Fraught with Difficulties

A superb piece by Athers on the whole Stanford debacle here.



So many people are putting in their oar in about the Stanford series that it's difficult to keep up with it all and all too easy to become confused about what you really think.

For the record, I have nothing against T20 cricket (I'm basically a fan, as many of my past postings show) and I also don't mind sportsmen earning huge amounts of money (wouldn't we all love the opportunity to do the same?), but I can't muster much enthusiasm for what is, essentially, an artificial and empty series of contests designed only to publicize Stanford and swell the players' bank balances. I'll probably be watching on Saturday night but I wouldn't bet on my making it to the end, because, basically, I couldn't care less who wins.

All this aside, the story that Stanford had been forced to apologize for his 'on-camera flirting' with various England 'WAGs' was designed to raise a laugh, although it would have been even better if Matt Prior's other half had given him a bloody good slap.


Dan the Man

With all eyes turning towards India at the moment (and, for some people, Antigua from tomorrow onwards), the ongoing series of ODIs and Tests between Bangladesh and New Zealand has been largely forgotten. Which is a pity, because it looks as though some decent cricket has been played, if the going has been a bit slow at times, and New Zealand haven't had things all their own way.

I couldn't let the Chittagong Test fade from memory (well, there must be someone who'll remember it) without paying tribute to Daniel Vettori's contribution to the Kiwis' victory in the first Test. 5-59, 4-74, 55 not out a vital 76 in a successful 300-plus run-chase.

Captain's contributions don't come much better, and nor, frankly, do New Zealand cricketers.

They resume in Mirpur early tomorrow morning.


Beaten For Pace

During the summer I heard Devon Malcolm talking on the radio about the time he ran through South Africa at The Oval. If there's one dismissal from that spell which lingers in the memory, it's the way in which Cronje shaped up with what could easily have been mistaken for a perfect forward defensive, the only problem being that the ball had already gone past him and laid waste to his stumps before he could get his bat anywhere near it. If you ever want to see something that embodies the old chestnut about a batsman being 'beaten for pace', that is it.

It came to mind again yesterday when I watched Ishant Sharma - lower in pace than Malcolm but infintely more promising - do something very similar to Ricky Ponting.

For Ishant the future looks impossibly bright; for Australia, and perhaps even for Ponting himself, the clouds are gathering.


All You Can Ask

After Friday's Tendulkar-fest, yesterday was the day when Australia came face-to-face with what life's increasingly going to be like in the post-McGrath/Warne era.

Just after tea, with Ganguly and Dhoni going well, and Shane Watson and Cameron White bowling, you had the feeling that, for the first time in a long time, an Australian side in the field were toothless. Watson and White are players with many strengths, mostly with the bat (and they're probably nice guys too) but integral parts of a good quality Test attack they're not and never will be.

Okay, Australia subsequently wrapped the Indian first innings up relatively quickly, but today the game went away from them again, to the point where India must be strong favourites to go one-up in the series.

The Indian bowling attack has impressed on a bland Mohali pitch; Zaheer got his rabbit Hayden again with a neat piece of variety, Ishant Sharma oozes promise every time you see him and the new leggie, Amit Mishra, has been cool and threatening, finishing this morning with a debut five-for.

As I said, the Australian attack has looked more limited, but a word for the game's other debutant, Peter Siddle, whose powerful, consistent action, sharp pace and muscular aggression has stamped him as a bowler who'll hurry a few people up on faster tracks.

And there have been people there to watch it. Not huge numbers but enough to give the impression that it matters.

And that, these days, is all you can ask.


The Henry Blofeld (Non) Appreciation Society

Before he was dropped late last season I always enjoyed Mike Selvey's appearances on Test Match Special; I thought he was mature, droll and perceptive, with a great line in anecdotes from his playing days. I think it's regrettable that he's no longer going to be heard while an outright buffoon such as Henry Blofeld, who regularly struggles to remember who he's watching and what the score is as he rambles along in his archaic and cliche-ridden way, has been retained.

Selvey writes well too, and his piece about Monty Panesar in yesterday's Guardian chimes very well with what I've been thinking about him for months now.

This ought to be an important winter for Monty, and it would be nice if we started to get some clear indications of whether he can take the next step from what he is now - a very good bowler - to what he could be - a great one (certainly by contemporary English standards). However, there are only two Tests in India, and, assuming he plays a part, he may find the West Indies batting line-up insufficiently strong to really push him. Couple this with the fact that he's unlikely to be really challenged for his place in the side (much as I'd like to see Graeme Swann do so), and things could still be as inconclusive when next summer starts as they are now.

Still, you've got to laugh at what Selvey says about the curmudgeonly Bishen Bedi and his need for a Tardis. Perhaps some previous there...


Borrowed Time

With the sun shining in the south-west of England and places to be (at work and doing what I do most in the English winter, watching rugby), I didn't catch a huge amount of the first Test. However, my impression, based on the odd snatched session, was of an old-fashioned draw from which honours emerged basically even but from which Australia will take a little more. In particular, Ponting's century, full of characteristic class and discipline, consigned his past failures in India to the history books, while no single member of what now seems to be customarily described as the Indian 'big five' stood out, and Kumble really struggled.

On the day before the Test I said that I felt that India looked the more settled side. At the time, in my own mind, I was equating that with them being slightly stronger, but I now think I was wrong to do so. Being settled isn't necessarily a good thing. When you watch the two sides you have a nagging feeling that while Australia have been forced to start to adjust to life after the greats - and are perhaps better off for it - India still haven't had to do so, and, perhaps, are just living a little on borrowed time.

They'll resume borrowing in Mohali on Friday.


Crisis Mentality

I haven't been posting much since the English international season ended in August. It's partly been a product of the desire to do other things after more than two years of crazed writing, partly because there didn't seem to be that much happening, and partly as a result of the type of existential crisis which any blogger can face if he (or indeed she) isn't getting many comments.

However, I'm back, and so too is Test cricket, with Australia and India, both of whom seem as though they might be on the edge of their very own existentialist crisis, gearing up for what promises to be an excellent four Test series.

Australia's issues in the spin department are well-known: with Warne and MacGill firmly consigned to the past, one wouldn't much like to be in the shoes of Jason Krejza or Cameron White over the next few weeks, although, as any Somerset fan will tell you, White could well biff some good runs to make up for any wickets he fails to take. And the lack of either of the two leggies in turn puts additional pressure on the occupants of the seam-bowling berths - sure, Lee, Clark and (possibly) Johnson are big enough to cope, but in India? Well, it'll be a good deal tougher than at home, that's for sure.

With the bat the onus will be on Hayden, Ponting, Clarke and Hussey. Their stats are great (as is the power of understatement), but you just never know; Hayden is getting old, Ponting's never made a run in India, Clarke's been ill and Hussey surely has to have a run of failures sometime. Which could mean that it'll be down to Brad Haddin to chip away further down and prove that he's just a little bit worthy of Gilchrist's mantle.

India, despite defeat in their last series, look slightly more settled and, with home advantage, should be narrow favourites. Although, with Ganguly becoming the first of the middle order to jump ship, it remains to be seen whether his decision is an inspiration or a hindrance, both to him and his colleagues. With the ball I reckon that Kumble and Bhajji will fancy their chances, as will Ishant and Zaheer.

So, for the first time this winter, it'll be a worryingly early start with Charlie Colvile, Ian Ward or whoever else Sky put up. And even if the dreaded Colvile is there,the cricket promises to be great.

But one thing worries the hell out of me. Will anybody be watching at the ground?

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