March 10, 2009

England in West Indies, 2008-09

Spin the wheel, captain

Andy Zaltzman

How much of a gambler is Andrew Strauss? The cricket world is about to find out. Will he have the nerve to set West Indies, say, 200 off 70 overs? Will he settle for, say, 240 off 60? Does he truly believe that losing 2-0 is as good (or bad) as losing 1-0? England’s final chips of the series are in the captain’s paw, the roulette wheel is spinning, Strauss is nervously twitching his bow tie, the croupier is looking at him expectantly, and Chris Gayle is puffing on a massive cigar. It has been a grindingly tedious night at the casino, but it could still end in a frenzy of excitement.

Given the state of the pitch, England’s almost Sisyphean struggle to take wickets, the increasing tendency of their best fielders to drop relatively simple catches, and the impressively decreasing tendency of the West Indies to subside at the first available opportunity, Strauss’ decision will probably make little difference – it will require a spell of Taylor-in-Jamaica inspiration from one or more of the English bowlers (most likely Anderson with the new ball, then Panesar with the old), and/or a collective choke of England-in-Jamaica proportions by the West Indian batsmen, as the fishbone of victory lodges in the oesophagus of tangibility. Neither seems likely, but either is possible.

Nevertheless, the skipper’s call will reveal much about his captaincy. Since the Sabina Park capitulation, he has batted admirably and positively, but England have consistently failed to gamble − in their batting order and declaration in Antigua, their selection in Barbados, their field placings (at times), and, arguably, in choosing to bat first in both of the last two tests – perhaps, given the state of the pitch, it could have been worth Strauss’s while to rip the Oval 1998 page from the Arjuna Ranatunga book of captaincy (one of cricket’s jauntier tomes), insert the opposition on a flat pitch, and give his bowlers maximum wicket-taking, limb-resting and conditions-and-umpire-aggravated-frustration-cooling time. Admittedly, England have no Muralitharan, but then again, they also have no Wickremasinghe, so it might have been worth a punt.

Gayle’s claim that West Indies have been trying to win throughout this match must rank as one of international cricket’s most bared-faced fibs, and congratulations to him for managing to make this outlandish statement without breaking down into a giggling fit. It might have been equalled had Douglas Jardine averred at the end of the Bodyline series that he just asked his seamers to hit a tidy line and length, or Ravi Shastri declared in his autobiography that he just wanted to entertain, and damn the consequences. However, it is now more than possible that Gayle and his team, despite doing almost everything in their power to avoid such an eventuality, may find themselves accidentally winning the match (with apologies to the unquenchable fire of Fidel Edwards).

The Confectionery Stall prediction: West Indies to close on 173-6 chasing 224 to win. Roughly. Whatever happens, it will at least give England something to focus on for the rest of the day before noticing that Australia are good again. Really good. And getting better. (And if the two series with South Africa had been counted as one six-match series, it would have been one of the great series of all time.)

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Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

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Posted by Mohit on (March 18, 2009, 10:01 GMT)

Hey Andy, no posts for quite some time? The English team is starting their ODI leg of the Windies tour, what are your predictions? Im looking forward to see how they fit Strauss into the ODI scheme of things considering he will be in the playing 11 as he is the captain Cheers Mohit (twitter.com/mohyt)

Posted by DcyL on (March 18, 2009, 1:26 GMT)

It's been a week since Andy's last post, and still no new article from him... So I feel compelled to write and on behalf of your fans, ask "Andy, where are you? We always look forward to you brightening our days, weeks, months with your hilarious observations interspersed with statistical brilliance on this great game called cricket. We hope that all is well in the world of Zaltzman, and look forward to seeing you back, doing what you do best - bringing smiles to our faces and joy to our lives!"

Posted by Danish on (March 16, 2009, 16:14 GMT)

Adil Rashid has been waiting patiently for his England debut. Now the time is ripe for him to be granted with the honour as England’s woeful winter descends further calling for a fresh and promising change. Especially with such an eventful and anticipated summer around the corner England should have no hesitation to experiment in youth and open the doors for player competition.

Although Adil’s bowling performance in the recent practice match was nothing to write home about surely the threat and mystery of a leg spinner operating overweighs an orthodox off spinner claiming casual figures of 10-0-1-40. To consolidate my point England should plan efficiently for the future rather than focusing on short term replacements. Also Adil can bat and field very well which is factor that has to come into consideration in the limited over’s format.

On the whole he is a unique prospect who’s got the potential to turn the tables on the fate of English cricket. Therefore I recommend the ECB and Andrew Strauss provide him with a worthwhile run in the international arena. So that’s where I stand on the Rashid situation. Yes groove him in ASAP.

Posted by Jk on (March 11, 2009, 23:47 GMT)

"the fishbone of victory lodges in the oesophagus of tangibility" - hilarious! Anyways, coming back to Ravi Shastri, he was quite an attacking player sometimes, although I agree with Andy's overall assessment. I remember an ODI in South Africa (when India toured for the first time) when Ravi smashed Allan Donald and Craig Matthews around to take India to an unlikely ODI win...

Posted by Siddharth Joshi on (March 11, 2009, 20:03 GMT)

I find it ridiculous that for three matches in a row, Englnad followed exactly one pattern. Bat first and score big, but then unable to get the WI out twice and win! What all the 'positive' comments above seem to miss completely, is that England bat far too slow in the first Innings! Crawling at three or less an over and as a result taking almost two full days to score 500, they never had enough time to force results. Australia, India and SA score the same runs in almost half a day less. If this is the pattern England plan to follow in the Ashes, I predict a comprehensive hammering for them! The Aussies look better than ever and will make a meal of an ultra defensive side. England's approach to Test Cricket seems to be still stuck somewhere in the 1970s!

Posted by Sagar on (March 10, 2009, 23:52 GMT)

So, captain did spin the wheel and lost! However england need to send panesar back to county...and try adil to see if he can do better! They need a third seamer to help jimmy and broad. Harmison/Sidebottom need to bowl at each other.

Posted by Anonymous on (March 10, 2009, 19:15 GMT)

nn,n,nljjjjjjjjjjkolllllllllllllllllllllllmbler is Andrew Strauss? The cricket world is about to find out. Will he have the nerve to set West Indies, say, 200 off 70 overs? Will he settle for, say, 240 off 60? Does he truly believe that losing 2-0 is as good (or bad) as losing 1-0? England’s final chips of the series are in the captain’s paw, the roulette wheel is spinning, Strauss is nervously twitching his bow tie, the croupier is looking at him expectantly, and Chris Gayle is puffing on a massive cigar. It has been a grindingly tedious night at the casino, but it could still end in a frenzy of excitement.

Given the state of the pitch, England’s almost Sisyphean struggle to take wickets, the increasing tendency of their best fielders to drop relatively simple catches, and the impressively decreasing tendency of the West Indies to subside at the first available opportunity, Strauss’ decision will probably make little difference – it will require a spell of Taylor-in-Jamaica inspirati

Posted by mohsin raza on (March 10, 2009, 17:06 GMT)

i think england made a good desicion to darw at lunch and keep WI in game. if england want to win the game then WI should remain in the match and it is one of good declrations made by strauss. well done strauss and best of luck for game.may the best playing team won the match

Posted by Kevin on (March 10, 2009, 17:04 GMT)

I think England are going to win because save for the 1 poor performance at Jamaica, they have had a decent series. Even accepting that the West Indies matched England blow for blow, you (or at least I) couldn't help sensing that there was only 1 team really trying for a result after the 1st test. For that effort alone, England deserve a tied series and I hope they get it. :-)

Posted by vinod on (March 10, 2009, 16:46 GMT)

i really do not know why the cricinfo commentators are making a fuss about england declaration. in case england could score 237 in less than 40 overs, why can't west indies score similar number of runs in 65 overs or so and that too on a belter of a track . well surely england would want to draw level in series, but declaring so early (as wished by cricinfo commentators, they started talking around the time when england were about 215 runs ahead) would straight away mean losing series 2-0. i imagine england batting about 4 overs more that would give windies a target of 260 from 60 overs.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. He is currently one half of TimesOnline's hit satirical podcast The Bugle, alongside John Oliver. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on Cricinfo.

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