Tuesday, 30 December 2008

A new world order

So South Africa have finally won a test series in Australia. Even if they don't win the 3rd test they deserve to be number 1 in the world. They have won 9 out of 10 series in the last 2 years. The other series was a draw against India, which would have been a win if the BCCI hadn't ordered one of the worst pitches ever for the last test, which surprisingly enough India won.

Smith may not be as brilliant a captain as Mark Taylor or Stephen Fleming but gets the job done. More importantly than any field placing or bowling changes he leads from the front. For SA to have any chance in this series he had to overcome his previous batting problems against Australia. He has over 250 runs in the series so far despite batting with a destroyed elbow and has done the job he needed to do. Throughout the year he has scored crucial 4th innings runs and managed more at the MCG to get his team close enough to the target for the fear to disappear.

This is now his team - it's taken 5 years of working within a system of targets and quotas to reach a point where the team that takes the field is there on merit and includes coloured players of outstanding talent - Prince, Duminy and Ntini as well as Asian descent - Amla. The senior players such as Boucher and Kallis support him completely and the newer players into the team have learnt from his approach and are now fearless and confident.

The Proteas have a well balanced batting line up, a brilliant keeper and a bowling attack capable of taking 20 wickets on most pitches in the world. Morne Morkel finally showed what he is capable of on day 4 with spells that were consistent and aggressive, Dale Steyn is the best quick around and Ntini and Kallis will always get wickets. Harris may not be the greatest spinner ever but he takes wickets and can keep things tight.

2009 looks like being a good one for cricket - SA looking to hold onto the number 1 spot, India continuing their run under Dhoni, Sri Lanka coming from nowhere to be rather good, England responding to KP's pushing and Australia fighting back.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Ponting stands tall

I may not have been the greatest fan of his captaincy over the last few months but I've always loved watching him bat. This test match has shown us why he's one of the best batsmen in the world.

Ignoring all the pressure put on him by the media and the fans he has played two of his best innings. The first innings hundred (101 off 126) was fluent, attacking and determined and an example to the rest of his team. He didn't believe that the series was lost and set out to prove everyone wrong. He believed his team were still world leaders and world beaters.

In the second innings he ignored the fact that his bowlers hadn't done the job and Australia were now in a position of having to save the game. He ignored Hayden's kamikaze innings, Katich's brain freeze, Clarke's return to playing loose shots and Hussey's poor decision. His innings was briliant to watch. He took quick singles and put pressure on the field and scored off any loose deliveries. He deserved a hundred.

Despite all his efforts Australia look like losing this game and the series. If the rest of the batsmen had followed their captain's example they would probably be heading to Sydney still 1-0 down with a chance to square things.

Monday, 22 December 2008

So the impossible became possible...

SA were exceptional on day 5 and thoroughly deserved their win. AB de Villiers played the innings of his career so far - I would rate it above the double hundred he made against India earlier this year even if he doesn't! JP Duminy came in and looked nervous at first but determined to get on with things and deal with the pressure. He handled the situation so well that even the horribly biased Ian Chappell was impressed. SA should be raring to go in Melbourne with nearly all the batsmen in good form. The seamers weren't at their best at the WACA but the feel-good vibes in the team should perk them up.

Australia have many problems. The main one being their captain. Ponting is rude, clueless, irritating and spends far too much time moaning. His attack on Brett Lee was unjustified given that Lee had actually bowled pretty well in the game. He should have been critising the batsmen - Hayden has to go. His feet aren't moving and he looks lost. But he won't be going anywhere cos he happens to be one of Ponting's best mates.

Meanwhile new boy Krejza has been dumped out of the team. Why are the bowlers always punished after losses but the batsmen keep their places. Hayden, Ponting himself and Hussey all need to start scoring runs and captain-in-waiting Clarke has to learn not to throw his wicket away. You'd hope that after 42 tests he'd have managed that but apparently not. Symonds has been defended repeatedly by his captain and needs to make lots of runs to justify his continued selection.

The next few days and continued fall-out from this loss are going to be interesting.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Brilliance at the WACA

Regular readers will know that I have a soft spot for South Africa and especially their captain and today's play at the WACA showed why. SA need 414 to win and are currently 187 runs away thanks mainly to another brilliant innings from their captain (it was worth waking up at 3am for).

Graeme Smith isn't everyone's favourite person but is definitely the driving force and inspiration for the Saffers. His innings today (108 from 147 balls) was scratchy at the start as Lee and Johnson were superb with the new ball and he struggled with the tennis elbow that has been a problem since the IPL earlier this year. Once McKenzie was dismissed and Amla came to the crease he started to relax a bit and after tea was much more fluent. His partnership with Amla(who made 53 from 112 balls) has set the game up nicely and a good partnership between Kallis and De Villiers could take SA a long way towards what was seemingly an impossible total.

Australia were mostly very good today. Haddin's innings in the morning was a wonderful counter attack and seemed to have taken the game away from SA. He appears to be channelling the spirit of Gilchrist at the moment and has the same skill of playing well with the tail. Australia's tail including Haddin have made over 200 runs in this game whereas the SA tail has struggled. Lee and Johnson bowled well all day with Lee unlucky not to have 4 or 5 wickets in the game so far. His duel with Kallis late in the evening brought back memories of Flintoff vs Kallis at Edgbaston this year.

At the end of day 4 Australia are slightly ahead but anything could happen tomorrow.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Test cricket is alive

Having been trapped in Bedford for the past four weeks in rubbish hospital accomodation without a TV anywhere or internet in my room I haven't seen any cricket for a while. I get to come home at weekends and have spent today watching one of the best days of test cricket I've seen in a long while.

England have been surprisingly good in this game following their fractured build up. Strauss has reminded me why I've rated him so highly over the past few years. He's never going to look the most stylish of batsmen but he's effective and knows what he can and can't do. His hundred in the second innings was exactly what England needed, given the pathetic performance of the rest of the top order until Collingwood turned up. He paced himself and picked up runs where he could with a few aggressive shots when needed and avoided any stupid shots. I could attempt to praise Collingwood but the man is so boring to watch I can't be bothered.

India started the chase better than they could have expected - Sehwag destroyed Harmison and Anderson to make 83 runs off 68 balls and cause KP a few problems. He was dropped by Cook in the 20s and took advantage of his second life. India look as if they believe they can win this game and much will depend on Gambhir to stick around and play the anchor role tomorrow allowing Tendulkar, Laxman and Dhoni to come in and play freely. If they can get through the first session for the loss of only one wicket, maybe two, then they will be in a very strong position.

The game is set up nicely although I won't be able to comment on how it finishes because I'll be back in bloody Bedford until the 19th. There are no words to describe how gutted I am to be missing this and the start of Aus-SA.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

We come to it at last...the great battle of our time

The South Africans have landed in Australia at last. They are full of confidence and ready to go. This series has the potential to be one of the best seen in long time and I have my fingers crossed that the quality of cricket will be better than that seen in the just gone Aus vs India series which was brilliant in patches but also dire in others.

The South African line-up is very similar to the Aussie one - settled opening pair, strong middle order, battery of good quicks and a dodgy spinner. The fact that the groundsman at the WACA has prepared an older pitch without any of the restored pace and bounce suggests the Aussies are slightly nervous. Graeme Smith is much more sensible this time around and a well-led South African team should be able to win a test if not the series.

Ponting is still under pressure following the series in India and the Aussies are involved in various distractions such as the dispute with Cricket Australia over how much time they spend on sponsors activities. South Africa have grabbed the early edge in terms of media coverage. Their players appear to be more willing to talk to journalists and tend to be honest and interesting.

Both teams have had a similar build-up - thrashing miserably poor touring teams (NZ and Bangladesh respectively) doesn't provide much of an insight into how the players will cope in a close contest. South Africa have the confidence of winning 8 out of their last 9 series while Australia appear to be coming to terms with losing in India. The series is too close to call but having seen South Africa demolish England this summer, I think they might take this series as well providing that Graeme Smith and Dale Steyn live up to the hype.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Chaos in Mumbai

The situation in Mumbai at the moment is truly awful. The suffering family and friends of the injured and murdered must be going through is too extreme to imagine. My condolences to any readers who have lost someone or know someone in hospital and I hope all the Indian bloggers out there are safe.

It feels a bit silly, vacuous and shallow almost, to sit here typing about cricket but that is what I'm here to do. England have a choice - abandon the ODI series and stay for the test series, play the ODI and test series as planned or come home. While I understand that the players are scared about their own safety and their families must be worried as well, I think they should stay.

I have no problems with them pulling out of the ODI series and staying out in the East of the country but I would like them to play the Tests. Not for the sake of cricket as such but to show these terrorists that the world is stronger than they are and that mindless acts of violence will not scare us into stopping living our lives. The security forces in India that are currently guarding the England team in their hotel/fortress are brilliant at what they do - they look after foreign VIPs, politicians etc. If they feel confident that they can keep the players safe then I would take their advice.

India is unlike England - its size and diversity means events in one state can be completely unrelated to what may happen elsewhere. The location of the second test could even be moved from Mumbai if necessary. I don't think that's a great option but the possibility is there.

A truly cynical person would point out that Australia played in England two weeks after the London bombs in 2005 and that players from all over the world stayed in India for the IPL after the bombs in Rajasthan. I didn't want to be that person, nor finish on such a negative note so I'm stopping there.

Mumbai has experienced too many of these attacks for me to count and the city always rises up stronger, more united and braver. It would be nice for cricket to play its part in helping to heal a city that is currently hurt, confused and chaotic.

ETA: England have confirmed that they are playing the Test series which is good news I think. The second Test may be moved from Mumbai to southern India but discussions are ongoing.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Ponting loses the plot

WTF?!? India lose 6 wickets in a session due to Watson and Krejza, Australia are back in the game and the series finally becomes worth watching. The pressure was on India to try and set a decent score, while Australia knew that quick wickets after tea would increase their chances of winning the game and drawing the series.

Then Ponting comes out after tea and decides that over rates are more important than winning the game - White and Hussey bowling after tea so that Ponting could avoid getting a fine and/or suspension was one of the bizzarest things I have seen on a cricket field for a long time. India ended up with a partnership of over 100 between Dhoni and Harbhajan and the game is safe. Once the game was out of reach for Australia, Ponting decides to bring back his wicket takers, who surprisingly enough take wickets and finish off India.

If Australia lose the game and therefore the series, Cricket Australia should ban Ponting for a game just to punish him for being one of the daftest people on the planet.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Two down - three to go...

So Anil Kumble follows Sourav Ganguly into retirement. It cannot be long before Rahul David follows suit with VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar having a little longer left.

The five of them have shaped Indian cricket for over 15 years and have been responsible for some of the team's greatest performances such as the series win against Australia in 2001, the drawn series in Australia in 2008 and away series wins in the West Indies and England.

Kumble has chosen the perfect time to retire - his body has given up even though he is still mentally ready and willing to keep going. His final overs were typical of the man - not much spin but enough bounce and that unplayable straight one. He can retire happy in the knowledge that he gave everything he had to the game and always put the team first. He looked embarrassed by the attention he received but it was well deserved. If the BCCI have any sense (and I'm not holding my breath) he will be kept involved in the development of India's young players as his experience and sense of fair play are priceless.

MS Dhoni has inherited a team that are in transition and can still beat the best team in the world. The efforts of the Fab Five as they are known in India have seen the team develop over the past decade into world beaters. Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina are two of the players waiting to get into the team and have the talent to do very well. The next year will be an interesting and occasionally difficult time for India but they have the talent to keep challenging the best in the world and MS Dhoni appears to have the backing of everyone in the dressing room.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

The evils of 2020

Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are developing their own version of the IPL. I would ask why but it's obviously for the money. This is in addition to the Champions League, Stanford Series, the proposed English Premier League, the ICL and of course the IPL.

The game's administrators need to stop this. I don't have a problem with 2020 and think the IPL is great but why do we need all these other tournaments when players are already complaining about burn-out. Shane Warne recently said that other nations should just embrace the IPL and work together to make it the 2020 showpiece event instead of creating a dozen different spin-offs that no-one cares about.

The national boards think that they know what people want but most of the people I know want good quality Test cricket with a few 2020 tournaments scattered throughout the year to raise interest in the game and bring in new fans.

The other element to this is the players. If the players want the money then I don't blame them but they lose the right to complain about burn-out. Graeme Smith had to pull out of the one-day series in England because of tennis elbow which he aggravated in the IPL. MS Dhoni pulled out of the recent tour to India because he was tired after the IPL. Adding all these other tournaments can only make these sort of events more common.

World cricket is going to collapse at some point - players are only going to have 6 or 7 year careers instead of 10-12. Bowlers are already struggling thanks to flat pitches and a ridiculous work load. How long will people like Dale Steyn last if they are playing cricket 10-11 months of the year. Instead of saving the game, the greed of the administrators means 2020 could be the death of it.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Dhoni continues his winning streak

India won the second test against Australia today by 320 runs. The victory margin is that big for various reasons:

1. India batted well in the first innings with Ganguly's hundred and Dhoni's 92 getting India past an average score to a good score once Tendulkar had led the way with 88.

2. Australia bowled averagely. Bowling in India is hard. Ask Warne. Lee hasn't played in India before and is dealing with off-field problems and the other bowlers haven't really played test cricket before. Siddle and White are doing very well given their inexperience. Johnson appears to be able to bowl well against and in India but can't take wickets against anyone else. Which is kinda backwards but Ponting isn't going to complain at the moment.

3. Australia batted like idiots. For Watson to rescue the first innings and then Clarke to be the last batsman standing in the second indicates that there are problems. Hayden, Hussey and Ponting are the players you would expect to make hundreds when the team is up against it and they were MIA.

4. Dhoni's luck/karma/good captaincy inspired India and especially the bowlers to improve on their performances in the first test and achieve a deserved win. The bowlers out-performed Australia's attack with the pace of Sharma and Khan and the spin of Misra and Harbajan managing to get good batsmen out.

The first and second tests have shown that test cricket is alive and well despite all the 2020 hype. Here's hoping Australia fix their problems in time for the third test and make it a close series.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Tendulkar's brilliance

Tendulkar has finally gone past Brian Lara's record for the most runs in Test cricket - he now has more than 12000 runs. For the past 19 years Sachin has made almost a billion people happy, sad, frustrated, disappointed and every emotion in between. I missed the early part of his career (being only 2 when he started playing) but by the time I was 6 or 7 I knew all about how brilliant he was and how great he could become.

19 years after he started, Tendulkar is undoubtedly a great player. I'm not going to debate who is better - him, Lara, Bradman, Sobers etc because they are all magnificent. What Tendulkar did that none of the others did however, is start as a 16 year old and grow up in front of a billion people. He remains a normal humble private person despite all the madness that surrounds him - fans, sponsors, TV cameras and the paparazzi that have followed his every step.

People criticised him as he aged and changed his style of play to become more responsible and tried to steer the team towards winning totals. And yet when he was younger they criticised him for not playing responsibly and getting the big scores his team needed. To be able to play as he did under those contradictory demands is unbelievable. Crowds still go wild when comes out to bat and when he gets out they go eerily quiet - the only time you ever hear silence in an Indian cricket ground.

There are too many wonderful innings to discuss but a few stand out in my memory as being extra special. His 241* no against Aus in 2004 at Sydney after a run of poor scores saved his place in the team. It was his first hundred for 14 months. He made 193 at Headingley against England in 2002 and formed a partnership with Sourav Ganguly that was so destructive that Nasser Hussain pleaded for bad light to save his fielders.

Other people will be moe eloquent than I have managed to be but basically at the end of the day all the plaudits and tributes are based around one fact - Tendulkar is brilliant.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Aussies in India

After a month of hype and build-up the series between India and Australia has started. The first two days have been tightly fought and the series looks like it may live up to the hype.

Ponting was magnificent on day one. His 123 was exactly what the team needed and just as importantly what he needed. His average of 12.7 in India has been well documented but let's remember that he missed the last series in 2004 and the series in 2001 was before he became the brilliant player that he is now. He was disciplined but not scared of playing his shots. I think he'll end up with plenty more runs in this series and on current form is likely to end up with the most runs in the history of the game.

Day two was the Hussey show. His ability to minimise risk and set up games for Australia is almost freakish and a test average of 70 is pretty much unbelievable. He doesn't play in the classical attcking way that we've come to expect from Australia but is effective anyway. Having had to wait so long for a chance at test level it's nice to see him doing so well.

India were average in the field apart from Zaheer Khan who got five wickets. Kumble started off badly with the ball but came back well and was unlucky not to have picked up any wickets. His captaincy was by the numbers, which may work against lesser teams but you need to have flair against Australia. A couple of odd bowling changes or field positions for a few overs may get you a wicket.

There is no good in the world of cricket

Bloody Kent. A few days after getting excited about Ryan McLaren playing for SA, I find out that Kent won't release him from his bloody contract. Apparently they've built the team around him and as they're now in Division 2 they need him.

McLaren was fairly daft to sign the contract in the first place but Kent are morally and ethically wrong. I don't care about the legal stuff - it's just nonsense frankly when it comes to Kolpaks. The guy has chosen to play for his country and the game's administrators should see that as the main aim of the game. In an ideal workd Kent's committee would remove their red horns and pointy tails, abandon their pitchforks, become human and reverse their decision. However I've probably got a better chance of being selected for SA than Kent releasing McLaren so I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, 6 October 2008

There is some good in the world of cricket

Sometimes in cricket things happen that just make you happy because they show that the game isn't all about the money and the fame. It can be about loving what you do and wanting to represent your country at the highest level.

The reason for my somewhat soppy post is the news that Ryan McLaren has chosen to play for South Africa. Those of you who don't watch or follow county cricket won't have heard of him but he is incredibly talented and currently plays for Kent as a Kolpak. He still has a Kent contract but by choosing to play for South Africa he is giving up an awful lot of money to "do the right thing".

In a world run by the BCCI, TV companies and sponsors with Twenty20 being pushed down our throats whether we want it or not, the fact that he has chosen to play for his country without any guarentee of a place or a national contract is gutsy, uplifting and just plain good. I hope he gets the time in team to prove himself and get the runs and wickets he is capable of getting.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Aussies get ready to take on India

The Aussies are getting ready to take on India in what should be an awesome test series. The Aussies are in transition from their glory days and the rest of the pack are catching up. The players appear to be dealing with this in their own ways.

Brett Lee - getting mean and moody after realising he has to single handedly bowl India out as Johnson is flaky, Jason Krejza has just been hit for 123 runs in 20 overs and Stuart Clark is likely to just plod away. Or else he's just heard the single he released with Asha Bhogle and realised how bad it actually is.

Bryce McGain - the pressure of being the saviour of Australian spin broke his shoulder leading to heartbreak for Ponting and JRod. I'd mock his selection but JRod had me convinced that he would be awesome and I was looking forward to seeing him play.

Ricky Ponting appears to have realised his team is somewhat less well prepared than last time and may not do as well as he wants. The obvious course of action when things get tough is to resort to his "I'm a tough Tassie who won't take any crap" persona (although the means of transport somewhat takes the edge off).

Come on October 9th... The random talking can stop and play will begin.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Players who take your breath away

Over on the Silly Point donthaveaclue has written about the 10 players who in his opinion annihilate attacks or rip through opposition batting line-ups. I started thinking about who would be in my top 10 and here's the list. Positions 2-10 are rather fluid and players move up and down depending on what mood I'm in.

10. Lance Klusener
In the one day game there have been few people who have been able to finish innings as well as Klusener. He particularly excelled when it came to performing in World Cups and dragged South Africa over the line on several occasions when they seemed down and out.

9. Kevin Pietersen
Switch hits for six, flamingo flicks through midwicket and the Red Bull single to get off the mark. The man is so special they have had to invent names forsome of his shots. He can score quickly in all forms of the game and has a habit of scoring big hundreds. His performances in his debut one day series against South Africa and in the 2005 Ashes are perfect examples of his ability to smash the ball around the ground no matter who is bowling.

8. Herschelle Gibbs
There are few players who would bat well enough for their team to be able to chase 434 in a one day game but Gibbs made 175 from 111 balls and South Africa beat Australia. He has played many innings in a similar fashion no matter what form of the game and the match situation but none better than that.

7. Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose
The ultimate double act. Opening bowlers for the West Indies and the last world class examples (for now) of their feted fast bowlers. 421 wickets between them in the 49 tests they played together shows how they were vital for the West Indies and their ability to continually pick up wickets. Both were genuinely quick and fantastic to watch.

6. Andrew Flintoff
He makes this list thanks to performances with the bat and ball. Highlights of his batting include the 2005 Ashes while his spell to Jacques Kallis at Edgbaston this year was breath-taking to watch.

5. Virender Sehwag
He has become hit and miss recently but still scores at a rate of 99 in one day cricket and 77 in test cricket. His triple hundred off 278 balls against South Africa in Chennai (2008) as well as his 309 against Pakistan in 2004 were wonderful examples of the shots he is capable of playing when in good form.

4. Shane Warne
There are too many unbelievable performances for me to go through. His spell in the 1999 World Cup against South Africa and 40 wickets in the 2005 Ashes are the two that stand out immediately. He made leg spin and cricket cool.

3. Allan Donald
There are few better sights in the game than watching stumps go flying and Donald did that a lot. He would always run in as fast as he could even when the game seemed lost and more often than not made something happen.

2. Sachin Tendulkar
Probably the greatest batsman since Bradman. He can hit balls for boundaries or sixes that lesser mortals would tap for a single or leave alone. 'Nuff said.

1. Adam Gilchrist
In case you hadn't worked it out yet, Gilchrist is my cricketing idol. I would get up at 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning just to watch him bat. Sometimes it would be worth it and other times he’d get out in about five mins after I’d stayed up for 3 hours waiting for him and I’d feel like crying (the only thing I love more than cricket is sleep lol). He was one of the main reasons that Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting could demand his team to try and score at 4 an over to give the bowlers time to bowl sides out twice.

His innings of 201* against South Africa in 2002 was exceptional as was his maiden Test hundred in a game that everyone said Australia couldn’t win. Even when he wasn’t in the greatest form he could tear attacks apart - his 57 ball hundred against England at Perth in 2007 being a great example. As an opener in one day cricket he could win games for Australia almost by himself as his innings in the 2007 World Cup final showed.

I’m waiting to find a player who can make me feel that way about the game again. Others such as Tendulkar come close in my opinion but Gilchrist was one of a kind - the first and so far only player I really idolised.

So that's that. Anyone I've missed or shouldn't have included in your opinion then comment away.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Bowlers and batsmen

The choice of spinners is equally rubbish. Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann - neither have performed particularly well all summer but have been chosen because the selectors chose to play safe. They could have picked the kid Adil Rashid who finished the season with 62 wickets at 30 compared to Swann with 30 at 26. Why not take a risk and pick a kid who has the potential to become a very good spinner.

The quicks chosen - Harmison, Anderson, Flintoff, Sidebottom and Broad are the obvious choices. They've performed well enough over the past few months and I have no problems with any of them making the squad.

The main positive about this squad is the inclusion of Owais Shah. He's played well in the Tests he has been selected for and managed to score runs while being shuffled up and down the order in one-day games. He is a better batsman that Ravi Bopara and has been harshly treated by the England management in previous seasons. Here's hoping he plays and does well.

England Play It Safe

England's squad for the Test series against India this winter is boring. Fact.

By offering Matt Prior and Tim Ambrose incremental contracts (contracts for people that the selectors don't really know what to with) they both have to be taken to India. Thanks to this ridiculous system James Foster has been left out again.

Foster has proved that he is the best keeper in the country this season and finished with a batting average of 50. There's not a whole lot more he can do to show the selectors how good he is. To not even get a place in the Performance squad shows the selectors have some sort of vendetta going on or else they are losing their minds.

The selection of a strong batting line up means that England don't even need a keeper who can score lots of hundreds - Foster will get runs at Test level and a few hundreds. In addition he will save hundreds of runs behind the stumps by taking nearly every chance the bowlers (quicks and spinners) create. The whole keeper situation is mad and there are suggestions of a closed Team England yet again - both Prior and Ambrose were at Sussex with England coach Peter Moores. (This leads to another interesting point - he spent years with the two of them and still doesn't know who is better?!?)

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Vaughan left out

Michael Vaughan has been told by the selectors that he hasn't done enough in county cricket to be given a place on the tour to India. In my opinion this is the right decision. In terms of Vaughan's form he has averaged 23 for Yorkshire this year and hasn't played a significant or substantial innings since his resignation as England captain.

The decision to leave him out would make things easier for KP as well. India is a difficult place to tour at the best of times and having Vaughan there in the background provides the potential for conflict. Vaughan has recently said that he won't get in KP's way but I think that when things go wrong (which they are likely to do at some point) the press and maybe the players would find it easy to say that under Vaughan, things would have been different.

The last tour of Australia in 2006-07 showed that Vaughan can make things difficult when he wants to. He followed Flintoff's England around Australia supposedly working on his fitness but having plenty to say to the press about how the team was going. The conflict between Flintoff, Fletcher and Vaughan was distracting for the players and was part of the reason England imploded so spectacularly and were whitewashed.

As for Vaughan, going away to play in South Africa, New Zealand or Australia this winter could give him the chance to play a series of innings, spend time in the middle, get his feet moving in time again and pick up some form. If he scored runs this winter the selectors would be likely to pick him for the England tour to the West Indies in order to see if he would be ready for the Ashes later in 2009. Vaughan's presence as a player in the Ashes would be wonderful to see - when in form he is one of the best batsmen around to watch and scores at a quick rate as well.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Bombs vs Money

I was going to write a bit about how Australia are touring India despite all the bombs actually going off but refused to tour Pakistan where the bombs haven't gone off but are threatening to go off. The obvious reason being money - India have it, Pakistan don't.

I'm not going to say much more though because JRod over on CWB summarises the whole thing much better than I could.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Essex win Pro40 Division 2

Essex beat Kent yesterday to secure the Division 2 title. As an Essex fan this is pretty awesome news especially coming so soon after we beat Kent to win the 50 0ver Friends Provident Trophy.

The current team are pretty young and have recovered well from losing many of their senior players over the past few years - Ronnie Irani, Darren Gough, Alex Tudor and Andy Flower being some of the main examples. Essex went from winning the Pro40 Division 1 title two years in a row to being relegated the next season so this recovery by the younger players is impressive.

Pettini has started to get a feel for the captaincy, Napier has really developed as a one-day player this year, James Foster has been brilliant behind the stumps again and the younger bowlers such as Maurice Chambers and Chris Wright have gained experience in all forms of the game. With a few older players around such as Grant Flower, the team should do well next year.

Paul Grayson has taken over as coach this year from Graham Gooch (who is still involved with the team) and in my opinion done brilliantly. The team have looked good in the field, have bowling plans which they stick to and the batsmen have played in partnerships. Long may it continue :)

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Smash and dash for cash

The England squad for Stanford tournament has been announced and there are no real surprises. The 15 lucky boys are: Kevin Pietersen (capt), James Anderson, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Stuart Broad, Paul Collingwood, Alastair Cook, Andrew Flintoff, Stephen Harmison, Samit Patel, Matt Prior (wk), Owais Shah, Graeme Swann, Ryan Sidebottom, Luke Wright.

The selectors appear to have decided to stick with the core of players that beat the South Africans pretty convincingly. While a logical thing to do it would have been nice to see a few fresh faces - Graham Napier being one of the most obvious choices and Rob Key and Joe Denly the others who may have been considered. Key and Denly have been a brilliant opening partnership for Kent and played a huge role in getting them to the Twenty20 cup final and almost winning it.

The problem with selecting "outsiders" is that the players who are currently in the team might throw a bit of a strop if denied the chance to win their $1 million. The rumours are already flying around that a promise of a place inthe squad was the reason for Harmison's sudden return to one-day cricket.

That's my main problem with this whole idea - money first, cricket second, which frankly is rubbish.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Round-up of stuff

I've been at a cousin's wedding for the past four days. For those of you who don't know about Hindu weddings that's not a typo - the whole wedding process takes days, involves hundreds of people including family members you have never met but know everything abut you, lots of food but no meat (which some would say is a bit oxymoronic) and dancing.

While I was away things have appeared to continue along the same patterns as before.

Australia beat Bangladesh again - surprise! you didn't see that coming did you?

Surrey have had a shocking season so far and are now so inept they couldn't even get Shoaib Akhtar the right visa. As an born-and-bred Essex fan I'm feeling a little smug :)

The ICC continues to be incompetant, leaderless and a waste of space - the most recent Orwellian style double-speak statement from them says that the spirit of the game hasn't worsened,bad behaviour is just more visible. Surely it's more visible because players are doing more things that are against the spirit of the game...

New Road at Wocester has flooded again - surely it's time to move now. Flooding every year for the last 2 0r 3 years has cost the club a small fortune. As counties are running out of money doing thing like paying wages, having to spend money on cleaning up the ground every year must be causing problems. They spent close to £1 million cleaning up last year and made a loss of almost £700,000.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Come on Tigers

Poor Bangladesh. Turn up in Australia and get given games in Darwin. Don't get me wrong - been there and it's quite a nice town but it's not exactly the same as playing at the SCG.

I was hoping for a repeat of Cardiff 2005 at least once in this series. Being a fan of England over the years means I'm a big supporter of the under-dogs. With Ponting, Lee, Symonds and Hayden absent for various reasons and the talent in the Bangladesh batting line-up (Ashraful and Iqbal) and their experienced bowlers (Kapali and Mortaza) it was a possibility that they could win one.

Unfortunately they have been hammered. The batsmen have looked confused by the Aussie pacemen and their bowlers were given no chance in the last game where they had to defend 117. On top of that they've made Michael Clarke look good as captain. While I don't find him quite as irritating as Miss Field does he's not my favourite person in world cricket. So come on Bangladesh!

Stupid weather and Cardiff

What a surprise. It's raining in Cardiff. The final one-day game looks like it's going to be a draw unless the weather improves rather quickly. If it is a draw then England move to 3rd in the rankings which is rather good for a team that couldn't play the game a few weeks ago.

Cardiff is also the ground which will host the first Ashes test next year. There are no understandable or logical reasons for this. Maybe the ECB is hoping the guaranteed rubbish weather - clouds, dew - will make the ball swing so we can tear through the Aussie batting line up again. Maybe they're hoping the Aussies will be so depressed at having to spend a week in Cardiff that they'll play like they did when they lost in 2005. Who knows? Wouldn't bet against England being 1-0 up after Cardiff though.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Hints for Stanford series?

England fans got an early look at the possible tactics of our Twenty-20 batsmen in the Stanford trophy later this year, as the one-day game against South Africa was shortened due to rain and became a 20 over run chase.

While the openers appeared to get a little carried away with the idea of scoring boundaries and managed to get themselves out, Owais Shah, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff showed that the middle order have the ability to improvise, take advantage of poor deliveries and manage a run chase. Flintoff in particular looks in fantastic form and played with maturity. Since coming back from injury he has played himself in and then looked to start swinging instead of swinging every ball and hoping it worked. His confidence with the ball appears to be helping him with the bat.

Bring on the West Indians and Middlesex!

Trescothick leading from the front

Interesting interview with Marcus Trescothick on Sky this morning. Michael Atherton has read Tresco's book and described it as "brutally honest" and quite intense in its description of the struggles Tresco faced while on tour in 2006/07 and beyond.

Tresco himself said that if someone suffering from something similar took some encouragement from the book then he would be chuffed but that it wasn't intended as a self-help book. The fact that professional cricketers can come out and talk publicly about mental illnesses is a positive move for cricket and for people in general. From a personal note as a medical student, honesty like this can only be helpful in encouraging people to come forward and be diagnosed. To know that they are ill and can be helped rather than feeling that they have to hide away and feel stigmatised.

As the world becomes more demanding and players are put under increased pressure to perform and be role models as well as having personal lives I think that cases such as Trescothick's are going to become more common. To become a professional cricketer many of these players have concentrated on cricket to the exclusion or detriment of other aspects of their lives. Cases such as Trescothick and Lou Vincent show the importance of players having some time off to develop other interests.

As an opening batsman Trescothick lead from the front, set the tone and showed others how to play. By opening up about his depression he is leading the way in raising general awareness about the effects of mental illnesses, which is even more admirable.

Symonds and Aussie over-reaction

Andy Symonds is apparently thinking about his international future after being sent home from the one-day series in Darwin. Does this appear to be an over-reaction to anyone else? He missed a team meeting that he wasn't aware of to go and relax before the one-day series against Bangladesh started.

No pedalos, no drugs, no racism and yet the team's administration ripped into him. This appears to be a response to all the other events that have happened in his career - getting drunk before the game against Bangladesh in Cardiff and the confrontation at a nightclub in SA while on tour. He may not play against SA this winter but should they do less well than expected I'll bet he'll be in the team for the Ashes in 2009.

Friday, 29 August 2008

England's keeper issue

The one-day team appear to be happy with Matt Prior and based on his performances so far I think he's doing a good job. He has kept well so far, most noticeably at Trent Bridge where he took 6 catches in the game equalling the record for most catches in an ODI by a keeper. His batting appears to have the same problem as last time, in that he gets in and hits the ball around for 30 0r 40 runs and then finds a way to get out.

In this current opening partnership that's not a real problem as Ian Bell is finding his feet and looks as if he can start to play the anchor role that allows Prior to go play his shots. Should Bell's promise prove to be another false hope (we appear to have been hoping for his transformation into a batsman who can play substantial innings for over 2 years) then his approach may need reconsidering.

The test keeper is a more interesting issue. The best gloveman in the country is James Foster. The Sky commentators have a bit of a love-in with Foster but the fact is that he performs in every game he plays and gives confidence to the slips around him. First slip knows which edges Foster will go after and which he won't, meaning you rarely get an edge passing between the two of them. The bowlers feel confident that the chances they create will be taken.

England's obsession with finding an English Adam Gilchrist has led to a ridiculous turnover of keepers in the last 5 years - keepers are chosen based upon their ability with the bat. They invariably go through a bad series with the bat, which affects their keeping and leads to them being dropped for not taking all the chances. I would rather have a keeper who took all the chances created by the bowlers and made 30 every game, than a keeper who dropped a couple and occasionally got a big score with the bat. If the top order batsmen did their jobs you wouldn't be so desperate for the keeper to make big scores - his runs would be a bonus. With Flintoff and Broad in the team and scoring runs, the keeper doesn't have to be capable of scoring hundreds every game.

Foster averages 35 in his first class career. He is more than capable of making consistent runs at Test level and may get a couple of hundreds much like Mark Boucher. When added to his keeping ability he is the obvious candidate for the test spot and deserves another go at international cricket. Having scored 2 hundreds in his last 2 first class games, he is giving the selectors a nudge ahead of this winter's tour to India, a place where you need a very good keeper.

A soft spot for South Africa

I'm going to come out and admit that I have a soft spot for the SA team. So despite enjoying England's performances so far and wanting them to win the series, a little part of me is sulking due to SA general ineptness in the one day series so far.

Their performances for the past 18 months have made them on of the better teams to watch - attacking batsmen and bowlers, a captain prepared to take some risks and some exceptional fielders (AB de Villiers being the main example). This series should have been thrilling to watch with Smith and Gibbs against Harmison and Anderson being one of the prime highlights.

I realise that the Test series was the main aim for the Saffers (and thank heavens for that - proof that Test cricket is not going to crumble and fade under the crazy volumes of Twenty20 being played), but surely it can't be that hard to motivate yourselves to perform for a series that would have given them the chance to become the number one team in the world. They have been unlucky with injuries - both Morkels, Steyn coming back from a broken thumb and now the loss of Smith with tennis elbow. The squad appears to have enough batting depth with the return of Gibbs and introduction of Duminy into the starting 11 but lacks world-class backup bowlers.

Unless they pull themselves together today at the Oval this series will be lost. As England are currently 126-1 after 20 overs, losing the series appears to be the most likely outcome. The winter series against Australia was supposed to be the battle between the best two teams in the world - based on their performaces here SA have a lot of work to do to make that series competitive. They'll need a fully fit team and the mental strength to get over what has been a sequence of shocking performances.

ETA: SA are fighting back and have England 159-4 after 28 overs. By 6pm tonight this post may be mostly irrelevant.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Quick Rant

Woke up this morning expecting to watch Eng vs SA on Bank Holiday Monday only to find out the game is actually tomorrow. Four of the games in this 5 match series are on weekdays - have the ECB forgotten that people have to go to work?

On top of making it difficult for people to actually get to the game they have also started charging outlandish and downright ridiculous prices for tickets. A family of 4 would need to pay £200 on average to go to a game together, which in this credit-crunch world is insane. Add in the fact that cricket in the UK is not shown on terrestial TV anymore and the chances of kids getting into the game are becoming smaller and smaller. They have to settle for a 45min highlights package on 5, which while shiny and action packed is too short for people to get a proper feel for the game. The point of the Sky TV deal and all the "Team England" sponsorship (Hugo Boss anyone?) was to bring more money into the game for the counties and grassroots - surely some could be used to subsidise ticket prices.

Friday, 22 August 2008

England's one day adventures

Having spent 21 years of my life watching cricket I thought it was about time I did something else. So now I'm writing about it.

England's performance tonight was good on the surface but despite the win the underlying faults remain. Ian Bell continues to frustrate - someone of his talent simply should be getting more runs while Matt Prior continues to find novel ways of getting himself out. The reliance on KP and Flintoff to accelerate in the later stages of the game works well in England but else where such as the subcontinent or games played during the day without floodlights they will need a more attacking start. Having said all that I think England need to stick with Bell and Prior for at least a few series in a row. They need to work out how to bat at the top of the order and how to bat together, which takes time. They managed to provide a reasonable start tonight even when looking scrappy at points.

The bowlers seemed to work well as a unit with Harmison's return taking some of the pressure off Flintoff. Broad remains a problem with the ball - he'll only learn by playing but has appeared ineffective all summer despite the obvious advantages of his height and reasonable pace. KP's bowling changes were astute throughout the game and this team is most definitely taking on his character. The rest of the series will be interesting as SA will have expected to win this series and should perform better in the next game. England will be full of confidence and the rest of the series should be tight.