Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 30, 2015

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 30 August 2015

As hideous as the banks' buildings it resembles

As hideous as the bankers’ buildings it resembles

Ball One – More success for Moores

In a rain affected round of matches in the County Championship, the only positive result came at Trent Bridge, where Nottinghamshire continued their remarkable run of form with a crushing win over Warwickshire. Though the return of captain, leader, legend Chris Read has much to do with the surge that has lifted Notts from the relegation zone to within 16 points of second place, the role of Peter Moores cannot be overstated. He may have failed twice with England, but Moores knows exactly what’s required at domestic level, and he’s weaving his magic again.

Ball Two – Samit feasts on Durham’s middle order

In a busy week for the game, four Royal London One Day Cup quarter-finals were played over three days, with Nottinghamshire maintaining their fine form to bowl out Durham in the gloom at Trent Bridge. Star of the show was England’s forgotten man, Samit Patel, whose canny slow left arm, backed up by scoreboard pressure, destroyed Durham just as they were looking to accelerate. Though only 30, Samit’s international days are probably behind him, but few counties wouldn’t want his nous with bat or ball to call upon in a tight corner. James Taylor’s men travel to The Oval for a semi-final against Surrey.

Ball Three – A last hurrah for a hero of 2005?

Gloucestershire will face Yorkshire in the other semi-final, after chasing down Hampshire’s 217 (34 overs) at Bristol. Though Jack Taylor’s quickfire 34 caught the eye as his team raced for the line, wise old Geraint Jones,  a decade on from those Ashes partnerships with Andrew Flintoff, was at the other end, steering the ship home with 39 not out at just better than a run a ball. Of England’s 12 MBEs, he may have enjoyed the lowest profile of all since 2005, but he’s just one match from a showpiece Lord’s final, an international cricketer happy to graft away below the radar in county cricket these last nine seasons.

Ball Four – Lancashire’s spin twins could do a job for England

Stephen Parry’s slow (sometimes very slow) bowling has already brought him five England caps in white ball cricket and he is well known around the country as one of the canniest operators in the middle overs of a one day match. His left arm spin has been complemented in the last couple of seasons by the off breaks of Arron Lilley, who goes at just over 5 in List A matches and just under 7 in T2os, figures that stand comparison with anyone in the country. The classic left-right combination were at it again on T20 Finals Day, strangling Hampshire in the semi-final with combined figures of 8-0-32-5 and repeating the trick in the final, restricting Northamptonshire with figures of 7-0-43-1. Both field like demons and are no mugs with the bat, which always helps these days. With England scheduled to play a lot of white ball cricket in the next nine months and Moeen Ali’s workload needing to be managed, the spin cupboard may not be as bare as a media (which largely ignores the domestic game) would have us believe.

Ball Five – Fairytales do come true

He may never play in front of so large a crowd again, but 21 year old seamer, Gavin Griffiths, a product Lancashire’s development programme, was thrust into the afternoon T20 Blast semi-final for a debut of fire and played his second match in the evening, with his team in sight of its first one day honours since the 90s. He was even entrusted to bowl the 20th over with the (hideous) trophy not quite secured and surely a heart beating out of his chest. Five minutes later, after a perfectly executed series of six deliveries, he was engulfed by jubilant teammates, the young man doubtless unable to believe it all. That kind of fairytale wouldn’t happen in an eight franchise city based tournament, but it happened on Saturday, so let’s enjoy it while we can.

Ball Six – T20 Finals Day is good, but it could be better

Three ways to improve T20 Finals Day. (i) Schedule it in the Premier League football “blank” weekend, when domestic cricket can be the biggest sports story of the day – next Sunday for instance. (ii) Show it free-to-air – it might even act as a loss leader that sells subscriptions for the late season ODIs, particularly for Sky’s on-demand service, Now TV. (iii) Bring whatever technology is required to ensure that the pitch has pace and bounce and is, as far as possible, a 180 par surface.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 24, 2015

The 99.94 Ashes Report Cards – Australia

Hopefully he won't need to don the traditional outfit of the Australian captain who lost the Ashes when he returns to Sydney

Hopefully he won’t need to don the traditional outfit of the Australian captain who lost the Ashes when he returns to Sydney

David Warner (418 runs at 46, o wkt, 3 cts) – The next vice-captain, a recent father and a much changed man from the firebrand of 2013. This new Warner retains the positive outlook, but knows that not every ball deserves to have the cover smashed off it and sometimes you have to earn the right to bat. Still has a problem with scoring big in the first innings – when every run always matters – and can be cramped for room by the short one under the armpit, but has an otherwise sound game and can look forward to scoring plenty of runs in Ashes series to come. Remains magnificently aggressive in the field but with little of his old tedious sledging evident.

Chris Rogers (480 runs at 60, 1 ct) – Had a bit of trouble against the moving ball – which opener doesn’t – but can call upon all that experience to play through difficult periods and then cash-in with his risk-free punches and prods. It seems somehow unfair for age to catch up with him when he’s in such good form and his country need him so much – especially after spending so much time in the wings (like Stuart Law and many others) when a side of great players pretty much picked themselves. In a parallel universe, he and Alastair Cook are compatriots racking up century opening stands for fun and there are plenty of seats available to watch them!

Steven Smith (508 runs at 56, 1 wkt at 16, 1 ct) – Admitted that his highly individual technique of walking across the stumps to take balls from outside off to midwicket had become a little too extreme by mid-series and that he used the break between the Fourth and Fifth Test to make some adjustments. Australia need their incoming captain to maintain his remarkable output, protecting a middle order in transition. His self-awareness, concentration and big match temperament suggest that Smith has every chance of doing so.

Michael Clarke (138 runs at 17, 4cts) – Everyone knows what a wonderful thing hindsight is, but this was obviously a series too far for a man desperate to avenge 2005, 2009 and 2013. As a batsman, his bad back limited his movement and as a captain, his selectors limited his options. Never threw in the towel and rallied his defeated troops for a fine consolation win at The Oval, but he must be wondering what an attack that read Harris / Starc, Johnson, Siddle, Lyon, M Marsh would have done – especially if his own toes could twinkle as they once did at Number Four. His book (presumably as media savvy a man as Clarke will write one) might have some interesting things to say about this tour.

Adam Voges (201 runs at 29, 7 cts) – Before the series began, Voges looked like a solid Sheffield Shield / County Championship cricketer who had put together a fine set of scores and seized his chance against the weakest West Indies attack in living memory. And so it proved, until too little too late when the jig was pretty much up. With Rogers and Clarke both going, Voges’ experience may get him a few more Tests but the feeling persists that it’s time for Australia to move on and give some emerging batsmen the chance to prove themselves.

Shane Watson 49 runs at 25, 0 wkt, 2 cts) – Did he really play in 2015? He did, but his LBW + review pantomime had run its course and he ceded to one Marsh or the other. Already his Test career seems lost in history, but don’t rule out a return for the Project Player whose project seems to remain incomplete all these years on.

Shaun Marsh (2 runs at 1, 0 ct) – Not good enough for Test cricket. Most judges knew that.

Mitchell Marsh (48 runs at 12, 8 wkts at 19, 1 ct) – Caught the eye in the warm-up matches as a batsmen, but looked much more of a bowler in the Tests, where his close to the stumps high action and nagging line and length was perfect for English conditions. If he misses out on long career in Test cricket (possibly due to Australia’s traditional suspicion of red ball all-rounders), he would walk into any county side in England and do a very fine job.

Brad Haddin (29 runs at 15, 5 cts) – Dropped Joe Root in what proved the pivotal moment in the crucial First Test and then took leave due to family concerns. His non-recall, the selectors favouring Peter Nevill, no spring chicken but eight years younger than Haddin, appeared to sow some discord in the Australian camp just as they needed to pull together to deal with England’s somewhat unexpected skills and fight. A man who often hurt England will not do so again.

Peter Nevill (143 runs at 24, 17 cts) – Slick behind the stumps and an obdurate presence with the bat who showed the patience many of his colleagues lacked when faced with unfamiliar batting conditions. He has staked a claim to be the next Australian wicketkeeper-batsman, but he’ll have Matthew Wade snapping at his heels unless he can convert good starts into big scores.

Mitchell Johnson (141 runs at 18, 15 wkts at 35, 1 ct) – The Terror of 2013-14 was, if not quite tamed, certainly subdued by a combination of pitches giving him less assistance and his peculiar sensitivity to the English crowd’s bating of him. The bark really only turned into bite in that extraordinary over at Edgbaston when he bounced out Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes in double quick time. Other than that, Clarke’s strike bowler had to deliver 56 balls for each wicket – and that’s quite a few for a man who deals in four over spells.

Mitchell Starc (157 runs at 22, 18 wkts at 31, 4 cts) – Jaffas and four balls with not a great deal in between, he may share too much in common with Johnson for both to be accommodated in the same XI. His action can collapse a little in the delivery stride which leads to problems with his line, something that he’ll need to work on when his bouncer – yorker mix isn’t working.

Josh Hazlewood (45 runs at 15, 16 wkts at 26, 1 ct) – Arrived with a big reputation and bowled some decent spells (as his figures suggest) but found himself out of the side when the selectors finally called up Peter Siddle to do the third seamer job to which he is so suited.

Peter Siddle (1 run at 1, 6 wkts at 11, 0 ct) – Ran in hard and gave away precisely nothing in a fine display of seam bowling that proved the selectors were too quick to write him out of the series and that his old-fashioned line and length skills may be a little too subtle to be fully appreciated in this age of crash-bang Test cricket.

Nathan Lyon (47 runs at 12, 16 wkts at 26, 1 ct) – Outbowled his English counterpart by 19 runs per wicket (16-12 in total too) with his mix of sidespin and overspin from a reliable, repeatable action. The ex-groundsman will never carry the threat of Shane Warne, nor entrance the public with the blond one’s sense of drama, but he’s as good an off-spinner as there is in world cricket just now and will add many more wickets to his Australian record for that style of bowler.


Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 24, 2015

The 99.94 Ashes Report Cards – England

The Ashes 2015 summed up

The Ashes 2015 summed up

Alastair Cook (330 runs at 37, 9 cts) – Mission accomplished. He led his team to Ashes success, something even he felt was beyond them when the coin went into the air at Cardiff. He also showed that England’s new attitude was no one-off experiment reciprocating Brendan McCullum’s smiling Black Caps’ approach back in May, but a real attempt to loosen up, enjoy the game and re-connect to a public who yearn not just for wins, but for heroes. His young side need to develop some of his own obstinacy when the chips are down and a tough winter lies in store to test exactly that quality, but he has men about him who know how to win Test matches and Test series. His own batting was short of its best, but, after the 18 months he’s been through, we should perhaps be grateful that he knew which umpire to ask for a guard and not quibble too much about his continuing long wait for a home Ashes century.

Adam Lyth (115 runs at 13, 6 cts) – Stayed true to the approach that got him into the Test team, looking to take the attack to the bowlers when the ball was hard and the field was up, but found that international bowlers could locate the edge of his bat more often than those a notch or two below in the county game. Like his predecessor as Cook’s opening partner in England, Sam Robson, he can expect a return to domestic cricket with the prospect of more Tests a rather distant hope. Caught well and seems a decent team man, he may well soon be captain at Yorkshire, a role that might also suit him come England A tours.

Ian Bell (215 runs at 27, 7 cts) – Played only three innings of any substance, but those half-centuries were critical in securing the crucial opening win at Cardiff and the big momentum shifter at Edgbaston, where he rose to the challenge of filling England’s tricky Number Three slot largely against pundits’ and fans’ expectations. Not much though in the other three Tests and. with his remarkable 2013 Ashes campaign now fading in the memory, England’s most enigmatic player finds a growing grumbling about his place in the team that needs to be quashed yet again. But he has five Ashes wins to his credit and his critics (except one, initials ITB) don’t.

Gary Ballance (98 runs at 25, 2 cts) – In the first innings of the First Test, he had 16 of England’s 43-3 when Joe Root took guard. He went on to make 61 as England wrested back the advantage in tricky batting conditions, the Yorkies’ partnership worth 153 runs – but much, much more psychologically. His quirky technique produced three more failures and a return to county cricket, but we have not heard the last of him as a Test match batsman.

Joe Root (460 runs at 58, 4 wkts at 34, 8 cts) – What if Brad Haddin had held on to that edge in the First Test? But he didn’t, and Root did what good players do – took advantage of an opponent’s error, getting on with it straight away to post a brilliant, fearless, tone-setting 134, giving England’s late order the chance to build a platform for the bowlers. Another hundred on that unforgettable first day at Trent Bridge almost guaranteed that The Ashes would be won – and secured his position as the officially recognised best batsman in the world, the culmination of an extraordinary run of form that rescued a career that had stalled in Australia in 2013-14. The new vice-captain, he revelled in the responsibility and the higher profile that came with it, connecting with the fans, the outward expression of a team finally comfortable in its own skin. A worthy successor to the dynasty of ultra-tough England cricketers who learned the game in Yorkshire, he’s a man whose boyish looks and ready smile fool nobody – here is the 21st century version of Boycott, Illingworth, Vaughan…

Jonny Bairstow (118 runs at 30, 0 cts) – Returned to Test cricket on the back of an avalanche of runs in the county game and a brilliant innings in England’s white ball cricket – so his confidence was high. He really only showed that form in a 74 on the first day at Trent Bridge, a good knock barely noticed in the backwash of Stuart Broad’s 8-15 and Joe Root’s century. His baseball stance, and a bat that seems too often to be coming across the ball as he aims into the legside, gives heart to any bowler at the top of his run up, as does a history of finding unusual ways to get out. Still a work in progress, but possibly a talent more suited to white ball cricket (especially as a relief wicketkeeper for Jos Buttler) than the unforgiving cauldron of the Test arena.

Ben Stokes (201 runs at 25, 11 wkts at 33, 6cts) – A man who can raise English spirits by his mere presence, he is becoming this generation’s Flintoff or Botham. Like those titans, he doesn’t have the figures of a Kallis or a Sobers – and never will – but he always threatens to seize a game and shape it to his own ends, with bat, ball or in the field. Chipped in with runs rather than finding a match dominating innings, but his six second innings wickets at Trent Bridge brought The Ashes home. And then there was that catch that provoked that reaction, the series summed up by that face.

Jos Buttler (120 runs at 17, 12cts) – Perhaps fortunate that his dismal form with the bat, born of feet that just refuse to move towards the ball, was largely ignored in the euphoria surrounding England’s unexpected glory, but he knows much more is required of him, his enormous potential still glimpsed at rather than flowering. Curiously, his footwork, especially standing up, has improved significantly when wearing the gloves, where he shows signs of following Matt Prior and Alec Stewart in making the journey from competence to excellence behind the stumps.

Moeen Ali (293 runs at 42, 12 wkts at 46, 2 cts) – He turned the ball and took his share of wickets, especially troubling the left-handers with the off-spinner’s best friend, the DRS, to back him up. But his average and economy rate demonstrate the fact that he sends down too many four balls. If that makes a captain uneasy, what a comforting presence he is at Number Eight, as classy an occupant of that slot since Shaun Pollock – though he needs to develop a better technique to deal with the short ball if he is to realise his full potential with the bat. His temperament is suited to batting with the tail in the crucial role of taking a good score into a winning one or improving a poor score into a competitive total. Nevertheless, he is in real danger of offering too much to the team to drop but not enough to select – as contrary as that sounds!

Stuart Broad (134 runs at 19, 21 wkts at 21, 1 ct) – After barely raising a gallop during the May tour to the West Indies, he came roaring back to his best when spying the Australian crest 22 yards away. Like many a tall bowler, he needs to build the rhythm to get the long levers working in harmony, but when he does, the ball neither sinks into the pitch short of a length nor floats down the track to be driven: it travels far enough to begin to swing, then kisses the surface sufficiently to seam. And that length proved to be catnip to the Australian batsmen who were mesmerised at times, pulled on to the front foot following balls they should have left and leaving balls they should have played. Often bowled superbly without reward but got full value at Trent Bridge where his 9.3-5-15-8 was one of the all-time great spells of Ashes bowling.

Mark Wood (103 runs at 26, 10 wkts at 39, 0 ct) – The Durham man retains his wonderfully uncomplicated approach to the game, getting it down there fast and straight with the ball and hitting it hard with the bat. He didn’t produce a match-turning spell, but kept running in and never made it easy for the batsmen. His infectious, eccentric personality is a real asset for fans tired of the discourse of game plans followed and skills executed and, if he can stay fit and get the ball to reverse a little in favourable conditions, we might be seeing his invisible horse galloping for a few years yet.

Steven Finn (9 runs without dismissal, 12 wkts at 23, 0 ct) – Brought back for Edgbaston and immediately did what he has so often done for England – took wickets. On his latest return, he looked much more at ease, neither searching for rhythm nor appearing to think more about his run up than his action – though he still “takes wickets” with no balls! Might never become the Ambrose or Morkel that he once promised to be, but he has over 100 Test wickets at a very good strike rate and power to add. A big tour to South Africa looms.

Jimmy Anderson (11 runs at 3, 10 wkts at 28, 3 cts) – Did what he does when there’s just a bit of lateral movement available and that was enough for Australia to play him as if he had just landed from Mars. Injury ruled him out of the last two Tests of the series, but by then England were 2-1 up and had the momentum (which really mattered), and Australia’s selectors were forced to go looking for batting options. He wasn’t missed in the extraordinary Fourth Test, but the Fifth might have been a better indicator of England’s future as the bowling unit. shorn of their leader, conceded 332 runs before taking the fourth wicket.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 16, 2015

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 16 August 2015

ECB considers venue change for T20 Finals Day

ECB considers venue change for T20 Finals Day

Ball One – Malan becomes a good ‘un at last

After Yorkshire had wrapped up the points early in the last round of Division One matches, counties clinging on to the hope of challenging the Tykes had to win to keep them in sight. In a tight game at Lord’s, that’s exactly what Middlesex did, 20 runs still in hand when old trouper, Tim Murtagh took the last Sussex wicket. Middlesex owe much to Dawid Malan, whose 93 and 120* (with Sam Robson’s 77) were the only scores above 50 for the home team. Malan has 524 runs this season at over 100 and may just, at nearly 28, be fulfilling his potential. If you had told me that the 20 year-old whom I had just seen hit 103 off the bowling of Andrew Flintoff, Dominic Cork, Glen Chapple and Saj Mahmood (all England players) in the 2008 T20 quarter-final, would still be “just” a county cricketer in 2105, I would never have believed you! It’s not too late for this gifted batsman to find a place in England’s plans, but he’ll need to maintain his sparkling recent form .

Ball Two – Vince convinces to spark Hampshire’s lacklustre batting

Hampshire got a much needed second win of the season which they will hope sparks a late season revival of fortunes to lift them out Division One’s relegation zone. While the still quick Fidel Edwards’ nine wickets were important in overcoming a strong Warwickshire line-up, skipper James Vince’s first Championship ton of the season finally gave his bowlers something to bowl behind, the 444 run target proving much too much for the Midlanders. That was Hampshire’s first century since Adam Wheater’s in early June and only their third all season after Sean Ervine’s knock in April. With a slot at T20 Finals Day confirmed, Vince will be looking to extend the feelgood factor right through to the end of September – he’ll need to.

Ball Three – A step too far for Zafar?

As was the case for their fellow Londoners in Division One, Surrey had to work very hard to consolidate second place in their division with a tight win over Essex at Colchester. Rory Burns caught the eye with knocks of 158 and 71, comfortably outscoring his opening partner, Zafar Ansari, who made 6 and 34. Perhaps that’s understandable – Ansari also returned match figures of 75 – 10 – 236 – 8 with the ball. Some might say that was work enough for one man.

Ball Four – David Willey stands and delivers

That David Willey is an exciting cricketer who relishes the big stage and usually finds a way to get involved in any match, is no surprise – it’s a talent that has already landed him five England caps in white ball formats. His breathtaking assault on the Sussex bowling, raising his 100 off 40 balls to turn a tough looking T20 Blast quarter-final chase into a procession, showed another, perhaps even more valuable gift possessed by the Northants all-rounder: bat-speed. Because, as has been much talked about during The Ashes, batsmen in English conditions can pay a heavy price for throwing their hands through the ball, the bat-speed that is so critical for boundary hitting on slow pitches seldom comes naturally to those who grow up batting in England in April, May and September. But Willey, possibly because he possesses another skill (as a bowler, but often the bat-speed men are also wicketkeepers), has the fearlessness such “see-ball, hit-ball” play requires. With the World T20 coming up in India, Willey may be just the man England need to match the sub-continentals’ boundary counts.

Ball Five – Faulkner drives Lancashire home in a thriller

With all the artifice in white ball cricket, from the restrictions on the number of overs bowled to field placings and free hits and whatever tinkering lies in the ICC’s imagination for the future, all the game really needs to captivate its audience is an old-fashioned seesawing thriller. And that’s exactly what Lancashire and Kent served up to a full house on glorious Saturday afternoon at Canterbury’s grand old St Lawrence Ground. Kent should never have been in it – from 62-5 in the 11th over, it needed smart batting from spinners Fabian Cowdrey and dear old James Tredwell to get them up to 142 all out off the last ball, setting a gettable, but not straightforward target on a sticky, slow pitch. But at the start of the 19th over, Ashwell Prince’s nous had got him 62 runs and Jos Buttler’s power had raised 49 for him: 13 needed off two overs – easy. Three catches in the deep later, the visitors needed four off two balls to win the match on fewer wickets lost and Kent, for the first time all day, were favourites. Cue James Faulkner who somehow scrambled a couple of braces to see Lancashire through to Edgbaston and spark celebrations amongst the very decent contingent of Red Rose fans in the crowd. It was one day cricket at its thrilling, capricious, best

Ball Six – Dim administrators take cricket back to the dark ages

Cricket has done much over recent years to address the issue of “bad” light, helped by floodlights and a greater respect for the paying public. So it was frustrating and farcical to see as crucial a match as a T20 Blast quarter-final truncated, as the players peered into the (obviously unplayable) gloom from lit up dressing rooms in an eerie throwback to the 80s and 90s. It should not have been beyond the ken of administrators to take bad light out of the picture by scheduling two matches on Thursday and Friday evening and two on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the daytime games to be allocated to grounds without floodlights (if necessary). In the unlikely event that the three of the four counties without lights have home matches… well, we can deal with that when (or if) it arises. That Hampshire were well ahead of Worcestershire on Duckworth-Lewis, is hardly relevant given how swiftly T20 games can turn around. Not good enough ECB.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 11, 2015

So, what do we do now? England fans celebrate The Ashes.

Let's enjoy it while we can!

Let’s enjoy it while we can!

Amidst all the talk of re-connecting with its public, of Joe Root’s Bob Willis impressions (and his drinks carrying) and all the “Would you believe it”s, I detect a slightly strange feeling amongst followers of English cricket. The truth is, we don’t really know what to do. When my son asked me if there would be an open-top bus parade, the idea didn’t just seem wrong, it seemed ridiculous – as ridiculous as 8-15, 60 all out, an innings and 78 runs, 405 runs and all those other absurdities this crazy series threw up.

Reflection and analysis has brought some sense to the aftermath of Trent Bridge 2015 (a match that seems anchored in history already, just 30 minutes or so after its scheduled close – the time right now as I write). The points below are personal and various, but I suspect they will strike a chord with even the most fervent England fan, for Test cricket is not suited to the promotion of blind loyalty – there’s the newly arrived football season for that.

So here’s my Final Over format rolled out to attempt to explain it what us England fans are feeling just now.

Ball One – Australia were wounded before a ball was bowled.

Ryan Harris was not just a fine, maybe even great, bowler, he was also a representative of a certain kind of Australian cricketer of which there have always been many, their spiritual leader being Keith Miller. Harris was supremely gifted, but conducted himself with grace on and off the field, his retirement press conferences full of sadness but not sentimentality, each of his responses to questions as well-considered as his deliveries, and just as accurate. We were not just reminded of the underlying decency of the Australian cricketer – something that is always there at the end of a match – there were echoes too of other press conferences, conducted by Michael Clarke this time, when the subject was not just sporting tragedy, but human tragedy. It was hard to generate even the pantomime booing (literally or metaphorically) of the Baggy Green of 2015 when two such fine men were its first manifestations: the bowling linchpin with the bad knee, the batting linchpin with the bad back.

Ball Two – It was too predictable.

Test cricket’s canvas, like that of a Rothko, shimmers with the layers applied by its artists, one on top of the other, each bleeding a little into the next, the picture never quite resolving in one’s eye or one’s mind. So, on the one level, the wild swings in the teams’ fortunes were unpredictable, momentum, as it does in a Newton’s Cradle, passed from one side to the other with no discernible movement in between. And it wasn’t all that difficult to see what England needed to do (even I could here) nor, in home conditions, (if brutal truth be told) nor was it that hard to execute either. England hit the four balls for four and bowled seam up on an English length. And that proved to be plenty – as some of us thought it might.

Ball Three – The monster never showed its teeth for long.

I wouldn’t have believed it, but I watched it (via television and that was plenty close enough) so I knew it happened – in the era of body armour, helmets and bowling machines, a group of Test batsmen were cowed by a fast bowler. Mitchell Johnson seemed to be both Lillee and Thomson at times during the 5-0 annihilation of 2013-14, destroying the techniques and the spirits of good players with an ultra-aggressive approach that seemed unplayable. Where was it in 2015? Well, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes found out one Thursday morning in Birmingham, but no sooner had the Kraken stirred, than it disappeared, Johnson returning to being fast, but not furious. If he had bowled twice as many bouncers in this series, Johnson may have bowled fewer overs as a consequence, but surely the Tests would have been closer.

Ball Four – Watching another side break up is just too soon

The parallels between England’s 2013-14 touring side and Australia’s 2015 side are obvious. In that nightmarish series Down Under, England lost (or as good as lost): Graeme Swann; Jonathan Trott; Matt Prior; Kevin Pietersen; Monty Panesar; Tim Bresnan; and Chris Tremlett. It was plainly a step too far for a once mighty team. To see it happening again in reverse, especially to the crocked captain, a shadow of the dancing batsman whose play against spin was a particular delight, feels a little too raw, a little too close to home. At Cardiff, I enjoyed Shane Watson’s comical LBWs and subsequent failed reviews as much as anyone, since it felt like it was an advantage that might help England in a tight series. Now the memory of Watson feels more like that of an old dray horse, just not able to pull the cart any longer, poignant rather than pathetic. Context, of course, is King.

Ball Five – This is only the start for England.

Remarkably (how things turn around in cricket) unlike in both 2005 and 2009, this Ashes triumph does not mark the culmination of a team building towards its finest hour. That’s partly the product of Ashes series piling one on top of the other, before reverting to four year cycles in each hemisphere (and about time too).  It’s also born of the expectation that this England team has plenty of room for improvement. Though Jimmy Anderson is coming towards the end of his career, he could well be opening the bowling in November 2017 before the braying Gabbatoir public screaming for vengeance, with Stuart Broad at the other end, milking his villain status one more time. Ian Bell too might still be shaking his head walking off as Alastair Cook forges on beyond 10,000 Test runs. And as for Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Steven Finn, Mark Wood, Moeen Ali and plenty more – well, they’ll be back in 2019 too! The memory of the win is not so sweet as the anticipation of what’s to come.

Ball Six – Ricky don’t lose that hunger!

Who would have thought that the object of every England fans’ ire for all those years would be so personable, knowledgeable and, knock me down with a eucalyptus leaf, such a damn good bloke when given a microphone. (Actually anyone the Big Bash coverage on Channel Ten last winter would, but that rather spoils my point). Ricky Ponting, frozen in time forever swearing and shouting at Duncan Fletcher having been run out by Gary Pratt in 2005, has been wonderfully generous and fair-minded as a commentator, even self-deprecating with his George Bush-like  features creasing into smiles no matter the circumstances. And that’s where I came in really – if even Ricky Ponting can’t bring a flush to an English cheek, it’s been a remarkably bloodless win.

But Thank God our boys did it!

T shirt featured above available from Philosophy Football.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 10, 2015

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 9 August 2015

Ball One – Maxwell steadies the ship as Yorkshire turn the tide at Scarborough

Only one of the current round of County Championship Division One matches had been completed at the time of writing, but that was the big one, the battle of the North Eastern heavyweights that saw Yorkshire cruise to a 183 run win at Scarborough. It wasn’t all plain sailing at the seaside for the champions (and, with a fifty point lead and a game in hand, probably champions-elect too), but, as so often under Jason Gillespie’s coaching, the Tykes found a way to win. After ball had dominated bat in both first innings (162 played 158), Durham’s strong seam attack had their hosts 79-5 and struggling. Cue Glenn Maxwell, recently out of the side by reasons of form and poor discipline, but primed to play his most important innings for Yorkshire alongside the man for a crisis, Adil Rashid. A partnership of 248 runs in 46 overs took the game away from Durham who were never getting 447 in the fourth innings. Maxwell’s 140 off 144 balls was critical, but Rashid’s 127 and his wrapping up of the tail probably made him Man of the Match and will have interested the England selectors as they bask in the luxury of a dead Ashes rubber coming up at The Oval.

Ball Two – Doubles all round as Gloucestershire beat Glamorgan

Gloucestershire are probably too far behind Surrey to challenge for the second promotion slot in Division Two, but it doesn’t mean to say they won’t take aim at Glamorgan’s third place, as their comfortable win at Swansea showed. The victory was a real team effort from Will Tavare’s men, their first innings total of 416 comprising no score above 70 and none below 11 (with Extras also catching the mood with 46, producing not one single figure score on the card). Six bowlers chipped in with at least one wicket too, as Gloucestershire went third, just nine points behind their vanquished opponents.

Ball Three – Northamptonshire show good focus in a crisis

The other completed match in Division Two had apparently little riding on it, with Northamptonshire and Kent stuck in mid-table. But both clubs have T20 Blast quarter-finals this week, with both needing the money, especially Northants around whom the financial vultures are circling. So Alex Wakely will be pleased to have seen the fight shown by his charges, as they rolled Kent for 167 and 208 to get home by an innings and 23. He may, however, have mixed feelings about the 145 made by Ben Duckett, his wicketkeeper batsman, playing as a specialist opener in this game. Still only 20, Duckett has three first class centuries this season and is averaging over 50. With David Willey almost certain to leave at the end of the season, if Northants are to regain the Division One place they relinquished last season, they can ill-afford to lose Duckett too. I suspect that they might.

Ball Four – Gloucestershire fostering winning mentality

It was a good week for Gloucestershire all round with three consecutive wins lifting them to joint top of the Royal London One-Day Cup Group A, qualifying for the knockout stage with two matches still to play. A century from Australian-batsman-in-form, skipper Michael Klinger, was enough to chase down local rivals Somerset; another captain’s knock of 135 proved too much for Durham; and, in the absence of their talismanic leader, the 229 added before the loss of the fourth wicket made for an easy chase of 265 to beat Worcestershire. That’s nine wins and one no result in Gloucestershire’s last ten matches in all competitions – too bad their early season form saw them eliminated at the T20 Group Stage.

Ball Five – Riki Wessels is a fine first class cricketer destined not to play at international level

In Group B, Nottinghamshire head the table, also after three wins in a week. Where one might expect big contributions from international cricketers like James Taylor, Samit Patel, Alex Hales and Chris Read, Riki Wessels caught the eye with a brilliant 132 that was plenty enough to apply scoreboard pressure to Middlesex’s forlorn chase. Not surprisingly given that he is the son of Kepler Wessels, the opener with 24 Tests for Australia and another 16 for South Africa, Riki Wessels has been round the block a few times with registrations, visas and qualifications. He might just reflect a little on that lack of clarity as he looks back on his career, in which his record as a keeper-batsman is as good as many who have played international cricket, something which, at the age of 30 this coming November, will probably pass him by.

World Cup winner 1998

World Cup winner 1998

Ball Six – Peters retires and leaves four men standing

So farewell then Stephen Peters, whose fine county career at Essex, Worcestershire and Northamptonshire never quite lived up the the promise of his famous century in England’s victory over New Zealand in the 1998 Under-19 World Cup. The scorecard comprises some famous and not so famous names, but now leaves us with just two on each side regularly playing first class cricket: step forward Rob Key and Graham Napier for England and Hamish Marshall and James Franklin for New Zealand. What lives those 90s teenagers were to live out, on and off the field, good times and bad times and what changes they witnessed. And, if you’re thinking that there’s a book in that match, you’re right.

And after 15 years of county cricket

And after 15 years of county cricket


Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 3, 2015

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 2 August 2015

Glamorgan's groundsman?

Glamorgan’s groundsman?

Ball One – Currans star as Surrey make the running in Group A

Having won three games in five days (you are keeping up with this competition aren’t you?) and with a no-result counting one point, Surrey sit at the top of Group A, their season going from strength to strength. The much maligned big spenders of a decade or so ago are putting their faith in young players and (so far) it’s paying off, with runs and wickets for the likes of Zarfar Ansari, James Burke and the two Curran brothers, Tom (20) and Sam (17). Sons of the late Zimbabwean all-rounder, Kevin Curran, (and there’s a third lad ripping his way through schools cricket this summer too), Tom and Sam have inherited their father’s ability to make things happen – useful in red ball cricket, but invaluable in white ball stuff. Both can expect a winter somewhere within the ECB’s development hierarchy – just don’t mention the Waughs.

Ball Tw0 – Paul Collingwood can still turn it on

At the other end of the age scale, could that really be 39 years old Paul Collingwood scoring 132 for Durham as they racked up a match-winning 313 batting first against Northamptonshire? It certainly is, the old stager batting through 35 overs, the fires still burning bright. The senior pro racked up 133 runs in singles, twos and threes (okay, there were a few extras in there too) during his two and a half hours at the crease and a lesser man might have felt a strategic tightening of a hamstring in the innings break and found solace with a cold drink and The Sporting Life on the balcony. Not Colly. By the 14th over of Northants’ reply, he was bowling and in the 19th, he snared dangerman, David Willey, to leave the hosts 84-5 with the points pretty much in the bag. If he didn’t already have one, he’d merit an MBE.

Ball Three – 99 problems and a pitch is one

The picture in Group B is less clear at this early stage, with only Nottinghamshire unbeaten with Glamorgan, whose Sunday match was abandoned as the pitch was deemed unplayable despite 56.4 overs having been bowled – but what else could the umpires do, with batsmen being hit on the head? I have always felt that non-experts (journalists, players, administrators) are too quick to believe that groundsmen make pitches the way contestants on primetime TV shows bake cakes – but it’s not so easy! That said, groundsmen (are there any groundswomen?) could help themselves by developing something akin to golf’s stimpmeter which might help shed a little light on their arcane art.

Ball Four – Joe Leach’s rich vein of form counts for nothing

Whatever its state, the pitch is, in one day cricket at least, the same for both sides, something that Joe Leach will be reflecting on after a remarkable match at New Road, Worcester. The seamer took three wickets with the first three balls of the match – something so rare that he was trending on Twitter, which might have caused a heartbeat or two to skip amongst friends and family. Soon fellow seamer, Jack Shantry, was in on the act and Northants were 19-6 with no sign of Kapil Dev coming to the rescue.  But Josh Cobb, who had observed the carnage from the non-striker’s end, found a willing partner in Rory Kleinveldt and they, with Graeme White and Olly Stone putting bat to ball at 9 and 10, got the visitors up to 126. When the bowling hero arrived at the crease with Worcestershire 48-6, he must have had that sinking feeling that many club cricketers have experienced when chasing a low target. A bit of long handle from Leach and keeper Ben Cox added 29, but it wasn’t enough and 126 beat 105 in a game that will feature in a few club night quizzes in years to come.

Ball Five – 300 remains a very good score in domestic 50 overs cricket

With much talk during the World Cup that 350 was the new par score batting first in ODI cricket, there’s little sign of that ambition / recklessness filtering through to the domestic game – probably rightly so in English conditions. Of 24 innings that have gone to 50 overs or thereabouts, only nine have crossed 300, Yorkshire’s 345-6 (fuelled by Glenn Maxwell’s 111 off 76 balls) topping the list. Those nine 300+ scores produced eight wins, so a run a ball for 50 overs is still a very big ask in England, and it does raise a crucial question. If the raison d’etre for the Royal London Cup is to produce World Cup winning cricketers, where is the incentive to develop the weight of stroke and lightning bat-speed that drives scores to 350 and beyond, if 300 is almost always enough? It’s an old one that one, the answer to which remains as elusive as ever. Unless, of course, the 2019 World Cup is played on green seamers whistled up by Andrew Strauss and delivered by deceptively scientific horny handed sons of the English soil. Somehow, I doubt it for the reason given above and 350 others.

Ball Six – The 50 Overs competition needs to make use of all its opportunities

The Royal London Cup needs all the publicity it can get – especially once the football season really gets going this week – so why name the groups “A” and “B”? Surely a couple of superstars of the past could be prevailed upon to lend their names to the groups and do a bit of PR in return for the sponsor’s remuneration. The “Lamby” Group and the “Beefy” Group might sound a bit cheesy, but it would raise the competition’s profile. If that’s a bit too much, how about “Stewart” and “Nixon” groups, the two old keepers usually up for a bit of banter and well versed in the media’s ways?

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 2, 2015

The Ashes Lexicon – Australia

lexiconRogers (n) – An old, well loved object that has become annoying due to obstructing desired progress. (Of course, we all liked it when we moved in, but when we asked the council it it was okay to remove the rogers now the kids were older and we wanted to use the space for a gazebo, they said we needed planning permission, and that’s still dragging on).

Warner (v.t) – To destroy an object in a frenzied attack. (I told you you should have let the dog out – he’s absolutely warnered your slippers overnight, but that’s all you deserve).

Smith (v.i) – To improve rapidly and somewhat inexplicably. (There’s always someone who looks terrible in the first couple of weeks on Strictly, but then really smiths all the way to the final).

Clarke (n) – An old dog that you just can’t face taking to the vet to be put down. (After he got hit by that ice cream van in 2007, he became such a clarke, but, well, what could we do?)

Voges (n) – A tool that you’ve had in the shed for years that you find works really well, but only the once. (I was lucky to find that old voges in the toolbox and it worked a treat on fixing the leaking tap, but maybe you should take it to the charity shop as I can’t see it being useful for anything else).

Marsh (v.t) – To replace a worn part of an engine with something that looks like a modernisation, but actually doesn’t improve performance. (The guy at the garage said that he’d marshed the brakes with carbon-fibre pads, but they still feel as spongy as the old ones to me).

Nevill (n) – A  software upgrade that offers a better user experience but is strangely unpopular with the IT department. (I had to wait six months for IT to install my nevill and even then they kept telling me that I was better off with the old app – but it works really well, even if it is a bit slow).  

Johnson (n) – A physically impressive, yet fragile and unreliable object. (Sure these new tents with their walk-in showers and en suite loos look good at Glasto, but once the wind gets up and starts howling, you’ll find out they’re just a johnson and you’re left sleeping in the car). 

Starc (n) – Something that you buy for one purpose but find out that it’s better suited to another. (Most people use pesto to flavour pasta, but it’s actually a bit of a starc – try it in mashed potato for example). 

Hazlewood (n) – A plug for a burst tyre that can get you part of the way home. (It’s always handy to have a hazlewood in your puncture repair kit, but you’ll probably need to replace the inner tube if you want to commute every day).

Lyon (v.t) – To age something relatively new. (I like this new app on Instagram that lets you lyon your photos so they look about 100 years old even though you only took them yesterday).

Read more from The Ashes Lexicon here.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 1, 2015

The Ashes Lexicon – England

lexiconIn a return to an old favourite, here is an England Ashes Lexicon for 2015.

Lyth (v.t) – To chase something compulsively even though it is harmful to the person. (We were able to track the accused on security cameras as he lythed after his dealer round the back of the shopping mall).

Cook (v.t) – To do something well, but unconvincingly. (Your daughter has cooked impressive results at A level, but I feel that she’ll need to interview strongly to secure a place at an Oxbridge college).

Bell (v.t) – To do enough to retain a place in a hierarchy. (The drones include bees that travel great distances to discover new sources of nectar, but many simply bell the nearby meadows to satisfy the needs of the Queen and so enjoy the security of the hive).

Root (n) – An visually pleasing, but noisy object. (It’s all well and good riding round Italy on a Root, but a Ducati is just as stylish and speedy and has a better resale value).

Bairstow (v.i) – A lift’s stopping before it reaches the top floor of a building. (To get to the tenth floor roof garden, please walk the last flight of stairs of the fire escape as directed, because the lift bairstows on the 9th floor due to works access requirements).

Stokes (v.t) – To succeed and fail alternately at a task. (Murray must hope that he continues to stokes this match, as he serves to start the fifth set, with 6-0, 0-6, 6-0, 0-6 on the scoreboard).

Buttler (v.t) – To promise more than is delivered. (I prefer not to watch the trailers in the cinema these days – they just buttler too many movies).

Moeen (n) – A rare, beautiful, yet somehow unexplainable object. (We’ll know if this moeen is the biggest archeological find since the Rosetta Stone once we decipher its pictograms).

Broad (v.i) – To make a weak case to an authority. (The cutbacks in Legal Aid have inevitably led to less broading to Employment Appeals Tribunals, which has led to fewer delays in the administration of justice).

Finn (v.t) – To fail to drive a car smoothly when learning how to use the clutch. (On Sunday mornings in many supermarkets carparks, you can see teenagers getting impromptu driving lessons from parents, clumsily finning family hatchbacks backwards and forwards until they eventually smoothly shift from first to second to third).

Anderson (v.i) To make the most of favourable conditions. (With Ed Miliband failing to convince in England and the nationalist vote still angry after the post-referendum promises, in hindsight it was obvious that David Cameron would anderson his way back to Number Ten).

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 26, 2015

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 26 July 2015

Obligatory picture of Scarborough looking fantastic of course

Obligatory picture of Scarborough looking fantastic of course

Ball One – Yorkshire’s bowling gives Andrew Gale plenty of options

Yorkshire powered to a 34 points lead at the top of Division One (with a game in hand) after swatting aside Worcestershire by seven wickets at the evocative North Marine Road, Scarborough. Andrew Gale, having had a good look at the pitch while compiling 164, had no hesitation in enforcing the follow-on, his unorthodox selection doubtless playing a part in his considerations. Yorkshire fielded six frontline bowlers, with Adil Rashid and Tim Bresnan considered all-rounders at Six and Seven supporting the returning Liam Plunkett and the regular seamers Steve Patterson, Ryan Sidebottom and Jack Brooks. Not every county will enjoy such depth of resources, but its benefit was clear. Despite Worcestershire batting 76 and 91 overs in their innings, no bowler’s workload was more than Rashid’s 21 in the Pears’ second dig and all six picked up at least a couple of scalps. Not just the right selection for late July, with six matches still to play that workload management may pay dividends come August and September too.

Ball Two – Tom Abell is able to step up when the call comes

Of the three counties struggling to cling on to the Tykes’ coattails (Warwickshire, Durham and Middlesex) the Bears’ win over an ageing Somerset XI, lifted them to second place in what looks increasingly like a squabble for the place money. With Marcus Trescothick’s men sliding into a relegation dogfight, he will be comforted by the performance of his fellow opener, 21 year-old Tom Abell, who carried his bat for 88 in almost four hours of old-fashioned resistance, seemingly untroubled by this year’s excuse for failure of application, scoreboard pressure. The Somerset captain is 40 in the close season and his days (at least as an opener) must be numbered – sooner or later, Abell, a Taunton boy in every sense, will have to take on additional responsibility. Knocks like this one (against the nous of Jeetan Patel, Rikki Clarke, Chris Woakes and Keith Barker) suggest that he has what it takes.

Ball Three – Read writes his own scripts

Just one month ago, Nottinghamshire were rock bottom of the table wondering where their next win was coming from. Enter Peter Moores in a consultancy role and Chris Read back from the physio’s table – now they are 23 points clear of the drop and playing the best cricket outside the three ridings. The influence of the skipper cannot be overstated – arriving at the crease to replace Samit Patel with the score 186-5, Read added 365 in the company of selector-nudging James Taylor (291) to set up an innings win over a demoralised Sussex, now deep in relegation trouble themselves. And there won’t be a Lancashire fan alive who failed to raise a smile reading of Gary Keedy’s five wickets, the 40 year-old summoned from weekend league cricket to turn the ball as he turned back the clock.

Ball Four – Plain sailing for Prince and Petersen at Colwyn Bay

Lancashire didn’t really need to beat third placed Glamorgan at the traditional match venue, the picturesque Colwyn Bay, but they did, smashing 698-5 at more than five an over and then beating the Welsh county and the Welsh weather by an innings and plenty. Some may point to the monumental stand between the two South Africans, Alviro Petersen and Ashwell Prince, a record wrecking 501, and grumble, but Lancashire fans see Prince as very much one of their own, a successor to the likes of Clive Lloyd, Faroukh Engineer and Wasim Akram. Having made his Red Rose debut in 2009, the 38 year-old is in his sixth season at Old Trafford (having missed 2011) averaging over 50 in first class cricket, 37 in List A and 32 in T20 – that’s over an impressive 153 appearances. In an era of contracted guns for hire, Prince’s contribution to Lancashire is both unusual and deeply appreciated.

Ball Five – T20 Blast finishes with a damp squib of a day

In the T20 Blast, the climax to the group stage was largely washed away in an otherwise decent summer. In the North Group, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Northamptonshire and Lancashire progressed, the latter by run rate (so it does count for something after all). Amongst the bowlers, the outstanding performer was Rikki Clarke, whose bag of tricks brought him a strike rate of 5.19 across 42 overs, outstanding numbers from a cricketer often under-rated in the media, if not on the field. Catching the eye amongst the batsmen, step forward Worcestershire’s journeyman pro Ross Whiteley, whose 27 sixes and just 11 fours marks him as a rare Englishman with the combination of bat speed and power required to clear the boundary consistently when he opens his shoulders. Both Midlands men will be looking to progress to the Finals Day jamboree.

Ball Six – Ravi Bopara still doing a decent job at Essex

In the South Group, Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and Essex go through to the quarter-finals, after Glamorgan lost to Gloucestershire in one of those highly unsatisfactory five overs each way “matches”. Ravi Bopara, perhaps now gone forever from England’s plans, was just about the most valuable bowler in the Group, his skiddy medium pace (still never quite there to hit), bringing him 18 wickets at 15 with an economy rate well below 7. His experience and nous will be valuable in the knockouts to come. James Vince, like the rest of the Hampshire team having a nightmare season in red ball cricket, found salvation in the shortest format, smacking over 500 runs as he led his side to the quarter-finals and a chance to salvage something from a disappointing 2015.

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