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.