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They’re playing Hashim Amla’s song


During Sunday’s play, the England and South Africa supporters did a duet, trading verses of their respective Moeen Ali/Hashim Amla songs which both employ the tune of No Limits by 2 Unlimited.

It was really rather entertaining – although they persisted for so long that we can still hear it in our mind’s ear well over 24 hours later. Watch it for yourself. We especially like the bit where the South Africa fans all duck down and bob rhythmically when it’s the Moeen Ali verse.

If you watch the video, you can clearly see that Hashim Amla enjoyed it. Perhaps this was the moment when he shrugged off the despondency that afflicted his batting throughout 2015.

This is not good news for England, because history tells us that once he’s up and running Hashim Amla WILL NOT GO AWAY.

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Why it’s time to drop Ben Stokes

Cricket - Investec Test Series 2015 - England v New Zealand - Lord's Cricket Ground, London, England

Ben Stokes makes things happen. Against South Africa in Cape Town on the second day, he made time distort such that England appeared to make 312 runs in just 38.5 overs.

At one point the TV commentators were reduced to debating whether the ball had landed on the railway line or in the brewery. After a while, Mike Atherton thought of something else useful to say. He pointed out that Jonny Bairstow was also batting.

Most people hadn’t noticed, even though the Yorkshireman was midway through making 150 not out off 191 balls – celebrating three figures in such a way that it left no doubt that this was the Test hundred that his late father, David, had never made.

That Bairstow became a sideplot was down to the sheer all-consuming brilliance of Ben Stokes’ innings. Carnage has rarely been so enduring. As it was a Test match, there was none of that running out of overs and giving someone else a go bollocks. He shifted into 86th gear early on and just remained there, entirely unaffected by any kind of deadline.

If he was seeing it like a football, then he was seeing it like a neon football having had special neon football tracking cyberware installed in his eyes. He hit the ball hard. He hit the ball hard a lot. The innings was basically Ben Stokes’ greatest hits.

The impact was such that at the lunch break, Nasser Hussain was actually sombre with admiration. His brain simply didn’t know what to do. It settled on sombre, which was obviously wrong, but also understandable. This was uncharted territory. Asked how the England team would be feeling, Ian Botham said they would be “literally circling the moon”. Perhaps he meant on a diagram of the solar system. This would be a strange way to celebrate one of the great partnerships, but just what was the correct response?

If momentum really were a thing, Stokes won’t be coming to a stop until some point in 2017. Conversely, he may never be due again.

They should probably drop him.

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Ben Stokes hits the ball hard

Cricket - Investec Test Series 2015 - England v New Zealand - Lord's Cricket Ground, London, England

Ben Stokes greeted the second new ball as if it were a rampaging arcade machine and he were Kung Fury. After five balls with it, he was 16 runs better off.

As ever, he had hit the ball hard. The ball knows when it’s been hit by Stokes. It will almost certainly have lost its hearing upon impact, but the rest of us will have an abiding memory of a clean percussive sound, the like of which you simply don’t hear coming from the bats of too many other players.

‘He hits the ball hard’ is an increasingly common clichĂ©. What people generally mean when they say it is ‘he hits the ball in the air’ – but it’s not the same thing. Pretty much any batsman can clear the rope these days, but there are only a few who really sting a fielder’s palms.

We suppose it’s easier to gauge how hard something’s hit when it’s arcing through the air rather than pinging back off the boundary boards. As often as not, Stokes hits the ball along the floor. He hits it hard though. He hits it as if he was once struck by lightning and bitten by a cobra, becoming The Chosen One in the process.

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Alex Hales doesn’t have to live in a grey pigeonhole


Photo by Sarah Ansell

One of the worst things about Twenty20 cricket is that it’s provided a label for one particular shade of grey. We don’t know which one. Battleship grey maybe. Or gunmetal. It doesn’t matter. The point is, you label something and it becomes a ‘thing’ – something distinct, something fixed.

Alex Hales is a Twenty20 batsman, you see. People say he’ll bring a Twenty20 approach to Tests and because of this he effectively becomes some sort of experiment into which format is ‘better’. If he fails, the long format remains the true test. If he succeeds, Twenty20 marches on.

But Alex Hales isn’t Twenty20’s nominated representative. He’s just a cricketer. He plays all formats. He succeeds to differing degrees in each of them. He may take a different approach to other batsmen, but that’s true of absolutely everyone. Even Chris Martin. Especially Chris Martin.

David Warner is another who remains branded a Twenty20 cricketer, despite the fact that he recently skipped a very well-viewed Australian Twenty20 tournament in a bid to ensure he was at his best for Tests. Much like Virender Sehwag – another batsman who was often jammed into the wrong pigeonhole following the rise of Twenty20 – his record is far, far better in the longest format. You could argue that Warner is a Test cricketer who bats aggressively rather than a Twenty20 cricketer who plays Tests. But that’s missing the point. He’s just a cricketer. It’s all cricket.

At lunch on the first day of his second Test, Alex Hales was on 38 off 84 balls. He was the wrong grey for his normal pigeonhole. Instead, he was a perfectly effective birdshit grey – and rumour has it he can also mix plenty of other shades.

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Kane Williamson: Lord Megachief of Gold 2015

Our annual Lord Megachief of Gold award is the highest honour in cricket. The title is recognition of performance over the previous calendar year. Here are all the previous winners.

Last year, the Lord Megachief of Gold award was split with both Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews honoured. This year, one man is out there on his own.

Photos by Sarah Ansell

Photos by Sarah Ansell

All aboard the Kane train

Destination: who knows? But the journey will take a while and it’ll feature many, many runs.

A number of players have made 200-300 Test runs more than Kane Williamson in 2015. All of them have played at least 50 per cent more matches. He averaged 90.15 for the year.

New Zealand only get short tours – batsmen don’t get long to acclimatise – but yet in every series he played, he made a hundred. Against England, at Lord’s, he made 132. Against Australia he made 140 at Brisbane and 166 at Perth. The year was also bookended by contrasting hundreds at home against Sri Lanka.

In Wellington, back in January, he made light of a 135-run first innings deficit and made 242 not out in the second innings. He trumped Kumar Sangakkara’s 203 and New Zealand won. It would have been a passing-of-the-baton moment if cricket had a baton to signify its finest batsman – which it doesn’t. It has a mace for best Test team though. Against that backdrop it doesn’t seem all that ludicrous to introduce a Baton of Blinding Batsmanship.

More recently, Williamson made a hundred in a fourth innings run-chase. You don’t get many of those. He alone contributed what you could realistically have expected the entire team to muster in those circumstances. New Zealand won.

Cricket - England v New Zealand - Investec Test Series - First Test Day 3 - Lord's Cricket Ground, London, England - 23 May 2015


In that mammoth double hundred in Wellington, Williamson made just 72 in boundaries. That’s not the way big innings are built in this day and age. When there’s a high score in New Zealand, it’s often at a small ground. There was no inflation here though. He faced 438 balls and just 18 of them went to the fence.

In contrast, when he made 140 in Brisbane, 96 runs came in boundaries. It’s almost like he was a different batsman, which in many ways sums up his brilliance.

In summary

Oh, by the way, Williamson was also the second-highest scorer in one-day internationals and during the World Cup, he demonstrated how to hit a six.

We hereby move that henceforth, whenever Williamson comes in to bat, all commentators must intone the words: “New Zealand are about to administer the Kane.”

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Joe Root chips in

Joe Root having all of the Ashes runs in big numbers

After England had beaten South Africa in the first Test, several pundits remarked that in a weird way Alastair Cook might be quite happy that the win had been achieved without any major contribution from either himself or Joe Root.

Root made 97 runs. In a relatively low-scoring game by modern standards, that’s surely more than just chipping in, yet we’re sure at least one person even went so far as to use the word ‘failed’.

As we’ve mentioned before, these days Joe Root is just context. His runs are as worthy of remark as the ground in which the Test is played. They’re both undeniably there, but they’re unalterable, so what is there to say?

What’s newsworthy is that other batsmen performed well. A couple of months ago, we said that England’s batting seemed about as well-balanced as a pissed-up baby giraffe trying to moonwalk across a tightrope. On recent evidence, it’s sobering up.

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South Africa scrabble for paper


South Africa are currently undergoing vivisection. Their press and fans are twanging stretchy bits and gouging their fingers into squishy bits trying to work out what’s caused a death that has yet to take place.

An obvious issue is that they’re currently missing half their first-choice bowling attack and having lost one of those two players during the Test, have been making do with three frontline bowlers. That’s unhelpful for this match and nor will it do them any favours in the one that starts in a few days’ time.

More obviously wonky is their batting. Unlike the bowling attack, it’s not undermanned – if anything, with seven specialists, it’s overmanned. But somehow the sheer volume of batsmen isn’t making up for a shortfall in quality. A two, three, four, five of Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis is very good on paper – but paper is for wrapping chips.

Several of these Test veterans appear to have had their minds bleached and have forgotten how to lay bat on ball. We say ‘veterans’ but Duminy has only played 33 Tests and du Plessis just 27. South Africa don’t play a lot.

Nor have they been batting a lot and for all the talk of regeneration, team balance and quotas, that’s perhaps the biggest problem of all. The team’s recent fallow period in India effectively delivered a double whammy of shattered confidence and lack of match practice – because even when they got some batting in, they didn’t really get much practice at run-scoring.

Practice makes perfect and you can get out of practice – and further from perfection – surprisingly quickly. The best players also tend to recover quickly, however, and in Amla and de Villiers, South Africa have two fit that description. That’s what it says on paper anyway.

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Dean Elgar’s pretty South African isn’t he?

With his South African face and his steady South African batting. He also bowls left-arm orthodox in a way that indicates he might believe Roelof Van Der Merwe to be the finest ever exponent of the art.

Dean carried his bat today. Well played Dean. We should probably have more to say on the matter, but we don’t.

If there was a moment when Elgar renounced unremarkable stolidity, it was when he dropped Nick Compton later in the day. The general vibe we got after writing about Compton earlier in the match was ‘England could do better than him’ – but on the evidence of recent times, they can’t.

With Stuart Broad on form, Steven Finn currently the spiky and effective version of himself and Bowling Ali giving the sense of having returned to the side after being briefly replaced by some ineffective opener or other, England have a good bowling attack. In the absence of any obviously viable alternative, dull functional batting might well be the potatoes that will bulk up the England meal for the foreseeable future.

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Marlon Samuels needs to go

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

We’ve always liked Marlon Samuels. He’s mischievous and funny and his favourite cricketer is Nasser Hussain.

He’s also skilful. In the 2012 World T20 final, Samuels waded into Lasith Malinga as if he were a particularly inviting jacuzzi. He’s made Test hundreds. He’s looked really good in doing so.

But skill and humour seem distant concepts at the moment. He averaged 24 in 2013, 30 in 2014 and 27 in 2015. Being as he’s not allowed to bowl any more, it’s hard to see the point. Marlon Samuels has been metaphorically cut by the thunder and yet the West Indies have had a look around and concluded that they have no choice but to persist with him.

It’s the fielding that should tip the balance though. During the first Test, Samuels’ lackadaisical approach was widely mocked. Almost as if it’s the only entertainment he can bring, he’s taken it up a notch in the second Test, missing the ball and shelling easy catches.

Senior players are important. Senior players can provide guidance. Samuels is halfway down the road to being a laughing stock, coolly beckoning his team-mates to follow him.

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Nick Compton’s back

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

As in ‘returned’. He hasn’t got ankylosing spondylitis or anything. If anything, he appears entirely unaffected by spinal ailments, awaiting each delivery with a relaxed upright stance.

We got plenty of opportunities to see this as Compton stuck around for over six hours, doing his level best to ensure he was overshadowed by a series of batting partners before finally emerging as top scorer in England’s first innings of the series.

In the long-running and largely-incomprehensible Nick Compton fridge/freezer analogy, this probably equates to passing the sniff test. We can now tuck in and eat the entire series, reasonably confident that this won’t result in food poisoning.

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