Set Up to Fail

England were poor again today, but nothing about their performance on the field was as disappointing as the recall to the side of Paul Collingwood. He's been out of form all season and was originally dropped for that reason, presumably with the intention that he should go away, make some runs for Durham and regain some confidence.

Having done neither, he's been recalled to the side for no obvious reason apart from the fact that the other players like having him around and missed him at Headingley. Unsurprisingly, he failed again, but all the evidence appears to be that how many runs you make doesn't really matter as long as you're part of the dangerously complacent cabal which the England side has become.

With the selection of Darren Pattinson and now this, the selectors appear hell-bent on destroying the faith and confidence of players who are currently outside the inner circle; for Harmison, Hoggard and Tremlett two weeks ago, read Ravi Bopara and Owais Shah now. To them the only message appears to be: make as many runs as you want; Collingwood's face fits and yours don't.

Any sports team in which players are retained regardless of their level of performance is setting itself up to fail.

And that's something which England are doing rather well at the moment.


Eating People is Wrong

With lots going on I haven't got round to posting anything about Twenty20 finals day, which I watched from start to finish on Sky and which ended with the county I grew up supporting, Middlesex, winning a trophy for the first time since 1993.

In terms of putting it in its wider context, I don't think I can do much better than Will Luke's summary at Cricinfo, but what I will say is that it was a brilliant, brilliant day, with my favourite aspect being the way in which Shaun Udal bowled and the great personal story his bowling added another chapter to.

I was reading a film review recently and the writer stated that 'next time somebody tells me that Angelina Jolie cannot act, I will eat them'. At this point in time I feel compelled to state that whenever anybody (especially somebody who's never seen a game) tries to tell me that Twenty20 cricket is 'all about slogging', is 'just baseball, really', or any other such fatuous and ill-informed comment, I will eat them.


You Never Know

After the excitement of seeing Middlesex win their first trophy since 1993 on Saturday night in front of a pulsating Rose Bowl crowd, a trip up to a hot and relatively deserted Taunton proved an enjoyable if slightly soporific counterpoint.

I arrived with England under-19s on 305-3, Derbyshire's Daniel Redfern and Leicestershire's Greg Smith having put on an unbroken 252 for the fourth wicket on Saturday, a partnership which they extended to an England under-19 record of 287 before Redfern was run out for 151. Smith went on to 157, but most of the entertainment after that was provided by Liam Dawson, with the Hampshire slow left-armer making a punchy century. However, the bowling looked extremely average, the young Kiwis relying on a selection of nondescript seamers and a left-arm spinner who, refreshingly for someone (me) who's spent too much time watching Monty Panesar recently, gave the ball plenty of (probably too much) air.

Of course, the average Taunton pitch tends to make most bowlers look nondescript and it's to the credit of the young Warwickshire seamer Chris Woakes that, after England had declared on 512-8, he got more out of it than anyone else on the day. Having been in his county's first team for much of this season he was also well ahead of anyone else in terms of experience, but, as he ploughed his furrow from the River End, it was easy to see why Allan Donald rates him so highly. In many ways, he looks like a good old-fashioned Midlands seamer, with an uncomplicated action and a big heart; the type of lad who'll run in all day for you. Throw in good pace, a consistent line and some batting ability and you have an excellent package.

If I had to choose one player from those on show yesterday Woakes is the one that I'd pick out for a lengthy career in the first-class game, although I know from my Derbyshire contacts that Redfern is very highly regarded up there and I did see him play one stroke of particular class before he was out.

Whatever happens, you can be sure that plenty of those playing will be heard of again. The last time I got along to one of these games was thirteen years ago and the England team included Trescothick, McGrath, Sales, Flintoff, Solanki and Ormond, with a particularly strong memory being that of the seventeen year-old Alex Tudor taking the new ball late in the day and looking for all the world like the West Indian fast bowler that England needed - our Walsh, our Ambrose, our Bishop. Of course he never did but I recently looked the game up and found that the South African openers trying to keep him out were Mark Boucher and Ashwell Prince.

So, you never know.



One or two interesting things on Cricinfo today. A typically excellent piece about the rapid demise of Matthew Hoggard as a Test cricketer by Andrew Miller, and the latest on the Champions Trophy, which, because of security worries, looks likely to turn to be even more underwhelming than usual.

Players worried about going to Pakistan? Try playing the IPL there and they'd be lining up in Lahore faster than you can say 'Darren Pattinson'.



It was interesting to hear on the radio this morning that Geoff Miller and Michael Vaughan were apparently going to have what the tabloids tend to call 'clear-the-air talks', with it being reported that Miller had said something about it being the duty of selectors to give their captain the team he wanted.

This instantly made me think of Vaughan's post-toss interview last Friday, when, with admirable diplomacy, he made it sound as though he had got the side he wanted, when you have to doubt if that was really the case.

Apart from that, there's flak flying all over the place, most of it hitting the target somewhere along the line, mainly because there are rather a lot of targets to hit.

While his manner often grates, I tend to agree with most of what Geoff Boycott says, and I can't disgaree with anything that's in his latest piece in the Telegraph.

With reference to the central issue of the patience and discipline (or lack of them) shown by the England batting, I totally agree, and the contrast with the South African approach was painful and damning. Somewhere, surely, Peter Roebuck will be writing about this, and treating it as a metaphor for the decline of English society (I just haven't found it yet).

If he is, he wouldn't be totally right, but I'm not sure he'd be completely wrong either.



With two days' play gone in Leeds, England are in deep trouble, largely because of the way in which Ashwell Prince and AB de Villiers batted yesterday. And the key element in their superiority was the patience which they showed in tricky batting conditions, something which was in direct contrast to the way in which England approached things - in the face of more testing bowling - on Friday.

After their big hundreds at Lord's, Pietersen and Bell batted like millionaires, and, while some of their strokeplay was magnificent (one of Pietersen's on-drives won't be bettered this summer), both their dismissals spoke of impulsiveness and over-confidence.

In contrast, both Prince and de Villiers waited for the bad balls to arrive and put them away well, controlling the tempo of the afternoon and putting their team in charge of the match.

Various commentators yesterday were saying that Prince reminded them of Brian Lara, but I can't see it myself, if only because Lara, to me, belongs to that class of batsman to whom lesser mortals just can't be compared. As I've said before, the player he reminds me of most is Graham Thorpe - just as compact, perhaps a bit more orthodox, but with similar strength of mind and presence at the crease.

The stand between Prince and de Villiers represents a worthy analogy for the new South Africa and its cricket - Prince the toughnut from the Eastern Cape townships who wouldn't even have had the chance to play first-class cricket a generation or two ago, and de Villiers, the gilded Afrikaner prodigy who might not have chosen to play first-class cricket a generation or two ago.

They combined superbly, and, if England don't get them early today, they'll grind them into the Headingley dirt.


Good Day

With all that said it did look like a bloody good day's Test cricket. I saw more action in the first twenty minutes of the Sky highlights than in the last two days at Lord's last week.

Should be an interesting weekend.


I'm not a huge fan of Jonathan Agnew; he's obviously a nice bloke, loves his cricket, but he's often a bit bland for my liking and sounds as though he's auditioning for a part as the new 'Johnners'. However, it was good to hear him coming down strongly against the selection of Darren Pattinson when I walked in this evening, as I agreed with every word. Where his critique really hit the nail on the head was in his focus on what the selection would say to the range of English bowlers who could, indeed should, have been picked ahead of him.

It was a bizarre decision on a number of levels. Consider this:

a. To all intents and purposes he's Australian.

b. Before today he'd played in eleven first class matches and is almost thirty years old.

c. He'd only ever bowled at Headingley once. In a Twenty20 game.

d. His captain had only seen him bowl once. In a Twenty20 game.

e. Regardless of his ability - and the stats speak of a decent bowler with some promise although probably a bit old to ever fulfil it - it was asking a huge amount for him to take his place in a side in which he'd never met or even played against most of his team-mates, on a ground he didn't know, and produce his best form.

A penny for the thoughts tonight of Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Simon Jones and Chris Tremlett.


Critical Mass

This said, while I was away I read an article in The Observer which discussed whether professional 'critics' (mostly in the spheres of the arts and food, for that's where 'critics' dwell) were about to be rendered redundant by bloggers who can write just as well as they can and can post their opinions more quickly.

I don't think the argument really applies to cricket (whoever heard of a cricket 'critic'?), but when over the weekend I heard Jonathan Agnew and Christopher Martin-Jenkins labouring the point on TMS that Hashim Amla's batting was reminiscent of Mohammad Yousuf, I got a bit annoyed.

I said that here a couple of weeks ago, and I bet it wasn't original even then...

(Failed) Investigative Journalism

While admitting to the world that I'm an MCC member will probably do my blogging credibility (if I have any) a lot of damage, it does give you opportunities that you wouldn't otherwise get.

Yesterday morning I was having a glass of water outside the England dressing room (it's just where the water machine happens to be, honest) when I turned round to see Peter Moores and Paul Collingwood deep in conversation on the stairs. Unfortunately I was just too far away to hear what they were saying without making it obvious I was listening in, but it may have been the moment that Moores told Collingwood he was heading out of the side. Or maybe not. If either of them is reading this perhaps they could fill me in.

And then, as the dust was settling after the game, I came across Giles Clarke and David Collier in conversation outside the Long Room. They had obviously heard about my amateurish attempts to eavesdrop important conversations and quickly ducked inside the deserted inner sanctum where they could talk in private. Not before, however, I had picked up Clarke saying something about Keith Bradshaw which I'd better not repeat here in case I misheard it. It's very tame, though.

So there you have it. If you're part of the 'mainstream media' you get to conduct proper interviews with important people from which you rarely learn anything interesting, but if you're a blogger who happens to have a little red book from the MCC you can hang around the Lord's pavilion trying to eavesdrop on the conversations of the same important people from which you never learn anything interesting.

Maybe I'm just not doing it right. I'll try again next season.


On a pitch as dead as that, against bats as dead as that, I don't want to be too hard on England's bowlers. Broad still has a way to go, Sidebottom looked lacking in fitness (although when he yorked Kallis he did provide just about the only genuine moment of excitement in the last two days) and Anderson deserves a medal for his stamina and persistence.

But Monty can, and does, infuriate. While everybody (me definitely included) has a tendency to get carried away when he's taking wickets, I had plenty of opportunity to notice the deficiencies in his game as I watched him toil through sixty fruitless overs in the second innings.

He's consistently quick and flat for a spinner, and while the amount he turns the ball is often prodigious, he's going to need to learn to flight the ball more if he's going to become as good a bowler as he's capable of being. That and adopting a slightly more circumspect and rational approach to his appealing, which is increasingly going to alienate both umpires and referees if he doesn't tone it down.

Geoff Boycott, in typically obtuse fashion, witters on and on about him not knowing the laws. I think that's unlikely, and would just put it down to excess enthusiasm and a certain naivete, which is, of course, part of his charm and popularity.

That only takes you so far, though, and while I'm sure most England supporters would happily raise their fingers, good international umpires won't.

Heavy Going

If you walk into Lord's during the lunch interval of a Test match, as I did last Friday, you're hit by a metaphorical wall of frenzied activity - tourists, MCC members, catering staff and anybody else who happens to be there (many of whom have already imbibed freely) get down to some serious socialising - and the impression is one of barely suppressed chaos.

Once I'd battled my way to my seat in the Warner Stand, virtually the first thing I saw was Ian Bell lifting Paul Harris for a majestic six, but, with KP already out, the game, in terms of entertainment value, was largely downhill from there. Belly was fantastic; he deserved the extra run and we can only hope that he can build on it and show the world how very good he is. This time I think he will. He was superbly supported by Stuart Broad, who already looks like a very good Test number eight who will surely go higher, even if his bowling still needs work and may cost him his place in the side before too long.

From late on Friday until its confused conclusion yesterday, the game was a war of attrition, and, by Sunday afternoon, at least in the pavilion, the optimistic buzz of Friday lunchtime had been replaced by a range of slumbering bodies.

It wasn't necessarily South Africa's fault though; apart from the gritty Prince they made a mess of the first innings, the pitch was (too) slow, and the situation demanded several days of grinding. Smith, McKenzie and Amla certainly provided that, although I think the gentleman in the MCC library (where I found myself yesterday lunchtime) who made great play of stating what a marvellous innings McKenzie had played was pushing it a bit.

Yes, a very good innings of its type, but, next time, just don't ask me to sit through it, okay?


Meaningful Runs

I was out in east Devon without access to a computer or radio for much of this afternoon so I'm just catching up with events at Lord's.

It seems KP again showed South Africa what they missed out on, and it was great to see Bell make some meaningful first innings runs at last.

I'm off to London in the morning and intend spending the weekend at Lord's. The only thing I'm slightly dubious about is the fact that the pitch looks quite slow and this could turn into another Lord's run-fest, a bit like the ultimately rather tedious game against Pakistan two years ago.

I'll report back with my impressions next Tuesday.


Bloody Superb

These days I can usually be found watching Somerset at Taunton, but I grew up following Middlesex to Lord's and Uxbridge in the era of Brearley, Selvey, Daniel, Edmonds, Emburey and the rest. The batsman I've seen make the most runs remains Mike Gatting. My father, 82, is still a life member of the club.

So, of course, I absolutely loved last night's magnificent victory over Lancashire in the quarter-final of this year's Twenty20 Cup, which, taking into account the way in which the profile and performance of the club has declined over the last fifteen years, looks to me like their most significant result since I saw a young Mark Ramprakash ease them to victory over Worcestershire in the NatWest Trophy Final in September 1988.

Eoin Morgan I've known about for a while, and I'll be surprised if he doesn't go a little bit closer than his compatriot Ed Joyce to establishing himself in the England side. Dawid Malan is a newer name, but one who looks instantly like a player we'll be watching for a long time.

And the match itself? Absolutely bloody superb. I know that there are plenty of people around who still regard Twenty20 cricket as the spawn of the devil, but if you couldn't enjoy that, well, what can you enjoy?


Colchester Lad

The chaos which resulted from Yorkshire's apparent failure to ensure that a seventeen year-old off-spinner (of whom I'd never previously heard) was eligible to play for them has been well-covered elsewhere, notably at Sledgers and Sandbaggers. It's enough to say that I agree with the central points made there and by Nasser Hussain on Sky last night, namely that the eligibility rules have become far too complicated and apparently contradictory, and that things should have been sorted out either well before or after the game was due to be played. For God's sake don't wait until you've got a ground full of people before you call off the game they've turned up to see.

No, what interested me most last night was again the performance of Graham Napier. Forty more rapid runs, punctuated by the now customary sight of balls flying out of the ground, and four wickets up front which together combined to send Essex to Twenty20 finals day at the Rose Bowl, where they'll take some beating.

In particular, the way in which he did for Andrew Hall and David Sales stood out: Hall caught behind off an outswinger, Sales' stumps shattered by a late in-ducker. Quality bowling from a player who's currently looking like a very serious and classy operator indeed.

It's as well not to get carried away - three weeks ago he was just another county journeyman - but the quality of some of Napier's recent displays has been such that I think England should take a serious look at him for both fifty and twenty over cricket.

I don't know whether they will or not; as we all know, the English way is generally to ignore short-term form in favour of established mediocrity, and to select Napier on the basis of his performances over the last few weeks would, to many, appear rash.

One thing seems increasingly likely though, and that is that Napier will be receiving a few overtures from the IPL. Indeed, if some of the people involved are as proactive as they'd like us to believe he probably has already.

That would be great. One of the underestimated values of the IPL has been the opportunities it has given to young Indian players to mix with world stars and show what they can do on a more significant stage.

For Gony and Asnodkar read a Colchester lad called Graham Richard Napier.


Testing Times

I was only vaguely aware of the Asia Cup going on - if I noticed it at all I just thought it was a load more ODIs, happening somewhere 'over there' - and I didn't always bother looking at the scores on Cricinfo. It seems, though, that I've missed something. I haven't yet seen Ajantha Mendis bowl.

He must have something, but, as Osman Samiuddin says, the real test for him begins now.



Every so often, even with the ICC, you hear about a decision which just makes you go 'what?!'. The reprehensible decision to regard the Oval Test of 2006 as a draw and ignore the fact that Pakistan refused to play, is one such moment.

Anybody who wants to know what I thought at the time can read about it here. I had my doubts about Hair (and Doctrove, and Procter), but you can't have sides just refusing to play. If they do, they lose (see Law 21.3.a (ii)). However in this case, Pakistan seem to have been retrospectively awarded a draw.

So now you have the ICC disregarding the laws of the game they're supposed to be administering.

Can it get any worse than that?


Today in the Championship

It's always worth keeping an eye on the Championship. Today we had Andrew Flintoff proving that he still knows how to hold a bat (although he may have forgotten again by next week) and Martin van Jaarsveld making an unbeaten 115 to take Kent to victory over Surrey and go with his unbeaten 114 in the first innings and career-best bowling figures.

That's one Kolpak player who's definitely contributing something positive to the game in this country.


Progress Report

When I started writing this blog, two years ago today, England weren't very good at one-day cricket. Little has changed. Despite some illusory indications of progress in the second half of 2007, the way in which the New Zealand series ended last Saturday carried more than a hint of the type of confusion and inadequacy which have historically been England's closest bedfellows.

Tim at Third Umpire has produced some typically succinct summaries of the players involved and I agree with most of what he says. Of the players he's more critical of I feel that Wright and Bopara are worth persisting with in the long term but they may both benefit from a bit more time in county cricket, especially Wright. Ambrose must be jettisoned (although he deserves, and will get, further chances in Test cricket), and Shah must surely climb the order. Broad's a given, and I always did like Graeme Swann.

While the story in Test cricket is a little more encouraging I think England are going to be tested to the limit by South Africa over the next couple of months, and I'm very dubious about their ability to cope. In fact, I won't be at all surprised if they get a bit of a hammering.

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