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Joe Root’s losing-the-Ashes face

Now is not the time to analyse. Now is the time to look at Joe Root’s losing-the-Ashes face.

Oh, England have lost the Ashes, by the way. Don’t know if you’ve heard.

Before we look at Joe Root’s losing-the-Ashes face, it’s worth pointing out that you have to be a bloody good cricketer to deploy a true losing-the-Ashes face. Plenty of Britons will be sporting just-watched-my-team-lose-the-Ashes faces today, but it’s not quite the same.

This is the face of a man who is so good at cricket that he plays for and captains the national side. However, the sad fact is that it’s not all linseed oil, glamour and bon bons. Sometimes you lose the Ashes.

Joe Root (BT Sport)

What does this face say?

Does it say: “Usually things go my way. It hadn’t really occurred to me that this might happen. I mean obviously I was aware of the possibility, but now that the moment comes I realise I hadn’t emotionally prepared for it.”

Does it say: “It’s beginning to dawn on me just how many depressing interviews I’m going to have to do. It’s not just this match, the line of questioning probably isn’t going to be too cheery in Melbourne or Sydney either.”

Or does it say: “I can’t remember where I’ve put my sunglasses.”

Being England captain: seems like fulfillment of a childhood dream, but most of the time it’s actually kind of a ball-ache.

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The day James Vince didn’t edge one

It had to happen eventually. Today was the day James Vince finally managed to avoid edging one to slip.

And it was so easy to avoid. All he had to do was persuade an opposition bowler to aim a 90mph delivery about a foot wide of leg stump only for it to hit some sort of chasm which would persuade it to chart a new course for off stump.

He did his best though, did Jimmy the Nick. Presented with this heinous crime against physics, our boy presented the full outside edge of the bat. Alas, for once he couldn’t make contact.

We all have our limits.

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Where is Stuart Broad, the tall, experienced bowler who should, on paper, be getting a wicket or two Down Under?

Stuart Broad (via Channel 5)

The pitch is flat, say tetchy England fans. This is the short version of the recurring Test match question: the pitch is flat, so what are you going to do about it?

England went with a bit of fast-medium. After that, they tried a bit more fast-medium, then a bit more, then a quick burst of Moeen Ali, then back to fast-medium. Maybe once the ball was old and the bowlers fatigued, the God of Pity might bring them some lateral movement.

The God of Pity was unmoved.

As we observed on the first day, wickets are hard to come by on this Waca pitch. England’s attack, which is spectacularly ill-suited to these conditions, was always going to struggle more than Australia’s did. An even bigger crime was arguably that their batsmen could only muster one proper partnership in the whole first innings. The lower order collapse has been given a lot of attention, but the top order nothingness was worse.

But on today’s performance, it’s hard to see what difference it makes anyway. James Anderson has made the most of favourable conditions and Craig Overton has been game, but none of the other bowlers have had any real impact on this series.

If we had to pinpoint the biggest hole in the England team on this tour, it’s been Stuart Broad. England’s tallest bowler and capable of bowling at a fair lick from time to time, he also has experience of bowling well in Australia in the past – 21 wickets at 27.52 in the 2013/14 series when England got hammered.

Broad really should have presented the greatest threat, yet at the time of writing he has five wickets at 50-odd with every sign that the ratio between those two numbers will further deteriorate.

He hasn’t even looked that pissed off. To see Broad accepting his cap at the end of another fruitless over with an utterly blank face is to be momentarily transported to a parallel dimension.

Broad is a man who smiles when he’s winning and grouches about the place like a sleep-deprived man who’s just trodden on an upturned plug when things aren’t going his way. Bad days have historically led to a snowballing fury that has resulted in either a wicket or some kind of warning from the match referee.

Now there is only a kind of medicated mellowness. It’s a mood that’s shaping the series, but not in the way that England would like.

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England end up looking a bit fast-medium

Things getting a bit fast-medium is pretty much our worst nightmare when it comes to watching England. We might start using the phrase in other contexts.

“How was dinner?”

“It was… fine…”

“Fine? What does ‘fine’ mean?”

“Well, you know. It was just…”

“What? It was just what?”

“It was just a bit… fast-medium…”

“Get out.”

You know the sort of day. The pitch is flat. England’s three or four right-arm swing/seam bowlers start the day bowling at about 85mph and by the evening session, having endured an enormous partnership, they’re bowling exactly the same deliveries that didn’t work in the morning only 5-10mph slower.

The spinner is similarly ineffectual, but for some reason the captain doesn’t turn to the variety offered by part-timers until there’s already a 300-run partnership and 500 on the board.

Supporters yearn for a leg-spinner. They yearn for a fast bowler. It’s just not happening. England have ended up looking a bit fast-medium.

This was originally published in 2013, but we’ve rewritten it slightly because of how frequently we find ourself linking back to it.

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The four stages of Steve Smith’s recurring metamorphosis into a batsman

Steve Smith is not a good batsman. Not always. Very rarely, in fact.

As far as we can tell, he’s generally only half-decent at the moment bat strikes ball and only very rarely before or afterwards.

Here are the four stages Smith passes through for every single delivery he faces.

Stage one – obsessive-compulsive who’s never worn cricket gear

Before taking guard, Steve Smith likes to swiftly have a fondle of every single item of protective equipment affixed to his body. It’s clear that he feels very, very uncomfortable in all of this stuff and will have trouble standing still, let alone playing sport.

Stage two – young man who has seen a line drawing in a cricket textbook

Straight legs, bat against foot. This is not so much a batting stance as a child’s parody of a batting stance.

Stage three – the wanderer

As the bowler runs in, Smith sets off towards point, his bat seemingly dragging him along. He has the air of someone who has maybe played cricket at some point, but no-one ever properly showed him how to do it.

Stage four – basically Don Bradman

The final stage sees Smith middling the ball with his big fat bat with all bodily parts correctly aligned. He wasn’t even put off by the fact that Chris Woakes was supposed to be bowling but then James Anderson actually delivered the ball.

We could have added a stage five, but our will to take screengrabs from a tiny app that’s very hard to accurately fast forward and rewind has now entirely departed.

Stage five would have shown him awkwardly flapping about after contact like a flat-footed grandma with a bad hip and oversized pads.

More on Steve Smith’s ‘idiosyncratic’ batting technique here.

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The Waca blunts Australia’s best bowler

Nathan Lyon to Alastair Cook (BT Sport)

The most significant question ahead of the Waca’s final appearance as an Ashes venue was not whether or not it would recover the pace of old – because it clearly wouldn’t – it was whether or not the ball would turn.

The Waca is Australia’s most over-hyped pitch and the pace of the home attack is its most over-hyped quality. Nathan Lyon is the man. Spin is what’s shaping this series.

England have left-handers at one, two, five and seven and Lyon has been hoovering up their wickets with ease. The tourists’ best hope has been that the dust of their demises might eventually clog his filters.

The bad news for England

Lyon might have struggled to make much impact, but so did everyone else. With the old ball, in particular, nothing happened. The Kookaburra’s behaviour became as unremarkable and predictable as the Nullarbor Plain that keeps Perth safely detached from the rest of Australia.

Wickets don’t look easy to come by and there was no obvious theme to the dismissals. Cook was near-yorked, Joe Root suffered legside strangulation (it’s not unlucky – either middle it or leave it) while Mark Stoneman gloved a lifter.

You can guess what happened to James Vince.

Causing dismissal by careless driving

According to Cricinfo, James Vince’s unbreakable addiction to nicking the ball behind has to be weighed against the fact that he scores 37 per cent of his runs through the covers. We disagree. All this statistic says to us is that Vince is a compulsive driver who will keep on lashing out at deliveries outside off stump until he’s invited to leave the field of play by the umpire’s raised finger.

Responsible driving

Dawid Malan is the man no-one particularly wanted to see picked in the first place but he’s also the man no-one has since wanted to drop.

Like Vince, he hit a few nice drives. But then, just as crucially, sometimes he didn’t.

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England are too passionate

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Can we be the first to accuse them of that? People reflexively go the other way, accusing losing teams of lacking commitment, determination or heart, but it’s almost always the exact opposite.

As we’ve written before, passion is not a cure-all. Passion drives you to things like losing all perspective, obsessing, never resting and eventually having a mental breakdown.

According to Alastair Cook this week: “Trevor Bayliss is cancelling practice sessions after three and a half/four hours. He’s saying: ‘You’ve go to stop now; you’re wasting energy; you’ve got to save it for the Test.’”

Trevor Bayliss is probably right, but for a certain sort of person (players, coaches and fans) the answer is always more work.

Part of the problem is that there always has to be an avoidable reason for defeat. To not be as good as the opposition in their home conditions is simply not acceptable. Defeats must be the consequence of some major character flaw, like laziness.

However, players fail for different reasons and at any given time more work is just as likely to compound a problem as resolve it.

Players like Cook and Kevin Pietersen are methodical and like to address specific problems with specific drills. Cook himself describes the secret of his success thus: “I try my bollocks off really; it’s as simple as that.”

In contrast, someone like David Gower took a broader, more rhythmic view of batting. His view was that he should spend more time in the nets when he was already in form as this would help him groove good movements and timing. Conversely, he saw practice when out of form as being counterproductive as it would come to make poor habits second nature.

Jonathan Trott is the classic case against ‘practice makes perfect’. Trott essentially lost the ability to switch off. His response to failure was to work himself harder and harder – even though all he was really succeeding in doing was eroding his capacity to work hard.

Some of this England squad will benefit from doing a little more work. A lot of them won’t, but hopefully none of them are guilty of the biggest crime of all.

There is a temptation, in a losing team, to do not what’s best for you, but what’s perceived to be good by others – essentially a reputational damage limitation exercise having already accepted defeat.

It’s unlikely anyone’s going down that road – not least because one person who’d be decidedly unimpressed with the effort is the coach.

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England v South Africa Lord’s ODI report from 2008

Ged Ladd writes:

A Sunday at Lord’s with Daisy. We sat in the Mound Stand, next to a charming South African gentleman and his Zimbabwean friend. We chatted with them.

In particular, the Zimbabwean gentleman explained the currency chaos prevailing in Zimbabwe at that time; sacks full of bank notes to buy basic items, the authorities producing ever larger, ludicrously large denomination bank notes; worthless before they had even rolled off the printing presses.

I asked the gentleman if I might buy some from him as humorous prizes for our Z/Yen edutainment games. He said he had none with him but sack loads at home. He said his wife would bring some for me when she was next in London, in a few weeks’ time.  We exchanged contact details.

A thunderstorm came; the gentlemen skedaddled, despite Daisy’s and my accurate prediction that the rain would soon pass.

A few weeks’ later, a mysterious woman arrived at Z/Yen’s City office with an enormous envelope stuffed with massive denomination Zimbabwean dollar bank notes.

As we Lord’s folk say; another day, another several hundred billion dollars.

Send your match reports to king@kingcricket.co.uk. If it’s a professional match, on no account mention the cricket itself. If it’s an amateur match, feel free to go into excruciating detail.

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If Ben Duckett tipped a drink over someone’s head, here’s what England should do…

Ben Duckett (ECB)

Say so.

They should say “Ben Duckett tipped a drink over someone’s head.”

This occurred to us while we were watching BBC news this morning and the reporter was listing England’s “alcohol-related incidents.” The terminology conjured a real ‘everything’s totally out of control’ feel, even though at least one of these three events was just a weird greeting.

‘Alcohol-related incident’ covers a lot of different events – everything from not buying your round to killing a family while drink-driving.

What we’d suggest is that if any given alcohol-related incident falls into the more trivial half of that spectrum, it’s probably worth providing details so that no-one gets carried away.

To say that England have suffered three alcohol-related incidents in recent times groups these things together in a way that makes no real sense.

Ben Stokes breaking someone’s eye socket is not the same as Jonny Bairstow nuzzling someone hello and neither incident is the same as tipping a bit of beer over a colleague.

The ‘narrative’ of England’s disorderly booze-fuelled lairiness is that in September one cricketer was involved in an altercation with violent homophobes and then three months later another English cricketer dampened someone.

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Moeen Ali to get into bowling rhythm by not bowling in warm-up match

Moeen Ali (Sarah Ansell)

Moeen Ali is the only member of the second Test team who will play England’s latest warm-up match. He will do so because a side strain at the start of the tour left him short of overs.

He won’t bowl.

England are presumably of the opinion that Moeen will be infused with bowling simply through being near it. One can only hope that the batsmen will find form in similar fashion.

Watch out for which members of England’s Test top five don the High-Visibility Tabard of Squad Membership to carry drinks. These are the ones who are sure to make runs in the third Test.

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