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Weather to play cricket – talking points from Colin Graves’ recent interviews

Meant to do this the other day. Midway through the first Test, England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Colin Graves smooshed around all of the various media present, saying the same things to different people.

The two main things that he said were that the T20 Blast is “mediocre” and that day-night cricket is coming to England.

We have two very quick points to make and once again, they both hinge on weather. If we sound obsessive, we’re not. It’s just a simple truth that in the absence of giant tarpaulins draped over our grounds, playing cricket in England and Wales demands that we consider atmospheric micturition.

T20 in a block

A lot of people want to see the domestic Twenty20 competition played in a block rather than throughout the season. If we consider only the cricket, this makes an awful lot of sense. You’d probably be able to get more big players involved and the competition would hold people’s interest better. Set against that, what if it pisses it down?

It can rain at any time of year in the UK, but sometimes it rains in a block. Sometimes it rains in a block across most of the country and cricket is barely played for a fortnight. What if that fortnight coincides with a large portion of your ‘flagship’ cricket thing? It also seems highly likely that the tournament will be played in August, during the school holidays, which is very much the rainy season in some parts of the country but not others, which seems a tad unfair.

We’re not entirely against this idea. We’re just pointing out that designing great cricket tournaments in the UK really isn’t as straightforward as it is in other countries.

Day-night Test matches

We also have reservations about the idea of playing day-night Test cricket in England.

In India and Australia, people are quite keen to watch cricket at night because it’s cooler. In England, people generally aren’t – because it’s cooler.

British people want to sit in the sun and get moderately shit-faced, don’t they? Maybe they don’t. Maybe they want to turn up after work and get moderately shit-faced while wearing a parka.

Yeah, okay, give it a try. Might as well see what happens, but again we’d like to emphasise that Britain and the British climate really don’t have all that much in common with the rest of the cricket-playing world and sometimes you have treat different things as if they’re different.

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Hampshire’s innovative approach to losing ground on rivals

Uninformative lead-in paragraph. Brace yourselves. Uninspiring but undeniably informative subheading to come.

Middlesex v Hampshire

This was our favourite match this week, largely because Hampshire scored -1 points. They did actually score a point for taking three wickets in Middlesex’s first innings of 467 but were deducted two for bowling too slowly.

Excellent work, Hampshire.

Somerset v Surrey

Hampshire’s ability to cede ground against the odds was great news for Surrey who arguably put in the performance of the season to engineer a breathtaking defeat to Somerset.

Having taken a 162-run first innings lead after bowling out the home side for 102, Surrey subsequently did everything in their power to lose. Surrey’s match-losing powers are, apparently, phenomenal.

Bowled out for 138 they then permitted Somerset to reach their target of 301 with nine wickets down despite no batsman managing to make more than 56.

Excellent work, Surrey.

Nottinghamshire v Durham

This match was more like the classic 2016 first division fare we’ve come to expect – a big fat draw.

Scott Borthwick took eight wickets bowling leg-spin either side of scoring 188 not out. Scott Borthwick is playing dream cricket.

Excellent work, Scott Borthwick.

Yorkshire v Lancashire

We know as a Lancashire supporter that we’re supposed to get really upset when Lancashire lose to Yorkshire because of that whole bitter rivalry thing, but we can never really muster the emotion. The truth is, we quite like Yorkshire – not as much as Lancashire obviously, but easily enough to subdue tears.

This match pretty much confirmed that Yorkshire are the best team around. That might seem like an odd thing to say when their specialist batsmen mustered just 135 runs across two innings, but it’s striking that they still would have won had each of them made a pair.

Yorkshire have a lot of good cricketers. With a bit of batting and a bit of bowling, Adil Rashid and Tim Bresnan all but won this match on their own. Liam Livingstone couldn’t stop them. He made 60 not out in the first innings and now averages 70 in first-class cricket.

Excellent work, The Great Neil Wagner.

The table

Someone somewhere really needs to provide a way for us to embed this.

Screengrabs it is.

CC div 1, June 1

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James Anderson and the very definition of greatness

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Last week we sort of maybe vaguely agreed to possibly think about putting down a few words about James Anderson and whether or not he was a ‘great’. As with most things we agree to do, we put it to the back of our mind and just sort of hoped it would go away.

Now that Anderson has become the number one Test bowler in the ICC rankings, bringing forth all the comment section scorn such a noble position entails, we figure we may have to tackle this topic after all.

What is greatness?

Any argument about whether or not a player is a great of the game always boils down to this and only this. For some weird reason, people develop very specific ideas about what constitutes a great player and nobody agrees with anyone else as to what that definition is.

Arguments may appear to be about the player being discussed, but in reality they are invariably about the definition of the word. This cannot be resolved and the player’s eligibility for the greatness club can therefore never be established. For all the heat and passion they inspire, such discussions are endlessly pointless and infinitely dull.

As for our own definition of greatness – we don’t have one. To be honest, we don’t really see the point in having a word if no-one agrees on its meaning. Our only definition is the more commonplace secondary one: a throwaway description of something impressive but inconsequential – a great shot, a great catch, a great cup of tea.

So is James Anderson a great?

If it’s not clear by now, we’re not going to answer that question.

What we will say is that while Anderson’s performances are perhaps more dependent on conditions than some others, the skill he shows when the ball does swing and seam is truly extraordinary. In those circumstances, we can’t confidently name a single player who has been his superior.

That has to be worth something. Imagine a hypothetical scenario where a player won half the Tests he ever played for his team but contributed nothing in the other half. A player who single-handedly gave his team victories in 50 per cent of its matches would be a name for the ages. With just two such players, you’d be doing all right.

This hypothetical player isn’t Anderson. It’s an nth degree exaggeration. Our point is that having huge influence in home Tests isn’t negated by less effective performance overseas because half your cricket is still a hell of a lot of cricket.

Conclusion

James Anderson isn’t hopeless overseas. If he isn’t as consistent as he is at home, he’s still put in any number of match-winning performances over the years.

In England, he’s better still. When he’s gone, we will not see the thing he excels at done quite so well for a long, long time. It’s possible we never will.

It strikes us that the only thing that’s really up for debate is the exact worth of the craft that he has undeniably mastered.

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Swing, seam and no place to go – the joys of touring England as a modern overseas batsman

Touring England’s never been easy. The conditions, for most overseas batsmen, are as weird and difficult as one of those early-Nineties computer games made by one slightly unhinged bloke in his bedroom. Nothing works how they expect it to and they search for a solution with no real certainty that such a thing even exists. The challenge is even greater nowadays when few players benefit from long stints in county cricket.

When Kumar Sangakkara first toured in 2002, he played three Tests, didn’t pass 40 and averaged 21. On his second tour, in 2006, he averaged 38.50 with a top score of 66. On his third tour, in 2011, he finally made a hundred, but pretty much no other runs and averaged 30.66. It wasn’t until 2014 that he finally cracked it, making a hundred and three fifties and averaging 85.50.

It takes a while.

Sangakkara was a half-decent batsman and he had it relatively easy as well. He didn’t have to face this current England attack. Snooty comments about the quality of this Sri Lanka team – and there have been many – show a real lack of comprehension of just what the tourists are up against.

Bowling well in England requires two main qualities. You need to find some movement – either swing, seam or both – and you need to bowl with enough control to exploit that. At this point in their careers, James Anderson and Stuart Broad do both of those things just about as well as anyone ever has.

There may have been better England bowlers, but in Tests taking place in England there have rarely been more consistent performers.

Touring England’s never been easy. In 2016, with these two at their peak, it’s rarely ever been much harder.

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Turns out we’re really rather delighted that Moeen Ali made a daddy hundred

Cricket - England v India - Fourth Investec Test - Day Two - Old Trafford, Manchester

A daddy hundred’s anything over 150, right? Sounds about right. Graham Gooch should get in touch to correct us if we’re wrong.

Sometimes it’s not entirely obvious how you feel about a player until you’ve seen what they’ve done without actually watching it happen. We were out all day and when we thought to check the Test score, Moeen Ali had made a hundred. We were somewhat unexpectedly delighted by this.

Checking the score gives you a purer experience. You don’t get chance to come to terms with what’s happened. The facts just hit you and you’re forced to react instantaneously. Turns out we really like Moeen Ali.

We sort of feel pleased for Chris Woakes in a ‘good on him’ kind of way as well. There’s a bit less clarity on that one, we’ll be honest.

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Fringe players and pressure – the Nick Compton story

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

You often get the impression with Nick Compton that if it weren’t for media scrutiny, the doubters and his own desire to succeed, he’d be just fine. That would be some luxury though.

Test cricket doesn’t work that way. You don’t really earn a Test place. You earn the right to justify a Test place. And even then you always have to earn the right to keep it. When you’re on the fringes of the team, a borderline selection, the pressure is all the greater.

That’s the game though. That’s life. Nothing’s ever quite how you want it to be. It’s never a true pitch beneath sunny skies against a mediocre bowling attack with all your DIY jobs at home done and just the right beer in the fridge. More often than not you’re out of form, a bit pressed for time, have everyone on your back and need to find some way to get the job done anyway.

The stars never frigging align, so you just have to make the best of things. The car breaks down, the digibox stops recording properly, work commitments expand (or unexpectedly disappear). It’s always something.

Everyone gets derailed. Those who crowbar themselves back onto the tracks against the odds are the ones who make successful Test cricketers.

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Yet another reason why Test matches should always start on a Thursday

We write Cricket Badger and Cricinfo’s Twitter round-up on a Thursday so we sometimes don’t find time to do a proper match preview if a Test starts on a Friday.

Granted, this is perhaps not one of the greater considerations when the powers that be are scheduling cricket matches, but surely we can add it to the long list of reasons why Tests should always start on Thursdays.

So, England eh? Chris Woakes. Durham. Sri Lanka. [Wanders off to get some chilli and a glass of wine].

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Brummie Kryptonite and unbeaten failures – this week’s County Championship round-up

Let’s write a pointless opening sentence so that the formatting doesn’t look quite so weird when we give the Warwickshire v Durham game its own subheading.

Warwickshire v Durham

Warwickshire were very much on top after two days, but somehow, after making 313 and bowling Durham out for 190, they contrived to lose. How did this happen?

It’s tempting to say that Josh Poysden is some sort of Brummie Kryptonite. He joined the Bears team at that point and you could argue that he dragged them down.

Or maybe it was psychology. Having Chris Woakes, a good batsman, open in the second innings in the knowledge that he was about to be replaced by Poysden, a shit batsman, was taking the piss a bit. We wouldn’t be surprised if that added to Durham resolve. It can also be a challenge for the guilty side to play remorselessly when they’ve doubtless got a nagging sense that they’re in the wrong.

Rather more prosaically, the guy who took 9-36 in the first innings left the match midway through to go and meet up with the England squad. No matter how well they’d bowled ‘as a unit’ Warwickshire’s other bowlers had only actually managed one wicket between them in that first innings and weren’t much more toothy in the second.

For Durham, Keaton Jennings made another handy hundred. Perhaps we’d make him ‘one to watch’ if we did that kind of thing.

Lancashire v Surrey

Warwickshire are third and Durham move to second. Both are behind Lancashire, who are making the most of the North’s dry season this year. Doubtless they’ll fall back come the August rains, but for now they’re ten points clear.

Their latest win was built around a sterling performance by The Great Neil Wagner, who took 3-52 and 2-17. He was ably supported by Kyle Jarvis who took 11 wickets in the match and Alviro Petersen who made a ton.

For their part, Surrey are quite bad at cricket.

Hampshire v Nottinghamshire

Hampshire won despite none of their players doing anything particularly noteworthy. Tino Best got a four-for. That’s something – although Harry Gurney got nine in the match for the losing side.

Somerset v Middlesex

Two of the first division’s unbeaten sides continued their proud tradition of failing to win or lose a match this season. Middlesex are getting close though. They’ve mostly been rained off during their tour of the South-East in recent weeks but this time, at Lord’s, they were merely struck down by bad light.

Sam Robson made 99. Nick Gubbins made 109. We’d include more details but the Cricinfo scorecard we were looking at has gone invisible and won’t rematerialise even with a refresh.

Hereby we declare this week’s County Championship Division One round-up over.

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James Vince: first look in Test cricket

We have a general belief that a player’s first Test appearance is near-worthless in terms of evaluating his quality. It therefore seemed to make perfect sense for us to start documenting players’ debuts. This is the first of those pieces.

We said we had faint misgivings about James Vince ahead of his Test debut. It’s not that we don’t rate him, because we don’t know him. We had however heard that he was stylish and we always think that style is a strong indicator of a poor Test debutant.

Our reasoning is thus: stylish batsmen look good and have to do less to win people over, so all other things being equal they will be worse than shonky-looking batsmen who have to be way more effective to break into the Test team.

Batting-wise, Vince hit two fours and then edged to slip trying to hit a third. It was a shame that he himself wasn’t the fielder, because he also dropped a couple of catches – one of which was pretty straightforward.

So far so rubbish, but Vince’s match was completely salvaged by his magnificent bowling. He didn’t just bowl medium-pace. He bowled an over of medium-pace bouncers, one of which almost took a wicket. Short-pitched medium-pace is such a colossally contrary way of trying to dismiss Test batsmen that we feel sure it will reap great rewards.

On this evidence, James Vince is now our equal-favourite bowler in the world, along with Gary Ballance.

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Why play Test cricket in the North of England in spring? Why play there at all?

Some have questioned why Tests are scheduled for the North of England in May. The weather has been used as one argument against doing so, but attendances have earned a few mentions too. Let’s take a look at where Test cricket is played in England and when, and examine the merits of the Test schedule we have at present.

Jonathan Agnew asked why we play Test cricket in the North of England in spring in a recent BBC column. To be fair to Agnew, he isn’t advocating spurning that half of the country altogether, but shuffling Tests about so that northern Tests take place later in the year.

“I don’t understand why Sri Lanka have been sent to Leeds and Durham for these opening two Tests.

“You could say that the cold, grey conditions quite likely in the north of England at this part of the year give the hosts their best chance of winning – but there’s much more to it than that.”

Agnew goes on to argue that such scheduling is not what’s best for Test cricket because it exaggerates England’s home advantage and the matches can therefore sometimes become less of a spectacle.

To answer Agnew’s implicit question and the title of this article, one reason to play in the North of England in spring is because it’s actually a drier time of year, so spectators are less likely to experience rain interruptions.

According to Met Office figures, the average precipitation in Durham is 44.2mm in May and 60.8mm in August (raining on 9.2 days in May and 9.6 days in August).

Manchester gets 54.8mm in May and 79.4mm in August; Leeds gets 65.2mm in May and 81.1mm in August; while Nottingham (if that’s the North) gets 51.8mm in May and 62mm in August.

But does the weather negatively affect the cricket?

The conventional wisdom that it swings more when it’s cloudy shouldn’t really apply. Going by the figures above, it’s not really greyer in the North in spring. Even allowing for heavier rain in the summer months, it’s probably on balance less grey.

It is colder though – more so in the east – and this matters because it means pitches aren’t as dry and a juicy pitch will tend to seam more. You could argue that seaming conditions are as valid as any other, but this is, perhaps, another argument that could easily run to a full length article in its own right.

What Test when?

A related point, voiced recently by MCC President Roger Knight, is that Test cricket is ‘thriving’ in London in May and not elsewhere.

This is to a great extent true. But why?

An obvious reason is that London has a bigger catchment area (or, more accurately, a larger catchment population). A simplistic conclusion might also be that this area is more interested in seeing live Test cricket than others. We’d temper the latter with another point though.

Appointment to view

If you regularly watch Test cricket at Lord’s, there’s a very simple thought process at the start of each year: who’s touring and do you want to see them? If the answer is yes, you then decide which day of the Test you would like to attend.

Every touring side plays a Test at Lord’s, both Tests start on a Thursday and barring unusual circumstances, one will always be the first Test of summer. Across the city, it isn’t much more complicated. The Oval always hosts a Test, it is usually the last of summer and as often as not, it starts on a Thursday. Test attendances at The Oval aren’t quite as reliable as at Lord’s.

Now let’s take a look elsewhere. The following thought process applies to pretty much any of the nation’s other Test venues. Who’s touring this year? Is either side playing a Test at your local ground? If so, in what month and on what day does the match start?

It’s not fiendishly complicated, but with every question you lose a bunch of people. If you want to sell something, you make the transaction as straightforward as possible.

A final thought

We could also get into the cost of hosting a Test match and what northern grounds can charge for tickets versus what grounds in the south-east can charge.

The ECB’s bidding process is not just about money, so there’s more to it than that. Nevertheless, speaking as someone living in ‘the regions’, Test tickets now cost more than we’re really happy to spend. We would hazard a guess that the proportion of people who feel similarly has been growing at a faster rate in the North than in the South-East.

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