Monday, 27 June 2011

Azhar the man for Kent, England v Sri Lanka brief preview

Where would Kent's Twenty20 season be without their Pakistan connection? If it's not Wahab Riaz winning them games then it's Azhar Mahmood. Azhar has hit a rich vein of form, it seems, with bat in hand. Put this together with his intelligent bowling and you have a veteran contributing far more than he should need to for this Kent side. Once again Denly and Key are looking like men holding their cricket bat the wrong way up. Van Jaarsveld is not hitting previous heights and Kent are suffering. Just now they are doing enough to stay in with a sniff. If this brings the crowds to Canterbury over the next week or two then the powers that be will be pleased enough - though not as happy as they'd be with a home tie in a quarter-final, under lights and on TV.
As I said Azhar Mahmood has been the main man in any Kent success this past ten days or so. He really must have been some performer in his youth. I feel that, had Kent got hold of him ten years earlier in his career, then his considerable contribution at Surrey might have been bettered - no superstars at Kent, just hardworking County pros in need of some inspiration. The last decade might have had more than a Twenty20 win in it had Azhar been the overseas man. It might be the twilight of his career, but he has endeared himself to the Kent supporters.

England begin the ODI series with Sri Lanka tomorrow at The Oval. The only thing that needs to be said ahead of it is that Sanath Jayasuriya will be playing his final game for Sri Lanka. I remember well the day that he announced himself to the World in 1996 in the World Cup quarter-final against England. During that tournament, and on instruction from Ranatunga, he revolutionised the role of the opening batsman in ODI cricket. Many have tried to imitate, but only Gilchrist could genuinely be said to have bettered him (Sehwag comes pretty close too) in the role of "pinch-hitter." I hope to be able to catch a bit of Jayasuriya's final innings and I wouldn't be upset if it was a masterclass.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Wahab boosts Kent, Too much cricket? - then lay off the TV work

I watched Kent's Twenty20 game against Glamorgan with a novel interest as I stumbled across it while flicking through the TV channels on Saturday evening. Having just got in from work and finding nothing worthy of my viewing I started looking for some random rubbish to watch. Bizarrely I found the "criced"  on S4C Wales and was pleasantly surprised to find Azhar Mahmood ambling to the crease. I had to turn the volume down as the commentary, being in Welsh, sounded more like interference than a call of the game.
Kent's bowling looked pretty average early on as Cosgrove and Petersen took it to the cleaners (if I was a Glamorgan player I would be very annoyed at Cosgrove's highly-paid employment given that basic fitness is evidently not part of his contract). When young Adam Ball entered the attack I feared the worst as, if these two experienced guys were able to get after him, it could be a major setback for the seamer. I thought Ball bowled superbly and showed real potential. He was undoubtedly Kent's best bowler on the night and I really enjoyed the confidence he seemed to have. James Tredwell also bowled well and a total of 155 always looked at risk if Kent could get going.
I thought Robert Key and Joe Denly got Kent off to a decent start. However I have to say that Denly looked so far out of form as to be embarrassed by his inability to deal with the slow-bouncer - he received six in a row in one over and hit only one four, off the toe of the bat. When the end came for Denly, though, it was the sort of thing that happens when your luck is well and truly out - run-out by a deflection on to the stumps by the bowler.
With sixty runs needed from the last six overs it seemed that Kent would fall short. Enter Wahab Riaz and Sam Northeast to alter the game. Wahab played some wonderfully powerful strokes to drag his side towards their target. Northeast provided a good foil for Wahab, rotating the strike as much as possible and also weighing in with his own boudaries. To win the game with balls to spare was a great effort and hopefully a real confidence boost to the players. If Wahab can continue to have this sort of impact then Kent supporters might get just a little bit of joy in these next couple of weeks - even if it is in the Twenty20.

Last year I read an interview with Robert Key (and other prominent County players) where he complained about the frequency of fixtures and the impact that has on recovery time and the lack of opportunity for practise and preparation. I have never subsribed to this theory in any way, but if that's the opinion of the players then they are entitled to it. Given that the Kent Captain has these views one has to wonder what rest/practise/preparation he was undertaking in the days before and after Kent travelled to the West Country and Wales. On Thursday evening Key was at Northampton to commentate for Sky. He then travelled to Somerset for the washed-out game on Friday, and then on to Glamorgan for the Saturday fixture. I was amazed, therefore, to turn on my TV on Sunday evening to see him in the TV studio at Headingley, once again commentating for Sky. What rest/practise/preparation was Kent's Captain enjoying during this four-day stretch?
If players believe that the fixture list is not conducive to performing at their best on a regular basis, I would suggest that any opportunity to get some peace should be taken. Another of the issues the players have with the fixtures is the regular travelling around the Country. Perhaps a trip from Kent to Northampton to Somerset to Cardiff to Yorkshire, and back to Kent, over a four day period is not helping. Or is it that the travelling doesn't affect your performance as long as you're being paid by Sky to commentate? Very poor form indeed.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Cook the imperious, Joe back on form at last

It's been a while since I added a post, but such is life. Up until last night it had been a good week for England and Kent supporters. I'll start with the England team and their dramatic and unexpected victory over Sri Lanka on Bank Holiday Monday.
Alastair Cook is surely the leading batsman in the World right now. His form has been quite incredible and to continue it in to the new season is a credit to him after the highs in Australia. I was surprised to see him get himself out yesterday when within four of his hundred - he's been so confident that such an aberration was something of a shock to this viewer. The best thing about seeing Cook in form and scoring loads of runs is that it shoves the criticism of people like Mike Atherton back down their throats. For two years Atherton, and others, picked holes in Cook's "technique" and caused him to change the way he batted. Graham Gooch put all of that right and Cook is now back to doing what comes naturally. Anyone who gets criticised by Atherton should simply have a look at his Test average and realise that he is the luckiest man in the World to be considered as some kind of top player.
Chris Tremlett was the catalyst for the England win on Monday. I heard one of the "experts" doing him down on Monday by saying that he showed how good he is "in English conditions" as if to say that he would struggle elsewhere. Were they not watching the series in Australia last Winter? I am a big fan of Tremlett. He moves the ball at pace and gets steepling bounce from that massively tall frame of his.
Sri Lanka's collapse on Monday was the sort of thing that was associated with England when I was growing up. It had more than an echo of the last day at Adelaide in 2006 when Shane Warne created such panic in the England batting. It was the sort of victory that marks out a World Class team and sets them apart from the rest. There used to be talk of that great Australian side carrying an "aura" with them. If Monday showed us anything it is that this England team is gaining a similar reputation.

For Kent we finally saw the top order getting in the runs at Tunbridge Wells. It is surely no coincidence that Joe Denly, Robert Key and Sam Northeast all scored first-innings runs and Kent went on to win the match. After what we've seen these past few weeks this was truly a magnificent effort from the Kent players. Matt Coles showed that he might yet have what it takes with his five-for. James Tredwell also served notice that he should still be looked upon as the contenders to be understudy to Graeme Swann with England.
Since making his England debut Joe Denly has hardly scored a run. Out of contract at the end of this season a lot of Kent supporters have been wondering if he should be offered a new deal. He answered those questions in the best way possible last week. We all know that Joe has genuine quality, so a return to some form was most welcome. I hope this is the start of a permanent return to run-scoring from our opening bat.
Unfortunately the Kent win comes at a time when the County Championship is mothballed to accommodate the Twenty20 Cup. As you know I am not a fan of the shortest format. That it is now disrupting Kent at a time when they suddenly showed some promise only makes it less popular with me. Fingers crossed that it doesn't distract the players too much when we get going again.
On the subject of Twenty20 you have to wonder about the administrators at Kent. Our Club has no money and is losing more of it all the time. So why the hell are we playing potentially money-spinning matches away from Canterbury again? What is the point in Kent playing Twenty20 matches at Tunbridge Wells? What is the point in putting the floodlights in at Canterbury and then playing Somerset (with Trescothick and other crowd pullers in their side) in a Friday evening game elsewhere? They call themselves business people for goodness sake. Alan Sugar wouldn't employ them. It's not just Kent, of course. I've bleated before about the fixture list as a whole and how matches get played at the wrong time - today is Saturday and there is not a domestic fixture anywhere in the Country. Frightening.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

One-day fillip for Kent, TV could help Championship

Kent's win against Yorkshire in the CB40 was just the boost needed at the weekend. After another disastrous performance against Glamorgan last week I can only imagine how low the players morale had sunk, so a shock win was very much what the doctor ordered.
There was yet another unacceptable performance down at Glamorgan in the Championship. An innings defeat, with the batting undone in the course of an afternoon is providing yet more questions than answers. I can't agree with Paul Farbrace when he blames the bowlers for allowing Glamorgan to score too freely. I don't doubt that the bowling was not really of the required standard, but when you're giving the new ball to a military-medium pacer like Darren Stevens then you're going to have problems - especially on good, hard pitches like the ones we have at the moment. However average the bowlers may have been (and they were an exceptionally inexperienced attack) I would have thought it would be more salient to criticise the experienced batting line-up and their failure to put a total on the board. Twice.
The more encouraging effort at Yorkshire surely proves that most of the cheer Kent fans will get this year will come from the limited overs game. Most noticeable for me was that Geraint Jones dropped down the order and made crucial runs to win the game (Van Jaarsveld once again was the catalyst in the Kent innings). I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see Jones asked to bat at 3 in the second-innings at Glamorgan, despite having kept wicket to an opposition total of over 400 in the previous two days in the field. A position further down will suit both Jones and Kent - late order runs could be crucial in all forms. Roll on the rest of the CB40 and Twenty20 - we might get some good results.

I watched a lot of the Championship match between Sussex and Notts on Sky last week. As part of their various agreements with the ECB Sky have to show two Championship games per season, one of which is usually in the last round of matches in September. Both sides were able to include their Test players which was a rare treat for spectators. The quality of the cricket was superb, and the excitement generated was also excellent. While watching it dawned on me that the future of the County Championship could be so much more promising if the ECB made it part of the TV contract for the whole season. What I would like to see is, in any week where a Test Match is not being played, Sky having to show first-class cricket from either division. Given that Sky's daytime schedules (on their four sports channels) largely consist of repeats and highlights, there is plenty of room for live daytime cricket. What a way it would be to promote the County game, and if people were able to see how good the standard is on telly, then they might just go along and watch their own County and boost the coffers throughout the game. Alternatively, youngsters might think about playing the game and go along to one of the their local club sides.
Ultimately the ECB is there to grow the game. If they insist on taking Sky's money and hiding the Test Match on pay TV then at least make Sky show a commitment to the whole game - give us more Championship cricket on telly.

Friday, 6 May 2011

England go for a trio, Kent's woes will be long

I find it really interesting that England have decided to go with three different Captain’s. I think it is probably no surprise to anyone that Andrew Strauss has stood down from the ODI role, but I think more should have been done to persuade him to keep playing the 50-over game.
Obviously Strauss is getting no younger, but his record throughout the Winter, and since he came back in to the side as skipper, has been exceptional. I am a big fan of Strauss. He displays real fighting qualities and, when things are not going so well, is more than willing to dig in and scratch out every run. I went to the last day of the Oval Test Match against South Africa in 2008, which was Kevin Pietersen’s first as Captain. Strauss had been in quite horrible form for the best part of a year. On that final day he played an awful innings, full of playing-and-missing, but he dug out an unbeaten 50 and saw England home. It was painful to watch a talented guy struggling so badly for form, but there was something reassuring about the attitude he displayed that day. England need those sorts of qualities, especially with Paul Collingwood winding down. Personally I would have liked to see Strauss stay in the side, and be joined at the top of the order by Alastair Cook. England couldn’t find an opener for the World Cup and it became another embarrassing sideshow, especially when their most in-form batsman was sat kicking his heels back at home.
For a long time now Alastair Cook has been the Captain-elect for England when Strauss finishes in the role. In some ways this position has been underscored by his elevation to ODI skipper. However, I believe the waters have been muddied somewhat by the fact that Stuart Broad has replaced Paul Collingwood in the 20/20 team. I can see this becoming a straight shootout between the two with the success, or otherwise, of the pair in their respective formats deciding ultimately who will be England Test Captain. I believe this will undermine Cook, particularly as England struggle so badly in 50 over cricket. Something tells me that certain powers that be have started to turn away from Cook. The petulant and arrogant Broad has become the blue-eyed-boy for the England selectors, and for the media, despite Cook’s heroic Ashes tour. It is going to be an interesting couple of years in limited overs cricket for us England fans.

Kent have, after the best part of two weeks without a game, found themselves with only two days off in the following ten. Once again the fixture list seems bizarre. With Kent’s squad being so small this kind of overkill has already started to stretch meagre resources. The thumping at Northampton was poor. A further defeat at home last week has confirmed that Kent are in for a very long season.
As at Northampton Kent’s batting severely let them down last week. The injury suffered by Joe Denly was no help but the top order, which should be strong enough to get decent totals in this division, is looking decidedly woeful. We already know that the bowling is weak so the need to put big runs on the board is obvious. Azhar Mahmood has performed superbly in the games he has played, but the fixture list prevents the veteran from appearing as often as Kent need him.
In the one-day format it has been an encouraging start. An opportunity was wasted at Canterbury on Sunday, with not enough runs scored (again) and then the bowlers allowing a good situation to get away from them. On Monday, though, there was a morale boosting performance at Lords. In both games the batting was carried by Martin Van Jaarsveld, as usual, but the likes of Rob Key, Sam Northeast and Geraint Jones must do more to back him up. Sadly, Kent’s parlous player shortage means that personal pride is the only thing to motivate these guys – their place in the team is certainly not under threat.
I mentioned earlier about the fixtures and how unfathomable they are. They are so stupid that Kent are currently playing a four-day game against Northamptonshire for the second time in a fortnight. The Kent line-up, missing Denly, Mahmood and Joseph is weaker than ever. Plenty of batsmen, though, got good starts on day one, only to be dismissed without putting in a big score. Once again the bowlers have been left exposed. I would challenge many followers of the County to recognise some of the players making up the bowling attack (it should be pointed out that the recall of Charlie Shreck to Notts after the first game against Essex has not helped). As a result Kent have ended day two the best part of 200 runs behind, with Andrew Hall and Niall O’Brien once again feasting on what has been served up to them. Sadly I fear this is going to be a repetitive feature for this season.

At least the weather is good.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Ridiculous Fixture List

Here we are on a Bank Holiday weekend and yet Kent County Cricket Club have no fixture. Kent have no money, yet with most of the public twiddling their thumbs, those that produce the fixture list have chosen not to give them a game. The players and ex-players bang on about playing too much cricket, but surely there is room for a match on a Bank Holiday weekend, isn't there? It is shameful that there is "first-class" cricket being played against the University teams, providing little of value to the County sides involved. Even if there was no Championship fixture for Kent this week, surely the other teams would be better served by playing a friendly against another first-class team, rather than hammering some hapless students.
Even better than playing meaningless friendlies, in the hope that some money can be made by those counties that need it most (and why, for God's sake, have any Test Match grounds got a home match on a Bank Holiday weekend?) would it not have made sense to have got some of the Twenty20 Cup squeezed in to this two week holiday period? Each County could have played six twenty-over games over the consecutive Bank Holiday weekends, with three at home per team, boosting County coffers at the best time. This would also have meant that we could have had some Championship cricket in the Summer, rather than played at either end of the season. Cricket calls itself a business, but this really is the biggest joke of all. No other business would behave in this way - there is good money to be made from leisure and entertainment interests on a Bank Holiday, yet Kent are nowhere to be seen, thanks to the those who produce the fixtures. It's a disgrace.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Might be a long season after all

If the win at Essex was a fine and encouraging start to Kent's season, the defeat at Northampton was a more expected reality check. Kent's failings were clinically laid bare by a couple of their former employees. I can't believe there is any other County that suffers quite so much at the hands of their ex-players. Over the past few years we've seen the batting order ripped out by the likes of Ben Phillips, David Masters and even Peter Trego. The bowlers have been summarily dismissed by Matthew Walker, Paul Nixon, Neil Dexter and, yes, even Peter Trego! This time it was the turn of Andrew Hall (who has done it with both bat and ball in the past) and Niall O'Brien. Kent's weak bowling attack had made a reasonable start, but Hall and O'Brien did a real number on them. Perhaps the most damning indictment of Kent's lack of available options is that Joe Denly was called upon to bowl eleven overs (though he did so economically, as did most of the attack). Kent's inability to take twenty wickets will become a major issue across the season, but perhaps it wasn't what cost them an innings defeat at Northampton. I would suggest that most of the fault this week should be placed at the feet of the batsmen.
Kent supporters are fully aware of the fact that the Club has no money. We don't like that, but we have to accept it because things are simply that way, and there is nothing to be done than for the Club to try and recover. However, what supporters will not accept is the most profligate and limp of batting displays such as that on Saturday. Kent's batsmen need a serious kick up the backside. When things are difficult for the bowling attack the batsmen must dig-in and given them plenty to bowl at. On paper Kent's batting is perfectly adequate for this task. What we have is a group of players who know, I am sure, that because of the lack of strength in depth they will almost certainly be playing again next week. The match report on the Northampton website (there is not one on the Kent website - how amateurish is that?) describes Rob Key's batting as "reckless." If the Captain is playing with abandon then the rest of the batting can't really be expected to apply themselves appropriately, I would suggest.
All in all it was a very disappointing Kent performance. I believe we are in for a long and tough season as Kent followers. I can see things getting somewhat worse before they begin to get better. On the other hand I live in hope that the players have had a serious wake-up call and pull themselves together in the weeks ahead.

There will be a further post later in the week as I have some opinions on the early season fixture list and how it affects those in financial strife. Until then...