Month: October 2011 (page 1 of 3)

Remember the worst picture of all time?

If you don’t, it looks like this. And before that earned the title of ‘worst picture of all time’ there was this.

Both horrendous. Both making our spine do odd things even as they sit in unviewed tabs in our web browser.

Perhaps inspired by the fox-based horror in that photo, Dandy Dan sent us this:

Don't like looking away to write this caption IN CASE IT DOES SOMETHING

By way of explanation for this sociopathy, Dan writes:

Now on the face of it, not cricket related. But take a closer look. That’s some long barrier.

Saw it in a Steptoe-style shop yesterday and immediately thought of you. I’ve run the idea of buying it past Victoria, but I think my mallard duck shoe brush and various original Transformers dotted about the flat has filled my quota of, in her words ‘tat’.

Every time we look at it, we feel like there’s another one behind us. A moving one. With the same face. Looming.

No-one send us anything like this ever again.

Winning the Ashes Down Under by Andrew Strauss with Simon Hughes

One of our jobs is to read all the cricket news. As a result of this, cricket books covering recent events aren’t all that appealing to us. When we’re presented with familiar information, our brain tends to drift off and do something else, leaving our eyes to do the reading unsupported.

Still, if anyone knows anything about the last Ashes series that we don’t know, it’s Andrew Strauss, so we thought we’d give this a go. It does suffer a little from the fact that he’s still playing and so can’t really lay into anyone or make any particularly jaw-dropping revelations, but it’s still a decent read.

It’s helped by the fact that it’s a good story. We don’t mean that in the one-eyed ‘go England’ sense. We mean that it’s the story of a team that goes from being bowled out for 51 by West Indies – which is where the story starts – to recording a pretty damn amazing victory in a place where most England teams have died whimpering. That’s the climax. There’s also a slightly off-kilter prolonged epilogue that covers the World Cup, which is less joyous, but equally enlightening.

However, the story’s well-known, so the extent to which you enjoy this book will probably depend on how closely you followed the goings-on leading up to and during the Ashes series. We followed that period pretty intently and we still got a fair bit out of this book. It was nothing major, just a slightly different view of a few of the players based on pretty minor anecdotes. We like that stuff though. It fleshes out the characters we see on TV.

Finally, if you don’t buy it, this book is worth finding in a book shop so that you can see the astonishing picture of a mustachioed Kevin Pietersen in the player profiles section at the end. It’s probably the best mugshot we’ve ever seen.

Buy Winning the Ashes Down Under from Amazon

Ball of the century and Lara’s 400

How many times does something have to appear to qualify as a regular feature? If it’s twice, we have a regular feature at Cricinfo.

It is about two idiot commentators commentating like idiots. It is called Stu and Ash. The first instalment was about Shane Warne’s ball of the century. The second focuses on Lara’s 400 against England.

Why not join everyone else in assuming that being as we wrote the characters’ words, we share their opinions. If you need a recommendation, try the words of ColdMenace who felt moved to comment “yawn”.

Who should England drop? Who will fix the team?

England will be tempted to screw up their one-day plans and start again, but that would be the wrong move. There’s a reason why people talk about building a side. It’s because there’s no perfect, fully-formed team that’s just waiting to be compiled through correct selection.

But what about [insert name of false saviour]?

The English cricket backslapathon has led to some players being talked about as if they’re superstars based on scant evidence and England should learn from that.

Jonny Bairstow was proclaimed a world-beater based on a 21-ball innings. This series has shown that he is no such thing. He is a young, inexperienced batsman and he has no mastery of the art of batting in India because it’s actually pretty new to him.

England were said to be building their one-day bowling attack around the variations of Jade Dernbach, yet what does he know of bowling to master batsmen in India? He’s played most of his cricket in the second division of the County Championship. So too Stuart Meaker who hasn’t yet indicated why he’s a better bet than the other eight or ten England fast bowlers who’ve played for the national side in the last year or so.

Magic bullets

There are no magic bullets. Replace Jonny Bairstow with Jos Buttler and you’re swapping one naive-yet-promising batsman with another. Discard Scott Borthwick for Adil Rashid and you’re doing almost exactly the same as when you rejected the latter in favour of the former. Maybe they’ll turn into great players, but it’ll take time.

Jonathan Trott isn’t perfect, but maybe he’s England’s best bet at number three. Ravi Bopara had a dire series, but he averaged 65 in the previous one. Maybe he’s progressing overall. James Anderson has a poor one-day record in India, but he had a dire Test record in Australia before last winter. Maybe he’ll bowl well if there’s a score on the board and he isn’t completely knackered.

Are we saying lower your expectations, settle for less from the national team? Sort of. We’re saying that sometimes it’s about improving the players you’ve got rather than looking elsewhere for ready-made solutions. If other players are spectacularly amazing, you generally know about it.

Home advantage in cricket

MS Dhoni has no interest in being dismissed in one-day cricket

We’re a great fan of home advantage. It’s a key part of cricket. If matches between two teams were likely to have the same outcome both home and away then the sport would lose a significant quality.

It also means that away wins are even more significant. England’s victory in Australia this year and India’s in England in 2007 were both more admirable for the fact that not only did those tourists beat the opposition, but they also conquered foreign conditions. Australia were far and away the best team in every format of cricket for an age, but it still took them several attempts to win in India. You never have a full-house of succcess in cricket – there’s always another challenge.

Away losses

So home victories are pretty much the norm. They should be expected. Great respect should therefore be given to any touring team that defies that expectation.

Does that mean that away defeats should be shrugged off? No, does it bollocks. We can state with some confidence that both England and India have utterly embarrassed themselves in the last few months. Their tours gained downwards momentum early on and neither side had the capacity to reverse that.

We’re no stranger to disappointment and only in that regard have both England and India delivered.

How to bat in one-day cricket

Here is our one-day batting philosophy – take it or leave it. It is not scientific. We are not scientific. We’ve never even owned a lab coat.

To us, one-day batting works like this.

  1. Try and hit a single
  2. If it’s asking for it, try and hit a four

That’s pretty much it. If you follow those steps successfully for the majority of an innings, you’ll probably find yourself in a decent position to start doing the wild bat flailing thing that everyone thinks is ‘modern one-day cricket’ towards the end of the innings. Quite how many overs of bat-flailery you can allow yourself depends on how well you’ve executed steps one and two.

England continually balls-up both steps. They fail to force singles frequently enough and so eventually find themselves having to force fours and sixes instead – which is even harder and inevitably leads to them getting out.

Suresh Raina is getting nowhere fast

You’d think you’d be more convinced about a player after he’d hit 80 off 62 balls in a one-day match. At worst, you’d think you’d feel the same about him. Yet somehow Suresh Raina actually managed to erode our confidence in him. This despite the fact that we said India might be better off picking 10 players during their last Test series.

Raina in one-day cricket

Before we continue, let’s be clear that we have few qualms about Raina as a one-day player. If a World XI were playing in India (and where else would it be playing) he’d be in our team were we for some inexplicable reason made chief selector.

But that’s very much our point. He’s not proving anything with innings like the one yesterday against England. Everyone knows he can play like that in that situation. That isn’t news.

Watching him in England, it seemed to us that he had Test ambitions. Although he struggled, knee-jerk England media suggestions that he ‘didn’t care’ were well wide of the mark in our eyes. Struggling for runs and losing matches, he retained his enthusiasm admirably. However, if he is bothered about Test cricket, there are some things he needs to address.

Watch them ribs

Suresh Raina has to learn to cope with deliveries aimed at his body on bouncier pitches. We’re deliberately trying to make a distinction between ‘short-pitched bowling’ and ‘deliveries that pass above the waist’ there.

To say Raina is weak against the short ball is misleading, because when it pitches short, he’s fine. It’s when the ball’s fuller yet still gets up when he looks like a member of the crowd who’s grabbed a helmet and bat and slipped onto the field of play.

He can’t really do anything to answer this question in India. Even if the pitches don’t turn as much as some people choose to imagine, they are low-bouncing. A bowler aiming at the body has to pitch the ball sufficiently short that the batsman has plenty of time to react. Trying to prove you can play the short ball in one-day matches in India is like trying to acclimatise to extreme heat by coming to England for the summer.

Keeping cool

Speaking of heat, that’s how Virat Kohli enhanced his Test case where Raina harmed his – he kept his cool. Kohli doesn’t mind trawling his vocabulary for some robust adjectives when chatting to the bowlers, but his batting is totally controlled. Raina’s isn’t.

The more England got stuck into Raina, the more frenetic he got. It was like he was careering down a steep hill on a bike with no brakes. Yes, he was gaining momentum, but there was only one way it was going to end. The fact that Steven Finn lost his cool in even more embarrassing fashion drew attention away from Raina’s own internal meltdown, but it still happened.

Raina can continue to enjoy a rather pleasant Groundhog Day in one-day cricket if he so chooses, but if he does want something more, he should look to Kohli. Raina landed a few blows, but Kohli got the job done – that’s the difference.

English cricket consciousness

All Indians and Australians believe that everyone in England thinks the same thing. (Do you see what we did with that sentence?)

We’d just like to refute this.

If you see an article in the Telegraph that says England are going to dominate world cricket forever, it is important to remember that Graeme Swann hasn’t said this (unless it’s his name in the byline). We haven’t said it either.

If an article in the Daily Express last month said that England were going to win the one-day series in India by five matches to nil, Jonathan Trott didn’t say that and again, neither did we.

If you draw statements from a wide variety of English sources and piece them all together, that isn’t The English Manifesto. We really aren’t that organised and we really don’t agree about many things at all.

One particular quality that you can be almost certain isn’t shared by most people is “confidence”. If you detect “confidence” in someone’s pronouncements, you can safely assume that they aren’t speaking on behalf of the English as a people.

Why England shouldn’t drop Jade Dernbach

We’ve spent the day badmouthing Jade Dernbach and we’ve previously written that his ‘variations’ often blind people to his deficiencies, but despite both of those things, we still don’t think England should drop him.

Why? He’s shit

No, he isn’t. Calm down.

Jade may have looked pretty shit while bowling slower ball wides and beamers in his final, crucial over against India, but his face told of a man struggling to keep it together.

So he’s shit then

No. Jesus. What’s with you?

Jade Dernbach isn’t the earl of modern one-day bowling, as he was portrayed during the summer, but nor is he shit. He’s a skilful bowler who hasn’t played in front of tens of thousands of roaring fans in India many times before. That’s a tough experience and he went a bit flaky.

Like any normal person feeling that way, he retreated to what he knows best. For us, this would be some sort of social isolation. For Jade Dernbach, it’s his ‘variations’. They’re his strength. They’re what got him into the England side. No matter that they’re going all over the park – if he hasn’t got them, what has he got?

Did I miss the part about why he shouldn’t be dropped?

Dropping him means starting again. Dernbach should be stronger for the experience, whereas Stuart Meaker still has to walk that particular potholed road. Dropping him means wasting today’s experience.

If England truly think Dernbach has qualities they’re looking for – and they do – then they need to condition his brain so that those qualities are more reliably accessible. He has to have these shit games to learn from them – the learning part is non-negotiable, however.

But what if he costs England the next game?

England are 3-0 down in a five-match one-day series that’s taking place a few months after the World Cup. Be honest, how much do you honestly care about this series?

This is the perfect time to test English one-day players. To them, it’ll feel like they’re playing under immense pressure, but none of their supporters will actually be heartbroken should England go down in a blaze of apparent ineptitude.

England have seven one-dayers in India next winter. It is worth persevering with someone. We’re trusting England’s selectors that Dernbach is that someone.

On the same subject, Craig Kieswetter is a little further into his international career, so we’re not sure to what extent the above also applies to him. All we will say is that his keeping today did smack more of meltdown than inability. Make of that what you will.

Three things that would help England win in India

For all their progress and despite all their resources, England still can’t compete in one-day cricket in India. We’ve thought of three things that would help their cause.

1. Hire a scientist

It’s staggering to think that England don’t have a scientist on their staff. We’re not talking about nutrionists or sports biomechanists. England should hire a proper scientist – a guy in a lab coat.

2. Develop a stealth capability

This one speaks for itself really. Quite why England haven’t invested in a cloaking device is beyond us.

3. Avoid being mauled by bears

We cannot emphasise this one enough. It is vital for performances in India that players aren’t mauled by bears. As well as the physical consequences, being mauled by a bear can really affect a person’s confidence. Any player caught goading a bear should be severely reprimanded and possibly even given a £20 fine.

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