Happy Christmas

I'm off to the English midlands to stay with my family over Christmas. I doubt if I'll be posting, but I'll be watching the start of the Australia-India series with a lot of interest.

See you in 2008.


Timeless and Understated

The Galle rains - and some characteristically obdurate batting from the superb Alastair Cook - saved England from a 2-0 defeat, but the truth of the series - that England were more than a little outclassed - wasn't so easily obscured. Michael Vaughan, Peter Moores, and the rest of the 'Team England' hierarchy have a lot of thinking to do before New Zealand.

The player who impressed me the most in the last two Tests was the timeless and understated Chaminda Vaas. A couple of games after his obituaries were being written he was slicing through England with a perceptive combination of low pace, conventional swing and the most finely adjusted line to left and right-handers this side of Glenn McGrath's retirement villa.

Vaas, 33, should now grace Test cricket for a while longer. And, let's face it, if you played in the same side as the great Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, wouldn't you fancy taking the new ball?


Crashing Down

Touring Sri Lanka is tough, and England have been holding themselves together - often by the skin of their teeth - since Kandy. Today, though, it all came crashing down and there appears little hope of salvage over the next two days unless there's a hell of a lot of rain.

The England bowling attack, apart from Harmison, has looked insipid, although Hoggard is probably short of maximum fitness and Sidebottom has continually been let down by fielders in general, and Prior in particular. The batsmen can make fifties but can't go on to big hundreds in the way that is second nature to Jayawardene and Sangakkara. The fielding is shoddy; all the side's best specialist close fielders - Trescothick, Strauss, Flintoff - have gone from the team and we're left with the ageing (and never reliable) Vaughan, the coltish and mystifyingly poor Cook, and, of course, Prior.

When this game is wrapped up it's back home for Christmas and then off to New Zealand, by which time a few more players might find themselves out of the team.


Radio Days

With two rain-shortened days gone in Galle, England have forfeited any chance they may have had of squaring the series with a lacklustre display of bowling and fielding. I've been too heavily occupied with work and Christmas preparations to see very much of it, but I did get to listen to Test Match Special for a very interesting couple of hours before I left for work this morning.

Readers outside the UK may not appreciate this (although I'm sure there are overseas equivalents), but if you've followed cricket in England over the last fifty years or so, Test Match Special or 'TMS' will have been an important part of your life. You'll have your favourite commentators or summarisers, those you can't stand, and your favourite moments. Sometimes it really hits the mark, other times it misses it like a Steve Harmison wide shooting down the leg side.

This morning was one of the former. During the lunch interval Jonathan Agnew interviewed two former Harrow schoolboys who were playing on the Test ground in Galle when the tsunami struck three years ago; their depth of experience, modesty and articulacy made it a wonderfully informative exchange, and one of the best things I've heard on TMS in a long time. I also enjoyed hearing Christopher Martin-Jenkins (always my favourite commentator) ripping into England's moronic and repetitive habit of throwing the ball at the wicket-keeper from anywhere on the field, with the apparent purpose of trying to intimidate the batsman but with the unwittingly obvious result that their over rate gets even more slow and, as this morning, overthrows can easily result. I first became aware of this during the Tests at Lord's last summer and I've hated it ever since; it's good to hear more people criticising it but if such criticisms find their way into the Team England 'bubble' they're more likely to persist with it than abandon it.

C'est la vie...


Elegance and Time

With India, driven by Ganguly's runs and Kumble's wickets and leadership, wrapping up their series win against Pakistan, I came across this on Cricinfo.

Jaffer's a player I've had a bit of a thing about since his hundred against England at Nagpur a couple of years ago, and I couldn't believe the quality of his Eden Gardens double century.

Australia will be a big test for him but with as much elegance and time to play as anyone now operating on the world stage, it's a challenge he's well-equipped to meet.

Treading Water

After a couple of days of tracking down the Colombo close scores in the internet cafes of New York City I returned home to see the second Test played to its ultimately rather dreary conclusion. Peter Moores sounded optimistic this morning - it's one of his strong points - but, although England were good value for their draw in the end, they look to me like a team that's treading water. Enough batsmen are in form but the hundreds (with Bell, as usual, especially culpable) won't come, and the bowling attack is solid but lacks penetration. If they can get Hoggard back for Galle it will help, and, with the wicket expected to take spin, Graeme Swann's name may be discussed. You also have to wonder about the selection of Bopara when he's doing hardly any bowling.

So, for Galle it has to be a won toss, hundreds from any two of Cook, Vaughan and Bell, and some penetrative spells from Harmison, Hoggard and Panesar.

Should be easy...


Moving On

For the past few days I've been preparing for a short trip to New York - I leave in about an hour - so I didn't see very much of the last couple of days of the Kandy Test. Ultimately Sri Lanka were worthy winners, and, unusually, they didn't rely completely on Murali on the final day. Although, when I left my house an hour after lunch, the TMS commentators were talking about his longest spells without a wicket. When I returned nearly five hours later he'd all but wrapped up the match by removing Matt Prior and Ian Bell, England's points of greatest resistance, with the new ball. Asad Rauf (whose appalling triggering of Sidebottom marred what was otherwise a good performance) and Lasith Malinga did the rest.

Having made the running so well on the first day England must be disappointed by their defeat, no matter how close they got to getting away with it. There are problems with the attack - Harmison or Broad for Anderson looks likely for Colombo - and in the field, and there were a few soft dismissals around, not least Collingwood's on the last day, although he can be allowed the odd one as he normally sells his wicket so dearly. As now seems customary, Bell was excellent in both innings, but he still needs to go on and turn his regular fifties into hundreds if he's going to fulfil his huge potential. I think it'll come.

As for Sri Lanka it's hard to look past Kumar Sangakkara, now unquestionably one of the world's greatest batsmen. This typically outstanding piece by Andrew Miller sums up where he's at just now.

So, the players go to Colombo and I go to the USA.

See you next week, when I'll try not to attempt to give my views on a game I haven't seen at all.


709 Up

After yesterday's rain this was an interesting and even day in Kandy; England gained an unlikely lead, Sri Lanka countered to put themselves in an excellent position with the valuable and possibly definitive advantage of bowling last to come.

Of course, the day was all about Murali and the record. Personally, I find it hard to get very excited about the mere attainment of a numerical target which has been inevitable for years, but, if we're talking numbers, I'm more impressed by the 61 five-wicket hauls than the 709 wickets.

There's little to be said about him that hasn't been said before, and I'm happy to leave the last word to another of the country's greatest players, Murali's long-time colleague Sanath Jayasuriya, whose last Test this is.

Interviewed in the current issue of The Wisden Cricketer, Jayasuriya touchingly sums up the respect with which his fellow Sri Lankan players treat Murali:

'Everywhere we go there is pressure on Murali from other teams. We see him as our unique bowler, our special one. We decided very early on to always give him full support.'


Immaculate Control

I don't know why I got it into my head the other day that Stuart Broad was 'nailed on' to make his Test debut in Kandy. He wasn't and he isn't, although I did get the bit about Ravi Bopara right. England, though, did very well without him, their disciplined bowling and fielding performance on the first day being firmly based on Matthew Hoggard's immaculate control of line and movement and tidy contributions from all the other bowlers.

It looks a benign track with plenty of potential runs in it, but then no pitch is ever truly benign when Murali is bowling on it, and he'll be doing a lot of bowling tomorrow.

Worth getting up early for, I reckon.


Where in the World?

From the time Wasim Jaffer re-announced himself in international cricket with 81 and 100 against England at Nagpur in early 2006 I felt that he had something. Sure, I'd seen him in England in 2002 and he played a few classy strokes then, but there was little in the way of substance and he failed to convince me that he'd ever do much outside India.

Now, though, with good runs in England, South Africa and the West Indies behind him, he's an entirely different proposition, and today's masterwork was the apogee of his career.

He retains the habit of getting out when apparently well set, with the result that his average, climbing into the forties in his current innings, remains a little on the low side for a player of his talent, but all the other ingredients of a high quality Test player are there. His undefeated 192 today was adorned in particular by his uniquely sweet cover driving off front and back foot and a succession of wristy flicks through the leg side, chiefly off Kaneria, which were suffused with rare timing and elegance. All in all, an innings for which 'good' is a wholly inadequate description, and I couldn't get a nagging question out of my mind afterwards.

Where else in the world today can you see batting as good as that?


Genius at the End of the Day

The retired Lehmann, one of the greatest batting geniuses I ever saw, chats with Jenny Thompson here.


Bopara and Shah

I haven't been posting much recently, for which apologies. Something to do with spending time rearranging my house, standing on a freezing touchline watching thirty public schoolboys attempt - and largely fail - to play rugby and toasting the past cricket season over several pints of Otter and some food with some mates from my club.

During the past few days, when I've been in, I've had the first India-Pakistan Test on, but never managed to watch much of it, which meant that I was left with a pretty sketchy idea of what went on. It was good to see Munaf back, even if he didn't pull up any trees, and there was penetration with ball and bat from Kumble, Laxman, Ganguly and Jaffer. India looked worthy winners of a tight contest, which augurs well for the rest of the rubber.

England, meanwhile, continue an uneasy build-up to their first Test in Sri Lanka, with the most interesting sub-plot for me being the contest between Owais Shah and Ravi Bopara for the final batting place. While seeing the merits of both, I always felt that Bopara was likely to nudge in front because of his youth and ability to bowl (if not his 'bowling ability'). Having scored 47 to Shah's 26 today and taken two wickets with the new ball after Harmison and Anderson went lame, you have to feel that the deal is all but done, however high Moores' regard for Shah.

Ravi seems sure to be there, but who (apart from Hoggard and Broad, the most nailed-on debutant for years) will do the rest of the bowling?



And then there's Atapattu. As I said last week, I'd have loved to have seen him have another tilt at England but, having signed his own death warrant with his comments about the Sri Lankan selectors, he's nailed it to the wall by announcing his retirement, going out with a typically well-constructed 80 at Bellerive.

His career's many stages are summarised here.

Questions, Questions

The last week's action from around the world begs a few questions. Such as, just how many runs can Jacques Kallis get, and how many centuries can he make? The answer to both, of course, is that no-one knows, but there doesn't seem to be any sign of a diminution in his desire for runs or any dilution in the purity of his technique, especially when faced with a New Zealand attack which, on what little I saw, had 'cannon fodder' written all over it.

But then we know all about Kallis. Of far greater significance for South Africa's future have been the runs made by Hashim Amla and the wickets taken by Dale Steyn. Amla, like Kallis before him, owes his place in the side to the belief and persistence of the South African selectors, who've stuck with him through some difficult times, while Steyn's looked like a series of wicket hauls going somewhere to happen since his debut against England some three years ago. I think a good deal more will be heard of them both, especially Steyn.

Another pertinent question after Hobart is 'just how good is Kumar Sangakkara'. Well, I remember describing him once before as 'one of the finest cricketers on God's earth', so it's obvious where I stand. I haven't seen what went on today yet, but Peter English pays a fulsome tribute to his latest epic here.


You Must Be Kidding

One of the other blogs which I always enjoy reading is Patrick Kidd's Line and Length. Patrick has the great advantage of being paid to write about sport for The Times and so is literally paid to blog, unlike most of the rest of us who do it because we have opinions and like writing (not that Patrick doesn't have opinions or like writing, I'm sure).

Mind you, being paid doesn't mean you're immune from the perils of mad people visiting your site. For some time now, a certain 'Mr.A.Nel' has been leaving 'interesting' comments in response to entries such as this.

Now I've got no idea whether Andre Nel is really leaving comments on Patrick's blog (do you, Patrick?) but, if he is, he seems to be at least as unhinged as he always appears on the pitch. And that, my friends, is quite worrying.

Decent bowler, though (I have to put that in in case he comes after me as well, but I do actually rate him).

A Load of Balls

It seems as though every branch of the media in Britain has latched on to the story that MCC are going to trial the use of a pink cricket ball next season with a view to finding a one-day ball which doesn't deteriorate as rapidly as 'conventional' white ones do. The full story wasn't, of course, explained when the story was first covered on the radio yesterday morning, and it sounded initially as though red balls were going to be replaced by pink ones. Which, in turn, made me wonder whether it was April 1st, realise it wasn't and then forget all about what seemed a deeply implausible story until I heard John Stephenson discussing it on the radio some hours later.

Personally I dislike pink, but if the results of the experiments prove positive, why not?


Playing the Joker

Leaving aside what's been happening on the field, I'm enjoying the saga of Marvan Atapattu's none-too-subtle dig at the Sri Lankan selectors, whom he described as 'muppets headed by a joker'.

I'm not aware of all the history involved, although you can't help feeling that if Atapattu wants to extend his lengthy and recently resurrected Test career even further he's picked a strange way of going about it.

And I'd be very disappointed if he doesn't line up against England. For a very long time now he's been one of the most deliciously orthodox, quietly stylish and under-rated batsmen in world cricket, and anyone who can forge a career such as his after scoring just one run in his first six innings in Test cricket must have something going for him.


Going On Abroad

With winter showing its hand in England and little happening on the cricket front - apart from Fletcher flogging his revelations around the nation's TV and radio studios - the eyes turn to what's been going on abroad. India keeping their noses ahead of Pakistan in their ODI series, Australia putting Sri Lanka to the sword at the Gabba, and Graeme Smith's Proteas making short work of a New Zealand side which looks overmatched, especially now Shane Bond is heading home.

It was gratifying, if not surprising, to see Phil Jaques make his first Test hundred. He's played a lot of county cricket in recent years, and, after seeing him make one of his routine double hundreds at Worcester in the summer of 2006 I was sure he was going to be the next opener off the Baggy Green rank. For such a classy operator he's starting his Test career late at 28, but Adam Gilchrist was around that age when Ian Healy finally allowed him into the side, and he hasn't done too badly in the years since. I reckon the world's bowlers will be seeing a lot more of Jaques over the next few years.

In South Africa it was Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn who caught the eye; I've paid enough tributes to the remorseless and peerless Kallis for the time being. The Wanderers innings may be the start of something big for the man with the finest international cricket beard since Saeed Anwar, while the pacy and aggressive Steyn also seems to be settling in for an extended run in the side, taking some of the pressure off the indefatigable Makhaya and dovetailing nicely with the less pacy but more aggressive Nel.

For all these sides it'll be a long English winter. This is just the start.


Wondering What It's Like

I don't usually write about rugby here - it's a cricket blog, after all - but I spend a lot of my time during the English winter watching the game, and occasionally you come across something which you not only enjoy, but which makes you think a bit more about the wider resonances and parallels of what you've seen.

Last night I had the pleasure of watching Joe Roff, 86 Australian caps and two World Cup finals behind him, play for Oxford University against the second team of my local club, the Exeter Chiefs. Unsurprisingly he excelled, while at the same time gliding through the game with the type of effortless poise and command that not only signifies a gifted sportsman but also one playing in a game far below the level to which he's accustomed.

It's hard to come across such experiences in cricket. No international in my experience has retired at 29 and gone back to university as Roff has, so you can only think of the times you managed to see one of the game's more gifted batsmen ply their trade against an attack that simply couldn't touch them. My most penetrating memories revolve around Lara at Trent Bridge in 1995, and, more vividly, a fifty by Darren Lehmann at Taunton when he looked as if he could have humiliated the Somerset bowlers while batting with a stump and only got himself out when it all became a little too easy.

At the end of the first half there was the type of exchange between players which is commonplace at any level of the game - a bit of grappling, a few random and harmless punches, a release for surplus aggression. Roff stood well away from it and trotted off, smiling to himself. He'd seen it all before. He'd been to places his compatriots and opponents could only dream of going, where the stakes are overwhelmingly high and the blows really hurt.

Those of us who spend our time on the sidelines, or vainly trying to emulate the actions and experiences of our heroes, can never really go there either. The best we can do is to see those places through their eyes and wonder at what it might be like.


Worse for Wear

There's a lot of talk in the media about Duncan Fletcher's memoirs, in which he tells some pretty shocking home truths about Andrew Flintoff's conduct as England captain in Australia last winter, including the revelation that he had to abandon a practice session after Flintoff turned up 'worse for wear', as the old cliche goes, after a heavy night on the lash.

I haven't read any of it so it's hard to comment in specific terms, but, in hindsight, it does look as though the decision to make Flintoff captain for the tour was mistaken. Andrew Strauss would have done a more astute job on the field and would have behaved himself a bit better off it.

A year on and they're not just out of contention for the role of skipper. They're both out of the team. Flintoff because of his continuing and increasingly concerning battle for fitness, Strauss because of the decline in form which he's suffered over the past eighteen months.

A penny for either of their thoughts today.


Hard Done By

Someone who does have the right to feel hard done by, though, is Chris Tremlett. Dodgy fitness record, yes, lucky to be selected ahead of Stuart Broad for the Lord's Test against India, yes, but someone who then went on to bowl pretty well in the three Tests he played. I suppose if the tour was to a more seamer-friendly environment he'd have made it, and Broad is certainly the better long-term prospect, but I wouldn't mind betting that he's feeling a bit hacked off at the moment.

And am I the only person wondering whether England really need two wicket-keepers for a tour like that?


Time to Move On

It's that time of the English autumn when there's nothing much going on in this country (apart from the announcement of the odd touring side) and little enough elsewhere in the cricket world (apart from what seem like endless ODIs on the sub-continent). This being the case, the past week seemed like a good time to let things slide a bit on the blog and see what else life has to offer; last weekend I took myself off to Derby to visit my parents and managed to get out into the Derbyshire Dales, where the weather was gorgeous and the scenery equally beautiful.

A few things got through, though, including the fact that Andrew Strauss had been left out of the England Test team to tour Sri Lanka, but Mark Ramprakash hadn't, as was widely predicted, been recalled.

Strauss had appeared to be living on borrowed time for a bit too long. In fact he's never appeared quite the same since his old mate Marcus left the stage. A batsman trying to operate outside his comfort zone and play too many shots, but also a player ground down by the way in which the world's best bowlers had homed in on and exposed his weaknesses. In the age of trial by DVD it's like that, and, when the England selectors are looking for a way to get a couple of extra batsmen into the team, you're going to be in trouble if you've got no major runs behind you for more than a year.

As an admirer of both Shah and Bopara I'm happy with the decision; Strauss, even at 30, is easily young enough and good enough to come again.

Nobody admires Ramprakash more than me but a recall at 38 for someone with a proven record of total mediocrity in Test cricket? No thanks. He's better now than he ever was, they say. Well, maybe. But he was pretty damn good as a Middlesex player in 1995 and he couldn't score a run for England then, so why should it be any different now? No, Shah or Bopara could score just as many runs in Sri Lanka as Ramprakash might, and it will be far more significant for England's future if they do.

Ramprakash is perhaps the greatest 'might have been' in post-war English cricket, but, sadly, that's where he's destined to stay. Time to move on.


Inzamam Retires

While I've been working too much and watching rugby just enough, Australia have completed a comfortable ODI series win over India, England's series in Sri Lanka has meandered to an end with Paul Collingwood's men showing good signs for the future, and a surprisingly efficient South Africa have conquered their least favourite conditions to outlast Pakistan in the first Test series of the English winter.

From Pakistan, though, came the most significant story of the week; the retirement of Inzamam. This was a player who probably never quite received the recognition in England that he deserved, possibly on account of the fact that he didn't play county cricket until his 38th year, but this was, unquestionably, a great player. Pakistan's greatest batsman? I, remembering 1987 at The Oval and a host of other wizardry, am a Miandad man, but I really appreciated Inzy, with his century at Lord's in 1996 and his final appearance there in 2006 bookending his career for me.

As always, Osman Samiuddin covers his passing with depth and elegance here.


Upward Curve

Another thing I seem to have done quite a bit of since I started the blog is writing about England one-day victories. The CB Series, the home ODIs with India, and now an away win in Sri Lanka; if you ignore the World Cup and the Twenty20 you could convince yourself that England are quite a good one-day side.

They're not that yet, but, under Moores and Collingwood, they are improving and you get the feeling that, this time, the upward curve might just be maintained.

No More Weak Puns

Having expended several thousand words in the early days of this blog in the summer of 2006 on the whys and wherefores of the Darrell Hair saga, I deliberately decided not to comment on his tribunal until after it had concluded. Now it has - and, from a distance, it seemed to be a strange, anti-climactic and amusing affair - I still don't have a lot to add to what I said last year.

As one of the minority of people outside Australia who always had, at the very least, a lot of sympathy for Hair, I can only reiterate that it seems to me very silly that an official of the quality of Hair cannot get a game while the other Australian DH, Daryl Harper, a nice bloke but an utterly mediocre umpire, remains on the ICC's Elite Panel. However, despite what Malcolm Speed said, it's very hard to see Hair appearing in many more Tests. None of the Asian countries will touch him with a bargepole and he can't officiate when Australia are involved which just leaves games between England, South Africa, New Zealand and West Indies, and there aren't that many of those.

So, I might not be writing about Darrell very much more, which, if nothing else, means that I won't be needing to rack my brain for shallow puns based on his surname.

I won't miss that, and nor, I suspect, will anyone else.


After Fletcher

It was both pleasing and interesting to see Ryan Sidebottom and Graeme Swann playing their parts in England's latest victory over Sri Lanka. Both are players who played a single game for England - Sidebottom a Test, Swann a one-day international - in the early years of Duncan Fletcher's stewardship of the England side. Neither impressed, both were forgotten. Swann said recently that he never spoke to Fletcher again after his tour to South Africa, but, in 2007, both have come back to the side to show how much they've developed in the intervening years and, perhaps, how much England were missing for all that time.

Leaving the intervening South African adventure to one side, there have been enough signs in the home series with India and this one that England, under Peter Moores, are at least putting themselves in a position from which they can improve the most dismal ODI record of the major nations. It seems highly likely that Sidebottom and Swann will be part of that, and Stuart Broad, of the neophyte's freshness and the veteran's mentality, is certain to do so.

Indeed, with Broad, whose straight bat and cool temperament should ensure he'll make plenty of runs at international level to go with the wickets which are a given, it's simply a matter of when he gets into the Test side. Once he's there he'll be there for ever (or it'll sure seem like it).


Further Exposure

ODIs, World Cups and international Twenty20 competitions may come and go with his participation questioned or absent, but, as soon as the ball's red, the kit's white and the game lasts a maximum of five days, Jacques Kallis clicks into gear. His twin centuries in South Africa's first Test win in Karachi took him to 26 in Test cricket, and, whatever the desultory nature of his strike-rate (around 43, Cricinfo tells me), his average and the sheer technical impregnability of his batting mark him down as one of the finest batsmen in the world today. I can understand the questions (and the fact that his highest Test score remains below 200 tells part of the story), but, for sheer weight of runs, where would South Africa be without him?

I've waxed lyrical about Kallis before, but I've had fewer opportunities to write about successful England one-day sides. Yesterday's victory in the second ODI at Dambulla was hugely impressive, even if it may have been predicated on some Sri Lankan complacency. But then, if you'd played England goodness knows how many times in limited-over cricket in the last twenty years or so and steamrollered them repeatedly, you'd probably be complacent too.

Ryan Sidebottom fired in his customary new-ball spell from left-arm over and Graeme Swann showed the type of technical ability, competitiveness and temperamental solidity which completely justified his selection (and raised questions about his extended absence under Fletcher) and should see him back on the island for the Tests before Christmas, while Owais Shah continued to cement his grip on the tricky number six position. When Shah was growing up in the Middlesex side his chief problem appeared, as with many young players, to be knowing which of his many shots to play and when to play them. Almost 29, he seems to have all that taped now, and, while his right-hand dominant technique will never be a thing of beauty, his deep well of innate talent should ensure that he stays around the side for a while. Tests are a different matter, but he sure ain't doing his chances of further exposure any harm.


It's a Dirty Job...

So, just a few weeks after seeing off India at home, England are back to square one (did they ever leave it?). And a frustrated and annoyed Andrew Miller is shooting from the hip.

For what it's worth I agree with a lot of what you say, Andrew, but I'll be happy to get paid to travel to Sri Lanka and watch England lose if you don't want to do it.

Staying the Same, Changing

With the 2007 English season finally out of the way and the first World Twenty20 also put to bed, the mind turns to everything else that's going on in the perpetually revolving, often crazily over-burdened, cricket world.

Australia in India, South Africa in Pakistan, England in Sri Lanka. There is, as always, a lot happening, but the more things change the more they remain the same. As I write Jacques Kallis is unbeaten on 118 at the end of the first day in Karachi and Mahela Jayawardena has top-scored for Sri Lanka against England in Dambulla.

Elsewhere, though, things have moved on. It was announced at the end of last week that Allan Donald would not be taking up a full-time appointment as England's bowling coach and would instead be joining his old team-mate Ashley Giles back in the brave new world of Edgbaston. This is a pity, as Donald clearly had a beneficial effect on the performances of England's wayward seamers last summer and it remains to be seen whether or not Ottis Gibson, for all his magnificence in Durham colours, can do the same.

In India, meanwhile, the national 'A' team and their South African counterparts finally managed to get on the pitch for their first (or third) ODI in Rajkot. India gained a narrow victory, largely thanks to Subramaniam Badrinath, the Tamil Nadu player who's been hovering around the side for the last couple of years or so and who's built up a nice portfolio of decent performances. I noticed last week that he's been given a 'Grade D' contract by the BCCI; it'll be interesting to see if he can kick on, as India, whatever their recent achievements in the longest and shortest forms of the international game, will soon be needing some high-quality reinforcements.

The same might be said of England's batting once this afternoon is out...


Final Analysis

So, India won the Twenty20. I didn't see enough to offer too many opinions, other than that I don't half like the look of RP Singh.

Sambit Bal sums it all up very well here.


A Tale of Two Players

Watching the Pro 40 play-off between Middlesex and Northants at Southgate this afternoon on Sky, two players stood out.

The first, the 18 year-old Middlesex seam bowler Steven Finn, looks a very good bet to be an international bowler of the future, despite the fact that Bob Willis appears to have taken a particular liking to him.

He's tall and generates good pace, seam movement and occasionally disconcerting bounce from a straight, rhythmic run and a high delivery stride which is slightly, but not excessively, chest-on, in the modern vogue. He's slim but will surely develop further physically over the next few years. I saw him bowl equally well in the flesh last Saturday at Taunton and both three-wicket spells augured well for what he could do in the future on more helpful pitches and with more overs at his disposal.

When presenting Finn with the match award the normally gloomy Willis said something about him soon being in the England side. Premature and tempting fate, I thought, but equally, I wouldn't be surprised to see him there sooner rather than later. Finn himself, who only left school a couple of months ago, said that he'd be delaying going to university so that he can play full-time next season. I'll be surprised if he ever gets to university, unless it's after a long and successful career in the first-class game.

David Sales, the most polished batsman on show, is at a very different stage in his career. Although undoubtedly one of the most talented English batsmen of his generation and the youngest player from this country to make both first-class double and triple-centuries, he's never got very near to an England cap. It's hard to say why, other than some consistency issues earlier in his career, a dreadful knee injury which cost him a whole year's cricket and the fact that he's spent his entire career at Northampton, never an easy place from which to get noticed by selectors, especially these days.

Rising thirty now, Sales remains an uncomplicated and powerful striker of the ball with the type of assured temperament which I think would have stood him in good stead at international level. It's unlikely now that he'll ever get the opportunity and you can't help feeling that at the end of his career we'll be left to wonder how more than one player with a good deal less natural ability - Nasser Hussain, Paul Collingwood - knows what it is to make a Test match double-century when Sales doesn't even know what it is to wear an England cap.

Ones to Watch

As India, with Yuvraj to the fore once again, and Pakistan, taking advantage of a characteristically insipid semi-final performance from New Zealand, set up a sub-continental Twenty20 final in Johannesburg tomorrow, the English County Championship came to a thrilling climax yesterday.

I spent the afternoon watching on TV as Lancashire mounted a sustained assault on the score of 489 which they'd been set to beat Surrey at The Oval and win the title for the first time since 1934. That they failed to do so by just 25 runs is an indication of how well they batted in typically benign Kennington conditions, with VVS Laxman, who made a swift, elegant century, and Stuart Law, combining to give Surrey (and Lancashire's principal championship rivals, Sussex) a major scare. Ultimately you had to feel that if the two major players had managed to stay together for a further hour then the total would have been reduced to a level from which it could have been knocked off with comparative ease. However, they didn't, it wasn't, and Sussex claimed the first division title for the third time in four years.

Down here in the west the talk is all of Somerset, who won the second division with a record total of 266 points. The best aspect of their final victory over Nottinghamshire, secured on Friday lunchtime by an innings and 121 runs, was that Notts were bowled out by a young English leg-spinner.

Michael Munday is 22, comes from Cornwall, and has been involved with Somerset's academy since he was a teenager. He's found it hard to break into their prodigiously successful side this season, but, given a rare opportunity on a wearing track at Taunton, finished the Notts second innings with 8 for 55 and the match with ten wickets.

Although I get to Taunton as often as I can I can't offer any specific comment on Munday as I've never seen him turn his arm over, but you have to like the fact that, after years of drought, there are now a couple of decent young English leg-spinners coming through. With the fact that he's played more first-class cricket and his unquestioned batting ability, the younger Adil Rashid is the only one of the two who's likely to be furrowing the brows of the England selectors anytime soon, but Munday, who spent last winter in Australia and has impressed no less a judge than Terry Jenner, is clearly one to watch.

I'm planning to see plenty of Somerset in Division One next season and will report back on what I see (which will hopefully include plenty of Munday).


Clean Hitting

I saw absolutely nothing of the England-India game last night and have still only managed see three of Yuvraj's shots - that's all BBC Breakfast showed when I staggered into life this morning. A look at YouTube will be in order over the weekend, I think.

I've written before about my admiration for Yuvraj and the cleanness of his hitting. I read today that he'd said that he didn't agree with comparisons between himself and Sobers, but I disagree. That's exactly who he's always reminded me of most.

One of my past pieces about Yuvraj is here.

Tonight, though, India didn't even need him as they laid South Africa's typically vulnerable challenge to rest, with young Rohit Sharma and RP Singh to the fore at a pulsating Kingsmead.

Semis to come on Saturday.


Another Season, Another Continent, Another Failure

Well, Vikram Solanki, one of Worcester's favourite sons but no keeper, took the gloves, and England, in a welter of misjudgements and run-outs, lost to New Zealand, almost certainly ending their participation in the first Twenty20 world championship.

You used to know what you were going to get with England in one-day cricket: failure. These days, it seems, you get failure in major tournaments and some poorly-judged player behaviour interspersed with success when slightly fewer people are looking.

If this pattern counts for anything they ought to do okay in Sri Lanka. I won't, though, be laying any bets on it.


Questions, Questions

Meanwhile, in South Africa, England, with two poor defeats behind them in a tournament in which they were thought likely to be serious contenders, are left to do what they're best at, question themselves.

With Wright, Maddy, Kirtley, Schofield and Snape failing to move any mountains thus far, was the policy of selecting Twenty20 'specialists' right?

And with Matt Prior injured, who's going to keep against the Kiwis?


Of course, with Dravid barely out of the door, the discussions start about the relative merits of his possible successors. Off the top of my head Tendulkar seems unlikely and Dhoni perhaps a little premature; there might just be some mileage in the selectors taking a proper look at Laxman or Kumble.

Anand Vasu sums the situation up well at Cricinfo.

Indian Signs

With a trip to Taunton on Saturday to see Somerset fail to add the Pro 40 Second Division title to their promotion and Sunday spent trying to keep an eye what's been happening in France and South Africa, time to post has been sparse.

At the end of last week it was good to see one of this blog's favourite columnists, Aakash Chopra, make 239* in India A's crushing defeat of their South African rivals, ensuring that his name stays in the minds of the national selectors and bringing him closer to the recall which he craves.

And then there was Dravid. I didn't see it coming, but then, once I stopped to think about it, it made some sort of sense. In England he captained his side well - at least as well as any of the other contenders might have done - but his batting often seemed distracted and short of his customary poise and inevitability. With himself, Ganguly and Tendulkar growing old together, India's batting is poised on the edge of an era of enforced regeneration, and it must be hoped that Dravid's decision will enable him to recapture his previous form and ensure that his career with the bat at the top level is extended for as long as possible.

This, though, would only be a by-product. At Cricinfo Dravid himself merely states that he wasn't enjoying the job and he didn't feel that his batting had been adversely affected, whatever the figures indicate:




While the live issue of the week is the World Twenty20, I can't offer much in the way of comment as I've seen hardly any of it. The only exception was the conclusion of Zimbabwe's successful run-chase against Australia a few days ago and what came after it, when Brett Lee once more enhanced his reputation as the cricket world's greatest sportsman by smiling broadly and shaking the hands of each of the Zimbabwe players in turn with what looked, from my perspective, like genuine sincerity and warmth.

While it's easier to take defeat when your team gives the impression that it's yet to really embrace twenty over cricket, Lee's approach is exemplary and charismatic.

I'm looking forward to seeing him back on the cricket grounds of England in 2009 already.


The Long Road Back

The omissions and inclusions in the latest list of centrally-contracted England players were predictable, but I was heartened and pleased by the return to the ODI side of Graeme Swann, who hasn't had so much as a sniff of a place in the squad since he went to South Africa around the turn of the millennium and was thought to have upset Duncan Fletcher with his insouciant attitude.

At age-group level in England Swann was one of the more talented players of his generation and a member, alongside Owais Shah and Robert Key (and a few other county journeymen like Stephen Peters) of the side which won the under-19 World Cup in early 1998. Later that year he made a sparkling start to his career with Northants -I particularly remember innings of 92 and 111 from number eight in a losing cause at Leicester - and, when he was called up to the England side at the end of the decade, his future looked assured. Somehow, though, it never really happened. The years since have seen him falter at Northampton, move to Nottingham, struggle to make a consistent impression in the first-class game but develop into a dangerous operator in limited-overs cricket with both bat and ball, and retain the enthusiasm and humour which made him stand out back then.

He's another example of the type of player - like Ryan Sidebottom - who would never have found a way back into 'Team England' under Fletcher's dogmatic stewardship, and the resurrection of players like this is as good a retrospective argument for Fletcher's replacement with Peter Moores as I've found. And it was instructive to hear Swann himself say last night that Sidebottom's recall and the success that followed it was one of the main things which gave him hope that he too could find a way back.

And now, with the England ODI side finally looking like it could be moving in the right direction, is a pretty good time to return. With Panesar's continuing inability to reproduce his Test form and Swann's batting and fielding potential, a longer-term place in the side could be well within reach of a player who seems to have been around for a very long time but is only 28.

I hope he makes it.


You Never Know

In the aftermath of the Oval game I briefly thought about going up to London for today's game. I'm glad I didn't. The Oval match climaxed the series three days early and today's match was a damp squib by comparison.

When Rahul Dravid was growing up in southern India I can't imagine that he was aware of the way in which, back in the old days, Gillette Cup and NatWest Trophy finals were often rendered impotent by the way in which the side that won the toss won the match. They usually elected to bowl early on a dewy September morning, and, more often than not, wrecked their opponents' hopes in the first half-hour. By way of contrast Dravid chose to bowl, and, with Tendulkar getting another poor decision, the game was falling away as a contest within the first couple of hours. It never recovered.

Once again, England bowled and fielded with more certainty than India and their batting, with Pietersen and Collingwood thriving in a less pressurised environment than India's batsmen had enjoyed, saw them home with some 14 overs to spare.

Overall, though, India will be pleased with the way their tour has gone; England happy with the way the one-day series has panned out.

The signs for the future appear good. India have an overseas Test series win under their belt, England an ODI series win over a side with the type of collective experience they can only dream about.

But, with these two teams, you never really know...


With the players coming out at Lord's, one's thoughts switch back to the latest drama of the volatile, episodic, unfulfilled career of Shoaib Akhtar, sent home from South Africa before the Twenty20 World Cup has even started after a 'fight' in the dressing room with Mohammad Asif. Of course, it's hard to determine the truth at this stage, but it appears that Shoaib hit Asif with a bat, leaving him with a 'bruised thigh'.

It doesn't sound much, but, with Shoaib's record it might not take much to render the damage to his career terminal. It'll be interesting to see how Geoff Lawson tries to tackle a problem which many of his predecessors have failed to solve.

Meanwhile, at Lord's, India, toss won, are batting. Game on.



The last week has seen the one-day series swing back in the direction of India, and today's epic game saw to it that they'll go into Saturday's concluding game at Lord's at 3-3.

I was working all day and so only got to see the last few overs live, but that was enough to make it clear that it had been an exceptional day in the September sunshine on a typically run-filled Oval track.

Notwithstanding Tendulkar's blistering 94, which rolled back the years like nothing else we've seen from him this summer, it was a day for the youngsters - or at least those still trying to make their way in the international game - Luke Wright, Owais Shah and Dimitri Mascarenhas for England, Robin Uthappa for India. The first three, with power and placement, took England to the type of total that would once have appeared unassailable, while the last, regaining his place in the side with Dravid's assistance, applied the coup de grace just as the odds seemed to be running inexorably in England's favour.

Like many people I had my doubts about the duration of the series before it started, but with six games down and Lord's to come (and how many times will the 2002 NatWest Series final be mentioned over the next few days?) seven matches suddenly seems about right.

Bring on Saturday.


Circling Vultures

A couple of afternoons at Taunton gave me the opportunity to see Somerset confirm their promotion to Division One of the County Championship and to take a first look at the seventeen year-old Glamorgan seamer James Harris, who's taken an impressive number of wickets in his first season in the county game.

The table before the game didn't lie and Glamorgan were comprehensively thrashed by a confident, unified and driven Somerset team, under the unobtrusively forceful and experienced guidance of Justin Langer. Just ten years ago to the month Glamorgan themselves secured the title at Taunton - and there was just one division then - but it's now hard to conceive of when the Welsh county will ever win anything again.

However, in this age of multiple overseas players they continue to rely on homegrown products, and, if they can hang on to Harris and produce a few more like him they might just be able to find a way back.

Harris clearly has a lot of physical filling out to do, but his opening spell on Friday afternoon, when he sent Neil Edwards and Marcus Trescothick back to the pavilion in quick succession, was distinctly impressive. He has a smooth, straight approach to the crease, a good, high, delivery stride and the ability to move the ball both ways off the pitch. It seems to me that he needs to inject a bit more pace and urgency into his run-up and this will encourage him to follow through more and give him extra pace. However, with what already appears to be good control of line and length you feel that the rest will come in time.

These days, though, when a county such as Glamorgan produces a player with the promise of Harris, the vultures start to circle almost immediately. While Glamorgan are already wealthier than some, and are going to join the select group of counties which stage Tests when Australia come to Cardiff in 2009, there is an increasing gap in playing standards, and, in many cases, salaries, between first and second division cricket. The traditionalist in me was very disappointed by the recent news that Stuart Broad, a cricketer of immense promise nurtured by Leicestershire, had signed for Nottinghamshire, a club which, although Broad's father played for them and they can doubtless offer him a far higher salary than Leicestershire can, haven't even assured themselves of a return to the first division yet. Leicestershire suffered similarly when Luke Wright joined Sussex, and, while I also think it would be a pity if a genuine transfer market developed in cricket, you can't help feeling that counties such as Leicestershire deserve some financial compensation when their players are picked off by rivals with greater financial power.


Rock Solid

Having been away among the dreaming spires of Cambridge and the windmills of rural Norfolk I've only stayed in relatively distant contact with the one-day series. Tonight's initially uncertain but ultimately successful England run-chase, powered by Ravi Bopara and Stuart Broad, whose considerable, diverse talents and rock solid temperaments assuredly represent England's future, was the first proper view I've had of England's latest one-day renaissance.

For the moment there's not much more to say but that they look the better of the two sides and it's impossible not to be almost irrationally impressed by tonight's two main stars.

I'm always saying about this young player and that that 'more will be heard' of them. This time it seems reasonable to go further; it will be a major surprise if both Broad and Bopara, 21 and 22 respectively, are not at the fulcrum of the England side in both forms of the game for at least the next eight to ten years.

This was hopefully - probably - just the beginning.


Other Things

A couple of other things caught my eye today. One was the young Middlesex opener Billy Godleman's innings of 149* for England in the under-19 ODI against Pakistan at Grace Road. Not even his best friend would call him a stylist, but he's been churning out the runs since he was even younger than he is now, and David English marked him as one to watch after his performances at the 2004 Bunbury under-15 festival; he looks mature, well-coached and very good. Much more will be heard of him.

The other was Mark Davies's seven wickets for Nottinghamshire against Northants. Davies, of Durham (he must be on loan to Notts) has spent most of his career injured but when he's fit he doesn't half take some wickets. I don't think I've even seen him bowl on TV but he must have something.

See you next week.

False Dawn?

Not much time to post as I'm going off to Norwich and Cambridge for a few days tomorrow and I've got a lot to do; I also didn't manage to catch much of the first ODI at the Rose Bowl. But I saw enough to know that Alastair Cook and Ian Bell made overdue maiden ODI centuries and England won with comfort against an Indian side which looked well off the pace.

So, a good start for England, but they're a side which specializes in false dawns in one-day cricket, and there's plenty of scope, with six more games, for the status quo to be reasserted.


Hampshire Hammered

It was good to see Durham, the newest English first-class county, and one which brings through more than its fair share of good young players in this era of reliance on Kolpak players, win their first major trophy with a hammering of Hampshire in the final of the Friends Provident Trophy at Lord's.

You wouldn't want to single out anyone in particular, but Shiv Chanderpaul was his usual one-day self - taciturn, enterprising, fluent, often brilliant - and another West Indian veteran, Ottis Gibson, really set the victory up when he took wickets with the first two balls of the Hampshire innings in the Saturday afternoon gloom.

The local heroes included Paul Collingwood, Liam Plunkett, Neil Killeen and Graham Onions, all of whom have been around for a while and have received their share of recognition at one level or another. And then there was the young wicket-keeper batsman Phil Mustard, who set their innings on its way with a belligerent top-order 49 and then kept excellently as the screw was turned in the field.

It was also great to watch and listen to the interviews which Gibson gave to Sky and TMS before play this morning; full of personal reminiscences about growing up in Barbados, Malcolm Marshall, what happened to West Indies cricket and his feeling of needing to go on proving himself because he never made a go of international cricket.

Quite a guy, quite a club.


Food for Thought

I was out playing cricket yesterday and at work today, so I haven't seen much of the last two days of the Test. I was dubious about Dravid's decision to bat again yesterday, but, in the end, with England unable to make a serious bid for victory, everything turned out okay. With Pietersen knitting things together and good contributions from Vaughan, Collingwood and Bell, the game was saved with relative ease.

Both sides leave the series with food for thought; India can contemplate the fact that they've proved that they can recover from a hesitant start to deservedly win an overseas series, England the realisation that they can be undone - even at home - by a combination of their own complacency and misplaced aggression and an opposing bowling attack that really knows how to swing the ball.

I'm firmly in the camp which believes that there should have been one more Test match and about three fewer ODIs, so forgive me if I nod off during the forthcoming series.

It'll be nice, though, to see Yuvraj again. Limited overs operators don't come much better.


King of Spain

Ashley Giles returns to the pavilion after scoring 59 and the Ashes are England's. England v Australia, The Oval, 12th September 2005 (Brian Carpenter)

I've been meaning to post something about Ashley Giles ever since he announced his retirement on Thursday.

In truth I thought his great mate and erstwhile skipper Michael Vaughan went a little bit far when he described Giles as one of England's most underrated players. For a good part of his career he wasn't underrated; he simply wasn't very good, but, that said, he did grow into his job and became an essential figure in the England side which won six series in a row in 2004 and 2005, culminating in the most magical day in modern English cricket history.

As someone who was at The Oval on 12th September 2005, I'll remember him best for the innings in support of Pietersen without which the Ashes win would never have been. Giles' cool stoicism that day summed him up; diligent, rational, self-improving and with a genuine love of the game.

Not Bad, But Not Good Either

You wouldn't say that England were categorically poor on another perfect day for batting at The Oval, but they could, and should, have done a lot better.

Cook, although he made 61, is finally being forced to wake up to the fact that Test cricket is a difficult game, and his reliance on his strength, the straight-bat clip through the leg side, is becoming a weakness. Pietersen started well but his eyes lit up a little too quickly when Tendulkar came on. Vaughan was deceived, Collingwood got another bad one from Howell, and Matt Prior is having one of those games. Ian Bell, with positive footwork and, until his dismissal, good shot selection, was England's best player.

India stuck at it all day, relishing their advantage. Zaheer was excellent once again, Kumble was steady, RP was under-used and there were late signs that Sreesanth was getting mind and body together.

Now will Dravid enforce the follow-on?


1971, 1986, 2007

During Test matches I try to avoid commenting until a couple of days have gone. This time yesterday evening there still looked to be a possibility that England could work their way back into the game - bowl India out for 450, say, and then score 600 to put them under pressure. Now, though, after a further day of positive accumulation right down the order on the type of Oval shirtfront that anyone who's watched a lot of Test cricket in England has seen many times before, England are deservedly out of the game and the series with only pride to play for.

Talking of pride, all India can be proud of the consistency and fluency of their batsmen. True, the match is being played on the sort of pitch on which it would have been hard not to make 600, but with the road-crash umpiring of Ian Howell about, as well as the awareness of their own weaknesses when leading in past series, it wouldn't have been a huge surprise to see them make a mess of things. More tons would have been nice, but it was pleasantly surprising to see Kumble get the one that finally came. I can't say I ever thought he had it in him - to me he always looked like a determined but limited number nine who might be capable of the odd fifty but little more. I'm pleased to have been wrong.

For England, a fatal lost toss, two days of persistence from a weakened attack and some very ropey keeping from Matt Prior. From here on, with nothing but honour and a 1-0 defeat to play for, it's going to be difficult.

They're easily good enough to get close to India's total, even with Strauss already gone. One's suspicion, though, is that with the pitch starting to misbehave and Kumble primed to bowl until the cows come home, they won't.

Another long day in the sun begins tomorrow at 11.


Last Act

As a venue for the last act of what has been a compelling three act drama, The Oval couldn't be bettered. The wicket's usually hard, making life relatively comfortable for batsmen but offering plenty to bowlers of all types and it's a ground which holds great memories for both sides. India the seminal victory in 1971 and the magnificent near miss of '79, England the regaining of the Ashes in 2005 and a host of other dramatic matches, notably the series-levelling win over South Africa in 2003 which seemed to have it all at the time.

Things are evenly balanced and both sides have incentives beyond the game at hand. England have their post-2001 unbeaten home series record to preserve, India the desire to prove that they can win abroad and then avoid their usual collapse.

Sounds great.


Great Things

Yesterday's trip to the small east Devon seaside town of Budleigh Salterton for the trans-Tamar Minor Counties clash between Devon and Cornwall (pictured) was the ideal way to come down after the considerable and lengthy excitement of Saturday's Twenty20 finals day.

I've written before about how much I enjoy the truncated form of the game and Saturday's three matches were no exception. Before the day pretty well everybody would have expected Lancashire and Sussex to contest the final. Instead, thanks to some magnificent batting by Craig Spearman, Robert Key and Joe Denly among others, supported by terrific fielding, it was Kent and Gloucestershire who did so, with Kent coming out on top as a result of some great death batting from Darren Stevens, a player of some class who's never quite done justice to his ability, and a hat-trick from the young South African all-rounder Ryan McLaren.

After the group stages were largely ruined by the June monsoon the final three games and Edgbaston's pulsating atmosphere were a timely reminder of why this competition is the most important thing to have hit the English county game since the 1960s.

On Sunday I had the pleasure of watching a measured and classy knock of 93 from a tall Cornish 17 year-old called Matt Robins. I've got no idea whether he'll make it or not but there must be plenty of people playing county cricket who weren't as good as him at the same age.

If he goes on to great things you read it here first.



After the Trent Bridge Test ended in a deserved victory for India and a welter of media and blog comment about the antics of both sides I decided to take a few days to let the dust settle before commenting about what went on. On Friday, however, The Times published a piece by Simon Barnes (link below) which summed up just about everything I wanted to say.

The incident with the jellybeans received more attention than it deserved (such as the perenially barking Charles Colvile saying on Sky that 'in years to come this will be known as the jellybean Test match') but it was symptomatic of the attitude that leads England players and coaching staff to embrace a culture that values and encourages the abuse of opponents as a valid means of playing the game, apparently for no very good reason other than that Australian sides have often done it. So what. I didn't like it when Shane Warne and, less subtly, Glenn McGrath were doing it, but they did have the advantage of being able to play the game a bit better than any of England's current players. It's a culture that fails to respect opponents and, more fundamentally, fails to respect the game. They don't realise that the game is bigger, much bigger, than any of them, and its fundamentals require respect; when someone else is batting the pitch is their territory. Don't encroach on it, don't try and tamper with it, don't scatter sweets on it.

The same is true of posturing idiots like Matt Prior, who despite still being wet behind the ears in Test cricket persists in telling people how tough it is. Matt, you've done pretty well so far in your six Tests, but you'd be better off trying to get your keeping up to scratch rather than trying to show people how hard you are. A middle stump knocked several yards back by an RP Singh inswinger looks much the same no matter how tough you are.

Peter Moores has made a good start as England coach, but I was very disappointed with his response to what happened at Nottingham, paying little heed to the jellybeans and then suggesting that the stump microphones need to be turned down so that his players can say whatever they want without anybody off the field being able to tell how stupid and inane they are.

Of course, India, and especially Sreesanth, were also guilty of lowering the tone. After his decision to make shoulder-to-shoulder contact with Michael Vaughan and the bouncer which he bowled at Paul Collingwood from several yards down the pitch, he was fortunate to escape with a match fee deduction. I think a one-match suspension would have been more appropriate. The comments of Collingwood himself after the Jimmy Anderson-Runako Morton incident showed that he was unaware that if there's one thing that cricket definitely isn't, it's a physical contact game. If Sreesanth is under a similar misconception he needs to be shown that he's very, very wrong.

The history of Test cricket is littered with players who started their careers well but took their eye off the ball and disappeared from view as soon as they arrived.

That's something that Prior and Sreesanth would do well to remember.

The Simon Barnes article is here.


Opening Up

Cricinfo has recently been carrying some interesting articles by the former Indian opener Aakash Chopra, written, usually and unsurprisingly, from an opening batsman's point of view.

This week's offering is here.


Winning Away

So India's fifth Test win in England was duly achieved. Like many people, I suspect, I'd lost sight of just how many Tests they've won abroad over recent years.

Dileep Premachandran spells it out at Cricinfo.


Getting it Wrong, Getting it Right

Well, now. I got it a little bit wrong, but India, ultimately, got it very right.

I fell into the trap of assuming that if India were going to bowl a side out in the second half of a Test match to set up a victory, the man to do it had to be Kumble. An indolent reading of history suggested as much but in England? In the monsoon summer of 2007? At a lush Trent Bridge - which has gained an increasing reputation as a swinging ground in recent years - it was always more likely to be a seamer. And, with the way he's been bowling since his first spell at Lord's, it was always likely to be Zaheer Khan.

The fact that they only took a single wicket in the first session didn't matter at all either, with most of the side - Sreesanth excepted - patiently biding their time through a warm afternoon and the majestic quality of Michael Vaughan's century in the knowledge that the new ball could change things quickly. With Zaheer and RP using it beautifully and the below-par Kumble seeing to the tail, it did, and only a further 63 are now needed to secure a deserved victory.

India have flattered to deceive many times over the years, but, if they can win tomorrow and repel England at The Oval (and England will really come at them hard there), perhaps we can start thinking about a future in which the side can start to get a bit nearer to fulfilling the perenially disappointed hopes of its millions of followers.

The middle-order is certain to need some re-stocking before long but the bowling looks good. In Zaheer you have as mature and skilled a left-arm swing bowler as there is in the world, in RP Singh as promising a left-arm swing bowler as there is in the world and in Sreesanth as contradictory and potentially dangerous (in many senses) a right-arm seamer as there is in the world. And Pathan and Harbhajan to come back in.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. For now the onus is on Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik at 11 o'clock tomorrow morning.

Everything else comes later.


Advantage India

Another long day of runs and umpiring errors, culminating with England having to bat for well over a day to make India bat again.

For what it's worth, given the way the pitch has flattened out and the good weather forecast, I think they've got every chance of doing it.

The key is the first session tomorrow; if India take wickets and Kumble finds his rhythm it'll be very difficult for England. If they can reach lunch without loss and go into the afternoon intact the pressure may start to affect India.


Good Taste

With the exception of the late dismissal of Dravid, the day couldn't have gone much better for India. England 198, India 254 for 3 at the close, Sachin and Sourav at the crease with considerable power to add.

However, it was the performance of the openers which really stood out. There was luck, true, with countless balls passing the outside edge in the first hour and umpire Ian Howell in an implausibly generous mood, but Karthik, sparky and confident, and Jaffer, patient, restrained and elegant, further confirmed the suspicion that they're starting to grow into a distinctly useful pair with India's first Test opening partnership of more than a hundred in England for twenty-eight years.

I didn't know much about Karthik so Siddhartha Vaidyanathan's piece on Cricinfo this evening was particularly interesting, especially the fact that his boyhood hero was one Graham Thorpe.

Two reactions:

One, he's very young.

Two, he's got good taste.

Holding the Cards

One day gone at Trent Bridge and India appear to hold most of the cards, having bowled well throughout a truncated Friday. Although,if England had won the toss and had bowled as they did at Lord's, India would have been lucky to manage 169-7.

However, with better weather forecast for today and some of the dampness surely out of the pitch, this looks like a pivotal day in the match and the series. India need to knock over the remaining three England wickets, restrict them to less than 200 and then bat long. If the weather allows enough play later in the game a lead of 150 plus for India would make things very interesting.

I'll be watching from home all day and reporting back tonight.


Ruled Out

This afternoon's news that Marcus had ruled himself out of England's winter tours came as something of a surprise. Things have been going so well for Somerset that it didn't seem like a huge leap for him to at least go to the Twenty20 World Cup. That was obviously a glib assumption on my part. He clearly doesn't feel as though he's sufficiently well to undertake even the brief trip to South Africa, and you have to wonder - and not for the first time - if his entire international career has come to a very premature conclusion.

I'd say that this, sadly, is probably the end.


There's Always Something

Aside from events on the field it was an interesting few days - a near monsoon on Friday, with play, amazingly, following a couple of hours later; Ottis Gibson taking ten wickets in an innings on Saturday; and, most impressive and moving of all, RP Singh taking off his cap to acknowledge the applause of the members in the Long Room on Sunday in a gesture at once old-fashioned and deeply impressive.

That's what I like about trips to London (and Lord's). There's always something happening.

A Quiet Classic

In a quiet way, the first Test between England and India at Lord's was a classic. Or at least it looked like that to an English follower starved of competitive Test cricket for most of the summer. The unique brilliance of Shivnarine Chanderpaul can only take a series so far, and it was good to see England back in a battle. A battle in which they won most of the minor skirmishes and very nearly the whole damn thing.

There's simply no getting away from the fact that England look a more positive, united and vibrant team whenever they're led on to the field by Michael Vaughan. And, with the skipper himself refreshed as a result of his extended injury layoff and showing the type of judgement, command and tactical acumen which used to be second nature, they're even better. With a series of bowlers who can all hit the cut strip with regularity and move the ball at will in their different ways, they're better still.

With those bases covered, all you need is runs. They were largely provided by a watchful, often hesitant but deserving Andrew Strauss, the renewed elegance of Michael Vaughan, and Kevin Pietersen, who, in typical fashion, progressed through the gears to the point of total command after lunch on Sunday.

England's bowlers performed with relaxed penetration. It's no more than you expect from Sidebottom and Panesar now, but it was great to see Jimmy Anderson deliver his most complete performance in an England shirt and Chris Tremlett, whose unexpected selection ahead of Stuart Broad almost had me choking on my hotel breakfast on the first morning, justified his place and dropped a few hints for the future.

India started poorly with the ball in favourable conditions on Thursday but turned things around after Friday morning's monsoon. Zaheer hinted at his Worcester form, Sreesanth ran in hard and gained a few rewards from Steve Bucknor, and RP Singh looked like a bit of a find. Runs were harder to come by though, with only Karthik and Dhoni, in the second innings, really doing themselves justice. Dravid was unusually anonymous (but will surely come back fighting), Tendulkar lacked authority (and the jury is out on whether he can find it again), Ganguly flashed with bat and mouth but never suggested permanence, and Laxman's footwork and demeanour looked a bit too diffident for his own good.

England deserved to win and were unlucky not to get the chance to finish the job, although, if they could have stirred themselves to bowl their overs a bit more quickly yesterday morning they'd probably have wrapped the game up way before the rain came. I see from Cricinfo that the otherwise admirable Peter Moores is trying to justify England's slow over-rate by reference to the need for meticulous field-placing. That's as maybe, but they could do a lot better by cutting out their latest piece of modish fielding nonsense which appears to be to throw the ball to the wicket-keeper from anywhere on the field, regardless of whether there's any point to it. If the batsman hits the ball to mid-off and is not attempting a run, then why doesn't the mid-off fielder just throw the ball straight back to the bowler, rather than hurling it to Matt Prior and then getting it back about thirty seconds later via one of the slips (usually Strauss)? Talking of which, I don't think one of the slips (usually Strauss at Lord's again) needs to polish the ball on his backside until his trousers are virtually worn away after every ball. Fifteen overs an hour should be relatively straightforward whoever's bowling, and might show that the players have given some thought to the fact that people have actually paid money to watch them play and have the right to expect to see ninety overs in a day.

India look to be going in the right direction with the ball but will need more runs from all parts of the order if they're going to threaten England at Nottingham and The Oval. And it's up to SRT to show that reports of his imminent demise are greatly exaggerated.


Lord's Thoughts

I'm off to London for the Test in the morning, so there's not much time to produce any very profound thoughts about the game.

However, taking into account the benign nature of recent Lord's pitches, I'd expect the side winning the toss to bat first, although England could be tempted to bowl given the relative fragility of the Indian top order.

There's talk about the possibility of Dinesh Karthik getting the gloves for India, which would be a pity from my point of view as I'd like to see Dhoni play for the first time. It'd be nice to see Yuvraj as well, though, and it could be a case of one or the other.

England are certain to be without Steve Harmison for the whole series and it looks likely that Stuart Broad will make his debut. I hope so.

I also hope that the weather doesn't ruin the game, but there's a better than even chance that it will.

See you next week.



You can always trust Pakistan cricket to surprise you, and today we had the decisions to appoint Geoff Lawson as coach and to leave Inzamam out of their new list of centrally contracted players.

I was always a great fan of Lawson's commitment on the field and it's good to see someone such as him taking a conscious decision to step away from the commentary box comfort zone to take on one of the toughest jobs in world cricket.

Apparently the Inzamam decision wasn't unexpected for those who follow the Pakistan scene more closely than I do, but it seems, on the face of it, to be a bit ill-judged. Despite the advancing years, his form at Test level has remained quite solid and one wonders if it isn't a simply the product of a desire on the part of the PCB to move on from an era in which Inzamam was perhaps too closely identified with the late Bob Woolmer.

When a new coach begins working with Pakistan (and it seems to happen quite a lot) it's always interesting to see if they can succeed where their predecessors have failed. Lawson will be no exception.


Today's News

With only four overs possible at Taunton today, my attention was drawn to events at Chelmsford, where the three day game between England Lions and India ended in a predictable draw.

Whle India can take plenty from Tendulkar's 171 - and valuable contributions from Yuvraj, Dhoni and Karthik - the profligacy of their bowlers will worry them as they go to Lord's.

From an England (and Middlesex) standpoint it was good to see Andrew Strauss and Owais Shah pass fifty, although only one will be back at their home ground come Thursday, unlike Stuart Broad, who heads in the direction of a probable first Test cap with a five-for under his belt.

Unconditional Approval

After a workmanlike day on Friday, Saturday at Taunton was truly wonderful. As nice a day as you're going to get this summer, a very good crowd and fulfilling yet contrasting innings from Marcus Trescothick, Neil Edwards, Justin Langer and James Hildreth.

Langer could have made his 83 in his sleep, and Hildreth fell to his first misjudgement; Edwards was impressive, if not quite as fluent as on Friday evening; Trescothick was simply magnificent. After easing himself into Saturday morning and occasionally looking ugly and dissonant as his mistiming got the better of him, he suddenly went up a gear and began to take apart an attack which, whatever Lance Klusener's empty bluster, wasn't fit to lace his boots.

He reached his hundred with a straight six off Jason Brown (pictured) and continued to extend Somerset's lead to the point where some unwise innovation led to his dismissal, caught at the wicket off Alex Wakely, who added to the good impression he'd created with the bat with some tidy off-spin.

Marcus, of course, received a moving and resonant standing ovation. A player at home with the unconditional approval of his people, but needing, surely, the greater stimulus which only further international competition will provide.

Whatever. Good, good times.


Letting Go Again

Away from the parochial goings on in the south-west, England 'Lions' made a fair fist of their first day's batting against India at Chelmsford. The young and very promising Kent opener Joe Denly made 83, Stuart Broad 50 and Yorkshire's Tim Bresnan an undefeated 116 by the close out of 379 for 8.

It seems that India, as so often, had the England side where they wanted them but didn't force their advantage home. Homer muses on that here.


A Bit of Luck

After a very frustrating, very wet, month I was due a bit of luck and I got it today. With most of the country again being rained on I managed to see a very interesting 74 overs at Taunton in which Northants were bowled out for 221 and Somerset's left-handed openers, Marcus Trescothick and Neil Edwards, motored to 77 off 13 overs by the close.

All Somerset's bowlers - Andy Caddick, Charl Willoughby, Peter Trego, Steffan Jones and Cameron White - bowled some tight lines in helpful conditions and were supported by some very sharp fielding, with Trescothick at slip, and the young South African wicket-keeper, Craig Kieswetter, taking excellent catches.

Prior to Steven Crook's 60 from number 8, the most interesting contribution to Northants' total came from the England under-19 batsman Alex Wakely, who was making his first-class debut. He was unexpectedly tall but showed good judgement and a broad range of strokes in compiling a patient 38.

With rain forecast for Sunday and possibly Monday as well, Somerset will need to push on tomorrow morning to get a decent lead as quickly as possible and get Northants back in.

I'll be there to see them try.


Rough Deal

It's been a fairly quiet week. The only major news stories in this neck of the woods have been India's narrow failure to win their first tour match at Hove, the ECB's decision to order Worcestershire to re-play the Kent game (which was eventually - and inevitably - abandoned), and the preliminary England squad for the Twenty20 World Cup in September.

For what it's worth I think the ECB got it just about right over Worcestershire, although I wouldn't expect the people in charge of other counties who have been badly affected by the weather in this bedraggled season to agree. A ticking-off for what was undoubtedly a major cock-up (New Road was never going to be ready in time and it was deceitful at worst and deluded at best to pretend otherwise) and Friday's Pro 40 game moved to Derby, together with some financial assistance to help with the clean-up.

The news which everyone has grabbed from the Twenty20 squad has been the returns of Marcus Trescothick and, to a lesser extent, Chris Schofield. One after a journey into mental turmoil and the other after a sojourn in Minor County cricket. In truth the selection of Marcus was a no-brainer - the squad has still to be whittled down and he can easily be cut from it if he starts to have doubts about the trip - but I think he'll be there. If he isn't all bets are off for the future of his career.

As for who won't be there, am I alone in feeling that Ed Joyce has had a rough deal somewhere along the line? Okay, his form did fade in the West Indies but this is someone with an ODI hundred against Australia, which is a tad more than Mal Loye (highest score 45) can boast.


(Not) Played in England

I know that cricket is played in England. I've seen it on TV. Indeed, in the last nine days or so I've seen three One-Day Internationals played to a finish.

But can I see any live? Can I hell.

Can I play? Oh no.

On Sunday 24th June I plan to go to Bovey Tracey to see Devon play Wiltshire. However, it's clear from the torrential rain sweeping down my road that there won't be any play. There isn't any on the following day either and the match is put out of its misery and moved to Exmouth, where it's done and dusted in a few hours. I'm at work.

The following Sunday, 1st July, I'm selected to play for my club, the Erratics, against Cheriton Fitzpaine, but the Cheriton ground, a 'secluded' (in other words impossible to find) patch of mid-Devon countryside about the size of the average back garden is so sodden after weeks of virtually incessant rain that the game's called off on the preceding Friday evening.

At around the same time, the County Ground at Worcester, one of the most famous grounds in the world, disappears under the lapping waters of the River Severn, something which hasn't happened during the cricket season since 1969.

So, on Sunday 8th July, there's only one thing for it. A trip to Worcester. On the road from Exeter at 8, a quick drive up the M5, park up and walk down to the ground to be confronted by a notice which announces that there will be no play before lunch and that there will be an inspection at 1.15. A polite enquiry to the corpulent and testy turnstile operator elicits the gruff statement that 'There will be no refunds!'. Right. I don't think I'll pay then.

The atmosphere outside the ground is pungent in more ways than one. The hideous stench of raw sewage from the receded floodwaters mingles with the tense imprecations of the punters turning back at the gates. Indeed, one older gentleman is so irate that he conducts a loud and prolonged verbal dialogue with himself about the merits of the club's decision not to move the game to another venue.

Time to meet my friend Alan and go for a walk around the nondescript, seagull-spattered centre of Worcester. After a while the sun begins to beat down and we return with some hope at 1.30 only to find that there will be another inspection at 3, but that play looks doubtful. So it's off across the road to sit by the bowling green where we meet a man who is happy to talk at us for over an hour about subjects as diverse as the batting of Cameron White, the social composition of the population of Budleigh Salterton and what you do if you go to China for two weeks and don't like Chinese food.

At 3 we return to the ground to find that any hope of play has been abandoned for the day, if indeed, there ever was any hope (a member of the groundstaff later tells us that they knew at eight o'clock in the morning that there wouldn't be any play). It's depressing, if predictable, news, but not half as depressing as hearing the strident tones of the Kent supporting woman with a voice like a broken foghorn who's notorious from Canterbury to Taunton.

After a stroll round the ground, one section of which bears a disturbing resemblance to a dried-up river bed, it's time to return home.

In Worcester the weather has been perfect but on the way back I encounter a violent rainstorm in north Somerset which turns the motorway into a river and forces me to stop. However, by the time I'm back in Exeter, some twelve hours after leaving, the sun is beating down so brightly that I can barely see where I'm going. I wearily park the car and look at the dials. Oh dear.

I've driven 285 miles and I haven't seen a ball bowled. I'm hungry and I'm tired. I'm wondering why I bother with cricket.

I'll try again at Taunton on Friday.


Monsoon Season

Meanwhile, India got their tour under way at Hove, with Dinesh Karthik, Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid scoring half-centuries.

It's good to have them here, but, unless the British summer monsoon stops, their presence won't count for much.

It stayed dry and sunny today, the nicest day for almost a month, but it looks as though the showers will be back tomorrow. I'm stupid enough to be driving up to Worcester to try to see some cricket and preserve my failing sanity by watching Worcestershire and Kent line up on a ground that was under water less than two weeks ago.

All a bit mad, but that's what English summers like this lead to.

Demolition Derby

One of the English counties I follow is Derbyshire. Not as closely as I follow Middlesex and Somerset, but I tend to keep an eye on what's going on via my father, who lives in Derby and used to be a member of the club.

So my ears pricked up when I heard on the radio this morning that Dave Houghton, the former Zimbabwe Test captain who's done a lot to improve the club's fortunes over the past few seasons, was leaving the club. My initial suspicion was that it was just another piece of infighting at a club for whom turbulence has been a leitmotif in recent years, but it appears from Cricinfo as though Houghton is going to be Bangladesh's next coach.

They need him, having done much to dispel the memories of their engaging performances in the World Cup by sliding to a predictably ignominious 2-0 Test series defeat to a Sri Lankan side driven by Sangakkara's runs and the wickets of Murali and Malinga.

Not much to say other than to wish Houghton good luck. And tell him to keep working on Mohammad Ashraful, because that boy really has something.

A Kind of Redemption

There were a lot of complaints doing the rounds in the media a few weeks ago about the poor quality of the Test series between England and the West Indies. The West Indians just weren't good enough they said. England had nothing to beat. Ergo it was 'poor' Test cricket.

I agreed that the West Indies were poor - who couldn't? - but I tended to demur from the prevailing opinion that the Test series was worthless just because of that, together with the poor quality of much of England's bowling. If nothing else, the West Indies, and the series, had Chanderpaul, but it was hard, at the time, to see where their next win was coming from.

The Twenty20 and ODI series have been something entirely different, though, culminating in today's game at Trent Bridge, which saw a united and vibrant West Indian side lay waste to England. Their display had everything - positive captaincy from Gayle, high pace and aggression from Edwards and Powell, powerful runs from Morton, brilliant catches greeted with celebrations direct from the carnivals of the Caribbean.

Whether it was the fact that they had the sun on their backs for the first time since Old Trafford or simply that they were playing England at a game which England can't play is uncertain. Equally, who's to know whether this, like The Oval in September 2004, is another false dawn or the start of better times for a team - and a cricket culture - that sure as hell needs it.

Whatever the case, Trent Bridge, Saturday 7th July 2007, looks, from this short distance, like a kind of redemption.


One Year On, One Year In

It's exactly a year since I began writing this blog. After years of writing articles for magazines and journals I'd started to feel frustrated by the length of time it took for anything I'd written to appear in print and I felt that this format would give my work greater immediacy and the opportunity to write about whatever was in my head at the time, rather than what an editor wanted me to write about or what they were prepared to accept.

I'd spent some wonderful hours in the early part of last season watching Graeme Hick bat at Taunton and Worcester and wanted to write something about a cricketer whose career I'd been associated with since he was a youngster and who was nearly as old as me but was still performing with distinction. That piece, still one of the best things I've written, can be found here, and, a year on, Hick is still batting superbly; on Friday evening he made 110 from 49 balls in a Twenty20 game for Worcestershire against Northants.

It's been a crowded and intriguing year for world cricket. I've seen and commented upon the first forfeited Test match and all the controversy that went with it, Australia regaining the Ashes with dismissive excellence and then going on to dominate the World Cup in much the same way (although it's questionable how many people were still awake by the end to see them do it). I've also covered the shockingly sudden death of Bob Woolmer and the retirements of three of the greatest cricketers of this or any era, Brian Lara, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. It's been hard work at times, but I'm still enjoying it.

To my regular readers - you know who you are, even if I don't - thanks a lot for dropping by and coming back. And special thanks to Andrew Riley, Simon Orpen, Simon Hattenstone of The Guardian, Patrick Kidd of The Times, Mark Ray for the photos, Russell Degnan, Homer, and anyone else who's been kind enough to add me to their blogrolls.

The only thing that's disappointed me slightly is that thousands of people read the blog but few comment. I've gone through spells of getting reasonable numbers of comments (usually when I've written something about the Indian team) but things usually go dead again after a while. It's one of those spells at the moment.

So, if you're reading the blog and feel that you've got something to say, leave a comment. It's not difficult and I always reply.

At the last count this site had been visited by people from 62 countries, although a large proportion of those simply wanted to know about the different shades of green. To them, and the people whose searches for 'Guildford Swingers' on Google always lead them to my appreciation of Martin Bicknell, sorry I couldn't help you.

Six Things

Six things which were apparent at Lord's today:

1. Ian Bell needs to work on his running.

2. Fidel Edwards is very quick, and, unusually for a modern West Indies cricketer, has the right attitude.

3. Dwayne Bravo is a quality all-rounder, and, unusually for a modern West Indies cricketer, has the right attitude.

4. Owais Shah, whisper it, is starting to look at home in international cricket.

5. And so is Stuart Broad.

6. Allan Donald is having a positive effect on England's bowlers.

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