Out Cold

After their performance at Lord's it was disappointing, even sad, but nevertheless predictable, that the West Indies, now without Lara, Chanderpaul and Sarwan, their three best contemporary batsmen by a mile, should have folded to their worst defeat in nearly eighty years of Test cricket in the frozen wastes of Headingley. The only player who seemed up for the fight (and not for the first time) was Trinidad's excellent Dwayne Bravo. As Andrew Miller said on Cricinfo, this is the worst collection of players ever to represent the islands, and it showed.

England were as efficient and competent as they needed to be in the face of the negligible threat posed by a team with a weak attack and an even weaker batting line-up, supported by weak fielding.

The batting (minus Andrew Strauss) is firing from top to bottom, the re-selection of Ryan Sidebottom, inconceivable under Fletcher, was, in retrospect, a masterstroke, and the entire side looks a different unit when Vaughan's in charge.

They look good, although, against this West Indian side it would be hard not to.

As Stephen Fleming said, when asked how you recover from the type of beating which England took in Australia, 'Play someone else'.



With rain preventing any play at Leeds yesterday I took the first opportunity I've had to take any notice of the Bangladesh-India Test series. Not a lot, mind, as it ended pretty quickly, but it's clear that Bangladesh still have a lot to do to bring their Test performances up to a level where they can consistently challenge the better sides. In their case, more Tests and many fewer ODIs would help them develop, but the market forces of Asian cricket and commerce will probably dictate otherwise.

India are one of those better sides but many uncertainties remain ahead of their tour of England - no coach, the core of the side ageing, continuing uncertainties about their openers and seam attack - but at least they'll travel with a victory under their belt after the disappointments of the World Cup.

At the top of the order Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik have been shaping up well, but you have to have doubts about how they'll do in England, especially if the weather doesn't improve by July. I'd like to see Sehwag back in the side - perhaps reinvented as a middle order player - but I expect to see Jaffer and Karthik walking out at Lord's.

The seam attack could be capable of matching England's if Zaheer, Sreesanth and Patel all show up fit, but how likely is that? It was interesting to see Ishant Sharma, who looked so good on the under-19 tour last year, but his real time will have to wait, while one has to feel that more will be heard from Irfan Pathan. He's surely too talented and still too young for that not to be the case. But what's the key?

And, when it comes to spinners, although you know that Kumble will always be there (at least until he isn't), there's the question of support in a department which will be important in exposing England's vulnerabilities. Powar seems to have done okay in Bangladesh, but a Test off-spinner in preference to Harbhajan? Doubtful.

England have looked good in the first two Tests against the West Indies but they're playing a poor side. India should be capable of much better and it could be a decent series if India get their players fit and their selections right.

We'll see.


Not Before Time

With England laying waste to the West Indies at Headingley and India doing much the same to Bangladesh in Mirpur (of which more in due course), Cricinfo reports that Ian Botham is in line for a knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours next month.

I've written about this before here. I've always been mystified as to why Botham hasn't been recognised before, especially when you take into account his record both as a cricketer and a charity fundraiser (if not a commentator).

I'm not a great fan of the British honours system generally, but when you look at some of the other people who've received them over the years Botham looks a deserving candidate to me.

If it does happen - and there were some similar rumours going round a few years ago which came to nothing - it'll be a very good thing.


Vaughan Again

With the dust barely settled after the release of the Schofield Report (and it remains to be seen how much dust will gather on its cover before some of its recommendations are implemented), the current England team did its best to prove one of its points by hurrying back into Test match action today after only three days off.

Like many other people I was having my doubts about the swiftness of Michael Vaughan's return to the side - very good captain, sure (but not great); very good batsman, yes (but not great); but worthy of walking straight back into the side after only a handful of matches in the past eighteen months? Perhaps not (is what I would have said at eleven o'clock this morning).

However, writing this evening with all the doubts banished by Vaughan's balanced and commanding innings of 103, there's a bit of a feeling that normal service has been resumed in the England side, even if Flintoff and Fletcher are nowhere to be seen.

Vaughan always was a batsman of the very highest pedigree and it's no surprise to find that he still had the reserves of mental toughness to take him past all the doubts and on to an innings-defining hundred which should set him firmly on the road to the second half of his career without a backward glance.

For England normality is also increasingly defined by a Kevin Pietersen century. Anything else and there's something not quite right.

Time for him to push on past 158 tomorrow and show the world what he can really do.

Just as his captain did today.


More will be Heard

The other week I wrote about the way in which Cameron White was gradually transforming himself from a leg-spinner who can bat into a batsman who can bowl leg-spin. At Taunton today he took another step on the road with 201 not out for Somerset against Gloucestershire, his third championship century of the season. While he's chiefly been known until now both here and in Australia as an uninhibited attacking player, he seemed during his previous hundred against Derbyshire to be embracing a more patient game. If he can continue to do so and make runs with similar consistency at home then his international career prospects - currently shaky - may also be transformed.

Elsewhere, it was also interesting to see Kent's young opener Joe Denly carry his bat for 115 not out out of 199 against Hampshire at Canterbury. Denly had a good record at England Under-19 level and has been quietly notching up the runs so far this season, his first as a regular in the Kent side following David Fulton's retirement. A quick look at his stats revealed that he's currently averaging nearly 53 after 8 first-class matches.

More will be heard of them both.

A Name from the Past

It probably won't mean much to younger readers (are there any?), at least in the UK, but anyone who remembers India's comprehensive defeat of England in this country in 1986 will recognise Maninder Singh's name.

He was another in the long line of Indian cricketers who seemed to have the world at their feet before fading away and there's some slightly sad news about him on Cricinfo.

Good Enough

There's been a lot of talk about the inclusion of Ryan Sidebottom in the England squad for the second Test. It did come as something of a surprise (and it remains to be seen whether he'll actually play), but he's not the worst candidate - his career figures stack up and I remember reading an interview with Mark Ramprakash in which he named Sidebottom as one of the county bowlers who impressed him most.

Ramps isn't a bad judge and his opinion is good enough for me.

Images of Lord's (again)

A few shots from the five days at Lord's, ranging from Alastair Cook on his way back to the pavilion on Friday morning, 105 to his name, through Matt Prior cutting Chris Gayle for four to reach his century on Friday evening, to England's first innings score and the grim scene on Monday...

Talking Heads

It's been a while since I've posted, largely because I've been away at the Lord's Test for most of the last week. I'll try to make up for it over the next few days.

As most of the talking heads in the media have been saying, the West Indies will have taken more from the outcome of the first Test than England. The tourists went into the game with hardly any practice behind them and ultimately made a fair fist of competing at Lord's, although they were helped by England's bowling, which, with the exception of Panesar, was wayward and insipid. They can take a lot, though, from the defensive certainty, in both innings, of Daren Ganga, and the more exciting lower-order contributions of Dwayne Bravo and Denesh Ramdin which enabled them to avoid the follow-on. The bowlers still need work, and they'll surely get it at Headingley.

England's batting was consistently excellent, with the only discordant notes struck by the twin failures of Strauss (whose place must be in doubt if both Flintoff and Vaughan return) and Owais Shah (who's already gone, but is hopefully not forgotten). However, I was extremely dubious about the tactic of batting Shah at three. Bell did relatively well there in Australia, and, even though the place seems to have been ear-marked for Vaughan it would surely have been better to keep Bell there and give Shah the chance to bat under less pressure at six. As it was Shah looked nervous and hesitant and so may not have done much better at six, but we'll never know.

Cook was Cook, Collingwood was Collingwood, Bell was Bell and Pietersen was Pietersen. Matt Prior, however, was outstanding, and his powerful hundred against a tired attack and tidy keeping may indicate that England have finally found a worthy successor to Alec Stewart. I hadn't seen him play live before and I was hugely impressed. My old favourite Steven Davies might have to wait a bit longer but that's no bad thing.

England's bowling was poor. Monty did all that could have been expected in largely unhelpful conditions with the assistance of Asad Rauf, but Plunkett was a random mixture of the very good and the very bad, while Harmison was just bad, looking once again like a bowler devoid of form, desire or confidence. It was instructive that he had taken some good wickets at a low average for Durham, though, so perhaps he's just developed a mental block about Test cricket, which would explain a lot.

At the moment Harmison's form represents Peter Moores' biggest challenge. It's one he needs to meet - perhaps by appointing a new bowling coach - as soon as possible.



The England squad for the first Test against the West Indies, announced earlier this morning by David Graveney, was quite predictable, even though it contained a couple of players who I'm sure wouldn't have been there if Duncan Fletcher had still been in charge.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I always had a feeling that Matthew Prior would secure the wicket-keeper's spot ahead of Paul Nixon, chiefly because of his past links with Peter Moores. In a sense it's hard on Nixon, who did everything that could have been asked of him (and more) during his short time in the side, but, at 36, he was never going to be there for very long. Of course, there are no guarantees that Prior will do any better than any of the other glovemen who've been tried over the last four years but he probably deserves a go, if only on account of his first-class career batting average which nudges a heady forty. I've seen very little of him - and nothing live - so I'll be interested to see how he goes at Lord's.

As a break with the past it's also good to see Owais Shah in the squad, although he'll only play if Pietersen isn't fit. While his stilted ODI career has been a largely hesitant affair, both with the bat and especially in the field, he's always been a potential Test player of quality, something which he fully demonstrated in Mumbai last year. It's nice to know that Moores recognises his quality in a way that I don't believe Fletcher did.

Liam Plunkett takes the fourth seamer's position ahead of Anderson and Mahmood, which will do for the time being. Mahmood in particular looks like someone who could do with playing a bit more county cricket (perhaps a whole career's worth) and there are still doubts over Anderson. However, Plunkett himslef needs to start producing his best with a bit more regularity if he's to prevent the selectors looking towards Broad and Onions.

I'll be at Lord's for the game and if the weather allows enough play I expect an England win well inside five days. The West Indies will be lacking practice against the red ball (they're not goung to get any play at Taunton today as it's pouring down) and they usually seem to lack motivation these days. Harmison and Hoggard are both bowling well and England also have plenty of batsmen in form.



With his 284 for Somerset against Northants there seems to be an implication in many parts of the media that Marcus Trescothick should be reintroduced to the England side as soon as possible.

I can't agree, and feel strongly that he shouldn't be considered for England again until he's absolutely certain he's ready, and from all his recent public statements it doesn't look as though that time has come yet.

Perhaps it will have done by the time India are here in July, although Peter Moores and his fellow selectors will have to think long and hard about whether he's able to stand up to the physical and mental rigours of an overseas tour, and, if they feel that he isn't, whether he can be selected for home Tests alone.

It'll all play out in due course, but, in the meantime, we in the south-west can enjoy his runs, not to mention those of James Hildreth, who made a century, and Ian Blackwell, who made 81.

A better season than last year may be in sight for Somerset, although you have to wonder how they're ever going to bowl anyone out twice on that Taunton pitch.


Great White Hope

I've been away for a few days, recovering from an excess of one-day internationals (at least that's what it felt like) and visiting my family in Derbyshire. On the way up I took in the second and third days of Somerset's championship match with Derbyshire at Taunton.

Of course the match - in which Derbyshire became the second side in consecutive games to total more than 800 on one of the most moribund shirtfront wickets on the planet - ended in a tame draw, but there was plenty of interest going on, notably Cameron White's innings of 138 which was the major contributor to Somerset's first innings total of 501.

White's knock was interesting; for a player usually associated (both in south-west England and, increasingly, in his native Australia) with powerful strokeplay and fast scoring, it was a measured and technically secure knock, although he did send one pull out of the ground in the direction of the Brewhouse Theatre.

Having begun his career as one of Australia's many great white hopes to succeed Warne and MacGill as his country's foremost leg-spinner, he looked in this innings like someone who has accepted that his bowling has stagnated, fallen away, in fact, and who needs to regard himself as a batsman who can bowl a few (or a lot of) overs when required, but not someone who's ever going to be an international spinner or all-rounder.

In the Somerset side he's doing a pretty convincing impersonation of an assured and powerful number five. Whether it will ever be enough to give him a Test career is more doubtful, but, for the time being, everyone at Taunton should be happy to have him, whatever his role.

And, come Twenty20 time, hang on to your hats.


Wanting More

As the fantastic English weather continues I've been easing myself into the season - a game of my own in the Devon countryside on Sunday and a day at Taunton today, watching Derbyshire pile up 801 and Somerset stutter late in the day to finish on 107 for 4.

Marcus played pretty well for his 32 but he will have wanted and expected more.

The way things are going he'll get another chance tomorrow.

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