that the Indian batting line-up are just “flat track bullies” and while he was probably just angry with the dismally low total, there is certainly some truth in that. I remarked to the same fellow that perhaps part of the reason for the collapse was that it is very cloudy but he replied that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and that the dense hazy white matter above the ground was smog from nearby factories. Perhaps it aids swing.

If India wished that Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma had been available for the first Test, they missed them achingly today. For my money, Praveen Kumar’s outstanding Commonwealth Bank Series performances were enough to include him in the squad once the selectors knew that they were without their two premier seamers. How RP Singh’s selection could be justified after his Chennai effort is beyond me.

South Africa passed India’s first-innings total before losing the wicket of Graeme Smith, trapped LBW be the fiery Sreesanth. Neil McKenzie, Hashim Amla and Ashwell Prince soon followed him to the pavilion, each of them foxed by the devious Harbhajan Singh. But a magnificent partnership of 106 runs by Kallis (60 not out) and AB de Villiers (59 not out) ensured the visitors were all smiles overnight. They lead by 147 runs and have this Test match by the scruff of the neck.

There was a lot of talk pre-match about what sort of pitch should be prepared here at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera, Ahmedabad. Rumours circulated around the Vice President Hotel on Ghandi Ashram Rd, where I am staying with twenty or so Indian journalists, that Anil Kumble and the chief curator of Motera stadium have never seen eye to eye and that a lively pitch was prepared contrary to the specific requests of the Indian team. It was certainly apparent in the run-up to this match that the South African camp was more confident than the host team. It is interesting background information that the last three times India bowled a side out cheaply were on seaming tracks at Johannesburg, Nottingham and Perth.

If South Africa is to win this match they will take an unassailable 1-0 lead into the final Test match at Kanpur, a ground notorious for dead draws. A road of a pitch that fits that stereotype was probably ordered by the Indian team a few weeks ago. However, that particular flavour is no good when you need to win a match just to draw the series. And South Africa has shown they play spin better than any team outside the sub-continent. A crumbling day fpur raging turner would be just the ticket but that might be enough for Green Park to lose its already controversial ICC Test venue status. The groundsman there finds himself in a pickle.

This article appeared on Cricket365 in April 2008, during the second Test between India and South Africa in Ahmedabad.

Keep Blowers on till he kicks the bucket!

Henry Calthorpe Blofeld is without doubt one of cricket’s most marvellous characters. That pompous, fruity, old Etonian voice of the mad-as-a-hatter Test Match Special (TMS) radio commentator has been well known and loved by cricket followers across the globe for over 30 years. But it has become obvious in recent cricket seasons that the BBC is choosing to use the old school voice of Blowers less and less.

Blofeld fitted in well alongside the old TMS legends of Brian Johnson and John Arlott but the eccentric old chatterbox will be 70 next year and it is quite clear that he is being slowly phased out of the radio box against his will.

Famous for his flowery descriptions of pigeons, buses, flags, dirigibles and dustbins, Blowers certainly paints the picture in a way that no other cricket commentator does anymore. And while not everyone is mad about the unconventional old toff, English Test match cricket just isn’t the same without him.

From Norfolk gentry stock, Blofeld did not play for England but he excelled as a school cricketer. He was the Eton captain and he scored a hundred at Lord’s for the Public Schools against the Combined Services in the day when that kind of fixture received 800 words in the Times newspaper. Sadly, Henry’s career was cut short by a dreadful incident whereby he was run over by a bus and suffered extensive head injuries.

He then tried his hand at merchant banking but he tired of that quickly and after dangerously flirting with the idea of a career in the wine industry he settled into cricket journalism. And he has been in the writing and talking game ever since.

Blofeld has his fair share of critics. Some can’t stand his ceaseless descriptions of irrelevant activity and others are tired of his propensity to talk utter nonsense. He is easily muddled and on this tour alone has called South Africa both New Zealand and India. He once called Flintoff Botham, without noticing his mistake and at the Headingley Test he said Hashish Amla instead of Hashim Amla. At Edbaston he called him Hamish!

He once remarked that Sidebottom reminded him of Friar Tuck. Vic Marks was on air with him and pointed out that Friar Tuck was bald and fat while Sidebottom is slim and hairy and so he could not see the resemblance. At Headingley he described the fast bowler as medieval looking and I think that is spot-on, so he gets the odd one right!

I have done a lot of asking around to determine Blofeld’s popularity and he definitely seems to be one of those types that people either love or don’t. Some strong words against the old boy were uttered in the press box but generally the average English cricket follower falls into the first category.

Blofeld and the TMS team are often sent cakes and even the Queen once presented them with a cake at Lord’s in recognition of their efforts. Naturally, cakes are another never-ending topic for discussion. In this series Blofeld commentated on the second and third Test matches. I am missing him at the fourth.

This article appeared on Cricket365 during South Africa’s Test tour of England in 2008.

That’s enough of that, thanks

And so ends nearly six months of cricket between England and New Zealand. As per their respective ICC world rankings, England (ranked third in Test matches and seventh in one-day internationals) won both the home and away Test series and New Zealand (ranked third in ODIs and seventh in Tests) won both the home and away ODI series.

There is a neat symmetry about all of this and four series were well contested and enjoyable. The Barmy Army’s presence resulted in record crowds in New Zealand and good weather produced some fine cricket in England. But there is no doubt that cricket fans worldwide will be delighted that it is all over. Watching two of the world’s more mediocre sides in battle for half a year is not what modern cricket spectators are after.

Lord’s was the venue for the final ODI of the Natwest series and is the home of cricket. The hallowed stadium has the best facilities of any ground in the world and everything about the place is absolutely marvellous. Spectators are allowed to bring a bottle of wine into the ground and MCC ties, pink linen trousers and panama hats give the stands an air of old school sophistication.

On one side of the ground members munched on cucumber sandwiches and quaffed claret on the lawn beneath the stuffy pavilion at the lunch break. In front of the pavilion a one hundred-strong marching band in sombre black tunics trumpeted with military precision.

But at the other end youngsters guzzled beer as they suntanned next to the rock band behind the ultra-modern blimp-like Investec Media Centre. The game of cricket is rapidly changing under the influence of public demand for faster and more exciting cricket and Lord’s faces the difficult task of carefully managing its various identities. Doing business with Allen Stanford and at the same time keeping MCC members happy is not going to be easy.

On another note, security officers from Cricket Australia are in Pakistan assessing player safety in that country ahead of the ICC Champions Trophy, which is scheduled to be held there in September this year. South Africa has been named ahead of Sri Lanka as the reserve host nation and the matter will be discussed at the six-day annual ICC conference that begins on Sunday 29 June. The latest from those in the know is that the event will happen in Pakistan unless a major disaster takes place there between now and then.

The issue at the top of the ICC conference agenda is likely to be more controversial. It is the motion of what to do with Zimbabwe. The England Cricket board this week cancelled a future series with that African cricket team and even South Africa, who have until recently supported Zimbabwe cricket, took a strong stand against them. It comes as no surprise that the cash rich and power hungry BCCI (the Indian cricket board) continues to fully support Zimbabwe cricket.

This article appeared on Cricket365 in June 2008