Category: West Indies (page 1 of 19)

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.

Moeen Ali does some clean hitting

Mo mowed it.

It was a day of increasing numbness to sixes and Batting Ali had the good sense to get in early when they still seemed important and the match was still in the balance.

Others may have hit the ball further, but no-one lashed it quite so reliably or with such whiplash cleanliness. It was the kind of hitting that buys you a couple of dropped chances.

Moeen was also aided by the Windies bowlers seemingly targeting ‘the slot’ when bowling to him. If the resultant highlights were somewhat reminiscent of that time Loots Bosman and Graeme Smith built an entire Twenty20 innings total on just one shot, the actual physical act of mullering it over the leg-side boundary had a lot more fluidity to it on this occasion.

“I just had a slog really,” said our man afterwards. “I tried to watch the ball, keep my shape and really go for it.”

He neglected to inform us whether he’d obeyed or disproved that other modern commentary trope: tell us, Mo, did you at any point try and overhit it?

For a man first bunged into the side on the basis that he was a reasonable batsman and halfway competent spin bowler, Moeen Ali is doing some exceptional things in international cricket. Selected as mortar to fill in the cracks, he’s instead revealed himself to be a giant Pyramid-of-Khufu-sized stone block that flickers in and out of existence.

It’s not really what they were expecting, but England are happy with that. It therefore wouldn’t be a surprise if selection policy were to head even further down the all-rounder road in a bet-hedging trawl for tomorrow’s specialists.

Stuart Broad’s batting has peaked

Stuart Broad slapping one into the off side (via ECB)

Stuart Broad’s batting just gets better and better. Maybe not by the traditional metric of batting average, but there are far more sensible ways of assessing a cricketer’s worth.

Once upon a time, Broad was a good batsman: high left elbow, great timing and solid defence. Then he top-edged a Varun Aaron bouncer into his own face and everything changed. (We were there when it happened but apparently didn’t think to write anything about it.)

The after-effects were enormous. Speaking to the BBC seven months later, he said: “If I have two glasses of wine I have black eyes.”

Weird. And it affected his batting too.

For a while, Broad became a bad batsman; a (justifiably) cowardly tail-ender who backed away from even the full balls. But then gradually he started piecing his game back together and rebuilt it so that it was even better than before.

The sweetly-timed drives remain, but the defence is gone. There is now a glorious fragility to every innings, a feeling of impermanence that makes you savour every boundary.

He’s also introduced some new shots. Rather than dodge the short ones, he’s instead resolved to flail at them like a cornered madman. Woeful shot selection, panic and unusually good hand-eye coordination don’t half make for an exciting stroke.

As Broad contorts himself, unreeling those long arms in a hard-to-predict parabola, no-one can truly know what will happen next. Even if he middles it, you can’t say for certain at what height the ball will be travelling – although you can be sure that it will be airborne.

So anything can happen, but no innings is likely to last too long. As such, Broad is rapidly becoming our favourite batsman. This new improved version might even rank right up there with Steve Harmison and Murali.

“You don’t see Alastair Cook drop too many”

Alastair Cook drop (via ECB)

So said Michael Vaughan after Cook had shelled an easy one early on. Where has he been looking? We’ve always felt like he drops a fair few – although maybe not by Vaughan’s own almost criminally low catching standards.

We wouldn’t go so far as to say that Cook’s a bad slip fielder. If we were called upon to deliver a one-word appraisal of his ability, we’d go with ‘serviceable’.

Maybe people have now seen him catch so many that they forget all the misses and assume he’s some sort of bucket-handed Flintoff figure. He’s not though – and it’s not just a feeling.

When Charles Davis counted up all the drops in Test cricket from 2000 to 2016, no non-wicketkeeper had dropped more than Cook. If plenty were perfectly forgiveable short leg snatches, the opener was nevertheless responsible for 62 non-catches in that time. Vaughan must have seen at least a couple of these. He was Cook’s captain in 18 Tests, after all.

Fortunately for Cook, England’s bowlers created a veritable barrage of opportunities on day one at Lord’s which allowed him to secure his 152nd and 153rd catches by the end of the day. (If you feel moved to compare that with the incomplete tally of Cook drops above, it’s worth knowing that around a quarter of chances are grassed in Test cricket.)

Ben Stokes, in particular, made even jaded old seen-it-alls leak oooohs, such was the swing he mustered. The misses were so near and so frequent that at one point even the umpire did a sharp intake of breath and a ‘how did that miss?’ face.

It was all rather glorious for England until the West Indies came out and did exactly the same thing only without dropping any.

When should a captain declare?

Declaration aftermath (via ECB)

The timing of a declaration will often elicit heated discussion among commentators. However, it seems safe to assume that the actual importance of the decision rarely justifies the level of debate, which is almost certainly artificially exaggerated by the fact that such questions generally only arise when not much is happening on the field.

Ex-cricketers entrusted with microphones always feel obliged to talk about something and many a one-sided match has elicited a great deal of fiery and impassioned wailing about delayed declarations only to be decided well within the allotted time anyway.

Joe Root’s second innings declaration at Headingley was unusual in that it left the West Indies with a chance. We thought at the time it was odd.

Not in a critical way. We didn’t necessarily think “this is a mistake”. It was more the low-key surprise you feel at the sight of something unexpected, like happening across a fly-tipped sofa on a country walk.

It also came after we’d suggested that England had maybe been a little overconfident in selecting Chris Woakes, so we wondered whether it might have been symptomatic of the same mentality. The batsmen had been scoring quickly and a slight delay could have meant setting a stiffer target in fewer overs.

That would have been England’s (and indeed most sides’) standard way of doing things, but it was a better match for Root calling his men in sooner and it would be wrong to assign the decision too great an importance. Of far more significance to the eventual result was what happened afterwards.

The West Indies make use of some quality imports

Brathwaite and Hope (via ECB)

The great thing about alternative dimensions is that every now and again you can pluck a similar-looking cricket team from one of them and deploy it in your own world.

The incarnation of the West Indies seen in this Test was an unusually gritty one. Like a team-mate’s belt within the trousers of Dwayne Leverock, it simply would not buckle.

Rarely has the discrepancy between expectation and outcome felt greater. In their last match, they conceded 500 before shipping 19 wickets inside a day.

Looking at the second Test scorecard, it gives the sense of an easy batting match in which England were hoodwinked by their own first innings incompetence, but that would be to overlook just how many chances were being created.

Set in that context, the sheer invulnerability of Shai Hope and Kraigg Brathwaite to England’s bowlers shines like all of Headingley’s floodlights an inch from your retinas.

England defeats don’t come much more enjoyable or heart-warming.

The real story of the West Indies’ dropped chances is just how many England’s batsmen offered

Another one goes down (via ECB)

It’s like we always say, to take 12,841 wickets, you need to create 15,516 chances. (We should stick that on a T-shirt).

At the time of writing, the second Test between England and the West Indies had seen 12 drops, which is rather more than you’d expect.

The Windies were responsible for seven of those in the first innings alone. Based on the average run value of a ‘chance’ in Test cricket, they could quite reasonably have expected that to cost them 200 runs.

England made 258, which just goes to demonstrate the home team’s impressive commitment to providing chances during that innings.

West Indies improve their attack, England don’t

Shannon Gabriel’s fun, isn’t he? An old school fast bowler who doesn’t half-arse it and who has plenty of arse to deploy. He is a good selection.

Gabriel’s efforts have contrasted with those of Chris Woakes in this match. At the start of day one, Woakes was the only one of England’s all-rounders whose batting average exceeded his bowling average. This is no longer the case.

It’s not that he isn’t trying. It’s just been a while. He’s got the air of a middle-aged man cajoled into a five-a-side football match by his workmates. His mind knows what to do, but his body’s not quite following instructions.

Woakes is bowling the ball less quickly and not necessarily pointing it in the right direction. We presume such things should be noticeable in the nets, even if fatigue will have compounded them. You get the impression he’s been selected primarily to get him back into the swing of Test cricket, not because he’s primed to perform. This is a decision of unjustifiable confidence from a team that’s already carrying about half its batting line-up.

The upshot was that England once again looked a bit fast-medium. We don’t want to be one of those people who looks ahead to the Ashes when there’s an entirely different series currently underway – because that’s precisely what we’re criticising really – but we can’t help but fear for a bowling attack that only seems to look good when the ball’s doing a bit of something.

They won’t get as uch swing or seam Down Under and it’s not like the Aussies are going to be preparing Bangladesh-style turners either, is it?

The one thing England need to do to resolve their batting frailty

Dawid Malan (via ECB)

If England could find three really mediocre batsmen, they’d be a hell of a side.

They’re after a two, a three and a five. Fill those spots with players like Chris Tavaré, Ravi Bopara and – hell, why not – Jos Buttler and together with the runs from their all-rounder surplus, they’d be onto a half-decent thing.

The trick is to be more realistic. Aim lower. Don’t look for great batsmen. Clog your order up with journeymen instead in the knowledge that you’re only filling cracks. The bricks are in place – they merely need securing.

Brendan Nash. Now there was a cricketer. What England wouldn’t do for a batsman of his determined-but-ultimately-somewhat-limited competence.


Stuart Law lowers the bar for niceness

Stuart Law hasn’t been enjoying himself. We can’t find the footage of the West Indies coach as he watched Jason Holder refuse the new pink ball before limping off three balls later, so we’ll have to do the hard yards and describe it.

Imagine a man who couldn’t look more like he had his head in his hands without head at any point being applied to hands.

Law has swiftly learned to temper his expectations. This is what he said this week about Curtly Ambrose.

“It would have been nice if he had come into the dressing room to talk to the guys and express his displeasure to us. That would have been awesome but that didn’t happen.”

Wouldn’t that have been jolly. Big ole Curtly, ambling in, graciously accepting a cup of tea before unleashing a foul-mouthed tirade against everyone involved in the first Test.

Compared to what’s been happening, that would have been nice.

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