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England’s one-day matches result in runs, apparently

Here’s a freakish stat via Cricinfo’s S Rajesh: Since 2006, matches hosted in England have seen the third-highest run-rates in one-day internationals (ODIs).

It doesn’t seem right, does it? Granted there are only a handful of countries hosting ODIs, so it’s not third out of a big bunch, but England always seems to be the home of low-scoring. To learn that actually teams tend to score quite quickly here is strangely unsettling.

We have two ways of explaining this:

  1. It rains a lot. Shortened matches will tend to see faster scoring.
  2. Someone has to play against England. These teams have scored a lot of runs, even if the home team hasn’t.

Because the fourth one-day international was only the fourth time England have ever chased down a 300-plus total. All this talk of 890 being the new par rather distracts from the fact that England never really got to grips with 300.

They appear quite happy to have bypassed reasonably attacking batting and moved straight to very attacking batting though. You’d think they’d need to progress more gradually, but somehow they seem to be getting away with putting a stationary car into fifth gear and flooring it.

We suppose if you pick 10 batsmen, each of them can be that little bit more irresponsible. One-day cricket remains a strange old game.

Yorkshire take the second of a hat-trick of County Championship titles

It’s oddly reassuring that Yorkshire should win the title again. It provides the kind of clarity that is rarely seen in English domestic cricket. We can state with some conviction that they are the strongest county at the minute – stronger even than Herefordshire.

When a team does well one year before falling flat on its arse the following year, it makes you think the County Championship is more influenced by weather and blind luck than anything else. Back-to-back titles are therefore welcome. Being as no-one’s won three in a row since the Sixties, it probably even counts as an ‘era’.

Yorkshire have won in fine style as well. Unbeaten, they currently have nine wins and four draws to their name, which means they’ve beaten the climate as well as most teams. They’ve also achieved this with roughly half their team having been co-opted by England at any one team – the better half too.

The absentees

Adam Lyth, Gary Ballance, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow constitute the bulk of Yorkshire’s first-choice batting line-up and they’ve also been without their leg-spinner (Adil Rashid) and fast bowler (Liam Plunkett) for quite a lot of the time. That should really be debilitating, but not a bit of it.

Is it admirable that they’ve coped with these losses or does it reflect badly on county cricket in general? If the Yorkshire second XI is the second best county side, who’s providing the competition? Who’s testing the players out?

Jonny Bairstow for one could do with playing some level of cricket better than the County Championship. He’s hit five centuries and averaged a hundred, but England still don’t seem convinced of his worth.

Other statistics also hint at an uncomfortable story. Tim Bresnan’s averaging 50 with the bat this year. James Middlebrook’s averaging less than 20 with the ball. Ryan Sidebottom, five years after he faded from Test cricket, is averaging even less – just 15 rus per wicket.

Sidebottom, Brooks and Patterson

Yorkshire’s pace attack is not just good, it’s almost a template for how to succeed in county cricket – three hard-working, reliable fast-medium bowlers who almost certainly won’t get called up for England. This is the gold standard. This is what teams are striving to put together.

Maybe we’re wrong about Brooks and Patterson. Maybe they will play for the national side, but it’s hard to avoid the feeling that they’re the kinds of players more likely to be on the cusp of doing so than actually taking that final step.

This has all descended into angst

Which wasn’t our intention. We really did intend on lauding Yorkshire. The county that’s given England Joe Root and Adil Rashid deserves its success and no-one can deny they’re the best. Then again, perhaps it’s only fitting that their success should be celebrated with a big old moan.

To Yorkshire! [Grumbles dismissively and wanders off to make a cup of tea.]

Steven Finn leaps like a crested salmon

Many things happened in the third one-dayer between England and Australia. James Taylor made a hundred. Alex Hales put a fake walrus head on. Good shots were hit, good balls were bowled. There may even have been a six at one point. We don’t know. Sixes are passé. We don’t even look up from what we’re reading for them any more.

But all of these things pale into insignificance when compared to one stellar moment. In years to come, this match will be remembered for one thing and one thing alone. That thing was Steven Finn leaping like a crested salmon to catch Steve Smith.

At a conservative estimate, the ball was travelling at one billion miles per hour and was set to pass Finn by upwards of 36 metres. There was only one way in which it could be stopped. Finn closed his eyes, paused the world, summoned the spirit of Dwayne Leverock and then leapt like a crested salmon.

As he soared through the air majestically, it was immediately clear that nothing could go wrong. The timing, power and trajectory of the leap were perfect. Finn’s hand homed in on the ball and Smith was on his way. What a way for a batsman to go. It was like being stabbed in the neck by an angel.

UK considering military action in wake of Stokes dismissal

David Cameron has not ruled out bombing raids against Australia in response to Ben Stokes being given out obstructing the field in the first one-day international. However, the UK Prime Minister says that a large-scale deployment of ground troops is unlikely. “Maybe if it had been a mankad and they hadn’t warned him,” he explained.

Tensions have been rising between the two nations ever since it became apparent that there was a fundamental difference of opinion about whether Stokes was out or not. The issue has now become a major stumbling block in ongoing peace talks.

In response to Cameron’s threat, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is quoted as saying: “Bring it on. I think I speak for all Australians when I say we’d love an opportunity to wage war against the UK.”

Abbott said that one of the great motivations for conflict would be an opportunity to ‘win the Queen’.

“You can keep Sam Robson, but that woman is a hallowed symbol of mateship, the Baggy Green culture, kangaroos and all the other stuff that makes Australia Australian. Just as soon as we’ve all finished sitting around sipping our flat whites and shaving off our body hair, we’re going to hit you. Hard.”

David Cameron has not been available to give a response, because he’s been too busy doing something barbarically posh – suffocating fox cubs with his special tweed smothering rag before throwing their corpses at poor people or summat.

Ben Stokes out obstructing the field

We haven’t seen this incident yet, but it appears to be big news. That happens whenever someone’s dismissed in a weird way and when there’s also a ‘should he have been given out?’ element, you effectively get two stories for the price of one.

As far as we can tell, it was precisely fifty-fifty whether Stokes was given out or not. We know this because reports feature expert opinion from both the Australia captain and the England captain. The former said it was out. The latter said it was not out. Opinion is therefore equally split and there’s simply no way of determining the rightness or wrongness of the decision.

“The umpires are there to do a job, to make a decision,” said Smith, who, to be fair to him, does always back the umpires when they make a decision in his team’s favour – every time; without fail.

If there is a silver lining to this, it’s that someone was given out obstructing the field. These more obscure modes of dismissal rarely get an airing. Hopefully somebody will be timed out in the next match.

Promotion day in the County Championship

There are still two matches to go in the second division of the County Championship, but somehow we already know both the counties who will be promoted. What this basically means is that the other seven teams in that division were sufficiently crap that they failed by a distance.

There will now be eight further pointless matches. If only there were relegation as well – that’d add a bit of jeopardy. Imagine being in the third division of the County Championship. We’d really have to ignore the teams down there, to the extent that we probably wouldn’t even acknowledge when they’d earned promotion.

The two teams promoted from division two are Surrey and Lancashire. Surrey think that they achieved their aim in fine style with Gareth Batty securing an innings victory with a hat-trick. Sadly for them, Lancashire went one better, earning promotion via a drawn match in which Rob Key made a hundred. What could be more magnificent than that? Even Glen Chapple couldn’t get him (or indeed anyone) out.

Six things to watch out for in the first England v Australia one-day international

Let’s do a match preview like proper cricket websites do.

Except for the fact that most of the headings are longer than the sections they relate to, we think we’ve done this right…

1. Jason Roy will ‘show intent’ but won’t get all that many runs

We hope he does though. We like a straight six and Jason Roy hits straight sixes.

2. Nasser Hussain will say “[player name] on the charge”

Not really relevant because most of you won’t be able to hear him on account of Sky TV being really expensive/immoral. Just imagine him saying it as soon as someone hits more than one boundary in an over though and you won’t miss out.

3. Mitchell Starc will york someone

It’s infuriating that Starc’s Australian. We have to confess that we slightly love his bowling.

4. Moeen Ali will unfurl an expansive drive at a wide one and miss

Pretty self explanatory, this one.

5. Moeen Ali will unfurl an expansive drive at a wide one and cream the ball to the boundary

And in so doing look like he could never, ever miss the ball in a million years.

6. Glenn Maxwell will play the ugliest non-shot you have ever seen in your life

And it will go for four.

Cameron Boyce fails to purchase sourdough

Do you know how far it is from Australia to England? Miles. Absolutely bloody miles. Do you know how long it takes to complete the trip? Ages. Absolutely bloody ages.

Cameron Boyce flew from Australia to England for this match. He bowled one over. It went for 19. He didn’t bat. He’s going home now.

We become enraged if we walk down to Tesco Express and they don’t have any sourdough. That’s maybe a half-hour round trip and we only embark on it if we’re also going to a second shop for something else. This is even worse than that because the experience has not merely been unproductive, it’s been counterproductive. It would be like arriving home at the end of your failed sourdough mission only to discover you’d trod in dog shit and also lost a fiver.

England won the match, largely off the batting of Eoin Morgan and Moeen Ali, both of whom made 70-odd. Morgan’s had a month off and reckons it’s been the perfect preparation, leaving him fresh and keen to get stuck in. In contrast, Moeen Ali’s been slaving away, but doesn’t seem to care. Before the match he said: “If there was training every day, it would be the best. If it was games every day, it would be the best. I love it.”

So do cricketers need more rest or regular cricket? Maybe, just maybe, it depends on the individual.

There’s a possibility Moeen might open in the UAE in October. We hope he doesn’t. When Alastair Cook played one-day cricket, he lost the ability to leave the ball with conviction. If Moeen opens in a Test match, he might lose the ability to scythe at wide balls with absolutely no thought for the consequences.

Scything at wide balls with absolutely no thought for the consequences is very much what Moeen’s batting is all about. Commentators always marvel at ‘checked drives’ and ‘little more than a forward defensive but it’s gone for four’. Giving it a right big yahoo with the bat is going out of fashion and Moeen’s willow describes a bigger arc than anyone’s. Long may it continue.

Twenty20 Finals Day doesn’t always scream ‘elite sporting event’

Last year, we took Birmingham’s appearance in place of Warwickshire in the T20 Blast as being a watertight scientific experiment into whether a future of city teams would lead to better cricket. Birmingham won the tournament, seemingly proving that it would, although the findings were somewhat compromised by their sickening cheating in the final against Lancashire. There’s also the fact that their performance could conceivably have been the result of improved alliteration rather than their city name. Bloody variables.

This year, the city v county angle seems even more relevant with discussions ongoing about either supplementing or replacing the current Twenty20 competition with some sort of trendy franchise thing where all the matches would be played in a block with more (literal) fireworks.

Our position on this is at odds with most people who have a history of following county cricket. We’ve always found each of the county competitions and the domestic season as a whole to be as bloated as Mr Creosote. We’d welcome a cull. A city-based franchise league would achieve this, but then so too would splitting the competition into several divisions. Either’s fine with us.

One thing we would miss, however, is the amateurism. There’s something quintessentially English (nod, wink) about slapdash professional sport. A lot of the time, this phenomenon is annoying or embarrassing, but on Twenty20 Finals Day, it is a thing of wonder.

It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what it is, but it’s something about everyone being half-cut on a summer’s day and no-one taking things too seriously. The mascot’s race is symbolic of this. The crowd tend to take it just as – if not more – seriously than the cricket itself. You could take that as a sad indictment of the nation’s premier short format domestic tournament or as a comment on the fundamental pointlessness of all sport. Or you could just laugh.

Twenty20 Finals Day doesn’t always scream ‘elite sporting event’ but then it’s also far more enjoyable than most elite sporting events. There are times when you want grim-faced determination, but there’s also room in this world for getting another pint so that you can be back in your seat in time to see a giraffe deck it while trying to plough through a ball pool.

Ian Bell continues to take his toll

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Turns out Ian Bell’s not retiring. You may have heard that he maybe possibly was. You may not. Either way, he isn’t.

The umming and ahhing does hint that his career is nearly at an end though. Soon enough, the bell will toll and watching Bell will no longer take its toll. We should probably embrace his pure, unadulterated Ian Bell-ness while we still have time.

Even earlier this summer, people were discussing whether a move to three might be the making of Ian Bell. That he is still widely considered unmade after 199 Test innings is quite something. There’s a certain art and majesty in continuing to maintain such a perception.

Always leave people wanting more, they say, and Ian Bell generally delivers in that regard. Quite how a 33-year-old veteran can still be thought of as having promise is one of the mysteries of the age. One day, many years from now, he’ll move his zimmer frame just so and onlookers will see it as an indication that he’s finally cracked this batting lark. At this point, Bell will drop dead. Always one step ahead of us, Bell; constantly finessing what might one day be revealed to be the greatest post-modern joke in the history of sport.

For now, all we can do is look on in wonder. Hopefully there will be at least one more dreamy, effortless innings cut short by an unexpected bout of seppuku. Rather than curse and wail at the moon in frustration like we usually do, maybe next time we can smile and say: “That Ian Bell – his ability to continue playing cricket like Ian Bell really is quite something.”

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