Tuesday, 30 March 2010

No Chawla for Surrey?

According to this story today on Cricinfo, not content with denying Northants fans the glory of Sehwag in full flow, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) appear to have withdrawn their No Objection Certificates (NOCs) for all their players.

The BCCI claim that this is because of concerns over players' workloads ahead of the World Cup in 2011, but could it be that its because of Lalit Modi having yet another hissy fit about England not moving the final round of championship games so they don't clash with 'his' Champions League?

Well either way its bitterly disappointing for Surrey fans, Chawla is a thrilling prospect and I'm certain he would've collected plenty of wickets and biffed a few runs as well. I'm gutted. I've no idea where Surrey go from here on the overseas front, but at least we won't be re-signing Pedro Collins.

UPDATE: Apparently BBC says Surrey have not been contacted about Chawla, so maybe its just Sehwag....who knows?!

Monday, 29 March 2010

More overseas woe for Surrey

I'm sure everyone has read the news that Piyush Chawla, Surrey's much-lauded overseas signing for 2010, will no not be available until the end of May - and possibly well beyond - as he was selected in India's squad for the World Twenty20 in April/May in the West Indies.

We won't be seeing this celebration at the Oval any time soon...

Chawla, who I had previously considered to be behind Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha in the India-second-spinner-stakes, has clearly leapfrogged them both at a time when it is arguable that both Ojha and Mishra have out-bowled him in the IPL so far (certainly Mishra's bowling today - willing to give it loads of air and a big rip - was excellent).

The World Twenty20 ends on May 16th, but the bad news doesn't end there, India have a tour scheduled to Zimbabwe from May 28th right the way through June. I've read more than a couple of times that they will be sending a second string XI to Zimbabwe, and if Chawla has indeed jumped the queue for the spinners slot, he'll almost certainly go.

He probably won't play in the World Twenty20, Harbhajan will do the frontline spinning and Yuvraj, Yusuf Pathan and Ravi Jadeja will do the rest. I'd be surprised if they went in with two frontline spinners.

So what does this mean? Possibly no overseas spinner until July, and all the while Surrey still don't have a second overseas signing for the Twenty20. I hope Surrey have plenty up their sleeves on this one, we need proven Twenty20 cricketers if we are to even compete. If we don't recruit, we'll end up being embarrassed like we have been in the past two seasons, and that's not good enough.

Time and time again I've watched other counties recruit some real quality for the T20 cup - Afridi for Hampshire, Gilchrist for Middlesex, Pollard for Somerset and now Morkel and possibly Ross Taylor for Durham - while Surrey seemingly see fit to go in without. I can't see this tactic bearing fruit, but what do I know?

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Damien Martyn: He Was Class

So it seems we've seen the last of Damien Martyn, after a scratchy innings for the Rajasthan Royals he was trimmed from their squad, and doesn't look likely to make a return.

His record stacks up pretty well, 67 test matches, 4400 runs at an average of 46, 208 ODIs with 5300 runs at 41, numbers that most of the current crop of England players would give their right arm for (once their playing career is over).

However, its not that which I'll remember best, its his grace and class with the bat that will stick in my mind. I don't think I've ever seen a more elegant batsman to watch at the crease. Sure there are more destructive players, there are players who scored more runs and scored them quicker. But none of them did it in such an aesthetically pleasing manner!

Criminally there are very few videos of Martyn batting around, or at least that I can find. The only one that isn't of him getting out is this one of him hitting a delicious six off former Surrey legend Azhar Mahmood in 2002. You just get a glimpse of him sashaying down the wicket and delightfully plonking Mahmood over the boundary ropes. This doesn't come close to doing him justice, but it'll have to do:

ECB shows the way forward

Didn't think I'd be writing that any time soon, but show they way forward they have, in my opinion, with this suggestion that the Second XI one day tournament will be played as two innings a side affairs.

With the full county one day tournament being switched from 40 overs per side from 50, again rightly in my opinion (80 overs is much better to watch than 100, it just works - the ICC should follow suit), its a simple enough job to split the teams' 40 overs into two innings for the second XIs.

The first ten overs of each sides first innings will be powerplays, and then there will be 10 more overs of powerplays for each side, presumably they can be taken either in the first or second innings - are you still awake at the back?! I think this is a brilliant idea, it'll be interesting to see how it goes, but it could lead to some really interesting matches.

When will sides take their powerplays? Will the bowling side take it immediately after the first block of ten, like they do now in 50 over contests, or will they delay it and take it at the start of the opposition's second innings? When will the batting side take theirs - to capitalise on a good start, or will they save it for the slog at the end?

This will create a whole new dynamic in the game and that can only be a good thing, I'll have to try and get to a few Second XI Championship one day matches!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Shane Warne - past his best?

I want to make clear at the outset that I am of the opinion that Shane Keith Warne is the greatest bowler in the history of cricket. Not just in numbers, but the way he went about it, he was, and always will be a complete legend of the game and I count myself lucky to have seen him bowl a couple of times.

But, and its a big but, I have lost all faith in the man. Not because he currently has figures of 2-129 for the 2010 IPL, not because he went at nearly 10-an-over in the game today against Kings XI, and not even because he seems to be having some sort of love affair with Shaun Tait, picking him ahead of Morne Morkel, who I think is a better bowler.

No, its because of the complete inanities that have spewn forth from his not inconsiderable gob in the last few weeks. I could barely stomach the fact that he insisted that winning the inaugural IPL with the Rajasthan Royals was his finest achievement in cricket - ok, he played in a few Ashes series where England were little better than also-rans, but he also played in some of the finest series ever - Australia in India in 2001 and the 2005 Ashes to name just two. And yet he thought that winning a hit-and-giggle Twenty20 tournament topped the lot. It smacked of Lalit Modi brown-nosing if you ask me.

But that wasn't even the worst of it. He then went on to describe the hundred by Yusuf Pathan in this match of IPL3 against the Mumbai Indians as the best he's seen. This was the last straw. Ok, so the innings that Wisden ranked as the best ever, Bradman's 270 against England in 1936-37 was some time before Warne was born, but lets just have a look at some that weren't. In fact, lets go further, lets look at three where Warne wasn't just alive, he was on the chuffing pitch at the time:

Brian Lara's 153 not out at Bridgetown in 1998-99. Ranked by Wisden as the second greatest of all time, somehow took the Windies to victory, chasing 308 no other West Indian batsman passed 38 in the innings, but Lara rose above the lot of them to score an imperious, unbeaten hundred shepherding his side (and it was his ITALICS side) to victory 9 wickets down. Warne sent down 24 wicketless overs in the second innings overs. If you've got the time, watch this:

Adam Gilchrist's 102 not out off 59 balls at Perth in 2006/07. You might just call this a bit of fluff, against an England attack containing Saj Mahmood, i.e. not very good. But he took Panesar to pieces, Panesar was debuting against the Aussies and had bagged five in the first innings. Gillie's knock was so violent - the second fastest test hundred ever - a reminder of the man who averaged almost 50 from 100 matches at a better strike rate than Virender Sehwag - he was THAT good:

VVS Laxman's 281 at Kolkata in 2001. My personal favourite, so good that I had to buy the DVD. I'm sure we're all familiar with the tale, but following Australia's 445 in the first innings India could only muster 171 (Laxman top scored with 59). Following on they were on the brink at 115-3 - on the brink that was until VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid came to the crease to forge a stunning triple hundred partnership to turn the match on its head. They bowled Australia out for 212 to take victory and become one of very few teams who won the match despite being asked to follow on. Warne's analysis? 1-152. Make time to watch this:

So there you have it, a selection of three innings which were infinitely more impressive than Yusuf Pathan's hundred off 37 balls. Although that was a lot of fun, so here it is too:

Monday, 22 March 2010

What does India want the IPL to be?

During the ITV coverage of the Chennai Superkings versus Kings XI Punjab yesterday, the results of a poll came up on the screen - the TV company had asked "should the number of overseas players allowed per side be increased?", the result was fairly clear-cut - two-thirds wanted the number to be increased from the current maximum of four players per side.

So this got me thinking, what exactly does India want this to become? At the moment, as I see it, with a requirement for 7 Indian players per side you are giving a large number of Indian youngsters really great exposure to very competitive Twenty20 cricket. The likes of Saurabh and Manoj Tiwary, Virat Kohli and Manish Pandey, to name just a few, are developing into fabulous talents to the great benefit of Indian cricket as a whole. Its too early to say definitively right now, after only two completed IPLs what the impact of the IPL will be on India, but the likes of Pandey in particular wouldn't have come to such wide attention without it.

Above: Manish Pandey celebrates his hundred - the first and only Indian to score a hundred in the IPL (so far - Sehwag's got a 94 and Raina a 98).

But what if the number of overseas was increased to five or six, so that Kolkata could fit Brendon McCullum and Chris Gayle in the side along with Owais Shah, Shane Bond, Angelo Mathews etc., Rajasthan could afford to field an attack featuring Morne Morkel and Shaun Tait, rather than having to pick one of the two? For sure you'd get some cracking cricket, but India cricket would lose more than it would gain in my opinion.

If there was only room for 5 Indians in any given side, and remember there's one 'icon' player (Tendulkar at Mumbai, Sehwag at Delhi and so on) per team, so only room for four and sometimes fewer up-and-coming Indians per side the IPL would cease to be a hotbed of young Indian talent.

Of course you'd get the odd one or two coming through, but more often than not the experienced overseas players would fill the top order slots and bowl the crucial overs, because so much rides on them. Just like the raison d'etre of the County Championship is to produce players for England, at least one of the key goals of the Indian Premier League should be to develop players for India.

Granted with two new franchises there will be more slots across the board, but I think as a matter of principle the number should remain at four to maximise the development of young Indian players.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Video of the week: Chaminda Vaas sets a record

In honour of Chaminda Vaas' age-defying exploits in the IPL - he is currently leading wicket taker with 8 wickets for Deccan from four matches at an average of just 11, while going at just 6 runs an over, I thought I'd dig out this video of his unique achievement.

So you win the toss and elect to bowl first, what as a captain are you looking for your new ball bowler to do? A hat-trick first up would be handy...over to you Chaminda:

The only man to take three wickets from the first three balls of a One Day International. And in a World Cup to boot. At 36, he might have his paciest years behind him, but he was never express - relying on swing and intelligent changes of pace for his wickets. He's still a genuine wicket taking threat and he could yet play a big role in Deccan retaining their IPL title.

Chaminda Vaas:

355 test match wickets from 111 matches @ 29.5 each
400 ODI wickets from 322 matches @ 27.5 each

Saturday, 20 March 2010

88 all out, followed by 67 all out...uh oh...

Ok, so I wasn't too worried after the utter capitulation against the Cobras, it was a dreadful result and doubtless a poor performance, but there were some mitigating circumstances.

However, news of this defeat, to Sussex is more troubling. After all the work done in the off season to rebuild the team I'm reluctant to be overly critical, but to be bowled out for 67, chasing only 100-odd, by a team at exactly the same point in their pre-season is ominous. Only Hamilton-Brown reached double figures with 27 off 23, and he was the only Surrey player to hit a boundary, with three of them. Robin Martin-Jenkins too 2 for 5 from 4 overs. Dreadful performance.

Like I said before, there are players to come in to the side who will up the quality quota significantly, but this should show that some of the players out there aren't quite of the necessary quality yet. Gary Wilson...I'm sure he's a good lad and all, but he has never, ever performed, why persist? I don't know if county batsmen are going to be running scared if we field an attack featuring Jewell and Linley come the competitive games.

It also shows that to compete in the Twenty20 Cup we need a genuinely world-class overseas signing - no more bits and pieces players, no more average trundlers, no more past-it internationals, we need true quality, and we need it soon! I'm in favour of giving the younger players a go in the Twenty20 - we're unlikely to win it anyway, but its not fair on the supporters to potentially subject us to more humiliations like this when the tournament proper starts later in the year.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Surrey pre-season games begin

The Emirates Twenty20 Trophy, currently being played out in Dubai featuring Surrey (in a rather fetching dark brown and lime green one day kit), a young 'emerging' Cape Cobras side, Sussex and a Fly Emirates XI, who are essentially amateurs plus one of the best ringers of all time - Shahid Afridi!

Now, a narrow win against a bunch of club cricketers and a crushing defeat to a team with an average age of 20 - what Surrey have achieved in their two games so far - might not exactly be reason for optimism, but its no reason to despair either.

My first reaction when I saw the 46 run defeat to the Cobras was 'business as usual, normal service is resumed for Surrey', but that's rubbish when I think about it. Most of the Surrey lads will be coming in to the tournament completely cold having gone without competitive cricket for months, whereas at least some of the Cobras side will have had recent match practice what with the South African domestic season in full swing.

Ok, whatever mitigating circumstances there are, what is clearly a talented Surrey side should've notched more than 88 runs against the youngsters, but its not the end of the world. The game against Sussex will pit two teams at the same stage of their pre-season against one another, so it'll be a good chance to assess the relative strengths of the teams.

Of course Surrey also have Davies, Tremlett and Nel to come in, not to mention Rao and then Chawla, so there's still something in the locker. And Rory Hamilton-Brown's knock of 41 in the first game, off only 23 balls and four wickets for less than fifty runs from the two games is nothing to be sneered at.

If we can't muster more than 88 runs when the season starts proper, I'll be extremely angry, but for now, lets just wait and see what happens.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Praying for a hint of green in Dhaka

Kevin Pietersen is right to criticise the pitch in Chittagong, absolutely lifeless, flat as a pancake and nothing in it for the spinners either, is that really getting anyone anywhere?

Its no good for Bangladesh to be batting on roads like that, it does little to test a variety of skills, and England (especially the seamers) won't have enjoyed pounding in over after over for little reward. Ok, Graeme Swann took 10 wickets for which he is rightly praised, but he still conceded 220 odd runs and he was collared for a few big hits along the way.

There may be some peculiarities in the soil that I know nothing about, so I don't want to criticise the groundsmen too much. They don't have the experience of English or Australian groundsmen of preparing pitches, that will surely come in time, but with the glitz and glamour of the IPL taking place just next door the Bangladesh-England sluggathon was no advert for the 5 day game.

What we needed (and were never likely to get with two mismatched teams) was a thrill-a-minute test with a tight finish to show the rest of the world that anything the IPL can do, test cricket can do better. However, while Jacques Kallis, MS Dhoni and Tendulkar were setting the world alight with some truly spectacular hitting, Junaid Siddique was grinding out a painstaking hundred in a completely lost cause.

The players are not to be criticised here, and since I've already ruled out criticising the groundsmen too much, I'm not sure what I'm whingeing about. I am just frustrated that at the very time we needed to maintain the level of excitement about test cricket created by the series in South Africa, we got the worst advert possible.

A hint of green in the surface in Dhaka, however unlikely, would allow the Bangladeshi batsmen to test their technique and prepare them for the return series in England later in the year. And more to the point, it might create something approaching a spectacle - you never know!

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Video of the Week: The Worst Over Ever

This is one of my particular favourites, Scott Boswell bowls a 14 ball over, completely lost his radar and I'm not sure he ever bowled another over in top level cricket. Cricinfo actually rated it the sixth worst over ever, and the Observer rather cruelly rated him the 9th biggest choker in the history of sport. This over was bowled in the final of the old C&G Trophy at Lord's, ironically in the semi-final against Lancashire Boswell took the wickets of Mike Atherton, Neil Fairbrother, Andrew Flintoff and Graham Lloyd - 408 international appearances and 19,000 runs between them. That's life I suppose!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Free to air cricket: Is the debate over?

What with the Indian Premier League fast approaching us, to be screened live and in full colour on ITV4 (what number is it on Sky?!), I am minded to mention the debate on free to air cricket, essentially Ashes cricket on terrestrial TV (or not).

It would seem that the ECB have won the debate, they have secured an agreement from the Conservative party that should they win the election (which still looks marginally the most likely outcome), the Ashes will not be a listed event and can therefore remain on subscription channels, i.e. Sky Sports.

Rod Bransgrove, Hampshire Chairman and ever the pioneer, has obviously been doing his bit on the lobbying front as well, this EDM (a parliamentary statement of support, essentially toothless but worthy nonetheless) from Lib Dem MP Mark Oaten sensibly extols the virtues of keeping cricket on Sky. I didn't know he was such a cricket fan...

So who is right? On the face of it, it seems that the ECB and Sky are conspiring to keep cricket from the masses to keep their pockets lined, and there is clearly an element of validity in that argument (the keeping their pockets lined bit, not keeping it from the masses). Keeping the ECB coffers overflowing with Murdoch's money means counties still get their (not insignificant) slice of cash, and as Oaten's EDM makes clear, it means local community cricket has some money coming in that it might ordinarily not. There's also the Chance to Shine initiative to think of too, which I'm pretty sure is funded by Sky money.

In an ideal world, we'd all be able to watch cricket for free. When it was on Channel 4 it was brilliantly produced and in the case of the 2005 Ashes, watched by millions. But before that the coverage was frequently interrupted by the horse racing, and while that probably wouldn't be the case now, the lack of non-Sky bidders for test cricket when the tender went round last time shows that there isn't much appetite in any case.

Sky do a good job with the coverage and they also cover a fair amount of county cricket - I'm a subscriber and I intend to stay one. Of course the more people that watch cricket the better, but I don't think now is the time to legislate to have it shown on terrestrial TV.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Adams: The Surrey Strut is no more!

Chris Adams' latest interview on Surrey TV, posted a couple of days ago, is revealing for a few things he says. Apparently the winter programme is now over, and I cannot tell you how relieved I was to hear that they had "done a lot of fielding", I should hope so Grizz, the number of catches dropped in the last two seasons is nothing short of disgraceful!

Adams also went into his plan to bring in a firm of sports psychologists, a firm who counts Jeremy Snape, crickets foremost authority on the subject, among its staff. Adams said that the sessions would focus on the "unique opportunity to establish our own values" on the team, because of the high number of changes on and off the field over the last few months.

This is a good sign I think, he spoke of ensuring that all the players had an appreciation of what it means to be a Surrey player and to play for the club. Too often over the last few years have I had a feeling that players were just out in the middle going through the motions (not all, just some, but all too often). I should say I noticed a marked improvement on this front last season - credit must go to Adams for that.

One of the most memorable things he says though is that the Surrey Strut is a thing of the past, that swagger that the players were said to carry with them. I think this is as sure a sign yet of Adams moulding the team as he sees fit, and it'll be interesting to see if this bears fruit, I have my fingers firmly crossed in the hope that it does!

This is a crucial season for Adams, he's been given the cheque book to sign the players and personnel he wants, and he's had plenty of time to shape the team. If there isn't a marked improvement in results, actually make that a huge improvement in results (we're coming from a very low base here!), it'll have to go down as a failure.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Rao Iftikhar - not great, not terrible

I was perhaps expecting a bigger name as our fill-in overseas player while young Chawla is away at the IPL playing for the Kings XI, but the signing of Rao Iftikhar Anjum was announced on the Surrey site today.

It would be easy to dismiss him as a bit-part player in Pakistan internationals over the past six or seven years, who is unlikely to set the world alight for the few games he's available, but I think he mightn't be the worst signing in the world.

In early English season conditions, greenish pitches and perhaps some overhead conditions conducive to swing, his mid-to-late 80s pace and ability to swing the ball might just see him picking up a clutch of wickets.

I should say at this point that I distinctly remember saying that Grant Elliott was a better signing than he seemed on the surface, and he wasn't all that great at all! But I think Rao has a lot more pedigree than Elliott, he has getting on for 500 wickets in all forms under his belt, and at a healthy average too. In ODIs, of which he's played 62, he might not have picked up hatfuls of wickets, but 77 have come his way at 31 apiece.

I think a seam attack boasting Rao, Tremlett, Nel and Dernbach backed up by some decent spinning options in Schofield, Batty and Hamilton-Brown should see us competing at the very least.

It is an odd feeling, to be mildly optimistic after a few years of despair, but here's hoping that optimism isn't misplaced!

Note: I'm still a bit concerned at our lack of a second overseas signing for the Twenty20 Cup, especially in light of Hampshire's signing of Abdul Razzaq to join Afridi (I'm told Mendis is no longer available). I hope Surrey have something up their sleeves!

Here's a little video of Rao picking up three wickets, De Villiers bowled, Kemp to a slightly questionable LBW (might have been outside the line!) and Botha caught slogging:

Monday, 8 March 2010

Stat Attack: England's bowlers in ODIs....continued

Debate has raged between two blog readers - one of whom is me and the other had to be prompted to read my previous blog entry - about my entry yesterday on England's ODI bowlers. Well I say rage, I mean my pal Matt Hindle raised an interesting question after reading the post.

The question was, how does having economical bowlers impact on the outcome of series? Or something along those lines anyway. Well I gamely took on the challenge thrown down to me, and because I didn't want to send myself mental, I restricted the scope of this investigation to bilateral ODI series involving two of the top 8 test sides (England, Australia, South Africa, India, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Pakistan and West Indies) since January 2008, so it is by no means comprehensive, merely representative.

There have been 21 series from January 2008 to now according to Cricinfo, one of those ended in a draw (Chappell-Hadlee Series in 2008) so wasn't included, and in one series (staggeringly England v Australia in 2009) both teams had five bowlers conceding 5 runs or less per over bowled.

So that leaves 19 series which had a result other than a draw in either case. In 68% of those 19, i.e. in 13 of those series, the team who had more bowlers conceding 5 runs an over or less came out on top. Over two-thirds is pretty conclusive. Having a higher number of frugal bowlers helps you win cricket matches. Doesn't sound all that ground breaking when you put it like that, but its a fact!

Like I said above, this is by no means a fool-proof analysis but it is nonetheless interesting (no really, it IS). Clearly, from the analysis in the previous blog, England have a lack of bowlers capable of stemming the flow of runs, and this blog shows that those bowlers make it easier to win series.

So what's the solution? Well its line and length isn't it? Those most frugal bowlers ever in ODIs, the McGraths and Pollocks of this world were line and length merchants. Too often in limited overs cricket the likes of Anderson and Broad have varied their lengths when it wasn't always necessary to do so. I'm not suggesting they should stick to it rigidly, but more often than not that sort of bowling works wonders.

Why am I not being recruited as England's bowling coach?

Note: I should reiterate that I don't think runs conceded per over is the only measure of success in limited overs internationals, this is just an exercise to see how it can bring an impact.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Stat attack: England's bowlers in ODIs

After England's efficient if unspectacular whitewash of Bangladesh, I thought I'd have a look at some stats from the series, surely they would reflect well on England's bowlers I thought...not really so.

In a series that England took relatively easily, only three England bowlers conceded less than 5 runs per over - Bresnan, Swann and Wright. Similarly three Bangladeshi bowlers went at less than 5 RPO - Razzak, Shakib and Shuvo. That got me thinking when was the last time England bowlers going at less than 5 an over outnumbered opposition bowlers doing the same?

You have to go back to the Natwest Series, West Indies in England in 2009 - a tour which the Windies clearly didn't fancy much - to find such a situation. In that series Anderson, Bresnan, Swann and Collie went at less than 5, and only Sammy and Benn did so for the opposition. But I'm not sure that's saying much.

In the series before that, India v England in India, in which even Andrew Flintoff played, precisely zero England players went at less than 5 (admittedly Fred did go at exactly 5), compared with Zaheer, Munaf and Yuvraj going at under 5 in a run-filled series.

Against South Africa, a series which England won in late 2009, only Bresnan maintained an economy rate below 5, while Morkel, Botha, Duminy and Langeveldt did so for South Africa. Go back one series to the interminable ODI series after the Ashes, and while Swann, Mascarenhas and Wright were below 5 an over, Hauritz, Bracken, Hopes and Siddle did so for the Aussies.

But the most damning analysis comes at the Champions Trophy, where England were actually pretty impressive. Every side bar England (including West Indies) had at least two bowlers going at below 5 an over - Australia had five, Pakistan four, so too New Zealand and India, South Africa and Sri Lanka all had three. England's lone representative was James Anderson, 4.25 runs per over.

Of course looking at one statistic in isolation doesn't tell the story - our bowlers might have been expensive against South Africa last year but we still won the series - but it is interesting that we seem to have had a real issue keeping the run rate down in recent years.

Indeed, a look at all of the 8 major nations over the last five years shows that England have only had 7 players restrict the run scoring below five an over (assuming 20 matches/100 overs) - and one of them is Jamie Dalrymple - interestingly the only nation they beat in this is India, which shows up their bowling malaise as well!

Keeping the runs down isn't the be all and end all, but its a good place to start, restricting a sides run scoring brings pressure and pressure brings wickets, England could do worse than focusing on stemming the flow of runs.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Top Five: Big Hitters

I've just watched a bit of Chris Gayle taking it to the Zimbabwe attack, and it got me thinking about power hitters.  Ever since that 1996 World Cup final, a premium has been placed on having some sort of hitter in the side, someone who can clear the infield in the powerplay overs and pepper the boundaries even with the field spread.  So who are the best exponents of this art?
  1. Sanath Jayasuriya:  The original pinch hitter, it was Jayasuriya who started the craze, if not single handedly winning the World Cup for Sri Lanka, he was certainly their matchwinner with the bat.  Still smashing the ball over the ropes in his forties, he holds the record for the highest percentage of runs scored in boundaries in international Twenty20s - an impressive 71%.
  2. Virender Sehwag:  What is there to say about this man that hasn't already been said?  One of only two players who have scored over 5,000 runs in ODIs to have done so at a strike rate of over 100, and he averages 11 better than the other man (more of whom later), plus a strike rate in tests of over 80.  The sheer brutality of his batting is a thrill to watch.
  3. Shahid Afridi:  He hit what is still the fastest hundred in ODI history on debut at just 16, and he's been battering it about ever since.  Once a batting all rounder, now is more consistently a threat with the ball, but when he gets going you'd better be watching because its a sight to behold.  The violence with which he hits the ball is incredible, and there's always something happening when Boom Boom is about.
  4. Yuvraj Singh:  How could I leave out the man who clobbered Stuart Broad for six sixes in an over in the first World Twenty20 all the way back in 2007:

    The short arm jab that Yuvraj seems to have perfected, it looks more like a golf stroke, is really something impressive to watch.  Yuvraj has walloped more sixes than he has fours in international Twenty20s, which unique in all forms of cricket as far as I'm aware.  Sheer power.
  5. Chris Gayle:  The Coolest Man In Cricket, Gayle is scintillating and infuriating in equal measure but when he tees off the crowd had better be wearing hard hats.  His knock off 88 in the World Twenty20 at the Oval last year was staggering - Brett Lee was picked off like a club cricketer (alas no videos exist!).  He is a colossus at the crease - well over 6 feet and shoulders as wide as a London bus.  Not many can match his sheer power.
Honourable mentions for Brendon McCullum and Abdul Razzaq, Adam Gilchrist wasn't bad either!  I'm sure there's plenty of others besides as well!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Video of the week: Flying Stumps

The first ever video of the week is this magnificent collection of stump-splatterers from around the world:

My personal favourite is of course at 1m 43s, where an utterly flummoxed Michael Clarke has his off stump flattened by Simon Jones (remember him?!) at Old Trafford in the 2005 Ashes series.

We need to talk about Kevin

I'm not one to engage in hyperbole, but Kevin Pietersen's form is utterly dreadful, and barring one or two Twenty20 innings and a knock of 80 against South Africa, what is going on?

Kevin Pietersen in brighter days!

Much has been said on every blog and in every newspaper about his recent travails, since July last year he's averaging in the mid twenties across all forms, and that average isn't going in the right direction. I read on The Corridor that he hasn't passed 50 in a one day international since 2008 - I'm worried!

It could just be a dip in form, but this is getting on for a very lengthy dip in form, and what's more worrying is the way he's playing, not just that he's not making scores. His weakness against left-arm spin is still very much to the fore, but I'm also concerned at his manner at the crease and his shot selection. When he used to exude confidence at the crease, now he looks fidgety and nervous.

Maybe this is just a consequence of a bad run of form, and he just needs time to sort it out, I certainly hope that is the case. The two tests against Bangladesh must now be seen as crucial to the rest of the year. He needs to spend hours at the crease to find his mojo again.

On the plus side, he's been in terrible form and yet England haven't been in terminal decline, he's a wonderful player to have in good touch but we've proved we have other match winning batsmen to fill his boots for now.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

What's Graham Napier done wrong?

I've only just clocked that Graham Napier, the Essex all rounder, was omitted from the 30 man squad named for the World Twenty20 in the Windies in May, surely this is just a typo?!

They select the poor guy for the last World Twenty20 (incredibly less than 12 months before the next - overkill anyone?), they don't play him in a single match despite the fact that the team who played in the first match didn't cover themselves in glory, and yet they seem to think they've seen enough to discard him from the tournament in May?

Its a blow to his confidence for sure, though this story on Cricinfo shows, on the surface at least, that he's determined to get back into the selectors mindset.

Surely there should be a place in the squad for a man who has demonstrated the ability to tear attacks apart in England, and is useful with the ball (leading wicket taker in the New Zealand Twenty20 competition) - his county record must be at least as good with the ball as Luke Wright. I'm very disappointed with England on this, and I hope there's a chance to rectify it, but the lack of domestic Twenty20 (except the IPL, and I'm not sure how much he'll play there) between now and the World Twenty20 means that is very unlikely.

Eoin Morgan for the Ashes

Its been said elsewhere that Eoin Morgan, he of the rubber wrists and super-humanly cool temperament, is a dark horse for the Ashes squad when England head back down under hoping to retain the Little Urn come November. I'd go further than that and say they should buy his ticket now and hope BA don't go on strike.

This is what those rubber wrists are capable of!

As I've said before, his record in the longer form of the game isn't startlingly good, but neither is it bad, and I keep forgetting that he's only 23, he's barely getting started!

His 110 off 104 balls yesterday was a match winner, and a stunning one at that. It required a cool head and plenty of thought. He couldn't go out thrashing from ball one because of the pace of the pitch and the situation. What England have been lacking recently is just that, players who can play the situation.

One of the key reasons why Collingwood has become a player of such enormous worth is his ability to change the way he plays according to the situation - Morgan has that ability too. He might start his innings with a strike rate of 50 from the first 20 balls, but he does that because he knows he can accelerate past a strike rate of 200 later in the innings.

If he can adapt and play with such an apparently cool temperament (as much as this sort of thing can ever be tested in limited overs games), why shouldn't he be able to adapt his game for test cricket? The pressure cooker of Ashes cricket in Australia is the ultimate test of what a player has up top, and I for one think Eoin Morgan is up to the task.

Also, he's not English, which seems to stand you in good stead for selection for England of late!