Saturday, 29 September 2007
Championship Division One - 5th;
FP Trophy - Losing finalists
Twenty20Cup - 6th, South Division;
Pro40 Division One - 4th
Michael Carberry (9/10): Been one of the few positives this season in an opening partnership with Brown, Most hundreds in a season in his career and has performed well in OD Cricket as well, fine fielder and one of the most athletic players on the circuit, Looks to be at home at The Rose Bowl. (1067 FC runs, ave-50.80, 5 hundreds 3 fifities from 13 games. 345 LA runs with a S/R of 70.68)
Michael Brown (8):Been Solid in opening with Carbs, also passed a thousand runs with a match saving hundred as well as a fifty keeping the rampaging Otis Gibson at bat against Durham. Scored some crucial runs at the top order throughout the season. (1086 runs, ave-43.12, 3 100s, 5 50s.)
John Crawley (7):It's been a comparative down year for Creepy although he does finish as Hants' third highest run scorer, played some good OD Cricket however and was excellent in the field. Dropped down to 4 late in the season which seemed to help in the Championship, will be interesting to see where he bats next season. (866 FC runs, ave-39.36, 1 hundred, 5 fifities. OD-512 runs at 42.66)
Michael Lumb (6.5): An interesting season for Lumb, has done ok in the middle order but failed to score a FC hundred on the season despite multiple opportunities, was outstanding in Pro40 and OD Cricket in general. (775 FC runs, ave-31.00. 654 LA runs at av average of 38.47 with a S/R of 97.03) 6.5 out of 10
James Adams (7):After a poor start came back after a spell in the seconds in at number 3, i think he's shown he could be a long term successor to Crawley (As well as being groomed for captaincy) He's scored some good runs and shown more agressive flair since he came back in, featured sporadically in OD games but he was only filling in for Int'l players. (773 FC runs, ave-40.68. 3 wickets. 110 LA runs with 1 wickets)
Chris Benham (4): Hasn't performed at his best this season in the longer form but hit a great hundred in the Pro40, Hants will be looking for him to take the next step and get a Championship hundred next season as he's hugely talented. (312 FC runs, ave-22.18. 319 LA runs ave-26.58)
Nic Pothas (8): Solid as ever behind the stumps and some crucial runs with some good Not outs, poor run towards the climax as he was asked to take both gloves and captaincy with an injury to Warnie. (750 FC runs, ave-46.87, 42 dismissals. 374 LA runs. ave-37.30, 23 dismissals.)
Sean Ervine (7): Another interesting season that's been neither here or there, has done ok in both disciplines despite being expensive in the OD game, got some crucial runs in the P40 and scored a Championship hundred for the first time in 2 years as well, has had to fill in with a lot of bowling with key squad members away. (276 FC Runs, ave-34.50. 8 Wickets. 480 LA runs, 14 wickets)
Dimitri Mascarenhas (7.5):Did well with bat and ball before going off to play for England, fantastic to see him get a chance at last. Bowled well with Clark in the FP game against Surrey. (489 FC runs, ave-34.86. 15 Wickets. 227 LA runs, 9 wickets)
Liam Dawson (N/A):Young lad just starting out, won't analyse him but he's done well in both U19 international, 2nd XI and Local league cricket. Will get the chances next season, up to him to take them.
Shane Warne (8): Solid and has pulled out great performances, has had a few injury problems which has curtailed his season. Will be annoyed he's failed to win the Championship again and for the poor FP Final performance, has captained as well as he usually does, always looking for the win. (50 FC Wickets @ 29.58 and 364 runs. 21 LA wickets @ 26.38, e/r of 4.61)
James Bruce (7.5):Has worked endlessly all season, keeps on running it and has done well, Hasn't had a regular opening bowling partner but has picked up wickets and hasn't really gone for runs in FC of List A cricket... if he can just have someone to bowl with next season i can see him doing very well (39 FC Wickets @ 30.74. 11 LA Wickets)
Stuart Clark (8):Was outstanding in his short stint, hope we can find a way of him returning for a full season next year, great 6fa against Surrey in the FP first round. (24 FC wickets @ 25.08. 21 LA wickets @ 11.38, e/r of 3.65)
Daren Powell (7):Small locum role, was ok, disappointing in the FP final but did well overall, bowled quick... Good effort (15 FC wickets @ 22.68 and 13 LA Wickets @ 21.61)
Shaun Udal (7.5):In his retirement season he didwell when called upon but mainly nurtured Dawson in the 2nds, he will leave a great legacy in the young players and I'm sure he'll still be around the club next season in some role, Mr Hampshire Cricket, best of luck. (14 FC wickets @ 33.50, 13 LA wickets @ 34.68, e/r of 4.85)
Chris Tremlett (7):Didn't play much because of England duty but did well with ball as well as bat when he did, Looks a big 12 months for the big man as he will maybe become an England regular, first Hampshire born Hampshire player to play for England, fine effort. (15 FC wickets, 150 runs, 10 LA Wickets)
James Tomlinson (5):Struggled with injury, good to see him back.
Greg Lamb (4):Didn't see much of him, should get a new contract nonetheless.
David Balcombe (4):Young man making his way, performed well in the 2nds and been given a chance, good prospect.
David Griffiths (5):Promising bowler and handy lower order batsman, look for more from him next season.
Adam Voges (4):Did ok as a Twenty20 locum, One good innings and one good bowling performance.
Tom Burrows (5):Back up wickie, did well when called up at Kent, Pothas' long term successor
Billy Taylor (N/A):Only played in P40, reliable as ever, can see him moving on this winter.
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Wednesday, 26 September 2007
Championship Division One - 4th;
FP Trophy - 5th, Southern Conference;
Twenty20Cup - 3rd, South Division;
Pro40 Division Two - 4th
Halfway through the season, Surrey were undeniably in crisis. They had lost four, and won none, of their first seven Championship games, while subsiding after promising starts in the Friends Provident Trophy and Twenty20Cup. Yet their resurgence in the second half of the season was so impressive they ultimately finished fourth in Division One of the Championship – a truly stunning transformation. Win or lose, however, the peerless batting of Mark Ramprakash was a constant.
As the Championship season restarted after the Twenty20 break, Surrey were clear of bottom spot only by virtue of an astonishing display of resilience from skipper Mark Butcher and Matt Nicholson at the pre-flood-stricken New Road; they batted 21.3 overs together to salvage a draw. Yet, though that partnership was vital, there should be no doubting the most important moment in Surrey’s escape from relegation.
With Surrey totally lacking penetration before the Championship break – failing to take 20 wickets in a game up until that point – the Butchers took a brave decision by effectively sacking Azhar Mahmood, the erratic all-rounder, and replacing him with Harbhajan Singh. Singh, with much to prove after being dropped by India, was the catalyst for their spectacular mid-season change of fortunes, claiming 37 wickets in just six games, the highlight being match figures of 11-91 in the crucial two-day win at Kent. If he signs for next season, Surrey will believe they have the resources to reach the top three.
The other overseas bowler, Australian Matt Nicholson, was nothing if not wholehearted. He bowled valiantly in the Championship, claming 44 wickets at 29, bowling back-of-a-length and with great consistency. However, his impact extended far beyond his bowling; Nicholson’s batting application was excellent, encapsulated best in that partnership with Butcher, while he was also an invaluable member of the dressing-room. Chris Jordan, no doubt, would have learned much from him. The 18-year-old emerged almost from nowhere; but, with the excellent speeds he can generate, his relish for competition and more-than-promising batting, he already appears an England prospect. Of the other young quicks, Jade Dernbach recovered strongly late on to claim his maiden professional five-wicket haul.
The batting star, yet again, was Ramprakash – if there is a more technically proficient and aesthetically pleasing batsman around, he must be some player. He was outstanding throughout, averaging over 100 for the second consecutive year – something that will take many years to appreciate – including four centuries in Surrey's last three Championship games. Yet the supporting cast were undeniably disappointing.
Scott Newman’s Championship form floundered after an opening-game hundred, although he finally got fully to grips with the one-day game; his 92* to take Surrey to 160 at Kent was exceptional. Jon Batty, meanwhile, was terrific once more. Combining the twin roles of wicket-keeper and opener, he averaged 44. The captain was solid without approaching his free-flowing best; and, along with dad, did a pretty good job managing the side.
Ali Brown endured a woeful first-class season and, save for 176 in the FP Trophy was little better in limited-overs so, sadly, may now be on his way. Meanwhile, the trio of Stuart Walters, James Benning and Rikki Clarke (see below) struggled. Statistics do not come much more revealing than this: in 15 games, a Surrey batsman outside the top four only once passed 70, so it was important they moved quickly to sign Usman Afzaal.
In the limited-overs games, Surrey showed some signs of improvement, but their penchant for being edged out in crunch clashes meant they did not progress in any of the competitions. The highlight was the world-record 496/4 racked up against Gloucestershire in April, though Chris Schofield’s stunning Twenty20 form, including 4/12 at Hove, was a joy to behold. With Nayan Doshi buying out his contract and Ian Salisbury edging painfully into retirement, he must now improve his four-day form.
After their tremendous late-season surge to safety it would be worth sounding a note of caution. Surrey were indebted enormously to two players, Ramprakash and Singh. Batty, Butcher and Nicholson played their parts too. But overall contributions were worryingly lop-sided in favour of the experienced men, something that must be addressed next season.
Player of the season: Mark Ramprakash
Quite simply masterful. In 100 first-class games for Surrey he now averages a scarcely believable 77, with 44 hundreds, including supreme unbeaten tons off Warne and Mushtaq Ahmed amongst his 10 this season. There was also a pair of brilliantly-paced one-day centuries, and an 85* against Middlesex in a memorable Twenty20 win which illustrated his new-found freedom. To quote CMJ, never one for hyperbole, "It no longer makes any sense to leave the peerless Ramprakash out of the Test team." Would Australia obsess over his age (an irrelevance to winning cricket matches)? Or would they pick the best possible side to win in Sri Lanka?
Most disappointing player: Rikki Clarke
His superb, counter-attacking 68* against Durham helped to kick-start Surrey's season, but that should not disguise a miserable campaign for a man whose attitude falls miles short of Ramprakash's. His talent is undeniable, but first-class averages of 23 and 42 (the wrong way round) may be his last contributions for Surrey. He is not 'young' but on the verge of his 26th birthday, an age when he should be relishing responsibility.
Matt Nicholson's controversial dismissal of Nic Pothas, ending his 280-minute rearguard when it appeared Hampshire might salvage a draw. Chris Schofield promptly took the final wicket, giving him match figures of 8/139 and putting Surrey on the verge of safety.
Subsiding to an innings and 79 run defeat to relegation rivals Kent while taking just five wickets. With four defeats from six games, they appeared unable to adjust to the higher standards in Division One.
Can Surrey now challenge for the Championship? Share your views by leaving a comment below.
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Tuesday, 25 September 2007
Ask a Glamorgan diehard such as myself, and there is only one answer - “Robert Croft” – an off spinning hero of county and country through good times and bad, the shirt number being adopted by Crofty himself in tribute to the legendary names of the past who have worn the number 10 jersey in the red of Wales. Indeed, Welsh folk hero Max Boyce once sang about a mythical outside half factory in the West Wales valleys from which Crofty hails and still lives.
Crofty’s recent achievement of passing 1,000 first class wickets is a notable one in the modern game, especially now with only 16 Championship games a season. When he achieved this landmark he became the first Welshman to do so alongside 10,000 first class runs, and that is why he is worthy of this amongst many tributes.
Crofty’s debut in 1989 was in a very different looking county game, a game of 3 day matches, a game of Gooch and Botham. 19 seasons on and Croft may wonder what has changed at Glamorgan, rock bottom of the Championship, then as now, and a team of talented youngsters making their way in the game but struggling to compete with the seasoned pros of the county circuit, ditto.
Robert Croft in bowling action - the first Welshman to pass 10,000 first class runs and 1,000 wickets
This, however, fails to take into account the period in between. Crofty led the singing on the Canterbury balcony in 1993 as a Viv Richards inspired Glamorgan clinched their first Sunday League triumph. The success was repeated in 2002 and 2004, the latter under Croft’s captaincy.
Croft’s all round ability was also a key element in the Welsh county’s Championship triumph of 1997, only the third time that the pennant had crossed over the Severn Bridge. 54 wickets in that season averaging just over 23 supported the wonderful opening pair of Waqar and Steve Watkin, and in the title clinching game at Taunton, Crofty attacked with the bat, hitting a rapid 86 in failing September light.
An all round performer
Croft’s 1,000 first class wickets have been well documented elsewhere statistically. Briefly, he’s the ninth person to represent Glamorgan to achieve this and only Andrew Caddick amongst current county cricketers can also claim 1,000 victims.
During the recent 2007 season he once again passed 500 runs and 50 wickets, and provided some much needed stability to troubled Glamorgan. Croft’s century versus Nottinghamshire at his beloved Swansea in June was a major factor in the season’s solitary Championship win.
Critics point to a poor career bowling average of just over 37, and the statistics don’t usually lie. In recent years however, he has taken much of the flak flying at a desperately inexperienced and, at present, inadequate Welsh attack. Fifty overs an innings by him has not been uncommon as seasoned county batsmen have feasted on Glamorgan’s poor fare.
A British Lion
Croft’s success at Glamorgan over the years did not go unnoticed by the England selectors. In all he played 21 tests and 50 ODIs, with most recognition gained during David Lloyd’s spell as coach, where he was a regular fixture in the limited overs side of the late nineties.
In tests, Croft gained most success abroad, suitably consistent with his analogy that playing for England was like playing for the British Lions touring rugby side (with Glamorgan equating to Wales of course). His best moments came in New Zealand in 1996/97 (with a test best 5 for 97) and Sri Lanka 2000/01. In home tests, though, he’s best remembered for a match saving partnership with Angus Fraser at Old Trafford versus South Africa in 1998.
In all honesty, he was probably not quite good enough as a test bowler; he looked ordinary against Australia for example, and fell out of favour during the Hussain/Fletcher era. Croft was never bosom pals with Hussain and it seemed that Croft’s refusal to tour India in 2001 (following the 9/11 terrorist atrocities) put him in Fletcher’s bad books (his fellow abstainer was Caddick ironically).
Croft earned himself a recall for the Sri Lanka series in late 2003, but was made to sit out the three tests and carried the drinks whilst the inferior Gareth Batty, rejected by two counties, plied his trade. Touring supporters, amongst them ex Glamorgan stalwart and tour host Peter Walker, were astounded. So it seems was Croft and he called time on his England ambitions.
Croft took over the Glamorgan captaincy in 2003, taking over when Steve James was forced to retire prematurely as a result of injury. Despite a successful 2004, with a Championship promotion and a Twenty 20 semi final to compliment the National League triumph, his tenure as captain was mixed.
Unfortunately it coincided with the break up of the county’s ‘golden generation’. Partner in crime Tony Cottey, plus Steve Watkin and Hugh Morris had already long vacated the dressing room and joining James in retirement were Adrian Dale, and most crucially Matthew Maynard. Strong characters both, Maynard and Crofty never really saw eye to eye, but hugely respected each other’s talent and value to the Glamorgan cause.
A dire 2005 season in Championship Division One, was followed by one scarcely any better in Division Two. The one day form had tailed off too, and, in September 2006, Croft resigned as skipper as he felt as though he could take the side no further, and some suggested that he had ‘lost’ the dressing room. It hurt a proud Welshman.
Croft bowls to the classical off spinner's field at Colwyn Bay
Not finished yet
Whilst many of us were ‘ticking off’ the wickets as Robert moved closer to the magical 1,000, it was also with some dread that we saw him achieve it in late season. Rumours circulated that with the landmark Crofty may hang up the boots and commence a much anticipated career in broadcasting. Already a regular summariser on Sky’s county cricket coverage, a fluent Welsh speaker would surely find gainful employment in the BBC Wales Sports’ department.
It was a relief to many of us to hear him say in September;
“I'd like to play for as long as I can and be there when Glamorgan turn their fortunes around” (Source: BBC Sport online).
Crofty passes 38 next May, and, in the opinion of his county wicket keeper Mark Wallace, is bowling better than ever. He’s contracted for next season, and I’ve little doubt that, barring injury, he’ll still be playing at 40. In a very young Glamorgan side, that’s no bad thing.
Nonetheless, we should continue to enjoy him while we can;
"To me, Glamorgan are the best team in world cricket and it means so much to me to represent them," Croft recently told BBC Sport Wales.
Robert Croft is a Welsh number 10 as great as many of those rugby players of days gone by that he so admires.
Let us salute Crofty - a real hero of Glamorgan and Wales.
Englands’ loss was Somerset’s gain. The only double winner of the Player of the Week, he scored 1300 runs at over 60 with four centuries, albeit on a helpful Taunton wicket. He also took an incredible 33 catches. If he’s still on duty for Somerset next season, then they will be in the mix for honours.
A thousand runs, 5 tons and the reason that Hampshire put in a late run to challenge for the title. Particularly in the second half of the season he ran into a rich vein of form which he’ll be looking to continue in to next season.
2000 runs, averaging over 100. The difference between Surrey finishing 4th and being relegated. No other Surrey player managed 1000 runs or averaged over 50. Another awesome season and many people’s player of the year
Got very close to being a double winner as his leg spin bowling backed up his batting prowess. Indeed his bowling average was less than his batting average of nearly 50. A good club man for Yorkshire, he was missed at the end of the season as he went back to Pakistan.
Edges out his club captain Stephen Fleming for the number 5 spot, with 1200 runs and an average of over 90.
The other batsmen to miss out on the final selection were Ben Smith, Mark Stoneman, Travis Birt and Ronnie Irani.
The first player of the week, he scored nearly 800 runs at an average of 46, scoring his maiden ton in the process. With the ball, despite the unhelpful weather this summer, he took 40 wickets (with three 5-fers) at less than 40 to confirm his immense promise as a cricketer. It’s a measure of his ability that some still see this as a disappointing return. The England Lions tour (hopefully) beckons and full recognition won’t be far away.
Rashid beats Alex Gidman to the selection
The only wicketkeeper to average above 50 in either division, he is also the best gloveman in the country. He hit his maiden double hundred this season and was a major factor in Notts promotion this season. He beats off the challenges of Nic Pothas, Tim Ambrose and Paul Nixon.
Although he spent most of the season carrying the drinks for England, he took his frist 5-fer in county cricket and smashed an unbeaten 91 in the same match, taking him to the top of Leicester’s batting averages. As he showed for England, he’s a potential all-rounder with bags of promise and first division cricket with Notts next season should see him progress further.
The only real competition for Mark Ramprakash as player of the season. Cricket365 use his success as a reason that the Championship is a weak competition. To me it shows how much younger bowlers are able to learn from experienced campaigners and the progress of Liam Plunkett and Graeme Onions at Durham will be interesting to see. 80 wickets at just 20 for the season including all ten in an innings, he also chipped in with over 500 runs.
He probably still feels hard done by every time the England team is selected without him, but he is another reaon why Somerset will be a welcome addition to Div 1 next season. 70 wickets at 24 playing half of his matches at Taunton is a great return.
The pace bowlers to miss out were James Harris, Yasir Arafat and Mark Davies
The final winner of the award, he edges out the evergreen Robert Croft by spinning Sussex to the title again. Not as dominant this year as last, he still took 90 wickets at 25
As we entered the final week, anyone of five teams could still win the title. The two least likely met at Headingley as Yorkshire entertained Hampshire. Yorkshire’s chances went up in smoke as they were dismissed for just 195, James Bruce taking 5-fer. Mike Carberry then scored a ton as Hants reached 244 for 4. Then it rained for two days and both teams finish in the middle of the table.
Starting the week in third place, Durham were playing a Kent team who had secured their safety the week before and were a little too relaxed as they were bowled out for 212 in their first innings. Dale Benkenstein then scored a ton as Durham reached 321 before Kent were bowled out for 160 second time round. Durham knocked off the 52 to win for the loss of two wickets and went to the top of the table with their early finish.
However, it would have been the weather that most interested Durham as by that time, Sussex were well on top against relegated Worcestershire. Batting first Sussex scored 532, with Robin Martin Jenkins continuing his fine batting form with a quick-fire 99. Mushtaq then took 6 wickets as Worcester managed just 213 in their first innings. Both Mushtaq (with 7 wickets) and Worcester did better second time round, but the total of 305 wasn’t enough to make Sussex bat again. Sussex overtook Durham at the top and all eyes turned to the Oval.
Lancashire started the week in pole position, but 196 from Mark Ramprakash allowed Surrey to declare on 427 for 9, which was enough for a healthy lead as Lancs made just 234. Surrey didn’t enforce the follow on and another Ramps century set up a declaration on 295 for 5, setting Lancs a target of 488 to win the Championship. A run a ball century from VS Laxman set up the chase but despite contributions from everyone, they finished 24 runs short and the title went to Sussex with Durham second. The win also lifted Surrey to fourth, ahead of Hants and Yorks as just 27 points separated the top 6 teams.
The top two met at Taunton with Nottinghamshire needing only a point to secure promotion. However they didn’t manage this when batting first, scoring only 158. Relief came with the wicket of James Hildreth as Somerset were reduced to 54 for 3. However, tons for Marcus Trescothick, Ian Blackwell and Peter Trego led Somerset to 469 and with Michael Munday taking a career best 8 for 55 in Notts second innings as they were dismissed for just 190, Somerset ran out comfortable winners and worthy champions.
Middlesex needed a maximum points win to have any chance of catching Notts. Their young bowling attack of Rob Williams and Steve Finn (combined age – 38) bowled Essex out for 365, Grant Flower getting a ton and James Foster unbeaten on 96. However, as they were then bowled out for just 171 themselves, any chance of promotion disappeared. Following on they scored 246 and Essex scored the 53 to win without losing a wicket. Middlesex finish 3rd with Essex 4th .
In the other two games, Northants and Derbyshire played out a draw while rain ruined the Gloucestershire - Glamorgan match, although Hamish Marshall had enough time to score a ton.
England player watch
Another bad week for Andrew Strauss with just 11 and 7 runs. Michael Vaughan did little better in his innings scoring 26. On the bowling front, Matthew Hoggard took a couple of wickets and Ryan Sidebottom went wicketless, but bowled 22 overs to prove his fitness with the tour parties to be announced soon.
Player of the Week
Two standout performances this week determined the destination of the title. Mark Ramprakash finished another brilliant season by denying Lancs the win they needed, but spinning Sussex to their second successive title, this week’s Player of the Week is Mushtaq Ahmed.
Monday, 24 September 2007
It is, for sure, here to stay. Currently, the appetite for it appears almost insatiable. And it is easy to say why. The game, though ostensibly a slog-fest, is really just ultra-diluted cricket. It's all about skill - of course it is. But, perhaps more surprisingly, it's all about the bowlers.
They were expected to accept their maulings with good grace; instead, they have come armed with a plethora of subtleties - cutters, a variety of slower balls and the yorker. While Gautam Gambhir's 75 in the final was obviously vital, there is no way India could have defended their score without the wiles of RP Singh and Irfan Pathan. As in any form of the game, matches are won primarily by bowlers; in this case, Singh and Pathan, who took three wickets each.
It was a fitting way for a superb tournament to end. And it was quite remarkable that India, bereft of their four batting totems and their two best Test bowlers of late - Anil Kumble and Zaheer Khan - triumphed. Much credit must go to Mahendra Singh Dhoni - brain as well as brawn - and Yuvraj Singh's jaw-dropping hitting. Above all, they took responsbility, and benefited immeasurably from an infinitely improved fielding outfit.
So, already, the countdown has begun for the 2009 tournament. One would hope the Champions Trophy is scraped altogether but I would still like 50-over cricket to remain alongside the other two forms. Twenty20 is wonderful, but there are certain skills - the steady (rather than spectacular) accumalation of targets, as best exhibited by Michael Bevan, that bring ODIs into their own. That format has not run its course; rather, it has been badly damaged by the tediously elongated World Cup and a plethora of seven-game series. Ideally, three-match Test series should be accompanied by three ODIs and two (or possibly three) Twenty20 games.
We have seen the future, and we like it a lot, but it is too soon to pen our obituaries for the ODI game.
Saturday, 22 September 2007
Best player: His side didn't even come close to the honours, but it simply has to be Mark Ramprakash. Averaging 100 in consecutive seasons simply defies belief; an unprecedented achievement for the consummate professional and master technician. And finally, the first man to hit 10 first-class hundreds in a season since, well, himself.
Best batsman: Same again.
Best bowler:A toss up between two 38-year-olds (Andy Caddick and Otis Gibson) and the irrepressible Mushtaq Ahmed. Gibson's superhuman deeds in Divison One, and match-winning Friends Provident display, shade it.
Best performance: Otis Gibson's 10-47 against Hampshire was simply extraordinary.
Best hat-trick: Ryan McLaren's memorable effort in Kent's Twenty20Cup Final win.
Best match: Though ultimately it proved not to be close, for sheer quality and intensity Sussex's crucial victory over Lancashire at Liverpool.
Most valiant run chase: Lancashire's 464 on the final day against Surrey, just beating Surrey's very own 467 against Hampshire which, not coincidentally, were both at the Oval. Now, if only Lancs had showed similar application in the aforementioned Sussex clash.
Most ridiculous rant: Bob Willis, take a bow. His claim that former internationals like Hick, Crawley and Ramprakash were "clogging up" the system was totally nonsensical. On the contrary, they raise the standard - and are invaluable for youngsters to learn from.
Best decision (1): Chris Adams' 11th-hour u-turn when Yorkshire came calling. He was vindicated as, under his astute captaincy, Sussex won the Championship once more.
Best decision (2): Surrey effectively sacking Azhar Mahmood, seldom a first-class match-winner, and signing Harbhajan Singh in his place. Singh, with much to prove after being dropped by India, was the catalyst for their spectacular mid-season change of fortunes, claiming 37 wickets in just six games and providing the penetration his side had so lacked previously.
Worst decision (1): The ECB re-jigging the recruitment rules and banning the second overseas player from next season. They have helped immeasurably in improving the quality of cricket. Better, surely, to introduce serious preventive measures to ensure counties always field at least eight players eligible for England at that time.
Worst decision (2): The London-based dentist who paid for Jimmy Maher to be Glamorgan's overseas player. Maher suffered a sad crisis-in-confidence, averaging a paltry 17 in eight first-class games in a Glamorgan season that went from one nadir to the next. Meanwhile his early season stand-in, Matthew Elliot, was excellent.
Saddest tale: Staying with Glamorgan, Simon Jones' depressing transformation from reverse-swing king to a stuttering run-up - and one first-class wicket for 290. A move may just reinvigorate him but, though he is just 28, you would get long odds on him playing for England again.
Best emerging player: A rare bright spot for Glammy, 17-year-old James Harris took 12 wickets against Gloucestershire, and continued to impress therafter, finishing with 33 wickets at just 23. And, as shown by an 88*, he can bat too.
Biggest red-herring: Sussex suffering innings defeats in games two and three, only to bounce back to record consecutive Championship titles.
Most predictable match-winner: The irrepressible Mushtaq Ahmed was at it again, claiming 90 first-class wickets including 13 in their final Championship win. Whether he is Sussex's finest ever player is certainly up for debate; but he is, surely, their biggest ever match-winner.
Most hyped-up player: Adil Rashid was always in the spotlight after his heroics last season. His batting develop tremendously (average 46) but his leg-spin still lacks control, and he found things mighty tough towards the end. Still, well worth an A tour and near-certain to play for England one day.
Biggest proof of the quality of the county game: The plethora of superb spinners on the circuit, although this was fall next season. Shane Warne, Mushtaq, Muralitharan, Harbhajan, Danish Kaneria, Murali Kartik and Monty Panesar bring immense spinning quality to the game. Hopefully Adil Rashid, whose bowling stuttered somewhat after a fine start, and Mike Munday, who recorded match figures of 10-60 in the season's final game, can learn a thing or two.
Best captain: For a pair of promotions and stamping his authority over a talented but hitherto underachieving side, it has to be Justin Langer, who scored copious runs to boot. Elsewhere, Rob key was excellent in leading Kent's Twenty20 triumph, while Adams was as combative as ever.
Most heart-warming story: Worcestershire overcoming floods and Championship thrashings to win the Pro40 league was a tremendous show of character.
Easiest scapegoat: The Pro40. Derided primarily for being 40 overs (how much difference does the loss of 10 middle overs really make?) it provided some enthralling action during the summer holidays. As Worcestershire illustrated, a competition starting in mid-season can reinvigorate a county. With only eight games, it is short and sweet; and, above all, it proved a lot of fun.
Dream Championship XI (both divisions, based on first-class form only):
Justin Langer (captain)
Michael Di Venuto
Tim Ambrose (wicket-keeper)
(With Murali replacing Bichel on turning tracks)
What are your thoughts on this campaign? Share your views by leaving a comment below.
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Friday, 21 September 2007
Initially, it might be tempting to simply label him a man incapable of making the step up to Tests; a cricketing yo-yo too good for county attacks but never able to cope with the higher level. It is tempting, certainly, but the argument falls down under any serious scrutiny. If Ramprakash was such a player, how to explain his excellent average – 42 – against Australia, the best side of his era?
It is nigh on impossible to spot any rational patterns in his record. His only two Test centuries were scored against the 2001 Australians and away to the West Indies of Walsh and Ambrose. And it was because of his failures against New Zealand, the side who bear most resemblance to the county attacks he plundered so relentlessly, that Ramprakash was twice dropped.
What is clear, however, is, like Hick, Ramprakash was a victim of selectorial upheaval, an easy scapegoat when England were struggling. Over his 52 Tests, he was dropped on ten occasions. Ten. During his longest run in the side, from his brilliant breakthrough century against the West Indies in 1998 to the end of the New Zealand series in 1999, Ramprakash established himself as a fine batsman and an integral member of the side. Though he did not quite resemble the angst-free first-class animal, Ramps offered England middle-order solidity; in these 18 Tests, he averaged 41 against some extremely testing attacks.
And then, indicative of the bizarre selections of the day, he was dropped, after one modest series against the Kiwis, despite the fact only three batsmen had fared better. It is astonishing, even now, that a man finally finding his feet in the Test arena could be dropped for Chris Adams and Darren Maddy – good county players, but never destined to be anything more.
No doubt compounded by his perennial fear of being made scapegoat, Ramprakash was seldom able to truly relax in the international arena. As he admits, he was often guilty of being too intense, and of caring too much, as exemplified by his infamous tantrums in his earlier years. In his autobiography, Nasser Hussain compared Ramprakash’s meticulous preparation to that of Alec Stewart – but, Hussain believes, Ramprakash suffered for his “theories, nervousness, bat handle obsession and stuff like that”. Moreover, Mike Atherton said of him “he seemed to look for the negative aspects of each challenge”; for Mark Ramprakash, international batting was never simple.
The game at Johannesburg in 1995 served to epitomise his problems at Test level. In the first innings, he took an excruciating 35 balls to score 4; in the second, he took an ungamely swipe at his second ball and was bowled. His vastly contrasting approaches to two innings in which he entered with South Africa in the ascendancy were, to Atherton, “a sure indication of his confused mental state”.
But, above all, he was a failure of man-management. It is surely indicative that only the ebullient David Lloyd (sacked prior to the ’99 New Zealand series) got the best of Ramps, a man who needed both reassurance of his worth and a coach to help him calm down.
A glance at his Test average may suggest Ramprakash was lucky to play as much as he did; but his run-scoring feats in the county game were continually so extraordinary that the selectors had little choice. At times, it seemed they could neither live with nor without him. They failed to hand him the extended run that would give him the best chance to maximise his potential, but could not dispense completely with Hick’s sole rival at the top of the first-class averages. The end result, alas, was an international career that continually frustrated; and the rare talent who emerged when winning the Man of the Match award in a Natwest Final aged just 18 was, internationally, unfulfilled.
Ramprakash’s single-minded determination to succeed in the international arena was highlighted by his highly controversial decision to cross the Thames in 2001 – in search of the Division One cricket he believed would aid his chances of an international recall. He was soon vindicated and, in scoring 133 at The Oval against Australia, looked to be a beneficiary of the new Duncan Fletcher era – a time when players would only be dropped after being given a fair chance to prove their worth, unlike for so much of Ramprakash’s career.
The winter of 2001/02, however, stands as perhaps the biggest disappointment of his career. At last, he had a coach who valued selectorial consistency; and, in India and especially New Zealand would surely cement his place. Yet, bewilderingly, he averaged just 23 in six Tests – a victim, this time, not of playing within himself but of playing too aggressively, too early. In his desperation to impose himself on the opposition, Ramprakash compromised his outstanding technique and Fletcher decided his time was up. The general lack of coherency in his batting approach was encapsulated by Wisden’s description of an “aberrant swipe” as England fell to defeat in the last Test.
Yet, amidst all the troubles of his international career, Ramprakash’s incredible run-scoring capacity at county level never diminished; and, in the years since his last England game, his performance has reached new heights as he has become more relaxed. He hit 2000 runs in 2006 – at an average of over 100 – though people sneered at these being scored in Division Two. It was testament to his extraordinary aptitude for runs, then, that he repeated the feat in Division One this campaign, scoring centuries of the likes of Shane Warne and Mushtaq Ahmed, while continuing to excel in the limited-overs formats too. No one in the history of the English game can boast two seasons of such stunning personal achievement; it is truly astonishing.
There can be no doubting he could and should have fared better in Test matches; but, even as he passes 38, Mark Ramprakash remains amongst the most technically proficient and aesthetically pleasing players in the country. For all his failures, watching him bat has been a delight.
Tuesday, 18 September 2007
Imran Khan (captain)
This is the XI I have picked to play on an unknown surface. To lend a little more realism to the task, here is my 'second XI' for them to play against:
What's your verdict? Which of these teams would win?
Muttiah Muralitharan’s greatness is simply indisputable. He and Shane Warne have been the focal points for a ‘golden age’ of spin bowling; and together, subjected to near-constant comparison. Together, they constitute the ultimate spin-bowling dream team.
Murali has perennially been accused of ‘chucking’, but on each occasion he has been cleared; it would be churlish to deny him a place in this Greatest Test XI because of doubts over the legitimacy of his action. Amidst all the controversy, though, he has continued to improve; he has revolutionised the art of off-spin by perfecting several variations, including the infamous doosra. The nature of his action enables him to extract turn from almost every surface.
It is true that his wickets tally has benefited from a multitude of victims amongst the minnows; but, incredibly, he averages 23.4 if they are excluded (two lower than Warne), which falls to under 21 during his ‘peak’ years since 2000 as he has learned to become more adaptable and effective outside the sub-continent. What makes this even more impressive is he has had no respite in unfavourable conditions, normally having to bowl nearly 30 overs a day, acting as both stock and strike bowler to claim more than six wickets a game.
He has been the single biggest factor in Sri Lanka’s emergence as a true Test force; he is of course lethal at home (and took 28 Tests in Australia’s three-Test series in Sri Lanka in 2004) but his finest moments have surely been away from home. Murali took 16 and 11 wickets in memorable victories in England; on a wearing pitch, there is no bowler you would rather have.
Statistically, as Charles Dawes illustrated in an article in Wisden Australia, he is certainly the greatest spinner of all time. Murali is unique; he has captivated audiences with his box of tricks and sheer enthusiasm for the game. As Steve Waugh put it, he is “the Don Bradman of bowling”.
Share your views by leaving a comment below.
Sussex took on Durham having moved into a commanding position at the top of the table by thrashing Yorkshire in their previous game. However, they struggled against Graeme Onions and Ottis Gibson and scored just 291, bolstered by a rapid 77 not out from Robin Martin-Jenkins. Durham replied with 316, youngster Mark Stoneman getting his maiden century before skittling Sussex for just 131. Durham knocked off the 107 required to win for the loss of just Stoneman and the Championship race is wide open again.
Lancashire took their opportunity, although against the plummeting Warwickshire, they couldn’t have wanted an easier game. Batting first, the Bears made just 106. VS Laxman made a ton in Lancashire’s reply as they scored 311, Neil Carter taking 5-fer. Warwicks did better second time round scoring 272 to at least make Lancs bat again. However, they made the 71 required for victory for the loss of just one wicket to move to the top of the table and to relegate Warwickshire.
Hampshire were also looking to take advantage of Sussex’s slip. However, they were up against a Kent side who knew that a good win would see them retain their record of being the only side to have played in every season in Div 1. Kent batted first and a Martin Van Jaarsveld ton, and good support throughout the team, saw them reach 495. 98 for 1 became 99 for 4 and Hants made just 216 in reply and then 282 second time round, James Tredwell taking four wickets in each innings. This left Kent needing just 6 to win which took Joe Denly three balls against the occasional bowling of Mike Carberry. Kent are safe and Hants missed a big chance to close the gap at the top.
So at the bottom of the table, it’s a West Midlands double as Worcestershire and Warwickshire go down to Division 2. At the top, anyone of 5 teams could still win the title, although Yorkshire and Hants (who play each other) being 16 and 17 points away look least likely. Lancashire are top by 6 and they travel to the fast improving Surrey, who could still finish above the loser of the Hants- Yorks match. Sussex look to have the easiest task against Worcestershire, who will have been celebrating their Pro-40 title for the last week. Durham, who are a further 2.5 points back travel to Kent.
My prediction – Absolutely no idea.
Mark Wallace scored a ton and Lance Klusener took 5 wickets as Glamorgan scored 280 in their first innings against Northamptonshire. Northants replied with 381, Steven Peters getting a ton and Robert Croft taking 6-fer. Monty Panesar found himself at number 8 in the batting line up, scoring 30. He then took 4 wickets as the Welshmen were skittled for just 102 and Northants scored the 2 required for victory and a ten wicket win to leave Glamorgan securely anchored at the bottom of the table.
The other game in Div 2 was a little more meaningful as Middlesex played their game in hand on Notts against Leicestershire. However, Jerome Taylor’s 6-fer denied Middlesex any batting points as they made just 176. Murali Kartik also took 6-fer as Leicester managed a small lead with 190. Ed Smith led the way in the 2nd innings scoring 134 out of the 331 total, Claude Henderson taking 5-fer. Leicester fell 38 short of their target, scoring 279 and the result leaves Notts needing just one point from their game at Somerset to join their opponents in Div 1 next season.
England player watch
Andrew Strauss’s search for form continues, with 11 and 23 for Middlesex. Monty Panesar got in some useful batting practise and was the instigator of Glamorgan’s downfall with the ball.
Player of the Week
In the current situation where overseas players (Kolpak or otherwise) or old pros are dominating the game, it is good to see some new young talent coming through. So joining Adil Rashid, James Harris and Stuart Broad as a weekly winner, for scoring his maiden ton and keeping the title race wide open to the last week of the season, the Player of the Week is Durham’s Mark Stoneman.
Monday, 17 September 2007
The worst example of this has been the batting orders, which have failed to reflect form or common sense. Prior is not a ODI opener, much less a Twenty20 opener. He does not have the ability or the nous to fulfil this role, yet has been a permanent fixture in it. Luke Wright, though he has potential, has failed to find form so far and is cruelly exposed at the top of the order.
What is needed is someone who can hit over the top and improvise to maximise run output while the fielding restrictions are in place. To my mind there is no better hitter in the team than Mascarenhas. With only two fielders allowed out of the circle in the first six overs he has the ability to hit over the top and cause early carnage.
Even if he failed to build on a quick start, he would almost certainly score at such a rate that England would have the foundation to build a big innings or chase down a formidable total.
He could ideally be partnered by Maddy, who keeps the scoreboard ticking over as well as having the ability to hit boundaries. Solanki may have been another option, but he has not played in the tournament so far. It would be foolhardy to throw him into the competition in such a key position with England desperate for victories, though he should merit serious consideration in the middle order.
With Pietersen at three and a middle order of Collingwood, Shah and Solanki, England would be well placed to build on a quick fire start. Prior and Flintoff could add some late blasting, if required, without being under the pressure their current batting spots generate.
There can be little doubt that if England are to progress in the competition they need some ruthless pruning of their underperformers and a radical rethink of their batting order.
The top two met at Hove in a game that promised much, but was ultimately very one-sided. Yorkshire were without the inspirational Darren Gough and despite the presence of Matthew Hoggard, Sussex made 597 for 8, with Mike Yardy and Andrew Hodd getting tons. All of a sudden the pitch changed from featherbed to minefield and Yorks could only make 247 (Mushtaq taking 5-fer) and then 89 in reply. Yorkshire are now playing for pride and Sussex are favourites for a second successive title.
Making a late charge at the title are Lancashire who bowled Durham out for 166, Glen Chapple taking 7 wickets. In reply, Ottis Gibson went one better with 8 wickets as Lancs made 183. Durham managed 185 second time round, to leave Lancs a potentially tricky 169 to win. At 7 for 2, Durham had a chance, but Stuart Law and VS Laxman saw them home to keep their challenge alive and put a big dent in Durham’s hopes.
Hampshire, buoyed by the unexpected return of Shane Warne, also kept their championship aspirations alive playing the already relegated Worcestershire. Mike Carberry scored a ton as Hants made 444 in their first innings. James Tomlinson then took 5-fer as Worcester made just 289. Carberry scored his second ton of the match as Hants declared on 376 for 2, setting Worcester far too many and Warne took 5-fer as they capitulated to 237, Hants winning by 294.
The big game at the bottom of the table saw Surrey take on the plummeting Warwickshire. The Bears batted first collapsing from 193 for 2 to 285. Surrey’s 373 in reply was largely thanks to 175 to Mark Ramprakash (inevitably). Warwicks then scored 264 second time round leaving Surrey requiring 179 to win, which they did for the loss of just one wicket. Surrey look safe while Warwickshire are still just above Kent, who have a game in hand.
It’s still mathematically any from five at the top, although Sussex are now clear favourites. At the bottom, it’s looking increasingly like a West Midlands double going down as Surrey complete their great escape.
With Somerset already promoted, Nottinghamshire had the chance to get themselves close to their return to Division 1 against Derbyshire. Notts batted first and scored 548 for 9, Stephen Fleming playing his last game for the club scoring 243, with his successor as captain, Chris Read continuing his fine season with the bat, scoring 90. Jon Clare took 5 wickets. Derby made just 205 in their first innings and 337 second time round, six runs short of making Notts bat again.
Middlesex are the only team that can prevent Notts promotion now and they started off scoring 440 against Gloucestershire, with Ed Smith and Ben Scott both getting tons. Gloucester made just 152 in their first innings and 199 second time round to give Middlesex a big win.
Somerset had the chance to confirm themselves as champions and finish off any hopes that Essex had of promotion and Charl Willoughby took 5 wickets as Essex made just 144 in their first innings. Somerset replied with 312, despite 7 wickets for Danesh Kaneria. Essex did better second time round, scoring 349, with James Foster getting 96. However, despite the early loss of Marcus Trescothick, Somerset made the 184 required for victory for the loss of just 4 wickets and they return to Division 1 as champions.
The other game in Division 2 saw two teams packed with Kolpak players or aging journeymen pros playing a meaningless end of season match. Northamptonshire beat Leicestershire by 177 runs, with Nicky Boje, David Sales and Niall O’Brien getting tons for Northants, Paul Nixon hitting 3 figures for Leicester. 5-fers for Ryan Cummings (Leicester) and David Lucas (Northants) and a 6-fer for Boje. The irony is that these counties have produced two of the most exciting bowlers to play for England in some time (Monty Panesar and Stuart Broad), yet if these teams weren’t in the county championship, would anyone notice?
England player watch
Michael Vaughan looks like he’s packed up for the season and should really be rested for Yorkshire’s last match, while Andrew Strauss continues his run of getting a start and getting out. Matthew Hoggard took three wickets and looked the pick of a pretty ordinary Yorkshire bowling performance.
Player of the Week
Mike Carberry scored two tons and but for winning this in week 10, might just have been POTW this week. However, he is pipped to the honour by an overseas player who has contributed enormously to the success of his county over a number of years and has made the county circuit a more challenging place for opposition bowlers. For his double century taking Notts to the brink of promotion, the player of the week is Stephen Fleming
Sunday, 16 September 2007
Their policy to use Twenty20 specialists has been much discussed. I was in favour of it, but expressed reservations about the selection of Luke Wright. Wright is a potentially exciting talent but lacks the technique and experience to open against international bowlers, and it was rather perverse to promote him after a pair of failures at number three. Mark Ramprakash, in stunning form, inventive and highly effective in Twenty20, and with technical prowess, should surely have gone; with hindsight so should Ian Bell, although, when the squad was selected, he in no way merited selection. Of course, the man who could have made a real difference, and is a true match for Hayden, Gayle and Gibbs, is Marcus Trescothick.
Either way, England are stuck with Wright, Matt Prior, Vikram Solanki and Darren Maddy. Prior, as he proved yet again today, is not an international opening batsmen; his trademark is run-a-ball 20s which, in Twenty20, is simply not fast enough. By process of elimination as much as anything else, I would advocate opening with Solanki and Maddy. They have enjoyed success in this form of the game over its five seasons, and also possess huge experience. Certainly, however, Kevin Pietersen should be at number three.
With the ball, England have been a little better. Had Paul Collingwood caught Albie Morkel, Chris Schofield would not have been clobbered for three sixes and would have returned excellent figures, so it would be unfair to criticise him. On the positive side, Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Andrew Flintoff were very good against South Africa, only to be let down by some abysmal catching that cost England the game.
So England find themselves in a familiar position in World Cups: they are on the verge of an early exit unless they can get their act together and win consecutive games. Ultimately, England probably lack the big-hitting skills necessary to win the tournament, but they were not helped by the truly inexplicable decision to bat Snape ahead of Mascarenhas. As per usual in shorter cricket, England are tremendously reliant on Kevin Pietersen. But if they are to progress, their opening pair must contribute far more.
How can England progress to the semi-finals? Is this the best side: Maddy, Solanki, Pietersen, Collingwood, Shah, Flintoff, Mascarenhas, Prior, Schofield, Broad, Anderson
Curtley Ambrose arguably had the greatest propensity for cricketing annihilation of any quick in this list. Given a wearing wicket, his pace and steepling bounce, generated from a 6ft7in frame, assisted by a McGrath-esque ability to consistently hit back-of-a-length just outside off-stump, made him virtually unplayable.
Yet there was much more to Ambrose’s game; he had a beautifully grooved action and could generate enough movement off the seam to remain a huge threat even when his pace had deserted him while, unlike similarly tall men, he did not over-bowl the short ball, and used his yorker to devastating effect. Even in the least helpful conditions, Ambrose was very seldom dominated; he did well in Asia, while his economy rate of 2.30 shows he was exceptionally parsimonious.
A few of Ambrose’s spells must rank amongst the very finest in the history of the game, relentless in their hostility. Top of the list is his breathtaking spell of 7-1, from 32 balls, at Perth (a ground that could have been made for him) in 1992. Indeed, he was consistently outstanding against Australia, the best side he faced. An equally memorable spell was his 6-24 at Bridgetown in 1994. Given an hour to bat in the evening, England subsided to a fired-up Ambrose, and were bowled out for 46 the following morning.
The mere sight of Ambrose gliding up to the wicket, before exploding onto the wicket and catapulting the ball down from almost 10ft, was truly one to behold. With the qualities he had, mere survival required tremendous skill and physical courage.
The side so far: Sutcliffe, Hutton, Bradman, Hammond, Sobers, Imran (captain), Gilchrist (wicket-keeper), Marshall, Warne, Ambrose
We now only have one player left to select. Share your views on the side by leaving a comment below.
Thursday, 13 September 2007
With three games played a day, the tournament has already acquired a forward momentum totally lacking in the West Indies. Yet again, they were a ragtag outfit totally lacking in the bowling and fielding department, with Ramnaresh Sarwan seemingly far less effective than Chris Gayle, who memorably lifted the side for the ODIs in England. With Bangladesh's upward curve (not, it must be said, in Tests), and the impish, outrageously talented and increasingly consistent Mohammad Ashraful at the helm, it may not be too long before the Windies fall below them in the limited-overs rankings.
If they lose tomorrow, Australia, who have undeniably shown a lack of respect for this form of he game to date, will also exit: which is just the way it should be if a side loses its first two games. To date, it has been a vibrant, engaging tournament, and, with so many interesting asides (not least England's Twenty20 special forces, including the rejuvinated Chris Schofield) it should remain that way.
It is cricket reducto ad infinitum, but that is not to say it is bereft of skill: on the contrary, quality under pressure prevails. As for who will win, however, it remains very hard to tell: the nature of the game is that it can change irrevocably within a couple of overs; and, Australia aside, there are a clutch of evenly-matched sides.
Who's your tip for the title?
Hopefully we will complete a full set of county reviews, which will make for a fascinating read.
Please do any reviews in the following format, following the template of last year's Surrey review and email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Any reviews would be much appreciated, and they should attract much interest amongst fans. Hope your county is enjoying a succussful season!
Sunday, 9 September 2007
What can you say about Shane Warne, “the finest legspinner the world has ever seen”, according to Richie Benaud? He has mastered the hardest of cricket’s arts, and continued to astound over a 15-year Test career. Yet, for all the flippers, googlies and top-spinners, his brillance lies in far more than these deliveries. Mentally, he is amongst the toughest players who have ever played the game, able to out-think the very finest batsmen and, famously, reduce an excellent Test batsman, Darryl Cullinan, to a man bereft of self-belief against him. He has not been able to display his captaincy skills internationally, but has proved an astute, innovative skipper for Hampshire, able to out-psyche the opposition and imbue copious self-belief in his team-mates.
Warne also has the rare ability to excel himself when up against it and the side need him most. That much was clearly in evidence during the 2005 Ashes when, with a depleted attack and, due to injuries, his own leg-spinning weapons much less than they had been during the mid-90s, Warne relied on his subtlety (not always his biggest strength) cunning to claim an extraordinary 40 wickets in the series. His reputation was made during countless Australian victories; but, if anything, he was even more impressive in defeat.
His achievement in bringing such long-standing consistency to this most enigmatic of arts is remarkable, the result of Warne’s constant desire for cricketing improvement, which saw him develop a number of variations within the leg-spinner (carrying angles and degrees of spin). He made his name with The Ball Of The (20th) Century; the dismissal of Andrew Strauss may just have been The Ball of the 21st except, because it was Warne, the feelings were more of awe than the astonishment that greeted the dismissal of Mike Gatting.
With the bat, Warne also bettered himself when his side most needed him, and should really have scored a Test hundred. His raw statistics – 708 Test wickets in an era of bigger bats and shorter boundaries – are incredible, but his genius has transcended numbers.
The side so far: Sutcliffe, Hutton, Bradman, Hammond, Sobers, Imran (captain), Gilchrist (wicket-keeper), Marshall, Warne
We now only have two players left to select. Share your views on the side by leaving a comment below.
Alastair Cook 5
Cook made an excellent century in the first game, accelerating after a fairly slow start to suggest he was learning to adapt to the nature of the one-day game. Thereafter, he declined alarmingly, scoring just four runs in his last three innings. In the final analysis, both his average (30) and strike-rate (75) were not good enough, and he clearly needs to learn to score singles with more regularity.
Matt Prior 4
Prior generally kept better than expected, but, as an opener, he resembled Geraint Jones in South Africa in 2005. He made plenty of starts, but does not fully convince against the new ball and continually got out to rash shots. Time for Phil Mustard or Tim Ambrose?
Ian Bell 9
At last, Bell made a one-day hundred for England, and developed his ability to hit over the top during the series. Both his average - 70 - and strike-rate - 91 - were outstanding, as was his fielding, and he was rightly named Man of the Series. Though he was restricted to cameos in the last four games, Bell has now established himself in the top three.
Kevin Pietersen 6
After a bizarre, prolonged slump - 16 home ODIs without a half-century - Pietersen made important contributions in the last two games, though he could still pick up more singles early on in his innings, and was culpable for two run-outs. But the great news is that, if he fails, an England victory no longer seems an impossibility.
Paul Collingwood 8
Collingwood grew as a one-day leader, captaining astutely, aggressively and - when dismissing Tendulkar and Dravid with Pietersen and Shah - opportunistically. With the bat, he scored at virtually a run a ball, making two fifties; with the ball, he was canny but unlucky.
Owais Shah 7
After a trio of nothing scores, there were fears that, like Vikram Solanki, a player who should have been a tremendous asset to England's ODI team was fading sadly from view. However, Shah showed his dexterity against spin and unorthodoxy in making a terrific maiden ODI hundred, and should soon be a regular in the side.
Luke Wright 7
Wright's debut 50 hinted at a rare one-day talent; his clean-hitting and uncluttered thinking were reminiscent of Andrew Flintoff in 2004. Promoted to open in the final game, his impetuosity got the better of him but it seems certain Wright, also a good fielder and promising bowler, will have a big part to play in England's one-day future.
Andrew Flintoff 7
In between the constant injury scares, there was some superbly hostile bowling for a side always in need of middle-over wickets. But his batting was predictably brainless, making a total mockery of the number six position. On current form, he should be used as a bowling all-rounder at number eight.
Ravi Bopara 6
A superbly mature innings at Old Trafford, but three failures elsewhere, as well as disappointing bowling.
Dimitri Mascarenhas 7
Mascarenhas is probably neither good enough to bat at seven nor good enough to be a third-seamer; but he carved a niche out for himself as a wicket-to-wicket bowler in the middle overs (taking 3-23 at Lord's) and as a belligerent hitter at number eight, hitting 10 6s from just 54 balls.
James Anderson 8
Bar the sixth game at the Oval, Anderson was outstanding, displaying new-found control, late swing and impressive speed to claim 14 wickets, while he is also an exceptional fielder in the deep.
Stuart Broad 6
Broad played exceptionally to score 45* in the 4th ODI to take England home, showing he has the technique and temperament to be, at least, a very good number eight in the future. However, his bowling was a little less impressive; though his promise is palpable, he is perhaps a little too predictable with the ball (save for a brilliant leg-stump yorker to dismiss Yuvraj) and both his average - 38 - and economy rate - 5.2 - were ultimately disappointing.
Monty Panesar 6
There were some signs that Panesar was maturing as a one-day player and daring to flight the ball, but Graeme Swann and Chris Schofield, both three-dimensional cricketers, also have cases for the spinner's slot.
Chris Tremlett 5
Tremlett was simply too easy to hit in the two games he played, lacking any real one-day nous, but he came back impressively to take two key wickets in the victory in the third game.
Jon Lewis 4
A token, unsatisfactory appearance for a bowler whose age means he is unlikely to make the next World Cup. Still, hugely unlucky that Duncan Fletcher preferred Messrs Plunkett and Mahmood in the ODI side.
Friday, 7 September 2007
West Indies is regarded as the spiritual home of the fast bowler, so it is fitting that the man commonly regarded as their finest ever makes the Greatest Test XI. Malcolm Marshall was their finest quick during their 1980s heyday, seriously rapid, hostile and extremely consistent; but he complemented these gifts with subtlety and real cricketing intelligence.
He was a tremendously canny bowler, with the ability to swing the ball both ways and, later in his career, the purveyor of a fine legcutter. Though relatively small for a West Indian quick – 5ft11in – he still generated good bounce; and his mastery of the finer arts of seam-bowling ultimately separated him from his almost equally outstanding team-mates.
It speaks volumes for his adaptability that his impressive average of 22.5 against Australia was actually his highest against the five nations he played against; Marshall’s multifarious gifts were such that he simply excelled everywhere. However, it was perhaps England whom he saved his very best for, memorably claiming 7/22 at Old Trafford in 1988, on a wicket prepared for spin.
With the bat, Marshall was extremely talented; invariably willing to attack, he averaged 19 in Tests and also struck seven first-class hundreds, so he is worthy of the number eight spot in this side. The man with 376 Test wickets was, in the words of Mike Atherton, “the complete fast bowler”.
The side so far: Sutcliffe, Hutton, Bradman, Hammond, Sobers, Imran (captain), Gilchrist (wicket-keeper), Marshall
Share your views on the side by leaving a comment below.
With the 2007 Test summer now packed away in the tool shed, the 0-1 in
To cricketing aficionados, the game’s ineffable charm is difficult to characterise in purely rational terms. Deep into Sixty Summers, its author evokes Tom Stoppard’s description of the sound of ball meeting bat with a “noise like a trout taking a fly”, and almost sums it up.
The pleasure derived from our famous national pastime is made up of many component parts: the feel of a hard, shiny new cherry in hand; the driven four, straight through the ‘v’; an umpire shifting stones from pocket to pocket, steadily making an over; or the gradual accretion of runs and wickets that form the statistical tale of a player’s life. Cox’s knowledge of these moments of private joy informs his project, and helps prevent any dilution of interest despite a timespan that covers more than half a century.
Appropriately for its subject matter, Sixty Summers is a thoughtful and discursive book, full of discrete episodes drawn together to create a larger, more complex picture. Rather than ball by ball, or over by over (imagine the tomes that could be filled with such Guardian-style commentary), the action is presented to the reader series by series, with Cox interweaving his chronicle of the English game with chapters on a variety of sub-topics.
Equipment and run rates, the state of the county system and the grubby world of match-fixing all fall under the microscope; but it is as a record of
In his documentation of the sport from post-war to 2005 AP (Anno Pietersen), Cox takes a linear approach, charting each encounter as the years tick by, and breaking off at appropriate moments to dip into one side issue or another. It would seem possible to get easily lost in the slew of names, events, and figures, but the book’s index is a comprehensive and blessed assistant - allowing, for instance, the separation of Edrich, Bill, (38-’55) from Edrich, John, (’63-’76) with the minimum of hold-up.
And as much as cricket is about scorecards and averages, it is also about the players: Denis Compton’s friendship with Aussie juggernaught, Keith Miller; Frank Tyson’s recovery from being knocked unconscious at Sydney in 1954 to lead England to victory over Australia - and Devon Malcolm’s parallel exaction of revenge after being struck by the South Africans forty years later; Derek Randall doffing his cap to Dennis Lillee, having ducked a bouncer in the Centenary Test.
Through West Indian ‘blackwashing’ (twice), the rebel apartheid tours, and the ever-changing LBW law, Sixty Summers offers a comprehensive look at the evolution and incidence of a sporting milieu that clearly enthralls its author as much as he hopes it will his audience. If the book were a painting, it would be right up there with one of Jack Russell’s best efforts, refusing to be harried in its musings, keen to etch a picture not only in its finest detail, but to provide splashes of colour and illumination wherever possible.
Cox notes that the 22 yard strip which still comprises the principal cricketing battleground is one of the few remaining vestiges of the game he first encountered as a child (and a “blessed relief” at that); but undaunted, he attempts to analyse the changes - the advent of one day competition, the influx of foreign players, coloured strips, increasing run rates - that have taken place during his lifetime, and given us the spectacle to which we are accustomed today. Perhaps most innovative is his home-grown method of measuring the ‘action rate’ in First Class cricket. Whilst I’ll not be drawn into revealing the method here, Cox’s system takes into account both runs and wickets, and offers some interesting observations on cricketing cultural shift.
Less successful I would suggest are the author’s attempts to forecast developments we might expect over the next fifteen to twenty years. Prediction is, of course, much more tricky than analysis, but the proposed ‘Test World Cup’ seems an unwieldy project at best, and likely to be little better an indicator of the top team in the game’s long form than the current ICC league system (Tests, after all, remain a series of duels against one opponent, rather than individual encounters against a variety). Cox’s hypothetical restructuring of the County system is much more thought-provoking; however, the apparent renaissance within the Championship currently appears to render his musings redundant. On technology, that pernicious interloper in many a traditionalist’s eyes, he is refreshingly open-minded, although blanch I certainly did at the thought of electronic transmitters embedded within balls, despite the warning.
The odd typo and printing error aside (which could surely be ironed out with a second run...), Sixty Summers is a remarkably good read, and one that would doubtless fit in nicely on any enthusiast’s shelf. Anecdotes and historical documentation are smoothly allied with the keen knowledge of personal recollection, and through his three score summers Cox’s simple pleasure in “a game of ebb and flow that can be played over three hours or five days” appears to remain undiminished. For that reason alone, it’s worth a look.
Wednesday, 5 September 2007
Adam Gilchrist has revolutionised cricket, scoring over 5000 Tests runs from number seven, at an average of almost 50; but, equally impressively, these have been scored at a strike-rate of 82, one of the highest in the history of Test cricket. He has been the epitome of Australian dominance, able to turn positions of weakness into great strength within a couple of hours or totally demoralise an opposition already up against it.
Over 90 Tests, he has scored centuries against every other Test nation, testament to his outstanding quality. With his bludgeoning blade, extraordinary hand-eye co-ordination and ability to attack all forms of bowling, Gilchrist has become one of the most feared batsmen in the history of the game, reducing outstanding bowlers to a state of near-helplessness.
In just his second game, he played one of the most remarkable innings, scoring 149* against a powerful Pakistani attack as Australia recovered from 124-5 to reach their victory target of 369. He has continued in much the same vein ever since, en route to his 17 Test hundreds, with his 204* against South Africa and century against England at Perth (the second fastest in Tests), particularly memorable. Yet it was his 144 in Sri Lanka, when he came in at number three with his side 80 behind in their second innings that provides enduring proof of his skills as a batsman.
As a wicket-keeper, Gilchrist is no Bob Taylor, someone whose keeping was of aesthetic value. Yet he has kept with distinction for 90 Tests, to claim 381 dismissals, just 14 away from Ian Healy’s world record. He is supremely reliable, and very seldom drops chances, while he has also been an instrumental part of Shane Warne’s success. Above all, though, he will be remembered as the consummate counter-attacking number seven.
The side so far: Sutcliffe, Hutton, Bradman, Hammond, Sobers, Imran (captain), Gilchrist (wicket-keeper)
Share your views on the side by leaving a comment below.
Monday, 3 September 2007
For a decade, Imran Khan dominated the Pakistani side to an extraordinary, almost unprecedented, extent. In his last 50 Tests, he averaged an astonishing 52 with the bat and 20 with the ball. Over this decade-long spell, he was perhaps the greatest cricketer in the world, and an inspirational skipper to boot.
The side he skippered are remembered, primarily, for a series of epic conflicts with one of the greatest sides of all time, the West Indies. In a trio of three-game series around the turn of the 1990s, Imran illustrated his supreme worth to Pakistan, and his incredible ability to excel himself when it mattered most; as Rob Smyth put it, “he lorded over these contests like a colossus”. His captaincy in these games was a crucial facet of Pakistan’s success; more important still was his breathtaking feats with the ball. In these nine matches, he took 45 wickets at under 15 against a fearsome batting line-up. The highlight was at Georgetown, when he recorded match figures of 11/121 en route to a spectacular victory.
Unusually for a quick bowler, Imran got better with age, peaking in his mid 30s. His reverse-swinging yorkers were devastating; Imran generated significant pace until late on in his career, and had both consistency and guile. When he made his Test debut, in 1971, he was palpably not Test class; yet developed into one of the most penetrating fast men of his era. And his bowling record is even more remarkable considering the generally docile Pakistani tracks; Imran needed tremendous nous and subtlety to thrive there.
He was a late developer, too, with the bat, but, with his sound technique, developed into the ultimate lower middle-order player, tremendously adaptable and able either to play long, dour knocks – batting five hours for 58* on the last day, to save the game against the West Indies – or taking the initiative; indeed, he averaged a phenomenal 62 at number 6. His value as a batsman was such that, during his peak years, he played even when unable to bowl at all. In this side, his presence means the side can have Sobers as a sixth bowler - so has a bowling attack ideal for virtually all conditions.
Yet, for all that, he is perhaps best remembered as a captain who galvanised Pakistan into a battle-hardened side able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the phenomenal West Indies side of the ‘80s (and won the 1992 World Cup), inspiring his side through the brilliance of his performances and the strength of his personality. And, as such, he will captain my Greatest Test XI.
The side so far: Sutcliffe, Hutton, Bradman, Hammond, Sobers, Imran (captain)
Share your views on the side by leaving a comment below.
Surrey went to Hampshire still in the relegation places. However, a first inning score of 556, with tons from Mark Ramprakash (obviously) and Mark Butcher. Hants could only make 221 in reply despite a ton from James Adams. Chris Schofield took 5-fer – his first 5 wicket haul of the season, and amazingly only the 6th of his career. Hants did a little better second time round with 298 but Surrey were finally able to take the final wicket (which survived 43 overs) for an innings victory and they are now in the relative comfort of 6th, above Kent and Warwickshire. Hampshire’s title challenge is hanging by a thread.
Kent were on top for most of their match against Lancashire, scoring 327 thanks to a Matt Walker ton. Lancs lost the services of Muttiah Muralitharan while bowling, which will see him out of action until at least after the 20:20 World Championship. Lancs replied with 317, Mark Saggers taking 5-fer and Glen Chapple hitting a rapid 88. Rob Key (182) and Walker (157) then put on a stand of nearly 300 in Kent’s second innings as they declared on 419 for 6. Lancs never looked like chasing the runs down and batted out losing just three wickets for 208 and a draw which doesn’t really help either team. Kent slip into the relegation places while Lance, now without Murali for the rest of the season, miss the chance to make up ground at the top of the table.
Worcestershire batted first at Durham and Ottis Gibson carried on his sparkling form of the year taking seven wickets to reduce the Pears to 182. The Durham innings was the epitome of the old cricketing cliché “One brings Two” as two wickets fell at 14, 86 and 171, Gareth Batty being the main thorn in Durham’s side with 6-fer. In the end Durham ended up with a lead of 115, scoring 297. Worcester scored 390 second time round, Gibson getting another 4 wickets, but Durham scored the 279 required for the loss of 5 wickets and move to second in the table. Worcestershire go back to Division 2 for next season.
Somerset went on to their game against Glamorgan knowing that a win should see their promotion confirmed. However, they were grateful to a stand of 130 between Craig Kieswetter and Andy Caddick to see them over the 400 mark, all out for 402. Caddick then went back to what he does best as he Charl Willoughby and Stefan Jones took three wickets each to bowl Glamorgan out for 233. Somerset declared on 329 second time round, Robert Croft taking 5-fer setting Glamorgan an unlikely 498 for victory. They managed just 199 and Somerset clinched a well deserved promotion.
Second played third at Lords and Nottinghamshire batted first in the knowledge that a draw would be a good result for them. Chaminda Vaas took 5 wickets but Notts scored 473 with Stephen Fleming scoring a ton. In reply Middlesex managed one run less, with Ed Smith getting a ton. Tellingly, though, they took twenty overs more to get the runs, despite being the team most in need of victory. In their second innings Notts finished on 456 for 7 as the game ran out of time on a good Lords wicket, Samit Patel scoring a ton and ten Middlesex players having a bowl.
Essex took the chance to make up ground on the two teams directly above them on a tricky pitch at Derby. Essex scored 272 in their first inning, which was put into perspective as they then skittled Derbyshire for 139 in less than 30 overs, Andy Bichel taking 7 wickets. Second time round, Essex recovered from 28 for 4 to post 268, Ryan ten Doeschate scoring a ton and Bichel 74. This was more than enough as Derby could only muster 174 – 6 wickets for Danesh Kaneria, 4 more for Bichel and Essex move above Middlesex into third, still a fair distance behind Notts though.
Struggling Leicestshire were thankful to Claude Henderson and Paul Nixon for getting them up to 229 having been struggling at 77 for 6, Carl Greenidge doing most of the damage with 6 wickets. However, this was dwarfed by Gloucestershire’s 650 for 8, with tons for Hamish Marshall, Craig Spearman and Kadeer Ali and Steve Adshead falling one run short of being a fourth centurian. Nixon again assured some respectability in Leicester’s second innings, but they fell well short of making Gloucester bat again, scoring 270 and losing by an innings and 151.
England player watch
Andrew Strauss managed just 16 on a very good Lords wicket. However, he did bowl six overs and would have enjoyed taking the wicket of Kiwi skipper Stephen Fleming.
Player of the Week
A tricky one this week. Matt Walker scored centuries in both innings of Kent’s draw with Lancashire while the Andys Caddick and Bichel both put in good all round performances in Somerset and Essex’s victories. However, for his 7th century of the season, setting up the win which should now keep Surrey up, the Player of the Week is Mark Ramprakash.