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Steven Finn is setting them up for the full one

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

There’s a trend for talking about Steven Finn like he’s some sort of charity case at the minute; as if he’s only been selected for England as some sort of favour to his mum. All the other boys are being very polite and encouraging and everyone wants something to go right for him so that they can all overcelebrate and pretend that he’s every bit as good as they are.

There was an air of this when he bowled his first ball at Edgbaston today. The crowd, who had just been watching the most successful opening bowlers England have ever had, went up a notch. There was a roar of goodwill. A roar of encouragement flecked with desperation. People want Finn to do well.

That first ball was short. The second one was also short, but a bit wider. The third one was similar to the second one. The crowd’s enthusiasm waned. When it came to building some sort of symbiotic mutually-beneficial relationship with them, Finn appeared to have missed his window.

We’re writing during the lunch break, at which point Finn is still persevering with his plan of pushing the batsmen back, setting them up for the full one.  There have been six overs of setup so far.

You wonder to what extent Finn noticed the timbre of the crowd noise for that first delivery. Maybe if he bowled in a netted laboratory this afternoon, he’d find himself peppering the stumps. Sometimes it feels like he’s only bowling ineffectually because everyone’s so desperately hoping that he won’t.

We’re all rooting for you, Steven. And we apologise for that.

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James Vince caught at slip – but he wasn’t driving

James Vince wasn’t going to be caught in the slips driving today. Oh, no, no. Today he had other ideas.

He announced his intentions early on by edging a sort of half-defensive shot, half-leave. Vince was going to make damn certain that when he was caught in the slips, it was while playing with a complete lack of intent.

The only question was how many runs he would make before that happened. Would it be 37? Would it be 39?

It was 39.

The shot, when it came, was the indeterminate prod. Younus Khan took the catch and gave everyone a few more opportunities to assess Vince’s interminate prod techique when he floated the possibility that the ball maybe didn’t carry. It did carry though. Of course it carried. It was an edge off Vince’s bat while he was in the thirties. If it hadn’t carried he’d have had to have repeated the shot before he reached 40.

The ‘James Vince edging to slip’ montage extends still further. How many more chances will he get? We’d give him at least another innings what with his already having been selected for this Test and all.

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Steven Finn’s ‘knack’ for taking wickets

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

We’re going to repeat ourself a bit, but it’s okay because we’re repeating things we wrote ten years ago so nobody’ll remember.

Actually, let’s go the whole hog and stick in a block quote.

“It is often said that he has the ‘knack’ of taking wickets; that he can get people out with bad balls. This is only a whisker away from saying that he’s blessed with outrageous good luck, which is, if you consider it rationally, complete testicles. If a bowler consistently takes wickets, it’s with good reason – it’s because they’re talented.”

A decade ago, we were writing about James Anderson, who we’re sure you’ll agree has since made a compelling case to be considered an extremely good bowler rather than an unusually lucky one. We now feel the urge to say much the same thing about Steven Finn who has just returned to the England team for the umpteenth time.

Finn does not have a knack for taking wickets. He is simply a bowler who has it in him to be extremely good. He also has it in him to be pretty ordinary of course and while he might be one or the other for a whole match, a particular spell, or for just one delivery, the one thing you’ve been able to count on of late is that he’ll veer to the opposite extreme before too long.

Writing on Cricinfo, George Dobell suggests that a blessed state of thoughtlessness may go hand in hand with Finn’s best form. We wouldn’t argue with the assertion that a relaxed body is likely to result in a few extra miles per hour, but only Finn can know his mental and physical state and how they might be linked at any given moment.

You wonder whether given a position of more permanence in the England team, Finn might find himself more prone to a zen-like state of awkward 90mph lifters, but it’s impossible to offer him such a thing without seeing more signs that it would happen.

What selectors, commentators and the public shouldn’t do is diminish Finn’s case by ascribing his wicket-taking to some vague unelaborated ‘knack’ which makes it sound like it’s in some way out of his hands. Finn has specific qualities that earn him wickets and it is important to keep these in mind.

The odd wicket might be lucky, but luck cannot carry you any great distance. Finn’s overall record says more about his ability than his fortune.

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James Anderson expresses a sentiment we can surely all get behind

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

“My practice over the years has gone from searching for perfection to just doing as little as possible. The bare minimum.” – James Anderson

Speaking as someone who once earned the nickname ‘Bare Minimum,’ we are delighted with this revelation of the secret behind James Anderson’s success.

Perhaps if you were to read the quote in context, you might detect some sort of underlying ‘quality over quantity’ philosophy, but that is surely a red herring. The truth is that when James Anderson practised a lot, he got dropped, and now that he does the bare minimum, he is among the top Test bowlers in the world.

Join us tomorrow when we’ll try and make a case for Joe Root’s good form across all formats being down to his steadfast commitment to only ever doing half a job with his match preparation.

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The Periodic Table of Cricket by John Stern – book review

We own a periodic table. Mostly it’s a footrest, but periodically – typically when we have visitors – it reverts to being a table. Apparently there’s another kind of periodic table too which lays out all the chemical elements according to atomic number and whatnot.

The Periodic Table of Cricket attempts to do something similar with cricketers. John Stern, the former editor of The Wisden Cricketer and current editor-at-large at All Out Cricket, has tried to put all of the most significant cricketers into groups and then slotted it all together to create a rather nice pull-out poster thing on the inside cover.

The main categories are:

  • Defenders and pragmatists
  • Stylists and entertainers
  • Mavericks and rebels
  • Innovators and pioneers

Needless to say, not everyone easily fits into one category and some players might have suited different parts of the table at different stages of their career, but Stern cheerfully admits that there’s occasionally a touch of forceful shoving into a given pigeonhole. That’s half the point. The table is a great place to start if you fancy a pointless cricket argument with someone – and who doesn’t enjoy a pointless cricket argument?

The meat of the book comprises profiles of each of the players. In length and tone, they’re not unlike the ones you see on Cricinfo player pages. You probably wouldn’t sit and read a whole series of such things ordinarily, but we found the fact that they’re organised according to style of play rather helpful in this regard. It can be hard to get a feel for players from the distant past, but seeing someone as part of a lineage of obdurate openers or Fancy Dan middle-order stylists helps commit them to memory.

You could probably predict most of the players who have been included, but the innovators and pioneers section in particular allows for the inclusion of more leftfield names such as Mohammad Nabi and Bernard Bosanquet.

The Periodic Table of Cricket isn’t really a book you’d sit down and read cover to cover, but we rather suspect it is one with a long lifespan. At any mention of a largely unfamiliar great player from yesteryear, you can have a quick check and get a feel for who they were. The profiles tend to tick off all the major aspects of a player’s career but the text isn’t dry. The Ricky Ponting pull shot is described with reference to his “thick, hairy forearms” for example.

Think of it as a kind of great player reference guide with the periodic table thing an oddly helpful way of slotting cricketers into your memory. You can buy The Periodic Table of Cricket from Amazon.

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Kusal Mendis doesn’t think they’re gonna need a bigger boat

Once upon a time, a colleague of ours, who we’ll call Gill (because that’s her name), asked another colleague, who we’ll call Stefan (because that’s his name), for help with her computer.

We can’t remember the specific issue. It was just one of those generic computer problems that crops up from time to time in offices throughout the world. Stefan was best-qualified to offer some sort of solution and he was basically sitting next to her.

“Stefan, I can’t…” began Gill – finishing that sentence with a few pertinent details.

Stefan ignored her.

After a few seconds of persevering alone, Gill tried again. “Stefan, how do I…?”

Again, Stefan ignored her.

There were maybe ten people in the room and we all watched in silence as Gill repeatedly pleaded with Stefan for help. Every single time, he blanked her. Gill’s frustration built, as did the tension in the room.

Gill was somewhat combustible anyway, but this was especially annoying. After a few minutes of being blatantly ignored, she exploded. She stood and shrieked at him about what an arsehole he was and then fled from the room.

After a moment, another girl followed her. When she returned, she revealed that Gill was in the toilets crying.

We all sat in silence, stony-faced.

After a few minutes of this, Stefan looked up from his computer, glanced to his right, and then asked: “Where’s Gill?”

It is quite extraordinary to maintain that level of obliviousness to what is going on around you, but Sri Lanka’s Kusal Mendis would appear to be a man cut from similar cloth.

The first Test between Sri Lanka and Australia saw 44 individual innings and of those, just two exceeded 50. This was not an easy pitch to bat on. This was a hard pitch to bat on; a treacherous pitch even. If a batsman had any regard whatsoever for what was happening around him, he would have been spooked. He would have been justifiably spooked.

In that context, Steven Smith’s 55 was a tour de force.

Kusal Mendis made 176.

One can only conclude that Kusal Mendis simply didn’t notice the danger.

All in all, it wasn’t a great match for Australia, but they did at least set a world record: 25.4 overs without a single run scored.

Well batted, chaps.

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Mop-up of the day – syllables, spin, short-pitched bowling and size

First to Kandy, where the five minutes when it was both dry and bright enough to play cricket saw Sri Lanka set Australia 268 to win.

David Warner’s recently-discovered inability to make runs outside Australia persisted as he was bowled for one, and the tourists also lost Joe Burns and Usman Khawaja before Steve Smith whinged about how dark it was and they went off.

Burns was dismissed by what must surely qualify as ‘a ripper‘ from Lakshan Sandakan whose debut brings not just smashing wrist spin but also a great many initials. Paththamperuma Arachchige Don Lakshan Rangika Sandakan matches even Chaminda Vaas for number of names, but alas he must bow to the eternal master when it comes to syllables. Don’t mess with the big boys.

Speaking of which…

Marlon Samuels has been saying things. It’s always worth listening to Marlon, because he’s hilarious.

The West Indies lost the first Test against India by an innings and Marlon refuses to say that it’s because they have a young team.

“For me to say that is like finding excuses for the team. It’s a Test team, and Test cricket is big-man cricket, and the players should know that by now.”

Big-man cricket.

Neil Wagner took six wickets

New Zealand are currently 235-2 against Zimbabwe which we take as proof that it is not just difficult to take wickets on this pitch, but near-enough impossible.

Laughing uproariously in the face of near-enough impossibility, The Great Neil Wagner took 6-41.  Four of his wickets came off moderate-paced short balls.

Neil Wagner is the most effective moderate-paced short-pitched bowler in the world. This also makes him the most miraculous bowler in the world.

You need a miracle – you call for Neil Wagner.

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Kusal Mendis has played an innings

We haven’t seen any of this Sri Lanka v Australia Test. It’s on Eurosport 2 which stopped working a couple of months ago. The prospect of speaking to BT to try and get the channel working again led us to conclude that it is best left unfixed.

We have apparently missed a remarkable innings from Kusal Mendis.

In 1877, Charles Bannerman made 165 out of 245 for Australia against England in Test match number one. At 67.3 per cent, that remains the highest proportion of runs made by one player in a completed innings. Bannerman did however have the advantage of being an opening batsman.

At the age of 21, with just one Test fifty to his name before this match, Kusal Mendis swanned in at number four and made a hundred. When he reached three figures (with a six) his team’s score was just 134. Being as Sri Lanka were bowled out for 117 in their first innings, he had therefore made not just a ridiculous proportion of the runs in their second innings, but getting on for half of their runs across both innings.

Australia made 203 in their first innings. Batting has not been easy. Mendis was in fact the first to reach 50 in the match. At the time of writing, they’ve gone off for bad light but when they return he’ll resume on 169 out of a total of 282-6.

Kusal Mendis has played an innings.

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England v Australia at Old Trafford match report

We went to the fifth one-day international between England and Australia. Cricket-wise, it was your quintessential damp squib, even if the weather was a beautifully sunny, warm, dry squib.

The paper wallet in which the tickets arrived promised music, action and cricket, in that order.

live-music

We assumed this was a reference to Old Trafford also hosting live music events, but as it turned out it was a fairly accurate description of the entertainment on offer on the day.

We saw David Gower striding across the outfield before the match. He’s been looking older on TV, but we were struck by how lithe and spry he remains. Nasser Hussain’s hurried gait was also on display but we didn’t have any strong feelings about this. Tom Moody was there too. We didn’t see him walk much, but we can confirm that he is massive.

tom-moody

Fortunately for the purposes of this match report, we didn’t really see much cricket because for about half the match, Mitch Marsh was standing in the way. Here’s one moment when he was slightly less of a visual impediment.

mitch-marsh

We passed the day having a ‘pie-off’. Various offerings from Stockport’s Lord of the Pies were pitted against the classic meat and potato from Treacle Town Pie Company in Macclesfield.

This competition was not without controversy. It transpired that the pies from Lord of the Pies had been warmed, whereas the Treacle Town pies were cold. Allegations of ‘pie doping’ were bandied about but eventually we decided to just eat the pies and try and factor the relative warmths into our ratings.

The general consensus was that Lord of the Pies offered greater pie diversity, but the standard Treacle Town meat and potato would have been the finest pie, had it been warm.

We wish we had photos of some or all of the pies to share with you, but we didn’t want to encourage the people we were with. At one point two of them – let’s call them Dave and Alex (because those are their names) – were looking at photographs of pies from a previous pie-off, discussing which pie they had eaten at what time of day and which had been the finest. As they were doing this, they were eating pies.

Between innings, there was a competition where six people got to bowl at a washing machine. If they landed the ball inside the drum, they won a washing machine. No-one managed it. While this was going on, one of the Kwik Cricketers took a blinding catch, palming a full-blooded pull shot straight up into the air before pouching the ball as it came back down.

The match finished early and we went and got the tram. At the end of our journey, we discovered that we were due to have pie for tea. After lodging a formal complaint about this, we drank some wine and fell asleep.

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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Should England persist with Moeen Ali?

Cricket - Investec Test series - England v India - Ageas Bowl Cricket Ground, Southampton, England

Photo by Sarah Ansell

It’s not how, it’s how many. That’s what they say of run-scoring. Does the same apply to wicket-taking?

Moeen Ali is actually England’s second-highest wicket-taker in this Pakistan series. He has taken seven wickets at 32.28, which is eminently respectable. He has also conceded near enough five runs an over, which is not.

But does it matter? To succeed in Test cricket, you must find a way of conquering whatever is thrown at you. At the moment, Pakistan’s batsmen are choosing to throw the kitchen sink at Moeen and thus far he has found a way to deflect it. No mean feat. Kitchen sinks are heavy.

If a certain proportion of Moeen’s wickets are essentially ‘caught slogging’ then that is simply a reflection of how Pakistan are approaching their batting. If the tourists refuse to milk him and are instead hell-bent on exsanguinating him, all he can really do is operate within that scenario – something he seems to be doing effectively.

Thus far, Moeen has been able to afford conceding a few sixes for each wicket. The percentages would therefore appear to be in his favour.

So are Moeen’s returns acceptable, or do England fans believe that he’s soon going to experience something akin to a Bryce McGain debut?

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