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June 2009
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RMJ: England have nothing to fear from Australia

June 30th, 2009 by Robin Martin-Jenkins in England, The Ashes


A few weeks ago I had to fill in a questionnaire for Sky Sports. It was for the Twenty20 matches and my answers to their fairly banal questions were due to appear on screen when I went in to bat. You know the kind of thing: What is your favourite band? (Rubber); who is your sporting hero? (Charles Colvile). The last question was ‘What is your Ashes prediction?’ I said Australia would win 2-1.

Some of my teammates saw me write this and immediately were up in arms. “How could you be so unpatriotic?” they protested, as they wrote down 4-1 to England. One player, who shall remain nameless, had even written 5-1 to England. “How can you be so stupid?” I replied.

But I am patriotic; I want England to win as much as the next man, I thought as I sat down in the changing room, before realising I change next to Yasir Arafat on my left and Corey Collymore on my right. But I watched the Australians last series in South Africa and I’ve grown up with a generation of cricket lovers who have, except on two or three occasions, spent every two years cowering behind the sofa as the England team go through a ritual Ashes humiliation. A little bit of realism would creep into the psyche of even the most hard-nosed of patriots given such a pommie-bashing over the years. Crossing sports for a moment, if William Wallace was still alive do you really believe he’d still think Scotland had any chance of winning the Six Nations Rugby next year?

In all good stories, however, the main character has an experience that changes him in some way and alters the course of events. Despite this not being a particularly good story, I too had such an experience: namely, playing the aforementioned pommie-bashers last week at Hove. And for four days we held our own against the No.1 side in the world.

Three weeks of constant sun has turned the outfield at Hove into a brown sheet of concrete and the square is dusting-up into the kind of surface that might even get Mushtaq Ahmed hobbling out of retirement. Ricky Ponting told the press before the match that it would be perfect preparation for the first Test at Cardiff which, he’d heard, was just like Hove. I think we can assume he was talking only about the pitch. And at the end of the match he talked again about how useful the match had been to get his players up to speed for the first Test.

But I’d wager he chose different, rather harsher, words for some of his team in the confines of their dressing room after the match. For while the Australians didn’t play poorly they lacked the presence that the best team in the world should have. All the seamers, except Peter Siddle, looked out of rhythm and their main spinner, Nathan Hauritz, had a shocker. I felt sympathy for Hauritz as he looked like a man who had a whole heap of unnecessary pressure dumped on his shoulders, and he bore his slightly humiliating match figures of 1 for 158 (and this on a turning wicket) well, revealing an impressive temperament.

When it came to the batting all their main players got starts, except Marcus North, but failed to capitalise and, in the case of Phillip Hughes twice, and Ricky Ponting and Simon Katich once, played some very poor shots to get out. Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin apart, they also looked very tentative against our two young spinners, Ollie Rayner and Will Beer. Australian batsmen looking tentative against an off-spinner and leg-spinner on a turning pitch? Hmmm, I wonder who England should pick at Cardiff…?

If this seemed very un-Australian, there was another aspect to their play that seemed unreal too. Sledging, mental disintegration, call it what you will, but there was none of it. I batted for an hour-and-a-half in the first innings and had my usual share of wild flails outside off stump. After each one my ears were primed for the volley of abuse that would surely come my way but not a thing was said. In fact, aside from a bit of geeing-up from the covers the whole team was quiet in the field. It smacked of a fairly new team still coming to terms with each other, which is of course what it is.

They have this week at Worcester to take their preparation one step further and there are a few caveats for England. Namely that Brett Lee bowled with serious pace on a slow wicket, Mitchell Johnson wasn’t even playing and Ponting, Clarke and Haddin exuded class with the bat.

But if I was to give England my own brand of William Wallace team talk now I would say that this year shouldn’t be a time for behind-the-sofa-cowering. England have nothing to fear. Respect them of course, they are a team of fine cricketers. But they have holes in their backsides like anyone else and if you play to your strengths (i.e. play Swann and Rashid on a Cardiff turner) you’ll be one up by the time we go to Lord’s.

My altered Ashes prediction: England to win 3-1.

Robin Martin-Jenkins
is an allrounder with Sussex

Posted in England, The Ashes | 2 Comments »

Jrod: The Ashes is all about Swanny vs Sids

June 30th, 2009 by Jrod in England, The Ashes


There are people who think the battle of the Ashes lies between the elegantly groomed hands of James Anderson  and formerly labret-pierced Mitchell Johnson.


The Ashes battle rests of the shoulders of the leading Test wicket-taker of 2009, and the best performed fast bowler of 2009.

They also happen to be the most entertaining members of either team.

Graeme Swann and Peter Siddle.

Both men are significantly involved in the transmogrification of their sides from shit, to better than shit.

England had a horror winter, yet somehow still unearthed the world’s best off-spinner (to left handers), who burst onto world cricket like an 80s rock sensation, and with a chin like that he was bound to be a star.

Australia were finding Test cricket pretty damn hard in their summer, but they persisted with their working-class hammer, a man with a chest like a Lucha libre star, and somehow Peter Siddle has turned into Merv Hughes without the moustache or beer gut.

Not only are these two probably the most likeable cricketers in either team, they are also the key to the Ashes.

If Swann finds it harder to bowl to the Australian left-handers than he did to Devon Smith, Australia will take home a huge advantage.

If Siddle’s histrionics and work ethic can’t wear down England like it did the South Africans, England will be in a very good position.

Yet if they both fire this will be a wonderful series, as both men are natural entertainers. I envisage a time in the future when all young English cricket fans want chin implants to look more like their wacky spinner, and all young Australian fans try to stick their chests out to honour their fast-bowling weapon.

May the most entertaining man win.

Jrod is an Australian blogger, and now author. His book The Year Of The Balls 2008: A Disrespective is available now

Posted in England, The Ashes | No Comments »

Jrod: Bloggers prepare for non-virtual Ashes combat

June 26th, 2009 by Jrod in England, The Ashes

The moment you have been waiting for is here, Australia are in the country, and England are preparing themselves for the most important event in cricket.

The Bloggers Ashes, The Village Cricketer’s All Star XI Vs The Cricket With Balls Code of Conduct XI.

Writer against writer, unwashed person vs snakebite drinker, cricketers up against Poms.

Oh how grand this shall be.

The match is in aid of that wonderful charity Everyman, who help all men keep their balls, what cricketer would want to deny men of this.

The details of this momentous moment in sport are: Monday 29th June 2009, 3pm start, Barnes Cricket Club, Lonsdale Road, London SW13 9QL

If you need more than a battle of the Ashes to whet your appetite, there will also be a BBQ and many famous cricket writers to annoy, plus Ed Craig editor of the world’s favourite bookazine ‘the story of the Ashes’.

To donate money for this game, go here.

If you are an Australian who is free to play in this game, we are still short of players, so contact me at [email protected].

But get down there people, it is just like the real Ashes, but with fatter people, who can come up with more creative excuses.

Jrod is an Australian cricket blogger. His site won last July’s Best of Blogs in TWC

Posted in England, The Ashes | 4 Comments »

Alan Tyers: Roll up for ECB's £50 box of tricks

June 25th, 2009 by Alan Tyers in Alan Tyers, England, The Ashes

The ECB continue to emailshoot the world and his wife with a tempting Ashes tickets offer: a ‘Hamper Package’ at Edgbaston for a credit crunch-busting £125. If you would prefer just to buy one of the remaining match tickets (face value: £75) without the hamper then…  tough. Sorry. No hamper, no cricky. So what does this fifty quid box of delights contain?

Included inside

•    Small, lukewarm, meat-type pie – worth £50 just on its own (if purchased at official ECB concession stand).
•    Vegetarian snack personally selected by Warwickshire Director of Cricket Ashley Giles: Spinach omelette. (May be replaced with Spanish omelette)
•    Plastic pint glass (will be confiscated)
•    Opportunity to purchase one (1) Orange Club biscuit via priority queuing system (estimated wait time: less than one session of play)
•    Caffeine-infused energy chews to keep you awake if Alastair Cook really gets going
•    Complaint form
•    Mars Bar, distress flare, bandage and makeshift splint to throw at Andrew Flintoff if he is fielding on boundary
•    Special souvenir box-set ‘Colly’s Heroes’ – the definitive story of England’s World Twenty20 campaign (Betamax cassette format, limited edition of 150,000).
•    To encourage youngsters to get into cricket, an exciting new confection called “a chocolate biscuit” and a packet of “crisped potatoes”.
•    Special ECB-partner alcoholic drink to be confirmed later. (Note: it is forbidden to bring alcohol into the ground, if you do bring your hamper in, you may be ejected)

Upgrade Options Are Available

For just £25 extra, why not treat yourself to the Ashes Hamper Deluxe, which features all the ingredients above, plus a can of Panda Cola and a chance to hear Jack Bannister give a lunchtime lecture on the different types of soil used at Edgbaston.

A Super Deluxe Hamper at £200 per person offers all the benefits of the Deluxe Hamper, without the lunchtime lecture.

For our corporate guests, boxes are available from £500 per person per day offering excellent views of the cricket, or unsighted boxes that do not offer a view of the playing area from £750 per person per day.

As sold to Alan Tyers

Posted in Alan Tyers, England, The Ashes | 1 Comment »

Lawrence Booth: England must give Monty time to mend

June 24th, 2009 by Lawrence Booth in England, Test cricket, The Ashes


It’s been easy to forget about Monty Panesar recently. Everyone accepts he’s fallen behind Graeme Swann in England’s spin-bowling pecking-order, but Adil Rashid’s level-headed performances in the World Twenty20 raised pressing questions which Panesar’s selection for England’s game against Warwickshire next week have only partially answered.

The conundrum goes something like this. England are tempted to play two spinners in the first Ashes Test at Cardiff, and they would prefer to accompany Swann with Panesar (38 Tests, 125 wickets) than Rashid (four Twenty20 internationals, three wickets). But Panesar is having a horrible time of it with Northamptonshire (six second-division wickets at 86 each). So if he flops against Warwickshire, the selectors can a) draft in Rashid, or b) take the four-seamers option and pick either Ryan Sidebottom or Graeme Onions or, yes, Steve Harmison instead.

To further complicate matters, Panesar is going through a transitional phase – a formulation which, when used by football managers, usually translates as “we’re rubbish at the moment”, but in Panesar’s case is probably true. Stung by Shane Warne’s accusation that he has not played 30-odd Tests but the same Test 30-odd times, Panesar is trying to reinvent himself as the thinking man’s slow left-armer. And that, as demonstrated by the sets of four leg-side byes he conceded against West Indies when he sent down his new quicker ball, takes time.

By choosing him for the Warwickshire game with 10 others who all look nailed on for Cardiff, the selectors have delivered the definitive vote of confidence. And with Mushtaq Ahmed now on board to get inside Monty’s mind – previous England regimes will tell you this is no easy task – Geoff Miller and Co are right to do so.

The temptation is to believe everything Warne says (although his recent long-distance sledging of Ravi Bopara was unusually wide of the mark). There is little doubt that Panesar’s lack of variety has prevented him from averaging in the late-20s rather than the low-to-mid 30s. And if you take away the 25 wickets he has claimed in three Tests at Old Trafford, his bowling average rises to virtually 38.

But bowlers are allowed to have favourite grounds, so let’s put his overall performance in perspective. The four giants of English spin-bowling in the 20th century were Derek Underwood (297 wickets at 25), Jim Laker (193 at 21), Tony Lock (174 at 25), and the tragically unfulfilled Hedley Verity (144 at 24). Laker averaged nearly four wickets a Test, with the other three hovering around 3.5.

Panesar claims an average of 3.29 wickets per game, which is not a million miles away from the big four – and a considerable distance in front of some of the fairer comparisons. Phil Tufnell took 2.88 wickets per Test, Ashley Giles 2.65, Phil Edmonds 2.45, John Emburey 2.30, Wilfred Rhodes 2.19 and Ray Illingworth 2.00. And of that sextet, only Rhodes (26) and Illingworth (31) claimed their wickets at a lower average – and they operated on uncovered wickets.

Part of Panesar’s problem, of course, is that he bats badly and fields with even less skill. But the 8-9 combination of Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann, plus the improvement with the bat of Jimmy Anderson, makes that less of an issue. England must be careful they don’t simply pick two spinners to emphasise their superiority in that department over Australia. Equally, they must allow a proven match-winner in the past the time to mend his game.

Whether a three-day match against Warwickshire will tell us much is another matter. But then Ashes summers have never been the best time to take the long-term view.

Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Guardian

Posted in England, Test cricket, The Ashes | 8 Comments »

Sam Collins: Life a beach for Australia in Hove

June 23rd, 2009 by Sam Collins in The Ashes

If Australia were fazed by their premature exit from the World Twenty20, you would not have sensed it when they faced the media at Hove on Monday. Admittedly it is difficult to be fazed by anything at the County Ground when the sun is shining, with the possible exception of a Piyush Chawla leg-break, set as it is just a couple of blocks back from the sea. With the written press packed into the pavilion, casting envious glances as the broadcast boys basked outside, Punter’s boys sidled in as though they had made the short walk from the beach rather than a training session.

With each player allocated his own table for a half-hour spot, the media’s main targets were predictable: Ricky Ponting, Mitchell Johnson and Phillip Hughes swamped from the off. Interest in some of the lesser-known players, of which there are a fair few in the Australian 16, was rather less pronounced, making for good opportunities for extended conversation.  Graham Manou, captain of South Australia, and the squad’s reserve wicketkeeper, cut a lonely figure for most of what must have been a long half hour. Yet for the ten minutes TWC snatched with him, he was an engaging interviewee clearly thrilled by his late arrival, at 30, into the Test fold, with that excitement undimmed by the threat of seeing little action on tour.

His good humour was in direct contrast to some of his colleagues. Ben Hilfenhaus, the least likely of Australia’s seamers to feature in the first Test, confessed that he hated media sessions like this because he had “nothing to say”. After five minutes with him, it was clear he wasn’t lying. His quick-bowling colleague Peter Siddle was better value, giving a colourful account of his treatment from the South African crowd over the winter. Turns out they love to bait a fast bowler, but Siddle’s big grin was that of a man who relished the confrontation – Headingley beware. Talking about colour, Andrew McDonald confessed that he too had copped a bit in South Africa, for rather more obvious reasons.

One thing that they all agreed on was that they had no idea of the balance of the Australian side for the first Test in Cardiff. With two allrounders in Shane Watson and McDonald, two batsmen who spin it in Michael Clark and Marcus North to provide alternatives to Nathan Hauritz and a five-strong pace attack with only one certainty in Mitchell Johnson, Ponting cannot complain of a lack of options. Rarely can a touring Australian side have approached the first Test with at least 15 of their squad genuinely in contention for a first-team place. Their two warm-up matches will make for interesting observation indeed.

Sam Collins is web editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in The Ashes | No Comments »

King Cricket: Bowlers set the T20 tone

June 22nd, 2009 by Alex Bowden in Twenty20


Market research tells us that the public want to see lots of fours and sixes. Our own informal research over the last couple of decades has revealed that the public are a load of idiots who are generally wrong about everything. The public want ring tones. It isn’t worth listening to the public.

Test matches and the shorter formats are decided in different ways. You win Tests by bowling sides out. You win one-day and Twenty20 matches by scoring more runs. The metric for deciding the winner may be completely different, but Pakistan still won the World Twenty20 through their bowlers.

Over its short life, Twenty20 has been largely about batsmen. It’s been about individual players playing explosive innings to win matches. Who was Pakistan’s match-winning batsman in the World Twenty20? Shahid Afridi played two blinding innings and Younus Khan has been solid, but overall you’d say that their batting was almost a liability. Pakistan have triumphed because of their bowlers.

It’s been the fashion to use a variety of ‘mix it up’ bowlers in Twenty20 and to bowl them in one or two over spells to keep the batsmen guessing. Pakistan’s bowling approach has been far more predictable in terms of who’s bowling and what they’re bowling. Mohammad Aamer opens, bowling back of a length; Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal bowl the middle overs, tempting batsmen and turning the ball; and Umar Gul finishes things off.

Gul in particular is hugely predictable, bowling reverse swinging yorkers almost exclusively. It barely matters that the batsmen know what’s coming. As the one bowler in the tournament to regularly swing the ball, he’s been almost impossible to hit.

With all the top wicket takers and all the most economical bowlers appearing in the final, it shows bowlers are far from mere cannon fodder in Twenty20. We’ve made a ‘dot ball’ sign to take to the next match we go to and we’re going to wave it maniacally every chance we get.

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 Twenty20 | 2 Comments »

Frank Duckworth: In defence of Duckworth/ Lewis

June 19th, 2009 by Sam Collins in Miscellaneous


Frank Duckworth is one of the two statisticians who developed the Duckworth-Lewis method of resetting targets in interrupted one-day cricket matches. He is a consultant statistician and the editor of the Royal Statistical Society’s monthly news magazine, RSS NEWS. He was speaking to Sam Collins.

I feel very sad that England lost to West Indies on Monday, but I don’t feel guilty. On reflection, and listening to it on a ball-by-ball basis and watching the way the West Indies were progressing towards their target and dithering, it was very, very touch and go until about two overs from the end, and the 80 set by the Duckworth/Lewis method seemed a very reasonable target.

My feeling (my partner Tony Lewis is away at a conference but I would guess he would agree with me) was that 80 from nine overs, the equivalent to nine runs an over, whereas England scored at eight runs an over, was a sufficient enhancement of the run rate to allow for the fact that West Indies would have all their wickets in hand. Wickets aren’t a great resource in a shorter form of the game; a team can lose wickets without losing much run scoring resource. The West Indies showed this, losing five wickets and still having experienced batsmen in Shiv Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan to see them home.

Was the target too lenient? I think most people were coming to that impression with the benefit of hindsight, knowing that the West Indies made it. But they certainly didn’t make their target easily.

I’ve had a lot of media attention since the game, I don’t think there would have been so much interest had England won; it’s always of interest to the media when a match involving England is decided by the method. I think that a lot of the discussion, having listened to Test Match Special, was based on a feeling that the target was a little bit lower than it might have been. There was a suggestion that a target of 84 or 85 would have been more realistic, but West Indies were nine runs ahead of par when they won, (i.e. they were heading for about 88), they had four balls in hand and were scoring at two a ball, so even if the target had been 87 or 88 then I think West Indies would still have been favourites to win.

In all there have been 60 previous T20 matches that have involved a D/L calculation, and no one has ever queried the method or targets set before. People often ask about why targets seem to be much more proportional to overs in T20, but that is because it is a reduced game and scoring rates are higher.

In a short game, the value of wickets is less. If one looks at the par score sheet for the other day, every wicket West Indies lost just raised the par score by about one run, some by no runs at all. Wickets are not as important a resource in a much shortened game. Apart from the fact that you lose a batsman with his eye-in, the worst thing about losing a wicket is not the threat of the side being bowled out within the allotted overs, it is that it is a dot ball.

We have made one or two adjustments over the years. The original formula, which we started with back in 1997, a manual method with a set of tables based on run percentages, was drawn up using matches played between 1990 and 1995. In 2002 we did a review of the data because we had accumulated a lot more data and it was obviously more recent data. That review led us to adjust our tables slightly, and in 2004 we brought in the Professional Edition, more or less the same but adjusted to take account of higher run-rates. This Professional Edition is much more applicable to T20 with its higher scoring rates; the disadvantage is that it must be operated by computer, as no one set of tables will allow you to do the calculations.

We did a further review of the numbers used in the formula in 2005 but decided that no tweaking was necessary. We are now undertaking another review, incorporating a greatly increased set of data from T20 matches, but this was underway a long time before the match on Monday. We might make a few changes, but we might equally find that our formula still reflects the game properly at 50-over and T20 level. If we do decide to make any changes it will be in time for the start of the southern hemisphere season on October 1.

Posted in Miscellaneous | 5 Comments »

Colly: We’re Getting Better At Interviews All The Time

June 18th, 2009 by Alan Tyers in Alan Tyers, England, Twenty20


When we came into this tournament, a lot of people were saying we lacked the basic interviewing skills to answer a few simple questions without becoming bogged down and making the same old errors of saying: “Er, well, obviously we’ve got to be disappointed with that, er, Nas, er, I mean Wardy.” And it’s true that, in the past, some of our lads have frozen under the lights in these short-format interviews. But I think we can all be very proud of the way we’ve dealt with some often highly-skilled questioners over the last couple of weeks.

Every one of those lads in that dressing room has done a great job, but I’d like to single out Jimmy Anderson. A few years ago, Jimmy would have just stared back at the interviewer with his mouth open, looking like he might cry. But these days, he listens to the question, nods a bit and then he’s straight into the right areas by saying: “Look, I just try to get it into the right areas.”

Broady too – he’s coming on leaps and bounds. He’s a very intelligent cricketer, and he’s not afraid to try different things, running his hand through his hair, slipping in a little joke, dropping the microphone at a key moment. He’s got a massive future ahead of him as a specialist post-match interviewee if he wants it.

Even when we had our difficult times, for instance the Netherlands game when people were asking: “Is this the worst performance by an England team in the history of cricket?” and “Why don’t you just retire now?”, we never let our heads go down. And we bounced right back by saying: “Well obviously it’s disappointing to get beat but there’s a lot of positives to take from defeat by a very well-organised Dutch outfit.” That showed a lot of character, that did.

With hindsight, maybe we didn’t get the balance right by only sending the bowlers out to be interviewed. Would a Robert Key-type have made the difference? Someone with his experience of waiting for the question, rocking back on his heels and chewing thoughtfully for a few minutes before answering? Possibly. But hindsight is a wonderful thing. We probably missed Freddie, as well, he’s the sort of guy who can change the course of an interview in a second with a joke about going to the pub or, these days, a little bit of politics.

On a personal level, it’s not been the greatest tournament for me, interview-wise. It’s not through lack of effort, I can promise you that much, but I have felt a bit one-paced if I’m honest. No matter how hard I try I just can’t seem to come up with anything interesting to say. I’m very happy to hand back over to Straussy in the studio.

Alan Tyers was taking the positives from this interview

Posted in Alan Tyers, England, Twenty20 | 2 Comments »

Lawrence Booth: IPL not to blame for Indian failure

June 17th, 2009 by Lawrence Booth in IPL, Twenty20


If cricket can make mugs of us all, Twenty20 heightens the effect. Your blogger recently took part on Sky’s Sunday-morning Cricket Writers on TV show and semi-confidently predicted India would win the World Twenty20. The reasoning? Because their players – all their players – had just been exposed to the pressure cooker of the Indian Premier League and would therefore have no problem getting tough when the tough got going. Well, it was a nice theory.

What I failed to factor in was that the Indians were starting to believe their own hype too. Sure, the defeat to a Dwayne Bravo-inspired West Indies could have happened to anyone. That, as they will one day doubtless be saying, is Twenty20. But the loss to England was the classic hubris-nemesis one-two.

Not only did their fans boo the English as they finished their practice session on the Nursery Ground before the game, but their brains trust cooked up a scheme whereby the debutant Ravindra Jadeja was allowed to play one of Twenty20’s great match-losing knocks. Even to an Englishman apparently anaesthetized over the years by watching his own team, it was painful to behold.

Before the tournament started, most observers agreed India’s IPL war-wounds would trim off the rough edges. Now, their coach Gary Kirsten says the IPL tired his boys out. Pakistan, meanwhile, were supposed to have been off the pace because their players were banned from taking part in this year’s IPL. And England, whose cricketers had a bit-part role only in South Africa, were arguably only a random thunderstorm away from the semi-finals too.

The point is this: Twenty20 yields to no easy explanations. The IPL is a hero one minute, a scapegoat the next. Just as we use it to justify our preconceptions (and TV punditry), so we realign the senses with the benefit of hindsight. Sport, like everything else, craves coherence, but Twenty20 denies us. It may be why this tournament has been so gripping.

Of course, the process will continue. Tillekeratne Dilshan’s excellence will keep being attributed to his stint with Delhi Daredevils, even though I don’t remember seeing his ramp shot once out in South Africa. Roelof van der Merwe’s miserly slow left-armers will be put down to his experience with Bangalore Royal Challengers, as if he didn’t know how to bowl before then. Bravo must thank Mumbai Indians and Sohail Tanvir still owes Rajasthan Royals a debt of gratitude after starring for them in 2008.

Or possibly they’re just all very good players who are able to adapt their game to a situation. If India blame their feeble exit on the IPL, they are only fooling themselves.

Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Guardian

Posted in IPL, Twenty20 | 4 Comments »

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