Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The best cricket team of the noughties

Sky's famously terrible commentary team has unveiled its picks for the team of the decade, echoing a rather heated discussion that took place at Sefton Park's club house a few weeks ago.

The Sefton members were pretty much universal on their choices of Ponting, Lara, Tendulkar, Gilchrist, Kallis, Murali, McGrath and Warne – leaving few other places up for grabs.

Both opener spots were heavily debated, with Hayden and Sehwag most frequently mentioned.

Trescothick, Dravid and Jayasuriya were also mentioned in despatches, but Hayden's brutality and Sehwag's sheer speed and weight of run-scoring won out. I think Tresco would have won one of the spots if he'd continued to play test cricket though.

The only other bone of contention were the all-rounder/second seamer spots. I think Kallis has to take the all-rounder spot, but I think there's room to slot in Flintoff as the second seamer to McGrath.

His ability to raise his game, inspire sides to victory through sheer force of will and destructive ability with bat and ball makes him a better choice than Pollock for me. It's not an obviously snug fit in the team, but I don't see how you can leave Flintoff out.

Picking Murali and Warne as spin twins may be controversial, but they're the best bowlers of the last ten years for me, along with McGrath.

Finally, I suppose I'd have Ponting as skipper, though I've always doubted how effective he'd be with an inferior team, something which was borne out – to my mind at least – this summer.

Below are the Sky commentators' picks, along with some thoughts of my own on the respective teams.


Hussain

Hussain indicates that he struggled over including Pollock, which may be a touch of the tedious matey banter that Sky reeks of, or may indicate that that's one of the most contentious spots.

Hussain's choice of Dravid says rather more about Hussain, I think, than Dravid.

Hayden
Dravid
Ponting*
Tendulkar
Lara
Kallis
Gilchrist
Pollock
Warne
Murali
McGrath


Pollock

"I've got for entertainers," says Pollock, which obviously explains why he's picked Kallis – perhaps the most stolid test batsmen since Sir Geoff hung up him broom handle – at number six.

Smith and Steyn also seem rather parochial choices.

Smith
Hayden
Ponting*
Lara
Tendulkar
Kallis
Gilchrist
Warne
Steyn
Murali
McGrath

Bumble

Trescothick's inclusion is an interesting one. It seems certain to me that if Tresco had kept playing test cricket he would have eclipsed Sehwag and Hayden.

Wasim seemed a spent force for most of this decade, and I don't see how you could leave out Murali.

Similarly doubtful about Steve Waugh as he wasn't one of the ten best batsmen of this decade.

Trescothick
Sehwag
Ponting
Tendulkar
Lara
Waugh*
Gilchrist
Pollock
Warne
Wasim Akram
McGrath


Sir Beef

Sir Ian proves what a hopeless administrator/manager/captain he always was, or would have been, by picking his big mate Warne as skipper.

Donald was a much better bowler in the 90s for my money.

Smith
Sehwag
Ponting
Tendulkar
Lara
Kallis
Gilchrist
Pollock
Warne*
Donald
McGrath


Athers

Athers has gone for a more mercurial team, with the likes of Jayasuriya, Flintoff and Zaheer potential match-winners in their own right.

Atherton's explanations show what a more astute skipper he made than most of the others, to my mind.

Sehwag
Jayasuriya
Ponting
Lara
Tendulkar
Flintoff
Gilchrist
Warne*
Zaheer Khan
Murali
McGrath

Gower

Rather more by-the-book, though the inclusion of Donald and Akram is suspect by virtue of them hardly playing in this decade, and certainly not to the height of their powers in the noughties.

Smith*
Sehwag
Ponting
Lara
Tendulkar
Kallis
Gilchrist
Warne
Wasim Akram
Donald
McGrath

Monday, 28 December 2009

Lament for the released

It's the time of year when people start perusing lists to see who's getting a CBE for managing to be famous, or who's getting a knighthood for managing to live long enough.

But for cricketers and cricket fans there comes the dubious pleasure of scanning the lists of the retired and released, to see who was unlucky enough to get the bullet in 2009, and who finally called it a day on a career that could have been more.

The most obvious is John Crawley, a man associated with the England batting line-up for almost a decade.

Like a couple of peers, he seemed star-struck on the big stage and never fulfilled his promise. His strength against spin was heralded as England's Ashes answer to the mastery of Shane Warne. But of never worked out like that.

Crawley got the reputation of what I remember Ian Chappell terming a 'second-innings Sid' – implying he only ever got runs when the game was beyond competition.

A stuttering career came to an end at a point where Creepy had started to suggest he could make it, but like Ramprakash he was finally discarded just as he seemed to get going.

Other former England cricketers calling it a day include Jason Gallian, most famous for throwing KP's kit out of the dressing room; Alex Wharf, another in the battery of ODI all-rounders; Martin Saggers, trusty Durham seamer and occasional England fill-in; Chris Silverwood, a rapid seam bowler who should have been so much more; Mark Ealham, chubby England all-rounder who looked like a throwback; Jason Brown, another feted England spin-bowling whizzkid during the wilderness years; Andy Caddick, one of the best England seamers of a generation; Alex Tudor, who probably should have been; Mark Butcher, evergreen in the top three for several years; Jimmy Ormond, perhaps most famous for one of the best sledges ever at Mark Waugh; and Michael Vaughan, destined for the TMS box with a new head of hair.

But there's more to it than the passing of of a few former England pros. It's the names that have graced sports pages and Ceefax screens for years that will also be missed.

Tony Frost, Jason Lewry, Chris Murtagh, Steven Crook, Stephen Adshead, Stephen Stubbings, James Pipe. Names to conjure with, though I could tell you little about any of them, bar Lewry.

All have plied their trade around the country circuit for years, and Lewry was often thought of as England material.

In the end all it comes down to is a brief footnote in the end-of-year country round-ups before their names are forgotten by most casual cricket fans forever.

Not much to show for a career perhaps, one last moment in the national spotlight before fading away to minor county or club cricket; back to careers stalled for 20 years; fading away back into everyday life.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Cricket makes rare decision not to sell own soul

In a rare move that will presumably horrify Giles 'Family Silver' Clarke, Lord's has ruled out any suggestion that it could sell naming rights to pay for its £400m Vision for Lord's redevelopment.

The redevelopment will include a larger museum, greater capacity, retractable floodlights and a vaguely Bondian (James, not Shane) underground cricket academy.

Speculation had grown that the vast amounts of money require could lead to the MCC flogging the naming rights to the ground or stands, a suggestion categorically ruled out.

The likes of Headingley Carnegie and the Brit Oval have led the way towards a football-style model when naming rights for grounds, teams and competitions are open to the highest bidder.

Sadly there is always a financial imperative cricket in this day and age, and some might say that it's good money for not very much.

But cricket is a traditional and, frankly, conservative sport that has done its best to resist the steady infection of hard cash – in the UK at least.

It's a hopeless battle, but it's nice to see that some things are sacrosanct. After all, hat cricket fan could stomach the Edrich Stand renamed the Samsung Jet stand? Not this one.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

David Shepherd 1940–2009

The news that David Shepherd has died saddened me, as he always seemed to represent what was good about the game.

Known to be one of the best umpires in the game, and known to be fair-minded, he was universally respected.

His ruddy cheeks and portly stance earned him the nickname The Fat Butcher from my younger brother, whose Cricketer's Who's Who Shep once signed.
Although I never met him he once umpired a Durham game at Hartlepool and apparently spent most of the time regaling the club with stories of cricket at both international and village levels.

Alonside a lovely photo of Shep, here's what David Hopps in The Guardian says of him:

He was a romantic, sentimental man, especially when it came to cricket, and resented what he saw as examples of greed creeping into the modern game.

Shep first came to my attention when I was very young as his superstitious tics – skipping on multiples of 11 – stood out. Unlike some other umpires in the modern game it did not seem attention-seeking or affected.

I'll always remember Shepherd like this – the very best of the whimsical, gentle lunacy of cricket.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

The Duckworth-Lewis Method - Meeting Mr Miandad

There's a full review of The Duckworth-Lewis Method's album, The Duckworth-Lewis Method, scheduled for some time next century but in the meantime I thought I'd post this music video for first single Mr Miandad.

It's probably the best mix of whimsy upbeat chart-friendly stuff that's vaguely about cricket on the album, which is presumably why it's been afforded a single release and music video.

Because while the DLM may guarantee some strong album sales and a likely devoted live following I can't imagine there's a huge market for chart-busting singles.




I actually fancy The Age of Revolution is a wittier and funkier slice of pop and Mason on the Boundary a more melancholy dreamy evocation of the gentle spirit of cricket, but then again the former is about the paradigm shift in cricket politics between former empire and former subjects, while the latter features a spoken section about Denis Compton by Matt Berry alongside the phrase 'hopelessly panglossian'.

And, of course, Jiggery Pokery is the funniest track on the album, galumphing along with all manner of cricket puns and pay-offs - but how commercial can a single narrated by Mike Gatting about a ripping leg break be?

Nevertheless the album is praiseworthy simply because it exists, such is the difficulty of crafting pop songs solely about cricket. On one hand nerdy and in-jokey references to cricket are a necessity to justify the album's moniker as a cricket concept album, one the other there needs to be some allowances for the non-cricket listeners.

Surprisingly it does. It's easy to imagine a sunny day at a summer festival, with the jauntier tracks giving way as evening creeps in to the sweeter, more relaxed songs.

But I don't think there'll be any more singles. So do enjoy Meeting Mr Miandad below, along with its basic but nontheless rather charming video.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Superb or terrible - the strange case of TV cricket commentary

I noticed two things watching the latest ICC Champions Trophy match between England and New Zealand today that reveal a bit of how cricket commentary has changed over the years.

The first was the dismissal of Paul Collingwood by Grant Elliot, the latter a very average international cricket in my book.

Having just been pulled for an imperious four on a track immensely helpful to bowling, Elliot immediately bowled another 70mph half-tracker which Colly duly swatted, unluckily to an amazing midwicket catch by Ross Taylor.

It was a jammy wicket for Elliott, who looked like he'd just cleaned up Brigadier Block with a 95mph inswinging yorker rather than a rank long-hop that deserved to be lashed out of the park.

I'm not sure who the commentator was now, but he lauded Elliott for his persistence. I was a bit baffled by this, as I'm dubious that Elliot's 'persistence' would have met with such praise if Colly had repeated the dose.

Later on the game Kiwi batsman Martin Guptill his the flukiest 50 I've ever seen, repeatedly hitting balls just over the heads of fielders, surviving very good shouts throughout his innings and being tied in knots by not just Jimmy Anderson but also Private Pie (the aforementioned Shotley Bridge terrier).

Upon Gutpill's inevitable and long-overdue dismissal, Sergeant Suicide, Bob Willis, declared it to be a 'superb innings'. In the context of the game a contribution of 53 was a valuable one, but in no way could his innings be declared superb. It was scratchy, flukey and probably should have been curtailed much earlier by the umpires.

This highlights something I've been noticing for a while about cricket commentary, where the skill of critiquing seems to have been overtaken by one of two extremes: superb and terrible.

Any wicket that takes a delivery is now labelled brilliant, likewise any shot that goes for a boundary - regardless of how ugly or lucky the shot it is.

It's hard to say whether this is because critical faculties are in short supply among the commentators in question (hello Sky!) or whether it's simply a case of the way the sport and cricket have gone. Too much overhyped cricket, jaded commentators.

As ever, TMS tends to be rather more guarded in its garlanding of players. Over on Sky David Lloyd is perhaps the ultimate purveyor of hyperbolic praise, and that seems to be Sky's thing - brilliant or rubbish.

It should come as no surprise that my opinion of Sky's commentary lies squarely within one of those two extremes.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Why was the Ashes 2009 so mediocre?

I've been meaning to write an article about the Ashes – bad luck, you Aussies, bad luck! – for a couple of weeks now, but I haven't been able to find the enthusiasm to sit down and bash it off, as it were.

I suppose in itself it's symptomatic of a fairly boring and somehow anti-climactic Ashes battle that was played out between two fairly poor teams, certainly in comparison to the two teams that battled it out four years ago.

2005 was all about England having to pull out every stop to (barely) get the better of one of the best teams of all time. Barring the injuries to McGrath in that series it seems unlikely England would have prevailed, despite Freddie's heroics, KP's emergence, Vaughan brilliant tactics, Tresco's bludgeoning at the top of the order, Strauss' catch, Harmy's vicious fast bowling and the quietly effective bowling of Hoggy and, in particular, Simon Jones.




This time around both teams played their hearts out, but it seemed to be inferior by several leagues to the cricket played four years ago.

Clearly the two teams are not the forces they once were. England had two match-winners in the shape of Freddie and KP. The latter failed, and the former only flickered, albeit brilliantly.

Looking at the Aussies there was only the threat of significant runs from Punter and Pup (the worst nickname ever?) and the occasional threat from a mainly-shot Johnson. Siddle wasn't as dangerous as I expected and Hilfenhaus was nagging, but no-one threatened to precipitate a collapse in the same way that Freddie, Jimmy, Swannny or (God help us) Broad(y) did.

So, the cricket wasn't great, and no-one seemed as up for it as they did in 2005. Only Flintoff, Swann and, latterly, Broad had Ashes moments that will stick in the mind.

The whole country seemed rather less bothered about everything this time around. I witnessed the last wicket with a kind of faint smile and shrug, whereas last time I whooped, jumped, drank and openly wept like a girl.

Could it be, I wonder, because cricket simply did not have the profile it did last time around? Certainly Sky's coverage is only a few rungs above abject, but at least those having to suffer Botham, Ward, Warne, Colville and Willis can actually see cricket.

I'm guessing there are 2–3m cricket fans who can't these days – most of my family among them – and wonder whether an Ashes series can ever be as over-archingly significant again as they did in 2005, when a nation watched with baited breath.

There is currently zero live cricket on free-to-air stations in the UK by my reckoning. There are highlights of England internationals and nothing more. No foreign tests, one dayers or 20/20. No country cricket of any flavour. Certainly no foreign domestic cricket.

I happen to think that this is an absolute disgrace, for reasons ideological, sporting, quaint and selfish. But, most of all, I think it's bad for cricket. Was 2009 the proof of the public's fading awareness of, and affection, cricket? Perhaps, perhaps not.

But at the very least there would have been several million more viewers, and more public awareness. Perhaps then there would have been more coverage, more buzz and more excitement.

Either way there would have been less Bob Willis

• Image by mailliw via Creative Commons

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

RIP Devrill

For some years Sefton Park CC has had an unlikely fan in the shape of Devrill – a man apparently of no fixed abode and immense drinking capacity.

Devrill was essentially a tramp who hung around the cricket club. It wasn't initially clear why, though at a guess the club is situated between two popular drinking spots. Sefton's first contact with Devrill was marked by a threat to 'burn down' the cricket pitch - an intriguing suggestion - and the first airing of his favoured 'woollyback jedis' insult.

As time went on he seemed to develop an interest in the cricket and formed unlikely friendships with various people at the club, particularly groundsmen. He became a kind of unofficial mascot, of great amusement to many of the club's younger people and great consternation to opposing teams.

Frankly he was, also, a nuisance and often abusive to anyone and everyone. There's often a funny side to alcoholism, but it never totally masks the tragic nature of alcoholics and substance abusers. The two parts were never really lost on me and I regarded him as a rather pathetic character.

This duality was marked by a spell where Devrill lived under a downed tree in the Sefton garden. In many ways this was amusing, but when the tree was cleared I once noticed him sleeping on the stone steps of the lower pavilion one night, wrapped in a blanket and at the mercy of the elements.

Poor Devrill. It seemed he had got himself a flat, but his life didn't seem to change much. I last saw him a couple of weeks ago promising to smarten himself up and expressing his apologies for previous behaviour. He was clearly drunk at the time, but I expect life looked rather more pleasant through a fog of addiction than in the cold, hard light of day.

Devrill was a pain in the arse and was often a source of abuse and vitriol aimed at people in and around the club. And I'm fairly sure he once did my car over. But I felt sorry for him - he was a walking warning against falling into a trap that so many do.

Most people have a story about a funny alco, but I'm betting every one of them dies a lonely, slightly pathetic death. I can almost see Devrill stumbling across Ullet Road, another day's hard drinking behind him. He will, in his own way, be missed at the club but there will be no bench plaque, no minute's silence - just a moment's contemplation.

So, this one has little to do with cricket, but it says a lot about the nature of cricket clubs and the bizarre mix of people they tend to attract. No doubt, in the future, the club will attract another oddball. They always do. Poor Devrill.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

When Aggers met Allers

TMS is always likely to throw up some unexpected events from time to time, as you'd expect if you were to pack a daily eight-hour live radio show with eccentrics, egomaniacs and oddballs.

I say this with fondness, and my enjoyment of Test Match Special is well documented, but I don't there's any getting away from the fact that it is hardly representative of the common man.

It's a strange mix between public-school chaps and working-class lads, an unlikely mix that nevertheless comes off brilliantly.

One of the former is Jonathan 'Aggers' Agnew, probably the man most heavily associated with the programme now that Johnners has gone to the big commentary box in the sky, CM-J taking a back seat and Blowers is seemingly semi-retired.

The juxtaposition of Aggers and Boycott and Aggers and Tuffnell respectively are two all-time great TMS pairings to my mind, and it's this clash of styles and characters that makes the programme so unique.

It's a commonly-held idea in TV land that opposites attract, a mantra that is patently untrue as often as it works, hence bizarre pairings such as Tess Daly and Bruce Forsyth, Des O'Connor and Melanie Sykes and Vic'n'Bob with Alice Beer.

But it works on TMS because of the mutual love of cricket. That theory was rather tested to its limit during the last test when the View From the Boundary interview segment featured urchin-like coquette Lily Allen.

Allen, a recent convert to cricket, had been entranced by the hairy delights of Graham Onions and had formed an unlikely friendship with Aggers via Twitter.

Naturally an interview was arranged and, to be fair, Aggers did seem rather more excited than he would if he were interviewing, for example, Chris Tavare.

The interview passed off in much the same way as most Agnew interviews do. I'm a great admirer of his technique, which consists of being so nice to the interviewee that they inevitably drop their guard, at which point Aggers starts firing off some rather more tricky posers - albeit in the nicest possible way.

The TMS commentator certainly did his best with Allen, but seemed occasionally flustered as Lily giggled, teased and flirted outright. It was like listening to Harry Potter interview Lolita.

Somehow, in an article in The Grauniad, this has been recounted as a leering, panting Agnew slavering all over a repulsed Allen.

I'm baffled at this piece of writing by Will Buckley (though The Grauniad has form with deliberately provocative articles), even accounting for the mischievous 'I'm joking, of course' tone.

Agnew has not seen the funny side, and has publicly called for an apology from Buckley on Twitter.

I can see why. While there exists a definite schoolboy level of Carry On-style smuttiness in the TMS box - I recall two distinct occasions recently when Agnew had to scold Tuffers for his innuendo, and another where Boycott teased Agnew that he fancied another guest - the accusation that Aggers was 'perving' over Allen rather crosses an imaginary line beyond which TMS does not venture.

The programme exists, rather uniquely, in a slightly rose-tinted vaccuum, sealed off from the real world and its sex, politics and beastliness. Therein lies its appeal – the crackly 198 LW Radio 4 broadcast, the cakes, gentlemen in whites, claret and TMS ties.

Even the likes of Matty Hayden and Russell Crowe seemed a little altered, a little more pleasant, by its effect, and the complicated Tuffnell and Boycott are lent an air of the scampish and avuncular respectively in the TMS surroundings.

Buckley's assertion that Agnew spent the Allen interview lusting over a young girl does not sit comfortably in this world, and the notion is grossly unfair.

It's not simply Not Cricket, it's simply Not Test Match Special.

• UPDATE: Lily Allen has defended Aggers, The Torygraph has waded in, and Buckley has apologised.

He admits to a joke not really finding its mark, which is fair enough, though someone probably should have seen this coming.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

My secret leaked dossier on the Australian squad

Reading Justin Langer's secret dossier on the England team, I'm struck by a few things. Firstly is that Langer – certainly one of the 'decent' Aussies – is spot on about a few England players, and some of the supposed aura around the team. Secondly is that it's equally as revealing about the Australian psyche as England's.

I think the current England team is one of the least likeable in recent years. The problematic Pietersen and Flintoff are very much their own men in that team; Broad is a mouthy git for a guy with a test bowling average of 40; and there's still a powerful lingering impression that there's something of a clique surrounding the team and management.

I don't believe in the impression that Team England is supposedly a solid unit – I think it's riven with factions and people intent on furthering their own interests.

Having said that I believe England, with Flintoff and Pietersen, is a superior team to Australia at the moment. And this is where Langer is wrong.

Langer lets his personal pride and hubris get in the way of his analysis so instead of being a sober, objective analysis, his dossier veers into the personal and biased. Many of his judgements on certain players amount to attempts to psychoanalyse the players, to what end I'm uncertain.

Among the pearls of wisdom are the observations that Anderson can be 'bit of a pussy if he is worn down'; Swann and Prior have 'massive' egos (and?); and Bopara is a 'strutter'.

It smacks of the mental disintegration Australia are so fond of, and is reminiscent of Warne's commentary, where the former leggie is unable to hide his personal feelings about certain England players.

Langer's folly is revealed in the phrase about the supposed psyche of England players, suggesting that they're psychologically fragile because they're built that way.

“English players rarely believe in themselves. Many of them stare a lot and chat a lot but this is very shallow. They will retreat very quickly.

"Aggressive batting, running and body language will soon have them staring at their bootlaces rather (than) in the eyes of their opponent - it is just how they are built.

"They [English cricketers] like being friendly and 'matey’ because it makes them feel comfortable.”

“In essence this is maybe the key to the whole English psyche — they love being comfortable. Take them out of their comfort zone and they don’t like it for one second.”

This is all about the Aussie fantasy that they're inherently more manly, resolute and tough than any other team – a kind of smug cultural superiority complex of the kind that Aussies like to level at the English.

Michael Vaughan has suggested that Langer's dossier should come as something of a wake-up call – and it should. To ignore England's obvious problems and not learn from the valuable information would be a mistake.

But I'd suggest that it should also come as a it of a lesson to Australia – their belief in a form of natural superiority in attitude and resolve has been exposed as a nonsense in this series, when Punter and his men have seemed as clueless and bereft of ideas and guts as England often have in the past.

To this end I've compiled my own dossier on the Australian Ashes team, in the same skewed and rather far-fetched manner as Langer.

My secret leaked dossier on the Australian squad:

Ricky Ponting - Stripped of the best team for a generation, his captaincy is exposed as flat and unimaginative. Proves unable to rouse his team when under pressure, and prone to hypocritical outbursts about playing in the spirit of the game. Recent hair transplant operation indicates deep lack of self-confidence.

Michael Clarke - Nickname is 'Pup'. Therefore a pussy.

Peter Siddle - An ugly cricketer in more ways than one. Head goes when put under pressure.

Simon Katich - An able batsman with no guts for a scrap.

Michael Hussey - Deeply lacking in confidence for a man named Mr Cricket

Shane Watson - A decent one-day slogger one tour away from being a forgotten man.

Ben Hilfenhaus - Tim Munton in a baggy green

Mitchell Johnson - A fast erratic bowler who has been afforded far too much respect with bat and ball. Get after him and he falls apart.

Nathan Hauritz - Simply not a test bowler. Probably a nice guy.

Brad Haddin - Chip away at him for his poor keeping.

Michael Hughes - Doesn't like the short stuff, and no guts for a scrap.

Marcus North - Probably a decent grade cricket player one tour away from being an Australian Mark Lathwell.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

In praise of....Andrew Caddick

In all the hype surrounding the Ashes, a piece of cricket news slipped out last week that seemed to go rather undetected. The retirement of Andrew Caddick at the age of 40 was barely mentioned by commentators too busy bemoaning England's one dimensional attack (an attack currently being picked on the sole premis that it'll be cloudy outside).

In a way this lack of interest seems to sum up Caddick's career - but consider the facts - Caddick is one of England's ten leading Test wicket takers of all time. It's sobering to realise that Caddick played 62 Tests taking 234 wickets at an average of under 30 while also claiming 69 victims in 54 one-day internationals. Eighth in the list of all-time England Test wicket-takers, he made his Somerset debut 18 years ago and in 2005 he became one of only six current players to take 1,000 first-class wickets. Stats in this case clearly make the case for Caddick to be an England legend but he's barely mentioned these days. Why?

The main reason seems to be that Caddick never seemed to fit in. Perhaps it was his massive ears, or the fact that he was born in New Zealand but whatever the reason a succession of England management teams never seemed to know quite what to do with him. It wasn't until Hussain and Fletcher instigated their revolutionary idea of actually backing players that Caddick, who like so many bowlers clearly fed on confidence, actually felt at home. The fact that he made his debut in the same series as Graham Thorpe who went on to play 100 Tests to Caddick's 62, is a perfect example of how he was messed around.

Another reason seems to be his apparent spikiness and trawling through the usual suspects' autobiographies only Caddick's Somerset team mate Marcus Trsecothick repeatedly sings his praises. Darren Gough, Caddick's opening bowling partner, shows downright hostility describing how the New Zealander constantly took the piss out of him for not taking 5 wickets as many times as he did. At one point they came to blows after Gough called him a 'twat' in front of the England dressing room.

When not playing for his country, Caddick did another rare thing. He rolled up his sleeves and got on with the business of taking wickets for his county. He never made himself unavailable for England and in 2007 was the country's leading wicket taker prompting many including Andy himself to wonder why he'd never had a sniff of a recall since his last match in 2003. Team mate Justin Langer even compared him to Glenn McGrath saying "I cannot believe he hasn’t played every Test for England over the past ten years.”

Unlike contemporaries such as the aforementioned Gough, Phil Tufnell or Dominic Cork it seems unlikely that Caddick will move into a media career. Instead he'll have to content himself on that top ten place and a twenty year career as an excellent fast bowler. Sometimes that's enough.

Caddick's greatest England moment:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wd-HU7dSYeQ

Monday, 3 August 2009

Shane Warne is starting to annoy me

As I've detailed before, I'm far from impressed with the quality of Sky's commentary, despite the odd chink of light.

I'd expected the introduction of Shane Warne to liven things up a bit, and take the focus off whining about cricket and cricketers all the time. After all, Warne has been fulsome in his praise of England players since 2005, especially those he's played with and he can be quite amusing.

I couldn't have been more wrong. Warned is like a parody of himself, all "Aw look"s as he prepares to offer more excuses or criticism. It's as if he's sledging from the commentary box.

Warne spends a lot of his time saying that England's players aren't good enough to be Test cricketers, but only offers vague criticism of Aussie players, presumably because most of them are his mates.

England's Ravi Bopara, batting at number three, has borne the brunt of Warnie's ire. Bopara certainly doesn't look like a number three in Tests, but Warne has written off his entire career.

The reintroduction of Ian Bell to the team has given Warne an excuse to trot out his tiresome 'Sherminator' gag ad infinitum, a joke than was quite funny four year ago.

Elsewhere Paul Collingwood and Matt Prior, both of whom comfortably average over 40 with the bat at the highest level, are found wanting by Warne.

Meanwhile, you'd think everything is rosy on the Aussie side, despite the fact that the Aussies have spent pretty much all of the last two Tests on the rack.

Any questions on the abilities or form of the Australian XI meets only with an "Aw, look. Phil Hughes/Mitchell Johnson/Nathan Hauritz/Marcus North is a great player..." followed by an explanation that the under-pressure player is ever-so-slightly out-of-form, though Warne is backing the player in question to hit back.

The most instructive moments have come from Nasser Hussain and Mike Atherton, easily the best commentators on Sky, ribbing Warne over his fall-out with Ricky Ponting or his whingeing about England's sledging or luck with umpiring decisions.

Warne's ire was as obvious as his wig-like hair, porky belly or whitened teeth as Atherton probed him about his well-known bust-up with Punter in 2005, when Australia slipped to defeat.

Back on TMS Matthew Hayden and Jason Gillespie are proving to be able and amusing summarisers, who fit in very well with the Test Match Special ethos.

It's another example of Sky going for the big name and the Beeb exercising more consideration.

TMS 1 - Sky 0

Friday, 31 July 2009

Big in Japan?

I’ve done my research. Japan competed in Division 5 of the World Cricket League in the Channel Islands last summer, having qualified thanks to winning the East Asia Pacific Cricket Trophy in 2007. Their global debut in the ‘big time’ didn’t go too well, however, with the only fillip being a tie with the Bahamas between defeats to the cricketing powerhouses of Jersey, Botswana and Singapore. They were mercifully rained off against the eventual tournament winners, Afghanistan, who have risen meteorically since to gain official ODI status in April. This summer they held their own in Division 7 of the pyramid, finishing third out of six.

Unlike most lowly-ranked cricket nations, however, it appears that most of Japan’s squad are both homegrown and homebred, with the only reliance on the ex-pat community being a couple of English names and one of apparent sub-continental provenance.

The reason for this preamble isn’t just for showing off my knowledge of barely club-standard international cricket played in distant reaches of the globe (though St Helier is hardly that far), but for the slightly odd episode from cricket nets at the club on Friday night. A young man named Tatsuo from rural Japan walked over to join in. He is studying English in Liverpool over the summer during which time he had seen Pakistani children playing cricket in the park, seen a little on TV in the pub, and was intrigued enough to see what he could do. He’d never seen cricket growing up in Japan and had never played before. It struck me as something akin to me trying to join in a game of Kabaddi whilst touring the Punjab. A very brave thing to do which had the potential to go very wrong indeed.

After an hour or so, with a style very much of his own, he had developed a bowling technique approaching legality with more than a hint of off-break from the pitch. He’d also developed what could generously described as a healthy respect for the ball as well so we left his batting debut for another week but we had an entertaining conversation in the bar afterwards during which he calmly handled all the questions semi-ignorant Englishmen could muster on Japan - yes, of course we asked about the bullet trains. And whaling. He was such a pleasant chap we invited him down to watch the games at the club the following day to experience a game in the flesh for the first time.

I know I’m not the only person to have found it hard enough to explain either the rules of, or merely an enthusiasm for, cricket to English people who are surrounded by the game whether they notice it or not. This includes my manager just this week who has recently watched more cricket than ever before because the Ashes are on the TVs in front of him at the gym. And he still only just about gets the scoring system. What would Tatsuo make of it all?

He arrived in the last hour to see Sefton chasing Southport’s 231. It all seemed to be going fairly swimmingly; I thought he was beginning to understand how the game was ebbing and flowing as a partnership would build and then a wicket would fall in what was turning out to be quite a tense finish. Then, with about five overs left, the bombshell: he didn’t understand why the ‘pitcher’ kept changing ends when Southport were batting at one end and Sefton the other. In the end the chase closed on 230-8 so I then had to try to explain how the draw works.

Fortunately he hadn’t come the week before when the last over had contained a six and three wickets including a stumping off a wide and the most ludicrous and unnecessary run out off the last ball to throw the game away. Fortunately there wasn’t an lbw and bonus points are still some way beyond him.

Hopefully it won’t be the last we see of Tatsuo; he did seem enthusiastic and was keen to learn more. Even if it is just a passing fancy to see this absurd game the English play which can last five days and still be a draw, I hope when he leaves our shores to teach English back in his homeland that he leaves with something of an idea of how cricket works.

Another cricket revolution

About a year ago the ECB appeared determined to go toe-to-toe with the IPL with its own version of an overhyped twenty over tournament overpaying a plethora of foreigners. There was money everywhere if the number twenty was said twice it seemed; who cared about nearly 135 years of history of the County Championship. That much history surely guarantees its old hat credentials.


It was initially undecided whether to follow the IPL’s template to the breach of copyright and invent some city based teams or to discard the unfashionable counties as 8 or 10 teams were all that could apparently be supported by such a model (such a model being the IPL, obviously).

At around this point Lalit Modi’s legal team must have been on the blower as a competition containing all 18 counties, and possibly a few guests XIs too, was hastily put forward as the preferred option much to the disbelief of most cricket, television and finance experts. As a follower of Derbyshire, one of those unfashionable counties already at a massive financial disadvantage to the Test-hosting teams, it was something of a relief that none of the first-class counties would be missing out though there was immediately a nagging doubt as to whether this pipedream would ever take place, and that if it did it would surely be some kind of unmitigated washout.

Sure enough the proposal of the English Premier League was finally laid to rest back in April when the loss of the Stanford deal, no doubt coupled with the overarching uncertain economic conditions (for they must appear in every news story) led to the ECB finally realising that one IPL was actually more than enough and that the naturally cynical English were unlikely to have gone for it in a very enthusiastic manner anyway. It’s certainly tougher to envisage the razzamatazz of the Chennai Super Kings when you relocate it to Grace Road; more like the razzamatazz of trying to light a Superking on a gusty Thursday in early May.

The ECB still weren’t done with hair-brained schemes though; the short-lived plan to run both a league, now to be named the P20, and cup in the twenty over format finally died last week, handily buried in the news surrounding Flintoff’s retirement and the build-up to the Lord’s Test match.

After all this ongoing talk of a domestic cricket revolution on these shores, the rough outline for the 2010 county season was announced yesterday, again conveniently on the eve of an Ashes Test match. This incendiary press release maintains the status quo in a 2 division, 16 four-day game County Championship; there will still be one Twenty20 tournament, enlarged and renamed the P20 for no reason other than stubbornness one assumes, and what appears to be a welcome return to the Sunday League.

This means that the Friends Provident Trophy, which had been pretty much the FA Cup of cricket for most of its history under a variety of sponsorships, will be the one making way for more flexibility in the schedules and yet more Twenty20. I’m sure the bookies favourite for the chop would have been the Pro40, a league with no point except for filling the Sky Sports schedules every evening until the Premier League is back on. However, the Pro40 has been given a reprieve and what appears to be its old slot back on a Sunday afternoon.

In my eyes the FP Trophy had been devalued since they stopped allowing all the minor counties in and brought in the group stages a few years back but this was hardly an irreversible step. I’ll be quite sad to see it go, there’ll be no big day out at Lord’s for the counties to aim for, but don’t be fooled by the ECB’s supposedly progressive outlook; Friends Provident’s sponsorship deal was up after this summer and I can’t imagine it’s the best time for renegotiating contracts or trying to attract new sponsors just at the minute. Lest we not forget that the ground-breaking Twenty20 Cup only came about in the first place because their hand was forced by the demise off the B&H Cup due to the ban on tobacco advertising.

It’s no great surprise that the revolution threatened over the past 15 months has failed to come to fruition in England; that the counties themselves make the final decision leads to the most consistent use of the phrase ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’ in the national press. Also in the length of time that the ECB has dithered over the decision the world has changed.

First up, it has to be a good thing that the primacy of the Championship has been maintained; whether 16 games are required is debatable but a necessity with 18 first-class counties. Although the infrastructure isn’t currently in place I would advocate a move towards including the minor counties with promotion and relegation, with 2 divisions of 7 or 8 playing four day cricket and another playing 3 day cricket to allow a greater level of semi-professionalism, before the remainder of the minor counties could continue in a similar vein to now. The obvious argument against is that it would make planning investment for the future much trickier, but with promotion a club should be able to budget to manage for a year or two on lesser funding. It also gives the opportunity of a proud and wealthy Cumbrian, say, to invest heavily in their county set-up and make significant progress within the game, and surely increases competition.

The return of the premier one-day tournament to Sunday afternoon is an excellent idea, and it seems the ECB may have listened to the fans who actually pay on the turnstiles here. The only stakeholder I can’t see being happy with this is Sky which is currently able to show several Pro40 games a week; this will surely hit TV revenue? It would be nice to see the Beeb throw its hat back in the ring, though this is more likely a purely nostalgic pang of mine.

Interestingly the format of the games in the ‘new’ Sunday League have yet to be decided with talk of 2 innings 40 over games gaining the early publicity. I assume this is an attempt to guarantee close finishes but to me the more ways in which the format is convoluted, the more compromised it is as sport; and that’s before you consider any possible implications of no one-day domestic cricket.

I’d probably plump for a straight 40 over competition as it’s popular with the fans and is close enough to ODIs for me to require the same skills and tactics. 2pm starts without the need for floodlights would do away very early starts and late evenings for fans from out of town, too. One thing which I think is worth considering is rearranging washed-out games on a midweek evening; it may also be a way to fulfil the Sky deal as they could then maintain their level of coverage.

Personally I’d maintain the FP Trophy as a straight knockout 50 over competition, meaning a maximum of 5 or 6 extra games even if you made the final; certainly fewer than the group stages of the current format.

Which brings us to the already much maligned P20. From what I can interpret it appears we’re looking at a north and south group, presumably playing each other home and away, with the top 4 from each proceeding to quarter-finals. Basically the number of group games will increase from 10 to 16 for each county and the main other amendment will be an attempt to play most games between Thursday and Sunday, as crowds have probably proven to be better around the weekend. Whether additional group games will spread the crowds too thinly remains to be seen. That a 3 hour format should take up the entire calendar through the long daylight hours of June and July doesn’t seem like the greatest use of midsummer either. One good thing which the counties have started recently to do is take Twenty20 to outgrounds; something which should be done far more in all forms of cricket.

So another English domestic cricket revolution has come. Will anybody notice the difference?

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Cricketers on Twitter

The news that Phil Hughes revealed his omission from the Australia side to face England in the Third Test at Edgbaston has propelled Twitter to the forefront of the cricket-loving public's consciousness.

OK, it probably hasn't, but if you use Twitter and would like to follow your favourite cricketers, I've compiled a list of cricketers using the microblogging service.

Boycott and Aggers are my favourite, and the updates from actual Test cricketers veer between the downright fascinating and mind-numbingly mundane. No surprise there then.

I make no claims for their authenticity, though they all seem real enough to me. All you need to do is click on the URL and follow the cricket person of your choice, assuming you have an account.

If you don't and need to set one up, don't worry - it's easy. Have a gander at this handy guide to using Twitter if you need to.

Until then: Start the car!

Kevin Pietersen
http://twitter.com/kevinpp24
Bio: N/A

England's go-to man over the last few years, right up to the point where they dropped him anyway. Famously reacted to said news with 'foul-mouthed' 'rant' on Twitter.

Married to that girl who used to be in Liberty X.

Best tweet: "Done for rest of summer!! Man of the World Cup T20, and dropped from the T20 side too. It's a fuck-up ..."



Michael Vaughan

http://twitter.com/VaughanCricket
Bio: Manchester born sheffield lad. Ex England cricket skipper.Wednesday supporter and very keen golfer

England captaincy great, forever to have 2005 etched on his bio. Followed Warne and Gooch down the hair route (allegedly) and taken to increasingly odd exploits such as artballing. Good on TMS.

Best tweet: A run for every spectator at Trent bridge... Notts 59 all out




Shane Warne
http://twitter.com/warne888
Bio: father to my lovely 3 children , motto keep smiling, be true to yourself

Aussie ledge, famous for the ball of the century, rowing with Ricky Ponting, dodgy phone exploits, fake hair and rubbish commentary that generally starts with "Aw, look...".

Best tweet: "Ps feel for people in country Vic and some parts of nsw, we need the rain desperately to fill dams, but terrible re floods, glad sun out!"



Dimitri Mascarenhas
http://twitter.com/DimiMascarenhas
Bio: N/A

England all-rounder apparently bred for one-day cricket and T20, bizarrely dispatched by England in favour of player like Michael Lumb and Alastair Cook. Looks a bit like a pirate.

Best tweet: "Chairman of selectors came and didn't even come and say hi.. What a p***k.. Doesn't take much to say hello does it?"

or


"Geoff Miller is a complete k**b.. He had no clue what he is doing.. Fing p***k"



Graeme Swann
http://twitter.com/Swannyg66
Bio: N/A

The new England team jack-the-lad. An old mate of mine played cricket with him as a schoolboy. He didn't like the England tweaker, but I get the feeling Swanny's changed a bit since then.

Follows Clint Boon.

Best tweet: i shall talk in the third person here...the swannatron apologises for dropping a clanger this morning.



Christopher Martin-Jenkins
http://twitter.com/cmjcricket

TMS' veteran double-barreled commentator

Best tweet: Should have picked Ramps. Had to have a century-maker. Good luck toi Trott but 30 won't be enough. Australia to win despite Freddie?



Test Match Special (Alison Mitchell)
http://twitter.com/bbctms
Bio: Alison Mitchell in the TMS box and around the ground

Blow-by-blow updates from Tests, one-dayers, T20s and county games.

Best tweet: Dinner chez Boycott tonight!



David Lloyd
http://twitter.com/BumbleCricket
Bio: Start the car!

Everything you'd expect from Bumble, the clown prince of cricket. Look at his bio!

Best tweet: bad light looming



Jonathan Agnew
http://twitter.com/Aggerscricket
Bio: BBC cricket correspondent, following the fortunes - or otherwise - of the England cricket team

As English as warm beer, and as comforting as a warm blanket. Plus he's a very good journalist.

Best tweet: Geoffrey is officially mad! Confirmed



Phil Tufnell
http://twitter.com/philtufnell
Bio: I am Phil Tuffers Tufnell former England Cricket Professional and Jungle superstar!

Everyone's favourite loveable cricket wide boy, who surprised everyone when he turned out to be a great commentator. His royal jelly exchange with Aggers was something to behold.

Best tweet: The samba is a Brazilian party dance , I live in bloody surrey



Simon Mann
http://twitter.com/Cricket_Mann
Bio: Test Match Special cricket commentator, freelance sports broadcaster

Test Match Special commentator, broadcaster rather than ex-cricketer, who is OK in our book.

Best tweet: trying to explain cricket to 8yo. 'How many points for that?' after rare England four.



Tim Bresnan
Tim Bresnan
Bio: Play Cricket Yorkshire and England love travelling and good banter

Banter-loving big-bottomed all-rounder. Probably less enamoured with the bollocking he received for some expletive-laden Twitter banter last year.

Best tweet: Don’t mind my mates dishing it out but who the fuck are you. Crawl out of your basement. U knob



Malcolm Ashton
http://twitter.com/TMSscorer
Bio: Relatively new Grandad, TMS scorer and Bury FC supporter

Ever wondered when England last played with three seamers whose names all ended in -son?

Best tweet: Go Strauss dog!!



Henry Blofeld
http://twitter.com/blowersh
Bio: this is Blowersh in the TMS box for real

Blowers on Twitter, whod'v'e thunk it? An insight into what it's like to live like a 1920s gentleman adventurer.

Best tweet: A parking ticket in Bond Street outside Charbonnel & Walker - best chocs ever. Bridge this evening softened by Blowers brill Cote du Rhone!



James Anderson
http://twitter.com/JimmyAnderson9
Bio: N/A

Live cricket tweets from the England locker room, from Jimmy.

Best tweet: On this day each year I always think about the U2 song - "One".



Gary Keedy
http://twitter.com/keeds23

Veteran tweaker. Surprisingly never played for England.

Best tweet: is queuing up at the rubbish tip!



Darren Gough
http://twitter.com/DGoughie
Bio: Cricketer come dancer. Radio pundit come 'all rounder' good egg!!

Darren follows @PorkFarms. We shouldn't be too surprised.

Best tweet: To win a ball, complete the following sentence: #GoughiesBalls I should win a Goughie ball because ...



The Spin (Lawrence Booth)
http://twitter.com/the_spin
Bio: N/A

The Guardian's Spin section, usually edited by Lawrence Booth, who I presume is behind the Twitter account.



Jason Gillespie
http://twitter.com/Jason_Gillespie
Bio: I am Jason Gillespie former Australian Cricket player over in England for the Ashes 2009

Very good on TMS, Gilly is obviously a nice bloke. That's another for the burgeoning 'nice Aussie' category.

Best tweet: Congrats to England. Well played. Thank you to those who have followed my tweets during the series. Take care all. Dizzy, signing off!!!!!!!



Geoffrey Boycott*
http://twitter.com/GeoffreyBoycott
Bio: Former Yorkshire and England cricketer, turned commentator.

Typically pessimistic stuff from the Yorkshire legend. Says 'daft' a lot.

* No less than Jonathan Agnew has informed me that Boycs' Twitter account is not genuine



Phil Hughes
http://twitter.com/PH408
Bio: N/A

The blistering Aussie opener supposedly revealed that he'd been dropped from Ashes XI via Twitter. Didn't tweet the subsequent bollocking he received from Cricket Oz.

Best tweet: Disappointed not to be on the field with the lads today, will be supporting the guys, it's a BIG test match 4 us. Thanks 4 all the support!



Iain O'Brien
http://twitter.com/iainobrien
Bio: Get my blog updates from here...

Kiwi fast bowler on life in the counties. Blogged a match I was at. That was weird.

Best tweet: the 4.25 to Upper Hutt does not stop at Petone,nor Ava,nor Woburn. It's now a long walk from Waterloo. I'm not to to good with public trnspt



Kyle Hogg
http://twitter.com/hoggy22

Play for Lancs, likes good music

Bio: play cricket, big music fan,love joy division,led zep,smiths,etc,etc,etc

Best tweet: Bleep test in the morning, oh shit



ECB
http://twitter.com/ECB_cricket
Bio: News and live cricket scores from England and Wales Cricket Board. Plus general cricket info and updates every day on the cricket scene

Not as boring as you'd think.

Best tweet: Swann no longer an ugly duckling



Sachin Tendular
http://twitter.com/Sachin_rt

Monosyllabic tweets from the Little Master.

* Have updated this one to what I'm assured is the correct account



Yuvraj Singh
http://twitter.com/yuvsingh09/

Engaging stuff from the Indian bruiser and KP nemesis

Best tweet: http://twitpic.com/voru9 - Eliminating negative ions through the feet - treatment with Dr Jatin



MS Dhoni
http://twitter.com/msdhonis

Indian skipper intermittent tweets some interesting stuff

* Also updated this one



Robin Brown
http://twitter.com/robinbrown78

Updates from me, often about Sefton Park CC and cricket in general. Not the former Zimbabwean coach.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Surprise ICC Tournament Success

It will come as little surprise to those who know me that I’m not the greatest fan of Twenty20 cricket. Nor am I very often impressed with major international cricket tournaments. However, the two combined last month to prove me very wrong. I’m not sure I’ll be wrong forever as I’m almost certain the ICC will overegg the golden goose; this is probably already happening with the next World Twenty20 in the West Indies, where the 50 over World Cup of tedium was played out in front of empty grounds only 2 years ago, only a matter of months away. Not forgetting the ICC Champions Trophy in the South African spring (host to the inaugural World Twenty20 all of 21 months ago as well as the IPL) crammed into a calendar which has already squeezed four nips into a pint pot. For now, however, I feel happy to look on a few positives.


The World Twenty20 worked well because the entire tournament matched the format; fun and quickfire. The whole thing was done and dusted in three weeks leaving little time for dead matches – a curse of all sports but especially the way previous cricket competitions have been organized you would imagine the ICC looked upon them as a unique selling point. It was helped by the first game being a massive upset as the Stuart Broad gifted the Dutch victory, the surprise of the Australians going out at the first hurdle (especially with the shadow of the Ashes looming over the tournament for the old enemies) and the eventual victorious captain coming out to say that they weren’t taking it too seriously. It may also have been aided by English conditions offering a little more to the bowler to make the game a slightly fairer contest between bat and ball.


The tournament was supported by large and enthusiastic crowds at the three grounds used and was exceptionally lucky with the English weather – not one game a total wash-out. Of course, England is the ideal place to hold a large cricket tournament so far as crowds are concerned with its immigrant populations from most cricketing countries, and an Aussie working in every other pub in London but it was still good to see. The only problem was the earlier games were often less well attended as the more partisan fans were only interested in seeing their own team or people couldn’t get out of work. It would also have been nice to have spread the tournament to other corners of a country which will boast 9 Test grounds by 2011. Hopefully in due course this will become possible as the tournament becomes more established, though in doing this the ICC will probably see the opportunity to lengthen it to 3½ months.


Another plus point was the concurrent Women’s Twenty20 which sidled in nicely as both a fabulous warm-up for the men’s final at Lord’s and a fabulous advert for the women’s game which has certainly improved massively since the cloudy memories of watching Rachel Heyhoe-Flint lead England to a World Cup victory sometime in my childhood. It’s good and somewhat surprising (to me at least) to see England leading the way there too.


The Twenty20 format also works far better in a TV highlights package which is a godsend for those of us who decline the Sky subscription. It is pretty obvious that it will be much easier to cram 3 hours’ action rather than 7 into an allotted hour, despite the supposed non-stop action of the format. Having said that, the international brigade of commentary ‘experts’ who landed the gig were just about trite and useless enough to make you think the usual Sky team do a good job. Apologies here to Ian Chappell who I thought did make some excellent comments, though anyone can be made to sound intellectual when sitting next to David Lloyd as he’s screaming “41 off 8 balls and only 2 wickets left!!! Can they do it?? It’s bedlam in here!” as the camera pans to people leaving early or, worse, the pathetic dancing girls who appeared to employ a typically English ambivalence in their routines. Also, anyone verbally using the phrase “T20”, which all the TV pundits were guilty of, needs to take a good look at themselves. Before doing themselves in.


Although there are still a few issues with the way the tournament plays out and the format of Twenty20 is still too one-dimensional for me personally – a clutch of early wickets and it’s game over, how about doing away with the 6 over powerplay which heightens the chance of a wicket with close catchers? – it was an excellent example of what cricket can give to the global masses who will probably never understand the nuances of the longest form of the game. Now the serious business of the Ashes is on though, does anyone really care?

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Cricket – should it come with a health warning?

The sad news that Kevin Pieterson’s Ashes are over combined with the realisation that it’s going to take an effort of almost Bert Trautmann proportions for Andrew Flintoff to drag himself through the rest of the summer has brought to attention the severe risk of serious injury the modern cricketer seemingly has to accept if he wants to ply his trade on the increasingly lucrative world stage.

Pieterson was a sad sight as he scratched his way to 40 at Lord’s, turning down easy twos and lacking his usual dominant self confidence. The fact that his achilles was so damaged seemed something of a shock to both him and us and various experts have confirmed risk of rupture could have meant the end of KP’s strutting permanently.

Freddy meanwhile showed almost super human strength in bowling a quite wondrous spell on Monday morning considering his various injuries. As this brilliant interactive guide on the Guardian’s website showed it’s a wonder he’s still walking let alone bowling at 90mph. Add all this to a rather gruesome description given by former England man Mark Butcher on the excruciating key hole knee surgery he’s face which I caught on 5 Live and it does make you think that cricket is actually pretty dangerous to long term health. The image of the England team limping back to their hotels not from the side effects of drink but rather a series of cortisone injections does not seem far from the truth and we have to look no further than the sad cases of Simon Jones, Ashley Giles and Michael Vaughn to see how quickly injury can become terminal. For those of us who grew up with cricket in the late eighties, the image of poor David Lawrence writhing in agony after his knee popped is surely ingrained on the memory.

The best Cricket Injury research has come from Australia and reveals a worrying tendency to grit ones teeth and get through it. Cricket injuries at elite level in Australia have been demonstrated to occur at a rate of around 18 injuries in total for a squad of 25 players who play twenty matches in a season. On average, around 9% of cricketers have an injury at any given time, although in fast bowlers over 15% are injured at any given time.

Low back pain is particularly prevalent among younger fast bowlers. The repetitive action of bowling for long spells places excessive stress on the tissues of the lower back, where stress fractures of the vertebra (spondylolysis) can develop. It was this condition which caused Michael Atherton such problems and ensured a constant diet of stiffness, pain and 200 grams of voltarol a day. As Athers himself says “that’s a lot of tablets and a lot of damage to the stomach lining.”

Research has indicated that muscle injuries such as hamstring strains and side strains are the most common cricket injuries. These injuries are due to the functional demands of the sport where occasional sprinting and ball throwing may be repeated across a seven hour day.

This description of ‘occasional sprinting’ made me think of my own cricket career and the fact that as I’ve turned 30 things really are beginning to hurt more. I’ve spotted it in friends too whose complaints about shin splints, back ache, dodgy knees and the like are becoming as frequent as their complaints about dodgy umpires.

There was a time when it all seemed far more amusing. A warm up could consist of a fag and maybe a poo, while the idea of warming down anywhere rather than a bar seemed laughable.

Even England internationals joined in the fun with a litany of amusing injuries. Former England spinner Phil Edmonds once cricked his back getting out of his car at Lord’s, while Chris Old managed to damage a rib on the morning of a game by sneezing. Derek Pringle, meanwhile, sat down to sort out some complimentary tickets for friends on the eve of the Headingly Test of 1982. He stretched and leant back in his chair, which promptly collapsed, sending his back into spasm, and he missed the match. If only his bowling was as threatening as that chair.

We obviously live in different times these days and maybe it’s time for the average village cricketer to take the risk of injury more seriously. One of the great things about playing for Sefton is that you could conceivably still be doing it at 60. Many of us remember Ronnie Stringer who played reguarly in his eighties. I'm sure Ronnie wouldn't have risked his brittle limbs in the IPL so maybe KP shouldn't have either. Me? I'm off for an ice bath and a rub down.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Cricket in the Park

NPower's Cricket in the Park roadshow came to Sefton Park in Liverpool this weekend, on a day during the second Lord's test that should have been a bit of a thriller, but instead became a bit of a runfest for the Aussies.

Needless to say, it was all good fun but the promised speed gun wasn't in evidence, and the Virtual Cricket game was something of an embarrassment.



If you imagine what a virtual reality cricket game in 1989 may have consisted of, you're probably on the money. A poor bloke appeared to spend the entire time we were there providing commentary on the virtual cricket, describing everyone who had a go repeatedly missing the ball over and over again.

Anyway, there was some coaching, which was surely much more valuable and Nick Knight sitting on a deck chair. I was loath to approach him, having described him as 'blandness personified' in his commentary stints in a previous post, but watched from afar as he rather charitably managed to give his wicket away to some little kids in an impromptu game.

The big screen itself gave us the opportunity to see Peter Siddle's beast-like face blown up to the size of a house and Shane Warne's annoying voice as loud as any nuclear explosion. What we did enjoy was a description of David Gower by Mike Atherton as 'jazzness personified' in a rare break in the dour boredom of Sky commentary.

We didn't manage to win an npower cricket set, a CD of Jerusalem was as good as it got, but since we had lots of beer we weren't too bothered.

All in all, a good idea, but the promotion of Cricket in the park was hopeless - why no publicity materials sent to nearby Sefton park Cricket Club, of all places?

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Steady Freddie

So, Freddie's retiring at the end of the Ashes series to concentrate on his lucrative business opportunities one-day career , an admission cannily wheedled out of him by Aggers.

Time was, cricketers retired from the shorter forms of the games - always thought of as distractions - to concentrate on their Test careers.

Now it seems the other way around, and I wonder whether Flintoff may be the first in a procession of players to simply give up Test cricket to earn more money in one-day and 20/20. His stated desire to play for England in the 2015 World Cup seems at odds with his inability to play any more Test cricket.

I think there'll be others, but in Freddie's case I'm probably doing him a disservice. His body, we're told, has been telling him things (I'm guessing his kidneys and liver have been among the most vocal) and his fitness record is terrible; he's been available for only half the test played since his debut.

There are probably only so many cortisone injections a body can handle. Factor in the size of Flintoff's body and a bowling action that looks like it was designed to place the maximum amount of stress on various joints and muscles, and then add in England's over-reliance on him as a bowler and you have a recipe for a broken body.

On the face of it, Flintoff's Test career hasn't been much to write home about. In the case of his batting, his average around 31 is about right. His bowling is done a disservice by the statistics, though, even though he should have taken more wickets.

Barring short spells from Simon Jones and the occasional bout from Grievous Bodily Homesick, Flintoff has been England's best bowler since Darren Gough was at his best. He was England's most reliable bowler for years, and his steady, nagging, aggressive line and length is the reason he's been bowled into the ground. In support of this statement, I offer the following:



Fred's off-the-field activities, which have been positively Bacchanalian if North-West cricket gossip is to be believed, are by-the-bye as far as I'm concerned, and would probably have passed without comment in the 80s.

Flintoff's muscle-flexing in the dressing room, again according to locker room gossip in cricket clubs, may have been rather more malign.

It seems certain that Pietersen, for all his faults, received a fairly sturdy Flintoff axe in his back last year - a situation that threatened a total meltdown in English cricket depending on Pietersen's reaction.

England's over-reliance on their talismanic all-rounder may also have become problematic. In the past his insistence on batting at six, and consequential effect on the England line-up, was also difficult to accommodate.

Nevertheless, despite the problems that Freddie has brought with him, he has had spells where he was a scintillating, exceptional cricketer. I'd prefer to remember him for his cricket, rather than his controversies, though his late-night inebriated encounter with a 'Fredalo' must go down as one of the funniest cricket-related incidents of all time.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Not out...




This video has found its way to me via Twitter, and is apparently advertising the government-sponsored drinkaware campaign.


In it Jimmy Anderson is denied a plumb LBW when the umpire is so beered up that he's busy wazzing all over the wicket, an incident I've never seen on a cricket pitch, although a few opposition umps have metaphorically pissed all over my bowling figures by denying me full-and-straight leg befores that were knocking middle stump out.

In lower league club cricket the umpiring is conducted by the batting team's own men, or by an ageing short-sighted chap whose playing days are decades behind him.

There;s quite often a low-level gamesmanship that goes on in umping. The majority of people are straight down the middle, but tend to be not outers on the basis that they're not going to risk giving their own batters out unless all three stumps were likely to cartwheeling out of the ground.

Decisions at the death of a game, where a wicket could swing the balance, are not likely to go in favour of the bowler. Likewise it's probably not even worth appealing for close run outs or stumpings as no-one can be sure either way.

The other form of gamesmanship in umping is to deploy an umpire so hopeless that they probably don't even know the laws of cricket. Young kids are a speciality, and most young uns these days seem to be coached into a kind of 'give-em-nothing' attitude that basically promotes out-and-out cheating.

At the other end of the scale is the hopeless old duffer, who miscounts balls in an over, gives patently absurd decisions and does it all with a smile on his face. One opposition ump allowed the bowler to continue into a ten-ball over that was devoid of extras. Off the tenth ball the opposition batsman was out. They went hopping mad, but it was their own man. We chalked it down to cricket karma.


I find it hard to be tough on these old guys, as the weekly cricket match is clearly a highlight for them, but they're among the worst not outers in the game. This is particularly galling when you're a bowler.

At Sefton Park CC I honestly think we mainly play it fair. If anything I think we're probably too generous, though my own umping was described as 'embarrassing' by a particularly obnoxious bowler with an absurd name this season when a decision didn't go his way.

Although respect for umpires seems to be going the way of all things in the game I think it's important to uphold, and though I reckon I've kissed goodbye to a couple of dozen extra wickets over the years (I bowl wicket-to-wicket seam so LBWs form a big part of my attack) I don't think slating the umpire is really, well, cricket.

So I'm resigned to meeting the 'down leg's and 'too many variables' from umpires in club cricket with a wry smile or baffled stare, though the day I see an umpire openly urinating on the pitch in answer to an appeal may be the day I finally snap.

Friday, 3 July 2009

The Fat Slogger

Every bowler will know the archetype of the fat slogger, and every bowler will have suffered at the hands of the FS.

They're usually in their 40s, red-faced and aggressive. They feast on pies and pints as readily as half volleys and long hops. They're essentially fat bastards.

The fat slogger has one aim in life – to dispatch your best deliveries to the boundary with a meaty forearm and bat, and a significant degree of luck.

If you bowl a really good ball – one just back of a length – the fat slogger will contemptuously pat it down in front of him or simply pad up.

Because the Fat Slogger is quite tall he gets a good stride in, reason enough for the opposition umpire to give FS not out.

The FS will go hard at every ball, and will edge balls fast through the slips, or just get enough of the ball to clear the fielder you've placed at Cow.

The slower ball that is often the nemesis of the Fat Slogger can be just as easily dispatched mercilessly if your length or line are slightly out.

Fat Sloggers are flat-track bullies, and as such can be tied in knots by sticky wicket or a moving ball, but they've probably biffed a few lucky 4s by the time they're out.

Most are blessed with an extraordinary eye, or were once quite useful. And they're fat - so the ball goes further.

They're nearly always obnoxious and full of themselves, and project an air of lofty disinterest in proceedings.

After a slogged, fat 70 not out, the FS will almost certainly come on to bowl some pies and bafflingly take five wickets.

I hate Fat Sloggers.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

PJ Horton lbw b Whelan 5

The above would almost certainly be breezed past by many cricket fans and many more may not even recognise it as a line from a County Championship scorecard from last month but to some in a small corner of south Liverpool it stood out as sure as an ill-informed reactionary headline screams hysterically off the front page of the Daily Express.

For this slice of a rather one-sided victory for Lancashire over Worcestershire is one former Sefton player dismissing another; in fact the only thing missing was Paul being caught by Worcestershire’s other ex-Seftonite, Ashley Noffke, who played for the club as an overseas player a few years back but was absent from their starting XI in this game.

It’s one of those odd things with cricket that most of the populace don’t realise the quality of players who are paid for plying their trade on the league grounds around the corner from their house, mixed in with the better local amateur players. In some ways it’s a little like Gareth Bale signing for Prescot Cables.

There are various arguments as to whether these overseas professionals are good for the game; are they raising the standards of the league or do they push clubs to the brink of bankruptcy, leave first teams overly-reliant on one man and take the place of a playing member? It does, however, help to show that despite playing in the lower echelons of the club most of the scribes on here aren’t completely hopeless on the field.

What is lamb? Are good cricketers stupid?

Simon Wilde's excellent Graeme Swann interview in the Sunday Telegraph reveals the startling fact that it's not just Sefton youths who have trouble identifying meat (see sidebar).


In amongst some choice quotes about the lack of complexity of several team mates, Swann reveals that Rob Key (a man who looks like he should be familiar with food of all kinds) was of the opinion that lamb comes from, er, cows.

Apparently nonplussed by the clue in the title, Key was forced to seek an answer from colt leggie Adil Rashid – a man ten years his junior.

This episode reveals something that hitherto overlooked - the fact that most sports people at the top of their game are as thick as two short planks.

It's interesting to note whether this is cause or effect, nature or nurture but it's surely not controversial to speculate whether there's an inverse ratio between sporting ability and intelligence.

Certainly any club cricketer will attest to the uncomplicated minds of the demon fast bowler or hard-hitting opening batsman. It's generally only the cunning spinner or fidgety keeper who display any signs of a strong mind.

That may be unfair. The Swann interview makes no mention of levels of intellect, but rather reveals an innate inability to function as a real human being.

Swann voices his wonder that several team-mates – Panesar, Luke Wright and Ravi Bopara among them - have not simply walked in front of a car or stuck their fingers in a socket, only just stopping short of suggesting that left to their own devices they may have starved to death, unable to grasp the fundamental concept of replenishment.

Disturbingly, Swann also seems to suggest that Bopara is some sort of Ballardian proto-human, frequently making 'a lot of noise, a lot of noise, and strange noises too ... he shouts and screams.'

Many modern sports stars seem to be rather protected throughout their lives, at first by parents or coaches, then by agents and management - cosseted through the rough and tough bits of life and rarely coming face to face with any kind of recognisable reality.

This may simply be the best way of getting the most out of your talent. it's always the players that suggest they have rather more about them that tend to struggle most. Shah, Hick, Ramprakash, Tufnell are all recent examples of the brighter cricketer blessed with immense talent, but undone by their neuroses.

And most club cricketers will recognise the archetype of the enigmatic talent, destined to never fulfill potential.

Perhaps in sport it pays to be a bit of a dunce. If all you have rattling around inside your relatively empty head is the name of the meat you had for lunch, you can't fail to be focussed.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Kilted cricket

YOU’RE Scottish and you play cricket? Sometimes it feels like being a mujahedin with a soft spot for George Bush, or a member of the High School Musical cast whose thing is bestiality. Still, there are worse guilty secrets, sports-wise. I could, like my brother, be a football referee.




It feels both liberating and strange to at last be playing the game in the country of its birth. Back home (Aberdeen) there is a lot of cricket played (it was once claimed Aberdeen had more cricket clubs per capita than any UK city except Bradford) and yet most people there are unaware of that. When I’d tell people I was a cricketer I always added the caveat “but my main sport is football” and that would just about halt eyebrows in mid-raise. In England what I do is accepted, though my nationality still ensures I’m seen as slightly odd. The fact I don’t play it especially well is probably reassuring. I guess Mike Denness, Dougie Brown, Brian Hardie - or back in the day, Douglas Jardine - had a lot more explaining to do. My other consoling thought: at least I’m not Gavin Hamilton. 


I like to think of Jardine as being the player who imbued his cricket with the most Scottishness. Born in India to Scottish parents Jardine was like Graeme Souness or Andy Murray, a craftsman who had a bit of what Australians would call ‘a bit of the mongrel’ about him. Scots like their sporting heroes on the rough side (when we miraculously produced a champion skier, Alain Baxter, he was stripped of his Olympic medal within days of winning it for taking recreational drugs) and Scottish education promotes independence and hard work. We seem to feel a lot less guilty about success and being driven about achieving it than the English. I was going to say, look at Gordon Brown, but maybe that’s no longer a good name to invoke. Gordon Ramsey, then. 


I digress. Jardine, Scotland. Think of what my country is very best at when it comes to sport: Surely it’s producing football managers. Jardine was an Alex Ferguson of cricket - with all the good and bad associations that suggests. For us to have produced two good England cricket captains, the other being Denness, is not at all bad. Which leads to another thought. Cricket is not a major sport north of the border but it’s bigger than the rest of the world realises. About 0.7% of us play regular cricket. In England the figure is larger, but not exponentially so: 2.5%.


Denness and Jardine, of course, are bygone figures. Currently, despite a couple of decent recent Twenty20 showings against New Zealand and England, Scotland probably isn’t pulling its cricketing weight. It’s partly because the structure of Scottish cricket does not enable players to stretch themselves on a regular enough basis before entering ICC competitions: without a national academy, and with a declining club game, talents aren’t maximised. The only solution is to go and play for an English county, a path followed by Kyle Coetzer, who now is doing well for Durham and has ambitions of playing for England. But with the examples of Scots prospering in the county scene limited the upheaval does not seem worth it to others and Colin Smith, who could easily have succeeded at first class level, decided early on to concentrate on his other career - in the police force - and keep cricket as a hobby.


If there were more Coetzers, Dennesses and Jardines I might not be seen as so odd. That said, I feel lucky to be playing in England because it’s a pleasure any cricket lover would savour. The clubs are bigger, friendlier, and with far lovelier grounds and better facilities. The standard is higher, the social scene greater and - not to be underestimated - the teas are better. Then there’s the weather. Here you don’t play in gale force winds or freezing rain. In Aberdeen you simply have to, or the league programmes would never get played. Numb, wet hands: that’s one of my earliest associations with playing as a youngster. Maybe it’s why I never learnt to bowl spin or play the late cut. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.         


Sunday, 7 June 2009

Ian Bishop recommends cricket fans openly urinate on London Eye

I was a little surprised during Scotland's whooping at the hands of South Africa in the latest T20 match to hear ex-Windies fast bowler and Sky commentator urging viewers to have 'a little tinkle on the London Eye'.





What can this mean?

Friday, 5 June 2009

England's useless opening 20/20 World Cup ceremony

First off, Lord's was dealt an unfortunate and unforeseeable twist of fate when the clouds opened, but it went on to shoot itself in the feet completely by cancelling the opening ceremony and having two old men deliver stultifying speeches announcing the opening ceremony.

ICC head honcho David Morgan delivered his speech like a man reading his last will and testament, followed by the Duke of Kent, who wouldn't have looked out of place if he'd been opening a garden centre in 1972.

Mike Atherton's face when the camera returned to the studio said it all. It was very, very boring, conservative, mournful, depressing stuff. Brian Close would have thought it too dour.



Who on Earth is in charge on this? I may bemoan Sky's coverage as excessively loud, stupid and showy, but to try to launch world cricket's most exciting event in this way was tantamount to sabotage.

Paul Collingwood's tuneless but voluble frowned rendition of God Save the Queen rounded off the most absurdly inappropriate ten minutes perhaps ever seen in English cricket.

I hate to come over all Botham, but English cricket needs to wake up, and fast.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Genital short

You have to wonder how and why the state of Shoaib Akhtar’s lunchbox has become quite so publicly known; these things must’ve come up and been hidden before in a game in which players spend so much time away from home. Thinking of the tabloid traps that Botham fell into on tour in the 80s, you could easily conclude that we all misinterpreted a ‘groin injury’ of his; the whole TMS ‘legover’ incident was so funny was because it was Botham, it wouldn’t have worked if it were David Sheppard. Well it would, but for very different reasons.

Slightly odder is that it was the Pakistani Cricket Board which brought this information into the public realm; openly mocking one of their star players (unless such things are seen as run-of-the-mill as a chipped fingernail in Pakistan).

Now it’s true that Shoaib hasn’t been the easiest chap to manage over the years: the briefest research reveals a plethora of allegations; failed drug tests, chucking bans, attitude problems, ball tampering, jet-skiing whilst supposedly injured, throwing a bottle into the crowd, being sued by and counter-suing the PCB during the spat over his ban due to repeated disciplinary breaches last year.

This is just the latest in a long line of problems, now his “sexually active” lifestyle (as a drugs tribunal put it in 2006) appears to have caught up with him. There’s one thing I know after this: you wouldn’t see me taking the board to court.

Monday, 1 June 2009

The World 20/20 – can you have too much cricket?




I reckon I know more about cricket than 99.9 per cent of people in the country, and will gladly watch any cricket put in front of me, from tests through to 20/20s and club cricket. I can tell you things like Mark Ramprakash's nicknames (Ramps, Bloodaxe); name every single position on the field; bowl a leggie, a top spinner and a googly; and name at least two people I saw on the telly the other day involved in country cricket who I've played in the same team as (well, nearly.)

In all honesty though, I've got a bit bored of cricket. This is since around the time I got a Sky package, something I really resented because I don't believe people should have to pay to watch national sport (perhaps a blog for another day), and I don't really want to do anything to bolster Sky's position as a kind of Death Star of sport, hoovering up everything in its path.

Why? Quite simply there's too much cricket. Far too much cricket. I can't work out what competitions involve any more, who's playing for whom, when it's all on. I really miss the days when Tony Lewis would pop up on a Thursday morning looking like an avuncular Welsh vampire and announce that England were 40-3 off 27 overs. You knew where you were in those days.

I can honestly say I do not give a toss who wins the World 20/20, and that's not because I'm one of those farts who sneers at innovation in cricket. It's simply because there's overkill. I can't invest anything in a sport I've lost touch with and feel vaguely bored by. I'd go so far as to say I'm slightly irritated that there's so much cricket on. It's incomprehensible.

Once again, England is left looking the most stupid. The ECB can be trusted to get it wrong nearly every time – broadcast rights, Stanford, Pietersen – and they're making a right royal cock up of branding and selling cricket at the moment, though they're probably swimming with cash.

The image of David Lloyd above and the ad for Sky's coverage of the 20/20 – you can read my previous thoughts on the Sky commentary team and this particular advert – kind of sums up how I feel about cricket at the moment. It's confusing and annoying.

A blur of players in various colours, David Lloyd shouting, some slick graphics. If I'm confused and jaded you can bet your bottom dollar, and your bottom for that matter, that the general public is.

If it were solely up to me I'd consider jibbing off the Sky package. I only got it for the cricket, and now I'm sick of that.

I can foresee a day when Sky shows 24-hour cricket, and it's probably not far off. Cricket fans will have no other choice but to stump up £40 a month and sit dazed in front of another competition they've never heard of, with Lloyd jumping around like a lunatic in the background.

Familiarity breeds contempt. The ECB needs to realise this and slim down its roster of competitions. Ideally they'd hive them off to different broadcasters too. Maybe we don't all have to be bored to tears by cricket after all.