NOVEMBER 23, 2014

English cricket

A battle for English club survival

ESPNcricinfo staff

Last week's figures about the decline in participation in English club cricket set alarm bells ringing although they were only confirmation of what many had been saying for years. The ECB has promised to take action to reverse the decline, but for some clubs - often with rich histories dating back decades - it may already be too late. In the Sunday Telegraph, Nick Hoult looks at the stories of various village and town sides that have hit hard times and speaks to those trying to balance the books and keep a vital part of the game alive.

Close geographically to Thixendale but a world away in terms of cricket is the Lancashire League, which once could rival county cricket for crowds and star overseas players. Now many clubs are faced with big debts and the days of signing overseas stars such as Allan Donald (Rishton), Learie Constantine (Nelson) and a young Shane Warne (Accrington) are long gone.
"It is in the league's rules that you have to sign an overseas player but you have to pay them a salary of over £5,000 for the summer, an air fare, you can't get car insurance for the summer for less than £1,500 and then you have their accommodation costs. Overall it is about £10,000 which could easily pay for three level three coaches doing 100 sessions a year with the kids," Michael Brown, the chairman of Burnley Cricket Club, said.

OCTOBER 09, 2014

England cricket

Will ECB take control of the Pietersen mess?

Kevin Pietersen's book has thrown up some damning claims against the England team. He has alleged that Andy Flower ruled by fear and that there was a clique of senior players who practiced in bullying. While Greame Swann has called KP the autobiography a "work of fiction", Pietersen has not been short of support either, especially on twitter. The situation is degenerating fast, but would the ECB take control of it soon? Ted Corbett, in his blog, thinks not

In the third of my life devoted to studying the habits of the men who control this game I long ago ceased to expect quick and decisive action. Frankly, they are responsible for the mess that is the England dressing room but I do not think they will either summon KP for talks, listen to what he has to say and then make the urgent changes that are needed. Urgent! Bah! A snail will win the Derby long before the ECB will get off their underworked backsides and lead the way to a better world.

SEPTEMBER 18, 2014

English cricket

Root, Ballance and the Idle days

In an extensive interview with BBC Sport, Joe Root and Gary Ballance reminisce about their early years in Yorkshire's cricket set-up and the time they spent as house-mates in a village called Idle. Root, a practical joker according to Ballance, recalls an incident involving Ryan Sidebottom and a sock that paid a quirky tribute to the legend of the Yorkshire Snipper.

Root grins knowingly, then adds: "The worst one was when I did it to (veteran fast bowler) Ryan Sidebottom after dropping two catches off him. At the end of the day's play he was sitting next to me in the dressing-room and was already absolutely furious.
"Then he got out of the shower, pulled his first sock on right up to the top of his thigh and just blew up. All the lads were trying not to look at him and laugh. I just knew I had to get out of there or I would be in a bit of pain."

JULY 21, 2014

India in England 2014

'Ravindra played like a Jadeja'

Ravindra Jadeja has been associated more with controversy than with meaningful contributions on the field on this tour to England. Lord's welcomed him with boos, but he hardly cared. He hardly cared his form was poor, he hardly cared that James Anderson had the new ball to vent his frustration. Jadeja sent England on a leather hunt and Sandeep Dwivedi, in Indian Express, says his innings epitomised his personality.

England had tried to wind up Jadeja but it hadn't worked. Had they checked with someone in the Saurashtra dressing room, they would have known that instigating Ravindra, or any other Jadeja, a community of warriors and rulers, is always counter-productive. His coach from school days in Jamnagar, Mahendrasinh Chauhan, had once spoken about this 'Jadeja mindset'. "Ravindra plays like a Jadeja. We are a very proud community and have a certain ego."

Matt Prior has had a torrid time behind the stumps in the Tests against India, conceding the equal most byes by an England wicketkeeper in a home Test since 1934 at Lord's. He hasn't been in form as a batsman, either. Osman Samiuddin, in his column for the National, sympathises with Prior and says that his lack of wicketkeeping form could be eating into his confidence as a batsman.

When they are not looking so lonely and miserable, we look at modern wicketkeepers as blessed, because they are now all-rounders. If they do have a bad day with the gloves, they can always better it with the bat.

On his good days, Prior was a handy batting enforcer, his momentum-changing capabilities outshining his glovework. Now though, even that has gone.

APRIL 05, 2014

England cricket

Rejigged county schedule to England's rescue?

The England Cricket Board will implement the findings of it's own survey conducted regarding the schedule of county cricket this season. T20s will form Friday evening entertainment, a bulk of the first-class matches shall begin on Sundays now and the action would start in early April. Mike Selvey, in the Guardian, believes the changes will serve well in preparing the national side for the summer ahead.

This was the time of year when county players, on six-month contracts, returned from whatever winter employment (or, too often, unemployment) had brought them. A week's "training" perhaps, which would barely count as a warm-up these days, followed by nets, a university fixture maybe, or practice matches against another county, and then the first championship match of the summer right at the end of April. A personal check tells that in 13 seasons only five of my championship matches began in April, and none started earlier than the 28th of the month.

Now, the first matches begin (rain, of course, is forecast) and almost half of the championship will have been played by the time the team for the first Test against Sri Lanka is picked.

MARCH 21, 2014

England cricket

KP for England captain?

The ECB have closed the book on Kevin Pietersen and have been urging the English fans to bid farewell to the talismanic batsman. Ted Corbett, writing in the Hindu, prefers to walk to a different tune and offers examples of previous comebacks from improbable circumstances

I would be happy to see Pietersen walking out to bat for England again -- say in the first Test against India -- and it would also give me pleasure to hear that he had been made captain once again. When Geoff Boycott stepped down from his England spot there were many who thought that at 36 he would not play for England again. Eventually Alec Bedser, chairman of selectors, saw that if England was to be great again Boycott had to return and made it his business to negotiate a way back.

MARCH 04, 2014

England news

Westfield speaks out

Mervyn Westfield went from county cricketer to criminal after being caught up in spot-fixing while playing for Essex. He has spent time behind bars, but is now rebuilding his life by warning others of the dangers of being sucked into a murky world. He will also resume playing cricket this season, at club level in Essex, and is not feeling sorry for himself. In his first significant interview, he speaks to the BBC's Joe Wilson.

He never spent the money and didn't even carry out the spot-fix correctly, but the stark fact is he took £6,000 to deliberately bowl badly. It was a decision which eventually left him in one of Europe's most secure prisons. At Belmarsh, he learned how to live alongside murderers and exist on 10 minutes of outdoor activity a day. "Whatever punishment they gave to me, I had to take it," he said. "I did wrong and got punished for it. I've just got to accept it.''

JANUARY 09, 2014

The Ashes 2013-14

Give Flower all the power

Andy Flower likes to tap into the knowledge of other sports, and their coaches, as he decides on the best way to go about his job. That job has now become very tough in the wake of the Ashes whitewash and there are suggestions he will walk if he doesn't get his way over Kevin Pietersen. Sir Clive Woodward, who guided England to the 2003 Rugby World Cup, writing in the Daily Mail, provides an view from outside the cricket world about how the ECB need to go about rebuilding.

No matter the sport, the head coach must be the only man who is unequivocally in charge, yet even Flower's job title of 'team director' muddies everything. In our national set-ups both in cricket and rugby, too many key decisions are being made by committee. That in turn leads to popularity contests and allows compromise to come into play. When things go wrong reports are commissioned -- the 2006-07 Ashes whitewash sparked the Schofield report -- but nobody fronts up to take the blame.

JANUARY 06, 2014

The Ashes 2013-14

The worst implosion ever?

The UK media are picking through the bones of England's Ashes skeleton, partly trying to work out where it all went wrong and partly assessing where it ranks among sporting thrashings. Paul Hayward, in the Daily Telegraph, argues the 5-0 whitewash has to rank at the top of English humiliations given that they came off the back of winning 3-0 just a few months ago.

This time, after a reasonable first day of the series in Brisbane we saw England assailed by technical, intellectual and emotional chaos, with no one able to stop it. Recent Ashes history makes no sense. The swing from the summer is too great for us properly to comprehend because it takes us beyond mere sporting factors into a vast realm of psychology, team spirit and character. Flintoff has spoken of his depression on the 2006-07 tour. One wonders at the private thoughts of captain Cook and his men now and how they will suffer with the results from these five Tests slung permanently around their necks.

In the Daily Mail, Paul Newman writes that the rebuilding for 2015 - the next Ashes - has to start now and that five players who appeared in this series should never play for England again

The senior players have let England down. Graeme Swann will be the hardest to replace. Jonathan Trott will have to convince England that he is well enough not to leave a tour again if he is to come back but Matt Prior will return, possibly as early as the first Test of next summer. But there will be those who should never play Test cricket again after this -- Monty Panesar, Tim Bresnan, Chris Tremlett, Michael Carberry and Jonny Bairstow.

In the Guardian, Vic Marks assess the performances of Boyd Rankin and Michael Carberry on the third (and last) day in Sydney

We have seen plenty of Carberry already on this tour. He has impressed by his swift-footed valour against Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris at the start of the innings. Then, so often he would stagnate. Perhaps he felt he was doing his duty as wickets fell at the other end. Then he would be dismissed, a victim of his own inertia.

In his column for the Daily Telegraph, which was also published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Geoffrey Boycott does not think England will take the tough decisions that are needed.

Over recent years England have employed more backroom staff believing it makes them more professional. In fact, they have over-complicated professionalism. We have coaches for everything. Psychologists, team analysts and an 82 page diet book that made us a laughing stock. It is time they got into the real world and stopped wasting money on frivolous luxuries that do not make any difference when Mitchell Johnson is whistling it around your earhole. The players have stopped thinking for themselves.

DECEMBER 18, 2013

Where now for England?

The post-mortem into England's Ashes drubbing is well underway both within the team and the media. Build for the future? Try and win the next two Tests? Time to drop some senior players? What is Andy Flower's future. All issues up for debate. In the Guardian, Mike Selvey says that while wholesale changes are not the answer now is the time to start planning for the next Ashes in 2015.

Flower will need to make a rapid assessment of which players he believes will be around and in a position to form the nucleus of the squad in 2015. These might include, from the Perth XI Cook, Joe Root, Ian Bell, Stokes, and Stuart Broad, perhaps with the addition of Anderson still, and Bresnan. Michael Carberry probably not. How Kevin Pietersen fits into this is hard to gauge but if his ambition is still there then so should he be.

Andy Bull, in his Spin column, reflects on the similarities with 2006-07 both on the field and in terms of some of the over-reaction

Then, as now, England did not know their best XI when they arrived in Australia but then, given the injuries they had suffered, they had more excuse for the confusion. Now, as then, they made mistakes with their selections, although none so grievous as the decision to leave out Panesar and pick Giles. Picking three tall fast bowlers, Boyd Rankin, Chris Tremlett and Steven Finn, could yet become as infamous a decision, unless in the last two Tests the trio combine for more than the four wickets Tremlett has taken so far. Do that, though, and the question will be why, one game aside, one or the other or the third did not play when the series was still at stake.

Over in the Daily Mail, Martin Samuels says the England set-up need to take a hard look at themselves but also need to take leaf out of Australia's book and not pension off too many players just yet

Meanwhile, across the corridor, the inquest began. Whither Alastair Cook and Andy Flower, Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior, James Anderson and Graeme Swann. It was the end of an era of English domination in this finest of sporting contests, and some will argue the end of England, too. Certainly, this England. Yet what if Australia had thought the same way? What if men like Siddle, Haddin and Watson had been discarded in disgust, too, at some point in their sorry trot. It is not as if the margins of defeat were tiny in what English cricket may come to regard as the good old days: 197 runs to lose the 2009 series, an innings and 71, an innings and 157, an innings and 83 on the 2010-11 tour, 347 runs at Lord's last summer. Australia, your boys took one hell of a beating.

Plenty of people are having their say on England's position, including the Daily Telegraph's political correspondent Peter Oborne who says Alastair Cook must go.

Alastair Cook should step down as skipper. It's clear after England's dreadful and humiliating performance that he is not suited for the captaincy. Anybody listening to his media interviews over the last few weeks can tell that he lacks leadership qualities. More importantly, Cook has lost form dreadfully since becoming captain, and this matters. Cook is probably England's best batsman since Peter May 60 years ago. If he had not been captain it is almost certain that Cook would have put it the big scores that would have saved us from defeat. The England team desperately needs Cook's batting.

NOVEMBER 18, 2013

The Ashes 2013-14

England a fading force

The resumption of Ashes cricket is drawing nearer and there is a sense of a change in mood: England standing as clear favourites has been eroded somewhat by their tricky build-up and the form of many of the Australia squad. In the Sunday Telegraph, Scyld Berry says that England's batsmen, with the exception of Ian Bell, are beginning to fade which sets up the prospect of a shared series.

Some Australians, emboldened by signs their team have bottomed out, are predicting 3-1 - conceivable, if injury strikes a major England player. For instance, if Alastair Cook broke a finger and Matt Prior had to take over as captain; or if Kevin Pietersen's knees give way again and England lose their capacity to score quickly and give their bowlers extra time; or if James Anderson, heaven forfend, proved mortal at last.

Many England supporters are predicting 3-1 in their favour which, again, is possible if injury intervenes. Australia's batting would be lost without Michael Clarke, whose back ruled him out of the Champions Trophy last summer. Or if Ryan Harris, their attack leader, is injured - and he has managed only 16 Tests in his 34 years - they are down to the reserves of Ben Hilfenhaus and the uncapped Nathan Coulter-Nile.

Michael Vaughan, in his Daily Telegraph column, argues that both Alastair Cook and Michael Clarke have work to do on their captaincy - Clarke needs to win a few Tests and Cook needs to come out of his shell

I will be interested to see Cook in the field in Australia because I think he will have been damaged by what Warne has said. The environment in this England team is to try and improve every day and that means you also have to be open to feedback. If I were Cook and Andy Flower I would be saying: "OK, some of Warney's stuff has been out of order but we could be more proactive and aggressive in the field."

The Brisbane Test will mark the 100th of Kevin Pietersen's England career, a period of time studded with breathtaking batting and a fair few controversies. In the Observer, Vic Marks says that the landmark shows how durable Pietersen has been

Now Pietersen is in the autumn of his career. The body is creaking. When he sets off for that first single it is not only the non-striker who looks on with trepidation; so does the physiotherapist. Often it takes longer for him to acclimatise at the crease. Yet to the Australians he surely remains the most coveted of England wickets in this series.

And in the Daily Mail, current and former team-mates discuss Pietersen's impact

OCTOBER 19, 2013

England news

ECB pick a diamond for a managing director

Simon Hughes in the Telegraph lauds the ECB's decision to appoint former England wicketkeeper Paul Downton as the board's managing director, stating that the latter is more than capable of rising to the challenges of his new job.

Behind the benign facade was a determination and a commitment to succeed and a total dedication to the team. He does not possess an iota of selfishness, and willingly took on the most demanding role both for Middlesex and subsequently for England, keeping wicket, cheerleading and batting in the middle order. He made the most of his ability. Many times having laboured for hours behind the stumps against the all-conquering West Indies, he went in to face the full wrath of their fearsome pace attack when the chips were down and stabilised the innings. He was a human pacifier.

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