Outlaws on target…

10 03 2011

When it comes to tantalising, nail biting finishes in the ICC World Cup, look no further than England. Their matches, to date, have certainly been good value, great viewing for the neutral and edge of the seat stuff for St George flag wavers.

Four games played and all three possible results achieved!

Having made hard work of winning their opener against the Netherlands, England followed on by sharing the points in a scintillating contest against co-hosts India, in Bangalore. Ties are pretty rare in cricket (apart from those on view in the Lord’s pavilion) but neither side deserved to lose such a thoroughly compelling game.

BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan ‘Aggers’ Agnew tweeted, “…The best 50 overs match I have ever seen. (Both will feel they should have won)”

It’s certainly the best, involving England. It had everything.  English bowlers had been put to the sword by the ‘little master’, Sachin Tendulkar, as he elegantly stroked his way (without a reverse sweep in sight) to 120 from 115 balls, with five 6s and ten 4s. A master class indeed, from the world’s greatest batsman. Get your tickets now for next summer’s series against India – a last chance to see this batting genius in England.

But what followed next could have come straight from the England back catalogue of batting fiascos as six Indian wickets fell for 33 runs, Tim Bresnan picking up four wickets in 10 balls and finishing with 5 for 48 from his ten overs. Which just goes to show what a training regime based on Yorkshire pudding and Theakston’s Old Peculiar can do for you!       

A target of 338, batting second under lights, still seemed likely to be beyond England but at 281-2 they were coasting. England’s skipper was leading the way with an innings of 158 that had former captain Michael Vaughan tweeting, “Strauss innings the best I have seen by an England player in ODIs.”      

But nothing is ever straight forward with England. Having opted to take their five over batting ‘powerplay’ (technically an advantage due to the restriction of only three fielders outside the 30 yard circle) it prompted the return of Zaheer Khan into the Indian attack, with a lethal spell of left arm swing bowling that precipitated the obligatory England collapse – four wickets falling in eight balls. Game on!

With eight wickets down and two runs required from the final ball, for victory, it was down to England’s (some time Nottinghamshire Outlaw – but not very often due to his central contract) Graham Swann to hit the target. He went for gold, but his firm drive couldn’t pierce the fielding ring, and a single was scampered to tie a game which left both teams, in equal parts, frustrated and relieved.

The most famous Nottinghamshire outlaw of them all, the legendary Robin Hood (clad in a tunic of Lincoln green) reputedly maraudered around Sherwood Forest with his merry men, robbing the rich to feed the poor -well at least in the Hollywood version!

In a cricketing analogy, former Nottinghamshire Outlaw Kevin O’Brien (released after 14 games in 2009, with a top score of 42!) sporting the Irish green, entered cricketing folklore striking a blow for the associate country minnows as he plundered the fastest ever World Cup century (113 off 50 balls, six 6s, thirteen 4s); rich pickings from the bowling attack of ‘mighty, mighty England’ (to quote the Barmy Army!)

For the England team, it was a classic case of after the Lord Mayor’s show, taking your eye off the ball, foot off the pedal and snatching defeat from jaws of victory – to employ just a few appropriate sporting clichés.

Batting first they had eased their way to 327, without really breaking sweat against a persistent but pedestrian Irish attack, when a little more application could have seen them closer to 400 and out of sight.

When is Kevin Pietersen (another ex-Outlaw who made his name at Trent Bridge – recruited by Notts’ former captain and coach, the South African Clive Rice, as an off spinning all-rounder who could hit the ball a bit!) going to develop a cricketing brain to match the size of his indisputable talent (not to mention his ego)? – to paraphrase ‘Sir’ Geoffrey Boycott! 

With 59 against his name and a century apparently there for the taking, KP once again got himself out going for a Hollywood shot – an ill executed, unnecessary reverse sweep. Remember how Mike ‘who ate all the pies?’ Gatting did exactly the same thing and effectively lost the 1987 final? When will we ever learn? It’s a shot the top sub-continent batsmen never use.  

It may be heresy but I would suggest KP, having been forced to return home with a hernia problem, and being replaced by the Irish/English one day batting specialist Eoin Morgan, might work in England’s favour.  

In replying to the England total, Ireland lost a wicket to the first ball and limped their way to 111-5. Put simply, England thought the game was won, switched off and started to go through the motions (even more clichés). O’Brien had other ideas, chanced his arm, rode his luck, and had the rub of the green (and even more clichés) providing the best punch line to the biggest Irish joke in sporting history.

As if a win against England wasn’t enough, we now have a cricketer from the Emerald Isle whose big hitting exploits have surpassed the achievements of some of the game’s all-time greats:  Matthew Hayden (Australia), Kapil Dev (India), Adam Gilchrist (Australia) and Sir Viv Richards (West Indies) to name a few!   

I’ll leave the final, inevitable, cliché to Sky commentator David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd, posted on his blog: “Val Doonican, Lonnie Donegan, Bono, Frank Carson, Terry Wogan, Gerry Adams, Ian Paisley, the Nolans – you gave our boys one hell of a beating.” 

Moodily munching my Sunday morning cereal, while watching Sky Sports, England all-out for a measly 171 and South Africa 50 odd without loss. The wheels have fallen off England’s World Cup bid and it’s clearly mission impossible.

There’s only one thing for it, switch off and go for a walk across the fields to pick up a Sunday paper.

Returning, an hour later, I grab the remote fearing the worst and can’t believe my eyes. South Africa, having subsided from the relative comfort of 124-4 to 127-7, are struggling to hit the ball off the square and the pressure is mounting. 

‘Outlaw’ Swanny, who has been ‘on the money’, completes his final over, finishing with 1-29 from his ten overs – a sterling effort.

Three overs remaining, three wickets required. Bresnan bowls Van Wyk ending his dogged resistance in eking out 13 runs off 37 balls in 66 minutes!   South Africa require twelve runs for victory – three lusty blows or three streaky edges will do it for them.    

The 48th over and Captain Strauss tosses the ball to another ‘Outlaw’, the willowy Stuart Broad, Nottingham born and bred, favourite sporting hero Forest’s  Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce – say no more!

‘Broady’ glides to the wicket, first ball straight as an arrow – and danger man Dale Steyn is plumb lbw. Three balls later, Morkel flashes, snicks, and Matt Prior pouches the winning the catch.    

South Africa have choked big time, prompting a congratulatory tweet from our old adversary ‘Warney’, “Well done England! Great win that. Sth Africa just struggle when things are tight and pressure is on – fact!”   Good on you Shane!

Unfortunately, SB’s tournament is over. In producing his match winning spell (4 for 15 in 6.4 overs) he suffered a side strain and will be heading back to West Bridgford. To quote Michael Vaughan, “Broad will be a huge loss for England.”    

Meanwhile, England’s immediate target is one more win from their remaining two group matches, against Bangladesh and the West Indies, to qualify for the quarter finals. Surely straight forward enough, then again nothing ever is for Straussy’s merry men who don’t make life easy for themselves. Expect both matches to go to the wire!

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