Thursday, 31 May 2007

Championship Week 6

A bad week for the leaders, although that’s not the reason for the late appearance of the blog - I've been on holiday - honest!.

Div 1
Starting with the leaders, Yorkshire batted first at Durham, but despite most of the team getting a start, only Jacques Rudolph was able to convert to a big score. Otis Gibson became the latest Durham player to take a stack of wickets, taking 7-fer. Replying to 393, Durham scored 481 despite no-one reaching three figures. Graham Onions and Gibson again then skittled Yorks for just 218 and Durham reached their target with 6 wickets in hand. Despite the result, Yorkshire remain top, but Durham have closed the gap considerably.

Sussex got back on track at Worcestershire scoring 512 first up, with Murray Goodwin scoring a ton. Worcester then collapsed to 100 all out, Mustaq Ahmed getting 5-fer. Worcester did better following on with Graeme Hick scoring a ton in the 303 all out, which was still not enough to make Sussex bat again.

An odd game at Kent, where the home side subsided to 199 batting first, Joe Denly carrying his bat for 115 of them. Hampshire replied with 272 with Yasir Arafat continuing his fine start to the season with 5-fer. Batting became easier second time round with Rob Key, Martin van Jaarsveld and Darren Stevens all getting tons as Kent declared on 533 for 8. However, Hants were able to bat out the game comfortably for a draw.

Division 2
Starting at the top of the table, Essex recovered to 317, having been 94 for 6. Mark Footit, coming in for new England hero Ryan Sidebottom, did most of the damage with a 5 fer. The Nottinghamshire reply was based around 275 from David Hussey (from just 227 balls) and an unbeaten 165 from Chris Read, putting on a stand of 359 between them. Declaring on 664 for 7, Notts them bowled out Essex for 235, with only Ryan ten Doeschate giving much resistance with 102. Notts are now well clear at the top of the table

Somerset remain second with a comprehensive victory over Gloucestershire. Cameron White scored the latest double hundred at Taunton in a first innings total of 496. Charl Willoughby then took five wickets as Gloucester were bowled out for 202. Following on, they did much better with 496 and tons for Marcus North, Grant Hodnett and Chris Taylor and Andrew Caddick taking 6-fer. Somerset had just enough time to knock off the 172 needed for the loss of just two wickets.

Poor batting all round at Glamorgan where Middlesex won by an innings despite only scoring 221 in their go. Glamorgan started with just 60 and although they scored 159 second time round, it wasn’t enough. Alan Richardson stared with the ball for Middlesex, with match figures of 8 for 30.

Finally to Northamptonshire, where the visitors Derbyshire scored 160. Steven Peters then got a ton as the home team scored 365, Wayne White taking 5-fer. Steve Stubbings got a ton second time round for Derby, but it was only enough to set a target of 80. Northants did stumble somewhat in their chase, but got home with 6 wickets in hand.

England Player Watch
Chris Read’s
fine knock came a couple of weeks too late, although it will keep him in the mind of the selectors. Marcus Trescothick scored a disappointing 17 in the first Somerset innings and didn’t bat second time round. Ed Joyce scored a fine 59 in the low scoring game at Glamorgan.

Bowling wise, Graham Onions was out-bowled by Otis Gibson for Durham and Adil Rashid went wicket-less in the same game.

Player of the Week
Ottis Gibson
gets a nod for carrying the Durham bowling in the absence of Liam Plunkett and Steve Harmison. However, for what seems to have been a brutal assault on the Essex bowling to set up a comprehensive victory, the player of the week is David Hussey.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Injuries and Warm Winters!

The news that England's talismanic allrounder, Andrew Flintoff, is set to undergo further ankle surgery, is yet another stage in the ongoing England injury saga. It is hard to recall the last time that an international side was so hampered by injuries for such a lengthy period of time. Not once since the fourth Test match of the 2005 Ashes have England been able to field what the coach considered to be the best IX cricketers in the country. At the current moment in time England are missing three of their match winners in Flintoff, Marcus Trescothick and Simon Jones. Attempts to further the career of the promising Stuart Broad have also been frustrated at the start of this season and Ashley Giles continues to fade further into the abyss of time. These players could make a massive difference to Team England, but at what point do their replacements in the team become first choice? Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell have gained the most from England's injury woes and it is hard now to argue that either one is unworthy of their position in the Test side. Alistair Cook is certainly there to stay, as is Monty Panesar and the likes of Ryan Sidebottom have come in to add competition to the bowling arena, an area which desperately needs the greater quality in competition. With Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff likely to miss most, if not all of the summer, only Marcus Trescothick can be considered a realistic playing option before the summers end and the onset of the Twenty20 World Cup, followed by the winter tours.

This leaves the selectors with a serious dilemna. Without Flintoff they will feel compelled to stick with their four man bowling attack, supplemented by the likes of Collingwood, which will provide less immediate worries over who to drop from the batting line-up. That will be postponed until Trescothick's eagerly anticipated return. However, when Flintoff does return for the winter, then what? Do they play him as a bowler, or play him as an allrounder, ditching one of their to date in form batsmen? It will be a serious quandry for them. It is extremely doubtful as to whether Flintoff will be up to bowling enough overs to be part of a three man seam attack again, but surely he must be in the side? With a winter tour to Sri Lanka looming and concerns over the efficacy of a three man seam attack containing Flintoff and the batting prowess of an order with Flintoff at six, the selectors may well pull off a master stroke by selecting the young Yorkshire Legspinner, Adil Rashid. Capable of batting in the top six he would seriously extend the batting line up, whilst also providing the spinning variation that England have so desperately yearned for of late. It is hard to argue that two spinners anywhere on the subcontinent, especially in Sri Lanka, is not the way to go and by this coming winter Rashid will have had as much, if not more, experience than Monty Panesar when he came into the side for the tour to India, just over a year ago. This would of course mean dropping a bowler and a batsman, but the side would be gaining effectively four quality players to replace them.

Ryan Sidebottom is likely to have to be satisfied with a Jon Lewis esque role in the Test side from the end of this series, though he could prehaps fulfil an important role in England's one day side, much as Nathan Bracken does for Australia. With Matthew Hoggard an essential component of the Test team and Rashid, Panesar and Flintoff already identified as three of the remaining four, who else should bowl in Sri Lanka? Who indeed, it is a wide open field and completely up for grabs over this summer. Simon Jones will need to get fit, stay fit and prove he is still the threat he once was, which is currently doubtful at best. Steve Harmison would be the man if he could sort out his home sickness and inconsistant (or is it now consistant?) form. If not then Stuart Broad must play and be well groomed for the future. The batting order would be hard to pick, but with Trescothick possibly returning for what is an ever more looking "found out" Strauss and the Captain Marvell permanently restored to three, it is likely that Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood would once again fight it out for a place as England's middle order lynchpin. It would be harsh on Colli to say goodbye, but in this fickle game Bell has more to offer in the future, through his technique, age and growing mental strength.

Thus my Test team for the winter tour of Sri Lanka would be:

Marcus Trescothick
Alistair Cook
Michael Vaughan (c)
Kevin Pietersen
Ian Bell
Adil Rashid
Matthew Prior (wk)
Andrew Flintoff
Stuart Broad
Matthew Hoggard
Monty Panesar

12th Man: Paul Collingwood.

The sacrifice of Rashid or Panesar for the later tour to New Zealand would of course be required to accomodate the extra seamer, either of Harmison or Jones, but with Matt Prior capable of batting within the top six, Flintoff more than capable of big innings from number seven and Stuart Broad looking good for being a number eight batsman, England are not going to be found wanting for quality players in the future. The ultimate goal of overtaking Australia may be a whole lot more feasible by this time next year.

Chris Pallett

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Selection Headaches

In the wake of England's hammering of the West Indies, the selectors have found themselves in a bit of problem: If everyone is fit to play - who to pick?

With the 'horses for courses' selection of Ryan Sidebottom playing so well at Headingley, surely he cannot just be put out of the window for the next test, however if Hoggard proves himself fit enough for Old Trafford, can we afford to go in with two swing bowlers?

Also, maybe a good dilemma could be who to get rid of out of Plunkett or Harmison if Sidebottom is picked again. Neither played fantastically well but neither sprayed it around as much as they did a Lord's. Both proved they can bowl good wicket-taking balls and Harmison clocked up around 94mph showing he can still bowl dangerously fast.

Lets say Flintoff is fit to play again, do we go in with a four or five man attack? For me a 4 man attack including Panesar is fine, but we have seen in previous years that the selectors, coach and captain like a 5-man attack. If a 5-man attack was picked, which batsman would go? Collingwood would be the obvious man, but his form is too good, so for me Bell. However, if a 4-man attack is chosen, which bowlers do we go in with? Sidebottom and Hoggard are too 'samey' if we only go for 3 seamers (including Flintoff), but how can you drop Sidebottom? Plunkett and Harmison will be asking what they have done wrong aswell to be dropped. So the selectors have a lot of thinking to do.

If you ask me, providing Flintoff was fit enough to bowl 20-30 overs a day, I would play a 4-man attack, with the two swing bowlers, Hoggard and Sidebottom making up the rest of the seam attack, with Panesar obvisiously being the spinner.

I would pick this side to play at Old Trafford;


This may appear a huge risk, playing 2 swing bowlers and having no varitaion, but although their performance was greatly improved, Plunkett and Harmison were still too wayward and more county appearances can only help. But the batting (although it hasn't come under much pressure so far) is greatly improved, with Flintoff at 8.


The international backlash

Knock county cricket all you like - and, after any England debacle, people invariably do - but a curious phenomenon has recently emerged. International players still playing for their countries have begun to place county before country.

Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara, Chaminda Vaas and Younis Khan, none of whom have retired from ODIs, all rejected the chance to play in the frankly irrelevant Warid Cricket Series between Sri Lanka and Pakistan; and, although all but perhaps Khan should be there, none are playing in the Afro-Asian Cup.

It is an unlikely turn of events, but what does it prove? The theory about players playing too much cricket is only partially true. It is not that they are unenthusiastic about playing but that they have little appetite playing in tournaments that will barely register in most cricket-lovers' consciousness. Clearly, they believe too much international cricket is being played in too many places; and, happily, it seems that money is no longer enough to keep them unfailingly on the treadmill.

They will, of course, earn a not insignificant sum playing for their counties. Although the county game is something of a treadmill itself, matches have a greater significance than the plethora of ODIs. The players also clearly want to make a real impact at their counties, devoting themselves to their county’s cause and not continually jetting off to some far-flung location mid-season. In the county game, they will experience a wide array of charming grounds; they will test themselves in a number of conditions against more than 150 players; and they will have the chance to impart their knowledge on younger players. When you add in the fact that pressures are almost entirely cricketing, for the seasoned international it is not much of a contest.

This latest trend is ultimate proof that players are sick of the indecent quantity of international cricket being played today. Players, rather than playing palpably meaningless series, would rather immerse themselves in county cricket, develop a genuine affection for their county and help them to be successful.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

The real Harmison

Once again Steve Harmison finds himself under attack for not performing at Lord's last week. No other current England player seems capable of generating heated argument as easily as the Durham enigma.

I have always been a great admirer of Harmison and supported his selection through all his ups and downs. I still do and the reason for that is that he is still a class Test bowler, who's figures reflect a player England cannot afford to drop.

His recent nightmare in Australia and sluggish bowling at Lord's should not disguise the fact that Harmison was ripping though a strong Pakistan team only last August and that his overall record, apart from three glaring anomalies, stands up to the most ardent scrutiny.

Those anomalies are his two tours of Australia and one tour of South Africa. On all three occasions he was unable to perform at the high level we have all come to expect and looked the sad forlorn figure that left the recent Ashes series with his tail between his legs.

The terrible stats of those three tours make grim reading for Harmison supporters - Australia 2002/3: 9 wickets @ 50.55, SA 2004/5: 9 @ 73.22, Australia 2006/7: 10 @ 61.40. Clearly these performances are not good enough, but they are not just down to Harmison not travelling well, as his stats for other tours reveal.

Against Australia most of the England bowlers suffered on both those tours, as one expects in such one-sided series. The South Africa tour is an odd one as the pitches ought to have suited Harmison. Maybe he just got on a poor run and his alleged homesickness got the better of him.

On other tours Harmison has been far more successful. On the flat dead tracks of Pakistan in 2005/6, against a very strong batting line-up, Harmison showed great determination to take 12 wickets @ 32.41. Even in India in 2005/6, when he was not fully fit, he managed 5 @ 38.60.

Of course, his finest hour, excluding his 9 @ 8.77 in Bangladesh in 2003/4, was against West Indies in 2003/4. In this series, which people forget was the first England had won in WI for over 30 years, Harmison took 23 @ 14.86.

Harmison's home form has always been good. He has consistently taken wickets in every series he has played in England, only suffering once against SA in 2003, when he managed only 9 wickets @ 45.88. However, this was a very high scoring series in hot weather when most bowlers suffered.

Only last summer Harmison showed his quality taking 20 @ 27.10 against Pakistan, despite the number of runs scored by their batsmen in that series.

In conclusion Harmison's overall record of 190 wickets @ 31.10 in just 51 Tests stands comparison with most good fast bowlers, in terms of wickets per match. His average is too high, reflecting those three awful tours, but is still acceptable in a batsman dominated era.

To suggest that he should be dropped after just one Test this summer is to ignore the history of the man and to weaken England's bowling attack considerably.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Ryan Sidebottom and 'Horses for Courses'

Ryan Sidebottom, to the surprise of many, has been selected for the second Test and keeps alive one of the great traditions of the English summer: the ‘horses for courses’ selection for the Headingly Test. It is based on the simple notion that a fine, experienced county seamer is of more worth at Headingly than a bowler who, elsewhere, would be considered more threatening.

‘Horses for courses’ instantly evokes memories of Neil Mallender, who took 8-122 in the match against Pakistan in 1992, and Steve Watkin, who took 5-91 in the game against West Indies a year previously. Many quaint cricketing traditions have rather vanished in the modern era of uber-professionalism and central contracts, but not this. In 2003 James Kirtley won England a Test against South Africa in quintessentially English conditions (albeit at Trent Bridge), while Martin Bicknell’s recall came in that same summer. Initially picked for Headingly, he was given the last Test at his home ground too, where he helped bowl England to victory.

So, despite the odd Martin Saggers (who played unsuccessfully in 2004 against New Zealand), the ‘horses for courses’ selection has certainly served England well in the past. Sidebottom is an accurate left-armer who averages 25 in his first-class career and played one prior Test, in 2001, where he failed to take a wicket.

Sidebottom probably does not possess the necessary gifts for a long-term international career but, at Headingly, would certainly be a better bet than James Anderson, who, like so many young English bowlers, simply cannot be relied upon to bowl the ball on a length just outside off-stump. At Headingly, as Sidebottom, a former Yorkshire player, will testify, it is impossible to go wrong with that simple formula.

What next for topsy-turvy England?

Rarely can an England team have given such an uneven performance. Six players made it onto the Lords honours board, five are probably now wishing they hadn't bothered. As the team is selected for the next test today, what are the options ahead of the Selectors, and should they be held responsible for the previous selection?

The Successful six
Alistair Cook - He has started the season on form and scoring runs for fun. A brilliant century given the bowler friendly conditions in which he started, albeit against some pretty wayward bowling. Safe from the impact of the returning stars now and will look to make up for his disappointing Ashes series

Kevin Pietersen - Admitted to still being in One Day mode in the first innings, his second inning century was a masterclass in accelarating an innings. He seemed to slip back into One Day mode towards the end of the innings, getting out to an ugly reverse sweep. His "confrontation" with Chris Gayle was another highlight!

Paul Collingwood - They say there's no such thing as a bad century, but this got pretty close to it. Being dropped twice is one thing. The fact that they were both absolute sitters is another. He should also have been given out early in the innings, when umpire Rauf gave his one bad decision of the game. Still, if you're given a chance, then you have to capitalise, and he did that. One blinding catch in the slips and probably England's best seam bowler.

Ian Bell - Another match in England and another ton. That's four in the last five home games, the missing match being the abandoned game against Pakistan. As steady and chanceless as always, he allowed Prior to play his shots, while he just calmly moved along. He is still touted as the one to make way should Flintoff come back.

Matt Prior - What a debut! The batting was brutal, although the other batsmen had taken the pressure off somewhat. In particular, 21 off 9 balls int he second innings gave some impetus that only hte weather could take away. However, it was the keeping that was most impressive. Certainly tested by Harmison and Plunkett, he was tidy and in the end unlucky to concede the four byes that he did, as Monty fired one down the leg side and through the rough. My Man of the Match, and we won't be talking about the wicket-keeping position again for a little while.

Monty Panesar - His best bowling figures, thanks largely to some decent umpiring and wonderful control rather than outrageous turn. It's a good job he showed up otherwise the West Indies innings could have gone on until Christmas.

The Flawed Five
Andrew Strauss - This is beginning to get worrying for Strauss. Two starts and two loose shots while nicely set. This started in the winter, with freak dismissals and unfortunate umpiring decisions. However, it is now becoming a habit and he needs a big score and soon.

Owais Shah - Back to county crisket for a bit I fear. He didn't look comfortable in either of his brief innings, one glorious cover drive apart, despite having played at Lords all his life. He should now be left out to accomodate Michael Vaughan. He'll be back, hopefully via the One Day team where he should cement his place and gain some confidence at International cricket.

Matthew Hoggard - If ever we needed a fit firing Hoggy, this was the game. Unfortuantely injured after ten overs and that was it. The world's best bowler at left handers, if he'd have stayed fit, the chances of the West Indies avoiding the follow on would have been greatly reduced.

Liam Plunkett - In his defence, he's probably not played at Lords much and he seemed to struggle with the slope. Howeve, for someone who periodically shows himself to be an International class bowler, this was another huge step backwards. England have to understand what they need from him. Plunkett needs to understand discipline.

Steve Harmison - The top wicket taker in county cricket this season, bowling at a place where he takes wickets regularly (Lords was his only Five-fer in the Ashes series 2005) against the team that he made his reputation. What could possibly go wrong? And who could blame the selectors for picking him? Unfortunately, pretty much everything and everyone. He doesn't do himself any favours either by claiming he "has nothing to prove" or that he was pretty pleased with the way he bowled on Saturday. Hoggard's injury could give Harmison and Plunkett another chance, but the selectors must be praying that Simon Jones, Stuart Broad and Freddie are available sooner rather than later.

The second test
Michael Vaughan should rightly return as captain. He looked in pretty good nick for Yorkshire against Hampshire before breaking his finger and Owais Shah's scratchy performance shouldn't give the selectors a head-ache.

Andrew Flintoff should only return if able to replace a bowler. Paul Collingwood's performance with the ball shows that he can be trusted in the fifth bowler role and Flintoff's batting of late shows that he can only be seen as a bowler who can bat rather than the true all-rounder he was a couple of years ago. If he is fit, he would replace Plunkett in my team. Harmison survives on the basis of his county form this season, but he is certainly drinking in the last chance saloon.

James Anderson should come in as a direct replacement for Matthew Hoggard. He bowled well with little support in the World Cup and deserves another chance.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Championship Week 5

The test matches may have started, but the Championship goes on. The biggest winners this week were probably Yorkshire and Notts, who had a week off while the teams that did play battled against the weather.

Div 1
continued their North of England tour at Lancashire, skittling the home team for 161 is the first innings, Kabir Ali taking eight of the wickets. The evergreen Graeme Hick scored a ton as they took a lead of 167 on first innings, despite 6 for Murali. However, the weather and a much more resilient Lancashire performance (Peter Horton getting a ton) meant the game ended in a draw and Worcester remain winless at the bottom of the table.

Champions Sussex continue to struggle, conceding 626 for 3 at home to Surrey, with big scores for ex-internationals Mark Butcher (179) and Mark Ramprakash (254 no) who put on over 400 for the third wicket. Despite a ton from Murray Goodwin, Sussex were made to follow on, but a double hundred from Goodwin again and a ton from Chris Adams saw them to safety.

Even less play was possible at Edgbaston, where two of the divisions form teams were playing. Warwicks batted first, and tons for Kumar Sangakkara and Alex Loudon got the Bears to 335, with Graham Onions filling the boots of Steve Harmison and Liam Plunkett and taking eight wickets. Durham’s reply was cut short by the weather at 274 for 6, Dale Benkenstein nearing a hundred as the game ended.

Div 2
Derbyshire and Middlesex were the only teams to take their game into a fourth innings, with Middlesex outscoring the home team 248 to 225 on the first innings. Middlesex then scored 180 second time round, Irishman Boyd Rankin taking his second four-fer of the match setting Derby around 200 to win. With the weather getting in the way, they close at 53 for 1 and had to settle for a draw.

Local rivals Glamorgan and Gloucester locked horns in Bristol, with the Welshmen scoring 392 in their first innings, thanks largely to tons from Mark Wallace and Alex Wharf. All eyes were then on the returning Simon Jones, but he was out-bowled by 17 year old James Harris, who took seven wickets as Gloucester were bowled out for 219. Following on, Gloucester scored 328 for 9, with Kadeer Ali scoring a ton and Harris taking five more wickets.

Finally to Grace Road, where Leicester scored 335 before rolling Essex over for 201. The second innings had barely got started when the match was abandoned as a draw.

England Hopeful watch
Less of these now as the test team is playing. However, it is good to see Simon Jones playing again, even if he did go wicket-less. Steven Davies scored 43 for Worcestershire, but the form of Matt Prior (with bat and gloves) in the first test suggests that the England keeping slot is in safe hands at the moment.

Graham Onions is part of the England development squad and will have done his chances no harm with an 8-fer. However, the current test seems to show that taking wickets for Durham is no indication of form.

Player of the Week
Two contenders this week. One at the start of his career, one approaching the end. Mark Ramprakash has continued his sublime county form from last season, leading to many (including those who should know better) pushing him for an England recall. However, pipping him to the player of the week is James Harris. 17 years old and 12 wickets for Glamorgan against Gloucester. Certainly one to watch.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Record breaking teenager outshines returning Ashes hero

Seventeen year old James Harris (below) must think that professional cricket is an easy game.

As he ponders his forthcoming AS level examinations at Gorseinon College near Swansea (that's right, he's a year away from A levels), the young right arm Glamorgan seamer may be wondering why he's bothering. A twelve wicket match haul against Gloucestershire in only his second county championship game has set the grapevine buzzing and sets the record for the youngest player to take ten wickets in a Championship match.

James Harris finds the outside edge again during a highly impressive display against Gloucestershire at Bristol.
Often bowling in partnership with Harris was returning Ashes hero, Simon Jones MBE. After toiling through 37 wicket less overs, he may have been tempted to ask Harris for some tips. In fairness to Jones, luck was not on his side as a series of hostile deliveries were either fended or edged safely.
As Glamorgan fruitlessly pressed for victory on the final day, captain David Hemp increasingly turned to Harris to break a partnership and the youngster, who has captained England for his age group, usually obliged. His approach to the wicket is reminiscent of Neil Foster, formerly of Essex and England, but his natural movement is through the air and away from the bat.
County dressing rooms will be discussing how batsmen have to learn to play him very late, which is easier said than done when a leg stump ball then passes your outside edge.

Simon Jones, bowling in the Championship for the first time since April 2006.

But what of Jones? Known as 'Horse' in the Glamorgan dressing room (I think it's due to his speed, but it may be more 'Carry On' than that!), 'SiJo' generated good pace once properly warmed up and during several hostile spells was genuinely unfortunate not to get a wicket.

That's the good news. Slightly more concerning is an ambling, stuttering run up during which he never really breaks into a full stride. Whether this is deliberate caution after such dreadful injuries, or a more concerted effort to get more control I don't know. What I do know is that he is someway off a Test recall, and I estimate that even the First test versus India may be a little optimistic.

Jones is now scheduled to miss the first of Glamorgan's three Championship games at Swansea, play the second, and then miss the third, all at the ECB's bequest of course. What is of interest is whether they see Jones as part of the One Day International plans. I've never viewed him as such. His limited overs record with Glamorgan is poor, but it may be a sensible way for England to ease him back into the International fold.
To conclude, let's go back to Harris. He is a talent. Glamorgan signed him on professional terms shortly after his sixteenth birthday, keen to ward off the attentions of Warwickshire amongst others. His future is bright for his county and hopefully for England - indeed Glamorgan may be struggling now but solid foundations are in place both on and off the field.
But for now it's back to the books for Harris. He misses Wednesday's game versus Middlesex due to examinations, a pity, as it's at St Helen's, Swansea, where friends and family could come to watch his progress.
There's plenty of time for cricket though. Remember the name.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Phenomenal Ramps marching on to 100 hundreds

I was all in favour of Mark Ramprakash being selected for the Ashes tour after Marcus Trescothick had to withdraw; with hindsight, it was clear England desperately needed the experience and technical quality of Ramprakash, who averages 42 against Australia. But his non-selection surely confirmed that his England career was long over.

Last season, Ramprakash plundered more than 2000 runs at an average of over 100; the only caveat was his runs came in Division Two. The gap between the two divisions is clearly increasing, as the exploits of the two promoted counties, Surrey and Worcestershire, bear testament to: they both lost their first three Championship games and are only now beginning to find their feet.

Yet Ramprakash’s phenomenal form has carried on apace, as he marches on to 100 first-class hundreds. He already has four hundreds from his first eight innings, which have proved he still has it in him to cope with the very best bowlers. Ramprakash made a century against a very strong Yorkshire attack; an unbeaten ton against Hampshire, which equated to more than half his side’s runs; a facile unbeaten hundred against Warwickshire; and now, 266* against Sussex. It may have been a flat pitch, but Ramprakash was able to gain the measure of Mushtaq Ahmed in a way no other player has done since he has been installed on the south coast.

These innings, in light of his efforts last season, confirm Ramprakash is playing better than ever. His brilliant innings against Warne at The Oval certainly made one wonder what would have happened had the Surrey man been in Australia down under; equally, his dexterity against spin could prove invaluable against India and Sri Lanka this calendar year. Another sign that he could now thrive at Test level is his continued refusal to give it away upon reaching three figures - a trait English batsmen have long since lacked.

Of course, Ramprakash did not do himself justice over his 52 Tests. But he is a more relaxed and less intense personality now, fully at ease with himself. At 37, it remains very unlikely he will play again; yet, considering he occupies England’s current problem position – number three – with such quality and is averaging over 100 for the second consecutive season, can England really afford not to select him? He would be a short-term selection, yes. But it's worth remembering that Graham Gooch found the best form of his career between the ages of 37 - Ramprakash’s age - and 40.

Monday, 14 May 2007

The Championship - Week 4

Blimey, we’re a quarter of the way through the season for some teams already. This week, the gap between Division 1 and 2 looks even greater, the weather plays a part and Trescothick’s therapy is revealed!

Div 1
Yorkshire are back to the top of the league with an emphatic win over Worcestershire. It was a game that was always going to be weather affected, but the Yorkshire innings took a familiar look, with Joe Sayers (123) and Craig White (98) putting down a solid platform for the middle order – this time Jacques Rudolph with 129 – to build upon. Declaring on 521 for 7, the Tykes then skittled the Pears for 129 (Matthew Hoggard 5 fer) and 131 (Tim Bresnan and Adil Rashid four each) and a huge win. Three losses out of three for Worcester though.

Last year’s other promoted team, Surrey, were also on three lost out of three although they finished a rain affected draw at home to Warwickshire on top. The Bears batted first, scoring 329, largely thanks to Darren Maddy’s ton. Surrey made batting look easy, scoring 400 for 1 declared, hundreds for Jon Batty and inevitably Mark Ramprakash. Unfortunately that was it, as the rains came down.

The weather also ruined a highly anticipated clash at Hampshire, where Lancashire, complete with Jimmy Anderson, Saj Mahmood and Andrew Flintoff were the visitors. Stuart Clark took seven wickets as Lancs could only manage 207. The Hants reply was 272 and that was it.

A positive result was possible at Durham, where Kent were the visitors. A double hundred from Mike Di Venuto got the home team to 407, which ended up being a lead of just 7 as Rob Key scored a ton for the visitors (Five for Liam Plunkett, four for Steve Harmison). Durham then set Kent over 300 to win, which despite 92 from Joe Denley, they fell 150 short (Five for Harmison, Three for Plunkett).

Div 2
The relegated teams did battle at Trent Bridge. Nottingham scored 336, with Paul Franks getting 92 and Tim Murtagh getting 6 fer. Middlesex capitulated to 176 (six for Charlie Schrek) but did much better following on and an Andrew Strauss ton led them to rain affected safety.

The only positive result in the second division was at Derby. The home team took a lead of 50 in the first innings (259 to 209) and then bowled out Leicester for just 137 (Tom Lungley five fer and nine in the match). They lost three wickets on the run in but ran out comfortable winners.

Somerset look to have their home games sorted as draws, with the Taunton wicket being a graveyard for bowlers. However, this week at Northampton, it would appear that they took the Taunton pitch with them as a high scoring draw was played out. However, one person clearly enjoying that is Marcus Trescothick, who scored a career best 284. There were also hundreds in the game for James Hildreth for Somerset and David Sales for Northants. Andy Caddick got six wickets in the game and must be wondering what he’s done to upset the Division 2 groundsmen.

England Player watch
Lots of them on display, getting used to dodging the showers. A ton for new captain Andrew Strauss in his second inning. Owais Shah was just getting going second time round when it was all called off. Paul Collingwood followed up a first innings duck with a quickfire 58 to set up the Durham declaration. However, Ian Bell didn’t get a second chance having got 9 for Warwicks. Most important, though, was Andrew Flintoff top scoring for Lancs with 61 and hopefully that will be the start of a return to form.

Wickets again for Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard who look in prime form. Liam Plunkett bowled himself back into the test team with eight wickets, while Jimmy Anderson and Saj Mahmood shared 6 of the Hants wickets to fall. Monty Panesar also got plenty of overs under his belt, and three wickets, on the bowlers graveyard that was Northampton.

A look at the batting averages shows wicketkeepers Nic Pothas and Tim Ambrose in first and second place. However, for those in the England reckoning Steven Davies got 0 and 38, Paul Nixon got a pair of 40s and Chris Read got 20. However, it’s what Matt Prior does next week that will be crucial

Player of the week
A tricky decision with lots of good team displays. An honourable mention to Steve Harmison for the whole of his start to the season but, because he’s one of my favourite players and because it was a career best, I’ll ignore the fact that the Northampton pitch was as flat as a pancake and my player of the week is Marcus Trescothick.

Prior Knowledge

Matt Prior has failed at the start of this campaign, but he has worked his way up over a number of seasons, and deserves his chance. Essentially, Prior should aim to be what we thought Geraint Jones would turn out to be: not a natural keeper, but one constantly improving; and a batsman good enough to average 35 over a significant period of time.

Prior has done disappointingly in 12 ODIs to date, but 11 of these were in the subcontinent batting inside the top three. Last summer, he averaged 46 and, for the second time in four years, played a vital part in a Sussex Championship triumph. In total, he averages very nearly 40 in first-class cricket and has already scored 12 hundreds. Considering the vast majority of these games have been in Division One and he is only 25, these stats are testament to his potential.

Prior is a reasonably brash personality, but clearly gets on very well with Peter Moores. Although James Foster, Jon Batty and especially Paul Nixon, amongst a multitude of candidates, will feel a little aggrieved, the indications are that the selectors believe Prior to have the most batting aptitude of all the candidates. Going batting over keeping, however, is an indication that England do not want to abandon their policy of playing Andrew Flintoff at six as part of a five-man attack.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Harmison makes himself undroppable

Steve Harmison rightly received much criticism after a dire winter in which he not only bowled poorly in the Ashes but, almost unbelievably, retired from ODIs just a few months before the World Cup. His attitude was called into question for the umpteenth time. In short, many – possibly including Duncan Fletcher – had had enough of the 28-year-old enigma, so obviously richly talented but, equally, apparently too mentally frail to perform when his side needed him most.

Yet if we criticise him when he under performs it is only right to praise him when he does deliver. He has not played for England since the humiliation of the Ashes, but has made himself undroppable with some sterling performances for Durham. Critics will sneer and point out he is only playing county cricket when there is relatively little pressure on, but he has taken 24 wickets in three Division One games, a phenomenal start. Today, in tandem with Liam Plunkett, he bowled his side to victory on a relatively docile pitch, taking 5-61 and bowling 19.3 overs out of 50.3.

It must be hoped that Peter Moores acknowledges what Duncan Fletcher failed to grasp – that Harmison, more than almost any other bowler, is a man who needs overs in the middle. Could the series against the West Indies, against whom he made his name, mark the birth of a new, more consistent Harmison?

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

The next England coach is...

Andy Flower's appointment as assistant coach, ahead of the largely anonymous Matthew Maynard, is the first sign of Peter Moores making his mark on the wider England coaching set-up. Like Moores, Flower moves from the Academy, where he impressed a great deal of observers; he is a keen student of sports psycology. His appointment highlights the fact that the ECB have become great fans of recruiting from within. Although there is a danger this could lead to a 'closed-shop', as the national side has become of late, both Moores and Flower are worthy coaches and few can argue with their appointments.

Flower has spent five very successful seasons at Essex, so brings with him expert knowledge of the county game; his superb Test career is testament to his mental strength. As a coach, he is known for his flexibility and willingness to listen to the players, and boosts a fine working relationship with Moores. Flower was also an expert player of spin, so will doubtless have some tips for England's batsmen, too often lacking a coherent game-plan against spin.

He is a man of great professionalism and, as illustrated by the black armband he wore at the 2003 World Cup, possesses tremendous courage. In short, his fusion of a life in the game and impressive start to his coaching career mean he is exactly what England need. And there is every chance that it will be Flower who ultimately succeeds Moores.

Championship – Week 3

A good week for wicketkeepers but another bad week for the Champions. And the same old story down at Taunton.

Div 1
Warwickshire go to the top of the table with an innings victory over neighbours Worcestershire. Batting first, the Bears declared on 610 for 6, with Jim Troughton and Tim Ambrose both getting hundreds, Ambrose scoring an unbeaten 251. Worcester could only manage 288 and 209 in reply, despite Ben Smith and Graeme Hick getting two half centuries apiece. Dale Steyn weighed in with 8 wickets.

Previous leaders Yorkshire were held up by title favourites Hampshire. Batting first, the Tykes scored 299, with Younus Khan scoring a hundred as recompense for running out the impressive looking Michael Vaughan,who had scored 72. Hants finished three short on first innings, with Mike Brown scoring a ton. The pitch then suddenly got a lot easier, and Yorks declared on 439 for 4, with a double hundred for Younus and a ton for Gerard Brophy (and 61 for night-watchman Matthew Hoggard). A flurry of wickets to Younus Khan’s leg breaks had Hants worried, but they got home for the draw, eight wickets down, thanks largely to Nick Pothas’s second unbeaten 70 of the match.

Champions Sussex’s disappointing start to the season continued. Batting first, Kent amassed 368, with tons from Matt Walker and old boy Yasir Arafat being the highlight, Robin Martin-Jenkins getting a five-fer. That was more than enough as Arafat left Sussex reeling at 26 for 4, with scores of 102 and 160 (six wickets for Simon Cook) meaning Kent got home by an innings and 106 runs.

Surrey got off to a good start at Lancashire, before collapsing to the spin of Gary Keedy for 284. Lancs edged passed that, thanks to a ton from Stuart Law and despite five wickets for Neil Saker. Having started their first innings so well, Surrey’s openers faced one ball between them in the second innings to leave them 0 for 2. They never recovered, scoring 120 and Lancs got home by 7 wickets. That’s three losses out of three for Surrey now, and both this season’s new boys to Division 1 are struggling.

Div 2
Notts continued their march back to Division 1 with a comprehensive victory over Glamorgan. Batting first, Notts scored 475, with tons for Jason Gallian and Samit Patel. That was more than enough as the Welshmen scored 262 and 205 (six wickets for Charlie Schrek) and Notts ran out winners by an innings for three wins out of three.

Essex’s challenge stumbled somewhat at Northants. Despite another ton from Ali Cook, Essex scored 334. Northants took a handy first innings lead with 416 and then Jason Brown took for as Essex collapsed to 190, allowing Northants to knock off the runs for a six wicket victory.

Another big score without a century maker came at Leicester where visitors Gloucester scored 507, before bowling the home team out for 376. Gloucester declared their second innings on 249 for 4, with Marcus North scoring 106 off 77 balls. However, there wasn’t enough time to secure a results and Leicester finished on 218 for 7.

Finally to Taunton, where the balance between bat and ball has never been tilted so much in the favour of the batsmen. Derby declared on 801 for 8 (which seems about par) with hundreds for Simon Katich (221), Ian Harvey, Ant Botha and David Pipe. Somerset replied with a disappointing 530 (hundred for Cameron White and five wickets for Graham Wagg). The game ended with Somerset on 309 for 4 (hundred for Justin Langer) and assorted bowlers cursing the Somerset groundsman.

England watch
Back from the Caribbean, a few of the squad were back in action for their counties. Michael Vaughan looked in great form until run out in the first innings for Yorkshire. Then he broke his finger in the second innings and the injury curse continues. Ali Cook’s run of form continued with his third century of the season. Marcus Trescothick will be disappointed with 32 and 24 on the Taunton wicket.

Monty Panesar got a couple of wickets for Northants, although he was overshadowed by his spin partner, Jason Brown. He did well with the bat though, scoring 33. Also more effective with bat than ball was Matthew Hoggard, scoring 61, but only one wicket in the game.

On the wicketkeeping front, there were hundreds this week for David Pipe, Gerard Brophy and Tim Ambrose, while Nic Pothas scored 150 runs in two innings without getting out. However, for the potential England keepers, Steven Davies got a pair of 1s, Chris Read scored 34, James Foster 0 and 17, Paul Nixon, 30 and 15 and Matt Prior 4 and 35 (in just 25 balls, but probably not what Sussex needed in the context of the game). I thus declare this to be a draw and all must do better.

Player of the week
Two contenders this week. Younus Khan scored a hundred, a double hundred and then took more wickets with his leg-spin than Shane Warne or Adil Rashid, However, it wasn’t enough to force the victory, so my player of the week is Kent’s Yasir Arafat for his hundred and then ripping through the Sussex top order and setting up a comprehensive victory.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

The Flintoff Conundrum

After their winter of discontent, England have a number of pressing decisions to make, even after opting for a change in coach. Michael Vaughan’s latest injury, likely to keep him out for at least one Test, has re-opened the perennial captaincy debate, although it is hard to see beyond Andrew Strauss. But Peter Moores must now ponder whether Andrew Flintoff is a) good enough to bat at number six and b) fit enough to be one of only four bowlers. If the answer to both questions is no then it would defy rationale for Flintoff to play in the First Test.

Of course, England want Flintoff in their side, for he offers proven match-winning pedigree with bat and ball. It is just that he seems a man either completely jaded and has not even approached his best form, with bat or ball, since the India tour in early 2006. His batting has totally disintegrated, and is bereft of either confidence or any form of coherent thinking. He looks totally confused, and is incapable of doing anything other than blocking unconvincingly or attacking, normally at the expense of his wicket. All winter long, he has played only two knocks that have convinced – a well-judged 89 in the Fifth Test and 72* in a ODI at Hobart. Those innings excepted he has, in truth, looked little like a number seven, let alone a number six.

Meanwhile his bowling has remained lion-hearted, albeit seldom incisive, and concerns over his ankle forced England to play five bowlers in the Ashes – with hindsight it was a terrible decision, leaving England terribly exposed in both disciplines.

In Test cricket, going in a batsman down is almost the equivalent of playing with a man down in football – and this effect is particularly great given it has been a long time since numbers seven, eight and nine have convinced for England. Playing Matt Prior as six, as some have suggested, would be ridiculous; he is nowhere near being one of England’s top six batsmen. Meanwhile, the inconsistency of Messrs Mahmood, Plunkett and Anderson means there is little to be gained from playing a fifth bowler.

England would be best served, then, by playing their best six batsmen, their best keeper-batsman, and their best four bowlers – of which Flintoff clearly is one – and getting 10 overs a day from the likes of Pietersen, Vaughan and Collingwood. Flintoff would offer immense destructive potential at number seven; relieved of some pressure, he may be able to regain confidence and play with more freedom. But, if he is not fit enough to form part of a four-man attack, then it would be far better all round for Flintoff to regain form and appetite for the game at Lancashire.

At this stage, my Test XI for the West Indies series would be:
Strauss (captain)
Shah (probably replaced by Vaughan when he returns)
Flintoff (if not fit, then either Broad or Plunkett)

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Keeping our Options Open

There is little at the moment that gets a cricket conversation going like the question “who would you have as England’s wicket-keeper?” For the last 2-3 years, the debate over Jones or Read (with Foster, Prior and Davies thrown in) has raged on message boards across the internet. And that’s without mentioning the current ODI keeper. Even after my first County Championship review, I was reminded not to forget about Phil Mustard. Therefore in the spirit of fairness, I will look at the eighteen possibilities, most of whom are supported by someone for the England job.

29 year old James Pipe the man with the gloves. Formerly at Worcester, where he was the understudy to Steven Rhodes for many years, he was eased out in favour of Steven Davies and moved to Derby last season. Over 500 runs in a struggling Derbyshire team last season.

The aforementioned Phil Mustard is here. One of the younger wicket-keepers, aged 24, he scored over 800 runs last season with a healthy strike-rate. The Durham pace attack means that he rarely has to keep to spin, which may work against him in the future. However, he is clearly one for the future, particularly in the limited overs game.

James Foster made his England debut in 2001 and was the man to replace Alec Stewart, until he broke his arms in the nets and was overtaken by Chris Read, Geraint Jones and Matt Prior. Still only 27, he has a first class double-hundred to his name, which makes his continued exile the more puzzling as England looked for a wicket-keeper batsman.

Mark Wallace made his county debut aged 17 was Glamorgan’s regular keeper at the age of 19 and is still only 25. One of Glamorgan’s few successes with the bat over the past couple of years, he is also highly rated with the gloves and has spent several winters in the England academy.

Steve Adshead was the man who replaced Jack Russell at Gloucester, having moved from Leicester. A first class average of over 30 with the bat and topped the Gloucester averages in the Pro 40 last season.

South African born Nic Pothas arrived as a Kolpak player, but is now England qualified. He played three ODIs for South Africa, but the continuing presence of Mark Boucher prevented him from building an international career. A vital part of the Hampshire team, he has the added difficulty of keeping to Shane Warne. Unlikely to figure in the England thinking because of his age (33) and background rather than his talent.

Geraint Jones was England’s last regular wicket-keeper, but a huge loss of form with the bat, and the replacement of Duncan Fletcher, makes it very unlikely that he will feature again in the near future. Brought into the team on the back of his batting prowess, he initially scored runs, with a ton against New Zealand. However, his wicket-keeping, although improving, was never test standard and some will claim that it could have cost us the Ashes. He was a part of the 2005 team though, even if he probably lost his place for good during the 2006-2007 return series.

Having started at Somerset, Luke Sutton moved from Derbyshire in 2005 having captained them for two years to replace the retiring Warren Hegg. Still only 30, he is described as a handy lower-middle order batsman. The presence of Murali in the Lancs team this season should give him plenty of opportunity to show what he can do with the gloves.

Aged 36, Paul Nixon has been one of the best glovemen in the English game for a number of years. However, being not quite as good with the gloves as Jack Russell or quite as good with the bat as Alec Stewart meant that International honours nearly passed him by. However, his prowess in the 20 over form of the game got him an ODI call up and he was one of England’s few successes in the world cup. He should remain a fixture in the ODI team until at least the 20:20 world cup at the end of the summer. A test place may just be a step too far though.

David Nash was earmarked for greater things and has played 12 U19 tests. However, his batting and keeping never pushed on to the next level and instead he is looking over his shoulder at the challenge of Ben Scott.

Currently the man in possession here is Riki Wessels, son of former coach and Australian and South African player, Kepler. Wessels has signed on a Kolpak arrangement. However, Northants have also signed Irish wicket-keeper Niall O’Brien, who had a hugely successful World Cup. O’Brien will be England qualified at the end of the summer and the battle between the keepers could be an interesting one to watch.

Widely thought to be the best keeper in English cricket, Chris Read first played for England in 1999 aged just 21. Famously out while ducking a Chris Cairns slower ball, his batting reputation has never fully recovered from that, despite some high quality innings for Notts. He returned to the test team last summer, averaging a healthy 42, before being controversially dropped for the start of the Ashes series. He finally regained his place, but without being in any sort of form with the bat. He now looks to be behind Prior and Nixon in the battle for the England team. However, his prowess with the gloves means that the arguments will continue if he is not picked.

Craig Kieswetter played for South Africa in the 2005-6 U19 World Cup then decided to try to qualify for England, initially as a Kolpak, having been educated at Milfield. Clearly highly thought of by the South Africans, he looks to have an international future for someone.

Jon Batty got his chance with Surrey with the close proximity of Alec Stewart’s retirement and the tragic accident that befell Graham Kersey. Now 33, Batty opens the innings for Surrey to great effect, and is one of the better batsman of the wicket-keepers in the English game. It would be a surprise if he was now called up, but not un-merited.

Currently the favourite to start the first test, Matt Prior averages nearly 40 in first class cricket, was a major contributor to the Sussex successes last season and with Mustaq in the team, has had to keep to high quality spin as well as seam. He has played ODI games for England and toured as understudy to Geraint Jones in 2005-6. However, he was unconvincing in the England games he has played to date. His first class record means that he deserves a chance at the higher level. However, should he fail, there are a number waiting to step in.

An interesting situation could develop here. Warwick have signed Kumar Sangakkara, who is arguably the best wicket-keeper batsman in the world. However, also on the books is Tim Ambrose, who has moved from Sussex where Matt Prior was limiting his chances. Ambrose has immediately made his mark (and is currently 197 not out against Worcester)

According to most experts, it’s not if but when does Steven Davies take the England gloves. Still only 20, the selectors may look at the problems that Read and Foster had being thrust into the test team too early and allow him to settle in the first class game. His time will come, but probably not just yet.

Gerard Brophy and Simon Guy are battling it out to be Yorkshire’s first choice keeper. Brophy, an ex-Kolpak but now England qualified is a hard hitting lower order batsman who has started this season much better than he played last. Guy is a promising youngster who is now 28. Neither will be holding their breath for England call ups and Yorkshire fans are watching the progress of the current U19 keeper, Greg Wood, with interest.

The verdict
I’d have Chris Read every time, as I believe that the batting should be a bonus. However, with the lack of a genuine all-rounder in the current England team (until Flintoff sorts out his batting), then James Foster or Matt Prior deserve their chance.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Telegraph Fantasy Cricket

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Championship Week 2 review

As the World Cup finally ended, week two of the Championship season saw seven games played, with Hampshire making their bow in Division 1 and Northants, Gloucester and Glamorgan getting started in Division 2. As before a brief review and a look at the England prospects who’ve not been in the Carribean.

Div 1

Last year champions Sussex had won their first game, but came unstuck spectacularly here. Warwickshire couldn’t have possibly thought that their 391 all out would be all they would need, but efforts of 151 and 206 led Sussex to a heavy defeat. The wickets were pretty well shared around the bowlers, James Anyon picking up the most with six in the match. Sussex bowling relied on the Pakistani duo of Naved and Mustaq, who took the nine wickets to fall to bowlers.

Yorkshire continued their flying start to the season against Durham. Adil Rahid got a five-fer in the Durham innings, with only Blenkenstein putting up serious resistance. However, the embodiment of resistance came in the Yorkshire innings as Joe Sayers did his best Geoff Boycott impression and carried his bat for a 417 ball 149 not out as Yorkshire posted 414 – Steve Harmison getting a six-fer. Not to be outdone, Matthew Hoggard then ripped through the Durham top order, leaving the visitors at 17 for 5. Some late order hitting wasn’t enough and Yorkshire ran out 9 wicket winners.

Hampshire looked to be in complete control over Surrey at the Oval, taking a lead of 278 on first innings. Only (inevitably) Mark Ramprakash put up any resistance with his second ton of the season while Shane Warne took five for Hants. Hants batted again to set Surrey over 500 to win. Hundreds from John Batty and Ian Salisbury got Surrey to within 35, but that’s now two losses out of two for Surrey.

Div 2

Notts now top the table after a close win over Gloucester. Ashley Noffke took 6 wickets to restrict Notts to 399, but despite a Craig Spearman hundred, Gloucester ended up behind by 71. A Samit Patel ton then allowed Notts to declare, setting a target of just over 400, which Gloucester ended up short of by 53, with again the wickets being shared around the team.

The Middlesex must have been glad to leave the Somerset featherbed behind although their batsmen struggled in the first innings, scoring 258 against Northants for whom Johannes van der Wath took six wickets. It was still enough for a handy lead of 47 though and with David Nash scoring a hundred in their second innings, Middlesex set an unlikely target of over 400 to win and ran out comfortable winners.

Six wickets for David Masters had put Leicester in charge against Somerset, until Stefan Jones got going scoring a hundred at number 9, putting on 146 with Andy Caddick for the ninth wicket. David Robinson’s ton still gave Leicester a first innings lead and a tight finish looked likely as Somerset posted the third score of 300 plus in the match, it looked like being a tight finish. However, Leicester collapsed to the bowling of Peter Trego and Cameron White leaving Somerset comfortable winners.

Most impressive winners in Division 2 were Essex, for whom Ronnie Irani scored 218, and put on over 300 with Ryan ten Doeschate (148) for the fifth wicket against Glamorgan. The Welshmen got within 200 of Essex despite seven wickets for Danesh Kaneria. Huw Waters showed Sayers like resistance, taking 265 balls for his 33 runs. However, they collapsed for 183 in their second innings, with Kaneria getting another six to allow Essex to win by an innings.

England Player Watch
Despite all the runs at Essex, Ali Cook got a two ball duck in his only innings. There again so did I on Sunday. Marcus Trescothick got another score of 70 plus without going on. Owais Shah got two starts but couldn’t get above fifty.

In the wicketkeeper watch, Matt Prior scored 3 and 18, James Foster scored 7, then watched a stand of over 300 for the next wicket, so Chris Read probably takes the honours with 7 and 43 not out.

On the bowling side, Steve Harmison with a 6-87, went head to head with Matthew Hoggard (5-32). He also took 20 off an Adil Rashid over, as he ensured that Yorkshire would have to bat twice.

Player of the week
Lots of good team efforts this week. Ashley Noffke deserves a mention for almost single-handedly trying to resist Notts. However, the player of the week comes from the game at Chelmsford. An honourable mention for Kaneria, but for his double hundred, player of the week is Ronnie Irani.

Championship Tails - Week One

Team of The World Cup

Matthew Hayden (AUS)
- Top run scorer, in domineering form, what more can you say?! Haydos is back and with some bang! He plundered three hundreds and one fifty, with 659 runs, at an average of 73.22, including the fastest ever World Cup Hundred off just 66 balls.

Adam Gilchrist (wk) (AUS)
- Sealed his place with his innings of 149 in the Final, which was the fastest and highest ever scored in a Final. His best knock came at the most vital of times and it won his team the game. Tidy behind the stumps as ever with 12 Catches and 5 Stumpings.

Ricky Ponting (c) (AUS)
- Captained the winning team to victory. Captaincy was easier for Ponting than for others, however he did what was required and played some sumptuous innings. Clever user of the powerplays and particularly Shaun Tait.

Mahela Jayawardene (vc) (SRL)
- Played one of the innings of the tournament in the Semi-Final, showing a lot of players, notably England’s, how to construct a one day innings. Commands the respect of his troops and the world.

Scott Styris (NZL)
- Surprise package at the World Cup. Had been out of form after injury, but came back to deliver on his talent on the biggest of stages. Handy with the ball as well, he was the lynchpin around which the Kiwi’s batted.

Kevin Pietersen (ENG)
- The only player who did not make it into the Semi-Finals. Two hundreds and one of them in a victory, a first for KP. He showed why he is number one in the world and looks set to up his game to a new level, having displayed higher levels of maturity and shot selection as the tournament progressed.

Michael Clarke (AUS)
- Down as the finisher, as that is what he ended up doing for Australia from number four! Four not outs, during which he guided Australia home, he took over from Mike Hussey and is really turning into one of Australia’s most dependable performers. Class fielder too.

Shane Bond (NZL)
- Did not deliver in the Semi-Final, but up to that point he was sublime and extremely economical. If he can stay fit he can achieve a lot more and maintain that ridiculously low strike rate in the teens.

Lasith Malinga (SRL)
- Star of the tournament with the ball, despite being sidelined by injury half way through. With four wickets in four balls for the first time in international cricket against South Africa, he is going to be a star for years to come. Best bowler for Sri Lanka in the Final too.

Muttiah Muralitharan (SRL)
- They still can’t stop him and he did it all with a smile. Surely now the World’s best and most enthusiastic! He may now retire from One Day Internationals, but Shane Warne’s Test Wickets Record is under serious threat.

Glenn McGrath (AUS)
- Pigeon signed off in style as the leading World Cup 2007 wicket taker, with 26 and he is now comfortably the World Cup's highest ever wicket taker. Sides tried to get after him, but he usually got his own way in the end, as ever! Can walk off in to retirement a proud man indeed.

12th Man: Brad Hogg (AUS) / Jaques Kallis (SAF)
- The mysterious googly of Brad Hogg proved to be many a batsman’s undoing and in need of an extra spinner he is surely the man to fit the bill. He now has his eyes on Stuart MacGill’s assumed Test place. Meanwhile, Jaques Kallis gets a mention as South Africa’s best player, just ahead of his captain, Graeme Smith, but ultimately he was a letdown in the big games, uncharacteristically giving his wicket away on too many occasions, having been criticised for scoring too slowly against Australia earlier on.