Owing Nothing

As I was away last weekend I didn't get an opportunity to comment on Marcus Trescothick's retirement from international cricket. I've written about Marcus many times before, and I can't add much to what I said here, or here, or here.

He owes no-one anything. He was a central, if under-appreciated, figure in England's revival between 2000 and 2005 and is one of the ten men alive who'll always be able to say that they played for England throughout the greatest Ashes series of them all.

I look forward to watching him in Somerset colours for a few more years yet.

Grinding to a Halt

With the first Test grinding to a drawn halt this morning as Neil McKenzie took the opportunity to further improve his Test average, all that can be said is that the Indian authorities need to try to ensure that future Tests are played on surfaces which offer a bit more to the bowlers. Not easy, but necessary.

The Chennai crowds looked respectable, but, with Tests in India under increasing pressure from the encroachment of the ICL and IPL, there needs to be a bit of a contest for people to watch.

There won't be a triple hundred of the speed of Sehwag's every time...


Not Quite

Sadly Sehwag didn't quite make it to the holy grail of 400 and the Test record. It wasn't a surprise; people rarely do.

However, there's just one brief point I'd like to make. I wrote yesterday of his 'eternally risky style', but I thought about it afterwards and realised that while Sehwag's style would be risky for a mere mortal, for him, when he's in the groove, it really isn't. The eye is so, so, good that the feet don't have to be in the right place and the delivery doesn't have to be, as the cliche goes, 'there to hit'.

Unorthodoxy disguised as rashness, calculation disguised as spontaneity. Therein lies the genius of Viru.


True Genius

There were times during Sehwag's exile from the Indian side, when Dinesh Karthik was jogging along in respectable fashion, when my mind strayed to wondering if he'd ever make it back. Maybe the eternally risky style had been found out once and for all, and, even if it hadn't, would he return as a middle order player, away from the stresses of the new ball?

But then true genius writes its own rules. It's hard to think of anyone else who could play like that at the top of the order and get away with it.

If he's not too tired and manages to settle in again early tomorrow, Lara's record beckons.

And after a display of batting that was brilliant even by his rarefied standards, it would be no more than he deserves.

I'll be watching.


Interesting Player

As one Test series comes to an end, so another gets under way, and, with two days gone in Chennai, South Africa have the advantage.

Although it was brought to an end by a dreadful run out, the highlight of South Africa's innings was Hashim Amla's 159.

Interesting player, Amla. I remember his early games against England during the 2004-5 series, when he often looked little more than a walking wicket. However, the South African selectors, seemingly convinced of his class, persisted with him and it seems now as though he's really found his feet, with all those hours spent batting with Kallis doubtless doing him a lot of good.

All that and one of the finest beards seen in international cricket since the great Doctor himself.

Not Losing Sleep

It was rarely easy to see enough of the England-New Zealand series - most of the action took place in the middle of the night here in the UK, and I just can't handle cricket-related sleep deprivation the way I used to - but I saw enough to know that it was an occasionally captivating contest between two relatively mediocre sides. However, the suspicion remains that New Zealand, certainly at Hamilton, played above themselves, while England, at Hamilton and early on in both Wellington and Napier, did just the opposite. Certainly, if England were as good a side as they'd like to think they are (and are probably capable of being) they would have won all three matches without having to lose too much sleep themselves.

In the short term England can congratulate themselves on the way they bowled after the landmark decision to dispense with Hoggard and Harmison was taken. As I've written many times before, Stuart Broad's potential is as outstanding as it is obvious, Sidebottom's resurrection has been remarkable and Monty, despite some shaky days earlier in the winter, still has everything he looked to have in 2006. He needs a bit more - notably in the flight department - but that will come. Anderson, consistent only in his utter inconsistency, remains a problem, and, if anyone's going to allow Hoggard back in it'll be him.

Their batting, despite the multiple late advances in Napier, was often disappointing. Vaughan was poor, Cook underwhelming, Strauss lucky to be there. Pietersen and Bell were largely below their best, although, as his enigmatic career continues to frustate those of us who can't help admiring him, it remains hard to tell what Bell's best really is. The eternally-reassuring Collingwood was often excellent, but he needs to find his way to three figures rather than two. With Broad at eight to extend the tail, he may stand a better chance of doing so in the future.

With Ambrose it's still much too early to tell. He'll start the home series against New Zealand as the man in possession, but let's see where we are when both the Kiwis and the Proteas have come and gone.

For New Zealand, despite the emergence of Taylor and Southee, things look increasingly gloomy. With Fleming's name added to the long list of players they've lost over the last year, their spring trip to these shores is likely to prove a difficult assignment.

These were two sides who were more evenly matched than they ought to have been, and the series was all the better for it. However, if England, with home advantage, don't pull away from New Zealand with ease over here, some serious, and worrying, questions will have to be asked.


Hair's Back

The other big news is that Darrell Hair is back, and is showing a welcome degree of self-awareness.

Now, I tended to favour him more than most after The Oval (while also feeling that he could have handled things much better), but there's no doubt that he needed to give some thought to his inter-personal skills.

From this it looks as though he's doing just that.

However, he won't be seen within a million miles of a game involving Pakistan or any other Asian country, so he'll probably just carry on as he always did.

Drifting Back

I'm going away for a few days over Easter and will be spending most of my time in a household without Sky, so I won't see as much of the Napier Test as I'd like, but, with the teams gearing up for the series decider, a few interesting things have been happening.

With Kyle Mills out it seems almost certain that Tim Southee will make his debut at the age of nineteen. I haven't seen much of Southee, but, on thinking about the game, I've found my mind drifting back eleven years to the time New Zealand gave a debut against England at Wellington to an eighteen year-old called Daniel Vettori.

He hasn't had a bad career; if Southee shapes up half as well he will have done alright.


Harmison and Hoggard: The Future

Well, in the end, the football injury didn't amount to much and Anderson managed to get through the last day and a bit without any trouble, although he was apparently rattling around the pitch as a result of the number of painkillers he was taking. It didn't matter too much, as Sidebottom and Broad did most of what was necessary and England were worthy winners, moving on to Napier as favourites to win the series.

The news of the day in some quarters seems to be the fact that Moores has pointed out that it'll be hard for Harmison and Hoggard to reclaim their lost places. Stating the obvious, I would have thought, as long as Broad and Sidebottom keep bowling well, although history shows that there's at least as much chance of a vacancy occurring because of injury as loss of form.

Obviously both Harmison and Hoggard will need to be bowling well to put themselves in the frame for a recall, but, if they do, will the selectors want them?

Hoggard: A probable yes, on account of his ability to bring similar qualities 'to the party' (as Duncan Fletcher would have said) as Sidebottom; swing, control, competitiveness, heart.

Harmison: Very possibly a no, based on what's becoming too long a history of technical inconsistency and temperamental vulnerability.

With Hoggard you just know he'll be busting a gut to get back in. With Harmy you can't help but have your doubts. And, if he's not sure how much he wants it, you can be sure that the selectors won't be sure how much they want him.


Bloody Stupid

So, after a solid day's batting, England are in the box seat and should wrap up a victory in Wellington over the next couple of days.

But then comes the news that James Anderson has injured his ankle 'playing football' and is doubtful for the rest of the game.

News like this makes me come over all Fred Trueman. Why the hell do modern players persist in warming up and warming down by playing football and touch rugby when there are numerous examples of players being injured while doing so, in some cases (Mark Wagh) leading to them missing entire seasons?

I just don't know what's going off out there...


Streak Bowler

Two days gone at the Basin Reserve and England, unusually, hold all the aces. However, I'm not going to say anything at all about Tim Ambrose, as:

1. I haven't seen enough live action over the two Tests so far (most of it taking place when I need to sleep) to make any sort of judgement about his keeping.


2. Although he made an excellent ton I seem to remember a keeper called Prior doing the same less than a year ago and what's he doing now?

I'm going to reserve judgement, but the early signs are good; if nothing else he seems a bit less fond of the sound of his own sledging than Prior and that can't be bad.

Jimmy Anderson is different. Everybody's known what he's been capable of since a certain day at Newlands in March 2003, but all the evidence is that he remains a streak bowler. Capable of lacerating any batting line-up when the force is with him but depressingly tame and ineffectual when it's not. After the naive and counter-productive decision to let him bowl himself into form in the New Zealand State Championship, he's hit the ground running this time, his confidence probably bolstered a bit by the fact that he'd been chosen ahead of two far more experienced bowlers on merit.

We've been this way before - most recently in the second half of last summer - and Anderson's challenge now, as usual, is to maintain his form and his place in the side.

Andrew Miller, who has the great advantage over me of actually being there, sums things up well here.


The Axe Falls

I've just woken up to discover that Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard have been dropped by England for the second Test against New Zealand in Wellington. In Harmison's case it was expected, but I'm surprised about Hoggard. He bowled poorly in Hamilton but he was among England's better bowlers in Sri Lanka before Christmas and has been hampered more by injury over the last year than poor form.

With the dropping of Jonny Wilkinson from the England rugby union team for the first time since 1999 yesterday there's the obvious feeling of eras ending.

This may or may not be true; at this point in time I'll be surprised if Hoggard isn't back in the side and bowling well before long, but I'm much less sure about Wilkinson and Harmison.

Time will tell.


A Mess

In an interview on Radio Five Live here in Britain the other day Geoff Boycott was asked whether England were simply an under-prepared side or a genuinely poor one.

He opted for the former, but, with another heavy defeat under their belt, I'm far from sure that the latter isn't the case.

New Zealand must be given full credit for their win; they played throughout with a togetherness, intensity and clarity of purpose which England never matched and their relatively unheralded seam bowlers, Kyle Mills and Chris Martin, drove a stake through England's hearts on the final day.

But, with the exception of their catching, England currently look a mess. Strauss is back in the side for no apparent reason and with no apparent form; Pietersen seems to have retreated into a self-imposed shell within which he finds a range of ways of getting out; the occupant of the wicket-keeping position remains uncertain. Turning to the bowlers, with the exception of Sidebottom and Panesar, they look unprepared, as they seem to do for almost every tour they go on. This is particularly true of Harmison, whose range of mental frailties don't help, but Matthew Hoggard, normally so reliable, looked thoroughly under-cooked in Hamilton.

It's deeply depressing to see England, so vibrant and successful between 2003 and 2005, sliding back towards the bad old days, but, with every series defeat, that's what they're doing.

And, until they start being given proper preparation at the beginning of tours and until one or two people start to realise that they need to both respect their opponents properly and strike a balance between circumspection and forthrightness, that's what they'll continue to do.


A Slow Game and a Revelation

I'd spent the last few days thinking that I really ought to write something about the Hamilton Test this morning, but not really knowing what, other than that it's been, by modern standards, a very slow game, partly due to the pitch and partly because of England's first innings caution.

Having listened to some of the 'action' overnight before it got interesting, I was shocked but pleased to wake up this morning to find that Ryan Sidebottom had taken a hat-trick and that England had worked their way back into some sort of contention thanks to him, Panesar and some excellent catching from Cook (again), Strauss and Hoggard. I find it hard to believe that they'll be able to get very near the total they'll need on the last day, but at least they've got a chance.

With most of England's other seamers - especially Harmison - suffering, once again, through lack of preparation, Sidebottom confirmed what a revelation he's been since he returned to the side last spring. Good fitness, a consistent line, plenty of ticker and both conventional and reverse swing as and when required.

A few years ago I raised my eyebrows when I saw that Mark Ramprakash had named Sidebottom as one of his most difficult bowling opponents. Ryan Sidebottom? That bloke with all the hair who'd played one Test years ago?

Now I can see what Ramps meant.



So, Smith and McKenzie (both sometime Somerset players, as various people with Taunton connections have enjoyed pointing out) broke the world record, and South Africa beat Bangladesh. It didn't make very much impression on me, though. Although some highlights were shown in the UK I didn't manage to see them, and, for all the intermittent signs that Bangladesh are improving, they remain Test cricket's biggest whipping boys.

However, it's good news for South Africa ahead of their trip to England this summer, and a feather in the cap of a player (McKenzie) who, until fairly recently, had joined my mental 'what happened to him' file. Not bad for Smith either, but then he's a bit more used than most to scoring Test double centuries.

No, for me the most enjoyable and resonant cricket of the weekend encompassed Tendulkar's match-winning ODI ton at the SCG. As the commentators never stopped telling us, he hadn't previously made a one-day century in Australia, and it was clear from very early on that he really wanted this one. Personally I think the small signs of age-related decline have been observable in him for some time now, but only in so far as he bats like a player who is merely outstandingly good rather than apparently immortal. Innings such as yesterday, all command and nous (apart from some of his running), serve to remind you what a great batsman looks like, even if it's one who won't see his 34th birthday again.

This is not something which can be said about Rohit Sharma, who gives off unmistakeable signs of class and temperamental solidity.

I suspect that he'll be around long after Tendulkar has left the stage, but, for now, all that matters is what happens in Brisbane tomorrow.


Young Gilly

It's a truism to say that YouTube is one of the great phenomenons of the age. I recently came across this there.

I think it's brilliant. For all the obvious reasons - a brief insight into what a great player was like when he was growing up and the perceptiveness of Chris Goldie's comments - but also because it reminds me what a twerp Michael Wale (the presenter, whom I grew up watching on London regional TV in the eighties) was.

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