31 December 2008

Extortion threats for Dhoni

You'd think that having just beaten Australia and England, and with the possibility of going 2nd in the world ahead of Australia if South Africa win the last Test in their Australian series, MS Dhoni couldn't be happier.

But unfortunately someone, or some poeople, are trying to extort money from him and his family. What I find particularly weird about this story though is that the man himself has applied for a gun. I hope for everyone's sake that his "Z category" security means that he never has to use it....

A Bangladeshi emerging star of world cricket?

Well it's too early to say, but I wonder if Shakib Al-Hassan of Bangladesh will come to be a star in the same way as Daniel Vettori is for New Zealand. I previously posted about how Bangladesh's best chance of victory is generally to bat first and let Al-Hassan bowl them to victory in the 4th innings if, that is, they can score enough runs to give him the opportunity.

Over the last few matches against New Zealand, South Africa and now Sri Lanka - where he was man-of-the-match despite playing for the losing side - he's made massive strides and without working it out, his bowling average over that period must be in the low 20s. With his batting also coming along nicely (he scored 96 in Bangladesh's 2nd innings), Bangladesh could soon have a player who is a genuine star in the context of world cricket.

29 December 2008

Vaughan to come back in?

If rumours are to be believed then Michael Vaughan may be included in the West Indies tour party later this morning. The unlucky players who would have to miss out if that were the case are two of Bell, Shah and Bopara, with the other likely to be in the squad and fighting it out with Vaughan for the number 3 spot.

Bell can have little argument if he does go. Over the last 2 years he has played 27 Tests and has averaged 37.44 at a time when he really should be pushing on with his career. Frustratingly, he can look so good, as he did in making 199 versus South Africa last summer at Lords, but it usually comes to nothing. An enormous score like that normally points to a huge average for the series, but Bell flattered to deceive, averaging 47 overall and just 22 when looking at all his other innings in that series, placing him only 6th in the real averages list for that series.

Vaughan has a similar criticism levelled at him - he can look so good and yet all too often gets himself out rather than making the bowler work for his wicket. But this is someone who turned 34 only 2 months ago and has the respect of all cricketers round the world (especially the Aussies given it's Ashes year next year). Even last year when he went through the first 3 Tests versus South Africa averaging an unworthy 8, he played a few shots that left spectators purring, and the notoriously attack minded Pietersen (apparently - his fields don't always support that) will have in mind that he wants a number 3 with some presence and who can take the attack to the opposition when necessary. He may also benefit from having England's most successful ever captain to turn to when he needs to.

Owais Shah can consider himself extremely unlucky if he doesn't get at least a place on the tour, let alone a place in the Test side. But he's also struggling with the perception that he's not a natural number 3, at Test level at least - Geoff Boycott is his loudest critic declaring "anyone who believes that he is a No 3 for England wants his head testing." Looking around the world at the moment it's hard to make a case for Shah, or the even more talented Bopara batting at 3, when other sides have the sheer presence of players like Ponting and Dravid filling that slot. Even the second rung of sides have players like Khan, Sarwan and Amla who on paper are miles ahead of Bopara and Shah in both reputation and results, if not talent.

If the England selectors go with the tried and tested method of considering who the opposition would least like to play against, then they'll pick Vaughan and Shah to tour with Vaughan taking strike first wicket down at Sabina Park come the start of February.

24 December 2008

Declaring and losing

As England weren't able to level the (rediculously short) Test series in India in the 2nd Test, inevitably focus moves to how on earth they lost the 1st Test. This interesting article on Cricinfo looks at the times when a team has lost after a declaration. A couple of comments on the article:

"The most recent match in which a team declared their first innings and lost was the Adelaide Test during the 2006-07 Ashes. England reached a seemingly impregnable 551 for 6 in the first innings before declaring. Only twice had teams lost after posting higher first-innings scores, so their decision was justified. England gained a slender lead but a third-innings meltdown left Australia with only 168 to chase, a target they achieved with six wickets in hand. England's first-innings effort was also the fourth-highest losing total in any innings and the second highest declaration in a defeat."

I've got to totally disagree with that! As I was saying to anyone willing to listen at the time, England's only chance of winning was Australia following on. So in effect England only asked them to score 352 and on that wicket, that was a synch.

The other thing that I noticed in this article was the brilliant name of an old England player - Jack Crapp. Yes, I know, I still have the sense of humour of a 4 year-old!

22 December 2008

Defeatist Pietersen

England can't win. Their captain has said so:

"I'm afraid we are out of the Test. It's difficult to win the game. If we could have batted a session into tomorrow, we could have forced ourselves into the game. Now, we'll be happy to get a draw out of it."

What are you on about KP? Yes, the odds are against your team but it's up to you to stir them into bowling India out cheaply in their 2nd innings to create a winning situation for your team. Checking Bet365's odds the draw is massive favourite at 1/7, India are 5/1 to win and England are 33/1.

How can England force a win from here? Well I hope they're at least considering declaring now given that the start has been delayed for fog. They need early wickets when India next bat - if they think that they are more likely to take early wickets when the fog is still fading away then that should be their tactic, looking to bowl India out and give the best England batsmen the chance to have have a 2nd innings. The alternative if they think it's going to give them a greater chance of winning is to allow Prior, Broad and Swann the chance to have a hit for one session or so and as soon as they are not scoring freely, declare. The England score at the time is almost irrelevant.

I fear that by laying his cards on the table, Pietersen has declined to play one of his last cards. If he'd declared behind and England had taken a couple of quick wickets, doubts may have set in to India with their home crowd also getting on their backs. But instead, India will have that greater level of confidence that comes from knowing the opposition captain has already given up trying to win the game.

Crazy talk from Pietersen but it doesn't take away from his great individual innings. Can anyone who has Sky tell me if Pietersen's LBW pitched outside leg, as his reaction to the decision and subsequent comments has apparently suggested?

17 December 2008

I'm finally over the result of the 1st Test!

OK - I now feel ready to post! What a gutter from an English perspective....you shouldn't lose a match that you're in control of. And I'm afraid I'm not in the "well we made a good fight of it" camp - it's amazed me how many commentators have been saying that! In assessing how the match went we have to realise that the toss is worth more in India than in England, so to win the toss and still lose is pretty disasterous.

We should have got 500, preferably more, as was previously Burbled about. The Indians would have been settling in for a draw once they didn't take early wickets on the first day - a win would have been at the back of their minds as they're used to teams racking up 500+ in the 1st innings. But rather than put ourselves in a position where we'd struggle to lose, we gave India a chance with a poor batting performance.

Somehow though we were still in a good position come the 4th day and in a position to win the match so it's hard to blame the whole loss on the 1st innings. Strauss batted like a dream and must be wondering what on earth else he's meant to do to get the man-of-the match award - instead it went to Sehwag for cumulative runs in the Test that totalled less than either of Strauss' innings. Whoever decides these things needs to recognise that the man-of-the-match doesn't necessarily need to be from the winning side, but if it did have to be, Tendulkar was the most worthy winner amongst the Indian team.

Lastly, the spinners. Panesar has come in for a bit of criticism and rightly so as he took 3 wickets in the match which in India isn't good enough. Peter Moores has said that Panesar lacked practice but let's remember that the ECB wouldn't pay Bloomfields £7,500 so that Panesar could have practised in Sri Lanka. Yes, Bloomfields shouldn't have accepted and then tried to renegotiate, but what price on a key bowler bowling well in India? Less than £7,500 according to the ECB.

I hope that Panesar doesn't get too much stick - he took 3 wickets in 46 overs in the match. Compare that to India's spinners who took 10 wickets in 137 overs between them and it doesn't look particularly poor - only slightly worse than the Indian spinners who haven't been criticised in the slightest!

If England are lucky enough to win the toss again in the 2nd Test, I just hope they nail the 1st innings next time. For me that's the lesson - not worries about Panesar.

13 December 2008

Batting with the tail

It's always interesting watching a batsman batting with the tail and the way that they approach it. Clearly they are more likely to score runs than the tail-end batsman, but an overly pessimistic view on the tail being able to face a few balls sometimes leads to some chaotic running. Or often the batsman tends to get themselves out while over-attacking.

Matt Prior batted well in the 1st innings for England to score his 53 not out, but was criticised for allowing the tail to face too many balls: "...his tactics with the tail were odd, as he continually exposed both Harmison and Panesar. The final-wicket stand lasted 37 balls, of which Panesar faced 26."

Last summer at Edgbaston, the final two wickets fell in 2 balls at a time when Flintoff was batting really well - some would say that had a big impact on the eventual result - and the result certainly impacted on Michael Vaughan who resigned afterwards. First Anderson was run out as Flintoff tried to keep the strike, and then Panesar ran himself out trying to get Flintoff on strike.

It wasn't the first time that Flintoff had been involved in some nightmarish tactics with the tail. Although the Ashes had long-since gone, in the 5th Test in Sydney at the start of 2007, he was batting brilliantly and looked on for 100 with England 8 down at the time. But faced with the prospect of batting with the last of the tail, he ran down the wicket at Stuart Clark, got bowled having a wild slog, and England were all out on the same score.

Surely with all the statistical analysis that is done these days, the players can be educated about the best way to bat with the tail so that they eek out what could be crucial runs. Blatant slogging is totally unecessary until the team are 9 down for starters. But someone like Prior or Flintoff should have in their mind things like the average number of balls that Panesar or Anderson faces per innings, whether they are statistically more comfortable facing pace or spin, and then add on top of that their own interpretation of the situation as no two situations will be the same.

As a side that need every run they can get, England could certainly do with focussing on how they can make that 10 or 20 more from the final couple of wickets. Either proper analysis and attention to that part of their game is long overdue, or they are simply picking the wrong tactics despite having done the planning. Either way, they can improve and, as professional sportsmen, I trust they have recognised this and are tackling it....

Cricketers' Tan

Yes, he's scored a couple of hundred runs in the match or thereabouts. And he's almost single handedly giving England the chance of winning the match. But Cricket Burble prides itself on picking up on the biggest issues in cricket....in this case, that means Andrew Strauss' cricketers' tan!

If you take a look at the photo on Cricinfo, Strauss shows the tell tale line just above his elbow....I can't imagine image conscious KP allowing that to happen! A little more sun cream or a long sleeve shirt might be called for....

11 December 2008

400 is not enough...is it?

Maybe I'm missing something (I haven't seen any of the first day's play against India), but why would Andrew Strauss be saying that 350-400 puts England in the game? In India 500+ is needed in the first innings and even that doesn't put the side batting first in an unassailable position as the scores in the second innings tend to be a lot less.

Like all teams England must have discussed what they thought was a good score before they batted, but I fear they have set their sites far too low....

Collingwood done by Bowden again

Paul Collingwood must be starting to wonder what he's ever done to Billy Bowden! As if last summer's wrong decision at Lords (number 118 in the Cricket Burble list of wrong decisions) against South Africa wasn't enough (given that it helped cost him his place for one match), Bowden has come up with an identical one in the 1st Test in India. Slow bowler, padded to short-leg, crooked finger up!

I won't bore you with the argument for technology again...the point is made for me.

10 December 2008

9/1 !

I know its the wrong team in the wrong place at the wrong time and with no form or practice time but 9/1 seems very generous for an England win (although, obviously, Cricket Burble cannot condone reckless gambling).

9 December 2008

Drugs charge for Chris Lewis

Having had a monumentally poor comeback for Surrey last year, after they used him for one-dayers as well as the planned Twenty20 matches, Chris Lewis seems to have now got himself into trouble over drugs.

He isn't the first and I'm sure he won't be the last, as this XI from Cricinfo shows.

Would England have toured Pakistan?

I find it very difficult to argue with anything that Rashid Latif has said:

"Anything can happen anywhere and when teams can accept security assurances from the BCCI and government, why can't they do the same when the PCB and the government urges them to tour? The truth is no one can dare ignore the money India is putting into the game. It is nothing but greed. If India didn't have the financial clout no team would bother to go there so soon after the Mumbai attacks."

Of course no-one but those at the centre of these goings on can tell us what their real motivations are, but from the outside it appears that a huge amount of effort has been made to complete the tour in circumstances that would have stopped any thoughts of an England tour in Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. The ECB desperately need to improve relations with the cash-rich BCCI, and the players can't be seen as reluctant to play in India when their biggest pay day lies just around the corner, potentially, in the IPL.

But do I think either the ECB or the players should be criticised for taking that view? No. In every walk of life people assess effort versus reward on a daily basis - this is no different. Going to India offers greater reward and is therefore worth a greater risk...but publicly stating that would not be a sensible thing to do.

8 December 2008

The world's highest game of Twenty20

Not only do these guys get the pleasure of playing the highest game of cricket ever part way up Everest at 17,000 ft, but they also expect to raise £250k for charity - a thoroughly commendable aim.

So take a look at the site - www.atestabovetherest.com.

6 December 2008

The best age for cricket

Well it seems that my best cricketing years are ahead of me as you are at your best at 32-33. That comes as a little bit of a surprise as I think I can safely say that I am a far worse cricketer now than when I was 18, which was probably my peak! I think, unfortunately, there may be a crucial difference in amateur and professional cricketer's ideal ages!

But who am I to argue with something that suggests that the 2010 and 2011 seasons will be my years to remember when I'm old and grey(er)?

Cricket books to last through to the summer

It's the time of year to buy some cricket books for your friends and family should they be keen, or to make some less than subtle hints should you be. So good timing then for this list of the top 45 cricket books from Cricinfo.

You'll see a selection on the right of this page, just click through to buy from Amazon.

5 December 2008

Test match practice

I have no idea what KP is doing here - as the caption says, the likelihood of him using this shot in the upcoming Tests is zero!

Owing it to cricket?

Obviously a lot has been said and written about whether the England team should or should not return to India and I bet there are more twists to come out of the story yet. But what bothered me was Nasser Hussain (of whom I'm normally a huge fan) saying that they had to go because they 'owed it to cricket'. I'm pretty certain that if I planned to go where terrorists have recently targeted tourists my wife and family would reckon that I owed it to them more to remain safe rather than owing any 'duty' to any form of employment, no matter how lucrative.

Did anybody else find it amusing that it was suggested that the Middlesex players Finn, Murtagh and Richardson (who's in the 'development squad' anyway) should join England as they'd already got visas. Do you need visa for India and how difficult would it be to get one if you were going there to play International cricket ?

4 December 2008

Gibbs and Symonds

Interesting to see the total under-reaction to the news the Herschelle Gibbs is spending a month in alcohol rehab compared to the obsession with Andrew Symond's off-field problems. I have no idea why one is headline news and the other hardly warrants a mention.

Glamorgan will be hoping that Gibbs comes through unscathed and gets back to top cricketing form....

West Indies confirmed to start summer

So it seems that West Indies have agreed to fill the gap at the start of the next English summer that was created by Zimbabwe not being welcome and Sri Lanka not being able to field a decent side due to the IPL.

So the likelihood is that the British public get another bore of a back-to-back series (following the England tour to the Caribbean) at a time of year when play is likely to be curtailed due to poor weather or bad light. The two tests will be over by 18th May so the likelihood of 10 days of glorious sun must be remote. The ECB had little option, but it still doesn't excite me at all as a die hard cricket fan so what it must do for less committed fans I'm not quite sure....

3 December 2008

When Ben met Kevin

If you haven't seen it already, take a look at this spoof meeting between off-the-wall BBC ball-by-ball update journalist Ben Dirs and a Kevin Pietersen impressionist. Some interesting new shot innovations are in the pipeline!

Let's get serious, serious...

After the Mumbai bombings, the latest Test matches to be put in jeopardy are England's in India and India's in Pakistan in the New Year (although India hadn't actually confirmed that tour before the bombings - I'm not sure why given that it's only a couple of months away). It's only stating the obvious to suggest that this problem isn't going to go away and the ICC and it's member countries need to consider how to handle these types of situations, otherwise known as contingency planning. That might seem an obvious suggestion (check these links for terrorism in England, India and Pakistan for example and make your own assessment of the likelihood during a cricket tour) but judging from the way officials from the BCCI and ECB have been in constant negotiation and making individual public statements, it would seem that either this particular contingency plan didn't exist, or isn't working. Here's some basic Cricket Burble suggestions:

Terrorist attack during a tour:
1. Make no public statements until both boards have agreed on next steps, but recognise the need for making an announcement quickly.
2. Make a public statement together.
3. Agree not to make any element of the boards' discussions public.
(4. An additional point for teams like England who have large travelling support - recognise the problems late venue changes cause and agree who will pay for any additional costs for supporters in advance.)

Prior to the tour:
1. Consider insurance against the cancellation of the tour and assess whether it's best to have insurance for this or not.
2. Write into players contracts the circumstances in which they must tour (weighted in the player's favour so that they have the ability to choose where the situation is not black and white, but on the assumption that they will be paid less or nothing if they don't tour when the tour goes ahead).
3. Write into sponsor's contracts the circumstances in which they will receive compensation and consider insurance against it.
4. Upon agreement to tour, agree in writing what circumstances prior to the tour will prevent the touring side from coming.
5. Decide upon the criteria for a live tour to be called off up front, but allowing some "grey" for the two boards to manoeuvre as they need to.
6. Have the evacuation procedure mapped out for the touring side, should it be necessary.
7. Learn the lessons from previous terrorist attacks before or during tours.
8. Agree up front who pays for additional security should the tour continue but with greater security.

I'm quite sure the BCCI, ECB and PCB would argue that they have the situation under control and have handled it successfully, but that's not the perception. And unfortunately for them, perception is everything. Wouldn't it be reassuring to hear a joint statement from both boards saying that they are following the pre-agreed strategy for dealing with this situation, and watch them follow it instead of daily manoeuvring?

2 December 2008

Where next for New Zealand cricket?

Martin Crowe is obviously very concerned about the way New Zealand cricket is heading and it's easy to see why when stories of players filling out forms at the end of a day's play emerge. I'm all for analysis but at the end of a day's play? Post match might be more suitable....

The problem for New Zealand is that their players have to learn in Test cricket so they need longer than some other countries to become accustomed to playing at the higher level. What they must avoid at all costs is inconsistent selection of the sort that got England into problems in the late 80s and early 90s. I think it would be fair to say that domestic cricket in New Zealand is not going to compete even with County cricket, let alone Australian state cricket. So there will always be a mismatch between the likes of Mike Hussey and Daniel Flynn.

Hussey of course had the luxury of learning his trade against the best players in the world, despite not breaking into the Test side for many years. By the time he came in, he looked like a man who had been there and done that, for whom the step up was entirely manageable. In fact, he took to Test cricket so easily that many assume that the selectors took too long to select him. Flynn on the other hand showed a little bit of skill as the captain of New Zealand Under 19s and then got a couple of big scores for Northern Districts which catapulted him into international cricket. He was always going to need a lot of games to start to maximise his potential, and that's if he can overcome the morale issues that come with learning in public in international matches.

The likes of Flynn and the others in the New Zealand side that are learning on the job, should consider the Mark Boucher example. He was a fish completely out of water when he first played for South Africa but the persevered with him and he's come good. So my route for New Zealand would be to try to expose the top players who are on the verge of selection to international standard opposition as much as possible. Send them off to play in First Class cricket in other countries in the same way as Monty Panesar was going to play for Bloomfields in Sri Lanka. And having selected them, stick with them as they continue to learn until such time as there is someone who is undoubtedly better (amongst many other things of course!).

It will be interesting to see how Andy Moles goes.

27 November 2008

Cricket Burble sympathy for Symonds

Andrew Symonds has been getting a lot of grief lately and the latest thing that he seems to have done wrong is declined to have his photo taken. The fact that some idiot then decided to take offence to that is hardly his issue. The hotelier there has backed up Symonds version of events so it's clear he's done nothing wrong.

To say that he shouldn't have been there in the first place seems a bit harsh - can he really not have a quiet drink where he wants? When I asked Monty Panesar for a photo in a bar in Kuala Lumpur days before the 2006-07 Ashes flight left, he politely declined and I politely accepted that (scroll down on this page to read the conversation). Symonds was no more in the wrong than Monty was sitting in a bar in Kuala Lumpur days before leaving for the Ashes.

It would be a shame if the likes of Symonds, Flintoff etc can't have a drink without getting grief.

Hong Kong boundaries

It appears that Graham Wagg agrees with John Wright's recent comments about the size of the boundaries in Hong Kong judging from his comments on Quote Unquote on Cricinfo!

"I think my little boy, Brayden, would have a chance of hitting a six out there next year and he's only eight weeks old."

26 November 2008

First class teams across the globe

If you've ever wondered which teams around the world are considered "first class" this blog claims to know the answer....

Good captaincy from Dhoni

Interesting to see that Dhoni was employing a slip at 157-3 and that's how India got Flintoff for 0. Given his lack of attacking fielders when England desperately needed wickets in the 3rd ODI that was decided using the Duckworth-Lewis method, I think Dhoni has one over Pietersen in his captaincy skills. Pietersen is all for attacking when batting, but I'm not sure his captaincy matches his batting and talking.....yet!

Mark Butcher has been vocal about wanting Pietersen to change tactics and employ proper spinners in the sub-continent. And he talks at length about considering Panesar for the ODI side - with the benefit of hindsight I agree. We've almost forgotten about Monty as an ODI bowler but I really liked the way he was used by Vaughan when he was skipper as an attacking option. He normally came on as soon as the initial powerplays were over with the intention of taking wickets and sometimes when the seamers were getting hit to every corner of the ground Monty would even come on in the powerplay and take the crucial partnership breaking wicket.

Have we forgotten that spinners can take wickets and attack I wonder? To me it appears that Collingwood and Pietersen see spinners as support for the (apparently) wicket-taking seamers, where as Vaughan saw them as an attacking wicket-taking option. But of course, it could be influenced by Peter Moores as Vaughan hasn't captained an ODI since he's been in charge.

I hope Pietersen proves me wrong in the way that he uses the spinners and sets the field for the rest of England's time in India. It should have been something that they discussed during their much publicised chat yesterday.

24 November 2008

England missing a trick

The Observer Sports Monthly magazine yesterday featured a small article talking about some of the "Bolly Wags" - girlfriends of some of the Indian cricket team currently doing so brilliantly against England. It appears from the article that MS Dhoni's girlfriend, Deepika Padukone, has previously gone out with Yuvraj Singh. So given that all else seems to have failed, I hope that England have at least tried to rile Yuvraj about this - perhaps they have and that's why they've only got him out once in four innings!

If reports are to be believed, KP's not averse to the odd comment to try to get under opponents skin with relationship comments - he famously told Shane Watson "you're just upset because no one loves you any more" when he'd just been dumped by his girlfriend.

Given how India are performing at the moment, a few comments to Yuvraj about how Miss Padukone considers MS to be a superior partner surely wouldn't go amiss. And, again if media stories are to be believed, when Dhoni comes in there's scope to rile him too, as various commentators have described it as "difficult to keep up" with who she's seeing.

Some are worried about sledging and it's role in cricket. But, in my opinion, anything none-physical goes and if England aren't having a few words when Yuvraj and MS are batting then they're missing a trick....after all, things can't go any worse, can they?

Indian Perspective

England have been completely outplayed so far in the ODIs over in India and the Indian team seem unstoppable having just beaten Australia. So it's no surprise they are getting the big talk up but, as always, it goes a bit far some times. Remember it was only a few months ago that they lost to Sri Lanka. And they are some distance from Australia in the Test rankings, and only just above South Africa (who play Australia soon).

So it's nice to see a little perspective from one area of the Indian media.

Dangerous Mints

After Marcus Trescothick's revelations and other incidents it was interesting to see Tic Tacs as a sponsor in the current ODI series. Not only that but they seemed to be sponsoring the third umpire system!

20 November 2008

Lighten our darkness

Wanted to get in with this post before anybody else because it's so bl***y obvious.
There we are in the richest country on planet cricket and it's a bit dark (but I bet we'd have played) But the floodlights are installed, so no problem.
Well there is if you're not allowed to switch them on.
Madness! and then we had the bizarre sight of the skipper and his colleagues speaking to the umpires in what seemed very polite displeasure as they took them off at the end with overs left. They were obviouly expecting to play in the twilight at the end of the day because they weren't allowed to play in the gloom in the morning!

Remember Tony Cottey?

You're probably thinking that I've spelt Tony Cottee's surname wrong....but no, not Tony Cottee who played for various top-level football teams including England. This is Tony Cottey who won the County Championship with both Glamorgan and Sussex. Personally I quite like the idea of reading an autobiography from someone who didn't play international cricket but who lived and breathed County cricket for nearly two decades. And the Cricinfo review sounds pretty good.

You can buy the book here at Cricket Burble (see right).

19 November 2008

Double-sided bats?

It appears that Gray-Nicolls are likely to produce the first double-sided bat for some time. That's not something I saw coming, but why not? If it allows more adventurous strokes that excite the crowd (in all forms of the game!), then that can only be good.

But something tells me fellow Burbler Mark Davis won't like this as the bats are designed to aid the batsman - sacrilege!

Muddled tactics from Bangladesh

Once again South Africa are slaying the Bangladesh bowling attack. Following the 400+ opening stand that Smith and MacKenzie put on in 2007, this time it was Smith and Amla who took the score to 299-1 at the end of a rain-reduced first day.

Of course Mohammed Ashraful, the Bangladesh captain, can do nothing about the lack of talent at his disposal but he and Jamie Siddons, the coach, can at least work out the most appropriate tactics for the match. And in this case that didn't mean winning the toss and fielding first.

If you assess Bangladesh and South Africa man for man, the only possible area that Bangladesh have an advantage is their spinner. Shakib Al-Hassan is only 21 and averages 37 with the ball in his 8 Tests to date, but he's coming off a confidence boosting 7 wickets in an innings in his last series v New Zealand. And judging by the way he was turning the ball square on the first day, he can tweak it a bit (he should have had Smith stumped if the keeper hadn't been done by the huge turn in the same way as Smith was).

So what Ashraful should have done was bat and allow his most likely match winner last use of the pitch in the 4th innings if the batsman could take things to a 4th innings. Only one of the most seam friendly wickets ever or the strangest of thinking could lead any sane person to an alternative conclusion.

Bopara to open?

Well it seems that atleast one person agrees with me that Prior shouldn't be opening. And there is a vague suggestion in this Cricinfo preview of the 3rd ODI that Pietersen might consider moving himself up to 3. While I agree that would be ideal, what does that say about England's pre-tour preparation if two matches into a series they rethink such a fundamental as where their best batsman bats?

If Pietersen moves up a slot it potentially allows England to bat Collingwood at 4 (assuming Bopara is considered an opener or specialist 8!) with Shah moving down to 6 (where he's been at his best for England) - something that Geoff Boycott was keen to see happen. Remember, Collingwood and Pietersen bat well together as I've burbled about before. So if Bopara opens and Pietersen moves to three, while I think it's scary that there has been a change of tactics so soon into the series, it could just rebalance the top 6 to ensure it includes England's 6 best ODI batsmen (on tour) - and no England supporter can argue with that no matter how much they may wish to debate the order.

Wouldn't it be nice if Vaughan found form so that we had a natural shot playing opener to select next summer?

18 November 2008

Marron tends to cruise ship grass

Old Trafford hasn't got a Test for a while, so perhaps that's why the Lancashire groundsman Peter Marron took the opportunity to tend the grass on board a Miami-based cruise ship.

17 November 2008

HK at Sixes and Sevens

A couple of weekends ago Kowloon Cricket Club hosted the Hong Kong Sixes. In many ways it's a similar event to the much more famous Rugby Sevens tournament held every March: world class players from all over the globe play over a couple of days to a largely expat audience who mix actually watching the game with catching up with friends and drinking themselves silly. Of course, the Sixes are of a much smaller scale, with crowds up 4,000ish compared ten times that for the rugby, but this cosiness has its advantages one of which being physically much closer to the action.

This year's tournament was superb, despite the All Stars team (comprising Fleming, Chanderpaul, Henderson, Hoggard, Jayasuriya, Langer and Vaas) performing poorly, mainly because a lot of the games went down to the wire. A few players caught my eye; Irfan Ahmed who opened the batting for Hong Kong (who came 4th out of 8 teams) and retired after reaching 31 runs in each of his innings until his last against Australia; David Warner of Australia who batted and fielded amazingly in the final against England and finally Anwar Ali from Pakistan who bowls at decent pace and hits a long ball (check out his inswing bowling in the U-19 World Cup final against India when Pakistan somehow defended 110).

The final was between an English team full of seasoned county pros (Mascarenhas, Joyce, Bresnan, Wagg, Maddy and Napier) and a very young Australian team. It looked to be all over at the half way mark after England posted a whopping 120 of 5 eight ball overs. Australia though, led by Warner, batted astonishingly well and with 11 required off the last over they were firm favourites. Suddenly the festival atmosphere that we had so enjoyed over the past two days evaporated as the crowd became tense. Goodness knows how Tim Bresnan felt as he ran up to bowl but whatever nerves he felt did not betray his action which landed yorker after yorker. A good catch on the point boundary and the retiring of one of Australia's hitters left 2 runs required off the last two balls. The batsman could only squeeze another yorker back to the bowler and the entire tournament came down to Australia needing two runs off the last ball.

When Bresnan let the ball go, the non-striker was already half-way down the pitch. Again, the batsman could only squirt a full-length ball to Darren Maddy at long-on. His sharp thinking won England the tournament as he realised that the non-striker would complete his two runs easily. A hard, flat throw to the keeper's end found the striker short of his ground and the scores finished tied, with England winning thanks to fewer wickets lost.

All in all, a fantastic weekend and a real treat to watch some potential future stars and of course England winning something!

England's selection

Everyone of course has an opinion and that's not surprising following a second big defeat in India. The top 3 are coming under-fire again....the openers can expect to be criticised but interestingly Owais Shah has come in for some criticism too. Geoff Boycott has said that "anyone who believes that he is a No 3 for England wants his head testing".

Personally, while I don't think that Shah looks comfortable at 3, I think England need to give him the series there. You can't swop and change mid-series when a player has made a success of a lower-middle order position and been asked to step up....the adjustment takes time. So although 3 may not be his best position, they need to prove once and for all if he can do it.

But Prior opening has been tried and proven to fail now, so that experiment should stop with Prior batting around 7 or 8. And Bell has had plenty of time to make his opening birth work without ever really getting to grips with it....but to change two people in one go could be even more destabalising than playing Bell with someone else. So he needs to be given at least 2 or 3 more games before being replaced by Cook if he doesn't come good.

Who should be playing in the 3rd ODI? For me I'd like to see a few personnel and order changes:

Bopara (not ideal for him but better than 8)
Harmison (just in ahead of Anderson as dropping him would mean his fragile confidence would go again!).

15 November 2008

What role is Bopara playing?

I've often posted about how I think Ravi Bopara can come good for England but his international career is stalling just when he's showing his quality in County cricket. He got the cricket writers award this year and for me his 201 for Essex in a one-day game was the domestic performance of the season ahead of Napier's Twenty20 knock because there was a bit more brain used than Napier's shot a ball, not to mention more runs. And yet he is a specialist batsman at 8 for England in the one-day team.

Yes, I've chosen to post this after he scored a quick unbeaten 50 in possibly the only high point of England's ODI match against India. But whether he's scored a hatrick of ducks or a hatrick of century's, he should never bat below Matt Prior for England in any form of cricket, even though he is from Sussex! And realistically he could make a great argument for batting ahead of Bell, Collingwood and Patel too.

So if he's going to bat at eight and waste his obvious batting ability then he's going to bowl....right? Well maybe not every match, but when we're not on top in the field? Or perhaps when we're losing it a little and the main bowlers aren't keeping the runs down? Or when we've lost all control and clearly no bowler can do much worse than what's gone before him, no matter how part time he is? It seems the answer is always no to Bopara's bowling, no matter what the situation.

Fingers crossed that his career isn't ruined by poor management.

Australia's bowling woes

The last time I gave my opinion on Australia's selection (suggesting that Krejca wouldn't take wickets) it was obviously rubbish. So here goes for a second attempt. Shane Watson is never good enough to play as a 3rd seamer....although apparently Steve Waugh thinks he could be. For me he's a good all-rounder in one-day cricket but he falls dangerously close to being not quite good enough at either discipline in Tests. Averages don't tell the full story (unless they are real averages!), but Watson averages 22 with the bat and 37 with the ball - not good enough at either, but admittedly in only a 7-match career.

He still has plenty of time to come good as he's only 27, but if he's going to play for Australia in Tests surely it has to be as a batsman that bowls and not the other way round.

13 November 2008

Setting your field positions

I'm a fan of the Pitch Vision website (formerly Harrow Drive) but one particular post I've just come across has reminded me of an unfortunate experience when I was a keen potential skipper at school level. I'll come to that in a minute, but the page in question is "The complete guide to cricket field settings" which I love as an idea. But it's feasibility for use amongst anything other than (early) school children? I'll let you be the judge of that (but I'll try to persuade you of my opinion!).

Like many (I assume), when I was made captain of my first school side I was given a few photocopies of an oval pitch and two marks for the stumps with crease lines, and then encouraged to mark crosses where I might put my field. I had a different field for each type of bowler which at that age was basically "quick" and "slow". Very useful. For an 8 year-old who'd never captained a side before. I think I may even have taken the sheets on to the pitch with me in my pocket in case I forgot and panicked.

Later on in my youth cricket career at the age of 15 (having captained many matches) I was given a similar task over the winter by my cricket master to be the following summer. From memory about four of us had the same task - the same old photocopies with a couple of notes on the conditions such as "60 for 4, turning wicket, leg-spin bowler". I have to admit that I behaved somewhat inappropriately.

My concern is that there are just too many issues to take into account on a bit of paper. If he's bowling leg-spin on a turning wicket then how much turn are we talking about? At right angles? Is the outfield so fast that when it beats the in-field it's four? Is the batsman playing attackingly despite the score? How attackingly? Does he try to whip it through midwicket against the spin or play elegantly through the covers? Is he looking to come down the wicket? Can my bowler bowl a googly? A top-spinner? The list goes on....and on....and on....and on. That's why I found captaincy interesting - no two situations are identical so you have to think on your feet.

So I'm ashamed to admit that, rather than explaining my concerns to my cricket master to be, I simply scrawled "Stupid question - it depends!" across each of the photocopies to answer the question "What field would you set if..." Needless to say I wasn't made captain that year and there was quite a bit of tension over that particular summer.

My concern with the Pitch Vision attempt to document fields is that the there are infinite factors to take into account and setting a field from an information resource like a bit of paper, a book or a website is going to be instantly flawed. But I'll certainly be interested in the results and I promise not to comment "Stupid question - it depends!" this time....

Overblown case of bile

This article on The Australian website made me laugh....it sarcastically discusses the over-reaction to Australia's defeat in India. Take a read....

Yellow Cards

I have read that the ECB are contemplating the introduction of yellow cards at Club and Minor County level with the possibility of extending it to the first class game.

I am afraid that I cannot understand the logic behind this when, since 2000, the Laws of Cricket have comprehensively covered penalties for diciplinary matters. In the Southern Premier Cricket League there is a strict reporting regime for umpires and each case is treated according to its severity by the league committee.

The onus is on the captain of the side to ensure that guidelines behind The Spirit of Cricket are adhered to and I think that the danger of a yellow card system is that players could think that they now have more opportunities to flaunt the Laws before action is taken.

What do others think?

12 November 2008

Officiating professionally at 2 sports

This is quite impressive. For those that missed the story yesterday, Martin Bodenham has gone from Premier League football referee to English first class cricket umpire.

As far as I know he can only be outdone by Steve Bucknor who has refereed football and umpired cricket at international level. Any others spring to mind?

10 November 2008

Specialist spin bowling site

Every now and again I do a quick check of who is linking to Cricket Burble or who is syndicating our content elsewhere. It seems that Spininfo have quoted something I wrote about Australia needing to use Katich more as a spin bowling option so as one good turn deserves another, take a look at Spininfo here.

The only slight concern that I have is that the article in question (The answer to Australia's spin bowling woes?) suggests that Jason Krejza is "unlikely to take wickets...." after his cumulative 0-199 in the two innings warm up match.

Despite Australia losing the 4th Test, Krejza took 12 wickets and the man-of-the-match award. I suspect that Spininfo might not feature a Cricket Burble article again!!

6 November 2008

Apparently we're going to win the Ashes easily!

It seems Ian Botham is more than a little bit confident that we'll win the Ashes next year. I don't mind betting that we'll never beat the Aussies "easily" in my lifetime. In the current series has failed once when they lot the second Test, and apart from that neither side has looked like winning, so I'm not sure I agree with Botham's assessment that "they are weak in the bowling attack".

They are undoubtedly weaker than they were but if they pick the correct line up all they're missing is a spinner. Lee, Clark, Johnson, Symonds or Watson and a spinner (possibly a mixture of Clarke, Katich and Krejza who did well today). I don't mind betting that Australia will find a way and our wickets won't be spin friendly so their lack of spin won't be such a factor as in India.


I think I've already burbled about Ed Smith's books and how after I'd found 'Playing Hardball', about baseball, so good I'd been disappointed by 'What Sport teaches us about life'. Anyway in one of these two he refers to Moneyballs by Michael Lewis (see right) about a player who found managing so much more satisfying than playing so retired from the latter early. He's Billy Beane and has been able, over several seasons and on a low budget, to make Oakland Athletics seriously competitive in Baseball leagues in America.

His secret is that, armed with a wealth of statistics, he has worked out what are the important attributes of players in terms of getting results; it seems that his views differ from the standard view so that he is able to trade players with other teams to his benefit.

It's brilliant even if like me you have little understanding of baseball and there are analogies relevant to football and cricket (particularly when he talks about batter's eyes lighting up when the slow pitcher is in action!)

Highly recommended.

5 November 2008

Recognise the ICL

It's interesting to see the response to Mohammed Yousuf signing up to the ICL. From the comments at the bottom of this page about Yousuf, it seems the vast majority of people want the ICL to be recognised by the ICC.

When I was in India the ICL was on and it looked like an interesting league. I've not watched the IPL and that, I assume, is a slightly higher standard given the players involved, but the ICL is still a very good quality of cricket. It's difficult to make a judgement based on a few TV matches, but to my untrained eye it looked like it was at least as good as County cricket.

The BCCI recognise that there's money to be made here and not surprisingly they don't want a rival league in their backyard - all be it one that they have proved is helpful to them in that they can learn what works and make better use of the learnings given their massive spending power. I would argue that the BCCI should be a little more forward thinking and consider how the ICL could be useful to them. And that the ICC should recognise the ICL asap so that member countries can stop the farcical banning of players that only goes to weaken world cricket.

The BCCI needs to show that it's capable of playing a lead role in world cricket, rather than playing the role of an angry teenager. They could start by accepting Gambhir's one-match ban. The rest of the world are ready to support India as the lead-player if only the BCCI can get their act together and realise they are subordinate to the ICC, not above them.

4 November 2008

The start of the English summer

The debate goes on about who will tour England to play two Tests at the start of next summer, and of course the IPL looms large. This Telegraph article claims that the ECB might try to get the IPL start date moved back 10 days but whether that is realisitic remains to be seen - Modi hasn't shown much flexibility so far so I'd be surprised if he started to be flexible now but it has to be worth a shot.

Given Modi has buckets of money, I wonder if the ECB have considered asking for financial compensation for every last penny that they wouldn't get if they play two less Tests next summer and in return allowing the England players to play in the IPL. That would be a one-off deal on the basis that the IPL is moved back to accomodate the first Tests of the English summer in future.

The ECB could be similarly flexible and move the date of the 1st Test of the summer slightly later - that would be to the benefit of the spectators in England who often don't see enough play in the May Tests given bad light/poor weather. Looking at the start date of the 1st Test last year it was 15th May, and all 7 Tests of the English summer were complete by 11th August. In previous years the 1st Test of the summer started on 17th May (2007), 11th May (2006) and 26th May (2005).

A start date towards the end of May should be emminently achievable and it would allow the England players who aren't selected for the IPL to get into form with their Counties prior to the Test series. Even those involved in the IPL could in theory play a 4-day match for their County prior to playing the 1st Test given that the IPL fits into 6 weeks and the last few days of that are only relevant to the teams that reach the semis. Last year the IPL ran 18th April - 1st June but if it started at the start of April, everything could be fitted in.

3 November 2008


Well that was embarrassing wasn't it - blown away with 44 balls to spare - and to think I'd rushed home from deepest Kent to get to a pub with Sky in, in order to watch it. It looked as if the players had decided to put all the embarrassment into one basket, get it over with and make sure we don't get invited back again.

But now Peter Moores is talking about the players not being sure what the match was for - was it for England or was it for money? and what difference would that make ? Alternatively there is talk of changing the name of the team - that will make a lot of difference!

Might well be that this is another sport that we've given to the world and then watched as the world has got better than us. (I remember the early ODI days when there was the theory that, since the county players played more of it than the competitors, we'd be the best !). I think it all means that Middlesex's performance in The Champions Trophy becomes even more interesting.