27 February 2009

Ravi Bopara

I've never seen him bat before - is he always so much of a leg side player? And if so is he the most one sided player ever to play in test cricket?

26 February 2009

First net of the 2009 season

I'm off to the County ground at Hove for nets tonight - my first attempt to play cricket of 2009. And nets with a new club. What scares me a little is just how variable my cricketing skills can be the first time I play each year. Last year, not too bad in that my first ball hit the mat. All seasons I can remember before that - appalling.

My fear of the first attempt to play cricket each season particularly hinges around bowling. Batting-wise I normally get my pad in the way so at least I rarely hear the death rattle and suffer the ignominy of picking the stumps up and placing them back in position. Although now I've said that I will no doubt be bowled a dozen times.

The first ball I bowl normally consists of a couple of bounces (or more) or a head-high full toss, combined with hitting the side netting. Fortunately there's no umpire, because if there was I'd take their head off with my round arm initial attempts to get the ball anywhere near the batsman. My aspirations for the end of net 1 is normally just to bounce the ball on the green mat without letting out too much of a groan at the point of delivery (that comes from a rugby shoulder injury which only marginally eases with use throughout the summer).

So I'll let you know how it goes. My new team mates will wonder if I've ever played cricket before after they see me in action tonight....! And if any of them are reading this, then at least they are forewarned!

A sign of the times

Last year Middlesex's shirts were sponsored by Northern Rock. This year I can only assume that they can find no replacement for them as in a press release strewn with exclamation marks on their website http://www.middlesexccc.com/ they are urging members and supporters to sponsor a set of kit. There are 32 players each with separate kit for each of 4 competitions which means 128 sets of kit. At £300 a pop that means they are looking for £38,400. And you don't get to pick your favourite player - you just go into a raffle. Times is hard.

This will also put an end to my naive assumption that the name change to Middlesex Panthers (away from Crusaders - am I still the only one who thought that that was potentially offensive?) must be to do with sponsorship from Slazengers.

24 February 2009

Runs galore

No doubt Younis Khan has been dreaming of breaking the world record for runs scored in one innings, and he will never have a better opportunity than the current Test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in which there have been two double centuries and now a triple. When the two best spinners in the world can't take wickets on day 4, you know that the wicket is "a belter".

What I found interesting was that Jayawardene bowled joke bowlers in the 3rd session of day 4. While I can completely understand his frustration, and appreciating that a draw was the only possible result, I don't think an England captain would ever get away with that approach. Hopefully we'll never find out as England will never play on a wicket like the one in Karachi! Despite the fact that Jayawardene actually took a wicket (and no doubt turned around to Mendis and Murali to tell them that's how it's done), I still don't think I can advocate the use of joke bowlers in anything but the last session of a Test.

We're not really close enough to the goings-on in Sri Lanka to understand the reasons that Jayawardene has announced that he will step down as captain at the end of this Pakistan series, but it seems a great shame. He has been critical to Sri Lanka coming through as genuine challengers to any opposition and a dip in ODI form shouldn't have been a reason for him to stop I don't think. In Tests he's still scoring stacks of runs and the team have gelled around him.

It would be interesting to know the real reasons, rather than the published reasons, for his resignation. I can completely understand if he's burnt out, but I also find it hard to believe that he doesn't think he can captain in the 2011 World Cup - he's only 31! Perhaps bowling joke bowlers on the 4th day of a Test demonstrates to everyone that he's had enough....

23 February 2009

Cricket + American TV = Science?

There are two English language terrestrial television channels in Hong Kong and both try to make the most of their meagre budgets by filling their schedules with earnest local reporting and cheapo-Discovery channel sciencey fluff. Late one night last week, feeling a little worse for wear after a few post-150-run-defeat beers, I was watching said fluff and discovered much to my astonishment that cricket is the most dangerous ball sport in the world. Fact.

The program was called Sport Science and this episode competed different sports against each other. Which goes fastest - a well-hit ice hockey puck or golf ball? What hurts more - a rugby tackle without pads or an American football tackle with pads? And most interestingly for us, which is most dangerous - baseball or cricket? Baseball was represented by a rookie pitcher whose fast ball touches 95mph. The force of his fastest pitch was calculated and clips of people being smashed in the face by pitches (or even worse, pitchers hit by return hits) were shown. Ouch.

Then cricket was introduced as a quirky outta-left-field contender. A brief comment along the lines of 'you may think that cricket is about quaint sandwiches and cups of tea... but you'd be dead wrong' accompanied clips almost exclusively from New Zealand vs West Indies series over the years. So who would represent cricket? Shoaib? Brett? None other than... Franklyn Rose. To be fair, there can't have been many fast bowlers knocking about the US and Franklyn was quite good for the Windies, taking 53 wickets at 31. Despite playing his last test in 2000, he looked in good shape and was soon whanging the ball down at seemingly good pace, with one delivery smashing the leg stump - this program's equivalent of a money shot. When Frankyn starting talking about how he could break arms and legs legitimately in cricket because he is allowed to aim at the body, I thought 'well, that maybe true but it doesn't happen that often...'. Broken legs sound a lot more interesting than broken fingers and when Franklyn pointed out that a hit to the head could kill, the moody, dramatic background music reached its crescendo. Here comes the science.

My disbelief in the program, which up til now had willingly weathered the dodgy scientific methods, over-eager host (and creator), and 'person wearing lab coat + safety goggles = scientist' sophistry came back from suspension with a bang when Mr Voiceover said 'Franklyn bowls at 95 mph.' Shoaib, maybe. Brett on a good day, maybe. But not Franklyn, and especially not 37-year-old-hasn't-played-first-class-cricket-in-ages Franklyn. Oh well. It turns out that because a cricket ball weighs a little more than a baseball that a hit in the face from a rapid bouncer will cause a bit more damage than a beanball from a pitcher. And because bowlers are allowed to hit batsmen (to an extent) and pitchers are not, cricket is far more dangerous. Q.E.D.

You can find several clips of the show on youtube and it's quite entertaining, especially if you like watching glass being smashed by a golf ball in super-slo-mo or someone smacking a crash test dummy in the face with a hockey stick. Just don't believe the numbers...

Bell shouldn't be in consideration....should he?

There's various speculation about who replaces Flintoff for the next Test in West Indies (incidentally I'm totally confused about why it's called the 4th Test and the last Test was called the 3rd - surely it was just the 2nd rescheduled?).

This Guardian article concerns me in that it even considers Ian Bell. There are two options: (1) bat Prior at 6, if he's available given the imminent birth of his first child, with Broad at 7 and 4 other bowlers. (2) play Bopara at 6 so that we go in with 4 and a bit bowlers. Bell is nowhere in either option.

Personally I'd go for the second option and play Bopara, get runs on the board and then - using 4 specialist bowlers - pressure them out. That puts the pressure on both the bowlers and the captain as tactics are vital, but when our top bowlers are struggling, I'm not quite sure how adding our 5th best bowler is suddenly expected to make us into a brilliant bowling unit. I'd rather rely on the top 4 and attacking fields.

Would anyone seriously consider playing Bell?

22 February 2009

Let's hear it for Colly

Readers of Cricket Burble will know I'm a bit of a Paul Collingwood fan. So it's great to read this Cricinfo article - predictably titled "Colly flowering" - talking about how Collingwood has performed the second best behind Pietersen since 2005. What I find particularly pleasing is the comments given at the end of the article by numourous Collingwood fans. Even one comment, from a New Zealand fan, suggesting he has been wrongly vilified for his role in the Grant Elliot run out - something I definitely agree with.

And having seen that there does seem to be some support for Mr Collingwood, I checked his popularity in the only way there is to check popularity these days - the number of Facebook groups created to honour him - 8. That compares to 3 for Andrew Strauss and vast numbers for Pietersen - it seems that Collingwood is always going to come second to Pietersen whether it be runs or Facebook groups. But you get the impression he'd be very happy with being rated as second best, rather than constantly being on the verge of being dropped. If he can continue scoring a hundred every couple of matches as he has done lately, he might finally be able to get the respect he deserves....

More on nightwatchman

Interstingly according to yesterday's Times quoting Andy Flower the decision to use a nightwatchman in the second innings wasn't his or even Strauss's but Shah's. Now leaving aside the notion that this appears to be spectacular buck passing and even if the view is that it's the ingoing batsman's prerogative to call for a nightwatchman then I'd argue that the view is wrong and that captain and manager should make decisions of this kind. That's what I thought until discussing it with people who seem to know more about it yesterday when I learnt that apparently it is common practice for the ingoing (or non-ingoing) batsman to make the decision.
Can't be right can it ?

18 February 2009

Night watchmen

I guess most watchers would have been diappointed that England chose to go with Jimmy Anderson at first wicket down last night when in such a dominant position. My thought was that Shah was probably very relieved as the new boy trying to cement a place but maybe a batsman more secure in the side might have been sent in or more sensibly someone like Broad or Prior who'd be able to have a whack in the morning as opposed to Anderson now having to get himself out asap.

17 February 2009

Issues for Sir Allan Stanford?

Yesterday the Times reported that Sir Allen Stanford was being investigated, and now Cricinfo are reporting that he's been arrested for "fraud on a massive scale".


16 February 2009

What a catch!

I assume you've all read about/seen Adam Voges' catch in the Australia v NZ Twenty20? If you haven't, take a look here.

11 February 2009

ECB and RFU "worse than bankers"!

This article gets it pretty much spot on for me - it looks at the similarities between the England cricket and football teams, turning success into relative failure. Specifically it says:

"...despite delivering unfettered success, Sir Clive Woodward and Duncan Fletcher were undermined by boards jealous of their prominence. Thus in place of experienced winners, both teams are now led by novices."

I'd add two comments - the captain in cricket plays a huge role, so getting rid of Michael Vaughan was just as big an issue in my book as dismissing Fletcher. And second, I'm not sure that the claim that "no one can claim a shortage of playing talent" is true in rugby. In fact, having just discussed it last night over beers with a friend, I'm sure it's not!

Both the ICC and RFU need to remember in future that the grass is not always greener. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts...!

Yet another reason to play cricket....

It seems that school children will now be encouraged to play cricket as it helps with Maths. I don't want to be a stickler for detail (ahem), but you probably don't need to actually play the game to help your maths, just taking an interest will suffice....

10 February 2009

Backroom Staff

A lot has been said about the lack of a Head Coach and the effect that it had on the recent batting performance.

It does make me wonder whether all the people taken on tour are really necessary and whether they really do make a valid contribution to the well-being of the team. Remember the old days when the debate raged about whether Botham needed to attend nets and I cannot imagine how Gatting would have reacted to the comments from a nutritionist about eating cheese and pickle sandwiches!

My real point is whether batting, fielding and bowling coaches plus nutritionists and goodness knows how many others are really necessary. Do they really help all players? I am sure they hinder some.

Just a thought but would the lack of a Head Coach have been mentioned if England had won handsomely?

9 February 2009

Referral System

I unfortunately don't have Sky Sports so I can't really give a proper opinion on this referral system without seeing the incidents, but the notion of this doesn't seem right.

The idea that players can formally disagree with the on-field umpire just erodes the authority these umpires have, which will lead to more cases of dissent. I do think there is a case that the 3rd umpire can over-rule the on-field umpires, but only when they are certain, not when there is a shadow of doubt. But for this to happen the 3rd umpire has to be good at his job which I'm afraid to say Daryl Harper certainly isn't!

8 February 2009

Same England team next week, no doubt

Given that England only scored 51, there are obvious comparisons to be made with 1994, when they scored 46 against West Indies. That put them 3-0 down, but Atherton's men came back and won the 4th Test of the series. How many changes were there to the starting XI? Just one - Phil Tufnell came in as the spinner for the 4th Test, instead of Ian Salisbury who had played the 3rd. The idea at the time was very much that Atherton wanted to show that the days of constant chopping and changing were over.

This time, England haven't chopped and changed in the run up to the Test - certainly not with their batting. To outside observers it seems inconceivable that Owais Shah won't play in the 2nd Test, but inside the camp they are no doubt considering if they should retain the same side - possibly making the same change as in 1994 - the spinner. But the time has come for Ian Bell to go - he will come back if he's good enough. You may or may not have seen a short article on Bell in one of the free London papers last week, written after day 1, lamenting the fact that 28 was probably enough for Bell to cement his place for the series. Bell is starting to become a joke, and Collingwood and Cook need to turn the corner soon to avoid the same ridicule. It's none of the player's fault that they keep getting selected for faultering perfomances, but they've got to return that faith eventually. A side that relies so heavily on Pietersen is never going to be consistent.

With the Ashes months away, now is not the time to drop the lot of them, and as they are away touring the option does not exist, but the management need to show that consistent failure is not acceptable by dropping Bell. They should also start to consider how they can alter the balance of the side to leave Flintoff and Prior batting at 7 and 8 without it being seen as a negative move. If Flintoff is going to open the bowling and bowl more overs than anyone else bar the spinner, the argument that his injury worries mean we must play 5 bowlers so that he's not over-worked doesn't stack up, especially given that we're finding it hard to find 5 consistent world class bowlers right now. Runs on the board and getting wickets through pressure might be a necessary evil for England until news players emerge.

So the same team next week then, no doubt.

Al-Hassan the world's best ODI all-rounder!

Clearly, as has been pointed out, the franchises didn't agree with me that Shakib Al-Hassan was brilliant value for money at €75,000 in the IPL auction. He wasn't snapped up, but his time will come.

And just to prove that it wasn't just me touting him(!), his results do stack up statistically, putting him at the top of the ICC ODI all-rounder list.

6 February 2009

Spot on on Scott

Anybody who'se been prepared to listen will know that I've been singing the praises of Ben Scott the Middlesex wicket keeper. Now All Out Cricket agrees with me with an article in this month's issue. Shaun Udal is quoted as saying that he'd back him one million per cent (good mathematics !) to bat at number eight and keep wicket better than anyone in the country. He particularly rates him when standing up to the stumps which as we all know is the harshest test of a keeper.

4 February 2009

He gets even more self-centred

So I've planned my day to perfection - a couple of pub inspections and a meeting in the morning then a drive back from Canterbury timed to start just as TMS begins. Disappointment is not long in showing its face with Bell for Shah - should have seen that coming but still can help feeling that it's wrong.

Then the conversation turns to Bill Frindall and clearly it's time to acknowledge his scorerfullness but what do we get from Boycott? Firstly he tells us that he's got two houses as in he keeps one copy of Frindall's reference works in each and then that he likes to check his own figures because his memory plays tricks (so he's not perfect in every aspect). And soon after that we get tales of scoring 150s off Agnew's bowling. Proof that top level sport needs self awareness but for commentary? - I've had enough and he's starting to become a caricature of himself in the same way that FST did.

3 February 2009

The final list for the IPL auction

The answer to the question of who would finally go up for IPL auction from the England players has been answered and the answer is:

England: Kevin Pietersen (1,350,000), Andrew Flintoff (950,000), Luke Wright (150,000), Owais Shah (150,000), Paul Collingwood (250,000), Ravi Bopara (150,000), Samit Patel (100,000).

Of those, Patel was publicised before but is still a little surprising as he hasn't done anything to speak of as a batsman in international cricket, and his bowling is average. Of the others Luke Wright might consider himself a little fortunate to have got this far having been dropped from the England side recently. Thankfully the list of all and sundry in English county cricket that was initially put forward has got trimmed down, but I feel a little sorry for James Foster who we've seen can change a Twenty20 game with his excellent keeping.

Looking outside of the England players, who is the bargain to be snapped up? You guessed it - my old friend Shakib Al-Hassan from Bangladesh. At $75,000 I'm telling you he's a bargain and looking at the prices, if he'd been from England he would have been worth about $400,000 - Samit Patel (who is roughly comparable in that he's a left-arm spinning all-rounder) worth more than him? Don't make me laugh!!

2 February 2009

Middlesex Panthers

Seems that the Middlesex committee agree with me. I said some time ago that in view of history the use of the name 'Crusaders' for the one day team is more than a tad insensitive these days and inappropriate if you're wishing to enlist more from the Asian communities or play in what used to be called the Middle East.

So now they've announced that in future they will call themselves the Panthers and it looks as if they had to make the announcement earlier than they intended because of leaks.

Australian's fight for place and lick wounds

The latest round of the Sheffield Shield has the Aussie slectors watching all matches in an attempt to conjeur up the best possible squad for the trip to South Africa - you can read who's in the mix here.

Of course, this follows the last ball loss in the ODI to New Zealand this weekend - something which the Aussies are ashamed of, according to the NZ press, and that loss coming despite having cheated according to Daniel Vettori. And there's some interesting Cricinfo statistical analaysis pointing to why the Aussies lost 4-1 in the ODIs to South Africa.

OK, so England also don't have a dominant spin bowler to bowl in the middle overs, but the current situation in Australia makes England's look a little better following the captaincy debacle!

1 February 2009

Modi questioned by Indian police

It seems that Lalit Modi might not have things all his own way in India and the notorious Indian politics that go on behind the scenes could be causing him some concern. He's been questioned by police of the misuse of Rs 22 lakh of BCCI funds, which I believe is not much more than £30,000 but I could be wrong in knowing how much a lakh is!

Modi seems to be able to play the politics game over there, so I'd be surprised if this damages him in any way.

Treasurer can't pay back cash

This seems to happen quite a lot at cricket clubs - club officials managing to use club funds as their own and not being able to pay it back or, more dangerously, officials wantonly ripping off their club. Amazingly though, records are often kept so amazingly poorly that there is no paper-trail to enable a successful prosecution and the guilty party gets away with it.

So it seemed only sensible to publicice this case on Cricket Burble to try and reduce the chances of another cricket club experiencing the same problems. Inevitably though, some will.

Beware the wounded West Indian tiger....

Interesting to see how West Indies cricket always gets a slating in the run up to Test series against England and there is no doubt they've slid a long way since their glory days. This Stephen Brenkley article in The Independent, sums things up nicely by returning to the merits of Chanderpaul and Gayle, in cricketing terms, at the end of the article.

Who's the top-rated Test batsman in the world? Chanderpaul.

Who's the 2nd highest rated ODI batsman in the world? Gayle.

Perhaps we should be a little less hasty in assuming that we'll march to an easy victory and a little more supportive of the plight of this disparate group of islands...I wonder if my wife would see it as an altruistic thing to do if I was to suggest that a group of us go to watch the next England tour of the West Indies?!

Pick Shah and bat him at 5

Strauss of course tells us that the latest warm-up was a good workout, but I'm not sure the various journalists out there have the same view, particularly when it came to England's lousy fielding. But on the positive side, there are key batsmen in form (particularly the skipper and ex-skipper) and the bowlers have had plenty of time to find their rhythm.

Shah apparently got a dodgy decision to be dismissed for 9 LBW, but Bell played a terrible pre-meditated sweep to be bowled round his legs towards the end of day 2. For me, the time has come for Shah to replace Bell (if it hadn't before) - if he's good enough (which his technique suggests that he is) Bell will make stacks of runs at county level and then come back a better player. I'd also - much as I hate to admit it - listen the Geoff Boycott's view and bat Shah at 5, Boycott of course having said that anyone that thinks Owais Shah is an international number 3 needs their head read. That allows our best player, Pietersen, to come in at 3 and dominate the match, and it also allows Collingwood to bat at 4 and be entrusted with getting the side a big score. One of the decisions that Moores got wrong was to push Collingwood back to bit-part number 6 when most of his success has come from batting high up the order with Pietersen. At 4, Collingwood averages 56 and I think we should settle for that.

The bowling looks a little less predictable, but I'm glad that the prevailing view seems to be that Sidebottom will play. England have looked rudderless without him as there is no-one else apart from Flintoff who the captain can expect to keep the runs down if we're not taking wickets. I trust Flintoff is happy he'll be there and I suspect the spinners will be, given that they may be able to use the rough he creates. But which spinner will it be? Personally I'd go for Panesar, but there's very little in it given Swann's improvement and Panesar's relative decline of late. So you'd be left with the side:

Strauss, Cook, Pietersen, Collingwood, Shah, Flintoff, Prior, Broad, Sidebottom, Harmison, Panesar.

Suprised I picked Harmison? Yes, so am I! But he has to be given the chance to relive his former West Indian glories and Anderson hasn't done enough to take the place ahead of him....