Sunday, December 24, 2006

Changing of the Guard

First it was Damien Martyn - then it was Shane Warne, and now it's Glenn McGrath's turn to announce his retirement.

It can surely only be a matter of time before Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden join the exodus, followed closely by Adam Gilchrist- so by the time of the next Ashes series in 2009, we'll be looking at a vastly different Australian team to that we've grown familiar with over the last couple of years, although any side that can boast a middle order of Ponting - Hussey - Clarke is hardly going to be a pushover.

As Michael Clarke himself admitted recently, without Warne and McGrath, Australia are going to be spending a heck of a lot longer in the field, and will be involved in a lot more drawn games than they have over the past ten years or so.

Stuart Clarke looks a pretty good replacement for McGrath, and there is a queue a mile long of batsmen ready to fill the gaps at in the batting line up.

How the Aussies manage to cope with Warne will be the big question over the next few years. There have been a series of predictable comments in the Australian press about how the success will continue without interuption, but I think they underestimate the sheer psychological advantage they gained, simply by Warne taking off his sweater and turning his arm over. I'm sure there are loads of ex-test batsmen who still wake up at 2am sweating, with visions of Warne running through their head.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Random Thoughts from Down Under


Bigmouth Strikes Again - What the hell does Saj think he's doing coming out with this sort of garbage HALF WAY through an Ashes Tour? Especially the pathetic section about not having spoken to Flintoff about being underbowled, and then quickly adding that 'Freddie and I definately get on'. Well, you might think that Saj, but don't expect a Christams Card from Mr & Mrs Flintoff this year.

New Kid on the Block - With Saj self-destructing, and Duncan Fletcher reporting that Jimmy Anderson was effectively fouling himself at the start of the Brisbane Test, does anyone else think that it's time for the Stuart Broad era to start - and quickly.

The Lunatics have Taken over the Asylum- Can we please be told the name of the lame-brained pillock(s) at the ECB who though the following were good ideas: -

1) Offering Troy Cooley a one-year contract when he, quite reasonably, wanted a two year deal.

2) Thought that a meaningless one-day game and a couple of two-day matches would be suitable warm up for a team just arriving from the sub-continent. That deal effectively cost us the First Test.

My guess for 1) was that it was some petty little bean counter, clueless about cricket, looking to please his boss by saving a few thousand on the balance sheet.

As for 2) it's time the ECB started to realise that size of the travelling support means that England tours are a huge windfall for the local cricketing authorities. (The last West Indies tour apparently was the only thing that stopped the Carribean authorities from going bankrupt. If you're in that sort of strong position, you should be able to dictate terms rather than 'assume the position' when tour intineries are being discussed.

Actually, our authorities have a history of this sort of thing. Do you realise that, on the 1970/71 tour, the England management (under the guise of the 'blood and pus brigade' - aka 'The MCC') agreed to the addition of an extra test match at the end of the six match series because one had been rained out earlier? At the time, we were one-nil up in the series, so could conceivably have lost the Ashes because some chinless nonentity though he'd score some diplomatic points.

Aussie Rules - One thing that has struck me since arriving in Australia ten days ago, is just how committed the entire nation is to the success of their cricket team. In England, cricket is still, effectively, a minority sport. Even after the Ashes success there was still a huge swathe of the population who, whilst they were aware that a famous victory had been achieved, really didn't give much of a toss and were only too willing to turn their backs once the new football season started.

In Australian, it's a vastly different story, EVERYONE cares passionately about the Test Team - and everyone had an opinion about the ongoing series that they were only too willing to share with a visiting Pom. The guy at the drive-in off licence (what a wonderful concept!!) who told me why KP should be batting at 4 - the woman in the queue at the bank with some very trenchant views about Brett Lee's bowling action, and the two people in the newsagents who were distraught at the news of Shane Warne's retirement and were happy to concede that Monty could well be the 'next big thing' in international cricket.

The Australia team were well-prepared, totally committed to regaining the Ashes and hugely motivated- but that really only reflects the state of the entire nation.

Farewell and Thanks - Finally, cricketing genius's don't come around that often, and those that can parlay that genius so that it transcends sport are indeed a rare breed - so I can safely say that I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to watch Shane Warne, live and on TV, over the past fourteen years. He's tortured England so often that we've lost count, but once you get over the pain of defeat you really just have to admire such a gifted performer.

From his first appearance (Who the heck is the fat blonde guy who reckons he's going to bowl leg-breaks for heavens sake) through to his single handed efforts in 2005, to the final swansong this past month.

The greatest bowler ever, and probably the most important cricketer in history for his impact on the game. I doubt we'll see his like again. There'll be a lot of us who suddenly get dust in our eyes at the MCG next week as he takes his final bow in front of his home crowd.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Ticket to Ride

Tomorrow I'm off to Australia - not due back until the New Year.

Posting will obviously be light for the next four weeks, but I hope to publish the occasional pearl of wisdom if friends and relatives are prepared to let me belt the living daylights out of their keyboards.

Keep the faith.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Mystery Solved

In a previous post I mentioned that TRSM has it's own 'Deep Throat' - a shadowy figure based in Earls Court who is passing us material from the world of ex Australian skipper, Steve Waugh. I thought long and hard about the codename for the source - 'Debbie Does Dallas' seemed a bit unwieldy, so I plumped for 5X.

The latest communication from 5X arrived in the post this morning. Inside the usual grimy envelope (that smelled strongly of champagne) was a cassette tape with a handwritten note - 'Listen to this you pommy b****** - it explains everything'. How could I refuse an invitation like that?!

It soon becomes clear that it was a recording from a bugging device that appears to have been planted in Steve Waugh's Adelaide hotel room. There are some telephone conversations, obviously one-ended, between Waugh and various people, including James Baker (Waugh giving his consent for the release of the Iraq Study Group Report) and Tony Blair (Waugh suggesting the renewal of Trident is a stupid idea, and then getting exasperated at Blair's refusal to back-down. I have some sympathy with Steve on that one)

Just when I started thinking that this was all very interesting, but not exactly earth shattering or worth posting on a cricket blog, there was a long period of silence, interupted by the sound of someone apparently moving furniture around the room, and then the light being turned off. After more silence,


(Knock on the door)

SW - 'Come in'

(Door opens, someone walks in, then bumps into furniture followed by audible swearing - an oddly recognisable South African accent)

Visitor - 'Any chance of some more light in here?'

SW - 'I can see perfectly.'

(Another bump, more swearing and then quiet)

SW - 'Sit down'

Visitor - 'What do you want?'

SW - 'Sit down Mr Fletcher'

(Amazed, I leant forward and turned the volume up...)

DF - 'I'd rather stand'

SW - 'So be it.'

DF - 'What do you want?'

SW - 'Your lads took a bit of a beating at Brisbane'.

DF - 'Agreed, but we're ready now - it's going to be a different story from now on - Monty Panesar & Saj Mahmood are ready - we're firing on all cylinders from now on.'

SW - 'It was your team selection I wanted to discuss actually'.

DF- 'What about it?'

SW- 'I want you to pick Ashley Giles again for the Second Test.'

DF - (Shouting) 'WHAT?? Are you completely mad? That's an insane suggestion. I'll get lynched. Flintoff will kill me.'

SW - 'Well, that's your problem - I want Giles in.'

DF -' No - can't do it -anyway, why the hell should I listen to you?'

SW - 'I think maybe you need a little persausion...'

(Sound of an envelope being opened, and some photographs being laid out on a desk)

SW - 'Maybe these will help you make your mind up.'

(Sound of lamp being clicked on, split second of silence, and then an audible gasp)

DF - (In a low voice) - 'My God, that's sick. Where did you get them?'

SW - 'I have my sources Mr Fletcher'.

DF - (Desparate) 'it's not me it's.... it's not.....'

SW - 'It may not be you Mr Fletcher, but it's a remarkable likeness - don't you agree?'

DF - 'I've got nothing to say - I'm going to the police, this is blackmail - it's a fit up - that's not me... 've never done....that.....'

SW - 'Don't waste your time with the police - The local chief is a friend of mine.'

DF - 'Oh God - they're sick.... you're sick....'

SW - 'Imagine what the press will say about these Mr Fletcher - and the Vice Squad - and I suggest the RSPCA might have a few strong words too.'

(Long period of silence...)

SW - 'Now, about your team selection.'

DF - (After a deep sigh) 'How about just Jones and Anderson?'

SW - 'A nice offer, and of course, very welcome, but not good enough - either Giles is in, or these....'pictures' (element of distaste in his voice) get circulated to some friends of mine in the media.'

DF - (Resigned voice) 'Ok - Giles is in.'

SW - 'Thank you.'


That explains it then. There had to be a rational explanation - otherwise you'd have to assume that Duncan Fletcher has lost his senses.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Sound and Vision

Whilst we at TRSM Towers are still avoiding all possible mention of the A*****e Test (sociologists call it 'denial') we thought it best to stick to peripheral cricketing issues for the time being - until we reach the level of 'acceptance' and are ready to 'forget it and move on'.

So, how about another of our regular looks at the goings on in the Sky TV booth.

Generally, Sky are having a 'good war'. The absence of Bob Willis and Paul Allott has meant that the other guys in the box can relax in the knowledge that a push to mid-wicket for an easy single is not going to be met with hysterial, screaming-pitch hyperbole - more appropriate for the sight of Martians landing on the wicket than a passage of play in a Test Match.

Mike Atherton is continuing in his, so far successful, quest to make the rest of the team look totally incompetent. He manages to raise the performance of everyone he gets paired with - even David Lloyd for heavens sake! This skill makes Athers the Colin Montgomerie in the Sky TV team. Stretching the golfing analogy, Lloyd would normally be the novice hacker who cards a 92, but in the reflected aura of Atherton actually manages to string coherent sentences together - often in English, which is a real bonus.

If you don't believe the power of Atherton, listen to the contrast in Ian Botham's performance in the next Test between his spells with 'Mikey' and his time with Atherton. Alongside Holding, Botham sounds like a pissed up teenager trying far too hard to ingratiate himself with the local 'cool dude' - and failing miserably - whereas with Atherton he sounds like exactly what he is - a good analyst, and the best English all-rounder ever.

Of the rest of the team, Nasser is good value, although he overdoes the 'Angry Ex-Skipper' act a bit - but am I the only one who feels that Gower's languid, semi-hungover 'Champagne Charlie' act is starting to wear a bit thin.

Bottom line is that the team needs a refresh - but you just know that the Sky heavy-handed response will be to send for more ex-skippers (Alec Stewart, Michael Vaughan and, by next summer - a wheelchair bound Freddie Flintoff) without stopping to consider cricket commentary as a skilled trade rather than an extension of a sporting career.

The classic sports arrangement consists of a commentator who actually describes what's going on out in the middle, alongside a 'colour' man who, well, adds the colour to the picture the commentator has described - effectively providing deeper analysis of what's going on.

Every other sport seems to recognise this - football commentary is left to the professional commentators (Motson, Davies, Tyler) with ex-pros like the exemplary Andy Gray, just providing the 'colour' - the same with Rugby Union where Miles Harrison and Stuart Barnes have developed a level of understanding that rugby hasn't witnessed since Gareth Edwards and Phil Bennett were strutting their stuff.

Sky Cricket's problem is that they have too many 'colour' guys and not enough commentators - in fact, they haven't actually got any at all. You need balance to ensure that the commentary flows with the game - but instead, with Sky, we get a series of ex players who feel that they have to continually justify their presence with elaborate analysis of every thought, word and deed of the players in the middle - plus a whole lot more beyond that, without realising that all we actually need is some sort of insight into what is actually happening, and why. No one is doing orthodox commentary, because no one has been asked/told to - so the Sky product is fundamentally flawed.

The Sky TV booth seems to be the place where ex-England captains end up when they're playing days are over. Luckily, this generalisation doesn't include Graham Gooch (too bland vocally, and too tied up with his toupe ads) or Mike Gatting (too money-grabbing, even for Murdoch owned Sky, which is saying something)

You probably need ex-players to provide the best 'colour' insight, but there's no hard and fast rule which says that ex-players make the best 'commentators'. After all, the acknowledged master of the art was John Arlott, who never played cricket professionally (he was far too clever for that...) whilst his Australian counterpart was Alan McGilvray, who was actually a pretty good cricketer, but never came close to playing for his country. Incidently, there's a whole generation of us who grew up in the 70's assuming that all Australians sounded like McGilvray, and who therefore got a nasty, and rather pleasant shock, when Kylie Minogue appeared on our TV screens!

Sky did seem to recognise the need for 'civilians' in their cricket coverage from the outset, but sadly the person they chose to carry the flag for non-professional cricketers everywhere was Charles 'Bouffant' Colville - which was a bit like asking Arthur Mullard to be the representative face of the English National Opera. Colville was treated with amused contempt by the ex-players in the booth to begin with, but after a while it descended to badly concealed loathing, to the extent that you started to suspect that Botham and Co were setting light to his trousers whilst he was on air and doing unmentionable things in his coffee.

Since that debacle, it's been professional cricketers all the way.

To be fair, Sky have taken some steps to improve the quality of their coverage. Leaving Willis and Allott at home was a definite 'addition by subtraction' move. This demotion hasn't stopped Willis popping up in almost every English paper of the past week or so - taking every opportunity to continue his frankly worrying one-man campaign against the very existance of Geraint Jones. The level of his vitriol for the Kent keeper goes beyond simple 'vendetta' into the realms of the irrational, where you start thinking that Jones must have done something outrageous to RGDW in the past - stolen his signed copy of 'Highway 61 Revisited' perhaps, or suggested that the Zim peaked with 'Blood on the Tracks'.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Looking Back in Anger

(One quick rant - then I need to start packing for the trip Down Under...!!)

This can very much be filed in the 'wise after the event' category, but here's a question - what was the thought process that prompted us to declare at 550-6?

Think it through. We'd dominated their attack on a flat, lifeless pitch for almost two days. With a bowling line-up ourselves that could best be described as 'questionable' - did we really think that it would be a breeze to bowl Australia out even once - let alone twice?

It's OK coming out with the 'you've got to back your bowlers to do the job' mantra, but surely you have to have some sense of realism and acceptance of what your bowling attack is capable of. After all, we're talking here about one game in a Five Test series, and with some upcoming venues that will provide far more bowler friendler tracks than Adelaide.

Presumably the answer to the question of being able to bowl the Australians out twice is 'no' - so therefore we assumed that at some stage we'd have to bat again. It then becomes obvious that we'd most likely have to bat again on a wearing pitch on the final day against the best leg spin bowler in history - and that the only way we were possibly going to lose the test was that if that happened.

So it came to pass and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now consider the alternative scenario. We bat on, potentially into the third day - Warne goes for over 200, McGrath ends up in a retirement home, the Aussies are ground into the dust. We could have ended up with around 630 plus. Even at 300 runs a day (a big ask on a track that slow) that would have not put us back out again until lunchtime on Day Five.

From the end of Day one, it was blindingly obvious that Adelaide 2006 was a draw wicket. Why didn't we simply accept that, take the opportunity to demoralise the Australians, give out bowlers a big workout, and look forward to the next Test?

Instead, there was one possible way we could lose the game from 550-6, and we did.

Crawling form the Wreckage

The good thing about having your own website is that you can vent and let off steam in a more rational way than simply swearing a lot and kicking the cat - or whichever sentinent being happens to be closest to hand.

In no particular order, and without any coherent structure therefore, here is a stream of conciousness response to the monumental fuck up that was Day 5 in Adelaide,

Firstly, hats off to Shane Warne. After all the premature obituaries, he now must surely have a free licence to play for Australia as long as he wants - even if it ends up in 2044 with a 75 year old dribbly, incontinent, 38 stone Warnie being wheeled out to the middle to bowl his overs. Sure as hell our batsmen will still curl up and die in the fourth innings faced with that level of menace.

Secondly, if you think you're wound up and angry with the inept showing today, imagine how Paul Collingwood feels right now.

I don't honestly know how we come back from a sucker punch defeat like that. In some respects a good shoeing is preferable to a self inflicted disaster like todays lame-brained exhibition. Some US jounalists talk of a 'levels of losing' scale, with an expected debacle ranking as 1.0, losing in the last minute of a cup final when you were two up with five minutes to go at 6.2 and a real shocker like Buster Douglas/Mike Tyson ranking a 9.9. I'd put this at around 17.4 on that criteria.

Leaving aside the 'headless chicken' routine with the bat - the bowling looked ill-thought out and, frankly, embarrassing. As soon as Ponting and Hussey were set, we should have effectively reduced the number of overs available by a third by making sure that two balls an over were either bouncers out of reach, and fired down the leg-side - it's not rocket science. Harmison looked quite impressive yet only bowled four overs, whilst Hoggard's muscles was obviously tighter than a cows arse when there's flies around and was over-bowled.

We now need to go into the Perth Test with a side that has the best possible chance of WINNING it. It's time to forget all the 'clever clever' fannying around about avoiding defeat, and only having to draw the series. This means that we need bowlers who can take wickets. Forget all the bullshit about playing Giles because he adds a bit extra to the batting. It's been patently clear over the first two tests that he is no longer a test match bowler. That means Giles out and Panesar in. Giles has been out of cricket for eleven months - and it shows. Panesar has been bowling with great effectiveness all year. Youd' have thought it would be a 'no brainer' of a decision, but sadly the selectors just seemed to have demonstrated that 'no brainer' can have two connotations.

It's equally clear that Jimmy Anderson is currently out of his depth. We've got someone champing at the bit in the changing room - someone with bags of attitude and a heck of a lot of raw skill (and some batting prowess too...) Iif Duncan Fletcher suggests that Anderson's 40 minute rearguard with the bat today might justify his place, then the England team should strap Fletcher to his chair in his hotel room (think the 'bring out the gimp' scene in Pulp Fiction) and write out their own teamsheet with Saj Mahmood's name on it. In fact, even if Fletcher does plump for Saj, why not strap him to his chair and bring out the gimp anyway - it'll certainly help work off some of the frustration...

Saturday, December 02, 2006

End of an Era?

I wouldn't tempt fate by suggesting it myself - not half way through a crucial test match for heaven's sake - but I'm happy to let others state their point of view - especially when it coincides with mine. For example...

The Melbourne Age suggest the Warne era might be at an end.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Exclusive - Waugh Diaries, Volume 2006

After the evident popularity of the excerpts from Steve Waugh's autobiography I published earlier this year, I've been on the look out for any other Steve Waugh material that might be available. To begin with the search proved fruitless, but then I was approached in an Earls Court bar by a mysterious bald figure in an Aussie Rules Footy Shirt and a pair of cut-offs. After confirming my identity ("Are you the half wit Pom who write some stupid cricket blog") he thrust an envelope in my hands and muttered ''You might find this interesting - but be very careful''. Before I could question him further he disappeared out of the bar with just a parting whisper - "There's more where that came from if you're interested."

Taking his warning seriously, I waited until I was safely home before opening the envelope. It contained photocopies of two pages from a desk diary. It didn't take me long to realise that what I'd been given were pages from Steve Waugh's own personal 2006 diary.

What I've produced here are edited extracts from those two pages. Bear in mind that there are over 5000 words devoted to each day in Waughs neat, some would say obsessive, handwriting. This is a cricket blog, so I've extracted everything relevent to cricket. Sadly, you must therefore do without Waugh's thoughts on any number of other subjects - Why the Dodo became extinct (He blames climate change and over-hunting), Third World Debt (he can solve it) and Kyle Minogue's debut album (he thinks it's the greatest piece of music every recorded by a human being)

Finally - the message to my contact in Earls Court is ''Yes, I'm interested - please get in touch''.

Friday 24th November 2006

Close of Play, Day 2 - I summoned Ricky Ponting to my room and berated him for several minutes about getting out on 196, when a triple century and a declaration figure of over 750 both clearly beckoned. He appeared very contrite and muttered something along the lines of 'I'll make it up to you Skipper, honest'. With the help of two hours worth of videotape, I then pointed out a couple of technical flaws in his batting and suggested he spend at least four hours in the nets getting things sorted. After I'd given him his bowling changes and detailed field placings for the England innings we parted amicably enough - he off to the nets, and me down to the hotel kitchen to complain about the size of the ice cubes in the hotel bar.

Saturday 25th November 2006

Close of Play, Day 3 - Well, would you believe it - Ricky has made it up to me... and how! Not enforcing the declaration was a decision of such bull-headed, ruthless arrogance that it took even me by surprise. I phoned him to offer my congratulations. 'Was that ok Skipper?' he asked nervously, 'Some of the lads couldn't understand it, and Warnie got so annoyed he threw his mobile phone at me.' I assured him that I was incredibly proud of what he'd done. 'From now on' I said, 'you are my brother'.

Later that evening, I went down to Mark Waugh's room. I walked in and told him, 'Mark Waugh, you are no longer my brother.' He looked up from a supine position on the bed, as he was having a particular sexual act performed on him by a young lady of Fillipino extraction, and glared at me insolently. I left the room, stopping only to point out to the young lady that there were some particular flaws in her technique that she should considering addressing. I then reminded Mark Waugh that the wearing of the baggy green cap probably wasn't quite appropriate for such a situation and went back to my room.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Harder they Fall

Shane Warne petulantly throwing the ball at KP during the fourth days play could well come to have the same 'key moment' resonance as Simon Jones's throw at Hayden last summer. Obviously there are key difference - Jones was trying for a run out and the ball genuinely slipped - Warne was delberately aiming for Pietersen's head. For Jones and the rest of the England team, the immediate aftermath was the sign that the bullying from Hayden had to stop. The aftermath yesterday was a stunned look from Gilchrist, a stream of abuse from KP and an airly wave of apology from Warne.

From this angle, it seemed like a sign of intense exasperation. A sign that Pietersen is getting to him. Note that all the talk of KP & Shane as 'best mates' has tended to emenate from the Victorian. KP has made a few comments on the subject, but recently has been brushing enquiries aside.

Former NBA legend, Michael Jordan used to have a tactic of befriending any younger opponent who gave him problems on the court. Such was Jordan's legendary status that the opponent would feel flattered to be invited to play golf, or visit a casino with the walking idol. Once the friendship developed, the competitive edge dulled slightly, and Jordan had eliminated a difficult opponent.

You could argue that Alan Border's 'get tough' policy back in 1989 was following the same theory. Mssrs Botham, Lamb and Gower were ready to continue the wining and dining of previous Ashes encounters - Border called a halt to the whole thing, and things have never quite been the same since.

Warne has tried the same thing with KP. Up until about a year ago, KP was probably quite flattered to be associated with one of the greatest cricketers who ever lived, but now the pendulum has swung and Pietersen is the 'Alpha Dog' in the relationship. The other twenty players in the game will recognise this. Australia will worry that their champion might be in decline, and the other England batsmen will get a huge psychological lift.

Few batsmen have ever had the bottle to get in Warne's face verbally, and more importantly the technique to back up words with deeds. Pietersen is doing both and Warne doesn't like it.

Whether he still has the power to do anything about it remains to be seen. The result will have a bearing on the whole series.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Tomorrow's Fish & Chip Paper

One of the perils of being a professional analyst during an Ashes tour is that newspaper headlines in the morning can rapidly become out of date because of activity the night before.

"Mind you, England's batting does appear fragile. What is Paul Collingwood doing at number four? He is not capable of that role in Australia where the extra bounce can expose his technical limitations. He is a good fighter and he might get a few down the order, but I seriously doubt whether his technique will ever allow him to be a Test-match number four."

Rod Marsh - Observer 26/11/2006

Mind Games

Vic Marks has a pretty good article here about England's options for Adelaide.

The only paragraph I'd really take issue with is this one: -

'Which brings us to Harmison, widely identified as the cornerstone of England's hopes to retain the Ashes, widely castigated for his inept performance in the first Test. First, we should dispense with the simplistic, emotional response that Harmison, because he is bowling poorly, is gutless, devoid of commitment or a hunger to play. These are the sorts of charges players resent the most, the idea that because you play badly, you are somehow a bad person. And they are generally nonsense."

Firstly I don't think Harmison was ever considered the 'cornerstone' to England's chances in this series. There has always been recognition that on his day he is a proven match-winner, but that his days are maddeningly infrequent.

Secondly, and more contentiously, Marks argues that players resent the idea that they are bowling poorly they are not trying. Fair enough, but what spectators resent is not the fact that players perform poorly - we can all have a bad day at the office, it's that Harmison's body language and general demenour suggests that he doesn't give a stuff.

Marks, along with most other commentators, is fond of saying that cricket is played in the head. That's very true - which means that the sight of England's main strike bowler moping back to his mark, and wandering around in the outfield like a lost sheep gives the Australian batsman an enormous psychological boost. They get a similar boost when the same player keeps saying how much he'd rather be at home (it's also quite offensive to a host country) and then says 'sorry' for not asking Ricky Ponting if he was ok after hitting him at Lords last year.

If you can reduce a potentially serious problem to a minor irrelevence in your mind, then you're 95% of the way towards overcoming it.

Happy When it Rains...

Check out this Brisbane forecast for Monday (Posted at 7.45am Sunday, English time - so subject to change) The black cloud and streak of lightning under 'Monday' are something for Ricky to think about - at least it'll take his mind off his bad back... and Glenn McGrath's sore ankle...

Yes, if England escape from this with a draw because of bad weather, it'll be totally and utterly undeserved and an absolute travesty of justice...

Still, as they say in this part of London - "s**t happens, eh"??!!!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Back, and to the Left...

This headline briefly cheered us up here at TRSM Towers.

In the post below we did suggest that Harmy try to take the Aussies 'out of their comfort zone' - though we weren't quite expecting outright assassination...


Dear Harmy

I know the chances of you actually reading this are pretty slim (as slim as England's chances of saving this test in fact) but I know that some journalists dip in and out, so maybe someone might wave it under your nose.

In case you weren't aware, television coverage of test matches in Australia starts around midnight back here in the UK. That means that millions of cricket lovers here are going without sleep and putting in pretty shoddy days at the office in the name of 'following England'. In addition a lot of the England supporters you can see in the Gabba have spent their life savings on the trip.

Bearing that in mind, I have to say we deserve better from you than the abject contribution you've turned in so far. 'Shoddy days at the office' fits quite nicely in fact...

We know that Freddie Flintoff is your best mate and that the hope was that he'd be able to motivate you to perform. Well, the fact is, I'd say you're bloody lucky that he is your mate, because a lot of skippers I've played under would have taken you behind the pavilion and ripped you a new one for the big girls blouse display you've put on over the past couple of days.

We know you're homesick - Lord knows you tell us often enough, but sometimes professional sportsmen just have to get on with it. You are being paid good money to do something that thousands of us would do for nothing - yet all we seem to hear is your whining about how much you miss being at home.

Talking of 'telling us' - you need to do something about your whole attitude to interviews. Go and find a copy of 'Bull Durham'. Not only is it an excellent film, but it contains the best advice ever given to a sportsman on how to carry out media interviews. In short, you just repeat bland statements about how you're pleased to have the opportunity to play, you'll do your best, and with God's will you should be successful. That's it - that's all you have to say.

You know what - if you're missing home that much, and don't feel you can contribute anything to England's performance, why not just get on the next plane home? The England team management have invested a lot of time and credibility in you, and your way of paying them back appears to be by strolling round the outfield in a blue funk because everything's not going right for you. Your body launguage suggests you'd rather be somewhere else entirely. OK, then go away. Let's give someone like Saj Mahmod or Liam Plunkett a go - two people who actually seem to care.

In Australia, more than most other countries, the new ball is crucial. Batsmen need to be taken out of their comfort zone from the word go. Why not try doing that? Try bowling a stream of bouncers, try going down the wicket and abusing the batsman... for heavens sake, why not try bowling a beamer? (Only don't tell anyone I told you...) At least it'll give Hayden and Langer something to think about - because at the moment all they're having to do is wait for the next long hop or half volley to put away - and at the same time Freddie is standing at slip, worrying about the next ball that's going to head in his direction, and thinking 'maybe I should just take the new ball myself'.

Lastly, don't ever, ever, EVER, apologise to an Australian again - at least if you do, don't do it in the media. England (that's the team you're playing for by the way) gained precisely nothing from your apology to Ricky Ponting, whilst Australia got a good laugh and a big psycological boost.

I know this has probably been gratuitously nasty - maybe even rather childish, but that's the way I feel right now. I don't think you actually care enough about the outcome to be playing for your country - whereas there are millions of us who probably care too much.

If you prove me wrong and start performing in the rest of the series, I'll very happily issue an abject apology.

Yours sincerely

One very disgruntled England fan.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The End of the Beginning

The 'Phoney war' started at around 8pm on the 12th September 2005, outside the White Bear in Kennington Park Road, SE11, when two Australians impressed on me (and my very drunk friends) that we would 'seriously cop it' next winter Down Under...

The same 'Phoney war' ends in around 24 hours time in Brisbane when Steve Harmison will steam in and remove either Justin Langers head, or his off-stump... either will suit!

To say the atmosphere at the Gabba will be intense is a serious understatement - I'd guess that the intensity will reach levels never before attained in Test Cricket. (In passing, I'm happy for any witnesses to an India/Pakistan test to contradict me here, but I'd remind you that a full house on such occasions is pretty much a pre-requisite...)

It's the intensity level that needs to be borne in mind when you consider Duncan Fletcher's attitude to team selection during this series.

Go back and watch the DVDs of the 2005 series again (go on, you know you want to!) From the word go, England were in the Aussies faces - and stayed there throughout the entire series. In fact, it all started in the ODI beforehand when Simon Jones faced up to Matthew Hayden. Hayden gave Jones some verbals, and Jones - plus half the England team, gave it back the Hayden in spades. Hayden backed down, genuinely shocked - and things were never quite the same again.

It's got to be like that again - only more so.

Ashley Giles has been there, done that, and got the (mis-spelt) T shirt. Monty Panesar hasn't - and that's the bottom line as far as Fletcher sees it. Panesar's time will come - maybe as soon as the second test, but Fletcher recognises just how lethal and critical the Brisbane Test will be - so Giles will get the nod - assuming he's not overruled by the other selectors.

The same goes for the Jones/Read debate. Yes, Read is the better keeper, and his batting has improved to the extent where he's just as likely to unveil a 50 as Jones - but the bottom line here is 'attitude'. Jones has it bigtime, he gets under the Aussies skin to an extent that Read can only imagine.

So it's Jones & Giles.

Obviously, serious predictions are a total lottery - especially in a game with so many variables as cricket. But here goes...

Top English Run Scorer
- Andrew Strauss, but only by a whisker ahead of KP.

Top English Wicket Taker - Freddie - Let's hope it's something like 25, rather than 15.

Top Australian Run Scorer - Ricky Ponting - Say what you like about his captaincy (and 'worst Australian skipper since Graham Yallop comes to mind) but you can't deny that he's one of the top five Australian batsmen ever. Hussey as a wildcard here.

Top Australian Wicket Taker - Shane Warne (Going out on a limb with that one...)

Series Prediction - My head says 3-1 Australia but my heart says 2-2 -so let's follow the heart! Unlike previous England touring teames, this one will not take a backward step. For the first time since the Botham Era, we have the best all-rounder - and there will also be sufficient numbers of England fans present to ensure that the MCG and SCG will be, at the very least, neutral venues.

Bring it on!

Imitation.... Flattery.... Ropes... Dopes...Etc

Regular TRSM readers will remember this

Check out the paragraph headed 'Pietersen & Lee' - then have a look at this, specifically the second last paragraph...

Seems like Mike Selvey has us in his 'Bookmarks'!

Welcome to my Nightmare

It’s close of play at the end of day one at the Gabba - the scoreboard says - 'Australia 354-1' (Or should that be 1-354?) Hayden is not out 173, Ponting not out 85.

Steve Harmison has shown all the control of a nine-month-old baby that has just eaten a bar of Ex-Lax. Saj has been using a radar that he appears to have bought off a guy wearing a flat cap and a dodgy camel hair coat in Ridley Road market and the critics were right - Hoggard can't swing the kookaburra ball for toffee in Australia. As a result, Freddie has had to bowl 30 overs in the day to keep the overall run rate down below 5 an over, and the skipper is now lying in an oxygen tent and a saline drip in each arm.

The King of Spain has bowled three spells consisting of one over each - his runs off each over looking like Posh Spice's vital statistics - 24-18-22.

Additionally, Andrew Strauss is off the field with a broken finger as a result of dropping a simple chance at slip when Hayden was 7 not out, and is unlikely to be fit again until the fourth test.

Geraint Jones has dropped three sitters behind the stumps and let though a hatful of byes – However, Duncan Fletcher has described his performance as 'promising'...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Stretching the Elastic

Sometimes something happens in the world of sport that reminds you that your heroes are human - simply flesh and blood, mortal beings like the rest of us.

In the current '24 hour media' dominated age, where sporting icons are created almost overnight, and then dragged down again equally as quickly, and where semi-literature youths barely out of school with all the grace and humility of hyenas, can earn the annual wage of a headmaster in the matter of a week - sometimes it's good (and paradoxically, also painful) to see the human side of a life spent in the harsh glare of the sporting spotlight.

Thus it's been with Marcus Trescothick over the past 48 hours.

The pictures taken at Heathrow Airport at 5am this morning, in time to dominate the morning newspapers, have been genuinely haunting. Compare the sight of Tresco's face in those picture - drawn, haggard and ultimately 'defeated', with the happy glowing figure we saw on the lap of honour at the Oval last September. Through those contrasting images you can start to appreciate just how fragile sporting success, and the fame that accompanies it can be.

In Trescothick's case there was a cruel reversal of the normal story, the body was strong but the mind was weak - a turnaround to the normal fate of a professional sportsman who finds events overtaking him, and finds himself powerless to reverse them.

At this time, we should forget the recriminations as to whether or not he should have been in Australia in the first place, or whether Duncan Fletcher allowed his heart to overrule his head and thus created turmoil within the England squad.

What we should be thinking about is the sad plight of a decent and honest professional sportsman who has given us some unforgettable moments over the years.

Pilgrimages to Taunton might be the order of the day next summer.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Playing with Fire

So, despite our best advice, Duncan Fletcher is choosing the 'exciting but dangerous girlfriend' option. (See 'Read & Jones' here)

When he's wide awake at five o'clock in the morning, tied to the bedposts with a raving lunatic swigging from a bottle of brandy brandishing a carving knife ranting on about how he hasn't done the washing up properly - he shouldn't come running to us!

Joking apart, it's fair to say that Geraint Jones is, apart from Alec Stewart, the best wicketkeeper-batsman in terms of batting ability we've had since dear old Knotty. Everyone has warm recollections of his innings at Trent Bridge in 2005, but it seems that Fletcher has let those recollections cloud his professional judgment. Hopefully now he's been confirmed in the role for the series Jones will be able to relax a bit and his keeping will benefit as a result.

But you do have to feel for Chris Read who could rightfully log a complaint with the United Nations over the ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment he’s had - dropped after faultless keeping in the West Indies - brought back this summer and does all that's asked of him, and then gets canned again with little notice.

Maybe it'll be him brandishing the carving knife...

Dealing with Simple Minds

Hats off to Cricket Australia for their (long overdue) 'zero tolerance' policy on racist abuse. Whilst there must be doubts about the enforceability, it's a huge step in the right direction. I'd guess that their thought is that the big wave of publicity the moves are generating will mean that some of the worst XXXX'ed up Neanderthals will think twice before stooping to gratuitous racism, which can only be a good thing.

When you get such strong statements from the authorities, these problems can eventually become self-policed amongst the fan base themselves. You're more likely to go and have a word with a steward about someone doing passable impressions of racist tosser, and effectively ruining the occasion for a whole section, if you're confident that the guy is going to get more that a friendly pat on the shoulder - which seems to be the current modus operandi in English Test Match Grounds.

The moves have predictably attracted some sarcastic comments in certain sections of the British press - who of course have such a wonderful reputation for campaigning against racism - but before anyone over here gets too critical - try and see if you can remember any ECB reaction to the massed chorus's of ''where's your caravan?'' that Jason Gillespie was subjected to last summer.

Then think of veiled threats made to the players by the authorities when the England team at the last World Cup refused to play in (racist) Zimbabwe -and if your memory stretches far enough, think back to the scandalous behaviour of the MCC during the D’oliviera affair.

Cricket Australia realize they have a problem, which could cast an ugly blight over what should be a memorable series. Commendably they’re doing something about it – they deserve support rather than snide carping.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ashes Ramblings 2

The soap opera continues: -

Steve says sorry to Ricky - and Ricky just seems to shrug his shoulders and says 'that's cricket mate' while the rest of us are tearing our hair out and thinking about the old days when English fast bowlers used to feast on broken glass and sulphuric acid, and never apologised for anything.

Glenn comes out with a few more barbs, but you can tell he's only going through the motions and his heart isn't really in it.

Duncan reckons he's got his team for the first test already pencilled in. Geraint looks confident, whilst Chris isn't quite so sure.

According to people who know about this sort of thing, the pictures of Freddie in the gym suggest that he is 'well fit' (whatever that means...)

Ashley hasn't been quoted in the press for days now - I suspect laryngitis.

Michael (remember him?) says he might even be ready for the Third Test.

Shane (you must surely remember him?!) says he's looking forward to taking his 700th wicket during this series.

Alistair is still trying to get his haircut (see below)

Only 14 more days of this sort of thing to go...

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Ashes Ramblings 1

Nineteen days to go until Freddie walks out at the Gabba to toss up with Ponting...


Talking of 'Rickeee' - doesn't he remind you of the nervy guy you see in most gangster movies - the one hovering in the background, unable to stand still for very long because he's so wired and uptight. The constant gum-chewing and nervous darting of the eyes, and frequent demands for reassurance when he's consulting with other gang members. Even in moments of apparent calm, he still comes across as a borderline psychotic - Travis Bickle in flannels if you will. If things turn nasty for the Australians, he could well crack - and Freddie knows it...


To the Australians last summer, I suspect Ian Bell was rather like the school new boy - earnest look on his face, pencils all sharpened and blazer clean and tidy, but very easy to torment and woefully wanting when the heat was put on him. Well now the 'new boy' has grown up over the summer holidays, so when they go back for the start of the new term, he's likely to give the 'bullies' quite a nasty fright.

Not that Bell is going to go so far as to pull a knife or anything, - though imagine how much fun that would be. The stump microphone picks up a muttered sledge from Hayden at first slip - which is followed up by an anguished squeal from Gilchrist - ''Jeez, look out Matty - he's got a blade!'' Next thing the players surround Bell, who's got a knife to the throat of a petrified Hayden and is shouting "I'll cut 'im, I'll cut 'im" - until Freddie has to intervene and pull Bell away with the killer line - "Sorry guys, he's liable to do this at any time..."

Up in the Sky TV box Gower would sound alarmed, Nasser would grin to himself, and of course, Botham would tell all and sundry that the knife is nowhere near as big as the one he used to use....

More likely is that Bell will take the opportunity for some serious revenge for past embarrassments. As I've mentioned here before, he's already strutting around as though he owned the place - where better to pick up the title deeds than Perth or Melbourne?


Andrew Strauss seems to have developed two public persona for the media - which is at least two more than Liam Plunkett - the early favourite in the 'surplus to requirements' stakes this winter.

Strauss has obviously thought long and hard about his TV appearances. Firstly, he almost comes across like a regretful Bond villian, sitting in the dressing room ponderously stroking a white cat, saying stuff like - ''Personally I abhor violence on the cricket field Mr Langer, but my colleague Oddjob (Harmy) isn't so fastidious''- but then he seems to remember his roots and puts on the 'Public School/Middlesex CC' act during a TV interview, and suddenly he's an updated Terry-Thomas - likely to turn round and tell the Aussie slip cordon that they are a 'frightful shower'. A bit like Mike Atherton's "when in Rome old boy" comment to Ian Healey at Adelaide in 1994 when the keeper took issue with Athers for not walking after a blatant edge had been missed by the umpire.

Read & Jones

Here's a new take on the Read/Jones debate. Think of them like girlfriends. In this scenario Jones is the absolute stunner who makes all your friends jealous when she's clinging to your arm, shows you the best possible time for a couple of months, but then turns out to have worryingly unstable moments, like stripping off at a party, or downing a bottle of bacardi in one. Fun, and for a short time exhilarating yes, but after a while you start craving the quiet life - which is where Read comes in. Read is the sensible choice - the girlfriend you can take home to meet your mother without worrying that she might make a pass at your father, or throw up in the flowerbed at a family BBQ.

Trust me on this - the first time Read goes across in front of first slip and makes the catch, rather than pushing the ball round the post which was a Jones speciality, you'll know exactly what I mean.


Talking of 'first slip' - it's all been very quiet on the Trescothick front lately. Unlike Ashley Giles, whose default position seems to be 'rentaquote', 'Tresco' has been Mr Invisible since the end of the season. I was half expecting him to turn up as a guest in the Sky Studio during the ICC trophy - a role which was just designed to attract the comment 'money for old rope' - but then perhaps he, quite rightly, thought that exposure to Charles Colville for longer the five minutes is enough to drive the most sober mind to turmoil, so maybe his therapist cautioned against it.


Different tack - In 'Good Morning Vietnam', Robin Williams makes a comment about the uptight Regimental Sargeant Major who has been making his life a misery, along the lines of "I've never met a guy more in need of a 'haircut' ". Actually, he didn't use the word 'haircut' - I'm using a subtle euphamism as this is a family site. Well Alistair Cook seems the painfully quiet type, seemingly very much in need of a 'haircut' - after which he'll be giving it out to the Aussies in spades - to the extent that he'll be looking to have his 'haircut' every day....

Pietersen & Lee (!!)

When Kevin Pietersen comes up against Brett Lee in Brisbane , the testosterone will probably be visible from the stands. Beforehand, Duncan Fletcher should make Kevin watch the classic film 'When we were Kings' and start talking to him about Muhammad Ali's 'Rope-a-dope' philosophy which made such a mess of George Foreman that he turned into a kitchen appliance salesman.

Translated to cricket, 'rope-a-dope' will mean letting Lee blow himself out during the day with a series of bouncers and short pitched balls, then absolutely weighing into the exhausted, weak-ass stuff he serves up in the last session. If Pietersen can contain himself sufficiently when three out of six balls are aimed at his face (A HUGE 'if') then it could change the course of the series. If he can't then we're likely to see the Test Match version of the old backgarden game - 'six and out'.


A philosopher once said that only three things in life are ever predictable - life, death and taxes. Let me add a fourth - before the end of the series Saj Mahmood will provoke Glen McGrath into such an irrational strop that the Australian's head will explode in the middle of the pitch like in a scene from 'Scanners'. We've already establsihed that dear old Glenn is the sort who could start an arguement in an empty room. Add the fact that Saj seems to be a 'wind up merchant' of the highest order, and we could be in for a very entertaining series!

That's all for now - more soon.

PS - The shoulder is much better - thanks for asking!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Mine of Information

Want to know who top scored in the Northamptonshire vs Worcestershire Second XI match in June 1968?

No, me neither actually! But if you're looking for a central resource for effectively EVERY first class cricket match ever played, plus loads of one day games and second tier stuff, here's your resource.

I'd freely toss around the expression 'sad anorak' if only I hadn't just spent two hours perusing the site!

PS - It was David Steele. Funnily enough, looking at that scorecard made me wonder about the atmosphere in the Northants changing room during that game. Steele, you'll recall, is a very down to earth Geordie - the 'PG Lee' in that line up later moved to Lancashire, and had a reputation for being rather 'outspoken' - so any guesses how they go on with 'The Earl of Cottenham' who batted number nine and opened the bowling for that team?!

"Shine! You crazy, or a diamond?"

Apparently we're worrying unnecessarily about Harmy...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Sound of One Hand Typing

Some random thoughts and comments to fill the time whilst I'm off work for a fortnight. A week ago I had surgery to repair some frayed tendons and a 'slap tear' in my shoulder. The arm's in a sling, which means that this post is taking an age to type - and spell-check will be crucial before publication!

  • The hospital physiotherapist was a big cricket fan. We had a long chat about causes of shoulder problems. He stressed the importance of fundamentals like a smooth action, and a good follow through to absorb some of the energy that has been created by the process of delivering the ball at speed. I've never really worried about the length of folow-through before, but from now on I'll be finishing in the batsman's popping crease.
  • Just the act of watching Malinga bowl is enough to make me wince with pain.
  • We're less than a month away from the start of the first test at the Gabba. Of our first choice bowling attack, one has a defective radar, one is only playing as a batsman, and another isn't playing at all - yet is quite happy to be quoted in the press saying he's 'confident he'll be ok if selected'. All together now "Are we happy...?"
  • Direct quote from Ian Bishop commentating on the England/Australia game last Saturday. "Australia are scoring at 4.76 per over, and need to score at 2.12 per over to win from here." Factually correct, yes, but he was reading that off of the screen! We're quite capable of doing that ourselves Ian - what you're being paid for is to provide some analysis and 'commentary' - not simply say what we can see with our own eyes. Lazy... and pathetic.
  • After that, I was starting to think that maybe I've been a bit harsh on Bob Willis over the past few months. But then, about half an hour ago, he came out with this beauty. "Spectators like to see lots of 4s and 6s - do you think there's a future for the 50 over game in its current format?"
  • Funnily enough, the other TRSM favourite, Paul Allott, has been pretty inoffensive over the past couple of weeks - maybe he lurks here!
  • Loved the comment by the Victoria State Cricket Administrator after the NSW authorities announced that they were going to set up a 'text hotline' for spectators at the SCG Test to complain about English 'hooligans'... "We'll get 30,000 texts at the MCG from Australians complaining that the English spectators have better songs!"
  • An idea to throw into the mix of the ball tampering row. Why not provide two new balls at the start of an innings - one to be used at each end? The umpire would hold the ball for his end whilst standing at square leg - so he'd have regular opportunity to inspect it. A fielding side could let one ball deteriorate quickly to enable a spinner, or reverse swing bowler, to use it whilst maintaining the shine on the other one. One new ball available at 80 overs, the other at 100 overs.
  • Prediction - Saj Mahmood will get more wickets in this winter's series than Glenn McGrath - but Mitchell Johnson will get more than both of them.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

'If There's a Smile on my Face....'

Three positives to take away from yesterday's debacle: -

New Kid on the Block - It was hugely impressive to see Saj Mahmood announce himself to the Australians - in no uncertain terms.

Within five minutes of arriving at the crease Saj was indulging in some 'verbals' with Glenn McGrath no less! Sadly the stump microphone didn't pick up all the subtle nuances of their erudite exchange but I got the impression that McGrath said something along the lines of 'you can't talk like that to me' and then had a whinge to the umpire! Better still, Steve Bucknor gave 'Grandad' Glenn a bit of a finger wagging, which is rather satisfying - a bit like shouting out ''Please sir, McGrath has got a sweet sir!" in class, and seeing poor old McGrath hauled out in front of the class to spit out said gobstoppper in the bin!

Things got even better after that, as our Asian Dub Sensation looked very comfortable with the bat, and then laid down a huge marker for the Ashes series by bowling Gilchrist with a beauty and persauding 'Rickeee' to give Strauss some catching practice in the slips.

The Aussies will be targeting him - early evidence suggests the Bolton Boy is well up for the challenge...

Jimmy Jimmy - Cards on the table time, I've never been Anderson's biggest fan - but yesterday he was (to me) a revelation. Accurate, hostile, moving the ball off the seam - and a big reduction in the number of 'four' balls served up. In short - very impressive.

Our bowling attack still has a few too many question marks for comfort (Will Freddie be fit, will Harmy find his radar, will Matty cope under clear blue skies...???) but yesterday demonstrated that there's some comforting depth in the 'quick' department.

For Whom the Bell Tolls - The Aussies last memory of Ian Bell would have been his sad pair at the Oval last year, although if you're going to notch up a couple of ducks I can't think of a better scenario to have them instantly forgotten! Since then, he's hardly put a foot wrong, and has almost developed a strut around the place as the runs (and confidence) have piled up - to the extent that over-confidence probably got him out.

We're going to miss Vaughan this winter - but on this showing, Bell can take up a lot of the slack the injured skipper's absence creates.

The 'Voice of Summer.'

Link here.

Eye of the Beholder

Here's a rather odd article by Kevin Mitchell in today's Observer following Englands somewhat 'below par' performance in Jaipur yesterday.

There was a lot that was praiseworthy about the Australian performance - the performances of Watson and Johnson with the ball for example, and Damian Martyn's sublime batting - but Glen McGrath's bowling must surely be quite a long way down the list.

Maybe I was watching a different game to the one he's writing about, because to my eyes McGrath's first spell bordered on dross - Bell and Strauss had determined to get after him from the word go and you could tell that 'big Glen' didn't like it - ending with the petulant throw at the stumps when Bell was half way through taking his gloves off at the end of the over.

His later spell was, I admit, a big step up - but by then England were very much on the back foot and any 'attack McGrath' gameplan had obvious gone out of the window in favour of panicky defense. His two wickets were Chris Read caught off his shirt (maybe he and Michael Yardy should try wearing Aussie Rules jerseys next time) and number eleven bat James Anderson - whoop-di-doo!

Of course, there's always the possibility that Mitchell is being a tad Machiavellian and is boosting McGrath in the eyes of the Aussie selectors to make sure he's picked for Brisbane!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Under the Lilac Tree

Captain Fantastic confirms he's going to play in a glorified beer match at the WACA.

Not sure if this is good news or not, but it's nice to see the Australians getting in a bit of a tizz about it.

The Importance of Planning Ahead

The Sydney Morning Herald gets its retaliation in first...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Jurassic Park

Richard Williams in the Guardian asks a question that a lot of us have been thinking about for some time.

I can offer two answers;

In the summer months they offer a sort of 'Care in the Community' service, where dribbly old octogenarian reactionaries can meet people of a like mind.

During the Lords Test they provide a useful line in lunchtime entertainment, rather like the Bedlam lunatic asylum used to. You can wander round behind the pavilion and marvel at the dress sense of the members. It seems that the very act of knotting the red and yellow (or 'blood and pus' and John Arlott memorably described it) tie round your neck reduces your colour awareness to nil. The trouser/jacket combos are extraordinary - plum trousers & green blazer, orange trousers with a pink jacket...

Outside sartorial ludicrousness however, the big problem with the MCC is Lords. Through an accident of history, the MCC has a stranglehold on several of the best acres of prime real estate land in the country, which happens to be filled at the current time by one of the most historical and evocative sports venues in the world. Aside from Fenway Park in Boston, I can't think of another venue that simply reeks of history and atmosphere, to the extent that the game itself becomes almost secondary to the confines within which it's played.

Paradoxically though, as I've mentioned elsewhere, the atmosphere - redolent of a colonial past, does more to motivate overseas visitors than it does the England team. You can almost see the 'Anzac' rush that goes through any Australian side entering the place - touring parties now make Gallipoli a compulsory stop on the way, but in all honesty they needn't bother - just park the team bus outside the Grace Gates, then wait five days, or - more often that not three, until England are one down in the series.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Worth their weight in gold.

Nice piece from Harrowdrive about underrated players in your club side.

My nomination would be the keen occasional player - limited skill, but worth their weight in gold for their enthusiasm and continual good humour, even when you're on the end of a pasting.

Cricketers of the World, Unite...

'Ok, so what is your manifesto?' Here at TRSM Towers, we're starting to have that question asked of us more often that David Cameron. 'Fotherington-Thomas' is just trying to turn a band of bigoted, reactionary xenophobes into a credible political party - obviously the future of cricket is far more important...

So we sat down with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a bag of ice, imagined that we ruled the cricket world, and came up with this statement of aims and objectives;

Directive 1 - First up, we're going to tamper with the Laws of the Game. From now on, a right handed batsman facing a left arm over bowler CAN be out LBW if he plays no shot to a ball pitching outside leg stump which, in the opinion of the umpire, would have gone on to hit the stumps. Before you ask - yes, I am biased!

Directive 2 - Anyone delaying play by moving behind the bowlers arm shall be ejected from the ground. Amazingly, in Test Matches, the culprit is normally a member of the groundstaff. In these cases, I feel summary dismissal is justifiable, although in our new regime, we'll obviously recognise trade union rights during subsequent negotiations.

Directive 3 - Starting in 2009, Lords will no longer be entitled to an Ashes Test. A winless run stretching back to 1934 is more than just bad luck or coincidence. To all intents and purposes, Lords has now become a neutral venue, and in this day and age where every edge is critical in an Ashes series, we really can't afford to give the Australians such an advantage. You can bet your bottom Euro that if there was a venue in Australia with a similar record of English success, it would have been razed to the ground years ago. Lets not be too spiteful about it - we're quite happy to let 'The Home of Cricket' have extra tests against Sri Lanka (MCC members will probably still recognise this as 'Ceylon') and Bangladesh (part of 'The East India Company') - and they'll still get more than their fair share of One Day Internationals, but from now on, the five Ashes Tests will be played at The Oval, Trent Bridge, Edgbaston, Headingley and Old Trafford.

Directive 4 - Speaking of venues, 25% of the tickets for the West Indies series next summer shall be available only to those with a West Indian passport. In addition, the rules restricting bells and whistles in the grounds shall be relaxed, and Red Stripe shall be the only alcoholic drink available.

Directive 5 - Wearing an MCC blazer in public shall now constitute a criminal offence. Culprits shall be put in sets of stocks lined up outside the Grace Gates, and pelted, appropriately enough, with Eggs and Tomatoes.

Directive 6 - Ok, time for a serious one. It's an absolute scandal that Cricket does not have a Hall of Fame, along the lines of the Baseball version in the USA. An ECB working party shall be put together with a brief to report back within six months with plans as to how they're going to open one here in England. Their first port of call should be Cooperstown in upstate New York to see how this sort of thing is done. I'll return to this subject in a future post.

Directive 7 - More serious stuff - We're going to introduce free entry for Under 18's to all County Championship and 40 over league games, during the school holidays - and during term time parties of six or more pupils get free entry if supervised by a teacher.

Directive 8 - And whilst we're feeling generous, we're also going to provide free Sky Sport subscriptions covering this winter's Ashes series to anyone who can prove ten years membership of a cricket club.

Directive 9 - We don't object to spectators at cricket matches chanting. To have been present at The Oval on 12th September 2005 to witness the 'You said you'd win five-nil' chants for Glen McGrath is something we'll tell our grandchilden about. However, there should be certain, sensible, restrictions. In short, these can be covered off under an 'originality' clause. Any chant that started life at a football ground is forbidden. (Memo to the Barmy Army - one dose of 'Jimmy' per session is plenty)

Directive 11 - Anyone purchasing a Test Match ticket must produce evidence that they possess a chin.

Directive 12 - From now on, every GCSE English Literature syllabus shall include at least one book written by John Arlott.

Directive 13 - Engish Literature A Level students shall have 'Beyond a Boundary' by CLR James as a set text. In fact, it would be an appropriate addition to a History reading list too.

Directive 14 - Bob Willis and Paul Allott shall commentate wired up to electrodes. If a sufficent number of people (lets say, oooh - ONE) object to their commentary style they can press a special 'bullshit detector' button on their TV remote control unit which will result in a bolt of electricity passing through the commentators whilst they are on air. Eventually, this Pavlovian style training will work, and they'll shut up - which was the intention all along.

Directive 15 - Anyone wearing pyjamas to play cricket shall also wear a pair of slippers and a 'Wee Willie Winkie' style hat.

Friday, September 29, 2006

'Everything stops for tea...'

In the previous post regarding ‘time’ games, I overlooked a slight variable, which sometimes gets thrown into the equation - the ‘fixed tea’. You’ll often get this where several pitches share the same facilities, so that when you toss up you’ll be told that ‘tea is fixed for 4.45’.

The assumption is that declarations will be timed for the tea break, and for the most part the timing will fit with the plans of the captain of the side batting first, or he can adjust his team’s tactics to suit.

Obviously there are exceptions – sometimes the side batting first will pile up runs quickly enough to be able to declare well before the allotted time, giving them the opportunity for a quick crack at the opposition openers before the cellophane comes off the egg sandwiches. Alternatively, side 1 will be bowled out early – and then the chance for a few overs against a couple of batsmen ready for tea may well be crucial.

Sometimes, however, a teatime declaration just isn’t feasible for other seasons as illustrated in the following (true) story – a story that has achieved ‘legend’ status within my club side.

The Legend of the late Declaration

It was an away game in one of the charming idyllic towns along the Thames Estuary during the early years of the ‘Thatcherite Junta’.

Several of us got lost negotiating the Chatham one way system, so the game didn’t start until 2.30, and we were instructed of a ‘fixed tea at 4.45 because there’s a wedding reception in the pavilion tonight and the catering staff need time to prepare.’

Batting first on a green, painfully slow wicket, against accurate bowlers operating an overrate that can charitably be called ‘laborious’ we limped in at teatime on 73-8. As we walked off at tea (I was one of the not out batsmen) their team was justifiably bullish – comments about ‘this not taking much getting’ were being bandied around.

Over tea our skipper made the perfectly logical decision that 73 would be a suicidal figure to declare on and that we would bat on – hopefully to around 100. The two of us resuming our innings after tea wandered out to find their openers already padded up and raring for action. A few pithy words were exchanged and eventually we were able to continue batting for an ‘interesting’ spell of cricket.

The level of sledging from the opposition would have made Matthew Hayden blush. Additionally, defensive shots were met with groans, whilst every run was sarcastically applauded. Finally, after fifteen minutes of fun and games we were all out for 93 all out – leaving the opposition fifty minutes plus twenty overs to get the runs.

‘Let’s bowl as many as possible’ came the call from our captain. He’d figured, correctly, that run making was not easy, and that we had the ideal bowling attack – two metronomic opening bowlers coming in off five paces, and a variety of spinners and other steady medium pacers to keep things tight. If wickets started falling, we’d need to bowl as many balls as we could to try and force a win.

Every side will start off with enthusiasm – keeper and slips running to their places between overs to calls of ‘turn it round quickly lads’ and so on, but we managed to keep it up way beyond the normal time when reality sets in.

Early wickets fell as they found run getting as hard as us so that by the start of last 20 overs they were 26 for 4, and we’d already bowled nineteen overs.

So then we opened the game up! Our secret weapon was, and still is, a left arm googly bowler coming in off two paces and giving the ball enough air to pass over low flying aeroplanes. Other bowlers maintained control at the other end, but ultimately what’s accorded this game ‘legend’ status is the bizarre madness that overcame us in the field. We were determined, to the point of blinkered obsession, to bowl as many overs as we possibly could, so every trick was employed, even to the extend of moving into place for the next over as last ball of the previous over was being bowled - a very dangerous trick if you’re running straight towards the batsman from short mid wicket and the bowler sends down a long-hop…

We were changing between overs in a matter of seconds – eventually shaming the umpires into moving quickly. Few runs were being scored as the batsmen started to adopt the ‘rabbit caught in headlights’ look – stunned by the blur of perpetual activity in front of them.

Adding to the sense of drama, dark clouds rolled in

Wickets fell regularly and we ended up playing ring-a-ring-a-roses round the number eleven bat and daring each other to move ever closer so that by the last couple of balls our short leg was virtually reaching under the bat as the batman played a defensive shot.

The final score was 61-9, and we’d bowled a total of 46 overs – against the 42 we’d received. Our left arm googly bowler, normally used to figures like 10-0-65-3, had an analysis of 9-7-5-3….

The subsequent session with the opposition was heavily lubricated by the free bar on offer at the wedding reception.

The following year we visited the same ground to be met with an opposition skipper with a determined glint in his eye informing us – ‘tea between – ok?’ The ‘ok’ was little more than a punctuation mark, and not an invitation to debate…

Monday, September 25, 2006

'Time' Gentlemen, Please (The Main Event)

You might like to refer to the 'Prologue' below before reading this. Alternatively, the quote below gives a summary of what you've missed and provides a good starting point;

To cut a very long, and very depressing, story short, Opposition batted first. By 4.30, they had made 250 for 3. By 5 o'clock, they had 326 for 6 whereupon the declaration came. When it was our turn to bat, the Opposition bowled fourteen overs in the first hour (by which time we were 80 for 2) Every time one of our batsmen play two consecutive scoring shots, the field went back to the boundary. By the end of the game, we were 190 for 5.
In a nutshell, the problem is that a whole generation, weaned on the delights of limited over league cricket, is growing up with no idea of how to play enjoyable, friendly cricket on a Sunday afternoon. Instead, teams are trapped within the sterile constraints of limited overs – with all that implies in terms of limited enjoyment and limited scope for imaginative thinking.

Let me say at this stage that this is not an ‘anti league cricket’ diatribe. There’s certainly a place for the hard-fought league game on a Saturday afternoon – and before you start wondering, I’m quite happy to get heavily involved in a sledge-enriched grudge match every now and again, but sometimes you just reach a stage where the result isn’t the be-all-and-end-all and what you’re after is a decent, competitive game played in the right spirit with an exciting finish, and the subsequent convivial atmosphere over a few beers.

Limited overs accentuates differences in strength between the teams. I’m not saying you should give the game away to a weaker side – but by playing a more flexible form of the game you can ensure that the game is more enjoyable, and that more people actually ‘get a game’ – a common problem on a Sunday where teams are likely to be made up of a certain percentage who might play one game a month and naturally expect some sort of involvement – rather than sitting in the pavilion at No. 10 in the order, and standing around in the outfield for a couple of hours.

In addition, it can broaden the scope of who actually gets involved in the game. For example, a young fourteen year old leg spinner is hardly likely to get much of a bowl in a 40 over game with the inherent risk of 3-0-29-0 on the cards – but in time games, 3-0-29-0 might not be such a problem if you’re trying to open a game up – and it can well turn into 9-0-64-5 – a match winning performance. (We’ll deal with the ethical question of a fourteen year old buying a jug of beer at another time!)

A few years ago the Club Cricket Conference published some research, which said that 40% less people are playing club cricket than did 20 years. Lots of reasons were bandied around, but without trying to sound like some crusty old traditionalist, might I suggest that a prime reason is the fact that Sunday cricket just isn’t as enjoyable as it used to be.

Having got some theory out of the way, let’s get into practicalities and reconsider the scenario highlighted in italics at the top of this post.

It’s clear from what I’ve already posted that the opposition had a very strong side (in batting at least), and that the wicket was a perfect batting track. In limited overs cricket the scenario is simple, score as many runs as you can in your overs, and then do everything to keep the runs down when you bowl. Having to actually bowl a side out to get a win, however, provides a different, more interesting, challenge.

So what should/could the visiting skipper have done to force a win. In simple terms the answer is ‘not be afraid to lose’.

1. Be prepared to declare early. Give the opposition a chance to get the runs, and equally, give yourself time to bowl them out. The object of the game is to win – to do this you might just have to run the risk of losing. A side going for the runs is going to take more chances, and therefore run the risk of losing wickets, whereas on a perfect batting track it’s nigh on impossible to bowl out a side taking no chances.

2. Keep your options open and be prepared to open the game up. Chasing 230 plus to win, a side batting second needs a good start to keep them interested – maybe open with one of your stock bowlers and an occasional spinner. Ideally, after 15 overs the score will be something like 70 for 2 – and you get to the last 20 overs with the target around a run a ball or just over.

3. Keep flexible – don’t just stick to a pre-decided plan. For example, 70-2 might be ideal after 15 overs, but 40 for no wicket might not be any use to either side, and 100-1 at the same stage might be bad news for you, so try not to let things get too out of hand either way.

4. Don’t defend too hard – but then don’t over-attack. If a batsman is in and set, it’s not worth surrounding the bat, but conversely, don’t ring the boundary with fielders.

5. Obviously you don’t want to give the game away. Try and make sure the side chasing are always just behind the clock, but not so far as to make victory inconceivable. It’s a fine balance. Often it can go wrong and two batsmen you’ve tried to encourage to open up grow in confidence and can’t be reined in early enough to save the game.

6. Keep something up your sleeve – a ‘go to’ bowler who you know can keep a batting side in check. But don’t overuse him otherwise the chasing side might fall behind the clock and settle for a tame draw.

What’s the better game – the boring draw scenario outlined above, or a game where the side chasing ends up winning in the last over with nine wickets down? If you’re obsessed with Win/Lose statistics maybe the former, but if you’re after enjoying an afternoon’s cricket with 21 other people, and the resultant evening shooting the breeze in the bar afterwards – then I’d choose the latter.

It’s not always going to work – sometimes the disparity between the sides to too great, or sometimes one side just won’t have the personnel to go for a victory, or bowl the other side out, so you get these sorts of games: -

Side A - 140
Side B – 141-2 with 8 overs to spare

Side A – 190-7 declared
Side B – 126-6

But there’s no such thing as the perfect system and the best thing to do in these circumstances is to take the opportunity to give some occasional players a game.

As someone who’s tried and failed, I can safely say that captaining this sort of cricket is a fine art. Conversely I’m convinced you could programme a computer to captain a 40 over game – just input all the relevant details of the teams, bowling strengths and the situation at the end of each over and let the machine do the rest.

A side we play against call time games ‘boring’ – maybe you’re not doing it properly Dave…

Postscript - After posting the prologue below, I got a comment back from Harrowdrive linking to a post he'd already made on this subject. The post can be found here.

This is excellent stuff. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this should be printed off and stuck on the wall in every cricket changing room around the country, and reading it should be compulsory for everyone wanting to captain a club side next summer.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

'Time, Gentlemen, please' (Prologue)

For some weeks, I've been drafting a post on the subject of Club Cricket - specifically the ongoing debate between 'time' games and the limited over variety in friendly (non league) games.

For various reasons, it's still not ready - but to whet the appetite here's the transcript of a conversation I had last summer which provides some sort of contxt within which the debate has been taking place.

The scene is my club side's home ground on a Sunday afternoon last year. As skipper for the day, I'm wandering out to toss up with the visiting captain:

Me - 'Usual tea between and twenty from six-thirty?'
Oppo - 'What?'
Me - 'Start when we're ready, tea between innings, and start last twenty overs at half-past-six'
Oppo - 'We only play 40 overs'
Me - 'Even on a Sunday in non-league games?'
Oppo - 'Yes'
Me - 'Well, we rather play time games'
Oppo - 'Oh. How many overs then?'
Me - 'It depends'
Oppo - 'What time's tea?'
Me - 'Between innings - either when the first side is bowled out, or when they declare and set a target'
Oppo - 'Ok, what time normally?'
Me - 'Normally around 4.45ish - depending on how many runs they've got, and how much itme they think they'll need to bowl the other side out'
Oppo - 'Bowl them out?'
Me - 'Yes - otherwise it's a draw'
Oppo - 'But how many overs?'
Me - 'It varies - but normally the side batting first will get a few more, but side bowling first gets to use the new ball - so it sort of balances out'
Oppo - 'Ok then - but if we bat first we're having 40 overs'
Me - 'Regardless of how many runs you've got?'
Oppo - 'Yes'

To cut a very long, and very depressing story short, Opposition batted first. By 4.30, they had made 250 for 3. By 5 o'clock, they had 326 for 6 whereupon the declaration came. When it was our turn to bat, the Opposition bowled fourteen overs in the first hour (by which time we were 80 for 2) Every time one of our batsmen play two consecutive scoring shots, the field went back to the boundary. By the end of the game, we were 190 for 5.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Don Bradman and the USA

Around the turn of the century, almost every magazine or newspaper ran an obligatory 'Best of the 20th Century' feature. Some of these were entertaining and interesting ('Wisden Top Five Cricketers' for example) whilst some had all the attraction of root canal work without anaesthetic ('The 5 greatest Tory Home Secretaries'...)

As a devotee of American sports, one feature that caught my eye was a poll run by the US magazine 'The Sporting News' (TSN) listing the '100 best Sportsmen of the Century'. TSN has long been the leading weekly sports publication in the US - the equivalent over here would be if Wisden Monthly, Rugby World, and the Guardian Monday Sports Section merged.

Michael Jordan over Muhammad Ali for the No. 1 spot was a somewhat controversial call which got a lot of publicity in the States There are quite a few NBA enthusiasts over there who wouldn't even put Jordan number one in their sport alone, mainly those who remember Bill Russell playing for the Celtics.

Beyond that, it was the omissions that caught my eye - very few non-American sportsmen - Pele, and a couple of Olympians and a couple of Canadian hockey players (Gretsky above Orr - ouch!), and absolutely NO cricketers whatsoever.

No expecting any joy, but needing to vent, I dashed off a quick e-mail to the author of the accompanying article, Dave Kindred, pointing out this omission. Rather than provide a list of deserving causes I stuck with just one name - Don Bradman, with a brief statement to the effect that there would be little dispute in cricketing circles that he was the greatest batsman who ever lived.

To my surprise I received a reply back within 24 hours. 'Many thanks for the note, and I appreciate your comments. I've heard about Bradman but know very little - can you fill me in?'

I resisted the temptation to recommend one of the many biographies of the great man, and - remembering the American obsession with sporting statistics, offered a simple line. In Test cricket, where a batting average of 40 is considered acceptable, 50 good and above 60 extraordinary - how does 99.94 grab you?

Back came the reply - 'Wow! - Tell me more!'

So, during an e-mail correspondence that lastest around six months I expanded the story - the legend of the golf ball and the cricket stump, the 'bat for a hundred so he got three' story, the amazing run feats, how he was so dominant that efforts to contain him caused a diplomatic crisis between Australia and Great Britain, his historical significance for a nation, and finally, the second ball duck at the Oval in 1948 when 99.94 could have become a hundred.

At the same time, Kindred - who is one of the most respected sportswriters in the US, was doing his own research elsewhere. After a while, the e-mails stopped. Bradman died in 2001, and I sent a link to the Guardian obituary, but as there was no reply I assumed that the subject had died and a jounalist's intrigue had been satisfied.

Imagine my shock, therefore, when I opened the 23rd April 2001 edition of TSN and found this. (Link)

For completeness sake, here's a link to the letters TSN published the week after. The first (Lance from Champaign, Illinois) is sadly predictable, whilst the last (Joshua from Melbourne) is an absolute classic!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Sweet Sixteen?

Some random thoughts on the touring party - plenty more of this sort of thing to come!

Strauss - With Tresco's problems, Strauss is going to have to be the rock on which any large England score is going to be built, at least until Cook comes to terms with the Australian bowling attack and conditions. He was the only person to get two centuries last summer and once he got over his 'Warne phobia' (which he did through a load of hard work) was always a safe bet for a decent score.

Mahmood - At the moment he reminds me of Norman Cowans - young, raw, very quick with bags of potential but very likely to suffer the odd 12-0-78-0 kind of day. On the other hand, he's also as likely to produce an inspired 4-10 spell that could turn a match. Not quite a direct replacement for Simon Jones, but we could do a whole lot worse.

Harmy - Someone really needs to tell him his fortune, and make it clear that it's time he really stepped up and produce the sort of pace and accuracy that we've only seen recently in fits and starts. If anyone's going to get through it's going to be Flintoff. Thanks heavens we've moved away from the Illingworth/Dexter era. Otherwise Harmison would have been in the nets being forced to bowled left handed wearing a dinner jacket. Talking of clothes, management should be happy to let him wear his Newcastle United shirt whenever he wants, (receptions, official functions...) fill his room with crates of Brown Ale and turn the air conditioning up full to recreate the freezing conditions found on the Tyne (dry ice makes a nice substitute for fog)

KP - Prediction time - he's going to make a huge score in this series - 200 plus. By the end of the series, He'll have wound up thousands of people and taken a heap of abuse, but no one will dare leave their seat when he walks out to bat.

Plunkett - In some England squads, there's someone who gets referred to in polite company as the 'goat photographer'. To put it bluntly, the title reflects the feeling that he must have pictures of one of the selectors in a compromising position with a cloven footed animal to have achieved selection. Fully fit, he might have been worth gambling on, but as he's one of an ever growing list of players who will have to prove their fitness before getting on the plane, it seems an odd choice.

Monty - Should be first choice spinner, but I suspect that he'll only play when two spinners are required (Sydney & Adelaide) Of course, if Giles is unfit it's a whole different story, to the extent that England may well restructure their team to make sure they get the most from him.

Giles - First response is to think of him as the faithful family retainer who's only in the squad because he's best mates with the (non playing) skipper. But then you remember the golden moments from last summer, the fact that he's no mug with the bat and can catch anything that goes through the gully region and you start to realise that he's not a bad choice after all. Must be his last tour though.

Read - Hasn't done anything wrong since his recall, which is enough to have him pencilled in for the first test, regardless of what happens in the warm up games.

Jones - His selection suggests that Fletcher and Co still have an open mind when it comes to choosing an 'England No. 1'. Otherwise, they'd have taken the opportunity to go for a Prior or a Foster.

Freddie - Leaner, fitter, and feared. One thing he won't do is win the toss at Brisbane and ask the Australians to bat first. He won't take a backward step when the Australians come out swinging, and there'll be hell to pay for anyone in the team who does.

Trescothick - You try to deny it, but in all honesty he's a 'accident waiting to happen'. (Source - Mike Selvey) If your mind is in a fragile state, the very last place you want to be going is on a cricket tour to Australia. If he does come through, and is in contention for the first test, there might be an arguement for batting him at six. Let's pray he does get sorted, because he's the only batsman in the squad who's scored a test match run in Australia, and only one of four in the whole squad.

Collingwood - He'll feel right at home in Melbourne where there's an Aussie Rules team named after him - though he'll think differently when he finds out their nicknames is the 'Magpies'. In terms of temperament, and making the best use of his ability, he's the nearest we've got to an Aussie in the squad, aprt from the real one of course!

Bell - Seemed out of his depth last summer, although gutted out a couple of 50's at Old Trafford. This time, could be a good outside bet to be the top England run getter. Also a handy man 'under the helmet' at short leg.

Cook - In all probability, he's likely to end up opening with Strauss. Quick quiz - When was the last time England had an 'All Public School' opening pair? I've mentioned here before that he's more obsessive about simply scoring lots of runs than anyone since Sir Geoffrey was in his pomp. No bad thing!

Hoggard - Yet another fitness worry. In a way though, this could be a blessing in disguise. Australian wickets really won't suit him, and it's a long way to go to hope for the odd overcast day to come along. if he doesn't play, he's very likely to pack his rucksack and tour round with the Barmy Army...

Anderson - With Hoggard, Anderson and Plunkett all in the squad, Stuart Broad looks the best bet in the 'first to be called up from the reserve squad' stakes.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Yer Blues

Here's something to pass the time whilst you're waiting for the touring party to be announced tomorrow. (Live on Sky at 3pm)

Click here.

The 'younger brother' link on the left hand side of the page is good fun too.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Questions & Answers

Strauss or Flintoff? Having heard the Sky commentators split themselves down the middle on this, I have to say that I'm easy with whatever choice the selectors make. The only odd thing is that normally a tour captain would have a say on the squad he leads. With no official announcement, you have to think that that's not going to be the case this time. However...

A Sweet 16? Following on from the comment above, you do have to say that there's a fair amount of unanimity on at least 13 of the 16 places up for grabs. The one interesting dissenting voice is Mike Atherton, who comes up with the (valid in my view) arguement that you really shoudn't be picking players who've been out of the game for six months plus. Atherton got bitten by this on the '94 tour which turned into a farce before the first test, so you can sympathise with his point of view.

What's with the Perth arrangement? 5 players will fly out with the main squad and stay in Perth up to the end of the 3rd Test as a 'back-up' squad - acclimitising themselves to the conditions and on standby to join the main squad at a moments notice. It's an inspired idea that's got Duncan Fletcher's fingerprints all over it. Effectively we get a squad of 21, with none of the previous problems involving a player facing a 24 hour journey followed by being thrown in at the deep end in 100 degree heat compared with the freezing conditions he's left at home.

Still reckon we can retain the Ashes? We only need to draw the series. This means that the squad has to be ensure we can switch between an eleven with seven batsmen and only four front line batsmen, and the more orthodox 'six-plus-five'. Of course, both scenarios will be fat more comfortable if 'A Flintoff' is one of the eleven listed names.

What did you mean by 'Jimmy Conway as Freddie Flintoff' in your previous post?
Think about it. The first time De Niro appears in Goodfellas, he's the life and soul of the party - dispensing wisecracks and tips in equal measure ('He even tipped the guy who kept the ice cold') And he carries on in the vein through most of the film. During the 'Shoe Shine' scene, Jimmy Conway is the guy trying to pour oil on troubled waters, insisting everyone has a drink after Tommy's first outburst. So it's a real eye-opener when he starts giving the prone figure of Billy Batts a real shoeing after the stabbing.

Even after that he's seems outwardly calm - you can even forgive his reaction to the fur coat and new car that other gang members flaunt after the Idlewild Heist, until the cracks really start showing after Tommy is whacked on the day he's supposed to be 'made'.

Flintoff has the same outward air of bonhomie and contentment personified, but then remember that some of his bowling spells last summer were absolutely brutal - you still wince (and secretly grin...) when you see what he did to Brett Lee at Edgbaston, Ponting in the same test, and Hayden at The Oval.

The narrator in 'Goodfellas' says that everyone was scared of Jimmy Conway. The Australians are terrified of Freddie. Harmison they can cope with (although it's obviously not much fun) because they know the spells will be short, and a fair percentage of deliveries will be off target, but with Flintoff, his spells seem to last forever, and ball after ball will dart back in from outside off stump aiming at the ribcage - all at 90+mph.

And then there's that pesky reverse swing...