The Traditional English Art of Crap Selection

According to Stephen Brenkley in The Independent, it seems as though there's still not much chance of Owais Shah getting an opportunity to replace Ian Bell anytime soon.

Well, I've always been a strong admirer of Bell, but there comes a time when things have to stop - and that time was passed a while back.

'But this really cannot go on'.

Wanna bet?


Afghan Warriors

Thanks to Will Luke at The Corridor for pointing me in the direction of this:

The Times

An inspiring story which will make a great film.


Forever Young

It seems a little simplistic (not to mention repetitive) to say it but watching Australia taken to the cleaners at the Adelaide Oval yesterday felt a lot like watching the changing of the international guard.

South Africa had Hashim Amla, now one of the classiest batsmen on the international circuit, and AB de Villiers, punchily consistent and able to resume wearing the keeper's gloves after several years' hiatus without missing a beat; Australia, in the field, had Shaun Tait, Ben Hilfenhaus and James Hopes, three bowlers who, with the best will in the world, are never going to strike fear into any international batting line-up worth the name. Tait has plenty of raw pace but little else going for him; Hilfenhaus looks as though he might be capable of doing a bit with the ball in more helpful conditions. But conditions and circumstances weren't helping yesterday, and they they were blown out of the water by a much better side.

South Africa also had Herschelle Gibbs, who went relatively early in their reply but not before he had issued a rich reminder of the talent which has sustained the South African top order for more than a decade. Gibbs is one of those players who seems destined, stylistically and temperamentally, to remain young forever, but a glance at the facts reveals that he's almost 35 and, with his lengthy record of off-field baggage, might almost be older.

Yesterday, though, the problems were all on the field and all those of the Australian bowling attack, as he repeatedly used his feet to plunder the bowling (Hilfenhaus suffered particularly badly) both through and over the off-side with timing and power that spoke of genius. In the end he fell to a shot that was poor and over-ambitious, but that, of course, is what geniuses do.

As Alan Ross once wrote of Curtly Ambrose, for Gibbs there will not be many more such days.


Fiery Views

Some typically forthright stuff from Geoff Boycott:

Typical Boycott Rant

It's typical but that's not to say it's without merit. In particular, I agree that England could probably get by without a head coach. With everybody else in the world having a coach it would be an innovative step for the ECB to commit England to doing without one - which is precisely why they probably won't even consider it.

When Boycott says that Morris and Collier should have backed Pietersen '100 per cent', I assume he means that they should have just sacked Moores on KP's say-so.

This would, indirectly, have probably led to the team having to go without a coach as no sane person (except Graham Ford, who appears bomb-proof in this context) would then have taken the job in the knowledge that they could be summarily sacked as soon as KP decided he didn't like them.

And I think it was sensible - and reasonable - to take the views of the other players into account before taking any sort of decision, especially as it appeared that support for Pietersen's views was very far from unanimous.

Still, I like Boycs. He says what he thinks and he gets you thinking too. Which can't be bad.


No Tears Shed

Just for once, with another famous player having retired, I'm not going to write a heartfelt valediction. I just can't bring myself to do it, because, while his statistics and performances undeniably speak of a very, very good, and possibly great, player, I never had much time for Matthew Hayden.

As a batsman he was just a bit too muscular, stereotyped and unemotional for my liking, and, if you throw in the grating contrast between his widely trumpeted Catholic piety and the way in which he apparently abused Graeme Smith relentlessly on his debut (I say 'apparently' because Smith might have been lying, but I don't think his account of events has ever been convincingly refuted), there always seemed to me to be plenty there not to like.

On the face of it, his retirement in advance of this summer's Ashes series does England a favour, but does it really? Although he might have recovered his form - good players always think they will - his career had entered a marked decline which may well have been age-related and unrecoverable. Australia now have a choice of several candidates for his opening spot, the majority of whom (Jaques, Rogers and Hussey, anyway) know all about scoring shedloads of runs in England.

Personally I have a hunch that the Australian selectors might go for the young New South Walian Phil Hughes for the South African tour, but, for England, Jaques looks a better bet. Or, if they're happy to rejig their order, they could do much worse than move Hussey up to form another left-handed combo with the revitalised Simon Katich.

Another interesting imponderable ahead of a series which is building up to be very interesting indeed...


A Certain Age

English cricket followers of a certain age still talk about the time, at Lord's in 1963, when Colin Cowdrey came out to face the West Indies with a plaster cast on his arm. In years to come, South Africans (and a few others) of a certain age will talk in similar tones about Graeme Smith at Sydney, 2009.

I've been thinking a bit recently about the fact that I've never written very much about Smith. In some way he's an easy cricketer to take for granted, but, when you stop to think about some of the things he's done, it's obvious that he's an exceptional man of cricket and, all in all, a great batsman.

Captain of his country at 22; 75 Tests, 6000 runs and counting at more than fifty, with 18 centuries and his country's highest Test score; the priceless ability, seen at Edgbaston and Perth over the last six months, to play his very best when the stakes are highest.

Rising 28 now, he stands in unchallenged charge of a team which will surely soon be at the top of the world rankings, his only concern being the task of restoring his shattered fitness by the time Australia and South Africa resume hostilities at the Wanderers in seven weeks' time.

I think he'll be there.

Strengths and Weaknesses

As always, these are busy times. No sooner have I seen Graeme Smith come out to bat with a broken hand and a chronic elbow injury in an ultimately vain attempt to save the third Test (and more on that later), than I find out that Kevin Pietersen's resigned as England captain, presumably before the powers that be could push him, but not before he'd dragged Peter Moores down with him.

When I wrote about the ongoing situation last week I hadn't thought about the possibility of both men going, but, in retrospect (well, it's hardly that, but you know what I mean), KP overplayed his hand in demanding the removal of Moores without, it must be surmised, much support from elsewhere in the dressing room. Also, reading between various people's lines, it seems as though the subject which brought things to a head for him was the omission of Michael Vaughan from the West Indies party, and it seems to me to have been deeply unwise for him to have made such an issue out of something which could hardly be called controversial. What on earth had Vaughan done to justify a recall?

Where this leaves him, and England, is currently anybody's guess. With little more than a couple of weeks to go before they embark on their next overseas tour, England need to find themselves another captain (Andrew Strauss) and, presumably, a temporary coach.

Pietersen has to deal with the fact that he's lost a rare opportunity - and one which may never come again - and get used to a place back in the ranks. But what's he going to do if the next captain and coach don't meet his approval? Get out altogether (not forgetting to help himself to plenty of IPL rupees on the way home)?

More than one person has pointed out in the last few days that Pietersen's got previous where this type of thing is concerned, as anybody who was around the Notts dressing room a few years ago will testify. And two of the aspects of his personality which go to make him the player he is are the strength of his ego and the toughness of his mentality.

Sometimes, though, as anyone who's watched a lot of cricket will tell you, your strengths can also be your weaknesses.


Almost Over

After what seems like years (probably because it is) of sometimes tedious stability and domination, one of the most interesting things about Australia's current situation is seeing their new players and wondering how they'll do in the long run.

It's hard to comment on at least one of the debutants in the current game, Doug Bollinger, as I've seen little of him and he's only taken one wicket so far, while the kneejerk impresson of the other, Andrew McDonald, is that he looks a decent operator but is highly unlikely to pull up any trees at the highest level.

I do feel, though, as if I ought to apologize to Peter Siddle, who I wrote off after he and the now-departed Jason Krejza were taken apart in the second innings in Perth, even though he impressed me during the Indian tour. The same qualities I noticed then - chiefly the ability to just keep on coming, whatever sort of hammering he's getting - together with plenty of raw pace, were in evidence during his first innings five in the current match, and I get the impression that he might just develop into a useful international bowler, especially if he can enhance his ability to move the ball. At the moment I'm not sure how well he'll do on slower pitches, but, as he now seems very likely to come to England later in the year, we'll find out soon enough.

Right, that should ensure that Bollinger and McDonald conquer the world while Siddle disappears into obscurity, but I will make one final, much more obvious, prediction.

Matthew Hayden's Test career is almost over.


What You See is What You Get

It's a bit sad but I think the first image that's always likely to come into my head when I think of Michael Clarke will remain that of him having his stumps wasted by Steve Harmison at Edgbaston in 2005.

But, as the weekend in Sydney showed again, he can't half bat.

Indeed, he reminds me more than a little of his captain. Right-handed, with the same fundamental orthodoxy, the same precise awareness of what to leave, what to defend and what to attack, and a similar range of strokes.

In true Australian fashion you usually get what you see from both Ponting and Clarke. And with Ponting's position at the head of the team bound to come under greater scrutiny if things go wrong in South Africa, Clarke seems to me to be moving himself into a position from which the selectors might not want to bother looking past him when it comes to finding a successor to Tasmania's finest.

Whether he would want the job before the Ashes is, though, another question. I'm not sure I would.


No Smoke Without Fire

Happy New Year.

While passing the time in freezing and gloomy Derbyshire over Christmas I managed to see much of the action from Melbourne, where Australia were ultimately despatched in some style by South Africa. And the third Test, starting tonight at the SCG, will still be very watchable, if only to see if the Proteas can make it 3-0. While the relative decline of Australia was inevitable, I'm sure it won't prove terminal, but it is an experience full of the most relishable Schadenfreude imaginable, especially when you look at Cricinfo to see Punter flanked by the latest couple of debutants dredged up by the selectors. A few eyebrows may be raised around Worcester when local cricket fans realise that Doug Bollinger, who didn't exactly cover himself in glory during a stint at New Road in 2007, is one of them.

Closer to home, everyone's wondering what's going on with Kevin Pietersen and Peter Moores. I'm inclined to think that there's no smoke without fire, especially since the two were reported to have had talks to clear the air between them just after Pietersen was appointed captain last summer. If, as has been reported, KP is making an issue out of the fact that Vaughan wasn't selected for the West Indies then I think he's wrong, as there seemed to me to be no way that Vaughan could be selectd without opening up those responsible to charges of the most ludicrous favouritism imaginable, but it would be interesting to see who the last man standing would be if it came down to a choice between the captain and his coach.

On the one hand you have a batsman of genius (and a promising captain) who, unencumbered by traditional English modesty, is clearly prepared to speak his mind and rock the boat if he thinks a cause is worth defending. On the other you have a coach who embodies the modern technocratic approach to player preparation but who hasn't covered himself in glory since he took on the England job. Up to now Moores has avoided too much criticism, mainly, I suspect, because he isn't Duncan Fletcher and has a bit more charm and politeness about him (which isn't hard), but, personable though he is, it's probable that he may not be as good as a coach as Fletcher.

If it comes down to a choice between the two, I know who I'd back.

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