Saturday, 16 January 2010

Reffing disgrace

I thought referrals were supposed to do away with umpiring controversy and howlers, so quite how we’ve managed to get into this fine mess is beyond most men... but not Daryl.

There’s no surprise Mr Harper’s the man at the centre of the fuss, he’s a poor umpire, one of – if not the single - worst I can remember seeing. If as suggested he didn’t give the decision today because he didn’t have the volume turned up then it’s a dereliction of duty that should mean the end of his umpiring career. It’s simply just not good enough.
  • I’m not convinced by them yet, but if we’re going to have referrals there needs to be uniformity. Several times on this tour bowling sides have been convinced they’ve had a batsman caught behind, only for it to be all but impossible to give them out on review without snicko or hotspot. The host broadcasters have said they’re not paying for it, but that doesn’t wash. Referrals are an ICC initiative if they want in they’re simply going to have to stump up for it. End of.
  • I don’t blame Smith in this one, he’s brilliant in those match / series / career defining moments, and batted superbly. Don’t think for a moment anyone in the England team would have walked in the same scenario.
  • One of my biggest problems with the referral system is I think it offers a safety net for umpires, but it makes them weak. It’s easier in tight situations to take the easy way, give the batsman the benefit of the doubt and leave it up to the bowling side to appeal if they’re convinced it’s a stinker. The finality of it means it always looks worse giving a batsman out erroneously than letting him get away with one. Subconsciously or not I think its emaciating umpires.
  • On that note, the on field umpire seems to be avoiding all the flack here. He gets the decision right in the first place and the issue ends there.
  • I fully back the team England move to officially complain, it was so wrong at such an important time in the series and we need answers, although whatever the outcome of the complaint it isn’t going to change that SA – weather permitting, are now on the brink of levelling the series.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Scrappers XI

In celebration of England’s backs to the wall performance at Centurion last week, I’ve pulled together an XI of scrappers, those tough competitors whose success owes more to the size of their bollocks than the size of their talent.

They might not be great to watch, but they wouldn't lose many!

Michael Atherton
As England head towards the Wanderers, thoughts turn towards Athers’ greatest ever moment, his epic test-match saving slog against the best that South Africa could throw at him – 643 minutes, 185 not out. A marathon effort, but not out of character for an England captain that spent years battling against a bad back, and a worse supporting cast.

David Steel
Famously brought into the England test side to face the might of the West Indies and Australia pace attacks (Lillee, Thompson, Holding, Roberts et al) – grey hair and spectacles and aged, he withstood 90mph blows to all parts of the body as he fought tooth and nail in many a hopeless cause.

Alan Border
The man who started it all, until Border came along test series against the Aussies used to be closely thought affairs, then this miserable bugger came along. He captained the 1989 side that came to England to regain the Ashes – pilloried as the weakest Australia side to hit these shores, Border eschewed the traditional social side of the contest, he didn’t want to be friends with England. They ended up marmalising us and we didn’t see the Ashes again until 2005. He was also as tough as teak to get out.

Paul Collingwood
Three times in a year he’s fought his heart out to scrape a draw in tests against rampant Australia and South Africa sides. Colly only really seems to get going when the going gets tough, a proud Englishman and a hell of a reassuring presence in any middle order. A man you’d want by your side in the trenches.

Steve Waugh (captain)
Maybe the ultimate competitor. As Australian as they come and as hard any nails – whereas his brother Mark scored beautiful runs, Steve epitomised grit, ruthlessness and an unquenchable desire to win, he came to life in pressure situations and scored the big runs when his team needed it most. As an Englishman if we ever had the old enemy in trouble it was a sickening sight to see him walking out to bat in that bloody green hat.

Shiv Chanderpaul
About as attractive as leprosy, Shiv’s not a man for the purist. It’s not that he’s got a bad technique, it’s just that it looks dreadful. He’s blessed with a great eye, the patience of a saint and a succession of accommodatingly flimsy West Indies batting line ups enabling him to display his limpet like qualities. He seems to bat for weeks on end without even looking like getting out in 2007.

Jack Russell
Another ugly looking batsman, but a contrary bastard who’d drive a succession of bowlers crazy by appearing to play at the ball before dragging the bat away at the very last second... then nudging the ball into previously uncharted territories for yet another scrappy run. Finished his career by building a hugely successful Gloucestershire side in his own idiosyncratic image.

Paul Harris
The spinner was nearly the King of Spain, but Paul Harris just nicks it in the battle of twirlers without any discernable ability. Never knowingly turned a page, he’s built a career on being so innocuous that good batsmen (hello KP!) find ways to get out to him falling over themselves to knock him out of the ground. He’s also made the most of his limited ability with the bat to make himself an obdurate tailender and useful night watchman.

Darren Gough
Captain calls down to Gough; “One more over Dazzler?” No matter what time of day, no matter what kind of beating he was on the wrong end of, there was only ever one answer to that question with Goughie. A bit more natural ability than some of those on the list, it’s a bit of a cliché but the man’s got a heart the size of house.

Courtenay Walsh
It’s harder to pick bowlers than batsmen for this team, they don’t quite lend themselves to scrapping in the same way. But Walshy was one of those great bowlers who never stopped competing, and wrung every single wicket out of his long career. Not as talented or as quick as some of his contemporaries he ended up taking more test match wickets (519 @ less than 25) than any of them through guts, intelligence and no little skill.

Merv Hughes
Possibly the most Australian man ever. I still don’t know how big bad Merv took so many wickets – 212 in tests. Big, dumb, and overweight it must have had something to do with heart as it sure as hell wasn’t down to class.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

I never really called for Colly to be dropped. Honest!

Feeling inspired by the boys today to get this baby up and running again... was away during the summer so missed all of the ashes action and it’s taken a while to get back but here goes.

Where to start from the latest test? Couldn’t happen to a nicer set of blokes than the South African team, but they must be scarcely able to believe that they’re 1-0 down after dominating two out of the three tests, but if we know one thing about this England side under Strauss and Flower it’s that they’re bloody difficult to beat.

Being tough to breakdown is the first step to building a successful side in any team sport – ask George Graham – and lots of credit must go to the two Andy’s.

But they weren’t the heroes of the day – step forward Colly & Belly. It was an epic partnership of proper, old fashioned, test match batting of the sort that the experts keep telling us people can’t play any more. Well here it was in glorious tehnicolour.

It was just the type of performance that we’ve come to expect from Collingwood – he keeps living up to and beyond all those ‘nuggety scrapper’ stereotypes. There probably isn’t anyone in the world you’d rather see making his way out to the crease in a tight spot. But Bell was a revelation. Fourth innings, pressure cooker, a game to save and the last front line batsman – it was a recipe for another typically meek dismissal. But not this time. It’s too early to draw any firm conclusions but his 78 (213 balls) here was worth double the 140 he scored in the second test, and taking all factors into account Bell’s best and most important innings for England.

Hat’s off to them both, as well as Onions for seeing out the final few overs for the second time in three tests.

So what’s next?

England will go into the final test thinking they’re unbeatable, and the Saffers might just agree with them after this one. I think we’ll hang on to win the series now. But it won’t be easy. It’s a brilliant test series, one that if it was England vs. Australia would be getting the plaudits up there with the last two home Ashes series.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Cheers Vaughny

Michael Vaughan made many astute decisions as England captain, and the one he’s just made to retire from first class cricket is just about as good as any of them.

Much better that he bows out now before he became a liability to Yorkshire and suffered the ignominy of being dropped by his county, and risk tarnishing his reputation by continuing to scratch around for whatever runs he can find on the county treadmill. Where, as his record shows, he never really made many runs even when he was on top of his game.

Vaughan will be remembered as the best England captain of the modern era, and as one of the top batsmen we have produced in recent times.

The other great thing this announcement achieves is putting an end to the phoney war coming from the Aussies…. Warney et all kept coming out with patently ridiculous claims about how Vaughan should still be in the England side, and that he is still second only to KP in our line up!

It was obviously rubbish, and probably designed to try and pile pressure on the man who has taken his number three slot in the England line up, Ravi Bopara.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Team of the tournament

Here goes my team of the tourney, a lot of the players pick themselves to be honest, but hopefully there's a good bit of balance to this team.

Tillakaratne Dilshan (Sri Lanka)

Man of the tournament, the top run scorer and the best batsman by a country mile.

Kamran Akmal (Pakistan)

Stumpings galore keeping to Ajmal and Afridi, he might not hang around for long with the bat, but would get the innings off to a flyer.

Jacques Kallis (South Africa)

A model of consistency, he scored 238 runs at an average of 59.5 – something that will please him. The rest of the batting line up would be built around this slightly more stoic performer.

Kevin Pietersen (England)

Peerless boundary hitter and a man for the big occasion

Younis Khan (Pakistan), captain

Younis held the Pakistan batting together through the early stages of the tournament, scoring 299 runs. Also captained Pakistan to victory superbly.

Shahid Afridi (Pakistan)

Like Pakistan, he started slowly and built into the tournament, taking the whole competition by the scruff of the neck from the semi final onwards.

Dwayne Bravo (West Indies)

Up there in both the wicket taking and run scoring charts, all done with panache and enthusiasm, a go-to guy in tough situations, he turned in one of the performances of the tournament in victory against India.

Umer Gul (Pakistan)

The leading wicket taker, and almost impossible to score quickly off his swinging yorkers at the death, would warrant selection for his 5-6 against New Zealand, the best bowling figures ever in international Twenty20.

Lasith Malinga (Sri Lanka)

Like Gul, a massive wicket taking threat and very difficult to score off of. His slower ball full toss / yorker was simply unplayable.

Ajantha Mendis (Sri Lanka)

Outbowled the more illustrious Murali in taking 12 wickets at 9.08, all at less than five an over. Kamran Akmal managed to get after him in the final, but otherwise no batsman looked comfortable against his fast spinners.

Wayne Parnell (South Africa)

I’d have Parnell taking the new ball. Fast, straight and adding variety with his left arm over action. A big breakthrough for the nineteen year old.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Credit where it's due for the T20

Ok, England still sometimes look like they’re playing a slightly different game to everybody else, and yes, our specialist six hitting all-rounder is scratching around making 25 from 27 balls, but I’m loving the Twenty20 World Cup.

After the diabolical fifty over World Cup held in England in 2007 I’ve got to be honest, I was half expecting a bit of a damp squib from the T20 version, but I’ll happily hold my hands up as being wrong. The only time I can remember cricket capturing the public imagination in the same way was during the once in a lifetime 2005 Ashes series, but travelling around, whiling away hours in the pub, and actually going to the games, I don’t remember hearing so many people excited about the game.

Previous World Cups have seemed to last a couple of lifetimes, but the format of this tournament feels just about right. Only using three grounds has given the tournament a hub - although the large ethnic communities in Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham for example suggests that having two of the homes in London is misguided.

Scheduling two games a day at the same venue has also helped build the momentum – encouraging larger, more diverse crowds and ensuring excitement is held even when one of the games doesn’t quite match the billing. The short three-week format also works beautifully with games every day, the vast majority of which have a real purpose to them. While whether by design or serendipity the timing of the competition between the end of the football season and the start of Wimbledon has helped keep cricket at the centre of the sports media – only interrupted by the latest vulgar goings on with the Portuguese clown and the British and Irish egg chasers competing for attention.

On top of all that the cricket has been terrific, with a sprinkling of upsets, some exceptional individual performances (Umer Gul and Dwayne Bravo spring to mind) and of course Australia being unceremoniously dumped early out of the competition is a Delia Smith-esque recipe for success.

It’s pretty rare they get things right, but credit where it’s due and hats off to the ECB, and the ICC for the competition. I hope it holds up right through to the final.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Oh Lanka, Lanka. Lanka, Lanka, Lanka, Lanka, Sri Lanka

After getting marmalised by South Africa yesterday, England now have a fair idea how far behind the very best we are at Twenty20. I doubt anyone was surprised that we lost, but so soon after the humiliation against the Netherlands it was pretty demoralising. We’ll know more after the game against India this weekend, but at the moment I’d suggest the thrashing we gave Pakistan was probably more of a one off than the clogging we got from the Dutch.

As usual in (2020) hindsight of defeat I think we made some pretty basic selection errors, most obviously with the batting. Comparing our line up with any other test playing side in the tournament, we just don’t bat deep enough. As soon as KP was third wicket down in the sixth over the game was up, with Collingwood, Foster and MascarAnus batting at five, six and seven. The problem is we’ve got too many medium pace bowling all rounders, and not enough specialist batsmen that can consistently hit the ropes.

Of the eleven that took the field, only Foster is a complete non-bowler - even Shah has been known the turn his arm over), while I’m not sure of the merits of bowling Colly ahead of Mascarenhas, Bopara or Luke Wright, I do know that we sure as hell don’t need all of them if they’re not contributing with the bat. As Colly is captain, the fall guy should be Dimitri who only seems to get picked because Shane Warne championed his cause about three years ago (and it worked for KP) – although I notice he didn’t get too many games for Warney’s Rajastan Royals.

James Foster also looks a bad shout, we’re not getting enough benefit out of him standing up to the stumps to compensate for his batting. Haddin, Sangarakarra, Kamran Akmal, Dhoni, Brendon McCullum and Fletcher are all contributing in a big way at the top of the order for their teams, Foster well, isn’t. Steve Davies gave us a bit of a flier in his only Twenty20 game against the Windies so I’m not sure why he got jettisoned. Hell, even Colly looked ok when he took over from Prior in the recent test match. Why not?

With the current squad all we can probably do is bring Morgan – we identified him as a specialist, so let’s back the judgement - in for Warney’s mate and keep our fingers crossed Bopara and Wright get us a good start. Can’t see it worrying India too much though.

England aside, South Africa were very impressive yesterday, especially their fast bowling and fielding – and to be fair their batting wasn’t given much of a challenge. It’s clear to see why they’re most people’s favourite, but having seen Sri Lanka twice I’m backing them to win the trophy.

Two factors in particular swing it their way, they’ve got by far the best spin bowling attack with Mendis and Murali backed up by Jayasuriya. And with games being played on used pitches expect spin to come into play even more as the tournament progresses. Secondly they’ve got the best opening partnership to launch the innings. Dilshan has been the tournament’s leading batsman to date, and we all know what Jayasuriya can do when the mood takes him.

With the supporting cast including class acts like Malinga the Slinga, Jayawardene and Sangarakkara, and a few big hitters down the order they make a pretty compelling case.