Final Analysis

So, India won the Twenty20. I didn't see enough to offer too many opinions, other than that I don't half like the look of RP Singh.

Sambit Bal sums it all up very well here.


A Tale of Two Players

Watching the Pro 40 play-off between Middlesex and Northants at Southgate this afternoon on Sky, two players stood out.

The first, the 18 year-old Middlesex seam bowler Steven Finn, looks a very good bet to be an international bowler of the future, despite the fact that Bob Willis appears to have taken a particular liking to him.

He's tall and generates good pace, seam movement and occasionally disconcerting bounce from a straight, rhythmic run and a high delivery stride which is slightly, but not excessively, chest-on, in the modern vogue. He's slim but will surely develop further physically over the next few years. I saw him bowl equally well in the flesh last Saturday at Taunton and both three-wicket spells augured well for what he could do in the future on more helpful pitches and with more overs at his disposal.

When presenting Finn with the match award the normally gloomy Willis said something about him soon being in the England side. Premature and tempting fate, I thought, but equally, I wouldn't be surprised to see him there sooner rather than later. Finn himself, who only left school a couple of months ago, said that he'd be delaying going to university so that he can play full-time next season. I'll be surprised if he ever gets to university, unless it's after a long and successful career in the first-class game.

David Sales, the most polished batsman on show, is at a very different stage in his career. Although undoubtedly one of the most talented English batsmen of his generation and the youngest player from this country to make both first-class double and triple-centuries, he's never got very near to an England cap. It's hard to say why, other than some consistency issues earlier in his career, a dreadful knee injury which cost him a whole year's cricket and the fact that he's spent his entire career at Northampton, never an easy place from which to get noticed by selectors, especially these days.

Rising thirty now, Sales remains an uncomplicated and powerful striker of the ball with the type of assured temperament which I think would have stood him in good stead at international level. It's unlikely now that he'll ever get the opportunity and you can't help feeling that at the end of his career we'll be left to wonder how more than one player with a good deal less natural ability - Nasser Hussain, Paul Collingwood - knows what it is to make a Test match double-century when Sales doesn't even know what it is to wear an England cap.

Ones to Watch

As India, with Yuvraj to the fore once again, and Pakistan, taking advantage of a characteristically insipid semi-final performance from New Zealand, set up a sub-continental Twenty20 final in Johannesburg tomorrow, the English County Championship came to a thrilling climax yesterday.

I spent the afternoon watching on TV as Lancashire mounted a sustained assault on the score of 489 which they'd been set to beat Surrey at The Oval and win the title for the first time since 1934. That they failed to do so by just 25 runs is an indication of how well they batted in typically benign Kennington conditions, with VVS Laxman, who made a swift, elegant century, and Stuart Law, combining to give Surrey (and Lancashire's principal championship rivals, Sussex) a major scare. Ultimately you had to feel that if the two major players had managed to stay together for a further hour then the total would have been reduced to a level from which it could have been knocked off with comparative ease. However, they didn't, it wasn't, and Sussex claimed the first division title for the third time in four years.

Down here in the west the talk is all of Somerset, who won the second division with a record total of 266 points. The best aspect of their final victory over Nottinghamshire, secured on Friday lunchtime by an innings and 121 runs, was that Notts were bowled out by a young English leg-spinner.

Michael Munday is 22, comes from Cornwall, and has been involved with Somerset's academy since he was a teenager. He's found it hard to break into their prodigiously successful side this season, but, given a rare opportunity on a wearing track at Taunton, finished the Notts second innings with 8 for 55 and the match with ten wickets.

Although I get to Taunton as often as I can I can't offer any specific comment on Munday as I've never seen him turn his arm over, but you have to like the fact that, after years of drought, there are now a couple of decent young English leg-spinners coming through. With the fact that he's played more first-class cricket and his unquestioned batting ability, the younger Adil Rashid is the only one of the two who's likely to be furrowing the brows of the England selectors anytime soon, but Munday, who spent last winter in Australia and has impressed no less a judge than Terry Jenner, is clearly one to watch.

I'm planning to see plenty of Somerset in Division One next season and will report back on what I see (which will hopefully include plenty of Munday).


Clean Hitting

I saw absolutely nothing of the England-India game last night and have still only managed see three of Yuvraj's shots - that's all BBC Breakfast showed when I staggered into life this morning. A look at YouTube will be in order over the weekend, I think.

I've written before about my admiration for Yuvraj and the cleanness of his hitting. I read today that he'd said that he didn't agree with comparisons between himself and Sobers, but I disagree. That's exactly who he's always reminded me of most.

One of my past pieces about Yuvraj is here.

Tonight, though, India didn't even need him as they laid South Africa's typically vulnerable challenge to rest, with young Rohit Sharma and RP Singh to the fore at a pulsating Kingsmead.

Semis to come on Saturday.


Another Season, Another Continent, Another Failure

Well, Vikram Solanki, one of Worcester's favourite sons but no keeper, took the gloves, and England, in a welter of misjudgements and run-outs, lost to New Zealand, almost certainly ending their participation in the first Twenty20 world championship.

You used to know what you were going to get with England in one-day cricket: failure. These days, it seems, you get failure in major tournaments and some poorly-judged player behaviour interspersed with success when slightly fewer people are looking.

If this pattern counts for anything they ought to do okay in Sri Lanka. I won't, though, be laying any bets on it.


Questions, Questions

Meanwhile, in South Africa, England, with two poor defeats behind them in a tournament in which they were thought likely to be serious contenders, are left to do what they're best at, question themselves.

With Wright, Maddy, Kirtley, Schofield and Snape failing to move any mountains thus far, was the policy of selecting Twenty20 'specialists' right?

And with Matt Prior injured, who's going to keep against the Kiwis?


Of course, with Dravid barely out of the door, the discussions start about the relative merits of his possible successors. Off the top of my head Tendulkar seems unlikely and Dhoni perhaps a little premature; there might just be some mileage in the selectors taking a proper look at Laxman or Kumble.

Anand Vasu sums the situation up well at Cricinfo.

Indian Signs

With a trip to Taunton on Saturday to see Somerset fail to add the Pro 40 Second Division title to their promotion and Sunday spent trying to keep an eye what's been happening in France and South Africa, time to post has been sparse.

At the end of last week it was good to see one of this blog's favourite columnists, Aakash Chopra, make 239* in India A's crushing defeat of their South African rivals, ensuring that his name stays in the minds of the national selectors and bringing him closer to the recall which he craves.

And then there was Dravid. I didn't see it coming, but then, once I stopped to think about it, it made some sort of sense. In England he captained his side well - at least as well as any of the other contenders might have done - but his batting often seemed distracted and short of his customary poise and inevitability. With himself, Ganguly and Tendulkar growing old together, India's batting is poised on the edge of an era of enforced regeneration, and it must be hoped that Dravid's decision will enable him to recapture his previous form and ensure that his career with the bat at the top level is extended for as long as possible.

This, though, would only be a by-product. At Cricinfo Dravid himself merely states that he wasn't enjoying the job and he didn't feel that his batting had been adversely affected, whatever the figures indicate:




While the live issue of the week is the World Twenty20, I can't offer much in the way of comment as I've seen hardly any of it. The only exception was the conclusion of Zimbabwe's successful run-chase against Australia a few days ago and what came after it, when Brett Lee once more enhanced his reputation as the cricket world's greatest sportsman by smiling broadly and shaking the hands of each of the Zimbabwe players in turn with what looked, from my perspective, like genuine sincerity and warmth.

While it's easier to take defeat when your team gives the impression that it's yet to really embrace twenty over cricket, Lee's approach is exemplary and charismatic.

I'm looking forward to seeing him back on the cricket grounds of England in 2009 already.


The Long Road Back

The omissions and inclusions in the latest list of centrally-contracted England players were predictable, but I was heartened and pleased by the return to the ODI side of Graeme Swann, who hasn't had so much as a sniff of a place in the squad since he went to South Africa around the turn of the millennium and was thought to have upset Duncan Fletcher with his insouciant attitude.

At age-group level in England Swann was one of the more talented players of his generation and a member, alongside Owais Shah and Robert Key (and a few other county journeymen like Stephen Peters) of the side which won the under-19 World Cup in early 1998. Later that year he made a sparkling start to his career with Northants -I particularly remember innings of 92 and 111 from number eight in a losing cause at Leicester - and, when he was called up to the England side at the end of the decade, his future looked assured. Somehow, though, it never really happened. The years since have seen him falter at Northampton, move to Nottingham, struggle to make a consistent impression in the first-class game but develop into a dangerous operator in limited-overs cricket with both bat and ball, and retain the enthusiasm and humour which made him stand out back then.

He's another example of the type of player - like Ryan Sidebottom - who would never have found a way back into 'Team England' under Fletcher's dogmatic stewardship, and the resurrection of players like this is as good a retrospective argument for Fletcher's replacement with Peter Moores as I've found. And it was instructive to hear Swann himself say last night that Sidebottom's recall and the success that followed it was one of the main things which gave him hope that he too could find a way back.

And now, with the England ODI side finally looking like it could be moving in the right direction, is a pretty good time to return. With Panesar's continuing inability to reproduce his Test form and Swann's batting and fielding potential, a longer-term place in the side could be well within reach of a player who seems to have been around for a very long time but is only 28.

I hope he makes it.


You Never Know

In the aftermath of the Oval game I briefly thought about going up to London for today's game. I'm glad I didn't. The Oval match climaxed the series three days early and today's match was a damp squib by comparison.

When Rahul Dravid was growing up in southern India I can't imagine that he was aware of the way in which, back in the old days, Gillette Cup and NatWest Trophy finals were often rendered impotent by the way in which the side that won the toss won the match. They usually elected to bowl early on a dewy September morning, and, more often than not, wrecked their opponents' hopes in the first half-hour. By way of contrast Dravid chose to bowl, and, with Tendulkar getting another poor decision, the game was falling away as a contest within the first couple of hours. It never recovered.

Once again, England bowled and fielded with more certainty than India and their batting, with Pietersen and Collingwood thriving in a less pressurised environment than India's batsmen had enjoyed, saw them home with some 14 overs to spare.

Overall, though, India will be pleased with the way their tour has gone; England happy with the way the one-day series has panned out.

The signs for the future appear good. India have an overseas Test series win under their belt, England an ODI series win over a side with the type of collective experience they can only dream about.

But, with these two teams, you never really know...


With the players coming out at Lord's, one's thoughts switch back to the latest drama of the volatile, episodic, unfulfilled career of Shoaib Akhtar, sent home from South Africa before the Twenty20 World Cup has even started after a 'fight' in the dressing room with Mohammad Asif. Of course, it's hard to determine the truth at this stage, but it appears that Shoaib hit Asif with a bat, leaving him with a 'bruised thigh'.

It doesn't sound much, but, with Shoaib's record it might not take much to render the damage to his career terminal. It'll be interesting to see how Geoff Lawson tries to tackle a problem which many of his predecessors have failed to solve.

Meanwhile, at Lord's, India, toss won, are batting. Game on.



The last week has seen the one-day series swing back in the direction of India, and today's epic game saw to it that they'll go into Saturday's concluding game at Lord's at 3-3.

I was working all day and so only got to see the last few overs live, but that was enough to make it clear that it had been an exceptional day in the September sunshine on a typically run-filled Oval track.

Notwithstanding Tendulkar's blistering 94, which rolled back the years like nothing else we've seen from him this summer, it was a day for the youngsters - or at least those still trying to make their way in the international game - Luke Wright, Owais Shah and Dimitri Mascarenhas for England, Robin Uthappa for India. The first three, with power and placement, took England to the type of total that would once have appeared unassailable, while the last, regaining his place in the side with Dravid's assistance, applied the coup de grace just as the odds seemed to be running inexorably in England's favour.

Like many people I had my doubts about the duration of the series before it started, but with six games down and Lord's to come (and how many times will the 2002 NatWest Series final be mentioned over the next few days?) seven matches suddenly seems about right.

Bring on Saturday.


Circling Vultures

A couple of afternoons at Taunton gave me the opportunity to see Somerset confirm their promotion to Division One of the County Championship and to take a first look at the seventeen year-old Glamorgan seamer James Harris, who's taken an impressive number of wickets in his first season in the county game.

The table before the game didn't lie and Glamorgan were comprehensively thrashed by a confident, unified and driven Somerset team, under the unobtrusively forceful and experienced guidance of Justin Langer. Just ten years ago to the month Glamorgan themselves secured the title at Taunton - and there was just one division then - but it's now hard to conceive of when the Welsh county will ever win anything again.

However, in this age of multiple overseas players they continue to rely on homegrown products, and, if they can hang on to Harris and produce a few more like him they might just be able to find a way back.

Harris clearly has a lot of physical filling out to do, but his opening spell on Friday afternoon, when he sent Neil Edwards and Marcus Trescothick back to the pavilion in quick succession, was distinctly impressive. He has a smooth, straight approach to the crease, a good, high, delivery stride and the ability to move the ball both ways off the pitch. It seems to me that he needs to inject a bit more pace and urgency into his run-up and this will encourage him to follow through more and give him extra pace. However, with what already appears to be good control of line and length you feel that the rest will come in time.

These days, though, when a county such as Glamorgan produces a player with the promise of Harris, the vultures start to circle almost immediately. While Glamorgan are already wealthier than some, and are going to join the select group of counties which stage Tests when Australia come to Cardiff in 2009, there is an increasing gap in playing standards, and, in many cases, salaries, between first and second division cricket. The traditionalist in me was very disappointed by the recent news that Stuart Broad, a cricketer of immense promise nurtured by Leicestershire, had signed for Nottinghamshire, a club which, although Broad's father played for them and they can doubtless offer him a far higher salary than Leicestershire can, haven't even assured themselves of a return to the first division yet. Leicestershire suffered similarly when Luke Wright joined Sussex, and, while I also think it would be a pity if a genuine transfer market developed in cricket, you can't help feeling that counties such as Leicestershire deserve some financial compensation when their players are picked off by rivals with greater financial power.

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