February 2009
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Miles Jupp: A nightmare in every room

February 12th, 2009 by Miles Jupp in England

When I watch or listen to cricket I am just as superstitious as players themselves. If England are building a partnership I don’t like to move from my position, whatever that is. If we start losing wickets, then I try to move around a find somewhere to stand or sit that will bring us more luck. Saturday, in this regard, was a nightmare.

Some friends had come round for the afternoon, people without any regard for cricket’s more obvious aspects, let alone its subtleties and I was trying to keep an ear out for the score, while also attempting to be a generous and courteous host. Although we were in the sitting room, I was only allowed to have the radio on in the kitchen, and so whenever I heard any loud roar I would grab a random object from the table and say that I was off to refill it.

This system could only survive until the teams came off for lunch. Once play resumed, a fresh roar brought me and the teapot to the kitchen to hear the dismal news that Pietersen was out. I knew then that I would have to abandon our tea party and find a new location to bring us luck.

For six agonising overs I stood next to the fridge listening to Strauss and Collingwood do nothing. Then my wife came in to get milk out of the fridge, I had to move out of the way and Strauss knicked one to the keeper. I had barely had time to sit down on our bed before Collingwood succumbed to Taylor. People often talk about Collingwood’s gritty determination and nothing exemplified this more than his brave attempt to run two despite being bowled. Even though I was over 5,500 miles away, I knew he was out before he’d cottoned on to it.

I stood in our tiny hallway for just four deliveries, the last of which took the wicket of Prior. I was fast running out of places to go and so returned to our sitting room and guests.

“Oh you’re back,” said my wife, who’d been calling for some minutes inquiring as to my whereabouts.

It was not to be for long though as Stuart Broad had soon pushed a slow ball straight into the hands of Marshall at short leg.

“Can’t stay,” I said and left the room again. I had now exhausted all the rooms in the flat but one. And so it was that I spent the entirety of Flintoff and Sidebottom’s 24 run partnership pacing around in our bathroom. This was the most successful location I had yet encountered. Then the inevitable happened. People may think that their partnership ended because Sidebottom was trapped LBW but it was actually because one of our guests needed to use the lavatory.

England had two wickets remaining, and I still had two spots to find. I stood downstairs by our front door for 10 minutes until Harmison succumbed and had only just managed to perch myself onto a strange and hitherto unused microscopic mezzanine thing that juts out over the stairs when Flintoff was bowled.

England will hopefully take many lessons from their appalling display at Sabina Park, but what I learnt is that if they continue to play like this we shall need a much bigger flat.

Miles Jupp is an actor, comedian and cricket fan

Posted in England | No Comments »

Belly: A change is gonna come

February 12th, 2009 by Alan Tyers in Alan Tyers, England

I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed this week much. There’s been meetings and sessions and get-togethers pretty much morning noon and night and my arms are all worn out from holding my hands up. And it’s easy for people like Fred to thump the table and say we got to get some team spirit and we got to stand up and be counted but I liked it better under Mooresy because he let you sit down while you were counted and just put your hand up to say you were being counted and that way you always got your Lucozade and a Protein Biscuit and no one tried to take it off you not even Fred. That was a fair system I reckon.

The meeting got a bit confused when Fred thumped the table and asked for the team spirit because normally that means only one thing and Harmison ran out to get the Sambuca and the drinks with all fruit and sparklers in them and was shouting “Go on The Admiral, get that down you son” but Flintoff says no he wasn’t calling for that spirit on this occasion and Harmison looked dead disappointed and went and sat on his own to play with his blanket.

Then Straussy says “Look here Belly old chap there might have to be some changes around here” and I says I know, we can’t go on as we are with the current situation, with some people who will remain nameless (called Kevin) are hogging the Official Team Mooresy Memorial Laptop to check their online banking balance day and night and others of us can’t even get a look in to play Grand Theft Auto: Streets Of Edgbaston for five minutes.

Straussy says that wasn’t quite what he was driving at and I says well obviously because he’s not allowed to be driving at anything any more what with his hand-eye co-ordination being shot to shit (this is what Kevin said to say) but Straussy just sighed and looked sad and Ali Cook tried to give him a back rub but Struassy told him to bugger off and concentrate on keeping Owais locked in that hamper.

All in all, we’re raring to go for Antigua.

Alan Tyers has been minding Ian Bell this week

Posted in Alan Tyers, England | No Comments »

The Wisden Cricketer - March 2009 - In shops on Friday

February 11th, 2009 by TWC in Test cricket and tagged ,

Under pressure to produce the perfect Valentine night this weekend? Have no fear.

Here at TWC we haven’t heard of superstition, and never miss the chance to exploit an opportunity.

That’s why we’ve chosen this Friday – February 13 – to release the March edition of The Wisden Cricketer – in ample to time to make it the perfect Valentine gift for your loved one.

After all, why go out for an expensive meal when you can spend a night in front of the fire and the cricket with the World’s No.1 cricket magazine?

Your other-half might have no idea what FS Jackson’s win percentage was in 1905 but after reading Simon Wilde’s in-depth examination of the England captaincy they’ll be totally clued up as to why Andrew Strauss now has the impossible job.

One person guaranteed to be in a good mood on Saturday is Peter Moores. While his former charges struggle in the Caribbean, ‘Mooresy’ has just been handed the chance to rebuild his reputation at Lancashire. TWC.com favourite Lawrence Booth examines what went wrong with England.

There’s also a chance to get to know England new-boy Adil Rashid. He may be playing in Antigua, but if not, Andrew Collomosse tells you everything you need to know about the future of English legspin.

Fed up with England? Our county focus moves to the South East this month with the spotlight on Kent and Sussex, as Kent openers Rob Key and Joe Denly talk about their hopes of forcing their way into England’s misfiring top-six. Oops. More England.

Duncan Hamilton wrote an unforgettable memoir about life as a reporter covering Brian Clough and now he has written for TWC about his favourite cricketer – another Nottingham sporting icon – the West Indian legend Sir Garfield Sobers.

If you’re the type of couple that need an argument to get you going, then read on as English and Australian writers go head to head about the Marmite Man – Matty Hayden.

And don’t worry – if you’re single and like to dwell on past failures then you can then relive England’s capitulation in Trinidad in 1993-94 in our Eyewitness Feature.

The Wisden Cricketer – buy it, you might like it.

In shops this Friday.

Posted in Test cricket | 1 Comment »

Lawrence Booth: KP can learn to be clever not big

February 11th, 2009 by Lawrence Booth in England, Test cricket and tagged , ,

The moment was forgotten as the Jamaica Test climaxed prematurely on Sunday, but there were few more gripping vignettes than the four deliveries that took Kevin Pietersen from 83 to 97, then cost him his wicket. Debate on the Guardian’s over-by-over web coverage, which I was writing at the time, raged immediately: plenty felt it was a stupid shot (and congratulations to the sub-editor at the Sun who came up with Dumb Slog Millionaire); just as many defended Pietersen on the grounds that, well, that’s how he bats.

Actually, it isn’t how he bats. The reason Pietersen is so successful is precisely because the risks he takes tend to be calculated. Even the switch-hit, dusted off only when there is a big gap at deep extra cover, is the product of hours of practice. What happened a week ago was different. It was about adrenaline. Four, four, six… then a pre-meditated slog-sweep. It was big, but it was not clever. And it nipped England’s first-innings revival in the bud at exactly the wrong moment.

Pietersen is too smart a player, too driven an individual, not to admit to himself in a quiet moment that he got it wrong, just as he did at Edgbaston last summer when he tried to hit Paul Harris over long-on to reach a hundred that never came. I’m not suggesting cricketers shouldn’t be able to make mistakes, and Pietersen deserves more leeway than any of his team-mates. But this is a guy who sets himself the highest standards: the reality is that three singles would have got him to three figures without compromising his reputation as one of the world’s three most watchable batsman (along with Virender Sehwag and Chris Gayle).

It’s true that cricket can place too high a premium on the value of 100 compared to, say, 97. But in Pietersen’s case there is a good statistical reason for reaching a century. On the 15 occasions he has done so in a Test match, he has passed 130 nine times and 150 five times. In other words, once he has made it through the nineties he cashes in more often than not. Oh, and he has only fallen in the nineties on four occasions. There is a time and a place for caution too.

You might argue that the onus on Pietersen, the only world-class batsman in England’s top six, is disproportionately large. And you’d be right. But that is a separate issue from what he himself can become as a batsman. Anything is possible. He just needs to give himself the best chance of achieving 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, Test cricket | 3 Comments »

TWC's Tuesday Chat: Barrie Leadbeater

February 10th, 2009 by Benj Moorehead in Interview, Miscellaneous

Barrie Leadbeater played 147 first-class matches for Yorkshire and was a first-class umpire between 1981-2008. Next season he will work for the ECB as an umpires’ coach. Leadbeater was the TV umpire when the referral system was first used in the Friends Provident Trophy match between Somerset and Sussex in 2007.

What do you make of the new referrals system?

I’m sceptical as to exactly what they want from the system. I hope they are not going to take away the benefit of the doubt. Cricket is unique – it’s the only sport where you have to appeal. To take away the benefit of the doubt wouldn’t do the game any good at all. It is an integral part of the game. It’s been there since day one. Generations have always accepted that, and there have been no problems with that whatsoever. I have no particular problem with it if it helps the umpires in the middle. I’m just fearful that it will go a little bit too far and that we use technology exclusively and that eventually we’ll do away with umpires. I don’t think that would be good for the game. In an ideal world technology should have stopped with run-outs and stumpings.

How did the system work when it was first used in the Friends Provident Trophy in 2007?

I believe we were experimenting with it for the benefit of ICC. I would only overrule if it was a ‘clear and obvious error’. It was not a question of whether I would give it out – that was not part of the brief. I think some of the press were a little unkind because I don’t think they quite understood how it was being used. They were saying that the third umpire was sticking up for his mates in the middle by not overruling, which was a little unfair.
What did the players make of it?

They weren’t entirely sure how it worked and they were also not happy with having to query the umpire’s decision. They were so used to accepting the umpire’s decision without question and being happy that 99% of the time they would be right. They were very reluctant to query it. That was the general feeling from the first-class boys.

Chris Gayle seemed pretty happy to question the umpire’s decision in England’s Test against West Indies.

He was right to get it referred because it hit his arm [not his glove or bat]. From that point of view – getting decisions right - I’m happy with the referrals system. But it puts enormous pressure on the umpire having given it out and the decision then being overturned. But at the end of the day, the right decision has been given. I would say personally, and speaking to some of my colleagues they agree, they’d be far happier to be proved wrong rather than go through the game knowing they’d cocked up.

Will you miss umpiring?

It depends on the weather. I remember the first game of last season I was at Edgbaston for four days and it was the coldest four days I’ve ever experienced in my life on a cricket field. A gentleman told me one day the wind chill factor was minus four. The next day he said to me: ‘Barrie, it’s a bit warmer today – the wind chill is down to minus two.’ I won’t miss that at all. When it’s cold and miserable the players don’t give you their sweaters. They only give you the sweaters on a hot day.

Is it true you learnt to play the game with a ruler and a marble?

I lived in a back-to-back terraced house in Leeds and I used to have a little pathway with a gate. The gate was the wicket. I used to throw the marble against the wall and as it came back to me I played it with a 12-inch ruler. You can imagine how a marble would bounce off the concrete path – it would hit me between the eyes if I didn’t get the ruler in the way. It taught me to get into line and play with a straight ruler. I had rules about how I scored and so that’s how I used to spend hours of my time – playing cricket matches with a marble and a 12-inch ruler.

You once scored 99 not out for Yorkshire in the days when there was a forced declaration after 100 overs. What happened?

We were playing Kent at Scarborough. We got to the 90th over that I realised I had a chance of getting my maiden first-class hundred. I faced the very last over from John Shepherd, the West Indian seamer who was bowling inswingers and outswingers. I was 92 not out. I managed to get three twos to get me to 98. Off the last ball I decided to go the whole hog and try to hit it out the ground. I got a fine edge down to fine leg. I ran the one. I ran the single and I stopped. Geoff Cope was calling me for the second but I was absolutely shattered after the three twos in the over and when I hit to fine leg and saw that James Graham-Brown – a fine fielder with a great arm – had the ball in his hand, I thought I had no chance of getting back to the other end. So I just walked off the field. Of course what happened is James Graham-Brown overthrew it (although it was well backed-up). People said I would have made it. I said: “Well you don’t know if it would be overthrown before it was overthrown.”

For details of next week’s Tuesday chat, and how to send in your own questions, keep an eye on the blog.

Posted in Interview, Miscellaneous | No Comments »

Sam Collins: Windies bowling down the right road

February 10th, 2009 by Sam Collins in England, Test cricket, west indies and tagged , ,

“The denouement came like a bolt from the clear blue Kingston skies. For three days this was a gritty arm-wrestle of a match; then, on the fourth morning, West Indies collapsed for 47, their lowest ever total. Steve Harmison, bowling with cold-eyed purpose, finally came of age.”

So wrote Wisden of England’s 10-wicket victory at Sabina Park five years ago. The details are different – afternoon for morning, 51 for 47, third lowest for lowest and Jerome Taylor for Steve Harmison – yet the circumstances remain eerily similar, a result as spectacular as it was unexpected.

That 2004 series was the one that launched England towards Ashes success the following summer. All good sides need a spearhead, Harmison’s seven wickets at Kingston gave them one. The progress of this batch of West Indian quicks has been tangible but gentle in recent years – yet if they can harness the psychological boost of demolishing England, then they are young enough (Taylor is 24, Fidel Edwards 27 and Daren Powell 30), talented enough and quick enough to carry their islands’ cricket out of the ditch of the last decade.

It is vital for West Indies that these bowlers continue to progress, for the batting remains just as likely to collapse as England’s brittle top-order. Get Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan early and Shiv Chanderpaul cuts a lonely figure. Had the Windies had their second-dig first in Kingston we could just as easily be cheering another misleading England carve-up.

Yet the performances of England’s top-six are beginning to reflect what we suspected – they are not good enough. In this case Sabina Park may prove a blessing – nothing shakes selectors like an innings defeat – yet there is little in reserve to inspire hope in the way that Adrian Barath has cheered West Indies followers.

England can make all the top-order changes they like but in the immediate term their fortunes in the West Indies rests on their ability to remember how to strike the knockout blow. This is as much to do with attitude as talent – Mike Atherton has written powerfully of the deeper malaise he believes to be surrounding a jaded England set-up lacking authoritative leadership.

The performance of the England bowlers in Kingston did not lack heart – but it missed the exuberance of Taylor and co. West Indies are now the team at the start of a journey, while too many England players just want to go home.

Sam Collins is website editor of thewisdencricketer.com

Posted in England, Test cricket, west indies | 3 Comments »

King Cricket: Taylor takes positives and wickets from England

February 9th, 2009 by Alex Bowden in England, west indies

England always like to take the positives. After taking all the positives out of their batting prior to starting their second innings, this was what we were left with. It was sorry stuff.

Even on their better days, England seem to have to actively look for the positives. You didn’t need to do any hunting to find the positives in Jerome Taylor’s bowling - they were strikingly apparent in every ball: fast, full and straight.

Those three virtues were largely absent in England’s increasingly tired bowling display. They were disciplined, yes, but often toothless with it and where’s the point in that?

It wasn’t a pitch to reward the taller bowlers who pitch it short, which pretty much describes every member of England’s pace attack. They might have tried a yorker or two though.

As Taylor proved, it was a worthwhile tactic. In one passage of play, Steve Harmison bounced Brendan Nash, then moved a fielder for the hook. He bounced him again before conspicuously bringing in a short-leg. ‘Now for the yorker,’ we thought. The ball sailed over the batsman’s head for a third time to complete the over.

As the innings wore on, the pacemen flagged. Most deliveries hovered just above 80mph, which is the sort of pace that Matthew Hoggard bowled after he’d supposedly lost his nip. Ryan Sidebottom bowled one ball that was 60-odd mph and we’re still not sure whether it was a slower ball or not - except in the descriptive sense.

By contrast, Taylor got quicker and quicker as the adrenaline pumped. More importantly he bowled a fuller length. As an England supporter, it should have been harrowing, but was actually far more captivating than any of the 157.4 overs that preceded it.

See King Cricket‘s regular blog at www.kingcricket.co.uk. 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, west indies | 5 Comments »

The weekend read: Netherland

February 6th, 2009 by TWC in Test cricket

Every Friday we’ll be picking a classic cricket book that has been reviewed in TWC to help you pass the weekend. Make your recommendations in the comments below.

What is it?
Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

What’s it all about then?
A remarkable novel of cricket in post 9/11 New York.

What did we give it?

What did we say?
“You want a taste of how it feels to be a black man in this country? Put on the white clothes of the cricketer. Put on white to feel black.”
Hans van den Broek is that white man in whites, a wealthy financial analyst cast adrift in post-September 11 New York City. Unconsciously traumatised by the experience, he has allowed his marriage to go into meltdown and his ambition to haemorrhage. Cricket is the childhood comfort upon which he accidentally stumbles and which anchors him in his hour of need.

New York cricket, however, is far removed from the genteel Anglophile pastime Hans knew growing up in his native Holland: here it is a seedy subculture played exclusively by outsiders on rough-hewn park wastelands. The straight-batted approach has no place in a society such as this, leaving Hans – an aesthetic moralist of a cricketer, who detests the notion of hitting the ball in the air – lost even as he believes he has been found.

Joseph O’Neill’s remarkable book, Netherland, was described in the New York Times as “the wittiest, angriest and most desolate work of fiction” to have emerged since the collapse of the Twin Towers, yet first and foremost it is a cricket novel, something that an American audience could not normally be relied upon to absorb.

The common theme throughout is Van den Broek’s passive acceptance of the hand that life has dealt him. Like the cricketer he reverts to being, he muses on the missed opportunities that have brought him to this point but he accepts the umpire’s decisions without question or complaint.

And the umpire, it just so happens, is also the tale’s most vivid character. Chuck Ramkissoon is a larger-than-life Trinidadian of Indian extraction, whose motto is “think fantastic” and whose dream is to build a world-class cricket stadium right in the heart of New York City. The first time we encounter him he is staring down a gunman after a disputed decision in the park but by then we already know he is dead – his remains are fished out of the Gowanus Canal on the third page of the book.

Who put him there is less important than the journey that took him there, and it is the same journey that Van den Broek finds himself taking as he tours through New York’s immigrant underbelly in futile search of new meaning to his life. Ramkissoon’s idealism comes across as first infectious but ultimately absurd, as Van den Broek realises the gulf in social strata that is destined to deny his friend his ambitions. “There’s a limit to what Americans understand,” he concedes. “The limit is cricket.”
Andrew Miller, August 2008

What did they say?
‘Despite cricket’s seeming irrelevance to America, the game makes O’Neill’s exquisitely written novel “Netherland” a large fictional achievement, and one of the most remarkable post-colonial books I have ever read.’ James Wood, The New Yorker

Someone must have hated it?
‘The biggest problem is Hans himself. In addition to being much less interesting than Chuck, he tells the story in a determinedly overambitious style. In spite of some fine passages, his elaborate syntax and vigorously yet fitfully Americanised vocabulary finally seem more like a literary contrivance than a plausible human voice.

At times it’s hard not to wonder whether O’Neill, who’s the author of an admired memoir as well as being a long-term member of the Staten Island Cricket Club, might not have done better to write a memoir-essay on New York cricket.’
Christopher Taylor, The Guardian

Why not tell us what your favourite cricket book is, or which book you’d like to see in ‘The weekend read’ in the comments below …

Posted in Test cricket | No Comments »

My Favourite Cricketer: Steve Waugh

February 6th, 2009 by TWC in My favourite cricketer

Photograph by Patrick Eagar

TWC.com reader Damith Samarakoon is the third winner of our My Favourite Cricketer competition for his entry on Steve Waugh

Coming from Sri Lanka, it was unimaginable that you lowered yourself to say something positive about the Australians. You would be shunned, sent to the corner and be cast aside like a black sheep.

So it was with great care that I developed my fondness for Steve Waugh. I had to praise him at a distance and in dark alleys where other like-minded ‘traitors’ discussed the Australians.

My interest in Steve was born during the 94-95 Ashes, a strangely unsuccessful series when compared to his later works, but the seed had been sowed.

There were days when I wished the ‘new’ Steve would play like his old self: pulling, driving, slashing bowlers to all parts. Then he would deliver something like Old Trafford in ’97. He scored centuries in a game Australia needed to win – nearly half the team runs in the first innings and a century in the second with an injury to his hand. You just marvelled at this batting genius.

That was the new Waugh. Scoring runs when it mattered, when his team needed it the most. It was as if he willed himself to a century. It was ugly, it was uncomfortable but there he was, moving across the crease to nudge one to the leg-side, angling one down to third man, all the while scoring runs and putting Australia back in pole position.

However, my most enduring memory of Waugh’s career is not a great match-saving century or those inspirational balls-to-the-walls moments he was known for, but of a single delivery in an ODI.

Steve had altogether stopped bowling in the 90s due to his back problems, so for Mark Taylor, that captain genius, to turn to him meant that it was indeed the last throw of the dice. The great players save their best for when the task seems beyond the call of a mere mortal cricketer. Steve was no different.

The 1996 World Cup semi-final was an opportune time for such a performance.

Ironically, this was a match that all Sri Lankans wanted Australia to win. Having won the first semi a day earlier, all of Sri Lanka wanted to face the Australians in the final. A huge wave of national angst towards the Aussies welled into one final chance to humiliate them on the world stage. It was an opportunity to avenge all the wrong Australia had done to Murali and the embarrassment caused by their not visiting Sri Lanka for their group match.

After collapsing to eight for three Australia had stammered past 200 and the Windies were well on their way to a memorable win. Chasing the ghosts of the 80s, Lara and Chanderpaul carried the hopes of the tiny islands. Lara in particular looked sublime, moving easily to 45. With no options left Taylor threw the ball to Waugh, and he picked up Lara from around the wicket with a ball that came in on the angle and left him slightly to clean-bowl him. It was one of those bits of cricketing genius that makes a life-long impression on a kid like me.

I enjoyed watching him because he played cricket as I thought it should be. Test cricket is a hard, brutal, street fight, whether the ball’s flying by your nose at Perth or spinning past your body in India. It was to be played by men and there was no place for softies.

And Steve Waugh was as hard as they came. Tempered under Border and fine-tuned under Taylor, he was a breed of cricketer that is almost extinct in the modern game.

Damith Samarakoon, a Sri Lankan blogger at www.theflyslip.net, wins a year’s free subscription to The Wisden Cricketer

To enter submit no more than 600 words on your favourite cricketer to [email protected], subject line ‘favourite’

Posted in My favourite cricketer | 5 Comments »

Daniel Brigham: ECB bungling means EPL is an accident waiting to happen

February 5th, 2009 by Daniel Brigham in County cricket, Twenty20 and tagged , , ,

There are very few good things to come out of the credit crunch but here’s one: the scaling down of the ECB’s rival to the IPL, the EPL.

Gone are the two overseas teams, with the ECB blaming it on the recession and Yosemite Stanford’s sudden allergic reaction to cricket. According to a report in The Times, it will feature only the 18 counties, each with four overseas players, and two leagues with relegation/promotion.

So not much of a scaling down, just a trim. What started off as the most bloated, hideous and misjudged idea since Mr Creosote ate a wafer-thin mint is now just a very bad idea. But it’s the ECB’s idea, so little surprise there. It’s received very little media attention, which must please Giles Clarke to bits, because the whole thing really needs further scrutinising.

There are still too many teams for it to be called ‘premier’; there still aren’t 72 box-office stars to enable all 18 counties to fill their four overseas slots with crowd-pulling quality players (which probably means Dwayne Leverock should be waiting by the phone); still no one wants to watch Leicestershire v Northamptonshire. It’s a non-starter.

The ECB should either make it properly premier by halving the number of teams or abandon it altogether and leave the current Twenty20 Cup format alone - it’s worked wonders so there’s no need to tinker. Instead, the ECB has gone Hollywood and started indiscriminately jabbing it with Botox to hold on to its youth. As always, the scarring is all too visible.

Posted in County cricket, Twenty20 | No Comments »

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