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5 Good Starts To 2014

24 Apr
Jostling for England places has begun in earnest as the 2014 county season rumbles on. Some have had a good spring, some have not – and here are five who could see their good county form translate into good England form.

Alastair Cook

Cook needs plenty of runs this summer for many reasons. Firstly, his own form has dropped off since the three centuries in India in 2012 helped seal that series triumph. Secondly, if he scores runs it will put less pressure on his captaincy which has started to look more and more fragile. And finally, if someone picks up the slack left by Kevin Pietersen his absence will be felt less keenly. Essentially, he needs a bucket-load of runs against Sri Lanka and India.

And he’s started 2014 in great fashion. 481 runs in six innings has launched Essex’s campaign with a win and a rain-affected draw. The two tons have been big too – 127 and 181. The dearth of ‘daddy tons’ from the England set-up of late could be over if captain Cook gets his house in order.
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Is Ashley Giles Good Enough to Coach England?

16 Apr
Ashley Giles’ hopes to be the next England coach took a hammering in Bangladesh: losses to New Zealand, South Africa and then the whimpering failure to the Netherlands have all conspired against him. So with the ECB today interviewing candidates for the role vacated by Andy Flower, I ask – is Giles good enough to coach England?

Firstly it is necessary to concede that he has not been dealt a generous hand during his time as England’s limited overs head coach. Consistently he has led tours with a veritable 2nd XI as ECB ordered rest periods or, in one instance, a retirement has whittled down the list of players he has had at his disposal. Regularly without James Anderson, Graeme Swann and recently Kevin Pietersen, England’s best ODI player, Giles has had to turn to Boyd Rankin, Stephen Parry and Moeen Ali rather too early than would have been ideal both for Giles and the players.
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Chaotic England Look For Consistency

20 Mar
181899Considering how chaotic their past few months have been, it’s a miracle the England cricket team managed to make it to Bangladesh in one piece.

Some will argue that England have just suffered a temporary blip in form recently, but the fact is that their decline has been much more prolonged than that. Whether or not it is terminal does not hinge on their performance in Bangladesh, but how they play will be a sign of how long the recovery will take.
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England’s Dernbach Dilemma

14 Mar
Jade DernbachIn Jade Dernbach England have the prototype T20 bowler – tattoos like an Etch a Sketch drawn by a child on a roller-coaster, he has all the tricks and funky variations needed to be a world-class fast bowler.

And that is what makes him a decent bowler. Capable of bowling in excess of 90mph and getting swing both ways, he has the ability to beat most batsmen around the world with sheer pace alone. Then he confuses their thinking with his party-bag of tricks: back of the hand slower balls, off and leg cutters, searing yorkers or half-pace bouncers. The problem is, he often confuses his own thinking.

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Video

2 Videos For a Lazy Thursday

25 Feb

You know just how lazy this is? Firstly, it was meant to be 5 videos and secondly, it was meant to be uploaded last Sunday. Yeah. It’s really, really, really lazy that I couldn’t be arsed to find 3 more videos and didn’t fancy the faff of doing it last Sunday. So here are 2, yes just 2, videos. Enjoy.

*EDIT* – as evidence (?) of aforementioned laziness, this post was apparently published on the 25th of February. I absolutely guarantee that it was published on the 6th of March instead. Anyway whatever, watch these videos that I found for you, yer slob.

1) Fred Trueman congratulates Dennis Lillee on his 300th Test wicket

In this video, Trueman sups on a pint of bitter whilst congratulating Lillee on going past both he and the West Indian Lance Gibbs on the all-time Test wicket-takers list. That’s how it starts, anyway, before Trueman has a moan at both Yorkshire and England for not sending him a telegram to congratulate him and then tells us all about his favourite wicket. With smoking pipe in hand this is, as the esteemed Robelinda2 tells us, ‘gold’.

2) Ronnie Irani warms up on the boundary

On the ill-fated English tour Down Under of 2002/03, there were minor positives. Michael Vaughan announced himself, the English competed gamely and Ronnie Irani did this in the dying overs of the first ODI at the SCG. Mimicking something Merv Hughes used to get up to, he gives Nasser Hussain something to laugh about. It also gives us a fleeting glimpse of Gareth Batty playing cricket for England, which is rare.

Perspective

16 Feb
Mitchell Johnson has more than his moustache to thank for his rejuvenated career

Mitchell Johnson has more than his moustache to thank for his rejuvenated career

In 2012, Mitchell Johnson was at a crossroads in his career. After starting with such a bang he had faded to so much that he had become an international laugh stock. He was humiliated on and off the pitch and for anyone that is a tough spot to be in, but for Johnson – not the toughest mentally who put lots of pressure on himself – it was nigh on unbearable.

Enter Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith. An Australian soldier who won both the Medal for Gallantry and the Victoria Cross for Australia, ‘RS’ saw plenty of action in Iraq and Afghanistan and became a celebrity both in Perth, his home-town, and Australia as a whole. Johnson and Roberts-Smith met two years ago when Johnson was looking to anyone he could for help – and he found what he was looking for. Essentially, Roberts-Smith brought out the mongrel in Johnson that was lurking beneath the surface, and turned the boy who is, by all accounts, a perfectly pleasant person, into the man who has no remorse for the damage he can inflict with the ball. The talent was always there, but it just needed to be coaxed out of him.

Most important of all was the lesson of perspective. By teaching Johnson that there was more to life than cricket, and that there are people who have things considerably worse, the pressure was lifted from his heavily tattooed shoulders, and the burden was gone. This eye-opening realisation can come in various forms.

Stress-related illnesses can take down people in all professions and cricket is no different – so when Jonathan Trott returned home from the recent Ashes tour there was plenty said about the health of someone being infinitely more important than the result of a cricket match. And although the tour was disastrous, the felling of a giant of English cricket in such a way asked new questions of the training regime and intense playing schedule that England undertake. As a result, the coach who implemented the regime left his post, and English cricket is due a major environment upheaval.

Key to that upheaval will be captain Alastair Cook, who was half the cricketer he can be on that tour. Leaving Australia in early 2014, he returned to his farm in Bedfordshire with his pregnant wife. It has been widely reported that he enjoys taking his mind off cricket by lambing and with a lamb of his own on the way he will undoubtedly see that there is more to cricket, even after a tough day on the pitch.

Yet there are times when an incident which should lend perspective fails. New Zealand batsman Jesse Ryder was assaulted following a night out and left in a coma in 2013, a serious attack which threatened his life more than his career. He recovered sufficiently to make his return for the Blackcaps but, on the verge of a Test recall against India and being named in the World Twenty20 Cup squad, he was reprimanded following a late night out in Auckland. Dropped back to domestic cricket and not named in the World Cup squad, Ryder has set his own career back immeasurably after this indiscretion – the latest in a litany of alcohol related issues.

Obviously it is wrong to make assumptions on why Ryder breaks rules and damages his career, but following the attack on him last year he gained a huge amount of support from around the world. It would be disappointing if he can’t back up his talent with the maturity required to make it on the international stage.

Perhaps what Ryder needs is a mentor from outside the world of cricket. Johnson’s meeting with Roberts-Smith, however it came about, was the spark he needed to reinvigorate his career and rediscover his love of cricket. If Ryder and Cook can do the same they’ll be better for it.

5 mostly unrelated cricket thoughts

10 Feb

1) New Zealand are getting quite good

Beating India in your own conditions is not difficult, but for a small nation that is widely disregarded it is a huge achievement for New Zealand. More so considering they have just won the limited overs stuff against the same opponents and now have managed to translate ODI form into Test form. There are questions over the Blackcaps – BJ Watling has a distinct technical fault in his keeping whereby his weight shifts to the leg side before he adjusts and moves back to the off; Corey Anderson is neither a Test match bowler nor a Test match batsman; Peter Fulton is floundering at the top of the order and surely just keeping the spot warm for Martin Guptill; they lack a Test match quality spinner. However, beating one of the 3 super-powers in World cricket is a huge coup and warms the cockles of all but 1.6 billion of the cricket loving family.

2) Eoin Morgan wants another crack at Test cricket

He burst onto the scene as a spunky youth with fancy shots and the most battled hardened stare since the callow boys returning from the Western Front. Yet, as so often happens in Test cricket, he was found out and then booted into the long grass by the selectors. But now with KP jettisoned like a space-dump he has stuck two fingers up to the IPL by withdrawing himself from the auction. Setting his sights on scoring heavily for Middlesex in the Championship, he is gunning down KP’s vacated number 4 spot. His First Class record is ropey at best (average of 34.45 with 9 centuries) but he has the resolve and nous to have a second crack. More over, the fact that he’s turned down a contract worth roughly $1 million in order to play Test cricket will be welcome relief for the ECB given their horror week. So what about that week?

3) The ECB are having a stinker

Firstly they (Paul Downton, the new MD, and also James Whitaker, the National Selector) demand that there is only one coach for all 3 teams. Not unreasonable, as that would surely result in a more cohesive unit – until you look at the amount of cricket England play. From the 1st of January 2012 to the 1st of January 2014 they played 86 matches across all formats, spanning 202 days of cricket. For one man that’s a lot of work, before the time spent away from home is factored in. Ludicrous. Secondly, firing KP was probably the wrong call. Yet it’s the nature of the business, so fair enough, as long as good reasons are cited. Have they been cited? Has the ECB given a couple of a reasons that would justify sacking the leading run scorer England has ever produced? Have they heck. Instead, they’ve basically called Piers Morgan a poo-poo head in the world’s worst press release and then implied that if you are ‘outside cricket’ and your opinion is not in line with their own you’re worthless and a nobody. This threw up a whole new bag of issues – a) what does ‘outside cricket’ mean, and who is ‘inside cricket’?, b) are we not allowed to question decisions made by the ECB or are we supposed to blindly follow them?, and c) if we disagree with the ECB does that mean we agree with Piers Morgan? Time to bathe in bleach again guys!

4) South Africa are going to drill Australia

Australia’s top 6 are shaky at best: throughout the Ashes series England ripped the head off, only to watch Brad Haddin bundle them out of trouble with a cavalier 70-odd. Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander are better than England and on the green seamers that have been prepared in Centurion, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town they will tear through the Aussie rotters. Mitchell Johnson will be exposed as the average bowler that he is (seriously, it’s just quick and mostly short. Until he has a series where he perpetually swings the ball like Trent Boult he will be forever an average – if very fast – bowler) and South Africa will still be number 1 at the end of the series. They might want to find a spinner soon though, because Imran Tahir is dreadful. For example – try Simon Harmer. 175 First Class wickets, he can bat, and he’s just turned 25. One for the future, definitely.

5) The Big 3 takeover has happened and it’s bad

The formation of the ExCo is the thrust of the changes – the committee on which there will always be a representative from Australia, England and India who will be able to decide the future of cricket. Those three nations will take more money from the ICC and they will play each other more frequently than any of the ‘smaller’ nations because it will be more financially rewarding when taking these series ‘to market’. Until the FTP up to 2023 is released we won’t know how bad it is, but… it’s going to be bad.