Month: June 2015 (page 1 of 3)

Remember Tim Bresnan?

Of course you do. He played for England as recently as last month (against Ireland – what do you mean you don’t remember?). But do you remember what he was? You probably remember Tim Bresnan as a diligent and accurate third seamer, but once upon a time he was an all-rounder.

Maybe that’s generous. He was more accurately a lower order batsman who could make runs and when you see a 22-year-old like that, it’s natural to predict further improvement. However, the 2007 season in which he made three hundreds and averaged 48.5 remained a bizarre aberration until recently.

Having floated away from England’s Test team like a wiry-haired buoyancy aid, Bresnan had also sunk to number eight in Yorkshire’s batting line-up like a partially deflated wiry-haired buoyancy aid. It was from this position that he made 100 not out against Somerset last month – only the fourth first-class hundred of his career.

This week, he did it again, making 169 not out in a dementedly protracted partnership with Jonny Bairstow against Durham. At the age of 30, could Bresnan finally fulfil his promise and become an actual all-rounder?

We’re wishing him all the best – although not because he’s a loveable fatty, which is what you’ll no doubt assume. Now seems an appropriate time to restate our belief that he is no such thing and has in fact gained this reputation largely because of his abnormally round head. His big tree trunk arms may add to the impression as well, but he’s surprisingly fat-free. We have previously described him as being like a burly puma and cannot currently improve on that.


The lessons Mitchell Starc doesn’t need to learn

We remember seeing a story in the local paper once where a woman had come second in some sort of vegetable growing competition despite being the only person to have entered that particular category.

Let’s say she grew a broccoflower – which is apparently a thing. In a world class diss, the judges decided that Janice’s broccoflower was only worthy of a silver medal despite unarguably being the best broccoflower on display. Second in a competition of one. Janice probably wished she’d never entered.

Sections of the Australian media have a tendency to do the reverse of this. They perceive the nation’s best fast bowlers as being exceptional purely on the basis that they’re the best available. At times like now, when there’s been talk that Mitchell Johnson or Ryan Harris being omitted from the Test team, that makes perfect sense – Australia do indeed have some very good quick bowlers. However, a couple of years ago, back when the team was rubbish, it led to a slightly delusional confusion between promise and quality.

Back then, during Johnson’s lull, a whole host of young quicks were touted as being possibilities for the Test team. They were spoken of largely because there weren’t many established players doing a decent job, but many people took the fact that they were being mentioned as a weird sort of proof of their ability.

Mitchell Starc was one of these players. He played a few Tests, and may have done a bit better if he’d ever been allowed more than one match in a row, but it wasn’t some devastating start. It was promising, but not much more than that. It rather feels as if he’s moved on from that now though.

Not much has happened in Test cricket since then, but there’s increasingly a sense that Starc is now fully-formed. Sometimes it makes sense to distinguish between one-day and Test formats, but it depends on the player. Starc is no Nathan Bracken style white ball specialist. What has made him so frighteningly successful in the shorter formats is just as relevant – if not more relevant – in the grown-ups’ game.

For England fans there’s a horrible suspicion that this summer will be when the left-armer kicks off his flip-flops and makes himself comfortable in Test cricket. He’s spent time with Yorkshire. He’s toured once before. Plenty of the usual mistakes that every foreign quick bowler makes are behind him. Invisibly, when no-one was really watching, plenty of lessons have already been learnt.

The broccoflower competition’s a bit more hotly-contested this year, but Starc may still secure first place.


The story of Matt Prior

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Perhaps it’s mankind’s predisposition towards seeing the world in terms of stories that has resulted in there being so much emphasis on the latter stages of Matt Prior’s career. Stories build towards an ending, so we tend to think that’s the most important bit.

Such a way of looking at things is almost always unfair on a cricketer and especially so in Prior’s case where a few months not fully fit during which he also suffered a relatively short-lived falling out with a team-mate paint an unflattering picture.

Let’s deal with the Kevin Pietersen thing first

If only to get it out of the way. Weirdly, we’ve always closely associated the two men because they were the standout players from an A tour to India way back when. For the most part, they got on okay. It’s worth noting that many of the older events recounted in KP’s book have been recoloured as a result of their subsequent falling out. It was really only quite recently that things went awry.

One of KP’s biggest gripes seems to be that Prior was somehow big-headed, as proven by the fact that he referred to himself as ‘The Big Cheese’. Prior’s always been known as Cheese, but as we always understood it, this wasn’t because of some sense that he was kind of a big deal, but because of a tendency to look like this.

Maybe the nickname evolved a little over time, but if you missed the subtleties, didn’t quite appreciate the cultural concept and maybe weren’t all that inclined towards self-deprecation yourself, maybe you could have got hold of the wrong end of the stick and subsequently decided to beat him with it.

Declaration batting

Many England fans who really warmed to Prior did so because of how he batted when England were looking to declare. This is no ‘yay, boundaries!’ thing. It was something deeper than that.

When it comes to upping the run-rate ahead of a declaration, many batsmen are only too delighted to have an excuse to go for glory. Attempting to hit sixes is a somewhat self-indulgent form of selflessness – almost a win-win.

Prior’s approach was different. He would look to increase the run-rate by any means he could, including through near-suicidal running between the wickets. Although you’re working towards the same end, there’s no glory in a quick single or a scampered three. Caught at long-on is glorious failure, but when you’re run-out, you always look like a div.

The stats

Prior sneaks out of Test cricket with an average of 40.18 allied to a very good strike-rate of 61.66. Pietersen’s, weirdly, is 61.72. (Is there nothing these fast-scoring South Africa born England middle-order batsmen of similar vintage don’t have in common?)

Hundreds-wise, his match-saving second innings 110 not out against New Zealand in 2013 was probably the most significant, but we’ll always retain a soft spot for the cruelty of his 118 at the SCG in 2011. Batting at number eight and with England already ahead, the runs weren’t really needed – but he got them anyway and in brutal, demoralising fashion. He helped England win that series in style.

However, what we’ll most remember is some kind of fictional distillation of his career. England are good; England are ahead; Prior cuts a short one at a million miles an hour straight towards a boundary fielder but somehow still runs two, diving for his crease to complete the second. Shortly afterwards, England declare and they go on to win easily. The end.


Magazine aimed specifically at Michael Clarke’s Australia team launched

Asked about ‘the line‘ earlier this month, Michael Clarke responded: “I probably say this every series but we respect there’s a line you can’t cross. Both teams might head-butt that line, but I’m confident we won’t overstep the mark.”

Everyone knows that Clarke would never breach a line, which is why he would doubtless appreciate a year’s subscription to Colour Calm magazine.

With over a hundred pages of ‘relaxing art therapy’ for adults who enjoy colouring-in, it should keep him busy for all that extra free time he’ll gain when his superannuated side loses each Test inside three days.

An online version of the mag – fillarea.com – is on the cards for those who prefer to use a computer for their pastime.


Joe Root becomes the context and goodbye to Ian Smith

If we were tasked with producing a faceless match report for the Twenty20 international between England and New Zealand, we’d write: “Joe Root top-scored in an innings in which Jason Roy and Sam Billings showed great promise,” or something like that.

Joe Root is not the focus there. He’s context. He’s something you mention but don’t feel the need to write about at great length. Root’s form has clearly gone beyond being remarkable and become unremarkable. Who knows whether it’s a high point or a false summit, but it’s still worth taking a snapshot. He currently averages 54.11 in Tests, 42.36 in one-day internationals and 41.83 (with a strike-rate of 131.41) in Twenty20. That is better than fancying a brew in the belief that you’re out of milk but then discovering that actually, no, you’re not out of milk so you can have a brew after all.

Last night’s match was also a sad end, however. This New Zealand cricket team who have been such fun will now disperse (for only a few of them will actually go home). This is disappointing enough in itself, but it also means that Ian Smith walks out of the Sky commentary box.

We appreciate this is of little interest to those of you who don’t get to see live coverage, but Smith deserves a nod all the same. We’ve always liked him, but didn’t perhaps realise how much until this summer. Smith can offer insights into the New Zealand cricket team and the dark art of wicketkeeping, but it’s his demeanour which is his greatest strength.

Quite simply, he enjoys cricket, which doesn’t always seem to be the case with some commentators. He also enjoys his job and his English colleagues clearly enjoy working with him more than most. Smith, Mike Atherton and Nasser Hussain have exchanged (good-natured) dry jibes with increasing frequency and when David Lloyd tried to discomfit him with one of his trademark man-of-the-people digressions, Smith smoothly outmanoeuvred him without breaking stride.

For reasons known only to himself, Lloyd was testing Smith on bingo calls and when the Kiwi didn’t know one, Lloyd asked: “Do you not have bingo down there?”

“Yes,” said Smith, and cited a different bingo call as proof. “What’s that?” asked Lloyd. Smith gave him the answer and then shot back: “Do you not have bingo up here?”

Point is, Ian Smith can give and take a joke without the unsavoury word ‘banter’ welling up in your mind. It’s a priceless ability for a commentator and as the Ashes wears on, we’ll undoubtedly miss that.


‘I’m the captain’ says Dhoni following Bangladesh series defeat

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Following India’s one-day series defeat to Bangladesh, MS Dhoni has hit back at his critics, saying that he’s the captain and nothing beyond that.

When it was put to him that the result might be considered something of a disappointment to India fans, Dhoni may or may not have replied: “It’s my team.”

The implication seems to be that the captain is in control and if he wants to lose to Bangladesh, he can lose to Bangladesh and no-one else is permitted an opinion on the matter.

“I don’t slag you lot off when you use the word ‘would’ when you mean ‘will’,” he continued. “So don’t get all up in my grill when my team loses a game of cricket. Each person should stick to his own field. My field is the winning and losing of games of cricket and I will continue to do both of those things to the best of my ability until the selectors decide that someone else can do them better than I can.”

When reporters looked at him quizzically, he added: “I ain’t even lying.”


Steven Smith is destined to fail says Michael Clarke

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Michael Clarke has launched an astonishing broadside against his team-mate Steven Smith ahead of this summer’s Ashes series. The Australian captain claims that Smith will struggle to make any sort of impact this summer despite now being ranked the best Test batsman in the world.

Responding to Graeme Swann’s assertion that Smith might get found out in English conditions, Clarke said simply: “We will find out in five Test matches’ time whether Steve Smith is good enough to have success over here.”

A hundred in any of the first four Test matches would surely prove Smith’s credentials, so it is striking that the Australian captain does not think the matter will be resolved before the end of the series. Clearly, he is expecting few runs from the team’s new number three prior to the fifth Test and presumably not even then.

Smith has not commented publically, but will doubtless be horrified to learn that his captain has such little faith in him. Alternatively, he may see Clarke’s words as merely the latest salvo in the proxy war for control of the Australia team. Clarke, threatened by Smith’s recent success and his status as heir apparent, may be trying to undermine his rival to firm up his own position.

Either way, the Australia camp is in obvious disarray with the cracks destined to widen like those in the Waca pitch on which they won’t be playing.

With suspicions that Chris Rogers and Brad Haddin may be suffering from senility amongst other age-related illnesses, things currently look bleak for the tourists and there are also rumours that Darren Lehmann spat on a penguin while at London Zoo this week, raising the possibility that the coach may come under fire for his boorish behaviour.


Was this the greatest ever one-day series decider?

And is ‘number of wicketkeepers in squad’ the key metric when predicting the likelihood of success nowadays? Sod net practice, let’s get everyone squatting down with Bruce French for hours at a time.

Who’s got a spare room? We’re starting to think we should invite New Zealand to move in. We don’t want to overcommit too soon or anything, but things have been going so well between us recently, it seems like a logical move.


Langoustines? From England?

We kept an eye on this one-day series between England and New Zealand while we were away, but we were rather too preoccupied eating squid to read as much about it as we normally would. It was therefore slightly odd to return to lots of articles of the oeuvre ‘is this the greatest one-day series EVER?’

Betteridge’s law of headlines applies of course, but it’s still interesting that some people feel it might be okay to ask such a question. Quite how you’d judge the bestness of something that spans several thousand separate deliveries is perhaps irrelevant. It’s been a good series, but more pertinently it’s been a welcome series – in particular for England fans.

One-day cricket has often been the standard bearer for English cricketing underperformance. Even when his Test and Twenty20 brothers have been strong, you could still rely on the middle sibling to disappoint you. However, over the last year or so, English cricket has been more far-reachingly sad and so the 50-over side has responded by dropping its game still further.

In the same way that a poky little office with failing equipment leaves employees tetchy and fractious, so this general all-round rubbishness provided ideal growing conditions for melodrama. In the absence of entertaining cricket, people who have played cricket for England became the entertainment. It was all very depressing and no-one who likes cricket really enjoyed it.

That was the backdrop to this series. Desperate England fans would have settled for a small portion of whitebait, but they have been treated to a fish platter for two, all on their own. Not all of the fish on there is necessarily of the highest quality, but it’s unfamiliar and exciting and it’s far more than was expected.

Is it the best one-day series ever? Of course not, but it didn’t require anything close to that for people to have been blown away. The important thing is that for once everyone’s full and enjoyed the meal.


Ireland v England at Malahide – match report

Chuck writes:

The last time Ireland played England in a one-day international in Malahide, Dublin, in 2013, I injured my back whilst emptying the dishwasher (at home, not in Malahide). This year, to avoid any such health and safety issues, I took myself along to the rematch instead, with a number of colleagues in tow. Having booked the tickets last autumn on the back of a cursory check of the long range weather forecast, we were somewhat disappointed in the run up to the match itself to see a storm brewing over Dublin, with its eye seemingly centred on the Malahide cricket club around noon on Friday. Oh well, we thought, they’re never right about the weather, those forecasters.

On the morning of the match, it was dry, if a little overcast. I arrived at the entrance to the grounds just as the announcer, well, announced the arrival of President Higgins to greet the two teams. Thankfully, there was no ensuing crush from those outside the ground eager to see the President, although I was worried how he was going to clear the boundary. I took my seat at 10.45am precisely, alongside the first two of my colleagues who were already seated with a pint in either hand. They were proud to tell me they had been second in line at the bar at 10.30am, just behind an English supporter who was berating the staff for not serving him at 10.29am. Having vowed not to have a drink before 11am, I contented myself with a cup of tea and a couple of chocolate digestives, a packet of which I had brought along with me with a view to sharing, but they don’t go with beer, seemingly. We agreed that the darkening clouds overhead suggested the forecasters might just have got it right for once.

One of a group of English supporters in front of us was wearing a full wet suit, snorkel and goggles as a commentary on the forecast. We gathered it was his stag weekend. They were ribbing one of the programme sellers, whose perm did make her look a little like 1970s-era Kevin Keegan, so there were some “I will love it if we beat them, love it!” type commentaries, which she either ignored or didn’t understand. I had a pint. We were slagging off the announcer, who in between every over ended his unnecessary score updates (we can see the scoreboard, thank you) by saying, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y indeed, “… at this, the Royal London One Day Cricket International between Ireland and England at Malahide Cricket Club.” I think he was worried that somebody might be at the wrong event.

We had all brought our sunglasses to encourage the weather to do its best but in the end they weren’t much good against the rain, which arrived around 12.15-ish. We repaired to the beer tent and had another beer. Then we repaired to the food tent and had some food. I almost mastered the art of holding a pint, an umbrella, a burger and a basket of fries at the same time. Not quite the cuisine or the setting I had imagined for this, my first cricket match. We did spot the usual gang of Richie Benaud impersonators, who looked miserable enough wandering around the ‘tented village’ in their cream coloured linen jackets, although at least their wigs were keeping them dry, if somewhat itchy.

Eventually we decided to walk down to Malahide village for some proper drinks, knowing we’d only be a few minutes walk away for the inevitable resumption of play. However, the ridiculous and unnecessary abandonment of play around 3pm-ish intervened, although at least it meant that we didn’t have to stir from the pub, which was just as well because it was really tipping down outside. We agreed that the guy in the wetsuit had the right idea. We got a train around 5pm and I walked a couple of miles home in the rain to clear my head, arriving just in time for dinner.

Saturday and Sunday turned out to be dry and warm, either one of which would have been just perfect for cricket. Bloody cricket administrators.

Send your match reports to king@kingcricket.co.uk. If it’s a professional match, on no account mention the cricket itself. If it’s an amateur match, feel free to go into excruciating detail.


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