Dead Game

When I left the house this morning, just after Dhoni had failed to declare at lunch for no obvious reason apart from allowing his two batsmen to chase hundreds, I had a feeling that the second Test was heading down the pan.

It clearly did exactly that, and, as so often, Andrew Miller sums things up very well here.

Regardless of Dhoni's tactics, which will (or should) have put his previously unquestioned reputation as an innovative captain at risk for a few days at least, the fact is that two Test 'series' stink, and I hope to God they don't catch on.

I'm going away for Christmas tomorrow, and I'll be keeping a close eye on events in the southern hemisphere. See you in 2009.


As Far As You Can Get

When I last posted, at lunchtime on Friday, it looked, as I wrote, as though all the problems in Perth were South Africa's. Three days on and it's Australia who have a bit more to think about.

I'm unconvinced that there's anything terminal about Australia's relative decline, but, with Lee struggling and Siddle and Krejza about as far from what's required as you can get, they're certainly 'coming back to the pack' at a rate of knots. The batting looks stronger, but Hayden will need runs soon if he's going to make it to England, and, if he doesn't, a further foundation stone of the great era will have gone.

At the moment next summer's Ashes rubber is looking a more enticing prospect by the day. With Australia weakening and England plodding along as they do (but with the prospect of two confidence-boosting series against the West Indies to come), it could be the most closely-fought series between the two sides since 1972.

As for South Africa, well, in the end, they did it at a canter. The signs are that de Villiers is now fulfilling his immense promise and it was great to see him partnered by the debutant JP Duminy, who played a cool and confident role in the chase.

Incidentally, I once saw Duminy acting as twelfth man for Devon at Bovey Tracey.

Which is about as far from the WACA as you can get.


Mitchell Johnson, I Presume?

With India grinding their way through a truncated, gloomy, opening day in Mohali, one's attention has tended to wander in the direction of Perth, where Australia hold the upper hand after three days, largely thanks to Mitchell Johnson's 8-61.

Until quite recently I was dubious about Johnson. A lot of people have dredged up Dennis Lillee's comment about him being a 'once-in-a-generation bowler', and, when I first saw him, I came to the conclusion that Lillee must have been talking about a pretty short generation. However, despite an action which has a slightly staccato, mechanical, look to it, he's starting to get good players out on decent tracks, and that surely, must be a sign that he has something.

It's easy to see why too; he bowls a tight line at high pace, gets good seam movement and has apparently been working on his aggression. With Lee's form waxing and waning and his inability to take really big-wicket hauls (he's never taken more than five wickets in a Test innings and is playing in his 75th Test) it's looking more and more as though Johnson's going to be leading his country's attack come the Ashes.

While the average English track won't offer him the type of pace he thrives on at home, he's shown that he can get plenty of movement with minimal assistance. If he gets England on a seaming track somewhere he could cause some distinct problems.

For the moment, though, 322 behind, the problems are all South Africa's.


One for the Annals

With the relationship between Indian and British time and the fact that I have to work for a living (and haven't found a way of watching cricket while I do so), I didn't manage to see what happened in Chennai until last night.

Of course it was utterly brilliant, even though I knew the result, and like Samir here, I thought one of the nicest and really most touching moments of the whole epic came at the end when Tendulkar stopped to shake the hands of the groundstaff. No triumphalism, just celebration, thoughts of the Mumbai victims and an innings for the annals.

But in many ways I thought Yuvraj's contribution was the most interesting, if not the most significant. Okay, Viru laid the foundations like only he can (and left me wondering just what the hell standing in the gully to him is like) and Sachin steered the ship home, but Yuvraj, with a relatively ordinary Test record and plenty to prove, appeared immune to England's attempts to disrupt his focus and produced plenty of his signature shots, played with a style, grace and verve which few can match. It remains to be seen whether he can kick on - and even I, an unashamed devotee, have my doubts - but, if he doesn't, he'll always be able to say he played a vital role in one of the great Test run-chases.

This was a game which could very easily not have happened. That it did, that it turned out to be a great match, and that England played such an important part in it, is something to be truly thankful for.

One final thought: When I was growing up, 18 or 20 Test centuries was regarded as outstanding. Now we have someone with 41, from 19 years at the crease.

Not bad.


Off the Rocks

Of course, the other thing that unequivocally went right for England was the return to form of Paul Collingwood, who seems to be making a habit of rescuing his career just at the point when it seems to have hit the rocks. We should, of course, no longer be surprised. The tougher the situation, the better he tends to play.

Which is far more than can be said for Ian Bell, a batsman whom I've had a lot of faith in (perhaps too much ), but who's stretched it to breaking point. Owais Shah deserves an opportunity in Mohali, but, somehow, I'll be surprised if he gets it.


Despite their defeat - and the questions which will have to be asked of certain members of the attack, Monty very much included - England can take at least one very big consolation out of the first Test - the return of Andrew Strauss to something approaching prime form.

Strauss's form has been affected by various issues over the last couple of years. He was disappointed not to be chosen to lead the side to Australia in 2006 and I've always felt that the loss of his original opening partner, Marcus Trescothick, led to some confusion in Strauss's mind about the type of role that he was required to play without the scoreboard-ticking assurance of a really attacking player at the other end. And then there's the fact that the analysts of the international circuit - and their bowlers - got to work on his technique, identifying and exploiting a weakness around the off-stump, especially when driving.

Despite his centuries at Napier and Old Trafford earlier this year, this was the first time in a long time that I've felt as though he was back to something like his best. He's changed, though - the spinners are almost exclusively played off the back foot and the loose drive is eschewed in favour of the type of judicious leave which can break bowlers' hearts - and his batting looks all the better for it.

His twin centuries in Chennai were the work of an experienced, skilful and mentally resourceful international opener, and, at 31, he hopefully has several more years in the side ahead of him. starting in Mohali later in the week.


Loud and Long

It's a little worrying that we're now twelve days into December and this is my first post of the month. Time was I'd be into double figures by now, but there are reasons. For one, I haven't had internet access at home for several weeks (which I'm actually quite enjoying and which may be why I haven't got round to getting the problem fixed) and so have had to do all my blogging at work, and just recently I haven't been at work all that much, having spent a very enjoyable few days in Paris, taking in the sights and the titanic Heineken Cup game between Stade Francais and Harlequins last Saturday.

Before I went away I was very doubtful about England's Tests in India even taking place, and I certainly didn't expect to be writing after the second day of the first of them about England being in a very strong position. But I am, and they are.

There are reasons for that too, including a cool century by Andrew Strauss, some equally well-judged lower-order batting from Matt Prior and an eventful maiden Test over from Graeme Swann, who I, for one, am pleased to see in the side.

At 29, time is against his chances of developing a long career in the five-day game. His bowling style (slightly old-fashioned orthodox off-spin) doesn't help either, but he's always impressed me as a confident, humourous, open and articulate character who bowls in a more attacking vein than many a similar English bowler.

He also appeals loud and long, as Daryl Harper will testify. The two lbw decisions which Adelaide's finest gave were far from being stone dead (especially Dravid's) but my initial impression was that both were well worth a shout and the vehemence of Swann's representations may just have done the trick.

This was highlighted by Nasser Hussain on Sky, who said something along the lines of 'you've got to work your umpires', which was a bit less controversial than what he may have been thinking, which may not have been dissimilar to 'Darryl Harper's an inconsistent, occasionally weak and often downright poor umpire who's only stayed on the Elite Panel as a result of some typically mad ICC decison-making'. Well, to be fair to Nasser, that's just what I think, and those two decisions were far from being among Harper's worst, but if you can make sure he knows what you think you've always got a chance.

Going into day three, England have a decent chance too.



I've slipped a couple of additional blogs into my roll over the last week or so. The first, Stumped, is the work of Venkat Ramnarayan, a former Indian first-class player of the 1970s, and contains some rich and enjoyable descriptions of games and players from India's past. Well I, as someone with a bit of a fetish for the Indian game since 1979, like it, and look forward to seeing more of Ram's writing.

The other is the new blog by Iain O'Brien, the Wellington seamer who's become an unexpectedly important member of the Kiwi attack over the past year. O'Brien's been known to me for a while because of his range of wry and amusing contributions to a message board about club cricket in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire (where he spends every summer), and his blog has opened in the same vein. It remains to be seen how long NZ cricket's media managers allow him to get away with publishing such an unsanitized account, but as a revelation of what actually goes through a Test player's head during a game, it is brilliant.

Enjoy it while you can.

Shah's Time

After what happened in Mumbai yesterday, which is bound to cast a shadow - and very possibly curtail - England's tour, it seems a bit passe to bang on about the inadequacies of English selection, but it's an easy target, so why not? With England posting a decent total but still losing at a canter yesterday, you were left wondering what on earth Alastair Cook was doing there, but, more specifically, what has Owais Shah done to deserve such consistently inconsistent treatment?

Having made 72 at number three in Bangalore (to add to his 58 in Indore earlier in the series), Shah was again shunted down to six, from which position he made a coruscating 66* in support of Pietersen's century. With everyone rightly adamant that England need more ODI centuries, and Collingwood once more in awful form, it seems illogical that Shah hasn't been trusted with a higher position in the order throughout the series.

Shah has been an international since 2001 but his career at the top level has taken a long time to mature. His fielding was initially a real weakness and is often ponderous still, while his right-hand dominated technique is hardly a thing of beauty and can tend to detract from his very real qualities of class, confidence and aggression.

All the evidence was that Duncan Fletcher didn't trust him, but Moores and his selectors have at least seemed happy to give him a run in the side, and Pietersen, as an attacking batsman of genius, recognizes him as a kindred spirit.

With just two Tests behind him (an impressive Mumbai debut in 2006 and a nerve-ridden one-off against the West Indies at Lord's in 2007), now increasingly appears to be the time to look again at Shah's credentials in the longer game, and I fervently hope he gets the opportunity to show what he can do.

Whether that opportunity comes in India before Christmas remains to be seen.


Compensation Culture

As the fourth ODI finally came to a conclusion last night (with England, hardly surprisingly, losing again) it was amusing but just a tad annoying to listen to Jonathan Agnew getting more and more frustrated at the lateness of the finish. Apparently it was nearly midnight in India, and, as Agnew had mentioned earlier in the day, he and his media colleagues (and the players, presumably) would have to get up at six to catch the plane to Orissa for the next game. Oh, and Gus Fraser didn't like the hotel in Kanpur and hopes the city won't get an IPL franchise until it improves (not that he needs to worry unless Middlesex join the IPL).

It could be worse, lads. You might not have someone willing to pay you a large amount of money to travel round the world watching cricket. And the six a.m. starts are even more taxing when you've got a crap job and it's winter in England.

I think the BBC Cricket Correspondent's job has more than enough compensations, even if you've seen enough ODIs to last three lifetimes and England still keep losing.



While I was getting ready for work this morning, I was aware that, in the background, Yuvraj was doing what Yuvraj does best: destroying an England bowling attack with the headiest mixture of elegance and power you will ever see. I saw a few of the best shots but couldn't really follow the innings as I had other things to do.

At the same time I was aware that the TMS team - Agnew, Simon Mann, Gus Fraser and Steve James - were raving about the innings, although Agnew did spend a long time banging on about the fact that Yuvraj had a runner (which did seem ridiculous).

The strokes I saw were sumptuous but such displays by him seem so commonplace now, especially against England (Durban, his sublime century in the ODI at Goa in 2006) that I almost wondered what all the fuss was about.

Yuvraj is a batsman who makes the extraordinary look ordinary. That is what he does.

As I've mentioned before I regard him as one of the very best attacking batsmen I have ever seen, and, unlike the England bowlers, I'll be happy to see as much more as he can produce in the rest of the series.

Bring it on.


Batting with Attitude

With Australia out of the way and England yet to offer themselves up for humiliation (although they got most of the way there yesterday), the obvious thing might be to write a valedictory piece about Sourav Ganguly. I'm not going to do that, although, like everybody, I recognize the contribution which he made to Indian cricket over more than a decade. I saw his debut century at Lord's in 1996 and always enjoyed watching him, with a representative memory being the sight of him in one-day mode, taking a couple of steps down the pitch and one back before thrashing a seamer high over the offside. That was the essence of Ganguly; aggression, attitude, and plenty of style.

No, I'll write about Dhoni. The Dhoni who, when he came to England with India for the first time last year, had acquired a reputation as an unsophisticated if dangerous hitter but who showed straight away that he could do more, much more, and has shown since, most recently in Nagpur last weekend, that he can play with patience and selectivity when necessary while never losing touch with the fact that bad balls are there to be dispatched. Throw in serviceable keeping, which will improve, and his astute captaincy, and you have a really impressive figure who looks at the moment like just the man to guide his team through the choppy waters which are bound to accompany its inevitable reshaping. Indeed, Dhoni's apparently effortless ability to hit the right tone was encapsulated in his decision to allow Ganguly to captain the side for the last few overs of his final game. He didn't have to do it, but he did, and it looked and felt absolutely right.

India's future is firmly based around Dhoni as batsman, as wicket-keeper and as captain.

And it's bright.


Done and Dusted

With a decent Test series done and dusted and Australia, ultimately, well beaten, India appear well-placed to challenge for the world number one spot.

However, any assessment of where they stand now has to be coloured by the fact that they're on the verge of having to rebuild. Kumble and Ganguly are no more, and, while the early signs from Amit Mishra have been good, I'm less than convinced about his future in the side, with Chawla probably a better bet in the long run. Dravid's future must be uncertain, with runs needed against England to prolong his career, and Tendulkar and VVS clearly can't go on for ever. For India, over the next 3-5 years, everything depends on how their replacements shape up, but, with the brilliant Ishant Sharma there and the hugely impressive Dhoni pulling the strings, the future looks relatively bright.

For Australia, on the other hand, the future looks rocky. While the batting still appears strong, too many of the major players are the wrong side of thirty, Haddin is no Gilchrist (who is?) and the attack, for all the individual merits of Lee, Clark, Johnson and, well, Krejza, isn't what it was (how could it be?). Seeing them slide to defeat this morning one had the first inkling for a very, very long time that this was just another side, with strengths, sure, but a number of clear weaknesses which better teams, like India, will exploit.

At this stage England will fancy their chances for next summer too, and, while there's a lot of water left to flow under a number of bridges before then, at the present moment I'd probably back them.


Generational Shift

The now retired Anil Kumble was, in an Indian (and probably a world) context, a great bowler and, just as importantly, perhaps the most mentally-tough Indian player of his generation (although Dravid in his pomp and of course SRT would have something to say about that).

He never seemed to have too much in his armoury at first glance (just ask Keith Fletcher), but to watch him bowl a long spell, especially in Indian conditions with smog and spices in the air and the sun on his back, was to be educated in the art of the spin bowler as water-torturer. Accuracy, repetition, variation, aggression and intensity combined with enough spin as was necessary to ensure that few batsmen were ever completely comfortable against him, whatever they thought. Which was part of his greatness, because, if anyone ever started to think they had him, he would have them.

And now, with Kumble gone, Ganguly on the verge of going, and the bell tolling for Dravid (if not Tendulkar), India are suddenly in the midst of the generational shift which they've been on the verge of for what seems like years. And all at a time when they're looking like the type of united, determined side which can put away an Australian team that still has plenty to offer.

They'll come again. But the catching does need some work.

(How To) Get Rich Quick (or Not)

Like virtually everybody else in the known cricketing universe (it seems) I was watching as things started to go wrong for England on Saturday evening. I couldn't however, manage to summon the energy or interest to watch until the end, as it was pretty obvious what the outcome was going to be. And, without trying to come across as too much of a purist, I was more interested in the Test match in Delhi, even if it subsided into a tame draw, than I was in anything which happened in Antigua.

I can't add anything original to what's been written by innumerable other people already, but I think that Rob at Cricket Forever and Patrick at Line and Length summed things up very well.

As Patrick says, it'll be great if what Stanford's team have achieved (and how they've done it) has a lasting influence on the game in the islands. While I can't agree with Stanford's pronouncement that the victory meant that West Indian cricket was back, it does at least look like a vague step in the right direction, something they've taken very few of in recent times.

And, as Rob says, England choked. Partly, I suspect because they wanted the money too much but at the same time weren't really sure what they were doing there. They were only too well aware that their week in the Windies constitituted a poor preparation for the imminent Indian tour, but they were only doing as they were told (and, as a by-product, hoping to get rich).

I think it's about time we moved on to something which really matters.


Fraught with Difficulties

A superb piece by Athers on the whole Stanford debacle here.



So many people are putting in their oar in about the Stanford series that it's difficult to keep up with it all and all too easy to become confused about what you really think.

For the record, I have nothing against T20 cricket (I'm basically a fan, as many of my past postings show) and I also don't mind sportsmen earning huge amounts of money (wouldn't we all love the opportunity to do the same?), but I can't muster much enthusiasm for what is, essentially, an artificial and empty series of contests designed only to publicize Stanford and swell the players' bank balances. I'll probably be watching on Saturday night but I wouldn't bet on my making it to the end, because, basically, I couldn't care less who wins.

All this aside, the story that Stanford had been forced to apologize for his 'on-camera flirting' with various England 'WAGs' was designed to raise a laugh, although it would have been even better if Matt Prior's other half had given him a bloody good slap.


Dan the Man

With all eyes turning towards India at the moment (and, for some people, Antigua from tomorrow onwards), the ongoing series of ODIs and Tests between Bangladesh and New Zealand has been largely forgotten. Which is a pity, because it looks as though some decent cricket has been played, if the going has been a bit slow at times, and New Zealand haven't had things all their own way.

I couldn't let the Chittagong Test fade from memory (well, there must be someone who'll remember it) without paying tribute to Daniel Vettori's contribution to the Kiwis' victory in the first Test. 5-59, 4-74, 55 not out a vital 76 in a successful 300-plus run-chase.

Captain's contributions don't come much better, and nor, frankly, do New Zealand cricketers.

They resume in Mirpur early tomorrow morning.


Beaten For Pace

During the summer I heard Devon Malcolm talking on the radio about the time he ran through South Africa at The Oval. If there's one dismissal from that spell which lingers in the memory, it's the way in which Cronje shaped up with what could easily have been mistaken for a perfect forward defensive, the only problem being that the ball had already gone past him and laid waste to his stumps before he could get his bat anywhere near it. If you ever want to see something that embodies the old chestnut about a batsman being 'beaten for pace', that is it.

It came to mind again yesterday when I watched Ishant Sharma - lower in pace than Malcolm but infintely more promising - do something very similar to Ricky Ponting.

For Ishant the future looks impossibly bright; for Australia, and perhaps even for Ponting himself, the clouds are gathering.


All You Can Ask

After Friday's Tendulkar-fest, yesterday was the day when Australia came face-to-face with what life's increasingly going to be like in the post-McGrath/Warne era.

Just after tea, with Ganguly and Dhoni going well, and Shane Watson and Cameron White bowling, you had the feeling that, for the first time in a long time, an Australian side in the field were toothless. Watson and White are players with many strengths, mostly with the bat (and they're probably nice guys too) but integral parts of a good quality Test attack they're not and never will be.

Okay, Australia subsequently wrapped the Indian first innings up relatively quickly, but today the game went away from them again, to the point where India must be strong favourites to go one-up in the series.

The Indian bowling attack has impressed on a bland Mohali pitch; Zaheer got his rabbit Hayden again with a neat piece of variety, Ishant Sharma oozes promise every time you see him and the new leggie, Amit Mishra, has been cool and threatening, finishing this morning with a debut five-for.

As I said, the Australian attack has looked more limited, but a word for the game's other debutant, Peter Siddle, whose powerful, consistent action, sharp pace and muscular aggression has stamped him as a bowler who'll hurry a few people up on faster tracks.

And there have been people there to watch it. Not huge numbers but enough to give the impression that it matters.

And that, these days, is all you can ask.


The Henry Blofeld (Non) Appreciation Society

Before he was dropped late last season I always enjoyed Mike Selvey's appearances on Test Match Special; I thought he was mature, droll and perceptive, with a great line in anecdotes from his playing days. I think it's regrettable that he's no longer going to be heard while an outright buffoon such as Henry Blofeld, who regularly struggles to remember who he's watching and what the score is as he rambles along in his archaic and cliche-ridden way, has been retained.

Selvey writes well too, and his piece about Monty Panesar in yesterday's Guardian chimes very well with what I've been thinking about him for months now.

This ought to be an important winter for Monty, and it would be nice if we started to get some clear indications of whether he can take the next step from what he is now - a very good bowler - to what he could be - a great one (certainly by contemporary English standards). However, there are only two Tests in India, and, assuming he plays a part, he may find the West Indies batting line-up insufficiently strong to really push him. Couple this with the fact that he's unlikely to be really challenged for his place in the side (much as I'd like to see Graeme Swann do so), and things could still be as inconclusive when next summer starts as they are now.

Still, you've got to laugh at what Selvey says about the curmudgeonly Bishen Bedi and his need for a Tardis. Perhaps some previous there...


Borrowed Time

With the sun shining in the south-west of England and places to be (at work and doing what I do most in the English winter, watching rugby), I didn't catch a huge amount of the first Test. However, my impression, based on the odd snatched session, was of an old-fashioned draw from which honours emerged basically even but from which Australia will take a little more. In particular, Ponting's century, full of characteristic class and discipline, consigned his past failures in India to the history books, while no single member of what now seems to be customarily described as the Indian 'big five' stood out, and Kumble really struggled.

On the day before the Test I said that I felt that India looked the more settled side. At the time, in my own mind, I was equating that with them being slightly stronger, but I now think I was wrong to do so. Being settled isn't necessarily a good thing. When you watch the two sides you have a nagging feeling that while Australia have been forced to start to adjust to life after the greats - and are perhaps better off for it - India still haven't had to do so, and, perhaps, are just living a little on borrowed time.

They'll resume borrowing in Mohali on Friday.


Crisis Mentality

I haven't been posting much since the English international season ended in August. It's partly been a product of the desire to do other things after more than two years of crazed writing, partly because there didn't seem to be that much happening, and partly as a result of the type of existential crisis which any blogger can face if he (or indeed she) isn't getting many comments.

However, I'm back, and so too is Test cricket, with Australia and India, both of whom seem as though they might be on the edge of their very own existentialist crisis, gearing up for what promises to be an excellent four Test series.

Australia's issues in the spin department are well-known: with Warne and MacGill firmly consigned to the past, one wouldn't much like to be in the shoes of Jason Krejza or Cameron White over the next few weeks, although, as any Somerset fan will tell you, White could well biff some good runs to make up for any wickets he fails to take. And the lack of either of the two leggies in turn puts additional pressure on the occupants of the seam-bowling berths - sure, Lee, Clark and (possibly) Johnson are big enough to cope, but in India? Well, it'll be a good deal tougher than at home, that's for sure.

With the bat the onus will be on Hayden, Ponting, Clarke and Hussey. Their stats are great (as is the power of understatement), but you just never know; Hayden is getting old, Ponting's never made a run in India, Clarke's been ill and Hussey surely has to have a run of failures sometime. Which could mean that it'll be down to Brad Haddin to chip away further down and prove that he's just a little bit worthy of Gilchrist's mantle.

India, despite defeat in their last series, look slightly more settled and, with home advantage, should be narrow favourites. Although, with Ganguly becoming the first of the middle order to jump ship, it remains to be seen whether his decision is an inspiration or a hindrance, both to him and his colleagues. With the ball I reckon that Kumble and Bhajji will fancy their chances, as will Ishant and Zaheer.

So, for the first time this winter, it'll be a worryingly early start with Charlie Colvile, Ian Ward or whoever else Sky put up. And even if the dreaded Colvile is there,the cricket promises to be great.

But one thing worries the hell out of me. Will anybody be watching at the ground?


Autumn Questions

Travelling back from London on the train late yesterday afternoon, with the sky darkening and the wind getting up after a truly sublime weekend's weather, it was hard to avoid the feeling that autumn was setting in. Of course, another sign that time's moving on is the fact that the English first-class season's over (and congratulations to Durham, by the way) and tour parties are being announced.

There were few surprises in the England squads; I was pleased to see Shah selected ahead of Bopara (and Swann of Rashid), and it had already been leaked to the media that Vaughan, despite his renewed central contract, was set to be 'rested'. James Foster was, of course, completely ignored. This was predictable, but still hugely disappointing. While, on balance, it looks fair enough to give Matt Prior (much the best batsman of the available keepers) another chance, should we not be looking beyond Ambrose for an alternative?

A few years ago Chris Read was in a similar position, but he at least got another chance (even if it was against the coach's better judgement) before being jettisoned for good. It seems very much as though Foster, not seen in England colours since 2002 and an immeasurably better keeper than he was then, isn't even going to get that. Foster's made the standard noises about going back to his county and working hard, and I'm sure he will, but the signs are that none of it will ever do any good.

By contrast, the news that Vaughan isn't going looks like a brief triumph for common sense, although it still seems as though the likes of Geoff Miller (whose opinion matters) and Darren Gough (whose doesn't, frankly) feel that it's only a matter of time before normal service is resumed.

But why? Might there not at least be a chance - which nobody seems prepared to admit - that Vaughan, rising 34 and with a chronic injury history, is past it as a batsman and isn't coming back?


Life in the Old Dog

I'm going away for the weekend tomorrow to London and Hertfordshire - beer will be drunk and rugby will be watched - so I made sure I got along to the County Ground in Taunton for the first day of the match against Lancashire yesterday.

Two things stood out - one a mature piece of defiance from the previously peripatetic home-grown all-rounder Peter Trego, and the other a virile spell of new-ball bowling from Andy Caddick which turned the clock back to his greatest days like nothing else he's produced in the last few seasons.

Caddick will be 40 in November but intends to play next season. For a seamer he's old, but all the indications are that he wants it as much as ever. With it looking likely that Somerset will fail to secure the title, Caddick will be pawing the ground when next season starts.

If Wednesday's anything to go by, he'll be worth watching.


Hard Frost

Whatever people think about it, English county cricket continues to throw up good stories.

For me, comfortably the best of this season has to be that of Tony Frost.

Tony Frost, of Warwickshire, was a journeyman wicket-keeper who quit the game at the end of 2006 and went to work on the Edgbaston groundstaff, leaving his county's gloves to Tim Ambrose. With Ambrose gaining a place in the England side this season, Frost came back and has had an astonishing time, culminating in the innings of 242 not out which helped his side towards the victory over Essex at Chelmsford which took them back into the First Division of the Championship.

In that First Division things still look quite tight, although Notts, having thrashed a hapless Surrey side, are clear favourites to secure the title. I'll be going along to Taunton on Wednesday in the hope that Somerset can beat a Lancashire side that's belatedly given itself something to play for.

I hope that Somerset can pull something out of the bag, but, with the seemingly incessant rain and gloom of August and early September having finally given way to sunshine just seeing some cricket will be enough for me.

It's a long winter.


Going Quietly

It was a pity - certainly for all those people who'd chosen to travel in search of the end of an era - to find Graeme Hick invalided out of his final game in first-class cricket with a recurrence of the elbow problem which has punctuated his last season.

Some photos on Cricinfo this morning showed that he was present on the familiar territory of his old home ground at Kidderminster, with nothing more ferocious to contend with than a queue largely composed of the type of slightly oddball middle-aged autograph hunter who proliferate at county grounds.

But it was perhaps fitting, with the benefit of hindsight, that his career came to an end at Worcester on 8th August, with a final century against Derbyshire under his belt.

He was saying in one of his recent interviews that he'd rather have gone out quietly.

It now looks as though he did.


In the Swing

A nice post by Mark over at The Reverse Swing Manifesto.

I agree with Mark's views on Vaughan. I should think that the decision to renew his England contract probably went through on the nod as those responsible wouldn't have been able to get their heads round the idea of cutting Vaughan out of the charmed circle and would have been concerned that to do so would have been seen to have sent a message that his career at the highest level was finished.

Yet that need not have been the case. If he made a shedload of runs for Yorkshire he'd have been worthy of a recall to the side, although probably not until next season, as he's running out of time to do anything this year. His big problem is that he's never made a shedload of runs for Yorkshire; he didn't do so when he was young and fresh, so he's going to find it even harder at 34 and with a dodgy knee.

As it is, the selectors are probably dead set on taking him to India, regardless of whether he's made any runs or not. Which I'm not sure is right, as it adds further weight to the justifiable allegations of cosiness which have been directed at the side this year. I'd rather see Joe Denly there.

I also agree with Mark that it might not be a bad thing if Samit Patel started to put some pressure on Monty next season; in all but very helpful conditions you might not lose too much in the bowling stakes and you'd gain a huge amount in fielding and batting terms. Not very likely, though.

As for the Stanford squad (and the game), well, I couldn't care less.


Crash Hot

With the international season over and much of the country under water, now seems like a good time to take stock of where England stand.

As most of us have observed over the last few weeks, things are obviously looking a lot better than they were, but you only have to go back to the conclusion of the Edgbaston Test on 2nd August for a time when the future looked a good deal more bleak. And the present wasn't all that crash hot either.

Allowing for what's happened since, I think a little caution is in order, as Pietersen's England are, and will remain for some time, a work in progress, but, as a few people seem to have noticed, Pietersen suddenly looks right for the team and they look right for him. Why?

I think that team success depends a lot on finding the right captain for the stage a team's reached in its development. When Nasser Hussain took over in 1999 England had been one of the poorest sides in the world for years; in partnership with Duncan Fletcher he restored the team's respectability and left it ripe to be taken over and brought to fruition by Michael Vaughan in the years following 2003. Where Hussain was confrontational, Vaughan - at least on the surface - was consensual. With Hussain having dragged the team kicking and screaming to the surface, it required a fresh - and more tactically adept - approach to bring them fully into the light.

Now, with England having stagnated and declined since the Ashes were won in 2005, a fresh approach was required again, and Pietersen's exuberance and confidence, much of which appears to have infected his players, has appeared to be just what they need. Throw in his un-English ability to defy convention and accentuate the positive over the negative, and you have a recipe for success, at least in the short term.

The challenge now is to keep the momentum going. For what it's worth, we'll find out if they can in Antigua in late October.


A Worcester Institution

Graeme Hick plays forward during his 100th century for his county. Worcestershire v Northamptonshire, Worcester, June 2006.

The impending retirement of Graeme Hick is more significant to me than most, as, in the very dim and distant past (it must have been 1984), I latched on to Hick's name. He kept making huge scores for Worcestershire seconds and I thought he might turn out to be a useful player. From then on I kept an unusually close eye on his career, getting in touch with his parents about his early cricket and following his progress innings by innings.

Like someone who's genuinely mad I can still dash off the highlights of those years without going near a Wisden: 230 and 192 in successive innings for Zimbabwe in England in '85, the double centuries for Worcestershire in '86, a thousand before the end of May (including the 405) in '88, a largely unbroken upward curve all the way to the England debut in 1991. From there, of course, things were never quite the same, but, for me, there were always plenty of highlights, some of which I even managed to see in person. The most memorable of these was probably his hundredth century for Worcestershire in 2006; a freezing June day at Worcester, a moderate Northants attack and utter domination, with one stroke living especially keenly in the memory. I'm not sure of the bowler, but I'll take a punt on Ben Phillips. He dropped a fraction short and Hick, as he'd done a million times before, simply stood tall and hit the ball back past him for four with a stroke of rare dismissiveness and command.

This though, was the problem with Hick; at his best (say late eighties, at Worcester) he could achieve a level of dominance and intimidation which few batsmen from anywhere in the world have managed in the last thirty years, but it was all underwritten by a current of personal diffidence which undermined him fatally when it came to the pressure-cooker of Test cricket.

For all the coruscating innings there were technical weaknesses too; a certain stiffness of movement, often an inability to respond to the moving ball, especially at the highest level. I think it was John Bracewell who originally coined the term 'flat-track bully' to describe Hick and, in retrospect, he had something.

This said, I've always tended towards the view that if Hick had been able to play Test cricket when he was at his youngest and most fearless (between 1984 and 1990), he would have achieved much more. A lot of people have pointed to the time Atherton declared on him at Sydney, but, in truth, his early veneer of impregnability had gone by then; the likes of Ambrose, Waqar and Hughes had shown the way to see him off and he was always playing catch-up from then on. He did better in the one-day game, but his overall international statistics must always be regarded as disappointing for a player with his level of ability and potential.

At Worcester, though, he was an institution. Visits there will never quite be the same again.

If you get the chance to see him play between now and the end of the season, take it.


Going Right

When I got back from a weekend away yesterday at 2.35, I turned on the TV in the expectation of a whole afternoon and evening's cricket. Herschelle Gibbs had just been dismissed but there didn't seem to be any reason at that stage to believe that things would turn out as they did.

It was England's most comprehensive and efficient ODI win against a major side since who knows when, but, well though they bowled and batted, some account must be taken of the fact that South Africa, so disciplined and purposeful in the early part of the Test series, don't seem to have been at the races since Edgbaston.

The next thing I know, the game's nearly over, I've got the radio commentary on in the kitchen and Henry Blofeld is rambling on (does he ever do anything else?) about England's chances in next summer's Ashes series, what has made Pietersen such a successful captain, etc., etc. If you allowed yourself to get carried away you could find yourself thinking that England had found the Holy Grail of Cricket in KP, the glorious leader who will take them on to the sunlit uplands of unprecedented success.

Well, just for the moment, I'm not quite buying it. While Pietersen's captaincy record currently stands at played 3, won 3, and he seems to be shaping up really well in terms of both his onfield and off-field influence, one thing I know from too many years of following the England cricket team, especially in one-day cricket, is that if you ever allow yourself to think things are going right they'll very quickly go wrong.

Which is not, of course, to say they will; but let's see where we stand next spring.


Those Who Can, Do. Those Who Can't, Write About It

I thought this was interesting.

I agree with some of what Ryan says - Brearley and Atherton are both fine writers - but I think he might have been better off keeping his powder dry.

While it's easy to understand the professional journalist with a limited playing background being frustrated by the rapid advances of those who could really play the game - especially if they think they can't write - it seems a tad hubristic to set yourself up, as Ryan appears to have done, as some sort of arbiter of journalistic quality and taste.

For a start you leave yourself open to the sort of comment which appears after the article from someone who clearly doesn't think much of Ryan's writing either, and, if you're talking about cricket, I think it's ill-advised to get superior with an ex-Test cricketer. Because, at the end of the day, they've been there and done it (even if they can't describe what they've done very well), while you never did and never will. No matter how much cricket you've watched you're always going to come up short against someone who's played the game at the highest level, even for the briefest period. And many people who follow the game, but who may not be connoisseurs of cricket writing, will set more store by the opinions of someone they've seen play than those of someone they've never heard of but thinks they can write well.

My favourite cricket writers - Alan Ross, David Frith, Gideon Haigh, Scyld Berry, Andrew Miller - don't have a Test cap between them, but I wouldn't dream of dismissing the efforts of many of those who do, especially the superb Ed Smith.

Now, where's my thesaurus?


Striking Fear

For me, the highlight of the D'Oliveira Trophy series was Graeme Smith's epic at Edgbaston, while I also really enjoyed the contributions of Prince, de Villiers and Amla. South Africa were worthy winners and will surely provide us with some rich entertainment when they take on Australia over six home and away Tests later in the year.

For England, despite a well-constructed win at The Oval, the prognosis is more dubious. Strauss's place once again appears vulnerable, while Ambrose's has surely been lost. Monty - stereotyped, apparently going backwards (from the lowest of low bases) with the bat and in the field and vitally lacking competition - is becoming a concern. As, of course, is Ian Bell. The evidence of the last three matches was that I and a few other observers (not to mention Bell himself) were wrong in thinking that his Lord's 199 meant that he'd finally cracked Test cricket. Much of Bell's batting after Lord's hinted at a man who'd sunk straight back into the complacency which often seems to hover just below the surface of a unit which - notwithstanding Collingwood's ultimate renaissance - still seems a bit too cosy.

Two final parting thoughts:

1. It's clear (as if it wasn't before to most people apart from Duncan Fletcher) that Steve Harmison just needs to bowl and bowl and bowl. It's anyone's guess what'll happen abroad during the winter but, for next summer, just let him bowl as much for Durham as he needs to (if there's any space between the Tests). You know it makes sense (and so, hopefully, does he).

2. For the first time in my cricket-watching life (thirty-plus years and counting) England have a specialist batsman capable of striking fear into any side in the world at any time. David Gower was a genius, albeit of a more fragile cast than KP, but he never quite seemed to have Pietersen's extra determination, self-certainty, improvisational flair and sheer balls.

Christ he's good.


Jimmy Jimmy

Whatever happens at The Oval - and with some decent breaks in the weekend weather they ought to win - the post mortems on England's home Test season will soon be under way.

There'll be a few ticks in the minus column but one definite plus has to be the form and consistency shown by James Anderson, who finally, finally, seems to be growing into his role as an international seam bowler.

His over to, and dismissal of, Graeme Smith this evening was a beautiful example of how far he's come. While always a natural swinger of the ball, for a long time Anderson only seemed capable of moving it in one direction, and his effectiveness was further reduced by his regular failure to maintain a consistent line, length and seam position. Here, though, we had him setting up Smith with a series of away-swingers to the left-hander before nailing him stone dead lbw with an inswinger which Smith, having been moved across his stumps by the earlier deliveries, was powerless to resist.

A check of the replay revealed that the position of the ball's seam was perfect; in an age of reverse swing, this was the conventional article at its good old-fashioned deadly best.

For Anderson it seems as though the years of flitting in and out of the side and travelling the world in search of a regular game are over, and, with his improved batting and brilliant fielding, he's starting to look, whisper it, like someone who really belongs in the side.

For a bowler of his type India and the West Indies this winter will prove tough assignments, but he's now sure to be there, and I, for one, will be happy to see him.


Playing On

A nice piece from The Guardian by the long-time Graeme Hick obsessive (hope you don't mind me terming it like that, Simon, it's meant in the nicest possible way) Simon Hattenstone.

And it's out of date already - Hick made his 136th century this afternoon.


Stacking up

The reasons why it could go wrong have been well aired, but I'm happy to see KP as captain. In fact I have a suspicion that if he's allowed to grow into the role he may do very well. The biggest imponderable of all is the question of whether it'll have a negative effect on his batting, and England, who already rely on him to an unsettling degree, can't afford that.

I was also pleased to see Samit Patel's name in the one-day squad. He's a player who's impressed throughout the England age-groups and has steadily found his feet in the Notts side with some good performances in both one and four-day cricket. A glance at his profile on Cricinfo indicates that his stats stack up pretty well.

When I've seen him play he's tended to look a bit rotund but I think I read somewhere that he's worked hard on his fitness, so hopefully, if he gets to play, he won't be exposed in the field.

He does like to hit the ball hard, though, and you can always do with more of that.


So Farewell Then...

Only the other week, at some stage during the three days England spent bowling at South Africa at Lord's, I was watching them in the field and thinking, as I often have in the past, that somehow things just seemed right with Michael Vaughan leading the side, even if they obviously weren't. There was something indefinably reassuring about his coolness, authority and detachment, even if it had started to look as though some of his decisions had moved beyond tactical ingenuity and towards reflexive tinkering.

Things will never quite be the same again. While Vaughan has stated his intention to remain available as a player it would be a retrograde step to take him abroad this winter, and, come next spring, he'll be 34 and fighting it out with a range of younger contenders, at least one of whom may have established himself in his absence. He'll need a lot of runs, and, as Mark Ramprakash will tell you, that's still no guarantee of anything, even if you have Vaughan's past record.

On balance there must be a good chance that he left the Test arena for good yesterday afternoon, and, if so, it's time to thank England's best skipper since Brearley and a batsman who, at his best, could do wonderful things.

The afternoon of 10th August 2002 at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, was, thanks to Vaughan, one of the best times I've spent on any cricket ground anywhere.

Cheers, mate.

Meaning Too Much

It seems obligatory this morning to write something about Mark Ramprakash, who yesterday became the 25th - and almost certainly the last - player to make 100 first-class centuries.

I can't write anything original about the man as it's all been said before, but I'll content myself with saying that when it comes to technical fundamentals, he was the very best English player of his generation, but you need a bit more than an impregnable technique to succeed at the very highest level.

His main problem always seemed to be that it just meant too much.


Although I saw most of his 259 at Lord's in 2003 and he's also the only batsman I've ever seen score 300 in a day, I have to admit that until yesterday I'd forgotten what an outstanding batsman Graeme Smith is. The undefeated 154 with which he took his country to its first victory on English soil since the summer before I was born was a true classic, combining determination, measured strokeplay, good judgement and the priceless ability to ignore what was going on at the other end, namely that a series of batsmen were getting pinned by deliveries which they didn't see.

England, by contrast, go to the last Test of the summer in a mess. At Edgbaston Sidebottom played while clearly still unfit, something which looked uncomfortably like a mistaken attempt to avoid the embarassment of having to consider selecting Darren Pattinson again, and too many players (Cook, Bell and Pietersen in the second innings alone) got out to rash strokes, which again contrasted sharply with the discipline shown by the South Africans.

Furthermore, Vaughan's abysmal run of form continued, with the result that it's now rumoured that he's about to resign from the captaincy and possibly be dropped from the side.

And then, for good measure, you have the fact that Tim Ambrose, neat but unexceptional keeper that he is, isn't a good enough batsman to retain a place in the side and Panesar continues to frustrate. Yes, he's fundamentally still a fine bowler, but yesterday, in helpful bowling conditions, he failed once more to show enough variations of delivery and flight.

It remains to be seen what we'll get for The Oval - some or all of the questions may be answered later - but I won't be happy with much less than the replacement of Ambrose (and it's surely James Foster's turn now) and at least one fresh face among the batsmen.

Oh yeah, and a new skipper...


One of the Best

A player who's never been accused of lacking ability is Virender Sehwag, but he has been dropped, he has been doubted and he has been disillusioned.

He is, though, fit to rank with the very best players that his country has ever produced. Indeed, he's always seemed to me to have an element of truly instinctive genius which the Trinity (Gavaskar, Tendulkar and Dravid) don't quite have.

And, unlike many a fragile genius he bats big. Two triples, countless scores above 150 and now a bat-carrying double against Murali and Mendis.

Many years ago I went on a cricket tour of Australia with a dour Yorkshireman who'd been lucky enough to see Brian Lara's 375 in Antigua the previous winter. He didn't say much about it but what he did say said a lot, if you see what I mean. And what he said then I'll say about Viru now as it sums things up at least as well as anything original I can come up with.

One of the best.


They say that cricket reveals character. And they (whoever 'they' are) would be right.

In the time I've been following the game England have probably never had a player with the iron resolve of Paul Collingwood. He may lack his rivals' abilities, he may lack their range of strokes, he may lack their support from the media, but, when the chips are really, really down, he comes good.

I still think it was wrong to pick him, but credit where it's due.

That was class.


Set Up to Fail

England were poor again today, but nothing about their performance on the field was as disappointing as the recall to the side of Paul Collingwood. He's been out of form all season and was originally dropped for that reason, presumably with the intention that he should go away, make some runs for Durham and regain some confidence.

Having done neither, he's been recalled to the side for no obvious reason apart from the fact that the other players like having him around and missed him at Headingley. Unsurprisingly, he failed again, but all the evidence appears to be that how many runs you make doesn't really matter as long as you're part of the dangerously complacent cabal which the England side has become.

With the selection of Darren Pattinson and now this, the selectors appear hell-bent on destroying the faith and confidence of players who are currently outside the inner circle; for Harmison, Hoggard and Tremlett two weeks ago, read Ravi Bopara and Owais Shah now. To them the only message appears to be: make as many runs as you want; Collingwood's face fits and yours don't.

Any sports team in which players are retained regardless of their level of performance is setting itself up to fail.

And that's something which England are doing rather well at the moment.


Eating People is Wrong

With lots going on I haven't got round to posting anything about Twenty20 finals day, which I watched from start to finish on Sky and which ended with the county I grew up supporting, Middlesex, winning a trophy for the first time since 1993.

In terms of putting it in its wider context, I don't think I can do much better than Will Luke's summary at Cricinfo, but what I will say is that it was a brilliant, brilliant day, with my favourite aspect being the way in which Shaun Udal bowled and the great personal story his bowling added another chapter to.

I was reading a film review recently and the writer stated that 'next time somebody tells me that Angelina Jolie cannot act, I will eat them'. At this point in time I feel compelled to state that whenever anybody (especially somebody who's never seen a game) tries to tell me that Twenty20 cricket is 'all about slogging', is 'just baseball, really', or any other such fatuous and ill-informed comment, I will eat them.


You Never Know

After the excitement of seeing Middlesex win their first trophy since 1993 on Saturday night in front of a pulsating Rose Bowl crowd, a trip up to a hot and relatively deserted Taunton proved an enjoyable if slightly soporific counterpoint.

I arrived with England under-19s on 305-3, Derbyshire's Daniel Redfern and Leicestershire's Greg Smith having put on an unbroken 252 for the fourth wicket on Saturday, a partnership which they extended to an England under-19 record of 287 before Redfern was run out for 151. Smith went on to 157, but most of the entertainment after that was provided by Liam Dawson, with the Hampshire slow left-armer making a punchy century. However, the bowling looked extremely average, the young Kiwis relying on a selection of nondescript seamers and a left-arm spinner who, refreshingly for someone (me) who's spent too much time watching Monty Panesar recently, gave the ball plenty of (probably too much) air.

Of course, the average Taunton pitch tends to make most bowlers look nondescript and it's to the credit of the young Warwickshire seamer Chris Woakes that, after England had declared on 512-8, he got more out of it than anyone else on the day. Having been in his county's first team for much of this season he was also well ahead of anyone else in terms of experience, but, as he ploughed his furrow from the River End, it was easy to see why Allan Donald rates him so highly. In many ways, he looks like a good old-fashioned Midlands seamer, with an uncomplicated action and a big heart; the type of lad who'll run in all day for you. Throw in good pace, a consistent line and some batting ability and you have an excellent package.

If I had to choose one player from those on show yesterday Woakes is the one that I'd pick out for a lengthy career in the first-class game, although I know from my Derbyshire contacts that Redfern is very highly regarded up there and I did see him play one stroke of particular class before he was out.

Whatever happens, you can be sure that plenty of those playing will be heard of again. The last time I got along to one of these games was thirteen years ago and the England team included Trescothick, McGrath, Sales, Flintoff, Solanki and Ormond, with a particularly strong memory being that of the seventeen year-old Alex Tudor taking the new ball late in the day and looking for all the world like the West Indian fast bowler that England needed - our Walsh, our Ambrose, our Bishop. Of course he never did but I recently looked the game up and found that the South African openers trying to keep him out were Mark Boucher and Ashwell Prince.

So, you never know.



One or two interesting things on Cricinfo today. A typically excellent piece about the rapid demise of Matthew Hoggard as a Test cricketer by Andrew Miller, and the latest on the Champions Trophy, which, because of security worries, looks likely to turn to be even more underwhelming than usual.

Players worried about going to Pakistan? Try playing the IPL there and they'd be lining up in Lahore faster than you can say 'Darren Pattinson'.



It was interesting to hear on the radio this morning that Geoff Miller and Michael Vaughan were apparently going to have what the tabloids tend to call 'clear-the-air talks', with it being reported that Miller had said something about it being the duty of selectors to give their captain the team he wanted.

This instantly made me think of Vaughan's post-toss interview last Friday, when, with admirable diplomacy, he made it sound as though he had got the side he wanted, when you have to doubt if that was really the case.

Apart from that, there's flak flying all over the place, most of it hitting the target somewhere along the line, mainly because there are rather a lot of targets to hit.

While his manner often grates, I tend to agree with most of what Geoff Boycott says, and I can't disgaree with anything that's in his latest piece in the Telegraph.

With reference to the central issue of the patience and discipline (or lack of them) shown by the England batting, I totally agree, and the contrast with the South African approach was painful and damning. Somewhere, surely, Peter Roebuck will be writing about this, and treating it as a metaphor for the decline of English society (I just haven't found it yet).

If he is, he wouldn't be totally right, but I'm not sure he'd be completely wrong either.



With two days' play gone in Leeds, England are in deep trouble, largely because of the way in which Ashwell Prince and AB de Villiers batted yesterday. And the key element in their superiority was the patience which they showed in tricky batting conditions, something which was in direct contrast to the way in which England approached things - in the face of more testing bowling - on Friday.

After their big hundreds at Lord's, Pietersen and Bell batted like millionaires, and, while some of their strokeplay was magnificent (one of Pietersen's on-drives won't be bettered this summer), both their dismissals spoke of impulsiveness and over-confidence.

In contrast, both Prince and de Villiers waited for the bad balls to arrive and put them away well, controlling the tempo of the afternoon and putting their team in charge of the match.

Various commentators yesterday were saying that Prince reminded them of Brian Lara, but I can't see it myself, if only because Lara, to me, belongs to that class of batsman to whom lesser mortals just can't be compared. As I've said before, the player he reminds me of most is Graham Thorpe - just as compact, perhaps a bit more orthodox, but with similar strength of mind and presence at the crease.

The stand between Prince and de Villiers represents a worthy analogy for the new South Africa and its cricket - Prince the toughnut from the Eastern Cape townships who wouldn't even have had the chance to play first-class cricket a generation or two ago, and de Villiers, the gilded Afrikaner prodigy who might not have chosen to play first-class cricket a generation or two ago.

They combined superbly, and, if England don't get them early today, they'll grind them into the Headingley dirt.


Good Day

With all that said it did look like a bloody good day's Test cricket. I saw more action in the first twenty minutes of the Sky highlights than in the last two days at Lord's last week.

Should be an interesting weekend.


I'm not a huge fan of Jonathan Agnew; he's obviously a nice bloke, loves his cricket, but he's often a bit bland for my liking and sounds as though he's auditioning for a part as the new 'Johnners'. However, it was good to hear him coming down strongly against the selection of Darren Pattinson when I walked in this evening, as I agreed with every word. Where his critique really hit the nail on the head was in his focus on what the selection would say to the range of English bowlers who could, indeed should, have been picked ahead of him.

It was a bizarre decision on a number of levels. Consider this:

a. To all intents and purposes he's Australian.

b. Before today he'd played in eleven first class matches and is almost thirty years old.

c. He'd only ever bowled at Headingley once. In a Twenty20 game.

d. His captain had only seen him bowl once. In a Twenty20 game.

e. Regardless of his ability - and the stats speak of a decent bowler with some promise although probably a bit old to ever fulfil it - it was asking a huge amount for him to take his place in a side in which he'd never met or even played against most of his team-mates, on a ground he didn't know, and produce his best form.

A penny for the thoughts tonight of Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Simon Jones and Chris Tremlett.


Critical Mass

This said, while I was away I read an article in The Observer which discussed whether professional 'critics' (mostly in the spheres of the arts and food, for that's where 'critics' dwell) were about to be rendered redundant by bloggers who can write just as well as they can and can post their opinions more quickly.

I don't think the argument really applies to cricket (whoever heard of a cricket 'critic'?), but when over the weekend I heard Jonathan Agnew and Christopher Martin-Jenkins labouring the point on TMS that Hashim Amla's batting was reminiscent of Mohammad Yousuf, I got a bit annoyed.

I said that here a couple of weeks ago, and I bet it wasn't original even then...

(Failed) Investigative Journalism

While admitting to the world that I'm an MCC member will probably do my blogging credibility (if I have any) a lot of damage, it does give you opportunities that you wouldn't otherwise get.

Yesterday morning I was having a glass of water outside the England dressing room (it's just where the water machine happens to be, honest) when I turned round to see Peter Moores and Paul Collingwood deep in conversation on the stairs. Unfortunately I was just too far away to hear what they were saying without making it obvious I was listening in, but it may have been the moment that Moores told Collingwood he was heading out of the side. Or maybe not. If either of them is reading this perhaps they could fill me in.

And then, as the dust was settling after the game, I came across Giles Clarke and David Collier in conversation outside the Long Room. They had obviously heard about my amateurish attempts to eavesdrop important conversations and quickly ducked inside the deserted inner sanctum where they could talk in private. Not before, however, I had picked up Clarke saying something about Keith Bradshaw which I'd better not repeat here in case I misheard it. It's very tame, though.

So there you have it. If you're part of the 'mainstream media' you get to conduct proper interviews with important people from which you rarely learn anything interesting, but if you're a blogger who happens to have a little red book from the MCC you can hang around the Lord's pavilion trying to eavesdrop on the conversations of the same important people from which you never learn anything interesting.

Maybe I'm just not doing it right. I'll try again next season.


On a pitch as dead as that, against bats as dead as that, I don't want to be too hard on England's bowlers. Broad still has a way to go, Sidebottom looked lacking in fitness (although when he yorked Kallis he did provide just about the only genuine moment of excitement in the last two days) and Anderson deserves a medal for his stamina and persistence.

But Monty can, and does, infuriate. While everybody (me definitely included) has a tendency to get carried away when he's taking wickets, I had plenty of opportunity to notice the deficiencies in his game as I watched him toil through sixty fruitless overs in the second innings.

He's consistently quick and flat for a spinner, and while the amount he turns the ball is often prodigious, he's going to need to learn to flight the ball more if he's going to become as good a bowler as he's capable of being. That and adopting a slightly more circumspect and rational approach to his appealing, which is increasingly going to alienate both umpires and referees if he doesn't tone it down.

Geoff Boycott, in typically obtuse fashion, witters on and on about him not knowing the laws. I think that's unlikely, and would just put it down to excess enthusiasm and a certain naivete, which is, of course, part of his charm and popularity.

That only takes you so far, though, and while I'm sure most England supporters would happily raise their fingers, good international umpires won't.

Heavy Going

If you walk into Lord's during the lunch interval of a Test match, as I did last Friday, you're hit by a metaphorical wall of frenzied activity - tourists, MCC members, catering staff and anybody else who happens to be there (many of whom have already imbibed freely) get down to some serious socialising - and the impression is one of barely suppressed chaos.

Once I'd battled my way to my seat in the Warner Stand, virtually the first thing I saw was Ian Bell lifting Paul Harris for a majestic six, but, with KP already out, the game, in terms of entertainment value, was largely downhill from there. Belly was fantastic; he deserved the extra run and we can only hope that he can build on it and show the world how very good he is. This time I think he will. He was superbly supported by Stuart Broad, who already looks like a very good Test number eight who will surely go higher, even if his bowling still needs work and may cost him his place in the side before too long.

From late on Friday until its confused conclusion yesterday, the game was a war of attrition, and, by Sunday afternoon, at least in the pavilion, the optimistic buzz of Friday lunchtime had been replaced by a range of slumbering bodies.

It wasn't necessarily South Africa's fault though; apart from the gritty Prince they made a mess of the first innings, the pitch was (too) slow, and the situation demanded several days of grinding. Smith, McKenzie and Amla certainly provided that, although I think the gentleman in the MCC library (where I found myself yesterday lunchtime) who made great play of stating what a marvellous innings McKenzie had played was pushing it a bit.

Yes, a very good innings of its type, but, next time, just don't ask me to sit through it, okay?


Meaningful Runs

I was out in east Devon without access to a computer or radio for much of this afternoon so I'm just catching up with events at Lord's.

It seems KP again showed South Africa what they missed out on, and it was great to see Bell make some meaningful first innings runs at last.

I'm off to London in the morning and intend spending the weekend at Lord's. The only thing I'm slightly dubious about is the fact that the pitch looks quite slow and this could turn into another Lord's run-fest, a bit like the ultimately rather tedious game against Pakistan two years ago.

I'll report back with my impressions next Tuesday.


Bloody Superb

These days I can usually be found watching Somerset at Taunton, but I grew up following Middlesex to Lord's and Uxbridge in the era of Brearley, Selvey, Daniel, Edmonds, Emburey and the rest. The batsman I've seen make the most runs remains Mike Gatting. My father, 82, is still a life member of the club.

So, of course, I absolutely loved last night's magnificent victory over Lancashire in the quarter-final of this year's Twenty20 Cup, which, taking into account the way in which the profile and performance of the club has declined over the last fifteen years, looks to me like their most significant result since I saw a young Mark Ramprakash ease them to victory over Worcestershire in the NatWest Trophy Final in September 1988.

Eoin Morgan I've known about for a while, and I'll be surprised if he doesn't go a little bit closer than his compatriot Ed Joyce to establishing himself in the England side. Dawid Malan is a newer name, but one who looks instantly like a player we'll be watching for a long time.

And the match itself? Absolutely bloody superb. I know that there are plenty of people around who still regard Twenty20 cricket as the spawn of the devil, but if you couldn't enjoy that, well, what can you enjoy?


Colchester Lad

The chaos which resulted from Yorkshire's apparent failure to ensure that a seventeen year-old off-spinner (of whom I'd never previously heard) was eligible to play for them has been well-covered elsewhere, notably at Sledgers and Sandbaggers. It's enough to say that I agree with the central points made there and by Nasser Hussain on Sky last night, namely that the eligibility rules have become far too complicated and apparently contradictory, and that things should have been sorted out either well before or after the game was due to be played. For God's sake don't wait until you've got a ground full of people before you call off the game they've turned up to see.

No, what interested me most last night was again the performance of Graham Napier. Forty more rapid runs, punctuated by the now customary sight of balls flying out of the ground, and four wickets up front which together combined to send Essex to Twenty20 finals day at the Rose Bowl, where they'll take some beating.

In particular, the way in which he did for Andrew Hall and David Sales stood out: Hall caught behind off an outswinger, Sales' stumps shattered by a late in-ducker. Quality bowling from a player who's currently looking like a very serious and classy operator indeed.

It's as well not to get carried away - three weeks ago he was just another county journeyman - but the quality of some of Napier's recent displays has been such that I think England should take a serious look at him for both fifty and twenty over cricket.

I don't know whether they will or not; as we all know, the English way is generally to ignore short-term form in favour of established mediocrity, and to select Napier on the basis of his performances over the last few weeks would, to many, appear rash.

One thing seems increasingly likely though, and that is that Napier will be receiving a few overtures from the IPL. Indeed, if some of the people involved are as proactive as they'd like us to believe he probably has already.

That would be great. One of the underestimated values of the IPL has been the opportunities it has given to young Indian players to mix with world stars and show what they can do on a more significant stage.

For Gony and Asnodkar read a Colchester lad called Graham Richard Napier.


Testing Times

I was only vaguely aware of the Asia Cup going on - if I noticed it at all I just thought it was a load more ODIs, happening somewhere 'over there' - and I didn't always bother looking at the scores on Cricinfo. It seems, though, that I've missed something. I haven't yet seen Ajantha Mendis bowl.

He must have something, but, as Osman Samiuddin says, the real test for him begins now.



Every so often, even with the ICC, you hear about a decision which just makes you go 'what?!'. The reprehensible decision to regard the Oval Test of 2006 as a draw and ignore the fact that Pakistan refused to play, is one such moment.

Anybody who wants to know what I thought at the time can read about it here. I had my doubts about Hair (and Doctrove, and Procter), but you can't have sides just refusing to play. If they do, they lose (see Law 21.3.a (ii)). However in this case, Pakistan seem to have been retrospectively awarded a draw.

So now you have the ICC disregarding the laws of the game they're supposed to be administering.

Can it get any worse than that?


Today in the Championship

It's always worth keeping an eye on the Championship. Today we had Andrew Flintoff proving that he still knows how to hold a bat (although he may have forgotten again by next week) and Martin van Jaarsveld making an unbeaten 115 to take Kent to victory over Surrey and go with his unbeaten 114 in the first innings and career-best bowling figures.

That's one Kolpak player who's definitely contributing something positive to the game in this country.


Progress Report

When I started writing this blog, two years ago today, England weren't very good at one-day cricket. Little has changed. Despite some illusory indications of progress in the second half of 2007, the way in which the New Zealand series ended last Saturday carried more than a hint of the type of confusion and inadequacy which have historically been England's closest bedfellows.

Tim at Third Umpire has produced some typically succinct summaries of the players involved and I agree with most of what he says. Of the players he's more critical of I feel that Wright and Bopara are worth persisting with in the long term but they may both benefit from a bit more time in county cricket, especially Wright. Ambrose must be jettisoned (although he deserves, and will get, further chances in Test cricket), and Shah must surely climb the order. Broad's a given, and I always did like Graeme Swann.

While the story in Test cricket is a little more encouraging I think England are going to be tested to the limit by South Africa over the next couple of months, and I'm very dubious about their ability to cope. In fact, I won't be at all surprised if they get a bit of a hammering.


Complete Domination

The weather was decent, the three-sided ground was packed and the batting side massacred the bowling from start to finish. But yesterday's events at Taunton were only marginally fulfilling. A match between a weakened Somerset side and what was very nearly a full strength South African eleven was never likely to be very satisfying, and so it proved. The Proteas scored at will throughout the day and only seemed to be at risk from indecision over whether to hit the ball for four or six or the onset of terminal boredom.

This said, there was plenty to admire. Of course, we had Kallis's unrivalled technical mastery, embellished with some uninhibited flamboyance after reaching his hundred, but I also welcomed the opportunity to watch Hashim Amla bat for the very first time.

Like Kallis he barely looked challenged at any stage, and his combination of functional watchfulness, silky timing and, ultimately, complete domination of the bowling, reminded me strongly of Mohammad Yousuf. The beard is pure coincidence.

In the end only a sharp blow on the elbow from a delivery from Andy Caddick could halt Kallis's progress at 160, while Amla was run out for 172.

As I write, they've declared past 500 and Somerset are 58 for 4. There's only one way the game is going and it doesn't favour the home side.

A strong team is warming up well. England watch out.



A thought-provoking piece by Peter Roebuck, pushing themes - the decline of English cricket as a product of the decline of the country - he's often written about elsewhere.

After yesterday's confirmation that England are still a poor limited-overs side (false dawns a speciality) there's plenty to think about, but I don't have time now as I'm going up to Taunton today to have a look at the South Africans, a side who are bound to to test England even more.

I'll report back tomorrow.


Paralysis by Analysis

Of course, Paul Collingwood made a particularly crass error of judgement in appealing for Grant Elliott's dismissal yesterday, but he was let off the hook by the fact that New Zealand ultimately won the game.

It seems, however, as though the ICC aren't going to let him get away quite so easily, as he's apparently set to face a suspension for England's repeated failure to maintain an acceptable over-rate in one-day cricket.

With all the time I have for Colly (and that, despite yesterday, is plenty) I think this is great as I have a particular dislike for the way in which modern cricketers seem determined to bowl their overs more and more and more slowly with a complete disregard for the fact that people going to watch Test cricket in particular have paid to see 90 overs in a day and should be entitled to see what they've paid for.

Okay, I doubt if anyone at The Oval was complaining about the late finish yesterday, but that isn't the point. To me, it's all part of modern sport's paralysis by analysis - in cricket the endless culture of team-meetings, video sessions, planning, planning and more planning tends to spill over onto the field, with the result that it takes captains and bowlers longer and longer to set fields and players seem unable to lift a finger without calling for a rehydration drink.

Oh, dear, I'm sounding like Fred Trueman again (or maybe Geoff Boycott). And I don't even come from Yorkshire...

Hitting the Big Time

On Tuesday night I had the pleasure of watching (on TV) the most incredible display of hitting I've ever seen at any level of the game, and, unlike a few purists who are knocking around, I don't think it's rendered any less remarkable by the fact that it took place in a twenty over match.

Sure, Chelmsford isn't a huge ground anyway, and the boundaries were apparently even shorter than normal, but what distinguished Graham Napier's unbeaten 152 from so many other big T20 innings was the cleanness, the orthodoxy and the power of the hitting. Few of his sixteen sixes came from slogs, and the vast majority sailed way beyond the confines of the playing arena, and, in many cases, the ground itself. They would have been sixes on virtually any ground you care to name.

As Patrick mentions, Graham Napier's been around a while, and, after playing for England at various junior levels his only representative impression was made as a member of an England A team which had a hard time in India in early 2004. As Patrick also says, perhaps this innings will give him the momentum to become a top one-day player. On balance I think that's unlikely, but, in this changing age, maybe it begs the question of what is a top one-day player?

Napier may once have dreamt of making it into the England one-day squad (and I'm sure he'd still take it), but, these days, would a phone call from an IPL owner perhaps be just as welcome?

Not everyone, after all, is going to get the chance to dip their bread in Sir Allen Stanford's gravy.


Geese Laying Golden Eggs (and other cliches)

When I first read the broad details of Giles Clarke's 'plan' for the future of English domestic cricket on Cricinfo on Friday afternoon my blood ran cold. I've since recovered my equilibrium a bit, but it seems to me that the ideas prompt far more questions than they supply answers.

Now clearly Clarke's major motivation is to make more room in the calendar for Twenty20, which, as we all know, is the goose which is currently laying golden eggs all over the place. This, it is assumed, will include some sort of 'English Premier League' on the Indian model.

So far, so opportunist, but why seek to emasculate, confuse, and, in many people's eyes (including mine), ruin, the County Championship, which, in its current form is working as well as it has ever done (just ask Justin Langer, who's been lavishing it with praise recently)? Surely the way forward is simply to get rid of the far less relevant Pro40 League, which would allow a further expansion of Twenty20 to be easily accommodated.

But no, Clarke seems to have allowed himself to get a bit too caught up in Sir Allen Stanford's vision of the future, in which Twenty20 will take precedence over everything else, including Test cricket, and seems to believe that the Championship can be marginalised. He would presumably argue that the proposed conference system would provide an equally good proving ground for potential Test players as the current two division format, but I disagree. Strongly.

It was also surprising to find Clarke, who's customarily (and quite correctly) described as a 'successful businessman', arguing in favour of measures, apparently including a salary cap and the loaning out of overseas players to 'weaker' counties, to try to balance out the strength of the competing clubs. While aspects of this would be welcome, one's suspicion is that these ideas have been included simply as a means of ensuring the votes of these counties for proposals which most county administrators would otherwise tend to feel uncomfortable with.

The only completely good thing about the proposals is that the crackpot idea of returning to three day matches which was being put about a few weeks ago seems to have been dropped, but, as I've indicated, I'd be much happier if the focus of the plan was turned towards the Pro40 League and away from the Championship.

With reports of reduced crowds in the current English Twenty20 competition there are signs that, perhaps, the goose is already being asked to work a little bit too hard. Everyone involved, from Modi to Stanford to Clarke, needs to be very careful not to kill it stone dead. If this is managed properly, and the right balance between first-class and Twenty20 cricket is achieved, the future of the game can be ensured and enhanced. If it isn't it will be jeopardized, and, while it's very hard to work out what's going on in Giles Clarke's mind, I really doubt if he wants that.


Decision Time

I hadn't bothered to write anything about what happened at Edgbaston on Wednesday as so many people had got there before me, from Ians Smith and Botham ranting away on Sky, to most fellow members of the Blogosphere. As most of them said, it was a 'farce', and one which reflected very poorly on the extent to which modern professional cricketers (and most umpires) appear to have any awareness at all that people have paid money to watch them perform and they have a duty to provide them with as much entertainment as possible.

The ICC's decision to allow umpires in further games in this series to shorten the innings break to ten minutes was remarkable. Not for what it was - as it made the uncomfortable sound of a stable door being shut well after the horse had legged it - but because it appeared to be a definite decision taken by the ICC on a matter of some, albeit transitory, importance.

Issues come and go - Zimbabwe, the ICL, the IPL, Stanford - and you barely hear a word from Dubai. A couple of their umpires cock it up (with substantial assistance from the England team) and they're straight in there.

Still, credit where credit's due. The ruling could come in handy, but, having seen the weather forecast for south-west England (where I'm due to be playing) tomorrow, I suspect there may not need to be an innings break at Bristol as there won't be any innings.


Controlling the Emotions

I thought that this, from Nick Compton's Cricinfo blog was a very interesting piece of writing indeed. If I hadn't known the identity of the author I might have thought it had been written by Compton's county captain, which is about as highly as I can praise it.


An Evening with Sir Gary

I only saw Sir Garfield Sobers play once - in a charity match at The Oval in 1982, when he was an ageing but still brilliant 46 - but it was a privilege to see him discuss his views on the game and answer questions at Blundell's School, in Tiverton, Devon, last night.

Sobers cut an impressive figure, upright and smartly dressed, with a hint of a paunch but the same loose-limbed gait that used to take him to the wicket or back to his mark in his playing days.

In conversation with the former Glamorgan and Sussex batsman Tony Cottey, Sobers revealed a wide range of views, some of which surprised slightly. For example, he felt that Ted Dexter was a better batsman than Peter May (May was vulnerable to the short ball) and Ian Chappell was better than his brother Greg (less style but more grit). Fred Trueman was the best fast bowler he faced. He always knew Lara would be a great player and it's very unlikely that anyone will beat his Test record score (that one was less of a surprise). Among contemporary players there were admiring words for Tendulkar, Kallis, Ponting and Murali, who doesn't, according, to Sir Gary, chuck the ball.

The only part that didn't really work was an over-extended anecdote about batting with Wes Hall against Chandrasekhar in India, but most of the audience - including a good many lads who weren't born until twenty years after he retired - didn't notice as they were hanging on his every word.

Of course, Twenty20 came up, and Sobers came across as a concerned traditionalist - he preferred Test cricket but wondered whether it would be around in twenty years' time.

After a plug for his youth tournament and a marathon autograph-signing session he was gone, into town for a Chinese meal and on to his next engagement.

An evening to remember.


What's the Point?

For sport to really have meaning it has to have a competitive context - usually this is provided by tradition, time-honoured rivalry or a major competition - but, to me, the central weakness of the series of matches announced by the ECB (or should that just be Sir Allen Stanford?) this afternoon is that they have none. In fact, do they have any point at all apart from making the players rich?

Now, although I can easily be mistaken for a cricket purist (probably because, at the end of the day, I am one), I enjoy Twenty20 as much as the next person. But an annual series of what will basically just be exhibition matches? I'm getting bored just thinking about them, let alone watching them.

And who the hell are the 'West Indies All Stars'? I've heard of the West Indies, and I might take some interest if they were playing, but the 'West Indies All Stars'? No thanks, although, with the amount of money available most of the main side's main players are bound to be there, trying like mad to stick their fingers as deep into the pie as they'll go.

This could be good for the game; it could be bad. Until now I've tended towards neutrality and optimism on the subject of the Twenty20 'revolution', but this feels more like boredom and cynicism, coloured with a tinge of distaste.


Calling The Shots (Badly)

I was chatting to my mate Alan over breakfast in Worcester last weekend and we decided that Steve Harmison's Test career was probably over. We also still had our doubts about Jimmy Anderson, and I favoured a return to Matthew Hoggard.

Since then Harmison's taken a hat-trick and a six-for, and Anderson...well, you know what he's been up to.

On this basis I'd like to predict the demise of both Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood, in the certain knowledge that they'll both hold their places in the side for the first Test against South Africa and then cream the Proteas all over Lord's.

You never know...

Yorkshire Born

While England were disposing of an insipid New Zealand side at Trent Bridge, I took myself off to one of my regular haunts - the Ian Botham Stand at Taunton - for the first couple of days of Somerset's match with Yorkshire. Although I saw Jacques Rudolph compile an excellent 155 on the first day and had the less pleasant experience of watching Somerset subside on the second, my main motivation was to take a close look at Adil Rashid, a player I've often written about over the last couple of years.

His staccato and uncomfortable innings of 5, late on the first day, didn't show him in a very good light, but he bowled a neat spell of accurate and wristy leg spin yesterday, part of a tight Yorkshire performance in the field which put Somerset on the back foot. Assisted by Anthony McGrath's thoughtful and innovative captaincy, Rashid (pictured above) looked for all the world like a spinner forged in the backstreets of Calcutta or Karachi, rather than Bradford, and I'm absolutely certain that more will be heard of him.

The lastest news from Taunton is that Somerset have hit back with the ball today and Yorkshire are currently 158 for 7, 272 ahead. With the weather set fair for tomorrow, a compelling last day beckons.



On Sunday I was watching Ravi Bopara make a very patient 85 for Essex in a losing cause against Worcestershire; today he scored an undefeated 201 in a fifty over game.

I guess we can add adaptability to his many virtues.

Sad Stats

The West Indies-Australia series has largely passed me by. When it's been on I've usually either been watching live cricket here in England or at work.

A few things have seeped through though, such as the excellence of Lee and Chanderpaul, Stuart MacGill's retirement, and the fact that, certainly in Antigua over the last few days, there's been nobody watching. Although there are fragile signs that the chasm between the two sides is narrowing, the series just doesn't seem to have the vibrancy that either the 2003 or, obviously, the 1999 one did. The absence of Lara doesn't help, but when you turn on the TV and find an apparently large ground like the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium virtually deserted there doesn't seem to be the same incentive to follow the action.

Something I hadn't noticed, which Rob at Cricket Forever points out is the fact that the West Indies went into the last Test with a specialist opener, Xavier Marshall, with a highest first-class score of just 82 and an average in the mid-twenties. The latter may not be unprecedented but the former sure feels like it.

If ever the sad decline of the West Indies can be summed up in a single statistic, that is it.

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