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June 2008
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England stop brushing teeth

June 30th, 2008 by Alex Bowden in England and tagged , , , ,

Something decidedly odd will happen this week. Or, more accurately, something decidedly commonplace won’t happen.

It’s an event so regular and predictable, you’ve probably ceased to notice it. It’s like the consumption of food, the brushing of your teeth or the death of part of your soul while you’re at the office. It’s relentless, it’s been happening for as long as anyone can remember, but this week it won’t happen.

That’s right. This week England aren’t playing New Zealand.

After nineteen consecutive international fixtures between the two sides, it’s finally over. England are a better Test side. New Zealand are a better one-day side. No fortune teller could ever have foreseen that outcome.

But now England have to set themselves for a change of pace. Literally. Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Morne Morkel are here to make life uncomfortable for England’s batsmen. For ‘uncomfortable’ read ‘physically excruciating’ as all three propel the ball at a pace that can only be described as… what exactly?

After five months of describing bowlers using adjectives such as ‘disciplined’, ‘wholehearted’ and ‘determined’, it’s not just England’s cricketers who’ll need to adapt.

See King Cricket’s regular blog at King Cricket is a cult figure in the world of cricket blogs and was TWC’s first Best-of-blogs winner in April 2008.

Posted in England | 11 Comments »

The captain’s blog

June 27th, 2008 by Edward Craig in Club cricket and tagged , ,

I captain a league side. Barnes CC in the Middlesex League division two – that’s one below the premier league, which is called division one – confused? So if we get promoted, we get to play at a first-class ground (Southgate) against resting Middlesex county players, retired pros and myriad Aussie and Saffa imports – think teams full of Grant Elliotts.

But we’re not going to get promoted. We’re heading the other way. At least, if the form that has so richly deserted our batting continues to remain reclusive, we’re heading south. And this brings its own problems. Seven games in, five losses, two losing draws and a two-point deduction for fielding an ineligible player has left Barnes CC at the foot of the table on nil points.

It can only get better, say the chin-uppers (they are my support). Sadly, they are wrong. Things can also stay the same.

So, like every week, I look at my availability sheet to prepare to do battle with the second-team captain over any form players. As usual, availability is poor and getting worse. This is the difficulty with losing. Injuries take longer to mend and happen more frequently, players retire mid-season readily – I’ve had two of those this morning – bad batsmen think they should bat higher up the order, good batsmen think they should bat lower, or worse, think they should bowl. Everyone blames everyone and everything for the poor form – we should bat first, we should field first, we need to find a pro, we need to coax this bloke out of retirement, we need to practise harder, we need to practise less, we need to relax, we need to be more fired up.

And, as captain, I sit in the middle taking all the advice, occasionally listening to it, then pick my side.

Everyone knows why we are rubbish this season, everyone knows how to make it better but no one admits it. The strength of my club is its enormous weakness. Barnes allows players to miss Saturdays without sanction. I am going to five Saturday weddings this year myself, so it’s not like I can complain. You miss a Saturday and you don’t lose your spot. Someone comes in, then drops out. There’s little team unity or spirit as a result and if the results don’t work, you feel that disjointed dressing-room more acutely. Having to introduce new faces to a team each week is weird and wrong.

What Barnes does have is massive talent – great batsmen, good bowlers – but it is not coming together yet.

But, I’ll still keep going, keep selecting, keep turning up to training, keep enthusiastic. That’s the least I can do.

And it is only a game – it’s not even a job – even if it can feel more than that.

Posted in Club cricket | 13 Comments »

John Stern: Tim Lamb back at Lord’s

June 26th, 2008 by John Stern in England

Of all the days to run into Tim Lamb. It was Wednesday evening, at Lord’s, the occasion a party to celebrate the 100th issue of the Observer Sport Monthly magazine. Only a few hours earlier, the ECB, of which Lamb had been chief executive until 2004, had announced they were cutting ties with Zimbabwe. I couldn’t resist.

After a few pleasantries, I slipped in the predictable question about Zimbabwe - what had he made of the day’s momentous announcement? It would be inappropriate to quote chapter and verse. It was a social occasion, I wasn’t taking notes and in any case I can’t remember exactly what was said. But the words wry smile do come to mind. As does the expression ‘rock and a hard place’.

The Honourable Tim Lamb (Oxford University, Middlesex, Northamptonshire) was a sitting duck for media flak as a an administrator. He worked for Middlesex, the old TCCB and then its reincarnation the ECB. By the time he departed, not exactly on his own terms, there weren’t many mourning his passing. He was portrayed as weak, ineffectual and worse, paying the price ultimately for the Zimbabwe cloud that has hung over English – and world – cricket for half a decade.

The fundamental difference between Lamb’s time and Wednesday lunchtime is Government intervention. That and the fact that South Africa finally started shouting over their neighbour’s fence. In late 2002, Clare Short MP stood up in the House of Commons and said England should not go to Zimbabwe in the forthcoming World Cup, six weeks away. This was not so much cat among pigeons as leopard in the chicken pen.

Months earlier Lamb, he recalled the other night, had alerted senior Government officials to the possibility of a ’situation’ with England’s Harare fixture. Your call, old boy, was the unhelpful message from Tony Blair’s administration. And so it went on. Media, public (and then players’) opinion piled up against England going to Zimbabwe. The British Government didn’t want to know, nor did the ICC. If the ECB pulled out of the game, they would be in breach of their various ICC contracts, if they played they risked doing irreparable harm to the image of the game in the UK by appearing to condone Mugabe’s murderous regime.

After much toing and froing at the Cullinan Hotel in Cape Town, England pulled out and paid a financial price. Lamb told me about the one-to-one meeting he had with Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief, where he told him the news. Lamb didn’t divulge Speed’s reaction but I’m guessing it wasn’t along the lines of ‘we’re right behind you, Tim’.

It’s when you hear stories like this, from the horse’s mouth so to speak, that you realise these are real people having to make real decisions, being pulled from pillar post by all manner of unpalatable political and financial vested interests. I’m no apologist for Lamb but his was a vastly different position to that of his successor David Collier who received clear Government instruction that they were not to receive Zimbabwe’s cricketers next summer. That’s all the ICC needs to know to tick their ‘acceptable non-compliance’ box.

If only Tony Blair had found the time, in between invading Iraq, to write a similar letter back in 2003. Interestingly, Alistair Campbell, Blair’s ex-spin doctor not the former Zimbabwe captain, was a guest at the OSM party too. I didn’t get to chat to him.

PS: for anyone who’s interested, Tim Lamb now runs the Central Council for Physical Recreation which sounds an all together less stressful occupation.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in England | 1 Comment »

Stanford’s money makes his intentions irrelevant

June 26th, 2008 by Daniel Brigham in England, Twenty20 and tagged , ,

There is a general mistrust of Texans among the British. First off, there’s George Bush. Then there are cowboy hats. Then there is George Bush wearing a cowboy hat. Throw in some big moustaches, drawling accents, country and western music and it’s not hard to see why they are viewed – almost certainly unfairly – as rather cartoon-like figures.

Which probably explains the general snooty scepticism directed at Allen Stanford, the sickeningly rich Texan who is very generously throwing a lot of his money into trying to revive cricket in the Caribbean and, now, England. Yee-hah.

He turns up to press conferences in helicopters, carries off a big moustache with aplomb and declines to shake hands in preference for a great big manly bear hug – hand-shaking is for wimps, and possibly the less-rich. So far so impressive. But then he says he finds Test cricket boring. Uh-Oh. Then he insists on having his name plastered down the side of his special black bats, possibly making his intentions to the cricket world less philanthropic than he makes out. Oh dear. Then – shock-horror – he shamelessly brings out $20m in a big box at his press conference to announce the ‘Stanford 2020 for 20’ tournament. How tacky.

Except, why should we care how he goes about his business when you consider the figures. Each winning player of the West Indies All Stars v England Twenty20 match on November 1 in Antigua will receive $1m, another $1m goes to the remaining squad players and another $1 to the winning management team.

The rest of the $7m will go to the English and West Indies boards. And there lays question – just how will the money be used and why isn’t the entire $20m going to this pot rather than to the players’ pockets?

But it’s still $7m more dollars than cricket would have without Stanford. And the rather sniffy accusations that Stanford isn’t doing it for the love of the game are irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how philanthropic Stanford’s intentions are – since when should we expect a businessman to invent vast amounts of money into cricket just for the love of it? What matters is that he’s putting the kind of money into cricket that is desperately needed. The money going to the players is an irrelevance, just a clever marketing ploy. But if the spirit of philanthropy is to be continued, then the selectors should overlook the current international players when it comes to picking the team.

Kevin Pietersen doesn’t struggle to scrape together pennies, Stuart Broad doesn’t look old enough to have his own bank account and Michael Vaughan has some very tidy housing investments. So England’s team should be made up of those never likely to win an England cap: James Middlebrook supplying the spin, Stephen Peters opening the batting and Steve Kirby opening the bowling. The question is, would it make any difference?!

Daniel Brigham is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in England, Twenty20 | 3 Comments »

Collingwood fails to take the White decision

June 26th, 2008 by TWC in England

Cricket forces you to make decisions with little time for considered reflection. Such decisions are guided by instinct, history and, lest we forget, fear. When Mark Benson looked into Paul Collingwood’s eyes with New Zealand’s Grant Elliott prostrate in the middle of the pitch, England’s captain had a decision to make. Should England’s appeal stand? Collingwood’s answer was affirmative.

Perhaps if Collingwood had heard an 1980s interview with snooker player, Jimmy White, he may have come to another decision. After calling a foul on himself and losing the frame, White was commended for his sportsmanship. In reply, Jimmy was having none of it. His inarticulate, unschooled South London drawl revealed a deep appreciation of the psychology of sporting conflict. He told us that the foul would have affected his later play, clouding his mind, blurring his focus – calling the foul had lost him the battle, but won him the war.

In those closing overs, the scoreboard looked healthier for England, but the team’s faces revealed a different story. Sidebottom was ill at ease and distracted by the crowd; other players looked at little shocked as boos rang around the ground; and Colly himself looked five years older in the final five overs. England collectively played poor cricket, culminating in comedy overthrows to lose the match.

Collingwood has apologised to New Zealand for his weak and tactically unwise decision, but he should apologise to his team and his supporters too.

By Gary Naylor

Posted in England | 10 Comments »

Down is the new up for Pietersen

June 25th, 2008 by Rob Smyth in England

In recent times, centuries of established batting norms and mores have been smacked out of the park - not least the once fundamental one, that you block the good balls and hit the bad ones – and yet one minor custom is still slavishly adhered to: that your best player bats at No3.

England, you suspect, have been looking to get Kevin Pietersen up the order since they first set eyes on him, in the one-day team at least. At first a perceived fragility against the moving ball precluded promotion, but after riotous early success he was promoted to No4 halfway through the one-day leg of the 2005 Ashes.

At that point Pietersen was averaging 115.16 from his first 17 ODIs (with a strike-rate of 102.67); since then he averages 40.61 from 57 ODIs (strike-rate: 82.77). While the first statistic has an element of freakishness (the sample is much smaller, and Pietersen was riding such a wave that would probably have racked up runs batting at No11) but it nonetheless reinforces the perception that, as a one-day player certainly, and arguably as a Test player, Pietersen is more effective when he has freedom. That he needs less responsibility, not more.

Yet England have just moved to Pietersen to No3, the most important position in any one-day team. It all started well enough, with an unbeaten century at Durham, but more instructive were Pietersen’s failures at Edgbaston and Bristol, when he was out in the eighth and fifth overs. England need Pietersen around in the last ten overs to wreak havoc, not out in the first ten.

As well as killing England’s most effective death hitter, pushing Pietersen to No3 exposes an a middle order that, with the exception of Paul Collingwood, is seriously green. Being two-down early on in a one-dayer is damaging enough; being two-down when one of the men gone is Pietersen applies an asphyxiating pressure, as was shown by the light-headed shots played when England lost four wickets for two runs at Bristol. As Radiohead said, down is the new up. Pietersen should have moved from No4 all right, but to No5 rather than No3.

Rob Smyth is a freelance journalist. Rob is part of a group running 10 miles (which is 9.9 than he’s ever run before) for the Laurie Engel Fund in London on August 31. To sponsor him, click here; to read why he’s doing it, click here; or to join in the run, email Rob.

Posted in England | 1 Comment »

John Stern: T20 must become more than just a good time

June 23rd, 2008 by John Stern in County cricket, Twenty20 and tagged

Is Twenty20 all it’s cracked up to be? I went to Lord’s the other week (as a paying punter, I hasten to add) to see Middlesex play Essex. There was a hefty crowd there, about 15,000 apparently, but nowhere near the full house that Lord’s first embraced T20 four years ago.

The whole experience left me a bit cold. It took 25 minutes to get a drink, which for an event lasting three hours is not great, and the game was almost incidental to most of the crowd. It was supposed to be a Middlesex home game yet you wouldn’t have known it. Most of the people around me in the Compton stand were blokes in suits on the piss, with very few kids in evidence. I don’t have a problem with this in principle, but surely for T20 to sustain itself at domestic level clubs must engender some serious tribal loyalty? I remember John Emburey, when he was coach of Middlesex, bemoaning the fact that the first ever Lord’s T20 match against Surrey did not feel like a home match for his county.

Of course, cricket matches – at least in England – are social events and always have been. But Twenty20, with its football-style time-span, has to develop a similar level of loyalty so people will turn up in numbers because they care about their team, and the result, rather than just to have a good time. I don’t see Twenty20 surviving simply as a vehicle for lager consumption on a weekday evening.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in County cricket, Twenty20 | 1 Comment »

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