Monthly Archives: February 2009

England do their bit for Comic Relief

With England tottering at 25 for seven in Jamaica and  the home supporters carnivaling like it’s 2009, the Sky cameras switched to the man leading the new era, Andrew Strauss, on the team balcony. Alongside, fellow opener Alistair Cook, he was laughing. A few minutes later, Flintoff and Ryan Sidebottom met in mid-pitch for a between-overs conference, and also seemed to be sharing a joke.

Had I missed something? Was something funny happening? Yes, that was it, England were obviously batting for Comic Relief. But no. I was quickly assured that isn’t until March 13 and none of the players had pre-recorded an appeal for starving children in Africa.

OK, so had I pressed the wrong numbers on my remote and hit Richard Hammond in the middle of Total Wipeout. But no, it wasn’t that either.

It was reality; the same sort of reality that descended on Port-of-Spain in 1994, Adelaide in 2006 and, probably, Sydney, in January 1887 when England plummeted to what remains their lowest score in Test cricket: 45.

Yet, if you look at the scorecard for that Test at the SCG, you discover something quite remarkable, and which puts the 51 that they cobbled together in the 33.2 overs of  their second innings today, into an even worse light: they won that game.

Shocking as this defeat was, I was filled with one moment of clarity: while this was dreadful for England, this was great for cricket. We can pull apart the England batting, Cook’s inability to get properly forward to an innocuous full length ball – I won’t remind the Reverse Sweep regular reader that I’ve been going on about this technical fault in the Essex opener’s batting for more than three years – Pietersen trying to push an off-side  yorker through the leg side, Matthew Prior failing to read a slower ball cutter, and public enemy No1 Ian Bell’s inability to execute a straightforward square cut two balls before lunch.

No, I’d rather concentrate on the joy outpouring from Sabina Park at a destructive spell from Jerome Taylor, excellent probing from Sulieman Benn and the sensible batting from their tail as well as their top order, and pray that it spreads throughout the Caribbean and gives the game the kind of impetus that many thought the Stanford Millions win would bring.

Certainly, England can still win the series, but the bowling attack perhaps more than the batting needs a kick up the backside. Steve Harmison can no longer continue to perform in one game – as he did when brought back against South Africa at the Oval for the final Test last summer – and then return to his mediocre self for the next several matches.

Monty Panesar needs to develop an arm ball, but more pertinently, the skill of tossing the ball up above the eye line which still dips enough to be testing to the batsman pressing on to the front foot. And Sidebottom needs to get fitter.

But the main trouble with England, as Nasser Hussain pointed out almost in a throwaway remark during the lunch interval, is that nobody in the team is improving, perhaps except KP, and he doesn’t need to improve too much.

Now I’m off to read the opinions on the rest of the blogosphere before the fury coming from no doubt angry and humiliated English authors sends it into meltdown.

ANYONE wishing to read a view of the Adelaide debacle should go and buy this

ANYONE wishing to read about England’s worst collapses, including Trinidad in 1994 should go and buy this


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Umpires get benefit of the doubt – for now

Cricket took a turn down a new avenue today when England became the latest guinea pigs in the referral system. So now we have a situation in which in any given situation the umpire must give the batsman the benefit of the doubt and if a player requests that the decision be  processed further upstairs, the third umpire must give the standing umpire the benefit of the doubt.

All of this is leaving me in a certain amount of doubt of the benefits of such a policy.

It hasn’t been seen yet in the Test in Jamaica because spinners have predominated, certainly while England were at the crease, but  the time delay while the off-field arbiter makes up his mind to his greatest satisfaction is surely going to have a disastrous effect upon already miserly over-rates.

Not to mention the long-term effect it’s going to have on the elite umpires. Tony Hill was the man who came most intently under the microscope on the second day at Sabina Park, proving to have got two decisions wrong, one in the affirmative and one in the negative. It can surely be only a matter of time before some insensitive sports editor starts printing statistics of an individual umpire’s rights and wrongs; if the officials thought they had been under pressure up to now, the critical articles that so easily flow from the  computers of the sport’s media will be backed up by uncomfortable facts in black and white.

Maybe we just have to wait for the whole situation to settle down. I only took up my position in front of the television shortly after lunch and in the course of the next hour and a half I had seen four referrals. Talk aboutextracting the excitement of immediacy  from the game. Yet, once England had seen their appeal for Ramnaresh Sarwan’s lbw to Harmison overturned, they showed a marked reluctance to use up their remaining bonus ball, as it were, in the process perhaps pausing to think that some of their appeals were basically unnecessary.

If a reduction in appeals is the end product of all this uncertainty, that is something that will be to everyone’s benefit, players, officials and spectators alike.

ABOUT 75 minutes into England’s innings on Wednesday, Sulieman Benn was, perhaps unexpectedly, brought into the attack. On a Sabina Park square that only 11 years ago was causing the abandonment of a West Indies-England Test match on the first morning because of  the dangerous and unpredictable bounce the West Indies bowlers were finding, he looped his first ball towards Kevin Pietersen and watched with delight as it pitched, bounced, spat and turned a foot past the batsman’s outside edge.
Four of the following five balls did something very similar, to the point that if the spirit of Shane Warne had been ripped from its owner while he went about his daily duties in Melbourne, secreted across a variety of international borders by a spinning craft that officially only exists in the annals of US government classified papers and then inserted by some dark alchemy into a lanky finger spinner from St James in Barbados, I could not have been more surprised.
Sometimes, the ball deviated from its path to the extent that Pietersen looked ridiculous even trying to make contact with it.
Chris Gayle certainly liked what he saw, and proceeded to fool the innocent Ian Bell into playing for dramatic turn and edging a straight one to first slip.
Alarming as it was, I’m sure I was not the only one who sat back with some satisfaction and looked forward 24 hours to the havoc that England’s alleged leading spinner would wreak on a supposedly brittle West Indies batting line-up.
The first ball from Monty was a flat, straightish one, which Sarwan pushed forward to, no hint of turn. Four of the following five balls were of similar substance. Hey, we thought, the Sikh of Tweak is playing with them. Any minute now, he’ll give one just a touch more air (only a touch, mind you, because Monty does not go to extremes) and it will rip mercilessly past Sarwan’s outside edge.
Hey presto, it did. But in 14 more overs, from either end, perhaps only a handful of deliveries did the same. It had you crying out for the variations of Pietersen and, belately, we got them. It wasn’t subtle as he threw two of his three balls so skyward that had he been a few degrees of latitude further north they would have come back down with snow on them, but contained in their delivery was a strong message for the Northamptonshire left-armer.
Give the bloody ball some air.
So, KP went for a couple of fours, but once he got the left-hander in Gayle down his end, he induced enough magic from the revolving ball to whistle past his edge and complete a maiden.
Of course, this is not the first time that Panesar’s lack of variety has been called into question and it was a depressing performance from a man not so long ago compared with the great Bishen Bedi, even though the Windies second-wicket pair batted with care and control.
But, World Religious Leaders on a Bike, this was dreadful.

Bizarrely by the end, Matt Prior was telling Nasser Hussain how well Monty had been bowling, suggesting he just needs a bit of luck. It had better come soon, or Monty won’t only not be the best left-arm spinner in England, he won’t be the best left-arm spinner in his family.

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Jamaica’s bunsen burner puts Australia to back of my mind

In the excitement of witnessing the unearthing of a Jamaican wicket that turns square within the first 75 minutes of its use – and the many and varied attempts of England’s top order trying to come to terms with it – the announcement of Australia’s squad to tour South Africa for the three-Test series almost slipped by me.

But a quick read of cricinfo has put me back on an even keel and able to pass rather personal and inexpert judgment on those who will try to stop Graeme Smith’s men taking over the No1 spot in the Test rankings.

While on the one hand, it is an inexperienced squad, it also contains one of the oldest potential debutants in Bryce McGain. Even if the leg spinner proves to not quite have the pedigree to step into Shane Warne’s boots, it will be to the English cricket public’s gain shoud he show he has enough to lace them.

I say my judgment is “inexpert” because, barring a clip from YouTube that I think J-Rod of Cricket With Balls fame posted on his facebook page, I’ve never seen McGain turn his arm over. A bad tour of South Africa, and we will have to endure the rather less emphatic finger tweaking of Nathan Hauritz, who not long ago was considered about the third best off spinner down under.

I’m glad to see Doug Bollinger get another chance, if only because anyone who’s prepared to give 150 per cent to his country, as he announced he was before the Test in Sydney, deserves one. There is an argument that there shouldn’t be room for another left-armer, especially one without the express pace of Mitchell Johnson, but that is a spurious argument: most attacks don’t get by on one right-armed paceman, after all.

Besides Bollinger looked a game competitor in his outing at the SCG, his easy action in which the ball seems to gain pace rather than lose it on contact with the pitch providing a nice contrast to Johnson’s somewhat stiffer approach. And, in any case, he looks a bit of a grumpy bastard, which is what we all want and expect from an Aussie quickie.

Where I might depart from Andrew Hilditch’s selection panel is in the inclusion of Ben Hilfenhaus ahead of Shaun Tait. Tait is inconsistent and can be expensive, but he can be explosively fast, a potential match-winner on his day. I had hoped to see him in England this summer – he was a much improved bowler than the one we saw in the 2005 Ashes before he took soem prolonged rest from the game – but I fear exclusion from this touring team, and with Stuart Clark and Brett Lee to return, I guess I’ll just have to put up with the disappointment.

On the batting front, the inclusion of Phillip Hughes is an interesting one, giving him a great opportunity to cement his place at the top of the order for the Ashes. But again, I’ve yet to see him in action, and Phil Jaques might be feeling a bit miffed. That said, if Hughes fails to impress, the New South Wales left-hander will be hopeful of making the trip to England.

Anyway, taking all this into account, I thought I’d select the starting XI I’d like to see Australia field in Cardiff in July. Much depends on Mitchell Johnson’s batting to continue developing, but I think it could work. Feel free to disagree with me, of course, and add your own.

1 Simon Katich

2 Phil Jaques

3 Ricky Ponting

4 Mike Hussey

5 Michael Clarke

6 Brad Haddin

7 Mitchell Johnson

8 Brett Lee

9 Stuart Clark

10 Bryce McGain

11 Shaun Tait





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