x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Not quite business as usual on or off the cricket field

Hamid Hassan's tryst with a wall, the vengeful Umar Akmal and Shane Warne bowls while commentating – Paul Radley recaps five highlights of the past week.

Hamid Hassan is carried off the cricket field after crashing into a wall.
Hamid Hassan is carried off the cricket field after crashing into a wall.

Don't mess with the picket fences

Hamid Hassan is a child of the war in Afghanistan. He grew up in a refugee camp after his family were displaced to Pakistan, which is where he first learnt to play cricket.

He is strong. If you ever shake his hand, be thankful if all your metacarpals are still in one piece afterwards.

He is a fast bowler, one of the most feared in the tier below Test cricket, where he leads the attack for a boisterous Afghanistan side.

With a resume like that, the sight of him being carried away on a stretcher from one of the quaintest cricket grounds the UAE can muster, when he played for the ICC Combined XI against England, was surreal.

His hat was pulled down over his face to conceal his anguish. His shirt was ripped.

He had heavy bruising in a variety of different places on his body, and all because he had taken a fall after hurdling the perimeter fence while chasing the ball in the field.

Given all the challenges he has faced in his life, it seemed slightly incongruous that Hassan was done in by a 2ft-high picket fence.

Go fetch

Mohammed Shahzad is a child of the war in Afghanistan. He grew up in a refugee camp after his family were displaced to Pakistan, which is where he first learnt to play cricket.

He is a shade over 5ft tall. And he is arguably the most rambunctious cricketer playing in the international game.

He scored dual half-centuries for the Combined XI against England in their opening match on tour, and took five catches in the match.

Yet his most eye-catching feat was the way in which he took the game to his celebrated opponents.

At one point, Stuart Broad, the 6ft 6ins, fair-haired fast bowler with the modelling contract and the Jaguar, was crunched gloriously for four through cover. The former refugee held the pose for effect.

"I'm the sort of person who likes challenges and gets bored if there is no chatter," the wicketkeeper-batsman said.

"I like to chat, and I like it if they chat to me.

"It motivates me. They keep slagging me off and I keep slagging them off."

Umar Akmal makes his presence felt

Umar Akmal clearly has a point to prove, having been recalled to the Pakistan squad for this series against England.

He apparently went a dangerous way about doing it when Pakistan played their practice match on the smaller of the two ovals at the Global Cricket Academy on Thursday.

While the majority of the media attention was focused on England's match against the Pakistan Cricket Board XI on the main field, a cricket ball sailed through a doorway-sized gap on the balcony at the back of the Academy building.

It kissed the top of the concrete tiles with barely a sound, whizzed over the heads of the 20 or so assembled press, caught the ceiling of the tent, then exited out the front of the balcony.

Luckily, there were no casualties, and the prevailing feeling was: did that really just happen?

All the clues suggested Akmal, the free-spirited batsman who was at the crease and going well, had just got his retaliation in first on the media.

Shane Warne is still compelling viewing

Cricket has clearly changed much since the age when Jack Hobbs scored 98 first-class centuries after his 40th birthday.

Nowadays, 40 is a swear-word in most sports, but, even at 42, Shane Warne remains absolutely box office.

The fact the great Australian leg-spinner is rarely spotted at the bowling crease these days is slightly offset by the fact that he is so adept at commentating on the game.

The Big Bash League, which is being screened live on OSN Sport in the UAE, has allowed him to combine both, and the result is compelling.

He took two for 23 from his four overs for the Melbourne Stars against the Hobart Hurricanes this week, and talked the viewers through almost every ball he sent down.

For such a master of deception, revealing his thinking before he let the ball go probably went against the grain.

At one point, Brendon Julian, up in the commentary box, suggested he looked like Bill Murray as he surreptitiously talked out the side of his mouth.

"Well, he [Owais Shah, the batsman] is looking straight at me," Warne reasoned, just as he gathered into his delivery stride. And he sent down a dot ball.

England do crickercise

It is no wonder cricket has become a young man's game, judging by the amount of fitness work England have been doing ahead of the Test series.

There can be little greater incentive for the English players to force themselves into the starting XI, then stay there, than the drills they have to do when they are not playing. It is exhausting just watching.

When they were closing out the second of their two warm-up wins this week, Broad and Steven Finn, two "rested" fast bowlers, were doing laps of the Academy campus.

Another fielding exercise includes doing a bleep test while taking a catch at each turn.

At least, when time and circumstance allows it, they get to play some tunes while they are doing some of their fielding training. Which make it feel a little bit like Jane Fonda does cricket.


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