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Archive for December, 2009

Just how do England keep doing it?  When we know they will win, they lose.  When we know they will lose, they win.  And when a bore draw is on the cards, you can bet your life they will do something to make sure it isn’t.

The odd thing is, this isn’t a recent thing.  Sure, it has been exacerbated of late, but in a decade plagued by dour cricket England have somehow managed to keep almost every series interesting.  If the nineties was the year when they hit rock bottom, the noughties will forever be the decade they entertained.

In their second match of the decade, they played a part in one of the defining points in the history of the game – Cronjegate.  Since then, they have bowled other teams out for 50, and been bowled out for 50 themselves.  They have beaten everyone apart from India, and lost to everyone other than New Zealand.  Having started the decade very close to being the worst side in the world, by its midpoint they were very close to being the best.   Lord knows where in the world pecking order they stand currently.

They have seen a man fall out of a pedalo, an Ashes winning team drunkenly leaving a trail of destruction through the streets of London, and have sacked a coach and a captain on the same day.  They have been caught in the middle of a political storm at a world cup, and terrorist attacks on the sub-continent.

If they weren’t beating Pakistan in the dark in Karachi, they were losing 7/60 in the last session of a test to lose to them.  If they weren’t bowling the West Indies out for sod all, they were being bowled out for sod all by the West Indies.  They somehow managed to beat South Africa after watching them stroll to 345/2 in 2003, yet lost to Australia after being 468/3 in 2006.  In the past year alone, they have relied on Paul Collingwood and the tail to squeak out draws with 9 wickets down.  All after watching India do exactly the same to them in 2007.

This is before we even get to one day cricket, where they have lurched between the half decent and the utterly woeful.  Usually, they save their best for when we are just about to give up on them, and their worst for when there is a major trophy up for grabs.  Then, with Twenty20, they gave a great new format to the world, then watched everyone get a lot better at it than they were.  Naturally.

Yet because of all this, watching England this decade has been a largely pleasurable experience.  Apart from a short period in the middle of the decade, England have never won regularly enough for us to expect them to win.  At the same time, they have never been so bad as to seem like a hopeless cause.  21 of their 37 series in the decade have been either drawn or decided by one test.

As for the players, have there been any that will go down as greats?  Probably not, if we are honest about it.  But they have seen Vaughan and Harmison reach the top of their proffesions, and watched Flintoff bloom into the best cricketer in the world for a short while.  Trescothick and Strauss developed into one of the best opening partenerships the country had sent.   Hoggard, Anderson, Harmison, Flintoff and Sidebottom all took hat-tricks.

In all honesty, forget a successful England team.  Give me an entertaining one any day.

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Cricket has now become the sport most reliant on electronic aid for officials.  Yet, as is usually the way in cricket, something new has been introduced in bewildering fashion.

When the ICC announces their plans for the review system, it seemed that reaction to it was almost universally positive.  Yet, as it has been tested in games, the flaws are now becoming more and more apparent.

Alarm bells should have started ringing when Sri Lanka and India decided that they didn’t want to use the system in their series.  Apparently, the review “rule” is actually something that players can pick and choose whether they fancy using.  Somehow, this means that two test series played at the same time can be played under different conditions.  Not only that, but the ICC are quite content with that.

The players are undoubtedly confused by it.   It would take a heart of stone not to chuckle at Chris Gayle calling for a review when only his ankle stopped the ball from taking out the base of middle stump.  If the players can make that sort of mistake, why does the umpire need to have his every decision scrutinised?

Then we come to the way that a referral is sought.  Players have to literally go up to the umpire and make a signal saying “I think you are wrong”.  What sort of example is this setting to the young generation of cricket fans around the world?  The first thing kids are taught is “the word of the umpire is final”.  Yet now, they see their heroes essentially arguing with the decision of the umpire.

Despite all this, one moment today has highlighted exactly why this system cannot stay, despite the fact that the right decision was actually made.   Stuart Broad was given not out when he was unquestionably out.  The ball hit him in line, and was taking out middle stump.  Yet South Africa needed 35 seconds to decide whether or not to risk their final review.  The allegation is that they waited for their analyst to check the replay before deciding.  If this is the case, it is a very dangerous precedent to set.

Stuart Broad will now find himself in hot water for arguing with the umpire’s decision, and rightly so.  Yet why is it OK for Aleem Dar to say Broad was not out, and for Smith to tell him that he thinks he was wrong, while if Broad does the same thing after the decision is reversed, he is fined?

South Africa have also been sinned against with this system.  Yesterday, a close LBW on Jonathan Trott was deemed not out.  South Africa asked for a review, and every camera angle and gadget suggested it was indeed out.  It hit him in line, there was no edge, it was not a no ball, and HawkEye had it hitting leg stump.  The decision from the third umpire was not out.

With any luck, the review system will either be drastically remodelled or dropped completely.  If the ICC really must have it, I would suggest only one unsuccessful review per innings.  This would mean that only the absolute howlers were challenged.  Also, if faith is to be put in HawkEye, surely it’s word must be taken as gospel?  Leaving grey areas all over the place is only going to make issues like those of today more and more commonplace.

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1 finger of beer whenever KP winces after stretching, just to remind everyone he is still a bit injured.

1 finger of beer whenever Graeme Smith or Jaques Kallis turn down a single that you think you could have made.

1 finger of beer every time Beefy recommends a fielding change about 2 seconds after Smith or Strauss have already made it.

1 finger of beer every time the commentator explodes because the ball has gone between two slips.

1 finger of beer for every “Bumblism”.  “Start the car” etc.

1 finger of beer for every use of the word “whack”.

1 finger of beer every time Matt Prior is criticised for his keeping.

1 pint of beer every time Matt Prior is praised for his keeping.

3 fingers of Castle Lager every time someone points out that 4 of England’s top 6 are South African.

1 shot of tequila when it first becomes apparent that Beefy was talking out of his arse at the pitch report.

1 bottle of vodka if Paul Allott is mentioned.  Game abandoned if he is a surprise guest in the commentary box.

1 shot of rum every time David Gower does a posh voiceover to a video of local wildlife.

1 shot of Baileys whenever the words “Anderson”, “leader” and “attack” appear in the same sentence.

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Somehow, it is possible for a team to lose to the West Indies and beat Australia in the same year.  To get bashed 6-1 in a one day series, then go straight out to South Africa and make the semi finals of the Champions Trophy.  To lose to the Netherlands, then beat Pakistan and India in the same week.  It certainly isn’t boring following England.

What undoubtedly adds to the fun is the “club cricket” vibe that England give off.  Yes, they are improving, yet you feel as if you have played against a team just like them on a Saturday.  Strauss is the posh captain that has seen it all before and stops the side from becoming a rabble.  Cook is the public school boy with the high elbow, whom everyone secretly hopes will get out so that someone interesting can come in.  Pietersen plays the pantomime villain, the irritant, the player who every opponent talks about more than anyone else.  Jon Trott is the miserable run machine who drives home after the game without stopping for a drink.  Sidebottom is the nutjob seam bowler, who arrives at games in an old pick up and punches holes in the dressing room wall.  All the while, these characters try to avoid Graeme Swann, who is constantly looking for anything to do that is more fun than playing cricket.

Unfortunately, the team has lost Andrew Flintoff, which means that they need to dip into the second team.  Luke Wright seems most likely to get the nod, presumably because he won’t complain about batting down the order and not bowling.  Whoever gets the nod, South Africa will come down on them like a ton of bricks.  With Flintoff in his prime, it often felt like England had 12 men.  Without him at all, it may well feel like they have 10.

This means that it is a very big series for Jimmy Anderson.  As much as he has improved over the past couple of years, the feeling remains that he too often follows up a good game with an indifferent one.  The “leader of the attack” line is getting extremely tedious, but if Anderson wants to be one of the best bowlers in the world, he needs a defining series.  Hoggard was the man 5 years ago, Anderson must do it now.  Despite what the tabloids will have you believe, Broad is still far from the finished article, and Swann probably won’t find much help for him.

The batting also needs to improve.  Nobody expects the top 6 to be making 450+ regularly like their counterparts, but sub-300 scores are not good enough.  Strauss has carried the batting for too long now, and the man with most to prove is his opening partner.  If Cook has a good series, he may well find himself as England captain in Bangladesh.  A bad one, and he will surely be packed off to county cricket for a while with his mate Ravi.  Prior also must be encouraged to reign himself in a bit – England need hundreds from him at 6, rather than quick 40’s and 50’s.

Predictions

Possible line up – Strauss (c), Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Collingwood, Prior (wk), Wright, Broad, Swann, Sidebottom, Anderson

Leading wicket taker – James Anderson.  The South Africans respect him, but now is the time to really stake his claim as the best seamer in the world.

Leading run scorer – Jon Trott.  Has looked unbreachable in his short international career, and will be us hungry for runs as Pietersen was 5 years ago.

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Finally, the phony war is almost over.  South Africa have to be clear favourites, and yet there is still a feeling that they can’t quite work England out.  Most would have given up the verbals by now given that England have shown nothing but indifference, yet South Africa have carried on regardless.  Most hilarious was on the topic of the South African fans booing Kevin Pietersen, with Graeme Smith bellowing “Pietersen needs to get over it!”.  Poetic license allows me to assume that “girlfriend” and a couple of snaps of his fingers were added at the end.

Why do England irritate South Africa so?  Even when the Australians were about last year, the South African camp seemed unflappable.  Yet dangle Andrew Strauss under their nose, and all of a sudden all hell breaks loose.  Naturally the fact that England have a couple of, for want of a better word, ex-South Africans amongst them adds some spice.  As does the knowledge that they have struggled to beat England on a regular basis, despite being a better side than them in every department for most of the last 20 years.

If they are to win this time, Jaques Kallis is going to be hugely important to them yet again.  As well as being one of the best batsman in world cricket, he gives them balance with the ball as well.  At the moment, it seems he will be fit to bat but not bowl.

If this is the case, there may just be a chink in the South African armour.  Makhaya Ntini is in the twilight of his career, and with the South Africans only able to go in with 4 bowlers he must perform.  If England can get on top of him, that only leaves Steyn and Morkel as pace options, with the hard-working Harris to back them up.  Wayne Parnell could also come in, and while a gamble he could prove to be the South Africans trump card.

Batting should not be an issue for the South Africans though.  Smith, Prince, Amla, Kallis, de Villiers, Duminy, Boucher looks like every bowlers worst nightmare.  It is here where any hope that England may have built up may just disintegrate.  On wickets which look flat, how on Earth are you going to get that lot out twice?

Predictions

Possible line up – Prince, Smith (c), Amla, Kallis, de Villiers, Duminy, Boucher, Morkel, Harris, Steyn, Ntini

Leading wicket taker – Dale Steyn.  Who else?  Although knowing England, don’t be surprised if Harris nicks it.

Leading run scorer – AB de Villiers.  Irritatingly good, expect him to make at least two centuries.

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Has the world gone mental?

– Jimmy Anderson not only bowled like a dream with a bad knee, he did it with a broken toe as well.  A toe he broke because he was so angry at the filth he sent down two days before, he kicked a chair.

– Micheal Vaughan has followed Graham Gooch and Shane Warne into advertising hair replacement therapy.

– Virender Sehwag has got a massive hundred at more than a run a ball.  Again.  Which suggests it wasn’t a crazy one-off before, and this might be the way cricket is played in the future.

Thank God Shane Bond got injured to bring some normality to proceedings.  If that hadn’t have happened, I’d start to think something really serious was going to happen.  Bob Willis might even have complimented Matt Prior.

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The Da Vinci Code.  The hieroglyphics of Ancient Egypt.  The Indus Script.  To these great codes, another even more indecipherable one has been added – the infamous Reliance Mobile Ratings of the ICC.

To give some background, these ratings are what tell the cricketing public how good any international player has been in recent times.  They take into account strength of opposition, pitches and performance of colleagues.  As an example, an 80 against Australia on a hard track will earn more points than 200 against Bangladesh on a flat one. 

I have always assumed that they are calculated by some sort of maths nerd in front of one of the greatest super-computers in the world, which takes all sorts of relevent data and creates a rating out of 1000.  Looking at the current ratings, it seems more likely that the computer has crashed, and the nerd has taken to throwing names and numbers in the air and jotted down what order they fell in.

Take the test batting ratings.  On the face of it, they look OK.  There are only two England batsman in the top 25, which certainly gives an air of respectability to them, and Gautam Gambir is top.  Fair enough.

Yousuf works his way up the rankings

This aside, the ratings are astoundingly bad, almost to the point of being hilarious.  Mohammed Yousuf has played 6 tests in the past 2 years with the hardly world-beating average of 34, yet he is deemed to be the 4th best batsman in the world.    This is enough to beat Michael Clarke, Graeme Smith, Andrew Strauss and Ricky Ponting, all of whom have scored oceans of runs in the time period.  Yet, and this seems almost unbelievable to say, the Test batting records are the MOST accurate analysis.

In the test bowling stakes, Paul Harris in rated as 8th best in the world.  Yep, Paul Harris, that off spinner we all laughed at 18 months ago as Kevin Pietersen bashed him about left-handed.  Now, Harris really isn’t as bad as people make him out to be, but 8th best in the world?  Come on.  Head further down the list, and you see Ryan Sidebottom in at 17th.  You might remember him as that guy who took some wickets against New Zealand and the West Indies a couple of years back, and now occasionally pops up for a one dayer or T20.  Having a top 100 also seems a touch pointless – Darren Pattinson makes the list, as does Beau Casson.  Aside from quiz questions, the RM Ratings must be the only place these two are even mentioned these days.

These are the Test ratings, where amongst the madness there are at least some occasional outbreaks of sanity.   I am guessing that these were done first, as the ODI ratings were clearly done by someone who had lost interest.  I will largely ignore the batting ones – suffice to say, even Salman Butt’s own mother would pause before rating him as the 25th best batsman in the world.

No, it is the ODI bowling where this system not so much falls down but collapses in a pathetic heap.  I am almost certain that without looking, you could not guess the top 3.

Daniel Vettori.  Shakib-al-Hasan.  Raymond Price.

The third best bowler in the world

Shakib-al-Hasan has played 75 ODI’s.  Less than half have been against test opposition.  He has been able to rise to 2nd on the back of performances against the cricketing giants of Zimbabwe, Ireland and Scotland.  This also allows him to call himself “The best ODI all-rounder in the world”.   Similarly, Ray Price has played 27 ODI’s this year.  In that, he has played the grand total of 3 against major nations.  He has managed some wickets against Kenya though.   The only surprise is that Usain Bolt doesn’t make the cut after his dismissal of Chris Gayle in a recent charity game.

Hang on though.  Dan Vettori is a great ODI bowler, and carries the New Zealand side.  At least that works?  Well, no, not really.  It is easy to forget that Vettori is a more than handy batsman too.  If he is the best bowler in the world, he can’t be far behind Shakib as the best all-rounder too?  Yes he can, as it happens.  Vettori is 9th out of 10, tucked just 10 points in front of Paul Collingwood.

So, a plea to the ICC.  Put your “desktop technology” away, and just let someone with half a brain have a stab at doing them.

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