A (Former) Prodigy's Progress

I didn't see any more of the second Twenty20 game than the first, but I did catch the closing stages of England's chase, and really enjoyed seeing Owais Shah bat so well. Those of us who've kept more than half an eye on his progress since he was a Middlesex prodigy in the mid-nineties have felt for a long time that he had a lot more to give than he was allowed to show under Fletcher, and, after failing twice in the summer's first Test at Lord's we wondered when we'd next see him in an England cap. Moores is clearly a fan though, and his presence in the one-day squad is welcome recognition of the way in which he's advanced his over-limit game in recent seasons.

I understand he's also been working hard on his fielding and hopefully this is the start of an extended run in the one-day side. It's obvious that the desire is there, and, with some runs behind him and a bit of confidence, who knows where it might lead?

When interviewed after he'd received the Man of the Match award Owais stated that he'd be prepared to bat at number eleven if England wanted him to.

There's not much chance of that.


One Up

Well, Gayle didn't do a huge amount but the West Indies did. I had to work late and so didn't see any of their innings live, but the way in which they coped with England's superb fightback (with Ravi Rampaul in the box seat) and the joy they showed at the game's end showed that maybe all is not lost.

Somebody pointed out that it was the first time they'd beaten England since the Champions Trophy final at The Oval in September 2004, and the scenes in the grey evening half-light contained resonant echoes of that day.

It's Not Unusual

With things apparently going from bad to worse on the West Indian tour, and everyone settling in for some good old infighting between the players and their masters, Cricinfo carries some purposeful words from Chris Gayle.

Interesting events, but hardly unusual (a bit like a West Indies defeat). But not what's needed to put them in the right frame of mind to compete with England in the one-day series which starts this afternoon with a Twenty20 game at The Oval.

You never know with Gayle, though. Throughout the Test series he looked semi-interested and reinforced his image as a talented waster. This - and maybe even the captaincy itself - might be just what he needs to help him convert a dismal tour into something a bit better.

I'm not putting any money on it, though.


No Brainer

What's been happening these past few days? Well, it's been raining a lot, but Twenty20 has got underway again, in between the showers and in front of the usual fanatical crowds, and England have predictably decided that a brave new one-day world needed a new captain, and have appointed Paul Collingwood.

To me it was a no-brainer: Vaughan has never thrived in limited-over cricket and he needs to save his fragile body for the sterner challenges which lie ahead in the Test arena, and, with Pietersen ruling himself out, Colly - lacking captaincy experience but with every other quality you could wish for - was the logical choice.

With a reshuffled side, including a couple of new foreign-bred debutants in Dimitri Mascarenhas and Jonathan Trott - it'll be interesting to see how things go, even if they are still playing the West Indies, who, unless they can shake off the torpor which led them to defeat by Derbyshire today, won't offer any greater a threat than they did in the Test series.


Going Nowhere

Well, I've seen better Test series, but the one which ended in Durham yesterday did serve a few useful purposes. It confirmed that Shivnarine Chanderpaul is an extraordinary batsman. Maybe not genuinely great, but certainly genuinely extraordinary.

Has there ever been another Test series in which one batsman has been so far ahead of all his peers? I don't know, but I doubt it.

Lara usually had Chanderpaul himself, and Sarwan. After Lord's Chanderpaul had nobody, although Bravo, as always, did his best and Gayle and Morton briefly succeeded in spite of themselves. The rest were nowhere.

The series also showed that there surely can't be any further for the West Indies to fall. Their batting lacks technique, their bowling lacks fitness, finesse, pace and variety, their fielding is an abject shambles. Many of their players - with Gayle the worst offender - look as though they just don't care. This really shows in the field, and, until more of their players can acquire the determination, desire and strength of character of Chanderpaul and Bravo (or even Edwards or Sammy), they're going nowhere.

During the Old Trafford Test it was surprising and concerning to hear Tony Cozier say for the first time that he wondered whether the West Indies would benefit from a sabbatical from Test cricket in which they played other countries' 'A' teams in order to give themselves a chance to regroup, perhaps win some games and restore their lost confidence.

Has it really come to this?


Still Got It

With nothing happening very fast at Chester-le-Street I took myself off up the M5 to Bristol yesterday to see Somerset wrap up a crushing innings win over Gloucestershire to go to the top of Division Two of the championship.

It was an enjoyable day to be a Somerset fan despite the surroundings. I hadn't been there for a few seasons and I was reminded of what a characterless and charmless ground Nevil Road is. The Bristol public weren't exactly breaking down the gates to get in either, and the crowd - containing a substantial Somerset contingent - seemed small, but then the Gloucestershire side was so appallingly bad that you couldn't really blame them.

I left the day with a few lasting impressions, the first of which was the confidence and team spirit of a Somerset side which, in case anyone is liable to forget, finished bottom of the pile last season. It's incredible what a few weeks of consistent run-scoring from Trescothick, Edwards, White, Langer and Hildreth, knitted together with Langer's positive, typically Australian, captaincy, can do.

And then there's the seam attack. The best thing about the day was seeing Andy Caddick clean up the second Gloucestershire innings to finish with twelve wickets in the match. Having taken seven on Saturday he eased himself into his work after his side's mid-afternoon declaration, looking stiff and bowling a little too wide in his first spell, but returning after tea to polish off the innings in conjunction with the equally reliable Charl Willoughby. Even though the most resonant impression was of a man shooting fish in a barrel, it was the sort of afternoon which sent the mind spinning back through the seasons, to the time I first saw him bowl (for Middlesex seconds) in 1989, to his Test debut in 1993, and to the time I stood to applaud him in the Lord's Grandstand as he went through the West Indies in 2000.

At this level, he's still got it (and he had some interesting fields yesterday too).


Long Time Coming

I've written more than once about Ian Botham and knighthoods. Once to wonder, as I often had over the years, why he'd never received one, and once, more recently, to welcome the rumours that he was about to do so. Now it's confirmed.

But it all goes back much longer than that. I distinctly remember asking my brother (who was - and still is - a good deal older than me and therefore knew exactly what was going to happen in the world) in the heady days of the summer of 1981 if he thought that Ian Botham would be knighted. He didn't think so and it's taken a hell of a long time - far, far, too long - for things to turn out differently.

As someone who was a young teenager - and a cricket junkie - at the time when Botham was at his best, I have a tendency to go misty-eyed and a bit irrational at times like this, but, as usual, Andrew Miller, whose relative youth probably gives him a bit more objectivity than me, strikes exactly the right note here. I particularly like one sentence: 'Botham has a rightful claim to be England's greatest living sportsman, end of story'.

Rightful claim, Andrew? To some of us it's never been in doubt.


Plenty to Prove

Following the announcement of the Indian team for the forthcoming tour of England and Ireland, the omissions of Sehwag and Harbhajan have made the headlines, but Anand Vasu sums things up well at Cricinfo, indicating that Harbhajan, at least, had it coming to him.

It's interesting to see Ranadeb Bose there, who I've never seen, but have written about previously here, and also Ramesh Powar, who's looked a decent bowler in his ODI appearances but, you feel, has a way to go to make an impression in Test cricket.

Personally I think they could struggle, especially at the top of the order, and the absence of Sehwag (who's surely too good not to come again) could be regretted, while the attack lacks experience and will have plenty to prove.


Winners (and Winners)

There were a number of winners at Old Trafford: England, who finally wrapped up a series they always seemed destined to win, Monty Panesar, who took six more wickets on the way to his first ten-wicket Test match, and Steve Harmison who finally, finally, seemed to be getting back to somewhere near his best. The balls which put paid to Taylor and Edwards were fresh out of his heyday, circa 2004.

But the biggest winner of all, in my opinion, was Chanderpaul. His typically resolute and utterly magnificent century didn't secure victory (do they ever?) but he showed again why he's fit, despite all the illusory rough edges, to be spoken of in the same breath as his nation's greatest batsmen.

He's his own man, though. Not the power of Lloyd, Kanhai or Kallicharran - just heaps of rough-hewn Guyanese technique leavened with timing, dedication and courage.

With Lara gone for good and Sarwan out he's carrying the weight of the side on his tiny shoulders and he's doing it well.

The West Indies lost but the way they came back in the second innings seemed like a victory of sorts, however tiny and irrelevant.

Maybe there's hope.


Raw Pace

Well, Marcus didn't make the 300 (or even the 200), but 182 wasn't too bad, and, with Strauss failing again at Old Trafford, you can see the clamour for his return to the England side starting again soon. It was also good to see Hildreth and White make further tons, and Leicestershire stand on the brink of what's certain to be a very heavy defeat.

At Manchester it seemed like a more even, and therefore more interesting day. The standard half-century from Cook, further signs of form from Vaughan, quality from Bell and some refreshingly raw pace from the recalled Fidel Edwards.

Good stuff, for a change.



As the tit-for-tat discussions over what exactly Michael Vaughan did or didn't say continued (I had no problem with any of it, by the way, unlike the rather precious Jim Cumbes), I was at work today and so didn't get to witness any of what must have been some rare old carnage at Taunton. Leicestershire 168, Somerset 357 for 1 off 60 overs by the close with the Cornishman Neil Edwards out for 133 and Marcus still going strong on 153 overnight.

He'll start tomorrow with more than half an eye on 300, never mind 200.


Born to Bat

While I was making this afternoon's contributions to the blog I was watching the Friends Provident Trophy game between Essex and Surrey from the highly impressive setting of Whitgift School in Croydon, on Sky.

Once again Alastair Cook was making runs (125 of them) and it occurred to me that here is someone who, very simply, was born to bat. Cook, like I always used to feel when I was watching Richard Hill play rugby, is a complete natural.

Many people have this type of talent but Cook seems to have all the conceivable temperamental bases covered as well, and all at the age of 22.

It's too late now to form any real judgements about how or why, so that can wait for another day.

Because there will be many more.

Natural Causes

It's seemed likely for some time, but Cricinfo is currently carrying a story which indicates that the Jamaican police are about to acknowledge that Bob Woolmer did, after all, die of natural causes.

As I say, things have been heading this way for a while, so it won't come as a great surprise to anyone. Of course, the effects on the Jamaican police will - should - be severe, but aside from that one can only hope that his family can reconcile themselves to the fact that there was less to his demise than was initially apparent to the police.

Another One to Watch

As a former member of Middlesex and a member of Somerset since 1996, I've been keeping a close eye on events at Lord's over the past few days. At the moment it looks as though Somerset are on top in the Friends Provident Trophy game today, but Middlesex won the championship match with some comfort after reducing Somerset to 50 for 8 on the first morning after which Justin Langer declared.

However, I was especially pleased to see that the young Somerset batsman James Hildreth had made a century. It doesn't seem three years since he burst onto the Taunton scene with a composed maiden century against Durham, and he hasn't managed to kick on with any consistency since.

He is, though, a compact, talented and stylish player, who's often reminded me of the young Mark Ramprakash.

It's early days but there have been some good signs for Somerset so far this season; if James can finally go on and produce a haul of runs to match his ability it will be a sweet return indeed.

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