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RMJ: Meaningful practice makes perfect

July 10th, 2008 by Robin Martin-Jenkins in County cricket

A quirk of the county fixture list and Sussex’s inability to qualify for the current spate of one-day quarter-finals has meant that we have only nine days cricket in July. So what are we doing with our time? A few days off, naturally. And the rest of the time for some serious practice; a luxury we’re not usually afforded in the summer.

I’ve always thought English cricketers are very poor practicers. Perhaps it’s because we play so many games. Or it might be because, generally, practice facilities at the first-class grounds are still of a very poor standard.

Whatever it is, when we do get the chance for a net it’s usually just a quick bat or bowl to make you try and feel good for the next day. No real purpose to it.

On the last two mornings at Hove we have been treated to a fascinating lecture by Dave Aldred, who is best known for being Jonny Wilkinson’s kicking coach. He is a convincing speaker and puts forward the case for challenging conventional training methods in order to best prepare yourself for the upcoming match.

The crux of his argument? Well two things really. Your training must be totally relevant to what you’re going to come up against in the next match. Otherwise it’s a waste of time. And it must contain elements to challenge you and make you think under pressure.

That’s simplifying it but he really made sense. I’ll give you an example of a net I had the other day and then tell you how we are intending to net from now on and you can tell me which one you think is the more effective.

The other day I turned up to bowl at a young Sussex batsman. He was right-handed. I bowled for 10 minutes without any real purpose except to try and get him out. Then I bowled for another 10 minutes at another right-hander. The other bowler in the net was our young left-arm spinner, Tom Smith. We bowled alternate balls.

I’ll interject at this stage and say that our next game is against Hampshire, who have five or six left-hand batsmen in their top seven. And they don’t have a left-arm spinner.

Tomorrow I intend to have a net when I bowl only against left-handers and I’ll bowl six balls at a time, practising trying to move the ball across them before swinging one back in to their pads. I’ll then rest for six balls before starting again. Our batsmen won’t face Tom Smith.

One of Hampshire’s main threats will be the 6ft 8in Chris Tremlett. We have a young bowler on the academy who is 6ft 8in. He’ll be bowling in the nets tomorrow… I think you get the drift.

Relevant, meaningful practice. It sounds obvious but you’d be amazed how few English cricketers do it.

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

Posted in County cricket | 7 Comments »

King Cricket: ECB should lose tradition and win matches at Lord’s

July 10th, 2008 by Alex Bowden in England, New Zealand in England, South Africa in England

With an ever-increasing roster of international cricket venues in England and Wales, the ECB has come under increasing pressure to grant Lord’s just one Test a year, rather than two.

People have given a number of reasons as to why this should happen. In our eyes the best reason is tradition. Tradition seems to be the best defence from Lord’s as to why it should continue to host two Tests.

Tradition isn’t a reason. Tradition’s the complete absence of a reason. Tradition’s all about blindly and unquestioningly continuing to do things long after a reason has been lost in the mists of time.

The second argument in favour of Lord’s ‘right’ to two Tests a year is that players from opposing countries wouldn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to play at ‘the home of cricket’.

We don’t doubt that Test cricketers from around the world like and respect the hallowed ground, but this lofty reputation is largely reinforced by banal leading questions to opposing players that usually take the form: ‘You must have always dreamed about playing a Test at the home of cricket’. How do you answer that? By saying no?

It was interesting to note that Daniel Vettori wasn’t totally au fait with the script earlier this summer. When interviewed in the Independent, he admitted that a home debut had the edge for New Zealand cricketers, closely followed by matches at the MCG or the SCG and maybe then Lord’s. So while it isn’t too far from the pinnacle in the eyes of the New Zealand captain, you do wonder what he might have said if it had been the build-up to a Test at Eden Gardens.

Most importantly however, there’s a cricketing reason for reducing the number of Lord’s Tests. England aren’t hugely successful there.

The last five Lord’s Tests have all been drawn, but that might change this week. South Africa have played at Lord’s three times since readmission and have won by 356 runs, 10 wickets and by an innings and 92 runs.

In 1994 England were bowled out for 99, chasing 456 runs to win; in 1998 they were all out for 110 in their first innings, with Allan Donald taking 5-32; and in 2003 an England first innings of 173 was followed by a South African first innings of 682-6 declared, with Graeme Smith smiting 259.

A record like that begs the question, just what are the MCC members celebrating with all that champagne?

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, New Zealand in England, South Africa in England | 12 Comments »

YouTube five-for: England highs against South Africa

July 10th, 2008 by Sam Collins in England, South Africa in England and tagged , ,

As England and South Africa prepare to square-up at Lord’s the general consensus seems to be that England are going to take a high-octane beating this summer. At TWC we like to stay positive, so we’ve trawled the web to come up with five moments from the past 14 years that England have got one over on the Saffers. Enjoy.

1. Devon Malcolm takes 9 for 57, 5th Test, The Oval, 1994

Devon Malcolm’s England career was a cataclysmic mixture of searing pace, wasted potential, bad management, utter dross, and this. Like Senator Geary in the Godfather part II the South Africans’ bravado played the decisive part in their own downfall, as the normally placid Malcolm was moved to promise them “You guys are history” after Fanie de Villiers had had the temerity to thwack his helmet with a bouncer. He did not disappoint, reducing the tourists to 1 for 3, and claiming the first seven wickets to fall before Darren Gough finally spoilt his fun by dismissing Darryl Cullinan. Malcolm went on to claim nine - the first England bowler to do so since Jim Laker - as England dismissed South Africa for 175 and went on to square the series.

2. Mike Atherton scores 185*, 2nd Test, Johannesburg, 1995

If you delight in dour, dogged defiance then it doesn’t come much better than this. Athers gritted out 643 minutes, faced 492 balls and bored 11 South Africans to tears as he saved a Test that he had simply no right to. Chasing 479 to win, England had slumped to 167 for 4 by the close of the fourth day with Atherton unbeaten on 82. He would bat the whole of the fifth day, not without luck (Gary Kirsten dropped him on 99), but who cares about that? It was his finest seven hours – his definitive innings. That England still lost the series 2-0 goes some way to explaining his frustrations as captain of an ordinary England side.

3. Allan Donald works over Mike Atherton, 4th Test, Trent Bridge, 1998.

While Glenn McGrath rarely failed to get him out, in the mid-90s the South Africans just couldn’t shift Atherton. They arrived at Trent Bridge one up in the rubber with two Tests to play, with Allan Donald at the peak of his powers (he took 33 wickets at just 19 that summer). They left, demoralised, and level at 1-1 after an eight-wicket England win that had Atherton’s second-innings 98* stamped all over it. History remembers the result and its significance in a series that England won 2-1 but a lightning spell from Donald after Atherton had failed to walk overshadows everything else that happened in that Test.

“Vicious, really, really vicious,” says David Gower, with a wonderfully casual air of understatement after Donald had shaved Atherton’s ear from round the wicket at a shade over 90mph. “Between them they could write a book these two.” Atherton, it turned out, did.

Much has been written of my joust with Donald: some negative things, of umpiring decisions, of batsmen not walking, and sledging. Every person, however, that I’ve spoken to has seen it in a positive light and said it was some of the most compelling cricket they have seen. Enough said.

Atherton survived to lead England to their target of 247 and Donald’s misery was complete when Mark Boucher spilled a regulation catch from Nasser Hussain in the middle of the onslaught. To English fans it remains the great duel of modern times.

4. England beat South Africa, 3rd Test, Trent Bridge, 2003

The third Test at Trent Bridge was notable for far more than James Anderson’s ridiculous red hair, as England fought their way back into a series that Graeme Smith’s two double-centuries had dominated for South Africa. Fledgling skipper Michael Vaughan found solace in an unlikely source, James Kirtley, who took a second-innings 6 for 34 on debut to skid England to victory.

Under immense pressure after South Africa’s crushing victory by an innings-and-92 runs at Lord’s England responded positively, with Mark Butcher and Nasser Hussain scoring centuries in their first-innings 445. Andrew Flintoff then removed Smith for 35, a relative cameo, while Anderson claimed five wickets as England established a first-innings lead of 83 on a disintegrating pitch before the real drama began.

Shaun Pollock’s six wickets bowled England out for 118 but they still had a lead of 201, Kirtley struck early and South Africa were a nervous 50 for 5 at the start of the fifth day. This soon became 131 all out, as Kirtley and England wrapped up a 70-run victory before lunch. Wisden charitably record Kirtley having bowled ‘the odd shooter’ but Smith described the surface as the worst Test pitch he’d seen. England didn’t care, they were back in the summer.

5. Matthew Hoggard takes 7 for 61, 4th Test, The Wanderers, 2004

You cannot help but feel for Matthew Hoggard. As Andrew Flintoff, Simon Jones and even Steve Harmison push for recalls to the Test fold, Hoggard has plummeted from England’s main bowler to the forgotten man in five short months. At least, if he doesn’t play again, he can look back on spells like this.

Hoggard’s first innings 5 for 144 had come in a disappointing England fielding performance, they had a first-innings deficit of eight despite Andrew Strauss’ century. England tottered at 189 for 5 on the final morning, a draw was favourite, a South African victory a possibility. Then Marcus Trescothick smashed 180, changed the mood entirely and set South Africa a target of 325 in 68 overs.

From then, it was all Hoggard. South Africa were quickly 18 for 3 as even the monolithic Jacques Kallis came and went first ball. The first six to fall were all Hoggard’s as England battled against the clock and the darkness, before Herschelle Gibbs and the injured Graeme Smith came together in a seventh-wicket partnership that looked destined to deny England. When Hoggard finally induced an edge from last-man Dale Steyn, England had won, Hoggard had taken seven in the innings and 12 in the match – and the catalyst for one of England’s great Test victories.

Sam Collins is web editor of

Posted in England, South Africa in England | 1 Comment »

Ravi sheds his inhibitions

July 10th, 2008 by Sam Collins in County cricket, England, Miscellaneous and tagged , ,

Yes. That really is Essex and England’s Ravi Bopara, with a Nuts girl (Imogen, seeing as you asked. Hi there Imogen), holding a drill, standing outside a shed, in Sloane Square. No, I’m not sure why either.

Hang on, suddenly it all makes sense. It’s national shed week. That explains that then.

And what better way for a young man to get over his omission from the Test squad than by hanging out with a Nuts girl by a shed in West London? Nice little way to spend a Saturday if you ask me.

Ravi certainly seemed to be enjoying himself, and was overheard telling people (for his sake hopefully not Imogen), ‘I have a shed as do my mum and my brother I use it for my dogs as a big kennel as I don’t let them in my house. My brother has turned his into a gym!’

Captioning this picture is too easy, but consequently too difficult, so I’m not going to bother. You can do it.

Best answer might even win a prize.

Sam Collins is web editor of

Posted in County cricket, England, Miscellaneous | 22 Comments »

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