Another bloody blog about Sachin Tendulkar

After much discussion, media hype and twitter hyperbole from all sides, it is finally upon us, Sachin Tendulkar is playing his last game of professional cricket. You don’t need me to tell you how good he was, what a fabulous advocate he was for the game of cricket or what an inspiration he was to millions of his countrymen, we’ve seen it all over the last quarter of a century. Whether he scores a fine century or gets run out without facing a ball is pretty irrelevant, though this particular soppy old git would like to see at least a few reminders of why we’re getting so excited about him.

Perhaps bizarrely, my main interest in all this isn’t really the cricketing aspect, at his peak, Tendulkar was an incredible player, but his fame, in India at least, goes way beyond that. he’s come to represent the growth and confidence of an entire nation.

We mustn’t get carried away, of course, India is still ridden with poverty, graft and corruption still pervades, but slowly and defiantly it is moving from a divided, post colonial mess, towards a modern, secular society. The liberal economic policies of the 1990s have seen GDP per capita rise from $352 when Tendulkar was making his Test debut in 1989, to $1414 today. With such incredible economic growth and the fact that it’s the worlds largest democracy, India has much to be proud of, but a long way still to travel.

As often happens, the outlet for much of this pride is sport, and cricket in particular. Cricket has long been an obsession for many Indians, but the reign of King Sachin, has seen a great deal of success for the national team, and of the course the explosion of T20, which may have been invented in England, but has been turned into a sporting and financial success in India. In a nation often divided by geography and caste, he has been a figurehead for all Indians, a mast which has been used to haul up the billowing flag of a nation that is confident, that is going places and that others need to respect. His own personality helps, he’s a modest man, devoted to and very protective of his family. Cricket has of course made him very wealthy, with a variety of business interests, which perhaps, makes him and even better symbol of modern India. He has used his position to support underprivileged children in his native Mumbai, though his fame makes visiting the slums almost impossible. He looks likely to take up politics after cricket.

It is ironic, that Tendulkar was not, perhaps, a stand out player in the smash and grab of T20 cricket, he only ever played 1 international T20 match for India, though his domestic T20 average of 32.9 is not to be sniffed it, The fact is that his reputation was already sealed by then, his record in Test and one day cricket is incredible, and many of his records look set to stand for some time, particularly with the way the game, particularly in the sub-continent, is tilting towards the shorter format of the game. Some perspective is required however; yes, he was an incredible player, capable of playing aggressively against the finest bowlers of his generation, but he was often surrounded by many other great players, both in his own team and amongst the opposition. Looking at the India team of 2013, he’s almost a relic, normally when a great player retires it leaves a yawning gap, but in this case I’m not convinced it does, MS Dhoni is a fine captain and a rambunctious player, Virat Kohli, perhaps the first great product of the T20 generation.

AS I finish this, Tendulkar has just taken to the crease, enjoy your last hurrah Sachin, you’ve earned it. India will miss you, but Indian cricket probably won’t.

One Direction – England vs Australia ODI Series Preview

Apologies for long gap without an update, cricket has sadly had to take a backseat to more mundane matters in the last few weeks. In some ways it’s been well timed, as, with the exception of the two T20 matches we’ve enjoyed a bit of a natural lull, in the international calendar at least.

After an incident packed, but perhaps not a vintage Ashes series, we return now to One Day Cricket. In fact, it returned yesterday, with England playing a very enjoyable one-off game against Ireland at the beautiful Malahide stadium near Dublin. After Ireland put in a strong batting performance England’s batsmen faltered initially, with our less experienced international players struggling, but their blushes were saved by a match winning partnership between Morgan and Bopara, who both scored centuries to secure a six wicket win for England. A packed stadium, and a very creditable performance from Ireland meant that even though they lost, many in green will have considered it a successful day as they continue to work towards their stated goal of gaining Test status by 2020. It’s a lofty ambition, even for a team that is currently the highest ICC ranked “Associate” nation, and they are up against some significant vested interests from the sub-continent and an already congested fixture schedule.

Anyway, back to the upcoming series between England and Australia. There is a rather inevitable “After the lord mayor’s show” feeling about this series, and I know that many are struggling to get too excited about it, but for me there is plenty to whet the appetite.

For Australia, the series could prove vital in raising the morale of both their players and their fans before England journey down under for part two of this year’s Ashes double whammy. Under normal circumstances, there would be plenty of time for them to reflect and consider what changes they need to make, but they don’t have that luxury this year and they’re going to have to make quick decisions about their team and tactics before the first Test begins in Brisbane on November 21st. They have made one major decision already, with the controversial, yet strangely likeable David Warner being dropped from the one day squad after his poor performances this summer, though I suspect he may well return for the Ashes series.

I think Australia will feel they have a good chance of getting a good result in this series, even without Warner they have some good limited overs players and England have quite understandably decided to rest many of the players that played in the Ashes series. There have been complaints that by doing this England are giving the fans that have bought tickets for this series a raw deal, but I don’t think that’s fair. With another Ashes series imminent it makes sense to give our star players a rest, particularly when many of them have been been playing international cricket since the tour in New Zealand. Teams that aim to be successful for extended periods have to constantly look at new players and give them the opportunity to play top level cricket. I doubt we will see many fresh faces playing in Australia later this year, but in the one day team is often a stepping stone to test cricket. Lets not forget that the backbone of the Ashes winning team; Anderson, Swann, Pietersen, Bell, Trott and Prior are all now in their early 30s and will need replacing over the next 2-4 years.

Having said that, the bulk of the England squad is pretty familiar, with Chris Jordan of Sussex and Jamie Overton of Somerset being the only genuinely new faces to international cricket. Ironically, one of the most keenly awaited performances will be that of Michael Carberry, the Hampshire batsman is nearly 33, but has been in scintillating form this year for his county and will never have a better opportunity to prove himself as an international cricketer. Another man with much still to prove is Eoin Morgan, who will captain England in the absence of Alistair Cook. Until his century yesterday, his England form so far this year has been underwhelming, at 26 you feel now is the time for him to kick on and aim for a regular place in test team.

Despite resting many of the senior test players, England’s batting line up remains very strong, with Test regulars Pietersen, Trott, and Root plus the big hitting Morgan, Bopara and Wright. Their bowling line is is far less established and may be the weak link, but I still feel they have what it takes to make it an even more miserable summer for Australia.

The weather has been fairly kind so far this year, but the forecast for the opening two ODI’s in Leeds and Manchester isn’t looking great unfortunately.

Friday 6th September – Leeds (10:15)
Sunday 8th September – Manchester (10:15)
Wednesday 11th September – Birmingham (14:00)
Saturday 14th September – Cardiff (10:15)
Monday 16th September – Southampton (14:00)

England Squad:
Eoin Morgan (capt), Ravi Bopara, Jos Buttler (wk), Michael Carberry, Steven Finn, Chris Jordan, Jamie Overton, Kevin Pietersen, Boyd Rankin, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, James Tredwell, Jonathan Trott, Luke Wright

Australia Squad:
Michael Clarke (capt), George Bailey, Fawad Ahmed, Nathan Coulter-Nile, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Josh Hazlewood, Phillip Hughes, Mitchell Johnson, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Clint McKay, Adam Voges, Matthew Wade (wk), Shane Watson

The Ashes 2.0

OK, here’s a question for you; which current senior England cricketer has the highest test batting average? Most people would probably guess at either Alistair Cook or Kevin Pietersen, right? Well you’d be wrong. With a test average of 49.09 it’s actually Charlotte Edwards, the captain of the England women’s team. I’m not trying to make a serious statistical point here, just showing that there is plenty of talent beyond the men’s team and that perhaps it would be a good thing if that was more widely recognised.

Thankfully, things are starting to change and there has been some good coverage in the mainstream press about the fact that today sees the start of the Women’s Ashes, with a test match being played amongst the beautiful surroundings of Wormsley Cricket Ground in Buckinghamshire.

The Women’s Ashes began in 1998 when a bat signed by both teams was ceremonially burnt and sealed within a trophy. However, the history of England women playing Australia at cricket actually goes back to 1934 when the first test series was played. Over the years the format has varied from a single test, right up to a 5 match series (as played in 1984). Australia has had marginally more success than England over the years and they are the current holders, having beaten England in a single test match in Australia in 2011.

The format has been totally reinvented for 2013, which sees a single test match being played, followed by 3 one-day matches and 3 T20 games. Points are awarded for each game and the points tally will decide the final destination of the trophy. It’s a novel format, but has it’s benefits in that they will be playing all over the country, hopefully allowing more people to attend the games. The 3 T20 games will be shown live on Sky Sports, and two of the T20s will be played directly before the Men’s games which should see them playing in front of big crowds.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have been very supportive of women’s cricket in recent years and the results have followed, with them winning both the World Cup and World T20 competitions in 2009 and narrowly losing the World T20 to Australia last year. The sport is not without it’s problems though, mainly caused by a lack of appetite for women’s cricket amongst other nations (the last test match that England played was the Ashes match against Australia in 2011). Things are moving in the right direction though and hopefully this series will increase the exposure even further. We can all do our bit by shouting about it from the rooftops and trying to attend some matches.

There will be live coverage via the BBC Sport website
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The Women’s Ashes 2013

11-14 August: Only Test, Wormsley
20 August: 1st ODI, Lord’s
23 August: 2nd ODI, Hove
25 August: 3rd ODI, Hove
27 August: 1st T20, Chelmsford
29 August: 2nd T20, Southampton
31 August: 3rd T20, Chester-le-Street

Bad light, bad decisions and funny coloured balls

Like many cricket fans, I was frustrated when the umpires decided to take the players off for bad light on day four of the 3rd Test at Old Trafford. With bad weather forecast for the following day I was desperate for them to play as much cricket as possible in the hope of getting a result out of the game. Instead we saw England keep the Ashes, not at the end of a glorious run chase, or last wicket stand, but via a presenter in a studio telling us there would be no more cricket that day. After the inevitable big build up to this Ashes series, it was a rather damp squib, though a win for England in either of the two remaining matches should at least stop Australia questioning the final result.

Not only was I not at the ground, I was actually listening to it on the radio, so I can’t really comment on whether it was the right decision to stop for bad light or not, but many others, Jonathan Agnew and Michael Vaughan amongst them, certainly felt it was a bad call. With so much discussion about DRS in this series it was unfortunate that yet again the talk was more about the umpires and the rules rather than the game itself.

For me though, it raised an interesting question about Test cricket. We all accept that rain will stop play, but in an era where fans watch much of their cricket under floodlights, is it acceptable that bad light should stop test cricket? The grounds that host test matches must despair when the floodlights that they spent all that money installing can’t help them get a full day’s play.

I appreciate that the umpires have to consider the safety of the players, but at the same time they also have a responsibility to try and get as much cricket played in each day as possible, after all, test match tickets are not cheap (at least not in England). It was particularly galling that in this case the Australian captain was desperate to keep playing, even when Cook had given the ball to Broad and Anderson (Cook of course was quite happy to go off…).

The problem of course, is that the traditional red ball used in test cricket is hard to see under floodlights. Most one day and T20 matches are now played with the white ball, which works well at night, but unfortunately the white ball seems to lose it’s colour and deteriorate too quickly for a test match, where a ball needs to last for 80 overs. The other issue of course is that they don’t work well when players are wearing the traditional whites. Although the white ball doesn’t last as long as the red ball, the general opinion is that it does swing more, though it’s hard to judge how much of this is down to the ball and how much of it is down to the variety of conditions it’s used under.

A number of TV networks, the ICC and even the grand old MCC seem keen on the idea of day/night cricket, saying that it makes sense to have more cricket played at times when fans can attend and watch on TV. This is of course is partly a commercial desire on their part, and perhaps applies more to countries like India, where test cricket is in serious danger of being usurped by the lure of the shorter format of the game. One suspects that some English counties may also be attracted by the opportunity to get a few more bums on seats by playing day/night county championship games.

A number of tests have been carried out with coloured balls, mainly orange and pink. A pink ball was trialled for a dead rubber county championship match between Kent and Glamorgan in September 2011, and was quickly condemned by Kent’s wicket keeper Geraint Jones, who stated that it would make test cricket boring and too much in favour of the batsmen. Neither side’s bowlers had any luck getting the ball to move, though a slow pitch at the St Lawrence didn’t help. Overall the experiments so far have been mixed, but it’s something that should be given up on, with all the technology available it can’t be beyond the talents of the human race to develop a ball that works well enough under all conditions.

Even with the advent of T20, cricket retains its passion for tradition though, and both players and fans are often quick to dismiss change. Personally, I’m not completely sold on the idea of day/night test matches myself, but I’m not totally against it. However, if a new colour of type of ball can be found which can be used in all lights and can last the distance then it opens the opportunities not only for day/night tests, but might also be considered as an alternative for the red ball in normal use, thus meaning that no time is lost to bad light (at least at grounds with floodlights). I appreciate that some may feel it’s sacrilegious even to suggest this, but test cricket cannot stand still and if losing the red ball may allow us to see more games played in their entirety and create opportunities for more people to watch first class and test cricket then we’d be foolish to not consider it.

Michael Clarke – From Pup to Top Dog

His journey to the top of world cricket once seemed mapped out in front of him, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing.

Michael Clarke’s sublime innings of 187 in the third test could not have come at a better time. With England 2-0 up in the series and Australia seemingly in free-fall, it was beginning to look as though the more patriotic England fans predictions were going to be proved right and even those of us with a more pragmatic view were beginning to wonder. Looking at the Australian team prior to the series it was missing the clutch of superstars that have been it’s backbone for so long; the only name that shone boldly was their captain, Michael Clarke.

Born in Sydney in 1981 (what a vintage year that was…), he made his first class debut for New South Wales at 18, his early performances, whilst not earth shattering, were enough to attract the attention of the national team. He made his full international debut in a one-day match against England January 2003, where a useful 39 helped Australia to a win.

His first real starring role came when he made his test debut against India in Bangalore. An away series in India is hardly a cosy introduction to Test cricket, but the young Clarke took it all in his stride, hitting 151 and steering Australia to victory in the match and the series. Just a few weeks later he scored 141 in his home Test debut against New Zealand at Brisbane. His performances, which were aggressive, without being reckless, were already being compared to the greats of Australian cricket.

After such an impressive start, a dip was almost inevitable and unfortunately it coincided with the 2005 Ashes, which saw Australia lose a series against their biggest rivals for the first time since 1987. Clarke was dropped from the Test squad soon after, but not for long. By the time the next Ashes series came around he was back in his groove and played a starring role as Australia won the series 5-0. He then went on to play a solid role as Australia mounted a successful defence of the World Cup in the West Indies.

In 2008 he was made vice captain of the Australian team, his on-field career was only going in one direction, but the storm clouds were gathering. Instead of celebrating him as a working class boy made good, the press and the fans seemed to dislike what they saw as a playboy lifestyle with his model girlfriend and penthouse in Bondi. You could draw comparisons with David Beckham, whose celebrity lifestyle often seemed in danger of overshadowing his sporting career. In both cases the allegation is unfair; Clarke, like Beckham is a hard working professional, who takes his sporting career extremely seriously. He doesn’t drink, he keeps himself in excellent physical condition, and he even gave up playing international T20 cricket so that he could focus on the longer formats of the game.

Clarke was made captain for the final Ashes test in 2011 after Ponting was ruled out through injury, and when Ponting resigned as captain after the 2011 World Cup he was given the role permanently. His style is notably different from Ponting, the man who it seemed had been mentoring him for the job. He’s confident and tactically aware, but not perhaps a dominant leader of men, not yet at least. One distinct characteristic is his willingness to make brave decisions, trying out unusual fields and switching his bowlers around the make sure that the batting side never get the chance to settle.

Clarke has also successfully adapted his own style for test cricket, his performances may have fewer flourishes now, but they are more consistent. His timing and eye for a gap that lesser players would have missed, have helped him grow into one of the worlds greatest batsmen, particularly when facing spin. By 2012 his stars had well and truly aligned, scoring an incredible 4 double centuries in one year, including a magnificent 329 not out against India in Sydney. His performances that year were enough for him to be chosen as Wisden’s Leading Cricketer in the World for 2012.

Clarke’s problem of course, is that he is the best player in an otherwise average team, and his rise to captaincy coincided closely with the retirement of some of the men who had helped Australia gain such a fearsome reputation. As the current test shows, if Australia are going to rescue this series then Clarke will have to lead from the front. His score of 187 could propel Australia back into this series, but it’s still going to be an uphill battle.

Rumours of a fractious relationship with Shane Watson don’t help, and risk, once again, the off field stories dominating the coverage. If Clarke and his Australian team are to somehow emerge from this series with their heads held high then Clarke will have to score a lot more runs, and somehow find a way to inspire his teammates to raise their game. As a captain it will be his greatest challenge, but for it to work, he’ll have no choice but to see it as an opportunity.

Kent vs Hampshire T20 (29/07/2013)

My wife can’t say I didn’t warn her…

There was, of course, an air of inevitability about this match; Kent’s T20 season started terribly, flickered momentarily, before being finally extinguished. Last night’s match, the final home game of their 2013 campaign, felt like trying to reignite a candle with a box of damp matches.

With the mother in law available to look after our daughter, I made a last minute decision to go along to the game with my wife, who, whilst understanding of my sporting passions, would probably have rather I spent the £50 taking her out for dinner. After just a few overs of Kent’s innings, I wished I’d taken her out for dinner as well.

We did have some reason for hope, as her only other visit to Canterbury this year was the genuinely marvellous YB40 clash against Sussex, where Kent chased down 337 to win a game that most of the crowd (myself included) had written off within the first 10 overs of Sussex’s innings.

The sad truth though, is that Kent are an average team, playing below average cricket. They are at least one top batsman and bowler away from being anything like good enough to challenge for honours. Their bowling attack, weakened even further now that Vernon Philander’s (fairly forgettable) spell with the club has finished, simply had no answer to a player of the quality of Michael Carberry, who scored a fine 83 off 56 balls, helping Hampshire to 185/6.

Kent’s reply never really got going. Their promising, but inexperienced opening partnership of Bell-Drummond and Cowdrey could only muster 12 and 13 respectively. Cowdrey, in particular was disappointing considering the impressive start he’s made in his senior T20 career. Only the evergreen Darren Stevens ever looked like trying to make a game of it, reaching 39 before edging a shot to fine leg off the bowling of Liam Dawson, who would go on to take 4/19.

After watching Carberry and McKenzie stroking the ball around confidently and finding the boundary regularly, Kent’s batting performance looked stunted, with too many mistimed and mishit shots and, Stevens excepted, very few boundaries to cheer. After Stevens departure Kent’s batting fizzled out and in the end they could only manage 123/9, 62 runs short of the target Hampshire had set them.

It is perhaps not fair to compare them directly to a side as proficient as this Hampshire team, but Kent’s only hope is that their crop of promising, but as yet unproven young players continue to develop as the club hopes they will. They are going to have to play the long game, as I doubt their financial position will allow them to strengthen the squad significantly in the short term.

Having said all that, a summers evening sat on the mound on the Old Dover Road boundary is still a pleasant way to spend your time. Despite Kent’s poor season, there was a respectable crowd in and a legion of excitable kids, who, even when they are knocking your beer over and standing in the way of your view, remind you that T20 cricket might not be for the purists, but it does, realistically, remain the best hope for attracting young players to the sport.

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Ashes 2013 : England – (Almost) Half Term Report Card

Despite how tired England’s players may have felt after such a dominant display in the second test, one suspects they might almost have preferred to carry on the initiative and go straight into the third test. Instead, Australia have a brief chance to regroup, lick their wounds and for their batsmen to score some confidence boosting runs in their tour match against Sussex at Hove.

The England players and management will feel rightly proud of the 2-0 lead they hold in this series, but I’m sure they will also be acutely aware that they’ve been playing quite a poor Australian team, and that there are still areas in which they can improve.

I thought I’d take the opportunity to cast my eyes over how the England players have performed so far.

Alistair Cook  6/10
Despite the teams overall success, Cook’s own batting has been forgettable, averaging just over 20 in the first two tests, and never really giving the impression he was settled at the crease.

Joe Root  8/10
Midway through the second test I imagine more than one journalist was drafting a piece about whether it was right to promote the 22 year-old to an openers role, only to hit delete after his incredible score of 180 in the second innings. Root exuded a calm, imperiousness in that innings, but he’ll need to improve his consistency if he’s to put questions about his fragility against the new ball to bed. Has also demonstrated an increasing confidence with the ball in his hand and it will be interesting to see whether he gets more opportunities in future.

Jonathan Trott  6/10
A player that firmly divides opinion, but who came into this series as one of England’s most consistent players. Sadly his performances so far in the Ashes have been hit and miss, putting in decent knocks in the first innings of each match (48 and 58) before going for a duck in each of his second innings performances.

Kevin Pietersen  4/10
After months of speculation about his fitness, and whether England could win the Ashes without him, Pietersen has been little more than a side story so. With the possibility than he may miss the third test due to injury, we have at least been reminded, once again, that one player does not make a team.

Ian Bell  9/10
If there was one player in the England side with an awful lot to prove going into this series, then it was Ian Bell. I’ve always been a fan, but there have been increasingly frequent moments in the last couple of years when I have questioned his place in the side. Two fine centuries have silence the doubters and are the sign of a man at the peak of his powers, let’s hope for more of the same.

Jonny Bairstow  6/10
A fine partnership of 144 with Ian Bell in the second test has been his highlight, but you can’t help feeling that there is more to come from him.

Matt Prior  6/10
Has been his usual consistent self behind the stumps, but disappointing in front of them. If Australia can rally then he’ll need to step up with more valuable middle order runs.

Stuart Broad  7/10
His bowling has been good, without perhaps ever looking truly dangerous, but he has proved a useful foil, ensuring that even when Anderson and Swann aren’t bowling the Australian batsmen have never been able to relax. Has also contributed valuable runs in both matches. The controversy over whether he should have walked or not should simply stand to remind us that first and foremost, the game is about winning.

Tim Bresnan  7/10
Brought in for the second match to replace the disappointing Steven Finn, Bresnan looked much more like his old self, taking 4 wickets and contributing some useful runs in the first innings. I think his all round contribution is deserving of a permanent spot.

James Anderson  8/10
Outstanding in the first test at Trent Bridge, with a pair of 5 wicket hauls, not quite as good at Lords, but still an essential part of the England attack and now deservedly held up as one of the two outstanding fast bowlers of his generation.

Graeme Swann  8/10
Decent in the first test then almost unplayable in the second, taking 9 wickets in the match. Much of the build up to this series has focussed on England’s two truly world-class bowlers and while some of the batsmen have misfired at times, it’s these two that have proved the real match winners.