31 July 2009

Bowl-out blues

Somerset have progressed to the semi-finals of the twenty-twenty cup with a bowl-out victory over Lancashire, with no play possible due to rain. In cricket's equivalent of the penalty shootout, Somerset hit the stumps with five of their ten deliveries, with Lancashire only making one successful effort.

The video of the event is on the BBC website, and what strikes me is how half-hearted the run-ups were. Maybe it's a different matter under pressure, but I'd back myself to hit 50% of the time using a proper run-up. Surely the professionals would also have had more success if they'd used the run-ups that they'd honed and practiced for hours a day for many seasons, rather than an ad-hoc couple of paces as if they were bowling to their children in the garden at home? I'm not advocating trying to bowl at top speed, but it seems a poor strategy to completely alter your technique when the pressure is on.


I was lucky enough yesterday to be able to watch the highlights and it seems that Watson was lucky not to be given out LBW yesterday to Swann when he was on 37 and Katich could well have been given LBW to Anderson for 4. (If anyone watching the live coverage and umpteen replays knows otherwise, let me know!). So it seems like Australia had the rub of the green last night - evening up the wrong decisions against them in the Lord's Test to a certain extent.

Watson has definitely looked better than Hughes, but I imagine Hughes is wondering why he couldn't have had the same luck...

....possibly because he's unlikely to ever get in line for an LBW!

Ideal time for highlights

It seems that live cricket will remain on Sky so that those without Sky have to rely on highlights. So what's the ideal time for highlights? The ECB have a preferred slot of before 8pm which presumably great for school kids but is useless for anyone who doesn't work 9-5. The BBC seem to want to show highlights very late at night which would be the worst option of all.

For me 8-9pm would be ideal....most kids old enought to take in interest are still up then and those that have been at work are likely to be back by then. 7:15 highlights means that this particular cricket lover hardly sees any cricket except on news bulletins....

30 July 2009

Murali to retire next year

I'm aware that a certain Cricket Burbler is adamant that Muralitharan throws the ball, but I'm happy to go with whatever the scientists that have tested him say and they have cleared him. So for my money, he's a truly great bowler and the time had to come when he'd bow out - having seen the diabolical way that Sri Lanka have handled the tail end of the careers of great players like Jayasuriya and Vaas, Murali has stated his intentions clearly - he wants to retire from Tests in November 2010, play in the 2011 World Cup, and then milk the cash through Twenty20.

Fair play - I wonder if the Sri Lanka board will allow it to be that simple....they seem intent on making player's retirements tricky.

Afridi as captain

Pakistan never take the conservative choice, but they've really hit the gamble button this time, making Shahid Afridi their Twenty20 captain. It's more risky than the Pietersen choice by England and that didn't exactly end well, so it will be interesting to see how Afridi works out....

29 July 2009

Australia's selection

It's a tough selection decision. Allan Border is now saying that Australia should drop Johnson for Clark, and I certainly think they need to get Clark in the team somehow - going into the series without him seemed strange from the outset. Clearly I don't watch Aussie cricket day in, day out, but I'd be looking to play Clark ahead of all the Aussie seamers that have played.

Border suggests just the one change to bring Clark in instead of Johnson. I'd be tempted to get Watson in there as well and it has to be Hughes or North to go if you do that. I can only assume it would have to be Hughes, with Hussey up to open, so it will be interesting to see how they play it. As a non-Aussie with no experience of watching Hughes play well ever, or watching Watson bowl or bat well in a proper match (i.e. not a one-dayer or Twenty20), it's something I'll sit on the fence on....

28 July 2009

A near impossible selection decision

Cricinfo are currently asking you to vote for the two openers you would select in an all-time England XI. It's made more tricky given the fact that no-one has watched all the players bat, but I think of myself as a half-decent student of the game and I found it near impossible. Whatever combination you go with, you leave out one truly great player (as I believe there are 3 that stand above the rest in this list from Cricinfo).

Who would you pick?

Groundsmen should be seen and not heard

Steve Rouse, the Edgbaston groundsman, has far too much to say for himself, surely?

Learn to bat like Chris Martin!

Since you all failed to see the genius of Tuffers' Ashes song, here's another video for you, courtesy of YouTube. It features an advert for a 'Learn To Bat Like Chris Martin' DVD, in homage to New Zealand's hapless tailender.

"Because - like Chris - it's out now!"

27 July 2009

Flintoff and left handers

Very interesting article analysing how Australia could react to the fact that Flintoff has been far more effective against their left-handers than their right-handers. I've got to say, it's made me think about Hughes further - I'd still pick him but they must be sorely tempted to move Hussey up to open and bring in Watson in the middle-order. Either way, moving Michael Clarke, who Flintoff has never got out in an Ashes Test, up to 4 looks to make good sense judging by this analysis.

England have gone for Bell batting 4. I would have preferred Collingwood up to 4 and Bell at 5 because Bell bats better lower down and that splits Bopara and Bell up, but hopefully it won't make a huge amount of difference if Bopara can come good....

25 July 2009

Aussie openers

Personally if I was an Australian selector I wouldn't be considering dropping Hughes (who still averages over 50 in Tests) for two bad Tests - if he was good enough before the Tour then he's equally as good now. But the scavengers are circling so it's interesting to hear that Justin Langer hasn't exactly ruled out coming out of retirement in the same week as he went past Bradman's first class runs record for an Australian.

If Hughes was to be dropped the alternative seems to be to use Hussey or Shane Watson as an opener. As The Guardian points out, there really is only one choice there which is Hussey, agreeing with my post about Watson pre-tour. Watson averages under 20 so if Australia want to risk him to ensure they have a 5th bowling option, they need to bat him at 6 as I've Burbled before. The England bowlers would be licking their lips even more at the prospect of Watson opening the innings than the unconventional technique of Hughes.

24 July 2009

Sri Lanka v Pakistan hotting up

Fancy another close finish like the first two Ashes Tests? Then it might be worth keeping an eye on the 3rd Test between Sri Lanka and Pakistan where Sri Lanka need 240 in 64 overs with 7 wickets in hand to win the series 3-0.

Time will tell....

Use of technology by umpires

It's great to see an England win in The Ashes however it comes, but it's always a little disappointing to find that some of the decisions against Australia's batsmen weren't out. Ponting's in the first innings was less regrettable as he may well have been LBW anyway, but Katich's in the 2nd innings from the no ball (he must have recurring nightmares about umpiring in this country after a couple of shockers in 2005!) and Hussey's where he hit the ground as Swann's ball turned sharply to slip were just plain wrong.

Of course the British press don't like to make too much of wrong decisions when they go England's way. And to be fair the Aussies haven't stirred it up at all, refusing to get drawn into discussion on the matter. But the press outside of England don't need to be so mild mannered and they are all clear that the decisions were poor, to say the least.

Given that background, interesting to hear that Rudi Koertzen wants to use every bit of technology going as he's keen to get every decision right and he knows that won't be the case without technology - how refreshing to hear from an umpire! The key thing is that when technology is used later in the year, it's used properly - not the half-arsed attempt so far where umpires don't have access to ALL the technology.

You may have noticed I didn't reference Phil Hughes' in the wrong decisions above. That's because it was probably out - if you slow down those low catches they all look like they haven't carried because the grass is longer than the diameter of a human finger. It's for that reason that the "batsman gets the benefit of the doubt" law needs to be exactly the opposite for low catches - only if the video shows beyond doubt that the ball hit the ground should it be given not out. That means that Hashim Amla was out last English summer to the diving Michael Vaughan (a "catch" that Vaughan might reflect cost him his job as it wasn't given), Bopara was out caught by Hauritz and Hughes was caught by Strauss. (And it means that de Villiers who claimed a catch that bounced some way short of him last year should have received some kind of ban given that video replays showed it was nowhere near a catch.)

Somehow I doubt things will be quite that simple....

23 July 2009

Really Good News

I'd like to think that the counties have seen sense but it's more likely to be financial expediency that has led to today's announcement that the County Championship will remain unchanged next year (about time they made their minds up) - how else do we produce test players ? This is even more important now that we are rubbish at all other forms of the game.

They've also decided to bin the proposed second T20 competition. Next year's only competition of that kind of cricket will be a two divisions affair that means that half the teams can't win it. Disappointing if , like me you support a second division team, and it means that Middlesex's sudden 'winning it from nowhere' season will never be repeated (their figures before and after 2008 are awful). I'd prefer it if all teams stood a chance but this compromise might produce better players for England.

20 July 2009

Another problem with those heavy bats

Speaking as a bowler I reckon that the modern heavy bat is even more the work of the devil than sight screens but on tour last week I found another serious problem with them. Twice I batted with 'proper' batsman and managed to allow both of them to complete their fifties but on each occasion I was nearly decapitated by what I think they'd call lofted straight drives.

It certainly made me reluctant to back up too far but it also made me wonder about those players who, coming to the end of their careers, might previously have become umpires. Looks pretty dangerous to me for those with ageing reactions.

Tuffers and the Wooden Urns

How did this pass me by?! Phil Tuffnell has recorded an Ashes anthem for the current series in an effort to raise money for the charity Cricket for Change. Together with 'The Wooden Urns' he gets stuck into the tourists to the tune of Rolf Harris' 'Two Little Boys'. Tuffers shows us his musical versatility with a commanding performance, with some truly dreadfully cheesy lyrics, a rap and a gratuitous guitar solo offering something for everyone.

Possibly one of the best worst sports songs ever! You can see it on YouTube here.

19 July 2009

Declarations and field placing

The timing of a captain's declaration is always going to be scrutinised and, as we can't play parallel games with different tactics(!), no one is able to prove that their tactics were right. We've talked about Strauss' declarations before in the West Indies and the fact that his declarations are only as good as his field placings. By that I mean that the timing of a declaration can only be judged having seen how the next innings is handled by the fielding skipper.

On Saturday evening we club cricketers were discussing the timing of England's declaration and I was against giving Australia less than 600 to chase. The reason being that it would have allowed Strauss to have attacking fields throughout.

As things stand he's had to use sweepers to try and contain runs when a close catcher might have created a wicket. And when Anderson was bowling with the new ball at the end of today's play, he had only 2 slips rather than the 3 or 4 that batting Australia (almost) out of the game would have allowed.

Whatever the result, in my opinion the declaration was wrong and it reminds me of Adelaide 2006 when we declared our first innings too early - let's hope the result isn't the same.

18 July 2009

Bowling to tailenders

I think it's obvious to say there has been a momentum shift. Australia fought back towards the end of the first day and then at the beginning of the morning on Friday but then let it slip. Anderson and Onions did enough to prevent a successful morning for the Australians, post a total above the pyschological 400 and keep the Australian opening batsmen on the field for longer than expected.

Whilst the England tailenders did well, I couldn't understand the field placings used by Ponting. Why have a deep point/sweeper on the off-side boundary for a number 10 and 11? All it did was allowed the pairing to build some confidence and remove one catcher from the ring.

And with this confidence the bowlers took the game to the Australians and we are where we are as a result.

Now the question is, how will England bowl to the Australian tailenders?

Getting ahead of ourselves....

As always the English media are assuming that England will go on to win the 2nd Test at Lords now - the same happens whenever England have a good day and it makes me exceedingly nervous!

Australia are unlikely to save the follow on and England should enforce it if the conditions are still overcast, but there is no way that Australia will get skittled again in the second innings. They will go well past England's first innings total of 425 and the pressure will be on England's batsmen....and having watched England over the years we must realise now that we're susceptible to the odd collapse or two.

So I wish we'd stop getting ahead of ourselves in the UK....

17 July 2009

Four letter word usage....

Is it just me and the rest of our touring cricket party who thought that Johnson turned to Anderson having got him out this morning and called him the C word? I'm not a lip reader but it looked like that. Two questions arise:

1. Can't the Aussies of the past give these current lot some sledging advice - just calling someone a c*** shows little imagination and won't bring a smile to the faces of those who hear that sledge many years later like some of the best old ones have done.

2. What is it about Anderson that winds oppositions up? Fidel Edwards seemed to lose the plot when he came in and it's not the first time. When I read Nasser Hussain's autobiography he said that he struggled to get Anderson to say a word in the England changing room so it's difficult to believe that he does anything to rile players so much in the middle.

15 July 2009

Competitive Test Cricket

I was thinking about the competitive state of test cricket at the moment and realised its probably the healthiest its been in its history. There is very little to choose between the top four teams in Australia, South Africa, India and England. There is then a small gap to Sri Lanka and Pakistan, either of these two teams could beat any of the top four given the right conditions. Then a slightly larger gap to New Zealand and West Indies (at full strength) and then down to Bangladesh. As much as I loved the Australian domination of the last 15 years it is refreshing to see so many teams being competitive.

I thought I'd check the ICC rankings to see if they agreed with my assessment. As you can see, I may have over-estimated England's team. I forgot they were recently beaten by the West Indies.

Even so, I maintain that test cricket right now is as competitive as it has ever been.

England time wasting

Following the draw in the first Ashes test Ricky Ponting was quoted in the press criticising England for time wasting tactics. I certainly agree with Ricky's comments. I think it was fair enough to send the gloves out the first time to get the message to the batsman. When the 12th man came out with another pair of gloves the very next over, accompanied by the physio, I was screaming at them through TV to "GET THE #$%^ OFF THE FIELD AND LET THEM GET ON WITH IT!!!" It was an obvious time wasting ploy and as mentioned by the Sky commentators, it was not a good look for the game.

Andy Flower has since come out and said Ricky made too much of it and was using it as an excuse despite him specifically saying "its not the reason we didn't win. We need to look at those reasons." Flower also gave a lame explanation that the reason for the second interruption was because the batsman spilt water on the gloves and there was confusion about whether the physio was required. Please Andy......we were not born yesterday!

While I agree the tactics were against the spirit of the game it is up to the umpires to step in and send the 12th man and physio off before they get to the middle. I've seen this happen in international cricket before, the umpire intercepted the 12th man en route to the middle and sent him straight back to the dressing room and there was minimal interruption.

14 July 2009

Annoying late cancellations

It happens all round the UK every weekend....a team cancels at the last minute. But it's even more annoying when you're on tour, as has happened to some intrepid Cricket Burblers, and the only alternative is all day drinking. With the chance to try the game "bat and trap" admittedly, but still no sport to forcibly stop the alcohol consumption.

Cancelling the night before is just not cricket....but I'll update you on bat and trap which apparently predates cricket....

P.S. If Bell plays he needs to bat below Prior.

12 July 2009

Batting for your life

England need to bat for 3 sessions (subject to weather) today with 8 wickets in hand so real dedication is needed. We have Pietersen first up so all we can hope with him is that he scores enough that when he's out we're past Australia's total - I don't think telling him to defend would be helpful. England's top 2 I'd want batting for my life would be Strauss and Collingwood, if runs were not important.

Interesting then to see some New Zealander's talk about who they'd want batting for their life. Tendulkar, Dravid, Chanderpaul, Yousuf and Sangakkara all seem to make it.

Freak dismissal

Ed Joyce may rightly feel aggrieved by his recent county championship dismissal batting for Sussex against Warwickshire. He hit an aggressive sweep against off the bowling of Ant Botha, only to see the ball lodge in the pocket of Jonathan Trott at short leg as he tried to jump out of the way of the shot. Talk about having the batsman in your pocket!

10 July 2009

Simon Katich

It's interesting reading the various reports of Katich's innings - apparently he's redeemed himself after 2005. I've checked 2005 stats and he did come out with an average of under 30, but my memory is that he was really hard done by with some poor umpiring decisions. Yes, Australia chose to drop him, but let's be honest - he performed far better than Ian Bell who stayed in the England side after that series.

So I'm not shocked he's come good - he's a good player who had a bad series at the same time as getting some very bad luck.

By the way, I would have bowled Swann rather than Broad just before lunch! Well done Monty!!

Are tailenders allowed expensive bats?

We've all seen it, and we've probably all ridiculed it. The number 11 walks out with a brand new £300 bat and gets bowled first ball. What a waste of money.....or is it? What I have always wondered is whether it is ever acceptable for a tailender to spend a fortune on a new bat?

Despite the stigma attached to it, about three years ago I decided to take the plunge and buy a top of the range bat. My rationale was that I wasn't good enough to hit the gaps, force the pace, hit out effectively, or any of that, and that a good bat might help me do this. Having never scored a fifty, I thought it was worth a go. After being subjected to a few stifled chuckles as I tried it out in the shop - and even some attempts by the shop assistant to negotiate me down in budget - I indeed plumped for the most expensive in the shop.

It all started slowly, but the bat went like a dream and I was soon picking up some more runs. What I found was that my dots were turned into 1s or 2s, and my 1s into 2s or 4s. This in turn helped me not to worry that I wasn't getting it off the square, because I was, and so I stopped playing silly shots. Over the course of the season I got myself further up the order, batted for longer periods, developed new shots and eventually got my first fifty in the last match of the season. This was all down to the bat via some additional mental strength brought on by confidence.

My point is that despite the ridicule, it is well worth any player investing in a better bat if they want to. Even though my bat broke after one and a half seasons - it scored a LOT more runs than I did - I considered it money well spent.

Why am I raising the point now? Well, as of last Saturday I am now the proud owner of a new bat again, and yes, it is stupidly expensive for my ability. Bring on that first hundred.

Practice needed

Did anyone else notice that every one of Monty's 5s (high or low) after dismissing Ponting missed ?

8 July 2009

Night watchmen

England now seem to have settled on the tactic of using James Anderson as night watchman at number 8, protecting Stuart Broad. Ian Botham has been typically vocal in his criticism, suggesting that a night watchman gifts the momentum to the fielding side, but I can't say I agree. Where he's right is that night watchmen shouldn't be used when the batting side can't afford to waste a few overs at the end of the day because they need to push for a result - a mistake England made in West Indies.

But, unless in those circumstances, I think on balance I support them using Anderson to protect Broad. Broad averages over 30 and Anderson has proved that he can stick in there as necessary so his value is not only in seeing out the evening, but also seeing out the first half hour tomorrow morning as he did last summer against South Africa. In addition, in the first innings the end of the day is also the time of the new ball, making it an even more perilous time to come in for Broad. The only doubt I have is how far from the end of the day is appropriate - within the last 4 or 5 overs seems ok.

I think times are changing. More bowlers can bat now, and consequently the use of night watchmen should logically change given that is the case. So I suspect that I'm in the minority, and certainly not in agreement with Botham, but at the moment I would back England's use of Anderson when they aren't pushing for a result on the penultimate day of the match.

Australia's Ashes Team

With Brett Lee out of contention Australia have a real head-ache to pick the eleventh member of their team for the first test. The first 10 are relatively simple: Hughes, Katich, Ponting, Hussey, Clarke, North, Haddin, Johnson, Siddle, Clark. The decision for the final spot is between a finger spinner who is obviously not up to test standard, and who even seems to have lost the ability to tie up end, a medium pace all-rounder whose batting is suspect and bowling is steady, or a promising swing bowler who bowled well in patches in South Africa, but hasn't played since.

To be honest, I don't like any of these options. A decision must be made, however, and if it were up to me I'd go with Hilfenhaus. He's a swing bowler who I think will be an established test bowler on Australia's next Ashes tour. I have two big concerns with him however. One, he hasn't played since South Africa. Two, he is a confidence bowler, and his confidence can be easily shaken. I've seen him bowl some very good spells, but when he steps up to play for Australia he doesn't yet beleive he belongs and when he gets hit for a few fours, he seems to fall apart pretty quickly. At the end of the day though I think he is more likely to chip in with a few wickets than Hauritz or MacDonald and we will just have to rely on Clarke, North, and Katich to get through the spin overs.

Ashes Prediction

Clearly it's risky predicting as I could look a chump! But nevertheless, having changed my mind several times over the last few weeks, I'm going for 2-2 with Australia retaining The Ashes.

6 July 2009

Just when I was starting to get excited!

I'm saving up Simon Hughes's new book for later but couldn't resist starting Marcus Berkman's new Ashes to Ashes and therefore finished it during the Men's Wimbledon Final. Burble readers know that I'm a huge fan of both writers (although SH can be an acquired taste at times) and of Ed Smith (despite slight disappointment at What Sport teaches........). Unfortunately Berkman has brought back (in very amusing way it has to be said) much of the agony of watching England play cricket over the last years. He's lucky, he only goes back to 1972, I can remember Benaud bowling May behind his legs 11 years before.

Generally speaking (and he's really only covering matches against the Aussies so nearly manages to avoid mentioning some of the disasters against The West Indies in particular) it's a tale of better batsman and bowlers with better attitude against our boys but there is another pattern. That is the quantity of dropped catches and the panicky attitude of the selectors (remember Stephen Fleming talking about our skill at cutting off integral parts of the team) . I reckon if we just get those bits right it will make a huge difference.

Still I'll now be watching from behind the sofa. Great read though !

3 July 2009

Premier League ref oversees umpiring for ECB

Today it's been announced that Premier League referee Steve Bennett will work at the ECB as the Director of Officials. Apart from the wanky job title, good luck to him. I'd love to understand what the Director of Officials does day-to-day - organising the officials is clearly an admin job, so presumably as Director he's looking at their performance in great detail and any improvements that can be made to the way they do their job.

I look forward to video replays for all first-class cricket then.

(Reverse) swing the key

I've never worried about Brett Lee being in the Australian side as he has an average of over 40 against England and our batsmen seem to have no problem playing him. But having said that, he seems to have learnt how to reverse swing the ball now. I wonder if, from an England perspective, he may be the surprise Aussie package - normally we plunder him but I fear we won't this year.

Cricket Burble will come back to this once he's seen in action in Cardiff after his 5 for yesterday....

1 July 2009

4 day Tests and 2 tiers

It seems that the ICC are rightly considering some radical ideas for how to increase interest in Tests given the interest in "T20". I think things will level out - Twenty20 has it's place...but eventually it will be just another form of the game, not the dominant one. But the ICC are right to try to bolster the main form of the international game. However....

4 days Tests: I can't see how that will work unless you can get the players to play an extra session per day. The need is to increase the number of results without noticeably reducing the standards of wickets, so reducing match length can only mean an increase in overs, and I can't see the players going for it, despite the fact I'd love a nice 10am start and a late finish as a spectator.

Two tiers of Test nations: This can work as long as they ensure that 2nd Tier do play 1st Tier, but just less often. Any attempt to avoid Tier 1 nations playing Tier 2 would be pretty disasterous. And there needs to be a revenue adjustment so that Tier 2 nations are compensated.

I realise that it's difficult to push through change, but fingers crossed that the ICC can get it right.

The results of internet research

In case anyone's wondering whether the internet research of Sunday's opposition worked, it didn't! You can see the scorecard here or, if you prefer, the match report.