Tuesday, 23 December 2008

England 2008 Test batting averages

Name M Runs Avge HS 100s 50s
A J Strauss12972 48.6017743
A N Cook12758 36.097608
I R Bell12676 37.5519922
K P Pietersen121015 50.7515251
P D Collingwood11636 39.7513524
M P Vaughan9363 24.2010611

It is fairly obvious from the figures above that only Pietersen and Strauss have been worth their place in the side. KP has made as many centuries as Bell, Cook, Collingwood and Vaughan. The others have been carried and it has been obvious the whole year. With current selection policy there is no reason to believe this will change. For example, Vaughan is rumoured to be a certainty for the tour to the West Indies...

Sunday, 21 December 2008

2008, the year of the run-chase

The normal dogma about fourth innings chases is that below 200 and the batsmen should rule; above 250 and the bowlers should prevail. 320 and above is not gettable. However, the last few months have seen:

South Africa make 283-5 against England at Edgbaston in August
New Zealand make 317-7 against Bangladesh at Chittagong in October
India make 387-4 against England at Chennai last week
South Africa make 414-4 against Australia in Perth today

The last two are the largest run chases in India and Australia respectively and both were completed with ease. Why would this be? To state the obvious - there are three obvious contributors here: the batters, the bowlers and the pitches...

There seems little doubt that Test match pitches have become better for batsmen over the last year or two. The result is that a 5th day pitch now holds few demons. There is little uneven bounce and although they do take spin there are few ‘real turners’. This makes it much easier to score runs on the 4th and 5th days and I am not sure if cricket is the better for it. Big run chases are exciting but they should also be a rarity.

Big run chases need big players and the four listed above had them in abundance. Graeme Smith played probably the best two innings of his career at Edgbaston and Perth (108). AB de Villiers also played superbly today (106*). Tendulkar made an unbeaten century in Chennai with Sehwag making 83 and Yuvraj 85* -- three quality innings there. Daniel Vettori carried the New Zealand run chase against Bangladesh, he promoted himself to number four and his force-of-will prevailed.

One thing all four run chases have in common is that none featured a quality wrist spinner and this may be the biggest factor in the victories. There were spinners playing: England had Panesar at Edgbaston (33-3-91-2). Panesar also played at Chennai (27-4-105-0) with Swann (28.3-2-103-2). Krejza played in Perth (24-2-102-0). In none of those three matches did the spinners threaten. Surely an attack that featured one of Warne, Muralitharan, Mushtaq or Kumble would not have been so ineffective...

Monday, 15 December 2008

And the winner is...

What a fantastic Test match. Both sides had their chances – England bowled well in India’s first innings and poorly in India’s second. India batted poorly in their first innings and two high classing players made their mark in the second. Test cricket is the winner here as are the people who watched the match. There was a real chance this match was not going to be played, thankfully some planning and quite a bit of courage made it so. India are ecstatic that their favourite sons Sehwag and Tendulkar played such a pivotal role in making the largest run chase in Tests in India. It was somehow fitting that the lad from Mumbai should score the winning runs and complete his 41st Test century. England will, rightly, be disappointed in the result but they should also be proud that they competed in difficult circumstances.

Roll on the second test…

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Off the hook?

I wonder what was said just before England went out to start India’s second innings? Do you think KP said:

“Right guys, we have India in trouble. They need nearly 400 and there is no way they are going to get them. We need to get Sehwag early – he is a bad starter and quite often goes for a single figure start. He loves to have a bit of room, so ‘Big Steve’ and ‘Jim Bob’, I want you to bowl short and wide outside his off-stump. I want you to really telegraph your intentions too so that he is already on the back foot waiting to slap it for six. It will be a difficult task to bowl so poorly, but we are counting on you two guys.”

It is probably the worst spell of new ball bowling I have seen for a while. They fed Sehwag rubbish and he gladly consumed it. I always think Sehwag is a bit like Symonds (but with more talent, obviously) – he is dangerous when he gets to twenty-odd but has no real idea how to get there. Along come Harmison and Anderson who invite Sehwag to an all-you-can-eat square-cutting buffet.

Now that ‘Captain Block’ (Collingwood) has saved his career for another few matches I have a job for him. He is a hard-as-nails northerner and so should become the teams enforcer. Whenever Panasar pitches the ball a foot outside leg stump and appeals for LBW, Collingwood should run over and clip him behind the ear and say ‘idiot’. Similarly when he appeals for a catch and the ball has not got within a foot of the bat -- whack. In addition, whenever Anderson or Harmison bowl a short wide ‘hit me for six’ ball he should catch them at the end of the over and dig them in the rib and say ‘no!’.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Test cricket returns

Two test series start on Thursday and hopefully both will be competitive. Cricket needs them to be true matches because we have just seen a couple of trouncing. South Africa took Bangladesh to the sacrificial altar. New Zealand was disappointing, even by their low standards, against Australia, a side they were never likely to beat.

New Zealand is hosting two tests against West Indies. The West Indies have been the whipping boys of tests for a while and have not won a series away since, erm, well let’s just say it has been a while. This must be their best chance for a while; they have some genuinely good players that are capable of beating New Zealand quite easily. The West Indies are, however, perfectly capable of beating themselves and we should not underestimate their ability to ruin a good chance. Personally I hope West Indies win; world cricket needs a successful West Indies side.

A few hours after the test in New Zealand starts the much talked about series between India and England begins in Chennai. The omens do not look good for England; they were dismantled in the ODI series and have not had their mind on cricket for a while. In addition England’s batsman have rarely impressed in Asia and India have a good bowling attack. However, India’s run up to the test match is also far from ideal. In addition there is rain about and the pitch may be underprepared because of it. A bad pitch usually evens a contest and I am not sure India’s batsmen will enjoy Flintoff or Harmison on a dodgy surface. Hopefully it will be a close series – let hope the Indians come to the ground and watch, or it may sound like an England home game.

Monday, 8 December 2008

England's Indian Aventure II

The England Test side have now arrived in India. I previously called for them to stand up and be counted and show some courage. The full strength squad all decided to go to India and so it seems only fitting to congratulate them on showing ‘the right stuff’ in deciding to go. I for one think more of the players for going and I hope the Indian fans appreciate it too.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

It's Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka West Indies

The West Indies have stepped forward to be second prize next summer. Sri Lanka were due to fill in for Zimbabwe but then everyone realised the much more important IPL was happening and Sri Lanka wouldn’t actually have any test players, so now they are not coming. Of course, some West Indians (i.e. the good ones) also have IPL contracts, so who will they be sending? The first test is at Lord’s on May 6th, which by my reckoning is still technically winter, so the West Indies will feel right at home...

Channel 9

I get to see quite a bit of Test cricket, most of it via my armchair and television. Occasionally I go to see them live but since Old Trafford is now Test matchless and the next nearest venue (Headingly) is a dive I probably will not be seeing any ‘in the raw’ for a while. During the recent Test series (if you can call two matches a series) between Australia and New Zealand I got reacquainted with the Channel 9 team in Australia.

The Australian coverage is the best – it must be because they tell me so. Technically the coverage is excellent, the camera work is fantastic and their hotspot cameras seem better than other countries. The high speed camera work is good too; although possibly not as good as Sky Sports it does seem to have a wider field of view. I don’t like the overall feel of the commentary; it is very overbearing and labours points repeatedly. I find myself thinking ‘I wish they would just shut up and let me watch the cricket’. I expect Australian commentators to be ‘pro Australia’ but the Channel 9 team are more like apologists, so much so that I can only imagine it is company policy. Favourites from the team? There is only one worth mentioning and of course that is Richie Benaud, who is head, shoulders and a tall building above the rest of them.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Intestinal Fortitude required

The ECB is allowing players to choose whether they want to go back to India and play the test series. Given what has just happened in India I think that is sensible. It also allows everyone to find out which players have some backbone and which will give in easily. I would suggest that the players that refuse to go back are looking for an easy way out of a tricky situation and that should be borne in mind for future selection. The England team needs to be full of players who have balls -- real men if you like, not wimps.

Indian cricket needs the England test players to turn up and play cricket; to show the world that India (and England) are not going to be put off by the actions of a few. After 7/7 in England ordinary people who lived in London didn’t get up the next day and hide in the cupboard; they went out there and did their thing, using the Tube and buses. They showed real courage, just as the people of Mumbai have shown in the last few days.

I presume that anyone who decides they cannot possibly go to India to do their job will a) not get paid and b) not be allowed back there to play in the IPL...

Sunday, 23 November 2008

4-0 will it be 7-0?

Four games played, four games lost. Obviously not a good situation and the spectre of a 7-0 whitewash is looming large. I said a week ago that:

“Even if India wins, England has to show that it could have won. KP has to show what he is made of and get the players to perform better.”

Although England has lost both games I think that England could have won both games. Today’s match was a little cracker and when Shah and Flintoff were together it looked like England might do it. Shah played a fantastic innings and showed what a good player he can be. However, I also think today’s loss also showed what is wrong:

  • The bowling of Anderson and Broad was again erratic. A lack of control at the start of the innings lets the opposition get off to a flyer. This happens far too many times and England is absolutely dependant on Flintoff to recover some control. Flintoff is bowling really well but he only has a fifth of the overs.
  • Patel looks ineffective with bat or ball and a little out of his depth.
  • We always knew Prior was a weak wicket-keeper and he has done little to dispel that impression but I think we can live with that in ODIs if he makes runs. So why on earth would he be batting at 9? Is this the same Prior that topped the county championship?
  • Collingwood looks a shadow of his former self and it’s quite sad to see. He came in straight after Shah and Flintoff and there looked no chance he was going to chase down the runs. Still the best fielder in the side but 44 runs in four starts if nowhere near good enough
  • Pietersen looks a worried man. In shots of the dressing room today he looked like a guy who had just been told he had a large tax bill. He looked broody and irritated. This is not a state of mind that will help him. He needs his thoughts to be clear and mind uncluttered. That is always going to be difficult as captain but if it is getting on top of him already it is going to be a long winter for him.
England is outclassed by India pure and simple. Realistically all we can hope for is that they fight like tigers.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Brace for Impact

That went well. For a good four or five overs it looked like England might get near winning a game. But no, normal service was resumed. I am sure international teams have noticed this: England cannot win against sides that have spinners. The other side puts the spinners on – England collapse to 150-7. It’s a given. It seems fairly obvious that the reasons England keep losing is because they are not good or skilful enough, particularly in non-English conditions. Pace-off-the-ball equals loss. Odd really because when England take pace off the ball there is a repeated delay while the ball is fetched from the next street or park along -- back to that skill level again...

Darren Gough has given an interview that sounds like some of comments made in this blog. He has accused the selectors of showing favouritism: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/cricket/england/7731961.stm

Another story which caught my eye relates to England players playing in the IPL. The ECB are talking to the IPL about how long England international players will be able to play in the IPL. What I found amazing was this comment:

“The England players have not yet signed their central contracts for the year, with the players' association keen on clarifying the position on the IPL.”

Whoa. England players have not signed their contracts? So are they getting paid? I bet they are. What about Michael ‘on sabbatical’ Vaughan? If I was an England player I would be signing that contract pretty darn quick before they took it away from me! Presumably the players are thinking that they could make a large wedge of cash in the IPL – well they would wouldn’t they, after their heroics in India over the past week. The IPL sides must be queuing around the block to get at them...

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Crunch time for KP

September 4th this year must have been pretty sweet for Kevin Pietersen. He had been captain of England for one month, had won a Test match (with a century) and thrashed the ever impressive South Africans 4-0 in a one-day series. The new captain had sailed the good ship England into calm balmy waters. How different it looks now just a few matches later. England has lost three of its last four matches, all by large margins. In the last match England were thrashed by a rampant India. Some stunning batting by Sehwag and Gambhir complimented by some ferocious hitting by Yuvraj saw India make 387. For most of their innings England looked woeful and a target of 187 looked out of reach. Bopara managed to push England to 229 but in the end India was victorious in every aspect of the game. KP’s reaction was to suggest that India had played really well and there wasn’t a lot he could do about it. That may work for the first match of a series but it is England’s job to stop them playing well!

Tomorrow’s match is a key one, England must show some fight and resolve. Yet another big loss will damage confidence and England has to be competitive. Even if India win, England has to show that it could have won. KP has to show what he is made of and get the players to perform better.

The reef is looming large for Her Majesties Ship will KP be able to turn her around?

Sunday, 2 November 2008

England the new Choker Kings

Since its return to International cricket, South Africa has been known as the ‘choker’ of world cricket. That is that when the pressure is really on and the chips are down they fail – finding ways to lose. However, when it comes to one-day cricket it really should be England that should be kept away from small toys and gas ovens. Last night’s debacle in Antigua was the latest in a long line of embarrassing vital matches for England. This time it has cost the England players a cool $1m each. Stanford’s Superstars played excellent 20:20 cricket. They bowled, fielded, caught and batted with real professionalism and passion, neither of which was evident in England’s pitiful display.

There is a strong choker pattern in England’s last three big ‘must win’ matches; they were annihilated in all three:

20:20 for 20 Nov 2008: Eng 99, SS 101-0 (12.4 ov)
World 20:20 Sept 2007: Eng 135, Aus 136-2 (14.5 ov)
World Cup 2007: Eng 154, SA 157-1 (19.2 ov, yes it was a 50 over match)

Amusingly the 20:20 for 20 was supposed to be a way for England players to make some ‘serious’ money to make up for their absence from this year’s IPL. That is why the side did not include 20:20 specialists, the ECB only wanted England players there, whether they deserved a place or not.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Are Australia, the new England?

Blimey did Australia take a beating in the second test against India; I don’t think I can remember Australia taking such a thumping. I saw quite a bit of the match and the 300 run victory to India was completely deserved. India out-batted Australia and then out-bowled them. They even out-fielded them at times. Australia’s performance was that bad that it reminded me of a few of England’s – it had the classic Team England traits:

  • An ineffective first-day bowling attack that somehow gets into a ‘reasonable’ position then blows it big-time
  • An un-spinner that the opposition love facing
  • A poor batting performance on a flat track, followed by
  • The other side smashing it all around with little difficulty that makes everyone think ‘oh, this really is a magnificent batting wicket’. A fielding captain who daren’t put his un-spinner on, followed by
  • 58-5 and 195-10 in the second innings with a complete inability to hit the ball and an opener that thinks he can help by smashing the ball out of sight
So can we enjoy a winter of Aussie bashing? We will see, it was only a week ago that India had to bat all day to save the match. India was magnificent at Mohali ... can they do it again next week?

Monday, 20 October 2008

It's not about money

The Stanford games are not about money. Not about money at all. It's all about pride. How do I know this? Because Kevin Pietersen says so: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/cricket/england/7680092.stm

For me, people go down in my estimation when it is clear they are not telling the truth...

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Sachin Tendulkar

Sanchin Tendulkar today became the leading run-scorer in Test Match cricket, overtaking Brian Lara's figure. His innings of 88 also saw him be the first player to reach 12,000 Test runs. The innings was also his 50th Test fifty (which is not a record), falling twelve short of what would have been his 40th Test century. The graph below charts Sachin’s remarkable Test career, the centuries are shown in orange; the 150 and above scores are shown in gold with the double centuries in red. His career average has been above fifty for almost a hundred Test matches since April 1997. Remarkable.

What is not shown on the graph is the way that Sachin Tendulkar has made his runs. His technical excellence, strength of shot combined with sublime timing makes it always a joy to watch ‘The Little Master’ bat. In addition he has managed to do all this whilst being constantly under an intense media spotlight and to act, almost without exception, with decorum and humility. Without doubt Sachin Tendulkar is by any measure of the game of cricket a true great.

There will always be arguments amongst cricket fans about the best batsman. Is it Lara or Tendulkar? Where do Ponting or Kallis measure up. In a few years all these batsmen will have retired, let us enjoy them while we can.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Graham Hick

Graham Hick has just retired from first class cricket. In a remarkable career he made 136 first-class centuries and averaged over 50 (52.23). He is also one of a select few players who have made single, double, triple and quadruple centuries in first class cricket. In addition, he was a dominating one day player making a further 40 one-day centuries, five of which were made whilst playing for England. Graham had a difficult entry into Test cricket, it took him more than a year to make a half century and his reputation is such that most people consider his Test career disappointing. Interestingly, for someone who had such a slow start to his career Graham’s figures after 19 matches are almost identical to Michael Vaughan’s. After 19 matches Hick had made 1091 runs at 33.06 with one century whilst Vaughan had made 1095 runs at 36.50 with two centuries. The graph below shows that he had a more prolific spell in the middle of his career before tailing off in a long decline.

Michael Atherton famously declared England’s innings closed at Sydney with Hick on 98 not out. It is commonly believed that this event undermined Hick’s confidence and led to his decline in Test cricket. The graph below suggests it is not that simple with his average high point occurring after that innings. It must have had some effect though and interestingly I have heard Michael on TV saying that in hindsight he wished he had not declared.

Whatever people believe about Graham’s Test career one thing is certain; his first class figures are remarkable. He must surely go down in history as one of the best county players of his generation.

Monday, 29 September 2008

In deep

There are a variety of unusually placed cricket grounds around the world. When I was but a lad I played the one or two games at Grenoside CC in Sheffield. Grenoside is on the side of a large hill…and so is the cricket pitch. The wicket area was flat(ish) but not much good. The worst position to field, by far, was in-the-deep down the hill. It was a tricky place to be. For a start you could not see the batsman play his shots because he was over the lip of the hill. When a shot was played down the hill the first I heard was the fielders shouting that there is a ball coming, followed by a short sprint in the general direction of the ball. Of course I had no chance because I am on a steep hill and the ball just accelerates passed and on down the rest of the hill. In reality you are not a fielder but a ball fetcher – a ball fetcher with at least another 100 meters to go. Getting into a position where I could throw the ball back took a while and the fielders just milled about vaguely amused. It really wasn’t much fun fielding down the hill.

It seems that the England cricket team, like those who played at Grenoside, are not playing on a level playing field. The members of ‘Team England’ have a place in the Pavillion at the top of the hill and seem to be forever having their tea while talented county players flail away unnoticed down the hill. The squad for the tour of India was announced today and Michael Vaughan is not on it. We knew this prior to its announcement because Vaughan has been given a three month sabbatical. Sabbatical? Vaughan’s recent Test form has been terrible. He gave up the Test captaincy and made himself unavailable for selection. He then returned to play for Yorkshire so he could make some runs and get some form back – something he failed miserably at. He was rewarded for all this by having his central contract renewed and now has been given a sabbatical… he must have compromising pictures of Geoff Miller and Max Moseley or something. Cricket is supposed to be a competitive game and surely the selection process must be the same. What on earth must the players who just missed out on a central contact feel? How can the current selection policy possibly be on a level playing field?

Tuesday, 9 September 2008


The team to go to Antigua and play the Stanford ‘big money T20’ games was announced today. According to my conspiracy theory it should contain as many of the New Zealand test side as possible… and guess what – it does. It includes Alastair Cook, surely the most unlikely T20 player there is. The only hard hats passed out when Cooky is at the middle are the ones used to have a quick snooze under. It also contains ‘Big’ Steve Harmison. A few months ago people probably thought his international career was over. They had forgotten about the great conspiracy. A test recall and some moderate figures clearly means he is a show-in for Antigua. With people like Cook and Harmison around the likes of Graham Napier didn’t stand a chance…

I have said before that I think central contracts are too long. Steve Harmison, despite spending half the year as not good enough to play for England has been awarded another contract. Michael Vaughan, who made himself unavailable for selection, does not play ODIs and whose form for Yorkshire has been woeful has also had his contract renewed. Is there no requirement for players to deserve their yearlong contract?

Conspiracy, what conspiracy.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Batsman, Captain, Off Spinner?

King Kev is of course the best batsman in the England side - by some considerable margin. He is also the best off spinner, so why is he so infrequently used? It will be interesting to see if he bowls himself in India. I think he should although captains are notoriously reluctant to bowl themselves. This article from the archives makes interesting reading: Hussain impressed with Pieterson
...as well as one amusing comment:

"Vaughan, who was virtually strokeless throughout his tedious 222-minute innings of 45."

That is one thing that has changed, Vaughan is rarely strokeless.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Back from Holiday

I had it all set up in my mind. Just before the T20 match in Antigua on November first I was going to mock up a picture of a wooden spoon on a pile of cash. England and West Indies were seventh and eighth in the ODI rankings and that makes them the bottom two of the ‘major’ nations. I go away on holiday and something remarkable happens: England thrash South Africa. If they win the last match they will move to number two in the rankings. Given the poor form England have shown in one-day cricket recently it seems logical to assume the improvement in form was due to me going on holiday. In a purely altruistic move and for the sake of ‘Team England’ I am willing to go on holiday more, I wonder of I can get a sports grant...

Monday, 11 August 2008

Test matches over before the summer arrives

Being an England fan I tend to obsess about the England side and its failings – not that I am short of things to talk about there. South Africa has just won the Test series 2-1 and deservedly so. England rallied in the last Test match and South Africa, having already won the series, lost a bit of their discipline. England has played the same batsmen all year (10 Tests) and they have rarely looked like a Test match winning line-up. This will continue because the same players will continue to make the same mistakes. Will England fall lower that their current Test Ranking of 5th? Possibly. There I go again… obsessing about England.

South Africa looked an impressive side against England. The batting, when required, looked very solid. I was particularly impressed with Amla and Prince who looked every inch Test quality players. When England last played South Africa there was a suggestion Amla was in the side because of his ‘colour’. Whatever the truth, or otherwise, of that rumour he is now an impressive number three. Both players seem to have a very good knowledge of where their off-stump is and what not to play at. Smith captained his side as well as any South African I have seen and was quite rightly named man-of-the-series by the England coach. His innings at Edgbaston that won the series was one of real character and ability. The fact that South Africa won the series with barely a contribution from Kallis and had half the series without Steyn showed how far ahead of England they now are.

South Africa’s next Test series is against Australia – can they trouble them? Australia is a team in steady decline. They have lost some exceptional players: Warne, Mcgrath, Glichrist with Hayden to follow shortly. In addition they have lost some good players: MacGill, Hogg, Langer. However, their initial bar of excellence was so high that they are only just getting down to the point where they can be beaten by normal Test sides. I think it will be a close series, made closer by Australia’s inability to find a decent spinner. If they lose Lee to injury, which must happen someday because they bowl him into the ground, then the bowling cupboard will look very bare.

However, long before all that we have a one-day series which South Africa will win with some ease…

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

A combined 11+11=11

One thing I like to do as a mental exercise in a Test series is choose a combined team – just to see how many England players make it into the eleven. Clearly the result will be the biased by me – so feel free to disagree in the comments. I have tried to match player against player and I have used the Edgbaston line-up… and anyway the Oval line-up without Vaughan or a direct replacement makes it more difficult  Here goes:

Strauss or Cook v Smith or McKenzie
I am not that fond of Graham Smith and his particular brand of arrogance but there is no doubt he has bags more ability than Strauss or Cook. I think the Strauss, Cook, McKenzie choice is not clear cut. What is clear though is that McKenzie is in miles better form that either of the other two so I would choose him.

Vaughan v Amla
On anywhere near current form it’s a no-brainer for Amla

Pietersen v Kallis
Hmm, tough one. Of course it wouldn’t be a tough one because you would choose Pietersen and Kallis and drop someone else. Kallis’s record is miles better than Petersen although their ICC rankings are near identical. If I had to choose on batting alone it would be Pietersen, he is lots younger and can still improve.

Bell v Prince
Another no-brainer: Prince.

Collingwood v de Villiers
de Villiers and Collingwood have very similar Test records so in theory it’s a tough call. de Villiers is much younger and just as good a fielder. Collingwood is a useful bowler though. I would go for de Villiers, although it is very tight – he has three centuries this year (one a double).

Ambrose v Boucher
Quite a large mismatch… Boucher by a mile.

Flintoff v Morkel
Morkel is good, but Flintoff is Flintoff.

Sidebottom v Nel
Although Sidebottom has been excellent for England, I would choose Nel every time He has that ability to get wickets when none look likely. In addition, Nel replaced Steyn and Sidebottom v Steyn is a simple call.

Anderson v Ntini
Ntini is the most experienced current pace bowler in world cricket but he has looked past his best on this tour. I have been impressed with Anderson recently and so would choose him.

Panasar v Harris
Although Panasar is a liability in the field his ability to change a Test match wins here.

That makes the combined side:
de Villiers

I would swap Kallis for de Villiers and get a better batsman and a very useful bowler. Anybody else fancy a try?

Monday, 4 August 2008

Conspiracy rumbles on

Recent events are, of course, bang in line with the ECB conspiracy I blogged about a while ago. Vaughan isn’t really part of the conspiracy, mainly because he doesn’t play ODI cricket and so would not be selected in Antigua or for the IPL anyway. England have lost two test matches on the trot and lost the series against South Africa so it would be expected that, in addition to Vaughan’s self imposed exile, there would be more changes to the Test squad. We, of course, know better and so there was no surprise (although maybe some disgust) that the only change was the minimum possible they could make: Bopara for Vaughan.

The one day squad despite taking a beating against New Zealand also has the minimum of changes: Prior for the woeful Ambrose and the addition of Samit ‘who?’ Patel. There is no way they are going to risk upsetting the Stanford Gravy Train there...

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Turning around the supertanker 'England Fail'

A few years ago, England had a good Test side. This culminated in the 2005 home win against Australia. Since then the side has been in decline. England’s loss against South Africa is the second home series loss from the three series and by any yardstick England’s Test side should be considered a failure. That probably sounds a bit harsh ‘failure’ but it is accurate. England can only beat weak Test sides and make that seem difficult. The latest loss was typical of England – a poor first innings, it looks like the opposing side are easily going to get a big lead before Flintoff performs some heroics, a second innings which includes a century by someone in ‘Last Chance Saloon’ and finally a successful run chase by the opposition who manage to win despite multiple attempts to lose.

The selectors have tried the ‘do absolutely nothing at all unless we really, really have too’ strategy. That is not a bad way to treat nuclear waste but has been hopeless for England’s Test side. Here are a few ideas:

Give Strauss the Captaincy
Michael Vaughan is a good captain but his form is terrible. On form alone Vaughan shouldn’t even be considered for the England side, let alone be a permanent fixture. Strauss does have his bad form runs but he did play well when captain and in reasonable form right now. However, Vaughan has the ability to be the best player in the England side. Anyone who doubts this should go back and see what he did before becoming captain. His run of scores was remarkable and took him to number one in the world. I think Vaughan is worth another series as a player. If he can capture that old form he will be brilliant.

Drop Collingwood and Bell
You don’t drop a bloke after making a century. I would - mainly because I wouldn’t have picked him in the first place. Collingwood and Bell both just do enough to be picked. Their averages are poor. With his recent century, Collingwood now has six centuries in seventy innings – that is about one century for every six Tests. Rubbish. Bell has eight centuries in seventy-five innings and whilst he may look good when batting he rarely produces the goods when it matters.

Commit to Ambrose, or not
Lots of people seem to dislike Tim Ambrose. I am not one of them. I want my wicket-keeper to catch the ball. Specifically, I want him to not drop the ball when it has been edged. The previous incumbents, Prior for example, were unable to catch the ball when edged. I would much rather a wicket-keeper have an average of 26 and catch Jayawardene when he has 15 than have an average of 40 and drop the Sri Lankan captain allowing him to make another 150. The key point here is to pick a wicket-keeper who is good behind the stumps and stick with him.

Cut central contracts to six-months
Giving out central contracts for a year makes no sense to me. The ‘logic’ is that it gives stability to players who then know where they stand. I don’t agree, if a player is good enough it will make no difference to them. If they are not good enough it is better to cut them free after six months. As it stands the ECB will have to commit another twelve months to Vaughan in a month or so. That seems madness given his current form. Hoggard and Harmison, both centrally contracted players, have not played for England since the start of March. The money they have been paid would be much better spent if it went to Ambrose and Broad. My point is: award contracts at the start and end of the season(ish).

None of this will happen of course...

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

It is a conspiracy I tell you

I like a good conspiracy theory. Most of the ones I have heard are wrong, so I thought it worthwhile making up my own conspiracy theory. It will be wrong of course, but more in an improbable ‘grassy knoll’ sort of a way than the plain stupid ‘faked moon landings’ variety. Here goes:

There is a secret agreement between some England players and the ECB to ensure that these star players are picked as much as possible. Why would there be such an agreement? The answer is of course, the root of all evil T20 cricket: ‘money’. The logic goes something like this: earlier in the year there was a huge amount of press coverage concerning the IPL and in particular the auctioning of players and the large quantities of money they could make for fairly small amounts of work. This, of course, is fantastic if you are an International cricketer who can be well rewarded for years of hard work. All this is provided you are not an English (or English-sort-of-ish) International player – if you are then you are going to miss out on the bonanza because of central contracts and up-coming matches. I would expect a lot complaining about this, why should the England players miss out? What complaining did we get? Virtually none. The odd small comment was made but England players made little of it and came out of it smelling all virtuous and not-at-all money grabbing. I contend that is because a deal had already been done in ECB backrooms. A deal that ensures England’s top players get preferential selection treatment and on the understanding that all the key players will be at Antigua on November 1st to earn mega-bucks. In the light of these ‘revelations’ a few recent events make sense:

  1. The constant and unswerving selection of poor, out-of-form batsmen – however badly they do. If they are in on the deal, they are in the team – period.
  2. The selection of Darren Pattinson. We cannot risk picking someone like Simon Jones who may do well and force out of the ‘key’ bowlers. Pick someone we can unequivocally drop.
  3. Do not let Strauss or Cook play in the T20 finals. They are not in the England T20 squad and so it would be very dangerous to let them play in the finals. If they did well they may force their way into the existing squad and that would ruin ‘the deal’. Make up some lame excuse like ‘they are tired’ which we can also use in point 4.
  4. Replace Stuart Broad who tops the series batting averages with Paul Collingwood who has no runs, at all, this year. Use the same ‘tired’ excuse and if there is doubt also say that he has been dropped for his bowling. <special sarcasm mode>This makes perfect sense because Paul Collingwood is a world class opening bowler despite needing a shoulder operation. As part of a five man bowling attack he will be able to take strain from Andrew Flintoff. He was mighty in the T20 semi-final (didn’t bowl) </special sarcasm mode>. They couldn’t drop Broad for his batting of course…
  5. Bring in Harmison to the squad and then get rid of him. The people who hate him are happy. The people who like him are happy because it looks like he may get back in the selection frame. He won’t of course because they cannot risk him doing well.

I have been telling people this conspiracy for a while, somewhat tongue in-cheek; the trouble is everything that happens just seems to confirm it. According to the theory they need Collingwood in the Test side because non-selection would cast doubts on his ability to captain the one-day side and risk guaranteed selection for the Stanford game. The fact they have picked him after a single game away, having done virtually nothing in the interim, is staggering. Vaughan said this:

“Colly's obviously struggled of late, but he averages over 40 in Test-match cricket with a double-hundred," said Vaughan. "His fielding, his energy, and his bowling on this type of wicket could be useful if it swings. He's just a good man to have around the team, because he's very mature and a good thinker of the game. He knows he needs to start scoring runs, as a few of us do, but it's good to have him back in among the ranks.”

A ringing endorsement – a certain pick. Is that all they could come up with? Earlier in the week we were ‘prepared’ for his inclusion with this statement (I think from Geoff Miller):

"Paul Collingwood was unlucky to miss out on a place in the team for the second Test match but this decision was based on a number of factors. He has shown what a true professional he is by returning to Durham over the past week and playing well for his county."

What a trouper, he actually played cricket for Durham.

If we assume I am wrong for a moment (silly I know), can you come up with a better reason for the five events and statements? You are not allowed to use the ECB incompetence wildcard, that has been used far too often…

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

South Africa show up England's failings

I expected South Africa to thrash England at Lords’. As it turned out the beatings were put back a week until they got to Headingley, not that they lost any of their severity. England lost in Leeds because of two things: batting and bowling.

How can a side that made 593-8 at Lords’ be bowled out for 203 and 327 at Headingley? The fact is that the 593-8 is out of the ordinary for England. 203 is a more representative score, a true reflection of where England’s batting is at. Earlier in the summer against much weaker opposition England managed first innings scores of 319 (Lords’), 202 (Old Trafford) and 364 (Trent Bridge). Given these scores, 203 sounds about right. The second innings was classic England:

• a bad start, it is the law that when facing a huge task an England opener has to get less than five.
• a hopelessly out of form number three.
• a middle order whom play like they have just won the lottery
• someone who looks in decent form who then gets out to a soft catch
• a general collapse followed by someone in the lower order making the score look much more respectable than it really is

On a flat wicket, in the sun, England was reduced to 152-6, of which Jimmy Anderson had made 34. Rubbish.

England’s bowlers continued to struggle. Flintoff’s return is welcome and he added some pace into the attack. Anderson bowled well without much success. Broad looks worryingly like a man who doesn’t know how to take wickets but it is difficult to drop a number eight who regularly makes more runs than half of the top order combined. Pattinson was there for reasons about which I will not go into, mainly because I haven’t figured out what they could possibly be. That leaves Panasar who looked ineffective.

South Africa batted really well and England’s singly failed to follow their lead. South Africa made 522 and to be honest it looked like a 500 wicket so it seems churlish to criticize England’s bowlers for not getting South Africa out sooner. There was some movement early on in the first day but it was by no means a 203 all out wicket, at least not for a quality Test line-up...

Its twenty-twenty finals day on Saturday. The first match is Essex v Middlesex and Cook and Strauss have been told (and no this isn’t me having a laugh by making something ridiculous up):
It was deemed after two tough Test matches that those players who played in both Tests will not be available,” an England spokesman said.


Sunday, 20 July 2008

Michael Vaughan

The graph below shows the Test career of Michael Vaughan up to and including the current Headingley Test match. His recent run of form is just about the worst of his career. That said, the red line shows he has had bouts of poor form. The blue 'Pakistan, Lahore, 2005' marker denotes his last game before his knee surgery. That match ended 3 December 2005, his next Test match was on 25 May 2007. The orange marker denotes Michael being made captain and seems to separate the dramatic rise in Test average from the slow fall...

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Paul Collingwood

The graph below shows the Test career of Paul Collingwood. As can be clearly seen his recent form is very poor with his three match average only just in double figures. In the four completed Test innings this summer Collingwood has scored a total of 39 runs. The strange 'zero average' at the start of his career is when he was 12th man in 2004.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Paris to host 2012 Olympic Games

After I made a perfect prediction for the first Test match, I thought I might have a go at the booming property market… So, I couldn’t have been more wrong about what would happen at Lords’. If you look at previous results I should have been at least in the right ball park, so what changed. I think there were two key differences to previous matches:

  1. England batted well. They don’t do it much so there was no way I could expect that to happen! The openers Strauss and Cook laid a solid foundation. Pietersen and Bell then played quite beautifully with ample support from Broad. I do wonder why England managed to bat really well against South Africa and no so well against a clearly inferior attack like New Zealand. It will be interesting to see if they can do it twice.
  2. South Africa bowled rubbish. Dale Steyn, world number two, did not live up to billing. Ntini bowled like Jason ‘Put him on at both ends’ Gillespe did in the 2005 Ashes. A class act gone to seed. I hope we are not watching the demise of a quality performer. Morkel was impressive and clearly the best on offer. Harris, well, I wondered if the England tail-enders had been told to gift him a wicket or three so that South Africa would have to pick him in the next Test. Harris or Nel is presumably the choice– I would take Nel on any surface and any day.

South Africa looked underprepared, it may be that IPL cricket has softened them a bit – there is no challenge in bowling 2x2 over spells every few days. Of all the teams that could turn up looking a bit … tubby … I didn’t expect the normally professional South Africa to be one of them.

It looks like it may be a close series, which is excellent news after the “why haven’t we beaten them yet” groundhog days playing New Zealand.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Young stars shine in the 20:20 glow

A quick scan down the team sheets for the Middlesex v Lancashire 20:20 quarter final today and you would expect the Lightening to power their way to victory. With Stuart Law, Lou Vincent, Andrew Flintoff, Glenn Chappell, Sajid Mahmood and Dominick Cork it’s an impressive line-up. The Middlesex side in comparison looks a bit short on star quality and household names. At 21-4 it looked like Middlesex were in for an early exit with their top order gone. Step to the wicket 20 year old Dawid Malan and 21 year old Eoin Morgan. Morgan played very nicely hitting 33 from 31 balls. Dawid Malan played a superb innings; he made 103 from 54 balls with six 6s. He played correct cricket shots; his driving through the covers was very impressive and his lofted shots were more about controlled power than slogging. It was a fantastic knock and a great showcase for his talent. The 20:20 game seems to be finding relative unknowns and pushing them to the forefront.

Lancashire also made a bad start losing the first three wickets for 14. Stuart Law looked strangely out of form, odd given his century week ago. Another young Middlesex player, 19 year old Stephen Finn, bowled impressively. At 6’7” and with brisk pace he looks a real talent. Andrew Flintoff made 53 but Lancashire was 12 short at the end. The future looks rosy for Middlesex, both in this competition and for the future.

All eyes were, of course, on Andrew Flintoff. He bowled quickly and looked very fit. He ended with bowling figures of 4-0-17-3 including bowling overs 17 and 20. -- impressive. He started his innings looking tentative in the face of some good bowling. He weathered it and made 53 from 41 balls with three sixes. It was good to see Freddie back and in form. Just about right for his second Test return...

Monday, 7 July 2008

Is it time for South Africa to stop choking?

It is the first England v South Africa Test match at Lords' on Thursday. South Africa usually starts the series strongly and wins the first Test match. Something odd then happens and their domination wanes and then disappears. South Africa has not won a Test series in England since, well, before I was born. They played cricket in black and white then, so it is quite a while ago. So, what do I predict this time around: more of the same? I expect South Africa to trounce England at Lords’ – weather permitting. Why? They have better bowlers, better batsmen and better fielders. Oh, and they probably have more desire too.

South Africa has two bowlers in the top five in the ICC rankings - Steyn (2) and Ntini (5). Steyn is genuinely quick and I am looking forward to see him bowl. His pace and reverse swing could be devastating against England’s mediocre batting line-up. In addition they have Kallis (25) and Morkel (56) who are more than useful first change bowlers. England in comparison lacks fire-power and that could be their undoing. Sidebottom is England’s top ranked bowler (6) with Panasar next (11), Andserson (26) and Broad (63).

South Africa has two quality batsmen – Smith and Kallis, both of whom have made big scores against England. These are the two key men, possibly in the series. If they fall cheaply England may prosper, if they play near their potential, England’s bowlers will toil. England’s batsmen have been poor recently. They have just played six tests against New Zealand and their highest first innings score was 364. England last scored 400 in the first innings… wait for it… in June 2007 against the West Indies. Yes, England has not made 400 in the first innings for over a year (they did make over 400 at Napier in the second innings). South Africa has passed 450 in two out of their last three Tests.

Is it all doom and gloom for England? Vaughan (assuming he is fit) may play well against South Africa. He likes batting against pace and the same could also be true of Strauss and Cook. The problem is that I don’t think Pietersen likes pace and the South Africans know it. He can expect plenty of chin music and lots of pressure. If any of the wickets take spin then Panasar could be a big factor and he can produce when the pressure is on.

Who knows, England could be beaten that badly that the selectors even have to change the side. Now I am being silly.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Win, Lose or Draw?

It appears that history is going to be ‘revised’ tomorrow, rewritten to make it look more cuddly and less, err, factual. The ICC is going to change the result of the England v Pakistan 4th Test 2006. Pakistan conceded the match and therefore it is clearly an England victory. The ICC is going to change it to ‘Match abandoned – Draw’. This is another example of what I like to call a lie. It is a lie because everyone involved: ECB, PCB and ICC know that it is not true. They are all aware that Pakistan conceded the match by refusing to play:

  • The Pakistan team had ample opportunity to change their minds and continue with the game
  • The weather was good and England were prepared to play
  • The Pakistani captain, Inzamam-u- Haq, was banned for four matches for bringing the game into disrepute
  • The ICC report into the matter makes it clear that the match was conceded according to Law 21.3

The match was not abandoned, it was conceded.

Quite understandably the forfeiture of the match has been confused with the initial cause of the problem – the alleged ball tampering by Pakistan. I use the word alleged because no one was actually found guilty of doing it although both umpires at the time seemed clear it has occurred. Darrell Hair has been made a scapegoat for what happened that day, being accused of racism by Pakistan and shown a disgraceful lack of support by the ICC. It is worth remembering that Umpire Doctrove also thought there had been ball tampering, to quote the hearing

“At the end of the 56th over, at about 14.32, Mr Hair again inspected the ball and considered that its condition had been altered unfairly. He reported this to his fellow-Umpire, Mr Doctrove. Mr Hair considered that it was necessary in accordance with the Laws of the game that the ball be changed. Mr Doctrove agreed, but he told us in evidence that his initial preference was to play on with the ball because he wanted to try to identify the person responsible.”

Umpire Hair may well have been on the lookout for cheating, he was an umpire, less than a year previous when there had been a similar incident.

They say history is written by the victors. In this case it is being rewritten by the ones that sulked in the dressing room.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Same as it ever was

Paul Collingwood’s ban from International Cricket means that England’s selectors had to do something they are unfamiliar with: select. Faced with this clearly difficult situation they refused to panic by picking someone who deserved the place and opted for Alastair Cook. Phew, what a close shave that was. Collingwood is a finisher, someone who can bat the middle to late overs and push the score along. He is also a more than useful one day bowler – in fact he is the top England wicket taker in this one day series. To replace him with Cook is a bizarre decision. Cook can neither ‘finish’ nor bowl. A cynic might say it was a selection made deliberately to ensure no one else gets a chance and upsets the Antigua gravy train...

England has been beaten by New Zealand in another one day series. The reasons are fairly easy to determine: New Zealand is a better one day side. England cannot compete with the New Zealand power house of McCullum, Styris and Oram. England’s version would be Pietersen, Wright and Shah. Pietersen is a class player but he is expected to fill every role. Shah is a useful cricketer and I think England should persevere with him. Luke Wright in my eyes at least looks hopelessly out of his depth and simply doesn’t look good enough to play at the International level. He has the odd decent score, usually the result of fortunate slogging. Tim Ambrose, the England wicket keeper also looks out of his depth, his five ODI innings have netted him ten runs and he dropped a relative sitter today with the gloves on. When you consider his opposite number is McCullum (or Boucher in a few weeks) then the talent gap is clear. Phil Mustard must wonder how he got dropped.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

You reap what you sow (or run-out)

I was quite amused by the protestations by New Zealand today when Elliot was run-out after a collision with Ryan Sidebottom. Maybe they, and McCullum in particular, forgot this: http://content-uk.cricinfo.com/nzvsl/content/current/story/271912.html

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Armchair view of the world

I have watched quite a bit of cricket recently – a test match in Bridgetown, a few ODIs and some T20. The game of cricket is going through a period of change, not something it is that well known for. The money and glitz of twenty-twenty cricket is driving this change, but through all this potential upheaval one thing is constant: the sound of bat on ball.

West Indies and Australia have just finished a three match test series. Given the relative strengths of the two teams this could well be expected to be a walk over but this was not the case. West Indies fought hard in all three tests, earned a creditable draw in the second and had their chances in the first. I think there will be some quiet satisfaction in the Caribbean at the fight shown by their team. The last test match was in Barbados at the Bridgetown Oval – one of the great Test arenas. This was a cauldron of quick bowling in the 1980s with an excited crowd urging on Roberts, Holding, Garner and Marshall to send down more lightning bolts. It was the ultimate test for a batsman and plenty failed. The 2008 version was, however, less a cauldron and more a tea cup. The ground was virtually deserted and there was, therefore, virtually no atmosphere. The worrying thing is that this is cricket mad Barbados and the West Indies are playing Australia, surely the biggest draw in world cricket. The talk of whether Test cricket will become second place to T20 is largely academic if no one turns up to watch them...

Spool forward a couple of days and West Indies took on Australia in a T20 match – the first T20 international in the West Indies. Barbados rain meant that the match was shortened to 11 overs. Australia made what everyone expected to be a challenging 97 but someone forgot to tell the West Indies this. Xavier Marshall, the Test opener without a first class century, played some remarkable shots. He hooked the first ball of the innings from Brett Lee for six. In the next over he hit Mitchell Johnson over the Greenidge and Haynes stand. He may be inexperienced but wow, can he hit a cricket ball. After three overs the WI were 51-0 and won with two overs to spare. A remarkable display ... to a full house.Various people have been saying that the days of the 50 over ODI are numbered. I hope not. True, the format can look a bit formulaic and they are sometimes a bit dull. The counter argument is that they can produce some excellent cricket. I don’t just mean hitting, twenty-twenty style, I mean a proper innings against a bowling attack that is not just bowling yorkers. The first England v New Zealand ODI shows this, England’s innings had plenty to enjoy. Bell batted quite nicely for his 46 and Collingwood for his 64. Shah’s 49 was a brutal twenty-twenty inspired knock. It is Pietersen’s 110 that his match will be remembered for. A magnificent innings that showed him at his best. There is no way this innings could be played in a twenty-twenty match; there is simply not enough time. The thought of giving up an innings like this is unthinkable to me – and there are many other examples: Gilchrist in the last World Cup Final, Ponting in the previous World Final and countless by Tendulkar, Jayasuriya, Lara or Inzimam.

In a twist of fate, I was able to watch the West Indies v Australia T20 game because it was delayed by rain. Just before this I watched a Lancashire v Yorkshire T20 game – no rain at Old Trafford (of course). This featured Michael Vaughan and the return of Andrew Flintoff. I say return, he lasted one ball with the bat and did not turn his arm over – but it was good to see him out there. Vaughan? He got a duck too – so no emergency call up to Antigua for him. What was particularly interesting about this game was that it was a) a low scoring game and b) a fantastic game of cricket. Yorkshire made 135-8, surely not enough for the powerful Lancashire batting line up ... but it was! In a tense finish Yorkshire’s bowlers spearheaded by Tim Bresnan who took 2-12 denied Lancashire . He bowled the best last over I have seen in a T20. There was only one six hit in the whole game but it was the tightness of the game that made it exciting. Quite often it is the games where the ball slightly rules the bat that are the best to watch.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Ian Bell, a young Ramprakash?

A couple of weeks ago a cricket journalist said on the TV that Ian Bell MBE was ‘the best batsman of his generation’. Certainly he has been given a long run in the England side despite less than impressive results. I thought it worth a closer look.

Bell’s Test average is 41.79 which twenty years ago would be considered good. Today I would suggest that a player who consistently averages less than 45 is struggling in Test cricket. He has seven test centuries in seventy innings. Of those seventy eight were ‘not-out ‘, although four of the not-outs were in century making innings. That makes a century conversion rate of 7/66 which is 10.6% (Pietersen’s in comparison is 17%). This next bit might seem a bit nasty but I think it is important information when considering someone like Ian Bell – very few of his seven hundreds mattered much. Amazingly, Ian Bell has only made Test hundreds after another England player has already made a century in the same innings. England has always made in excess of 445 when Bell has made a century:

162* v Bangladesh at Chester-le-Street, June 2005
Eng 447-3 dec, Trescothick 151

115 v Pakistan at Faisalabad, Nov 2005
Eng 446, Pietersen 100

100* v Pakistan at Lords, July 2006
Eng 528-9 dec, Cook 105, Collingwood 186

106* v Pakistan at Old Trafford, July 2006
Eng 461-9 dec, Cook 127

119 v Pakistan at Headingly, Aug 2006
Eng 515, Cook 135

109 v West Indies at Lords, May 2007
Eng 553-5, Cook 105, Collingwood 111, Prior 126*

110 v New Zealand (2nd Inngs) at Napier, Mar 2008
Eng 467-7 dec, Strauss 177

As you can clearly see Ian Bell has been very short on high scores recently – he has batted 27 times since his 109 against West Indies. He has also played ten Test matches against Australia, three against Sri Lanka and six against India and has highest scores of 87, 83 and 67 respectively. It is not looking that good for the best batsman of his generation…

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

West Indies win a draw

It is a sign of Australia’s dominance that it is noteworthy that they did not win the 2nd Test against West Indies today. West Indies have battled hard in this series, much harder than recent history would suggest they were capable of. Their bowling attack has shown discipline and some venom whilst the batting has at times been solid. Having to bat out today to force a draw, Sarwan and Chanderpaul batted with great assurance and in the end made the task look easier than it was. For Australia, Brett Lee was again very impressive, showing commitment with the ball and in the field.

Stuart MacGill bowled some pretty awful leg-spin earlier in the match. He sent down quite a few long-hops and full-tosses and his own frustration probably led to his snap mid-test decision to retire from International cricket at the end of the game. He is a much better bowler than this series has shown – he has 200 Test wickets and had it not been for Shane Warne keeping him out of the side he would surely have a lot more. So Australia is now spinnerless and their ‘reserve’, Brad Hogg, has also retired. All of a sudden the Australian spin-cupboard looks bare. There is talk of new spinners but at the moment it is just that – talk. Ricky Ponting must be concerned that he may now lack the firepower at his command to dismiss sides on flat wickets, something that Warne could do with regularity.

This series has something which I think is remarkable: Xaviar Marshall. Not that the West Indies opening batsman has done anything remarkable in the series. The remarkable thing is that he is opening the batting for the West Indies and his highest first-class score is 82. Yes, you read that right, Xavier Marshall has not scored a first-class century. His first class average is an understated 25.25. It seems bizarre that a side that has just managed to draw with Australia would have to pick a player who has made less than 800 first class runs. How can they expect him to bat all day and make a big score when he has never got close to that before? Can anyone think of an opening Test batsman with as poor a record?

Sunday, 1 June 2008

On paper they are a good side

As the saying goes "ah but they play on grass". I thought it would be worth seeing how England's top order stack up on the white stuff. I collated the current averages of England, Australia, South Africa, India and Sri Lanka -- the top five teams in the Test rankings.

England's test averages are poor compared to Australia and India and do not compare well against Sri Lanka. The comparison with South Africa is interesting because they do not look that dissimilar. This is misleading though, if you compare leading players Pietersen(48.6)/Kallis(57.1) or Cook (43.03)/Smith(48.6) then there is no real comparison. Kevin Pietersen it is often suggested is a batting superstar -- his average when compared to the other top world players makes that statement laughable. Averages are not everything, but they are a good indicator.

England have today announced an unchanged test line-up -- this will be the fifth test in a row with the same line-up. There are four batsmen in that line-up who average in the low forties, something which England's management use as justification for their selection. As the table above shows an average of 42 should be a reason to drop a player, not pick them...

I would suggest that on paper, England are not a good side.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Do England's Selectors do anything?

Wikipedia has this entry:

"In many sports, a selection panel consist of selectors who choose teams or individuals to represent a country or club in sporting competitions."

I had a sneeking suspicion that England's Test selectors don't actually do much selecting so I went through the Test records for the past couple of years to find out. In the table below you can see the selection changes made to the England batting line-up since the last Ashes Test 2005. The astonishing fact is that there have been virtually no other players selected than those that played in that famous Oval Test. Virtually all the personnel changes have been because of injury. The line-up that has just played at Old Trafford is the same as the one that played in the 1st Test in New Zealand and the 2nd against West Indies (2007) and with the addition of Andrew Flintoff (who could very well have been playing) is the same line-up that played the first Ashes test in 2006.

The truth is that despite England's general poor form with the bat no-one gets dropped for it and the cosy club of Strauss, Bell, Cook, Pietersen, Collingwood and Vaughan seem to somehow to deflect the blame for England's poor results onto the bowlers. Surely these six players cannot have been the best in England for the best part of three years?

England v Australia 5th Test
Trescothick, Strauss, Vaughan, Bell, Pietersen, Collingwood, Flintoff

England in Pakistan, 2005-06 (0-2)
1st Test (Lost): Vaughan injured, no batting replacement
2nd Test (Drawn): Vaughan replaces Collingwood
3rd Test (Lost): no change

England in India, 2005-06 (1-1)
1st Test (Drawn): Collingwood replaces injured Vaughan, Cook replaces Trescothick (left tour)
2nd Test (Lost): no change
3rd Test (Won): Shah replaces Cook (Illness)

England v Sri Lanka 2006 (1-1)
1st Test (Drawn): Trescothick, Strauss, Cook, Pietersen, Collingwood, Flintoff. Trescothick and Cook replace Shah and Bell
2nd and 3rd Test, no change

England v Pakistan 2006 (3-0)
1st Test (Drawn): Bell replaces Flintoff (Injured)
2nd, 3rd, 4th Test, no change

England in Australia 2006-07 (0-5)
1st Test (Lost): Strauss, Cook, Bell, Collingwood, Pietersen, Flintoff. Flintoff comes in an Trescothick left the tour so not a like-for-like.
2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th Tests (Lost), no change

England v West Indies 2007 (3-0)
1st Test (Drawn): Strauss, Cook, Shah, Pietersen, Collingwood, Bell. Shah in, Flintoff injured.
2nd Test (Won): Vaughan for Shah
3rd and 4th Test: no change

England v India 2007 (0-1)
No changes from 3rd and 4th Tests against West Indies

England in Sri Lanka 2007-08 (0-1)
1st Test (Drawn): Cook, Vaughan, Bell, Pietersen, Collingwood, Bopara. Bopara in. Strauss was dropped for "Strauss needs to recover his best form and he has not been included in the squad on this occasion."
2nd and 3rd Test, no change

England in New Zealand 2007-08 (2-1)
1st Test (Lost): Cook, Vaughan, Strauss, Pietersen, Bell, Collingwood. Strauss was selected despite playing no cricket since being dropped
2nd and 3rd Test: no change

England v New Zealand 2008 (1-0)
1st and 2nd Test: no change, same line-up that played in 1st Test of New Zealand tour

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Not particularly bad light stops play

Cricket watchers were short-changed on the first day of the Test match between England and New Zealand at Old Trafford yesterday. There was no issue with the cricketers on show, there was some excellent play with New Zealand’s innings ebbing and flowing one way and then another. The problem was the umpiring and specifically their decision to offer ‘the light’ shortly after tea. Once taken there was no real chance it could improve enough to play again. From my position in E-stand the light had become no worse, and was no worse, than at any other time during the day. The light at that time and for at least an hour afterwards, was perfectly playable. In my view the umpires were simply wrong in their assertion that the light was too bad to play in. Don’t get me wrong, the light was not fantastic but it was perfectly playable and the spectators got a raw deal. The umpires, Darrel Hair and Simon Taufel, are both Australian and I wonder if their decision was influenced by the fact that most of their cricket would be in bright Australian light rather than battleship grey English summer days.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Kolpak, sounds a bit South African to me

There has been a lot of news and discussion about the number of ‘Kolpak’ players playing in English County Cricket -- but what is a Kolpak player?

The United Kingdom is part of the European Union (EU) which is a political and economic union of twenty-seven member states. One of the principles of the EU is a guarantee of free movement of people, trade, services and capital. This means that any EU resident can work for any European company, including county cricket clubs and that it is illegal to discriminate against people of any member state.

South Africa is not in the EU, so... what has all this EU stuff got to do with South Africans playing in England? In 2003, Maroš Kolpak took the German Handball Federation to the European Court of Justice because he had been discharged from his German handball club because they had a non-EU player quota system. Maroš is from Slovakia which (at the time) was not part of the EU. His argument was that as he was allowed to work in the EU he should be allowed to work for whomever he liked. The Court of Justice found in Kolpak’s favour and ruled that any person who is allowed to work in the EU from a country that has an Associate Trade Agreement with the EU (like Slovakia) must be treated the same as an EU citizen. This has become known as the Kolpak ruling. South Africa have an Associate Trade Agreement with the EU and so if a South African cricketer has a work permit he can legally play for a country cricket team without breaking any ‘non-EU’ player rules.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Fairly Even at St John's Wood

There seems to be a bit of a feeling that New Zealand managed a draw with the help of the weather. However, the match position at the end of the Test match looked, to me at least, that New Zealand was in a good position. New Zealand were effectively 227-6 after England’s small lead was taken into account and very few test matches are won chasing 250 or more. England might be quite glad there was not another day left in the Test match.

It was good to see Vaughan have a return to form; he has told a good number of interviewers that he was in good form and going to make runs. It is a risky strategy but it could be that he thrives on pressure - he certainly seems to produce his best when it matters. He made his test début in the most trying of circumstances: a very green wicket and White Lightning (Allan Donald) at his fearsome best. Now there was a quick bowler, his side-kick wasn’t bad either – Shaun Pollock. Vaughan batted at number four and within twelve deliveries was at the crease. Five deliveries later and England had lost four wickets for two runs. I had to leave the house at this point to take my lad to school, fully expecting (even more) carnage when I got back – but no. With Chris Adams (also on début) he had steadied the ship a little and made 33, which, out of the 122 total was an impressive return for the débutante. Donald finished with 6-53 and match figures of 11-127.

Donald on the Rampage

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Roll off the covers and on with the clouds

I must admit that I am not that big a fan of English county cricket, or as it is now known “The Kolpack Cup”. Don’t get me wrong I do watch some county cricket, especially the day/night games televised on Sky, it is just I prefer to watch international games where the non-British players at least have to hang around for a few years before playing for England... After a couple of weeks of glorious weather the first test at Lord’s has been greeted by grey skies and cool temperatures with today’s forecast (Saturday) not looking much better. The game itself was blessed by an impressive display of hitting by Brendan McCullum, whose 97 included a magnificent lofted extra cover drive for six, certainly one of the best shots I have ever seen. McCullum made 96 in his previous Lord’s Test innings – hopefully he will make that Lord’s century at some point.

The MCC World Cricket Committee has released seven statements about the game. This is a panel of ex-cricketers and although they have no official power the weight of their names must have some effect. You can read the full report here; the seven statements concern:

There should be two three-week periods in the year in which will accommodate events such as the IPL.
This seems a sensible suggestion

There is a trend for the bat to dominate over the ball
I think this is a really important issue. Bigger bats, smaller outfields and T20 has made for very exciting batting. However, we must ensure that ‘hitting a 6’ is still a noteworthy event. If we get 20 six hits an innings then I fear that T20’s gloss may fade and people will grow tired of it. People want to see a contest between bat and ball.

Players conduct
I have said plenty about this before

Slow over rates in Test cricket with run penalties if it does not improve
I am not convinced about run penalties but I suppose it may be worth a try.

Getting rid of the ban on home umpires for Test cricket
As all umpires are from the elite panel this makes a lot of sense.

Day/night Test cricket
I think this could be really exciting in countries where the conditions can allow it.

Use of technology in cricket
More technology is going to come; it is just a matter of when.

Monday, 28 April 2008

One of the usual suspects

It seems that one way or another Harbhajan Singh cannot stop getting into trouble. He had a ‘colourful’ tour of Australia and got accused of racism by Andrew Symonds. That all went away, rightly or wrongly, with insufficient evidence. However, his current antics have landed him in serious trouble. At the end of Friday’s IPL match between Mumbai Indians and Kings XI Punjab the two sides shook hands – except that when Harbhajan (who was captain) met Sree Sreesanth instead of shaking his hand he slapped him in the face! Harbhajan has been banned for (at least) 11 IPL matches which, given the amount of money in the IPL, is effectively a large fine. I would hope that the Indian Cricket Board (BCCI) is also going to hand out a lengthy ban – this sort of behaviour needs to be stamped out immediately.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Ricky Ponting

A special request for Danny -- Ricky Ponting is surely one of, if not the test batsman of this millennium; his attacking style and prodigious run-scoring has put him regularly at the top of the world rankings. On ten occasions his three match average has been over 100 with a highest of 149. It is worth remembering that Ponting has rarely played against Bangladesh (260 test runs) and that he has been captain of Australia since the beginning of 2004.

Ricky Ponting Test Career up to 23rd April 2008

Monday, 14 April 2008

Kevin Pietersen

Here is another in the series of graphs showing current player test histories. The three match average shows a trend downwards since early summer 2007, something I am sure Kevin aims to put right. Pietersen's figures also suggest that he is better against quality opposition.

Kevin Pietersen Test Career up to 14th April 2008

Friday, 11 April 2008

West Indies win again!

Can you believe it, two wins in a row! It was a really good match to win with the West Indies constantly trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. At the end Chanderpaul, who had badly farmed the strike, had to hit ten from the last two balls: straight four and a pulled six. Magnificent, just what crowds want to see. A wonderful piece of camera work showed the ball just clearing Jayawardene on the boundary and him picking up the ball and throwing it in disgust.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

£8000 a week

For reasons that are not immediately obvious the salaries of England cricketers are kept under wraps. I am not sure why this is; it is quite common in the sporting world for salaries to be common knowledge. Sportsmen and -women do keep information about their sponsorship deals to themselves but that may well be at the request of the sponsor. Some information has leaked out and a central contract plus selection in most matches looks to be worth about £400,000 ($800,000) a year. This is a lot of money by most people’s standards but does not even count as beer money to Premier League footballers, tennis or golf players or F1 drivers. Personally I do not think cricketers are overpaid and lets face it, if the money was not paid to them it would go into the pockets of much less worthy individuals: cricket administrators, management and coaching staff – not one of which hits a ball or takes a catch.

There is however, one thing which I think should be considered and that is the length of a central contract. In my opinion a year central contract is far too long. I think it breeds complacency and makes team selection when a player is not performing difficult. For example, Andrew Strauss was picked for the tour of New Zealand and played in all three matches despite not deserving being considered for the tour. I think this is a direct result of him being on a central contract – not picking someone who is centrally contracted appears like an admission of failure for the selectors and a waste of money; so they pick him. I would like to see four month central contracts. It would mean there was no comfort zone for contracted players and give opportunities to players just outside the central few.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Is it because I is white?

If your name is Andre Nel, then the answer to this question, sadly, is 'Yes'. Nel was selected for the South African tour of India. Nel always gives his best and his best is frequently good enough to worry most batsman, including Brian Lara who he had a penchant for dismissing. However, South Africa have a policy of picking six players ‘of colour’ in their 14 man squad. As a result Nel was replaced, in a process called ‘transformation’, by Charl Langeveldt. How can this possibly be to the advantage of anyone? It is clearly unfair to Nel and it would not be a huge surprise if he now turned his back on South African cricket (just have they have turned their back on him). Langeveldt has been thrust into the ‘not good enough to be picked’ limelight and promptly, and not unexpectedly, pulled out of the tour and will have to be replaced with the guy who wasn’t as good as the guy who wasn’t as good to be picked (Zondeki in this case). It is also worth sparing a thought for Graeme Smith who has the unenviable task of deciding when the bowlers who are not really good enough to be picked get to bowl...

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Where have all the good men gone?

A post on Third Umpire about Malcolm Marshall has had me browsing the internet for some clips of the Barbadian. I grew up in the (19)80s and whoever England played, it seemed, brought at least one top class pace man. Marshall, Holding, Roberts, Garner, Croft, (Winston) Davies, (Sylvester) Clark, Paterson came from the West Indies, any one of which would walk into the current England team (and maybe even Australia). Then there was Dennis Lillee, Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee and Kapil Dev, four greats in their own right; not forgetting Willis and Botham from England.

What do we have now? Err, hang on, I know this one... Well, there is Brett Lee and there used to be Shane Bond. There is also Shoaib Akhtar who is definitely quick and has his moments but is nowhere near an all-time great. What has happened, why are there no quality quick bowlers anymore? International bowlers probably play less that they used to in the 1980s -- that is certainly true of English players, so it cannot be a workload problem. Whatever the reasons it is a great shame, the game needs the spectacle of a fearsome fast bowler thundering in.

In case you do not remember Marshall et al:


Monday, 10 March 2008

Andrew Strauss

Andrew Strauss made a big impact when when he started to play test cricket, he almost had two hundreds on his test début. I have blogged about his reintroduction to the test team. I thought it may help to give some facts rather than shooting from the hip. The graph below shows Andrew's test career. The blue line is his average as it has progressed. The red line is a three match rolling average. This means that the last red point is the average of the Hamilton test and the previous two he played (against India).

His average has been on a slow decline before the 2005 Ashes and is nor just above 40. His three match average indicates that his average has been regularly below 30 and is also trending downwards. It looks like it is now or never for Stauss.

I intend to follow this post up with a few other players figures for comparison.

Andrew Strauss Test Career up to 10th March 2008

Trouble in Hamilton

If we discount victories against Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and the West Indies, New Zealand have only won three test matches in the last five years. With that in mind, winning the first match of a series against England is a surprise. The fact is however, that this was no closely fought test match with the underdogs coming out victorious, New Zealand thrashed England. They outplayed England in virtually every session culminating in a devastating final day performance when they dismissed the tourists for 110. New Zealand were fantastic, they showed fight, zest and enthusiasm.

In contrast, England were poor. I would go as to say that England’s performance in Hamilton was the worst I have seen in a long time. At no point were England competitive, a late charge by Sidebottom could not disguise that. I have mentioned Harmison previously but he is not on his own in the bowling department, Hoggard’s was also less than impressive. As for the batting.... the top four were dismissed by, as far as I could tell, straight, true bouncing deliveries with Pietersen being almost bounced out and worried by a medium pacer. Collingwood (amusingly titled Brigadier Block by Bob Willis) took thirty-three balls to get off the mark before succumbing having made two from fifty deliveries -- that is a strike rate of 4! Ambrose was bowled by a straight ball and as if to outline how ridiculous it all was, Bell batted beautifully.

There is something sinister going on in the England camp. I do not know what it is but there is definitely something going on that is not right. Test sides do get dismissed for 110 but not normally on featherbed wickets to county standard bowlers in perfect conditions. Every player looks depressed even Pietersen is quiet and withdrawn. The coach talks about being competitive -- rather than winning! Something is very wrong in the England camp, anyone care to make a guess?

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Mostly Harmiless

The first two days of the first test match has exercised David Lloyd’s full range of coaching euphemisms for rubbish. In his tenure as England coach Lloyd had to tread lightly with some individuals. What good practice that was for his commentary stints for Sky Sports when Steve Harmison was bowling. We had “He is just easing himself in” and “He still has plenty in the tank” and of course the full “He needs to slip himself”. Sadly, the truth is that Steve Harmison, once the world’s number one ranked bowler, is now rubbish. It is not just the James-Anderson-spray-it-around variety of rubbish either, Harmison was well, crap. It was a bad sign when, after not taking the new ball, his first ball was applauded and cheered by the entire slip-cordon. His accuracy is poor and his pace is even worse. He regularly bowled at 78 mph, and rarely above 82 mph. This is a full ten mph slower than his best pace. That makes him military medium! Spraying it about is one thing, but doing it slowly is laughable.

In addition to being completely unacceptable it is also not unique. Harmison has struggled to earn his place since the 2005 Ashes and quite often has people confounded by his lack of form. Why does England keep picking Harmison? I do not think he would get into any other test nation’s side (go on, name one that does not begin with B), certainly not New Zealand’s; Martin and Mills looked much more menacing. I cannot believe that Stuart Broad would have bowled that ineffectively...

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Streaker Advice

Tip: If you have to streak at Brisbane, don't run near to Andrew Symonds...

Saturday, 1 March 2008

A game of two halves

They say in cricket that you never know what the next ball will bring and that even when a side is in total control, batting with the gods, a lapse of concentration or an inspired bowling spell can completely change that. This has been vividly demonstrated twice in two days.

Firstly Australia faced Sri Lanka at the MCG. This was Adam Gilchrist’s last appearance at the ‘G’ and what a performance he put on. Chasing 222 for victory Gilchrist struck 83 from 50 balls and demonstrated exactly what we will be missing when he retires – class. At 113-2 from 15.4 overs when he was dismissed it all looked a formality and Sri Lanka were in the process of being crushed (again). This was not to be as the Sri Lankans reduced Australia to 123-6, then 158-8 bowling them out for 208. Ponting, Clarke, Symonds, Hussey and Haddin managed twelve between them! A remarkable turn-around.

Secondly South Africa started their second Test Match against Bangladesh. The first was a surprisingly close affair and so Smith and McKenzie must have gone out to bat on the first morning with a few nerves. If they did, it didn’t show. By stumps on day one, South Africa had amassed 405/0 with Smith on 223 and McKenzie 169 – a record highest first day score without losing a wicket. The highest first wicket stand ever (413) looked a formality and given the way Smith in particular played, all sorts of records looked like being broken. Smith and McKenzie broke the first wicket record and then, relatively at least, collapsed -- slowly. Smith went at 415 having make 232 from 277 balls, a truly commanding innings. From that point only Amla 38 from 87, Boucher 21 from 83 and Kallis 39 from 120 made double figures and South Africa made very heavy weather of getting to 583/7 dec. 583/7 is still clearly a commanding position but I expected to wake up to hear Lara’s 400* had been broken...