Friday 31 December 2010

The Third Annual OB Innings Of The Year Award

It's odd looking back on the first and second editions of this arbitrary, random and little-known Award [it's not an award that's actually awarded, of course, nor do its recipients know anything about receiving it, and no-one has to turn up at a dodgy casino to collect it but if you are the winner, feel free to email to address on the right...]. The first, offered in 2008, took in a 'career-saving' hundred from Andrew Strauss [fancy that...], and had Virender Sehwag pegged as 'misunderstood' [we hear your truth now, Viru...]; while last year's opened with twin hundreds from Phil Hughes and Cricinfo's opinion that Australia's 'transitional period is over'. And it was, too... just not in the way you thought, boys...

As much as anything they serve notice of the brutal short-termism of writing about sport. Time shifts, contexts change. What's true today is true in a different way tomorrow, let alone next year. But with that, the envelope please... As usual, the criteria for this glittering prize is simple: it has to be an innings played in the last year, that I've seen, either in the flesh or on the box, that upholds the noble principal that a transcendent knock is more than just the numbers in the book, that it's how as well as how many.

There is little doubt about the batsman of the year, or the bat. Sachin Tendulkar has risen again, perhaps higher than ever before, and he has done it with some sort of deeply mysterious, Arturian broadsword in his hand, a bat that has very probably scored more Test match hundreds than any bat ever made. Its middle is blackening now, the cracks horizontal as well as vertical, its deep bow deeply exaggerated by the thousands of balls that it has struck. But what a bat it has been, and no wonder the little master won't lay it to rest. He'll probably have to throw it back into the lake, or at the very least re-insert it into the stone from which it came, because it must have something supernatural about it. Imagine how it feels to hold it, especially now it has struck the man's fiftieth ton. Let's hope it goes to a museum where we can all gaze upon it and wonder. Was Tendulkar ever better than he was in Bangalore in October, a towering 214 in the first innings, and that icy 50-odd not out in the second? It was the match that took him back to the top of the rankings for the ninth time. What a man he is, and has been.

At times, Tendulkar visibly conquered his nerves. Like a genetic freak who feels no pain, VVS Laxman doesn't appear to have any. If the theme of this year has been the final decline of the monolithic Australian empire, then he was the man who knifed them in that deathless next game in Mohali. They say that some blades are so sharp, you don't feel them go in: Laxman's 73 not out left them gutted before they realised it. He did it again in Durban, too, with 96 that set up an equalising win against South Africa, India's potential usurpers.

It's no batsman's year in South Africa - not with those pitches they're doctoring anyhow - and nor was it in a green and grey English summer in which Pakistan's brilliant but tainted seamers bowled some mesmerising stuff. Eoin Morgan delivered a pitch-perfect ODI ton under lights at the Rose Bowl to do in Australia, but then that doesn't quite have the cache it once did. Jonathan Trott served notice of the winter to come with a double at Lord's but surely the best innings of the summer were a brace of hundreds from Tamim Iqbal at Lord's and then Old Trafford. His eye is as pure as his heart, and Bangladesh have a true star in their midst.

Jacques Kallis got a hair transplant and a double hundred back to back, and it's hard to decide which one was more impressive, but then it's easy to be blase about Jacques. You get the feeling he's Jonathan Trott's hero, though, and KP named him the greatest cricketer ever, albeit via the underwhelming medium of Twitter.

For an Englishman though, 2010 has been about England versus Australia, first in the Carribbean at the T20 World Cup and then in Oz itself [and it really has been like Oz rather than Aus, hasn't it, we certainly ain't in Kansas any more...]. Mike Hussey's knee-trembling last-over semi-final hitathon was gobsmacking, and his renaissance in the Ashes Tests proves that it doesn't always hurt to be a nice guy in love with the game. He is a man beyond cynicism. Well played, Huss.

But it's England who have prevailed and the T20 final perhaps carries more weight than it seems. Australia had found a key to their T20 cricket at last, pairing Shaun Tait and Dirk Nannes as the short-form, less hairy Lillee and Thommo. They were terrifyingly quick [T20 will surely be the arena for the world's fastest bowling in the future], yet come the final, the team visibly cracked when Kevin Pietersen simply walked down the wicket to Tait and deposited him into the crowd over long off. Suddenly the mirage of England actually winning a limited overs trophy became solid. Kieswetter's violent unpredictability played its part, but Pietersen's eye and skill were unmatchable.

Strange that his year bowed so much in the middle, but the double ton in Adelaide pointed to a new, less fraught KP. Again, Australia could not bowl to him. England's sheer weight of runs have, along with a new bowling potency, retained the Ashes, and outside of Pietersen, they have been scored by the side's great pragmatists: Strauss, Cook and Trott.

Of all of them, few moments matched the one when those of us in the Northern hemisphere awoke to news of the fourth day's play in Brisbane. Here was a Test match drowning in hype that began with England losing a wicket to the third ball of the series, so often the kind of portent that has heralded disaster. Instead, the scoreboard read 309-1. England's flag was in the beach, Australia's bowlers undermined. It was Cook who blunted them, and come the end of his epic, bloodless, 235 not out, he was honest enough to admit that he wasn't certain that he actually had it in him until his moment came.

Therein is the greatness of the game and what it offers to its combatants. It wasn't the most beautiful innings ever played, but it was symbolic of the trajectories of both teams: they crossed as one rose and one fell. Cookie, with your girlie eyes and iffy backlift, we salute you: the innings of the year is yours.

Thursday 30 December 2010

Fourth Test, Wrap Up: Twilight of the Gods

Threes and Fives: Michael Vaughan, now the Beeb's bumptious but insightful between-ball waffler, said the other day that he'd only had two players that he didn't want in the side landed on him by the selectors during his years as England captain*.

It's a consistency of selection that England nicked from Australia, of whom it used to be claimed that the only thing more difficult than getting into the side was getting out of it again. Now the rot goes far deeper than the 34-odd players used over the last four years. Choosing the team is only half of selection. Choosing how the team fits together is the other, tougher half.

England's batting order only really dropped into place with the unlikely arrival of Jonathan Trott [strange now to think that his rival for the place was the lost prince, Ramps...]. Asked on TV the other night to name great England number threes, Bob Willis came up with Barrington, Cowdrey and Dexter. The gap since has yawned somewhat. The theory with number three is that it's either the position for your best bat - Richards, Ponting, Lara [when he felt like it] - or someone who is essentially a third opener - Boon, Dravid, Amla. Trott is the latter and offers a solidity that Bell couldn't come up with. He has quelled thoughts of Pietersen shifting up. He's also weird enough to bat there for years, whittling away at the crease, in thrall to the rituals that get him through. England's order will probably jiggle after Sydney and the likely farewell of faithful Colly, but Bell to five and Morgan in as a tyro six offers a line-up that can push them towards the top of the rankings.

By contrast, it's hard to think of an Australian who is batting in the right position. There are probably only two: Hughes, who they should stick with, and Hussey. Australia haven't had to think about number three for a generation, but Punter has done his noble time there. That leaves Watson, who is a natural number five, Clarke, who has failed at four but made his name at five, and Ponting, should he stay to shepherd the transition, ready to bat five. And of course Hussey, who looks fit for another long stretch at... number five.

Trotters - not the maddest in the dressing room: 'There has been more ribbing this week about my crease-scratching, especially when I put in one final scratch after James Anderson had been dismissed to leave our side all out. I’ll probably still be doing it when I’m 80 years old and standing in the street... I’d like to point out, though, that I’m not the most superstitious person in our changing room. On this tour in Australia, I’ve seen a few things go on that make me think, “Crikey, I’m not as mad as everybody else”... I’m not going to name names, but you might want to look out for the bloke who always bowls the same number of warm-up balls to mid-off, and then to mid-on...'

And...: 'Apparently the only other batsman to average over 100 in Ashes cricket is Albert Trott, an Australian all-rounder who played around the end of the 19th century. My grandfather always said that he was related to Albert Trott, though I never knew how. What I do know is that Trott shot himself at the age of 41, after living his life in the fast lane. I prefer the slow lane myself' - Daily Telegraph

Compliment of the day: It's massive pressure coming into the side for the Boxing Day Test. Luckily he's thick as two short planks so he didn't realise' - Graeme Swann on Tim Bresnan

*One was Darren Pattinson, the identity of the other remains mysterious...

Tuesday 28 December 2010

Fourth Test, Third Day: Yorkshire 1, England 1, Australia 0

Proper bowler: 'They say England play well when there is a Yorkshireman in the side...' - Geoffrey Boycott, Telegraph

Modesty Blaize: 'He [Ricky Ponting]'s out of form, He's under pressure and he starts playing an innings that's totally foreign to him. There are certain people I've seen in my career who in playing a long, disciplined rearguard action are comfortable with it. I could do it' - Geoffrey Boycott, TMS

Number of the day: Five - the amount of times Shane Watson has been dismissed between 51 and 57 in his last 11 innings

Battle of the metaphors: 'Fish rots from the head' - Sydney Daily Telegraph; 'It was like the band was still playing as the stern began to rise' - The Australian; 'Like visiting a dear friend with a terminal disease' - Herald Sun; 'Perth can be seen for what it was, one dead cat bounce' - SMH

Tim Bresnan - hacks get poetic: 'He has a heart the size of a cabbage' - Kevin Mitchell, Guardian; 'He looks like a coalminer and weekend leagues cricketer' - Greg Baum, SMH

Who can he be referring to? 'Andrew Strauss's side has been a cut above the glamorous England outfits of the 1980s, an era in which the team's failings were hidden by the emergence of a handful of gifted players.That was a time of rebel tours, dissolution, cynical domestic exchanges, lazy champions and false prophets' - Peter Roebuck, SMH

Someone call Alanis Morrissette: 9am: 'In my heart and in my mind, I still believe he [KP] inside-edged that ball' - Ricky Ponting on ABC Radio; 4pm - bowled off an inside edge

Monday 27 December 2010

Fourth Test, Second Day: Simply Seeking Clarification

KP - the Verdict: 'Terrific batsman, great entertainer, huge presence at the crease. But still a wanker' - Chucker, The Age

What happened honest, by R Ponting, age 36 and 8 days: 'I entered into discussion with the umpires about the detail of the decision having viewed replays being shown on the big screen. I accept the discussion went for too long and I understand the reasons for the dissent charge handed down by the ICC this evening. I was simply trying to seek clarification from the umpires regarding how the decision had been made after being referred to the third umpire' - CA statement

Trotters - lone boozer: 'he is the batting equivalent of the fellow at a party who no one recognises, who stays in the kitchen on his own but is last to leave' - Mike Selvey, Guardian

Righteous anger: 'Not one Australian applauds Prior's half-century - not good to see' - Michael Vaughan, via Twitter

Old Proghead daddio: Michael Vaughan is now following Muse on Twitter

Pots, kettles etc: 'And the award for Most Graceless Captain in World Sport goes to...Ricky Ponting. What a shocking little hissy fit' - Piers Morgan, via Twitter

Cross-sport commentary: 'another Aussie bottling it on the darts' - Andrew Flintoff, via Twitter

Sunday 26 December 2010

Fourth Test, First Day: The Death Of Momentum

Parwatch - all over now: Manchester United take a 4-0 half time lead over Chelsea at Old Trafford, only for Chelsea to draw 4-4. In the next fixture Chelsea win 7-0, before United strike back with a 6-0 victory the following week. They play again, when Chelsea go 3-0 up after ten minutes... Roger Federer beats Rafael Nadal 6-0, 6-1, 6-0, then Nadal hits him with a triple bagel next time out... Frazier kayos Ali in round number one, before Ali sparks Smokin' Joe after a minute in the return...

Not really on, is it? Cricket is unique in that closely-matched opponents sometimes display that closeness over a series rather than in matches that can veer wildly from one side to another. It is a sport that is measured differently, more slowly, than most, and that has narratives that take their time to emerge. It is also more of a slave to external forces - the climate, the conditions - than the others. The concept of momentum has seeped in from other sports. It's an easy line to drop into the endless press conferences [their volume also a product of the sprawl of a series]. But it's hard to make a case for its existence. Generally speaking, the longer the teams play for, the more chance that the best side will win, and in cricket, they play for a long time. That's all the momentum you need, isn't it?

On Tremmers: Cricket, in common with most sports, is in thrall to aesthetics: it's the reason that Lara's cover drive hits a place in the heart that Simon Katich's doesn't. Aesthetically, Chris Tremlett appears lab-produced, a physically-perfect specimen built for fast bowing. The incongruity of his apparent psychological frailty, the propensity for that giant body to implode, cut against the visual evidence to produce an anomoly that was as amusing as it was frustrating. Tremmers is the one laughing now, and rightly so. Is he the new Andy Caddick? The next Richard Ellison? England's McGrath? Come back in five years for the answer...

You sure? 'Australia has suffered its worst cricketing day for 100 years' - Peter Roebuck, SMH

Past tense, Michael? 'Ricky has been an amazing leader, a wonderful player' - Michael Clarke

Things we don't seem to talk about any more: The Kookaburra ball

Stat of the day I: '[In] The second over of the match... Phil Hughes took Tremlett for more than 10% of the final total' - Mike Selvey, Guardian

Stat of the day II: 'Australia was bowled out for 98, roughly a run for every 1000 spectators' - Peter Roebuck, SMH

Phil Space Trophy Flight Of Fancy: 'Of the phoenix that was Australia in Perth, only ashes remain. The namesake trophy - once Australia's pride and joy - is again England's to parade as they see fit' - Greg Baum, SMH

Monday 20 December 2010

Third Test, final day: Time through the hourglass

Today, Dominic Cork announced that he'll be one of the contestants on Dancing On Ice, confirmation that this endlessly competitive, estimable cricketer has crept onto the celeb Z-list. Yes, it'll be funny to see him expressing his hitherto well-concealed aesthetic bent, but hell, ain't it sad, too? They all go so quickly, those days on the field - as Buk once put it, 'they run away like wild horses over the hills'.

The newly-connected Twittering world draws the lines even more clearly now: there's Goughy flying home from doing his laddish radio bits in Perth, MPV joshing with his golf partners, Tresco sitting, suited and booted, at the Sports Personality of the Year awards, and many more of them, newly embarked on their long afterlives.

This Ashes series feels concertina-d; three-fifths gone already and it's barely started, the other two matches back to back. It's over so quickly in a way it never used to be, played in a rush so that they can shoehorn in lots of one-dayers before another world cup and then another full summer, another winter, all strung together in such a way that the rhythm of the game feels disrupted. Such acceleration saps the joy for everyone. Even the players are wishing away their days.

It doesn't always do to be winsome, but the great series in cricket have a feel of semi-permanence to them, or at least they should have. Even the Ashes of 2005 unfolded, and they were nothing compared to the summer-long duels of the 1980s and 1990s, where the Tests would stop for county and state fixtures, and the one-day series were fitted in halfway through.

It comes and it goes quickly, this stuff, and it needs to be held and savoured for a while because before you know it, you're Corky, sat backstage in a dreadful TV studio, pulling on a lycra jumpsuit and hoping that the public still dig you.

Saturday 18 December 2010

Third Test, Day Three: Underneath The Lid

Middle day, middle Test - halfway through the series already. All to play for then, boys...

Best Readers Poll: 'Is this the worst Australian team of all-time?' - Guardian, Friday morning

Who's on first?
'The way they were out was exactly the way we planned. They'll have to second-guess themselves now' - Ryan Harris

Momentum - a new understanding: 'We're not worried about momentum. They are going to take some momentum with a positive performance on their front, but we're going to concentrate on our game. We're still full of confidence, we're still 1-0 up in the series and there's always tomorrow and we still believe we can do it' - Chris Tremlett

The Great Twitter Rug Debate, sponsored by Advanced Hair Studio: 'Seems Ricky's found his tongue! Is he in your barnet gang? Looks thick on top' [Andrew Flintoff to Michael Vaughan]; 'I believe he is a member of the club... He is getting very excited.. Job's on the line' [Vaughan to Flintoff]; 'Is it true that Kallis has had a thatch too? Between the 3 of you there's about 25000 test runs under them rugs!' [Flintoff's reply]

The last person you expected to say something sensible: 'Teams are always going to do well sometimes. You can't just think that they're going to be poor or be great all the time' - Peter Siddle

Friday 17 December 2010

Third Test, Day Two: Double Reverse Ferret

The reverse ferret is a 1990s adaptation of Orwell's famous notion of Doublethink - the art of being able to hold two apparently contradictory opinions as true. It was invented specifically for journalists by Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie, and used whenever an overnight volte face was required. As the cameras scanned the press boxes during the day's play, hacks of both hues - Australian and English - wore the looks of me who were about to reverse ferret on two of their favourite and previously immutable subjects, Mitchell Johnson and the destination of the Ashes.

Of course, the true art of the Reverse Ferret is to allow just enough wriggle room to reverse it once more...

Too good to be true: 'A mythical God. He grabbed the world and his own fate and forced it to roll his way' - Peter Lalor on Mitch [The Australian]

Not us, mate: 'They [the selectors] were pilloried by any number of former players mystified as to why Johnson was not sent back to State cricket' - Malcolm Conn [The Australian]

All down to you now, buddy: 'When Johnson is good, Australia is good. When he loses his way it seems to drag down the entire show. Australia pins its mojo to his mast' - Robert Craddock, Courier Mail

As you were: 'Mitchell sets off the Collapsometer! England had batted so sublimely in this a series that we had almost forgotten how our "collapsometer" worked.' - Vic Marks, Guardian

Tweet Reason: 'Just hold fire for a day or so ... It's not over yet.. We could chase 350' - Michael Vaughan

Double Reverse Room For Manouvre Man Of The Day: 'Australia will be forced to revive its Ashes hopes without Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke after the leaders failed again' - Malcolm Conn [The Australian]

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow: 'It's a long game, Test cricket, and there is time for decisions and revisions which, as Alfred Prufrock says, a minute will reverse. Harold Pinter was a keen cricket fan and wrote a poem about Len Hutton that went "I saw Len Hutton in his prime/Another time/another time". He sent the three-line poem to his friend, the playwright Simon Gray, and when he hadn't heard anything from him for a week or so rang to ask what he thought of it.Gray replied that he hadn't finished it yet. The same could be said of the Ashes and some of its key protagonists' - Peter Lalor

Thursday 16 December 2010

Third Test, Day One: The Sound Of One Knife Sharpening

Is he mad... Is he bad... Is he sad... Ricky Ponting WACA Ashes Special

Early Onset: 'Ponting is physically at his fittest and looks in fabulous shape, but his mind, 36 years old on Monday, is winding down' - Peter English, Cricinfo

False Memory Syndrome: 'Ricky Ponting turns 36 this month and he appears to be morphing into Steve Waugh in the final few years of his Test career - jerky, nervous, uncertain' - Robert Craddock, Courier Mail

Dry your eyes mate: 'He doesn't want to leave the scene, as he showed with his funereal shuffle off the ground' - Peter English, Cricinfo

Bunny: 'He's nearly done. Jimmy Anderson has him three times in the series for just 15 runs' - Crash Craddock, Courier Mail

From the other side: 'The Don, had he been alive, would have been appalled' - Andrew Faulkner on the decision to omit Michael Beer from the XI

Everyday occurrence: 'Yet another Ashes series slips away' - Malcolm Conn, The Australian

Dead Man Walking's Shoes: 'Michael Clarke, leader in waiting' [cricinfo]; 'Captaincy bolter Michael Hussey' [SMH]; 'Shane Watson, come on down' - [Herald Sun]

Key criteria: 'How can we have a bloke captain Australia with tattoos? It's just not on' - Ian Chappell

Absolutely no exaggeration: 'Such mistrust [of the media] is understandable given the September 11-like coverage of his relationship and break-up with Lara Bingle' - Andrew Webster on Michael Clarke

From the coach's mouth: 'Each and every one of us must relax and live in the moment, enjoying every contest between bat and ball...all day, every day' - Tim Nielsen [via his blog]

Sunday 12 December 2010

Friday 10 December 2010

Ricky: Don't Lose His Number

As entertaining as it's been to watch Australia - or more accurately Australia's press - react to the obviously irredeemable situation of being one down with three to play, there's surely a place for a more measured view. The vilification of Ponting has been an embarrassment to them. If anyone is genuinely of the opinion that - for example - Mike Brearley could have affected a different result at Adelaide with the resources at Australia's disposal, then they simply don't know the game. England played as well as they have since 2005, and back then they beat the Australia of legend. Confronted with bowlers who couldn't keep to one side of the wicket, let alone build pressure through a period of overs, the Punter was screwed, hoist by his own petard.

He is a decent man and a proud cricketer, one of the greats. He demands respect, from both the English crowd [thankfully there is apparently now an insurrection on the matter of booing him to the crease] and from the writers who have spent half of their careers feting him, and who owe much of the space they get in the paper to the success of the teams that he's played in. He has grown up in public, and he is a credit to the sport in that regard. He is a fearsome opponent, the first name that Strauss and Flower would scratch from Australia's team sheet if they were given the choice. Imagine what a rabble they would be without him.

It's a very English trait to admire someone more once they're gone. You'll rarely read a bad word about Mike Atherton, Alec Stewart or Nasser Hussain any more, such is the afterglow of memory. It's seductive, that kind of nostalgia. It's easy to feel it already in the talk of replacing him.

The harder question is this: who do Australia have who's better? Michael Clarke? Marcus North? Cameron White? Shane Warne? Ponting's fire still burns, despite the forces ranged against him. As an Englishman who has lived through the bad old days, here's one piece of advice: be careful what you wish for.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Second Test Day Five: 99 Problems [but the pitch ain't one]

On The Rise: New ICC Test Rankings out - Australia up one place to fourth

A week's a long time...
'He is a bit of an X-factor for the Australians. He's the sort of guy who gives them a bit of aggro and that's exactly what they need. They need some penetration in their bowling attack' - Mark Taylor on... Mitchell Johnson

Devil's number: 666 - the number of 4s hit by Kevin Pietersen in Test cricket following his knock in Adelaide

Phil Space Award, Best Metaphor: 'The final two days at Adelaide, we were assured, was when we would find out what this Australian team was made of. The results are not yet back from the lab, but it seems to be some sort of gooey, soft-centred material that melts rapidly when heat is applied, is easily removed from flat surfaces, does not bounce or spin and which stinks to high heaven' - Richard Hinds, SMH

Wagging tail: 0 - the number of runs scored by number eight batsmen in this series so far [four innings in total, by Broad, Johnson and Harris]

Maybe give the newsagents a miss, boys: Those Australian newspaper headlines in full - 'This Isn't Working'; 'Australian Cricket A Product Of Self-Indulgence'; 'This Side Would Be Lucky To Beat Bangladesh'; 'Blunders, Bloopers And Clean-Bowled'; 'Let's Rearrange The Deckchairs In The Australian Team'; 'Slide Feels As Bad As 80s Nadir'; 'Axe Could Fall At Summer's End'...

...And: 'Sorry Punter It's Time For Captain Warnie' [SMH]; 'At 41, Warne Our Only Spin Option' [Courier-Mail]

Shane's plans: 'London UK tonight. Etihad Airways I'm flying. Best airline in the world' - via Twitter

Leave him, it's not worth it: At least there was one decent fight at the Adelaide Oval

Shane Watson - predictable: Has passed 30 in all nine innings he has played against England, but never made more than 62 [more statto oddities from Andy Zaltzman here]

Monday 6 December 2010

Second Test, Day Four: One For The Bowlologists

Question: Does Michael Clarke get out in the last over a lot more than other people, or it just more memorable when he does it?

One eye on the captaincy? 'I just want to apologise for not walking off the ground when I hit the ball' - Michael Clarke. This was a strange one: Tony Hill gave Clarke not out, and England called for the review. So why the apology?

Second best: 'He's a very important player in a rich vein of form, the second best batman this Ashes.' Graeme Swann on Mike Hussey. Wot, not KP, Swanny?

Better than Geoffrey's granny? 'My mother could have beaten me about the place that first morning in Brisbane' - Graeme Swann

Freddie's [Birthday] night: 'Now I'm 33, off for a civilised evening with the wife. It's what people my age do. Pedalo on standby just in case tho!' - via Twitter

Best served cold: 'Now the Aussies know what it felt like for the England team I played in getting battered every day LOL' - Darren Gough, via Twitter

Words we never used to have: 'I am the Bowlologist' - Damien Fleming, via Twitter

Phil Space Award - Over-Analysis of the Day: 'Before Michael Clarke drifted off to sleep on sunday night, he was doing what many modern-day Australian cricketers do - watching a romantic comedy on television. He was watching The Break Up, which is about a couple whose split becomes nasty and bitter. Given how Clarke's personal and professional life have been entwined this year, the irony was too tantalising and impossible to ignore' - Andrew Webster, Sydney Daily Telegraph

Glass half full [day two]: 'Simon Katich has almost no chance of playing again this series' - Malcolm Conn, The Australian

Sunday 5 December 2010

Second Test, Day Three: Here Be Monsters

Bowler's wicket: 'Marcus North was turning it square and it's hard to drive on' - Kevin Pietersen [KP Pietersen 213*, 31x4, 1x6]

Avert your eyes, mate: 1068-5 - England's last two innings combined

Big question: 'What are the reasons we haven't been able to get as many wickets as we've liked? that's something we've been talking about,' - Shane Watson

Glass half full: 'Even Australia's occasional moral victories contained presentiments of the crushing defeat to come' - Greg Baum, SMH

What did you really used to think of us, then? 'It's payback time for England as they aim to atone for the atrocities of summers past' - SMH

Media training 101: 'Are we praying for rain? I don't know how honest I can be...' - Shane Watson

Michael Clarke's evening: 'Watching The Break Up. Very funny show. Jennifer Aniston is hot' - via Twitter

Tim Bresnan goes to see Eric Clapton: 'It were rubbish, all guitars' - via GP Swann's Twitter

Saturday 4 December 2010

Second Test, Day Two: Geoffrey And The Deathly Hallows

Thickos: 'Anyone who gets out on this pitch is an idiot' - Geoffrey Boycott

Voldemort lives: Geoffrey wore this at the Adelaide Oval [for charity...]

Sexy cricket: 'This pitch was not just friendly to batsmen, it was passionately in love with them' - Vic Marks, Guardian

Could be better: 'It was almost ideal batting conditions' - Alistair Cook

It's only a day away: 'Never give up and the sun will come up tomorrow. Who knows what it will bring!!! Never give up!!!' - Shane Warne, via Twitter

Gambling man: 'Just gets better, Cook's earning me money every run he scores and when KP gets a big hundred tomorrow and Jimmy knocks them over happy days' - Andrew Flintoff's Dubai-based get rich quick scheme, via Twitter

Betas need not apply: 'Australia must unearth an alpha male to lead its struggling pace battery' - Courier Mail

Rumour mill: 'He was being sacked, he had been in a fight, he was badly beaten up — Bumble had also mentioned being jostled by some drunks in the centre of Brisbane on Sunday — he was dying, he had cancer...' - Martin Samuel on the fall-out of David Lloyd's resignation from Twitter, Daily Mail

Par Watch: Cancelled.

Friday 3 December 2010

Second Test, Day One: The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice

In space, no-one can hear you scream: 'The run out was my fault. The call was too soft, it just didn't come out,' Shane Watson

Nice problem to have: 'I think Steve Waugh also got a golden duck in his 150th Test,' - Mike Atherton on commentary for Ricky Ponting's dismissal

Why they call him Mr Cricket: 'Hussey was eager for any advice from Border. One gem was: "Always ensure that your practice replicates as closely as possible what happens in the middle." So what did Hussey do in the unforgiving heat of Perth? He organised himself a net and a posse of bowlers. Then he batted for two hours from 10 o'clock to midday, whereupon he took a break of 40 minutes. Then he batted for another two hours before resting for 20 minutes. Then another two hours,' - Vic Marks, Guardian

Aussie Press Stats Round-up: 18.50 - Michael Clarke's average in the 12 matches since he moved up to number four [Courier Mail]
17 - Number of Tests since Australian selectors dropped a batsman [The Australian]
4 - Number of batsmen on the four-man selection panel [The Australian]
22 - Number of years since Australia has gone four Tests without a victory [The Australian]
8.29 - Marcus North's average when called upon to bat before Australia have made 150 [SMH]
54.79 - North's average when going in with 150+ on the board [SMH]
1 - Number of players to make a 'diamond duck' in an Ashes Test before yesterday [Rodney Hogg run out by Dennis Lillee, 1981 - SMH]

Par Watch: 'It turned out to be a good toss to lose,' - Jimmy Anderson; 'We know we're going to have to bowl well,' - Mike Hussey [oh god, he's not going to bowl too, is he...?]

Expert gambling tip: '3-1 both teams over 300 first innings' - Andrew Flintoff, via Twitter

Cultural Divide: 'Weird Pom says bring back Warnie' - Racing commentator John McCririck interviewed in the Courier Mail

Can't keep him away: 'Warnie copped mixed reviews for his debut, with viewers fixated as much on his tan and unnaturally white teeth as his interviewing style,' The Herald Sun on Shane's new chat show

Monday 29 November 2010

First Test, Final Day: Life's A Mitch

Those Aussie Newspaper Headlines In Full: 'A Sad, Sorry Sign of Things To Come'; 'Battered Australia No Match For English Fightback'; 'Lame Attack Gives England The Psychological Edge'; 'Pace Duo On Notice'; 'England Deliver A Future Shock'; 'Mitched It By Miles'; 'Johnson Now A Liability'; 'Realities Stare Selectors In The Face'; 'Ponting In The Eye Of The Storm'; 'Ineffective Johnson Faces Sack'; 'Horror Flashback To '80s Nadir' and finally... 'English Press Goes To Town On Aussies'

A man who spent his career facing Wasim, Waqar, Walsh, Ambrose, Donald, McGrath and Warne assesses Mitch: 'Can't bat, can't bowl, can't field' - Mike Atherton

Boycs' family arrive: 'Johnson couldn't bowl my grandmother out'

Last word on Mitch: 'I feel sorry for him' - Steve Harmison, in the Sky studio

Feet still on ground: 'It's all very well strutting about the hotel lobby feeling good about yourself, we have to transfer that to the pitch' - Andrew Strauss

Talking point: 'Forget the Ashes. There's only one thing the cricket world's talking about: Shane Warne's face' - Courier Mail

And why? 'He's not a masterpiece but he's got a nice face. His teeth are too shiny - they're overdone. You put some black bits in there and he'd look like a piano' - Plastic surgeon Howard Torres

Par Watch: 'There will be all this momentum chat again. I don't know who takes the momentum' - Andrew Strauss; 'The skipper appeared intent on landing a few psychological blows of his own... as he streaked to 50 off 43 balls' - The Australian; 'Both teams only took 11 wickets and dropped catches, pretty even' - Shane Warne

Stat of the match: 28 - number of hours Alistair Cook spent on the field

Sunday 28 November 2010

First Test, Day Four: Cardiff Redux? Adelaide Redux?

Big match hype: 'Andrew, how did it feel getting out third ball in one of the biggest Test matches ever?' - Nasser Hussain to Andrew Strauss

Understatement: 'It wasn't the start I was looking for,' - Strauss's reply

Positive spin: 'And at tea, England's lead is just 17 runs' - Gabba PA announcer

Tempting fate: 'Mitchell Johnson has never gone wicketless in a Test match' - Channel Nine stat

One for the Indian bookies: What price the most number of moustaches removed between Test matches - Movember ends two days before Adelaide, current Movember suspects: KP, Mitch, Hilfy, Sizzler.

Mitch on the couch: 'He's in good shape if his eyes sparkle when he peers at the batsman... When his head drops as he turns silently to return to his mark, he's in the early stages of serious torment,' - Peter English, Cricinfo

Support Network: 'He's a major problem for the Australian selectors, never mind the captain,' - Ian Chappell on you know who

Par Watch: 'On the evidence presented yesterday, Ricky Ponting's team is not going to reclaim the Ashes' - Peter Roebuck, SMH; 'There's definitely still quite a bit of hope for us,' - Shane Watson; 'The game is still up for grabs' - Andrew Strauss

Historian: 'Shane Warne has been the only difference for years. They haven't got him now or would have been a different story' - Darren Gough, via Twitter

Saturday 27 November 2010

First Test, Day Three: Yeah, alright then it's the Gabbatoir...

Typical British understatement: 'It was quite satisfying,' - Brad Haddin

Simile of the day: 'Haddin was still as a statue and as patient as a farmer' - Peter Roebuck, SMH

Do the math: 143: Australia's first five wickets; 31: Australia's last five wickets; 481: Australia's total

Build 'em up, knock 'em down: 'If Swann still can't get it right after Adelaide, then playing an additional bowler is something England might have to seriously consider' - Jonathan Agnew, BBC

Par watch: 'We're going to have to be very patient, very disciplined for long periods of time' - Mike Hussey; 'the way we've played our cricket over the last 18 months will stand us in good stead in this dogfight' - Steve Finn; 'Australia murdered us' - Geoffrey Boycott, Telegraph; 'It's only just over a day and a half of batting, our lads will be fine - Andrew Flintoff

'How is he doctor?': 'He's pulling through,' - Steve Finn on Andy Flower

Poor areas: 'Andy said to me that some guys' lips, which can be a problem area, are worse than his' - Dr Shobhan Manoharan, who treated Andy Flower

Michael Vaughan's night: 'Everyone who has a kebab tonight - respect' - via Twitter

Friday 26 November 2010

First Test, Day Two: Nobody knows anything

The Brian Close Stand There And Take It Award: Michael Clarke's back and head

'I knew that I would win, he knew that I knew that I would win, and I knew that he knew that I knew that I would win' confrontation: Graeme Swann to Marcus North.

Total Cricket moment: Paul Collingwood bowling at Mike Hussey. Mr Cricket versus the man who would doubtless be called 'England's Mr Cricket' if anyone had to be. Back in the 1970s, these two would have been employed to play a single-innings match against each other, for broadcast over the Christmas holidays.

Par watch: 'It's pretty tight, probably 50-50 at the moment,' - Mike Hussey; 'It's ebbed and flowed and I'm sure it will tomorrow' - Steve Finn; ''How poor are they that not have patience' said the villainous Iago' - Mike Selvey, Guardian; 'Edgy Hussey saves team, career' - Brisbane Courier Mail

Phil Space Award, 'You Don't Say' Category: 'If Hussey can push on and secure a lead of a hundred, there will be added pressure and England could be in trouble. If Australia are shot out quickly, batting last on a pitch with a dirty great crack appearing in the pitching area for spin bowlers, it could be the break Graeme Swann needs' - Martin Samuel, Daily Mail

Freddie's Evening: 'Good day for the lads, on a personal note, I am getting too old to pull all-nighters' - via Twitter

Serious point of the day: Mike Hussey's footwork. Exemplary.

Sun Tzu's Advice for the UDRS: 'The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim'

Thursday 25 November 2010

Day One: Keep calm and carry on

Sub-editor of the day: 'The first ball phobia of the bowlers transferred itself to the batsmen as Andrew Strauss was out third ball' - Telegraph caption

Which Mitch? Ordinary Mitch today. Tattoos looked sharp though.

New Boy: Xavier Doherty - called 'Ex- Ayvier' all day by Shane Warne, great first ball, dropped catch, made Kevin Pietersen laugh.

Par watch: 'It was certainly under par' - Ian Bell; 'England's day really wasn't that bad' Steve James, Telegraph; 'Australia dominated day one' - Sydney Morning Herald; 'England perhaps 30 runs short' - Guardian.

Best accent: Peter Siddle - makes Ricky Ponting sound like Brian Sewell. Post play interview probably needed subtitles for English viewers.

Channel Nine moment of the day: 'Umpire's Decision - Out' - caption on referral system playback of Siddle's unsuccessful appeal against Trott.

Movember moments: Hilfenhaus to Pietersen.

Freddie's plans: 'Family time. Will nip to the pub later for my pint, let me know how good yours tastes, then up all night for day two, come on England' - via Twitter

Zen reflection on day one: Neither ours nor theirs. It just was.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Numbers game: Mitch's Radar

Number of England players targeted by Mitchell Johnson at yesterday's press conference: 2

Number of wides bowled by Mitchell Johnson in a club match last weekend: 11

Monday 22 November 2010

Haydos: The Coalface Of Competitive Battle

There is a piece of received wisdom being repeated endlessly in these last few days before the merciful onset of play. It's a piece of received wisdom that suits a desperate-sounding Australia, and it deserves to be challenged.

It has just been restated by the wondrous Haydos, in that unique Haydos tongue: 'There is an enormous build-up and the heat is on you. You are at the coalface of competitive battle, you are under pressure... It will be play on at a venue which is really really tough for anyone who sits outside these boundaries'.

'There's been a lot made of England's preparation,' Ricky Ponting went on, 'but they don't play a match at the Gabba before the first Test'.

Ah, the old Gabba chestnut, the Gabbatoir etc etc. It's a strange one, because it's not the arena itself, which has lost much of its character to commerce in the last decade or so. I feel vaguely qualified to comment because I lived in Brisbane for three years at the time it was being reinvented - along with much of Brissie - from Queensland country town to thrusting contemporary cityscape.

It's now a vast, unshaded bowl, its major competitive disadvantage for visitors coming in the heat, which in November, the rainy season, builds throughout the day in boom and bust style until the frequent afternoon rains, and in the pitch, which holds demons when you bat against Aussie bowlers with the strength to whack it in and then becomes a road when they take guard. Neither are decisive as and of themselves.

What accompanies them is that fearsome record, but that has less to do with the ground than the opposition, seeing as how it coincides with the matchless Australian dynasty of the late twentieth century. It is a reputation compounded by a further conventional notion, that the first session is a kind of weird, witchy premonition of the months to come. The hope is that Slater's first-ball boundary, Nasser's toss and Harmi's wide linger in the English national psyche.

But the two Ashes series of recent memory won by England saw them start with a heavy defeat at Lord's in 2005, and a skin-of-the-teeth draw at Cardiff. Thus it's hard to extrapolate that Brisbane is vital, and even harder to conclude that the first couple of hours offer the key to the Ashes. More likely that it will be a slow-burn series that will go to the wire. England are more than used to starting badly.

England don't need to fear the Gabba, or defeat there. Neither are insurmountable.

Saturday 20 November 2010

Phil Space 2010-11: The Nightmare Renewed

The phony war is almost over. Which is a shame, because it's quite good. Today the Guardian fired a salvo from left-field with the recruitment of Stuart Clark to play Yang to Duncan Fletcher's Yin.

An unusual choice, the big lad from New South Wales. His first gig was a free hit, a man-by-man on the England squad to stand against Implacable Dunc's ever-incisive take on the Australians.

On the available evidence, Clarkie's decided against the research route and instead had a dig around in his kit-bag and pulled out Tim Neilsen's notes from 2009. Hence Jonathan Trott is 'one of England's in-form batsmen'; KP 'on his day one of the most destructive batsmen in world cricket'; Ian Bell has 'a lingering doubt about his' - you guessed it - 'mental toughness'; Stuart Broad's great attribute 'is his height'; and Graeme Swann - amazingly enough for an off-spinner - bowls with 'drift and control'.

Job done Stuey! We might have found the new Michael Vaughan. Speaking of whom, let's hope he's still on the Telegraph payroll.

Clarke also has the honour of the first entry for this year's Phil Space Trophy. Hacks of the world, start your laptops...

Emails from Boycs

The great man is offering a daily Ashes email. Make sure you get signed up.

Altogether now:

'Play a shot like that, on uncovered pitches? I don't think so...'

'I tell you what, I wouldn't have minded facing Xavier Doherty! You wouldn't have been able to drag me away. I could play him wi' a stick of rhubarb and a blindfold...'

'I like Kevin, he's a lovely lad, but sometimes he just does stupid things...'

'I know they like to play their shots, but the match lasts five days...'


Ramps: not there forever

Glamorgan and Leicestershire may be in meltdown, but the revolution at Surrey held together. Although you might want to read closely the reaction of coach Chris Adams to the news that Mark Ramprakash has gone in the fetlock playing football, and may miss the start of next season:

'It's just unfortunate that it's come at this stage of Mark's career... It is a blow but obviously we have to plan to be without him possibly in the opening weeks, if it comes to that, and it offers an opportunity for other players to show what they can do... Mark won't be there forever so someone has the opportunity to prove he can step up...'

We'll see what the brooding Heathcliff of county cricket makes of that, when he blows back in off the moors of winter...

Fielding: the shocking truth [part iv]

'I hate fielding with a passion. I can't stand it because I get bored stupid' - Graeme Swann

Twas ever thus...

Thursday 18 November 2010

What we have learned on a day in Tassie

Having read more about Australia's second-string batting that actually seen it, it was good to get an eyeful of Khawaja and Ferguson for as long as it lasted, and for the briefest of reacquaintances with Phil Hughes.

Sometimes second-string has the feel of second-string, and sometimes it has the feel of the next generation testing each other out for the first time. Shazad might be bowling at Khawaja for some years yet. The most striking thing about Khawaja was that he had the one commodity all batsmen want - time. The cameras and commentators picked up on his first couple of balls from Tremlett, a snorter of a short one that he swayed away from and a second that he pulled a long way in front of square, but what was really telling were the first couple from Shazad, who was hurrying the other lefties. Shazad's first ball to him started outside leg and swung across Khawaja, who seemed to have been waiting for it for a couple of minutes by the time it hit his bat. It's a priceless commodity to have. He can play.

Ferguson had less about him. He has Eoin Morgan's first class average, but not Morgan's x-factor. Hughes remains a brilliant oddity, a counter-intuitive player who has got as far as he's got on talent and confidence. What he needs now is the pro's pragmatism, because he still has the feel of an avatar, someone who, like Morgan, can reinvent the game. Just not on green wickets.

Shazad was the big find for England. Patently fitter and stronger than Tremmers and Gough-esque of attitude, he can move the ball at pace a la Simon Jones. He should play a Test or two before the series is out.

Monday 15 November 2010

Australia: The Hilditch Situation

'Yeah, okay, you've busted us,' said Andrew Hilditch earlier today, speaking exclusively to this blog. 'I'm surprised no-one's spotted it before. Our entire build-up to this Ashes campaign has been a Situationist prank. Well, you've got to do something to shift the tickets, haven't you?'

Hilditch made his comments after appearing at the 'grand unveiling' of Australia's 666-man Ashes squad under a piece of tarpaulin near the Sydney Opera House, an event attended by a cast of up to 30 Situationist actors who huddled beneath umbrellas and expressed ironic regard for Australia's chances in the forthcoming series. 'One of the guys in marketing at CA is a bit of a fan of Guy Debord, and he made the suggestion,' Hilditch said. 'We actually thought we'd be found out sooner. I mean, we did appoint Greg Chappell as a selector while the boys were in India. I was pissing myself when we came up with that one...'

'The clues have all been there,' Hilditch went on. 'We needed to break the spectator's passivity towards the spectacle, so we did stuff like persuading Mike Hussey to get his average down and picking Nathan Hauritz. Then today we chose every State player we could think of whose surname begins with an 'H' EXCEPT for Phil Hughes! Bloody ripper!'

'And I got Mitch Johnson to play a Grade match at the weekend, and the nutter bowled 11 wides! As you know, he's a big Asger Jorn fan, and he's spent the past couple of years establishing an almost perfect paradigm of alternative inadequacy'.

'Anyway,' Hilditch concluded, 'we might knock it on the head after this round of State games. After all, we can only go on pretending to be like England for so long...'

Sunday 14 November 2010

Six and out

Given the circumstances, it was maybe understandable that a remarkable stat slid beneath the radar last week: Shahid Afridi became the greatest hitter of sixes in international cricket. His 373rd panged over the boundary in Dubai, coming from just the second delivery he faced. Three balls later he was out, thus concluding perhaps the signature Afridi knock.

What the stat reflects, more than Afridi's mortal terror that he might, at some point in his career, play an innings open to the adjective 'boring', is how the methods of scoring are changing. Afridi's is probably not a record that is going to survive the career of say, David Warner or someone of his age and sensibility.

Viv Richards, the most domineering player of his era, hit 210 sixes, a total that Virender Sehwag skipped past in the Test against New Zealand. Bradman hit six in his career, Boycott eight, totals that Afridi exceeded in his first international innings.

The six is now central to limited overs batting, something intrinsic and totemic, and of course that filters into Test cricket too. It's been easier for batsmen to hit [shorter boundaries, better bats, less approbation on dismissal] and strangely, easier for bowlers to bear [face it, it's going to happen to everyone].

What brought it to mind was a question posed by elegantstroke in the post below about Barry Richards - who does Richards' game most compare to? Richards played in an era when a six was still not quite common currency. He did hit them, mostly via his early adoption of a type of elegant slog sweep, and when he would lean back, thrillingly, to get elevation over the bowler from his slim-edged bat, but they weren't his main scoring shot. Yet Richards powered along. He hit nine hundreds before lunch in his career. That's not a feat often replicated even now. Gordon Greenidge once remarked that it wasn't unusual for him to still be in single figures as applause for Richards' 50 rang around the ground [and Gordon didn't necessarily believe in holding back, either].

Richards, like Sehwag and Lara, just hit lots of boundaries. The artistry of batting is in hitting the ball where the fielders aren't. Therein lay his greatness and his genius, and theirs, too.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Sound advice

Tiger Woods finally meets the man who can guide him through this crisis...

Yin Yang, you're my thang...

Arrange the following adjectives against the players' names [answers below]: 'Overrated'; 'Overpaid'; 'Unpopular'; 'Overrated' - Callum Ferguson; Michael Clarke; Nathan Hauritz; David Warner.

It's deja vu all over again for this piece in the [Oz] Telegraph - or at least it is if you're English. Phrases so beloved of our journos for all of these years - 'why our cricket's in crisis'; 'age of the silver spoon'; 'players lack the ability to think for themselves'; 'whinges too much'; 'quite self-indulgent'; guaranteed seven-figure salaries'; 'structure that's 20 years behind the times' - come tumbling back. Only this time, they're not about us. [Yet].

However inconsistent your team, you can always rely on the papers...

Answers: Overrated - David Warner; Overpaid - Nathan Hauritz; Unpopular - Michael Clarke; Overrated - Callum Ferguson.

Monday 8 November 2010

When he was king

Behold, Bad Bas, lost emperor of the game.

A wistful reverie awaits you there...

Thursday 4 November 2010


With no need to take the hair shirt out of the wardrobe at least until England's young princes get a bloody nose from some plucky underdogs at the Gabba in a few weeks, why not avail yourself of a garment to get yourself in the mood? You know how much they love Mr Jardine, in word and deed.

There's this, too, if you want to feel like you're there. And best of all this, of course... Who did we beat in the final again?

Anyway, shameless plug over. As you were...

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Sex, bribes, Marcus North...

Colin Cowdrey gets into a fight with his wife in the car on the way back from a party, and pulls out a clump of her hair... Len Hutton checks himself into rehab for alcohol abuse... Geoff Boycott 'forgets' that he's supposed to get out for less than 2o in a one-day international because Ray Illingworth's promised him $20,000 if he does... Don Bradman takes three girls back to his hotel room whilst on tour and then encourages one of them to 'jump ship' onto his roomie's bed because he's feeling 'a bit left out'... The Rev David Shepherd enjoys an encounter with a woman known fondly as 'The Perth Stripper'...

Not very likely, is it? Yet times change, and so do the kind of things that cricketers find themselves doing. Herschelle Gibbs has really raised the bar as far as the tell-all cricket yarn is concerned - To The Point is not exactly Don't Tell Kath. And no doubt agents are already approaching Jesse Ryder, Andrew Symonds etc.

But if you thought that Hershy had provided the most extraordinary thing you'd read this week, think again. Because the Sydney Morning Herald are reporting that the next captain of Australia could be... er, Marcus North. 'The team is not divided to the point of implosion, but a number of senoir players remain firmly opposed to the idea that Clarke will succeed Ricky Ponting...'

It has been generally accepted that an Ashes defeat this winter would mean the end of Ponting. With the kind of vacuum that might admit Marcus North to the job developing beneath him, that can no longer be considered a certainty. In a way, the decision to sack Ponting would smack of a kind of arrogance. If Australia lose, it will be because the team is not good enough any more, and that's hardly Ponting's fault. And unless he was prepared to swallow a demotion, it would also mean sacking Australia's best batsman.

It's easy to forget that England and Australia are the fourth and fifth best Test sides in the world. Both need to be pragmatic about winning and losing. The Australians might be best off regarding Ponting as more of a Border figure than a Waugh.

Monday 1 November 2010

WG, Jubilee...

As a kid, I found an ancient but well preserved copy of Ranjitsinjhi's Jubilee Book Of Cricket in a junk shop and bought it. I can still see the cover now, the gold leaf of the title receding into the light blue hardboard covers. It was a great doorstop of a thing, almost entirely ghosted by CB Fry*, and I didn't read too much of its densely-set type, but nonetheless me and Ranji [and CB] connected because, essentially, the game is the game, in that century and in this.

The pictures were amazing. Because of the limitations of Victorian photography, the subjects had to stand still during the exposure. Thus the famous 'under leg shot' [ironically just about to be outmoded by Ranji's newfangled leg glance] saw a batsman balancing precariously whilst trying to look like he'd just raised his leg and belted the ball under it, and the man chosen as 'a bowler illustrating a doubtful delivery' looked like someone chucking wooden balls at a coconut shy. It was ace, and remains the only book I've ever owned that was written by a prince [or at least by a prince's mate].

There is obvious comedy about the game in that era, and obvious parallels with today too. It's what makes WG Grace Ate My Pedalo - a contemporary publication that in the interests of full disclosure was sent to me for nothing - demonically funny. The idea is slap-your-forehead simple: write about the modern game in Victorian style. You need to be good to get away with it, and Alan Tyers is. Thus he can pull off something like 'Letter From Oscar': 'My dearest Bosie, your sonnet was quite lovely, like sweet wine to me, as was the newspaper report of your 6-73 against Leicester. To read of those rough brutes groping in vain for your googlies was an exquisite joy', and also, on the book reviews page, nail 'No Boundaries, By Mr Ronald Irani': 'His views are as sickening as his prose, and indeed his medium paced bowling'.

The illustrations, by the enigmatic Beach, are superb, too - some of the 'Wisden Cricketer' covers are minor works of art. Send me one and I'd gladly hang it next to my picture of 'Bowler Illustrating a doubtful delivery'.

* It's obligatory to mention the essential CB Fry fact: his party trick was to jump backwards onto a mantelpiece. Not even AB de Villiers can do that. Neville Cardus called Ranji 'the midsummer night's dream of cricketers', too. That's good.

Friday 29 October 2010

University of life, school of hard knocks...

Growing up at the remove of a hemisphere, Australian grade cricket was a semi-mythical thing, the Yorkshire and Lancashire Leagues of the 1950s and '60s updated and transplanted Down Under. The myth grew as the Border-Taylor-Waugh juggernaut fired up and tales filtered down of Test players bred there playing a couple of Shield games and then wearing the Baggy Green.

They'd go back to their club sides on odd weekends and sometimes get worked over. One innings every two weeks produced the kind of flint-eyed determination and jaw-dropping balls that could repel Curtly Ambrose mid-wicket at Port Of Spain, could have you hallucinating at the crease in Madras rather than get out. English players would go down there and get chewed up, dropped to the seconds - too callow, too soft for grade cricket in their first season.

It was singular in its ferocity, a finishing school that money could neither replicate nor buy, populated by the kind of teams who would rout soft-ass county second XIs, filled with men who could nurture greatness by offering it no quarter. How England envied it, discussed it, wanted to replicate it.

Now it is changing, as Peter Roebuck writes in an insightful piece. There is a danger for Australia that they will go the English way, producing a generation of talented but cossetted players whose ability can be subjugated by sheer hardness. County cricket, especially in Div One, is tough now, with few meaningless matches, less dreamy, drifting summer days. England have got harder. Australia are, if not getting softer, in danger of losing something that has made their cricket unique and uniquely Australian.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

The seconds, you say?

Cricinfo have selected their all-time world XI. A jury of 12 good men and true have put Barry Richards in the seconds. Hobbs and Hutton made the cut above Bad Bas and Sunil Gavaskar for some reason or other.

The jury must be forgetting though that Bas don't play in no seconds...

NB: A certain gentleman whose picture appears at the top of this column didn't even make the twos... Do you want to tell him or should I?

Friday 22 October 2010

The quintessential truths of Dean Jones

On the list of commentators that you'd expect to say something genuinely insightful, Dean Jones ['The Terrorist has got another wicket'] sits only just above the astonishing newcomer Brad Hogg ['Cameron White loves it in the slot'], and yet here he is in the Melbourne Age:

'What makes a genius? To me, the difference between a genius and mere mortals is that their defence is better. When athletes or teams are under the most pressure, it's their defensive skills that stand out the most'.

To me, this is a great and not always acknowledged truth about batting. I thought first of Vivian Richards, a man whose defensive play was underrated, at least insofar as it's never mentioned. The key to Richards' batting [the key to all batting in fact] was in the stillness of his head. The eyes were always level, and when you had an eye like Richards, that was all it took. Yes, he could whip across the line without fear. But he could, and did, play awesomely straight, especially in defence.

There were periods of a game that even Richards couldn't dominate, and as Jones said, part of his genius came in acknowledging those moments and surviving them. Like a boxer on the ropes, taking punches on his gloves and arms, letting the opponent punch himself out, Richards could absorb before he counterpunched.

Jones also noted that the very great players strike the ball differently. Not necessarily harder, but with a purity that comes from timing alone. There's just something extra about what they do - it's easier to observe than it is to describe, but Jones has seen and understood it. That's what it's all about...

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Your Free Cut Out And Keep Ashes Phony War Planner!

With just 36 days, 24 scheduled press conferences, 97 sponsor opportunities, 17,287 column inches, 365 hours of broadcast time and 145,604,967,845 twitter characters to be filled until someone bowls a ball at the Gabba that almost certainly will not go to second slip this time [ah Harmi, where art thou? Tis not the same without you], the phony war has begun.

So if you're as time-poor as most people these days, fear not. Simply print out this handy planner, grab a pen and delete as you feel appropriate:

Kevin Pietersen is/is not i] disruptive ii] finished iii] ready to make Australia pay iv] should be dropped

Ricky Ponting i] should ii] should not be sacked

Nathan Hauritz is i] rubbish ii] rubbish iii] rubbish

England's attack i] can ii] cannot bowl with a Kookaburra ball

Stuart Broad and Steve Finn are i] too young to play in the Ashes ii] young and hungry to win the Ashes

Mike Hussey should i] go back to number four ii] Go back to WA

i] England's or ii] Australia's middle order is vulnerable

Jimmy Anderson i] will ii] will not swing the ball

Shane Watson is i] Allan Border Medallist ii] number six batsman

Mitchell Johnson is i] quick ii] erratic iii] mental

England/Australia i] will ii] will not win 5-0

The English press's chief sportswriters i] will ii] will iii] will feel the need to dust off their 'chops'

Chris Broad's three hundreds in 1986-7 i] will ii] will be mentioned every tine Stuart does something good

Ian Botham and Shane Warne will i] laugh out loud ii] roll their eyes iii] express exasperation at the thought of i] boot camps ii] coaches iii] fielding practice iv] players who refuse to smoke/drink during a game

Right, let's get started, then...

Thursday 14 October 2010

Brightness falls

It always happens, and I always feel this way. There's something about the last days of great players, something noble, something ineffably sad that makes them seem greater than they were at their best.

India beat Australia [you may have heard], Tendulkar beat Ponting, Sachin beat Ricky, the Little Master bested the Punter, and it was magnetic, hypnotic cricket. The stats were too beautiful: Cheteshwa Pujara was one when Sachin first batted for India, which means he was a veteran of seven when Ricky first took block in a Test, and not yet born when Australia last lost three in a row [not even Ricky was playing when that happened 'although it feels like I was,' he said ruefully the other day].

What a tale Pujara can tell. At the crease with Sachin [who told him that the nerves would pass, so he should not fight them but feel them], in the field as Ponting raged against the dying of the light, both his own and his country's.

The state of Tendulkar's bat told its own tale - it was a reflection of him, thick-set and broad, well-used but still mighty. What craft there was to his batting, what skill and know-how, and what inevitability. No-one has deserved a swansong more.

While Ponting was a component of the great Australian machine, his batting, though merciless, seemed to lack the aesthetics of his peers, but now, as he fades, the beauty is manifest. In a country where he has barely averaged 30, he made three 70s against his nemesis Harbhajan. His craft matched Tendulkar's, the position of his feet and his head immaculate, his determination implacable. That he knew, in his heart, that he would lose made his effort more glorious.

Some people in Australia want to sack him. Maybe they will, if this curiously flaky team loses to England at home. But history will be kind. He was great, Sachin was great, the pure spirit of the game was inside them.

Sunday 10 October 2010


Marcus North gets runs. All England breaths a sigh of relief.

Friday 8 October 2010

New words and phrases

The game has demanded more of its language as change has ripped through it in the last few years. There are some obvious examples - doosra, Dilscoop, zooter, DLF Maximum, Citi Moment of Success*, and did WG ever 'clear his front leg'? - but the arrival of the two Test series demands another.

What do we call tomorrow's second game between India and Australia? It's not a decider, is it, because the series has already been decided - India can't lose it and have thus retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. But it's not a dead rubber, either, because Australia can still draw.

In matchplay golf, they'd say that India were 'dormie one' - so maybe that's it. Hail the rise of the Dormie Test.

* Ok, maybe those two aren't, you know, official. Yet, anyway...

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Class: permanent

Heard a great story about bad-ass Barry Richards being even more bad-ass than usual, and it's quite a recent one too, dating to the occasion the other summer when Richards turned out for the Bunbury charity XI.

He arrived at the game direct from the airport, carrying a pair of golf shoes and a bat so old that it was the colour of oak and the width of a slim volume of poetry. The rest of the kit he borrowed. A couple of men fell and he made his way in. Richards began slowly, as befitted a man who had just crossed the world, but soon that thin bat sang its song, and Bad Bas was smiling his way to another fifty before he gave his wicket away.

'How long is it since you've played,' someone asked him back in the pavilion.

'Oh, twelve years,' said Richards.

Twelve years. Bad-ass.

Nice one.

VVS Laxman - scourge of Australia.

NB: great line at the end of the cricinfo report: 'India retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy'. Gotta love those two-Test series.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

The Enigma: Variations [part 232 in a series...]

Ed Smith, cricketer turned journo, is the latest to have a crack at the coding embedded in the enigma that is Mark Ramprakash, and others of his ilk. Ed got a whole BBC programme, an episode of Inside Sport called 'Is Professionalism Killing Sport?' to find out. And Ramps was once more a siren, singing him towards his doom on the rocks.

Smith has a double first from Cambridge [this fact is mentioned, breathlessly and often, in BBC pre-publicity] and perhaps it blinded his editors to the lack of rigour he brought to his argument. Or maybe, in fairness, he made a programme that later had a tabloid title imposed upon it. Either way, Ed ballsed it up.

He got such access too. His interviewees included the Dark Prince of English batsmen, alongside Ryan Giggs and Colin Montgomerie. Smith hung his theory on his own fleeting Test match career: 'Would I have scored more runs if I'd worried less about my technique and just relaxed?' he asked [answer: no]. This immediately muddied his position. He aligned relaxation with amateurism, and amateurism with a youthful enjoyment of the game.

Ryan Giggs rapidly exploded this theory, although the editors didn't seem to notice, when he explained that his best football came at the age of 30, when he'd become more professional, stopped drinking and trained harder.

Montgomerie was called in to comment on the case of Tiger Woods, Smith's Exhibit A, who had become 'joyless'. No more joyless, though, than when he was winning 14 Majors and a billion dollars as he slept with a succession of gorgeous women [oh Tiger, tell us, where did it all go wrong?].

And then Ramps, who gamely conceded on camera that he had never enjoyed playing for England. Not enjoyed facing Marshall, Walsh, Ambrose, Bishop, Waqar, Wasim, McGrath and Warne - good lord...

This was a good-hearted programme, but its strands needed unpicking. Amateurism was a smokescreen. There are exactly the same number of people at the top of sport as there were in the days of Spitfires and Denis Compton. They may approach their lives more formally now, but they occupy familiar ground. Relaxation, being able to perform under pressure, has nothing to do with amateurism, or childishness.

Giggs gave Smith the clue, when he described his famous FA Cup semi-final goal against Arsenal. 'What were you thinking about?' he was asked. 'Nothing' came the reply. Here is the key: entry into a state of pure instinct, unimpeded by conscious thought. The best have an ability to remove their brain from the equation. The physiology of that would make a truly interesting programme.

Smith's initial question of himself - would he have scored more runs if he'd thought less about technique - had a touch of ego about it. Here is another truth: ability has its ceiling, its outer limits. Anyone watching him bat could see that he had arrived at his. There is no shame in that.

He did not go away from Test cricket and make a hundred first class hundreds, as Ramprakash and Hick have done. Those vast, sad codas to their lives are in part acknowledgment of the unfulfillment, and of that part of themselves that they were unable to overcome. It was about the complex uncertainties of being human. That, though, doesn't fit easily into a catchy programme title.

A final point must be considered, and it's a brutal one too. Lots of the best sportsmen are a bit thick. It helps. Strangely, so does professionalism - from an early age, all they'll ever do is play, thus ensuring that a certain unawareness of the outside world persists.

One of cricket's great paradoxes is that in its simplicity, it is complex. It attracts thinkers, brooders, obsessives, and then it drives them mad. It really would help, Ed, if you were thick...

Saturday 25 September 2010

Doing lines

The first class averages were once the implacable judges of a season. You used to have to wait for them, too, in the pre-information age. The newspaper would print them eventually, as would The Cricketer, those long lines of evidence, Boycott usually on or near the top of the batting, the bowling the preserve of saturnine gods WW Daniel [Middx] and ST Clarke [Sur], deadly quicks born out of time. Further down, loaded with ennui, the stats of BA Richards - 50-odd was enough for him, double that not enough to sate Geoffrey.

Those glowing few decades seem like mirages now: King Viv, Joel Garner and Beefy playing entire seasons at the same club, Macco Marshall bowling hundreds of overs for Hampshire, the captain of West Indies carving a life at Old Trafford, England's players returning by rote to their counties as Tests concluded, Hadlee unplayable at Trent Bridge, and so on, apparently ad infinitum, until it wasn't.

Now those stats are immediate and mitigated. At the PCA awards Neil Carter took the player of the season award for 617 runs and 51 wickets, just over half the traditional 'double', yet the weight of his stats grew once the century and two fifties in a winning CB40 campaign and his 16 T20 wickets were added in. In time-poor times, no-one has the time for old-school stats.

But they remain fascinating. The most obvious point made by the batting figures is that it was a bowlers' season. Even the brooding prince of English batsmanship, the Heathcliff of Div Two, MR Ramprakash, had to settle for 1,595 runs at 61.34 in the year he turned 40. What a player he is.

What shines through the stats is the nobility of the competition. The Championship went down to its final day, a shattering one in a shattering week for Somerset and Marcus Trescothick, a man who continues to enrich the game. It's ironic that, in understanding his despair at Somerset's empty season, it became easier to see what we have gained from his international absence. During a summer when international cricket seemed endless and, in that endlessness, corruptible, men like Trescothick had the force of history behind them.

Thursday 23 September 2010

Born into this

Watched a nice documentary last night about Sunningdale prep school, where boys as young as seven are sent to board by both old and new money in the hope that their offspring will go on, as most of the intake do, to Eton, Harrow or Westminster.

They were nice kids for the most part, excepting one who might well have been a robot. He'd persuaded his parents to allow him to relocate from Shanghai on his own so that he could attend [at the end of the first term, he was asked what he'd learned and he said, 'to be more independent'. More independent than he had been a few months previously, when he'd decided to relocate from Shanghai by himself as a nine-year-old, that was].

It took me back to the days when I played cricket the most seriously, as an U17. The club I played for had a strong side for the first half of the summer, and an even stronger one in the second, when all of the public schoolboys turned up. They'd roll down the driveway of the ground in the crumbling Volvos and ancient landrovers owned by their parents, dressed in terrible clothes, dragging cricket bags that looked like they'd been in the family for generations. It was an old money, empire thing. The shabbier they looked, the richer they were, generally.

They were all good lads, and good players too, well schooled. We won a lot of matches together. We even got a game against the club first XI, the midweek team admittedly, but they had one ex county player in the side, and it was a decent match, from what I remember.

What was interesting, and what yesterday's film reminded me of, was their acceptance of their fate. In its way, it was as forcefully apparent as it is at the more desperate end of the social scale. While some of us held woolly ambitions to play cricket as a career [including me - at least until The Day Of The Pig], they were resigned to their progression from public school to Oxbridge to middle-ranking position in the city or the family business [one guy used to refer to his father, somewhat dismissively, as "a shopkeeper", which was true after a fashion - he owned a chain of supermarkets]. My best mate amongst them had the sad air of a man whose life held no surprises at all ahead. He had already met the friend of his father's who would be employing him for the next forty years, and been shown around the office. I think of him now and again and hope that he decided to drop acid and start a commune but I doubt it. The sense of duty was bred into him and into all of them.

Their kids might well be playing by now. The seasons roll on.

Monday 20 September 2010

Ijaz Butt: A Statement

Ijaz Butt today unveiled what he called 'incontrovertible evidence' that England players had been paid to lose games.

'It's quite clear for all to see,' he said. 'In the 1990s, an organisation called the England and Wales Cricket Board began paying players like Mike Atherton, Alec Stewart and Darren Gough huge sums every year to lose series after series. They did so quite openly. Australian people used to laugh at them because of it.'

'I can prove it all. The ECB then began using a character called Duncan Fletcher as a middleman between themselves and the players. Fletcher stayed in hotels with them night after night and he instructed them to begin winning. This they did, and men like Andrew Flintoff made even more money on and off the field. It's obvious. I'll be telling the ICC all about it.'

NB: In other sporting news, Butt revealed evidence that the famous and much loved drinker Ricky Hatton had been seen pursuing a career in boxing. 'For several months Hatton would cease being an alcoholic altogether, and these periods would conclude with him being involved in a boxing match. He tried to pull the wool over my eyes by drinking heavily again immediately afterwards, but I saw it. I keep my eye on all of sport...'

Sunday 19 September 2010

Freddie Redux

Last night the Beeb screened another of Peter Morgan's dramas about Tony Blair, this one about the 'special relationship' between TB and Bill Clinton. In an early scene, just after Blair had become PM, Hilary Clinton told him at dinner to plan his own legacy right away. 'If you don't', she said, 'then they'll start doing it for you'.

It's advice that doesn't only hold true for Tone, who gave it his best shot [and continues to do so...]. Andrew Flintoff's legacy has been much in the news this week, and it's been interesting to note how equivocally he's been written about. There has barely been a column without a pointed mention of the big lad's love of an endorsement or a quid. Michael Vaughan - Brearley to Fred's Botham [sort of] - conceded too that Fred had been 'difficult to captain' post-2005.

Flintoff exists in an age where his sporting legacy lives on separately. A few years of insipid reality TV shows might dilute the potency of his everyman appeal.

But cricket will, I think, be kind. There was a little hubris at the end, and a little too much awareness of his image, but for the wholeheartedness of his endeavours he will be loved.

Fred bowled the single best over I've ever seen, at Edgbaston in '05. It's been summoned in almost every elegy this week, but what's not often drawn is its context, and context, in these things, is everything.

The narrative of the series was not yet established. England were still England. Australia were still immortal. England had been drubbed at Lord's. They'd come back spiritedly on first innings at Edgbaston, but a second innings collapse, resisted only by Fred who got 70-odd, set Australia 282 to win.

Hayden, ego not yet brought low by Hoggy and Jones, and Langer ripped at Harmison and Hoggard. They had 40-odd on the board in no time. It was very much business as usual - 240-ish to win, 10 wickets in hand, a customary 2-0 lead in sight.

That Flintoff over was his first of the innings. How remarkable. Perhaps he'd already got inside Langer's head, who knows? [JL would later be unusually effusive about Flintoff, but not yet]. Whatever, he went around the wicket, got some bounce and Langer played on. It was what happened next that made things extraordinary. He squared Ponting up, cast doubt where there was none. He bowled a no-ball on the sixth delivery. Ponting must have wanted to tell the umpire not to bother. Then the last ball, flickering away, Punter's bottom hand steering his edge at it, and oblivion. Perfect.

You can make a good case for the series turning on that moment. You can make a good case for Flintoff's second life beginning there. Freddie made it happen without knowing that he had. Now he just has to deal with it. Great over though... in context.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

A touch of the vapours

I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth...* Yeah, Shakey may have beaten me to that one by a few hundred years, but it feels like the right time to be melancholic; there's no more summer in the air, the last first-class overs go down tomorrow, club outfields are beginning to grow long as the final matches ebb away. Last week the sun came down at a low angle and because of all the rain the grass was an almost iridescent green, just like it is in that picture of Steve Waugh walking off at the SCG late in the day after one of his final innings, a deep shadow cast behind him.

Today I picked up a book that mentioned Alf Gover and it got me thinking about the old man. It was all so long ago, yet it's still sweet and bitter in the memory. I googled some pictures of the school and I could almost feel what it was like to be there, and it was strange and sad to think it exists now only in the minds of people who knew it. It made me want to find some of them, but then maybe best not.

The end of the season. It always comes for you, one way or another...

* Is that the greatest passage in the English language? I didn't used to think so - I was a St Crispin's Day man - but at these times of year, with the weight of experience, maybe it is. Till next spring at least, then it's old Henry again...

Monday 13 September 2010

Big man, not much damage

A gambling analogy might not the be the best, but in a summer in which Pakistan have never failed to be anything less than gobsmacking, they've pulled one last card from the deck: Mohammad Irfan.

Maybe he's 6'8; perhaps he's 7'1. The tape measure doesn't seem quite sure, but one thing is certain. When he comes running in, he looks like the massive kid in a school match told to open the bowling because he's the biggest.

On TMS there was a discussion about how, despite being 7'1, he's not very quick and doesn't get much bounce. Their conclusion was that he doesn't have a delivery stride as such, he just lets it go when he arrives at the stumps.

Maybe it's another scale thing. People may be getting bigger, but the dimensions of the game have remained the same. If he did have a long, bounding delivery stride, he'd probably have to start it from about the point Paul Collingwood marks his run.

Before Irfan leaves the country, he should bowl at Will Jefferson, the world's biggest batsman, if only for the delight of stattos everywhere...

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Andrew Strauss's Bat

Fed up with hearing about and thinking about spot fixing. Not enthused by five ODIs against Pakistan. Only mildly amused by Dimi Mascarenhas calling Geoff Miller a knob on Twitter. Slightly more amused by Geoff Miller continuing to pretend he doesn't know what 'this twitter' is. In need of something to remind me of what the game is really all about.

Found it in this post from Jrod at Mountain Chickens, a blog about an Australian being schooled in the arts of the game in the land of its birth. He was playing a match against a bunch of accountants. One of them started hitting Jrod even further than usual:

'In this game we had an injured batsman come out. He played a sweep shot early on that just seemed so effortless as it went to the rope, but the noise was amazing. Two balls later he hit a cover drive even harder, and that is when the mumurs started.

"He is using Andrew Strauss's bat"

"His mate plays Middlesex 2s"

"That is a proper Test bat".

It was being spoken about as if it were Excalibur.

Next the guy hit me over my head and into some nearby paddock, and this was no longer a cricket bat, this was now a myth.'

I love this sort of rumour. It plays in so many ways. On the mortal plane, it asks whether such a thing as a 'proper Test bat' exists. On the metaphysical plane, it wonders whether a bit of hand-carved wood can be something more, something transformative.

On the mortal question, well there probably is such a thing, especially now. Batmakers obviously set aside the very best clefts of willow for their pros. And most pros seem far less wedded to one or two particular bats. Thus they can be pressed less, shortening their lifespan but heightening the trampolining effect of their power.

As for the magic of a bat, well who knows? I'll never forget the bat that never was, a bat I found in a shop but didn't have the money to buy. It was a Stuart Surridge jumbo, short-handled, a beast of a thing that picked up like it was an extension of my hands. I've never felt anything like it before or since. I'd have loved to have batted with it just once.

It's great too how rumours can spread, even in the course of a game. I remember playing in one where their quick bowler was said to have 'opened the bowling for Wales'. The other classic is having a player who is related to a pro. That one goes around at least once a season.

These things are what the game is about, and they make it what it is. Good work Jrod. Just keep telling yourself it was the bat... [and happy birthday too, to the Balls, in all of its wickedness...]

Monday 6 September 2010

Who, what, when, where, how

Not much time to blog today, but here are two pieces worth reading, the first from Nick Harris at Sporting Intelligence on The News Of The World's approach to Yasir Hameed, and the other from Aniruddah Bahal in Open magazine on how the NOTW sting went down.

Friday 3 September 2010

Sting theory

And so it's clear - the defence of the Pakistan Three will rest on the testing of the News Of The World evidence. It's the logical way to go for them, because, as blogged here, the burden of proof for a newspaper story is different to that required to take away someone's ability to earn a living, and its remedies are civil rather than criminal.

As Rob Bagchi writes today, the NOTW has a patchy record in terms of its stings. They look good in the paper but then don't always stand up. There is often an element of entrapment about them that can be exploited by those entrapped.

Sunday will be a big day. The NOTW almost always hold something back for a second week. As usual they will have one aim: to sell newspapers. Everything else, from the fate of Mohammed Amir to the impact on cricket, is simply collateral damage in their endless war.

The success of the ICC and ACSU in identifying any spot fixing will depend entirely on their ability to wrench the story away from the newspapers and produce their own evidence, something far harder to do.

Thursday 2 September 2010

Sigh of relief

Relax everyone. Ijaz Butt's here to sort it all out.

Feeling better yet?

Tuesday 31 August 2010

News of the Screwed

The world does not really require any more comment on spot fixing, so relax - there will be none here. But there is one small element of the story that is worth mentioning.

On 2 and 9 May 2010, the News Of The World, the paper that ran Sunday's allegations, exposed John Higgins, a champion snooker player, as a match-fixer too. The stories were accompanied by a video, not dissimilar to Sunday's, that showed Higgins and his manager agreeing to fix the outcome of a snooker match. Higgins was suspended by the WPBSA, snooker's governing body. Snooker is another sport that has been haunted by fixing, and its existence as a revenue-generating TV machine is under far greater threat than cricket's.

Yet the Higgins case, superficially a damning one, has not yet stood up to examination. An investigation led by the website Sporting Intelligence raised some serious questions about the veracity of the video and the story itself. Higgins will face a disciplinary hearing in September, and he maintains his innocence.

His case is unconnected to the Pakistan one, and yet there is a gap between the requirements of a newspaper story and a proven case of spot-fixing in cricket. The News Of The World is concerned with selling newspapers, not helping cricket solve its problems. Another story is expected next Sunday, perhaps concerning the Australia-Pakistan Test in Sydney last winter.

The evidence seems far firmer with regard to Pakistan than it does with Higgins, and perhaps it is. But it might be worth not chucking any more tomatoes at donkeys until it's been properly interrogated.