As we pointed out yesterday, Durham’s season isn’t a complete catastrophe. Two wins, two draws and a loss isn’t the end of the world. (The machines haven’t even managed to produce a single robot cricketer yet, so the end of the world’s months away.)
That said, Durham are increasingly prone to getting themselves into pretty ordinary positions in County Championship matches. Yesterday they were bowled out for 121.
Durham have always been prone to this kind of thing and the main reason why they won the County Championship in each of the last two seasons is because of their ‘anything you can do…’ attitude. These bad positions are more common this year though. Why?
Well, it’s basically because all their bowlers are injured. Graham Onions, Mark Davies and Callum Thorp are all out and Steve Harmison’s only just returned. Steve always returns in person long before he returns in impact as well, so you’d call that three-and-a-half injuries until the lolloping ganglotron of mental fragility gets back in the swing of things.
Durham’s batting’s heavily reliant on Michael Di Venuto and Dale Benkenstein. That’s normally okay, because if they don’t score, the other batsmen cobble together a nearly-mediocre score which is all the Durham bowlers need to go at. However, without the bowlers, a nearly-mediocre score is just that.
In conclusion: go Lancashire.
Everyone in my office is currently all abuzz about the prospect of a Fantasy World Cup. I wondered if anything similar existed for our favourite pastime. Sadly it appears not, so I have felt the need to invent one.
Welcome to Fantasy Cricket Administrator League 2010.
What you have to do is pick a cricket club management team comprising the people that you think will perform best over the season. By “perform best”, I don’t mean any of that happy fans / financial stability bollocks. No. I’ve been studying the way that county and national administrators seemingly do their jobs and I’ve come up with some points scoring and selection rules.
Firstly, you can pick from the management of any of the 27,000 counties in English cricket, plus one person from the ECB. You can also have two “overseas players” from the BCCI, PCB, ICC, WICB, SPECTRE, SMERSH, or any other publicity-focussed body with only half an eye on cricket. Don’t forget, anybody who turns up with a suitcase full of cash despite not knowing the first thing about cricket is also eligible to join your team.
You need five “board members” in all. Points will be scored according to the following:
- Getting on TV – 1 point
- Mentioning actual cricket while on TV – minus 5 points
- Making vague threats towards “grass roots cricket” if you don’t get your way – 5 points
- Discussing television deals as if they matter – 5 points
- Describing cricket as “part of the entertainment business” – 10 points
- Describing fans as “customers” – 5 points
- Describing fans as “the relevant demographic” – 20 points
- Closing the museum to make way for a sponsors’ bar – 10 points
- Describing a player’s genito-urinary diseases in detail to the whole world – 100 points
- Spending half of your club’s income on buying a Test match, then losing three days’ play because of bad drains – 30 points
- Staging a Test match on an unplayable pitch – 10 points
- Being responsible for inspecting that pitch a day beforehand but thinking it is OK – 30 points
- Having your captain resign – 10 points
- Having all your players go on strike – 20 points
- Categorically banning a player forever, then saying that “forever” could be interpreted as “for the rest of the week” – 10 points
- Being sacked – minus 10 points
- Not being sacked despite a whole pile of obvious reasons for it – 50 points
- Being imprisoned – 1000 points (*)
(*) Players will be limited to one IPL administrator each, for obvious reasons.
It’s not exactly on a par with the 221 he hit in a Test match against the West Indies, but Rob Key‘s 261 off 270 balls against Durham today has added a cheese garnish to the plate of cured meat that was England’s World Twenty20 victory. That’s our version of a cherry on a cake, by the way, because we hate cake.
True, Durham’s current side largely consists of those sorts of players where you can’t quite remember if they’re batsmen or bowlers, but Steve Harmison was playing and taking wickets and the next highest score was 43, so this definitely classes as ‘a good knock’.
The fact that this innings featured twice as many runs as Rob had scored in his previous 10 first class innings combined is proof that he has found the on-off switch to his genius and has triumphantly flicked it to ‘on’. Clearly, Rob forgot that he switched his genius off for the winter because he was sick of people asking why he was glowing like the Ready Brek kid.
Glow now, Rob. Glow like THE SUN. Scorch our worthless retinas with your brilliance before ill-advisedly padding up to one pitching on middle in order to save our sight from permanent damage.
Do you know how rare that is? Lots of smart-arse Mahmood critics will say that they do know, but that’s not really the point we’re making.
Saj Mahmood has spent a good portion of his career bowling first-change for Lancashire. When there are good bowling conditions, he might pick up two or three wickets. When it’s tough for bowlers, he gets more overs and chips away.
Unlike a lot of people, we still rate Saj Mahmood very highly as a fast bowler. If there’s one criticism we have, it’s of what goes on in his head.
He’s not thick; he’s just got far less experience of running through a batting side than he should have. It’s an unfamiliar experience for him and he maybe doesn’t believe that he can do it. A fast bowler who has demolished a few sides thinks that he can do it again, but this was only Saj Mahmood’s sixth five wicket haul in first-class cricket. 5-55 against Kent isn’t Waqar Younis territory and three were tail-enders, but it’s not bad.
It’s every bowler’s aim, but Saj Mahmood really does need to take a Himalayan-sized heap of wickets this season. He doesn’t need people admiring his reverse swing or clocking his pace. He needs to get loads of batsmen out. He needs to believe that batsmen don’t want to face him.
How come the rolling 24 hour news channels aren’t telling us everything Giles Clarke’s said in the last five minutes? How come Gordon Brown hasn’t stepped into the debate about possible restructuring of the county game? It’s a strange land we’ve returned to.
Following the IPL, we’ve got the World Twenty20. Following that, there’ll be English domestic Twenty20 and then the Champions League. All of those events are enticing, but not one after another. It’s also going to make following the County Championship all the more difficult.
How shall we plan the summer? What are your priorities?
We’re watching these guys when there isn’t an international match on, which is never:
The plight of Ravi Bopara makes an interesting case study. He’s trying to establish himself as a Test cricketer and only Test runs will really persuade anyone that he’s ready.
He gets a series of ducks in Tests in Sri Lanka and gets dropped. He promptly makes a one-day double hundred. He has a bad run in the Ashes and gets dropped. He promptly makes a first-class double hundred in the second division.
Too good for one level of cricket, not yet ready for the next one up. Ravi Bopara is in limbo. At least now he’s batting in the first division. Is that more meaningful? We think it is and we’re intrigued to see how he gets on.
Maybe he can actually try and make his case by playing cricket rather than having to resort to public pronouncements about being keen, but not too keen.
So much of what’s wrong with English cricket can be seen in the never-ending debate about wicketkeepers. First-class cricket’s too weak to show who’s best and because there are so many counties and therefore so many candidates, no player gets much of a run.
We are no better informed than anyone else about all of this, which is precisely our point – it’s nigh-on impossible to be well-informed with the information we have to go on. Nevertheless, one wicketkeeper we liked when he appeared in one-day matches for England was Phil Mustard.
Phil Mustard was the second-highest scorer in the Pro40 last year and it’s all 40-over stuff in 2010. Phil Mustard doesn’t know he’s supposed to be playing as an attacking opener in these matches; it’s just what he does. That’s what we like about him. Plus, wicketkeepers HAVE to open the batting in one-day matches.
Like Will Smith, Paul Horton’s another who had a 2009 season of less than unbridled success. He did hit 173 in one match, but didn’t do much else.
However, if there’s one thing we’ve learnt with these Ones To Watch, it’s that they’re devious bastards and always slip in a duff season just before they come good, thereby escaping from our one-watching claws at the crucial moment. Graeme Swann, we’re looking at you.
So let’s stick with Paul Horton through thin-and-thin, just like we did with that film that said it was going to be Knight Rider in the TV guide, but which didn’t feature a single car in it and was clearly a different film, but which the eight-year-old us watched anyway, hoping the whole of the first hour would turn out to be a Michael Knight dream.
Will Smith was the one batsman who didn’t score runs for Durham last year, which might not immediately mark him out as being worth watching, but the year before that he was arguably their best batsman.
We’re putting the mediocre batting down to his being made captain in 2009. It’s like when someone’s knocking at the door while you’re trying to write about Will Smith of Durham: it’s a distraction and you can’t deal with both at once.
Actually, maybe it’s a bit different. Judging from the fact that Smith hit 150 in his penultimate match last season, maybe you learn to cope with both. In the other situation, eventually the knocking just stops – as does the writing about Will Smith of Durham.