Manjrekar is watching you
Reality TV show Bigg Boss has enjoyed a fair smattering of cricketing stardust since it started. Last year, disgraced quick Sreesanth strode into the house sporting large biceps and an even larger ego but proved a surprise hit, finishing runner-up. Indian Premier League (IPL) supporters are clearly very forgiving.
If the Indian public ever tire of the programme's format, it could be shaken up by putting commentator Sanjay Manjrekar in the house alongside every cricketer with whom he’s had a disagreement. The show's producers may need to purchase a bigger property, but it would certainly make for a sparky affair if this World Cup is anything to go by. After suggesting Sourav Ganguly talked too much on air when the two shared the mic earlier in the tournament, Manjerekar was labelled, indirectly, an “attention seeker” by the ex-Indian captain. This week the former Mumbai opener then drew the ire of Ravi Jadeja by calling him a “bits and pieces” player. The all-rounder lambasted such "verbal diarrhea" and then on Saturday managed to take a wicket while Manjrekar was commentating. Touché.
Still i have played twice the number of matches you have played and i m still playing. Learn to respect ppl who have achieved.i have heard enough of your verbal diarrhoea.@sanjaymanjrekar
— Ravindrasinh jadeja (@imjadeja) July 3, 2019
The ex-Indian star caused another storm a while back when he suggested stump mics should be banned after they picked up instances of homophobia and racism from Shannon Gabriel and Sarfaraz Ahmed respectively. This would probably mean the 24/7 surveillance of Big Boss wouldn't be entirely to his liking, but Manjerekar could always ask to have his own microphone switched off. Fans of Ganguly and Jadeja certainly wouldn't object.
Wood fingertips the balance
It might be hard to find two more sensible cricketers than Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson. At least until they have to take a quick single together, when they can quickly go from level-headed to headless. Individually they are not particularly bad runners, but when both are out in the middle the result can be similar to watching a lion chase a wildebeest: Captivating, but with often horrific consequences.
Even when both have done nothing wrong, the cricketing gods seem to have it in for them. On Wednesday, at Chester-le-Street, New Zealand were steadily chasing England’s 305 when Taylor hit a straight drive off Mark Wood. The pacer got a fingertip, painfully, on the ball and it struck the stumps leaving Williamson stranded, a fact confirmed by the third umpire. A couple of hundred miles further south, Ravi Ashwin was making his debut for Nottinghamshire in the County Championship. The Mankad master will have been delighted to see his mere presence in England was still causing chaos for non-strikers.
Wood jokingly spoke earlier on in the tournament about how he “hates” Jofra Archer because his teammate can generate such incredible pace with an action smoother than an Avishka Fernando backfoot drive. Wood bemoaned the fact that to get near Archer’s speed he has to push his battered body to the max every time he bowls. If ever there is a statue built of Durham’s local hero it should be of him shaking his finger in a mixture of delight and agony after Williamson had been given out. It would perfectly encapsulate the ratio of pain to success his career has involved.
Pakistan caught in the net
England's win against the Kiwis meant Pakistan would only be allowed into the World Cup semi-finals if they could come up with a definitive value for Pi. Well, not quite, but they faced a mathematical calculation of similar impossibility. On Saturday against Bangladesh, if they scored 350, they had to win by 311 runs; if they scored 400, they had to win by 316; if they scored 450, they had to win by 321. If Mortaza won the toss and chose to bat, Pakistan were out.
Sarfaraz called correctly and elected to bat, which came as no surprise to anyone but possibly as a slight disappointment to Nasser Hussain. The Pakistan captain choosing to bowl would have ended the years of ridicule endured by the England skipper for making the worst call at the toss ever - inserting Australia in the Brisbane Ashes Test of 2002/3.
Pakistan then set about the task of getting as many as possible by batting like they would be deducted penalty runs any time they hit the ball off the square. Nevertheless, and inevitably with the help of Babar Azam, they reached 315-9 but this meant Bangladesh only needed to score seven runs to knock them out of the tournament. This they achieved despite the best efforts of 19-year-old Shaheen Afridi who became, probably, the youngest Afridi to take a five-wicket haul at the World Cup. His namesake Shahid has yet to confirm how old he was when he took 5 for 16 in a group match against Kenya in 2011.
So Pakistan were out, leading to endless debate about whether to separate teams which finish level on points by net run rate, head-to-head record, the most jaunty anthem or most stylish away kit (advantage Bangladesh if it were the latter). The argument even revived the tempestuous bromance between Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Smith when the former South Africa skipper tweeted that he hated net run rate. The comment brought a suitably mathematical and typically feisty response from Pietersen: "What's your solution then, Einstein?".
What’s your solution then, Einstein?
— Kevin Pietersen (@KP24) July 5, 2019
Australia turn on themselves
Clearly fed up with their easy passage to the semi-finals, Australia this week decided to make things more of a challenge by maiming each other. On Thursday, both Glenn Maxwell and Shaun Marsh were crocked in the nets by short balls from Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins respectively. The left-handed batsman had his wrist broken and his tournament ended.
Marsh has sadly seen more terrible injuries than Robert Capa. He is one of the most unfortunate players fitness-wise in cricket, once missing a match because he had incurred tight hamstrings on the flight to it. His and Maxwell’s unfortunate blows were still, though, further evidence that netting is an increasing hazard to the game. Andre Russell, perhaps the only player to have more difficulty getting medical insurance than Marsh, was injured in them during the IPL. An unfortunate net bowler also had to be taken away on a stretcher after being clonked by a drive from David Warner earlier this World Cup.
Are nets even necessary anyway? Well, perhaps not according to Angelo Mathews. At the Riverside on Monday, the West Indies were closing in on an unlikely dead rubber victory when the Sri Lanka stalwart asked to be thrown the ball in the 48th over. With his first delivery, he removed centurion Nicholas Pooran and the game was all but in the bag. After the match, he revealed he hadn't bowled a single ball for eight months, even in the nets. Another player for Mark Wood to admire through gritted teeth.
Tahir retiring but never shy
Streakers induce a range of responses among cricketers. Andrew Symonds himself famously took a no-nonsense approach by body-checking a nude intruder at The Gabba during a 2008 ODI. Greg Chappell once beat a naked pitch invader on the posterior with his bat, treatment some Indian players during his subsequent controversial reign as their coach may have considered quite lenient.
Joe Root’s approach on Wednesday was to giggle like a schoolboy when, during that England and New Zealand clash in Durham, an unclothed gentleman got on the field. He giggled, even more, when the gentleman wriggled out of the stewards' grasp in a spectacular bid for freedom.
The incident confirmed that while English pitches are better when uncovered, most Englishmen are not. It also suggested the flatfooted Durham ground staff need to employ someone used to cover large swathes of the outfield at high speed. Luckily, the perfect candidate has just become available following the ODI retirement of Imran Tahir.
AND HE'S OFF!
Imran Tahir, in his final ODI game, gets the wicket of Finch in the first ball of his second over! Australia 5/1.
— Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) July 6, 2019
On Saturday, the South African spinner played his last one-day game for his country and celebrated by, well, celebrating in his trademark fashion, galumphing off around Manchester after nabbing Aaron Finch in his second over. Tahir’s plane'n'punch celebrations can seem a bit vain and showy at times. They can often, when performed for junk wickets or in situations where his team are destined to lose, appear overblown and self-serving. But that is probably to believe they are preplanned in the manner of, for example, Sheldon Cottrell’s salute or even Afridi’s starman pose. Tahir’s lunatic sprints seem merely an instinctive outpouring of emotion. He can be accused of lacking circumspection or self-awareness but not of premeditation and, as Michael Slater noted amid his frenetic giddiness at the exciting finish to South Africa's eventual win, such celebrations have only come to prominence due to the leg-spinner's superb white-ball potency. ODI cricket might well be better off without streakers, but it will certainly be a little bit poorer without Tahir’s naked joy.