One game away

"I thought this was going to be my last game," said Murali Kartik after our dramatic victory against the Warriors from Port Elizabeth, which propelled us into the semi-final of the Nokia CLT20. But no, we've done it again and beaten what was regarded by everyone as possibly the strongest team in the competition. Murali and I laughed, a little nervously, as we took another swig from our bottles of beer, the reality slowly dawning on us that we are through to the semi finals. It's so difficult to tell in this format. You simply have no idea who is going to come to the party and how players are going to respond.

Surprise package: We arrived in India a fortnight ago with a youthful team lacking our captain, Marcus Trescothick and our two internationals, Craig Kiewsetter and Jos Buttler. We beat Auckland in a thriller and then promptly demolished the Kolkata Knight Riders in a double header. This was followed by a bit of a wobble when the almighty Chris Gayle put us to the sword (not the first time and definitely not the last) and now, here I am sitting in another hotel room in Chennai, and taking big deep breaths at the thought that we will be facing the mighty Mumbai Indians in the semi-final to be played on Saturday! Chennai turns out not to have the leafy, cool climate of Bangalore, where we were lapping up the down time in a seven star hotel. Arriving off the plane we were hit by a suffocating heat and a smell that reminds me of wet dog. I'm not complaining, however. This is what makes this trip, these games and competing against top players from different parts of the world such an awesome experience. So how did this happen? How did we get to this point? It’s what a lot of people are asking. Given the strength of English cricket and its domestic structure and secondly the abundant talent in our team, I am beginning to realise this is no fluke. We're fitter and stronger, our energy in the field has been up there and our attitude and intelligent strategy can't be faulted. I spoke to The Warriors team analyst after our victory yesterday and she said: "Well done, you guys were absolutely spot on the way you worked us out and the way you bowled was phenomenal… you totally deserved it". I thought this was a fitting compliment to the way we analysed the conditions and executed our plans.

Timing: I personally thought Alfonso Thomas' leadership was brilliant. Twenty20 cricket is about timing, no doubt - timing when to attack, what ball to bowl, when to bowl the slower delivery and the bouncer and of course the timing of field placing. All these things come from an astute understanding of the game and a super sharp awareness. The timing of when he bowled certain bowlers yesterday was fantastic and having Murali Kartik perform the way he did was the key to our success against the Warriors. So I go back to how have we managed to get so far? I've already alluded to talent and a very well drilled side, but I have no doubt that decreased expectation and a game plan has done most of the work. Identified roles in the team and of course players doing well helps, but doing the simple things and having a good old 'crack' has made it all the more enjoyable. So as Kartik said, having very little expectations and coming here to enjoy the experience and play as if it is our last game is not what every psychologist would prescribe. Perhaps there is some method in that madness! Andy Hurry, our coach, was quick to identify where we went wrong against the Royal Challengers and we made sure we highlighted those areas and got back to what has worked well for us in the games leading up to it. Craig Kieswetter played with an increasingly growing maturity and Jos Buttler hit the biggest six of the tournament, so all bodes well going into Saturday's match. So there's no point getting too excited...of course Saturday will be our last match; I might as well go out there and have a bit of fun."

Published 7 October 2011

Crunch time

"I don't think I've seen anything quite like it before; rainfall the size of cricket balls and a complete wash-out of our first scheduled match in Bangalore against the South Australia Redbacks. It has been something like eight days since our last actual cricket match. The downtime is all good but I get the feeling the boys are getting a bit itchy; I know I certainly am. There's only so many times you can walk to the local shopping mall until it becomes slightly monotonous. I think I've had the chicken wings and salmon salad four times now in my effort to put the curry on the back burner for a while, at least until my stomach returns to some sort of normality. I went out for dinner last night with Murali Kartik and his wife Shwetta to a great restaurant and she was saying that Indians have stomachs like stones - they're fit to digest anything. That would help if I were Indian but unfortunately a few of the boys are feeling the brunt of Indian cuisine, it can get a bit confused down there. Anyway, enough about my toiletry ablutions and more on life in India and the cricket. We've got arguably our biggest game of the tour tonight against the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Big hitting Chris Gayle, Dirk Nannes, and Tillakeratne Dilshan … hopefully we won't see too many of those 'Dilscoops' but we’ve got a lot to contest with. I was in the gym yesterday and none other than 'big Chris Gayle' was in there too. I can see why his bat resembles a tree trunk and why most of the balls he hits disappear a country mile! He wasn't small to put it mildly; he looked like something out of WWF wrestling. I wasn't intimidated at all...

New profession: I think we've all become professional time wasters on tour and I know a few of the boys could probably write a book on how to amuse yourself in a hotel. I managed to get out for a few hours this morning to visit the local 'city market' and I can say for sure it was like nothing I've ever been to before - just absolute chaos. Dirk Nannes, who plays for the Royal Challengers, showed me a different side to life here. Amazing to see how resourceful the locals are using any bits of scrap, banana leaves and flowers to make things you'd never believe was possible. It was an amazing snapshot view of proper India and how most survive in this place. This was no ordinary market where you flounder about looking at all the pretty little things. This was millions of people, flowers, spices, cows, mud, interesting smells, and cars whizzing past so close I was surprised I didn't lose a toe in the process. I'm back at the hotel and can genuinely say I'm relieved, the thought of getting out of the hotel was very appealing but now the reality of being in my hotel is about as good as it gets.

Published 3 October 2011

Changing mindsets

"Arriving in Bangalore just a couple of days ago has been some spectacle! I probably shouldn't say this but seven star hotel treatment, touching shoulders with Sachin Tendulkar at the hotel bar and watching Chris Gayle strutting his stuff on the catwalk in the evening fashion show is a further reminder that this is not everyday life! I think most of us are getting an insight into what Twenty20 cricket is offering and I can see why the likes of Gayle, Pollard and Yusuf Pathan don't pay too much attention to the longer format... I mean why would you! Arriving at our hotel, we were greeted to a traditional south Indian welcome and were presented with a 'patta' (hat) and the shawl which is called a 'petta'. There was music too, a local karnatic mix, which includes the flute known as a 'tabla' and a 'mrithangan' – a small pot which the music is played on.

Hustle and bustle: "I think we were all taken aback at how friendly the people are here. Bangalore is definitely greener and a lot cleaner than other cities I've visited here and it's been great to be able to see a bit of the city in between games and practice. Another one of the plus sides to playing this shortened version of the game. It's interesting how my views have shifted slightly in reference to the hustle and bustle of Twenty20, although with some ambiguity. If you watched India in England this year, it was nothing short of embarrassing; let's be honest. As soon as the ball moved, or was bowled quickly with any sort of aggression, their technique and courage were questioned and players who are highly regarded, have looked so ordinary. But over here, they step away, crash the ball over 100+ metres distances to all parts, earn millions of dollars and, what's more, they are big celebrities. I suppose the question is: what is a good cricketer these days? The answer is multi dimensional of course, but how many can actually do it? Jacques Kallis, Tendulkar and Mike Hussey are three who spring to mind; otherwise there aren't a great deal of cricketers who excel in all formats. The reason I allude to this is because Twenty20 has had such a revolutionary impact on the global cricket front that I question where it is all heading. Playing for three hours, once ever three or four days isn't very difficult, it's actually fun. The games are intense and fast, there are thousands of fans and, yes, you are expected to whack a few out of the ground, but it's hardly a grind. These days, people demand instant action. No one wants to sit down for a three course meal anymore - they want fast food. It's the same with Twenty20 cricket. A lot of these games go down to the wire: it's tense, it's nail-biting and there's always a result. But, however you like to analyse it, true cricket connoisseur's still value test cricket just like real foodies love a classy restaurant!

Rising expectations: I am tempted, but I still sit firmly with the old guard and regard temperament and the ability to face quality bowling - pace, bounce and swing as the real attributes to a good cricketer. I will say though, that the confidence in which this form has instilled in many a player, is invaluable. Having that freedom to forget about the stumps behind you, let go of your inhibitions and think "what the hell" is a hugely liberating feeling! Maybe in trying to grind out county runs day in and out that fear of failure is ever present. So I think I speak for most in saying that Twenty20 cricket has risen above my expectations and the opportunity to spend time in this environment is an experience I will never forget. I'm off for an Indian curry, but I think I'll just stick to a main course tonight."

Published 30 September 2011