JULY 30, 2014

England cricket

Wristband or wrist-banned?

Writing on the Moeen Ali 'Save Gaza' wristband issue, Ally Fogg, in the Guardian, says the sports bodies are being hypocritical in an attempt to keep politics out of sport.

In times of great humanitarian crisis, there can be indifference but there cannot be neutrality. To do nothing, to say nothing is in itself a political act. In declaring which causes are appropriate for sports audiences and which are not, David Boon and the ICC have made a political statement of their own. It is not Moeen Ali's statement that is in the wrong, but theirs.

The ICC states categorically in its regulations that displaying political, religious or racial messages is not approved, but how does one decide which message is political and which is not, argues A Cricketing View.

It is worth reflecting on this idea of a thing not being "political". When is a thing political? And why does the ICC's Match Referee get to decide what is political and what isn't? A military charity raises money, it takes advantage of incentives to raise this money (tax breaks, for example). Supporting it might influence the public's opinion of an individual running for political office. Is it simply the case that we say a particular idea isn't political because we all broadly agree it? Are political things only those about which people might still want to have a debate? If so, shouldn't everything be open to politics?

Pavilion Opinions presents a similar point of view, and ponders the threads connecting a controversial MP, the anti-apartheid protests during the time of the D'Oliveira affair, and Andy Flower and Henry Olonga's 'death of democracy' protest against Robert Mugabe.

It's a murky, dirty, interconnected matrix of a world whose permanently fluctuating ills are inbred over decades and centuries. Sport and cricket cannot pretend they do not play or haven't played their part or that they are not firewood in the furnace of geopolitics. Flower, Hain, Mugabe, Skelton, Olonga and D'Oliveira are all interlinked, tenuously in some instances, but interlinked nonetheless.

In the context of all the above, banning a pair wristbands ranks fairly low on the list of establishment cover ups, but the ICC looks hypocritical for telling Ali to shut up about his choice of political gesture while allowing the England team to so overtly display their collective one.

Dennis Freedman argues an alternate view in his blog, saying that "cricket ground is not a parliament, a place for social issue debate or a medium for protest." If the need be, Freedman writes, ample opportunities exist for raising awareness for a cause outside the ground.

JULY 27, 2014

Indian cricket

'Dhoni is a very principled man'

Duncan Fletcher speaks to bcci.tv about his coach-captain relationship with MS Dhoni, whom he describes as an approachable man who "never pre-judges anyone".

What was the first thing that struck you about MS Dhoni?

That he is a very, very honest man. He would quietly sit down and discuss the point that he wants to make. He likes clarity when he is discussing something with you. What I really admire about him is that he is a very principled man. And because of his principles, he wants to give everyone a fair chance, sometimes to his own detriment. I try to share that sentiment with him because some people get a fair chance and the others tend to be judged in a different light. But with him it is very straightforward and simple; if you give one guy so many games to perform, it must be equal for everyone.

JULY 25, 2014

Sri Lanka cricket

'I was always aggressive' - Jayawardene

Mahela Jayawardene, in an interview to Sri Lanka's Daily Mirror, says he has always been vocal and aggressive both on and off the field but maybe that part of his personality went unnoticed earlier. He also talks about his competition with Kumar Sangakkara, his captaincy and the need in Sri Lanka to prepare the upcoming cricketers better for international cricket

Even when I was a young cricketer, I was very aggressive. May be people did not see that side of me. If opposition says something I would always get back at them. I was very vocal. Even in press conferences I would raise my voice, I was aggressive at teams meetings with certain decisions. I have had lots of confrontation with media as well in early part of my career when it came to player rights and image rights. I was quite happy to do that. I went through these emotions when I had to but in other times I am calm and collective. I felt that I needed that aggression.

JULY 24, 2014

India in England 2014

Rose Bowl and the smoking hole

Ian Tulk, the groundsman at Rose Bowl, the venue of the third Test, has seen a piece of forest land turn into England's most recent Test venue. And he has stories to tell. Sandeep Dwivedi, in the Indian Express, writes:

With Kevin Pietersen too having made the Rose Bowl his home once, you know Tulk will surely mention him. And he does. "KP was once facing Alan Mullally, who was repeatedly bowling big no balls," he says. KP, in an evidently sarcastic tone, asked the left-arm pacer to might as well take a few more steps ahead. Mullally agreed, the next ball was fired from 15 yards. "Not too high, parallel to the ground, the ball rocketed and hit that wall," he says showing a six-feet fence.

The doubts around the England camp have lingered after the defeat at Lord's. However, Paul Downton, the managing director of England cricket, has lent support to Alastair Cook's captaincy, which may have roots in the bad memories of a series Downton played in 26 years ago, when change brought chaos rather than clarity, writes Derek Pringle in the Telegraph.

Downton played the first three Tests of the series before being replaced behind the stumps by Jack Richards for the last two. But he would have seen, after an honourable draw in the first match and a loss in the second in which England were competitive, how quickly matters can spiral out of control when change is indiscriminate.

JULY 23, 2014


Gray Nicolls Scoop turns 40

The Gray Nicolls Scoop, the bat every kid wanted for Christmas, turns 40 this year. Russell Jackson gives the history of the bat, popularised by the Chappell brothers and David Hookes, in the Guardian.

"I tell you what, you've hit the bonanza!" says Robert "Swan" Richards as he pulls a pile of photo albums and scrapbooks out of storage containers under a desk in his office. I've turned up to Richards' cricket store in Collingwood, north of Melbourne, in search of clues about the somewhat mythical origins of the Gray Nicolls Scoop, the sword in the stone of all cricket bats and a bona fide object of desire in the cricket world of the 1970s and 80s.

JULY 23, 2014

India in England 2014

England's status quo cannot prevail

Jos Buttler coming in for Matt Prior could be the only certain change to the England XI for the Rose Bowl Test, but save for the wicketkeeper's spot, more places deserve to come under scrutiny. England should not select players who are not 100% fit and that includes Stuart Broad and on form alone, Ben Stokes' position cannot be taken for granted, writes Mike Selvey in the Guardian.

Whether, with the exception of Buttler for Prior, the XI who take the field remain the same is another matter: they ought not to be. There is always a school of thought that suggests those who got things into a mess deserve the chance to rectify it. After a fashion, this is how Cook's continuation as captain, and indeed player, might be viewed. It is certainly the stance that he takes, although he does not use the word "deserve". He does not wish to be seen quitting on a job for which, as captain, he is taking responsibility not just for his recent failings but those of others, senior colleagues largely, as well

In the same paper, Vic Marks writes that Buttler should be allowed time to settle into his new role and even make a few mistakes along the way, given that he took to wicketkeeping fairly late.

Buttler kept wicket at school but it was his batting that astounded and won him a contract at Somerset. His first games for the club were as a batsman, who could strike the ball with staggering purity - and as a quite breathtaking outfielder. Only when England called up Somerset's regular keeper, Craig Kieswetter, to their one-day side did Buttler take the gloves for the county. Initially he did this more out of duty than unbridled enthusiasm.

JULY 22, 2014

India in England 2014

Saving Alastair Cook

After the Lord's Test ended with a 95-run defeat for England, Alastair Cook conceded it was one of his "darkest experiences" as captain of the side. It was England's 10th straight Test without a win and in that period, Cook has scored 420 runs in 19 innings at 22.1. Michael Vaughan in the Telegraph writes that the England selectors need to step in and pull Cook out of the captaincy mire so that the team doesn't lose him for good.

Cook will not want to resign. He would see that as a capitulation, a big failure of personality. But there was a revealing signal at Monday's post-match presentation, when he said that he was going to continue until he felt a "tap on the shoulder".
To me, that was almost like a cry for help. Somewhere deep down, I believe Cook wants the selectors to step in and pull him out of the fire, before it gets so hot that we lose him for good. This is a man with the capacity to score 13,000 Test runs.

In the same publication, Geoffrey Boycott writes that Cook has reached the end of the line as captain and relieving him of those duties may just help him turn his form around.

It is as if England have no direction and there's no common sense in the dressing room. Cook needs to go as captain and maybe stay for one more Test as a batsman only. In the famous Ashes series of 1981, Ian Botham resigned the captaincy after making a pair at Lord's, releasing all the mental pressure on himself, and then went out and performed heroics at Headingley.
Maybe the same process could work for Cook.
We saw Cook receive an almost silent welcome from the MCC members on Sunday as he walked back through the pavilion gate, just as Botham did all those years ago. The issues are staring everybody in the face.

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.

JULY 19, 2014

India in England 2014

Cook's form invites vultures

Alastair Cook's recent form has invited scathing criticism from experts. While some have suggested that Cook should drop himself from the side, others are prepared to wait and watch, writes Andy Wilson in the Guardian

It will be in the second innings here - when India will be the real vultures, which at least has a little ornithological accuracy as the birds are making a welcome comeback in pockets of the subcontinent - and in the Tests at Southampton, Manchester and at The Oval, if he survives that long, that Cook must save himself. "I'm not sure he will come through this," said Brearley, with devastating honesty. "A lot will depend on the next match or two. If England lose this series and he fails to get any big scores, it will be hard for him to stay in the job.""

Scyld Berry, in the Telegraph, focues on Gary Ballance, saying the batsman from Zimbabwe has adopted similar virtues as Graham Thorpe and Jonathan Trott.

JULY 19, 2014

India in England 2014

Ashwin should have played at Lord's - Swann

Graeme Swann, the former England offspinner, lent support to India offspinner R Ashwin saying he should have been playing at Lord's. He added it was too early to judge Ashwin as he hasn't played in overseas conditions enough. In an interview to BCCI.TV, Swann also talked about him being the lone classical spinner in an era of mystery bowlers.

When you're used to bowling in India it is not easy to adjust quickly to bowling overseas. That's because in India it is very easy to find the right pace to bowl at as a spinner as compared to these conditions. Since most wickets in India are pretty slow and low, even if you are a little wayward, you don't get punished. In England and especially Australia, if you pitch it slightly short or wide, you get smashed. I'm sure Ashwin can bowl really well outside India because his record in India is fantastic. And if he can do it there he can do it anywhere.

JULY 17, 2014

India in England 2014

Indian cricket's Nottingham friend

Nathu Ram 'Nat' Puri has been has been Indian cricket's trusted friend in England for the last four decades. The 75 year old construction and manufacturing baron, born in Punjab, has hosted Indian teams in Nottingham for years, but is now forced to keep his distance from them, like all other fans, due to anti-corruption laws and more stringent rules regarding player movements. He recounts his experiences to Sandeep Dwivedi of the Indian Express.

"Not too far back, I used to sit with the players in the dressing room. Now, I can't go anywhere near them. During the 1974 tour, when India was all out for 42, I offered the players incentive to play well -- 25 pounds for a ton and 5 pounds for wickets. Even when Tendulkar scored 91 in 2007 and India won, I ordered a dozen bottles of champagne," says Puri.

JULY 16, 2014

Decision Review System

Hawkeye sceptic turns Hawkeye advocate

Mike Selvey travels to Basingstoke to meet Steve Carter, the managing director of Hawk-Eye Innovations. Following a demonstration of Hawkeye, Selvey writes in the Guardian that his doubts over the technology have vanished. He maintains, however, that the implementation of the Decision Review System remains far from perfect.

I was shown one further thing. A split screen showed an empty indoor net and two deliveries from a leg-spinner. Each pitched and turned from leg to off, and the picture was then frozen at the point of what would have been impact with a pad in a neutral position. One was striking at about half-stump height, the other maybe two-thirds high. What did I think happened next ?

The first, I suggested, would probably be deemed hitting near the top of the stumps and the second clearing, but I suspected that they were in fact the same delivery filmed from a different height. This was indeed the case, and it showed how wrong we can be when we look incredulous when a ball we think is clearly going to hit is shown to be clearing them by a distance: both were hitting. The perspective is entirely contingent on the height of the camera behind the arm, the lower the camera the better. An ideal one would be in the top of the middle stump at either end.

JULY 16, 2014

Sri Lanka cricket

Mahela, the imperfect champion

An "imperfect" champion, Mahela Jayawardene's batting has always appeared lighter and less burdened, writes Osman Samiuddin in the National. The freedom he has shown in batting has also allowed him to transform his game in ODIs and helped him cultivate and aggressive style of captaincy, Samiuddin writes.

Take his hundred in the 2011 World Cup final, not because it proved or disproved his quality as a winning batsman, but because it was just an exquisite piece of work, to be appreciated for itself and isolated from something as piddling as a result.

He remains Sri Lanka's winningest Test captain, alongside Sanath Jayasuriya, but that is by the by. Sometimes, the results did not seem as important as what he did on the field, always compelling and, even in defeat, laudable.

JULY 15, 2014

England cricket

England's obsession with pace

Pace has gained a significant priority among England's selectors when scouting for prospective Test bowlers. Peter Miller, in All Out Cricket, posits that batsmen at the highest level enjoy the ball coming on better and find themselves more in a quandary when the ball moves late off a good line and length. He speaks to several bowlers in the sub-85 mph category, who excel using this method, but have not been given a chance in the international arena.

"I do get frustrated at times by them focusing so much on the pace of the bowler," said Jim Allenby, the Glamorgan seamer who averages 27 in first-class cricket. "Equally this obsession with tall bowlers I don't quite understand. At the moment, if you are tall you get taken away to an England programme and if you are fast you get taken away to an England programme. Someone like James Harris, or Will Gidman or countless others are not getting the same recognition as a guy who takes half the wickets and is a foot taller or bowls 10mph quicker."

JULY 14, 2014

Pakistan cricket

Pakistan announce themselves

A new cricketing force arrived at the Oval in 1954, when Pakistan, inspired by Fazal Mahmood, beat England for the first time. Peter Oborne recalls the dramatic events of that low-scoring Test match in this extract from his new book Wounded Tiger, published in the Telegraph.

Wazir's determined innings owed much to an inspired piece of amateur dramatics, which he recalled with relish nearly 50 years later. "I was hit on the front foot by an inswinging full toss from Statham. It was painful, but I could have carried on. However, I decided to stay on the ground, pretending that I could not get up ... I glimpsed the wicketkeeper, Godfrey Evans, from the corner of my eye and could see that he was taken in. He told Brian Statham to pitch it up because I would not be able to play on the front foot. In fact, I wanted the ball pitched up, because short balls on that wicket were much harder to face ... Statham and the other bowlers did pitch it up and I remembered to groan in pain and hop about when I used my front foot."

JULY 14, 2014

New Zealand cricket

A poster child for cricket purists

Andrew Alderson, writing in the Herald on Sunday, runs his eye over a potential list of New Zealand's centrally contracted players and concludes, based on the case of Kane Williamson, that the path to riches need not necessarily be strewn with the jerseys of multiple T20 franchises.

Players are ranked across each format by selectors Mike Hesson and Bruce Edgar, with tests receiving twice the weighting of one-day and twenty20 internationals. The 20 highest aggregate scores are offered national contracts.

Even if Williamson is fourth on that list, he would earn an NZC salary in the vicinity of $175,000 with the top ranked player banking around $195,000.

Add international match payments, an English county contract and a gear endorsement deal and the forecast of Williamson's earnings in the coming year calculates to more than half a million dollars without having to don the gaudy colours of any international Twenty20 circus. That anoints him as a poster child for cricket purists.

JULY 14, 2014

England cricket

Down with flat pitches

England's quicks have been the most overworked in the past year, and they were given little respite at Trent Bridge when India were welcomed with a pitch that wouldn't have looked out of place in Nagpur or Rajkot. Simon Hughes, in the Telegraph, questions the quality of Test cricket on such decks and the ensuing impact on fast bowlers.

Neither of England's opening bowlers, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, will be fully fit for Lords. They cannot be. Anderson bowled 59 overs in this match and Broad 54. That is more than 300 deliveries per man. Each ball they charge in 20 yards, jump into their action and land at the crease, putting a force six times their body weight through their knees and ankles. You cannot recover from that in three days. Your body aches for a week after effort of this intensity. Never was it more obvious that bowlers are seen as cricket's expendable labourers.

JULY 13, 2014

England v India, 1st Test, Trent Bridge

Anderson, the unlikely renegade

James Anderson's innings at Trent Bridge and his partnership with Joe Root was crucial for England and also made its way to the record books. According to Jonathan Liew in the Telegraph, however, the partnership did something more - it left an "emotional deposit", a feeling somewhere in the realm of joy. It helped England rediscover a wild side and Anderson turned out to be an unlikely renegade.

Think about it. When was the last time you saw England batting with the sort of gay abandon on display yesterday morning? When was the last time England were this much fun to watch?

The partnership between Anderson and Joe Root may have rewritten the record books, but it left a very particular emotional deposit, too; the sort that evoked Andrew Flintoff and Geraint Jones going ballistic a decade ago, or Kevin Pietersen at his best.

Seldom does Test batting feel quite so lawless. It took a last‑wicket partnership for England to rediscover their wild side.

JULY 11, 2014

India in England 2014

A sense of deja vu at Trent Bridge

Almost a year ago to the day at Trent Bridge, Alastair Cook and his bowlers had to endure the frustration of watching No.11 Ashton Agar score a carefree 98 and add 163 with Phillip Hughes, the highest last-wicket stand in Tests. Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar brought back the nightmare with a stand of 111 to deflate England who thought they had done enough to keep India a below-par total. The inability to roll the tail over poses question marks on Cook's captaincy, writes Andy Wilson in the Guardian.

Even worse for Cook, this Indian reprise came in the context of the debate over his captaincy. So why did he remove Ben Stokes from the attack, even though Stokes had taken two wickets from the Pavilion end, and turn immediately to Liam Plunkett's brave but futile attempt at Bodyline from around the wicket? Why didn't he turn earlier to Moeen Ali's off-spin? Or even to Sam Robson's rarely seen leggies?

England's bowlers tried conventional means to get rid of the tail, which wasn't the worst strategy, but England needed real pace or ripping spin to dislodge them. Cook had neither, writes Simon Hughes in the Telegraph.

That would have been the cue for Graeme Swann in past summers. Seventy-three of his 255 Test wickets were tail-enders, at 11 runs apiece. Without him, England reverted to Jimmy Anderson trying yorkers and Plunkett going round the wicket and aiming at the body. The combination of the pitch and the resolution of the batsmen neutered both.

In the same paper, Scyld Berry looks at Cook's downward spiral as a batsman since taking over the captaincy and observes that the malaise has affected England's recent Test captains, including Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss.

Since that last Test century at Headingley against New Zealand, Cook has had 25 innings, not passed 72, and averaged 24. The sample of modern England captains is far too small to be statistically significant, but he will have to defy recent precedent if his batting is to flourish again without returning to the ranks.

In the Daily Mail, Nasser Hussain writes that it's not fair to blame Cook entirely for England's situation, for the selectors were asking for it by not picking a specialist spinner.

Yes, you could quibble about the balance of this England side, with Ben Stokes as low down as No 8, and no front-line spinner -- but that's only partly Cook's fault. The selectors have to take responsibility too. And this desperately sluggish Trent Bridge surface definitely isn't anything to do with the captain.

JULY 10, 2014

India in England 2014

Slower balls go missing on slow pitch

England struggled to make impact on the first day of the Trent Bridge Test as the pitch offered no help to their traditional strength - their seamers. However, Simon Hughes, in the Daily Telegraph, says that England's experienced bowlers could have experimented with pace variations a little more.

Change of pace is a bowling option England have rarely embraced in Test cricket. It is a strange omission considering the number and variety of slower balls they purvey in one-day matches, and one that exasperates bowling coach David Saker. Broad and Anderson have at least two different slower cutters at their disposal - required to inhibit big-swinging batsmen - yet overlook them in Test matches. The pre-match planning never factors it in.