Winning Away

So India's fifth Test win in England was duly achieved. Like many people, I suspect, I'd lost sight of just how many Tests they've won abroad over recent years.

Dileep Premachandran spells it out at Cricinfo.


Getting it Wrong, Getting it Right

Well, now. I got it a little bit wrong, but India, ultimately, got it very right.

I fell into the trap of assuming that if India were going to bowl a side out in the second half of a Test match to set up a victory, the man to do it had to be Kumble. An indolent reading of history suggested as much but in England? In the monsoon summer of 2007? At a lush Trent Bridge - which has gained an increasing reputation as a swinging ground in recent years - it was always more likely to be a seamer. And, with the way he's been bowling since his first spell at Lord's, it was always likely to be Zaheer Khan.

The fact that they only took a single wicket in the first session didn't matter at all either, with most of the side - Sreesanth excepted - patiently biding their time through a warm afternoon and the majestic quality of Michael Vaughan's century in the knowledge that the new ball could change things quickly. With Zaheer and RP using it beautifully and the below-par Kumble seeing to the tail, it did, and only a further 63 are now needed to secure a deserved victory.

India have flattered to deceive many times over the years, but, if they can win tomorrow and repel England at The Oval (and England will really come at them hard there), perhaps we can start thinking about a future in which the side can start to get a bit nearer to fulfilling the perenially disappointed hopes of its millions of followers.

The middle-order is certain to need some re-stocking before long but the bowling looks good. In Zaheer you have as mature and skilled a left-arm swing bowler as there is in the world, in RP Singh as promising a left-arm swing bowler as there is in the world and in Sreesanth as contradictory and potentially dangerous (in many senses) a right-arm seamer as there is in the world. And Pathan and Harbhajan to come back in.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. For now the onus is on Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik at 11 o'clock tomorrow morning.

Everything else comes later.


Advantage India

Another long day of runs and umpiring errors, culminating with England having to bat for well over a day to make India bat again.

For what it's worth, given the way the pitch has flattened out and the good weather forecast, I think they've got every chance of doing it.

The key is the first session tomorrow; if India take wickets and Kumble finds his rhythm it'll be very difficult for England. If they can reach lunch without loss and go into the afternoon intact the pressure may start to affect India.


Good Taste

With the exception of the late dismissal of Dravid, the day couldn't have gone much better for India. England 198, India 254 for 3 at the close, Sachin and Sourav at the crease with considerable power to add.

However, it was the performance of the openers which really stood out. There was luck, true, with countless balls passing the outside edge in the first hour and umpire Ian Howell in an implausibly generous mood, but Karthik, sparky and confident, and Jaffer, patient, restrained and elegant, further confirmed the suspicion that they're starting to grow into a distinctly useful pair with India's first Test opening partnership of more than a hundred in England for twenty-eight years.

I didn't know much about Karthik so Siddhartha Vaidyanathan's piece on Cricinfo this evening was particularly interesting, especially the fact that his boyhood hero was one Graham Thorpe.

Two reactions:

One, he's very young.

Two, he's got good taste.

Holding the Cards

One day gone at Trent Bridge and India appear to hold most of the cards, having bowled well throughout a truncated Friday. Although,if England had won the toss and had bowled as they did at Lord's, India would have been lucky to manage 169-7.

However, with better weather forecast for today and some of the dampness surely out of the pitch, this looks like a pivotal day in the match and the series. India need to knock over the remaining three England wickets, restrict them to less than 200 and then bat long. If the weather allows enough play later in the game a lead of 150 plus for India would make things very interesting.

I'll be watching from home all day and reporting back tonight.


Ruled Out

This afternoon's news that Marcus had ruled himself out of England's winter tours came as something of a surprise. Things have been going so well for Somerset that it didn't seem like a huge leap for him to at least go to the Twenty20 World Cup. That was obviously a glib assumption on my part. He clearly doesn't feel as though he's sufficiently well to undertake even the brief trip to South Africa, and you have to wonder - and not for the first time - if his entire international career has come to a very premature conclusion.

I'd say that this, sadly, is probably the end.


There's Always Something

Aside from events on the field it was an interesting few days - a near monsoon on Friday, with play, amazingly, following a couple of hours later; Ottis Gibson taking ten wickets in an innings on Saturday; and, most impressive and moving of all, RP Singh taking off his cap to acknowledge the applause of the members in the Long Room on Sunday in a gesture at once old-fashioned and deeply impressive.

That's what I like about trips to London (and Lord's). There's always something happening.

A Quiet Classic

In a quiet way, the first Test between England and India at Lord's was a classic. Or at least it looked like that to an English follower starved of competitive Test cricket for most of the summer. The unique brilliance of Shivnarine Chanderpaul can only take a series so far, and it was good to see England back in a battle. A battle in which they won most of the minor skirmishes and very nearly the whole damn thing.

There's simply no getting away from the fact that England look a more positive, united and vibrant team whenever they're led on to the field by Michael Vaughan. And, with the skipper himself refreshed as a result of his extended injury layoff and showing the type of judgement, command and tactical acumen which used to be second nature, they're even better. With a series of bowlers who can all hit the cut strip with regularity and move the ball at will in their different ways, they're better still.

With those bases covered, all you need is runs. They were largely provided by a watchful, often hesitant but deserving Andrew Strauss, the renewed elegance of Michael Vaughan, and Kevin Pietersen, who, in typical fashion, progressed through the gears to the point of total command after lunch on Sunday.

England's bowlers performed with relaxed penetration. It's no more than you expect from Sidebottom and Panesar now, but it was great to see Jimmy Anderson deliver his most complete performance in an England shirt and Chris Tremlett, whose unexpected selection ahead of Stuart Broad almost had me choking on my hotel breakfast on the first morning, justified his place and dropped a few hints for the future.

India started poorly with the ball in favourable conditions on Thursday but turned things around after Friday morning's monsoon. Zaheer hinted at his Worcester form, Sreesanth ran in hard and gained a few rewards from Steve Bucknor, and RP Singh looked like a bit of a find. Runs were harder to come by though, with only Karthik and Dhoni, in the second innings, really doing themselves justice. Dravid was unusually anonymous (but will surely come back fighting), Tendulkar lacked authority (and the jury is out on whether he can find it again), Ganguly flashed with bat and mouth but never suggested permanence, and Laxman's footwork and demeanour looked a bit too diffident for his own good.

England deserved to win and were unlucky not to get the chance to finish the job, although, if they could have stirred themselves to bowl their overs a bit more quickly yesterday morning they'd probably have wrapped the game up way before the rain came. I see from Cricinfo that the otherwise admirable Peter Moores is trying to justify England's slow over-rate by reference to the need for meticulous field-placing. That's as maybe, but they could do a lot better by cutting out their latest piece of modish fielding nonsense which appears to be to throw the ball to the wicket-keeper from anywhere on the field, regardless of whether there's any point to it. If the batsman hits the ball to mid-off and is not attempting a run, then why doesn't the mid-off fielder just throw the ball straight back to the bowler, rather than hurling it to Matt Prior and then getting it back about thirty seconds later via one of the slips (usually Strauss)? Talking of which, I don't think one of the slips (usually Strauss at Lord's again) needs to polish the ball on his backside until his trousers are virtually worn away after every ball. Fifteen overs an hour should be relatively straightforward whoever's bowling, and might show that the players have given some thought to the fact that people have actually paid money to watch them play and have the right to expect to see ninety overs in a day.

India look to be going in the right direction with the ball but will need more runs from all parts of the order if they're going to threaten England at Nottingham and The Oval. And it's up to SRT to show that reports of his imminent demise are greatly exaggerated.


Lord's Thoughts

I'm off to London for the Test in the morning, so there's not much time to produce any very profound thoughts about the game.

However, taking into account the benign nature of recent Lord's pitches, I'd expect the side winning the toss to bat first, although England could be tempted to bowl given the relative fragility of the Indian top order.

There's talk about the possibility of Dinesh Karthik getting the gloves for India, which would be a pity from my point of view as I'd like to see Dhoni play for the first time. It'd be nice to see Yuvraj as well, though, and it could be a case of one or the other.

England are certain to be without Steve Harmison for the whole series and it looks likely that Stuart Broad will make his debut. I hope so.

I also hope that the weather doesn't ruin the game, but there's a better than even chance that it will.

See you next week.



You can always trust Pakistan cricket to surprise you, and today we had the decisions to appoint Geoff Lawson as coach and to leave Inzamam out of their new list of centrally contracted players.

I was always a great fan of Lawson's commitment on the field and it's good to see someone such as him taking a conscious decision to step away from the commentary box comfort zone to take on one of the toughest jobs in world cricket.

Apparently the Inzamam decision wasn't unexpected for those who follow the Pakistan scene more closely than I do, but it seems, on the face of it, to be a bit ill-judged. Despite the advancing years, his form at Test level has remained quite solid and one wonders if it isn't a simply the product of a desire on the part of the PCB to move on from an era in which Inzamam was perhaps too closely identified with the late Bob Woolmer.

When a new coach begins working with Pakistan (and it seems to happen quite a lot) it's always interesting to see if they can succeed where their predecessors have failed. Lawson will be no exception.


Today's News

With only four overs possible at Taunton today, my attention was drawn to events at Chelmsford, where the three day game between England Lions and India ended in a predictable draw.

Whle India can take plenty from Tendulkar's 171 - and valuable contributions from Yuvraj, Dhoni and Karthik - the profligacy of their bowlers will worry them as they go to Lord's.

From an England (and Middlesex) standpoint it was good to see Andrew Strauss and Owais Shah pass fifty, although only one will be back at their home ground come Thursday, unlike Stuart Broad, who heads in the direction of a probable first Test cap with a five-for under his belt.

Unconditional Approval

After a workmanlike day on Friday, Saturday at Taunton was truly wonderful. As nice a day as you're going to get this summer, a very good crowd and fulfilling yet contrasting innings from Marcus Trescothick, Neil Edwards, Justin Langer and James Hildreth.

Langer could have made his 83 in his sleep, and Hildreth fell to his first misjudgement; Edwards was impressive, if not quite as fluent as on Friday evening; Trescothick was simply magnificent. After easing himself into Saturday morning and occasionally looking ugly and dissonant as his mistiming got the better of him, he suddenly went up a gear and began to take apart an attack which, whatever Lance Klusener's empty bluster, wasn't fit to lace his boots.

He reached his hundred with a straight six off Jason Brown (pictured) and continued to extend Somerset's lead to the point where some unwise innovation led to his dismissal, caught at the wicket off Alex Wakely, who added to the good impression he'd created with the bat with some tidy off-spin.

Marcus, of course, received a moving and resonant standing ovation. A player at home with the unconditional approval of his people, but needing, surely, the greater stimulus which only further international competition will provide.

Whatever. Good, good times.


Letting Go Again

Away from the parochial goings on in the south-west, England 'Lions' made a fair fist of their first day's batting against India at Chelmsford. The young and very promising Kent opener Joe Denly made 83, Stuart Broad 50 and Yorkshire's Tim Bresnan an undefeated 116 by the close out of 379 for 8.

It seems that India, as so often, had the England side where they wanted them but didn't force their advantage home. Homer muses on that here.


A Bit of Luck

After a very frustrating, very wet, month I was due a bit of luck and I got it today. With most of the country again being rained on I managed to see a very interesting 74 overs at Taunton in which Northants were bowled out for 221 and Somerset's left-handed openers, Marcus Trescothick and Neil Edwards, motored to 77 off 13 overs by the close.

All Somerset's bowlers - Andy Caddick, Charl Willoughby, Peter Trego, Steffan Jones and Cameron White - bowled some tight lines in helpful conditions and were supported by some very sharp fielding, with Trescothick at slip, and the young South African wicket-keeper, Craig Kieswetter, taking excellent catches.

Prior to Steven Crook's 60 from number 8, the most interesting contribution to Northants' total came from the England under-19 batsman Alex Wakely, who was making his first-class debut. He was unexpectedly tall but showed good judgement and a broad range of strokes in compiling a patient 38.

With rain forecast for Sunday and possibly Monday as well, Somerset will need to push on tomorrow morning to get a decent lead as quickly as possible and get Northants back in.

I'll be there to see them try.


Rough Deal

It's been a fairly quiet week. The only major news stories in this neck of the woods have been India's narrow failure to win their first tour match at Hove, the ECB's decision to order Worcestershire to re-play the Kent game (which was eventually - and inevitably - abandoned), and the preliminary England squad for the Twenty20 World Cup in September.

For what it's worth I think the ECB got it just about right over Worcestershire, although I wouldn't expect the people in charge of other counties who have been badly affected by the weather in this bedraggled season to agree. A ticking-off for what was undoubtedly a major cock-up (New Road was never going to be ready in time and it was deceitful at worst and deluded at best to pretend otherwise) and Friday's Pro 40 game moved to Derby, together with some financial assistance to help with the clean-up.

The news which everyone has grabbed from the Twenty20 squad has been the returns of Marcus Trescothick and, to a lesser extent, Chris Schofield. One after a journey into mental turmoil and the other after a sojourn in Minor County cricket. In truth the selection of Marcus was a no-brainer - the squad has still to be whittled down and he can easily be cut from it if he starts to have doubts about the trip - but I think he'll be there. If he isn't all bets are off for the future of his career.

As for who won't be there, am I alone in feeling that Ed Joyce has had a rough deal somewhere along the line? Okay, his form did fade in the West Indies but this is someone with an ODI hundred against Australia, which is a tad more than Mal Loye (highest score 45) can boast.


(Not) Played in England

I know that cricket is played in England. I've seen it on TV. Indeed, in the last nine days or so I've seen three One-Day Internationals played to a finish.

But can I see any live? Can I hell.

Can I play? Oh no.

On Sunday 24th June I plan to go to Bovey Tracey to see Devon play Wiltshire. However, it's clear from the torrential rain sweeping down my road that there won't be any play. There isn't any on the following day either and the match is put out of its misery and moved to Exmouth, where it's done and dusted in a few hours. I'm at work.

The following Sunday, 1st July, I'm selected to play for my club, the Erratics, against Cheriton Fitzpaine, but the Cheriton ground, a 'secluded' (in other words impossible to find) patch of mid-Devon countryside about the size of the average back garden is so sodden after weeks of virtually incessant rain that the game's called off on the preceding Friday evening.

At around the same time, the County Ground at Worcester, one of the most famous grounds in the world, disappears under the lapping waters of the River Severn, something which hasn't happened during the cricket season since 1969.

So, on Sunday 8th July, there's only one thing for it. A trip to Worcester. On the road from Exeter at 8, a quick drive up the M5, park up and walk down to the ground to be confronted by a notice which announces that there will be no play before lunch and that there will be an inspection at 1.15. A polite enquiry to the corpulent and testy turnstile operator elicits the gruff statement that 'There will be no refunds!'. Right. I don't think I'll pay then.

The atmosphere outside the ground is pungent in more ways than one. The hideous stench of raw sewage from the receded floodwaters mingles with the tense imprecations of the punters turning back at the gates. Indeed, one older gentleman is so irate that he conducts a loud and prolonged verbal dialogue with himself about the merits of the club's decision not to move the game to another venue.

Time to meet my friend Alan and go for a walk around the nondescript, seagull-spattered centre of Worcester. After a while the sun begins to beat down and we return with some hope at 1.30 only to find that there will be another inspection at 3, but that play looks doubtful. So it's off across the road to sit by the bowling green where we meet a man who is happy to talk at us for over an hour about subjects as diverse as the batting of Cameron White, the social composition of the population of Budleigh Salterton and what you do if you go to China for two weeks and don't like Chinese food.

At 3 we return to the ground to find that any hope of play has been abandoned for the day, if indeed, there ever was any hope (a member of the groundstaff later tells us that they knew at eight o'clock in the morning that there wouldn't be any play). It's depressing, if predictable, news, but not half as depressing as hearing the strident tones of the Kent supporting woman with a voice like a broken foghorn who's notorious from Canterbury to Taunton.

After a stroll round the ground, one section of which bears a disturbing resemblance to a dried-up river bed, it's time to return home.

In Worcester the weather has been perfect but on the way back I encounter a violent rainstorm in north Somerset which turns the motorway into a river and forces me to stop. However, by the time I'm back in Exeter, some twelve hours after leaving, the sun is beating down so brightly that I can barely see where I'm going. I wearily park the car and look at the dials. Oh dear.

I've driven 285 miles and I haven't seen a ball bowled. I'm hungry and I'm tired. I'm wondering why I bother with cricket.

I'll try again at Taunton on Friday.


Monsoon Season

Meanwhile, India got their tour under way at Hove, with Dinesh Karthik, Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid scoring half-centuries.

It's good to have them here, but, unless the British summer monsoon stops, their presence won't count for much.

It stayed dry and sunny today, the nicest day for almost a month, but it looks as though the showers will be back tomorrow. I'm stupid enough to be driving up to Worcester to try to see some cricket and preserve my failing sanity by watching Worcestershire and Kent line up on a ground that was under water less than two weeks ago.

All a bit mad, but that's what English summers like this lead to.

Demolition Derby

One of the English counties I follow is Derbyshire. Not as closely as I follow Middlesex and Somerset, but I tend to keep an eye on what's going on via my father, who lives in Derby and used to be a member of the club.

So my ears pricked up when I heard on the radio this morning that Dave Houghton, the former Zimbabwe Test captain who's done a lot to improve the club's fortunes over the past few seasons, was leaving the club. My initial suspicion was that it was just another piece of infighting at a club for whom turbulence has been a leitmotif in recent years, but it appears from Cricinfo as though Houghton is going to be Bangladesh's next coach.

They need him, having done much to dispel the memories of their engaging performances in the World Cup by sliding to a predictably ignominious 2-0 Test series defeat to a Sri Lankan side driven by Sangakkara's runs and the wickets of Murali and Malinga.

Not much to say other than to wish Houghton good luck. And tell him to keep working on Mohammad Ashraful, because that boy really has something.

A Kind of Redemption

There were a lot of complaints doing the rounds in the media a few weeks ago about the poor quality of the Test series between England and the West Indies. The West Indians just weren't good enough they said. England had nothing to beat. Ergo it was 'poor' Test cricket.

I agreed that the West Indies were poor - who couldn't? - but I tended to demur from the prevailing opinion that the Test series was worthless just because of that, together with the poor quality of much of England's bowling. If nothing else, the West Indies, and the series, had Chanderpaul, but it was hard, at the time, to see where their next win was coming from.

The Twenty20 and ODI series have been something entirely different, though, culminating in today's game at Trent Bridge, which saw a united and vibrant West Indian side lay waste to England. Their display had everything - positive captaincy from Gayle, high pace and aggression from Edwards and Powell, powerful runs from Morton, brilliant catches greeted with celebrations direct from the carnivals of the Caribbean.

Whether it was the fact that they had the sun on their backs for the first time since Old Trafford or simply that they were playing England at a game which England can't play is uncertain. Equally, who's to know whether this, like The Oval in September 2004, is another false dawn or the start of better times for a team - and a cricket culture - that sure as hell needs it.

Whatever the case, Trent Bridge, Saturday 7th July 2007, looks, from this short distance, like a kind of redemption.


One Year On, One Year In

It's exactly a year since I began writing this blog. After years of writing articles for magazines and journals I'd started to feel frustrated by the length of time it took for anything I'd written to appear in print and I felt that this format would give my work greater immediacy and the opportunity to write about whatever was in my head at the time, rather than what an editor wanted me to write about or what they were prepared to accept.

I'd spent some wonderful hours in the early part of last season watching Graeme Hick bat at Taunton and Worcester and wanted to write something about a cricketer whose career I'd been associated with since he was a youngster and who was nearly as old as me but was still performing with distinction. That piece, still one of the best things I've written, can be found here, and, a year on, Hick is still batting superbly; on Friday evening he made 110 from 49 balls in a Twenty20 game for Worcestershire against Northants.

It's been a crowded and intriguing year for world cricket. I've seen and commented upon the first forfeited Test match and all the controversy that went with it, Australia regaining the Ashes with dismissive excellence and then going on to dominate the World Cup in much the same way (although it's questionable how many people were still awake by the end to see them do it). I've also covered the shockingly sudden death of Bob Woolmer and the retirements of three of the greatest cricketers of this or any era, Brian Lara, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. It's been hard work at times, but I'm still enjoying it.

To my regular readers - you know who you are, even if I don't - thanks a lot for dropping by and coming back. And special thanks to Andrew Riley, Simon Orpen, Simon Hattenstone of The Guardian, Patrick Kidd of The Times, Mark Ray for the photos, Russell Degnan, Homer, and anyone else who's been kind enough to add me to their blogrolls.

The only thing that's disappointed me slightly is that thousands of people read the blog but few comment. I've gone through spells of getting reasonable numbers of comments (usually when I've written something about the Indian team) but things usually go dead again after a while. It's one of those spells at the moment.

So, if you're reading the blog and feel that you've got something to say, leave a comment. It's not difficult and I always reply.

At the last count this site had been visited by people from 62 countries, although a large proportion of those simply wanted to know about the different shades of green. To them, and the people whose searches for 'Guildford Swingers' on Google always lead them to my appreciation of Martin Bicknell, sorry I couldn't help you.

Six Things

Six things which were apparent at Lord's today:

1. Ian Bell needs to work on his running.

2. Fidel Edwards is very quick, and, unusually for a modern West Indies cricketer, has the right attitude.

3. Dwayne Bravo is a quality all-rounder, and, unusually for a modern West Indies cricketer, has the right attitude.

4. Owais Shah, whisper it, is starting to look at home in international cricket.

5. And so is Stuart Broad.

6. Allan Donald is having a positive effect on England's bowlers.

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