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A committee of cooks designing a horse for broth

They’ve had a meeting about renovating the entire structure of county cricket. They’ve resolved to repaint one of the bedrooms and maybe replace some of the sealant around the bath.

In 1890, it was suggested that county cricket be divided into first, second and third classes with eight teams in each.

WG Grace wrote of the debate…

“The scheme of classification did not give general satisfaction, and a newspaper warfare was kept up for some time afterwards.”

We never did get first, second and third class cricket and over a hundred years later, these sorts of discussions still pan out much the same. So many people have their say that the status quo or some sort of bizarre half-baked compromise are the only likely outcomes.

First-class, T20 Blast-playing counties cannot countenance any kind of erosion of the standard of cricket they are seen to play. They would rather play a poor standard of first-class cricket than a better standard labelled second-class cricket. They would rather be one of 16 mediocre Twenty20 sides in a sprawling, diluted competition than a less visible part of a more concentrated event.

Just as at international level, there’s no thought to blurring boundaries and giving the have-nots a route to progress on merit. The first-class counties will remain first-class counties and they will also remain the only first-class counties – forever.

The first-class counties are in the club and they aren’t voting anyone else into that club or themselves out of it. Any changes made must therefore be within these parameters.

We long ago grew weary of mooted county cricket reforms. It’s not that what eventuates ultimately fails to match what was proposed – that much is inevitable. It’s that what eventuates is so far removed from what was proposed as to be all but unrelated.

County cricket is camel stew.

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Is Bumrah ever-living?

This is the question everyone’s asking. Mumm-Ra was ever-living – and therefore presumably still is. It therefore stands to reason that Jasprit Bumrah is ever-living too, what with his name sounding slightly similar and all.

Bumrah bowled well in the 15-over-a-side Asia Cup Final. He did a lot to ensure India won, if they won. If they lost, he can’t be blamed.

We could just wait an hour to see who wins the match, but the truth is life’s short for those of us who aren’t ever-living. We’ve got to crack on with the day (eating roast, maybe drinking some wine, watching telly).

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Andre Russell, dope testing and cricket’s changing culture

Andre Russell has not been caught doping, but he’s been unavailable for three tests in a year. At best, this is moronic and being a moron is no defence.

Russell should face a two-year ban, but we’re interested to see what actually happens. Cricket has traditionally been pretty soft on doping, barely testing at all, but a smattering of cases in recent months – Yasir Shah, Kusal Perera – is perhaps a sign that this is becoming a new ‘thing’ for the ICC.

A large proportion of the small handful of doping cases in cricket listed on Wikipedia involve recreational drugs, but the sport has an increasingly close link to gym culture where steroid use is thought to be becoming mainstream.

It’s impossible to know how many people are on the ‘roids these days but you can be certain that not every physique you see about town has been sculpted on bread and water. The chief executive of UK Anti Doping, Nicole Sapstead, recently told The Telegraph her fears that doping was becoming ‘normalised’.

In cricket, pros are given that many funny blue drinks and recovery powders that the line between food and drugs may become blurred. Christ knows, cricketers aren’t great at perceiving lines anyway, whether on the field or off it. You could understand if a few went to unacceptable lengths in trying to build the oh-so-financially-rewarding six-hitting physique that is increasingly commonplace nowadays.

This isn’t to say that Russell’s one of those, but against that backdrop, you take your tests and nip controversy in the bud. Once there’s smoke in the air, it can be impossible to blow away because you can never really provide conclusive proof that you’re not doping – just ask Chris Froome.

Cricket is of course a game of skill, but the ability to bowl the ball faster and hit the ball harder clearly has an impact. If the latter in particular is becoming increasingly important, it’s pertinent to wonder what lies in that direction.

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Mop-up of the last few days – it’s been a while

Sorry the website was knackered. We’re sure you all missed us enormously. Web hosts being web hosts, we’ve no clear idea what actually happened, but it seemed like actual damage and not just someone flicking the wrong switch.

At least there were backups. This contrasts with our old job where a guy who sometimes wore a bright orange T-shirt like Raoul Moat hadn’t bothered checking whether the backup process was actually working properly. It wasn’t.

First, some actual cricket

Bangladesh have reached the final of the Asia Cup. To get there, they beat Pakistan who must surely be starting to question their policy of playing only one or possibly two competent batsmen. They also beat Sri Lanka, about whom Angelo Mathews said: “It will take a little time for the younger guys to start performing. We have to be patient, but this is not the right time to be patient.”

Good for Bangladesh though. They’ll lose the final to India, obviously, but losing a final to India is progress for Bangladesh who are much more used to losing to them in the group stages – something they’ve already ticked off this week.

Now the bad news

Martin Crowe’s died. We’re old enough to have seen him bat, but being as we were about 16, there’s little point airing our views and analysis – this isn’t Radio 1 after all.

All we will say is that had he played for another country, Crowe would have played more Tests, scored more runs and possibly off the back of that become an even better batsmen. Even if he’d merely maintained the same standard, he would be spoken about more today. Perhaps as Kane Williamson starts to break records he’ll be spoken of more.

In a decade from 1985 to the end of his career, Crowe averaged 50.96. This in an era when few hit such heights and while playing half his cricket in a country that often favours the bowlers. That this translates to just 4,842 runs in 61 matches was not his fault.

For more on the man, read Gideon Haigh – “as understated and soaringly magnificent as a Doric column.” Haigh also makes a point of highlighting who Crowe was up against during his career. You can be damn certain that the opposition’s best bowlers were reserved for him as well.

Addendum

We’ve just been trawling while writing our regular Twitter round-up for Cricinfo. You know what? We actually learned something this week – something useful. We believe this is the first reported instance of Twitter providing such a thing. You can find out what it was tomorrow.

Cricket Badger comes out tomorrow as well. It’s quite a short one this week, but better that than when it becomes overlong and cumbersome. You can sign up to receive it here.

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India v Pakistan – five things to make subheadings out of

Everyone likes a listicle – and how’s that headline for clickbait? Pretty brazen, eh? They’ll be flocking here from Twitter when they see that auto-tweeted at some point in the next hour.

Pakistan still can’t bat

Teams do get bowled out in Twenty20. It’s not unheard of. They usually manage a run a ball in the process though. Pakistan’s batsmen left their opposite numbers in the India team needing to score at barely four an over to secure the win.

Pakistan can still bowl

By any stretch, Rohit Sharma is in form. Before this match he was averaging 40 in Twenty20 internationals and 110 in one-day internationals in 2016.

First ball, Mohammad Amir bowled him an inswinger. It smacked him on the pad and he should have been out. Concluding that he’d basically done everything right, Amir offered pretty much the same thing again second ball and this time got the decision.

A few balls later, he did the same again to Ajinkya Rahane. Batsmen know what’s coming. They just can’t do anything.

Yuvraj Singh saw India home while trying to bat himself out of the team

Apparently it’s possible to get the job done while simultaneously giving the impression that there is no chance you’ll manage to do so. Yuvraj Singh was not out at the end of the match, but scored just 14 runs after batting for over an hour in a Twenty20 match.

Pakistan need to experiment more with first names

Yes, we know Muhammad’s an important sort of fella, but to field a pace attack almost entirely comprised of Mohammads is too much. Amir, Samir and Irfan were only slightly diluted by Wahab Riaz.

Wahab. There’s a name you can set your watch by.

Bumrah was playing

Always worth a mention.

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Matthew Hayden still loves the word ‘process’

We’ve tried to give up writing about Matthew Hayden’s habit of talking a load of incomprehensible bollocks, but as the man himself says in a recent interview on Cricinfo: “Sometimes things are just meant to be, aren’t they? You just have to give in to the higher forces and say, ‘You know what, this is forever, and I don’t understand it. But so be it.'”

At the heart of the Hayden idiolect is the word ‘process’. For him, it means pretty much anything.

It can mean one shot.

“One of the things that I miss the most about cricket and batting in particular is that meditation of cricket, that involvement of myself – mind, body and spirit – to delivering that one specific process, which is to execute a cricket shot.”

Or it can mean all of the shots.

“That was very much in my overall psychology of trying to execute the base process of batting so that I was on the front foot rather than being on the back foot and reacting to conditions.”

And apparently it is also something you ‘live out’.

“Some of my best innings have been those that were less than 50 balls in duration because of the conditions. You won’t get the glory of 50 or 100 or 150 or 200, but you will get the inner peace of knowing that you committed to what the process was on the day, and that you were part of the process and you were living out that process.”

We’re slightly concerned that he’s becoming self aware though. At one point he asked whether ‘bowlsmanship’ was a word. Then again, in the very same sentence he referred to Bishan Bedi’s “thought process of tossing the ball in the air.”

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How Brendon McCullum made international cricket slightly better

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

It’s a familiar story to most of you, but it’s worth retelling.

Looking back on losing his first two Tests as captain to South Africa by more than an innings, McCullum told the New Zealand Herald:

“If we’re being honest, at that point the perception of the New Zealand cricket team was that we were overpaid, underdelivering, lazy prima donnas. And I was one of those prima donnas.

“We decided that we couldn’t win every game, but what we could do is change the way we played and the attitude towards us and the attitude within the group.”

There’s a lot of talk about brands of cricket, but McCullum’s New Zealand really did draw something up and then try and live up to it. A lot of this week’s paeans to McCullum have focused on the intent, but the latter part of the equation is not to be underestimated either.

Without sufficient talent, his team’s relentlessly attacking approach would have ended up as a great string of irresponsible dismissals and a series of massive defeats. They didn’t exactly conquer the world, but they bested a fair proportion of it and pretty much held their own against the remainder.

This approach turned New Zealanders into New Zealand cricket fans – a handy conversion for a game that often seems to be atrophying within the smaller nations. It turned cricket fans the world over into New Zealand fans as well and as a bonus taught everyone the valuable lesson that you shouldn’t conflate attack with aggression.

“We’re going to play an attacking style of cricket; in the field we’re going to chase the ball to the boundary as hard as we can; you’re going to see a team that works incredibly hard off the field; and you’re going to see a team that’s respectful and even-keeled in their emotions.

“We want to be known as a team that respects the game, works hard and plays attacking and innovative cricket. The country can cop us losing, but they can’t cop us being those other things.”

This isn’t necessarily about New Zealand’s being the perfect way to play cricket or anything. It’s more that the international cricket ecosystem had been lacking the kinds of checks and balances that McCullum’s New Zealand provided. Put simply, must positive cricketing intent go hand-in-hand with acting like a cock-faced bell-end?

No, not really. Who knew?

‘Everyone with half a brain’ you might answer, but yet there did seem to be a general feeling that even if positive intent weren’t inextricably linked to cock-faced bell-enddom, no-one on the international circuit was actually willing to try and disprove the theory.

McCullum’s New Zealand were willing and they proved their point unarguably by becoming pretty much the most attacking Test team there’s ever been while simultaneously forging a (somewhat unfair) reputation as pious nice boys.

Cricket in New Zealand is better for Brendon McCullum’s stint as captain and so is international cricket as a whole. Plus he played some innings. Top job.

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Mop-up of the day – Hello and goodbye and are you leaving?

Buoyed by a first innings display in which he took six for a million, Neil Wagner persisted with his innovative attritional shock tactics in the second. He took 1-60.

It’s worth noting that Wagner produced this display despite a broken hand. More accurately, he produced this display despite a broken bowling hand.

Neil Wagner.

Hello

To the new top-ranked Test side, Australia. It was a hugely impressive performance from them in New Zealand. The only reason we didn’t write about it was because we didn’t want to because we were supporting New Zealand.

Goodbye

We’ve just noticed that we started an article about Brendon McCullum at some point recently and it’s saved as a draft. Rather than writing anything about him here and now, we’ll investigate what we’ve already written and maybe try and get something up tomorrow (if we get time).

Odds are the draft article’s just a heading and nothing beyond that, but we live in hope.

Goodbye?

Some classic Pakistan retirement talk from Shahid Afridi this week. Our man’s previously said that he’s retiring after the World T20, but now he’s admitting to being under pressure from friends and family to stick around a while longer.

His reasoning’s magnificent.

“I am saying there is a lot of pressure on me that I shouldn’t retire from T20; that I can play on – and as there is no real talent coming through in Pakistan whose place I am taking?”

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Ian Botham and the statistical unit that is a cricketer’s career

One guy played 25 Tests and finished with a batting average of 40.48 and a bowling average of 18.52. Another guy played the same number of Tests and averaged 23.45 with the bat and 42 with the ball.

Name those cricketers. We’ll give you the answer at the end of the article.

If Ben Stokes statistics tell us anything…

It’s that Ian Botham was bloody good.

The legendary displays during Sir Beef’s career are storied, but dig through this topmost stratum and there’s another layer of performances which were merely exceptional. These are the less familiar feats that are currently cropping up in stats tables featuring Stokes’ name (these and the even more crappy Botham performances a level below which were merely superb).

Time and again it happens. Stokes does something freakish and they throw some table of stats on the screen comprising data that has been stretched and cut to cast him in a good light. It’s nothing nefarious. It’s just the way TV companies work. ‘Most runs by a left-handed touring batsman who went on to take a wicket with the ball in a Newlands Test during the month of January’ kind of thing.

Thing is, when they do this for all-rounders, Stokes often comes second. He comes second in his own stats tables. It’s almost like Botham’s entire career has started a rerun in the background, just out of view, poking through every now and again so as to encourage us to think about it anew.

One career

Cricket encourages the slicing and dicing of stats to suit a particular argument, but one unit always seems to remain unchopped. The career average is an oddity in that its span varies so much from player to player. It can also conceal plenty.

Take Ian Botham’s career averages as an example. We’ve often seen his credentials questioned for his career batting average of 33.54, while his career bowling average of 28.40 doesn’t seem all that breathtaking.

Thing is, the career average really doesn’t do Botham justice what with his having flobbed his way through at least the last four years of his career. Once prime rib, he passed through being that generic ‘steak’ they sell in supermarkets and finished off as some sort of gristly offcut.

So?

Nothing really. We just find it slightly odd that the crappy old duffer who’s long since past it carries as much weight as his younger self when it comes to appraising a player’s career. Both versions are valid, but the statistical mediocrity that is their bastard offspring seems to share few of its parents’ traits.

Those averages at the top are for the first and last 25 Tests of Ian Botham’s career. Make of that what you will. We’re not making any sort of a statement here; more floating a talking point. That’s why, like certain careers, the article’s just going to sort of peter out.

 

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While Neil Wagner might occasionally let you down, he does frequently pick up a few wickets from a long and determined spell when no-one else is really making any inroads

As Australia’s batsmen dominated New Zealand’s bowlers, there was only one thing left to do: call for Neil Wagner and ask him to bowl 25 overs of short-pitched bowling.

Neil Wagner isn’t perfect, but if you’re looking for donkey work strike bowling (can that be a thing?) then he’s your man. It’s-going-to-take-a-while-to-strike bowling maybe – that’s his niche.

Unlike Brendon McCullum, Wagner’s best isn’t perhaps all that exceptional, but he will keep striving for it. If he’s been banging it in and finds himself with 0-58 off 16 overs, he tends to think: “Right, I’m going to really bang this one in.”

At this point, he’ll be hit for four. Wagner’s response to that will be: “Right, I’m going to really, really bang this one in,” and when he then takes a wicket, he’ll take this is as confirmation of his method.

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