As far as cricket off-seasons go these days, this is about as good as it gets. Sure there are the comedy antics of the IPL teams in the Champions League to enjoy, and for the really bored there’s always Aussie domestic cricket, but that’s about it. Personally we have no real complaints, other than the fact that we are reduced to writing articles about non-cricketers like Peter Such, and this here work of art, to fill the void. Considering the wealth of cricket that is going to hit us in a few weeks, with no real relief till the Poms go sobbing home like a bunch of sissy girls after they are smashed in the return Ashes series late next year, a moment’s reprieve is much appreciated. If we were of a poetic or literary mind we would call it the calm before the storm.
For anyone out there who is really suffering through this momentary lull though, we would suggest finding another hobby to fill the void, like video games. But if it’s the real thing that you’re hankering for, and substitutes just won’t do, we have put together a list of the top five things to look forward to over the next few months. Just to get you in the mood.
Within the next 18 months or so we will see messrs Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, and Michael Hussey, amongst others perhaps, take their bow from international cricket. The fact that they are going is not really up for dispute; their time has come. Instead it will be the manner of their going that will be make for captivating viewing. The past few months have already seen one big name retirement occur in less than ideal circumstances (however you might try and portray it, stepping down after a home series loss and relinquishing the Test number one ranking is hardly fairytale stuff). The above three will be hoping their retirements occur in somewhat more joyous circumstances.
For Hussey and Ponting that means no less than a home Ashes series win. Whether they are still around by then is where the real interest lies however, and right now neither could consider themselves certainties to take part, particularly if they fall on their arses in the first leg of the series. For Sachin you imagine his continuing career is based partly on the fact that he believes he still possesses the ability to dominate Test attacks, partly because he wants to help revive India’s plummeting Test reputation by helping them to home wins over England and Australia and then, more importantly, an away win over South Africa. And finally you feel it’s partly the result of Sachin understandably feeling concerned about the quality (or otherwise) of the players set to replace him in the Indian middle order. A dramatic drop off in India’s fortunes on home soil (considering they’ve been rubbish away from home for a while) on Sachin’s retirement would tarnish somewhat the little master’s reputation, and suggest he should have permanently buggered off to the golf course a long time ago in order to give the next generation the opportunity to acclimatize themselves to Test cricket. We will wait and see.
Apparently the ECB have thrown caution to the wind and selected some hitherto unknown middle order batsman of South African origin for the tour of India. A batsmen whose explosive ability on the pitch is matched only by that which he shows in the dressing room afterwards. Personally we are as sick of the whole KP saga as the next man, and while it will be fascinating to see how well (or otherwise) he will be able to ‘integrate’ himself back into the English dressing room, it’s somewhat overshadowing a more important issue. That is, the forthcoming tour represents probably England’s best chance of winning in India for bloody ages.
Sure England can’t play spin if their lives depended on it, and comically collapsed the last time they ran up against India’s collection of second rate tweakers (or as far as Harbhajan Singh is concerned, third rate), but this current Indian outfit are hardly world beaters. New Zealand showed in the second Test match of their tour (the first is best forgotten about) that India are vulnerable against seam bowling, and their bowling is hardly threatening unless the pitch happens to be turning square. Putting all the controversy surrounding KP aside, England have to consider themselves a decent chance in November and December. Especially if Graeme Swann receives strong support from the likes of Samit Pate…..oh….right. Well forget all about that then.
The last time South Africa claimed the number one ranking in Test cricket, after defeating the incumbents on their home soil, they famously fell apart and relinquished the title with barely a whimper. This time around nobody could dispute that their status as the world’s best is well deserved. However if they manage to lose the upcoming series against Australia, they will once again relinquish the title. To a team, it must be said, that nobody could claim to be deservedly the world’s number one.
Only the most one eyed Australian fans (although admittedly that accounts for most of them) would suggest the hosts are favourites when their three Test series commences next month. South Africa look stronger across the board, although the battle between the two sets of quicks is sure to create some fireworks. Considering that the South African top order looks rock solid (although you would have to think that Australia will not give Hashim Amla quite as many lives as England charitably provided) they should have the edge, and factoring in a potential implosion on a typically unpredictable WACA pitch, should comfortably control the series. If they do manage to capitulate to a batting lineup featuring the likes of David Warner and Ed Cowan, the chokers tag will be the most flattering label you could attach to them.
Test cricket, of course, extends beyond the fortunes of South Africa, England, Australia and India. It’s just that at times it’s hard to remember the other teams exist. The future tours list makes for pretty depressing viewing, with the above four dominating the fixtures. One team who will be hoping to muscle their way back in to the ranks of cricket’s elite though is Pakistan, and with a three Test tour of South Africa looming early next year, they have a perfect opportunity.
Tours of South Africa are not as foreboding as they might appear, with the South Africans boasting a frankly rubbish home record. Meanwhile, the current Pakistan outfit is showing signs of developing into something quite impressive, no doubt helped by the fact that Shahid Afridi doesn’t feature in it. Whilst the quality of players like Mohammed Hafeez and Saeed Ajmal are self-evident, the emergence of players like Nasir Jamshed offer hope that a strong team is beginning to form around them. There is still something decidedly iffy about Pakistan’s pace attack (and no, we don’t mean in terms of where their front foot lands), so long their trump card, but their spin attack adequately makes up for it. So whilst the pitches in South Africa might not necessarily play to their strengths, they may now possess the all-round ability to compensate.
Seriously guys, it’s been bloody ages. The fact that half the 51allout team are banned from the local off-license owing to a daring raid to steal a live size David Boon cut out that went terribly, terribly wrong, just makes matters worse.