Month: December 2017 (page 1 of 3)

In praise of part-time bowlers

David Warner slogs Joe Root to a fielder (BT Sport)

We’ve always loved part-time bowlers. Just as many of our favourite batsmen are tail-enders, so many of our favourite bowlers are occasional fill-ins, such as Gary Ballance, Alastair Cook and James Vince.

Sadly for us, it always feels like England are far more part-timer-averse than the other Test-playing nations. Michael Clarke used to pride himself on leftfield bowling changes, while you always felt that MS Dhoni would bowl pretty much anyone, provided they had at least one arm. England captains generally prefer to rotate the same frontline bowlers until the opposition hit 700.

But part-timers aren’t just about fun; they’re also about disrupting rhythm. We’ve already described this as well as we can in the past, so brace yourselves for a copy and paste.

We play squash. Every now and again, the stars align and both ourself and our opponent have decent fitness and excellent timing and we play the sport like it’s meant to be played. At these times, the rallies drag on.

When things are going really well, we middle the ball every time, play it exactly where we want to, but neither of us can engineer a winner. It becomes a strategic battle, which is very satisfying. However, these points are almost always resolved in exactly the same way: with a mishit.

It’s not that every shot in the rally’s the same. It’s that you get used to the way the ball moves, whether it’s a drive, a drop shot or something played off the side wall. You’re in rhythm. Your body’s moving into the right position long before the ball arrives and it does so with perfect timing.

A mishit plays havoc with this. Your brain simply can’t get to grips with the weird, looping trajectory or the non-angle which brings the ball to the middle of the court.

This is not purely an amateur phenomenon. Facing out-and-out filth is hard when you’re not used to it. Everyone’s vulnerable. We’ve seen AB de Villiers dismissed by a ball that bounced twice before reaching him.

You get good at what you practise, so if there’s one delivery most professional batsmen feel confident facing, it’s an 85mph delivery that would hit the top of off stump.

What they’re far less used to is a stinky 72mph long hop way down the leg-side. They may not get out to it, but the brain can’t quite get all body parts into unfamiliar positions with nanosecond perfect timing.

When a partnership drags on, filth can work. More filth please.

Alastair Cook’s back

Alastair Cook (via BT Sport)

As in ‘returned’. He hasn’t got ankylosing spondylitis or anything.

Technically, he hasn’t been away. It just rather feels like he has. Like stumps and grass, you take for granted that Alastair Cook will at least be present for England Tests – that’s a given – however, you also expect to see an awful lot of him.

Cook is not a batsman for memorable cameos. He is a batsman who appropriates entire matches, claiming far more than his fair share of screen time. When in form, he has a tendency to monopolise play.

Christmas is a time of traditions and what could be more familiar than seeing Alastair Cook repeatedly cycle through the cut, the pull, the work to leg and the punch to off?

They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but we don’t feel contemptuous of our bottle opener or our central heating. When something does the job for which it is intended efficiently and without fuss, we’re perfectly happy with that.

Short of knives, England deploy yet another spoon

Tom Curran to David Warner (BT Sport)

England have heard that definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results – but they apparently believe they can counter it with another saying: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

England’s bowling strategy hasn’t exactly been tearing the home team apart thus far, yet they still appear to believe that a fourth right-arm fast-medium bowler will somehow make the difference.

In need of a knife and with none in the cutlery draw, they remain fiercely committed to plucking near-identical spoons from the adjacent compartment. Broad, Woakes, Ball and Overton apparently encouraged the notion that Tom Curran would be a good pick.

Not only is Curran part of a whole ineffective series lineage, he is also the fourth right-arm seamer in just this one attack. ‘More of the same,’ the team concluded. ‘The fourth guy’ll be the tipping point. Definitely.’

There were, admittedly, excellent arguments against each of the alternatives, but there was also something hugely, exasperatingly depressing about the sheer predictability of the scorecard at the end of day one. It’s a feeling that arises when you feel like your team plumped for a bowler on the basis that he was likely to bowl a greater number of overs en route to taking 0-44. By all means fall short, but at least aim a little higher. We’re begging you.

We read all sorts of odd arguments for the inclusion of Curran. One was that it would be a risk to go into the match with just three seamers, as Australia did when they won the first two Tests. Another was that he was bowling some good right arm fast-medium in the nets – a fact that seems almost entirely irrelevant when England’s biggest bowling problem is a samey attack.

But what are they to do? Mark Wood’s pace waxes and wanes according to what phase of the injury cycle he’s currently in, while they remain terrified that Mason Crane will have his career detonated at the outset. It’s as if the legspinner was picked in the dark and only come the dawn did they realise what he was. Maybe they could have picked someone else.

It’s only day one though, so let’s quickly rip through the ceremonial taking of positives. At this stage the MCG pitch would appear to be absolute dogshit; a low, slow, ironed pancake*. Maybe in keeping things pretty tight, England have done okay and the decisive phase of the game will come when the two teams come to bat a second time. Maybe Tom Curran will take a five-for tomorrow. Or maybe it’s so flat, we might actually see a draw.

*Let’s see how long that impression lasts…

Was Joe Root responsible for Adil Rashid being dumped from England’s Test squad?

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Everyone was weirdly fine with Adil Rashid’s omission from England’s Ashes squad, even though he was England’s only consistent wicket-taker on flat pitches last winter. Considering England have spent much of this tour looking decidedly fast-medium, it seems a fair time to revisit the decision.

We took a look at Rashid’s record compared to his fellow bowlers for and have since found ourself wondering whether England’s current Test captain may have made the call. Intriguingly, a Wisden tweet of the story, saying “Adil Rashid is yet to play a Test under Joe Root” was subsequently retweeted* by Yorkshire’s Azeem Rafiq.

It has to be said that building pressure by bowling in a consistent area hasn’t really helped England of late. A lad who turns it both ways and who also has first-class hundreds to his name might have come in handy.

Go and read the Wisden piece. Someone somewhere might at some point call it a ‘doozy’.

* And later deleted.

The Ashes on the BT Sport app – a review

We’re not generally enamoured with apps, as they often seem to make the absolute least of storage space and processing power to deliver much the same content that can be found on the equivalent website.

However, as a result of the televisual shenanigans that have seen BT broadcasting this Ashes series, we have uncharacteristically seen fit to take the plunge with the BT Sport app. And we rather like it.

Phone screens don’t make for the finest viewing experience, but the way the app is set up is great for matches where half the day’s play takes place before you wake up.

Various little video snippets showing major wickets and quirkier events are presented in the cricket section of the app, but the big advantage is being able to scan the whole day’s play to watch a far greater number of meaningful events.

One of the things we hate most in the entire universe is the assumption that people want to watch videos instead of reading articles. The reason for this is that you can’t scan a video. You just have to sit there and tolerate it while the information drips out at a brain-aggravatingly slow pace, like olive oil from one of those dribbly pourers.

The BT Sport app though? The BT Sport app has an annotated timeline.

Annotated timelines are better than blue stilton on toast

In all honesty, a furious ongoing attempt to ‘get through the stilton’ means this comparison isn’t quite as complimentary as it was when we started writing this article a few days ago. But even so, the annotated timeline is unequivocally ‘a good thing’.

Maybe it’s the same on other apps, but we’re a huge fan of the smear of iconry down at the bottom of the screengrab above. It lets you pick out boundaries, wickets and chances, but also little mini highlights montages and chunks of punditry.

As you wake, bleary-eyed, it’s easy to pass a good little while catching up with cricketing events while you try and summon the will to emerge for the three hours of twilight that pass for daytime at this point in the British winter.

We’re going to give the BT Sport app a score of 9/10 because while we can’t think of what else we’d like to see, that’s only because we haven’t actually given the matter a great deal of thought.

Joe Root’s losing-the-Ashes face

Now is not the time to analyse. Now is the time to look at Joe Root’s losing-the-Ashes face.

Oh, England have lost the Ashes, by the way. Don’t know if you’ve heard.

Before we look at Joe Root’s losing-the-Ashes face, it’s worth pointing out that you have to be a bloody good cricketer to deploy a true losing-the-Ashes face. Plenty of Britons will be sporting just-watched-my-team-lose-the-Ashes faces today, but it’s not quite the same.

This is the face of a man who is so good at cricket that he plays for and captains the national side. However, the sad fact is that it’s not all linseed oil, glamour and bon bons. Sometimes you lose the Ashes.

Joe Root (BT Sport)

What does this face say?

Does it say: “Usually things go my way. It hadn’t really occurred to me that this might happen. I mean obviously I was aware of the possibility, but now that the moment comes I realise I hadn’t emotionally prepared for it.”

Does it say: “It’s beginning to dawn on me just how many depressing interviews I’m going to have to do. It’s not just this match, the line of questioning probably isn’t going to be too cheery in Melbourne or Sydney either.”

Or does it say: “I can’t remember where I’ve put my sunglasses.”

Being England captain: seems like fulfillment of a childhood dream, but most of the time it’s actually kind of a ball-ache.

The day James Vince didn’t edge one

It had to happen eventually. Today was the day James Vince finally managed to avoid edging one to slip.

And it was so easy to avoid. All he had to do was persuade an opposition bowler to aim a 90mph delivery about a foot wide of leg stump only for it to hit some sort of chasm which would persuade it to chart a new course for off stump.

He did his best though, did Jimmy the Nick. Presented with this heinous crime against physics, our boy presented the full outside edge of the bat. Alas, for once he couldn’t make contact.

We all have our limits.

Where is Stuart Broad, the tall, experienced bowler who should, on paper, be getting a wicket or two Down Under?

Stuart Broad (via Channel 5)

The pitch is flat, say tetchy England fans. This is the short version of the recurring Test match question: the pitch is flat, so what are you going to do about it?

England went with a bit of fast-medium. After that, they tried a bit more fast-medium, then a bit more, then a quick burst of Moeen Ali, then back to fast-medium. Maybe once the ball was old and the bowlers fatigued, the God of Pity might bring them some lateral movement.

The God of Pity was unmoved.

As we observed on the first day, wickets are hard to come by on this Waca pitch. England’s attack, which is spectacularly ill-suited to these conditions, was always going to struggle more than Australia’s did. An even bigger crime was arguably that their batsmen could only muster one proper partnership in the whole first innings. The lower order collapse has been given a lot of attention, but the top order nothingness was worse.

But on today’s performance, it’s hard to see what difference it makes anyway. James Anderson has made the most of favourable conditions and Craig Overton has been game, but none of the other bowlers have had any real impact on this series.

If we had to pinpoint the biggest hole in the England team on this tour, it’s been Stuart Broad. England’s tallest bowler and capable of bowling at a fair lick from time to time, he also has experience of bowling well in Australia in the past – 21 wickets at 27.52 in the 2013/14 series when England got hammered.

Broad really should have presented the greatest threat, yet at the time of writing he has five wickets at 50-odd with every sign that the ratio between those two numbers will further deteriorate.

He hasn’t even looked that pissed off. To see Broad accepting his cap at the end of another fruitless over with an utterly blank face is to be momentarily transported to a parallel dimension.

Broad is a man who smiles when he’s winning and grouches about the place like a sleep-deprived man who’s just trodden on an upturned plug when things aren’t going his way. Bad days have historically led to a snowballing fury that has resulted in either a wicket or some kind of warning from the match referee.

Now there is only a kind of medicated mellowness. It’s a mood that’s shaping the series, but not in the way that England would like.

England end up looking a bit fast-medium

Things getting a bit fast-medium is pretty much our worst nightmare when it comes to watching England. We might start using the phrase in other contexts.

“How was dinner?”

“It was… fine…”

“Fine? What does ‘fine’ mean?”

“Well, you know. It was just…”

“What? It was just what?”

“It was just a bit… fast-medium…”

“Get out.”

You know the sort of day. The pitch is flat. England’s three or four right-arm swing/seam bowlers start the day bowling at about 85mph and by the evening session, having endured an enormous partnership, they’re bowling exactly the same deliveries that didn’t work in the morning only 5-10mph slower.

The spinner is similarly ineffectual (you should always pick a spinner) but for some reason the captain doesn’t turn to the variety offered by part-timers until there’s already a 300-run partnership and 500 on the board.

Supporters yearn for a leg-spinner. They yearn for a fast bowler. It’s just not happening. England have ended up looking a bit fast-medium.

This was originally published in 2013, but we’ve rewritten it slightly because of how frequently we find ourself linking back to it.

The four stages of Steve Smith’s recurring metamorphosis into a batsman

Steve Smith is not a good batsman. Not always. Very rarely, in fact.

As far as we can tell, he’s generally only half-decent at the moment bat strikes ball and only very rarely before or afterwards.

Here are the four stages Smith passes through for every single delivery he faces.

Stage one – obsessive-compulsive who’s never worn cricket gear

Before taking guard, Steve Smith likes to swiftly have a fondle of every single item of protective equipment affixed to his body. It’s clear that he feels very, very uncomfortable in all of this stuff and will have trouble standing still, let alone playing sport.

Stage two – young man who has seen a line drawing in a cricket textbook

Straight legs, bat against foot. This is not so much a batting stance as a child’s parody of a batting stance.

Stage three – the wanderer

As the bowler runs in, Smith sets off towards point, his bat seemingly dragging him along. He has the air of someone who has maybe played cricket at some point, but no-one ever properly showed him how to do it.

Stage four – basically Don Bradman

The final stage sees Smith middling the ball with his big fat bat with all bodily parts correctly aligned. He wasn’t even put off by the fact that Chris Woakes was supposed to be bowling but then James Anderson actually delivered the ball.

We could have added a stage five, but our will to take screengrabs from a tiny app that’s very hard to accurately fast forward and rewind has now entirely departed.

Stage five would have shown him awkwardly flapping about after contact like a flat-footed grandma with a bad hip and oversized pads.

More on Steve Smith’s ‘idiosyncratic’ batting technique here.

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