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Will Peter Siddle play in the Ashes?

Peter Siddle (Sarah Ansell)

We’re having one of those bizarre moments of doubt. Do cricketers play in the Ashes? It sounds wrong to say they ‘play the Ashes’ but ‘play in the Ashes’ suddenly sounds like the person’s a gleeful pyromaniac dancing in the aftermath of their latest deed.

We’ve started a new feature in this week’s Cricket Badger (sign up here). It’s called Australia Pace Attack Injury Watch (catchy, we know) and it’s based on the high likelihood that Australia will suffer at least a couple more fast bowling injuries in the coming months.

Australia’s fearsome four-pronged pace attack

The joke is not at the players’ expense. It’s shitty for them to pursue something wholeheartedly only to repeatedly find themselves sitting on the sidelines for extended periods. It’s more about the Ashes build-up and excited media coverage of “Australia’s four-pronged pace attack”.

There was, in theory, a possibility that the home team might field Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Josh Hazlewood in the same side. It is also possible that all the world’s ducks might start clambering onto each other to form giant megaducks, each comprising thousands of individuals. Possible, but highly unlikely.

James Pattinson was this week diagnosed with a stress fracture, so Australia have already lost one prong. The first Test is, what, six weeks away, so further prongs could yet disappear (or fail to sufficiently recover, because they’re not all exactly fit and firing as it is). Oh for the certainty of the good old days of Ryan Harris, eh?

The truth of the matter is that Australia will field ‘some sort of attack’ in the Ashes and it will probably feature one or two of those names or maybe none of them. Who will fill the gaps? Who will actually play?

Who will step into the breach come side strain or knee knack?

Well not John Hastings, that’s for sure. While he only has one Test cap, we can’t be too sure how far down the list Australia will get. But he’s off it altogether though, having retired from the format today due to a back injury.

That leaves us with names like Nathan Coulter-Nile, Hilton Cartwright, Trent Copeland and Jackson Bird. We haven’t bothered checking whether any of these players are currently fit.

Maybe also Peter Siddle. The actually-not-particularly-old-timer’s taken five wickets in Victoria’s first two one-day games this season.

If you feel like you haven’t heard from Siddle in a while, you haven’t – he hasn’t played since last November due to injury.

Feels like we’ve been here before.

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Ashes Cricket to be released on PC, PS4 and Xbox One

What do you love most about cricket videogames?

If you answered “the deep customisation options” then good news – the developers of the upcoming Ashes Cricket have been listening to you.

“Time and time again players tell us the feature they love most about our cricket games is the deep customisation options,” said Big Ant CEO, Ross Symons.

The good news is that Ashes Cricket is basically an updated version of the actually-very-good Don Bradman Cricket, which we reviewed in 2014 (and here’s a bit more information about changes made for Don Bradman Cricket 17).

The bad news is that they’ve employed “photogrammetry technology” to capture the players’ likenesses.

We have no idea what this technique entails, but the screenshots seem to imply that this is the moment when videogame cricketers cease to be visually amusing.

Look at Jonny Bairstow, for example.

Very disappointing.

When we look at that, we think, “there’s Jonny Bairstow,” rather than, “ha ha ha, look at Jonny Bairstow” – which would have been our reaction to seeing him in any game before this one.

And look at Nathan Lyon. This Nathan Lyon arguably looks more like Nathan Lyon than Nathan Lyon does.

The other bad news is that the game’s fully licensed, which means that Michael Stirk won’t be opening the bowling for Australia and Jimmy Understone won’t be fulfilling the same role for England. Presumably that’s where the deep customisation options come in.

Ashes Cricket is out in November. You can already order the PS4 and Xbox One versions from Amazon, while the PC version will appear on Steam nearer the time.

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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.

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I Don’t Like Cricket, I Hate It – the upcoming Ashes tour edition

Photo by Sarah Ansell

A semi-regular feature in which we ask a fella going by the name of Prince Prefab about cricket – even though he hates cricket. We are in bold. Prince Prefab is not.

It strikes us that a looming Ashes tour is one of the few times when the sport might force itself into the wider public’s awareness, so we’re interested to hear the current view from ‘outside cricket’. Before that though, there’s some related cricket news that we’ll have to touch upon…

I was in a town in Yorkshire once – Cleckeaton, Pudsey, Batley, Shipley, I don’t know – and I was driving along with a mate and we saw a dog being pushed along in a pram, all tucked up nicely. And he nodded and went ‘Dog in a pram’ and we carried on. And it was quite a thing to see, but it was still just a dog in a pram. So I’m sure there are many column inches being written about what you alluded to but there’s no more to say than ‘dog in a pram’ about it really is there?

Yeah, we don’t want to go down the route of dissecting the incident. We were just wondering what perception you’d had of Ben Stokes before this week (if any)?

None at all. Honestly couldn’t have picked him out of a police line up including him, Prince and Alan Partridge. Although I would know he wasn’t Prince or Partridge, obviously.

So basically, you knew nothing of England’s most high profile Test cricketer before this week and now you think… well, we should probably let you put it in your own words.

I’ve seen a video of him fighting for a minute. I’ve never seen him play, heard him speak, read an interview. I don’t even know what he’s said after this incident. From what I know he could be anything from a decent fella who acted daft on a night out to a raging psychopath.

By the way, watch that video. Are they all wearing white trainers cos they’re cricketers and they think that they have to wear white trainers all the time? Or is that the fashion? For lads who go to shit clubs and don’t know that they should be wearing proper footwear by their mid twenties?

We bought some Hi-Tec Silver Shadow the other day – but they’re silver (they’re grey).

Mate, you’re too old to be wearing trainers for anything other than sport. Come on. You know that. You’ll look like a leisure dad.

Should Stokes play for England again?

Oh yeah. But a big fine and a good telling off. A proper telling off, like when Mr Carter made us cry for having a water fight with the fire extinguishers in the huts.

Next question: did you know it was the Ashes this winter?

Yes, I did. But maybe because of the Stokes stuff. The will-he-won’t-he be selected fuss I’ve heard on the radio. I’m not certain I would have known otherwise.

Any knowledge of the squad? Any opinion at all about how England might do?

I presume that guy who was shouting ‘Stokes! Leave it!’ might be in there. Can’t remember his name. Someone called Ali? I just googled two I thought might be playing. One is 40 and retired. The other is 45 and Australian. I have the idea that it is not thought we will do very well in these Ashes but I do not know why.

“Stokes! Leave it!” isn’t in there, we’re afraid – although many people thought he might have been. Moeen Ali will be going. You can have half a point for that.

Who were the two you googled? You can tell us. We won’t publish your ignorance on the internet or anything.

Jesus this is embarrassing. Strauss and Hayden. I mean, Hayden even sounds so obviously Australian but I didn’t know…

Odd that. A couple of years ago we asked another friend to name current England players. He said “there are loads” and then struggled to come up with a single name. He eventually went with Botham and Gilchrist.

Strauss is actually going, incidentally. Not as a player. He’s director of cricket or some such title.

Just looked at the team and I recognise a good six or seven of the names.

To be fair, there’s cricket fans who might be struggling with a couple of them.

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We should probably mention Middlesex being relegated

Trescothick knee-catching the SS Eskinazi (via YouTube)

In a way, Middlesex were unlucky to be relegated as they only finished two points off fourth place. In another way, they weren’t unlucky because Somerset, Hampshire and Yorkshire all finished with more points than they did, which is kind of the aim of this whole endeavour.

As title defences go, it was poor; worse even than Lancashire’s relegatory 2012 because they could at least point to almost equally bad batting the year before.

Middlesex and Warwickshire will next season be replaced by Worcestershire (somewhat surprisingly) and Nottinghamshire (far less surprisingly) in the first division of the County Championship.

Notts have certainly waved goodbye to the raw-deal-getting Chris Read in fine style having also won both limited overs competitions in 2017.

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Where are your ‘bad pitch’ thresholds?

Cricket pitch (CC licensed by peter lowe via Flickr)

What is a bad pitch? We can get some sort of an idea by working out what we deem to be a good pitch – but there’s more to it than that.

Most people will say a pitch is bad when wickets fall too easily. When a pitch gives too much assistance to bowlers and batting becomes a bit of a lottery, that’s a bad pitch.

But where’s your threshold? And is it the same for pitches that aid quick bowlers and those that aid spinners?

Now the obvious point to make at this juncture is that turning pitches will often (but not always) turn more as a game wears on, whereas a seaming pitch is probably more likely to flatten out – so they are different.

But set that aside, because the point we’re making is really just that we impose different standards and that these standards will vary from person to person. There is no universally agreed definition of a bad pitch that will be applied by everyone in exactly the same way.

As we implied earlier in the week, we believe much of the angry hoo-ha about turning pitches is down to people’s perceptions of normality. In England, seam bowling is commonplace and so becomes a major aspect of many county cricket fans’ internal templates for how things should be.

This is what explains the bizarre level of anger that is sometimes directed towards counties who prepare turning pitches. It is a bunch of people with a skewed template of normality struggling to accommodate reality. These people’s response is generally a heartfelt desire to impose their idiosyncratic standards on the world in the firm belief that everyone else’s take on things is wrong.

So this is another reason why the bad pitch debate can at times become surprisingly heated. It tends to pit insularity, parochialism and lack of self-awareness against a bunch of people who like to define themselves otherwise. It is an unusually fundamental disagreement for something seemingly so trivial.

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England to win the Ashes via airy off-side drives

James Vince (via YouTube)

Is that a dripping tap way off in the distance? No, it’s actually James Vince gently knocking on the door to politely request selection, if that wouldn’t be too much trouble.

Quite how the selectors heard him is beyond us. Vince wasn’t thought to be good enough at the start of summer, but three fifty-plus scores in 17 County Championship innings have seen him force his way into the Test side.

We feared for Vince’s chances before he played Test cricket. On his debut, he hit two fours and then edged to slip trying to hit a third. The rest of last summer followed a similar template (basically a “worst of Gower” montage viewed in a mirror).

Now Vince is back on the strength of no-one else being much good. The theory is that the ball doesn’t swing as much Down Under so he’ll have to find a new way to get out.

The rest of the Ashes squad

Well it’s undeniably a weak squad. The selectors haven’t managed to pick a player who’s stuck since Moeen Ali in 2014. This has led to more and more gaps needing to be filled.

Here are a few more of the Antipodean crossed-fingers punts presented in opinionated bullet point format:

  • Mark Stoneman and Dawid Malan aren’t yet dropped, although Tom Westley is
  • Gary Ballance did at least do slightly better than James Vince this season (three hundreds, four fifties, average of 77)
  • Ben Foakes is a worthy wicketkeeping understudy
  • Mason Crane is the second spinner who’ll only play if England pick two spinners (which will never happen)
  • Jake Ball gets the nod through being physically intact
  • Craig Overton hasn’t yet played international cricket

Savour this moment. We still have the luxury of optimism at this point – and there is much to try and be optimistic about.

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Ben Stokes makes a night in the cells happen

The facts are these. Splice and dice them as you see fit.

  • The ECB say that 26-year-old Ben Stokes was arrested in the early hours of Monday morning  following “an incident” in Bristol
  • Police say a 26-year-old man was arrested that night on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm
  • Another fella went to hospital with facial injuries
  • Stokes has injured his hand
  • Stokes was released under investigation
  • Alex Hales is helping police with their enquiries

Our reading of this is that England’s premier one-day opening batsman is pursuing a new career in law enforcement with Avon and Somerset Constabulary. There may also have been a thing with Ben Stokes, but it’s almost impossible to deduce what might have happened with that from these scant details.

But let’s imagine for a minute that Stokes was shit-faced and lamped a fella. You know, hypothetically speaking.

Like all England players Ben Stokes knows not to cross the line. That is something that is inculcated in all who wear the three lions – accurate location of and respect for the line. At the same time, he’s a passionate sort of human being and he wears his heart on his sleeve. You wouldn’t want him to lose that passion now, would you? Where would that leave him?

‘Not under investigation for causing actual bodily harm’ you might answer. Well, maybe, but he needs that edge, doesn’t he? Needs it. That’s what makes him great, right?

In the unlikely event that the above reading of events should prove to be correct, then based on this and previous “incidents” we have another conclusion to put forward.

It is this: Ben Stokes is a bit of a lightweight and entirely incapable of handling his drink.

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Spin bowling is abnormal – ask any county cricket supporter

Ravi Patel (via County Championship Twitter)

In England, spin academies aren’t so much schools of excellence as institutions built to keep the weirdos away from the normals. Seam bowling is normal; not to be remarked upon. Spin bowling is other.

If people see a lot of something, they become conditioned into thinking it’s the default. So it is with county cricket supporters and seam bowlers. The English and Welsh domestic game is built around earnest fast-medium trundlery such that no-one really bats an eyelid should a team be seamed out for 76 – but spin a team out for 236 on day one and people will begin revving their grumble machines, aiming to hit a screeching pitch by the end of day two.

Somerset need to beat Middlesex and have bonus points go their way to be in with a shout of staying in the first division of the County Championship. They are playing on a pitch on which this could happen. Middlesex are playing on the same pitch and have complained that this is unfair. Well what is a good pitch anyway?

Domestic first-class cricket pretty much steps aside for the peak of the summer these days. Consigned to the damper pitches of spring and autumn, seam bowling has taken on even greater importance. Perceptions of normality have therefore skewed even further in that direction and tolerance has dropped. “Get back to foreignland, you weirdo spin types! That’s not the way things are supposed to be here in Blighty.”

Throw in a few batsmen who’ve forgotten how to face a turning ball – or who never knew in the first place – and you’ve a wonderful recipe for skittlery garnished with outrage. This nation is not short of people with faulty templates for the world telling everyone how things should be. All the rest of us can really do is try and enjoy it to the full when reality once again disappoints them.

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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.

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