Purity of Method

At the end of a Test series I always enjoy looking at the marks out of ten and the performance summaries given to individual players by Cricinfo. In my experience they're usually pretty hard to disagree with but they can be thought-provoking.

Earlier in the week Andrew McGlashan's assessment of the players on show in the South Africa-Pakistan series caught my eye. I didn't see much of the series and I hadn't taken in quite how important Jacques Kallis had been to South Africa. But then, I thought, Jacques Kallis is always important to South Africa. How could a player that good be anything else?

Which, in turn, sent my mind spinning on one of those rollercoaster journeys through the years, taking in the time I tried to shield myself from the vicious Cape Town sun as Kallis bowled for the first time in Test cricket, that ODI innings at the Oval just after he'd lost his father, bowling out England at Headingley in 2003, and piling on the runs during England's last tour of South Africa but being criticized for being too slow and one-dimensional.

The stats say it all.

8,400 Test runs at 55 with 24 centuries, 213 wickets and 105 catches. The figures of a truly great player, and, in South African terms, one fit to sit just behind Pollock and Richards as a batsman and Procter as an all-rounder.

In the wider world I don't think Kallis has yet received the praise his skills and achievements deserve; batsmen who place efficiency and purity of method above more ostentatious qualities rarely do, and he's taken the ball so irregularly in recent years that many have forgotten how well he can bowl when the muse is with him and conditions are right. But purely as a batsman I think he's just about the most perfect technician I've ever seen; perhaps even more accomplished than Gavaskar, Dravid or Martin Crowe.

To see some of his straight-drives on the last day at Newlands, his spiritual home since he was a teenager, was to witness a player at the peak of his powers, confident of his capabilities and at one with his environment.

Never flashy and not too stylish.

Just very, very good.


Another Day, Another Game, Another Retirement

I haven't posted anything original for a few days and already the ever-evolving cricket world has moved on. England have subsided to their worst defeat of even this dreadful tour, West Indies have knocked off a cool 270 to beat India in Chennai, South Africa have completed their second 2-1 series win in a matter of weeks, and New Zealand, without the retired Nathan Astle, have pushed Australia all the way, losing by just eight runs amid a welter of typically powerful strokes from the bat of Jacob Oram.

I've only managed to see isolated bits of all the games, but while I have no doubt that England are still trying their damnedest, it's obvious, not least to Michael Vaughan, that their collective confidence level has hit rock bottom, and, with New Zealand's surely going in the opposite direction after their gallant showing today in Perth, it's becoming increasingly hard to see England getting anything out of the CB Series, while the World Cup, which follows hard on its heels, is a long-lost cause. They had little or no prospect of winning the thing even before the events of the past few weeks. Now even Kenya and Canada must be rubbing their hands and fancying their chances.

South Africa will be happy with their latest series victory, Pakistan, of course, less so. In the end it was fitting and unsurprising that South Africa's two soundest batsmen, Jacques Kallis, to whom unwavering technical probity is second nature, and the rock-solid Ashwell Prince, perhaps the most improved international batsman in the world over the past year, should have seen them almost to victory. Pakistan were ultimately let down by a lack of effective support for the virile excellence of Mohammad Asif and the effervescent aggression of Danish Kaneria. With Shoaib and Umar Gul gone, only Mohammad Sami could offer anything in the way of experience, but the chances of the under-achiever's under-achiever translating his experience into wickets on the scorecard when they were most needed were always remote.

New Zealand have always relied on a stable coterie of senior players to see them right at the top level, and Astle had occupied a seat at their top table for more than a decade. His sudden retirement apparently came as a surprise, but, with his once infallible eye starting to fade a little, he perhaps saw the writing on the wall a little earlier than some of his compatriots. Although I always enjoyed watching him bat on TV, I can't remember seeing him make many runs in the flesh, so the most vivid image of his career in my mind will remain that of Andy Caddick and his England fielders craning their necks upwards to see the ball hurtling out of Lancaster Park, seemingly destined for orbit after one of the purest and most reverberatingly powerful lofted drives ever played.

There's more at Mike on Cricket.


The Appeal

Until it ceased publication a couple of years ago I was a regular contributor to a magazine called Cricket Lore. Sometime in 2001 or 2002, the editor, Richard Hill, wrote to me and a number of the other writers to ask us to produce a piece of writing which summarized how we came to love cricket, to be called 'The Appeal'. In the autumn of 2002 - with Michael Vaughan's 197 at Trent Bridge, and the reception it received, still at the forefront of my mind - I wrote this.

For one reason or another, though, Richard never got round to publishing it, so it's appearing in print here for the first time. To me some of it now appears a bit dated, but it's generally a faithful reflection of what cricket means to me.

In adulthood, you somehow expect to recover from all this.
You assume that, as youthful zeal fades, the grim drudgery
of daily life will supersede all such nonsense. But it doesn’t
happen. Your obsession remains as vivid as ever. For once
cricket has claimed you, it never lets you go.

Marcus Berkmann, Rain Men - The Madness of Cricket
(London, 1995)

Berkmann was right. Cricket claimed me sometime in the early seventies, and I’ve never yet managed to kick the habit. Not that I’ve ever really tried.

I can’t really say how it all began. Like most addicts, I suspect, I simply can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in cricket. If I try a little harder I can recall going out into the back garden and attempting to bowl in the manner of Gary Sobers (using my left hand for added authenticity, which, for an overwhelmingly right-sided person, wasn’t easy) because my father and elder brother had told me that I had been watching (for this was 1973) the greatest player of them all. I can also remember getting up at strange hours of the night for the first (but hardly the last) time to listen to radio commentaries from Australia in the winter of ‘74-75 and Lillee and Thomson scampering runs in the Lord’s twilight as the first World Cup Final drew to a close. By the time the West Indian summer of 1976 began with us in our new home a few streets away, cricket had become an integral aspect of the fabric of my life. It’s difficult to pinpoint what it was that I liked about cricket then, but it seems logical that the things I like about cricket now are the same things that got me hooked on cricket then.

I love the physical beauty and vivid visual dynamics of the game. The balanced tempo of any good first-class match - the sense of rhythm, comprising history and mystery and latent expectation, which keeps you watching, ball after ball, session after session, day after day. Season after season.

As time moved on I started to play seriously, encouraged by my father, who’d seen Compton and Edrich batting together, and my brother, who once bowled a whole side out on his own, hitting the stumps on nine occasions. A bit of fine-tuning was provided by my friend Gary’s father, who’d played for the Club Cricket Conference and had been on the fringes of the Buckinghamshire side in the sixties. He knew what he was doing, even if I didn’t, and some of his guidance certainly rubbed off, though I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I joined Sunbury Cricket Club, on London’s south-western fringes, a club with an exceptional colts section which has since set Richard Johnson and David Nash on their way to the county game. These days, when I’m watching Johnson bowl at Taunton, my mind often drifts back to those days, as it always did with Graham Rose who was nearer me in age and once came to the club with a Middlesex junior side. Could I have done what they did? Well, no, actually. I was - and remain - a player whose enthusiasm and appetite for the game compensates for a moderate ration of ability. I played in the school team, which was quite successful for a while, and also made the district schools’ side. Some of my friends got into the county side as well but I was never that good. A few runs here, a wicket or two (or five) there, the odd catch. That was cricket for me as the seventies ended - minibus trips to away games all over south London and Surrey, roughly equal helpings of celebration and commiseration, a developing awareness of the game’s wider resonances. And, of course, I was still watching the game at the highest level. Between 1976 and 1981 I attended all the major limited-over finals at Lord’s, including the 1979 World Cup Final, and several Tests at both Lord’s and The Oval. These are some of the things which I saw during those years:

Thomson and Lillee in their pomp, 1975. The young Michael Holding turning within a few yards of the pavilion ropes at Lord’s in 1976 and embarking on the most beautiful and artistic bowling action I’d ever seen. Procter, Richards, Collis King and Gooch infusing Lord’s finals with their coruscating skills and dominant personalities. Gavaskar stroking the England bowling all over The Oval as I sat transfixed in front of the television one late summer day in 1979.

Of course, for an infatuated teenage cricket follower, 1981 was the season which topped the lot. I’m sure many new converts to cricket were won that summer and if I hadn’t already been hopelessly devoted to the game, 1981 would have confirmed the extent of my obsession. But I already knew what I liked about the game and, if I’d bothered to think too far into the future, I would have felt that my views weren’t going to change.

They did, though. I continued to play the game, but as adulthood approached I found that I wasn’t quite as successful as I used to be. I was playing with men rather than boys and I wasn’t sure whether I liked it or not. So, as the eighties wore on, I gradually played less and watched more. The Tests came thick and fast and I started to watch county cricket with seriousness and passion. In comparison with the long, barren period which was to follow, these were rich years. England maintained some of the veneer of success which had been established during the Brearley years, culminating in the dismantling of Australia at home in 1985, the year in which I did my A-levels and enjoyed a long summer off before going to university. University came and went, punctuated by days at the cricket, and, in 1990, I found myself in Brighton to see Middlesex claim the championship. I’d become fond of Gatting’s Middlesex side, but, within a few months, I was living in Devon. More than a decade on, I’m still here. These days I can usually be found in the Ian Botham Stand at Taunton, and occasionally at Tests at Lord’s, The Oval or Trent Bridge. Also, after several years of inactivity on the field, I began playing again in 1996. Village cricket in Devon is far from the cricket environment I grew up in and I haven’t achieved much but it’s a decision I’ve never regretted.

When you watch a huge amount of cricket it can all start to blend together and you can find yourself wondering what you’ve been left with. In my case it’s a kaleidoscope of random memories; unconnected but often conjoined by events and the passage of time. The young Steve Rhodes keeping to Richard Illingworth in the New Road shadows, 1988; Bob Woolmer and Keith Piper conferring in the nets at Coventry, 1992; Dave Richardson and Paul Adams driving England to distraction at Newlands, 1996; Shoaib Akhtar bowling to Sherwin Campbell at Bristol in the World Cup, 1999.

I instantly liked the look of Rhodes and thought he’d be the England wicket-keeper for years. I got that one wrong, but years later, when I finally saw England play abroad, he was wearing the gloves. When England crumbled in the shadow of Table Mountain, Woolmer was in charge of the South African side. I never thought I’d see a quicker bowler than Thomson or Holding. More than twenty years passed before Shoaib emerged, but he was quicker than anything else I’d ever seen. In 1987 I was at Lord’s when the entire ground stood to mark the conclusion of Sunil Gavaskar’s career; in the summer of 2002 I was again privileged to be present as the Nottingham crowd rose to acclaim Michael Vaughan’s 197. The applause spanned the years and reminded me of the essential humanity of cricket.

So, in cricket, as in life, what goes around tends to come around. And in cricket you can enjoy it again and again.

Class Will Out

I haven't managed to see much of the first two Tests between Pakistan and South Africa, but it's been obvious just from the cards that Mohammad Asif, drugs 'ban' behind him, is right back in the groove.

Very simply, a class bowler.

Osman Samiuddin pays tribute here.



My favourite part of Miller's piece (link below) was his description of Chris Read 'sitting in fulminating silence' next to Duncan Fletcher and having to resist the temptation to slap him.

It wouldn't be a great career move, Chris, but then, with Fletcher in charge, what would it matter? I don't think he ever really rated you and he now probably just views you as a nuisance who won't go away.

I heard on the radio this morning that Fletcher had stated that he felt that he still held the confidence of the players.

Well, that's as maybe. But how many of his side are going to stick their heads above the parapet and say that they don't have confidence in him while he's still in charge? Nobody who wants to be picked again in a hurry, that's for sure.

On the other hand, most of England's finest seem so incapable of departing from ECB-approved media-speak that they find it even more difficult to say something incisive or interesting than they do to play well in one-day cricket.

And that is saying something.

Reprising Disaster

Just about the only good thing (apart from some reasonable bowling and fielding) about England's heavy defeat to New Zealand in Adelaide yesterday was the fact that Ed Joyce at last made some runs. Although, to me, he still didn't look himself. Having seen Joyce make a few runs for Middlesex, I've got the impression that although in many ways he's reminiscent of Graham Thorpe, he is, in reality, a much more fragile talent. More Gower than Thorpe, in fact, but without Gower's towering ability. I'd like to see him make a success of his nascent international career, but I've got my doubts about whether he'll do so, or even get much of a chance to, which would be a pity.

But then everything about England is currently pitiful, and this magnificently splenetic Andrew Miller piece from Cricinfo sums things up beautifully.

One word of warning, though, Andrew. I know it must currently seem hideous to be doing what you're doing (and I'm not even sure I'd like to be in your shoes just now) but never forget that, when it comes down to it, you're being paid to watch cricket.

Most of us would take that. Even if England are playing.


Come and Get Me

An interesting interview in The Times with Bob Woolmer, who appears to indicate that the ECB only have to ask him to take over as coach after the World Cup and he'll be there. He also, predictably, says all the right things about England's team selection in Australia.

It remains to be seen whether there'll be a vacancy but there seems to be an increasing unanimity of opinion about England's need for a fresh coaching perspective and it seems to me that Woolmer would provide this at least as well as anyone else who might come into consideration.

If I was David Collier I'd dig out his number and give him a call.


Same Old, Same Old

Well, yes. But England managed to put together a decent fist of things in the field against Australia in Brisbane yesterday, although, having only made 155, their chances of winning were always slim.

The gloom of the defeat wasn't without a few rays of sunshine, though. Mal Loye simply stepped up and carried on batting as he has for Lancashire for several years now and has surely inked himself into the World Cup squad (if not the team), and Jon Lewis achieved his best international figures with 4-36.

I haven't thought much until now about some people's claims that Lewis might have been a useful addition to England's Ashes squad, but, although he may lack pace at this level, as an acknowledged line and length merchant, he would surely have been more threatening and consistent than Mahmood, even if he'd been below his best.

That's hindsight for you...


New Boys

With Flintoff re-installed as captain (wrongly, according to Richard Hobson in The Times), we can now look forward (if that's the right phrase) to another ODI. The only problem is that it's against Australia, which makes the likelihood of England being able to build on the win over New Zealand slim, to put it mildly.

Whether they make the side or not (and at least one probably will), England will have two new players to choose from - Malachy Loye, the hard-hitting 34 year-old Lancashire opener, and Ravi Bopara, a useful young batting all-rounder from Essex who's obviously done okay with the academy in Perth.

I've seen a fair bit of Loye on TV over the years - he's been knocking around the county circuit since the early nineties, after all - and he's a more than handy operator, the sort of player (and there were many) who could well have had a Test career if he'd shown a bit more consistency at the right times, not played for Northants (never a great career move) and lost his way in the appalling mess that was late twentieth century English cricket.

Bopara I've hardly seen, but he gave a bullish interview on the radio this morning and seems to be relishing the prospect of mixing it with the Aussies.

His awakening may be rude, but at least being around the likes of Loye and Nixon will, as someone who's yet to see 22, never mind 30, keep him feeling young.


Who's the Captain?

It was good to see England finally win a game in the magnificent surroundings of the Bellerive Oval in Hobart yesterday (even if it was, as someone once said, like watching 'two bald men fighting over a comb') and even better to see Andrew Flintoff getting back to something like his best form with both ball and bat.

However, things soon move on, and, with Michael Vaughan picking up a hamstring injury, we're now left with the question of who should (again) take over the England captaincy.

Flintoff or Strauss? I favoured Strauss before Australia and would certainly do so again now, especially as Flintoff's return to the ranks has appeared to benefit him (although he, in time-honoured fashion, would doubtless completely deny it).

With Australia to play again at the end of the week, we'll find out in the next day or two.


Easily Forgotten

Amid all the tributes that have been paid to Warne and McGrath, the role of Justin Langer in so many of the Australian triumphs of recent years is easily forgotten.

He was an undemonstrative, diligent and courageous batsman who I've got a lot of respect for, partly because he's played for the two counties which I follow most closely, Middlesex and Somerset, and also because he's a fine, underestimated, writer on the game.

I'd particularly recommend his book about his first season with Middlesex, From Outback to Outfield, and his website, which I've only just come across and which I must have a good surf around one of these days, is here.

Always Just Enough

Glenn McGrath at Lord's, 1997
Photograph: Mark Ray (Copyright)

A routine week, encompassing another couple of England humiliations, but the retirement from Test cricket of two of the greatest bowlers of all time still hangs heavy in the air.

What to say about the two men about whom everything has been said? In the end, I think you've just got to tell it as you saw it. And what I saw was this.

Like virtually everyone else in Britain, my earliest memory of Warne dates to June 4th 1993, the day he bowled Mike Gatting at Old Trafford with that delivery. I turned on the radio to find a range of commentators talking in awed tones about a ball which had turned from outside Gatting's leg stump, gone across his body and hit the top of his off stump. Later that day I saw it on television - an astonishing delivery from a blonde kid with broad shoulders and a simple action who looked as though he could change the game for good.

In fact I'd already seen Warne play before that. Wisden reminds me that I saw him score 11 at the end of the Australian innings of 431 at Taunton a few weeks earlier, but the innings (unlike the typically rapid century which another tour rookie, Michael Slater, made on the same day) hasn't lingered in the memory. I first saw him bowl at Bristol about a week after Manchester and couldn't avoid following his progress through the England batting the rest of that dreary summer. When Graham Gooch was bowled round his legs by another vicious leg-break at Edgbaston I started to wonder if anything in cricket would ever be the same again.

The next time Warne faced England, in late 1994, I arrived in Melbourne with everyone talking about his bowling in Brisbane. When he went on to take a hat-trick at the MCG, it looked as though the game was up for England for the next twelve years. And they didn't even have Glenn McGrath.

McGrath had played at the 'Gabba but went wicketless and sat out the series until the final Test in Perth, leaving the dismantling of England to Warne, Craig McDermott (so good then), a young Victorian swing bowler called Damien Fleming, and Warne's brother in spinning arms, Tim May. A few months later, as Australia hastened the end of the West Indian empire in the Caribbean, McGrath arrived four-square in the world cricket consciousness; an Australian country boy, stick-thin but with a relentless line and length, plenty of verbal aggression and a wicked bouncer.

And so it went until the other week. A few failures and many, many triumphs. More wickets than virtually anybody else. By the time the close came at Sydney their bodies and actions were creaking but the fundamentals of their bowling were largely undiminished. Land the ball on a good line and length often enough (like almost every ball) and you'll get people out. It doesn't matter what you do with it. Warne did more with it than virtually anyone else ever has, McGrath did appreciably less but always just enough.

By the end Warne was getting wickets through sheer force of personality rather than technical skill, but some of McGrath's last wickets in Test cricket (I'm thinking of Cook, past a hundred and late in the day at Perth, and Collingwood in the first innings at Sydney) were straight echoes of his very greatest days. Draw the batsman half-forward around off-stump and force him to play. Hit the seam and get it to move away. Take the edge and wait for the keeper to catch it. Celebrate.

We'll be seeing more of McGrath over the next few weeks in Australia and then as he returns to the Caribbean for the World Cup. For those of us in the UK it should be possible to see Warne plying his trade on Hampshire's behalf for the next couple of English seasons, although one has to wonder if his motivation and his body will last that long.

It's a tricky and often tedious drive from here in Devon to the Rose Bowl in Southampton (and last time I went I got lost on the way back).

I reckon I might take it this season, though, because, once Warne's gone, nothing will ever really be the same again.



Three days gone in Centurion and South Africa hold a narrow advantage over Pakistan. I've hardly seen any of the game but Ashwell Prince - one of the most improved batsmen in the world these past twelve months - has again been in the runs.

While snatching a glimpse of one of his fine knocks against India over Christmas my brother remarked that Prince reminded him of Graham Thorpe.

I agree. Left-handed, gritty, mentally tough and with a good range of strokes, he currently provides vital stability in the South African middle-order.

I wonder if he'll be around as long as Thorpe?

Madness, Sadness

I last wrote about Mark Vermeulen back in early November, just after the fire at the Zimbabwe Academy. I know from the amount of Google searches which have led people to that post how much interest - some of it genuinely concerned, some of it doubtless voyeuristic - there is in Vermeulen, his problems and his fate.

Telford Vice has written a more extensive piece about him



This caught my eye today.

I'm not totally sure I agree with Gilly on either count. I'm a big fan of Twenty:20 but I don't necessarily feel that it's certain to be the death of fifty over international cricket. And if it is I'm not sure that'll be the end of the world, given how formulaic it's become. If he's just talking about the World Cup, well, I'm sure that'll endure, as will Test cricket, which is really important.

Gilchrist's apparent contrition at the remark he made to the TV commentators shows him in a typically good light - a cricketer of talent bordering on genius and one of the straightest, sincerest characters you'll ever find - but this time I think he's worrying too much.

We've all heard worse, Adam, and let's face it, England were hammered.


Standing Still

India's second innings capitulation in Cape Town, which led to the loss of the series, showed that, despite the advances made by the likes of Sreesanth and Zaheer Khan, and the continuing excellence of Kumble, they persist in taking about as many steps backwards as they do forwards, and remain one of the most consistent sides in world cricket.

Utterly consistent in failing to make the most of their talent and in falling apart at the first sign of pressure.

Greg Chappell has a lot of work to do, and it remains to be seen how much longer he will be given to do it.

And you were wondering why I think England will beat them this summer?

Moving On

England's fate, and the reasons for it, has been analysed to death in the media over the past few days. Certain aspects of it are impossible to dispute (unless, of course, you're Duncan Fletcher or Andrew Flintoff), namely that England's preparation for the series was inadequate and the team's selection chronically flawed, especially for the first two Tests. Add to that the fact that they were without a number of their most important players from the 2005 series and were up against the world's best side, playing at home and desperate to beat them, and they were in trouble from the start.

While I've said here before that I think England would benefit from a change of coach, I also feel that it's important to keep their failings in perspective. They haven't suddenly become the world's worst team as a result of events in Australia and I expect them to do well this summer in their home Test series against West Indies and India. Also, with Warne and McGrath finally gone, it's inevitable that Australia will start to come back towards the chasing pack, and, providing England identify their failings and move on, building their side around players such as Bell, Cook and Panesar, there's every prospect of a close series in England in 2009. However, if they go on pretending that they couldn't have done any more, they've got no chance.

What I'm less sure about, in the short term, is the panicky re-appointment of Michael Vaughan as captain for the forthcoming one-day series, something which is covered very well by Andrew Miller on Cricinfo.

Miller quotes David Graveney as saying that, while mistakes had been made, the appointment of Flintoff as captain wasn't one of them. In which case, why remove him in the middle of the tour and replace him with someone who has a mediocre record in one-day international cricket anyway, and whose fitness, because of his complete lack of exposure to top-level cricket over recent months, must remain under intense scrutiny? A few games for the England Academy and MCC (with hardly any runs to speak of) bear about as much relation to an ODI series against Australia and New Zealand as one of my village games does to a County Championship match.

It could all end in tears.

I hope it doesn't.


Giving It All Away

Shane Warne with Sachin Tendulkar, Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, February 2001

Photograph: Mark Ray (Copyright)

Despite my slightly cynical words earlier in the week, the sight of Warne and McGrath coming off the field together at the conclusion of the England second innings was definitely one of those moments in time which will linger in the memory. It was also good to see Justin Langer being applauded to the wicket by the England players as he came out with Hayden to knock the runs off.

After the victory was secured it all got a bit much, but, for the three men leaving the stage in the Sydney sunshine, it was the way they would have wanted to go.

It's one of the many unimpeachable beauties of cricket that it usually handles the passing of its greatest figures with dignity and style.

This was no exception.


Saying Nothing, Saying It All

I found the inane interviews given by Steve Harmison after play yesterday depressing and infuriating and I was pleased to see that Gideon Haigh has written about them in his Cricinfo blog.

Harmy was obviously determined to stick to the England team's party line of refusing to acknowledge that there might be any identifiable reason (least of all lack of preparatory cricket) for anything which has happened in Australia, but when you hear somebody stating that everything has, basically, 'just happened', you tend to feel that your intelligence is starting to be insulted.

To use one of the oldest sporting journalistic cliches in the (very large) book, Harmison is quite an enigma. But he often seems so bereft of spirit, desire and nous that you have to start to wonder whether Rod Marsh's recent prediction in The Observer that he will have retired from all cricket by 2009 (when he will only be 30) might turn out to be very accurate indeed.

The End is Nigh

Despite some reasonable bowling at times on the second day, the contrast between England's long and desperately weak tail (it's a pity to have to personalize it, but Sajid Mahmood as a Test number eight anyone?) and the aggressive vibrancy of Australia's, as personified today by Warne and Clark, has been utterly stark.

Trust Warne. Conditions and the run of the game appear to dictate that he'll be denied the opportunity to go out on a bowling high (although don't rule out a hat-trick tomorrow morning) so he makes 71 instead. England (and not just Paul Colingwood) will be glad when he's gone, although they'll have to wait until 2009 to confront and enjoy the reality.

Sometime early tomorrow (I'll hopefully be asleep) the end will come. For the time being it'll be a merciful release, as, despite the need to keep things in perspective (England aren't the worst side in the world, etc.), this has ultimately been, as a Norwegian football commentator once said, 'a hell of a beating'.


Team Selection

After a winter of blunders on the team selection front the England selectors (not just Duncan this time) have come up with a useful England 'A' side to tour Bangladesh.

Good to see the great Steven Davies and Stuart Broad there; interesting also to see Nick Compton get in on the back of some heavy scoring for Middlesex last season and also Adil Rashid, the latest great leg-spin hope (who can bat as well).


It was also nice to see Wasim Jaffer make a typically elegant 116 for India against South Africa at Newlands today.

After failures in the first two Tests he'd been under some pressure for his place. Sure, he has the type of technical weaknesses against movement and pace which are common to many Indian batsmen, but, to those of us with memories long enough to recall his century against England at Nagpur last winter and his 212 in the West Indies a few months later, this seemed absurd.

After their capitulation in Durban, Jaffer's given his side the opportunity to crack on tomorrow and put themselves in a position from which they can win the series.

Deja Vu

Well, after winning the toss and batting (again), England made a decent fist of the first day at the SCG. Flintoff began to look like a proper batsman once more, Pietersen got himself out and Bell made another stylish half-century before falling to McGrath (again) when a century was starting to appear likely (again). While it has to be viewed in the context of England's wide range of more serious failings, Bell's inability to reach three figures in Australia has, along with the under-performance of Strauss and Cook at the top of the order, been one of the more disappointing aspects of their batting. If he can't do so in the second innings at Sydney, he'll hopefully cash in later in the year against the West Indies and India.

But I was more concerned, as usual, by the team selection. Despite the fact that Hoggard was ruled out by injury, it was a great pity that England weren't prepared to place a bit of trust in Jamie Dalrymple. On a wicket which usually turns we now have both Mahmood and Anderson in the attack (more than a tad worrying after the way they've bowled so far) and Mahmood to bat at eight. Okay, Dalrymple's not the greatest spinner in the world, but, with a first-class career best of 244 and a rock-solid temperament, he'd surely be a better bet at number eight than Mahmood. In all probability, in fact, he'd go in at seven, ahead of Chris Read.

Early wickets tomorrow will surely spell trouble, but, if Flintoff and Collingwood can settle themselves in again the tail might not be exposed.

Let's hope so.


New Year (Same Old Story?)

I've been away for Christmas and New Year. I couldn't manage to avoid hearing about England's abject performance in Melbourne, but I haven't been in a position to post anything about it until now, and everything that can be said has been said.

Now Sydney is almost upon us, and with Langer joining McGrath and Warne on the retirees' list there'll be more sickly emotion doing the rounds on Saturday than at a Chris de Burgh concert, circa 1986.

I think I can wait...

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