Posted by: tootingtrumpet | May 1, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 1 May 2016

92 and counting

92 of them and counting

Ball One – Draws draw little praise

That the match that came closest to a result in Division One was played on a belter at The Oval says something about front-loading Championship matches, or something about the preparation of pitches, or something about this season’s toss regulation, or something about bowlers failing to understand how to dismiss set batsmen. Or maybe about all those factors and more. Whatever it is, just two results in the nine top flight matches played in 2016 is hardly the best preparation for Test cricket, in which the draw is an endangered species. After Kumar Sangakkara’s first day masterclass on blocking the good ball and hitting the bad ball to the boundary, Surrey’s Gareth Batty had to watch as his batsmen got out when set, limiting the second innings strike rate to three an over before he set Somerset an extremely unlikely 292 in 42 overs to win. The players shook hands with the scoreboard showing 122-4 after 35 overs – perhaps a target of 250 in 50 overs might have balanced risk and reward more positively. Both sides stay in the bottom three.

Ball Two – Adil the real deal amongst the all-rounders at Edgbaston

It’s but a nascent Division One table, but who wouldn’t want to be top rather than bottom? Warwickshire’s three draws (and bonus points so earned) sees the Midlanders leading the way after three rounds of matches, Ian Bell’s men’s latest draw coming at home to champions Yorkshire. In a match that included four genuine all-rounders (Adil Rashid, Chris Woakes, Rikki Clarke and Keith Barker – okay, three and a half all-rounders), the Yorkshire leg-spinner shone brightest, walking to the wicket at 187-5 before making 63 progressing his team to the relative comfort of 343-8 on dismissal, then adding  4-127 with ball in hand. As Moeen Ali’s place in England’s Test XI appears to be under constant scrutiny, they’re numbers that will have caught the selectors’ attention – but they will also note an economy rate of above four an over, the boundary balls still too frequent.

Ball Three – Porter carries Essex to the top of Division Two

Essex, who now have two of the three wins this season in Division Two, overpowered Northamptonshire (whose star player of 2015, David Willey, is bizarrely unable to get a game for Yorkshire nor a bash in the IPL), an innings and 92 runs the crushing margin of victory. Five Essex batsmen chipped in with fifties (even extras catching the mood contributing 60) with nobody besting Ravi Bopara’s 76. After losing all but nine overs on Day Two, Ryan ten Doeschate declared before lunch on Day Three and asked his bowlers to take twenty wickets. 111 overs were all that were needed, led by the country’s in-form seamer, Jamie Porter. The 22 year-old has backed up his 50 wickets last season with 22 wickets at 17 this time round, learning from the wise old head at the other end, Graham Napier, who has 19 of his own at the same cost.

Ball Four – Daniel Bell-Drummond starts a crucial season in fine form

Kent have a Robert Key sized hole in their batting order this season, the long time opener swapping his bat for a microphone as his media career takes precedence. That means more responsibility for Daniel Bell-Drummond, a batsman who is often talked about as a possible England international. He won’t have done his chances any harm in making 124 out of Kent’s 264 against (wait for it) in-form Leicestershire. Bell-Drummond is 22 now and you feel this is a big season for him if he is to push on to the next level.

Ball Five – Dent makes his mark with another ton

You won’t hear Chris Dent complaining about easy pitches and popgun attacks as he continued to gorge on the bowling, backing up last week’s 180 with 59 and 138* for Gloucestershire against Worcestershire. Impressive stuff, but not enough to lift him beyond seventh in the Division Two batting averages, 102 beating Bradman but not the likes of Wayne Madsen and Chesney Hughes.

Ball Six – Palladino on parade

Tony Palladino seems to have been around forever, so it was a surprise to find out that he is still only 32 years old. After a spell at Essex (and a significant role in exposing the fixing of Danish Kaneria and Mervyn Westfield), he’s now bustling in for Derbyshire. He will have enjoyed his five wickets in Glamorgan’s first innings and I hope the crowd did too, because there should always be room for a bit of crafty seam up in an English spring. The domestic game has to be more than just a finishing school for internationals with a place for the old-fashioned virtues of line, length and a bit of wobble.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 24, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 24 April 2016

Lancashire's combative new fast bowler

Lancashire’s combative new fast bowler

Ball One – Wagner gets it in the right arias areas

It was billed as a battle between England’s opening bowlers, the Jimmy and Stuey show yet again, but this time on opposing sides, red ball in hand, fighting (to quote Alan Partridge) the way God intended. But, as is so often the case when such mouthwatering clashes roll round, it was an interloper who stole the show. Kiwi bowler and Lancashire debutant, Neil Wagner, showed plenty of his trademark aggression to take 11 wickets in the match, which, supplemented by a smart 70 from Lanky’s other First Class first timer, Liam Livingstone, was enough to secure a vital 22 points in what promises to be a tough season back in Division One. Wagner is very much the kind of cricketer this column enjoys: he won’t listen to stories of groundsmen emasculating bowlers with their shirtfront pitches, he just runs in and makes things happen. It doesn’t always work of course – in cricket as in life – but he’ll play fearless cricket and he won’t die wondering.

Ball Two – Sam Robson occupies the crease – and selectors’ thoughts

If the course of true love never did run smooth, neither did that of opening batsmen like Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Virender Sehwag, even Geoffrey Boycott. It’s hard work up there with the new ball bouncing and swinging and your first mistake often your last. So it’s no surprise that even some of the greatest openers took time to figure out a game that worked for them, balancing risk and reward, knowing when to play and when to leave, thinking only of the next ball and not the last. Sam Robson opened for England throughout the Test summer of 2014, scoring a century against the Lankans, but later showing fatal uncertainty around his off stump. He was sent back to county cricket and didn’t pull up any trees in 2015, as Adam Lyth replaced him for England and endured a very similar season – with the same result. Come 2016, Robson had the stats gurus rushing to their databases having made 231 and 106 at Lord’s on a flat pitch, and, perhaps more importantly for his England ambitions, batting almost 12 1/2 hours in the match. At 26, he has plenty of time to come again – at the same age, Hayden had also played seven Tests with one century to his name.

Ball Three – Hampshire’s late order digs in to frustrate Yorkshire

The Champions got their defence of the pennant underway with a typically powerful display at home to reach the halfway point of the match 452 runs ahead with half Hampshire’s men back in the hutch. But captain, James Vince, was still at the crease and his century inspired some impressive late order resistance from centurion Sean Ervine, keeper Adam Wheater and all rounder Ryan McLaren. Those last five wickets occupied over 100 overs and allowed Hampshire to get a hard earned draw and, perhaps more importantly, gain an early season confidence boost proving that they can hold their own with Yorkshire’s attack, one good enough to leave out David Willey.

Ball Four – Horton hears a “Who wants to open for Leicestershire?” call

No so long ago, a Leicestershire win was as rare as a quiet word from Danny Morrison, but they currently stand “played one, won one” after crushing Glamorgan. While Clint McKay’s eight wickets were critical in delivering the win, Paul Horton’s experience at the top of the order also played a part, especially after the bowlers had conceded 348 in the first innings of the match. Horton spent 13 seasons at Lancashire, with plenty of highs and lows in red ball cricket and it’s fair to say that little will surprise him any more. With Mark Pettini also slotting into the batting unit, Leicestershire will hope the weight of runs will correlate with the weight of years in 2016.

Ball Five – Sands of time run out for Sussex and Essex at Hove

Emotions ran high at Hove as Chris Nash made a century wearing a shirt bearing the name of the late Matthew Hobden, whose death shocked everyone in cricket. By Day Four, more prosaic cricketing matters captured the attention as two questions were answered. (i) Alastair Cook could bat in the new ECB approved helmet, his undefeated six hour 127 irrrefutable proof of that. (ii) Neither Essex nor Sussex could force a result, the away side falling 63 runs short, the home side three wickets away from success.

Ball Six – Batsmen cash in as early season pitches offer plenty of runs

It’s too soon yet to judge the impact of the county championship’s strange non-toss rule (which allows the away captain to bowl first if he so chooses), but if the match between Gloucestershire and Derbyshire is a harbinger of those to come, bowlers might prefer to have bat in hand rather than ball. Liam Norwell, hitherto the possessor of a single half century in 58 First Class innings, plundered 102 as nightwatchman, as 1267 runs were scored for the loss of 22 wickets. As ever with pitches, the best are those which promote a balance between bat and ball, usually through pace and even bounce – get that right, and the cream will always rise to the top.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 17, 2016

The Strauss Tapes – Part XXXVIII

148070-004-4313AF06“Is that you Cooky? Can you step outside the room please?

Good – I can hear you now. Does Jesse always get so loud when Essex win? Okay – yeah – I should have guessed that you can’t remember.

So you’re in a bit of nick – but are you sure Division Two runs count towards your First Class average? Goochie will know – nothing he didn’t know about averages. Well ask him when he finishes his next lap. Isn’t that dangerous in the dark? Yeah – I’ll bet Jesse says so.

I just wanted a quick check on your thoughts on whom I should be watching in the next round of Championship matches? It is “whom” yes – if you had gone to university, you’d know. Well,  Jos and Eoin are playing IPL Alastair. Indian. Premier. League. Ask Jesse how he affords that Range Rover.

I was thinking of Lord’s? Okay, the wine cellar there is better true, but Sam Robson is playing. You must remember him? He got 127 against the Lankans at Headingley last time they were here when you got 17. And I can have a look at Compo too (don’t say that Cooky, he likes you really) and Finny. Obviously I’ll check that he’s landing it on the strip – that’s all in the past now surely?

I’ll tell you what, I’ll have a chat with Belly on the phone. But you don’t think he’s just a bit, well, part of our past now, do you? You know, like that complete (tape crackles…). He got a ton last week in Division One, and that’s proper cricket, so I’ve got to pretend to think about him at the very least. Just don’t mention his name to the Media will you?

Would you like me to pass on any messages? No, you can talk yourself to the kitchen about buying direct from your farm, I was thinking more about the players. Maybe a quiet word of encouragement to Toby Roland-Jones? He’s a bowler Cooky.

And say hello to Ed at Hove for me will you? Remind him that he’s always got a job at the ECB if he can’t sight it any more and the media stuff dries up. Well, an ex-Middlesex cabal makes a change from the ex-Essex cabal if you ask me Cooky.”

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 17, 2016

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 18 April 2016

Ball One – The County Championship should stand up for itself

Shouldn’t the start of the County Championship, England’s Summer Sport’s premier domestic competition, be greeted with just a little more, well, if not razzamatazz, then at least, old fashioned publicity? Sure I know the arguments about budgets being tight and saving cash for the T20 launch and I know that the BBC did their bit with online commentary and I know that there were a few interviews and photocalls arranged and published… somewhere. But the County Championship is cowering in a corner sporting calendar, like a child hiding behind the bike sheds after being bullied in the playground, and that’s no answer. The solution isn’t too hard to divine and it’s one familiar to the businessmen and businesswomen whom we are always told understand these marketing things: find your audience and communicate effectively with them. Next season, when the Championship becomes even more difficult to understand, should start with a bang and not a whimper.

Ball Two – East Midlanders carry momentum from 2015 into 2016

In a tragic week for the club (and while we should acknowledge that James Taylor’s life is more important than his career, his retirement at 26 is a tragedy), his county, Nottinghamshire, are the early pacesetters in Division One. It was journeyman pro, Steven Mullaney, who showed the kind of boldness I call for in Ball One, by ignoring tricky conditions, having been asked to bat as the home side’s opener under the “no toss” rule new for 2016. He scored 113 at a run a ball to set up a first innings lead and, after Surrey’s inevitably stronger showing in the follow-on, made another 42 at the same rate to get the target into double figures before his team-mates squeeked over the line with three wickets to spare. Notts, having benefited from Peter Moores’ arrival halfway through last summer which helped rescue their 2015 season, have started 2016 in similar fashion – the parallels with Leicester City’s last twelve months may start to grow.

Ball Three – Bell’s ton alerts selectors

IRBOne man determined not to sulk in the domestic game or pursue franchise cricket is Ian Bell, who began his tenure as Warwickshire captain with a fine 174 that carried his team into a position from which they would have expected to win had the weather not taken too much time out of the match. Bell turned 34 on the washed out Day Two and, while he has recalibrated his sights on delivering runs to the county for whom he has played since boyhood, he will surely have an eye on England’s unsettled batting order. If he can keep turning out scores like this, it would be churlish, not to say foolish, to ignore a man who is two years younger than Chris Rogers when he was recalled to the Australian Test side to add much needed, and much appreciated, experience to a batting unit in transition.

Ball Four – Jennings off to a flyer

Another man making an early bid to catch the selectors’ eyes is Kyle Jennings, the South African born Durham opener who reeled off back-to-back centuries in a match in which no other batsman made 50. He is, of course, some way off an England place, but it will be interesting to follow this 23 year-old’s progress in 2016. Sometimes batsmen (especially openers) jump out of the pack for one golden summer  – in 2001, David Fulton suddenly averaged 75 having never posted a number higher than 44 before or after. Could this be Jennings’ season?

Ball Five – Napier’s old bones still putting up the numbers

In Division Two, Essex, with Alastair Cook in the runs, rolled Gloucestershire to get off to a fine start. It was particularly pleasing to see one of this column’s favourite players back for another April – September gig and in red ball cricket to boot. Graham Napier first played for Essex in 1997 in an XI captained by Paul Prichard during which he bowled to Tim Robinson and Nathan Astle, but all those miles on the clock since then didn’t stop him doing what he has done during the 19 years since. In at nine (really? nine?) he scattered the pigeons with 33 and ball-in-hand, he bustled in at second change to take three wickets in each innings with his crafty medium pace. Napier never played international cricket, but he can reflect on a career that gave a great deal of pleasure not just to fans of Essex, but to fans of county cricket too.

Ball Six – Worcestershire need to do something to avoid predictable washouts

Kent’s Sam Northeast did not mince his words having had his club’s match at Worcester called off without a ball being bowled, the New Road outfield more lake than lawn – and he is right, it is “unacceptable”. Nobody thinks it’s easy to manage the playing area at that venue, but if four day cricket is shunted to the start and end of the summer in order to generate yet more income, enough of that money has to be dedicated to getting the game on. To be fair, the construction of floodlights at many grounds has led to fewer interruptions due to “bad light”, but all venues should now aspire to the quality of drainage that we see at Lord’s where, if it’s not raining, they’re usually playing.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | January 27, 2016

South Africa vs England Test Series – England Report Card

Ben Stokes embraces his  South African side

Ben Stokes embraces his South African side

Alastair Cook (184 runs at 23) – Has another overseas Test series under his belt and the scalp of a South African captain in a pleasing, if not wholly unexpected, reversal of the Graeme Smith Effect. Showed signs of maturity in his captaincy, with attacking fields and innovation, such as James Taylor’s (Not So) Short Leg and a willingness to give batsmen their head to play as they see fit and bowlers the opportunity to keep going if it’s coming out right.  He was paid back regularly, most often Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad. That said, this set of figures will give him pause for concern: 3; 13; 55; 17; 22; 71; 177; and 8 – they are England’s scores when Cook’s wicket fell. With the identity of his long term opening partner no more clear now than when Andrew Strauss was in whites and not a suit, the captain needs to get his side through to triple figures more regularly if Test matches are to be won consistently.

Alex Hales (136 runs at 17) – For an imposing physical presence with a reputation for dominating bowlers in white ball cricket, he cut a vulnerable figure at the top of the order with his mind addled by thoughts of attack and defence, playing and leaving, blocking and biffing – by the end of the series, he looked shot to pieces and one can’t help wondering what Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander would have done. Now dons the pyjamas for some white ball stand and deliver stuff with few slips to worry about and confidence to rebuild. If he feels the ball on the middle of the bat again regularly, there’s a case for retaining him for the early season Sri Lanka Tests, but if not, it might be time for the selectors to twist again. Hales, just turned 27, would have plenty of time to come back if that’s the way it goes.

Nick Compton (245 runs at 31) – One can almost feel fans (and perhaps Trevor Bayliss) bristling with frustration as another half volley is blocked back to the bowler, but Compton may be one of those cricketers (like Ben Stokes) for whom the question is not so much how nor even how many, but when. In the critical opening Test of the series, he got England’s first innings from 3-1 up to 247-5 before he was out and in the second, he watched the board tick over from 13-1 to 118-2 before he lost his wicket. Take those knocks away, and the series may well have turned out very differently – he was my (and many others) Man of the Match in Durban.

Joe Root (386 runs at 55, 0 wicket for 77) – Comes in and immediately gets on with it, nudging good balls for singles and hitting bad balls to the boundary – has an English batsmen (okay, betting without KP) ever been so ruthless in dealing with four balls? Just the one century, albeit a critical one in the series sealing win at Johannesburg, and his tendency to toss away good starts is developing into a bad habit (the game won’t always be as easy as it looks now Joe), but they are the only blemishes in another successful series with the bat.

James Taylor (186 runs at 27) – Snared two astonishing catches at shortish leg to see off Hashim Amla and Dane Vilas in Johannesburg making a crucial position his own at a time when England’s fielding can turn shoddy very rapidly. At the crease, he looks to have plenty of shots and, like many a batsman short of stature, can reduce the bowler’s margin for error by hooking and pulling balls just short of a length and driving those a little fuller. He needs to relax into his game though. Ironically, he could do with importing the stillness and ball watching so evident in his fielding into his primary skill – his batting.

Ben Stokes (411 runs at 59, 12 wickets at 29) – Cape Town’s pitch turned into a batsman’s paradise, but nobody knew that when Ben Stokes walked to the crease with England 167-4 to face Kagiso Rabada on a hat-trick. Cue bold batting to get through to the close of Day One on 74… then mayhem on a Sunday morning he, Jonny Bairstow and everyone at Newlands or watching on television or following on radio will never forget. Records were as scattered as the fielders, as Stokes hit orthodox cricket shots right out of the sweetest of sweet spots again and again and again to provoke comparisons with Adam Gilchrist at his destructive best. Add in a momentum shifting 58 in the Third Test and his consistent threat with the ball through vicious swing at handy pace, and England may just have the most exciting Test cricketer in the world right now. There will be days when he’ll top edge one early and the ball will swing straight on to the middle of the bat at half volley length, but that’s a price worth paying for a talent like this.

Jonny Bairstow (359 runs at 72, 19 catches, 1 stumping) – Rode to an emotional maiden Test century on the back of Ben Stokes’ pyrotechnics at the other end, but made decent runs while the series was alive, looking much more comfortable at 7 than he did at 5. With the gloves, he took plenty of catches and showed real athleticism on pitches that were never straightforward for keeping, but he could be untidy at times – this failing showing up more when his colleagues in the cordon are dropping catches or leaving them to fly by. It’s still a tight call between Yorkshire’s and Lancashire’s keeper for the England slot, but perhaps the solution is to try Jos Buttler at 5, especially if his confidence really is restored by the white ball game.

Moeen Ali (116 runs at 29, 10 wkts at 49) – As usual with England’s uncomplaining all-rounder, the figures don’t seem to reflect the performance, which was good enough to shade the Man of the Match award in the First Test, where he picked up 7 of his 10 wickets in the series. Both batting and bowling seem to oscillate between extremes, often in the same over – jaffas and long hops with the ball and silky smooth drives and airy-fairy wafts with the bat. Moeen is probably fortunate to playing with Ben Stokes the other all-rounder in the XI and without another spinner knocking on the door – and luck matters in cricket, as it does in life.

Stuart Broad (51 runs at 13, 18 wickets at 21) – Bowled beautifully throughout the series, sometimes without luck, but elevated his level in the Third Test to run through the South African batting to secure an unassailable 2-0 series lead for England. Regularly found a lovely rhythm with a drive through the crease that allowed him to bowl a length that pulled the batsman forward, then left him groping for the ball as it seamed a little out or a little in at an uncomfortable pace. Glenn McGrath would have looked on approvingly – yes, he was that good.

Steven Finn (12 runs at 6, 11 wickets at 26) – Recovered from injury sufficiently to play the three live Tests and was at the batsman throughout, jarring hands with balls that would climb from a length. Looked back to his best, before run up worries and injuries seemed to knock his confidence and rein in his pace when he dropped back into England’s squad of seamers. Despite Mark Wood’s impressive summer in 2015, a fit Finn looks a notch above his rivals and is likely to be selected as the regular third seamer, if he can maintain this form.

James Anderson (5 runs at 5, 7 wickets at 43) – Frustrated again in South Africa which just doesn’t seem to suit his work – despite the new ball swinging conventionally and the old ball reversing, he’s paying 40 runs per wicket over 8 Tests. Of course, he’s cultivated his grumpy persona for a while now (and he’s only going to get grumpier) which is fine when he’s taking wickets, but can irritate fans and team-mates when he isn’t. With three early season Tests coming up against shivering Sri Lankans, he’ll expect to be mixing a few smiles with the scowls soon.

Chris Woakes (54 runs at 14, 2 wickets at 99) – The speedgun says he’s quick, the naked eye at the ground says he’s quick and his First Class record says he’s quick – but the Warwickshire man looks as threatening as a kitten in a youtube video shared 10m times. Has he a Test career ahead of him, particularly when Jimmy Anderson is no longer available? Or is he a James Faulkner / Irfan Pathan type bits-and-pieces deluxe player best suited to white ball cricket bowling in the middle overs and scoring handy 40s? My heart says the former; my brain says the latter.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | January 2, 2016

Cricket in 2016 – six modest proposals

Cricket needs more gadgets

Cricket needs more gadgets

While Death of a Gentleman and websites ponder The State Of Cricket In 2016 and prescribes medicines for its undoubted ills, 99.94 ponders more modest changes the game might adopt this year.

Pitches need more pace and more consistent bounce if the best batsmen and best bowlers are to thrive and attractive cricket be promoted. To do this, cricket needs a set of reliable metrics, because if you want to change things, you first must measure them. Golf’s stimpmeter offers a low tech solution to assessing the pace of greens and that gadget might be adapted for cricket. For international matches, software that crunches Hawkeye data to produce an easy to understand measure of pace and bounce is surely not beyond the ken of the game that gave us Duckworth-Lewis.

Life is speeding up, so Test cricket needs to follow suit. As in T20, batsmen should be on their way to the crease the moment a dismissal is confirmed – it’s absurd to see the clock tick round waiting for a batsman to rise from his seat and saunter to the middle. There should be no breaks for protective equipment to be ferried to the middle – if a player needs it, he should wear it at the start of the session and throughout it, with helmets placed behind the keeper as usual. Drinks should be brought on to the field after one hour at the batsman’s discretion only. Fielders should get drinks on the boundary (if they want them) with the keeper picking one up at the fall of a wicket; umpires should carry their own.

Tests should be played over four days. Each day should comprise three sessions of 37 overs to be bowled in two and a half hours maximum, with overs not bowled in one session being made up in the next and any overs not so delivered penalised with eight runs (or the session average scoring rate, whichever is the higher) added to extras. This would give a guaranteed maximum of a seven and a half hour, 111 overs day – which should encourage spinners – with 444 overs in a Test (down slightly on 450, as it now stands, but the full complement is very rarely bowled). The additional workload over a day should be viewed alongside the additional rest / practice time available. (First Class cricket can use the same kind of formula to reduce from four days to three).

Bowlers should be allowed to bowl 12 overs in ODI cricket and 5 overs in T20. In practice, captains would still want six or more options, but if a bowler is holding their own with the batsmen, they could keep them going, the cat and mouse battle entertaining the crowd and levelling the resources of the sides in a game already slanted strongly in favour of the team batting.

For ODIs and T20s, grounds should be zoned for the different needs of spectators. Stewarding should enforce family zones, non-alcohol zones, music and cheerleading zones, non-music zones (ie with no speakers pointing at the crowd, fancy dress zones etc. Cricket (even T20 cricket) is a longish day and spectators should have some say over the company they enjoy.

While everyone loves a catch in the crowd, it is clear that very few spectators have the hand-eye coordination to effect them, nor even to protect themselves from the ball. It is my belief that someone will soon be very seriously injured by a six and that this risk can be easily mitigated. Fans should be encouraged to keep their eyes on the ball while it is in play, with no distractions on the big screens during overs other than the score. Stewards should also sit half-facing the play and half-facing the crowd, so they have some chance of taking evasive action should a flat-batted hit come their way.      

What would you do?

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 25, 2015

Christmas on Tour – Hugh Fatt-Barstad

Wally calling a no ball at nets

No ball!

With Wally indisposed with what was officially described as “discomfort”, we needed another Hitler for the traditional Christmas Fancy Dress Party on The Colonel’s 1956-57 Tour. Fortunately, the Daily Mail’s man was able to step in, apparently always travelling with the costume in the suitcase for “special occasions”. I did my usual turn as one of the Black and White Minstrels (which amused the hotel staff whenever they were allowed into the ballroom) and Nurse won the prize (a box of cigars) for her Henry VIII. Since we were playing the Third Test against Jonny Boer starting on Boxing Day, we were under a strict 2am curfew, so we left the Press boys at the bar – well, under it mainly – and went to our beds (not strictly “ours” in some cases, but we were young, free and, for the purposes of the tour, single).

The Colonel had squared things with Johannes van der Sjambocksmasher, the Boks’ skipper, so I was able to get 40 winks after the team photograph was taken with our openers getting through to lunch on 43-0  after 45 eight ball overs. Most of the lads were still a bit queasy to take on much of the elephant steak and boerewors fare on offer and I was struggling with my usual G and T to be honest, but we got through the afternoon session only a couple down with everyone feeling much perkier when the biscuits came round at 4.00pm.

By about five, most of the Press boys had surfaced and I was briefing them on the afternoon’s play so they could meet their deadline, when a couple of wickets went down and I was forced to pad up with the score 120-5. Fortunately Wally, who had retired hurt with uncontrollable itching earlier in the day, got us through to the close, and I had plenty of time to dress for dinner.

The next day was designated one of the two rest days scheduled for each Test, so The Colonel had organised a shooting party for the Gentlemen up on the High Veldt, while the players “wrote” their newspaper columns and did a little painting and decorating around the ground to earn a little cash to pay off gambling debts incurred on the outward voyage.

DR Jardine was working for the Express and was a decent shot, having single-handedly reduced the tiger population of Cawnpore District to fewer than 10 on his 1936-37 tour, so he led the Press and we fell in behind – literally in Wally’s case as, still a little dizzy with the penicillin shots, he slid into a river and was only rescued from going over the falls by a couple of brave native bearers whom, once they had been revived, he had the good grace to reward with a shilling each.

We only bagged a pair of lions and three rhinos, which felt like meagre pickings for a full eight hours trek, but Jardine seemed pleased enough with that haul and only a couple of guides were hit by buckshot and they were expected to recover, so it went down as a successful day.

Wally got a century when the Test resumed and, though The Colonel enforced the follow-on (very much against the team’s wishes), the game fizzled out into a draw, which frankly spoiled our preparations for the New Year celebrations.      

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 21, 2015

Cricket 2015 – Three Favourite Moments

A marketing opportunity missed

A marketing opportunity missed

The grand old men of Pakistan cricket deliver a series win

Perhaps only boxing rivals cricket for the pleasure it affords at a distance. Obviously it’s best to be there to witness the action but, especially these days with all the technology that is brought to bear, watching cricket on a television or computer screen is an experience unrecognisable from my youth, when you would see the action from one fixed camera and catch the score from a five seconds shot of the scoreboard. That said, listening to cricket on the radio or following live text coverage creates its own rhythm to a day’s play, its own specific explanation of the action, its space for thoughts and reflection.

In July, I took a train and then a bus from London to Sheffield for a conference about something already long forgotten and en route I followed the text updates of Pakistan’s chase of 377 required to defeat Sri Lanka and win a Test series away from home – not many sides do that these days.  Both Shan Masood and Younis Khan had started the day in three figures, but Masood soon fell to Tharindu Kaushal which brought the captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, to the crease with 122 runs still to get. And everyone knows how Pakistan can collapse, right?

The two old men (37 and 41) got on with the job, the runs accumulating steadily. Maidens were permitted, but the spinners were never allowed to settle into the rhythm of dot balls that builds the pressure that brings the wickets. In my mind’s eye, I could see Younis and Misbah watching the ball from the hand, judging length early, going forward or back as a result, then hitting the bad ball for runs and occasionally punching the good one into a gap just to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Targeting the inexperienced Kaushal, they exacted a high price for his dismissal of Masood.

I had to stop following the score updates for a while, and when I logged on again, there was the result. Pakistan win the Test by seven wickets, Misbah hitting its last ball for six to finish on 59 with Younis at the other end, 171 not out having batted over seven hours. I sat back and wondered at the extent of his achievement.

Records had tumbled, but I was more interested in placing Younis’s innings in a subjective historical context. He had come to the crease at 13-2 and taken the score to 382-4; he had nursed Masood to a century in only his fifth Test in a huge fourth innings chase away from home; and he had steadied the ship and allowed his captain ease into his innings (at one point Misbah blocked 22 dot balls) without anxiety bubbling up. It was clearly the innings of a master batsman bringing all he had learned over a long career to the crease and executing a game plan perfectly (as they say these days). But where did it fit in cricket’s history? The best innings of the year? Of the decade? Of the century?

As Chairman Mao is purported to have remarked about assessing the impact of the French Revolution, perhaps it is too early to say, but, on seeing that result, I mused again on how cricket, at thousands of miles distance and with barely a few words refreshing on a tiny phone screen, could fill my mind with such thoughts and wonder.        

Shane Watson LBW at Cardiff

England had, of course, been annihilated by a Mitchell Johnson inspired Australia as The Ashes, won somewhat unconvincingly in 2013, had been wrenched back with menaces Down Under a few months later. Back on England’s own patch, things would be different, wouldn’t they? The Aussies hadn’t won here since 2001 after all, and just because they had lifted the World Cup a few weeks earlier… well, that was ODI cricket and this was Test cricket, so that didn’t count, did it?

For those of us who lived through the long years between Stephen Waugh’s 1989 runfest and “Jones… Bowden” in 2005, shaking off the aura that surrounds those Baggy Greens, each, as a friend once remarked, perched atop “six foot of bastard”, wasn’t easy. Sure our boys looked good – well, some did – and there was no McGrath and Warne to frighten your wife and servants, but, you know, Australia!!!

The First Test would be crucial – isn’t it always – but more crucial this time because, depending on how it went, we would be talking about 1989 or 2009; about the return of the strutting supermen with the narrowed eyes or another bunch of flaky fakers who would bully anyone at home, but faded away overseas.     

Joe Root had done his job with a century in the first innings and he had found good support from a hesitant Gary Ballance, a belligerent Ben Stokes and a silky Moeen Ali. The Aussies had replied with an under par score with only Chris Rogers converting a start, as England picked up wickets when they needed them. The hosts’ second dig had relied on a decent stand between Root and Ian Bell with some late order biffing from Mark Wood to get the target above 400 with two full days left.

A sunny Saturday morning dawned and England fans considered the pitch, the innings scores which had descended from 400-odd to 300-odd to 200-odd and contemplated the equation: they needed 412 runs and we needed 10 wickets. And then hope began to buckle a little in the face of doubt. “What if Warner gets going?” “Rogers won’t want to fall five short of a ton this time round.” “Clarke must be thinking about making a statement with a big one and Smith is the best batsman in the world”. “And Haddin, bloody Haddin.” Soon what looked like a routine wrapping up of a perfectly constructed Test Match win yielded to worry. “We’ll have to bowl well and take our catches” was the preferred euphemism to express our jittery nervousness.

The new ball had taken just the one wicket and, as lunch approached, Australia were 97-1, with the session very much theirs, David Warner and Steve Smith comfortable. Then Moeen slid one into Warner’s pads and England had separated Australia’s most dangerous batsmen – lunch suddenly tasted a whole lot better.

Wickets fell regularly in the afternoon, but it was the demise of Shane Watson that proved to us that this was 2009 revisited and not 1989. One of the “Dad’s Army”, he had dug in for well over an hour for his 19 runs sensing (as it proved, correctly) that his Test career was on the line. Then Wood skidded one into that giant front pad and… up went the finger. And then, comedy merging with tragedy, a forlorn Watson reluctantly called for the review, only, inevitably, to be given out again.

It was too good to be true for England fans, who were laughing at the sheer predictability of it all (here is my reaction – warning: includes naughty word). There was still a long way to go before we could be assured of another series like 2009 or 2013, but we all knew that nobody laughed at the 1989 Australians. Smiles of relief all round.    

Jos Buttler rediscovers his mojo

Amidst The Ashes euphoria, Jos Buttler’s form had quietly crumbled and his Test place had been surrendered to Jonny Bairstow, the Yorkie taking the gloves in the UAE to open a place in the batting order. Buttler’s feet were stuck in the crease, his hands groped for the ball and his outrageous talent was lost in the kind of crisis of confidence that leaves a batsman unsure if he will ever middle one again – inevitably, his hitherto improving and tidy keeping was beginning to suffer too. Those, like me, who believed in him, pointed to plenty of other batsmen who shone brightly early in their international careers and then faded, only to return to the colours stronger for the experience – look at Joe Root and Steven Smith after all!

But Jonny B was ahead of Jos on that trajectory – he was back in the side having scored a mountain of runs in the county game – and, if he was now the preferred gloveman, where did that leave Jos? Something needed to be done if the prospect of England’s most naturally gifted batsman since David Gower slipping out of England colours was to be averted.

There had been a hint of returning form in the Third ODI vs Pakistan, as Buttler had steered England to an easy win in the company of James Taylor, but 49 not out isn’t really enough to quell the doubters.

In the Fourth ODI, England sought quick runs in the last 15 overs after Jason Roy’s century had set them up for the kind of score that would have been excellent in 2005, but in the new age of white ball cricket was merely adequate. Buttler was promoted to Number Four with a brief to turn a 300 total into a 330 total. He could not have asked for a job more suited to his skills and his needs – and, boy, did he deliver!

But not immediately. Apart from a loosening of the shoulders to lift Shoaib Malik over cow corner, he was 20 balls into his innings before his wagon wheel burst into life like a Catherine Wheel, the sixes and fours flailed all round the ground. As is often the case with those whose talent appears unrestrained by conventional limits, Buttler looked like he could barely believe it himself, an initially wry smile broadening to a big grin as the scoreboard whirred round and hopes of 330 turned into expectations of 340 and ultimately a total of 355, Buttler’s share 116, the last 99 of which coming from 33 balls.

It was not one of the sixes that projected the white ball high into the Dubai sky that stood out as the moment that I knew Buttler was back, it was one of those shots that perhaps only he and AB de Villiers can play. He had premeditated the ramp shot over his head down to the long leg boundary, but Mohammad Irfan (7ft tall and sharp enough, lest we forget) had read his intention and fired it wide of off stump. Buttler simply, but astonishingly, reversed his shot’s destination from onside to offside and, through a combination of eye and wrist work, ramped the ball over Short Third Man, up inside the circle, and away to boundary for four.

It was a shot born of imagination, skill and confidence given to few in the game’s history and it showed us that this was a talent that wasn’t done yet. Buttler will be back. 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 20, 2015

Ian Bell – A Kind Of Appreciation

Now available for 1D

Now available for 1D

If they still held Christmas Day fancy dress parties for the MCC’s touring cricketers, for the first time in eleven years, Ian Bell would not be digging out his Sherminator outfit and wondering how long Shane Warne’s jibe would follow him around. Metaphorically speaking, he’s now shaking his head, his face reddening with anger under his strawberry blonde hair after dismissal not from the crease this time, but from Team England. A recall seems almost as unlikely as it did after his dozy run out at Trent Bridge in 2011, so unless MS Dhoni replaces James Whitaker as England’s Chairman of Selectors, Bell will bat as a Bear from now on.

So where does he sit amongst his contemporaries? I’ve always found that question a tricky one to answer – aside from 2013, when his feats made “Bell’s Ashes” a perfectly reasonable moniker for that strange series. So I’ve gone to the numbers and they reveal some interesting comparisons – or non-comparisons.

Over the span of Bell’s career, only four men scored more runs in Test cricket than his 7,727. That number alone represents a remarkable feat, a testament to his fitness and a rebuttal to those who claim he was flaky more often than fluent – he irrefutably churned out runs alongside those picture-book cover drives and late cuts.

Those who scored more then Bell comprise one all-time great batsman (Kumar Sangakkara), one on the way to all-time greatness (Alastair Cook) and two who might be a mere notch below that exalted plane (Michael Clarke and Kevin Pietersen). But if you had a spare case of Malbec and invited a few friends round to pick the best Test XI of the first 15 years of this century, those four names would crop up before the first glass was drained (as would the next four on the list, AB de Villiers, Younis Khan, Jacques Kallis and Ricky Ponting). What about Belly? Well, one might need something more potent and less legal than a very decent red before his cause would be argued.

Nevertheless, aggregate runs are but one metric to assess a batsman’s career (and, for what it’s worth, the most important in my book) – but what about his average? Here we find the kind of company one might expect Bell to be keeping in that wine-fueled discussion.

His handy, but hardly heroic 42.69, leaves him well short of the class of the field (the wide bats of Sanga, Younis, Shiv Chanderpaul and Kallis all average above 56), with Bell firmly positioned in mid-table – 39th of those with 2000 Test runs. He’s in and around likes of Jonathan Trott (44.08) and Paul Collingwood (41.28) – batsmen who were capable of excellent innings, an occasional outstanding series, but whose gifts lie in other aspects of batting (concentration and bloody-mindedness in their cases) than in the hard currency of runs.

So where can we find Bell’s peer buried, maybe obscured, somewhere in cricket’s oceanic volume of statistics?  Well I’m going for a man who did not score anywhere near Bell’s thousands of Test runs (he didn’t play enough matches, though he might have done for any other side in history), but whose average is just 2.33 runs above the Warwickshire man’s. He also scored his runs in great style, but could find ways of getting out that exasperated fans (and, in his case, selectors). And, if it’s not too pseudish a comment to make, as with Bell on a good day, when he left the crease it felt like a fresco painter’s artistry had gone to be replaced by a plasterer’s bish-bash-bosh.

Ian Bell was England’s Damien Martyn.

 

 

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 6, 2015

Pakistan vs England Test Series – Pakistan Report Card

But everyone loves him now!

But everyone loves him now!

Mohammad Hafeez (380 runs at 63) – Got the series off to a fine start for his team with 98 in Abu Dhabi and ensured a good finish too with a second innings 151 in Shajah that ensured that England’s chance of drawing the series was remote. Would have fancied a bowl if not banned, but even that worked in Pakistan’s favour by allowing a route back into the Test team for Shoaib Malik who played one monumental innings and bowled with great wit and craft throughout. For such an experienced player, “The Professor” was always likely to be involved in a run out, the spirit of Inzy not entirely departed from the team with the star on their caps

Shan Masood (58 runs at 15) – Jimmy Anderson sorted him out, a rare failure in Pakistan’s top six.

Azhar Ali (34 runs at 17, 0 wicket for 7 runs) – Brought back in the unfamiliar role of opener to face England’s most effective new ball pairing in history, somewhat undercooked – and it showed. Likely to exact some revenge next summer in England.

Shoaib Malik (292 runs at 49, 11 wickets at 21) – Just batted and batted and batted in Abu Dhabi as he ended a five year exile from the Test XI by carrying forward his white ball form to take his team from 5-1 to 521-7 to put England under pressure that never really abated. If he didn’t get many runs later on, he bowled superbly taking wickets and choking off runs. He surprised everyone by announcing that he has played his last Test, wishing to concentrate on the World Cup 2019 (where he might, of course, be skipper).

Younis Khan (302 runs at 50) – He did not play one of those huge innings that pepper his illustrious career, but did get his customary century and chipped in with handy knocks in all three Tests. Formed a double act with his captain, the two grand old men of Pakistani cricket knowing what to do and when to do it. In at 4, he never left the crease with fewer than 100 posted which, if it doesn’t guarantee a victory, makes it hard for the opposition to forge a win.

Misbah-ul-Haq (352 runs at 59) – As captain was rarely perturbed and never lost his control of the match even when England had a sniff in the gathering gloom on Day Five in Abu Dhabi. That same cold blood allowed him to stick calmly to a policy of blocking the seamers and bamming the spinners, helping him to one of the highest sixes per Test ratios in history – something few would have predicted five years ago. Winning the toss three times was a bonus too. Given what has happened to Pakistan cricket over the last seven years or so, his steering of his country to second place in the ICC rankings is little short of miraculous. And he’s older than Mohammad Yousuf!

Asad Shafiq (326 runs at 59, 0 wicket for 19 runs) – Compact and classy, he seldom catches the eye, but he keeps churning out the runs from Number 6, a more important slot in this team, with its two 10s and two 11s as a tail, than in other Test batting line-ups. Just doesn’t seem to miss out very often with the bat – via the simple expedient of not missing many balls with the bat.

Sarfraz Ahmed (139 runs at 28, 9 catches and 4 stumpings) – Not at his explosive best with bat in hand, his uncharacteristically subdued 27 in the second innings at Abu Dhabi occupied 49 minutes, time that proved vital when the four men below him faced 14 balls between them and England fell just 25 runs (or probably ten minutes) short of going 1-0 up. Looks a manufactured keeper behind the wickets, but serviceable by today’s standards.

Wahab Riaz (30 runs at 8, 8 wickets at 43) – Is that all he did? The numbers don’t tell the full story as his hostility, magnificently maintained, was the catalyst that turned the series Pakistan’s way after England were blown away, losing 7-36 on that horrid third morning in Dubai. The strong lefty loomed as large as Mitchell Johnson in that long spell and, if he didn’t reach those heights again, he had Yasir Shah to do the job for the bowling unit.

Yasir Shah (27 runs at 9, 15 wickets at 22) – A matchwinner. The squat leg-spinner drives through the crease with great energy imparting sufficient revs on the ball to get the in drift before it grips and jumps away from the right-hander’s bat. He possesses a decent googly too and, if not quite in the Shane Warne class, he’s as good as Stuart MacGill with the potential to fill the considerable boots of Abdul Qadir in Pakistan cricket. Like that old magician, he wears his heart on his sleeve – watch the bars empty when he has a ball in his hand come July and August in England.

Zulfiqur Babar (10 runs at 3, 9 wickets at 45)- Another who bowled batter than his figures suggest, looping the ball in from wide round the wicket before turning it for bowled and LBW chances. At 36, he’s yet another player who had to wait his turn behind more celebrated names, but he has the talent and the temperament for Test cricket and might play five years yet.

Rahat Ali (4 runs at 2, 4 wickets at 39) – Bustled in and was never less than a handful with his left-armers that slid mainly away from the bat with the occasional one twisting back in. Not as good as Trent Boult, but a competent performer, who knocked over Joe Root and James Taylor just when England were sensing a big first innings lead in Sharjah.

Imran Khan (o runs at 0, 6 at 25) – Plenty of smarts from the bowler with the famous name, as he wobbled the ball a bit this way and a bit that way to pick up wickets regularly. He might enjoy himself in English conditions in 2016

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