NOVEMBER 29, 2014

Phillip Hughes 1988-2014

To play or not to play?

In the Sydney Morning Herald, Greg Baum asks whether the first Test between Australia and India at the Gabba should go ahead, whether Varun Aaron would bounce David Warner if it did, whether Mitchell Johnson would be able to do what is natural to him, whether the crowd would respond angrily, and whether any of it matters.

Well, yes, as long as the thought does not offend the Hughes family, and the players approve, and it is clear that each player can make up his own mind, without prejudice to future selection. Why? Because it would be the surest way to begin to heal the national heartache. Because lost as the Australian players are without Hughes, they will be more lost without a game to distract them. Because that is also true of fans. Because, sensitively staged, a Test match could act as the country's memorial service to Hughes, and what better? Because it is easy to believe that Hughes would have wanted this match to be proceed; after all, he might have been playing in it.

In the Age, Adam Pengilly tells a story of how, with one run needed in the last over, a blonde kid batting on a hundred in a club game played out five dots before smashing the final delivery of the game for a six, because he could and was determined to see it through to the finish.

A six to win it off the last ball when all that it needed was a single off the first. But how boring would that have been? The kid was Macksville's Phil Hughes, playing his first Sydney grade game for Western Suburbs' second XI in the last fixture of the 2005-06 season, and hitting a six off the last ball to endear himself to his new teammates. Your columnist was his talentless opening partner who trudged off 49.3 overs earlier. But how good was it to just once have the chance watch up-close the little blond kid, determined to be not out until the very last?

In the Telegraph, Jonathan Pearlman speaks to people from Phillip Hughes' hometown Macksville, people who grew up with the Australian batsman, people who remember a young lad no one could get out.

"One back yard game, we decided that if you hit the clothes line pole, it was worth 50 runs," said Rick Laverty, 30, a fellow backyard player who now fixes local power lines. "Phil hit it three times in one innings. It was incredible. Before we knew it, he was on 150 runs." It was these frequent makeshift games on East Street that are believed to have spawned Hughes's unusual left-hand batting style, which favoured his off-side and included a notoriously dangerous cut shot. In the backyard, he was the only left-hander on a makeshift field that favoured right handers: if he hit it too hard on his leg side, he would break a row of glass windows.

NOVEMBER 28, 2014

Phillip Hughes 1988-2014

The bond of two brothers

Writing for the Cricket Australia website, Andrew Ramsey explores the relationship Michael Clarke shared with Phillip Hughes, the bond of two brothers.

Their familial bond was forged in 2006 when - not far short of his 18th birthday - Hughes packed his cricket kit, transferred schools barely a month before he sat his HSC and moved from the rural sanctuary of Macksville into a two-bedroom flat in Sydney's inner-west.

Jacques Kallis, writing for the Cricket Australia website, says about Phillip Hughes: "Like millions of other people I will never forget the name 'Phillip Hughes', and neither will the game as a whole. His smile will live on in photographs but, perhaps, his legacy will be as a reminder to everyone who plays the game to treat it with the same respect that he did."

Philip made a stunning start to his Test career when he scored a century in each innings against us in Durban and made a mockery of our game plans against him. He spent about ten hours happily slapping all the bowlers over gully while we thought we would have him caught in the slips. He earned our total respect. Nothing we bowled at him or said could shake his concentration, and it soon became clear that he was a bloody good bloke off the field, too.

Also on the Cricket Australia website, Adam Burnett pays poetic tribute.

It's a tragedy of circumstance that's left our game in tatters, A happening that makes us ask just how much cricket matters. A young man lost so suddenly without a rhyme or reason, How does one accept that Phillip Hughes has played his final season?

But with the grief and sadness there's also cause for celebration, For a life that scaled lofty heights and charmed this sports-mad nation. For a gift that burned so brightly, that was raw and hard to tame, For that cheeky grin, ubiquitous with mention of his name.

NOVEMBER 27, 2014

Phillip Hughes 1988-2014

RIP Phillip Hughes

Self-taught cricketing prodigy, fun-loving team man, farm boy at heart. Splicing together archival footage from interviews, matches and Australia training sessions, Cricket Australia have put together a moving video tribute to Phillip Hughes.

Writing in The Age, Greg Baum calls Hughes' death "cricket's saddest day", a day that "makes us more mortal than yesterday".

This much we must believe, that Hughes' last thought simply was, here's four runs. Here's another step towards 100. Here's the Test door comng ajar again. That can and must be his family's consolation, that he died doing what he loved.

This much we can also believe, that he can barely have known what hit him. He lost consciousness on the pitch, and never regained it. He was not in pain when he died, and he had his family around him. He was 25 years old, and 63 not out. There was so much more to come.

Gideon Haigh writes in The Australian that Hughes was the "tomorrow cricketer who will now form part of history".

There was work for him to do (when he was dropped from the Test side) on that technique, not at that stage quite secure enough for the lures, baits and pitfalls of the top level. But we were all of us -- peers, pundits, selectors, spectators -- dealing in blue sky with Hughes.

He had the attitude. He had the look. Here was a cricketer, we told ourselves, with time on his side. Perhaps he assuaged his disappointments the same way. Certainly, he handled himself as first reserve with dignity, patience and enthusiasm. Thus the intensity of the shock at his loss.

The BBC looks at how helmets have improved over the years, and asks whether helmets can ever offer total protection.

NOVEMBER 27, 2014

Australian cricket

Australian cricket united in fear and grief

Robert Craddock writes in the Herald Sun that Australian cricket will be reshaped by Phillip Hughes's accident.

The shock waves are so deep, they could even change the way Australia play the game, certainly this summer. Will the Test attack be so brazen as to bomb the Indian batsmen with short balls? What if someone else got hit and seriously hurt? Is it really worth it? And what about sledging? Doesn't it all seem a little childish now? Desperately sad events such as Hughes' injury put life and sport into perspective.

In the Age, Peter Hanlon also considers how cricket will bounce back.

In the MCG nets on Wednesday morning, Test fast bowler Peter Siddle told his Victorian teammate Marcus Stoinis to step aside so he could send down a bouncer. Emotions are so raw, it's easy to believe cricket might have changed forever.

Also in the Age, Greg Baum writes of fear now coming to the surface.

In the sporting dialogue, fear mostly is contemplated only in terms of its opposite and antidote, courage. No higher accolade is accorded to a sportsperson than to be called fearless. But also in this, there is artifice; even the fearless will admit that it is not fearlessness, but fear tamed.

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.

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