Posts Tagged ‘Sport’

How I Won The Ashes, 6th Newsletter 22nd January 2010

January 22, 2010

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

The Ashes

22 January 2010

Hello and welcome back to How I Won The Ashes

How I actually won the Ashes will be told at some point in the future, but I hope you are curious, because it’s quite a bold claim!

You can view this and previous postings by visiting

https://howiwontheashes.wordpress.com/2010/01/22/129/

I’m sorry that you didn’t get anything last week, but I thought it would make sense to wait until the dust had settled after the end of the Test series in South Africa.  I can now reflect on all the events of the last six weeks and assess what the England team need to do to kick on from here.  There is much to be optimistic about, but this England team is nowhere near the finished article.  I’ve got some thoughts on this, on the South African team and on the Review System which attracted so much comment.

Here’s what I will be covering this week:

Click meSouth Africa v England, 4th Test, Johannesburg

Click meSelection issues

Click meSouth African grit and Graeme Smith

Click meThe Review System

Click meBangladesh

See?South Africa v England, 4th Test, Johannesburg

Very little went right for England, from the very first ball of the match, after Andrew Strauss had won the toss.  It seemed a good one to win. The pitch, which was clearly prepared to produce a result, was unlikely to become any easier to bat on and there would always be something in it for the bowlers; so, provided a competitive score of around 300 could be achieved in the 1st innings, it would be possible to set a challenging  target in the 4th innings.  On that basis, batting first made sense.

However, from that point on, it was downhill all the way. The selection of Sidebottom for Onions made little sense.  There were no injury issues and Onions had earned a little bit of cult status by batting out not once but twice for draws that enabled England to go into the last match unable to lose the series.  Selection should not be based on such emotional issues, but there’s no doubt that Onions himself would have been buoyed up by his batting heroics; and he would have been determined to see the job through by bowling his heart out on a pitch which was always likely to suit him better than any other in the series. He would have been quite a handful. Maybe England were deceived by the forecast of damp and cloudy conditions into thinking that the ball would swing around a lot and that Sidebottom offered a different option and one to which the South African batsmen were less accustomed. Whatever, the thinking was flawed on both psychological and practical grounds; and on the basis that you do what your opponents least would like, it played into South Africa’s hands.

The shot that Strauss played  into Hashim Amla’s right hand off the first ball of the match was nothing short of miraculous.  Apparently, the last time an English batsman was out to the first ball of a match was way back in 1936. My first thought as Dale Steyn bowled a gentle leg stump loosener was: nice way for Strauss to start, clipping it away to get off the mark immediately.  It was with utter disbelief that, in a millisecond, I saw short leg flinging the ball skywards in delight.  That put South Africa on a high, where they remained for the entire match. There was only one point – early on the 3rd day – when England had the slightest whiff of a chance, which was when they had South Africa 5 down with a lead of only 55.  Had they managed to break through again and keep the lead inside 100, they might conceivably have been able to set an awkward target. This, though, would have still required England to score at least 250 in their second innings. Given the way they batted generally throughout the series, with the exception of Durban, and given the increasingly menacing and effective combination of Steyn and Morkel, that would have been unlikely. 

Indeed, Johannesburg showed up all the issues that characterised the series as a whole: England’s chronic inability to post competitive totals, despite having an extra batsman; South Africa’s strong and deep batting, made stronger by England’s lack of an extra bowler; their ability to seize vital moments; their general grit, determination and competitiveness; and, of course, the review system. Nobody could doubt that if England had won the series, it would have been, if not a travesty, certainly a misleading reflection of the two sides’ abilities and performances over the series as a whole.top

See?Selection issues

Any side with a player who can be relied upon both to score runs batting at No. 6 and to be a frontline bowler immediately has more attacking options in the field, assuming its wicket-keeper is also proficient with the bat. At their peak, both Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff filled this space, to England’s great advantage and success.

It is one of cricket’s great ironies that Australia, usually the strongest cricketing nation, have never had a truly world class all rounder to compare with the likes of Sobers, Botham, Flintoff, Kapil Dev or Imran Khan. Some have come close: one thinks of Alan Davidson or Gary Gilmour as bowlers who would get runs; or, in their early years, Steve Waugh or Greg Chappell, great batsmen who could take more than the occasional wicket.  But none of these could be selected as a proper all rounder.  On the other hand, when you have bowlers of the calibre of Warne, McGrath and Lillee, three of the greatest in the game’s history, plus wicket-keepers like Marsh, Healey and Gilchrist, you don’t really need one.

South Africa, of course, have been well served in this regard by Jacques Kallis, who is now probably more a batsman who bowls a bit.  But he still gives his captain options and the side balance, he still takes wickets and he gets through enough overs to let the other bowlers have a rest.  They will find him very hard to replace.  For England, on this tour, it has been the continuing conundrum.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but having the extra batsman in the side did them no favours, apart from at Durban when Ian Bell scored an excellent century from No. 6; even then, though, he came in when England were already close to parity on the first innings. In the other matches, the extra batsman made no difference. All it did was put extra pressure on the bowling attack. One of the reasons cited for Graham Onions being dropped for the final test was that he had no gas left in his tank, which was effectively an admission that England should have had five front line bowlers the whole way through the series.

If you analyse it a bit closer, this was also the case for South Africa, since they, too, picked six batsmen.  The difference was that one of them was a proper bowler (although it was actually the part time off spinner Duminy that precipitated the last hour panic at Cape Town.) However, most of South Africa’s runs in the series were scored by three frontline batsmen – Smith, Amla and Kallis – and by the reliable Boucher at No. 7. Prince and Duminy were conspicuous failures; and if South Africa had had the extra bowler, it might have got them the two extra wickets at Pretoria and Cape Town that would have given them a 3-1 series win.

England’s ability to stop South Africa completely dominating with the bat was mainly down to Graeme Swann, who bowled with both control and penetration and partially disguised England’s bowling deficiencies. That he occasionally also disguised the batting deficiencies coming in at No. 9 offered a clue as to how England should have considered the make-up of the team for the forthcoming series against Bangladesh and Pakistan.  This would have been the ideal time to play Broad, Swann and one from either Luke Wright, Liam Plunkett or Adil Rashid at Nos. 7, 8 and 9. If they could start to be relied on to contribute 100 runs between them each innings, it would provide the balance the side so desperately needs for next winter’s Ashes. In the absence of a proper all- rounder, that has to be the next best option.  Alas, the selectors don’t see it that way.

They are hampered in this by Stuart Broad not yet training on as a batsman.  At the moment, he only seems to score when England are either already in a very strong position or when the cause is completely hopeless, such as at Headingley last summer. It could instead be Swann who eventually makes the step up to No. 7.  As for Rashid, he seems to have fallen out of favour.  It’s tough being on tour and not playing and it may be that his attitude was wrong. It’s a shame that they have been so quick to discard him, because any leg-spinner is a one in a million in English cricket and one who can also bat is priceless. He should be nurtured and encouraged.  Bangladesh would have been the ideal time to give him a chance, but he has obviously said or done something to rule himself out.  His only consolation is that the last young spinner to tour South Africa, play no part and quickly fall out of favour for a bad attitude was none other than Graeme Swann, who has now become an automatic pick and a talisman.  Let us hope for his sake and the sake of the England team’s balance that Rashid presents an unanswerable case for his return sooner than it took Swann.top

See?South African grit and Graeme Smith

I previously expressed doubts that South Africa were worthy of the title of the No.1 side in the world, but this series has done much to dispel them.  They were consistently able to put together partnerships and bat as a unit.  Apart from their one blow-out at Durban, their lowest score in the series was 291.  They were also able to seize moments and initiative.  Both the drawn matches were close to the point when the captain of the fielding side would have said “Right, that’s it, let’s call it off, we’re not taking these wickets.” Not South Africa.  At both Pretoria and Cape Town, they stuck at it and made breakthroughs, which led to enthralling finishes, yet more advertisement for test cricket.  England would do well by learning from their example with both bat and ball.  If they do not, they are in for another disappointing time in Australia.

Graeme Smith has become a giant of the game.  His batting performances against England, ever since he scored consecutive double hundreds in his first two test matches against us in 2003, have been conspicuously excellent.  Like truly great players, he is at his best when the pressure is at its most intense.  His 154 not out at Edgbaston in 2008 to win both the match and the series was an awesome innings; his hundreds at Cape Town and Johannesburg, if not quite under such intense pressure, were further demonstrations of grit and determination. None of the current English batting line up can match this, with the exception of Paul Collingwood.

Yet I still find Graeme Smith unattractively accustomed to getting his own way.  On the pitch, this is fine.  A strong will is required to play long innings and win matches, and even the most passionate opponent will not begrudge him that.  Smith, though, has previous form in behaviour that crosses the line between legitimate competitiveness and unsportsmanlike conduct.  Three examples stand out. 

The first was at Johannesburg in 2005.  England were batting late in the second day, with a lot of time lost to rain.  But they had passed 400, and Michael Vaughan and Steve Harmison, of all people, were smashing the South African bowlers everywhere.  The light was gloomy, but playable, and Vaughan, anxious to score as many as possible because of the lost time, was not about to go off, even if he were offered the opportunity by the umpires. It was Graeme Smith who stepped in and forced the umpires to curtail play, in an effort to put a brake on England’s free scoring.  It was the only example in my experience of a FIELDING side successfully appealing against bad light.  Not even Moin Khan managed this in Karachi in 2000, when the mullahs were already calling the muslim worshippers to prayer at sunset as the England batsmen chased down an unlikely and historic victory.  Smith should not have been allowed to do this; yet he got away with it.

To add insult to injury, he then gave evidence against Vaughan in a disciplinary hearing held because of comments the England captain had made publicly about wishing the umpires could be consistent when it came to decisions about light.  Smith had no business being there and it seemed obvious he was doing his damnednest to get Vaughan fined, or banned, or both.  It was beyond the bounds of what is acceptable in the pursuit of victory.  At least Vaughan had the last laugh, because England ended up winning the match, and the series.

Unfortunately, Smith had the final victory in his long running feud with Vaughan three years later.  His aforementioned 154 not out won the series and caused Vaughan to resign the captaincy and retire from test cricket.  But in the previous match at Headingley, England, bowled out for 203, had South Africa in slight trouble at 76 for 3 late on the first day, with Smith and Kallis both dismissed cheaply.  It should have been 76 for 4 when Hashim Amla chipped a ball to mid off and Vaughan, diving forward, took the catch, scooping it up inches from the turf.  Everyone celebrated and Amla walked off.  There was no suggestion that it was anything other than a legitimate catch. 

However, he was sent back by Smith, gesticulating furiously from the balcony, urging him to seek a review, having seen a replay.  Amla was virtually on the edge of the pitch when he turned around and walked back to the middle.  Doubt descended and the umpires sought clarification from replays that the ball had not hit the ground before Vaughan made the catch.  Everyone knows  –  not least Smith in that situation  –  that when a catch like that is reviewed, it is virtually impossible to tell for sure that the ball definitely did not touch the ground and that the batsman will almost inevitably get the benefit of that doubt.  So Amla stayed and helped South Africa to go through the rest of a tricky session without losing another wicket, from where they ended up posting a giant score and winning by an innings. It was another example of Smith’s preparedness to do whatever it takes to win.  Again, he went beyond the boundary of cricketing morality.top

See?The Review System

Much has been written about the review system, so I don’t propose to spend too much time on it. Some key arguments emerge.  To start with, England are hopelessly inept with it.  They have always been hostile towards the whole concept of a review system.  Ironically, this probably cost them the match at Edgbaston on 2008 when Smith hit his match-winning century.  They had refused to allow the review system to be used in the series.  Yet how much must they have regretted that when Smith was stone dead lbw to Panesar relatively early in his innings. His wicket was clearly the fulcrum of the result and a reverse of the not out decision might have changed everything.

But now, having played under the review system, England tend to treat it as a fifth bowler that they keep refusing to pick.  They use it at a time when they are desperate for a wicket, i.e. when they are crying out for a fifth bowler.  The difference is that a fifth bowler can give you 15 overs in a day and maybe take a wicket or two; the review system is only worth two balls and once they have gone, for no gain, even the most blatant mistake by an umpire later in the innings, possibly when it matters even more, will go uncorrected.

The point of the review system is that it is supposed to eradicate obvious misjudgements that the human eye cannot detect, such as nicks onto the pad or catches that have clearly hit or missed the bat.  The original concept was designed to ensure that run outs and stumpings were correctly adjudicated. Once it became clear that it was possible for an umpire inside the pavilion to check the replay and quickly decide whether the batsman was in or out of the crease when the bails were removed, it seemed entirely sensible to give the on-field umpires this protection. It is now a totally accepted part of the game when there are TV cameras to supply the necessary evidence.

Technology has now progressed so as to give a third umpire reviewing an lbw decision the ability to assess, quickly and with reasonable certainty, whether the ball hit the bat before the pad, or, if it did not, where the ball pitched and whether it struck in line.  Where it is less satisfactory is in the predictive element, i.e. in establishing what the ball would have done after it hit the batsman’s pad.  There is still some debate about whether this is right.  The compromise seems to be to allow the on-field decision to stand unless the hawkeye technology clearly shows the ball missing or hitting the stumps, as the case may be.

Where the system is completely unsatisfactory is where not all the technology is being used to provide the third umpire with all the evidence to allow a miscarriage of justice to be quickly overturned.  It’s stupid, but I suppose inevitable, and true to the incompetence and greed that runs through the game’s administration, that this comes down to money; and it was deeply irritating that a dispute over funding prevented hotspot or snickometer from being available to the umpires in South Africa to judge whether or not, or when, ball struck bat.

However, one could not legislate for a third umpire having technology at his disposal and failing to make use of it. Darryl Harper made this mistake at Johannesburg when he forgot to turn a volume control that would have proved to him, beyond reasonable doubt, that the ball brushed Graeme Smith’s bat (it’s always him, isn’t it?) One should not blame Smith for standing his ground.  Batsmen do not walk in test matches, the game has become too hard nosed for that; and since Smith’s nose is harder than teak or diamond, one should not be surprised, either.  The ultimate insult was when AB de Villiers, another tough competitor, blatantly edged a ball to Matt Prior.  Replays showed that it was 100 per cent. out, even without hotspot or snickometer, yet it was not given.  The smug grin on AB de Villiers’ face said it all, because he knew England were out of reviews and could do nothing about it.

I will leave the last word to Michael Vaughan, a font of common sense and knowledge.  He argues that the system will only work if all the technology is made available to the third umpire. You know when you are batting if you have hit the ball, no matter how faintly.  So if you know that you are going to be found out by the third umpire, there’s no point hanging around if the on-field umpire hasn’t triggered you, you may as well walk.  If technology encourages walking, that can only be a good thing for the game.top

See?Bangladesh

Two things struck me about the selection of the England team to tour Bangladesh.  The first was the omission of Rashid, which I mentioned earlier.  The second was the absence of Strauss, to allow him to recharge his batteries ahead of a full year culminating in a winter Ashes tour.  I was horrified at the chorus of disapproval from former England captains, safe in their well paid ivory towers of punditry. It’s vital that Strauss isn’t burned out by next November and I think he and the selectors have done exactly the right thing.  It’s all very well for Botham, Hussain and Atherton to mutter about the England captain’s job not being one you can give up and take back.  But they should consider two things: first, Strauss has played a ridiculous amount of cricket in the last year, forced on him by the ECB’s gargantuan appetite for money, which exceeds that of even the most aggressive investment bankers. He needs a rest.

Second, he has been royally messed around by the selectors and the ECB, who gave the captaincy first to Flintoff and then Pietersen, with disastrous results.  Yet Strauss just got on with his role of opening batsman, without a word of complaint, even though he’d performed well as captain against Pakistan in 2006.  He has won the Ashes and come away from South Africa with a drawn series in not much more than six months.  He scored the first Ashes century by an Englishman at Lords for 20 years, an innings which set up England’s first test victory against Australia at the home of cricket since 1934. He has earned the right to that rest.  As usual, the only one speaking sense on this has been Michael Vaughan, who is probably one of the best captains England have ever had.  Alone of that group, he agreed with the decision to give Strauss a break.

Last time around, we went back to 1973 when Pakistan managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  The great Australian batsman who took five wickets in Pakistan’s first innings for the only time in his career was Greg Chappell; and the Australian bowler who destroyed Pakistan in the second innings was Max Walker, he of the ludicrous but highly effective action.

I haven’t been able to find a suitable match that happened on this day in the past, so there’s no trivia for you today.  I hope you all have a very good weekend and I look forward to hearing all your feedback.top

Delenda est ECB.

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How I Won The Ashes 5th Newsletter 10 January 2010

January 9, 2010
The Ashes

The Ashes

10 January 2010

Hello and welcome to the fifth edition of How I Won The Ashes, the first of 2010.

How I actually won the Ashes will be told at some point in the future, but I hope you are curious, because it’s quite a bold claim!

A belated Happy New Year to you all. I’m sorry that this week’s offering is later than usual, but it’s been a surprisingly busy week and there’s also been quite a bit on which to reflect.

On the advice of friends, I have also turned this into an online blog. If you click on

 https://howiwontheashes.wordpress.com/2010/01/09/how-i-won-the-ashes-5th-newsletter-10-january-2010/

you can go to different parts of the content by way of a simple click on the relevant bullet point. I had some feedback that, for example, some people weren’t that interested in New Zealand v Pakistan.  Fair enough, but you would be missing reflections on some enthralling cricket.

The last time I wrote was 18 December 2009 and a fair bit has happened since then, as all you cricket lovers know.  It’s going to be hard for me to offer more than the high quality coverage of the events in South Africa.  The test match in Sydney between Australia and Pakistan deserves a mention, too.  I will do my best. There’s quite a bit to comment on, so this will be longer than usual.

I see that after the great escape of Cape Town, the media are waxing lyrical about the joys of test cricket.  They are entirely right to do so.  Some commentators have urged the Indian Cricket Board to take heed of what happened at Pretoria, Sydney and Cape Town and ask them to compare the excitement and intrigue generated in those matches compared to yet another 20:20 or one day international.  I would equally urge them, and the nincompoops who run the game of cricket in the UK, to think again about scheduling so much one day cricket.  The best article on this subject was by Simon Barnes, who gave test cricket a wonderfully eloquent write-up, showing it as the one its followers appreciate the most.  Unfortunately, he gloomily concludes that the money-grasping administrators couldn’t give a monkeys about keeping the game’s followers happy.  Too true, I fear.

Test cricket is the lifeblood of the game.  I can feel somewhat smug, after reading the coverage following England’s escape in Cape Town,  that I wrote about this before such a gripping test series, that I predicted that it would be a very closely fought contest and that it would not be decided until the final match in Johannesburg.  See the first edition of How I Won The Ashes on 27 November 2009 and the second edition on 4 December 2009. But I could not have known how dramatic this series would actually have turned out.
 
Below is what I will be covering this week:

• Click meAftermath of Pretoria and thoughts on South Africans playing for England

• Click meDurban

• Click meMichael Vaughan as a commentator

• Click meThe best English bowling attacks

• Click meCape Town

• Click meAustralia v Pakistan, Melbourne 2009 / Sydney 2010

• Click meOn this day – 10 January 1973, Australia v Pakistan, 3rd Test at Sydney

See?Aftermath of Pretoria and thoughts on South Africans playing for England

As I’ve said previously, drawn Test matches can be as interesting as dramatic wins.  The final session at Pretoria proved that conclusively, as did Cape Town.  Pretoria was an absorbing match from the start, with neither side able to land the killer blow. There were different stages throughout the match when this might have happened, not least in the last few minutes when South Africa found themselves one wicket from a win that had seemed unlikely a couple of hours earlier.  However, on the previous day, South Africa were leading by less than 100 in their second innings, with Smith, Kallis and Prince all back in the hutch. If they could have got either Amla or de Villiers early, England might have found themselves chasing a target rather than batting to escape with a draw on the last day. The final over being taken by a No. 11 was wonderful drama, the understated clenched fist from Graham Onions as he blocked the final ball demonstrating the confidence that appears to be growing in this England team.

That seems strange when a certain draw almost turned into defeat, the collapse catalysed by Kevin Pietersen’s suicidal run when it was neither on nor necessary.  Then Trott, having been so solid, edged one to slip and the floodgates were wide open. To be fair to Trott, the new ball had always been a threat throughout the match. Mark Boucher’s aggressive innings late on the 4th day had given Smith the luxury of declaring with enough time to have a meaningful number of overs with it late on the last day. So there was always a danger that South African would get a last chance, which they almost grasped.

Having been at the Oval for the last day of the 2005 Ashes series, I am prepared to forgive Kevin Pietersen anything, such was his astounding batting.  He does, though, have a demon in him that causes him to do the most stupid things at the unlikeliest moments, and they often breathe life back into opponents’ flagging ambitions (think Edgbaston 2008, Kingston 2009, Cardiff 2009).  Great batsmen are encouraged to play their natural game, as Pietersen did to such effect in 2005. A timid approach on the final day at the Oval in 2005 could well have seen Australia do what they managed in Adelaide 15 months later.  Adelaide was awful enough, but a loss on the final day at the Oval would have broken the entire nation. Sometimes, though, Pietersen seems oblivious to the match situation and fails to recognise that another two hours of sensible, risk free batting could put the match out of his opponents’ reach.  He is clearly a good enough player to dominate all bowlers.

Rushes of blood are not an issue with Jonathan Trott, who looks well suited to the number 3 slot but still owes us a really big innings in this series.  He didn’t contribute much in Durban, except that Morne Morkel was on fire on the evening of the second day and he survived that ordeal when many others might have wilted. His batting on the last day in Pretoria was exemplary and there was a great photo taken of him playing an off drive which showed technique, solidity and style in equal measure.

Which brings up the boring debate of South Africans playing for England.  I say “boring” because it really is a non-issue.  The system allows these guys to play for England, so let them play.  They are good enough, so let them play. People can complain all they like; but if there is no-one born and bred within these shores who is better, maybe they should start worrying instead about why that is the case.  If more people took this seriously and did something about it (see previous editions, especially How I Won The Ashes 11 December 2009), players such as Trott and Pietersen would find it harder to get selected for our national team. 

What is ironic is that, of all England’s batsmen, it is Pietersen and Trott who have contributed the least in the current series in the country of their birth, apart from their partnership on the last day in Pretoria. Therefore, a long term goal would be to see domestically born and bred players not good enough to get into the England team trying their luck abroad and being selected for other countries.  Maybe in my grandchildren’s lifetime…top

See?Durban

Not much to say on this because England were simply awesome.  Durban test matches have a habit of changing character, especially on the third day.  Last time England played South Africa at Kingsmead in 2004, the game looked like it would finish as a low scoring affair inside four days, when 15 wickets had fallen before lunch on the second day.  Jacques Kallis then guided South Africa to a massive lead and things looked bleak for England. However, Marcus Trescothick (if only he could still be an England opener) and Andrew Strauss batted throughout the third day and in the end it was South Africa clinging on for the draw, with Durban’s notorious early darkness ultimately robbing England of a famous victory.

This time around, the wickets tumbled at the end of the match. England proved once again that the best time to instigate a collapse is late in the day when the batting team are under pressure, especially when they have no chance of winning. When the clock works in your favour in this situation, you usually win.  When you can bully a fielding side on a hot day and then send them in to bat with a draw the best that they can hope for; when your bowlers are well rested and fired up, that alone is worth several wickets before the innings even begins. In 2004, England ran out of time. On this occasion, the sheer pressure they applied on the third and fourth days produced one of those fantasy sessions where  a wicket looked like falling every ball, Swann and Broad were simply irresistible and only the fading light and some typical Mark Boucher grit prevented Strauss from taking the extra half hour and finishing the game off inside four days.top

See?Michael Vaughan as a commentator

I have always loved Test Match Special and there a few stories below from the current series which show that they are as good as ever.  I followed a lot of the action in South Africa on the radio (no Sky at my in-laws) and I think Michael Vaughan is an excellent addition to the team.  He is both articulate and humorous; and he brings with him recent knowledge of the highest level of the game as well as the experience of being one of the great captains of our time. I have found his thoughts on both the immediate action and the broader issues of the game incisive, interesting and engaging. He has the ability to make all of us who would have loved to have played for England, but weren’t nearly good enough, feel what it is like to have done so; but not in the same patronising way as Geoff Boycott.

Boycott is an excellent pundit, but he seems to think that no-one who listens knows as much as he does about playing test cricket. He even adopts this view on his co-commentators, notably Jonathan Agnew, whom he constantly teases for his lack of ability as a batsman.  Aggers retaliates with sly digs.  A corker came during the Durban test, when Boycott remarked that he was looking forward to rubbing in Kevin Pietersen’s England status with a South African friend over a round of golf. “Ah’ll be shooer to meyke the point on every ‘ole, and over a glass of wine afterwards,” said Boycott. “Unlike you to go on about something, Geoffrey,” Agnew commented drily. 

At Cape Town, Boycott was complaining that for a forthcoming golf match, Tony Greig’s sister had insisted on not only playing to her full handicap but also on an additional two “courtesy” shots.  Boycott was indignant: “Coom on, that isn’t what they ‘ad in mind at St. Andrews.”  Agnew did him like a kipper: “But Geoffrey, you’d offer your seat to a lady on a bus, wouldn’t you?  This is no different.” “Course it’s different.  Ah’d offer me seat to a lady on a bus; but two extra shots in a round o’golf?  T’isn’t t’rules, they can get knotted.” Then Aggers delivered the coup de grace: “You’re still losing to Rachel [Boycott’s wife], aren’t you, Geoffrey?” Boycott at least acknowledged that he’d been done good and proper.

Another lovely moment during the Durban test was when Vic Marks said he had seen Steve James in the press box, looking very rough and feeling very sorry for himself.  When asked what he’d been up to the previous evening, he could only whisper: “Botham.” Enough said.

I must say, I was initially surprised about Michael Vaughan as a commentator, because while I admire him enormously as a player and as a captain, I found his own written account of the 2005 Ashes slightly disappointing.  Two things in particular seriously grated. The first was his reaction when Glenn McGrath trod on a cricket ball while playing touch rugby the morning before the 2nd Test at Edgbaston, sprained his ankle and missed the match. It was probably one of the most significant events of the summer. But in Vaughan’s words: “I didn’t think too much about it…” I find this faintly disingenuous.  In fact, I don’t believe it. The fact was that McGrath is almost certainly the greatest fast bowler ever to have played the game.  He had ripped England’s batting to shreds in the previous Test at Lords (apart from Pietersen); and it was no coincidence that the two games which England won in that series were the two games which McGrath missed.

Perhaps Vaughan himself didn’t want to make it appear significant, but it must have been a huge psychological boost for the rest of his team to see McGrath being carted off to hospital on the morning of the match, possibly unable to play for the rest of the summer. Ashley Giles is probably more truthful when he describes the England batsmen, who had been practicing on the other side of the ground, craning their necks and all staring in the same direction “like meerkats” at the sight of the stretcher carrying the stricken bowler away.  It’s a wonderful image and graphically conveys the significance of McGrath’s absence.

The other was his account of his 166 at Old Trafford in the 3rd Test at Old Trafford, a wonderful innings.  He talks about the motivation he got from seeing a disabled boy on the morning of the match. And he says that his innings helped England compile a commanding score. But he says nothing about the way he gout out.  The reality was that he was pasting all the bowling around the park and had 200 or more for the taking; but he went and hit a full toss off Simon Katich – a part time bowler, if ever there was one – down long-off’s throat.  He doesn’t even mention this in the book; and he then claims that Ricky Ponting, of all people, was wobbling the ball around and was the most difficult Australian bowler to face that first afternoon at Trent Bridge when he edged another part time bowler to the keeper when well set for another big score! No hint of embarrassment or regret at either dismissal.

Now that I have heard him speak on the radio, I will put this down to a very poor ghost writer, since there is no way Vaughan would think in those terms.  There was a particular passage of play when one of his comments was especially interesting.  It was late on the fourth day at Pretoria when there was speculation on the timing of the declaration.  Vaughan correctly predicted that Graeme Smith would want a healthy number of overs with the second new ball, which in the end almost won him the game. He also remarked that when he had been in a position to declare, he had done so in the knowledge that he usually had a formidable bowling attack at his disposal.top

See?The best English bowling attacks

This got me wondering that the English bowling attack in 2004 and 2005 might lay claim to being the best ever to play for England IN THE SAME TEAM. Hoggard, Harmison, Flintoff and Jones were, for those 18 months, as menacing a bowling unit as England can ever have fielded.  They must have been to scare that Australian team. In that company, Ashley Giles needed to do no more than tie up an end, although he actually did quite a bit more, especially when you remember that every Australian from nos. 1 to 8 got out to him at least once in the 2005 series. In terms of total combined wickets, though, they are not the winners (see below), although that is partly attributable to all of them ending their careers prematurely, especially the perennially injured Simon Jones, who only managed 17 test matches

I considered the competition and came up with four others.  I thought about the team that beat the West Indies in 2000: Caddick and Gough were at their peak, with Dominic Cork and Craig White (and, for one match, Matthew Hoggard) in support.  They did have the distinction of bowling the West Indies out for 54 at Lords and 61 at Leeds (not a great West Indies team, it has to be said, apart from Brian Lara.) But the best spinner at the time, Phil Tufnell, did not play, and neither Cork nor White were consistently successful as bowlers. In terms of combined career wickets, they total 902.

One which has serious claims was an attack of John Snow, a young Bob Willis, Peter Lever, Derek Underwood and Ray Illingworth (with Basil d’Oliveira also in the side), which murdered Australia in Sydney in early 1971, bundling them out for 116 in the 2nd innings to win the match by 299 runs. They went on to take the series 2-0, although Willis was not yet the great bowler he was later to become and Lever only took 41 wickets for England. 

For two matches in 1977, again against Australia, England had a fully fit Bob Willis approaching his peak, the measly Mike Hendrick, Ian Botham making his debut and swinging the ball like a magician, “Deadly” Derek Underwood and Tony Greig, who was both seamer and off spinner. England won both matches, and the series, comfortably. In the first of those matches (the 3rd Test at Trent Bridge), they also had Geoff Miller. In terms of combined test wickets over their careers, this attack wins the contest hands down, with 1,233 wickets (1,293 if you include Miller), compared with the 1971 vintage which boasts 1,034 wickets, but which probably offered more options to the captain.

The only other attack that came close was the 1955 team which took on South Africa at Lords: Statham, Trueman, Bailey, Titmus and Wardle, a combined career tally of 946 wickets. It was evidently quite a match, with England conceding a 1st innings lead of 171 but then setting South Africa 182 to win and bowling them out for 111, Statham taking 7 for 39. However, this particular combination of bowlers only ever played as a unit in that single match.  Statham, Trueman, Bailey, Wardle and Jim Laker did play together at Lords the following year against Australia, but England lost by 185 runs. It’s an interesting conundrum.  If you can do better than 1971, 1977 or 1955, let me know.top

See?Cape Town

An amazing game, yet another fabulous advertisement for test cricket.  It didn’t matter that the final session was a repeat of Centurion. Somehow it was far more emotional, not least because by avoiding defeat, England not only ensured they could not lose the series; but they also broke a trend that was threatening to become tedious by not losing at Newlands, as they had done in each of their previous tests matches there. Had South Africa taken the final wicket, they would have become only the ninth team to win a test after having lost by an innings in the previous one.  The eighth team to do so, of course, was England at the Oval last summer.

Graham Onions’ quiet clenched fist at Centurion as he saw out Makaya Ntini contrasted with his punching the air in delight against the backdrop of Table Mountain as Morne Morkel’s final ball of the match whistled harmlessly by. I will save the discussion on the review system, which came into play on the penultimate ball, until next week. But to repeat the point, any American who says that cricket is dull because you can go 5 days and still not get a result need only have watched the last hour of that match, or the one at Centurion, or Cardiff, to know that he is talking utter shit.

It would have been nice for England to have won in Cape Town and got another monkey off their backs, having finally won last summer at Lords against Australia for the first time since 1934.  It’s ironic that Graham Onions was the man who blocked out the final over to avoid defeat, because we would all have preferred him to have been a hero with the ball and take a 5-for.  It might well have turned out that way. In another example of how the game of cricket can love you one minute and then hate you the next, Graeme Swann, man of the matches at Centurion and Durban, dropped a dolly when Graeme Smith edged Onions’ first ball to him on the first morning.  Graham to Graeme, edged to Graeme, and dropped. 3G. So now they’re all endorsing mobiles, but the signal wasn’t there.

Had Swann taken that catch, Jacques Kallis, at his most vulnerable against a deviating new ball, would have been at the crease for eighth ball of the match rather than in the 26th over.  Those sorts of chances need to be taken, and though it was quickly forgotten when England bundled South Africa out for under 300 early on the second day, it could have been so much better had they been 1 for 2 with Smith dismissed cheaply.  As it was, Kallis kept South Africa in the game and England once again proved that their batsmen, even when there are six of them, can be brittle.  After that, they were always fighting to stay in the game and that they did so was down to some determined batting from Collingwood, Bell and, at the very end, Onions.

I’ll return to the whole issue of the six batsmen – five bowler conundrum next week.  It seems clear that England will stick with the six specialist batsmen for the time being.  Since Stuart Broad’s potential to be a proper No. 7 batsman remains unfulfilled, especially when under pressure, I guess they have to.  So I got that one wrong, just as I got it wrong about Bell. However, I’d really like Bell to play a proper match- turning innings.  He’s definitely got the game for it. He had a chance in the first innings at Cape Town. If only he could have seen it through to the end in the second.  If we had lost, that poke to slip when the finishing line was looming would have haunted him forever. And the long hop slapped to cover point when he was batting beautifully in the first innings did not help his cause either.top

See?Australia v Pakistan, Melbourne 2009 / Sydney 2010

A quick word on what has been going on in Australia.  It’s worth reading, because it’s been another great advertisement for test cricket. Pakistan, having competed strongly in New Zealand, were always going to find Australia a tougher proposition.  So it proved.  They need to get themselves a proper fielding coach, or do something to rectify this problem, because by my calculations, they have cost themselves close to a whole first innings score during this series through dropped catches. They also need some gumption in their tail end, because they keep losing matches by small margins and their lower order could make all the difference if only they could stand up to pressure the way the England lower order have been able to do.

At Melbourne Pakistan were always playing catch up against a strong Australian batting line up which posted 454 for 5, yet no batsman was able to get past 100. Shane Watson, in particular, seems addicted to the nineties.  In the first innings, it needed the third umpire to decide not whether a batsman was out, because they were both at one end when the bails were removed at the other; but WHICH batsman should depart. In the end, Watson was the one who was told to go and he wasn’t too happy, since he was on 93 and closing in on his first test century. In the second innings, he spent an age in the nineties and played out the last over before lunch on the fourth day on 98 not out without scoring. I don’t imagine he ate much.  After lunch, he took a similar eternity to score a single.  The nerves were clearly showing and on 99 he rasped a drive to cover point which should have been held, except that the fielder was true to form and spilled it.  Watson was able to take a single to take him to the magic 3 figures at last. It must have been high drama for those watching.

In the end Pakistan were beaten by 170 runs.  On the evening of the fourth day, Mohammed Yousuf and Umar Akmal were looking composed and solid and they might even have harboured hopes of chasing down a slightly arrogant declaration target of 422 set by Ricky Ponting.  But they were dashed by Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Hauritz, who both two wickets in two balls, Johnson’s in the first over of the last day.

It was Sydney 2010 which all Pakisatnis will think of in the same way as we English think of Adelaide 2006.  At Adelaide, England scored 551 in the first innings, had Australia over 150 behind at the start of the 4th day, yet found a way of losing. At Sydney last week, Pakistan bowled Australia out for 127, compiled a lead of over 200, had Australia only 80 ahead with 8 wickets down in the second innings at the start of the 4th day, yet allowed them to double the target into an awkward 176.  At 103 for 5, they were still favourites, yet they managed to collapse to 139 all out, 36 runs short: a famous victory for Australia, only the 6th time in the history of the game that a side had won after being more than 200 behind on the first innings

Pakistan cricket is in a dire state. Security in the country is so poor that their cricketers have to play all their matches abroad.  There is no structure, no organisation and no discipline.  It shows on the pitch.  They have some class players, and can win the 20:20 World Cup; yet some , like Shoaib Malik and Younis Kahn, are not even  in the current team. The defensive tactics adopted by Mohammed Yousuf on the 4th day at Sydney betrayed a lack of confidence.  He was playing as if he almost knew that Australia were capable of winning, even though they were effectively 80 for 8.  The Australians, on the other hand, approached it as if they believed they could win, even from such a hopeless position.  They were helped by the wicket-keeper, Kamran Akmal, dropping Mike Hussey no less than 4 times during his match wining century.  Some of those chances were quite straightforward.  Either Kamran Akmal is seriously incompetent behind the stumps, or there is something more sinister going on…top

See?On this day – 10 January 1973, Australia v Pakistan, 3rd Test at Sydney

First, I’ll give you the answer to the two pieces of trivia asked last time relating to the test match played immediately before Christmas 1976 between England and India in Delhi. The two England players making their debuts were Graham Barlow, who scored a duck, unable to stop the great Bishen Bedi spinning a ball off his bat via his pad and into the hands of short leg. The other was John Lever, the Essex left armer, who scored 53 as a lower order batsman; and then swung the ball like a boomerang to take 7 wickets in India’s first innings and 3 in the second to finish the match – a unique introduction to test cricket.

This week, we go back to early January 1973, and to a match very similar to the one which just finished in Sydney.  History doesn’t often repeat itself, but it comes close in this case. Just like last week, Pakistan managed to lose a game at the SCG that was theirs for the taking.  They were never as far ahead as the current vintage were last week, but having gained a first innings lead of 26, they had Australia 101 for 8, only 75 ahead.  However, Australian tails often wag, and the last two wickets were able to muster another 83 runs. Even then, Pakistan still only needed 159 to win the match.  At 83 for 3, they were cruising.  But a collapse ensued, so often with a fourth innings target of under 200, and they ended up being bowled out for 106, losing by 52 runs.

Can you tell me who was the great Australian batsman who took 5 wickets in Pakistan’s first innings, the only time he achieved this? And which Australian bowler took 6 for 15 in 16 overs in the final innings to win the match?

Let’s look forward to an equally absorbing conclusion to a pulsating series in Johannesburg later this week.  Perhaps if test matches continue to be so exciting, the message will get through that it has to be preserved and promoted, regardless of the cost.

All the best.

Delenda est ECB.top

How I Won The Ashes 4th Newsletter 18 December 2009

January 1, 2010

 

The Ashes

18 December 2009
Hello and welcome to the fourth edition of How I Won the Ashes.

How I actually won the Ashes will be told at some point in the future, but I hope you are curious, because it’s quite a bold claim!
 
Look out for occasional postings on

http://twitter.com/HowIwontheAshes

You can also reply to howiwontheashes@googlemail.com

This week is an especially long edition, as I won’t be back until the New Year.

Below is what I will be covering this week:

Click meNew Zealand v Pakistan, 3rd Test at Napier

Click meA rare thrilling One Day International – India v Sri Lanka at Rajkot

Click meThoughts on Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson and the IPL

Click meEarly views on South Africa v England, 1st Test at Pretoria and thoughts on Ian Bell

Click meAustralia v West Indies, 3rd Test at Perth

Click meEleven ideas for British cricket (Nos. 9 to 11)

Click mePolitical Correctness

Click meGovernment interest in cricket and playing fields

Click me Health & Safety

Click mePersonal Responsibility

Click meMemory lane – 18th December 1976, England v India, 1st Test at Delhi

Click meHappy New Year, especially to Giles Clarke

See?New Zealand v Pakistan, 3rd Test at Napier

What a shame that the weather in Napier spoiled what was shaping up to be an intriguing final session, with New Zealand eventually needing 118 more runs to win off 23 overs, and the openers well set, when the rain came.  It had been a fascinating match, New Zealand gaining a first innings lead of 248, and Daniel Vettori thoroughly justifying his move up the order with 134, which strengthened the view that he is a genuine all rounder.  However, Pakistan came back strongly and ended up setting New Zealand 208 to win.  It echoed the pattern of the whole series and showed how absorbing test cricket can be, especially when the sides are evenly matched and the pitch offers something for both bowlers and batsmen.top

See?A rare thrilling One Day International – India v Sri Lanka at Rajkot

I suggested previously that One Day Internationals are generally unmemorable, simply because there are so many of them.  This week, however, threw up a real gem, between India and Sri Lanka at Rajkot.  Again, Virender Sehwag was to the fore, smashing 146 off only 102 balls, allowing India to set a target of 415, only the third time a side has passed 400 in a ODI between two established test playing countries.  Yet Sehwag was outdone by both Tillikeratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara, who both scored at a phenomenal rate. If they had stayed in for even 5 overs longer, Sri Lanka would have romped home. As it was, they ended up just 3 runs short in a classic finish. In the second match, just finished, it was an equally tight affair, with Sri Lanka this time successfully chasing 301 with 5 balls to spare. So perhaps I am being a bit harsh, but I stand by my original argument that there is way too much cricket played.top

See?Thoughts on Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson and the IPL

I also noticed this week that Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson publicly stated that they would turn down offers from the Indian Premier League.  Cynics would say that it was only because they had run the numbers and concluded there was not enough money on the table.  Perhaps naively, I am prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt and accept instead their argument that they would prefer to put their England careers first.  With an Ashes tour around the corner, it is most welcome, whatever their true motivation.  But it was slightly arrogant to assume that they would even receive an offer, although I think Broad has the potential to become a proper all rounder, well capable of batting at No. 7.  It’s only a matter of time before he scores a test match hundred.  Bangladesh next summer might represent his most immediate chance, if it weren’t for the likelihood that the batsmen above him will help themselves first and leave him just enough time to slog a quick fifty before a declaration. Batting is in his blood, though, with his father having had a distinguished tenure as an opening batsman for England, cut short by a combination of a suspect temperament and the emergence of Michael Atherton.top

See?Early views on South Africa v England, 1st Test at Pretoria and thoughts on Ian Bell

So to Pretoria, where South Africa have been in front for most of the match apart from the first morning and the last session of today, where a 100 run stand for the 9th wicket between James Anderson and the irrepressible Graeme Swann has allowed England to make up a little bit of lost ground, if not quite achieve parity. After losing Graeme Smith in the second over of the day and at one point being 93 for 3, Jacques Kallis (who recovered sufficiently to play, but only as a batsman) rebuilt the South African innings with a fine century, after Andrew Strauss won the toss and elected to field first. 

I’m afraid Strauss misread the pitch, though; perhaps a bit like Ricky Ponting at Edgbaston in 2005, he was suckered into thinking that all the recent rain would leave the pitch nice and juicy. Although there was some grass on the pitch, it was in fact pretty flat on days 1 and 2, so in hindsight England would have been much better off batting first.  If Strauss had had 5 frontline bowlers, it might have been a more plausible strategy to bowl first; but the missing bowler allowed South Africa to go on to score 418. 

Then, when England batted, the extra batsman, Bell, failed to deliver the goods, leaving a straight ball from Paul Harris, who has shown that he is not to be under-estimated.  I really am not convinced by Bell.  He was prematurely and ludicrously identified in his early years by several pundits as a once in a generation batsman who would follow in the footsteps of Hobbs, Hammond, Hutton, May, Cowdrey and Gower. But he is still failing to live up to this billing, even earning the nickname “sherminator” from Shane Warne for his timid presence at the crease.  Even now, Bell’s Test career could still instead go the same way as those perennial under-achievers Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash: voracious devourers of county bowling, but lacking the mental strength to cope with the pressure of Test cricket.

However, having the extra batsman may yet work for England if they are set a target of less than 300.  Anything more than that will be tough, especially if there is more variable bounce like the grubber Makhaya Ntini shot underneath Andrew Strauss’ bat; and Paul Harris was also extracting an ominous amount of turn even on day 3. England will have to bowl exceptionally well tomorrow to give themselves a chance. But a South African lead of only 62 was less than they dared hope when they were 242 for 8 not much more than an hour earlier; and removing the normally adhesive Ashwell Price just before the close today will have lifted them even further. I still think South Africa are favourites; and if they do win, it will be the second time in 3 tests that Strauss’ failure to take advantage of winning the toss has cost his team the match (he really should have fielded first at Headingly last summer).top

See?Australia v West Indies, 3rd Test at Perth

The match in Perth between Australia and the West Indies has followed a similar pattern.  Australia seized the initiative with a big first innings of 520. However, none of their batsmen seems able to reach three figures, with Watson, Katich, Hussey and Haddin dismissed for 89, 99, 82 and 82 respectively, and Ponting taking a vicious blow on the elbow forcing him to retire hurt. West Indies looked to be fighting back with a blistering century from that man Gayle; but the innings rapidly declined when he was out and Australia ended up with a lead of 208.  Australians are very wary of enforcing the follow on.  Only three matches have ever been won by sides following on and Australia have been on the receiving end each time; so Ponting duly batted again.  Like Strauss at Lords in the summer, it was clearly the right decision. More fireworks from Gayle, with some support from the other batsmen, could have left Australia facing one of those awkward targets, and throwing away the advantage afforded by winning the toss and bowling last on a pitch which is looking increasingly bowler friendly. 

Evidence for this was rapidly provided by the West Indies, who have reduced Australia to 137 for 8.  I haven’t had time to check, but it must be a long time since Australia last played a test series (albeit one of only 3 matches) where none of their batsmen has scored a century. I think, though, that they have already got enough of a lead and I take them to win, possibly as early as tomorrow.  You can never write off the West Indies completely with Gayle around, and South Africa did score over 400 to win in Perth last year; but the pitch looks a lot tougher than in that match, and I think Mitchell Johnson, in particular, will be too hot to handle.top

See?Eleven ideas for British cricket (Nos. 9 to 11)

Having outlined eight of my eleven point plan for British cricket (How I Won The Ashes 3rd Newsletter 11th December 2009), I ran out of time and space and saved for this week the issues of political correctness and government enthusiasm for the game; the availability of playing fields; and the insidious effect of Health & Safety on all areas of our lives.top

See?Political Correctness

The three are all related.  I am neither a political theorist nor a sociologist, so my attempt at understanding the origins of political correctness is inevitably crude.  What is political correctness, anyway?  As I see it, it is a form of thinking that crept into our society sometime around 1990. It may have been a backlash against the in-your-face, aggressive form of capitalism created by Margaret Thatcher’s and Ronald Reagan’s reconstruction of the British and American economies in the mid 1980s.  Its effect is that you are not allowed to express an extreme view on any subject because there is a chance, however slight, that someone, somewhere, might be offended.  In other words, its purpose is to protect minority rights.

Often, this is a good thing.  Those afflicted by injury, ill health, disability or other misfortune need help. A compassionate, civilised society has a duty to provide it.  But this desire always to be compassionate and protective can and does backfire and leads to ludicrous situations.  A school football team that was 5-0 up at half time was told that the match would start again, because “it was unfair” that their opponents were losing so heavily. 

And the language that is used to justify such things can almost be Orwellian.  I once heard John Humphreys interviewing a woman who was suggesting that it was wrong for children to pretend to be soldiers in the playground, because it encouraged aggressive behaviour.  She said that “practitioners were being asked to exercise a zero tolerance policy towards such behaviour.” You what?  Humphreys was merciless, especially since, by her own admission, there was no evidence to show that children who did indulge in such behaviour were any more aggressive.  “You mean, TEACHERS should BAN children from doing this,” barked Humphreys.  “That’s what you mean, isn’t it?”  She reluctantly agreed.  Look at the language she was using.  Teachers are teachers, not “practitioners”. “Banning” someone from doing something is a subjective word with negative overtones; so they use “zero tolerance” to make it seem more justifiable.  It’s no different to 1984, where something was not “very” good; it was “double plus” good.

Ultimately, it is to do with society becoming more litigious and adopting a compensation culture.  So we are all encouraged to use language that reduces our exposure to litigation for what we say and, by extension, what we think.  Call it far-fetched, but that is not a million miles away from thought crime.top

See?Government interest in cricket and playing fields

What has this got to with cricket? At first glance, very little.  But on reflection, there is plenty of evidence to show that cricket has been singled out by socialist governments as being politically incorrect.  Through their inability and unwillingness to bid competitively for the rights to broadcast cricket, the BBC could be equally culpable. First, cricket is competitive, and competition, wanting to win, is bad; second, it has elitist overtones, having for many years been the preserve of the upper classes and, sin off sins, the Empire.  The idea that, until as recently as the 1960s, there could be a match between Gentlemen and Players, is proof of this in the mind of the socialist Empire apologist.

Of course, any cricket follower knows that this is utter rubbish.  The whole point about cricket is that anyone can play it and anyone can become good at it, if they have the desire, opportunity and exposure (which brings up the point about television coverage – a pet subject, to which I will return next year.)  Cricket transcends backgrounds and cultures. And since today’s government has openly declared class warfare, let’s look at that.  Gordon Brown recently scoffed at the playing fields of Eton as a way of making political capital.  So if the argument is that only those from privileged backgrounds get the opportunity to become top cricketers, why is it that you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of Old Etonians to represent England in the last fifty years?  The same goes for Harrow and Charterhouse.  Tonbridge is slightly more successful, mainly by virtue of the Cowdrey family.  David Gower went to King’s Canterbury and the current England captain was at Radley.  There are others, too, but it would be a mistake to think that all cricketers all around the world come from privileged backgrounds.  Some do; and many don’t.  That is how it has always been, but on the field of play, all have the same opportunity to excel, both individually and for their team, in any number of ways. That is the unique beauty of cricket.

So what is the answer?  An overt recognition by the government of the importance of cricket to our culture would help. Don’t expect it, especially if Labour are re-elected in 2010.  Perhaps the Tories will help, but, to be fair, they will have many more important things to worry about. Nevertheless, a drive to preserve all forms of cricket and make the game more valuable is vital to our culture. This means ensuring that the organisation entrusted with the responsibility of running the game does so in the interests of all involved, most especially the players and the fans. They should do away with the self-serving chairmen and other hangers on, who sit in their ivory towers, tour around the world sipping their gins and tonics in their boxes, accountable to nobody.

Another priority is to do something about the steady swallowing up of open spaces where cricket can be played.  Not having ever been involved in, nor understanding the commercial or political intricacies, I am out of my depth in arguing this one; but it seems fundamentally wrong when a monstrosity such as the grey building above St. Paul’s underground station can be protected from being knocked down, yet open green spaces where cricket can be played are routinely ploughed up and built on.  If anyone can come up with a sensible explanation for this, I would love to hear it.top

See?Health & Safety

The final point is the growing influence of Health & Safety culture and how it affects all our lives.  Just as politically correct thinking and legislation was originally well intentioned, with the aim of protecting the rights of minorities, so health and safety legislation was quite rightly enacted to ensure that workers in mines, oil rigs, power stations and factories were adequately protected. Now that our economy has become predominantly service based rather than manufacturing based, the legislation is being applied in ways in which it was never intended – with disastrous consequences.  No-one is able or willing to take responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant urge to blame someone else and be compensated accordingly. No win no fee legal advice only contributes to this. It surely has no place on the sports field, yet it appears to be creeping in there, too.

A real life example from a cricket match in which I played illustrates this perfectly. I was captain of a team I assemble once a year and I was batting, shortly before lunch.  It was a glorious summer’s day at one of the prettiest cricket grounds in the heart of London.  The opposition’s opening bowler was a handy left arm seamer who had taken a few wickets in the morning session and was hard to get away.  Shortly after I came in, he bowled me a beamer.  It was so high that I was never in any danger of being hit on the head, but it was a surprise nonetheless.  The bowler apologised and it was clearly unintentional.  It was not that kind of cricket match, anyway.  A couple of balls later, he did it again.  At this point, the two umpires conferred with the captain of the opposition and formally warned the bowler that if he bowled one more ball like that, he wouldn’t be allowed to bowl again.  I found this faintly ridiculous and said so, but I was reminded that those are the rules.

In his next over, the last before lunch, he let slip a third head high full toss.  This time it was well wide of me and was never threatening to injure me. The wicket-keeper and slips were in more danger!  Nevertheless, the umpire immediately intervened and informed the bowler that he could not bowl again. 

This was a friendly game between two teams of players who had turned up because they love cricket and wanted to enjoy a fun, social occasion.  It’s played at a reasonable standard, and it’s taken seriously enough for there to be two umpires officiating.  But it’s not even close to being a first class fixture, let alone a test match.  Yet suddenly we had officialdom bearing down on us and that particular bowler’s enjoyment of the day – and that of his team mates – was ruined because of it.  There was a sour taste in the mouth. At lunch, I tackled the umpires and asked whether it was really necessary for that bowler to be taken out of the game.  Yes, they say, and this is why: if he is allowed to carry on bowling and if he happens to injure a batsman with a similar delivery and if that batsman decides to resort to litigation and seek compensation for his injury, they as umpires would be liable, on the grounds that their insurance policies would be null and void because they failed to apply the rules.

What utter nonsense, I reply.  Are you telling me that lawyers and insurance companies are now deciding how the game of cricket should be played?  Are the twenty-two players involved not capable of taking responsibility for themselves and their actions?  The umpires “hear what I say”, but they are having none of it and won’t budge from their position, even when I offer to get all the players to sign a disclaimer. Several years later, in the same fixture, I had a seventeen year old fast bowler playing for me.  He was still at school, but was fit and athletic; yet the rules now say he is not allowed to bowl more than seven overs consecutively, if he is under eighteen.  Why not?  Apparently for the same reason: if he injures himself in the eighth over or thereafter, the umpires who did not stop him could be liable to pay compensation.top

See?Personal Responsibility

The abject inability of individuals to take responsibility for their own actions, to seek to blame someone else whenever something happens to them, will cause untold damage if it is not stopped.  The same thinking means that in some places, you cannot ask for black or white coffee, it has to be with or without milk because to ask for black coffee might somehow be perceived as racially offensive and expose the speaker of those words to litigation.  Apparently, you cannot now even refer to the term “common sense” in court, presumably because it has elitist overtones.

The tragedy is that everyone you speak to agrees that all of this is wrong.  I’ve never met an individual who actually thinks it is a good thing, or speaks up for it. Yet it continues and nothing is done to stop it. The nearest we have had to a politician publicly opposing it was David Cameron, in a speech to the Conservative Party Conference two years ago.  He said he wanted to create a society where policemen could solve crimes without having to fill in endless forms; and where teachers could apply a sticking plaster to a child at school without fear of being branded a child molester.

The BBC asked ten people, randomly, to listen to Cameron’s speech .They were asked to press a + button when they heard something they liked, and a – button if they didn’t like it.  The more they liked what they heard, the longer they should keep the + button pressed, and the same for the – button.  It was a crude but effective gauge on what mattered to them most.  When Cameron said this, the needle swung violently into positive territory, which again shows how much the average person in the street hates the impact of health and safety.  So why does it continue to blight our lives? Cameron was clearly onto something.  His recent statements on attacking compensation culture are in the same vein and I think this could be a major vote winner for him. I hope he is able to follow it through. If he is successful, it might just persuade more people to start coaching more children and getting them enthused at an early age about sport in general and cricket in particular.top

See?Memory lane – 18th December 1976, England v India, 1st Test at Delhi

Last week we treated ourselves to the greatest test match ever played, the tied match between Australia and the West Indies in 1960, which ushered in a new era of entertaining cricket.  The batsmen who took Australia to within 7 runs of victory were, of course, Richie Benaud and Alan Davidson, who was run out for 80 by Joe Solomon, the same fielder who hit the single stump to effect the final run out and tie the match. Since Davidson had also taken 11 wickets in the match and scored 44 in the first innings, he had quite a game.

This week, we are going back to 18 December 1976, to Delhi, where England were playing the first of a five match series against India.  India had just soundly thrashed New Zealand, their spinners running amok on the dusty wickets of the sub-continent.  England, by contrast, had been blown away the previous summer by the batting of Richards and Greenidge and the fast bowling of Holding and Roberts.  An intriguing contest lay ahead. After an hour, England were right up against it.  Having won the toss, they found themselves 65 for 4.  However, an excellent innings of 179 by Dennis Amiss saw them to a total of 381, the recovery catalysed by a counter-attacking 75 from Alan Knott, in a way that too few English wicket keepers have been able to emulate since he retired.  The English bowlers then took the Indian batting apart, knocking them over for 122; and although India fared better when following on, the deficit was too big and they lost by an innings.  Two Englishmen made their debuts in this match, with contrasting fortunes.  One scored a duck; the other made 53 and then took 7 wickets in India’s first innings and a further 3 in the second.  Who were they?top

See?Happy New Year, especially to Giles Clarke

I won’t be posting another of these until 8 January 2010, because family obligations will take priority. By then, we will be through the test matches at Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town.  Having lost at Newlands on their last three tours, it would be nice if England could get that particular monkey off their back, as they managed at Lords this summer against Australia.  It’s certainly shaping up to be a tight series and I don’t think it will be decided until the final match in Johannesburg. Meanwhile, Australia will be up against Pakistan in Melbourne and Sydney.  Pakistan showed both steel and flair against New Zealand and I think they could cause Australia problems, especially if Ponting’s elbow rules him out. Umar Akmal, in particular, looks a natural in test cricket; I think there is some variety in their attack; and Australia, with the exception of Ponting and possibly Haddin, do not look world class.

By the way, I saw this headline on the back page of Wednesday’s Evening Standard.  If you read the attached PDF, you can see it in its full glory.  For those of you on Blackberry or something similar, it was a big fat headline that read CLARKE ADMITS: IT’S ALL MY FAULT.

Giles Clarke admitting he's wrong - I don't think so!

It was, in fact, West Ham’s Steve Clarke standing up for his buddy Gianfranco Zola.  I knew the moment I saw it that it couldn’t possibly be our esteemed ECB Chairman showing humility.  After all, Giles Clarke is the man who happily invited Allen Stanford to land his helicopter at the Nursery End at Lords and then accepted his $20 million in a suitcase, which was bad enough; and then, when Stanford was arrested on charges of fraud, Clarke was happy to insist that he’d done nothing wrong. 

This was the headline that should have been written at the time of Stanford. Instead, Clarke stuck to his “Edith Pfiaf, old boy.  Je ne regrete rien.”  And he still managed to persuade a majority of county chairmen, poodles that they are, to re-elect him as Chairman of the ECB.  The MCC, disgracefully in my view, followed suit, even though they know he is a nightmare, according to one friend of mine on the MCC committee. They were furious with him for allowing the Lords Test Match against the West Indies last summer to start on a Wednesday, knowing there was a chance the game would be all over in 3 days, which would mean writing a large cheque to everyone who had bought tickets for the Saturday – which is exactly what happened.  Yet the MCC still voted for him.  Why?  I think there’s more chance of the BBC outbidding Sky in an auction for the rights to televise cricket than Giles Clarke ever admitting that he’s wrong. Neither will ever happen.

Delenda est ECB.

I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and New Year.top

How I Won The Ashes, 3rd Newsletter 11 December 2009

December 31, 2009

The Ashes

11 December 2009

Hello and welcome to the third edition of How I Won the Ashes.

How I actually won the Ashes will be told at some point in the future, but I hope you are curious, because it’s quite a bold claim!
 
Every Friday, I will give all you hard working souls some light relief as you wend your way home and settle down to a nice quiet evening with the weekend ahead of you. Even if your evening is not quiet, it may provide some talking points in pubs and bars.
 
As the name suggests, the subject matter will be cricket.  There aren’t many weeks of the year when something is not happening in the world of cricket and I will be offering some thoughts on current topics and events. In time, I hope you will feed in some of your own views. Naturally I also hope you will forward this to anyone whom you think will enjoy it and encourage them to respond, so they can receive future editions and join in the fun.

Look out for occasional postings on

 http://twitter.com/HowIwontheAshes

You can also reply to howiwontheashes@googlemail.com

Forgive me if this week’s offering is slightly longer.  I said I would come up with a plan for British cricket and that is not possible in a few words.  I hope, though, that you will indulge me.

Below is what I will be covering this week:

• Click meNew Zealand v Pakistan, 2nd and 3rd Tests at Wellington and Napier

• Click meAustralia v West Indies, 2nd Test at Adelaide

• Click meThoughts on Chris Gayle, Brad Haddin and Australian wicket-keepers

• Click meEleven ideas for British cricket (Nos. 1 to 8 )

• Click mePreview of South Africa v England, 1st Test at Pretoria

• Click meMemory Lane – 11th December 1960, Australia v West Indies, 1st Test at Brisbane

See?New Zealand v Pakistan, 2nd and 3rd Tests at Wellington and Napier

First, a little bit of humble pie to be eaten.  I correctly predicted last week that Pakistan would win the 2nd Test against New Zealand in Wellington, which was a pretty easy call.  It looked like a bowler’s pitch and once Pakistan bowled out New Zealand for 99 in the first innings and secured a big first innings lead, there was only one winner.  But I do think low scoring games can be just as absorbing as high scoring ones.  You only have to think of the matches at Edgbaston in 2005 and 1981, when no batsmen on either side passed 100 (indeed, in 1981 no batsman made 50), and yet both matches are permanently stamped on the history of the game as real thrillers. The deciding test in Napier looks like it will go the same way, with Daniel Vettori elevating himself to No. 6 in the batting order to allow him to pick four seamers.  After day 1, he may have called it right.  The seamers bowled Pakistan out for 223, although the opener Imran Farhat has played exceptionally well to carry his bat for 117.  New Zealand are already 47 for no loss, so look to be in a fairly strong position, except that the Pakistan bowlers are well capable of engineering a collapse.  All to play for and another thriller is potentially developing.

I also correctly predicted that India, having piled up 726 in their first innings, would take advantage of a weary Sri Lanka and win the final match at Mumbai.  Only a fighting century by Kumar Sangakkara took the game into the 5th day. It may well be that the great Muralitharan has played his last test.  He was comprehensively neutralised throughout the entire series, taking 9 wickets in 3 matches, in which India only needed to bat 4 times and scored over 2,000 runs.top

See?Australia v West Indies, 2nd Test at Adelaide

Where I got it wrong, and for the second week running I owe an apology to the West Indies, was their performance in Adelaide.  They held the whip hand for most of the match and in a slightly less dramatic way, it was highly absorbing stuff. At the end of day 2, West Indies had done well to post 451 in their first innings, but the increasingly durable opening partnership of Shane Watson and Simon Katich put on 174 without loss. The obvious prognosis was that Australia, with their established middle order to come, would pile on the runs on the 3rd day and then squeeze the West Indies on days 4 and 5. 

It turned out very differently.  Watson tried to pull the second ball of the 3rd day for a boundary that would have given him his maiden Test century, but was bowled; Katich was out soon afterwards; and the Australians ended up falling 12 runs short of the West Indies’ total.  Chris Gayle then played a brilliant innings, carrying his bat for 165 and setting Australia 330 to win.  At one point.  Australia were 139 for 5 with more than 20 overs to go; but that was as good as it got for the West Indies, with Clarke and Haddin easily shutting up shop.top

See?Thoughts on Chris Gayle, Brad Haddin and Australian wicket-keepers

First Chris Gayle: a supremely gifted batsman, yet seemingly indifferent to Test cricket.  When you see him bat like he did in Adelaide, he is right up there with the great batsmen of his generation, and you wonder at his lack of enthusiasm.  He could reasonably be compared to Virender Sehwag, although the similarities are not immediately obvious. One is tall, left-handed and Caribbean; the other is short, right-handed and Indian.  Both, though,  are openers, have an innate disrespect for bowlers, attack the ball from the start, and once they get going, are hard to stop.  Both have carried their bat in Test innings; both have scored triple centuries; and both are more than handy off-spinners.  Indeed, Gayle once came within 15 runs of the unique achievement of taking 5 wickets and scoring a hundred in a single day of test cricket, against England at Edgbaston in 2004.

Yet when you saw him standing at slip in last summer’s test series, utterly bored, you really wondered if he cared about the long form of the game, and was more of a mercenary.  I once heard a story which, if true, sums him up.  He was at a dinner in the Long Room at Lords, sitting with sunglasses on (it was dark), saying nothing, staring ahead, perhaps thinking of his native Jamaica.  Some old buffer was trying to engage him, asking about this innings or that, and probably being deeply irritating, when he finally replied, as languidly as he might flick a ball over mid wicket into the crowd: “So, man. D’you get much pussy?” Complete indifference and then a flash of immense style.

The final match of the series is in Perth next week.  Gayle has never played a test match there before, so it could be interesting and it will certainly suit his game.  Australia are slightly vulnerable right now, Perth is usually a result pitch, and Australia have lost their last two test matches there.  If West Indies, led by Gayle, get a good start or at least a 1st innings lead, they might be on for a surprise.  It would really shake up the world order, which could only be good for cricket generally.  It’s always been said that a strong West Indies is a strong game, and it’s hard to disagree. The fly in the ointment is that the Australian batting has to fire sometime.  Let’s see. I know I was down on the West Indies only two weeks ago, but they have proved me wrong and I would be delighted if they continued to do so.

The other player to deserve attention is Brad Haddin.  Unspectacularly, but with a cool head, he stayed with Michael Clarke and snuffed out the faint scent of victory in West Indies’ nostrils in the last session at Adelaide.  England players and supporters are sick of great Australian wicket-keeper batsmen, who invariably seem to come in at No. 7 or 8.  Either they rescue an innings when Australia are 5 down for not many, or they pile on the agony when they are 5 down for a lot. Having endured Ian Healy getting under their skins with the bat and chirping away behind the stumps for the best part of twelve years, England thought they’d found relief when the unproven Adam Gilchrist took over.  How wrong they were.  In his first three Ashes innings, Gilchrist showed he was even more dangerous than Healy, smashing in successive innings 152, 90 and 54, which played a major part in Australia winning the first three matches of that series. 

So when Gilchrist retired and a new keeper in the form of Haddin took his place, we all thought that life might get a bit easier.  Wrong again.  In his first Ashes test, Haddin, true to form, scored 121 and set up a position which, had it not been for the Cardiff rain, Monty Panesar and James Anderson, would surely have resulted in a win for Australia. The whole summer of 2009 might then have been different.  He followed Cardiff up with a long partnership with Clarke in the second innings at Lords which, for a session, briefly had us worried that Australia might do the impossible and score over 500 in the fourth innings to win a test. He is arguably more technically solid than his predecessors.  What he lacks in Healy’s grittiness and Gilchrist’s explosiveness, he makes up for in that he is more correct and could easily bat higher up the order.  He may way well do so in future, once Ponting and Hussey retire.  It’s not a coincidence that in the two matches England won against Australia in 2009, at Lords and the Oval, Haddin failed in both first innings.top

See?Eleven ideas for British cricket (Nos. 1 to 8 )

The other big news of the week was that the ICC has stated it would consider allowing different cricket boards to negotiate their own schedules.  Given the incompetence and greed of a number of those boards, led by the ECB, don’t necessarily expect much.  But there is a glimmer of hope. There was a lot of excited debate on the Cricinfo bulletin board, much of it well reasoned and setting out grand and detailed plans of how test cricket might be shaped in the next few years.

Personally, I think everyone is worrying about the detail too soon. And it’s clear from many of the comments that they are thinking only of their own country, rather than the greater good of the global game. That’s understandable, and I myself have a few basic suggestions for cricket in the UK, outlined below. The moves to change the scheduling, though, are a step in the right direction, because they recognise at last that there is too much cricket played. This is a significant breakthrough. Let’s be happy with that and then move to the next stage, without getting too preoccupied with the detail too soon. That next stage should be to focus on reducing – massively – the number of ODIs. Three obvious benefits would immediately accrue. First, each ODI would in itself become more valuable and more iconic, through its rarity; second, players would have more time off; and third, there would be more time to fit in sensible schedules of tests that allowed everyone to compete against each other, without cramming in matches and necessitating back-to-back tests, which do nothing to ease the pressure on players’ minds and bodies.

So here’s my basic blueprint for British cricket. Appropriately enough, there are 11 points:

1. Abolish the existing ECB in its entirety (delenda est ECB). This would mean summarily firing every single officer, starting with the Chairman, Chief Executive and Communications Director, whose spin constantly makes Alistair Campbell seem like a novice.  He would be a ready recruit for the Labour party, and boy, do they need him right now. Since those officers are not paid a salary, no compensation would need to be paid.

2. Create a new National Cricket Board, answerable not the counties but to the government.  The current system is nothing short of a good old-fashioned gerrymander.  The ECB squeezes as much money as it can from the game, with no regard for its long term future. Not only does it deny hundreds of thousands of fans and would-be stars of the future access to the game through its mishandling of the broadcast rights; it also places ridiculous stress on the bodies and minds of the players , without whom the game would not exist. Far too much of that money is passed shamelessly to the counties, who become bloated and complacent and forget the disciplines of running a tight ship.  And who ensures that the so-called stewards of the game remain in office, even when they commit a crime as heinous as the Stanford business?  Why, the counties, of course.  As I said, gerrymander.

3. Elect a Chairman who has been a respected captain of industry with real experience of running big business, perhaps even a major FTSE 100 company or its equivalent. Naturally that person has to have a fundamental love for the game.  And he (or she) has to be paid a proper salary. A bit of charm and humility would also help. What we don’t need is a dilettante entrepreneur, with fingers in lots of pies and a few non-executive directorships, whose style is combative and who never believes he is wrong.

4. Find a full time Chief Executive.  Qualifications: British; lengthy experience of the game at the highest level, in all parts of the world; bright; broad-minded; articulate; hard; and prepared to take tough decisions.  The obvious candidate would be Mike Atherton, who ticks each of those boxes.  Could he be persuaded to give up his media interests? Probably not, unless he were offered enough money.  The money is available, of course, but it means the counties having to rely on less hand outs from the game’s governing body, which is how it should be and which is the next point.

5. Reduce, hugely, the amount of money that is handed to the counties from the top.  Let them instead apply innovation and imagination to find additional sources of finance.  For too long they have relied on subsidies to keep them afloat.  That has to stop.  If they can’t manage, tough shit.  They could start by slashing their staff.  Far too many players, who have not the slightest chance of playing for England, draw a salary from the game.  If their budgets were tightened, they’d soon work out who were worth paying and who was dead wood. It’s not as if there is a shortage of talent at the levels below the counties.  League cricket thrives all around the country. It would be up to each county to ensure that it was properly scouted and tapped.  Young , aspiring players could be paid on a per-game basis, if they were good enough.  In other words, make the first class game more competitive.

6. The big argument against point 5, of course, is that it can deny fans the opportunity to watch great talent from overseas and players the opportunity to learn from it.  I agree that there is room for overseas players in the county game; think of the pleasure given to Somerset fans by Richards and Garner; to Hampshire fans by the other Richards, Greenidge, Marshall and Warne; and countless others. But, at present, it has got out of hand.  Players, with little loyalty, come over to the UK for half a season or less, to suit their own agendas. Kolpak is a disaster.  So here is a solution, which was suggested by none other than Gary Neville, the Manchester United full back.  No mean cricketer in his youth, he came out with an inspired idea when he was recently interviewed by Michael Vaughan.

Neville envisaged the creation of a global league, which would see regional or state teams from other countries touring to play three or four day games against the English counties, and vice versa.  It’s difficult to see a reason why this would not work. Overseas cricketers could still play in Britain, only they would now be playing against their current employers. More real British players, in turn, would get a chance to experience conditions overseas. The standard would be higher.   Attendances and viewing figures would surely increase at the prospect of seeing Durham playing New South Wales, Surrey against Western Province or Yorkshire against Railways.  If it can work in the one day game, why can’t it work in the longer format? Especially if the next piece of the plan is adopted.

7. As argued previously, massively reduce the number of games played.  Rarity is a wonderful thing.  Diamonds and gold are valuable precisely because they are rare.  Why can this not be true of cricket matches?  It works in American Football.  Each team plays only one game per week in the regular season for 16 weeks, followed by the play offs and culminating in Superbowl.  The season lasts from the end of September until the end of January.  Players are given over half the year to relax and recuperate.  Standards are consistently high and each game is a valuable and treasured commodity.

8. Bring back uncovered pitches, at all levels.  At least do something to even the contest between bat and ball. In the back streets or parks of Leeds, London, Lahore, Kingston, Colombo, Cape Town, Delhi, Dacca, Auckland or Sydney, young kids and teenagers play cricket on grass, dust, gravel and concrete with tennis balls, bits of wood and anything else they can get their hands on.  One Australian friend of mine described how he and his son play with each other in their back yard with cellotape wrapped around one side of a tennis ball.  “Mate, you wouldn’t believe how much it swings.”  (A further example, by the way, of how sophisticated is the Australian approach to cricket.) If aspiring batsmen can adapt and learn skills against balls swinging and spitting at them from all directions, why can those skills not be applied at higher levels, even the very highest.  As I said earlier, low scoring games are gripping.  Cricket on a sticky wicket is a wondrous thing to watch.  Imaginative declarations and reversed batting orders could even return.

My nos. 9, 10 and 11 will have to come next week, as I have used up too much time and you are probably now close to your dinner or destination.  In summary, they revolve around the issues of political correctness and government enthusiasm for the game; the availability of playing fields; and the insidious effect of Health & Safety on all areas of our lives.

Fantasy? Perhaps, but it need not be, if someone with some guts and determination took all this on board and acted on it.  I would love to do so, but I can’t on my own, and besides, I have a daytime job and a family to look after.  But if you like the ideas, feel free to pass them on to those whose opinions carry more weight than mine do.top

See?Preview of South Africa v England, 1st Test at Pretoria

By this time next week, we will be into the third day of the First Test at Pretoria between England and South Africa. Both sides could be missing key players.  South Africa will definitely be without Jacques Kallis, who would almost certainly get in to an all time World XI.  Only the greatest batsmen score over 10,000 runs and average more than 50 over their entire careers.  None, except Kallis, have also taken 256 wickets, at an average of just over 30, as well as holding 147 catches. England may well have to leave out James Anderson, at present their most potent fast bowler.  I suspect South Africa will miss Kallis more than England will miss Anderson (who might yet play) and I therefore think England could upset the odds and win this one; but it is a shame that key players will be missing and, yet again, it is a product of too much meaningless cricket being played.top

See?Memory Lane – 11th December 1960, Australia v West Indies, 1st Test at Brisbane

Time for memory lane.  Last week, we went back 30 years to the Delhi test match of 1979 between India and Pakistan.  The bowling hero who skittled India in their first innings with 8 for 69 was not Imran Khan, who in fact broke down and bowled only 8 overs in the match.  It was the lesser known Sikander Bakht.  The centurion in India’s second innings was Dilip Vengsarkar.  Although he finished unbeaten on 146, he only scored 17 runs in the morning session of the final day and it was probably this defensiveness which ultimately cost his team victory.

This time 48 years ago, Australia and West Indies were taking a rest day in a test match at Brisbane which will probably be remembered as one of the greatest of all time, perhaps the greatest. It was, of course, the first test match ever to be tied.  When Australia scored 505 in reply to West Indies’ 453, no-one could have predicted the drama that was about to unfold in the final two days. At the end of the 4th day, West Indies were 259 for 9 in their second innings and ended up setting Australia 233 to win.  Australia were reduced to 92 for 6 making the West Indies firm favourites; but not for the first time, and certainly not the last, Australian grit and competiveness came to the fore. A seventh wicket partnership of 134 took them to within 7 runs of their target, with 10 balls left and four wickets in hand.  However, those four wickets then fell in 9 balls, three of which were  run-outs. This included the final wicket off the penultimate ball when the last Australian pair of Meckiff and Kline were going for a single that would have won them the match. The fielder at square leg had only one stump at which to aim, but hit it to produce the first ever tied match. The trivia for you: who were the Australian batsmen who put on that partnership of 134 that took Australia to the brink?  And who was the West Indies fielder who ran out Ian Meckiff?

Delenda est ECB.

Have a great weekend.top

How I Won The Ashes, 2nd Newsletter 4 December 2009

December 31, 2009

The Ashes

4 December 2009

Hello and welcome to the second edition of How I Won The Ashes.

How I actually won the Ashes will be told at some point in the future, but I hope you are curious, because it’s quite a bold claim!
 
Look out for occasional postings on

http://twitter.com/HowIwontheAshes

You can also reply to howiwontheashes@googlemail.com

Below is what I will be covering this week:

Click meNew Zealand v Pakistan, 1st & 2nd Tests at Dunedin and Wellington

Click meAftermath of Australia v West Indies, 1st Test at Brisbane

Click meLooking ahead to South Africa v England Test series

Click meIndia v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test at Bombay and thoughts on Virender Sehwag

Click meTest cricket v One Day cricket (continued)

Click meThe obsession with money

Click meCultural Vandalism

Click meOn this day: 4th December 1979, India v Pakistan 2nd Test at Delhi

See?New Zealand v Pakistan, 1st & 2nd Tests at Dunedin and Wellington

Well, I said last week the final day between New Zealand and Pakistan at Dunedin would be exciting and so it proved.  Pakistan ended up needing 251 to win and lost 3 early wickets; but they fought back and Umar Akmal, in particular, looked to have done the hard work and was ready to see them home.  New Zealand, however, got back into the game, Ian O’Brien getting rid of Shoaib Malik after a gritty stand with Umar.  Even then, the Akmal brothers might have won it for Pakistan, taking them to 195 for 5.  But they both fell in quick succession, the tail folded and New Zealand won by 32 runs: a fantastic advertisement for test cricket.  The 2nd test has now started and after day 2, it looks likely that Pakistan will level the series, having secured a big lead after bowling out New Zealand for only 99 and now 229 ahead with 8 second innings wickets still standing.top 

See?Aftermath of Australia v West Indies, 1st Test at Brisbane

Less interesting, but more predictable, was the West Indies’ capitulation to Australia inside 3 days at Brisbane.  It was, though, heartening to see Adrian Barath score a hundred in his first test match and then say that, as far as he is concerned, test cricket is the ultimate form of the game.  Perhaps I was being a bit harsh on the West Indies last week; but they still have some way to go to lose their reputation as permanent whipping boys in the long form of the game. I see they have stayed competitive in Adelaide, with Dwayne Bravo notching a century as they scored 336 for 6; but I still think the Australians will be too strong.top

See?Looking ahead to South Africa v England Test series

This week has also shown how schizophrenic South African cricket can be and makes their current No. 1 status pretty tenuous.  Having destroyed the English bowling last Friday, two days later they were bowled out for 119.  Admittedly they beat both England and Australia in their own back yards in the test series in 2008; but they then lost the return series in South Africa 2-1 to an Australian team that was pretty average.  You certainly can’t see South Africa dominating the way the great Australian teams used to, who twice won 16 tests in a row, under Waugh and Ponting; so I think the upcoming test series with England will be pretty close and I don’t think South Africa are as strong favourites to win as some people believe.top

See?India v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test at Bombay and thoughts on Virender Sehwag

I referred last week to the freakish Virender Sehwag and he has lived up to that billing in Bombay, having ended the second day of the 3rd test between India and Sri Lanka on 284 not out, scored in only 239 balls. He began the third day needing a mere 16 runs to become the first batsman ever to score three separate triple centuries, and had he got going, he might have challenged not only Lara’s test record of 400 but also his all time high score of 501. Instead he was dismissed for 293, somewhat anti-climactically. Nonetheless, he has put India in an impregnable position and with two days left and the pitch starting to take spin, Sri Lanka will have to play out of their skin even to avoid defeat, which would still leave India as series winners. Sehwag really is a unique and exceptional player.  Captains of opposing teams have to adjust their thinking when setting targets against India, because at the rate he scores, he is quite capable of completely reversing a game’s momentum.  Look what he did to England in Madras this time last year, when India faced a fairly daunting target of 389, yet romped home after Sehwag blasted 80 in little more than an hour.top

See?Test cricket v One Day cricket (continued from 27 November 2009)

Despite Dunedin and the Sehwag fireworks, there is still a vicious circle of dwindling interest in test cricket, which means less time and money being invested by sponsors and broadcasters, leading to it being seen as of secondary importance by many national administrators, with the focus switched, almost exclusively it would seem, to the short form of the game. I am constantly being told that test cricket is only for the purist, the cricket geek, the obsessive who will switch on whatever time of day or night it may be; that it is impossible to watch a test match because it lasts for 5 days and may still not produce a winner; and that the only way to maintain and generate interest in cricket is to make it more exciting and more watchable.

This, at least, is true.  Everyone wants cricket to be exciting and watchable, myself included. But it is wrong to assume that the only way to achieve this is through shortening the time it takes to complete a game.  It is certainly possible to enjoy test cricket without watching the whole match.  Each day, even each session, contains its own sub-plots and dramas. One day games can also be as tedious as the dullest test match; but there have been plenty of tests that could match even the most nail-biting of 50 or 20 over games for excitement, even some that ultimately end in draws: think of Lords 1963, the Oval 1979, Old Trafford and the Oval 2005, or Cardiff 2009; and a whole host more, including one the subject of this week’s memory lane.  And one day cricket has little room for variety in terms of how a match unfolds, especially when match after match is played.

Think of it this way.  There have been 1,936 test matches played since the first ever test was played at Melbourne in 15th March 1877.  Most followers of the game know that Australia won that dramatic match by 45 runs. They know that exactly 100 years later and at the same ground, Australia won the Centenary Test by an identical margin; and they would also be able to think of any number of great innings or bowling performances by cricketers of all nationalities that have happened since then: Hutton’s 364, Sobers’ 365, Lara’s 400, Randall’s 174, Laker’s 19 wickets, Massie’s 16 wickets, any number of Botham feats, Warne’s first ball in an Ashes test are just a tiny fraction of the individual performances that have become legendary. Sehwag’s 293 has just entered that pantheon; and that is before you even consider all the thrilling matches that have taken place over the years. 

The first one day international took place (also in Melbourne) on 5th January 1971.  Can anyone remember what happened?  I couldn’t, so I looked it up: it transpires that Australia (inevitably) won it, by five wickets, bowling England out for 190 and chasing down the target with plenty of time to spare and little apparent drama.  The match itself was only played to make up for the fact that the Test match scheduled to be played at the MCG over New Year was abandoned without a ball being bowled. 

But one little pebble can become a huge snowball and so it has turned out. Since then, there have been a staggering 2,931 one day internationals and 125 20:20 internationals.  The World Cup Finals of 1975, 1983, 1987 and, to a lesser degree, 1992 were all exciting, memorable matches.  The finals of 1979 and 1996 were won comprehensively by the West Indies and Sri Lanka respectively, but were lit up by the batting of Sir Vivian Richards, Collis King and Aravinda de Silva.  There was also South Africa’s famous chase of 434 against Australia at Johannesburg in 2006. There aren’t too many other matches or performances that are firmly lodged in the memory, simply because there have been so many of them; which shows a huge lack of respect to all the players who have graced them with great performances, but there it is.

I will leave the last word on this to the extremely eloquent Sambit Bal, the editor of Cricinfo, who only this week wrote:

“Test cricket is not merely a romantic ideal worthy of preservation, it is the game’s foundation. Without it, the core of the game will wither away.” (© Cricinfo 30 November 2009)

Quite.  Bal also pointed out in his excellent article the need for balance in all forms of cricket administration.  There is, alas, little of this to be found anywhere.  There is an obsession with money – immediate money –  and a complete lack of long term thinking.  This leaves the very real possibility that cricket could indeed wither away. If it does, the game’s administrators will be guilty of the most criminal act of cultural vandalism, on a par with the Romans’ destruction of Carthage or the dissolution of the monasteries.top

See?The obsession with money

There is a popular misconception, promoted by the ECB and others, that the only the way cricket can thrive is if its administrators generate more and more money.  As a result, broadcast rights are sold to the highest bidder, with no regard for mass exposure of the game. Far too much cricket is played, which places intolerable demands on its players.   The more cricket they play, the more they put their health at risk, both physical and mental; their marriages suffer; and the less inclined they are to play Test cricket. The one commodity that would solve the problem and make the players’ lives easier is the one seemingly the least appealing to the games’ administrators: moderation.

They fail to recognise that cricket’s biggest asset is the game itself: its players and the joy which the followers of the game experience when it is played.  If you tamper with either the players or its followers, you devalue the sport.  If the top players are injured or disillusioned through playing too much cricket, standards will drop.  If cricket fans are given too much of the same type of cricket to watch, they will lose interest, which will ultimately reduce the amounts broadcasters, advertisers and sponsors are prepared to invest in the game, which in turn reduces administrators’ ability to promote the sport and sustain its future. I am not so naïve as to believe that the game can survive without investment.  I just question whether so much of it is necessary, or wise, or properly applied.

There is a solution, which I will cover next time, as it’s too much for this week.  For now, I will give one final example of how the game’s administrators displayed a complete disregard for its traditions and values through their blind obsession with money.

It was at the infamous Oval test in 2006, between England and Pakistan. The story is well known, but to recap: on the fourth day, umpire Darrell Hair awarded 5 runs to the England team because he thought the Pakistanis were tampering with the ball.  Incensed, the Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq refused to lead his players out onto the field after tea. Hair warned Inzie that unless Pakistan took the field, they would forfeit the game.  Inzie still refused and Hair ceremoniously removed the bails from the stumps, indicating the game was over.  Pakistan forfeited the right to compete and England had the victory.

It was clearly a diplomatic crisis and frantic negotiations ensued. Hair himself was put under tremendous pressure by the ECB, among others, to reverse his decision.  Why? One can only imagine that the game’s administrators were thinking with their cheque books, and contemplating the lost revenue from a day of cricket that would not now take place.  How small minded is that?  The rules of the game are very clear, and they are sacrosanct.  If a team refuses to play, whatever its motivation and however wronged it feels, it loses the right to compete and the game is awarded to the other side.  Period. End of. One can argue that Hair was possibly acting in a high-handed manner when he accused the Pakistanis of tampering with the ball; and that, had he handled the situation with more sensitivity, the stand-off might never have arisen. The fact remains that once Inzie refused to play, he crossed a line from which there was no return and the umpires had no choice.  It was unprecedented and unforeseeable, but no more so than a bowler taking ten wickets in ten balls to bring a match to a swift conclusion: utterly improbable, but nonetheless possible.

It was disgraceful that for a time, the ICC overturned Hair’s decision and called the match a draw.  I’m glad that common sense has subsequently prevailed and that the original decision to award the match to England has been upheld; but my biggest complaint about the whole sorry affair was the idea that the ECB could seriously contemplate tampering with one of the basic rules of the game, for the sake of a few thousand pounds.  Shame on them.  It was petty and grubby and, more importantly, lost sight of a fundamental and dangerous precedent that might have been created: namely, that if they had had their way and Hair had been forced to change his mind, cricket sides in the future could refuse to play if they disagreed with an umpire’s decision, knowing that the financial implications would take priority over the basic laws of the game.  Shame on them, and credit to Hair for sticking to his guns.top

See?Cultural Vandalism

I mentioned earlier the Romans’ vandalism when they destroyed the city of Carthage in 146 B.C.  The Roman statesman who led the fight against the Carthaginians at that time was Cato the Elder. He was so intent on obliterating Carthage (which admittedly had been a thorn in the side of the Romans for over 100 years) that he ended every speech he made, no matter what the subject, with these words: “Delenda est Carthago”, or “Carthage must be destroyed.” Given that the ECB threaten to emulate the Romans through their appalling disrespect for the English game, its players and its traditions, I suggest that it should be disbanded.  I will therefore henceforth sign off every newsletter with the words “Delenda est ECB.”top

See?On this day:  11th December 1979, India v Pakistan 2nd Test at Delhi

Right, memory lane time.  Last week, we went back to 29 November 1986, when England piled on the runs in Perth but could not force a victory.  I asked you which England wicket keeper scored a hundred for England.  The answer was Jack Richards, who ended up playing only 8 tests for England, never again passing 50 and finally blown away by Ambrose, Walsh and Marshall in 1988.  The Australian legend who took 5 wickets was neither Alan Border, who certainly deserved that title, nor Craig McDermot, who I don’t think did. It was in fact the great Steve Waugh, very early in his career.

30 years ago to the day, India and Pakistan embarked on what turned out to be another draw, at Delhi.  This, though, was an exciting match, in which fortunes swayed one way and then the other throughout the game. Pakistan batted first and recovered from 90 for 4 to score 273.  They then bowled out India for 126, securing a lead of 147. Strongly placed at 209 for 5 in their second innings, they lost their last 5 wickets for only 33 runs, setting India 390 to win, still a formidable target. India, though, batted strongly through the end of the 4th day and into the 5th, and ended up needing just over 100 runs in the final 20 overs.  They had a stab at it, and for a moment the big hitting Kapil Dev might have secured an improbable victory.  But he was out too soon and India finished 36 runs short, with six wickets down.  It was generally felt that had India been a little more adventurous earlier on in the innings, they could have won the game. The trivia for you:  which Pakistan fast bowler took 11 wickets in the match and 8 in India’s first innings; and which Indian batsman scored a century in India’s second innings, almost taking them to victory?

Predictions from the matches currently going on: Pakistan to win against New Zealand in Wellington, sometime on Day 4.  Australia to beat West Indies in Adelaide by between 10 and 7 wickets early on Day 5.  India to win by an innings in Bombay, with Sri Lanka folding against the spinners on Day 4. Meanwhile it has absolutely tipped it down in Durban, so no play has been possible, handing England the One Day Series 2-1.  Roll on the First Test at Pretoria on 16 December.top

Wherever you are, I hope you have an excellent weekend.  Delenda est ECB.

How I Won The Ashes, 1st Newsletter 27 November 2009

December 31, 2009

The Ashes

27 November 2009
Hello and welcome to the first edition of How I Won The Ashes.

As I said, how I actually won the Ashes will be told at some point in the future, but I hope you are curious, because it’s quite a bold claim!
 
Every Friday, I will give all you hard working souls some light relief as you wend your way home and settle down to a nice quiet evening with the weekend ahead of you. Even if your evening is not quiet, it may provide some talking points in pubs and bars.
 
As the name suggests, the subject matter will be cricket.  There aren’t many weeks of the year when something is not happening in the world of cricket and I will be offering some thoughts on current topics and events. In time, I hope you will feed in some of your own views. Naturally I also hope you will forward this to anyone whom you think will enjoy it and encourage them to respond, so they can receive future editions and join in the fun.
 
If you twitter, there may also be occasional postings on http://twitter.com/HowIwontheAshes

Below is what I will be covering this week:

• Click meTest cricket v One Day cricket

• Click meIndia v Sri Lanka, 1st & 2nd Tests at Ahmedabad and Kanpur (and more on Test v One Day cricket)

• Click meAustralia v West Indies, 1st Test at Brisbane

• Click meNew Zealand v Pakistan, 1st Test at Dunedin and thoughts on Daniel Vettori

• Click meSouth Africa v England, ODI at Cape Town

• Click meOn this day: 28 November 1986, Australia v England, 2nd Test at Perth

See?Test cricket v One Day cricket

The theme of this week is test cricket, a welcome return to the long form of the game after several months of the 50 and 20 over formats.  There have been three test matches going on, between India and Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Pakistan and Australia and the West Indies.  India have now comprehensively beaten Sri Lanka in Kanpur, Australia have the upper hand in Brisbane and the final day in Dunedin could go either way.  There’s also the small matter of England playing South Africa in yet another one dayer.  More of that later.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against games that take 3 or 6 hours to be concluded. They can often provide great entertainment.  The first World Cup Final in 1975, the first 20:20 final in 2007 and the first IPL final in 2008 were each cliffhangers which either side could have won until the very end. They gloriously showed that cricket can be the ultimate form of sporting drama, no matter what the format.  The fact that it can take place in a single day makes it, in many spectators’ eyes, even more satisfying.

However, I make no apology for being a traditional fan who believes that test matches are capable of engineering a more subtle and absorbing means of enjoying cricket.  Individual passages of play can be dramas in their own right: a batsman trying to reach a century, or, having done so, staying in until the end of the day; a side trying to achieve a lead or set a defendable target; and ultimately the entry into the final part of the match when either side can win, or, if it is late on the final day, where all four results are conceivably possible.  Or even when only one side can win, but is engaged in a struggle to take the necessary wickets to win the match before time runs out. Two innings matches where the final session begins with the match still on a knife-edge are , of course, very rare; but the build up to such a session can often be as stimulating as the denouement, especially if the two sides are evenly matched and the pitch allows an equally even contest between bat and ball.top

See?India v Sri Lanka, 1st & 2nd Tests at Ahmedabad and Kanpur (and more on Test v One Day cricket)

Which brings me to the first match to kick off the current round of test matches, the bore draw that took place in Ahmedabad last week between India and Sri Lanka.  To recap: India scored 421 in their first innings, only to be surpassed by a mammoth reply of over 750 by Sri Lanka, who went down the route of batting only once and then attempting to win by an innings. But the only winner was the pitch, which gave no help whatsoever to the bowlers, apart from early on the first morning when India found themselves 32 for 4 after only half an hour. From that point on, though, only 17 more wickets fell in the entire match. Seven centuries were scored, including 177 by Dravid and 275 by Jayawardene, India easily batted out the last day without ever having a chance of winning and the only point of interest was whether Sachin Tendulkar would register yet another century.  Once he did so, the two sides agreed there was no point carrying on and as dull a final day of a test match as ever can have taken place ended an hour early.

For now, I am not going to attempt to get into the politics or economics of the global game.  I may do so another time, as there is plenty to say. However, it is a complicated subject and many are better qualified than me to opine, though not necessarily the actual administrators of the game.  It has been alleged by several commentators that the Indian Cricket Board are intent on killing off test match cricket, so dazzled are they by the riches of 20:20 cricket. The thinking is that dull, flat pitches are deliberately prepared  to prove to the watching  public  that the short form of the game is so much more exciting.

The paltry crowd who watched the 1st Test at Ahmedabad could only agree.  However, those who romanticise about the old days when over 100,000 would cram into Eden Gardens in Calcutta or the Wankhede Stadium in Bombay need to remember that most of those spectators had neither televisions nor radios, so the only way they could indulge their inherent passion for cricket was to go to the game itself. Now, though, there is a more even distribution of wealth, cheaper consumer goods and an increasingly sophisticated and commercially astute media. As a result, the short form of the game, with all its scheduling predictability and razmattaz, is much more appealing to broadcasters and spectators alike, especially the younger generation, less wedded to tradition.

It looked like the 2nd Test between India and Sri Lanka was destined to go the same way, when India racked up over 600 on an equally flat pitch where the mystery bowler Ajantha Mendis, Muttiah Muralitharan and the more vanilla Rangana Herath struggled to make any headway.  Ironically it was Herath who took the most wickets of the three.  Not much more than a year ago, Mendis burst on the scene and reduced the fearsome Indian batting line up to quivering wrecks with his freakish assortment of googlies, off breaks, leg breaks, doosras and carom balls.  Admittedly this was on the spicier pitches in Galle and Colombo.  Had it not been for an extraordinary double hundred in Galle by the equally freakish Virender Sehwag, Sri Lanka would have won all three matches of that series. 

Now Mendis appears to be no more than a trundler and the Indian batsmen are scoring freely off him. The inexorable batting of the Indians broke the spirit of the Sri Lankans, who have meekly capitulated in the way they hoped India would in Ahmedabad after so long in the field. One of the key bowlers is not even a spinner, but instead was the fast bowler Sreesanth, who has not played a test match in almost two years.  Taking 6 wickets on a dead pitch (including 5 in the first innings) is arguably a more impressive performance than taking 8 wickets on a fast bowlers’ paradise in Johannesburg to help India to their first ever win in South Africa in December 2006.top

See?Australia v West Indies, 1st Test at Brisbane

Nevertheless, Kanpur was a one-sided, dull affair and hardly an advertisement for test cricket, even if it held the added significance of being India’s 100th test victory. Down in Brisbane, a similarly one-sided affair is taking place between two teams that, unlike India and Sri Lanka, are really not evenly matched.  At the end of day 2, West Indies are 134 for 5, still 346 runs behind Australia’s commanding first innings.  An Australian victory is inevitable, the only question being whether the West Indies have the gumption to take the game into a fourth day. Brisbane is, of course, a phenomenally difficult place for even the best visiting teams to win;  but the current West Indies team, even if it were interested in test cricket, must make the likes of Richards, Lloyd, Holding and Lara pull their hair out with shame.  Riven by strife with their governing body, and seemingly only interested in the one day game, there is a real case for barring the West Indies from test cricket, on the grounds that there is really nothing to be enjoyed by watching them.  Let them stick to the one day game, by all means, where they can be enormously entertaining. But their performances over the last few years show that test cricket is better off without them.  It makes their series win against England earlier this year even more embarrassing, although, to be fair to England, their downfall was caused by one crazy collapse in Kingston and a series of pitches and matches that made Ahmedabad and Kanpur seem spicy and vibrant by comparison.top

See?New Zealand v Pakistan, 1st Test at Dunedin and thoughts on Daniel Vettori

But it needn’t all be doom and gloom for the lovers of test cricket. Down in Dunedin, New Zealand and Pakistan are involved in a thrilling, absorbing game, which either side could yet clinch, unless the weather spoils things on the last day.  Given that this is the earliest ever test match to be played in a New Zealand summer, the equivalent of an April test match in England, rain is a real risk.  This would be a shame, because it has been a see-saw affair, exactly what one wants in a test match, and it deserves an exciting conclusion.

New Zealand did very well to score over 400 in their first innings, having been 211 for 6.  But you are never through the New Zealand innings until you have dismissed Daniel Vettori, and so it proved. As he has done so many times, he dug in and played an outstanding innings, only to be dismissed off the penultimate ball of the second day for 99.  At least he can comfort himself that he already has 4 centuries to his name, unlike Shane Warne, who once scored 99 in a test match but never notched a ton. Vettori is regarded by some as one of the best ever No. 8s, and at the moment he has attained almost god-like status in New Zealand cricket, as a captain, all rounder, selector, coach and administrator.  He has taken over 300 wickets and scored nearly 3,500 runs.  Given that he is only 30, and a spinner, there is a real possibility that he could eclipse the great Sir Richard Hadlee.  He already has more runs, more hundreds and a higher average than Hadlee managed as a batsman.

Later tonight, his skills as a captain and as a bowler will be required.  Pakistan have done well to fight back into the game.  At one point they were 85 for 5 but the Akmal brothers, Umar and Kamran, put on 176 and Pakistan clawed their way back so that New Zealand led by less than 100, when they had threatened to be out of sight at the halfway stage.  Pakistan’s bowlers have now brought them even closer to parity, reducing New Zealand to 147 for 8 (including Vettori) by the end of the fourth day.  However, on a wearing pitch, you’d still make New Zealand marginal favourites on the last day, especially if the last two wickets can muster, say, 20 or 30 more runs, setting Pakistan nearer 300 than 250 to win.  If the weather holds off, it could be very interesting, exactly what test cricket should be like.  Unfortunately for those of us in the UK, we will be fast asleep.top

See?South Africa v England, ODI at Cape Town

So, finally, as I conclude, I see that South Africa have flayed England all around the park at Cape Town in the 3rd One Day International, finishing on 354 for 6.  However, I wouldn’t rule out England making a decent attempt at chasing this down.  South Africa’s bowling has so far lacked conviction, although they will be bolstered by the return of Wayne Parnell; but any of Strauss, Trott, Collingwood, Pietersen or Morgan are capable of playing the big innings that will be necessary.  We’ll find out shortly.

So that’s it for this week.  I hope you found the arguments in favour of test cricket interesting.  There’s been plenty of evidence in favour of both points of view, from Ahmedabad, Brisbane and Dunedin.  In time, I will attempt to analyse the commercial issues and would welcome your views on whether you think test cricket can survive in the long term.top 

See?On this day: 28 November 1986, Australia v England, 2nd Test at Perth

One bit of nostalgia, which I will attempt to repeat each week: I will find an event from down the years that took place on this date and share it with you.  My choice this week is 28th November 1986, the first day of the 2nd Test at Perth between England and Australia on Mike Gatting’s tour, the last time England won in Australia. England batted first and Chris Broad and Bill Athey put on 223 for the first wicket, England racked up almost 600, with Broad making 162, one of 3 centuries he scored on that tour. Unusually for Perth, the match ended up as a draw, with Australia batting strongly and England not being left enough time to bowl them out a second time. 

Two bits of trivia for you to ponder (and I’d be impressed if you don’t look them up, though I obviously can’t stop you): which English wicket keeper also scored a century in that first innings? And which Australian legend took 5 wickets in England’s second innings, one of only 3 occasions he managed this feat?top

Enjoy your weekend. Look out for how New Zealand fare against Pakistan.  If you have Sky and are up late, you might even tune in, if you have nothing better to do.  I hope Sky don’t insist on beaming you into Brisbane, at the exclusion of Dunedin, because that would be a huge waste.