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September 2008
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The TWC grapevine

September 18th, 2008 by Paul Wood in County cricket and tagged , , ,

In the first of a weekly column, round up all of the latest transfers and speculation as the season comes to a close…

Kent’s Neil Dexter, who spent a period of this season on loan at Essex, has rejected the offer of a new three-year contract at Canterbury. Since returning from Essex, South African born Dexter regained his place in the Kent first team, and his last innings for the county is likely to be the 105 he made against Yorkshire at Scarborough in August.

Dexter averages over 40 in first-class cricket and it seems to be Middlesex who are going to profit from his decision to move on, despite interest from Essex, Sussex and Worcestershire. Matt Walker has also been given permission to talk to other counties, with Essex again in the picture, meaning Kent may need to strengthen their batting over the winter months. Walker made his debut for Kent in 1992 and has since made in excess of 9,700 first-class runs.

Dexter would be a safety net for Middlesex should batsman Ed Joyce decide not to renew his contract. It is thought his salary demands may have ruled Kent out of making a move, but it will not deter Hampshire or Nottinghamshire from landing a proven performer. With ambitions of playing for England again, Joyce may believe now is the right time for a fresh challenge.

Another Middlesex batsman expected to depart from St. Johns Wood is the former England U-19 player, Nick Compton. Having never quite fulfilled his potential at Middlesex (barring an outstanding 2006), Compton, who has made only 19 runs in six Championship innings in 2008, is rumoured to be considering a move to either Somerset or Sussex.

While Lancashire’s immediate future will be decided in the final two Championship games of the season, they appear willing to invest in the long-term, with 10 youngsters all signing extended deals at the club. Second team regulars Simon Kerrigan and Stephen Cheetham have signed their first two-year professional contracts, while Karl Brown, Steven Croft, Gareth Cross, Kyle Hogg, Steven Mullaney, Oliver Newby, Stephen Parry and Tom Smith have also signed on.

Nottinghamshire will not renew the contract of the experienced bowler AJ Harris, who has found opportunities tough to come by as Notts enjoyed a relatively injury free campaign in the bowling department. The loan system at least enabled him to get some cricket this year, with a brief spell at Gloucestershire and now at Division Two leaders Worcestershire.

Finally, Hampshire have released all-rounder Richard Morris, and Northamptonshire have signed 24 year-old seamer Jack Brooks, who has had trials at both Northants and Surrey this year.

Paul Wood is a freelance journalist

Posted in County cricket | 1 Comment »

Rob Smyth: Selfless hero Gough deserves our recognition

September 16th, 2008 by Rob Smyth in County cricket, England, Test cricket and tagged , , , ,

Anyone flicking through Marcus Trescothick’s autobiography will be inevitably drawn to the more salacious sections at the back. Yet the front parts are arguably more interesting, particularly in Trescothick’s cogent appraisals of the characters he played alongside for England between 2000 and 2006.

Perhaps the best is his assessment of Darren Gough, whose rich career will come to an end at his retirement party next week. “Goughy was the most instinctively clever bowler I ever played with,” wrote Trescothick. “He could switch and change to suit the conditions. He seemed to have a plan and a ball for every batsman he came up against… In the way he was always probing for a weakness and, if he found it knew exactly how to exploit it; in the way he was always at you, he made think of how Shane Warne might have operated had he been a pace bowler… it was no coincidence that the pair of them got on so well.”

The comparison is instructive on a number of levels. Gough, like Warne, deserves to be a national treasure. Yet if he is one, it is much for his moonlighting on the dance floor as his day job. Whereas some players’ feats are accentuated by time – Alec Stewart is a prime example, given the miserable struggle to adequately replace him - there is a fear that Gough’s are being diminished.

Part of that is because Gough, obviously in decline for the best part of five years, chose to fade away rather than burn out; his retirement party, called ‘Going, Going, Gough!’ should really have been called ‘Going, going, going, going, going, going, going, going, going, going, Gough!’, so drawn-out was his departure. There is also the fact that the success of the so-called Fab Four in 2004-05 inevitably obscures the memory of what went before. Yet Gough was statistically and actually superior to all of them: Harmison with heart; Hoggard with real nip; Jones with a new-ball threat; Flintoff with variety and a consistent wicket-taking threat.

England have not had a better fast bowler for 25 years, and arguably have never had a better all-weather bowler. Gough did it in all circumstances, most notably on the tour of Sri Lanka in 2000-01 when, as Scyld Berry put it, he went “round the brick wall of flat Asian pitches” to take 14 wickets at 19.57 in three Tests and spearhead a famous victory. He could rough batsmen up when he wanted – a brutal little spell to Hansie Cronje in the final hour of the dead Headingley Test of 1994 opened the door for Devon Malcolm to storm through in the next match at the Oval – or scalp them through force of personality. Like Warne, Gough loathed a meandering contest and would do anything to beg, steal or borrow a wicket. Off cutters, yorkers, leg spinners, bouncers, funny faces: Gough tried the lot. Had Strictly Come Dancing entered his life earlier, he’d probably have waltzed his way to the popping crease.

Despite his love of glory, Gough was genuinely selfless. In the Twenty20 international at the Rose Bowl in 2005, he eschewed the chance of a second hat-trick against Australia to ram a short one into Andrew Symonds, the first real statement of England’s bruising intent for the summer. Gough’s love of playing the Aussies was proof that no occasion was too big for him: he was a genuine sensation as a rookie in Australia in 1994-95 and took a hat-trick during the Sydney Test four years later. He became the first Englishman to master reverse-swing, becoming England’s greatest one-day bowler, particularly at the death, as a consequence. All this while often carrying the timber of the common man. The bigger his waist got, the bigger his heart got.

A Test record of 229 wickets at 28.39 is very good rather than great, but Gough did play 33 of his 58 Tests against the two strongest teams of the age, Australia and South Africa. Against the rest he managed 112 wickets at 22.91. And it was all his own work: Gough never openly said, like Warne, that the coach was something that brought you to the ground, but you suspect that he had the same absolute faith in his own methods. Gough worked it all out for himself, and he did it better than anyone.

All of which makes it slightly odd that Gough has not been recruited to assist the next generation of bowlers, particularly in the fine art of death bowling. Whereas Warne’s brain is perhaps the most prized resource in world cricket, nobody seems to care that much for Gough’s opinions.

Perhaps Gough is seen as too frivolous a character, or someone whose love of a beer and a good time might not set the best example. Perhaps Warne is seen as being of quintessentially Australian stock, whereas in this country Gough is seen as simple folk, somebody who excelled but was not always entirely sure why. Either way, it is nonsense. Like Warne, Gough is blessed with a quite brilliant game intelligence, one that England would be foolish to ignore in years to come. For now, however, we should raise a glass or 12 to the sort of bowler we won’t see it again in a hurry.

Rob Smyth is a freelance journalist

Posted in County cricket, England, Test cricket | 4 Comments »

King Cricket: Australia may pay for making a show of Symonds

September 15th, 2008 by Alex Bowden in International, Test cricket, The Ashes and tagged , , , ,

The Aussies are split as to whether Andrew Symonds is an arrogant head case who’s alienating all his team mates with his obnoxious behaviour or whether he’s a laid-back larrikin who’s been victimised by a career-minded, holier-than-thou Michael Clarke. We’re fortunate enough to be English, so we don’t have to choose - in our eyes, both men can do no right.

Symonds was sent home from Australia’s recent one-day series against Bangladesh after he missed a team meeting because he was fishing. It’s important to underline that Symonds didn’t go fishing knowing that he would miss this meeting. It was only called after he’d gone. This was deemed to be the final straw by the leadership group, but what were the previous weightier straws?

Malcolm Conn, writing in The Australian, believes Symonds has been suffering from an overdose of success, telling former teammates that they couldn’t go into the Australian dressing room and once squaring up to Conn in a bar before being moved away by security.

Conn’s colleague, Peter Lalor, describes a man who deems certain areas of bars to be ‘Test players only’ and who reacted petulantly to being fined $3,000 for missing a team bus to a training session while Australia were on tour in the West Indies recently.

“At the exact time of departure, Symonds’ watch would beep and he would announce that the doors had to close and the bus had to leave and anybody left behind could walk or be fined because that was the way he was treated.”

Symonds didn’t actually miss any of the practice session after making his own way there and many people feel that Ricky Ponting, vice-captain Michael Clarke, coach Tim Nielsen and manager Steve Bernard were unduly harsh in fining him.

There’s a feeling that this management team and Cricket Australia as a whole are so hell-bent on producing cricketers who are 100% committed that they’re in fact making their side overly professional; that they’re producing players without the sense of perspective and the rough edges that can be a strength in international cricket and life.

There seems a narrower perspective. You can’t see this Australia side visiting Gallipoli as they did under Steve Waugh and some see an apparent lack of tolerance for individuals that is depriving Australia of a strong cricketer.

The whole Symonds issue has become emblematic of something more, with Symonds himself cast as the symbol of old, knockabout Australia and Clarke representing the new ‘100% committed’ Australia. People are picking sides, but the truth, as always, is somewhere in between.

We’ve already stated our position. Hopefully both men will appear in the 2009 Ashes, because while sport needs its heroes, a good narrative also demands villains.

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 International, Test cricket, The Ashes | 8 Comments »

The TWC Summit - Does the County Championship matter anymore?

September 12th, 2008 by Sam Collins in County cricket, England and tagged , ,

As the County Championship enters the final stages, the race for the title could hardly be tighter, with just 21 points separating first from eighth in the top division. But does it actually matter? Does anyone care who wins this rain-affected competition, overrun with Kolpaks and hardly a high-scoring young Englishman in sight? Of course it does, and our panelists are here to tell you why…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in County cricket, England | 11 Comments »

RMJ: Farewell Mushie - Sussex’s greatest ever

September 11th, 2008 by Robin Martin-Jenkins in County cricket and tagged , ,

Sussex and our supporters said a sad farewell to Mushtaq Ahmed in a short ceremony during the tea interval of our recent match against Notts. Chris Adams was virtually in tears during his short speech and it was a strange feeling going out to field knowing that we’ll never be able to see him in action again.

He was the most successful overseas player Sussex has had, possibly their greatest ever player. Cricket historians will find bowlers that took more wickets, at a better average, for a longer period of time, but surely none who have made such an impact – turning Sussex from a frustrated club of also-rans into County Champions three seasons out of five.

I first came across Mushie when he was playing for Somerset in 1995. It was my second Sunday league match and Mushie had bowled Somerset to a convincing victory in the preceding four-dayer. I hadn’t played in that match but he was the talk of the dressing room when I arrived on that Sunday morning. His googlies and topspinners were hard enough to pick but at one point he had taken to shouting out “legspin”, or “googly”, as he let go of the ball, to help the batsman out. Of course, some calls might have been correct but some were clearly not.

When I came to bat on the Sunday, a callow 19-year-old straight out of school (where the most threatening legspin I’d faced usually bounced twice), Mushie didn’t need to call out to put me off (the umpire, Merv Kitchen had put a stop to him doing it anyway).

A fizzing legspinner ripped past my forward prod first ball. I can still clearly recall that extraordinary sound as the seam ripped through the air. What happened next is something I have since seen a 100 times since. Rob Turner, Somerset’s keeper, said something like “we all know what happens next boys”. I didn’t have a clue what he was on about. Down came the next delivery. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it was short and wide outside the off stump. I thought they said this guy was a genius? As I shaped to cut and get off the mark with a glorious four past point, the ball dipped and ripped back past my back foot. I think my bat was still at the top of its back-lift, MCC coaching book style, when the googly cannoned into middle stump.

When I returned to the dressing room, my team-mates were stifling giggles. “Didn’t see that one coming” said one of them helpfully. My reply can’t be repeated on a family website …

Eight years later Mushie would make his debut for Sussex; an unglamorous fixture against Cardiff University. No matter, it was still satisfying to see at least three of their batsmen suffer the same fate as I had eight years previously. Since then he has taken over 450 first-class wickets and made many fine batsmen look stupid when they’ve padded up to the famous googly. I think I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve walked past the dismissed batsman and said: “I didn’t see that one coming … ”

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

Posted in County cricket | 1 Comment »

An evening with Blowers

September 11th, 2008 by Sam Collins in Miscellaneous and tagged ,

We all know TMS is undergoing change, Mike Selvey can testify to that, but Henry Blofeld is not going anywhere. For Blowers, a man who divides public affection more than Andy Murray, the end of the cricket season marks the chance for a change of focus. Blowers is leading a double life – commentator by day, entertainer by night – having released a DVD, Henry Blofeld, The Voice of cricket, Live, (filmed at one of his shows in Colchester earlier this year) to go with his live tour An Evening with Blowers which is up and down the UK throughout the year, with a stint in the Shaw Theatre in the West End from October.

Blowers style has played a large part in the success of TMS since he joined the team in 1972, and his show is a chance to find out more about the man behind the microphone, with stories of his childhood, education and life inside and outside the game.

‘They make people laugh, and I’m all for laughing. Even if I only commentate on four Test matches a season, I am also doing 120 shows a year. It gives me as much of a buzz as commentating. It’s a serious business.”

Blowers being seriously funny? Too good to miss.

Posted in Miscellaneous | 1 Comment »

Rob Smyth: England do without razzmatazz for Stanford

September 9th, 2008 by Rob Smyth in England, Stanford Twenty20, Twenty20 and tagged , , ,

The spirit of cricket, and the frequent contravention thereof, is a regular topic of conversation among the cricket fraternity. It is even a formal part of the laws of the game. The spirit of Stanford is mercifully less entrenched and defined but, whatever it is, England’s announcement of their Super Series squad today was certainly against it.

Stanford stands for ostentatiousness, razzmatazz and affluence, but none of that was on show at Lord’s. There was just an everyday squad announcement, delivered by Geoff Miller with all the zest of a bingo club manager announcing who had made the team for next weekend’s fixture away to the Grimsby Septuagenarians. There was no showbiz: dancing girls, no boxing-style nicknames for the players. And no surprises among the names.

In view of the England’s recent short-form form, it is hard to argue with that. The 15-man squad for both the Stanford matches and the one-day series in India is the same as the squad for the recent NatWest Series with one exception: Tim Bresnan, who did not get a game anyway. The fact that England have won their last four ODIs and their last three Twenty20 games made selection pretty straightforward.

Or at least it would have done under normal circumstances. With so much money at stake, these are anything but normal circumstances. As Lawrence Booth noted this morning in his Guardian column, “There can be no planning for the future, no experimenting with batting line-ups, no sentiment, no fun - all of which take place even in Test cricket.”

That means legitimate consideration should have been given to ageing Twenty20 experts like Mark Ramprakash, Graeme Hick and Azhar Mahmood – a level above the so-called Twenty20 specialists who flopped in South Africa last year – although this probably was not the case. England have enough on their plate managing the financial divide between the one-day and Test players without the consequences of giving venerable outsiders a second, bumper benefit.

Three players from the most recent Test XI miss out: Andrew Strauss, Tim Ambrose and Monty Panesar. Never mind the Stepford Wives; what about the Stanford bridesmaids? None can really complain on purely sporting grounds, but in the current climate they might want rather more than a penny for their thoughts about someone like Luke Wright, who has 337 runs and four wickets in international cricket to his name, potentially earning such a life-changing sum. Similarly Dimitri Mascarenhas, who played in all three of England’s Twenty20 victories this year and who hits sixes at will, might wonder what Wright has that he doesn’t, apart from a Sussex contract.

Overall, however, it is a squad with which it is difficult to find too much fault. England have picked a team for a cricket match rather than a showbiz event. The spirit of Stanford may have been compromised, but the spirit of cricket has had a decent day.

Rob Smyth is a freelance journalist

Posted in England, Stanford Twenty20, Twenty20 | 4 Comments »

King Cricket: Rain dampens Championship race

September 8th, 2008 by Alex Bowden in County cricket and tagged , ,

The ‘climax’ to the County Championship seems more like a low-key meteorological lottery than a great cricketing crescendo, with teams sliding up the table or pouring down it according to rainfall elsewhere in the country.

Rain will always play a part in deciding the title, but with Nottinghamshire leading the field with all of four wins from 14 matches, it’s clear there have been more rain-affected draws this season. Last year was wet, but Sussex still mustered seven wins to take the title. In 2006, they triumphed with nine wins. This season, though they’re in fourth position, they’re not far off the pace with two wins and only two matches to go.

The constricted nature of the current table tells us little about which team is the best and that’s what a league table is for. If you’re new to cricket, it’s tricky enough to work out the bonus point system. You don’t want to hear that it’s questionable whether the team at the top is actually any better than the team that’s seventh.

In this month’s Wisden Cricketer, Michael Vaughan says that 16 County Championship matches are too many. He means in terms of the lack of preparation between games, but an abbreviated first-class fixture list could create other benefits. Six-team leagues and 10 match fixture lists would leave room for reserve days. These are used in other competitions, so why not the County Championship?

The ensuing five-day washouts will be ideal preparation for Test cricket.

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 County cricket | 2 Comments »

The TWC summit: Who should keep in the Tests in India?

September 4th, 2008 by Sam Collins in England, One-day cricket, Test cricket and tagged , ,

Tim Ambrose’s meek performances against New Zealand and South Africa, coupled up with Matt Prior’s impressive displays in the recent ODIs, have re-opened the debate over England’s Test wicketkeeper. In the meantime, James Foster’s stellar performances for Essex and the consistent excellence of Chris Read are also putting pressure on the selectors. We asked our panel who they would take to India as their first-choice Test wicketkeeper.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in England, One-day cricket, Test cricket | 14 Comments »

RMJ: XI county cricket greats who were Test underachievers

September 4th, 2008 by Robin Martin-Jenkins in County cricket, England, Test cricket and tagged , ,

Graeme Hick’s retirement will have many a county bowler, me included, breathing a huge sigh of relief. I have bowled against him a number of times over the years and he has scored several hundreds against us, including two in one match at Worcester which were his 99th and 100th first-class hundreds (the 12th man brought out a glass of champagne for him when he reached the landmark – he drained it). I can’t remember ever getting him out. In fact he mostly took a healthy liking to my brand of medium pace.

His relative failure at Test level has been widely discussed, and as another similar king of county cricket, Mark Ramprakash, will surely not be far away from retirement, here is my best county cricket XI of the last 15 years, made up of players who failed to live up to expectation at Test level.

Here’s my attempt:

1. Nick Knight

2. John Crawley

3. Mark Ramprakash

4. Graeme Hick

5. Matthew Maynard

6. Chris Adams (capt)

7. Chris Read (Wk)

8. Chris Lewis

9. Ian Salisbury

10. Andrew Caddick

11. Devon Malcolm


John Crawley would have to open if he wants to make the team.

I feel a bit guilty about Caddick who ended up with a very respectable Test record but he’s included because he has been such a great county bowler but often frustrated England fans.

Chris Adams is perhaps unlucky as he was only given five Tests to prove himself, but I needed a good captain and so he was the obvious choice.

There’s a long list of ready replacements to call up if any of the above should get injured during the warm up…

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

Posted in County cricket, England, Test cricket | 10 Comments »

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