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.