T20 franchise cricket is very young, with tactics and team building strategy still evolving. Within these leagues, the wide-ranging decisions when it has come to composing squads is one of their most fascinating elements. In the IPL this year the Royal Challengers Bangalore met the Sunrisers Hyderabad in the final. RCB’s way of thinking about T20 was clear throughout the season, batting power was seen as the key to victory. The top three of Gayle, Kohli and de Villiers demonstrates this. The Sunrisers took an alternative approach, Dave Warner was recruited as the star power with the bat but investment in allrounders Moises Henriques and Ben Cutting also proved shrewd, while the biggest success was the Bangladeshi wunderkind Mustafizur Rahman who proved to be the outstanding bowler throughout the whole tournament. The Sunrisers won the final, RCB’s two overseas bowlers, Shane Watson and Chris Jordan, where not massively effective and a score of 208 proved too much to chase despite Gayle and Kohli providing a blistering start.
With this range of tactics and with nobody quite sure what the best route to success is, it is interesting to look at those sides who have under performed to try and work out what went wrong. Those teams who seem to perennially fail also provide the greatest draw to those cricket watchers who are naturally disposed to support for the underdog and have sympathy or take pity in a team’s haplessness. In India the Kings XI Punjab have taken up this role and in Australia it is probably the Brisbane Heat. Both the Heat and the Kings XI have manged to have one outstanding season surrounded by some dismal performances. In 2014, with the IPL being played in the UAE the Kings XI clicked for the only time in their short history. With the batting on David Miller, George Bailey, Virender Sehwag, Wriddhiman Saha and Glenn Maxwell they powered their way into the final. Maxwell was the key, he hit four fifties and finished with 552 runs at strike rate of 187. This year also saw young Indian players impress with the ball for Punjab. Axar Patel, Rishi Dhawan and Sandeep Sharma were all effective, providing excellent foil for the pace of Mitchell Johnson. This formula has never been repeated for Punjab. The local bowlers could not repeat their performances from this season, Mitchell Johnson got older and Maxwell and Miller have never been able to provide consistency.
Pakistan’s domestic first class competition has today come to an end following the final between Habib Bank and Water and Power Development Authority in Karachi. WAPDA’s overall victory, thanks to their first innings lead, concludes what has been a dominant season for the club, suffering just one loss. The year’s competition has provided a range of star performers, from veterans of the Pakistan Test side, too youngsters, hoping to make a case for selection over the winter. What follows is not a definitive team of the season, there were some excellent players who do not make the cut. Those who have been chosen have been selected based on their roles as match winners over the course of the season. The side is:
- Salman Butt
- Usman Salahuddin
- Asif Zakir
- Kamran Akmal (wk)
- Imran Farhat
- Iftikhar Ahmed
- Khalid Usman
- Mohammad Abbas
- Tabish Khan
- Mir Hamza
Imam-ul-Haq, Habib Bank Limited, 11 mat, 20 inns, 848 runs, 49.88 Ave, 3 100s.
Imam-ul-Haq, nephew of Inzamam, has had a superb season opening the batting for Habib Bank. The left hander turned 21 during the tournament and such a strong season at such a young age surely bodes well for his hopes of following his uncle into the Test arena. Imam first appeared on the international stage at the U19 world cup in 2014 and he has clearly pushed on from his success at that tournament. Immediately recognisable at the crease thanks to his spectacles, Imam has been impressively consistent for an opener, beginning the season with three scores of over 40 in his first four innings. Following a slight dip in form, Imam really began to make his mark from the Super Eight stage in mid-November. The first match of the Super Eight round saw Imam make his maiden First Class century against National Bank which he followed up in the next game against Khan Research Labs with a second innings 86, top scoring in another victory. A second hundred followed against United Bank although this match was tragically cut short due to the terrible hotel fire which left 11 dead and dozens more injured (including 2 United Bank players). Imam stared in the final and, despite losing out in the end, his 200* and opening partnership of 303 with Fakhar Zaman changed the game and put Habib Bank in the driving seat after they had conceded a first innings lead. Overall, Imam’s heroics throughout the Super Eight stage and in the final give him a deserved place in the team o the season. In the 2014 U19 world cup he opened alongside Sami Aslam, how long before they will partner up again, this time at Test level?
New Zealand’s rise in stature as a one day side can be roughly traced back to the appointment of Mike Hesson as coach in July 2012 and Bruce Edgar as chief selector in 2013. One of Hesson’s initial moves was to make Brendon McCullum captain of New Zealand and, while he undoubtedly mishandled the dismissal of Ross Taylor at the time, this decision was the beginning of the country becoming a white ball force. In the next few years New Zealand would find themselves winning series’ in South Africa, England and the UAE against Pakistan, as well as going six series unbeaten at home including two wins against Australia. But the most incredible achievement was reaching the World Cup final in 2015.
Fast forward to December 2016 and, with Edgar and McCullum gone, New Zealand find themselves on the receiving end of two poor displays in India and Australia. Hesson, Gavin Larsen (who replaced Edgar following his decision to stand down following the World Cup) and newly appointed captain Kane Williamson are already finding themselves under pressure. On the face of it the criticism does feel faintly ridiculous, it was only February this year that New Zealand beat Australia in a three-match series at home. But that was MuCullum’s farewell and miserable performances since, which have seen the side collapse from 63-3 to 79 all out in Vizag and be comfortably whitewashed by Australia, does create an understandable feeling of concern surrounding the team’s direction. There is much work to be done on the New Zealand one day team looking ahead to the Champions Trophy next year. However, how far can these results be purely put down to Williamson, Hesson and Larsen? The amount of change over the last 12 months meant this situation was largely inevitable. Larsen has not been given the chance to select a stable side and Williamson has had the unenviable task of captaining a team in Australia with only one batsman, apart from himself, that he could rely on in Martin Guptill.
For England’s tours to Bangladesh and India this winter it has been clear that there has been a desire to get three spinners in the team. Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Gareth Batty and Zafar Ansari were included in the initial touring squads. For the first Test against Bangladesh in Chittagong Ali, Rashid and Batty (making his first Test appearance since 2005) were selected. All three spinners bowled a similar number of overs with none of the three standing out in terms of wickets taken or economy rates and, if anything, they were all a little expensive. For the second Test England gave a debut to Ansari in the place of his Surrey captain Batty. Tamim Iqbal took a liking to the debutant, with his six first innings overs going for 36. Rashid was also disappointing in the first innings going for 4.40 an over. In the end Captain Alastair Cook could only rely on Ali to keep the runs down, he bowled 19.5 overs (more than Rashid and Ansari put together) and took 5-57. Cook’s inability to trust Rashid could be seen in the second innings with Ali opening the bowling, Ansari being introduced in the sixth over, and alleged front line spinner Rashid did not appear until over number 20. Rashid only bowled a short spell. He was not seen again until the 54th over where he cleaned up Bangladesh with four wickets in seven overs. Ali and Ansari both bowled 19 overs whereas Rashid only bowled 11.5.
Ansari was again selected for the first Test against India at Rajkot. His position in the side seemed unclear as he could not keep the runs down to the same extent as Ali and had nowhere near the wicket taking ability of Rashid. In the second innings at Rajkot Ansari was targeted and went for over five an over, meaning his place as a bowler did not seem justified. This scenario repeated itself at Visakhapatnam with Cook not even giving Ansari an over in the second innings. From this point, it was clear that he would not make another appearance on the tour. Batty was included for Mohali and bizarrely bowled more overs than Ali, though neither were particularly effective. With Ansari flying home to England and Batty unlikely to feature again it is clear that England need to rethink their spinning policy. In hindsight, it may be viewed as a mistake to have attempted to put three spinners in the side and England should probably go into the 4th and 5th Tests with five bowlers. Another problem that was more apparent at the time was England’s initial selection of spinners before Bangladesh. For most who keep up with the County Championship, the inclusion of Surrey’s Ansari and Batty seemed deeply odd and the recent call up of Liam Dawson has exacerbated this feeling that England’s selectors are looking for the wrong type of player to win Test matches.
ICC CEO Dave Richardson has been heading all over the cricketing world to present his large mace to the alleged number one team. The frequency of his presentations, recently to Misbah-ul-Haq, Steve Smith and Virat Kohli has made a mockery of the ICC’s Test Rankings as it is clear that no team can currently claim to hold the top spot. It is quite unusual for there to be such an equality between so many sides but this is what we are seeing at this current time. There are no great teams that can compare to the Australia side of a decade ago or Graeme Smith’s South Africa in its pomp, but this equality can produce a superb series, as was seen by England and Pakistan in the summer of 2016.
Of the ten Test nations, five find themselves within 13 rating points of each other (the relative value of these rating points is pointlessly complicated and it is not worthwhile attempting to understand how they work. It should just be known that between the top five teams it is incredibly close). At the time of writing, before the 4th Test between India and England, the rankings read as follows:
India – 115.
England – 105.
Australia – 105.
Pakistan – 102.
South Africa – 102.
So where does the balance of power move from here? It is perhaps ominous that the current top three are the so called ‘big three’ that control the revenue of the sport and over the next few years it would be difficult to bet against India becoming, for the first time, the dominant force in Test cricket.
Haseeb Hameed has shown in three Tests a level that not many could have realistically expected from a 19 year old in his first series. He joins a long list of players who have made their debut in India and Keaton Jennings will be hoping to do the same in Mumbai on the 8th of December. Since India’s rise in status as a Test team in the 1970s, playing in the subcontinent has become one of the most unique challenges for batsmen from around the world. Batting in India is to enter the domain of some of the game’s greatest spinners from Bishan Bedi and Bhagwath Chandrasekhar to Anil Kumble and Ravi Ashwin. This spin challenge is made tougher by the weather and atmosphere, on and off the field, which is alien to most players who arrive from England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Caribbean. Touring India is therefore tough for even the most experienced batsmen, which means that those who are chosen to debut in the country are often exceptional talents who go on to have stellar Test careers.
In the 1960s India were not the same beast as they are now. However, when the West Indies toured in the winter of 1966 the team they faced did include the spinners Venkataraghavan and Chandrasekhar who would continue to be an important part of the excellent 70s side. It was in this tour that a 23 year old Clive Lloyd made his Test debut, coming into the side for Seymour Nurse who had a finger injury. The West Indies won the three match series 2-0 with Lloyd making a significant impact on the first Test in Mumbai (then Bombay). The West Indies gained a healthy first innings lead of 125 in no small part down to Lloyd’s 82. However, it was in the second innings that Lloyd made the greatest impression, as his team faced a tricky chase of 192 on a spinning pitch, his score of 78* and unbeaten stand of 102 with Garry Sobers eased West Indies to victory after wickets from Chandrasekhar left them feeling nervous on 90-4. Lloyd’s superb match winning debut was elegantly summed up in Wisden;
“The performance of this bespectacled left-hander, who hit the ball with great power off the back foot, and the all-round brilliance of Sobers and Holford were the highlights of West Indies’ victory against defiant opposition.”
This performance was enough to secure his place when Seymour came back into the side for the second Test at Eden Gardens where a riot on New Year’s Day could not interrupt the West Indies wining by an innings and 45 runs, largely inspired by the bowling of Lance Gibbs and Garry Sobers, with Lloyd scoring just 5.
The fixtures for Durham’s first Division 2 campaign since 2005 made miserable reading for the county’s supporters. Trips to Derbyshire and Leicestershire were the last thing on the mind of Durham’s players following their magnificent, hard fought win against Surrey at the Riverside which secured survival. Following the ECB’s draconian sanctions which have seen the club relegated, Durham now face a steep task to secure promotion as they begin the new season on -48 points.
However, all is not lost in the North East. Durham have the stand out squad in the second Division with opening bowlers Chris Rushworth and Graham Onions being arguably the best in the country. Further experience is brought by captain and club legend Paul Collingwood who extended his contract for another year to help Durham cope with the loss of star batsmen Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick. With these stalwarts alongside some incredibly promising young players – such as Keaton Jennings, Jack Burnham, Paul and Josh Coughlin, Adam Hickey, Brydon Carse and Barry McCarthy – Durham will go into every Championship game this season as favourites and expecting victory.