It's hard to travel around Dhaka this week without running into Stumpy, mascot to the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup. The city is dotted with posters of the upbeat, cartoonish blue elephant. In each one, he's holding a cricket bat-shaped clock, counting down to the second the World Cup begins.
As if anyone in cricket-mad Bangladesh could forget. FULL POST
CNN's World Sport will be broadcasting its predictions for 2011 in upcoming shows between December 31-January 2. In the third of a series of preview blogs, Terry Baddoo takes a look at the contenders for next year's Cricket World Cup.
On present form, I wouldn’t put much money on Australia claiming their fourth consecutive World Cup title next year. In fact, in their current state of mind it’s going to take a Herculean effort for the Aussies to even make a fist of it on the Indian sub-continent when the four-yearly event starts in late February.
At the time of writing, not only do they trail England in the Ashes series, but there seems to be a massive loss of confidence in their leadership, with serious questions being asked about skipper Ricky Ponting for the first time I can remember. But the one-day game is not Test cricket, and if it becomes a question of guts, you cannot rule the Aussies out - especially as they are still the top-ranked team in the 50-over format.
Having reported from Australia on every day of every Test match during England’s 5-0 whitewash in the last Ashes contest there, I believe Andrew Strauss and his men face a mammoth task to win this series.
Yes, England’s team is more settled than Australia’s and, yes, they have shown better recent form and a more coherent and consistent selection policy. However, no Ashes series was ever won with superior rhetoric before the action got under way.
If that sounds obvious, it’s worth transporting you back to November 2006, just 14 months after England won back the famous little Ashes urn in a scintillating contest on home soil -– and they had high hopes of winning “Down Under” for the first time in 20 years.
Forget Benjamin Button. The curious case of Zulqarnain Haider is far stranger – and his plight has piled the pressure on cricket’s governing body to stamp out corruption as quickly as possible.
Here is a young cricketer who appears to have given up his dreams of an international career because he became fearful for his safety and that of his family.
The big, unanswered question, on a day of confused and conflicting reports, is ... why?
If you take the story at face value, Zulqarnain claims to have been approached by men in Dubai, speaking in Urdu but not with Pakistani accents, who tried to get the player to fake his performance during matches in return for money.
Some years ago there was a footballer in the top flight of the English game called Vinnie Jones.
A committed hard man, for sure, but also a player who only had to breathe on an opponent to get the referee reaching for his card and the football authorities up in arms in righteous indignation.
It was a monkey see monkey do situation, a self-fulfilling prophecy which played right into the hands of the tabloid media whose stock in trade is negativity.
We see it off the sports field too, with wayward celebrities singled out by the tabloids as the “It” girls or boys.
The allegations are damning, and the evidence of match-fixing produced by the British newspaper The News of The World could be devastating for the sport in Pakistan, where cricket is an obsession and a way of life.
That their players – their heroes, their icons – may have been involved in such a monumental scandal will be hard to swallow. That would be true at the best of times, but especially now, with Pakistan grappling with catastrophic flooding and a destabilizing terrorist insurgency.
The ray of hope and inspiration the players could have provided in the overseas Test series against England has been dramatically extinguished. The team was thrashed by their hosts, and have been publicly humiliated.
Many sports can be the victims of match-fixing, especially in the era of spread-betting where pundits can gamble on anything from the winner to the tiniest details of a match. Cricket is especially vulnerable, and it has been tarnished often in the past. Pakistan cricket has been faced with such allegations since the 1990s and already this year, several serious claims - yet to be proved - have been made.
Although Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff and all-rounder Stuart Broad hogged many of the headlines following England's defeat of Australia which sealed and Ashes series win at the weekend, it's the captain of the home side Andrew Strauss deserves the plaudits.
It's also a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the man I interviewed in 2006 – then contemplating the fact he had been overlooked as skipper for the Ashes series in Australia. With Michael Vaughan injured, the selectors picked Flintoff instead.
Strauss spoke diplomatically about the decision but the disappointment was plain to see from his expressions. Further indignity was to follow, as Flintoff and his teammates were hammered 5-0 in the series while Strauss's form with the bat suffered so much that he was dropped from the national side.
Forward the clock two years and cometh the hour cometh the man – Strauss was the only candidate for captain in 2009.
Together, with England's new coach Andrew Flower (how many Andy's does a cricket side need?), Strauss has quietly and confidently absorbed all the pressure that comes with leadership.
He has allowed teammates – some of whom failed as captain themselves – to concentrate on playing their best cricket.
At the same time, Strauss's batting has never been better. He has the ability to switch off from the captaincy while out in the middle and finished this Ashes series as the top run scorer and by hitting more boundaries than anyone else.
Strauss isn't controversial but he doesn't duck tough questions or issues – he was right to suggest the current Australian side has less of an aura than in previous years despite the furor it created.
The Ashes triumph was a great achievement but their could be more to come from a captain whose glowing reputation is still growing.
The flaws of the England cricket team in Cardiff were obvious and too long to list on the short space provided here; but even Australia showed signs of weakness during the first Ashes Test.
Despite his impressive record as skipper, Aussie captain Ricky Ponting continues to attract criticism both at home and abroad. His nation's only Ashes series loss over the last two decades came under his stewardship, in 2005, and for many an indelible image of the defeat was how the Tasmanian lost his cool after being run out by a Pratt (surname of England's controversial stand-in fielder Gary).
There were echoes of that incident on the final day’s play in Cardiff when England’s 12th man, Bilal Shafayat, came on in successive overs in a thinly-veiled, time-wasting tactic to incur the ire of “Red-Mist Ricky."
It was hard not to be entertained watching the Australian captain’s face, a brief flicker of bemusement quickly changing to anger. He barked at the hapless Shafayat and complained to the umpires. No psychologist was needed to determine that on both occasions, in 2005 and 2009, the source of Ponting's frustration was not with his opponents, but came instead from within.
Four years ago, England’s consistent competitiveness surprised him. This time, he was frustrated by letting, what seemed a comprehensive victory, slip through his fingers. No doubt Australia’s captain misses the pace bowling of Glenn McGrath and creative spin of Shane Warne, but critics argue without the former greats to rely on Ponting proves tactically brittle. His current bowling attack showed some teeth in the first Test but the legendary bite of Warne and McGrath remains a big loss.
Nonetheless, when you compare the contribution of Ponting with Andrew Strauss, in Cardiff, Australia’s captain fared far better than England’s. Strauss’s batting looked solid but he failed to convert his form into a large total in either innings. He also looked helpless as Australia racked up the runs in their record-breaking first innings.
Tactically, Ponting may have his detractors but it’s impossible to argue that his individual score of 150 was anything other than a fantastic tone-setter for all of his batsmen. History is reserving judgment on Ponting the captain, for now, but Ponting the batsman is already one of the sport’s best ever.