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November 2008
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Lawrence Booth: England must consider Prior re-engagement

November 19th, 2008 by Lawrence Booth in England, One-day cricket and tagged , , , , ,

It’s funny how quickly perceptions change in cricket, especially where the ever-fraught England team is concerned. Only a couple of months ago we were all saying that Matt Prior’s return to the one-day side at the expense of Tim Ambrose was making a difference: runs at the one end of the order, a shorter tail at the other. Now, following his torturous innings of 38 off 64 balls at Indore on Monday, we are not so sure. Again. Roll your eyes if you will; just don’t be surprised.

The reality is – and it was masked by a dismal effort from South Africa at the end of the summer – that Prior is more of a problem than anyone in the England camp cares to admit. And that problem appears to stem from the fact that his role is not entirely clear. If he has truly been given licence to pinch-hit – and thus act as the bludgeon to Ian Bell’s rapier – then his strike-rate should be higher than the 74 he has managed from 29 one-day international innings (27 of them as opener). And if his strike-rate is as moderate as that, he should be averaging more than 23 with a single half-century.

Perhaps the most alarming stats are that, while Prior has been dismissed 13 times between 32 and 52, he has also been out for single figures on 11 occasions. In other words, he is doing half a job half the time; and often he is doing no job at all. Do England really think this is the basis for an assault on the World Cup in 2011, where consistently powerful top-order hitters have been de rigueur ever since the days of Kris Srikkanth? Prepare yourself for a fifth-successive World Cup fiasco from the boys in blue.

Prior must be removed from the firing line and hidden away at No. 7, where he will have more opportunities to take risks and hit out in the way he does so successfully for Sussex. But even in the lower-middle order there is a problem. I couldn’t quite work out why his innings in Indore felt un-Prior-like until it occurred to me that he briefly faced India’s spinners – a relatively novel experience for him because of his frailties against the new ball.

Some quick research revealed a weird stat: of the 849 balls Prior has faced in ODIs, only 70 of them have been sent down by spin bowlers. And his return of 40 runs for four times out – three of them to Harbhajan Singh (once when batting at No. 6) – does not inspire confidence. If Prior does drop down the order, it will be with a quiet prayer that Harbhajan, Yuvraj Singh or Virender Sehwag have an off-day.

You may think it’s harsh to single him out when only Owais Shah and Andrew Flintoff out-scored him on Monday, and when he is clearly a better bet than Ambrose, who averaged two against New Zealand in the summer. But at the moment no one sums up more painfully England’s age-old problems with the bat in one-day cricket: a lack of oomph in the early overs and an inability to manipulate the twirlers later on.

On a lesser-of-two-evils basis, Prior should drop down the order and allow a more innovative strokemaker, such as Ravi Bopara, to open with Bell instead. Hell, it’s not as if England have got anything to lose, now, is it?

Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Guardian. His third book, Cricket, Lovely Cricket? An Addict’s Guide to the World’s Most Exasperating Game is out now published by Yellow Jersey

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

King Cricket: Why England hate the seven match series

November 18th, 2008 by Alex Bowden in England, One-day cricket and tagged , , , ,

Are there any words more appealing to the ears of England fans than ‘seven match one-day series’? Add to that the word ‘away’ and they descend into a state of slavering fervour. The anticipation of so many chipped catches to mid-on as the run-rate climbs is enough to get anyone rubbing their hands together with wide-eyed enthusiasm.

England’s last seven match one-day tour of India was a roaring success where they explored just about every possible way of losing a match.

In the first two matches, they reduced India to 80 for five and 92 for five before allowing them to recover. In the third match, they did it the other way round, saving their best cricket for when all seemed lost – which of course it was. At 100 for six chasing 295, Paul Collingwood hit an inspired 93 off 85 balls, as England fell 50 runs short.

The fourth match was what you would probably call a bog-standard loss as they made insufficient runs and failed to defend them. But in the fifth match at Guwahati, England struck their first blow. The pitch was deemed unfit for cricket and the match abandoned. High-fives all round.

With the whitewash neatly evaded, England went to Jamshedpur with renewed confidence. This confidence was unexpectedly justified and they won. The thought that maybe even India had become a little bit bored of winning one-day matches against England never entered anybody’s head for a moment. India then won the seventh match, for a 5-1 victory.

The seven match series is the truest test of how the English consider the 50-over format. Players, supporters and press just can’t seem to maintain interest for that long. It’s just the way it is and is perhaps also why England will always be a bit duff at this form of the game.

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, One-day cricket | 3 Comments »

Miles Jupp: England must deal with India before their summer

November 15th, 2008 by Miles Jupp in England, International and tagged , ,

Alongside the grim reports of England’s recent contests, there has been a terrifying amount of optimistic chat about the Ashes. Early last week, one paper started its countdown. “Slow down!” I thought, and went home to see that England had again been bowled out for under a hundred, as if to demonstrate just how quickly the pressure gets to them.

Ashes talk and thought this early can only cloud England’s judgement, and they’ve recently shown a tendency to be easily distracted. The best way that they could prepare for next summer’s series is to apply themselves to the tricky repair job immediately ahead of them this winter.

To do that they need to take things “one day at a time”, as people are told in recovery programmes. But the first step of recovery is admitting that you’ve got a problem in the first place, and that’s not something KP is always keen to do. “This really doesn’t matter,” he said after the 124-run defeat to Mumbai on Tuesday. That may seem like a flippant or thoughtless thing to say but at least it’s honest.

He’s right, of course. That game didn’t matter. The first ODI should have done, though; but still there seemed little concern about being on the end of such a brutal defeat. It may be that because the series is so stupidly long, England feel justified in treating the first couple of games as an opportunity for an extended warm-up. After all, if we win just two of the remaining six, we’ll have done better than last time. I certainly don’t doubt that the team have arrived in a determined state of mind – Graeme Swann’s even had his haircut. And Flintoff’s century in Mumbai ought to keep us cheery for a bit longer.

But England will know that a tour of India is tough. I followed the last one, scratching around for some press work. “What are you actually here for?” asked one former England captain. “Oh just a bit of gentle journalism,” I said. “Nothing’s gentle here,” he told me.

We had an injury crisis and a mass exodus before the internationals had even started. (Vaughan, Jones S, Trescothick, Anderson, and Harmison all couldn’t play). But despite that - in the Tests at least - we did well, and we did so by the patient application of the basics. Collingwood scored the most runs for us and both he and Cook made their first Test hundreds in Nagpur. It’s also where Monty played his first game and memorably claimed Tendulkar’s wicket as his debut scalp.

Everybody in the squad will have to play their part though, and not just because of injuries. It is undeniable that the English - supporters, journalists, commentators and players – have a tendency to get ill there. Being well enough to get onto the team bus is no guarantee that you’ll be fit to play by the time you reach the ground. If you think Harmison sprays it around out in the middle you should see him during the tea interval. Yet despite this, and the crippling heat, people are expected to run in and bowl at 90mph.

This is why the most demanding and unsung role for a squad member is 12th man. If we’re fielding he’ll probably be on the field for at least half of the play and spend the rest of the time mixing fresh isotonic drinks and ferrying them around the boundary. Drinks, towels or ice packs are summoned about once every other over when we’re batting, which can leave the 12th man spending entire sessions of play doing extended shuttle runs.

In 2006 at Mumbai, Andrew Strauss spent just under five and a half hours at the crease compiling his 128 but it was Ian Blackwell who looked the more shattered by the experience. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a human look more exhausted. That might even have been the day he picked up his shoulder injury, a touch of repetitive strain injury, perhaps, from opening the pavilion gate too often.

Posted in England, International | 1 Comment »

Jrod: Declare war on the ICC

November 14th, 2008 by JRod in Miscellaneous, Test cricket

Cricket is a professional game, we all know this. Some of us may not like it, others hate it with a fiery passion. This is big business now, sponsors are king, image rights are gold and TV deals are oxygen.

Do you know why this is a big business? Because of us. Each and every one of us is why this game is professional – we watch it, read it, smell it and breathe it. We make the game, the players, the officials and the sponsors money and what do we get for all this: slow over-rates. It’s a slap in the face.

Almost all teams do it, whether they have spinners or not. The half-an-hour extra on a Test day is automatic now and we are the ones who miss out.

Instead of watching cricket we see worried looking captains running up from slip pointing in all directions. Bowlers following through past the batsman and then dawdling back to their mark. People running onto the field with everything from moist face washers to complicated mathematical sums. And let us not forget the sightscreen, something that should be idiot proof, but instead we have to wait for faulty electronics to get rid of the ad that is promoting the series sponsor while it delays the series itself.


The ICC could stop this. They could suspend captains. They could end people coming on the field between overs, they could initiate the old fool-proof sightscreens.

They don’t. They know how much we hate it but they apply small fines, let captains off the hook and generally contribute towards the problem.

So perhaps we have to do something. You can join the International Jihad on Slow Over Rates or IJSOR for short. Sign here.

Sign the petition and then tell your friends, tell your enemies, tell Tony Greig, just do something, because this is our game, it isn’t some faceless suit at the ICC’s game. We make the game special, without us the players would have no one to admire them and the sponsors would have to find another way to flog their products.

We deserve respect. We deserve cricket.

Jrod is an Australian cricket blogger, his site won July’s Best of Blogs in TWC

Posted in Miscellaneous, Test cricket | 11 Comments »

England diary: KP meets a challenge head on

November 13th, 2008 by Alan Tyers in Alan Tyers, England and tagged , ,

We arrived in Rajkot and I gave the players the afternoon off to explore. Things have not gone according to plan but we’re going to screw our heads back on and move forwards.

Some of the boys went to the market to see if they could pick up any local handicrafts (DVDs, knock-off iPods, etc). Harmison said he didn’t want to go because it might be dangerous, or noisy, or even both, and also what if he needed to do toilet? But Flintoff said he was going and Harmison then said: “I love markets, they’re great.”

I myself stayed in the hotel because I had to practise looking statesmanlike in front of the mirror. One of my friends, a very well known and successful actor who I am not going to name because I don’t like to show off about celebrity (but – clue: he’s been in both The Bill AND Celebrity Scissorhands! The guy’s a serious legend) has been giving me some acting tips. It’s all about staring straight ahead and imagining everybody naked, he says. That can make you feel pretty queasy in press conferences, so I often just imagine myself naked, which makes me feel warm and determined.

So I told Flintoff and Harmison not to get up to any mischief and sent Sidebottom along with them. I try and pair up the sensible ones with the not so reliable lads in a sort of mentoring programme. Cook has done wonders with Belly, for instance. Belly now gets his own cereal in the morning and eats it quietly even if the little plastic toy has already been taken by someone else. We’re growing together as a group.

Anyway they hadn’t been gone for more than an hour when I get a phone call from the local police. It’s all gone off in the market and, after calming the chief inspector down with promises of a signed Girls Aloud CD and a full apology, I managed to piece together what had happened.

Seems that Flintoff and Harmison bolted from the hotel and poor Ryan couldn’t keep up as he doesn’t walk too good these days. By the time he found them, Flintoff had managed to get hold of drink and was leading the market traders and untouchables and what have you in a conga through the little cobbled streets. But it was all good spirited, according to Ryan, until this street entertainer came up with a monkey. Harmison got scared – he later told me that he’d had a traumatic childhood experience at Whipsnade – and basically freaked out. The monkey was only trying to be friendly by all accounts but Harmison bit it, hard, on the paw.

The mood turned ugly and they had to leg it. The monkey owner was furious, as was the monkey, and they were both demanding compensation. The lads managed to hole up in a bicycle repair shop and barricade themselves in and Ryan gave us a call. I got down there quick-smart and managed to just about calm the crowd down by hugging some of them and handing out cans of Red Bull.

Then I went inside the shop and had a word with the boys, who agreed that there’re lessons to be learned from this and we have got to stay focused. There’s no doubt there will be tough challenges ahead in India but I’ve never ducked a challenge in my life. That’s what has got me where I am today: hiding from a baying mob in a bicycle repair shop, cradling a sobbing Steve Harmison and telling him that monkey’s going to pay for what it done.

Alan Tyers hacked into KP’s online diary and caught a virus downloading it

Posted in Alan Tyers, England | 2 Comments »

Lawrence Booth: Why the sweep might not suit

November 12th, 2008 by Lawrence Booth in England, International, One-day cricket and tagged , ,

Almost three years ago on a sweltering afternoon in Delhi, a horde of English hacks, including this one, sat high in the stands of the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium and watched open-mouthed as England threw away the first one-day international against India.

A collapse of seven for 47 was hard enough to take, although England collapses were nothing new. No, what really seemed to offend was that five of the batsmen fell on the sweep – a stroke that has never sat easily with the English who a) prefer a bit of pace on the ball, b) feel comfier when the bat is vertical rather than horizontal and c) can’t say “sweep” without twitching uncontrollably at the thought of Mike Gatting’s cack-hander in the 1987 World Cup final.

What emerged from that game was a fascinating polarisation – press on one side, England camp on the other – and one whose consequences could decide the outcome of the one-day series starting in Rajkot on Friday morning. For the journalists on that trip, the sweep became an unnecessary evil when there were runs to be had by other – in their view, safer – means. For the England camp, the sweep was a useful way of upsetting the Indian spinners’ length. Asked the morning after whether he thought Harbhajan Singh was bluffing when he said he liked being swept, Kevin Pietersen replied: “I think so. I don’t think there’s any spin bowler who likes to be swept or slog-swept.”

Since then, Duncan Fletcher has told me that some of the batsmen became fearful of the sweep, precisely because they didn’t want the know-alls in the press box to climb into them again. He has always maintained that the sweep, when played well, is a great way of disrupting line and length and a more secure way of gathering runs than hitting the ball over the top, mainly because a horizontal bat is less vulnerable to the vagaries of turn and bounce than a vertical one. He also believes it is harder to score down the ground on Indian pitches because the ball comes on to the bat so slowly.

In his autobiography Fletcher writes that when, for example, Muttiah Muralitharan is swept, his “walk back to his mark” is a “very timid one” … “the walk of a man who does not like what he is seeing”. Anyone who remembers Graham Gooch sweeping England to victory in the 1987 World Cup semi-final against India must acknowledge Fletcher’s point.

But if over the years the sweep has become a source of English paranoia, it is surely not exclusively the media’s fault. Rewind to Delhi, where England found themselves 117 for three in the 20th over, chasing just 204 to win. Defeat from that position would have invited scorn whatever shots were played; that it was the sweep simply provided an easy target. And, yes, journalists love easy targets.

So what does all this mean now that England are about to embark on another seven-match one-day series in India? England’s oldest limited-overs Achilles heel is falling behind the required rate against subcontinental spinners, so it will help no one to demonise the sweep once more, even if it has become a less prevalent shot under Peter Moores.

As Pietersen himself once said in another context, the whole dilemma feels a bit Catch 21: a lack of innovation will invite just as much condemnation as dismissal to a horizontal bat. Perhaps England’s biggest challenge will be to stick to their plans come what may – and hope they don’t provide the media with an early excuse to mount an old hobby horse in Rajkot in two days’ time.

Posted in England, International, One-day cricket | 1 Comment »

The TWC Summit - How bad are Australia?

November 12th, 2008 by Alan Gardner in Test cricket and tagged , , ,

On the back of their first series defeat by more than one Test since 1988-89, we ask, are the Aussies really on the slide? Jrod has already lamented the current situation, but now it’s time for the summit to make a stab at consensus. Ponting’s captaincy blunders; a lack of wicket-taking; failure to seize the initiative … Australia’s problems have been manifold. But how bad has it got?

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Test cricket | 4 Comments »

Edward Craig: Aussies experience how the other half lives

November 11th, 2008 by Edward Craig in Test cricket and tagged , , , ,

This Australian side in India looked like England’s moribund set-up of the late 1980s and early 90s. Here are a few things that remind me of Bad England (as opposed to Crass England, which we have now):

Selection issues - Picking players for one Test (Siddle); scrambling around with old players who are a bit past it (Hayden); a desperate search for a spinner that leads to a player batting No.8, bowling 12 overs in the match while spinners clean up everywhere else (White in the last Test).

Run outs - Three in the final Test, all of them crucial. Bowlers only had to get Hayden, Ponting and Hussey out once in that match. It betrays hesitancy and a carelessness due to lack of direction. This is a serious symptom of a wider problem.

Basic, basic mistakes - Ponting getting it all wrong about the over-rates and not bowling Shane Watson; Haddin stopping the ball by throwing his glove at it (costing five runs); over-throws; dropped catches; serious wides. It felt like the 1989 Ashes but in a glorious reverse.

Non-amazing debuts - Australia bring a new player in and they don’t score 100 and even if they do take 12 wickets in the match, they’re so expensive it costs them victory. This is what always happened to England – and the guy would usually get dropped for the next Test. For so long, the Aussies produced a new player who was great from the start. Now Haddin, White, Siddle, Watson are finding Test cricket hard. They probably found out they were playing on Ceefax.

Batting strong, bowling weak - And this led to both being weak with England. If Atherton had been born Australian, he’d have averaged 45-plus (but been a poorer writer). Watch those averages slide …

Taking their foot off the gas (or throat) - Australia got into a strong position and let it slip. England were world-class at this and Australia usually capitalised. In the past, it would take an exceptional performance to win a game once Australia had got in front (VVS Laxman). In this series, it took a tea-break.

Then again, India have been very good. Not only have they made the most of these Aussie failings but also they’ve scored serious runs right down the order and bowled intelligently and with patience. And they’ve had the world-class debutant in Mishra. One side has made another look poorer than it is – for once Australia are the victims.

Posted in Test cricket | 7 Comments »

RMJ: Benefit years - why they hurt

November 10th, 2008 by Robin Martin-Jenkins in County cricket and tagged , ,

“Benefititis: deterioration in the standard of a cricketer’s play brought about by distractions from a benefit year and its associated events.”

There have been many classic examples of benefititis. In 2000, Dominic Cork, in the prime of his cricketing life, took 42 first-class wickets at an average of 21.09. In 2001, his benefit year with Derbyshire, he took 12 wickets at 51.50. The following year, perhaps recovered from his case of benefititis, normal service resumed and he took 64 wickets at 18.90. Or take his Lancashire colleague Mal Loye, whose benefit year it was this season. Mal has been one of the most consistent run scorers in county cricket for the past decade. Since 2001 he has averaged, in successive years, 56, 37, 51, 49, 50, 59 and 36. This year he averaged 14. Place your bets now for a successful 2009.

As a professional cricketer you leave school, fall into a contract with a county, play cricket and … well, that’s it really. You just do what you have always done best. And in the winters the more motivated cricketers either go abroad to play yet more cricket or find a job in some cricket-related capacity at home, often to do with coaching. If they’re very lucky or forward thinking, they will get some work experience in the wider world but the vast majority of cricketers just swan along in their career bubble without a clue about the demands and pressures of the workplace outside.

Perhaps it is unfair to say ‘swan along’. County cricket brings with it many stresses and strains, both physical and mental. But once the cricketer has become used to his surroundings and the sometimes-strange working hours, he is in his comfort zone for much of the time. Good coaches are forever trying to challenge their charges, with extra-curricular sessions designed to take the subject out of this zone.

And that’s essentially where a cricketer in his benefit year finds himself: out in the big, bad world without a clue. He finds out in late August that he is to have a benefit the following year, then, after a brief meeting at Lord’s with the ECB to explain the rules and regs, he’s on his own. Suddenly, having only ever been good at playing cricket, he is thrust into the cut-throat world of the local business community. He has to become an expert networker, party planner and public speaker all at once. He has to buy a laptop and a printer. Most alien of all to him, he has to buy a diary and fill it with appointments to meet sponsors, caterers and tie designers. He has to plan his life and it becomes more complicated than at any time since those long-gone school days.

And then he has to remember that he’s a cricketer too. Somewhere along the line he has to take some wickets and score some runs; to do what he is paid to do and what has, until this year, come totally naturally to him.

It is possible to do both of course – play good cricket and enjoy a fruitful benefit. Not everyone gets benefititis. Richard Montgomerie scored 1000 runs for Sussex in his benefit season and I’d like to think I haven’t let anyone down this year. But this is in part due to the tremendous support local businesses give Sussex cricket and the beneficiary, which I know is not so prevalent at other counties.

But I’m not expecting anyone to feel sorry for beneficiaries. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a bit of a pension pot that most people don’t get. I am extremely grateful for it and in many ways have enjoyed the challenges of the year. But I am looking forward to the 2009 season when I’ll just be a normal cricketer again.

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

Posted in County cricket | 4 Comments »

Jrod: I want my cricketers with balls

November 10th, 2008 by JRod in International and tagged , , , ,

There was a time when Australia were pretty good at cricket, you may remember back that far, they had a way of playing that was attacking, aggressive and brought their fans much joy.

Then it all went wrong, blame the credit crunch, global warming, or the advent of pink shirts on straight men but something changed.

Their gun, young quick needed a break from the game.

They suspended their superstar allrounder for missing a meeting he didn’t know was on.

They complained about sledging with a straight face.

Players became teetotallers.

And professionals who prepare like anal-retentive astronauts have replaced the team’s cricketers.

I stood by while all this happened, well not really, I sent an angry email to James Sutherland asking for our team back. No reply has been forthcoming.

Now Australia has gone even further down the path of the dreaded ‘P’ word.


The team has now started playing to protect their captain’s next Test rather than winning this Test, drawing the series and keeping the trophy.

I mean how many overs should Michael Hussey bowl? Is less than none a number?

The Australians are already defending their actions, Tim Neilsen even went as far as to say: “I don’t think for a second we haven’t pressed for the win.”

I didn’t see him say it but unless he was wearing a pair of Groucho Marx glasses, this is unacceptable.

The Australian team are turning into a bunch of mindless corporate zombies and it is not helping their cricket.

I have had enough. I want my cricket team back.

I want them to be larrikins, drinkers, smokers, cheaters, tough bastards and people who will do anything to win. Including giving their captain a Test match ban to win a series.

That is how we have always played cricket in Australia and if I can’t have anything else I want, at least give me the “we will do anything to win” spirit back.

We need to stop this before it gets worse – next thing you know they won’t be claiming half volleys.

Jrod is an Australian cricket blogger, his site won July’s Best of Blogs in TWC

Posted in International | 7 Comments »

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