Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 17, 2018

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 17 April 2018

Ball One – Thorny problems at Old Trafford

With unrest amongst Lancashire fans finding a voice in the Lancashire Action Group (two of whose leaders have been told that they are no longer welcome at Old Trafford), the Red Rose could have done with an early bloom at home this season – instead, it was trampled underfoot by newly promoted Nottinghamshire. While the visitors found five batsmen to chip in with scores between 24 and 44, Lancashire lost eight second innings wickets in an hour on the fourth morning to be all out for 73 having been 49-0 late on day three. Credit to the Nottinghamshire bowlers, ex-England men Jake Ball and Harry Gurney, who shared those wickets and ex-Lancashire keeper, Tom Moores, who held six catches and whose stand of 82 with Riki Wessels was the best of the match. Not a bad way to start the job of strapping on Chris Read’s old pads.

Ball Two – What do you think you’re doing sunshine?

Things aren’t much better across the Pennines, when one of two Championship matches at Headingley this side of the August Bank Holiday was not so much rained off and soaked off, as the ground wouldn’t drain effectively without some help from the sun, still shying away from 2018 like Theresa May recoils from a Parliamentary vote. But The Broad Acres are not short of cricket grounds and one assumes that the risk of waterlogging was known a few days in advance, so could not the match have been moved? All a bit inconvenient, administratively complicated and inviting scorn if teams were bowled out for (say) 73 or so as a result, but can’t we just do everything to get cricket on when it’s scheduled to be played? Oft-times it seems, from the perspective of us poor saps with the jumpers, coats and thermos flasks, that actually playing cricket can get in the way of all the other stuff that everyone involved in the game needs to be doing.

Ball Three – Immigrants – they get the job done

There’s a certain kind of South African all-rounder who hits the deck hard with ball in hand and hits the ball hard with bat in hand. It’s as if there’s a factory with a blueprint of a “Mike Procter” up on a wall in a room of engineers trying out prototypes, with the Jacques Kallis model the most successful to date. Hampshire have a couple of their own mini-Procters and they did what so many before them have done in contributing to a win over Worcestershire. In Hampshire’s first dig, Gareth Berg numbereighted his way to 75*, progressing the score from 193-6 to 290 all out. He only got 10 second time round, but Kyle Abbott replaced him in the middle and made 51, at the crease while the lead advanced from 216 to 323. They also took half the visitors’ wickets while going at less than three runs per over. The South African pro is often seen as a block to England qualified talent, but shouldn’t our lads learn from them? They do tend to get into a game no matter what the circumstances – a useful attribute in any form of cricket.

Ball Four – Is Steven Smith’s template the right one for batsman in April or should it be scratched?

Gloucestershire won a low-scoring match at Canterbury which featured an extraordinary 17 LBW decisions amongst the 35 wickets that fell. Is this an outlier or something we might witness more of in 2018’s Championship? International cricket has seen more and more batsmen adopting Steven Smith’s covering of the stumps with his pads, with some batsmen taking guard on the off peg – or even outside it. Of course, not every batsman enjoys the dead fish eye with which the ex-Australian captain is blessed, but, even so, the County Championship uses a Duke ball, in seaming conditions and does not offer the opportunity to review umpires’ decisions. A couple of generations ago, the batting fad was to follow Graham Gooch’s baseball stance, bat raised as bowler ran in. Trigger movements were all the rage in the first decade of the 21st century – but nowadays, the still head and level eyes is more valued. Of course, the “Goosch stance” can still be seen (eg Jonny Bairstow) and the forward press trigger movement has its adherents today, but neither works for everyone. Getting your pads in front of the stumps and working the ball to leg probably doesn’t work for everyone either.

Ball Five – Middlesex lord it over Northamptonshire with “veteran”, James Harris, to the fore

You won’t win many Championship matches by 160 runs when your side’s top score is 46, but that’s what Middlesex did at Lord’s (at Lord’s!), Northamptonshire the punchbags. The batsman in question is James Harris, embarking on his 12th season of first class cricket, yet still only 27! Of course, his day job is bowling – and few days suit his style more than those of mid-April, as his match figures of 15.2 – 6 – 48 – 9 prove. He’s had an up and down career as a Chris Woakes lite bowling all-rounder, but he’s exactly the kind of cricketer who can cut a swathe through Division Two – especially if the Welshman continues alongside Toby Roland-Jones, Tim Murtagh and Tom Helm, the seam quartet fighting for the ball while eyeing the green, green grass of home. If Harris plays as long as Darren Stevens, he’ll still be running in come 2032.

Ready to propel some missiles?

Ball Six – England watch

Warwickshire’s Olly Stone is the fastest English bowler right now (probably the fastest bowler in England). He has a patchy fitness record, but so too has his fellow 24 year-old, Patrick Cummins, and things have gone okay for him recently, haven’t they? Though innings figures of 22.5 – 4 – 80 – 8 are enough to make anyone sit up and take notice, there’s a case for saying that they don’t really matter. 90mph men are so rare (and, for England at least, seem – viz Steven Finn, Mark Wood, even Stuart Broad – to become 85mph men all too soon) that there’s a case for getting Stone into the team for the two Tests against Pakistan and seeing what damage he can do. Had he been born in Nawabshah and not Norwich, he’d be measuring out his run now.

 

 

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Posted by: tootingtrumpet | April 9, 2018

The Opening Over of the Season in County Cricket

You’re still going to play county cricket aren’t you Jofra?

Ball One – Wrap up well, in every sense

Apart from 1947, perhaps every Spring has brought forth the doomsayers reading the demise of the game in the auguries. But the pigeons will still assemble on The Oval’s square (now more a landing strip, stretching from one postcode to another) and the gulls will be on the lookout for chips to steal come Scarborough time, so all is well with the world – right? With yet more Twenty20 looming in 2020, the game needs visionaries at its helm, not beancounters talking about properties, reach and platforms. The fan (remember him/her?) who turns up to watch cricket in April is a hardy soul, but the carapace of wool and Goretex may need supplementing by protection for the emotions too, as the Lyle Lanley types present shiny new updates of something we quite liked just the way it was.

Ball Two – Sun’s out, guns out – but are these great athletes also great technicians?

Back in time so far that England were ahead in the Ashes (well, 127-1 in the First Test with county pros, Mark Stoneman and James Vince taming the Aussie quicks), I had to curtail an interesting chat with the very personable Arun Harinath of Surrey. He had to get home for some sleep, because he was in full-time training for the 2018 season. In November! But such is the life of the year-round contracted 21st century county cricketer. We see the benefit of all that work in the svelte athletes who stalk the covers and ride the boundaries (I doubt Jack Simmons ever passed a beep test) and in the invention and imagination of white ball batting. But is there any evidence that it makes fast bowlers quicker or more injury-resistant? Does it lend spinners greater control over their variations? Can it help pacers find reverse swing without the use of Warnerian tactics? I’ve always felt that, in this country and in most sports, training is prioritised over practising – and that, from the outside looking in, appears still to be the case today.

Ball Three – Forecasting winners and losers is impossible, but we might be set for an historic summer

Essex will start the season confident of defending The Pennant, while Middlesex look for a swift return to the top flight. How strange that sentence reads, even now, but it did all happen in 2017, with Essex steamrollering their way to the Division One title, wresting it from Middlesex, who dropped to Division Two. It’s an unpredictable competition, the County Championship; maybe, with two of eight Division One clubs to be relegated, even a random competition. So it’s as likely that Worcestershire will “do an Essex” while Essex “do a Middlesex” as any other combination of successes and failures you might venture. But you would have to have a heart of stone not to hope that this little list gets an extra entry this year: One Day Cup – 1979, 1983, 2001; National League – 1979; Benson & Hedges Cup – 1981, 1982; Twenty20 Cup – 2005. Packet of Murray Mints to whoever spots the county.

Ball Four – A brief memo to the England selectors (for when they complete their induction and have their email accounts set up)

It’s a generation ago that Duncan Fletcher pulled something of an ugly county cricket duckling from Yorkshire and made him a Test Match swan (Michael Vaughan), but the selectors (whoever they might be), even in these stats-driven, sabermetricsy days, seem to distrust the hard currencies of runs and wickets in favour of, well, ephemeral JamesVinceness or inchoate MasonCraneness. Surrey supporters might be keen for that practice to continue, as Rory Burns will look to score his 1000+ runs of last season and some of Kumar Sangakara’s too (if Virat Kohli isn’t gorging himself at the other end). Lancashire fans will hope that Alex Davies continues to fly under the radar, good judges believing his excellence on either side of the stumps a better bet in red ball cricket than his batsman-wicketkeeper county colleague. And the Chelmsfort faithful might wonder why England, in the absence of genuine pace, continue to ignore the most consistent medium-fast man on the circuit, Jamie Porter. Do a handful of Lions matches really count for more than seasons of sustained achievement in the county game?

Ball Five – Return of the Prodigal Sons

White ball cricket will see the international superstars of the T20 circuit playing on our shores! Players like Alex Hales, Adil Rashid, Eoin Morgan, Tymal Mills, Reece Topley and Jos Buttler will appear fresh from foreign climes to biff it and bowl it. And there’ll be overseas pros too! And music! And beer – lots and lots of beer! Like a jukebox musical, the hits just keep on coming and it’s quite fun while it’s happening, but it’s so hard to recall much about even the good ones. Well, it is for the generation who grew up with Gillette Cup Finals filling a whole Saturday on one of only three television channels. Tempus Fugit and all that…

Ball Six – Media matters

Cricket needs all the media attention it can get, so quite why the ECB has picked a fight with ESPNCricinfo.com is beyond my ken. What I do know is that few writers (or fans) love the county game more than George Dobell and fewer still survey it with his acuity. Elsewhere, two of the best young(ish) writers to appear on this website have moved onwards and upwards recently, with Vish Ehantharajah joining Cricbuzz.com and Will McPherson assuming the role of cricket and rugby correspondent for the Evening Standard. Adam Collins and Geoff Lemon have produced some sparkling podcasts and Guerilla Cricket (full disclosure, I’m a caller there) and White Line Wireless continue to broadcast their ball-by-ball alternative commentaries online. That said, the ECB should do all it can to promote a multiplicity of new and different voices for the good of the game. The rights holders have little to fear from these shoestring operations and much to gain in the long run if the game reaches new, committed audiences, as a result. Press boxes need to become less white, less middle class, less male and less old too – perhaps links with colleges or universities would help that as would a more liberal approach to accreditation for county matches. It’s not as if it’s crowded in there.

Final Overs of the Week in County Cricket will be posted throughout the season.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | January 9, 2018

Ashes 2017-18: England Report Card

Hopefully, its not hemlock

Alastair Cook (376 runs at 47; 3 catches) – Just as the whispers were getting louder, he produced the monument that proved the doubters wrong, his timing, so awry early in the season, clicking into place as head, bat and feet worked together for 10 and a half hours as he carried his bat for 244 in the Melbourne bore draw. But the cruel truth is that England will not win longer Test series if Cook delivers only one score above 50, no matter how high that score is. He cannot possibly work any harder at his game – so maybe he should do less and relax into his play, waiting for the ball rather than thrusting towards it, playing across the front pad and leaving it outside off stump with the kind of positive intent that may avoid the edge from a bat held at 45 degrees.

Grade B-

Mark Stoneman (232 runs at 26) – Rocky lived up to his nickname with some brave performances against hostile bowlers with runs behind them. Started well at Brisbane (where he spent more time at the crease than any other opener), but the barrage of short balls chipped away at his technique and possibly also his morale and he was a spent force by Sydney.

Grade C

James Vince (242 runs at 27; 3 catches) – Bats like a man who knows everything about Mark Waugh except the fact that he has a brother who could bat a bit too. A player of great shots rather than a player of great innings, the Australian bowlers quickly worked out after his splendid 83 in the very first innings of the series, that, for the price of a couple of drives through the covers, you could buy England’s Number Three wicket cheaply. Looks like a man more comfortable playing white ball cricket without a slips cordon to worry about – and that might be his future

Grade C-

Joe Root (378 runs at 47; 2 wickets at 39; 2 catches) – The cheeky chappie wore an incongruously anguished look, eventually going so far into the red (mentally and physically) that his body rebelled in Sydney and illness overcame him. It would be contrary not to believe that captaincy concerns and duties did not affect his batting – perhaps he feels like he’s on 170 when he’s on 70 and that’s why he failed to convert any of his five fifties into hundreds. Denied his vice-captain and best player through no fault of his own, he was outgunned and outplanned, but to blame him for that would be like blaming the polar bear for the iceberg melting – his failure is just what we can see; the failures in the structure that supports him are the real reasons for Root’s disappointment.

Grade B-

Dawid Malan (383 runs at 43; 0 wickets; 4 catches) – Unlike pretty much all of his team-mates, the tall Middlesex man looked at home in the series, his relative inexperience offset by an unfussy technique allied to a slow heart-rate temperament and a willingness to learn from his mistakes. Crucially, unlike many asked to step up to the Test arena, he played with the knowledge that the match lasts five days and that all the momentum in the world means nothing if you’re sitting in the pavilion or conceding a first innings deficit yet again. Had some trouble with the short ball – very few in the history of the game have not – but stood tall (literally and metaphorically) and scored more runs and faced more balls (by a margin of 126) than any of his team-mates. Earned the right to be described as the one success of the tour. Bowled with the same unshowy concentration he displayed with the bat and could have been used more often.

Grade B+

Jonny Bairstow (306 runs at 34; 10 catches, 1 stumping) – The figures do not tell the whole truth, as he was left too often with a tail that would shame a Manx cat. After the infamous “greeting” to Cameron Bancroft, one of English cricket’s good (but possibly gauche) guys seemed slightly anxious with the bat, the bottom hand taking over a little too often, as it did early in his now 50 Test career. Probably his best series ever with the gloves, especially taking the ball down the legside – helped by the fact that the Australian batsmen didn’t let many of the spinners’ deliveries through!

Grade B-

Moeen Ali (179 runs at 20; 5 wickets at 115; 4 catches) – At his best in the disarmingly honest interviews we have come to expect because on the field, his form was disastrous. It is simply disingenuous (and not a little patronising) to still speak of him as a part-time off-spinner when he has 133 wickets in 49 Tests having bowled nearly 1500 overs – so he should be judged by the highest standards. The Australians, as he surely knew they would, targeted him with swift footwork and aggressive intent, making length in effect the batsman’s decision rather Moeen’s. But, possibly incapacitated by niggling injuries, he revved the ball far less than his opposite number, meaning that drift, spin and bounce were seldom in evidence. He has famously batted in every slot for England from 1 to 9: in this series, had Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Toby Roland-Jones been available for Sydney, he might have found himself at 10.

Grade D-

Chris Woakes (114 runs at 16; 10 wickets at 50) – Came alive with pink ball in hand for the second innings of the Adelaide day/nighter (a Test that looks like an anomaly in every sense) but was rendered toothless by flat pitches, the Kookaburra ball and a lack of his very best rhythm for which he is still searching after his injury blighted 2017. Did not deliver the runs expected, but often looked as well equipped as any England batsman at the crease, though there’s an element of the backhanded compliment in that phrase.

Grade C

Craig Overton (62 runs at 21; 6 wickets at 38; 1 catch) – Brought some much needed chutzpah to the England team with bat and ball, a bit of brawn from a man with a frame that wouldn’t look out of place amongst the lock forwards propelling the ball for Australia. At 23, one for the future, but he needs to play red ball cricket on hard tracks and neither county cricket nor half-arsed warm-up matches are likely to offer much chance of that.

Grade B-

Tom Curran (66 runs at 33; 2 wickets at 100) – Wholehearted, a real trier and, I’m sure, a great man in the dressing room. Unfortunately, not so great in the middle, where he looks what he is – a bowler likely to take plenty of wickets in Division Two of the County Championship. Might take his Surrey team-mate, Jade Dernbach’s, old role for England as the purveyor of liquorice allsorts in white ball cricket, with added biffs with the bat, but it’s hard to see him playing many more Tests.

Grade C-

Stuart Broad (136 runs at 16; 11 wickets at 48; 2 catches) – England’s veteran seamer did not bowl as badly as his figures suggest, but couldn’t locate a streak and too often was defended easily from a length and then picked off when too full or straying on to the legs. Kept going and did not display the disdain he would sometimes show towards team-mates in earlier days, but for a man with 399 Test wickets, he looked painfully short on threatening deliveries, never mind spells. Batting now comprises comedy thrashings, albeit with the same razor sharp eye that saw good judges once suggesting a future at Number 7, something that now looks like a cruel joke.

Grade C

Jake Ball (15 runs at 8; 1 wicket at 115) – It’s often said that the five mph between 82 and 87 makes a huge difference at Test level – and Jake Ball’s one Test rather proves that point.

Grade D

Mason Crane (6 runs at 3; 1 wicket at 193) – Promise shown through genuine turn and a fine attitude under fire, but asking a man to learn the art of bowling leg-breaks in overseas Ashes Tests is cruel and unusual punishment. If anyone can look at English county cricket’s structure and divine how a spinner can develop the skills required for Test cricket, they’re a better man than I. (Of course, picking those spinners who have succeeded against the odds in the domestic game might help).

Grade D

James Anderson (8 runs at 3; 17 wickets at 28; 2 catches) – Where would England have been had he chinned Ben Duckett after the beer throwing incident and found himself in the doghouse with Ben Stokes? Asked to shoulder a ridiculous volume of overs, he kept running in, kept asking questions with line and length delivered with just enough movement in the air or off the seam to keep them honest and, crucially, maintained the respect of opponents who were happy to see him off and score at the other end. His figures suggest that this was a middling series for him in a long career, but it was one of his very best technically, mentally and physically.

Grade A- 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | January 9, 2018

Ashes 2017-18: Australia Report Card

We won! We won! We won!

David Warner (441 runs at 63; 1 catch) – The Reverend is no longer the bully with the biggest bat and the ballsiest bullshit (not all the time anyway), but has settled into a second fiddle role behind his captain as the perfect team man. Shepherded his debutant partner at Brisbane turning what might have been a tricky pursuit of 170 into a stroll and then cashed in against a defeated, but not wholly deflated, team at Melbourne, where he played the match situation astutely.

Grade B

Cameron Bancroft (179 runs at 26; 5 catches) – After a promising start, looked vulnerable outside off stump and through the gate as the series progressed. He might keep his place in the immediate future, but a return to form from the classy Matt Renshaw might see his restoration to the opening slot, especially if Bancroft fails to deal with the considerable threat of Rabada, Philander and Morkel looming on the horizon.

Grade C

Usman Khawaja (333 runs at 48; 3 catches) – After an uncertain four Tests characterised by a English like diffidence with bat in hand and uncertainty against spin, he answered those wondering about his role with an eight hour 171 that carried his team from 1-1 to 375-4 at Sydney, anchoring the innings while the strokemakers exploited the platform. Keshav Maharaj might fancy his chances against him – and he’ll have plenty, as Khawaja looks (at long last) to be in for the long haul.

Grade B-

Steven Smith (687 runs at 137; 0 wickets; 10 catches) – The very best in sport, as in all walks of life, bend history to their will and when Steven Smith looked at the scoreboard in Brisbane and saw “England 1st Innings 302. Australia 76-4” he knew what he had to do. His 141 not out in over eight hours was an innings of the very highest class, a series-defining knock, one he will look back on with great pride, up there with 281 and 153 as just numbers – it really was that good. The subsequent weight of runs brought Bradman comparisons and analyses of his esoteric technique (including mine) but perhaps the best indicator of his place in the game right now is to say that any evaluation of the state of any match in which he plays begins with the question of whether he is out or not – because unless the bowlers have dismissed him, Australia are in with a shout, no matter how far behind they are.

Grade A+

Shaun Marsh (445 runs at 74; 2 catches) – The surprise selection, the one that brought forth scorn and some whispers of nepotism – but, boy oh boy, did it pay off. After supporting his skipper with a gritty half century at the Gabba, he replaced him at the crease in Adelaide with his side rocking at 161-4, England’s bowlers enjoying the pink ball. Six hours of batting later, he was called in by his captain’s declaration with 126 to his name in a match in which the next highest score was Joe Root’s 67. An emotional ton in the company of his brother in the fifth Test was merely the icing on the cake, after the senior Marsh had run some very hard yards indeed when the series was, bizarre as it feels to write this, in the balance.

Grade A+

Peter Handscomb (62 runs at 21; 5 catches) – In style rather like England’s forgotten tourist Gary Ballance with his deep-in-the-crease batting technique, and, also rather like Gary Ballance, a stellar start to a Test career has stalled and there’ll be some work to be done to get back in, especially now the two Marshes have built up plenty of credit. The numbers don’t look good, but, if he’s honest with himself, he was lucky to get those.

Grade D

Mitchell Marsh (320 runs at 107; 0 wickets; 1 catch) – To his immense credit, the younger Marsh took his medicine out of the Test team, worked on his technique and mental approach and has returned a new batsman. England’s lead was a handy 155 when he joined his captain at Perth, no doubt nervous with thoughts of failure impacting on the match and his own career, but he played himself in, had a bit of luck and then opened his considerable shoulders to whack the bowling all round the WACA, taking the game away from England the way Andrew Flintoff would at his very best. Chipped in with another ton at Sydney and can look to score a few more with a combination of solid defence, game-intelligence and enormous power. Looked like a fourth seamer with the ball – but if you can bat like that, it’s all you need.

Grade A

Tim Paine (192 runs at 48; 25 catches, 1 stumping) – Another punt from the selectors that paid off handsomely with neat, if not quite flawless performances with the gloves and some handy innings, particularly at Adelaide where he took the pressure off Shaun Marsh with a counter-attacking 57. Perhaps the answer to the Australian wicketkeeping conundrum is the man injured and then ignored for so long.

Grade B+

Mitchell Starc (44 runs at 9; 22 wickets at 24; 3 catches) – Hostile throughout and brave, willing to risk the drive in search of swing that wasn’t often there, but never for the want of trying. His left-arm angles from both over and round the wicket presented a range of problems that no Englishman solved and, like his fellow pacers, kept running in full bore despite the aches and pains.

Grade A

Patrick Cummins (146 runs at 42; 23 wickets at 25, 1 catch) – Hard though it is to believe, these five Tests were his first in his home country six long years on from his pyrotechnic teenage bow in South Africa. That Cummins kept faith in his ability through the injuries and ignored the temptation to cash in with a career as a T20 specialist, reflects well on an impressive man. Like his fellow musketeers, he bent his back from first to last, perhaps overdoing the bouncer occasionally, but if the umpires don’t intervene and it’s working, why should he ease back? He also made useful runs, employing a solid technique and smart shot selection to rub salt in the wounds.

Grade A +

Josh Hazlewood (10 runs at 5; 21 wickets at 26, 1 catch) – The “third” seamer actually opened the bowling and was as fast as anyone, a Ryan Harris like figure gaining in bounce what he lacked in movement in comparison with that late-flowering speedster. A captain’s dream, he ran in all day, kept the maiden-count high and took his share of wickets. At just turned 27, he has quietly crept up to 17th on Australia’s all-time Test wicket-takers list for seamers, with power to add.

Grade A

Nathan Lyon (37 runs at 9; 21 wickets at 29, 3 catches) – Combative with ball in hand and in the field (his brilliant run out of James Vince turned the first Test), the off-spinner outbowled his opposite number by the width of the Great Sandy Desert. His overspun deliveries bounced and turned causing plenty of problems for England’s phalanx of left-handers, and he projected the belief – so important for spinners – that every ball might take a wicket. At the peak of his powers, he is single-handedly reviving finger-spin in a country that has long considered it with disdain.

Grade A

Jackson Bird (4 runs at 4; 0 wickets) – Looked like he was on loan from the English attack, admittedly on an MCG drop-in that offered bowlers nothing. A reminder, as if we needed it, of the importance of the Australian fitness and conditioning set-up that kept the fab four on the field as a quartet for all but one Test.

Grade C

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 31, 2017

The Art Of Watching Dull Cricket

Looking suitably ashamed of himself

If the Big Bash League (which always sounds to me like a bunch of lovable urchins in a series of Mack Sennett two reelers, probably led by a teenage Jimmy Cagney and, to be fair, it often looks like that too) isn’t your thing, you might be one of us dwindling band of cricket cognoscenti. We are a happy worldwide sect – well not conventionally happy, but we do rejoice in being miserable (the first of a few such paradoxes in this piece, so you’re warned) – and with good reason. We, unlike the ex-player broadcasters barfing banalities about the Melbourne Test, have learned The Art Of Watching Dull Cricket.

Perhaps my first lesson was given by a dedicated teacher in this field, the legendary Chris Tavare. at Old Trafford in 1981. Play was due to resume on the Saturday with Geoffrey Boycott at one end and the Kent blocker at the other – very much how to capitalise on the cricket fever displacing Lady Di mania after England’s inspired Lazarusian wins at Headingley and Edgbaston don’t you think? Under glowering Manchester skies which threatened merciful rain at any moment, England hammered out 29 runs in the morning session (Boycott eventually out for a three hour 37, David Gower a 22 minutes one, Mike Gatting just over the hour mark for 11 and Mike Brearley tripling Gower’s score in a similar time). The spam sandwiches were much depleted, the Dairylea triangles now absent their circular packaging and the cans of Higson’s Best Bitter looking unlikely to last beyond the lunch break.

Due to my father’s anxiety to avoid being late anywhere (an hereditary trait, as my sons never cease to remind me) we had been sitting on the splintery wooden benches for pushing five hours when Ian Botham walked, bat-swingingly, out of the Red Rose county’s redbrick pavilion to resume his nascent innings after lunch, England well placed, but not impregnable, 200 or so ahead, five down. History records the blaze of boundaries that followed, the eyes-closed hooks off Dennis Lillee and the mighty drives that, had the perimeter advertising for booze, fags and television rentals not intervened, may well have rolled all the way up the Pennines and down the other side to the gates of the great man’s Northern redoubt outside Doncaster.

And here’s the thing – sweet though it always is to see the Australians put to the sword, it was as sweet as a Tooting delicatessen’s Asian candies to witness it after the non-amuse bouche fare slopped on to the counter in the morning session. Such joy is two fold: the boundaries, the freedom of expression, the roars of the crowd are all enhanced by their hitherto absence; and there’s just that sneaking smug self-satisfaction you get when you can say, if only under your breath and to yourself, “Told you so. Told you something would happen.”. That promise of something sensational just out of sight of the JCLs, once injected into your cricketing body politic, doesn’t go away. As didn’t Tavare – still there at the end of the carnage, en route to a seven hour 78, including, inter alia, the slowest half-century in Test history.

A variant on the theme of watching dull cricket in anticipation of enjoying what may happen all the more, is the product of recent technological developments. At The Oval in 2012, Hashim Amla was deep into his third day at the crease, unfurling cover drive after cover drive which were lovely to behold. But it was getting a bit dull (not, to be fair, Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie at Lord’s in 2008 dull – but, frankly, what does?) when a landmark moment – and not just any old landmark moment – hove into sight.

Earpieces, television screens in hospitality boxes and smartphones had alerted the crowd that the stylish right-hander was approaching the highest score made by a South African batsman. A buzz went round the ground, by now everyone aware of the significance of the humble man with the shaven head and long beard and no lager logo passing the likes of Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards and the man who held the record, willing him on a few yards to the left of where I sat, AB de Villiers. History had its eyes on us!

As Tim Bresnan was stroked to the fence yet again, the ground rose as one in thunderous applause and cheering as Jacques Kallis embraced his partner, the odd but oh so effective couple delivering for the rainbow nation yet again. There was no Warneresque leaping about from Amla, no badge kissing that I can recall, just an acknowledgement of the appreciation of 20000 or more people who had suffered some dull cricket for sure, but who would be able forever after to say, “I was there”. Though England’s players stopped short of chorusing “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” 70 years later on the very spot – possibly in the hope of inducing a vision obscuring tear – there were hearty handshakes to be followed later by the laurels awarded in the press.

Like all things worth doing, The Art Of Watching Dull Cricket demands some preparation. Proper provisioning is essential – I favour the simple fare of samosas and other Indian delicacies that do not invite the fear attendant on a egg mayonnaise sandwich, slightly warm to the touch, curling a little in the heat. More elaborate picnics are welcome too, finger food deluxe from Selfridges Food Hall as far removed from the spam sandwiches of 1981 as one can imagine, seldom disappoints. Decent wine, chilled in a cool bag, served in top end plastic glasses is recommended too and, if visits to the bar can consume too much time and money, Pimms and Lemonade decanted into a bottle or three still labelled “Dandelion and Burdock” both looks and smells like its original contents and adding vodka to a bottle of blood orange juice is both invisible and, because nobody is quite sure what blood orange smells like, passes the sniff test of suspicious security personnel too.

This bounty must, of course, be shared with old friends, new friends and friends about to be, as dull cricket offers ample opportunity for conversation. Any opening gambit should usually concern the cricket itself (and reference the garrulous Yorkshireman mentioned above, with the grim Man of Kent and the “Cowan Century” as alternatives) but once underway, unlike the cricket on show, it can go anywhere. Recent movies, the state of tertiary education, an XI comprising only players with names beginning with X, Y or Z are just some of the topics that can while away an hour or so waiting for Ben Stokes to come in and change the game. Sending snarky comments to the Guardian’s Over-By-Over coverage is also good to take one’s mind off the actual entertainment triped up, but in no circumstances should one ever send a selfie with a view to its appearance on the big screen, nor use the hashtag #lovingthecricket. There are, after all, limits and Test cricket still demands a certain decorum.

The final lesson in today’s lecture is a simple, but deeply penetrative, insight said to me by a friend when we were both 14 years old, waiting to be old enough to buy bottles of Strongbow, probably in the middle of a particularly intractable game of Dungeons and Dragons. “I like watching cricket” he remarked. “It makes everything else in life seem a lot less boring”. Perhaps that, above all else, is the enduring gift of mastering The Art Of Watching Dull Cricket

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 27, 2017

Cricket 2017 – Three Favourite Moments

The three moments below are not necessarily the best in cricket this year past – for any England fan, even a list of one would include the extraordinary day at Lord’s when the home side won the World Cup on heartstopping circumstances – but these are my three favourite moments from the cricket I was privileged to see in 2017.

Matt Renshaw and David Warner walk to the crease in Dharamsala

Four day Tests? Day/Night Tests? Tests played at the convenience of boards more interested in plotting World Cup success? At 140 years of age, Test cricket should be treated with a little more respect, because when it’s good, it’s so very, very good indeed.

What a series we had enjoyed in India! On a turning wicket in Pune, young Matt Renshaw had dug in and made 68 at the top of the order in as old-fashioned a manner as one could imagine, before surprise selection, spinner Steve O’Keefe, ran through the Indian lower order after Mitchell Starc had sent back the prolific Che Pujara and the over-confident Virat Kohli. Cue Steven Smith’s masterful century and a second O’Keefe 6-35 to send the Australians one up and rock the Indians in their own backyard.

All bar the tyro opener, KL Rahul, were still shaking in Bangalore, where he was ninth out for 90, and was obliged to take guard in the second innings facing a deficit of 87 in a low scoring match, It was Pujara’s turn to guts it out this time and his 92 anchored the hosts’ innings, but a target of 188 looked gettable, if not quite a shoo-in. Though Ravindra Jadeja had recovered his familiar swagger with his six-fer in the first innings, it proved Ravichandran Ashwin’s turn to get on top and stay on top, as his six wickets got India home by 75.

After a high-scoring draw in Ranchi, the players headed for the Himalayas and the tension heightened. David Warner, to his credit, had worked out a method to score and registered his first fifty of the series and Steven Smith silenced any remaining doubters of his genius with a brilliant century under pressure. Without their injured captain, India were rocking, six down and still 79 in arrears, when Jadeja decided to twirl his moustache one more time and blast his way to the innings top score in two exhilarating hours of high wire cricket.

India’s lead was 32 halfway through the deciding Test, as Renshaw and Warner walked to the crease…

Moeen Ali takes a hat-trick

England’s all-rounder possesses a fragile beauty, not just in his high risk strokemaking that has much of everything that made David Gower so compelling (and infuriating) a figure at the crease, but also in his ripped but unpredictable, drifting, sidespun off breaks. Lithe of physique, the Brummie has a feline mien to his movements and something of a cat’s inscrutable face in repose. One might add the metaphor the fact that  his feast or famine approach with bat and ball, needs a full complement of nine lives to survive the rigours of Test cricket’s merciless examination.

Moeen is a serious man, his responsibilities as one of the most high profile Muslims in the country accepted with a quiet dignity. Of course, he shouldn’t have such “responsibilities” at all, but he is not a man to complain about anything, on or off the field, and consistently pulls off that most tricky of gigs – pride without arrogance – all day every day with admirable aplomb.

The mask slipped for a moment in The Oval’s 100th Test match, as England cruised to a win that would take the series to 2-1 with one to play. Having finished his previous over with the wickets of the centurion Dean Elgar and Kagiso Rabada, Moeen’s first ball of his 17th over struck Morne Morkel on the pad and 11 England players and 20,000 England fans appealed with full-throated confidence – but umpire, Joel Wilson, was unmoved. Upstairs it went, the ground buzzing with anticipation and then… The cricket photograph of the year was evidence enough of The Oval’s first Test hat-trick at the 100th time of asking.

Shai Hope confounds the doubters

A callow West Indies team had been blown away by a plainly superior England in the First Test (and would be again in the Third Test) but in-between, we witnessed a performance as great as it was unexpected. Shai Hope, hitherto styled “No Hope” by me and plenty like me, had previously given a glimpse or two of his potential, but looked ill-suited to the formidable demands of Test cricket, never mind its September-in-England version. But England had looked a little complacent in making 258 in the first innings at Headingley with only centurion Ben Stokes and Joe Root making more than 23.

That still looked like plenty enough when Hope walked past his brother Kyle on the boundary, dismissed with the board showing 35-3. But Kraigg Brathwaite was giving nothing away en route to 134 and Hope began to show why so many judges in the Caribbean rated him, with a magnificent 147.

Their 246 runs partnership did not just drag the Windies back into the match and series, it woke England up, and six half-centuries later, Moeen’s tattoo beaten out on the boundary boards, allowed Joe Root to declare 321 ahead with half an hour to play on Day Four.

I spent Day Five telling listeners to Guerilla Cricket that there was no way the visitors could do a Lord’s 1984 – sure the kid played well in the first innings, but he’s no Gordon Greenidge, even if Kraigg Brathwaite was doing a decent job of channeling Larry Gomes batting in a mirror.

Others thought otherwise – and so did Shai Hope himself, who, with an almost Zen-like calm, constructed his second century of the match, striking the winning runs to seal the win and complete one of the greatest individual Test batting performances of all time – 147 and 118* made in over 11 hours of relentless pressure with superhuman concentration. The moment of victory stands with any in his region’s glorious history and reminded us – as if we needed it – that the more one thinks about this wondrous game of ours, the less one knows.

 

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | December 19, 2017

The Ten Ashes Commandments

You lost before Christmas again?

With apologies to Biggie Smalls and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

I been in this game for years, defeats are becoming annual
It’s rules to this shit, I wrote me a manual
A step by step booklet for you to get
your game on track, not your cap pushed back

Rule Nombre Uno

Send out the call, for bowlers fast and tall. Give ’em the ball and watch the wickets fall. Pick no- one small, cos they’re gonna get mauled.

Number Two

From 1 to 11, they’ll you hit between the eyes. Sure they’ll apologise, but they’re the same ruthless guys, as you find out as the next one fizzes by. Never show you’re yellow – they’ve learned from Jardine and the little fellow – so do not flinch nor ever give an inch

Number Three

It’s bounce not spin that’ll make you win, so twist with the wrist for the jumps the splice thumps or the inside edge that pops in the air, but make sure you’ve got a fielder right there.

Number Four

Attrition’s a fiction. You can’t bowl dry when the ball’s straight as a die, it’s just another pie, so go stump high and don’t worry ’bout the drive. You’ve gotta break down the door, hit the stumps hard more and more and more, and keep short leg and slips in or you’ll never be quids in.

Number Five

The loam at home is too slow and low, so comb the counties for the bounty of pitches fast and bouncy and award central contracts to ground staff who deliver the shiver of pace to the places where the batsmen quiver.

Number Six

Practise and practise your catches, they win the matches – in patches of play when it’s not going your way, they turn a day, keep opponents at bay, so for every mistake, you’ve get to make them pay.

Number Seven

Get your best players on the park, no matter what larks have led to flying sparks – or maybe they’re just a mark. If we don’t know if they’re guilty, write rules that show pity – don’t let them waste time in pyjamas playing with Kiwi farmers.

Number Eight

Use the red ball when the sun’s high in the sky. Early / late summer is a bummer for developing the skills that thrill when you go for the kill – so the schedule for the championship’s looking dumber and dumber.

Number Nine

The Kookaburra’s like no other with its stitching and its cover and if Aus won’t play ball with the Duke nor field proper warm-up XIs at all, a ball at home with a seam not proud, has gotta be found, else we’ll be back in the pound.

Number Ten

What’s our cricket’s purpose? An income surplus? World Cup glory? Well listen to our fury. We want to compete not get beat in the heat of Asia and Australia where we’re too often failures. Prioritise that prize or risk Test cricket’s demise – that ain’t no lies, so weak is the bond that ties the game to its fans of the future, the wound needs a new suture.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 28, 2017

From the email server of Joe Root

Boom!

Aussie Captain Smith’s got fans on the outer
Ninety-two thousand fans in Melbourne harbour

Ninety-two thousand fans in Melbourne harbour
(Ninety-two thousand fans in Melbourne harbour)
When they surround our guys!
(They surround our guys!)
When they surround our guys!

As a kid in South Yorkshire I wished for an Ashes
I knew I could bat lashes
I knew it was the only way to
Rise up!
If they tell my story
I am either gonna get out on the field in glory or
Rise up!
I will fight for this land
But there’s only one man
Who can give us a commanding lead so we can—
Rise up!
Understand? It’s the only way to
Rise up! Rise up!
Here he comes!
Here comes the !
Ladies and gentlemen!
Here comes the Ginger One!
The moment you’ve been waiting for!
Here comes the Ginger One!
The pride of Lumley Castle!
Here comes the Ginger One!
Stokes Benjamin!

We are outgunned (What?)
Outmanned (What?)
Outnumbered
Outplanned (Buck, buck, buck, buck, buck!)
We gotta make an all out stand
Ayo, I’m gonna need a right-hand man
Check it
Can I be real a second?
For just a millisecond?
Let down my guard and tell the people how I feel a second?
Now I’m the model of a modern all rounder
The middle order veteran whose journos are all
Lining up, to put me up on a pedestal
Writin’ letters to lawyers
Embellishin’ my batting and bowling
But the elephant is in the room
The truth is in ya face when ya hear the Warner and  Smith go…
Boom!
Any hope of success is fleeting
How can I keep leading when the people I’m
Leading keep retreating?
We put a stop to the bleeding as the English take a warm up match
Knight takes rook, but look

We are outgunned (What?)
Outmanned (What?)
Outnumbered
Outplanned (Buck, buck, buck, buck, buck!)
We gotta make an all out stand
Ayo, I’m gonna need a right-hand man (Buck, buck, buck, buck, buck!)
Incoming!

They’re battering down the spare bats to check the damages
Runs!
We gotta stop ’em and rob ’em of their advantages
Rah!
Let’s take a stand with the stamina God has granted us
Benjamin won’t abandon ship
Yo, let’s steal their kookaburras
Shh-boom! (Boom!)
Goes the bouncers, watch the blood and the shit spray and…
Boom!
Goes the bouncers, we’re abandonin’ Broad and JA and…
Boom!
There’s another stump and…
Boom!
We just lost the bunny tail and…
Boom!
We gotta run to Melbourne quick, we can’t afford another slip
Guns and horses giddyup
I decide to divvy up
My forces, they’re skittish as the Aussies cut the batting order up
This close to giving up, facing mad scrutiny
I scream in the face of this mass Barmy Army mutiny:
Are these the men with which I am to defend Ashes?
We net at midnight, Geelong in the distance
I cannot be everywhere at once, people
I’m in dire need of assistance…

Your excellency, sir!
Who are you?
Ian Bell, Sir?
Permission to state my case?
As you were
Sir
I was a batsman under General Straussy
Until he caught a bouncer on the lid in St John’s Wood
And well, in summary
I think that I could be of some assistance
I admire how you keep batting the Aussies
From a distance outside leg
Huh
I have some questions, a couple of suggestions on how to fight instead of fleeing Starc
Yes?
Well
Your excellency, you wanted to see me?
Benjamin, come in, have you met Bell?
Yes, sir
We keep meeting
As I was saying, sir, I look forward to seeing your strategy play out
Bell?
Sir?
Close the door on your way out

Have I done something wrong, sir?
On the contrary
I called you here because our odds are beyond scary
Your reputation precedes you, but I have to laugh
Sir?
Benjamin, how come no one can get you on their staff?
Sir!
Don’t get me wrong, you’re a young man of great renown
I know you stole Saffer confidence when we were still downtown
The IPL and the Big Bash League wanted to hire you…
To be their Number 6? I don’t think so
And why’re you upset?
I’m not
It’s alright, you had a fight, you’ve got a hunger
I was just like you when I was younger
Head full of fantasies of playin’ like a Botham?
Yes
Bowling is easy, young man
Batting is harder
Why are you telling me this?
I’m being honest
I’m working with a third of what the ECB has promised
We are a powder keg about to explode
I need someone like you to lighten the load. So?

I am not throwin’ away my bat!
I am not throwin’ away my bat!
Ayo, I’m just like my country
I’m young scrappy and hungry!
I am not throwing away my bat!

Ben
We are outgunned, outmanned!
You need all the help you can get
I have some friends. Moeen, Rocky
Mark Wood on his horse, okay, what else?
Outnumbered, outplanned!
We’ll need some spies on the inside
Some Aus men who might let some homework slide

(Boom!) I’ll write to Straussy and tell ’em we need supplies, you rally the guys {Whoa, whoa, whoa…}
Master the element of surprise
(Boom!) I’ll rise above my station, organize your attack options, ’til we rise to the occasion of my new nation. Sir! {Whoa, whoa, whoa…}

Here comes the Ginger One!
Rise up!
What?
Here comes the Ginger One!
Rise up!
What?
Here comes the Ginger One!
Rise up!
What?
Here comes the Ginger One!
What?
The new  right hand man!
Boom!

with apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 27, 2017

Steven Smith – the man who hides his genius in plain sight

Steven Smith’s head – solving Test cricket.

I was at Lord’s in 2010 to witness Steven Smith’s debut in Australia’s curio of a Test series against Pakistan hosted by MCC. If you had asked me then what I thought of the unheralded all-rounder, I’d have said, “Who? Oh him? Looks a bit like the young SK Warne with that blond hair and puppy fat, but his action is probably a bit too ropey to forge a career as a leg-spinner.” And, of course, I was 100% correct – and 100% wrong.

Smith showed his batting potential for the first time in 2013 with 92 in Chandigarh, an innings immediately overshadowed by Mitchell Starc’s 99 from Number 9 and then Shikhar Dhawan’s pyrotechnic 187 on debut. Even his maiden century was made in the wake of Shane Watson’s redemptive 176 at The Oval in a dead rubber with England already 3-0 up and holding the Urn. That was his 12th Test and the knock lifted his batting average to 34, complementing a bowling average of 49 – a bits and pieces merchant of the kind England’s fans had suffered enough of to recognise at a distance of 10,553 miles.

But Australia’s selectors saw him differently. By design or chance, Smith had become a “project player” like Stephen Waugh and Shane Watson before him, someone in whom the investment in development would only pay off in the long term. And hasn’t it? In 2014 he averaged 82, in 2015 74, in 2016 72 and in 2017 65; with power to add. His statistics show that he’s not so much vying with highly rated contemporaries, the soi disant Fab Four Virat Kohli, Joe Root and Kane Williamson, to be saluted as the best batsman in the world today, but with Herbert Sutcliffe, Kenny Barrington and Everton Weeks to be hailed as the second best batsman in history: Bradman’s heir not only as Australia’s captain.

How did he get here?

Amidst all the talk about his unorthodox technique, his candidacy for LBW and his favouring the onside, Smith has, as so many geniuses do, simplified his game to a few fundamentals that are then applied with an iron will.

No matter how much he moves about in the crease in order to work the ball into the gaps on the leg side, at the precise instant that the ball strikes the bat, his head is in line with it. The importance of the head’s positioning in promoting the balance required for any sport cannot be overstated and Smith gets it right, hour after hour after bloody hour. The contrast with Joe Root’s occasional propensity to fall across his front pad and be pinned LBW (as he was in the second innings in Brisbane) is marked – not least because against good bowlers, it’s a mistake top batsmen cannot afford to make, the kind that turns centuries into half-centuries.

Not only is the head in line with the ball, it is also still at the point of impact. Smith’s exaggerated excursions from off to leg as the bowler gathers for the delivery means that he is where he wants to be in plenty of time to ensure that his head is freeze framed at the crucial moment. It is this aspect to his play that suggests a certain ugliness because, particularly against spin, he can look a little jerky as he moves out of the calm centre of the tornado and gets on the move again to complete the shot (especially in the case pulling and cutting off the front foot). Smith will never flow through his strokes like Mark Waugh or David Gower to provoke the pundits purring, but if he has to settle for an average almost 20 runs higher than those two beauties, I reckon he’ll take it.

The final element discernible when observing Smith’s head is a product of the most unorthodox aspect of his batting – the fact that he seems to play a lot of “French cricket”, his legs together, face on to the bowler. That position allows both his eyes, dead level, to watch the ball all the way on to the bat, reversing the oft asserted proposition that cricket is a side-on game. I suggest that this two-eyed vision assists in fostering the preternatural hand-eye coordination that ensures not just that bat hits ball, but that the middle of the bat hits the middle of the ball with an uncanny frequency, even when it feels like it shouldn’t.

If it’s easy to see the outside of Smith’s head, it’s almost as easy to discover what’s going on inside it too.

Unchallenged as captain, even through runs of poor overseas results as a team and as settled at Number 4 as any batsman can be, Smith uses that security to play a patient game, immune to any criticism about scoring too slowly (or too quickly), protected by a carapace of achievement that brooks no quarrel. Unlike many batsmen these days, he appears to hold a picture of the field in his head (viz a cute leg glance for four at Brisbane the very next ball after Root had moved his leg slip to silly point) and he won’t be suckered into “taking the fielder on” with testosterone-fuelled hooks or slogs. That said, he also knows when to up the scoring rate as bowlers tire, when to launch a calculated attack to reduce an opposing captain’s options and he adopts that most Australian of attitudes to the fall of a wicket – seeing it as a chance to attack and wrest the initiative back in a matter of minutes. He may bat in a bubble, but he bats for his team.

England have to find a way to dismiss him (or, as in Brisbane, be condemned to work through the eight batsmen at the other end) and that looks tricky on good pitchess – well, it’s a big ask on a less than perfect wicket, as his brilliant 111 earlier this year at Pune showed. What do I think? I’d attack him early from a right arm round the wicket line (as Jimmy Anderson did at Adelaide), shortish under the left armpit with a leg slip, a man on the hook and a short leg, with a variation fullish outside off with three slips. But if it was guaranteed gamechanger, all captains would do it. And if Smith’s esoteric approach to batting was as straightforward as I’m making it sound, all batsmen would do it too.

Test match cricket isn’t an easy game to master and nobody does so for long – except the aforementioned sporting outlier of outliers, Don Bradman. But Steven Smith got as close as anyone to solving it across 512 minutes of unparalleled, undefeated batsmanship at the Gabba and, overnight at the WACA, he’s joining the dots on his way to another match-defining big one. It can’t last can it? But we said that in 2014 – and we’re still waiting.

 

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 19, 2017

Ashes Preview – KISS it!

Cummins, Starc, Hazelwood and Lyon

It’s often said that success in sport, as in life, is sealed with a KISS. So, with the weight of history bearing down upon you, the heat from the sun, the opposition and the fans and Patrick Cummins at the top of his run, how do you Keep It Simple Stupid?

Here’s three thoughts for England’s likely XI to carry into Brisbane’s cauldron.

Alastair Cook 

You’ve done this before – you know it and they know it.

All you need to think about is batting – after all that stuff last time round, it’s that straightforward.

Just because they’re blocking your scoring areas, doesn’t mean that you should force the issue elsewhere.

Mark Stoneman

It’s that same ball that coming from the same place travelling the same distance it did when you scored all those runs in the last couple of weeks.

It’s your game once you’ve got to 20 – doesn’t matter what the scoreboard says, so fight to get to 20 by any means possible and then cash in.

Wear some virtual headphones – it’s not like you’ll be missing out on any great wit from Warner and co.

James Vince

Your chance to show what you can do.

Your captain and selectors believe in you – so you must too.

Keep your weight moving forward into the shot and the hands high – it’s four through the covers whether the ball goes along the ground or in the air.

Joe Root

They fear you more than you fear them.

Five days is a long time and runs on the board really matter – 500 is a good score, but 600 is better.

There’ll be times to defend in the field, but when you want to attack, attack hard.

Dawid Malan

This is why you picked up a bat as a kid – it’s your time.

The next ball is the only one that matters.

Stand up straight and get on top of the bounce.

Jonny Bairstow

Don’t let the adrenaline get to your bottom hand – play straight, even if there’s no swing and little seam to worry about.

Gloves low until the last moment and every ball Moeen bowls is beating the bat – until it doesn’t.

Reviews will be critical and you’re a key decision-maker – get them right.

Moeen Ali

You should beat your opposite number’s runs – so make sure that you do.

Warner and Smith will come hard at you, so block off easy boundary options and attack both sides of the bat with close fielders whenever you can.

Bounce is your friend, so rip as many deliveries as you can.

Chris Woakes

You’re an all-rounder, so bat like one.

Rhythm produces pace and keeps fatigue at bay – don’t let Warner and Smith ruin it by reacting to them moving about in the crease.

Even if you’re 0-70, bowl to a plan, don’t just put it there.

Craig Overton

Keep the wrist behind the ball and hit the deck hard.

Work on each batsman as captain and coaches say, no matter what is coming from the other end.

It’s hard because it’s supposed to be hard – otherwise anyone could do it.

Stuart Broad

Embrace the crowd’s hostility – it’s coming anyway, so why not?

Find the “McGrath Length” for the pitch and stick to it – they miss, you hit the off-bail.

When they bowl bouncers at you, they’re actually free hits, but don’t pick out a fielder.

Jimmy Anderson

Pitch the new ball up, even if it’s getting hit.

Bowl, deliver as the best fielder in the side and talk tactics as vice-captain – there won’t be much energy left for sledging.

You know a lot more about this game than anyone at the other end and a lot, lot more than most of them.

 

 

 

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