Month: August 2012 (page 1 of 3)

England’s next opening batsman

Nick Compton accidentally scores a run

We’d go for Nick Compton. He was born in Durban, so it would help Malcolm Conn be hilarious. Conn’s definitely a man abiding by our ‘repeat until funny’ rule when making jokes about England cricketers born in South Africa.

He’s not got there yet.

Another reason to go for Compton is that he’s a top order batsman who’s scored loads of runs in the last couple of years. We’re kind of old-fashioned – we like it when batsmen do that. It seems relevant, even if the person in question isn’t in some sort of development programme and is also over the age of 23.

They’ll probably go for someone younger who’s flavour of the month. That’s usually the way these things work. ‘Blood some young talent,’ people cry, as if talent fades by the year. Nothing against young batsmen, but we increasingly like our top order batsmen to be old and lumpen. Compton’s perfectly happy to hang around without really doing anything whatsoever. This is admirable.


Feline reaction to Andrew Strauss’s retirement from cricket

In the highly unlikely event that we’ve picked up a new reader in the last year, we should say that we have a feature on this website entitled animals being conspicuously indifferent to cricket.

Lemon Bella’s cats, StraussCat and Meowcus Trescattick, have appeared on several occasions and we’re honoured to be able to present their verdict on Andrew Strauss’s retirement from cricket.

Lemon Bella writes:

This is how StraussCat took the news of his namesake’s retirement:

Couldn't give a toss

Reliable and steadfastly predictable in his conspicuous indifference, he simply focused on that particularly itchy, hard-to-reach bit. I salute him for his years of indifferent achievement and will allow him to retire with the grace befitting such a loyal servant

Meowcus Trescattick, on the other hand, was worringly interested in this news:

Simmer down!

Look at him! Look at how perky and intrigued he is!

We may have to look look elsewhere for indifference from now on, because this is clearly the sort of cat who might develop an opinion about Jonny Bairstow.


Reporting on Strauss and Pietersen

It’s interesting that so many people took yesterday’s post at face value. We’ll come clean: it is not our actual stance on the Pietersen issue. There are bits of it we might agree with to some extent, but for the most part it’s an extreme position we adopted in order to make an entirely different point.

It was intended as a parody of recent newspaper pieces covering the Strauss-Pietersen issue. We wrote it because we don’t like it when the boundary between news and opinion is blurred and because we don’t like it when the media as a whole seems to favour one particular version of events.

It was written as if we were a Little Englander. However, the twist is that in this parallel universe, Strauss is seen as the villain while Pietersen is portrayed as an England hero. The facts are the same, but they are presented differently.

Opinions

It’s wrong to say that every writer has an agenda, but they do all have opinions. We’re seeing a great deal more opinion than news regarding Pietersen and Strauss. That’s fine, but we don’t like it when opinions are sneaked in on the sly. There’s a certain amount of insidious rhetoric on display when it comes to this particular story.

The point we were making with yesterday’s post is that the same information can be presented in different ways. Clearly there are differences between the backgrounds of Pietersen and Strauss, but you could, if you wanted to, make an issue of Strauss’s place of birth – or Andy Flower’s for that matter.

Similarly, Strauss took a holiday in the middle of the season and in the middle of a crisis. This wasn’t a massive crime, particularly in light of what followed, but we can only imagine how the press would have reacted if Pietersen had done the same. Strauss took a break. Pietersen would have ‘controversially’ taken a break.

That use of ‘controversially’ is the kind of thing we’re talking about. Certain vocabulary can give rise to subtle, perhaps accidental, attempts to persuade the reader that one party is ‘right’ and the other is ‘wrong’.

Word use matters

In The Sunday People, Dave Kidd outlines how England’s “South Africa-born star” criticised James Taylor during the Lord’s Test. No real details are given, but this doesn’t stop Derek Pringle from saying that it “plumbs new depths of obnoxious behaviour” in The Telegraph. You read those two pieces and you can’t help but have a certain perception of what happened – but based on what?

We know many writers are paid primarily to provide opinion, but that’s not necessarily how people read their articles. Report on a new development and it comes across as being ‘news’. It is then possible to colour that news through the words you choose to use and the related events you choose to recount.

Who cares?

Clearly, there are far more serious media problems than how a feud between two cricketers is being presented. However, at the same time, the issues this raises and the methodology being used are common to other, more significant stories, so it pays to be aware of this kind of thing. You shouldn’t read ANYONE’S words and assume they are fair, balanced and well thought-out. After all, most writers and opinion-formers are complete idiots.


Andrew Strauss’s captaincy style

Ex-England captain, Andrew Strauss, back when he used to play cricket

Andrew Strauss retires from cricket. If Nasser Hussain was ‘do as I say’ and Michael Vaughan was ‘relax and play how you want’ then Strauss was ‘for Christ’s sake, don’t do anything silly’.

He was a bit establishment for our tastes and his interviews were even more bland and predictable than his on-field decisions, but people involved with the England team rate him highly and they know him better than we do. There’s also the simple fact that England won a great many matches under his captaincy and that is, after all, the entire point.

The Ashes victory in Australia was clearly the high point, but he also ensured England were all but unbeatable at home during his tenure. That changed this summer and this is significant. It’s hard to avoid the sense that everything’s kind of falling to pieces at the minute. Many have pointed out that few captains leave on a high, but there have been smoother handovers. Cook finds himself with a great deal of work to do.

In many ways this is a further test of Strauss’s captaincy. The on-field stuff’s finished, but the long-term planning for which he is so well-regarded will continue to come under scrutiny. The succession-planning has already given England their next captain, so that bit’s better than usual. However, set against that is the fact that the team are losing and have lost a major player because they couldn’t find a way of getting on with him.

This isn’t to nitpick. It’s just to point out that long-term planning isn’t a matter of aiming for an Ashes series and clapping yourself on the back if you win it. If you’re an England captain, it also involves ensuring the house isn’t a complete shit-tip for the next tenant.

We’re disappointed at the nature of his exit, because the drama and goodwill that ensues masks failings and means he doesn’t have to answer for the side’s deterioration over the last year. However, overall, we are very happy with Andrew Strauss’s performance as England captain. We’ll give him a B+


Strauss skives with Pietersen still in limbo

Johannesburg-born Andrew Strauss is to keep England’s star player in limbo a little while longer after controversially extending his family holiday rather than returning for much-needed clear-the-air talks.

Kevin Pietersen was man of the match in the last Test he played and is keen to help secure victories for his nation in all three formats. However, the side’s embittered management group seems intent on alienating him. Pietersen’s efforts to resolve the situation have been flatly ignored and there has been no sign of any intent to address this pressing situation.

Already Pietersen has missed out on being named in England’s World Twenty20 squad – a competition he was keen to help England win, having been the player of the tournament during their 2010 victory. It now smacks of pure malice that Strauss should continue to keep him waiting when the batsman’s entire future is in jeopardy.

Strauss has averaged just 33.94 over the last three years, whereas Pietersen has averaged almost 50 in the same period. However, there is a clique at the heart of the England team and Strauss is an integral part of it. Unfortunately for him, Pietersen – an individual and a once-in-a-lifetime cricketer – is not.

England’s finest batsman has been made to feel like an outsider in his own dressing room and is being omitted for reasons that have nothing to do with sport. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Team England is nothing but a cosy old boys’ club with South African-born Strauss as the chairman and the Zimbabwean Andy Flower as the president.


Strauss and Pietersen enter relationship counselling

A bland, featureless room. Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Strauss sit side-by-side facing a desk, behind which sits a relationship counsellor.

Counsellor: So, what brings you here?

Strauss: We’re having some issues with our relationship.

Counsellor: Have you been together long?

Strauss: A few years.

Counsellor: Okay, well, the strain can begin to show when you live in each other’s pockets for a number of years.

Pietersen: [Sulkily] I’m not living in his pocket.

Counsellor: Let’s try and get to the bottom of what’s going on in the relationship. How is it that you know things aren’t going very well at the moment?

Strauss: Well, we haven’t been speaking much of late and as a consequence, we recently took the decision to separate.

Counsellor: Relationships are all about communication. That could be one of the major problems. Can I ask whether either or both of you have trouble expressing yourselves?

Pietersen: He does.

Strauss: I express myself. The difference between you and me is that I express myself in a calm, controlled manner.

Counsellor: It’s important to exchange ideas without things descending into an argument. Conflict is counterproductive.

Strauss: I agree. I think it’s vital that we let the dust settle, take stock and then carry out a full review.

Pietersen: Listen to him. He’s so cold.

Counsellor: What do you mean by that, Kevin?

Pietersen: He’s so emotionless. I can’t stand it.

Counsellor: How does his attitude make you feel?

Pietersen: It makes me feel unimportant. There’s no spark any more. I honestly don’t know whether he still loves me or not.

Counsellor: How do you react to that, Andrew? Do you still love Kevin?

Strauss: Look, I don’t think we should commit to making firm statements while emotions are still running high. It would be far better to let the dust settle, take stock and then carry out a full review.

Counsellor: Kevin?

Pietersen: You see? You see what I mean? It’s like trying to have a relationship with a stone or a rock.

Strauss: Stones and rocks are much the same thing.

Pietersen: You’re always criticising me!

Counsellor: Okay, okay, let’s just calm down a minute. We’re just trying to explore the issue at the moment. Let’s try and establish the facts rather than falling out with each other.

Pietersen: Okay.

Strauss: Okay.

Counsellor: Now, Kevin. What would it take for you to feel happier in this relationship?

Pietersen: Honestly? I want to feel that I’m needed and I want to believe that he still loves me.

Counsellor: Okay, now Andrew. What would it take for you to be able to once again get in touch with your loving feelings for Kevin? I’m presuming you wouldn’t be here if they weren’t still in there somewhere.

Strauss: It’s a matter of trust. I just don’t know whether I trust Kevin any more.

Counsellor: How so?

Strauss: I just feel like he’s let me down recently. I feel like there’s a fundamental lack of respect for me and that has led him to seek solace with other cricketers.

Counsellor: Well that’s potentially very serious. How do you respond to that, Kevin?

Pietersen: I’m going crazy in this relationship. I need to talk to someone. I need to get my emotions out somehow.

Strauss: This is no time for emotion.

Pietersen: It never is with you. When is it that I’m supposed to express my emotions?

Strauss: Once we’ve let the dust settle, taken stock and carried out a full review.

Pietersen: So I can get emotional then, can I?

Strauss: I really think it’s important that we not get too emotional about this. It’s more important that we take the right decisions for the future of the England cricket team.

Pietersen: Am I not part of the future of the England cricket team?

Strauss: Like I say, we really need to carry out a full review.

Counsellor: I’m really sorry, but I’m not sure I can do anything to salvage this relationship.


Cheteshwar Pujara shows India aren’t short of batsmen

It’s both sad and joyous that life moves on. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman are gone, never to return, but that’s because they’re now middle-aged. Their best cricket is behind them and who wants to look forward to ever-lower high points. Far better to step into the unknown.

Cheteshwar Pujara might never be as good as those pair were, but you never know and not knowing can be half the fun. Anyone who’s spurned a pre-emptive toilet visit ahead of a long journey knows the truth of that.

Based on yesterday’s performance, Pujara’s career promises to be even more entertaining than the Will-I-Won’t-I Piss Myself game. He’ll face tougher challenges than James Franklin’s astonishingly diminished pace, but a Test hundred is never to be sniffed at, if only because all those hours at the crease create a uniquely foetid aroma.

In other news, Suresh Raina was caught behind for three.


Is Steven Finn a better bowler than Tim Bresnan?

Steven Finn - a fast bowler until the international treadmill wears him down to a nub

Most of you will answer ‘yes’. Finn’s performance in the third Test is fresh in the mind and it’s hard to argue that his best isn’t a notch above Bresnan’s best, but that’s not the whole story. We’re pretty good at squash, but that doesn’t mean we don’t accidentally twat ourself on the knee with the racket every once in a while.

Like us, bowlers have highs and lows. Some deliver their best about one match in 20 and it’s hard to evaluate players like that because the eye-catching performances are those which influence our perceptions the most. Finn isn’t quite a Mitchell Johnson or a Steve Harmison, but the same principle applies: the bad days count too.

The bad days

Let’s assume we’re happy with Finn’s best. Can England accommodate his worst? Every bowler has off days, but Bresnan is able to exercise damage limitation in a way in which Finn can’t. England can work with this and even Bresnan’s off days help contribute to their philosophy of bowling dry.

We’re not a massive fan of that approach, but that isn’t to say it’s wrong. Our main reservations are that it’s kind of dull to watch and that England are too slavish in their devotion to it. However, against some batting sides it’s very effective. A Finn bad day rather undermines it though.

The collective bad days

On balance, we’d still go for Finn over Bresnan when picking a Test team. England may or may not be able to bowl dry with Finn in the side, but without him there are things they definitely can’t do. Leave out a tall fast bowler in favour of reliable fast-medium and you reduce your options to the point where you might be committed to a bowling approach that simply isn’t working.

There’s also the fact that Finn appears to be improving. It’s not so much that he’s become more accurate every time he bowls. It’s more like his good days are coming more frequently. Maybe they’ll blur together in the future giving the title of this article a more straightforward answer.


Cricinfo comments section joy

We wrote an article about Kevin Pietersen’s advisors, but we weren’t really sure about it. Cricinfo liked it. The readers didn’t.

Or maybe they did. Is ‘aweful’ their way of saying ‘full of awe’? Is ‘disaster’ their way of… um…

Funnily enough, we’re actually experiencing a crisis of confidence at the moment. This has nothing to do with the Cricinfo comments, it’s just part of our own, internal cycle.

A bit of self-loathing keeps you honest.


Cricket’s schadenfreude production line

HURRAY!

Congratulations, South Africa. Prepare for people to delight in your fall.

In recent years, the Test rankings have been a kind of schadenfreude production line. One nation gets to the top and promptly celebrates and then everyone else celebrates even more heartily when the team in question drops down again.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether you were ahead by miles for many years, like Australia, or whether you merely nosed ahead for a brief period, like India and England. As soon as you’re technically first, the bullseye is applied and the pot shots begin.

It’s a good system. Everyone gets a turn and everyone gets a laugh as well.

“The hunters become the hunted”

A lot of players use this phrase when they’re trying to tell you that it’s harder to stay at number one than it is to get there in the first place. This is, quite honestly, horseshit.

Reaching and remaining number one are the exact same thing: you have to win slightly more than anyone else over a prolonged period of time. It’s actually easier to stay top in the short term, because you’ve already got more points than anyone else and therefore have a slight buffer.

We’re not sure we believe that the opposition up their game just because you’re ranked number one either. Cricketers are generally quite keen to win cricket matches whoever they’re playing. Also, when you’re far and away the best, the opposition are intimidated. Nineties England sides LOWERED their game when playing Australia.

In recent years, India, England and South Africa have all earned the right to call themselves the number one Test side, but they haven’t gone beyond that. If they’re honest, their status has generally been at the mercy of injuries, poor form or even just the future tours programme.

Great teams earn leeway for themselves, but no-one has achieved that of late. If remaining at number one feels harder, it’s because your status is inherently fragile.


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