ICC to highlight Test cricket’s low standing by making near-meaningless change to financial incentives
The Test Championship that never really existed anyway is to be officially given the arse by the end of the month. It’s said that the ICC will instead look to enhance the standing and significance of Test cricket by increasing the financial incentives on offer for topping the rankings.
They did the same thing last year. South Africa got somewhere around £275,000 for topping the rankings in April and will get summat similar for staying there for a year. Maybe they’ll get £300,000 if they’re still top in April 2015.
These are trivial sums in a world in which Glenn Maxwell gets more than that to polish his arse on the Mumbai Indians bench for just over a month. Increasing the incentive is like a company trying to retain a member of staff by offering them free tea and coffee when a rival firm’s already promised to double their salary. All you’re really doing is advertising the vast discrepancy.6 Appeals
Jonny Bairstow got to play a couple of Tests against a dominant team, having not kept wicket for about half a year. Strangely, he didn’t hugely impress. That, combined with Matt Prior having been cut by the thunder, means there is now a significant Jos Buttler subplot to these one-day internationals. How’s it going so far?
Well, he’s batting at eight. ‘Finishing’ is Buttler’s job and he only really needs to be in for about 10 overs in order to impress, but even so, this smacks of giving your most exciting batsman little chance to make a stronger case for himself. Prior will hopefully score some first-class runs early next season, rendering all of this irrelevant, but there needs to be a Plan B and if it’s not Jonny Bairstow and it doesn’t turn out to be Jos Buttler, what is it? It’s probably flailing around, picking whoever happens to have played okay in May before going back to Bairstow for a bit, just cycling through options until one sticks.
These matches will also see bowlers auditioning for the role of third seamer in the Test team. Chris Jordan probably won round one. One for 50 is a win these days.36 Appeals
That’s a quote from Chris Rogers which appeared in this week’s Cricket Badger. We’re hereby forewarning you that this phrase is to become an official part of the King Cricket vernacular.
It comes about from Rogers being deemed surplus to requirements by The Sydney Thunder, a Big Bash team. He was therefore ‘cut’ from the squad. At the time of writing, the Thunder had lost 18 matches on the bounce, so if you’re cut by the Thunder, your performances must have really tailed off.
There’s your meaning. You want an example?
“The England cricket team was really cut by the thunder during the Ashes.”
It’s about time we gave the world an idiom.9 Appeals
Same as 2010. In fact, it’s probably worth reading that article again because much of it still applies. We don’t try and overthink the Lord Megachief of Gold award. We don’t get too fancy with it. It was business as usual for Dale Steyn in 2013 and business brought him 51 Test wickets at 17.66.
Start as you mean to go on
When you’ve racked up 525-8, as South Africa did against New Zealand back in January of last year, you brace yourself for a long, tough stint in the field. Only in your wildest dreams do you imagine that your opening bowler will take 5-17 in that sort of scenario.
For most bowlers, that would be the standout performance of the year – perhaps even in their entire career. However, as we know, Dale Steyn ain’t most bowlers. He’s a vicious threshing machine into which helpless Test batsmen are fed. He spits out husks. Against Pakistan in February, he conceded six runs and spat out six husks.
It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against, or where: 6-8 is just stupid.
Worse figures, better bowling
What really swayed it for us, however, was Steyn’s performance against India towards the end of the year. That highlighted the quality that separates him from those who are merely pretenders. Dale Steyn is simply unremitting. It’s tempting to list synonyms to drive this point home, but you’re smart people – you can read that one word and appreciate how much we mean it.
Even good bowlers can find themselves cowed from time to time. It might not be the opposition that cause this to happen – it might just be conditions – but at some point or other, pretty much every bowler finds themself ever so slightly disheartened. It’s entirely natural. It’s entirely logical. It would be freakish and delusional to feel any different.
In the first Test between South Africa and India, Dale Steyn took 1-61 and 0-104. In the second Test, India reached 198-1 and Steyn had conceded 62 runs without taking a wicket.
Did he relent? Did he bollocks.
His next 10 deliveries saw the departure of Cheteshwar Pujara for 70, Murali Vijay for 97 and Rohit Sharma first ball. Match and series suddenly veered down an unmarked side road. Then, at 316-5, he was at it again, dismissing MS Dhoni, Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma within the space of eight deliveries.
Steyn finished that innings with 6-100 and this is why he’ll finish his career with a better average than Vernon Philander. Even when going for runs and with nothing to show for it, he was still hell-bent on dismissing batsmen. That, after all, is what Test cricket is all about.
Congratulations, Dale Steyn. You are 2013’s Lord Megachief of Gold.29 Appeals
No, not like that. There’s been enough of that. We’re talking about liquidation. The England cricket team isn’t currently making the repayments owed to its supporters, so rather than making the effort to come up with solutions, why don’t we just bin it?
That’s what we do when something proves awkward for us, isn’t it? We just throw it away in the hope that something better will materialise before us.
That’s a synopsis of our latest piece for Cricinfo. Happy Thursday. Cricket Badger will be back tomorrow, by the way – complete with quiz answers, once we’ve found where we put them and then copied and pasted them in.8 Appeals
‘He goes or I go’ – this is supposedly the stance being taken by Andy Flower, according to Mike Selvey in the Guardian. We almost wish there were a sixth Test so that we could continue talking about cricket – but of course that would merely postpone this sort of stuff. It wouldn’t prevent it.
Let’s naively take the story at face value, ignoring the mechanisms and motives of the press. We’re doing this for no reason other than it gives us an excuse to write about our bathroom.
Kevin Pietersen may well be a pain in the arse; he may well disrupt the rest of the squad to some extent; but if a ‘him or me’ ultimatum is the best method you can come up with for resolving such things, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of your strategising.
In our house, the bathroom is downstairs, next to the kitchen. It’s a stupid layout, we don’t want it there and there have been many suggestions as to how to move it upstairs. No plan is perfect, but we’ll eventually go with the one that is most satisfactory. What we won’t do is dynamite the existing bathroom and just leave it at that.
You need a bathroom. If you’re in charge, your job is to find a way of having one in the house.27 Appeals
Did they eventually find themselves wedded to one style of play to the exclusion of all else? You could call it the ‘batting time and bowling dry’ philosophy. It was Plan A and it really did work. But perhaps the more it was successful, the less relevant Plans B, C and D seemed to become. Was flexibility sacrificed one almost-imperceptible step at a time?
Arguably, you could see it in the repeated selection of Tim Bresnan instead of more dynamic alternatives. He’s generally a more consistent bowler than any of his rivals, but as his pace has dropped, accuracy and reliability have increasingly become his only real advantages. Picking him over a taller, quicker, less predictable bowler has basically meant putting more and more eggs into the dry bowling basket, removing them from elsewhere.
Perhaps Bresnan could also be seen as being the personification of the narrowing of England’s perspective. There was a time when he famously bowled a ‘heavy ball’ and also delivered reverse swing (which tends to require a bit more pace). However, over time, those qualities have ebbed, leaving someone who basically just bowls to block up an end. Where once he controlled and then attacked when conditions allowed, now he pretty much just delivers the former at all times.
But it’s not just Bresnan…
It’s the whole approach – and maybe this is where Alastair Cook bears some responsibility. Everyone remembers India’s 2011 tour as being some sort of high water mark for emotionless English efficiency, but was this really the way they won series, even back then?
England’s intended declaration batting in the first Test of that series was so dire that it seemed likely they were going to leave a tempting target. Five wickets down and 250 ahead, Matt Prior arrived and played a skittering innings full of dicey running. He made a hundred off 120 balls and it contained just five fours and a six. The situation was far from grave, but it was still a knock that was all about simply willing something to happen.
We can’t imagine the second Test of that series was meticulously planned to pan out as it did either. England were 124-8 in their first innings, whereupon Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann engaged the long handle. They still conceded a first innings deficit, but a Broad hat-trick got them going and then an Ian Bell hundred in the second innings (batting at three, incidentally) finally allowed Plan A to become relevant.
Up until that point, England were basically winging it and they just don’t seem able to do that any more. Even Kevin Pietersen’s been blunted through a desire to be seen to be playing responsibly and when that happens, you know summat’s up.
At their best, once England got on top of the opposition, they could become machine-like. However, that wasn’t generally how they gained their advantage in the first place. In trying to play controlled cricket even when they’re under the cosh, they now seem constrained where they need to be inspired. The kind of cricket you play when you’re ahead doesn’t always work when you’re behind.38 Appeals
England ended this Ashes series much as they’d begun – bowled out for sod all. There’s been no progress. If anything, they’ve looked worse and worse as time has gone on. It actually feels like they’ve refined bad batting, settling on an approach which guarantees a low score every time.
Why would they do that?
That isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds. It’s not something they’ve done deliberately, but they appear to have settled on a kind of middle ground of steadfast paralysis, occasionally spicing it up with unpredictable strokeplay. The stabs of shotmaking come from nowhere and appear to have little reasoning behind them, beyond a general sense that they need to ‘get on with things’.
Australia’s batting has generally been bad, but their approach has at least been coherent. They attacked Graeme Swann – and whichever spinner happened to be playing in his stead; David Warner continued to play shots; Brad Haddin spread the field; Chris Rogers played watchfully. There’s no guarantee that any of these ploys would work on a given day, but at least different people were trying different things. Generally at least one approach came off.
Contrast that with England
Whatever the plans at the outset, pretty much all the batsmen eventually moved towards doing the same thing, which was a ‘being seen to play responsibly’ brand of impotent watchfulness. Even Kevin Pietersen ended up dead-batting, which is just stupid. The whole point of Kevin Pietersen is high risk, high reward.
Australia’s bowlers were more than fine with this default approach and so every now and again, England’s batsmen were forced to try and take the initiative. Invariably, they lost their wickets. You’ve got to choose your moments and your targets for that kind of thing and we’re not convinced England did. It seemed like a batsman would try and attack a particular bowler and if it didn’t go right the first time, they screwed up that plan and tried something different. They didn’t have faith that what they were doing would work given a chance.
Sometimes the selfish thing to do is to play in a way that doesn’t court criticism from a nation basing its opinions on a one-hour highlights programme where they pretty much just see the dismissals. Batsmen need to attack sometimes, but they need to attack selectively and it won’t always work. If it doesn’t work, they need to retain belief in what they’re doing in order that they can attack again. Because otherwise what are you left with?24 Appeals
There’s a lot of talk of it being the end of an era for England; how many of the familiar faces won’t be around for the next Ashes in 2015. It’s not surprising many of us want to throw all our old toys away and buy new ones, but you only have to look at Australia to see that bad sides show ill-advised haste in changing the guard.
You may not read Australian sports pages…
And if you’re English, we’d advise you don’t start at this exact moment, but before the last Ashes series you would have got the impression that Australia had the greatest attack in the world. That doesn’t seem an entirely ludicrous claim right now with three utterly relentless and complementary quick bowlers supported by a decent spinner and an all-rounder who doesn’t let the run-rate rise one iota.
Thing is, they were talking about an almost entirely different bowling attack earlier in the year. The widespread belief was that Australia had found young quick bowlers who would smoosh the Poms without breaking sweat. James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Jackson Bird were the chosen ones. Many thought that Peter Siddle should make way for one of them and hardly anyone wanted Mitchell Johnson within a thousand miles of the squad.
The future had arrived. Everyone was in a bloody great rush to get on with it.
The future’s still in the future
Pattinson didn’t tend to look too threatening in that series and averaged 43.85. Mitchell Starc’s form oscillated as wildly as his place in the side and he somehow averaged 32.45. Jackson Bird looked nice and steady in the one match he played, but only took two wickets for 125.
And who’s ripped through the England batting line-up in the return series? Knackered-up old Ryan Harris who will apparently remain precisely five minutes away from a career-ending injury for the rest of time; boring old Peter Siddle; and Mitchell Johnson, a man who’d previously spent a large proportion of his Ashes career crying in dressing rooms.
Throw in a desperation stakes recall for Brad Haddin and you’re halfway to an indomitable Test team.
We always talk about who to drop and who to replace them with because that’s the most obvious form of change, but it’s not always the players so much as the way they are prepared and motivated. This stuff’s invisible to us watching from the stands or on TV. However, the most obvious changes aren’t always the best ones.17 Appeals
There is a chance that James Anderson isn’t the nightwatchman, you realise. He might be the new number three.
But while the batting may have changed considerably, life’s the same for England in the field. Today’s backdrop for the Brad Haddin counterattack was 97-5. We all know the drill by now. The old gnarl-dog’s arguably had a greater impact on a single Ashes series than Adam Gilchrist ever did.
The bowlers were the same too. Scott Borthwick all but Kerriganned himself out of the attack, while Boyd Rankin has clearly spent the last few weeks seizing up, rather than warming up. That left us with Anderson, Broad and Stokes. Get used to it. 2014 could see a few players auditioning to be bowlers four and five.
All of this inspires the feeling that despite bowling Australia out inside a day, England aren’t in a great position. It’s the kind of distorted reasoning that probably affects the team as well. The other way of looking at it is that they’ve somehow had a decent day despite the apparent chaos. But does it feel like that?36 Appeals