South Africa win by 211 runs

As good as South Africa were (and take nothing away from them, Dale Steyn in particular was outstanding) Pakistan left a bit to be desired with the bat. They had given themselves an opportunity by bowling South Africa out relatively cheaply, but utterly squandered it and looked generally clueless for good measure. They went into the series with only one warmup match and without playing a Test in seaming conditions for two years and it showed. England were rightly criticised for not having enough warmup time before they were whitewashed by Pakistan in the UAE a year ago and now Pakistan have made that exact same mistake. With the South African bowlers already on song and very dangerous, Pakistan barely had a chance.

South Africa actually had a chance to enforce the follow-on, which is saying a lot after they were bowled out for 253. I think Graeme Smith was correct to do so though; South Africa had a lot of momentum it was true, but the lead was still ‘only’ two hundred. It’s pretty common now for teams to not enforce the follow-on when the lead is under 250 and even though this was a special case with the scores so small, I think the reasoning still applies. It’s doubtful that Pakistan would have put South Africa under any pressure, but it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility and there was plenty of time for South Africa to simply bat Pakistan out of the match, which they did. It’s easy to see it as another example of Smith’s inherent negativity, and strictly speaking it is, but I think in this case it was justified negativity and certainly it did not hurt his side’s chances.

Pakistan have a two day match against a Western Province Invitational XI ahead of the second Test and they must use it to get some time in the middle for their batsmen. They need to at least get comfortable enough in the conditions to make South Africa work for their wickets in the next two Tests. Pakistan’s bowers can cause damage to the South African batting order, but at least right now their batsmen don’t look like being able to back them up.

The Test was also much hyped as Smith’s hundredth as captain. Technically that is true, but one of those hundred Tests was the farcical ‘ICC Super Test’ from 2005. There is no conceivable justification for that match counting as an official Test and many do not count it at all. Being named captain of that side especially is nothing to celebrate; any member of the XI could have done so for all the difference it would have made. It was worlds away from the considered selection of a national Test captain and should be completely discounted along with the rest of the statistics from that waste of time.

What is particularly annoying about all the misplaced hype is that Smith’s true hundredth Test as captain is the second Test and will go all but unnoticed. Even if one thinks that the Super Test should count, the second Test is still Smith’s hundredth time captaining his country which is a major achievement and should get a lot more recognition than it will. Unfortunately, Cricket South Africa have spoiled the celebrations by staging them too soon.

Women’s World Cup group permutations

The final round of group matches in the Women’s World Cup are tonight and especially in Group A there is a lot for which to play. Unfortunately, the matches are not being played simultaneously. I criticised the tournament format in my preview and this is another poor decision by the organisers. India and Sri Lanka will now have the benefit of knowing the result of the England v West Indies match before their ends and that should not happen.

Those matches are in the more interesting Group A. Sri Lanka’s shock win over England means that all the teams in the group are level on two points and the only difference at the moment is Net Run Rate. (And in a quirk of statistics, since every team have both bowled and batted exactly 100 overs the NRRs are just the run differentials for each team divided by 100.) The West Indies’ crushing win over Sri Lanka wiped out their heavy defeat to India and then some, putting them top of the table with a NRR of +1.04. They’re followed by India and England on +0.73 and +0.26 respectively and Sri Lanka still sit at the foot of the table on -2.03.

The practical upshot of this is that whichever two teams win tonight are guaranteed to go through and whichever of the two losers has the best NRR will join them in the Super Sixes. All four teams could theoretically go out with a loss and the other result going against them, but the danger is greater for England in Sri Lanka than it is for India and the West Indies. In fact, the only realistic way for Sri Lanka to progress is to beat India. Any loss and their NRR is so bad that they will go out. It’s not, therefore, quite a must-win match for England. But if England don’t win then they will be relying on India in the late match because if India lose they would have to do so by a lot to end up with a worse NRR than England. For the same reason, a win for the West Indies will probably make India safe. The most likely way for them to go out is to lose to Sri Lanka and have the West Indies lose to England by a reasonable margin, though if they lose very heavily to Sri Lanka (by enough to send their NRR under that of England) they could go out even with a West Indies win. It’s quite unlikely though. The West Indies are the safest team at the moment; they would need to lose heavily to England and have India narrowly beaten by Sri Lanka to go out.

The other interesting aspect of the last round of matches in Group A is the points carried forward. If England beat the West Indies and Sri Lanka go out then England will actually carry forward maximum points despite their early defeat. The only other team capable of doing so is Sri Lanka and that is quite unlikely as it would require the West Indies to be eliminated. There is no way for India to advance, however, without having lost to one of the other teams to go through and it is very unlikely that the West Indies could do so either. They would have to beat England narrowly and have India lose very heavily to Sri Lanka to send India out.

In Group B things are much simpler. Australia and New Zealand are already through and the winner of the antipodean clash will carry maximum points forward to the Super Sixes. On form, one would actually expect the White Ferns to win; they have dominated their group matches so far whilst Australia have had minor scares against both of their opponents. But Australia have had the better of the recent head-to-head matches, so it should be a very interesting match.

The other match in the group is probably the more important though; Pakistan and South Africa will play each other for the last spot in the Super Sixes. I said in my preview that I though South Africa would pull off a minor upset and I still think that will be the case, but there is not a lot from which to choose between the sides.

My guess is that we will end up seeing England, the West Indies, India and South Africa join Australia and New Zealand in the next round, but there are some good looking matches and it should be very interesting.

South Africa v Pakistan preview

Later today the first Test between South Africa and Pakistan gets underway in Johannesburg. It will be the first time Pakistan have played Test cricket in almost seven months, their last series being the 0-1 defeat away to Sri Lanka. The second Test of this series will also be notable as it will be Graeme Smith’s 100th Test as captain.

It’s hard to see past a probable South African victory. The Proteas aren’t unstoppable (they nearly came unstuck against Australia), but they are a good side and in good form after their thrashing of New Zealand. Their bowling attack is fully fit again and I think the Pakistan batsmen will really struggle with the pace and bounce. They don’t play a lot of Test cricket at the best of times and still less in conditions like they will find in South Africa. They haven’t helped themselves by playing only one warmup either. They should bat better than New Zealand did, but especially in the first Test I think they will struggle to be competitive. It’s possible that they will settle in as the series goes on, but such are the South African bowlers that it’s hard to see them really in a position of strength with the bat at any point.

With this in mind, Pakistan’s bowlers will need to keep South Africa from building big partnerships, because even one could put the match out of reach. Pakistan’s strength is their bowling and their seamers should be able to do some damage to the South African batting lineup. But we have seen many times from the Proteas that they can come back from a collapse and put themselves in a winning position. Pakistan do have the ability to bowl South Africa cheaply once or twice, but I don’t think they will be able to do so with the consistency they will need. I think they will need to really go for it in the first Test and hope to put some unease in the home camp.

Pakistan are not a terrible side by any means, but everything really has to go their way for them to win just a Test and even if South Africa slip up a bit I don’t see a way for Pakistan to win the series. There’s no way to account for the weather, but because the bowlers on both sides are good I don’t think there will be any draws either. My prediction is a 3-0 whitewash for South Africa; it is a bit harsh on Pakistan, but the conditions are against them and against as good a side as South Africa I think ‘competitive’ is about all Pakistan will do.

Women’s World Cup preview

The Women’s World Cup gets underway soon in India and it’s so close that the organisers have even deigned to finalise the fixtures. The hosts play the West Indies on Thursday to start the tournament and the following day will see the defending champions England play Sri Lanka. The final is set for 17 February.

The format for this tournament is the same as the one four years ago, which is disappointing because it really is a poor one. The tournament starts with two groups of four and the top three from each carry their points forward to a Super Six stage. The top two teams from the Super Six stage then play each other in the final whilst the third and fourth teams and fifth and sixth teams, instead of just keeping their places from the group, also have a playoff. I never like having two group stages and I really don’t like having the top two teams in a group play each other for the final. I accept the need for a final, but that means there needs to be either an extended set of knockouts or more than one group. If there is only one table then position in that table should determine where a particular team finishes. (I have a similar gripe about the rugby Premiership.)

It is difficult to have only eight teams play a decent length tournament (though there are other teams who could have been invited and thus eased this problem), but there are ways to construct the tournament better without making it absurdly short and even ways to construct it without making it absurdly long. The obvious solution would be to have the teams from the two groups play knockouts against each other. The various permutations of this can lead to a tournament of almost any length and one that would actually make some sense.

But the format is what it is and the ones that were used for the 2012 T20 World Cups or any of the last few Men’s World Cups would suggest that this problem isn’t about to get better. Group A is England’s group and they share it with India, the West Indies and Sri Lanka. Group B then contains Australia, Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand.

I would expect England and India to compete for the top spot in Group A. England have the better record and are probably the better team, but India might just be favourites as they are at home. England had to work hard to beat India in the ODI series in England last summer and it won’t be easy now. But they should both get through the group comfortably; the only question is who will carry forward the more points. I would expect the last spot in the Super Six to go to the West Indies. They actually have the most wins in ODIs in the last two years with 13 (though a worse W/L ratio than England and Australia) and should not have a problem finishing ahead of Sri Lanka. I would imagine they would finish third, but playing at home a year ago they did beat India 2-1 in a three match series, so might push for second.

Group B looks like the weaker of the two groups and should see Australia dominate. They are an excellent side and their biggest opposition is probably New Zealand – a side against whom they have had great success recently. Pakistan do have a winning record recently and are in relatively familiar conditions, but their preparation was badly disrupted and they have not done well against stronger opposition. South Africa are probably favourites to be knocked out of Group B (certainly they are according to the seeding), but they’ve competed a bit more recently and I think they can get through at Pakistan’s expense. I’d be surprised if either challenge even New Zealand though; the White Ferns are a better side than their record indicates. (Playing Australia and England all the time isn’t a recipe for a lot of wins.)

New Zealand, India, South Africa and the West Indies will all have uphill battles to challenge for a spot in the final though; realistically one of them will have to at the very least beat England or Australia and even then would have to win most of their other matches. New Zealand and India are probably the two most likely contenders, but I expect them to play each other for third place as England and Australia meet in another final. Australia have generally had the better of these encounters recently, including grabbing the T20 World Cup almost out from under England’s nose. The two teams will meet in the Super Six stage as well (which will be true of whichever two teams end up in the final) so there will be a chance to assess them head-to-head during the tournament and in these situations the winner is often the side who make the better adjustments. Right now though, I would say Australia are favourites against any opposition in the final. They are playing very well and have a lot of depth and my guess is a second close defeat in a final for England.

2012 XI

There are still three days to go in the year proper, but 2012 ended in a cricketing sense last night as Sri Lanka collapsed to a heavy innings defeat at the MCG. It’s an interesting year on which to look back; South Africa will certainly be the happiest as they returned to the number one spot in the Test rankings, but England finished on a high and Australia made the most of their very weak opposition for most of the year.

For my XI of the year I am assuming the Test is being played in South Africa as they are the number one ranked side. I have one spinner, therefore, and although all things being equal I prefer having five bowlers it is far more common to play four bowlers/six batsmen so I am using that balance.

Alastair Cook
Cook led all openers in 2012 with 1249 runs scored and was second in average at 48.03 runs per dismissal. He also hit four centuries, the most of any opener and the last one set a new English record for career centuries.

Graeme Smith*
Smith had the best average amongst openers in 2012 with 48.52 and passed fifty more often than any other opener, eight times. He gets the captaincy in this XI after leading his team to the number one Test ranking.

Hashim Amla
Amla bats at three after 1064 runs at an average over seventy this year. His high point was the unbeaten 311 he scored as South Africa piled on the runs at the Oval, but he was brilliant throughout.

Michael Clarke
Comfortably the lead run scorer in 2012, Clarke finished the year by setting an Australian record with 1595 runs scored in a calendar year. He hit five centuries, three of them doubles and one a triple. Two of those double tons were also against South Africa, so it was not a case of weak opposition either.

AB de Villiers
De Villiers is a bit of a surprise; he bookended the year with centuries in Cape Town and Perth but had none in between. But he did still contribute consistently and averaged almost 57 in the middle order with 815 runs, fourth highest amongst middle order batsmen.

Ross Taylor
Taylor might remember this year for the captaincy debacle, but before that he scored 819 runs at an average over 54 and three centuries for good measure. The last of those came in a memorable win at Colombo.

Matt Prior
Prior was still the best overall wicket-keeper in 2012; he scored the most runs of any wicket-keeper and had the most dismissals, though in both cases he was helped by playing in rather more matches than all of his competitors. But he was the only one to excel with both bat and gloves.

Vernon Philander
It was another excellent year for Philander; he took 43 wickets in nine Tests at an average just over 21. He was at his best early in the year, but he still took an important five wickets in the last innings of the Lord’s Test to ensure a series win for South Africa.

Kemar Roach
Roach was far from the most heralded bowler this year, but he took 39 wickets in only seven Tests at an average of 22. His zenith was the five wickets he took in each innings against Australia at Port of Spain in April.

James Anderson
Statistically this will not go down as Anderson’s best year, but that hardly tells the full story. Nine of the 14 Tests in which he played this year were in subcontinent conditions and he still proved a threat, taking thirty wickets at under 27 apiece. His spells in Galle, Calcutta and Nagpur in particular were incredible.

Saeed Ajmal
It was a very tough call for the spinner’s place between Ajmal and Ragnara Herath. Herath was actually the lead wicket taker in 2012, but Ajmal took 39 wicket in only six Tests and of course baffled England at the start of the year. Herath going wicketless in the last Test of the year finally tipped the selection to Ajmal.

T20 World Cup Group 2 permutations

With the second round of matches in Group 2 of the T20 World Cup finished we can now look at the possible permutations in that group as well. As far as points go it is actually set up the same way as group one is, but the NRRs are different and actually produce a slightly simpler result.

First what’s already been confirmed: nothing. In theory anyway. In practice Australia are all but through to the semi-finals and are almost certain to top the group as well. Using the same formulae from yesterday, we get that Pakistan would need to win by around forty runs or with 5.2 overs to spare to catch Australia on NRR. That’s just to put Australia into the runners-up spot, however. For Australia to actually be knocked out, India would have to beat South Africa by just as much. It’s pretty safe to assume that Australia will top the group and very safe to assume they will at least advance.

That’s where the safety ends though, all three other teams have decent shots at getting the runners-up position. Pakistan’s match against Australia is first and as discussed above they have very little hope of catching Australia’s NRR. But they are not safe from the two sides below them; they are so close to India they are essentially in a dead heat and only a small amount above South Africa on NRR. This puts Pakistan in almost a must-win scenario. The only way they can advance with a loss is if South Africa then win and not by enough to go ahead of Pakistan on NRR. In practice that means that Pakistan would have to lose by only two or three runs or with only one ball to spare and South Africa could not win by more than four runs or with more than two balls to spare.

So Pakistan essentially have to win, but a victory is actually not enough to get them to safety. They are so close to India that if both sides win it will come down to which of them can do so by more. Although Pakistan are slightly ahead right now, they won’t necessarily come off better if both sides win by the same margin either. A low scoring win by, say, 15 runs counts for more than a higher scoring affair decided by the same margin (which makes sense as 15 runs represents a higher per cent of the total RR in a lower scoring affair) so the specific scores for both sides would come into play if they both won. The upshot is that Pakistan need to win by as much as they possibly can and then hope South Africa do them a favour and either win or lose by a smaller amount than Pakistan win.

South Africa may not be feeling too charitable in that situation, however, as a Pakistan will eliminate the Proteas. South Africa need Australia to win first and foremost, but if they get that they will have more than just a sniff of hope. An Australian win would actually make the South Africa v India match almost a winner-take-all affair. Certainly if India were to win after Australia won then both teams would go to the semi-finals. And if South Africa won after Australia won then probably both teams would go to the semi-finals. The caveat in the second case is that it would actually go down to NRR again between all three of South Africa, India and Pakistan. They are all three close enough together that South Africa’s victory would likely sent them above the other two. To go above India they would need to win by at least four runs or with two or more balls to spare. That would also automatically send them above Pakistan unless Pakistan lost off the final or penultimate ball or by only two or fewer runs. Neither of those are likely, but both are possible, so South Africa must make sure they read their NRR sheets better than they do their D/L sheets!

In summary:
-Australia are all but through.
-Pakistan need to win and then hope that either South Africa also win or that if India win it is by a smaller margin than Pakistan’s win.
-South Africa are out if Pakistan win, but otherwise can advance by beating India by more than four runs/two balls.
-India can advance with a win if Australia also win or by beating South Africa by more than Pakistan beat Australia. A very close defeat to South Africa will also probably be enough.

Twenty20 World Cup preview

Now that England have finished their rain affected series against South Africa there is no other men’s cricket until the start of the T20 World Cup. Of course there should be another two years, but because the ICC only sees various currency symbols in the fixture list they decided to go ahead and compromise some of the integrity of the tournament in exchange for the extra cash of having it once every two years instead of once every four. But it’s a reasonable enough decision as it’s only T20 and the whole point is just to make money anyway.

The format for the tournament is one of two group stages leading to the semi-finals. The first group stage is four groups of three with the top two from each advancing to two groups of four. It’s exciting in that any of the top teams can see their tournament end quite quickly if they slip up in the first two matches and rubbish in that this gives a huge role to chance. Still at least it’s a direct tournament and not the flawed rankings.

Group A contains England, India and Afghanistan. England are officially the best team in the world in the shortest format in the world and to be fair have won seven of their last ten (completed) matches. India are theoretically T20 powerhouses. They have probably the best disposed fan base toward T20 and this is manifest in the IPL. Despite (or very possibly in part because of) this India actually have a very poor record in T20 and have lost at home to both England and New Zealand in the past year. And then there is Afghanistan who I think I might be required by law to call ‘plucky’. Their story in getting to the tournament has been documented elsewhere in a much better fashion than I could, but what is most relevant is that they are not at all a bad side. They gave Australia a scare in a fifty-over match not long ago and they cannot be written off. One would probably not expect a major upset; England and India have to stay on their guard, but they will probably both advance.

Group B contains Australia, the West Indies and Ireland. A bit was made last week about Australia actually falling below Ireland in the rankings. (The Aussies have since moved back in front.) Although I pointed out why it was overblown, it is true that Australia have had a pretty dismal time in T20s recently. The West Indies have done a bit better though and split a two match series against Australia earlier this year. Ireland have played very little major opposition and were whitewashed in three matches at home by Bangladesh in the last series that they played. I think the West Indies will probably be the safest leaving Australia and Ireland. Ireland actually look like the better team on paper, but that is almost entirely against other Associate nations. They will be keen and if Australia have any sort of off day Ireland can definitely win. This might actually be a group where all three teams manage one win and run rate becomes the decider. I’m going to spring for the upset and have Ireland go through.

Group C comprises Sri Lanka, South Africa and Zimbabwe. South Africa have had a solid if unspectacular year. Zimbabwe have lost all six official T20s they played in the last twelve months and only two of them were even close. Sri Lanka have hardly played any matches so it’s quite hard to judge them. Presumably South Africa will top the group comfortably with Sri Lanka quite likely finishing runners-up. It might be interesting to see if Zimbabwe can pull off something remarkable against them though.

And in Group D there is Pakistan, New Zealand and Bangladesh. Pakistan have been a fairly strong T20 outfit recently and just technically beat Australia 2-1 in the UAE. (Though it should go down as 1-1 with one tie.) New Zealand did just manage to beat India, but had a poor time against the West Indies before that and are still far too mercurial. Bangladesh are Bangladesh. They may pull off a surprise against a better team on paper, but it would be a surprise. The Pakistan v New Zealand battle for the top of the group might be interesting, but unfortunately the tournament structure is such that the group winners are not rewarded over runners up. As with so many T20s, the result of that contest won’t matter.

So I suspect it will be England, the West Indies, Sri Lanka and New Zealand in Group 1 of the second round and India, Ireland, South Africa and Pakistan in Group 2. The top two teams of those two groups will meet in the semi-finals. Assuming the groups finish as I suggest (which isn’t going to happen, but never mind) then I would guess the semi-finals to be England v Pakistan and South Africa v West Indies and probably South Africa topping off a good year by beating Pakistan in the final. Maybe.

Sri Lanka v Pakistan preview

It was not so long ago that these two teams played each other in the UAE. Both have had decent success playing England since then, but Pakistan will go into this series strong favourites. They have not lost a Test in the last twelve months (winning seven and drawing two) and the conditions will not be too alien for them.

Sri Lanka, despite a pair of memorable victories over the winter, are a struggling team. Their batting has some serious question marks over it; they have some greats in Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, but they have not had a lot of support for those two and have been left vulnerable when the big names fail. In 19 completed innings in the last twelve months they have been bowled out for under 250 in eight of them and only passed 400 three times. Their overall team batting average in that span is a mere 28.27. Those two victories over South Africa and England are their only two victories in their last eleven Tests (they have lost five). Both of them came from excellent bowling performances, but overall their bowling has not been any more impressive than their batting. In only four of those eleven Tests have the opposition been bowled out twice and in seven of twenty innings they have scored over 400. Sri Lanka have certainly had their moments, but they are few and far between and one can not expect much from them.

Pakistan are in almost the opposite situation. They have not lost a Test since being beat by the West Indies over a year ago and won seven in the past year including the famous 3-0 whitewash of England. Their bowling has been consistently excellent, though they have had the advantage of playing mostly on familiar subcontinent pitches. Their batting has also been good, though not to the same extent and like Sri Lanka they are a bit reliant on a few very good players. Unlike Sri Lanka though, they have batsmen down the order to prevent collapses from getting out of hand. Their only real problems, besides occasional collapses, have been still fairly poor fielding and that Misbah-ul-Haq is a fairly defensive captain. When they played Sri Lanka in the UAE last year they probably ought to have won by more than a 1-0 margin, but let a possible victory get away with dropped catches and a lack of attack.

The combination of excellent bowling, competent batting and mostly friendly conditions has been a very potent one for Pakistan and I see no reason why one should not expect all three to be at play in Sri Lanka. Pakistan should be confident coming into the series and hopefully will be a bit more aggressive. Sri Lanka might be able to bat well enough to get a draw in one of the matches, but I don’t see them winning any and I am predicting a 2-0 series win for Pakistan.

Amir’s interview

Unfortunately I was not able to watch the full interview that Mohammed Amir gave to Michael Atherton, but I found a transcript and it makes for very interesting reading. Amir is very contrite, saying ‘I told myself that I’d definitely done wrong and would accept the truth, whatever the consequences’ and ‘What I can say is that I think I deserved to be punished’. At the same time, however, he says that he was ‘tricked’ into the fixing by Salman Butt, at whose feet he lays the blame.

Amir says that he panicked and made an error of judgement. That is a plausible and far-reaching defence, but also one for which it is hard to provide evidence. It is worth mentioning that as intelligent and well-spoken as Atherton is, he is not a QC and thus not trained in cross examination. There is a particular portion of Amir’s testimony which struck me as suspicious: he gave his bank details to an unknown third party ‘Ali’ before the Oval Test, apropos of nothing according to Amir. Supposedly he did so because the man was a friend of Butt’s. This is not something I could even imagine anyone doing. I know that Amir’s circumstances are very different from those with which I am familiar, but even so I cannot think of a compelling reason to give one’s bank details to a complete stranger. At the same time, he was given the money for his no-balls in cash, which would be very odd if he had already given his bank details to the fixers. Amir also never answered why he texted ‘so in the first 3 bowl whatever you like and in the last 2 do 8 runs’ before he had been supposedly pressured into bowling the no-balls at Lord’s. It these points on which I think a skilled QC would have pressed and perhaps got a clearer picture than Atherton did.

I am by no means convinced of the veracity of Amir’s story, though the rest of his story is very believable. He claims that Butt and Mazheer told him that the ICC knew of his original phone calls and the only way to stay out of trouble was to follow along with Butt’s fixing. Whilst this is, on the face of it, a rather outlandish claim, the notion that he panicked and accepted is not. If it is true he would be far from the first one to do so. From there he is mostly very contrite, whilst also speaking of his anger with Butt, who Amir considered his ‘older brother’. In general it is a very good interview and it is nice to see him (mostly) take responsibility.

It will inevitably bring up the subject of whether Amir’s ban was too heavy. If one accepts his story as true, then it is easy to paint a picture with it of a young man who had few other options. That would, I think, be ill-advised. Even if one overlooks the illogic of Amir giving away his phone details, the fact that he was pressured into it would only be a reason for some leniency, certainly not any sort of pardon. It must be remembered that the ban is not merely a punishment for Amir, but a shot across the bows of other would-be fixers. The ICC, or any governing body, can never rigourously police and investigate every delivery of every match, they are reliant on informants. As preferable as it would be to use the ‘carrot’ and offer rewards to them, it carries the risk of false claims and is anyway unlikely to match the rewards of fixing. The only direct incentive to report fixing then is the threat of a lengthy ban for all those involved. For Amir, I think five years is about right. He will almost certainly play again, he will still be younger than some debutants when he his ban expires, but his career will have been curtailed and his reputation will probably never fully recover.

The fact that Butt and Asif also only got, in effect, five years is inexcusable, however. Again, I do not fully accept the claim that Butt tricked Amir into fixing, but he was still clearly heavily involved. He had to be, he was the captain and made for a natural organiser. There is no doubt in my mind that he should have been given a life ban and the fact that he wasn’t displayed the spinelessness of the ICC.

England win by six/nine wickets

Suddenly I’m writing the words ‘England win’ a lot. A couple of nights ago the women’s side won their first T20 by six wickets. It was rather closer than it ought to have been, Anya Shrubsole took 5-11 (all five bowled or lbw) in four overs as the Kiwis finished on 80-9. It was at this point that I made the in hindsight ill-advised comment ‘should be a straightforward chase’ on Twitter. Needless to say we got bogged down and after losing a few wickets were actually behind the rate for a time. For the Kiwis, Kate Broadmore at one point had figures of 2.2-2-0-1. Unlike Shrubsole, however, she couldn’t take more than that one wicket and Sarah Taylor hit a composed and unbeaten 31 off 34 to see England home with six wickets and 14 balls to spare. Never in doubt… The second match of the series is tonight/tomorrow morning and whilst New Zealand will take heart from their bowling display I’m tipping England to win again.

The far more surprising win was for the men’s side. If I had known before the tour that there would be 3-0 scorelines in both the Test and ODI series I would have assumed that we had won the Tests and been hammered in the ODIs. As it was, England turned in one of their most comprehensive ever ODI wins away from home. Only three times previously have England played top tier opposition away from home and chased down a target with more balls to spare than the 76 balls to spare that they had in this match. The most recent was against South Africa in November 2009 when England lost three wickets en route to 121 off 31.2 overs. England also won with 94 balls remaining at the MCG in January 1979, a 40-over ODI in which Geoffery Boycott scored an unbeaten 39 off 107 deliveries. England took just 28.2 overs to chase down the 102 they needed for victory and I’m sure the crowd went home thinking that they got their money’s worth. I think a case could be made that this was a more comprehensive victory than any of those, however. England looked today like they could easily have chased down another hundred runs. There were standout performances from Cook and Finn again, but KP was the real star. He looked today like the KP of old, a man bristling with intent and for once not likely to give his wicket away. Once he got into his stride the only thing that looked like it might stop him from reaching three figures was if England ran out of runs to chase. As it was, Cook’s dismissal meant that KP could get to an unbeaten 111, his joint highest ODI score.

This puts England in a very rare position for overseas ODI series. Excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, the last time England won an overseas ODI series by two or more matches was a 3-0 whitewash of New Zealand in 1992. If England can win the last match, it will be only the second time overseas and fifth time ever that England have won four or more matches in an ODI series.