Test Squad Thoughts

In general I'm happy to go along with what most people have said about the England squad for the first Test. It certainly carries Andy Flower's stamp, and I'm pleased to see Tim Bresnan and Graham Onions given a go. Onions certainly looked the part while bowling out Somerset yesterday.

Ravi Bopara also deserves his start at No.3 - Bell and Vaughan need to do more (in Vaughan's case much more) and Shah, sadly, didn't look the part in the West Indies.

I'm not sure how much I'm going to hear about the game as I'm heading off to Scotland on holiday tomorrow morning and should be somewhere on the Isle of Skye by the time it starts next Wednesday, but I'll try to stay in touch.

I'll be blogging again in mid-May.


Too Good

When the mild 'controversy' blew up a while ago about counties signing Australians in advance of this summer's Ashes series, I didn't make any comment, mainly because I wasn't really sure what I thought. On the one hand it certainly wasn't going to work in England's favour, but on the other it's hard to castigate the counties too much as they have trophies to win and no absolute necessity to consider the Test team when they decide who to employ, even if many would argue that there's a strong moral obligation to do so.

As many people said, it highlighted the differences between English and Australian cricketing culture. The idea of states employing overseas players has never really caught on in Oz, and there wouldn't be a cat in hell's chance of anyone doing what Middlesex and Kent have done in advance of an Ashes series, even if there was a surfeit of players with the required ability. But England is different, and there are many people involved with counties (especially, in my experience, supporters) who appear to care very little about the England team so long as their own county is doing well.

What I'm trying to say here is that Middlesex's employment of Phil Hughes didn't tell us anything we didn't know before.

Of course, the main argument against it was that Hughes' exposure to early-season English conditions for the first time would help him to settle and improve his technique before the Ashes, but the evidence provided by his performances in South Africa and for Middlesex so far are that it doesn't matter. He's simply too good.

With a first-class average well above sixty, two centuries in his second Test and now a couple of tons in his first two games for his new county, it looks increasingly as though Australia have uncovered another 'once-in-a-generation player', and one who could haunt England for the next decade.

By the time he's finished with us the fact that he once played for Middlesex may be long-forgotten.


Making a Ton

I've just enjoyably wasted half an hour looking at 'Tom Redfern's' blog Get a Hundred, which Patrick Kidd mentioned on Line and Length a week or two ago.

'Tom' (the name is apparently a very well-chosen alias*) has been blogging and 'vlogging' (posting videos) about his efforts to score a century for a couple of seasons now.

It's something I can identify with although I've never even scored a fifty and have largely given up hope of doing so now. From the videos 'Tom' looks pretty handy and if he was playing at my level the hundred would be his for the taking.

* Tom Redfern was the non-striker (and last man out) when AEJ Collins completed his innings of 628 not out in a house match at Clifton College in Bristol in 1899, the highest recorded innings in an organised cricket match anywhere in the history of the sport.


Art for Art's Sake

Another player whose international career seems firmly in the twilight zone now is Michael Vaughan, and it was very interesting to read here about his first forays into the world of modern art.

My impression of the finished works is that they're quite original, if somewhat stereotyped, and sadly too expensive for me.

What was even more interesting to me, though, were Vaughan's words, quoted at the end of the Cricinfo piece:

'So far all I've done is chronicle my own career, but this summer I'm hoping Straussy lifts the Ashes in August, and I can ring him and say 'Come on, let's do a five piece collection of your great moments from the series.'

These plainly reveal that Vaughan doesn't expect to be there himself. Given the fact that he hardly ever makes any runs these days, perhaps he's only being realistic, but it's one of the oldest truisms in sport (and often in life) that if you don't really believe you're going to do something, you aren't going to do it.

The King is Dead...?

Twenty20 Hindsight

The news that Andrew Flintoff had sustained yet another injury, while disappointing, didn't really come as a surprise. With Flintoff we passed that point some time ago, and the strong suspicion is that his body has also gone well past the point where he - or we - can rely on it holding itself together when it's most needed.

Of course, in hindsight, perhaps he shouldn't have been playing in the IPL at all, and, as we know, the mainstream media in this country specialises in pillorying people with the advantage of unvarnished 20:20 hindsight, so the fact that he's in South Africa at all has been receiving plenty of negative coverage.

Strangely I didn't notice many people complaining beforehand, and, as somebody said, if he wasn't playing for the Chennai Super Kings he'd probably have been playing for Lancashire and bowling more than four overs an innings. The only advantage he might have had is that weather in England would have been drier and warmer (why didn't they bring the IPL here, despite what idiots like me had to say?).

Fact is that England are all too used to doing without Andrew Flintoff, so another short May series without him won't hurt too much, providing he's fit to return for the World Twenty20 and the Ashes.

Only time will tell, though, and it's difficult to shake the feeling that it's going to be hard ever watching Flintoff bowl again without half expecting him to pull up injured at any time.

And Ashes series (if 2005 is anything to go by, and it probably isn't) are tense enough without that.



I meant to write something yesterday about the achievement of Afghanistan, who, although they failed to qualify for the 2011 World Cup, have attained official ODI status for the next four years, and a lot more besides.

Clearly, for a range of cricketing and political reasons, they're not going to be able to play at home, but I look forqward to seeing the country's cricketers on a tour of the UK soon.

It's no more than they deserve.


The Relative Importance of Cricket Events

I seem to have heard somewhere that the IPL is starting today, although I've just had a look at Cricinfo and discovered that the start of the first game has been delayed by drizzle.

It wouldn't have happened in England, you know.

Like my fellow blogger Rob, I don't subscribe to Setanta so the tournament will largely pass me by.

Indeed, who needs it when you've got the superb James Hildreth racking up a double ton at Taunton?

The Fat End of the Wedge

One of the players whom Flower may have to deal with - or not - is Samit Patel, who, after being dropped from the England ODI squad because he failed to maintain what were deemed to be the required fitness levels, is now trying to make up lost ground, something which was covered in the Daily Mail during the week.

Personally I rate Patel and wonder, from the vantage point of someone who could do to shed a few pounds but whose skills are strictly village, whether the insistence on optimum levels of fitness isn't just a little overdone.

In the last year I and other Somerset followers have seen one of our best and most popular players, Ian Blackwell, forced out of our one-day side and then the club itself as a result of his captain's slavish insistence on particular levels of fitness, and a certain Jesse Ryder hasn't been doing too badly recently, despite the type of figure barely seen in the international game since Colin Milburn's Test career was prematurely ended in the late sixties.

Okay, I'll accept that in the interests of team harmony (and to keep the fitness trainers in a job) players like Patel need to put the same type of work in as anyone else, but my feeling would be that if they're still clocking in a few pounds over they might need to be cut a bit of slack.

Because, in the end, in cricket, it's the numbers that matter, and, at the moment, those of Ryder don't look too shabby.


The appointment this week of Andy Flower as the England team's new 'Director' (what most of us know as a coach) was, on most levels, a further triumph for the potent forces of English conservatism.

I've got no idea whether Flower will prove to be a success or not. Some in the media, such as Mike Atherton, are guarded, others, like Mike Selvey, seem to think he's the best thing since sliced bread.

It's undeniable that Flower was a great cricketer, courageous both on the field and off it, but the main reason behind his appointment seems to have been the fact that he was already doing the job and he gets on well with Andrew Strauss. Precious few of the high profile candidates who were supposed to have been 'headhunted' by the ECB's chosen firm made it anywhere near the final cut, the only exception being John Wright, who was apparently telephoned by the selection panel as a way of making it look less like an open and shut decision.

Personally, given his background and experience, I'd have thought Wright was worth a closer look, but I suppose, after a period of turmoil, you can't really blame the board for choosing what appears to be the safe option, even if his basic credentials (and his performance so far, if judged on results) aren't the strongest.

The last time they made a risky decision - the appointment of Pietersen as captain last summer - it went sour within months.

One can only hope that this appointment lasts a little longer.



Since last week I've been meaning to throw in my ten pence worth on the media debate which was generated by the rather dopey interview which KP gave towards the end of the West Indian tour. I know I'm a bit late, but here goes.

Depending on who you read, Pietersen is either a disruptive individualist detested by many of his team-mates and should be jettisoned quick smart, or simply a man of strong opinions with a profoundly un-English capacity for telling it how he thinks it is and the one man who can save us once Ricky Ponting's band of resurgent cobbers hit town.

Well, much as I'd like to have a contact in the England dressing room, I haven't, so I can't comment on his popularity or otherwise, and I think the impression given by some that Australia, after one Test series win, are now back to their invincible best and are sure to stuff England, who've only got one real batsman, is exaggerated and pessimistic. We've got, oh, two batsmen at least.

Given Pietersen's background and character it's hardly surprising that he polarizes opinion in a country which often seems to reflexively mistrust people who are too successful, take the pursuit of success too seriously, or, worst of all, are too obviously aware of how good they are. Unfortunately for him, Pietersen puts a big tick in all three boxes.

With all this said, he quickly achieved a high degree of popularity with ordinary cricket followers in this country, most of whom know a good player when they see one, and have perhaps been more willing to forgive Pietersen's personal failings because he's so damn good. I've been fortunate enough to see several of his hundreds live, beginning with the Oval 158, and he's never been less than warmly embraced (even if he did have a bloody silly hairstyle then).

Whether that warmth is quite as strong after his unguarded comments remains to be seen. Many (including me) will have found his remarks about being desperate to get home when he'll just as soon be off to South Africa (which, after all, is another sort of home) to play in the IPL a bit rich, while his views about Shiv Chanderpaul, one of the few players in the world good enough to be compared with him, came across as insecure and slightly jealous.

However, while we're not a one-man team, he's the best we've got, and, as soon as he starts making runs in his usual dominant and innovative fashion, especially if Australia are on the receiving end, I suspect that all this will be forgiven and forgotten.

In modern sport pragmatism is everything. But, if the runs ever seriously dry up and the misplaced words don't, it could be a very different matter.



While England's win late last night in the final ODI in St.Lucia didn't transform what has been an uneasy and largely unsuccessful winter for the team, it did at least offer a reminder of what Andrew Flintoff can do when he has the ball in his hand in a limited-over game.

Whatever the extent of his popularity in England, history will judge Flintoff as a very good cricketer who had one really great Test series. However, as a one-day bowler - especially at the 'death' - he is a truly exceptional operator.

The yorker which hit the base of Sulieman Benn's middle stump to complete his hat-trick last night was just about the perfect delivery. Much better batsmen than Benn would have been defeated by it, particularly if they were backing away towards square leg.

With his threadbare fitness record and wildly fluctuating form with the bat, it's perhaps asking too much of Flintoff to have the same type of pivotal effect on this summer's Ashes series as he had in 2005.

But, if he can keep his body together, his presence sure won't do England any harm.

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