Month: December 2012 (page 1 of 2)

How do you rate Mike Hussey?

Mike Hussey - we call him 'Mr Fielding' or 'Mr Throwing'

What happens to Mike Hussey’s nickname now? Can you call someone Mr Cricket if their job is to inspect construction projects to confirm they comply with building regulations? We’re assuming that’s the kind of thing Mike Hussey will do after retiring – something dull that will allow him to be irritatingly officious.

He’s been a surprisingly good international cricketer though – he’ll always have that. People don’t generally remark on Hussey’s record that much because there’s always been a feeling that he was going to have a brief, statistically freakish Test career after only being capped at the age of 30. However, he’s actually hung about to the point where he’s played 78 Tests (it’ll be 79 if he doesn’t contract pleurisy or something before the New Year Test).

To put his career in perspective, only eight Englishmen have ever scored more than his 19 Test hundreds and he’s managed to average over 50 in a side that has frequently been utterly toss. He should probably get extra points for that. Unlike some of his predecessors, he’s actually had to do some bloody work rather than just mincing his way towards declarations.

Hussey also carved himself a highly unlikely short format career as a ‘finisher’. It’s quite a CV. Hopefully that will count for something when he’s job hunting next month. Bet he’s picked out his interview tie already.


Cricket management games – a must for administrators

It’s December the 24th and we’re feeling festive, so we’re going to write about everyone’s favourite pastime – administration.

In short, we have a demand: all potential cricket administrators should be forced to play four seasons on a cricket management game before they can be considered for any job.

We reached this conclusion after downloading a trial copy of the latest version of what was originally Marcus Trescothick’s Cricket Coach last night. We started a new game, decided to be England and were immediately confronted with a World Twenty20. This caused us to sigh wearily.

This always happens in cricket management games (International Cricket Captain is the other). Basically, the games suffer not because of how they are made, but because of what they are trying to simulate. Turns out managing an international cricket team is REALLY BORING, because you’re forever competing in some no-mark tournament or tri-series that you don’t give a toss about.

If cricket administrators had to play through the repetitive formulaic shenanigans of a five-match one-day tour of India – picking pretty much the same bloody team again and again and adopting the same bloody tactics match after match – they would know not to schedule two such series within the space of 12 months.

When it comes to measuring the sporting value of a fixture, the ‘skip match’ option is a very accurate barometer.

Happy Christmas to those of you who live in a country where that’s meaningful. Have an equally Happy December 25th, the rest of you.


India and England need to strive for more mediocrity

England hit the new ball well and Jos Buttler played the final over brilliantly, but in between it was like they were running through pudding – plenty of effort, but nothing but the slowest, steadiest progress.

With the ball, they mostly bowled wides and then occasionally rattled a batsman. In the field, they dropped and took catches and missed and executed run-outs. In short, everything was either ace or crap. India were similar. They hit whopping sixes and then repeatedly tried to run themselves out.

Both sides could improve greatly were they to elevate the worst bits of their game to a level of underwhelming competence. We demand better cricket. We demand more mediocrity. Come on everybody, let’s make some banners and storm something.


A cricket book in an unusual place

You’d all forgotten about our feature ‘cricket bats/stuff in unusual places’ – UNTIL NOW!

Ged sent us this:

Mike Atherton does write a delicious tome

Send your pictures of cricket bats and other cricket stuff in unusual places to king@kingcricket.co.uk


England’s rich and femmer tourists – and also the journeymen

We're pretty sure we said Alastair Cook would be an uninspiring captain

We’ve always wondered how an England team could win in India. Winning in Australia always seemed impossible because of how good they were and because a squad on a long tour always seemed to unravel like the stitching in our rucksack. Winning in India seemed equally impossible, but for different reasons.

England are at least familiar with the true pitches and bouncers of Australia, but in India Test cricket seems almost like a different sport. The challenge is similar to when you first play cricket with a proper cricket ball after years of tennis ball slogging. We don’t mean in the sense that it’s suddenly more dangerous, just that you’re suddenly confronted with a ball that doesn’t behave anything like you expected. It doesn’t bounce. It turns corners. It just feels all wrong.

This experience is probably worst for the batsmen, but England’s bowlers tend to feel lost as well, particularly the quicks.

The rich

For all the losses, England’s bowling away from home has actually been quite magnificent this year. Here are the figures. This is even more impressive when you consider that for the most part the batsmen have been spodding everything up with grim inevitability. It’s been like building a large, teetering Lego tower with an unhinged Airedale Terrier bounding around the room. It takes spectacular professionalism/autism to pick up the bricks and recommence construction.

We’re currently questioning whether a couple of England’s quicker bowlers are still what they’re cracked up to be, but the fact remains that throughout 2012, England have managed to field four wicket-taking bowlers. That’s not really been possible in places like India and Sri Lanka before. England normally have one or two bowlers who seem like they might possibly threaten for a bit of the time and then a couple of support acts – either good bowlers who aren’t well-suited to the conditions, or county cricket makeweights who are.

In years gone by, England would have been delighted to have played Test series in the UAE, Sri Lanka and India with their spinner having returned figures as good as Monty Panesar’s (33 wickets at 26.03). In 1992, England toured India and fielded four spinners of whom Graeme Hick was far and away the most successful. In 2001, they toured with Ashley Giles as the first spinner and Richard Dawson as the second.

In 2012, Monty’s the second spinner. Graeme Swann has taken 49 wickets at 24.00 and then there’s Jimmy Anderson transcending conditions as a bonus. What riches.

India’s batting was worse than in the past, but that was at least partly down to the fact that England’s bowling was better. It had to be.

The femmer

England haven’t won in India through the team performance that’s sometimes being described this week. They won by making up for their shortcomings in other ways. The batting’s been femmer all year and that’s been a constant threat. It’s been the ‘but’ or ‘however’ even when they’ve appeared to be in positions of strength.

Against Pakistan, England’s batsmen seemed to be more keen to lose the series than the bowlers were to win it. Things weren’t much better in Sri Lanka, although KP saved the day.

It then seemed to be the same again in India, but somehow they found a way. Alastair Cook’s performance was so blisteringly exceptional that the only logical thing to do is ignore it and focus on the journeymen.

The journeymen

Nick Compton should have been embarrassed to be at the crease with Cook, but despite scoring at one run an over, he carried on regardless. He gave other players confidence that they wouldn’t be dismissed and a decent opportunity to size up the pitch. He did a really underwhelming job that was actually very important and we do hope he makes some serious runs in New Zealand.

Ian Bell was almost entirely pointless until his final innings of the tour. We take for granted that it was an easy pitch on which to survive and many feel it’s typical of Bell that he should cash in when the going’s easy, but cashing in is one of the major aspects of modern Test batting. You have to shrug off a prolonged run of incompetence and make runs when they’re needed – which they were.

Jonathan Trott is also taken for granted. His innings at Nagpur was similar to Bell’s, although he did make 87 in the previous match. He has actually made more runs away from home than anyone bar Alastair Cook this year.

Fourth on that list is Matt Prior, who hasn’t earned a single headline and who has also had to keep wicket. He might just be our favourite.

Conclusion

The Ashes win in Australia was a masterpiece of planning and execution. The series win in India was a masterpiece of bumbling through, doing as much of the job as you can with the few fantastic, top-of-the-range tools you do possess, before completing the work using an old spoon and a rusty hammer.


Follow this, watch that

This pitch and this match are being slagged off by many people, but we’ve found it compelling because it’s been so alien. It hasn’t been a match that’s been great to watch, but it has been fascinating to follow because cricketers are so rarely tested in such conditions. As a result of that, it’s been very hard to predict what’s going to happen and unpredictability is the lifeblood of sport.

Normally when a pitch is flat, it’s possible to score runs, but this has been something entirely different. It’s been like some quasi-religious exercise in patience and restraint. The players’ emotions and impulses have changed more rapidly than the score. It’s been a trial by status quo.

It’s not been a trial by Status Quo, you understand. Francis Rossi hasn’t been handing down judgments regarding Ian Bell’s use of the feet – although he doubtless has plenty of interesting things to say on the matter. It also seems likely that he’d identify with a bunch of men achieving a lot through near endless repetion of the three things they’ve found to work.

Speaking of work, it’s also been like that. Always good to see how professional sportsmen cope with the grinding monotony that constitutes life for the rest of us.


When MS Dhoni was run out for 99

MS Dhoni in a match where people played shots

To fall one centimetre short of a hundred is probably a little bit irritating. MS Dhoni is doubtless wishing he had longer arms.

We quite like a 99 and to be run out is the best way to do it. There’s a sort of soiled majesty about it – so much hard work ending with a smeared frontage and a bit of choice language.

MS Dhoni is a run out for 99 kind of batsman. We mean that as a compliment. He doesn’t play to build himself flattering statisics. He plays to win.

Today Dhoni hit a fifty, which is neither here nor there. Today Dhoni put India in a very good position, which is significant.


Cricket owes James Anderson

Jimmy Anderson miraculously evading injury

Like most bowlers, James Anderson is frequently up against it. Modern pitches are generally against him, overseas conditions are often against him and the fixture list is always against him. However, like a fat man’s old belt, Jimmy hasn’t buckled in a long, long time.

Fit for purpose

Most of his pace bowling team-mates have imploded at some point. It might be the pitch, the match situation or the volume of overs – it’s usually all of those things. Eventually they break down injured, lose rucks of pace or simply bowl a hatful of dross.

Jimmy very rarely does any of those things. This speaks of great mental resilience and incredible physical fitness. It’s hard to measure the former, so he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. With regard to the latter, we wonder whether anyone truly comprehends how exceptional he is.

Dale Steyn is the only other fast bowler we can think of who can boast such speed, strength, flexibility and endurance. Add no little amount of skill to the mix and you’d be hard-pressed to find more rounded athletes in any other sport. Yet for all the good days, these pair are frequently perceived as nobbut dray horses.

Jimmy generally bowls well

Sometimes that gets him wickets. Often it doesn’t. Either way, he ploughs on like a man who really, really loves ploughing (albeit a man who doesn’t express his plough-love through his facial expressions).

First over of the day, last over of the day, first day of the series, last day of the season, Jimmy bowls at 85mph and he tries to take wickets. Every now and again, he gets what he deserves – but not often enough.

This lad from Lancashire puts in so many hard yards that it makes more sense to measure his effort in furlongs or leagues. He is way in credit. That was why it was great to see him get a few wickets today. Cricket owes James Anderson.


The drab life between the leave and the lofted block

Joe Root isn't 11 really - he's 12

On Sky, Nick Knight asked why England had been scoring at two runs an over, like it was some sort of policy. The truth is that even Kevin Pietersen couldn’t score quicker. Early wickets probably brought added caution, but the pitch seems to have dictated that there will be some drab cricket in this match. However, it will be fascinating to see how the players cope with that.

Ian Bell didn’t cope. He rummaged around for a viable run-scoring stroke and found nothing. He therefore explored some less predictable options, such as the aerial block. This didn’t prove effective. Bell will probably be fine in New Zealand, but his limitations against spin are evolving rather than receding. Monty Panesar’s inclusion in a team should perhaps automatically prompt his removal.

Jonathan Trott sort of coped, but then forgot to hit one delivery, seemingly having forgotten that he had taken a more legside stance. We can probably consider this to have been the kind of stupid thing one only does once, such as going to the Trafford Centre in December.

Matt Prior has coped, which is to be expected, because he’s magic. More impressively, Joe Root’s coped. We can’t remember what we were doing when we were 11, but we certainly wouldn’t have batted with the same solidity if we’d been asked to make our England Test debut.

It is hard to know what to make of a score like 199-5 in these circumstances. We suspect it’s not good. We suspect India’s batsmen will be better able to wait for the ball and also do something with it when it finally does reach them. On the other hand, maybe the slow speed of the pitch won’t buy enough fractions of a second to make up for the unpredictability of the bounce. So many questions. So much doubt. We guess this is why we follow amwhole Test match and not just the first day.

By the way, hats off to India for fielding four spinners and one fast bowler. It’s the kind of strategy we might have adopted when playing Brian Lara Cricket and is therefore to be applauded. Come to think of it, this is often how we batted in Test matches on that game as well. This means we can probably expect a complete loss of patience midway through tomorrow which will see sixes alternate with wickets for two overs. India will then duck slower ball bouncers and find themselves all out for three.


The case for Onions

Jambon-Gris Oignons

Delicious and versatile. Oh wait, upper-case ‘O’. Let’s start again.

Graham Onions is the England bowler everyone rates, but not enough that he’s ever the person they think should play. His qualities are low-octane and harder to see. There’s always a taller bowler or a faster bowler who’s more eye-catching. He doesn’t even swing the ball much.

Graham Onions basically does two things: (1) absolutely nothing wrong and (2) he bowls at the stumps. His excellence lies in doing these things over a prolonged period of time. He bowls more balls that batsmen have to play that might possibly get them out, but probably won’t. This doesn’t sound like much, but the accumulation of possiblys almost always results in wickets.

If Steven Finn cannot play the fourth Test – and it seems likely this will be the case – we would therefore rather England selected Graham Onions as the second seam bowler. Tim Bresnan is the other option, but we (perhaps unfairly) feel that we’ve already seen enough of him in India to know that he would take no wickets and serve no purpose as a bowler.

We feel for Bresnan at the minute. He seems to have lost pace following elbow surgery. No-one made much of it during the summer, because he took a few wickets. Medium-pacers can do that in England in May, but against South Africa and India he has seemed as pointless as the balls of dough he looks like he should be making.

We hope Bresnan regains the weight in his ball. Until then, there’s only ek Piaza. (Apologies, Indian readers, if that’s complete gibberish.)


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