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.