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The beard that smeared – Moeen Ali enjoys the evening session

Cricket - England v India - Fourth Investec Test - Day Two - Old Trafford, Manchester

Smeared with exquisite timing and grace, we should say. It was poetic smearage. Smearage without breaking sweat. Smearage that involved all moving parts working in perfect harmony to pan the ball to the fence.

Morning session

It’ll be interesting to read the reports about this morning’s play. Was Alex Hales unlucky after hitting the ball in the air towards a fielder? Was Alastair Cook unlucky to completely mishit the ball, propelling it into his own stumps?

What happened after that was easier to interpret. Joe Root did a James Vince impression and James Vince was sufficiently unimpressed by it that he immediately felt compelled to demonstrate how edging behind should be done.

Perhaps England felt threatened by the looming presence of the mace. No-one seems to want the damned thing.

Afternoon session

Gary Ballance’s dismissal clearly belonged in the morning session, both thematically and because it came in only the 28th over.

Pakistan were now so dominant that mace-spurning duties switched to them, allowing England to counter. Jonny Bairstow did his usual hunched biffing and Moeen Ali did nothing of the sort, nonchalantly flicking the ball to and over the ropes as if long hours in the gym were the most pointless activity in which any wannabe big-hitting batsman could ever indulge. He loves to feel bat on ball.

Evening session

Jonny Bairstow got a bit ahead of himself and thought it was Pakistan’s turn to be on top. This meant England’s two finest batsmen were now at the crease. Chris Woakes joined Moeen in their favoured pastime of batting sumptuously until it was time for the famously feckless momentum to yet again shift.

Woakes was out, just when it seemed he was entirely without failings and then Broad departed two balls later. Moeen Ali didn’t care. He just carried on whopping the ball wherever he chose. He just loves these evening sessions for which Pakistan’s bowlers seemingly don their heaviest shoes.

Moeen was last man out, which meant England got to bowl in what we’re now going to name the night session on the grounds that it only began after the scheduled close of play.

Night session

With England having scored a somewhat ambiguous 328, no-one was quite sure which team was most at risk of being a mace recipient. Probably India, so Stuart Broad took a wicket.

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Where is the ICC’s Test mace?

Not much more than a week ago, Australia captain Steve Smith was presented with the ICC Test Championship mace in a closed ceremony. The media and public would of course have been clamouring to attend such a spectacular and meaningful event.

The nature of the presentation gave rise to an obvious question. If an ICC Test Championship mace is handed over and no-one is there to see it, is that team really the top-ranked Test nation?

The answer, it seems, is no – or at the very least ‘probably not but let’s see how this final match goes’.

Australia could stay top if they (stop laughing) beat Sri Lanka in the next Test; India could go top if they win their next two Tests; and either England or Pakistan could theoretically go top if they win the fourth Test at the Oval. There are of course many permutations and it’s hard not to conclude that life’s too short before turning your attention to far more important questions.

Far more important questions like where they hell is the Test mace right now? Where does it live?

The mace should really be something of a nomad, tucked into the kit bag of whichever Test captain currently has the right to wield it, but this seems unlikely.

Many people would doubtless feel it appropriate for the mace to bed down each night at The Home of Corks, but we don’t believe this is the case, otherwise that ground would be entitled to call itself The Home of The Test Mace. This would clearly supersede its preferred Home of Cricket nickname on the grounds that such a name would at least be accurate.

More likely the mace lives in Dubai at ICC headquarters, but does it just sit there, idle? Surely in uncertain situations such as the one in which we currently find ourselves, it should be loaded onto a private jet ready to be deployed.

Imagine becoming the top-ranked Test nation and not instantly being handed a giant mace. Just imagine it. Just imagine how that would make you feel.

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Jake Lehmann signs for Yorkshire – all you need to know about Son of Boof (+ video)

Jake Lehmann

There was a brief period when Jake Lehmann’s T20 record was nothing but hitting a six to win a match. His first ever innings for Adelaide Strikers coincided with the last ball against Hobart Hurricanes. He needed to hit a four. He hit a six, which was also acceptable.

Lehmann is well regarded as a batsman and will be more than welcome at Yorkshire being as he’s the son of their greatest-ever overseas pro. As far as the rest of us are concerned, Lehmann’s ludicrous moustache and foppish floppy hair are far and away his most important qualities.

Lehmann replaces Travis Head whose comedy attributes are largely limited to nomenclature.

This news also gives us a semi-credible reason to publish this picture of a teenage Darren Lehmann.

Darren Lehmann

Taken from this video of his first first-class hundred (which was a double).

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Four wickets in the fourth innings for spinners – this week’s County Championship round-up

8th August 2016 Championship table

As you can see, Middlesex are still top. Somerset and Yorkshire aren’t a million miles away and the latter have a game in hand, as do Durham in fourth.

Middlesex drew with Surrey

George Bailey – remember him? He scored a hundred for Middlesex. Jason Roy, in his four-day middle-order guise, did the same for Surrey. Zafar Ansari took 4-63 in the fourth innings.

Yorkshire beat Warwickshire

In a low-scoring game, it’s probably worth naming all the batsmen who made fifties: Travis Head (who’s playing for Yorkshire), Rikki Clarke, the alphabet-straddling AZ Lees and Jonathan Trott. Adil Rashid took 4-29 in the fourth innings.

Somerset beat Durham

In an even-lower-scoring game, it’s certainly worth naming all the batsmen who made fifties: Mark Stoneman. Roelof Van der Merwe took 4-45 in the fourth innings. Jack Leach took 4-46 in the fourth innings.

Hampshire drew with Lancashire

Will Smith made a double hundred. We made him ‘one to watch’ once. Twice, actually, but the 2009 thing about him isn’t really worth linking to.

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England’s age of all-rounders

England fielded eight batsmen to Pakistan’s seven in this match and five bowlers to their four. That is quite an advantage to carry.

It was most notable when England batted in the second innings, when the duration of a Test match was really starting to bite. Pakistan’s quartet held it together for the first two session of day four, but they then reached some sort of tipping point when they started to tire and England still had batsmen to come. England’s six and seven made merry and there wasn’t even the motivation that a wicket would be enough with Chris Woakes padded up.

England appear to have entered the age of the all-rounder. Ben Stokes would ordinarily be in the team as well and the winter offers the prospect of Adil Rashid, Zafar Ansari – or even both – being added to the side on top of that.

If there’s a tragedy here, it’s that a surfeit of bowling options makes it so much less likely that Alastair Cook will give Gary Ballance an over.

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Will Alastair Cook deploy the carrot?

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

History tells us that when it comes to declarations, Alastair Cook is not a carrot-dangler. History tells us that when the moment comes, the carrot will be unsighted for Pakistan and they will in fact be only dimly aware of its existence.

The match and series situation also hint at a cautious declaration. It is 1-1, there is much on the line and it has taken quite an effort for England to haul their way back into this match. The effort they’ve invested makes even the faintest risk so much less likely. Sunk costs and all that.

Then again, history also tells us that Alastair Cook the batsman is a plodder, yet in this series he’s been positively piratical, slashing the ball to the boundary with a joyous “Ha-haaa!” as if he’s been possessed by the still-very-much-alive Sanath Jayasuriya.

The only thing of which we can be certain is that by the time you read this article, the decision will already have been taken and these few short paragraphs will seem entirely redundant. Might be worth checking the comments though. There’s probably something witty, insightful and still relevant down there.

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Pakistan play spin better than Australia

Different matches and – to be fair to Australia – different degrees of difficulty too. All the same, it seems a fair conclusion to draw.

In England, Azhar Ali and Sami Aslam seemed uncertain whether to milk Moeen Ali or just belt him for sixes. In the end, they reached the conclusion that they’d do both. It wasn’t as if the seamers were doing much better. England ended the day looking a bit fast-medium and more than a little tetchy.

Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, Australia folded as if prepared by Miura. Bowled out for 106 in their first innings, they sustained much of the damage in three balls from that homicidal capybara, Rangana Herath, who gummed a hat-trick.

Australia’s woes wouldn’t be half as funny if they hadn’t spent much of the build-up to this series talking incredibly earnestly about their gameplans for facing spin.

“It’s about making sure you have a plan from ball one,” said Steve Smith with conviction. “You’ve got to be able to bat well into the next day,” added David Warner – as if that were in any way an option.

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Steven Finn is setting them up for the full one

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

There’s a trend for talking about Steven Finn like he’s some sort of charity case at the minute; as if he’s only been selected for England as some sort of favour to his mum. All the other boys are being very polite and encouraging and everyone wants something to go right for him so that they can all overcelebrate and pretend that he’s every bit as good as they are.

There was an air of this when he bowled his first ball at Edgbaston today. The crowd, who had just been watching the most successful opening bowlers England have ever had, went up a notch. There was a roar of goodwill. A roar of encouragement flecked with desperation. People want Finn to do well.

That first ball was short. The second one was also short, but a bit wider. The third one was similar to the second one. The crowd’s enthusiasm waned. When it came to building some sort of symbiotic mutually-beneficial relationship with them, Finn appeared to have missed his window.

We’re writing during the lunch break, at which point Finn is still persevering with his plan of pushing the batsmen back, setting them up for the full one.  There have been six overs of setup so far.

You wonder to what extent Finn noticed the timbre of the crowd noise for that first delivery. Maybe if he bowled in a netted laboratory this afternoon, he’d find himself peppering the stumps. Sometimes it feels like he’s only bowling ineffectually because everyone’s so desperately hoping that he won’t.

We’re all rooting for you, Steven. And we apologise for that.

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James Vince caught at slip – but he wasn’t driving

James Vince wasn’t going to be caught in the slips driving today. Oh, no, no. Today he had other ideas.

He announced his intentions early on by edging a sort of half-defensive shot, half-leave. Vince was going to make damn certain that when he was caught in the slips, it was while playing with a complete lack of intent.

The only question was how many runs he would make before that happened. Would it be 37? Would it be 39?

It was 39.

The shot, when it came, was the indeterminate prod. Younus Khan took the catch and gave everyone a few more opportunities to assess Vince’s interminate prod techique when he floated the possibility that the ball maybe didn’t carry. It did carry though. Of course it carried. It was an edge off Vince’s bat while he was in the thirties. If it hadn’t carried he’d have had to have repeated the shot before he reached 40.

The ‘James Vince edging to slip’ montage extends still further. How many more chances will he get? We’d give him at least another innings what with his already having been selected for this Test and all.

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Steven Finn’s ‘knack’ for taking wickets

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

We’re going to repeat ourself a bit, but it’s okay because we’re repeating things we wrote ten years ago so nobody’ll remember.

Actually, let’s go the whole hog and stick in a block quote.

“It is often said that he has the ‘knack’ of taking wickets; that he can get people out with bad balls. This is only a whisker away from saying that he’s blessed with outrageous good luck, which is, if you consider it rationally, complete testicles. If a bowler consistently takes wickets, it’s with good reason – it’s because they’re talented.”

A decade ago, we were writing about James Anderson, who we’re sure you’ll agree has since made a compelling case to be considered an extremely good bowler rather than an unusually lucky one. We now feel the urge to say much the same thing about Steven Finn who has just returned to the England team for the umpteenth time.

Finn does not have a knack for taking wickets. He is simply a bowler who has it in him to be extremely good. He also has it in him to be pretty ordinary of course and while he might be one or the other for a whole match, a particular spell, or for just one delivery, the one thing you’ve been able to count on of late is that he’ll veer to the opposite extreme before too long.

Writing on Cricinfo, George Dobell suggests that a blessed state of thoughtlessness may go hand in hand with Finn’s best form. We wouldn’t argue with the assertion that a relaxed body is likely to result in a few extra miles per hour, but only Finn can know his mental and physical state and how they might be linked at any given moment.

You wonder whether given a position of more permanence in the England team, Finn might find himself more prone to a zen-like state of awkward 90mph lifters, but it’s impossible to offer him such a thing without seeing more signs that it would happen.

What selectors, commentators and the public shouldn’t do is diminish Finn’s case by ascribing his wicket-taking to some vague unelaborated ‘knack’ which makes it sound like it’s in some way out of his hands. Finn has specific qualities that earn him wickets and it is important to keep these in mind.

The odd wicket might be lucky, but luck cannot carry you any great distance. Finn’s overall record says more about his ability than his fortune.

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