County cricket news
In film, a MacGuffin is something characters strive for which rather conveniently drives the plot. As often as not, its exact nature is unimportant. What matters is that at least one of the characters wants it.
People aren’t fighting to acquire Sussex’s Steve Magoffin, so he doesn’t really fit the description. However, the name does seem apt when you consider that one of the common characteristics of a MacGuffin is that it shapes the narrative even though the audience doesn’t really know what it is.
The contents of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction present a classic example. The whole film revolves around them, but we never actually find out what they are. It doesn’t matter. Similarly, do we need to see Steve Magoffin going about his job, or is it enough that he shapes the story of the 2014 County Championship in its early stages, allowing other characters to take centre stage later on?
This is a roundabout way of saying that after two rounds of championship matches, Sussex are the only team with two wins. In both games, Magoffin has set up the match on the first day and then polished things off in the second innings. He already has 14 wickets at 12.85. Team-mate Jon Lewis has taken 10 wickets at 12.10, but we didn’t feel like writing about department stores today.15 Appeals
Refreshingly manageable levels of information this week with very little of note happening with regards to candidates for the England squad.
This is probably the headline event. Gary Ballance made 174 against Northamptonshire. Reading between the lines written by better-informed people than us, it’s possible that England have decided Gary Ballance has some flaw or other and that they’d rather get Eoin Morgan into the Test team.
If this conclusion has been reached, it’s largely off the back of Ballance’s one-day international performances, which is fairly typical of the way players seem to be judged these days – in the wrong context. It also creates an issue. Even if the selectors don’t always respect first-class scores as much as you might expect, they still like to have a bit of something to support their case. The problem is that Eoin Morgan is famously underwhelming in first-class cricket, whereas Gary Ballance is dynamite and seemingly plans on continuing to be so.
Graham Onions took 4-65, which barely even qualifies as news. But is Onions even in contention any more? You get the impression that Chris Jordan has leapfrogged him. Mmm, frog and onions.
Elsewhere, Jimmy Anderson took 0-82. One poor performance doesn’t amount to much, but Jimmy usually waltzes into county cricket, picks up a five-for and then waltzes out again. This, however, is a clumsy, awkward dad dance made to look even worse by the sleek 5-63 stylings of Chris Woakes. Two of our county players to watch have also had an impact on the scorecard – 3-52 from Keith Barker and 4-67 from Tom Smith.
Elsewhere, Cricinfo have done little to dispel the notion that Surrey players will always be talked up long before those of other counties with their ‘Dunn gets people talking’ headline. As over-hyped team-mate Jade Dernbach fades into the background, Matt Dunn moves to the fore off the back of 3-53 in the second division of the County Championship. It’s all very exciting if you happen to go to all of Surrey’s matches and have to feel like something notable has happened during the long hours you’ve invested.8 Appeals
One worrying, but entirely predictable, revelation from Ben Stokes’ recent interview in the Guardian is that he’s broken bones punching inanimate objects before.
He reckons he’s going to learn this time.
“I don’t think punching lockers is the way forward for anyone. There’s only going to be one winner there.”
This is an odd way of putting it, as if the locker was somehow parading around celebrating victory in the aftermath, rather than sitting there shell-shocked, wondering why the hell someone had just lamped it one FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER.
Also, generally speaking people who punch things in anger don’t learn. Considering it rationally, Stokes knows not to do it, but when you’re launching a left hook at a solid object, you’re not exactly in a rational frame of mind. It’s an emotional thing. People act differently when they’re capable of emotions rather than being all cold and dead inside, like you’re supposed to be.
They call it venting, but venting isn’t a thing. The act of ‘venting’ keeps your heart-rate up; it keeps you angry; and it also feels sort of good, so you carry on doing it.
But at least he has passion, eh? That was the big thing missing for England over the winter. Everyone says so. If only they had a bit more passion, they could have won. Passion drives you onto greater things. Passion drives you to things like losing all perspective, obsessing, never resting and eventually having a mental breakdown.13 Appeals
We missed a trick when naming our county players to watch. Instead of trying to keep things manageable by limiting ourself to five, we should have completely changed the rules and just named all the England squad contenders who we were watching anyway.
What happens now is we open all the scorecards in different tabs and there are three things to write about from each one. It’s all become rather unwieldy.
This is why we try and ignore the second division. There’s only so much our tiny brain can sift through.
We said at the outset that we would be very, very surprised if Sam Robson didn’t open against Sri Lanka. Yesterday, he scored 163, so maybe we can stop watching Michael Carberry et al. and just draw a line under the potential England openers section to cut down our workload.
A nothingy 48 from Ravi Bopara (…in the second division. This is the problem, you see. Why are we having to pay attention to these nothingy, meaningless matches full of crap players?) James Taylor followed up his fairly nothingy 62 with a more nothingy 33. Eoin Morgan made a reasonably noteworthy 86. Gary Ballance made 77.
There really aren’t any. Obviously, there’s always someone who’s the best of what’s available, but that shouldn’t be mistaken for being the future of England’s spin bowling. Simon Kerrigan’s probably the best specialist, but it would be a brave decision to return him to the national side right now.
The first division has some batsmen who bowl spin. Samit Patel’s done nowt of note this week; Scott Borthwick took 1-50, which seems about right; and Adil Rashid is bowling pretty much as predicted, taking 1-127.
So again, we find ourself dredging the second division – which is as sure a sign as any that the situation is dire. Monty Panesar took 0-12 and 1-41 and you feel he’d really have to go some to find himself back in favour. Then there’s Moeen Ali, who isn’t even a spinner – he’s a number three batsman. On the strength of 3-43 and 0-14 he’s now being talked of as being the frontrunner. The sad thing is, he probably is.
It doesn’t help these guys that half the County Championship is played in the spring these days.
It’s easier for these guys to look good at this time of year, but let’s not complain about that. Steven Finn has followed up his first innings 5-91 with 3-63. Chris Jordan took 3-15 and then 3-121.
Yes. Of course. County Championship coverage never ends and it’s only week two. We’re going to burn out in no time. Firstly, Usman Arshad, who was starting to look like the worst-ever selection as a player to watch even before we’d clicked ‘publish’ rather hauled things back. None for 50-odd became a very respectable 4-78. Reverse swing? No idea. We’ve never even seen him play. That’s how much we research these things.
Finally, we feel we have to draw attention to Ed Joyce scoring a hundred in each innings against Warwickshire, even though he’s not going to play for England and even though he’s not one of the players we’re officially watching. But at least he has the decency to play in the first division.22 Appeals
That’s ‘players to watch in 2014′. We don’t have 2,014 players to keep an eye on. In fact, we’ve got fewer than ever before – just five.
A reminder of the qualification criteria:
- Qualified to play for England
- No established internationals
- Playing in the first division of the County Championship
Usman Arshad, Durham
It’s always worth having a Durham seamer in your ‘ones to watch’. Somewhat optimistically, were going with Usman Arshad this year, even though he’s never taken a five-wicket haul. He did pick up a wicket every four-and-a-half overs last season, however. It’ll never last. Let’s watch it not last. In fact, since we wrote this, it has already not lasted.
Kyle Hogg, Lancashire
It’s always worth having a Lancashire player in your ‘ones to watch’. Kyle Hogg seemed to go up a notch a year or so ago, but thanks to his team-mates’ shoddy batting he’s had to spend a year atrophying in the second division. Let’s see what’s left of him.
Tom Smith, Lancashire
It’s always worth having two Lancashire players in your ‘ones to watch’. Tom Smith was something of a fixture in this feature in the early days after we turned up to watch the first day of the County Championship in 2006 and saw him do sort of okay. He seems to be picking up again of late. We fully expect him to take 3-56 or score 42 not out relatively frequently this year.
Adil Rashid, Yorkshire
If Tom Smith was something of a fixture in this feature, what does that make Adil Rashid? We named him in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. He hasn’t had great bowling returns in the last couple of years, but since when have mere trifles like ‘evidence’ trumped illogical hope? Call it the sunk cost fallacy, but we just know that he’s going to have a brilliant year in 2014. It’s too late to back out of this now.
Rashid’s probably still four years away from his peak. It could still happen. It isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility. Also, he did hit three hundreds and average 50 last season, so at least we can use phrases like ‘he has something to offer’.
Keith Barker, Warwickshire
He’s definitely someone who takes wickets without attracting too much attention. Let’s give him a small amount to address that. We can then also check on Rikki Clarke and Chris Woakes while we’re looking at Warwickshire scorecards.16 Appeals
The fight for England spots continues to a soundtrack of very gentle applause from a smattering of supporters who didn’t happen to have much on that day (activity-wise).
Jonathan Trott made 37 against Sussex – although to be fair, that has been the second-highest score in two completed innings. Ed Joyce has been the only man to better him with 117, but Joyce is Irish again now and therefore irrelevant as far as this particular article is concerned.
James Taylor made 62 against Middlesex, which is neither here nor there really. Ravi Bopara made three against Derbyshire, which is at least a clear position. Gary Ballance made 77 against Somerset, which somehow seems a lot more than 62 and is certainly a great deal more than three.
Apparently, the reason why Matt Prior didn’t keep wicket in Sussex’s last match was because his Achilles was giving him gyp. Clearly, he didn’t think he could make 125 with it bothering him this week and so he’s not even playing.
Remember Adil Rashid? He’s 85 not out at the time of writing. Tarred by his youthful shortcomings, it really is worth reminding yourself that he’s only 26.
Hurray! Steven Finn has taken 4-87 against Nottinghamshire. And now he’s taken 4-91. Maybe next time we check, he’ll have taken 5-91…
Jesus, he actually has. That was weird.
Elsewhere, Chris Jordan took 3-15 against Warwickshire.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul Watch
Absolutely nothing to do with England whatsoever and absolutely everything to do with the fact that we just bloody love Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Essex were bowled out for 94 and Derbyshire have laboured to 143-8, but Shiv’s still unbeaten with 67. Batting’s hard, but he doesn’t care. He’s just going to bat forever anyway.16 Appeals
Everyone knows that the key to a strong international side is ‘competition for places’. It absolutely isn’t the case that ‘competition for places’ is really just a synonym for ‘the first XI’s turned crap’.
Yesterday’s England Squad Watch ended rather bleakly with the specialist batsmen seemingly competing only for a place in the dressing room from which to watch others bat. Thankfully, yesterday’s play brought GREAT NEWS.
Michael Carberry improved on his first innings duck considerably, making six whole runs in the second innings. He didn’t hit any boundaries, so that six entailed a whole series of scoring strokes. As for Eoin Morgan, was he smarting from his first innings golden duck? Was he ‘eck as like. The vowelsome left-hander made two in a six-minute innings that will have had England’s coach, whoever he is, grinning from ear to ear (assuming England’s next coach has two ears and a mouth).22 Appeals
Who plays for England these days? NO-ONE KNOWS. They don’t even have a coach and the uncertainty pours down from there, covering everyone in a sticky, unctuous goo that at first you think might be some sort of over-ripe berry that’s fallen from a tree, before realising that there’s no skin and the consistency’s too uniform and no, no, no, this came out of the back of an animal!
Hurray! Matt Prior scored a hundred. Middlesex were all out for 105 and then Matt Prior made 125 off 138 balls on the same pitch.
Matt Prior is still far and away the best England wicketkeeping option and our firm belief that he will score plenty of runs at the start of the season is already not-entirely-wrong.
Hurray! Steven Finn took 6-80 in the same match and actually took Prior’s wicket (eventually). Finn’s probably not going to be rushed back into the Test side, but most of us are happy to see that he’s commenced a slow walk in its general direction.
We will be very, very surprised if Sam Robson doesn’t open the batting against Sri Lanka in the middle of June. We reckon his winter performances for the Lions mean that all he needs to do is show vague competence for the next couple of months and he’ll be given a chance. Against Sussex, he made 11 and 1.
Technically, Michael Carberry is the incumbent. If Robson doesn’t perform well, England will be able to retain Carberry, pretending that was the plan all along. Against Worcestershire, Carberry made a duck.
There’s a strong feeling that Eoin Morgan has been earmarked for Test selection, perhaps to make up for the excitement shortfall resulting from Kevin Pietersen’s absence. We’ve even seen it suggested that he might have inadvertently sacrificed some of his one-day majesty through focusing on Test-specific training.
Morgan went one better than Carberry against Sussex and was bowled for a golden duck.
Peter Moores’ bid to be the man to turn around England’s shoddy batting must surely be hampered by the fact that his Lancashire side still can’t ruddy bat after years and years of being turd. They made 144 thanks to 42 not out from Tom Smith, who is no longer an opener but a number seven.23 Appeals
We’re not in favour of demonising individuals. But three runs, Jade. Three runs. That’s all that was in it.
Couldn’t someone have saved three runs somewhere along the way? Maybe Jos Buttler’s missed stumping proved costly. Would a specialist wicketkeeper have made the difference, or would that merely have meant a few more overs of AB de Villiers?
But it’s hard to look past England’s bowling as being the reason for defeat and specifically the death bowling. England like to go with fast-medium. We’re not sure that’s the right choice.
It’s hard to weigh the statistics being as bowling in the powerplay and at the end tends to mean going for more runs than those who bowl in the middle no matter how well you perform. At the same time, England’s most expensive bowlers in this tournament have been Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad and Jade Dernbach. In fact, over a 34-match Twenty20 international career, Dernbach has conceded on average 8.71 runs an over. That’s a big enough sample to draw conclusions, no?
Also, look at the most economical bowlers in the tournament so far: Mahmudullah, Narine, Shakib al Hasan, Ashwin, Mishra – these are all spinners. Santokie, Malinga and Steyn have been the only seamers to have much success and yet Tredwell, Moeen Ali and the medium-pace of Ravi Bopara haven’t bowled a right lot for England. It doesn’t feel like they’ve been playing the odds.
Would these bowlers have done better than the seamers at the death? They couldn’t have done much worse.23 Appeals
When a sweaty-palmed Jade Dernbach bowled a wide with West Indies needing seven to win off one delivery, it was easy to forget that his opening spell had been sort of all right.
It’s not a big thing, but it’s definitely progress. Someone seems to have persuaded Dernbach that variations are only such when they vary from something. His first delivery took a wicket, his first over was a maiden, but the real achievement was that those six balls were all roughly the same as each other.
Clearly they’re going to keep picking him – there’s nothing we can do about it – so we might as well try and support him, at least for the next few weeks. If that means refraining from commenting on embarrassing, dry-humping wicket celebrations which are entirely out of proportion for a dead rubber in a warm-up series, then so be it.20 Appeals