FEBRUARY 10, 2015

ODI cricket

Cricket and semantic satiation

In his piece for the Guardian's Spin, Andy Bull analyses how Twenty20 cricket and rule changes have made traditional ODI strategies redundant and have disempowered fielding sides.

You may say it's made the game good to watch. It's certainly more unpredictable. In the scramble onwards, who knows what a par score is, or a winning total? But as Finch said, there should be a place for the tight contests too. "From a player's point of view, I think the most exciting games are the low-scoring ones, when you're defending 180 and you've got nothing to lose, they can be really exciting games." One thing is clear: if the ICC is serious about trying to redress the balance of the game, bat-size can wait - it's its own meddling with the regulations that has tipped it out of kilter. It has chosen to disempower the fielding side at the very moment the game was already evolving in favour of the batsmen.

FEBRUARY 17, 2014

Australia in South Africa 2013-14

The Johnson show

Could Mitchell Johnson carry his Ashes form to South Africa. Damn right he could. At Centurion Park he ended with a career-best 12 wickets and inflicted some potentially serious scars on the South Africans. Writing for the Guardian website, Russell Jackson says that Johnson is now a must-view event, one where you stop what you are doing and race back to the TV set. It's a remarkable tale with, you sense, more to come.

He's also now an event himself, which is an astounding thing to achieve over the course of six Tests. It's Mitch as appointment television. It's Mitch as default headliner and Mitch as TV news bulletin place-setter. You find yourself rushing back with a drink in time for the first ball of his over. It's a cage fight and we're all clamoring for a better look. For opponents it's more about endurance and survival than winning or losing. In those six Tests he's taken 49 wickets at 13.14 with a strike rate of 27.1, a rare case of numbers doing justice to what you're seeing with your own eyes.

FEBRUARY 01, 2014

New Zealand cricket

Corey Anderson thrives on confidence

Corey Anderson began 2014 with the fastest ton in ODI cricket and has since moved from strength to strength to become something of a phenomenon. Belief forms a big part of his game and it's been cultivated ever since he picked up a cricket bat. Anderson reveals his stunning rise from backyard cricket to national hero in an interview with Alan Perrott for the New Zealand Herald

In 2006, Anderson's form saw him named secondary school player of the year - alongside current Black Cap fast-bowler Tim Southee. It also attracted the attention of the Canterbury selectors and Anderson got the first shock of his life when the provincial team's coach, Dave Nosworthy, called to offer him a professional playing contract. "That still amazes me," he says, "I hadn't even played a senior club game or anything. But I'd been tossing up which sport to follow and that kind of made my decision for me, I jumped at it." It wasn't until later that he found out the coach had already discussed the offer with his parents. At just over 16, it made Anderson the country's youngest professional cricketer in 59 years and Canterbury's youngest in 129 years, achievements that were always going to attract media attention.

JANUARY 01, 2014

Is this good for cricket?

Michael Jeh: World records are being broken but it points to a deficit in skills at the international level
NOVEMBER 18, 2013

The Ashes 2013-14

England a fading force

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEPTEMBER 03, 2013

Finch offers a glimpse into the future

Jon Hotten: Of all of the records in the game, T20's are the most breakable, because the format is the youngest and its limits are not yet in sight
AUGUST 15, 2013

Why statistics don't fascinate me anymore

Samir Chopra: Even though today's batting and bowling records are more unbreakable than they have ever been, the corresponding feeling of awe is missing
JULY 22, 2013

The Investec Ashes 2013

Australia on the verge of history

Australia are once again teetering on the edge of several records, only after a thorough debacle at Lord's, nearly all of them are unsavoury. Already 0-2 down and with Old Trafford and The Oval well-known for assisting spin, Malcolm Conn in Australia's Telegraph brings to light a few foreboding statistics.

After a 4-0 defeat in India, Australia has now lost six Tests in a row for the first time since 1984. The worst losing streak is seven almost 130 years ago.

Australia has only ever been whitewashed once in England, and that was during a three-Test series back in 1886. The other large series defeats in England were 3-0 in 1977, 3-1 in 1981 and 3-1 in 1985 on tours unsettled by World Series Cricket and South African rebel tours. During all three of those series Australia did not start as badly as the current team.

Chloe Saltau of the Age paints a vivid picture of turmoil in Australian cricket, from the Argus report, the team's lacklustre performance in the Ashes and a dearth of available talent at the domestic level.

The Argus report now looks like an expensive navel-gazing exercise. Several of its key recommendations are in mothballs. The coach brought in to restore a winning culture has been sacked. The captain, Michael Clarke, is no longer a selector - a flawed concept to begin with. Australia, far from climbing back towards No. 1, is facing its sixth consecutive Test defeat - a streak not seen since the team was pummelled by the West Indies when they were kings in 1984.

In the same paper, Malcolm Knox writes that it's a concern for cricket in general if the rest of the series turns into a no-contest.

But Ashes cricket has thrived on 130 years of titanic tussles, and even when one side has been markedly stronger than the other the combat has been closer to Sharktopus than Sharknado. A week ago, these same teams played one of the tightest Test matches in history, a thriller. Those who came to Lord's basing their hopes on history will always say that sequels are never as good.

In the Independent, John Townsend writes that Australia have good reasons to feel optimistic about their spin situation, going by the initial performances of Ashton Agar and Fawad Ahmed in the tour games. Having fast-tracked Ahmed's eligibility, the time is ripe for his inclusion.

Indeed, Ahmed may be Australia's best prospect of getting back into the Ashes. He had a bowl-off with Agar at Bristol last month after the Australian selectors decided that off-spinner Nathan Lyon was not going to provide the impact required on pitches likely to be as arid as any in world cricket. Agar won the battle of Bristol but it may be that Ahmed wins the war.

In the Guardian, Vic Marks says Joe Root's performance with the ball at Lord's was encouraging enough for Cook to use him as a regular spin option. That is provided Root perseveres with his offspin.

The mechanics of spin bowling are not that difficult, compared with the demands of fast bowling. There is no need for special muscles or extreme flexibility. An ordinary Joe can make himself into a very passable bowler provided he has the right temperament. This is where we can be optimistic about Root. All the signs are that he is willing to learn, practise and use some of his undoubted powers of concentration for the most fundamental skill required by a bowler with a decent basic action: to land the damn thing on a length time and time again.

In the same paper, Barney Ronay wonders if the Ashes has lost a bit of its specialty this time, considering it has been spread over 10 Tests and contested between two mismatched teams.

Just how special is it out there? This is the question the TV interviewers seem intent on asking every Ashes interviewee, every star of the day, in fact pretty much anybody they can muscle in behind a mic. And of course it is only natural, the ramping-up of the history angle, that muscular breadth of scale, the tearfully invoked sense of Ashes tradition, if only because at the centre of all this there is already a notable absence of competitive tension, not to mention at times some pretty ordinary cricket being played.

Two Tests into the back-to-back series it is starting to look like what it is: a decent team and a poor team playing each other 10 times in a row for no clear reason beyond their own grand and illustrious shared history.

JULY 18, 2013

The Investec Ashes 2013

The Lord's Ashes experience

Former England captain Michael Vaughan is no stranger to the charm of Lord's. He has strode out through the Long Room twelve times in his career, seven of which were as captain. In the Telegraph, he paints a picture of the experience that awaits the English and Australian players at the home of cricket on Thursday.

The Long Room is crammed like a busy bar. You walk through the narrow tunnel created by the stewards, go through the double doors and down the steps at the front of the pavilion. This is when the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. If you can, take in this moment. Whichever team goes out first should be thinking: "How lucky are we to be playing cricket right here, right now." It does not get any better.

MAY 19, 2013

English cricket

More to come for Anderson

On the ground where he made his debut 10 years ago, James Anderson reached 300 wickets when he removed Peter Fulton on the second day against New Zealand. In his column for the Mail on Sunday he reflects in his achievement and is still struggling to take it all in.

Being at Lord's, where I made a less-than-perfect start to my Test career, surrounded by very good mates and hearing that lovely applause from the crowd made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. I will never forget any of it. And there were other reasons why it was such an intense moment. There have been times in my career when I thought nothing like this would ever happen or could, when I'd been injured or dropped and wondered whether I would ever play for England again.

In the Guardian, Vic Marks says that, unlike the other four England bowlers to reach 300 wickets, Anderson has time on his side for many more

Admittedly, Botham was only 29 but he had already given his body a bit of a hammering - this, of course, is a reference to a back rebelling against such a heavy on-field workload. He reached 300 in seven years; he played Test cricket for eight more but in his last 30 Tests he took only 78 wickets at 37 apiece. In essence he became a batting all-rounder.

Willis at 34 had ruthlessly bullied his body to keep bowling fast. With his action, of which not even Heath Robinson would have been proud, he would not have got past first base with today's array of multi-qualified ECB coaches and physios looking on. Willis would play nine more Tests after his grabbing his 300th, taking 25 more wickets. As for Trueman, 33 when his colleagues decorously shook his hand at †he Oval, there were just two more matches against New Zealand in 1965 and that was it at Test level.

MARCH 14, 2013

Pakistan cricket

Naveed breaks the speed limit

Pakistan cricketer Rana Naveed can be a big hitter when needed - and now he's shown he can be a fast bat too. He faced 45 balls in one minute at an event in Lahore on Wednesday, taking him into the Guinness Book of World Records for the most number of deliveries faced in a minute after easily overhauling Andrew Flintoff's record of 19.

Of the 50 bowlers who lined up to have a bowl at Naveed at the Lahore City Cricket Association Ground, only 48 managed to hit the deck. Naveed missed three of those balls. Incidentally, he would have faced the remaining two bowlers had the eager crowd not run on to the pitch to celebrate the record.

FEBRUARY 27, 2013

Indian cricket

History turned to ashes

The partnership of 664 between Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli, in 1988, in an inter-school match, is a lore many Indian fans are fond of. But the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the landmark - a world record, broken only in 2006-07 - was dampened when it was found that the original score-sheet that noted the achievements of the future India batsmen was 'incinerated'.

"The score-sheet was kept along with all the other records of games and has since been incinerated as we could not store them all. You cannot expect us to store files that are 25 years old," Mumbai School Sports Association secretary, HS Bhor, said.

Bhor rubbed in the irony by saying that the score-sheet was 'like a sheet from any other match'.

Kambli gave voice to his disappointment on Twitter.

JULY 25, 2012

Murali's 709th

Philip Brown: In 2007, I headed to Sri Lanka for the England's three-Test series. It has always been a favourite place of mine to photograph and watch cricket
JULY 03, 2012

England cricket

Non-stop cricket world record

Staff from Loughborough University have set a new world record for the longest continuous game of cricket. Two teams of 11 - and one substitute fielder per side - utilised floodlights to play through wind, rain and hailstorms to extend the previous record by around 45 hours and set a new mark of 150 hours and 20 minutes.

While the record remains unofficial for now, organisers have sent extensive data - including sworn statements by participants, umpires and onlookers and video - to Guinness World Records in anticipation of verification of their achievement. Among those making appearances as umpires were former England players Matthew Hoggard, Paul Nixon and Alex Tudor, former New Zealand player Iain O'Brien and Derbyshire's Wes Durston. Graham Lambert and Stephen Holt of rock band The Inspiral Carpets also visited.

The game was inspired in an attempt to raise money for the Harley Staples Cancer Trust. The charity was setup in 2009 by Katherine Staples in memory of her son Harley, who passed away in 2009 after a long battle with a rare form of Leukaemia; B Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia Burkitt Type. It is hoped the game will have raised around £15,000. For more details visit www.charitygiving.co.uk/cricket.

"We played 25 matches in a cycle," one of the organisers, Chris Hughes, told ESPNcricinfo. "We had torrential rain and hailstones the size of golf balls but, in true British tradition, we kept calm and carried on. Nothing Mother Nature could conjure up was going to stop us from breaking the record and raising many thousands of pounds. And we're already talking about having a go at extending the record next year."

MARCH 03, 2012

A remote camera captures a McGrath milestone

Hamish Blair: The photograph chosen for this piece is from the famous 2005 Ashes series in England