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.