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July 2008
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RMJ: New science brings new benefits

July 31st, 2008 by Robin Martin-Jenkins in County cricket, Miscellaneous and tagged , ,

How much has county cricket changed in the decade or so I’ve been playing? Actual on-field action has changed very little. It is the mind-set of the players and the pre- and post-match routines where change has been most prevalent.

When I started at Sussex there was a feeling that you put in the hard work so that when it came to the contracts at the end of the year they had no reason to hand you your P45. You tried to ensure you had done enough as an individual. These days they are more likely to ask: “What have you contributed to the team?” and “How have you helped to win matches for Sussex?”

Another change has been the training regimes of the players, particularly in the off-season. You used to say goodbye to your county colleagues at the end of September and hello again the following March. Only fitness fanatics could be seen on runs along the Hove seafront or the Sussex Downs. Today the players might have October off. Then it’s a regimented training programme organised by the county’s strength and conditioning coach (yes, that’s his actual title), which includes weight and sprint training as well as longer runs.

Our warm-up and cool-down on match days have changed beyond recognition. The morning warm-ups really do warm us up as opposed to the old-school 15 minutes of vague stretching and a quick net. And the word ‘cool-down’ no longer means a few pints of cold lager in the bar, rather an ice bath followed by a Jacuzzi (which apparently flushes the lactic acid out of your muscles or, to put it in English, stops you getting so stiff the next day).

They’ll be plenty of people reading this with a sceptical eye and I too have been suspicious of some of the new science that surrounds the game. But some things definitely work (the ice baths for example) and there is so much more at stake in the county game, particularly financially, that clubs would be crazy not to keep abreast of the changing ideas.

And on a final, unrelated note, we had another full house crowd at Horsham yesterday to watch some great county cricket at a beautiful ground. Just in case anyone by the name of Paddy Briggs is reading this.

2008 is Robin Martin-Jenkins’ benefit year, visit for further details.

Posted in County cricket, Miscellaneous | 10 Comments »

The TWC summit: Should Steve Harmison have an England future?

July 30th, 2008 by Sam Collins in England, Test cricket and tagged , , , ,

So Steve Harmison is back in an England shirt. He may not be in the team after the selectors chose to revert to six batsmen at Edgbaston, but he is clearly back in their thoughts. Harmison has long been the stunning but slightly mad ex-girlfriend that England just cannot get away from, but will there be a happy ending this time? Our panel try to solve the problem the selectors cannot….

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in England, Test cricket | 6 Comments »

Daniel Brigham: Collingwood or Gallian? You decide…

July 29th, 2008 by Daniel Brigham in England, Test cricket and tagged , , , , , , ,

“His fielding, his energy, and his bowling on this type of wicket could be useful if it swings,” said Michael Vaughan about Paul Collingwood’s return to the Test side. Just don’t mention the batting.

He wasn’t deemed good enough for Headingley, so how has he then become good enough to play at Edgbaston?

When Collingwood was dropped, it was hard to see how he deserved a place in the squad, let alone the team. Especially when you consider that Owais Shah, Rob Key and Ravi Bopara all produced dynamic, inspired performances in front of TV cameras this week - as they have been doing all season.

The man he’s come in for – Stuart Broad – is also in much better form with the bat. So, by bringing back a batsman for a bowler, England appear to have actually weakened their batting. Not strengthened it.

“He’s just a good man to have around the team, because he’s very mature and a good thinker of the game”, says Vaughan on Collingwood. That’s OK then, good to know that form and ability doesn’t come into it, as long as he’s a good man.

Essex’s Jason Gallian is a very nice man and very mature, but he hasn’t played a Test for 13 years. I wonder if Gallian feels let down by the selectors and Vaughan.

Daniel Brigham is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in England, Test cricket | 11 Comments »

Performance of the week: Rob Key

July 29th, 2008 by Edward Craig in County cricket, Twenty20 and tagged , , , ,

5. Rob Key - 52, Kent v Middlesex, Twenty20 final, The Rose Bowl, 26 July 2008

He may have ended up on the losing side, he may not have been as explosively entertaining as Owais Shah but Rob Key’s performance in the Twenty20 Cup final was like eating a three-course meal in a greasy spoon.

Food has always been part of Key’s character and despite being a svelte version of his less athletic self, he’s still no Audrey Hepburn. So when he bats with such grace and flair, it always seems incongruous. Those of us who don’t get down to Canterbury regularly forget the elegance and style he plays with; timing, placement, a unique, flowing technique.

And added to that is intelligence. His 52 off 30 balls contained no bludgeoning sixes or smeared fours. He played the situation, timing boundaries when needed, and if he’d cashed in twice that over, he’d take three singles and avoid any further risk. He scored quickly and quietly - yet hit nine fours and a six.

He was also the only player to overcome the suffocating Middlesex spin with careful reverse and slog sweeps - if there is such a thing. Okay, Kartik got him in the end but Kartik’s send-off was met with such a withering stare that, even at his dismissal, he retained the moral high-ground.

He captained well while looking like a shambling farmer’s son. He retained his good humour throughout, especially when asked about the potential cash involved, yet he seemed the most distraught Kent player when Middlesex won.

Key seemed the most honest and level-headed player of real ability in the country.

Perhaps he should captain it …

Edward Craig is deputy editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in County cricket, Twenty20 | 12 Comments »

JRod: Cricket facing major roadblock

July 28th, 2008 by JRod in International, Test cricket and tagged , , , ,

Being that this is my first post on the hallowed walls of TWC’s blog, I thought I’d start with something uncontroversial: that players from predominantly white countries are scared of travelling to an Islamic country to play cricket.

You know, bombs ‘n stuff.

Pakistan still harbours thoughts of playing home cricket games against white teams.

I still harbour thoughts about Natalie Portman.

Pakistan and myself need to get over these thoughts.

Australia isn’t scheduled to go there until Ponting’s new baby is old enough to get arrested.

Graeme Smith has mentioned his team’s reluctance: “From the players’ point of view, we do have major concerns with security in Pakistan.”

This is the man who, during the IPL, stayed in Jaipur after 80 people were bombed into oblivion and lives in a country where barbed wire is not just for keeping horny bulls away from flirty cows.

The Jaipur bombs went off a couple of clicks from the team hotel, yet he stayed in the country, and in the city, until the tournament finished and the final cheque was cashed.

Cynical people, like me, may say that he would get paid a few more dollars for sticking around in Jaipur than he would for flying off to Pakistan.

That will always remain an unknown until Pakistan starts their own PPL.

That is unlikely as the cheerleaders would have to go and without cheerleaders Twenty20 is just backyard cricket with uniforms.

Andrew ‘Roy’ Symonds, an Australian, plays cricket like a virile gladiator.

But mention Pakistan and bombs and he turns into Bambi.

When Australia is to tour India, there will be no such concern, Roy will not mention anything about bombs, in fact there is a chance he thinks bombs only go off in Pakistan.

He will jump on the plane and get over there like he did when he was given a seven-figure cheque for the IPL.

Apparently the bombs in India aren’t as loud as the Pakistani ones – the Indian terrorists should look into this.

Cricket is facing a major road-block if one of the major cricket nations, not one of the minnows like New Zealand, cannot be toured by people with a pale complexion.

We all remember what has happened when Pakistan has played at neutral venues, Inzi got spudded and Tubby Taylor made 300.

Both of these things were blights on the game and for the good of humanity should never happen again.

Jrod is an Australian cricket blogger, his site won July’s Best of Blogs in TWC, and he’ll be writing as dangerously as he’s allowed for the next four weeks.

Posted in International, Test cricket | 23 Comments »

The fall and rise of Graham Napier

July 25th, 2008 by Alan Gardner in County cricket, Twenty20 and tagged , , , ,

This week, Essex’s newly-famous allrounder Graham Napier took 4-50 against Gloucestershire in Division Two of the County Championship– his best figures with the ball in first class cricket since the summer of 2004. Two things may strike those who know Napier primarily because of his pyrotechnic 152 in this year’s Twenty20 Cup as surprising: first, he’s no mean bowler, who can play the longer game as well; and second, his form has been in an agricultural-sized trough for the last few seasons.

The 2001 Essex yearbook reveals how Napier was viewed when he first emerged at the County Ground in Chelmsford. The 2000 season round-up records that, “Napier recovered from back surgery and a remodelled action to play some exciting innings in the First XI’s one-day matches, and should be pressing for a regular first team place this year”. A combative batsman, often sent in as an opener or No3, he could also send down a few overs during the middle of an innings. His promise was clear – though, as often happens to players who can perform more than one role, Essex didn’t always seem to know what to do with him.

Rather than becoming an identikit Ronnie Irani, scoring runs from the middle-order and chipping in with his useful medium pace, Napier morphed into a short and skiddy, but effective, opening bowler. In 2003 he took 39 wickets in one-day competitions at just under 17, earning him place in the ECB’s fledgling academy. The next summer, he picked up 39 championship wickets at an average of 37, as well as another 28 at 16 in List A cricket. There was also a hundred from just 78 balls batting at No8 against Nottinghamshire, his maiden first-class century. Essex-goers have long known of his potential; but then he almost sunk without trace.

Injuries and rapidly draining confidence meant that Napier subsided from being a front-line bowler in both the long and short forms of the game, to captaining the second XI at the start of the 2008 season. The question of alternative vocations was beginning to arise – but the green shoots of Napier’s revival may have been visible even then, on the pages of his Essex blog.

Wintering in New Zealand, Napier seems to have reapplied himself to the task of making the most of his talent, rediscovering some of his former élan. Playing club cricket for Upper Valley he took his first ever hat-trick, on his way to 7-34, and was also called into the Wellington State Shield side, for whom he played four games, taking nine wickets at just 16. Maybe sharing the batting with Stephen Fleming helped to concentrate the mind, but it was for Wellington that Napier made his best Twenty20 score of 48* – until detonating Sussex to all parts of the County Ground four weeks ago, that is.

On Twenty20 finals day, opposition bowlers will fear Napier’s flashing Worsop Stebbing, for the 28-year-old is a man who truly ‘gives’ himself to the slog. Opening batsmen will do well to protect their stumps against his accurate new-ball bowling (nine of his 15 wickets in T20 this year have been bowled or LBW). The Stanford Challenge and a lucrative IPL contract beckon if form and self-belief hold.

Napier’s very public career renaissance has been played out in the harum-scarum arena of 20-over cricket, where, conversely, he seems to have at last found some stability. The square base and clean hitting which have propelled so many balls boundary-ward demonstrate an uncluttered technique, and his role within the side now seems equally clear.

Amid such calm, fans of the Eagles will be hoping Napier can unleash another storm tomorrow.

When not fervently following Essex, Alan Gardner is a freelance journalist based in London

Posted in County cricket, Twenty20 | 4 Comments »

The TWC summit: Edgbaston selection

July 25th, 2008 by Sam Collins in England, Test cricket and tagged , , , ,

Fresh from the melee caused by Darren Pattinson’s selection at Headingley, the England selectors will be under intense scrutiny when they name their squad for the Third Test on Saturday. As always, our panel are desperate to lend them some advice…

Edward Craig
Deputy editor of The Wisden Cricketer
Cook, Strauss, Vaughan, Pietersen, Bell, Bopara, Read, Flintoff, Broad, Anderson, Panesar

I am desperate for Ambrose to be dropped and Read to be picked. I am also keen to fit in the most talented player on the county circuit - effectively playing in Collingwood’s position. Vaughan is a dead-man walking as well - he needs runs.
That’s basically the attack they had at Headingley who bowled without luck. On another day, England would have had a first-innings lead in that game.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in England, Test cricket | 7 Comments »

YouTube five-for: Andrew Flintoff

July 25th, 2008 by Sam Collins in England, Test cricket and tagged , , , , , ,

Does Andrew Flintoff represent England’s past or England’s future? We look back at five memories that show just how important he is to England right now…

1. Flintoff’s magic over, England v Australia, 2nd Test, Edgbaston, July 2005

While Andrew Flintoff may not be a prolific wicket-taker, he gets good players out. Here Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting were the victims in an over of resonant brilliance. He began it on a hat-trick (he had cleaned up the Australian first innings with two in two) and ended it with four wickets in nine balls. The ninth ball brought the crucial wicket of Ponting, with a rasping legcutter after Flintoff had bowled a no-ball with the sixth ball of the over.

Following a miserable performance at Lord’s this was the match that confirmed – against the best team in the world – he was a world-class allrounder (68, 3 for 52; 73, 4 for 79). His heroics with the ball followed a brilliant counter-attacking 73 that had single-handedly restored England’s chances after they slumped to 75 for 6 in their second-innings. And all this with a shoulder injury.

At Edgbaston, Flintoff gave his team-mates – and the rest of the country – belief that England could win the Ashes. This over was what England’s attack missed in the last two days at Lord’s – pace, bounce and bags of personality. Things may not have gone according to plan at Headingley, but the precedent is there.

2. 95 at The Oval, England v South Africa, 5th Test, September 2003

If Flintoff’s finest hour was Edgbaston, it was during the South Africa series in 2003 that he finally harnessed an allround talent capable of consistently influencing Test matches.

He had slain 142 in a losing cause at Lord’s, but the defining innings of his summer was to come in the fifth Test at The Oval. In an emotional match of fond farewells (Alec Stewart), welcome backs (Graham Thorpe), and thank god you’ve finally got some runs (Marcus Trescothick), it was Flintoff’s first-innings partnership with Steve Harmison that proved the precursor for England’s successes over the next two years.

That England won by nine wickets when the bookies had offered 40-1 against the victory at the start of the second day says it all. Flintoff and Harmison came together with England’s first innings at 502 for 8, a lead of just 18. Up to that point it had been all Trescothick and Thorpe, their runs rescuing England and ensuring the match looked a certain draw.

Flintoff had other ideas, smashing a quickfire but controlled 95 to give England a 102-run lead and completely change the game’s complexion. One six off Ntini was the highlight, hard, long and straight into the Pavilion. As Wisden put it, “the only thing agricultural about his innings was the assured way he farmed the strike: Harmison’s contribution to a stand of 99 was a level-headed three. For South Africa, the psychological damage of watching ball after ball sail over the rope was as telling as the runs themselves.”

Harmison chose the South African second innings to begin the climb that would lift him to the top of the international rankings within a year – England were on their way to winning the Ashes.

3. Flintoff’s first Test five-for, West Indies v England, 3rd Test, Bridgetown, April 2004

This first five-for of Flintoff’s Test career marks a watershed in his progression as a bowler. Prior to it, Flintoff had taken just 55 wickets in 31 Tests at 45.07. In 37 Tests since, he has 136 at 27.93. With greater experience and confidence he has started to pick up the wickets he had often deserved.

It remains something of a paradox that while Flintoff is feted as England’s best bowler, he has taken just two five-wicket-hauls in 68 Tests. To put that into perspective, using his Ashes stablemates as comparison, Steven Harmison has eight five-fors in 57 Tests, Matthew Hoggard seven in 67, and Simon Jones three in just 18. Even James Anderson, for all his inconsistency, has five in 27 Tests. Admittedly, Flintoff has 10 four wicket hauls to his name but his wicket-taking record remains one of underachievement.

For someone hailed as a returning saviour, a return of one wicket from 40 tight overs at Headingley was modest. Duncan Fletcher wrote in The Guardian: “Andrew Flintoff’s bowling is a concern … We keep hearing about a bowler who’s world-class – he does keep things exceptionally tight – but there is a bit of history in his failure to take big wicket hauls. You must question his thinking about how to get a batter out and his lack of variation.”

In this game, Matthew Hoggard’s second innings hat-trick stole Flintoff’s thunder as England won by eight wickets, but that underlines the strength of an attack that hunted with a formidable pack mentality.

Now, as the leader of a coltish English side (at least in terms of experience), Flintoff has added responsibility. At 30, injury permitting, he could still play another 30 Tests. Can he now learn how to take the regular five-wicket hauls that England need?

4. Bowls Yousuf, Pakistan v England, 1st Test, Multan, November 05

Not a game that England or Flintoff will remember particularly fondly, the Ashes hangover that had begun amid such good humour in Trafalgar Square became a full-blown problem in Multan.

Missing the injured Michael Vaughan and Simon Jones, England contrived to lose by 22 runs after stand-in captain Marcus Trescothick’s 193 had helped them to a first innings lead of 144. Little did we know then that it was the beginning of the end of Trescothick; although even he was powerless as Danish Kaneria and Shoaib Akhtar dismantled England in the second innings.

But one ball from Flintoff, one 87.3mph yorker that was too good for the defensive prod of Mohammad Yousuf, lit up Flintoff’s match. Yousuf would score 337 runs in his remaining four innings in the series. He was Test player of the year a year later. He was no mug.

Against South Africa’s top-heavy top-order in this 2008 series, the yorker could be a vital weapon, and few in England employ it better than Flintoff. Ryan Sidebottom pointed the way when he ripped out Jacques Kallis at Lord’s, but otherwise it has been an underemployed tactic.

Flintoff’s lack of Test wickets could be because he does not bowl straight enough. Flintoff has 198 wickets in 68 Tests, Matthew Hoggard 248 in 67, a difference understandable given Flintoff’s slow start. 142 of Flintoff’s victims have been caught, not far behind Hoggard’s 147. However, 101 of Hoggard’s wickets, or 41%, have come bowled or lbw, as opposed to Flintoff’s 54 (27%). The gap is because Hoggard attacks the stumps. Hoggard may be a different type of bowler to Flintoff, but the message is clear, pitch it up, bowl straight, and you may start getting luckier.

5. Sledging Tino Best, England v West Indies, 1st Test, Lord’s, July 2004

Flintoff brings likeability and charisma to a side that has been dogged with controversy in his absence.

Whatever the individual rights-and-wrongs of jellybean-gate, Grant Elliott-gate and some embarrassing attempts by England players to adopt aggressive body-language, they have cast a shadow over any development under Peter Moores.

This is a famous clip – you’d be hard pushed to find a Flintoff fan who hasn’t heard “mind the windows Tino” – but that doesn’t diminish its value. Flintoff is first hard and to the point with Dwayne Bravo, then talks out Tino Best. Sledging, yes, but with a smile. Hopefully some of his more impressionable his team-mates will take a leaf.

Sam Collins is web editor of

Posted in England, Test cricket | 3 Comments »

RMJ’s ground rules

July 24th, 2008 by Robin Martin-Jenkins in County cricket, Miscellaneous and tagged , , , ,

What is it that makes a cricket ground an attractive place to play and watch? Sussex played at Arundel last week – our favourite venue, both for results (we’ve won there for the last four years) and for the glory of the parkland setting. It’s a ground that is full of character. In contrast, the second team played at Derby; a ground that hardly has players drooling with anticipation and, true to form, they returned complaining of cramped facilities and a drab mood. Even the food that used to be Derby’s saving grace has gone downhill.

For the spectators, amenities and conveniences may be the most important factor in deciding whether a ground appeals. The players’ facilities are universally good now so he looks for something else too. It may be the architecture. To hit a four and see it racing away towards the Grandstand at Lord’s or the Pavilion at Trent Bridge is a wonderful feeling – certainly better than seeing the ball rolling towards the uninspiring grey monotony at Edgbaston, or the vast emptiness of half of Old Trafford. Similarly the cathedral at Worcester, or Lumley Castle at Chester-le-Street, adds sophistication and mood to the grounds they overlook.

It may be more subtle. Chelmsford, Taunton and Hove contain no obvious beauty – no sweeping statements of majesty – but each has an intimacy and individuality that makes them a joy to play at and watch from. Chelmsford and Taunton are compact grounds. Short straight boundaries make it feel like the crowd is on top of you and must make the spectator feel more involved. Hove, Sussex’s home ground, has the seaside atmosphere and it’s just as well it does. Who knows if it would be such a well-loved ground if the same set of buildings were uprooted to the Midlands and seagulls no longer whooped and wailed above …

2008 is Robin Martin-Jenkins’ benefit year, visit for further details.

Posted in County cricket, Miscellaneous | 24 Comments »

The TWC summit: The EPL

July 23rd, 2008 by Sam Collins in County cricket, England

After the ECB announced its proposals for an English Premier League last week, we asked our panel to give their verdict on the new domestic structure…

Edward Craig

Deputy editor of The Wisden Cricketer

The EPL is a fantastic idea. It will re-generate the flagging Twenty20 Cup with some glamorous overseas players and a cash investment that can market
and spice up each match more successfully than happens now. It is self-contained in the schedule, will have an added tension with promotion and relegation and more people will be able to see a higher-class competition. It will be county cricket played with England players – yes, England players, county cricket, playing – it can happen, and the rest of the world will watch. Twenty20 Internationals are becoming increasingly important, this can only help England’s T20 prospects. And the Twenty20 Friday league? Now everyone knows when the games will be – every Friday - brilliant. Not even football does that. I think the ECB have got this one right.

Daniel Brigham

Assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer

The EPL will be of massive interest for about the first five games. Then everyone will realise watching Middlesex take on Northamptonshire, with Matthew Bell and Paul Harris among the ‘star’ international players, is about as close to the IPL as the Carling Cup is to the Champions League.

The ECB has missed a massive opportunity to secure cricket’s future in the British – and the worldwide – public’s conscience for the next couple of decades and all because Giles Clarke thinks ‘counties first, England second.’ It stinks.

Rob Smyth

Freelance journalist and fitness fanatic

When football’s Premier League was set up in 1992, the legendary writer Brian Glanville christened it the ‘Greed Is Good’ league. The description looks more apt by the year, and it surely applies to the EPL. It’s too much of a bad thing. Aside from that Twenty20 is an affront to the game, with all the soul and wit of a drunken back-alley fumble, the structure looks flawed on a number of levels, not least the preposterous plan to invite two guest overseas teams each year. For the umpteenth time, the ECB has shown it knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Robin Martin-Jenkins

Sussex allrounder, columnist and beneficiary

I’d say the new plans for T20 in this country are disappointing. I don’t see much difference between the two different proposed competitions. Admittedly we await the decision on how many overseas players will be allowed but a competition with fewer sides, and therefore better players, including some top-class overseas ones, would surely be a more attractive proposition for potential sponsors and the TV audience. It wouldn’t have to be based on cities (that would clearly not work) but the 18 counties could have been split into six areas with the venues for matches shared between the three teams in each area. County stalwarts, like me, might miss out on the new competition but I think I’m big enough to forgo a salary hike for the betterment of English cricket!

King Cricket

Blogger extraordinaire

Of course they’ve fudged it. The ECB are fudgers par excellence. Only people made out of sugar, butter or milk need apply for positions there.

That said, there was no perfect solution. They wanted cricket on Friday nights and they wanted a big tournament that would attract the stars. Unfortunately the cricket calendar makes those two wants mutually exclusive, so they’ve created a competition for each: the big name-laden EPL and a longer-running tournament for July, August and September. Maybe this is the next step in their market research and the two competitions will be amalgamated with the best bits of each in a few years.

Initially, the EPL appears significantly the bigger draw. However it may suffer through direct comparisons with the IPL. Plus it’s got that stupid league-leading-to-semi-finals format that makes finishing top of little actual benefit.

If the EPL does come out like a pale facsimile of its Indian cousin, then perhaps elements of the other league will have more legs. Get regular Friday night matches onto terrestrial television and who honestly knows how successful it might prove? Twenty20 might reach newer viewers who wouldn’t be attracted by international players they’ve never heard of anyway. It’ll be a new British summer lifestyle: everyone watching the Twenty20 before heading off to the pub …
No? Not buying it?

Sam Collins

Web editor of www.

It’s a classic, bungling farce from the ECB. Clarke and Collier are comic-book villains – blinkered and greedy. Not only does the new structure threaten to saturate Twenty20, but it is crass stupidity to hold the EPL in June, when the English summer is at its most unpredictable. Seeing as we are no longer allowed to watch Test cricket after the beginning of August, why couldn’t they have held it then? I do like the idea of Friday night Twenty20, but that is an isolated positive.

The person I feel sorry for in all this is Keith Bradshaw. He came up with a great idea and he’s been hung out to dry. He’s a cricket administrator, not David Blaine, and was never going to convince counties to sign up for a structure that might eventually lead to their downfall. The EPL is merely further confirmation that the much-needed reform in the English game will never happen because of the self-interest of the counties.


Most think it’s a bad thing, there’s a lone voice in support, although all our writers do concede positives. Still, the ECB and Giles Clarke have clearly given us the feeling that money comes first in their brave new world. We’ll have to wait till 2010 to find out whether it’ll work but before then we still need to know how many overseas players will play and exactly who those overseas teams will be (Allen Stanford’s got a side, apparently … )

Posted in County cricket, England | 6 Comments »

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