Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 20, 2014

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 20 April 2014

David Masters - a force in four day and one day cricket, possibly simultaneously

David Masters – a force in four day and one day cricket, possibly simultaneously

Ball One – Joyce blooms in Spring sunshine

Twenty years ago, Alec Stewart delivered one of the greatest performances by an England batsman, making two hundreds in the Barbados Test. That it was only one such instance in the 177 Tests played between February 1991 and November 1996 shows the difficulty of doubling up on tons; that it lowered West Indies’ colours for the first time in Bridgetown since 1935 shows its value. Ed Joyce did “a Stewart” at Hove to see off a strong Warwickshire side (for whom his old friend from his England days, Ian Bell, made an eye-catching 189*) and send Sussex top of the nascent Division 1 table with a two for two record. Joyce will hope that his international commitments – these days for Ireland – don’t get in the way of another Sussex run at the LVCC Title.

Ball Tw0 – Finn fishing for an England return

Two more ex-England men were in decent form at Lord’s, as Middlesex overwhelmed Nottinghamshire by ten wickets. Steven Finn continued his fine start to the season with another nine wickets to back up the six he took in the first round of matches. He’s going to go for a few but he has genuine pace and will always get wickets – rather like that Mitchell Johnson chap. Eoin Morgan, nearer to The Emirates Stadium than a stadium in the Emirates, having opted for Indian tea at 4.20 rather than Indian T20 this season, also chipped in with decent runs for the Londoners. But it was Aussie born, England qualified opener, Sam Robson, who pressed his case most strongly with over 200 runs in the match for just once out. Having broken through in 2011 and arrested a 2012 dip in form with a strong 2013, the question Robson has posed for the new Peter Moores regime is, “If not now, when?”

Ball Three – Northamptonshire cling on for the draw as they start their trek through Division 1′s fixtures

Two draws rounded off the Division 1 matches – though, with just 24 wickets falling for nearly 1200 runs scored, the pitch could claim the win as usual at Taunton. Things were different at Wantage Road, where newly promoted Northamptonshire were pretty much hanging on to Champions Durham for four solid days, never more so than in the final nine overs, batted out by a watchful Rob Newton and Number 11, Azharullah. The home side will have to show plenty of that sort of fight to survive in the top flight and the away side will need to close out winning positions if they are to fly to the top again.

Ball Four – Essex veterans counter-punch their way to the win

Things looked bleak for Essex at the end of the first day of their match against Derbyshire – bundled out for double figures by early afternoon, they trailed by 45 runs by the close and had a well set Shiv Chanderpaul to look forward to come the re-start. But the old double act of David Masters and Graham Napier simply got rid of the other five batsmen for just 15 more runs on Monday morning, to allow Alastair Cook to dig in for a seven hour 181. Late order biffs from Tim Groenewald threatened an unlikely win for the away side, before James Foster stumped him off the bowling of Monty Panesar to secure a 53 run “off the canvas” win for his team.

Ball Five – A pippin of a performance from Ben Cox makes him the apple of Worcestershire eyes

After first innings of 224 and 229, honours were even at Worcester, so when Doug Bollinger’s three wickets had helped send back half of Kent’s batting in the second dig, Rob Key must have felt the whiff of a rare victory in the air. Ben Cox, the 22 year old Worcestershire keeper whose career has already had plenty of ups and downs since his schoolboy debut, got stuck in to be last man out, just 11 short of a deserved maiden century. As so often happens when a side are on the end of a fearless counter-attack from a Number 7, the stuffing appeared to have been knocked out of Kent who slid away for 140, losing by 125 runs.

Ball Six – Hampshire go top while Gloucestershire introduce a famous name

With centuries from James Vince and Michael Carberry and six wickets for South African Test bowler, Kyle Abbott and six more for the experienced James Tomlinson, Hampshire had far too much for Gloucestershire at Bristol. There was one bright spark for the West Country men – a debut century for Will Tavare, nephew of Chris. Even if the 24 year-old is not at Kent, it’s another dynasty associated with the county of the Cowdreys and Dean Headley. Back in April 2014, Hampshire are top of Division 2 and Gloucestershire a point off the bottom – where I suspect both counties may finish come September.

You can tweet me at @garynaylor999

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 13, 2014

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 13 April 2014

Steven Finn - in 2021

Steven Finn – in 2021

Ball One – Rather like an ageing relative who always turns up at 6.00pm on Christmas Day with a bottle of Scotch for a little light conversation, a turkey sandwich and a mince pie, the county cricket season got underway with the familiar minimum of fuss and fanfare. It’s a comforting rather than compelling presence just now and, like the Grand National and the US Masters, it marks the start of the sporting summer. I enjoyed the opening day’s play at The Oval, but I had one eye on the football and concentrated more on catching up with friends than the actual cricket. Which is how things should be.

Ball Two – Chris Rogers was brought back down to earth after his Ashes exploits and Wisden Cricketer of the Year accolade, as his Middlesex team were routed by an innings and plenty at the hands of Sussex. Seamers need to know where to put the ball in April in order to take advantage of the nibble and wobble of an English Spring, so it was no surprise to see 18 Middlesex wickets fall to James Anyon (30), Steve Magoffin (34) and Jon Lewis (38) – nous, not pace, the key to their successes.

Ball Three – Though I may not need to ensure that my mobile is charged around the time that the first England squad will be announced come May, there’s hardly an England qualified cricketer who won’t harbour at least a twinge of expectation after The Winter of Discontent. Two men whose winter was, well, disastrous, were seeking to advance their cases at Hove and – much to the pleasure of many – did so. Matt Prior, without the gloves and batting at four, made 125 in just 50 overs at the crease, the fluency at long last returning after his awful 2013. Steven Finn, whom we were led to believe could barely hit the cut strip in Australia, took six consecutive wickets to give Middlesex some hope. The tall pacer is still only just turned 25 – or, if you prefer, over seven years younger than Mitchell Johnson. He has plenty of time to come again in Test cricket – as Jimmy Anderson did after his mid-career spell out of favour.

Ball Four – At Trent Bridge, Lancashire’s return to Division One cricket saw Paul Horton’s men put up a spirited chase of 349 on the final day, Ashwell Prince the last man out for a round 100 with his team just 46 short. The veteran South African will need to make plenty more tons if Lancashire are to survive in the top flight, with last season’s top scorer, Simon Katich, now retired. Much is expected of new signing, Jos Buttler, but he won’t play all the LVCC games, so the Committee may well have to look for an overseas player to fill the gap come the second half of the season. I wonder if David Warner or Steven Smith might fancy topping up their experience of English conditions prior to 2015′s Ashes? They, and Lancashire, could do a lot worse.

Ball Five – With fewer than ten overs possible during the first two days at The Rose Bowl, there was never going to be enough time for Hampshire or Worcestershire to force a result –  so attention turned to more personal matters. Discarded England man (I’ll be cutting and pasting that phrase a few times over the coming weeks) Michael Carberry, had been making noises about his treatment at the hands of the England management, but couldn’t back his words with deeds, contributing just six runs for twice out. There’s plenty of time for him to prove himself (again) before the selectors get round the table with more decisions to make since the hokey cokey squads of the 90s. One name unlikely to crop up is Daryl Mitchell – but the Worcestershire captain made 172* and stranger things have happened in English cricket over the last six months.

Ball Six – Back at The Oval, Zafar Ansari batted on all four days (well, he edged the one ball he faced on the fourth and trudged off) but that personal feather in the cap was overshadowed by an all too familiar Surrey collapse in a deflating second innings total of 81, of which 27 were attributed to extras. It’s yet another new dawn in South London, but whether it’s right to trust in the teenage Dominic Sibley and the 22 year-old Ansari at 3 and 4 – on a sappy seaming strip to boot – is debatable. But credit to Glamorgan, for whom that most resourceful (and experienced) cricketer, Jim Allenby, delivered 30 overs to earn four first innings wickets at a cost of just 47 runs, then backed it up with a first dig top score of 52. Two more 30-somethings, Graham Wagg and Michael Hogan did the damage with the ball, before the Welsh county’s openers cruised home.

You can tweet me at @garynaylor999

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | March 22, 2014

Summer The First Time – Cricket Stats

Here, in 1981, is John Gordon Sinclair being me, in 1981 -

Numbers are so reassuringly certain to a certain kind of teenage boy. Unlike one’s body, unlike one’s hormones and definitely, definitely, unlike girls, they’re the same from one day to the next, wherever you are and there’s always another one if you think it’s time for a change. It’s when numbers had to be turned into symbols and Pan’s People had to be turned into real people, that the trouble started.

I’d fallen in love with cricket stats at a much earlier age – 10 (or 9 and 3/4 as I would have Adrian Moleishly insisted) when I  got hold of the somewhat unprepossessing Observer’s Book of Cricket 1973. Here it is, with its cover showing Dennis Lillee yorking MJK Smith while Peter Parfitt looks on -

OBC

It was just a pocket sized publication, one of a series of such titles covering a wide range of subjects, all of which adopted a didactic tone and worthiness – a kind of Blue Peter between hard covers. It wasn’t Wisden – I was too young for that slabby brick and it wasn’t the sort of book that appeared in our house, that is a book that you could buy at Woolworths or borrow from the library. I didn’t miss what I didn’t know.

I was interested in the text on the book’s shiny pages (that smelled of book), but I was more interested in its numbers – its gloriously dense the Records Section, which were the most fascinating pages I had ever seen. Having had nothing beyond the Daily Mirror’s county cricket reports (tabloid papers had only three pages of sport then – more space was dedicated to horse-racing – but they still printed all close of play scorecards in full) , here was a positive avalanche of numbers in which to wallow. And I wallowed.

The most iconic number was assigned to an iconic name – top of the Test runs chart was the impossibly exotic sounding Garfield St Aubrun Sobers, whom, I quickly discovered by reading elsewhere in the book, lived up to his moniker… and then some. More prosaic names followed: MCC Cowdrey (I didn’t get the initials’ significance), WR Hammond and DG Bradman, whose outlandish average is as bizarre today as it was then. FS Trueman was atop the wicket-taking table with 309, with Lance Gibbs (whom I had seen on telly and didn’t rate) second and Deadly Derek Underwood coming up through the ranks.

But there was more – so much more. We were still a long way off 21st century television’s torrent of onscreen graphics informing us that Virat Kohli’s 47 is now his highest score in India vs Bangladesh T20Is at Chittagong – so sighting a simple list of highest partnerships for each wicket in First Class cricket was a thrill beyond measure. Who were Vijay Hazare and Gul Mohammad and where was Baroda? Were Percy Holmes and Herbert Sutcliffe not gruff supervisors in an ITV sitcom as I would have guessed, but two real-life openers who once added 555? And what unimaginable circumstances led to Alan Kippax and Hal Hooker putting on 307 as the last pair?   I would lie awake in bed while these numbers tumbled through my consciousness. So dedicated did I become to cricket’s numbers that before long, when my dad came in late after his overtime, I could recite the scorecard of a day’s Test cricket or the Gillette Cup match just finished on BBC2, the numbers just there in my head, lodged until beer chipped away at a memory that made schooldays much easier for me than for most.

Ceefax was a step change in access to cricket’s continually evolving flood of numbers, but the next real thrill was Cricinfo. Sitting at my desk in the late 90s, not only could I see the Test scorecard flick over with every ball instead of Ceefax’s every two minutes – who could wait for that now interminable time – but I could see cricket’s beautiful tables of runs, wickets, partnerships etc updated with every run, with every wicket, the players’ records sorted and re-ordered before my very eyes. I just stared in wonder as Alec Stewart nudged up towards Len Hutton and Andy Caddick pushed on towards Brian Statham. Often, as I ate a lunchtime sandwich, I would call up a table on a whim – say Most Stumpings in Career – and just stare at it, marveling as one column numbers descended predictably while the others’ seemed to have their entries flung at them, their figures almost random in their distribution. Before Statsguru made it easier, one could look for obscure connections and unexpected names, and arm yourself with a bit of smartarsery to drop into conversation at just the right moment. (I still do that now, of course).

We’re all used to these databases these days, with stats invading other sports (like football) and becoming simply too much (hello MLB.com), but, for those who lived through the data revolution, we will never lose that thrill of our first encounter with cricket’s numbers.

You can tweet me @garynaylor999

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | March 11, 2014

Summer The First Time – Fast Bowling

No description required, nor possible

No description required, nor possible

In 1976, I was 13 years old. A 13 year old boy is exactly that – a boy, but all around me, girls were turning into women. I couldn’t speak to them – they might as well have been, as William S Burroughs suggests, a different species. I was no closer to falling in love with a real life girl than I was to playing Test cricket that hot, dry summer. But if I could not fall in love with a girl, I could fall in love with something else, and I did. In August 1976, I fell in love with fast bowling.

I’d seen it before. Andy Roberts live and very quick at Aigburth in 1974, hurtling into the crease before sloping his body away to off, as the arm delivered the ball: fast bouncer or faster bouncer? Mike Procter fascinated me with his mop of blond hair and flapping shirt, that windmill in a hurricane delivery stride and the ball that – did it? – reverse swing from round the wicket to clatter into the right-handers’ stumps. Dennis Lillee, snarling and snapping, a pantomime villain with real weaponry, was another demon who frightened the children.

In July, I’d watched with my father as John Edrich and Brian Close had nobly, foolishly, bravely survived the barrage of bouncers bare-headed to reach the sanctuary of Sunday’s rest day and the chance for Closey to count his bruises and Tony Greig to reflect on the wisdom of his infamous “Grovel” interview. That wasn’t love, it was its close cousin, fear – a Hitchcockian nexus probably best left unexplored in early teens.

In the heat of England’s hottest summer in living memory, I closed the curtains and watched, on our new colour television, every ball of the Fifth Test on the scorched grass of Kennington’s Oval. There was King Viv’s 291 (more of which in a later piece in this series) and Dennis Amiss’ magnificent return to the colours, going back and across to counter what was coming at him. And what was coming at him, was the most awesome sight in cricket – in sport – Michael Holding.

At the top of that long, long run that gave batsmen plenty of time to contemplate their fate, there was a little shuffle and a look down for the mark and then the head would go back and the ground would float away as the silent strides settled the long, lithe body for the gather and release, everything pointing exactly where he wanted the ball to go. It was an example of something I heard later about chess play and mathematical proofs – and much later saw again at the ballet – it worked so well because it was so beautiful. The senseless Earth seems pleased with elegance, it rewards what transfixes the eye, it does exactly what the gods would do were they looking down, marveling along with us mortals.

I wanted to bowl like that; I wanted to run like that; I wanted to be… that. That human being who seemed made of different stuff, did different things, achieved different results. I wanted to be Michael Holding.

I was a chubby teenager who could bowl a bit, but, well, I had more chance of copping off with Caroline Munro than I had of being half the bowler Michael Holding was. But, already, I did not care. I had found a true love – fast bowling – and I knew that I could spend what children believe is an infinite time with it. Michael Holding, its most beautiful exponent, had called me like a siren, but instead of being dashed on the rocks (as England were – take a look), I knew that I had a lifetime of watching his successors. And I have – though they would never match that Summer – The First Time.

You can tweet me at @garynaylor999.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | February 9, 2014

Kevin Pietersen, the ICC and love

How I like my cricket

How I like my cricket

To love someone, is it wise to know everything about them? No. It’s not even wise to know everything about one’s children’s first seconds of life – believe me, it’s not pretty – and that’s before we get to teenage years and friending them on Facebook. After a while, and for most of its existence, love persists despite disclosure, not because of it.

I love cricket. I love its spectacular moments; I love its brutal confounding of expectations; I love the opportunities it affords for reflection; I love its early morning etherealness; I love… well, you get the picture. But there are aspects of the game about which that I need to know, but about which I do not want to know everything – like the birth of a second child.

These thoughts came to mind over the last couple of weeks during which cricket’s media has been dominated by two important, but utterly unromantic, stories: the ICC’s Governance Paper; and the sacking of Kevin Pietersen. Both stories feel like hard work – and, since I write for pleasure not work, I’ve largely walked away from them. I’ve read enough to know that there is plenty of good journalism on both these important developments (amidst the screeching tweets), but I’ve read only enough to colour in a little of the context. Crudely put, the ICC story is the kind of power politics imbroglio with which I just can’t engage. And Test cricket’s demise has been forecast so often and for so long that I can barely raise an eyebrow if it’s forecast today. I can’t believe that it’s about to be swept under Twenty20′s carpeting of the game and if it isn’t? Well, the rest is just detail. KP’s ousting has all the hallmarks of grubby office politics which interested me not an iota in real life, nor in the kinds of soaps (and reality TV these days) in which clandestine meetings are held and someone gets the bullet.

I love cricket because it’s all the things real life isn’t – and yet it continuously improves on real life, throws light on the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and unfolds as a great unscripted beautiful drama, worthy of the masters of the form. It’s an extraordinary banquet overflowing with all the things one shouldn’t eat, but one does. The ICC and KP courses? They feel like overcooked broccol – I’m going back for a bit more tortellini con funghi e tartufi.

I felt this way once before. In 1984, I read The Guardian sometimes from cover to cover (you could in university vacations supported by a full grant, housing benefit and unemployment pay) but I read barely a word about the Great Miners’ Strike. Like cricket’s dominating narrative of 2014, I knew where I stood, I knew the details would be gory and I knew the end would be messy. I turned the page to read Matthew Engel’s report of Northants vs Lancashire. I’m still doing “that” now.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | February 8, 2014

The Pietersen Problem – Hugh Fatt-Barstad

ECB defending themselves against KP's supporters

ECB defending themselves against KP’s supporters

My family have had problems with immigrants ever since we arrived in this country from France fleeing The Terror, something the EU have lined up for us True Blue Brits after The Referendum. So it’s no surprise to me to find that the big nobs at Lord’s have been having trouble with foreign staff.

The Boer is a strange fish – sound on many issues, but not the most diplomatic of men. I recall a stopover at Durban on the Colonel’s ’56-’57 Ashes Tour which rather illustrates the point.

The party had been at sea for a month or so and the shock of dry land on sea legs meant that we weren’t in the greatest nick for a two day match (for the benefit of The White Wives of Natal, an admirable charity dedicated to providing additional opportunities for poor swimming pool labourers and cleaners). Well, it was either the sea legs or the champagne breakfast at the Government House that morning. Wally was missing (having been caught in a house of dubious morals in a Restricted Area the previous evening – The Colonel managed to keep it out of the press; mind you, two of them were with Wally) but we were otherwise at full strength.

It was a one innings match against GBH Sjambok’s XI played on a matting wicket – at least, that’s what we thought it was, but we couldn’t really tell. I was listed at 8, so took the opportunity to go into town and buy a few diamonds and krugerrands from Jannie (with whom I had been at school) with the deck quoits winnings. It was handy that Johannes, another school pal, was on customs duty when we went back on board, I can tell you!

When I got back to the ground, we were 78-3 after 57 overs with Baldy finding it hard to get it off the square – indeed, off the mat – and some complaints that the fielding was just a little sharp for our boys, who could hardly be expected to run twos (and not many ones) after so long at sea. We did declare on the second day at 320-6 (I was pleased to get my eye in with a couple of hours at the crease for my 7*) but the crowd, which only numbered a few thousand, were disappointed that we left the locals only 40 minutes and the last hour to get them. To be fair, they only fell 20 or so short, but most of the public had gone by then. And our press writing it up as “a choke” did little to lighten the mood.

But that’s The Boer for you – if the cricket isn’t going exactly his way (and wasn’t it their obligation to bowl us out in the 220 overs they sent down – and it was not as hot as many claimed either) – he’s as likely to pack his bat away and go and play in India as to knuckle down for his country. Well, in the current case, our country – but the point holds.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | January 5, 2014

Fifth Ashes Test – The Report Cards

Alastair Cook fails to find respite on his farm.

Alastair Cook fails to find respite on his farm.

Alastair Cook (7 and 7) – A broken man with too much on his mind, he needs to regroup for the ODI series and then the somewhat less challenging prospect of Sri Lanka in late Spring. That a man with such reserves of mental fortitude should be so shell-shocked, is testament to the brilliance of his opponents and the shortcomings of his team. He will be back, as key batsman and captain, but he has a big summer ahead of him.

Michael Carberry (0 and 43) – Who might not be back, despite achieving slightly more success in this Test by trusting his natural game. No doubt his supporters will point to the fact that he was only 14 runs off being England’s top run scorer and to his dynamic fielding, but he looks a notch below Test class and, at 33, he’s unlikely to make that step up now.

Ian Bell (2 and 16) – His steer of a rare wide delivery from Ryan Harris straight to the man placed for exactly that shot, served as a coda to a tour in which he threatened to score big but kept finding a way to get out. With squad reconstruction underway, he is likely to find himself at 3 for the English summer, and will have a key role in integrating new batsmen into the middle order.

Kevin Pietersen (3 and 6, 0-17) – At his best, he belies his stature with fast, light feet and a wand of a bat that has brought over 8000 Test runs and produced some of England’s greatest innings. Weighed down in a beaten team, he looked heavy-footed and mechanical in outside-edging to slip and inside-edging to short leg. English cricket’s iconic player has ridden the rollercoaster of team and individual success and failure before and must hope that he is given the chance to ride high again. With Jonathan Trott unlikely to return immediately, England will need KP’s experience, despite (I’m sure) the howl of Twitter calling for him to pay the ultimate price for this Ashes carnage.

Gary Ballance (18 and 7) – He found himself in desperately difficult circumstances to attempt to get his Test career off the ground, but showed some ticker in wearing a Mitchell Johnson rocket that nearly lifted head and helmet off in one go. Got into a terrible position in failing to keep out a bit of a grubber in the second dig – so the word will already have gone out around cricket’s analysts: attack him with the short ball.

Ben Stokes (47 and 32, 6-99 and 2-62) – Undaunted by the chaos, he kept running in hard to earn his eight wickets in the match, carrying through his positive intent to his batting, a mix of considered defence and attacking strokeplay. The Durham all-rounder is suddenly crucial to England’s future, but is he good enough to bat at Six in Tests? If not, is he good enough to deliver 20 overs per day? He has bought himself some time to prove doubters (like me) wrong come the summer.

Jonny Bairstow (18 and 0, 4ct) – The Yorkie is now 14 Tests into his career, with just 4 fifties and no centuries and looked about as likely to improve on that record in this Test as Piers Morgan would be facing up to Mitch and friends. All but steered a catch directly to David Warner from his first ball in the second innings and was out thrusting hard hands at his third delivery, completing two terrible dismissals for a man who has played 12 of those Tests as a specialist batsman. If Matt Prior isn’t back for the summer, it’s unlikely to be Jonny Bairstow who takes his place.

Scott Borthwick (1 and 4, 1-49 and 3-33) – Last summer, he averaged ten runs more than Durham team-mate Ben Stokes, but looked more of a Ten than an Eight in his brief time at the crease. Took ten fewer wickets in 2013 than his county colleague too and one could see why. At 23, he still has a lot of work to do on an action that lacks the energy through the crease that generates the dip, spin and bounce that characterised his opposite number’s work.

Stuart Broad (30* and 42, 2-65 and 2-57) – He continues to look England’s best bowler, the only one who would be anywhere near a place in the Australian attack. Now switches his attention to ODIs and T20Is and will bowl a lot more overs before he’s back in the whites. With Swann’s retirement, he looks England’s most important player, required to attack and defend with the ball and score runs – in all three formats, that might be too much.

Jimmy Anderson (7 and 1*, 1-67 and 2-46) – He found conditions – for once – conducive to his sideways movement through the air and off the seam, but was outbowled again by Ryan Harris. Finishes the tour with 14 wickets and nobody saying that he is the second best bowler in the world behind Dale Steyn. He will be looking forward more than most to the two Tests on home territory against some chilly Sri Lankans.

Boyd Rankin (13 and 0, 0-34 and 1-47) – Was he fit? Cramp was the explanation for his first innings travails, but he looked down on pace and hostility compared to previous appearances in international cricket. Like another tall England bowler, Stephen Harmison, when he couldn’t bang it in, his only alternative was floating it up – neither mode of attack troubled the Australians unduly.

David Warner (16 and 16) – Two disappointing innings, curiously each comprising 16 runs from 20 balls with three boundaries, his mind probably already be turning to the limited overs stuff. Warner’s work was done in the first four Tests, earning his beers with over 500 runs and some dynamic fielding. He is also acting as a poster boy for the return of The Australian Cricketer, the mythical self-taught kid from the wrong side of the tracks who never takes a backward step. After John Buchanan and Mickey Arthur, we cam thank Darren Lehmann for that.

Chris Rogers (11 and 119) – There was the tiniest of sniffs for England in the Australian second innings with Warner, Watson, Clarke and Smith managing just 38 runs between them. But, at the other end, dear old Chris Rogers was playing like it was a Sunday afternoon testimonial – when he reached his century, he had contributed over half Australia’s total and England’s target was well out of sight. Before the series, I had speculated on how much I would enjoy a century from Rogers in the city in which he was born, but I thought that indulgence would be in the context of Australian consolation for a series defeat powered by Trott, Prior, Swann and co. At least I got the Rogers century bit right.

Shane Watson (43 and 9, 0-5) – Gave us an LBW for old time’s sake and dropped a sitter at slip, but all that is forgotten in the joy of the whitewash. Much tougher work awaits in the persons of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, but Watson, like Johnson, can legitimately bask in the glow of redemption after his struggles in England.

Michael Clarke (10 and 6) – Like his opposite number, captaincy in back-to-back Ashes series has taken its toll on his batting – but history is written by the winners and there’s not much talk of that in the media. No sign of fatigue in his on field decision-making, but he has siege guns at his disposal – and that always helps.

Steve Smith (115 and 7) – Found a partner in the redoubtable Brad Haddin and set about yet another Australian first innings rebuilding effort showing that his rustic technique, which built his Perth century with legside biffs, could be adapted to hit the boundaries through the offside. Just a few months ago, a drifting career was rescued by Darren Lehmann – and he now has three centuries in his last six Ashes Tests, two of them critical knocks under pressure.

George Bailey (1 and 46) – His second innings allayed any fears of Australian defeat and he caught well at short leg, but might be found out away from home in a side less dominant. He has some limited overs work to come before that, and might fancy his chances of clattering English bowlers halfway to Alice Springs in the pajama game.

Brad Haddin (75 and 28, 4ct) – First innings runs are the hard currency of Test batsmanship – Haddin has five half-centuries in five Tests. It’s worth recounting exactly what the Australian keeper has done in those innings; in Brisbane, he advanced the score from 100-5 to 295 all out; in Adelaide, it was 257-5 to 529-9; in Perth, 143-5 to 267-6; in Melbourne, 112-5 to 204 all out. Bowlers always owe a debt to their keeper, but it’s seldom as great as that which Mitch and his mates owe Haddin. He missed out on the Compton-Miller Medal for Man of the Series to the lefty quick, but there’ll be plenty of holders of that gong in the future who will have done much less than the man who delivered like Adam Gilchrist.

Mitchell Johnson (12 and 4, 3-33 and 3-40) – Under that ridiculous moustache, the smile kept breaking through as another batsman flailed about trying to get a bat on ball or themselves away from it. His 37 wickets were only half the story – he exerted a hold over all the England batsmen, but especially the lower half of the order, that took plenty of wickets at the other end too. What’s he going to be like if he rediscovers his swing? For now, he can reflect that the ghost of Harold Larwood must be wearing a wry grin now.

Peter Siddle (0 and 4, 3-23 and 0-24) – Bowled precisely to plans and backed up his colleagues perfectly. He’s a winner at last, after playing all five Tests in three Ashes series defeats – a reward for his wholehearted efforts and discipline.

Ryan Harris (22 and 13, 3-36 and 5-25) – A magnificent display of the art of fast-medium bowling on a pitch that gave him just enough help to trouble all the batsmen, all the time. An old-fashioned looking bowler bowled in an old-fashioned way, snapping his wrist at the point of release to provoke the zip and nibble off the wicket that, allied to hitting the length that cannot be played comfortably off front or back foot, proved much too much for England’s batsmen. Connoisseurs of bowling will be lining up to watch him, Steyn and Philander interrogate techniques and temperament in South Africa.

Nathan Lyon (1* and 6*, 1-57 and 2-70) – Though the figures don’t show it after some late biffing from Broad and Stokes, he bowled beautifully, extracting lift and turn from the revs his big wind-up and fast release action imparts to the ball. Just a few short weeks ago, England had a clear upper hand in the spin department: now Lyon has 19 wickets at 30 against his direct opponents’ 14 wickets at (avert your eyes now if you’re English) 64.

You can tweet me at @garynaylor999

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 31, 2013

The First Over of the Year – 2014

ST - ready to step into SRT's shoes?

ST – ready to step into SRT’s shoes?

In a departure from 99.94′s usual “Final Over…” formula, I look forward, instead of back, to six hopes for the coming year.

Ball One – The World Twenty20 is a showcase event – for the men and the women

Just three months away, a world cricket tournament will be played entirely in Bangladesh for the first time. In fact, it’s two world cricket tournaments, as the women’s World Twenty20 will run concurrently with the men’s with –  splendidly – semi-finals and finals played as double-headers. Let’s hope for favourable weather, wickets with a bit of pace, fair boundaries and positive play. And a ticket pricing structure that allows a cricket-mad populace the opportunity to go along and see their heroes live (even those playing for India).

Ball Two - The English International Summer 2014 needs a compelling narrative

Football’s World Cup will drown out all sport in the media, indeed all news in the media, until its conclusion in the middle of July – whether cricket fans like it or not, that is the nature of the beast. That may not be a bad thing, as the early summer tourists, Sri Lanka, do not always appear to relish the prospect of chilly springtime matches – but at least the single T20I and five ODIs come before the Tests. 2014′s international summer will be defined by the Indians, who will come swaggering into town just as events in Brazil come to a climax. Their five Test series is the showpiece of the summer and needs to be as competitive as it was the last time the sides met in India, and not the walkover endured when MS Dhoni brought his World Cup winners to England in 2011.

Ball Three – England’s matches should be played in front of full crowds

The ECB needs big revenues to support its investments in cricket – whether that be central contracts, Team England’s legions of support staff or domestic cricket, particularly counties’ recent investments that have improved the spectator experience at many grounds. But nobody, not the ECB, not the concession stands, not the car parks, make money from an empty seat – so a key objective for the season should be full grounds for all England matches. That may need some imaginative marketing – the ticket price for Leeds and Chester-le-Street will need to be very significantly discounted compared to Lord’s and The Oval. One of the reasons The Ashes 2005 was such a spectacle – and one mentioned by all the players – were the full houses, even for fifth days, when it has become the norm to charge £10 on the gate. There is a huge appetite for cricket in England, but not at £75 plus for a seat.

Ball Four – New superstars fill some pretty big shoes

The recent retirements of Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis has deprived international cricket of two of its three highest scorers. With the game sprawling across three formats and players rested and rotated, it’s becoming more and more difficult for superstars to develop and maintain their status in the international game – though T20 leagues do bring them to domestic audiences. If the likes of Virat Kohli, Quenton de Kock and David Warner are to become the next set of marquee names, they need to be playing in all their teams’ matches, because the more casual fan simply expects the big names to be there when being charged big prices. That seems unlikely – it’s already the case for bowlers. Try explaining to a kid or a mate you’re taking along for a day out why their hero or the one player they know is rotated out for this match in favour of Vinay Kumar, Johan Botha or Gavin Maxwell.

Ball Five – England’s domestic cricket gets a bit of luck

More than any of us cares to admit, domestic English cricket depends on the weather. The County Championship, never an easy tournament to follow, will run through most of the summer and cricket aficionados will look out for scores in the specialist media to keep up with its twists and turns. It’s the Friday and Sunday cricket Limited Overs cricket, with its newly named competitions and teams and its family appeal, that needs the weather to drive both the gate receipts and the atmosphere inside grounds. Will spectators warm to the Royal London Cup’s 50 overs format welcoming the investment of a whole day at the cricket? Will Friday night cricket be too boozy for everyone not actually boozed up themselves? Will the season be even half as good as the ECB’s explanatory video? Time, and meteorologists, will tell.

Ball Six – Cricket’s media should slow down

For the first time since I graduated from The Beano to the Daily Mirror in about 1971, I will read nothing about cricket in the print media of 2014. Of course, we’re all online these days, so that doesn’t matter does it? Except that it does actually. Writing online has no first edition or late edition deadlines and, as is so often the case when such structures disappear, the worst case scenario appears to be the default. Within hours, sometimes minutes of a match’s conclusion, reports are posted with comments not far behind. Gone is the time for consideration and, with it, perspective as Twitter fans the flames of outrage about this or that. Old style think pieces are still written by both journalists and bloggers, but they’re increasingly drowned out by the next gobbet of breaking news screaming for attention. We live in a golden age of facts and outrage and an iron age of reflection and wit.

You can tweet me at @garynaylor999

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 29, 2013

Fourth Ashes Test – The Report Cards

Chris Rogers - happy with his work

Chris Rogers – happy with his work

Alastair Cook (27 and 51) – Once an experienced opener has got through the first hour, the hardest work of one of cricket’s hardest jobs is done: but that didn’t save Cook from nicking off to be dismissed for a fifth disappointing score from seven innings. Second time round, the captain played plenty of shots, before, as so often in this series, Mitchell Johnson found the right ball at the right time. His captaincy copped plenty of stick for its approach to parting Australia’s last pair, but we’ve all seen slogging stands of 40 or so for the tenth wicket and we always will. Batsman Cook may have had his best match of as difficult a tour as he has endured, but Captain Cook has a few questions to answer about his use of bowling options and his field placings. Perhaps if he had been able to spend more time preparing last week and less time answering questions about backsides, his plans may have been more considered. He  certainly has plenty to think about before Sydney and, longer term, before England’s battered Test XI face up again in May.

Michael Carberry (38 and 12) – The opener occupied the crease again, seeing off the new ball before inexplicably allowing an in-ducking delivery from Shane Watson to clatter into his stumps. Watson has only four wickets in the series – three of them Carberry’s. Come the second dig, Siddle plugged away round the wicket as Carberry left well, but perhaps just a little too often, before being (alas predictably) LBW. Four and a half hours batting for 50 runs either points to admirable self-restraint amongst his hit-and-hope team-mates or to a player too limited to seize the initiative. Nick Compton, with twice as many centuries on the last tour as the entire team have managed this time, must be wryly amused at how things turn out.

Joe Root (24 and 15, 0-8) – Endured another first innings failure, getting a good one from Ryan Harris after fighting through almost two hours of batting during which he never looked in. Threw it away in the second innings, driving the ball to Mitchell Johnson, one of the best left-handed fielders in world cricket, and was run out for another nothing score. Started summer 2013 like a train for Yorkshire, and might have that as a first objective for summer 2014 too.

Kevin Pietersen (71 and 49) – England’s gun batsman did not so much ride his luck as use it to construct a patient, important, responsible first day innings over two sessions of tough cricket. Then two overs of soft cricket saw him dismissed to a risible shot on the second morning – but his many detractors should consider where England would have been without his earlier skill and application. Tried to hold the second innings together, as all around him disappeared in an epic failure of batsmanship and appeared, at times understandably, fed up with it all. The IPL will be looking very attractive indeed right now.

Ian Bell (27 and 0) – The man of the last Ashes series looked a top class Test bat well versed in the art of constructing an innings before Ryan Harris, a top class Test bowler, sent him back with a McGrath like ball that landed exactly where Bell didn’t want it to land and then moved exactly where Bell didn’t want it to move. There was none of that in the second dig, as he chipped his first ball straight to mid-off – something he has done before, equally inexplicably.

Ben Stokes (14 and 19, 1-46 and 1-50) – In the first innings, the all-rounder picked up where he left off, timing boundaries before getting a rude awakening that Test cricket is a hard school from an about to be rampaging Mitchell Johnson. Exactly the same description could be used for his second dig, with the bizarre variation that the man about to rampage was Nathan Lyon. Enjoys the confidence of his captain with ball in hand, though that may say more about his colleagues in the bowling unit than it does about him.

Jonny Bairstow (10 and 21, 6ct) – Until the wheels were coming off badly in the Australian second innings, he looked much more a wicketkeeper-batsman than batsman-wicketkeeper, tidy behind the stumps but unconvincing in front. His first innings dismissal, bowled through a yawning gate, was the stuff of nightmares; his edge to Haddin in the second innings was equally bad. Does not look to have the building blocks of a Test batsman’s technique in his game right now and simply cannot be the best wicketkeeper in England – another long-term selection issue looms.

Tim Bresnan (1 and 0, 2-24 and 0-48) – He was welcomed to the crease on Day Two with a brute of a ball from Mitchell Johnson that would have seen off any Number 8 in Test history. His first innings bowling showed the benefit of his overs in Perth, hitting a line and length to build the pressure England so craves. Just when his captain needed a classic Number 8 knock of about 30 while KP made 50 at the other end to re-establish the second innings, he slogged a bottom edge on to his stumps. Like his captain, he has not been able to summon the magic of three years ago.

Stuart Broad (11 and 0, 3-45 and 0-58) – His once highly regarded batting appears to be good only for a few biffs around the outer, but not for occupation of the crease – a view with which KP appears to concur, given his reaction to Broad’s arrival. Like many England batsmen, he appears to have forgotten that a handful of basic shots played in orthodox style can go a long way, even against very good bowling. With ball in hand, he was hostile and consistent, continuing to pick up wickets regularly – as he has done all year – perhaps even winning the respect of the Australian crowds, if not their affection.

Jimmy Anderson (11* and 1*, 4-67 and 0-26) – The mojo, if not the swing, appeared to be returning to England’s attack leader as he took three wickets in an innings for the first time on tour. But, with demoralisation setting in all round, he was as powerless as his opening partner once Rogers and Watson dug in for victory in the second innings.

Monty Panesar (2 and 0, 0-18 and 1-41) – Now England’s Number One spinner again, Monty showed more ticker with the bat than plenty of his colleagues before – inevitably somewhat farcically – leaving a straight one. Did not have a great deal to do in the first Aussie dig, but kept it tight and allowed England’s overworked seamers a break. Curiously underbowled as Australia raced to their target, he must fear the fate of Steven Finn if his captain is losing confidence in his work.

David Warner (9 and 25) – He played a Big Bash League game between the Perth Test and this one and appeared not to have readjusted to the five day game after the five minute game, thrashing about before giving Jonny Bairstow a dolly to get his wicketkeeping dismissals tally ticking. Out to another aggressive stroke in the second innings, but it already felt like it didn’t matter by then.

Chris Rogers (61 and 116) – He was bopped on the head by Stuart Broad to bring back memories of Ricky Ponting shedding blood for the cause at Lord’s in 2005, but little bothers an old pro like Rogers, and he just carried on punching the ball to the fence when he could and if he couldn’t – well, he just faced up and got on with the next ball. He passed 50 for the fifth time in seven Tests, then backed it up with a ton to anchor (indeed to drive) his team to the win. Not bad for a man many saw as a desperate pick amidst the chaos towards the end of Mickey Arthur’s reign – those 120 first class matches in county cricket benefiting his batting rather more than such experience benefited England’s.

Shane Watson (10 and 83*, 1-11 and 0-13) – The old problems returned for Shane Watson, hobbling off the field injured and unable to bowl and then playing loosely to give his wicket away when there were hard yards ahead of him. Later on, he looked like a man of twice his age while turning his arm over in England’s second innings. Though he saw Australia through to a target that was not a foregone conclusion when he arrived at the crease, his position in the side may come into question. James Faulkner may offer an alternative, as Darren Lehmann and Michael Clarke look to lower the side’s average age, but swapping a batting all-rounder for a bowling all-rounder would nudge everyone in a still fragile middle-order up a notch.  Steve Smith at 4 anyone?

Michael Clarke (10 and 6*) – His first strange decision was to insert England in a departure from his “win the toss and bat” formula that has delivered The Urn. His second was to leave a straightish one from Jimmy Anderson and lose a stump. But his team gave him an easy ride and Australia’s best player was hardly needed beyond his prosecution of a typically aggressive, typically Australian, typically successful cricket strategy.

Steve Smith (19) – He was well held by Ian Bell, taking Graeme Swann’s old slot at second slip, off a flying edge having battled to 19. Though it was a very good one, Smith has just one innings of real substance in the series to date and may not be bailed out team-mates as often in the future. For now he has a seat on the Aussie juggernaut and, with momentum seen as so important in Test cricket, he is unlikely to be displaced any time soon.

George Bailey (0) – The Donner and Blitzen of Perth seemed a long time ago, as he spent 36 minutes looking for a ball to hit before the faintest connection – and real-time Snicko – saw him off for a duck. He’ll need to do more from Number 6 in the future, but for now, he can bask in Ashes glory.

Brad Haddin (65, 3ct) – If Mitchell Johnson has bent the series to his will with the ball, Brad Haddin has done the same with the bat. Appeared to be playing on a different strip to all 21 others who had attempted to time the ball fluently, before having a thrash with just Nathan Lyon left. What an Indian summer for this most Australian of Australian cricketers.

Mitchell Johnson (2, 5-63 and 3-25) – Supremely fit, supremely confident and supremely athletic, he was – again – too much for an England late middle order and tail, who just could not cope with his succession of lifters and yorkers. If the figures are impressive, even more impressive is the grip he has over so many England batsmen. Will he still be around for the Ashes defence in 2015? If he is, expect some very docile tracks in England.

Peter Siddle (0, 1-50 and 1-46) – The third seamer kept it tight and snared both England’s openers with smart bowling planned and pursued to perfection. He won’t get the plaudits that his fellow seamers will attract when the series is written up, but his role has been vital and its execution admirable.

Ryan Harris (6, 2-47 and 0-34) – As long as you’re not 20 yards away, simply a wonderful bowler to watch – ever probing, ever reliable, ever threatening. The creaking limbs have held up just long enough to get him to the crease and propel the ball to the other end, hammering a tattoo on what can only be described as er… good areas. The old man looked tired in the second innings, but, as usual, a team-mate stepped up. How has he played just 20 Tests? And will he play a 21st in Sydney?

Nathan Lyon (18, 1-67 and 5-50) – He had to wait until his opposite number donated his wicket to get on the scoresheet in England’s first innings, but did a decent job of holding up an end, especially in the light of Shane Watson’s injury. Batted somewhat eccentrically, but has the talent to play at Number 9 and showed it in getting Day Three off to a very positive start for his team. Thanks largely to him, it just got better and better for the Aussies, as he took a five-fer without ever ripping it – though nobody would begrudge this fine cricketer his day in the sun, after his treatment at the hands of selectors who, repeatedly, could not see the long term replacement for SK Warne right in front of their eyes. 100 Test wickets now for the unassuming off spinner with, at 26 years of age, power to add.

You can tweet me at @garynaylor999

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 25, 2013

Cricket 2013 – Three Favourite Moments

 

Great cricketer, silly moustache (part one).

Great cricketer, silly moustache (part one).

Shikhar Dhawan re-invents Test batsmanship

When India finished the third day of the Third Test on 283/0 in reply to Australia’s painstakingly constructed 408, I could hardly believe what I had seen. Test cricket, 136 years old, had been transformed in two sessions of play. Shikhar Dhawan’s 185 not out had smashed orthodoxy as spectacularly as he had smashed Xavier Doherty. Replace a legend instantly? Why, of course – and I’ll out-Sehwag Virender Sehwag while I’m at it. Ease myself into Test cricket with circumspect play as I adjust to the higher level? Nah – see ball, hit ball, right here, right now. Score at a run-a-ball by importing T20 innovation and risk into Tests? What me? No, I’ll stroke the ball along the ground through the offside and still strike at 100.

In the first World Cup in 1975, Sunil Gavaskar famously refused to chase a target of 335 in 60 overs as it was too outlandish a thought that such a feat could be done. Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan, in two fewer overs, had posted just 52 fewer runs… in a Test match, under pressure after their opponents had compiled a good score and – arguably – both playing for a place in the most competitive batting unit in world cricket. Cricket – yet again – was transformed.

 

Oh yes I can!

Oh yes I can!

Sarah Taylor’s brilliance

If you haven’t seen it, then you should. And then you should watch it again. And again. The balance, the skill, the hand-eye coordination, one can (almost) expect of an international cricketer. But the imagination to see the shot coming, the speed of thought to decide to go for the catch and the supreme confidence to risk giving away four byes if the reverse sweep was missed – these are the hallmarks of a great, and not merely a very good, player. It was the second time in less than six months that cricket’s rulebook had been torn up by players more interested in writing their own.

 

Great cricketer, silly moustache (part two)

Great cricketer, silly moustache (part two)

Redemption for Mitchell Johnson

Tales of redemption resonate across cultures and over the centuries. That life flings its slings and arrows of outrageous fortune is inevitable – what matters is how one reacts to them. Mitchell Johnson had been left out of the Australian squad that toured England for the first half of the Ashes double-header, deemed more dangerous to his own team’s chances of victory than his opponent’s. Suddenly – and it felt very sudden indeed for England’s fans whether they had sang his song in 2010-11 or not – he was back, destroying England twice. He won the Ashes cricketing and psychological battle by the same distance that he had previous lost it. Redemption is not granted to everyone – so, with the Urn waiting for him in Sydney, one couldn’t but smile, albeit a little ruefully as an Englishman, as Mitchell sealed the deal dispatching Jimmy Anderson in Perth. He was back.

You can tweet me @garynaylor999

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