Month: July 2017 (page 2 of 3)

England are a team utterly without breadth

England are a limited batting side. Most of the players have plenty of shots and they’re seemingly limited to a style of play where they use them all.

This article isn’t going to be a paean to the blocker. It’s about a lack of flexibility; a lack of range. England are a side whose ‘brand of cricket’ is incredibly narrow and this makes for a team who look great on their day, but who don’t enjoy all that many days.

England were asked to bat for two days. They failed to bat two sessions. If they’d instead fallen just one ball short, the match result may have been exactly the same, but at least there’d have been signs that their cricket had some breadth.

There was no shame in failing to secure a draw through their second innings efforts, but here was an opportunity to show that a different style of cricket was within their capabilities. What they instead showed was their sole dimension with searing clarity.

Lights flashed, klaxons sounded, aeroplanes trailing coloured smoke wrote ‘this is what we’re shit at‘ in the sky.

The mistake is to see the rearguard as a distinct style of cricket rather than an extended spell of a style of play that is a key part of everyday Test cricket.

On this occasion, England needed to spend two days avoiding high-risk shots, identifying dangerous deliveries and coming up with ways to nullify them. On another day, they might need to adopt a similar methodology for a shorter period, against one particular bowler, or for one particular spell.

Sometimes things aren’t in your favour and all you can do is try and improve your odds enough that you’ve a chance of surviving until something changes. A two-day assignment is deflating and dull, but it is also a magnificent opportunity to hone this kind of decision-making.

England were bowled out for 133 in 44.2 overs and the only guy who got past 30 was the one guy who didn’t really need to worry about this facet of the game anyway. The longer they’d batted, the less time they would have wasted.


Liam Dawson is getting carted

Liam Dawson (via Channel 5)

We’ve been wondering whether Liam Dawson will become a player we hate for being kind of dull or a player we love for being kind of dull.

We haven’t yet reached a conclusion, but what we are a little more certain of is that he’s utterly failing to do the main thing he’s been picked to do.

It’s always a bit harsh to judge a player in his first few matches. Plenty of great players have been pigawful at first. The problem is that Dawson’s unique selling point isn’t even particularly worth waiting for.

From what was said ahead of the first Test, he owes his selection to being the least badly mauled spinner in an innings when one opposition batsman made 199 and another made an unbeaten triple hundred.

This seems to us to be rather like splashing out a fiver on a double shot of the poison that will kill you most slowly. It’s also odd that Dawson’s 2-129 should carry so much more weight than Adil Rashid’s 23 wickets in that series.

One explanation from team management implied that the Hampshire man’s the ‘keep it tight’ spinner, who will allow the other bowlers to attack. We only caught the highlights of today’s play, but a sizeable proportion of it seemed to involve Hashim Amla depositing Dawson far and away, somewhere back behind him.

He hauled it back a bit later on, such that his figures ended up only as those of a bowler who’s been relentlessly milked. However, he was also beslogged by Amla in the first Test. It feels like the batsmen have his measure.

Normally in these situations we’re of the opinion that the ideal solution is not to drop the player; it is for the player to stop being so damned ineffectual and start playing really well instead.

Our concern in this instance is that Liam Dawson playing really well might just amount to 1-50 off 20 overs or something like that.


Is Joe Root brave enough to bowl Gary Ballance?

Joe Root (via Channel 5)

The great tragedy of England’s six-man bowling attack is that Gary Ballance never gets to bowl. We reckon that Joe Root and Keaton Jennings are likely to get on before him as well, so realistically he’s ninth choice. England will need to have an extraordinarily bad day before we see his right-arm filth get another airing.

There was a moment when the ball had softened when we started to dream, but England plugged away, aided by Hashim Amla who tried really hard to get caught hooking and eventually managed it.

309-6 is the kind of score that makes someone like Graeme Smith say “it’s been a riveting day of Test cricket.” It isn’t the kind of score where he’d say “you might as well get Ballance on – what have you got to lose?”

We want England to do well, but we also want to see Gary Ballance bowl. It’s a very difficult situation for us. The only solution that we can see is Joe Root developing a taste for funky captaincy.

Bringing Gary Ballance on first change would be Sly-and-the-Family-Stone-with-a-guest-appearance-by-Bootsy-Collins funky.


Cricket Captain 2017 – PC review

Cricket Captain – formerly International Cricket Captain – has been updated pretty much annually ever since it first came out in 1998. It’s always been a must for fans and also for administrators. However, we haven’t actually reviewed it in ages, so we thought we’d better address that.

Let’s deal with the obvious question first.

Can you pick Kevin Pietersen as England’s spin bowler and bat him at nine in a Test match?

Of course you can! He didn’t complain or anything. We took this as definitive proof that they could have kept him around after all and it wouldn’t have been a problem. Maybe he wanted to bat at nine and bowl more all along. Maybe that’s what they should have done.

That said, we were slightly taken aback when KP took 5-98 in his first match back in the side. We were far happier with his feisty lower order 41 off 37 balls, which was exactly the kind of thing we were looking for when we selected him.

Can you restrict the game to just Test matches?

Yes! It may not sound much, but this is perhaps the single most important tweak we can remember in the history of the game. In early versions we’d spend hours honing our Test side only to effectively sabotage its chances by half-arseing all the one-dayers. Playing meaningless one-day series was boring, but if you skipped them all your best players lost form.

You can also choose to focus wholly on one-day cricket, T20 or any combination of the three formats. This holds true at both domestic and international levels.

Are the graphics any good?

Do you care? Do you honestly care? This is a strategy game. It’s built on numbers, tables and graphs.

The graphics are fine, albeit far less amusing than those seen in Ashes Cricket 2013 with its ominously waddling umpire and his spectacular effect on fielders.

The menus are clear enough; the main highlights are maybe a bit dated looking, but perfectly serviceable; and Hawkeye is pretty much the same as on TV (although you can’t review decisions, unless we’ve missed something).

Are the numbers, tables and graphs any good?

Yes. Even those who are unconvinced by the worth of beehives, Manhattans and pitch maps in TV coverage will see their value here. They give you a means of deciphering what is and isn’t working in your attempts to bowl out the opposition.

Consult the graphics and you can quickly and easily see where the batsmen are scoring runs and where chances have been created.

Probably worth bowling a bit straighter at Imad Wasim.

Can you play the 1998 series between England and South Africa?

Yes.

Donald v Atherton; Dominic Cork deliberately being an arsehole to Brian McMillan to get him out; Darren Gough suffering from the wild shits; and good old Angus Fraser.

We’re not saying the game simulates all of these things, but you can play the series and fill in the gaps using your imagination.

Any flaws?

We’ve spent long hours playing this game over the years, so there’s an element of nit-pickery about this, but we’ve always thought that it was slightly caught between two stools.

There’s the strategy game, where you pick players, train them and combine them to make your team; and then there’s the tactical game, where you set your field, decide where to bowl and make your bowling changes.

The two are obviously linked, but there are times when the tactical side can feel like time-consuming micromanagement that’s keeping you from discovering whether your long-term masterplan will come to fruition. Sadly, autoplaying matches is still greatly counterproductive, so it isn’t really an option.

Does it feel realistic?

This is often a stumbling block for cricket games. When you’re forever being bowled out for under 100 or you can’t help but rack up 500-plus every time you bat, gameplay suffers, regardless of whether the opposition is making similar scores.

We haven’t done a full 20-season test run-through, but from what we’ve seen so far, the game performs well in this department. Batsmen approach Twenty20 with the correct boundary-hitting intent and Test totals have taken in everything from whopping declaration totals to fourth innings skittlery on a deteriorating pitch.

Worth the investment?

It’s available via Steam for £18 at the minute, which isn’t too sizeable an outlay in this day and age. If you haven’t played it before, it’s definitely worth a go. If you have, you may find the latest version resolves a few of the irritations from some of the older instalments.

We’ve found T20s particularly good because you can come up with a system and the games are of manageable enough size that you can watch more of the highlights and get a bit more of a feel for how things are panning out.

There are mobile editions too, although we haven’t played those. Let us know if you have and what they’re like in the comments section.


The hundreds and five-fors rating – why Moeen Ali is England’s best player

Further to yesterday’s debate about the identity of England’s best player, here’s one possible way of rating them

We made the point yesterday that people shouldn’t blindly accept that Joe Root is England’s best player because he only regularly contributes in one facet of the game. We then a touch disingenuously suggested that all of England’s many all-rounders had a better claim to such a title, simply by dint of contributing in multiple disciplines.

There then followed an interesting-but-lengthy to and fro about the definition of an all-rounder and their value to a team.

Bradders suggested that players could be assessed by their ability to make match-winning contributions. We therefore give you the hundreds and five-fors rating, a wilfully simplistic system whereby hundreds and five-fors are given equal weight and everything else a player might do is utterly disregarded.

These are the figures for the last 12 months, presented within an old-school HTML table which will probably lose its formatting in the majority of internet browsers.

Player Hundreds Five-fors Total
Joe Root 3  0 3
Alastair Cook 2  0 2
Moeen Ali 3 2 5
Ben Stokes 1 1 2
Keaton Jennings 1  0 1
Chris Woakes 0 2 2

As you may or may not be able to see, Moeen Ali is England’s best player and he is almost twice as good as Joe Root.


How long until someone suggests Moeen Ali is battling to keep his Test spot?

Photo by Sarah Ansell

It feels like one of those rare moments when very few people are talking about whether or not Moeen Ali will be able to keep his place in the England side. While many all-rounders benefit from being able to contribute in two separate disciplines, the beardster always seems to be viewed as someone who has been underperforming in one or the other.

You’ve got a pet favourite batsman from the County Championship? Maybe he should be playing instead of Moeen Ali. You fancy the look of a new young spinner? He’s probably a better bet than Moeen Ali.

Meanwhile, England keep on picking him and he keeps on contributing something or other in every match he plays. As well as the ten wickets and the 87 runs in the first innings of the first Test against South Africa, our man also took a couple of blinding catches. It’s all part of the job – if only because everything’s part of Moeen Ali’s job.

We reckon that a match-winning performance like this should be sufficient to buy Moeen a period of grace of approximately one Test match. After that, someone somewhere will again deem him to be under pressure.

Moeen doesn’t care. He’ll turn away from it all like a blind man and then – same as he’s done many times before – do something, anything, to earn himself one more chance.

These last chances are really stacking up for the lad. We wouldn’t bet against him stringing a hundred of them together.


Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad follow by example

With their feisty batting in the morning and a pair of wickets each, Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad truly delivered non-captains’ performances.

This is what good team members do. They set an example for the captain to follow. It’s like they always say: he who leads the leader slightly reduces the duration of the group’s journey by arriving early.

Yes, they do always say that.

Broad’s batting is now a perfect combination of timing and terror, with exquisite back foot drives bubbling atop a constant undercurrent of jeopardy. His innings are so much more enjoyable for being so fragile.

Moeen Ali’s batting is not dissimilar, although the general experience is dreamier and the end more sudden. Where Broad is keen that you never forget his dismissal is an everpresent danger, Moeen only intermittently reminds you that his is a possibility.

Other events of the day were South Africa going after Liam Dawson a bit (because why wouldn’t you?) and an ICC announcement that Kagiso Rabada would serve a one-match suspension after becoming the first person in the history of the world to instruct Ben Stokes to fuck off.


Joe Root sinks a few and then wanders off on his own

Joe Root (via England Cricket Twitter video)

If Joe Root’s going to try and lead by example, he might want to check whether anyone’s actually following him. If no-one does, then we’re afraid it’s just plain old ‘batting well’ – which is what he always used to do anyway. What kind of captaincy is that?

If you’re outperforming everyone else in your team by an order of magnitude, you’re not actually leading. You’re just wandering off and having breathtaking adventures on your own. That’s excellent. Decidedly handy. But it is not leading.

Leaders have followers. That’s just the way it works. Found an ashram, give people spiritual guidance, somehow raise obscene sums of money – that’s leading. Say exactly the same sorts of things after five pints in The Pheasant’s Arms and everyone will ignore you because you’re a mental.

Alternatively, leading by example isn’t really a thing.


Dog’s eye view of baseball-bat-wielding thug David Gower

Okay, not strictly speaking a dog’s eye view unless (a) the dog has its eyes behind its ears or (b) there’s a tiny dog piloting the larger dog.

However, that genuinely is a blurry David Gower up ahead and he really is wielding a baseball bat, the thug.

Like almost all baseball-bat-wielding thugs, he’s standing in the middle of a field in the Cotswolds.

Here’s the dog rushing towards him to get an autograph or something.

In the ensuing melee, you can sort of tell it’s Gower – provided someone’s already told you it’s him and you know who to try and recognise.

Here’s another shot, for no other reason than that you can never have too many low quality stills of a man you’re taking it on trust is David Gower.

He has his mouth open in that last one, like he sometimes does when he’s masterfully anchoring cricket programmes on the TV.

The footage was from a police dog demonstration at this year’s Cotswolds Show that ITV saw fit to cover.

Thanks to The Guardian’s Ali Martin for drawing it to our attention, but not so much for demanding that we write about it. You all know our position on requests. Don’t the rest of you be getting ideas.


Jason Holder starts to play how you always imagined he would

India failed to chase down 190 against the West Indies and there were a couple of prominent reasons for this.

Firstly, MS Dhoni hit India’s slowest half-century in 16 years – although ‘hit’ seems an entirely inappropriate word to use for an innings of 54 off 114 balls. MS Dhoni bobbled India’s slowest half-century in 16 years. He was there until six balls to go too, so his soporific knock actually took in much of ‘the slog’ .

Another reason for India’s low score was Jason Holder.

When we first caught sight of Holder, we thought ‘ooh hell’ or something along those lines. Two metres tall, a seam bowler who could bat, we had visions of Curtly Ambrose as an all-rounder. After watching him play, he came across as more of an Angus Fraser/Chris Tavaré character.

While that would be many people’s dream cricketer, it was nevertheless an interesting contrast to one’s expectations. He was clearly a committed cricketer, but a labouring one to whom results didn’t appear to come easily.

For a long time the effort-plus-raw-ingredients-equals-results equation didn’t really add up for Holder, but the final part has been increasing in value for a while now. He took 5-27 against India and if he’s still coming on second or third change in Tests, here he was opening the bowling.

There’s more to come. Albeit probably in the form of a self-destructive diktat from the West Indies Cricket Board.


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