Friday, July 31, 2009

What England need to do

This series is between two emotionally fragile teams. I mocked Alistair Cook’s feeble “aura” jibe at the Aussie’s expense. But I overestimated the thickness of their skins, and England launched into a major holistic therapy offensive, sensing hippy blood.

Andrew Strauss also laid into the Ozzlers’ dubious karma:

"I don't think this Australian side has got an aura about it to be honest with you and prior to this Test series starting we didn't feel they had an aura about them,"

Metaphysically cutting, I’m sure you’ll agree. Although, it’s also true and fair. In any case, Ricky Ponting responded rather tersely,

“But it's okay for him to say that now, I'm not sure he was saying that after Cardiff - we had it well and truly over most of their batsmen down there."

Which, of course, is also true. Although, they didn’t quite have Monty’s number, did they?

For some reason, Australia appears to have a weakness for this beatnik bull-plop. It’s probably something to do with the feelings of guilt they have developed after a decade of bullying and dominating the world. Much like the Germans. And looked what happened to them - they voted the Greens in.

The point is, both sides are weakened, and fatally aware of their own vulnerabilities, and any suggestion of doubt may decisive unbalance a team. Something like losing the toss seems to be a catalyst to the mood dropping.

All England need to do in Birmingham is hold it together. Go through the motions and play the game into a draw. Don’t overbowl Freddie. Recognise that your team is full of feckless midgies and move on. I mean, Stuart Broad and Graham Onions – since when were they international bowlers? In fact, when did Jimmy Anderson become our cutting edge? He’s pants.

Anyway, we must stick to tried and tested English strategy: Just hold it together until the rain comes, chaps…

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Twitter Twat Twotted

Phil Hughes. Oh you plonker. Young. Naïve. But ultimately twit.

The Australian “batsman” caused panic this morning when he brazenly leaked his forthcoming dropping from the team. He did so via the modern’s opiate of the people, twitter:

Disappointed not to be on the field with the lads today, will be supporting the guys, it's a BIG test match 4 us. Thanks 4 all the support!

The ever illuminating BBC commentary responded thus:

Is this the first time that a team line-up has been revealed via Twitter?
NB George continued to hit the brandy hard for the three days before the wedding. On the morning of the ceremony, he was found face-down asleep by the fire in his private quarters. We've all been there.

They were of course alluding to George IV’s reacting to meeting his future wife.

Twittering, much like mobile phones and blogging, I fear is something I shall postpone my participation until it makes me staggeringly unsociable to do so. But, Hughes’ previous tweets do provide some interest.

11:37 PM Jul 19th from web
Been up all night fixing clarkeys bat, ironing hads [??] shirt, come on lads!!!!!

Proof that sycophancy gets you nowhere.

10:15 PM Jul 18th from web
Need to dig deep today.

Australia were fortunate that the young opener didn’t embark on his hole excavation until he was expunged from the team.

11:10 PM Jul 8th from mobile web
BTW, I think its fair to say its 'game on' in the 2009 Ashes!!!!!

Perhaps a future career in the media awaits? With that manner exclamation marks, surely Mark Nicholas’ role is under threat?

Rest Freddie?

The battle of the limping wounded will be chiefly decided by whose bags of deformed crocks will fall to pieces first.

With Brett Lee’s gammy side and Mitchell Johnson’s sideways sense of gravity, the Australian cause looked damned by the misfortune that traditionally blighted England campaigns.

But now, with the breaking down of Kevin Pietersen and the public disintegration of the Colossus of Preston, England are fighting fire with fire.

There is a note of desperation in the England camp, with their star batsman felled, they know that there chances are shot if Andrew Flintoff topples also. Here’s the latest unbelievable revelations from the BBC:

“The 31-year-old has been sleeping with a special 'Game Ready' compression wrap - designed from NASA spacesuit technology - around his troublesome knee, which helps to remove fluid and reduce inflammation.”

Everyone knows that he’s not well. But we also know that we need him, and it doesn’t matter if he exacerbates the problem because we won’t be using him in the future anyway. So Flintoff being permanently maimed for life is a little worry that the ECB’s carpet bagger doctor can forget.

Nevertheless, the forecast looks grim. By the current reading, it looks as though up to three days will be washed out. A result looks unlikely.

So, England’s worse case scenario is the Aussies batting for long periods, wearing down what little cartilage remains in Flintoff’s wasting joints, forcing him to miss the important forth game.

Why not rest old Freddie’s legs for another week?

England’s outfit is a one-trick pony now. We may as well acknowledge it. It’s the cricketing equivalent of giving the ball to Jonny Wilkinson.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ian Bell: will the mouse roar?

I doubt it.

Ian Bell has been various described as the “most talented batsman in the country”, “Atherton-esque” and “complete shit”. And his test match record raised more questions than Aunties.

The general consensus in the mono-glot press is that Bell only does well on milkruns. Much has been made of his centuries at six – all coming when more responsible players grafted 100s above him.

This may be right, and I have generally shared the view that Ian Bell looks most at home when he is at home.

The problem is that there really isn’t anyone of the same authority in the English game who can replace Kevin Pietersen. Bell’s extended and underperforming run at three crowded out any other player, and blocked the emergence of potential county stars. Where would we be had Ravi Bopara been giving a long run a year ago?

But we are where we are, and there is, at this moment, quite honestly no alternative to the rat-faced bimbo.

At the moment, the line-up is looking decidedly Atherton-esque alright. Strauss, Cook, Bopara, Bell, Paul Collingwood, and Pratty Prior. It’s a wonder that they didn’t bring John Crawley and Simon Jones out of retirement (and/or death).

Although, Australia’s attack also finds itself competing against England’s former stars. Could Peter Siddle out-bowl Gavin Hamilton? Could Mitchell Johnson out-long-hop Chris Schofield?

Such questions might give England’s tart at number four new hope.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mindless game

Australia have normally dominated the Ashes before Steve Harmison has chance to bring the umpire into action. The team had a number of PR vanguards that the ACB would push forward to gob off a few moronic remarks.

Australia teams have always been better at mind games. This isn’t because they are all terrible people – a fact whose veracity we needn’t doubt – it is because they smug, self-satisfied, superiority came from there actual, real, really good superiority.

Since Herr Warne and Glen McGrath, they struggled to find a suitably obnoxious replacement. Ricky Ponting has passed a few windy comments on the lines of, “yeah, look, the other team’s track record is a bit shaky, yeah?”

Mike Hussey a bit of a crack. He has a column in that leading international journal, The London Paper.

But, his problem is that, much as with the rest of the freesheet, it’s shit.

Now Alistair Cook, with all the batting flair of Henry Kissinger and with the cricketing brains of Liberace, has stepped into the fray.

An unlikely candidate to practice the dark arts, Cook’s principal problem with mind games seemingly is the “mind” part. Here’s a report from the Sunday Times:

“Asked for the difference between this Australian side and their predecessors, Cook was reluctant to appear critical. “It’s hard to explain mid-series but one thing that is slightly different is their aura.””

If you want to bring about mental disintegration in the Aussie team, criticise their aura. Also, try to publish pictures of them with “strange, glowing phenomena” floating above their heads, and steal Simon Katich feeling crystals.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Name that Bum #18 Answer

A bit of a poor showing by the bummers this week. Although, all was recovered with Samir Chopra's determined insistence that the bum before him was left handed. Here's his reasoning:

"Something about the body-language,the way the player is leaning so slightly to the left. Its not an exact science, but I'm willing to put a fiver down on it. At the very least, I'd say the player bowls or bats left."

The answer, I'm afraid to say was Mark Ramprakash.
And here he is, modestly masking his mighty rump.

Congratulations go to the The Old Batsman, whose prize is a picture with himself, with himself hiding in his own beard.
Tune in next time to see if you can...NAME THAT BUM.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Guildford Festival of Cricket

It was the weekend. It was mid-July. The weather was grim. This could only mean one thing. The Guildford Festival of Cricket. Excitement throbbed throughout the shires

Sandwiches having been lovingly crafted by my own organic, free-range hand, the long train journey to this forgotten corner of Surrey began interestingly, with Stuart Broad’s public admittance to using muscle-enhancing chemicals:
Is the dope a doper as well as a dobbler?

Guildford. Ah Guildford. Forever a beautiful, market town. Look how the sunshine shimmers off the traffic.

Losing my bearings somewhat, the prescient local Council foresaw the need for a sign. A sign to joy! Let us go, stripy jumper, to meet our destiny together.

Once inside, we settle ourselves down comfortably with the radio, in order to listen to another, more interesting game.
Observe the generous leg room.

The ground was standard enough, for this part of the world, but was disturbed by the haunting howls of South-West Trains fast service to Waterloo.Despite the turgid innings before them, the crowd enthusiasm burbled through.Come lunch, it was time to indulge in my morning’s creations. To spice things up, I attempted to break the World Record for numbers of egg held in one hand.
An otherwise brave challenge, was abandoned due to lack of eggs.

As time dripped around to teatime, it seemed appropriate to investigate the wonders of the GUILDFORD FESTIVAL OF CRICKET.
Suitably persuaded by the charming, cricket-assailed women of the above stand, I acquired some of their excellent, if lukewarm, tea and a fine miniature carrot cake.
To the English weather!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Name That Bum # 18

Oh, little ones, it has been a long time before you have sharpened your wits on a pair of highly toned buns.

But it is time again. Tell me who this bum owns, and you get a prize.
Good luck and good bumming.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Play him off Keyboard Cat, II

I've been told that I've been Got At by lawyers again. This time, it was the ECB. Don't worry - Keyboard Cat is back again:

Those pesky lawyers can't keep me down forever.

Play him off, Keyboard Cat

It's not how, it's how many.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Looking for the negatives

Well, England won. Much cheering to be had around at work, and surprising magnanimous treatment of the office’s token Australian.

Most England fans were nervous this morning, despite the near-impossible task ahead of the Australians. So, in-keeping with our natural pessimism, doubt and self-loathing, it’s important to take out all the negatives from this stonking* victory.

Arguably, the critical moment in the match came with wickets of Ravi Bopara and Kevin Pietersen. Once England’s lower order biffed away– specifically in the confident form of Matt Prior – England reminded us that we were miles ahead. Pietersen looks a short, hobbling trot away from Knackers' Yard and Bopara would rather sprint there himself, if it evades facing Australia.

Stuart Broad also is a bit of a worry. His bowling would be good, if he batted at six, or even seven. But he doesn’t, so it isn’t.

This might be a strange time to say this, but playing Andrew Flintoff is much like losing two players. You lose a proper batsman at six, and you need a bowling all-rounder at eight to make up for Freddie’s lost runs. So much of the threat is indirectly sucked out of the team.

At the moment, Broad’s there for his runs, and against this generous Australian attack, such a safety net isn’t necessary.

But, that said, everyone one is doing an amazing job. Especially England’s secret weapons: the twelfth man and the third umpire.

*Yes. Stonking.

England: can they cock it all up?

We’ve been here before. We know what they’re like. England squander opportunities just as carelessly as bloggers split infinitives.

It’s best to wear the “oh Christ not again” hat in these situations.

But, whilst I was stirring Sunday morning’s scrambled eggs, the fall of Simon Katich and Ricky Ponting caused much jubilation, even if it was at the price of scraping breakfast from the ceiling.

There are always painful consequences to English success.

During the follow-on carry-on, I began to descend into dark, fearful thoughts. I even considered the replacement of Stuart Broad with Steve Harmison - and not feel a pang of self-loathing. Thankfully, Broad’s accuracy ceased living up to his name, and began to threaten the Australians.

In fact, England’s new look players have generally found life difficult at the next level. Ravi Bopara and Graeme Swann have struggled against non-hopeless opposition. As have young Ozzlers.

But the question we ask ourselves is this: how can England wank it up this time?

Andrew Flintoff is looking fragile, and could break down at any moment. The ball may not swing for either James Anderson or Graham Onions. Graeme Swann might bowl at a right-hander. Stuart Broad might return to his normal self.

If a combination of any of these factors occurs, England might just gift away the match. Indeed, a draw, from this position, may be an unrecoverable blow for the boys.

Here’s hoping they don’t blow it…

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Testing who?

Bangladesh have won their second test match, against a side that couldn’t actually break into their first team’s test line-up.

The West Indies have revived their persistent player relation issue, with their entire on strike. Of course, it’s entirely reasonable for them to have done so. They haven’t got that much money.

And test match cricket is probably too boring for them anyway.

There have been some facetious murmurings regarding West Indies test status, and much vociferous chunterings about Bangladesh’s.

But, we are left wondering as to the standing of a second-rate test nation’s victory over a test team’s seconds squad. The scorers make the appropriate entries and log records, as their institution dictates, but how to other spectators view the match?

Well, if we are being kind, we can cite Bangladesh’s general improvement (albeit mainly in the shorter formats) and the need to broaden test cricket, whilst dutifully applying the patience that this principle requires. Indeed, as an England fan, I can cite many tours in which their squad has been decimated by gammy knees and unpleasant bowel conditions. Are England’s perennially crock collective worthy of test status, when, their “leading” bowler has been out for the past four years?

The problem however relates to depth. As we saw last week even a second string England team can trouble the leading test nation, perhaps more so than the actual test squad.

Although there are some paper records set by this match – a rare Tiger victory, a test match century, etc – it is doubtful that these statistical achievements will linger in the catalogue of test match honours.

The cricketing community will ignore this match, and forget the events and thrills without compunction. Indeed, it will be tacitly labelled as a first class match, or even a club game. And yet, the absurdly legalistic methods of international cricket afford this game a quality that no critical, rational human being would consider.

So, how does the ICC believe that we should treat this match – or, indeed, similarly sub-standard games?

I suspect they'd advice us to direct our attentions elsewhere. Towards the lucrative Indian market, perhaps?

Monday, July 13, 2009

The whinge offensive

Ricky Ponting has proven himself to be an innovative and resourceful captain when the chips are down. When your opponents are resisting you or impudently winning even, then there are a number of strategies that you can deploy. Ponting likes to whine like a girl when the going gets tough. In moments of stress, the Australian captain uncorks his trusty spirit of the game, and force feeds it to his gagging opponents.

Most observers of the game are surprised at Ricky “Munter” Ponting’s sudden attachment to the “spirit”. But it’s a little known fact that he keeps his spirit in his little rodent familiar: Spunky the magic squirrel that lives in his jock-strap.

When Ponting as busy abusive opponents and mouthing them off through the media, he was soothing and stroking his little chap with kind words for his friends in the other team.

All was revealed in the recent test match.

The most wonderful aspect of this game, forget your confident Australian centuries, played to test match perfection, forget your Kevin Pietersen shit mong strokes, forget the epic bravery of the last wicket stand, in fact, forget the cricket. For true glory, I refer you to Munting’s post-match whinge offensive:

“I don't think that was required. I am not sure what the physio was doing out there - I didn't see him call for any physio. I'm sure others will take it up with the England hierarchy as they should.

But they can play whatever way they want to play. We came to play by the rules and the spirit of the game, it’s up to them to do what they want to do.

I won’t be saying anything about it.”

Of course he won’t. He’s not for throwing his toys out of the pram.

Ponting planted his feet in the middle of the pitch, faced the Englanders, unzipped his trousers, released his little friend and let Spunky run wild all over the opposition.

He’s not alone. Michael Hussey has proved his worth on the tour, by brown nosing his captain,

“England’s antics in sending out the physio and 12th man got up our noses a bit and Ricky Ponting certainly let them know it. It’s a shame they had to resort to that.”

The Australians have a plan.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Test 1, Day 2: Progress so far

It has been a good start for the press. They have not been proven completely wrong so far. No complete cock-ups by the England team, as yet.

Highlights of the day’s play include these:

Radio 4’s PM asked: “how many anthems does a cricket match need?”

Henry Blofeld kept us highly informed as ever: “There are four overs left. That’s three after the next one.”

Vic Marks revealed all: “I’ve got a small one. But I didn’t put it there.”

In other news, England did ok. I reckon that most England innings conform to the golden decline of three, the so-called the ménage à twats. Three wickets fall to the bowlers’ skill, three to luck and three to batsmens’ idiocy – every match has this pattern. EVERY MATCH.

So, England have done well, I reckon. Even useless duffer Collingwood got some runs.

The concern is the bowling department. We only have one specialist fast bowler – whereas in 2005 we had three. The rest are all-rounders, and everyone knows that you can’t be a decent quick unless you are a mug with the bat.

But, we were brave to go with spin twins, even though one of them doesn’t look like he could twirl a mop at the moment. But, slow bowling looks like the only way we can attack the Australians at the moment.

So, 450 runs to the Ozzlers on a lifeless pitch…probably.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Who will drop the Ashes first?

If you happen to be on another planet, or maybe on the same planet, but only on a less interested part, you wouldn’t have escaped the speed-fuelled media orgy that is the Ashes.

If I see that bloody picture of Andrew Flintoff patronising a depressed looking Brett Lee again I will stick my nearest limb inside the nearest farm animal.

Of course, the British media is convinced that England will win. Not just win, but win confidently. All you need to do is look at the track record: Australia beat South Africa at home; England lost to the West Indies. It’s obvious that England are the superior side.

We all know how good the media are at predicting future events. They are experts.

Plus, we have Andrew Flintoff now. Freddie’s phlegm is like manna from reverse swinging heaven. We will destroy them! And we will destroy them somehow!

It was as if 2006-07 never happened.

But, for the life of me, I can see no difference from the build-up of this series to that fateful whitewash. In 2006, England scored a few good results, had some spinners coming through, and some talented, if under-achieving batsman. But no great series triumphs; no storming tours.

And so with this Ashes, you would rather suspect that Australia are better prepared.

Although, Australia look rather more Englandatic this time. Their bowling attack is a bit of a one-man band, and their batting a mixture of risky young promise and autumnal greats. Their spinner looks like a part-time darts player.

So, the question we must ask ourselves is “Who is worse?” England are normally first to put their hands up, but, I think it would be unwise to underestimate this Australian side’s ability to cock things up. It will all rest on one horrible, staggeringly act of incompetence. But, don’t rule out a steady stream of moronic errors – that too is definitely a strong possibility.

So, my predictions, after all this studious deliberation is 2-1 to Sri Lanka.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Paul Collingwood shaving

Days have passed. An embryonic beard is growing: An unwanted fuzz forming like a rampant fungus creeps around the neck and face. Although little facial fur has been accumulated, Paul Collingwood sends himself in on the fifth day down to save his face from another hairy situation.

Plodding forth to the bathroom, he steels himself with his trusty, plastic reusable razor bought from Woolworths. Facing a revelation of orange before him, a rare moment of confidence surges forward, and he twiddles his weapon with an enigmatic flourish.

After picking up the razor from the floor, the former and current England captain begins the task before him: the steady construction of a respectable appearance.

Beginning, as is his habit, from the bottom, he worked over the entire field of play up to the eyebrows. As he takes the vorpal blade in hand, the weight of responsibility and expectation becomes too much.

He struggles early on, losing all semblance of technique. Pressure guides his every fumble. A lesser man would have crumbled at the accidentally hacking away of the bridge of his nose, but the redoubtable Collingwood gritted onwards and upwards. Onwards and upwards.

Throughout the mist of pain and self-doubt, Collingwood found motivation in the peaceful sound of progress: the sink’s echoing plops as it harvested the falling fibers, foam and flesh. He considered pass glories. His daily facial flagellation at his work experience week at Northern Rock. The unexpected electric razor discovered in Australia. The destruction of the Inadvisable Moustache.

After the blood began to clear away, Collingwood began to rebuild his confidence with a series of short, stubby strokes. Slowly revealing the tea-hued pallor beneath the ginger grizzle, as he roughly nurdled away at the persistent bristles.

In the end, as Collingwood stared deeply into the mirrored image of cuts, gore and pus, he reflected on the past three-hours of graft. Oh course, he wasn’t pretty, even his mother admitted that to him, but he was effective and he got the job done. Perhaps he faces the word as less of a man, but a least he's a man. And, at the end of the day, it’s not how, it’s how many useless ginger sproutings you cut away.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Vaughan finally succumbs to the final straight one

I was wondering whether to make note of the retirement of Michael Vaughan, former captain of Yorkshire.

I decided not. Then looked at the news, and promptly reassessed.

Vaughan will be remembered for his innovative and creative explanations for missing the straight one. Although the Lancaster Turncoat found success early in his career – averaging over 70 in his first series against the Australians – once he was “found out”, the glory faded.

In past decades, his weakness probably wouldn’t have been spotted. But in an era of in-depth video analysis and bulging teams of backroom boffins, his inability to hit a straight ball, that doesn’t deviate upon pitching on a true bounce, was eventually unearthed.

Baffled by this minor fault, Vaughan would often be seen prodding the treacherous earth, shaking his head and muttering about fickle fingers of fate as the mighty king was castled once again.

My favourite moment in the 2005 was seeing the English captain completely bewildered by one of Brett Lee’s unnerving straight ones. There was a period where Vaughan could lay bat on ball against Jacob Oram’s terrifying lack of movement.

The final excuse came yesterday:

“Two weeks ago in the garden with my little lad Archie he bowled a ball that hit a weed and knocked my off stump out.”

It is surprising how such a talent has been blighted by an unusual amount of rogue weeds. Presumably, they’ve organised a union to conduct a campaign of anti-Vaughanist flying pickets.

I am informed that his the “most successful captain ever”. In an era of manifold matches and guaranteed results, it’s difficult to compare his success to former captains – especially good ones.

Moreover, since most of his “genius” plans to oust certain batsman were informed by a tax-payer draining mega-group of backroom analysts, it is hard to isolate Vaughan’s influence on the game. Especially since commentators attribute brilliance every time a captain moves a fielder.

In fact, the test of a captain is how he handles a weakened team – this quality, for instance, defines Stephen Fleming as one of the game’s great leaders. When Vaughan was blessed with a penetrative four-man pace attack, England won. Yet, in later years, when then bowling lost its edge, so did their captain.

We can ascribe responsibility to Vaughan for England’s “go-slow” strategy at the World Cup. But, if we do so, it is only far to credit him with England’s glorious streak of victories that culminated in the reclamation of the Ashes. The years proceeding 2005, saw a tremendous stretch of success and skill, all helmed by Vaughan. For that, I suppose we must say “good job”, and other such things.

In other news, Australian sporting prowess has further sunken into the pit of oblivion. Late-on Hewed lost at Wimbledon. Which is just as well, as he would have been beaten by a Britisher in the semis – that or spank a Scot.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Australian slump slumpens

As if Australian sporting nadir couldn’t deepen any further, the Australian women plunge new depths on the diagrammatic chart of oblivion.

England dispatched the Australian women, as if they were a collection of pre-stamped envelopes, ready to claim tax rebates.

England’s conquest was delivered mainly by Sarah Taylor going postal, with a run-a-ball 120.

Australia, in response, seemed to get lost somewhere in the system, or perhaps it was Christmas over there, or maybe there was a strike, or possibly they simply ran out of postage-based metaphors.

After a promising start, Australia struggled to keep the runs coming. Nicky Shaw doing the damage early on with 3-39, and Laura Marsh saw her ten overs only going for 33 and pinching three wickets.

Placed in the context of other catastrophes, many people are now openly wondering wondering whether Australia has gone the way of the 1950s Hungarian football team. That, or the Mir Space Station.

So, what do we think? 5-0?