Month: March 2012 (page 1 of 3)

England haven’t become a bad Test team

But there’s a fair distance between ‘bad’ and ‘good’. Even further between ‘bad’ and ‘the best’. England are in that grey netherland now and no-one really cares about shades of grey when you’ve arrived there from somewhere altogether brighter.

England’s batting was a lighter shade of grey in the second innings (if lighter is better), but it still hasn’t reached old sports sock grey and that’s what we consider the pass mark in Test cricket. It doesn’t take too much analysis to see where England are losing their matches. That’s four losses in a row now despite bowlers who could barely have performed better. There’s room for deterioration as well as improvement.

For many years, England’s bowling lacked adaptability. That has been rectified, but batting one-dimensionality seems to have crept in while everyone was busy mastering reverse swing. You push down one air bubble and another pops up.

The constant, frantic air-bubble-push-downery makes Test cricket unconquerable and that’s what provides the unparalleled intrigue. No shades of grey: Test cricket is fully ace.


Lahiru Thirimanne makes himself big

Brace yourself, we’re going to mention football.

One thing we learned from our years watching that soap opera-cum-sport is that a goalie should ‘make himself big’ when a forward is bearing down on him. The purpose of this is not, as you might think, to ward off predators. It is so that it’s harder to get the ball past him.

Goalies do this when the forward is so close that they wouldn’t have time to react to a shot. At this level of proximity, their body is basically just a static target, so bigger is better. There are similarities to fielding at short leg and Sri Lanka’s Lahiru Thirimanne seems to adopt a similar philosophy.

England’s second innings turned on a lucky catch that few other fielders would have been in a position to take. Matt Prior clipped the ball to what would have been Thirimanne’s right at short-leg if the fielder hadn’t predicted where it was going, shuffled across and ‘made himself big’. The ball hit him in the midriff and then he caught it.

This seems flukey, but something similar happened in England’s first innings. On that occasion, Ian Bell was not out because the ball rebounded off Thirimanne’s helmet into the keeper’s hands and you can’t be given out if the ball comes off protective equipment. Even so, Thirimanne had again shuffled across, predicting the direction of the stroke and made himself big.

In football, this is a sensible ploy, because your primary aim is simply to block the ball. In cricket, it is less likely to result in success, because the ball still needs to be caught, but it is also fraught with danger. Footballers are complete pansies and play with a soft, light ball. A cricket ball is more like a half-brick and no-one wants a half-brick in the nads.


Andrew Strauss – Test specialist

Andrew Strauss in happier times

Say what you like about the cheap, oversized banquet that is one-day international cricket – at least it gives batsmen a bit of practice for the matches we give a toss about.

When Andrew Strauss played one-day cricket, he scored more Test runs. He’s averaged 25.50 since he decided he couldn’t be arsed with technicolour nets.

One-day cricket gives players too many matches. Playing just Tests leaves them with too few. We’re generously giving Strauss a get-out here, because the alternative view is that he’s become really bad at batting.


England’s batsmen give the bowlers a rest

Ian Bell was the only batsman not to be toss today. He said:

“We all know we have to get better at playing in the subcontinent. It’s a long-term goal and it isn’t going to just happen overnight.”

This is a shame, because England will almost certainly be batting again tomorrow. After that, they’ll be halfway through the series and most likely unable to win it. If they can’t improve overnight, they could certainly do with improving before next week.

On the plus side, England’s batsmen have been giving all the bowlers a rest. They’ve given Sri Lanka’s bowlers a rest, obviously, by only keeping them in the field for three quarters of an hour, but they’ll also be giving the England bowlers a rest by contriving to lose the first Test inside three days. That’s like getting a bonus weekend. Who wouldn’t want that?


James Anderson’s 30 this year

Fast bowling involves a perfectly natural series of movements

This might not seem all that significant. After all, not a year – not one single year – goes by without some international cricketer or other turning 30. This is different though. James Anderson was one of those players who loomed into view early in life and we still think of him that way.

Anderson took his 250th Test wicket today. This moment brought home how far he’s come since being written off on about 85 occasions in his youth. He sprayed it around, they said. Well nowadays the ball’s as obedient as the blinkered humans in cult classic, They Live, and as threatening as Rowdy Roddy Piper’s character in the same film (only it doesn’t have a mullet).

It’s worth remembering Anderson’s development the next time a cricketer in his early 20s fails. People do change. We hear some people’s trenchant views and wonder where they draw the line. Do they proclaim three-year-olds to be ‘not Test match material’ due to a fondness for crayons? Do they snort with derision at babies and inform them they will never be fast bowlers because they lack the height?

Remember when Jimmy Anderson was so shy he wouldn’t even speak to his captain? That seems a while ago.


Playing the long game in Sri Lanka

Samit Patel’s cricket statistics are being weighed against his vital statistics even more frequently of late. Is he fit enough for five-day cricket?

It’s an interesting question, but we’re actually more interested in how the other England players cope. Even if Patel plays, we can’t see a debutant playing the decisive hand in this series. You’d bet on a more familiar player having the greatest impact, but will any of the England players be able to excel in the heat and humidity?

The series seems likely to be about players battling their own limitations as much as the opposition and it’s a hell of a shame that there will only be two Tests. The cumulative effect of day upon day of hot, sweaty misery really starts to tell in a longer series and it’s intriguing to see which players are left standing towards the end.

It’s almost like a cycling stage race. Chris Boardman was an exceptional cyclist, but faded in longer races like the Tour de France where you have to race day after day. Some of England’s cricketers are going to fall by the wayside in the next week or so and that’s part of the game.

The longest format tests resolve, adaptability and resilience. Sometimes it’s about playing as well as you can when you feel like shit. Feats delivered in that context win our admiration more than a quick bout of fairweather boundary-hitting.


Why Bangladesh will DEFINITELY win the Asia Cup

Okay, we’ve had a slight about-turn. We’ve decided that Bangladesh aren’t certain to lose the Asia Cup final to Pakistan. We’ve decided they’re definitely going to win instead.

This sudden heartfelt belief has come about because we spent four minutes thinking about Shakib Al Hasan yesterday and we remembered how important it is to have pointless and illogical obsessions in life.

Let’s try and get a handle on Shakib Al Hasan’s unparalleled genius using some facts. Other websites do facts and people read them, so there are no excuses – you have to keep reading.

What a bowler!

At the age of 24, Shakib Al Hasan has taken 158 one-day international wickets. That is a lot. Do you know how many England players have taken more than 158 one-day international wickets in the whole of history?

Three.

At the age of 24, Shakib Al Hasan has already outdone Eddie Hemmings, Alan Mullally and scores of other household names. Only Andrew Flintoff, James Anderson and Darren Gough can boast of having taken more wickets and they are all completely ace.

Read it and weep, Phillip Defreitas.

What a batsman!

At the age of 24, Shakib Al Hasan has hit 3,567 one-day international runs. That is a lot. Do you know how many England players have scored more than 3,567 one-day international runs in the whole of history.

Nine.

Okay, that’s not quite as impressive, but luminaries such as Wayne Larkins and Vikram Solanki are still trailing in our boy’s wake.

Read it and weep, Jamie Dalyrymple.

What an all-rounder!

It should be noted that Andrew Flintoff, James Anderson and Darren Gough have all scored fewer runs than Shakib, so he wins at cricket. He is the best of the cricketers.

This is why Bangladesh will win the Asia Cup. If they don’t, it’s because one of the other ten players has ruined it for everybody with his rank incompetence.


Bangladesh to lose Asia Cup final to Pakistan

In our book, that’s progress. Sri Lanka are knackered, India are emotionally spent and these days Bangladesh can take advantage of that to get themselves into a position to lose to Pakistan.

It’s not full-on, double-shifts-at-the-bunting-factory glory, but it’s not bad. Life’s all about taking pride in minuscule progress anyway, whether it’s gaining the ability peel a potato without slicing off your fingertip, achieving a hair style that isn’t fully embarrassing or beating higher-ranked cricket teams suffering from collective depression.

Has enough time elapsed that we can link to our post from February 2006 in which we said that Shakib Al Hasan was going to be good? For the benefit of the nine people who started reading the site since the last link, here it is. Marvel at our cricketing insight, conveniently ignoring the links that lead to a post extolling the virtues of Sri Lanka’s Andy Solomons (although Andy did hit his first hundred last week).

There was a time when we happily clogged up this site with dull, self-serving updates about unknown Bangladeshis hitting fifties. We currently feel quite enthusiastic about going back to that state of affairs.


Virat Kohli likes a run chase

They call him 'The Postman' - because he delivers

If Virati Kohli ‘batted out of his skins’ against Sri Lanka last month, he can only have batted out of his flesh against Pakistan yesterday, hitting 183 off 148 balls as India chased down 330. There can only be skellington left.

But set Kohli another steep run-chase and you wouldn’t bet against him batting out of his skeleton too. Not sure where he would go from there. Guess he would have ascended to being some sort of higher level being made of gas. Either that or just a useless pile of bone marrow.

But until that happens, let’s just revel in Kohli’s run-chasing. Challenging targets seem to give him permission to go into gears he otherwise wouldn’t use and the remarkable thing is that he can stay in them without knacking up his engine.

Commentators often say that Twenty20 run-rates have encouraged batsmen to believe they can chase anything. Belief’s great, but it’s barely a start. People believe in all sorts of stupid crap. The difference for Virat Kohli is that his belief is being justified.

For Kohli, it’s not like belief in a god; it’s like belief in the postman. If you ask someone whether they believe in the postman, you’re the one who sounds mental and that’s how it is with Kohli’s run-chasing. Of course he thinks he can get there. Why wouldn’t he?


Tendulkar hits his hundredth hundred and proves nothing to us

Sachin Tendulkar has done this before

These sorts of landmarks are like birthdays. They get a lot of attention, but they don’t change much. People whinge about how they’re getting older when it’s their birthday, but the truth is that every day of your life you’re a day older than the day before and your birthday’s no different.

Sachin Tendulkar isn’t a better batsman than he was yesterday, he’s just got another hundred to his name and frankly, if you need this many three-figure innings to make your mind up about a batsman, you’re not going to reach too many conclusions during your cricket-watching life.

Say something about this momentous achievement

People always moan at us for failing to acknowledge Tendulkar landmarks properly, but nothing’s really changed. We’ve little to add to the piece we wrote in which attempted to explain the scale of his achievements or the one where we said that Tendulkar has been better than Bradman.

A few people missed the thrust of that second piece, which is that Sachin Tendulkar has achieved things that Don Bradman never had an opportunity to even attempt. We’re not going to compare the two in terms of who is ‘better’ because you can’t compare what one person has achieved with what another probably/possibly would have achieved.

To all intents and purposes, Bradman and Tendulkar played different sports and as far as we’re concerned, both stand alone. We wouldn’t think any more of Bradman if he’d averaged 100 rather than 99 and we don’t really feel any different about Tendulkar now that he’s got a different statistic into three figures.


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