Cities disappear in the summer. Winter has cities, summer has counties – or at least that’s the way it used to be. Now Birmingham have won a cricket tournament and we don’t know where we are. The weather has been unseasonably cool this last week. Even the climate’s confused.
Our viewing of Twenty20 finals day was limited to some of Lancashire’s semi-final, so we asked an entirely impartial and not-at-all fictional friend what went wrong for the Red Rose in the final. They said that Birmingham cheated.
We’re nothing if not conscientious when it comes to establishing facts. We know that one person’s word doesn’t amount to proof, so we asked a second friend whether this was true. They said: “Yes, it’s true, Birmingham cheated. They cheated really badly.”
It’s a sad day for cricket.9 Appeals
All Out Cricket’s Test series fantasy league is over. Our mini league, The Kingdom, was won by… er… did anyone actually check before they deleted the league? We’d guess it was either Balladeer’s Bhangra-Morris Fusion side or Patrick’s p = mv, both of which were almost certainly in the top 11 overall as well.
We think we (The Courtiers) came third or fourth in the mini league, which is respectable enough. We anticipate doing far, far worse in the one-day league.
Here’s what you need if you want to join that:
- All Out Cricket fantasy league sign-up (it’s free)
- League name: The Kingdom
- Password: Rob Key
We managed to get 40-odd teams in our mini league last time around with minimal warning. We’d like to see more in this one. If nothing else, it’s quite a good way of retaining interest in one-day cricket. You could also adopt our selection of strategy of picking players you don’t really like so that when they do well, at least you get something out of it.22 Appeals
It’s the fashion these days to look back on a losing streak and say that you were playing well in patches and that you knew all it would take would be a slight improvement and everything would be hunky-dory again. This always gets on our nerves, because of course you played well in patches. You’d be hard pressed to go through an entire Test match without having any decent patches.
But yet India seemed to just about manage it. In the third Test, they were widely considered to have lost every single session, but still they played well in patches – Ajinkya Rahane got a pair of fifties and they made over 300. Even at Old Trafford, they had one patch – MS Dhoni’s partnership with R Ashwin.
But at the Oval, there was nothing. Dhoni made more runs, but there was no good patch because his biggest partnership was with Ishant Sharma for the tenth wicket. Every run they scored merely enhanced the horror of what had preceded it.
Start by bending your fingers
We’ve thought and thought about India’s performance because we’re still not happy with the easy response that they’d simply given up. Watching their final innings of the series unfold, unravel and spontaneously combust, it seemed to us that it wasn’t so much lack of fight as having no real idea how to form a fist.
Watch the highlights again and they’re not peppering the slips cordon apathetically. They’re just displaying an almost frightening lack of adaptability; playing the same non-shots to swinging balls outside off stump as they had been doing innings after innings. It was as if they simply had no alternative.
Wicket-taking strategies in England are no great mystery and presumably India’s batsmen know what slips fielders are for, but yet most of them seemed to stick with doing exactly the things most likely to result in their dismissal.
What was it like?
It was rather like someone had said to them: “Could you retrieve my hat from this active threshing machine? You’ll just have to reach in with your hand and try and grab it.”
To which they said to themselves: “Oh well. Guess I’ll be losing my hand in the threshing machine,” rather than doing something – anything – different.15 Appeals
Tomorrow, a view on India’s Test series, but today let’s look at England’s – or at least at how it finished. Some of the later events are being ruled ineligible for analyss on the grounds that India were too crap, but we found England’s approach quite interesting.
178 all out, 152 all out, 161 all out, 148 all out, 94 all out
It’s easy to to avoid bowling sides out for less than 200. This much should be obvious. But even when you’re in a position to do so, things often go awry. Bowlers get overconfident, change bowlers spray it around, or everything’s going so gosh darned swimmingly that the whole team suddenly realises it’s eased off a bit and the moment’s passed.
England didn’t make those mistakes. There were times when they could have bowled India out for fewer runs, but in general we’ve been rather impressed with their lack of mercy. It’s not a quality that’s always associated with England sides. Maybe all the months of humiliation have bequeathed them an embittered remorselessness.
Field settings were particularly noticeable. There were attacking oddities like a short slip, but the most impressive thing for us was the sheer number of conventional slips. Yes, it’s easy to attack when you’re miles ahead, but Alastair Cook clearly has no reservations about setting his men out as if the whole side’s queuing to keep wicket. This was impressive for the simple fact that we thought that he was precisely the sort of man who would have reservations about doing that.
How can you bat?
We all knew England could do steadfast batting. Also in their known repertoire were: patient, accumulative and boring. Turns out they can also bat with gay abandon.
Jos Buttler clearly brings gay abandon, but few people thought Gary Ballance would. It takes him a while to get going, but if circumstances call for it, the shirt comes off and the runs flow. Then there was Joe Root and Stuart Broad on the final day of the series. 101 runs in 11.3 overs was a sadistic demonstration of strength of which Kaiser Soze would be proud.
Kicking them when they’re down
Does all of this matter? Will all of this apparent remorselessness really add up to much when things aren’t quite so easy?
We’d say so. After all, capitalising when things are going your way is basically the way in which you turn any match in your favour.9 Appeals
There have been some major revelations about Ravi Shastri this summer. Apparently, he can be interesting and insightful and also possesses a sense of humour. Who knew?
We learned this while watching Sky’s oddly watchable Test discussion programme, The Verdict, on which he has been a regular guest. Before that, all we’d really known of him as a broadcaster was that he was a relentless purveyor of booming cliché. In fact, he is so well-known for it that for a time there was a bot on Twitter which would reply to your cricket-themed tweets with lines of Shastri commentary.
It was painfully accurate, including gems such as: “Just what the doctor ordered”, “He’s given it the full Monty” and of course, “That went like a tracer bullet”.
But having finished on The Verdict, Shastri’s now taken on a new role. He’s been named India’s ‘director of cricket’ – surely a somewhat threatening job title for Duncan Fletcher, who remains as coach.
Fletcher might notice a few more Indians about the place. Trevor Penney, the fielding coach, has been ‘given a break’ according to the BCCI’s press release and R Sridhar will take up that role. Bowling coach, Joe Dawes, is also being given a bit of time off and Sanjay Bangar and B Arun take up positions as assistant coaches.
Will Shastri help India recover? Dunno, but they can’t do much worse and at least the standard of Indian commentary has been improved by this decision.24 Appeals
It seemed logical to assume that India’s batting at The Oval would be the most repulsive and upsetting thing any of us saw this week. Then Ian Botham put everything in perspective.
Sir Beef has a history of advertising meat. This morning he appeared to be promoting pork sword via his Twitter account. He says he was hacked. Not many people believe him.
If you’ve seen the horrifying image, why not answer the question that was posed alongside it: ‘What are you thinking…?’
He didn’t quite average 50
Mahela Jayawardene has bowed out of Test cricket with a win over Pakistan. He made a fifty in his final innings, but his first innings dismissal for four means he finishes with a Test average of 49.84. Still not bad though, is it?
Sri Lanka are fourth in the Test rankings and while they’ve been on an upward curve, we wonder whether they might now plateau. Jayawardene’s runs will be hard enough to replace, but his tactical shenanigans will also be missed. Rangana Herath is up to third in the rankings for bowlers, but Jayawardene has to be credited with at least a few assists.
Engand will announce their one-day squad at some point. Alex Hales will be in it. He will have seven or eight months of 50-over cricket in which to make some sort of case for Test selection.
We’d like to see him manage it because we reckon he’d be a decent foil for Alastair Cook’s nurdletastic relentlessness. Plus it’s been a while since England fielded an attacking opener and such a player can really add something to a side. Look at Marcus Trescothick’s 102-ball 90 on the first day of the 2005 Edgbaston Test – one of the great underrated innings. England have looked a little less passive of late, but we fear it’s still something they might revert to in tougher times.
Hales would certainly address that, but let’s see how he goes in the middle format first.25 Appeals
We think you’ll agree that it’s been very difficult to watch England methodically pan India without concluding that they are vampires. If you see Alastair Cook in your neighbourhood, don’t invite him into your home.
While England have found ever greater vitality, India have been looking more and more tired. It cannot be coincidence that the changes have been proportional. The home team have clearly been exsanguinating the tourists. How else to explain India’s listlessness and painfully slow thinking versus England’s staggering rejuvenation?
Look at Stuart Broad’s innings in the fifth Test. Here was a nervy batsman with a broken nose, sitting on the back foot and awaiting the inevitable. Yet when the short ball came, it was so insipid that he could larrup it for six. Then India batted and eleven pale, ghostly, bloodless men repeated the same mistakes as always, simply because it was all they had the strength to do.
Apparently, a bloodless coup can still involve comprehensive destruction.21 Appeals
Here’s a question: can you lead by example if no-one follows that example? If there’s no-one behind you, you’re not really leading, are you? You’re just ambling around on your own while everyone else sits around having cakes and tea.
In the first innings at Old Trafford, MS Dhoni played with grit and resolve and showed the way for the rest of his team. No-one followed him. In the second innings, they buckled like a belt.
Here at the Oval, he made 82 out of 148. You could call it a captain’s innings, but that perhaps highlights just how meaningless that phrase is.31 Appeals
Or, more accurately, in the eyes of many: who wins cares and who loses doesn’t.
We touched on this a couple of days ago. India’s batting at Old Trafford warrants scrutiny, but we’re still wary of drawing conclusions about the players’ motives and feelings based on what happened. After all, when has a loss ever looked good?
Dileep Premachandran knows the Indian cricketers better than most and he’s written a piece about accusations of indifference for Wisden India which is worth a read.
Mo’ Kemar, mo’ problems
Meanwhile, our latest Cricinfo Twitter round-up takes us a step closer to understanding Kemar Roach’s world view. It seems to revolve around making money, attracting women and moaning about women who he feels are only attracted by money.
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We tend to let you know about articles we write for other people, but in case we ever forget, here are various feeds and things which will help you stay on top of our ‘output’.
- Our stuff at Cricinfo (RSS)
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We’ve also got a thing in this month’s issue of The Cricketer – XI phrases we’d like to see the back of. We can’t link to that. We can point at it, because we can see it on the coffee table, but that’s not really any good to you, is it?51 Appeals
That’s Joe Root’s work above. It’s one of a number of portraits produced by players and commentators which are being auctioned off to raise awareness of Cricket United Day. Cricket United Day is on Saturday and will see funds raised for a handful of cricket-themed charities. You can donate here.
We’re not quite sure why, but it’s interesting to see which England players possess even a slight bit of artistic ability. Here’s the full range. It’s particularly interesting to see Michael Vaughan’s pathetic effort in light of the fact that he is one of the few cricketers to have claimed to be an artist. Joe Root is definitely the best. Here’s his Monty Panesar from last year.
What you really want from fixtures played by England’s second string are clear-cut conclusions. We remember England A playing India A and a few state sides back in 2004. Hardly anyone made a run, but Matt Prior got a few fifties while Kevin Pietersen made three hundreds. It was pretty clear that they were better than the others.
England Lions’ tri-series against Sri Lanka A and New Zealand A has been less conclusive (except insofar as New Zealand A were unbeaten). Several players have performed well, but none has really stood out.
James Taylor has been the Lions king in recent times. He made one hundred in three matches, but so did Alex Hales, Ravi Bopara and Jonny Bairstow. If you had to choose based on this little tournament alone, Bairstow’s 250 runs in three innings puts him a little ahead.
Bowling-wise, Steven Finn took one four-for and generally went for a few. David Willey took a five-for and went for even more.20 Appeals