Sunday, February 25, 2007

Are You Experienced?

Here's a list of the players with most One Day International appearances.

Notice anything missing? Correct, there are no England players anywhere to be seen.

I haven't looked it up, but I'd guess that Gooch, Thorpe, Gough and Stewart are probably the top English names on this list, but way down below the sixty six names you see here - maybe one or two of them crack the top 100.

In contrast, four of the current New Zeland team have over 200 appearances - Fleming, Astle, Vettori & Macmillan.

You can throw your hands in the air and go on about how meaningless ODIs are - and I'd have to say that, on this issue, I'm probably on the side of the traditionalists (pause to swallow hard) but when it comes to tournaments that actually mean something, like the one starting in a couple of weeks, experience will count. Granted, it will count as an unquantifiable tangible when it comes to assessing criteria, but it will certainly count.

Put any of those 4 Kiwis in a pressure ODI situation and they'll cope. They might not win, because quite often pure skill will triumph over experience, but they will step onto the field in the comfortable knowledge that, whatever situation they face, they've been there before, know the score and know what they have to do to get through it. For example, every time Vettori comes onto bowl, he's in a situation that he's been through before, knows what worked and didn't work then, and can develop his strategy accordingly.

Michael Bevan is often cited as the best 'finisher' in ODI history. The batsman you'd most want at the crease with 70 wanted off the last ten overs and five wickets left to fall. He wasn't technically the best batsman in the Australian line up by any means- , but he was the best in that sort of situation, you'd rarely bet against him. There were two reasons for that. Firstly, Bevan 'knew his angles' and could work the ball round extraordinarily well - secondly, by the time he retired he'd probably been in that scenario about 40 times in his 200 odd games. Without trawling back through the records I'd guess that the first ten times he was in it, he failed in half of them, but in the last thirty, Australia won the game over 25 times.

During the upcoming World Cup, keep an eye on the 'total ODI appearances' column alongside the batting orders published. It's only a hunch (and I certainly haven't the time nor inclination to test it mathmatically) but I'd guess that the side with most players having more than 50 caps most likely wins when the chips are down and a tight finish is on the cards.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Thankfully, not living in Yorkshire, it doesn't apply

Boycott, Close, Illingworth & Trueman (RIP)

The Laughing Cavalier

The news that Brett Lee is going to miss the World Cup is devastating. Most obviously it’s a big setback for Australia, who have lost a crucial component of their bowling attack. Two crucial requirements in an ODI attack these days are early wickets, and the ability to put the ball in the block hole over the last ten overs. Lee provided both – Australia will miss him hugely.

Also don’t forget that he’s proved over the years to be no mug with the bat. The six he hit off Harmy at Trent Bridge is the by far the biggest I’ve ever seen. As Kevin Costner said in Bull Durham – “Something that flies that far through the air should really have a stewardess on it!”

It’s also bad news for cricket in general. In an Australian side increasingly populated by a ‘Roundhead’ tendency – Lee has always been one of the Cavaliers, and with the retirement of Shane Warne, is probably the only one left. Someone who isn’t afraid to be caught sharing a joke with an opposition batsman (before trying to knock his head off) someone who visibly enjoys playing the game, and who gives it 100 percent all the time.

Spectators will always react positively to that sort of character, regardless of the flag they’re playing under. After the Australian group-hug at the end of the Melbourne Test in December, Lee’s next stop was to the Barmy Army to give them a round of applause – presumably for the continual advice they gave him about “keeping your arm straight when you bowl” and the constant insinuations about his sexual preferences. Needless to say, Lee got a standing O from the Army in return.

Any big tournament, like the Cricket World Cup, needs big characters to fill the canvas that the occasion provides. Lee’s absence creates a huge gap.

Still, at least it gives ‘Peggy’ the chance to concentrate on his singing career!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Curb Your Enthusiasm

The two Kiwis I work with were, understandably, cock-a-hoop this morning. I thought their subsequent comments about going on to win the World Cup were a little optimistic though.

After all, there are going to be some pretty good bowling attacks out in the West Indies who will do a far better job of defending 330+ scores than Australia did.

Bermuda for example...

Sunday, February 18, 2007


When I was ten my parents bought a house overlooking a cricket ground. Actually, I'd guess that the driving force behind the actual location was Dad - my Mum was probably more attracted to the proximity of Bromley High Street than the idea of a cricket ground at the end of the garden.

The ground in question was, and still is, the home ground of Bromley Cricket Club in Kent. At the time Bromley weren't quite the force in Kent cricket then that they are now - too clique ridden and very elitist, but the standard of cricket was still pretty good, and it was a fantastic place to grow up.

Every now and again I'd flick through the latest Wisden and wonder how clubs like Bromley would fare against the Lancashire and Yorkshire League teams listed within its sacred yellow covers. I'd also wonder why other leagues weren't listed. In the publication, although in retrospect maybe it had something to do lack of available space caused by the huge section devoted to Public School cricket...

Although any moves to set up a national league at the expense of existing local league structures would be misguided and far-fetched in the extreme, there’s still a good argument for some sort of national club structure to enable tournaments to have some sort of national recognition. There have been two moves in the right direction with the setting up of the ‘Premiership’ system in most counties, rather than a series of competing leagues, and the launch of the ECB Cockspur Cup

Of course, there's long been the evocative village tournament with the annual day out a Lords for the stereotypical blacksmith, vicar, bank manager and local squire – stereotypes immortalised in Hugh de Selincourt’s wonderful ‘Village Cricket Match’ from the 1920's.

Now, there's a company who are aiming to take things a step further - their 'hook', to use a Marketing term, is 20/20.

David at Harrowdrive brought this to my attention with this excellent post and there are full details of the competition on the North Gear 2020 site.

With some luck, positive thinking and decent weather, it could work.

The big selling point is the 20/20 aspect. Obviously the usual ‘rentaquote’ traditionalists will balk at the coloured clothing aspect of the venture – but these are the sort of people who are happy to wear garish egg and tomato ties, and can be seen out in the open air wearing plum coloured jackets and lime green trousers – so we’ll take no lessons from them on haute couture.

Outside Yorkshire & Lancashire attendances at most club cricket matches are derisory, but by reducing the timescale to three hours, and presumably playing some games midweek, they could be attracting a totally different demographic to those who are currently prepared to spend a whole weekend afternoon watching – in the same way that the county version of 20/20 has appealed to a whole new audience. If Dad has to amuse the kids for an afternoon it’s normally the local playground, the pictures or MacDonald’s – maybe at a stretch a pub car park with a lemonade and a packet of cheese and onion crisps. If the 20/20 alternative offers sporting entertainment, plus the chance of a cheap beer, he might now have a viable alternative choice.

Mix in some local radio ads, posters in local shop windows and local schools, (“Come and watch some pyjama cricket”) leaflet drops, newspaper articles and all the other paraphernalia of a typical high profile marketing campaign, and you have the basis of a potentially effective strategy to encourage people to at least give it a try. A huge number have seen a version on television, so many a likely to be interested in a local variant - in League of Gentleman terms – a local cricket team for local 20/20 fans.

By definition the cricket is going to be entertaining. Clubs should make sure that they have a decent PA system – and run some competitions for the kids in the interval. Rather than the ubiquitous ice cream van, why not get some club members to run a BBQ and stock up on ice creams and sweets from the local cash and carry. Obviously make sure the bar is open to non-members for the day and you’ve covered most of your costs there and then.

A lot of top level club sides these days have got at least one county player on their books – so there you have another hook to attract the sort of cricket fan who might have actually heard of these players and be interested in seeing them on a local stage. Bromley may be a bad example, because the ‘elitism’ I referred to earlier has transformed into ‘very deep pockets’ to the extent that their 2006 squad included Alan Wells, Nadeem Shahid, Joey Benjamin and Joe Dawes (NSW) and it was only a few years ago that Anderson Cummings was opening the bowling for them. Elsewhere in Kent, Martin McCague, Steve Marsh and Dean Headley still strut their stuff. Not exactly names to set the blood racing, but certainly recognisable, the confirmation that the product on offer is of a very high quality.

Also, when you’re considering the quality of the product, remember that there are still a heck of a lot of players at the club level who are good enough to play cricket full time, but have taken the conscious decision not to play county cricket because they can earn more money, and have greater financial security outside the game.

It’s also worth thinking about corporate hospitality. Rent a small marquee, tie up a deal with the local curry house for a decent quality takeaway – charge £25 per head, throw in the first bottle of wine on each table for free and then mark up the rest. Granted it’s not exactly a day out in an executive box at Lords, and the small budget scale would make the big city companies piss themselves laughing, but if the local solicitor wants to take a client out to thank him for some business referred, or the head of the local chamber of commerce wants to take a table to entertain a few friends and business contacts, why not at something like this?

Logistically, keeping it regional in the early rounds makes sense – with the promise of a national final live on Sky – even if that does mean Bob Willis making sarcastic comments about ‘minnows’ throughout his stints at the microphone. It’s a shame that the final isn’t until 30th September, but this is obviously an event that is going to have to establish itself in the public mind before being able to claim a more prominent date.

Here at The Peoples republic of TRSM, we give this venture a warm welcome and wish it all the best, and if there’s a spare beer and curry going begging, we’re always happy to help out!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Paint it Black

Time to see if Warnie fancies a trip to the West Indies?

Note Steven Fleming's comment at the end of page one about how the Kiwis took heart from England's recent performances - obviously this sort of thing is contagious!!

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Godfather Farce

London Mayor Ken Livingstone once stood up at a black tie dinner at the Institute of Actuaries in the City and said that ''Actuaries are a bit like Lesbians (Cue sharp intake of breath) - because you always wonder quite what they actually do!'' (Cue puzzled looks all round and whispers of 'what's a lesbian?')

To us lesser mortals among the great unwashed. the role of England Test selector has often been surrounded by a similar mystique.

There are a multitude of reasons for selecting someone for the England team. - Obviously class, form and ability help, but beyond that are are issues like 'horses for courses' (e.g. picking typical 'English'seamers at Headingley like Watkin and Mallender) , or being a good player of a particular style of bowling (David Smith for the West Indies for example, or Roger Tolchard in India)

Fortunately the days of 'plays for Kent/Surrey/Middlesex rather than a northern county' seem to have past, along with 'Public School eduation and possession of a posh accent' - although some of us have scratched our head recently over the choices of Giles ('Non playing captain's best mate') and Nixon ('Sledging ability')

Of course, there's often been another side of the coin in terms of reasons not to pick a certain player. 'Being an outspoken Yorkshireman' cost Fred Trueman at least twenty test appearances during his career. Had he played them, he'd still be England's top wicket-taker. In the same vein, cricketers of the quality of Doug Padgett & Jimmy Binks played one game each for England whilst vastly inferior players enjoyed extended runs in the team for no better reason than their accent.

Nothing however, has ever plumbed the depths of selectorial ineptitude compared with what happened in 1988 when a whole new 'criteria' was added...

The visitors that year were the West Indies, probably just past their mid 80's pomp (the 1984 side were the best team to ever tour these shores) - but still boasting a bowling line up of Marshall, Patterson, Ambrose & Walsh and a batting order that went - Greenidge, Haynes, Richards, Richardson, Hooper, followed by the vastly underrated Dujon & Logie. Six, possibly seven Hall of Famers there.

The England batting line-up wasn't too shabby - The 3Gs (Gooch, Gatting & Gower) together with Chris Broad and Alan Lamb made a fair nucleus - but on the bowling front the attack was decidedly 'pop-gun' after Graham Dilley with names like Jarvis, Newport and Pringle set to feature.

In the rain affected first test at Nottingham, England got away with a fairly credible draw- but the test has gone down in history for what allegedly happened in a hotel room after the game... the outcome of which was a 'holier than thou' campaign from our wonderful, morally pure, tabloid press - fresh from their success in the Botham affair, which culminated in the sacking of Mike Gatting.

So the captaincy baton was passed to John Embuery. That'll be the same John Embuery who went on one 'rebel tour' to apartheid South Africa in 1982, was banned, returned to the England team and then went on another 'rebel tour' in 1990 and was banned again, and then picked for England again. You can really only have slack-jawed admiration that sort of commitment to filthy lucre - words like 'venal' and 'whore' don't do it justice. It also gives a good insight into the Englsih authorities attitude towards South Africa. (See Peter Oborne's magnificent - 'The D'Oliveria affair' for more on that sordid subject)

Embuery presided over two stuffings - first at Lords, despite one of the all time legendary first morning spells of quick bowling by Graham Dilley, and then Manchester, where the batting fell apart in humiliating fashion. So it was out with Embuery and in with...

The Sunday before the Leeds Test I arrived at my club for that afternoon's game. I'd missed the traditional lunchtime announcement so walked into something of a 'heated debate' on entering the changing room.

- Heard the England side?

- No - who's in?

- They've picked Robin Smith.

- Wow - a good choice! Pass the smelling salts!

- And Tim Curtis.

- Hmmm bit of a county journeyman but probably deserves a chance with the runs he's been making.

- And they've made Cowdrey captain!!

- Cowdrey?! You're joking - that's ridiculous... (clutching at straws time) Well, I suppose he did ok against Lillee & Thompson in 1974/75. I know we're desparate, but, he must be in his fifties - though, having said that I suppose he always was a good player of pace bowling - you know, Hall, Griffith, Adcock, Heine. He might be able to do a decent job.....

- No, not Colin - it's his SON!!

So there you have it - the new criteria. 'Son of the best mate of the Chairman of Selectors'! Someone who hadn't played test cricket since 1984/85, and hadn't built up a particularly strong CV then - and was hardly setting the world on fire as captain of Kent.

Gradually, over the coming weeks, the stories started filtering out - Peter May apparently overriding the rest of the selectors who wanted Graham Gooch as skipper, rumours that he was doing it as a favour to Cowdrey Senior for some past business deal. In short, a total and utter establishment stitch up. One journalist described the noise of the selectors explanation as 'the sound of an escape of noxious gas from a rotting corpse.' It might have been Matthew Engel in The Guardian... let's face it, it wasn't EW Swanton in the Torygraph!

Funnily enough, I've met Chris Cowdrey a couple of times since 1988. He's got a well-honed line in louche self-deprecation that quite a few second-tier establishment figures have - and has made a nice living on the public speaking circuit with his view of the farce, based around the normal godson/godfather relationship - 'Thanks for the captaincy Uncle Peter, but the usual pen-and-pencil set would have been fine'...

England were rolled over again in the Headingley test, and Cowdrey developed a 'thigh strain' before The Oval, which mysteriously cleared up in time for him to play for Kent. Presumably even Peter May didn't think he push the envelope far enough to give 'young Christopher' another game at the helm.

Graham Gooch, who was the obvious choice to replace Gatting all along - the only England player to appear in all 5 tests, took over. I'd have loved to have been a fly on the wall at the selection meeting when comprehensive educated, 'East London born' Gooch was chosen. You can only guess that they thought it was the 'East London' in South Africa.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Madcap Laughs!!

Reverse Swing's 115th Dream

Ok, so it wasn't Showpony or Strauss, but enough to keep us laughing all winter? I reckon so....

What a great motivator!! that Buchanan guy is!!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Here is the News

Transcript of Channel 9 late night sports report - 9th February, 2007.

''In international cricket, Australia continued their total dominance over the England team with a superb batting display from skipper Ricky Ponting and Matthew Hayden at the MCG today. The pair destroyed the England attack to take Australia to 170-1 after just 32 overs. Later in the day it was the bowlers turn, as Brett Lee trapped Loye plumb in front for a duck, and then got Andrew Strauss for the same score. With Nathan Bracken claiming Ed Joyce for just six, England slumped to 15-3. In other news...."

Monday, February 05, 2007

Ever Fallen in Love with Someone (You Shouldn't Have Fallen in Love With?)

As things stand, this is probably the strongest eleven England could field in the World Cup;

1. Joyce
2. Loye
3. Bell
4. KP
5. Collingwood
6. Fred
7. Bopara/Dalrymple
8. Nixon
9. Plunkett
10. Showpony
11. Monty

No Vaughan? With the best will in the world, he's not a one-day player - never really has been, and certainly isn't now. You can, just, understand the England selectors desire to get him back in harness after the debacle of the Test Series, but in reality it was a totally misguided decision based on loyalty rather than any cricketing analysis.

If you want an 'out of the box' solution, why not make him coach of the ODI side starting with the World Cup? Fletcher doesn't seem to have any enthusiasm for the job, Vaughan obviously has the respect of the side, so why not give it a try?

No Strauss? Well, as things stand, there's no room in the side. The top six listed above has a nice balance of accumulators and big hitters - presumably you'd have to leave Loye out for Strauss, which leaves the balance totally wrong. Sure, Strauss should be in the squad - but really only as cover for Bell or Joyce if either of them goes down injured.

The selectors need to set aside the 'loyalty factor' and start selecting one-day sides on the premise that we're actually looking for a side that can win games.

To think that the two of them were opening the innings at the start of the current one-day series beggars belief.

Loye? The media treatment of Loye has been, to say the least, rather kneejerk . After his 36 on debut he was cast as the saviour of the England battingl ine-up - a few innings later he's ready for the scrapheap. You need some sort of spark-plug at the top of the order - someone who can upset bowlers' rhythms, muck up field placings and generally give an innings the initial impetus that can mean 60 off 10 overs. With the Vaughan/Strauss combo, you'd be lucky to get to 60 by the half way stage - especially with Bell slated to come in at three.

That sort of early impetus can help take the pressure of KP and allow him to pace the innings on his terms, rather than having to keep looking over his shoulder and continually worrying about the rate.

Of course, the ideal scenario would be for Trescothick to decide that a fortnight or so in the West Indies might help his mental rehabiliation no end, but that's about as likely as an England Chairman of Selectors choosing his godson to captain the national side as a favour to the godson's father...

Friday, February 02, 2007

''I Believe in Miracles...''

Well, well, well!!

Look what happens when the Aussies drop their crucial catches, and have one of their top batsmen missing, and lose their most potent attacking batsmen to an injury.

Memo to Liam Plunkett - now do it again... and again... and again...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Dazed & Confused

If it was a boxing match, they'd have stopped it in round 5 - and if the England side was a racehorse it would have been put out of its misery weeks ago.

But before the serious recriminations start, you need to take a deep breath and bear in mind that, since the test series ended in Sydney, and more pertinently since the departure of KP, this touring party has simply been going through the motions, waiting for the nightmare to end and counting down the days until they can get on the plane and fly home.

Any measurement and analysis of individual performance has to be shot through that prism. You could argue that professional cricketers should be able to perform at the peak of their performance regardless of the circumstances, but that would overlook the mental effects of being totally humiliated in a test series where they'd been expected to be at least competitive (and where they, to all intents and purposes, gave the crucial test match away) and then having to follow up immediately with a further tour around the scenes of those disasters.

My original intention when composing this post was to be highly critical of the performances of Strauss, Collingwood & Bell over the past month, and seriously question whether the 2005/06 tour would rival the 1974/75 series in terms of being 'test career ending' for a crop of English batsmen - but then sanity returned and you start to realise that it's difficult to perform when you're batting in a daze and simply going through the motions because that's what is expected of you.

This is one seriously screwed up squad of players - and the big question is whether the scars are too deep to allow a quick recovery. You can bet your bottom euro that the Australians will take every opportunity to remind them of the past three months - muttering 'Adelaide' could cause a reaction like a shell-shocked war veteran hearing a car backfiring... sort of like 'Headingley' must have sounded to an Aussie until that particular ghost was exorcised by Alan Border and Steve Waugh.

Remember, this was a side that went off on a wave of optimism - and still had fond, recent, memories of the 12th September 2005, and the day after in Trafalgar Square. To fall from that height in such spectacular fashion is going to be traumatic, to say the least. Then follow that up with some of the pretty inept one day performances in the run up to the premier ODI tournament means that, had the World Cup been starting in a week, I wouldn't have fancied our chances against Kenya or Canada.

I know we keep coming back to this point, but the itinerary has been an incredible form of torture - revisiting the scene of traumatic events might seem like a good idea to some amateur TV psychologist, but for real life flesh and blood it must be utterly demoralising. The Adelaide disasters for example can't be excused, but they can be understood on the basis of 'let's get this over and done with as soon as we can'. From now on, someone at the ECB needs to insist that the ODI series forms part of the warm up to the test series rather than a depressing coda.

Happily there's now a chance to regroup and refocus - whether Duncan Fletcher is the person who can facilitate that process effectively is a moot point.