Saturday, April 28, 2007

Sri Lanka playing well, with updates as Australia won in farcical scenes

We are at the end of the second powerplay in the Sri Lankan innings. Sangakkara and Jayasuriya absolutely blitzed that powerplay, taking 51 off the second five over power play and taking the score to 1/102 off 16 overs. Sangakkara is 41 off 41 and Jayasuriya 47 off 47. Tharanga was out in the first over to Bracken, but since then the Sri Lankans have been making a mess of the Australian bowling. Sri Lanka are taking a few chances, but they have come off so far. This could be a tight match.

Update It is raining in the 18th over. A result can be declared on Duckworth/Lewis at 20 overs. PLease either rain the game out now and continue tomorrow or let us finish the game. An arbitrary Duckworth/Lewis result is the one thing we do not want.

Well Okay, Australia's inability to defend large totals returning in the World Cup final would upset me even more.

Further Update: Jayawardene seems to be setting in settling in, and has 14 off 11. Clarke is bowling, and the Sri Lankans are attempting to hit him. Ponting is hoping that one of the Sri Lankans goes for it and he gets out.

And well, well, well. It worked. Jayasuriya went for a bit hit, came down the pitch and got bowled. Jayasuriya out for 63. 3/145 off 23 overs. Possibly the last innings in international cricket for a very fine player.

Even further update: The players have gone off due to rain. The score is 3/149. If the game went on, Sri Lanka would require 133 runs off 79 balls. If there is no further play, Australia wins by 26 runs on Duckworth Lewis. If there is more play, who knows? Why oh why can they not just finish this tomorrow and have a proper game.

Another update: The players are back out. I don't have the foggiest whether the target has been reduced, or what? Perhaps they haven't taken any overs off. I hope not.

More: After ten minutes of nobody having the foggiest idea what was going on, it has been confirmed that two overs have been lost and the target is now 269 off 36 overs. Jaywardene was out lbw to Watson in a questionable (ie wrong) decision shortly after the players came back on. Right now it is 158/4 off 26.1 overs. Australia are going to win this easily enough. I could have done without some of the farce, however.

Nearly over now: These Sri Lankans have guts, unlike most of the other teams in the tournament. Dilshan and Silva kept fighting, putting on 30 odd for the fifth wicket. However, with the level of risk they were taking and with their requiring more than two runs a ball, it wasn't going to go on forever, and Dilshan was run out and Silva was bolwed attempting to hit Clarke out of the ground. Clarke is getting it to bounce low, and is enjoying having a bowl. He didn't get long in the middle, and is making up for it with the ball. Now 193/6. 76 needed from 27 balls. Australia are close to home.

It is 11.03pm here in London. My day feels like it has been going on for years.

Huh? After Malinga hit a big six to take the score to 7/206 off 33 overs, the umpires stopped play due to bad light. The Austrialians assumed the game was over and that they had won on Duckworth/Lewis, and the people to present the trouphy started to come onto the ground. However, the umpires sent them back. For a couple of minutes htey seemed to be saying that the game had to be finished tomorrow, and then (either at the request of the batsmen or after some unfathomable ruling) it was decided to finish the last three overs after all. Australia brought on Symonds to bowl innocuously, and the overs were bowled. The score advanced to 215/8. Australia won by 52 runs on Duckworth/Lewis. Australia win eleven straight to win their third straight World Cup, their second straight undefeated World Cup, their 23rd consecutive World Cup game, and their 29th World Cup match without defeat.

It's a shame it ended in such farce. Australia deserved better. Sri Lanka deserved better. None of this nonsense was necessary. Once three hours of play was lost, the game should have been played as a 50 over a side match over two days. That would have been non-controversial and proper. The ICC are idiots. Heads need to roll over this, but they won't.

I will write a final roundup of the World Cup over the next couple of days. Also, this blog is going to remain alive going forward. More on that soon.
What can I say?

gillly2.jpg


Gilly is gone, but Ponting has just hit a big six off Malinga. Australia 2/256 off 34.5 overs.

Update: 281/4 off the 38 overs. Ponting was run out for 37 after getting his eye in, Watson was elevated up the order and out soon after, and Clarke and Symonds couldn't quite get the boundaries coming off the last couple of overs. That is 20 runs short of what I thought was possible when Gilchrist was batting, but still a great effort. This morning I thought that the only chance Australia had of losing was that the Sri Lankan bowlers were too good for them. That didn't happen. Barring something remarkable from Jayasuriya (probably in his last game for Sri Lanka) or Jayawardene, Australia will win this.
Play, thankfully

The game finally got underway at about 5.15pm BST, about two and three quarter hours late, and reduced to 38 overs per side. This is not too bad, although I would obviously prefer a full 50 over game. Whereas I was in a loud Australian venue for the scheduled start (The Shepherd's Bush Walkabout, pretty much the canonical Australian venue in London to watch it), I am not in a pretty ordinary (but quite pleasant) London pub, the Cock and Bull in Marylebone Lane. (I suppose there is something to be said for watching cricket it Marylebone). I suspect I shall be here for most of the evening.

At present it is 0/27 off 6.1 overs. Australia haven't come out of the blocks as hard as they might have liked. Gilchrist is looking good, but so is Malinga, having conceded a total of one run off his last two overs. The Sri Lankans are looking very sharp in the field. They obviously want to win this, and Tom Moody has coached them well. Since I started writing this, Hayden has pulled the last ball of the over for four, and it is 0/32. Gilchrist has 21 off 19 and Hayden 10 off 24. I expect a hundred from one of these players. Australia needs at least 250 off 38 overs - preferably 300. They do have the players for it.

I have just realised I have a huge smile on my face. It is the World Cup final. Hayden and Gilchrist are batting in the World Cup final. This is great.

Update: Adam Gilchrist has looked in perfectly okay form in this tournament, but he has been overshadowed by the awesome form of Hayden. However, the score is presently 0/109 off 16.4 overs, and Hayden has only 23. Gilchrist has 79 off 57 balls including five sixes and six fours. Actually since I wrote that he has six sixdes, as he justed hoiked another huge one on the on side. 122/0 off 18 overs. This is awe inspiring.

Further Update: There have been rumours that Gilchrist will announce his retirement at the end of this match. I wound rather he didn't. Australia have lost three senior players in Warne, McGrath and Langer, and I would prefer they do not lose any more until at least the end of the home series against India next Australian summer. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine a higher note that Gilchrist could go out on than this (assuming Australia win). Gilchrist brought up his century off 72 balls. The score is 148/0 off 20.3 overs. Heaven knows what he will score if he is still there at the end of the innings. If Gilchrist is the first man out, as he probably will be, as Gilchrist is taking the risks, it will be up to Hayden to go on with it. Hayden was in the best form of his life going into this game. I cannot see any reason why he will not be able to do so. And if he doesn't, we only have Ponting, Clarke, Symonds, Hussey and Watson to go on with it, I suppose.

Even further update: Hayden got out in the 23rd over to a good gatch to Jayawardene off Malinga. Ponting apparently told Gilchrist to calm down when he came out, as the run rate slowed a little at that point. With Gilchrist hitting the ball like this, Ponting wants him in at the end. I can understand why. At present we are in the 31st over. Gilchrist is 149. Austrlalia are 224/1.

Actually since I typed that, Gilchrist hit one high in the air off Fernando and was caught by Silva for 149. Australia are 224/2. That was an awe inspiring innings from Gilchrist. Symonds now in.
The day is not very big so far

The World Cup final was supposed to start two hours ago, but due to rain in Barbados we are still waiting. Australia won the toss, and chose to bat. Both sides are unchanged from those that played in their respective semi-finals.

There are a number of things that could happen here. Firstly, the game could start some time in the next three hours, and could be reduced to as little as 20 overs a side. Secondly the game could start after being reduced in overs, and there could be another rain delay. In that case, if the clouds were to clear later today, the number of overs could be reduced and the game finished on Duckworth Lewis. Alternately if the game were to start and then rain was to finish play for the day today, a reduced over game could be completed tomorrow. There is the further even more bizarre possibility that a game could start, stop, resume with a Duckworth Lewis target, stop again, and that Duckworth Lewis game could resume tomorrow.

None of these options are in my mind desirable. After 52 games, the last thing I would is the World Cup to be decided on a 20 over slog, or some small reset target. There is one satisfactory possibility from my perspective, and that is that we get no play tomorrow and the game commences tomorrow as a full 50 over match.

The reason for playing a reduced match on the first day is simple. Television networks, sponsors, corporate guests etc want the finish and presentation of the World Cup to occur at the moment in their schedules that they expect it. However, from a cricketing perspective, this is terrible.

What should happen is the following. If there is a rain delay on the first day, then the game should continue as a 50 over match, resuming on the second day. The game should only be reduced in overs when it becomes impossible to get a result on the second day without it. That way we get a full match to decide the World Cup except in extreme circumstances. I think the integrity of the tournament depands it. In fact, I can't see any reason why there should not be two or three reserve days to allow for this. Wimbledon will play for extra days if it is required for the touanemtn to end properly. I can't see why it is any different for something as big as the cricket World Cup.

That said, this tournament has had so many bizarre and disappointing things happen that it hasn't much integrity left. A ridiculous result would be kind of fitting. It would be a little unfair on the Australian team if they were to lose in such circumstances though. Reagardless of all else, their cricket in this tournament has been very fine.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Today is the big day

After seven weeks of cricket, we have finally reached the final of the World Cup. Since the first round Australia v South Africa game on March 24 I have been of the opinion that Australia are the best team in the tournament. Australia have not looked like losing a game, but their place in the final was not confirmed until they defeated South Africa on Wednesday.

In truth, I was not greatly worried about that semi-final. South Africa have mental problems facing Australia, and going into the game they proclaimed that they weren't chokers any more that it was obvious that they were thinking far too much about previous defeats. After the extraordinary game in Johannesburg last year in which South Africa scored 438 to win batting second, and good form against India and Pakistan going into the tournament, South Africa started with confidence, but in truth it was all shattered by the time of their first round loss to Australia. We learned in that same first round how little being able to beat Pakistan and India really meant, and the truth was that before South Africa scored that 438 they let Australia score 434. If they couldn't stop Australia's batting, Australia only needed to improve its bowling a little to be on top. In that first match (in which they tried to emulate Johannesburg by letting Australia bat first) it was obvious Australia had improved their bowling, and South Africa lost. In the semi-final, the South Africans deliberately tried a different strategy. This was to bat first, and come out hard. They were mentally set on this, and once it failed they were so set on it that they were unable to change their strategy until it was too late. MGrath and Bracken bowled on the stumps, and whem the South African batsmen stepped away to try and hit boundaries, they got out. Once it was 5/27 it was all over. (It should have been 6/27, as Gibbs was given not out caught behind when he had obviously hit the ball). At that point South Africa were able to change their strategy, but from there "consolidation" could only take them to 149. (Even so, they were unable to bowl the full 50 overs, being all out off 43.5 overs.

When Australia batted, this was one of those middling targets that lead to dull cricket. Care must be taken, which means you don't try to knock it off quickly (at least you don't once you have lost a wicket or two) but it is also small enough that if you get in trouble chasing it you will end up looking very silly. Australia lost Gilchrist early, and then largely took care go get home. Australia lost three wickets getting to the target in 31.3 overs. Brian accused them of losing wickets carelessly, but I am not sure I agree. If they had been batting first they would probably have got to the 150 mark five to ten overs earlier. I thought they were taking care when it mattered, and that led to slightly dull cricket. Gilchrist was out early bowled by a decent ball from Langeveldt - Gilchrist's form is a little bit of a worry - and Ponting was out to a really good one from Nel. Hayden's dismissal was the only one I would describe as careless - he was caught in the outfield trying to hit Pollock for six - but by then the score was 110 and the match was more or less over. Clarke batted well and carefully (and occasionally brilliantly) for 60 and Symonds scored 18 at the end. Clarke has been a player of great promise since his teens, but he has batted very well in both the Ashes series and this World Cup. We may well find that in two year's time he is Australia's best batsman and we acknolwdge this almost without thinking. He does still have an occasional tendency to get out to a silly (not rash, silly) shot occasionally. He needs to take care to eliminate these, as we ultimately want him to be Ricky Ponting, not Mark Waugh. But in this tournament the South Africans were vanquished, and I was not really surprised.

Since beating India on May 23 Sri Lanka have generally looked the best of the other sides, but they have been not quite as consistent, having lost to South Africa and Australia in the Super Eight, and having fought rather more close games than have Australia. None the less, as an Australian supporter I have always feared them more thah any other side in the tournament. They have a history of beating Australia in big games. Most famously, they did this in the 1996 World Cup final, but a game that worries me even more is what happened in the 2002 Champions Trophy final, in Sri Lanka took advantage of Australia's weaknesses in difficult conditions. I don't think that the conditions today will help in the way they did in that game, but Sri Lanka's bowling is still a danger, and in Australian Coach Tom Moody they have perhaps the best tactical coach in the tournament. They made rather short work of New Zealand in the semi-final, thanks to a splendid captain's knock of 115 from Jayawardene and then Muralitharan cleaned up the New Zealand middle order after Jayasuriya, Vaas, and Dilshan got rid of the top order.

It barely needs to be said that Muralitharan is the biggest threat to Australia today. Australia's batting is utterly superb. No side has taken more than six Australian wickets all tournament, and when batting first Australia have not scored less than 300. In Gilchrist, Hayden, Ponting, Clarke, Symonds, Hussey, and Watson, Australia have maybe seven players who can play a match winning innings. Muralitharan needs to nullify that top order - the rest of the Sri Lankan bowlers aren't good enough. As might be said on Australian sports television, it is a big ask. I am not quite sure of the Sri Lankan tactics going into this final. Not playing Muralitharan in the Super Eight game against Australia was an odd thing to do. Sri Lanka more or less conceded the game in order to keep him for later. Perhaps they didn't want the Australians to have a look at him before the big game today. Perhaps he needed the rest. Australia on the other hand played a full strength team to win every game. Whether Australia will be spurred on by this perceived insult or mystified by Murali, I do not know. As for the a later incident, in which Jayasuriya arrived an hour late for a "the two captains" photo session with Ponting, I am completely baffled by that one. I can think of few sillier things to do than pissing Ponting off two days before a World Cup final. It is not like Ponting has ever been spurred on as a batsman by being pissed off before. And he certainly hasn't ever blasted Australia to victory in a World Cup final with the bat before.

In any event, I shall be watching the final in a pub with a laptop and an internet connection. (God bless my HSDPA card). I will blog from time to time as the game goes on. Go Australia.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

More from Brian

Brian Micklethwait here, Michael's Pommy Friend who likes cricket, no matter how crap England are.

I haven't been watching much of the Cricket World Cup live on TV, because I don't have Sky, and because so few London pubs seem to be bothering with this tournament. But I have been watching and recording the hour-long BBC1 TV highlights, and I did chance upon England against Bangladesh on a pub TV. I arrived just at the moment when Bangladesh had lost their sixth wicket for very little. At which point it got dull, as it tends to when the side batting first is "rebuilding" after early catastrophes, and I went home to combine listening to it on the radio with other things. Bangladesh didn't really rebuild properly, but England only limped to victory by ... four wickets, was it?

England's end, when it came, was mercifully quick. We were spared complicated mathematics involving impossible wins against much better sides. One day, if England beat South Africa, England would be in the semi-finals, despite having been crap throughout, on account of South Africa having had a few cock-ups. (England may well have been dire against Bangladesh, but South Africa contrived to lose against Bangladesh. The difference being that Ashraful batted properly against South Africa, but not against England.) And then when South Africa beat England, that was that. Listening to the England batting on the radio was like watching a car crash in slow-motion. You could tell England were doomed after the first five overs, after which it was about 6 for 1 or some such foolish score. After 10 overs, England had scored 17, for two wickets I think it was, and it went downhill from there. The South Africans knocked off the 150 or so they needed with contemptuous ease. At no point were England fans teased with even the faintest hope of winning. All hope ended as soon as the match began. The horror was greatly mitigated by the knowledge that the purpose of the match was to determine whether South Africa would be beaten by Australia in the second semi-final, or England trampled like a bug.

In my only other posting here so far, I was right to note the absence of spectators, although sadly clueless about why it was happening. My understanding now is that the tickets (a) have been too expensive to West Indians, and (b) were all purchased by Indians, but not made use of after India lost in the first round. They needed to find some way of filling seats, even if owned by Indians now in India, and only gradually have they worked out how to contrive this.

I understand all the complaining about the Super Eight thing, where everyone half good played everyone else half good. But at least it resulted in what was for me the most enjoyable game of the entire thing so far, namely West Indies versus England. In this game, two perfectly matched sides, both bad, had a wonderfully seesaw game, with lots of slogging, big stands, collapses, and finally victory to England off the second last ball. By one wicket as I recall. Two of the more conspicuous batting failures of the tournament, Gayle of the Windies and Vaughan of England, both batted decently. And lots of other good stuff happened that I have now forgotten about but which I greatly enjoyed hearing about at the time. And since nothing about this game really mattered, neither my nerves nor the nerves of any of the players were shredded.

The low point of the game, for me, was not so much the running out of Lara for 18 in his very last international innings, but rather the unseemly and unthinking manner in which this horror was celebrated, by the brute who committed it, Kevin Pietersen. He ran about like a mad thing, as if he had run out, I don't know, Ponting, after just another Ponting innings, instead of having just ended one of the great international batting careers. What a twat. And then Pietersen scored an excellent century without which England would have lost rather badly.

No matter. Lara duly got his big goodbye. And the Windies, captained by Lara with his usual ineffectual incompetence, although beaten, were not humiliated. There was something old fashioned about this game. A touring team and a local team played a one-off game against one another that both, on the day, took seriously, but which neither really needed to worry about. It was not part of a tournament, because both had been ejected from the tournament that gave rise to it. It was just a game of cricket. Great fun and a great day was had by all, not least because whoever is in charge of these matches had finally worked out that great fun for all ought to be at least one of the objectives. Quite a lot of peopole were allowed in, and then allowed to enjoy themselves.

Today (probably yesterday or the day before yesterday by the time Michael posts this), it was South Africa versus Australia, and if Michael hasn't yet told you all about this game, he no doubt soon will. Sadly for a neutral, it was all over as a contest by the end of the tenth over, bowled by McGrath, in which South Africa lost their fourth and fifth wickets with their score on a mere 27. South Africa wriggled on the hook for the rest of the game, but never got off it. They were hooked at the beginning because they were trying, in this tournament's commentating clich├ęs of choice, to "make a statement" by having a good old slog from the start, "taking it to the bowlers" and "imposing themselves". But, Smith and Kallis missed with a couple of slogs and got bowled, and it was downhill from there. South Africa then "rebuilt" for the next thirty something overs, which was all very dull, and then the Aussies were able to knock off the runs at their leisure, in the course of losing three wickets rather carelessly, but without any great fuss.

The Aussies are just a really, really good team, and all they had to do was do their thing, and watch the South Africans self-destruct by following one of those clever plans that frightened people destroy themselves with, when trying to avoid being destroyed by the other fellows.

The commentators are now all saying that Sri Lanka are the team to test the Aussies. I hope they're right but I can't see it happening. I think the Aussies now are as far ahead of the next three as the next three are ahead of England, the Windies and the other Subcontinentals. After all, it's not so many days ago that Sri Lanka contrived to win against England with only the last ball of the game and by only two runs. Remember that game? Well, probably not. Why would you? Sri Lanka had a poor day batting, and England had that game well in hand, then threw it away, and even then nearly won, thanks to Nixon and Bopara.

Speaking of Nixon and Bopara, it says a lot about England's current ODI incompetence that two of England's least ineffective players were two of those with the least experience of one-day international cricket. This makes me speculate that ODI experience with England in recent years has been to experience merely how not to do it. There is something about Duncan Fletcher, the departing England coach, that seems to suit the grind of test cricket but not the gung-ho exuberance of ODIs. Vaughan talked about "putting pressure" on the opposition like it was the Ashes. But is there time for all that? The English counties surely contain more muscular enthusiasts like Bopara, if only they looked. James Benning of my own Surrey springs to mind, and there have to be others. Also, as all the commentators are saying, having the same rules for English domestic ODIs as for internationals would be a start. I only discovered about "power plays" when this tournament began, and judging by how England set about playing their games, it seemed like it was the same for them.

Anyway, one more game to go. An anti-climax would of course be an anti-climax, but I am afraid it would not be a surprise.

Monday, April 23, 2007

I can't be fatalistic

Australia went into the 2003 World Cup with a six game winning streak in one day internationals. They won eleven games straight to win that tournament. However, by the end of the tournament the winning streak was starting to worry the fans a little. There is nothing worse than peaking too early, having a tremendous winning streak through relatively unimportant matches and then losing the match that really counts.

In retrospect, it seems Australia was fated to win that 2003 tournament from the start. At the beginning of the tournament I was much more confident that I was at the beginning of this tournament. However, Australia's performance seemed shakier then that it appears looking back. A number of important games were played on a very bowler friendly pitch in Port Elizabeth. Australia got into horrendous trouble in two games on that pitch, one against England and one against New Zealand. Somehow, Australia got out of jail on both occasions. Against England Australia were 7/114 and then 8/135 chasing 209, but an unbeaten stand of 74 from Bevan and Bichel got them home. Against New Zealand (and thanks to a wonderful 10 over spell in which Shane Bond took 6/23), Australia were 7/84 batting first, but a partnership of 97 between Bevan and Bichel (again) got them to 9/208 off 50 overs, which turned out to be plenty when Australia bowled New Zealand out for 112.

These were stunning recoveries, but after these games I was absolutely terrified about what would happen in Australia's semi-final against Sri Lanka on that same Port Elizabeth pitch. I wasn't terribly worried about the final against India on the much truer pitch in Johannesburg, but I was really worried about Sri Lanka (who have a history of ambushing Australia in big matches in big tournaments) in Port Elizabeth. I think I was right to worry, but it turned out that Australia were good enough. Andrew Symonds' 91 off 118 balls remains in my opinion the best innings he has ever played. Australia reduced Sri Lanka to 7/76 and Australia eventually won on Duckworth/Lewis when the heavens opened with the score on 7/123. That was a really outstanding performance, and my feeling that the final would be less of a problem turned out to be true when Australia crushed India in Johannesburg.

This time there seems less reason to worry. Australia has not had a close match in this tournament so far. With Australia fielding in the middle of the innings in the games against South Africa and England it looked like the opposition was getting on top, but in both cases Australia's bowling and fielding came together to regain control of the match. Against New Zealand in Australia's last game, the New Zealand bowling was on top for fifteen overs or so (after Australia's top order had scored a lot of runs already, admittedly), but in that case a superb innings from Shane Watson got Australia scoring at high speed again towards the end. There are no dodgy pitches on which semi-finals and finals are to be played. Things look smooth. Scott has convinced himself that Australia will come a cropper, but I can't get myself worked up to believe this. Australia have another winning streak to worry about (not having lost a World Cup game since the first round of the 1999 tournament and having gone a mindboggling 26 games without defeat) but there is no mathematical law saying that this is going to cause you to lose the next game. The only way it will affect future performances is if players think about it and dwell on it, and I see no sign that they are doing that. I can't see Australia losing to South Africa in the semi-final. The pitch in St Lucia will suit Australia's Brad Hogg more than any South African bowler, Australia's batting is wonderful, and the Australians intimidate the South Africans no end.

The final is more of a worry. The Sri Lankans have that history of making things difficult for Australia. New Zealand have the best bowler in the tournament in Shane Bond, the rest of their side is much better than it was four years ago, and there is nothing that would give their country more pleasure than beating Australia in a World Cup final. Australia did beat both sides easily in their earlier games, but both sides had dramatically weakened bowling either through players being mysteriously withdrawn from the side just before the start, or through players being out injured.

However, there is an odd irony. In both those matches Australia's bowling won the game, dismissing the opposition for inadequate scores. In both those games the opposition batting was much closer to full strength that the bowling. And yet it is Australia's batting that is supposed to be strong and the bowling that is supposed to be uneven. So both games raised questions about what would happen if Australia played full strength opposition. And yet, regardless of that, neither side is going to be able to beat Australia if they cannot bat better than they did in the Super Eight. So from that I should take heart.

What do I conclude from this? Well, I think Australia is going to win the tournament. Feel free to laugh at me if they don't.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A slightly odd couple of days in London

The teams competing in the two semi finals of the World Cup are what people have been expecting for the last several weeks, and the matchups are what has been expected since the Bangladesh victory over South Africa on Easter Saturday. Second plays third, Sri Lanka versus New Zealand, on Tuesday, and first plays fourth, Australia versus South Africa, on Wednesday.

Trying to find public places in which one can watch the second halves of these matches in London this week is going to be a bit of a challenge, as both matches class with Champions League soccer matches. On Tuesday Liverpool play Chelsea and on Wednesday Manchester United play AC Milan. While I have occasionally pretended to be a Manchester United supporter, the thought that I would watch a Manchester United game (nomatter how important) over a World Cup cricket semi-final involving Australia is just ludicrous. (In truth I would watch just about any international cricket match ahead of just about any soccer match).

Finding venues that will be showing the cricket but not the football is going to be difficult. Some sports venues will have multiple events going on on different televisions, and in such venues I might be able to watch cricket in a corner, but in truth I do not want to watch the game in a pub full of braying, drunk, soccer fans. What I want is a venue that will be showing the cricket, and the cricket only. I don't really know any authentic Australian bars in London. There is a chain of "Walkabout", supposedly Australian bars, but these are much more Australian theme bars than actual Australian venues. Just try getting the management to switch the TV from soccer to cricket on a Sunday afternoon. No chane. They know where the money is, and it is certainly not Australians. (Okay, the one in Shepherd's Bush tends to fill with actual Australians and there will be plenty there on Wednesday night, but it is a big soulless place and there will be far too much contamination from football supporters. I am sure there is somewhere in the capital where Sri Lankans will be hanging out and watching the games, but I know not where. It may well be a restaurant rather than a bar, also. (Certainly in Brick Lane in the heart of Bangladeshi district, there have been many curry houses advertising "We have Sky Sports" during this tournament).

I think I am most likely to choose the same option I chose when this problem came up earlier in the tournament. When Australia played South Africa in the first round, there was an England European Championship qualifying match against Israel the same evening. All London's pubs were full of ghastly thuggish football supporters and had enormous bouncers on the door. On that occasion I made my way to the Springbok Bar, which exists in a long narrow basement close to Covent Garden. The venue was packed, but there was no security and no bouncers on the door, South African cricket fans apparently being unlikely to riot. (This is an authentic South African bar - a place where South Africans hang out). There was no football. Everyone was watching cricket. I was an Australian, and although I was cheering the opposition I was perfectly welcome to do so. I made a couple of good natured jokes with some nearby South Africans, and their response was to tell me their names and invite me to join them at their table. At the end of the game we all shook hands and they wished me a good evening. Some of them got a bit annoyed when their team fell behind and lost, but none of it was directed at any of the Australians present. There has been a certain amount of bad blood at times between Australian and South African sporting teams at times, but you don't see it between individual fans. The South Africans certainly do have the best central London venue for watching this cricket World Cup, and I shall be there on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

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