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Encourage, don’t deride lesser teams

Despite some bleatings from the Australian press about the rights of the lesser nations to play in the World Cup, I feel the ICC have got it about right. Certain writers in Australia have suggested that the competition has become blighted by meaningless matches and suggesting that 14 teams are too many and six weeks too long.

What rubbish! Yes, there will be one-sided matches, but these are not restricted to minor countries as the India–Australia match showed. One of the minnows, Canada have defeated a Test playing nation, Bangladesh, and Namibia gave England one hell of a fight just a few days ago.

World Cups and indeed international cricket should never be an elitist game and I was of the opinion that this thinking had gone out many years ago. Obviously, in some people it hasn’t. Obviously, also the memory of some writers is very short for if it hadn’t been for the World Cup former minnows such as Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe would still be playing the ICC Trophy.

Sri Lanka, of course, have won a World Cup and are one of the most feared teams in one-day Internationals. Zimbabwe have done well from such a small player base and have executed a sterling and successful job taking cricket to the black community. Without international recognition they would have gone backwards and broke. To survive and prosper, cricket must grow and develop the game outside the traditional countries. It won’t happen if lesser countries are not assisted.

At this point some of the new teams are not up to the standards of the great cricket nations. But this doesn’t stop them loving, cherishing and enjoying the game just as much as the top team. In many cases they probably love the game more for to compete in a game, which in some cases is almost foreign and unknown in their country, takes great passion and perseverance.

The “minnows”, as some writers are now calling them, (God, I hate that expression) don’t get asked to play in the World Cup. They win the right by performances on the field. As such they deserve respect and encouragement, not derision.

Australia at one time had a very narrow view on elevating teams to the “exclusive” Test club. In my long Test career, I didn’t play a Test against New Zealand. Other countries had been competing for over 20 or 30 years against New Zealand. Why' Mainly because we played one Test against them in Wellington in 1946, caught them on a wet wicket, and bowled them out twice, for less than a hundred each innings, after Australia had compiled a good score on a dry track.

How arrogant that we could judge and ignore them for nearly 30 years based on such scant evidence. Perhaps we were a little jealous of their performance in other sports. Based on a population, they are undoubtedly the top sporting nation in the world, but please don’t ever tell them I said this. Australia fortunately now realise we must give every assistance to the minor nations and this year are hosting a Test series against Bangladesh.

Appreciating that Bangladesh will not draw in the major cities and the normal cricket season is already over-crowded, Australia will play this series in our winter. Obviously you can’t play in the southern states, with the exception of Melbourne which has an indoor stadium. The game will be played in the tropical north in Queensland and the northern territory.

Cairns and Darwin both have cricket grounds more than suitable for Test matches. Innovative thinking such as this will open up a window of opportunity for Australia to fulfill their promise and responsibility to developing nations.

In a different way the extra teams and time taken for the preliminary rounds have added a new dimension, the weather. South Africa after defeats by the West Indies and New Zealand looked as though they were dead and buried to progress through to the Super Six stage.

Now, with rain costing the Windies a win against Bangladesh, South Africa are now in with a hope. They will remember in 1992 Pakistan after being bowled out for a very low score against England picked up the point they needed when rain washed out play to proceed to the crown. One-day cricket is a tough game with many twists and turns. A poor umpiring decision, a couple of rash strokes or losing the wrong toss can all lead to a surprise victory by the lesser team.

So far the batsmen have dominated the series and that should come as no surprise for the rules and pitch preparation are designed in favour of the batsmen. After a period of poor one-day pitches, Africa have come up with some beauties. They are flat, a little pacy and very consistent. They are ideal for strokes off either the back or front foot.

To succeed or even exert pressure on such pitches bowlers must have pin-point accuracy and clever variation of pace. Neither of these qualities have been evident so far from teams except Australia. It is almost as if the rest of the teams are working from the same plan. Give it a bit of a go early and after that try to bowl yorkers, the script seems to read.

Unfortunately, few bowlers seem capable of implementing the plans. Too much width seems to be the main problem and with this, of course, the poor old captain hasn’t got enough fielders to defend the whole field. The yorker is near impossible to bowl. If any ball pitches and goes under the bat in the block hole, the batsman has missed an opportunity to hit it on the full. The yorker is only possible if the batsman misjudges the flight of the ball. Of course all batsmen do and some bowlers seem to be able to achieve it more than others.

I always felt that bowlers with suspicious actions did it better than perfectly correct bowlers, for they could achieve more or less pace by just quickening or slowing the elbow at the point of delivery. This gives this style of bowler a great advantage because you pick up their variation much slower than other bowlers.

To my mind, far too many yorkers are being tried. It is a high risk delivery and give batsmen far too many opportunities to take it on the full or half volley. Like a slower delivery it should be used sparingly.

Bowlers win matches in Test or one-day cricket. At present only Australia are bowling in top form and as such will be the toughest to beat.


GAMEPLAN

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