Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Tom Latham shows the value of simplicity

It was Bill Shankly who said “Football is a simple game complicated by idiots.” Like all truisms, there’s more to it than that, and if you substituted football for cricket you’d get blank stares from some. Surely cricket is complicated in and of itself, they’d say.
Perhaps if you reverse the polarity of the phrase (to butcher a reference), it makes more sense for cricket. Cricket is a complicated game, made simple by geniuses. Tom Latham is hardly a genius, but other than David Warner, he’s the only batsman from outside the subcontinent to score a hundred in the UAE this year.

The method looked simple. Rahat Ali threatened, but mostly just created pressure, which Latham resisted. It was the three spinners, Zulfiqar Babar, Yasir Shah, and Mohammad Hafeez who looked to be the danger. But Latham had a plan. If it was full and straight, he’d stretch forward and defend. If it was off the stumps, he’d sweep, and if it was a bad ball he’d put it away. Apart from the occasional drive down the ground, that was it.

Shah went round the wicket, but found that pitching every ball outside off stump invited the sweep. Zulfiqar found Latham immune to his variations, and Hafeez tried to lure him into indiscretion, as he did Neesham, but found the opener steadfast.

He brought up his century with a shimmy down the wicket and punch of the ball down the ground for four. It took a fantastic ball to get rid of him, Rahat Ali reverse swinging a yorker into him to trap him LBW. Rahat set it up fantastically, swinging a couple away before a third darted back in to catch him plumb on the foot.

Rahat Ali was the other big performer on the day. 4-22 off 17 overs might just be the maximum he could have possibly squeezed out of the day. Like Latham, he kept it simple, that setup to get rid of the day’s centurion was the archetypal three-card trick. Southee succeeded in the most bit of incompetent bit of batting, edging a swinging ball once to be dropped, then in almost identical fashion the next ball to be caught.

When the ball wasn’t reverse swinging, all he had to do against them was to create pressure, forcing the lapses the like of which saw off both Williamson and Anderson, both chopping on to their stumps. Remarkably, before lunch he hadn’t conceded a run off the bat, the only blot on his figures a no ball from the previous evening.

With Latham and Rahat simplicity won the day. But for the rest of the New Zealand batsmen that simplicity was hard to come by. Turns out making something look simple can be quite complicated.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Papua New Guinea enter the ‘big time’

It doesn’t look like the big time. Tony Ireland Stadium in Townsville is an out-ground for Queensland, and used for the occasional international A game. It’s a sparse ground, and the matchup between Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong hasn’t attracted many spectators sitting on the grass banks, and only a few in the single stand.

But this is ODI cricket. That may be the only difference between it and many other games PNG have played against opposition like Hong Kong or other similar sized associates, but it is the biggest status most associates can aspire to, Test cricket being the closed club that it is. Whilst the whole system of different levels of international cricket is inherently ridiculous, it’s not going away anytime soon, so ODI status doesn’t just bring a new level of statistics, it brings greater opportunities to play the top associates and full members, and crucially, more money from various sources.

Their opening bowlers certainly proved up to it. Bowling their first ODI ball was Pipi Raho, small and off a short run-up, he didn’t  generate much pace, but some outswing. Like his partner at the other end, his action centres around a leap into the air before he hurls the ball down, something common to several of their seamers actions.

At the other end, Willie Gavera has a bit more pace. Another short-ish run, leap and a sling, but this time from a taller, rangier bowler. He was the one to take PNG’s first ODI wicket, with a length ball edged through to the keeper, and with his extra pace he tested out the back of a length area at times, something not many associate bowlers can do.

Aside from the players, the PNG kit is quite something. Black, with red and yellow trim, and an fantastic black cap with red and yellow hoops on the top. The effect, with their energetic fielding is of a swarm, buzzing around the batsmen, hurling in returns to the keeper, throwing the ball around amongst themselves.

It’s that fielding that got them their third and fourth wickets, a pull shot well held at mid-wicket, and a great slip catch, both off the off-spinner Assad Vala. His off-spin, added to that of Maharu Dai, and the leggies of Charles Amini give PNG a varied spin attack which picked up x wickets in the first ODI.

Despite that, they are still associates, so there’s some inconsistency. Maharu Dai caught well in the first game, but dropped one in the second. In the same over Norman Manua very nearly took a screamer down at fine leg.

The two teams made an intriguing matchup. PNG are small and tenacious, enthusiastic in the field, whilst Hong Kong’s batsmen stand tall with wide stances designed to belt the ball away. It was the Barramundis who had the edge. In years to come, PNG will be the answer to a trivia question: Which was the only country to win their first two ODIs?

The matches starting at midnight GMT meant that with PNG bowling first twice, I can only comment on them in the field. But with the bat three things stand out on the scorecards. Two successful chases, and a first ODI century, by Lega Siaka. Not bad for a first go.

Just like many club teams, but unlike most international teams, PNG cricket is a family affair. Only maybe the Pollocks can match the Amini’s. Chris Amini, batsman and medium pace bowler plays alongside his brother Charles, a leg-spinner. Their father Chris, and grandfather Brian both captained PNG and their mother Kune captained the women’s team.

Their first ODI may have been played in Australia, but PNG cricket are hopeful they can bring a ground up to ODI standards back home. What's this national stadium called? Amini Park of course.