Big mouths end up eating dirt

This was an intensely satisfying victory for England. Yes, because we bowled very well yet again after losing the toss on a good batting track. Yes, because after playing ourselves into a huge hole with some very dim batting, our 8th wicket pair of Bopara and Broad demonstrated how it should be done – seeing us home with a magnificent 99 run partnership. Yes, because 10 matches ago, I’d have bet my house we’d have lost the game by sixty runs. But mostly because, after the abuse suffered particularly by Ian Bell and Keven Pietersen, the very best answer was to inflict a demoralising defeat.

I’ve got a couple of pieces of advice for the main culprits. First, Dinesh Karthik. One of the key elements of a man able to chirp and sledge is to be any good at all. I note your scores in this series so far have been, 44no, 1, 0 and 4. Pretty poor really. Yet you felt able to level a volley of abuse at Ian Bell. His scores, by comparison have been, 125no, 64, 79 and 24. Pretty bloody impressive. And at Pietersen too. He’ll be one of the world’s best one day batsmen and although he’s had a quiet series, he has still amassed more runs than you. So. Get a decent run of scores, get a bit humble and respectful of players who are way better than you at the moment and avoid looking like a total pratt with zero credibility as a result.

Second, Zaheer Khan. You need to pick and choose when to do your long follow through and insulting comments. Doing it every ball makes you look like a petulant eight year old doing a poor parody. It becomes like punctuation and is dull and easy to ignore. Watch a quality bowler do it. Glen McGrath for instance. He mostly let the ball do the talking and when he came down the pitch to deal out a few well chosen words, that was the time to get really scared. And you’re a good bowler too. No need for all the other crap all the time. And get a shave too. Scruff. Freddie, Gooch and Warny can carry it off, your chin ain’t the right shape.

I also note generally that once things started to go a little astray, it went terribly quiet out there during the England innnings. The song beginning ‘Sing when you’re winning…’ does tend to spring to mind. We all love to see aggression. But you’re mistaking aggression for abuse and I’m afraid when you lose, like tonight, you just look stupid.

As regular reader will know, I don’t go in for triumphalism on this blog. Very dangerous. But England are looking good at 3-1 up in the seven match series. That’s right Zaheer and Dinesh. 3-1. To England. Chirp about that, why don’t you? The game we lost was tight too. We’ve unearthed a sound opening bowling partnership and have batting right down to number nine. I just hope the development goes on and we manage to stick to a steady line-up.

That’s better.

• August 30th, 2007 • Posted in Cricket • Comments: 0

England raise the white flag

I am irritable aboutEngland’s test series loss to India. Not because we lost, actually, but the manner of the series defeat. Set 500 to win the third test and square the series, it was quickly clear that England had no intention of trying to chase down the target. Fair enough, it was a hugely tough ask and very unlikely to succeed… but not to try?.

Atherton, among others, says there is a difference between losing 1-0 and 2-0. Sorry, but unless ‘goal’ difference is important, no there isn’t. England, apparently, have to learn not to lose. Yes, we do. But only in games where it matters even one jot. Losing this match while trying to win it would have been brave and shown the sort of aggression that we need if we are ever to frighten the Australians again.

I don’t buy the fact that India deserved to win 1-0. And I don’t buy why England didn’t put up a show and try to get the runs on the final day at the Oval. We have the players to do it. As a fan of cricket, I would much rather have seen us take on the total and give it a go. Losing in a blaze of glory is infinitely preferable to eking out a turgid and meaningless draw. One thing we have seen is that when under pressure, the Indian bowlers are apt to lose it. But if you invite pressure on, they are capable of exploiting you.

The fact is, we didn’t try so we’ll never know. What we do know is that England settled for a 1-0 series defeat and announced themselves happy to have forced a draw in the final test. Is it just me or is that a loser mentality? Can you ever imagine the Aussies settling for defeat in that way? I can’t. Think about it. It’s like being 1-0 down at half time in a cup game, going on to lose 1-0 and then being pleased you drew the second half 0-0. Makes no sense. You still lost. Where is the pride and accomplishment in that?

• August 14th, 2007 • Posted in Cricket • Comments: 3

England squads make good sense

The announcement yesterday of the England cricket squads for the upcoming one-day series against India and the 20/20 World Cup have come in for a bit of stick from many experts. They feel that picking specialists for 20/20 who are not included in the One Day squad is an error. That ‘a good cricketer is good in any form of the game’. Actually, I don’t wholly agree with that and in any case, have we not always wanted England to pick the men in form? Well, I have at least. And it makes such good sense.

Atherton complained yesterday that Ian Bell, among others, is a victim of 20/20 selection because he has not played much 20/20 domestic cricket. For me, this means he needs to be released to play some, not be stuck on the world stage with no experience whatever. Athers also questioned whether the in-form domestic players would translate to a World Cup. We’ll find out but one of the things we’ve learned this summer is that getting our test players to play county cricket has hugely improved their test match games – the bowlers and Vaughan in particular have all found their touch.

I feel that the 20/20 Squad in particular is brave and inspired selection. It introduces good young players to international cricket in a short and informal (relatively) style of the game. It gives them touring experience, big game pressure and access to other top world players in what is, let’s face it, a less important contest than a test match or One Day world cup. I think we might be in for a surprise too. Watching Luke Wright devastate the Gloucestershire attack in a Pro 40 match last night tells me that if our other specialists fire, we can look forward to a succcessful campaign. That doesn’t mean winning it necessarily, but showing the world of cricket we are more than a test match nation. And whatever happens, it will surely be exciting.

• August 7th, 2007 • Posted in Cricket • Comments: 0

Big Game Washed Out

Never mind your highly paid professionals, this is what the pursuit of sport is really all about. At the back end of a soggy June, the Old Debonians (Deben High School Felixstowe, Old Boys Cricket Team) gathered to play the traditional opposition from the local Trades & Labour Club. Old Debonians has been going since we all left school back in 1983. Tender 18 year olds then. Wizened 42 year olds now.

Now when people talk of dedication, unless they speak of the lengths some go to in order to play in this annual event, they are missing the point entirely. Seamus flew in from Khazakstan. Paul from St Andrews. Tim from Leeds. I could go on. Myself, I travelled merely from Teddington to the wilds of Suffolk. And the bloody match was rained off to be replaced for some by a pool and darts tournament.

The point is this. In this world of sporting greed and hyped celebrity, there are those who still want to get together for a game that is more about friendship than the match itself. Where sport brings people back together and the game is played hard but always viewed in true perspective. From Steve who does all the work organising the venue, to all those who take the time out to keep the flame burning, to those who entertain on email and only rarely show their faces (yes, JBW, I’m talking about you) I salute you.

Same time next year, chaps?

• July 6th, 2007 • Posted in Cricket • Comments: 0

Move heaven and earth to get this man

Allan Donald has indicated he’d love the opportunity to work with England’s fast bowlers. I trust the extremely generous contract is already being couriered to his door. Or perhaps he is being invited to write his own. One of the very, very best fast bowlers of recent generations would be a huge bonus to England’s crop of talented but under-performing pace men. To miss out on him would be a crime.

• May 18th, 2007 • Posted in Cricket • Comments: 3

Darkness can’t hide a dismal finish

So, the ICC World Cup drew to a close on Saturday evening in almost complete darkness. It is somehow fitting in a hugely disappointing tournament, that the showpiece should be shrouded in murk as it reached its… well, actually, climax is too grand a term. How about, erm, last three overs. I mean, really. The Sri Lankans went off for bad light (Bad?? That’s like calling the Sahara ‘dry’) with three overs to go. Aussies celebrate a victory only to be told the final 18 balls must be bowled, perhaps tomorrow. Unbelievable. After much ado about farce, the Sri Lankan batsmen reappeared all but carrying miners’ helmets and carried on, prodding a pointless few runs. Really daft. I cannot see the governing body of any other sport allowing their grand finale to be so utterly shambolic as it finishes.

One good thing, though, at least it won’t have turned any more people off cricket. They all switched channels a long time before…

• May 1st, 2007 • Posted in Cricket • Comments: 0

Fletcher steps down

So did he fall or was he pushed? I guess it doesn’t really matter in the end. I’m trying to work out if this is a good or bad thing. It was certainly inevitable. With the sad demise of Bob Woolmer, who would have been a great replacement, the candidates are thin on the ground. I’ve heard Tom Moody being bandied about. That would be just fine. And the academy coach too. No, no and thrice no. If you’re going to change, change, don’t promote from within.

I thought Fletcher was a fine coach. He took England from the test wasteland and made us no.2 in the world and Ashes winners, beating all-comers on the way and drawing series in the sub-continent. No mean feat. Things have gone astray in the last few months. If he made a mistake or two it’s all in not thinking far enough ahead, resting when he should have been pushing, allowing the players to think they’d ‘made it’. And in the one day arena, he/ECB clearly don’t understand the way the game is going. I think there is an argument for two coaches, and two teams. There will be overlap but what is obvious is that the two sides of the game are racing apart from one another very quickly. In the One Day arena, you just have to have players suited to the particular conditions of the day. You don’t have a fifth day when spin will be important. You have 100 overs on a pitch. Pick on that basis. Pick accuracy, not speed. Pick accumulators, not prodders.

And get Ian Botham to play some part. That man knows what he is talking about. Just don’t make him leave Sky’s team. That would be a big loss.

• April 20th, 2007 • Posted in Cricket • Comments: 0

An end to the pain

So, we got thrashed by South Africa. Well and truly buried. Our capacity for mediocrity matched by an avalanche of aggression by the Proteas. Well done them. I’d like every England player to be forced to watch their approach to batting in particular. Ours was pitiful, there’s quite exhilarating. So how did the England tactical conversation go?

Fletcher: Remember lads, prod around lamely for a good ten overs. See off the new ball and score off the bad balls.
Bell: But boss, what if there aren’t any bad balls?
Fletcher: Piffle. Haven’t you seen Saj Mahmood? There are always bad balls. Often several an over. Trust me on this one. Play yourself in.
Vaughan: But i’ve got no form whatever. What if I get a bad ball and get out after scratching about for ages?
Fletcher: That’s a given, Mike. That’s why we’ve got KP. he’ll take up the slack when you are dismissed tamely.
KP: But what if I get out cheaply, because the run rate is so abysmal that I have to try and force things?
Fletcher: And what chance is there of that? I’ve got a laptop here, y’know. It does stat and everything. Haven’t you seen your average?
Freddie: Can’t I go in at 1 or 2, boss? I hate going in at six, it’s killing my game.
Fletcher: Poppycock. You’re the man to blast us out of trouble when everyone but KP has been dismissed for less than 20. It’s always been the way and it always will be. Your last twenty innings hardly indicate a trend do they? I’ve got a laptop here, y’know. It does stats and everything. You’ll come good when it matters. That’s the way it happens. Now is there anything anyone doesn’t understand?
Saj: Why do I have no idea where the ball is going when I bowl?
Fletcher: Because you aren’t all that good when the pressure’s on. But hey, if you don’t know, neither will the South Africans. And they’ll get out to your worst slow, wide deliveries. I’ve got a laptop here, y’know…

How many times do you try a tactic that blatantly fails before you admit such? There has been severely stubborn Ostrich-like behaviour here and it has really cost us. Because actually, England look a pretty talented side, with one or two exceptions (and I’m talking about Vaughan, who hasn’t ever performed at ODI level, and Mahmood who has too little control to be effective when playing the top nations). GOing forward, every England batsman needs to target a personal run rate of at least 3 in the first 20 overs (and that means we are aiming to go at 6 an over) and then up it every ten overs. Then we are targetting big scores. And if we lose a couple of wickets, only then do we dig in. Digging in as the inninge opens does one thing really well; it lets the oppo bowleers settle. And this is something we absolutely cannot afford.

Sack Fletcher? Not necessarily. He’s a great test match coach. But something is seriously wrong with our one day prep and tactics. It cannot be that hard to work it out.

• April 18th, 2007 • Posted in Cricket • Comments: 0

Please stop this torture

There was a chance to arrive at the ICC World Cup yesterday. A chance to demonstrate intent and belief. To really put down a marker and make other teams a little nervous of playing us. And having reducing Bangladesh to 65-6, I made the fatal mistake of thinking we might actually do so. How stupid of me. From that moment on, we were treated to the most turgid, dull and frankly depressing display I have ever seen by an England one-day side in victory (I use the term merely for definition purposes because it felt like defeat).

Firstly, rather than roll the Bangladeshis over for 80-odd by applying maximum pressure, we relaxed, got sloppy and let them get to 143. Still a poor score but far more than they should have accumulated. But that wasn’t the really terrible thing. Oh no. The batting, now that was truly miserable. Now the Bangladesh attack is neat and tidy. A couple of accurate medium-fasts and a trio of left arm spinners. But there was no spin in this pitch, and no movement off the seam. Just a bit of bounce. Nothing to bother England’s finest. Ahem.

From the first ball, my gloom developed. Instead of tinkering with the order, sending in Freddie to do real damage against the pacemen, Bell and Vaughan prodded and poked around. At 7-0 all the runs were extras. I stifled my first yawn. What the hell were we doing? I’ll tell you…we were gently accumulating runs while keeping wickets intact. What for? Good grief, even at a gentle five an over, the game would have been done in less than thirty overs. I couldn’t believe my eyes. And then the wickets started to fall. I suspect our players were so bored they began falling asleep at the crease. It’s the only explanation for the pathetic display they put up.

And so we batted our way into deeper and deeper trouble. Bangladesh could even have won. I fail to understand our tactics. Flintoff clearly hates coming in against spin bowling. So don’t let him. Put him in at 2. Pietersen is an aggressive and splendid batsman. Put him in at 3, not 4. Show some guts, for god’s sake. And if you lose a couple of wickets for 70 after eight overs, so what? Job done already because your dogged accumulators can come in and clean up, can’t they?

This was not entertainment. This was death by a thousand feeble prods. I didn’t even watch the end. It was too excruciating. A rerun of Location, Location, Location provided more guile, surprise and excitement. The case for the prosecution rests.

• April 12th, 2007 • Posted in Cricket • Comments: 1

A scratched record indeed

England lost to Australia in the World Cup of cricket (or, given how the indigents pronounce it, Ustraya) which in itself is hardly a surprise. What is most disappointing is that the manner of the defeat is depressingly familiar. England’s batting tactics appear to be ismply these: ‘Don’t worry about it, lads, KP, maybe Bell and certainly Collingwood will bail us out when we’re two down for almost nothing.’ And that kind of happened. KP got a fine century. Bell got 77. Trouble is, only three players got into double figures. Flintoff never looks like he wants to bat these days and every time one of our players decides to ‘cut loose’ they inevitably pick the wrong ball to do so. So, we got thirty runs too few.

Then in come the Aussies to bat. And they are very, very good at it. And we had them in some big trouble. That’s because england are pretty good in the field. But we have a huge weakness at the moment and it is most demonstrated by Sajid Mahmood. This is the inability to bowl at, or just outside, off stump for six balls an over. The art of winning one day matches is to strangle runs so much that batsmen are forced into risky shots and get themselves out. Take a look at England’s innings to see how this is brought about. We, Flintoff aside in terms of pace, are flatly unable to do this.

I am sick of hearing how Mahmood is a great talent but you get the odd bad ball every over. I’m sorry but at this level, that simply isn’t good enough. Ustraya took him to the cleaners and we lost the game because of it. I know he’s quick and that’s terribly nice but until he can bowl in the right spot at this great speed, he needs to slow down. I don’t think even he has any idea where the ball is going half the time. Just be accurate. No room = no runs. Simple equation. He and Vaughan/Joyce/Strauss are weakening us fatally at the moment. Too many weak links. Too many repeats of the same problems

My advice; drop Mahmood and bring in Plunkett (who is handy with the bat too). Stick Freddie at the top of the order (like Botham said) and let him flay away. If he’s out for three, it’s no worse than his efforts at number 6, is it? Drop Vaughan down the order to 4. Keep Bell opening. Just try it out. What do we really have to lose?

Amazingly, we can still qualify for the semis because the fabulous Bangladesh side beat the arrogant South Africans (who do not look like winners to me). And we may do so. But unless we do the simple things right, there’ll be no point, will there?

• April 10th, 2007 • Posted in Cricket • Comments: 0