England caught on the long hop
England arrived in Nottingham on Monday on a particularly jaunty roll. After swatting South Africa aside in their first match, they were now about to face a team they had recently beaten 4-0 and who had been blown away against the West Indies three days earlier.
Unfortunately for England that side was Pakistan, who proceeded to adhere to and perpetuate every cliche about their stormy relationship with predictability. After Mohammad Hafeez led them to a whopping 348, they then aped South Africa's successful tactic of starting with a leg-spinner against Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow. Here Shadab Khan opened the bowling and secured a classic new ball wicket. That is to say he pinned Jason Roy back with a couple of short deliveries (admittedly Roy hit these for four), then trapped the England opener with a fuller one.
England rebuilt but then Hafeez, perhaps buoyed by the news his arch-nemesis Dale Steyn was sadly heading home injured, popped up to remove Eoin Morgan. His fellow all-rounder Shoaib Malik dismissed Ben Stokes shortly after. It was surprising, to perhaps everyone with the possible exception of Roston Chase, to see the English batting juggernaut halted by relatively gentle off spin but the double strike was crucial to Pakistan's eventual close win.
The hosts' misery was compounded when Roy was fined for swearing audibly after dropping a dolly in what was a buttery-digited display in the field from Eoin Morgan's side. The punishment was surely a little harsh for what was an instinctive reaction. Not least because Pakistan had just shown the elite batting automatons of England were, after all, only human.
Sri Lanka slide away
It was very much the battle of the pessimistic versus the patronised on Tuesday when a deflated Sri Lanka took on plucky Afghanistan at a freezing Cardiff. The crowd, kitted out in as many layers as they could muster, clung together on a dank, rain-delayed day as the English summer got into full swing.
Conditions were thus handy for bowlers, although commentator Pommie Mbangwa raised a few eyebrows when he suggested Afghanistan's opening pair, chasing Sri Lanka's 201, would just be "looking to survive the new ball". As Afghanistan's opening pair were the marauding Mohammad Shahzad and Hazratullah Zazai this was akin to suggesting Hannibal Lector might order a light salad at a restaurant specialising in liver.
The real fun had barely got started, though, as Sri Lanka proceeded to produce an instance of fielding that, by lacking poise, skill and athleticism, was essentially the inverse of Sheldon Cottrell's catch/ throw-up/recatch brilliance against Australia. A straight drive from Dawlat Zadran first evaded the bowler, then the stumps, then a crumpled mid on, then a confused mid off before finally being arrested by a boundary marker. It was a strangely calming sensation watching this steady white orb advance unencumbered on its merry way, a scene reminiscent of one of those precision domino displays that often pop up on social media. Steve Rixon, Sri Lanka's fielding coach, may have found it a rather less relaxing moment.
Kohli's regal entrance
India eventually took their bow on Wednesday, seven days into the World Cup. The side were granted an extended break by the ICC to recover from the excesses of the IPL, despite the tournament effectively being over for Virat Kohli and the other RCB players a couple of months ago.
— ICC (@ICC) June 5, 2019
India secured a comfortable win but it was the pre-match endorsements that grabbed the headlines. After allegations of favoritism in allowing that 15-day post-IPL break, the ICC did little to quash the idea they were in India's corner by tweeting a Caravaggio-style mock-up of the Kohli as a king upon a throne. It had some nice touches, such as the unbranded bat and snazzy cavalier-style boots, and if Kohli ever stops making rap-based skin cream commercials he has a promising career ahead of him modelling ermine robes. The picture, nevertheless, bore such an unfortunate stylistic similarity to Shane Warne's famous celebrity mural that you half expected to see Jack Nicholson hiding behind the velour curtains wielding a hot dog. We must wait and see if King Kohli still wears the crown come 14th July.
The commentator's Holding, the umpires silly
For all the honeycomb inflection of his voice, Michael Holding can increasingly sound a little jarring as he rails against the horrors of modern life and cricket. On Thursday, during the West Indies' slow capitulation to Australia at Trent Bridge, the bowling legend revelled in calling T20 "that other stuff I don't watch". Given ODIs have been so influenced by trends and strategies and even players developed in the shortest form, it seemed an odd admission for a commentator to make. Holding, though, displayed a more justified anger at the standard of umpiring throughout the match.
Although Kieran Pollard's claims on Twitter of a conspiracy against the West Indies seemed a bit fanciful, when captain Jason Holder successfully reviewed two ropey decisions made by Chris Gaffeney it was a certainly a boon for believers in nominative determinism. "I am sorry but the umpiring in this game has been atrocious," said Mikey before moving back to more familiar in-my-day territory of suggesting current officials were too lenient on excessive appealing. Never has honey been so sour.
All is not forgiven
You loved your partner to bits but then they started going away on business rather frequently, sometimes even on your anniversary. You didn't care. You still loved them whatever. They could do what they liked as long as you were still together. Then last year they just walked out completely. You suffered, you cried but you survived and found someone else and eventually decided to walk down the aisle. Then the night before your wedding day who should turn up on your doorstep begging to be taken back but the very same ex. What to do?
#CSAnews CSA National Selection Panel Convenor, Linda Zondi, addresses the media reports regarding AB de Villiers https://t.co/d1m8EGCkYS pic.twitter.com/YekcK7RliL — Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) June 6, 2019
All that’s important is that we should all focus on supporting the team at the World Cup. There is a long way to go and I believe the boys can still go all the way #ProteaFire
— AB de Villiers (@ABdeVilliers17) June 6, 2019
This week it was reported South African coach Otis Gibson had been put in a similar predicament and the devilish, indecisive rogue in question was AB de Villiers. The legendary slayer of bowlers' hearts officially retired from international cricket last year, but then according to ESPNCricinfo, asked to be picked for the World Cup. This might not sound so outrageous given the Proteas' middle order looks flakier than a dandruff convention, but de Villiers apparently chose to make his plea the day before the squad was announced.
Some fans thought Gibson and co should have torn AB's hand off, but the majority seemed to feel the offer from the genius batsman was indicative of a sense of entitlement to which even the great de Villiers is not entitled. Rumours the Proteas team song is now "I will survive" by Gloria Gaynor have not been confirmed.
Roy tramples all before him
On Saturday, a resurgent Jason Roy adapted his game to stifle Bangladesh's early spin assault and smash a stunning 153, but his problems with authority regrettably continued. Watching the fielder as he ran through to complete his century the batsman accidentally barged into umpire Joel Wilson, sending him tumbling to the turf. As Wilson lay prostrate like an ICC Materazzi, Roy stood over him looking distraught at his inadvertent assault, although he was doubtless relieved man mountain Marais Erasmus wasn't the one officiating. Michael Holding may well have wished it was Chris Gaffeney.
The power of glove
The ICC did stand in opposition to India this week when MS Dhoni was told he couldn't wear his green Indian army-branded keeping gloves. Like Moeen Ali's "Free Palestine" wristbands a few years ago, the mits were deemed a political gesture and were thus prohibited. The ICC received support for their decision, including from Sunil Gavaskar, but the BCCI still protested against it with many Indian fans backing them. Stumping king Dhoni could perhaps just have argued his hands are two quick for anyone to see anyway, but whatever case India put the ICC were having none of it.
So India's clash against Australia on Sunday became the scene for the most eagerly awaited glove-based decision since the OJ Simpson trial. Would or wouldn't Dhoni wear them? In the event India's champion stalwart, like many a fine soldier, decided discretion was the best part of valour and walked out wearing a pair without the parachute regiment's 'Balidan' insignia. The banned gloves, in contrast to the tournament's relentlessly adherent zing bails, were off.