March 2009
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Miles Jupp: A tea break in Scotland with Michael Vaughan

March 19th, 2009 by Miles Jupp in England, International and tagged

Very few Englishmen will have had much reason to celebrate our recent performances against West Indies. One person who may be grateful, though, is Michael Vaughan. The failure of either Ian Bell or Owais Shah to make themselves indispensable at No.3 on those pitches should have given him cause for a couple of moments of quiet, tactful jubilation.

Who wants to see an unburdened Vaughan batting at three or four sometime soon? Judging by the excitement generated by his scoring a century in some weird and unfathomable limited-overs contest in Abu Dhabi, lots of people do.

I’d love to see him score runs for England again and I’m happy to admit that’s partly for nostalgic reasons. But not, as you might expect, for his role in the 2005 Ashes series. Much later that year, after the Ashes fuss had died down a little and we’d been humped 2-0 in Pakistan, I was wandering around a freezing Aberdeen trying to kill time during the day when I was in a long run of a theatre show. I had walked into a shopping centre of such inconceivable grimness that even Morrissey would have found it too depressing a subject to cover in song and was staring, on the brink of total despair, at the window display of a book shop.

The sheer volume of pink and sparkly autobiographies by people like Kerry Katona, Sharon Osbourne and Jordan was practically blurring my vision when suddenly, like the moment of success you get when staring at a Magic Eye picture, I realised that right in the middle of the display there sat a lone copy of Michael Vaughan’s A Year In The Sun, the account of his remarkable run glut of 2002.

I went inside and asked for a copy of the book, which caused some complications as the one in the display was, of course, the only one in the shop; quite possibly the only one in the whole of Aberdeenshire. Goodness knows why it was there. Perhaps the person who ordered it had since died. Nevertheless, after some minutes spent watching a sales assistant struggle valiantly at the top of a stepladder while I shouted directions through the shop window, I had the book. I found a cafe, bought a number of cups of something disgusting and read the whole book in a single sitting.

That is what Michael Vaughan makes me feel nostalgic for: not the spraying of champagne, open top buses and the singing of Jerusalem in Trafalgar Square but an afternoon when he made Aberdeen in winter feel like an Indian summer.

Posted in England, International | 1 Comment »

Charlotte Edwards: Thanks for the support, lads

March 19th, 2009 by Alan Tyers in Alan Tyers, England and tagged , ,

England women’s team captain reveals* email exchange with male counterparts

Andrew Strauss congratulated us on our most recent win, although he did say we should have batted on for another couple of hours to really make things safe. I tried to explain that it was a 50-over game but he just got impatient and said that he was sick of hearing how his team haven’t mastered the one-day format and changed the subject.

He asked me what positives I was taking from our recent performances. I just said “well, we won, so that, I guess…” but he said that was rather a one-dimensional view and that often the positives were more important than the result.

One of the other players, who I won’t name, asked us “didn’t we miss wuz bairns and wuz fellers and wuz mams and that and want to gan home?” I said that, actually, we really liked travelling to exciting foreign places with our mates and playing sport. He said he found that attitude sickening.

Kevin Pietersen said he was just really amazed that we’re doing what we’re doing. At first I thought it was going to be some sexist rubbish about women playing sport, but it turns out he meant playing for England rather than trying to get some sort of breakaway cash competition going.

There was no message from Ian Bell, which was a bit of a shame because a few of the girls quite like him. They say they want to mother him. Or beat him up; he divides opinion. And nothing from Ryan, either – also disappointing, as he’d promised to send some haircare tips. Apparently he was just typing them in when he felt his back go and he had to have a lie down on the floor for a few days.

Still, it was a nice gesture. I am sure we can learn from the men’s team. Nothing springs to mind right away, exactly, but still.

*not really. Alan Tyers made it up

Posted in Alan Tyers, England | 3 Comments »

The TWC Summit: What is England's best ODI line-up?

March 18th, 2009 by TWC in England, International, One-day cricket and tagged , ,

The one-day series against West Indies is almost upon us, but England, as usual, seem to have about as much clue how to approach the 50-over game as you or I. This week, the panel attempt to do Andrew Strauss’s job for him – and then show their working.

John Stern

Editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Picking this side is like an episode of Silent Witness: ­ the evidence is either flimsy or unintelligible. At no point in the last decade (or beyond) have England had a dedicated focus on the one-day game, which is a legacy of our national preference for Test cricket (and related snobbery about ODIs) and the sheer volume of cricket played at domestic level that leads counties to prioritise competitions. Most focus on the four-day game and only one or two, like Gloucestershire in the past, major in one-dayers.

Strauss just isn’t in the best one-day XI, however much one might wish it to be so and I’ve not gone for Shah, despite his many innovative qualities. His fielding is poor and so is his running between the wickets.

Prior (wk)
Collingwood (c)

Edward Craig

Deputy editor of The Wisden Cricketer

I am going to ignore my inclination to pick my best Test side and expect them to be a world-beating one-day side because a) it just doesn’t happen like that, I have to admit it, and b) good Test cricketers just don’t necessarily make good one-day players – fact. A fact I don’t like, have never liked, but fact.

So I’d start from scratch – ignore the Test team and get on with selection. In batting order:

Rob Key (c)
Ian Bell
Kevin Pietersen
Ravi Bopara
Paul Collingwood
Samit Patel
Matt Prior (wk)
Andrew Flintoff
Stuart Broad
Graeme Swann
James Anderson

Erm, not that different from the Test side then – and Shah is unfortunate. I think Bell is a good one-day opener with the right, aggressive partner. Key can do that. And I rated Patel’s all-round usefulness – perhaps Dimi could do this bus-driver role equally well.

Daniel Brigham

Assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer

The last time England were good at 50-over cricket, John Major was prime minister. Now they play like Major led the country: no flair, no presence, plenty of bad decisions, easy to mock and constantly expecting a beating.

A player and a competition highlight what’s wrong with England’s one-day thinking: Ali Brown and the Pro40. Brown was, until the last couple of seasons, the most consistently brilliant one-day English batsman for a decade and yet he played just 16 ODIs while Atherton and Hussain, with three centuries from 142 ODIs between them, were deemed better one-day players. Even Ronnie Irani was picked to bat at four. Then there’s the Pro40, a maligned competition that fans and players enjoy but 10 overs short of replicating ODIs. What was the point of it?

The opening pair need to be able to hit over the top and score rapidly, so in come Rob Key and Vikram Solanki, two of the most overlooked batsmen of their generation. The middle-order of KP, Bopara, Shah and Collingwood is destructive, inventive and full of match-winners. Foster is the keeper because he has the best hands in the country – more important in ODIs than Tests, when the margins are smaller. The attack of Flintoff, Anderson, Broad and Swann has pace, guile and penetration.

Key (c)
Foster (wk)

Benj Moorehead

Editorial assistant of The Wisden Cricketer

Strauss is currently in the team for the sake of avoiding split captaincy, but it seems it’s a case of hiding him in the batting order – which is embarrassing. Drop him for Key, an astute tactician whose talent is deserving of a place. Prior opening (don’t let him keep!) may not have worked before but he could be lethal against the new ball. Bopara can launch an all-out attack or play with canny pragmatism (both of which he is capable depending on the situation) in the middle-order.

A lack of a second spinner is a concern, so Patel and Panesar are kept very much in mind. As is Mark Ramprakash. He may expire under pressure in Tests but the one-dayers may be the right platform for a veteran who is still very fit, still scoring lots of runs in domestic one-day cricket, and still (of course) very, very talented. Still, wasn’t brave enough to pick him, though, was I …

Key (c)
Davies (wk)

Richard Hobson

Deputy cricket correspondent of The Times

I have no problem with split captains, and certainly none with Kevin Pietersen taking charge. Two fresh, aggressive batsmen can build an opening partnership, with my experience in the side underpinning the middle order at five and six. Mascarenhas could become a really handy player with a bit of backing and the presence of Flintoff as a genuine all-rounder creates the space for somebody who chips in.

Davies (wk)
Pietersen (cap)

King Cricket

Blogging supremo

Miraculously, we still think the same as we did in August:

Mustard (wk)

Phil Mustard is the one man who’s opened the batting for England who fundamentally gets the role. He plays some shots and doesn’t much care about the consequences. He doesn’t adopt this attitude, he just has it. It’s a crucial difference.

Flintoff partners him because you need two shot-makers opening and if you can get a decent-length innings out of Flintoff, he can’t help but score runs. Flintoff was one of about a million experimental England openers, but he plays with a straight bat and he’s in the best XI, so we’d give him a longer shot.

Why not try and get the best out of England yourself, below?

Posted in England, International, One-day cricket | 13 Comments »

Lawrence Booth: England must re-evaluate how they innovate

March 18th, 2009 by Lawrence Booth in England, International, One-day cricket and tagged , ,

Less than a year ago, in a rare interview with Duncan Fletcher for The Guardian and with the Indian Premier League in full swing, I asked whether he thought twenty20 cricket was proper cricket. “All cricket is proper cricket,” he replied. “At the end of the day, cricket is such a complicated game. You’ve still got to do certain basics: you just can’t go in there and play across the line. You might have a couple of innings where it looks good, but for a consistent performer you need the basic requirements.”

It’s not a sexy message, but it’s one England need to bear in mind if they are going to get anywhere on the slow, low pitches of the Caribbean in the five-match one-day series that starts in Guyana on Friday. And it’s all the more urgent after their performance in another twenty20 debacle in Trinidad at the weekend, when both Ravi Bopara and the debutant opener Steve Davies got carried away with moving around the crease and, predictably perhaps, were bowled.

The not-very-funny thing is, England did exactly the same thing during the Stanford money game in November, before Chris Gayle and Andre Fletcher stood tall and uncomplicatedly biffed the Superstars to a 10-wicket win. The message, maybe because it’s not very sexy, is not sinking in.

Then again, why should it? English batsmen have always been uncomfortable with improvisation. Andrew Strauss is on record as suggesting that youngsters in this country are over-coached: get them to cock their left elbow and they’re world-beaters; ask them to undo years of well-meant conditioning and, as the saying goes, think on their feet, and they get confused. It’s no coincidence that the bloke who plays the switch-hits learned his cricket abroad.

The upshot, as we saw in Antigua last year and Trinidad on Sunday, is that England over-compensate. The effect is akin to an uncle at a disco, desperate to fit in but doomed in advance by the cardigan. Nasser Hussain made the point well a few days ago: if you’re going to move around the crease, don’t expose all three stumps – one will do.

That, and remember Fletcher’s basics. England’s most tedious failing in one-day cricket since their most recent heyday in 1992 has been to get bogged down on lifeless pitches against mediocre spinners and medium-pacers. The scenario has exposed their rigidity time and again. Now is the time for some kind of acceptable medium. Yes, the cardigan has to go. But, please, no strip-tease.

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, International, One-day cricket | No Comments »

The TWC interview: Mark Alleyne

March 17th, 2009 by Alan Gardner in County cricket, Interview and tagged , ,

Mark Alleyne captained Gloucestershire during their reign as the best one-day side in the country, winning eight trophies between 1999 and 2004. He has recently been appointed MCC head coach, where he will run their Young Cricketers programme. Here he talks about his new position and where it all went wrong for Gloucestershire last season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in County cricket, Interview | 1 Comment »

John Stern: England party starting to look like it's 1999

March 17th, 2009 by John Stern in England, International, One-day cricket, Test cricket and tagged ,

I’m into history repeating itself at the moment. For a while I was thinking that the Ashes 2009 was shaping up like the Ashes 1989: England with high hopes, Australia in transition (euphemism for a bit ordinary), 4-0 Australia. The result may still happen, of course, but the preconceptions look pretty wide of the mark just now.

Now, I’m getting a 1999 vibe: major international tournament at home (World Twenty20) which we cock up, shambolic management structure leading to embarrassing Test series defeat and prolonged wailing and gnashing of teeth.

A year ago, TWC’s cover story was a picture of a forlorn looking Ryan Sidebottom next to the words, “On the slide – Are England going backwards?”

The question was essentially about whether England were returning to the pre-Fletcher anarchy of the 1990s. The conclusion, from our writers Tim de Lisle and Nasser Hussain, was a qualified “no”.

But a year on from that article, surely the answer is an unequivocal “yes”. England have been going backwards for most of the past 12 months and there’s precious little sign of any progress, save the improvements of Stuart Broad’s bowling and the emergence of Graeme Swann.

The problem is vision. We have been looking back at 2005 ever since the fateful bus parade. Until we start looking forward, just as Hussain and Fletcher did in the winter of 1999-2000, England will continue to bumble along.

Where that vision comes from is the big question. It’s not coming from the ECB because all Giles Clarke cares about is filling the board’s coffers, which tempts and distracts the players in equal measure.

Andrew Strauss has enough on his plate just holding everything together and scoring (more than) a few runs.

We await the new head coach. One gets the impression that Andy Flower is increasingly favoured. He’s an impressive man but has little experience. I would favour him working under an experienced international coach such as John Wright, John Buchanan or Mickey Arthur. Of those three I’d favour Wright or Arthur. The applications have closed – now we must wait for English cricket’s latest saviour.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer

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

Jrod: Australia shuffle the pack and come up trumps

March 16th, 2009 by Jrod in International, Test cricket and tagged ,

In the Boxing Day Test, Australia had a line up of Hayden, Katich, Ponting, Hussey, Clarke, Symonds, Haddin, Lee, Johnson, Hauritz and Siddle. South Africa took their lunch money.

For the series-clinching win in Durban it was: Hughes, Katich, Ponting, Hussey, Clarke, North, Haddin, McDonald, Johnson, Siddle and Hilfenhaus. South Africa were left bruised and asking for their mummy.

Four new players, South Africa had the same 11 players for the first five Tests (which is a feat in Test cricket).

Look at the players who are gone: Matthew Hayden, Brett Lee, Nathan Hauritz and Andrew Symonds.

Hayden was past his use by date and Phillip Hughes was smashing down the door without grace, but with lots of force.

Lee was unfit, underweight, and heartbroken; Ben Hilfenhaus was averaging under 20 with the ball for Tasmania.

Hauritz was a club spinner, Andrew McDonald may not be a world-class Test bowler but he has brought more control to the side.

Symonds went from Australia’s go-to batsman, to a hobbled, drunken distraction. Marcus North came in and gave Australia a sea of calm.

With the exception of Hauritz, the three others are former marquee men. They were capable of changing results of Tests, possessors of superhuman skills and players who were important parts of the old regime.

Australia was backing them as class acts, as proven performers, as good ol’ boys. The selectors barked the oft-heard phrase, “form is temporary, class is permanent”.

Apparently class is temporary; sometimes age, injury and life get in the way.

Once the team was changed, and along with it a new defensive attitude, this team has been transformed, a lot quicker than any level-headed expert would have thought.

This is now Ricky Ponting’s team, it’s fresh and bereft of champions but it is winning against the team that everyone thought was going to become the No.1 side in the world.

Michael Hussey might have done a Jimmy Adams with his average, (31 over the last 12 months) but can be replaced with someone in form or find his mojo. Lee is finally fit and sounds mentally right, Stuart Clark will be back soon and Andrew McDonald is still in the side.

No team should be able to win three straight Tests with Andrew McDonald in it.

When a team is performing like this and has a lot of improvement in them, it is bound to give the chills to a few teams the world over.

Posted in International, Test cricket | 10 Comments »

The weekend read – Bob Woolmer's Art and Science of Cricket

March 13th, 2009 by TWC in Miscellaneous and tagged ,

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?
Bob Woolmer’s Art and Science of Cricket by Bob Woolmer and Tim Noakes (New Holland Publishers, hb, 655pp, £30)

What’s it all about?
Bob Woolmer brings the game’s teaching manuals comprehensively up to date

What did we give it?

What did we say?
An admission: I have not read every word of Bob Woolmer’s Art and Science of Cricket. But I feel little guilt about that. The book is over 650 pages long and not designed to be read from start to finish. It is a reference book that will sit invaluably in a club’s pavilion or on the sturdiest shelves of any cricketing enthusiast.

Even if you have decided that the purchase of one more bat or pair of boots is too much of an extravagance in the autumn of your career, there is much to cherish here. As in all the best coaching manuals it is the specific examples, demonstrating a more general truth, that can captivate ex-players as well as current ones.

The book also serves as a poignant memorial of Woolmer’s life. It will soon become a compulsory text for those hoping to make their way in the game, in the same league as some of the masterpieces of the past. Woolmer, who has collaborated here with the sports scientist Tim Noakes, is quick to acknowledge the quality of some of those gems, like Don Bradman’s Art of Cricket and Mike Brearley’s Art of Captaincy, though he may have regarded both these offerings as rather brief. Where Brearley quotes the Greek historian Xenophon at the end of his book, Woolmer is more likely to quote Dermot Reeve.

On Bradman’s Art of Cricket Woolmer writes: “Yet nowhere in his book does Bradman suggest that his batting method was unique, much less a superior solution to the challenges faced by batsmen; nor does he clearly differentiate his method from that taught in the MCC coaching manual.”

There is no doubt that we have moved on from the MCC coaching manual. For proof we can turn to the section on reverse sweeping, a trademark shot of the Warwickshire side that Woolmer coached in the 1990s. I enjoyed his recollection of a little incident at Edgbaston during that time.

It was agreed at a team meeting that everyone should practise the shot in the nets before attempting it in the middle. But no one informed Warwickshire’s 2nd XI coach, Neal Abberley, something of a traditionalist in these matters. Woolmer remembers seeing a tearful Roger Twose stomping away across the tarmac. Twose had just been expelled from the nets by Abberley for playing the reverse sweep.

It will not surprise those who know of Woolmer’s famous openness to the unorthodox that there is a sequence of photos, with Jacques Kallis as the model batsman, demonstrating the defensive reverse sweep. Yes, the defensive reverse sweep. I am still not sure whether Abberley would approve.

Nor does the MCC manual have sections on the pathology of lumbar stress-fractures in fast bowlers or on tobacco and alcohol. We are informed in this treatise that “the shift in attitude towards alcohol by the world’s toughest competitors hopefully presages a move away from the long and unhappy marriage between cricket and the pub so prevalent in the twentieth century”. Ah, well, welcome to the 21st century.
Vic Marks, November 2008

What did they say?
Everything from the mysteries of swing to sledging and spinal injuries is analysed in this hefty tome (656 pages), with a price to match, but for players and fans alike it is value for money. Just try to keep it out of the hands of the opposition.
Simon Redfern, The Independent

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 Miscellaneous | No Comments »

My Favourite Cricketer: 'Batsman, bowler, wicketkeeper and first slip stood frozen in amazement'

March 13th, 2009 by TWC in My favourite cricketer and tagged , reader Graham D. Brice is the latest winner of our My Favourite Cricketer competition.

Summer 1968, perhaps ’69. Me a 15-year-old, gangly, six foot-plus youth, with limited cricketing ability, severe hayfever and a neighbour on my paper round who suggests I could be playing cricket at the weekends for one of the sides in my hometown of Yeovil.

A try out with the second XI sees me immediately relegated to what is called the ‘Yeovil A side’. A collection of 20-somethings, of varying abilities and transport, and an unquenchable thirst that is displayed in numerous rural pubs around Somerset in our weekly quest to avoid defeat.

At the end of each game, we are reminded by the captain to check next week’s paper, The Royal Gazette, where the teams are printed for the following weekend, to verify our selection. A. N. Other is a regular in the squad list, and it is only when he fails to show that I am promoted to No.10 in the batting order.

I bowl occasionally, right-arm spin, sort of, but it is obvious that I am there more to make up numbers than bother the scorers.

However, I can catch a cricket ball, particularly in the slip cordon. On one, only one, memorable occasion I take seven catches in the slips, and although it does not affect the result I do receive an honorable mention in the following week’s sports pages.

In addition to all of the above I am also the youngest player.

We play our home matches at Johnson Park, although as the home turf is jealously guarded by the first and second XIs we play mainly away matches.

On one of our rare home appearances a new player is introduced, a stocky, unremarkable youth, whose sole redeeming feature from my perspective is that he is younger than me.

He constantly pesters the captain to bowl or bat higher in the order. Over the next few weeks he annoys his team-mates by displaying ability and a certain arrogance.

First match, opening overs, I am at first slip, the new kid at second. The ball is rifled towards the slips but low to my right and it is obvious that it is going to bounce before it will reach us. My only instinct is to stick out my right boot in the hope of preventing the ball going between the two of us. Just as the ball is about to land in front of my outstretched boot, a hand - connected to a diving arm and horizontal body - flashes across the grass and cleanly takes the catch.

The batsmen, bowler, wicketkeeper and first slip stand frozen in stunned amazement. The umpire, one of their players, is equally dazzled but eventually he raises a finger and the batsman, muttering under his breath, retreats.

A few weeks later our new player is missing, the captain informs us that he is away playing for the second XI. “Not the Yeovil second XI,” he said “Somerset seconds.”

My career as a weekend cricketer died shortly thereafter, I really did have very little ability, but the fortunes of one I. T. Botham continued to rise. Over the length of his impressive career I, along with millions of others, was privileged to watch sumptuous innings and all-round deeds that sometimes defied rational explanation.

But for all his feats and miraculous efforts, it is one catch, that catch, that is forever etched in my mind. The young school kid playing a man’s game and displaying a precocious ability and talent that not one of us fully appreciated or understood at the time.

Graham 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 | No Comments »

Miles Jupp: Captaincy competency

March 12th, 2009 by Miles Jupp in England, International, Test cricket and tagged , ,

I have been surprised by praise heaped upon Andrew Strauss as a result of him presiding over a series that was both moderately disastrous and phenomenally dull.

Yes, he’s scored a bucket-load of runs but he’s also inherited that peculiarly English knack of not knowing when to declare. Some, like David Gower and Andrew Flintoff, thought they had enough runs on the board and found themselves crushed. Mike Atherton managed to put Graeme Hick into a sulk from which he never really recovered.

Strauss’s apparent ruthlessness when it comes to making tough selection decisions has surprised many, especially those who base their opinion on his performances at press conferences. If you happen to speak with a voice that sounds both posh and friendly, then people often assume that you will be a walkover. The reality is that, rightly or wrongly, people who sound exactly like that have led most of our invading forces over the last 200 years.

What Strauss is being applauded for, it seems, is his avoidance of being utterly awful. I don’t know anything about being a good captain. My own captaincy record is played four, won three, drawn one – but these are misleading statistics. On each victorious occasion somebody played a big innings and then somebody else took a bundle of wickets. Other team members were never short on advice, solicited or otherwise, so I don’t recall having to think a great deal.

I wasn’t even particularly disciplined. On one occasion I arrived late for a game to discover that I was only the third member of our team who had turned up at all. The other two had opened the batting and defended furiously for half an hour while stealing nervous looks in the direction of the boundary waiting for back up before they could play a few shots.

On another occasion I won the toss and elected to bowl first and then halfway to the boundary remembered we’d all agreed that we should bat first. I simply told the rest of the team that I’d lost the toss and that we’d been asked to field.

So I’m definitely not qualified to know what makes a great captain. But in a series from which we have learnt and taken almost nothing, that Straussy is not an awful captain is perhaps news worth celebrating.

Miles Jupp is an actor, comedian and cricket fan

Posted in England, International, Test cricket | No Comments »

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