Month: July 2012 (page 1 of 3)

Count Cricket’s county cricket round-up – July 31st

Good day to you all. Count Cricket here. Apologies for my absence, but certain developments have led to my spending several weeks indoors. Frustrating, but unavoidable.

Fortunately, I did manage to read the newspaper during this unscheduled ‘downtime’ and have kept tabs on County Championship developments. I can basically sum it all up like this: Most matches were drawn and Steve Harmison is currently playing for Yorkshire.

Worcestershire manage a win

One result was Worcestershire’s sole win of the season. Needless to say, it came against Lancashire.

The week before, Lancashire had finally hinted at batting solidity with hundreds for King Cricket favourites Paul James Horton and Steven John Croft against Surrey, for whom Kevin Peter Pietersen then made 234 not out. However, against Worcestershire they collapsed to 162 all out before following that up with an even less impressive 63 all out.

If I could have exhibited limpness like that, I might not have been quite so reliant on the newspapers these last few weeks.

Rikki Clarke can’t match Andre Adams

Thus far, I have only taken my eyes off Warwickshire’s Rikki Clarke when I fear that I am being followed. He has continued to do well, making a hundred against Sussex and then taking 4-46 against Surrey. However, he has been unable to prevent Nottinghamshire from drawing level with his side at the top of the County Championship.

Nottinghamshire can thank Andre Adams for this. The man never flags and if I ever find out how he’s achieving this, I will immediately renounce Sudafed. Adams took 6-32 against Middlesex, 5-108 against Lancashire and 4-51 against Surrey. He now has 52 Championship wickets at 17.30 and I may go and see him perform against Somerset next week if my Taunton exclusion order has expired.


Good luck to James Taylor but we really don’t get it

Ravi Bopara’s found another way of missing out on a Test match. We don’t know what it is, but it’s led to England selecting James Taylor in his place. We really don’t understand this.

Taylor plays the kind of innings where everyone coos about his ‘class’ and says how it won’t be long before he plays for England, yet somehow they don’t notice that he’s again been dismissed for 23. He scored one hundred in the second division of the County Championship last year and has scored one hundred and one fifty so far this year.

To be fair, he has scored quite a lot of runs for England Lions. That seems to be the meaningful arena these days, which makes you wonder whether there’s really much point to the County Championship. Taylor also scored a run when he played a one-day international and apparently it was an absolute cracker.

Good luck to him, anyway. We want England to find a good number six. We’re just worried that he’s a shiny new thing which on closer inspection doesn’t actually do a right lot.


England v Australia day-night match report from Birmingham

Ne writes:

We had arranged to meet at Marylebone station, in order to get the Chilterns Railways line up to Birmingham. This route had many advantages: firstly, on the day tickets are significantly cheaper than those offered by Virgin at Euston; secondly, the train nerd in APB (my travelling companion) preferred that route for some reason to do with locohaul options; and finally the possibilty of Chilterns Rail Ale Trail.

When I got to Marylebone there was a message on my phone explaining that we needed to go from Euston, as our Chilterns tickets would not be valid on the late train.

Birmingham

As we approached the stadium it started to drizzle. Not a problem, we thought. It’s only a shower after all. As we waited outside for APB’s brother (R), and R’s other half (K), we couldn’t help but notice that despite it being past 2pm there was no cricket happening in the middle.

When R arrived, he informed us that there was a delayed start. Undeterred, we decided to enter the ground and find our seats. We sat in the sunshine while we waited for the 4pm start. R and K had brought a humongous picnic hamper and so we ate cheese rolls and had a nice refreshing pint.

R had recently bought an electric street sweeper on eBay, which he intended to convert to mains supply in order to clean his drive. K wasn’t particularly impressed with this state of affairs as their house was already full of random hardware off eBay. They also talked about buying a hearse, since they seem quite practical.

Pitch inspection

Come 4pm, there was a pitch inspection, at which point the clouds thought it would be funny to rain. Not that continuous sunshine would have made much difference. Looking at the outfield, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see flamingoes out there.

Speaking of which, I was expecting some light ornithology during the day. I had previously been on a holiday with APB during which he had called out “STOP THE CAR! I’ve just seen my favourite bird” (a collared pratincole since you ask). I was not to be disappointed. My friends are so cool. Over the course of the day we apparently saw jackdaws, lesser black back gulls, herring gulls, pigeons, mallards, and possibly a peregrine.

Since there was as yet no cricket we enjoyed another beer, and another visit to the cool box. They were showing Andy Murray against Tsonga on the screen by the bar, so we watched that for a bit. R and K told us about a rail tour they’d been on from Cwmbran in south Wales to Scarborough, where they went to Naval Warfare. I was looked at in disbelief by the entire stand when I said I had no idea what Naval Warfare in Scarborough was. Now that I’ve googled it, I can see what all the fuss is about.

There was another pitch inspection. They even removed the covers. Excitement bubbled up about the ground. The teams came out and did some drills. Nasser Hussain did a bit out in the middle talking into a camera. A beer snake emerged triumphant to our right. It was starting to feel like a day at an ODI.

The decision

Then Nass walked past our stand, doing the finger over the throat movement. Could have meant one of two things. (1) He had beef with a crowd member, or (2) the game was a non-starter. It was the latter. People booed. Mostly at Nasser Hussain. I’m sure it wasn’t his fault.

As people filtered out, we realised that we had a bit of time, so we stayed in the ground. The Australian team came out to do some exercise. I imagine the English were eating a mini pork pie or four in the dressing room. I can now report that Brett Lee and Shane Watson are not as physically fit as their younger team mates.

We had a brisk walk back to New Street, including passing a wagon full of sheep. In Birmingham city centre. On the train home we reflected that despite the expensive train and lack of cricket, we’d had a nice day out after all. Then to top it all off, a double locomotive freight train passed by.


Enduring South African flawlessness with the bat

We’re not a fan of batting. Fours and sixes elicit an approving nod of the head, but they don’t move us in the same way as wickets. This has perhaps been compounded by a period of Test cricket that lasted until recently in which huge scores became the norm. That said, there was an enormous amount to admire about the batting of Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and above all Hashim Amla this week. It was almost perfect.

There’s a paradox in that every big innings eats itself a little. The more runs a batsman scores, the easier the conditions are presumed to be. Certainly The Oval didn’t present the stiffest of tests for the South Africans and England didn’t provide the toughest of Tests for them, but to lose two wickets in 189 overs is an achievement in itself.

Every delivery can potentially result in a wicket, but it’s amazing how this fact can transmogrify into fantasy as an innings wears on. Bowlers’ spirits are eroded and batsmen’s confidence builds and often it only ends when the latter gets out of hand. The three South Africans exhibited an iron will in preventing that from happening.

During an innings like South Africa’s 637-2, there comes a point at which it’s no longer about any particular shot or passage of play. It’s most admirable in totality. The sheer scale of what’s happened is the most striking thing about it – all that time and so few mistakes. It’s an exercise in perseverance, endurance and faultlessness, like setting up a giant domino rally only without the toppling pay-off.

It’s also good because you can go outside and enjoy the sun and you won’t miss much.


Ingredients of a Dale Steyn

Dale Steyn - more than just fast

Is there a real lack of perspective these days, or is it just that the internet has provided an outlet for people who never had it? Before the first Test, some people were talking up Vernon Philander as being the main threat to England’s batsmen and after the first day, others felt Dale Steyn had become mediocre.

Philander’s a fine bowler, but to get all het up about his bowling average was to ignore the fact that he had only bowled in South Africa and New Zealand – two of the more seam-friendly nations. His Test achievements are striking, but they don’t begin to make a case for superiority over Steyn. Steyn is the best fast bowler around because he is the best fast bowler overall.

Philander is probably more accurate, but Steyn is still pretty tidy. Shaun Tait is faster, but Steyn is fast enough and he’s a damn sight quicker than Tait after eight overs, never mind after 20. James Anderson is probably more skilful, but Steyn still swings the ball. Basically, he is up there with the best no matter what fast bowling quality you look at.

He’s athletic. He has great cardiovascular fitness. He’s aggressive. He bowls swing and seam and a mean bouncer. He has a fair idea how to size up a pitch and he can identify batsmen’s weaknesses. His bad days aren’t too bad and his good days are exceptional.

We know all of this, because we’ve seen him take hundreds of Test wickets. To suggest that Philander’s somehow more of a threat because he’s dobbled the shit out of the opposition in two home series and one in New Zealand is demented. What’s his average in India? We don’t know. Steyn’s is 20.


England embrace the modern fashion for innings defeats

When it comes to meticulous planning, individual excellence and the most admirable examples of team spirit, the cyclists seem to have cornered the market here in Britain. The cricket team has rather folded.

Can no side merely lose a Test match any more? Nowadays, when good teams fall, it always seems to be an innings defeat. India and Australia have both been on the receiving end against England in recent years and now England have been given a chance to feel the same pain after South Africa positively annihilated them at The Oval. Told you they shouldn’t have played in London.

Why are innings defeats for seemingly decent sides becoming so common? Are preparations so specifically targeted that anything outside what’s been predicted results in implosion? Does extreme dominance breed equally extreme complacency? Why should that be any more true now than in the past? It’s baffling.

Maybe it’s a matter of peaking. There are so many different competitions, no side can hope to be at its best for all of them. India peaked for the World Cup. England peaked for India. South Africa have peaked for England.

England should have peaked for South Africa as well, of course. Maybe they have, in which case three Tests will actually be plenty, thank you very much. Or maybe they tried to, but have had some of their focus sapped and their edge dulled by the one-dayers against Australia.

Reasons and excuses. It’s more salient to wonder whether they can address this in time for the second Test. We don’t believe in momentum in cricket, so we aren’t saying it can’t happen. However, we do believe in one cricket team being better than another and in just one Test match we have been provided with quite a lot of evidence that says England won’t win this series.


Bowling dry – not a cure-all

Who are the batsmen who have really troubled England in home Tests in recent years? Rahul Dravid, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Marlon Samuels. And what characterises those three batsmen? An unhurried method, we’d say – they don’t go chasing after the ball. Is this a coincidence?

When the ball doesn’t swing, England’s policy is to ‘bowl dry’ (or ‘bowl defensively’ as we like to put it). The theory is that modern batsmen like to feel bat on ball and will overreach and get themselves out. Generally, this works, but it doesn’t work for some batsmen and what do you do then?

For all their strengths, we think this is a big flaw with England’s bowling attack and it is one that has been exposed by a batting line-up featuring Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis. Don’t blame the conditions – bowlers have to deal with whatever conditions arise; they have to find a way. If nothing changes, those batsmen are liable to do this again.

Bowling dry is Plan B and it is a very good plan. However, in certain circumstances you also need access to a Plan C and we’re not sure England do.


Alastair Cook – endurance batsman

Wouldn't be breaking sweat even if he could

Hello South Africa and welcome to England. This is Alastair Cook. He is fitter than you are. We’re not sure you’re going to get on very well.

Thus far, South Africa have had a fairly typical experience of touring England. It has rained and Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott have batted for bloody ages. The Saffers took an early wicket, but you need at least two against England to really be in business.

If you want to win Tests in England, you’re heavily reliant on your seam bowlers but bowling at Cook and Trott is like attacking an industrial sander with a plank of wood. You jab at it again and again and eventually all you’re left with is a nub. Then Kevin Pietersen walks to the crease and surveys you with disdain. It’s not a complex tactic.

Cook’s extraordinary stamina has one purpose. He has developed it so that he can do what he already does only for slightly longer. That’s it. He doesn’t want to run marathons or anything. He just wants to ensure that his feet move the same at 6pm as they do at midday. It seems to work.

If we have a word of reassurance for South Africa, it’s that England are so heavily reliant on this method that Plan B is a good deal worse. The batting line-up is built on the principle that the top three will grind down the opposition bowlers to some degree. Get through the the top order and you introduce the other batsmen to a terrifying land of pace and movement that they are largely unfamiliar with.

But today? 267-3 isn’t really doing the job. And don’t pin your hopes on weariness from Cook tomorrow either.


England v South Africa preview

South Africa's Dale Steyn will play a key role and blah blah blah

There seem to be a lot of head to head type previews of this series. We never really get much out of them, because cricket doesn’t really work on a points system. There are no judges comparing the two teams’ attributes. You decide which side’s the better by pitting them against each other. That’s kind of the point of the exercise.

For example, the ‘key’ Anderson v Steyn battle is a nonsense. It’s Anderson v South Africa’s batsmen and Steyn v England’s. There are stacks of variables involved. You can’t really compare the two players easily even after the series has finished.

There’s also the fact that all pre-series analysis is based on what players have done in the past, but no-one remains the same. We know that’s kind of the point of previews – to make use of the information available and look for trends – but we’re just a bit tired of everyone acting like they can predict the future.

It’s just an irritating competition these days. With social networking and proliferating media outlets, it seems there are now hundreds if not thousands of people throwing their prognostications out there. Some of them will be right and they’ll gloat and claim points in the game of being a superior human being who knows how the world works.

Yes, we’re railing against something entirely inconsequential and exhibiting more than a hint of hypocrisy in the process. What have you done with your day?


Kamran Akmal’s back

Sexyyyy - nothing about you is sexyyyy

As in ‘returned’. He hasn’t got ankylosing spondylitis or anything.

Or has he? Actually, that would explain a lot. Lack of core mobility would probably have an impact on catching ability and could potentially give rise to the level of pan-handed buffoonery exhibited by Kamran Akmal.

Actually, on second thoughts, no-one’s back’s THAT bad.


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