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...

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Great start but weaknesses are there to be seen

When I saw Rob Key had been dismissed in the first few minutes of Kent's first game of the season I felt a sense of foreboding at the months that lie ahead. Losing your Captain for a duck in the first over of the campaign is not the beginning you would like. However, cricket in its most important form is played over days, not overs. Kent's recovery was built on the shoulders of Sam Northeast. The youngster was given his head throughout last season, come what may, and I'm sure he would admit it was a very steep learning curve - too steep in fact. So to get off the mark with a century on the first day of the season must have been a real boost for the lad. Nobody else really got going for Kent on a sporting wicket and 247 might have seemed a little short until Kent's bowlers got going in the late afternoon.
That Darren Stevens should take six-for was a more than pleasant surprise. I said in the preview of the season last week that Stevens must surely be due a call-up to the England ODI side - his ability with bat and ball has long been overlooked by the selectors. However, the fact that Stevens is opening the bowling in first-class games should ring alarm bells for Kent fans. When you are reduced to seeing a medium-pacer take the new ball then you will ultimately run in to problems - maybe not now, but at some point this is a weakness that will be exposed. Stevens got the ball to jag around a bit and he was lethal on Friday. When the wickets dry out and get harder, though, Kent will be found wanting unless they find some pace from somewhere.
In the second dig Key got some important crease-time, but Joe Denly failed once again. It is difficult to understand what has happened to Denly's form since his England debut. He has undoubted quality, but something is missing. I hope he finds his form in the coming weeks - he's a quality player and he forms a good opening pair with Key, as long as they can both contribute in the way we know they can. It was no surprise to see Martin Van Jaarsveld among the runs and, too, Darren Stevens making a decent 30. Geraint Jones' twin failures may also get the skipper a little worried - Kent's successes in recent seasons, such as there have been, have largely included good runs from the wicketkeeper.
Essex looked well set early on in their chase but Stevens and James Tredwell combined to rip the heart out of the batting with wickets falling regularly. Going in to the final day, however, it was very much up for grabs. At this time of the year you would expect some early morning moisture and for the ball to do a little. Robbie Joseph coming to the fore in such conditions is very encouraging. We know Joseph can be quick. Kent need him to stay fit and find a good rhythm - if he does so then our boys might just be difficult to beat.
All in all it was a very satisfactory start to the season. A win early on will give the lads confidence. Let's hope it will breed more success as we move on through April towards the Summer.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Proper cricket is back tomorrow - Kent season preview

Kent begin their County Championship campaign tomorrow with a trip through the Dartford Tunnel to face Essex. Due to the awful financial issues at the Club there is to be no overseas player for the Members to marvel at this season. If you're an optimistic Kent fan then you have to look at this as a major opportunity for some homegrown talent to stake their claim. However, the lack of a marquee player will almost certainly see fewer coming through the gates - it's a difficult balancing act for the powers that be at Canterbury.
Last year Kent's batting was found to be sub-standard in Division One. With the (increasingly) discernible difference in the quality of the bowling attacks in Division Two this should be less of a problem. It seems inconceivable, also, that Robert Key and Joe Denly could struggle so badly for a second year in a row. Denly, it seems, is playing for his future - if that doesn't focus the mind properly then nothing will. Geraint Jones will, hopefully, re-find the consistency that marked out his exceptional season in 2009, while Martin Van Jaarsveld will once again find himself the lynchpin of the batting order - I am not alone among Kent fans who believe Van Jaarsveld should be Captain of Kent. Darren Stevens might yet get a deserved call-up to England's one-day team if he continues the quality he produced last year.
The major problem for Kent is in the bowling department. If you can't take twenty wickets, you can't win a game of first-class cricket. When Ntini was with the side last season he showed what can happen if you have just one top-class bowler in your side. Amjad Khan has taken his treatment table and departed for pastures new, but when he was fit Amjad was a massive performer for Kent. There is a need for Robbie Joseph to get himself fit, and to fulfill some of the promise we've seen over the last few years. Simon Cook will probably be relied upon far more than would be ideal, while James Tredwell will still have a point to prove to certain elements of the England Management. The loan signing, today, of Charlie Shreck from Notts is a massive boost to the attack. Shreck has a really fine track record in the Championship, with the ability to move the ball in a similar vein to Martin Saggers. Unfortunately Shreck's last few years have been punctuated by injury problems, so he should fit in nicely with Kent's pace-bowling department. Azhar Mahmood will continue to give it his all but the pace drops away with each passing year - if he plays in more than half of the matches it will be a bonus.
I believe success will elude Kent this season. Promotion would be a pleasant surprise as I really don't think the bowlers are up to it. I have plenty of faith in the batting against Second Division bowlers, so runs should not really be an issue. Kent's best chance of success might actually come in the CB40, so it will be interesting to see how the team is selected for that. In recent years we have seen inexperienced youngsters given chances in that competition, but given the small size of the squad that might not be such an option - every player will be needed on a regular basis, across the formats. It's going to be a diffiult, challenging, but interesting Summer in Kent. Let's hope for some good Summer weather, and good Kent cricket.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Congratulations India

I was extremely pleased for India on Saturday and, in particular, for Sachin Tendulkar. It would have been a terrible thing for Sachin to have gone through his career without winning on the biggest cricket stage. That he didn't make many runs in the Final should not detract from Tendulkar's contribution to the Indian success.
The Final itself turned in to a captivating game of cricket. I think a lot of neutrals might have begun to favour India after the shenanigans at the toss. I dread to think what the fallout would have been like had Sri Lanka gone on to win after that kind of thing. The TV microphones seemed to pick up a call of tails when the toss was attempted the first time - for me it left a bad taste.
When the action got underway I thought Zaheer Khan produced a complete masterclass in his opening spell. His control of line and length, bowling to a good field, was really marvellous. The England bowlers could learn a lot from this - sticking to basics doesn't do a great deal of harm (after all, it rarely hurt Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock). The Sri Lankan top order couldn't really get going as the ball seemed not to be coming-on to the bat. Enter Mahela Jayawardene to play one of the great ODI innings. To have the ability to play it in a World Cup Final shows a rare temperament, and an even more rare talent. It was truly a joy. With the support from Kulasekera I thought Sri Lanka had posted something of a daunting total on what appeared a difficlut pitch, and India were going to have to chase under lights.
MS Dhoni had, by his own admission, suffered a poor tournament with the bat. It is a mark of the man that he should be able to find his form when it matters most. That is why he is Captain of India - a pressurised job at the quietest of times. Gautam Gambhir was India's hero early on but it looked like he was going to be fighting a lone battle until Dhoni joined him at the crease. It was a real shame that Gambhir couldn't see it through to what would have been a deserved hundred. Dhoni's big finish, with a massive six, showed that he still has a flair for the "money-shot!"

The World Cup has suffered the usual cricticism that it goes on too long, and there are too many one-sided encounters. Undoubtedly the first part of this is true, as the TV schedules are made more important than the pace of the tournament. Having said that, this was the best tournament since the sub-continent last hosted in 1996. The progress of two of the hosts, and Pakistan, undoubtedly contributed to the ongoing momentum of this World Cup - the stadia sold-out for the knockout games which might not have happened, perhaps, were India and co not still involved.
There can be no doubt that changes are required, but mostly to the schedule, rather than the number of participating countries. How can the ICC seriously consider a World Cup that doesn't involve the affiliate nations? Why should cricket fans around the World be robbed of the chance to see Ireland beating England? Why should people like Kevin O'Brien not get the opportunity to make a name (and a future living) for themselves by performing to the World? I hope the ICC sees sense, and listens to what cricket lovers want, before the next tournament in 2015.

Friday, 1 April 2011

World Cup Final tomorrow, ECB accreditation applied for

Tomorrow is the ODI big day with the World Cup Final between India and Sri Lanka. India have the "home" advantage for the Final and the Sri Lankans will be expecting to face an incredibly partisan crowd in Mumbai (still can't get used to calling Bombay a new name). For me it's a bit of a shame that the match isn't at Eden Gardens in Calcutta where a unique atmosphere exists in front of such massive numbers in attendance. Having said that, I suspect the noise will be ear-splitting.
I picked these two out as my finalists before the tournament began. Australia were clearly not as good as they were, with the official rankings being slightly misleading you would have to say (this is a quirk of any ranking system - Tiger Woods was only recently overhauled in golf, you will recall). I always felt South Africa would revert to type, while England and West Indies lived down to expectations (though England were very much the "stars" of the tournament when it came to entertaining matches). New Zealand, as ever, batted way above their average (if you'll pardon the pun). I always felt that the best ODI team's were Sri Lanka and India, and so it has come to pass.
Sri Lanka have lost Angelo Mathews from the side tomorrow with injury. This is a blow for them, but it's a bigger blow for the player, I'm sure. Mathews has worked incredibly hard to become a part of the side, and it's cruel that he won't be involved in the Final - he has had a good World Cup. There are lingering doubts over Muralitharan, but I think we can safely say he will be playing tomorrow, unless he is taken ill. Any pain he may be feeling from his injury is easily masked by the necessary injections/pills, and there is no way Murali will miss his swansong in the World Cup Final.
It is difficult to pick a winner from the two sides, but I am a sentimentalist and would like to see India win. I believe it would be a travesty were Sachin Tendulkar not to achieve what seems to be his destiny by winning the World Cup, in India, tomorrow. If he scores his 100th international century at the same time it will be one of the great, romantic sports stories.

I have applied today for my 2011 ECB press accreditation in the hope that I will be able to give proper justice to a blog that covers Kent County Cricket Club. I am not sure that my request will be granted, though I live in hope. Wisden 2009 lamented the fact that blog writers were not among those accredited journalists for the 2008 season. I believe that blog writing is becoming more and more popular with cricket followers, and I hope the ECB is willing to move with the times, and give people like me an opportunity to write about the game I love, with the same privileges afforded to "proper" journalists.

You can follow the blog on Twitter - @CricketOpinion.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

What is England's cure?

So England have failed once again on the biggest stage in 50-over cricket. There will, no doubt, be much wailing and gnashing of teeth, lamenting the fact that the counties don't play any 50-over games, the players play too much, the tours are too long etc etc etc. I have already heard that "changes are needed" and that Michael Vaughan wants Stuart Broad to be Captain - that's a good idea, make a guy Captain that can't control his own behaviour on the pitch! Most worrying of all is the retort that England need to pick more "one-day specialists." For goodness sake, haven't we been here before?
I find this whole theory about "specialists" hard to take. Australia have tried to go down that route with their squad this past couple of years, and ended up with Cameron White in the middle order. I am firmly of the belief that good cricketers can play any form of the game. England have spent the last three months trying to find an opening batsman to partner Andrew Strauss. The fact is that they had the very man out in Australia, but sent him home before the shorter format stuff began - his name is Alastair Cook. No other country would have a guy making runs hand over fist in the way Cook did in The Ashes, only to discard him because of some perceived weakness in limited overs matches. Have you seen Cook's record in one day cricket for Essex? There is certainly nothing there to suggest that Pietersen, Prior or Bell are more suitable candidates for the role.
England have played in three World Cup Final's - 1979, 1987 and 1992. When you look at the make-up of those sides you notice that the same players were involved in Test and One-Day International cricket, all at the same time. The reason for this? They were the best players in the Country so they played cricket for England - it's not rocket science is it?
The counter argument is that the game has moved on since those days, but surely the fundamental principles of any game of cricket remain, don't they? There is still a place for people who play with a straight bat, orthodox strokes, good line and length with the ball - you don't see India and Sri Lanka doing too much cocking around with their team, and they are likely to play each other in the Final this weekend. Jonathan Trott has taken some criticism for not hitting enough boundaries, but is it not more important that at least one player bats through an innings, regardless of the form of the game? The fact is that, if one of your top 3 scores a century (or close to it), you will make a respectable total. England made a respectable total in the quarter-final, thanks to Trott, but the bowling was not good enough on the day.

Right, we've got that sorted so let's move on towards the County season...

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Can we now hear the end of how good Ian Bell is?

So England lived down to expectations in Colombo yesterday. Watching the Sri Lankan openers bat it struck me that they kept playing fairly straight, and largely played shots from the text-book. Contrast that with Andrew Strauss' awful innings. I actually thought 220+ was a decent return on that pitch - after all, the experts kept telling us how batting second was a poisoned chalice there. Oh dear.
What I really want to talk about today, though, is not England's overall failings - nobody seriously expected them to get close to winning the World Cup anyway - but to concentrate on one particular player, who I am fed up of hearing about.
Over the past few years we have heard how good Ian Bell is. There is no doubt that Bell has wonderful technique, employing the straightest of straight bats, and possessive of an exquisite cover-drive. But it's not enough is it? How many chances is Bell going to get? We kept hearing that he should be opening the batting in this one-day team, then we would see the best of him. Well yesterday he did open. And he got out in the exact same way again - giving catching practice to short mid-wicket. His record in international cricket is more favourable due to his luck in playing so many innings against Bangladesh, hence he has a very good Test average. When he has scored runs against other nations it has invariably been when England have been very much in the ascendancy (I accept that there are notable exceptions, but nowhere near enough of them).
During the ODI series in Australia (I think, actually, it might have been in the 20/20's) David Lloyd said at the end of the innings, and I quote, "Bell was batting like Bradman." Given that he was out for 30 I would beg to dispute Bumble's observation. I am sick of the fact that every pundit chooses to drool over the way Bell plays - the man does not get enough runs. When you consider how Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash were discarded you have to wonder why Bell is still playing Test Matches for England - he is incredibly fortunate to be playing in an era of a weaker Australia and West Indies and, as a result, a more successful England. I hope that now we have begun to see the end of the Bell "myth." Perhaps the promotion of Morgan and Bopara to the England middle-order can not come soon enough.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Yardy should be applauded

Michael Yardy is an incredibly brave individual. It takes a very special kind of person to admit he has an illness that many people will still perceive as some form of weakness of mind. Geoffrey Boycott's comments yesterday were, at best, unfortunate. Given that Boycott has, himself, been seriously ill in the past it is all the more galling that he can come out with such drivel. Depression is a horrible thing for someone to have to deal with. At its worst it can lead to the most hellish of personal thoughts and can be, make no mistake, life threatening.
I can only assume that "Sir" Geoffrey has never read Marcus Trescothick's quite magnificent autobiography. Trescothick's incredibly frank and candid account of his own battle with depression is enlightening - anyone who thought depression was a weakness would be made to understand the physical and emotional effect it can have on an individual - no matter how "macho" they are supposed to be.
I applaud Michael Yardy for going public with his problem and being big enough to walk away from the World Cup. Steven Davies was widely praised and revered for coming out as gay just before the World Cup began - I believe Yardy's announcement is far more brave. I hope that he can return to Sussex and have another successful season, hopefully following in the footsteps of Trescothick who has thrown his heart and soul in to playing for Somerset.
It's worth, perhaps, making an observation on the cricket press at this stage. I strongly suspect that most of the press corps in India were aware that something was not quite right with Michael Yardy's frame of mind. However, at no point was it reported. By the same token Sky are now showing a few seconds of footage that see Yardy breaking down in tears while sitting out a practise session - only after Yardy's announcement has this footage been made public. Had this been a Premier League footballer there is no way that the football press would have remained quiet about it - they would have made cheap headlines at Yardy's expense, and made the problem for him even worse. It is a credit to the cricket writers that they choose to stay close to the players in this way. It's one of the reasons why we all love reading about the game - most of the cricket writers care about the game just as much as we do.

In terms of the World Cup the results seem to be going England's way. New Zealand beating South Africa is a major shock, for me. I thought that the South African's would finally bury some demons at this tournament, but they choked yet again on the big stage. This means that England will never get a better chance. A semi-final against New Zealand is eminently winnable, but first they must get past Sri Lanka in their own back yard.
The rain is falling in Colombo and you would have to think that a damp wicket would favour England - moisture might just mean some early movement for the England seamers. According to Twitter right now the England players are being kept awake by some kind of noisy disco in their hotel. Sabotage? You better believe it.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Certain Counties unhappy with new format

I've just read the reaction from Kent's powers that be with regards to the new 20/20 structure from next year. For me there is a welcome reduction in the group matches from 16 to 10 per side. The players seem to prefer this, and I'm sure the attendances will reflect a positive reaction from the paying public in 2012 (weather and Olympic fever permitting). Kent, meanwhile, are concerned about their money troubles and feel, quite clearly, that a reduction in games means a reduction (overall) in gate receipts (and also there are 6 less games that could be among those televised).
For me this is the best thing to happen in County Cricket since the initial shot-in-the-arm that was provided with the introduction of 20/20. I am not a fan of the format - a 20 over thrash does nothing to develop young bowlers while the nuances of the game are all but eliminated. However, you would have to be blind to ignore the fact that much money is generated by it, largely due to its brevity and the perceived excitement of a batsmen hammering the ball to all parts, thus bringing people through the gate. Up until now the 20/20 Cup had been expanded every season since it began. The past couple of years have seen attendances start to fall - there is no longer a novelty value, and the packed fixture schedule has seen people become more choosy about what they pay to see (that's if they can follow the fixture list in the first place).
The feelings of Kent County Cricket Club are entirely selfish (of course they are, this is professional sport and reasonably big business). Kent have still pulled the punters through the turnstiles for 20/20 - after all, they've been pretty damn good at it in their time. However, the golden goose was, for me, being slowly strangled and it was only a matter of time before people stopped going to Canterbury/Beckenham too (don't get me started on playing a "home" game at The Oval - a complete betrayal of the majority of people who follow Kent, especially members). With the floodlights installed at Canterbury there is a necessity for plenty of evening cricket to get full use of them - they must pay for themselves or they become an expensive white elephant. Kent obviously saw 20/20 as a huge part of this, but the bigger picture must be seen. There is an old showbiz adage - "always leave them wanting more" - 20/20 is cricket showbiz, so leave the punters to want more, and you might just find them turning up for CB40 or Championship matches as well.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Tredwell sparks a Calypso Collapso

I have to start with thanks to my good friend Jimmy for the title of today's piece (not original, but catchy nonetheless). For my part I've been telling anyone that would listen that England had to change things and bring in the likes of James Tredwell (4-48) and Ravi Bopara (finally getting a run in the side) to do the bowling jobs, with Paul Collingwood and James Anderson back on the sidelines. I'm certain it was a desperate move but, along with Luke Wright (a crucial 49 runs), they proved to be the heroes of the hour for England. West Indies were cruising until Tredwell entered the fray. Backed up by Swann and Bopara, and some fine fielding, England got over the line.
England still need for things to go their way, but beyond their control, if they are to progress. This is their own fault given the performances they put in against Bangladesh and Ireland. The Ireland game can be forgiven somewhat due to the brilliance of Kevin O'Brien on the day. However, the game against Bangladesh could yet be the one that England live to regret. As I wrote in the first post on this site they have only themselves to blame for it. It was a defeat with its foundations in the arrogance of the England selection policy. Today they finally got it right.
I am so pleased for James Tredwell. We grew up playing against each other as youngsters (James is a year or two younger than me). Tredders was always a talented guy, but certainly more of a batsman at that stage. He was far from being the most naturally gifted youngster in Kent at that time, and I could name a number of people that would have been more likely to make it than him. What James clearly has though is great determination, and a wonderfully professional attitude. He gets his head down and works hard. His professionalism shone through in his post-match interview today when he cleverly chose not to talk himself up, and not to criticise the fact that he hasn't played since the first ODI in Australia. It's great for James, and it's great for Kent. I hope the County Club take the opportunity to market the fact that they employ an England hero, should they make it through the group. What they have done is give themselves some hope. Now they need the others to keep it "honest" and ensure the remaining games go with form.
Whatever the final outcome for England the World Cup organisers should be glad of their involvement. Each of England's games at this World Cup has been a classic of some kind. There has been no such thing as a predictable match where England are concerned. Without England's inconsistent form, and brilliant nail-biting finishes, this tournament would be going the same way its last few predecessors. The World Cup in England in 1999 was notable for the South Africans and Lance Klusener, who lit up a tournament in which the hosts were a joke. This tournament has seen, as usual, too many one-sided encounters (though the associates, particularly Canada and Kenya, have got better as it has gone on) but England have kept it interesting - sometimes through being awful, sometimes through being excellent (Strauss and Trott in particular) but mostly by being completely unpredictable.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Introduction, England get what they deserve

Welcome to a new, occasional, cricket blog written by an avid fan of the game. Anything written here is MY opinion - hence the name of the site. By way of an introduction I think I'll tell you about my own cricket career, and what I like and don't like about the modern game.
I began playing in adult cricket when I was just eight years old, and had my first bowl within a year or so - my first figures were 1.4overs-1maiden-0runs-1wkt. I went on, as most do, to play school cricket and then on to League cricket. I played for the town club in the Kent Premier League, often against County and Test players. I've never been much of a batsman - my remaining ambition in the game is to score a fifty. I bowl left-arm orthodox spin and have nineteen five-fors in my career, though only one of these has come in the last ten years, having been afflicted by the yips at the age of 22. Since then I have become more and more frustrated with myself, but I still turn out every week in the interests of developing our youngsters and because I enjoy playing the game - no matter what my own failings are.
I follow Kent County Cricket Club where there are still a number of players I came up against as a youngster, and in the Kent League. As with most other cricket lovers I am also a keen student of the England team. I am not a fan of 20/20 cricket, and I can just about stomach "normal" limited overs stuff. Give me a first-class game in the Championship, or better still a Test Match, and I am as happy as it's possible to be for a cricket man. The highlight of my spectating "career" was being at The Oval on the final day of The Ashes in 2005 - it couldn't get much better than that.

It seems a shame to start this new blog on a sour note, but England's performance today leaves me no option. I have long toyed with the idea of writing a cricket blog, and England's arrogant team selection this morning finally made up my mind. Yes, I have a Kent bias, and I am a contemporary of the man in question, but I couldn't believe England left out James Tredwell today. There is a reason why Bangladesh pick four spinners in their team to play at home, so why the hell do England think they can get away with playing only one? How many times do they have to get it so badly wrong? You have to wonder why Tredwell has been included in the squad as Strauss clearly has no intention whatsoever of giving the boy a game.
Then there is their attitude on the pitch. At numerous times during the game England's players assumed they had today's game wrapped up. When they were put under the cosh certain players became petulant. Graeme Swann's behaviour towards the umpire was unacceptable. I hope that his very public answering-back of Andrew Strauss will be punished by the England management. Sky's old boys club may enjoy Swann's general dicking around, but I find it unbecoming of an international cricketer at times. The man is becoming too big for his boots and needs to be pulled in check pretty damn quick. A few more overs like his last one this afternoon might just do the trick.
The way in which the game came to an end showed up many flaws. James Anderson is another player who seems to believe his own press a bit too much. His bowling at the death today was nothing short of disgraceful, but Strauss failed to change things when it was needed. It seemed obvious to anyone watching that the pace needed to be removed from the ball, with Paul Collingwood being the obvious man to go to. Instead of this Anderson was allowed to continue and the game was up for England.
Make no mistake Bangladesh deserved their win over England, as did Ireland last week. However, if England would only get their attitude in check they might find their results against the minnows improve somewhat. As things stand they are going to get knocked out as a result of their games with the weakest teams in the group. It looks like being another disastrous World Cup to add to the list of embarrassments since 1992 - unless something changes quickly.