While England deserve plenty of credit for what was a creditable comeback, and, ultimately, a comfortable victory, the questions raised by Tim over at Third Umpire yesterday largely remain. While they saw England to victory soundly enough towards the end yesterday, the form of Bell and especially Collingwood continues to give cause for concern and there are bowling issues that need addressing as well.

I'd be inclined to stick with the batting line-up as it is for Nottingham, with the hope that Bell (the player with more potential than anyone else in the side, in my view) can make some runs when the heat's on. Colly probably just about deserves another go as well, although Ravi Bopara increases the pressure on him with every run he makes in what's been an excellent start to the season.

With regard to the bowling, I'm losing patience with Anderson's inconsistency and would go back to Matthew Hoggard (if fit) or give Tremlett (who did little wrong against India last summer) a go.

I'll be very surprised, though, if England don't go in with a completely unchanged side again.


The Jones Boy

After last year's debacle, I'm going up to Worcester for a few days next weekend to see Worcestershire's championship match against Essex. I'm looking forward to seeing Ravi Bopara but the most enticing prospect is that of watching Simon Jones bowl.

It seems he's really starting to get it together again, and I thought his interview with Simon Wilde in yesterday's Sunday Times was impressively mature, percipient and encouraging.

I'll report back.


In the aftermath of a feverish day at Old Trafford yesterday, it's the English batting that's taking the flak, along, it seems, with the team's general approach.

Much of this criticism is fair and accurate, and it's getting to the stage where some tough decisions need to be taken, regardless of what happens today.

This, from Third Umpire, is a typically well-balanced critique, most of which I strongly agree with.


Proving the Rule

Simon Taufel deserves vast credit for going to the third umpire for an adjudication on Vettori's run out yesterday. Very many umpires wouldn't have done so.

I don't think there's another umpire on the international panel who's quite as good (although, in my opinion, Aleem Dar is close), and I'm happy to treat Alastair Cook's lbw decision as the exception which proves the rule.


A day's Test cricket yesterday, in two very different parts of the world, which was, in many ways, a throwback to earlier times. On the one hand you had a previously unconsidered Kiwi seamer (no offence, Mr.O'Brien) making life difficult for England (with obvious assistance from his captain) after England's own insipid efforts in the field had matched the slackness of the Kiwis' running. England were also pasted all over the field by a young batsman of unmistakeable promise and class; it's hard to believe now that only a few months ago good New Zealand judges were wondering whether Ross Taylor was going to be any more than a one-day player.

On the other, in Kingston, you had everything going off: Shiv Chanderpaul gets knocked unconscious by a Brett Lee bouncer but gets up to record yet another century and then watches from the field as Edwards and Powell leave Australia rocking at a close score of 17 for 4.

So, just like old times. England struggling, West Indies fast bowlers creating mayhem and reverse swing the king. For all the brilliance of Taylor and Chanderpaul's heroics (how many batsmen have ever sold their wicket more dearly?), the highlight of the day for me was the delivery from Brett Lee which shattered Daren Powell's stumps as the West Indian innings declined.

At about 90 miles an hour it started to reverse in the last third of its flight before torpedoing Powell's middle and leg stumps. Far better players than Powell would have stood no chance at all, and for an instant I felt as though I was right back in the 1990s, with Waqar Younis persecuting a range of helpless England batsmen (Graeme Hick at Lord's, 1996, came to mind immediately).

Bloody magnificent.



As most observers seem to have been saying, it's difficult to know what to make of an indeterminate game which ended with an indeterminate result, but it's far to say that a few people - myself included, if truth be told - will have woken up to the fact that there's the potential for a reasonable contest over the next few weeks. The Kiwis will, though, need further big contributions from Oram and McCullum, together with Ross Taylor finding some form, if they're to hold off an English attack which ought to get better with more bowling and more help from the conditions.

From an English viewpoint it was obviously good to see Vaughan back in the runs, with some of his onside shots on Sunday reminiscent of his greatest days and a fantastic look of fulfilment and (perhaps) relief on his face when he reached his ton.

It's easy to start to wonder if James Anderson has crossed the elusive consistency threshold, although I'd be inclined to give him a few more Tests before counting any chickens. However, going back to Hoggy (when he's fit) doesn't seem such an obvious move as it did after Napier, and there's always Anderson's superb fielding to enjoy, even if the wickets aren't coming.

Finally, after his promising (and too readily-forgotten) start to his Test career last summer, I'm very pleased to see Chris Tremlett back, although he looks unlikely to play.

A little bit of consistency of selection for once? Well, maybe.


Light Relief

For the first time in a few years I decided not to go to the May Lord's Test this season, and, with the way the weather's gone, it seems I got it about right. I haven't seen much of the game but have been made aware by the media and friends at Lord's that it's been pretty heavy going. Not for the first time (and certainly not for the last), the players have been shooting themselves in the foot (and the game in the head) by coming off for bad light when the justification for it has often seemed a bit limited. It'd be nice if the players would occasionally remember that people have paid to watch them play, but I can't see it happening. Best just to leave the decision to the umpires.

Andrew Miller sums things up typically well here.


The County Game

Over the years, although I've watched a lot of it, I've often been ambivalent about the value, if not the intrinsic qualities, of the English county game. And now, with the usual volley of spring brickbats being fired at it from a range of observers - Scyld Berry, Mike Atherton, Steve James - it feels slightly strange to be writing in its defence.

Yesterday I was at Taunton again. The sun shone all day, and, after Chris Adams' bizarre decision to insert Somerset, there was more assured and at times dismissively brilliant batting from Trescothick, Edwards, Langer and especially James Hildreth, who benefited from two early dropped catches but went on to lay waste to a Sussex attack which kept going well but was always swimming against the tide.

The concerns of James and others (including, apparently, the ECB, although they've done precious little about it so far) about the number of Kolpak players are right on the money. As James said earlier this week, if counties like Northants and Leicestershire can't do any better than stuff their side with South Africans, then perhaps the time has come to wonder whether they're serving any useful purpose at all. Despite the advances in competitiveness and quality engendered by two divisions, I've long bought into the view that there are simply too many first-class sides in England, and the way in which counties are making it more and more evident that there isn't enough English talent to go round only weakens the case for their continued existence even more.

However, one of the supposed 'facts' about County Championship cricket, that 'nobody watches it', perhaps leading people who don't go to matches to think that games are always attended by the proverbial 'one man and his dog', simply isn't, in my experience, true. While yesterday's crowd was unusually large, containing as it did a very large number of Sussex supporters, crowds at Taunton, even in midweek, are usually good (it must have been up over the thousand mark yesterday). Okay, about 90% of the people there on any given day are over sixty, but no matter. As a stripling of 42 it keeps me feeling young, and it's nice to be surrounded by people who know and love the game for what it is, rather than seeing a day at the cricket as an opportunity to make an exhibition of themselves.

It's possible that developments in the wider cricketing world may finally force the hands of the ECB and the counties and lead them towards some meaningful change, and, in many ways, this would be a good thing. However, Jack Simmons' idea of reverting to three-day cricket with 120 overs a day ('revealed' in The Times yesterday) can surely be ignored. Take it from me, Jack, you're not going to get modern county cricketers to bowl 120 overs in a day. They can't even manage 96 in a six hour day now and they're not going to like the idea of their working day being lengthened.

Whatever happens, though, those with the power to decide on the issue must be very careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, because there are very many things about county cricket which are still, and will remain, great.

A sunny day at Taunton and a Hildreth century are just two of them.



Well, Andrew Flintoff's side strain meant that that the England selectors had a slightly easier job than they would have done. I myself felt that Flintoff ought to be left with Lancashire until the South Africa series, and, while he was clearly bowling very well, his total lack of runs with the bat confirmed my view, and I suspect that some of the panel shared this opinion.

So, the team for Lord's is a fairly predictable one, with both Jimmy Anderson and Matthew Hoggard named, and I wouldn't be surprised if they both play, although, if the exceptional weather continues, conditions might favour Monty a bit more.

Nothing Unusual (but still great)

For all the talk of Kolpaks and the damage (or otherwise) they're doing to the English game, a day at the county cricket can still throw up some real pleasures.

Friday at Taunton, was one such day. A typically dead track, to be sure, and Somerset intent on batting all day to make up for a meagre first innings effort against a threadbare Hampshire bowling attack.

There was one good sign, though: Marcus Trescothick and Justin Langer were together at the start of the day, and, by the time they were parted in mid-afternoon, they had taken their team's score from a distinctly rocky 83 for 1 to 355 for 2. Neither of them did anything unusual, or, for them exceptional; Trescothick was dominant, muscular and powerful, Langer controlled, determined and acquisitive, but it was great to watch two Test players of the past (it still feels uncomfortable to say that about Marcus but there's no getting away from the truth of it) toying with an attack of tyros.

One shot sticks in the mind. Late in Trescothick's innings, James Tomlinson, with eight first innings wickets behind him, dropped one short, just outside off stump. Marcus swivelled and pulled it for four to the furthest boundary on the ground, bisecting two boundary fielders and sending a clear message to Tomlinson: I've done that to some of the finest and fastest bowlers in the world. Don't bowl there to me and expect to get away with it.

Of course, Marcus, never the confrontational or arrogant sort, wouldn't have put it like that (or even thought it), but that's how it appeared.

I look forward to a few more moments like that over the coming months.


The Best of the Best

After my first day's cricket of the 2008 season at Taunton yesterday, I've been lying low at home today and watching a stirring conclusion to the 'regular' Guinness Premiership season.

However, I always keep an eye on Cricinfo's 'The Surfer', and today it carried a link to this piece in the Daily Telegraph by Simon Hughes.

Even though I belong to the apparently small group of people who feel that it would have been a retrograde step to bring Ramprakash back into the England side in the last few seasons, Hughes's excellent article has many resonances for me. In 1988 I was a Middlesex supporter and was at Lord's for Ramprakash's heroics in the NatWest Final. Indeed I still have a scorecard which he signed for me at a reception afterwards in the Lord's Banqueting Suite.

Those of us who knew what he could do then were among the most disappointed by what came afterwards, but we'll surely be among those who raise a glass highest when the inevitable hundredth hundred comes.

Because, like another undervalued artist who I was watching today (but who may yet get the chance to display his wares on the international stage), James Simpson-Daniel, Ramprakash truly was better than any of his contemporaries.


Wickets Falling

The sun's shining but wickets are still falling all over the country. Lancashire are bowled out for 140, with Durham's Mark Davies, a bowler who has had fitness issues throughout his career but who takes wickets by the bucketload when he's fit, taking 7 for 33. In reply, Lancashire skittle Durham for 114, with Jimmy Anderson and Freddie Flintoff each taking four wickets.

At Taunton, Somerset are shot out for 126 and Hampshire pass their total with ease, KP making a rapid ton.

James Hildreth is out, second ball, for 0.

Another Day...

Another English cricketer says that he's rejected an offer from the IPL. Yesterday it was Ravi Bopara, today it's Sajid Mahmood.

What to make of it? Well, it was inevitable that English players would be offered IPL contracts, and it's even more inevitable that, one day soon, they'll start accepting them. How many of us, if offered, say, five times the money for a fraction of the work, would do anything else? I know I'd be off like a shot, but then I've got no hope of playing for England, and it was good to see that Bopara was more concerned about his potential future in the national side than the amount of Indian cash he could make, at least in the short term.

For a player like Bopara - young, with both plenty of talent and a good temperament, and bang in form, this is how it should be. As for Mahmood, well, with the emergence of Sidebottom and Broad, he's going to have to find some very good form of his own in the near future if he's not to be consigned permanently to the well-filled pigeonhole marked 'former England internationals'. Personally I'll be very surprised if he ever plays for England again, and, if I was him, I'd have gone.

But then I'm just about as far from being Sajid Mahmood as it's possible to be, so my perspective on life is bound to be a bit different from his. If he wants to stay here and fight to regain his England place, good luck to him.

As I've said, the attractions of the IPL are obvious and undeniable. And sometimes they're even better than that. Consider for a minute the case of Dimitri Mascarenhas, who at the moment is presumably being paid a very large amount of money for doing absolutely nothing.

I'd take it.


Time's Arrow

Talking of Taunton, it occurred to me over the weekend that it's twenty years ago tomorrow that Graeme Hick made 405 not out there for Worcestershire, a monumental innings which remained the highest first-class score made in England during the twentieth century. In fact twenty years ago today he was just settling in, and he finished the first day unbeaten on 179.

My memories of the day it happened are crystal clear. At the time I was approaching the end of my three years at Warwick University, and, while I'd never, at that time, visited Taunton, I was obsessed with Graeme Hick and thought (didn't everyone?) that he was going to be the greatest batsman of his generation (in the world, never mind England). Having seen his overnight score I was trying to revise for my finals when I heard on the radio that he was ploughing on towards a score the like of which those of us born after the era of Bradman, Ponsford and Hanif Mohammed had never known.

I obviously can't remember exactly how many he had when I heard about it, but it was probably about 370, and I spent the next hour in a state of febrile excitement as I waited to hear whether he'd made it to 400.

At the time, of course, I didn't think I'd ever see anyone else do it, let alone make 500. But then, at that time, few people outside the West indies had heard of Brian Lara.

If you'd told me at the time that he'd still be playing for Worcestershire twenty years later I wouldn't have believed you. But then if you'd told me he'd finish his Test career with just six centuries and an average of 31, I wouldn't have believed that either.


I haven't posted for a while. Although the IPL's rocking along in India I haven't seen any of it and it doesn't feel to me as though the season's really begun here. I am, however, hoping to get up to Taunton this week (weather, as always, permitting) for some of Somerset's County Championship match with Hampshire, which begins on Wednesday.

A batsman who I'm looking forward to seeing is Somerset's talented 23 year-old, James Hildreth, for whom this is a crucial season. In common with most other observers down here in the English south-west I have little doubt that he's got what it takes, in terms of basic talent and temperament, to succeed at the very highest level. Owing to a sluggish start he wasn't given the opportunity to really display his wares on the England Lions tour of India during the winter, with the consequence that he won't be lining up with the rest of the hopefuls when the New Zealand tourists arrive in Southampton later this week.

He, however, has already visited Southampton, making 112* to take Somerset to victory, chasing 287, in the Friends Provident Trophy on Friday evening. By all accounts it was an excellent knock and one which should, at least, remind the selectors of his existence.

Some more where that came from, especially in the limited-over game, could lead to Hildreth being the latest player to be introduced to the international scene via the perenially transitional England one-day side, although players who were given more opportunities than him in India and who achieved more (Carberry, Rashid of course) are nearer the front of the queue and will be facing the Black Caps on Thursday, while Hildreth lines up against the even less threatening Hampshire attack.

Disappointing, both for those of us who follow him and, I'm sure, James himself, but, with his real long-term ambition and destiny being a place in the Test side, County Championship runs are vital.

I, for one, hope he can deliver.

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