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November 2008
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Sam Collins: Will the real England please stand up

November 21st, 2008 by Sam Collins in England, One-day cricket and tagged , , , ,

So just what is wrong with England? Three games, three defeats and Yuvraj Singh and those old grumps Duckworth and Lewis have firmly squashed the optimism of the summer’s 4-0 ODI victory over South Africa. But does Kevin Pietersen warrant a dissection similar to that afforded Ricky Ponting, or have England merely been outplayed in foreign conditions by the world’s form side?

Pietersen has helped the media by writing his own headlines throughout his career, yet his tendency to be a man of extremes looks like it has rubbed off on his team. Just as Test and one-day success over the country of his birth made for an extraordinary start to captaincy, so the Stanford debacle and the chaotic beginning to the Indian tour have appeared catastrophic.

Without doubt, England were overly feted for routing a drained South African side that had already won the Test series. The return of Steve Harmison, the rebirth of Andrew Flintoff the batsman and the emergence of Samit Patel did provide genuine plus points amid the hysteria. That all three have to date (Flintoff’s warm-up hundred excepted) provided little evidence of being match-winners in India has not helped Pietersen or England.

But, despite the emphatic nature of the defeats in India, England appear closer to having the nucleus of a successful one-day side than they have for some time. Of those who have played ODIs for England this year, only Dimitri Mascarenhas, Phil Mustard and Tim Bresnan are not in India. England have clearly picked the best men for the job, and if results have not reflected this, then Patel, Ravi Bopara and Stuart Broad have provided glimpses of an exciting future.

Perhaps Pietersen’s England should be afforded some slack, after all, the previous England team to visit these shores lost a similar series 5-1 in 2005-06. And there are questions. What is the best opening pair? What has happened to James Anderson as a one-day bowler? Can England expect to beat the best teams consistently without a frontline spinner? Pietersen must answer them quickly before the real audit begins.

The apparent success of the Matt Prior-Ian Bell opening partnership (stands of 101, 85 and 77) was the misleading headline of the South Africa series. For a decisive man, Pietersen was slow to respond to Prior’s limitations as a one-day opener – an average of 22.75 from 31 games (with a solitary half-century), at a strike rate of 73.89 are not figures to give opening bowlers sleepless nights. While Sehwag bristles with intent at the start of the Indian innings, Prior merely bristles. The promotion of Ravi Bopara worked in Kanpur and has diverted attention to England’s big-name yet misfiring middle-order, conspicuously short of substantial innings on the subcontinent.

At the other end, James Anderson’s struggles in the short-form, as he establishes himself in the Test team, have become a concern. His failure to take a wicket so far in India leaves him with just one wicket in his last nine ODIs and a record of 10 wickets at 71 in the 19 ODIs since he returned to the Test side in New Zealand in February. He’s bowled that shorter length that is more reliable at Test level and this could have blunted his knack of taking ODI wickets. In the enforced absence of Ryan Sidebottom and with Steve Harmison refusing to take the new ball, it is a problem that Pietersen and Moores cannot ignore for much longer.

It’s not all doom for England. They are a decent side (certainly better than they were a year ago) but India are on a high, with a full cupboard of relentless quicks and a slighted genius in Yuvraj finally producing the goods. How England respond in the remainder of a long one-day series will provide the insight into Pietersen’s capacity to inspire.

Sam Collins is website editor of

Posted in England, One-day cricket | 2 Comments »

RMJ: So … what do we do in the off-season?

November 21st, 2008 by Robin Martin-Jenkins in County cricket, Miscellaneous and tagged , , ,

“So what do you cricketers do in the off season?” The question I have to answer most often at drinks parties; possibly even more times than “what’s it like having a famous cricketing name as a father?” My answer to both is usually brief as I try and move to the other side of the room as quickly as possible.

With a few exceptions county cricket is a seven-month job and after the last ball is bowled in September we are left with a strange mix of emotions. School term has ended and, regardless of how much success you’ve had, it’s worth celebrating. Five months of down time stretch out lazily ahead. That might sound like bliss to all hardworking souls out there who get four weeks holiday a year. And it is bliss. For the first four weeks. But then the boredom sets in and you quickly start to ache to get out in the sun and play cricket again. And so, a horrible thought begins to dawn in your head: you need to get a job. A frightening prospect indeed and one that might explain my scuttling across the room at parties.

Of course you can always play club cricket in Australia or South Africa. If you’ve played some first-team county cricket it shouldn’t be too hard to find a club willing to pay your airfare, give you some paid coaching work, a clapped out Vauxhall Astra and a grotty flat downtown, in return for your services as a pro. And I’ve tried that in the past. I’ve spent winters in Cape Town, Mumbai and Chennai and I’ve come back a better player each time. But a wife and family tend to make that harder and harder as the years roll on.

And then there is the prospect of life after cricket. I suppose you don’t start seriously contemplating this strange phenomenon until your mid-to-late 20s but a serious injury here, or severe loss of form there, could mean an end to your cricket career at any stage. So a little bit of thought as to what to do afterwards never goes amiss.

This is exactly the stage I reached about five years ago, at which point my winters took on a more earnest rhythm. An ex-Sussex colleague, turned wine buff, Toby Peirce, told me there was a three-month vacancy at the wine distributor he now worked for. “Not much money I’m afraid but lovely people and a great subject matter!” I decided that wine would be my thing, hired some wine books from the library, signed up for several courses and went for an interview. The interviewer’s first two questions? What’s it like having a famous cricketing father … and … what do cricketers usually get up to in the winter … ?

And so my next three winters were spent learning about the fascinating world of wine and helping out the sales team in the run up to Christmas, the busiest time of year in the wine trade for obvious reasons. I don’t think I sold much wine. In fact I seemed to spend more time talking to prospective customers about cricket than wine but I enjoyed it immensely. And it has become a possibility for life after cricket. Toby was right. Lovely people and a truly great subject matter. But there really isn’t much money in it.

And then my benefit year has come along which has comfortably taken care of what to do both last and this winter. When it finishes at the end of December (as years are wont to) I shall still have three months to go until the 2009 season begins. The post-Christmas wine trade won’t need me and so I’ll have to find something else to do. I’m thinking of writing a book. Perhaps a novel. It might be about cricket although I’m fully aware that there have been no good novels about cricket ever written. But I may give it a try. First scene: the Championship winning side go to a drinks reception in Buckingham palace to collect their medals from the Duke of Edinburgh. He shuffles into the room and straight up to the captain of the team and says: “Now tell me, what is it you cricketers do in the off season?” …

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

Posted in County cricket, Miscellaneous | No Comments »

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