Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Should England make changes for the Oval?

England are in an unusual position: only once since 1996 have they gone into the final Test of the summer needing to win to square the series. That was in 2003, when they made three changes for the last Test at South Africa, and inevitably there have been calls for new blood after today's defeat by India. So what are the main areas of consideration ahead of next week's Oval Test?

Opening batsmen

Until the tour to Australia last winter, Andrew Strauss had a phenomenal record of 10 hundreds in just 31 Tests, averaging 46; in his last 11 Tests, he has failed to score a century while averaging just 28. He may have ground out half-centuries in his last three Tests, but there are still worries about his static feet - and he was dismissed through an aberrant swipe at Trent Bridge, perhaps betraying his mental state. His opening partner Alastair Cook has been dismissed LBW four times this series, playing across the line on each occasion, but has shown such promise that his place is not under any threat.

If England decide to dispense with Strauss, which remains unlikely, they have two options; they can either pick a specialist opener, or move Michael Vaughan up to open (a job he has done just once since the West Indies tour of 2003-04) and rejig the batting order. If they opt for the former, the most likely candidate is Kent's Joe Denly, who, at 21, already averages 54 in first-class cricket. He has played two innings of particular note this campaign: an outstanding 115 not out (out of only 199) against a Hampshire side featuring Shane Warne, Stuart Clark and Chris Tremlett; and an exhilarating, 90-ball 83 against the Indians for England Lions.

Middle order batsmen

With some impressive performances since his recall against Pakistan last year, Ian Bell looked to be establishing himself as one of England's untouchables. However he has failed four times this series, while England's selectors may also note that he averages just 19 after five Tests against India, and murmurings about his inability to perform under pressure remain. The words that dare not speak their name - flat-track bully - are becoming increasingly voluble - Paul Collingwood's tenacious 63 in the last Test, meanwhile, will ensure he remains in the side for the Oval.

Owais Shah played in the first Test of the summer and, especially after his fine one-day showings, is probably the next cab on the middle-order rank. Memories of his superb 88 on Test debut in Mumbai remain; and, at 28, Shah's time should be now. Of the other candidates, Ravi Bopara is averaging 65 in the championship, and his wristy batting and steely temperament caught the eye in the World Cup. It may seem fanciful but, with this being a must-win Test that exists in isolation, it would be wrong to discount the technically proficient Mark Ramprakash, who is once more leading the first-class averages and, nearing 38, is a more mellow character than during his Test career.


Matt Prior is sure to keep his place for the final Test but, considering his decidedly iffy wicket-keeping and the fact his runs have only come against West Indies - whose bowling attack would be amongst the worst in Division Two - his long-term position is by no means secure. As shown by his selection for England Lions, Tim Ambrose, a markedly better keeper than Prior and outstanding with the bat this season, leads the chasing pack, although he has not reached fifty in his past five first-class knocks. There are a multitude of other potential candidates, led by the unlucky James Foster, who, at 27, should be entering his prime.

Pace bowling

Chris Tremlett, who has taken 10 wickets in two Tests, is surely assured of a place. Ryan Sidebottom has bowled well in both matches against India; and Jimmy Anderson was excellent at Lord's, but disappointingly wayward at Trent Bridge. However, with Monty Panesar completing the bowling quartet, the England selectors will no doubt be aware of the need to extract more runs from the tail.

This could aid the case of Stuart Broad, omitted at the last for the first Test. He has scored half-centuries in consecutive seasons against the tourists to give evidence he could be an England No8, while he also claimed five wickets against India for England Lions. Though almost as tall as Tremlett, he generates less bounce, but has good pace, gets movement off the seam, offers aggression and has a temperament well suited to the international game. The recovery of Matthew Hoggard is still in its infancy - he is not yet back at Yorkshire - and it would smack of desperation were he to be selected, especially as he averages 40 at the Oval. The same, of course, could be said of a recall for Andy Caddick, although he has 56 first-class wickets this season and an excellent record at the Oval.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Championship – Week 13

More and more rain affected draws, although summer does appear to be just around the corner. A good week for both leaders, even if it was only in the scramble for bonus points in Div 1.

Div 1
Starting at the top, where poor weather and a flat Scarborough wicket meant another draw was always likely. Kent batted first scoring 486 with the impressive Joe Denly getting another ton. Adil Rashid took 5-fer on the ground where it all started last year, with Tim Bresnan taking 4. Kent used ten bowlers in the Yorkshire reply of 550 for 9 declared, Anthony McGrath continuing his recent run of good form with a ton and Younus Khan getting an unbeaten double hundred. Kent managed 17 in the time that was left and it finished in a tame draw

Sussex’s charge towards the top of the table came to an abrupt halt at Hampshire as they were bowled out for just 145, James Bruce taking 5-fer. John Crawley carried the reply scoring an unbeaten 113 in the Hants total of 250 with Rana Naved taking 5 wickets. Second time round, Sussex had seen off the deficit for the loss of four wickets. However, too much time was lost out of the game and it ended in a draw.

The bottom two teams clashed at Guildford in Worcestershire’s first match for quite some time. Surrey batted first an reached 369 largely due to yet another Mark Ramprakash ton. Worcester couldn’t quite reach the follow on target scoring 217, but batted much better second time round and the game finished with them on 307 for 5, Phil Jaques scoring a ton and Harbajan Singh taking all five of the wickets to fall.

Div 2
The only positive result came at the top of the table as Somerset and Derbyshire contrived a rather one sided result. Somerset opened up scoring 340, despite Ant Botha getting 6 wickets. Derby then declared on 94 for 2 and with Somerset declaring in return on 84 for 3, Derby were set 330 to win. However, with Charl Willoughby taking 4 for 12, Derby were bowled out for just 52 and Somerset are well clear at the top of the table.

Northamptonshire opened up with 366 against Nottinghamshire, four players getting to 50, but no-one above 60. In reply Notts took a big lead, with Stephen Fleming and Mark Wagh getting tons as they declared on 526 for 9. Then having reduced Northants to 18 for 3, Notts must have thought they had a chance. However, no more wickets fell and the match was drawn. Notts remain comfortably 2nd, even if Somerset are beginning to pull away at the top.

Just a day’s play was possible at Gloucestershire, with Essex making sure of maximum bowling points as they dismissed the home team for 184, despite a ton for Chris Taylor, Andy Bichel taking 5-fer. In reply Essex had made just 129 for 7 as time ran out.

At least Gloucester and Essex got some play in. Glamorgan and Leicestershire just had to watch as the rain game down and the Welshmen remained stranded at the bottom of the table.

Player of the Week
The weather was the main factor again this week. However, bearing in mind that he could have won the award in week 3, for his second double hundred of the season, this week’s Player of the Week is Younus Khan.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Australia's Next Generation: The Openers

As the hot topic rages on, will Australia continue to be the world’s best with their greats gone; it’s time for Australia’s case to be mounted.

With the retirements of two of the greatest bowlers to ever take a wicket, the master of spin; Shane Warne, and Mr. Reliable; Glenn McGrath, as well as a half of one of the greatest Australian opening partnerships; Justin Langer, and of course, the easily forgettable but still ever consistent number 4 for so many years; Damien Martyn. To top this all off, the chances are that one of the greatest wicketkeeper-batsmen of all time, Adam Gilchrist, and Langer’s opening partner; Matthew Hayden, (Once the most feared batsman in the world) will retire in the next couple of years. You could easily be forgiven for thinking, ‘Maybe this is the end of an era?’ It’s certainly crossed all of our minds, so it comes down to the big question, who is waiting in the wings?

Most of us have heard of Phil Jaques and Chris Rogers, the two young openers, and Dan Cullen, not to mention Brad Haddin, but the question for many who’ve never really seen them play is, are they really good enough? Is that it, are there others as well? It is both of these questions that I will endeavour to answer, as I get around to the age old question (for at least the past few months), ‘Will Australia still be the world’s best in 12-24 months time?

So as the question is asked; who will replace Justin Langer to partner Matthew Hayden at the top of the Aussie batting order in the short and long term futures, I profile some of the best young talents who might end up opening the batting for Australia in the future:

Phil Jaques – Jaques is one of the most raved about youngsters in Australian cricket, and it’s not hard to see why. With a good technique, and a healthy, aggressive nature, Jaques could easily be the next Matthew Hayden. A quick glance at his stats suggests the same, with a double century in first class cricket highlighting a career average of 55, with 28 centuries to his name. His one day record is also impressive; the aggressive left hander has an average of 41, with 158 not out his highest score, plus an excellent strike rate of 89.67, suggesting that the youngster nicknamed ‘Pro’ is a spectacular prospect for the future. Whilst his season in 2006/07 was not his best, his inconsistency hid the fact that he ended up scoring 987 runs, second only to fellow aspiring opener Chris Rogers, and Jaques’ average of 47 wasn’t too bad either. Jaques’ fielding has held him back, and he would have surely been opening at the World Cup with Adam Gilchrist had selectors not opted to go with Hayden’s safe pair of hands.

Chris Rogers – Rogers was a little known opener from WA, until he burst onto the scene with a double century against his own country, playing for Leicestershire during the 2005 Ashes. Rogers form finally hit it big for his state, when he and Marcus North put on a huge partnership of more than 500 runs, Rogers ending up on 279, surprisingly not his highest score, before the Victorians (Shane Warne among them) finally got him out. From then on everyone had taken notice, as Jaques, the man who was favoured to push Justin Langer out before the end of the Ashes Series, started off slowly; Rogers did anything but, eventually scoring 1202 runs (at 70.70), well ahead of second placed Jaques. The red-headed left-hander, 29 years old, is nearing the prime of his career, and would be a great replacement for Langer in the immediate future. There’s very little that the two don’t have in common; Rogers is one centimetre shorter than Langer, and is a crafter, like his older counterpart, he is a slow but steady batsman, an accumulator of runs, rather than an aggressive one, like Jaques and Hayden.

Tim Paine – Paine is a highly regarded youngster, and is also a part time wicketkeeper, having kept for Tasmania in their One Day games last year. His age, just 22, (which earned him the nickname ‘kid’) ensures he is one to watch in 5 or so years. Paine’s average of 28 does not flatter him, but his ability is undoubted, having celebrated his first ever first class century by turning into a brilliant 215, early in the 2006/07 Pura Cup season. He is a flamboyant youngster, who doesn’t go over the top, but can still play a good innings once he gets started. With a talent in both batting and keeping, Tim is sure to be pushing for national selection within the next few years.

Michael Klinger – The final of my ‘fab four’ is the least known of the group, but the one that I have seen the most of. Klinger is a 26 year old Victorian with a great mix of skill and aggression that makes him one of the best one day openers in Australia. Whilst his first class career has spanned several years with just 2 centuries (both in the past 2 seasons), many will remember the day that Paul Reiffel declared whilst Klinger was on 99, prompting a loss of confidence that appears to be finally escaping him, and with a re-emergence into the Pura Cup side last this year, plus an excellent season in One Day Cricket, being named as 12th Man in the Domestic Team of the year in The Ford Ranger Cup, Klinger seems like one to watch this year, as he attempts to hold down the opening spot, with veteran opener Jason Arnberger being dropped from the squad, Klinger could very well be seen at the top of the order for years to come. His fielding is also excellent, being very quick and a safe pair of hands on most occasions, and Klinger is very capable of hitting a few sixes on his day as well.

These four are a few small fish in a very large pond, and there are plenty more with talent that just missed out.

Stay 'tuned' to see the next batch of youngsters that I profile

Friday, 27 July 2007

How do you dismiss Pietersen?

How to get Kevin Pietersen out? It is a question that, over two years of international cricket, will have occupied countless hours of team meetings. Yet he has continued to improve and has already scored at least one Test century against all his opponents, at a rate of very nearly one every three games, averaging over 40 against each side. Add in his phenomenal one-day performances – he is irrefutably England’s finest ever one-day batsman – and only Ricky Ponting, of current batsmen, can be a more daunting sight for bowlers.

A key feature of Pietersen’s batting lies in his ability to dominate all types of bowling. Yet, increasingly, he is learning to rein in his impetuosity, which has so often proved his downfall, and build larger innings. Equally, he is now increasingly content to start slowly in an innings, knowing he will have plenty of time to accelerate where, during the 2005 Ashes, his helter-skelter starts made his wicket overly vulnerable early on. The end result is a player less reckless and perhaps a tad less exhilarating – Simon Barnes recently lamented the end of “The Madness of King Kev” – but more effective. England fans are certainly not complaining.

Clearly, it is fair to say Pietersen has benefited from the markedly lower standard of quick bowling compared to, say, ten years ago. Yet his Test average of 53 is certainly not the result of serial gorging on bowling not deserving of the ‘Test’ label; he has not played against either Bangladesh or Zimbabwe and, only in the recent series against the West Indies was the opposition’s bowling particularly poor. And it is indicative of his relish for the big occasion and his batting quality that he averaged over 50 in both his series against Australia.

It seems almost all England series have a Pietersen duel (or duels) at their heart: Pietersen v Warne; Pietersen v McGrath; and Pietersen v Murali. Of these three tussles, Pietersen has dominated Warne as well as anyone of this era (average 61, his 0 at Adelaide notwithstanding); the clash with Murali, against whom he has scored at over 5 an over, is a dead heat; but McGrath, who has dismissed him five times at 27 apiece, has undeniably got the better of him.

McGrath’s record, unlike that of Warne and Murali, has no anomaly and no weakness; he has succeeded against all batsmen, everywhere, with his probing line and length and phenomenal consistency. His duel with Pietersen over the winter was intriguing; the batsman attempted to dominate in his characteristic manner, often walking down the pitch. But he underestimated McGrath who, though he had declined a little, still possessed sufficient bounce to embarrass Pietersen, who was caught recklessly in the Fifth Test and then seriously injuring his rib in a one-day international. The Englishman clearly wanted to hit him out of the attack, but the veteran was simply too good; for all his efforts, Pietersen’s strike-rate against McGrath in Tests is, at 50, 16 down on that of his career.

There is a pattern here. If Pietersen has a weakness, it is against high-class line-and-length bowlers; he tries to impose himself against them, but, due to seam, pace or bounce he cannot, and often falls to injudicious shots. Besides McGrath, the two best bowlers of this kind he has faced are undoubtedly Stuart Clark and Mohammad Asif, each of whom have patience, canniness and self-belief in abundance. He has done well against Clark, scoring 94 for just once out but, crucially, has scored these runs in a manner totally alien to him – an Atherton-esque 2.33 an over. Together with McGrath, he strangled Pietersen, in as much as that is possible against a player with his range of strokes, last winter. The prodigious young talent of Asif, meanwhile, has dismissed Pietersen three times – and he has scored just 19 runs in these innings. Of course, most batsmen have trouble against such outstanding bowlers, but he will surely seek to improve his discipline – and perhaps even his technique – against the moving ball. It is, perhaps, also a reason why England would be ill-advised to move him any higher than four in the batting order.

Generally, Pietersen has relished the fastest bowlers around – such as Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar – while he has taken an immense liking to other quicks (including left-armers) that are below the world’s top rung. Against even the highest calibre of spin, he has played many superb innings, his trio of 158s amongst them. But, it is certainly true that he has been susceptible early on in his innings; in innings when Warne has dismissed him, he averaged only 22, while, the three times Danish Kaneria has claimed his wicket, Pietersen has only scored a cumulative 22; once set, however, he has laid mercilessly into Kaneria, scoring two fine hundreds.

All the other Test nations palpably have a huge fear of Pietersen’s flashing blade. It is Pakistan, with the contrasting qualities of Kaneria and Asif, who evidently have the best-suited attack to dismissing him early in his innings. But, whatever the opposition throw at him, it seems sure Kevin Pietersen will continue to amass runs.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Who is England's second best spinner?

With a winter tour to Sri Lanka looming large, who are the candidates to join Monty Panesar on the plane?

Adil Rashid
After taking 6-67 on debut to bowl Yorkshire to victory, Adil Rashid was catapulted into the spotlight as England’s next great spinning hope. When it became apparent that he also possessed significant batting aptitude (he often bats at six for his county), people began talking of a “Spintoff”, capable of both taking five-fers with his leg-spin and scoring Test hundreds. The hype has since died down a little, especially after a mauling at the hands of Tendulkar for England Lions, but Rashid has continued to play a big role in Yorkshire’s championship push, while earning praise from even Shane Warne. He seems certain to play for England one day; but, at this stage, would he be better off with the A team?

Chris Schofield
Schofield’s selection in England’s preliminary Twenty20 World Cup squad was viewed as an enormous surprise, but it should not have been. In the domestic competition, he bowled with guile, accuracy, nerve and variation, with his quicker ball proving particularly effective, to claim 17 wickets at just nine. But, though very good in all one-day cricket this season, Schofield proved less effective in first-class cricket. If he is to eventually earn an England Test recall, it will only be after establishing himself in the limited overs side.

Jamie Dalrymple
Dalrymple fared well initially for England in ODIs, after making his first appearance last summer, scoring two excellent 50s and bowling his off-spin with immense control, and almost made his Test debut at Sydney this year. However, since then, he has regressed alarmingly, losing his one-day place after not doing enough with either bat or ball, and enduring an awful start to this first-class season. His temperament was certainly impressive; but it seems doubtful in the extreme he could worry good Test batsmen.

Gareth Batty
Batty has played seven Tests and ODIs but, though he has batted with great guts, especially against Muralitharan, his off-spin has never remotely come close to being threatening, as Brian Lara illustrated en route to his Test record score of 400. He is just 29, and has a feisty, combative temperament in the Paul Collingwood mould, yet, with his performances for Worcestershire unspectacular, England will surely opt to look elsewhere.

Ian Blackwell

In 2005/06, Blackwell bowled his left-arm spin tremendously in the sub-continent, and was comfortably England’s best one-day bowler of the winter; but injury prevented him cementing his position in the side thereafter. However, for all his one-day guile, Blackwell has rarely been effective with the ball in county cricket, and was unthreatening in his only Test. His batting has proved mightily effective in the first-class game – he averages 38 – yet he has batted woefully in his 34 ODIs. Additionally, his less-than-enthusiastic approach to fitness will also count against him.

Graeme Swann
Swann played a solitary ODI seven years ago, but disappointed the management team with a number of off-field indiscretions. However, at 28, he is now a much more mature cricketer – and person - and has benefited from a move to Notts, whom he helped to win the 2005 championship. In his years in the international wilderness, Swann’s off-spin gained more consistency, while his capacity to generate marked turn is not in doubt. Moreover, he is also an elegant batsman who could certainly make a good Test number eight, and has opened to great effect in the one-day game.

Gareth Keedy
Keedy can consider himself very unfortunate not to have played a Test; perhaps only his status as a batting rabbit has prevented him. He took 132 first-class wickets in 2003 and ’04, and must have pushed Giles close, but, at 32, he now looks highly unlikely to play. With England being loathe to play two left-arm spinners of limited batting ability, his best chance of selection would be in the event of a injury to Monty Panesar.

Ashley Giles
Giles, an important team man during England’s 2004-05 run of success, has suffered terribly with injuries since, and himself admits he may never play professional cricket again. He was totally ineffectual in his only two Tests since, in Australia, where he infamously dropped Ricky Ponting. At 34, and having not played all season, it seems unlikely in the extreme he will play for his country again.

The Verdict
A lot depends on the candidates' form for the remainder of the campaign but, if I had to pick a squad now, I would take Schofield for the ODIs and Swann and Rashid for the Tests.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Championship – Week 12

Again better weather for those having the week off than those who played, although there were some brilliant personal performances.

Div 1
Worcestershire and Lancashire didn’t even get started as New Road is doubling as an outdoor swimming pool again. It will be interesting to see whether this game is deemed worthy of a replay following the dangerous precedent of earlier in the season.

Yorkshire had their third game lasting under two days in a row. Surrey started strongly as Yorks elected to bat, but an unbeaten 91 from Adil Rashid and good support from the tail got the home team up to 307 and three bonus points. Surrey also struggled for runs reaching 229, with Darren Gough getting his 2nd 6-fer of the season. However, this was enough to give Mark Ramprakash 1000 runs for the season. Yorks were then 2 for1 after an over of their 2nd innings before time was called.

A lop sided game at Canterbury where Kent opened up with 550-9 and centuries for Martin van Jaarsveld, Geraint Jones and Yasir Arafat. Warwickshire managed just 107 in reply, with Rory McLaren getting five wickets. The weather and Darren Maddy, though, held Kent up as the Bears reached 268 for 7, with Maddy unbeaten on 148.

The most exciting game came at Durham where the home side recovered from 19 for 5 to make 229, thanks largely to a ton from Dale Blenkenstein. Ottis Gibson then took all ten wickets as Hampshire made only 115, Michael Brown carrying his bat for 56. Durham declared on 221 for 5 second time round to set Hants over 300 to win. Gibson took the first two wickets, and despite five wickets for Paul Wiseman, Hants held on at 262 for 9 for the draw, Brown again carrying his bat for 126.

Div 2
There was a similar disappointment for Glamorgan albeit in slightly more contrived circumstances against Derbyshire. The Welshmen opened up with 298, David Hemp falling three short of a hundred. Derby then declared on 150 for 3 before skittling Glamorgan for 127 with Kevin Dean taking 5 wickets. Needing 275 to win, Derby were struggling on 195 for 9 at stumps. Six wickets for Robert Croft not quite being enough to get them over the line.

Barely a day’s play was possible at Leicestershire as the home team declared on 403 for 5, HD Ackerman getting a ton. Middlesex could only manage 34 for 1 in reply and that was that.

The weather also wrecked Essex’s chances of making up ground on opponents Somerset at Taunton. Batting first Essex scored 282 which was enough for a healthy first inning lead as the home team managed just 153, with Andy Bichel getting 6-fer. Essex had reached 294 for 6 when the match finished, Ravi Bopara continuing his fine form with another century.

England Player Watch
Stuart Broad
took the one Middlesex wicket to fall, but despite England suffering the same fate as Glamorgan and Durham, the England team looks fairly settled for the rest of the summer.

Player of the Week
No positive results this week, but two magnificent individual performances at Durham. In any normal match Michael Brown carrying his bat twice for half of Hampshire’s runs would see him as the stand out player. However, taking all ten wickets in an innings happens so rarely, than this week’s Player of the Week has to be Ottis Gibson

Monday, 23 July 2007

The keeping dilemma

The final shortlist for the wicket-keeper in the Greatest Test XI of the last century consists of Les Ames and Adam Gilchrist. Although their careers were 60 years apart, it is telling that both were fine batsmen; though nostalgia may tell us otherwise, the best sides in history have almost invariably (with the exception of the 1948 Australian side) had ‘keepers who could contribute significantly with the bat.

Adam Gilchrist’s bludgeoning bat has been a key feature of Australia’s dominance in the 2000s. His ability to drastically – and often irrevocably – alter the momentum of games from number seven is surely unsurpassed in the history of Test cricket, as his 17 Test hundreds, with at least one against each nation, suggests. The speed at which he acquires his runs – he has a Test strike-rate of 82 - has been phenomenal; and, while it is true some of his knocks have come after his side were already firmly in control, his brilliant 144 in Sri Lanka in 2004, batting at number three, was testament to his quality in more testing circumstances. Behind the stumps, he is no artist; but, this side is judged purely on effectiveness – and Gilchrist, who always kept well to Warne, very seldom gloves chances.

Les Ames
is often regarded as having pioneered the wicket-keeper batsmen. He is part of a long tradition of fine Kent glovemen, and was inconspicuous, but hugely reliable and adaptable behind the stumps, claiming the world record for first-class stumpings (some of which were off pace bowlers). But, like Gilchrist, he will be remembered, above all, for his ability to seize a game with the bat. Ames was a highly-classical batsmen who could play all round the wicket, and twice won the Walter Lawrence Trophy; his quality with the bat is illustrated by his average of almost 50 in 33 (out of 47) Tests playing at four or five and, above all, by his 102 first-class centuries. His bat succeeded everywhere he went, with the exception of Australia, and his Wisden obituary called him “without a doubt the greatest wicketkeeper-batsman”; but, with Gilchrist’s emergence, is this still the case?

Who would you choose? Leave a comment below.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Where Cricket can Help

While there may be the small matter of a test match starting at Lords tomorrow, at London's other ground, 72 adults will be living out a childhood fantasy by playing 6-a-side cricket at The Oval. The reason for this is a charity event run by Three Valleys Water and Mace in support of WaterAid.

As one of the organisers of the event (it seemed a good way to make sure I could play) I have been amazed by the work that WaterAid does in providing the safe drinking water that we all take for granted to those parts of the Third World where it really is a matter of life and death. I have also been sent the story below of how cricket has made a huge difference to the life of a village.

£15 is enough to provide one person with a lasting supply of safe water, sanitation and hygiene education. we hope to raise around £40000 tomorrow. If you are interested, you can find out more about WaterAid at www.Wateraid.org

Gautam Gupta, aged 25 is the village animator

He is the founding member of the youth hygiene group which he formed with others from the cricket team. Now there are 29 men in total involved in hygiene education.

“Before we were just the cricket team, then we decided we had to do something to make a difference as well rather than just playing cricket. More members joined us and now there are 29 of us.

We use the posters to explain about the issues. We ask people where they go to the toilet and then explain how many bacteria and viruses there are in faeces and explain the dangers. We then explain that by going outside in the open they are eating their own and other people’s faeces. Then we explain how this is happening – by talking about how the waste mixes with water, and if you drink from open sources you also drink the waste. If you go in fields, flies will sit on your faeces and then they will land on people’s food and vomit and then you eat the food. Dogs also eat the faeces and then come inside the house. We also explain that if you aren’t washing your hands and then are feeding your children you are feeding them with faeces.

After all this we ask them if they don’t want to eat faeces what should they do? Then the people themselves say that they must use latrines, wash their hands, cover their food, use water from handpumps and keep the water off the floor. We then explain which diseases you can prevent by doing this - diarrhoea, amoebic dysentery and typhoid.

At first they don’t accept they are eating faeces, but after showing them the poster they begin to believe it. They used to say that we weren’t telling them the truth but after seeing the flies and watching them they started making changes to their food handling. They are now constructing latrines too and changing their water handling.

In the first year 300 people had diarrhoea and this reduced to 150 last year - a 50% reduction. This year’s data is not here yet but we hope it has dropped even further. We would like to see everyone constructing latrines and carrying out proper hygiene practices then diseases will go down and this will increase their economic standards. If they don’t get sick, they don’t have to pay for a doctor. If you have malaria it costs 1000 rupees. Also, people can grow vegetables with the waste water and increase their income generally.

Twice a month we visit every house in the village and explain the messages. We divide into groups of two or three people and each goes to see different families. Each small group represents different hamlets and they visit the families in their area.

I attended training in February 2004 after which I organised a big village meeting. We identified the water points were a big concern and we made 13 user groups for each one. After forming these I started working with my friends. By focusing on each group the programme started across the village. The first thing we organised and cleaned was the water tank and everyone was very impressed that this was what youths in the village did. After this we started house visits. Then we faced many problems, women didn’t want to talk to us about faeces, food and things like this and so we had the idea of involving girls as well. We spoke to them at school and now they talk to the women about all of the issues and they help a lot.

In the process of forming groups, I have targeted each group in the village. We have women’s groups and a girls group now. The last thing we did was to speak to the Panchayat. They were very happy with what we’ve done and so we started working together. We are now helping each other. The Panchayat help us with cleaning the village and we are supporting them in schemes too. Financial support is also given by the Panchayat.

While we were doing the planning we identified this hamlet had a water problem; that the handpump went dry in the summer. The Panchayat agreed to build the tank and it is already built. WaterAid supported us for pipes and taps. We have already spoken to people about the contributions that they need to make to keep it clean and to pay for the electricity, which is 60 Rupees annually each. We have used a step by step approach in targeting the whole community. This we learnt at training and then passed it on to each different member of the community.”

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Championship – Week 11

Just two games per division this week, but both with big implications at the tops of the leagues. Plus will it ever stop raining? I’m thinking of building an ark

Div 1
played their first match since the 20/20 break, taking on a Durham team who have been a little of of form recently. Mushtaq took five wickets as Durham struggled to 209. Things them got worse for Durham as Steve Harmison went off injured after just 5 overs with his hernia problem. Chris Adams with 193 benefited from the weakened bowling attack as Sussex racked up 517 for 9. This was more than enough as Durham managed just 206 second time round. Durham’s title challenge looks to have faded, while Sussex are just a point behind Yorkshire in 2nd.

Yorkshire fell victim to the weather again with two days of the game at Warwickshire lost to rain. Anthony McGrath’s unbeaten 182 enabled Yorkshire to get to 400 for 9 and claim maximum bowling points. However, on a good batting track, Warwickshire replied with 254 for 2, Darren Maddy getting an unbeaten 135 and both teams take 9 points from the game.

Div 2
Weather problems also for Nottinghamshire where three days were lost to rain. In the little time remaining, Notts declared on 400 for 8 with David Hussey getting 180, while Gloucestershire had to face only one ball before the whole thing was abandoned.

Somerset took their chance to capitalise with a remarkable finish at Taunton. Batting first Northamptonshire scored 221, which was eclipsed by Somerset’s 459, Marcus Trescothick scoring 146. Northants were then struggling second time round on 120 for 6 before Lance Klusener started a rescue mission, scoring 122 and getting Northants up to 358, setting Somerset 124 to win with just 16 overs to get them. However, in this situation there are few better than Trescothick, who scored 69 in just 42 balls, despite batting with a runner and Somerset got home with two overs to spare.

England Player Watch
With much of the match against Lancashire washed out last week Michael Vaughan and Matthew Hoggard turned out for Yorkshire. Vaughan scored just 6, while Hoggard got ten overs under his belt, taking one wicket. Ian Bell did better for Warwickshire, scoring 65. The only other England player in action was Steve Harmison who further injured his hernia to finish his season early and is going under the knife today

Player of the Week
The fact that Chris Adams messed Yorkshire around so much in the winter is not the reason he doesn’t win the player of the week (although it’s a good one). This week’s player of the week is my first double winner of the award. A century in the first innings was good, but for bringing Somerset home in a brutal run-chase, the award goes to Marcus Trescothick.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Sobers is a certainty; but what about Imran and Miller?

To continue the analysis of the short-listed players for the Greatest Test XI of the last century, we look at the three all-rounders in the 28 – Garfield Sobers, Keith Miller and Imran Khan.

Garfield Sobers would probably have made the final XI as a batsman alone; add in his brilliant fielding and incredibly versatile bowling, and he may well be the finest Test cricketer of them all. Sobers simply excelled at all aspects of the game; he could play all the shots, though his offside play was particularly memorable; but his bowling (which struggled initially in Test cricket) was almost equally impressive. To be able to get Test wickets with three distinct types of bowling – brisk fast-medium (he often opened the bowling), left-arm orthodox and wrist spin must be unique in cricketing history. Though Sobers scored 26 Test hundreds, including the then-record Test score of 365* against Pakistan, arguably his best innings was 254 for the Rest of the World against Australia, but the games were not awarded Test status.

Keith Miller was never a player to be judged merely on statistics; but his Test averages – 37 with the bat and 23 with the ball – are nonetheless extraordinary. Miller, a famously brave fighter pilot during world War Two, was gregarious and played his cricket to entertain; this he achieved magnificently. His batting was classical and attacking; he scored seven hundreds, though it is now recognised that his best batting was for Dominions against England in 1945. With the ball, he was, though sometimes a slightly reluctant bowler, very fast and adaptable, capable of bowling excellent off-cutters. He averaged only just over three wickets a match, because opening bowlers Lindwall and Johnston would often clean the opposition up; but, on the 1956 Ashes tour and at the age of 37, Miller heroically bowled 70 overs in the game at Lord's, claiming 10 wickets in the Australian win.

Imran Khan began in the Pakistan side as a bowler who could bat; but, in his last 51 Tests, he averaged an astonishing 52 with the bat and 20 with the ball. Moreover, he was Pakistan’s captain and icon; undoubtedly their ever greatest player, he inspired them to their World Cup win, aged 39 and, towards the end of his career, Pakistan clung to West Indies’ coattails in the Test arena, drawing three series 1-1 in the late 80s and early 90s – in nine Tests against them, Imran averaged 32 with the bat and, remarkably, took 45 wickets at under 15, including 11/121 in a thumping victory in Georgetown. His bowling record is even more remarkable considering the generally docile Pakistani tracks – with his pace, indefatigability and lethal reverse-swinging yorkers, batsmen were never safe. As a batsman, he developed a sound technique and became both middle-order stabiliser and aggressor through sheer force of will. A question to consider is how high he could conceivably bat in this side.

Do one, both or neither of Imran and Miller deserve to be in the Greatest Test XI? Leave a comment below.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Broad the best of England's young quicks

With Steve Harmison rated as "extremely doubtful" for the first Test by David Graveney, and Messrs Jones and Flintoff still far from consideration, England's pace-bowling resources, yet again, appear stretched, with only Matthew Hoggard a certainty for the next few Tests.

Ryan Sidebottom, who took 16 wickets at under 20 against the West Indies, should also be considered a definite pick - for now at least. Though some worry about his lack of pace – and, subsequently, lack of penetration on docile tracks – Sidebottom offers genuine variety, in that he is a left-armer, and, crucially, control. The Notts bowler surely deserves at least two Tests to prove he can be a threat against good batsmen on flat tracks.

James Anderson has been bowling a lot better in recent weeks (though he did go for 78 in the 2nd ODI against the West Indies) and was today named in the 13-man match squad. In the long-term, he should aim to be a Hoggard with extra pace – but he remains far too erratic. Although he has a strong case for selection, which will be boosted by his terrific bowling (6/79 in the match) during England’s win in India last year, Anderson does not offer anything greatly different to Hoggard and, equally significantly, would probably bat at 11.

The other man in the squad, Stuart Broad is just 21, but he has already impressed with his big-match temperament and penetrating bowling, as when taking 3/20 in the recent ODIs, even being compared, a little prematurely, to Glenn McGrath. He is a 6ft7 beanpole – so his enormous bounce offers a completely different threat – and bowled very well to take 5/76 against India for England Lions. Crucially, Broad has sufficient batting aptitude to bat at number eight, and has scored 50s against the last two English tourists. But, like so many young English bowlers, Broad can prove extremely expensive, and has an economy rate of 3.94 in the Championship this campaign.

Another huge bowler, Chris Tremlett, also played for England Lions against India, and had Sachin Tendulkar twice dropped. Tremlett has all the attributes to be an excellent quick, and a very good first-class record to boot, but he is perceived to have a lackadaisical attitude, and was poor in the CB Series. At 25, his time should be now, but he has only averaged 37 for Hampshire in the Championship this campaign and, though he averages almost 20 with the bat in his career, does not merit a Test debut.

Liam Plunkett played three Tests against the West Indies earlier in the summer and, though occasionally lethal when he gets it right (which he did in the CB Series), Plunkett is very erratic, often causing extras to be amongst the top scorers. At 22, the Durham quick should have a long international career ahead of him, but there are problems with his action (a victim of excess biomechanics) and England, thankfully, look to have realised he would be best served with a run in county cricket.

His Durham colleague Graham Onions has been talked of all season as a potential England bowler, but can prove horribly expensive and was dropped for the game at Surrey recently. However the pacey seamer is regarded as a wicket-taker and has a very aggressive approach, as he proved in taking three wickets against the Indian tourists.

A wildcard who could be considered is Sidebottom’s Nottinghamshire team-mate Charlie Shreck. A late developer, Shreck only made his county debut at 25 and is now 29, but, on form, deserves to be selected, having taken 40 Championship wickets at just 23 this season. He is no innocuous seamer, either; Shreck is 6ft7 and has an outstanding career strike-rate of 47. But, though he is experienced and in fantastic form, his status as the ultimate rabbit will probably preclude his selection

It is not hard to notice the pattern here: there are a lot of young and promising bowlers who generate a good pace and are renowned as “wicket-takers”, but there is one central problem: they are all very expensive. Indeed, of those under 29, Anderson has the best economy rate this season, a not-so-miserly 3.32 in the Championship. England would probably be best served with someone who can both reduce the size of their tail and go some way to replacing Harmison’s pace, bounce and hostility to supplement Hoggard and Sidebottom in the attack. The best option, hence, appears Stuart Broad: young, aggressive and with a fearless temperament, he should make his Test debut on Thursday.

2006/07 – The Season/Farce That Was

The Australian View

A significant moment occurred at The Oval on the 20th of August. It was significant, of course, for all the wrong reasons, and then some. Somewhere from the moment that Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove began inspecting a ball that they believed had been tampered with, to the moment that Pakistan protested the umpires’ decision to penalise them for ball tampering, to the moment that the two umpires called the game off altogether, something was beginning. A new chapter in cricket was starting. Gone were the days when cricket was a gentleman’s game, gone were the days when anyone could claim it was a boring game. It was the start of Season 2006/07 – a season that was, in all ways, one to remember, and one to forget.

If ball tampering and match forfeiting seemed a bad start to a season, people may have thought that things couldn’t get any worse or weirder. How wrong they were. The season continued in much the same fashion. There were leaked reports that Hair would quit if offered a payout, and eventually he was sacked despite being rated the ICC’s best umpire on decisions correct at the time, and 2nd overall, with the Asian bloc spearheading a ‘Sack Hair’ movement, including queries of racism and bias. It was all turned around eventually when Hair sued Pakistan and the ICC for racial discrimination, charges that were later dropped. Seems like a bad start to the year, but things got a whole lot worse.

Breaking ground was one thing that happened in Season 2006/07. We had our first ever forfeited match, so it stands to reason that more ground would be broke before the season was over. As a result, who could be surprised when cricket was faced with a sport’s nightmare; drugs. Again Pakistan was the country involved, as two of its players, Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid; Nandrolone. The two were initially banned for two years in Shoaib’s case, and 1 in Asif’s, but the bans were then farcically overturned by an appeals board. Despite the ICC disagreeing, and appealing to the WADA’s appeal board to overturn the decision, it was found that there was no ground to do so, and the two got off with a minor holiday, although a strangely timed injury kept them out of the World Cup, which is next on our list for dissection.

The Cricket World Cup seemed like a great outlet for what had been a season full of controversy, if only it had not been run as badly as ever. In addition to a format that saw it run for what seemed like forever, ticket prices that cost locals a decent salary, minnows knocking over heavyweights, not to mention the fact that the whole tournament was run for the sponsors rather than the fans, it was also marred by a ridiculous finish, in which the entire game ended in pitch black darkness. Then, to cap it all off, the tragic death of Pakistani coach Bob Woolmer. First, it was of natural causes, then it was murder, then natural causes again, then 100% murder according to Mark Shields, (who established himself as one of the world’s most useless investigators with his late night denials of the natural cause theory and yet doing nothing on the actual investigation worth mentioning) until it was confirmed that the coroner who found a broken bone was incorrect, and that it actually was death of natural causes. It was a World Cup with low playing standards, no real challengers of back to back to back winners Australia, who have not lost a match in their past 2 wins, and the whole tournament was simply waiting to finish.

So there we have it, drugs, ball tampering, match forfeiting, death and farce all round, a season that was, in short, a disaster. Bring on the actual cricket one might think, but even that proved a bore, as supposed world number 2 England fell from their perch following an historic Ashes victory in 2005, thrashed by Australia 5-0 in the corresponding fixture in 06/07, in a season which Australia failed to lose a test, and only a few ODI’s before winning the World Cup in an undefeated, and nowhere near one too, campaign. There was a lack of opposition all season for the World number 1 Aussie side, who lost greats Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Justin Langer and Damien Martyn in the process too.It was a season full of farce, full of thrashings, full of victory, and full of defeat, full of jubilation, and full of sadness.

For most, there was little to cheer about, and it was a season that we’ll all hope to forget. Bring on the cricket I guess, and hope that the rest can lift its game before it’s too late.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Championship – Week 10

Back from the 20/20 break and controversy abounds in Division 1, while in Division 2 it’s the battle of the wicketkeepers

Div 1

Starting at New Road where Worcestershire didn’t take on Kent in the game that never was. While having every sympathy with the flood damage cause to New Road, I am amazed that they ever thought that the pitch would be ready for this match. If, as has been suggested, they just wanted to work on the pitch for the limited overs game on the Friday, then sever sanctions need to be taken against Worcester for failing to fulfil the fixture. The decision to replay the match also sets a dangerous precedent and I can understand Martyn Moxon’s frustrations after Yorks and Lancs played out a meaningless draw in less than half the time available on a difficult pitch. We haven’t heard the last of this one.

Meanwhile at the Oval, Surrey began their bid for safety against Durham, bowling the visitors out for just 191, before replying with 243 for a useful lead. Durham didn’t do much better second time round with 204 leaving Surrey 153 to win. Steve Harmison soon had them in trouble with a quick four wickets, but Rikki Clake’s quickfire 68 eventually saw them home and they have Kent in their sights.

The Roses match between Lancashire and Yorkshire was a washout for the first two days, and even when Yorkshire were put into bat, conditions were not conducive to flowing cricket. James Anderson enjoyed the run out though as he took 5 wickets in Yorkshire’s 320. Michael Vaughan top scored with a gritty 74. With things at the top so tight, this was only ever going to be a dash for bonus points, which led to some excitement at the end of the day. With the last ball of the day, Lancs needed 3 runs for an extra batting point, Yorks needed a wicket for an extra bowling point. Stuart Law charged down the wicket to Adil Rashid, missed and was stumped, to give Rashid a 5-fer and Yorkshire remain top.

Lots of time was lost at the Rose Bowl, where two innings were sacrificed in an attempt to secure a positive result. Warwickshire opened up with 353 for 5 before the rains came, Darren Maddy scoring a ton. Hampshire then scored a quick 23-1 (Mike Carberry being the unlucky batsman), Warwicks didn’t bother with their 2nd innings and Hants needed 331 to win, which they got for the loss of 5 wickets, largely thanks to an unbeaten 192 from Carberry. Hampshire stay 6th, but only 2 points behind Lancs in 2nd.

Div 2
With Somerset not playing, Essex and Nottinghamshire had a chance to make some ground at the top of the table. However playing on a pitch that resembled the Taunton wicket from earlier in the season, a draw was inevitable. Batting first, Essex scored a mammoth 700-9 declared with England discard wicketkeeper James Foster scoring a double century and tons for Andy Bichel and Graham Napier. Not to be outdone, Notts replied with an even more mammoth 791 with England discard wicketkeeper Chris Read scoring a double century and tons for Mark Wagh and Samit Patel. The game finished with the rare sight of Chris Read having a bowl but it was enough to take Notts back to the top of the table.

Middlesex’s challenge took a huge step backwards as they were beaten by Derbyshire, who are now only half a point behind their opponents. Batting first Derby scored 340 which gave them a healthy first innings lead as they bowled Middlesex out for 258, with Tom Lungley getting 5-fer. Second time round the Derby batting struggled with Murali Kartik taking 5-fer as they were dismissed for 199, setting Middlesex 281 to win. At 208 for 4, a Middlesex win looked the most likely, but a late order collapse saw Derby home by 15 runs and promotion now looks beyond Middlesex.

Leicestershire took out their 20/20 frustrations on Glamorgan, dismissing the Welshmen for just 268, despite a maiden ton for 19 year old Ben Wright. Leicester took control in their innings, scoring 481 with HD Ackerman, Paul Nixon and Mansoor Amjad getting to three figures. James Harris was again the pick of the Glamorgan bowlers. Second time round, Glamorgan did just enough to make Leicester bat again with 236 despite 5 wickets for Garnett Kruger and Leicester won by 10 wickets – their first win of the season.

Finally to Northamptonshire, where the home side opened with 310; Steve Kirby taking 5-fer. This was enough for a lead of 60 as Gloucestershire scored 250, despite an unbeaten ton from Chris Taylor. Taylor then took 4 wickets as Northants were dismissed for 270 second time round. However, Gloucester never looked like getting close and 6 wickets for Monty Panesar saw Northants home.

England Player Watch
Only a few batsmen in action as the test series gets ready to go. Andrew Strauss got two starts but couldn’t build on them, taking his England form back to Middlesex. Michael Vaughan scored a gritty 74, which may well have been a ton on a drier pitch.

All of the expected bowlers played, although, Matthew Hoggard only had 6 tight overs as Adil Rashid ran the show for Yorkshire. Steve Harmison got a few more overs under his belt and took 7 of the 14 Surrey wickets to fall. Ryan Sidebottom is probably just glad to be away from Chelmsford, having bowled 30 wicketless overs, while Monty Panesar took 9 in total in Northants’ win. James Anderson kept himself in the selector's minds with a 5-fer in the Roses match

Player of the Week
This was nearly a joint award to the two ex-England wicket-keepers who scored double hundred at Chelmsford. However, because his innings forced a positive result and took Hampshire back into the title race, this week’s Player of the Week goes to Mike Carberry.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Who will join Bradman?

The battle for a middle-order spot is exceptionally fierce, with the likes of Tendulkar, Chappell, Compton, Border, Waugh and Walcott not having reached the final 28-man shortlist. Essentially, the question is effectively which two middle-order players will join Don Bradman (at three) and Garfield Sobers (probably at six) who are fundamentally must-picks; their places in the pantheon was illustrated by them receiving 100 and 90 of the 100 votes for Wisden’s Five Cricketers of The Century. No one else received more than 30 votes.

George Headley was often referred to as the ‘Black Bradman’, having played in the same era as The Don, but, crucially, in a much weaker side. He scored 10 Tests in just 22 Tests for his country; during this time, there were just five other 100s scored by Caribbean players. Renowned for playing the ball extremely late, technical excellence and astonishing on-side play, Headley’s pre-war statistics mark him out as perhaps the second best batsman in the game: 9,532 runs in first-class cricket with an average of 72.21; and an average of 67 from his first 19 Test matches. Though he played relatively few Tests, because of the era he played in, these figures were sustained over a decade, proof of his enduring excellence. Out of desperation as much as anything, critics often point to his average of 37 in Australia as evidence of his limitations; but, after failing in his first four innings, Headley, aged just 21, scored two hundreds in the last three Tests and over 1000 runs on tour in all.

Two other modern West Indian batting giants made the shortlist. Viv Richards was as terrifying for the opposition as their plethora of brilliant fast bowlers; with his swagger, arrogance and contempt for ‘playing every ball on its merits’ he could drive bowlers to despair. The Antiguan scored 24 Test hundreds, the most memorable perhaps a superlative 291 at The Oval in 1976, and came to embody the Windies’ relentless dominance of the world game with his sheer power. However, it is worth noting that, out of five nations, he only averaged over 50 against England.

Brian Lara, more or less, followed Richards in the side, which gradually became weaker. Like Headley, he should gain credit for bearing an extra burden, though his average of 53, with 34 hundreds, more than speaks for itself. An enigma until the end, Lara thrilled millions with his flashing blade and ability to take on the world’s best bowlers; yet he also had a Bradmanesque ability to amass gargantuan scores, as his 375, 400* and 501* (the latter for Warwickshire) illustrate. Two series, above all, stand as testament to his greatness: the ‘98/99 one against Australia, when Lara scored three hundreds, including Wisden's second greatest Test innings of all time (see below), 153*, to secure a one-wicket win chasing over 300; and, in ‘01/02, when he scored 688 runs at 114 in Murali’s backyard. Oddly, though, he averaged only 35 against India, though 14 of his 17 Tests against them were at home.

Ricky Ponting was a slightly controversial selection on the shortlist but his 33 hundreds and, especially, an average of 72 in his last 58 Tests, made him impossible to ignore. At only 32, Ponting could yet become an automatic selection in a side such as this; but, his meagre average of 12 in eight Tests in India means there is a slight question mark over his ability against top-class spin in testing conditions. Nonetheless, no one can doubt his relentless scoring of runs, his qualities all round the wicket and his single-minded determination. An innings of 156 at Old Trafford in 2005, made against top-class fast-bowling when Australia were entirely dependent on him, perhaps stands as his finest.

Graeme Pollock
, owing to South Africa’s ban from Test cricket, only played 23 Tests, but still accomplished enough to be a true great of the game. Moreover, his average of 61 is even more impressive when it is considered that his Test career ended when, barely in his 27th year, he was not yet in his prime. Elegant, classical and seemingly unstoppable, Pollock was considered by Bradman to be the best left-hander in cricketing history – above even Sobers – and scored seven Test tons, including a phenomenal 274 against Australia; but, alas, he only played in two more Tests.

Wally Hammond is the sole Englishman in the list. In 77 Tests until 1940, Hammond averaged 61, with 22 hundreds. Of course, he had an excellent technique; but he also had the rare ability to adapt his game it to different conditions. On his first tour to Australia, in 1928/29, for instance, Hammond decided he would be best served scoring primarily in the ‘V’; and was stunningly vindicated with 905 runs at 113. He also had a temperament well-suited to scoring long innings, as his astonishing haul of 36 first-class doublehundreds, six in Tests, is testament to. Hammond was a tremendously powerful player, to supplement his other qualities, a brilliant fielder and an under-rated bowler. The only slight caveat is an average of 35 against the West Indies.

Additional information
The Wisden 100 greatest innings of all time
Regarding the point of playing in weaker sides, it is interesting to note that, as a percentage of team runs, the leading batsmen are Don Bradman (23%), George Headley (21%) and Brian Lara (20%)

Sobers will be analysed amongst the other all-rounders on the shortlist.

Who do you think should join Bradman in the middle-order for the Greatest Test XI of the last century? Leave a comment below.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

In it to win it

Chris Schofield’s call-up to England’s Twenty20 squad should be little surprise, for he has been outstanding in this season’s competition. He took more wickets than anyone else – 17 – in the group stages at an average of 9. But, to those remembering his long-hop infested youth, the most impressive thing was an economy rate of just 6. He has bowled with guile, accuracy, nerve and variation, with his quicker ball proving particularly effective.

While it is unlikely he will make the cut, Schofield deserves to be selected in the final squad, along with Jeremy Snape, ahead of Monty Panesar. Panesar appears too predictable in this form of the game, as his economy rate from seven games – 8.39 – reflects. Moreover, Snape and Schofield are both very useful batsmen, who could bat at eight for England. If Schofield were to play and do well then, bearing in mind his 13 Friends Provident Trophy wickets at 19, he would then have an excellent chance of ODI honours.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether the inclusion of specialists like the two spinners, Darren Maddy, Mal Loye, Luke Wright and Mark Pettini proves deceptive; many still fear that players like Ian Bell and Alistair Cook, with no credentials in this form of the game, will still win selection ahead of them. It is excellent news, though, that Marcus Trescothick is in the 30-man squad (although it is unclear whether he can yet play); along with Flintoff and Pietersen, he could give England three proven hitters as good as any around.

The selectors do deserve credit for ignoring the claims of James Benning. He is continually trumpeted in the media, but his lack of foot movement would be found out by international bowlers, even in this form of the game. However, to omit many of the veterans who have proved so successful in this form of the game, particularly Mark Ramprakash, Mark Ealham and even Darren Gough, is frankly self-defeating.

The simple truth is the Twenty20 World Cup is there to be won – it is surely of at least equal prestige to the Champions Trophy – and England must pick many of the specialists they have named in this squad. They have played more domestic Twenty20 cricket than any other nation and there is no excuse for, at the very least, reaching the semi-finals. A XI picked from the players in this squad could be:
Trescothick, Loye, Pietersen, Shah, Collingwood, Flintoff, Nixon, Bopara, Schofield, Broad, Sidebottom with Maddy, Snape, Mascarenhas and Anderson in reserve

Who would you pick for the Twenty20 World Cup? Leave your views below.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Surrey hint at a resurgance

Surrey’s season has been dire: they went without a win in their seven County Championship games, missed out on qualification in the Friends Provident Trophy and, after losing their last three games, even failed to progress in the Twenty20 Cup for the first time. Yet, after a much-needed first Championship win, over Durham, there is now renewed optimism the club can salvage something from a miserable campaign and stay up in Division One.

Mind the Gap
After cruising to promotion last season, Surrey were soon reminded of the increasing gulf in class between the two divisions; like fellow promoted side Worcestershire, they quickly slipped into the relegation zone. Their problems were manifold. Many pundits had predicted Surrey would score many runs; but they were terribly prone to collapse, overly dependent on their top four and especially the ever-fantastic Mark Ramprakash. The middle-order trio of James Benning, Ali Brown and Rikki Clarke barely contributed a run. Meanwhile, their seam bowling continued – as it has for many years – to lack any penetration; and, unlike last season, their spinners, though good in one-day cricket, were unable to make any impact in the four-day game, with Ian Salisbury looking like a man edging towards retirement. In truth, they looked a side simply not good enough to survive in Division One.

They have only won one game, of course, but it was a most encouraging win against a Durham side including an on-song Steve Harmison. Stewart Walters played a tremendous innings of 70 in the first innings, illustrating the confidence and ability to take on top bowlers – including Harmison – but also good technique and shot selection. It was his first Championship game of the season, in place of the sadly declining Brown, and he is now deserving of an extended run in the side. As Surrey pursued their target of 153 against a fierce onslaught from Harmison, Clarke, averaging 12 before this game, played a decisive counter-attacking knock of 68*, the sort that can kick-start seasons.

Matt Nicholson, a highly competent if uninspiring choice as overseas player, was terrific; bowling just back-of-a-length, he was both consistent and incisive, claiming match figures of 7-81. Harbhajan Singh, wisely signed to replace the ineffectual Azhar Mahmood, bowled reasonably – and, as he gets more overs under his belt, he will be expected to win Surrey games on the flat Oval track. However, he was eclipsed by Chris Schofield, who bowled with flight, accuracy and variations – his quicker ball claimed the wicket of Paul Wiseman.

Schofield's rejuvination
Schofield, though he has done little in the Championship, has been a rare bright spot for Surrey this season, netting 13 wickets at 19 in the Friends Provident Trophy, as well as scoring an excellent 75* against Hampshire, and taking 17 wickets at 9 in the Twenty20 Cup, with an economy rate of just 6. He has bowled with such guile and cool under presure that he was selected in England's initial 30-man squad for the Twenty20 World Cup; and Schofield’s performance against Durham suggests he can transform this form into the Championship, where his spin partnership with Harbhajan could well be crucial.

Problems still remain, most notably in the seam department; save for Nicholson, who will get the wickets? Jade Dernbach offers almost nothing to the side – they would be better off selecting another batsman; the erratic Neil Saker took five wickets at Old Trafford and is probably worth persevering with; Clarke has pace but still bowls far too short; and James Ormond seems permanently injured. One option could be to recall the languid Mohammad Akram – he was very impressive in the FP Trophy and the veteran should, at least, bring a little more control.

After their win over Durham, Surrey now lie just ten points inside the relegation zone. Clearly, they need to find real consistency, but there are promising signs they have turned the corner – and, in Walters, they may just have found the batsman to boost their middle order. But, regardless of how well they bat – and whether Ramprakash can continue his awe-inspiring form of the past 18 months – the key to survival patently lies in whether they can bowl the opposition out twice. To do this, they will need Nicholson to produce more performances like that against Durham, and for the other seamers to improve. But, as the end of the season nears, the onus will be on their spinners – Schofield, perhaps Doshi or Salisbury and, above all, Harbhajan.

Monday, 9 July 2007

The Battle of the Openers

The opening candidates are Jack Hobbs, Herbert Sutcliffe, Sunil Gavaskar and Len Hutton.

In 38 innings opening together, Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe averaged 88 runs per partnership. Even with the abundance of facile runs on offer in modern Test cricket, this record is likely to remain forever unsurpassed.

Of the two, it is Hobbs, despite his slightly inferior average, whose name is the more resonant today. His elegant style has come to symbolise ideals of English batsmanship; this, compounded with his world record 197 first-class centuries and innate decency – he is associated with quintessentially English values of fair play and sportsmanship, meant he was the first ever professional cricketer to receive a knighthood.

Hobbs’ Test career spanned an extraordinary 22 years, during which time he scored 15 centuries in his 61 Tests, earning success in all conditions – even the notoriously difficult sticky wickets - through the quality of his technique and regal stroke play. If there is a criticism, it is that he too seldom converted his hundreds into gargantuan scores.

His partner Sutcliffe has been far less romanticised; he shared Hobbs’ technical prowess, but, although certainly not inelegant, his runs were accumulated in a less aesthetically pleasing manner.

The Yorkshireman may not have looked so patently great as, say, Hobbs; but he was fiercely resolute, courageous and skilful – and a fine team man to boot. A man never flustered by pitch or opposition, Sutcliffe was described by Wisden as “an artist of the dead bat”. His ability to deliver in the trickiest conditions, and under the most pressure, is legendary; a knock of 135 to help England to their victory target of 332 in Melbourne in 1928/29 must rank amongst the finest in Test cricket. Above all though, he was a man of sustained brilliant performances: during his first 40 Tests, before he declined upon hitting 38, Sutcliffe averaged an astounding 70.

Sunil Gavaskar shared Sutcliffe’s near-perfect technique and powers of concentration, and scored 34 Test hundreds, until very recently the record. A key criterion of selection is “how players fared during the toughest challenges of their Test careers”; and, against the West Indies, Gavaskar was, easily, the outstanding player of his generation. His record of 13 centures in 27 Tests at an average of 65 – including seven hundreds in the Carribean – is testament to his ability against the very finest fast bowling. Though regarded as a stoic player, Gavaskar was also capable of tremendous strokeplay.

Another Yorkshireman, Len Hutton, broke Don Bradman’s Test record score in scoring 364 at The Oval in 1938, at the age of just 22. Before he declined markedly in his last nine Tests, he averaged close to 62; this is even more impressive considering he did not play Test cricket between the ages of 23 and 30, when he would surely have been in his prime. Like Hobbs, Hutton was a fusion of technical excellence and gloriously elegant strokeplay. He was a very fine captain in his later years; with the bat, he succeeded in all circumstances, most notably averaging 88 in England’s 4-1 Ashes defeat of 50/51, against an attack of Lindwall, Johnston, Miller and Iverson.

Who do you think should be the opening partnership in the Greatest Test XI of the last hundred years? Leave a comment below.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

England ODI Ratings

After cruising to victory in the Test series against the West Indies, England suffered an ignominious defeat in the one-day series. They learned little new and, depressingly, there was little sign of perennial problems being rectified. Here is how they rated in the ODIs:

Alastair Cook 4
So impressive in the Test series, Cook seemed unsure of how to approach the shorter game. His ability to find the boundary was encouraging; but his inability to get off strike shows he has much work to do in this form of the game, though he must not be discarded.

Matt Prior 6
Opening the batting, Prior displayed impressive shot selection and was not, as some had feared, too rash, showing he could adapt his game depending on circumstances.

Ian Bell 5
Bell made a crucial 56 in the first game, and certainly has the qualities to thrive in ODIs. His problem is not so much his relatively slow scoring, but his apparent incapability of scoring a truly decisive knock.

Kevin Pietersen 2
Five failures, including in the Twenty20, served to highlight England’s unhealthy reliance on his brilliant batting.

Owais Shah 8
Shah scored a superb 55* in the second Twenty20 game and, from tricky situations, scored at least 40 in each ODI. His unorthodoxy, flair and sheer class are certainly meriting of a regular spot in the shorter formats.

Paul Collingwood 4
Collingwood was disappointing all round, though there is no need to panic yet. He averaged only 17 with the bat; his bowling was below par; and his captaincy looked uncertain during the last two ODIs. Collingwood’s decision to move himself from backward point was understandable, but, in future, he really must return there, where he can make such a difference.

Michael Yardy 5
International class? Probably not – Yardy’s darts may have been accurate, albeit unthreatening, but his batting is patently incapable of worrying the opposition: he is far too easy to tie down.

Dimitri Mascarenhas 6
Mascarenhas went wicketless but went for a frugal 3.50 an over with his intelligent wicket-to-wicket bowling, displaying control the envy of the young quicks. However, he was picked as an all-rounder and barely scored a run in the ODIs.

Liam Plunkett 7
Recalled after leading Durham to the Friends Provident Trophy Final, Plunkett clearly has much work still to do but he was England’s best seamer, taking five wickets in 20 overs, though consistency is still palpably lacking.

James Anderson 5
Anderson seems to have become undroppable in England’s ODI side, though he is too often wayward. As a new-ball bowler, he is adequate; but he is cannon fodder later on (he went for 47 in 3 overs in the second ODI) and is certainly not the answer to England’s death-bowling problems.

Stuart Broad 5
Broad was outstanding in the first game, taking 3-20, only to get progressively worse in the last two games. There is no doubting the beanpole’s promise – but some more county cricket would not go amiss.

Monty Panesar 5
Panesar was mystifyingly dropped for the second game and under-used in the third. Though his ODI performances have flattered to deceive to date, the left-armer should be of great use as a middle-over container.

Ryan Sidebottom 5
Sidebottom took 2-56 in the nine overs he bowled before, a little unfairly, being dropped for the decider. However, his exceptional performance in the second Twenty20 game shows he could have the control and cunning England so dearly need in one-day cricket.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Greatest Test XI

This is the revised final 28-man shortlist:

Opening batsmen (4):
Len Hutton, Jack Hobbs, Herbert Sutcliffe, Sunil Gavaskar

Middle-order batsmen (7):
George Headley, Brian Lara, Viv Richards, Don Bradman, Wally Hammond, Ricky Ponting, Graeme Pollock

Wicket-keepers (2):
Adam Gilchrist, Les Ames

Allrounders (3):
Imran Khan, Keith Miller, Gary Sobers

Spinners (4):
Shane Warne, Bill O’Reilly, Muttiah Muralitharan, Jim Laker

Fast bowlers (8):
Dennis Lillee, Ray Lindwall, Malcolm Marshall, Curtley Ambrose, Fred Trueman, Glenn McGrath, Alan Davidson, Richard Hadlee

The changes are Gilchrist in for Andy Flower, on account of his fantastic ability to seize a game from number seven (and his superior keeping), Laker for Derek Underwood, due to his outstanding average (just 21) and superlative 1956 Ashes series, and Trueman for Wasim Akram (just), as reward for his indefatigable excellence.

The next stage will be to analysis each facet of the list, which will begin in a few days.