Author: King Cricket (page 1 of 364)

The 2021 season is murderous. How many England players will actually make it through?

Joe Root (via BT Sport)

10 Ashes Tests in a row was such a good idea and went so well that the ECB thought to themselves: “Say, why don’t we play 10 Tests on the bounce against India? Let’s really focus on that. Let’s go from August 2020 to November 2021 without playing Test cricket against anyone else.”

Then, while they were all patting themselves on the backs for having such a brilliant idea, someone added: “Then after that let’s have the World T20 and then an Ashes.”

All of this happens within a year.

The India bit

England are again due to play 10 five-day matches against the exact same opposition in a timespan of about seven months.

This is two things:

  1. Boring (after a bit)
  2. Unfair on the players

The last time England played two successive five-match series against the same opposition, the team imploded and one of the players ended up needing treatment from a mental health professional. This was not even slightly a coincidence.

The really big events (Tests against India, Tests against Australia, World Cups) bring increased stress levels long before they actually take place. Even if a player gets a physical rest in between, the mental stresses generally remain.

Speaking about his downtime between international fixtures the last time England played back-to-back five-match Test series, Jonathan Trott said: “The three weeks in between wasn’t time off because I was working hard in the nets.”

This is why, when we wrote about overtraining* for Cricinfo a few years back, we asked whether it was actually responsible to play international cricket without an off season. Switching off is not an easy thing to do when the next major engagement is already rapidly approaching.

*Overtraining is not just a physical thing.

“It’s what they’re paid to do”

Yes, exactly. It’s their job; it’s their livelihood. Everything’s riding on it. And if that weren’t enough, cricket is also for many players pretty much their whole personal identity.

For cricketers who do nothing but play cricket and who are forever being told that the next batch of cricket coming up is really very significant, their whole emotional wellbeing is bound up in how things go on the field. When things don’t go well on the field, things don’t go so well off the field either.

Dr Richard Winsley of the University of Exeter told us that major non-playing stresses for a sportsman include frequent fixtures, competition for places, travel, and being apart from family and friends for long periods in foreign hotel rooms.

These are the things that eat away at you and wear you to a nub even when you’re supposedly ‘resting’.

England’s big fixtures in 2021

Let’s bullet point England’s major 2021 engagements (there are actually a fair number of one-day series in addition to this) and try and imagine how we would switch off and recover if our whole career hinged on making runs or taking wickets in these matches.

  • January-March: five Tests against India
  • July-September: five Tests against India
  • October-November: World T20
  • November onwards: The Ashes

It’s really hard to look at that without envisaging mental casualties.


“Our bowling is an area of concern”

Katherine Brunt leathers a six (via BBC)

So said South Africa captain Dane van Niekerk after her team had conceded a world record 216-1 in a T20 against New Zealand and then a few hours later conceded 250-3 against England.

“An area of concern” is a great way of putting it. “An absolute liability” is just that little bit too straightforward, while “absolute dog toss” isn’t a very diplomatic way of rating the performance of your team-mates.

“We spoke between games about what we wanted to do, but did the complete opposite,” she added.

She didn’t say why.


Are England the ultimate flat pitch one-day side?

Alex Hales (via YouTube)

England took the Australia bowling attack apart as if it were a giant Lego penis and grandma was coming over. The dismantling was rapid, efficient and utterly comprehensive.

We strongly disagree with the idea that people want to see more boundaries, but there’s no harm in having the odd one or two of these front leg clearing festivals from time to time – and if they’re held against Australia, so much the better.

Honestly, if you’re tired of Australians being on the receiving end of world record totals, you’re tired of life.

Meaningless?

There’s a temptation to almost write off these sorts of totals because they’re so ridiculous, but no matter how flat the pitch and no matter how short the boundaries, this sort of innings requires huge ambition and consistent execution. The Australians gave a sense of how difficult it is to pull off when they batted.

In contrast, England are good at this, in no small part because England are built for this. They’ve been conditioned to start hitting early and to keep on hitting throughout an innings. It is a very specific skill and they are probably as good at it as any one-day side has ever been.

A flat pitch bowling attack

England also have a bowling attack that is honed for high-scoring matches. This is a thankless and undervalued art and we want to quickly pay tribute to it because it is something that is almost wholly overlooked.

Some days you restrict the opposition to 350 and that is a very good effort – a fact that is currently acknowledged somewhere around zero per cent of the time. (Then the batsmen saunter past that target and everyone gushes about what they’ve done.)

England’s bowlers are at their best when the ball is flying to all parts. It’s counter-intuitive, because all people see are the boundaries, but the bowlers are very, very good at shrugging off the blows while unleashing occasional rapid stiletto stabs.

Bowlers should only be judged against what could have been scored on any given day. If every other side in the world would concede eight an over and you concede seven an over, that is literally match-winning.

Adaptability

A lot of people think that one-day cricket is all about flat pitch mega-totals these days because the only time they pay attention is when there’s a flat pitch mega total.

However, we only have to go back two matches to find a winning total of 218-7. The big concern is supposed to be whether England’s batsmen will be able to adapt on days when runs are likely to be less plentiful, but we’d argue the bowling is a bigger concern.

England’s one-day bowling strategy is all about variety. They currently field a left-arm swing bowler, a right-arm new ball bowler, a leg-spinner, an off-spinner and a bang-it-in pace bowler.

Variety is ideal when you want to ask the batsmen lots of different questions. It’s less good when conditions favour one particular type of bowling. When that happens in a 50-over game, all you really want to do is ask the exact same question as many times as possible, and that’s much harder to do when you have your eggs in so many different baskets.

If England have a weakness, this is it. This is where they will be beaten.


It didn’t always seem so obvious that Liam Plunkett wasn’t Sajid Mahmood

There was a time when Liam Plunkett was spoken about in much the same way as Sajid Mahmood. Then there was another time when Liam Plunkett was spoken about in much the same way as Sajid Mahmood. It seems safe to assume that it won’t happen a third time – other than in this article.

This article looks back on the first two occasions when Liam Plunkett was spoken about in much the same way as Sajid Mahmood.

First, a reminder

This is Sajid Mahmood.

Sajid Mahmood (photo by Sarah Ansell)

To many of you, Sajid Mahmood’s face will be a very familiar face, but it occurs to us that some of you may never have even seen him.

Saj hasn’t played international cricket since 2009, which is one thing – but he hasn’t even played first-class cricket since 2014.

Four years is quite a difficult time gap to appreciate. Four years ago feels roughly the same as the present day, but at the same time it also seems poised to stroll through to an era where you can legitimately reminisce.

Four years ago, the most recent Star Wars film was shit. Four years ago, you hadn’t heard Uptown Funk even once.

Point is, Saj’s cricket career isn’t currently at its zenith.

The first time people spoke about Liam Plunkett in much the same way as Sajid Mahmood

In 2004, England picked Sajid Mahmood for their one-day international (ODI) side. In 2005, they picked Liam Plunkett for the Test team and then almost immediately for ODIs as well. Early in 2006, Sajid Mahmood made his Test debut.

These were exciting times and these were exciting bowlers. They bowled quickly and they were both in their early 20s. As it became increasingly apparent that Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and Simon Jones maybe weren’t the kinds of bowlers who would venture far into their thirties, Liam and Saj were (briefly) viewed as The Future.

The second time people spoke about Liam Plunkett in much the same way as Sajid Mahmood

By the end of 2007, Liam Plunkett had 23 Test wickets at 39.82 and Sajid Mahmood had 20 wickets at 38.10. Both were run-conceding machines. Plunkett was going at 3.57 runs an over and Mahmood was going at 4.04.

They played two Tests together and while the second one went quite well, both their reputations were bound to the Idol of Many Hands and thrown off the dock into the sea by the first one. It was the one where Sri Lanka made 537-9 following on and Andrew Flintoff tried to bowl himself into a debilitating bout of rigor mortis.

Their one-day records at this point also encouraged the notion that the two of them were basically the same shit player. Plunkett had taken 37 ODI wickets at 34.05 with an economy rate of 5.85. Mahmood had 29 at 38.89 and was conceding runs at the exact same rate.

That rate seems unspectacular nowadays, but let us tell you this was still a time when commentators would spend 10 overs talking portentously about the moment when the required run-rate would finally exceed a run a ball.

Whenever anyone said something about Liam Plunkett or Sajid Mahmood in 2007, they said it in a sort of groaning sigh and what they said, every single time, was: “Why do they keep picking him?”

Act II

In The Secret of Monkey Island, the character you play, Guybrush Threepwood, can hold his breath for ten minutes. When he is thrown off the dock tethered to the weighty-looking fabulous idol, you have these ten minutes to escape.

All Sajid Mahmood managed to do was slowly turn green, but Liam Plunkett at some point hit upon the solution. The solution is that you pick up the idol, pocket it, and climb out of the sea. (This analogy doesn’t actually extend to the solution – we only mention it because the solution is a very wonderful and funny thing.)

Plunkett is the elder statesman of England’s one-day bowling attack these days and he has become the quick bowler they absolutely rely upon for wickets when the opposing batsmen start to take flight.

Plunkett bangs in the short one; he bobbles in the short one; and he sometimes spears it or bobbles it at the stumps. He bowls all of these things reliably and he cycles through them until one works – and generally one does.

Where things stand today

Liam Plunkett now has over a hundred ODI wickets at under 30. And let us tell you about his economy rate, because this is so marvellous and we are so happy with these numbers.

We took the end of 2007 as being the end of Act I of Liam Plunkett’s career because while he played the odd international after that point, they were very occasional and he’d definitely fallen into the “only if we’ve suffered plenty of injuries” category.

As we said before, at the end of 2007, Liam Plunkett’s ODI economy rate was an eye-watering 5.85. As the world has reshaped itself around him, his economy rate has dropped from to a more-than-handy 5.84. (Isn’t that great?)

So, okay, not all of the numbers properly tell the story of how Plunkett has gone from “why do they keep picking him?” to World Cup linchpin. You can comprehend it better by looking back on matches like the one on Saturday when he beasted four wickets and secured an England win.

(Quick late digression: One of the umpires for that match was Alex Wharf, who was England’s very next ODI debutant after Sajid Mahmood. Alex Wharf’s debut went well. He was man of the match.)

While he might be knocking on a little, Liam Plunkett’s cricket career is pretty much at its peak.

In contrast, Sajid Mahmood was last seen literally pretending to be a bowler in a TV advert for a betting company.


Afghanistan haven’t scored too many runs, but that’s not really the point at this stage, is it?

The Afghanistan cricket team in Jersey (via YouTube)

Remember Out of the Ashes? It’s a documentary about Afghanistan’s journey “from war to the World Cup”. We reviewed it here and thought it was rather wonderful.

It strikes us that it could do with an update because Afghanistan are a Test team now. This is a highly astonishing state of affairs.

If you’d asked us 15 years ago how likely it was that Afghanistan would become a Test team by 2018, here is a list of things that we would have rated as being more likely.

  • Pretty much everything

They’re not an especially good Test team going by the scorecard for their inaugural Test, but then Afghanistan’s rate of improvement is so steep that you wouldn’t bet against them were this a five match series.

It isn’t of course, but they’ll play more Tests and at some point they’ll win. We know this because Afghanistan’s superpower is that losing games gives them strength.

For now, it’s enough that they’re playing at all. As Afghanistan’s then minister of finance, Dr Omar Zakhilwal, said back in 2016 ahead of their first one-day international: “There is nothing that can touch cricket in popularity or as a force for good in Afghanistan. There is absolutely nothing else that mobilises our society in the same way.”


Why aren’t the big teams embarrassed about losing to smaller teams?

Scotland beat England (via Sky Sports)

Scotland’s obvious delight at beating England at the weekend was in no way matched by the anger of the England fans or the embarrassment of the players. It’s not an exact mathematical thing, but normally in sport you’d expect similar sorts of weight on both sides. Why was that not the case?

If you could boil the England fans’ reaction down to a jus, it would taste something like: “Bit disappointed, but happy for Scotland – it’s great for them.”

This is in no way appropriate and absolutely 100 per cent not what anyone from Scotland wants. Those guys want tears and this sort of phlegmatism really undermines their celebrations.

As for the opposition, when the final wicket fell, Trevor Bayliss stood up and flattened out the pocket of his hoodie. You could argue that by Bayliss standards flattening out the pocket of his hoodie pretty much amounts to dropping to his knees and roaring at the heavens, but we’d argue that it more accurately amounts to flattening out the pocket of his hoodie.

Eoin Morgan said: “It’s not the end of the world for us. It was a really good run out and good to have a practice coming into the series against Australia.”

That pretty much sums up the whole problem: There’s nothing riding on it. There are no consequences. Scotland’s big game is just a warm-up for England. The two sides viewed the game completely differently.

England’s one-day side hasn’t been together recently, yet they only met up the day before the Scotland match. They barely practised. The match was their practice.

That is dismissive and insulting and if you think that being beaten will make them act differently in the future, think again. It is a get-out. So long as games against Scotland are viewed as warm-ups, defeats can be shrugged off.

“Onwards to the proper stuff – we’ll be playing properly come the proper stuff,” will be the gist of any comments after a defeat.

Scotland are of course not invited to the one Proper Stuff event that is supposed to be about celebrating and encouraging the spread of the sport. The ‘world’ cup is currently a closed shop reserved only for the made guys.

People do seem to be a bit sick of this and we get the distinct impression that the 10-team format of the 2019 World Cup will be a one-off. Nevertheless, even when Scotland did get a World Cup invite, the format was generally rigged to the extent that there were still no real consequences unless the big teams suffered a whole series of poor results.

There have to be consequences. Consequences are what piss losing fans off. A guarantee that one way or another there will be a whole bunch of pissed off fans makes any cricket match infinitely more exciting.


Will Jos Buttler prove that the best Test teams contain the best T20 players?

That’s a terrible headline. It labels Jos Buttler a T20 player when a key aspect of the point we’re about to make is that players shouldn’t be categorised.

Over at Wisden, we’ve picked up almost exactly where we left off earlier in the week, arguing that England’s Test team would do well to draw on a wider range of experiences.

Take a look back on most of the recent Test debutants and first-class performances have generally been trumping international white ball performances as a selection criterion. The team has become more specialised and more focused and while that may seem like a positive, we’re saying that it also makes it homogenous and that homogenous means worse.

In recent times, adaptability and innovation have come to be seen as being synonymous with ramp shots and reverse sweeps because these things are ‘new’ and easy to identify.

But that’s not the case. Flexibility, improvisation and lateral thinking are not the sole preserve of T20 cricket. The truth is that the shortest format is the one in which players face the narrowest variety of conditions and match situations, whereas Test cricket is the one in which they must adapt the most.

Successful Test teams need people who can come up with solutions to problems on the fly and if all the free thinkers are drifting towards T20, Test teams would do well to try and reclaim a few of them.

Here’s the Wisden link again so that you can read similar sentiments expressed in a greater number of words.

 


Australia redefine “the line” (again)

Langer and Paine (via YouTube)

We always do our best to keep you updated on the exact whereabouts of “the line,” according to its official custodians, the Australia cricket team.

In news that will be hugely reassuring to everyone, Australia’s new captain and coach say that they are well aware of the location of the mythical “line” and have revealed that it is currently what separates “banter” from “abuse”.

Justin Langer said: “If I play Uno with my daughter there’s lots of banter. We sort of sledge each other, but we don’t abuse each other.”

Justin Langer’s daughter may know the difference between banter and abuse but it’s been a blurry divide for some Australian cricketers in the recent past – just as the difference between “cheating” and “not cheating” has at times escaped them.

Fortunately, captain Tim Paine can reassure us all.

“We know what’s right and what’s wrong, so it’s pretty simple.”

Well that’s a relief.


How Jos Buttler has brought a bit of culture to England’s Test team

We’ve always said that Jos Buttler seems much, much safer at the crease – and a far more reassuring presence for England fans – when he’s just standing there spanking sixes, all bionic eyes and adamantium wrists.

We wrote about this in 2015 and Buttler himself seems to have been paraphrasing us all week when explaining his recent Test competence.

Bat like Buttler

Buttler’s unique selling point is surprisingly reliable irresponsible batting. For most batsmen, risk increases exponentially with every attempted step up in scoring rate, whereas for Buttler, the relationship appears to be more linear.

When Buttler scores twice as quickly, he is perhaps twice as likely to get out. If anyone else tries to do the same, they’re about ten times more likely to get out.

Jos Buttler’s version of risky batting isn’t really all that risky when weighed against the likely returns, so it’s best if he feels that it is a legitimate and acceptable option.

“Fuck it”

During the last Test, TV coverage gave us a glimpse of the message “fuck it” on the top of Buttler’s bat handle.

We can already sense the meaning of the message being subtly twisted as people hear about it second and third hand.

What the message isn’t: Jos Buttler is not a carefree T20 specialist who doesn’t give a shit, expressing to the world how little he cares.

What the message is: Jos Buttler cares slightly too much and the message is a reminder to himself that only when he feels liberated can he give a proper account of himself.

(The ‘fuck it’ thing has been covered in loads of place this week. Our favourite piece was Ali Martin’s, because starting a mainstream media article with ‘Fuck it’ really unbalances any readers who don’t know why you’re saying it. An article that starts ‘Fuck it’ could go in a very surprising direction. Every time we’ve read ‘fuck it’ in one of these articles, we’ve heard it in a John Goodman voice in our mind’s ear. It’s funny to imagine that the full message might be ‘Fuck it, dude. Let’s go bowling,’ because bowling is one cricket thing that Jos Buttler has very rarely done. (Career record: two overs, no wickets for 12 runs.))

No, really – bat like Buttler

The other thing that happened in the last Test was that other people started batting like Jos Buttler.

That isn’t to say that Alastair Cook started ramping yorkers through his eyelashes. It was just that everyone started batting way out of their crease to negate the Pakistan bowlers’ swing and seam.

The results were ostensibly unspectacular, but most batsmen got some runs – which isn’t something you’ve often been able to say about England in recent times.

It strikes us that having a diverse batting line-up is very healthy as it means the team as a whole has access to a wider variety of ideas about how to score runs in any given set of circumstances.

As the divide between England’s red and white ball teams has become more pronounced, the Test team in particular has become a sterile monoculture of first-class specialists. Test cricket is the format in which you must be most adaptable and having different voices and different ideas within the team cannot be a bad thing.


Sam Curran is almost the right choice

Sam Curran (via YouTube)

If Sam Curran could bat a bit better or bowl a bit better, he would definitely be a good addition to the England team.

If that sounds dismissive, it’s only because it made for a better opening sentence. Scurran is close. He’s just not quite there.

Strengths

  • Left-armer
  • Swings it
  • Only 5ft9in – (if all the other bowlers are 6ft-plus, this provides variety)
  • Bats a bit

Weaknesses

  • The usual fast-medium sort of pace
  • Doesn’t have a spectacularly good career record (but it’s very good this season (but that comes with the obligatory early season asterisk (although The Oval has been less seamer friendly than most grounds)))
  • Only bats a bit

If Sam Curran plays instead of Ben Stokes, England’s batting becomes a hollow nightmarish thing.

If he plays instead of Mark Wood, the attack starts to look a bit fast-medium (but at least they’d have a left-armer).

We guess his opportunity could be instead of Dom Bess if Stokes can’t bowl and England want four seamers. But that scenario would mean England aren’t playing a spinner.

All in all, we’d quite like him to play but don’t like any of the circumstances in which he would play.


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