Wednesday, November 30, 2005

England Need A Bowler With A Good Economy Rate

Pakistan closed the second day on 185-4, 103 runs behind England. It has been suggested that the game is evenly poised, but in my view Pakistan have the advantage and are likely to achieve a first innings lead of about 50.

As Yousuf and Inzamam-ul-Haq were compiling an undefeated stand of 79 I realised that in the absence of a bowler like Jones, who takes wickets with the old ball, England need a player who can keep the run rate down when the shine is off the ball and the batsmen are well set on a good pitch. If nothing else it minimises the damage until the second new ball comes available.

The intermittent careers of Angus Fraser and Robert Croft suggests that even when England have these bowlers, the selectors are reluctant to pick them. In the absence of Simon Jones, perhaps the selectors should have examined their Wisden Almanacs for a bowler with a good economy rate. A miserly bowler in the squad would have given them more options. I would suggest someone, but clearly the statisticians don’t value the virtue I seek, as my Playfair Annual fails to include the overs bowled in the summary statistics, which makes the economy rate impossible to work out.

I believe that sometimes defence is the best form of attack.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

England's Flaws Are The Same As Their Virtues

England closed on a disappointing 248-6 on the 1st day of the final Test against Pakistan and with the new ball due in three overs, they will be fortunate to reach 300. The batsmen have been criticised for getting out to attacking shots, especially the sweep. All this proves is that sportsmen are never as bad or as good as the sports writers claim.

At the Oval Test the game was in the balance at lunch on the final day with England 127-5; much depended on Kevin Pietersen who was lucky to survive Lee's onslaught just before the break. Legend has it that Vaughan urged Pietersen to play his natural game and not try to play the defensive innings the situation merited. The maxim for despondent adolescents: “just be yourself” is equally true for struggling batsmen and Pietersen scored an Ashes winning 158. The journalists knew an innings with half the runs in double the time would have been just as effective, but they could not be seen to criticise the hero, so they lauded him for his bravado.

Very few batsmen can adjust their game to the conditions of the match. Those that try are like the teenager who puts on an act in an attempt to please everybody; they end up failing as a shadow of themselves. Reporters routinely criticised Atherton and Boycott for being over defensive, lamenting that they should be more like Viv Richards or David Gower. However they would then criticise David Gower for being over attacking and suggest that he should have applied himself more and batted like Boycott.

We have to accept cricketers for what they are and recognise that the flaws the media criticises are exactly the same as the virtues that they praise. An argument could be made for altering the balance of the team and I would consider dropping Collingwood down the order to complement the stroke makers of Flintoff, Pietersen and Jones, but I would not attempt to change anything else.

Monday, November 28, 2005

England Still Searching For Jones' Replacement

Perfection is a destination, imperfection is the never-ending journey. The English selectors may well ponder this statement as they assemble the team for the final Test against Pakistan.

The team that played the first four Tests of the Ashes series was perfectly balanced. This balance was lost following the injury to Simon Jones and has not yet been regained. The lack of depth in the England squad has been exposed.

It now appears that Udal will be dropped for the final Test in favour of an extra seam bowler. England need a bowler who can take wickets with the old ball. Simon Jones did this against Australia with reverse swing and so replacing him with a spinner made sense, especially in Pakistan. The fact that the performance of both spin bowlers on this tour has been disappointing doesn't make their selection wrong. Selectors can only pick the best team from the squad available; it is up to the players to perform well.

The probable selection of James Anderson makes no sense, as England already have a decent new ball attack. If Giles is fit I would make no changes in the bowling department. If Giles is injured I'd bring in Liam Plunkett instead of James Anderson, as I would select a man for the future instead of a player who has failed in the past.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Who Is The Greatest Cricketer Of All Time?

Sky News are conducting a poll on whether Brian Lara is the greatest cricketer of all time. At the moment it appears that only 25% of respondents believe so. I would also side with the no voters.

I assess a player's greatness by examining the effect their performances have on the games that they play in. There is nothing Lara, or any batsman, can do to prevent the opposition from batting their team out of the game. Similarly bowlers are equally powerless to prevent a batting collapse. Therefore the greatest player of all time must be an all-rounder.

Great all-rounders have that special ability to influence a game with either bat or ball at crucial times. Using that criterion Botham, Kallis and Flintoff would be in my top five cricketers. However, the best all-rounder of all time is Garry Sobers. His ability to bowl off-spin as well as pace was a selectors dream and his ability to win the game with either bat or ball was legendary. The ex-England captain Mike Denness commented that he and his follow batsman would be worried if Sobers didn't score any runs as they knew he would bowl at them with a belief that this would be the way he'd make his impact on the game.

There has been no greater all-rounder, there has been no greater cricketer, than Sir Garry Sobers.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Should Strauss Have Been Selected?

England's recent success has been aided by a ruthless selection policy; while in the past players such as Gooch, Atherton and Stewart could choose when they retired, Thorpe and Hussain were afforded no such luxury and saw their positions usurped by younger talent. The needs of the team, outweigh the sensibilities of the individual.

In these harsher, more practical times, the selection of Andrew Strauss needs to be considered purely in the light of what's best for the team. Robin Smith is another batsman whose form deserted him when his wife was expecting and it must be very difficult to go on tour in those circumstances. Everybody knows that predicting a baby’s delivery date is not an exact science and I know from personal experience that the closer the date becomes, the harder it is for an expectant father to focus on his work, whatever that may be.

In my view it would have been better for Andrew Strauss, his family and the England team if he’d been where any man should be in his circumstances, by his wife’s side.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Tumultuous Draw

Unlike tennis and most other sports, it is unacceptable for a cricketer to show open dissent towards an umpire. I cannot imagine a tennis player being fined for shaking his head like Mike Atherton did in the 1998 series against South Africa. As a consequence cricketers find subtler ways of showing their displeasure, as Hansie Cronje did by grinning broadly after being on the receiving end of a similarly poor decision in the same series.

The tumultuous 2nd Test ended in a tense draw as England managed to recover from a calamitous 20-4 to end the day on 164-6, a hypothetical 121 runs from victory. Clearly the umpires had a difficult game to officiate and unsurprisingly they appeared to err on the side of caution when awarding wickets. Umpires are less likely to be criticised for mistakenly giving the benefit of the doubt to the batsman, than for showing charity towards the bowler’s appeals. This led to bowlers showing “dissent” through excessive appealing, a self-defeating trait that is common amongst spinners.

A quick trawl through the message boards indicates that Pakistani supporters are questioning the impartiality of the two umpires. I don’t wish to give any credence to unsubstantiated allegations of racism, but it is worth exploring reasons for these accusations.

Umpiring decisions require judgement, which will be influenced by established conventions. For example, where I come from umpires do not give LBW decisions for deliveries that a batsman hits, even if it clearly strikes the pad first. Similarly a batsman can consider himself unlucky to be given out if he is hit above the knee roll or if he takes a good stride down the wicket, no matter how straight the ball. I believe that different conventions become established in different countries and this can lead to antagonism. For example, Phil Tufnell once complained that Australian umpires never gave “bat pad” decisions.

As with more serious occurrences of racial discord, what is required is not a pointless argument over who is right or wrong, just an acceptance that a different background and upbringing will often lead to a different point of view.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Another Day, Another Controversy

The second Test is delicately poised with Pakistan 199 ahead with four wickets in hand. However, there was another controversial incident when Salman Butt had a run disallowed as the umpire used the full extent of the law to punish him for running on the pitch after an earlier warning. This unusual incident would have been nothing more than a footnote in the match had Butt not been out LBW the next delivery. Inzamam-ul-Haq appeared to run on the pitch later in the match, nearly colliding with the bowler Flintoff (the physicist in me was disappointed, we may have discovered what happens when an irresistible object hits an immovable post) and on this occasion the umpire did nothing. This has led to allegations of inconsistency, along with suggestions that the umpire found it easier to penalise an inexperienced 21-year old than the veteran Pakistani captain. At least the umpires are from neutral countries.

We are set for a nail biter of a finish tomorrow. The new ball is due in 14 overs and so it seems unlikely that the Pakistan tail will be able to bat England out of the game. However, England failed to chase 198 in Multan and whatever happens, they'll be chasing more than that tomorrow.

A draw is most likely, but all results are definitely still possible.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Afridi's Punishment

The powers-that-be deserve to be congratulated for their timely punishment of Shahid Afridi. Their decision to ban him for the next three games follows his indefensible action yesterday, where he not once but twice roughed up the pitch on a length, when the officials' backs were turned (although not those of his team-mates). Both his apologists and those calling for ridiculously excessive punishments have been stopped in their tracks.

Unfortunately controversy appears to haunt the contests between these two sides, but usually incidents have been exacerbated by weak and ineffective officials who fail to grasp the nettle and take appropriate action.

I doubt the Gatting - Shakoor Rana affair, the ball tampering allegations in the early 90s or Aquib Javed's bouncers to Devon Malcolm would have achieved half the notoriety if those who run the game had shown the courage and foresight of today's officials. Thanks to them Afridi has pleaded guilty and been punished, now we can move on.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Run Out Of Inzamam-ul-Haq

Pakistan are in a dominant position in the second Test, as they restricted England to 113-3 in reply to Pakistan’s impressive 462. However, England’s task would be more daunting had Inzamam-ul-Haq not been given out incorrectly.

The rules clearly state that a batsman cannot be run out if he is within his crease and takes evasive action to avoid being hit by the ball thrown towards the stumps by the fielder. The umpires’ misinterpretation of this rule is a mystery, but it is possible that the third umpire was only asked if the batsman was out of his ground when the stumps were broken. Modern technology can be dangerous in the wrong hands and today’s use of the television replay ensured that an inexcusable mistake was made.

It could be argued that the three top scorers in Pakistan’s innings would not have been given out had the technology been used correctly; although I believe that Afridi was accurately adjudged to be caught by Trescothick at slip, Yousuf and Inzamam-ul-Haq have genuine grievances.

It remains to be seen if these mistakes will matter. It looks probable that England will take the pressure off the umpires by losing the match.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Bell's First Test Wicket

Pakistan reached 300-4 at the end of the first day’s play of the second Test with Inzamam-ul-Haq’s unbeaten knock of 80 being the backbone of the innings. Both Flintoff and Harmison bowled accurately on a pitch that offered little encouragement to seam bowlers once the ball had lost its shine.

However, the main talking point of the day was Bell’s first Test wicket, Yousuf caught and bowled for 78. At both normal speed and in slow motion it appeared to be an excellent low catch, but the magnified frame-by-frame replay suggested that Bell momentarily lost his grip as the ball touched the ground. If the decision had been referred to the third umpire it would have been given not out.

It is probable that this new technology will ensure repeats of today’s controversy, as Bell’s involuntary flinch of the hand whilst he hit the ground is likely to be a common phenomenon in these sort of catches. I am reminded of an incident when Ben Hollioake was given out stumped whilst sliding his foot back into the crease over rough ground. At first glance he was clearly in, but at the instant the stumps were broken his foot had juddered off the ground.

Decision making in cricket has always required qualified judgement, but now enhanced television replays threaten to turn decision making into a process governed by absolutes. If this happens cricket will be poorer as a result.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Should Runs Be Awarded Against Teams With Slow Over Rates?

The current practice of fining teams for slow over rates doesn't work. Players accept fines as an occupational hazard and certainly won't bowl their overs any faster if it is not in their team's best interests to do so.

It has been suggested that slow over rates should be punished by awarding runs to the opposing team. Although this would interfere with the ethos of cricket, it is possible that like the pass back rule in football, it would ultimately improve the sport (after ruining a few games), as teams learn the necessity of playing a more entertaining game to avoid infringing the new rule.

To be accepted any new rule would have to fair and easy for players and spectators to understand. This is easier said than done. It would be unfair to punish a team for slow over rates if it were due to interruptions outside their control. The clock could be stopped for rain, injuries to players or streakers, but should the number of wickets to fall in the hour be considered? Should the moving of the sightscreen due to a left-hand, right-hand batsman combination be taken into account? What happens if it appears that the batsmen are delaying the game?

I like the idea in theory, but I remain to be convinced that it could work in practice.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Players Should Not Be Fined For Celebrating Instead Of Appealing

Hoggard has been fined 20% of his match fee for celebrating the wicket of Salman Butt without first appealing to the umpire. A bowler should be punished if he puts pressure on the umpire by orchestrating a celebration of a "wicket" before a ruling has been given on a borderline decision. However, if a batsman is clearly out a bowler should not be fined for celebrating this.

Cricketers get the majority of their money from sponsorship and so a reduction in their match fee is not a financial deterrent. Neither the players nor the public appear to take these fines seriously as they are not seen to be fair. Clearly an alternative course of action is required.

Umpires need to have the courage to remind bowlers that they will make their decisions irrespective of a bowler's premature celebration. Too often it is the umpire who look's sheepish when a not out decision turns a bowler's victory dance into a theatrical tantrum. The roles should be reversed. Any bowler whose premature celebrations are cut short when the decision goes the batsman's way, should receive a stern reprimand from the umpire. This would be far more effective than the meaningless deduction of a percentage of a player's match fee.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Let's Focus On The Positives

The two biggest question marks hanging over this England team was the batting form of Ian Bell and the wicket-keeping of Geriant Jones. Both players answered their critics in this game. Bell's timely innings of 71 and 31 were both made under different types of pressure and it would be a travesty if he were dropped for the next Test. I was also deeply impressed by Jones' wicket-keeping especially to the turning ball in Pakistan's second innings. It appears that I owe him an apology for asserting that he would be unable to improve his wicket-keeping.

Vaughan replacing Collingwood will remove the one remaining weak link in the team and so there is every reason to be optimistic about the rest of the Pakistan tour and the matches against India next year.

So come on lads, remember the words of Kipling: "If you meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same", forget the last result and go out and play the game!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Time For Neutral Groundsmen Inspectors

Now that Pakistan have won the first Test it has been suggested that the pitches for the next two matches will be excellent for batting to ensure the final two games are draws. It has also been suggested that the pitches for England's two warm-up matches were deliberately different from the one at Multan. There was controversy before the Ashes Test at Trent Bridge when the groundsmen stated proudly that his pitch would offer little assistance to Shane Warne. For the good of the game pitch preparation should not only be fair, it should be seen to be fair.

I propose that the ICC appoint inspectors to ensure that any accusations of home bias in the preparation of pitches are groundless (pardon the pun). Their job would be to ensure that nobody interfered with the groundsmen in their task of producing Test match pitches.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Time For Neutral Third Umpires

On the fourth day of the 1st Test between England and Pakistan the third umpire, the ex-Lahore batsman Asad Rauf, should have ruled that Salman Butt had been run out on the strength of the TV replay. Butt went on to make 122, which was his maiden home century. It has been suggested that although the stumps had clearly been disturbed with the batsman out of his ground, the decision was still correct, as the third umpire could not be certain that the bails were out of their grooves. Under this logic umpires should not give out any catch claimed by a fielder who rolls on the ground, as the ball could have momentarily fallen out and then back into the fielder’s grasp in the instant the umpire’s view was obscured.

It is unfair that Asad Rauf now faces accusations of bias, but it is undeniable that many England fans (me included if I’m honest) would find the decision easier to take if it had been made by an official from a neutral country.

When he was Pakistan captain, Imran Khan argued for neutral umpires in order to diffuse any accusations of home bias. Cricket is a conservative game and it took years for the administrators to react to this selfless suggestion. The first step they took was to introduce one neutral umpire, which of course only halved the problem. Until today I thought that having two neutral umpires had eradicated any accusation of bias. Now I realise that a neutral third umpire is required.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Delay Of New Ball Pays Dividends For Pakistan

Pakistan had the better of day 3 of the 1st Test by restricting England to a lead of 144, before reaching the close of play at 125-2, a deficit of only 19.

The Pakistan captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq was roundly criticised for delaying the taking of the second new ball for 17 overs. However, in my view it was an inspired decision. In the Ashes series England's tail had a habit of making useful runs, especially on good pitches. By waiting until the end of the sixth wicket partnership, Inzamam-ul-Haq ensured that the England tail would have to face the new ball. The tail-enders were not up to the challenge and the innings collapsed from 366-6 to 418 all out.

This is a good cricket pitch, as it requires patience from both batsman and bowler. Inzamam-ul-haq's patience paid dividends.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Bell and Trescothick Dominate The Second Day

The two England players under the most pressure shared a 180 run partnership to leave England on 253-3, 21 runs behind Pakistan's 1st innings total.

A glance at the statistics shows that the burden of captaincy usually has an adverse effect on a player's form. This makes Trescothick's unbeaten 135 all the more impressive. However, in terms of a player's career, Bell's determined 71 has more significance.

Bell's last six innings for England had been 3, 3, 0, 0, 2 & 1 and he was dropped for the Pakistan A game. It appeared that another talented young English batsmen would be tagged a nearly man, before being put out to the pasture of County Cricket. But Vaughn injured his knee and the selectors had no option but to recall the out of form Bell, who had only played one warm-up game while most of teammates had played two. He came into bat at 18-1 and all recent statistics suggested the second wicket partnership would be a short one. Fortunately, both men defied the odds.

Trescothick's innings needed a little luck as he should have been given out LBW when on 87. No doubt with the two dubious LBW decisions in Pakistan's 1st inning in his mind, Inzamam-ul-Haq copied the practice of Ricky Ponting by having words with umpire Billy Bowden following this latest decision to go against his team. Bell on the other hand was unlucky to be given out caught at short leg, as replays showed that Shoaib Malik had overstepped.

The foundations for an imposing 1st innings lead have now been set. Can England's middle order deliver?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Udal Goes From Second Fiddle To Concertmaster

In my view it was Udal's disciplined bowling that allowed England to wrestle the initiative from Pakistan on the first day of the first Test. Trescothick had tried all four other bowlers and the all-rounder Collingwood before throwing the ball to Shaun Udal, the 36 year-old debutant. With the exception of Harmison, all bowlers were going for more than 3 an over, Pakistan had reached 140-odd for one and Salman Butt smashed Udal's first ball in Test cricket for four. The challenge appeared daunting. But Udal met that challenge.

Udal gave nothing away, showing that patience is a virtue for both bowlers and batsmen in Pakistan. In his seventh over he took his first Test wicket when Salman Butt edged the ball through Trescothick's hands and onto his forehead, and with the England skipper staggering around like a zombie, Jones capped an assured display behind the stumps with a sharp catch off the rebound.

From then on it was England's day, as Pakistan promptly lost their third wicket to a superb Flintoff yorker. Trescothick astutely brought on Harmison just before Tea, allowing his premier fast bowler to fully exert himself before and after the break. The tactic paid dividends, as Harmison put England in control with two wickets in the first over after Tea. Hoggard demonstrated that the pitch gives encouragement to the new ball bowlers by having the lively Kamran Akmal caught at slip, just before the close of play. Pakistan will start the second day on 244-6 and England will now hope to use the new ball to prevent them reaching 300. Standing in their way is the wily Pakistan skipper Inzamam-ul-haq. With his help Pakistan's tail is more than capable of tilting the game back in their favour.

It was an impressive first day performance by England, but the luck was with them. Even Brian Close would admit that heading the ball into the wicket-keepers gloves is an unreliable method for taking wickets and the two LBW decisions were dubious. Shoaib Malik will no doubt feel that Flintoff's delivery was going over the top and although it could be argued that Younis Khan hit the ball after it hit his pad, most umpires give the benefit of the doubt to the batsmen in those circumstances.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Take Charge Trescothick!

Richie Benaud once suggested that captaincy was 90% luck and only 10% skill, but nobody should try it unless they had that 10% of skill.

The England team have been falling over themselves in an attempt to praise Trescothick's captaincy credentials, but the question still remains: does he have the 10% of skill? Trescothick has only captained England once, which was a victory at Lords against New Zealand. That victory was arguably due to the batting of Strauss and Hussain, rather than any shrewd captaincy. It has been suggested that as Trescothick is not the captain of Somerset he lacks leadership experience. However, none of the players on central contracts captain their county, as they will miss most of the season due to England commitments. This means that there is always likely to be a dearth of experience when it comes to appointing the England captain.

David Graveney stated that Trescothick will benefit from the support of Strauss and Flintoff. I am uneasy at this comment as these two players are spoken of as possible successors to Vaughn. Did Graveney feel it was necessary to remind these players where their loyalty should lie?

When a politician states that he has no intention of standing in a leadership contest, his name will invariably be the first on the ballot paper. It is possible that Trescothick is showing similar false modesty when he expresses his reluctance to accept the captaincy. His statement that he has no ambition to do the job permanently could be considered with the same caution. To openly express ambition could be interpreted as disloyalty towards his injured captain; but as an England supporter I would have more confidence in a captain who showed more confidence in himself.

So stand up proudly Marcus Trescothick, captain of England! With Vaughn injured you are the best and only man for the job!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A Letter From Pakistan - England Forced To Opt For The Untested

Like many English cricket fans the only thing I knew about Alastair Cook before today was that he had scored an impressive double century for Essex against Australia on a good batting pitch. only have a single 126 word paragraph for him in their database of 45,000 officials and players.

His first class batting average is 43.5, which is good but not phenomenal. However, it should be noted that he won this year's Young Cricketer of the Year award and since its introduction in 1950 only six winners have retired from cricket without ever having played a Test.

The list of England squad members who have never played Test cricket has now swelled to five, with only Shaun Udal likely to make his debut on Saturday. I would certainly have preferred the recall of an experienced player, instead of the selection of another young hopeful, but with Robert Key injured there was no obvious candidate. The promising young Surrey batsman Owais Shah, who won the Young Cricketer of the Year award in 2001, was also unavailable through injury.

To finish on an oxymoron, a surprise choice was inevitable.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Reflection On Day 3 Of Pakistan A V England

Richie Benaud once said that the hallmark of a great captain is the ability to convince his team mates that he is able to make a crucial decision that will turn the game. With six consecutive series wins, Vaughn had that ability. Today's six wicket defeat at the hands of Pakistan A suggests that Trescothick does not.

On the positive side, Flintoff took three wickets, leaving Pietersen and either Bell or Vaughn as the only England players, who are likely to play in the first Test, still struggling for form.

The actual result is insignificant compared to the forthcoming Test matches, but the contrast between England's inspired comeback against the Patron's XI and their captulation against Pakistan A serves to undermine Trescothick's captaincy.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Reflection On Day 2 Of Pakistan A V England

Vaughn injured his knee sprinting for a quick single and is probably out of the 1st Test and possibly out of the entire Tour. All other concerns are dwarfed by this misfortune. Fletcher is correct to say that as captain, Vaughn is an all-rounder; as a skipper and as a number three batsman he will be difficult to replace.

Apart from that Mrs Lincoln, day 2 was a good day for England. Harmison took two quick wickets to restrict Pakistan A's lead to 12. Strauss and Collingwood then both made half-centuries and Jones scored 30 and Flintoff a brisk 28, allowing England to close on a competitive 256.Pakistan A were then restricted to 33-1 as they chased 245 for victory. Trescothick will have a chance to hone his captaincy skills tomorrow.

If Vaughn is ruled out of the 1st Test I would put Bell in at number 3. He has to be selected as England have no alternative batsmen to choose from. Bell has the technique and the talent, if not the form, to do well in that position. England need a steady batsman to prevent the Pakistan bowlers from using the new ball to rip into the middle order, which has occurred in three out of the four England innings so far on this tour. Ian Bell is the man for the job.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Reflection On Day 1 Of Pakistan A V England

England collapsed to 126 all out on the first day of their last warm-up match before the first Test. Their scores so far on this tour have been 256-9, 112 & 126, with Trescothick the only key batsman to show any form. However, by reducing Pakistan A to 127-8 England have guaranteed themselves a second and final chance for batting practice before the real matches begin.

It has been implied that England have been deprived adequate batting practice as their two warm-up games have deliberately been held on seamer friendly pitches, while the Test matches will be played on pitches that turn. The powers-that-be successfully eradicated accusations of bias in umpiring by ensuring that both umpires are from a neutral country. They could similarly eradicate accusations of groundsmen tailoring pitches for the home team by insisting on neutral groundsmen.

If this pitch is a seamers' paradise then the failure of either Flintoff or Harmison to take a wicket should be a cause for concern. By the same token the success of both Giles and Udal, on supposedly unfavourable pitches in this and the other tour match, give reason for optimism.

My main concern remains that the selectors only have six batsmen competing for the five batting positions. This problem has been exacerbated by the dropping of Bell. I would have been tempted to pick Bell for this game, but drop him for the first Test, unless of course he made a significant innings. The Test matches will be played back-to-back with no practice games in between, so it will be doubly difficult for Bell to regain his place as he will lack match practice. This means that there is no healthy competition for the five batting places and without an England A tour the selectors are committed to Trescothick, Strauss, Vaughn, Pietersen and Collingwood (3 Tests ,106 runs @ 17.66). Not for the first time I wish Robert Key was in the squad.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Problem With The West Indies

I love watching the West Indies play. Their aggressive, uncompromising style always guarantees to entertain. When they were the best side in the world other teams would sometimes try and exploit this by playing "dull" cricket in the hope that West Indian batsmen would try one aggressive shot too many and get out. England managed to win a series in the early 1970s by grinding out uninspiring draws, which led to an over generous declaration from the West Indian skipper Garry Sobers.

I therefore take no pleasure from seeing the West Indians struggle. After two days of the 1st Test against Australia, defeat looks inevitable. Players like Gayle, Smith, Lara, Chanderpaul, Sarawan, Collymore and Edwards are world class, so why is the team under performing? I believe they need a strong captain, a man who like Clive Lloyd or Viv Richards who could inspire Barbadians, Jamaicans and Guyanese to all play together for the same team. It appears that there is nobody in the current squad who is capable of doing that and that is why the West Indies languish near the bottom of the unofficial test rankings.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Fielders Should Not Move Significantly Before The Ball Is Bowled

Vaughn stated that he was unaware he was contravening Section 7 of Law 41 by moving from slip to leg slip as the ball was bowled. This was an unwise thing to do, as the media will bring up the Mike Gatting - Shakoor Rana incident at the slightest provocation (or none) and it was Gatting's moving of the field as the bowler was running up to bowl that provoked the row.

A similar incident occurred in the 1997 Bombay Test between India and Sri Lanka where de Silva was caught by Rajesh Chauhan who sprinted from square leg to midwicket whilst the bowler Javagal Srinath was in his run up. The umpires Bucknor and Jayaprakash were criticised for not preventing the dismissal.

Vaughn's actions were a clear infringement of the rules (not just the spirit of cricket this time Ricky!) and should have been punished by the umpires with an immediate call of dead ball and an embarrassing reprimand for the England captain. If I were the match referee for the 1st Test I'd have a quiet word with Vaughn, informing him that what maybe ignored in a 14-aside non-first class warm-up game, will not be tolerated in a Test match.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Reflection On Day 3 of Patron's XI (XIV?) V England

"Shambles", "Humiliation" and many other derogatory adjectives hog the back pages of the evening papers, as those under-worked over-paid media hacks wallow in schadenfreude as they joyously report what they saw as an inevitable England defeat. Tomorrow evening's reports should make interesting reading. The actual result of a practice match, which wasn't even a first class game, means so much to these people. I however, will take a more discerning approach.

It now appears inevitable that Bell will be dropped for the first Test in favour of Collingwood. Bell's last six innings for England have been 3, 3, 0, 0, 2 & 1. It is in everyone's best interests (apart from the opposition's) that he be dropped before more damage is done to his self-esteem. Collingwood's 34 in the second innings was impressive and his bowling will give Vaughn a useful option, especially if two spinners are selected.

Udal impressed with both the bat and the ball in this match and looks likely to make his Test debut at Multan, playing second fiddle to Ashley Giles. This would leave two places for the pace bowlers, which will surely be filled by Hoggard and Harmison. I salute Fletcher for discovering Liam Plunkett, his match figures of 7-57 indicate that his Test debut will be forthcoming, but it won't be on this tour.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Reflection On Day 2 of Patron's XI (XIV?) V England

The good news is that England did exactly what I hoped; they managed to bowl out the Patron's team and give themselves some much needed batting practice. The bad news is that the tourists finished the day on an abysmal 39 for 6 after the decision to alter the batting line spectacularly back-fired.

The purpose of this match is to provide practice for the England team before the Tests. The closer conditions are to Test cricket, the more meaningful the practice. However, the decision to allow all 14 players to participate in the match immediately undermined this. Matt Prior must be puzzled by the selector's decisions. He has not kept wicket and was forced to bat at 10 in the 1st innings where he rescued England with an impressive 63 ball 50. His reward was to be forced to open the innings. Why? He usually bats at 7 for Sussex and surely won't ever be asked to open the innings in a Test match. Unsurprisingly he failed to cope with the Patron's new ball attack and after Alex Loudon (mystifyingly promoted to 3) also perished, England's middle order was exposed. No need to press the panic button just yet, but failures from Vaughn, Pietersen and Jones leave them all with just one more match to find their form.

Interestingly England's hope of setting a reasonable target rests heavily on the players who will be keenest to impress: Collingwood and Bell. Come on chaps, England expects ...