Wednesday 30 June 2010

Ramps - the nightmare comes true

The doomsday scenario discussed here became a reality for Mark Ramprakash yesterday.

It was the first time he's been out in the 90s since 2005, making 32 hundreds in that time.

Tuesday 29 June 2010

Swanny: the new Ringo

Graeme Swann's post-match TV interviews are starting to remind me of those archive clips you see of the Beatles holding press conferences in the early 60s - someone asks a question and it's met by a quip, one that quite often sounds like a non-sequitur and which makes the other Beatles laugh but not any of the press.

Ricky Ponting, meanwhile, just speaks faster after every defeat. There must be a correlation between the speed of his delivery and the scale of the loss. If they go down at the Oval and Lord's, we might need captions...

Monday 28 June 2010

Lunch: a suggestion

Turning out for London County against the first West Indian touring side at Crystal Palace in 1900, WG's lunch consisted of 'a real whack of the roast, followed by a big lump of cheese and a whiskey seltzer'. He was 52 at the time. He made 71.

Take that one to the bank, sports nutritionists...

Friday 25 June 2010

Today's burning question

Should plucky minnows like Bangladesh and Australia even be playing international cricket at the moment? Is it doing them any good to keep losing all the time? Arf.

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Format's last theorem

The sun has got to Mike Selvey, the Guardian's estimable cricket correspondent. I know it was hot at the Rose Bowl, but he seems to have entered a fever-dream in which ODI number 3000 [for that's what it was] has somehow saved the format.

'If there's a fault in 50 over cricket,' he writes, 'it lies not, for example in the so-called boring middle overs, but in the number of ODIs that have been played over the past decade with little or no context'.

Fifty per cent right, Mike. It's both. What was noticeable at the start of the match was the complete lack of edge. The atmosphere was nothing like an Ashes summer. England big guns KP and Graeme Swann were barely engaged in the field. It was just another ODI - fun but nothing more. Robbed of context, it had little meaning.

Totals are also becoming anachronistic. When you've seen 200 scored from 20 overs, what's the excuse for 260 from 50? Pure tradition had Australia conditioned into thinking that was an acceptable score. The ease with which Morgan pressed the accelerator was credit to the fact he's touched by genius, sure, but it also showed how much T20 has changed the game. 260 at five an over - how challenging was that for a man bred in T20?

Selvey calls the idea of a two-innings T20 game 'a ludicrous extreme' and goes on 'quite why two T20 games would not do the job is beyond me'.

Quite why the dynamics of a two innings game have to be explained to a cricket correspondent is beyond me, too. Wake up Selv. It's over. This was ODI 3000. I'll bet whatever you like there aren't another 3000.

Face value

To the Rose Bowl, for an implausibly perfect summer day in the Hamble Valley, cradle of the game, the kind of day that you bat on in your dreams. The game was won by a dream of an innings too. The prime currency in the new age of batting is power, but yesterday, power alone was not enough. Rapier thrusts were what counted.

The last time I saw the captain of Australia in the flesh, he was walking down the street. Yesterday, before the game, he took some throw downs right in front of us. For anyone who loves batting, it was worth the price of admission alone. He brought a couple of bats, and, with one pad on, began drilling the ball back past the thrower. The first bat went okay, but when he switched to the second, the ball started to ring from it. With small turns of the face, he hit balls of exactly the same length and direction in an arc from cover to mid on.

Shane Watson, a new brutalist, had a go after Ponting, and he struck the ball harder, but each of his just ran straight back past the thrower. After a while he lumbered off, none the wiser about his game.

Ponting had a couple of purely struck boundaries before he fell hook-pulling [again], but Eion Morgan showed exactly the value of being able to control the bat face as England glided home. Gripping right down at the base of the handle, he slid the ball through ridiculously narrow gaps in the field without raising his bat above the horizontal. Ponting knew Australia were done way before the end, and he knew he couldn't stop it, either.

Tuesday 22 June 2010

How to beat Bangladesh in ODIs

It's easy. Simply make a total that Jamie Siddons doesn't think they can chase. Then he'll tell them not to bother.

'I'm not going to let anyone criticise the team for our approach,' said Siddons, after Bangladesh subjected the crowd at Dambulla to 'three and a half hours of torture', including a period of 26 overs where they hit three boundaries, two of which were unintended. 'If Tamim had made 150, we could have chased 350-380... but Imrul and Junaid had no chance... no chance'.

I admired Siddons and Bangladesh when they were in England last month. He does them, and cricket, a grave disservice here. The game is played on the basis that both sides compete. Anything else is not just unacceptable, but dangerous. Siddons, who leads a young and impressionable team, should be carpeted for this.

Monday 21 June 2010

Injuries they never used to get

Mitchell Johnson won't be at the Rosebowl tomorrow. He's missing the England v Australia ODIs after his elbow was infected by a new tattoo.

Can't wait to see it though. Surely there's only two things you ever get tattooed on your elbow: A spider's web on the outside of it, or a hinge on the inside.

Given that they no longer play the Smokers vs Non-Smokers fixture, why not replace it with a new one: Tattooed vs Non-Tattooed. Might not be a bad game...

Friday 18 June 2010

KP: not working geographically

Every club has one - the bloke who plays about twice a season, and when he does, turns up in a sports car and expects to bat number three. Hampshire got rid of theirs yesterday.

'Geographically it doesn't work,' sniffed KP. 'I live in Chelsea'.

'We haven't seen as much of KP as we'd like,' said Hampshire chief exec Rod Bransgrove, a master of understatement. Pietersen played a T20 game for Hants last week - the first time he'd turned out for them since May 2008. It was obvious something was afoot when KP arrived at the ground [in a sports car, natch] and Hampshire didn't have any kit ready for him. It wasn't as if no-one knew he was coming.

Hampshire's point is simple: Pietersen plays for England, not them. He is released so rarely, they must feel a bit like Tom Jones's wife - always waiting for him to come home. The ECB even stopped him attending a 45-minute fan Q&A before next week's one-dayer at the Rosebowl. The odd bit of glory they get from having his name on the squad list is no longer enough of a pay-off.

And KP lives in Chelsea of course, which for the uninitiated is about an hour and half's spin down the M3 from the Rosebowl. Less, probably, in a sports car. It's also legal in England for him to live closer to the ground.

Now that KP doesn't do travel, he'll be turning out [or not, actually] for either Surrey or Middlesex next year. A better solution might be for him to remain unattached. Plenty of counties would be prepared to give him a game on the rare occasions he's available, but then the thought of Surrey is pretty irresistible too: KP and Ramps in the middle order? I'd buy a ticket...

Thursday 17 June 2010

Kieron Pollard does what he wants [part ii]

Kieron Pollard's decision to play T20 for Somerset rather than go on a West Indies A Tour split opinion. Last night's game against Essex at Taunton proved why he was right in the space of an over.

Chasing 177, Pollard went in with Somerset 99-1 after 10 and cruising. Danish Kaneria, by any standards a world-class bowler, came on. Pollard swatted his first ball for six over long on, and levered the second almost over the pavilion. A dot ball followed before Pollard played the most extraordinary shot, a nonchalant lift of his arms that sent the ball out of the ground and into the car park.

You can always tell when a player does something special by the reaction of the other players. Behind the sticks, James Foster's expression was classic, quizzical disbelief mixed with bruised ego. Danish came in again - this time it was the flipper, quick and straight. Pollard was utterly defeated by it, his bat not even down by the time his stumps were knocked back.

My hero as a kid was the nonpareil, BA Richards. Many times I combed his book - functionally titled The Barry Richards Story [you should have let me write it, Barry - it would have been called Bad Bas And His Bad-Ass Life] - and always enjoyed the anecdote about him clobbering Richie Benaud and strutting cockily about the crease before Richie undid him with the flipper too. It was a lesson he carried with him for the rest of his career.

Pollard made 21 from eight balls. When he was out, Somerset were 122-2 after 12.5 overs. They should have walked home. They lost. No doubt, in the dressing room, it was pointed out where things went wrong.

This is the true value of a competitive environment. Never mind the format, the ground was full, the TV cameras were there and Pollard was schooled by a proper bowler. I'd bet he'll have learned more in a over about the nature of the game than he might on an entire tour of A team cricket.

Lalit vs Gilesy - it's on

To the surprise of no-one, Lalit Modi is suing Giles Clarke. Gilesy's attempt to stitch Lalit up might backfire spectacularly. UK libel laws favour the claimant to an absurd degree - for a start Clarke has to prove that what he says is true, rather than Lalit having to demonstrate that it's not. Good luck with that, Giles.

Even Gilesy, who for a clever man is quite thick on occasions, may realise that this is just a tactic from Lalit, some leverage in a wider war. But if Lalit gets nasty, the fall-out for the ECB, in terms of damages, could be considerable. It always does to pick your battles...

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Back for good

The beautiful maverick freaks of Pakistan won more than they lost yesterday in the Asia Cup. Afridi is a man they can coalesce around. Strangely, from the outside at least, there's something of Imran about him, in that he knows who he wants in the team and what he wants from them, and then he goes out there and and lays it down.

Eye-catchingly, Shoaib was back, unfit, blowing like an old boiler and having to leave the field after his spells, but back nonetheless and bowling quick. There were a few train-wrecks of course, but Afridi pulled them out of a hole at 32-4, and if an innings of 109 from 76 balls with seven sixes can be described as mature, well this one was [literally]. He restrained himself against Murali, taking only 51 from 25.

They'll probably be all out for about 10 in the next game of course, but it'll be stylish and mad whatever happens. They've been back for a while, but now it feels like, under Afridi, they're, you know, back.

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Tall story

One of the things that gives the game its genius is scale. That centuries-old distance of 22 yards allows batsmen to be challenged by the fastest and the slowest of bowlers. Small adjustments in the size of the outfield can tweak totals to fit formats. And it can be played equally well by men of all shapes and sizes. Even Mark Cosgrove.

But scale has its edges. Yesterday Will Jefferson batted number three for Leicestershire against Durham in a T20 game. Jefferson is six feet 11 inches tall [Bumble on commentary tried to claim he was seven feet, and he probably was, in the helmet]. He's almost certainly the tallest specialist batsman to have played the game. You'd think that his scale would make him a nightmare to bowl to - after all, what's a good length to a man whose pads just about cover his knees and whose bat looks like a toy in his hands?

Jefferson made 13 from 14 balls. He looked like the oversized kid on the under nine's football team. Where someone like Kevin Pietersen, at six feet four, is a giant presence at the crease, broadening his stance, the wicket disappearing from view behind him as he moves across it, Jefferson stood with knees bent feebly, bat dangling like he didn't know what to do with it, back hunched. His timidity was exacerbated by his kit - he wore an arm guard, a big chest pad and had strange plastic side guards fitted to his helmet.

Great batsmen, big or small, maximise their physical gifts. Jefferson, with those long levers, should be brutal down the ground and extending out on the pull. Last night he could barely hit the ball off the square and he dabbed unconvincingly at anything directed at his ribs. A look at his T20 career shows he's hit 15 sixes in 37 innings. Ross Taylor hit nine last night.

Jefferson is on his third county, so he's obviously had better days. But perhaps his size has been a curse after all. It seems like an advantage, but it might just mean he's actually too big to benefit from the scale of the game. Just the distance between his eyes and the ball must hurt to an extent, as must the relative size of the bat.

He was followed to the crease by James Taylor, who'll be lucky if he's five feet four and who looks like the primordial dwarf version of Barry Manilow. Like Gavaskar, the stumps seem to reach his waist. He made 38 from 20 balls and slapped a big six over wide long on. That's the genius of the game.

Monday 14 June 2010


Frank Duckworth and Tony Lewis have been awarded the MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.

There's something fantastically English about that, isn't there...

NB: Any truth in the rumour that the Queen is going to tell them that it doesn't work properly for T20 when she pins on their gongs...?

Friday 11 June 2010


Combined age of Surrey's T20 middle order: 140

[Ramps 40, Symonds 35, Younis 32 [allegedly] Usman Afzaal 33]

Combined number of runs scored by them in Surrey's first two T20 games: 49

Wednesday 9 June 2010

What I say today...

That 50-over cricket is dead is beyond debate. Sure, it's still limping around, haranguing passers-by with beery breath and shouting about its World Cup next year, but it has been filleted by T20, which - it has long been obvious - is just 50 over cricket with the boring bits removed. It's a format out of time.

But T20 has its own inherent problems, the first being the speed at which players have learned how to play it: it will mature as a form far more quickly than 50 over cricket did. Once it has, its only promise for the future is of greater excess - faster bowlers, bigger hitters. It lacks a dimension beyond that. Then there is its commercial problem: it offers less ad breaks.

The solution has been pretty obvious for some time*. Find a way of extending the game, add in a tactical element and make sure that the crowd get plenty of star-power for their money. In other words, a 40-over game made up of two 20-over innings per side. If Giles Clarke and the ECB were as clever as they think, they would have introduced it by now [instead they have entered a war with Lalit Modi which neither will win]. Cricket Australia are about to beat them to it. If they do, expect next year's 40 over comp to follow suit.

* I blogged on it before this, but can't find where.

Where KP's at

Even if they rarely write the same thing, both Vic Marks and J-Rod had it right about Kevin Pietersen's batting against Bangladesh. It was a mad combo of boredom versus the utter determination not to be subjugated by what he saw as lesser bowlers.

I have a small wager on KP to end the year as top Test runscorer, based on his being fully fit again, the improvements he's made to his technique and the amount of cricket England have. Also factored in is his undisguised desire for greatness. I think it's still a good bet, although his lack of a hundred since last March has some people questioning him.

As his career has that halfway feel to it, and as comparisons with other England players are pointless, I ran a little progress check: KP versus King Viv, Sachin, Lara, Ponting and Viru Sehwag at similar stages of their career:

M I runs ave 100 50

IVA Richards 73 110 5579 53.64 18 23
BC Lara 64 110 5431 51.23 13 27
RT Ponting 70 109 4983 50.96 17 18
SR Tendulkar 70 109 5380 55.46 20 21
V Sehwag 64 110 5508 51.44 15 15
KP Pietersen 61 110 5102 49.05 16 18

While he has the lowest average, Pietersen still stacks up well in exalted company. Richards was in his fulsome pomp at the time, with his average and weight of scoring just peaking. Most of the others were about to enter the most productive phases as batsmen, an altitude that Sachin has almost maintained, but that Ponting has spent the last couple of years of his career slipping from.

For Viru and KP though, the next three or four years glow enticingly ahead.

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Kieron Pollard does what he wants

The West Indies Cricket Board, like most cricket boards and panels, are a collection of late middle-aged men with lots to give alongside their pot bellies and the hair growing from their ears. Like contracts and tours stuff like that.

So imagine their shock and hurt when their offer of a glamorous A-tour [including matches against sexy England Lions and India A] was turned down by 23-year-old multi-millionaire Kieron Pollard.

Kieron's off to play T20 for Somerset for 'substantially' more money than the WICB were paying. 'We wanted to help his cricket develop by offering him an A tour,' sobbed a source to Cricinfo. 'But he didn't want to take it up'.

Hmm. Just why would someone who'd merely spent the last year belting many of the world's best bowlers 100 yards over the boundary in low-pressure situations like the IPL decide not to go on an A-tour for peanuts to 'develop his cricket'?

Boards need to get real. The traditional paths into Test match cricket are changing. England, to their credit, have realised this with Eion Morgan, backing proven temperament and outrageous skill over a decent plodder's average in county cricket. Pollard, whether the WICB like it or not, is a star, and players aren't serfs any more. They have alternatives, as Andy Bull's terrific interview with Andrew Symonds proves.

Now let's hope that the BCCI pick Yuvraj for India A...

Sunday 6 June 2010

Hype, and why Steven Finn falling over is a problem

The England selectors have done well of late. The English media, on the other hand, have gone insane. First Jonathan Trott, who was annointed a Test match number three 'for the next ten years' after two innings against Australia batting at five; now Steven Finn, who, upon taking a few wickets against Bangladesh in favourable conditions, is apparently the next Glenn McGrath. The hype is relentless.

Glenn McGrath? Finn can't even stop falling over, a foible that has caused nothing apart from hilarity in the commentary box and the papers. I don't know much about bowling, but I know one thing: England, with their schedules and their fitness gurus and physiologists, will not be able to resist trying to fix it. And they probably should be trying to fix it: after a while, it won't be funny, and there are a few places where you won't want to keep falling over: it's not got for the physical or mental equilibrium.

But a bowling action is a bit like a golf swing. If you change one bit, all of the other components change too. You can't just reach into it, remove the part you don't like and pop it back in fixed. Finn, like Trott, has some hurdles to clear yet, and it will be easier for them to do that without the man in the street thinking we've found the next McGrath.

Friday 4 June 2010

'Wow, this feels really good': guess the quotes special

'The other day I went and picked wild cherry tomatoes that grow on my property with the boys. It took us about an hour and I'm thinking, 'wow, this feels really good'. And then we go back and make a puree out of them, strain them out, make a reduction and I cook a meal out of them in the evening'.

Answer here.

'Waves r inspiring, not becoz they rise and fall, but becoz they never fail to rise again'.

Answer here.

Wednesday 2 June 2010

Twilight of the gods

So, this is how it's ending... Patrick Kidd caught up with Andrew Flintoff this week, and it was hard not to feel that the world has moved very slightly away from the big fella.

This can't have been the life he foresaw as a young and uncomplicated lad; the last of his playing days being seen out in the exile of Dubai, a city that, it's too tempting not to point out, now glitters with unfulfilled promise. He couldn't, he says, find a bar that was showing England's T20 final, so he had to catch the highlights the next morning on the TV at the gym. He listened to the Australia-Pakistan semi on a radio in a cab. He could hardly have been more separate from it all.

He is still making the right noises about his comeback, but even if he makes it - and Fred knows it's if not when - what exactly is he coming back to? England have left him behind now, and the momentum of the T20 game as a whole is forwards. There is talk of a contract to play T20 in Australia, of the IPL next year, but what would that make him, apart from a few quid better off? A mercenary from Dubai? He played in IPL II and was by his own admission exposed.

Maybe it's sentimental to say so, but it doesn't seem fitting, or right for him. Perhaps his real end was that last day at the Oval, even if it doesn't turn out to be so. Ian Botham, who cast the longest shadow over Flintoff's career, finished up at Durham on a nondescript day, running up to bowl with his tackle hanging out, for a joke. It's not how he's remembered [thank god for that], and his real career had come to an end some time before, but he was at home, where he was loved, and it was quite funny. Better a finish like that than the soullessness that seems to be stalking Andrew Flintoff.

The existential nightmare of fielding [part 347]

'Never mind the spectators being bored, we as players are bored fielding. It's almost pointless'.

Kevin Pietersen on overs 15-35 in one-day internationals, thus revealing two truths in one quote: the shocking truth about fielding and the looming end of 50-over cricket.