Thursday, May 31, 2007
(If you haven’t seen it, don’t go out of your way to – it’s rubbish. I’m merely using it to illustrate a point)
The point is this – any thoughts you might have about the future of the England cricket team have to contain two separate plotlines;
The first assumes that at some stage in the next twelve months Freddie is fit – the other assumes he never plays for England again.
If you read all the reports in this morning’s papers, , consider the past history of the accursed ankle and factor in intangibles like ‘for God’s sake, he’s got to get better, he’s the best all rounder we’ve had since Botham’ – I’d say it’s a 50:50 bet on which scenario plays out.
What happens in the first instance is pretty straightforward – he gets fit, maybe for the winter – bats 7 when we go with a four-man attack (something that having Monty means we could do quite a lot abroad) and with Prior at 8 the batting has real depth. If we need five bowlers, then he goes back to his old No. 6 position and it’s business as usual.
It’s the second scenario that can give you palpitations and forces you to start using the word ‘if’ far too often for comfort so you end up sounding like a demented Rudyard Kipling. If Simon Jones can make a full recovery, if Alan Donald can make something decent out of Ker-Plunk, (thanks, Harry!) if Harmison grows up (just our luck to have a strike bowler with the psychological fortitude of a ten year old girl) if Matty stays fit and if Broad turns into what we hope he will, then we might just be able to overcome Freddie’s absence from the bowling attack. Again, in a four-man attack with three of the ‘ifs’ plus Monty it’s not looking too shabby.
Batting-wise, scenario two is less problematic. You have a 1-6 of recognised batsmen – who by the end of the West Indies series should all be averaging in the high seventies, Prior at 7, then four bowlers with The Pies, KP and Vaughan as emergency back up. If 5 bowlers called for, Prior could (just) go 6… but it makes for a heck of a long tail.
All this assumes that another all-rounder doesn’t develop - Bopara perhaps?
It doesn’t make for comfortable consideration, but it’s something we need to face up to. It's better that than having to watch 'Sliding Doors' – trust me.
Graham Roope's unique feat was to be the non-striker when a batsman scored their hundredth hundred - twice! Boycott at Headingley in 1977 is the memorable one, but he was also present in the middle when John Edrich reached the milestone a year later.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
This is the weakest West Indian side ever, and the weakest touring side of any nationality to visit the UK for many years. Of the side that started the Headingley test, only Sarwan, Bravo and maybe Collymore would get into an English county eleven, and, more pertinently, only Bravo actually has.
The decline in West Indies cricket has been a very steep one (with a couple of blips) since the early 1990's. You can only hope the decline isn't terminal, but the signs aren't particularly promising. International cricket needs a strong, or at least competitive, Windies side but unless there's drastic action taken soon you can see them becoming increasingly irrelevent in the near future.
From England's point of view then, a landslide victory over inferior opponenets - but then you can only beat what's in front of you.
Hats off to 'Fozzie' Sidebottom - he took his chance and demonstrated the values of line and length. It'll be interesting to see if Peter Moores sees him merely as a 'horse for the Headingley course' or gives him an extended run in the side. He deserves a chance if there's nothing better around.
Still on the bowling, it was uplifting to see Harmy getting some wickets - although I'm still not sure he quite justifed the gushing praise Michael Vaughan heaped on him after the game. It was alarming to see how many balls Liam Plunkett threw down the legside - he's an international bowler for heavens sake. During one period of play he served up an absolute load of dross punctuted with the very occasional ball in the right spot. Surprise, surprise, whenever he pitched the ball up on a length just outside off stump he got a wicket. Luckily for the West Indies he only did it about three times!
Batting-wise, it's almost reached the situation where if you haven't scored a century for a couple of tests then you're out - so Andrew Strauss might be looking over his shoulder.
With such abject opposition, the opportunity is there to give Freddie a decent break - why not take it? You can be sure that the Indian line up will give our bowling attack more to think about and Flintoff's commitment and aggression will be an essential component of our attack - especially if Plunkett is still spraying it around at the other end.
Finally, two bits of very positive news: -
1. All the England players have been released to play for their counties before the next test starts.
2. Alan Donald arrives to take up his new position on Sunday.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Ten faces from the seventies to mull over...
1. Grizzly Adams look alike who would have been a world beater if all tests were played in overcast conditions.
2. Described as looking like a 'book keeper at a biker convention' in the Australian side of the mid seventies. According to some Aussies I met in Sydney last winter, he has something the size of a bat handle hanging between his legs...
3. Bridged the fast bowling gap between the 'Hall/Griffith' era, and the 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalyse'.
4. Never really recovered from being described as the first 'next Sobers'.
5. He and his brother took over 500 test wickets between them.
6. Sir Geoffrey's worst nightmare.
7. The best slip fielder England have ever had. Uniquely did something twice that very few batsmen in the history of the game have ever even done once.
8. The size of a lock forward. Used to use a club, rather than a bat. Allegedly went on a drinking binge with Ian Botham that lasted four days.
9. A 'happy hooker'. Befriended Sarfraz Nawaz in memorable scenes at Perth in 1979.
10. Much heralded - scored a wonderful hundred on his test debut, but then never got past 40 in eight more tests.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
The sledge - "Go get your shinebox!"
How do you respond?
Do you -
A) Call out - "Hey Billy, who's been sleeping with your old lady whilst you've been inside?"
B) Return to the bar later in the evening, stab the sledger, then give him a good shoeing whilst he's on the floor. Then you put him in the boot of your car, stab him again repeatedly with a carving knife you've borrowed from your mother, bury him - and then a fortnight later dig up the body and bury it again.
The answer: - Must surely be A). Although it's likely to cause a bit of a ruckus in the short term and will earn you a slap, it's preferable to B) which will inevitably result in you being hauled up in front of an ICC disciplinary panel with a years ban from test cricket the likely outcome.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
First they showed highlights from the Lords test of 2000 against the Windies, which included the most extraordinary days cricket I've ever attended when we, uniquely, saw parts of all four innings and the very rare sight of Andy Caddick bowling like a man possessed and a series of West Indies batsmen ducking for cover and taking balls on the body.
Then there was a wide ranging studio discussion between Gower, Botham and Hussain which started with the make up of the England squad and then revealed the wonderful news that the 'Kevin Shine Era' is about to end and Allan Donald is to become 'bowling consultant' with Shine shunted sideways.
Discussion then turned to the recent Ashes tour and the size of the England support staff that toured around Australia. According to Beefy he saw 28 people in England shirts at the MCG, and didn't recognise 10 of them. Well, I was at the MCG and there were about 28,000 in England shirts... but we'll let it pass.
Botham reserved most of his scorn for sports psychologists. "When I was in the team I didn't need one of those" said Beefy - putting on the faux working class accent he adopts when he's doing his 'straight talking man of the people' act, dropping vowels left right and centre - odd for someone resolutely middle-class, who attended one of the top Public Schools in the country. Botham went on - "If I wanted to talk about bowling I'd ask Bob Willis - if I needed anything else I'd talk to Mike Brearley..."
Erm, that'll be the Mike Brearley who's a trained psychologist would it Ian?
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Friday, May 18, 2007
"We've tried a split captaincy before and it doesn't work. The best
thing is to get Michael Vaughan fit and playing well." (Michael Vaughan)
Only two things wrong with that: -
1) It did work. Adam Hollioake led England to the only One Day International trophy they've ever won. The practice stopped when Alec Stewart took over from Mike Atherton as test captain and insisted on doing both jobs. English ODI cricket hasn't really recovered since then.
2) Why on earth has Vaughan suddenly started adopting the habit, beloved by egomaniacs everywhere, of referring to himself in the third person?
"We owe the spectators some good cricket and we owe it to ourselves"
"We all need to draw a line under the events of the winter, but at the same time it's important for us to learn from what happened"
"It would be foolish to underestimate them, even if they are on the inexperienced side"
"It's exciting to think that I've got the chance to put it all into practice again in the next few months"
"It's just important over the next few days at Lord's that we set the tone for the summer in everything we do"
It reminded me of this: -
CRASH - It's time you started working on your interviews.
NUKE - What do I gotta do?
CRASH - Learn your clichés. Study them. Know them. They're your friends. Write this down. "We gotta play 'em one day at a time."
NUKE - Boring.
CRASH - "Of course. That's the point. "I'm just happy to be here and hope I can help the ballclub."
NUKE - Jesus.
CRASH - Write, write -- "I just wanta give it my best shot and, Good Lord willing, things'll work out."
NUKE "..."Good Lord willing, things'll work out."
Surely, when he was given Bell's copy, the Guardian Sports editor must have realised that there was a problem, and that the average Guardian reader is expecting something more than anodyne drivel over his toast and marmalade.
Ok, maybe I'm being unfair on Bell. After all, there are far worse examples of sportsmen writing articles in the press. Read any of the tawdry efforts of most professional footballers in the tabloid press and you suspect that they have written originally in crayon and that the school leaving age has suddenly been cut to seven.
The frustrating thing is that a test player in Bell's position has an insight into the game that we lesser mortals can only guess at. For example, in the article he mentioned that the players tried really hard, but it just wasn't happening at the World Cup. Well - Why was that, does he think? Has it ever happened before? If so, what did he do to get over it? There will be thousands of people who would be genuinely keen to know this sort of stuff, rather than banal ramblings about 'Harmy' and 'Straussy'.
Then there's the opportunity to really get inside the game. For example, what's it like facing Shane Warne in Test match with a ring of chattering close catchers? Forget the anodyne cliches about just having to stay focused and concentrate' What's it really like? What really goes through your head? What do the Aussies really say? What do you say to your batting partner between overs? What do you say to the fielders?
Admittedly it was Bell's first column, so hopefully things might improve as we go through the summer. After all, he's always a slow starter! You don't need to suddenly metamorphosize into John Arlott overnight - just try and be honest and write stuff that you think people might actually want to read. Easier still, write stuff that you'd want to read.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Whenever you see or hear an interview with Ian Bell (like this one in yesterday's Grauniad) the overarching message is that his emergence as a dominant test batsmen producing a run of big scores is 'just around the corner'.
Funnily enough - that's what we used to say about revolutionary socialism and the 'inevitable' collapse of capitalism...
One game at a time
And while we're totally unjustifiably picking on Belly - see how many 'tired cliches' you can spot in this article - par score is seventeen...
A couple of friends of mine who are members of Lancashire CCC tell me that Saj Mahmood has, sadly, become totally insufferable since becoming something of a regular in the England set up. To be honest, I'm not quite sure why - his bowling performances for Lancashire so far this season demonstrate that he's still spraying it around like a drunk pissing in an alley.
On the plus side, they report that Jimmy Anderson has returned to being a normal bloke, having blazed the trail for Mahmood's descent to 'dickheadland' a few years ago - and that Freddie seems to be enjoying his cricket more than at any time since about 2004. Shame the domestic tranquility is going to end tomorrow.
I'm So Tired
May 17th is a truly ridiculous time to start a test match in the UK. It's less than a month since World Cup, which came at the end of an arduous winter that made Napoleon's retreat from Moscow seem like an amble in the park.
It would actually serve the cricketing authorites right if it were to lash down for the next five days resulting in a total wash out. Ask the players, hand on heart if they'd rather be back on the international treadmill or be able to spend another couple of weeks on the county circuit. There are some tired minds and bodies in the squad, and it's going to take more than the four days in Norfolk that Bell refers to in his interview to recharge the batteries.
The West Indies have had about two and a half days of cricket to acclimatise to English conditions. I don't mind the Aussies having that kind of truncated warm up, but the Windies are in enough of a mess as it is without having to kick their heels in the dressing room staring at the monsoon conditions we've had in the past week.
Survival of the Twittest
Why is this test being played at Lords? I know I've banged on about it before, but when there are already more test match grounds than tests, why on earth does Lords automatically qualify for TWO tests (and a couple of ODIs) each summer?
Todays fearless prediction, hardly an outlandish one, is that Tresco will be back for the ODIs this summer.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Good news. Prior over Nixon is surely the right choice, telling Strauss he's captain now spares us 48 hours of 'will he, won't he' over Michael Vaughan, and leaving Saj out gives him the opportunity to spend more time with Lancashire learning how to bowl.
Even better news
Saturday, May 12, 2007
So far Moores has shied away from the major restructuring of his backroom staff that events in Australia and the World Cup suggested is essential. Andy Flower has replaced Matthew Maynard - a Fletcher confidant - as assistant coach and England's preparations will be sharper for it. But Kevin Shine, the bowling coach, remains, and nowhere has England's decline been more apparent. Under Troy Cooley England became the chief exponents of reverse swing; under Shine they can barely hit the cut bit.
Interestingly, when Shine took over from Cooley in April 2006, this was how the Guardian (15/4/06) summed up his career:
Playing career: Took 249 first-class wickets in 102 matches at an average of 36.09. Very quick but lacked control
Thursday, May 10, 2007
There's an old adage that says that 'history is written by the victors' - so presumably the official history of the 2007 World Cup will simply refer to an Australian side that never looked in any trouble throughout the entire tournament and emerged victorious to lift their third consecutive trophy.
Or, maybe not...
The more orthodox view - which is shared by winners and losers alike, is that the tournament was a disaster of Titanic proportions. Commentators and analysts have been queuing up to denounce everything from the cricket provided to the organisation. One journalist even compared it to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics - withering criticism indeed!
On the face of it the charge sheet is lengthy. The tragic death of Bob Woolmer, the inordinate length of the tournament itself, which prompted one BBC journalist to quip that when the tournament started the Beatles were still at number one and beer was a shilling a point! Then there were the early exits of India and Pakistan, and some ridiculous ticket pricing which meant that some locals were being asked to pay the equivalent of a month’s wages to watch a match. Even before the tournament started there were a lot of people in England, looking to make long term plans last summer for a visit to the tournament put off with tales of games already sold out and overbooked hotels.
However, maybe it's time to look on the bright side. Here are 10 reasons why we should look back on the 2007 World Cup positively.
1. From a purely parochial point of view the roadcrash that was England's performance at this World Cup will mean that the ECB will have to start taking its ODI ineptitude seriously. The occasional batting performance from Kevin Pietersen can't paper over the cracks any more.
2. In the same 'good from bad' school of thought, the death of Bob Woolmer must surely prompt the international cricket authorities to take a serious look at the problems of alleged match fixing and gambling.
3. In a much happier vein, the 'Golden generation' of Australian cricket succeeded in their last hurrah and gave us one final masterclass in ODI cricket. Mssrs McGrath, Hayden & Gilchrist will be gone by the time the next World Cup comes around - they'll be sorely missed.
4. Following on from point 3, we were all privileged to witness one of the greatest one-day innings ever played as Adam Gilchrist scored a truly remarkable 149 in the World Cup final. Some of his sixes were so long that they should really have counted as ‘nines’. Every batsman in the final scored at around a run a ball, except Gilchrist who bettered that rate by fifty percent - which was the ultimate victory margin.
5. Hopefully their ultimate failure to reach the final of a tournament they had been widely fancied to win should prompt South Africa to start to realise that it's ok 'talking the talk' - you have to be able to 'walk the walk' consistently as well. If tournaments were by scowling, sledging and generally being intensely irritating, Graeme Smith would have been raising the trophy last Saturday.
6. Whilst the tournament didn’t quite herald the arrival of Bangladesh as a major player on the international stage, it was a massive step for them in the right direction. Most encouragingly for the future, they seem to have an average squad age of around thirteen! They are now reaping the benefits of their long-standing deal with Australia to send development teams their each year. Never again should they be called minnows. Within ten years I predict that there'll be a highly competitive four way 'Asia' tournament - that a lot of us in the northern hemisphere will pay good money to attend. In the same timeframe, I expect them to reach a World Cup final.
7. One of the greatest batsmen of any era, Brian Lara was able to make his farewell to international cricket in a packed arena in front of a global audience of millions. That’s hugely fitting, because Lara has always been a player for the big occasion. The Australian retirees will be sorely missed, Lara is irreplaceable.
8. The New Zealand team gave more talented teams an object lesson in getting the most from limited resources. They were truly the one side that produced more than the sum of their parts. In Shane Bond, they have one of the most exciting bowlers in the world today.
9. Lasith Malinga’s four wickets in four balls will remain second only to Gilchrist’s innings as the abiding cricketing memory of the tournament. It proved, if proof were really needed, that in cricket Yogi Berra’s statement rings true – ‘it ain’t over ‘til it’s over’
10. One organisation that must have had a good World Cup is the West Indies Tourist Board. In the UK, Sky TV became almost an unofficial arm of that organisation with constant shots of the beautiful scenery and miles of golden beaches - commentators espousing the delights of each island like experienced travel guides. The beach backdrop to the Sky studio almost made you forget the inane witterings of some of their supposed ‘experts’.
Now, where's that Antigua holiday brochure?
Monday, May 07, 2007
A spaceship has landed - visitors from a planet in a galaxy far away. Once the rest of the world have managed to persaude George Bush not to bomb the craft to smithereens, a large tent is put up, a small town created, and United Nations delegation meets with representatives from it for an extensive conference to compare cultural and educational development on the two planets.
As the delegates sit round the table and start communicating with the aliens, it soon becomes clear that the visitors are from a civilisation far superior to that here on earth.
Their philosophical ideas blow the mind of the finest brains on our planet.
Their works of literature are more erudite and entertaining than anything the hapless UN representatives can bring to the meeting.
They show film (on incredibly technical machines) of sporting prowess beside which ours pale into insignificance. On the same screens they show television programmes and movies that are simply superior to any output ever produced here.
During breaks, the jokes they tell are funnier, and the food they serve is of better quality than anything the finest chefs on the planet can concoct.
The UN people despair, and start to think that maybe George Bush had the right idea all along. As the conference draws to a close they feel embarassed and ashamed of how backward our world apparently is.
Inevitably, the aliens realise the power at their disposal and demand that ownership of Earth be passed to them in totality, and all the inhabitants be entered into slavery.
Suddenly there is a commotion near the entrance. A boy pushes his way through the crowds and rushes up to the conference table. He hands the head of the UN delegation a Compact Disc. The head looks down at the disc, raises his eyebrows in surprise and then stifles a grin.
He slides the disc across the table to the chief alien. The chief puts the disc into his CD player (far superior to any player ever produced on Earth) adjusts his headphones and starts to listen.
For 39 minutes he is transfixed - every so often he shakes his head in bewilderment. When the disc has finished, he takes off the headphones and stands up.
Slowly he bows to the UN head, and then walks out of the conference - ordering his fellow aliens to follow. They re-enter the craft and fly off into the night sky.
They are never heard from again.
Friday, May 04, 2007
Fair play to him though, he didn't take the TRSM criticism too hard and became one of the few 'successes' of the winter campaign with some timely batting and a generally tidy performance behind the stumps.
When the World Cup ended, you expected him to get a pat on the back from Peter Moores, and then return to the county circuit with a decent sun tan and some wonderful memories to bore his team mates with during the summer.
Bit of a shock, therefore, to find him in the 25 man squad for the first test.
Now, it's likely that he'll get picked. It's equally likely that he'll score some useful runs with probably a typically scrappy half century somewhere along the line, scored at the end of the innings as England declare on around 550-8 in one of the tests. It's equally likely that he'll keep wicket competently, take a few catches and make some tidy stumpings off of Monty.
In short, he'll do everything that's asked of him - in fact probably more.
But he still shouldn't be in the squad. He's not a Test match keeper, for one thing - nor is he someone who should be figuring in any of England's test plans beyond the end of this summer - and if that's the case, why pick him now?
There are at least four keepers in the County system at the moment who should have been picked ahead of him - Prior, Foster, Davies and Chris Read. Of those four, one is in the squad, but there's no word at this stage as to who is the intended number one.
The Lara-less West Indies side that's touring is going to be the weakest to visit these shores since the late sixties. England turned them over when they were last here - and they haven't got any stronger since then. It would have been an ideal time to draft in one or two of the keepers you'd suspect will be doing the job four or five years down the line - to let them get some relatively easy home tests under their belt before the ardours of a winter tour, and the visit of South Africa next summer.
Obviously our 'innovative' and 'forward thinking' new coach is not of the same mind.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Check out some of the bowling figures. Cartwright came back with 77-20-118-2. Amazingly he was outbowled - statisically, at least, by Aussie off-spinner Veivers who managed to wheel through 95 overs. NINETY FIVE!! Saj Mahmood hardly bowls that amount in an entire summer. To bowl the six hundred overs the two teams got through would take a modern attack seven and a half days!
If an innings lasted 293 overs, as England's did in that test, you'd anticipate a score of twelve hundred plus based on current scoring rates: -
"Hello from Trent Bridge, where the latest news is that England are nine hundred and eighteen for six, still requiring one hundred and seventy to avoid the follow on. Kevin Pietersen has four hundred and sixty two not out...."
Australia had finished their innings around tea time on the third day. Whilst the teams were changing over, a local journalist wandered out to the middle - back then you were allowed onto the outfield during breaks, before the authorities deemed that there should be a strict demarcation line between them and us.
He spotted a strange furrow on the wicket. It was six inches long, three inches wide and a quarter of an inch deep just short of a good length at one end of the pitch. Sensing a possible scandal he took it up with the umpires. They said they'd seen it, but could do nothing about it as it had been caused by Cartwright who had continually pitched the ball in that area, over after over, to such an extent that it had worn away the wicket.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
12th man - Schofield
Now, of those twelve, how many of those are either current England internationals, or players who have a legitimiate chance of making the England side if they continue to develop at a decent rate? My answer would be 'possibly one' - Newman in ODIs. Sadly we need to officially give up on Rikki Clarke now, a player who should be tried in a court of law for criminally wasting such an enormous talent.
Second question - How many players are there in the Surrey Second XI who are desparate to break into the first eleven and prove their worth, but see their path blocked by a bunch of underachieving ex-England has-beens who see the county circuit as a gravy train to help fund their retirement. What about the young attacking spinner who sees not only Ian Salisbury still being paid good money to bowl two long-hops an over - but Chris Schofield signed up to do exactly the same thing. What about the middle order bat stuck behind Ramprakash and Mark Butcher in the queue?
The nub of the problem is that there is no clear definition of what county cricket is actually for. Is it's purpose - as Surrey CCC seem to think, to keep cricketers on the down slope of their careers in gainful employment at the expense of developing players for the future who could contribute to the success of the county - and possibly the national team, or should county cricket be a proving ground for young talent where they can compete and hone their skills in a truly testing and competitive environment.
There needs to be a system whereby promising youngsters are recognised and encouraged through the system - but then (here's the important bit) they need to be able to play a lot of meaningful, very competitive cricket. Without being put to the test, how will young players ever cope when the chips are down at a higher level. For example, it's frankly ludicrous that up to the start of this season, Saj Mahmood had bowled less than a thousand first class overs. That fact surely must be related to the fact that he appears to be bowling blindfolded when the pressure's on at international level. But hey, not to worry - he's looked world class in the nets.
Here's a further list of names I quickly pulled from last weekend's results - Croft, Caddick, Afzaal, Silverwood, Chapple, Cork, Hegg, Maddy, Gallian, Ealham, White (C), McGrath, Gough, Hick, Batty, Irani, Tudor, Crawley, Smith, Adams, Kirtley.
All of them ex-internationals with no hope of further call up (please, God) but all taking up spaces in county sides that could be usefully filled by the 'future' rather than the past.
Yes - their counties would argue that all of them still produce runs and wickets - but to what end? How many of them are simply hanging on for a benefit. A county selector will presumably pick the county also ran who happened to play one test against Australia, and got flogged all round the Oval ahead of a promising eighteen year old.
By way of comparision, check out the NSW squad for the season just gone. A list of over 30 names - many familiar and, apart from Glen Mcgrath only one obvious ex test player there - Graham Thorpe - ex Surrey & England!!
Of course, let's not be too 'Year Zero' about it. The Surrey example is an extreme one - and a lot of counties do manage to select a good balance of old pros and up and coming talent, but in the Brave New World of county there needs to be a list - call it the 'They Shoot Horses' list if you will - of acknowleged ex internationals of a certain age who aren't going to figure in any England plans. Counties should be limited in how many they can field at any one time - similar to the way overseas players have been limited over the years. I'm happy for them to make a living playing cricket, but not at the expense of a younger talent coming through.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Just before they decided to cut their losses and knock off, a man appeared in front of them and stuffed a wad of notes into the bucket muttering ''there you go lads'' in a broad Coventry accent.
Rest in Peace Tom Cartwright, Cricketer and Socialist - both excellent things to be.