Friday, January 29, 2010

A shyness that is criminally vulgar

The problem with Alistair Cook as captain, is that it's very difficult to perceive of him as captain.

Tortured logic, I know, but let me try and explain.

Think back at recent English skippers. After a few tests you could almost see the ones who would make a decent captain - through their attitude and demeanour on the pitch, their record with their county and the general way they went about things.

Vaughan - very clever, excellent tactical brain and quietly dominant.
Nasser - Sparky and feisty - exactly what England needed at the time.
Athers - Similar to Vaughan, slightly more cerebral.

All three of them were talked about as 'future England captains' (Atherton from about the age of 15 if you take the 'FEC' story seriously) and when they were it made perfect sense and you could actually picture them as England skipper.

The two recent standout exceptions are/were Botham and Flintoff - but that's a whole different story. With both, you doubtedly their tactical ability but accepted that they lead from the front and seek to lead by example.

But Cook? Sorry, but it just doesn't compute. 'Shy' might be a stretch (though any excuse for a Smiths related headline) but you never get the impression that he's doing anything more than what he has to out on the field - keeping his own counsel and generally staying below the radar. Andy Flower has spoken of him being 'impressive in the dressing room', which sounds both risque, and very much like the 'looking good in the nets' bullshit that Duncan Fletcher was oddly addicted to.

When he first appeared on the scene, I celebrated on this very blog (and other peoples) that here was a batsman who could become the true heir to Sir Geoffrey. Not the rentaquote quality that often descends to simplistic boorishness and, sadly, xenophobia, but the single minded determination to occupy the crease for as long as possible and accumulate runs.

After a few years of plenty, he got found out by bowlers as being iffy outside the off stump - and has only really recently recovered, by totally remodelling his technique. Do England really want to jeopardise all of that by making him skipper?

What's the rush? Cook hasn't even skippered his own county side for heavens sake, so why not let him give that a try at the start of next season and build up some experience.

After all, he might not actually like being captain. I can speak from experience here and say that some people don't, and actually prefer to spend their time down in the ranks - happy to give their point of view when asked, contribute to the team ethic and atmosphere, but otherwise concentrate on their own game. You need a certain mindset and attitude to be a decent captain, and it's no particular shame if you haven't got it.

Why not let Colly do it in a caretaker role for a couple of tests?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Eastern Promise

Having watched a fair amount of the India/Bangladesh test match that's just finished, I can safely say that the series against Bangladesh next month isn't going to be the cakewalk for England that many seem to be expecting.

Bangladesh have a handy side - very entertaining to watch, who seem to be a top-class batsman away from a decent line up, particularly at home.

The ingredients are there for a potential upset - a short series, an untested captain (at ANY level of the game above school cricket for heaven's sake) a side that is probably rather deflated after their shoeing at the Wanderers, who probably won't want to be there and will be comparing the conditions to the five-star luxury they enjoyed in South Africa.

It could be ever so slightly too interesting.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Harry's Game

Athers made the good point today that one side-effect of the review process could be a general reduction in the level of respect given to umpires further down in the game - club and school cricket specifically.

Sadly, I think we're already far too close to that position already. I present as evidence the fourteen year old opening bowler (public school educated, no less) playing against us for an old boys side we've had some fantastic games against for about forty years, calling our umpire a f***** cheating c**** when he had an LBW call turned down.

Before you ask what his parents are thinking, note that his Dad was the captain, and after we'd reported the incident, he was allowed to carry on bowling.

We didn't even get an apology, merely an explanation that 'he's very competitive'...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Give me hope, Joanna!

Got to bless those rains down in Africa

If the answer is 'pant-wettingly funny', the question surely has to be 'describe the post-match expression on Graeme Smith's face if England escape with a draw.'

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cut Across, Shorty!

However much we rail against the incompetancies of cricket's governing bodies, we can surely be thankful that none of them will ever stoop (literally) to the levels of Bernie Ecclestone -


Ecclestone also said he is looking at ways to make Grand Prix racing more of a spectacle including adding shortcuts to the circuits in the future.

The 79-year-old Briton is looking at the idea of allowing each Formula One driver the option of using a shortcut on each Grand Prix track a maximum of five times to help make the races more appealing to television audiences.

The cricketing equivalent of this would be, oh, allowing a bowler to bowl one ball an over from fifteen yards perhaps.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

You're my obsession

Ponting wants to win test and impress England.

Have to say, I doubt whether Australia's performance is particularly high on Mssrs Strauss and Flower's list of priorities.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Nine Men Out

There are few better cricketing feelings than, as a number eleven batsman, saving a game.

These days, club cricket – even Sunday afternoon friendly cricket, is all about the 40 over game. Everything revolves around the world of win or lose. There’s no grey area and no room for compromise, so the much beloved timed game is becoming a very rare animal indeed. Yet as we’ve seen in Cape Town over the past five days, the draw can be the most fulfilling and nerve jangling of results.

I’ve lost count of the number of games I’ve ‘saved’ batting a ten or eleven – by keeping out an opening bowler with a circle of fielders playing ring-a-ring-a-roses around you.

As a youngster, 13 or 14 years old, it was a great way to contribute to the team you played for. Yes, you could hare around in the field, and you might get to bowl a few overs or have a short bat if your side was batting first and setting a target – but actually saving the game – that was real mans stuff, and meant you could puff your chest out a bit – heck, even raise your bat to acknowledge the applause as you came off the field.

On several occasions we had been totally outplayed all day – the opposition had run up a 220 plus score and our proper batsmen had perished in quick order leaving us something like 100-9 with ten overs left. The choices then were ‘have a swing’ and ultimately perish, or decide to dig in and make the bowlers work for their victory.

My first experience was a typical example. With the scenic grandeur of the Ferrier Estate in Kidbrooke providing a compelling backdrop, chasing (chasing?) 200, we were 78-9 with twelve overs remaining. We’d been utterly outplayed from start to finish and, in all honesty, a loss would have probably been the fairest result based on what had happened in the preceding six hours.

But the rules state that a team has to take ten wickets to win the game so we blocked, and blocked, played and missed – left the ones we didn’t need to touch, edged a few short of the slips, survived a couple of LBW decisions – and gradually twelve overs become eight, then six and then four – and then finally it was the last over. The opening bowlers, who’d earlier ripped out the top of our order, were back on by now, and the light was fading – gone 7.30. We went right back in the crease jabbing down on balls we had to, dodging out of the way when it was short.

When you survived to the end and shook hands with the opposition – you felt a million dollars, and felt you actually belonged in this crazy, wonderful world of club cricket.

As an aside, no one would be sledging, or appealing every time the ball so much as brushed your pads. Nor would they be claiming catches when the ball patently hadn’t come within a yard of your bat.

And even as you get older – saving the game, or even scratching the last few runs to win it with 9 wickets down – there are very few better cricketing feelings.

The point of all this nostalgia? – Well, imagine how smug Graham Onions is right now. He must be insufferable!!

Friday, January 01, 2010

The Madness of King Graeme

The difference between failure and success is narrow – or to (mis)quote Spinal Tap, it's such a fine line between stupid and clever.

Not wishing to derail the existing train of thought that's suddenly taken root amonst England fans that we're now odds on to win the Ashes next winter, but the Durban test illustrated perfectly what Mssrs St Hubbins and Tufnel (Nigel, not Phil) were on about.

The single turning point of the Durban Test was the run out of Graeme Smith - so in this case the fine line was probably about three inches. Up to that point, you could tell - through the way he was batting and his general body languge, that Smith had set himself to score a big ton. Such a ton would have taken the Saffies to the safety of 450 - especially against a four man attack that wasn't exactly looking threatening during the Kallis/Smith partnership.

Instead, he self immolated and the rest is history.

Four days later and we’re in a world turned upside down scenario. Interviewed at the end of Day 4, Dale Steyn resembled the soldier in the famous Don McCullin shot from Vietnam - utterly shell shocked, after seeing the South African batting line up turn a benign wicket into - excuse the continued millitary metaphors, a minefield.

Before that the hyped up bowling attack that Mickey Arthur allegedly and ludicrously compared to the West Indies attack circa 1985 had been laid threadbare - suddenly finding the idea of defending a 350 first innings score beyond them. Morne Morkel excepted, who still looks as wayward as he did over here eighteen months ago, but the accurate balls are deadly. Steyn himself looks dreadfully under cooked, whilst, on the other hand, Ntini looks finished. whilst Then there's Paul Harris – who looks like a borderline headcase you'd have a quick pint with in a bar before making your excuses as he starts looking round for someone to pick a fight with.

Mix in Kallis, no more than a hopeful trundler, and it suggests a certain arrogance that they thought they could muddle through with that as their attack.

Then the bowling collapse begat a batting one of equal proportions - a top six that looked pretty fearsome folded crumpled like a sheet of wet tissue paper

But had Smith not run himself out it would have probably been totally different, and the confidence trick could have probably worked.