Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Vaughan's Boast

Churchill defined political skill as "The ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year, and to have the ability afterwards to explain why it did not happen." Politicians and cricketers who do not have this ability should keep their mouths shut.

Whether it's Tony Greig intending to make the West Indies grovel or Glen McGrath predicting a 5-0 victory, cricket has its fair share of players who cannot open their mouths without putting their foot in it. Until recently nobody would have included Michael Vaughan amongst their number.

This week that all changed when Vaughan predicted that England, who are currently ranked 6th in the one-day rankings, were favourites to win the next year's World Cup in the Caribbean. It is difficult to see what he bases this on. I cannot remember the last one-day series that England won. We lost 3-2 to Pakistan, 2-1 to Australia and 4-1 to South Africa, with the only win coming courtesy of Duckworth/Lewis.

Vaughan can only hope that when England again fail to win their first world cup, people will have forgotten his ill advised boast.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Possible Selection For 1st Test v India

The first Test versus India is still over a month away, so whilst crossing off the days in anticipation I found myself speculating on the possible England XI. I came up with the following:

Geriant Jones
Simon Jones

The two big omissions are Collingwood, simply because there isn't room for him and Harmison, whom I doubt will be effective on the Indian pitches.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Panesar Will Tour India

Alan Hansen recalled that he was most motivated for the away matches Liverpool played against sides north of the border in the European Cup. Hussain has an excellent record in India and Pietersen burst onto the international scene in South Africa. Clearly sportsmen are invariably inspired when they play in the country of their forefathers.

This is just one of the reasons why the selectors have made the right choice in picking Monty Panesar for the England tour of India. The main reason though is his ability. The Pakistan tour showed that England lacked penetration in the spin department and while the batting skills of both Alex Loudon and Ian Blackwell make them good choices on pitches which may or may not assist the spinners, they would be poor selection choices for the India tour.

Much has been made of Panesar's lack of prowess with the bat, but with Shaud Udal shoring up the tail-end the England batting will not be fatally weakened if Panesar replaces Hoggard, Jones or Harmison. The new headache for the selectors is to decide which seam bowler he should replace.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Test Status Should Depend On Merit

In what appeared to be a compromise deal, Zimbabwe have voluntarily decided to relinquish their Test match status, but will be allowed to contine to play One Day Internationals.

For years a debate has raged over whether teams should tour Zimbabwe. Arguments against have cited the human rights abuses of Mugabe's regime, this has been countered by those who rather naively assert that politics and sport shouldn't mix. However, in the end this debate was by-passed. Zimbabwe have lost their Test status because they were not good enough to maintain it.

The decision to award Test match status to nations has always been a subjective one. This needs to be rectified. Every four years the nation at the bottom of the Test rankings should play a series against the top ranked ICC Trophy team, the winner to awared Test match status.

Currently Test status depends on a nation's ability to make deals with ICC reps in smoke-filled rooms. These matters should be decided purely on cricketing merit.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Goodbye Darren Gough

My Great Uncle Pat informed his cricket team that he wouldn't retire and they would have to drop him when he was no longer worth his place in the team. Aged 80 he lamented that they hadn't called him in 15 years.

These days it seems fashionable for players to retire on top. This approach of jumping instead of being pushed has its merits, as it allows players to end their careers with an ovation from their adoring public. However, I admire those who, like my Great Uncle, have to be dragged kicking and screaming away from the game they love.

Darren Gough undoubtedly belongs to the second category of player. The only person who truly believes that Darren Gough's international career is not over, is the man himself. He will be tearing in for Essex this season, determined to prove the buggers wrong again and force himself into contention for the 2007 World Cup.

Thanks for the memories Darren. Your career coincided with a low point in the fortunes of the England team and team mates, captain and fans would look to you to make things happen and you never disappointed.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Greatest Catch Ever?

All sports commentators exaggerate, especially when a fielder takes an outstanding catch. Usually it is the catches that look good on television but actually require little real skill that commentators waste their superlatives on. Mark Ramprakash's catch to dismiss Phil Simmonds at Headingley in 1991 looked brilliant on television, not least because he used both hands whilst diving at full stretch. However, those of us who play the game know that these catches tend to be more instinctive than skillful. Even if the catch is dropped the fielder will be applauded for his effort.

The hardest catches are the ones which require a fielder, who will be walking in with the bowler, to run backwards and take the catch over his left or right shoulder. It requires excellent judgement to be able to cover the necessary ground and still keep your eye on the ball. There will be no plaudits for the fielder. The more experienced will either console or congratuale with the words: "that was harder than it looked."

I have never seen a finer catch than the one taken by Hussey to dismiss Prince in today's One Day International between Australia and South Africa. From his position at mid-wicket he turned chased and then dived full length to take the ball left handed, inches from the turf.

The result, a South African victory, will probably obscure the greatness of this catch; but those who truly love and understand the game know what they witnessed.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Selecting The Spinners

While it is accepted that pace bowlers will be genuine tail-enders, spin bowler are expected to ensure the tail wags. Emburey, Hemmings, Salisbury, Croft and now Giles and Udal have all made useful runs in the lower order.

It is for this reason that Monty Panesar, who has a first class average of 7.79, will probably only be selected if Giles is unfit. With the exception of Phil Tufnell, English spinners have not been selected as match winners. They have been selected as contributors; bowlers who can keep the run rate down until the new ball becomes available and then bat obdurately. They are the workhorses, who quietly get the job done while the show ponies take the credit. The fact that Ashley Giles has achieved the double has gone completely unnoticed.

The 23 year-old Monty Panesar deserves to be selected for the India tour. Perhaps he is the English spinner to break the mould and be selected purely for his bowling talent.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Future of 20-20 Cricket

When those who dislike sport dismiss it as insignificant when compared to other weightier matters, I retort that sport must be important because so many people value it. So when I dismiss 20 over cricket as trivial I am hoist by my own petard.

The respected cricket writer Gideon Haigh states that one-day cricket has its benefits as it "provides a place for bone-headed spectators to congregate, leaving the five-day form to proceed in relative calm". If he were writing about art, opera, films or television, I would deplore this attitude and attack his snobbism with Benthamite vigour; but he speaks of cricket and the preservation of the wonderful 5-day game.

I don't just watch Test cricket, I live it. When there is a Test match on I have to know the score and I speculate endlessly on all the possible outcomes. I wish I were able to drop everything and actually watch these matches live, but it remains on the list of things I'll do when I retire. I know there are many who are in the same position which explains why attendance at Test matches lags behind those of one-day games. This brings me neatly to the necessity of 20 over internationals. Both captains described yesterday's match between Australia and South Africa the as "fun", as they communicated directly with the commentators whilst actually on the field of play. This would not have occurred in a serious contest such as a Test or even a 50 over game. However, there was a crowd of around 40,000, who stayed in their seats long after the result was beyond doubt.

Cricket needs to stage these trivial matches, because it needs the revenue, but there is danger that 20 over internationals will become the dominant One-Day format and a game of skill, will become one of luck.