May 6, 2009

West Indies in England, 2009

KP will bounce back. He has to...

Andy Zaltzman
Ravi Bopara square-drives during the first session of the summer at Lord's, England v West Indies, 1st Test, Lord's, May 6, 2009
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Let Battle Commence. Briefly. For a couple of weeks. And then let it commence again two months later. After literally weeks of waiting, England’s Ashes Test summer has begun − nine weeks, two Tests, a one-day series and a Twenty20 World Cup before the actual Ashes. The tension has proved too much for the Lord’s crowd, who have mostly not turned up. Either the cricket-watching public is pacing itself to avoid the risk of burnout in a long and demanding summer schedule, or it looked at the ticket prices, remembered what the weather in England in May is usually like, checked how the credit crunch is going, weighed up the pros and cons of watching Nash bowl to Cook, and decided to feed their families instead.

It seems that England (or at least large parts of the English media) have been building up to this summer’s showdown with their oldest enemy since approximately 13th September 2005. Perhaps they have been focusing so hard on it that they have at times appeared to ignore most other matches, series and tournaments in between, including the 2006-07 rematch in Australia (which, according to the internet, did happen, although for the life of me I cannot recall it, and remain convinced it was a hoax – the alleged 5-0 scoreline seems wildly implausible).

Despite this, England began the penultimate Test before the Ashes with a new-look team, including four players making their home debut, and only two remaining from the XI that played the first four Tests in 2005. England are thus likely to take on Australia with a team largely unencumbered by the scars of that victory. No-one will accuse England of being overprepared come July. (Australia could easily begin the series with only three of the players rumoured to have participated in the 2006-07 whitewash, so the message seems to be that winning the Ashes spells the end of your international career. Be warned, ambitious players. Success will be the seeds of your destruction.)

England badly need to win this microseries against West Indies, and to achieve this, their bowlers must rediscover the elusive feeling of bowling teams out twice. Recent history suggests Lord’s is not the best ground for them to attempt to do this. Pitches have tended towards increasing tedium over the course of a game, frustrating bowlers and spectators, and slightly devaluing the once-rare currency of the heroic rearguard.

As I began writing this blog (at the lunch interval of Day 1), they had made a decent start, and the match seemed to be repeating the pattern of the last three Tests in the Caribbean – a steady but undominant, unexplosive start by England’s batsmen in the face of some fairly low-intensity cricket by West Indies, on a pitch that offers the tantalising prospect of a high-scoring draw.

Chris Gayle chose to put them into bat, for two main reasons. One: why change his successful drawing formula from the Caribbean series? And two: to double his acclimatisation time before having to bat. It’s always nice to stretch your legs after a long flight, and what better way to do so than spending a couple of days standing at slip on the hallowed Lord’s turf? All good travel agents recommend it.

Gayle’s plan now looks in danger of being scuppered by one of his own players. Fidel Edwards, heroically but mostly unrewardedly thunderous for most of the series in West Indies, has just blasted out Cook and Pietersen in two balls, and suddenly the match looks far more interesting. Edwards, one of cricket’s most exciting bowlers, deserves more luck and fairer wickets.

Before those wickets fell, I had been in the process of confidently predicting that Pietersen would smash a brilliant century, based on the premise that his stint in the IPL had, contrary to popular opinion, provided him the perfect preparation for this Test. England’s key batsman appears to have played himself completely out of form, and did little to justify his bulging wage packet. My theory is that Pietersen is seldom more dangerous than when he has a point to prove – and is therefore almost certain to smash a brilliant century. If I may qualify my thesis slightly in the light of recent events, Pietersen is seldom more dangerous than when he has a point to prove, except when he still has a point to prove but has just been out first ball. And I’m sure if he had not been out first ball, or subsequently, he would have scored a brilliant hundred. My point therefore stands.

We will now see if Collingwood’s preparation for the Test – a paid holiday watching the IPL and making some new friends – can set a new template for success. If he scores a hundred, perhaps the ECB will consider forcing all England players to become non-playing members of Indian franchises. In which case, we can confidently look forward to newly stratospheric standards in county cricket as players strive even more desperately for international recognition. (Last-minute update: Collingwood out for 8. Bad news for would-be England cricketers. Hundreds of schoolboys abandon their dreams of playing international cricket. I owe Chris Gayle and his toss-winning decision-making an apology.)

The (revised) Confectionery Stall prediction for the Lord’s Test: Pietersen to bounce back from his first-innings blob with a brilliant, point-proving century.

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

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Posted by Dim Rat on (May 8, 2009, 13:40 GMT)

looks like KP wont need to bat again in this match! let alone score a hundred i think England would have had better Ashes preparation if the original Zimbabwe tour went ahead instead of this pathetic West Indian side!

Posted by Matt Fallaize on (May 8, 2009, 0:40 GMT)

Now that's satire.

Posted by notaniplfan.com on (May 7, 2009, 14:07 GMT)

nothing related to this blog but do you have statistics of number of catches dropped, misfielding, comical runouts in the IPL.The quality of cricket is really gone down and these are the number that should be highlighted instead of whos getting richer by how much

Posted by CRICKET EXPERT on (May 7, 2009, 12:49 GMT)

PEITERSEN IS A HYPOCRITE. HE WAS TOO TIRED TO GO TO WEST INDIES BUT IT IS OK FOR HIM TO GO TO IPL STRAIGHT AFTER???

Posted by Raza on (May 7, 2009, 12:19 GMT)

No doubt if few more selections goes to RB's way he would def become the right contestant to fit in the shoes of Naseer Hussain . As far as KP is concerned that man has had so many chances and its time for him to either perform or step back and give a chance to a youngster.

Posted by Harsh on (May 7, 2009, 11:58 GMT)

Well, If KP and Gayle are under-prepared because of IPL, what explanation do you give for Bopara's century and Edwards 4 for? Didnt they play in IPL too? Stop blaming IPL for everything. Will you tell Lampard or Gerrard to stop playing 80 games per season for their clubs and rather concentrate on their England Career? I am a huge fan of test and one-day cricket but i would rather watch Sachin face Kumble, Sanath face Murali or Gilly/hayden face Warne.

Posted by Kris on (May 7, 2009, 11:15 GMT)

KP is a lot of froth. It is disappointing to see how a few seasons ago, we all thought that he was world class. He is a selfish person who is using the game for his own benefit without contributing to it. Given the way English cricket operates, he will remain a hangover on the current team, so much that the team itself stands as the best example of over rated under achievers.

Posted by Seth on (May 7, 2009, 10:29 GMT)

I am happy that Ravi Bopara used the opportunity to prove himself. This hundred of his should have rung bells within Bell and Vaughan. If Ravi proves to be consistent then the selectors will have tough choice when it comes for the No.3 spot.

Posted by Ravi Kumar on (May 7, 2009, 7:43 GMT)

Two things are getting a bit tiring now that England are playing a test match:

1. Gayle's late arrival for the series - everyone from Andrew (Strauss) to Zaltzman has a view on it. It seems to have affected the England team more than it did Gayle.

2. The Ashes: Agreed, Australia are not looking as strong as they did in 2007, but England are worse. But considering that England and its fans, and writers have, have been building up for this since the last Ashes, and given England's "form", the noise levels might yet be disproportionately high for what may yet prove to be a damp squib.

Posted by krishna M Gurung on (May 7, 2009, 7:14 GMT)

i think strauss's english team must have thought their batsman will dominate the 1st test but only Bopara was the pure lucky batsman. Gayle will now try to draw the lord's match which is badluck venue for england.Inform player is that which themshelves try to adjust in any form of the game.

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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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