Month: April 2017 (page 1 of 2)

Zafar Ansari’s “other ambitions” and other tales of premature retirement from cricket

Cricket - Friends Life Twenty20 Finals Day - second semi final - Hampshire v Surrey

Each to his own and all that, but the “new chapter” in Zafar Ansari’s life sounds dull as shit to us. He’s retired from cricket at the age of 25 to pursue another career, “potentially in law”.

We’ve been here before. We’ve been here several times. There was James Bruce, who retired at 28 in favour of a career ‘in the City’ and there was Alex Loudon shortly before him.

We wrote about these bizarre decisions for The Wisden Cricketer in 2007 and looking back on that piece, it seems Loudon left cricket in favour of “a corporate advisory firm”. We’ve still no concrete grasp on what that might mean, but we do know that the words alone make us feel hollow and slightly tearful about the fundamental meaninglessness of existence.

To try and gain some insight into WHY IN HELL a man might make such a decision, we spoke to Paul Downton (yes, that one) who carved out a successful career in finance after he retired from cricket (in his thirties) and was at the time working as a director at a firm called Cazenove.

We can’t find our notes from that interview, but we remember him telling us that it would be tough for these players to turn down the opportunity to embark on what would surely prove to be highly lucrative careers. He had to tell us this several times because each time he said it, we responded with some uncomprehending version of “but… they were cricketers?”

Perhaps we’re a bit of a simpleton, but our view has always been that you only get one crappy body and it’s slowly dying from the moment you’re born. Using that body to play sport – and play it well – during the relatively short window when that’s an option has always seemed to us to be one of the absolute finest uses of one’s time.

But as we said at the top, each to his own. Loudon saw things differently. He admitted to us that he’d miss cricket at times, but added: “Mostly I’ll have my head firmly in front of a computer screen and thinking of exciting things in my future career.”


The format of the new ECB T20 competition

Surrey v Hampshire (CC licensed by Ungry Young Man via Flickr)

Surrey v Hampshire (CC licensed by Ungry Young Man via Flickr)

Here’s a coagulation of plans, proposals, assumptions and best-guesses for the format of the ECB’s new 20-over competition which is due to begin in 2020.

  • Eight sides
  • Eight group matches each
  • Home and away local derbies (to permit that eighth match)
  • IPL style play-offs
  • ECB-produced TV coverage with some matches free-to-air

The teams

There’s an assumption that the league will feature city teams, but the terminology being used is actually ‘city-based’ which isn’t precisely the same thing.

There’s an interesting breakdown of what the teams could be from Nick Hoult of The Telegraph.

Based on grounds likely to host matches, he has suggested (possibly with some prompting):

  • Red Rose
  • White Rose
  • Birmingham
  • Trent Bridge
  • The West Country
  • North London
  • South London
  • The South

This list has a ‘working title’ air about it, but it does give an idea how things might eventually pan out.

It’s also interesting to take those sides and see who’ll be playing each other twice. Presumably we’ll have an extra War of the Roses, Birmingham v Trent Bridge and North v South London. That leaves us with the famously bitter rivalry between the West Country and the South coast in a fixture we’d like to see branded Battle of the Leftovers.

Play-offs

This format is a tad tricksy, but actually kind of vital if the league phase is going to retain interest until the end.

The first-placed team plays the second-placed team with the winner going through to the final.

In contrast, the third and fourth-placed teams have to get through two matches to get to the final. First they play each other and then the winner plays the team that lost the first v second play-off.

So basically there’s something to be gained from finishing in the top two rather than scraping through in fourth place.

Subject to change

We honestly don’t know why we report on these things sometimes. This’ll doubtless all be out of date by the time we click ‘publish’.

Loads of people are really angry

There are a fair few people who absolutely loathe the very idea of this tournament; angry to the extent that it’s like the ECB have said: “Put down the bat, let’s use the stumps as goalposts and have a kickabout instead.”

We are slightly nonplussed by this reaction because we believe that Twenty20 really can serve as a gateway format and Test cricket can never die.

Where some people get angry about the transient nature of a T20 match, we tend to see this as precisely the reason why the format won’t steamroller its way to total dominance.

Even if it does take on greater prominence in coming years, it feels like there’s a ceiling to what T20 can offer with the longer format retaining almost all of its unique selling points when set alongside it.


No, turns out Younus Khan is retiring after all

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Love reporting on Pakistan cricketer retirements.

After floating the idea that he might play on if someone asked him to, Younus Khan has now deployed a magnificent barrage of third-personnery to confirm that he really will retire.

“Younus Khan will retire even if he scores a hundred in every innings of every match against West Indies. Please don’t doubt Younus Khan’s credibility and support Pakistan. Pray for Younus Khan and for Pakistan that we can win a Test series for the very first time in West Indies.”

As for why he reached this conclusion, perhaps there was a hint from the press conference he called to announce this particular retirement earlier in the month.

Asked whether he might change his mind, he said: “This will be a U-turn and then people will call me U-turn.”

No-one wants to be called U-Turn – or even You-Turn, which, with hindsight, would have been quite a good nickname.


Laurence Elderbrook refines his method

Previous instalment from Laurence Elderbook

Chastened by my uncharacteristically ineffectual performance the previous week, I resolve to prepare properly. Before I depart to find a team in need, I carry out my exercise regime to get the blood pumping. I essay twenty to thirty mad gambols followed by a series of naked frisks.

Once this is complete, I summon my squire, Darron-with-an-O. I do this by repeatedly striking the wall that separates our two abodes while calling out his name. Within moments, he is at my door. I hand him my bat and we immediately depart in my motorcar.

After a long morning, we eventually track down a team that is a player short. I inform the captain that I will open the batting. Primed by my mad gambols and naked frisks, I am ready for action and do not want to let my body cool.

The opening bowler is a lanky sort. I assess his gait and examine how he holds the ball. Clearly he will bowl full and swing the ball away. I take guard and pick the gap I will penetrate.

As the bowler runs in, I am awash with confidence, but his delivery stride rather takes me aback. He is left-handed and I had prepared as if he were right-handed. As his arm comes over, I try and work out how the way he holds the ball with one hand will impact on how he bowls with the other. Just as I correctly conclude that he will bowl straight medium-pace, the ball strikes the stumps.

I take the only option available to me. I let fly a huge bestial roar and march off the field, whereupon I gather Darron and immediately drive home, snatching some victuals which have been prepared for the tea break as I walk out.

Next instalment from Laurence Elderbrook

More Laurence Elderbrook


The Hampshire-incinerating inferno that is Gary Ballance plus Lancashire’s lethal pelt

Table week 3

Surrey are still top

Despite drawing with Warwickshire who had attained just three points from two Championship games before this fixture.

The most striking development was probably Ian Bell’s dismissal for 99. Was this more or less painful than Misbah-ul-Haq being left stranded on 99 not out yesterday?

The Curran who bowls with the correct arm earns a mention for taking eight wickets in what was basically a match of batting.

Lancashire dispose of Somerset like one of those poisonous animals

You know the ones. They curl up in a ball as if they’re dead and when their gleeful foe starts to tuck into them, the lethal poison secreted in their pelt becomes apparent. You sustain a few wounds, but you still win.

Lancashire ensured sufficient time to press for victory later in the game through the simple ploy of allowing themselves to be bowled out for 109 in their first innings. One To Watch, Liam Livingstone, made 68 of those runs – but he never hangs about so it wasn’t too time-consuming.

After Somerset had slunk into the lead, Livingstone returned to the crease and made 168, largely in partnership with Jos Buttler’s nemesis, wicketkeeper Alex Davies, who made his second hundred of the season. Ryan McLaren then did his reliable old South African seamer thing like some kind of Shaun Pollock tribute act.

A slow start at Lord’s

Middlesex did well to inject a note of tension into a match which looked like it was going nowhere inside the very first session. The first three batsmen all made hundreds. Things picked up a bit later on, but not enough.

Gary Ballance is ablaze

While everyone cooed about James Vince’s cover drives in the Hampshire v Yorkshire match, Gary Ballance made 300-and-odd runs for once out. These were Ballance’s second and third hundreds of the season and also, due to the oddities of the County Championship fixture list, the second and third against Hampshire too.

The second, which was the third, was his first double.

Yes, we did deliberately write that last sentence to be hard to read.


Younus Khan, the world’s oldest 39-year-old, might yet play on

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Ain’t no retirement like a Pakistan cricketer retirement, because a Pakistan cricketer retirement is highly conditional.

For a man who’s already resigned, quit, been rested, stood down, walked and been banned for life, Younus Khan is still strikingly present.

He is due to call it a day (again) following this Test series against the West Indies, but has now floated the possibility that he might play on if someone – anyone – asks him to.

“If they request me or people want me then why not?”

Well we’d quite like you to play on, Younus.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that not only is Younus 39, he’s also the world’s oldest 39-year-old, having been born in 1975.


Video: How Ben Coad takes his wickets

The ECB doesn’t get everything right when it comes to social media. Earlier this week, they captioned an Alastair Cook highlights reel “Terrific to watch!” which is palpably untrue.

But at least they do sneak out nice bite-sized chunks of County Championship footage these days.

Here’s Ben Coad taking ten wickets against Warwickshire last week. You can learn a surprisingly large amount about a player in 24 seconds.

We can also draw some conclusions about the nature of the County Championship compared to the IPL from this video.

In the Championship, the crucial action typically takes place behind the batsman, whereas in the IPL it is more common to see significant moments occur in front of him.

The IPL also has more cameras.

Other than that, everything’s exactly the same.

Exactly the same.


Laurence Elderbrook embarks upon a career as a ‘cricketer errant’

Previous instalment from Laurence Elderbrook

It strikes me that if I am to become a cricketer errant, I will need a squire. I walk next door and ask to speak to Darron-with-an-O. When Darron appears, I inform him that he is my squire. We immediately depart in my motorcar.

We swiftly settle on a routine. I steer the motorcar and Darron directs me. Whenever we arrive at a cricket club, he exits the motorcar and heads inside to ask whether they are short of a player for the day’s fixture.

We try five different clubs before I am needed. Darron retrieves me from the motorcar and I introduce myself to the captain. I inform him that my name is Laurence Elderbrook and that I will be batting at three. He mutters something about gift horses and curses a man called Alan for dropping out at the last minute. You will not miss Alan, I tell him. You will not miss Alan.

My team is batting first and I do not have long to wait before I am needed. The cricket is of a relatively high standard and the bowler is both fast and accurate. His second ball splays the opener’s stumps. He cannot expect to experience such success with his third ball. It is time.

As the ground falls silent in anticipation, I emerge onto the field of play. Resplendent in my cream flannels, I look immaculate. I take guard.

As the bowler approaches, I ponder the morality of my situation. As a freelance batsman, is it right for me to play to the full extent of my abilities? Would such an approach embarrass my team-mates, highlighting their inadequacies, or is it my duty to deliver all that I can to those who are in need of my services?

Just as I conclude that it would quite simply be a crime to deny the world an opportunity to see what is possible in this great game, I realise that the bowler has released the ball. My lightning quick reflexes immediately kick in, but the area where a player of my standard transcends others is by picking up length early, straight from the hand. My attempted leg glance is therefore a fraction out and as the bat face closes, it evades the ball which sadly goes on to hit my stumps.

I am nothing if not reserved, so I take the only option available to me. I let fly a huge bestial roar and march off the field, whereupon I gather Darron and immediately drive home.

Next instalment from Laurence Elderbook

More Laurence Elderbrook


Great performances from Shiv, Coad, Footitt and no-one from Warwickshire, no-one whatsoever

Champo table

Screen-grabbed Championship table. Ain’t you a bunch of lucky basts.

Surrey v Lancashire

Surrey remain top of the table despite not having done anything of consequence. Mark Footitt continued being worth watching by again taking five wickets, Lancashire’s Shivnarine Chanderpaul continued being a majestic agglomeration of elbows and knees, and three other players also made hundreds while being far less interesting cricketers. Match drawn.

Hampshire v Middlesex

Middlesex still look well capable of gnarling out a load of runs and so will probably do well this season on that basis. Hampshire performed similarly, but only batted once so maybe they would have folded second innings. Kyle Abbott took a five-for in Middlesex’s second innings. He should probably be reserve seamer for South Africa. Match drawn.

Warwickshire v Yorkshire

Did Warwickshire make the most of home advantage? What if the answer’s yes? 77-7 in the first innings was, it turns out, a pretty tidy start because they were at one point 54-8 in the second. Ben Coad – which is also the name of a hill in Scotland – took five wickets in each innings for Yorkshire, which is pretty bloody good from anyone. Bres the Bat hit a fifty. Not entirely surprisingly given all of these facts, Yorkshire won.

Somerset v Essex

At some point Essex’s wafer thin attack is going to be too knackered to achieve anything. We’re adamant about this. However, for now they have The Great Neil Wagner running in hard, hitting the deck hard and taking wickets… hard. Plus they have Alastair Cook unencumbered by anything at all really. You can get a long way in life/cricket with both The Great Neil Wagner and Alastair Cook at your disposal. For their part Somerset have Roelof Van Der Merwe. Somerset lost.


Roll up, roll up for our last ever Twitter round-up on Cricinfo

If there’s one thing we can say for our Twitter round-up column on Cricinfo, it’s that it clung on.

But no more. This week’s edition is the last.

Of all the cricket writing we’ve done, the Twitter round-up was the strangest. We can’t begin to explain the psychological impact of the trawling and sifting that was required to produce it. You’d also be surprised at just how long it took.

Then there was the readership. Normally when we do something that’s even relatively long-running, it builds a group of followers – people who check in each week. That never really seemed to happen. The majority of the few comments the column attracted were typically angry or quite obviously missing the point.

We honestly expected it to be binned ages ago, but it survived the death of Page 2 (Cricinfo’s satire section) and while we thought its days were numbered when it was made a fortnightly column, it turns out that happened all the way back in March 2013.

We honestly didn’t even know we’d been writing it that long.

The first issue actually appeared in April 2012 and it’s interesting to read it and contrast it with the latest.

We prefer the early format with subheadings, but it still suffers from the same problem we’ve always had in that the subject matter is fundamentally disjointed. In recent times, we’ve really tried to link the tweets together so that there’s some sort of thread running through them, but it’s tough-to-impossible. You’re totally at the mercy of what other people have said (and most of what’s said is either a retweet of an inspirational slogan, some none-too-subtle marketing, an unfunny in-joke with a friend, or a link to a photo on Instagram).

So unlike the much-loved Wisden Cricketer newsletter – which was reborn as Cricket Badger after it was cancelled due to something approaching popular demand – we’re not going to be reviving the Twitter round-up.

We will however pass on what we’ve learned, which is that Jimmy Neesham is pretty much the only cricketer worth following. Tino Best, Umar Akmal and Charles Dagnall have their very different moments. Also David Gower, when he can be bothered.


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