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.