NOVEMBER 26, 2014

Australian cricket

After Hughes, batsmen will feel in a world of danger

The sickening injury suffered by Phillip Hughes in a Sheffield Shield match on Tuesday sent shockwaves through the cricket world. In the Australian, Peter Lalor writes that Hughes is one of the most well-liked figures in Australian cricket.

Four weeks ago we chatted in the UAE after the first Test. Alex Doolan looked an unlikely selection for the next match and I suggested to Hughes he was a fair chance to replace him. He wouldn't have a bar of it. It annoyed him that anyone would question Doolan's place in the side. He didn't want to get into the team if it was on those terms. "I've been treated like that too many times myself to want to see anybody else get dropped in these circumstances," he said. And "Dools is my mate" he added.

Malcolm Knox in the Sydney Morning Herald notes that the machismo of elite sport can mask the ever-present dangers faced by cricketers.

What we never see are the professional batsman's everyday bruises, the welts and grazes and cuts and deep purple contusions. Because nobody outside the changing room witnesses what happens to an average batsman's body on an average day facing fast bowling, the spectator might forget what a cricket ball can do ... Retired cricketers in commentary booths turn fear into funny stories, so that you would never know how often they were shaking to their bones.

In the Telegraph, Michael Vaughan writes that the incident will worry batsmen the world over.

Phil Hughes' injuries will send shivers through cricket - batsmen will now feel that while they are out in the middle they are in a world that is full of danger with the risk of serious injury. I enjoyed facing fast bowlers but there is always a fear factor. The truth is, with all the equipment and protection we have nowadays I never felt that anything drastic like what happened to Hughes on Tuesday could happen to me. The nerves and energy were generally geared towards your wicket. You just did not want to get out.

Writing for the Guardian, Mike Selvey considers the role that helmets have to play in modern cricket.

Helmets, for all their necessity, have made batsmen think differently. Now they are inclined to pull and hook regardless, push forward rather than play back, and for many of those who do not, the default reaction when the ball is dug in is to duck first and turn the head away rather than watch. It is a kind of complacency. What has happened to Phil Hughes might just sober them up.

NOVEMBER 24, 2014

Indian cricket

A peek at Pujara's process

Cheteshwar Pujara has had an eventful 2014. South Africa was good to him, New Zealand was colder with its reception, England was worse and now Australia beckons. He spoke with Adiya Iyer of Indian Express about statistics, his mindset and a bizarre dismissal when he was playing English county cricket - he was out handling the ball.

I am motivated by criticism, to be honest. I'm never hurt by it. Because I was taught very early in life that failure teaches you more than success ever can. So when I am not scoring runs, I am expecting criticism because I have already criticised myself for it. The idea is to challenge yourself before anybody else has an opportunity to. This is why nobody had to coax me to get a county stint in Derbyshire. I knew there was a problem and had already made up my mind to find solutions.

NOVEMBER 23, 2014

English cricket

A battle for English club survival

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.

NOVEMBER 23, 2014

Australia news

Crowds must be encouraged at any cost

In the Sydney Morning Herald, Tim Lane states that the empty stands at venues during the Australia-South Africa series are a jolting reminder of how times have changed. He urges administrators to encourage more spectators at the ground, given that gate money is now a minor component of revenue in the sport.

Cricket Australia keeps telling us "but the television numbers are great". And this may be so. But we don't want the soul-less look of big cricket games in empty stadiums here that we see in too many other cricket nations. Tickets should be dirt cheap if that's what it takes. After all, gate money is now a minor component of overall revenue. Crowds must be encouraged at any cost.

NOVEMBER 23, 2014

Indian cricket

'I am not the next Kapil Dev'

Bhuvneshwar Kumar opens up to Jonathan Selvaraj of the Indian Express about his style of bowling, winning the Polly Umrigar award, and India's upcoming tour of Australia.

In the poker game between bat and ball, Bhuvneshwar knows he isn't the only one who can count his opponents cards. "Batsmen know that I swing the ball both ways so they will be ready for that. My goal is to delay what they think I am going to do until the last moment," he says. That, however, is something that doesn't usually happen. "The batsman isn't a fool. He knows what I am thinking. He will consciously plan not to get out in that manner. If he does get out, he usually gets out some other way because that's not where his focus is. So if the plan is to get a batsman out caught behind, I will probably only get him out that way around 20 percent of the time," he says.

NOVEMBER 22, 2014

Australia cricket

A cricketer from Flinders Island

Flinders Island is located in the Bass Strait, between Tasmania and the mainland of Australia. It has no organised sport, and yet in the not-so-distant future it could have its first first-class cricketer. Writing in the Age, Peter Hanlon tells Ryan Lees' story.

He played in the first XI in his last three years of school, improving from medium pacer to genuine fast bowler, and relished testing himself against good opposition after a mate encouraged him to play in the Imparja Cup in Alice Springs. Lees is a seventh-generation Flinders Islander, indigenous through his father's side of the family. He describes his Aboriginality as "very important ... a big part of my life". Jason Lees doesn't ponder it often, noting that many Straitsmen generations back had Aboriginal wives. "We've just always classed ourselves as islanders and got on with everyone really."

NOVEMBER 21, 2014

West Indies cricket

Lara's outback adventures

In an interview with Andrew Webster of the Sydney Morning Herald, Brian Lara recalls his earliest memories of cricket and the aggressive on-field encounters he had with the Australian side. While he refuses to name specific players, he admits that handling Glenn McGrath was particularly difficult.

"Yes, I can identify [Glenn] McGrath as being my nemesis. He got me out however many times. Shane Warne, Jason Gillespie, Steve Waugh, Ian Healy, Adam Gilchrist … None of them let up. I think I have a lot of respect for their teamwork. I was envious to see how they operated as a team and how they demolished teams I was involved with. It would be wrong to single out any player."

NOVEMBER 19, 2014

New Zealand cricket

The end of the road for Ryder?

Any chance of Jesse Ryder making a last-ditch claim to be in New Zealand's World Cup squad has all-but ended after his withdrawal from the A-team's tour of UAE due to "personal reasons". It is the latest chapter in the controversial, troubled and occasionally thrilling career of Ryder whose recent form in English and New Zealand domestic cricket had increased the talk of a potential recall. In the Dominion Post, Mark Geenty says that this latest development is little surprise and NZC should have seen it coming.

Not many people know Ryder well but those who do saw his Friday drinking and Saturday no-show at Dunedin airport coming a mile off. He was five days out from leaving for Dubai with New Zealand A in a trial run for selection in the World Cup 30. The spotlight was intensifying. He gave a half-hearted press conference in Hamilton three weeks ago which hardly suggested a man desperate to play on the biggest stage of all.

NOVEMBER 18, 2014

England cricket

'Everyone was dreading KP's book'

In an interview with Paul Newman for the Daily Mail, former England captain Andrew Strauss opens up about the fallout from the revelations made in Kevin Pietersen's much-hyped autobiography, calling Pietersen a "c***" on air, Textgate, and England's preparation for the World Cup.

'They don't have any excuses and the World Cup gives England a great opportunity in one part of the world where we should do pretty well in one-day cricket. But having lost a lot of one-day games recently they have to turn that around quickly. They can't say they're using Sri Lanka as a building process. They need to win there and win well. I look at the side and think it's a decent one. There's a lot of talk about England being too stodgy and slow but that's not about having the wrong tactics, it's about not delivering on them. England have been fearful and not playing the type of one-day cricket they need to, probably because they've been lacking in confidence.

NOVEMBER 18, 2014

The World Cup

Debunking a 10-team World Cup

Andrew Nixon, writing for Cricket Europe, debunks the arguments made in favour of a 10-team cricket World Cup.

With a group of 10 with four teams progressing, it's possible to have as many as 15 "dead rubber" matches. Does that sound exciting? There's a reason no other sport has a World Cup with that sort of format. What makes a tournament exciting is when as many matches as possible are "must win" games for one or both teams in a match. The best way to do that would be a knockout tournament, though that treats slow starters a little unfairly. The previously mentioned four groups of four followed by knockout is a good balance between providing a high number of "must win" games and allowing teams to come back after an early defeat.

NOVEMBER 14, 2014

Touring

The perfect tourists

Cricketers spend a huge amount of time away from home and England are just about to embark on their overseas trips as they head to Sri Lanka for the one-day series, which is followed by a long stay in Australia and New Zealand for the world and then a West Indies tour. That's many nights in the same dressing room and same hotels as each other. In the Daily Telegraph, the former England captain Michael Vaughan picks his ideal touring team - and the criteria are far from based on just runs and wickets

Mark Butcher: You need a musician on tour who can sit at the back of the bus and sing a song when you have been hammered in a day's play. It just releases the pressure on everyone. As a player Butch liked a fag and a drink. He loved a night out and I always thought he was in the wrong profession because cricket seemed to get in the way of his rock and roll lifestyle.

NOVEMBER 09, 2014

Indian cricket

Amre's journey from player to coach

Even though Pravin Amre played only 11 Test for India, he has been in the news for a couple of years now for coaching some top Indian batsmen. Derek Abraham of DNA talks to Amre about his coaching methods, how he has handled different batsmen in different ways, and his own career over the years.

Amre spent three years watching videos, studying bio-mechanics, reading and devising papers and presentations. "There are three aspects to a players' game: physical shape, mental shape and skills. Most players have two boxes ticked. A coach's job is to ensure a player gets everything right," Amre says.

When Amre decided to take up Project Uthappa, he changed "everything" from the batsman's stance and grip to back-lift and head position. And he also cautioned his ward that, initially, his performances would suffer. "Are you ready to go down and then up," Amre told Uthappa. He was referring to the career graph that would witness a dip after so many fundamental changes. "Sir, I have tried everything. This is it. Now, I want you to take me to the next level," Uthappa conceded.

NOVEMBER 09, 2014

Indian cricket

Rohit Sharma's thoughts behind his strokes

Rohit Sharma, considered one of the most flamboyant Indian batsman currently, opens up to Bharat Sundaresan and Devendra Pandey of the Indian Express about his favourite strokes, the ones that instil confidence in him early on in an innings, how to adjust according to different pitches, and much more.

The backfoot punch through cover point. If I play that shot then I feel like everything is there. It's all about position -- if I connect with one then I feel like my head, my fingers, my hands, my elbow, my feet, everything is in place. I'd say I'm desperate, initially, to play that shot. If I get that shot out, say in the first two overs, I feel really confident. It's comparatively easier to play one between covers and mid-off but a backfoot punch between cover and point isn't easy at all.

NOVEMBER 07, 2014

England cricket

Five things from KP's autobiography

In his blog for the Australian, Gideon Haigh lists down the five main things he derived from Kevin Pietersen's autobiography, even though the book has been thoroughly reviewed, he says. They include the IPL, his press conferences, KP's inner voice of insecurity, and much more.

The most engrossing sections of KP have received no attention at all, as they concern neither Andy Flower nor IPL and are not readily reducible to a tweet. They concern the interior 'voice' of insecurity that Pietersen says he has never stopped hearing.

The position of Strauss, a new captain dealing with a controversial predecessor, anxious about perceptions, striving to be even-handed, is never considered. In Pietersen's febrile imagination, it could only have been an act of spite, and his gorge rose not just at receiving no for an answer, but from knowing he had to accept it. For the moment. Because on February 6 2009, during the First Test in Kingston, he was sold in the IPL auction for $1.55 million. And it was then, one suspects, he began to think that no was not an answer he would need to accept indefinitely.

NOVEMBER 06, 2014

Indian cricket

The hubris of cricket gods

Greg Chappell's pride and self-confidence ultimately did not bode well with the senior players in the Indian team, writes Ajaz Ashraf for Firstpost.

Those who haven't experienced failure and its debilitating impact on a person can scarcely have empathy for the less gifted. From our experiences we learn the methods of harnessing fate to our ambitions and dreams. Since Chappell didn't know failure, he couldn't have experienced the crippling fear accompanying it. And he couldn't have mustered empathy for the struggling Indian players because his own successful career ensured this emotion did not mature in him.

NOVEMBER 04, 2014

Fast bowling

The joy of pace

From Dennis Lillee going up against Viv Richards, to Mitchell Johnson destroying a bewildered England line-up, Russell Jackson of the Guardian lists his six favourite fast-bowling spells in cricket.

This was the game in which Lillee, enraged at watching his team-mates plummet from 50-1 to a paltry total of 77, responded to captain Rod Marsh's innings break instructions that Queensland should be made to fight for their victory by barking, "Make 'em fight for it, be buggered. We're going to beat these bastards." Western Australia coach Daryl Foster said he'd never seen Lillee so angry.

NOVEMBER 04, 2014

Pakistan v Australia 2014-15

Asia brings Australia down to earth

Russell Jackson writes in the Guardian how Australia have failed to learn their lesson from their previous trips to Asia, particularly their disastrous tour of India in 2013 where they were swept 4-0.

This series prompts another uncomfortable question: how best do the various academies, finishing schools, pathways and centres of excellence best prepare young batsmen for encounters such as the two Tests of this trip? Last week former national selector Jamie Cox mooted the introduction of Indian-style pitches using imported soil, but their utility would be questionable if Australia doesn't also produce the types of slow bowlers capable of giving batsmen that genuine subcontinental experience. Forget pitches, Cricket Australia would be better off importing net bowlers and in wholesale quantities.

In the same paper, Barney Ronay believes that while Australia's failings deserve to be dissected, it should not take away from Pakistan what was a celebration of high Test craft.

Mainly, though, it is a wonderful achievement by this group of Pakistan players under the indestructible, brilliantly likable 40-year-old captain, Misbah-ul-Haq. On pitches that are slower and drier than those at home, Pakistan took down the team that took down England and then South Africa with a spin attack culled from that reliably productive domestic setup. And with some glorious batting performances, most notably by Younus Khan, the invisible colossus, who scored three hundreds in four innings and whose career, untelevised and beyond the immediate attention of the major nations, has thrived beneath the radar in recent years. He has slightly more runs at a better average from the same number of Tests as Sir Garfield Sobers.

NOVEMBER 03, 2014

Indian cricket

Pujara and the art of batting in the zone

In England, Cheteshwar Pujara went through a run of innings where he "never really felt I was batting badly or the bowlers were troubling me very much", but still managed only one half-century in five Tests. Trusting his game enough to say such an occurrence is probably "just a once-in-a-career thing", Pujara tells Aditya Iyer of the Indian Express what it means to get into the "zone" while batting.

Zone. It's a word Pujara uses often and uses casually, quite like you and I would say 'and I went into my bathroom'. He pauses when asked about this very spiritual space that a sportsperson slips into when in complete control. But without so much as hemming and hawing, Pujara stabs at an explanation for us mere mortals.

"When you enter this zone, it is less about concentrating and more about forgetting, actually," he says, hoping that he is getting his point across. Wait a minute, more about what?! So he offers to explain again. "When I get there, I forget about the crowd and the noise. And I also forget about the bowlers and their reputations. I forget everything, except the ball. At this point, everything happens on auto-pilot. My backlift, my strokes, my running between the wicket, everything is completely instinctive."

And how rarely does he get into this space, this hallowed zone? "Frequently," he replies, almost instantly. "Almost every time I cross 40. But sometimes as early as 25."

NOVEMBER 02, 2014

Australian cricket

Clarke's unorthodox captaincy unsettled his own players

"It was as though losing the toss in the second Test [against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi] unnerved Michael Clarke; he was flummoxed for the first time since he took over the Australian captaincy, writes Ian Chappell for News Corp Australia. "His rash of bowling changes and constant unorthodox moves in the field, suggested Australia's constant failure on dry dusty pitches had finally got to him. At the end of his tether, it was as if he decided; "Let's try something -- anything -- to try and manufacture a different result."

A bowler - pace or spin - needs to settle into a rhythm and work on a plan for a period of time. When fieldsmen are constantly being changed, the bowler feels the pressure to come up with a quick result and consequently he doesn't settle into a rhythm of thought or deed. If ever a pitch cried out for the metronomic relentlessness of Glenn McGrath, it was the bald, brown and lifeless strip in Abu Dhabi. When Clarke eventually produced a unique fielder placed behind the bowler's arm, it was the last roll of the dice before the white flag was hoisted. As an opposing batsman I would've been torn between the desire to annoy in return by asking the umpire to make Clarke provide a reason why it wasn't purely a ploy to distract the striker and the need to remain silent as Australia needlessly wasted a fielder.

OCTOBER 31, 2014

Cricket's great battles

Warne v Tendulkar, one more time

Sachin Tendulkar facing Shane Warne. It's been one of cricket's most anticipated battles over the last two decades. In a video for Yahoo! Cricket at Lord's, Ian Ward asks Tendulkar and Warne what it was like planning for the contest and how they would go about attacking the other. Warne also bowls to Tendulkar at the end.

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