Sunday, 29 May 2011

Jonathan Trott Will Save Your Life

We've all thought about it. What if you're captured by aliens, and your only chance of survival is for someone to bat for a really, really long time? Only after he's scored enough runs, or bored the aliens into a stupor can you break free from their clutches and find safety. Who would be the man who you would let bat for your life?

Tendulkar might get mobbed by over-zealous fans. Kallis' wig might blow into his eyes. Ponting might come over all Ashes 2010 and start edging Anderson to Swann first ball or arguing with umpires. There's only one man who could be chosen with your life at stake. The man who's concentration would not be broken even by aliens pointing ray guns at him. A man who would instead mark his guard and check his gloves. That man is Jonathan Trott.

Jonathan Trott is everything you want in a test number three. He will score a lot of runs, form solid partnerships with other batsmen, not take many risks, and not get out. A test number three doesn't need to switch hit fast bowlers for six. A test number three just needs to accumulate an awful lot of runs and not get out. This is what Trott does.

Nick Knight on Sky this morning said that Trott is a "limited batsman" as he doesn't play a whole range of shots. Nothing could be further from the truth. Trott has studied the art of shotmaking, and worked out what shots he can play that won't get him out. He knows exactly what shot to play to any given ball, and can score runs all around the ground. During the Ashes, the Aussies thought he was an lbw candidate, so bowled straight. So Trott worked them off his legs. Sri Lanka, knowing Trott's on-side strengths, bowled short and wide of off-stump (rarely a successful strategy). So Trott cut and pushed his way to a double ton.

It seems odd that even an a day when Trott has made 200, there are some knocking him for not going quickly enough. What a ridiculous thing to say. Trott scores his runs at a strike rate of 48 - that's faster than Kallis (45), Dravid (42) and Chanderpaul (42). But strike rates aside, Trott isn't there to hit sixes and get out - he's there for a long haul and to anchor the innings.

It's becoming increasingly well documented that Trott's average (of those with over 20 test innings) is the second highest of all time (behind Bradman, obviously). After his double ton today, Trott has 1803 test runs at 66.77. To get ahead of Bradman's average, he needs to score 897 runs before his next wicket. You wouldn't put it past him to get 897 not out.

Don Bradman was a one-of-a-kind - a freak cricketer that gets thrown up once every five generations. Jonathan Trott, like Bradman, is a superhuman run machine. Quite simply, when looking at him, you just can't see any way that he is going to get out. Which is why when the aliens come, I'm sending for Trotty.

Another fun piece of Jonathan Trott average trivia

Jonathan Trott averaged 37 in Tests after his first full season with England. To get it back there now, he'd need to get 22 ducks in a row. (props to @howe_zat for that)

Day Four at Cardiff

Before play started...: A lot of rain. An inevitable draw. Hundreds for Cook and Trott after Sri Lanka made 400.

Where did it all go wrong for Sri Lanka?: Their attack still looked toothless

Where did it all go right for Sri Lanka?: They got KP out cheaply to a left-arm spinner, meaning the Pietersen vicious cycle of left-arm spin will guarantee Herath Pietersen's wicket every innings for the rest of the series.

Where did it all go wrong for England?: They're not far enough ahead to make this game interesting.

Where did it all go right for England?: Trott's double ton. Bell's near-as-dammit ton. A handy lead. They can't lose from here.

Who won each session?: Afternoon and evening - England.

Who's winning the game?: If it was a timeless test, England would win. As it is, it has to finish tomorrow, and with more rain about, the draw is 99.999999999999999% likely.

Shot of the day: Bell lobbing Herath over his head for a DLF Maximum six.

Ball of the day: Herath bowled a corker to Trott that turned miles. But Trott still blocked it.

Man of the day: Jonny Trott.

Mug of the day: KP, mainly for fuelling the poison pens by getting out to yet another left-arm spinner.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Day Three at Cardiff

Before play started...: A lot of rain, a handy 400 for Sri Lanka, and Strauss fell before the close of play on day 2.

Where did it all go wrong for Sri Lanka?: They didn't have any bowlers who looked like they were going to take any wickets

Where did it all go right for Sri Lanka?: They got England's number 3 out cheaply. Unluckily for them, it was Anderson.

Where did it all go wrong for England?: The rain in the morning meant they aren't closer to Sri Lanka after 3 days, making the result rather unlikely.

Where did it all go right for England?: Hundreds apiece from Trott and Cook. Easy as you like.

Who won each session?: Afternoon and evening - England.

Who's winning the game?: Rain this morning meant that the draw is nigh-on certain.

Shot of the day: Cook driving Perera through mid on for four. Gorge.

Ball of the day: I would say the only wicket taking ball of the day from Mendis to Anderson, but even that was wide and crap. No award today.

Man of the day: Honours even between Cook and Trott.

Mug of the day: Honours even between the Sri Lankan bowling attack. Rather toothless against two supremely confident batsmen.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Day Two at Cardiff

Before play started...: A lot of rain yesterday. Runs for Dilshan and Paranavitana, before a couple of English wickets to keep them interested at the end.

Where did it all go wrong for Sri Lanka?: Didn't look great with the ball at the end of the day.

Where did it all go right for Sri Lanka?: A lot of their guys made runs, and they made 400. Very good effort. And nipped Strauss out at the end.

Where did it all go wrong for England?: Anderson aside didn't look too threatening, and didn't apply enough pressure in the field thanks to some sloppy bowling. Broad especially.

Where did it all go right for England?: Got Sri Lanka out (eventually), and 400 on this pitch is no huge disaster, as proved by Strauss and Cook looking very assured at the end. Apart from, well, Strauss getting out with about a minute to go.

Who won each session?: Morning - Evens. Afternoon - Sri Lanka. Evening - Probably England.

Who's winning the game?: You can't argue with runs on the board, and Sri Lanka will be happy to have them. But with England still looking more than likely to knock them down, plus the overs lost to the rain, the draw is still favourite.

Shot of the day: Perera lofting Broad back over his head. Not bad for a test debutant. Honourable mention to Cook hoicking Lakmal for four with the now copyrighted "Alastair Cook Slog-Sweep".

Ball of the day: Anderson to Mahela - softened him up with 5 on-the-money away-swingers before an in-nipper that he couldn't help but edge.

Man of the day: For making a nicely paced hundred, Prassana Jayawardene. The only Sri Lankan of the 4 to pass 50 to go on and convert, which took the Sri Lankans to a very useful 400.

Mug of the day: Broad. A frustrating day where he couldn't hit his lengths and didn't look all too threatening. Looked very undercooked and hardly a day to remember.

Broady's Blues

It's painful to see Stuart Broad struggle. I know there are plenty of you out there who are taking pleasure at seeing Broad fail, and there are some quite obvious reasons for that. But I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Broady, which makes his struggle all the more disappointing.

Quite simply, Broad is not ready to play in this game. He's had an injury plagued winter, with injuries sending him home from both the Ashes and the World Cup. And while his stomach may well have healed, he's just not match fit enough to play in this game. Remember Doug Bollinger at Adelaide? The word used there was undercooked, and while Broad has played a couple of County games, he plainly isn't fit enough to bowl at a consistent top-lick. And the more effort he's putting in to try and get there, the more often he's losing his line and length. And the more frustrated he's getting, which is leading to his over-appealing, non-appealing, and general petulance. He may have taken his 100th test wicket, but it certainly hasn't been a day to remember for him.

But the question shouldn't be whether Broad should be playing in this game or not. It should actually be whether he should be an automatic pick in the first place. As said earlier, he's taken 100 test wickets, but he's taken them at a distinctly poor 35 runs per wicket. He can often spend days like today staring daggers at umpires, fielders and batsmen alike and not even look like taking wickets. When he's good, he can be very good, but he's increasingly playing second fiddle to the other fast bowlers. Conditions may not suit his height and bounce every time, but he should learn from the way Tremlett has bowled over the first two days. Tremlett has used the threat of the short ball to surprise batsmen with fuller stuff; keeping the batsmen guessing and not knowing whether to come back or forward. It appears at times all too easy to play Broad, and for a supposed veteran of 36 tests and 100 wickets, he should be able to adapt more adeptly to conditions.

Strauss has used the Kevin Pietersen debate to confirm that nobody is an automatic pick, and everybody's position is under review. While I'm not advocating a knee-jerk reaction after a very successful couple of years of test cricket for England of which Broad has played a big part, I certainly think that Broad may need a wake-up call if he's too go on and take another 100 test wickets. England's recent selections have seen one swinger and two bang-it-inners, but if that policy changes it appears at the moment that Tremlett is looking the bowler who is most justifying his position.

Injuries have not helped Broad, and he certainly shouldn't have played this game. The question still remains though - should he be playing in any case?

My Letter To Worcestershire

After reading the Cricinfo expose about Adrian Shankar (go ahead and read it - it's great) it appears that Worcestershire have based their recruitment policy on who can write the best covering letter. So now there's a hole in their squad, I've sent this to see if they can fulfil my county dream...

Dear Worcestershire CCC

I've heard that you are in need of an all-rounder, and I'm the man you'll want to pick. I have the rainbow of talents, and will be an excellent addition to your squad.

I played in the same high school team as Sachin Tendulkar, where I captained the first eleven at the age of 14. Sachin, who is a close personal friend of mine, says that I am his "inspiration", and "taught him everything he knows". After outscoring him regularly, we went out separate ways, although I still do help him prepare for test matches by batting alongside him in the nets.

My own playing career has seen me play 53 First Class matches, with a batting average of 86 and a bowling average of 8. I've spent the past few years playing in the notoriously difficult Bangladeshi Premier League, but after a few years turning out for Chittagong, I want a return to my spiritual homeland of Worcestershire.

Despite going to school with 38 year old Sachin Tendulkar, I can confirm that I am currently only 21 years old. However, my passport and birth certificate were destroyed in a tragic fire where I had to save some orphans from a pet rescue centre by bowling really, really fast, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

Here are some references just in case you aren't convinced.

"He's just what the doctor ordered" - Ravi Shastri
"Will Atkins is the reason I took up cricket" - Don Bradman
"I feel as though I've lived my life in his shadow" - Shane Warne
"Will Atkins is to cricket what Danny Morrison is to commentary" - Muttiah Muralitheran

Thanks for taking the time to read my letter. I'll assume you're going to take me on, so I'll turn up at training on Monday.

Will Atkins

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Day One At Cardiff

Before play started...: England, on the back of winning the Ashes and generally being half decent at tests were favourites, but wary of a Sri Lankan side that are a lot better than some are making out...

Where did it all go wrong for Sri Lanka?: Probably before the game started, with Pradeep and Fernando being ruled out. Big losses to a fairly weak bowling attack.

Where did it all go right for Sri Lanka?: Paranavitana looking very assured in a very good opening partnership with Dilshan.

Where did it all go wrong for England?: The bowlers (Broad especially) failed to hit the right areas consistently and generally looked a tad undercooked.

Where did it all go right for England?: Getting two of the "big three" in Dilshan and Sangakkara out.

Who won each session?: Afternoon - Sri Lanka. Evening - honours even. (The morning session, of course, being won by rain).

Who's winning the game?: After so much rain, and with both sides fielding very strong batting line ups, the draw is certainly the favourite. Sri Lanka probably in the more comfortable positions of the teams.

Shot of the day: Dilshan smacking a wide one from Broad for four. Punished.

Ball of the day: The ball that Anderson got Sangakkara with. It may not have been a wicket, but it was a beauty.

Man of the day: The wonderfully named Tharanga Paranavitana, who looked very assured and controlled. Props too to Chris Tremlett, who was the proverbial pick of the bowlers.

England v Sri Lanka Series Preview

OK, I may have left the series preview a little late, as everything that could have been written about this series has already been said. However, it's not like me to miss out on anything England related, so I'm throwing my hat into the ring with this effort.

From what's been written already, a lot of people are assuming England just need to turn up and the series win will be sorted. A lot of people are seriously underestimating this Sri Lankan side. Yes, there may be no Murali or Malinga, but there is an awful lot of strength there. Dilshan, Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene would walk straight into most people's World XI, and are a rather frightening prospect for England at 2, 3 and 4. Opening the innings with Dilshan will be the superbly named Tharanga Paranavitana, who may have a modest test record but already boasts two hundreds in two games this tour. Thilan Samaraweera is oft forgotten, but he averages 54 in tests. And new boy Dinesh Chandimal is scarily talented and could really announce himself this series. If all goes as expected, there are a lot of runs in this Sri Lankan side.

The bowling, however, may be a different story. The loss of Muralitheran and Malinga is well documented, and with a very inexperienced bowling line up playing in very foreign English conditions, taking 20 wickets could be a rather large challenge.

There's been a lot of hyping about England this series, with much of it probably undeserved. Yes, England have performed well over the past two years, but that should be tempered by remembering that England were taking on sides who were certainly not at their peak. Much of the Ashes success was due to keeping the "big players" quiet with carefully thought out plans, but with so many "big players" in that Sri Lankan top order, it could be a tall order. While England's attack does look strong, on the roads that Cardiff and the Rose Bowl have likely prepared in order to maximise revenue, taking enough wickets could too be a struggle.

In his two warm-up games as captain, Tillakaratne Dilshan certainly proved to be a bold and adventerous captain, and by leading his team to a win after following on agains the Lions, appears to have fostered a never-say-die attitude. Objectively, Sri Lanka have the stronger batting, but England have a better all-round team. My only concern would be that neither side will have enough to fire the others out twice, which will probably lead to some very high scoring draws. I would guess that only if a couple of people had blinders with the ball we would see results, and as England have the better bowlers (and because I'm biased) if I had to stick my neck out I'd go for an England win. But, my overall series preview in a nutshell would be that it will be much closer than people are expecting...

Random Match Predictions

1st Test: Cardiff - England by 73 runs (MOM Strauss)
2nd Test: Lord's - England by 3 wickets (MOM Bell)
3rd Test: Rose Bowl - Draw (MOM Sangakkara)

Monday, 23 May 2011

We All Dream of a Team of Brendan Nash

Whenever an innings is in danger of total subsidence, someone needs to put up their hands and fight. West Indies, reduced to 77-4 chasing an unrealistic amount of runs and with over a day left to save the series win, were on the brink. Step forward Brendan Paul Nash.

Every team needs a Brendan Nash. They may not be the most elegant or pretty strokemaker. They may go through horrible runs of form and not contribute anything for years. But when their team needs them most, they stand up and are counted.

Nestling in every test batting order, amongst the flashy extroverts and the powerful big hitters should be one gusty nurdler who just refuses to get out. No matter what's thrown at them (literally, in the case of Saeed Ajmal), using a solid defence and an immaculate ability to leave the ball, they can spend hour upon hour battling for their team.

Nash hasn't been in the greatest of form. His scores leading up to the final innings so far in this two match series were 5, 3 and 6. But his team were staring down the barrel, and he knew what he had to do.

The performances of the gutsy match saver are as important as the extravagant match winner. Would England have won the Ashes in 2009 without Paul Collingwood's nine hour vigil at Cardiff in the first test? Yes, Jonathan Trott scored the runs at the Oval to take back the urn, but without Brigadier Block's sheer gritty determination, it would have been Ricky Ponting hailed as the captain of all captains, not Andrew Strauss.

Brendan Nash is currently only 30 runs and 64 balls into saving the series for the West Indies, and he probably won't, but you wouldn't count against his sheer bloody-mindedness actually carrying the day for his adopted nations. Players like Nash are the essence of test cricket - those who won't stop fighting until the final wicket has been taken or the final over bowled. You can keep your powerplays, pinch-hitters and DLF Maximums - Brendan Nash is real cricket. And long may it continue.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Joy of Six... or The Case for Morgan

Tomorrow, we'll learn the identity of the man picked to bat at six for England in the first test against Sri Lanka next week. While not that long ago it seemed to be a four-horse race between Bopara, Morgan, Hildreth and Taylor, it seems that the latter two have dropped out, leaving it a straight choice between Ravi and Eoin.

When I wrote something about the announcement of the Lions squad, I spoke of how it looked like being the highest run scorer to take the spot. And with Morgan getting 193 and Bopara only 17, it would seem that Morgan would have won that particular battle fairly convincingly.

However, the journos and general people in the know reported that the performance in the Lions game was academic, as Bopara had already been pencilled in before the match even began. It appears that Andy Flower wanted to reward Bopara's committment to his test future by shunning the IPL to play county cricket, and thought that Bopara would be in better nick with the red ball. And if, as believed, Andy Flower thought that on Thursday, it would probably still be the case this evening. This England regime is not one that makes knee-jerk reactions after one good performance.

While Ravi's stance to play for Essex in the early months of the county season must be applauded (he is finally showing the maturity that appeared to be lacking in the early years of his international career), I don't think that this alone should be why he plays at Cardiff next week. In cricketing terms, England have to decide who will make more test runs in the long run - Ravi Bopara or Eoin Morgan? Yes, Bopara's willingness to play in the tests should be praised, but not at the expense of a player in Eoin Morgan who for my money would consistently outscore Ravi Bopara in test cricket.

It may well be the case that Morgan's actions over the past few weeks may be "punished" by overlooking him for the test. While nobody has begrudged Morgan the chance to cash in on his T20 abilities (of which he is arguably the world's best batsman), the timing of his comments the other day just appear odd and out of character. By stating that if he isn't picked for Cardiff he intends to return to the IPL for the Knight Riders is putting out the message to the ECB that he'd prefer to earn a few more rupees than play for Middlesex and fight for his place in subsequent tests in the series. What if Bopara breaks his finger on Thursday morning and a replacement is needed? Morgan won't be much use if he's on a plane over the Indian Ocean.

As a batsman, Morgan's mentality is unquestioned. He is clearly mentally ready for a prolonged run in test cricket - something that is probably the biggest question mark over Ravi Bopara. Morgan's technique probably isn't completely ready for test cricket, but we saw last summer against Pakistan at Trent Bridge that when it all comes together, Morgan is as good as they come. Morgan is a batsman who moves absolutely seamlessly through the gears and is as comfortable with his back against the wall as he is with the foot against the throat. Bopara may be the better batsman, but Morgan would be far more consistent and is a better player. And don't forget, he has just scored as-near-as-dammit a double hundred against Sri Lanka. Who would the Sri Lankan bowlers least prefer to see walking out onto the pitch with England four down next week - Ravi Bopara or the guy who made them toil for for a day and a half?

The word on the street is that Ravi Bopara will be selected tomorrow, and while I have no doubts that Bopara will be a very good test batsman for England, I just think that Eoin Morgan could be one of the very best.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

England's Young Lions

England named their Lions team to take on Sri Lanka last week, and many thought it was a very strong side, and there weren't many complaints as to who got in. Except a small few from Glamorgan, who were incensed that James Harris hadn't got in.

Harris is only 21 (his birthday was literally on Monday), yet has played an awful lot of first team cricket. He made his First Class debut at 16, and had his first ten-wicket haul at seventeen. He's taken 182 FC wickets at just under 27. He had an excellent winter for the Lions, impressing on tour in the West Indies. Glamorgan fans would have him in the test team. Yet he appears to be a lowly tenth on the selectors' fast bowling pecking order.

Had Harris got into the Lions game, he would have been well placed to impress the selectors with a lot of wickets, and push himself up the rankings. However, he was not, and had to play for Glamorgan instead, who took on Middlesex at Lord's.

If Harris had played for the Lions, he would have come on as a second change bowler with an old ball, and been given the bare minimum of overs and an incredibly limited opportunity to showcase his talents. Instead, he took the new ball for Glamorgan, and shone as he skittled Middlesex's very strong batting line up. Including the prize feathers of Australian test player Chris Rogers, and England captain Andrew Strauss (you may have heard of him).

It's an interesting one, this. Would it have been better for Harris to get experience of practicing and playing against some of the world's top international stars in his Lions teammates and the Sri Lankan opposition, or to take wickets in the County Championship at such a specialist ground in Lord's?

A man who did make the Lions squad, but not the final eleven, was young Danny Briggs. Briggs, like Harris, had a successful winter with the Lions, and is highly tipped for the top. Briggs is a year younger than Harris, and has only played in 27 FC matches. Briggs, a left-arm spinner, wasn't selected for the match as the Lions preferred to go with a four-pronged seam attack, but instead of being allowed to return to Hampshire to play in their matches over the weekend, he has been retained by the Lions for the experience.

It just begs the question, which of the young talents will have got the most out of the week. James Harris with a point to prove taking important wickets and impressing at Lord's, or Danny Briggs, who will be carrying drinks and listening to Ravi Bopara try and sound like a gangster. It seems fairly obvious that at the age the boys are at (21 and 20 respectively) that the best learning comes from actually playing cricket, rather than watching it.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

You Never Lose It

Today saw 39 year old Adam Gilchris make a fabulous 100 for the Kings XI Punjab from just 53 balls. That's a pretty special effort by anyone, but a lot of attention has been put on his age, as he is now one of the elder statesmen of the IPL.

Since retiring from international cricket, when he realised his body wasn't up to long days in the field any more, Gilchrist has freelanced as a T20 player, plying his trade for Deccan, Middlesex, and now Punjab. This week we've also seen one of Gilchrist's former international team-mates Shane Warne step away from the IPL at the age of 41, despite not appearing to have lost any of the guile that made him the best spinner in the history of the game.

A lot has been made about Gilchrist's innings, mainly because of his age. "You never lose it" has been the gist of the consensus from those in the know. There has been some thought that Gilchrist, like Warne, will retire from cricket following this year's IPL, but I honestly don't see why he would need to.

Retiring from test matches and longer one day games is an obvious decision for players. It can be a long day in the field, with a lot of overs needed to be bowled for the bowlers, and a lot of time stood around for those who don't. Aching bodies and creaking joints mean that there is a much more clearly defined shelf-life for players in those formats - around 34/5 for bowlers, and 37/8 for batsmen. But for T20, the age limit need not be the case. It's only an hour and fifteen before the aging fielders can put their feet up, and only 24 deliveries (max) for the veteran bowlers. In this era of massages and ice baths, even the oldest players can be nursed into relative health before the next match, meaning the best players can stretch their careers to way beyond the end of their test or ODI ones finish.

It's fairly well agreed that Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne are among the greatest cricketers to ever play the game, and that cricketing genius does not fade. Gilchrist's heroics today underline that. So if players like Gilchrist, Warne or Muralitheran were able to keep themselves fit and healthy through the T20 "off-season", why shouldn't they be thought of for international T20 matches? We've seen a move towards 'specialist' T20 players such as Shaun Tait or Michael Lumb being introduced for the one-off games, so why not the legends? Their bodies can handle it, and they evidently still have the skill. In fact, they would be far more valuable than their younger counterparts, as they would have vast amounts of experience to help the team out in pressure situations.

It's only a thought, and while it may not ever happen, Australian fans, answer me this. At next year's World T20, who would you rather see bowl? Xavier Doherty or Shane Warne

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

What We Can Deduce from the England Lions Squad

The England Lions twelve man squad to take on the Sri Lankans has been named. Theoretically, if the first choice test eleven were to all mysteriously disappear and / or die, the Lions would be the ones to step into the breach. On a slightly less morbid level, games for the Lions are excellent opportunities for fringe players, those still cutting their teeth at international level, or those yet to make their full debuts a chance to impress selectors and push for regular games in the full squad.

The twelve men who have been selected for the game at Derby next week are as such:

James Hildreth (Somerset, captain)
Jimmy Adams (Hampshire)
Jonny Bairstow (Yorkshire, wicket keeper)
Danny Briggs (Hampshire)
Ravi Bopara (Essex)
Jade Dernbach (Surrey)
Steven Finn (Middlesex)
Eoin Morgan (Middlesex)
Graham Onions (Durham)
Samit Patel (Nottinghamshire)
Ajmal Shahzad (Yorkshire)
James Taylor (Leicestershire)

There's a fair bit we can work out from who's been picked.

The selectors haven't chosen their replacement for Collingwood

... or if they have, they haven't made it at all obvious. In the podcast I did the other day I spoke about how there are four men all vying for the vacant spot in the test batting order. The fact that all of them (Morgan, Bopara, Taylor and Hildreth) are all in this team suggests that selectors are encouraging a "shoot-out" (sorry for using a massive cliche) for the spot. While the selectors may have preferences as to who gets in, if their man makes a duck whereas someone else makes a triple ton, it will be very hard to not pick them.

Samit Patel has lost weight

Samit Patel is a big lad, and his weight issues are very well documented. However, after a couple of years of apathy towards fitness, he spent the winter on the treadmill, and has lost a bit of weight. While he will never win any sort of bathing suit competition, the fact that Patel has been able to make the holy grail of Level 12 on the Bleep Test (a prerequesite of being an England player) shows that he is finally taking it all much more seriously. And the fact that he's been named in the Lions squad shows the selectors definitely rate his talents, and want to welcome him back into the fold. While he is probably a fair way off test cricket, if he chips in with runs and wickets (mmm, chips) he could force his way back into the ODI team by the end of the summer.

The selectors don't like Adil Rashid

The numbers certainly stack up for Adil Rashid, as both a spinner and as a handy lower order batsman. Arguably the second best spinner in the country (behind Swann, obviously), and in top form this year, Rashid must be mystified about why he continually keeps being ignored by the powers that be. Nothing against Danny Briggs, who also has an awful lot of potential, but the prolonged invisibility of Rashid is beginning to smack of something sinister. It isn't a talent based snub - so is it a clash of personality?

Bunny's back

I've always liked Graham Onions, and it's great to see him back in the fray after his long lay-off. The fact that Onions has been selected shows he's firmly in the selectors minds, and can be added to the incredibly strong pool of fast bowlers that includes Anderson, Broad, Tremlett, Finn, Bresnan, Shahzad and even Dernbach.

Competition for Keepers

As well as extraordinary strength in fast bowling and batting, England have a reserve of top wicket-keepers ready to step up if required. Steve Davies and Craig Kieswetter have both had excellent starts to the season and have had international success, but neither have made the squad behind new double centurion Jonny Bairstow. This added competition can only be good, and any of the three could step up if Matt Prior got injured. Wicket keeping is in rude health at the moment.

English cricket is doing pretty well

All across the board the Lions side is very strong. Quite feasibly all of that squad could represent England this summer, which both shows the strength in depth that county cricket is producing at the moment. With the fixture congestion and burnout that many have been complaining about, the 'fringe' players may be getting more and more international cricket, and England certainly wouldn't be let down by any of these players.

There's a lot we can learn from this squad announcement - and it will be interesting to see how they do against the Sri Lankans. A strong performance from a player, and it may not be the last time they play against Sri Lanka this summer...

Monday, 9 May 2011

Podcast - Andrew Strauss’ ODI Boots

Download this episode on Podbean

England have some new captains, so Will has a look at who and why, and what this means for English cricket going forward. Will stands up for one captain, while badmouthing another, plus some rather unneccessary Luke Wright hateage. Plus a look at England's batting and bowling options ahead of the Sri Lanka test series, and a cursory glance at unbeaten Middlesex's top-of-the-table start to the season.

Poor Colly

I've written a few times about my admiration for the man that is Paul Collingwood. He's been an exceptional, unwavering servant to English cricket, and has achieved an incredible amount - arguably more than any other English cricketer ever. While it may probably be time for him to hang up his international boots, it shouldn't be forgotten that Collingwood led England to a World T20 triumph, and the world record for consecutive T20 wins. All in the last year.

Collingwood has subsequently been replaced as England put Broad in charge of the T20 team in their captaincy triumvirate, and while it may be the right decision going forward with a World T20 in 2012 that Collingwood probably wouldn't be around for, you do have to feel for the man that led England to unrivalled success in the shortest form.

In this article from the BBC Website, Collingwood speaks of the "hurt" caused by the decision to axe him from his position in favour of Broad.

"I was full of optimism about trying to regain my form and my place in the one-day side... I felt a bit uneasy when I took the call (from Geoff Miller)"

"The problem was, try as I might, I couldn't think what else he would need to see me about. Then again I thought to myself, 'Hang on, I've been captain of a side who've won the World Cup and set a world record. Can they really sack me after that? ... I had been trying to convince myself that it wasn't going to be the news I feared. But unfortunately it was."

"We had met so early because I had to get to London to present ITV4's IPL coverage. But once the meeting was over, I had to call the studio and tell them I couldn't go on. I felt bad about letting them down, but I was in a state."

As obvious a decision it was to replace Collingwood given his startling loss of form and increasing injury issues, your heart has to go out to a man who has given his all for his country over a decade, and feels very let down by circumstances. I'm not advocating Collingwood staying in his role, as things move on, and I'm not slating Geoff Miller for the way he handled it (in fact, by meeting Collingwood in person it seems as though it was handled very well). But my heart goes out to someone who has given so much to English cricket, and feels so let down by it today. Sorry Colly.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Three-Way Split a Recipe for Disaster

Yesterday I wrote about how appointing Alastair Cook as ODI captain is a wrong decision. Since then, the news has broken that Stuart Broad is to be named as the new T20 captain in a double announcement. If anything, this makes more of a mockery of the original decision to appoint Cook.

As soon as Strauss indicated that he was to step away from limited over internationals, the powers that be should have looked to unite the limited over captaincy. As stirling a job as Paul Collingwood has done, it's widely believed that thanks to a dramatic loss of form and a very suspect knee Collingwood has played his last for England. Collingwood did a very good job as a T20 captain in what was effectively a split captaincy, but with a more obvious divide set to occur between Strauss's test captaincy and whoever takes over the limited over side, making a singular appointment should have been the number one priority. Naming three captains, all with different ideas, strategies, and methods, is unforgivable.

I've already made my thoughts fairly clear about appointing a captain who hasn't been part of the squad for the past 14 months, and by appointing Broad as a T20 captain, the selectors are basically saying Cook isn't good enough to play T20 matches, thus splitting the captaincy further and potentially leading to a ship where three different men are trying to lead their own way, creating obvious fractions in the group.

While my Twitter timeline has been filled by furious Stuart Broad hate (remember, I quite like him), as disappointed and upset as many of the cricketing blogosphere would be, I'd prefer to see Broad named as ODI and T20 captain, just as splitting the captaincy three ways cannot work. A two-way split often leads to trouble, but a three way split is a disaster waiting to happen. I just hope England reconsider, very, very quickly.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Too many Cooks...

So The Sun have leaked the news which we expect to hear officially tomorrow - that Alastair Cook will be named as England's new ODI captain. This is a bit of a pain.

Basically, the story states how Andrew Strauss will step aside from ODIs in order to spend more time with the family and allow him to prolong his test captaincy, which isn't much of a shock. English ODI cricket is always geared towards the next World Cup, and Strauss knows that he won't be a part of the next World Cup. So he's prepared to step aside in an arrangement that suits him, as it gives him more time with his young family, and it suits the team, as it allows them to give a new captain plenty of chance to gain experience and be able to mould the side. This part of the story isn't an issue for me.

But Cook getting the nod would be. Yes, everything about Cook screams "England Captain Material", but quite simply, he hasn't been in the ODI team, and as such, shouldn't be named as ODI captain. Cook wasn't named in the World Cup squad, or even the squads for series against Australia, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Australia again. The selectors quite clearly think there are better ODI players than Alastair Cook and rightly or wrongly (almost certainly wrongly considering Luke Wright is one of the players who they felt was better) if Cook wasn't good enough last month, why would he suddenly be considered good enough this?

It's not as though England are lacking potential candidates from players already in the ODI side. My choice, Ian Bell, has grown huge amounts in maturity, and has captained very successfully at county level with Warwickshire. Kevin Pietersen, as murkily as it all transpired to be last time, is very astute and beat South Africa 4-0 in his only home ODI series. Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann are all very tactically aware, and captaincy could bring out the best in them. Mick Yardy is one of county cricket's most respected skippers. So there's hardly any shortage of candidates of players who have regularly been part of the ODI team. So why look to bring in a player who previously wasn't considered good enough?

OK, I know there's a very large elephant in the room - namely the appointment in 2009 of Andrew Strauss as England's captain across the boards when he hadn't played ODIs for 2 years. But Strauss took over as captain at a time of turmoil in English cricket, and it was imperative that there was as much stability as possible at the top. This quite clearly is no longer the case, and a specialist captain rather than a member of the ODI team who could take over is no longer feasible. Rightly or wrongly, Cook wasn't deemed good enough to play as a batsman previously, and if the selectors are sticking to their original decisions, they're effectively weakening the team in order to shoehorn in a captain.

Cook would probably have replaced Andrew Strauss with the retirement of Strauss in any case, but to pick a man who's position in the team would be under question isn't the way forward. What if Cook struggles for runs in his first few series? Would he still be kept in if he's not pulling his weight in the team, just because he's captain? Cook will one day lead England in test cricket, and will no doubt be an excellent leader for us, but at this time he probably isn't the right appointment for the ODI leadership.

And don't even get me started on the apparent decision to keep Paul Collingwood as T20 captain...

Geraint Jones - International Recall?

While at Lord's the other day for the Middlesex v Kent CB40 game (less said about the result the better) I overheard a couple of Kent fans arguing about Geraint Jones, and clamouring for his international recall. Jones has long since been cast onto the international scrap-heap, with plenty of alternatives sought and chosen ahead of him. Seemingly there would have to be some sort of explosion at the English Wicket-Keeper’s Summer Disco for Jones to even be thought of when discussing potential England wicket-keepers.

But should we still be so hasty? Jones was probably correctly dropped (no pun intended) from the international fold due to poor glovework rather than due to any obvious flaws in his batting. But just like his successor Matt Prior, who was also cast aside due to a lack of prowess behind the stumps, Jones has worked hard at his game and is (according to the Kent aficionados) a much better keeper as a result.

Jones has also benefitted from a promotion up the order, and has grown in maturity as a batsman as well. While I’m of course not at all advocating a massively shock return to test cricket (where he averages a measly 23 compared to Prior’s lofty 42), Jones does have almost exactly the same figures in ODI cricket as the man who was chosen to stand behind the sticks for England at the World Cup. I don’t really want or think Jones will ever play for England again, but at a time where the wicket-keeper’s position will have to be considered in limited overs cricket, maybe it wouldn’t be as surprising as you think if Jones got the nod.

So what is my random thought of the day? Well, if England did recall Geraint (don’t worry, this isn’t actually going to happen), we could see the reformation of the 2005 Ashes dream team. Hoggard, Harmison and Simon Jones are (occasionally) turning their arms over for their respective counties, and Trescothick is still at his brutal best for Somerset. Lest we forget that Strauss, Pietersen and Bell are actually still playing for England. I’m sure Ashley Giles and Michael Vaughan wouldn’t mind donning the three lions for one last hurrah, and that Freddie Flintoff’s knee surgeon would be perfectly all right with him turning out again. India wouldn’t mind if their coach decided to return back to the England side for an exhibition series. It would be a great money spinner for the ECB, and the TV companies would love it.




This is basically what I think of those Kent fans talking about Geraint Jones playing for England again. It was the most stupid thing ever said about cricket, so I tried to out do it. Sorry Kent fans, it ain't gonna happen.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Flower's Five Big Calls for 2011

With the news that Andy Flower has extended his contract as England team director, and with a busy summer of cricket ahead, there are a few decisions to be made about English cricket. While English cricket is certainly not at a crossroads, decisions do have to be made in order for England to succeed in the long run, and it's imperative that Flower gets them right. So I've had a look at what the 5 biggest decisions that Flower has to make this summer are, and how he should make them.

1. ODI captaincy

Andrew Strauss has been an excellent leader of England since taking the captaincy full-time 2 years ago, and he's also performed very well in ODI cricket. However, with an ever growing amount of international cricket taking it's toll, and Strauss knowing he won't be around for the 2015 World Cup, now appears to be the time to either stick or twist. If Strauss wants to stay on and play ODI cricket, it would make sense to have him in as captain, but if he decides to hang up his blue pads in order to prolong his test career, Flower needs to name a replacement. FEC Alastair Cook isn't currently in the England ODI side which may hold him back from getting the nod, and there are pros and cons for a number of candidates. There's a growing clamour for a return for Kevin Pietersen, as well as Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson, Ian Bell and even Graeme Swann. Flower has to get this decision right, as consistently chopping and changing the captaincy in the lead up to the 2015 WC can only be a negative issue.

2. Replacement for Collingwood

Paul Collingwood was a big part of England's test middle order for a number of years, and probably rightly retired from the format following the Ashes. While the bowling has been mixed and shaken about over the past few years, England's top seven has been incredibly settled, and now Flower needs to choose a replacement for Collingwood. The "man in possession", Eoin Morgan (who deputised for the injured Ian Bell against Pakistan) is probably more of a one-day player than a test batsman, perhaps something that could also be levelled at one of the other contenders Ravi Bopara. James Hildreth is a dark horse, but has no international experience which could count against him. Whoever is selected will need to perform immediately against very strong opposition in Sri Lanka and India, so Flower will have to get the selection spot on.

3. Fast bowling

England have the luxury of having a real strength in depth of fast bowlers, with Anderson, Broad, Finn, Bresnan, Tremlett and even Onions all vying for a probable three places in the team. Anderson and Broad appear definites, leaving the others fighting it out over the remaining place. All have impressed in the past year, and this selection could be one of Flower's toughest assignments.

4. ODI openers

We saw in the World Cup (and the Australia series immediately preceding it) that England struggled to get the right formula in terms of an opening partership. Strauss, Pietersen, Prior and Bell were all used, and with none of them guaranteed of their place in the team going forwards (and only Strauss being a "natural" opener) picking the two men at the top must be a real worry for Flower. Should be stick with the tried and trusted of Strauss and Cook or Davies, or look outside the box to a Hales or Chopra? The future of Strauss will help him decide, but changes will be needed if England are to succeed as an ODI team.

5. T20 captaincy

Currently Paul Collingwood is England's T20 captain. While it was only 12 months ago that he was hailed as the inspiration behind England's World T20 win, Collingwood's international career appears to be over, so as such will need to be replaced as the T20 skipper. While Flower's decision can be made much easier if Strauss steps aside from limited over cricket, leaving space for a joint captaincy, a real headache will be created if he decides to stay, with Flower needing to give someone the T20 captaincy. Again, the same candidates for the ODI captaincy will be in the running, and this decision could potentially be very awkward if Strauss wants to keep playing ODIs.

Flower's Journey to World Domination

The big headline news from the world of cricket today is that Andy Flower has extended his contract as England team director. While there have been a few sensationalist tweets (as there will for any story regarding international cricket) it certainly hasn't been met with a wave of shock. Flower's job with England, as successful as it has been already, is only partway through. And having only just turned down the India job, it's hardly a massive shock that he wants to stay with the England team.

If there's one thing which I could pick as a buzzword for Andy Flower's time as England head honcho (I know buzzwords are more Peter Moore's thing, but deal with it), it would be "stability". England have had a settled side in which everyone knows what they're doing, and there hasn't been chops and changes willy-nilly. Even big selectorial decisions, such as dropping Finn for Melbourne was meticulously planned, well thought-out and made with the minimum of fuss. It's not Andy Flower's way to shout and scream and rock the boat. Leaving suddenly or demanding a pay rise just isn't his way, which has been proved by today's announcement that he is to remain loyal to his players and remain as England boss.

Since taking over just about two years ago, Flower has had unbridalled success. Yes, he's won two Ashes and a World T20, but you get the impression that the job is still only mid-way through completion. Flower's ultimate aim is to create a side that dominates world cricket like the West Indian side of the 70s and the Australians during the 00s. As well as England have done in the past two years, the poor display at the World Cup showed that we're a long way off reaching world domination. This summer, in series against arguably the two best teams in the world, plus playing the pretenders to the throne summer next gives Flower the opportunity to see how far along his steeds have come.

Flower seems a man with immense loyalty to his players, and abandoning them suddenly only part way along the journey just isn't his style. He, in the Andocracy with captain Strauss, can lead this England team to hugely bigger and better things, even bigger and better than what's already been achieved. Make no mistake, Flower is in for the long haul, and for an England fan, this can only be seen as brilliant news.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Tweeting Off About Alviro and David

It's not a very close secret that I am a massive fan of Twitter. I'm able to easily read great blogs that are put out into the cricketing blogosphere (and indeed have discovered some great blogs through my use of Twitter), and I'm also able to follow the cricketers of whom I write, and get an insight into what it means to be a top-level player.

Twitter, and indeed all social-networking sites, are designed so the user can express their feelings freely to whoever is interested in reading them. I currently follow 210 people on Twitter, because I am interested in what those 210 people have to say. In the past there have been moans from certain tweeters that cricketers just follow the PR line, or say nothing of any relevance. Which makes it a refreshing breath of fresh air when somebody holds their hands up and tweets something honest.

This week, new Glamorgan captain Alviro Petersen (@AlviroPetersen) came out after a bad day at the office, and tweeted ""I'm playing the worst cricket of my career, people always upset with me, responsibility, some like it when I fail. Can't get worse... It's a lonely place when things aren't going well... I will never quit though and will only take those with me who support me." While some cricketers wouldn't go public with their feelings, especially only a couple of weeks into his reign as captain, surely Alviro's honesty is something that should be applauded? Twitter is a means of letting the fans know exactly how the players feel, making them more accessible and human. And while I'm sure Alviro would love to be tweeting about how well it's going, it isn't. So, just like the millions of other users who express their true emotions through their tweets, Alviro has shared his emotions. Is there that much wrong with that?

One of the excellent blogs that I have found since joining Twitter is David Green's "The Reverse Sweep" (highly recommended, by the way). After reading Alviro's tweets, David had a bit of an unseemly spat with Petersen, leading to this article, in which he explained his previous tweets. (Read it for the full story). Basically, David wrote (as he did personally to Alviro on Twitter) that some things should remain private and in the confines of the club.

I see David's point, and it is a fair one. Alviro, however, has responded by publically attempting to damage David's reputation as one of the best cricket bloggers around, by point-scoring (again, on Twitter) "Just had a look at the article in the reverse sweep. Now that guy David Green would be the sly ones I'm talking about...David Green, if you have your facts right, then write mate. Shit journalism. Its the reverse sweep!"

Now this is where my point gets a bit murky. As a rule, I see that cricketers are just people like you and me. In the week that footballers Darron Gibson and Kevin Davies have exited Twitter due to the constant abuse they've had to suffer, it is unfair to bombard anyone on Twitter with vile spam. In the era of celebrity in which we live where sportstars are becoming increasingly detached from us fans, Twitter is an invaluable medium which gives a link between the players and the public and makes them far more accessible, and as such, it would be a massive shame if anyone was scared away from it due to abuse. One of the key fundamentals of Twitter is free speech and honest displaying of the user's emotions, which is what Alviro has done, which I would support. Conversely, David has disagreed with him, and in another display of free speech, has disagreed with him. What has followed has been petty and quite frankly ugly. I feel for David, who has spent long hours trying to build up the reputation of his blog. I hope that Alviro's defamation hasn't made all of that work in vain.

As a rule, people shouldn't send abuse to celebrities on Twitter, as it is an unneccesary thing to do from one person to the other. But it is a two-way street, and if Alviro wants to earn the respect of his 8,920 followers, he needs to realise that to get respect, you have to give it. It's a shame when Twitter gets all ugly like this, and I hope everyone can move on from the incident. I hope Alviro continues to tweet honestly, because it is a real insight into the mind of a county captain and international opener. And I hope David continues to post top quality blogs. Basically, the moral of this blog is, share the love on Twitter. Be unto your tweeters as you would like your tweeters to be unto you...

And remember - follow me @shortmidwicket!