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.