Received Wisdom

One of the oldest pieces of received wisdom about Andrew Strauss is that while he's a fine Test batsman, he isn't much of a one-day player. But this ignores the fact that, like a number of other players, he first cut his international teeth in the limited-over game and has played more than one outstanding innings in that form of the game at county level.

Yes, that's county cricket, and it's probably true to say that while an out-of-form Strauss (of the type seen throughout 2007) could muddle through in Tests (not least because he was allowed to) he could never have hoped to do so in the one-day arena.

But at the moment he's in the best form of his life, and the superb display of flair and judgement with which he piloted England's victory in Bridgetown last night was the best innings of its type I've seen from an England player for quite a while.

Over the past two years Strauss has shown his mettle in a range of ways. Firstly by stripping his game back to its basics in order to counter the run of poor form which led to him losing his place in the side in late 2007, and then, with his defence sorted, going back to his strokes and playing with as much style as he's ever done in an England shirt. What's more he's done this at the same time as he's captained a side that's far from at ease with itself.

Under the placid, conventional, exterior this is a man who's very skilled, very tough and, right now, pretty bloody outstanding.

We're lucky to have him.



Nearly two years ago, after England were humiliated by South Africa in the World Cup, I wrote this:

'Let's face it, with a few notable exceptions (Sharjah 1997, Champions Trophy 2004, CB Series 2007), England have been useless at one-day cricket for years and years and years.'

Nothing's changed and I'm starting to wonder if it ever will.


Final Thoughts

A couple of final thoughts on this winter's Australia-South Africa Tests.

1. Paul Harris has been given a hard time by many people since he came into the South African side. In particular I remember Geoff Boycott droning on about him like a broken record last summer.

But, as the wickets he's taken show, he has something. I'm not completely sure what, as he tends to look quite innocuous, but not everybody who succumbs to him does so in an ego-fuelled attempt to hit him out of the park (a la Kevin Pietersen). I think it's reasonable to assume that there are a few subtleties of flight and pace variation that aren't evident from the sidelines, and, at times, he turns it (just ask Michael Clarke). Since the end of isolation South Africa has failed to produce much in the way of decent spin bowling, and it's no coincidence that the rise of the side in the world rankings has accompanied the advances made by Harris.

He might just be one of those players who you keep expecting to get found out but who never quite does.

2. Mitchell Johnson currently looks like a cricketer of extraordinary ability and potential, and one who's sure to have a key influence on the Ashes series this summer. If his bowling - excellent though it clearly is - has an element of the mechanical about it, the same certainly can't be said of his magnificent batting, which has rare power, timing, style and, when the occasion demands, subtlety. His defence and shot selection both look quite sound as well, and while he has the look of the classic Australian hard wicket player who might struggle against the moving ball in England, if it's a dry, warm summer, he'll add a lot of potency to the Australian lower-middle order.

The question of where he'll bat in the longer term is an interesting one. With 35 and an unbeaten 123 from number eight at Newlands it's clear that that's far from too high. If he wants to - and this may depend on how his body copes with what's sure to remain a heavy workload with the ball - I see no obvious reason why he can't bat at seven, taking the place occupied in this series by Andrew McDonald and leaving room for the return of either Clark or Lee further down.


IPL? In England? In April?

The other thing some people seem to be getting excited about this morning is the idea that the IPL, which is apparently unable to be played in India this year because of security concerns and the elections which are scheduled to take place at around the same time, might come to England.

Regardless of the fact that the sun's been shining in most of the country for the last week or so and it's often felt quite warm, the fact remains that England in April is often a deeply inhospitable place weatherwise (and it often isn't much better during the summer), with conditions usually more conducive to pulled hamstrings than pull shots. And if it's not freezing then it's usually raining so much that ark building seems a more likely activity than cricket.

Maybe I'm being too negative, so we'll just have to see how it pans out. I assume that Giles Clarke is on the case (which is another thing to be concerned about).

Flighting the Ball

I've never actually seen a live game of women's cricket, although I have played with and against some very useful female players.

It was great to see that England had won the Women's World Cup in Sydney overnight, and, catching a few highlights this morning, what stood out was how much the spinners of both sides flighted the ball.

Apart from the odd Jeremy Snape 'moon-ball' nothing similar's been seen in major men's cricket since Bishen Bedi retired.

I wonder what Monty thought of it?


Prince of the Cape

I was out and about in Somerset and Devon yesterday, but I got back in time to see Ashwell Prince come off with 150 under his belt and the cheers of the Newlands crowd ringing in his ears.

As he showed in England last summer, Prince is a classy operator, but to return with such a score, out of position, after losing his place in the side through a combination of injury and Duminy's brilliance, showed a special type of resilience.

With the South African selectors' experiment with Neil McKenzie at the top of the order apparently over, it may be that Prince has a future as Graeme Smith's opening partner. Prince is no more a specialist than McKenzie but he is a much better batsman.

I'd like to see it.

Theatre of the Absurd

With a rare day off work and the spring sun shining gloriously, I didn't see a huge amount of the action in either Cape Town or Guyana yesterday, but I was ready for a good finish when the first England-West Indies ODI was curtailed in another farcical denouement of the type cricket seems to specialise in.

Okay, John Dyson made a mistake in his interpretation of the Duckworth-Lewis tables. He's not the first person to do that and he won't be the last. But what really grated was the alacrity with which the West Indies batsmen fled the field, when what they should have been doing was giving a huge crowd what it had paid to see, namely an exciting finish to a fairly mundane game. To a certain extent it could be argued that the Windies got what they deserved, but you just know that England would have done exactly the same if the teams' roles had been reversed.

And all this on a ground with floodlights which couldn't be switched on because of some inviolable advance agreement.

Simon Hughes had it about right this morning when I heard him on the radio describing the whole sorry mess as the latest production from cricket's 'theatre of the absurd'.

It needs sorting out, but can anybody really imagine the ICC doing anything meaningful about anything?


Fighting the Flab

As at least one person a bit better qualified than me (they were there) and a bit quicker off the mark (they didn't have to go to work in a job that doesn't involve writing about cricket before getting to watch the highlights) has said already, the first day in Hamilton was good for the soul. You can have all the batting fests you want, but really, virtually anybody who appreciates the five-day game prefers a more even contest between bat and ball. This we almost got, although, outside the Ryder-Vettori partnership, the ball dominated.

As I've said before, in a strictly New Zealand context, Daniel Vettori is a great cricketer, while the fantastically flabby Jesse Ryder, all power and timing, is going to be around for a long time if he keeps his head together.

From yesterday, though, I'd like to mention two things. Firstly, the hugely impressive way that James Franklin took a poor decision, suffered in the worst imaginable circumstances.

And, secondly, Munaf Patel, a bowler I really liked when he played his first Tests against England three years ago but who's spent the intervening period going nowhere in particular. Now he looks fit, his pace has been stripped back but his action and rhythm have more than a little bit of McGrath about them. Knowing him he may not be able to maintain it but right now he looks like a great foil for Zaheer and Ishant.

The second day's play starts in less than half an hour. India will be looking to bat all day and beyond.


Same Old, Same Old

So, again, England came, saw and were thrashed in a Twenty20 international. As more than one person pointed out this morning, they're still waiting for their first international win of the winter and any resemblance to a unit with a coherent one-day strategy is purely coincidental and probably illusory.

As Mark Tilley said on The Corridor last night, what on earth is Strauss even doing in a Twenty20 team?

Australia must be quaking in their boots...


Walking Wisden

It took England from 1969 to 2000 to win back the Wisden Trophy, a prize which, for much of that time, seemed to have passed permanently into the hands of the West Indies. It's taken just a further eight and a half years and four series for it to be lost again, a result which would barely have been foreseen a year ago but which points accurately to where the two sides find themselves in the early months of 2009.

Despite the subsequent conservatism of their approach, West Indies just about deserved to win, if only because, in Jamaica, they were the only side to strike a conclusive blow against the pattern of batting domination which defined the series. What is more, there are clear signs that they're finally achieving levels of fitness, discipline and steel which have eluded them ever since their great years ended in the mid-nineties. For this there's little doubting the influence of the two Australians, John Dyson and especially Brendan Nash, whose gritty ballast in the lower middle-order has been an utterly vital element in their improvement. Then, of course, you have the fact that the players so obviously want to play for their captain, you have Sarwan achieving sustained excellence for the first time, you have Shiv just doing what he always does and you have Denesh Ramdin growing into his international shoes in a way no young West Indian keeper has done in living memory.

England continue to look like a side failing to add up to the sum of its parts. The bowling acked penetration, some of the decision making (especially around the Antigua second innings) was clumsy and destructive, the number three position, with Shah conspicuously failing to take his overdue opportunity, remains unfilled. Strauss, with the bat, was brilliant, Pietersen was Pietersen and Graeme Swann showed the type of wit and competitiveness which will stand him in good stead as he goes forward, for the time being, as his country's number one spinner.

England will have an excellent opportunity to regain the Wisden Trophy again within a few months, but, with Australia rediscovering their poise in South Africa, a much sterner battle is sure to follow.



While the information coming out of Pakistan is still sketchy, the vivid contributions of Trevor Bayliss on Cricinfo and Dominic Cork on Radio Five Live here in the UK this morning have served to build the impression of a really serious terrorist incident in which, in all probability, the Sri Lankan team were specifically targetted. While the events were obviously utterly tragic for those who died, there's no overlooking the fact that, for cricket, things could have been much, much worse.

According to Bayliss, Thilan Samaraweera, who was in the form of his life, is the worst-affected player but it is thought likely that he'll play again.

For cricket in Pakistan, though, the long-term effects are likely to be dreadful. It's impossible to envisage any other international side agreeing to play there in any form of the game in the foreseeable future, and, while they'll probably be able to pick up some of the slack by arranging series in the Middle East, it won't do anything for the health of the game at home. Pakistan, a young country which has produced some of the most naturally brilliant cricketers in the game's history, has started to seem an increasingly marginal presence at the game's top table over recent years, and the future for it now looks bleak.

There are precedents. South Africa spent twenty-two years in the cold and came back stronger and better. For Pakistan the barren years surely won't last that long, but, while they do, it's important for the ICC to support its cricket community in any way it can.

At the very top level, cricket is a small game. Zimbabwe has been lost to Test cricket; the world game can't afford its field to shrink any further.


Charlie Chatfield

As my Sky box died last week and wasn't put right (sort of) until late in the day yesterday, it's hard for me to say much about any of the Tests going on around the world at the moment, except to state that Mitchell Johnson's going to be a scarily good cricketer when he reaches his peak.

However, I have come across this today, which will strike a chord with anyone who remembers the years when New Zealand could, thanks to Richard Hadlee and a handy supporting cast, mix it with the best.

Really enjoyed it.

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