Month: October 2012 (page 1 of 3)

What’s happening in England’s warm-up?

The fast bowler’s injured, the new opening batsman made a duck and the returning genius reminded us precisely what we were missing by being dismissed by a left-arm spinner.

But actually, things are okay. When they play well, England’s biggest strength is that you can happily avoid watching their first innings in the knowledge that at least one of the top three is boring everyone to tears and then beyond tears and then back to tears again. So hurrah, Alastair Cook is up and running with a beautiful, plodding hundred.

Another plus point is that Samit Patel has scored runs. We like Samit Patel. We’ve got in our head that he’ll score runs in India. This opinion is based on a feisty one-day knock in Mohali last year and a Twenty20 innings which we’ve just realised was played in Sri Lanka. Still, plenty of people in sport believe that ‘gut feeling’ is the best way to make decisions, so maybe we should shed our old-fashioned preference for careful consideration of detailed information.


If you buy one cricket magazine this month…

Buy The Cricketer. We’ve a thing in it.

“Was Don Bradman really the greatest batsman? Is Test cricket the pinnacle? Was it definitely better in your day? It’s time to bust some myths, says Alex Bowden.”

Only we didn’t say that. That’s not the kind of thing we say. We just tried it out now and it sounded very odd – a bit confrontational almost.

What we actually said was something about maybe, possibly writing something about various bits of received wisdom and if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, would The Cricketer please take a quick look, but that it would be absolutely fine if they didn’t want to use it and we wouldn’t be at all offended.

Oddly, some of the comments on our recent Cricinfo piece appeared to quote our Cricketer piece. We can’t work out whether this is coincidence or whether we have CHANGED THE WAY PEOPLE THINK. It’s probably the former.


Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur for the fourth Test between India and England

Nagpur is a pretty new Test venue. It has hosted three Tests, the first in 2008. India have won two and South Africa won the other by an innings.

South Africa’s win was built on an unbeaten double hundred from Hashim Amla and 7-51 from Dale Steyn. Not sure what England can take from that, other than ‘try and be amazing at cricket’.

The good news for the tourists is that the last two Tests (both in 2010) saw a fair few wickets taken by seam bowlers. Steyn got 10 in the South Africa match and his fellow quicks chipped in too. A few months later, Ishant Sharma took seven in the match as India beat New Zealand by an innings.

The ground’s first Test was rather different. Jason Krejza took 12 wickets for plenty and Harbhajan took seven for nowhere-near-as-many, although he still bowled 37 overs in the first innings. An interesting but irrelevant fact about that match is that Cameron White batted at eight for Australia and was trusted to bowl all of 12 overs. For his part, Krejza bowled 75.

Conclusions

There’s not much history to go off, but there’s a chance of a consolation win/salvage act/heist here for England. Seam bowlers have taken wickets, while first innings scores have been built on obdurate toil – something England can actually do. Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag both have first innings hundreds here, but so too do Simon Katich, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and Rahul Dravid.

Connoisseurs of the block and the leave might want to don bibs before this match lest they salivate to excess.


Forming opinions about batsmen

Sometimes we’ve watched a batsman for the first time and thought he looked okay without reaching any conclusion beyond that. When other people have then waxed lyrical about the same player, this has left us feeling like a fraud for writing about cricket. How have we not seen the talent so obvious to others?

Then we realised that we were right and everyone else was wrong. It takes time to build an accurate picture of a batsman and there are no shortcuts. Anyone falling over themselves to brand some young batsman a future great is simply hedging their bets in a bid to be the first person to be “right”.

If there’s one thing people love, it’s being right and if there’s another thing people love, it’s being right before anyone else. This is one of the reasons why we aren’t on Facebook. We’re not going to give everyone else on earth the satisfaction of being ‘right’ before us.

You can see a lot of a batsman’s obvious qualities early on, but few people dwell on the boring attributes which are equally (and often more) important, while there will be other things you simply haven’t seen yet. There are a billion challenges in cricket. That’s half the frigging point.

Anyway, we’ll not go into this here, because we’ve written a brew-length article on the subject for Cricinfo. A brew-length article is one where you can justify boiling the kettle because you’ll have time to take more than one sip while reading it.

Disclaimer: It’s kind of like a proper article, so it’s not funny. We don’t shoe-horn in even a single mention of Ian Austin.


Where do you stand on Gautam Gambhir?

Textbook

Cricinfo have published a story with the slightly mischievous headline: “‘We still average 53 as an opening pair’ – Gambhir”.

It’s not much of a statement, but by making it a headline Cricinfo have made it seem like a rather desperate plea. Gautam Gambhir is under pressure and he’s resorting to the kind of talk often heard from England batsmen after a collapse: “There’s some good batsmen in this team. We’re all averaging over 40.”

Statistics only tell you what has already happened, so citing them in your defence smacks of living in the past. After being simply unstoppable in 2008 and 2009, Gambhir averaged 32.75 in 2010, 31.33 in 2011 and 24.77 so far this year. He isn’t pointing to recent stats.

We used to rather like Gambhir. We tipped him for greatness in 2005 (to ourself) and hadn’t particularly changed our mind by 2009. However, since then, he’s given off an air of being rather cosseted.

This might be unfair. We might just be seeing a reasonable batsman getting understandably defensive in the light of less stellar performances. However, it could also be that he grew a bit self-satisfied and developed a sense of entitlement as a consequence.

Earlier in the year, Gambhir made comments about wanting rank turners in India on which the home team would hopefully humiliate tourists. This may have been a reasoned philosophy, but being as it came on the back of personal failures in England and Australia, it actually seemed reactionary and sulky.

We’re going to try and give Gautam the benefit of the doubt. Good players have a tendency to bounce back and perhaps this prolonged lean spell will become another old, meaningless statistic.


Australian cricketers need English balls

Ambiguous headline, you say? Don’t know what you’re talking about.

In their painfully desperate attempts to compete with England, Australia are going to use good, solid, dependable, manly Dukes balls in some Sheffield Shield matches instead of the fey, effeminate Kookaburra ball.

The idea is that Aussie bowlers will maybe learn to do something with the ball, rather than just tramping in with an angry face, trying to bore the batsman out – like they have been doing ever since Glenn McGrath set new standards in mind-numbing one-dimensionality.

It may help them win the Ashes. It may not. It seems rather unrealistic preparation. You’re not going to get two straight hours of bowling with a Dukes ball under clear skies here, lads.


Yankees v Red Sox match report

Richard writes:

My impression of baseball is that, while on a different scale to county cricket, it is still the sort of game you can just turn up to and get in. There are loads of games, big stadiums and entry doesn’t generally require tortuous membership schemes or frantically hitting F5 on Ticketmaster. This is Yankees v Red Sox on a sunny Saturday afternoon though so we were relieved to find only a small queue at the ticket office.

$100 (£70) for two should have been a no-brainer for someone used to England cricket and the Premiership, but it did make me pause. Then I remember the thousands of pounds it cost me to get to this kiosk and hand over the credit card. Daniel, who has witnessed plenty of paternal parsimony in his time, breathes a sigh of relief. As we head towards the gate we assure each other that this is the most excited we’ve ever been.

A baseball place

The bloke in the seat next to mine is asleep. His feet are up on the row in front and his legs are splayed all over my space. I tap him on the shoulder and he pushes a bad-ass bandana back from over his eyes and looks at me with slightly pursed lips. He’s waiting for me to amuse him. ‘I need to sit down.’

I’m trying to be gruff and uncompromising but probably sound like Hugh Grant apologising for spilling Tony Soprano’s pint. He looks around at the swathes of empty seats, smiles, then lets me in.

I think better of asking when his testicles will be sufficiently recovered to allow him to sit properly. He’s got a shaved head, forearms thicker than my thighs and I’m a long way from Headingley’s Western Terrace. I’m glad I made him move though. I could’ve sat somewhere else but it’s going to be a 50,000 full house and I would’ve had to move again at some point. Larry David gets whole episodes from lesser points of principle. Unlike my neighbour, Larry and I are both a credit to the bald community.

The runs

I watched my first live baseball in a Melbourne suburb in 1994. I loved it as much as I thought I would but, after sitting through eight scoreless innings, was surprised to hear an American describing cricket as ‘baseball on mogadon’. I’m still fuming at that.

In the first innings of my fourth live ballgame I finally see a home run. In 12 hours and more than 72 innings I reckon I’ve seen about 12 runs in total. I’d have seen more than a thousand runs in four T20s wouldn’t I? But of course, cricket’s not about runs, is it?

Baseball’s all about the runs. Runs are so scarce that even getting to first base is cause for a standing ovation. To get there you have to hit a small ball with a thin stick – a ball that’s often propelled at more than 100mph by a dangerous-looking hillbilly with a mullet. Even if you manage to connect it’s unlikely to do you much good. First you’ve got to hit it in the V between first and third bases, then you’ve got to get it past the infield. If you don’t do the latter then the 90 feet to safety might as well by 90 miles.

When someone eventually does make it to first base, the nuance and interest ramps up. Now the fielding side has an extra problem. The first baseman has to stand with his foot on the bag – rather than positioning himself according to where he thinks the batter’s going to hit. The pitcher also has someone else to watch and often has to throw to first base to stop the batter from stealing second. Boston had a man on base when they broke my home run cherry and got two runs.

In a low scoring game, two runs can be a mortal blow. An out, on the other hand, is just the game ticking on and engenders nothing more than a ripple from the crowd.

Baseballers, baseballing

After a couple of innings we’re joined by a group of young Red Sox fans. I fondly imagine they’re frat boys from Harvard or MIT and christen the extra preppy, floppy haired one in the Ray Bans, Bret (Easton Ellis). He points to the back of a T-shirt in front of us, nudges his friend and sniggers. It says ‘NY 26 Red Sox 7, you do the math’. That’s World Series, son.

Boston get on top early and strangle the life out of their pinstriped tormentors. The scoreless innings mount up and we’re left with nothing but nuance. We watch the shortstop relaying balls from the outfield – often having to make split second decisions on which base to throw to – and marvel at a rare NY right field fumble that costs another run. I overhear Bret telling his girlfriend that Boston’s, definitely un-mulletted, relief pitcher went to Yale, as did the catcher. There has, apparently, been a recent Ivy league influx into baseball. That it’s worth remarking on makes for an interesting contrast to our public school dominated summer game.

Last orders

The seventh inning stretch, a custom of which I was previously unaware, sees us singing, ‘Take me out to the ballgame,’ and Y, M, C and A-ing along with the big screen. The middle of the seventh is also the cue for alcohol sales to cease and for disappointed Yankees fans to start trickling away. We stick it out to the end then pick our way down to the plush, padded seats at ground level near the plate. A glamorous female steward politely tries to steer us to the exit and then fails to take our picture because her nails are too long to push the button on my phone.

Once outside, I briefly consider a stroll round the neighbourhood before remembering that we are in the Bronx and I’m responsible for a thirteen year old boy.

Cricket’s not like baseball on mogadon and baseball’s not like rounders on steroids (sometimes it’s like baseball on steroids though). You can fill a book with their differences but after an afternoon as perfect as we’ve ever had at Hove, the MCG or Lord’s, the two games will be forever stitched at the seams in my head. From backyard plates to driveway wickets; North Marine Drive, Scarborough to Yankee Stadium, the Bronx. Take me out to a ball game.


Friday night Twenty20 cricket

We’re not sure whether we dread changes to the county cricket schedule or look forward to seeing just how demented something can become and yet still have people claiming it makes perfect sense. However, the latest changes are… all right.

Now, we aren’t feeling tip-top today, so there’s every chance that this is some sort of hallucination, but as the schedule was not described to us by Spider-man, we’re going to consider it to be genuine.

Friday night Twenty20

This is good. We definitely suggested this about six years ago, but can’t find the post. You get home, your mates come round, you supply them with beer and jerk chicken  and you watch a Twenty20 match.

Alternatively, you get home, decide you don’t want to meet your friends because it involves a modicum of effort, so you phone for a takeaway and drink a bottle of gin while watching the first innings of a Twenty20 match before passing out midway through the second.

This is perfect, except for the fact that hardly anyone can watch said matches, because they’re all on subscription TV. Thinking back, that was the main reason why we wanted Friday night Twenty20. We wanted it on terrestrial TV as a means of promoting the sport.

Ah well, it’s still not a bad result. Overall, we approve.

Sunday starts for County Championship matches

This isn’t exactly a rule, but it will be true for much of the season, which is a massive improvement on the current scenario where matches can start on any day of the week, including the eighth day of the prehistoric Baltic nine-day week.

At least we have half an idea what the hell’s going on. We never thought we’d see the day when we had even a sixteenth of an idea what the hell was going on.

Not quite as much one-day cricket

And 50-overs an innings instead of 40. Again, fine by us. Counties don’t need to play more than eight one-dayers and if they’re all to take place in July and August, it seems like a fairly manageable tournament.

We mean that from a fan’s perspective. It’s hard to keep up with these competitions. We generally only realise that a county has won something when a firework is let off.

Conclusions

Not perfect, but remarkably sensible. We fully expect a county chairman to complain and for there to be a full review resulting in an additional 40-over league being brought in before the week is out.


Kevin Pietersen in England selection SHOCKER

Bloodied team-mate lying motionless just out of shot

England today announced that a player who has not retired from international cricket, who averages almost 50 and who hit a hundred in his last Test match is indeed going to be included in a Test squad.

The press asked England’s selection panel whether this was wise in light of the fact that some of the player’s team-mates think that he is a bit of a bell end. The panel may or may not have responded by pointing out that Ian Botham was selected over a hundred times.

We can exclusively reveal that in order for this to have happened, the player in question has had to look several people in the face and say some things.


Eden Gardens in Kolkata for the third Test between India and England

We are delighted that England are playing at Eden Gardens. They will almost certainly lose here, but that’s not the point. It’s simply one of the great sports grounds and to have the opportunity to play here is something in itself.

Recent Tests at Eden Gardens in Kolkata

If you’re looking for England wins, you’re almost certainly in the wrong place. India’s last defeat came against Pakistan in 1999 and since then, they have five wins and two draws. The last two victories have been by an innings and India have topped 600 in their first innings in each of the last three matches.

The 2007 Test against Pakistan was a high-scoring draw from which we learn little. Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble were the only bowlers to see any real success, but that’s no great surprise.

In 2010, South Africa went from 218-1 to 296 all out in their first innings. Sehwag, Tendulkar and Dhoni then made hundreds before Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra chipped away at Hashim Amla’s batting partners to secure a massive victory. It was the archetypal Indian home Test win: stacks of patience when batting and bowling and that ability to suddenly shift into fifth gear the minute the opposition blinks (only without the stalling and complete inability to accelerate to an appropriate speed).  It also set the series up beautifully.

Last year’s innings defeat of West Indies is slightly more encouraging for England in a weird way. India made 631-7 at four runs an over, which isn’t too reassuring. However, it wasn’t all spin. Although R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha did the bulk of the bowling, Umesh Yadav managed to pick up seven wickets.

Conclusions

It’s notable that Yadav only bowled 24 overs in the whole of that last match (Ashwin and Ojha each bowled 54) and there’s a lesson there – fast bowlers only remain effective when fresh. It’s tempting to give them a couple more overs, but using them as the default bowling option – as a captain might in England – is counterproductive.

Even so, it takes some optimism to foresee an England win at one of cricket’s other homes. But that doesn’t matter – hopefully there’s a good crowd in, because that’s what Eden Gardens is really about. So what if it inspires India. That’s what makes the spectacle compelling and that’s what would make an unlikely away win so memorable.


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