England should play one Test against Ireland every year

Ireland kit bag (via Twitter video)

The first Test match for Ireland’s men’s team will be against Pakistan in May 2018.

It should have been England. That much is obvious.

If two teams can meet without resorting to air travel, they’re close enough that there should be some sort of relationship between them. The relationship between England and Ireland has up until now been that the former has robbed all the latter’s best players.

Kind of feels like there’s some semblance of a debt there.

We’d love to see an annual fixture between England and Ireland. You don’t have to play five-match series to build context and narrative. You can play less frequently but routinely instead.

It works in the Six Nations and we can’t see any real reason why an equivalent cricket fixture wouldn’t also draw interest. If nothing else, England’s early-season Test matches are often stillborn so a regular grudge match would kick a little bit of life into May and June.

Oh, and Eoin Morgan should be Ireland Test captain.

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It’s a fine line between love and hate for David Warner

Photo by Sarah Ansell

You’ll of course remember when David Warner took a swing at Joe Root after becoming inexplicably incensed by the Yorkshireman’s inappropriate use of a wig.

Halcyon days. There was at least something comical about this particular confrontation; a certain Scrappy Doo quality borne of Warner’s diminutive stature and the sheer ludicrousness of the supposedly inflammatory act. It’s not quite like that this time around.

Fortunately, Warner’s still around to bring a note of levity to proceedings.

The Guardian reports that he’s been pondering how to get “up” and also how to get on top of England’s players. Counterintuitively, he says the mechanism for achieving these ends is to muster hatred.

“How can I dislike this player? How can I get on top of him?” he said. “You have to delve and dig deep into yourself to actually get some hatred about them to actually get up when you’re out there.”

Thank you David for another puzzling window into your psyche.

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Four-day Tests – slightly less of the duration and epic scope that define the game’s longest format

Hurray! Four-day Tests! They’ll be much like five-day Tests, only with the unique selling point somewhat compromised. Who can fail to support an idea as clear and appealing as that one?

The thinking seems to be, ‘well, maybe if each match isn’t quite such a big commitment, some countries might play a few more’. Here’s a full account of why four-day Test cricket makes no sense.

It’s also been announced that there’s going to be a Test championship – the ICC delaying the move for many years until precisely the point at which everyone’s already tired of it.

Confusingly, every Test in the championship will be a five-day affair. They haven’t worked out the points system yet because you don’t want to rush these things.

“I would like to congratulate our members on reaching this agreement,” said ICC chairman Shashank Manohar, whose congratulatory bar seems set sufficiently low that he’d doubtless give you a hearty handshake for successfully scaling a flight of stairs.

We still believe that administrators would be far better off making some effort to bind the formats together rather than forever pitting them against one another.

We know the format-spanning points system is widely-ridiculed because no-one cares about it, but there is a nugget of something in there in our opinion.

As we’ve written before, whatever the current state of the longest format, cricket, in a broader sense, is in relatively rude health. The problem really is that the formats are cannibalising each other when they should be working together.

A Test world championship is symptomatic of that thinking. It reflects an insular view of the game where T20s, ODIs and Tests are all different. In reality, they’re all cricket – so why not treat them as one?

A format-spanning cricket world championship would provide context for everything and an incentive to play and perform well in the longest format as a by-product of that.

Alternatively, you could just implicitly diminish the status of a bunch of Test matches and hope that this somehow provides the format’s salvation.

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Cricket computer game graphics through the ages

Last week we suggested that maybe the golden age of cricket videogame graphics had passed; that maybe player likenesses would from now on always be too convincing and insufficiently amusing.

Let’s take a look back on how things have changed, starting with the most recent funny graphics and working our way backwards from there.

Saeed Ajmal in Don Bradman Cricket 14 on the PC

What we especially like about this is that it very much looks like a real person, but very much not like Saeed Ajmal.

Saeed Ajmal is a joyous little ball of sunshine, whereas this bowler has clearly just heard that his pet fish has leukemia.

Gavin Smythe is hit in the balls by a Chaminda Vees delivery in Ashes Cricket 2009

What we like about this is that Gavin Smythe has been hit in the balls. We also like that all the players’ names are slightly wrong.

Slightly wrong faces plus slightly wrong names equals great amusement. Ashes Cricket 2009 was also a perfectly adequate game.

Cricket Revolution, which was out at roughly the same time, also scored well when it came to made-up player names.

Sri Lanka batsman in EA Cricket 2007 on the PC

We would still consider this game to fall within the golden age of cricket videogame graphics. When you get a player close-up, you do actually have somewhere up to half a chance of recognising the player.

This, to us, seems the optimal level of clarity.

Sri Lanka batsman in EA Cricket 2000 on the PC

At this point, players were all-but-unrecognisable. However, they did move like puppets playing proper cricket strokes, so that was still pretty funny.

Sri Lanka batsman and inexplicably fleeing Australia bowler in Brian Lara 99 on the PlayStation

We like this one because WHY WOULD THE BOWLER BE DOING THAT?

Sri Lanka batsman in Brian Lara Cricket 96

Could be anyone. Anyone right-handed, at any rate. Anyone right-handed who had played for Sri Lanka before the game came out in 1996.

Robin Smith in Graham Gooch World Class Cricket on the Amiga

Clearly Robin Smith. Or at least it was in the full version of this screenshot which featured his name in writing.

Big head, Robin Smith.

Honestly No Idea in Ian Botham Cricket on the PC

We think this one fits in here, chronologically, but we’d argue that these are the shittest graphics of all – worse than those that follow.

But that’s funny too, so a perfectly acceptable route to take by the developers.

Geoff Marsh in Allan Border Cricket on the Commodore 64

Is that his mouth?

Bill Athey in Graham Gooch Test Cricket on the BBC Micro

You may believe that the ball has been edged behind, but actually the keeper has large, square, jet black nads (possibly gloves).

The end

Because it’s 10pm and we can’t be arsed trawling through any more YouTube videos for what is, after all, an almost entirely pointless nostalgia trip of benefit to no-one but ourself. And not really of benefit to ourself now that we come to think about it.

Still, it’s more interesting than reading about Ben Stokes losing sponsorship deals, right?

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The campaign to get Paul Collingwood into England’s Ashes squad

Photo by Sarah Ansell

What else does nostalgia prove, if not that everything was better in the past?

Let’s do the who, the what and the why.

Who?

Paul Collingwood.

Paul is 41 and hasn’t played Test cricket for England since 2011, so the first thing to say in favour of his selection is that it would be heart-warmingly, life-affirmingly optimistic.

What?

Selection for the Ashes. We want Paul Collingwood in England’s Ashes squad. We want him to play in the Ashes.

It looks like there might be an opening for an all-rounder, but frankly he’s a far better bat than most of the lads they’re taking anyway, so we feel he should be included in the squad as a specialist.

That really is the nub of it: there’s no-one else better.

Why?

Collingwood hit three hundreds and averaged 60 in the County Championship this year. James Vince averaged 30 and he’s in the squad.

Also, he’s just ace.

They wouldn’t even need to book another flight as he’s going anyway as part of the coaching staff. His selection would therefore be cost effective.

There is, quite simply, no way that this is a bad idea.

In summary

Paul Collingwood MUST be added to England’s Ashes squad because…

  1. His selection would be heart-warmingly, life-affirmingly optimistic
  2. It would also be cost effective
  3. There’s no-one else better
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Did you know that it’s the Magellan Ashes this time around?

Sponsorship is a wonderful thing. It keeps fun stuff profitable and it allows sports players to sound institutionalised and cut off from reality.

Midway through the British summer, we saw Alastair Cook being interviewed on breakfast TV. Consummate professional that he is, Cook never once said “Test” when he could instead say “Investec Test match,” which gave rise to some spectacularly clunky sentences.

Cook isn’t one of life’s great orators, but he was England captain long enough that he can now autopilot his way through these jarring phrases without screaming at the skies, demanding that Odin get a grip on things because the modern world’s really gone too far.

Despite repeatedly reading it, we’ve only been dimly aware that the upcoming Ashes is also prominently sponsored. It’s going to be the Magellan Ashes. It’s being sponsored by Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese lad who would have been the first to circumnavigate the world except for the small matter of getting himself killed halfway round.

Now we know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that travelling halfway round the world to get killed sounds about right for this Ashes, because you’re either a pessimistic Brit or an Australian.

We jest of course. The Ashes sponsor is in fact Magellan’s Expedition, one of the Wonders from the all-time classic computer game Civilization.

Now it may seem odd to you that a cricket series is going to be sponsored by a major achievement from a very old computer game. All we can say to that is set your disbelief aside, because this is a fact, and you’re just going to have to go along with it.

You’re probably wondering about the extraordinary benefits bequeathed to the player’s civilisation by the Magellan’s Expedition, which will surely be pertinent to the upcoming Test series. Well that is a question answered at the climax of this video. Trust us when we say you must watch this in full.

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Will Peter Siddle play in the Ashes?

Peter Siddle (Sarah Ansell)

We’re having one of those bizarre moments of doubt. Do cricketers play in the Ashes? It sounds wrong to say they ‘play the Ashes’ but ‘play in the Ashes’ suddenly sounds like the person’s a gleeful pyromaniac dancing in the aftermath of their latest deed.

We’ve started a new feature in this week’s Cricket Badger (sign up here). It’s called Australia Pace Attack Injury Watch (catchy, we know) and it’s based on the high likelihood that Australia will suffer at least a couple more fast bowling injuries in the coming months.

Australia’s fearsome four-pronged pace attack

The joke is not at the players’ expense. It’s shitty for them to pursue something wholeheartedly only to repeatedly find themselves sitting on the sidelines for extended periods. It’s more about the Ashes build-up and excited media coverage of “Australia’s four-pronged pace attack”.

There was, in theory, a possibility that the home team might field Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Josh Hazlewood in the same side. It is also possible that all the world’s ducks might start clambering onto each other to form giant megaducks, each comprising thousands of individuals. Possible, but highly unlikely.

James Pattinson was this week diagnosed with a stress fracture, so Australia have already lost one prong. The first Test is, what, six weeks away, so further prongs could yet disappear (or fail to sufficiently recover, because they’re not all exactly fit and firing as it is). Oh for the certainty of the good old days of Ryan Harris, eh?

The truth of the matter is that Australia will field ‘some sort of attack’ in the Ashes and it will probably feature one or two of those names or maybe none of them. Who will fill the gaps? Who will actually play?

Who will step into the breach come side strain or knee knack?

Well not John Hastings, that’s for sure. While he only has one Test cap, we can’t be too sure how far down the list Australia will get. But he’s off it altogether though, having retired from the format today due to a back injury.

That leaves us with names like Nathan Coulter-Nile, Hilton Cartwright, Trent Copeland and Jackson Bird. We haven’t bothered checking whether any of these players are currently fit.

Maybe also Peter Siddle. The actually-not-particularly-old-timer’s taken five wickets in Victoria’s first two one-day games this season.

If you feel like you haven’t heard from Siddle in a while, you haven’t – he hasn’t played since last November due to injury.

Feels like we’ve been here before.

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Ashes Cricket to be released on PC, PS4 and Xbox One

What do you love most about cricket videogames?

If you answered “the deep customisation options” then good news – the developers of the upcoming Ashes Cricket have been listening to you.

“Time and time again players tell us the feature they love most about our cricket games is the deep customisation options,” said Big Ant CEO, Ross Symons.

The good news is that Ashes Cricket is basically an updated version of the actually-very-good Don Bradman Cricket, which we reviewed in 2014 (and here’s a bit more information about changes made for Don Bradman Cricket 17).

The bad news is that they’ve employed “photogrammetry technology” to capture the players’ likenesses.

We have no idea what this technique entails, but the screenshots seem to imply that this is the moment when videogame cricketers cease to be visually amusing.

Look at Jonny Bairstow, for example.

Very disappointing.

When we look at that, we think, “there’s Jonny Bairstow,” rather than, “ha ha ha, look at Jonny Bairstow” – which would have been our reaction to seeing him in any game before this one.

And look at Nathan Lyon. This Nathan Lyon arguably looks more like Nathan Lyon than Nathan Lyon does.

The other bad news is that the game’s fully licensed, which means that Michael Stirk won’t be opening the bowling for Australia and Jimmy Understone won’t be fulfilling the same role for England. Presumably that’s where the deep customisation options come in.

Ashes Cricket is out in November. You can already order the PS4 and Xbox One versions from Amazon, while the PC version will appear on Steam nearer the time.

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Mop-up of the day – capybaras and helicopters

Viv Richards arrives at Rishton Cricket Club (via iPlayer)

Firstly, let’s just savour yet another fine moment for Rangana Herath, an international cricketer who is not only older than us, but also better than every other cricketer there’s ever been (possible hyperbole). Spending most of your career with Muttiah Muralitharan as your benchmark can lead to having standards some way above the clouds, it seems.

Yesterday, the homicidal capybara did what he has done so often – he bowled Sri Lanka to victory when they were almost wholly reliant on him to achieve it. No-one else could have got the side home, but Herath is by now unfazed by such things and took six Pakistan wickets for 43 in 21.4 overs of predictable brilliance.

Pakistan suffered greatly in that match through not having another fine old cricketer at their disposal. Misbah-ul-Haq averaged 239 in the fourth innings of Test matches in the UAE. Not bad when you consider what those pitches can be like by then.

A TV recommendation

We watched Race and Pace last night. It’s not a post-acrimonious-split lowbrow ITV sketch show from the Eighties, but a documentary about West Indian pros playing in the Lancashire leagues. It’s exactly the kind of BBC programme about which you think, “what in hell possessed you to make that?” but also “why didn’t you make it far longer or do a whole series?”

Professionals playing against amateurs is one of our absolute favourite facets of cricket. The idea that world stars rock up and showcase their unearthly talents against carpet fitters and foundry workers is demented but also gives rise to all the best stories.

The juxtapositions in Race and Pace are plentiful. The finest is Viv Richards turning up to play for Rishton in a helicopter. Have you been to Rishton? The current population is under 7,000.

None of it makes sense. David Lloyd says Accrington played Rishton twice at home and that covered their finances for two years. They seemed to make most of the money from selling pies.

Speaking of which, how’s this for a Viv quote: “I found out about another cuisine that you had in that part of the world: mushy peas and pie. Looked a little foul at the time, but I’m an honorary Lancastrian so I’m going to let it work.”

That’s so Viv to say ‘let it work’. King Viv will allow pie and mushy peas to function.

Anyway, it’s only half an hour long and available via the iPlayer and we heartily recommend it for these and other reasons. If you’re overseas, there’s almost certainly some workaround that will allow you to watch it, although we don’t know what it is because we don’t need to and therefore can’t be bothered finding out.

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I Don’t Like Cricket, I Hate It – the upcoming Ashes tour edition

Photo by Sarah Ansell

A semi-regular feature in which we ask a fella going by the name of Prince Prefab about cricket – even though he hates cricket. We are in bold. Prince Prefab is not.

It strikes us that a looming Ashes tour is one of the few times when the sport might force itself into the wider public’s awareness, so we’re interested to hear the current view from ‘outside cricket’. Before that though, there’s some related cricket news that we’ll have to touch upon…

I was in a town in Yorkshire once – Cleckeaton, Pudsey, Batley, Shipley, I don’t know – and I was driving along with a mate and we saw a dog being pushed along in a pram, all tucked up nicely. And he nodded and went ‘Dog in a pram’ and we carried on. And it was quite a thing to see, but it was still just a dog in a pram. So I’m sure there are many column inches being written about what you alluded to but there’s no more to say than ‘dog in a pram’ about it really is there?

Yeah, we don’t want to go down the route of dissecting the incident. We were just wondering what perception you’d had of Ben Stokes before this week (if any)?

None at all. Honestly couldn’t have picked him out of a police line up including him, Prince and Alan Partridge. Although I would know he wasn’t Prince or Partridge, obviously.

So basically, you knew nothing of England’s most high profile Test cricketer before this week and now you think… well, we should probably let you put it in your own words.

I’ve seen a video of him fighting for a minute. I’ve never seen him play, heard him speak, read an interview. I don’t even know what he’s said after this incident. From what I know he could be anything from a decent fella who acted daft on a night out to a raging psychopath.

By the way, watch that video. Are they all wearing white trainers cos they’re cricketers and they think that they have to wear white trainers all the time? Or is that the fashion? For lads who go to shit clubs and don’t know that they should be wearing proper footwear by their mid twenties?

We bought some Hi-Tec Silver Shadow the other day – but they’re silver (they’re grey).

Mate, you’re too old to be wearing trainers for anything other than sport. Come on. You know that. You’ll look like a leisure dad.

Should Stokes play for England again?

Oh yeah. But a big fine and a good telling off. A proper telling off, like when Mr Carter made us cry for having a water fight with the fire extinguishers in the huts.

Next question: did you know it was the Ashes this winter?

Yes, I did. But maybe because of the Stokes stuff. The will-he-won’t-he be selected fuss I’ve heard on the radio. I’m not certain I would have known otherwise.

Any knowledge of the squad? Any opinion at all about how England might do?

I presume that guy who was shouting ‘Stokes! Leave it!’ might be in there. Can’t remember his name. Someone called Ali? I just googled two I thought might be playing. One is 40 and retired. The other is 45 and Australian. I have the idea that it is not thought we will do very well in these Ashes but I do not know why.

“Stokes! Leave it!” isn’t in there, we’re afraid – although many people thought he might have been. Moeen Ali will be going. You can have half a point for that.

Who were the two you googled? You can tell us. We won’t publish your ignorance on the internet or anything.

Jesus this is embarrassing. Strauss and Hayden. I mean, Hayden even sounds so obviously Australian but I didn’t know…

Odd that. A couple of years ago we asked another friend to name current England players. He said “there are loads” and then struggled to come up with a single name. He eventually went with Botham and Gilchrist.

Strauss is actually going, incidentally. Not as a player. He’s director of cricket or some such title.

Just looked at the team and I recognise a good six or seven of the names.

To be fair, there’s cricket fans who might be struggling with a couple of them.

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