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IND v ENG (1)
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PSL 2024 (2)
BPL 2024 (2)
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WI 4-Day (4)

Jon Hotten

Gayle at sunset

If these ODIs are his last bow in England, then he will go out as he came in, demanding to be watched (but not heard)

Jon Hotten
15 September 2005, Grace Road, Leicester. Sri Lanka's Chilaw Marians CC meet a PCA Masters XI in the opening game of Group B in the inaugural (and as it turns out, final) International T20 Club Championship. Chris Gayle steps onto the field to play T20 cricket for the first time. He opens the bowling and concedes 16 runs from his only over. The game is abandoned due to rain and decided by a bowl-off at the indoor school. His second match, later the same day against South Africa's champion club Titans, is also decided by bowl-off. Two days later, Gayle bats in a T20 match for the first time. He makes 11 from ten deliveries, clean bowled by Samiullah Khan of Faisalabad Wolves. T20 cricket is so new, there are no representatives from Australia, New Zealand or West Indies in the International T20 Club Championship because they don't yet have domestic competitions. Faisalabad Wolves win the tournament. They receive £25,000.
The totemic cricketer of the age makes what are probably his last appearances in England this month. He seems to be staggering towards the end now, the face-melting power intact and sharp but the body seizing up like scrap metal. He is unable to do anything other than trot between the wickets, run out in the T20I, juddering to a halt as the popping crease approached, and then picked up on the stump mike at the first ODI, complaining that he'd pulled a hamstring.
Gayle has been playing the shortest form in England since the summer it began. This last decade and a half has not quite enclosed his career - his international debut came in the final flickerings of the last millennia - but these years will be his legacy, the years in which cricket changed and he became a shaping force.
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England's unheralded bowlers are their silent heroes

On paper, they are an unassuming, unlikely bunch, but with unspectacular labour, they have been delivering results

Jon Hotten
Seven, 16, 20, 32, 36, 53, 54, 74, 78.
These were the ICC ODI bowling rankings for, respectively, Chris Woakes, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Steve Finn, Moeen Ali, David Willey, Ben Stokes, Mark Wood and Jake Ball as the Champions Trophy opened. Woakes, ranked highest, lasted for two overs of the opening game before exiting the tournament with the dreaded side strain. Rashid, the third-best-ranked was - in true England pre-tournament tradition - dropped at the last minute. Finn, the fourth-ranked, hadn't yet been added to the squad to replace Woakes. After 44 overs of that opener at The Oval, with Bangladesh at 247 for 2, nerves were twanging, if, as ever with Eoin Morgan, constrained behind that implacable Steve Waugh squint.
Because England, under Andrew Strauss, have done something very un-English - they have bet the house on the Champions Trophy and the 2019 World Cup. It is bold and very slightly thrilling to have ambition so nakedly declared.
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Is Chris Lynn killing the good-length ball?

He is able to hit the bowler's stock ball back over his head for six. How will the bowlers respond?

Jon Hotten
There is beauty in brutality, ask any fan of the sweet science. Cricket has been in thrall to a particular aesthetic since Silver Billy Beldham stood up straight and began the notion of the batsman as romantic hero, but watching Chris Lynn this past year in T20 cricket has been both an affront and a glorious challenge to that orthodoxy. Brutality is his trademark in that form, and it is a targeted kind. Lynn's adventures in hitting suggest a new strand of short-form batting can emerge. Like Chris Gayle, Lynn is producing something different; unlike Gayle, Lynn is no man-mountain. We should take notice of what it is.
First the figures, because they are frightening enough. In the 2016-17 Big Bash, he scored 309 runs at 154.50 and a strike rate of 177.50. In his last seven innings he has made 434 runs at 144.60 and a strike rate of 181.59. Against a career average and strike rate of 37 and 146.51, it's what you call an escalation.
Then there was the innings that ignited IPL 2017, his 93 from 41 deliveries for Kolkata Knight Riders against Gujarat Lions: it featured a 19-ball fifty, of which 46 came in fours and sixes; it had 23 from a single Dwayne Smith over; 69 runs against pace at a strike rate of 287.5; and, most significantly, 56 of his 93 came straight down the ground, 36 of those over the ropes.
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Ramprakash and Hick: the men who know

Two so-called unfulfilled talents are now at the top of the tree in coaching batsmen. Does that compute?

Jon Hotten
It's June 6, 1991, England v West Indies, Headingley. Under graphite skies, Graeme Hick plays his first Test innings and bats for 51 minutes before he is caught by Jeff Dujon off the bowling of Courtney Walsh for 6. Mark Ramprakash passes him on the outfield on the way to play his first Test innings. He bats for 142 minutes before he is caught by Carl Hooper off the bowling of Malcolm Marshall for 27.
It's November 20, 2016, India v England, Visakhapatnam. In nuclear heat, Haseeb Hameed plays his fourth Test innings. He bats for 188 minutes and faces 144 deliveries before he is dismissed lbw by R Ashwin for 25.
It's March 20, 2017, India v Australia, Ranchi. Under cloudless skies, Shaun Marsh plays his 40th Test innings. He bats for 236 minutes and 197 deliveries before he is caught by M Vijay off the bowling of Ravindra Jadeja for 53. Peter Handscomb plays his 13th Test innings. He bats for 261 minutes and 200 deliveries and is 72 not out at close of play.
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It might be time to undo some of our theories about the game

Michael Lewis' new book suggests we often make judgements based on flawed reasoning. Let's learn from it

Jon Hotten
As of this week, Steven Smith is the sixth-highest-ranked Test batsman of all time (in terms of highest rating achieved), and the man in possession of the sixth-best average in the history of Test cricket (having batted more times than everyone above him in the list). He makes a century once every 5.2 innings.
It is all a long way from his first Test in 2010, when he batted No. 8, and also from England in 2013, when, 11 Test matches into his career and after 22 innings, he had an average of 29.52 and a highest score of 92.
In his next match, at The Oval, in the dead rubber of a thankless tour, he made a century, much of it in partnership with another enigma, Shane Watson, who scored his third and highest Test hundred, 176. Watson had gone more than 45 innings without a ton until that knock, and his average, after 83 innings as a Test batsman, stood at 34.51.
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What Gayle tells us

T20 batting will move on from him, but for now, as he stands on the verge of yet another monolithic landmark, he is a reminder of what is possible in the game

Jon Hotten
Centuries were once rare currency. In WG Grace's first transcendent season, the summer of 1871, when he turned 23 years old, 17 first-class hundreds were scored. The champion accounted for ten of them. By the time Grace made 104 for Gloucester against Sussex at Hove in 1876, to become the first man to compile 50 first-class hundreds, he had more centuries than the next 13 men on the list combined. He got to 100 hundreds in 1895 and the game waited another 18 years for someone else, Surrey's Tom Hayward, to reach the same mark.
In 2003, albeit accidentally, cricket reset itself. Batting changed because T20 cricket and the money it generated made it change - and in turn, symbiotically, the shock and awe generated by the new batting generated more money.
In T20 cricket, like cricket in the Victorian age, centuries are rare currency, and like Grace, one man stands apart. Chris Gayle has scored 18 T20 hundreds. The next best is seven, by Brendon McCullum. Only two men, Luke Wright and Michael Klinger, have six, David Warner is next with five. Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers have four and three respectively. It's perfectly possible, perhaps even likely, that Kohli will never get to 18, despite his mastery and his comparative youth.
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The return of Peter Roebuck

The typescript pages of his newly discovered diaries from 1986 provide an intimate window into the man's thoughts and reflections

Jon Hotten
There is something intimate about a page of typescript, something that has vanished into the age of digital. It's there in the way that single letters cut into a page, some leaving sharp edges, others little indents into which ink from the ribbon would well and smudge. The paper itself, chosen and wound into the machine by the writer, and the corrections they have made - words crossed through with a line of xxxxs, others corrected by hand - speak.
It is as if you can trace the thought emerging onto the page, read the line as it formed in the head. As a kid writer, I caught the very tail end of typed copy, a year or so before what we quaintly called "desktop publishing" came along and wiped it all away. I worked in an office that had six or seven writers hammering away at the keys at any one time. After a while it was easy to tell who was there just by the sound they made - some were peckers, some were rattlers, and almost everyone smashed the carriage return triumphantly hard on completing their final sentence.
This all came floating through my mind when I was looking at Peter Roebuck's newly discovered diaries from 1986, uploaded in pdf form to the family website, and reported brilliantly for ESPNcricinfo by David Hopps.
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The sad pleasures of the KP sunset

At 36, Kevin Pietersen still exudes the aura of a superstar. It is a pity that international cricket no longer has the benefit of his presence

Jon Hotten
The pleasures of watching Kevin Pietersen bat remain high-end. His innings are squashed into the box of T20 now, robbed of the epic scale of his Test-match symphonies, but those knife-edge moments so deeply familiar to his fans still happen.
The other day, Pietersen swept his first ball over square leg for six and then edged the next past the keeper's gloves. The dead-skunk 'do feels as ancient as MySpace - the hair is salt-and-pepper instead - yet his arrival at the crease creates the same electric surge it always did: he has the slightly alien presence of the genuine superstar. He is 36-and-a-half years old, far closer to the end than the beginning, and there's always an accompanying sadness when a player reaches those moments.
It runs deeper where Pietersen is concerned because his batting is still palpably good. He has entered that rich coda that some batsmen find, when the eye is not yet gone and the skills have reached such a peak that control is almost total. Musicians and artists get it too, when their work has lost the shock of the new but the craftsmanship takes over. Pietersen's work in the T20 leagues of the world has been of a superlative standard, even if the bowling he faces has not always matched it.
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What is a cameo?

We've all seen them: innings of throwaway flair that transport us. But how exactly do you define one?

Jon Hotten
Karun Nair was six runs shy of India's third Test match triple-hundred. All he needed was the strike and a sturdy heart. The second was no problem; the first was at that moment being held by Ravindra Jadeja. With singles available all over Chennai, Jadeja instead lifted Moeen Ali's umpteenth offbreak into the stands, nicked the bowling, got past fifty and then holed out at cow corner, all before Nair's moment of history came along.
Jadeja had made 51 of his team's 759 for 7, a classic cameo, an innings that represented well the exuberant, eccentric cricket of its creator, and added the glazing to the cherry on top of India's cake.
The cameo innings is a staple of the game, shorthand for something we all understand but rarely define. The Botham cameo. The Gilchrist cameo. The Pietersen cameo. The Sehwag cameo. We know instantly what they are, what they mean, perhaps even what they looked like. But the term is elastic, woolly, somehow lacking in weight. It's a word that can be thrown around in many circumstances: Just made 16 from three deliveries in the last over of a Powerplay? Maybe a flowing 70, surrounded by three centuries on the scorecard? Perhaps a sexy, mid-afternoon 40-odd in one of those rare Champo appearances allowed by your central contract? Any and all could be cameos. It's a word that suggests a carefree spirit, a desire to entertain, to connect once more with the simple joy of putting bat on ball. By its very nature a cameo will not be enough to win a game. It will not always change one, because it often comes from a team already on top - or alternatively already beaten.
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Why you need to master defence to score runs

Technique is a servant, not a master. Take the example of Jonny Bairstow, and his successful comeback to the England Test side

Jon Hotten
Graham Gooch once said, "I don't coach batting, I coach run-scoring." In a sentence he defined the requirements of the game's highest levels: those who arrived there already knew how to bat; what they needed to know was how to prosper on the mean streets, where the pressure was greatest and where any and every weakness would be found and exploited.
It suggested, too, that technique is a servant rather than a master, a means to an end rather than the end itself. Ugly runs count the same as pretty ones; David Gower's and Shivnarine Chanderpaul's look just the same in the scorebook, if not the history book. And as Alastair Cook, Gooch's most famous pupil, has moved inexorably onto the list of the all-time top ten Test match run scorers, and Goochie himself got more than anyone else across all forms of cricket, he's probably on to something.
Like all good buzzwords, technique has been thrumming through Test series between England and India, and Australia and South Africa. There's nothing like a batting collapse to begin the self-evisceration. Speaking to the Guardian for a thoughtful examination of Australian concepts of batting written by Sam Perry, Ed Cowan said: "One of [our] biggest issues is the attitude of 'attack at all costs', which I think is defunct in Test cricket. The message feeds through that we've got to pick attacking cricketers and that you need to be an attacking cricketer to be picked."
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