DECEMBER 18, 2014

England cricket

A multitude of issues for England

ESPNcricinfo staff

The England selectors will sit down on Friday to pick the World Cup squad with questions still hanging over the head of captain Alastair Cook. In the Daily Mail, Nasser Hussain says it is not too late for England to make a change - a change he believes should have been made months ago - but the captain is not the only concern. He does not see the return of Stuart Broad and James Anderson as a quick fix for the bowler attack and still thinks England base their one-day cricket too much on Test match ideals.

When I helped compile the Schofield Report seven years ago, we were saying one-day cricket should be treated just as seriously as Test cricket and I see that Paul Downton was saying the same thing this week. Well, if England really mean it this time then they have to put faith in the younger, more dynamic batsmen who have grown up with Twenty20.

DECEMBER 12, 2014

New Zealand cricket

The making of Trent Boult

New Zealand fast bowler Trent Boult speaks to Andrew Alderson in the Herald on Sunday, on how his bowling has developed, his ODI career, his fitness, and his Cadets club.

"I used to come in and bowl as fast as I could but, over the years, I've learned there are times you have to bowl within yourself. I always talk about Dale Steyn 'sniffing the moment' to take the initiative in a game. A lot of people talk about 'the zone' but I prefer not to overthink it. At the Basin [during the 10-for] against the West Indies, I was just running in and letting it go hassle-free. Simple is the best recipe. Making sure I had the right wrist position was as complex as it got."

DECEMBER 11, 2014

Indian cricket

Vijay's turnaround

Since the home series against Australia last year, M Vijay has been a changed batsman, prepared to bat for long periods and lock away the flashy shots. The India opener tells bcci.tv about his preparedness to 'bat out of character' and the work he has put in to be able to do so.

My main focus was on getting out of the habit of those scores of 30s and 40s because they really haunted me. I had a chat with my coach, Jaykumar, during which we came out with three points: shot selection, shot selection and shot selection. Nothing was wrong technically with my batting, it was only the shot selection that went wrong. Then it came down to fitness - whether I was throwing it away because I got tired? We worked on small aspects like that and it is paying dividends now.

DECEMBER 11, 2014

Indian cricket

Meeting Bishan Bedi

On his recent trip to India, Gideon Haigh was spellbound listening to the steady stream of stories during a dinner with Bishan Bedi. Haigh writes of Bedi's 'enormous natural warmth' and his razor-sharp memory in the Cuts and Glances blog.

Indeed, it's almost as though Bishan never ceased playing. It might have been forty years ago, for example, but he recalled bowling to Barry Richards for the first time as though it were yesterday. Richards was then at his Himalayan peak; Bishan's Northants teammates, he recalled, built the encounter up to such a degree that he experienced a rare degree of apprehension, even nervousness. His plan became to wrong foot the batsman with close fielders: a slip, silly point, short mid wicket, leg slip. It got an immediate reaction. 'This will be interesting,' Richards said to the Northants keeper George Sharp. The South African came down the wicket to Bishan's first four deliveries and smashed them to the boundary. On the fifth, a little slower, a little shorter, he also advanced, but was beaten and stumped.

'Batsmen have egos, Gideon,' said Bishan. 'Egos!' Even Sachin? Even Sachin. On one Australian tour of India, he tried explaining this to Shane Warne: 'I told Shane that he had to make Tendulkar think. That there is nothing you can do about a straight six. You cannot set a field for it. You can only applaud.' But Warne, he sensed, was already somewhat in dread of Tendulkar, and loath to throw down any gauntlet that might be picked up.

DECEMBER 10, 2014

Zimbabwe cricket

Mark Vermuelen: arson, attempted suicide, cricket

In the BBC, Zimbabwe's Mark Vermuelen talks about his incident-packed life: from the multiple times he has been injured by bouncers, to trying to meet Robert Mugabe and his attempts to burn down the Harare Sports Club pavilion.

He drove 11 hours to Victoria Falls, the largest waterfall in the world, with suicide in mind. "I'd had enough. I went to sleep in the gorge which the water falls into, wanting to never come back."The problem was the extreme noise. I was basically sleeping where the water fell in. It was like trying to sleep in a Laundromat with 20 washing machines going off. I slept for about three seconds. "I was ready to end my life, but Victoria Falls is quite an awesome place. It uplifted me a bit."

DECEMBER 06, 2014

India in Australia 2014-15

'It's what Hughesy would want'

In a column for cricket.com.au, Australia coach Darren Lehmann writes: " ... only time will provide the answer as to how ready and in what sort of frame of mind our guys will be when what will undoubtedly be an emotional lead-up to the first match culminates in the opening delivery at 10.30am on Tuesday morning. There is still a significant journey to get us to that point, but we expect every member of our squad to do what they can between now and then to ensure they are ready to play for their country."

Of course, it's not going to be normal. We know that. But in our practice and our preparation we will try to mirror what we've done in the past and get back to doing things that we know we do well that will allow us to perform in a Test match. It's a tough scenario for all, and only time will tell how everyone handles it. I'm pretty confident the boys are getting there. And that they are undoubtedly in better shape now than they were a week ago. We've just got to make sure that we continue to do what it is we do well. And that we look after one another.

DECEMBER 04, 2014

Phillip Hughes 1988-2014

The finest speech ever given by an Australian sportsman

Malcolm Knox writes in the Sydney Morning Herald that Michael Clarke's five-and-a-half minute tribute at Phillip Hughes' funeral "might have been the finest speech ever given by an Australian sportsman".

But it is precisely because this has not been a self-conscious act of leadership that Clarke has won the country's admiration and sympathy. In the past, he has been criticised for over-contrivance, acting with too much calculation of effect. What we have seen since November 25 has come straight from his heart, a part of the anatomy that Clarke's critics doubted was as warm as they wanted.

In the Australian, national coach Darren Lehmann shares his thoughts on why Hughes was such a widely-loved person.

You would only be too happy for one of your daughters to marry someone like Phillip. He was respectful, he had all the values we respect in the Australian team. He looked after his mates, he was honest, thoughtful and caring. He was everything you want a young player to be ... I know you are not supposed to have favourites as coaches, but he was certainly one of mine and I think all the staff felt the same. His desire to get back into the side was second to none. He suffered a few setbacks in his career but he kept bouncing back. It was a joy to see the player he developed into.

Ben Doherty writes in the Guardian of the way Hughes never lost sight of what a privilege it was to play for his country.

Australians are curiously proprietorial about their Test cricketers. Part of the price of living out that most sacrosanct of Australian dreams is that it must be shared with each of us ... But Hughes was not the property of the country whose baggy green cap he wore. He belonged here. He belonged to Macksville. He belonged to Greg and Virginia, his parents, who nurtured his gifts, though they'd take him from this town to 'the city' to be tested at only 17. He belonged to sister Megan, who idolised her older brother. He belonged to brother Jason whom he grew up battling in the endless-summer matches of a dozen rural seasons and who read out a letter to Phillip at the service: "I'll take good care of Dad, Mum, Megan, and, of course, your cows. And I promise to get back on the horse and play the game we both love." He belonged to the family farm, where he raised his beloved Angus cattle ... But perhaps above all of these, Phillip Hughes belonged to the middle.

DECEMBER 03, 2014

Phillip Hughes 1988-2014

'For Hughey'

As the cricket world farewells Phillip Hughes, Rupert McCall pays tribute to the former Australia batsman with a touching poem called 'For Hughey' on his YouTube channel.

For every ball in every game we've ever had to face,
A piece of that's been taken now and it's one we can't replace.
Besides the southern cross tonight, there shines an extra star,
A beacon that will find us and remind us who we are.

DECEMBER 02, 2014

Phillip Hughes 1988-2014

Hughes and the family of cricket

Phillip Hughes' death has caused a worldwide outpouring of grief from cricket fans, all of whom have all felt a personal sense of loss whether they knew Hughes or not. Writing in Buzzfeed, Alan White reflects on cricket's ability to bring vastly different cultures together.

Whenever a sport suffers a tragedy, the journalists who cover it often write certain truisms - they point out that sport is only a game, that things have been "put into perspective"; above all, that perhaps spectators and opponents should show a little more respect to each other. It's clichéd, this type of piece, and perhaps it's clichéd for a reason - there's nothing fundamentally wrong with any of these points.

But such pieces have been thinner on the ground in the aftermath of Hughes' death, because, as anyone who's played the game for long enough knows, cricket fans aren't really in need of these reminders. A few days ago I wrote a blog about what Hughes meant to England fans, and I realised that all of us - wherever we were - felt much the same. We'd lost one of our own.

You see, it really is a family. In England alone in the last few years I've played with and against Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Australians, New Zealanders, West Indians, South Africans, Afghans, Nigerians, Slovenians, and more. I now count many of them among my best friends. I've gone to Corfu and had my finger broken by a Pakistani bowler. I've had sixes hit off my bowling by an Italian-South African in the Channel Islands. I've gawped at games in Croatia, Sri Lanka, Barbados, and France. Much of this cricket has been social, and that means bonhomie is encouraged before, during, and after the game. But even in league cricket there's generally a clear sense of mutual appreciation between the teams, at least once hostilities end.

In The West Australian, Simon Katich, Hughes' first Test-match opening partner, recounts some of his favourite memories of his 'smiling mate Luigi'.

In the old days, he would have done his time at short leg and even though he was built for short leg, he was smart enough to be that bad at it we got him out of there. He even managed to avoid doing it when he came into the Aussie team in 2009 in South Africa.

I'll never forget playing our tour match at Potchefstroom and thinking that with Hughesy likely to make his debut, I would finally be able to hand over the short leg shin pads to him. When I was told by Punter (Ricky Ponting) that that would not be happening, the little bugger laughed his head off, knowing my old back was going to be stiff from more days of squatting down while he could sit back and enjoy the show.

Only Hughesy could've got away with that and he would always tell Punter how good I was in there just to really make sure he was safe from the dreaded job.

The former NSW wicketkeeper Daniel Smith pays tribute to Hughes in the Sydney Morning Herald, remembering him as a 'lovable, infectious character' with a dozen nicknames.

Simple things were what you loved and no, I'm not taking the piss out of you. it's true. You were street smart. So street bloody smart that after moving to Sydney and, upon becoming my little brother, it took me 18 months to realise how street smart you were. Half-way through one of our lord-knows-how-many nights out after I'd shouted a round BANG, I caught you, your sneaky little hand grabbing the coins meant for the barmaid from off the tip tray.

"What are you doing, Bra?" I said. He looked at me half cheekily and grinned with the glint in his eye, the other half a youngster who'd just been busted . . . sprung . . . with his hand in the cookie jar.

He quickly replied to me: "Sorry, but that's milk and bread."

We laughed and carried on.

DECEMBER 01, 2014

Indian cricket

Indian cricket on a downward spiral

Psychologist Shiv Visvanathan explains his journey as a cricket fan in Deccan Chronicle and says the game has become highly politicised in recent times, with money gaining far too much say. He is also unimpressed with the silence of reputed voices in the wake of the IPL scandal and the media's part in going along with the charade.

Yet, cricket was changing. It was becoming corporate. Many a politician from Modi, Jaitley, Pawar saw in cricket a parallel politics, with cricket coffers surfeit with currency. Money and power were temptations and when cricket became an extension of matka and the betting industry, I realised the tail was controlling the dog. Sadly media betrayed it. True there were the Tehelka investigations and yet one realised that the Shastris, the Boria Majumdars, the Harsha Bhogles were adding smartness without reflexivity.

One just had to read Sachin Tendulkar's autobiography, to comprehend the inanity of the new cricketing mind. One also discovered that greats like Kumble, Dravid, Dhoni, were merely overpaid vassals of cricket-hungry corporations.

NOVEMBER 29, 2014

Phillip Hughes 1988-2014

'Will miss you forever'

In his column for the Daily Telegraph, Michael Clarke writes about Phillip Hughes the person and not just the cricketer. Calling him his brother, Clarke talks about Hughes' nature, his attitude towards the game, his positive approach towards life and much more.

Whenever Hughesy suffered adversity -- if he was replaced in the team or if he wasn't scoring as many runs as he wanted -- he never dropped his head, never once complained. If he had a tough conversation with a selector he would nod, agree he needed to work harder, grin because he felt bad for the person delivering the message and then get on with it.

In another column for the Daily Telegraph, Clarke shows his support for Sean Abbott. He calls the Hughes accident a "freak accident" and says no one should blame Abbott in any way.

Sean, when you feel like getting back on the horse mate, I promise you that I will be the first to strap on the pads and go stand up the end of the net to hit them back at you. It's exactly what Hugh Dog would want us both to do.

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."

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