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Two runs shy of a century on his first test cricket match representing Australia, Ashton Agar’s efforts of 98 from 101 balls have been etched into history. Only last week this kid was an unknown who’d caught the selector’s eye and caught a huge break to be included in the Ashes line up. After his first ever appearance for the national side, he is something of a national hero. Agar walked onto the pitch as the last man for a team struggling at 9-117 and England had clear control of the match and looked to wrap up the aussies nicely.

Agar came onto the pitch with a calm confidence and steady smile and took a game-changing stand that made Aussies and cricket lovers the world over hail him a hero. Agar, who twice hit Graeme Swann down the ground for six and pulled anything short from the quicks with confidence said, “It’s a dream come true, that’s what it is to me. Forever I’ve dreamed of playing Test cricket for Australia and for my debut to start the way it has I’m over the moon.’’

Ashton Charles Agar is originally from Melbourne and represented Victoria at the underage level, as well as playing a number of matches for the Australian under-19 cricket team. His teammates called him Bambi because “he hadn’t quite grown into those legs of his” and laughed as he fumbled his way around the field. Those same teammates look on with pride as he grew into his form and his talent let to his transfer to play for Western Australia prior to the 2012–13 season, making his Sheffield Shield debut in early January 2013. A left-arm orthodox spinner and capable lower-order batsman, Agar impressed selectors and was called up for Australia’s 2012–13 tour of India, and went on to tour England and Ireland with Australia A. His towering frame, deftness with the ball and batting skills ensured he made his Test debut for Australia in the first Test of the 2013 Ashes series.

His first foray in test cricket has seen him break a few records including:

  • the twelfth-youngest Australian Test player
  • the youngest Australian since Archie Jackson (during the 1928–29 series) to make his Test debut in the Ashes.
  • the first debutant number 11 in Test history to score a half-century
  • the world record for a number 11 when he scored 98 before being dismissed two runs away from scoring the first century by a Test number 11.
  • His partnership with Australian batsman Phillip Hughes broke the previous world record for a 10th-wicket partnership in Test matches.

“I’m super happy,” Agar said after his stunning performance. “Darren Lehmann just told the whole team to bat in their natural style and that’s the way I like to bat, so that’s what I did. I like to keep myself fairly relaxed and I didn’t get too nervous. I was hitting the ball fairly well and I just tried to keep doing that.” If he continues to play with such calm and confidence and having turned the first test on its head, the Ashes will be exciting to watch and most certainly in the Aussie’s grasp.

180977-ashton-agar

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It’s not who wins but how you play the game. This is a line my PE teacher ingrained in us during our sports lessons in high school. As I left the boundaries of a school field and worked my way into the playing field of life, I realised that the only reason that line stood true was because I was playing with my friends. In an unfamiliar environment, paired with people I hardly knew – my desire to win consumed me. In my opinion this is exactly the case with the Aussie team at the moment. In recent years I have lost my passion and love for the game as much as I have for my side. To put it very simply they lack the flair, talent and cohesiveness that made their predecessors such a joy to watch and most likely also caused them to win. The 11 players playing the Ashes as the ‘Australian team’ is a ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ bag who show no team spirit at all. But does this mean Australia will lose the Ashes? Again?

It’s not been a great year for the Aussies. We go into the Ashes with the last four matches played all losses and we are up against a side that has won or drawn its last nine matches and shows considerably more organisation and team building efforts than us. We’ve lost players to homework gate, bar fights and petty in house squabbling. We’ve switched coaches days before the game and lost McDermott as bowling coach – the ramifications of which are noticeable already in Siddle’s performance. But what’s the cause of all of this? Where did the glory and ‘world class’ side go?

Australian cricketers are forever going on about how much of an honour it is to play for their country. This honour comes from upholding the legacy of great cricket each captain has handed down to the next. When Taylor took over from Border he was given men who had talent but it was up to him to continue the legacy of great captaincy that Border had established and upheld. In just under a decade Allan Border had captained 93 test matches and won or drawn 71. This kind of streak only comes from a captain that knows his men inside out and has bonded with them to be able to command respect and guide them to success on and off the field. Border says, ‘It took me a long time to work out that there is more to captaincy than simply walking out with the team. Sometimes just being there sent the right message. Even doing little things such as carrying the drinks or throwing balls in the nets helps because it is the captain setting an example.’ Taylor carried this responsibility and this upheld the legacy. In 5 years he captained 50 test matches of which his side lost only 13. He left a team to Steve Waugh that captains can only dream about. A team that moved and played like a family – a very talented and successful family! Both Border and Waugh have been quoted in recent interviews stating that this is exactly what the Aussie team needs and is lacking right now. Leadership and team spirit.

Steve Waugh captained one of the most fantastic teams of all time, with men like Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting, he won 28 of his 46 Ashes Tests, losing only eight and he recently gave a bit of advice to Clarke on the right attitude to have as a captain. “A team will be a reflection of its leader and as such, Clarke needs to be energised without being over the top, focused but also open to improvisation, but above all, controlled and authoritative under pressure. What we did well back in 1989, and must be emulated by Clarke’s men, is to play the ‘Aussie way’. “This means backing yourself in all situations, attacking rather than retracting, exuding positive body language, hustle when running between the wickets, exhibiting energy in the field and batting and bowling in partnerships. “They must display an element of ‘mongrel’ in the play and not back down when confronted,” Waugh, added, using the classic Australian term for aggression. “They must claim the high ground and put their flag well and truly in the turf.”

Just reading those words makes me believe the absolute cohesive energy Waugh’s side had and it helps me recall many fantastic cricketing moments that defined my childhood. THIS is exactly what this Aussie side needs and it needs it RIGHT now. A good dose of discipline and leadership from the coach and captain and a great dose of self-enforced diligence, humility and conformity from the players. I never really liked Ponting – to me it seemed he was wilfully arrogant – and yet I respected his captaincy. He bonded with his team and led them to victory on numerous occasions with a discipline and strategy fitting the ‘best team in the world’. This tag sadly passed with his captaincy and the resignation of the last ‘glory players’ of the side.

With no Gilchirst, Lee, Mcgrath, Ponting and now not even a Warner… what exactly does the Australian side have going for them?

Michael Clarke – Yes he needs a lot of work as a captain as Border says, “There have been some observations about Michael not going to Champions Trophy games when he had a back injury, yet turning up to Shane Warne’s charity game. On the surface this doesn’t seem to be a big deal, but with a bit of turmoil going on I don’t believe it was a good public relations exercise. When he had his back injury in India, I think he should have stayed with the team for the last Test rather than return home.” But then he adds, “ I know Michael will be up for the challenge of being the off-field leader the side needs.” Let’s hope he’s right. Because as a player in his element Clarke can be a formidable force to be reckoned with.

Ashton Agar –Agar is from Melbourne and “at the age of 19 he has a place in the squads of Western Australia, the Perth Scorchers, and also the national team, having sensationally been upgraded from an internship on the 2013 tour of India to a more expansive role in Michael Clarke’s squad”. Agar is included on the strength of only ten first-class matches and his selection appears “geared towards exploiting England’s right-handers, while also opening up a familiar wound for Kevin Pietersen”. ‘His leftarm orthodox is his No.1 craft but he gives a lot with the bat and is a brilliant fieldsman, a great package. He is a great kid, loves the game, working hard and a great temperament to hold him in good stead.” Hussey told the Herald Sun

Siddle, Pattinson and Starc – Here’s hoping these players bring their aggression and passion to the field. Siddle and Pattinon knows how to play against England and would be counted on to make a few early upsets and Starc is a late swinging left hander and probably Australia’s best bowler to take crucial wickets.

And who’s the competition?

England skipper and star opening bat Alastair Cook and seamer James Anderson. Cook and Anderson have been installed as the early favourites to score the most runs and take the most wickets during the Ashes series, which if it happens will almost certainly mean the famous urn remaining with England. Cook was by far the leading run scorer in that 2010-11 series in Australia, posting 766 runs, with the next best being the now retired Aussie Mike Hussey with 570. And Anderson was the leading wicket taker in that series with 24 scalps. England’s best bowler would be Stuart Broad who took the most wickets for England (18) the last time the Ashes were held in England in 2009.

The line-up is complete and the time has come to put the pedal to the metal. Whatever the outcome this Ashes will show exactly what kind of men this Australian side is made of and point to the future of cricket in the Australian side. Let’s hope the negativity and politics can take a backseat to teamwork, talent and great cricket. Let the games begin!

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If ever there was a sport to get the people of the subcontinent worked up to a fever pitch, it would be Cricket. And if ever there were two countries with a temperamental and passionate history on and off the field, it would be Pakistan and India. The two are a potent mix set to clash in the semi finals of the 2011 World Cup, worth the watch no matter who you support.

Having a shared cultural and national history spanning over a century and having gone through a war, genocide, nuclear attacks, and numerous cultural and social events to reacquaint themselves with each other, Pakistan and India are the quintessential malfunctioning off again on again couple. Despite their differences, both these country’s have a passion for Cricket that borders on, nay surpasses, mania. Cricket is more than a religion for some – it is a way of life. A game they live breathe and practice every single day. Whether a child knows his alphabet or not, by the time he can comprehend, he knows Cricket, by the time he can walk, he can hold a bat and by the time he can run, he can bowl.

Such dedication to the game has seen both countries produce some of the finest players in Cricketing history. Whether it be Imran Khan’s class, Inzy’s batting flair, Sachin’s little master techniques or Afridi’s boom boom, both nations have consistently brought talent, flair and passion to the play. What both teams equally lack though,  is consistency. A combination of Australia’s golden years, match fixing allegations and poor captaincy has seen both teams steadily decline over the past few years. That’s not to say they play badly… No. Pakistani and Indian Cricket still give every other team a run for their money even on their worst days. But they are far from achieving their potential.

This World Cup has seen great bowling and captaincy from Afridi and sporadic flashes of brilliance from the Indian batting line-up, both teams have had close calls in their race to this most crucial of matches, and in my opinion they are both equally matched and the game depends purely on which team can pull together stronger on the day. Pakistan’s weakness is in it’s batting line-up and India’s is in it’s bowling. Cricket fans the world over will be on edge to see if each team can exploit the other’s respective weakness in a continuation of a rivalry that began in 1952.

India and Pakistan first met in a Cricketing match in Delhi. They were to play a four day test from 16 to 18 October 1952 but it took India only three days to reign victorious over Pakistan by a 70 run margin. India won the 5-match series 2-1 and held onto the title of victor for 26 years. TEN draws and 26 years later Pakistan won a match against India in the 1978-79 series. The two teams have played 59 test matches and 119 ODIs of which Pakistan has won 12 tests and 69 ODIs respectively. Both teams have made totals exceeding 600 against each other in a display of great talent and perseverance which proves their flair for the sport and justifies the excitement of their fans.

India and Pakistan last played each other in September 2009 at the ICC Trophy in South Africa, a match India lost by 54 runs. A loss which caused a furor back home, and resulted in the burning of effigies and threats to well-being players which were held up as idols only days before. No other Cricketing team lavishes rewards on their players like the Indian team and no other country faces more embarrassment from match-fixing accusations than Pakistan. Despite the rumours, the relegations and the risks – these two teams are sure put on a show that will eclipse anything the world cup has provided thus far. India and Pakistan will be meeting in Mohali for a match that is so eagerly anticipated it overshadows the impending match between New Zealand and Sri Lanka that precedes it and even the World cup finals that will subsequently take place.

If Pakistan wins, one wonders how they will make it out of India, and if they lose – will be let back into Pakistan by their fans.

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World cup fever set to hit home

The much awaited Cricket World Cup 2011 is here and fans all over the globe are on edge with renewed passion for the game and pride as the Indian subcontinent hosts the best players from all over the world. Here is a look at the 14 teams contesting the 2011 cricket World Cup:

Australia
Australia is currently ranked No. 1 in the ODI standings and smashed through the 2007 World Cup undefeated. While Australia has the best current win-loss ratio in the tournament, many of Australia’s cricketing greats have retired and the new players do not have the skills or the experience to match. Ricky Ponting is back for his fifth World Cup and under scrutiny having failed to perform in the Ashes and sitting out the ODI series against England with a broken finger but whether or not he can lead this fledgling team to victory is yet to be seen. Australia’s first game is against Zimbabwe on 21 Feb. 

Bangladesh
As a Bangladeshi I am an ardent supporter no matter what, but I do have to concede that Bangladesh is among the three teams I expect to depart from Group B. While Bangladesh has had some epic victories against the finest teams in previous World Cup matches, they face an uphill start against India and will need to draw on all the confidence their ODI ranking affords them if they are to proceed further than the preliminary rounds. Bangladesh needs to play with confidence more than anything else; they have beaten every full ICC member in the one-day format and need to keep their cool and play the game with youthful passion without falling like dominos at the first sign of stress. Bangladesh opens the World Cup, playing the formidable Indian team on home ground.

Canada
A lack of skills and experience has played a big part in Canada’s relative non-existence in the cricketing world. However they qualified well  and have a few talented players whose youth and flair could see them surprise the other teams. Notably, the player to watch will be Davison, who made the fastest century in the tournament in 2003. Canada first faces Sri Lanka on 20th February.

England
While England is riding the high of an Ashes win into this World Cup, they haven’t reached the knockout rounds  at the World Cup since 1996. England has a substantial line up with a potential match-winner in Pietersen, coupled with solid batting support from Strauss and Paul Collingwood, and an able off-spinner in Swann who will relish the slower pitches. While the Ashes were an easy win for England, they lost sorely in the ODI series to Australia so it remains to be seen if they can make the quick runs and put on the pressure required in the limited overs game. England won the World Twenty20 title last year and has five consecutive ODI series wins against South African, Bangladesh (twice), Australia and Pakistan from late 2009 to late 2010. Such a backdrop is encouraging for a team which has lost many fine players to injury in recent times. England plays the Netherlands on the 22nd of February.

India
Host, Passionate fans, extensive experience, knowledge of the pitches and the added advantage of having the world’s best batsman in Tendulkar make India the favourite this World cup. India has impressive names. Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and captain Dhoni add batting strength to what is India’s strongest suit, while Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh offer a mix of pace and spin with the ball which has been the undoing of the finest batsmen in the world. The only setback is India’s recent defeat to South Africa which raises questions regarding form for these impressive names which are nothing without impressive game.

Ireland
Ireland scare me for one reason and one reason only – beating Pakistan in the group stage which caused a huge upset in 2007. The largely amateur side have grown up and professional players will be showing the world what Ireland has learnt in four years.  No big names in this lineup, even the promising Eoin Morgan moved to the England team only to be sidelined with an injury, which means Ireland, are battling big odds. So far they have lost all thee warm-ups games as well as their ODI series in September with Zimbabwe. Ireland plays Bangladesh on the 25th in Dhaka. 

Kenya
Kenya isn’t looking very promising. Even though they have hired the energetic former South African Jonty Rhodes and have several players playing their fifth World Cup, an ageing squad is not going to cut the mustard against the likes of the more experienced and skilled world squads.  You can expect them to be going home after the Preliminaries. Kenya first plays New Zealand on the 20th.

Netherlands
The Netherlands can hold their head high on many sporting events but sadly cricket is not one of them. A crushing 156-run defeat by Sri Lanka in a warm-up on Saturday, along with a punishing 115-run loss to Zimbabwe last week, suggests they could well be accompanying Kenya to the Airport after the Preliminaries. 

New Zealand
New Zealand is flying under the radar this year. With John Wright at the helm and skipper Daniel Vettori controlling the onfield actions, I expect a lot from this team of solid all-rounders capable of pushing through to the finals if they play cohesively. The drawback is the severe losing streak they ride into this tournament which includes a 4-0 battering to Bangladesh and a 5-0 whipping by India. Let’s hope this run of losses doesn’t stop them from providing some of the competitive action they are very much capable of.

Pakistan
The most entertaining team in this tournament and definitely my wildcard, Pakistan has the hopes of thousands of fans riding on their shoulders after being denied the chance to host any games. A strong line up includes all-rounders Afridi and Razzaq, two extraordinary who can twist the direction of any game and are well suited to the subcontinental conditions. Despite the passionate fans and the strong experience and skill set, controversy clouds the Pakistani players with several bans for spot-fixing. The much anticipated return of Shoaib Akhter will be the focus of Pakistani fans hopes.

South Africa
A strong contender for the title, South Africa has outstanding individual performers such as Amla and AB de Villiers who lead the ODI batting rankings. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel are a great fast bowling combination and Jacques Kallis is one of the finest players of his time. South Africa has the players, the game and the stamina and come into the tournament with a 2-1 win over India. South Africa’s main competition is itself, having consistently choked on the international stage in previous World Cups, they need to be firm in their game and take into consideration the slower pitches of the subcontinent.

Sri Lanka
With a strong history of excellent performance in the World Cup, Sri Lanka are in good stead to bring home another title. Sangakkara and Muralitharan are where the hopes lie with Muralitharan playing his last tournament and having a last chance at the title.

West Indies
Individually the West Indian line up has some experienced and stylish players like Gayle. Collectively this team fails to produce results time and time again. They come into the World Cup wish crushing defeats by Sri Lanka, South Africa and Australia, their only reprieve being a 4-1 win over Zimbabwe. If they want to pass the Preliminaries and get a taste of their former glory days, they need to work together as a team and keep up consistently good form.

Zimbabwe
With no big names to support their line up, no big wins and no strong guidance (excepting the coaching assistance from Brian Lara), the Zimbabwe team don’t have much going for them this World Cup. Fans can look forward to the spin-oriented bowling attack led by Ray Price and Prosper Utseya but unless the Zimbabweans play confidently they don’t stand a chance against more seasoned squads.

 

The likes of Tendulkar, Kallis and Muralitharan may well be playing for their last chance at a taste of World Cup victory and this tournament certainly has renewed vigour and passion from the thousands of fans thrilled to be hosting the games on their home turf as well as the many spectators overseas. With no clear winner, no overly strong team and many underdogs who have wildcards in their line-up, this World Cup will certainly be great entertainment and great cricket.

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Where’s the cricket at?

Cricket is well past its glory days, let’s admit that straight off the bat. As a young girl I grew up watching and learning from Mark Waugh’s impeccable elegance and timing, Mark ‘tubby’ Taylor’s captaincy, Brian Lara’s perfect batting technique and Wasim Akram’s flair. 

As I grew older it seemed cricket was getting weary as well. Football (soccer) fever had converted many fans who preferred the fast pace and excitement as opposed to the staid pace of test matches. Twenty/20s initial years created a furore, but on the whole – several factors led to the decline of the cricket mania I grew up with in the 90s. The first reason had to be the decline in form and eventual retirement of several cricketing greats. The Waugh brothers, Lara, Taylor, Akram and for me Gilchrist was the last straw. The second reason was match-fixing, while a bit of controversy surrounding any game increases its allure and heightens interest, the constant bickering and match fixing allegations took away the passion for the game itself. After all, if the players are not playing for the love of the game, why should the audience love the game?

The last and most annoying reason was Australia’s domination of Cricket during Ponting’s captaincy.  While initially it was a great feeling of success, the Australian team’s arrogance and domination mixed with rumours of slagging on field and racist slurs led to a gradual disinterest in cricket. Very few cricketers took this as a challenge to their game… but those that did have created a hype that looks to breathe fresh life into the gentleman’s sport.

Sachin Tendulkar. That name alone is enough to make almost any man woman or child in India or the subcontinent break out into a proud smile. At an age where most batsmen think of retiring, Sachin has taken the challenge to revive cricket almost single-handedly! His current form against Australia has helped him return to top of Test batsmen rankings for first time since 2002. Tendulkar’s man-of-the-match display in the second Test against Australia was enough to secure him the No.1 spot eight years after he last occupied it. The 37-year-old’s 214 and unbeaten 53 inspired India to a seven-wicket win over the tourists and secured a 2-0 victory in the series. Tendulkar has jumped from fourth to edge out Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara and compatriot Virender Sehwag and top the ratings for the ninth time in his career.

And if that wasn’t enough to put a smile on a desi dial, the underdogs have taken up the challenge to reinvigorate cricket and keep the more established teams and players on their toes. Bangladesh have won the series against New Zealand in an attempt to establish themselves as worthy contenders.  Bangladesh played like spirited tigers to win at home for the first time against a full fledged opponent. 241 wasn’t a match winning score by any means but the spinners pegged the New Zealand middle order with some disciplined bowling. They didn’t really allow the game to slip at any stage despite a good partnership between Williamson and Nathan McCullum. Their talisman cricketer Shakib has once again proved why he is the Number One all-rounder in the ICC ODI rankings and he won the Man of the Match for his knock of 106 and his bowling figures of 3/54.

This amazing performance by Bangladesh was by no means a fluke. New Zealand put up a good fight with a maiden century from Kane Williamson but it wasn’t enough to guide the New Zealand cricketers to victory in their fourth one day international against Bangladesh. New Zealand needed 242 to win after winning the toss and electing to field, but they got off to a poor start, losing their first three wickets for a measly 35 runs. Williamson kept the Kiwis hopes alive with a world-class performance, becoming the youngest New Zealander to reach an ODI century in the process.

New Zealand needed 16 runs from the last over with just one wicket in hand, but Williamson was caught out on the boundary with three balls remaining. Williamson top scored with 108, while the debutant Hamish Bennett was the best of the New Zealand bowlers, claiming 3 for 44 off his 8 overs. Bangladesh won by 9 runs, to claim their first series victory against a top-flight opposition. Bangladesh should be proud of their performance played out in front of packed crowds that went wild with celebration.

This is what Cricket needs, good performances by upcoming talented players with immense potential to create exciting competition and reinvigorate the age old gentleman’s sport.

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