Two of those England Test selections are just about weird and surprising enough to talk about

Olly Stone bounces Luke Wright (via ECB)

England have named their Test squad for the tour of Sri Lanka. Rory Burns is in, Olly Stone is in, and – a mere 10 years after we tipped him – so too is Joe “No Pants” Denly.

The Burns selection isn’t really worth commenting on, so let’s concentrate on the other two.

Olly Stone

Ashley Giles went full Partridge when talking up Olly Stone this week. He said the fast bowler was injury-prone in much the same way that a Ferrari apparently is.

“With many bowlers – your BMWs or your Audis – you just get in and go but if you have someone who bowls at pace and has had his history of injury you have to treat them very carefully.”

The fragile fast bowler is an important role to fill in any team. Ideally, his fragility is such that he misses more games than he plays, so that when you’re losing you can say: “If only our 488 GTB hadn’t done his knee/fractured his scapula/ruptured his pancreas/lost both of his pelvises – we’d have won this by tea on the second day.”

Olly Stone appears to be very effective, so there are two ways England are likely to use him.

(1) They will use him as a drinks waiter while picking both James Anderson and Stuart Broad in the first XI on the grounds that if one of the two senior bowlers proves ineffective in Sri Lankan conditions, the other one will almost certainly be useless too.

(2) They will only ever pick him on the least helpful pitches and reward him for this by eventually forgetting all about him because he has a high bowling average. England’s attitude to fast bowlers and leg-spinners is that you only resort to them when absolutely necessary and at all other times it’s best to keep things 100% fast-medium.

Joe Denly

We’ve no real idea what this is all about. Denly’s batted in the top order in 2018 and not been completely humiliated. We suppose that’s enough at the minute.


A review of Afghanistan career mode in Cricket Captain 2018

Back when we reviewed Cricket Captain 2018’s ‘All-Time Greats’ mode, we said we’d also do a thing on playing a career as Afghanistan. This is that thing.

For a more comprehensive look at the mechanics of Cricket Captain 2018, see our review of the 2017 game (it’s fundamentally the same).

So you can play a career as Afghanistan then?

You absolutely can. You can play as Ireland too – but honestly, who doesn’t want to play as Afghanistan?

The first time we tried this, we played all formats – Tests, one-day internationals and T20 internationals. Then we realised that Afghanistan mostly only got to play one-off Tests and we were spending a hell of a lot of time playing limited overs stuff that we didn’t really give a flying full toss about. At this point we started a new Test-only career and played it through until 2029, which seemed like plenty long enough to work out what was what.

One-off Tests sound annoying

Not really. It’s a game, so you don’t have to wait six months before your next fixture – you just roll straight into it. One-off Tests are actually pretty interesting because you tend to really concentrate on that one match and there’s also the chance of executing a mugging on a higher-ranked team.

After a couple of years, Afghanistan start playing two-Test series and this is probably a better number. You can’t really fluke a two-Test series, but you also don’t get bored and fed up in the way you absolutely would if you were getting hammered match after match by the same opposition. A Cricket Captain Test match doesn’t take five actual days, but it still takes a fair while.

So Afghanistan mostly just get hammered then?

Actually no. For one thing, they seem to end up playing Ireland or Zimbabwe (or both) most years and there’s a good chance you’ll win those matches. We also beat England 2-0 (in England) and South Africa 1-0; and drew 1-1 with New Zealand and Sri Lanka.

So it’s not like it’s impossible to experience success (unless you’re playing pissing Bangladesh – for some reason those guys hammered us every single time).

The downside of the scheduling is that even by 2029, we still hadn’t played South Africa, Sri Lanka or the West Indies away or India or New Zealand at home. This is a level of realism that could perhaps be tweaked for the better.

Tell us about your team

Afghanistan being Afghanistan, five of our top six in every match we played were rated as ‘very aggressive’ batsmen (that’s a step up from merely ‘aggressive’). Darwish Rasooli was our most successful, averaging 54.35 after 44 Tests.

If you’re questioning the realism, you have to remember that average has been (only slightly) bolstered by the volume of matches against Zimbabwe and the likes. (Although it’s worth noting that the real life Darwish Rasooli currently averages 82.53 in first-class cricket. He’s only 18. Maybe he’s one to watch?)

Quite a few of our other batsmen averaged over 40. (Specific shout out to Imran Imran for having the best name and also for hitting an unbeaten 271 against Australia in Brisbane.)

The bowling was obviously built around Rashid Khan, but there’s plenty of strategic fun to be had trying to muster a varied attack around him. One way or another, we fielded six bowling options. Decent Afghanistan quick bowlers are few and far between, so it was usually best to get a left-arm medium-pacer in there while lengthening the batting order with a good spinner who could bat rather than a fractionally better spinner who aspired to be Chris Martin.

Despite the image below, we never once picked this guy Najeeb Tarakai. (All the pics on this page were taken from the Cricket Captain 2018 site.)

Anything else to report?

In his final match before retirement, Cricketer of the Realm Mohammad Nabi made an unbeaten hundred in a successful nine-wickets-down fourth innings run-chase against Australia.

This is probably the best thing that has ever happened in any computer game. Love Nabi.


Kedar Jadhav dobs three wickets against Pakistan

Kedar Jadhav’s round-arm shod (via ICC)

One of the great things about cricket is that a match can be unimaginably massive and yet one of the key contributions will come from someone who doesn’t even practise.

Kedar Jadhav doesn’t really bowl in the nets. He’s probably worried that any attempt to hone his craft will wash off the thick crust of filth that is his greatest weapon.

If you haven’t seen Jadhav bowl, try and imagine that your dad’s been drinking heavily and now he’s trying to do a Lasith Malinga impression for the very first time.

He pretty much just dobs it in. We believe it’s supposed to be spin.

According to Hassan Cheema, the last time a spinner took three or more wickets for fewer than 30 runs against Pakistan was in 2013.


Why is cricket so infatuated with the Powerplay?

T20 Blast Final (via Sky Sports)

One of the more mundane revelations from the recently undertaken trials of The Hundred is that they’re going to have a Powerplay.

‘So what?’ you might think. But when all innovations seem to be on the table and the aim is to make the game as simple and straightforward as possible, this strikes us as odd. Is this how much Powerplays have come to be accepted as a fundamental part of limited overs cricket?

What’s a Powerplay?

‘Powerplay’ is an unjustifiably excitable way of saying ‘temporary change in the rules governing field settings’.

In the first 10 overs of a 50-over one-day international, you’re allowed a maximum of two fielders out on the boundary (technically ‘outside the circle’ but let’s not get into that); from overs 11-40 you’re allowed four; and in the last 10 overs you’re allowed five. At least two of these periods are Powerplays and probably all three. (We cannot be bothered looking this up).

In a T20 match, two fielders are allowed on the boundary for the first six overs and five after that. Maybe just the first one’s a Powerplay; maybe they both are – who honestly cares?

What’s the point of a Powerplay?

Fielding restrictions are tweaked in a bid to manipulate the behaviour of the players.

By moving most fielders closer, the idea is that the batsmen will seek boundaries rather than singles at a time when they’d otherwise be more likely to play conservatively. The general feeling is that runs are boring when they involve running, so the rule-makers engineer gaps to tempt batsmen into playing big shots.

It is also hoped that the bowling side will seek wickets rather than looking to ‘keep things tight’.

Do you really need to do this in a 100-ball game?

We honestly don’t know. There is a reason why cricket has Powerplays in all its shorter forms and that’s because when they didn’t exist batsmen played more cautiously.

But attitudes change. Players approach T20 batting with a certain abandon these days and with an innings in The Hundred being 17 per cent shorter, surely they’d approach that with even more of a gung-ho attitude.

Why not just have the same fielding rules throughout the innings so that no-one has to explain Powerplays to anyone? You wouldn’t have to have five fielders out at all times. You could have three or four.

Maybe it wouldn’t work, but if you’re trialling a whole bunch of rule changes for your funky new easy-to-understand competition, why wouldn’t you trial this?


Morkel Burns Pope (and now for some commas)

Morne Morkel unleashing his famed ‘out of the pants’ delivery against Lancashire (via YouTube)

Surrey have won the County Championship. You win 10 of 12 matches and draw the other two and these things happen.

We were checking the averages in the first division of the County Championship earlier today and two things struck us. Firstly, very few people have averaged over 40 and secondly, Surrey have had the three stand-out cricketers this season.

The three are:

  1. Morne Morkel
  2. Rory Burns
  3. Ollie Pope

While the wicket table is somewhat unexpectedly topped by two Lancashire players (Graham Onions and Tom Bailey), Morkel isn’t far behind despite only playing two-thirds as many games. He has so far taken 50 wickets at 13.96 and should quite honestly be playing a different standard of cricket or attempting some other similarly challenging activity, like limbo.

Burns is way off on his own as top run-scorer with 1,241 at an average of 68.94. This is a weight of runs to defy Ed Smith’s funkiest selectorial urges, so you can’t imagine he’ll be playing quite so many matches for Surrey next year.

Ollie Pope is the only batsman who has made a significant number of runs at a higher average. He has made 802 runs at 72.90.

There are currently 16 players averaging more than 40 with the bat in the first division. Only seven of them have played more than eight games. Batting in England is really hard.

 


You can probably gauge the worth of Paul Collingwood from that time he was an umpire

Paul Collingwood excelled at all those aspects of cricket which are undervalued; all the ones that are hard to measure; stuff like fielding and unearthing singles that have no right to be taken.

Because of this, he was one of our heroes when he retired from international cricket and he’s not exactly dropped in our estimation since then, playing on for Durham through thick and thin and thinner and thinner still. Now he’s retiring completely.

We’ve nothing left to say about Colly’s cricket. We instead want to quickly talk about a photo that has gnawed away at us ever since it was taken back in 2016. There is something about the scene that is so perfect it almost brings us to tears.

After playing a game against Lancashire at Southport and Birkdale CC,  Collingwood’s Durham stayed behind for a bit and played a knockabout game with a tennis ball with a few kids on the outfield. Colly was umpire.

The players had a few beers, the wicket was a chair, the kids got Ben Stokes out and the whole thing took place on the kind of long summer evening you can only ever really get in the UK.

It is, to our eyes, idyllic, and it will have meant THE WORLD to the kids involved. “It was quite difficult to get them to sleep that night,” one of the boys’ dads told the Southport Visiter at the time.

We don’t think it’s a coincidence that Paul Collingwood was involved in this and while we can’t really put what that means into words, in many ways it seems to sum up the man so we’re just going to leave it at that.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Paul Collingwood (@paulcollingwood5) on


It might not be entirely fair to judge Adil Rashid on his ability to unfailingly produce magic on demand

KL Rahul loses a bail (via BBC)

England got to have a go at partnership-breaking when the ball wasn’t doing a right lot today. Everyone had a go and everyone failed and then Joe Root finally gave Adil Rashid a bowl and he got both lads out.

That’s a very simplistic way to describe how things went, but it’s also good to keep in mind. Partnership-breaking when the ball isn’t doing a right lot is a very important aspect of cricket outside England. From time to time it’s actually more important than the ability to concede only 2.1 runs an over.

It’s also worth bearing in mind when you look at Adil Rashid’s Test record. For most of this series, he’s been given just five, six or seven overs an innings. Today he didn’t really get a proper spell until KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant had put on 200. Imagine being a seam bowler treated like that. Imagine what you’d average. The answer is ‘even more than Adil Rashid’.

Rashid generally gets to bowl when things are going badly for England; on flat pitches when batsmen are scoring fairly easily.

There are two ways this can pan out.

  1. He has zero impact and the two set batsmen continue to score runs
  2. He takes a magical wicket and totally reverses the momentum of the game

Even if Rashid were the best bowler in history, the first of those would be way more likely – yet when it understandably happens he is regarded as a failure because there are almost no other circumstances on which to judge him. Perceptions of his bowling seem… unfairly weighted.

Today, KL Rahul batted brilliantly, but he fell to a delivery that appeared to bounce off an invisible side wall. Rishabh Pant batted brilliantly, but he didn’t seem to pick the wrong ‘un and played the ball more up than along.

Adil Rashid turned his arm over and dismissed two centurions. A few overs later England took the new ball and he drifted off back into the outfield.


Let’s strap on Alastair Cook’s pads for a minute so that we can appreciate his streamlined thinking

Via ECB.co.uk

After precisely one Test match, we’d seen all the shots (and non-shots) we were ever going to see from Alastair Cook.

You know them all, but let’s list them anyway. Maybe in 20 years time you’ll revisit this article having forgotten one of them.

  1. The leave
  2. The forward defensive
  3. The back foot defensive
  4. The clip off the legs
  5. The cut
  6. The pull/hook
  7. The drive (but only under very special circumstances)

This list goes some way towards explaining the relentless brilliance of Cook at his best. His was a brain uncluttered by options. Whereas an expansive batsman like Jos Buttler can at times seem paralysed by the avalanche of decisions he must make, Cook’s decisions pretty much made themselves. His was a method built for an autopilot.

Let’s grasp the videogame controller and play as Cook for a few minutes to see just how much he managed to streamline batting.

Full and wide of off stump. The leave.

Full and at the stumps. The forward defensive.

Full and anywhere around leg stump. The clip off the legs.

Short and wide. The cut.

Short and straight. The back foot defensive if it’s going to clip the bails, the pull if it’s slightly higher, the hook if it’s higher still, or you might duck if you feel it’s time to play it safe.

And honestly, that’s pretty much it. There were only two times Cook went beyond this. (1) When he had 150 and the ball was doing nothing, when he might treat himself to that punchy drive that was basically just a forward defensive with the brakes off. (2) When he tried to become a limited-overs cricketer and developed a very hideous slog to cow corner.

You can argue that this made him a predictable batsman, but there were plenty of times when what people predicted was a massive hundred.


Ravindra Jadeja is pretty annoying which almost certainly means he’s good at cricket

Ravindra Jadeja (via YouTube)

There are two main reasons why cricketers are annoying. (1) They play for your team and they aren’t very good. (2) They play for the opposition and they are very good.

The first is self-evident. The second is rather more nuanced and deserves a little bit of elaboration. So let’s very quickly do that.

To be fully annoying, an opposition cricketer must be not just effective, but more effective than you think they deserve to be. To really put the top hat on it, they should then act like they’re even better than that.

Ravindra Jadeja meets these requirements. He is pretty annoying and we are very much relieved whenever India decide to not pick him. That is a compliment, which is very unfortunate because of course we don’t really want to pay him compliments.

First of all, Jadeja bowls like he has only just started bowling and isn’t really a bowler and doesn’t much care how things go because he’s not a bowler so do what you like, it doesn’t matter to him, he’s not a bowler. Employing this method, he is easing his way towards 200 Test wickets at an average in the low 20s.

That’s an annoyingly good record, but after learning to appreciate the subtleties of his bowling approach and slowly coming to recognise his qualities, you’ll look at it and probably still think it’s annoying and undeserved.

But Ravindra Jadeja doesn’t think that. Ravindra Jadeja generally maintains an air of having completely mastered cricket. Ravindra Jadeja celebrates a fifty – a fifty – with a twirly sword celebration.

Ravindra Jadeja sword celebration (via BBC)

That is disproportionate. (It is also entertaining and he should absolutely carry on doing it.)

Ravindra Jadeja swans through Test cricket like he belongs there. And he does. Which is annoying.


Frame-by-frame analysis of Rob Key on a climbing wall

Last week, during the Rose Bowl Test, Rob Key scaled a climbing wall. We sent the video to a climbing expert to see what he thought. The climbing expert didn’t answer us, so here’s some screengrabs of Rob Key on a climbing wall accompanied by zero insight.

For some reason the segment began with Rob Key attempting to ‘floss’ with a bunch of kids. As far as we’re aware, this is not a recognised method of warming up for rock climbing.

All images via Sky Sports

For what it’s worth, Rob is an inexpert flosser. We would consider this to be ‘a good thing’.

Now here’s Rob on the wall.

Like we say, we’re no expert, but we can see at least one issue here and possibly two.

The first issue is that he’s wearing his normal shoes. Modern climbing shoes are about 90 per cent magic. If you can actually managed to cram your feet inside them, you’ll find that the soles have spectacular Spider-man qualities.

Climbing in normal shoes is like riding the Tour de France on a shopping bike with a basket on the front. You can sort of do it, but you’re putting yourself at a huge and needless disadvantage with your choice of equipment.

The second issue is with that left arm. As we understand it, the best way to climb generally involves smaller hand movements, although we can’t exactly remember the reasoning and may have this exactly wrong.

This was Rob’s next move.

We think you’re generally supposed to be closer to the rock. Rob seems to be making things harder for himself. Maybe he felt he needed more of a challenge.

Rob was told he was only a stone away from being “too heavy for the rope”. Again, we’re no expert on climbing, but we’re pretty sure the ropes are made strong enough to hold the weight of a great many men, so this is either damning or a cruel lie.

Despite all of these hindrances, Rob successfully made it to the top, where he was extremely dignified.

Whenever we’ve been climbing, there’s been a sandwich at the top. There’s nothing at the top here, so that seems a bit disappointing. Rob would definitely have preferred to find a sandwich.

The only thing left to do was descend, which apparently you do by just throwing yourself off the wall.

Cats are much better at climbing up things than down things, so it’s reasonably accurate to say that Rob has cat-like climbing abilities.


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