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England revert to talking about the importance of preserving Test cricket as “the pinnacle of the sport”

New Zealand celebrate (via Sky Sports)

In the wake of their defeat in the first one-day international against New Zealand, England have reverted to their traditional position that Tests are the main thing and they don’t really care about anything else.

A 4-1 Ashes defeat followed by a 50-over series win encouraged an unprecedented change in official policy whereby the sport’s middle format was briefly accorded supremacy. However, all talk of a possible World Cup win on home soil in 2019 will be set aside for the New Zealand leg of this winter’s engagements with the national side now adopting its more familiar line that ‘Test is best’.

Trevor Bayliss may or may not have said: “I’m not really that into the one-day game. Personally, I wouldn’t play it all and if it does have to be played, I reckon it should only really be for six months leading up to the World Cup.”

Andrew Strauss may or may not have added: “Everyone in England knows that Test cricket is the real deal. Somehow we have to find a way of convincing all these lesser countries to care more about it – albeit we don’t want them to care so much that they all beat us, because where would be then, eh?”

New Zealand coach Mike Hesson may or may not have responded: “We’d really appreciate it if England would let us know in advance which format matters. We obviously have to rotate our players and that takes a bit of planning. I’m going to have to go back to the spreadsheet now to make sure we get our strongest side out for the five-day games. That’s a pain in the arse – and I say that as someone who loves spreadsheets.”

England are set to announce the important formats for this summer’s tours later in the week.


Are ODIs irrelevant or a unifying force?

All this talk of a possible divorce between Test and T20 cricket greatly underestimates cricket’s ability to plough on with much the same structure even though no-one’s really happy.

Radical change is not really cricket’s thing. The sport is more of a gelatinous goop that gives to accommodate whatever happens to push against it.

Over at Wisden, we’re making the unfashionable case that 50-over cricket has reverted to being what it was originally supposed to be: the showcase for all of cricket’s top players. You can read the full story here.


Eoin Morgan sees first-class cricket as providing important groundwork for short format success

Photo by Sarah Ansell

The rarely-sighted White-Clothed Morgan was thought to have been extinct, but there are now hopes that it could return to its habitat at Lord’s as early as this summer.

In a week in which Adil Rashid and Alex Hales both pressed pause on their first-class careers, Morgan has once again shown himself to be one step ahead of the crowd.

When Rashid announced his decision, we floated the idea that for all the talk of focusing and specialising, first-class cricket might actually provide important base training on which short format cricketers can build.

Morgan agrees. Speaking to Sky Sports, he said he was looking to play in the County Championship this season.

“The reason I’ve always worked trying to play red ball cricket is my technique isn’t very good and I always struggle my first 20 balls and I’m a slow starter.

“Striving to play red ball cricket always made me work on my technique a little bit more. My technique’s normally okay [against the red ball] and I tend to hit it further and play it later.

“That’s why I’ve been hesitant to make a decision [like Rashid’s]. It’s not been having aspiration to play Test cricket – I don’t.”

If others take a similar view, this would be good news for the County Championship and consequently the Test team. However, they should probably still trim the competition by a few matches to persuade the likes of Hales and Rashid that the workload would be productive and not counterproductive.


Alex Hales is not ‘turning his back’ on Test or first-class cricket

Alex Hales (Channel 5)

Not least because he isn’t currently a Test cricketer. But that’s not really our point.

Imagine you have three important things to do today, but you’re kind of pressed for time. If you’re anything like us, you’ll favour the ingenious solution of doing a really half-arsed job on all three. Other people are different. Some might decide to do two things reasonably well and totally sack off the third.

This is Alex Hales’ view. He could spend half the summer driving around the UK to play four-day matches in front of very few people, but it would mean less time to practise one-day batting and also less rest. It is, in short, not his top priority.

Playing in the County Championship might even be a distraction. The more watchful approach and different footwork employed in first-class cricket might actually hamper his short format game.

So why bother playing it? Because he might get another shot at Test cricket? You’re pitting might-play-Test-cricket against almost-certainly-will-play-World-Cup there.

Alex Hales is not turning his back on first-class cricket because it is not about first-class cricket. First-class cricket is collateral damage. Alex Hales is actively focusing on the shorter formats. He is being professional.

More on this topic in our post about Adil Rashid’s identical decision last week.


A report on a 2016 England v Sri Lanka match on which we’ve already reported

Ged writes:

It was the first day of the 2016 Lord’s Test between England and Sri Lanka. I was honoured to have His Majesty, King Cricket, among my guests that day in the Lower Compton – as reported here by His Majesty himself.

As the predictable shower of champagne corks began to rain down from the Upper Compton, King Cricket remarked: “I don’t know about The Home of Cricket, this place is more like The Home of Corks.”

This was far from the best joke King Cricket has ever made, but I laughed politely, in accordance with decades of training for such eventualities. I have reason to believe that my laughter passed muster with His-Maj.

Soon enough the conversation at Lord’s, more or less inevitably, turned to real tennis.

“What are the balls made of?” enquired KC, on learning from me that real tennis balls are quite heavy.

“A solid cork core wrapped in tape and then covered by a hand-stitched wool cloth,” I replied.

“Do they recycle the Test match champagne corks for that purpose?” asked KC. “They’d certainly have a plentiful supply of the material if they do so.”

(KC: As a quick sidebar, we don’t have proof, but we have a certain sense that liberties have been taken with the wording of some of these quotes of ours.)

“Good question, I’d have to ask,” I replied.

Some weeks later, that conversation and KC’s question popped back into my head while I was at the real tennis court. So I did ask one of the professionals who, amongst other things, manufactures the balls.

“Interesting idea,” I was told, “but it is probably a lot easier for us to work with the spherical cork cores we have made for the purpose.”

Intriguingly, though, a little bit of research suggests that, in less salubrious real tennis circles, King Cricket’s cork recycling idea is well underway.

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.


New Zealand beat Australia 18-14 at sixes

A Kiwi slogging (via NZC)

However, Australia won the fours classification by 19 to 14 and they also scored 20 extras to New Zealand’s 12. The upshot was that Australia won the runs classification by 245 to 243.

Wickets also fell – but not enough to be of any real significance.

Speaking after the match, Kane Williamson said of the playing area: “Half hits would go 20 rows back.”

Truly the spectators were treated to an unbelievable display of half-hitting.


Why is Adil Rashid giving up first-class cricket and becoming a white ball specialist?

ICC

Because he’s pressed for time.

Adil Rashid has signed a white-ball only contract with Yorkshire for the 2018 season. Some will say he’s looking to become a short format specialist because it’ll allow him to buy a bigger car or house or whatever, but that’s missing the point.

The point is that Rashid is not going to play Test cricket under England’s current captain. He is however going to play 20- and 50-over cricket under Eoin Morgan and so the 2019 World Cup is his overwhelming focus.

There is only so much time to hone his one-day game before then and adequate rest is likely to prove far more important than fiddling around with a red ball, bowling in a different way to different fields.

The margins are fine in international cricket. A player with 100 per cent focus on a particular goal is likely to do better than one with 90 per cent focus on it.

It’s not greed. It’s professionalism. We spelled it out with Mark Wood as the example last week. The IPL and England one-dayers take precedence over first-class cricket for anyone likely to make England’s 2019 World Cup squad.

Another example

This month’s Wisden Cricket Monthly features an interview with Jason Roy in which he says he’s “ready” to play Test cricket.

He’s wrong, but only in the sense that you can only really perfect something if you actually practise it. Seven first-class innings between September 2016 and July 2018 will not amount to much practice.

Given a bit more experience, a bit more game-time, a few more hours instilling the decision-making that is such a key part of long format batting, Roy would surely make the grade as a Test cricketer.

So would Jos Buttler. So would Alex Hales. All those who dismiss these players as one-day specialists miss what they could become were they playing in a different environment.

The ECB doesn’t care

The ECB doesn’t give a shit. The England and Wales Cricket Board is happy to sacrifice these players’ long format opportunities because it means they’ll be fully-focused on the 2019 World Cup and the 2019 World Cup is The Big Thing right now. Everything else is secondary.

As far as the ECB’s concerned, the players are just ‘human resources’. If you play for England’s 50-over side and you want a more diverse career, you’re going to have to find a way of fighting for that yourself – but don’t come crying to the ECB if someone wholly committed to one-day cricket leapfrogs you.

This is modern cricket

The weighting towards short format cricket is particularly acute in England right now due to the home World Cup looming on the horizon, but this is still the fundamental situation throughout the world at all times. The fixture list is sufficiently congested that tough decisions have to be made and nine times out of ten first-class cricket will come out on the wrong side. A major consequence of that is that Test cricket also loses out.

Many will feel that nations are still putting out their best Test teams, but they are only putting out what’s best when viewed from a single moment in time when many of the country’s most talented players have already been reluctantly siphoned off into mono- or bi-format careers.

The benefit of first-class cricket for short format ‘specialists’

As a slightly less bleak conclusion to this article, we’d like to put forward a notion that could see the odd high profile cricketer actively seek out first-class cricket to improve their game. That notion is base training.

Four-day cricket offers a lot of game time. It offers hours at the crease and overs bowled and surely helps players groove their game in a less pressured environment. In that Wisden Cricket Monthly article, Roy says that his few games for Surrey last year helped him regain rhythm. Perhaps left to lash out in short format purgatory, that rhythm never would have returned.

It’s sometimes said that there are three main variables involved in training. The first two – frequency and intensity – are easy enough to find in short format cricket. Who knows, Adil Rashid may find himself wanting when it comes to the third one – volume.


Which nation is best at cricket? Combined rankings

Mohammad Amir to Virat Kohli (via ICC)

The ICC rankings are a much-maligned attempt to derive some sort of meaning from the international cricket schedule. However, it strikes us that they no longer answer the question for which they were devised.

Who’s the best in the world? We now have three different answers: the best Test side, the best one-day international (ODI) side and the best Twenty20 international (T20I) side.

This is all well and good – cricket is a sport more or less defined by the varied challenges confronted by its players. However, the time pressures resulting from this weighty fixture list has left each of the formats – and therefore each set of rankings – subtly diminished.

Take England for example

In recent years there has been a change of priorities, such that England players with Test potential are now less likely to be groomed for that format if they are already key members of the limited overs squads. Given a choice between gaining first-class experience or playing the IPL or international short format cricket, the former generally loses out.

The upshot has been a stronger 50-over side and a stronger 20-over side, but a Test team shorn of at least a couple of players who could have made the grade given more long format experience.

The Test team was recently defeated by Australia, whose coach subsequently pointed to tiredness as a reason why many of his players underperformed in the one-day series that followed.

Australia prioritised the Tests and won them; England prioritised the one-dayers and won them. Similar stories play out on every single modern tour. Every nation is to some degree compromised by the schedule and results are always to some degree shaped by the participants’ respective priorities.

An overview

To get a clear picture of which nations are good at cricket and which are shit at cricket, it’s necessary to look at the broader picture.

This is how the idea of the format-spanning points system came about. It didn’t catch on, but it was basically an attempt to draw things together and make everyone care about all three formats.

We thought it would be instructive to take a similar approach and combine the ICC rankings.

Same as with the points system, Tests are worth double because it’s a two-innings game.

How did that pan out then?

Well it ended up with everyone in almost exactly the same order as in the Test rankings.

The conclusion we draw from this is that combined rankings actually work quite well.


Test cricket is what Mark Wood wants to play – but even if he’s keen enough and fit enough, modern cricket won’t allow him to do so

Mark Wood (BT Sport)

If you haven’t already seen it, our latest piece for Wisden is about Mark Wood and the weighted, weighty decisions faced by current England cricketers.

The crux of it is this: if Mark Wood doesn’t (a) fluke his way into the Test side for the two Tests against New Zealand and (b) perform well in them, then his long format career is probably over before it’s really begun.

Responses to the piece on Twitter centred on how Wood had struggled to prove his fitness for four- and five-day cricket, so a limited overs career probably makes a lot of sense.

That is absolutely 100 per cent not the point we are making.


A match report from the 2017 Women’s World Cup Final

Lord’s media centre (CC licensed by hobbs_luton via Flickr)

Gareth writes:

The last time I’d been to Lord’s I’d found the place a bit stifling, and an incredibly drunken young man had capped Glamorgan getting spanked by Gloucestershire by “singing” on the bus the whole way back. That had not been a fun day.

This time, I was off to watch a World Cup final. I won’t bore you with the details. It’s not allowed, is it? Plus, you probably all know what happened, what with you being cricket fans and all.

So I was already up in London that Sunday morning, having been to the West Ham stadium (or whatever it’s called) to see the athletics the night before. I met my old friend “Steve” (real name Steff – I’m not very good with pseudonyms) on the westbound platform of the Jubilee line at Canning Town and we were off to Lord’s.

When we got to the ground, we saw police with machine guns. “Oooh” I though. Although this is a more common sight these days, the sight of a machine gun up close still makes me think “Oooh”. We made it through security with the minimum of fuss.

Once inside, first off, we did a lap of Lord’s, which was looking very nice indeed. We took in the museum (I liked Viv Richards’s maroon cap the best) and resisted the temptation to make annoying, Philistine comments about the Ashes urn (“is that it?!”) to the obviously very proud guide person in charge of that section.

Also, Kumar Sangakkara has a very small bat. He saws the bottoms off apparently. Is that a scoop? As in journalistic, not the old Grey Nicholls bat design. Sorry, veering dangerously close to ankylosing spondylitis pun territory here.

We had seats up on the top tier in the Compton stand (I think). Before the match started, a woman in a white leotard floated around underneath a hot air balloon doing gymnastic stuff. It was arty. Then she gave the World Cup trophy to someone else, and some songs played. Then they started playing cricket.

Anyway, the seats were a bit cramped and the guy to my right was, unfortunately, a bit miserable. He did not engage much with my attempts at conversation. In fact, he just got his paper out and pointedly turned away from me. I tried not to take it personally.

The weather was a bit changeable. I decided to keep my raincoat on. This made me warm. Steff and I are both in charge of small children too. The warmish weather/sleep deprivation/excessive excitement combination made us tired. In no time, we found ourselves dozing off intermittently instead of paying attention.

As the crowd filled up, we decided it was high time to get out of our seats and cause disruption to them by squeezing past so we could beat the mid-innings lunch queues.

I had a veggie-burger, Steff had a beef burger. They were nice too. Good use of pickle. You don’t always get pickle in a veggie-burger. I guess that’s the kind of thing that slightly sets Lord’s apart.

We didn’t have champagne though – I ‘ve never seen champagne sold on tap before. I guess that’s the kind of thing that slightly sets Lord’s apart.

We got Pedigree instead.

We did a few more laps of the ground in between sitting down until we got stiff. Nothing like a day in a sports stadium’s seating to remind you of the ever-accelerating onrush of middle/old age. At one point, we found a mobile phone and handed it in to lost property like good boys. We rewarded ourselves with another drink.

Upon returning to our seats for the final time, everyone in the ground got increasingly noisy and excited for about an hour. I got swept up in it, I must admit. I also did a vague wave in the direction of where Ged said he was sitting (I’d kept forgetting up to that point, but I guarantee that it did happen.) Hello Ged, hope you enjoyed the match.

Then the stuff I’m not meant to mention finished happening and it was time to rush off. I got to Victoria, caught the Megabus and ate some McCoy’s crisps as I headed west.

It had been a fun day.

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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