Goughie Lad

I've always been a fan of Darren Gough. People who were at Sydney in January 1995, as I was, tend to be.

Nevertheless, the only reason why his return to Yorkshire as captain, announced today, didn't come as a huge surprise, was the fact that it had been widely trailed in the media.

A few weeks ago someone at Cricinfo was speculating about whether his reluctance to re-sign with Essex meant that he was about to retire.

Well, we now know different, although I'm not sure what his appointment says about Yorkshire's prospects for the forthcoming season. With Michael Lumb gone,the McGrath dispute rumbling away and people (rightly) questioning the Jacques Rudolph Kolpak deal, their re-engagement of a thirty-six year-old with a dodgy body and no captaincy experience seems just a bit desperate to me.

Thoughts, anyone?


Getting Away

Things finally are going a little bit quiet over the next couple of weeks as everybody gears up for the main event.

An ideal time to get away to London and Hertfordshire, which is what I'm doing tomorrow.

I'll be back in March with the World Cup on my mind.

Power to Add

Among the most optimistic sides at this stage must be New Zealand, whose performances against Australia over the past couple of weeks may rank as their best in One-Day International history.

Their bowling has been steady and their fielding much improved after some shambolic showings in Australia, but it is their batting that has really stood out.

The half-discarded Craig McMillan has once more shown the type of punchy competitiveness that was once his trademark, Brendon McCullum and Peter Fulton have hit hard and long in their differing styles, and Ross Taylor has looked like New Zealand's most significant batting discovery since Fleming and Astle in the mid-nineties.

For them the Caribbean can't come soon enough.

Strange Days Indeed

It was hard to decide which was the stranger and more welcome sight at Hamilton the other night - New Zealand, with Craig McMillan back to his bristlingly confident best in their middle-order, cleaning up Australia for the third time in a row, or Merv Hughes and John Buchanan watching them do it. Both looked studiedly unemotional about it but you wouldn't mind betting that their thoughts weren't a million miles from 'just how many runs do we have to make to win a game against this side?'. 148 at Wellington? Well, you couldn't expect to win with that. But their 336 at Eden Park and 346 at Seddon Park ought really to have been winning totals and would surely have been so in about 98% of the ODIs Australia have played in living memory. Which, as many people have already said, must mean that there's something been going pretty seriously wrong with their bowling.

Okay, for the West Indies they have McGrath and hopefully Lee to return, with Ponting, Gilchrist and Clarke to further bolster the batting. But McGrath's gone round the park on more than one occasion recently and Lee's fitness may well be suspect even if he makes the plane to the Caribbean. Which leaves the likes of the idiosyncratic Brad Hogg, the hot-and-cold Nathan Bracken, the raw and over-estimated Mitchell Johnson, and Shane Watson (really a batsman who can turn his arm over and none too well at that) to carry the attack. Of course, with the peerless Punter and Gilly back you have to feel that runs won't be a problem and the confidence lost in New Zealand will start to return just with their presence. But totals, however big, have to be defended, and, when bowling first, sides have to be restricted. All the signs are that this could continue to be a big issue for Australia, and it's made even more so by the fact that teams all around the world will have witnessed what New Zealand, and, before them, England, have done to Australia over the past few weeks and they'll all fancy a piece of the action themselves.

It's a trite observation to make, but defeats and confidence have a symbiotic relationship; the confidence of sides that suffer defeats goes down, while that of the sides which inflict them goes up.

The World Cup has started to look a whole lot more interesting over the last few weeks - partly because it now appears to be a more open competition and partly because it'll be instructive to see how Australia respond to circumstances which are as alien to them as winning one-day competitions is to England.

My own feeling is that Australia will - as Australian teams always do - take some beating once the business end of the World Cup comes around, but every other major ODI playing country will have their own reasons for optimism.



Nice, also, to see Nick Compton open the England A tour of Bangladesh with a century. I've yet to see much of him, but, as a Middlesex follower, I was well aware that he'd been around for a while before last season without doing anything outstanding.

In 2006 it all seemed to click into place, but when a player does that you always tend to wonder if it's a flash in the pan or a sign of evolving class.

Compton certainly has the genes, so hopefully it's the latter.

Another Day, Another Defeat

Meanwhile, in Auckland, Australia made 336. And still lost.

The competition looks a bit hot for Austraia at the moment. Are you still managing to watch, Mr.Buchanan?

Not Much Happening? Yeah, Right...

What was I saying?

Since I stated that there wasn't much happening around the world apart from a few ODIs I've been forcibly reminded that there's always something happening on Planet Cricket, even if you're trying to pace yourself ahead of the World Cup and you got bored of continuous one-day internationals years ago anyway.

Firstly, I caught the tail end of India's successful run chase against Sri Lanka in Vishakapatnam on Sky last night, and it reminded me that one of the wonders of the world was back where he belongs, controlling things (with some valuable assistance from another left-hander who's back after a spell away) at the heart of India's middle order.

Yuvraj Singh is - and may always remain - a fragile talent, teetering on the brink of consistency but falling back into mediocrity a little too often for comfort. But should consistency be obligatory when you can bat like that?

I've been a huge fan of Yuvraj ever since he announced himself so grandly in Kenya in the autumn of 2000. Since then he's spent more than his fair share of time on the outer because of loss of form and injury, but, as he showed against England this time last year and reinforced yesterday, when the muse is with him he's an artist of rare quality.

If he can take this form to the West Indies, India's World Cup games will really be worth watching.



I'm afraid that what I said the other day about there being very little happening in the cricket world at the moment apart from a few ODIs reflected my overwhelming sense of ennui about the eternal, unstoppable caravan that is modern one-day international cricket. It's not the form of the game itself (though I'd take Test cricket any day), just the amount of it being played.

That said, I'll take as much interest in the World Cup as the next man, and one of the most interesting and enjoyable results of the ODI week came yesterday in Wellington, with Australia crashing to their latest heavy defeat, this time at the hands of New Zealand.

Much as I admire them, it's great to see Buchanan's Australia experiencing a different side to life at the top, and one can only hope that their confidence is being sapped so much that they won't be able to regain it in time for the main event.

You wouldn't bet on it, though.


At Last...

A week with not much going on. Just ODIs in India and South Africa and the announcement of World Cup squads, most of which were fairly predictable.

England's was, although most of the media comment had fancied Mal Loye to be included, rather than Ravinder Bopara.

I think Bopara was the right choice as he's one for the future with plenty of time on his side. Loye looked very useful at times in Australia but he didn't manage to pass fifty, and his international career may well have finished almost as quickly as it started.

He'll doubtless be left wishing he could have been picked earlier, but he'll at least be able to look back for ever on his part in the winning of a one-day trophy abroad.

And how many England players can say that?


Were You Watching, John Buchanan?

I had a lot of sympathy with Tim de Lisle's piece on Cricinfo during last week, but the fact is that if the CB Series hadn't been so ridiculously long, England wouldn't have had the chance to come back and win it.

Now, though, they can go to the West Indies with a bit of confidence, and if you'd suggested that in Adelaide on January 26th, medical assistance would have been summoned.

As for Australia, the rare experience of losing three consecutive ODIs will probably stand them in good stead for the World Cup, and, for this reason, one can only hope that the competition provided by England in the last three games was to John Buchanan's satisfaction.


Hair Brained

Unlike many people I had some sympathy with Darrell Hair at the time of The Oval controversy last summer, believing that, however clumsily he did so (and he sure was clumsy), he was only applying the laws of cricket.

However, his decision to to sue the PCB and the ICC for alleged racial discrimination seems to be taking things a bit far, although, as a final comment from me, it does seem a pity that an umpire as good as Hair has effectively been banished from the international game purely because several countries have developed a dislike for him, while an umpire as consistently poor as Daryl Harper somehow remains a member of the ICC Elite Panel.

Riding for a Fall

With his spare frame, angular features and portentous manner, John Buchanan has always appeared to be a somewhat mysterious and singular figure alongside the greater spontaneity of most of his players.

But he's always been prone to pronouncements which betray more than a hint of arrogance and it seemed to me, when he apparently stated a few weeks ago that Australia weren't going to be provided with sufficient competition by England and New Zealand and would be better off preparing for the World Cup by playing amongst themselves, that he was again riding for a fall.

Well that's two wins out of two against your boys for England, Mr.Buchanan, and if they make it three tomorrow you can ride off in the direction of the West Indies and then into the sunset with a bit to think about.

Such as, whatever you're thinking, it's sometimes best to keep your mouth shut.

Crackpot No More

I had more than a few doubts when he was called up (I seem to recall - not for the first time - using the word 'crackpot' to describe the England selectors), but it's been apparent that Paul Nixon, with his energy, vocal volubility and good technique behind the stumps, as well as a few runs here and there, has contributed significantly to England's relative renaissance these past two weeks.

Of course, at 36, his tenure in the side cannot, indeed should not, be long, but it looks increasingly as though the Jones/Read era has ended.

Much will depend on how well he maintains his form during the World Cup (and how Davies fares in Bangladesh), but don't be surprised if, come mid-May, Nixon is lining up at Lord's for his Test debut.


So, with three ODI wins out of three, two against Australia, everything is right with England again. Well, hardly, but their performances in the last few matches of the Commonwealth Bank Series have emphasized the potency of the collective confidence which always stems from the making of individual centuries and the winning of matches. To beat Australia is one thing (and something which England have managed rarely enough in the one-day arena over the past decade), but to do so from 15 for 3 chasing 252 is another matter entirely. This was a team which has accrued enough resilience over a relatively short period of time to be able to take whatever Australia could throw at them and return to finish on top.

Of course, with his magnificent fielding and another dauntless hundred, Paul Collingwood was England's talisman. He's looking more and more like a player whose qualities and achievements (and, more particularly, the circumstances and manner of them) should resonate down the ages. I can only talk of the last thirty years, but I'm quite clear in my own mind that he's by far the best all-round fielder England have possessed in that time, and he must surely be one of the toughest and most self-assured players English cricket has ever produced. After what has been, the Brisbane and Adelaide Tests aside, a poor tour for him, to recapture his lost form with consecutive centuries in high-pressure situations has been a remarkable achievement, but, with hindsight, we shouldn't have expected anything less.

It's all too easy to do, but I, for one, will never doubt Colly again.


Heartening and Impressive

It was difficult to decide what was most heartening and impressive about England's second ODI win in as many games. The partnership between Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood, which signalled their own return to form and stabilised the England innings at a vital time, the lower-order runs from Jamie Dalrymple and Liam Plunkett which took them to a winning score, Vaughan's customary coolness under pressure, or the simple fact that from a position of relative weakness with ten overs to go they managed to win the game at all.

Well, it was all pretty good, and a timely reminder that this might not be such a bad combination of players after all, and maybe, just maybe, they're capable of winning a few more one-day matches when it counts, starting with the finals against Australia later this week. Maybe so, maybe not, but at least the Canada and Kenya games in the World Cup don't loom quite so large now.

A key factor in the victory over New Zealand was that for the second game in a row one of England's top order converted a fifty into a century, and Collingwood deserves the highest possible praise for kicking against weeks of failure going all the way back to the Adelaide Test and making some serious runs at the time when they were most needed. Not that anything less should have been expected from a player whose coolness and toughness of mentality ought to be talked about with reverence long after he's moved on.

In the wider context of the series and the future, it's good to see Stuart Broad called up again, if much less so to see Chris Tremlett and Jon Lewis on the way home.

Broad is unquestionably the future, and Tremlett could be as well, although it's getting to the stage where you have to start wondering if his fragile body will ever be up to the rigours of international cricket.


Sure Footed

So Mumbai - with the unfamiliar assistance of Sachin Tendulkar - won the Ranji Trophy, beating Sourav Ganguly's Bengal in the final by 132 runs. No doubt my friends on the Indian blog scene will be covering the match in detail, but I'll content myself with this link to an interesting piece on Cricinfo about the promising Bengal seam bowler, Ranadeb Bose, a man who apparently claims never to have bowled a no-ball in any form of cricket.


An Unfamiliar Feeling

I saw a fair amount of England's first ODI win over Australia in Australia since January 1999 on either side of a brief trip into the gorgeous Exe Valley for a pre-arranged, work-related, meeting.

It looked as though they were good value for it, and it was especially pleasurable to see Ed Joyce confirm the improvement he'd shown in the last game against New Zealand and go on to get a hundred. I've seen him make good runs for Middlesex on a number of occasions and have a high regard for his abilities, but I was beginning to doubt him earlier in the series when he was repeatedly getting out for low scores in the middle-order and his body language seemed to betray his dwindling confidence.

Mal Loye assisted him well at the top of the order, Belly played his usual quality cameo (when will he really cash in?) and there was plenty of good bowling (chiefly from Liam Plunkett) and sharp fielding.

More of the same, please.

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