England pick some wheat and chaff and postpone their separation until later

Chaff (CC licensed by UGA College of Ag & Environmental Sciences – OCCS via Flickr)

As a result of Cricinfo’s redesign, we don’t actually know that a Sri Lanka v India Test is taking place and therefore cannot comment on who has scored hundreds and who has been dismissed for three.

We will instead restrict ourself to an observation that England will be picking at least a couple of debutants: Tom Westley and Toby Roland-Jones (genuinely just had to check that it wasn’t Toby-Roland Jones). Dawid Malan may also join them, once England have exerted a degree of force and so gauged “the balance of the side”.

This kind of thing happens every now and again and it has to be said that it tends to be a bit of a wheat-and-chaff exercise. For example, Michael Vaughan made his Test debut in the same match as Chris Adams and Gavin Hamilton.

Westley is “oft talked about” and “highly regarded”. This week he will become even more oft talked about and we’ll have to see how he copes with that. Roland-Jones has been in the queue since this time last year. Dawid Malan is a cricketer.

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In what sense was JP Duminy “released”?

JP Duminy had initially been sentenced to a full Test tour of England but has been released early due to good behaviour and bad batting.

Duminy has been around a while. He made his one-day international debut in 2004 and his Test debut in 2008. Somehow he has played 46 Test matches, which is both more and fewer than you would imagine.

He has at various times been a batsman, a quasi-all-rounder and just a name on the team sheet. He averages 32 with the bat and 38 with the ball.

Newspapers have not for the most part expanded on his release from the South Africa squad, so we’re unclear whether it was intended as a kick up the arse, an act of mercy, or a merciful kick up the arse.

There’s also the possibility that it’s an out-and-out discardation, in which case ‘release’ seems even more euphemistic than normal.

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Monumental rant about Anya Shrubsole narrowly averted

Anya Shrubsole (via ICC)

We properly went off on one there for a minute. Internally.

An onlooker wouldn’t have noticed a thing, but inside we were seething. Anya Shrubsole took 6-46 (plus a run-out) to win the World Cup for England and she wasn’t even player of the match. They gave it to a batter.

Except they didn’t. Tammy Beaumont was actually on the podium as player of the tournament. The 23 runs she made against India may have contributed to this a little bit, but they weren’t enough for her to be considered Main Person in the final.

The Main Person was – obviously – Shrubsole.

This World Cup has felt like a big deal. A bigger deal than normal. At the same time, it’s very difficult to gauge whether one’s own perspective is in any way representative of a wider trend.

What’s your take on it?

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Cricinfo’s new home page looks really amateur

Cricinfo have redesigned their website so that it looks like one of those ones that scrapes your content and republishes it in breach of copyright. The home page in particular looks like some sort of template from GoDaddy.com.

The home page was dreadful before, in all honesty, but in an entirely different way. Previously it was weighed down by randomly placed subsections, each of which was overfilled. The new one is at least a little bit lighter – although it still feels a bit like someone’s said ‘is there some way we can make absolutely everything really prominent’.

Viewed on a desktop, scorecards are too wide.

The explanation for the change is that they’re putting ‘mobile first’. Apparently no-one’s told Cricinfo that you can have completely different designs for mobiles and PCs through the magic of stylesheets. Even we do that and we’re so bad at this kind of thing that we haven’t even removed the empty menu dropdown on our mobile site.

The new Cricinfo is at least usable on a mobile now. The old version was unusable, so this redesign probably emerges in credit.

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Need to bring solidity to your top order? You need a Stoneman

Mark Stoneman (via Surrey Twitter)

Gary Ballance’s pink, fat lips let go a scream. His left index finger was fractured. He isn’t made of stone.

England will therefore call up someone who might be in a bid to solidify their top order. Mark Stoneman, now of Surrey – but on some level eternally of Durham – is said to be “on the edge” of the team.

You can do a lot worse than marking your perimeter with stone. We can’t off the top of our head think of any watery cricketers who might provide a moat, which would be the only superior option in our eyes.

Stoneman is averaging 58.53 in the County Championship this season and has hit three centuries. Hopefully his are qualities England require and he won’t end up being exiled to the ruins of Old Valyria.

England’s distaste for softer materials may also see them rest-drop-rotating Wood.

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The natmeg was the difference

Anya Shrubsole carts the winning runs (via ICC)

Just a single sighting of the natmeg in the World Cup semi-final by our count – but it secured two runs and was therefore, by all measures, decisive.

England passed South Africa’s total with just two balls to spare. You can’t honestly suggest that the natmeg wasn’t the difference. With that in mind, you wonder why batters ever choose to direct a shot anywhere else.

Either side of the legs is so passé.

England are in the World Cup final. That doesn’t happen too often. The final’s on Sunday.

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England are a team utterly without breadth

England are a limited batting side. Most of the players have plenty of shots and they’re seemingly limited to a style of play where they use them all.

This article isn’t going to be a paean to the blocker. It’s about a lack of flexibility; a lack of range. England are a side whose ‘brand of cricket’ is incredibly narrow and this makes for a team who look great on their day, but who don’t enjoy all that many days.

England were asked to bat for two days. They failed to bat two sessions. If they’d instead fallen just one ball short, the match result may have been exactly the same, but at least there’d have been signs that their cricket had some breadth.

There was no shame in failing to secure a draw through their second innings efforts, but here was an opportunity to show that a different style of cricket was within their capabilities. What they instead showed was their sole dimension with searing clarity.

Lights flashed, klaxons sounded, aeroplanes trailing coloured smoke wrote ‘this is what we’re shit at‘ in the sky.

The mistake is to see the rearguard as a distinct style of cricket rather than an extended spell of a style of play that is a key part of everyday Test cricket.

On this occasion, England needed to spend two days avoiding high-risk shots, identifying dangerous deliveries and coming up with ways to nullify them. On another day, they might need to adopt a similar methodology for a shorter period, against one particular bowler, or for one particular spell.

Sometimes things aren’t in your favour and all you can do is try and improve your odds enough that you’ve a chance of surviving until something changes. A two-day assignment is deflating and dull, but it is also a magnificent opportunity to hone this kind of decision-making.

England were bowled out for 133 in 44.2 overs and the only guy who got past 30 was the one guy who didn’t really need to worry about this facet of the game anyway. The longer they’d batted, the less time they would have wasted.

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Liam Dawson is getting carted

Liam Dawson (via Channel 5)

We’ve been wondering whether Liam Dawson will become a player we hate for being kind of dull or a player we love for being kind of dull.

We haven’t yet reached a conclusion, but what we are a little more certain of is that he’s utterly failing to do the main thing he’s been picked to do.

It’s always a bit harsh to judge a player in his first few matches. Plenty of great players have been pigawful at first. The problem is that Dawson’s unique selling point isn’t even particularly worth waiting for.

From what was said ahead of the first Test, he owes his selection to being the least badly mauled spinner in an innings when one opposition batsman made 199 and another made an unbeaten triple hundred.

This seems to us to be rather like splashing out a fiver on a double shot of the poison that will kill you most slowly. It’s also odd that Dawson’s 2-129 should carry so much more weight than Adil Rashid’s 23 wickets in that series.

One explanation from team management implied that the Hampshire man’s the ‘keep it tight’ spinner, who will allow the other bowlers to attack. We only caught the highlights of today’s play, but a sizeable proportion of it seemed to involve Hashim Amla depositing Dawson far and away, somewhere back behind him.

He hauled it back a bit later on, such that his figures ended up only as those of a bowler who’s been relentlessly milked. However, he was also beslogged by Amla in the first Test. It feels like the batsmen have his measure.

Normally in these situations we’re of the opinion that the ideal solution is not to drop the player; it is for the player to stop being so damned ineffectual and start playing really well instead.

Our concern in this instance is that Liam Dawson playing really well might just amount to 1-50 off 20 overs or something like that.

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Is Joe Root brave enough to bowl Gary Ballance?

Joe Root (via Channel 5)

The great tragedy of England’s six-man bowling attack is that Gary Ballance never gets to bowl. We reckon that Joe Root and Keaton Jennings are likely to get on before him as well, so realistically he’s ninth choice. England will need to have an extraordinarily bad day before we see his right-arm filth get another airing.

There was a moment when the ball had softened when we started to dream, but England plugged away, aided by Hashim Amla who tried really hard to get caught hooking and eventually managed it.

309-6 is the kind of score that makes someone like Graeme Smith say “it’s been a riveting day of Test cricket.” It isn’t the kind of score where he’d say “you might as well get Ballance on – what have you got to lose?”

We want England to do well, but we also want to see Gary Ballance bowl. It’s a very difficult situation for us. The only solution that we can see is Joe Root developing a taste for funky captaincy.

Bringing Gary Ballance on first change would be Sly-and-the-Family-Stone-with-a-guest-appearance-by-Bootsy-Collins funky.

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Cricket Captain 2017 – PC review

Cricket Captain – formerly International Cricket Captain – has been updated pretty much annually ever since it first came out in 1998. It’s always been a must for fans and also for administrators. However, we haven’t actually reviewed it in ages, so we thought we’d better address that.

Let’s deal with the obvious question first.

Can you pick Kevin Pietersen as England’s spin bowler and bat him at nine in a Test match?

Of course you can! He didn’t complain or anything. We took this as definitive proof that they could have kept him around after all and it wouldn’t have been a problem. Maybe he wanted to bat at nine and bowl more all along. Maybe that’s what they should have done.

That said, we were slightly taken aback when KP took 5-98 in his first match back in the side. We were far happier with his feisty lower order 41 off 37 balls, which was exactly the kind of thing we were looking for when we selected him.

Can you restrict the game to just Test matches?

Yes! It may not sound much, but this is perhaps the single most important tweak we can remember in the history of the game. In early versions we’d spend hours honing our Test side only to effectively sabotage its chances by half-arseing all the one-dayers. Playing meaningless one-day series was boring, but if you skipped them all your best players lost form.

You can also choose to focus wholly on one-day cricket, T20 or any combination of the three formats. This holds true at both domestic and international levels.

Are the graphics any good?

Do you care? Do you honestly care? This is a strategy game. It’s built on numbers, tables and graphs.

The graphics are fine, albeit far less amusing than those seen in Ashes Cricket 2013 with its ominously waddling umpire and his spectacular effect on fielders.

The menus are clear enough; the main highlights are maybe a bit dated looking, but perfectly serviceable; and Hawkeye is pretty much the same as on TV (although you can’t review decisions, unless we’ve missed something).

Are the numbers, tables and graphs any good?

Yes. Even those who are unconvinced by the worth of beehives, Manhattans and pitch maps in TV coverage will see their value here. They give you a means of deciphering what is and isn’t working in your attempts to bowl out the opposition.

Consult the graphics and you can quickly and easily see where the batsmen are scoring runs and where chances have been created.

Probably worth bowling a bit straighter at Imad Wasim.

Can you play the 1998 series between England and South Africa?

Yes.

Donald v Atherton; Dominic Cork deliberately being an arsehole to Brian McMillan to get him out; Darren Gough suffering from the wild shits; and good old Angus Fraser.

We’re not saying the game simulates all of these things, but you can play the series and fill in the gaps using your imagination.

Any flaws?

We’ve spent long hours playing this game over the years, so there’s an element of nit-pickery about this, but we’ve always thought that it was slightly caught between two stools.

There’s the strategy game, where you pick players, train them and combine them to make your team; and then there’s the tactical game, where you set your field, decide where to bowl and make your bowling changes.

The two are obviously linked, but there are times when the tactical side can feel like time-consuming micromanagement that’s keeping you from discovering whether your long-term masterplan will come to fruition. Sadly, autoplaying matches is still greatly counterproductive, so it isn’t really an option.

Does it feel realistic?

This is often a stumbling block for cricket games. When you’re forever being bowled out for under 100 or you can’t help but rack up 500-plus every time you bat, gameplay suffers, regardless of whether the opposition is making similar scores.

We haven’t done a full 20-season test run-through, but from what we’ve seen so far, the game performs well in this department. Batsmen approach Twenty20 with the correct boundary-hitting intent and Test totals have taken in everything from whopping declaration totals to fourth innings skittlery on a deteriorating pitch.

Worth the investment?

It’s available via Steam for £18 at the minute, which isn’t too sizeable an outlay in this day and age. If you haven’t played it before, it’s definitely worth a go. If you have, you may find the latest version resolves a few of the irritations from some of the older instalments.

We’ve found T20s particularly good because you can come up with a system and the games are of manageable enough size that you can watch more of the highlights and get a bit more of a feel for how things are panning out.

There are mobile editions too, although we haven’t played those. Let us know if you have and what they’re like in the comments section.

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