23 December 2013

South Africa get their tactics wrong at the end of brilliant run chase

Interesting to see the aftermath of the great Test match in SA where South Africa ended up 8 runs short of chasing 458 with 7 wickets down.   Both sides asking why the other wasn't more attacking....I've got to say I have more sympathy with India's viewpoint given that when du Plessis got out South Africa needed 16 off 19, and given that India bowled 91 overs in the day, one more than they needed to.   

Philander (who has just become number 1 bowler in the world ahead of Steyn) is an excellent lower order batsman and Steyn can certainly strike a few, so Steyn needed to take the risks when on strike with the field in and Philander should have dealt in singles (seeing as there were 9 fielders around the boundary), looking to push for twos if at all possible.   Having got so close, it doesn't seem sensible to pull out, even if you have an injured player and a very poor batsman to come.   If they really felt that concerned about Morkel and Tahir, perhaps they should have sent one or both of them in to have a swing before Steyn, rather than Steyn simply blocking out the third from last over, and then Philander refusing singles in the penultimate over (view the ball-by-ball text commentary here).

Still, both sides played their part in a brilliant game so credit to both.   What a pity that there's only one more match to go....it doesn't even constitute a series to be honest!

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What to make of Swann's retirement?

To be honest it makes no sense to me.   Whether he's bowling better or worse than before his elbow op early in the year, there's no doubt he deserved to be on the tour.   The vast majority of observers would still have him down as the best spinner in England, even before considering his catching at 2nd slip and his batting down the order.   None of that has changed in the course of 3 matches.

In those 3 matches Swann's figures have been very poor, but there's always the little nuances to consider.   Swann's wickets have been the top order batsmen or Mitchell Johnson (Clarke x 3, Warner x 2, Rogers, Bailey, Johnson).   And unfortunately his team mates haven't helped him out - Root dropped Clarke when he was on 18 in the first innings at Adelaide before he went on to score a hundred, and Prior sadly missed two opportunities to stump Warner in the 2nd innings at Perth.   So things aren't quite as bad as the numbers suggest given that one of the world's best players of spin has succumbed 3 times and also been dropped of Swann's bowling.

That's not to say that he should necessarily have been picked for the MCG - his place quite rightly was in question.   It's possible he would have been dropped, but that was the case for a number of England players.   They all took the decision to be part of the Ashes squad and unless they are medically unfit to play (i.e. Trott), they should be there for the duration.   It's obvious that retiring mid-tour will have huge pick up in the press and completely destabilise the side.   So I can't work out Swann's decision - it can be described as selfish, the actions of a quitter, gutless, etc.

Interesting then to see that his decision has been defended by the likes of Vaughan and Boycott.   Vaughan says that he's not being selfish because he's given up 9 months money rather than seeing out his contract.   And Boycott says that's "it takes a brave man" to do what he has done.   What a load of b***sh*t!   He's a rich man anyway and doesn't need the money as he'll walk into another highly paid line of work.   What would be fair to say is that if, as David Lloyd says in the same piece, Swann is all about the team, then he's made a big mistake.   Mistakes are part and parcel of life, and can be forgiven, but to try and pass off a mid-tour retirement as anything other than entirely detrimental to the team is lunacy.

I heard Jonathan Agnew giving an interview in which he suggested that the management team had given Swann the nod that he would be dropped and therefore given him the opportunity to retire first.   I wouldn't rule that out, but if Swann was as much of a team man as everyone says he is, then the response would have been to continue and to support Panesar and the rest of the side by helping them prepare for the MCG.   Not cause a commotion, tell the press that you'd like to see Scott Borthwick selected (which is really going to help Panesar as he prepares for the Boxing Day Test) or say anything that could be twisted by the media to be a criticism of his ex-England team mates.

Frustrating really - such a great player for England but he's not handled the retirement process at all well.   England need to learn from this - before Clive Woodward took the 2003 World Cup winning rugby team to Australia they discussed the retirement issue as a number of players were at the end of their careers.  They agreed as a team not to announce retirements, or discuss them, until after the tournament.   How Flower must be wishing he'd had the same foresight to agree the handling of retirements pre-tour as Woodward did.
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Cricket is a religion?

No doubt the sledging will be vicious when the Anglican church take on the Vatican cricket team this summer...

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17 December 2013

Will Prior be the only immediate casualty of The Ashes debacle?

There will be a lot of talk, quite rightly, about whether England are playing their best team at the moment given that they've been beaten so soundly in the first three Tests.   But I'd hate to see England go back to the 90s style selections where we kept chopping and changing and - for the most part - not playing the right team.

England are doing the right thing in blooding the likes of Stokes and Bairstow, and Ballance is clearly one they hope will come through.   They've also got James Taylor that they'll be expecting to come through and Sam Robson who is waiting in the wings for his opportunity.   If you're wondering who else is being considered, take a look at the Lions squad for the February trip to Sri Lanka and add the likes of Onions and Compton. 

What should the side be in Melbourne?   (England averages here)   It won't appease those that are hurting and therefore baying for more blood than is helpful, but much the same.   I'd suggest the most likely side, assuming Broad is fit, is:

Cook, Carberry, Root, Pietersen, Bell, Stokes, Bairstow, Bresnan, Broad, Swann, Anderson.

They might look at Swann and Anderson's positions, but you do have to play 11!   (If Onions was there I'd play him).   And although Ballance is a great hope for the future, I don't think there's many people who would select him over the Root, Pietersen and Bell.   I'd like to see England consider Cook at 3 and Root to open to give Cook a little longer between fielding and batting, but that's not a big change.   Prior, sadly, has lost form with both bat and with the gloves so I think it's inevitable he'll be replaced by Bairstow.   Not that Bairstow is an improvement in either area, and he's shown that he's not a fan of pace so the thought of him facing Johnson is more than a little worrying.

England's task now is to consider carefully how to manage their transition over the next few years.   For how not to do it they need only look at Australia 2011-early mid 2013.   They'll be thinking about this sort of side in 4 years time:

Robson, Cook, Root, Taylor, Ballance, Stokes, Borthwick, Foakes, Bresnan, Finn, Mills.

Others that I presume are in their thinking are the likes of Lees, Barker, Woakes, Bairstow, Coles, Jamie Overton, Jordan.   But they're struggling for a spinner so hence going for Borthwick - a steady Ashley Giles type left-armer has a great chance of breaking through, which is no doubt why they looked at Kerrigan at The Oval last year.   

How they get through to that team is the question, rather than bringing them all in now.   And the likes of Cook, Bell, Root and Pietersen need to show why they're so highly regarded in Melbourne and Sydney.

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14 December 2013

Poor Joe Root

I feel very sorry for Joe Root...no evidence he edged it but much suggesting the contrary and yet he's gone.   No problem with the technology, but once again the implementation of it that's the problem.   Instead of the batsman having the benefit of the doubt, the bowler got it.   And, although I didn't see it, I gather it's the second time in the day as the same happened to Steve Smith.

The only way round this is to get over the worry about taking responsibility away from umpires.   It shouldn't matter what their original decision is - if there's no evidence to prove the batsman is out then it's not out.   
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12 December 2013

Do or die

So England have to defy history and momentum to stop Australia taking the Ashes over the next 5 days in Perth.   5 days if England are lucky many will think.   But I'm not quite as negative as many!

Yes, England have looked shocking in the first two Tests but the primary problem has been with the batting.   You look down the side and there's only Stokes who there's any doubt about.   Cook, Bell, Pietersen and Prior are class players who, apart from Bell, have been off form.   They will regain form.   Root and Carberry are inexperienced but fighting hard.   Cook needs to win the toss, bat and lead the way.   Two hundreds in the first innings of the match and the game will be England's to lose.

It's a massive if given the struggles England have had with the bat in 2013, but if they can get runs on the board the next challenge is getting 20 wickets.   Interesting to hear the side that Cricinfo have suggested is likely- they suggest one change from Adelaide which is Bresnan for Panesar.   That's the most likely team and the one I would go for, partly because of Swann's catching at second slip.   But I wonder how much thought England are giving to a side that involves Ballance and Stokes, as Alec Stewart has proposed, but no Swann.   Stokes would have to bowl a lot more overs than in Adelaide, possibly nearly as many in a day than the 25 he bowled in the match there.   But a batting line up that has Bresnan at 9 and Broad at 10 theoretically gives England a long batting line up.

I'd love to be a fly on the wall.   I'd play Swann, but it's a marginal call and I wouldn't be too disappointed if he was dropped.   I imagine England have looked at the stats of how many batsmen are caught at slip and are weighing up the dropping of one of their specialists in that position.

The main thing is the batting - the largest partnership in the first two Tests was 111 and other than that it's 62...not good enough!   A small momentum change like Cook getting a big score after being dropped, or two of England's top 4 getting big runs in the first innings of the match could turn things in England favour - Australia's batting is pretty brittle, despite the big scores in the first two Tests.

"Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torment of man" (Friedrich Nietzsche).

I haven't given up hope yet but the toss is crucial!
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30 November 2013

Sledging in cricket - most effective when less personal and aggressive

I appreciate that there are many people that won't agree with the subject line of this post, but after  more than a quarter of a century of playing Club cricket, I'm pretty unmovable on this conclusion - the most effective sledging comes from the less aggressive words.   Michael Clarke lost a few pennies as a result of his sledge to James Anderson at the end of the first Ashes Test, but anyone who's played League cricket will know that what he was picked up on the stump microphone as saying will not have been the worst thing said over the 4 days the match lasted - not even close.

What is the point of sledging?   That depends on who you talk to.   For me it's to try to draw the batsman into a false shot that they might not have played.   Or occasionally to try to influence the umpire's thinking.   Not to make the batsman feel verbally abused (that's bullying), or to increase your own prestige and adulation amongst your team mates (that's an attempt to counter insecurity).   That's why the sort of sledging you'll hear me say on a pitch might be:
  • When a guy is on nought for a long time: "this could be one of the longest ducks ever"  (this once backfired at Windsor where the batsmen hit the next ball from our leg-spinner into the tennis courts and won the game for them!)
  • When a late order partnership is nudging the opposition up to a defend-able total and I want them to play more riskily: "the big shot's got to come here, they need another 70 off these last 5 overs to have any chance" (this one backfired at Arundel when they got a sub-par score and we then batted so badly that we still lost!)
  • When a batsman keeps getting hit on the pad without getting well forward: "This guy's a big LBW candidate, he's only just getting past the popping crease" (designed to create indecision from the batsman, but also meant to increase the chances that the umpire gives him out LBW).
  • When a batsman is struggling at one end while his partner is scoring well at the other: "It's a different game with this guy on strike - he can't keep putting the pressure on his mate to do all the scoring" (designed to get him to take a risk because the batting partnership is clearly going well and we need to take a wicket).
They're not funny are they?   And they're not really aggressive either - they certainly don't involve swear words.   But I say them because I hope it will change the way the batsmen play so that we're more likely to win.   Does it have any impact at all?   A minimal impact I'd argue, otherwise I wouldn't say them.   But I see far more impact from something as simple as putting in a short-leg or silly point against a batsmen that won't want to be tied down so will respond with an unnecessary big shot and potentially get out, than I do from sledging.

And yet the way club cricketers discuss sledging, you'd think it has a big impact.   You'd also think that it's more and more of a necessity the higher standard you play at.   "When we played in the Premier League I took all manner of grief", etc.   But my response is always "Did it make you play a stupid shot, did it contribute to you getting out?"   Invariably the answer is no.   And yet it's the done thing.   All that we're often doing is making the game less enjoyable for the batsman, but we're not improving our chances of winning.

The situation where the worst sledging comes out is often when bowling second and only a win or a draw the possible options for the fielding side.   100 to win, 5 overs to go, 2 wickets in hand, plenty of fielders around the bat.   The conversations are normally pretty spicey, especially if the opposition put us in to bat - doesn't that mean they have an obligation to chase the target we've set them?   Well yes, but the obligation is on the top order, not on the final 3 batsmen.   For their team to take anything from the game they need to avoid getting out for 5 overs - do we really expect them to change allegiance and throw the game so we can go home happy?

The argument then goes that when we're in the same situation, we take a heap of grief, so sledging is important to even things out.   If they're going to draw, let's at least make it really unpleasant for them.   I don't subscribe to that.   Sometimes we get grief when playing out for a draw, but I don't know of any tailender who has ever said to me that it was the words that got them out.   But I do know of many who tell me that the words make them all the more determined not to get out.   So if the objective is winning the game, we've actually reduced our chances of achieving our objective.

Somehow aggressive sledging is seen as part of cricket that's professional...that's serious.   If you're not sledging aggressively you're not taking it seriously enough - "go and play Sunday friendly cricket".   Nonsense of course, but this is the culture in league club cricket - the higher standard you play, the more you're expected to sledge and the more you're expected to neglect the feelings of the batsman to achieve your desired goal of winning.

I can't help but sigh when I consider the culture of aggressive sledging within much of cricket.   But there's an awful long way to remove unpleasant overly personal and overly aggressive sledging from The Thames Valley League and the Sussex League's that I've played in, let alone professional cricket.   A complete culture change.   It's not going to happen in my playing time, but I do hope it happens in my lifetime.   It's a sport we all get into for enjoyment after all, not because we want to verbally abuse people, but somehow abuse creeps in as you go up in playing standard and gradually gets worse as you move closer to pro level.

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4 October 2013

Sibley benefits from early drop...or does he?

It was interesting reading yesterday's The Spin from The Guardian - in the main focused on Dominic Sibley and looking at how successful, or otherwise, the 13 people who scored first class double hundreds at a younger age than Sibley have been.

What I found interesting was the lack of discussion about the fact that Sibley was dropped twice during his big innings of 242.   Surprised?   Yes, it doesn't get mentioned much, but there was a line about it in the report at the time.   He was dropped for the first time on 8.   I've referenced before how lucky Alastair Cook was at the start of his England career and how that helped him establish himself, so it's probably not a surprise to hear me talk about luck again!

The question that we're unlikely to be able to answer any time soon, and possibly ever, is whether Sibley will truly benefit from it long-term.   Had he been caught, he wouldn't have been on the general public's radar and could have gone back to finish his time at Whitgift School without the pressure of being an England cricketer in waiting.   Will it benefit long-term to be in the papers so early?   As The Guardian mentions, being a young double-hundred maker didn't make David Sales into an international cricketer.

If it was just a bit of luck but he's ready for first class cricket you might expect several other big scores across the summer.   But looking at Cricinfo it looks like he scored 95 in one 2nd XI game this season and not a lot else across 13 innings.   So had he been caught on 8 his average for this summer across 2nd XI and 1st XI Surrey games would have been 21.   Perhaps a little early to be getting over-excited?   But of course we don't know whether he had any shockers of umpiring decisions or outrageous good fortune in any of those knocks either.

I wish Sibley massive success and it would be great if he can make international cricket and become an England great.   But putting that pressure on his shoulders is unlikely to make things any easier for him to succeed.   Let's hope he hasn't got his luck at the wrong time for his career as a whole.

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26 July 2013


Bookmark and Share Do people (even those in MCC ties) move in front of me in the middle of overs - were they never taught how to behave at cricket ?
Do batting side umpires arrive at the pitch and then say something like " you'll have to do the counting, I've got nothing with me" - how difficult is counting to 6 and if you need something why not use pebbles?
Do spectators and players stand in front of the scoreboard?

Rant over.

25 June 2013

Writing on the wall for Mickey Arthur

 Quite apart from homeworkgate the writing was clearly on the wall for the coach at the weekend. The team practised at Merchant Taylors' School surrounded by ducks from the lake and soon after they left a magpie was found trapped in the pavilion. You can't argue with the omens of the birds !
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22 June 2013

Things you learn whilst you're watching the rain.

Bookmark and Share Two of my team mates are studying A level ( or it might be GSCE) history and the topic is American ( i.e. USA) history of the 1970s ! I thought I'd misheard but no, it's stuff in my lifetime - that can't be history can it ?

12 June 2013

Those dodgy cheerleaders

Watching the Champions Trophy I couldn't help but hear, even when not in the ground, that there was a guy on a loud speaker who ever 5 overs or so told the crowd the team score and the not out batsmen's score.   Totally unnecessary and very annoying if you ask me, but it seems that having some idiot on the loud speaker has crept from Twenty20 into the one day game.
Satisfying then to hear that another totally out of place piece of "entertainment" is proposed to be stopped at the IPL, if for all the wrong reasons.   Jagmohan Dalmiya has proposed that cheerleaders are eradicated as part of the clamp down on sleeze and corruption at the IPL.   I hope it comes to pass, even though I can't see it having any impact on corruption!   Looking down Dalmiya's widely reported 12 point list, it begs the question why many of them (moving away from the cheerleaders for a moment) weren't in place from day 1, given the game of cricket's troubles with corruption all over the world.   
I trust that all domestic competitions around the world have taken all the relevant steps to ensure there is a minimum realistic chance of corruption, but perhaps I've been massively over-optimistic!

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26 May 2013


More amusement on the clapping batsmen in front yesterday. New man half way to the crease received the applause and raised his bat to acknowledge it ! To be fair he did score 50 so it was just a journey in space-time.
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20 May 2013


I'm from the generation old enough to know that the belief of the next two generations that clapping in a new batsman is a time honoured tradition is incorrect. But it can't be wrong to be over polite, particularly in contrast to the quantity of inane noise that goes on on cricket pitches these days.
Anyway yesterdays oppo had a practice, quite a good one maybe, of having one of their team umpire at the bowlers end whilst the next man in stood at square leg ( dodgy if you're batting and have fallen out with him).
This let to the bizarre situation of several of my colleagues applauding the incoming umpire ! 
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7 May 2013

Win cricket tickets


I can't say that I've got the time to enter this, but if you've got the time and the inclination, you can win tickets for The Ashes or T20 Finals Day.
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2 May 2013

Things looking up at Steyning...


Having lost last year's opening bowler to a Premier League club after he got into the Sussex Academy, we needed to strengthen the Steyning squad this year.   And things weren't looking ideal until the last week or two when it's all started to come together!   So on Saturday we have our new "overseas" player, Ramesh Subasinghe, playing alongside Owain Jones, who is currently playing against Worcestershire for Oxford UCCE.   ("Overseas" isn't really accurate - he's registered as an overseas player, but lives in Barnet).
Owain won't play that many games given other commitments, but Ramesh will be around for all matches assuming he stays fit, and he comes with his friend Sunil Bhatt who can only play every other week, due to work commitments (Sunil's not an overseas player).   Two weeks ago Sunil scored 52 off 33 balls for Horsham v Eastbourne before choosing to join us, so that's certainly encouraging.
From nowhere it looks like we'll have a pretty strong side if the rest of the squad sort out their availability (people going to watch football in the cricket season still drives me insane!!).   Ramesh bowls 80mph apparently so I just hope I can cling on to the odd slip catch when the league starts on Saturday!   And check out the backdrop we'll be playing against....

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30 April 2013

Great start to the County Championship


Fantastic to see some highly competitive and exciting County Championship cricket last week, with Yorkshire overcoming Durham in a thrilling chase, and Warwickshire managing to hold for a draw 9 wickets down against Somerset.   Warwickshire were very lucky though - TV was covering it and it was clear there was an edge behind that wasn't given that would have given Somerset the match.   Incredibly lucky - I hope that decision doesn't prove crucial come the end of the season.

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Australia squad


Australia's Ashes squad has widely been applauded as about as good as they could have selected.   I'd agree, although I think it raises a lot of questions about the selection policies of the last 2 years because they've gone for youth at every turn before having to go to Chris Rogers and back to Brad Haddin.   They would have been in a far better position if they'd gone for Rogers far earlier and not had their daliance with Wade, so their current selection would appear to be an admittal of previous failings.
Australia's seam bowlers are their strength and it's interesting to hear the various views.   Some even jokingly suggesting Australia pick 9 bowlers, plus Clarke and Haddin, given the batting weaknesses!   But it's interesting to see how little attention Jackson Bird is getting - if he's fully fit I think he's going to be a real handful in English conditions.
For a full overview on the Australian squad Cricinfo offered some interesting video discussion.

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26 April 2013

Important research

According to The Publican Morning Advertiser - the pub world's weekly bible - people watching cricket in pubs consume on average 2.6 pints. I think I might be having someone else'e share!
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25 April 2013

Gayle slow with his 175 off 66

An amazing bout of sustained hitting it certainly was, but Chris Gayle was unable to hit six sixes in a row in his amazing IPL innings.
Jordan Clark hit six sixes though, for Lancashire 2nd XI.   Good going - he has matched what has been done 4 times in first class cricket.
It seems batsmen are finding it easier and easier to hit sixes and bowlers everywhere of course argue that the bats have got far better, but equally they seem to keep bowling length.   If you watch Gayle's innings, there's very few good (in the context of Twenty20) balls that he's hitting for six - they're nearly all length balls.   Yes, Malinga gets it wrong sometimes, but why don't more people bowl to hit the toes, a la Malinga.   If he gets it wrong he can be expensive, but more often than not he keeps even the best batsmen under control, as he did in the final over he bowled yesterday that cost 3 (one of them a leg bye) and allowed his team Mumbai to win in a tight match.
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22 April 2013

New Zealand cricket

I can't quite work out what's going on over in New Zealand at the moment - rather than leaving the captaincy dispute as something in the past and moving on, Brendon McCullum seems to want to be threatening legal action on order to get an apology from John Parker.   Parker seems to be a former NZ Test cricketer who wants more representation on NZ cricket board from ex players and is lobbying for that with the support of others.   Those others have, for the most part, been a little reluctant to come out of the woodwork and they're even less likely to raise their hands now that McCullum has shown he may go legal.
I can't say I agree with Parker - some ex-playing credentials may be good on the Board, but far more important than that is the business and change management skills required to run such a multi-faceted business.   If some of the ex-players have that experience then great - they're ideally qualified.   Many of them won't have though, and giving jobs to the boys upon retirement has been the downfall of many professional cricket teams/boards.
Perhaps more worrying for the Kiwi public though is the fact that the captaincy saga has not been put to rest yet.   It's debatable whether McCullum will get much of a positive from his action and many question why he's taken it.   Let's hope they can all learn to play nicely together soon....

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10 April 2013

No comparison

Looks exciting Germany v Botswana, last ball tie, but I think that the next time anyone suggests that England have too many foreign born players it might be worth mentioning Bismark's descendants here:-
I'm available for any European country that wants to give me an international cap.
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7 April 2013

Sensational IPL start but I still find it hard to get excited...

Some pretty sensational games at the start of the IPL - a super over today in which 20 played 15.   And yesterday Dhoni almost got Chennai over the line but for Keiron Pollard reaching to his absolute maximum height at deep midwicket to stop a six that would have left 6 needed off 5 in the final over.
The downside is that I don't care who wins.   They're a spectacle in themselves to an extent but will the IPL ever truly catch on in England - I'm not sure it can unless you actually support a particular side.   That's why over the coming weeks all the games will blend into one....

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The price of a full set of original Wisdens


Last weekend I went for a few beers with someone who had a full set of Wisdens (but some without the original covers) and he suggested that the set was worth £50k-£60k.   This piece on the BBC last week suggests that a full set of intact originals should be insured for £350k.
Expensive things these Wisdens!

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5 April 2013

Alec Stewart's Test XI of the year


Don't think I've got any complaints about Alec Stewart's Test XI of the year.   I'd possibly replace Ashwin with Herath, but that's a minor quibble.   Any obvious wrong exclusions?

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