Monday, July 31, 2006

Jones Sent Back To Old Kent Road

While politicians live in fear of having to spend more time with their family, cricketers with central contracts live in fear of having to spend more time with their county. This happened to Geraint Jones today as his paltry 91 runs from his last ten innings finally sent him back to Kent. England desperately need runs from their number seven, as there is no Giles to keep the tail-end up and Bell will not always be able to marshal the tail as effectively as he has done in the last two tests. In view of this Jones' replacement by Chris Read should have be made after Read's 150 not out against Pakistan for England A, but I guess it's a case of better late than never.

It is usual to select two wicket-keepers on tour and so both Read and Jones can start packing their bags for Australia. Clearly the selection of Matt Prior for the last tour was an aberration. Chris Read has gone from being third choice to first choice; how long he remains will probably depend on the next two matches. He should have been given four.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Harm is on!

With a depleted England bowling attack, exacerbated by the decision to replace an all-rounder with a batsman, England were looking for their main strike bowler to deliver. Stephen James Harmison did not disappoint. He took 5 for 57 as he and Panesar stole the show.

Like most England fans I had a sleepless night after watching Harmison leave the field late on the second day with a shoulder strain. If he was unavailable, England's seam attack would have comprised of the ineffective Hoggard and Mahmood, who failed to take a wicket between them in the entire match. Fortunately this fear was groundless and Harmison made the breakthrough early in the morning by removing the hapless Akmal who had just endured a day and a half keeping wicket in the hot sun. Pakistan then crumbled to the juxtaposition of Harmison's hostile pace and Monty's subtle spin. Their combined match figures were an impressive 55.5-17-169-19. I expect we will see them bowling regularly in tandem in the future.

Teams often respond better to criticism following an innings victory than they do after a defeat and questions need to be asked of England's other bowlers. Hoggard has been England's most consistent bowler since the ashes and he was perhaps a little unlucky. Mahmood on the other hand was a great disappointment on his home ground and the third seamer's position remains open to the first bowler who can seize the chance.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Steve Finally Harms Pakistan

Today saw the re-emergence of Steve Harmison as a world class fast bowler as he took 6 for 19, his second best test analysis, causing Pakistan to crumble to 119 all-out. Whilst Harmison was bowling all the batsmen looked vulnerable, when anyone else was bowling the pitch looked flatter and batting seemed relatively straight forward.

Monty Panesar also deserves credit for taking three wickets on the first day of a test match, an amazing feat for an English spinner. Credit too for the selectors for continuing to select England's best spinner and ignoring calls for either a spinning all-rounder or an all-out seam attack.

The batsmen then rounded off the best day this year for the English team by easing to 168 for 2, a lead of 49. Pakistan now need something special to save this match. The tiger is in a corner, can England finish it off?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Ashes Are Still Months Away, but the Pakistan Series is Here and Now

We are currently in the middle of test series against Pakistan, but all the media seem to care about is whether any of the hospital ward load of injured players will be fit to play in the ashes series in Australia this winter.

This attitude is short-sighted and self-defeating. This England team won the ashes by winning four series in a row, which then gave them the confidence to challenge the mighty Australians as unquestionably the second best team in the world. Since then that mantle has passed to Pakistan, a team which turned England over 2-0 at their place, a team whose star has risen as England's has fallen.

The ashes should be a contest between the two best teams in the world, if we fail to beat Pakistan on home soil, it will be something less than that. This will devalue the ashes and cheat the fans from both countries who have already bought tickets for the forthcoming series.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Role of the Wicket-Keeper

My Grandfather would worry when the England wicket-keeper played a good innings, warning that if he spent too long batting he would struggle to adjust to his proper job of keeping wicket.

I am reminded of his insight when considering the recent performances of Geraint Jones. The improvement of his wicket-keeping has gone largely unnoticed as his batting average has declined. This indicates just how difficult it is for any glove man to be a genuine all-rounder. In both jobs every delivery demands total concentration, but a moment's lapse can ruin a performance.

The wicket-keeper is the soul of the fielding side. No other player is so constantly involved. No other player is in a better position to give insightful advice to the bowlers or to give encouragement to the team when they most need it. Perhaps this is why Jones remains in the side. Read may be the better batsman and the better wicket-keeper, but Jones does the unquantifiable work far better.

Monday, July 17, 2006

When To Declare?

England drew the first test against Pakistan today, but the dominance of bat over ball (1,483 run scored for only 31 wickets taken) had as much to do with the paucity of the two team's bowling attacks (and perhaps the fallibility of Pakistan's catching) as the placidity of the pitch.

I imagine that tomorrow's papers will criticise Strauss for not declaring earlier, but whilst these overpaid and under-worked hacks will gleefully point out that the target set for Pakistan was higher than any other that had been successfully chased at Lords, their analysis will most probably end there. The current record remains the 344-1 scored by West Indies in 1984. At the time Richie Benaud called David Gower's decision an "inspired declaration", whilst others in the media argued that he should have declared the previous evening. Following the conclusion of the game Gower was condemned for giving away a match that England had dominated.

I don't blame Strauss for not wanting to end up like Gower in what could be his only Test as captain. I expected this under-strength England team to be beaten at the home of cricket and arguably but for a brace of dropped catches they would have been. However, in the end England dominated this match and while an earlier declaration would not have resulted in a win for England, it could have handed Pakistan a victory they did not deserve.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Captaincy: The Good, The Bad and The Great

A good captain will usually make the correct decision and then relax in the knowledge that nothing more can be done. A great captain will instinctively know when not to relax because he knows that something innovative is required. A bad captain will shun the obvious in favour of something unnecessarily novel.

At Headingley in 1981 Mike Brearly demonstrated a great piece of captaincy by bowling Bob Willis uphill just to wind him up. He then switched Willis to bowling downhill and the result was a match winning 8-43 as England completed the greatest come-back since Lazarus.

This year Brian Lara took the extraordinary decision not to enforce the follow-on on the fourth day on the third test against India. Sometimes the obvious decision is the right one and by not enforcing the follow-on Lara ensured that the match was drawn. This then is an example of bad captaincy.

During the current Test match Inzamam-ul-Haq decided not to take the new ball on the first day despite there being ten overs left in the day. This was innovative, unconventional and simply wrong. Cook and Collingwood were playing for stumps and by not taking the new ball the Pakistan seam attack were denied the opportunity to get two uses of the new ball, at the end of the first day and the beginning of the second.

However, had the Pakistan spinners got a wicket at the end of the first day then it would have been a great piece of captaincy. It is only a step from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Reflections on Day of First Test

Dickie Bird once said that the first day of a first test at Lords beats any other sporting occasion. For all the talent that has been displayed this summer at the home of cricket the fielding has been something to forget.

England's impressive number of dropped catches in the first test against Sri Lanka was matched today by Pakistan as they allowed no less than five clear cut chances go begging. One has to feel increasingly sorry for the bowlers, especially when a clear caught behind decision also went against them.

Credit should be given to Cook and Collingwood for making the best of their good fortune and putting together an invaluable 200 run stand. This must one of the few occasions when two England centurions are batting together.

England now have the rare opportunity of achieving a victory at HQ, now that is something that would put a real smile on Dickie Bird's lips!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Recall Read (Writing is on the Wall For Jones)

Chris Read top scored with 150 not out in England A's mammoth total of 595 for 9 declared against Pakistan. That alone is not enough to earn an England call-up, but it tips the balance.

There has never been any doubt that Read is a superior glove-man to Jones, but it was Jones' superior batting that allowed him to replace Read in the 2004 series against the West Indies. However, Jones' batting form is no longer sufficient to obscure his errors with the gloves. His batting average has dropped to 26.67. It should be remembered that Jack Russell's test average was 27.10 and he was dropped because his batting was not deemed good enough for an international wicket keeper. Jones' average since the Ashes is 20.31 and an examination of his scores since the summer of 2005 is testimony to his decline in form. In Pakistan his scores were 22, 33, 55, 30*, 4 and 5. In India: 14, 52, 5, 1 & 3. While the latest series against Sri Lanka saw scores of 11*, 4, 19 and 6.

To be blunt all the justifications for keeping Jones in the side have gone. His keeping is not good enough, his batting is no longer good enough and there is an obvious alternative. Chris Read.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Selectors Undermine Strauss

Andrew Strauss has been appointed for the first test against Pakistan but it is a pyrrhic victory for those such as Mike Gatting and Marcus Trescothick who wanted him to be appointed as full-time captain, as Strauss will return to the ranks as soon as Flintoff returns to the side.

So after presiding over a humiliating 5-0 whitewash in the recent one-day series, Strauss must now lead a Flintoffless England against a resurgent Pakistan team at Lords, the only venue in world cricket which inspires the visitors more than the hosts. He must also try and inspire a team who knows that he has only been appointed for a single match. By declaring that he is a temporary captain, instead of adopting a wait and see policy, the selectors have undermined Strauss before he has made his first decision.

I hope that Strauss rewards the selectors by giving them a real dilemma and leading England to victory this month. But in reality I know he is on a hiding to nothing.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

England's Great Loss

This is a cricket blog, so this article is not going to be about England's perennial inability to take penalty kicks. It's about Fred Trueman, arguably "t'greatest fast bowler who ever drew breath" and undisputedly the first bowler to take 300 test wickets, who died today aged 75.

Fiery Fred was a rebel, who would have taken far more than his 307 test wickets had he been prepared to keep his nose clean with the authorities. He played in the days when the amateurs who ran the game referred to professional cricketers by their surnames and the next generation of cricketers were much beholden to Fred and others whose careers undoubtedly suffered because they refused to accept second class treatment. The great raconteur once said that he ignored those who called him Trueman because "my parents gave me a first name".

People my age remember Fred as an astute summariser for Test Match special, who would call a spade a bloody shovel with humour and fairness. I salute you Fred and I'll sithee!