Paper Round
December 14, 2010

Ashes WAGS arrive in Perth

Posted on 14/12/2010

England's cricketers are flying high in Australia, but with the arrival of their families for the Christmas period, the dynamic of the team is almost certainly going to change.

Flower welcomes 'good distraction'

Stuart Broad’s injury has forced England to change their winning side for the third Test starting here on Thursday, but that is not all that is different, writes Derek Pringle in The Telegraph. With most of the wives and girlfriends turning up on Monday, after a WAG-free six weeks, England have changed the environment in which they have played fairly flawless cricket.

Flower blossoms with the WAGs

The Sun leads with Andy Flower's claim that the arrival of the families would be no distraction whatsoever:
Far from distracting Andrew Strauss and his players, head coach Flower believes the wives, girlfriends and children will give a big lift.

Could the Wags hurt England's Ashes hopes?

The wives and partners have arrived Down Under – and it may not be good news for Andy Flower, writes Stephen Brenkley in the Independent.

The WAGs arrived yesterday. They brought with them the children. Thus, at a stroke was six weeks of intense male bonding ended. England's cricket tour of Australia will never quite be the same again in terms of its testosterone levels and if it results in a reversal of the present good fortune there may yet be hell to pay.

December 8, 2010

Laughing Stock

Posted on 08/12/2010

England have suffered a lot of pain on tours of Australia and to a man the papers are revelling in the brilliant win in Adelaide. It was a crushing innings victory, made all the sweeter by the sight of torrential rain drenching the Adelaide Oval later in the afternoon.

The Australian media have questioned the current crop and their English counterparts have put the boot in on the back pages.


‘Can’t bat, can’t bowl, can’t field – Daily Mail


Andrew Strauss has told the triumphant England team to drive home their Ashes advantage – Daily Mirror


Ricky Ponting is pictured with a rueful look on his face on the front of the Daily Telegraph’s sports pullout.


The Times shows the scoreboard from the Adelaide Oval following England’s brilliant win.

December 6, 2010

Australia looking like mugs

Posted on 06/12/2010

With England on course for victory in Adelaide after amassing 1137 runs for six wickets in their last two innings, Martin Samuel in The Daily Mail claims England have every reason to be feeling smug.

Just before lunch on the third day, officers from the South Australian Police gathered on the hill of the Cathedral End where the rowdier elements congregate at the Adelaide Oval and swept purposefully through the crowd. Nobody knew what they were looking for. Bowlers, most probably.

Australia could certainly do with some if they are to stand any chance of regaining the Ashes.
The battle between England's top order and the Australian attack was always going to define this game, and sure enough all hope of Australian victory was removed over two and a bit brutal days.

Englishmen have learned not to tempt fate at this charming cricket ground, but even the most pessimistic Pom could find no reason to doubt the outcome here. The game was taken away from Australia by England's batsmen, most notably Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen, and the hosts biggest hope now is that rain will postpone a seemingly inevitable denouement.

Unless the bowling attack can regroup, England will retain the urn sometime soon and win the series after that either in Perth, Melbourne or Sydney. As it stands, Australia are up a gum tree; maybe even the old gum tree on Macfarlane Street that is regarded as the birthplace of the province.

Continue reading "Australia looking like mugs"

November 30, 2010

Australia are demoralised - Botham

Posted on 30/11/2010

Sir Ian Botham has upset his fair share of England cricketers over the years. The former allrounder’s willingness to call events as he sees them has often seen his compatriots at the end of a verbal bashing, but even “Beefy” was stunned by England’s performance in the first Ashes Test against Australia – as he writes in the Daily Mirror...

That was a Test match to savour if you're an England fan. Keep saying it to yourself - 517 for 1. Not for two or three but for one and that means something very special indeed. It doesn't matter where you are or who you're playing - to do something like that is remarkable. But to do it in an opening Ashes Test in Australia when you're 221 runs behind is mind-boggling.

I'm delighted for the boys who have come away from Brisbane not only with their heads held high but having landed one on the Australians' nose. Of course England would have wanted to win this game, but when Peter Siddle has the sort of day he did on Thursday there is not a lot you can do about it. Hat-tricks are incredibly rare so don't worry about him doing it again in a hurry.

But once we've said well done to Siddle, and to Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin for their partnership, the one thing to take away from the game is how much better England will feel than Australia. Andrew Strauss's job now is to channel his players' confidence in the right way and not let them get ahead of themselves.

That was Alastair Cook's best performance in an England shirt bar none and it came about because he has gone back to what works best for him. He now looks more like the run-scoring machine that came into the side as a kid than he did scratching around at the start of last summer.

And for Jonathan Trott to hit another Ashes ton in only his second game you just wonder what's in store in Adelaide and beyond for him. He is becoming so reliable for England at No.3 that it is a surprise when he doesn't get the side a score.

England are in rude health and if they get the chance to bat first in Adelaide, this Australian side might just break. I can't remember seeing a more demoralised Australian team in the middle of a match for a long time. Midway through the England innings they looked so bereft of ideas and enthusiasm I had to check that I was still watching the same team. It goes to show that no one likes fetching leather for 10 hours without any joy to sustain it.

The Australians are now the ones who have to do something to shake things up and I wouldn't be surprised to see a change in their team by Friday. They won't want to change their side because it is a sign of weakness, but when your bowlers are made to look so average in front of the watching world, it takes a brave group to carry on as if nothing is wrong. The players know it and that is the psychological blow that England have landed. It is now a matter of building on it.

I have no doubt that they will. One special England performance followed by another will do nicely.

November 28, 2010

Fearless Strauss and Cook get England back on track

Posted on 28/11/2010

Geoffrey Boycott is no stranger to the Ashes, having scored seven career centuries against Australia. And in his Telegraph column, he was full of praise for England openers Andrews Strauss and Alastair Cook after they rescued England's cause in Brisbane.

What a wonderfully uplifting day for England. Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook batted splendidly and showed there is nothing to fear from this Australian attack.

Strauss’s footwork and driving were terrific. During this innings Strauss cut the ball over gully, not at it, and the only time he looked like getting out was when he tried to hit the spinners over the top, which he shouldn’t have been doing in the first place.

Cook played a controlled innings which may have been steadier than his first innings but was much more valuable to England.

Yesterday all the good fortune went with Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin. Today it was England’s turn. When they played and missed an odd ball or a slightly false shot, Australia could not hang on to the catches. Even when Australia used the review system they got it wrong.

Mitchell Johnson was a shadow of the bowler he is has been in the past. He dropped a catch, he got nought when he batted and has taken no wickets for more than 100 in the match. His place is in jeopardy. Ricky Ponting’s field placings were also far too defensive for a team trying to win the match.

The pitch is still very good for batting and there is no reason why England should not save the game, which considering how many times we have lost at Brisbane in the past, is a good start to the series for England.

November 27, 2010

Australia murdered us

Posted on 27/11/2010

England are staring down the barrel of defeat in the first Ashes Test against Australia, and former batsman Geoff Boycott has been quick to put the boot in. Writing for the Telegraph, he blames a less-than-ordinary batting performance for the visitors’ woes at the Gabba...

This was always going to be the decisive day of this Test and Australia murdered us.

James Anderson bowled really well without any good fortune. Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad were ordinary. Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin just systematically took us apart. They showed our batsmen that pretty little 30s, 40s and 50s don’t win Test matches. Those two Aussie batsmen put their team in a position to win the game.

Do you think England’s batsmen can bat six sessions? It is possible but highly improbable because so many of them want to play shots all the time. They are going to have to make 400-450 to give themselves any chance of bowling Australia out for 180-200.

Don’t compare this to us saving the match in Cardiff last year. We only had three-and-a-half sessions to bat and rain took away a number of the overs.

When you do not bat well enough in the first innings and only score 260, then the little things like umpiring decisions and half-chances tend to go against you.

The resolve Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook have shown the whole team will have to show for the next two days because even if we can’t save the match we have to salvage some pride and earn some respect for a gutsy performance.

November 24, 2010

The gloves are off

Posted on 24/11/2010

Australia have not lost at the Gabba in 22 year, but England arrive in Brisbane with a spring in their step while for the first time in decades there is a fear among Australian supporters that the tourists will get the job done. The series gets underway with England in with a genuine chance of defending the urn, but the Guardian’s Mike Selvey feels it would be folly to underestimate Ricky Ponting’s men on a ground they know so well.

"This Ashes tour has been like no other in living memory. While England have gone on their serene way in Test match preparation, with scarcely a hiccup to upset the progress, the Australians have been floundering with issues of form, fitness, and confidence, each as yet not fully resolved.

Cricket Australia, the governing body, seems to be in turmoil, with a marketing department that appears to be ruling the roost. The chairman of selectors made his initial squad announcement from beneath the railway arches by Circular Quay in Sydney, and latterly, when the squad was reduced, could be interviewed by the luggage carousel at Adelaide airport. Few players have managed any performances of substance in the state cricket they have played, and two days ago their reserve wicketkeeper Tim Paine, himself pushing strongly for a Test spot, broke a finger playing in a hit-and-giggle promotional Twenty20 match at The Gabba, and is out for the duration of the series. It has been calamitous.

Even the phoney war, that period when local comment bounces between the barbed and the patronising, has been powder-puff stuff, done for the sake of it rather than with any real malice. So Mitchell Johnson is going to "target" Andrew Strauss (he is an opening bowler: who else is he going to target? Kylie Minogue?), Matthew Hayden says that England have been "hiding" and have had "a sleepy start so far", which shows what can happen if you club yourself over the head with your own Mongoose, while one newspaper's risible go at baiting England – headlined "10 reasons why the Poms are duds" – would have been fine if you could not have substituted Australia for each and every one. It just hasn't been the same. If not actually an air of resignation, there is apprehension in the wind. Even the majority of local pundits appear to be tipping England to win the series.

But everyone knows that when the teams arrive at The Gabba tomorrow, none of this, not England's controlled build-up or Australia's flapping, will count for a hill of beans. In Australia, there is no such thing as an uncompetitive Australian cricket team. At The Gabba, that charmless, characterless concrete bowl, with its dressing‑room bunkers, they have been nigh on invincible. And they know that since Len Hutton's 1954-55 England side lost by an innings but won three Tests thereafter, no visiting side has come unstuck at The Gabba and recovered to win the series. They play here at this time of year for climatic reasons rather than to exert early authority, but the fact remains that this is their fortress.

In order then to win the series, or even draw it, England need to overturn history for unless the weather interferes in its tropical intensity, The Gabba does not do draws. Andy Flower is a keen student of statistical analysis so will be aware of the most fundamental of these: that Australia have lost only three of the past 26 matches played between the sides in Australia since Mike Gatting's 1986-87 triumph and each of those after the destiny of the Ashes had been decided; that indeed Australia have won 10 of the past 11 Ashes matches in this country; and that no visiting team has won a Test match in Brisbane since Viv Richards's great West Indians 22 years ago."

November 23, 2010

Boycott's Ashes XI

Posted on 23/11/2010

Paul Collingwood believes the current England side is the best he has played in, but how would it compare to its predecessors? Writing for the Telegraph, Geoff Boycott, king of the measured innings, selects his Ashes XI from a specific group of players picked only from the Ashes series in which he played...

Ray Illingworth went in with three openers to blunt the Australian new-ball attack, plus a posse of quick bowlers led by John Snow. So when Telegraph Sport asked me to pick my best English XI – composed only of team-mates from my eight Ashes series – I opted for the spine of that 1970-71 team: myself and John Edrich at the top, Alan Knott behind the stumps, and Snow spearheading the attack.


Some of you might ask why I haven’t opened with Graham Gooch. Now I’m a big fan of Graham’s, he was a fantastic player, but if you look at his record against Australia, it’s not that special. He had a horrible time in 1989, when Terry Alderman kept turning him round and smacking him on the pad. And Australia have got Alderman in their best XI. I’m going for Edrich instead, and myself of course. Between us, we have 14 hundreds against the Aussies — and that’s a decent record by any standard. John had one of the greatest temperaments I have ever seen: he could play and miss and it wouldn’t bother him one jot. As with Herbert Sutcliffe, it was impossible to fluster him.

Middle order

At No 3, you’ve got to have Ted Dexter. He was a fantastic player who stood up well to the quicks. Ted could easily get bored against medium-pace trundlers but he was stimulated by a real challenge — and Lillee and Thomson were always that.
Colin Cowdrey couldn’t help being a hail-fellow-well-met sort of person, chatting away to everybody and doing his bit for the entente cordiale.
But when he switched on he was a classy technician who had an answer for everything. I’ve also picked Ken Barrington, of whom Wally Grout famously said: “Whenever I saw Ken coming to the wicket, I thought the Union Jack was trailing behind him.”
To complete the middle order, I’ve gone for David Gower. We all know that David was capable of doing something daft at any time, but he was also a flair player with extraordinary timing: he could lean on the ball and it would disappear. A top six needs different elements, and as we’ve got dependable people like Barrington and Boycott, it’s worth having a couple of instinctive, intuitive players.


This is the easiest selection of the lot. Alan Knott was a genius - ask Ian Chappell, who always rated him very highly. He hardly ever missed anything, and he made runs at the times when they were most needed. It gave our bowlers confidence to know they had such a magician behind the stumps.


Ian Botham was a great cricketer in anyone’s language. He had a big backside, big shoulders, and a narrow waist, and before his back injury he had this fantastic turn in his action which gave him real pace and swing.
Botham’s achievements tended to overshadow those of Bob Willis, but people forget what a good foil Willis was for him. You don’t take 325 wickets without a bit of talent. By the end of his career, the old boy’s joints were creaking, and he probably played on for a couple of years when he wasn’t at his best. But as a young fast bowler, he was sharp and he had bounce.
Snow at times was a great fast bowler. You needed to know how to handle him, because sometimes he needed a kick up the backside, and sometimes he needed to be left alone. But he had a knack for getting the ball up from just short of a length into the batsman’s ribs. In 1970-71, it was his bowling that did more than anything to win the series for England.
Derek Underwood was a lovely man but a mean bowler, who hated giving away every single run. When conditions were against him, he would just keep things quiet, but if he came across a spinning pitch, look out, because he would win the game for you.
You might have spotted that I haven’t picked Fred Trueman. I love Fred, but by the time I came into the England side in 1964, he was past his peak, so regrettably I’ve had to leave him out.
On pure batting and bowling talent, I’m not sure whether Illy himself would make my best XI. But without him, I can’t see a convincing captain in this team. So I’m picking Raymond to lead the side, and I’m going to let him make the decision of which batsman he’s going to drop to make room for himself!
Illy can bat at No 7, one place below Botham, with Knott at No 8, and Snow - who had a brief spell as an opening batsman at Sussex - at No 9.
That also gets around the fact that none of England’s specialist batsmen can contribute much with the ball, except perhaps Dexter with his occasional seamers. A five-man attack gives you the best opportunity to take control of a game, because it means you don’t have those awkward periods when all your bowlers are tired. And Illy, with his miserly off-spin, his canny batting and his catching at gully, will make a contribution in every part of the game.

England XII (from)

Geoff Boycott, John Edrich, Ted Dexter, Colin Cowdrey, David Gower, Ken Barrington, Ian Botham, Ray Illingworth (c) Alan Knott (wk), John Snow, Bob Willis, Derek Underwood.

November 19, 2010

WACA looking dangerous ahead of the Ashes

Posted on 19/11/2010

Usually it would be England looking for excuses ahead of an Ashes series, but it is Australia who might want to rehearse their lines as the Guardian’s David Hopps reveals a badly deteriorating pitch at the WACA...

Cracks have been appearing in the Australian batting line-up of late, and now they are turning up in their pitches. There are signs that the WACA may be on the verge of regaining the pace that made it the most ferocious Test surface in the world after an earthquake-like crack running down the length of the pitch almost caused the abandonment of a second XI match between Western Australia and New South Wales.

The fault line, three to four centimetres at its widest, might not have been quite as vast as some of the cracks that unnerved batsmen a generation ago – the former England captain, David Gower, famously was once photographed with his bat wedged so deep into a crack in a Test pitch that it stood up on its own – but it caused New South Wales to press for the match to be abandoned.

Their pleas went unheard with the umpire Nathan Johnston ruling that the final day would go ahead as long as there were "no silly buggers" from the pitch. New South Wales, six wickets down overnight and facing a heavy defeat, made 244 and lost by 234 runs.

The third Ashes Test, scheduled from 16 to 20 December, is due to take place two strips along from this surface, but Western Australia's chief executive, Graeme Wood, a former Australia Test opener, dismissed any suggestions that the match might be in jeopardy. Instead, he brazenly praised signs that the WACA, dormant for too long, could be about to explode again – perhaps even when Australia and England meet again in less than a month's time.

"There are pretty good signs there," Wood said. "There was no danger for the batsmen and if there are cracks in the pitch, that confirms that the block is starting to get harder. We've been seeking greater pace and bounce for some years now."

No immediate comment was available from either side at how a super-fast Perth surface might influence the result of the Ashes. In Western Australia, it will renew hope that the local boy Mitchell Johnson might rediscover his threat, although recently he has not been able to hit the cut bit, never mind the cracks.

England will point to the presence in their ranks of the three tallest fast bowlers – Stuart Broad, Steve Finn and Chris Tremlett – and believe that they can take full advantage.

The WACA's groundsman, Cam Sutherland, has sourced clay from the banks of the Harvey River in the last few years in a deliberate attempt to revive the Waca's fearsome reputation and bring a more gladiatorial air to Perth cricket to remove its reputation as the least cricket-orientated of Australia's Test venues.

It was here that the West Indies fast bowler Curtly Ambrose took seven wickets for one run against Australia in 1992-93 in less than an hour of lightning pace and trampoline bounce. Eight years earlier, on Armistice Day, another West Indies quick, Michael Holding, took six wickets to bowl out Australia for 76, their lowest Test score for more than 40 years.

England were also on the receiving end of some frightening fast bowling from Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson in the mid-70s as they were unable to cope with the WACA's slick, concrete-like strip. England's opener, David Lloyd, who doubled up after being struck in the box, later turned it into a substantial slice of an after-dinner speech.

Sutherland insisted that a rapid doubling in temperatures to 37C after last week's wet weather had influenced the cracking of the surface, which has dried out too quickly. He also insisted that cracks in the WACA pitches of old were significantly wider. Only one game has ever been abandoned at the WACA because it was deemed too dangerous – a one-day match in 2000 between WA and Queensland, and even that was played on a used surface.

November 2, 2010

Forget the hype, Australia just aren't any good anymore

Posted on 02/11/2010

When one thinks of Australian cricket, you instantly summon images of Glenn McGrath, Steve Waugh, Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist... to name a few. These players have inflicted a battering on England on many occasions. However, these players no longer play for Australia, and the Telegraph’s Steve James insists England need to remember that...

A confession to start with: I’ve never been to Australia. Yes, that’s right. Never been to Australia, as player or journalist. I wasn’t brave enough to spend my off seasons playing grade cricket. Or I wasn’t asked. I can’t remember which.

So instead I sought winter sun in Zimbabwe, idling time drinking soapies (a wonderfully deceptive mixture of cane, lemon barley and soda water) and training with Grant Flower. Both left me feeling sick. But at least I got to meet his brother Andrew. They tell me he has gone on to do rather well for himself.

And there was also one winter period spent in Cape Town, playing for a club side called Primrose. Our experienced all-rounder was a delightful chap called Haroon Lorgat. I believe he is still involved in cricket: being chief executive of the International Cricket Council can just about be regarded as such.

So I will travel to Australia very soon in a rare state of excitement. But I will also travel in a state of some bewilderment. I’ll admit it: I just don’t get all the fuss. Hype and history are producing a cocktail that I’m not willing to stomach.

I’m led to believe that I’m travelling to another planet where visiting bowlers regularly disappear, sucked into some Kookaburra vortex, where batsmen become quivering wrecks on pitches simply too fast and bouncy for them, surrounded by fielders with PhDs in sledging and crowds so frightening that they all had parts in the film Psycho. Pah. I’m with Flower (A) on this: “I don’t think there’s anything to be afraid of in Australia,” he said before departure.

Of course, there used to be. Not so long ago Australia possessed a great team. And that is not to use that adjective blithely. They were great, mainly because in Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath they had two of the greatest bowlers ever to draw breath. Two in the same side! That makes some difference, even to the noise levels. Matthew Hayden never said a word until established in that team. Even I – shy, retiring me – used to chirp a bit when Waqar Younis was steaming in for Glamorgan.

Last week I asked Alastair Cook what the Australians had said to him when he was a young pup making a double hundred against them for Essex back in 2005. “There wasn’t much they could say,’’ he said, “We [Will Jefferson was his opening partner before Ravi Bopara joined him in a partnership of 270] had about 60 off the first 10 overs.” Exactly. Struggling teams go quiet. Chirping for England used to be a futile business.

And most of the sledging stories are apocryphal. I played against Warne and McGrath. Mostly they just swore and abused. “You could not call it sledging because it was so foul-mouthed as to be a disgrace to the game,” wrote Duncan Fletcher of them in the 2006/07 Ashes whitewash in his autobiography Behind the Shades.

The truth is that somebody needs to say it: Australia are simply not very good anymore. They are losing for fun at the moment. They are the new England. Even grade cricket is said to be going soft. Just like we used to in the Eighties and Nineties, they now seem to pick players out of a hat. Last Sunday they played a T20 international with players from only two states. They lost. In the past two years 45 players have represented Australia in Tests, one-day internationals and T20s. And they’ve only got six domestic teams! No wonder they’ve just sacked Merv Hughes as a selector.

Call it heresy, but the Ashes just weren’t the biggest thing in this cricket-mad youngster’s life. There was a reason: Australia were simply not very good then either. Neither were England, but that’s changed. Instead I grew up in awe of the West Indies. They were the team. Going to the Caribbean to face four snarling quicks was the ultimate examination.

But will this be England’s toughest tour? No chance. It will, though, be good preparation. India, the world’s No. 1 team, are coming next summer.

October 30, 2010

Tendulkar tips England for Ashes

Posted on 30/10/2010

Sachin Tendulkar, arguably the best batsman of all time, has thrown his hat into the ring in the Ashes debate by tipping England to win during an interview in the Guardian:

Tendulkar expects a more balanced England to edge the Ashes. "I think England have a better chance. I favour them slightly. I would say [Eoin] Morgan could be the key performer in the Ashes. Morgan and [Graeme] Swann." Suggesting that Kevin Pietersen's poor form lies in his head, Tendulkar pinpoints Morgan as England's best batsman.

Continue reading "Tendulkar tips England for Ashes"

October 29, 2010

It's now or never for England

Posted on 29/10/2010

With England's stars heading to Australia in a bid to exorcise the demons of their last trip Down Under, which was lost 5-0, commentators are assessing the team's chances. Mike Selvey, writing in the Guardian, reckons this is England's best chance to beat Australia for years:

All teams set off with hope, often to be dashed, but when England travel to Perth tomorrow they will take with them the genuine unfettered belief not just that they will retain the Ashes they won back in 2009, but that they will do so by winning the series.

Continue reading "It's now or never for England"

October 28, 2010

Strauss on an Ashes mission

Posted on 28/10/2010

Ashes fever is starting to take hold and it will step up when the England team travel out to Australia on November 25. Despite their troubles, Australia are sure to be a fearsome proposition on home soil. But, despite England having not won a series in Australia since 1987, former captain Michael Vaughan, writing in the Daily Telegraph, feels everything is in place for Andrew Strauss’ men to triumph.

"Andrew Strauss sets off on Friday on a mission to retain the Ashes armed with a team who have the best chance since 1986-87 of achieving something special in Australia.

For him personally this is his golden chance to put himself up there with the great captains in cricket history. This could be his time to stamp an indelible mark on the English game.

But that comes at a price. The expectation of England success this time is higher than ever before because the Australians are in such a state of flux.

Also, after all the preparation and expense the England and Wales Cricket Board has gone to in providing the research and the momentum the team have behind them, I will be very disappointed if they do not come back with the Ashes. There are no excuses. They have left no stone unturned.

Man for man, Strauss has got to make England believe that they are better than Australia.

Success will come down to whether England can handle the pressure and make Australia start doubting themselves on home soil.

Australia have lost their last three Test matches and, it does not matter who you are, it is a fact that you can get used to losing, even in an Ashes series.

England get on the plane today knowing they will not have to deal with Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. They head to Australia to play a team that have lost the surprise factor. Australia are just a normal team now. There is a new breed of Australian player coming through but they are walking into a losing side which means that every little mistake a young guy makes could cost a win, or even a draw. That didn't happen in the past because the greats could get them out of trouble.

This is a great time to be leading an England team that's playing well. They have a great chance of winning and we all expect them to retain the Ashes and make history."

September 23, 2010

Corrupt players must be banned

Posted on 23/09/2010

With autumn on the horizon, the English cricket season is now finally over and it has been a summer of highs and lows. England have won all their series, but the game has been tarnished by the corruption revelations. And the Daily Telegraph’s Brian Moore feels those guilty of corruption must be banned.

Only a couple of months past this column discussed the questions of malfeasance in sport and the danger of a particular sport reaching a stage beyond which its credibility is so thin that it loses support and, as a result, might implode

While it took neither a genius nor Nostradamus to identify the many dangers in sport and then to predict that this would happen to one sport in the future, it is nonetheless startling that there should be an example to hand within so short a time.

It has to be fervently hoped that the unsavourary allegations and counter-allegations arising out of the tour by the Pakistan cricket team do not constitute such a juncture

However, for cricket this is an issue far more serious than was ‘Bloodgate’ for rugby or any ills that exist within football presently.

The behaviour of the officials who have commented on behalf of the Pakistan players and team has been thoroughly counter-productive.

It is a familiar tactic to try to divert attention from your own problems by attacking an accuser or anyone involved in the investigation of the misdemeanour but the first rule is usually to have some evidence, however threadbare, on which to hang any counter-accusations.

Three men holding positions of responsibility have recently availed themselves of this tactic but because of the lack of substantiating evidence or because of plain exaggeration they have made matters worse.

Pakistani High Commissioner Wajid Hasan’s ludicrous and uncorroborated claim that the three cricketers, Test captain Salman Butt and fast bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, were innocent because the video footage from the News of the World was shot after the event was sufficient to damn any further words that he uttered.

Further, his evasiveness when talking to Radio 5 Live’s Garry Richardson was so pronounced that even if his claims had substance, the manner of his delivery denuded them of any credence.

The chairman of the Pakistani Cricket Board, Ijaz Butt, has made the serious and unsupported allegation that the England team had received huge sums of money to lose last Friday’s one-day international at the Oval.

His evidence was the mere assertion that, “There is loud and clear talk in bookies’ circles that some English players have been paid enormous amounts of money to lose the match.”

On the back of this notably unattributed talk Butt has demanded an International Cricket Council investigation into the England team. Much easier to make the case against Pakistan if another team is also being investigated.

Following his appearance before the International Cricket Council in Dubai two days ago he called for the resignation of the ICC chairman Haroon Lorgat, of India, for his handling of the match-fixing investigation.

Even the incident at Lord’s where Jonathan Trott was said to have held Abdul Riaz by the throat was undermined as a vehicle for sympathy by Shahid Afridi, dubiously claiming the high moral ground by saying “we showed a big heart” by not pressing the matter with the police.

Every piece of dirt that is hurled by these representatives of Pakistan makes things worse and leaves those uttering the statements with no credibility at all, even when they make otherwise salient points.

It also removes another vestige of sympathy from those previously trying to help Pakistan by pleading the mitigating circumstances of naivety, poor education and a background of poverty and threats of violence.

Even the cries of entrapment are illegitimate because the essential trait of that practice is that it is an action by a person in authority, not a newspaper. Moreover, the tests of whether there was good reason to suspect criminal activity and whether the act was initiated or aided cannot properly be made against the reporters in question.

I have an instinctive dislike of set-ups that border on entrapment, whether they are technically such or not. Against the maxim that a person must have the propensity to sin in the first place you can set another axiom – that every man has his price.

It is possible to seduce someone in unique personal circumstances to do something that, but for those peculiarities and the temptation presented by a newspaper, he would not do ordinarily. However, this matter is not such.

The public reaction to these events has been curious but any positives probably do not come from the best of motives. The minds of many outside cricket and even some ardent fans have irredeemably been soured against any contest involving Pakistan.

The fact that the final one-day international at the Rose Bowl sold out came off the back of the Lord’s confrontation and had the hallmark of the playground huddle ready to chant ‘fight, fight, fight’.

For the authorities there are no easy answers. If found guilty, a team ban of any reasonable length could finish Pakistani cricket and who knows what allegations may be made or action taken if such a ban is made.

Nevertheless no country can be bigger than a sport and cricket has to stem the steady stream of invective and indictment because it threatens to engulf the 2011 World Cup (50-over) which is being held on the Indian subcontinent.

The $30billion (£19 million) illegal betting industry in India can easily reach Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the other two host countries.

Calls for the Indian government to allow betting on sports other than horse-racing will not work now the criminal interests are well established. In the light of previous scandals and given that it is impossible to prove a negative, how can the ICC reassure anyone that the games are not fixed?

Anything out of the ordinary will be suspect and in cricket there are scores of such variables by the nature of the game.

If this taint is not removed by rapid and firm action, which unfortunately will mean Pakistan and/or its players being banned, cricket could find the public has no faith in nearly half of its Test teams; that will be a tipping point.

September 22, 2010

Pakistan's real crime

Posted on 22/09/2010

Pakistan's real crime over recent weeks has been to place a question mark over the head of all cricketers, according to Martin Samuel in the Mail:

This is the argument for the continued indulgence of Pakistan cricket. It comes, not from a charlatan such as Ijaz Butt, the head of the Pakistan Cricket Board, or an apologist such as Wajid Shamsul Hasan, senior diplomat at the Pakistan High Commission in London.

Continue reading "Pakistan's real crime"

September 17, 2010

Freddie wasn't quite a great, but he was an Ashes hero

Posted on 17/09/2010

The timing of Andrew Flintoff's retirement was crass but the all-rounder's part in Ashes folklore is undeniable - although he falls short of being described as one of the sport's greats. That's the view of Mike Selvey, writing in the Guardian:

The manner in which Andrew Flintoff chose today to acknowledge a fitness battle lost even as the tightest County Championship for years was coming to its conclusion did him little credit. What abject, thoughtless timing, a slap in the face for the game that nurtured him and set him on the road to fame and considerable fortune.

Continue reading "Freddie wasn't quite a great, but he was an Ashes hero"

September 3, 2010

The Cantona of cricket

Posted on 03/09/2010

You just can’t keep Kevin Pietersen out of the news; he probably likes that. But at the moment it is his lack of form with the bat that is making headlines and The Times’ Simon Barnes feels he is taking a leaf out of the book of a famous French footballer.

Kevin Pietersen is suffering from an inferiority complex. He keeps thinking he’s just the same as everybody else. And it has devastated him. Dropped! Dropped from an England team who play Pakistan in a Twenty20 match on Sunday. He was man of the tournament when England won the World Twenty20 this year, and these things mean a lot to Pietersen.

Now he has been dropped and it isn’t a f*** up. It is a piece of deliberate policy. He has been singled out. He’d like that part of it. Others had an indifferent series with the bat against Pakistan and have been retained. In fact, being retained is the most obvious policy of the present England set-up. So much so that not retaining Pietersen is a very powerful statement.

Pietersen’s instantaneous and ill-advised lament on Twitter was the real f*** up, but it demonstrated the depth of his dismay. Ayrton Senna was a once rebuked for some minor infraction of the racing drivers’ code. His response was not so much arrogance as bewilderment: “But I’m Ayrton Senna.” Pietersen has the same sense of self.

Eric Cantona was the Kevin Pietersen of football. He turned up his collar to show he was different. He had a special walk. He came to Manchester United with a history of disrupting every team that he had belonged to, but at United he found his home. His perversities and arrogance were exactly what the club needed. Cantona made them feel different, made them feel worthy, made them feel entitled. Pietersen has been a central part of a similar process with England to a point where they can beat any team in the world.

September 2, 2010

KP needs to rediscover his virtuosity

Posted on 02/09/2010

Kevin Pietersen made a return to cricket, just a day after his Twitter blunder, but he failed to make the impression hoped for on his Surrey debut. Pietersen made 38 before offering a return catch to Shaaiq Choudry as his new county were mauled by Worcestershire. The plan is for Pietersen to get some time at the crease ahead of the Ashes and Simon Hughes, writing in the Daily Telegraph, feels he is a high-maintenance talent in need of constant tinkering.

Kevin Pietersen is a man apart. He is not a team player in the usual sense of the word. This is not to say he is a divisive or disruptive influence, because he very definitely is not.

To outsiders he is perceived as arrogant. The Australians called him The Ego and then upgraded it to FIGJAM which translates as '---- I'm Good, Just Ask Me'.

In fact, the strut conceals an insecurity. He is always seeking approval. While other players are finishing their warm-ups before play or revising final plans with coaches, Pietersen stands on the pitch chatting to his confidant Ian Botham or other former players who can offer words of praise or encouragement. His conversation largely revolves around himself in a bright and breezy sort of way, discussing property or deals or his young son's development. He rarely discusses his batting, but you sense he is fishing for compliments. Emotionally he is high-maintenance.

In the field he stands at gully, at cover or at mid-off, often in slightly isolated positions. He fields excellently but often seems disengaged, distracted by matters. He rarely joins in the banter around the bat during an over.

The biggest clue of all to his character, though, is when he arrives at the crease. There seems to be a desperation to register his first run, which usually causes a mini hiatus as he seeks a madcap single. With Pietersen on nought the non-striker must be on red alert, getting off the mark has become almost an obsession. Nothing else matters until he has achieved it. Multiply that feeling 10-fold and that is how much he desires his first England hundred for 18 months.

The daily stress he must put himself under is unimaginable. He places so much expectation on himself it has become intolerable. In a way he is suffering from the same malaise as Marcus Trescothick, constantly performing for England with no release or downtime. No gorging on easy runs off county attacks to rekindle the love of batting. It is England or nothing.

If it is going well he is surviving on adrenalin but if it is going badly everything is a trial. Depression sets in. Subconsciously he wants to run away and hide, effectively what he did with his first-ball duck at Lord's.

The selectors have given him an escape. He may not be able to see that yet, but in time he will. Time away from the spotlight. Time to find his rhythm. Time to regain his appetite. Time to rediscover his virtuosity. Don't worry he will, he will.

Talent hides itself in funny places, but it never disappears.

August 31, 2010

Blaming Pakistan misses the point

Posted on 31/08/2010

Oliver Holt, writing in the Mirror, sounds a note of caution this morning over the spot-fixing controversy. He believes that it is not just the players who should be blamed, as it's a fair bet that gambling is the real culprit.

The blame heaped upon Pakistan for bringing cricket to its knees yesterday missed the point.

Singling out Pakistan and identifying England's opponents as rogue conspirators in an otherwise unblemished landscape was an easy way out.

Continue reading "Blaming Pakistan misses the point"

August 29, 2010

Cricket could face tragedy

Posted on 29/08/2010

Following news of alleged spot-fixing in the England v Pakistan Test series, the Daily Telegraph’s Scyld Berry comments on a dark day for cricket.

IF the allegations concerning leading Pakistan players being involved in spot-fixing in the fourth Test against England at Lord’s are true, it is nothing less than a tragedy for the world of cricket.

Continue reading "Cricket could face tragedy"

August 26, 2010

KP needs to curb his aggression

Posted on 26/08/2010

Former England coach Duncan Fletcher, writing in the Guardian, believes that England's batting problems are as much mental as they are technical - but he has urged Kevin Pietersen to stiffen up his defensive play.

It is a worry when a team collapses twice in short succession. If they do it three times then that suggests they have real problems. In this series England lost six wickets for 17 runs at Trent Bridge, seven for 46 at Edgbaston and seven for 28 at The Oval. All credit to the Pakistani bowlers, but they were not responsible in 2009 when England were bowled out for 51 by the West Indies and for 102 by Australia.

Continue reading "KP needs to curb his aggression"

August 7, 2010

Pakistan debacle not making good viewing

Posted on 07/08/2010

Simon Hughes, like everybody else on Friday, could not help having a chuckle at the state of Pakistan’s batting. But on a serious note, the Telegraph columnist confesses he did not enjoy their latest Edgbaston collapse one bit...

The heaviest defeat in first-class history occurred in Pakistan. Railways made 910 for six declared and then bowled out Dera Ismail Khan for 31 and 27 to win by an innings and 851 runs in Lahore in 1964-65.

Unsurprisingly Dera never played another match, but the way Pakistan batted on the first day of the second Test at Edgbaston suggested their legacy lives on. They were strokeless and clueless. Pakistan's batsmen are proving that while you cannot win a Test match in a single session you can certainly lose one.

Once again their top six were blown away at the first sign of a moving ball. In such conditions an opening batsman's first priority must be to leave as many balls as possible, and play only when strictly necessary. Try to force the opponent to bowl where you want him to. Leaving the ball outside off stump often results in the bowler veering too straight and then you can pick up runs safely off your legs.

If a defensive shot is required, it is best to bring the bat down as late as possible to allow for the movement and ensure that any edges go down. A batsman who is 'at' the ball will always keep the slips interested. Most importantly, footwork should be decisive, quick singles should be sought and intent obvious.

Pakistan were hesitant and hapless. Imran Farhat, Salman Butt's opening partner, stood mesmerised for 24 balls before guiding Stuart Broad's angled delivery to slip. He made a belated attempt to withdraw the bat, which only underlined the fact that he should have left it in the first place.

Butt, the captain, occasionally prodded forward without conviction, and wafted lazily at a widish ball from Steve Finn, his front foot in the air, his weight leaning back and away from the ball. He must have a lot on his mind, not least who the selectors are going to spring on him next, but it was still loose cricket. No wonder England practise their slip fielding with such feverish anticipation.

Shoaib Malik, who has some useful experience of English pitches, tried to play the ball late but he gave the bowler, James Anderson, a full view of his stumps as he poked tamely at his fullish outswinger. Umar Akmal at least tried to be positive, but his feet were stuck in blocks of concrete as Finn fired a delivery into his pads and he departed lbw.

Azhar Ali, stuck on nought for 32 balls looked utterly hypnotised until Broad put him out of his misery with an inswinger. His attempt to counter it was stiff and ungainly.

The statistics make worrying reading for Pakistan's batting coach. In their three innings in this series they have been 47 for six, 41 for six and now 36 for six. That is a combined total of 124-18 for what is deemed to be the cream of Pakistan's batting. How can a country that once boasted some of the leading Test run-makers in world cricket be so bad?

Pakistan's problems mirror England's some years ago. The greats of the 1980s such as Javed Miandad and Zaheer Abbas were reared on a high standard of domestic cricket first at school, then at first-class level. The teams may have had inauspicious names (Railways, Habib Bank, Pakistan Airlines) but the quality was exceptionally good.

Batsmen set their stall to bat all day, and batting records – on admittedly some of the flattest pitches on the planet – were often broken. Pakistan touring teams of the 1980s always arrived here with players whom you had never heard, but who clearly had an insatiable desire to make runs (and a great reluctance to field.)

But Pakistan domestic cricket is in serious decline. Major schools have lost interest in the game. The number of first-class teams has almost doubled and includes even more dubious sounding teams such as Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited. I am not making this up.

With the international players invariably absent on some junket or other, there is not enough quality to go round. Few have played county cricket, and, on this showing, are ever likely to. Well as England bowled, seeing them overwhelm such novices did not make enjoyable watching.

August 3, 2010

England can send out Ashes warning

Posted on 03/08/2010

England head into the second Test with Pakistan on Friday and Ian Botham, writing in the Daily Mirror, feels the scene is set for Andrew Strauss and co to hammer out a warning to Ricky Ponting’s Australia.

England have put the first of four messages in a bottle and sent it on its way Down Under.

They were so clinical in Nottingham, I can't see anything other than a 4-0 win for England in this series and the only thing that could save Pakistan is bad weather.

England need to be as ruthless as they were in this match through the rest of the summer.

They have said their aim is to be consistent and I see no reason why they can't give Pakistan a thorough going over in the next three Tests so they are primed and ready for the Ashes in Australia.

This series is important in itself and there is no doubt the players are focused, but they also know that what they do here will send the right messages down to those shores 12,000 miles away.

Let's not forget that Pakistan drew 1-1 with Australia a few weeks ago - and what does that Headingley defeat now say about the Aussies? In truth, it is hard to gauge just how good this England side is because the teams they have played recently have not tested them to the full.

Bangladesh were plucky but nowhere near England's standard, while Pakistan's youngsters have fallen at the first hurdle and will struggle to clamber over the next three even with Mohammad Yousuf in their ranks.

What we can say is that England needed to win in style at Trent Bridge and they certainly did that. To win by 354 runs is a job well done in any language, the only question is can they sustain it and I believe they will.

A tough task for Butt

Let’s face it, Pakistan were hammered by England at Trent Bridge – with their batting shockingly inept. Captain Salman Butt faces a tough task and Nick Hoult in the Daily Telegraph explains why it is so hard for him.

The latest example of the permanent chaos surrounding Pakistani cricket was played out in a squash court at Trent Bridge on Sunday evening.

There Salman Butt, the current Pakistan captain, pleaded with the selectors to stick with youth and not recall old heads to the side. Within a few hours Mohammad Yousuf, a 35-year-old former captain and polarising figure within the dressing room, had been added to the squad and Butt, 10 years Yousuf’s junior, became one in a long line of Pakistani cricketers to be humiliated in the job.

If the life stories of every Pakistan Test captain, and there have been 27 of them, were published in a book the plot would defy credibility and lack any real star quality. In only two weeks Butt has supplied a couple of juicy paragraphs and if his predecessors are anything to go by, he will contribute much more if he manages to last in a world where captains need the survival skills of an endangered species.

July 8, 2010

Don't fall into the speed trap

Posted on 08/07/2010

Australia’s Shaun Tait set tongues wagging when pinging the ball down at 100mph at Lord’s last week. It was certainly slick from the paceman, but the Guardian’s Mike Selvey feels the it would be wise to take the readings with a pinch of salt.

I like the concept of the speed guns we see on television at international matches, and of course on the big screens at the grounds. In my view, they are an enhancement of the enjoyment, an integral part of the entertainment. When the quick men are on, they give it the extra wow factor. The bowlers love them too.

Darren Gough, for instance, almost cricked his neck trying to see the speed, which in his time was displayed on a little screen affixed to the advertising hoardings on the boundary, immediately after delivery. It was almost an obsession. They are also pretty useful at the other end of the scale, in helping to highlight whether a spinner has a default pace or whether he varies it, and by how much.

But as with Hawk-Eye, or the pitch mat for lbw, or Snicko, or even the enhanced technology of Hotspot, it is not there to be taken too seriously. It has its flaws. It is not definitive. There is a margin for error. It may even be open to a little trickery if there is a little tinkering with the calibration.

I was reminded of this during the first of England's recent one-day internationals with Australia at the Rose Bowl, when in the course of the England innings Ryan Harris was deemed to have sent down a delivery in excess of 96mph. This marks him down as one of the fastest bowlers in history, and while I bow to no one in admiration of Harris's blood-and-guts, in-yer-face bowling, he isn't that. Goodness only knows what that would make Tommo, or Mikey Holding, or Shoaib Akhtar.

So later that evening, I asked a fellow from Sky about the accuracy of a piece of technology that apparently is similar to the ones used by traffic police. "All I will say," he said guardedly, "is that if I was pulled over by the police on the evidence of cricket's speed gun, I don't think I'd be too happy."

Then last week, at Lord's, we had Shaun Tait delivering what has been billed as the fastest over ever delivered there, during the course of which one delivery burst through the 100mph barrier. Actually I'm not going to argue all that much in that it certainly was rapid, although I have witnessed at very close hand Jeff Thomson, from the Pavilion End, sending down what he himself described to me as "the fastest spell I ever bowled on a slow pitch". I also recall Waqar Younis obliterating England through the air. But 100mph is a pretty significant figure, and not one with which to trifle.

In fact, I was there at Newlands, in 2003, when Shoaib sent down what was the first officially recorded 100mph delivery. Now I know not whether Shoaib is the fastest ever (and this is not a forum for that chestnut) although I reckon that when on the rampage, before he let the ball go, he would have overtaken in his run-up anything bowled by Paul Collingwood, and know that the fastest single delivery I ever saw castled the New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming in the semi-final of the 1999 World Cup. What I can say with absolute certainty is that far from leaving scorch marks on the pitch, and the batsman's blade in tatters, the historic ball sent down by Shoaib was calmly flicked off his hip for a single by Nick Knight.

"What," I asked Nick, "did the first 100mph delivery feel like?" "About 78," he said. There was always a feeling that the South Africa World Cup was going to produce that delivery at any cost. It was a fix.

It is not going to be easy to draw comparison between the attempts at measuring in different eras. When Tommo was timed within a whisker of 100mph 35 years ago, it was done by using the frames on film.

Subsequent methods have taken the speed of the ball over the length of the pitch, thus giving different readings for bouncers relative to yorkers or even a full toss. What is measured now is effectively muzzle velocity, the speed as the ball leaves the hand, which can create an entirely different picture, and certainly not something that was available to assess Tommo or Holding.

What we need to do therefore is keep a perspective on these things and what they actually mean. During another Lord's spell from Waqar, I happened to glance at the little illuminated strip with its digital numbers, set in front of the grandstand, and one delivery read 120mph. Few seemed to see it. It was nonsense of course, an anomaly. But if that was an anomaly, how can we trust other readings.

Tait is rapid and great for the game, a real buzz. But 100mph?

July 7, 2010

Celebrate Murali's greatness

Posted on 07/07/2010

One of cricket’s most famous faces announced on Tuesday that his Test career is drawing to a close. Muttiah Muralitharan, ever smiling, is the leading wicket taker in the history of the game and that record may remain his for all time. His career has been dogged by controversy but Mike Selvey in the Guardian feels the Sri Lankan deserves his place in the history books.

No cricketer can ever have courted controversy or split public opinion quite as much as Muttiah Muralitharan. To some he has been a genius, throughout the past two decades a worthy counterpoint and rival to Shane Warne for the title of supreme spin bowler. To others, though, he has been a cheat, a "chucker" in the words of John Howard, the former Australian prime minister, whose bid to become president of the International Cricket Council has foundered not least on the back of the antipathy such a statement might have caused in Sri Lanka.

There has even been debate about how to spell and pronounce his name, something to which Australia's Channel 9 in particular barely paid lip-service. Murali pretty much just grinned and said do as you wish. Such things were not worth fighting over for someone who had spent his life as a Tamil in a country in which they were marginalised, or who did so much to raise funds in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami that lay waste the south of the island. To criticise a genuine humanitarian at such times seems petty.

It is 46 years since Fred Trueman became the first to take 300 Test wickets and pronounce that if anyone else managed it they would be "bloody knackered". Quite what Trueman would have made of Murali's relentless march does not bear thinking about. He will go to Galle to play India for his final Test (although not his final match for Sri Lanka) with 792 wickets. When he was in his absolute pomp and taking wickets like pick-and-mix from the sweet counter there was talk of 1,000 wickets, but it is still a total, given the demands on modern international cricketers, that will never be beaten.

Galle is not a bad place for a final hurrah (if indeed it proves to be – let us see what he does if he fails to take the eight he needs to reach 800). His home ground is Kandy where he dismissed Paul Collingwood to regain the record from Warne one last time but there is no Test there. Instead, of course, he will remember the desolation and death in Galle from the tsunami as well as recognising a ground that brought him 103 of his wickets at a rate of more than seven per match.

Some of the statistics are staggering. On 66 occasions, he has taken five wickets in an innings, compared to Warne's 37. He has managed 10 wickets in a match 22 times and to place this in context, only 11 bowlers have managed more five-wicket innings than this. Twice – in 2001, against India, Bangladesh and West Indies and again in 2006 against England and South Africa – he took 10 wickets in four successive matches. No one has sent down more than his 43,669 deliveries (40,850 for Anil Kumble and 40,705 for Warne are the only ones in the parish). A total of 73 of his wickets have come with catches by Mahela Jayawardene, the most by a non-wicketkeeper off a single bowler.

He did not carry the Sri Lanka attack for the bulk of his career, until his shoulder began to object and a little of the fizz went out of him – he was the Sri Lanka attack. Murali would occupy one end until play was done. Only his record against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, 176 wickets from 25 matches, diminishes him compared to Warne, who took only 17 from three games.

Often it is a unique method that elevates a sportsman above his contemporaries and Murali has been unique. Where many have called him a thrower, some extremists even suggesting his deeds should be struck from the records and that somehow he has devalued rather than enhanced the game, others have recognised someone who has overcome disability to make of himself what he has. His right arm remains permanently bent, the flexibility and rotation of his wrist beyond the norm. It is why those who imitate him actually do break the bounds of legality.

The degree of spin he gains as a result of a combination of finger manipulation and wrist has been extraordinary, way beyond that achievable by those who are finger spinners alone. And when the spin became so vast yet predictable that batsmen began to learn how to play him, he developed the top spinner and then the "doosra", the other one, a delivery bowled with the same action but which turns away from the right-hander.

With it came the sort of clamour that had greeted first sightings of him. It is, critics will say, physically impossible to bowl as he does without a jerk in the action, to which the response is that it is possible, but only to someone who has Murali's freakish attributes. In 1995, in Melbourne, in what appeared a premeditated and arbitrary act, the umpire Darrell Hair called him for throwing and, not for the last time, sparked an international cricket incident. He was no-balled again during the subsequent one-day series.

He underwent the indignity of biomechanical analysis at the University of Western Australia and the University of Hong Kong, both of which concluded that his action created the "optical illusion of throwing". It failed to end the controversy – he was no-balled three years later by Ross Emerson and in 2004 reported by the match referee Chris Broad.

From this, though, came not the continued vilification of Murali but, with the aid of modern technology, the recognition that almost all bowlers to a greater or lesser degree fail to conform to the letter of the bowling law when it comes to straightening the arm. If some allege the limit of 15 degrees of flex by the elbow was agreed specifically to include Murali, then ultimately he became vindicated.

May 16, 2010

The odd couple are making it work

Posted on 16/05/2010

Paul Collingwood and Andy Flower are an unlikely heroic double act, but they have driven the England team forward beyond all recognition, says Steve James Sunday Telegraph.

Petals and the Weed, a strange combination to be sure. Not ideal really, as any good gardener will testify. But today Andy Flower (with not the most imaginative nickname, granted) and Paul Collingwood (whose team-mates, especially the muscular Kevin Pietersen, playfully reckon him not to be the strongest hitter in the game) stand on the brink of leading England to their first-ever global one-day trophy.

Less than two years ago the odds on that would not so much have been long as to be of the sort offered to the deluded father who thinks his three-year-old can play football for England.

''Don't be silly, but 10,000-1 anyway''. It was that far-fetched. Collingwood had recognised he was no Mike Brearley, resigning the one-day captaincy, apparently in rather a huff with coach Peter Moores. And Flower, as Moores' assistant in an increasingly joyless regime, was already being tarred with the brush that eventually did for Moores.

But, somehow, this is how the wheel has turned. Flower has become an astute and authoritative leader.
Persuasive, too, in coaxing a most reluctant Collingwood to retake the reins. And Collingwood has improved. He is clearly still no tactical genius and in this tournament he has had a stinker with the bat (an average of precisely 8.16). Win today and history will not record such technicalities.

In any case, do not be surprised if Collingwood produces a match-winning innings later this afternoon. He quite likes visiting his personal pit of despair before leaping out spectacularly. Just think of his place-saving Edgbaston Test century in 2008.

Chelsea keep FA Cup tradition alive

Chelsea’s atttitude to the FA Cup makes them worthy double winners, says Gary Lineker in The Mail on Sunday.

Most people were rooting for the underdogs of Portsmouth at Wembley yesterday, but I was delighted that Chelsea won the FA Cup again.

For all the foreign influence at Stamford Bridge over recent years, they are the one big club who have always respected the tradition and history of the competition and for that reason fully deserve the Double.

Even in the early rounds of the FA Cup, the big names from Chelsea are always on the teamsheet - and you can't always say that about their biggest rivals.

Chelsea's third-round tie at Preston in January could have provided an excuse for some to take the day off. But not Frank Lampard, John Terry, Michael Ballack and Nicolas Anelka.

How ironic that a club managed by Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant, Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink and now Carlo Ancelotti should remind us all of what a great competition the FA Cup is!

Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United use it as an opportunity to rest their better, more experienced players. Chelsea don't and it was worked for them because winning is a habit.
Chelsea were worthy winners yesterday, although Portsmouth deserve a great deal of credit in what could be their last big match for a long time.

May 9, 2010

Morgan can add spice to England Test team

Posted on 09/05/2010

Kevin Pietersen has been in thunderous form for England during the World Twenty20, but he has been matched by the brilliant Eoin Morgan. Not so long ago Pietersen used his one-day form to prove himself worthy of a Test place, and the Telegraph's Steve James believes Morgan can do the same...

The question put to me last week was simple: name your England team for the first Ashes Test this winter. And the answer was simple: Strauss, Cook, Bell, Pietersen, Collingwood, Morgan, Prior, Broad, Swann, Anderson and Onions.

Yes, six batsmen (for some considerable time England will remain spooked by calamitously playing five at Headingley last year) and as the sixth I had no hesitation in nominating the young Irish magician Eoin Morgan.

His spell truly is all-bewitching. Only a couple of months ago the gnarled old pro in your columnist would have been guffawing heartily at such a suggestion. Test cricket? Earn your stripes first, young man! Indeed, I did mention in these pages that an average of 24 in the "thoroughly moderate second division of the county championship last season" precluded such notions.

But opinion can change; evidence can mount persuasively, so as to become irresistible. Time after time this winter Morgan has revealed a rare talent, mixing wondrous invention and breathtaking sweeps with an appreciation of angles so sharp as to have pleased Euclid.

So well has he recently combined power with an ability to manoeuvre the ball into the gaps that he has mounted a perfectly plausible argument that he might be England's most complete one-day batsman. Ever.

Continue reading "Morgan can add spice to England Test team"

April 21, 2010

England's three stars in the World Twenty20 will be...

Posted on 21/04/2010

There are times when the word ‘expert’ can be rather ill-used, like when Andy Townsend provides his analysis on top-level European football. But there are a chosen few who ‘know their onions’. For instance, for boxing you would go to Muhammad Ali, for athletics you might try Michael Johnson, while Jeremy Kyle might be your best bet for domestic feuds. In the cricket world, Garry Sobers isn’t a bad shout, which is why it is interesting to hear his views in the Sun on who England’s top men could be at the World Twenty20...

Graeme Swann, Kevin Pietersen and new-boy Craig Kieswetter are the players I believe can fire England into the World Twenty20 final.

The Barmy Army may have plenty to celebrate here in the Caribbean over the next few weeks as Paul Collingwood's side could be the tournament's surprise package.

The South African connection of KP and hard-hitting wicketkeeper Kieswetter can be the difference for England along with their spinners - especially the impressive Swann who is now one of the best in the world and will be suited to the slow wickets.

Continue reading "England's three stars in the World Twenty20 will be..."

April 15, 2010

England have unearthed the new Glenn McGrath

Posted on 15/04/2010

As a nation, England loves nothing more than to build a sportsman up into the greatest thing since Lionel Messi, only to then dance on their grave when they turn out to be the new Darius Vassell. The sport of cricket is no different. Take David Lloyd, everybody’s favourite cricket pundit. If his below prediction from the Daily Mail is correct, England are in the early stages of unearthing just about the best bowler to have ever played the game...

Steven Finn made a cracking start to the county season with 14 wickets in the opening game for Middlesex against Worcestershire but still finished on the losing side! I reckon with the Ashes series coming up in the winter; this is a vital season for the likely lads of English cricket.

Ajmal Shahzad has impressed with England and should be better for the experience.
Both of them remind me of other players: Finn bears an uncanny resemblance to Glenn McGrath with Shahzad a dead ringer for Matthew Hoggard in his pomp.

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March 22, 2010

England are an accident waiting to happen

Posted on 22/03/2010

Alastair Cook has largely been praised for the manner in which he has captained his first England tour, yet it is the Essex opening batsman who is currently to blame for England’s second Test struggles, according to the Telegraph's Simon Hughes. The problem, writes Hughes, has proliferated from a mistake made in Bangladesh’s first innings...

England have been caught napping in this Test. On the first day they were utterly taken aback by Tamim Iqbal's audacious assault on their sensibilities. After that blow to the solar plexus, the bowlers gradually regained their breath and dragged England back to level on points by the end of round one.

The young attack showed admirable staying power in unbelievably energy-sapping conditions. Imagine running in to bowl in a sauna and you get the idea. But on Sunday morning it was as if England were still groggy from the day before, and some absent minded cricket allowed Bangladesh to regain the upper hand.

It was one of those excruciating mornings for England supporters, an accident happening in slow motion that seems, to those on the sidelines, so preventable. A bit of logical thought, often beyond those caught up in the intensity of the battle in the middle, would have made a big difference. What was needed was a simple field change. When the fast bowlers were operating, extra cover should have been moved to third man.

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March 2, 2010

Eyeballs out for IPL

Posted on 02/03/2010

Lalit Modi is never slow in voicing his opinions and in an interview with the Guardian he says he wants the IPL to become the dominant sporting league in global sport and is convinced Test cricket has to become a day-night event.

We hope to become the dominant sporting league in the world, that's our aim. We are only a two-year-old league but we had close to 3.8 billion eyeballs last year. I use that phrase every time a person sits down and watches an IPL game live or on TV – that's an 'eyeball'. Every game last year we had 100m eyeballs. But because our objective is to become the most watched sporting event in the world we are now targeting 150m every day.

Twenty20 will become the dominant format – without doubt. It lasts only three hours and people don't have time any more to sit all day watching cricket. We're competing with football and other sports and I think three hours is a good time limit to help us expand the market. We are definitely bringing new consumers to cricket.

I am a great supporter of Test cricket. People say I'm not but I also run the marketing department of the BCCI [the Indian board of control] and Test cricket is extremely important to us. All I am trying to do is remind people that we live in a modern age and Test cricket has a big problem: it is played in the daytime when most people are working.

We should be embracing every opportunity for getting viewers into watching Tests and the most effective way is making it a day-night game. If you take it to day-night, then people can watch it on TV when they get home from work – or they can go to the stadium. There has been a big drop in Test cricket viewing [outside England and the Ashes] and it's because people don't have the leisure time in the day to watch it

Red Knights to ride in?
The disharmony among fans at Old Trafford over the Glazers' ownership of Manchester United has cranked up a level. A high-powered group of United fans going by the name of the Red Knights have met to discuss the possibility of putting together an offer for the club, but David Conn in the Guardian believes they will be in for a real fight.

Yet before any takeover becomes real there are, of course, major challenges. Put bluntly, they are: can this group of 40 or so people raise anything like the money required to make a realistic offer and, even if they do, would the Glazers sell?

To the first question, assumptions and figures are tossed around. The assumption is that the Glazers, who seem so resolutely thick-skinned in the face of their always stormy welcome in Manchester, would certainly not go without a profit. Of the original £810m purchase price in 2005, they paid £272m, with the rest borrowed from banks and, very expensively, from hedge funds. The presumption is that they would want a significant increase on that £272m before they even entertain a sale. The Red Knights would have to find that, and also take on or pay off the £716m debt. That takes the amount a group of wealthy Manchester United fans need to raise up to around £1bn, a massive mound.

Even if they do, the family has said it is not for selling. The sole point of the bond issue was to enable the Glazers to take money out of the club, £95m initially, to part pay-off the hedge funds whose £202m loans are accruing interest at a heartbreaking 14.25%, rising to 16.25% this August. With that device achieved, and a Wayne Rooney-inspired United still successful enough, the Glazers may dig in for what they claim they want – to remain owners for the long term.

England cant take Hart
England's defensive problems might not be too bad, writes Kevin McCarra in the Guardian, but the goalkeeping position is an issue. One McCarra feels can be solved by the relatively unheralded figure of Birmingham City's Joe Hart.

If serenity is of value, Joe Hart is the best placed of the candidates. A loan move to Birmingham City spared him the turmoil and expectation at Manchester City. He has had a measure of peace and security at St Andrew's, appreciating the steady cover of defenders such as Scott Dann and Roger Johnson. He came through a difficult period in comparative obscurity since it was not national news that Birmingham considered dropping him in the early stage of the campaign. By last month, Capello was extolling Hart's "fantastic season", only for him to have an unhappy time against Derby County the following week in an FA Cup tie that his side did at least win.

It is assumed that Hart will get his second cap at some stage tomorrow. These are early episodes in what ought to be a long career yet it says everything about the present reservations over England goalkeepers that the real debate may be over the timing of the invitation to make the position his own.

February 9, 2010

Words of Warneing for Strauss

Posted on 09/02/2010

Steve Harmison had his say on Andrew Strauss’ decision not to go to Bangladesh on Monday and the Australian legend Shane Warne has waded in by telling the Times the England skipper is disrespecting the game by opting not to tour.

There is something about it that does not sit right with me. I just do not think that the England captain should be resting from a Test series. I hope they are not taking Bangladesh too lightly.

If somebody told Allan Border [the former Australia captain] that they were going to rest him from a Test series to make sure he was all right for nine months’ time, he would have ripped their head off. I do not know the pressure of Strauss’s schedules, but there are ways you can rest.

Richest man in India eyes Reds
Liverpool have had a disappointing campaign on the field and their owners are struggling to renegotiate loans that could cripple the club. But there could be light at the end of the tunnel, as a report by Helen Power in the Times suggests they could soon be awash with Indian rupees.
Liverpool emerged as a takeover target for the seventh-richest man in the world last night as the pressure mounted on Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr to cut a deal to sell Anfield.
Mukesh Ambani, the wealthiest man in India, is one of two tycoons from the sub-continent competing to buy a stake in the Merseyside club. The Sahara Group’s chairman, Subrata Roy, and Ambani’s Reliance Industries have each tendered similar bids to pay off Liverpool’s £237 million debt in return for a 51 per cent stake in the club.

Hurricane No. 1
Alex Higgins is plotting a return to snooker in the Jimmy White-inspired Legends Tour, but the Hurricane claims that given the right conditions he could still be a match for the best in the world. The body may have been ravaged by cancer and alcohol, but the confidence remains as he revealed to Jim White in the Telegraph.

The cancer robbed me of my teeth. I would need to have proper teeth, then I could eat properly, I need to gain 2½ stone in weight, get that power back in my arm. And I would need to play with fellow professionals I like and get on with, people who enjoy playing. But given the right conditions, I could be at least as good as anybody in the top 32.

January 5, 2010

South Africa show more bottle

Posted on 05/01/2010

The second day of the Cape Town Test was far from dull because the seamers really made the batsmen work hard for their runs and a lot of credit should go to the way the South Africans bowled, writes Michael Atherton in the Times. Makhaya Ntini’s omission helped, but the suspicion remains that this improvement was more to do with South Africa’s sharply honed competitive instincts rising to the fore again in the wake of the embarrassment of Kingsmead.

As well as South Africa fought, England may feel that they had too much of a hand in their own downfall with the bat. The pitch was a little two-paced and South Africa maintained an impressive discipline throughout, but too many batsmen got themselves in and then got themselves out, either through anxiety, overconfidence or a mixture of both.

Neither Alastair Cook nor Ian Bell could produce the decisive innings on the second day but at least they kept England in the game, writes Vic Marks in the Guardian. However both would have been disappointed by their dismissals.

This is proving to be tight and bewitching series. The one way in which England have shown more initiative than their opponents, is when playing the opposition's spinner. They have attacked Harris more purposefully and more successfully than the South Africans have Graeme Swann.

In the Telegraph, Simon Briggs writes that Graeme Smith has responded well to the immense pressure he's under to put the fight back in to South Africa.

Two evenly poised days in Cape Town represent a victory in themselves for the South Africans. The speed, and manner, of their Durban capitulation went against all the qualities – toughness, pride, determination – that this team hold dear. It must have been an awkward task to turn the dressing room around after such a below-par display, even if the omission of Makhaya Ntini solved one of the most glaring problems.

Ian Bell, England's 'pretty boy' has been hampered by familiar failings, writes Stephen Brenkley in the Independent.

Bell did a whole heap of pretty things. The cover drive with which he got off the mark was matched by a second a few minutes later. But he was not all showy, he was prepared, it seemed, to tough it out. This was Bell's big chance to persuade his critics that they have misjudged him: he has never scored England's only hundred in an innings, indeed he has never scored the first.