Friday, 31 August 2007

How does Prior stack up?

There is a worrying trend throughout world cricket of trying to find the next Adam Gilchrist, or the wicket keeper who can bat at three like Kumar Sangakkara. This is often to the detriment of keeping standards, but even more worrying, to the development of promising careers. People are constantly searching for instant successes. When Adam Gilchrist debuted for Australia in 1996/1997 he averaged 24.16 in One Day Internationals from his first 8 innings. He didn’t go on to make his Test debut for another three years. That was hardly indicative of what was to come. Yet he was afforded time to develop his obvious talent and became the leading Wicket Keeper of all time according to most, as indicated by the poll currently being run on this website. In England we are constantly searching for the next Gilchrist, ever comparing the current incumbent’s performances to those of the great man. Since the beginning of 2006 England have shifted from Geraint Jones to Chris Read, back to Geraint Jones, back to Chris Read, to Paul Nixon and finally to Matt Prior and yet still the masses want more change. The next instant success on the county trail is quickly talked up to insurmountable heights, prepped for their fall. There surely is a lesson to be learnt. Look at England’s patchy record during that time and inconsistency does most certainly not breed success in any form of the game. At this point it is worth considering the records of the Wicket Keepers from the ten major cricketing nations:

Adam Gilchrist – Australia

Tests 90 129 19 5353 204* 48.66 6505 82.29 17 24 652 97 344 37
ODIs 268 261 10 9038 172 36.00 9351 96.65 15 50 1099 136 388 51

Kumar Sangakkara – Sri Lanka

Tests 67 110 9 5492 287 54.37 9865 55.67 14 22 735 18 147 20
ODIs 203 187 23 5866 138* 35.76 7882 74.42 6 40 585 27 183 52

Mark Boucher – South Africa

Tests 102 145 18 3844 125 30.26 7540 50.98 4 25 481 14 376 16
ODIs 250 183 44 3980 147* 28.63 4694 84.78 1 25 304 72 351 18

Brendon McCullum – New Zealand

Tests 25 39 3 1157 143 32.13 1839 62.91 2 6 145 10 64 6
ODIs 114 90 19 1636 86* 23.04 1978 82.70 0 6 126 40 134 11

Mahendra Singh Dhoni – India

Tests 20 32 4 1019 148 36.39 1397 72.94 1 6 130 23 53 10
ODIs 81 72 19 2368 183* 44.67 2447 96.77 3 13 196 70 75 20

Kamran Akmal – Pakistan

Tests 33 55 4 1521 154 29.82 2444 62.23 4 5 227 2 108 18
ODIs 68 59 9 1253 124 25.06 1519 82.48 3 2 147 8 60 11

Dinesh Ramdin - West Indies

Tests 19 34 5 704 71 24.27 1537 45.80 0 5 95 1 49 2
ODIs 37 28 8 444 74* 22.20 553 80.28 0 2 44 1 51 2

Mushfiqur Rahim – Bangladesh

Tests 4 8 1 125 80 17.85 344 36.33 0 1 15 1 1 0
ODIs 25 19 5 346 57 24.71 644 53.72 0 2 23 3 18 6

Tatenda Taibu – Zimbabwe

Tests 24 46 3 1273 153 29.60 3110 40.93 1 9 154 5 48 4
ODIs 87 74 16 1582 107* 27.27 2452 64.51 1 7 111 18 79 8

Matthew Prior – England

Tests 7 12 2 397 126* 39.70 612 64.86 1 2 50 4 20 0
ODIs 19 19 0 417 52 21.94 586 71.16 0 1 53 2 19 1

Prior currently has a lopsided record favouring Test Match performances. If his ODI performances since his instalment as England’s wicket keeper are looked at separately, discounting when he was played as a batsman only in Zimbabwe in 2004 and on the subcontinent in 2005/2006, then his current ODI average as wicket keeper is 25.28. People will doubtless mock that figure and it is not fantastic. However, it is worth comparing that figure to others. All of a sudden the realisation sets in that Prior is holding his own in the One Day game compared to the likes of Mark Boucher, Brendon McCullum, Kamran Akmal, Dinesh Ramdin, Mushfiqur Rahim and Tatenda Taibu. Only the special talents of Adam Gilchrist, Kumar Sangakkara and the One Day specialist that is Mahendra Singh Dhoni are far ahead of Prior and one would find it hard to argue that Dhoni is a better wicket keeper than Prior. So at the start of his ODI career as England’s keeper, Prior is far from spectacular, but hardly abysmal, in comparison to 6 of the other 9 International wicket keepers.

Moving on to his Test record and that stacks up very well in comparison. Only the phenomenal Adam Gilchrist and Kumar Sangakkara are ahead of Prior. He outdoes the likes of Mark Boucher and Brendon McCullum currently by quite a distance and is even ahead of the famed Dhoni. Of course McCullum and Boucher are better keepers, probably the best in the world and the second best. However, there is no reason why Prior can not better their achievements with the bat in International cricket and perform to an acceptable standard with the gloves, especially if his ODI keeping performances can be transferred back into the Test arena. If Prior is not to succeed in the role of England’s Wicket Keeper, then in the future it will be worth considering the records of the World’s other International Wicket Keepers before expecting so much of yet another newcomer to International cricket. Gilchrist and Sangakkara are exceptional Wicket Keeper Batsmen, who will never in all likelihood be matched. We should instead be looking for our own Boucher or McCullum and Matt Prior could still be he.

Chris Pallett

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Broad and Bopara: England's future

The nerveless 99-run partnership between Stuart Broad and Ravi Bopara to secure an incredible victory for England contained much for fans to be excited about. The two youngest players in the side eschewed risk, and played with skill, calm and, above all, common sense. In all probability, their brilliant partnership has secured the one-day series.

Broad and Bopara embody the new England ODI era: they are young, fearless cricketers who can contribute in all three disciplines of the game. Bopara, of course, scored a tremendous, valiant 52 in England’s exhilarating World Cup loss to Sri Lanka, displaying a fine, if slightly unorthodox, technique and a relish for the big occasion. He is capable of constructing larger innings, too, and averages 62 for Essex in the championship this season. Bopara's bowling is not yet as good as Paul Collingwood's but, with 15 wickets at 23 in domestic one-dayers this season and a yorker learned from Darren Gough, he should one day be a useful fourth seamer in Tests and good enough to regularly bowl 10 overs on ODIs.

Yet Broad could be even more pivotal for the England side in the next few years. The Man of the Match has formed a terrific opening partnership with the improved James Anderson this series, and today took a career best 4-51. He uses his 6ft6in frame to get good bounce and pace in the mid-80s, generates significant movement off the seam, is aggressive and is constantly improving his control.

With the new white ball, he has done very well. Though he has sometimes proved too profligate bowling towards the end of the innings, and may be better off bowling out before the final slog, Broad is also working on his variety, as his superb yorker to Yuvraj Singh illustrated. Crucially, however, Broad is learning to walk before he can run – credit to both himself and the team management – unlike Sajid Mahmood, say.

So the maturity displayed by Broad and Bopara bodes very well for the future of England’s limited-overs and Test sides alike; both will surely make their Test debuts within the next twelve months or so. Broad already looks a good enough batsman to fill the problem position of number eight in the Test team and, given that he also made 40* and 91* in his last championship game for Leicestershire, could one day bat higher still.

Yet their outstanding partnership should not detract from the woeful display of England’s top order. It was a performance bereft of any coherent thinking; virtually the entire top order got themselves out though, as Broad and Bopara showed, all that was required was sensible accumulation. Of particular concern is the continued batting travails of Andrew Flintoff, who, in his desperation to impose himself on the opposition has lost all selectivity with the bat. He could certainly learn much from the disciplined accumulation exhibited by Broad and Bopara.

Greatest Test XI

To continue our Greatest Test XI of the last century we pick our number four.

Wally Hammond came to epitomise the ideal of elegant English batsmanship. Had it not been for Bradman, he would now be recognised as the finest middle-order player Test cricket has ever known, possessing supreme talent and aesthetic value, particularly in his cover-drive.

Physically, Hammond was a powerful and imposing sight; this, aided by his masterful timing, meant he could reach the boundary with apparent minimal effort, as he did during his incredible five hour 336* against New Zealand in 1933. His athleticism was such that he was amongst the finest slip fielders of all time; and as a quick bowler, he claimed 732 first-class wickets and could be devastating when conditions offered help. In truth though, he did not maximise his bowling potential because of the importance to the side of his batting.

In 77 Tests until 1940, Hammond averaged 61, with 22 hundreds, numbers that are testament to his quality. He temperament was such that he was exceptional at converting starts, making almost as many centuries as fifties in both his Test and first-class career and an astonishing 36 first-class double hundreds (second only to Bradman, who has 37). Though well capable of accelerating, he was happy to eschew risk and build marathon innings.

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, still the second highest series run aggregate in the history of the game.

Hammond’s Wisden obituary referred to an ‘almost Olympian aloofness’, and he was a famously moody character. Yet nothing can detract from a man whose range of cricketing gifts make him perhaps England’s finest ever player.

The side so far: Sutcliffe, Hutton, Bradman, Hammond

Share your views on Hammond and the side by leaving a comment below.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Prior's big month

These are a crucial few weeks for Matt Prior. After a harrowing two Tests, in which his stock regressed alarmingly, he has had a reasonable start to the one-day series with bat and gloves, taking several fine catches. The trouble is, his impact at the top of the order has been limited to a few breezy cameos ended by rash, injudicious shots.

After 18 ODIs batting in the top order – normally opening – Prior’s average is a meagre 23. Worse, his strike-rate is just 71, hardly Gilchrist-esuqe. On 11 occasions, he has reached 19 but, unlike other aggressive openers, he has yet to play anything like a match-defining innings. Against high-class swing bowling, Prior appears to have problems, as illustrated by a pair of torturous innings against the second new-ball in the Tests.

This, compounded by wicket-keeping that many feel is the wrong side of acceptable at international level, regardless of his batting aptitude, means his place is under real pressure. Tim Ambrose was released from Sussex because, although his wicket-keeping was perceived to be superior to Prior’s, his batting was not as good, yet he has been in brilliant form in all cricket this campaign; in ODIs, he would be an excellent option in the middle order for ODIs and Tests alike. Flavour of the month Phil Mustard’s belligerent hitting for Durham opening the innings would surely be a better option to Prior if the selectors were keen for their keeper to open in limited-overs cricket, while James Foster and Chris Read also have good cases for selection.

But Prior will be granted the next four one-dayers and the Twenty20 World Cup with which to prove he has the batting and keeping ability to thrive at international level. If he fails, his Test place could go too – and he will go down as a man who impressed fleetingly then, like Geraint Jones before him but at a much faster rate, did not deliver sufficiently with bat or gloves.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Greatest Test XI

To continue our Greatest Test XI of the last century, we reveal our number three.

The statistician Charles Davis recently compared the legends of all major sports. Pele came second on 3.7, but Bradman, on 4.4, was way clear of the field. He averages more than half as much again as any other Test batsman who has played at least 20 innings; indeed, the difference (39 runs per innings) alone is more than many good Test players managed.

The legend of Bradman is well known amongst cricketing enthusiasts; the ‘boy from the bush’ who practised by hitting a cricket ball with a solitary stump and emerged as an Australian icon when the country was in the midst of the Depression. Yet, because his numbers defied all belief, it has been his fate that they have come to characterise him, in a way they do not with other legends of the game.

In fact, besides the numbers, Bradman is best remembered for his part in the Bodyline series, partly because it was such a surprise he went from unbelievable to merely outstanding, averaging 56 as his side fell to a 4-1 defeat. When Bradman batted for Australia, runs – and records – were a big story; but, for their rarity, failures, were even more of one. So, ironically, his most famous innings is his duck in his final Test; not any number of gargantuan ones prior to that, including 334 for Australia, 452* for New South Wales or several epics in Australia’s 3-2 Ashes triumph of 1936/37, coming back from 2-0 down.

He simply never tired of batting, recording 29 hundreds in just 80 innings; equally impressively, 16 of these were over 150. Of course, the numbers can never tell the story of his remarkable balance at the crease, his complete mastery of the art of batting, or his insatiable desire for runs and meticulousness in all he did. But a mere glance at them reveals what a batting giant he was. As the best batsman in the side he will, naturally, take his place at number three.

The side so far: Sutcliffe, Hutton, Bradman

Share your views on the side by leaving a comment below.

Championship – Week 17

At last, the weather works for Yorkshire and against Sussex. It’s all very close at the top and bottom of Div 1 while in Div 2, Notts put themselves in pole position.

Div 1

Surrey and Sussex met in a game which was critical to both teams at either end of the table. However, the four day drizzle affecting the South East of England last week meant that no play was possible. Surrey keep pace with Kent in the battle to stay up while Sussex drop down to second in the table.

Yorkshire took full advantage of Sussex’s misfortune with a comprehensive win over Warwickshire. Batting first on the normally placid Scarborough pitch, the Bears were skittled for 129, with Matthew Hoggard marking his return with four wickets. Yorkshire then amassed 561 for 7 declared, Jacques Rudolph scoring a double hundred and Tim Bresnan getting his second championship ton of the season. Hoggard and Darren Gough then reduced Warwickshire to 31 for 7 before Tim Ambrose’s unbeaten 89 brought some respectability in a total of 222, Gough taking 5-fer. Yorkshire won by an innings and a lot and are back on top.

Rain affected Lancashire and Hampshire’s efforts to make up ground at the top of the table. Hants batted first scoring 393 with Sean Ervine getting a ton, putting on 80 for the last two wickets with James Bruce (1) and David Griffiths (0). Lancs then declared on 403 for 8, with Luke Sutton and Paul Horton both scoring tons. Potentially more critical to the end of season race was Shane Warne fracturing a rib, which threatens to end his season early. Hants only had time to reach 111 for 2 by the end of play.

The bottom of the table battle was also curtailed, and after 3 days of rain Kent and Worcestershire played a one innings game. Kent scored 293 for 3 with Rob Key and Martin Van Jaarseveld scoring tons. However, this didn’t leave enough time to force a result and both teams came away with four points when both really needed a lot more.

Yorkshire are back on top of the table, but have played a game more than Sussex in second and two games more than Hants, Lancs and Durham in 3rd, 4th and 5th. Any of these could still come out on top. However, with Sussex and Hants left as their last two games, Yorkshire have their destiny in their hands. Hants look to have the easiest run in, but the loss of Warne could be crucial. At the bottom, it looks to be between Kent and Surrey for the second relegation place, although Warwickshire’s loss of form means that they are not out of the equation yet.

Div 2
A tight game at Trent Bridge saw Nottinghamshire bowl Northamptonshire out for 285, with Mark Davies, on loan from Durham, taking 7 wickets. Notts replied two runs shy of that, before bowling Northants out for 229, leaving themselves 231 to clinch a crucial win. A vital 8th wicket partnership between Graeme Swann and Andre Adams of 38 saw them home by 2 wickets to keep them well clear of Essex and Middlesex in the battle for the second promotion spot.

Essex managed to contrive a win against Leicestershire, despite only scoring 191 in their first innings, Jerome Taylor taking 5 wickets. Leicester then declared on 52 for 2, and Essex scored a rapid 151 from 14 overs (against the part time bowling of Tom New and John Sadler) to set Leicester a target of 290 to win. This was 114 too many and Essex keep their challenge alive.

Also still challenging are Middlesex who declared on 305 for 7 against Gloucestershire, before bowling them out for 163. Middlesex then scored a rapid 120 for 2 (unlike Essex, though, this was against Gloucester’s front line bowling attack) to set Gloucester 260. Resolute batting second time round from Gloucester denied Middlesex the win. However, with a game in hand and Notts still to come to Lords, they still have a chance to make up on lost ground.

Glamorgan started well against Derbyshire, bowling the visitors out for 206, with Robert Croft taking 5 wickets. The Welshmen then took a first innings lead, scoring 225. Croft went one better second time round, taking 6 wickets as Derby scored 287, setting Glamorgan 268 to register their second win of the season. However, despite a ton for Gareth Rees, they lost their last 6 wickets for just 12 runs and Derby ran out winners by 42 runs, Ant Botha and Tom Lungley doing the damage with 5 and 3 wickets respectively.

Somerset could confirm their promotion this week at home to Glamorgan. However, the battle for the second spot could also be a lot clearer this week as Notts go to Middlesex, while Essex will be hoping for a draw at Lords and a win for themselves at Derby. Intriguingly, if it goes to the last game of the season, Somerset host Notts, while Middlesex visit Essex.

England player watch
Michael Vaughan managed just five runs for Yorkshire. Andrew Strauss did a bit better with 75 and 36 for Middlesex. Bowling-wise, the return of Matthew Hoggard brought 8 wickets.

Player of the Week
Jacques Rudolph played the stand out innings, with his 220 in Yorkshire’s win over Warwickshire. However, the Player of the Week is the latest player to try to stem the Notts injury jinx. I’m not sure why he’s not getting in the Durham team, but with 7 first innings wickets, along with a crucial unbeaten 35 to keep Notts title challenge alive, the Player of the Week is Mark Davies.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Greatest Test XI

The competition amongst the openers to feature in this notional side was immensely tough; so tough that I have decided to leave out one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of The Century. Sir Jack Hobbs is, of course, incredibly unfortunate not to have been selected, and his non-selection perhaps rather arbitrary. However, for all he has been eulogized, a large part of this was due to the manner in which he came to personify a golden age of cricket. Despite Hobbs' phenomenal tally of 197 first-class centuries, and the style in which he made them, I have opted to select Herbert Sutcliffe – perhaps the opener one would most like to have bat for one's life – and the brilliant Sir Len Hutton.

The circumstances of Hutton’s career are remarkable. Like Hobbs's, his career was fragmented by a World War, to which he lost many of the best years of his career – from 23 (just after his then world-record 364) to 30. Yet the raw facts of his career, without taking this into account, are still astonishing. He averaged 62 over his first 70 Tests, playing in a manner that combined the elegance and aesthetic appeal of Denis Compton with the levels of concentration and technical faultlessness of Sutcliffe.

Above all, Hutton had complete mastery of he art of batting, and a temperament able to adapt to his side’s needs; he was adept at both eschewing risk and seizing the initiative, depending on his side’s needs. Crowds were wowed with the sheer elegance of his batting; but, Hutton often lifted himself in adversity. His dexterity against spin was illustrated by an outstanding 202*, out of 344, against the West Indians Ramadhin and Valentine; and the Ashes series of ‘50/51, when England fell to a 4-1 defeat against Miller, Lindwall et al, but he averaged 88, was testament to his quality in the trickiest circumstances. To top it all of, Hutton was a superb captain, of immense value to the side even when his batting declined, as when he regained the Ashes in ‘54/55.

Bill O’Reilly, writing on Len Hutton in 1950, encapsulated his virtues: “His footwork is as light and sure and confident as Bradman's ever was…He is the finished player now…his control of the game is masterful”.

Am I wrong to leave out the legendary Hobbs and Sunil Gavaskar, who was so outstanding against the West Indies? Or have I, perhaps, made the best of an impossible situation? Share your views by leaving a comment below.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Greatest Test XI

It is finally time to reveal our Greatest Test XI. We will be revealing - and explaining - our selections over the coming weeks, beginning with the side's first opener.

Splitting the four openers in the final shortlist was a near impossible task – each had an outstanding case for selection; but none were irrefutably worthy of it.

However, based on my criteria – exceptional performances “over an extended period of time” – it would be wrong to ignore the claims of Herbert Sutcliffe, who averaged 70 over his first 40 Tests. His first claim to fame was forming one half of the finest opening partnership in the history of the game, along with Jack Hobbs – in 38 innings, they averaged an astonishing 88 together; they are to the rest what Don Bradman is to every other Test batsman. But the junior partner soon established himself as a phenomenon in his own right.

Sutcliffe’s greatness was not as palpable as that of his opening partner, but his technique and levels of concentration were simply astounding. He was courageous, single-minded and mentally resolute in the archetypal Yorkshire mode, but could never be accused of selfishness; rather, Sutcliffe excelled himself when the side most needed him.

His success in the most testing conditions, such as his brilliant 135 to lead England’s chase of 332 at Melbourne in 1928/29, was testament to his mental and technical fortitude and ability against both pace and spin. But, clearly, a wide range of shots are needed to score Sutcliffe’s sheer volume of runs; when team needs dictated, he was an expansive player, and, on a turning wicket, once hit 10 6s in an innings of 113. He was, without doubt, a less obtrusive run-gatherer than Hobbs. Yet, in terms of his value to the side, especially in the trickiest circumstances, Sutcliffe was at least his equal; his Ashes deeds, including six centuries in Australia, were breathtaking. As so often, Wisden put it best, describing him as “the artist of the dead bat”.

What are your thoughts on Sutcliffe's selection? Share your views by leaving a comment below.

Coming of Age

England’s resounding victory over India at the Rose Bowl on Tuesday was not just important for morale, it also saw the emergence of two of England’s most promising batsmen as One Day International players. Both Alastair Cook and Ian Bell brought up their first centuries for England in One Day Internationals. They were two vastly different innings though and Bell was the main man in the partnership which the two shared. From the moment he strode to the crease he demonstrated the body language of a man who was in control, who knew what he wanted to achieve and how he was going to go about it. He used his crease and feet brilliantly against the spinners and he offered a chanceless innings, importantly seeing it through to the end. Playing on the centre pitch at the Rose Bowl meant that there were fairly deep boundaries on either side of the wicket and Bell used this to his advantage, superbly placing the ball between fielders in order to turn ones into twos. When the run rate seemed static he stepped up to the plate and found the boundary, once with a glorious straight six. He also finished with a healthy strike rate of more than a run a ball, a great achievement.

Ian Bell unleashes a pull shot for four off Zaheer Khan

It has taken Bell a long time to register his first tonne for England in this form of the game, this was his forty-eighth match. However, the manner of his innings suggests that it will not be his last and that now that he has broken his duck he can push on and cement his place in the side for the next decade. Bell has always had the quality to be a very good played indeed at International level. It has always been the mental side of his game which has needed the most work. As he matures with age though he looks a calm, composed and complete player and there will be many more hundreds to come from him.

Alistair Cook clips to leg for a single

Cook on the other hand registered three figures in just his sixth One Day International, most impressive. However, he did struggle to regularly find the boundary and unlike Bell played the spinners with less certainty, a pre-meditated sweep appearing on the occasions when he did score, a sign that he has been working with Andy Flower no doubt. In fact, during one over Cook struggled to score against the spin of Piyush Chawla. Showing his growing confidence in the team, Bell strode down the wicket and spoke to Cook, the very next ball out came the sweep and the strike was rotated once more. Cook will though continue to develop and learn and once he has more confidence in hitting over the top in the latter half of the innings he will be a more complete One Day player. He is certainly worth persisting with, especially if he continues to take catches like this:

The success of Cook and Bell was not all good news though. The exclusion of Owais Shah was a slightly puzzling move from England, after he had been the main success story to emerge from the games against the West Indies earlier in the summer. He has shown that he can succeed at this level and play a very important role for England during the middle overs, with his wristy play of both pace and spin alike, along with his explosive hitting. One solution would be to bring him in for Dimitri Mascarenhas, whose overs could probably be bowled by Ravi Bopara, who has been criminally underbowled and Paul Collingwood. By dropping Matt Prior down the order and moving Bell and Kevin Pietersen up, England could fit Shah in at number four. The alternative would be to drop Cook and open with Bell, but that would be a shame. One thing which Tuesday did prove, is that England do have a capable top order, that they can win without a major knock from Pietesen and that perhaps Pietersen should be coming in at number three, to maximise his effectiveness throughout the innings.

Chris Pallett

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Championship Week 16

Bit late and quite short this week as I’m moving house. Finally a win for Worcestershire, while the weather continues to frustrate those chasing Sussex at the top.

Division 1
had the chance to go top, if only for 24 hours as they took on Surrey a day earlier than the other two Div 1 matches. They started nervously and were indebted to 81 from Shivnarine Chanderpaul to get to 232. However, this was enough for a first innings lead, with Surrey being bowled out for 183. Durham did better second time round and declared on 397 for 7. Surrey never looked like going for it and a ton for Jon Batty meant that they secured a comfortable draw and Durham stay 3rd.

They do close the gap on Yorkshire, who having lost ground on Sussex in recent weeks needed to be aggressive against bottom team Worcestershire. They started reasonably, scoring 319 with Adil Rashid getting his maiden ton. Worcester avoided the follow on but then declared on 172 for 5 in the hope of forcing a result. Despite being reduced to 10 for 4 by Kabir Ali, Jacques Rudolph and Rashid again were able to set Worcester 337 to win, which they got for the loss of just four wickets, Ben Smith finishing unbeaten on 98 at nearly a run a ball.

Kent travelled to Warwickshire needing to do better than Surrey to pull out of the relegation places. They bowled the Bears out for 213 before reaching 400 for 4 declared (153 for Rob Key). Unfortunately the weather meant that no more was possible, but the bonus points took Kent back above Surrey.

Division 2
Just the two games in Division 2 with no more than a scramble for bonus points possible in either. Somerset bowled out Glamorgan for 198 before reaching 400 for 6 for maximum bonus points. Justin Langer scored a ton. Meanwhile Middlesex also declared on 400 (for 9 in this case) with Owais Shah and Ed Joyce both hitting tons. In reply Northamptonshire reached 335 for 9 when the game ran out of time.

Player of the Week
A good week for two players on the fringes of England selection with Rob Key and Owais Shah both scoring 150+. However, both were in effectively dead matches. For the innings that took Worcester to their first win of the season, this week’s Player of the Week is Ben Smith

Monday, 20 August 2007

What does the Indian Cricket League mean?

The announcement that the Indian Cricket League have recruited Inzaman and Mohammad Yousuf shows it has real potential. While it is hardly a start to rival that of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket it is a start nonetheless; Inzaman and Yousuf are both Pakistani greats, with the latter amongst the finest Test batsmen in the world today.

Yet, except for those two, there are no earth-shattering names amongst the list of 50; Yousuf is the sole household name still in his prime. We still know little of the venture, only that, in its first year, it will comprise a 40-day Twenty20 tournament. But there still aren’t enough players to fill the proposed six sides; and, with India playing against Australia (home and away) and Pakistan this autumn, they have not picked a particularly opportune moment to start the league up.

Kapil Dev and Tony Greig would surely not have given their names to it had they felt it was bereft of promise; but it is all shrouded in mystery. Most international players earn copious sums nowadays, though perhaps some will feel they still do not receive the share of the total revenue they deserve; the situation is little like that of 1977, when superstars lacked fair remuneration for the gifts.

That said, Hamish Marshall recently opted for county cricket over New Zealand, as he would earn more than from his central contract. Oddly, however, there are no Kiwis (at least as yet) on the list. While current players from England, Australia and probably India (players’ earnings from endorsements would fall hugely if they stopped playing nationally) would seem to be out of reach, there is hope they will be able to sign up players from less lavishly endowed nations. Yet WSC simultaneously signed dozens of internationals - and they were Derek Underwoods rather than Nicky Bojes.

What the organizers clearly believe is there is a huge market for domestic cricket, and it is a much more marketable product than currently appears, especially in India, where a solid journeyman makes a pittance. Perhaps they are right; but will cricket fans really switch over from India-Australia to watch domestic sides?

In the early stages players will be motivated almost solely by money. The same could have been said for WSC, which ultimately produced some riveting cricket – but there were Australian and West Indian national teams participating rather than a hodgepodge of Indian youngsters and players who failed to make the grade internationally, mixed in with the odd big name. The Indian Cricket League may impact upon how the game is run in India – probably a good thing – but seriously needs more stars in their prime to justify comparisons with Packer.

Greatest Test XI

With the final selection coming ever nearer, I thought it a good idea to clarify the rules of the exercise. Firstly, to be eligible for my side (and shortlist), all candidates must have played a minimum of 20 Tests so there is substantial evidence of a player's durability in Tests, rather than conjecture based on excellence in first-class cricket. Secondly, the title is perhaps a little deceptive: it is the greatest XI of the last hundred years, so all players must have made their debuts in 1908 or later, and are judged on performances up to and until the present day.

Candidates are selected on their performances over an extended period of time but certain players' statistics were damaged by poor performances at the beginning or end of their careers, and this must be taken into account. We should assume players operate at their 'peak' - but this must have been not merely a series or two but a significant duration of their careers.

Statistics are obviously hugely significant, but not overly so - there will be no hesitation in selecting, say, a batsman with a lower average than someone else on the list not included. Particularly important is how players fared during the toughest challenges of their Test careers - it is for this reason that Sir Ian Botham, although he averaged 38 with the bat and 23 with the ball during his first 54 Tests, has been omitted: he was consistently poor against the best side of his era, the West Indies, averaging 15 and 31 during this time span and 21 and 35 overall.

The final XI will be a balanced side with the tools to thrive in all conditions so, for instance, the side would not include four swing bowlers even if they were the best four quicks of all time. This notional side will play on an unknown wicket - which means players must have proved themselves in a variety of conditions and, ultimately, those who did best in the trickiest conditions they faced will be in a better position to be selected.

In the meantime, do take a look at my pieces analysing the 28-man shortlist and check out the XIs of Times cricket writer Patrick Kidd and fellow contributor Nick Gammons.

If anyone else wishes to contribute to the debate, with an XI or a particular area of analysis, please email cricketingworld(at) We will be selecting our Greatest Test XI very shortly.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Key making a strong England case

Rob Key’s name has slightly been forgotten this season, while astute judges have been busy purring about his hugely promising opening partner Joe Denly. But the Kent skipper has been most impressive, playing a pivotal role in his side’s Twenty20 Cup victory and averaging 50 in Division One of the County Championship.

Key’s talent and tenacity has been evident over his 15 Tests for his country but, too often, he has fallen to reckless misjudgments outside off-stump or, worse, to innocuous part-timers. Though he made a superb 221 against the West Indies in 2004, he could have few complaints about being discarded after the tour of South Africa in 2004/05; he made an 83 but played too many injudicious shots, and had technical deficiencies outside off-stump exposed by Shaun Pollock.

Key played a huge role in Kent’s Twenty20 Cup triumph; he now appears more phlegmatic, and increasingly adapt at pacing run chases. This was clearly in evidence during his four 50s (from just six innings) in this season’s competition; he was hugely adept at scoring off almost every ball, something he conspicuously failed to do during his brief sojourn in England’s one-day side. Yet these new-found qualities suggest that, despite his somewhat unathletic frame, he could be of great use in England’s limited-overs sides; he has greater knowledge of the art of constructing a one-day innings than, say, Alistair Cook.

A first-class average is 41 is testament to the fact that, though a reliable run-scorer in county cricket, Key has seldom enjoyed truly outstanding seasons. Upon being appointed captain last campaign, he disappointed hugely with the bat, averaging a meagre 32 for Kent. Yet his form has been excellent in all competitions this season; Key has gained in consistency and relish for responsibility, rising to the challenge when his side have needed him most. He has also proved a sufficiently shrewd skipper to emerge as a possible future replacement for Michael Vaughan.

In truth, Owais Shah and Ravi Bopara both probably have stronger cases for Test selection, given that they have impressed recently for England. But Key has the advantage of being an opener, making him a potential replacement for the patently out-of-sorts Andrew Strauss.

At 28, Key has clearly matured into a more battle-hardened player less prone to lapses in concentration. He has undoubtedly learnt from his previous experience in international cricket, and is a man with the character and class to aid England’s re-building process.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Championship – Week 15

And suddenly it goes from a two horse race to everyone being involved as Sussex and particularly Yorkshire make a right rickets of their matches this week. While in Division 2, Somerset are nearly home and hosed and Essex miss a golden opportunity to close the gap.

Div 1
Starting, if I must, with the Roses debacle. Yorkshire won the toss, elected to bat and were very quickly 1 for 3 and 22 for 5, with Saj Mahmood and Glen Chapple doing the damage. A recovery to 144 all out was never going to be enough especially as two of the Lancashire batsmen, Paul Horton and Stuart Law each scored more than Yorkshire had managed, Law getting a Roses record (for Lancs) 206 in a total of 517. Murali then took 5-fer as Yorks capitulated to 247 and Lancs ran out very comfortable winners.

Meanwhile Sussex were having problems of their own with Warwickshire. The Bears batted first, scoring 433, with Ian Westwood getting a ton and Tim Ambrose 99. Sussex were then skittled for just 168, with only Luke Wright getting more than 20. Despite a lead of 265, Warwicks didn’t enforce the follow on and scored 238 second time round with Saqlain taking 7 wickets. Sussex then batted out for the draw, with Richard Montgomerie scoring 195 in their 405 for 5.

With neither of the top two winning, Hampshire took the chance to make up ground scoring 455 for 9 against Worcestershire, for whom Gareth Batty took 6 wickets. Worcester were then dismissed for just 86, with Daren Powell taking 4 for 8 in 10 overs. However, like Warwickshire, Hants didn’t enforce the follow on and stumbled to 103 for 8 before declaring. However, this was more than enough as Worcester were bowled out for 187 and they now look doomed to life in Division 2 next season.

A vital match at the bottom of the table saw Surrey take on Kent. Kent batted first and managed only 150 with Harbhajan taking 5-fer. Surrey replied with 215 for a crucial first innings lead, James Tredwell taking 6 wickets. Harbajan took six wickets second time round as Kent could only manage 171 and Surrey got the 108 runs needed for the loss of 6 wickets to lift themselves above Kent and out of the relegation places.

The Championship now looks to be back to a five horse race with Sussex and Yorks still at the top, but having played a game more than Durham, Hants and Lancs. At the bottom, it would take a miracle for Worcester to survive, while Surrey are now a point above Kent and both teams have a game in hand on Warwickshire who, while not giving up on their title aspirations, must be looking nervously over their shoulders. It's getting exciting!

Div 2
The top two went head to head at Trent Bridge with Nottinghamshire scoring 350 largely due to 145 from Stephen Fleming, putting on 83 for the final wicket. Somerset replied with 452, Cameron White scoring a ton. David Hussey got a ton in the Notts second innings, but the home team were dismissed for just 279 leaving Somerset 181 to win, which they did for the loss of four wickets. The gap at the top is becoming decisive.

With the top two playing each other, Essex had the chance to make up ground on one of them against struggling Gloucestershire. Gloucester batted first, scoring 278. However, this was put into perspective by Essex’s paltry 88, with Jon Lewis and Steve Kirby each taking 5 for 41. Gloucester didn’t do a lot better second time round with 139. However, this was more than enough runs as Kirby took five more wickets and Essex ended up 70 runs short on 259.

Bottom club Glamorgan batted first against Northamptonshire, scoring 465 with Alex Wharf getting a ton. Northants were then bowled out for 387, largely due to 219 from David Sales. Glamorgan scored 197 second time round, with Jason Brown taking 5-fer. However, the match ran out of time before Northants could chase the 276 needed for victory and it ended in a draw.

Leicestershire hosted a resurgent Derbyshire and opened up with 274, with Derby replying with 194. To that point, Stuart Broad had done pretty well, scoring an unbeaten 40 and taking 3 wickets. However, the second innings saw two career best performances as he scored an unbeaten 91 in Leicester’s 344 (Ant Botha taking 5-fer) and then took 5 for 67 as Derby were bowled out 28 runs short on 396, despite 167 from Simon Katich.

England player watch
Stuart Broad
clearly had a big game, and it will be interesting to see which tour he gets onto during the winter given England’s surfeit of pace bowlers. Saj Mahmood is recovering well from his injury and was responsible for wiping out the Yorkshire top order in the first innings of the Roses match. However, more importantly, Andrew Flintoff did the same in the Yorkshire second innings and bowled 18 overs in the match, taking 5 for 69 in total. He won’t have enjoyed being lbw to Younus though!

Player of the Week
A couple of good double centuries this week, with Stuart Law setting a Lancs record for a Roses match. Also lots of 5, 6 and even 7-fers. However, for his all round performance and two career best performances which continue to promise a huge amount in the future, the Player of the Week is Stuart Broad.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Greatest Test XI

Following Tim's rules and list this would be my greatest Test XI, with brief reasons for each selection:

Hobbs - perhaps the greatest batsman of all-time. Played equally well on all surfaces, displaying superb technique and elegance. Acknowledged as the player who took the baton from WG Grace and raised batting skill to the next level.

Gavaskar - a genius of the modern era, who set astonishing records for Test runs and centuries. His patience and bravery ensured that he was the only batsman to tame the fearsome West Indies pace attack of the late 70s and 80s.

Bradman - a colossus, whose sheer volume of runs almost defies belief. On good batting wickets he simply could not be gotten out. On poorer surfaces bowlers had a chance, but only a slim one. Even in the current batsman's era his average remains way out of reach.

Hammond - as fine a player as England have ever produced. Batted with natural power, elegance and intelligence, scoring runs both at home and on numerous tours. He was also an excellent bowler and one of the finest slip fielders cricket has produced.

Sobers - an awesome talent, who could do it all - bat, bowl fast, bowl slow, field brilliantly and captain with intelligence and cunning. Without doubt the greatest allrounder to play the game and for a long time the proud holder of the record for the highest Test score.

Imran Khan - at his peak he would have been selected as either a batsman or a bowler, though for much of his career he was a bowling allrounder. In addition to his great fast bowling and elegant batting he was an exellent captain, who held the mighty West Indies at bay in the 80s.

Gilchrist - capable of taking the game away from the opposition with his ferocious batting, he also learned to be a very capable wicketkeeper, equally adept to McGrath and Warne. Like all the greats he raised his game several levels when his team needed him most.

Hadlee - one of the most accurate and devastating bowlers Test cricket has ever seen. Taking an astonishing 5 wickets a match throughout his career, he carried his country on his back. Despite the pressure of leading the bowling attack he also batted extremely well.

Marshall - the greatest fast bowler ever to take the field. Could extract pace and bounce from any surface, swing the ball both ways and developed a devastating leg cutter. Add this to his work ethic and ferocious attitude and you have the perfect fast bowler.

Muralitharan - the best spinner (perhaps bowler full stop) of all-time, having claimed an astonishing 60 five wicket hauls and 20 ten wicket hauls. Could extract turn on glass, as well as exerting astonishing control, and his devastating variety makes him one of the hardest bowlers to read. Simply a wicket taking machine (with a smile).

McGrath - the ultimate model of consistency and accuracy, allied to a mean streak on the field that saw him single out batsmen, who he invariably terrorised throughout a series. The only pace bowler to dominate batsmen in the batting friendly 2000s, retiring with a massive haul of test wickets.

Monday, 13 August 2007

England Series Ratings

Though England were ostensibly only a wicket at Lord’s away from a drawn series, the fact remains they were outclassed for large portions of the final two Tests. Oddly enough, only Matt Prior had a genuinely poor series; England’s problem was they were seldom able to consolidate the initiative, with their batsmen prone to getting themselves when set, and their bowlers only at Lord’s bowling well as a unit.

Here are the series ratings:

Alastair Cook 6
Made at least 17 in each innings, yet never passed 61. Cook was continually dismissed attempting to play straight deliveries to leg – he could do with a few months to work on this fault, but his place is not under serious threat.

Andrew Strauss 6
Made 96 in the first innings of the series, and a fine 55 at Trent Bridge, before twice giving it away with an injudicious shot. Technically he looks ok; but not so mentally – and, if Andrew Flintoff is to bat at six again, then Strauss deserves to be the one to make way. He averages less than 30 in his last 12 Tests – and the feeling is this is more than a mere dip in form.

Michael Vaughan 7
The skipper made a magisterial hundred at Trent Bridge to confirm he is still worth his place as a batsman alone, although, like his team-mates, he is too often dismissed to a poor shot. His captaincy was also a touch below par.

Kevin Pietersen 8
Two fine hundreds including, pleasingly, his first archetypal match-saving knock, is testament to his increasing batting maturity, while his sheer excellence is epitomised by four Test centuries in the summer.

Paul Collingwood 6
Started poorly at Lord’s, but played important knocks thereafter, and was less culpable than his colleagues for failing to notch a truly big score. However, with talk about the side’s balance continuing, his fine bowling was particularly pleasing.

Ian Bell 5
Bell was under immense pressure coming into the final Test, but proceeded to make two fine 60s – only to fall disappointingly on both occasions, a familiar sight. There is a slight sense he is treading water, and, with Messrs Shah and Bopara waiting, he needs a match-defining innings soon.

Matt Prior 3
A score of three may seem a tad harsh, but Prior’s keeping – not to mention his sledging – looked below international standard, with the byes and drops mounting up. His batting is equally unproven: all he has done, yet, is score runs of a second-rate West Indian attack, and his two key failures against the second new-ball were of particular concern, though he scored a crucial 40 at Lord’s. Nonetheless, he is almost certain to play the first Test in Sri Lanka.

Ryan Sidebottom 7
Sidebottom’s figures belay his true worth, for he bowled marvelously to Sachin Tendulkar and suffered enormously through Prior’s gloves. With his ability to swing the ball both ways, aggression and good control, he showed he could trouble good players on good wickets and would be extremely unfortunate to be dropped.

Chris Tremlett 6
Had the best average of the four bowlers, though this was boosted by three wickets when the fate of the second Test was decided. He was terrific in the first two games, impressing with his control, bounce and seam movement, before, disappointingly, rather wilting at the Oval, when so much was expected of him.

Monty Panesar 5
Panesar was hugely disappointing at the Oval, unable to provide penetration or control, but he did adequately in the first two Tests and remains an automatic pick. However, his batting was desperately poor, totally bereft of the discipline which Duncan Fletcher helped imbue in his tailenders.

James Anderson 6
England’s official Man of the Series, though seldom can there have been a less deserving one. Anderson was superb at Lord’s and bowled with good heart at the Oval, but, as his economy rate of 3.40 testifies, he is still too prone to bowling four balls.

The Verdict
The consistency in the ratings bears out the fact most the side offered glimpses of their worth, before falling victims of ill-discipline. India were excellent, for sure, and England’s bowling depleted, so the real blame must lie in the inability of batsmen to bat for a day at a day, and their dogmatic determination to play their ‘natural games’ when, as in the first innings of Trent Bridge, resolute play is required.

The Campaign for Real Wicket-Keepers

I was lucky enough to spend a rather entertaining day at the Oval on Friday, with Dhoni scoring a wonderful 92 and Kumble getting a well deserved ton. However as the day went on, I became more interested in "what might have been" if two fairly regulation chances had been taken by Matt Prior to dismiss Tendulkar and Laxman.

I have written about my thoughts on wicket-keepers before. Chris Read, to my mind, has been shoddily treated by England despite probably being the best keeper in workld cricket today. A player with that amount of tatent in a single discipline should be viewed as a strength, in the same way that Monty Panesar has been embraced. And lets' get things into perspective. While Monty clearly works hard on his fielding and batting, he is still not a natural fielder and Read's batting is far superior to that of Monty.

However, this isn't about Chris Read. James Foster is another whose wicket-keeping skills have been conveniently forgotten about in the search for the new Alec Stewart. And it is this realistation that we are looking for a new Alec Stewart that worries me.

While we were in the pub after the game on Friday, I ended up at the toilet alongside Derek Pringle, which got me thinking. As worthy a county player as Pringle was, his career will always be associated with the search for the new Botham. And his isn't the only career to have suffered such high expectations. Chris Lewis, Phil DeFreitas, David Capel, Craig White, Dominic Cork, Ronnie Irani, Alex Tudor, Ben and Adam Hollioake and even Darren Gough all the way to Andrew Flintoff have to varying levels of success been touted as a new Botham.

Rather than concentrating on the basics and accepting the bonus when a genuine all-rounder came along, lesser players have been given an opportunity over specialists in the hope that bits and pieces will get the job done. Was Derek Pringle ever one of the best four bowlers in the country? I very much doubt it. Likewise, was David Capel ever worthy of his place in the England team as either a batsman or bowler? Absolutely not. Nowadays we seem to have jumped that hurdle with the batting bowling allrounder. Andrew Flintoff would make it into the England team purely on his bowling ability. Paul Collingwood is in for his batting - his bowling is a bonus.

We need to make the same jump with wicket-keepers. Is Matt Prior the best wicket-keeper in England? Of course he isn't. Was Geraint Jones ever an International standard wicket-keeper?These players should either have been in the team as a batsman or not at all. It's time England stopped looking for a "new Alec Stewart". We haven't got one at the moment (although Steve Davies looks promising for the future). Let's play the best we've got, and make sure our players do the job they are there to do. We now have real batsmen and real bowlers, rather than the bits and pieces players listed above. We need a real wicket-keeper.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Patrick Kidd's XI

Patrick Kidd (of The Times and the excellent Line and Length cricket blog) has very kindly sent me his Greatest Test XI from the last century.

Openers: Hobbs & Sutcliffe - it is too tempting to keep cricket's greatest opening partnership together. Hobbs is one of Wisden's five cricketers of the century and seems to have been both loved and admired (not always characteristics seen in the same person - see Bradman). His longevity and appetite for hundreds (even though he often got out soon after the landmark) are admirable. That Sutcliffe averaged 70 after 40 Tests is astonishing even by today's batsman-friendly standards. Only Ricky Ponting has had such a long, golden run of form.

Middle order: Bradman is a no-brainer but I wonder how many people stop to contemplate his full record before putting him down. It is not just the monstrous average, a snick short of perfection, but the size of the hundreds he scored that enabled him to build that average. He hit 29 hundreds in 80 innings, an astonishing conversion rate, but if most of those had been between 100-150, his average would have been nowhere near 100. Ten of his hundreds were double-hundreds (one was 299) and two were triples; another six were above 150. When he batted well, he batted big. Consider this, too: that when he failed, Australia failed (in 12 matches they lost while he was in the team, his average dips to a human 43; in the eight series that Australia lost, he averaged only 62). Or that he scored almost 2000 runs after the second world war - having made his Test debut in 1928.

Hammond had the misfortune to play at the same time as the greatest batsman in history. Playing for the same county as WG Grace, he outshone the godfather of cricket, averaging 58 in Tests and 56 in first-class matches, including making 1000 runs before the end of May. He was another one who scored big hundreds - 10 of his 22 Test hundreds were over 150 and he had as many fifties as hundreds.

Viv Richards gets in because of the way he could destroy attacks, sadly too often England's, while "Garry Sobers" is the ultimate Mr Versatile, able to bowl brilliantly at different speeds, yet have a batting average in the fifties.

Wicketkeeper: Gilchrist gets in because he isn't Les Ames, the other option on your list, but would probably make it whatever the shortlist. His keeping is fine without being faultless, and his batting is invaluable at No 7. Very few wicketkeeper-batsmen get close to averaging 50 (Flower and Sangakkara the exceptions).

Spinner: That Warne took 195 wickets against England alone makes it difficult for anyone to ignore him. Still setting records, with 96 victims, in his 35th year and retired after his spinning won back the Ashes. India was the only place he didn't conquer. Wins the team spot for being a totem for Australia during their most invincible period, but Muttiah Muralitharan is closing up on him in both tally and prestige (and had 90 wickets last year) and if you ask again in a year's time, he may get the nod.

Fast bowlers: Marshall, Ambrose and McGrath each were the leading quick bowler in a world-dominating side. Just when Marshall started to fade and battered batsman started to breathe a little more easily, along came the taller, faster, more scary Ambrose to put the wind up them. McGrath wasn't all that fast, but his metronomic accuracy frustrated wickets out of every side.

Patrick's XI: Sutcliffe, Hobbs, Bradman, Hammond, Richards, Sobers, Gilchrist, Marshall, Warne, Ambrose, McGrath

So that's my XI from your list, but here is who I would really want to watch (from players not on your list):

Gooch, Slater, Dravid, Compton, Jardine, Flintoff (at his peak), Knott, Dev, Benaud, Thomson, Tyson ('54 version only)

If anyone else wishes to contribute to the debate, with an XI or a particular area of analysis, please email cricketingworld(at) We will be selecting our Greatest Test XI around the end of the month.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

The Fast Men

The selection of the fast bowlers is arguably the hardest aspect of this list, with a multitude of candidates having a very strong case. It is obviously also important to pick a balanced attack, capable of thriving in all conditions.

West Indies is regarded as the spiritual home of the fast bowler, but only two men made the final shortlist. Malcolm Marshall was their finest quick during their 1980s heyday, seriously rapid, hostile and extremely consistent. Yet he was also a canny bowler, with the ability to swing the ball both ways and, later in his career, the purveyor of a fine legcutter. It speaks volumes that his impressive average of 22.5 against Australia was actually his highest against the five nations he played against. Against England he was invariably at his very best against, memorably claiming 7/22 at Old Trafford in 1988, on a wicket prepared for spin.

Curtley Ambrose’s career average is almost identical to that of Marshall. Ambrose arguably had the greatest propensity for cricketing annihilation of any quick in this list, as he illustrated in his incredible spell of 7/1 at Perth, and in bowling England out for 46 at Port-of-Spain. When a pitch offered pace and bounce, his relentless accuracy, speed and 6ft7in frame made him almost unplayable. Yet he was outstanding in all conditions, able to extract huge seam movement in England, doing very well in six Tests in Asia and excelling himself against the best side he faced, averaging just 21 against Australia.

Fred Trueman was a ferocious quick, indefatigable and outstanding during the 13 years between 1952 and 1965. He had an extraordinary capacity to bowl – Trueman was never one for ‘resting’, and notched up an astounding 99,701 first-class deliveries – and this, aided by his movement, controlled aggression and mental strength, made him the first ever man to reach 300 Test wickets. But for numerous off-field clashes, beginning in the Caribbean in 1953-4, he may well have reached 400. Regardless, his record is testament to his status as a fast-bowling giant able to worry batsmen in all conditions, though he dipped slightly from brilliant to merely very good away from home.

Of all the fast bowlers in this list, none were more significant to their sides than Richard Hadlee, who played for New Zealand for 17 years, claiming 431 Test wickets with the most economical of actions. A tearaway in his youth, he soon developed cricketing know-how; he was unerringly accurate, almost invariably able to extract bounce and movement, and, like contemporary Imran Khan, only improved with age. Like all true greats, he lifted himself when it mattered most, faring brilliantly against the West Indies and especially Australia, against whom he claimed 9/52 at Brisbane in 1985 – and 33 wickets in the three-game series; and he was adaptable enough to thrive in India (though not in Pakistan). Hadlee was also an extremely useful batsman (average 27) who could easily bat at eight in the Greatest Test XI.

There are four Australians in this list. The most recent of them is Glenn McGrath, whose bowling bore considerable resemblance to that of Hadlee. The Australian was extraordinarily tough mentally and made a point of publicly ‘targeting’ a key opposition player. These batsmen very seldom won their duels with McGrath. His trademark was bowling just back-of-a-length outside off-stump, generating bounce and nip – and proving a match-winner in all conditions. He did worst against South Africa – though he still averaged just 27 – and illustrated his adaptability and sheer quality by averaging just 19 in India.

Dennis Lillee was regarded by many as the consummate fast bowler; he was a combination of raw pace and subtlety, and had a tremendous heart to boot. This helped him come back from what appeared a career-threatening injury to become the highest Test wicket-taker of all time at the time of his retirement. He will be remembered for forming one half of the ‘Lillian-Thompson’ partnership – one of the most feared in the history of the game – and, in particular, for a series of outstanding Ashes performances. However, his best match may have been an extraordinary 7/83 against the West Indies, fired on by a fiercely patriotic home crowd. In four Tests in Asia, though, he averaged 68.

Ray Lindwall, with his pace and late swing, was the outstanding bowler of his generation and a pivotal member of the 1948 ‘Invincibles’. His low arm leant his bowling a skidding effect, which made his bouncers – sparingly used, but very threatening – all the more effective; he also possessed a fine slower ball and developed the ability to swing the ball both ways. Lindwall’s bowling gave great aesthetic pleasure; and he was able to excel himself when it mattered most, having two superb tours of England. He perhaps played on too long, until the age of 38; in his first 44 Tests, though, he averaged just 21. Lindwall was also a buccaneering lower-order batsman good enough to hit two Test hundreds.

Alan Davidson played for much of his career with Lindwall; he was a high class left-armer who could be lethal with both the new and old ball. His strike-rate is the highest of all the fast bowlers in this list, but his control was such that he had a remarkably frugal economy rate of just 1.97. Though he took a few Tests to find his niche, in his last 34 games Davidson was colossal, averaging 19 with the ball and 26 with his free-spirited hitting. Unlike Lindwall, he excelled in Asia, too; but, above all, he will be remembered for his fantastic performances in the epic 1960/61 series against the West Indies.

NB: Imran Khan, who may well have featured here, was assessed as an all-rounder.

McGrath statistical analysis (Including Best overseas fast bowlers in Tests in the subcontinent since 1980)
Full set of Greatest Test XI pieces

We would welcome any pieces from readers (please email cricketingworld(at) making a case for the selection of a particular player, or to provide any kind of additional analysis. We would also be happy to post XIs (with justification); we will post that of Patrick Kidd, from the Times, in a few days. The final side will be picked in a few weeks.

Twenty20 Vision?

Over at Left-arm Chinaman they are clearly not the biggest fans of Twenty20:

The sad thing is, the selectors seem totally unaware that selection is an irrelevant factor in twenty20 matches. Random chance is the chief determinant of the outcome, so doesn’t matter who you pick.

The format is so devoid of skill, that England could have picked an entirely different side, and it still wouldn’t have made a difference. These “specialists” would swing the bat, as anyone would, and their success is subject to the same laws of probability. All we can hope for is a favourable statistical blip.

I stuck up for the format; it is not Test cricket, no, but is a vibrant format of the game that can swing irrevocably in the space of a few balls. This does not mean it is skill-less; rather it is played on a tightrope under extremely intensive pressure (like the death overs of a ODI). But, like any format of cricket, those with the highest skill levels - bowlers with variety and nerve; and batsmen with a range of shots, the ability to score off every ball and a temperament that prevents them getting carried away will consistently fare the best. And it has reinvogorated the county game, though there is certainly an argument that it should not be played internationally.

If this format is so devoid of skill then why have the best batsman (Mark Ramprakash) and best bowler (Mushtaq Ashtaq) done so well in Twenty20 over the five seasons of domestic Twenty20?

So, is Twenty20 a true test of skill or is it too much of a cricketing lottery for your liking?

Monday, 6 August 2007

A job well done

England’s selectors are so often lambasted that it is only fair to give them credit after picking a Twenty20 World Cup squad bursting to the rim with specialists. Darren Maddy, Jeremy Snape and James Kirtley are each highly unlikely to play any more one-day internationals for England, but they are shrewd Twenty20 players, and will offer England much more than James Anderson, Ian Bell, Alastair Cook and Monty Panesar would in this form of the game. Chris Schofield and Luke Wright, meanwhile, will hope selection proves the springboard for other national honours.

The winning skipper on Twenty20 finals day, Rob Key, made an astute point when asking whether good Twenty20 Cup players had the necessary class to excel against the world’s best. However, the trio of Maddy, Snape and Kirtley have proved they are excellent players in this form of the game who, one would think, have the skills to do well internationally. The great gambles are Wright and the rejuvenated Schofield, two players selected solely on their performances in this season’s competition. Schofield, with 17 wickets at 8.82 (and an economy rate of just 6) is a worthy selection, especially given his ability to improvise with the bat in the final overs; Wright is perhaps a little luckier considering that, during his innings of 103 and 98 in this season’s competition, the highest calibre bowler he faced was Yasser Arafat.

Of those who did not make it, the unluckiest is surely Mal Loye, who has an outstanding Twenty20 record and played some exhilarating cameos in the CB Series; he would have been a fine replacement for Trescothick. Key and Mark Ramprakash have mixed big shots with nous, to great effect, in this form of the game and had merit over Wright and possibly Vkram Solanki, though he is a marvellous fielder, attractive batsman and worthy selection.

With the ball, England look to have got it just right. Their two spinners are better suited to this format than Monty Panesar, and are also very useful batsmen; the all-too-hittable James Anderson has surprisingly been omitted; and it is very hard to argue with the four seamers, with the inclusion of Chris Tremlett’s bounce and consistency a clear indicator he is part of Peter Moores’ long-term plans. Kirtley has bowled expertly at the death for Sussex this campaign, although forgotten man Jon Lewis, so impressive on finals day and with an exemplary ODI record, is hugely unfortunate to have been overlooked for both the Twenty20 and one-day squads.

Put simply, this is a very good squad which gives England the best possible chance of taking advantage of having played more domestic Twenty20 than anyone else, although the management’s lack of coherent thinking is impossible to ignore: the games against the West Indies would have been most useful for gauging the specialists' international suitability. The only real gripe, in fact, is that there is the faintest whiff of home bias on Moores’ part. Wright and Kirtley were borderline selections; but Matt Prior is undeserving of the wicket-keeping job ahead of Paul Nixon and Tim Ambrose.

My line-up (from the 15):
Maddy, Prior, Pietersen, Shah, Collingwood, Flintoff, Bopara, Schofield, Broad, Sidebottom and Tremlett
with Solanki, Wright, Snape and Kirtley in reserve

Championship – Week 14

Here comes summer at last, but only a couple of games in each division. Enough games for a change at the top though

Div 1
went to Lancashire knowing that a win would send them above Yorkshire in the chase for the title, leaving Yorks fans in the strange position of wanting a Lancs victory. Sussex got off to a good start but lost their last 7 wickets for 98 runs, Murali taking 5-fer, to end up with 274. The Lancashire reply was not much better, and only a last wicket 50 partnership took them to 301 for a small lead. The Sussex second inning mirrored the first, with the last six wickets going for 63 runs in a total of 268. Lancs needed 240 to win but capitulated to just 133 and Sussex are 3 points above Yorkshire at the top.

In the other match Durham looked to maintain their title aspirations at home to Warwickshire. The Bears batted first, scoring 239, with Liam Plunkett and Ottis Gibson taking four wickets each. In reply Durham scored 474, with tons for Kyle Coetzer and Ben Harmison, Darren Maddy taking 5-fer. Warwickshire’s second inning was built around a stand of 219 between Ian Westwood (116) and Kumar Sangakkara (119). However, they were all out for 426 leaving Durham 36 overs to get the 192 needed for victory. With Phil Mustard opening the batting (76 from 58) with Mike DiVenuto (and unbeaten 91 from 102) Durham showed why they are one of the top One Day teams and got home by 9 wickets with 5 overs to spare to move to third.

Div 2
had the chance to make up some ground on the top three away to Gloucestershire. Derby batted first and made 312, with Travis Birt scoring a ton. Graeme Wagg took five-fer in the Gloucester reply. However, this did not stop the home team racking up 454, built around tons for Grant Hodnett and Alex Gidman. Derby declared on 356 for 3 second time round, with another ton for Birt as well as for Simon Katich. This left Gloucester requiring 210 to win in 37 overs. Five quick wickets put a stop to the run chase and Gloucester held on for the draw.

Middlesex also had an opportunity to make up lost ground at home to Glamorgan and opened up with 361. This was enough for victory though as Glamorgan capitulated to 106 (Murali Kartik taking 6-fer) and 184 to leave the Welshmen bottom and elevate Middlesex to fourth still with a game in hand over those above them.

England Player Watch
The return of England Player Watch as Andrew Flintoff and Saj Mahmood both turned out for Lancashire on their return from injury. Freddie scored a brisk 34 before being unfortunately (by all accounts) given lbw. He did less well second time round with just 9, but he did bowl 8 overs. Mahmood went wicketless in the first inning but took a couple second time round getting thirty overs under his belt during the match.

Player of the Week
A tricky call this week as Phil Mustard’s brutal attack on the Warwickshire bowling clearly set up their win. However, although in the end it was a drawn match, for scoring 2 centuries and giving Derby a chance at an unlikely victory, the player of the week is Travis Birt.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

The Kings of Spin

To continue the analysis of the short-listed players for the Greatest Test XI of the last century, we look at the four short-listed spinners. At this stage, it is worth pointing out that either one or two can be selected, depending on the balance of the side.

Muttiah Muralitharan
has perennially been accused of ‘chucking’ (four times, and counting), but on each occasion he has been cleared. Amidst all his troubles, though, he has continued to improve, adding – and perfecting – a doosra in recent years. It is true that his wickets tally has benefited from a multitude of victims amongst the minnows; but, incredibly, he averages 23.4 if they are excluded, which falls to under 21 during his ‘peak’ years since 2000 as he has learned to become more adaptable and effective outside the sub-continent. What makes this even more impressive is he has had no respite in unfavourable conditions, normally having to bowl nearly 30 overs a day, acting as both stock and strike bowler to claim more than six wickets a game.

Murali has been subjected to innumerable comparisons with Shane Warne, whose world record tally of Test wickets he will soon overtake. Warne is a man whose cricketing contribution transcends statistics; from his ‘ball of the century’, his genius was palpable. This manifests itself not only in his plethora of leg-spinning variations, but also in his mental resilience and cricketing brain; when things are not going his way, Warne is good enough to adjust. The Australian’s ability to deliver when most needed – as during his phenomenal 2005 Ashes – was astonishing; with Warne in the side, his country never knew any need to play with five bowlers. Only India, with their magisterial middle-order batsmen, got the better of him.

Until the emergence of Warne, few doubted Bill O’Reilly’s status as the finest Australian leg-spinner of all time. Although his average of 22.6 is outstanding, his Wisden obituary asserts that “his figures have to be judged by the fact that all but one of his Tests came in the 1930s, when other bowlers were dominated by batsmen to an unprecedented extent. No one ever dominated O'Reilly.” That much is made clear by his extraordinarily frugal economy rate of 1.94. Like Warne, O’Reilly was a true master of his craft, relentlessly consistent and, wrote contemporary R. C. Robertson-Glasgow, able to adjust “pace and trajectory without apparent change in action”. From his 6ft2in frame, O’Reilly also generated unusual pace and bounced for a leg-spinner.

The name of Jim Laker will forever be associated with the 1956 Ashes, during which he claimed an unsurpassed 46 wickets in the series, including the immortal 19 in a Test at Old Trafford. When wickets offered assistance, the off-spinner could be close to unplayable; but, as Laker illustrated in the 1958/59 Ashes, he could be effective in all conditions. He was also a pivotal member of the Surrey side that claimed seven consecutive titles in the 1950s.

Additional information
Murali and the Bangladesh Factor
The best additional resource is certainly the Cricinfo website.
It is worth noting that, according to the selection criteria, "this notional side will play on an unknown wicket - which means players must have proved themselves in a variety of conditions and, ultimately, those who did best in the trickiest conditions they faced will be in a better position to be selected."

Thursday, 2 August 2007

The decline of pace

One of the main factors contributing to the run soaked 2000s has been the lack of top quality Test pace bowlers. The decline has been so marked that since the recent retirement of Glenn McGrath it is hard to name one great quick bowler currently plying his trade. Shaun Pollock comes the closest, but his form has not been brilliant of late and he has a poor record against the best team of his era, Australia.

There are plenty of good seam and swing bowlers and even a few genuine fast bowlers, but none of them can be considered great, let alone all-time greats. It is a serious dearth, which threatens to make life even easier for Test batsmen, who continue to plunder runs and bolster their averages on batsman friendly surfaces.

The fast men

Of the current crop of pace bowlers only a handful can be considered fast. The best of these at the moment is, without doubt, Makhaya Ntini. His determination and enthusiasm, allied to ferocious pace, make him a fearsome prospect for most Test batsmen. Coming in from wide of the crease his deliveries often seem to spear into the batsman, forcing evasive action or uprooting stumps. Unfortunately, Ntini has a great achilles heel - his home bias. On his familiar South African pitches he averages a majestic 22.53, putting him up there with the greats, but take him away from home and the average plummetts to 38.08. For this reason, very good bowler that he is, Ntini cannot be considered great.

If his body was able to bear the strain of Test matches, Shane Bond might have achieved greatness. He has all the attributes and has used them in the 16 Tests he has played to claim 74 wickets @ 22.10. But such a short career (in terms of matches) does not yield enough evidence to know how good he really is.

Another injury plagued bowler is Shoaib Akhtar, though he has managed to take the field for Pakistan in 43 Tests. In this time he has amassed 169 victims, but has rarely been consistent through a series, let alone a season. When he is on form he can be devastating, but against the two best batting line-ups of his era, Australia and India, he has rarely found his best.

Brett Lee, who came to Test cricket in a blaze of glory, fell away badly and was dropped for over a year and a half. Since his return he has shown some good form, though mainly against the West Indies, who must now be considered one of the weaker Test nations. Despite his improvement, Lee still averages 31.60 and has a poor economy rate. He has also struggled against the old enemy, England, as well as Pakistan.

With 83 wickets to his name @ 30.73 Lasith Malinga is emerging as a quick bowler with real talent. His unusual, slinging action was used to much effect in the recent ODI World Cup. Yet he has not shown this devastating form consistently in Tests. There is surely much more to come from the young Sri Lankan, but he is still very much a work in progress.

The England duo Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff often bowl in the early nineties, but usually average in the late eighties. They fall somewhere between the genuinely quick bowlers mentioned above and the numerous fast medium and medium fast bowlers that ply their trade in Test cricket. Both hit the pitch hard and can extract lethal bounce, yet neither can be considered more than very good, occasionally brilliant. Harmison is too inconsistent and his average is creeping up, whereas Flintoff is wonderfully consistent, but rarely rips through a side.

The rest

There are a number of good swing bowlers in Test cricket, though most rely on conditions to help them and some can be cannon fodder when the ball fails to swing. Amongst the best is the veteran Sri Lankan, Chaminda Vaas. So often underrated this hard working left armer is always ready to give his captain another over. Vaas usually bowls with miserly accuracy, achieving the astonishing economy rate of 2.66, despite playing so many of his matches in unhelpful conditions. The only things mitigating against him are his average, just 29.21 and his relatively poor record against India, Pakistan and South Africa.

England's Matthew Hoggard is the form swing bowler in Tests. He has consistently broken opening partnerships and is particularly unforgiving against left handers. His dogged attitude and ability to bowl well even when there is little swing around has made him England's best pace bowler in recent series. But for an injury this summer he would surely have added to his tally against the West Indies and India. Only his average of 30.03 and his poor form against Australia and Pakistan can be held against him.

A couple of high class newcomers, Mohammad Asif and Stuart Clark, have the potential to stake their claim to be regarded amongst the best. Both have excellent records in the short time they have been playing Test cricket, but will need to test themselves against all opponents in all conditions before a verdict can be reached.

Of the remaining Test bowlers currently playing there are plenty of other newcomers, as well as some more seasoned campaigners, but none with track records that suggest they will be great or are more than fleetingly brilliant. When you consider how many of the best pace bowlers of all-time were playing in the 70s, 80s, and 90s it is hard to see how we have reached such a famine in the 2000s. Pitches can be blamed for some of it, but I remember those greats often taking wickets on flat surfaces. Whatever the reasons for it the sad truth is that there are few quick bowlers currently playing Test cricket who can strike fear into opposing batsmen and the game is all the poorer for it.