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August 2008
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Rob Smyth: Middle-order fluidity is the future

August 29th, 2008 by Rob Smyth in England, One-day cricket and tagged , , , ,

Last Friday evening, a disproportionate number of English males lived out their ultimate fantasy. This had nothing to do with two sisters, an inexplicable increase in pheromones or a happy hour that lasted all night. It was because of two men playing cricket in Yorkshire.

From the moment Kevin Pietersen strong-armed his way into the one-day picture in South Africa in 2004-05, there was an expectation that he and Andrew Flintoff would wreak all sorts of havoc in one-day cricket. Yet it had not happened: before Friday, their only century partnership came in Test cricket, at Edgbaston in 2005.

In one-dayers, there had been little to email home about. In 11 trysts they averaged 19.63. Their only fifty partnership, against India in Delhi two years ago, was fun but futile.

Then, finally, expectation became reality at Headingley in a thrilling, match-winning partnership of 158 in 127 balls. It was fantasy cricket and Fantasy Cricket, the sort that makes them the most exciting and potentially productive names on the teamsheet.

Never before had they batted in these circumstances. They were in the final ten overs, when batsmen have a licence to do as they please, and also – crucially for these two players – they were “in”. Only once before had they been together in the last ten overs, against Australia in Melbourne during the CB Series, but in that game they came together after 37.2 overs.

Pietersen and Flintoff, though perceived as people who can lift sixes and climb Everest from the first ball, are in fact like most other batsmen at the start of the innings. Just as man needs his seven hours’ sleep, so he needs his 20 balls at the start of one-day innings to get acclimatised. It’s why these two are frequently useless in Twenty20 games.

In other words, there is an optimum time to get these batsmen to the crease; by chance, England found it on Friday. Pietersen came in after 21.3 overs; Flintoff after 28.1. If Pietersen comes in much earlier – as he often does when batting No4 – there is a considerable risk that he will not be around for the death overs, and a decent one that he will not be around to milk good spinners for 0.75 runs per ball and plunder mediocre ones for 1.5 runs a ball in the middle overs. If Flintoff arrives too early he can get in a hard-handed muddle against the spinners; if he arrives too late he does not have time to get his eye for the final assault.

The logical extension of such a perception, as was argued on these pages last week, is to abolish the idea of batting positions and embrace the idea of batting <i>roles</i>, based upon conditions and especially context. So while the openers might stay the same in all bar the most exceptional circumstances, Nos 3-8 should all be padded up at the same time ready to go, like a team full of subs warming up in football, all with a view to ultimately getting Pietersen and Flintoff in the same position as last Friday.

For example, if England are two down inside the first ten overs on a flat deck they might send in Paul Collingwood rather than Pietersen. If they are playing Sri Lanka, and Murali and Mendis are lurking, they might send Flintoff in at No3 and tell him to have a biff against the seamers; certainly they would want to keep such an excellent player of spin as Owais Shah in hand. What you certainly do not do – as happened in the Natwest Series final of 2005 – is have Pietersen and Flintoff at the crease when you are three down in the seventh over.

When you have the depth of batting afforded by Flintoff and Stuart Broad, it is hard to find a satisfactory reason not to embrace the idea of a fluid batting order - even if around 70% of the time there would be no need for it in practice. There is talk of players needing to learn a position, but that position might involve three or four significantly different circumstances: the key is that they learn roles rather than positions. Come in Nos 3-8, your time is up.

In many ways, those roles are like gender roles in society – blurring all the time, ultimately to the point of indistinguishability. As Mark Renton says in the film Trainspotting: “In a thousand years, there will be no men or women, just wa**ers, and that’s fine by me”.

Fifty-over cricket will be dead in a thousand years’ time. But if it was alive, there would be no No3s and No4s, just batsmen, and that’d be fine by me.

Posted in England, One-day cricket | 3 Comments »

The TWC summit: Should Michael Vaughan be part of England’s future?

August 28th, 2008 by Sam Collins in England, Test cricket, The Ashes and tagged , , , ,

With Michael Vaughan making his County Championship return yesterday, and continuing the inauspicious form he showed against South Africa in being dismissed for just 10, it raises the question of whether he should be selected for England’s winter tours? Vaughan has expressed his desire to force his way back into the England side this winter ahead of next summer’s Ashes, but with a maximum of seven Championship innings remaining, time is running out for him to make his case to the selectors. There is also the issue of his apparently fractious relationship with Peter Moores to consider, as well as where Vaughan should bat were he to return? We asked our panel whether Vaughan should have an England future…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in England, Test cricket, The Ashes | 14 Comments »

Performance of the week: Matt Prior

August 28th, 2008 by Sam Collins in England, One-day cricket, South Africa in England and tagged , , ,

9. Matt Prior - six catches and 45*, England v South Africa, 2nd ODI, Trent Bridge, 26th August 2008

“Having craved a wicketkeeper who averaged in excess of 40, England found the grass wasn’t necessarily greener on the other side. His butterfingered keeping and ham-fisted sledging started to rub people up the wrong way … “

So wrote Wisden of Matt Prior’s ill-fated opening year of Test cricket, providing further evidence of why the England wicketkeeper stands behind only the credit-crunch and Peaches Geldof as an inducer of national angst.

Given the chance to make the position his own, Prior’s failings with the gloves outweighed tangible success with the bat and he was sent back to his county. Fortunately for Prior, while Tim Ambrose showcased all the charisma and ability of Iain Duncan-Smith, he was making the sort of runs (841 at 56.06) in the County Championship that made a prolonged absence impossible. Equally importantly, with the runs came positive noises from Hove about improving glovework and attitude.

When Ambrose could manage only 97 runs at 16 as England lost the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy, Prior’s return was inevitable and he was named in the squad for the ODIs, an audition for the winter tours in all but name.

Luck plays a large part in the career of a cricketer and that Prior’s return coincided with the positive feelings of Pietersen’s first few games as captain was a definite break.

Ironically his keeping has impressed more than his batting over the first two games, as a scratchy 42 and a quickfire 45 not out have failed to dispel the thoughts that he does not hit straight enough to open in the one-day game– he has scored one half-century in 25 attempts.

But, that should not detract from the near-faultless glovework that brought six catches at Trent Bridge – equalling Alec Stewart’s English ODI record. There is work to be done still to repair his reputation but the way he held on to dismiss Graeme Smith, diving one-handed far to his left, showed athleticism and guts. If he had dropped it, the old knives would have come out, but he didn’t and the praise reverberated around Nottingham.

His captain was pleased too: “He’s turned up a different bloke and he’s been brilliant. Fair play to the guy because he could have gone away and felt sorry for himself but he’s scored hundred after hundred for Sussex.

“I was pleased he finished not out with six catches. It’s brilliant because it has been a headache for however long with our wicketkeeper but let’s hope it stays good because he’s a hell of a batsman.”

Sam Collins is web editor of www.

Posted in England, One-day cricket, South Africa in England | 3 Comments »

RMJ: On Marcus’s extra-strong tactics

August 27th, 2008 by Robin Martin-Jenkins in England, Miscellaneous, Test cricket, The Ashes and tagged , , ,

I’m baffled by the furore that ‘mintgate’ seems to have caused. Marcus Trescothick is only being honest in describing a practice that has gone on in county cricket for many years. Whether it is right or wrong, all the players know about it and all the umpires know it’s going on. What astounds me is the hypocrisy that is coming out of the mouths of some of the critics, especially those from across the globe.

Almost without exception, the Australian players that toured England in 2005 would have already played cricket in England, either for clubs or counties. They would have to have been incredibly naive not to have noticed the practice of using sweets to shine the Dukes ball that is used in England – I don’t buy this sudden surprise at Marcus’s ‘revelation’. They would have known about it; known that umpires can’t do anything about it; their fault, therefore, for not using the method themselves. If it works that is …

… because it’s a moot point as to whether it makes a blind bit of difference to the amount the ball swings anyway. And it was reverse swing that caused the Aussies most trouble in 2005, not normal swing. Shining the ball using sugary saliva might sometimes help to swing a ball conventionally but it won’t help reverse swing.

I’ve now played several years with two Pakistani overseas bowlers. Pakistan have been the masters of reverse swing for many years and so the Sussex bowlers have been treated to their trade secrets many times. Without giving too much away I will say that the key criteria when trying to reverse the ball is to keep it DRY. Shine it, by all means, but get those clammy, sweaty palms off the ball. Putting sugary saliva on it certainly won’t help.

So by all means holler if you think the practice goes against the spirit of the game. But I believe it is within the Laws as they stand. If the authorities wanted to stop it they could do by adding a law that fielders are not allowed to eat anything on the pitch. That, of course, would be ridiculous.

Since the early days of cricket on Hambledon Common, cricketers have sought ways of bending the Laws. If WG was alive today I’m sure he’d be fielding at mid-off with a ready supply of Murray mints.

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

Posted in England, Miscellaneous, Test cricket, The Ashes | 5 Comments »

King Cricket: Wickets are the new runs

August 26th, 2008 by Alex Bowden in One-day cricket, South Africa in England and tagged , , , ,

Tell you what we’re losing interest in: runs.

Don’t get us wrong, we’ll still exclaim ‘shot!’ when Andrew Flintoff pops a drive straight back past the bowler. We’ll still produce a confused laugh of joy and fear when Shahid Afridi pans the ball into the stands playing across the line while standing on one toe. The feeling has lessened though. It’s to do with inflation. A four just isn’t as valuable in today’s cricketing climate.

Big, long, turgid innings aren’t a new invention and to be fair, today’s high scores are usually more spectacular than the exact same scores from years gone by, but bigger bats, shorter boundaries and flatter pitches mean runs are as plentiful as empty beer bottles in your embarrassingly full recycling box.

We notice it most in one-day cricket. Quite often we get the feeling that a one-dayer isn’t decided by the team that bats (or even bowls) better. It’s decided by who cashes in the most. Batsmen don’t merely try and put away bad balls. They work out just how many good balls they can dispatch.

The current one-day series between Sri Lanka and India has been refreshing. In three matches, the highest score has been 237-9. High scores are supposed to be more exciting, but lower totals typically offer closer matches and there’s nothing better than a close finish.

Whether batting or bowling, you’re never quite out of it when batting’s difficult. One good partnership and you can make a massive dent in your target. One wicket and things might all fall apart for the batting side.

So we’ll tell you what we love more by the match: wickets.

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 One-day cricket, South Africa in England | 5 Comments »

RMJ: At the end of the day, interviews leave me disappointed

August 22nd, 2008 by Robin Martin-Jenkins in County cricket, The media and tagged , ,

Am I alone in feeling that post-match radio and TV interviews make everyone who watches them cower on the sofa and cringe? If I had my way, I’d ban them. Having experienced various aspects of the media in both my home and working life, I know how important producers deem these interviews to be.

I once worked for a radio station covering a football match between two giants of English football: Aylesbury v Aldershot. I had to make sure I recorded the post-match reactions from players and management. After a dire game, none of the players wanted to talk – fine by me – but the losing manager was able to offer me his priceless thoughts.

His team were “gutted” by their loss (you don’t say) and they had one or two things to work on at the training ground. When I asked what they were, he said he could tell me but he would have to shoot me. Despite this rather droll answer, I deleted and did not file the interview as I didn’t think it added anything to the story of the day.

I don’t blame the journalist. He is trained to enquire about the feelings of the player, even though the viewer or listener knows full well that he will be feeling “delighted” if he has won and “disappointed” if not. I don’t blame the player or manager who answers the questions, which can often be answered best with a ‘no’ or ‘yes’.

I was once interviewed on Sky TV having just come off the field when Sussex had bowled Surrey out very cheaply. It went something like this:

Interviewer: “Well you must be absolutely delighted that you’ve bowled Surrey out for 120 on such a flat wicket. You all bowled jolly well, didn’t you?”

Me: “Yes we did rather”

Interviewer: “And I see you’re opening the batting?”

Me: “Yes I am.”

Interviewer: “Well you’d better go and put your pads on then.”

End of Interview!

My favourite moment came last year when Mushtaq Ahmed was giving one of the countless interviews he has to give. We had won the game after one of the senior players had been left out the side. A journalist asked Mushie: “Do you feel that the selectors and you have been vindicated by the result of this game?” Mushie replied: “I don’t think the press are vindictive. They can write what they want.”

They certainly can, if only they didn’t have to interview us at the end of games.

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

Posted in County cricket, The media | 11 Comments »

Performance of the week: Grant Flower

August 21st, 2008 by Benj Moorehead in County cricket and tagged , , , , , ,

8. Grant Flower - 70*, Kent v Essex, FP Trophy final, Lord’s, 16 August 2008

On the day some bulky 100m sprinters were muscling their way down the track in Beijing, a diminutive Zimbabwean was applying his own very different skills to a game of cricket at Lord’s.

Grant Flower may not be able to mix it with the Bolts of this world, and he certainly shares nothing of the Jamaican’s showmanship, yet his was the outstanding performance in the FP Trophy final last Saturday. It was less a case of flower power and more a canny, skilful display of batting which made Essex’s run chase seem academic.

But as James Foster admitted after the match, the ball was moving around all day at Lord’s. And when Flower walked to the wicket Essex were 88-3 and had just lost Ravi Bopara. Bopara and Joe Denly were supposed to be the treats of the day, but this final ultimately belonged to the unlikely lad.

Flower quickly lost Alastair Cook, and with Robbie Joseph’s eyes flashing like a true West Indian fast bowler, Kent may have dreamed of actually winning.

But Flower, showing fine judgement of the state of the game, played with impressive dexterity, calmly pushing the ball where the fielders weren’t. Well supported by Foster, Flower was forever improvising to irritate the opposition as he cruised to an unbeaten 70 and secured Essex the silverware.

Flower may not blaze a trail, but he will win you important matches.

Benj Moorehead is editorial assistant of The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in County cricket | 3 Comments »

The TWC summit: England ODI selection

August 20th, 2008 by Sam Collins in England, One-day cricket, South Africa in England and tagged , , , , , ,

The next few months spell the first crucial phase of Peter Moores’ England tenure, with the ODI series against world No2’s South Africa followed, in theory, by the Champions Trophy in Pakistan. Already 18 months into the four-year cycle leading up to the next World Cup, after an initial upturn in fortunes under the new coach if anything England appear to be regressing as a one-day outfit. With a new captain and his new ideas, England must show against the South Africans that they are at least moving in the right direction before some serious questions are asked of Moores and his staff.

Here, our panel pick their best England ODI XI, conveniently ignoring selectorial omissions and Paul Collingwood’s ongoing ban.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in England, One-day cricket, South Africa in England | 53 Comments »

Rob Smyth: Time running out for unconvincing Moores

August 19th, 2008 by Rob Smyth in England, One-day cricket, South Africa in England and tagged , , , , ,

The 50-over game may be the poor relation of the English cricket family, but its voice carries significant weight. Results in one-day cricket cost Alec Stewart his job as Test captain in 1999, despite his relatively good record. Duncan Fletcher and Nasser Hussain were both forced out of their jobs in charge of the Test team on the back of one-day results; in Hussain’s case, they weren’t even results over which he presided. In terms of punishment fitting the crime, it’s barely removed from David Brent firing Dawn for stealing post-it notes.

Peter Moores is extremely unlikely to lose his job this year – that won’t happen till after the Ashes (three of the last four England coaches have had their final Test series against the Aussies) – but if, as seems likely, England lose the upcoming series to South Africa and have a poor Champions Trophy, a hitherto benevolent media will surely turn on Moores for the first time.

In the beginning, one-day cricket cut Moores significant slack. A poor Test defeat at home to India last summer and an understandable one in Sri Lanka were largely forgiven because of the fact that the one-day side won both series – historically so in Sri Lanka – and seemed to be making genuine progress.

Since then, they have gone backwards, and Moores’ overall ODI record is now 10 wins and 12 defeats, to go with an indifferent Test record (eight wins and five defeats, but one win and four defeats against top-six opposition). There is a tendency to overestimate the disappointment of defeat to New Zealand, who beat England 3-1 home and away earlier this year; though abysmal in Test cricket at the moment, they are a consistently handy one-day side. But what was more disconcerting than the defeats themselves was the manner of them, with so many of the failings that have characterised England’s lost one-day years of 1992 to 2008 still in evidence: impotence with the bat in overs one to fifty, impotence with the ball in overs one to fifty and, most of all, a palpable lack of forward planning.

After each failure in the last four World Cups, England have promised that never again would they enter the tournament so ill-prepared. But it keeps on happening. It makes the boy who cried wolf seem like a paragon of honesty. We are already 18 months into a four-year World Cup cycle, and England are still experimenting with every aspect of their team.

We cannot be certain of England’s exact batting order in yesterday’s abandoned ODI against Scotland but, if reports are to be believed, only Nos 1 and 11 (Ian Bell and James Anderson) were in the same position as in the previous ODI, against New Zealand in June. Some change is understandable in view of injuries (Ryan Sidebottom), a new captain’s ideas (moving Owais Shah to No3) and the quality of the opposition, but nine positional or personnel changes it at least five too many.

The confusion is best reflected by the wicketkeeping issue, and its inevitable externalities. In the last three series there have been three different keepers, each involving a positional change. Phil Mustard opened away to New Zealand; Tim Ambrose batted (sic) in the middle order at home to New Zealand; and now Matt Prior will open at home to South Africa, even though he has made only one fifty in 21 innings as an ODI opener.

Prior feels unnatural in a role that demands a lot more than the brazen machismo that serves him so well in the middle order in first-class cricket. Mustard fits the position perfectly, and was developing nicely over the winter, but was dropped on the woolly grounds that England wanted the same keeper in both forms of the game.

It is not just the keepers who have been affected. Luke Wright, who has enough on his plate convincing people he is international class (a personal opinion is that he probably is as a death-hitter but not as a pinch-hitter), has been thrust up and down the order depending on where the wicketkeeper bats.

It’s a mixed blessing, but Prior and Wright might as well enjoy it while they can. Because if results continue as they are, the Sussex contingent may lose a significant dressing-room ally sooner rather than later.

Rob Smyth is a freelance journalist. Rob is part of a group running 10 miles (which is 9.9 more 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, One-day cricket, South Africa in England | 5 Comments »

Jrod: Mercenaries spell end of national pride

August 18th, 2008 by JRod in County cricket, England, International, Test cricket and tagged , , , , ,

The instructions for all cricketers at academies in South Africa, India and Australia could soon be “CHECK YOUR FAMILY TREE OR EMIGRATE”.

Because in the future it will be get harder and harder to play for the countries with depth but for those without depth, they will be happy to take whatever they can get.

New Zealand recently played an allrounder who chased a Test cap across the globe.

England play anyone who can spell “Queen”, no matter what the accent.

And now West Indies are preparing to play a Queenslander with a father who once swum for Jamaica. Brendan Nash is his name.

(I don’t like Nash, nothing to do with his mercenary dash to the Windies to grab a Test cap, but because he once pissed off Victoria in a final.)

With the IPL coming onto the scene and guys like Pattinson, KP, Grant someone, and Ambrose willing to play for anyone who asks them, is the concept of Nation-v-Nation cricket endangered?

Some players refuse to play for any country that doesn’t feel like home – see Andrew Symonds. Luke Ronchi is qualified to play for New Zealand but before anyone knew his name he ruled that option out.

But how many other young Australians, or Kolpak South Africans will feel that loyal?

In the second division of county cricket, where you have to play spot the Pom, a lot of the South Africans will one day be available to play for England.

What happens when the Indians catch onto this? They have depth in bucket loads and after a few years in a country like Bangladesh, they can get automatic Test caps. Why bother with years of waiting in India for something that may never come.

And none of this even asks the philosophical questions. Can KP really ever be English? If he wasn’t a cricketer, would he call himself English?

Deep down, does he perform because he loves the stage, or because he loves the country?

Is he as willing to take balls on the body and sacrifice his health for his country – like Justin Langer?

Will Brendan Nash play on an injury that could have long-term physical effects, like Freddy has for England, but for his adopted home?

Should you decide your nationality because of profession?

Cricket will get a lot more test studies to answer these questions.

Posted in County cricket, England, International, Test cricket | 11 Comments »

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