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Where next for Chris Woakes?

chris-woakes

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Chris Woakes played in England’s last Test. He dismissed Stephen Cook for 115. Now he’s out of the team and out of the squad.

England like the idea of Woakes, but they don’t like that idea enough to commit to giving him a long run in the side. It’s understandable. When he does play, he rarely seems to take any wickets.

Sometimes he bowls badly. More often he bowls well but still doesn’t take wickets. The first Test of that South Africa tour was a prime example. Like an angry bad driver gesticulating at another motorists, Woakes can often seem to be all threat, no follow-up.

Woakes’ first-class record is exceptional, but it’s not easy to see him making it back into England’s Test team as an opening bowler. They’ve flirted with him, but there’s now too much distrust for a proper relationship. Does that mean his England ambitions are over? There are other jobs in the team. A dull and dutiful line bowler who swings it a bit can be a handy thing to have, particularly if that player can also bat. Woakes can definitely bat.

Yesterday, against Nottinghamshire, he made 121, batting at seven and if he’s keen to play Test cricket for England, maybe he should ask to go in earlier. It’s important to know your niche. A fourth seamer who can bat should probably try and do as much batting as he can, while an irreverent cricket site with no real authority should probably steer clear of making suggestions about how marginal England players should go about their game.

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They’re finally using robots to promote cricket tournaments

robot-arsehole

About time.

This particular robot’s got flames for eyes and is, quite frankly, a bit of a tosser.

Also keep an eye out for the guy who doesn’t know how to clap. That’s our favourite bit.

Assuming embedding doesn’t work in the email – because it never does – here’s a link so that you know what we’re on about.

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Cricket was played either side of the Pennines – a County Championship round-up

It was an uncharacteristically eventful week by the standards of the 2016 County Championship with two whole wins in the first division.

Two losses as well, we suppose.

The wins/losses

After three successive draws, Yorkshire soared like a heron to their habitual place at the top of the table. Surrey kept pace with them for an innings and a third, at which point Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow happened. Yorkshire then shared the wickets about en route to an innings victory.

Lancashire soared like an-ever-so-slightly fatter heron to second place after an innings victory of their own over Hampshire. The Great Neil Wagner made the decisive contribution with two wickets in the match and he was ably assisted by James Anderson (six wickets) and Luke Procter (137 runs and three wickets) before Simon Kerrigan exploited arid springtime conditions to take 5-59.

Lancashire are one point behind Yorkshire, but have a game in hand.

The draws

It pissed it down at Lord’s and they got through barely much more than a day’s play. You already know about Sam Robson’s hundred, so we won’t mention that.

It also pissed it down at Edgbaston and they played even less. Boy-faced Tom Willingon Abell made a ton.

Yes of course Willingon is a real name and yes of course Abell’s really called that.

The table

We’ve already talked you through this so this section’s basically redundant. Nottinghamshire are third if you want us to go all ‘in-depth analysis’ about things.

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Tony Cozier – the man who saw all and knew all of West Indies cricket

Cricket fans moan about commentators a lot, but in general we are well served by our sport. Tastes differ, but very few talk down to us and the majority have the capacity to offer some sort of insight when working in the right environment.

But as the world becomes smaller, even the best broadcasters are becoming more homogenous. They watch the same games, read the same articles and they know the same things about the same players. There’s a slick Dubai internationalism about it all.

Not everyone’s like that though. There are still a select few – generally from the smaller Test nations – who bring a distinct flavour of their region with them. Tony Cozier was of course one.

It is not about knowing the players. Every commentator should know the players. It is about knowing the people. When the West Indies toured, Cozier could tell you not only how a player played, but why he did so. He would know his upbringing; he would know where he learned his cricket; he would know how that player was viewed in the region.

Cozier would know the player’s background better than the player himself did. He would know the history of the club he had played for in his youth and how the island’s cricket and culture had evolved since the last great player from that same club. Some commentators tell you everything they know. It’s not that Cozier wouldn’t – he couldn’t. He could show you the relevant tip of the iceberg but you always got the sense that there was infinitely more left concealed.

In recent years Cozier seemed increasingly pissed off with the chronic ill health of West Indies cricket, but his despair never reached the point of giving up on it. It was almost as if the bouts of impotent frustration would renew his energy to look for solutions – and by the broad bat of Sobers, he had to look hard to find them.

He’d cover the latest spat between players and board, or the latest Test series defeat and you’d forgive him for being worn down by it all. But then next thing you know, he’d be full of cautious hope about Rahkeem Cornwall or someone. That is what you might accurately call irrepressible enthusiasm for the sport.

Cozier was one of the few men with an impartial overview of West Indies cricket. You’d think a man who could take a step back and see things for how they were and how problems might be resolved would be greatly valued, but this doesn’t seem to have been the case.

More than one obituary has mentioned that Cozier recently filed a lawsuit against WICB president Dave Cameron. Cameron pretty much called him a blind old man.

Blind? Tony Cozier? The man who saw all and knew all of West Indies cricket surely had the clearest vision of all.

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Charlotte Edwards’ bit is done – good work

When Charlotte Edwards first played for England, she wore a skirt. She didn’t choose to. She was obliged to.

That debut came when she was 16 (she played for the under-19s at 12) The women’s game has moved on since then and you might have expected her to have been left behind at some point in the intervening 20 years. Not so. She was the team’s top scorer at the recently completed World T20. Charlotte Edwards can bat well in kecks too.

But no more. It was widely expected that she would stand down as captain (after ten years!) but she’s no longer going to bat for England either having announced her international retirement.

This seems a shame and, dare we say it, wrong. But the choice is her own and she must have her reasons. Her retirement statement makes reference to ‘detailed discussion with Mark Robinson’ and it seems clear the coach wants to build ‘a new team’.

He will do well to match the old one. In 2009, Edwards captained England to wins in the World Cup, the World T20 and the Ashes. She has made 10,000 runs in internationals. An England cricketer can’t really do much more than that.

All of this was achieved with extra pressure. Representing your country is one thing, but the very best female players are still representing their gender as well. If you’re one of the top performers in a high profile game, the onus is on you to show what women can do. That shouldn’t be the case, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t how things are. The very fact that you are reading a web page means you are more forward-thinking than a good number of people who follow men’s cricket.

The women’s game has progressed during Edwards’ career. Once it was hardly written about at all. Now it’s written about a little bit. If intentions are better, it takes time for the near-alliterative circle of promotion, payment and spectators to turn. Each revolution sees a slight improvement in each facet which then encourages further growth in the other two – but take a snapshot of cricket at this moment and the women’s game is still miles from where it deserves to be.

It’s slow, but things are changing. When we started this website, the average cricket follower wouldn’t know a thing about the women’s game. Now the average cricket follower does.

For that change to have taken place, great cricketers were needed – because you can’t build a narrative without characters. With fewer high profile matches than the men, those characters also needed to persist.

After 20 years of international cricket, half as captain, we can safely say that Charlotte Edwards did her bit and more.

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A hatful of willow

Will Smith just got off the mark from the 43rd delivery he faced. Hampshire are currently careering along at 1.25 runs an over knowing that the rain that has hit the rest of the country will soon arrive in Manchester.

So far, this round of County Championship matches has been more eventful than the last – so eventful, in fact, that we feel moved to do a mini round-up midway through. It’s not very focused, hence the vague headline.

Lancashire managed to get a first innings lead of almost 350, which is quite some feat from a side who haven’t shown any real taste for run-scoring in recent years. Clearly, they have been greatly inspired by the arrival of The Great Neil Wagner.

Warwickshire v Somerset threatens to end in something other than a draw. The home team have been asked to make 322 to win – not an outrageous total, but more than were scored in any of the first three innings.

Over in Yorkshire, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow have been underlining that for all that the first division of the County Championship is closer to Test cricket than the second division, it’s still not exactly a terraced housing neighbour. It’s more of a detached neighbour with a very high hedge who votes a different way to you. Root made a quick double hundred and Bairstow basically did. Surrey’s attack has been given a bit of a slap by two England certainties.

It underlines the feeling that you’d really like to see potential England players tearing county cricket to pieces rather than ‘doing well’ or ‘making a strong case for inclusion’. Down at Lord’s, Sam Robson has made his third hundred of the season. They’ve all been on his home ground, but top order rival and team-mate Nick Compton has been bumbling along not really doing much of anything by way of contrast.

Considering they won their last Test series, the next England team remains remarkably uncertain.

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North v South one-day series is the future of county cricket

Counties or franchises? Let’s discard both and instead play endless North v South matches.

Imagine the crowds. Nothing gets people in like a rivalry and this new series has the potential to divide the nation. They’ll have to properly define North and South first, but all it will take is a shibboleth. How do you pronounce ‘bath’? How do you pronounce ‘butter’?

The Southerners could wear top or bowler hats in the field. The Northerners would wear flat caps. Fans will adopt the same attire and there’ll be Gangs of New York style fighting in the streets.

Then the Aussies will come over and everyone will shake hands, apologise and boil the kettle, before settling down for a nice patronising snigger at the tourists’ increasingly rampant metrosexuality.

 

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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?

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A veritable smorgasbord of draws in the latest exciting instalment of the 2016 County Championship

This week’s matches varied incredibly. We had fraught, tense, hard-fought draws; ambling draws that were obvious from a mile out; and everything in between. The 2016 County Championship is not yet proving to be a competition in which people win cricket matches.

The fraught, tense, hard-fought draw

Yorkshire gamely went after a tough fourth innings target after Chris Read had gritted, nurdled and punched a hundred from number seven. In so doing, they almost capitulated. But they didn’t. It was a draw.

The other three matches

In Surrey v Durham, Ben Stokes took seven wickets on a pitch where 457 was followed by 607-7 and then 244-6. It’s not really worth paying attention to who made runs because it was basically everyone. The match finished in a draw.

We presume it rained during Hampshire v Middlesex. Both teams batted at three an over, made moderate totals, but ran out of time to resolve things. It was a draw.

Lancashire’s Liam Livingstone made a hundred in his second match after making 70 on his debut the other week. Sadly, even The Great Neil Wagner couldn’t prevent quadragenarian Somerset opener Marcus Trescothick from batting out the match in partnership with the youthful tricenarian, Chris Rogers.

Draw.

Ballwatching

Nottinghamshire were on telly this week, so we got to see a bit more of Jake Ball. Just as we suspected when we read that he was ‘the brisk side of fast-medium,’ he actually appears to be ‘resolutely fast-medium’.

This is okay though. He’s tall and appears to swing and seam it without flitting between good balls and toss ones, so he’s still got plenty going for him. We were hoping he’d have everything going for him, but we hope for a lot of things and almost none of them come to pass.

One time we hoped that there was still water in the kettle and there was. That’s the only positive outcome we can think of off the top of our head.

Highlight of the week

With each passing replay, we had less and less of an idea what the actual balls Jonny Bairstow did to a delivery from Stuart Broad on the final day of the Notts v Yorkshire match. Dropping down on one knee, he seemingly wrist-swept an offside wide through midwicket. For six.

It was a kind of flat-batted flamingo shot played with entirely immobile arms. How he propelled it beyond the ropes is entirely beyond comprehension.

This seems a bit of a wishy-washy doubt-filled way to end proceedings, so we’re instead going to try and add a more definitive note of finality by writing ‘the end’.

The end.

Except it isn’t, because you never said who was top of the table

Nottinghamshire. By a point from Warwickshire, who are two points ahead of Middlesex. Lancashire are a further point back but with a game in hand.

We knew we’d forgotten something. Doing the top-of-the-table thing is a good way to finish as well. We really are going to have to start remembering it before we first click ‘publish’.

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Alastair Cook in the second division of the County Championship

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

We always say that the second division of the County Championship doesn’t count. Hopefully it’s obvious that this is rhetoric.

Our exaggerated stance is not borne of a belief that the cricket played is worthless, but of a perception that some still haven’t quite accepted that it is in any way a lower standard. The sport isn’t always swift on the uptake. When MCC voted on whether or not to allow female members in 1998, it took two votes before the ‘modernisers’ got their way.

We’ve had two divisions for almost as long, but there are still plenty of people who will cite a ‘first-class’ average when pushing the international case of a particular second division player. Alastair Cook has tried to put such figures in perspective so far this season. He has played four County Championship matches and only failed to make a hundred in the first of them, when he made 65 in his only innings.

At the time of writing, he is averaging 156. He is playing in the same match as Moeen Ali, who is averaging 210.

Cook is an exceptional individual, but it’s worth remembering this kind of thing the next time you read an article in which so-and-so’s said to be making waves after averaging 44 – or, more likely, after they’ve made a hundred during a season in which they’re not even averaging that.

Cook’s clearly seeing them well in the second division, so he’ll be hopeful of performing well when he returns to the nets with England.

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