29 January 2009

Dave McCabe's pal shows extra common sense

It seems that Shaun Udal has been approached by the IPL and asked to put his name into the hat for the auctions but has declined as he wants to concentrate on his job as the newly appointed captain of Middlesex.

All well and good for this Middlesex supporter and you'd think that all the Committee etc. would be delighted too but Angus Fraser makes a very interesting point and clearly would have been happy whatever Shaun decided. His argument being that going to India would have given Udal new experiences and would probably have benefitted him as a player.

28 January 2009

Why doesn't that happen more often ?

If you walk along a busy street you don't bump into people constantly. Instead you subconsciously catch the eyes of people approaching you and somehow transmit a message enabling evasive action to take place. Occasionally you get a situation where you almost collide and then both people move in the same direction once or twice more before you eventually pass. It's always because one of the two was looking away or, more usually, down and no eye contact was made.

Now it seems that Bell and Prior had a moment like that yesterday and Prior was run out as a consequence. So it occurred to me that with batsman watching the ball and fielders as they run between wicketes it is surprising that it doesn't happen more often.

Obviously we know that the non-striker's position when the ball is bowled is determined by what side of the wicket the bowler is operating from and the striker presumably takes that into account in his calculations but I wonder if there is more to it than that.

26 January 2009

Should Flintoff have been playing?

I should be in a position to say I told you so, but unfortunately lack of time meant that I didn't actually get round to posting that I wouldn't have picked Flintoff for the warm up game against St Kitts. As I didn't ever write the post, you'll just need to take my word for it that this isn't just the benefit of retrospect! Now, unfortunately, there are concerns over Flintoff's fitness again after he injured his side.

My thinking in wanting to suggest Flintoff didn't play was this. There are two spots out of 3 in the order for Bell, Shah and Collingwood and it seems very unfair on Collingwood if Bell and Shah get the opportunity to score hundreds, while he is left on the sidelines. Collingwood is also one of those guys who needs time in the middle in a way that someone like Pietersen doesn't. The alternative to Collingwood instead of Flintoff would have been Sidebottom who needs lots of bowling and wickets if he's to prove himself and therefore be a realistic candidate for the Tests. England's other 10 were sufficiently "all-round" that it wouldn't have mattered greatly which of Collingwood and Sidebottom played.

Flintoff, who is pretty metronomic in his bowling (i.e. needs little practice it seems), was chosen and unfortunately the worst has happened. Personally I would have liked to see England use the chance to look at options for the 1st Test which means looking at the non-certainties. Shah has shown just how important that can be and I really hope he gets the nod ahead of Bell now for the 1st Test. We just have to hope that Flintoff is fit in time....

24 January 2009

England's IPL players

The news that England's players will be available for 3 weeks of the 2009 IPL and for some of the 2010 competition means that some of the best players can look forward to making huge amounts of money for very little work. The question is, who might be wanted by the IPL franchises?

When you're looking at any form of cricket the top two names on the England list are always Pietersen and Flintoff. So those two are automatic. But when Lalit Modi talks about 4 or 5 England players, who else might he be considering? Samit Patel has already made himself available and is a good shout, although his bowling in India recently did him no favours. On that tour Owais Shah and Graeme Swann certainly put good cases forward (although Swann came through in the Tests rather than the Twenty20 and ODIs), as did Stuart Broad. Rumour also has it that Ravi Bopara is in with a shout.

While he's not been in great form lately, I'd still put Collingwood right up there, so for me the England players who might realistically put themselves forward and expect a contract (not including Patel who's already on the list, and also not including Mascarenas and Napier who are already spoken for) are: Pietersen, Flintoff, Shah, Collingwood, Broad. The two outside bets might be Bopara and Swann. Others like Harmison, Bell or Anderson may feel they have a chance but I don't think any franchise will get a good return on them.

Who do you think will get an IPL contract from the England side?

Miller really hates the Aussies

The merits of Geoff Miller as an England selector might sometimes be questioned, but his ability to give a good after dinner speech isn't. I particularly liked the report in The Sun this week quoting Miller's comments at a charity event:

“I really hate the Aussies. Sometimes I get up an hour early, just so I can hate them some more.”

We might be left wondering why someone who so hates the Aussies picked Pattinson for the 2nd Test against South Africa, despite Vaughan's strongly stated preference for Simon Jones and the availability of Matthew Hoggard. But that's in the past - let's hope that Miller's hatred leads to the right team being picked for this year's Ashes.

20 January 2009

Snowballs, sledges and fast bowlers

Well, I don't know how the Burble readership spent their New Year, but I spent mine on a ski trip to Les Arcs in the French alps, tumbling merrily down slopes and spending £6 on a pint of lager (thanks, credit crunch). But - before you start wondering if this is now Ski Burble - let me tell you about our New Year's Eve.

After a decent dinner and a quick trip to the local bar, we hit the slopes a shade before midnight in order to watch a fireworks display and see in the New Year climbing up and sliding down the lower slopes on some small plastic trays affectionately known as 'bum boards'. A few slides into our session and 2009, we noticed we had company - a lumbering hulk of a chap and his son were just about perceptible in the dark engaged in similar sliding pursuits.

Despite the gloom, a fellow cricketer within our party and I became increasingly aware that we recognized the world-weary gait and the gruff voice that answered our greetings: Angus Fraser. With neither of us looking like approaching the guy to plug Cricket Burble or give him some batting tips, another of our party took matters into her own hands ("Are you Angus Fergus?" - near enough! - "My friends are too shy to ask!"). Mind you, I fortunately managed to recover from this humiliation in time to meet a rather weak Fraser snowball with the observation that he'd lost a yard of pace ("And the rest!" said Gus).

It brings a whole new meaning to sledging...

18 January 2009

Ed Smith - easily pleased ?

As you'll now if you've read previous witterings I'm a fan of Ed Smith both as a cricketer and as a writer ( although I felt 'What sport teaches us...' slightly disappointing after 'Playing Hardball' ) but a comment in yesterday Telegraph strikes me as slightly odd in a Simon Hughes sort of way.
'I once turned on the television,' he wrote 'watched Brian Lara execute a heavenly late cut, and immediately switched off again, perfectly satisfied.'
If that had been you, wouldn't you want to wait and see whether he did it again?

15 January 2009

David Warner - you read about him here first... possibly.

Following on from Ed's post about spotting Bangladesh's rising star Al-Hassan, I'm going to (not so) subtly remind readers that in my post covering last year's Hong Kong Sixes I recommended David Warner as one for the future... and who should make 89 off 43 balls against South Africa on his debut (I'll gloss over his next knock of 7 off 12 as the always difficult second innings)?

If Anwar Ali comes good I might just quit this mathematical research lark and become a cricket scout full-time...

14 January 2009

Al-Hassan could make a fortune in the IPL

Before Xmas I plugged Shakib Al-Hassan from Bangladesh as a potential world-beater so it seems only right that I should publicise his match winning batting performance against Sri Lanka - 92 not out off 69 balls against a bowling attack that included Mendis and Murali.

I assume he'll be available for the IPL so it will be interesting to see what bids come in for him....

12 January 2009

Who says Strauss isn't a limited overs player ?

Anyone who, like me, was at The Oval on April 20th last year when he took 163 off Surrey in a Friends Provident Trophy match, would disagree.
The best bit was that I was with a pal who's a member of Surrey!

11 January 2009

Let's not pretend sackings are resignations

In yesterday's Guardian there was an article that tickled me entitled "Should Strauss just resign right now?" which tackled the issue of forced resignations because the author doesn't even contemplate the end of Strauss' tenure coming in any other way than resignation.

Let's be clear. Pietersen did eventually resign with this statement. But he's now saying that he was forced into resignation - in fact he's saying that he was sacked for doing exactly what the ECB asked him to do - put forward his proposed structure moving forward. He sent an email to the ECB before he went on holiday outlining how he thought England should be taken forward and suggesting that the current set up was not the right one to bring success. It sounds like he went as far as suggesting that he wasn't willing to go to the West Indies unless the issues that he felt were holding back the England cricket team were sorted out. The act of a passionate and driven man desperate to achieve success. Not the action of a man throwing in the towel.

So why the need to force Pietersen into resignation rather than sacking him? While some football clubs try to force resignation rather than sack their manager as resignation saves them millions of pounds in compensation, the ECB don't need to worry about that - this is someone who will continue to play for the side. So the only conclusion that we can come to is that the ECB are nervous about taking full responsibility for their actions. After all, they have come to the conclusion that Peter Moores is not the best man to manage the England cricket team so that should have left the path open for Pietersen to continue. Unless they had also come to the conclusion that he wasn't the man to captain the England cricket team.

Two things - in my opinion - show that last summer's merry-go-round was instigated entirely by the ECB who were desperate to make the popular decision and so too quick to listen to the media who's point of view was clouded by the need to sell papers (suggesting - correctly - that Vaughan was head and shoulders above the next best captaincy candidate despite his slump in form when England were losing a home series would always be a reader loser). First, Vaughan's resignation where he fought back tears - hardly the actions of a man who's just had enough and was relieved to be jacking it in.

And second - and this really is the one where the ECB insulted the intelligence of England cricket supporters - they expected us to believe that without any pressure from them, Paul Collingwood came to the decision that he wanted to resign the ODI captaincy on exactly the same day that Michael Vaughan resigned the Test captaincy, but that it had nothing to do with the fact there would be a new Test skipper and the ECB wanted to unify the roles into one. Paul Collingwood's words when he resigned suggest no discussion about unifying the roles - afterall that would be unseemly if the ECB were seen to push such a loyal servant of England cricket out. His statements talked of his desire to enjoy his cricket and talked of his struggle with the extra workload, despite his personal batting results improving when captain.

The ECB have made some terrible decisions in forcing out 3 captains in the last 6 months. But the fact that they have dressed them up as resignations is what really sticks in the throat. It is their attempt to absolve themselves of responsibility for decisions that their role is to get right. And anyone who wants responsibility without accountability doesn't deserve to continue in their role.

So we're left hoping that the Strauss/Flower combo can bring success in the West Indies and the quality of the opposition suggests that shouldn't be too testing. But if they are successful it will be in spite of, rather than because of, the ECB. And of course if it isn't, we can expect another round of sackings dressed up as resignations.

Flintoff and Pietersen

Without being inside the England camp it's very difficult to know for sure how Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff get along. What you can say is that they both have big characters and play a huge role in dressing room morale. So rumours that Flintoff was involved in Pietersen's downfall as England captain comes as a nightmare to any England fan. Although today Harmison has unequivocally stated that Flintoff's support for Pietersen was total in a Cricinfo article titled "Flintoff and I supported Pietersen". (Personally I'm just impressed he didn't say "Me and Flintoff..."!)

But unfortunately it's not the first time that there have been rumours about whether or not they get on. When Flintoff was captaining the last Ashes tour, rumours were rife that Pietersen wasn't playing for the team, despite being one of the England success stories of the tour. As this article from the time suggested, Pietersen himself had said that he didn't follow team instructions during the nightmare 2nd Test at Adelaide where England capitulated on the final day.

While that 2nd Test didn't paint a good picture of Pietersen as fully supportive of his skipper - despite his hundred - it also showed why Flintoff made a lousy captain. He huffed and puffed and his shoulders dropped as England fielded on the 5th day, leaving Hoggard to put a consoling arm around his shoulders and try and remind him of his responsibilities to the team as captain. It's very possible that current animosities between the two started during that Test - both would have been distraught afterwards and looked for reasons why they slipped to an embarrassing defeat.

So what to make of it and how does it effect the England team? Well for all their talismanic qualities, the two are completely different. Reports suggest that Flintoff likes to relax over a beer with his mates and family. Pietersen likes to prepare every last detail and when he's not thinking cricket he relax with celebrity mates. But what makes their relationship tricky is that they have different approaches to get to the same goal - England winning. Their not poles apart - they're close enough to overlap. Neither could be accused of anything but total loyalty to the England cause (I hope I'm not proved wrong by Pietersen taking a lucrative IPL offer and turning his back on England - I'm sure I won't but you can never quite say never). And there is total respect for each other - Pietersen pushing Flintoff up the batting order against all statistical evidence to the contrary proved that.

So it's now down to captain and coach (in that order) to ensure that their shared goal is the main focus, not how the team gets there. Both will need to feel included and both should be told now what happens when Strauss has to leave the pitch (I would give the Test captaincy to neither and use Cook or Collingwood if necessary but the ODI "vice" captaincy could be a thornier issue). It's classic man-management - all be it very tricky man-management - and if Strauss can get it right while maintaining his batting form then his position as England captain will be a very strong one. If he struggles to pull the two of them together then he will go the way of the two previous England captains and be forced into resignation, but that is the subject of another post....

9 January 2009

ECB finally making some sensible decisions?

Wow, what a spectacular mess. This was a high-profile implosion of a national team that never needed to happen and hasn't really done anyone any credit. It was hard to imagine when the news emerged that KP had been denied Vaughan back in the squad that it would catalyze this soap opera drama! Indeed, KP seems thoroughly to have wrought his own downfall, and deserves his criticism in the press. But, in my mind, the silver lining of the whole affair is that the ECB seem finally to be making some sensible decisions!

Firstly, the appointment of Strauss - clearly the only sensible option for the test team (though we can all dream of Vaughan returning!). Strauss is a level head and a thoughtful and dependable leader - just when we need a 'safe pair of hands' in charge of the national team the most. His successful previous captaincy during the Pakistan series is frequently cited. Furthermore, he has, since Vaughan's resignation and for the time being at least, reestablished himself in the test side. Burbler Mark Davis calls for Rob Key to be reconsidered, but his stock as a captaincy outsider must surely have declined now a successful 2007 county season is no longer so fresh in the memory.

I would venture, though, that the rather less obvious appointment of Strauss for the ODI leadership was also a good decision. Though he is a marginal one-day player at best, unity seems an important factor at this stage, and at least Hugh Morris is being consistent with his expressed preference for combining the roles. Though he hasn't played a ODI since the World Cup, surely introducing Strauss for Cook or Bell would have little adverse effect on the balance of the side. At any rate, surely the batsman who reevolved his batting to revive his test career may be able to conjure up a new face for the shorter format!

It also seems the right choice not to rush into a new coach appointment. The haste with which Moores was originally appointed seems not to have done the side any favours - after Moores' departure, the man who might have been courted had more time been available, Tom Moody, is once again a leading candidate. In the meantime Andy Flower seems capable enough!
Anyway - did anyone spot the stories that KP apparently asked Warne to come in as coach just before he was sacked?!

Told you so !

Well I meant to anyway. I'm sure that when Vaughan stepped down I wrote something about how Pietersen would be a bad choice and let's have Bob Key (I might have been in Whitstable when I wrote that last bit). [Ed: I can't find you saying that you wanted Rob Key on Cricket Burble!]

Unfortunately I'm not computer-literate to be able to find the evidence on the site. [Ed: But I am, here's the post Mark is referring to appropriately titled "Disastrous" and your exact words were "They say they want unity but they'll get division."]

So - in case I didn't tell you so - I meant to. [Ed: You did tell us!]

I think I might also have said (or at least thought) that I don't see any need for one man to captain the Test and ODI sides, but perhaps I only thought that too. [Ed: I can find no evidence of you writing this on Cricket Burble!]

One benefit of this shambles (and it's not a real shambles, we'll get over it after a succesful tour of the West Indies) is that it's enabled The Times to publish some super comments by Atherton, Martin-Jenkins and even The Sage of Longparish.

7 January 2009

Has Pietersen resigned?

The news just in on Cricinfo suggests that he has....

Sky first reported this - their story is here but it seems to be devoid of facts!

5 January 2009

Day-evening Tests

The whole description of using the evening for Test matches is a little misleading at the moment. What we're really talking about, atleast initially, is a trial of day-evening Tests, not day-night matches. So rather than worrying about the ball which seems to be the major concern for the ICC, a trial should take place in countries with long evenings (eg. Australia or England - there may be more but I don't know!) where the red ball continues to be used but the lights are turned on as the sun goes down. We're talking half-light, not pitch black, which means that the ball argument is less important.

By talking about day-night Tests we're just confusing for matter. For now, why don't the ICC establish that day-evening Tests work for countries where there is that opportunity and then look at what that means for other countries who have longer nights?