Saturday, June 30, 2007

Owais Shah Relief

After yesterday’s bitter words, Owais Shah showed us that he can bat after all and won England a game. As you can see from the above photograph image of above mentioned individual, this performance was rewarded with a "man of the match" copy of the bible. This is so he can never be alone in England hotel room in the future. He'll always have a lovely stor- book to read. I think that's the pop-up version, too.

I missed the actual game, so I can’t pass much in the way of comment.

I can, however, note that there were only seven leg byes conceded in the entire match and only one run out. Interesting, that.

In another match that I missed, India beat South Africa. Why? Mainly because they’re better, but also because they wore a marginally more attractive kit. The best looking side in the field always wins.

It’s raining where I live. Matthew Hoggard is still not captain, so it’s raining in my soul too.

Friday, June 29, 2007


I tried to make “West Indies” into a “twenty20” pun. Like most of my efforts, it died like a shrew in a barn owl factory.

My point is this: West Indies cricket is perfectly suited to twenty20. They demonstrated their natural warming to the game yesterday by beating England by 15 runs.

The wofty, quick-fire 40s and 50s, which were criticised throughout the test series, are the ideal bed-rock for any 20-over score. And this was what the Windies’ top-order provided: Shivnarine Chanderpaul (41 off 26), Marlon Samuels (51 from 26) and Devon Smith (61 off 34) all played perfect innings to put their team in the chair behind the steering wheel – the “driving seat” if you will.

Twenty20 does not require a prolonged, grafting innings that the Windies' seem incapable of producing (Chanders aside). No endurance; not much thought; just swing the bat and wahay. Bloody fantastic.

However, the most noticeable change was in the fielding. They were a transformed team. Jonathan Agnew reckons the fielding was “a hundred times better.” I could not believe my eyes when I saw out-fielders attack the ball, competently collect it and send back a sharp return. They even managed two run-outs. Moreover, the final overs bowling of Ravi Rampaul and Dwayne Bravo showed forethought, control and discipline.

Chris Gayle reckons that the administrative mess over the last few days may have been responsible in pulling the team together. This is certainly nonsense. But, there you are.

If they keep this up then Ayalac may consider them a winner for the twenty20 World Cup.

From an England perspective, it is interesting to note that the new brooms (Dimitri Mascarenhas, Owais Shah, Ryan Sidebottom and Jonathan Trott) failed. Whereas England had to rely on “non-specialists” (Paul Collingwood and Jimmy Anderson) to buttress the assault. I’m not sure about this picking 20twenty “experts” business. I think that quality tends to shine through in most forms of the game, and sticking to the same core of players promotes a good team spirit. Like Casper.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bureaucrats bluster

OK – so the Chris Gayle saga continues.

Not only did the newly-appointed one day captain attack his own board. Not only did the WICB publicly tear a stripe off Gayle. But it appears now that there was some deception involved.

A new party has entered the brawl: The West Indies Players’ Association. They claim that team manager, Mike Findlay, in fact, approved the offending blog. Who, later with the WICB President, reprimanded Gayle for his “unacceptable” behaviour.

Thus, the WIPA argues, Gayle has no reason to apologise as the management already condoned his piece. That Findlay was involved in the disciplinary process makes the entire debacle ever more farcical. It’s like agreeing to buy your four-year old ABSO daughter an ice cream, and then chastising her for not watching her weight.

Dinanath Ramnarine, a spokesman for the WIPA, makes another interesting point. He notes that the WICA President dealt with the matter, not, as convention would dictate, the chief executive officer. The holder of this post, Bruce Aanensen, previously lambasted the Windies players for being useless.
"Is this because Mr Aanensen publicly referred to the players as incompetent and felt he may have lost the respect of Chris and the team, and in fact owed them an apology?”
So now we have a situation of total chaos. The WICB criticises the players, which appears to be acceptable behaviour, as no action has been taken against Aanensen; the players criticise the WICB. No cohesion; no direction. An utter shambles. It would be impossible for any team to pull themselves together in this divisive atmosphere.

An incredible happening

Today, I met Paul Collingwood. I had an in-the-flesh experience with the England one-day captain. This is the most amazing thing that ever has, or will ever, happen to me.

Well… I say, “met”. I meant, of course, walking past him, or a man who looks just like him in a public place. The eye-contact was one-way.

Funnily enough, it happened today in London’s Tower Hill Station, not in Durham. I was mumbling under my breath about annoying tourists, shoving my ticket into the barrier machine and there He was. He was walking in the opposite direction, in full England track-suit.

He is surprisingly tall, and doesn’t really look at all like my dad.

Sadly, the pressures of London commuting are such that I didn’t have time to worship his beautiful all-round feet. As soon as I saw the Great Man, he was gone. He was just a blip in the crowd.

I was rather hoping that the aura of his inspirational leadership would rub off on me. It didn’t; the whole journey was a nightmare. It was a long and gritty affair, and it was certainly not pretty. Despite the scrappiness, I got there in the end.

You can read a jolly interesting history of Tower Hill Station here. I’ll notify the authors of this historical event so they can add it to their account.

The Windies blow back

Two things.

One, the West Indies have managed to win a match. The first of the tour, I think. Playing a team that doesn’t exist in a 20-over game, they beat the PCA Masters by 56 runs. Hopefully, this should raise morale a little, and make for a more competitive one-day series.

Second, after Chris Gayle’s “disappointment” with the West Indies Cricket Board in its handling of the one-day team, the WICB has issued him with a “strongly worded” statement and a meeting with the Board’s President which couldn’t have been anything other than a bollocking.

In my list of competencies for international captaincy, I included handling of the press as a key criterion. In cabinet government, there is the concept of “collective responsibility”, that is, ministers must adhere to all decisions of the administration, regardless of whether they agree with them. I feel that the same must be true of a national cricket team.

Public spats, expressed negativity and open disgruntlement send out destabilising waves and can only serve to sap team-confidence. The WICB had to crack down on these irresponsible comments.

However, the public reprimand of Gayle also broadcasts the wrong message to the Windies’ younger players and further creates an uneasy atmosphere in the West Indian camp. Surely, a quiet word would have been more appropriate? Instead, on the WICB website, a press release talks of making Gayle aware of the “true circumstances” and declaring his conduct “totally unacceptable”.

This, as Winston Churchill would say, is a mess, stuck in a disaster, swamped in a cock-up.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bangladesh are worse than the Windies

During the West Indies tour, I have suggested that I thought the Bangladeshis a superior side to the Windies. I now formally revoke this foolish assertion.

The Sri Lankans are effortlessly obliterating Bangladesh in Colombo. The tourists were bowled out for 89 and the home team currently stands at 407/6.

Admittedly, I have had it “in for” the Tigers for some time. Frankly, I think Twickenham might fancy their chances against them in the longer-format. They did alright during the World Cup, but test cricket is designed to be the ultimate examination of skill. There is no hiding. No slogging out of trouble or indeed fielding your way out of trouble, as the Tigers often did in the Caribbean. It’s a long, hard graft.

Eee lad.

The Bangladeshis cannot do it. I have previously bemoaned their lack of character in previous batterings; you must have steel to win test matches. And they are about as steely as Saint Francis of Assisi.

Michael Vandort and Mahela Jayawardene have both eased hundreds. Muttiah Muralitharan got 5-15. My best bowling analysis was 4-11. And that was against a boy’s school that didn’t even play cricket.

That’s the sort of comparisons that you can now legitimately make with Bangladesh. They are a boy’s school, and Sri Lanka is the mighty Twickenham of the international stage. It works because it’s true.

If this continues, it will be worrying for world cricket. The question you have to ask is are Bangladesh taking test cricket seriously? Obviously, one-dayers are the Big Thing in the sub-continent, and undoubtedly limited overs matches brings in the money. But the longer format forges greatness, and is the pinnacle of international cricket. At the moment, you rather feel as if they couldn’t give a toss.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Trotting in

Unlike other people, we have a lot to say about Jonathan Trott.

Firstly, I went to school with him back in the day. Although, he has radically changed some facial features and has rather improved at cricket.

“Trotty” was always the quiet, weird kid that should have been, but wasn't, bullied for being clever. He escaped The Treatment by using his maths skills to do the bullies’ homework.

I thought he worked as a City Analyst or something, but clearly, he became a South African and now plays for Warwickshire. If you can be bothered, you can read more about him here. I'm very suprised at his career development.

He has done alright. Nothing special, really. Nevertheless, the selectors have ignored his mediocre background and thrown him into the England one-day side. He might be the team mascot.

Nominally, he was preferred over Ian Bell, as far as Warwickshire was concerned, in a recent Friends’ semi-final. This move was widely derided, and considered suicidal.

He hits out now and then, but I don’t think an average of 39 at county level is incredible, frankly. Probably will be picked for the squad, bum around with the team and forgotten forever. Not sure if he warrants a thumbs up; it’s not looking likely.

Anyway, the most amazing thing about him is that he is related to Harry and Albert Trott – Australian crickets at the turn of the century. As you can see from the picture, Berty certainly knew how to bat. Just look at this shot. Both feet in the air, like a leaping ninja, with a high, Brian Lara-like blade poised to smash the hell out of the on-coming delivery. You just don't see people older than six play that shot. Terrifying.

All this whirling action contained within a spotless wholly jumper. If Jonathan Trott plays any of these shots for England, and especially if he wears a knitted jumper, then he’ll definitely earn the Ayalac thumbs up.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The new England captain in profile

This is the face of the new England one-day captain. He’s the one that looks like a sports physiotherapist. Let us analyse the image of Paul Collingwood.

The first thing you will notice about Collingwood is that he looks alarmingly like my dad. The first give away is the skin. It has two colours: white and red. Notice its total inability to deal with sweltering temperatures above 10 degrees. When it’s warm, his entire body turns bright red. When it’s a moderate, it returns to it’s usual Durham pale.

Despite this, he always complains about the cold. And how he wished he lived in a really hot country, like Denmark or Luxembourg. There’s just no winning with these people.

The next similarity is the hair. Like an orange flame, it gives him super-human powers. He achieves things that you would think are beyond a man of his age. I’ve chucked in a picture of my dad playing football here to show you the uncanny similarity.

Of course, sometimes they can over-estimate their ability. Here’s Collingwood flat-out after running into a lamp-post. It’s a familiar sight to The Atheist’s Christmas celebrations. Happy days.

Lastly, the most striking thing you will notice about the newly-appointed England captain is that he doesn’t look anything like this man. Which, I think, is a major weakness in any leader.

Here’s another shot from The Atheist’s last Christmas. We might have got the “beached whale” section of charades. Either that or the Queen’s Speech is on.

When I played twenty20

The last Twenty20 match I saw right through, I actually participated in it.

I was 13 playing for Twickenham under-13s, against the mighty Teddington. I felt fortunate to witness such an occasion. It was one of those rare moments when a century was scored. James Keighley, a frequent nemesis of the pisspoor Twickenham bowling attack, played a dominant knock.

All of our dibbly-bobblers were rudely dismissed. Even the honest leg-spin of your author was routinely dispatched to the trees on the far side of Twickenham Green. Keighley and his twelve brothers ran the Middlesex boy’s league like a Russian protection racket. Sure there were other good players, but they were like small-town pimps compared to the cricketing larceny organised by the Teddington syndicate.

I almost got one of them out once. A googly down the leg side, followed by a swipe, a nick and a drop. Even then, I realised the history of the moment: I could have told my grand-children about my unplayable delivery to the Little Master. I prayed that Keighley became a drunk, like the plentiful down-and-outs wondering Bushy Park.

Sadly, it seems as though Keighley has become an Australian and changed his name to Cameron White. Forgetting all his bitter memories of his lucky escape against Twickenham, he has continued to plunder runs from all his unfortunate opposition.

In his 16 twenty20 matches, he has scored 660 runs, with an average of 60 and with an extraordinary strike rate of 174. He holds the record for the highest ever twenty20 score of 141*.I feel I played a crucial part in his development. Every ball appears to him like a dodgy spinner from Twickenham and the threat must be expunged with the utmost force. So he batters the hell out of it before the wicket keeper can even say “bugger, not again”.

Since these early days, I started playing the statelier format of 25 overs. Keighley has not grown up. I’d like to think that I have moved on from such things. I am an adult. I appreciate the art of a forward defensive. That is the advantage of longer formats: variety and unpredictability. Attrition as well as expansion.

However, you don’t have the balance between attack and defence in twenty20. There is simply a battle between two extremes: the hyper-offensive batting, and the terrified bowling. There is no finesse and not much in the way of strategy. It is, if we are all being honest with ourselves, a shameless commercial exercise to entice more people to come to buy a ticket. The razzmatazz, the swinging, the cheering is all central to the format, whereas cricket is merely secondary.

The oxymoronic feature of twenty20 is that it is, in fact, incredibly boring. There are no thrills, no unexpected turns of fortune. You know exactly what the batsman is going to do, and if he succeeds in realising his intention enough times his side will win. There are two possible outcomes to every ball: he swings and hits (cue annoying music) or he swings and misses (cue even more annoying music).

But shot-making, at that tempo, is more about luck than anything else. Yes, there is “calculated risks” and clean hitting. But, that’s it. Yes, you can mess about with the field, but the game isn’t about the fielding time; the bowling is irrelevant. It’s simply a throw of the dice to see whether the batting team is lucky today.

If they are, they win. If not, they lose. You may as well make roulette a spectator sport. Frankly, it’s more fun watching Twickenham’s worst on a Tuesday afternoon.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Gayle blows through the West Indies

Some of you may think that’s a good headline. Don’t delude yourself. You and the headline are pants and poorly thought out.

Chris Gayle the good but-is-he-really-that-good-? West Indian opener has decided to make post-match cocktails that much icier by laying into the WICB. On a real, live, published blog, he says:
“First and foremost I am very disappointed with the West Indian cricket board
(WICB) for not having the guys here in England already and ready to play”

Consequently, the Windies are “struggling to find 11 players to turn out”. Remember, in Sportsman-speak “disappointed” means “livid like a cuckolded ape-thing”.

Not being a Windies fan, I find it rather hilarious that, forgetting that they have another series to fight, they injure half their players and send home the rest, selecting people they find in the street with a vaguely Caribbean background.

If I were, say, Jamaican (would that it was) I would probably do a
Mark Vermeulen, and burn down the WICB building. Then again, I’d burn down most buildings if I had half the chance.

Not only are ex-pros openly attacking the West Indies team, but so are its current players. All pretexts of collective responsibility have melted away, with fingers pointing in all directions, leaving, what we call in Twickenham, a shambles.

What the West Indies need is Alan Sugar to sort them out. Oh wait, he does bugger all except criticise people, whilst he companies go down the tubes. Alan Sugar: You’re rubbish!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

ECB spills the sour beans

I have been trying to squeeze information out of a faceless ECB bureaucrat over the last few months. Partly about the captaincy situation, but chiefly to badger them to accept the logic of the Matthew Hoggard for Captain campaign.

At the announcement of the ODI vacancy, I naturally upped the ante and insisted on Hoggy’s promotion. I hoped you played your part, too. The response was not good. Sadly, I can officially provide an off-the-record leak and announce that Matthew Hoggard will not be the next England one-day captain.

This is a bitter blow to all those who believe in truth and justice. Therefore, in the best tradition of shamelessly abusing your position of trust, I will publish the entire email correspondence between myself and the ECB lackey. Like most of humanity, I doubt the faceless bureaucrat reads my blog, so I shan’t be at risk of being sued. You might, though, for reading it.

Me: Dear ECB,

Please could you appoint Matthew Hoggard as England's next captain. I think he's really good, and like his hair. I also think he's good at bowling.

Kind regards,

The Atheist

P.S. Would it also be possible if you could make Monty Panesar captain, too?

He: Dear The Atheist,

Hmm, don't think we can make everyone captain. Sure Matthew would appreciate the compliment though!

Kind regards,

Faceless Bureaucrat

Me: Oh yes. I didn't think about that. Well. How about making Matthew Hoggard captain on some days, and Monty Panesar captain on others. Like they do in the army. Hope this helps.

He: Think we might stick with one, hopefully fit, captain for the duration!

Me: OK - But will you promise, when this one falls over his slippers, you will make Matthew Hoggard captain?

He: not my decision, which everyone will be glad to hear! enjoy the summer's cricket

Me: OK. Who do I need to contact to secure this promise?

He: Sorry, The Atheist. no-one is going to promise you that we're going to make Matthew Hoggard captain, or anyone else. Michael Vaughan is England captain. Andrew Strauss is captain for this Test, and Michael will hopefully return next week.

Me: So, you are saying I need to make a case somewhere? That makes sense. I'm a tax-payer, and my taxes go into the England team, so I should have a say in it. That's democracy: no taxation without representation. Who should I talk to state my case? Or should I present a petition?

He: to resolve this one finally; it's a decision taken by the England Selectors, appointed by the ECB Board to select the England team. It's not a democratic decision at all

Some time passes here. I try to use lying to get my way.

Me: Seeing as Hoggard is fit again, will you appoint him as captain? I heard that Vaughan has a tummy bug.

He: Hello. No. Michael Vaughan is captain for the foreseeable future

A little later, Vaughan announces his stepping down from the ODI captaincy. My big chance to make the case for Hoggy. Clearly is it is water-tight.

Me: Now the time is ripe. The moment is here. Surely, the ECB must appoint their most experienced campaigner to the newly available captaincy? Surely, now is the time for Matthew Hoggard?

I have thought long and hard about this. There is no possible reason you could give me that would convince me that Hoggy is not the man for the job. He is a perfect candidate; it makes your life easier; and his leadership will win you lots of games. Even the World Cup. You are lucky that this is going to be a simple decision. There's no contest.
I would be willing to give you advice on a permanent consultancy basis, if would prefer to have my expertise on tap? I could be like Allan Donald. Only cheaper. And better.

He: Thanks for the offer. Think we'll stick with Allan Donald for bowling consultancy for now! New ODI skipper and squad will be announced on Friday morning on the site

Me: Great. So, can you confirm Hoggy's promotion? I promise not to leak it. It'll just be our little secret.

He: Think you may be disappointed on that front.

What a blow! A Sad day. A sad day for us all.

The moment is ripe

It seems as though Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood are now vying for the captain’s spot, now that Michael Vaughan has kicked the limited-overs bucket.

I think most people would agree that KP is probably the better long term prospect, but Colly perhaps would be more amenable to sharing the role with Vaughan.

I think most people are wrong. Now is the time for great men to stand up. To stand up and be counted. To stand up and to sit down again.

Now is the time for Matthew Hoggard.

I have long championed his cause. Yes, he’s not in the ODI side. But he should be. And he should captain it.

So, to further my campaign, I will be calling you to implore the ECB to heed the pleas of the masses. Please send the following email to the ECB, at this address:

Dear ECB,

I think Matthew Hoggard is great. Not only I think this, but many other sensible people, too. I am told that Hoggard is one of the most experienced players in the England team. This means that he would be great at being captain. Like Mike Brearley, or Bobby Moore.

Now that Michael Vaughan has resigned the one-day role, now is the time to entrust the Hogster with his right. HOGGY FOR CAPTAIN!

Kind regards,

Adoring Fan

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Michael Vaughan jumps before he was pushed

The England team are becoming ever more sophisticated in their management of the press. In politics, before you announce a policy-change or a Big Move, you must “prepare the ground”. That is, leaking the story to the media, spreading rumours etc. to allow people to get used to the idea.

Yesterday morning, Graham Gooch published an article on the BBC website, calling for Vaughan’s resignation in ODIs and for Paul Collingwood to take over.

Later on, the gimp-like commentator on the “live update” section mentioned something about Vaughan’s impending resignation. I had my doubts, but I was used to the idea by the time it was finally announced in the evening.

I’m not sure that announcing a major decision in the middle of a test match was great timing, but their professionalism is improving.

I continue my opposition to this whole “dual-captaincy” business. It undermines the authority of the captain. It inhibits their creativity and limits their scope of action in man-management.

Every time it has been implemented, it has been in the context of a transition: from Hussein to Vaughan; from Taylor to Waugh; from Waugh to Ponting. The take-over period between Hussein and Vaughan was three months. Two captains is unsustainable. The problem is: who will replace Vaughan?

Andrew Strauss appears to be falling apart; Flintoff is utterly discredited; Collingwood is untried as a captain; Kevin Pietersen seems unhappy about the prospect. We have no idea where we are going or what we are doing.

To be honest, I think that Vaughan’s one-day batting was subject to the lunacy of the “go-slow” tactic, and seemed to improve when he cut lose. Moreover, he seems to be going because everyone is criticising him, with considering the consequences of destabilising the side further and without reference to any long-term plan. It’s a rubbish idea.

Ah well. No one listens to me.

Monday, June 18, 2007

London man back in town

Sorry. Sorry. I have been away.

Only yesterday, I was coughing and spluttering out the ghastly clean air of the country-side. I was in a remote cottage, with no access to life-giving cricket. Just me, the sheep and that bloody fresh air. Occasionally, a Range Rover would pass. I’d leap out of the house to inhale as much exhaust fumes as possible in the car’s wake.

It feels good to be back in London.

Fortunately, it seems as though I haven’t missed much. Shivnarine Chanderpaul is rapidly approaching deity-status, by scoring another century. One more and I think he’ll bump Alastair Cook off his spot.

Interestingly, Andrew Strauss remembered how to bat, by scoring 72 when all about him were losing their heads. A lot of people have been arguing that he should be dropped, on the rather dubious grounds of “getting back his form” on the county circuit. People that say this deserve a Chinese Burn.

Firstly, Strauss is in form. He scored a century the last LVCC match he played for Middlesex. Secondly, it’s exactly this sort of “in-out” attitude to player selection that caused England to squander its talents in the 1990s. Stick with him. He’s going to be the next captain. Let him ride out the difficulties at the highest level. He’ll be even more brilliant at the end of it. Promise.

In other news, Ryan Hairybottom captured five wickets. He may even be pushing Monty for the most wickets at the moment. I don’t know. I can’t really be bothered to look up those sorts of things.

I’m a busy Londoner.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

India's squad to England

Here’s a nice picture of sunny Headingley my roving reporter sent me. Nice, isn’t it?

Anyway, did you see the news about Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh? They have been left out of India’s summer tour to England.

This is rather unfortunate for Sehwag, as he had a reasonable Afro-Asia Cup, hitting a 30-ball fifty. He also looked liked he was easing back into form, he got some runs against someone I can’t remember recently, and hit a World Cup century. Seems odd, therefore, that our Virender can represent his continent but not his country.

This is because the BCCI's frustration with his unfulfilled potential. He had a rotten series in South Africa, scoring 89 from six innings. And before that World Cup ton, he last got into triple figures in 2005 in an ODI. May this is the end for the old war horse? It seems sad, but, knowing Indian administration, he’ll be in and out of the side for a few years yet.

Dropping Harbhajan Singh is a bit more of a straight-forward cock-up. In the last test match he played, he managed a five-for, and another one in the test before that. In the Afro-Asia series, he took four wickets in his two matches, at 25 a piece. He is a quality player and England are rubbish at playing him.

Weirdly, Ramesh Powar has been given the nod. He too is an off-spinner. Only he’s old and not very good. Even young Piyush Chawla was left out.

All these things annoy me.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Africa lose

Usually, the Africa vs. Asia series consists of good Asian players versus South Africa plus Steve Tikolo and a few token Zimbabweans. The latest batch of games rather felt like Shaun Pollock vs. Asia.

With 223 runs in his three games, he was the highest run scoring of either team. He nearly won a match single-handed, with a brilliant 130 at Bangalore, taking African to the very edge of victory in an impossible run chase.

But with the likes of Sanath Jayasuriya, Sourav Ganguly and Mohammad Yousuf coming in, the Africans were always going to struggle. With a pool of four test nations to select, compared to Africa’s one, it didn’t really seem fair.

The organisers should have tipped the balance by giving the Africans performance-enhancing drugs. Or maybe bigger bats? Although, judging by his deeds, it looks like Pollock was on something.

It would be interesting to see other continental matches: Europe vs. Australasia. We could assemble all the best players from Scotland and Holland. Mighty players like Mark Jonkman. Good ol’ Jonkers.

Actually forget I said that. Rubbish idea.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Test match cricket is great

What a high-quality end to a game that has been a little frail around the edges.

Viv Richards thought the second day’s play was the worst he’d ever seen in test match cricket. But the enthralling developments towards in the second innings produced an absolute cracker.

In fairness, this was mainly due to England’s wayward bowling. Although Steve Harmison seems to be pulling himself together, only Monty Panesar looked like finishing the Windies off. However, the boys in red took the fight to England, and really knuckled down.

Unfortunately, their bowling didn’t reflect this toughness. They leaked 77 extras in England’s innings, and gave away lord knows how many runs in misfields. Coupled with the numerous drop catches and dodgy umpiring decisions, this game could have been a lot closer.

Secretly, I wanted them to win. Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s typically gritty 116 not out off 257 was a splendid effort. If he had one more competent tailender then he could have taken his side home, and his innings would have been one of the all-time greats. Sadly, it was not to be.

Cricket has this great capacity for making heroes out of those who may not have the ability, but put their all into the moment. A stodgy, stubborn knock by a tail-ender could have been the decisive innings of the match. Test match cricket has the faculty of drawing out greatness from good players, and Chanderpaul excelled in this arena. Even Panesar filled his boots. A top quality match.

In other news, Aleem Dar had evidently been pondering the question I posed yesterday, by having a few words with Monty about his over-keen appealing. A fair comment and exactly the sort of way that the player-umpire relationship should be managed. You don’t really need this technology malarkey, or a Daryl Hair-like aggressive adhesion to the rules. Just a couple of blokes that can rub along well and enjoy the cricket.

Monday, June 11, 2007

West Indies recover some pride

The Windian batsman showed a lot of character, to end yesterday’s play on 301 for 5. Shivnarine Chanderpaul led the way with 81, with solid support from the middle order.

Everyone thought that Brian Lara was the West Indies’ best player. This may have been right. However, my favourite was always Chanderpaul. Mainly because everything about him is a bit weird. You watch him in the out-field; he’s not quite all there, is he?

His crabby batting stance and his barely co-ordinated movements exude incompetence. It’s a wonder he manages to hit the ball at all sometimes. But Chanders is a genius. A weird genius.

He works for his runs. He nurdles, nudges and weirds runs out of the bowling. What was most noticeable out of yesterday’s innings was his stunning ability to time the ball so well. Lara, with his high backlift, was all about power, over-awing the opposition. Chanderpaul quietly accumulates singles, and occasionally extends himself and sweetly timing stray deliveries to the boundary.

Just look at the shot in the picture. Getting well underneath the ball, he deliberately edges a sneaky single to fine leg. All without looking at the ball. That’s talent.

Regular readers may have noticed that I have a soft spot for the steady battlers, the boring batsman, but they will also know that I an affection for spinners. My champions excelled yesterday.

Monty Panesar once again betrayed the one-dimensional nature of England’s attack. With Steve Harmison still inconsistent, the refusal of the ball to swing for Ryan Sidebottom and Liam Plunkett’s amateurism, I would rather fancy the Windies’ chances of chasing down the 400.

Monty, however, generated his own pressure, and constantly threatened the batsman with spin and bounce. However, I rather think his enthusiasm got the better of him at some points, putting the umpire under a lot of pressure.

English fans used to oppose this rather vulgar element to the game that originated overseas. It’s as if you actually want to win, which is, of course, a base objective. Now the intimidation of the umpire is creeping into the English game, I think that the ECB should try to nip it in the bud. Maybe limit appeals to two an over – but even this seems a lot. Tricky one, that.

I’ll try and think of an answer. If I do, you’ll be the first to know.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

West Indies try to recover some pride

With 450+ runs to get, another overseas defeat is certain for the West Indies. However, by posting 300-odd, they can regain some lost self-respect and put to bed these distracting administrative issues. With the Board messing about with the captaincy issue, they are not doing a destabilised and troubled side any favours. Adding another captain to the situation would only make matters worse.

In other news, Steve Harmison is bowling well. He bowled an entire over without conceding a wide. Heck! He even managed a wicket-maiden! With the appointment of Allan Donald, and the inclusion of Ben Harmison’s brother (Steve’s brother) as twelfth man, the Durham paceman seems to be responding well to the latest molly-coddling.

Apparently, he has had some technical changes to his action: adjusting his acceleration through the crease and giving himself more space during the delivery. I doubt whether these are actually genuine changes, but the alterations can aid the mental side. A reconstituted action appears to be assisting Harmison recapture his lost confidence.

I stick by my original comments for calling for his head. I’d still give him the rest of the summer. But I’m not sure whether the England cricket should focus its resources on “encouraging” a fragile Harmison. Undoubtedly an international sport attracts prima doners, delicates and eccentrics, but the question is how much time should we invest into these special cases? And are they worth the effort?

For sure, Harmison has the potential and occasionally looks dangerous, but so did Mark Ramprakash. When do you say that enough is enough?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Alastair Cook: Officially God

This man is amazing. So amazing, he must be a deity.

I have therefore declared young Cooky a God. You may worship him by turning your childhood cricket bat into a shrine to the Essexshire opener. Offerings of tea and cream cakes are advised.

Today he hit another hundred. Not a huge one, a mere 106, but his consistency is reaching Mark Ramprakash proportions. Although, it is against the Windies. They're a bit like the cricketing version of Bangladesh.

Saying that, they’re a versatile bunch. The keeper, Ramdin, is injured, and Dwayne Bravo, of all people, has filled in. Sir Viv reckons he’s the talisman of the side. Jonathan Agnew thinks that he must be exhausting to go out with.

I think that would be an accurate description of me. But usually because I’m hard work to talk to and would rather be in bed. I’d rather be in bed now. But instead, I’m increasing the word’s supply of tyops.

That’s the sort of talisman I am.

Friday, June 08, 2007

West Indies bowl moderately better

Whenever England go out to get, I have this feeling that Paul “Colly” Collingwood is a game away from being dropped. Somehow, he stays in. That’s the magic of Collingwood: the Adhesive Ginger. But yesterday he, and the rest of the middle order, became unstuck.

Ian “Belly” Bell did well to rescue the side from a potentially disastrous collapse. He was still there at the end of the day’s play, with 77. He put on 98 for the fifth wicket with Matt “Priory” Prior, the skinhead wicket keeper contributing 40.

There’s something of the flat-track bully about Prior. Most county attacks have more venom than these Windies, and the South African born Sussex man with two legs has taken every opportunity to strike. It will be interesting to see how well he does against sides with quality attacks, like Glamorgan.

His downfall may have been his partner’s fault. In a period of studied strike-farming, Prior faced only six balls in the seven preceding overs prior to his demise. After scoring a four, he attempted a daft shot and was caught in the deep. Was this because of self-inflicted pressure? Did Bello not rotate the strike? No one cares. All we want to see is another Belly century at number six.

Do I have anything else to say? No.

Nothing else.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Day one, Old Knackered: No streakers yet

So busy, was I, complaining about the weather and being bitter I forgot there was a test match on. Speculatively firing up the computer, to have a quiet browse of the cricket sites, I was bowled over by news of Alastair Cook's half century.

I didn't see that coming. It's troubling times when international cricket does not consume your life.

The next England captain, Andrew Strauss, is beginning to cause real worries for the future, by failing to score again. If Straussy loses form, who will take over from Michael Vaughan now? It must be Hoggy.

The most interesting aspect of this game so far is the inclusion of Fidel Edwards and throwing of a cap Darren Sammy’s way.

What you need to know is this: Edwards is fast, but a bit of a Harmison. Sammy is apparently a swing bowler, but is much like all the other blokes that failed previously, so much like a slower Harmison.

This may, or may not, be interesting.

Anyway, I’m going to stop writing now. The ill must not be made to suffer unless any of their lazy readers send in some cash. But they never do. Those lazy bastards.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Steve Harmison and Mark Ramprakash are like gods on the county circuit. This season, Ramps is already averaging over a hundred, on top of the 2’000 runs he scored last year. Harmison has nearly 500 first-class wickets, and frightens the pants off most county sides.

Yet, despite these men’s colossal status at the domestic level, they have failed to realise this ability in the international arena. Both men also have amazing dancing abilities.

The general consensus for Ramprakash’s international failure is his mental frailties, but also the management’s inconsistency in picking him. He was regularly in and out of the England side throughout the ‘90s, despite some fine performances. However, the “in-out” policy was well-set for the ECB at this point, it was for the players to force their way into the national side and to keep their place. Ramps was unable to secure his place.

Harmison’s career has developed in a different environment. The selector’s revolving door has been replaced by a long-term commitment to improve players, giving them a fair run over a number of series. (More or less.) Consequently, Harmison has remained in the side, despite his obvious failings.

The treatment of these two players is obviously very different. Yet the outcome is the same. The fault, therefore, is not with the ECB, but it lies elsewhere.

Moving individual responsibility aside, the next candidate for blame seems to be the county system itself. It has managed to identify and enhance the skills of two fine players. But it has not mentally prepared them for the rigours of international cricket. So I point the finger at the counties. Which is actually quite hard using only one finger.

By way of counter-example, one could highlight people like Paul Collingwood, a product of the county system, who has succeeded because he can rely on immense mental toughness. But it is interesting to note the Collingwood refined his abilities in Australian Grade Cricket.

Indeed, looking at Australian cricket in general, at all levels we see an intensity to the game, but most importantly, we see mental strength ingrained into players at State level. Conversely, if you watch a county match, you’ll wander about a pleasant ground, chatting to the bloke at fine leg. There is a completely different character to the game. It's nice - not tough.

This is not necessary because Australians are naturally unpleasant people – although this is a strong explanation. The mental aspect of the game can be enhanced, through re-designing of the county game, correct deployment of incentives, etc. But all these changes requires deep, structural reforms, not the technical, meaningless tweaks suggested by the Schofield Report. This serious failing of the county system needs to be addressed.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Flintoff: over-rated as a bowler?

There's an interesting article in this week’s Sunday Times, by Simon Wilde. I have only just red it because I’m ill, and still moping about at home in a dressing gown. You read much more slowly when wearing a dressing gown.

It analyses the over-all impact of England’s five-bowler strategy, compared to a four-bowler attack. Intriguingly, we have lost only lost 30% of our games when fielding four bowlers, whereas when we play five, we lose 34% of the time. What Wilde doesn’t say, however, is that the all-rounder results in a 43% victory rate, whereas four bowlers give the same percentage. So Flintoff doesn’t win us any more games, but we lose more when playing him.

Putting my statistician's hat on, and considering the sample size (the 110 tests since Flintoff’s debut) I doubt whether these findings are statistically significant. But what the cool blue numbers show is that Flintoff has a minimal impact on the game over the long term. Sure, a brilliant spell or innings can swing a session in England’s favour, but in terms of a consistent success for his team his influence is hard to detect.

There is something innately impressive about an all-rounder – doing two things at international level is amazing. Naturally, we expect less of an all-rounder: lower averages are the norm, because they make two contributions. They also give depth to the bowling. But is this, in itself, sufficient?

Looking at Flintoff’s record isn’t exactly inspiring. Omar shows that, except for one purple patch, he has rarely averaged over 30 in tests. Here’s a table outlining his bowling in test matches.

Flintoff’s bowling

Again, apart from a single period 2004 and 2005, his average has never been below 33. He has never taken more than eight wickets in a match. Interestingly, he has only achieved two five-fers, both during the 2004/5 purple patch. Since this period, his statistical form has tailed off.

Undoubtedly, he was a class player, but it remains to be seen how potent he is nowadays. It seems to be a universally accepted fact that his batting has been below par. Now, with a new series of operations and serious question marks in the rest of the attack, we must seriously examine Flintoff’s impact on the game.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Tanzania: Pimephales promelas of the cricketing world

Uganda won the final of the World Cricket League Division Three final, beating Argentina by 91 runs. This was the expected outcome, however, it must be noted that Argentina did exceptionally well to reach the final.

The South American country was only brought in at the eleventh hour, after the administrative mess that is the various American cricket boards saw the US expunged from the League.

The fractious and chaotic nature of US cricket administration reminds me of the American communists. The 1920s saw the emergence of about twenty various socialist parties, and Russians eventually gave up hope, pulling out funding. American can’t organise cricket, or communism. Coincidence?

Anyway, Argentina, which is also bizarrely good at rugby, put in a solid performance. Their captain, Esteban MacDermott, was awarded the player of the tournament.

It wasn’t all good news, though. Sadly, Tanzania were thrashed in the play-offs, losing to Hong Kong by 129 and coming in sixth. I really like Tanzania. I used to live there and think that it’s “cool”. In comparison to non-cricket playing nations I’d say it’s cooler than Dubai, but not as cool as Belgium. Belgium, now there’s a place: Chocolate; beer; sausages – it’s a utopia.

I like these little teams. They’re like little village players, but given the status of international stars. They’re not even minnows. I’ll have to think of a new name for them. They’re like the tiny parasites that live off minnows. A quick scan of the internet has produced Pimephales promelas, which burrows into the brains of fat-head minnows. This seems like a reasonable approximation of Italy’s relationship to England. I think for short we’ll call them “Pimmies”.

Go on you Pimmies!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Flintoff: not perfect?

Recent Ayalac surveillance footage has uncovered some disturbing evidence. Seeing the rising tide of my “Matthew Hoggard for Captain” Campaign, it seems as though Andrew Flintoff has jealousy struck out against the Hogster.

Clearly, such was the force of this impact, that it rippled into Hoggy’s great groin. Matthew Hoggard may miss the next test match, such are the injuries.

First, I was unsure about Flintoff. Now I think I officially am leaning towards not worshipping as much as I do the other England players. I even beginning to look at Flintoff’s recent records with some suspicion: we all acknowledge his batting isn’t great, but I’m started do doubt his bowling.

Am I becoming a monster?

Best put that thought to the back of the mind and rally under the HOOGGY FOR CAPTAIN flag.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Australian tries to be clever (and fails)

Well, I’m back. Cyberlife is worth living again. This is also my 100th post. Hoorah. No really, I mean it. Hoorah.

Anyway catch the crazy antics in Lords? Justin Langer displayed innovative captaincy by declaring the lowest total in Championship history (apparently).

After ducks galore, Langer decided it to call it a day at 50-8. The reason behind this apparently suicidal decision was to deny Middlesex the additional bowling point. The ECB website can clarify the bonus point situation:

“A maximum of three bowling points is available for three to five wickets taken by the bowling side (1 point), 6 to 8 wickets (2 points), 9 to 10 wickets taken (3 points).”

So, Middlesex were denied the third point. However, a 97 first wicket partnership quickly assured that Middlesex captured two batting points. More importantly, Somerset did not receive any points from their move, and decreased their hopes in the game. Was this stupid?

Brian Rose, who once declared Somerset after one over in the old Benson and Hedges Cup whilst he captained the side, said:

"It was quite a brave decision that Justin took. He wanted to get the best of the conditions and frankly we had been struggling to put bat on ball. He thought he should give his bowlers a chance to put Middlesex under the same pressure. If we'd scratched around for another 15 to 20 runs it would have made next to no difference to the match."

Perhaps this is true. But the Somerset batsman are struggling to play out time now, and would dearly love to have the two extra wickets they forfeited in the first innings.

The legal structure of cricket matches is always open to abuse. But one hopes that the spirit of the game is sufficiently strong to discourage captains from abusing loop-holes.

Generally, the bonus point system works well, and promotes aggressive cricket. Some cricketers are satisfied with their lot in life, and like to play at being lawyers. But no one likes lawyers.

No one.

No one likes Australians, either. So perhaps dealing with hatred some naturally to some?