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.


Worcester Reflections

For me, May ended and June began at the one and only Worcester, where the home county beat Essex in a relatively low-scoring LV Division Two game on a track which, although it settled down a bit in the Saturday sunshine, always gave the bowlers plenty of assistance. Few batsmen from either side coped well with it; the exceptions being Worcestershire's young local opener Daryl Mitchell, the evergreen and always under-rated Ben Smith, whose double of 60 and 71 went a long way towards securing Worcestershire's victory and Ravi Bopara, whose gritty and patient second innings 85 - the innings of a potential Test player - made sure that Essex went down with a fight.

For the bowlers it was largely a matter of getting the ball in the right place and letting the pitch do the rest, especially at the Diglis End, but, while Steve Magoffin was desperately unlucky on the final day and Kabir Ali also bowled well, the stand-out seamer was Simon Jones, who bowled with pace, accuracy and desire to take eight in the game. Bowling like this there's no doubt he'd be an asset to England (and he clearly thinks so too), but he only bowled 18 complete overs and he'll need to adjust to a heavier workload before he's really ready. The signs, though, are very, very good.

Lastly a word about a young cricketer who I talked up a lot two years ago but who's been forgotten amid the attention lavished on Prior and Ambrose since. This may be no bad thing, as Steven Davies needs time and space to develop away from the limelight but, to me, everything he does, both with keeping and batting gloves on, carries an unmistakeable air of class and assurance, even if he isn't cashing in.

I still think he's an England player of the future and, rising 22, he has time on his side.

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