May 2009
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Lawrence Booth: England don't need turn to burn Aussies

May 20th, 2009 by Lawrence Booth in England, The Ashes

It’s funny, isn’t it, how a pitch on the Glamorgan square that turned too early in a Friends Provident Trophy match can engender mischievous optimism about a Test series that is still seven weeks away. “Excessive turn?” goes the cry. “Bring on Swann and Monty!” Now the Ashes has seen some fairly dubious pitch-doctoring in its time from both sides, but this – nearly two months in advance of the first Test at Cardiff on July 8 – would be something else. England should resist the temptation – but for reasons other than ethical rectitude.

Ever since it became clear that Cardiff, with the weight of the Welsh National Assembly behind it, had outbid Old Trafford, English cricket has slowly got used to the idea that a Panesar’s Ashes DVD was probably not going to be one of this year’s stocking fillers. This was sad, but the world has moved on. And it has moved on because Graeme Swann has shown that he does not need a bunsen to work his chemistry.

It used to be said that Shane Warne could turn it on concrete, which is why teams hosting Australia were generally on to a loser even if they prepared a seaming track, and on to an innings defeat if they produced one that turned. This is not to say that Swann is anywhere near that category – he clearly isn’t – but that the evidence of his brief Test career so far is that he has nous and guile, two qualities which have helped him leapfrog his former county colleague Panesar. He is also smart enough not to get carried away with tales of turn from Wales. As he told Cricinfo: “I’m sure they’ll be desperate for the game to go five days down there.”

So far, on pitches that have been either spin-neutral (even at Chennai, Harbhajan Singh could only manage match figures of four for 187) or seamer-friendly, he has prised out 34 wickets in seven Tests at 26. These are heady figures for any slow bowler, let alone the most derided of the breed, the English offie. And he can count some big names among his embryonic bunnies: Devon Smith (five dismissals), Shiv Chanderpaul, Brendan Nash, Gautam Gambhir (all three), Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Rahul Dravid (all two). This is a bloke who knows his own game – especially against left-handers, of which there could be five in Australia’s top eight this summer.

Besides, it could just be that England’s greatest bowling strength now is the swing, both ways, of Jimmy Anderson. The way he toyed with West Indies on Monday morning – uninterested or not, they just couldn’t pick him – was a reminder that England’s best way of beating Australia is to expose Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey early to the new ball. Even with Mitchell Johnson, Stuart Clark and Peter Siddle in the Australian attack, England’s best hope is for the ball to swing in the air and dart off the seam.

England last won an Ashes series with spin back in 1956, when Australians will tell you the pitches at Headingley and Old Trafford were tailored to suit the purposes of Jim Laker and the hounded Lancashire groundsman Bert Flack declared himself thankful that Nasser had “taken over the Suez Canal. Otherwise, I’d be plastered over every front page like Marilyn Monroe”. There is, quite simply, no tradition of turning pitches here. England had better get used to it. Because, actually, it may not be such a bad thing after all.

Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for The Guardian

Posted in England, The Ashes | No Comments »

Paul Coupar: Ponting confident as Australia offer no shocks

May 20th, 2009 by TWC in The Ashes


The story was in the numbers. Fifty days till the Ashes, only four Australian survivors from 2005, and at least one big question: who exactly is Graham Manou?

That wasn’t the only mystery as Australia’s squad was announced at a drizzly SCG. When did Australia last set out for England with such an unblooded squad – nine with 15 caps or fewer? (No one could remember, but at least 25 years ago.) How did the volatile Andrew Symonds react to being left out? (No one was saying.) Would six specialist batsmen be enough? (Ponting’s confident smile suggested that three might do the job.)

In fact Ponting’s smile – like that of a card-player not showing his hand but confident he held the aces – was the best barometer of Australia’s true feelings. It was never bigger than when the captain made his view of England’s recent revival clear. “They’ve obviously done everything very well these last two Test matches,” said Ponting, “but I can guarantee they’ll facing stiffer opposition than the West Indies when we arrive in England.”

Several important pointers emerged for England. The absence of Symonds removed a man who drilled 232 demoralising runs at 58 in the 2006-07 green-and-gold wash. The presence of three left-handers in the likely top six is good news for Graeme Swann, who can bowl his offspin into the rough outside off stump. The selection of Nathan Hauritz as the only spinner means that, as the chief selector Andrew Hilditch said, “Our key weapons will be our pace attack”.

Only one position in his squad was genuinely up for grabs: the second allrounder’s slot, behind the lively but often-injured Shane Watson. It went to Andrew McDonald, a flame-haired 27-year-old fast-medium merchant, used mainly to block up an end in the recent series win in South Africa. Symonds, haunted by off-field problems, and Brad Hodge (Test average 55) missed out.

If this kind of selectorial consistency makes for stronger teams, it also leads to duller squad announcements. For example, chief selector Hilditch did not, as far as we were informed, make a case for including a promising club legspinner, as Peter May did in England in 1984. Nor did he leave out the best batsman for being over-fond of Champagne, a la David Gower in 1992.

However, some traditions were maintained. The announcement was prefaced with a typically modest Aussie-centric highlights package: “What a wonderful performance from this brilliant Australian team!” We also had exemplary English haughtiness. Earlier in the week a leading British journalist rang Cricket Australia: would they mind awfully rescheduling their announcement, only it didn’t suit his newspaper’s deadlines? He was politely told to get lost.

Manou – the 30-year-old back-up wicketkeeper from South Australia – and McDonald were not the only unfamiliar names. Only four squad members have played a Test in England – Ricky Ponting, his vice-captain Michael Clarke, Simon Katich and the recovering Brett Lee. On average each squad member has just 26 Test caps each.

Among the batsmen never to have faced England, Phillip Hughes is currently excelling for Middlesex (four hundreds and counting) despite a homespun technique which majors on slashes through and over point. Ponting admitted that Hughes is currently enjoying a glorified net in English conditions, a fact which brought perhaps his biggest smile of all. Twenty-nine-year-old Marcus North is also a face English bowlers have already seen too much of, after heavy-scoring stints with five counties.

As for the bowlers, Hauritz (“Not always a frontrunner” said Hilditch) is the latest of several spinners tried since Shane Warne left the stage. Either Hauritz will play every Test (unlikely) or Australia will rely on part-time spin.

Leading the pace attack are likely to be Mitchell Johnson, a thrillingly quick left-armer who recently removed five of the South African top order in Durban, including Graeme Smith with a broken hand and Jacques Kallis with a gashed chin, and that familiar foe Brett Lee. Alongside them could be Peter Siddle, a swing-bowling former wood chopper, whose first ball in Test cricket hit Gautam Gambhir on the head. He now has 29 wickets in seven Tests, and is likely to face a shoot out with Stuart Clark and Ben Hilfenhaus for the remaining bowling slots.

Ponting dead-batted suggestions England may prepare turning pitches to accentuate an advantage in spin bowling. However, it is clearly on Australian minds. Yesterday their coach, Tim Nielsen, said it would be “poor” of Glamorgan not to improve a square that recently led to a points-deduction for turning too much. “They have gone to great lengths to get the first Test in Cardiff … so I’m sure they wouldn’t want a shoddy pitch to ruin it,” Nielsen said. Somehow one suspected it was not the fortunes of the paying spectators in Wales that were uppermost in his mind.

Squad: Ricky Ponting (c) (TAS) Michael Clarke (vc), Stuart Clark, Brad Haddin, Nathan Hauritz, Phillip Hughes, Simon Katich, Brett Lee ( all NSW), Ben Hilfenhaus (TAS), Michael Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Marcus North (all WA), Graham Manou (SA), Andrew McDonald, Peter Siddle (Vic), Shane Watson (QLD)

Paul Coupar is a freelance journalist based in Australia and a former features editor of TWC

Posted in The Ashes | 5 Comments »

John Stern: Maturing Anderson has reason to smile

May 19th, 2009 by John Stern in England, Test cricket, The Ashes

James Anderson still speaks publicly with all the animated enthusiasm of Kevin the Teenager but his bowling is considerably more expressive.

The ball that removed Sulieman Benn in West Indies’ second innings at Chester-le-Street – a wicked late away-swinger from around the wicket that demolished the left-hander’s off stump – told us more eloquently than the man himself could have done how far Anderson’s bowling has come.

Let us dare to dream that the left-hander on the receiving end was not a West Indian No.8 but, say, Phillip Hughes, Simon Katich, Mike Hussey, Marcus North or Mitchell Johnson. Australia’s top eight against South Africa at Johannesburg in February contained five left-handers.

There are not many bowlers who can regularly swing the ball conventionally both ways without an obvious change of action but Anderson is one. And his bowling to left-handers was outstanding, whether pushing the ball across and swinging it late further towards the slips or, as he did for Benn, angling in from around the wicket and swinging it away.

With the addition of his reverse-swing capability, he has all the weapons and in Stuart Broad he has a willing and complementary junior partner. The two are friends and, as Broad says in the forthcoming issue of TWC, that enhances their on-field combination.

Anderson’s record is nothing to write home about – yet – but it is going in the right direction, his heroics in Durham lifting him inside the world’s top ten bowlers for the first time. His overall Test bowling average is 34, too high for a Test opening bowler, but given the batsman-dominated times in which we live, not as bad as it seems. In 21 Tests since the start of England’s home series against India in July 2007, he has taken 82 wickets at 31 with four five-wicket hauls. Forty-seven of those wickets have come against New Zealand and West Indies but 33 of them have come against tougher opponents in South Africa and India.

It is so tempting to get wildly excited about our Ashes prospects on the back of Anderson’s performance, which would be foolish.

But after the fanfare of 2003 and the unbearable burden of expectation, he has matured and developed gradually to the point where he is one good series from being a world-class bowler. He might even smile if we won the Ashes.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in England, Test cricket, The Ashes | 4 Comments »

Telford Vice: It could be a Russian novel

May 19th, 2009 by telford vice in IPL

Wilkin Mota steps up to bowl the 18th over for the Deccan Chargers against the Kings XI Punjab in Johannesburg on Sunday. That prompts those of us with pretensions to journalism to hark back to the basics of the craft: Who? What? When? Where? Why?

The Chargers need 43 off 18 balls. Rohit Sharma has that lean and hungry look in his backlift. Yuvraj Singh could, should, choose another victim. Instead, perhaps still dizzy in the dazzle of his second hat-trick, Yuvraj picks on a man who hasn’t bowled a ball all day, a bits-and-pieces cricketer who struggles to hold down a place in Mumbai’s first class side, whose most notable feat is a gritty 33 in 102 minutes in the 2007 Ranji Trophy final.

Mota’s first two balls are decent: yorker length and straight. Squeezed singles are all that accrue. Then the wheels fall off in the shape of two full tosses – both of them smote over midwicket for six by Sharma, who angles the sixth ball to the fine leg boundary for four. The pathos is palpable as Mota collects his cap and slinks into the shadows.

Enter Brett Lee to bowl a furious over of quasi-bouncers which costs 14 runs, but also brings the run out of Ravi Teja.

Eleven needed from the last over, and Irfan Pathan to bowl it. Sharma takes two off the first, and thick edges the second to the third man fence. The third is an ugly wide. Then Pathan spears Sharma’s guard. Bowled him! Leg stump! Two balls later, Pathan gets under RP Singh’s skied hoik … and takes the catch. Four required from the last ball.

Into the cauldron plops one Jaskaran Singh, aged 19 years and 255 days. Again: Who? What? Why? Where? When? In his only previous biggish match, a Vijay Hazare Trophy North Zone game at Una in February, Jaskaran retired hurt after scoring 28 for the Punjab against Haryana.

And now this. But there’s a modicum of mercy – the batsmen crossed and Ryan Harris will face the last ball. Harris? An Aussie who has an ODI and 35 first-class caps to his credit. He makes a manful effort to slap it through the covers, but the fielding is done and the Kings XI win by one run. Bathos blips benignly in the afternoon sun.

It could be a Russian novel. It isn’t. It’s the IPL.

Telford Vice is a freelance cricket writer in South Africa who writes regularly for The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in IPL | 1 Comment »

King Cricket: Long live Twenty20?

May 18th, 2009 by Alex Bowden in Test cricket, Twenty20


The attendance of these last two Tests coupled with Chris Gayle’s comments last week seemingly welcoming a potential death of Test cricket have reawakened a media-led crisis of confidence about the longer format. ‘Has Test cricket finally had its day?’ asked the Guardian in an online poll. No, said 90.5% of those who responded, suggesting rigor mortis hasn’t quite set in.

Dwindling Test attendances and the IPL seem to support the theory that supporters are moving towards the shorter format, but is it really so inevitable that this should continue?

Twenty20 seems to have legs, but it’s still early days. The bare facts are that the most loyal Twenty20 convert has only been following the game for a handful of years. Does the format have enough going for it to hold people’s interest for a long period of time or is its audience an ever-changing morass of those new to the game?

Test cricket has attracted people who have followed it for 60 years or more – these are no fair-weather fans. Test match cricket offers things that no other sport can, which is why it’s lasted as long as it has - it fills a niche. The duration, the effects of weather, the way the match develops – these are attributes which remain and people who get hooked for these reasons can’t go elsewhere, because to all intents and purposes there isn’t an elsewhere.

One of Twenty20’s biggest attributes is that it’s easier to fit into busy, modern lives. That’s a selling point, rather than a unique selling point, meaning it competes against football, rugby and the like. It may seem huge, but it’s early days for Twenty20. The Twenty20 church is bigger and more eye-catching, but its foundations are less robust than Test cricket’s.

There’s also the fact that one or two Twenty20 followers might just find their way to the longer format. Those people will stay with Test cricket - we’re sure of it. The loyalty of the Twenty20 fan is as yet untested.

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 Test cricket, Twenty20 | 5 Comments »

Devon Malcolm: Spinner with the new ball? Not for me

May 15th, 2009 by Sam Collins in Test cricket


Seeing Andrew Strauss throw Graham Swann the new ball last week reminded me of a Test match I played against Australia at the Oval (in August 1997, Malcolm’s final Test). We were up against it – Phil Tufnell had taken seven wickets in the Australia first innings but they only needed 118 in the second – a tiny score to chase. Earlier Mike Atherton said to me on the balcony while we were batting, “Dev, if we’ve got a small total to bowl at, you won’t be bowling. I’m going to open the bowling with Tufnell”.

To continue reading Devon’s blog click here.

Devon Malcolm is writing weekly for for the duration of the West Indies tour of England in association with the Antigua Tourist Board

Posted in Test cricket | No Comments »

Richie Richardson: People must respect Gayle's opinion

May 14th, 2009 by TWC in west indies


As far as Test cricket is concerned, Chris Gayle is obviously a bit tired of it and has had enough of captaincy. Initially he didn’t want the job – he’s a pretty laid back guy and likes to take it easy, and the pressure of being captain, not necessarily on the field but all of the other things off it is one of his major concerns. He obviously needs a lot of time for himself, which he doesn’t get as captain. I can attest to that. My batting deteriorated after I became captain, and one of the reasons was that I didn’t have enough time to focus on my game or put in the type of personal practice and training that I was accustomed to. I empathise with him a little where that is concerned, but he’s got to look at himself as well, and if he’s not comfortable with the job, then there is nothing wrong in expressing that and people have got to respect that.

Read the rest of Richie Richardson’s blog here.

Richie Richardson is writing weekly for for the duration of the West Indies tour of England in association with the Antigua Tourist Board

Posted in west indies | No Comments »

Chris Gayle: Another Day In My Living Hell

May 14th, 2009 by Alan Tyers in Alan Tyers, west indies


I’m depressed. This hotel room is freezing. My hotel room in South Africa was a perfect temperature.

I look at my watch: 2.30pm. No rest for the wicked. I managed to snatch a quick 14 hours sleep but I’m still worn out.

God it’s cold in here. I call Fidel, get him to come and fix the heating. He says he just has to cook everyone’s breakfast, make up the beds, regrout a bathroom, carry Shiv to the jacuzzi – he doesn’t like to waste energy when he’s not batting – and then he’ll be up as soon as he can.

I bet Viv Richards didn’t have to put up with this. I take a nap while I wait, to try and keep my strength up. Eventually Fidel arrives, passes me my breakfast tray. I drop it. He runs downstairs to get another one. I take a quick nap.

He comes back, looks at the heater.

“You just have to turn this dial here to ‘ON’, skipper,” he says. “See? Now it’s on.”

It’s typical. The constant demands, the pressure, having to take responsibility for everything. All eyes on you. I wish I could practice turning the heater on and off but I don’t have time. But when I need to turn it on, I’ll be ready. If I’m not too tired through no fault of my own.

In South Africa, the heaters were brilliant. In fact, they don’t even have heaters there. They have air-conditioning. And there’s none of this long, drawn-out business of turning a dial. You just flick a switch and – boom – it’s the perfect temperature. Maybe in the future all hotel rooms will be like that. To be honest, I wouldn’t care. I don’t need a heater. Maybe Andrew Strauss does, but that’s his problem if he can’t figure out how the hotel room of the future will be temperature-controlled. He should mind his own business and not be talking about me when he should be talking about him.

I try and have a rest, but I can’t. I’m thinking about Andrew Strauss thinking about me when he’s trying to sleep, and then I start thinking about Andrew Strauss thinking about me thinking about him when I should be trying to sleep.

I wake up a few hours later, hardly rested at all, and soon it’ll be time for bed, before the whole exhausting treadmill starts again tomorrow.

By Alan Tyers

Posted in Alan Tyers, west indies | 4 Comments »

The TWC Summit: Is Graham Onions the new Ed Giddins?

May 13th, 2009 by TWC in England, Test cricket


So then. Seven wickets on Test debut for Graham Onions. Here at TWC, we’re way above the obvious, so we’ll just quote Simon Barnes instead, “Onions ran rings round the West Indies batsmen. Onions sizzled at Lord’s yesterday. It’s hard cheese and Onions for West Indies. West Indies found Onions unpalatable. Strauss knows his Onions. West Indies got a stuffing with Onions. Onions put West Indies in a pickle. Onions cut West Indies off at source.”

But can he help us beat the Aussies, or the latest in a line of bowlers (Ed Giddins, James Kirtley, Richard Johnson please stand up) who have proved no more than an international flash-in-the-pan?! Dammit. We asked our panel. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in England, Test cricket | 4 Comments »

Lawrence Booth: England must stop Hughes Phill–ing his boots

May 13th, 2009 by Lawrence Booth in County cricket, Test cricket, The Ashes


I’ve seen the future and it’s scary. It backs away to leg and hits good-length balls through point. It hurries down the pitch and whacks seamers over long-on. It is only 20 years old but has a better line in banter than one or two seasoned South African sledgers I could name. It’s name is Phillip Hughes, and unless England have a cunning plan to deal with it, they can kiss goodbye to the Ashes. Again.

Hughes is enough to make a God-fearing Englishman think the world is against him. When Matthew Hayden quit, he created a small chasm at the top of Australia’s order. Here was another weakness to add to a list already including “no spinner”, “temperamental all-rounder”, “fading Hussey” and “journeymen seamers”. But Hughes appears set to make Hayden look like an old frump. Where do they get them from?

In five hours and 20 minutes at The Oval last week, Hughes compiled – if that’s not too bland a verb – 195 out of 317 for Middlesex. That came on the back of 118 and 65 not out against Glamorgan and 139 against Leicestershire. These are not necessarily attacks to conjure with, but then the two hundreds Hughes made in his second Test, at Durban, suggest he can handle top-class bowling too. And if England make the mistake of inferring cowardice in that trademark step-away to leg, he will have 60 on the board before the truth dawns.

You see, it’s the way he plays, not just the runs he scores, that is so enchanting. Towards the end of the game against Glamorgan at Lord’s, Middlesex faced a tricky final 20 overs or so after losing three quick second-innings wickets. Most openers would have been inclined to block their way to safety. Hughes simply hit out, finishing with 65 out of a score of 94 for three and collecting nine of his side’s 11 boundaries. When it was pointed out to him on his return to the dressing room that there are other ways of playing for a draw, he replied: “You’ve got to have a bit of fun while you’re out there, haven’t you?”

Hughes is currently batting with something that goes beyond the fearlessness of youth. It isn’t arrogance (he says he is able to keep both feet on the ground). It isn’t recklessness (he has a system and it clearly works). It isn’t bravado (he is a humble interviewee). But it may just be a perfect-storm combination of several factors that do not often come together in a cricketer. Supreme confidence, lightning-fast hand-eye coordination, rare talent, impressive humility, utter diligence and – the writer’s get-out clause – the X-factor.

At some point things will go wrong for Hughes, and the critics will tuck into his unorthodoxy with relish. His challenge then will be to ignore them and trust in an approach that has brought him 10 first-class hundreds in 24 games. England’s challenge will be to prevent their natural suspicion of any technique that transcends the text-book from clouding their judgment. Accepting Hughes will be their first task. Overcoming him may be a different matter altogether.

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 County cricket, Test cricket, The Ashes | 8 Comments »

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