Month: April 2015 (page 1 of 3)

How Sussex took the lead without really batting all that well

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Let’s exploit this gap in England’s Test series to get up to speed with this year’s County Championship and the very top of the table specifically. Currently, that means Sussex.

In their first five innings of this year, the individual members of Sussex’s top five passed 50 just four times between them. Sussex have, at points in their various innings, been 128-5, 71-6 and 171-9. Despite this, they won their first two matches. It is therefore worth taking a look at their bowlers.

Sussex have attracted attention for assembling an intriguing seam attack for 2015. Ajmal Shahzad and Tymal Mills are, respectively, an England reject and an England hopeful. However, both pale into insignifance compared to the might of Indooropilly High School’s finest alumnus, Steve Magoffin, a man who nets County Championship wickets like an eastern tropical Pacific tuna fisherman nets dolphins. Only he doesn’t release them afterwards. He hangs onto them – albeit only in statistical form.

That said, it’s actually Shahzad who’s been leading the way. He has 20 wickets at 18.25, Magoffin has 10 at 33.10, while Mills seems to be attracting column inches for every wicket he fails to take. He has three at 45.00.

Sussex are top by five points, but second-placed Durham have a game in hand and also just beat them. Durham are another seam-centric side and while these early season games are just as important as those later in the season, they do perhaps give a somewhat misleading picture of who the main contenders are likely to be.


When is an England squad not an England squad?

This is probably the weirdest England squad we can remember. It’s not quite a B-team, but nor is it a real A-Team. It’s a 2010 cinematic rehash A-Team.

Some of the names are about as familiar as that of Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson as well (the guy who was passed off as B.A. in that film). Lewis Gregory has a good record, but quite a low profile for someone just picked for England, while Zafar Ansari is best known for being a Cambridge type who once bowled Kevin Pietersen. We think we missed the bit where Ansari thrust himself into the limelight and demanded inclusion, but he did celebrate his call-up by getting himself run out off the fifth ball of Surrey’s innings today, which certainly hints that he’s got the right stuff to be an England one-day cricketer.

Most of the other additions are the players you were reading about as being potential miracle solutions back when everyone had an opinion about how rubbish England were: Sam Billings, Jason Roy, James Vince and David Willey. It’s certainly a bold, dynamic squad. A crowd-pleasing one. Or at least it is at the announcement stage.

Just three of England’s World Cup squad have been retained – James Taylor, Alex Hales and Steven Finn – and two of those are recent additions who appear rather more at home in the ‘brave new world’ circle on the Venn diagram. Set against this backdrop, Tim Bresnan suddenly appears the most leftfield pick of all.

England’s Incredible World Cup of Unparalleled Shod is just one of the reasons why there are so many surprise inclusions. There’s also the fact that it’s a one-off match scheduled when England’s Test cricketers have been playing in a match on the other side of the planet just three days before. It’s tempting to suggest that Ireland being the opposition might play a part too, but that’s probably not true. The last flicker of complacency was surely extinguished back in Australia.

England’s captain, Eoin Morgan, is missing the match to play in the IPL. It’s tempting to wonder whether this agreement has prevented him from being dropped. The Irishman seems to have benefited from extended media and public goodwill of late simply through his ability to avoid being Alastair Cook. The moral of the story is that if you’re going to be an ineffectual captain who doesn’t score runs, at least be an ineffectual captain who doesn’t score runs who bats aggressively.


Why we pay no attention to the second division of the County Championship

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Earlier in the year, someone-or-other expressed their reservations about adding three teams to England’s four-day competition and dividing it into three divisions of seven. They said that it would be hard to maintain the quality. We can’t remember who it was, but this comment seemed to us to betray a fundamentally English county cricket attitude to English county cricket.

Despite there being two divisions, some people still see it as all being the same thing, lumping first and second tier statistics in with each other. These people think that adding three smaller teams to a third division would therefore dilute first-class cricket. No it wouldn’t. What it would so is give rubbish third division counties a chance to play against teams who are of roughly equivalent standard. That’s what divisions are. They’re a hierarchy.

On this site, we routinely ignore the second division. It’s not because we don’t care about it – because with Lancashire down there, we most certainly do. It’s just a reaction to the way cricket is covered elsewhere and a means of making an unwieldy competition fractionally more manageable.

The newspapers that still run county cricket match reports pay little heed to the divisions. Most are more likely to cover a Surrey game than any other. Whether that’s because Surrey are a well-supported club, because they feature certain high profile players or simply because the journalist in question lives nearby, it’s the wrong way to report if the County Championship is to be considered a worthwhile entity in its own right. Even Cricinfo, who are generally pretty good about this sort of thing, lump first and second division matches in together in their live scores box in the sidebar.

The county season is also unnecessarily complex and while some will say that complexity is a key part of cricket’s appeal, we’d argue that an already complex sport would benefit from an even more straightforward structure. County cricket hardly need worry about attracting dilettantes.

It is hard for this writer to properly follow the ins and outs of an already complex sport across eight different matches spanning two divisions, particularly when half of the season’s fixtures run at the same time as Test matches. As all of our readers are also possessed of just the one brain, we figure it might be a challenge for them too, so we halve our subject matter by amputating the second division.

Sport is about competition. It seems bizarre to give equal billing to sides regardless of performance. So we don’t.


Jimmy Anderson makes a delicious omelette

jimmy-anderson

Photo by Sarah Ansell

We stand by everything we said yesterday. We never said England lacked eggs, only baskets. There have always been plenty of oeufs in the new ball basket and Jimmy Anderson is adept at using them. Take three wickets for one run and additional receptacles seem superfluous  – particularly if you then produce three additional eggs, in the form of catches and run-outs. Just don’t ask where he was keeping them.

The most impressive part of the Tour de France doesn’t take place in the mountains with thousands of pissed-up Dutchmen bellowing into the leading contenders’ faces. It takes place the next morning when they set off again. At the top of a climb, faces haggard, breathing ragged, the cyclists are tired but at least have the finish in sight. The next day, they do not. They have hundreds of kilometres to go, perhaps the same sorts of climbs again, and they’re carrying all that fatigue from the previous day’s efforts.

There is something of Jimmy Anderson in this. It’s not just the fact that he roused himself to action with England only a fifth of the way to dismissing West Indies and no guarantee that they’d actually reach their intended destination, it’s also the sheer physical resilience of the man.

Innings after innings he at least matches and usually exceeds the workloads of the other pace bowlers. But then, making use of the fourth new ball he’s had his hands on in this match, he bowls as swiftly and as effortlessly and as skilfully as at any point before, almost as if the first Test and the first 30-odd overs he’d bowled in this Test hadn’t happened. Then he balletically plucks one out of the air during a rest between overs. Then he moves like a cat and throws like the complete opposite of a cat to dismiss someone else. Then yet another catch.

When does he rest? He’ll rest when he’s dead, presumably, and looking at England’s fixture list, the ECB will have executed him by the end of the year. Wherever will England keep their eggs then?


The pitch may well be unacceptable…

But complaining about it is even more unacceptable. If England didn’t have quite so many eggs in the basket marked ‘steady accuracy’ things might be rather different.

A truly fast bowler would be nice. A leg-spinner going for runs but making the occasional breakthrough would be handy. A bit more right-arm fast-medium over the wicket however is nothing more than equine floggery post mortem.

It’s not like they didn’t have warning. The first Test pitch was a flatty, while the 2009 tour saw three high-scoring draws, including one in which the Windies made 749-9. Such conditions don’t make for great cricket, but nor, arguably, does England’s current modus operandi with the ball.

And to make matters worse, we’ve just used two Latin phrases in one article. How much more boring could things be? The answer is none. None more boring.


Joe Root makes a hundred on The Day of Inevitable Fifties

Joe Root and a load of grass

For a while it seemed as if no-one would make it all the way – even if it had felt inevitable that several of them would get halfway. Trott was out for 59, Cook for 76 and then Ballance for 77. They were creeping closer and it was Root who added that crucial extra digit.

If you don’t think the third figure matters all that much, ask Alastair Cook, who must continue to endure “hasn’t made a hundred since…” comments even though he made a 95 all of four Tests ago.

The overnight score hinted that there were runs to be had and none of the fifties were a surprise. They were just steady, reliable batsmen on a steady, reliable pitch making steady runs – you could rely on them to do that.

Root, however, is at present even more reliable than your trusty old hammer and somehow achieves this while scoring at a fair old lick. This was his sixth Test fifty on the bounce, a period during which he’s scored at about 70 runs per hundred balls.

Only one thing could possibly have outshone Root and that was an unholy melding of mischief, humour and knobheadery. Step forward Marlon Samuels, who opted to send-off Ben Stokes with an ashen-faced salute, hat clasped to his heart.

This infuriating goading was all the better for the fact that Stokes isn’t really the kind of person who’s at all happy to laugh at himself – particularly moments after picking out a fielder in the deep. He’s more the kind of person to call you a C-word, before calling himself a C-word, before calling some inanimate object a C-word, before attempting to dismantle that inanimate object with his fists. This is pretty much what he did, although now the rest of the team are wise to his punchy rage-venting, they presumably wrapped him in a giant duvet onesie in a bid to prevent self-annihilation.


Stuart Broad has left the building

Or at least last week’s Stuart Broad has. Everyone get their stuff so we can move somewhere else lest he returns and finds us again.

We did suggest in the comments to that piece that the real Slim Stuart might again stand up. He had bowled a handful of quicker balls in the first Test which at least hinted that he was still capable of such a thing. It was just that he couldn’t maintain it.

On day two of the second Test, things picked up a bit. Broad bowled pretty quickly and lo, he suddenly started taking wickets. People can get a bit ‘it’s what you do with it that counts’ about bowling speed, but as we always say: pace isn’t everything, but it is something.

Look at the chart below and it’s fairly obvious where day two begins.

Hawkeye data taken from Cricinfo

Hawkeye data taken from Cricinfo

There’s a lot of talk about resting quicker bowlers these days. That makes sense because in general that’s what they need. Bowling builds fatigue and international bowlers bowl a hell of a lot.

However, bowling also, in parallel, builds fitness, and so what the bowler actually delivers is based on the relationship between those two things. Broad, having been injured, hasn’t actually had an enormous workload in recent times. He may not have missed any Test matches, but he’s missed one-day series and been out of the nets. We’re therefore hopeful that he’ll return to his best as fitness builds without being negated by too much fatigue. For a short time yesterday, he was decent.

Broad himself believes that going a bit wider on the crease helped him bowl quicker, saying “it gave me momentum to drive my hips through.”

Maybe that’s true. Maybe it was going wider on the crease. Maybe he’s gaining fitness as well. Maybe a different attitude helped liberate his body from tense, self-imposed shackles. Maybe the wind had changed. Whatever it was, he’ll need it to continue because yesterday he looked good, whereas the day before he bowled like a rusty old robot snatched from a pie factory production line.


West Indies v England, second Test, day one – anger and amazement

It’s been a long time since we reduced the broad spectrum of human emotion down to either anger or amazement. Let’s bring back that flawless rating system to assess various aspects of day one of the second Test.

Angry

England’s bowling attack. We’re perfectly happy about the return of Bowling Ali, but there’s still a homogeneity about England’s other four bowlers. Their sameness allowed them all to be equally unproductive on a flat pitch in the first Test, but far more importantly than that, it’s really, really boring to watch. Sometimes you need something different to look forward to, even if it ultimately turns out to be crap.

Amazed

The in-swinger from James Anderson’s which could only ever be described as ‘booming’. Huge swing and busted stumps. Cricket doesn’t get much better than that.

Jonathan Trott getting an over. Hurray! Something different.

There was definitely a third thing as well. We forget what it was now.


What we got from working with James Anderson

James Anderson perfects ball levitation

They always say of Twenty20 cricket that it’s ideal for modern lifestyles because we’re all so busy these days, as if everyone’s got oh-so-many important things to do all the time and all those labour-saving devices have had no impact. It’s probably true though. We are busier. We’re busy watching Test cricket because they constrict entire series into little more than a fortnight so that we have no time for anything else.

This is our way of saying that we have to write about James Anderson’s England Test wicket record today because the next Test starts in a few hours. No time to mull things over. No time to reflect. We’re still chewing over the first Test, but already the plate’s being whisked away and replaced with the next course.

So Jimmy then?

The truth is, we have very little to offer. We’ve been writing about James Anderson fairly regularly for nigh-on a decade now, so we don’t have a huge amount to add. Just as you’re only really one day older than yesterday on your birthday – same as every other day – so Jimmy’s taken just one more wicket, even if it did take him past Beefy.

Who he went past is probably the most meaningful gauge of what it means to have become England’s top Test wicket-taker. Ian Botham was not like other England cricketers. He was a comic book hero who performed outrageous feats. Ask an Englishman who knows nothing of cricket to name an England cricketer and they will name Ian Botham. If you only know one cricketer, you know Ian Botham.

And Jimmy’s taken more wickets than him.

Several years ago

We’ve followed James Anderson’s career as closely as we’ve followed any career, right from his first-class debut. We claim no great insight here. It was just blind luck.

When he first appeared in county cricket, we were working with someone called James Anderson who also liked cricket and also followed Lancashire. As you might imagine, we both checked the scorecards religiously and joked about his progress. That progress was famously rapid.

We would have been behind him from then on anyway, but at some point shortly afterwards we saw him playing for Lancashire and he swung the ball and took wickets. We thought he was great. Perhaps this is hindsight, but within a year or so of that time, we can start testing our memories by comparing them against things we wrote on the internet. We wrote that he was great. But not only that. It seems we also wrote that he was magic.


Alex Hales makes use of the door handle

alex-hales

They always talk about players ‘knocking on the door’ when it comes to England selection. Then, when a player makes a really compelling case, they say he pretty much knocked the door down. Alex Hales seems inclined to take an even more straightforward route into the team. He’s just going to push down the handle, quietly open the door, walk in and sit down.

Yorkshire are a few players down, but their bowling attack is still strong enough to have secured a 10-wicket win last week, dismissing Worcestershire for an even hundred in the second innings. As such, Alex Hales’ 222 off 250 balls is what you might, with a degree of understatement, call a tidy effort.

At 393-7, it’ll also be interesting to see how the rest of this match pans out – partly because Hales is still in, but also to see what kind of a pitch it is. This has all the hallmarks of being one of those innings people mistakenly refer to in years to come as being pivotal in a player’s career.

The truth is, Hales has only been reduced to the rudeness of an uninvited door open after a couple of years of tap-tappery. This innings is the act of a frustrated man who is leaving nothing to chance.

Last year, we already knew that Hales could hit hundreds in T20 internationals. Perhaps concerned by this seemingly one-dimensional CV, he took steps to fill in the sizeable gaps. He made three hundreds in the 50-over competition and finished the tournament with an average of 76.80. He also made three Championship hundreds and averaged 50.21 (in the first division).

Since then, England have picked and unpicked him like poor stitching. He’s pissed off. He said as much in an interview last week.

So what can he do? Well, he can score a hundred against the county champions and then, once he’s done that, he can just carry on, scoring more and more runs with cold relentlessness. When you’ve already travelled across the threshold in both directions, you realise that doors are meant to be opened.


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