Irish World Cup Cricket Blog – Pete Johnston

Blog two 24.02.11
Its the eve of our first game in the Cricket World Cup 2011. I last wrote just before the opening ceremony which turned out to be a spectacular event where there were as many people packed inside the stadium as there were outside.

The highlights were probably Bryan Adams and the cricket match played by acrobats on the side of a skyscraper overlooking the old ground, along with plenty of cultural dancing and fireworks. For George Dockrell our talented 18 year old Left Arm Spinner it might be a night to forget, as he came to terms with touring the subcontinent and the stomach upset it can sometimes cause. However George was back at training the following day, nearly collapsing after every ball, but giving everything he had.

So we have been training here in Dhaka for the last week and the guys are very much ready to play and the game can’t come soon enough. While there is a new Cricket Academy net facility here, Phil Simmons our head Coach was keen for the guys to practice on the old net facility, where the pitches are more similar to the ones in the stadium. However it is a tight area for batters and bowlers and you sometimes feel like you are playing in somebodies back garden as balls whiz here there and everywhere. Such is the passion in Bangladesh for cricket, there have been big crowds outside our practice sessions, peering through gaps in fences, or just waiting to see the team bus leaving or entering the stadium, everywhere we have gone, they have waved and welcomed us. Although that may all change tomorrow when they get behind their team!

We have also had some extensive fielding sessions, working on all the necessary skills including direct hits and relay throws. One of those fielding sessions was under flood lights in the stadium, where there were many bats flying about, which were probably doing us a favor by feeding on some of the millions of mosquitos. Indeed when I was hitting high catches one bat even managed to move the ball in the air, knocking it out of Trent Johnston’s reach. Certainly one of the better excuses I have heard for dropping a catch! On a serious note, with fielders like John Mooney and William Porterfield leading the pack, I think we can be one of the best fielding sides you will see this World Cup.

It was a huge bonus for us to watch the game between Bangladesh and India that was played at the Shere Bangla Stadium where we will play tomorrow. India ended up winning the high scoring encounter fairly convincingly. I recorded and tagged information from that game and a lot of our game plans for Bangladesh were taken from what we saw and learnt from both sides on the day, adding to what we already knew and what we have done well in the past against them. We then brought our team meeting forward a couple of days so that everyone would have an opportunity to fine tune their game plans and add extra focus to certain areas, based on what we saw.

Out here you are playing the conditions as much as the opposition, while it is always important to play to your strengths in any game. The wicket here in Dhaka is slow, low and bare of grass and as the game is a day night affair the dew in the evening can effect a bowlers control and helps the ball skid onto the bat, making things easier for the team batting second or ‘chasing’ as we call it. Indeed only four out of the last 17 games have been won by the team batting first at the ground. That said, the dew factor did not seem that great in the India game and we will cope with it if necessary. In any case our spinners have been using wet balls in practice so they can get used to gripping it and bowling the right areas in adverse conditions.

On our day off we watched another game in our group between Holland and England, where Ryan Ten Doeschate led the way for the Dutch with a fine hundred to help them post almost 300. Although England won in the end, it was pleasing to see them pushed all the way to the wire in a very competitive game. Kenya and Canada the other Associate Nations have not started so well however, and we all hope they can raise their game and play to their potential.

It was my birthday the day of the India Bangladesh game, and the following day the team surprised me with a cake and a sing along. However I did manage to spoil the surprise slightly by getting into the lift with our manager Roy Torrens who was carrying my cake to what I thought was going to be a meeting! We have celebrated several birthdays on tour already, and the cakes are always a nice treat. When you are away on tour for so long, such surprises are a great boost and this team more than most is a very tight unit where everyone looks out for one another. We will need that togetherness tomorrow, when all 22 of us, players and management take on Bangladesh and their 30,000 partisan passionate supporters.

Blog One 19th February
I write on our arrival in Dhaka Bangladesh, as we are on the verge of the opening ceremony, having been flown here on a chartered flight along with the Indian Team and every other nations Coach and Captain.
Boyd Rankin and I spent most of the flight from Chennai listening to the lively Indian Fast Bowler Sreesanth talk about cricket amongst fast cars and other things. He ended up passing on some very good tips about bowling in the subcontinent to ‘big Boyd’ his former Warwickshire team mate.

Amazingly we left the airport before India, as they waited longer for their Visas than we did, can’t imagine that happens too often! While on the bus it was a nice surprise to see that the police and army had stopped all traffic, reducing our travel time from the airport to the hotel by over 1hr. There were some excitable crowds cheering us along the way.
We have been on the road for nearly 3 weeks now, time was spent at the ICC Global Cricket Academy in Dubai and our warm up games were held in Nagpur, which is right in the geographical heart of India. The camp in Dubai was excellent, 2 brand new ovals to accompany the state of the art stadium, outdoor subcontinent replica net pitches and an indoor center that would be right up there with the best in the World.
The team worked extremely hard in Dubai, putting in 10 or 11 hour days, combining strength and conditioning with batting, bowling and fielding skills. While there, we were able to use a number of coaching aids such as Spin Bola bowling machine, Hawkeye ball tracking system for the bowlers and pro batter. Pro Batter is an interesting one, where guys face video footage of a bowler running up to bowl and then see the ball come out of his hand, all be it through a hole on the projector screen . Everybody seemed to really enjoy it and found it simulated the feeling of a playing in a game against the World’s best very well.
We played 2 practice games while there, and it was no surprise with the heavy work load that we lost them both against Zimbabwe and Kenya . However there were some good individual performances and team spirit remained high.
The official Warm Up games in Nagpur went much better. Martin Guptill treated everyone to one of the finest One Day hundreds you will ever see and New Zealand got over 300. There was a lot to learn in the way he batted so patiently and without risk until he reached his 100 and then put the foot on the accelerator there after. While we didn’t bowl in partnerships, some individuals did bowl very well.
We then went about our response under lights with great gusto. William Porterfield and Paul Stirling added exactly 80 for the first 10 overs with the loss of no wickets. Joyce, Johnston and Niall O’Brien who is recapturing his best form made significant scores too. Alas we eventually came unstuck in the Batting Powerplay, losing 4 wickets in those crucial 5 overs and ended up about 30 runs short. However there were so many positives in a game that should have been ours to win.
We then got an important win against Zimbabwe, Trent Johnston and Boyd Rankin piled on the pressure early on, reducing them to 14 for 3 in the first 10 overs, through consistent well executed bowling plans. However Elton Chigumburra played an outstanding innings to get a 100, although he was dropped on 43. He rescued them and brought their total up to a competitive 244. Up until the dropped catch, our fielding had been right up there with any team in the World. Indeed, we looked streets ahead of the Kiwi’s who used to be one of the best fielding sides in the World.
In response, Paul Stirling suffering from an upset stomach failed to get off the mark. However with prolific scorers Porterfield and Joyce rested, Alex Cusack, Andre Botha and Kevin O’Brien formed valuable contributions. Botha and O’Brien scoring mature 50’s to bring the side home. Before Andre went into bat, I said to him that he should play an innings like he would for his club team. He did just that, knuckled down at first, but then guided the side home finishing with some breathtaking shots. O’Brien was even more destructive and we won the game in the last over with 4 wickets remaining.
In reflection of my experiences so far, a few things are going to be crucial this World Cup. The first and last 10 overs in particular, if you can get off to a solid steady start without losing more than 2 wickets and finish with 6 wickets in hand for the last 10 overs, then you are looking at getting those big scores of 280 +. The second thing is keeping your scoring ball % up against spin in the middle overs. These are all things that our starting to click from a batting point of you.
On the bowling side of things, wickets up front early with the new ball will have the biggest impact on the game. Then you need your spinners and seamers to bowl in partnerships and put the opposition under pressure, forcing them to make the mistake. Bowling in the batting powerplay and in the last 10 will be the hardest skill of all to execute, but one we are coming to terms with.
On another note, it was a real thrill when Canadian Rock legend Bryan Adams came up to me at the airport and quizzed me about our team. He will play at the opening ceremony tonight and I’m look forward to that immensely.


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