Friday, December 31, 2010

I am not a number, I'm a cricket writer

It is now possible to search CricInfo, sorry ESPN CricInfo, by author. Turns out I'm author 160. The reports listed are the close-of-play wraps. The hourly reports are still there, but hidden deeper in the achives:;page=1

Friday, December 24, 2010

Random thoughts on the Ashes: Perth

This was an Aesop's Fable of a Test, a simple moral tale of the dangers of pride and self-regard. Though the England camp (and there are so many "support" people present that it's more of small town) would not associate itself with the premature triumphalism of the British media - even the Guardian ran an on-line poll on whether this was the worst Aussie side ever - Matt Prior's statement quoted in an earlier post that England were looking to go through the tour unbeaten showed that hubris had been asked in and given a cup of tea. Not for nothing is "we'll take each game as it comes" sport's oldest cliche.

An hour or so into the second day it appeared that complacency was justified, with England 78 without loss in reply Australia's unimpressive 268. Then Mitchell Johnson began to swing it like the Glenn Miller Orchestra, finishing with six for 38. Johnson is the Peter Sellers of contemporary cricket. A long period of nothing but rubbish, then, suddenly at the Waca, it's Being There.

In contrast to the Gabba, and to a lesser extent the Adelaide Oval, the pitch nurtured good cricket, chiefly because of its pace and trueness of bounce. It was through the air, rather than off the pitch, that the bowlers caused problems.

The less thoughtful members of the media, supported by the ignorati of the internet, will say that all is well in Australia, while England are in crisis. Neither is true. This Ashes series is unfolding like a Shakesperian drama, in five acts. Whether Ricky Ponting or Andrew Strauss is the tragic figure who will fall on his sword in the final scene is not yet clear. Both sides have weaknesses, and it is these fallabilities that are making it such a good contest.

For England, Collingwood is out of touch, Swann somewhat neutralised, and Finn tired (but still taking wickets, a happy knack). It is rumoured that he may be rested in Melbourne. England to win a Test with a four-man attack, one of whom is Bresnan? It has an improbable feel to it.

For Australia, there must be several openers available more secure than Phil Hughes, and Clarke looked as if he'd lost it in the second innings at Perth, slogging away from the start. Ponting looks vulnerable too, but Ian Chappell says that the feet are moving well, so runs will follow. The Australians may green up the pitch at Melbourne, and go without a spinner, though Beer is still in the squad, at the expense of the unfortunate Hauritz.

Much nonsense is being written about "momentum" and the "psychological advantage". At Melbourne in will simply come down to which team bats and bowls better. The issue of sledging has taken up many column inches too. Peter Siddle gave a radio interview in which he defended the aggressive use of words on the cricket field, the irony of his failure to form words into a coherent sentence at any point of the interview lost on him.

Happy Festival of the Day Before the Boxing Day Test to one and all.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wellington v Northern Districts, T20, Basin Reserve, 12 December 2010

A pleasant summer’s day for my first visit to the Basin this season. There were games on both days last weekend, but live T20 versus the Ashes on TV is no contest, and today’s match showed why.
ND knocked up 200 in their 20 overs, with a spectacular 31-ball 66 from Peter McGlashan, including a reverse-pull which fell inches short of the mid-wicket boundary. McGlashan, a certainty for the New Zealand T20 team, should also be in the ODI team, badly in need of a confident presence after 11 successive defeats. For Wellington, Luke Woodcock was the best bowler, and should be considered if Daniel Vettori is not fit at the start of the ODI series in the New Year.

Jesse Ryder played for the first time since his most recent injury, but was out-of-touch, and holed out for four.

The result was certain when Ryder went in the third over, leaving Wellington already needing more than eleven an over. That’s the flaw with T20. If, as more often than not, a team batting second chasing a big total fails to make a swift start, that’s it. Even in the 50-over format a fightback is possible, but not in T20.

The Wellington team, sponsored by a well-known pizza company, are now known as the Hell Wellington Firebirds, which, when they perform as they did today, makes the sub-editor's headline writing easy.

A note on spectating etiquette. Just as Ronald Karataina bowled during the sixth over of the day, a late arrival (see previous post) pushed past me to get to a vacant seat. Wilson was out. “What happened there?” he asked.

“I don’t know, you were blocking my view” I replied. Another chance to make a lifelong friend disappears.

There was a time when it was generally recognised that it was inconsiderate to move to or from a seat except between overs, but, like having a fielder at third man in a Test match, it’s a nicety that has disappeared.

Random thoughts on the Ashes: Adelaide

This, my friends, is why you should always be at the cricket well before the start of play.

End of over 2 (1 run) Australia 2/2

SR Watson 0* (6b) SCJ Broad 1-0-1-0

MJ Clarke 2* (5b) JM Anderson 1-0-1-1

2.1 Anderson to Clarke, OUT, 135.3 kph, Two for Anderson! Clarke departs! Another perfect, pitched-up outswinger, Clarke has looked all at sea and walks into a nothing drive that flicks the edge and flies to Swann again

MJ Clarke c Swann b Anderson 2 (7m 6b 0x4 0x6) SR: 33.33

Impossible drama at the Adelaide Oval.

(Adapted from CricInfo's ball-by-ball commentary)

All this happened in the first ten minutes of the Test match. A few moments afterwards Channel Nine showed us a queue of people waiting to get in to the Adelaide Oval. They missed the most gripping cricket of the Test, Australia's worst start to a Test innings since 1950.

These people mistook going to the cricket for a day out, and have failed to undertake the thoughtful planning that is necessary for optimum pleasure. For example, everybody knows that it takes an age to get into sports venues these days, as the security folk go about their task of hunting down illicit sandwiches and soft drinks in the manner of Simon Wiesenthal on the trail of former members of the SS. The alarm must be set half an hour earlier.

When I went to Sydney for the final Test of the 1998/9 Ashes, on the first day play started at 11. I was in my seat in the Churchill Stand by 8.35. Of course, this may be habit borne of need, as in the seventies it was desirable to get to the St Lawrence Ground early to get a decent seat, essential for big matches in the knock-out competitions. John Arlott used to call it “the Canterbury breakfast”.

I favour cricket grounds adopting the practice of the opera, with no admittance for latecomers until the interval, but I can see that would be a difficult one to get past the marketing people.

There is always plenty to occupy the mind at cricket grounds before play begins. On an unfamiliar ground there is orientation to be done, and on a familiar one old friends to meet, old conversations to be repeated and idle speculation to be indulged in. There are newspapers or a carefully chosen book to read. The first Scotch egg of the day can be put away. This way, by the time play begins, the spectator is attuned to the atmosphere, and ready to appreciate the nuances of the game.

Obviously, the same applies to leaving the ground at the close of play. There are people who, regardless of the state of the game, will leave a quarter of a hour before the close of play, even a close one-day game. Do they do this elsewhere? Do they leave theatres at the end of act four and thus go through life believing that Hamlet and Ophelia married and opened a flower shop? Or cinemas, thinking that James Garner will have no trouble getting Donald Pleasance to the Swiss border? Almost certainly not. So why leave a cricket ground early, particularly first-class cricket where anything can happen at any time?

An example. At the end of the aforementioned first day at Sydney in 1999, Darren Gough took the first hat-trick by an England bowler in Ashes Tests for a hundred years, a moment that will make those of us who saw it smile with pleasure at its memory many decades hence, even when we can’t remember our own names. Yet several thousand seats were already empty, their occupants thoroughly pleased with themselves at getting a good place in the bus queue. Some of them may have had what they regard as better excuses for leaving early. To attend their child’s birthday party perhaps, or to be by the bedside of their sick wife. But look deep into their eyes and you will see a sadness that will be with them always.

As for the rest of the Adelaide Test, the unaccustomed ease with which the English batsmen took runs off the Australian attack reminded me of the 1985 series when Gooch, Gower, Gatting and Robinson scored a heap of runs at almost four an over, a welcome increase in the tempo of Test cricket. The reaction of the Australian selectors (chairman: Lance Corporal Jones) is more redolent of England’s in 1989, when the team was changed so often that by the final Test Ted Dexter failed to recognise Alan Igglesden, who he’d picked to open the bowling. Quite what Nathan Hauritz has done wrong is unclear. In Australian conditions he has appeared to be good enough to exercise some sort of control, and is a decent bat and fine field.

But a word of caution. The two teams in this series are not that far apart in terms of quality (remember England’s loss to Pakistan at the Oval just a few months ago), and England have won only once at the Waca, and then against a weak Australia in the World Series years. I have just seem Matt Prior quoted as saying that England are aiming to go through the tour unbeaten, which is foolish talk, suggesting that some in the England camp are making the mistake of believing their own publicity. I hope that the Australians do come back, as it would be magnificent watching if the Ashes are still at stake in Sydney.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Random thoughts on the Ashes: Brisbane

There was something for everyone in the first Test at the Gabba. A hat-trick on the first day; a fighting partnership by Hussey and Haddin to push Australia ahead; an Ashes debut six-for by Finn (he'll bowl much better for less reward); and rearguard heroics from Strauss, Cook and Trott. England have yet to prove that they can win consistently against strong opposition, but they can certainly save games, which is a pleasing novelty for those of us who have lived most of our lives with an England team that had the willpower and steadfastness of Jesse Ryder in a pie shop.

The result leaves key questions unanswered, as is right in a five-match series, which should unfold like a good mystery, the full truth not being revealed until just before the end.

The most important of these questions is “can either of these attacks take twenty wickets to win a Test?”. Mitchell Johnson, with his Movember moustache, looked like Ronald Colman, and bowled like him too. Graham Swann bore little resemblance to the match-winner of recent series. An off spinner winning the Ashes in Australia? The idea begins to sound more absurd than ever.

If the bowlers are to be successful, they will need more help from the pitch than the Gabba gave them. The Channel Nine commentary team, in full every-day-is-Australia-Day mode, sang the praises of the curator (a term I rather prefer to the more rustic “groundsman”) for producing an “excellent” – Bill Lawry – surface. In fact, the pitch was difficult to stay in on in the first half of the game, and difficult to get out on for the second half, pretty much the antithesis of how a Test pitch should behave.

Despite the undoubted merits of the innings of Hussey, Haddin, Strauss, Cook and Trott, 962 runs for six wickets over the last three-and-a-bit days of a Test match means that the pitch was a poor one, in that it did not facilitate an even match between bat and ball. One or two match-saving centuries are worth celebrating. Five are merely mundane.

And then there is the question of the decision referral system (DRS), which functioned poorly in Brisbane. Anderson had Hussey lbw when he was 85, but Aleem Dar rejected the appeal (he had sound grounds for doing so, as there were two noises as the ball hit both pads on the way through) and England could not refer the decision to the third umpire because they had already had two unsuccessful referrals, the allowance for one innings.

It’s true that England had rather squandered their opportunities to refer, but the reason for the limit is to prevent frivolous referrals, not to introduce an extra tactical dimension; that sort of thing is fine for ODIs, but not Tests. When the DRS was first trialled, three unsuccessful referrals was the limit, which prevented abuse of the system, but meant that few close decisions went unscrutinised. That the two-strikes limit is too severe was further illustrated in England's second innings when Australia had two unsuccessful referrals for lbw decisions (including Strauss first ball; what a difference that would have made). Both were exactly the sort of marginal decisions that the DRS was designed for, and Ponting was right to refer them, but a serious umpiring error might have gone uncorrected as a result.

Another alternative would be to declare unsuccessful referrals as spent after, say, 50 overs. Under the present system the fielding side will almost inevitably lose their referrals in a long innings, which is exactly when they need them most.

At least the DRS is operative in Australia, which it was not for the recent series in India, presumably because the BCCI (the governing body in India) was too stingy to pay for all the necessary hardware, preferring to spend their IPL riches on asses milk for Board members to bathe in, or similar. Was this discussed by the commentators? It was not. Why? Because the BCCI is producing the TV broadcast and selling the finished product, rather than just the rights. This is a disturbing trend that would seriously affect the quality of sports coverage were it to spread.

The good news is that Jeremy Coney has replaced the dreadful Morrison on the team for the ODIs.

Can’t wait for Adelaide.

Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket

In the same package as this year’s Wisden , there arrived Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket , co-authored by Stephen Fay ...