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Laurence Elderbrook confronts a new challenge

Previous instalment from Laurence Elderbrook

Life as a cricketer errant continues to be wearying, but it is the path I have chosen and a path I will continue to walk. This week my squire, Darron-with-an-O, must have asked at more than a dozen clubs whether any team required a dashing opening batsman to make up the numbers before he found a taker.

I exit my motorcar and stride into the clubhouse. Resplendent in my cream flannels, I look immaculate. Darron points me in the direction of the captain and I shake him firmly by the hand. He seems pleased to have been gifted an eleventh player and thanks me for offering to help out. Sadly, the pleasantries end there, for he also informs me that my new team will be fielding first.

I take the only option available to me. I let fly a huge bestial roar and march back to the motorcar. When Darron appears, I instruct him to return inside to claim some of the victuals prepared for the lunch break.

As I make the most of this sustenance, Darron asks me whether I will be returning to the ground when it is our turn to bat. I give him a withering look and start the motorcar.

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Misbah-ul-Haq – King of the Daddy Fifty

Last week Ian Bell was dismissed for 99 and we wondered whether that was more or less painful than Misbah-ul-Haq being left stranded on 99 not out against the West Indies.

Well, it seems Misbah was wondering the same thing. One Test later, he executed a textbook fatal bat withdrawal and edged to the keeper on the same score.

Misbah has always been King of the Fifty and it would seem that he is hell-bent on maximising his average before retirement without recourse to three figures. This was the third time he has made 99 in a Test match. He also has a 96 and a 97 to his name. It would perhaps be more accurate to brand him King of the Daddy Fifty.

Anyone who has watched him bat won’t be entirely surprised by this tendency. A man who at times boasts an almost tangible air of lack-of-intent, Misbah is not averse to completely renouncing progress during the latter stages of his innings.

He doesn’t so much become becalmed as struck down by a nasty case of rigor mortis. This tendency can transform the short trip from 90 to 100 into an incredibly protracted quest, such that being dismissed in the nineties becomes a statistical probability due to the sheer number of balls he faces.

You could argue that Misbah’s best hope for reaching three figures has been to do so before even he himself has noticed that it’s a possibility – but had this been a regular ploy, it would have greatly devalued one of the all-time great inexplicable innings.

Misbah-ul-Haq will retire from Test cricket after this series and anyone worth knowing will miss him enormously.

 

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Ben Stokes or Sunil Narine?

Ben Stokes played a handy innings yesterday.

With his team, Rising Pune Supergiant, chasing Gujarat Lions’ 161, Stokes made 103 not out, batting at five.

Cricinfo said that Stokes “owned the MCA Stadium” – although their use of the past tense implies that he’s since sold it or perhaps had it confiscated.

What people want?

This knock would, on the face of it, seem to be what the IPL is all about: big name players making big scores in dramatic fashion. Yet to us, it’s almost the least interesting thing about the competition.

Throw enough decent players together and ask them to play enough T20 cricket, and you’re going to get a few head-turning innings. Without remotely wishing to diminish what was clearly a magnificent example from Stokes, this sort of thing seems almost inevitable. It’s how the competition’s set up.

We find the shadier corners far more interesting; the areas where well-paid coaches are ferreting around trying to eke out an advantage. Because while Stokes won a match for his team, his only other batting contribution of note has been a fifty in a losing cause.

So what else has been happening?

So far this IPL, the storyline that’s had us most intrigued has been that of Sunil Narine the opening batsman.

This is interesting for a kick-off because statistically speaking Narine isn’t any kind of batsman whatsoever. He has never made a fifty in any of the major formats – not even in domestic one-day cricket.

He is, in essence, a pinch hitter.

Narine’s team, the Kolkata Knight Riders, started the tournament with the relentlessly straight-hitting Chris Lynn, a man who’d scythed through the Big Bash League scoring at 177 runs per 100 balls and averaging 154.

Lynn started the IPL in similar style, making 93 not out off 41 balls in his first match and 32 off 24 in his second. Then he got injured.

Cometh the hour, cometh the spin bowler

Lynn was the fifth-highest run-scorer at the Big Bash. His replacement was the fifth-highest wicket-taker in the same competition.

What’s most interesting is that the move has sort of worked. It certainly hasn’t been a failure. Narine still doesn’t have a fifty to his name, but he made 42 off 17 in one match and 34 off 17 in another.

These are handy starts. They give his team-mates time and the risk is low as the loss of Narine is, on the face of it, not the greatest blow to a team’s chances.

Narine doesn’t hang about and this is handy because – odd though it sounds – the first six overs of a T20 innings do typically feature a surprising amount of about-hanging. Even those openers who are big-hitting by reputation will often play themselves in and this is something of a wasted opportunity considering the number of boundary fielders during the first Powerplay.

In conclusion

In a T20 game, a couple of extra boundaries in the first Powerplay could easily prove the difference between victory and defeat. At the same time, a whirlwind innings from one of the world’s greatest players could be the fat man bombing your lilo, trampolining you out of the water.

Who knows which kind of match the next one is going to be. Teams kind of have to bear both in mind.

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Zafar Ansari’s “other ambitions” and other tales of premature retirement from cricket

Cricket - Friends Life Twenty20 Finals Day - second semi final - Hampshire v Surrey

Each to his own and all that, but the “new chapter” in Zafar Ansari’s life sounds dull as shit to us. He’s retired from cricket at the age of 25 to pursue another career, “potentially in law”.

We’ve been here before. We’ve been here several times. There was James Bruce, who retired at 28 in favour of a career ‘in the City’ and there was Alex Loudon shortly before him.

We wrote about these bizarre decisions for The Wisden Cricketer in 2007 and looking back on that piece, it seems Loudon left cricket in favour of “a corporate advisory firm”. We’ve still no concrete grasp on what that might mean, but we do know that the words alone make us feel hollow and slightly tearful about the fundamental meaninglessness of existence.

To try and gain some insight into WHY IN HELL a man might make such a decision, we spoke to Paul Downton (yes, that one) who carved out a successful career in finance after he retired from cricket (in his thirties) and was at the time working as a director at a firm called Cazenove.

We can’t find our notes from that interview, but we remember him telling us that it would be tough for these players to turn down the opportunity to embark on what would surely prove to be highly lucrative careers. He had to tell us this several times because each time he said it, we responded with some uncomprehending version of “but… they were cricketers?”

Perhaps we’re a bit of a simpleton, but our view has always been that you only get one crappy body and it’s slowly dying from the moment you’re born. Using that body to play sport – and play it well – during the relatively short window when that’s an option has always seemed to us to be one of the absolute finest uses of one’s time.

But as we said at the top, each to his own. Loudon saw things differently. He admitted to us that he’d miss cricket at times, but added: “Mostly I’ll have my head firmly in front of a computer screen and thinking of exciting things in my future career.”

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The format of the new ECB T20 competition

Surrey v Hampshire (CC licensed by Ungry Young Man via Flickr)

Surrey v Hampshire (CC licensed by Ungry Young Man via Flickr)

Here’s a coagulation of plans, proposals, assumptions and best-guesses for the format of the ECB’s new 20-over competition which is due to begin in 2020.

  • Eight sides
  • Eight group matches each
  • Home and away local derbies (to permit that eighth match)
  • IPL style play-offs
  • ECB-produced TV coverage with some matches free-to-air

The teams

There’s an assumption that the league will feature city teams, but the terminology being used is actually ‘city-based’ which isn’t precisely the same thing.

There’s an interesting breakdown of what the teams could be from Nick Hoult of The Telegraph.

Based on grounds likely to host matches, he has suggested (possibly with some prompting):

  • Red Rose
  • White Rose
  • Birmingham
  • Trent Bridge
  • The West Country
  • North London
  • South London
  • The South

This list has a ‘working title’ air about it, but it does give an idea how things might eventually pan out.

It’s also interesting to take those sides and see who’ll be playing each other twice. Presumably we’ll have an extra War of the Roses, Birmingham v Trent Bridge and North v South London. That leaves us with the famously bitter rivalry between the West Country and the South coast in a fixture we’d like to see branded Battle of the Leftovers.

Play-offs

This format is a tad tricksy, but actually kind of vital if the league phase is going to retain interest until the end.

The first-placed team plays the second-placed team with the winner going through to the final.

In contrast, the third and fourth-placed teams have to get through two matches to get to the final. First they play each other and then the winner plays the team that lost the first v second play-off.

So basically there’s something to be gained from finishing in the top two rather than scraping through in fourth place.

Subject to change

We honestly don’t know why we report on these things sometimes. This’ll doubtless all be out of date by the time we click ‘publish’.

Loads of people are really angry

There are a fair few people who absolutely loathe the very idea of this tournament; angry to the extent that it’s like the ECB have said: “Put down the bat, let’s use the stumps as goalposts and have a kickabout instead.”

We are slightly nonplussed by this reaction because we believe that Twenty20 really can serve as a gateway format and Test cricket can never die.

Where some people get angry about the transient nature of a T20 match, we tend to see this as precisely the reason why the format won’t steamroller its way to total dominance.

Even if it does take on greater prominence in coming years, it feels like there’s a ceiling to what T20 can offer with the longer format retaining almost all of its unique selling points when set alongside it.

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No, turns out Younus Khan is retiring after all

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Love reporting on Pakistan cricketer retirements.

After floating the idea that he might play on if someone asked him to, Younus Khan has now deployed a magnificent barrage of third-personnery to confirm that he really will retire.

“Younus Khan will retire even if he scores a hundred in every innings of every match against West Indies. Please don’t doubt Younus Khan’s credibility and support Pakistan. Pray for Younus Khan and for Pakistan that we can win a Test series for the very first time in West Indies.”

As for why he reached this conclusion, perhaps there was a hint from the press conference he called to announce this particular retirement earlier in the month.

Asked whether he might change his mind, he said: “This will be a U-turn and then people will call me U-turn.”

No-one wants to be called U-Turn – or even You-Turn, which, with hindsight, would have been quite a good nickname.

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Laurence Elderbrook refines his method

Previous instalment from Laurence Elderbook

Chastened by my uncharacteristically ineffectual performance the previous week, I resolve to prepare properly. Before I depart to find a team in need, I carry out my exercise regime to get the blood pumping. I essay twenty to thirty mad gambols followed by a series of naked frisks.

Once this is complete, I summon my squire, Darron-with-an-O. I do this by repeatedly striking the wall that separates our two abodes while calling out his name. Within moments, he is at my door. I hand him my bat and we immediately depart in my motorcar.

After a long morning, we eventually track down a team that is a player short. I inform the captain that I will open the batting. Primed by my mad gambols and naked frisks, I am ready for action and do not want to let my body cool.

The opening bowler is a lanky sort. I assess his gait and examine how he holds the ball. Clearly he will bowl full and swing the ball away. I take guard and pick the gap I will penetrate.

As the bowler runs in, I am awash with confidence, but his delivery stride rather takes me aback. He is left-handed and I had prepared as if he were right-handed. As his arm comes over, I try and work out how the way he holds the ball with one hand will impact on how he bowls with the other. Just as I correctly conclude that he will bowl straight medium-pace, the ball strikes the stumps.

I take the only option available to me. I let fly a huge bestial roar and march off the field, whereupon I gather Darron and immediately drive home, snatching some victuals which have been prepared for the tea break as I walk out.

Next instalment from Laurence Elderbrook

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The Hampshire-incinerating inferno that is Gary Ballance plus Lancashire’s lethal pelt

Table week 3

Surrey are still top

Despite drawing with Warwickshire who had attained just three points from two Championship games before this fixture.

The most striking development was probably Ian Bell’s dismissal for 99. Was this more or less painful than Misbah-ul-Haq being left stranded on 99 not out yesterday?

The Curran who bowls with the correct arm earns a mention for taking eight wickets in what was basically a match of batting.

Lancashire dispose of Somerset like one of those poisonous animals

You know the ones. They curl up in a ball as if they’re dead and when their gleeful foe starts to tuck into them, the lethal poison secreted in their pelt becomes apparent. You sustain a few wounds, but you still win.

Lancashire ensured sufficient time to press for victory later in the game through the simple ploy of allowing themselves to be bowled out for 109 in their first innings. One To Watch, Liam Livingstone, made 68 of those runs – but he never hangs about so it wasn’t too time-consuming.

After Somerset had slunk into the lead, Livingstone returned to the crease and made 168, largely in partnership with Jos Buttler’s nemesis, wicketkeeper Alex Davies, who made his second hundred of the season. Ryan McLaren then did his reliable old South African seamer thing like some kind of Shaun Pollock tribute act.

A slow start at Lord’s

Middlesex did well to inject a note of tension into a match which looked like it was going nowhere inside the very first session. The first three batsmen all made hundreds. Things picked up a bit later on, but not enough.

Gary Ballance is ablaze

While everyone cooed about James Vince’s cover drives in the Hampshire v Yorkshire match, Gary Ballance made 300-and-odd runs for once out. These were Ballance’s second and third hundreds of the season and also, due to the oddities of the County Championship fixture list, the second and third against Hampshire too.

The second, which was the third, was his first double.

Yes, we did deliberately write that last sentence to be hard to read.

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Younus Khan, the world’s oldest 39-year-old, might yet play on

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Ain’t no retirement like a Pakistan cricketer retirement, because a Pakistan cricketer retirement is highly conditional.

For a man who’s already resigned, quit, been rested, stood down, walked and been banned for life, Younus Khan is still strikingly present.

He is due to call it a day (again) following this Test series against the West Indies, but has now floated the possibility that he might play on if someone – anyone – asks him to.

“If they request me or people want me then why not?”

Well we’d quite like you to play on, Younus.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that not only is Younus 39, he’s also the world’s oldest 39-year-old, having been born in 1975.

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Video: How Ben Coad takes his wickets

The ECB doesn’t get everything right when it comes to social media. Earlier this week, they captioned an Alastair Cook highlights reel “Terrific to watch!” which is palpably untrue.

But at least they do sneak out nice bite-sized chunks of County Championship footage these days.

Here’s Ben Coad taking ten wickets against Warwickshire last week. You can learn a surprisingly large amount about a player in 24 seconds.

We can also draw some conclusions about the nature of the County Championship compared to the IPL from this video.

In the Championship, the crucial action typically takes place behind the batsman, whereas in the IPL it is more common to see significant moments occur in front of him.

The IPL also has more cameras.

Other than that, everything’s exactly the same.

Exactly the same.

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