Five cricketers who were made to eat their words

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History has shown that talking big before a series isn't a great idea

It is perhaps only enhanced in cricket’s case, due to its titling as the ‘gentleman’s game’, but basic sporting etiquette demands that you have respect for your opponent.

Nevertheless, the game attracts its fair share of loud mouths. Individuals who were not averse to the odd outspoken remark, but who were also duly punished by cricket’s occasionally cruel habit of karmic retribution.

Here, Sport360 looks at five instances where big mouths were made to eat humble pie:

2016: MAKHAYA NTINI VOWS TO BURY UNDER-STRENGTH SIDES

Although his grievance was not just directed at Zimbabwe’s current opponents India, coach Makhaya Ntini demanded teams to send their best players when touring the country. Seemingly affronted by a raw, highly inexperienced Indian squad for their three match ODI series, Ntini declared that Zimbabwe would “put them under the carpet”. This, he claimed, would send them packing to “tell people that they need to send their strongest team.”

With India clinching the series after two heavy wins over the Zimbabweans, it’s safe to say Ntini is not making good on his threat.

Makhaya Ntini (Getty)

Makhaya Ntini vowed to teach teams that sent second string sides to Zimbabwe a lesson.

2015: STEVE SMITH ‘WOULDN’T COME CLOSE’

This instance may be slightly more excusable, as winning an Ashes series 5-0 certainly gave Australia the right to crow a little. But a lot had changed in the interim. England were now prepared to salvage their broken pride and wrest the Ashes from the grubby fingers of the Australians.

Aussie captain Steve Smith was convinced it was just hot air. If the visitors could sustain their form over the past twelve to eighteen months, Smith didn’t think “they’ll come close to us to be honest”.

It proved to be an ill-fated assertion. The eventual margin of victory for England (3-2) suggested a close victory, but in reality England had strolled to three fairly comfortable victories, among them an innings victory at Trent Bridge with Australia dismissed for an appalling 60 in the first innings.

2006: GREG CHAPPELL FORGETS HOW TO WIN

He was, at one time, a splendid steward of Indian cricket, but Greg Chappell’s taste for controversy eventually led to a bitter fall out and an inglorious exit from the group stages of the 2007 World Cup. India’s form had been unravelling in the year prior to cricket’s showpiece tournament in the West Indies, with the cracks first appearing during a tour of the Caribbean in mid-2006.

After a five-wicket win in the first ODI in Kingston, Chappell claimed the home side were out of practice and that they had “forgotten how to win at the moment”. He was in for a shock. The West Indies won the next four games to complete a stunning 4-1 reverse. Ranked at number eight in the world, Brian Lara’s men made Chappell’s remark look ill-advised and embarrassing.

Greg Chappell (Getty)

Greg Chappell loved talking to the press and frequently made controversial statements.

2005: GLENN MCGRATH PROMISES ASHES WHITEWASH

Glenn McGrath has predicted a crushing 5-0 series victory for Australia in the Ashes in England. Nevertheless, in 2005, things had reached a quite depressing low for England and it did not seem far from impossible. England had not held the Ashes for 18 years and Australia had crushed them 4-1 in the previous series (2002-03).

McGrath was so confident of a clean sweep that he even suggested that England would be best suited to focussing on their later excursion to South Africa rather than their summer engagement with the Aussies. The move backfired, for McGrath himself suffered injuries and England came from behind to win 2-1 in one of the most memorable series ever played.

1976: TONY GREIG AND THE ‘GROVELLING’ EPISODE

The West Indies were the much-hyped visitors to England in the summer of 1976. The tourists arrived that May with a battery of ferocious fast bowlers – enough for the local press to build them up as serious challengers to the home side. His feathers ruffled by all this, English captain Tony Greig claimed that he intended, “with the help of Closey [Brian Close] and a few others, to make them grovel”.

The remark was hugely controversial, for its supposed racist nature, but it did not get the West Indies down. If anything, it only proved to fire the tourists up further. England surrendered the series meekly, crashing to a 0-3 defeat in the five-Test series.

Tony Greig (Getty)

Tony Greig was severely critcized for the racial undertone in his comments.

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The life and times of Maninder Singh, India's forgotten spinner

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Prodigious forever: Maninder Singh in action .

A cursory Google search of his name is telling – the entry ‘Maninder Singh’ just about fills up the first page with links to the cricketer’s career stats, Wikipedia entry and supposed suicide bid in 2007.

And that’s where it ends.

The second page has one result, and it is followed by search results with the kind of fleeting, clutching-at-straws relevance to the names ‘Maninder’ and ‘Singh’ that one would normally expect to see among much murkier depths of a google search.

If you had explained to a cricket fan thirty years ago the nature of Google, and that this tool would produce a mere nine instances of Maninder’s name immortalised across the vast expanse of knowledge that is the internet, they would have laughed in your face.

And yet, here we are. As Maninder turns 51, a full twenty-three years removed from the last time he played for India, we are seemingly left with two outstanding impressions of the left-arm spinner in the sport’s memory – neither of which are particularly flattering.

UNFULFILLED PROMISE

Maninder Singh was once seen as Bishen Bedi's successor (Getty)

Maninder Singh was once seen as Bishen Bedi’s successor.

The first instance is one of ‘what could have been’.

Even without the benefit of hindsight, it was evident that comparing a 17-year-old from Pune, to Bishan Singh Bedi was not exactly the best way to ease pressure on the young man. The left-arm spin, the Sikh faith, the turban – all obvious, yet superficial similarities. One can understand why these comparisons were drawn and also, inevitably, why they were encouraged.

Maninder did end up forming an invaluable sporting bond with his idol Bedi. Just how much the pressure of living up to his mentor contributed to his sharp decline is unclear – Maninder himself felt it was a key factor, saying too much came his way too soon – but for a while it looked like he was living up to that impossible promise.

Although not immediately a first-choice regular as a teenager (he played fifteen Tests in roughly his first three years), Maninder’s variety and enticing, beguiling loop of delivery were identified as the greatest weapons in his arsenal. Indian cricket hoped that after the abortive, nine-Test-long career of Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, which saw the Tamil Nadu leggie lose everything almost as soon as he gained it, there were hopes that Maninder would move in the opposite direction.

In the end they veered off down similar paths, and Maninder’s name is often linked to Sivaramakrishnan’s, both cases especially damning indictments for burdening young shoulders with the hopes of a nation. The two are bound together in a painful reminder of how cruel professional sport can be.

But was Maninder’s really that acute a matter of wasted talent? There exist so many ‘what if?’ questions in sport, and it appears Maninder was judged a failure in comparison to the bowler he might have been rather than the bowler he was.

It is true that 88 wickets from 35 Tests at 37.36 and 66 wickets from 59 ODIs at 31.30 are far from startling returns. But his career economy figures read a useful 2.40 in Tests and 3.95 in ODIs. And anyway, given the rather illusory nature of statistics, should cricket’s yardstick for greatness not be actual victories and memorable performances, instead of forever wondering about a course of action that may or may not have happened?

To that end, Maninder’s notable performances leap to his defence. A return of 3-9 in England’s second innings at Lord’s in 1986 (his full analysis reads 20.4-12-9-3) helped clean up an irritant lower order and set India on their way to victory. In the second Test at Headingley, given one chance to bowl, Maninder prevented more rearguard action with 4-26. They were a pair of performances that were as important as any on the entire tour. It gave India a 0-2 series win, their first Test series win abroad for seven years, and first outside Asia for nineteen.

Home series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan followed, with 37 wickets falling to his bowling across seven Tests in both combined.

THE TIED TEST

Maninder’s second outstanding impression on the cricketing consciousness came in September 1986 as India played Australia in Chennai. Left with a target of 348 to chase on the last day of the Test, India had made an admirable fist of things, needing only four from the final over. A excited crowd of over 30,000 was watching, and tempers were soaring as India marched to what looked like an improbable victory.

With Ravi Shastri and last man Maninder at the crease, victory could go to either team. Already having charged forty yards to swap insults with Dean Jones after removing him in the second innings, the spinner had unimaginable pressure on him to conjure the winning run from the three remaining balls. Perhaps it was merely symptomatic of Maninder’s ability to handle pressure that Greg Matthews trapped him in front off the penultimate ball to sensationally tie the Test.

Maninder insists to this day he had got a bit of bat on it, but he is often remembered as the one who stumbled up to the finish line but could not drag his team over it.

BANGALORE 1987

This was the scene of Maninder’s greatest triumph in one of the most memorable Test matches in history. After four dire draws between India and Pakistan, there was a deliberate decision made to underprepare the Bangalore wicket in the hope of forcing a result. It worked a charm.

It seems fitting that Maninder’s finest hour resulted in victory for arch rivals Pakistan. Batting first, the visitors simply had no answer to the spinner. One, two, three, four. The top order collapsed. Five, six, seven. Their innings was finished in 49.2 overs. Maninder finished with 18.2-8-27-7.

Sunil Gavaskar took India to the brink with a sublime 96 in a fourth innings chase of 221. His innings was in vain, even as Roger Binny attempted a late surge. Imran Khan’s men had conquered India with a 16-run victory in the final Test that secured a 1-0 series win. Again, Maninder watched from the other end as Binny fell.

HARSHLY JUDGED?

For Maninder, that was about it. A failed comeback in the ’90s, which included an altered bowling action, is largely held against him, but Maninder had the satisfaction of ending his career with seven wickets against Zimbabwe at Delhi – the state he represented at domestic level. Maninder retired from international cricket at age 27.

Maninder Singh's Stats

  • Tests: 35, ODIs: 59
  • Test wickets: 88 @ 37.36
  • ODI wickets: 66 @ 31.30
  • BBI: 7/27 (Tests), 4/22 (ODIs)

In the years since, his enthusiasm for cricket saw him remain in the game as an umpire and television analyst. But 2007 brought with it controversies relating to cocaine possession and the admission to hospital on account of injuries to his wrists, ultimately sending Maninder into a reclusive existence since his retirement from cricket.

He was a cricketer best left to his own devices. Maninder has noted how in the second innings of Bangalore 1987, he was bombarded with suggestions on how to bowl to the Pakistanis and promptly suffered from overthinking his plan of attack. He has noted how Mohammad Azharuddin’s well-known style of low-key captaincy suited him perfectly. At the age of 21, the ball was routinely tossed to him with equal hope and expectation that he would change the game.

His slight double jump before a delivery was a key part of an action that claimed a ten-wicket haul twice in Test cricket. Supposedly, illness and overworking an exhausted mind and body during a visit to England in 1987 took away that double jump and with it brought to an end his five-wicket hauls.

All of this suggests Maninder was not mentally equipped to deal with the strain of top-level cricket and indeed, he has emphasised in subsequent years how his career would have been greatly benefited by a steady coach and a psychologist. But it also suggests he may have simply been poorly handled.

Although his name does not regularly appear in the headlines anymore, the occasional surfacing of Maninder’s views on the game reveal a sharp, analytical mind with a great appreciation for the technical side of bowling. It suggests an ex-player, though likely tired and frustrated by the end, that never lost his grip on the mechanics of the sport that catapulted him to national prominence for an all too brief period.

And if sporting legend is immortalised through emotion, enthusiasm and superlative performances, maybe, just maybe, England 1986, and Sri Lanka and Pakistan 1987 will be given their due and history will judge Maninder perhaps a little more charitably.

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EXCLUSIVE: Heath Streak on Zimbabwe's future and India job

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Heath Streak in his playing days

In his playing days, Heath Streak was often described as a lion-hearted performer. As a result it was no coincidence that a large part of his playing career coincided with Zimbabwe cricket’s best performances on the field.

An out and out team man, Streak was his country’s bastion of hope as cricket collided with politics.

Today, he is one of the most sought after coaches in world cricket having overseen Bangladesh’s resurgence on the back of the rise of some exceptionally talented young fast-bowlers.

No longer associated with the Bangladesh team, Streak has since tasted success with the Gujarat Lions IPL franchise who topped this year’s league stage.

In an exclusive chat with Sport360.com, Streak talks about wide ranging issues covering cricket in three different countries and reveals Rahul Dravid was nightmare to bowl to.

I really love the IPL and hopefully in another year or two, I can take the next step going from a specialist coach to a head coaching position.

Thanks for speaking with us Heath. It must be feeling good being back home after a long time on the road.

It does, I was obviously kept busy during the T20 World Cup and the IPL. The time went quickly, but it has indeed been a long time away from home.

Ahead of the T20 World Cup, Bangladesh were touted as the dark horses, but the results said otherwise. Would you say things didn’t go to plan?

I think we were close to it. If we had won that game against India, which by all respects we should have – that was more us losing it than India winning it – it could have been a different story. In that case, the last game [against New Zealand] would have had more on it for us, to play a team that had already qualified. We could have really done something there.

Disappointing in the end, given our form going into it and having such a good Asia Cup, it was a disappointment to not live up to our expectations especially in those conditions.

Streak's experience would have greatly helped some of Bangladesh's bowlers

‘The credit goes to the players who bought into the new method of training’

Your tenure with Bangladesh cricket coincided with its one-day rise, what sparked that?

As a coaching group, with the new coaching staff that came in, we changed what we felt needed to be changed in order to progress. Fortunately for us that worked. Credit has to go to the players as we can only create the idea and make them buy into the changes we brought to them. But the credit goes to the players who bought into the new method of training.

We saw the emergence of younger players who really stood up to complement the presence of stronger players like Tamim Iqbal, Shakib al-Hasan and Mashrafe Mortaza. The Taskins, the Mustafizurs, and the Sarkars brought an X-factor to Bangladesh cricket which they never had. Also our quick bowlers working in tandem have helped strengthen our combination over the past year or so.

Are you the man behind Bangladesh’s sudden unearthing of talented fast bowlers?

As a coach what I have tried to encourage is for the players to recognise their abilities, I think in Bangladesh, the conditions never ever suited them. When we actually prepared conditions that did suit them, we realised what potential that they did have.

There is a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes in terms of technical work, also a lot of tactical awareness in terms of them knowing what their roles are and how to go about their work. I think that’s where we managed to change that.

Fortunately for us the World Cup was in Australia – because we knew we were going to conditions where we needed our pacers to step up, the board bought into us giving a bit more opportunities to the quicks. Post the World Cup after having been successful, everyone realised what the bowlers were able to achieve.

Bangladesh fans can be incredibly critical of their side. Do you think they need to be more forgiving?

Firstly, we need to understand that the Bangladeshi fans are very passionate, which is obviously a very good thing. When we play at home we see how passionate they can be. Correspondingly, they can also put the team and individuals under a lot of pressure. At times, I think their expectations are quite high. Understandably so, but they also need to realise that the players are also human beings and they can’t come out score hundreds every time.

Hopefully, the more cricket Bangladesh play, the more the public understand that. As long as they see the effort and commitment of the team irrespective of the result – something Indian fans realise when they see MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli lead the teams – it becomes easier for the fans to be a lot more forgiving when things don’t go their way.

Mashrafe Mortaza has led the country ably for a number of years, is there a concern that there is no heir apparent? 

No, I don’t think so. Without a doubt, Mortaza’s partnership with the head coach has been a good one and yes, he is in the twilight of his career. But I think there are good options coming up. I think the likes of Sabbir Rahman and Soumya Sarkar are two young guys who I see have the leadership ability. In Test cricket, maybe Mominul Haque.

Hopefully these guys can establish themselves in the team where they can be viewed as captaincy contenders. It’s just important that they make sure that their performances are good so that they can warrant their spots because you don’t want to be looking at a scenario where you are doubtful about your captain’s place in the XI.

Streak's International Record

  • Internationals: 254
  • Wickets: 455 @ 29.02
  • Runs: 4933 @ 25.55
  • Career: 1993 - 2005

Bangladesh cricket is on a high right now, do you think it’s perhaps a bit early for you to be leaving your job, especially with the Champions Trophy happening next year?

It was something I was looking at. But for me, my time away in conjunction with the IPL was too much time away from home. We have got a well established business here in Zimbabwe, my kids are well settled and it’s very difficult to move them across to Bangladesh – it’s very difficult for me to spend that much time away. I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice the time I would like to spend with my young family.

So is it then fair to say that you will not be applying for the job of India’s head coach?

I wouldn’t be applying yet, it’s something I would like to look at in the future. I would like to evolve to a head coach’s positions and gain more experience. I really love the IPL and hopefully in another year or two, I can take the next step going from a specialist coach to a head coaching position.

I certainly really enjoyed India, it is a lovely place – some of the bigger cities like Kolkata, Mumbai, Bengaluru in particular were some enjoyable places. And somewhere in the future I can see myself doing some work in India.

At the IPL this year, you formed a good partnership with Brad Hodge and Suresh Raina at the Gujarat Lions. How did that relationship unfold?

I really enjoyed that. Both Hodge and Raina were really supportive – we had a good team and coaching group working together. It’s good to have experienced international captains like Brendon McCullum and Aaron Finch on your side. The time was enjoyable and I would like to believe that I was able to impart quite a lot of experience from a bowling perspective as well from my learnings as a specialist coach with an international side.

While with the Lions you were coaching a set of players who were preparing to face Mustafizur as opposition. Do you think it’s an ethical dilemma to decide how much to reveal about a bowler you have worked with so closely? 

It’s a dilemma a lot of coaches face these days. With all the different tournaments that take place across the world, coaches keep moving from one team to another. It is difficult because when you play against the bowler who you have worked with, you know what his tactics are and what he is looking to do.

At the end of the day, a lot of the things you know about that bowler are already known by the others but they still need to go out there and play. It’s one of those things you face in a cosmopolitan coaching arena.

What is the key to success for a bowler in the IPL?

All the successful bowlers in the IPL have very reliable skill sets. I think that’s why the guys who have had success are the ones who have a very reliable stock ball, they’ve got a couple of good slower variations and they execute their yorkers very well.

If you look at Mustafizur, he’s got an unbelievably good slower ball which is hard for people to decipher but the reality is that he nails yorkers very consistently and knows to hit the right lengths consistently as well.

Gujarat Lions

‘Both Hodge and Raina were really supportive’

Do you think bowlers like Mustafizur will get found out after a few years of international cricket?

People will improve and will find ways to counter his skills. Definitely that will happen but like all bowlers, he too will find other methods that he can use against batsmen, just like we see batters come up with new shots to counter certain kinds of deliveries. Hopefully he continues to improve because if you stagnate in today’s age, you’ll get left behind by the competition.

Since T20 cricket forces a bowler to use variations like cutters and slower deliveries, do you think we will soon see a time when there is no place for an out and out pace bowler?

The game is evolving but fast-bowlers will continue to stay. We’ve seen with England, how they have protected bowlers like James Anderson and Stuart Broad from T20 cricket as they are so valuable as Test cricketers. People don’t like it when you are bowling at 140/145 clicks, and you can be successful in T20 cricket with that pace. You’ll just see some faster bowlers develop the slower variations as a mix-up to add to their game – for me, that’s sort of where the game is going to lean towards.

Cricket in your country seems to be witnessing turbulent times currently with the sacking of Dav Whatmore and captain Hamilton Masakadza, what did you make of that? 

From an outsider’s perspective, they have had a bit of a lean patch lately. So I don’t think it’s totally unwarranted for Zimbabwe cricket to look at ways in which they can improve. I think getting a person like Lance Klusener is a good thing. Graeme Cremer has been a consistent player for a while, it was unfortunate that he was injured ahead of the T20 World Cup, but he was the pick of the players. Hopefully he can bring something different as captain. Hamilton is still a good player and will play an important part for his side over the next few years.

Naturally, Dav Whatmore will be disappointed but the involvement of someone like Tatenda Taibu is a step in the right direction and hopefully they’ll be able to entice a few of the players who have left the setup to come back. Ultimately, losing the likes of Kyle Jarvis and Brendon Taylor had a massive impact on Zimbabwe cricket and to have those two back alongside the other performers would give the team a lift.

Back in the day Zimbabwe used to boast of a host of stars, do you think politics has hindered cricket in the country?

I think in the past there have been some well documented issues that have happened with Zimbabwean cricket. Those have had a big influence and I think the exodus of senior players has had an impact. Not just those who left during my time, but even the premature retirement of people like Tatenda Taibu and Stuart Matsikenyeri affected us because even if they weren’t going to play international cricket, they should have been retained to remain as senior players in the domestic setup in order to guide the youngsters.

We have lost a lot of young talent also, 18 and 19 year olds who are playing County cricket currently. Those sort of things have had an impact and unfortunately, the cricket board struggles to retain the players as County cricket’s financial stability is extremely lucrative.

India will be touring Zimbabwe in a week’s time, albeit with a young side, do you think it’s going to be all too easy for MS Dhoni’s team? 

If the Indian youngsters carry on with their IPL form then they’ll be a tough side to beat for Zimbabwe. However, experience is a factor and we have seen young teams when put under pressure struggle a bit. MS Dhoni’s presence – to have his guidance and leadership – will be a calming influence no doubt, making India a tough team to beat. But Zimbabwe will be playing at home, will be aware of their conditions and they might just be able to spring a surprise.

Laatly, as someone who has been a part of a number of India-Zimbabwe contests, who is the batsman apart from Sachin Tendulkar you did not like bowling to?

Probably that’s going to be Rahul Dravid. Rahul was one of those guys who you never felt was going to give you a chance. He was always in such control of everything, he was prepared to occupy the crease, bat long periods and make it difficult for you. Behind Sachin, I would say Rahul was the next most difficult batsman to bowl to, especially in Test cricket. He was just an amazing batsman in that form of the game.

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