Sunday 30 May 2010

ECB: Right on the case

The ECB have placed some press ads ahead of the domestic season's Twenty20 Cup, which starts in June. Great idea, given that events in the Caribbean are still buzzing around in the minds of the new generation of cricket followers.

So which members of England's World Cup winning squad who'll be available to play did the ECB marketing team select to get the kids excited? Lumb? Kieswetter? Wright? Yardy? Bopara?

The names on today's Observer ad: Symonds, Gibbs, Vaas.

Good job, boys...

Friday 28 May 2010

The Big Squeeze

Life inside Jonathan Trott's head must be interesting. There are all of the tics and scratches going on of course, all of the little rituals and obsessions of his batting, the manifestations of the mind's struggle for order and control. Then there is the effect on his psyche of the press's view of him, which even by English standards has been mercurial.

His hundred at the Oval had him anointed England's number three for the next ten years, even though he hadn't actually batted there. After South Africa, where he played one of history's weirdest nine-ball innings, and Bangladesh, where his luck ran out, he was considered fortunate to be in the squad, let alone the team. And now yesterday.

Bangladesh aren't a big test for everybody, but they were a big test for him, and for Morgan and for England's little middle-order goldenballs Ian Bell. After yesterday, the squeeze is on, especially if Morgan gets a few more in style today. World Cup hero Colin Collingwood* has to come back, which means one less seat on the bus.

Who goes? Who knows, but it's now harder for it to be Trott. Morgan is an obvious number six, because he can move matches along and his batting has the wow factor. KP evidently won't move to three, which might allow a bigger shuffle of the deck, so attention once more falls on Bell, the escape artist. His dismissal yesterday was less easily explained away than Pietersen's. KP had just enjoyed one of the weeks of a lifetime - a small comedown is forgivable. Bell was fresh, coming in with runs on the board. He might not bat twice here, which probably leaves him one innings to save his ass. Again.

* As the Prime Minister apparently called him, so he shall henceforth be known...

Thursday 27 May 2010

Fitted up

Is dear old county cricket fixed? the Telegraph grew semi-hysterical on the subject yesterday amid speculation elsewhere that the story might be a plant to let the world know that the knobblers are around.

They are drawing a distinction here between spot fixing [player deliberately bowls a wide etc] and match fixing [results are manufactured], with an eye on the fact that around 30 domestic T20 matches will be broadcast 'overseas' [you know, where the scary men live].

Yet a great truth remains unspoken. The only way any kind of fixing can ever really be proven is if those involved come forward. That is a fact too dangerous for the corruption units to admit out loud, but they surely know it.

The briefest of glances at a random day's cricket proves the point. Yesterday for example, where the following happened:

Andre Nel made 96 for Surrey.

His last wicket partnership with Jade Dernbach took Surrey from 268-9 to 386 all out.

Leicester, having made 291 in their first innings, were dismissed for 71 in their second.

That set Glamorgan 198 to win, 33 more than they'd made in their first innings. They got them for the loss of no wickets.

Durham, county champions, lost by an innings and four runs to Kent at home in just over a day.

All of these things are odd, or at least unpredictable. But even Andre Nel is likely to make runs once in his life - that day was yesterday. These are normal variations on a theme. Yet they are all irregularities, outside of the usual. They're why you'll always need a confession to be sure.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

Life is sweet, Boom Boom is king

Whatever god you believe in, whichever benign universal force you fancy, offer up thanks, because they've come up trumps for you today: Shahid Afridi is captain of Pakistan. And they're over here for the summer.

Shahid's coming out of a four-year Test retirement. He's just kicked ass at the Commission Enquiry. His first job? Check that Shoaib Ahktar has recovered sufficiently from genital warts, persuade Younis Khan and Shoaib Malik out of retirement, ignore all the bans, retain Kamran Akmal and put together a 35 man provisional squad that contains at least four previous captains. He's graciously allowing PCB chairman Ijaz Butt to kiss his backside while he does so. The man's cleaning house. Shahid means business. He might even be able to persuade Mohammad Asif to smuggle his M16 through customs.

This is how to look cool while Ijaz tells the world why he loves you. Shahid is coming. Rejoice. The summer just got better.


Hampshire were without most of their bowlers yesterday - perhaps it was the presence of the indestructible Corky that made them decide to field first on the hottest day of the year. Or perhaps they just thought that Yorkshire might be freaked out by the fact that the sky had turned a weird colour and would roll over. Who knows?

Either way, it brought to the crease the cult opening pair in English cricket, testosterone-soaked leading run scorer Adam Lyth, and Joe Sayers, a man the waspish Hopps described yesterday as 'the perfect batsman for the pre-lunch session when all you want to do is flick through the paper'.

Lyth got 26 in the first two overs, had fifty after 12, at which point Sayers had made three. When Lyth brought up the Yorkshire hundred, Sayers had advanced to nine. When Lyth was out for a kick-ass 133, he and Sayers had put on 195, of which the latter had made 49. Heroically, Sayers then made none of the 14 he put on with Anthony McGrath, before he was second out, having batted for 251 minutes and with a strike rate of 27.68.

He was cheered by Yorkshire's fans, who are now absorbed by this unfolding career - Sayers first class strike rate is 38.23, rising to a heady 59.35 in List A games and 81.81 in T20. Sayers though has the single-mindedness to know that these are just stats. He bats his way, and that takes strength of purpose.

The Headingley crowd used to love to tease Boycott ['you've got seven, Geoffrey - seven'], and now they have Sayers. Long may he reign: in an era of batting madness, he's a reminder of how things used to be.

Monday 24 May 2010

Twas ever thus

Simon Rae on the Australians' tour of England in 1892:

'The tour turned into an utter shambles, with players of different state sides forming factions and continuing virulent domestic rivalries. Once, when the team had travelled by train to Brighton, the porters found their carriage spattered with blood. Private quarrels erupted into public rows, drunkenness was rampant and a thoroughly unpleasant trip was rounded off with threats of violence accompanying allegations that profits were being unequally shared out'.

They probably put undue pressure on the captain to win the toss too...

Thursday 20 May 2010

Pakistan commission: shocking truth about fielding revealed

The Commission into Pakistan's Australian tour is turning out to be almost as entertaining as the tour itself.

Shahid Afridi, never a man to steer clear of a confrontation ['I'm a Pathan. All the Pathans are very aggressive'] laid it down during his evidence: 'The reason is we are not mentally strong. We had decided in our heads we couldn't beat Australia even before that match had started...'

He then revealed the hitherto clandestine and hidden truths about fielding in professional cricket, long suspected but before today rarely spoken out loud: 'We have a few players who perform well with the bat and then do not concentrate while fielding. They stand near the boundary, sign autographs and talk to girls'.

Elsewhere at the Commission today: Afridi being told he was captain of the 50 over side 40 minutes before play ['I told our coach Intikhab Alam very clearly to tell me well in advance if I were to captain the team'] and being ordered by Alam not to lose the toss ['Undue pressure was put on me not to lose the toss. I was told we will win the match only if I win the toss'], while Kamran Akmal's performance in the Sydney Test [dropping Mike Hussey three times and fluffing a run out chance] came under the microscope [My suspicions are pretty high,' said assistant coach Aaqib Javed, 'They are high because of other things I know about the process, the people in the surroundings'; 'If you see it, it is shocking,' said Intikhab; 'I got the ball but I was totally blind and could not run out the batsman,' said Kamran].

Superb. Never mind leaking the footage. This one should go on general release in cinemas - it's a comedy classic.

The ICC are trying to ascertain whether the Pakistan team were 'dysfunctional' on that tour. Gentleman, I think you have your answer. As usual, when given the choice between cock-up or conspiracy, cock-up's the explanation. Listen to Shahid. He speaks the truth - even about fielding...

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Michael Vaughan's Diary

New season, 2010

Alright! Yes, we're back from the WI - with the trophy! Vaughany never leaves home without one, as all you England cricket fans know...! Great to see my team still out there, doing it one more time for MPV [as some of them like to call me].

I was on commentary for TMS [why am I telling you that - you were all tuned in to my wise and humble words, going right across the world...!] and what words they were. Here's a little secret I know Colly won't mind me letting you into. 'Hey Skip,' he said to me, 'Do you reckon I could put a wire in my ear - it would look like one of those ones that the commentators use to ask the players questions on the field, but really, it'd be tuned into TMS?'

'We won't get away with it kiddo,' I told him. 'But bless you - when you're thinking WWMPVD? [that's What Would Michael Paul Vaughan Do, as if you need telling!] you and the lads can just look up at the comm box and I'll be there, an omnipresent leader, high in the sky!'

So mystery solved! That's why you TV viewers would have seen the lads keep looking heavenwards - they were just getting their fix of MPV!

I like the look of young Kieswetter. Modesty forbids me from telling you which right-handed opener he reminds people of! I wasn't the only one to remark on the similarity of Swanny's action to my own humble off-spin either! ['Tell me about the time you bowled Sachin with the perfect off-break Vaughany,' he always asking me. 'Hey Swanny lad, you don't want to hear that old story again do you, I reply! - He does though.]

People are always coming up to me and saying, 'the season just doesn't seem the same any more,' and I know I've hung the old bat up ['better than hanging it out like you used to,' as Fletch joked to me the other day - he's a laugh a minute, that guy!] but never fear, cricket will carry on. It must.

And if you're thinking, 'hey, it's not quite as good now', why not pick yourself up one of these for the lounge room wall. That'll keep you thinking of the glory days!

Till next time!


Brothers under the skin?

I'm reading Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I'd recommend it if you like running, or you want to see how to set down simple line after simple line to almost hypnotic effect [I do like running - apart from anything else, you're always fit enough to nick the strike when you need to...]

At one point he writes about a couple of professional athletes who run on the same roads as him every day, 'I felt like we understood each other. Even if the skill level varies, there are things that only runners understand and share. I truly believe that.'

I wondered straight away if that was true of cricketers - and I think it is, as long as you've played to the best of your ability, and maybe tried to get beyond it sometimes. So much about the game is universal: if you're facing a bowler who seems very fast to you, for example, one who is pushing you, maybe scaring you, then it doesn't matter how fast that bowler is to other, better players - the emotions and the physical sensations are the same.

What do you think?

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Going with the A-Flo

One man not mentioned in dispatches below deserves more than just his medal. Taking over from his former boss a captainless team riven by strife, Andy Flower has produced first an Ashes winning side and then the T20 champions.

There's something zen about A-Flo. He says so little, what he does say carries weight. His philosophy is a combination of will, knowledge and statistical analysis. More than that, England's players know he will never look them in the eye and ask them to do something he hasn't done himself.

Expect him to entirely shave his head and start sitting on a mat staring at a wall any time now. As long as the wall has a full stat breakdown by Gemma Broad written on it. All coaches have a lifespan, but let's hope his is as long as Fletch's. That old CLR James nugget has proven true again: 'what does he know of cricket who only cricket knows...?'

Monday 17 May 2010

A curious feeling: win, England, T20, world [reshuffle as appropriate]

It's how all tournaments should be, and not just because England, you know... won [still seems strange to be writing those words]. It was succinct, sharp and progressive on and off the field. T20 is a subtly different to time last year, more understood by players and coaches and driven ever forwards by some quite extraordinary skills.

If you want to obscure brilliance, hide it in plain sight. In 1979, as a young pup, I went the England v West Indies world cup final at Lord's with my dad. We watched from under the clock in the old Compton Stand as West Indies, led by King Viv's 138 and Collis King's brutal, forgotten 86, got the total to 286 in 60 overs. Back then, a score like that looked like the sheer ice cliffs of Everest [England lost by 92 runs].

That's how much the game has changed. It was fitting, as this new hurricane of power settled in to stay, that the man who kick-started the modern one day game, Sanath Jayasuriya, most likely took his leave. The old fella's an MP now, a venerable man, yet - as Joe Frazier's trainer said to Joe after the 14th round in Manila - 'it's over, but no-one will ever forget what you did'. In the golden glow of hindsight, Sri Lanka in '96 lit the way.

So as the game speeds ever on - England start a Test match next week - we should sit for a minute and reflect on the pace of change, demonstrated as much by England's development as by anything else. Here's the player-by-player:

Michael Lumb
137 runs at 19.57, SR 141.23, HS 33
If ever you need an example of stats meaning everything and nothing, look at Lumb. He didn't score heavily, but he was all about intent. A Hayden-sized unit, brutal straight and square, his mindset never altered. He places the correct value on his wicket. Some newspaper writers do not fully understand this yet, but they will... England's tone setter.

Craig Kieswetter
222 runs at 31.71, SR 116.84, HS 63
When KP went home for the birth of little KP, he watched a bit of England's third super-eight game on TV. He noted how still Kieswetter kept his head - the true mark of batsmanship. His hitting is thrilling, and he hits in complimentary areas to Lumb, making bowling plans a nightmare. All he needs to do is learn how to knock a single.

Kevin Pietersen
248 runs at 62.00, SR 137.77, HS 73*
Anyone watching the IPL would have been unsurprised by Pietersen's resurrection. Yes, he's recaptured his game, as he said in every interview. But he now understands absolutely what it is to bat at three in T20 cricket. The position is his. Indelibly, he confronted and destroyed the tournament's two fastest bowlers, Shaun Tait and Dale Steyn - mental disintegration in practice.

Paul Collingwood
61 runs at 10.16, SR 103.38, HS 16
Forget the form, what he gave and gained is priceless. Earned that MBE now, hasn't he...

Eion Morgan
183 runs at 36.60, SR 128.87, HS 55
The freak. Witness the joy of the new. Has ice in his blood too. When people ask if he can play Test cricket or not, just remember that they didn't believe KP could, either. It's peculiarly English to be suspicious of a] talent and b] change. Morgan embodies both.

Luke Wright
90 runs at 30.00, SR 123.28; 1 over, BB 1-5, Econ 5.00
That over is worth a mention - Wright showed nerve, and got Cameron White with a thoughtful wider ball. There's a case for having a full-on batter at six. Wright needs to accept the challenge and become one.

Michael Yardy
20 overs, BB 2-19, Econ 6.80; 8 runs at 4.00, SR 114.28, HS 8*
An inspired selection. Just goes to show that there is something endlessly weird about a bloke who runs up slow and bowls faster than you'd think. It's been working forever.

Tim Bresnan
22 overs, BB 1-20, Econ 7.18; 41 runs at 21.50, SR 136.66, HS 23*
The Michael Lumb of our bowlers - set the tone. He's a million miles from Botham but he has something of Beefy's clarity of approach.

Graeme Swann
22 overs, BB 3-24, Econ 6.54; 9 runs at --, SR 112.50, HS 7*
Well he won't shut up now, will he? Nor should he. There's wonderful skill to what he does, and bravery too. England's outstanding bowler.

Stuart Broad
20.5 overs, BB 2-21, Econ 6.72
Ian Chappell slaughtered Broad on commentary in the final, and you could kind of see his point. Plenty of teams would not tolerate the attitude, whatever he delivers. But the flip side of his moaning is the ballsy nature that had him catching Cameron White after making an arse of himself under a skier a few balls before.

Ryan Sidebottom
21.3 overs, BB 3-23, Econ 7.44
It would be churlish to cavil - Sidders pulled it round - but he still looks England's most collarable bowler. Hard to see him keeping Jimmy Anderson out for much longer, especially in the sub-continent at the 50-over world cup, but Ryan, we'll always have Barbados...

Best story of the tournament: Afghanistan

The OB All-star XI:

1. Mahela Jayawardene [SL]
2. Craig Kieswetter [Eng]
3. KP [Eng]
4. Umar Akmal [Pak]
5. Eion Morgan [Eng]
6. Cameron White [Aus]
7. Daniel Vettori [NZ]
8. Mitchell Johnson [Aus]
9. Graeme Swann [Eng]
10. Stuart Broad [Eng]
11. Dirk Nannes [Aus]

Sunday 16 May 2010

Friday 14 May 2010

The enemy that will not die

England's equipment checklist for sunday:




Protective gear



Silver bullets

Stakes [to be driven through hearts]


Ensure the Kensington Oval is a] consecrated ground b] built on a crossroads

Wednesday 12 May 2010


As anyone who works out or knows anything about bodybuilding understands, there is one immutable law of muscle. To make it grow, you must break it down, destroy its fibres. Stressed to failure, it responds by getting stronger.

If you get it right, if you're genetically blessed and chemically enhanced and fed and watered just so, if you're prepared to let a single goal consume your life, you might end up something like this fella. This is Ronnie Coleman, an eight time winner of the Mr Olympia title, winning in 2003. It was a year when Coleman's mighty rule had come under challenge, and he responded by hiding away at his gym in Arlington, Texas for 12 months before reappearing on stage in Vegas carrying more muscle than perhaps any human being ever has. In 2003, Ronnie Coleman was intergalactically huge. He blew the rest of the world away.

The Australian T20 side put me in mind of Ronnie Coleman the other day. Stressed to failure, they have responded by growing stronger. They've reappeared in the West Indies juiced up, oiled and loaded, formidably freakish at the top of the order in both batting and bowling. They're carrying some serious muscle and they're blowing the world away.

T20 cricket is slowly being ramped to extremes. Who knows where it will end. At the outer limits of speed and power, probably. Can anyone stop Australia this time? Oddly, maybe Pakistan, with their left-field, out there wildcards, stand a better chance than those who would fight fire with fire. One thing's for sure: the rest will respond to muscle with more muscle next time. There's no going back from here.

Monday 10 May 2010

The rest is noise

Halfway through New Zealand's innings tonight, Stuart Broad comes on to bowl to Scott Styris. He brings his fine leg, Ryan Sidebottom, up inside the circle. He bowls a long hop outside leg stump. Styris easily gets inside the line and whacks it past Sidebottom. Broad goes double teapot and gobs Sidebottom off for not stopping it...

There's some irony in the above, in that Sidebottom is by some distance England's least temperate cricketer in terms of displaying his emotions on the pitch. Yet Broad is not far off him now. Is it coincidence that they are the two England bowlers under the most pressure?

That would be a simple conclusion, and might contain some truth. But there seems to be a wider, more modern cause too. Broad and Sidders are of the generation of the sports psychologist. They've doubtless listened to hours of jargon and hype about process and hunger and the 'right' mental state. In short, they've probably been conned into thinking their bowling will seem faster if they bowl it with 'attitude'.

Yet despite the image of the mouthy tearaway fast bowler, what's remarkably common about many of the most deadly is their serpentine calm. Even Thommo and Lillee seemed to posture for effect rather than anything else. When they were bowling well, they didn't bother. Didn't need to. Think also of the implacable and implacably great Marshall, or of the vast stoicism of Walsh, or the knowing grin of Ambrose, or Waqar's marginally creased brow and McGrath's amusing chunter.

The truth is, if you've got it, you know it. You don't need to tell anyone - they already understand. Increasingly, we're learning about Broad and Sidebottom, too.

Baby KP: naming rights

KP and Mrs KP are proud parents of a son. Congratulations to them. No name has been announced as yet, so the book is open:

Kevin Pietersen Jnr - 2-1 on

Kaypee - 3-1

Kevin Pietersen II - 4-1

Peter Kevin Pietersen ['PK'] - 5-1

Lalit - 50-1

Pellara - 66-1

Graeme, Jacques, Mooresy - 1,000,000-1

Saturday 8 May 2010

Many a true word...

David Lloyd during commentary on England v South Africa:

'That was the slow bouncer again. Or the long hop, as it used to be called.'

The freaky future: a sneak preview

A while ago, I blogged that one of the coming developments in T20 would be a bloke who runs up, bowls four overs at 150kph and goes home. Doesn't play ODIs, doesn't play Tests.

Yesterday, it began. Tait and Nannes gave India more than they could handle. On a quickish pitch, they were brutal. Now, where can we find a few more like them?

Friday 7 May 2010


A word on Andy Bull's coverage of the best story in town, Afghanistan at the World T20. It's been exemplary.

As for the future - well, if you love the game, put your hand in your pocket. A tenner goes a long way towards a cricket pitch.

NB: The Guardian's County Cricket Live blog, in which their old stagers sound off while the cricket goes on in the background, is the summer's cult classic, the journalistic equivalent of nurdling. You can almost hear the thermos flasks hiss...

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Sidders and England, sitting in a tree...

According to Nick Knight on TV last night, the England management have got 'a soft spot' for Ryan Sidebottom. You don't say.

Sidebottom exerts a mysterious hold upon their imaginations. In the nets, he's the bowling equivalent of Michael Vaughan. On the pitch, he's been creamed by Chris Gayle and Niall O'Brien. He's only bowled a couple of overs. He's keeping Jimmy Anderson out of the side, having recently displaced Graham Onions from the Test team.

What is the secret of Sidders' selection success? Answers on a postcard...

Tremwatch: Workload Explosion

This blog may have given the impression that the 'management' of Surrey star signing Chris Tremlett's 'workload' was nothing more than an amusing euphemism. In reality, it's a strategy of genius, and should be adopted immediately by the entire world and everyone in it.

Number of games Surrey have played this season: 6

Number of overs bowled by Chris Tremlett: 26 [18-7-35-4 and 8-2-18-1].

He even got a knock as nightwatchman.

Fixtures They Don't Play Any More... But Could

1886, Lord's

Smokers versus Non-Smokers

Grace, who, despite being a qualified doctor, went through life mistakenly believing he only had one lung, played for the Nons. They won.

Nominations for the current smokers XI welcome...

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Tremwatch IV: Selected!

Breaking news of Tremmers and his workload: 'Tremlett set for First XI Bow' yodels the Surrey website.

'Fast bowler Chris Tremlett could be set to make his make his Surrey debut, having been selected in a 12-man squad to play Gloucester in the LV County Championship this week'.

'Tremlett, 28, signed for the club earlier this season, but has yet to make his debut after picking up a minor groin strain pre-season'.

Trem fans and followers of managed workloads shouldn't get too excited yet, though. Tremmers also made the squad for the 40-over game against Worcester at the weekend but er, wasn't selected.

Number of games Surrey have played this season: 5

Number of overs from Tremmers: 0

2 + 2 = 30 off 3.4 overs

Chris Gayle doesn't seem like the kind of bloke who's spent too much of his spare time hunched at the kitchen table chewing on his pencil and trying to calibrate the perfect system for calculating revised targets in cricket matches affected by rain.

Yet he and the rest of the world have worked out that Duckworth Lewis doesn't cut it in T20. The reason for that is because they're still using the 50 over calculations sheet in an entirely different format.

Still, the ICC have only had a year to ask D-L to re-work things, and it's not as if there's much T20 cricket being played around the world, so it's probably something they can leave for a while longer...

Monday 3 May 2010

Scream until you like it

I was planning a giant screed on the IPL, T20 cricket, the continual carping about it in the English press and the air of barely suppressed celebration at the suspension of Lalit Modi, but then the clouds cleared and I realised - it doesn't matter.

There are only a few sayable things about the IPL: The grounds are full. It's played ferociously, with intensity. It makes lots of money.

As a rapidly expanding, billion-dollar business, there may have been some sharp practice. What a shock. Something like that would be unheard of in a respectable, properly administrated arena like say, English banking.

Here's the truth: Modi and the IPL are a force majeure, a deus ex machina even, on the scale of Kerry Packer. They have repositioned the game, so get used to it.

Another truth: it's not Test cricket that T20 will harm. Test cricket must fight its own separate battle with the future. But it has finished the 50 over game. That's a dead man walking right there.

All the rest is just detail.

NB: I really like Shane Warne's deconstruction [below], bad spelling and all. The ideas on player retention and super rounds are very shrewd. Better than the ECB, isn't he...