Wednesday, 30 December 2009

2009, a mixed year for England

It has been a funny year for the England team. They ended the year in the exact opposite way to the way they started it. In the first Test against West Indies at Kingston a fairly uneventful Test came to a crashing conclusion as England were skittled for 51. Fast forward to today and another Test that looked like an uneventful draw burst into life as England went to the bowling alley to strike out a panicking South African team for 133. Between those two matches England have won The Ashes (he mentions in passing) and been involved in some really exciting draws. It has been an amazing year for English skin-of-teeth draws:

West Indies v England 3rd Test at St John’s (remember the debacle at North Sound?): West Indies last pair (Powell and Edwards) hang on for 36 minutes to scrape a draw.

West Indies v England 5th Test at Queen’s Park: West Indies pair Ramdin and Edwards hold on at 114-8 and win the series.

England v Australia 1st Test at Cardiff: England’s last pair Anderson and Panesar survive for 11.3 overs to deny Australia.

South Africa v England 1st Test at Pretoria: Collingwood and Onions survived for 19 deliveries allowing England to walk away still level in the series.

Maybe England should come on to the field to ‘The Great Escape’ rather than ‘Jerusalem’.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Ten years on

Statistically and, in my case rather unbelievably, it has been almost ten years since the turn of the millennium. There will not be such a fuss made as 2009 turns into 2010 as there was a decade ago. Can you guess what England’s first XI was for their first Test match in 2000? What do they do now and do any still play? The England XI to play South Africa (which included Jacques Kallis, the only player still playing Test Cricket from the twenty-two named in both sides) was:
  1. Mark Butcher – retired from first class cricket in 2009
  2. Michael Atherton – retired in 2001. He works for The Times and is part of Sky TVs commentary team
  3. Nasser Hussain (Captain) – retired in 2004 after making a winning century at Lord’s. Nasser is part of the Sky TV commentary team.
  4. Michael Vaughan – retired in 2009 whilst still holding an England player contract. Now works for Test Match Special and as an artist.
  5. Alec Stewart – is a member of the Surrey coaching staff and may also work for ‘Essentially’ (his company was bought by them)
  6. Andrew Caddick – retired from first class cricket in 2009 and now sells helicopters
  7. Chris Adams – played his last first class match for Sussex at the end of 2008 and is now the cricket manager at Surrey
  8. Andrew Flintoff – Retired from test cricket at the end of the 2009 Ashes series and is currently recovering from a knee operation
  9. Darren Gough – Retired from first class cricket in 2008 and now works for talkSPORT
  10. Chris Silverwood – Chris was released by Middlesex at the end of the 2009 season
  11. Phil Tufnell – retired from cricket in 2003 and has a successful career in TV and radio.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Ian Bell (again)


There seems to be a push to blame Ian Bell for the close finish in the first Test – or at least for him to be the fall guy. This seems a little unfair: if you pick a guy who is way out of his depth and then he fails – how can it be his fault? Surely it is a failure of selection. Jonathan Trott was interviewed today and asked whether he thought Bell’s place was under threat. Of course he wasn’t about to say anything negative and so said “Ian has proved himself at Test level”. No he hasn’t. Ian Bell has played fifty Test matches. Yep, you heard that right: 50. How can a bloke who averages 38.9 play fifty Tests for England? Remember who is at fault here: Ian Bell doesn’t pick the side.

Friday, 4 December 2009

England beat South Africa... again

Rain: we get a lot of it in England. They also seem to get a lot in South Africa too with two out of five ODIs being washed out. That gives England a 2-1 victory over South Africa in South Africa something that has not been done by any side for 15 home series! More remarkable than England beating South Africa is how poor South Africa looked. Their bowling looked ineffective and the batting flaky. I thought England would get out muscled in the test series but now I am not so sure. If the wickets are flat we could be in for some big scores and sore bowlers.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Topsy turvy is the new normal for England

What a strange series England are having with South Africa. One side dominates completely then the other only for it to switch again. I would say it was extraordinary except it isn’t: it matches the pattern of the Ashes series almost to a tee. We have had three thrashings with England currently leading 2:1.

England has shown some promise with the batting have an uncharacteristic solidity. Strauss continues to lead well, Trott and Morgan are cementing the places and Collingwood is back in form. Bowling was always going to be difficult on flat South African pitches but at least England managed to seize the opportunity today when it appeared.

South Africa has been pretty poor. They have had one good performance and although England did bowl poorly at Cape Town the statistics were against them batting second under lights. Smith was delighted when he won the toss and batted. Their batting looks fragile and their bowling almost non-existent. I expected South Africa to beat England easily, especially in the test matches. However South Africa are struggling to find a second opening bowler and if Stein isn’t fully fit they are in real trouble.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Crown Jewels get played with

Television in the UK is bit odd. For a start, you need a licence to own a TV. No, seriously – a licence. The licence largely pays for the BBC. In addition there are a set of sporting events that have to be shown on free-to-air television. This is called the 'Crown Jewels' sporting list. No cricket matches are currently on the list and so, predictably, there is no live cricket on free-to-air television in the UK. Sky has it all and it costs about £36 a month to watch it. It seems that this is to change in the future and that the Ashes (in England) series will be shown on free-to-air television – not until 2017 though.

The ECB are against this. They clearly do not want the general UK population watching cricket. After all, why would you want the grass roots of your sport being able to watch it? The ECB clearly puts it coffers above the populous. Of course we knew that anyway otherwise Sky wouldn’t have the current deal in the first place – but do they have to make it so obvious by complaining about a single series in six years time?

A few immediate thoughts:
  1. Sky could do free-to-air TV if they wanted too. It would make them look like heroes
  2. The ECB have shown themselves to be only concerned about money – so come on Sky screw them right down – you can clearly own them for much less money.
  3. Expect lots of Sky people to hate the idea and say so publicly (Atherton, Warne, Hussain, Lloyd, Botham, Knight , Ward etc)
Personally I think the free-to-air list is a bit weird. Do we have a free market or not? I suppose the UK government supporting banks and train companies would suggest ‘not’.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

South Africa Squads

England announced their squads to tour South Africa in November. The ‘headlines’ have been generated by the omission of Steve Harmison. His lack of form and maybe commitment on tour means that this is not really a surprise. Geoff Miller this lunch time made it fairly clear (to me anyway) that Harmison would never be picked again. His words said the opposite of course but he also mentioned that Harmison’s comments that he would not tour Australia in 2010 had a bearing on it. Translation: not going to pick you. Fair enough I think.

A few choices have raised a my eyebrows. In the Test squad they have picked Luke Wright. There is no way Wright is a test player, he is just good enough to play ODI cricket. In South Africa against Steyn etc he has no chance. They have picked the hopeless Ian Bell and dropped Bopara and Shah. Why do they persist with some mediocre players and insist that others are dropped at the first chance? Same story time after time. They have also picked a reserve wicketkeeper (Steven Davies) but no reserve opener. So we are stuck with the steadily declining Cook whatever happens...

In the one day squad they have picked, I kid you not, Alastair Cook and (wait for it) dropped Owais (destroyer of South Africa a week ago) Shah. What on earth is going on there? No Bopara either so the thinking must be that Cook is better than both of them. Bizarre.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Cramps

There has been a bit of a fuss about Andrew Strauss refusing Graeme Smith a runner for cramp in yesterday’s Champions Trophy match. There seems to be an implication that it is ‘unsportsmanlike’. Ridiculous. There is no way ‘cramp’ should be an excuse for a runner. Strauss was quite right to deny Smith a runner - what will be next ‘my legs are a bit tired’. I looked up the law and it states:

“If the umpires are satisfied that a player has been injured or become ill after the nomination of the players, they shall allow that player to have (ii) a runner when batting.
Any injury or illness that occurs at any time after the nomination of the players until the conclusion of the match shall be allowable, irrespective of whether play is in progress or not.”

Cramp is clearly not an injury or illness. If a player is incapable of batting he should either retire or grit his teeth and carry on. I think the ICC should take a positive stance here and add something to the laws that states quite clearly that fatigue or fatigue related ailments are not cause for a substitute or runner.

Of course, had South Africa won Smith may not have mentioned it.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Watching cricket legally online (please)

I am cricketless. Without cricket. No cricket is being viewed here. To be more specific I have had a little tiff with Sky and so while I wait for them to apologise I cannot see the Champions Trophy. Boo. So I decided to browse the Internet see what (legal) alternatives there are. Quite a bit of browsing later I am not that clear on my options and though maybe someone who was reading would comment and put me straight. There are sites that seem to offer legal broadband access to live cricket. The trouble is that despite trying to convince they are legal they all look really a bit suspect. 3000 channels for $19.99 looks way to good to be true. One off fee.... sounds like a scam. So, dear reader, what real alternatives are there?

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Cricket is a product of the Popular Group

For my sins I haven’t seen any of the Sky Ashes coverage. Instead I have been forced to watch ‘streamed’ cricket. That is TV that has been captured from TV and rebroadcast. It may or may not be illegal (depending on where the originator and viewer are) but it seems to be almost always of suspect quality. It is a bit like watching cricket in the rain – that is that the TV is in the rain and the picture a bit blurry.

The quality of the picture however, is not the most irritating part; it is the actual coverage itself. I have watched Pakistani and Indian streams. They take the Sky feed and add their own adverts. When I say ‘add’ I mean spray liberally at all possible moments. The adverts start at the very instant the ball goes dead at the end of an over. The adverts end at some point after the bowler has started his run up to start the next over. Sometimes that point is after the ball has been bowled. Any break in play is met by adverts. The adverts themselves are repeated, endlessly. Over after over the same adverts are repeated, some as many as twenty times an hour. This is brainwashing at its most insidious. There is very little technical discussion and few replays because these are covered over with advert breaks. The show itself is a very pale imitation of the original Sky coverage and I can only feel sorry for people that have to put up with it as their native coverage. It just not cricket. They say that on the radio the pictures are better, well in this case, they are: TMS’s coverage was much more instructive than the TV pictures...

Friday, 28 August 2009

England's Ashes winners

In a shock move I decided to look at the positives for the England cricket team after the Ashes series. After all the won, so there should be lots! The side Australia sent to England was the worst for a long time but that should not detract from England’s performances; after all England can only play against the side sent. Who came out of the series with their reputation enhanced?

Andrew Strauss is a big winner. A year and a half ago his place in the England side was by no means certain and to some degree should not even have been picked. The captaincy seems to have been the making of him. His batting has improved out of sight and he is now back to his best. His captaincy whilst perhaps not of the very highest calibre is improving and shows considerable promise.

Matt Prior is a wicket keeper batsman whose wicket keeping has always been poor. In the West Indies last winter it was a laughing stock. There was a very real fear that he would give away hard fought opportunities in the Ashes with fumbled catches. Not so. Prior’s wicket keeping has improved considerably. He looks much less flustered behind the stumps and although the odd bye still gets past him the all important catches have stayed in his gloves. Prior’s batting too has been impressive finishing with a series average above Cook, Collingwood, Bell and Bopara.

Stuart Broad has come out of the Ashes as a national hero which is odd because two Test matches ago he was being widely tipped to be dropped. His bowling lacked penetration and control. By the end Broad topped the England bowling averages. A real boon with Broad is his batting, he ended up above Cook, Collingwood, Bell and Bopara in the averages. A fact that reflects well on Broad and terribly on the four batsmen.

That is about it, the others struggled one way or another. Trott of course made a century on debut and was a big winner, but he only played one match. He will have booked his place on tour though.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Some pruning required

After a summer of growth it is often a good idea to prune a tree. Remove the dead wood and make precise decisions about the direction you want the tree to grow in the future. Of course the tree will largely do what it wants but you can but try. So it is with cricket teams. England have just had their most important home series ... until the next Ashes battle, so it’s a good time to wield the axe make some space.

Bell and Collingwood must go. These have been on my personal hobby horse for quite some time, mainly because they are just, well, not very good. Okay, they are rubbish; there you dragged it out of me. People will always say things like ‘ah yes but Collingwood’s effort at Cardiff was instrumental in England saving the game and hence winning the series’, which is true. However, that is largely irrelevant because if you give anyone enough chances they will come up with significant innings. It is not the exceptional performances that matter it’s the everyday ones. Collingwood scored 250 runs at 27.77 and Bell made 140 runs (3 matches only) at 28. That is not only crap, it is what I expected! Put it this way, England have just beaten Australia. If there was a combined XI of the two sides, what are the chances of Bell or Collingwood appearing in it? Exactly.

Cook is one who England has to do something about. On paper he is just as poor as Bell or Collingwood (222 runs at 24.66). He had good series against the West Indies but that was very much the exception. England should consider removing Cook’s central contract and make him work for his place. As it stands he has to do nothing and giving him another year will change nothing.

Harmison, Panesar and Sidebottom should lose their central contract status. All are struggling to make the test side (if at all). Make them justify their place in the side with results as Harmison did recently.

Bopara looks to be a man with talent. He was excellent against the West Indies and awful against Australia. He doesn’t look a natural number three against quality bowling, so maybe he should come in at five (i.e. replace Collingwood). The guy had three consecutive Test centuries earlier in the year so he deserves a chance.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Pot, kettle, Shane Warne

I heard Shane Warne going on about the Oval pitch again today. He had changed his position slightly from “He (the curator) overbaked it a little bit to make sure there is a result” to “looks a little worn”. I wonder if the mellowing of his position is because someone pointed out that Warne himself had custom made, specially prepared wickets in Australia for a DECADE AND A HALF. Pitches that became raging turners and that looked like a tank battle had taken place within two naffing days. Talk about being hypocritical....

And so it ends

England winning the Ashes, who would have thunk it? Not me, that is for sure, I didn’t believe they were good enough. Heck, I still don’t and I just checked the sports to make sure I didn’t dream it. How does a side that scores two individual centuries beat a side that has eight? Or a side whose two best players have injuries that stop them playing a full part in the series beat a side with world class players that return to the side. Or a side that lost to West Indies a few months ago beat the Aussies who had just trashed South Africa in South Africa.

There seems little doubt that Andrew Strauss played a vital role both as opening batsman and captain. He has grown into the captaincy role and has a happy knack of getting good performances from himself and from unreliable bowlers. I think he summed it up best himself “when we are bad we are very bad, when we are good we are just good enough”. England were certainly just good enough today and it won them the biggest prize in cricket.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Flip flops

I thought I understood cricket. Good teams win and bad teams lose. Good players do well and in general poor ones do not. We seem to have a series here in which the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are chosen at random. At Headingly England was predictably terrible and Australia trounced them. Today the complete reverse has happened and Australia are firmly in reverse gear. What is even more unlikely is that their destroyers are Broad and Swann. Swann, the only man who looks less likely than Broad to take wickets! What will we get next, a Collingwood hundred?

What can we expect tomorrow? Go on... flip a coin.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Monday, 10 August 2009

England Ashes Batting Averages

The England batsmen were spectacularly poor at Headingly and there will be pressure to make changes. Past experience tells us there will be few and they will, magically ensure that England play their first Test in South Africa with: Cook, Strauss, Pietersen, Bell and Collingwood. In other words the same set of suspects it has been for years. The batting averages for the Ashes series are:

Strauss 344 at 49.14
Prior 239 at 39.83
Collingwood 225 at 32.14
Cook 203 at 29.00
Bell 64 at 21.33 [2 tests]
Bopara 105 at 15.00

Not looking good for Bopara then although everyone’s figures except Strauss are poor. Collingwood, Cook and Bell’s averages are well down on their mediocre career figures. It is worth remembering for all the shouting that Bopara ‘is not a Test number 3’ that he has scored three consecutive Test centuries this year. They were against the West Indies and their pop-gun attack but he still made them.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Can England win the Ashes?

It has been a funny series so far with one side dominating all the Test matches so far. Oddly the side that has dominated started as Australia in Cardiff, switched to England at Lord’s and then back to Australia at Headingly. Can England win the Ashes at The Oval? Well, given the form has flip-flopped in this series anything is possible. Whether The Oval will be a pitch England can win on is another matter. The last first class match there would suggest a draw is likely – or at least an Australian capitulation is unlikely: http://www.cricinfo.com/countycricket2009/engine/match/383021.html. In general Australia may bat badly once on a good pitch but rarely twice.

England need a 'result' pitch at The Oval and need to be in the state of mind to get a result! The Australian bowlers performed quite well at Headingly and will be confident at The Oval but England would do well to be not over awed - England played poorly and when put under a bit of pressure by Broad and Swann the Aussies reverted to type and fell to pieces for a while.

Flintoff's last Test [stand] of course...

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Normal service is now in operation

In case you missed the previous post:

Friday, 7 August 2009

Normal service is resumed

If it quacks like a duck, looks like a duck and swims like a duck then there is a fair chance it is a duck. Similarly if a side bats like a plate of lemons and then bowls like a bag full of lemons then almost certainly what you are watching is a set of lemons. England were dreadful today and it really is no surprise. The batting line-up looks woeful. It looks like it is designed to fail. If Strauss, the only man in the side that can make more than fifty, gets out early who is going to make runs:
  • Cook? Err, no.
  • Bopara? Not very likely. Has gone from impressive to schoolboy-like in one series
  • Bell? No, obviously.
  • Collingwood? Has there ever been a crisis that Collingwood didn’t make worse?
  • Prior? Well, maybe actually but by the time he comes in everyone else has lost their head and he has to manage the crumbling tail-enders.
Without Pietersen or Flintoff to give England some backbone they are a failboat just waiting to be launched. It all looked so promising for a few weeks too...

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

England suffer double Ashes blow

England’s Ashes were dealt a double blow today: Kevin Pietersen underwent surgery and is therefore out of the 2009 Ashes and, even more worryingly, Ian Bell has been given his place!

Losing Kevin Pietersen is a huge blow. Anyone who suggests otherwise is either lying or stupid (cue England management multi-choice options). Pietersen is by far the best batsman in the England side. He may not have made many at Lords but his mere presence is a lift and when he does get into his stride he can change a game in a couple of hours.

Gaining Ian bell is a huge blow. The Shermanator oozes indecision and a lack of confidence. How on earth can this guy be next in line? Its a disgrace. I might start to support Australia.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Mitchell needs to get his groove back

How can Australia win the Ashes 2009 after such a crushing defeat? Two words: Mitchell Johnson. Johnson is by far the best bowler in Australia and a more potent all rounder than Andrew Flintoff. In his last Test series (in South Africa) he had hauls of: 4/25, 4/112, 3/37, 1/78 and 4/148. He scored: 96*, 1, 0, 35, 123*. He bowled like a million dollars last winter, he is struggling to find 50 quid this summer. Whatever Australia need to do to get Johnson back to his best they must do it.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Ricky Ponting

I think there is a lot to like about Ricky Ponting. He is one of the best Australian batsmen ever, possibly the best since Bradman. He is a brilliant fielder – certainly in the top five of all time. At post match interviews Ricky often gives his players and the opposition a lot of credit, quite often giving the most honest of reports. His interview with Michael Atherton at the end of the Lords’ Test was a good example. He eloquently spoke about the game, England, Flintoff and Australia’s efforts and put to bed any question of unfortunate umpiring. He was applauded by the English crowd. So why don’t people like him? I think the problem is that he makes lots of contentious comments before, during and after a match. He is constantly sniping as if he somehow believes that matches are won in the newspapers rather than on the cricket pitch. People remember his barbed comments more than his brilliant batsmanship and it riles them. We want cricketers to be heroes and not actors in a soap opera. Give it a rest Ricky, we will like you more for it.

Lord's Voodoo broken

So England have done it and finally broken the Lord's/Ashes spell. Can it really be 70 odd years since England beat Australia at Lord's? If so, why on earth do England play there? I have heard about providing a level playing field (something with Lord’s can never be) but not winning for 70 years is ridiculous.

Eight days before England won at Lord's they were 100-5, soon to be 159-7 with an innings defeat and a 0-1 score line looming large. What a difference a week makes, I wonder what the odds were at lunch time of the final day of the first Test of England leaving Lord's with an Ashes lead.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Ashes U-turn

I have learned a new trick. If you stand on your head so all the blood rushes to your head, although I suspect just hanging off something upside will do. Once in the position, if you take a pair of binoculars and whilst shaking slightly them look at a monitor showing the 2nd Ashes Test score, then it looks like England are winning. Weird eh?

What on earth happened between Cardiff and Lords? Did the Australians get replaced by imposters? Did England have ‘backbone’ injections? The one that really puzzles me is Mitchell Johnson. His form in Cardiff was not good by his standards but his performances at Lords have been poor to plain rubbish. Anyone that saw Mitch bowl against South Africa last winter know he is capable of exceptional performances – so what happened?

Monday, 13 July 2009

Selected quotes (made up of course)

Things you didn’t think you would hear in Cardiff but could have:

  1. Come on England
  2. That Hauritz isn’t that bad
  3. Well batted Monty
  4. Well batted Jimmy
  5. Well batted Colli
  6. Oh come on guys get the 12th man off the field Marcus North wants a bowl
  7. What do you mean "it’s a draw"?

Sunday, 12 July 2009

High drama in Cardiff

The ICC World Twenty20 competition produced some exciting moments but nothing came close to the high drama at Cardiff. In the true spirit of Test cricket England’s tailenders hung on to the draw with their fingernails, turning a comprehensive thumping into a brave draw.

England may not have lost the match at Cardiff but they did a good impersonation of a losing team for most of the match. Time after time England has suffered from the same issues:

  • Batsmen failing to capitalise on good starts
  • Batsmen failing when the pressure is applied
  • Bowlers not able to take wickets on a good pitch

Australia was simply a better side in the first test. Will it turn around at Lords? Probably not but at least getting away with a draw today will help confidence.

So Ricky Ponting, why didn’t Johnson bowl in the last hour? In which universe does bowling Marcus North seem a better option than Mitchell Johnson? What a bizarre decision. I am sure Panesar and Anderson were very happy with it.

Monday, 6 July 2009

The Baker's dozen

The England ‘13’ for the first Ashes test contains a couple of curious picks:

Ian Bell: what does this guy have that keeps getting him in the squad? The answer is obvious I suppose: a central contract. It would be an admission of failure to keep not picking him especially after the Vaughan central contract fiasco. Bell’s first class record for Warwickshire this year looks quite good: 8 innings at 79.50. However, those numbers are a little deceiving. He has only made one century and that was way back on April 15th. He made an outing for England Lions last week (or England A as they used to be called) and got a first baller from Lee followed by 20 (from 63 balls). So why would they pick him? Oh yea, the central contract...

Monty Panaser: “go back to your county and take some wickets”. Well he only did the first part of that. Not only did he not take many wickets but a look down the bowling averages makes me wonder if he would be dropped from Northamptonshire’s side. His stats are 8 wickets at 86.7! Surely that would make him unpickable. He did take three wickets for England against Warwickshire last week (batsmen numbers 8, 10 and 11 mind you) and he does have a reasonable record against Australia.

The problem is that both these players were told to go away and get some form. Neither has done that and yet are in the squad – with the suggestion that Panesar will play (even if Bell does not). How can young England cricketers hope to get selected when serial poor performers are regularly rewarded with selection?

Calm before the storm

Hype, the Ashes always have plenty of it. None of it matters of course, the Australian players may ‘believe’ they get the psychological upper hand by making their pronouncements but the truth is they are kidding themselves. Words will mean nothing if not backed up by actions. It all starts on Wednesday. Wednesday? What sort of stupid idea is that? If it’s a rout the first test could be all over before the weekend. What will they think of next – not having it in England?

Friday, 3 July 2009

Michael Vaughan

Michael Vaughan’s retirement from professional cricket seems to have been met with general agreement. I, for one, am sad to see him go. He is the best English (born) batsman in the past decade. His performances drove him to the world number one spot in the ICC Test batting rankings. This is no small achievement; Pietersen the highest ranked English player is ninth.

There is an often used joke about Vaughan that despite a string of low scores he was ‘hitting it well in the nets’. There may lie some of Vaughan’s problems, he was a fantastic stroke player but there are times when a bit of graft is called for. As one failure follows another runs sometimes need to be ground out rather than blasted. His position was made more difficult because he was the (ex) England captain – everyone heard about his low scores. There was nowhere to hide.

Vaughan was an intelligent cricketer whose captaincy was a credit to himself and his team, often illustrating the limitations in the opposing captain. Hopefully Vaughan will not be lost to cricket.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Graeme Swann

Graeme Swann says some remarkable things in a Times interview. Surely the most remarkable, to me anyway was this:

"What I said about Monty is true of several people in this squad. I simply don’t know how they have got to their age without electrocuting themselves or doing themselves some real harm. Ravi’s like that, Luke Wright, too. Some of the things they say and do . . . they are just on a different planet. Rob Key asked Adil Rashid the other day what animal a lamb came from . . . he thought it was a cow! He actually said it out loud. The comedy value is priceless. That’s what I meant about Monty. I love him to pieces but I sometimes wonder how he’s got to this stage without wandering in front of a train or a bus.”

Friday, 19 June 2009

Pakistan give South Africa a chance to choke

South Africa choking in a semi final is almost as good as Australia getting knocked out of the tournament early on. Not as good, obviously. I didn’t think they would blow it this time, I thought they had a good enough team and enough form to carry them through. Happily I was wrong and we saw the choke-meister generals do it one more time. Pakistan, it must be said, played superbly. Afridi played a classic innings and followed it up with a spell of leg-spin bowling that had the South Africans turning their ovens to gas mark nine. Umar Gul delivered the killer blow with some awesome death bowling. Magic stuff. Pakistan of course narrowly lost the first ICC T20 final and ten years and one day after they last played a final at Lords, they will play another. Hopefully this one will be closer.

Every ICC Final has a special ‘ICC shoots foot’ moment. This year they organised it early: the Final clashes with the British Formula 1 Grand Prix...

Monday, 15 June 2009

...and then fall

England’s victory against India means they cannot qualify for the semi finals of the ICC T20 World Cup. A week ago this would have been quite a shock but today no so – for me at least. India played poorly against West Indies and failed to improve against England. Result: two loses and out. Much has been made of the fact that the IPL and the huge pressure involved gives India an advantage. A couple of points about that:

  • The IPL may be a great success but lots of games are won or lost by non-Indian players. Lots of Australians and South Africans make the big plays in IPL – not Indians.
  • The IPL is a great training ground for everyone and the bigger players have more pressure – these are not generally Indians.
  • I was staggered at the technical ineptness of the Indian batsmen. Suresh Raina who batted at three did not have any idea how to play the rising ball. He was there for the taking and England did. He would not last two minutes in a county match with a technique like that. Jadega was also poor and his inability to score quickly was nicely exploited by England.
  • Indian bowlers were rubbish. Period.

England flipped from outclassed against South Africa and flopped into professional mode. They outplayed India in most departments and ‘won by 3 runs’ is one of those results which belies England’s dominance. England had really won three overs out. England now just need to beat West Indies today to book a semi final berth – something they have been doing all year. Easy. However, I think it’s a pretty even match. West Indies have played well in the competition and England may struggle to motivate themselves after the India game. England may flip their form again and this is essentially a final. Slip ups are fatal now.

Friday, 12 June 2009

India falter at first real hurdle

West Indies are a funny side. They can almost lose at will to England, employing a dizzying barrage of dropped catches, poor bowling and batting collapses. They started the competition by destroying Australia and have done something similar today to India. West Indies outplayed India in most departments and had Yuvraj not hit an impressive 67 (from 43 balls) it would have been a demolition. Dwayne Bravo was simple outstanding: 4 wickets and 66* (from 36 balls). He, Simmons and latterly Chanderpaul made the Indian bowling look predictable and unthreatening. West Indies face South Africa tomorrow. Can they win? Of course they can if the same side as today turns up.

India has to pick themselves up and prepare for England on Sunday. England are a bit like the West Indies form wise; they can be good or terrible (more usually terrible of late). The loser of England v India will almost certainly not progress to the semi finals. The winner will have to win their last game. For India that means beat England and then beat South Africa. They will have to play better than they did today to win either of those games.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

A golly good thrashing

England was crushed today by South Africa. Everything about the South African game was superior: bowling, fielding, batting, confidence and I suspect mental attitude as well. It is difficult to see where England could have won that game. How to win is easy: score 200 (or maybe 175 on that wicket) and put South Africa under pressure but I don’t think England have the ability to do that. England now have to beat India and West Indies to have a chance of the semi’s - a big ask for a small team.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Australia

There is something poetic almost mystical about Australia getting beaten and dumped out of the ICC Twenty20 Cup. Every non Australian knows that smile they allow themselves when they think of how Ponting’s got to explain this one to the commentator. This time it was even better – he had to give it to the cheerleader general: Ian Chappell (how does he get past immigration). Brilliant.

Australia didn’t lose because of luck or umpiring decisions. They didn’t lose because of injury problems or questionable selections. Australia lost because the team, as a whole, were not good enough. In reality they were thrashed, twice. They were completely bamboozled by Mendis today – it was almost embarrassing (for embarrassing read ‘hilarious’) to watch David Hussey, clueless, trying to get the ball past the 22 yards of cut turf. Without a bit of tail-end wagging, the match would have been a walk-over. The bowling was its predictable self. Brett Lee ran in hard again and committed the same set of errors he did against Gayle on Saturday – with a similar result. Watson looks like a guy who is just glad he made it from his mark to the umpire – if it doesn’t go for a boundary that is a bonus. Johnson – maybe Ricky should consider bowling him his full allocation...

Sri Lanka was excellent. They have easily the best bowling side in the competition: Malinga, Mendis, Murali = Scary. Their batting is not so good, fragile even, but provided Sangakkara stays in they are safe. It was a real delight to watch Mendis – the first time I have seen him. A real wizard.

Can Sri Lanka win it? Not sure, their fragile batting means they will probably come unstuck at some point.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Australia sunk in a perfect storm

We don’t have many of these days in England. Where the weather is moody, hot and sticky. The clouds bunch up. For hours it looks like the storm will break. Eventually, all hell breaks loose – hail, thunder, lightning and flood. So it has been this year with Chris Gayle. He has spent the previous month looking stormy and moody. Hardly a smile and not many runs. Sulking at his position and the weather – not that I can blame him there. The storm finally broke yesterday with Gayle and Fletcher assaulting the Australian bowling. Australia were not so much beaten and blown away in ten overs. Chasing 170, West Indies were 120-0 after ten! Brett Lee on his return to the Australian side bowled very quickly, topping 93mph. He disappeared even more quickly with Gayle hitting him clean out of the ground and taking 27 from one over. Andre Fletcher’s contribution to the thumping should not be forgotten. He started the assault and after they had broken the back of the chase he batted sensibly – milking the bowling. A real revelation.

Gayle’s innings was not all savagery and violence. He played proper cricket shots full of style. Earlier in the day we saw McCullum and Taylor blast it for New Zealand but their innings were just slog-fests. They had none of Gayle’s class. Will we see a better innings this tournament? I hope so.

Friday, 5 June 2009

The future is orange

I don’t suppose anyone actually thought Netherlands would actually beat England. This was supposed to be a walk in the park for England. A gentle opener against a mostly amateur side. Someone forgot to tell the Netherlands. England won the first ten overs, Holland the remaining thirty. The Netherlands were far superior in their running between the wickets – running virtually every ball. I don’t think England even know how to do that. In the end it all came down to the three usual suspects for England:
  • No batsmen to blast it when it counts
  • No bowlers that can stop runs being scored or take wickets
  • The opposition are more skilful.
England have to beat Pakistan – so they better hope the forecast rain doesn’t wipe out their match on Sunday...

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

England scrape past Scotland

There have been some pretty impressive performances in the warm up matches for the ICC World Twenty20. South Africa looked mighty against Pakistan both with the bat and ball. India and New Zealand looked sharp with New Zealand recovering a poor start against Australia to make a game of it. England? Oh they demonstrated the exact set of failings you would imagine: predictable bowling that made little headway followed by a batting display that would not scare anyone – it didn’t scare Scotland that is for sure. Without KP (who survived a pretty simple LBW early on) England would have been sunk. Most of the other major sides look far superior – no surprise there then.

Performing worse that England were... the umpires. There were some pretty poor decisions out there – Afridi was caught from a chest high full toss that was not called no-ball even after a consultation. There have been quite a few run-outs not given. Thankfully we will get third umpires in the tournament proper.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Cricket Bonanza

What is the most important cricket series this summer? The Ashes of course, or is it. Well, yes it is actually. In twenty years time people will still talk about the 2009 Ashes much as they do about every other Ashes series. Whether it be a classic series or a whitewash it will be remembered for years. So where does that leave the ICC World Twenty20 cup which starts on Friday? Is it just a hit and giggle? For most of the people that take part (i.e. the cream of world cricket) the ICC World Twenty20 is the most important tournament this summer. That is because it is a shop window for the IPL and any other Twenty20 tournament that may spring up. The World Twenty20 is a deadly serious affair for those taking part – it will help decide salaries for the next few years. So expect lots of fantastic cricket, barrel loads of passion and gallons of pressure. Personally I cannot wait for the World Twenty20 to start...

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

England show promising one-day form

England has an odd one day side. While coaches, captains and players come and go one thing remains constant: their variability. At times England can be lamentable almost to the point of hopelessness. The batting fails in the same way match after match. The bowlers look like they have forgotten how to bowl and the fielder drop catches for fun. Then mysteriously England flip into a different mentality. The batting looks remarkably solid and the bowling well directed. Even the fielders jump around and all of a sudden it looks like England could give anyone a run for their money.

Currently England is in the manic swing of its bipolar disorder. Twice in a week they have demolished West Indies. A full strength West Indies with Gayle, Sarwan and Chanderpaul while England is without Flintoff and Pietersen. West Indies played poorly but maybe that was because England out-played them. England even managed to get runs off the spinners.

There have been many false dawns for England’s one day form so it would be unwise to suggest they can beat the world. At least at the moment they are not beating themselves and that must be a good thing.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Shoaib doesn't have the balls for the T20

You cannot make this stuff up:

"The medical board has reported that Shoaib Akhtar was suffering from genital viral warts and the wound needs further care and treatment for another 10 days," the PCB said in a statement."

Why wouldn't they just say 'he has a skin problem' or, well, anything other than 'genital viral wart'. Of course if he was a UK MP he could get it fixed privately and claim back the expenses.

Wash out

That was disappointing. Rain, rain and more rain; just a typical May day then really. The Headingly management must be pretty devastated – an ground full of tickets to give back. Given that the next ODI is on Sunday, I wonder why they didn’t schedule a reserve day.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Musings

Another Test, another disappointing display from the West Indies. It is not a surprise though; the conditions in mid-May are about as far from West Indian conditions as you can get on a cricket pitch. The ODIs could well be much closer however – in many respects the West Indies are a better ODI side than England. The ODI series is followed by the ICC World Twenty20, so WHY, would England play three 50-over matches and NO Twentry20 games? Why would either side want that?

The eleven who played for England in both Test matches have had a nice tune up and confidence boost. They have made plenty of runs and taken easy wickets – they still had to do it though. The England side can only beat who the ECB put in front of them but I am not sure we have learned an awful lot. Bresnan for Flintoff would be an easy swap for the first Ashes Test and given the performances it is difficult to see how a Sidebottom/Bell/Vaughan selection could be justified... but I am sure they will find a way.

The first Ashes Test is on July 8th and I am worried it could be a huge let-down. My worry is the pitch. Laughably the first Test of the Ashes is on a ground that has never hosted a Test match before. The pitch was today rated as ‘poor’ and Glamorgan fined. This relates to the Glamorgan v Essex match last Tuesday. The wicket seemed to lack any pace and gave excessive spin from the first ball! Danesh Kaneria was just about unplayable. If the Ashes wicket isn’t a high quality Test wicket there will be trouble...

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Chris "Captain of Misery" Gayle speaks

How to lose your cool image in one go:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2009/may/12/chris-gayle-andrew-strauss-cricket

Chances of West Indies winning in Durham: almost zero

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Ian Bell

Just when I thought some sense had been knocked into the England selectors they do this: recall Ian Bell. The justification is that he has been in early season form, which is true he has had scores of 172 and 108. However it is worth remembering that:
  1. Only one of those scores was a first class century (the 108 was in a Friends Provident match)
  2. Bell’s second century was made on April 19 which is well before the squad for the first test was announced so why would they suddenly make a difference for the second test?
  3. Ian Bell’s first class scores this season are: 12, 172, 13*, 29, 27, 37, 30*. As you can see he is right back in form...

Ian Bell was dropped in the West Indies from the number three position. Dropping a number three is a decision that should not be taken lightly: it is in some way the most important position in the batting line up. To drop a number three and then reselect him for what is clearly no good reason shows the selectors up to be badly flawed. There seems to be something going on here that does not include ‘picking the best player’.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Three days at Lords

So what did we learn from England’s easy victory over the West Indies? Nothing much I suspect. It is difficult to draw conclusions from one match. Great performances can soon lose their lustre after a few poor ones and similarly a poor performance is forgotten when superseded by a match winning one.

For England the big winners were Bopara, Swann and Onions. All three are relative or actual newcomers and all played big parts in England’s win. Swann was particularly impressive knocking his first fifty and dismissing Chanderpaul twice. As for Onions, I wonder if a debutant has ever taken his first three test wickets in one over! Remarkable. He reminded me a little of Peter Siddle and that is no bad thing. England need a workhorse who can keep running in.

I thought Bresnan was poorly treated. He was only given seven overs in the match on debut – what chance has he got to shine there. I wondered if Strauss has a lack of faith in him.

The West Indies were just plain poor. Fidel Edwards bowled with fire and no luck and was by far the standout player. The indiscipline of old returned with a bang. Let us hope they pull it together by the time the next Test starts.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

A bit early in the season for lethargy

The West Indies are playing one day cricket at Lords. To be more specific they are playing two session cricket and those two sessions happened yesterday. After tea yesterday the real West Indies side turned up and took over from the over-achievers that have been masquerading as the Windies all year. Only the noble Fidel was not replaced. What a shower they are. Cannot field or catch. Cannot bat either it seems. This is not that surprising, it is the West Indies after all and it is also early May in England, a time-of-the-year dedicated to making visiting sides feel home-sick. A time when Englishmen say things like “isn’t it supposed to be warm in May?” However that is irrelevant because of all the things in the West Indies side power, trying is one of them! They are not trying even a little. They look like they do not want to be there; at all. Wake up Windies, you are at Lords in a test match and if things don’t improve you will be beaten by lunch on the third day.

Friday, 1 May 2009

England's newish look

Collingwood, Pietersen, Strauss, Collingwood. They are the England Twenty20 captains over the last year. I know Twenty20 is a shortened form of the game but four captains in a year? I say four because of course the last Collingwood on the list must be a different one to the Collingwood that resigned nine months ago. Picking a captain who has recently resigned because it affected his play would be silly. I think you can guess where this is going...

What is even more strange than Collingwood being made captain again is that there is no obvious other choice. Twenty20 is the new cricket cash cow and everyone is raving about it – so why does England struggle to even find a captain? The fact that Collingwood has only been appointed for the three week World competition is pretty telling – he is a fill-in -- for a World event on home soil! Bizarre. Of course some people will say Rob Key should have got the job, but picking a guy who has never played International Twenty20 cricket is just too far out even for the ECB.

The really big news is that Ian Bell and Michael Vaughan are back in the Test team, who would have predicted that (eh Danny)? I am kidding (for the first Test anyway), in fact they have both been left out along with Steve Harmison. Quite right too, even though I hear Vaughan is hitting it beautifully in the nets... Ravi Bopara has been given the number three position which he deserves after his century in Bridgetown. Onions and Bresnan are also in the Test squad and let us hope they both get a game – in early May you really would expect only one spinner to be played and so presumably Panesar will miss out. An unexpected May Test recall against the West Indies two years ago was the making of Ryan Sidebottom, Onions and Bresnan will be looking to take their chance next week.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Freddie Injured Again

Andrew Flintoff is injured again and needs to have knee surgery. Of course there will be a lot of fuss and some serious questions asked of the ECB, namely: ‘Should Andrew have gone to the IPL’. For me it’s irrelevant. Andrew Flintoff is a professional cricketer; he plays cricket for money. If he was not playing IPL cricket he would probably be playing for Lancashire... and with more workload. The real worry for Freddie is that he needs another operation. The media quite often treat operations as if they are trivial. Cutting people open and chopping bits off is never trivial and can cause unexpected complications. The ECB say Andrew will be out for three to five weeks and will be back for the ICC World Twenty20 in June. Personally I just hope Andrew will be ready for the Ashes – England doesn’t have a chance without him. Get well soon Andrew.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Squeeze the pips

So it’s all go for the IPL or SAPL. Am I excited? Well, no and here is why: I will not be watching it because it's subscription only and on a channel that hardly anyone has. I could pay another £40 (two month subscription) but am I really that bothered... If I, a cricket fan, cannot be bothered to pay then the IPL is a non-event in the UK and will remain that way until it has had at least a year on a free channel.

Four years ago the UK went Ashes crazy, helped of course by the England team actually doing well! Will there be as much fuss this time around? Well, no and here is why: people will not be watching it because it's subscription only. Four years ago the Ashes was on free-to-air TV. This time around, if you do not already subscribe to Sky Sports, it will cost at least £35 a month to watch the Ashes – with a minimum 12 month contract! £35, that is just not going to happen for a lot of people. Even if a miracle occurs and England are pushing for a win, the Ashes will not have anywhere near the following they had four years ago.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Ian Bell speaks

There is an interview with Ian Bell here. I actually laughed out loud at one point when he said

"Changes had to be made, it's difficult, no one got any runs and we were beaten heavily so someone had to go and it was my turn ... It was disappointing not to get another opportunity to try and put that right.”

I think the CEO of Lehmann Brothers said something similar. Bell has had chances galore and botched virtually every one of them. It is an interview with Bell so I suppose I didn’t expect him to say “Yea, I have been crap for a while and I deserved to be dropped. I plan to put all that right this summer though.”. It would have been nice to see a touch of reality though.

Bell and Vaughan are contracted players so I would be amazed if one of them did not start the first test against West Indies. Sadly, I suspect either one does not have to do much to get a spot. Long gone are the time when players had to deserve their place in the side...

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Strauss misses the cut

Andrew Strauss has been left out of England’s 30-man squad for the ICC World Twenty20 competition in June. Quite right too. He may have ‘suddenly’ become a 50-over player but he is in no way a T20 player. However, Andrew Strauss captained England’s last T20 match and did about as badly as everyone else.

Did they pick him in the Caribbean knowing he wasn’t the man for the job? Probably, they really are that stupid.

Did the one match he played force him to be dropped? I would hope not, he did as badly as everyone else.

After captaining in the previous match how did he suddenly become not worth mentioning in the best 30 players? Error, does not compute.

Do the England selectors have even the slightest clue what they are doing?

The full squad: Kevin Pietersen, Kabir Ali, James Anderson, Gareth Batty, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Paul Collingwood, Stephen Davies, Joe Denly, James Foster, Andrew Flintoff, Stephen Harmison, Rob Key, Sajid Mahmood, Dimitri Mascarenhas, Eoin Morgan, Graham Napier, Samit Patel, Liam Plunkett, Matt Prior, Adil Rashid, Owais Shah, Ryan Sidebottom, Graeme Swann, Chris Tremlett, Shaun Udal, Chris Woakes, Luke Wright.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Sammy's 'catch'

Darren Sammy is a cheat. He grassed a difficult catch in the last ODI but came up from it and claimed Kevin Pietersen’s wicket. Pretty poor really. Happily the West Indies lost and quite rightly so after such a display of cheating. What I cannot figure is:

  • Why there was no referral system for the ODIs
  • How Sammy thought he was going to get away without anyone knowing
  • Why there hasn’t been that much fuss made

Had Ricky Ponting or Rahul Dravid grassed the catch there would have been howls of people calling for their banning. Sammy however seems to have largely gotten away with it.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Kevin is that unhappy away from 'home' he is going to South Africa

So Kevin Pietersen is really unhappy and wants to go home. Life is really tough having to spend time in the sunny West Indies and play the occasional game of cricket. Funnily enough he seemed perfectly happy until the IPL was moved and his obligations to England mean he will not be able to play as many IPL games and hence make as much money. Maybe this is the real reason he is unhappy. I am guessing this alleged unhappiness will play out in him spending more time in South Africa making money and less time with England...

Friday, 27 March 2009

West Indies and England both show their true form

Chris Gayle, Dwane Bravo and Fidel Edwards showed today why they are going to be a real threat for the Twenty20 World Cup. Fidel was fast and furious; he scared the England top order and sent the rest into a panic. Dwane continued his comeback trail by destroying the England middle order, taking 4-19 – how the West Indies have missed their talisman. As for Chris Gayle, his innings was simply breathtaking. He took 24 from Mascarenhas‘s only over and made him look like a net bowler – which he effectively is on good wickets. There can have been fewer demonstrations of clean hitting, all around the wicket.

England, of course, was terrible. Beaten inside 15 overs, the batting didn’t seem to have much of a clue and only Flintoff had any control with the ball. They played like amateurs and seem to have perfected the art of mugging themselves. Ian Botham said before the match started ‘It has been a tough winter for England’. A couple of months in the West Indies – he should try it from this end...

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Maroon with Yellow?

West Indies coach John Dyson showed what he was made of yesterday and the insight was not pretty. For the last 50 runs of the West Indies innings the batsmen were complaining about the light. Pollard could hardly face a ball without a squint or a remark. When the end came the match was boiling to a close finish – 27 wanted from 22 balls with 3 wickets remaining – and the crowd was loving it. So, at the first chance Dyson called the chase off at the first chance. No thought for the audience. Cowardice. The TV shot of Dyson calling in the batsmen was interesting because it showed Gayle motionless and looking less than impressed. He wasn’t jumping up to claim a suspect victory, Dyson was. Happily Dyson compounded his cowardice with stupidity by misreading the Duckworth/Lewis sheet.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Pick McGain again?

There have been some remarkable Test débuts recently – People like Phil Hughes and Jason Krezja have turned up and had immediate success. It is almost as if the nervous débutante is a thing of the past. Enter stage left: Bryce McGain who is making his début for Australia against South Africa. Bryce is a leg spinner and is 37 on Wednesday. Yep, almost 37 and he is making his début for Australia. He is only six months younger than Matthew Hayden – you know they guy that had to retire because he was too old. At the end of day two, Bryce’s figures are: 11-2-102-0. Yes, you read that right 11 overs at 9.27. It’s probably worth watching day three because unless he makes a dramatic recovery it is difficult to see him playing a second Test match.

Monday, 16 March 2009

What was I thinking?

I can be sooo stupid sometimes. Take yesterday for example; in the West Indies v England T20 match England had progressed to 55/1 off 7 overs. At this point I thought to myself “55/1, England might make a decent score here”. Obviously I only said it in my head, saying that sort of thing out-loud results in people pointing and laughing – and that is when there is no one else about. Can you credit it “England might make a decent score”- and I hadn't even had a drink. It ranks alongside other classics such as “Strauss is a natural T20 captain”, “let’s not pick Prior for the game he is suited for”, “I think Amjad Khan may win us the game” and “Spinners? Do they do much in T20?”.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

A West Indies v England Combined XI

If I had to pick 11 from the 22 that played in Trinidad:

Gayle
Strauss
Sarwan
Pietersen
Chanderpaul
Ramdin
Edwards
Swann
Broad
Anderson
Panesar

Of course in reality Flintoff would play for a spinner (Panesar at present). Taylor for Anderson or Broad...maybe - not that Taylor's Test century sways it.

I think its pretty damning that half the England side couldn't get in the (current) West Indies XI...

Prior's batting byes him more time

Matt Prior was awarded the man of the match for the Trinidad Test – it wasn’t for his wicket-keeping though. From watching Test cricket for a long time I cannot remember a more inept wicket keeper. To be sure, Gerraint Jones was rubbish and I suppose would push Prior hard in the butter-fingers department. However, Prior reigns supreme when it comes to giving away runs in the form of byes.

At Trinidad and Antigua Prior gave away 90 byes from 1313 runs (6.8% of the runs). West Indies keeper Ramdin on the same pitches gave away 32 byes from 1570 runs (2% of the runs). At Barbados Ambrose let through 15 byes in the West Indies innings of 749 (also 2% of the runs). Prior now has two of the top six highest places in the byes conceded list.

Obviously that does not include the dropped catches, some of which were straight forward.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Referrals: a better system

I have a new system that the ICC could implement for umpire referrals: flip a coin – if it is heads the decision stands. This would have the following advantages:

1. It would be quicker, no more endless replays that show nothing conclusive
2. It could engage the crowd by having a slot machine on the big screen
3. Everyone would understand it
4. No need for arguments about technology
5. It wouldn’t undermine the umpire
6. It would be fairer than the current system

Six good reasons why a coin toss is better than the current system.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Big Steve

Steve Harmison is a bit of an enigma. He has most things going for him. He is six feet four inches (193cm) tall, strong and healthy. He can bowl with real pace, upwards of 90 mph. He has bags of cricketing talent that in 2004 saw him at the top of the ICC world rankings. He is just thirty so has the best part of five years ahead of him on top the world... and yet he cannot even get in the England Cricket Test team. When he does play he is often a disappointment and is out bowled by players who have nowhere near the stature or experience of ‘big Steve’.

In an interview this afternoon England selector James Whitaker was asked how near Harmison came to selection in Trinidad. His reply was telling, he said that instead of talking about Harmison he wanted to talk about Amjad Khan, a man who had worked hard over the past few weeks and was showing commitment to England. He was pressed on Harmison and he said that the back room staff were losing patience with Harmison. This is a pretty sad state of affairs, if Harmison is not mentally committed to being the best cricketer he can be he should not be on tour for England – in the west Indies on a secure 5K a week. This situation has not just happened, there have been question marks over Harmison’s commitment to training ever since the 2006 tour to Australia. Why has the management taken such a player on tour... again? I am sure there are plenty of bowlers who would love to be in his position.

Team England?

According to the UK Home Office one in every nine people living in the UK were not born in the UK. How does this statistic measure up against the current England Cricket team?

Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior were born in South Africa. Owais Shah was born in Pakistan and Amjad Khan was born in Denmark. That is five out of eleven, or 45.4% of the current England side were born out of the UK. I am not sure what the record is for ‘most people born outside a Test side’s catchment’ is but I bet the current England side is not far away from it...

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Referential Integrity

The umpire referral system has come under quite a bit of justifiable criticism. The two Test matches currently under way have been full of referral incidents – very few of which have showed the system in a good light. The players in interview seem to dislike the system and some commentators have called for it to be stopped. Personally I think the system in some form must stay. We need a system that will reverse obvious miscarriages: the LBW that pitches outside leg-stump, the LBW that has a big snick into the pad, the caught behind that clearly misses the bat or the bat-pad that misses the bat by some distance. How do we get from where we are now to a system that people are happy with?

Firstly a few observations about the current system:

  • A batsman never thinks he is out. Batting is a difficult profession made more difficult by the fact that the innings can end on any delivery. Batsmen will try anything to avoid getting out, including using a referral when they are clearly out – as Pietersen showed on Friday.
  • A bowler always thinks it is out. Graeme Smith’s first ball in the second innings was clearly not LBW. It hit him outside off stump and moved away – and yet Australia insisted on a referral. In Ryan Sidebottom’s first over today (Sunday) to Sarwan he appealed to a ball that clearly pitched outside leg stump. It was, of course, turned down so they asked for a referral. Same result.
  • Darryl Harper is a poor third umpire. He gave Chanderpaul out on replay when it was fairly clear on all replays that it way too high. He also turned over the not-out decision in favour of Brendan Nash when there was no good reason to.
  • The current system is not very well implemented because no one seems to know what is going on. There is scope for keeping the crowd informed (novel idea I know) and creating some drama. At present a referral seems to take an age with no one having a clue what is happening.
Some have suggested that it is the umpire that should instigate a referral at his discretion. While I think umpires should be able to refer to the third umpire there is a flaw in this as a general principle: if the umpire thinks it is out when an LBW pitches outside leg-stump then, as he has already made the mistake and he is not going to refer it. Umpires always want to make the correct judgement; if they think the decision is correct – they are not going to ask someone else.

A few recommendations:

  1. Let the on-field umpires talk to the third umpire about anything – it’s ridiculous to prevent them from talking freely. There are rules about what the on-field umpire can or cannot ask the third umpire -- how daft is that?
  2. Allow the third umpire to use any and all technology available. The fact that the third umpire cannot see a Hawkeye track – but I can see it - is silly. Umpires can be told to take the prediction with caution.
  3. Give the third umpire lots of training. Umpires are used to making decisions on-field. Sitting in a room full of TV monitors is a different situation and umpires should receive lots of training in the differences – I am guessing they do not (from the mistakes they make)
  4. Enshrine the principle that ‘The on-field umpires make the decision and they can only be over-ruled when a clear mistake has been made’. This has been followed ad-hoc.
Any other suggestions?

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Test cricket feast

I thought today may have been a day to remember for Younis Khan, the Pakistan captain started the day on 306 not out and must have been reminded a hundred times that Lara’s 400 was in sight. It was not to be but I am sure he will still remember his record breaking innings of 313. It must have been quite a batting wicket though, the same test provided innings of 240 (Jayawardene), 231 (Samaraweera) and 158* for Kamran Akmal. Mendis and Muralitharan had combined figures of 2-329. Ouch.

It is a big day tomorrow for Test cricket with two Tests starting. First up is the start of the home series for South Africa who are entertaining Australia. South Africa has traditionally been thrashed by Australia on home turf. The first match is at the Wanderers, the scene of some real thumpings of late - quite often by an innings. All that is, of course, in the past and a resurgent South Africa has just beaten the Aussies on their home turf, and fancies doing the job again. It will be a close series but I wouldn’t be surprised if Australia is defeated again – especially as they don’t seem to have brought any bowlers... Their bowling attack will be on the lines of Johnson, Siddle, Bollinger and Hilfenhaus -- maybe with a non-spinner thrown in. The same attack that struggled against New Zealand in ODIs. I hope their batsmen remember how to bat...

The second match is the (now) fourth Test at Barbados where West Indies play England. It is a big match this for both sides. England must win to have a chance of taking the series and salvaging some Test championship points. If West Indies win they will have won the series and you could have got long odds on that happening before the series began. England are without Flintoff and the bye making machine Prior (he let through 38 byes in the last Test). Ambrose gets the gloves and Bopara should get the other spot after making 124* after flying-in as a replacement ... or will they pick the useless Bell and make everyone shout at the TV (I know where my money is).

Friday, 20 February 2009

Rollercoaster Week

It has been a funny week and a bit. It started with high-farce in Antigua and the West Indies administrators surpassing even their dizzying heights of incompetence. The ground was, literally, built on sand. Like the ground at North Sound (I am refusing to call it after Viv Richards until it is worthy of such a great cricketer), our garden has a bit of a drainage problem. We had it levelled and returfed a couple of years ago. The gardener used ‘a bit’ of sand and it seems okay now. He did not use 100% sand because that would have been stupid. I wonder if the Chuckle Brothers are on the WICB...

With one ground consigned to the sand pit it fell to the Antigua Recreation Ground (ARG) to stage a Test match with 36-hours notice. How could you expect them to do a good job given no notice? That didn’t stop them though and they produced a good cricket wicket. Moving the Test match to where the people ‘are’ also meant they could come and watch – a revolutionary idea. We saw a fantastic Test match in which England were denied by some excellent West Indies batting. England threw everything, including an injured Flintoff, at West Indies but they held on with nine wickets gone. Thrilling. Should Strauss have declared earlier? Probably, but then if we played using hindsight Chris Gayle would have batted first... Roll on Barbados.

Underlying all these events has been the on-going drama and revelations regarding Allen Stanford. I am no financial guru so I cannot really comment on what he did or didn’t do. What seems clear is that he is in a heap of trouble and the ECB are looking pretty silly. We can expect a lot more on this and this is interesting reading: http://content-uk.cricinfo.com/england/content/story/391500.html

Friday, 13 February 2009

WICB - a bunch of jokers

What a joke. A test ground that, effectively before a ball is balled, is not fit for purpose. The WICB have shown staggering incompetence over the past decade and a half. The debacle in Antigua is par for the course for the WICB. The ICC should demand the block resignation of the WICB.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Rubbish

Ian Bell and Alastair Cook are rubbish. Paul Collingwood and Andrew Strauss are also rubbish. Their statistics demonstrate this very clearly. You can argue about them being ‘good players’ or ‘batsmen with a sound technique’ until the cows come home but they are still rubbish. A Test average of just over 40 after a good number of Tests is grounds for de-selection, not retention. Not only are they rubbish, they have been rubbish for years – literally. Look at the graphs below. Rubbish.

Why are they rubbish? That is a more difficult question to answer because all four of the mentioned players have played good innings; innings after which people have said ‘xyz has come of age’, ‘what a quality player xyz is’. Strauss and Cook made centuries on debut and have averaged over 50 in Tests. Bell made 162 not out in his second match and 199 against South Africa last summer. Collingwood has a double century against Australia. There seems to be a paradox – they are rubbish but somehow can produce innings of quality. I suppose you could argue that if they play enough innings they will occasionally make big runs; they certainly have been given plenty of chances.

My dad’s favourite hobby horse is that they don’t play enough cricket. Whether he is correct or not, one thing is for sure – they don’t play much. In 2008, Cook played twelve test matches: three in March, seven spread between mid-May and mid-August followed by two in December. Cook also played four games for Essex. That is sixteen first-class matches, twelve of which were Tests – and not a century any of them. Is that enough to maintain form? How is Cook going to progress if he doesn’t play much cricket? There has been the suggestion that the England players don’t need to play much and can just turn up and ‘turn it on’. I would suggest that they are simply wrong and if you look at other sports players progress by playing. Top footballers do not become world class players by avoiding games and only playing once in a while. Top tennis players do not dominate their sport by only playing the odd tournament. Why should cricket be any different? The current players and system is not working. Maybe my dad has a point.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Alastair Cook

Alastair Cook, like Ian Bell in the previous post, had an excellent start to his career. An unbeaten century against India in his first test set a high bar for his achievements. As can be seen from the graph Cook has been in decline ever since and shows no signs of reversing the trend.

Ian Bell

Career graph for Ian Bell. He had a fantastic start with a 65 and 166 (both) not out against Bangladesh. With the exception of three centuries in three matches in 2006, his career trend is very much downwards -- and quickly.

Paul Collingwood


An updated graph for Paul Collingwood. A long downward trend.

Andrew Strauss


I posted a graph of Andrew's career early in 2008, here is an updated graph. As can be seen he has played better since the start of 2008. Not setting any records though...

Jerome Taylor showcases new West Indies resolve

Jerome Taylor ran in today and bowled like a man who had already seen the script and knew he was the leading man. He knew exactly where to bowl for each batsman. He didn’t bowl super-fast, he just bowled quick enough to make it difficult. He didn’t bowl big swingers or move it excessively off-the-seam, he just bowled in the right place for each batsmen and got touch of movement. His genius was to let each batsmen provide the seeds of their own downfall. Cook, Strauss, Collingwood, Pietersen and Prior; all those wickets were classic dismissals for the respective batsmen. The wicket wasn’t bad, in fact it played more-or-less true but like all good spells of quick bowling it looked difficult to play. The demons played in the batsmen’s heads and they forgot what they were there for – to bat and make runs. Not for the first time English batsmen looked like startled rabbits in a West Indian quick bowling headlight. 9-4-11-5 are spectacular figures and it could easily have been six or seven wickets. It will be interesting to see how Taylor goes in Antigua, there will be lots of expectation on his shoulders; for now Jerome Taylor, take a bow.

England? They batted like rubbish amateurs of course, bowled out for 51 (a recovery from 26-7), how could they be anything else.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Win, Lose or Draw? Part II

It seems the ICC have, in a moment of madness, made the correct decision and decided England did after all win the match against Pakistan at the Oval in 2006. We all know England won. England knows England won. Pakistan knows England won and now it seems the ICC have recognised the fact. What's next: the end of two match Test series?

Friday, 30 January 2009

Bill Frindall MBE - `The Bearded Wonder'

I was going to harp on about how South Africa has just whipped Australia (again) but then I learned that Bill Frindall had died and he seems so much more important. Bill was scorer and statistician for Test Match Special, the BBC's radio cricket commentary show. His accuracy and knowledge of cricket statistics is unmatched and he will be sorely missed.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/cricket/7861363.stm

Friday, 16 January 2009

Michael Vaughan Interviewed

Not a bad interview with Michael talking about his future and how he feels good after a rest. He also talks about the KP row. What is certain is that Vaughan is in a lot better shape than Headingley, behind him, which looks like a badly ploughed field.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/cricket/england/7833699.stm

Friday, 9 January 2009

Matthew Hayden

How could Australia replace an opening batsmen like Matthew Hayden? The simple answer is that they cannot and a look at the graph below reveals just why Cricket Australia has been reluctant to drop him. A truly remarkable record consisting of thirty centuries and twenty nine further scores of fifty or more. Twice he has scored hundreds in four consecutive Test matches and twice more he has scored centuries in both innings of a match. He also, of course, held the world record high score of 380 (marked in white).

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

KP Resigns, Moores Sacked?

Kevin Pietersen has resigned as captain of England and it seems that Peter Moores will be sacked. What a sorry way to run a cricket team -- they are not even playing cricket at the moment!

Monday, 5 January 2009

Hayden's SCG Swan-song?

The upcoming fourth day of Australia v South Africa could be a defining one for Matthew Hayden. After a long string of low scored (he averaged less than 35 in 2008) there must be a chance that failure at the SCG could be his last Test innings. He has already had an enormous bit of fortune -- near the end of day three Dale Steyn trapped him directly in-front in what was easily the clearest LBW of the series (helped by the fact it shot along the ground, Hayden didn’t have a chance). Hayden was amazingly given not out. Even the terribly biased Channel 9 commentators admitted it should have been given. Big man, big day.

Biased? The Channel 9 commentators. During one spell Doug Bollinger had a couple of close-ish LBW appeals. On one of them Michael Slater called out ‘come on umpire give one’. How very professional. Next thing we know they will be claiming Nathan Hauritz is a spinner.

As I said Hayden had a huge slice of luck in day three...but he wasn’t the only one. The ball hit the stumps twice in the South African innings and did not knock the bails off. It all helped South Africa make 327 on a badly deteriorating pitch. With 150 run lead it is Australia who are in control.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Big sticking plasters needed

If it’s not bad enough for Australia that their results have taken a beating, their players are having problems too:

  • Brett Lee has a broken foot and needs an operation. He will be out for at least eight weeks (as predicted).
  • Shane Watson, the man made from Crunchie, has a stress fracture of his back and will be out for at least six months
  • Andrew Symonds has a knee problem and is having an operation on it (tomorrow).
  • Stuart Clarke has had elbow surgery and will be out of the side for some time

New world order

In ten years many events of the last decade will be lost in a sea of vagueness. However, that is not true of 2008; the financial events of the past year will be analysed for years to come and their repercussions have still to be fully felt. For cricket, 2008 has also been a significant year, with two momentous happenings.

The first of these events was the IPL and the massive cash injection it has brought. 20:20 cricket was largely ignored by India until they won the Twenty20 World Championship in September 2007. From that point on it has been full-steam ahead with the IPL spending million dollar sums on international players. India went from a ‘difficult place to tour’ to a land filled with milk and honey. Talk of ‘cricketer burn-out’ magically disappeared in favour of making a gap in the schedules for the IPL and other 20:20 tournaments. 20:20 has changed the face of cricket and will continue to exert a large influence in 2009 and above.

The second major cricket event of 2008 has been the demise of the Australian Test winning machine. Australia has been virtually unbeaten for the last decade and beyond. Australia losing a Test match was an event of note and losing a series was a very rare event indeed. However, in the past few months Australia has lost two Test series: they were soundly thrashed in India after a good start and have been similarly beaten by South Africa at home. Australia has lost four of its last eight Test matches. The reasons for the slump in form are clear to see – a number of world class players have retired and the holes they create cannot be filled easily. In particular the gaps left by Warne and McGrath swiftly followed by MacGill and Hogg have left Australia with a barren bowling attack and without a spinner of note. This is excellent news for everyone except Australian fans. It means that Test matches will be closer and everyone has a realistic chance of beating them. There are now three top sides in Test cricket: India, Australia and South Africa. The rest are playing catch-up.

Of course not everything has changed with England playing the same first six players in their last test of 2008 as they played in the first Test match of the 2006/07 Ashes series, with similar results...