Archive for the ‘T20’ Category

Reversal of fortune

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

When Sri Lanka’s third wicket fell in Sunday’s World Twenty20 final, Mahela Jayawardene turned his eyes upwards. With 51 runs on the board at the halfway stage and chasing 138, it could have been a plea for divine intervention. It could have been simple exasperation. To all the rest of us watching, it signalled the tantalising – and momentous – possibility that the West Indies’ long, turbulent years in the international cricket doldrums might finally be coming to an end.

It was a notable reversal of fortune from the previous time the two sides had met in this tournament: in their Super Eight game Sri Lanka had won by 9 wickets, with only a 65-run partnership between Dwayne Bravo and Marlon Samuels saving the Windies’ blushes. In the final, it was Marlon Samuels again who stepped up when everyone else – including the big-hitting Chris Gayle – fell around him. From 32-2 after ten overs – an uncharacteristically slow start for the West Indies if ever there was one – he managed to drag his team to a total not only respectable but, as it turned out, defendable. Sri Lanka were all out for 101 in 18.4 overs and the riotous celebrations began. A harsher critic might say that the Lankans bottled it, but it was tough not to feel for Jayawardene when he resigned his captaincy soon afterward; rarely do cricketers come classier than him and, up until Sunday, his team were arguably the best allround side on display throughout the competition.

But nowhere is the spirit of carpe diem more important than in T20, and in a game where moments prove decisive and a well-timed runout or booming six into the stands can turn the game, the Windies seized every opportunity as the Sri Lankans faltered.

While it’s premature to talk about a new dynasty in West Indies cricket, boy was this victory great to see. Marlon Samuels’ continued rise in stature and maturity will come as no surprise to those who saw him in England earlier this year, and Darren Sammy may be a cricketer of limited talent but has proved an inspirational captain, truly the raising-agent in the West Indies’ recipe for success. Both men spoke from the heart in the post-match presentation about how much the victory meant to them, Samuels almost defiant in his jubilation. “We will celebrate as long as possible and enjoy the moment. This is a moment to cherish, and cherish forever. The entire Caribbean embraces it. The sky is the limit and words can’t really explain it. It means the world to us.” Perhaps most encouragingly, he added, “We want to be on top, even in Test cricket, as Test cricket is the best.” While that will take some leap, and considerable domestic and administrative reorganization for that to happen, what is most important is that this is a team that now knows it can win. It has started to believe.

I have to say I enjoyed this year’s World Twenty20. Reservations about the format remain, and while the concerns of the administrators of Associate nations who want their sides to face Full Member opposition more often remain valid – how else are they to improve? – the fact the “minnows” failed to punch above their weight will, sadly, have provided ammunition to those who are against an expanded format. But set against the interminable 50-over version, this was a short, sharp, enjoyable tournament with cricket of high quality. The likes of Chris Gayle, Shane Watson, Ajantha Mendis and Virat Kohli displayed superlative skill and gave us great entertainment.

England, on the other hand, failed to get the pulse racing, with a campaign that, with the exception of their victories over Afghanistan and New Zealand, careened from the merely lacklustre to the downright clueless. Over the last few months, team England has started to resemble a punctured tyre with the air slowly leaking from it; with the absence of Kevin Pietersen their stumbling route to the exit proved a flat affair indeed. Andy Flower tried a few different patches to slow the bleeding, but it all smacked of desperation. Samit Patel, dropped for the New Zealand game because he’d been tonked round the park by Chris Gayle in the previous match and gone for 38 runs, was replaced by slow left-armer Danny Briggs, who ended up being tonked around the park by James Franklin to the tune of 36 runs; Patel, brought back for the match against Sri Lanka, ironically proved to be England’s standout batsman with a fine knock of 67. Equally baffling was the selection of Ravi Bopara who, chronically down on confidence and runs, couldn’t get back to the pavilion fast enough when he was bowled by Jeevan Mendis. Sadly, that ill-timed call-up may have torpedoed his international career for good.

Lasith Malinga was magnificent in that match, putting paid to criticisms that he’s lost his nip, but it was England’s woefulness against spin that had fans tearing their hair out in despair, especially looking ahead to the winter tour to India. The matches against Sri Lanka and India showed England at their very worst: an inexperienced batting lineup unsure whether to defend or hit out in a display akin to a headless chicken running erratically around a farmyard while its executioner calmly waits for it to exsanguinate.

Pietersen impressed as a pundit in the ESPN studios when he should have been playing. It’s hoped he’ll be added to the squad for India, but this is dependent on the results of a “process of reintegration” he must complete before he is welcomed back into the fold. After boggling at the bizarre nature of the press conference in which ECB chairman Giles Clarke compared Pietersen to a criminal being reintroduced back into society – this from an organization all too quick to jump into bed with a crooked Texan billionaire – I was wondering exactly what this process might entail. My eyebrows having been further raised by David Collier’s comment that South Africa “provoked” Pietersen into sending the texts that saw him dropped for the Lord’s Test, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say they fair leapt off my forehead when I read in this week’s edition of The Cricket Paper that Pietersen, currently in South Africa for the Champions League T20, “is set to remain with the Delhi Daredevils for as long as they continue in the tournament, but he is also expected to undertake a potentially exhausting series of long-haul flights to and from the UK, in order to try and make peace with players on an individual basis, possibly with the aid of a ‘trained disputes mediator’.”

One of Pietersen’s supporters through all of this has been Chris Gayle, back destroying bowlers on the world stage after a bitter rift between himself and the West Indies Cricket Board. The Windies are a better side with Gayle in it. England, similarly, are a better side when Kevin Pietersen goes out to bat for them. Surely, it’s time now to move on from all this nonsense.

Papering over the cracks

Friday, September 16th, 2011

As I write this, Leicestershire are en route to Hyderabad to take part in the Champions League T20 tournament. They booked their place in this series by dint of reaching the English domestic T20 final at Edgbaston back in August, which they of course went on to win.

As the crowning achievement to a superb domestic T20 campaign it is a fitting reward, and all Leicestershire fans will wish them well ahead of their first match against Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday.

The financial rewards are, of course, very welcome, and so is the shiny FLT20 trophy residing in the display cabinet at Grace Road.

But that the departure for India followed hard on the heels of yet another crashing defeat in the LV= County Championship serves as a reminder that as a season of contrasts the difference between Leicestershire’s T20 form and its performances in Championship and CB40 matches in 2011 could not have been more stark.

In the Championship, Leicestershire finished at the bottom of Division 2 by some considerable margin – compare their 88 points to the next team above them, Kent, who amassed 149. They won only one game, against Glamorgan at the start of the season. Among their defeats, scores of 34 all out against Essex at Southend, and 48 all out at Grace Road versus Northants, are but only two moments in a long litany of failure which Foxes fans will be keen to have scrubbed from the memory banks.

The team are not incapable – with a couple of exceptions it is virtually the same lineup that won 7 matches last year, finished fourth in Division 2 and was in with a shout of promotion – but if anything their performance as a unit in the four-day game seems to have gone backwards.

Over the last few days, the only part Leicestershire has played in the greater scheme of who ended up where in the table was as a potential spoiler to Middlesex eventually ending up as division champions. There were rays of hope for next season for the Foxes: first innings centuries for Greg Smith and Ned Eckersley (who also took six catches behind the stumps during the visitors’ first dig), and useful 50s for the two as well as a much needed 80 (from a personal as well as a team standpoint) for James Taylor in Leicestershire’s second innings as the Foxes strove for at least the moral victory of making Middlesex bat again.

Wayne White put his back into the bowling to give Middlesex some palpitations on their way to a negligible target of 124, but as a win for the visitors was never in doubt, it was a case of sweeping up the shards of a team’s shattered respectability.

Last year, I seem to recall, ended on a note of hope for the new season, too, so you’ll excuse me if I take a pass this time on the Michael Vaughan method of taking the “positives” out of the situation.

As with so many of Leicestershire’s championship endeavours in 2011, the bad more often outweighed the good – one instance in this match just gone being that Leicestershire’s extremely indifferent bowling in the last 30 overs of Middlesex’s first innings allowed the visitors to score an additional 182 runs after being 320-8.

I realise I might sound curmudgeonly about all this, given the team are embarked on what will be, for many of them, one of the biggest adventures of their young lives, and with the promise of riches for the club at the end of it.

Indeed, it’s easy to gloss over failures in other formats. T20 gets people through the turnstiles, money into the club’s coffers, entry into international tournaments and sponsorship and publicity.

For a small, struggling club like Leicestershire, this is immense. Through the combination of numerous initiatives, cuts in expenditure and success in the T20, the club is in considerably better financial shape than it was last year.

The 40-over competition is also popular with the fans – there have been some decent crowds at Grace Road for the CB40 matches – but despite this it is widely disregarded as the least important of the three domestic competitions, and Leicestershire very quickly gave the impression of not really caring about the format either, given the frequency with which players were rested.

But continued under-performance in the four-day game can only hurt the club in the long run. Future England players are judged by their performances in this format. Warwickshire are likely to take a second tilt at prising James Taylor away from Grace Road over the winter, and given the clubs’ relative performances this year, one could hardly blame him for going. While the likes of Greg Smith and Ned Eckersley are talented but callow enough that rival clubs will wait a couple of years before brandishing their chequebooks, Leicestershire’s continued poor performance will not encourage these players to stay should a county with a Test ground come calling.

Success in glitzy T20 tournaments is all very well, but the goal of promotion to Division 1 of the County Championship should take precedence over everything else. There is, of course, the feeling that Division 2 breeds reduced expectation – sure, there is the sop of a trophy for winning it, but the reward of promotion looks distinctly second-best compared to hoisting the trophy amidst the kind of scenes we saw at Taunton yesterday. The irony is, of course, that Lancashire ended up 2011 County champions with a team appreciably no better than Leicestershire’s in terms of “star quality” – but they triumphed through a combination of consistency, self-belief and unwavering determination to attain that one clear shining goal that they never lost sight of.

Leicestershire need to get themselves into a position where that goal can become a reality, and that means promotion. Hopefully the money that’s come as a result of their T20 success can be used in this direction. Andrew McDonald will not be with us next year. I’ll be very surprised if James Taylor hasn’t played his last championship game for the Foxes. There’s talk of finding a senior batsman to add some much needed experience and stability to the batting and to act as a mentor to the youngsters (HD Ackerman filled this role admirably a couple of years back when Cobb and Taylor were still wet behind the ears). Martin van Jaarsveld is one name that’s been bandied about, and Nic Pothas has recently become available after being released by Hampshire. Either of these would be very welcome additions indeed.

I, like other Foxes fans, will be sitting on the edge of my seat over the next couple of weeks, cheering the team on in their Indian adventure, willing them on to another final and another trophy. One can be nothing but immensely proud of them for their success in T20 this year. But one would hope that once their plane touches down back in the UK, when they leave behind the heady atmosphere of a steamy subcontinent, the bright lights of the Indian stadiums and the crowds and the adrenaline, and return to a chilly, misty, leaf-strewn Grace Road, that their attention turns once more – and with some urgency – to next year’s County Championship.

And that should include trying to figure out what went so catastrophically wrong in 2011, and what can be done to fix it.

Jigar ponders

Jigar Naik ponders how to bring Middlesex's innings to a swifter conclusion


Foxes ride rollercoaster to victory

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

It’s been a right old up-and-down week as a Foxes fan.

Thursday: Leicestershire crash to defeat by Surrey at Grace Road in the latest chapter of what has been a dismal championship season.

Same day: James Taylor makes his England ODI debut and scores 1 off 8 balls.

That evening: news spreads that Harry Gurney, the man who has helped bowl the county to T20 Finals Day, is off to Nottinghamshire on a three year deal. Not only that, but injury means that he will not be taking part in  Saturday’s extravaganza.

Friday: the England ODI and T20 squads are announced. James Taylor is in neither of them.

Today, Saturday, August 27th: Leicestershire win their semi-final versus Lancashire by the skin of their teeth, conceding 6 off the last ball of the match to take it to a super-over. Big Will Jefferson, fresh from 121 against Surrey, is the hero of the hour. He wins it for the Foxes with a balls-out, guns-blazing, almighty heave into the crowd for 6, followed by a primal scream of triumph.

Nerve-shredding? Only slightly.

T20 finalist; place in the Champions League qualifiers assured: I was prepared to accept this should they fall at the last hurdle. Actually to hell with that. A loss would have been gutting. It would have been the end of a dire week, and it would have hurt like a motherfucker.

In the final, Somerset limited Leicestershire to 145-6. Abdul Razzaq, opening instead of Andrew McDonald, made a subdued 33. Josh Cobb’s stay at the crease was worth a brief but entertaining 18; Jefferson again played his heart out for 35. Around the 12th over, as wickets started falling regularly, momentum ebbed.

It was a total that looked about 20 short. 20 runs is the difference between twitchy uncertainty and fatalistic resignation.

And then the magic. A true team effort that shows what a small county – struggling financially, plundered for its talent, written off by all and sundry – can do when it believes.

Five Somerset wickets fell in the space of 19 runs – Hildreth, Pollard, Trego, Suppiah and Buttler.

Josh Cobb and Matthew Boyce were the double-act that headlined the show. Every wicket of Cobb’s was caught by super-sub Boyce on the midwicket boundary.

A superlative diving catch by Paul Nixon to dismiss danger man Pollard would have done credit to a man twenty years younger; he will have to put that retirement on ice for a bit longer because boys, you’ve bagged yourselves a trip to Hyderabad.

Hell, Charlie Fox even won the mascot derby.

“Good luck to the underdogs,” Hampshire captain Dominic Cork said prior to the final.

See, the thing with underdogs is: sometimes they have a tendency to bite you on the arse.

Well played, lads. Well bloody played.

Foxes down Spitfires on way to Finals Day

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

No one seriously gave Leicestershire a chance.

Yesterday, they played Kent in the T20 Quarter Final match at Grace Road. Before the match started, all the Sky commentators tipped Kent. Journalists, critics and various self-appointed experts rubbed their chins contemplatively and pronounced from on high that the Foxes were lucky to get this far.

Even a report in the Sunday Times today started with “Leicestershire are as near to hopeless as makes no difference in championship and 40-over cricket this summer, so possibly they surprised even themselves by qualifying for the Friends Life Twenty20 quarter-finals”.

It is almost de rigeur to look down one’s nose at Leicestershire, an unfashionable county by any measure. Lack of money; small ground stuck in the middle of a housing estate; over-reliance until a few years ago on Kolpak players; currently battling for wooden spoon honours in the County Championship; CB40 competition long given up for lost. There are those who even say they shouldn’t have first class status, such is their withering contempt.

And even though the county has been in the habit of producing players for England and its associated development squads lately, the suggestion that James Taylor won’t seriously be considered for full international honours until he moves to a Division One county haven’t helped Leicestershire’s image as some kind of Dickensian cricketing ghetto that promising youngsters should be plucked from forthwith if they are to get on in the world.

At the mid-way point yesterday, after Kent had batted first and amassed a colossal 203 for the loss of only 3 wickets off their 20 overs, there must have been a lot of prematurely written match-reports waiting only for pithily-scripted variations on “result never in doubt” before their authors hit the “send” button.

But anyone who wrote Leicestershire off in this match, even in the face of chasing down the second highest T20 total ever scored at Grace Road, obviously hasn’t been paying much attention.

Partnerships were, and always have been, the key in this form of the game for the Foxes, and Leicestershire made their intent to not leave anything in the locker plain from the outset. Josh Cobb, reinvented as a pinch-hitter at the top of the order after a lull in his career following a maiden first class century at Lord’s while still a teenager, pasted Azhar Mahmood for 6 off only the 4th ball of the innings.

He fell for 18, but opening partner Andrew McDonald carried on for a brisk 53 off 32 balls with every other Leicester batsman  – bar Will Jefferson, who fell to a marginal lbw decision – carving the admittedly lacklustre Kent bowling to all parts of the ground.

James Taylor, no doubt galvanised by being unfathomably passed over for Ravi Bopara for the England squad for the 3rd Test at Edgbaston, swept, drove and pulled for his 22 after taking a blinder of a flying catch in the field to put an end to Azhar Mahmood’s mighty innings of 91, but arguably the real star of the day was the man who was playing his last game at Grace Road.

Running Man

Running Man - Nixon gets the Foxes to Finals Day

Paul Nixon, in the manner of Indiana Jones, could just as well say it’s not so much the age as the mileage that’s forcing him to hang up his bat, but neither seemed much of an impediment to him yesterday. Hitting 4 fours and a towering straight six before he was dismissed, his 31 left Leicestershire needing only 2 runs for victory.

Matthew Boyce hit the winning runs with a scorching offside boundary with 4 balls to spare. The playing area was invaded, Nixon was hoisted aloft, a pint pushed into his hand and he was carried off the field by an adoring crowd.

“We didn’t bowl well enough,” Kent captain Rob Key said afterwards. “But I never thought they’d get close.”

It was hard not to conclude from this that there’d been perhaps a touch of complacency about Kent – borne out by their subpar bowling and fielding – and too on the part of everyone else who wrote Leicestershire off.

It is because they are regarded as the underdog, and that in a year which has brought so much disappointment in the championship and CB40 competitions, that the Foxes will not die wondering in this year’s T20.

The opponent who is most to be feared is the one who has nothing left to lose. They won yesterday because they were prepared to throw everything they had at chasing down the total even if it meant losing wickets. They have a potent mix of young, hungry talent and older, seasoned campaigners who know a thing or two about defying the odds. Paul Nixon, part of the one-day international setup that won the 2007 Commonwealth Bank series and salvaged some English pride after the horrors of the Ashes, knows this probably better than anyone.

Neither Nixon or Andrew McDonald will be with the county next year. But before that, there is a semi-final at Edgbaston to be won. And beyond that, well, anything is possible.

Yesterday, as the Leicestershire openers walked out to embark on that already written-off run-chase, I tweeted “Massive total by Kent, but I still believe”.

And as the Foxes look forward to Finals Day on August 27th, I still do.

Get your claws in, lads.

Limited overs, limited interest

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

I am having a bit of trouble getting into the IPL this year. Blogging cheerleaders aside, it hasn’t really grabbed me. God knows I’ve tried to take an interest, but considering match 67 has just been played and the competition is still in the group stages, well, that is quite frankly taking the piss. And folks complained about the World Cup being long.

Of the players participating, the gulf in talent and ability between the internationals and younger, inexperienced players seems to have widened. The likes of Gilchrist, Gayle and Sehwag have produced entertaining innings, sure, but off such piss-poor bowling that you feel impelled to append an asterisk next to their innings with attendant qualification: “filthy full tosses; dropped twice; given out lbw when ball would have missed second set of stumps”.

Everyone seems to have changed teams as well, which doesn’t help. I suppose this is less of an issue if your allegiance is based primarily on regional criteria; but for the rest of us it is pretty farking confusing. And from a purely aesthetic stand-point, you know the competition has reached the point of no redemption when the Kolkata Knight Riders’ team colours look positively restrained compared to the rest. Christ, Kochi… my eyes!

If Test cricket is the sport’s Grand Old Man, then T20 is the kid with ADHD whose parents maintain is “special” but who really just needs Ritalin and a slap upside the head, Sreesanth-style.

From one pointless competition to another: Leicestershire have now lost five of their six CB40 games this season. The latest and most comprehensive battering came at the hands of Warwickshire this Sunday past, and this was a Warwickshire sans the services of Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, and Chris Woakes – not that their absence made the slightest iota of difference as to the result.

Not all the arguments against the 40-over format are entirely fair, in my opinion: the one that says we should be playing 50-over cricket to develop our players for ODIs doesn’t really wash – South Africa don’t have a domestic 50-over game and they seemed quite decent at the old One Day stuff last time I checked (propensity for clutching defeat from the jaws of victory aside).

Crowd numbers at Grace Road have been noticeably good, but the uncomfortable feeling among the faithful is that the Foxes have written off this competition already. Granted, it is prohibitively and ridiculously difficult to progress to the semi-finals – first-placed team in each of the three groups go through plus the best second-placed side – and given Leicestershire’s record in this form of the game, we were always likely to be on a hiding to sweet proverbial.

But the tendency to rest key players has not gone down well with many fans, though one must look at this pragmatically and given that we do not have a large squad this year, players who are carrying niggles must be rested and the CB40 series has obviously become “designated recovery time”.

Pragmatism, though, can only take you so far in trying to swallow the sight of an inexperienced second-string bowling attack being pasted round the ground by Varun Chopra and Will Porterfield. Leicestershire are now second bottom in their table above Scotland, the only team they have beaten so far. With any hope of advancement well and truly gone, I guess they can stop now even pretending to give a tinker’s cuss about it.

Problem is, the spectators could very well stop caring, too.

That Leicestershire seem to be putting all their eggs into the Championship and T20 basket is understandable, certainly in the first instance, considering we were in with a chance of promotion last season.

But the fact we still seem to have our hands cupped under the arse of the T20 goose waiting for it to lay the golden egg is rather more worrying. Last year, the egg ended up on another part of the club’s anatomy entirely when unrealistic expectations went unmet to the tune of a £403k loss. FPT20 receipts were £55K down on budget.

Granted, times are tough for all of us, financially. But T20 seems now to have jumped the shark. The IPL is too wrapped up in its own razzmatazz to realise this yet, but it will. Viewing figures are reportedly down 20 percent on last year.

The windfall-that-never-came bit most counties on the arse last year. Leicestershire recently renegotiated the covenant on its Grace Road ground with Leicester City Council to “give some tangible security to its bankers in respect of working capital facilities”. Not long after this, new chairman Paul Haywood stated that he wanted to increase Leicestershire’s playing budget. The club are currently in negotiations to sign Indian all-rounder Irfan Pathan for this year’s T20 campaign.

Pathan is no longer a regular in the India team, but has acquitted himself pretty well in the IPL for Delhi; he will not come cheap. Financially the club are stretched to the limit. You do not need to be Alan Sugar to deduce that throwing big money after one player who may or may not make a difference is a gamble we can ill afford to take.

But as long as the T20 circus continues, we will all keep following that rainbow, praying for that one big pay day. There is one piece of good news. India will be at Grace Road on the August Bank Holiday Monday for a T20 game. Tickets are reportedly sold out. Given that Leicestershire’s advertising in the past for tour matches has been almost non-existent, this is good news, but then you’d have to think if they couldn’t sell out a game featuring some of the best players in the world to a population with a large Indian contingent, then you’d have to be doing something wrong.

The India match aside, financially and results-wise it looks like being a case of same-old for Leicestershire, given there are the same amount of T20 matches this year as last. The T20 novelty has gone, and apathy has set in.

There is something else that traverses quickly through the innards of a goose, and it isn’t always an egg made of gold.

Split captaincy for short-of-options England

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Paul Collingwood is “very disappointed” at being stripped of the Twenty20 captaincy.

Stuart Broad, his replacement, has said, “It’s a huge privilege to be named England Twenty20 captain and form part of a leadership team that I’ve no doubt will work well together with a great deal of synergy,” craftily using management-speak pablum to repeat himself in the same sentence.

Alastair Cook, England’s new ODI captain, looked like a Chinese water deer in the sights of one of his own shotguns as he proffered some flannel about how his one-day form for Essex has improved even though he hasn’t been a part of England’s one-day side “for a while” – not since March 2010, to be exact.

One can understand Andrew Strauss relinquishing the One Day captaincy and retiring from this form of the game. He, along with Andy Flower, have been the prime movers in England’s recent Ashes success but both men have recognized the need to pace themselves. There is the suggestion that Flower, in extending his coaching contract with England, will be able to sit out selected tours, and Strauss, who will be 38 at the time of the next World Cup, understandably wishes to concentrate on Test cricket and the captaincy job he has performed so admirably.

The message today’s split-captaincy announcements seem to send out is that, with the Test team settled, the 2015 World Cup is now the next item on England’s agenda.

The only problem is, neither of these captaincy appointments is ideal and smack of a makeshift approach because of a lack of other options.

Cook’s form in Test cricket is unquestioned. But for a man who has played only 3 ODIs in the last two and a half years to not only be shoehorned into the team but also given the captaincy sounds like desperation. It suggests that since Cook is Test captain-in-waiting he was the only option.

He may very well turn out to be effective in the opening position Strauss has now vacated – I doubt he will perform any worse than Matt Prior did – but leading the team to victory in one series against Bangladesh hardly suggests a CV with any great depth in the captaincy department.

I have bigger problems with Stuart Broad as England’s new Twenty20 captain.

Cook may have captained England in five matches already; Broad does not even have that.

At the start of today’s press conference, England managing director Hugh Morris referred to Broad’s “leadership credentials”. What those are, exactly, remains unexplained. Broad, while being of undeniable value to an England team in terms of his bowling, will hardly be of much use to his country if he is watching from the sidelines because he has clashed heads with officialdom.

Broad, while earning plaudits for his bowling and batting in the series against Pakistan last year, won himself rather fewer fans with his on-field behaviour, and there were many, myself included, who believed the penalty levied against him for petulantly hurling the ball at Zulqarnain Haider should have been considerably stiffer.

Broad says he has “learned from that” and wants to “set a good example and play the game in the right way,” but I am yet to be convinced.

I’m always wary when it comes to setting up sportsmen as paragons of what examples to the young should be, but it’s the idea that the England management have confused petulance with competitiveness – and worse, leadership potential – that worries me.

Personally, I’d like to have seen Kevin Pietersen given another shot at captaincy – in either format – but despite what KP might say regarding being in large part responsible for England’s renaissance after the removal of Peter Moores (and I’d be inclined to agree with him), the fact that Andy Flower was also in his sights no doubt remains a black mark against him.

So now, England will take on this summer’s visitors Sri Lanka and India with two inexperienced captains, a new ODI opening partnership and a bowler-captain who is rightly praised for his ability to take wickets but not for his maturity or anything that would suggest statesmanship or tactical nous.

This has been brought about because the England management have decided there are no other options: hardly a ringing endorsement for the two new incumbents.

Andy Flower has admitted the appointment of three captains is a gamble – “over the next few years we will see if that works or not,” and referred to it as “the most effective use of our resources”.

Such as they are.

When your home is not your own

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

It’s weird, the transformation that occurs to my second home during a T20 match.

It’s like coming home after a day’s work to find you have all these distant relatives who you don’t know and who have turned up for a big party. The kids are jumping on the furniture and the adults have raided the drinks cabinet and are playing shit music on your stereo. Everyone is rowdy and talkative and having a good time. The only thing you can do is think “well, this kind of family reunion only happens once a year at most, so I may as well just go with it.” And while you’d not relish this kind of thing happening every day, and you know you’ll be glad to see the back of them, you realise that you are enjoying this while it lasts, and you are having fun.

Today was the first T20 match of the season at Grace Road. Instead of just rocking up late morning/early afternoon, pushing through the turnstile after swiping my card and parking myself on a bench in front of the pavilion with a sigh of serene contentment, I had to negotiate security staff doing bag checks, stewards with walkie-talkies which squawked suddenly into life with loud bursts of static, kids chasing each other in front of the pavilion, long queues for the bar and the burger van and scantily clad young ladies handing out 4 and 6 cards. It was great. No matter what you may think of T20 – and I’m one of those who enjoy it in moderation – you know summer’s really here when they pull in the boundary, crank up the amplifiers and announce every new batsman’s arrival at the crease like they’re Russell Crowe in Gladiator.

Good crowd in

Good crowd in

Leicestershire and Derbyshire are pretty well matched as sides. T20 is historically Leicestershire’s preferred format. We lost today, by 11 runs. As a Leicestershire member I’m used to this. My last post was written back in April and I couldn’t believe we’d started the season so well. Since then it’s been one long immersion in the bollock-shrivelling icebath of reality, with Leics on the receiving end of hammerings by Scotland, Sussex, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Glamorgan.

Still, hope springs eternal and all that, and there were some good things to take away from this match.

Harry Gurney

Harry Gurney

Harry Gurney was our standout bowler – he’s another young talent who I hope we keep on our books for as long as possible – who stoppered up the runs in the early overs aided in fine fashion by Captain Hoggard at the other end. Andrew McDonald was magnificent with the bat, smiting 8 fours in a superb innings of 67. But aside from a useful partnership with Nixon, no one else managed to stay with him. Brad Hodge gave his wicket away and looked extremely rusty (and I’m being charitable here) with the ball; he and McDonald were particularly expensive.

Nevertheless we do have a fairly good T20 side and I’m hopeful we can get it together in time for our next encounter versus Northants at Wantage Road. Kipling’s imposters – triumph and disaster – I’m used now to meeting on equal terms, but more of the former and less of the latter for a change would be nice.

Morgan Makes His Mark

Saturday, November 14th, 2009

On the wall above my television hangs a photograph of Victor Trumper, crown prince of cricket’s Golden Age and arguably the greatest batsman in the history of the game. He’s playing a yorker to the square-leg boundary.

Think about that for a minute. Fast bowlers would send a toe-crushing missile down the line of leg stump and go up for lbw only to find that Trumper had lifted his foot, got bat on ball and sent it racing away to the boundary. Orthodoxy didn’t matter that much to the great man when circumstances demanded it. “Cricket,” wrote Monty Noble, “at that time was languishing under the spell of orthodoxy and passive resistance… Victor’s wonderful demonstrations shocked old ideas and brought light out of semi-darkness. With his coming the old order passed for ever.”

Trumper was ahead of his time and there will never be another like him. Sadly though, it seems orthodoxy and passive resistance still have a place in modern cricket, and nowhere has this been more infuriatingly obvious than in the England team’s approach to the limited overs formats. “One has to be very sure of oneself to go against the ordinary view of things; and if one isn’t, perhaps it’s better not to run any risks, but just to walk along the same secure old road as the common herd. It’s not exhilarating, it’s not brave, and it’s rather dull; but it’s eminently safe.” Somerset Maugham never played cricket for England, but it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine this gem from Mrs Craddock included in a current England batting manual.

So imagine my surprise when Eoin Morgan’s flick back over the head of the umpire for six in last night’s first Pro20 game against South Africa wasn’t greeted with angry villagers brandishing flaming torches and pitchforks. Advancing down the pitch to the quicks; a towering straight six; the ball deposited on top of a three-storey building; reverse sweeps for 4… who the hell is this heretic and how did he get into the England team? 85 off 45 balls, 188.88 strike rate: look, just do yourself a favour and look at the scorecard, and marvel.

The match fizzled out when the deluge set in and England won by a D/L-assisted 1 run, but it’s the new fearlessness of the batting that’s the real story here. Of course England have been here before and with another buccaneering batsman of Irish heritage no less, in the form of Mal Loye in the Commonwealth Bank series of 2006-7. Loye was only ever a stand-in for the injured Michael Vaughan, a fact made plain to him by the then Chairman of Selectors David Graveney when he was subsequently left out of the World Cup squad: shoddy treatment meted out to a man who many argued should have been in the England squad years before on the back of scintillating form for Northants.

Loye’s brief appearance on the international stage was memorable for his utter disdain for orthodoxy in attacking the bowling. That’s not to say he couldn’t play outstanding orthodox cricket shots; those big booming drives were as satisfying in their way as him getting down on one knee and slog-sweeping Brett Lee (and Glenn McGrath, Shane Bond, Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Bracken) into the stands for six. Because it’s for those slog-sweeps England fans will always remember him: even when his foot slipped in the 10th ODI and a thunderbolt from McGrath hit him in the mouth necessitating the need for a visit to the hospital and three stitches, he was back at it again in the 2nd final, carting McGrath over the square-leg boundary rope from a ball pitched wide of off-stump.

The trouble is that one always felt that Loye’s idiosyncratic (but effective) approach was considered a little outré by those that run English cricket. One gets the feeling they’d never seen the like of a batsman rampaging down the wicket to a fast bowler and risking teeth and limb to throw him off his length, and they found it all rather overly flamboyant with a bit too much risk involved. It’s as if the board of selectors feared this orgy of slog-sweeping might usher in an apocalypse of flicks, scoops and a maelstrom of fast-paced hitting, and there was something a bit, well, not quite English about all of this.

Eoin Morgan isn’t Mal Loye – there’s less of the eccentrically-intense maverick about him – and he’s certainly not Victor Trumper, but by god it did the heart good to see him taking the attack to South Africa. And yes, as in the case of Loye, his offence-before-defence approach may not always come off. There will be times he’ll get out cheaply to a shot falling the wrong side of the line separating genius from rash impulsiveness. But this type of batting should be encouraged – hell, it should be celebrated, even in the event of failure – and not stifled. Morgan, showing a commendably level head, isn’t taking anything for granted as far his place in the team goes but his performance last night suggests he will be there for some time, and that’s as it should be.

After plumbing the depths of a post-Ashes 6-1 ODI drubbing at the hands of Australia, England showed signs of their brave new intent in the Champions Trophy with victories over Sri Lanka and South Africa, two of the finest limited overs sides in world cricket. When asked where this new intent – some might say recklessness – had come from, Andrew Strauss responded: “I think one of the things we’ve done since coming here is to go out and show people what we can do and not die wondering. That’s come out in both the games we’ve played.”

When I look at my photo of Trumper, that lifted left foot and bat jammed down sending the ball on its way for four, I wonder sometimes what he would have thought of this limited overs malarkey, and Twenty20 in particular. I’m thinking his eyes would have lit up at the batsman-friendly wickets, his blood would have fired at the thought of imposing himself on the bowling, and the challenge of hitting as many sixes into the crowd as possible would have been like the bray of a trumpet to a battle-charger. Perhaps, on the evidence of their showing in the Champions Trophy, and the Pro20 last night, England are taking a leaf out of Trumper’s book at last and exploring the possibilities that they’ve never before seriously considered. What this heralds for a team currently languishing 6th in the ODI rankings and 9th in the Twenty20 wins-percentage table is anyone’s guess, but at least they – and we – won’t die wondering.