A ton of tons

Ah so that’s what a billion sighs of relief sound like.

Finally, pint sized cricket man god, Sachin Tendulkar, has hit his hundredth hundred. Blogs and newspapers are filling up with features that have sat on hard drives for 12 months like an obituary of a very old famous person, just waiting to have the proverbial dust blown off them.

It really did feel like he’d be stuck in the nervous 99.94’s in perpetuity, alongside Sir Don of Bradmania.

I know Sachin is a big fan and will be reading this, so congratulations. It’s a milestone that feels like it will never be matched.

Sachin Tendulkar enjoys a pint of warm bitter after hitting an international hundred for the hundredth time.


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England Sri Lanka Preview

Just published this on t’huffington post…

After much trumpeting, backslapping and hour-long specials on Sky TV, last summer England were anointed world number one test side and presented with the ICC Disco Mace by a roller skating Sister Sledge (it is nearly camp enough for this to have really happened).

This is a position they still maintain thanks to some rain in Dunedin and no thanks to their ability to play Pakistan’s spinners in the UAE.

Everyone knows that to be a truly great side, which is what this England team are vying for, you need to be able to win in all conditions. Steve Waugh of the truly great Aussie side of the 90s and 00s called India “the final frontier”. The same applies to England anywhere in the sub-continent where they need to prove they can play spin in slow low conditions and bat sides out of games.

The England team is now in Sri Lanka for a two match quickie. A two-match series is the test cricketing equivalent of a knee trembler up against the bins and following the Pakistan debacle, they now need to win in Sri Lanka conclusively for a shot at even partial redemption. A conclusive win is usually highly unlikely in the official home of the draw and even this would leave question marks over players and techniques, so a win or at least a drawn series in India this winter is needed to suggest this is a side that might be considered among Waugh’s Aussie team one-day, which remember, is what the hype machine was suggesting before the Pakistan debacle.

Focusing on the here and now is something the modern media trained cricketer espouses and a conclusive win in Sri Lanka is actually possible. They are a team some disarray. Their state run cricket board is like a banana republic. They don’t pay their players that often and haven’t even booked a hotel for the team near to one of the test venues. They have also managed to schedule thousands of ODI’s, thousands of miles away as suitable warm-up.

This general dysfunction and the retirement of Murali have caused Sri Lanka to perform pretty badly in most recent test matches. They do have high quality batsman capable of posting very big scores but their seam bowling attack has fewer teeth than Wilfred Bramble and they lack a spinner like Saeed Ajmal who genuinely tormented England’s batsman in the UAE. Andy Flower actually threw a towel onto the pitch at one point it was so unpleasant to watch.

The closest Sri Lanka has to Ajmal is Ajantha Mendis who is currently injured and who has never matched his early promise. Rangana Herath is a skilful and consistent enough spinner, but lacks the ability to tear through sides even in home conditions (these are words I may possibly have to eat).

So this series presents a great opportunity for England to win back some confidence ahead of the winter tour to India and opportunities like this do not present themselves very often. If England can amass decent first or second innings total and the bowling unit, likely to have two or even three spinners if Samit Patel and Monty Panesar are selected perform as they did in the UAE, there is a possibility of a one or two nil victory.



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An Ode to Stuart MacGill

The guys at Balanced Sports and World Cricket Watch kindly invited me to write about my favorite cricketer. I chose the complicated and now fuller bodied leggie Stuart McGill.

Here it is…

As both a legspin fetishist and amateur practitioner, I would more likely pick Snoop Doggy Dogg as my favourite cricketer than a batsman or seamer and to me MacGill represents the leggie’s leggie and my personal favorite.

Warne was too freakishly accurate to be considered a ‘real’ leg spinner, real ones dish up at least one four ball every few overs and he didn’t even have a googly to speak of, relying instead on straight balls to surprise Ian Bell. And Anil Kumble …don’t get me started on him, he barely even spun it.

No MacGill is the leggie for me because he had all the traits of the club leg spinner – huge booze collection, poor fielder, genuine number 11 and ability to bowl one long hop every 8 balls. He was a club pie chucker given super powers after drinking a radioactive vintage bottle of Barossa Valley Shiraz. I swear there is a video of him on YouTube spinning a ball from square leg to point while glowing luminous green.

He bowled an old fashioned style of leg spin I love, tossing the ball up, moving the batsman across the crease toward the on side opening him up then bang, a googly or if he thought it was expected, a big side spun leg break which often got slapped to cover point. This attacking style has never been popular among captains or selectors though.

I like him as much for his unconformity and outsider status as his brilliant wrong ’un and massive turning leg break. He never really fitted in the mold of an Aussie cricketer. A brooding, intense figure, he once fell out with the entire county of Devon while playing English minor counties cricket because they dared play for ‘fun’. Has been banned several times for discipline, read 24 novels on a tour of Pakistan barely speaking to team mates and famously has 3000 bottle wine in his cellar.

It is of course impossible to even consider MacGill without the shadow of Warne, toasted cheese sandwich in hand looming over him, but try if you can. Close your eyes and imagine a world where Shane Keith Warne (MacGill’s middle names are Charles Glyndwr) hadn’t been born. A cricketing “It’s a Wonderful Life” where Mike Gatting was remembered as a decent player of spin and Daryl Cullinan as the tenth best South African batsman to play tests. In this fantasy world Stuart MacGill takes 650 wickets and is remembered as one of Australia’s greatest leggie’s alongside Benauld, Grimmett and O’Reilly. No really, he would have been. MacGill has a test strike rate of 54 which is astonishing for a slow bowler, the best in modern cricket in-fact. The myths that he was inaccurate and expensive are of course overstated – a test economy of 3.2 is hardly cannon fodder.

Even in his latest incarnation, as a forty something twenty 20 gun for hire he has reminded us of that skill. Even turning up rusty, in a batsman friendly format bowling against teams containing slogger extraordinaires, he has held his own bamboozling the young ‘uns with his wrong ‘uns and going at 6 and half per over.

So all raise a glass of something complex to Stuart MacGill, an old fashioned leg spinner, who refused to fit in and while limited opportunities meant he never became what he could have been, he still notched up performances and a record that most of the new breed of Aussie spinners can’t hope to match.

Here’s one of his finest

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Too much of a good thing

It’s not more test or four day cricket we need, it is less, more meaningful cricket.

Cricket boards across the world have the golden goose tied to a chair in an underground car park and are giving it a good thrashing, and while I don’t think its met its maker yet, it doesn’t look too good.

I have absolutely no hard evidence to support me, other than lots of empty seats in stadiums, in all forms of the game this year.

Usually well attended matches like tests in SA and Eng and ODI’s in India had poor gates. Hell even the CL20 was more empty empty than twenty 20.

I believe this is down to too much cricket. If you oversupply a market demand falls, price falls, or both. Currently high prices + high supply = empty stadiums.

In cricket there are other added complications of too much of a good thing.

Visiting teams turn up knackered and get hammered. Stars retire early to focus on one format – both which do nothing to improve punter numbers in the future, or quality of cricket on the day.

Cricket boards are continuously being told by players there is too much cricket. Fans are expressing this by not turning up for anything other than top of the table clashes but how long does this go on for before changes are made is anyone’s guess? The future tours program is packed, domestic seasons are getting longer (though the ECB have cut some fixtures for 2012 but seem to have reinstated them in 2014), the IPL is getting longer and more boards are launching franchise style T20.

I just hope the powers that be and their collective 9 IQ points have the ability to ask questions early enough, before some kind of major cash crisis threatened for a while effects the game.

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Bloody Foreigners

Bloody foreigners coming over here, taking our jobs, averaging 50 + with bat

Yesterday some foolish cricket journo kicked the hornets nest that is twitter, raising the issue of foreign born players. And why not?

Out of 15 players named in the ODI squad Meaker, Dernbach, Trott, Pietersen and Kieswetter were not born in England or Wales. Factor in Morgan too, who is injured and that’s a lot of Johnny Foreigners in the limited overs set up.

Now, my opinion for what it’s worth is the rules is the rules – they are qualified, committed and talented individuals, and The ECB are entitled to field the team they believe has the best chance of winning within the rules.

There were some interesting view points expressed though…

1) Shades of foreignness: Dernbach and Meaker are more English than Trott or Pietersen as they came through the ‘English’ system and came here when they were younger.

2) Mercenaries and opportunists: Kieswetter having played U19 for SA is one, Morgan as well for switching sides to play at a higher level.

3) Tebbit tests: Do they laugh at Dads Army? Do they fraternise with ‘ex.’ countryman when they are touring? Do they have billtong in their kit bag and know how to skin an antelope? Can they hit over the top in the powerplay?

4) The historical context: Lamb, Hick, Dolly, The Hollioake’s, Caddick, Grieg, there are loads which go way back so it’s nothing new.

One thing’s for sure remove the runs scored, particularly by Trott, Morgan and Pietersen and they leave a pretty big hole in the short and long formats

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Cardiff: A Forward Defence

There has been lots of criticism of Cardiff as a test venue, the majority of which has been unfair and disproportionate.

First the weather. Unless somehow the administrators at the SWALEC have a direct line to some omnipotent Michael Fish, the weather just happens. We live on a temperate island and it rains a lot, except in Essex where it doesn’t, it rains less than Jerusalem. It doesn’t rain significantly more in Cardiff than Manchester, Birmingham or Leeds. Look at the match reports for the county matches, lots of matches were rain effected across the UK with Durham, Worcester, Derby, Northants, Bristol badly so. We could only play tests in Chelmsford to minimise the chance of rain delays?

Then the pitch. The pitch wasn’t that slow,  England bowled and caught badly first time round and Sri Lanka’s attack has less teeth than Wilfred Bramble. Looking at the pitch yesterday afternoon (a day three pitch on day five) it was starting to break up a little and would have offered even more assistance to spinners with turn and the seamers with variable bounce if the match had been played out for five days (to which David Lloyd attested on air).

Finally, ticket sales. Cricket fans are knowledgeable and will not just turn up to the opening of an envelope.  Sri Lanka without Murali, Malinga, Jayasuriya are not box office and as proven are highly unlikely to take 20 wickets. Combine this with India touring next, football and rugby just wrapping up and the economy poor, many fans have chosen to skip the series. Lots of tickets are available for Lords and The Rosebowl and both are likely to be 55% – 70% full depending on the weather and the game. A similar proportion to Cardiff and a similar proportion to Lords for the opening tests against the Windies and Bangladesh over the last few years. Cardiff sold nearly double the tickets for this test than The Riverside did against the West Indies for their maiden test in 2008.

The domestic game of cricket is in real financial trouble, for their future counties are stacking their chips on conferencing, accommodation and international cricket. Expensive redevelopments are happening all over the place. If any criticism should be levelled, it should be at the ECB and county chairman who have failed to judge demand for their product correctly and priced it badly, judging demand and setting prices is a basic in business.  Who knows what position this might also put Hampshire in, who do not get European Development handouts like Glamorgan. Lets hope the ECB see sense and do not demand the full price of the staging bids from Hants and Glamorgan.

While I am a Welshman, from Cardiff, I am not the blinkered kind. I have lived in London for 15 years and watched test matches all over the UK and the world. Quite objectively Cardiff is a nice venue with good facilities, lots of accommodation and is easy to get to from many places in the UK. The city itself is highly experienced in putting on major events, so people let’s be fair, Cardiff is hosting international cricket for the foreseeable future and needs a fair crack of the whip.

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England Probed in Anti-Corruption Investigation

The ICC’s Anti Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) is today launching a major investigation into England for match fixing.

Head of operations for the ACSU today stated in a hastily called press conference “no team can be so inconsistent as to one day, defend a meagre total against South Africa or chase an imposing 338 against India, two of the tournament favourites. Then fail to defend a score of 300+ against Ireland or bowl out Bangladesh, a team so bad their own fans throw stones at them”

He also added “we are keeping an eye on Pakistan, we have put their recent performances through our corruptatron 3000 a specially designed robot we have developed and their consistency has been identified as highly irregular”

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