Eccentric Class

When Darren of The Commentary Position asked me for my Champions Trophy predictions, I didn't hesitate to suggest that England would lose all three of their group games.

Fortunately I was completely, and predictably, wrong, and relished the sight of Shah, Collingwood and the hitherto underestimated Eoin Morgan putting South Africa to the sword yesterday.

It remains to be seen where Colly's Test career goes from here, while Shah's appears finished and Morgan's hasn't started, but in the one-day arena all showed yesterday that they're likely to remain vital cogs in the England 'machine' (not sure that's the right term, really) for a while to come.

With people starting to mutter about his place - and with some of his fielding and running how can you not? - Shah's timely reminder of his huge if somewhat eccentric class was especially welcome. He may often give the impression of a man who's trying to make something which he finds easy look difficult, but he really can bat. While the way in which he started to go into his shell as his hundred approached betrayed the continuing uncertainty of his mentality, 98 made with that degree of dominance and style isn't bad to be going on with, as long as he continues to try to improve his work in the field.

As for the wider reasons for England's resurgence, well, it helps that they're not playing Australia and they're not playing at home. After a long series of defeats a change of opposition usually helps, even if, on paper at least, they're just as good as the last side you faced. And, while the vast majority of England's one-day history has been as barren as the Gobi Desert, their brief periods of plenty - the 1992 World Cup, the 1997 Sharjah tournament, the 2007 Commonwealth Bank Series - have often come away from the capricious conditions and fevered media of home.

Also, England just lost a one-day series 6-1. As another classy eccentric, Bob Dylan, once said, 'when you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose'.



As another ODI series in which England haven't even flattered to deceive fades into the gathering gloom of an English autumn, the overwhelming feeling is one of ennui, caused by the fatigue of feeling obliged, through habit and little else, to follow a seemingly endless series of games to their predictable conclusion.

For me the absolute highlight of a forgettable series was Ponting's century in the first Trent Bridge match. England has seen relatively little of Punter at his best these past two tours, but this was the real thing, proof positive that Launceston's favourite son still has it all; iron certainty of footwork, defensive impregnability and the type of shot selection which could make vulnerable bowlers want to give up the game. In a sense it seemed as though the clock had been turned back, and this impression was reinforced a couple of days later when he started throwing the stumps down in the way he used to be so good at before the captaincy years took their toll.

Over recent years in England it's occasionally been possible to forget how great a cricketer Ricky Ponting is. This series hasn't been good for very much, but one game, at least, served as a reminder of how sublime the batsman's art can be.

They should build a statue of him.


Punter on a Plinth

While 'researching' something I'm going to post tomorrow, I came across this.

The idea for the statue seemed a bit unoriginal. A more topical version would feature him throwing the stumps down and a hapless Englishman limping off.


Moving On

Opinion seems to be divided about Andrew Flintoff's apparent decision to become the first (although surely far from the last) international cricketer to 'go freelance', something which people have been predicting since the IPL and its accompanying piles of cash first hoved into view.

I'm fairly relaxed about it and feel that Andrew Miller hits a pretty good note here, although there are, of course, significant imponderables which we won't know the answer to for many months yet.

Can Flintoff regain even the level of fitness required to sustain his putative lifestyle of travelling the globe bowling four-over spells and biffing a few boundaries (and perhaps throwing the stumps down from mid-on occasionally)?

And, if he does, will he be able to go the extra mile for an England ODI team in which more will be demanded of him in terms of both duration and responsibility?

And, if he does, will England want him to do so?

I think the assumption of both Flintoff his agent is that they will, but, while his absence from the current series has obviously not helped England's prospects (although I think KP has been missed more), I'm sure that Flower and Strauss will only want him back on their terms rather than his. Flintoff, once he's fully integrated into the life of the international cricketing cavalier, might not want that.

And, with Stuart Broad around, will they feel that they need him?

With his retirement from Test cricket and now this decision, Flintoff has partially moved on. Sometime England are going to have to do the same.


Deja Vu (x 4)

It was a one-day international. England lost. Next?

Oh, er, Trent Bridge on Tuesday.


Encounters with the Stars

The Old Batsman writes about seeing Shane Watson, Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey in the street in London.

I can't remember seeing any properly famous cricketers in the street. I don't think Keith Tomlins (of Middlesex and Gloucestershire non-fame) and Kevin Jarvis (the man who once said that if he could bowl at himself it would be 'an amputation job to get the ball out of my hand') really count, although I hope someone out there remembers them.

However, I did once share a Port Elizabeth hotel with the England team and its media pack.

At one point I was walking, alone, down a corridor, and, coming in the other direction, also alone, was Ian Botham. He looked at me, I looked at him. He looked suspicious, I probably just looked sunburnt after a day spent frying in the St.George's Park sunshine. Neither of us said anything, although I had the distinct impression that he expected me to, probably because he was all too used to people thinking they knew him when they didn't and treating him like a lost friend when he hadn't got a clue who they were. I reflected later on our wordless encounter, thinking about the fact that while he'd never consciously seen me before and knew nothing about me, I knew his name, when and where he was born, the names of his wife and children, where he grew up, went to school, and so on and so on. To all intents and purposes I did know him. But then again I didn't.

Another member of my party opened the door of his hotel room to find Bob Willis bowling a tennis ball down the corridor at Mark Ramprakash.

I think he played and missed.


Paying Respects

Even though I think I'd only looked at her blog once before today, I can only agree with what's been said by many others about the death of Amy S.

Patrick Kidd and The Old Batsman alerted me to it, but I think David at The Silly Mid Off put it particularly well.

We're really all in this together.


Stick to What You're Good At

English cricketers like football. Indeed, there was a time a few years ago when it started to seem as though most of them liked it more than cricket. I remember one or two (Michael Vaughan was certainly one) giving the distinct impression that they were only playing cricket for a living because they weren't good enough at the game with a bigger ball. When Freddie Flintoff pointed out that his famous shirt-wheeling celebration in India in 2002 wasn't influenced by football celebrations because he wasn't all that interested in the game, it came as a refreshing change.

So far so harmless, but, like most people with half a brain, I can see that there's no valid reason for international cricketers to warm up by playing football. Injuries, whether serious or not, are an inevitable and demonstrable consequence (just ask Mark Wagh or Jimmy Anderson or Joe Denly), and, as Tuesday night's events at Old Trafford showed, international cricketers never want to put themselves in a position in which they can get injured. Sure, it may be less 'boring' than just running around the ground, but in the general scheme of things I can't see that as a problem. If any of the players had to step out of their bubble and do an ordinary job for a day or two they'd know all about boredom (although I, of course, love my job and am never bored (ha ha)).

I've ranted about this before, and it's clearly one of those subjects that brings the old colonel out in all of us, including Mike Atherton and, more satirically, The Old Batsman.

Strauss made some noises last night which indicated that England may start to re-consider, and it's about time they did, before someone's career is ended by a pre-match kickabout.

Best stick to what you're good at, lads (or something like that).

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