Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Nine thoughts for '09.

1. The most noteworthy thing about the Saffies two recent victories has been that, on each occasion, they've conceded nearly 400 in the first innings - the figure most well regarded brains around the game consider is a 'safe' first innings score.

2. Just think - if Monty Panesar had been as good as everyone thought he should have been last summer, we'd have probably beaten South Africa.

3. There have been a few comments in the press about the 'vile abuse' that Matthew Hayden has been dishing out to Graeme Smith this series. Obviously Smithy is well capable of taking care of himself, but let's hope we'll get the chance this summer to raise this with Hayden - with specific reference to how this denigration and disrespect for opponents and the game fits in with his much-trumpeted 'born again Christianity'.

4. What odds KP walking out to toss up at Cardiff in July with Michael Clarke?

5. And this summer's series is starting to look like a 'battle for third place'.

6. Is Ryan Sidebottom actually fit?

7. One possible solution to the central contract farce - incentivise the contracts so that players get a basic wage just above that which they'd get on the county circuit based on their experience and skill - and then they earn the rest through appearances and performance.

8. Did anyone else notice how insanely close Neil Mackenzie was fielding at silly point to Ricky Ponting at one stage. I mean, we're talking so close that Ponting seemed to think Mackenzie had come up to 'have a chat' - or maybe pick his pocket. Presumably somewhere Brian Close was nodding in approval -whilst Mrs Mackenzie was rifling through the drawers for the insurance policies. Better still, he was wearing precisely NO protection - some sort of forfeit for his miserable run of scores with the bat. Ian Bell take note...

9. Talking of Bell- his batting averages by position in the order are -

No. 3 - 32
No. 5 - 47
No. 6 - 54

So England are going to bat him at 3.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

No Country for Old Men

Vaughan to return?

If Moores is talking about it, he's obviously been given permission by KP, therefore there must be an element of truth to it.

Based on what, precisely? The fact that he's given some good interviews and made a lot of positive noises since stepping down as England captain? Or the fact that he's still a paid up member of the 'inner club' - and the selectors still find it very difficult to drop members of the 'club'?

I'd love it to work, and for him to make a triumphant return in the Caribbean followed by a summer smearing the Australian attack to all parts - but in my heart of hearts I think a series of failures and the subsequent unnecessary distraction of 'do we drop him or do we give him (yet) another chance' is the last thing England need.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Two Tests Bad

I’ll try not to turn this into yet another lament at the decline of West Indies cricket, but suffice to say here’s something awfully jarring about seeing them slated for just a two match series early next summer – effectively the warm up act before the Australians arrive. Actually, let’s amend ‘summer’ to ‘spring’, as both tests and the one-dayers will be done and dusted before the end of May.

Less than fifteen years ago West Indies tours were as eagerly anticipated as those of Australia, but now if you take the 20/20 World Cup into account, they are actually third on the bill.

Two match series are a horrible idea in any event. You can get away with single test matches as one-offs – normally based around some kind of celebration or anniversary, and three match series can work – especially as they lend themselves to the ‘split summer’ format, but two tests really do nobody any good. Series develop there own themes, sub-plots and rhythms that any cricket lover can savour almost as much as the results themselves.

For example, wouldn’t you love to see the current Flintoff/Yuvraj/KP ‘filth and the fury’ ménage-a-trois continue over three more tests.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

''There once was an ugly duckling...''

Question now is if England only play one spinner, as you assume they'll do in the West Indies and at home next summer - who do they pick?

It comes down to what job(s) you expect your spinner to do. In English conditions, I'd list the requirements (in order of importance) as: -

- Provide an element of control, ideally in a long spell, which gives the quicker bowlers the opportunity to work in short bursts at the other end.

- Exploit whatever turn there is in the pitch.

- Bowl a batting side out on a wearing pitch on day five, if the opportunity is there.

- Score useful runs down the order, or at least hang around to support better batsmen if the situation calls for it.

- Be effective enough in the field so you don't have to be hidden.

As things stand, based on that job description, I reckon Swann is a better bet than Panesar. I reckon Pietersen is starting to think that too.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Thick as Thieves

Loved this exchange between Charles Colville and Bob Willis on Sky, Sunday evening, during which Colville went way up in my estimation. Admittedly it's all rather relative though...

To set the scene, they’d just shown highlights of Sehwag's blitz, which for a time seemed to be a three second clip of his cutting a long hop to the cover point boundary on a permanent loop. Cutting back to the studio, there were all the usual platitudes about what a wonderful innings it had been – then Chas posed the big question -

Why were Anderson and Harmison continually feeding Sehwag’s cut shot and, more importantly, why didn’t they adjust their line?

Willis’s response totally ignored the question and was the predictable Sybil Fawlty ‘ooh, I know Charles’ act, with some flannel thrown in about them used to having batsmen let those sort of deliveries go by rather than thrashing them into a different postal district.

This is when it got interesting, for Colville stood his ground and wouldn’t let the Mad Aunt fob him off. 'That’s not what I said. Why did they pitch it wide and short? Shouldn’t they be able to adjust?'

Back came Sybil Willis again – ‘Ooh I know Charles, maybe they should have put Flintoff on, he’s the master at getting the ball right up in the block hole and cramping the batsman’

Fair play to Colville here. By the stage most of us would have had Willis by the throat, screamingly ‘answer the f****** question for f**** sake!!’ but Colville kept his cool and came back with a slightly acerbic but pointed 'Flintoff can’t bowl both ends, why can’t anyone else bowl like that?’

Willis was obviously flummoxed by this so, to avoid complaints from the RSPCA, Colville moved on to matters less taxing.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Stick a Cork in it

Wednesday 3rd December – Dominic Cork reported in the Guardian saying he's adamant that five or six of the England squad have told him they will not be touring India.

Thursday 4th December – The Guardian reports that the whole England squad, including even Steve Harmison, who gets the yips if he ever has to travel south of Sheffield, fly out to Dubai.

Sunday 7th December - Vic Marks in The Observer expresses some surprise that the whole squad are ready to fly on to India, 'bearing in mind the comment Cork made about how five of them were ready not to tour'.

Well, actually Victor, it's pretty simple really... Cork wasn't telling the truth.

I’ve got no huge problem with any ex-cricketer setting themselves up as a ‘pundit’ and giving everyone the benefit of their opinion when a journalist gets on the phone or someone pushes a microphone up their nose – we’ve all got to earn a living, and to give Cork his due he occasionally dispenses a pearl of wisdom when used as a studio analyst on Sky which suggests that he’s quite thoughtful about the game. But in this case he’s so wrong that it’s ludicrous.

Either Cork was lying when he said that a third of the squad won’t travel and he didn’t think through the consequences of being caught out by the truth, or a third of the squad were lying to him.

Truth be told, I’ve long had the feeling that Cork is a blowhard who often claims to have the inside track on what’s going on in the England dressing room, but at the end of the day is simply a bull*****er of the highest order. Like I say, nothing wring with that if someone is daft enough to pay you for it – but rather embarrassing when you get caught out!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Here Comes the Summer

Want a ticket to see the Ashes series next summer...

Cardiff

Edgbaston

Headingley


The Oval

Friday, November 28, 2008

Summers in the Sun

Apologies for the dearth of posts in the past couple of weeks. Partly caused by 'blogger's block', and partly due to the fact that I'd regularly have an inspired idea for an article on the walk to the station, but by the time I'd read the paper on the train I'd realise that Mike Selvey had beaten me to it.

As Selvey wasn't a Kent fan in the 70's - in fact he was actually playing the county game during that time rather than watching it, I'm hoping the following will jump-start things here at TRSM -

The format is simple. I listed all sixteen counties besides Kent, and then went down the list and quickly jotted down the first thing that came into my head when thinking about their team in the 70's, particularly from when they were playing Kent.

(Remember these are all knee-jerk responses, so apologies for any factual errors - or sweeping generalisations)

Derbyshire - Rubbish - so no change there. Keeper Bob Taylor promoted 'Pony' Cricket bats, which says it all really. Brought in Eddie Barlow to do a Proctershire (see below) which didn't work.

Essex - Something of a joke until Gooch turned up and they then started winning everything in sight. Ray East was always good for an autograph whilst he was fielding. Had a leg-spinner, which was noteworthy then.

Glamorgan - Otherwise known as 'maximum points' whenever we played them. One decent batsman named Jones, like most of the side, and not much else.

Gloucestershire - Aka - Proctershire. We got a real shoeing in the '77 B&H final when Procter was bowling at about 120mph. They also had two of the best Pakistani batsmen ever, a bowler called 'Brian Brian' (or was it 'Brain Brain') and David Sheppard, who has since made a career of standing on one leg.

Hampshire - Won the championship in 1973. Then added Andy Roberts to that side - and never won another thing. Richards and Greenidge, and Peter Sainsbury who was about seventy.

Lancashire - The loathed, hated, bitter rivals. Azkerban CC. Probably explains why it took me so long to appreciate David Lloyd in the Sky commentary box.

Leicestershire - A mate of mine's claim to fame is that he saw Gower bat in 1976, was told that he was a big England prospect, and told all and sundry that 'he'll never make it'.

Middlesex - We reckoned that they had butlers serving their teas in the Lords pavilion.

Northants - Harmless and their supporters were good fun. Nice smattering of watchable overseas players including Bishen Bedi - we were all then masters at imitating his action, like Monty Panesar is today. (Only Monty still can't bowler the freaking arm-ball....)

Nottinghamshire - We saw Sobers, but didn't see the real Sobers, if you get my meaning.

Somerset - Yokel supporters who made a lot of noise and used to drink very strong apple-juice. Pretty feeble on the pitch and we always beat them - then Richards, Botham and Garner came along...

Surrey - I probably spent more time at The Oval than any other ground during that period - but never managed to form any attachment to Surrey whatsoever. Probably because they were so drab. Overseas star was Geoff Howarth - which says it all really.

Sussex - Apart from when he ripped Kent to shreds in the 1973 Gillette Cup, we idolised John Snow.

Warkwickshire - Whenever Kent played them up to about 1976, you can make an entire international eleven from the twenty-two playing.

Luckhurst, Amiss, Denness, Kanhai, Kalicharran, Asif, Knott, Gibbs, Brown, Willis, Underwood.

And that doesn't include Shepherd, Murray or Woolmer.

Worcestershire - Had an opening bowler called Cedric - cause of much hilarity. Also had another opening bowler called John Inchmore, who looked like a Black Sabbath roadie.

Yorkshire - We were the first generation ever for whom Yorkshire were little more than a laughing stock, well since the generation that won at Bosworth in 1485 anyway.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ryan - the broken-down engine

It's time for another TRSM fearless prediction. Ryan Sidebottom is unlikely to bowl for England again.

For years he made a name for himself on the county circuit trundling in at a steady 82 or 83 mph. Being left- arm-over gave him a head start, and excellent control and movement brought success. At county level that's plenty - the wickets are helpful enough, and there are enough cheap wickets around to help you make a fairly tidy living.

Then Peter Moores came calling, and someone obviously suggested that a few more mph on the radar gun could mean a decent run in the England side.

It thus came to pass, and for a year he nobly led the England attack. Indeed, in the absence of Flintoff, Harmison throwing the toys out of the pram, and Anderson showing all the self-control of a teenage girl watching Robbie Williams, Sidearse was the England attack for the best part of that year.

Then it all started going wrong.

Every bowler finds a groove within which he's comfortable. A bowling action becomes repeatable, so that you can do it with your eyes shut. You start your run up - 1,2,3,4,5 strides, leap and deliver. (At this point I'll 'fess up and say that I've never tried this in an actual game - and the only time I even did it in the nets ended with me running into the stumps, but you get the idea) Because the action is so repeatable, the ball will, more often than not, land on a decent length. It's why a lot of bowlers take time to acclimatise when they tour abroad - the length your instinct lands the ball on is a couple of inches wrong and it takes time in the nets to get your radar re-adjusted. It then takes further adjustment for the one that's just short of a length to stop in turning into a rank long-hop... and so on.

Sidebottom's physique was attuned to bowling in the low 80's. To suddenly demand that he perform in the high 80s was ultimately going to cause problems. I've had it myself, asked the question from a new captain - 'can you bowl quicker?' At the time I was too young and naive enough to answer 'no', then tried to prove it- quicker yes, the odd ball even made the batsman hurry up a bit, but for every good ball there were several bad ones that were put away on the 'harder they come onto the bat, harder they come off it' theory - so I ended up going for about 60 off 9 overs.

At first his undoubted fitness based on a heavy county workload saw him through, but then when one thing went, the body over-compensated and gradually the stresses have transferred themselves elsewhere in his body. He's tried to play through it, which resulted in the rather controversial decision to play him at Edgbaston last summer. He clearly wasn't fit, England were therefore a bowler light, and it effectively cost them the game and the series, and Michael Vaughan his job.

It's like having a basic, reliable saloon car which works perfectly as an 'A to B' machine, but which you then decide to flog to death on the motorway every week. At first it will cope, but gradually bits will start dropping off - and you're soon looking for a new model.

He'll bowl again, but not in the high 80s, and therefore not effectively for England.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Easy Money

If I could have a fiver for every time the Sky commentators have referenced the 'wonderful atmosphere' in Antigua, I'd have around half a million quid (million dollars)

New World Order

I'm not sure if I'm breaking copyright laws here, but this letter in today's Grauniad is worth reprinting in full. I'm not suggesting that I agree totally with it, but it certainly maps out a feasible and interesting future!

Sir

Stephen Moss (It's all over now, G2, October 29) ably summarises the current situation of Sir Allen Stanford's Twenty20 for 20 project. However, like most cricket commentators, he fails to consider a crucial question. Stanford is too good a businessman to be spending $100m over five years on outraging traditionalists and influencing the small-scale business of cricket boards. So he has to have a longer-term, possibly quite risky plan for larger profit. And actually, once looked at in the right way, it's quite obvious.

Moss quotes Ed Smith, captain of Middlesex and author of Playing Hardball, an excellent book about baseball from a cricketer's perspective. Reading that book in the current context makes several things quite obvious.

Twenty20 cricket has a lot in common with baseball, for the audience. The games are of similar length, similar complexity, and their forms of action are similarly visceral. This brief, violent form of cricket stands a far better chance of appealing in the US. The Twenty20 game has a chance to cross over into the baseball audience. Success is not certain but the rewards would be huge.

The team sports that have serious mass appeal, and thus large TV revenues, in the US are baseball and American football. Those are not major sports anywhere else. The only sports popular both within the US and the wider world are individual games: golf, tennis and so on. If a sport becomes popular in both the US and India - where Twenty20 is already hugely popular - the rivalries, fan bases and revenues will be measured in the tens of billions of dollars.

Obviously, the US will form its own teams. They'll learn, fast and well, if there are fortunes to be made. Some of their players and audience may discover the appeal of the longer game. Test cricket will survive in some form because it is financially viable in the UK, and will retain an audience in India and Australia, at a minimum.

It may well be the case that the game will fragment into two codes, like rugby. I doubt that a powerful US cricket board, in alliance with an even richer Indian board, would be very patient with the MCC's priorities in the care and maintenance of the laws of cricket. But rugby has shown that such a split does not automatically doom a sport, if both codes have enough supporters.
John Dallman
Cambridge

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Court of King Allen

With the droit de seigneur images of players WAGs sitting on his lap being beamed onto the big screens during play, Mr Stanford's Circus has now officially descended to the level of 'grubby'.

When the guy first appeared on the scene, I was one of many who was prepared to give him airtime because he was pumping a lot of money into West Indies cricket, and we all have a soft spot for the West Indies - pretty much everyone's 'second favorite team'.

Admittedly his altruism came with strings attached, but it was possible to argue that the money at least heading in roughly the right direction, and that an injection on 20/20 razzmatazz would at least invigorate some of the grassroots in the Caribbean.

In retrospect you can argue ECB jumped into bed with him far to easily - overly keen to get someone with his wealth on their side, acting as a potential bulkward against the increasingly mighty Indian Cricket Board. Also, if someone lands their helicopter on the outfield and wanders into the Long Room with a box containing 20 million, you're going to sit up and take notice.

The fact he was an American billionaire with a somewhat shady history of financial irregularity, and, like many rich people, he has a particular aversion to paying his fair share of tax, was rather worrying - but we took into account that rich Americans have always had a streak of philanthropy coursing through their veins - if only to divert attention away from some of their less salubrious activities like fraud and union busting.

Then again, I doubt whether Carnegie, Vanderbilt or even Bill Gates ever demanded a lap dance from anyone as a price for their financial generosity.

STOP PRESS - Seems like the ECB might be having second thoughts.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Back in White

The good folks over at Holding Willey have been having some fun with an imaginary time machine... (as opposed to a real one? - Ed.)

Question was which three cricketers from history would you like to see playing in the present day?

I went for Bradman, Tich Freeman and Learie Constantine. See what others said here.

Reminds me of the old story about Bradman being interviewed on TV about ten years before he died. The interviewer asked him how he thought he'd fare in the modern era. Bradman considered for a minute and then suggested that he might just about average 50 with the bat. The commentator expressed some surprise at this admission, and wondered if this was because of the quality of the bowling. Bradman then pointed out that he was eighty years old.

Welcome to my Nightmare

I don't think any English cricket fan will really rest easy until Warnie is safely dead and buried in his grave - not that I want that to happen for some time yet because the guy speaks far too much cricketing sense for him to leave us quite yet.

Oddly, some Australians don't see it that way.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tunnel Vision

One of the big selling points of a 20/20 match is that it doesn't last very long. This means that can all be done and dusted in under three hours - games can start early evening after work/school, and kids with limited attention span can enjoy the experience. The truncated version of the game also suits the TV scheduling.

Oddly the organisers of next summer's 20/20 World Cup seem to have overlooked this - or deliberately disregarded it.

The result is that the whole basis of the event is a series of 'double-headers' - two games in one day on the same ground. As all tickets have been sold on this basis, you have to assume that there are no plans to do what they sometimes do in the US and clear the ground and then fill it up again later in the day - so everyone gets two games on one ticket.

Now on the face if it that makes £50 quid for the day a bit of a bargain. But it means that you've automatically reduced the total number of people who can watch one of the games by a half - and in a country where cricket is very much a minority TV sport, that's a bad oversight.

The problem was created for the organisers as soon as they were told that the whole tournament had to fit into a fortnight (good idea) and that to reduce travel times all the games would take place on only three grounds (appalling idea) Anyone living in striking distance of London and Nottingham is laughing - assuming they were lucky in the ticket lottery. The other eighty percent of the country will have to make do with Sky coverage - assuming they've got a dish, and can bunk off of work and school to watch the daytime games.

With a bit of thought and planning the authorities could have actually boosted their income - even my shaky grasp on maths tells me that filling a ground twice for £30 a pop means more income than filling it once for £50. That would have also spread the message wider and created more goodwill amongst the cricketing public.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Mr Faust, please report to the TV studio"

To the average sports fan in the twenty first century, TV ads between overs or during other breaks in the action have become something of a necessary evil. There's an awareness that, on commercial channels, income has to be generated somewhere, and often they can be a blessed relief to spare us from some of the more inane commentary banter for a few seconds.

In the US they've long had the 'TV timeout' in all sports - a break in the action deliberately designed to maximise advertising revenue for the TV networks. These are perennially a pain in the rear end. Often a team will be on a roll - either advancing down the field in gridiron or on a big points run in basketball. The opposing coach is reluctant to use one of his limited number of timeouts at this stage, but then the TV light goes on, everyone in the arena sits around for a couple of minutes and all the excitement disappears like a balloon being let down. An NFL game officially lasts an hour, but often the time between kick off and the end of the game can be up to three hours. Likewise an NBA game involves 48 minutes of action, spread out over two hours twenty minutes.

We've managed to avoid this so far over here - probably because neither football or rugby lend themselves to a break in the action beyond the usual half time interval (though don't think FIFA aren't toying with the idea...) and cricket has enough natural breaks woven into the fabric of the game to satisfy even the most zealous TV marketing executive. What other sport has official breaks for lunch and tea for example?

But now consider the upcoming Stanford game.


Obviously the organisers will be aiming to recoup a lot of the prize money outlay through maximising advertising revenue. The pre-match build up programme is likely to last at least an hour, with probably a third of that as advertising time. The mid innings break will provide more advertising opportunity and studio analysts are likely to get about thirty seconds to share their pearls of wisdom on the action we've just seen.

They won't go to quite the extent that Spanish TV football coverage does where literally the whole half time break less about a minute is normally taken up with ads- but it'll be close.

Out in the middle, I'd guess that the captains and officials will be 'encouraged' to slow things down between overs to fit in more ads, and I doubt whether anyone will be fined for a slothful overrate. What's the betting that a couple of fully fledged drinks breaks are introduced, totally interrupting the flow and immediacy of the game.

This makes you think that the whole spectacle could be dragged out to around five hours - and further makes you wonder why Stanford and his entourage don't simply make it a 50 overs a side match, or stretch it over five days and call it a 'Test Match'.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Uncomfortably Numb

All over the south-east corner of England, cricket fans are wandering around in a daze - like survivors of a bomb blast. Vacant stares aplenty, and a wide eyed glazed expression like someone trying to come to terms with something utterly inexplicable. (Like Americans trying to get their head around the possibility of Sarah Palin becoming Vice-President)

Sometimes you'll get a muttered comment, though more often communication has been via the semi-anonymous medium of text message. Whatever the means, the message is the same - 'Kent are down - how the f*** did that happen?'

What makes the whole thing so shocking, and therefore doubly traumatic, is that there was no real early warning. There hasn't been the season long struggle to avoid the drop that would have inoculated us against the horrors of the past few days. In fact, had they sealed a game against Lancashire the week before - a game they dominated for ninety percent of it's duration, they would have been in the running for the title before the Durham debacle. Likewise, taking the last Yorkshire wicket earlier in September at Scarborough would have produced the same scenario.

The other thing is the fact that we've been ripping Surrey all year for how incompetent they've been, yet now the final votes have been counted, we've ended the season in exactly the same position as the SE11 Incompetents - no trophies, and facing life in the lower tier of both competitions next season. Hubris OD of massive proportions.

In bullet point format, the season summary is, therefore -

- 20/20 - beaten finalists
- 50 over knockout - beaten finalists
- 40 over league - missed promotion in the last game
- Championship - relegated in the last game

Add in the contrived snub from the organisers of the 20/20 international tournament (still no satisfactory explanation), and Durham getting off scot free after preparing a horrendous pitch for the championship match at Chester-le-Street, and it's all a bit of a mess.

So - how the f*** did it happen? Here are three reasons; -

- Ultimately, the team morale, so strong all season, finally collapsed at the most inopportune time. Rob Key is an emotional man and leads the side very emotionally. His 'circle the wagons - everyone's against us' mentality worked wonderfully well for most of the season, but eventually the shtik became tired, the magic wore off and there was no other, more sober, message to fall back on.

- Martin Van Jaarsveld's performances papered over the batting cracks. He was scoring hundreds almost at will, but there was no one else prepared to step up to the plate when the pressure was really on. To my mind, Joe Denly had a disappointing season, the result of which is that he's now got to try and force his way into the England reckoning from Division 2. Not impossible, but not easy.

- The one-day mentality carried over into the championship. Scores like 300 a/o in 77 overs were the norm - scoring runs at a good lick, but without much due care and attention. More care and obduracy would have got the score to 375 in 120 overs, meaning extra batting points, and less pressure on the bowlers.

More to follow.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Just Good Friends

Picked this story up at The Oval earlier this month...

Apparently at lot of the Surrey players went along to a retirement function in the Oval corporate suites at the start of September for someone on the county backroom staff who was calling it a day after a lifetime of loyal service.

Everyone was having a very convivial time until ‘Bouffant’ Colville, there acting as MC, collared Mark Butcher and harangued him for several minutes about how embarrassed he’d been to be a Surrey supporter during the season, and how he was fed up defending them during stints in front of the camera. It all got quite heated as Butcher stuck up for the team, with the normally urbane Colville displaying severe potty-mouth tendencies.

In the end the two of them had to be separated by Butcher Senior and Mark Ramprakash.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Jimmy Jimmy

The Wire or The Sopranos?

Personally, I say The Wire - not by a landslide, but certainly a comfortable working majority.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

We're only in it for the money

Antigua – November 2008.

England bowler Stuart Broad runs in to bowl the final ball of the match to Stanford batsman Chris Gayle. England made 170 for 6 off of their twenty overs, and West Indies are 169 for 5. Two runs are therefore required to win in the unprecedented, multi-million dollar winner take all extravaganza.

The ball is slightly short of a length and Gayle rocks back and pulls it towards the deep midwicket boundary. The packed crowd in the floodlit stadium roars in anticipation as the white ball flies through the humid night air towards the rope.

The West Indies players on the team balcony rise up as one and watch the ball on its flight over the rope. In that instant all of them have similar thoughts, with some slight variations. Some think of the new Porsche they’ll be buying, whilst for others it’s the choice of luxury over speed and a Rolls Royce in the driveway. Talking of driveways, others think of a new house overlooking the sea on their native island – Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica. One is even thinking of the big charitable donation he’s going to make to the orphanage where he grew up.

Out in the field, the English fielders watch the ball in the air and have an entirely different set of emotions. Some of them are thinking – ‘’What an idiot that guy Broad is – he’s just cost me half a million quid. So much for that new house in the country, or the motor cruiser I was going to buy – or the money I was going to use to enhance my retirement fund.’’

Never mind the handy twenty Broad made in the last couple of overs of the England innings to help take them to a competitive total after the top order had self destructed….

- or the superlative catch he took early on to dismiss Sarwan…

- or the diving stop on the boundary in the previous over that stopped a certain four…

- or the two yorkers he’d speared into Gayle’s leg stump earlier in this last over that prevented the batsman getting the ball off the square…

To all the England fielders, Broad is now the villain – although all of them will, of course, mouth the standard ‘all in this together’ platitudes when faced with a TV camera or radio microphone after the game.

However – with his Garneresque height, Broad has brought the ball down from over nine feet onto the hard pitch and it has therefore risen off the length and come off the bat slightly higher than Gayle had planned. As everyone watches the ball, they suddenly realise that its parabola is slightly steeper than they’d appreciated and the ball is flying on a direct course to the England fielder standing on the boundary. Durham quick bowler – Steve Harmison.

Earlier a lot of the England fielders were having the same thoughts about Harmison as they subsequently did about Broad as his first two overs were wildly inaccurate and had gone for twenty five runs. Now though, they know that Harmison has a safe pair of hands and start daring to dream that maybe the house in Devon or motor cruiser might not be lost after all.

On the West Indies balcony, hearts are in mouths as thoughts of luxury cars dissipate, to be replaced by those of angry relatives and friends who have been promised a share of the spoils and will no be disappointed.

Stunningly though, Harmison loses the ball in the lights, and it’s onto him before he can ready himself. It falls through his hands, bounces off of his shin and rolls off in front of him.

In the middle of the pitch Gayle and Ramdin are standing stock-still staring at the tableau playing itself out on the boundary edge. As Harmison drops the ball they realise that they’ve earned a reprieve, and start running.

One run is completed and the scores are now tied. The batsmen turn and start the twenty two yard dash towards mega-riches.

In a blind rage on the boundary Harmison has managed to pick the ball up and thrown in a return to the wicket. Matt Prior is waiting behind the stumps, he takes the ball cleanly and, in a fluid motion, removes the bails as Gayle dives for the line.

As the dust settles the players and crowd are momentarily silent as they all turn to the umpire. Simon Taufel stands up from his crouch, shakes his head and slowly his hands move to describe the outline of a television screen.

Out on the pitch everything is oddly still, like the epicentre of a tornado, as the England team huddle together and the two batsmen stand slightly apart staring at the screen.

Up in the TV studio, a Sky executive stares at the various replays on the monitor in front of him. It’s his job to feed the images through to the third umpire sitting in the officials’ booth next door. Shots from two camera angles clearly seems to show that Gayle has made his ground and he reaches over the press the button to send the pictures through, but he pauses for a second as a third, less clear picture seems to suggest that the bat was above the ground when Prior removed the bails.

Behind the Sky man stands a representative from Sir Allen Stanford’s organising committee. He hasn’t said a word to anyone all day but has simply sat there - a sullen, slightly intimidating presence. He’s now watching the same replays as the TV man. He leans forward and points to the third screen where Gayle’s bat, obscured by shadow, seems to hover above the crease.

‘’Send that one through and it’s a tie. That means there’ll have to be a re-match tomorrow. Think of the extra revenue!’’

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Contractual Obligation

Three thoughts about today's announcement...

1. Michael Vaughan has been given one of the central contracts – based on what? His performances in the last year? Probably not. So the assumption must be that he’s going to justify a contract over the next twelve months. Surely a better bet might have been to defer it until such a time as he actually scores some meaningful runs.

I’d love to be proved wrong – if only because the sight of Vaughan smearing Australia all over the park next summer would be one to treasure, but there comes a time when all professional sportsmen need to realise that ‘maybe we ain’t that young anymore’ To my mind Vaughan has reached that position. Barely an interview goes by without either him or the interviewer harking back to the Ashes tour of 2002/03 and Vaughan's stunning performances in that series, but that was six years ago.

2. I’d have made Monty’s contract conditional on him learning how to bowl an arm-ball. Samit Patel can – which sets you thinking that maybe he might be a better bet as the left arm spin option next summer – especially taking into account his batting ability, the fact he can field, and obviously has a sound cricketing head on his shoulders.

3. The ‘increment’ list of contracts is a sound idea – not totally ruling out Ambrose, and offering some encouragement to the likes of Prior, Shah and Bopara. However, it would be have good to see some of the regulars on that this as well – like most of the batting line up. A ‘prove you’re worth a full contract in India and you’ll get one as a Christmas present’ line from the selectors might have helped focus a few minds. Instead, everyone’s back in the comfort zone.

Age Concern

Surrey’s bowling attack in their current county championship game against Hampshire is –

Pedro Collins (West Indies)
Jade Dernbach (S Africa / Kolpak)
Shoaib Aktar (Pakistan)
Saqlain Mushtaq (Pakistan)
Alex Tudor (England – but about 63 years old)

If you’re an up and coming bowler, assuming there is one in the Surrey system, you must be thinking about your future at The Oval and wondering when you’re ever going to get a look in. At the start of the season Chris Jordan was touted as the 'next big thing' at The Oval - difficult to prove that if you've got a couple of bed-blockers standing in the way of you and selection.

It’s a stunning decline for a county that, around a decade ago, were turning out close to a full England international line up including Stewart, Butcher, Thorpe, Hollioake (A), Hollioake (B), Bicknell, Tudor and Salisbury.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Wasilla - Centre of the Universe

OK, I know I said no more politics - but I really couldn't resist this: -


Friday, September 05, 2008

Digression

A few snippets from the other side of the pond -

Senator John McCain made his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention in front of a picture of a High School in California. (You might have seen excerpts on the news bulletins of him surrounded by a lurid green background like he was sitting in Kermit the Frog's top pocket.) The school was identified as Walter Reed High School, although originally there was speculation that it may have been one of Senator McCain's seven houses. Maybe his campaign team actually meant to use an image of Walter Reed Hospital....

Governor Sarah Palin's decision not to abort her child, even though she knew it had Downs Syndrome - (e.g. her choice) is painted by the right-wing nut jobs in the US as a big positive in the ongoing campaign to overturn Roe v Wade and therefore deny a similar choice to every other woman in the country. Huh?

Senator McCain was, rightly, quick to criticise the press for making tasteless comments about Governor Palin's children, but guess which Senator it was who, back in 1998, made a pretty tasteless joke about Chelsea Clinton at an Arizona Republican fund raiser?

Ok, that's enough politics for now - back to cricket soon.

Cardboard cut out

Kenneth Tynan was the greatest theatre critic this country, and probably the world, has ever produced.

Evidence? Try this, from November 1956: -

Mr Coward's career can be divided into three periods. The first began in the 1920s: it introduced his revolutionary technique of "persiflage", the pasting of thin strips of banter onto cardboard. In the early 1930s, we encounter his second or "Kiplingesque" period, in which he obtained startling effects by the method now known as "Kipling" - the pasting of patriotic posters on to strips of banter pasted on cardboard. (The masterpieces of this period, Cavalcade and In Which We Serve, have been lost. The damp got at the cardboard.)

In the third and final phase, a new hand is discernible. Is it Mr Coward's? An American student of the last three "Coward" plays has declared that they must have been written by Rip Van Winkle. The new work, on the other hand, with its jocular references to at least 30 place names, both homely and exotic, tends to support the theory that the new crypto-Coward is in reality a departures announcer at London airport

Monday, September 01, 2008

Shoaib, Sweets and Spandex

Look what happens.... I take two weeks holiday and come back to fund we're ranked 2nd in the world at ODIs - which says all that needs to be said about world ranking systems, bearing in mind we've failed to beat New Zealand twice this year, yet are now - officially, better than them.

It's just a shame the Champions Trophy has been cancelled. On a related point - will Australia ever tour Pakistan again? Worth asking.

A few more points to cover off before I start the unpacking -

Surrey are trying to sign Shoaib Aktar for the last month of the season - a move that even their coach, Alan Butcher, has admitted is a 'last throw of the dice'. The immediate media response has predictably been that Surrey are buying their place in Div 1 - followed by attacks on the 2 division system that leads to such actions. I'd much rather they criticised the system that allows Surrey to this rather than the structure of the championship. After all, the current situation means that at least five counties are in with a shout of winning the championship - and an equal number could still go down, so it must be doing something right.

Maybe domestic cricket needs a transfer window - or counties should name a squad and stick to it throughout the second half of the season.

Marcus Trescothick's autobiography has hit the shelves. It's been charmingly described as 'joyless' by Athers - although Tresco did actually agree with that! - though I doubt it will be the cover endorsement used by the publishers. Surprise, surprise, rather than the extraordinary story about Trescothick's struggles whenever he leaves the country - and the whole issue of stress related illnesses in international cricket (Lou Vincent, Shaun Tait...) the 'big story' has been the revelation that England were using sugar on the ball to aid reverse swing in 2005.

The Aussies are all over the story like, well - kids in a sweetshop, Tone and pals at the forefront. so you have to ask, was that sugar-free gum Warne was storing in his sock in 2005 (doubt it...) and the stuff permanently on display in Ponting's mouth - sugar-free too?

And finally...

I've mentioned here before how Tuffers is becoming essential listening on TMS, and the story my cab-driver (who happens to be our Sunday skipper...) told me on the way back from the airport simply adds to the legend. Tufnell and Aggers were talking about the venues for the ODIs, and referred to the Cardiff ground as Sophia Gardens. He then corrected himself by recalling that the new ground has a sponsors name - 'Spandex, or something!' Presumably the gunshot you heard five seconds later was the head of marketing for SWALEC (the actual sponsors) finding blessed relief through the good services of trusty service revolver.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Sticky Fingers

What's the problem with Monty? A familar question in recent conversations between England supporters, so let's stick in the TRSM oar...

We'll leave the appalling batting, fielding, running between the wickets and catching for another time - time enough though, to marvel again at how Northants let him get so far without apparently teaching him the rudiments of how to catch a cricket ball.

Let's also leave out the incredibly patronising crowd reaction to his every move which is enough to make you grind your teeth. It's a reaction that treads very close to racism. Does anyone actually realise how offensive it is to continually shout out 'Montee' in a cod Indian accent every time he's fielding on the boundary? It's the same as shouting a Love thy Neighbouresque 'Aloo-dere' at a West Indian.

No, I think the big problem with Monty is one of expectation. When he came on the scene we'd been tormented for years by a whole series of top class spinners - Shane Warne, Anil Kumble and Murali the most obvious examples. The assumption was that we now had one of our own and we could sit back and watch as the wickets and victories mounted up. That's obviously a rather simplistic precis, but you get my drift.

On top of that you had his lovely repeatable action, the fact that, for an English spinner, he actually turned the ball appreciably - and had the sort of boyish enthusiasm and naive charm that instantly made him a marketing mans dream. Plus his Asian heritage gave hope that the game could be sold to a whole new audience.

All this excitement overlooked the fundamental truth - in these days of covered wickets, finger spinners don't win many test matches. Consider that the top finger spinner wicket taker is Lance Gibbs at number twenty in the charts with 309, and who bowled about a million overs to get to that figure. He also has the worst strike rate of anyone who has taken more than 200 wickets.
Finger spinners have historically provided an element of control for a bowling side based around impeccable line and length mixed with some slow turn. To be a match winning, attacking finger spinner these days you need some sort of variety that sets you apart - Saqlain's doosra for example, and/or bowl in tandem with an attacking spinner - Harbajan with Kumble.
Beyond that, finger spinners rely on changes of flight, pace and turn. They also need to have a decent arm ball to keep the batsman honest and stop him assuming the same turn on each delivery as Graeme Smith did at Edgbaston. It's extraordinary that Monty doesn't appear to have one, and therefore remarkable that he's got this far without one!

So maybe instead of bemoaning his failings, we should be accentuating the positives - and considering that with some decent advice and mentoring, he could seriously develop into the most statistically successful finger spinner ever. It's the advice and mentoring that could be key. There's been very little progress or advance in his bowling over the past couple of years, which suggests that up until now, he's assumed that he could get by on what he had. I suspect that Edgbaston may well have changed that. On a wearing fourth innings pitch providing variable turn and bounce it must have been a chastening experience not to have bowled England to victory - or at close to one.

You could sense at The Oval that maybe a lesson has been learned, as there seemed to be more variation in his deliveries, and the histrionic appealling had been toned down somewhat. In an odd way, Graeme Smith's masterpiece of an innings might well have done England a favour.

Now, about the batting, fielding, catching and running between the wickets....

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Alternative TV

Without any sense of irony, the Sky commentary team were pretty vociferous for most of the summer in describing the England batting order a 'cosy club'. Odd really, because nothing epitomises the settled life more than the current commentary team.

To an extent, much of the problem is self-inflicted. By going for the star names - 'ex England captain or coach' seems to be the main qualification, Sky have painted themselves into a corner and made it very difficult to move someone out of the box without putting noses out of joint. This means that what we're being served up with is becoming tired, stale and - for the most part, entirely predictable. To be fair, the producers have done the best with what they've got by mixing up the pairs and increasing the frequency of 'third man' features but lately that feature, copied from Channel 4, has simply become the vehicle for a 'lets pan round the ground and have a look at some of the fancy dress costumes', with the gratuitous shots of some female cleavage mixed in for good measure.

They increasingly rely on the visiting commentator to add some colour and variety - with mixed results. Jeremy Coney was a big positive. He had people writing him up as the heir to Richie Benaud with his erudite comments and insight into the game. There's also an attractive element of eccentricity in Coney's commentary which makes him come across like Bumble with a Doctorate. But for the second half of the summer they took the predictable route and went for the star name, rather than the guy with more ability, hello Shaun Pollock. A fine opening bowler, yes, but someone with all the charisma of a bus shelter. I'll admit he's improved as time has passed, but that generous perception comes from him setting his personal bar so very low in the first couple of tests.

'What about the quota system Shaun?'
'Er, well it has its opponents and supporters'
'What do you think of KP?'
'He's a fine batsmen'
'What's it like to play in a side captained by Graeme Smith?'
'He's an excellent captain'

Sublime!

Let's quickly go down the rest of the order -

Starting with the positives - Athers and Hussain are very much worth their place in the side, and provide an interesting contrast in styles and outlook. Atherton is suitably detached from the game now - and has gone on record as saying, remarkably, that he doesn't look back on his career with any fondness. Nasser lives every ball, and you can tell that he'd love to be out there in the thick of it.

I have to confess that I've grown to appreciate Bumble over the past couple of years. Originally I saw him as an 'idiot savant' with rather too much emphasis on the 'idiot', but now I can appreciate his total and utter devotion to the game and the way he manages to bring that out in everything he says. He's also a massive Fall fan, a huge plus in my book, and never misses a chance to mention them.

Then there's 'Sir Ian' Botham. I know a couple of people in the media who've told me that titled folk appearing on TV or radio are routinely asked how they want to be addressed, and how their name should appear on the credits at the end of the show. The default position is to use the title, but they are given the option. Bearing that in mind then, you have to assume that Botham actually insists on everyone referring to him 'Sir Ian' on each occasion. Every hand over, every pitch inspection and occasionally every question during the post game summary. Now this isn't an anti-honours system rant (we'll save that for another time) and it in no way suggests that Botham doesn't deserve recognition, but for a self-painted anti-establishment figure (he's still wonderfully scathing about MCC members) it's a little odd, to say the least.

What's helped 'Botham the commentator' is having Atherton and Nasser alongside him - he works well with both of them, and there's been a noticable drop off in the Truemanesque 'I don't know what's going on out there' moments, and the playing to the gallery.

On the negative side, I think 'Mikey' Holding is now past his sell by date. In all honesty he actually seems bored with the whole thing and, at times, simply seems to be going through the motions for the sake of it. The same goes for David Gower. Here you get the impression that he thinks he can do the whole thing in his sleep - almost seeing it as effortless, like his batting! This means he often comes across as being boring and laboured - like Holding, just going through the motions.

Then there's the studio duo of Colville and Willis. To be fair to the bouffanted one, he's actually improved a lot and doesn't appear to be as out of his depth as he was in the commentary box. He's stopped trying to be a personality or the 'voice of the fan', and just gets on with the job at hand - call it 'playing to your strengths'. I've worked out what it is about Bob Willis that is just so off-putting and irritating. In simple terms, he talks pure tabloid-speak. Listen to it, and you'll see what I mean. Everything is a shocking headline, or an ill-informed rant. Mix that with the 'great aunt Agatha' mad staring expression and, oddly, it's hyponotically entertaining.

Unfortunately for Sky, there's not much in the reserves. Paul Allott should be re-christened 'Paul Alittle' in terms of what he brings to the party, Ian Ward defines the word 'banal' and Nick Knight is too eager to come out with something edgy or contraversial rather than talk about what's going on out in the middle - where he's actually pretty insightful. In their occasional appearances Robert Croft and Mark Butcher have done a good job - Butcher especially seems a natural... and he did skipper England in one test too, so he's a sure fire cert for the main test team assuming he wants the job.

So what's to be done? Well, to my mind they need some new blood to freshen things up - to give a slightly different perspective on things and a different voice for us to listen to. For starters, how about Phil Tufnell? I admit I turned on TMS with a certain amount of trepidation when I heard he was doing the summarising there, but he's proved to be an absolute revelation. Still plays the 'artful dodger' on occasions, but mixes it with some clever comment and analysis and a fine line of self-deprecation. He's even done some ball by ball, which is normally only left to the BBC experts - and Jonathan Agnew.

If Tuffers isn't to everyones taste, then how about Alec Stewart? Ticks the 'ex-skipper' box, and is opinionated enough to make things a bit 'sparky' in the box - which means he'll stand up to Botham at every opportunity.

Then they should give Gower a year off to tend his vinyard and put Atherton up front as host.

One final thought - the Aussies are here next summer, so what price Shane Warne being signed up by Sky? Odds-on, I'd say. They might even clinch the deal by offering to cover his mobile phone expenses.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Closedown

Anyone, like those in the Sky commentary box, expressing surprise at the number of people who turned up at the Oval for around half a days play today should bear in mind that over EIGHTY per cent of the British population have to get by on a thirty minutes highlights package of the days play.

So for a lot of that 15,000 at The Oval, it was actually a cheap chance to watch full-scale test cricket - a chance not to be sneezed at.

The recent announcement from the ECB confirming that the BBC are not bidding for the new TV rights package, means that cricket is effectively limiting its target audience to a very small minority of the population.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Four More...

You can imagine the scene in the Strauss Mansion on Monday night after KP was announced as England skipper. Sudden calls to Hello magazine to cancel the ''New England captain and his beautiful wife show us round their lovely home'' feature, half a hundred-weight of Jimmy Choo shoes sent back to the manufacturer, and poor Andy Pandy sleeping in the spare room when Mrs S found out that 'that oik' Kevin got the job instead. Ouch!

38 wickets fall in two days at Chester le Street, even with two hours lost on the first day - yet the pitch inspectors find nothing wrong with the wicket? It's not that I'm bitter
(although I am) but it's a really annoying way to have your Championship hopes blown out of the water - Cricket as Lottery. Then you read that Sialkot, who have replaced Kent in the Champions League 20/20 won the Pakistani domestic tournament with a couple of IPL players - which is exactly the same reason Kent have been barred from the Champions League themselves.

A very good day at The Oval yesterday. You could close your eyes and almost imagine it was 2005 all over again. Overlooked in all the 'Harmison is back' hullaballoo was the fact that Jimmy Anderson produced his best bowling performance for a long time. Add to that the fact that the Oval authorities seem to have sorted out the old '45 minute queue for beer' problem, and the fact that it's now Marstons on tap and you're entering 'perfect day' territory.

Harmy still doesn't get it though - calling our Nasser and Athers for daring to suggest that county cricket got him to where he is now.... Er, well actually Steve, it did!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

An All-Run Four

- Good to see Matt Prior recalled to the England one day squad. All rather confusing though, bearing in mind it was less than two months ago that the Chairman of Selectors was saying that they wanted to have the same keeper in both forms of the game...


- When you think about it, KP was really the only logical choice the selectors could have made, bearing in mind that for the past eighteen months or so he's been the only person who has consistently been able to justify his place in the side.


- The toss-up on Thursday will be worth the ticket price alone: -

"Hids or tails?"
"Nah, you call - hids or tails?"
"Call it you muppitt - hids or tails?"
"Nah, it's mugs away Mr Ego - you call..."
(and so on)


KP now becomes the first England captain to sport a tattoo since Colin Cowdrey who, famously, had an image of Janis Joplin tattooed onto his left buttock after a monumental rum and ganga session in the West Indies on the 1967/68 tour.

Monday, August 04, 2008

There is nothing like a Dame...

JRod has a rather unique take on Mark Ramprakash's hundred hundreds, including this quote of the week month year...

"It’s quite an achievement. It’s like winning a commonwealth gold medal when you routinely didn’t make the finals of the Olympic finals. Or, to use a far more apt analogy, it’s like wanting to fuck Natalie Portman and waking up with Helen Mirren."

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Tears for Souvenirs

Literally, a crying shame but probably inevitable given the circumstances.

This bit is rather worrying, to say the least -

"There was no immediate confirmation, though much speculation, about whether Kevin Pietersen would take over as England's Test and one-day captain."


We need KP concentrating on scoring runs - nothing else. At the moment he's all we really have, so it would be lunacy to ask him to captain the test side.

Minority Report

That's the series effectively over, so here's the 'end of term' reports.

Cook - It may not just be coincidence that the two batsmen who scored first innings 50's and therefore, in their own minds, cemented their places in the Oval line up, were the two who played the most brainless shots second time around.

Sir Geoffrey is probably one of the most irritating people on the face of the earth (a Yorkshire friend of mine says, happily, that it goes with the territory...) but he probably sold his wicket more expensively than any other English batsmen since the war. Mix that with an insaitable desire for runs that bordered on the downright selfish, and you have the blueprint for exactly what England need now. Cook could well do with sitting down with Boycott for a long chat. He'll come out wanting to punch something, but if he learns lessons like cutting out high percentage shots, setting yourself to bat all day for a hundred and simple accumulation, then it will have been well worthwhile.

Strauss - He's probably looking more at Vaughan's scores than his own - though, cynically, he could probably do with one decent score around 80 to cement his place for the winter. As the next England captain, he's really just waiting for the call - which could be around eight days away.

Vaughan
- It's an awful position to be in, but he needs to start asking himself whether he's giving the side more than he's taking away. If he does go, or is pushed, it'll be incredibly sad because there's no one you'd rather lead England next summer. But England can't afford to carry a passenger.

Pietersen
- The one World Class batsman we have, and proves it time after time. South Africa was always going to be a bigger challenge than anyone else (winter after next is the next big date in the diary) so there's no reason no to expect masses of runs in the next twelve months - which is handy because without a change of selectors he's going to be surrounded by roughly the same cast.

Bell - Is probably calculating how long the 199 will keep him his place in the side. 'Not much longer' should be the answer.

Collingwood - I haven't felt more pleased for an England batsman for years - and actually gave him a round of applause from the safety of the living room! Hopefully that's the monkey off his back. When you consider the circumstances and what had gone before, his six to go to a hundred was probably one of the most extraordinary shots ever hit by an England batsman.

Ambrose - Seems to have decided that he's going to concentrate on crease occupation rather than accumulation or flashy shots. If that's the way it's going to be, then that's fine - 90 minutes for 15 is ok as long as it becomes the norm. If England know that, they can build around it. Too many England keepers have been sacrificed on the altar of 'Gilchrist'- Ambrose is setting the bar slightly lower. Pretty safe behind the sticks too.

Fred - Batting is getting there, bowling is already there - but needs some support from bowlers who can take wickets on good pitches without helpful conditions... otherwise he'll be in a wheelchair by next April.

Anderson - See above. Maddeningly inconsistent. If the ball isn't do anything he seems to turn into a cafeteria.

Sidebottom - Patently unfit for the last test. Badly needs a rest and will probably get it.

Panesar - I might have asked this before, but am I really the only one getting bored with the whole Monty-shtik now? Yes, he's still the best spin bowler we have, but he's really not quite as good (yet) as a lot of people think he is. There's far too little variety in his bowling when he's trying to take wickets, and good batsmen (Smith yesterday) can knock him off his stride far too easily. If Cook is going to have a word with Boycott, then Monty might like a chat with Shane Warne.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Outlaw Blues

Sad news from the BCCI regarding Kents non-involvement in the 20/20 Champions League.

Frank Woolley's Ghost has a good summary of the details here, though I think he underestimates the financial impact of this decision on Kent. As one of the smaller counties, the money this would have brought into the county coffers would have been crucial for future development (there's already talk of the improvements to Canterbury being 'postponed').

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Smells Like Team Spirit

Based on the new selection criteria that anyone picked for the England team has to either be a 'good bloke' or at least mustn't upset the sacred dressing room chemistry, here's the TRSM England team for the 4th test at The Oval.

The first seven will bring that all-important jovial air of bonhomie to the cosy knitting circle, whilst the tail enders all add a certain 'something' that will do wonders for team morale.

1. Detective Jim McNulty
2. John Noakes
3. Des Lynam
4. Jimmy Tarbuck
5. Alan Johnson
6. Howard Marks
7. Stuart Barnes
8. Fiona Bruce
9. Paris Hilton
10. Abi Titmuss
11. Keira Knightley

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Untouchables

Apparently they can't replace anyone because it upsets the rest of the poor darlings in the side - and upsets the team chemistry.

Collingwood can't be dropped again because he's fantastic in the changing room and is a good man to have around, so he's required to play himself back into form in test matches rather than for his county.

It must be a real laugh in the changing room - a veritable cauldron of happy smiling faces, witty banter and top notch jokes.

Vaughan thinks it's 'only a matter of time' before he starts scoring runs again - although we aren't told what specific timeframe he's working to.

A couple of weeks ago Ambrose was considered good enough to bat six. Now he's only good enough to bat at eight.

Broad is 'rested', but then sent off to play for Nottinghamshire.

Sidebottom still doesn't look fit - though he's healthy enough to call Monty out on his fielding... it's about time someone did.

All a bit of a mess really.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Hard Days Knight

It'll soon be time for one of our regular reviews of the Sky TV cricket coverage, but as a teaser, here's a gem from this evenings viewing...

I'm paraphrasing slightly here, but this is comment from Nick Knight towards the end of the game.

"The big problem the players here tonight have is having to come back tomorrow at 12 o'clock and start a county game. It just shows how much cricket players are having to cram in."


Now why would that be Nick, eh? Could it possibly because those people at Sky who pay your salary have instructed that they want a 40 over game to televise almost every evening, and it therefore seemed a good idea to have the same two teams who were going to be in Leicester for a county game on the Wednesday play a 40 over game the day before?

Travelling Man

Here's Mike Atherton, in this morning's Thunderer, on the recall of Steve Harmison -

"His selection is as uninspiring as his recent record in international cricket and his attitude.

"Surely, it sends a terrible message: that it does not matter if, time and again, you do not so much cherish and nurture your talent as abuse it; and that it does not matter if, time and again, you turn up unprepared, there will always be another chance."


Have to say I do have some sympathy with Athers on this - although you can't argue with the fact that Harmison has done exactly what the selectors told him to do on the way home from New Zealand in order to get back in the side.

I don't think the story ends happily here though. A suitably motivated Harmy will likely bowl well at Edgbaston and The Oval - enough to book his ticket on the plane to India... which is where the homesickness problems could start to rear their head and we'll be back to square one again.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Down the Middle

Yesterday wasn't the first time Kent have lost on the last ball to Middlesex in a One Day Final.

There was the one in 1984 where Tavare took off Derek Underwood too soon.

And two years later there was the one where it was so dark you could hardly see the wicket from the Compton Stand.

We console ourselves with the thought that Allen Stanford probably hasn't realised that Middlesex doesn't actually exist, and therefore has all the geographical relevence of Brigadoon. Once the billionaire finds out, he's bound to withdraw their invitation to the big party.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Screamadelica



Chairman of Selectors, Geoff Miller, announces an unchanged England side for the third test at Edgbaston.

Looking Back in Anger

(Rant alert....)

The normal reaction to an England test defeat is 'one step forward, two steps back', in that there's normally a silver cloud hidden away somewhere. Headingley 2008 was such an unmitigated disaster that you have to look at this along the lines of 'three steps backwards'. Things haven't felt this bad since Adelaide.

We were out-batted, out-bowled, out-thought and out-played. Most scarily, we seem to have totally forgotten how to play test cricket.

With the honorable exceptions of Alistair Cook, Broad the Younger and Jimmy Anderson, the batting was totally clueless in both innings. I'm not going to go as far as some numbskulls and call for his sacking, but KP needs to have a serious think before the next test, and decide if he's playing for England, or - in the words of Harry, an occasional poster here, 'Kevland'. There's nothing inherently wrong with wanting to dominate an opposing bowling attack, but there's a time and a place - that wasn't either. You do wonder, however, who's going to be the one to tell him that. Might be worth someone having a word with Duncan Fletcher....

Jimmy Anderson must have wondered why he bothered to put up with such a thorough going over from Steyn when one of the front line batsmen does something that dim-witted and utterly avoidable.

South Africa piled up a huge score because they set out to bat at three an over and to grind England down - and followed that plan to the letter. The whole Australian '4 an over' target that England have slavishly been trying to follow works in certain circumstances - but surely not in overcast conditions against a good attack, nor when you're batting to try and save the game on the fourth day. There's a balance to be struck between outright aggression and strokelessness - England couldn't find it. .

The fact we only had five front line batsmen meant that a certain amount of circumspection was surely called for - yet the batsmen seemed totally unable to change their approach. Don't tell me it's difficult to adapt your game to changing circumstances - we've got a lot of players who manage to switch between 20/20 and test cricket without too much adjustment.

As for the bowling, the whole choice of Pattinson deserves investigating - with suitable checks of Geoff Miller's sanity and bank account. Leaving aside the 'horses for courses' arguement, what sort of message gets sent to those waiting in the wings that an Australian, an Australian, who harboured no ambition to play for England gets a call up ahead of far more suitable candidates.

Freddie had to bowl far to many overs, and by about Saturday lunchtime I reckon Vaughan was having regular wistful thoughts about having Hoggard in his line up. Someone who can bowl long spells and keep the ball in the slot, taking advantage of any swing or movement on offer. I get the impression that his reaction to being told that Pattinson was in the side for the game was similar to the rest of us - 'Who?' or Harmy's excellent 'I thought he was Australian'!

It was pretty clear by Saturday Broad and Anderson were absolutely knackered - so hats off to the latter for having the guts to come out all guns blazing on Sunday. Again though, I bet he's wondering why he bothered.

The problem is one of strategy and outlook - and therefore the problem starts with Peter Moores and the skipper. Whilst there are questions to be asked about his batting - more added to the list with each passing test, Vaughan normally gets a free pass on his captaincy. Before this series we took it as a given that he'd be able to out-manoevre Graeme Smith - but I wouldn't mind betting that he's thought more than once in the past day or so about 'doing a Nasser' - or even jumping before he's pushed, especially taking into account his post game comments which went as far as it's possible to go to publicly disagreeing with the team he was given.

Pissed off.... very, very pissed off.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Madcap Laughs

So let's recap -

Cook gets a horrible decision, clearly shows his displeasure when walking off to the extent that he's liable to get fined - only to have the TV replays confirm that he was right to be displeased. Sadly the SKY replays were shown after he'd crossed the ropes.

Strauss edges to slip, De Villiers claims the 'catch' only for Strauss to hold his ground, prompting the umpires to refer the catch upstairs- even though this test isn't being played under the referral system.

Amla gets caught by Vaughan, is happy to walk but gets told to go back out to the middle by his coach before he crosses the rope, because Sky have shown the replay which prompts an element of doubt. The umpires decide to refer this one upstairs too. Result - Amla is not out. The umpires justification for doing this is that they hadn't given Amla out.

I don't blame the South African coach for doing what he did on the Amla 'dismissal' - I'd want Peter Moores to do exactly the same thing. I do think De Villiers might regret his emphatic claiming of the Strauss catch, when in retrospect he wasn't even close to completing the catch. (He might want to review the Lords tapes and see how Ian Bell clearly says 'I'm not sure' when he took a couple of half-volleys) If De Villiers was 'sure' the Strauss effort was a fair catch, then he's either a cheat or an idiot.

What I do object to is the authorities incompetence on the issue, which leaves cricket looking like a laughing stock. Whilst the umpires have been made to look indecisive at best, it's really not their fault - bearing in mind how strangled they are by technology and their masters pusilanimousness.

There's not much that can be done now, but Sky might want to consider how quickly they show replays in future.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Boy's Own

Years ago I read a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle called 'Spedegue's Dropper'.

Time clouds the memory, and I can't recall every detail, but it basically told the story of a young club cricketer who perfected a bowling technique which involved launching the ball over 50 feet in the air so that its trajectory meant it landed on top of the stumps.

He was discovered perfecting the technique by the chairman of selectors in a clearing in the middle of the New Forest.

To cut a short story even shorter, he was drafted from total obscurity, having never played any first class cricket, into the England squad for the final test against Australia. He then took fifteen wickets, and promptly retired from the game on medical advice because of a congenital heart defect which meant too much excitement of the kind generated by beating Australia in a test match would kill him.

For some reason, I was reminded of this story at about 11 o'clock this morning...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Final indecision

Tony is spot on regarding the ICC changing of the result of the 'forfeited' Oval Test.

The precedent this now sets is scary when you start to think about it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Me and my Shadow

"I've got an alter ego called Gunther. When I start bowling, he takes over."

I came across this very late on Wednesday night, and thought it was pretty extraordinary stuff.

The next morning, I'd forgotten all about it. it only re-entered my thoughts once I'd got to Lords and started chatting to a couple of South Africans. I started telling them about the article, and was greeted with total derision and advised to maybe take more water with it next time (or words to that effect), and to 'pull the other one, it's got bells on it'...

By the time I got home, I was actually starting to doubt I'd ever read it.

Happily not!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Southern Man

Cricket-wise, South Africa have always struck me as being very much like Australia, but slightly less so - almost like Australia's less talented younger brother. They have the same brash attitude, but without the skill or the cojones to back it up. There's also a slight character flaw which causes them to 'bottle' it which the chips are down - Gibbs dropping Steve Waugh, the two World Cup farces and Boucher dropping Hussain at Trent Bridge. So maybe they are the younger brother who was conceived when the mother had a quickie with the the insecure door to door encyclopaedia salesman.

Without delving too deep into the psychology of national identity, the overall impression you get is that there's a slight chip on the collective national shoulder. This is probably due to their recent history, which is 'sketchy' to say the least, and seems to run along the lines of - 'yes, yes yes, apartheid was dreadful (dridful?) and we're truly sorry, but what about what you Brits did to the Boers in 1902 eh?' Now, that's fair comment - we all have our historical baggage to carry around with us, but theirs just happens to be far more recent, and was far more public. They were also stupid enough to lock up the nearest the world has ever had to a living saint for thirty years. However many truth and reconciliation committees they have, you get the impression that some still haven't quite left it behind - witness the continual kerfuffle over 'quotas'. What's wrong with having a preset proportion of blacks in the squad - after all, for years they contrived to have certain proportion of whites - it's just that the proportion was 100 per cent...

Then there's the accent. Clive James memorably described sitting between two South Africans on a flight who spent the whole ten hours talking across him, and getting off feeling like he'd been beaten up.

It's difficult to hold any deep loathing of this current touring party - mainly because the name 'Gibbs' is absent from the squad list - presumably he's now doing sterling work for South African diplomatic service. No Jonty Rhodes either - Athers will be happy!

Stalking the squad like Banquo however, is the ever present spectre of Hansie Cronje. What he did is beneath contempt - yet almost everyone who see interviewed, including Allan Donald in the Observer yesterday, talk of what an extraordinary person he was. Yeah, so extraordinary he took bribes, and persuaded young players in his team to do the same. In a recent TV documentary, the late Bob Woolmer spoke of a team meeting in India that Cronje called to decide what to do about an offer to throw the game that they'd received froman Indian bookie - the meeting apparently went on for some time. Some time?! Just how long does it take to tell a bookie to ''f*** off''?

Whatever - it should be a good series. The four South African quick bowlers are being talked up as though they are the second coming of the four horsemen of the apocalyse - you wonder without Pollock, or a decent spinner, who is going to provide the control required on a docile wicket.

Their batting looks pretty strong - De Villiers, Amla, Smith, Mackenzie and the 83 year old Kallis.

Ultimately it probably comes down to the weather, and how long England have to wait before they can bring back Flintoff - presumably once the selectors have finally decided which of the top six batsmen they're going to drop. So around 2012 then!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Send in the Clowns

So thousands of people turn up at Durham expecting to watch a 20/20 quarter final.

There are probably a lot of kids there with their parents, keen to watch their first ever live game so they can tell all their friends at school about it the next day.

There's also a fair smattering of local businesses using it as an ideal opportunity to entertain some clients - and put a few quid back into the county organisation at the same time.

The ground authorities at the Riverside are looking forward to making a tidy profit on the bar, souvenir shop and food concession takings.

We're constantly told that 20/20 is going to be the financial lifeblood of a lot of the smaller counties - and a heck of a lot of the larger, test venue ones too.

Well, this sort of Keystone Cops routine isn't going to help anyone - and the final outcome of no play shows an alarming lack of nous on behalf of the organisers and authorities.

Here’s a simple solution taken from baseball – the game that everyone says is ‘just like 20/20’ (Incidently, everyone who says that has obviously never been within a hundred miles of a baseball game – but we’ll let that pass… for now) The match gets played 'under protest', so that the result can be challenged if it's deemed to be necessary at a later date. This logical, simple, ‘no one gets hurt’ step takes into account the customers who have paid good money to enter the ground and means they see some cricket.

Instead, thousands of people go home having witnessed no cricket, but just a pantomime.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Happy Birthday...

...to the National Health Service - sixty years old.

The greatest piece of social legislation ever.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

"Said it once before, but it bears repeating!"

I hate to say 'told you so', but...

Through the Looking Glass

Link

Well I was at The Oval that day, and we sat around for about an hour waiting for play to resume. Presumably the Pakistanis couldn't unlock the door to their changing room or something.

Conspiracy theorists may well raise a querulous eye-brow at the timing of this announcement, coming as it does in the same week as the decision over whether England can keep the 20/20 World Cup is made.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Van the Man

In any team game, it's always dangerous to over-emphasise the performance of one individual in a certain match, but you do have to say that Martin Van Jaarsveld's performance in the game against Surrey that finished this morning, borders on 'extraordinary', and is pretty hard to beat in terms of single handedly winning a game. A game that Kent should really have lost.

Consider -

Responding to Surrey's rather laborious first innings of 397, MVJ was the only Kent batsman to get over 40 against Surrey's wonderfully Anglo Saxon bowling attack of Jade Dernbach, Pedro Collins, Abdul Razzaq and Saqlain Mushtaq. His unbeaten ton got Kent to within 120 on first innings when a follow-on seemed all but inevitable.

He then twirled down his occasional off spinners to extraordinary effect to bowl Surrey out for 128 ending with career best figures of five for thirty three.

He then followed that up with ANOTHER unbeaten ton, on a turning wicket which was seemingly designed for Saqlain - but not, apparently, for Chris Schofield, who mysteriously seemed unable to land the ball on it. Kent won by four wickets.

It's too soon in the season to start talking about turning points and key games, but this win is massive for Kent. A defeat at this stage would have had left them addrift at the bottom staring nervously at the drop into the wasteland of Division Two. Instead, they now have a decent springboard to mount a challenge for the top.

At this stage, I'm rather glad Van Jaarsveld isn't English!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Separated at Birth



'The most evil creature in the history of the universe' and....

Friday, June 27, 2008

Two into Three Don't Go

If Gordon Brown is currently the undisputed holder of the 'Maybe we shouldn't have made him leader after all' award, then Giles Clarke is certainly running him a very close second.

As evidence, may I respectfully refer the jury to 'Exhibit A' - the quite barmy idea to replace the existing two-division County Championship, with a three division regional structure involving a play-off final in September.

Sometimes the old slogan 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' really does make sense.

Look at the current tables
. All the nine counties in the first division still have a legitimate chance to win the whole thing. Even cellar-dwellers Surrey and Kent, who face off against each other next week, could bounce up the table with a couple of big wins - likewise any county could quickly find themselves in the relegation mire with two or three poor results.

In the second division, Warwickshire look a pretty safe bet to go up, and there are five teams other with a realistic chance of promotion, whilst Gloucestershire and Glamorgan are in danger of dropping down to the Minor Counties. Oh, sorry - you'll have to indulge me an idle day-dream here, because in the cosy little never-never world of county cricket that doesn't happen. Let's face it, it took over a hundred years to introduce the concept of relegation to upset their comfy existence.

In Division One you're seeing some really good quality, competitive cricket - and it's only going to get better as the season heads to a climax. Competitive cricket means more credence can be given to performance, so England selectors benefit as they are safe in the knowledge that runs and wickets are hard earned, and therefore a useful pointer to true form and class.

The 'three regional divisions' seems to be an ill thought out idea that simply ticks a box for Gile Clarke in terms of 'doing something' where no change is required. As the divisions are regionally based they won't be of equal strength, and how do you decide who the 'champion' is in the event of rain curtailing the playoffs - a bowl out?? 'Travel' is cited as one reason for basing the championship on a regional basis. Come on chaps! It's 2008 now, not 1924 - and with the reduction in the number of county games played and abolition of the old Sunday League, the old days of post-game evening trips from Taunton to Headingley and then back to Edgbaston the following day are long gone.

The current system isn't perfect, because there are too many lame duck counties propped up with annual ECB hand-outs. But it makes the best of the situation and should at least be given a chance to develop properly with some minor tweaks such as enhanced prize money, rather than simplistic 'change for changes sake'.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Moody Blacks

This from the BBC website: -

Tremendous match that, and what a fantastic final over. Magnificent bowling from Wright, a moment of madness from Swann at the death handing victory to the tourists, who lead the series 2-1 going into the final match at Lord's on Saturday. Noticable that Collingwood was snubbed by the Kiwi players up on the balcony


If that's the case then New Zealand are hypocrites. You don't need much of a memory to recall McCullum running out Murali a few years back when he went out of his ground to congratulate Sangakarra on completing a hundred, and can Vettori put his hand on his heart and say he wouldn't have made the same call as Collingwood if the roles had been reversed. I think not.

They won the game for heavens sake. Get over it.

To Boldly Go...

It's cricket Jim, but not as we know it!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin RIP

"When it comes to bullshit, big-time, major league bullshit, you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion. No contest. No contest. Religion. Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time!

But He loves you…"



See the whole transcript here.

And watch it here!

He also covered sport - this is something of a legend in baseball circles.

He was the greatest comedian ever, and he died last night. Today is a sad day.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rough Justice

As a bowler, if I was half way through my run up, and some cocky batsman decided to switch from batting right handed to batting left handed as I was approaching the wicket, I reckon I'd totally lose my rhythm to such an extent that the ball would slip out of my hand during delivery and end up on a course heading straight for his head...

Just saying.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Anoraknophobe

Check this out.

Bill Frindall has a weekly column on the BBC website where he answers questions posed by members of the public. Underneath, people can post other questions in the hope that Frindall himself, or another poster will provide the answer.

Have a look at Question 36...

You can bet your bottom Euro that most of the people posting questions are the type that sit at county games with scorebook on lap, fifteen different shades of pencil in their top pocket and a flask of lukewarm tea by their feet.

Yes, they are targets of ridicule, but I suppose if they weren't there they'd be hanging around the school gates with a bag of sweets, so I reckon we should count our blessings!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

After the Goldrush?

Some speculation in todays Grauniad, that 20/20 may be on the wane, from an attendance point of view.

Have to say that's not the impression I got at a packed Oval last night, but some of the anecdotal evidence from other grounds must be worrying to the organisers.

One thought though - if they really want to spread the appeal beyond existing cricket fans and bring a new audience into the game, maybe they should consider live games being shown on terrestial channels.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Question Time

Some questions (Answers below) -

Do you bring back Flintoff, if he's fit, and let him bat at eight with Ambrose at seven?

How many overs a day can you expect Freddie to be able to bowl?

It's a bit tough, but do you drop Ambrose and bring Prior back in to bat at five or six so Freddie can go seven in a five man bowling attack?

Is it time to bring back Harmison to replace Anderson, Sidebottom or Broad?

When do you consider bringing back Simon Jones?

Drop one or both of Bell and Collingwood, thus giving them the same sort of 'kick up the arse' that worked for Strauss, and appears to have worked for Harmy?

Do you do the same with Cook?

Which batsmen do you bring in if you drop Bell and/or Collingwood? Carberry? Key? Denly? Ramprakash?

Can you continue with a four man bowling attack against South Africa?

Is it time to start thinking about Rashid?

And the answers -

MINUTES OF THE ENGLAND SELECTION COMMITTEE

Held at Lords Cricket Ground on Saturday 5th July, 2008

Meeting started at 10.00am

Present - Mr P Moores, Mr G Miller, Mr A Giles, Mr J Whittaker
Apologies for absence - None

1. Selection of team to face South Africa at Lords on July 9th.

Mr P Moores PROPOSED that the side remain the same as for the previous test.

MOTION CARRIED

There being no further business, the meeting closed at 10.01am

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Misstra Know It All

I've just finished reading 'Behind the Shades' by Duncan Fletcher.

It's a good read and I'd recommend it as being a fascinating glimpse into what actually goes on behind the scenes in the England set up.

The tone is one of self-justification, which bearing in mind the abuse that was heaped on Fletcher at times during his time as England coach, and especially in the last year, is entirely understandable.

There are some wonderful instances where he exposes the idiocies of some of the supposedly 'respected' commentators on English cricket. He's particularly scathing about Sir Geoffrey, for example, and this little excerpt about Ian Botham is wonderful, frightening and eye-opening all at the same time -

It's quite a skill to be able to identify (promising) players, and just because you have been a great player does not necessarily mean that you can do it. Take Ian Botham. I thought would ask his advice before the South Africa trip. 'Get rid of all the guys like Atherton, Caddick and Tufnell' he told me.
'Why?' I asked.
'Because they are too old. Go with youth' he replied.
'Who then?' I asked.
'Graeme Hick and Robin Smith', he said.
'But hold on , they are the same age', I replied in exasperation.
His reply I could not then believe. 'But they are different' he said.
That was the last time I used Botham for selectoral advice.

One final thought - it's clear from the book, that John Buchanan and Ricky Ponting absolutely hated Fletcher, because they saw him as the biggest threat to their dominance over England. England had a fully fit line up in 2005, and won. In 2006/07 they had a host of injuries to key players, and a captain who was quite happy to spend the whole night drinking with the aforementioned Botham until seven in the morning. (It's in the book - honest!) Surprise, surprise - they got stuffed. I doubt whether Ponting, or anyone in Australian cricket, is losing much sleep over Peter Moores.