Archive for June, 2011

England World T20 champions – surely some mistake

Monday, June 27th, 2011

England were disciplined, relentless, showed no mercy and dismantled their opposition.

Then the blokes came on.

The England women played before the men as a first course to the main attraction, but in terms of performance and results their billing could just as well have been reversed.

Granted, this was not quite the same team that lifted the trophy at the ICC World Twenty20 final in Barbados last year, with four of the 2010 team being, at the time of writing, absent from the game through injury, retirement, omission in the case of the then-captain Collingwood and, sadly, depression in the case of Michael Yardy.

But given both of England’s openers (including 2010 Man of the Match Craig Kieswetter) were out by the end of the third over and with only 12 runs on the board, and the only standout period being the 83-run partnership between Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan, you could be fooled into thinking 2010 was all some kind of bizarre error.

England deserve all the plaudits showered upon them as a Test side (the listlessness of the Tests just gone aside) but in the shorter forms of the game they still veer between the just-about-competent and the diabolically useless, with little in between.

You knew this match had the potential to go very wrong indeed from the moment it was divulged at the toss that Ian Bell would not be playing. When asked to explain this decision, England’s new T20 captain Stuart Broad made some sounds that may have resembled words, but they were so devoid of anything beyond evasive flannel I can’t remember a single damn thing he said.

I do remember what Broad said at the end of the match, when he was interviewed as the losing captain, but I’ll get to that in a bit, when you too, dear reader, can join me in frothing at the mouth in disbelief at the utter non-logic of it all.

We’re not in Barbados any more, Toto.

Anyway, Kieswetter and Lumb slogged their way ignominiously out of the reckoning as far as any meaningful contribution to this match was concerned, and after Kevin Pietersen departed, having finally laid our minds at rest that his horror trot could be over – let’s not mention the fact that Sanath Jayasuriya, who took his wicket, bowls left-arm spin – only one boundary was scored in the last 9 overs.

Samit Patel may have lost (some) weight but it’s not made him any quicker, as he was involved in an embarrassing run-out. Perhaps he’d have been less tardy making it back to his crease if there had been a pie placed on it.

Ravi Bopara dawdled nervously, Luke Wright’s continued inclusion continues to strike me as nothing other than Wrong, and that was all she wrote as England could manage only 136-9.

As only one world-class partnership came to the party for England, so it took the world-class Sri Lankan duo of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara to take their side to victory with 97 runs between them. Theirs was a partnership of unruffled, assured excellence. They are two of the world’s best Test batsmen, and they played as such, showing that particular ability common to all true greats to pace their innings according to the demands of the format – a skill that seems beyond many of their England counterparts.

If Morgan and Pietersen were the thoroughbreds to the glue-factory rejects that comprised the rest of England’s batting, the bowling proved to be similarly in need of direction, with Jade Dernbach the only man to take a wicket (Jayasuriya, whose politically engineered inclusion in this team is a kick in the teeth for everything that cricket, and indeed democracy, stands for).

Dernbach – 6 feet 2, hair gel, body art – is highly regarded by England bowling coach David Saker. A seamer whose slower ball is the most effective weapon in his armoury, he alone gave the Sri Lankan batsmen pause on their otherwise inexorable march to victory.

It is hard, and perhaps slightly unfair, to judge Stuart Broad on his first outing as captain. But considering Eoin Morgan seemed to be doing much of the field-placing during the latter overs of the game as Broad fielded on the boundary, it may turn out to be a short-lived appointment.

Of course, you could also say Broad really didn’t have a heck of a lot to work with. Considering neither Patel or Bopara made any convincing argument to justify their recall to England colours, are we to assume that T20 is nothing but a training ground in which to blood new or inexperienced players and that the result of the match is worth gambling on for that reason? How much do England really care about T20 anyway? A mostly domestic phenomenon, there are precious few T20 internationals before the next World Cup in September 2012, and they looked a pale shadow of the unit that won in 2010.

You could also say: play your best team. Jayawardene and Sangakkara are prime examples of Test virtuosos who can adapt their games. Ian Bell is in superb form at the moment. He is averaging 331 in Tests this summer.

When asked again, pointedly, after the match was over why Bell had not played, Broad mentioned Bopara as giving them another bowling option (which makes Luke Wright’s selection even more baffling). “But I’m sure he [Bell] will be training hard and fighting to get into the team.”

Because, apparently, scoring a veritable shit-ton of runs just doesn’t seem to be enough.


The madness begins afresh tomorrow, when Alastair Cook will take the reins in an effort not to repeat the 5-0 hammering England sustained the last time these two sides met in an ODI series in England.

With any luck, this time the team selection might make slightly more sense.

Unsettled Leicestershire in abject collapse

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011



“I don’t mind if we’re beaten, as long as we’re not humiliated.”

“Could have been worse: I could have bought a ticket on the Titanic.”

These were just some of the scathing comments overheard at Grace Road today as Leicestershire were bowled out for 48 on day 3 of their championship match against Northamptonshire, subsiding to abject defeat by an innings and 155 runs.

The day started off cool and overcast with a stiff breeze. By about 11:30 I’d noticed there were tears streaming down my face, and while this was down to the cold wind blowing across the field it could just as well have been despair at the fact that once again, our year seems to be heading south in at least one of the current formats.

Greg Smith fell at 11:19: three wickets down, 33 runs on the board.

James Taylor followed a couple of minutes later: 33-4.

11:26: 35-5.

11:34: 37-6.

11:41: 38-7.

At 11:57 Leicestershire were 40-9 and spectators started leaving.

At 12:08, it was all over.

Matthew Boyce was top scorer, with 12 – the only man to make it into double figures.

It is not the lowest ever total for the county – that was achieved, if achieved is the right word, in 1912, when Leicestershire were all out versus Kent to the tune of 24. It is not a statistic that makes the reading of today’s scorecard any easier.

That this should follow hard on the heels of the news that Warwickshire have approached the club with a view to buying James Taylor out of the last year of his contract at Grace Road does not seem coincidental.

Taylor was uncharacteristically out of sorts in this game, departing for no score this morning and making only 8 in the first innings. Leicestershire have said they have rejected Warwickshire’s offer, and will renegotiate a contract extension with Taylor to keep him at Grace Road.

Taylor was not included in either of the two England squads announced this morning, for the upcoming Twenty20 and ODIs versus Sri Lanka, despite many predicting he would be.

In answer to the very reasonable objection that surely, he is now the finished article, England’s selectors have indicated they would like to see Taylor face more first class bowling.

Warwickshire’s director of cricket is Ashley Giles, a part-time England selector.

Draw your own conclusions.

Bizarrely, as well as offering to buy Taylor out of his contract, Warwickshire have also offered Leicestershire one of their players in part exchange to sweeten the deal. I’m guessing this would not be Jonathan Trott or Ian Bell.

While one must perforce give praise to Northants’ bowling attack for their clinical and comprehensive dismantling of the home side this morning, it’s surely not a stretch to think that the questions surrounding Taylor’s future, and thus that of the club, has unsettled what is a close-knit dressing room. They would not be human otherwise.

And this is what gets me, as a Leicestershire fan: that feeling of being torn between pride that one of our own is worthy of such covetous attention, and despair at the disruption this will inevitably cause the club. God knows we have had enough of that and more the last few months.

The sun came out from behind the clouds today as the last wicket fell. For Leicestershire, however, the outlook is once again distinctly gloomy.

Last man walks off

Last man walking - Nadeem Malik is the not-out batsman as Leicestershire are skittled for 48


Monday, June 20th, 2011

When Sri Lanka look back at this Test series, the number they may well call to mind won’t be the 119 Kumar Sangakkara scored in rescuing his side from defeat on another rain-shortened day at the Rose Bowl.

It won’t be the magnificent 193 new captain Tillakaratne Dilshan made on his way to breaking the record for the highest total by a Sri Lankan batsman at Lord’s.

Nor will it be the 112 runs made by keeper Prasanna Jayawardene, who has been as quietly impressive with the bat as he has been with the gloves in this series.

No: the number which will prove of most significance, which will cause them the most pain and upon which their 2-0 series loss to England can be traced, is 24.4. This was the amount of overs the Lankans lasted in their second innings at Cardiff, and this was all the time it took to bowl them out for 82.

It may be reductive and over-simplistic, given there were other factors at play – a lacklustre bowling attack incapable of taking 20 wickets, and 369 overs lost during the series due to appalling weather, to name only two.

But to a team already burdened by the machinations of cricket board and government, with two of its veterans in Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene resigning their captaincy and vice-captaincy positions and a subsequent “difference of opinion” with Sri Lanka Cricket regarding the timing of their arrival in the UK from the IPL, their woeful collapse at Cardiff meant the difference between drawing the series and losing it.

England have a strong, established batting line-up and it was always going to take something special for a bowling attack diluted through retirement, injury and plain inexperience to make inroads into it.

No one seriously expected the visitors to win this series, and critics wrote them off after Cardiff with the view that this was a hiding they would never come back from. In truth, they showed more fight than some were willing to give them credit for. Sangakkara’s last day Rose Bowl ton, backed up by gutsy contributions from Rangana Herath and Thilan Samaraweera, showed the underdog may have been limping badly, but was not ready to lie down and die.

England, albeit helped by a green, seaming Rose Bowl wicket and a returning Jimmy Anderson, constituted simply too terrifying a prospect with the ball for Sri Lanka’s batsmen: Mahela Jayawardene in particular looked extremely uncomfortable against the aggressive pace and bounce of Chris Tremlett, with a few raps to the fingers for his pains. Stuart Broad predictably bowled better once he was made to relinquish the new ball, showing both a canny psychological nous on the part of the England management, who must have guessed he’d be stung into keeping a more disciplined line and length, and also a praiseworthy and obvious realization that Tremlett is by far the more effective opening partner to James Anderson.

What also will not be forgotten is the downright bizarre nature of this series. As England’s first Test series since winning the Ashes, it was always going to be underwhelming, but with the combination of rain and rumours of Sri Lankan dressing-room discontent at Sanath Jayasuriya being foisted on the team for Saturday’s T20 and the first ODI, it was easy to feel cheated at not being able to see the Sri Lankan team at their best.

England performed sometimes adequately and at times superbly to win the series. Today they seemed a little flat in the field, and as often happens, once it became obvious that the opposition were digging in it was as if they became resigned to having the game dictated to them rather than maintaining the intensity needed to force a win.

Perhaps the rain, the fact Broad and Tremlett were carrying slight niggles, the fact they were 1-0 up, and the strangely low-key atmosphere were to blame for this lull in England’s attack. It is not a luxury they will be able to afford against India.

Andrew Strauss, after England’s comprehensive defeat by Ireland at the World Cup, said that England always raise their game against stiffer opposition. This piece of self-reassurance came a crashing great cropper against Sri Lanka in the quarter finals. Strauss will now take time out to work on that left-arm seam weakness for Middlesex, and the ECB have come to an arrangement with Somerset that Strauss will play at Taunton against India in July’s tour match. Some of the more level-headed commentators are cautious in treating Strauss’s technical difficulties as a full-blown malaise, though I do wonder whether Kevin Pietersen, with his glorious knock of 85, felt free to play at his ebullient, confident best now that the press are no longer focusing on him.

Infuriating, bizarre, underwhelming, anticlimactic. While Sri Lanka will probably look back at that innings in Cardiff and cringe, perhaps they will just prefer to blank it from memory altogether. With a fighting spirit still in evidence, the return of Lasith Malinga, a return to a format they are acknowledged masters at –  and with maybe a few breaks in the weather – hopefully the upcoming ODIs will help them do just that.

Prior breaks pane, but series not exactly a cracker

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

It was a glove that “ricocheted”. It was a bat handle that “bounced off the wall”. It was, says the culprit Matt Prior, simply that the dressing room window “exploded” when he put his bat down next to the others.

Whatever the explanation behind the broken window at Lord’s, this was the story that dominated the newspapers the day after the 2nd Test against Sri Lanka meandered to a lacklustre draw, and with rain forecast for the Rose Bowl, this is one Test series that – one extraordinary collapse aside – has failed to fire the imagination.

From an England perspective, Lord’s was mostly about the negatives. The bowling was underwhelming: Stuart Broad was undercooked, while Tremlett and Swann did their best on a wicket that gave them nothing. Steven Finn’s line and length were, along with Jimmy Anderson, notable by their absence.

Things were slightly more encouraging on the batting front. Kevin Pietersen was out for a low score in the first innings – thankfully not to left-arm spin this time – but he did take the first steps on the tentative road back to form in the second to the tune of 72 runs. That KP may finally be crawling from the slough of despond in which he’s been neck-deep for the last year or so is a great sign, if only because folk might finally shut up about it.

But while we might finally be Shutting the Fuck Up About Kevin, tongues are now wagging over Andrew Strauss’s current susceptibility to left-arm seam, and the rather serious development whereby he seems to have forgotten where his off-stump is. Strauss relinquished the ODI captaincy to ensure his longevity in the Test format, so this is slightly worrying.

Speaking of ODI captaincy, the new man in the job, Alastair Cook (MBE) carried on carrying on, with yet another Test hundred to his name with an innings for the most part so funereally paced and utterly devoid of flair, I can’t remember a fucking thing about it.

If this had been Jonathan Trott, he’s have been lambasted for being too slow, and if this had been Kevin Pietersen, he’d have been howled at for being too selfish, given that Cook finally speeded up once he’d passed three figures. Whether or not Cook felt annoyed enough at getting out to a soft dismissal on 96 in the first innings and thus was determined to get his century in the second, only he can say – but if this isn’t the definition of selfishness, I don’t know what is, considering England had a Test to win. But then Cook isn’t South African, so that’s okay.

You can tell I’m on the fence about Alastair Cook – of course there is room in cricket for every type of player, and I am thankful for Cook’s current rich vein of form, but I cannot for the life of me understand why his stolid, tentative approach is deemed a virtue at the same time as Jonathan Trott is being beaten around the head with the “boring” stick.

There was one batsman at Lord’s who could certainly not be labelled boring, and that was, of course, Tillakaratne Dilshan, who probably decided that having to face the cameras in a post-match interview after one’s team is bowled out for 82 is an experience one would really rather not repeat, so, with an underdog’s rage, a captain’s heart and helped by some god-awful English bowling, he set about pasting the opposition to all parts on Saturday, which was the day I turned up – fortuitously, as it turned out to be the best day weather-wise.

Explosive in T20s and ODIs, only slightly more circumspect in Tests; Dilshan’s aggression always makes him a joy to watch.

Deprived of an option in the ballot this time around for a seat in the Mound Stand (comfier seating), I was in the cave that is the Lower Edrich, which has a great view of the middle but occupies a blind spot as far as the scoreboard goes, necessitating the use of guesswork, a portable radio, and keeping count in one’s head as each milestone approaches. Suspended from the roof above me was a hoarding commemorating Sidath Wettimuny’s 10-hour 190 in 1984 – the highest Test innings for a Sri Lankan batsman at Lord’s… until Dilshan decided it was going to take something epic to wash away the taste of Cardiff.

It was a long day in the field for England, and by the end of it the lads sitting behind me were simultaneously chanting demands for the Dilscoop as well as pleading hopefully for a wicket.

Dilshan hadn’t broken Wettimuny’s record by the end of the day but he was well on the way to it, being not out on 127 at the close.

Dilshan: more bounce than the England seamers

Dilshan: more bounce than the England seamers

There was to be no Sri Lankan collapse on the last day – a recurrence of Cardiff’s last day dramatics was unlikely, given visiting sides always tend to raise their game at Lord’s – but England are going to struggle badly against India if this is the best performance they can muster.

I dug out the Ashes 2010-11 DVD box-set the other night and re-watched Melbourne. Aside from that rush of nostalgia and recognition through having been there when history was made, I was conscious of watching a switched-on, aggressively turbo-charged England going for the jugular and with the exception of the last few Australian wickets to fall – a typical case of England easing off the gas when they look to have it in the bag – you knew you were watching a side at the top of their game and who were ravenous for victory.

At Lord’s against Sri Lanka, they looked like rather than going for the win, they just didn’t want to lose. Given India are taking their upcoming visit to these shores very seriously indeed – they have sent what is basically a second-string line-up to the West Indies due to resting their major players – and given Strauss’s current travails as a batsman, I suspect the spectre of Zaheer Khan and Co. looming over the horizon is not something England will be relishing.

And so to the Rose Bowl on Thursday for the last Test. The wicket will most likely be flat, and there will most likely be rain. Awesome.

Jimmy Anderson has been named in the squad after recovering from his side strain. His pre-Test workout was supposed to have been Lancashire’s recent rained-off T20 game, though how much 4 overs constitutes a workout of any usefulness whatsoever is highly debatable.

Finn will be the man for the drop; perhaps harsh considering that at Lord’s, in between overs of unutterable filth, he did take wickets, and did improve as the match went on.

I’ve already mentioned the new One-Day captain, but this was hardly a sparkling outing for the new T20 captain, either. Stuart Broad is struggling badly – he currently averages 35.97 runs per wicket – but he is English cricket’s Golden Boy and seemingly beyond censure. I don’t know why this is. He’s a good bowler when in form, but doesn’t seem to have the patience to want to wear batsmen down with McGrath-like, keep-it-simple, top-of-off-stump line-and-length bowling. He tries to be too clever, and often forsakes patience for aggression, occasionally leading to a chat with the match referee and the imposition of some negligible penalty. (McGrath was a far better multi-tasker, showing you could be consistent and a bastard and still take wickets.)

Every seamer should aspire to McGrath-esque precision-genius, but that is just me.

Finn: better than Broad?

Finn: better than Broad?

I know I shouldn’t write off the Rose Bowl, given I made that mistake with Cardiff. But Lord’s hero Dilshan will not be playing due to a broken thumb, and Sri Lanka seem to be regarding these Tests as a warm-up for the ODIs that follow.

That the ODIs promise to be a far more gripping prospect than the Tests sadly constitutes another nail in the coffin of the format all cricket boards should be hell-bent on protecting, but in today’s money-driven reality, it seems to be all about the saying, and not much about the doing.

Test cricket already seems to be marginalized. But again, that might just be me. Sometimes though, when faced with ODI series that never end, and T20 tournaments that proliferate like fungi, it feels like it, and a future without Test cricket does not really appeal to me.