Mohammad Amir, much like sunshine, always induces a sense of wonder when he intermittently appears in England. Obviously, the wonder has sometimes morphed into angry incredulity, but whatever he does on those shores is invariably captivating.
After breaking his team in 2010, the left-armer has spent most of this week carrying it. Firstly by pegging back Australia, with the help of Australia’s concrete-batted middle order, in Taunton on Tuesday. Then in a drizzly yet crushing defeat to India in Manchester on Sunday, he almost single-handedly kept Pakistan in the game. Well, at least theoretically. Scrambling minds with his scrambled seam, he finished with a stand-up 3-47 off his ten as India laid siege to the other quicks. It is now hard to believe the left-armer’s place in the team for this tournament was in doubt, albeit for the not inconsiderable reason he has bowled like a drain for large parts of the last couple of years.
For all his brilliance, however, it seems impossible for Amir to avoid foot-based brushes with the authorities on his English jaunts. In his very first spell, he was warned twice for running on the wicket in his follow-through. Except it wasn’t really his follow-through. That had long finished, yet Amir just kept languidly walking down the middle of the strip, an unusual error for a man so adept at planting his feet exactly where he wants. On each occasion, he offered umpire Brice Oxenford that half-smirk, half-puppy look seen so often down the years. Fortunately for both Amir and the official, no further warning - which would have seen the bowler removed from the attack - was forthcoming. With such vociferous green and gold support in the ground, Oxenford may well have needed his famous arm shield to get safely off the field.
Hold the Mikey (update)
After his fervent yet wholly justified criticism of the umpiring in the West Indies' match against Australia the week before, Michael Holding opened his inbox on Monday to find himself on the end of the sort of email sent out to Chinese citizens to remind them of their civic duty. Admonishing someone employed to give expert opinion for giving expert opinion, the ICC’s host broadcaster Sunset & Vine sent Holding a note highlighting “the importance of maintaining the highest standards and uphold the game’s best values and spirit while covering the tournament” and stating that a commentator’s “duty is not to judge or highlight mistakes”.
It was no surprise to learn Holding did not write back thanking his employers for their feedback and vowing in future to praise Ruchira Palliyaguruge's cheeky smile in between overs. Instead, he accused the body of "censorship" and said umpires were increasingly being "compromised". The Times reported the ICC, perhaps out of the sheer and understandable terror of seeing Michael Holding angry, have now apologised.
This is not the first time something like this has happened. Harsha Bhogle, unlikely to be considered a ferocious attack dog by many, was for a time disappeared from commentating, coincidentally or suspiciously shortly after making a mild criticism of MS Dhoni. On his return, his commentary has been as amicably encyclopedic as ever, but his tweets have been so gentle and uncritical they have spawned a parody account.
The Holding furore was similarly comic. If the ICC just want someone to heap one-eyed praise on those in authority, perhaps President Trump’s newly departed spokeswoman Sarah Sanders could slip into the World Cup commentary box. Make umpires great again.
Finch parrots Border
Australia look a bit unbalanced with the ball (and admittedly bat) this tournament but this hasn’t stopped them conquering all before them except India. Pakistan were nevertheless going along fairly well in their chase in that match in the West Country. To compound matters, captain Aaron Finch was forced by his lack of bowling options to take drastic measures and bring himself on. Appropriately enough for someone of his surname, the skipper gave his sixth delivery considerable flight. So much so, in fact, it was actually a filthy full toss. Hafeez seized upon it, but only managed to whack it straight down square leg’s throat.
An Australian captain surprisingly bringing themselves on? Bowling left-arm orthodox? Taking a crucial wicket in a World Cup match to a terrible shot? The incident must have brought Mike Gatting out in a cold sweat. The England captain was guiding his side to victory in the 1987 final before Allan Border threw himself the ball and lobbed one up outside off stump. Gatting went down on his not inconsiderable haunches and played a reverse sweep, but struck the ball onto his shoulder and into the surprised hands of keeper Greg Dwyer. In terms of inappropriate funkiness, it was up there with playing James Brown at a funeral. Finch clearly knows his World Cup history.
Dre Russ busted
The four horsemen of the apocalypse (2019 ODI edition) pace attack that the West Indies unveiled earlier on in the tournament has looked a little less deathly in recent matches. Andre Russell last week against England, though, showed they are still capable of dishing out a light sprinkling of equine doom. The hosts cruised to an eight-wicket win in Southampton, easily chasing down their opponent's far from titanic 212, but not before Jonny Bairstow had been dealt an unpleasant blow by the KKR all-rounder. Somehow, though, it was not Bairstow who had to leave the field but the bowler himself. Russell, putting in the sort of effort other cricketers do to get to a doping test, strained to dig in a short one and took a tumble in his delivery stride and had to be helped off. It was a rare case of a bouncer inflicting wounds on a bowler, unless you count the emotional ones suffered by Stuart Broad during his ill-fated “enforcer” role a few years back.
This was yet another injury for Russell, already suffering from a knee issue, and another shoulder problem to endure after being hit by a net bowler during this year’s IPL. He will doubtless be back soon enough, however. This week it was revealed that by 2040 an incredible 35 percent of meat will be grown in huge vat-style laboratories, but it seems the technology is already being used by the West Indies physios. So often does Russell limp off the field before miraculously returning the next match, the only plausible explanation is that they clone bits of him in jam jars to reattach as needed.
Afghanistan stake their claim
Afghanistan may have capitulated against South Africa on Saturday, but last week they did more than enough to prove they belong in the elite tier of world cricket. The game isn’t just a results business. If you want to sit at the top table then you also need to show, like all full members at one time or another, evidence of infighting, erratic decisions from team officials and disgruntled players leaving a major tournament. The sending home of Mohammad Shahzad, their iconic star batsman and keeper, fulfilled a large number of these criteria.
Even before the tournament there were signs things were not all rosy when Asghar Afghan was stripped of the captaincy, much the apparent dismay of his teammates. Shahzad himself was sent home on fitness grounds despite claiming in a tearful interview on his return to Afghanistan that he was fully fit. Here the term “fully fit” must be used with a little bit of licence given the keeper-batsmen’s well-padded frame, but he insists his doctor had given him the all clear to play. It was an unsavoury end to the tournament for a player so pivotal to his side's qualification and has been a totem of his nation's astonishing cricketing rise. So often these spats blight top international teams. Welcome to the big league, Afghanistan.
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