Category: England cricket news (page 1 of 118)

What is a format-spanning points system for?

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Last week we asked whether you would care if the Ashes included limited overs matches. This was slightly mischievous on our part because while the series could in theory be affected by the mooted system which would see points accrued across formats and an overall winner recognised, the truth is that no-one really wants to mess with the Ashes.

As far as the challenges facing Test cricket are concerned, the Ashes is not the canary in the mine. The Ashes is the one man with breathing apparatus in the mine. As Test series between India and Sri Lanka and South Africa and West Indies fall around him, England v Australia stands there solemnly, slightly perplexed by the death toll.

But – whisper it quietly – Test cricket is bigger than the Ashes. Or at least the sport would be better off if it were. It’s one of this site’s perhaps overfamiliar refrains that diversity is one of cricket’s greatest strengths and a major part of that is having more than two countries playing five-day matches with some degree of enthusiasm.

A subconscious negotiation?

Teams always want to win – players want to win every game – but when one team cares more about one format and the opposition cares more about another, you do sometimes get the sense that some sort of invisible subconscious deal takes place. A ‘you can have what you want if we can have what we want’ kind of thing.

It’s not in any way deliberate, but there are fine margins in top-level sport and it doesn’t take much to tip the balance one way or the other. If enthusiasm is a finite resource, how it is rationed can have a very real impact. Could bringing the formats together not offset that just a little?

Maybe not

If nothing else, there is no saying that anyone involved would buy into a format-spanning points system and if no-one cared, it would basically be worthless.

But what if people did care?

Consider an alternative scenario in which a nation historically inclined towards one-day cricket took the 50-over leg of a tour 4-1 and would ordinarily struggle to rouse itself for the Tests that followed. No side sets out to do this, but those piffling little two-Test series can sometimes appear hard to get up for, can’t they?

In this scenario, all the investment put into the one-dayers stands to be unravelled by a poor performance in the longer format. At eight points to two with ten points needed to win the tour and another eight points still available, players might just find extra motivation to try and win. It needn’t even be that. It could just be the will to fight for a draw at a point when previously they’d have been likely to write the match off as a loss. That might make for better cricket. It could also bring in a few extra fans keen to witness the tour decider.

Investment

Think of when you’ve invested time and effort in something. No-one likes to feel that’s wasted. It’s what keeps people playing Farmville long after it’s ceased to be fun. It’s what got Concorde built. For all that we’re supposed to lack commitment these days, human nature means people are naturally disinclined to cut their losses.

We’re not saying a points system is a cure-all. We’re not even saying it’ll work. But if there’s a chance that it could be a way of persuading people who care about short format cricket to also care more about Test cricket, we’re inclined to say that it’s worth giving it a whirl.

What’s the worst that could happen? That if it becomes popular and widely-adopted we might all start to question why the Ashes doesn’t follow the same format?


Would you care if the Ashes included limited overs matches?

Cricket was the real winner - but which format?

Ben Stokes would. Reacting to plans to implement a points system spanning the formats for cricket tours, he said: “I think it would be rubbish. They’ve changed a lot of things, but Ashes is Ashes, it’s a massive series for England and Australia and I don’t see why it should get changed.”

This rather overlooks the fact that pretty much all the other Test series he takes part in are anything but a big deal. As we see it, the Ashes would remain exactly the same, but everything else would get a bit of a leg-up. However, Stokes’ comments do raise an interesting question: how would you feel if the Ashes were restructured so that it included T20 matches and one-day internationals as well as Tests?

Sacrilege!

Yes. That was our initial reaction. So then we tried to work out why we felt that way.

Test cricket is our preferred format. It can at times be breathtakingly dull, but the sheer breadth of possibilities is what makes it endlessly fascinating. Different players, different pitches, different weather, different approaches, different match situations. With that in mind, surely it makes sense that even greater scope would make for an even more appealing event.

The outsider’s view

There is a tendency within cricket to see the formats as being pitted against one another. Rather than perceiving Twenty20 cricket as a gateway format to Test cricket, we instead take sides lest our favoured format be killed by its shorter (or longer) rivals.

But this isn’t really the way things are. It may seem that way from within, but for most people who don’t consider themselves fans of the sport, it doesn’t matter what the format – it is all just cricket. All three formats are just aspects of the same thing. Bat and ball. Runs and wickets.

People with only a casual interest in cricket cannot for the life of them understand how England can play Australia without it being the Ashes. They may well understand the rivalry, but they don’t necessarily understand the history.

The truth is, the rivalry is more important than the history. The rivalry is the essence. It is what drives things. It is what has created the history.

The rivalry is the Ashes – and that rivalry spans the formats.

A parallel

The Tour de France comprises 21 different bike races. At the end, they recognise an overall winner. People who follow the race may or may not care who wins the points jersey or the mountains jersey or any of the individual stages, but they will all care who wins overall.

Last year, the Tour started with a 13.8km time trial – competitors rode alone, against the clock. Stage four was 223.5km and other than stretches of cobblestones, almost entirely flat and everyone rode in a bunch. Stage 10 was 167km and finished at the top of a mountain.

These are very different challenges and the three stages therefore gave rise to three different winners. But it was all part of the same race. At the end of the three weeks, the overall winner was recognised. An all-rounder. Someone who had conquered everything. For all its complexity, the Tour remains at heart a simple event.

Epic!

We use the Tour de France as an example deliberately, because its epic nature is its very essence. The Ashes is also an epic contest and it’s hard to argue that adding a greater number of challenges would make it less so.

People are fond of saying that Twenty20 is just a few overs of slogging, but you could equally say that Test cricket is ‘just’ risk-free accumulation without time pressures. You could say that Test bowling is just keeping it tight and waiting for mistakes. These things aren’t true, but even if they were, each different challenge would still contribute to the whole.

It is the range and number of challenges which makes the Ashes the epic contest that it is. So we have to ask: a Test series or a cricket series – which would be more alluring?


Rob Key and the art of being selective in one’s giving of shits

Rob Key

If you’re wondering where we’ve been, we’ve unfortunately been too busy writing things to write things. One of these written distractions was about Rob Key.

Cricinfo gave it the coveted midnight on a Friday slot at the top of the homepage, clearly of a mind that this would be perfect for Key fans who would almost certainly be hitting city centre bars until the early hours before returning for a light spot of reading before bed.

It briefly mentions warehouses, biscuits and Ini Kamoze and we misquote Kevin Keegan, but it’s mostly a fairly straightforward look back on Key’s career. We didn’t think Cricinfo would want our usual Key tone. Maybe we were wrong.

Don’t think that we didn’t get carried away though. We overshot our target word count by 100 per cent and only succeeding in hacking it back to 50 per cent over. Fortunately, they let us off though on the grounds that “it’s not every day that Rob Key retires.”


This is how you share a Rob Key picture with the world, you bloody idiots

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Rob Key has retired. It is a sad day. We’re going to don a black cardigan instead of a beige one by way of mourning. We will wear it for 221 minutes in tribute to the number of runs Rob once made in a single Test innings.

Adam Gilchrist’s highest Test score was 204.

You lose again, Adam Gilchrist.

But the truth is, today we all lose. Adam Gilchrist loses the most, but we all lose a little bit. The sky is greyer; the sun is colder; our wrinkles are deeper; and luxury goods are slightly more expensive. Everything is worse. Even this cup of tea is worse. It has slightly too much milk in it. That never would have happened yesterday.

Yesterday Rob Key was still plying his trade as the greatest cricketer in the history of the planet. Today he is playing golf. That isn’t even a joke. We saw it on Twitter. This might just be the most depressing paragraph ever written.

Speaking of Twitter, every now and again we happen across SimonC’s marvellous Rob Key creation which first appeared on this website back in 2009. People often republish it. Quite often they send it to Rob Key himself. If we were on Facebook, we daresay we’d see it there too.

As magnficient as the work is, it makes us sad that no-one ever gives it a proper build-up any more.

For the full effect, this is how it works…

You read this.

Then this.

Then this.

Then this.

Now you’ve earned it.

That’s how you publish a funny picture.

Even worse, the people thoughtlessly bandying the image about on social media don’t even know that Rob’s astride a capybara because he’s part of the Hindu pantheon and the capybara is his vehicle.

WHAT KIND OF AN IDIOT DOESN’T KNOW THAT?

We’re putting this post in the ‘England’ category because Rob did play for England and would have done so again if he could have been bothered. Which he couldn’t.

You may well be tempted to wade into the Rob Key archives of this website in a forlorn bid to soften the pain of this dank event. If you do, this is the hub. Don’t neglect the posts on the old site. We used to write songs about him back then. If you can hold back the tears, we could all have a singalong (separately, without making any actual contact with one another).

Rob Key.


Points mean prizes

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Or, more accurately, points “may” mean a presentation ceremony (at which something would presumably be presented).

This is the barely-reported story that England are looking to implement a points system for the two tours this summer, meaning an all-formats winner could be crowned for each.

The Times ran something behind its paywall a few days ago and The Guardian’s mentioned it via a short Press Association piece, but all in all, no-one really seems to a toss.

Well we do. We quite genuinely believe that this development has the potential to save cricket.

Save it from what, you ask? Save it from itself. The general trend within the sport over the last however-many-years is for self-cannibalisation. Rather than supporting each other, the various different formats have instead been eating each other. You don’t have to have followed cricket too closely to have spotted a tour where one team prioritised one format while the other favoured a different one. Priorities have diverged so much that the sport can at times look farcical.

T20s, ODIs and Tests – it’s all cricket, so why not treat them as one? To us, the whole essence of cricket is variety. As well as different opposition, cricketers face different pitches, different weather and different durations of match. They are all aspects of the same whole, so it makes sense to us for them to be treated as one.

Have you ever had to explain to someone how England can play Australia and it’s not the Ashes? Have you ever talked someone through your team winning a series in one format before losing in another to the same opposition a week or so later? Cricket is confusing. A points system, though seemingly trivial, brings a degree of coherence. Suddenly everything contributes towards identifying the best cricket team – which is surely what the sport’s all about.

Having all-format winners of tours would bring the game and the cricket world together. If it can gain traction (this is, admittedly, a big ask) then it would positively force countries to take all of the formats seriously. Where previously a nation might have written off the Tests or the one-dayers because they weren’t really that bothered about them, perhaps they would now take them a little more seriously, knowing that they would contribute to the overall win.

How could that be a bad thing?


Is Gary Ballance back?

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

It’s a reference to a headline pun that’s overused on this website but which isn’t itself a pun. Jokes don’t come much weaker than that. Except for all our other ones.

Is Gary Ballance back? Sport is brutally cold and England won’t go into the first Test of the summer with an empty batting slot where James Taylor would have been. They’ll pick someone in his place. Possibly Gary Ballance.

For a time, two of our most common thoughts while watching a Test match were, “At least Ballance is still in,” when England were batting and, “Get Ballance on!” when they were bowling. We like Gary Ballance. We like his doughy tenacity. We like the chaos of his part-time right-arm semi-filth.

Last year’s imballance was a strange one with our man seemingly decked by the coaching team’s faith in him. Returning from injury, he was thrust into England’s World Cup team at number three and short of practice, he floundered. England’s World Cup campaign was a catastrophe and he carried his newfound runlessness through to the summer, at which point he was dropped.

Experts love a technical weakness and declared this to be the cause of his ills. Gary is of a different mind. He reckons that far from being the problem, his technique is what got him to where he is.

The line between delusional stubborness and justifiably single-minded conviction is a narrow one and it is defined by how many runs you score. ‘Gary Ballance’s back’ hinges on what happens next.


James Taylor has a literal heart problem

If James Taylor’s public pronouncements betray an admirable desire to retain a sense of humour about things, his retirement from cricket at the age of just 26 due to arrhythmogenic right ventricular arrhythmia is anything but funny.

It’s easy to point to his having had a job as a professional cricketer as a means of highlighting how others may have it tougher, but at heart we’re all selfish bastards. We only truly know the life we lead and Taylor’s life has just turned down a very unexpected dead end.

You make plans, you work towards things and that’s what keeps you sane. It’s not the goals themselves that matter, but finding purpose in striving for them. With his destination obliterated, a man could quite easily find himself derailed. Throw in a serious heart condition and pessimism could become a default emotion.

A high-achieving cricketer’s sense of self is greatly bound up with the game. You are a cricketer. You are a batsman. You score runs. It’s not just what you do, it’s who you are. James Taylor is no longer that and when your occupation has been so all-consuming, how much room was there for anything else? It may be just a game, but a game can be everything and people feel the impact when everything is snatched from them in an instant.

Taylor will eventually be able to redirect his energy and pursue different things, coaxing his mind back to normal in the process – we’re sure of that. As for the heart condition, he is set to undergo an operation. His retirement from the game makes it clear that this will not be a cure in the fullest sense, but it will, presumably, improve his physical health.

James Taylor retires from cricket with the fourth-highest one-day batting average of all time. Decent player and, by all accounts, a decent bloke. The latter is something he can continue to be, no matter what he does next.


Everyone knows that hitting four successive sixes is hard, right?

We’re just checking, only a great many people seem to be holding Ben Stokes entirely responsible for England’s defeat. Sometimes the player hitting the sixes has some sort of say in things too.

Think of it like this: if you were a primitive human and you sent one of your tribe out to take on an alien with a pointed stick, only for the alien to vaporise him with his ray gun, would it be fair to take issue with Terry’s stick-prodding technique?

Carlos Brathwaite hit four sixes on the bounce to win the World T20. With tens of thousands of people shouting at him in the ground, millions more watching at home and everything he’d worked for his entire life hinging on what he did next, it was a thick slab of brilliance.

It’s not like Brathwaite set himself for one particular shot and Stokes served it up on a trendy oblong plate garnished with fresh herbs and drizzled with some sort of balsamic jus.

The first one was angled into his pads and he picked it up and hoisted it behind square leg. The second one was again legside, near enough a yorker, and he did some sort of weird contortion and wristed it over long on. The third one was again yorkerish, this time on the stumps, and departed over long off, despite having taken what looked like a leading edge. The fourth was again legside and Brathwaite just snapped his wrists through it and plopped it into the crowd.

There were good balls and bad balls in there, but the bad ones were arguably even harder to hit for six.

The first one was a bad ball in a Test match because it would never take a wicket. A batsman could easily run it away for a single or possibly even clip it for four. It wasn’t easy to hit for six though. From that angle, into the body, it was bloody hard to hit for six. Just because it ended up over the ropes doesn’t mean it was always destined to end up there. The outcome colours our perception of what came before.

To hold Ben Stokes responsible for what Carlos Brathwaite did seems a peculiarly backwards way of looking at things to us; like blaming a pedestrian for getting hit by a drunk driver. Maybe the victim could have worn hi-vis or taken a different route, but that’s not really the point is it? The point is that the guy behind the wheel was pissed and decided to drive.

So, to recap: hitting sixes is hard.


West Indies’ 2016 World T20 win: Fortunately for them, they weren’t playing cyborgs

Ben Stokes’ coolly outmanoevred Carlos Brathwaite at the death. Had the West Indian launched his attack earlier in the match, he could have hit six sixes in an over. As it was, he was denied by winning the World T20 after just four balls. Stokes is doubtless delighted.

The desired rate

There was no required rate when England batted, but there was certainly a desired rate. Samuel Badree’s opening salvo (2-16 off four) meant that they were always behind the desired rate. A few extra risks perhaps ensued.

There’s actually a case for saying that Eoin Morgan’s golden duck in the semi-final was a better innings than his 12-ball effort in the final. Facing for a tenth of England’s innings, Morgan contributed just five runs. In some respects it’s hard to blame him being as England were 8-2 when he came in, but in other, more meaningful respects, it also wasn’t good enough. Those who followed him were forced into trying to pick up the slack.

Contrast Morgan’s innings with that of Joe Root, who calmly and seemingly effortlessly rebuilt while scoring at a rate of 150 runs per hundred balls. That’s what was needed. No, it’s not easy to do, but this is the final of a world tournament. It’s about being the best.

Singles par or swingers par?

England’s score apparently fell short of ‘par’. For most of their innings, West Indies also didn’t look like achieving such a thing. Despite this, the commentators continued talking about it, as if it were of any relevance whatsoever. Maybe if the teams were playing against some sort of generic cyborg side whose results were generated by a computer before the match, it would have made sense. But they weren’t. They were playing each other.

West Indies’ innings

There’s definitely a case for bowling your five shittest bowlers in the most high pressure matches. There is nothing harder for a professional batsman to time than loopy filth.

Then there’s the ego aspect. If you open the bowling with Joe Root, for example, there is almost an obligation to get after him lest England fiddle through a couple of economical overs. And if you’re going to play on someone’s ego, pick your target carefully. Chris Gayle did what was expected of him. Johnson Charles was a bonus.

But it wasn’t really enough. Even when it got down to 19 needed from the final over, 19 didn’t seem all that large a number – although we couldn’t really have imagined how small it would prove to be. Carlos Brathwaite produced what must rank as the most brutally clinical finish under unimaginable pressure.

Moral of the story

The best way to win Twenty20 matches is to bat slowly and patiently, building a platform, before having a great big slog at the end. Turns out England were ahead of the game all that time. And now they’re behind again.

No, the truth is there’s no secret to Twenty20. The trick, really, is to play well no matter what your strategy.


Eight things to bear in mind ahead of the World T20 final between England and the West Indies

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

You can call it a preview if you want, but it’s more of a disorderly fact-dump.

1. Windies’ spinners don’t go for owt

Samuel Badree conceded 5.68 runs an over in this tournament. Sulieman Benn’s conceded 5.78. Hell, even Chris Gayle’s banged out three overs for 17 and we thought he’d retired from bowling a year or so ago.

2. David Willey usually gets a wicket

Usually early on and while it’s usually a catch, he hits the pads of right-handers a lot. Johnson Charles should watch out. He probably will be doing though because (a) that’s his job and (b) Willey got him for a duck last time they played.

3. Darren Sammy has actually been playing

You may have missed him. He’s bowled two overs and faced 11 balls.

4. Liam Plunkett has been England’s most economical bowler

True story. He replaced Reece Topley in the team and Topley has been their least economical. Does that mean Plunkett’s way better or that the Windies’ batsmen Topley had to bowl to are way better? Well that’s why they’re playing this match – to deduce whether Liam Plunkett or Reece Topley is the better T20 bowler for England. Also for silverware.

5. Chris Gayle hasn’t made runs in a while

He made 100 not out last time these two teams met, but since then for one reason or another he’s only actually added another nine.

6. India weren’t actually all that good

The West Indies may seem terrifying to England fans after brushing India aside, but it’s worth pointing out that India weren’t actually all that good in this tournament, so of course the West Indies won. India got by with one-and-a-half batsmen and a bit of solid bowling. They got bowled out for 79 chasing 127 against New Zealand and they should have been knocked out by Bangladesh if Bangladesh hadn’t been even more hellbent on losing the game than India were.

7. England have basically never been to India before

This cannot help their cause. Hardly any of them had played an international match in India before this tournament. They don’t know how to survive there. They don’t know that on a cheap hotel menu ‘scrumble toast’ almost certainly means ‘scrambled egg on toast’. They don’t know that ‘smelinge on toast’ is… actually, we’re not sure what that was and we didn’t dare order it. We suppose there’s also a chance that England are staying in plush air-conditioned hotels rather than smelinge-on-toast kinds of establishment.

8. The final’s being played at Eden Gardens

Should probably pore through the stats to work out the implications of this. Can’t be arsed.


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