29 December 2011

My new hero suffers

So Ed Cowan comes into the Test side at last and is given out caught behind when he didn't hit it and LBW when ball-tracker showed that it was missing. I expect he's wondering why he bothered.

On the other hand Hussey (three times) and Ponting (once) survived because the umpires review system was not available - a major contribution to Australia's win.
Statistics are supposed to show that use of the review system increases accuracy of decisions from 95% to 97% - how they prove that I've no idea but Cowan's experience seems to be a fairly strong contra. But India don't want to use it because it's not perfect (I can't think of anything that is) and so it's not used in their Test matches. But there seems to me to be no reason why you shouldn't allow their opponents access to it even if India don't have such access in the same match and I bet that would bring them round quickly.

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Almost groinal

Great new word coined by a commentator when a batsman got hit full on the box last night !

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28 December 2011

The "sodukku" ball....

Being up half the night with the kids has advantages at this time of year because the Boxing Day test in Australia has proved to be an exciting one. And I'll remember the shot Tendulkar played to the first ball after tea yesterday for a long time (a contemptuous upper cut over the slips for 6).

I've also learnt about a new ball that Ashwin bowls - the sudoku - at least that's how Channel 9 have been spelling it. Apparently the word should actually be "sodukku" rather than sudoku, whick means snapping of the fingers in Tamil (சொடுக்கு). It's kind of a doosra from the front of the hand, with the longest finger flicking the ball out with slight leg to off rotation, but it doesn't turn a great deal. It might need Jack Iverson style skill and finger strength to be able to bowl it, but there are those that think it's impossible to bowl a doosra without chucking it - for them the sodukku is the legitimate way for an off-spinner to turn the ball away from the right-hander.

It looks like tomorrow has the potential to be a thrilling day of Test cricket once again....and not just in the Australia v India match.....Sri Lanka have the South African's under a lot of pressure too. 2011 has certainly been a vintage year for edge of your seat Test cricket. It seems to come from the fact that all international sides are flawed in some way at the moment so there's a lot of sides playing to a similar standard. And there have been some exceptional new bowlers in 2011 too, from Ravi Ashwin to Pat Cummins to James Pattinson to Vernon Philander and the most recent Marchant de Lange taking 7 wickets for South Africa.

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25 December 2011

A new hero

Well if Peter Roebuck's diary of a cricket season is among the best 10 cricket books ever written Ed Cowan's must be too because it's better. Hope he scores a pile of runs in the boxing day test match.
References to Moneyballs ( don't think I'll watch the film - in my mind's eye the hero Bean has to be ugly or at least weird looking and he's played by a pretty-boy actor) and to 'Foxy' Fowler's season-diary ( where he's expecting to break into Test cricket but has a car crash season which leads to his relationship breaking up ) makes for familiar territory.
Somehow it also reminded me that I received my first ever cricket book 50 years ago today - Jim Laker's Australian Tour of 1961. I'll need to re-read that one next, if only for the passages describing the first tied Test and Tom Graveney's gardening leave when he moved from Gloucestershire to Worcestershire.

Happy Christmas.

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22 December 2011

The phenomenon works again

It seems that the strange law that saw Peter Roebuck's book's price increase when he died also works in happier circumstances. On Amazon I see that diarist Ed Cowan's 'In the firing line' has gone up from £10.95 to £17.51 following his selection for the Boxing Day Test but you can get it on Kindle for only £3.60 ( not sure whether that's gone up too).

I also find it amusing that listed just below is a book called Scotland's Cricketers including Rahul Dravid, Vasbert Drakes, Desmond Haynes and Ed Cowan - it seems that selection helps you sell other peoples' books for them as well.

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1 December 2011

D'Oliveira thoughts on the size of Indian backsides....and cricket in general

When Peter Roebuck died Mark Davis sought out one of his books to read and I have to admit that the passing away of Basil D'Oliveira made me reach up for an autobiography of his sitting in my cricket library (alright, alright, it's just one shelf!). It's an early book, written in early 1968 before the uproar about his inclusion in the England team to tour South Africa and tells of the way he got into the English professional game and his thoughts on cricket in general.

There are some interesting observations in there. He laments the lack of Indian fast bowlers:

"Indians....are small in stature. They just haven't got the framework for the quick stuff. Big backsides are essential for fast bowling, yet you would have to strap three Indian players together to make a rump to compare with Fred Trueman's."

And yet some of what he said seems contradictory, to me at least:

The Indian and Pakistani teams "were very friendly teams and a pleasure to play against. Unfortunately that is not much of a recommendation for Test cricket. It might be cynical, but I think a connection exists between behaviour on the field and the balance of power. The teams without much chance smile at you and make you welcome at the wicket. Those that expect to win bruise you and smile later - when it is all over."

But he also seemed to think that tailenders should not be bounced - here's a passage relating to Derek Underwood being hit in the mouth:

"Just before the Trent Bridge Test ended, Charlie Griffith hit Derek Underwood, England's number eleven batsman, in the mouth with a bouncer. I had just got out so I only know the dressing-room end of the incident, but it looked nasty.

None of our chaps had any time for it. Not many of theirs had either, from what I could make out afterwards. The game was as good as over and England were down the drain. There was no tension about. No need for desperation. I can't think what made Charlie do it.

The point is that Underwood is not a recognised batsman. I know he had shared a stand with me for the last wicket in the first innings (of 65), but that was almost a freak performance. His main quality as a batsman is courage. He stands in front of his stumps to the fastest bowler. But he has little in the way of technical equipment. With some people you know instinctively that they won't be able to defend themselves against this type of attack. Underwood is one of them. Because he should never have been given the bouncer. He is not capable of defending himself. That made it unfair.

Underwood was a special case. I am not arguing generally for tail-enders under this so-called gentleman's agreement whereby they don't get anything short bowled at them. That's a rediculous business. If a man can bat and he is causing trouble, then he is entitled to be given the bouncer - no matter whether he is number one or number eleven. There are plenty of fast bowlers who have been around county cricket for years and haven't been on the receiving end of more than half a dozen bouncers.

They make a lot of noise when they are. Everybody has heard them. They threaten retaliation to the bowler who has done it, they swear to bring war to his team-mates. For years they have been getting their quota of runs by sticking the front leg up the wicket before the ball is bowled knowing that under the so-called fast bowlers' pact it won't be short. They deserve to be frightened every now and again just to know how other men feel when they are cheerfully letting go two or three bouncers an over.

In the final reckoning everything must depend on whether the batsman is capable of defending himself."

Interestingly, Underwood received a written apology from Charlie Griffith. I guess things were a little different in the days before helmets as you had the ability to seriously injure someone or even kill them, but Underwood had clearly shown he could hang around with his part in the 1st innings 10th wicket partnership of 65 - why shouldn't he receive a bouncer? Especially as "those that expect to win bruise you and smile later". These days of course all the protective gear means that there's no reluctance to bounce anyone, and nor should there be.

Interesting though the book is, it's hardly a revalation. But tucked inside the front cover were lots of old press clippings and many of them relate to the controversy over D'Oliveira's selecting for South Africa so they were a really interesting read. Thank goodness the days of aparthied in South Africa are over.

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Parents getting involved in pro sport

There's loads of them from Lewis Hamilton's father going everywhere with him to the father of Venus and Serena Williams. But the fact that Yuvraj had his mother tell the media what was wrong with him still made me smile - clearly his lung complaint has stopped Yuvraj from speaking or releasing statements on his own behalf. Hopefully his mother has him tucked up in bed with a mug of chicken soup.

And in another sport I see that Emmanuel Harinordoquy's father has got involved in a club game in France. Harinoroquy Senior went on to the pitch and tried to strike one of his son's opponents (although he missed) before being tackled to the ground by the opposition's fly-half. Fly-halves don't often get in the way of marauding number 8s, but apparently 61 year-old members of the public are more to their liking! It reminds me of Andrew Symonds taking out a streaker.

Of course, it can get worse than your mother having to tell the media about your ailments. Shoaib Akhtar had to put up with the Pakistan Cricket Board going public with his genital warts!

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Imperfect light

Once again, after the first 4 days of the 2nd Test of South Africa v Australia all saw the players leave the field due to imperfect light, the first day of the Australia v New Zealand series began with the players coming off in imperfect light. Not bad light, but imperfect light. Michael Clarke was arguing to stay on despite New Zealand having two set batsmen at the crease.

The final day of the South Africa match was completed because there was a result on the cards so clearly the conditions weren't dangerous or the umpires would have had no option but to take the players off again? So point 1 on my list to better market Championship and Test cricket is to take the players off only when it's dangerous. It should be a once a season occurrence rather than near daily....

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More Tests could happen quite easily...couldn't it?

I've openly wondered in comments on a couple of cricket sites why it is that there's the obsession with playing lots of ODIs - the reasons are normally assumed to be financial but I couldn't understand why that would be. Surely there's economies of scale repeating the same staffing and organisational things 5 days in a row compared to 5 separate days, and in the UK it's the Tests that people are more interested in?

No one seemed able to answer my question as to why ODIs got better financial returns and there's a good reason for that - they don't. Giles Clarke seems to think that the proliferation of ODIs comes from England's poor 2007 World Cup and the demand to play more ODI cricket. Well Duncan Fletcher (who always pushed for more ODI cricket) has gone now.

My solution would be 3 match ODI series only with at least one extra Test each summer. For one day practice the England players can also play for their Counties if they feel they need more than the international ODIs to hone their skills. And Twenty20? Just the one match against each touring side if absolutely necessary.

I can't see that it's the fixture list that impacts England's chances at World Cups. It's about having several weeks together in the lead up to World Cups without thinking about other formats, playing practice matches as necessary in the country the World Cup will be played in during that period.

So without the financials to worry about, please can we change the English schedule to have a greater focus on Test cricket?

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Plans for English cricket

Interesting to see CMJ's views that he's passed on to David Morgan who has reviewed how English competitions and fixtures are structured. I like the idea of scheduling matches to start on set days, as they used to. CMJ wants Championship matches to start on a Sunday, and one dayers to be played every Saturday. I'm up for that although, as he's noted, TV would pay less for this type of scheduling where they don't have cricket every day. It seems like a price worth paying to me.

Not sure about Twenty20 - CMJ would like matches scheduled every Friday night so there is a home match fortnightly. To reduce the amount of the season where the players (and spectators) have to think about 3 formats, I think I'd go for Thursday and Friday nights consecutively. It'll be over quicker which, to be honest, is my main consideration. Twenty20 just gets in the way of the County Championship which should be the main focus for players, if not the casual spectator who likes Twenty20, or the County Financial Directors.

The main thing I like about CMJ's proposals is the on-going Championship cricket throughout the summer. It can't be right that at the height of summer Championship cricket stops to make way for Twenty20. If there is Championship cricket throughout the summer, Counties may tempt back some of those that have given up County membership in protest at the lack of 4-day cricket for a large chunk of the season. Perhaps the Counties can have their cake and eat it?

The only thing I'd be critical of in CMJ's thoughts is this meaningless sentence: "Championship and Test cricket to be innovatively and actively marketed." Andrew Strauss said something similar when asked about how Test cricket could be promoted. As CMJ says "one should always be prepared to offer an alternative when criticising" so I'll have a think about how to market the County and Test game. It'll be slightly more specific than "innovatively and actively marketed"!

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30 November 2011

Andy Flower cloning required

Andy Flower is rightly be lauded for the way he's brought a disfunctional England team together and got some great results leading to England being the number 1 Test nation in the world. Recently he dominated the UK Coaching Awards.

But he can't be everywhere. He's got a full time job managing England and the ECB are always looking to lighten his load wherever possible given the large number of fixtures across the 3 formats England have to play. So why is his name being linked to an audit the English RFU want to undertake into their elite rugby department? He's got a full time job so surely he's not available?

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Samaraweera's Test average

Wow. I knew that Samaraweera's Test average was hovering over 50, but I didn't realise that his form over recent years had been quite so good - he averages a fraction under 70 since 2008. And yet, he's stuggling to get a look in for Sri Lanka because of his age - just over 35. Another example of insane selection - why are people so obsessed about age?

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"It wasn't the highest quality of cricket"

The Cricinfo report on the India v West Indies ODI yesterday suggests that "it wasn't the highest quality of cricket". I didn't watch the whole thing but the last portion of the match from when India were 6 down was worse than that. Very ordinary field placing from Sammy, who gifted India runs with a deep set field at a time all the Indian batsmen were doing was looking to knock risk-free singles given an asking rate of not much more than 3 an over.

Having said that, Sharma almost through his wicket away with a slog when he was seeing India home, only for Darren Bravo to either not see the skied ball at 3rd man, or perhaps just not been keen to dive forwards for the ball in case of injury. Ashwin showed that his poor running wasn't just a Test match issue, this time moving far too late when Sharma was running to the danger end and calling Ashwin through for a relatively easy 2nd run.

Duncan Fletcher has some work to do with Ashwin's out cricket - in his autobiography he lamented how certain England cricketers weren't taught the basics bu their Counties (I always assumed, rightly or wrongly, he was referring to Northants and Panesar) and he must feel the same about Ashwin. With Ashwin doing well his coach and mentor of course came forward to take the praise, but Sunil Subramaniam clearly didn't worry about out cricket during his sessions with Ashwin. Fletcher will no doubt be on the case.

With India desperately trying to throw the match away, West Indies returned the compliment with Sammy bowling a wide long-hop to India's number 10 Varun Aaron (which he hit for 4). And to make their task harder for himself, Aaron turned down a single off the 5th ball of the 47th over on the basis that he wanted to face the 48th over. Dim-witted tactics from both sides.

Poor cricket, but edge of the seat stuff. I imagine Fletcher is amazed at the impact he could have on some of the Indian players who've joined the side after the World Cup. Unlike England though, India's reserves can still beat West Indies....just.

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Quality over from Shakib

Back in the ranks after being stripped of the captaincy, Shakib Al-Hassan bowled a fantastic over 8 overs into Bangladesh's Twenty20 with Pakistan. His end economy rate of 6 an over doesn't look amazing, although good, but the way he bowled a wicket maiden to a relatively set batsman in Hafeez was fantastic. A turning wicket yes, but he bamboozled Hafeez throughout the over by pitching the ball on middle and leg and passing the outside edge time and time again. Then final ball of the over he bowled the arm ball and bowled him.

A fantastic exhibition of how to bowl in any format!

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27 November 2011

The dangers of(to) cricket

This is quite alarming when one thinks of the precedent that it could set:-

Lymington Cricket Club was founded in 1807 and has been based at its current location at the Sports Ground off Southampton Road for 175 years where we are tenants of Lymington & Pennington Town Council. The ground was originally used solely by the cricket club.The club plays in the ecb Southern Electric Premier League, has four adult teams, six junior teams and its coaches participate in the Chance to Shine charity scheme to promote the game in local schools within our community.The Sports Ground is shared seasonally by the Cricket Club and Lymington Town Football Club. For decades the council has maintained the Sports Ground with their work being supported by volunteers and members of both clubs to achieve one of the finest sports ground and cricket wickets in southern England.On Wednesday 30th November 2011, councillors from Lymington & Pennington Town Council will be voting to move Lymington Cricket Club from the Sports Ground to Woodside Park. The stated reason for the move is a Health & Safety issue caused by the potential injury risk from cricket balls entering the adjoining Lymington Tennis Club. We estimate that a handful of balls have landed on the tennis courts in the last three years while tennis players are using the courts. In common with virtually every other cricket club in the country, we acknowledge there might be a risk of injury if the boundary adjoins other public space facilities. In 175 years there is no record of anybody being hurt by flying cricket balls. Lymington & Pennington Town Council has proposed that a new facility consisting of two new pitches and a new pavilion will be built solely for Lymington Cricket Club at Woodside Park. The Committee of Lymington Cricket Club are resisting the move for the following reasons:•The risk of injury can be minimised by erecting netting between the cricket pitch and tennis courts during the cricket season.•Woodside Park is also a public space. The potential risk of injury to the public is likely to be the same as at the Sports Ground.•The Woodside Park proposal is in its infancy: there are no detailed plans or costings and no consultation has been held between either Woodside Park users or Lymington Cricket Club.•From first hand knowledge, Lymington Cricket Club know the cost of developing a new facility is likely to be in excess of £1 million. How will this be funded?•New cricket grounds take a long time to mature, and we believe that it will take many years to bring the Woodside pitch up to the same standard as that at the Sports Ground. If we are prevented from playing at the Sports Ground, Lymington Cricket Club will not have a venue for First XI cricket in the Southern Premier League or Second XI cricket in Hampshire County Division 1 and so will be relegated from both leagues.Sports and public facilities adjoin each other all over the country. Lymington Cricket Club is not an exception and should not be treated as one. Ceasing to use the Sports Ground will do our club irreparable damage and yet the simple remedy of erecting netting in the area adjoining the two clubs is being met with opposition.Please support our opposition to the council’s proposal online by writing to Lymington & Pennington Town Council, Town Council Offices, Town Hall, Avenue Road, Lymington, Hampshire SO41 9ZG.
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26 November 2011

India v West Indies observations

Couple of things that I noticed in the final India v West Indies Test...

7 minute drinks break seemed to be the norm and sitting/lying down - surely terribly body language from the fielding side no matter how hot it is (both sides were guilty)! 7 minutes - a session is only 2 hours! India may be thinking that if they'd got up a little quicker they may have had another over or two to win the match on the final day.

West Indies were right not to declare on the second evening. Loads of rubbish talked by some of the commentators (and of course Cork in the studio). The only reason to declare would have been if they thought they'd got more than India would score in two innings - less than 600 on an easy batting wicket with India's line up was never going to meet that criteria. And in India there is often a big mismatch between 1st innings scores and 2nd innings scores (and so it proved again).

There's this strange obsession with declaring on the 2nd evening to show "attacking intent" (remember England's declaration in Adelaide in 2006?). What can be more attacking than getting a huge score so you don't need to bat again, and then setting very attacking fields. If you've scored at 4+ an over and are 600+ on the second evening then consider it. If not, then don't consider it unless the weather conditions give the bowling side a big advantage - taking that to the extreme was Justin Langer back in 2007 for Somerset declaring at 50 for 8!

Time for a rethink on declaration strategy I think - the evening of the second day is a nice aim but will often not be possible or desirable. And remember, by declaring outside of a natural break you lose the overs for the change over and that isn't ideal if you're in a dominant and likely winning position....I could go on!

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India left one run short

Having gone into day 5 with little chance of a win, India set themselves up for a relatively easy win and then managed to contrive a draw with the scores equal. Ashwin played a blinder in the match overall, but his lack of agility cost him towards the end of the match as twos were turned into ones and - although he was highly unlikely to make the 2 needed to win the match off the final ball - his laborious running and turning left him three quarters of the length of the wicket short.

After 10 wickets for the Indian spinners in the West Indies 2nd innings and a typical Sehwag start, the match was there for India to win without over-exerting themselves but set batsmen kept getting themselves out. Sehwag, Dravid and Laxman will all feel they threw their wickets away. That left Dhoni with Kambli and he looked to be playing his usual nerveless knock to see his team to victory. But he was caught low at extra cover leaving a lot of pressure on Kambli. Again, he looked like - with Ashwin - he was soaking it up and would see India over the line, but for the second time in the game he threw his wicket away having scored a half century top edging to short third man.

By himself with the tail, Ashwin couldn't quite get India over the line despite great help from West Indies. A throw well wide of the keeper from Sammy towards the end not only conceded an extra run but allowed Ashwin to retain the strike. And with 3 to win off 3 balls, Aaron played the ball to mid off, ran, and should have been run out easily but for a fumble my Marlon Samuels. Ashwin then blocked the punultimate ball and could only score a single of the final delivery after hitting the ball to long on.

So not exactly quality cricket, but another nail biting Test. There seems to be growing support for Tests to be properly supported by the boards - I see that Haroon Lorgat seems to be taking no responsibility for the fact ODIs and Twenty20 have been prioritised over Tests (seems a bit of an abdication of responsibility?). And Graeme Swann would love to see the end of ODIs leaving two formats of cricket, which I've long been a fan of.

Time will tell if Tests have a resurgence, but last ball finishes can only help.

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25 November 2011

Cricketer's instincts

I think the last time that I played bingo was in the 1960s ( it was all the rage then) when my father took me to watch a match between Guinness (his employers) and a publican's side in Reading. Playing that day was Tim Tremlett's grandfather ( a county player) and I remember also being impressed in the clubhouse afterwards by a player's Lonnie Donegan impressions.
Anyway local pub quiz on Wednesday ( about mid table but we won it a fortnight ago, thanks) and just before the last round a bingo session ( clearly that's where the organiser makes his cash) and I won. What to call out in the excitement? Sadly and instinctively I went with 'howzat!!'.

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22 November 2011

Marston's and their cricket sponsorship

I now go out of my way to buy Marston's. Well ok, not quite out of my way, but when I stop at One Stop by Shoreham-by-sea station on a Friday night before walking home (thrilling life I lead), I always pick Pedigree if they're on the chilled shelves. There's normally Old Speckled Hen and Old Peculier too, but I pick Marston's Pedigree because I love how they support my favourite sport cricket.

The video that I just blogged about (which is currently on the Marston's Pedigree homepage) was not a high quality production, but nor did it need to be to appeal to me - a bitter loving cricket fan. Easy brand building which has had the desired impact on me as I always choose Marston's whenever I have the choice now. But possibly more importantly, here I am blogging about Marston's, advocating drinking Pedigree, without any push from them to do so.

Now they just need far more influential people than me to do the same to make an excellent sponsorship campaign a truly sensational one. Marston's - you might be out of sector, but the company I work for can help with that!

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Strauss on his team mates

A huge amount was made of Graeme Swann's comments about Kevin Pietersen's lack of leadership credentials in his recently released autobiography, and yet any tensions that those words caused were never apparent to any external observer. Perhaps the England team have found that happy blend of honesty and even taking the mickey out of each other that allows sides to build up fantastic morale?

It's a near impossible thing to get right because it's rare that all players can give as good as they get, so invariably "banter" between team mates is something that is enjoyed rather more by some than by others. And if the team aren't careful, one or two players all too easily become the target for the majority of "banter", leaving them feeling a little ostracised.

Interesting then to hear Andrew Strauss - in relatively unguarded mood - make a few comments about his team mates and Chairman of Selectors, tongue in cheek. The whole video is about an hour and twenty minutes so here's a few of his comments I thought were interesting....

Simon Hughes asked Dusty Miller about how Strauss had come to be captain of England and Miller explained how he originally didn't see Strauss as a one day player and he thought at the time England needed the same captain for ODIs and Tests. His view that Strauss couldn't play ODIs changed and that opened things up for Strauss to become captain. Strauss' view (paraphrased): "What Dusty's is really trying to say is that after the Kevin Pietersen / Peter Moores fallout, there weren't many other options".

Simon Hughes also asked if Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott were really as boring as it appeared. Answer, "yes"! Strauss then clarified when asked if Trott participated in the changing room banter or if he was a loner....no, he's not a loner, "but don't let anyone tell you he's a normal bloke because he isn't". Apparently Trott has a habit of walking off to the next tee on the golf course before his opponent has finished the previous hole as he's so wrapped up in his own game, so it's not just batting where he's self-obsessed.

And what of the team comedian Graeme Swann? Strauss likens him to a Mars bar - the first one tastes great and the first time you meet Graeme Swann it's a very enjoyable experience. By the 15th Mars bar you're feeling sick, and continually spending time with Swann makes you feel that way too apparently.

Nice to know the England captain feels comfortable ribbing his team mates a little without fear of admonishment.

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21 November 2011

Thrilling Test cricket

I'm not necessarily suggesting the standard of the cricket was that high, although I don't think it was bad, but the South Africa v Australia 2nd Test at The Wanderers was a classic. Patrick Cummins, an 18 year-old on debut for Australia, must be pinching himself after taking 6 for in South Africa's 2nd innings and then clinching the win with a crucial nerveless 13 not out off 15 balls.

This match comes off the back of a quickfire 1st Test where South Africa suffered the ignominy of being bowled out for 96, only to then bowl out Australia for less than half that (even allowing them a final wicket partnership of 26) and winning by 8 wickets.

And outside of this series the recent Zimbabwe v New Zealand match where Zimbabwe threatened a fantastic win on the final day before falling 34 runs short was another thriller.

So great games but still a small audience at the ground at today's final day in South Africa....one to consider. Simon Hughes has recently pondered how to support Test cricket to ensure it's place at the top of the cricketing pile. Hughes mentions bad light as an issue, and that should be point 1 on any agenda to increase the crowds at Tests. Having come off early for bad light every day of the match (despite floodlights being available), the umpires were left in a tricky situation today because the Test was reaching a thrilling conclusion, so the game was completed in darker conditions then they'd come off in on previous days (according the commentators). So clearly conditions weren't dangerous to the players then, or they would have had to come off no matter what the match situation was?

Let's start with the basic step of getting the light issue right and go from there....the matches are certainly offering great entertainment for those that watch them on TV or at the ground.

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20 November 2011

Poor and poorer from Dominic Cork

The downside of Dominic Cork retiring is that he'll have more time to spend being a pundit. Take this exchange from yesterday as he commented on the intriguing second Test between South Africa and Australia (paraphrasing):

Cork: (with South Africa now in a good position following an Amla/deVilliers partnership) "Perhaps they can look at bringing Prince to 5 and dropping de Villiers to 6 to get the balance in their batting right"

Ian Ward: "They seem to be doing alright with the order they've got"

Cork: "I just think they may want Prince up one and a stroke player like de Villiers at 6 in England this summer. But then again Prince hasn't been in the runs lately and is under pressure for his place. And the batting order they have now is pretty much perfect."

Thanks Dominic. Another incisive comment.

And then talking through Mitchell Johnson's troubles with the ball he came up with another corker (geddit?). After showing how Johnson is working to get his wrist behind the delivery now, Cork suggested that (again paraphrased) "the in-swinger to the right-hander is the hardest ball for a left-armer like Johnson to bowl and he's showing signs he's rediscovering it".

Really Dominic - the inswinger to the right-hander is the hardest ball to bowl for a left-armer? Not the outswinger to the right-hander that I've only ever seen Wasim Akram bowl consistently well in my lifetime?

I think it's save to assume that Cork's captaincy at Hampshire was built around man-management and motivation rather than tactical nous. How useful for a pro pundit.

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19 November 2011

Aussies new and old guard

As always, there's speculation about the retirement or a clamour for dropping of elder players when they're not performing. And Ricky Ponting's not performing - no doubt about it. There's been plenty of pieces like this one on All Out Cricket by Reverse Sweep's David Green that push the point that the current Test v South Africa needs to be Ponting's last. Another on Cricinfo suggests it's "Time for Ponting to Walk".

But equally, even the detractors recognise that the prolonged slumps of the likes of the great Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, along with Mike Hussey, have all ended with run gluts. Who is to say that Ponting won't help Australia to a glorious win batting in the 4th innings at the Wanderers v South Africa tomorrow? Personally I think Ponting has more Test cricket in him and without anyone obvious to come in to replace him, I'd expect him to be given at least another series (at home) to regain his form. Not only is he a class fielder, but opposition team's fear him in a way they don't fear David Warner or Usman Khawaja.

What about Gautam Ghambir - do you see him as at risk of being dropped and slipping into Test match obscurity? No, I doubt it. And yet Ponting and Ghambir's recent records are very similar as this piece points out. Ponting deserves an extended period playing under Clarke.

On the other side of the coin, Pat Cummins looks a fantastic prospect. Sky keep replaying the ball that hit Kallis' gloves shortly before he then fenced at one outside off stump and was caught at first slip...it was a good ball, but Cummins will probably admit that the ball lept from short of a length at Kallis' chest. Quite rightly, Kallis didn't expect the ball to bounce that much. But nonetheless, the 18 year-old Cummins took the wicket of a true great of the game and it will surely one of several hundreds by the time his career ends, if he can stay injury free.

If Australia have a batsman as good as Cummins is a bowler in the wings, then they should drop the weakest batsman. If that's Ponting, then that's Ponting. But for now they don't so it will be interesting to see if the chat about Ponting's form becomes a self-fulfilling proficy, or if he comes through and dominates again as Hussey did very recently.

The Australian's and journalists piling the pressure on their best batsman since Bradman seem to have very short memories.

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Peter Roebuck - constant soul searcher and loner

I can't say that I was a particular fan of Peter Roebuck, although I do think that any professional cricket journalist who challenges the meandering "leadership" of the ICC consistently can only help improve cricket administration. No bad thing that he was happy to challenge the status quo and apparent norms.

Sadly I think there's more to come out about Roebuck's personal life but what we do know is that a 26 year-old Zimbabwean Itai Gondo has alleged a sexual assault and that, after questioning from South African police, he threw himself out of his 6th floor hotel room rather than face the allegation. Having been found guilty in 2001 of common assault after caning three 19 year-old South African's he was coaching in 1999, Roebuck received a suspended sentence, so this wasn't the first related allegation. Caning was one thing, but one of the men, Henk Lendique, has reported that Roebuck was keen to see his bare buttocks after the caning and that on a different occasion he encroached on his "personal space".

Many have pointed to Roebuck's fall out with Ian Botham as an example of his intransigence. Botham describes Roebuck as "a very strange person" in the piece in The Cricketer this month - perhaps a more charitable view and one that seems to be shared by several (like Cricinfo's podcast, or Gideon Haigh's view on World Cricket Watch) is that he was a loner.

It would appear that he was somewhat troubled, but despite that, he wrote the foreword to David Frith's By His Own Hand in 1991 (later republished as Silence of the Heart with a foreword by Mike Brearley after Frith and Roebuck fell out) - a book highlighting the increased propensity for cricketers to commit suicide. As reported in this piece on Livemint, Roebuck wrote “Cricketers are supposed to be simple, even gung-ho, in sexual matters as in everything else. Yet cricket—and most cricketers—has its dark secrets, its skeletons." Sadly he also finished his foreword with the words "Some people have predicted a gloomy end for this writer. It will not be so.’’

With a tunnel-focus on cricket, even Botham must be sad that those words have turned out to be incorrect. However, with allegations of sexual assault still outstanding, it's possible that Itai Gondo isn't.

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14 November 2011

Wow! That didn't take long

Sad to note the demise of Peter Roebuck who always seemed to me to have a unique place in cricket history as well as a unique personality. I found that I'd not read his famous 'It never Rains' said to be one of the top ten books in cricket history, so had a look online for a copy. All I could find was a hardback at Amazon for £75.62 and a paperback at £59.95 !

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