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.