Posts Tagged ‘cricket’

Mervyn Westfield has been jailed for his involvement in spot fixing in a Pro40 game in September 2009. Danish Kaneria has been named as the main ‘corrupter’ in the Essex dressing room.

It is sad that in the past few months we have had to see some very young cricketers to go jail for their involvement in spot fixing. Nonetheless, there is a strong message in the jail sentences that have been handed out.

What is most worrying, however, is the comments of Westfield’s lawyer. He claims that members of the Essex dressing room frequently ‘turned a blind eye’ to Kaneria’s approaches, and never reported them until 2010 under instructions from the Professional Cricketers’ Association.

The list of names who had been approached or had heard Kaneria talking openly about fixing is astonishing: Mark Pettini (Essex captain), Paul Grayson (Essex coach), James Foster (29 at time of Westfield’s spot fixing), David Masters (31 at the time), Varun Chopra (22) and Tony Palladino (26) who finally reported him.

The list above contains some very experienced players. Pettini and Grayson certainly should have talked to anybody of some importance about Kaneria’s comments. Pettini says he had not taken the claims seriously, but surely any any claims should be worth investigating? Certainly Foster and Masters should have had enough experience between them to know that it is important to warn authorities about any spot or match fixing comments.

There are some possible reasons why Pettini, Grayson, Foster and Masters all seem to have failed in their duty to make authorities aware of Kaneria’s comments.

Maybe in 2009 the ECB were failing to provide adequate information onto cricketers and clubs on dealing with corruption.

Alternatively, Kaneria, with over 1000 First Class wickets was too good for Essex to lose.

I hope it’s not the second option. It somehow implies that experienced and important players in a team are somehow above the rest. It implies they can somehow get away with anything as long as it is kept quiet and the police and cricketing authorities do not know about it. It suggests that even the senior players in a dressing room will pretend that spot fixing is not likely to occur within their team, when the player making the comments is important to their results.

Thankfully, Palladino did do the right thing in reporting Westfield, and it has opened the door to possible, deeper corruption involving Kaneria.

The question is, why did it take so long for anyone to speak up about fixing? If somebody had got there sooner, could something have been done about Kaneria (assuming his guilt) before he ever approached the young Westfield, who was only 21 at the time?

As it is, another young cricketer with great potential is going to prison. Questions though must surely linger over why players in the Essex dressing room failed to act.

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In December 2009, I was fortunate to visit the island of Antigua and visit the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, the Allan Stanford ground, Sticky Wicket, and the Antigua Recreation Ground – the ARG. I wrote an article that was published on cricinfo, but I was never able to post it alongside the photographs to demonstrate exactly what I saw. Here, for the first time, is my account with photographs of those three grounds. (When it was written, Allan Stanford had been exposed as a crook and was in jail and the England Test had been moved from the Viv Richards Stadium to the ARG after a poorly prepared pitch).

– – – –

7th January 2010

Unsurprisingly, it is a warm day in Antigua, and the West Indies’ cricket season is slowly beginning to build up. In the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, a structure that cost approximately $60 million to build, and held the shambolic ten-ball game between England and the West Indies last year, the Leeward Islands are playing a warm-up game. The groundsman at the Antigua Recreation Ground, Keith Fredericks, describes them as the “future of West Indies cricket” with a sense of pride in his voice. Watching a few of the shots played, the signs of potential are out clearly visible, though a near run-out suggests there are still problems in running between the wickets.

The Viv Richards Stadium, “the one so much money was poured into”, is nice, as far as large stadiums go. Cricketers will enjoy playing here in the future in front of what is hopefully a large crowd. However, the ground also strikes me as unfinished and soulless. The linoleum flooring is not cut properly at the top of the stairs in the stand, and bits overhang the edge. Inside, only a quarter of the framed photos are hanging above the captions, which are almost too small to read properly. Those that do hang are hanging askew and are carelessly positioned. On the wall, a wire for the television is sticking out. Pride, clearly, was not put into the finishing touches.

The photos of West Indies heroes hang askew

One of the first games of the season

Maybe, and hopefully, once this stadium starts hosting matches again, after a year-long hiatus, the income will help create some atmosphere into this characterless ground. For the cricketers that come here, inspiration of the achievements of former players is severely lacking. As I look around, I’m glad for the youth of the Caribbean cricket injecting some energy with their exuberant appeals and desperate dives at the boundary edge. There is some hope for this ground yet.

Walking into the Sticky Wicket, the Allen Stanford answer to cricket stadiums, there is a clear difference between the sharp, empty white walls of the Viv Richards ground and the cream and pale green walls of this pavilion and restaurant. The ceiling is red, reflecting the West Indies colours, a very patriotic symbol. Why does the Viv Richards ground have yellow and blue seats? The walls at the Sticky Wicket are littered with photos of West Indies greats. Photographs of achievement, pride and success. West Indies success. Caribbean success, and the feelings of national patriotism that goes along with it. These photos are lined up perfectly with the ceiling, positioned with care. In the cupboards too, there is cricketing memorabilia. Some West Indies based; caps and shirts. Other bits are clearly bought with Stanford money; bats from previous World Cups, signed by all of the players from South Africa, Pakistan and New Zealand. The acquisition of these bats stinks of private auction and e-bay, for Stanford was never known to be a great cricket fan.

Nonetheless, the mementos are clearly lacking in the multi-million dollar stadium down the road. This building has created a bit of cricketing history, however distasteful that history is. In one of the cupboards are the programmes and posters of Stanford’s disastrous Twenty20 for $20 million tournament, in which England lost and the ECB lost all credibility. On the wall, there is still a photograph of Stanford surrounded by West Indies cricketing legends. The building feels as though it hasn’t changed since Stanford last stood here. The restaurant is running smoothly, with two waitresses and three chefs working in what appears a relatively busy lunchtime, considering it is a Tuesday afternoon. The vibrant flowers in the driveway are in full bloom, and the staff are clearly happy to be working here. Someone is still paying the staff, and the building hasn’t fallen to ruin.

The outfield is another story. It appears watered and mowed, but it is sandy, the grass is coarse and uncomfortable underfoot and ants’ nests litter the grass. This may as well not be a cricket pitch; you certainly would not want to dive for a ball here lest your foot get caught in the sand. Nowadays, the ground feels more like a resort with a big field of grass in the middle which you could perhaps play sport on if you felt like it. The large stumps by the door remind you that this ground’s main purpose was cricket, albeit cricket at its most un-cricket. The big screens stand still, as do the lights, which caused many fielders problems (they are lower than usual due to the airport runway nearby). The buildings are attractive, the staff attentive and the pavilion does feel like a building dedicated to cricket. What this place will be used for in the future is hard to say. It would make an attractive exclusive resort or hotel. It could be taken over by the WICB and used as a practice ground. Maybe local school teams could play here.

The magnificent entrance to the Sticky Wicket

Neatly lined-up tributes to a great West Indies past

The outfield, believe it or not.

The WICB would in no way encourage it to become a top ground like the Viv Richards Stadium, after all. I would rather it became a resort, as not far from the city stands the ARG – the Antigua Recreation Ground. This ground was used as a practice ground by both the West Indies and England teams in 2009 and hosted the moved Test match in that same series at very short notice. It is not the prettiest ground in the world, nor is it the most comfortable – a chair made the most concerning noise as I sat down – but of all three grounds, it feels like a proper, traditional cricket ground.

It is full of character, soul and history (Sir Vivian Richards scored the fastest ever Test century here, and this is the home of Brian Lara’s record-breaking 400 runs). This is also the home of Keith Fredericks, an incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated groundsman. It is the home of the legendary entertainers Gravy and Chickie, the DJs who have entertained countless crowds and maintained the party atmosphere. It is a favourite of many; Sir Ian Botham was delighted when the Test match was moved here, and Curtly Ambrose describes it as his favourite ground. Many ex-players are both secretly and publicly unhappy with the new Viv Richards stadium.

Standing on the square, on the spot where Brian Lara kissed the ground as he brought up his 400 runs, I can see why this ground is such a favourite. It may not have the biggest capacity (a temporary stand was rented from Miami to accommodate the Barmy Army one year), it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing (though the hills in the distance are spectacular) and it is clearly not the WICB’s favourite cricket ground on the island of Antigua, but it is easily my favourite of the three I have visited today. I’d go as far as to say it is among the best grounds I have visited in the world, and I would have loved to have seen a game here. It would be a shame to see this ground with its record-breaking achievements being dedicated purely to football, or even worse, left to fall to pieces.

For the sake of Keith Fredericks, if no one else, I desperately hope it can be saved for the use of international cricket once more. No one would benefit more than cricket fans around the world, who could come here and visit and say that they have seen the same spot where the best in West Indies cricket created history. Inside the pavilion is the honours board, filled with impressive names from the cricketing world. Can the WICB not honour this outstanding piece of cricketing legend by allowing it the right to games, both international and domestic? Or has the WICB truly put all its eggs in one basket with the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Ground? The answer appears clear; the ARG will probably be ignored in the near future. This is a very, very sad state of events indeed.

Some of the ARG records. Brian Lara's 400 is visible here.

Me walking along the ARG outfield. So green compared to the disregarded Sticky Wicket

The ARG - On par with Lord's as one of the best grounds I have visited.

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It’s that time again when the grounds for the much-fought over Ashes Tests are announced for 2013 and 2015. When they were announced in 2009, there was uproar when it was discovered that Cardiff would host the first Test of the series.

The Cardiff Test in 2009, I think, surprised a lot of people. It provided a very good pitch, it went to a fifth day, and the result was a good one for England, which kept the supporters happy. The Cardiff Test has a place in many people’s hearts as a crucial match in the Ashes in recent years. Since then, Cardiff hasn’t done so well. The Sri Lanka Test (though rain affected) struggled with small crowds, and, as a result, low income. Unable to pay the ECB, the West Indies Test for 2010 was moved to Lord’s. In 2015 however, Cardiff will again host an Ashes Test match.

The 2013 Ashes Test venues are: Lord’s, Trent Bridge, Old Trafford, Durham, The Oval.
The 2015 Ashes Test venues are: Lord’s, Trent Bridge, Cardiff, Edgbaston, The Oval.

Lord’s in 2013 and 2015
Lord’s is back to its rightful place of hosting the first match of any series. Although Cardiff did prove a lot of people wrong in 2009, I think both fans and players alike missed the atmosphere and the sense of history that Lord’s provides.

Trent Bridge in 2013 and 2015
Many spectators have regarded Trent Bridge as an exemplary ground. It is a great place to visit and full of atmosphere. It has, like Lord’s and The Oval, been awarded two Ashes Test matches. On one hand, it seems a good move. Having missed out in 2009, it may have been felt by the ECB that Trent Bridge deserved two Ashes Test matches to compensate. Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad are likely to be delighted that their home ground has successfully bid for the Ashes in two successive series. On the other hand, it is a kick in the mouth for grounds such as Edgbaston, and for the Rose Bowl who lost out in both bids.

Old Trafford in 2013
It was not surprising to see Old Trafford get a Test match again, after failing to in 2009. Its redevelopment has been impressive, and it keeps strong links wit the local community, something the ECB looked at closely during this bidding process. It was slightly surprising that Old Trafford were awarded a 2013 Test instead of 2015, which would have given more time for the redevelopment to be complete and for the new pitch to bed-in. 

Durham in 2013
It is great that a Test match has been awarded as high up the country as Durham, but there are some problems. First, it is a smaller capacity stadium. Second, there is an issue with the weather. Granted, it is unpredictable anywhere in the country, but if the Test in Durham is too close to September, it could be a genuine concern. 

The Oval in 2013 and 2015
The Oval was already guaranteed these Tests, despite it not being viewed as warmly by spectators. Nevertheless, The Oval is a good host and will put on as good a show as it did in 2005 and 2009, where it held two very spectacular Ashes Test matches.

Cardiff in 2015
Cardiff, along with Durham to some extent, I cannot understand. Based on the Sri Lanka Test, it is evident that there isn’t enough passion for cricket in the local area to draw large enough crowds for most England Test matches. The Ashes will be different, and it is highly likely it will be a full-capacity ground. Nevertheless, Cardiff should not be given Ashes Test matches purely on the basis that they do not have the support to host any other Test series. The ground is also a lot smaller than the others, and so getting the maximum number of spectators to view the Ashes will not be achieved here.

Edgbaston in 2015
I have seen many complaints among my Warwickshire friends because Edgbaston misses out in 2013. To be honest, I cannot really see their argument. Yes, Edgbaston has recently undergone a redevelopment and is a lovely ground to visit. But, it hosted an Ashes Test in both 2005 and 2009, which left both Trent Bridge and Old Trafford missing out. It seems only right that Trent Bridge and Old Trafford are given an opportunity to host a Test match in its place. Where I can see where Edgbaston-regulars are coming from though, is in the case of Durham being given a Test. It is a smaller capacity ground, and less developed. Nonetheless, I believe Edgbaston should be content with its one Test in 2015. It is, afterall, better than none.

Of the ones who missed out, Headingley decided not to bid due to its financial problems. The Rose Bowl will feel the most aggreived, having hosted a good (albeit wet) Test match against Sri Lanka and having already proved its ability with One Day Internationals and International Twenty20. What will the Rose Bowl have to do to grab a chance to host an Ashes Test match?

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As an England fan, I have naturally been thrilled by the results of the Test series against India this summer, and judging by the  T20 game and the two subsequent One Day games, there is going to be more to celebrate by the end of this series as well.

Nevertheless, my enjoyment of watching England play so well as been tainted somewhat by the minority of fanatical India fans who have treated a few sports broadcasters with the utmost contempt for even considering mentioning something negative about their side.

First, there was Jonathan Liew’s very funny article on Sachin Tendulkar. To most people, it was clearly tongue-in-cheek. But for some reason, a few Indian fans really didn’t understand Liew’s very obvious humour. Instead of assuming that a Telegraph journalist such as Liew must know that Tendulkar couldn’t possibly ever play in the Ashes, and that the only Test match has ever been played at the Rose Bowl was against Sri Lanka this year,  and so Tendulkar could never have scored a century there, a few Indian fans turned to vile, blatant racism to protect their hero.

One commenter, said this:

The most ill-researched blog I ever read in my life. Although I am neither a great fan of Tendulkar nor of Cricket, but the title attracted me to read this blog..The myths of Jonathan are busted as follows
1. There are more than 150 excellent cricket grounds in the world, since Tendulkar has 99 centureis only… how can he play on all the grounds. Only 44 in the tests…
2. Sachin has test centuries against all test playing nations, you fool. You cannot even count to the numbers which Sachin has scored playing…you idiot.
3. Ashes is played between Austalria and England, and (un)fortunately Sachin is not the citizen of these countries.
4. Sachin is 5 feet 5 inches….
5.  You might be the ‘broker’  that’s why you know all the details …you bookie…

The man in question carried an Indian flag in his picture alongside the comment, showing clearly where his loyalties lay.

During the fiasco, Liew posted numerous quotes on his Twitter page, reciting some terribly racist comments intermingled with some very funny replies to what should have been a harmless, satirical article. Indeed, the whole matter ended up on Indian television. Crazy.

This summer though, Michael Vaughan has also made the situation worse. I have followed him on Twitter, but I have found him, on occasion, to not be very sensible when dealing with abuse. Like many commentators this summer, he has recieved a lot of crazy comments from India fans, but instead of ignoring them, he has decided to re-tweet them and reply. Yesterday, he wrote this, only intensifying the situation:

Anyone got any good jokes?? And don’t say the Indian Cricket team.. Ha ha.

Michael Vaughan then posted a few replied, ranging from ‘f*** off’ to the England team’s nationalities being a joke. The problem with Vaughan’s supposedly ‘jokey’ initial tweet was that he’d already been baiting some Indian supporters, by posting their insults and suggesting the Indian team were using Vaseline on their bats to prevent nicks showing up on HotSpot (it was later shown that Vaseline made no difference to HotSpot technology).

Some Indian supporters have made life very difficult for commentators this summer, and some of England’s best loved writers and presenters have had to deal with a lot of abuse on Twitter. Jonathan Agnew, particularly, has had a torrid time and has spoken outwardly about how difficult it can be to deal with these horrible comments.

The most recent debacle involved a simple comment from Sky commentator Nasser Hussain. While commentating, he said:

“I would say the difference between the two sides is the fielding. England is all—round a good fielding side. I do believe that India has few…3 or 4 very good fielders and one or two donkeys in the field still.”

This off-the-cuff remark drew criticism from the BCCI, saying they would take the matter up with the ECB, and outrage from Indian fans. The abuse Nasser has recieved (it is a good job he is not on Twitter) has been horrifying. At the One Day match at the Oval today, one Indian fan held aloft this banner (taken from Twitter user sampsoncollins – I hope it’s okay!):

To my mind, there is no reason why Nasser should even contemplate resigning over what he has also said was a bit of ‘cricket slang’. It is harmless.

Even considering insulting the Indian team, especially Tendulkar, has been met with a bombardment of insults and abuse, especially over Twitter, from a few Indian supporters. Michael Vaughan has further amplified the situation by mocking the abuse he has received.

I have been very careful to say that it is a minority of Indian fans who have caused problems for pundits this summer. But, they need to start realising that the negative comments are not personal, they are objective opinions based on an overall poor performance from India this summer and not to be taken so seriously.

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Sitting and watching the third Test between England and India, the crowd chanted as play looked set to continue until 7pm because of the loss of play at the beginning of the day. The conceptual ‘e’ shaped lights began to shine, allowing play to continue at a time play may have ordinarily stopped for bad light.

The idea of day/night Test matches has been discussed for a while now with fears over the rise of twenty20 cricket and the lure of the IPL. It does carry significant problems including the colour of the balls and shadows on the pitch, but it has been aired as a definite possibility for revitalising Test matches.

I actually don’t believe Test cricket is at risk. The crowds at English internationals all summer have been full and People’s Monday at Lord’s in the first Test against India was spectacular with crowds going right down the road. Perhaps I should re-phrase. Test cricket in England isn’t at risk. India manages to fill its grounds too, and Australia does a good job. Other nations, including the successful South Africa, have less ability to draw in crowds. In South Africa and possibly New Zealand, day/night Tests could be appealing.

People would probably attend at first, just to see what it’s like to watch a Test match at night. The players would certainly look spectacular in their whites against a black backdrop.

What led me to write this blog was a question of the players.

Certainly, they already play One Day matches that finish at 10 in the evening, but not five days in a row. And this, I think, is a problem with day/night Tests. If a player scores a century and walks off the field buzzing with adrenaline at 7pm, he still has time to unwind before bed. This may not be the case when they finish at 10. They may of course be able to get up later, but I imagine many coaches would consider the extra time in the morning to be useful for extra warm-ups and nets.

Day/night Tests are a fascinating concept but I do worry for the players’ sanity.

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Okay, it was a week ago, but it has taken me a long time to get this written.

In the second Test between England and India, the following event occurred: Ian Bell hit what looked like a 4. He and Eoin Morgan ran three runs. Believing his shot had gone to the boundary, Ian Bell began walking down the pitch towards Morgan, ready to go in for tea. The ball, however, was not yet dead and Bell was run out. The umpires asked Indian captain Dhoni if he would like the appeal to stand. He said yes, and Bell was declared run out. After tea, the players returned, including Bell. Dhoni had decided to reverse his decision to uphold the appeal, all within ‘the spirit of the game’.

In no other sport is the ‘spirit of the game’ so important. So important, in fact, that sometimes it takes precedent over the rules.

In tennis, if a ball hits the net and goes over, the player may apologise, but it is still a point. In golf, if a player’s ball hits their opponent’s ball away from the hole, it is an unfortunate accident but the ball stays where it was. In cricket, however, in some circumstances, the ‘spirit of the game’ supersedes the rules. Bell was undeniably out, and yet, Dhoni allowed him to continue playing.

In cricket, the spirit of the game floats around like an invisible imp. It hangs over what appears an obvious decision and puts doubt into the minds of players and umpires. A batsman may be out under the rules of the game, but allowed to stay in because the spirit sometimes matters more.

This got me thinking more about the concept of ‘spirit of the game’ and the sportsman like conduct it implies, and decided to make a list of my five favourite sportsman moments. Naturally, these are not a definitive list. Let me know if you have any of your own favourites to add.

5. Andrew Flintoff Comforts Brett Lee

This has been mentioned so many times, it’s practically a cliché, but no other gesture epitomised the spirit the 2005 Ashes series was played in more than the moment Flintoff said ‘well done’ to Brett Lee after England managed to win the Edgbaston Test by a mere two runs. Lee had been outstanding in batting so long, and Flintoff’s gesture recognised his efforts. It is a good job Lee didn’t take this gesture in the wrong spirit, as Michael Kasprowicz, the man down the other end, should never have been given out.

4. The Heptathlon Athletes

Very few people in the world truly know the tremendous effort it takes to compete in a decathlon or heptathlon, except the people that always compete. At the end of seven events, the women fly their country’s flags together, whatever the result, whoever the competitors, rather than competing their lap of honour individually.

3. Paolo Di Canio Plays Fair

Di Canio’s playing career was not without incident, but he set a great example in a game against Everton when the goalkeeper went down with an injury. With the game poised at 1-1 and play continuing, it would have been all too easy for Di Canio to score in the open goal. Instead, he picked up the ball to stop play and signalled for help for the injured Paul Gerrard.

2. A Whole Team Stands Aside

In a Carling Cup second round match, Notts Forest were one goal up against Leicester but at half time, Leicester defender Clive Clarke collapsed in the dressing room. Fearing for his safety, it was agreed that the game would be abandoned and replayed three weeks later. After kick-off in the rematch, the entire Leicester team stood to one side to allow the Nottingham keeper, Paul Smith, dribble the ball along the pitch to restore the lead Forest had in the previous game. Good karma must have been on Leicester’s side, as they went on to win the match.

1. Two Greats Share the Title

In 1982, the National Hunt jockey title was heading towards a thrilling finale with John Francome and Peter Scudamore each within in an inch of winning the trophy. Scudamore was ahead with more winners when he suffered a serious fall and was ruled out for the remainder of the season. Francome was left clear to take the title, but when he reached Scudamore’s total of 120 winners, he retired for the rest of the season so that best men could share the title.


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Today, the news has emerged that the Formula 1 television rights will now be shared between the BBC and Sky, increasing Sky’s monopoly on sport even further. Sure, the BBC will be allowed to show half the races and highlights, but if you want to watch Formula 1 from now on, it will have to be on Sky.

In recent years, Sky has gained a monopoly over cricket, it has stolen the Ryder Cup, and now F1, a sport the BBC claims has been gaining large audiences over the last few years. What a perfect time for Sky to play its trump card – money.

Fans of the move will say that F1 should never have been on the BBC in the first place. After all, their license fees pay for it and it is one of the BBC’s most expensive programmes. But Sky would have out-bid every terrestrial broadcaster. ITV’s coverage lasted a good number of years and very successfully.

Sky’s hold over sport only seems likely to continue. If F1 proves successful, who is to say that they won’t buy the BBC out of their deal?

The list of sports that must be shown on terrestrial tv by law is very small. It does include the Olympics and Wimbledon but only the final of the Rugby Union World Cup. Terrestrial tv must show all of the FIFA World Cup but not even the final of the Cricket World Cup. Not even the Six Nations has to be shown on terrestrial tv as it is on the BBC every year.

The public’s best loved sports need to be protected now by legislation before every sports fan in Britain is forced to purchase Sky in order to watch the sport they crave.

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