Monthly Archives: July 2008

Dear Mr Miller – are you having a laugh?

Question to the England selectors. What would have been wrong with this team?

1 Strauss

2 Cook

3 Vaughan

4 Pietersen

5 Bell

6 Collingwood

7 Flintoff

8 Ambrose

9 Broad

10 Panesar

11 Anderson

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There’s cheating and then there’s…..AB de Villiers

Well, that was some morning of Test cricket, wasn’t it: an awful umpiring decision – not to mention the no-balls that were missed by Mr Bowden – a great ball to dismiss Vaughanie and a controversial catch that wasn’t.

I must admit when Strauss edged Morkel, my immediate reaction was that the ball did not have enough pace on it to carry, but suddenly Sky switched to a wider angle and there was AB de Villiers holding the ball aloft with all his team-mates running round to congratulate him.

The slow motion replay showed that it was one of the least convincing attempts to hoodwink an umpire (even if Billy doesn’t need much hoodwinking) I’ve ever seen. However, it would be too simple to call De Villiers a cheat.

For AB, I have been there too, if at a much lower level and without the cameras to reveal my dishonesty.

I was fielding at extra cover in club cricket one afternoon when an opposing batsman carved the ball towards me. I dived forward, the ball rolled up my arms and after it touched the ground under my chest, somehow ended up balanced on the top of my wrists and forearms. I wasn’t going to claim it, but as I looked up, a number of my team-mates came running towards me, delight on their faces and all keen to congratulate me on pouching a good ‘un.

I knew it wasn’t out, but I didn’t want to let them down, so I simply carried on as if I had caught it. The batsman, who had had a better view, wasn’t so convinced and, after he was confirmed out by the umpire, walked off ranting and raving and then proceeded to verbally abuse me from the boundary edge for the rest of the innings.

Which, in retrospect, I think he was well within his rights to do.

So, if we’re being kind, let’s say that this was what happened to De Villiers at third slip; Mark Boucher and Graeme Smith started celebrating and Morne Morkel, naturally, was convinced. It would have been hard for him to admit that it had gone into his right hand, rebounded out on to the ground into his left and that he had then seemingly pressed it back into the ground as he got up to claim it.

Otherwise, he must have known that the replays would condemn him.

Although, maybe he just didn’t care. And if so, perhaps the match referee should have something to say about this.

And even if he doesn’t, I think there should be a rule that consigns AB to field on the boundary in front of the Western Terrace for the rest of the innings. After that sort of experience, he’ll make sure the ball is well and truly wedged in his hands before making a friendly request of the umpire.

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Miller’s future should be riding on bizarre selection

Bizarre! That’s the only thing you can say about Darren Pattinson’s selection for the second Test this morning. His inclusion in the initial 30-man squad for the Champions Trophy lifted my eyebrows heaven-ward a few weeks ago, but this has to be the biggest kick in the teeth for some hardworking fast medium bowlers in the English first-class game.

Pattinson, it appears, is not actually Australian – he was born in Grimsby – but until this year he had played all his first-class cricket Down Under, plucked seemingly from obscurity by Victoria in 2006 when they were hit by a spate of injuries, and then earned a contract for 2007.

Now, after some impressive performances for Nottinghamshire, he finds himself brought in ahead of such luminaries as Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison, both of whom have not been bowling badly for their counties, and honest triers such as Steve Kirby and Graham Onions, who appeared to be in Geoff Miller’s thoughts at the beginning of the season when they were called up for the MCC match against the champion county. Not to mention Chris Tremlett.

Maybe Miller has seen something not many others of us have  – I have to admit I have not seen Pattinson play – and he thought it important to lay claim to him in case the Aussies were having thoughts about including him for next year’s Ashes, but the length of  his tenure as the chief selector may ride on this hunch.

I know that these days nationality is a changeable commodity, but I’d be interested to hear what accent was prominent when he was being introduced to his team-mates in the England dressing-room this morning: one more regularly heard in Cleethorpes or Melbourne.

Of course, if he picks up six wickets I shall be lauding Mr Miller and congratulating him heartily on unearthing a diamond from the other side of the world.

But, leaving aside national loyalties, something about this just doesn’t taste right.

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Tubby or not tubby: fatty batters face off in historic clash of the tight ‘uns

Every once in a while – well, about every once in a year to be exact – Reverse Sweep likes to climb into a small hole in his bedroom wall, wherein lies a repository of all things he doesn’t want to keep on show, or doesn’t have space for in other parts of Reverse Sweep Manor. Some people might refer to it as an attic.

There, under a dusty old Christmas tree, a discarded portable television that no longer works and an enormous antique cabinet bequeathed to an ex-girlfriend by her grandmother but which now fails to pass muster in her interior design grand plan, lies, squashed and seemingly unloved, his former pride and joy – a cavernous Easton cricket bag.

Grabbing hold of its shoulder strap, and without moving any of the aforementioned impediments that would afford him easier access to its contents, he stumbles about, huffing and puffing, banging various parts of his anatomy in the dark, confined space, finding his face occasionally cloaked in cobwebs.

Eventually, after 15 minutes of effort that has sent a Masuri cricket helmet – minus grille – crashing through two of the glass panels on the antique cabinet, rendering it worthless, he gives the bag one final exasperated tug and frees it, overbalancing back out into the bedroom, where a pair of Duncan Fearnley gloves, Gunn and Moore pads and one of those abdominal protectors with the padded perimeters (he has used the pink ones but painful experience has taught him that they don’t always do the job demanded of them) come to rest on his prone, yet surprisingly triumphant, form.

But his delight at this achievement is like nothing compared with the moment when he delves deep into the recesses of the bag and fishes out his magic wand – the handmade Millichamp & Hall bat that has served him so well in the past and which, like a rare and fragile Stradivarius, never fails to win admiring glances and gasps of awe when it is brought out in polite company.

Or even impolite company. Which is as good a way as any of describing a group of tubby Yorkshiremen, beards, bald heads and bulging diaphragms worn like badges of membership of a rather exclusive club, assembling on a damp field at the back of a psychiatric hospital, preparing for the next instalment of a historic cricket rivalry stretching back at least – um – three years.

Because this is the annual match between the JB All-Stars (or No-Stars as they are often more lovingly known) and the Wellington Invitational XI.

The Wellie – as they are more lovingly known – are formed from a bunch of chaps of dubious character and morals who used to frequent the Wellington Inn, a pub incongruously situated down a residential side street among a string of terraced houses little more than a rather pathetic relayed return from long leg from the University of York.

As Dan’s York Pub Guide (www.danieljackson.co.uk/pubs/pub/Wellington) points out, it has the added bonus of serving probably the north of England’s cheapest pint at around £1.30 a shout.

Frequented, that is, until a new landlady raised objections to them arriving at the end of a game and expecting to have their thirsts quenched en masse, and barred them. Now, the Wellie are a pub side without a pub.

And the Wellie is a pub without customers.

The JB All-Stars have no such illustrious history. Formed originally as the Fathers 4 Lager in an attempt at solidarity with Fathers 4 Justice, the civil rights movement whose members are usually discovered in a superhero’s clothing on the top ledge of a government building, they changed their name when it was realised that not all the players were fathers and one or two preferred a healthy orange juice and lemonade to downing copious amounts of alcohol at the end of a hard afternoon’s cricket.

Of course, any delight of Reverse Sweep – who, after hours of tense negotiations is officially named the fifth tubbiest man on display – at being back on the greensward is tempered by the realisation that he has to bat first on a pitch that couldn’t be more of a “sticky dog” if it was to roll around in a vat of toffee from the nearby former Rowntree factory and wave its paws in the air.

Furthermore, over the preceding years of sporting inactivity, he has developed an alarming lower back problem that reveals itself most obviously when he bends slightly to take guard and then finds he cannot straighten himself again.

His opening partner is none other than JB himself, officially the least tubby man on display; officially, in fact, the least tubby man on the planet, he makes Billy Bowden’s index finger look a bit porky.

The pair, pals now for 14 years since they trooped wearily to and fro a dilapidated Brisbane hostel to watch England get mullered at the Gabba over five demoralising days, have never batted together but JB is after glory by association: having doubted Reverse Sweep’s batting prowess for 11 years of their acquaintance, he later reveals he originally arranged the fixture purely to satisfy his curiosity as to whether the blogger could “walk the walk as well as talk the talk”, and now wants to claim bragging rights that he opened the batting with someone who once faced Devon Malcolm (for three balls).

Unfortunately for JB, though, it is he who seems unable to “walk the walk”: only an hour after claiming in his kitchen that he was going to “smack anything that isn’t right on the stumps” he finds himself becalmed by the slowness of the pitch and an outfield so lush that, shortly after the tea interval, two missing manic depressives are discovered frolicking in the undergrowth close to third man.

After four overs, the JBers are 0 for 0. This would not be such a problem if the game was not limited to 40 overs a side. Something has to give, and it does: JB’s knee, still recovering from keyhole surgery after supporting his stick-like frame around most of the half-marathons of Western Europe, clicks alarmingly and, deprived of foot movement (or maybe he always bats like this) he is forced to improvise.

A ball outside leg stump is dispatched straight to the boundary, a full length delivery scooped over square leg with the laissez-faire of a Kevin Pietersen switch-shot. And then it’s all over. JB departs for 16 – his share of an opening stand of 37.

Reverse Sweep, however, labours on, benefiting from being dropped on nought with one of his languid flicks to square leg, defying all medical logic to reach his fifty, at which point he has to retire. Or die.

With some lusty hitting of full tosses from the JBers’ Loughborough University Centre of Cricket Excellence ringer, they finish on 161 and over a tea which is mainly wolfed down by an enormous greyhound that seems to have been crossed with a Labrador in some ghastly university science lab experiment gone wrong, it is agreed that this could be their year.

Within two overs, the Wellie are struggling at nine for three, Taff, someone’s next-door neighbour’s visiting cousin called up at the last moment, claiming two of the victims. But JB’s next-door neighbour is the real danger and, in a cunning tactical manoeuvre, he is allowed to get to his annual fifty and has to retire.

As the overs run down and the run rate increases, JB is persuaded to bring himself on; it is at this point that the assembled audience bears witness to what will without doubt rank as the single worst umpiring decision to be recorded in cricket’s long and sordid archives. The unfortunate recipient is the Wellie wicketkeeper, who earlier in the day has lost his one remaining tooth, knocked out as he tries to gather a wayward off break.

The batsman starts his run down the wicket almost before JB has turned to begin his run-up and when the resulting delivery hits him on the pads on the full he is almost close enough to shake hands with the bowler. Nevertheless, there is an appeal, although later no one admits to being the culprit, and the Wellie’s own umpire raises his finger. Most think he’s having a joke, but no, the decision stands and the batsman accepts it with the grace of Mother Theresa.

And a toothless grin.

From then on in, the result is never in doubt and the JBers and remaining Wellies go to the pub for a drink. The Victoria Arms.

* For those eager to see him in action, Reverse Sweep will next be appearing in flannels at a manor house somewhere in Essex as part of Line and Length’s charity XI against the PG Wodehouse Society. If he’s got his breath back.

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Bell finds perfect pitch in KP’s chorus

Well, Kevin Pietersen shows again that he’s never more dangerous than when he almost gets run out getting off the mark. A masterful innings against the “country of his birth” as the Sky commentators keep referring to his opponents.

But a lot of credit must also go to Ian Bell, who came into this game with his place under threat despite the fact that he’s the most glorious batsman to watch in action in the England top six – except perhaps when Vaughanie’s at his cover-driving, swivel-pulling best- and went off at a right old rate, giving the team momentum just when it was necessary after the fall of three quick wickets before seamlessly slipping back into the chorus once Pietersen found his voice.

It’s to be hoped that Bell can go on tomorrow and reach the hundred he deserves and which all of us who salivate when he’s on top of his game switch on to see.

The only bloke I feel sorry for is Owais Shah. Every time he thinks he might be back in with a chance of proving his worth over a period of games, the man whose place is most under pressure comes up trumps.

And if Collingwood fails, it looks like his place has been earmarked for the returning Andrew Flintoff.

South Africa will probably feel a bit down about their bowling performances today but they have too many talented individuals not to come good at some point in this series – and will be a handful on pitches offering a little bit more to their pacemen. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised to see them run through England at least once – let’s just hope, after the good start today, it’s not tomorrow

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Haigh-ho, there’s a silver lining to Colly-sion

I’ve been putting it off, but I’ve finally got down to it; yes, I’ve finally read Gideon Haigh’s piece on cricinfo about the Collingwood/Sidebottom/Elliott run-out controversy. I try not to read his stuff too regularly because it always makes me feel inadequate. An example: in the first paragraph he uses two words that I’ve had to look up – and I thought I was reasonably well-educated. If you haven’t been there yet, the offending words are “rusticated”, as in “Collingwood has been rusticated to a county game” for his tardiness in over rates etc etc, and “condign” as in “but some see his punishment as morally condign.”

Anyway, having leapt that particular hurdle, it seems that the main tone of the article is not so much the moral rights and wrongs of Collingwood in not withdrawing his appeal, but more a treatise on who – batsman or bowler and fielder – has the right of way in the circumstances that unfolded at The Oval, and its implications for the Spirit of Cricket.

He passes on Geoff Boycott’s anecdote from his own experience, which the Yorkshireman suggested showed how standards had fallen: he was batting with Fred Titmus when the spinner was involved in a mid-pitch collision with Neil Hawke and Wally Grout, the Australian wicketkeeper at the time, refrained from removing the bails.

But for every good action there is a bad one and if you need an example that Collingwood’s behaviour was not the natural result of our decaying society, I have one for you.

Roy Marshall was batting for Hampshire in the second innings of their match against Glamorgan at Cardiff in July 1965. Taking off for the run that would have brought him his half-century, he slipped in mid-single, pulling a thigh muscle. As he tried to crawl to his crease, Don Shepherd, apologetically according to a reporter who was there, whipped off the bails – and Glamorgan weren’t even in with a chance of winning.

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We don’t know what we’re doing – but when will we?

The graph provided by the clever people at WordPress that informs me how many people have been logging on to this site has been showing a bit of a downward curve of late – actually a downward plummet would be more accurate. Think nosedive, crash, plunge. Crunch, even – perhaps I should get on to the Bank of England.

Possibly, though, I’d like to think definitely, that’s because I’ve taken a bit of a Sabbatical in a desperate attempt to find someone who will actually pay me for my thoughts. There is some movement on that front so maybe I’ll be a more frequent visitor to my own blog in the not-too-distant future.

I’m presently – and have been doing for a week or so now – trying to work out how a Test Championship might actually be a going concern and when I’ve worked it out I’ll get back to you, but I can’t help feeling that at the very least it’s going to mean an extraordinary disruption and renegotiation of much-loved series, although of course it’s questionable whether those exist much beyond the Ashes these days. India/Australia? The odd series involving South Africa?

Anyway, will, even, the Ashes of 2010 go ahead in its present form? According to the ICC’s Future Tours Programme, there will be five Tests – not the six that the Aussies wanted, which means poor, neglected Hobart will almost certainly and unfairly miss out again, although, on the plus side, they won’t be able to beat us 6-0 – the formats of other series are seemingly up for grabs.

So far, the length and split between Tests and one-day internationals (of the short or very short variety) in series involving England in South Africa, West Indies and Pakistan in Australia, Australia in New Zealand and South Africa in India early in 2010 – and among plenty of others – have not been decided.

No doubt we’ll have to wait for everyone to get their heads around what’s happening with the IPL and associated Stanford-inspired spin-offs. But it’s all a mite confusing. I mean, I’m already planning for England’s tour to Bangladesh in January 2012 (by which time, I’m counting on Bangladesh being truly a world cricket force) and I want to get in early to get a dirt cheap price on business class with a budget airline.

I know that James Sutherland has recently spoken out in favour of a Test Championship, but no one has given the slightest indication of how it might be conceived. Could it be that even the greatest minds in the game are having trouble dealing with the complexities that will undoubtedly result?

And, incidentally, can it really be true that prior to the Ashes 2010, Australia are scheduled to pop over to England to play FIVE one-day internationals and nowt else?

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