Sunday, January 30, 2011

USA relegation - an opportunity?

So Team USA has been relegated back to Division 4 of the World Cricket League. Although this is a crying shame for the talent we have in our country, we have nobody to blame but ourselves, and it is absolutely imperative that we look at this abject failure, for that is what it is, as a window of opportunity. We've had such windows before, but we haven't taken advantage. We simply must not make the same mistake.

More than anything, we can learn from the examples of Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea. From their basic cricketing infrastructure and structure, to they way they select their teams, to the way they prepared for this tournament. The single unifying tenet, and this also applies to the West Indies in the 1980s, Australia in the late 90s and 2000s, and the current Indian, South African and English teams, is long-term thinking. Every one of those teams has set itself up for the long haul, and not been afraid to make hard decisions in the process.

Papua New Guinea have been working to a plan, with their young team, for the last two years. They didn't change their playing XI through the tournament. Hong Kong invested in their young talent, stuck with it, and a 16 year old batsman rewarded them with the Man of the Match, tournament winning performance in the championship game. The performances of the young bowling attack improved with every game. It doesn't get better than that. For those who argue that our youngsters are not quite as good as our thirty-somethings, right there is your answer. It's about trajectories, and the long term, and if those in charge cannot grasp and embrace that, then we are never going to learn.

We complain about our players being spread around the country, being busy working professionals, and the advantages of smaller countries in which the team can get together every weekend. That excuse is poor, at best. Hong Kong flew their team out for a week in Sri Lanka as preparation for the tournament. Their players go to school and work as well. Could we not fly our players out to the Carribean in much the same fashion?

Our preparation for this tournament was surprising. Most surprising because when I spoke to the coach and others about a week before the tournament, they had been given to believe that we were headed out to play on big grounds which would be spin friendly. Did nobody even look at the grounds on Google Maps? Or Bing Maps? Or Yahoo Maps? Hong Kong is not North Korea. We ultimately went into the tournament knowing what we'd face. The coach and I even had a discussion on how PNG bowling first at HKCC might be the biggest challenge we would face. 44 all out tells you how we handled that challenge. The point here is that, once again, we have no business complaining that we were unable to prepare. We simply failed to prepare professionally, and administrators have to take the bulk of the responsibility for that.

The bottom line continues to be that we have the young talent, but we are not giving them the opportunity. And not only are we not giving them their head at the senior level, we're not even giving them an opportunity to develop their cricket. I continue to see it every year in Northern California - we have had several cricketers over the years who at 14-16 have looked to have some quality. By 19 or 20, they've been reduced to playing in the manner that we laud and reward - hoiks across the line on small grounds against mediocre bowling to post scores at a high strike rate. We encourage that, and then wonder why, one after the other, they fall off the map by the age of 23-25, rather than becoming stars. We don't even reward those who play their cricket properly, we don't encourage them - and yet they are the ones we need as we move up a level.

There's a lot of work to be done, and that's a separate subject, but we can start right now by taking this opportunity to clean house. From the top down. It doesn't mean that everyone is bad, but sometimes when things just aren't working, you really have to shake them up from all angles. And we need leadership, from CEO to captain, from Directors to Selectors, from Coaches to League Presidents, all of whom share a vision of a long term future. Not for themselves and their own self-aggrandization, and not even for the star cricketers of today. But for the star cricketers of tomorrow. Only then will something sustainable emerge.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ashes 3rd Test Review

A thumping victory for Australia, and with any luck, if nothing else, journalists in both hemispheres will now settle down and accept the rather mundane reality that this is not the worst Australian team in history, and nor are Strauss' England the next coming of The Invincibles. Both teams are chasing the top pack, nothing more, nothing less.

The best way to review the test will, I think, be a player by player assessment, so here goes.


  • Andrew Strauss, 5/10 : Strauss chalked up another half-century in the first innings, but was not convincing in either knock. More critically, his captaincy lacked imagination, and his use of Swann, albeit on an unhelpful track, was mysterious. He wasn't aggressive enough with field placings on the first day, and in both innings, spent a lot of time chasing the ball - the sort of captaincy we see from 12 year olds.
  • Alastair Cook, 5/10 : Cook actually looked in control in both innings, but failed to make it count either time. He got a great delivery from Harris in the second knock, but rather gifted his wicket first time around. No reason to think he won't come good at the MCG and SCG on flatter tracks.
  • Jonathan Trott, 4/10 : Simply did not look like a man who averages 58, and was one of the weak links in the field. Not terrible, but simply didn't deliver.
  • Kevin Pietersen, 1/10 : Gets a point for a couple of good stops in the gully. His worst contribution in a Test match ever. He didn't look comfortable when the Australians were gunning for him in the second dig, but I suspect he'll be pretty determined to get back on track at the MCG.
  • Paul Collingwood, 2/10 : Quite simply not good enough with the bat - didn't look like he could handle it at all. I know he's a nervous starter, but there seemed little chance that he would even get a start. However, he remains a stupendous catcher, and his catch to dismiss Ponting in the first innings was sheer class. England may want to drop him for Morgan, but his fielding, Morgan's lack of cricket, and Collingwood's bowling may shade it.
  • Ian Bell, 6/10 : The class batsman in this England side. He looked a cut above the rest in both knocks, only giving it away in the first innings looking for quick runs. Simply put, I'd pay to watch this man bat. He was very good in the field too, and I think he's now set for a long and productive career.
  • Matthew Prior, 7/10 : Prior rates high because his keeping was absolutely outstanding in this game (despite copping a serious earful from the crowd). His batting however, looked ill at ease on this pitch - yet another player who can look a world-beater on a flat track...
  • Graeme Swann, 2/10 : Had a match he would want to forget, and his body language was surprisingly negative by the end of it. Struggled to settle on a line and length to bowl to Hussey, and dropped one that he'd usually catch in his sleep. But he's world class, and will come back. I have no doubt of that.
  • James Anderson, 6/10 : Was far off his best, and couldn't find his ideal line with any consistency, but continued to show that he's a genuine swing bowler, and one who actually has real control over the swing (see Mitchell Johnson for contrast). His batting looked surprisingly weak against the pace and bounce, but his fielding - well, I don't think I've ever seen an opening bowler who can field like this man. Superb.
  • Chris Tremlett, 8/10 : What a revelation! Bowled like a seasoned campaigner, generally hit a decent length, and got the ball to talk a bit. Easily the standout for England, and cemented his place in the side for the remainder of the tour, deservedly so. When Stuart Broad comes back, it won't be at Tremlett's expense.
  • Steven Finn, 2/10 : May have played his last Test for a while - his bowling was simply all over the place, and didn't warrant his figures. Bowled some good deliveries, and I suppose they may have taken the batsmen by surprise. He looks as raw as he is, but I do see real potential there, and I think he'll come back to have a long career for England if he stays fit and hungry. Shouldn't be worried by a bad game - he's young and learning.
Total for England: 48/110. Ouch.

  • Shane Watson, 6/10 : I could have given Watson more for his second knock, but he loses points for his spoilt-child decision review and petulance after being given out, and also for the slip catch that he watched go straight past him. But back to his batting, he is a real anachronism. An opener in the classic mould, with impeccable judgement around his off stump, a willingness to leave the ball, and an ability to pounce on any errors in line and length. Couple that with one of the classiest cover drives going, and you've got the real deal. Australia should not move him out of this position.
  • Philip Hughes, 1/10 : Hughes doesn't look the part at all. His technique was loose, and he didn't look likely at any point. His fielding is also surprisingly weak, something I'd never really noticed before. He may yet be the future, and his run scoring record suggests there's something there, but he definitely has work to do. A flatter pitch at the MCG may be just what he needs.
  • Ricky Ponting, 3/10 : Ponting was lucky to get the runs that he did, and his captaincy was similar to Strauss' - lacking in invention, and a lot of chasing the ball. However, he gets a couple of bonus points for clearly firing his side up and leading them to a victory that few anticipated. I wouldn't be surprised if he turns the corner and scores a big century at Melbourne.
  • Michael Clarke, 2/10 : Clarke only gets that much for having a good outing in the field in general. His batting was poor, and more than looking out of form, he looks mentally frazzled and it is showing in his shot selection. I think he simply needs to relax, and like Ponting, I suspect the win will relieve some pressure and we may see him return to his best.
  • Michael Hussey, 9/10 : Sheer class. His batting was simply phenomenal. Others have said everything that needs to be said. I've seen some Hussey masterclasses at the WACA, and this was right up there.
  • Steven Smith, 3/10 : I give him this much not because he really performed, but because I sense there's something about him. He batted with character and intent, even if he doesn't seem ready to be a Test match number six. Looked good in the field too.
  • Brad Haddin, 6/10 : Haddin had another typical outing. Solid if not brilliant with the gloves, and yet another critical, match-defining partnership with Mike Hussey. Won't be going anywhere for a while, other than possible one spot further up in the batting order.
  • Mitchell Johnson, 9/10 : Johnson took this match by the scruff of its neck and saved both the Ashes and Ricky Ponting's captaincy. The only reason I knock a point off is because I'm not sure how much he really knows about what he's bowling. Use of 12x binoculars revealed a scrambled seam more often than not, which suggests that he doesn't have control over whether or not the ball swings. The contrast with Jimmy Anderson in this regard is significant. However, he bowled with real purpose and hunger, and despite what the radar gun said, hurried the batsman consistently as the quickest bowler on display. He also adds so much to the Australian side with the bat, inspiring the rest of the tail to perform as well. I don't think he'll be dropped again for a while.
  • Ryan Harris, 8/10 : Harris is probably the best overall bowler in Australia. He may not hit the heights that Johnson can, but he steams in all day, and gets the ball to do a little. He's able to bowl defensively and to attack, and 9 wickets in the match tells its own story.
  • Peter Siddle, 5/10 : Siddle did little wrong, but he really didn't do much either. He's the weakest link in the attack, and it's evident that his captain thinks much the same. The story is that Ponting wanted Beer in the side ahead of Siddle.
  • Ben Hilfenhaus, 6/10 : This may look generous given the statistics, but Hilfenhaus is the closest thing Australia have to Jimmy Anderson - a genuine swing bowler. He caused plenty of problems, and will bowl much worse for much better figures. Will be confident of retaining his place in the team at the MCG.
Total for Australia: 58/110.

Not a huge difference between the sides. This game was settled by one spell from Johnson, and Hussey's batting. Australia bowled a fuller length than England, who made the usual mistake of bowling too short on a bouncier track. All of this is remediable, and that's why England will not remotely have lost hope.

One aside worth mentioning - while the presentations were going on, and for a while after, the three reserve England bowlers were having a session on the match pitch. Tim Bresnan looked rock solid, and it was clear that he could come in as the stock-bowler option and also strengthen the tail. Ajmal Shahzad looked the paciest, and may have a shot given his reputation of loving to bowl at lefties. Most impressive though, was Monty Panesar. He was hitting his spot perfectly, and getting the sort of turn and bounce that had seemed to be completely unavailable when Graeme Swann was bowling. He won't get a game at the MCG, but if England win in Melbourne and the Ashes are secure, you could well see them play 5 bowlers, with Monty and Bresnan in.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

WACA Test: Day Three

What a day of cricket! There is absolutely no chance of England preventing Australia from squaring the series at this point, and while yesterday I felt that England could get back on top in Melbourne, I am now of the opinion that they will need to freshen up substantially in order to compete again.

We saw once again batsmen struggling to come to terms with a very good pitch. As Graham Gooch said at the end of the day, the pitch is a high quality Test wicket, the likes of which we should see more often. Something for everyone, and as Hussey, Watson and Ian Bell have demonstrated, that includes any batsman who can control his impulse to play at every ball. The occasion called for some good old-fashioned Test Cricket, with proper batsmen facing a moving, bouncing ball. Not many were up to it.

Both Hussey and Watson looked untroubled, and both deserved centuries even though only the local lad reached the milestone. Watson is almost an anachronism, with his impeccable leaving of the ball outside off combined with one of the classiest cover drives in the business. All talk of him being moved down the order for Australia should be silenced - he's certainly the best opener in the country.

They were helped by a rather listless England attack. Strauss clearly had little faith in Swann after Hussey's attack on him the previous day. Jimmy Anderson was clearly feeling the effects of travel and a lot of bowling; Steven Finn was below par and constrained by his own inexperience; and Chris Tremlett, while bowling well, was perceptibly reduced in effectiveness.

The contrast when England batted was marked. Australia were clearly enjoying being in the ascendancy, and they bowled with a purpose and fire that has not been seen previously in this series. It serves ultimately to illustrate just how much of a mental game cricket is. Once again though, the English batsmen were their own worst enemy. Cook was squarely beaten for pace by a good delivery, albeit one that kept a touch low, but the others can only blame incompetence for their dismissals as they provided catching practice for the slip cordon.

Collingwood's dismissal off the final delivery of the day would have been particularly galling to England fans, if only because he had declined an easy single off the previous delivery. I am not in favour of nightwatchmen in general, but having sent Anderson in to do that job, it was silly to see Collingwood protecting Anderson instead of vice versa.

The WACA crowd got a great day of cricket, and even the injury to Ponting couldn't put a dampener on their day. In fact, there's not a lot of love for Ponting there, and a some people in the Members section were wondering aloud whether Ponting's career could be ended by a broken pinky.

There was other entertainment on offer too - a sightscreen malfunction that would have provoked mass outrage had it happened on the Indian subcontinent, and positively the worst streaker ever seen at a cricket game. Picture an extremely pale and morbidly obese drunken 25 year old male jumping a fence, running onto the field fully clothed, and then attempting to disrobe whilst running. End result - streaker tackles himself and falls face first. It then took 5 security officers to get him back up and off the ground, but not before he provided the Members with a ghastly and disturbing view of his own member.

Anyway, back to the cricket - it's onto the MCG for both teams, and both have some big questions to answer.

For my money, England should bring in Morgan for Collingwood (but somehow get the ginger fella onto the field to take some catches in the slips); and replace Finn with either Shahzad or Bresnan - possibly the latter to play a stock bowler role and beef up a very weak lower order. I think Finn is a great long term prospect, but he took a hammering here, and I don't think England can afford any weak links going forward. As for Collingwood, quite simply, his batting isn't up to par.

Cook, Strauss, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Morgan, Prior, Bresnan, Swann, Anderson, Tremlett would be my line up for the MCG.

For Australia, although Phil Hughes does not look the part, the only possible replacement is Shaun Marsh, and I just don't see that happening. Young Nic Maddinson scored an unbeaten hundred for NSW today, but he's got a ways to go. Steven Smith shouldn't play if he's not going to bowl - either Callum Ferguson or Usman Khawaja should come into the middle order. I'd be inclined to go with:

Watson, Hughes, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey, Khawaja, Haddin, Johnson, Hilfenhaus, Harris and a spinner.

If they were being really bold and ruthless, and if Ponting's injury rules him out, they could go with:

Watson, Marsh, Khawaja, David Hussey, Mike Hussey, Ferguson, Haddin, Johnson, Hilfenhaus, Harris, Beer (seeing as they really do have to pick him if they pick a spinner).

It's always fun playing selector :)

Friday, December 17, 2010

WACA Test: Day Two

Day Two at the WACA was an absolute treat for those who enjoy Test cricket at it's best, though Australian fans would do well not to get over-excited as their team's failings have not disappeared, rather they were papered over by a tremendous spell of bowling by Mitchell Johnson.

Johnson was at his mercurial best today - running in and bowling with a high(ish) arm action, getting the ball to dart back in to the right-handers, and most importantly, bowling quicker than the radar gun implied. He was sharp, and was beating batsmen with sheer pace at times.

On a track that continues to be fine for batting, England paid a big price for failing to prise out the Australian tail on Day One, and then for some loose cricket today. Ian Bell was the only one to emerge with any credit as he showed himself once more to be probably the best batsman (in terms of current form) on either side. His footwork was decisive, his strokemaking crisp, and his shot selection flawless - until his dismissal, which can probably be attributed to lack of faith in the tail.

Outside of Johnson, the Australian bowlers looked largely toothless. Hilfenhaus swung the ball appreciably, but none of them looked more than honest triers. Siddle's experiment with modern day Bodyline, in which he had no fielders in front of square on either side of the wicket, would have been laughable had Matt Prior not somehow contrived to fall victim to it.

The concern for England will be that they looked a little deflated, and more crucially, their bowlers looked tired second time around. The wickets may have continued to fall, but Finn bowled a lot worse than his figures imply, Tremlett wasn't hitting the lines of the first innings, and Anderson can't buy his 200th Test wicket. Even flying First Class on Emirates doesn't prevent jetlag.

Australia are effectively 200-3, and will back themselves to set England something in excess of the 414 South Africa chased down in 2008. However, they would be wise not to get ahead of themselves. Shane Watson continues to look the part - a throwback to openers of time gone by, with a remarkable ability to leave the ball (including when fielding in the slips). Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin can do little wrong either, and Hussey extracted some very classy revenge on Graeme Swann late in the day. But Philip Hughes looked ill-equipped once again, Ricky Ponting doesn't know where he's going to find a run, and Michael Clarke appears to be a complete mental basket case. Steve Smith isn't yet a Test #6, and England won't bowl so poorly to the tail again, so while this Test may seem won, once we get back to flatter pitches, England will feel very confident.

Speaking of pitches, what we're seeing here really says a lot, too much even, about the modern cricketer. This is decidedly not the WACA of old, it's simply a pitch with good bounce and carry. Absolutely nothing alarming about it. What is very obvious is that batsman have been so well mollycoddled that once the pitch does anything other than help the ball sit up and beg to be hit, the batsmen really don't know quite what to do. Only those with strong technique, strong minds, or both, have made runs thus far.

The first 60-90 minutes tomorrow will probably decide the game. England will want 2 or 3 quick wickets and to bowl Australia out for under 225. Australia will want to bat the day, and I don't see why they can't if they put their minds to it.

The series should go to the MCG standing at 1-1, at which time I expect England to regain the ascendancy.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

WACA Test: Day One

The contrast between these two teams couldn't have been more apparent today. On a track that looked a little green compared to the typical modern Test match deck, Australia went for overkill and picked five middle-of-the-road medium pacers. They then lost the toss, and watched as Graeme Swann claimed the prize scalp of Michael Hussey and took two wickets on the opening day. I suppose Australia might not live to regret their decision, in so far as England may not have to bat twice in this Test match!

A sell-out crowd provided a superb atmosphere and the best WACA track in years provided some great cricket. Make no mistake, this is not a deadly fast bowler's wicket, simply a pitch on which batsmen, quick bowlers, and even spinners could all find some assistance, if they were willing and able to put in the effort.

Ricky Ponting had a very long conversation with David Boon and Greg Chappell out in the centre before going straight over to Michael Beer to inform him that his days in the headlines were numbered for the time being. For my money, this was a defensive decision by a risk-averse Australia, and it was countered by England taking the aggressive option and bringing in Chris Tremlett.

And how Tremlett repaid the faith shown in him. He was unquestionably the star performer on the day, bowling well enough that I don't feel so bad about not being able to watch Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn this week.

Jimmy Anderson moved the ball both ways, and bowled with intelligence, but failed to find a consistent line, more often than not bowling a foot too wide and not forcing the batsmen to play. Tremlett was landing the ball, seam perfectly upright, on a dime, and he tested everyone, beating the bat with incredible regularity and ease. If he keeps bowling like this, Stuart Broad will not come straight back into the side.

The spirit and energy in the England team was palpable - players congratulating each other on every good piece of fielding, and there was plenty of that. Paul Collingwood pulled off yet another stunner to dismiss Ponting, and Swann's vertical leap to snare Brad Haddin did not suffer in comparison.

The only negative from England's point of view would be that they really ought to have bowled an insipid Australian side out for well under 200. You won't see this widely written, but Strauss' surprisingly defensive captaincy was partly to blame. There was an incredible amount of ball-chasing in the field placing, something which is usually only seen in kiddie cricket.

As far as Australia are concerned, there will be a lot of worry overnight. The pitch is good for batting, and their bowlers failed to exert any sort of sustained pressure in the evening session, struggling to find the right line or length. Mitchell Johnson's rehab is alleged to have been successful, but in the two overs I saw this evening, he looked incredibly tense and rigid in his action, and if there's one thing a fast bowler needs to be, it's loose and relaxed. The three right arm pacemen are all a little different, but there is just much of a sameness about the attack.

Australia lost a lot of wickets because their batsmen are simply not up to the task currently - whether because they looked technically unsound, as in the case of Phil Hughes, or because they lack self-belief, which is very apparent in the shot Michael Clarke played. Steven Smith is not a number six yet, and with Ponting looking a shadow of himself, there's not a lot left. It's hard to picture any of the Englishmen giving their wicket away, and frankly, it's hard to see the Australians taking the catches that the English did.

If England stay focused, then there's no reason why they can't end the second day at 350+, and go on to a 200+ lead.

A comment on the umpiring too - it was excellent, for the most part. Billy Doctrove was overruled by UDRS twice, and yet he didn't really get anything wrong. On the Hussey catch, even Graeme Swann, who is about as shy as Shane Warne, didn't really appeal - the edge was clear on review, but also clearly faint.

The queuing experience was a good one, once again. My WACA Test buddy, Rick the American from Sonoma who lives in Margaret River was there as usual, making it two yanks at the front of the queue for an Ashes Test once again. It's always fun to watch some of the elderly members turn back the clock as they race for the prime seats - especially those that then spend the day focusing on their reading or knitting.

Tomorrow's target is 2:30am, that should put me at the front again, and give me a great view of what I hope will be a massive Pietersen-Bell partnership in the afternoon. Nothing against Cook, Strauss and Trott, but they aren't the entertainers!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

WACA Test Preview

It's noon on Wednesday December 15th, and that means I'm just 12 hours away from standing (or more likely sitting/lying) in the queue at the Member's entrance to the WACA, in anticipation of Day One of the 3rd Ashes Test, as Australia seek to prevent England from retaining the Ashes.

I'd rather be at Centurion, watching Steyn and Morkel bowl to Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman. Sheer class on both sides there. However, my in-laws don't live in South Africa, and haven't travelled there for Christmas, so here I am in Perth, as ever. Truth be told, I don't mind at all. It's becoming something of a tradition - so much so that when I missed the WACA Test in 2009 (West Indies), it caused some consternation and my absence was noted on ABC radio. The global recession never made it to Perth, but when the bloke who travels 11,000 miles every year to the Test match doesn't make it, people start to wonder, apparently.

What's more, I've been pretty lucky at the WACA of late. Monty taking 5-for and Gilchrist's blazing century 4 years ago; India's first ever win in Perth including *that* spell from Ishant to Ponting in 2007; Duminy taking South Africa to victory in 2008 despite a tremendous Mitchell Johnson performance - these have all been special experiences. Hopefully Anderson, Swann and a couple of others can step up and delivery for me this weekend!

I'm also looking forward to seeing Phil Hughes in action. He's been talking a phenomenal game this week, citing Virender Sehwag as his inspiration, so at the very least I guess we'll see some excitement. Of sorts.

The pitch looks a lot greener than it has in recent years, but although it's steadily recovered some pace, it is not the WACA of old, and it's hard to see any of the medium pacers terrorizing batsmen unless Mitchell Johnson somehow gets it right on his home ground. I won't be wagering my mortgage on that though.

The Fremantle Doctor has also been making its presence felt all week. It's been the driest winter on record in Western Australia, and now we're in for a relatively cool Test match, with temperatures barely topping 30 degrees. Throw in a nice breeze, a true pitch, and one of the best sighting grounds in the world, and you've got to think that anyone who gets themselves in will have to work hard to get themselves out.

As far as my picks for the game are concerned, I think we're going to see Tim Bresnan come in for England and play the reliable stock bowler role, as well as adding a little bit of depth to the batting, as superfluous as that may appear. There will be purchase for Swann in the latter stages, and I'm really looking forward to watching him bowl live for the first time. The Aussies will be fired up, and there is everything to play for, but it's very hard to look past England taking it with a 50+ run or 4+ wicket win early on Day 5. You heard it here first.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pietersen drops himself?

More sensationalism from CricInfo this morning - I woke up to read the headline "Pietersen drops himself by Twitter." Now we can leave aside debate as to whether or not that actually constitutes a sentence, and focus on the implied meaning.

The clear and no doubt intended suggestion is that Kevin Pietersen, of all people, was able to subjugate his own ego, and announce that he was in terrible nick and would consequently be making himself unavailable for England for the remainder of the summer as he felt that he was not worthy of a place in the squad.

It transpires that this is, perhaps not surprisingly, a long way from the truth. What Pietersen actually did was reveal that he had been dropped by the selectors. You know, the way it usually happens, especially with superstars.

Shame on you, CricInfo. Seems like these sensationalist headline shenanigans are never going to end and it's a real disappointment.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Myopic journalism

Lionel Messi is being hailed in the English media. Turns out that he's a good footballer. The evidence of this? He scored a goal against Manchester United, and four against Arsenal. That'll be it then.

The case of Zlatan Ibrahimovic is even more amusing. While he's no Messi or Ronaldo, he's a supremely gifted footballer, with an eye and talent for something a bit special. He has shown this countless times over the years, but the English media judged him on one non-performance against England in an international. In the build-up to the first leg of the Arsenal-Barcelona clash, we kept hearing about how overrated he was.

Two goals later, and a bit of humble pie was being hastily consumed. All of a sudden, we heard how Zlatan had finally raised his game, and evolved from a raw talent into the finished article. Apparently this evolution happened in 20 minutes at The Emirates stadium. Amazing transformation.

Seriously, in this day and age, how ridiculously myopic and insular does one have to be in order to make such selective judgments?

Messi, Maradona and Ronaldo.

The quite predictable happened yesterday - Arsenal were humbled by Barcelona. We often hear, and rightly so, about how United were taught a lesson in last year's champion's league final, but the schooling Arsenal received over two legs put 2009 to shame.

There's not a lot left to say about Lionel Messi that hasn't been said, other than for me to assert that rather too much has already been said.

He is a stupendous footballer, of that there is no doubt. He's always looked a serious talent, and over the last 18 months he's translated that into consistently exceptional performances. However, to talk about him in the same breath as Maradona is quite simply premature. I'm not sure there's ever been a player like Maradona, warts and all. Perhaps Duncan Edwards might have become that player, but we'll never know. But Maradona single-handedly dominated all in his path. What he did with Napoli defies belief, and then he went on to win the World Cup in 1986. Not Argentina, but Maradona.

Messi, on the other hand, is a phenomenal player in an superb footballing team. He's not carrying them in quite the way that Maradona carried Napoli, but he's also not as far off as one might think. What he has to do, in order to even knock on the door of that ultimate pantheon of greatness, is to put in those performances for Argentina.

It's unfashionable to say this, but Cristiano Ronaldo, who currently seems a distant second to Messi, has regularly done the business for Portugal, as well as being the architect of his teams' successes at club level. Ronaldo may not be quite the footballer Messi is, though history will be the final arbiter on that score, but he's had a greater and broader impact on his teams than Messi, at this point. Controversial, but true.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

What makes a great T20 cricketer?

Some say it's all about physical strength. Some say it's raw aggression. Jacques Kallis and Sachin Tendulkar may be proving in the IPL that it's simply down to cricketing skills in their purest forms.

But Geoff Miller, England selector, has other ideas, according to AFP. England picked Michael Lumb in their T20 squad not because of his explosive batting, but apparently because he can make the rest of the team feel good about themselves. Move over, sports psychologists.

Do we really live in a world in which journalists don't know the difference between "complement" and "compliment?" Don't answer that question.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

USA cricket - where to from here?

The dust has settled on the U-19 World Cup, and it’s about time that we started looking critically at where we are, and what we need to do. This is a bit long-winded, so I’ll start by summarizing the points I’ve made within, and for those who are interested in where I’m coming from with each one, read on!

  1. Honest Assessment - we need to understand and accept the current level of our cricket before we can actually improve it
  2. Long term thinking - progress does not happen overnight
  3. Out with the politics, self-aggrandizement and vested interests
  4. Professionalism - administrators need to have relevant experience and skill sets
  5. Development - groom and grow cricketers locally
  6. Fundamentals - focus on facilities and playing the game properly
  7. Continuity - create a U-23 squad
  8. 20/20 cricket - embrace it, but not at the expense of core cricketing skills
  9. Pipeline - infuse the senior squad with up and coming young talent
  10. Selection - not just about statistics, look at mental and technical cricketing skills
  11. Mediocrity - quit celebrating it
  12. Coaching - not just physical training, look at technical and mental skills and how to play the game
  13. Understanding - the challenges of an associate nation trying to climb up a level are not the same as those of a test nation
What went wrong in New Zealand

It doesn’t take any great cricketing understanding to deem the tournament a failure for the USA U-19 squad, although let’s not forget that there were always going to be two associate nations (and/or Zimbabwe) playing in the 15th/16th place playoff at the end of the tournament. However, that’s far too simplistic. It was indeed a failure, and an abject one at that, but the failure is less on the part of the young boys who went out to New Zealand and so much more a reflection on the older men who are responsible for their cricket, and for cricket in the US as a whole. It is they who must hold up their hands and accept responsibility, and there is little doubt that it will be they who most pointedly do not do so.

Yes, the boys were found wanting. Yes, they apparently did not know how to go about batting against a good bowling attack. Yes, as some opponents commented, the medium pacers “didn’t try to swing the ball.” But the fault lies not just with the players, but with what was around them.

It should have been no surprise to anyone that batting was the biggest technical problem in New Zealand. That is, quite brutally, the nature of the game. A mediocre bowler can bowl one long hop every over, and you can still keep the opposition under 300. A batsman is finished the first time anything goes wrong. That the coaching staff failed to consider this simple reality ahead of time, indicates that they were not worthy of their positions, plain and simple.

What the boys needed was to be guided along a path that would compensate for the cricketing nous and experience that we simply don’t and can’t have in our environment. The fact of the matter is that our 19 year olds have the cricketing experience and acumen of a 13 year old in Australia. There is no shame in that, but it is therefore the job of the rest of us to give them everything else we can. Tactics, physical readiness, mental approach to the game – we’re not going to become Test cricketers overnight, but we can certainly learn to approach and play the game the right way, and give ourselves a chance to showcase our natural talent.

So what do we need to do?


Thinking long term is always going to be fundamental to achieving something in our cricket. We tend to tie our hopes and expectations to the players we know and love – the ones we play with every Sunday. That mentality needs to be shed, and shed fast. If we’re going to do something sustainable for our cricket, then it is going to be the next generation and the one after that who get the glory, not us. And if we can’t come to terms with that, and put our egos to the side, then it simply will never happen. A false dawn here and there, and we’ll keep coming back to square one.

The USA U-19 coach went on the record saying that he went to New Zealand expecting to win a few games against the bigger nations. Who was he kidding, apart from himself? Even under ideal conditions, beating the Australian and South African U-19 boys would have taken a perfect storm. Given our background and preparation, it would have been a miracle, and the boys deserve great credit for the bowling and fielding performances in those games.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with a coach thinking positive and being optimistic. The problem is that when you abandon realism, you fail to prepare for what you are actually going to confront. Until we realize and acknowledge the level of our cricket, and the yawning chasms that we have to cross, we are unlikely to put anything in place that helps us raise that standard.


Our administration, top-down and bottom-up, is an unmitigated disaster, and continues to be so in so many ways. There are flickers of hope that sporadically shine across the country, but we are dominated by an environment of self-aggrandizing ego-fuelled politics, and that’s being generous.

Quite simply, too few people are honestly thinking about cricket and its long term future, and too many people are thinking about how themselves, and their nearest and dearest, can benefit. Unfortunately, with the current global interest in the US as a cricketing destination and minor cricketing power, the incentive to operate in this manner has only increased. The rewards range from an all-expenses paid trip to New Zealand, to a seat alongside legends of the game at ICC meetings and events.

We desperately need to get professional and get accountability into the mix. Transparency of operation is paramount – every appointment, every decision, should be open to public scrutiny and able to withstand that analysis. This is easier said than done, but if we’re serious about this, we have to start with a clean slate. Bring in people who have relevant experience, professional skills that can be leveraged, and crucially, where possible, no direct skin in the game. The old guard, to a man, need to step aside. Not because all of them are bad, but because every one of them comes with baggage that limits our ability to do things the right way.

Infrastructure and Development

This is really the bottom line when it comes to putting cricket, or indeed any sport, on the road to long term success. Quite simply we have no infrastructure and no path for cricket development, and we need to focus strongly on setting that straight.

We will give ourselves a chance for success when we’re able to identify a talented 13 year old and groom him so that not only does he do a job at the age group level, but most importantly, he develops to a peak in his mid to late twenties and becomes a long-term contributor at the senior national level. When we can point to a few players who have followed that path, then we can point to a system that nurtures and develops cricketing talent.

Instead what we have is two separate and distinct cricketing worlds. One of them is for U-19 cricket, and the other for so-called adult cricket. The composition of the senior national squad tells a story. It doesn’t matter so much that none of the players were born in this country – we are after all a nation of immigrants. It doesn’t even matter that they are ageing, though I comment on that elsewhere. What is telling is that not one of the players was developed in this country. They all learned and evolved their games elsewhere and came to us as formed cricketers. They may have been honed and fine-tuned a little on these shores, but they weren’t grown here. Not one of the players from the 2006 U-19 team is in the picture, and really, nothing more need be said to illustrate the problem

In fact, I would be so bold as to say that we see talent not only not going forward, but moving backwards. We have a tendency to overplay U-19 achievements, as if playing at the U-19 level is the pinnacle of your cricketing career. If that is the message we send out to the players, then combined with the complete absence of any coaching or development infrastructure to take them beyond that stage, it can be no surprise that their cricket suffers and ultimately settles into the mediocrity that surrounds them in our local leagues.

We certainly should encourage our young cricketers, but we have to stop celebrating mediocrity and start searching for true quality. Our U19 squads, both regional and national, should be playing together through the year, every year. The opposition doesn’t have to be other international teams, as the objective is to have them learn how to play the game. At 19 and 20, we aren’t going to create cricketing talent out of nowhere, but what we can do is help them evolve into thinking cricketers, for as you go up the ladder, it is in the mind (with temperament, strategy and tactics) that games will be won and lost.

I would actually advocate the creation of a national U-23 squad that should play against the national senior team and against regional senior teams every year. This would help keep our U-19s in the game beyond their U-19 days, and with the right guidance and mentorship hopefully help turn them into cricketers that can serve the country for a long time.

In parallel, we need to focus on cricketing fundamentals at the grass roots levels. Forget about trying to jazz up the game with white balls and colored clothing – let’s look at getting cricketers to play the basic game properly in the first place. The party stuff can come later, or elsewhere. Yes, we absolutely need proper pitches and outfields, but we also need cricket balls that swing, and bowlers and batsmen who can learn to deal with that. We need to have youngsters understand that a properly compiled 30 may actually set you on the way to a far better cricketing career than the slogged 50, and we need to follow through on that.

Foster quality cricket, create some continuity for the youngsters and a lot of what Peter Della Penna raised in his excellent article back in November 2009 will be addressed as a consequence.


Selection is going to be controversial at the best of times, and it’s even harder in our environment. Once again, short-termism and politics are controlling how we pick our teams, and we simply plan to worry about tomorrow if and when the sun rises again.

The first thing we need to address in our selection, particularly at the senior level, is the objective of a team. It’s very easy for an established cricketing nation to simply select the best team to win each game or tournament as it comes. For one that is seeking to establish itself on the world stage, the challenges are a lot greater. It’s not sufficient to simply try and win today, because you need to prepare to win tomorrow and the day after to maintain a certain standing in the game.

This may be my most controversial contention, but I submit that the US needs to be willing to dare to make some short term sacrifices in order to reap the long term rewards. Peter Della Penna nailed this one too in his aforementioned article. Our stated objective today is to make it to the 2015 Cricket World Cup. In my eyes, the objective really should be to ensure that we can make it to the 2019, 2023 and 2027 World Cups without having to worry about it unduly as we get closer to those events.

Doing that, however, starts today. It starts with everything else I’ve talked about, but it also starts with picking players with an eye to the future. Just as a quite random example, taking Saqib Saleem to Nepal would have done a lot more for US cricket than taking Sudesh Dhaniram, regardless of how good Dhaniram is. This is the time to start giving the players of the future exposure, and introducing them to the game at increasingly higher levels.

There’s plenty of experience in the team in the form of the likes of Massiah, Thyagarajan, Usman Shuja and others. Take a few thirty year olds to lead on the field, surround them with the exuberance of youth, and all of a sudden, you’ll not only be developing those individuals, you’ll be showing every cricket playing youngster in the country that there is something to strive for. You will naturally create a pipeline, and that pipeline will keep flowing. No longer will you have to pray weekly that a few more good cricketers leave India, Pakistan and the Caribbean and come to the US to seek their fame and fortune. You’ll already have them.

The second thing we need to radically alter in our selection, this time particularly at the youth level, is the type of player we select. We need to recognize the substantial difference between cricket in our local leagues, and cricket at a higher level. We have to learn to look beyond the statistics, and look at the sort of cricketer who is worth the long term investment. Often times we’ll find that the guy scoring thirties every week is actually going to be a better perfomer at a higher level than the one bludgeoning his way to big scores on a cow pasture with the aid of sloppy fielding and short boundaries. We need to look at how players think, how strong they are mentally in both comfortable and challenging situations. In short, we need to look at their core cricketing skills – but I’m not even sure that today, we understand what core cricketing skills are!


It’s hard to overstate how poor the coaching and preparation for the U-19 trip to New Zealand appears to have been. The icing on the cake was the coach, a former Test cricketer no less, indicating that the grassy tracks surprised him. A complete lack of homework and preparation was betrayed by that single comment.

There was clearly no thought given to what the team was going to be up against, no consideration of what they needed to do to raise their game a level, and even less time spent working out how a team needs to operate and manage itself over the course of a month long tournament on foreign soil. Instead we had a wonderful boondoggle for the management and coaching staff with a few games of cricket on picturesque grounds thrown in for good measure. Oh, and some hobnobbing with a few cricketing superstars.

There is no point in playing the percentages when you’re the weaker player. You can only punch above your weight if you throw some punches, and what that translates to is playing positive cricket from the start. The time for playing the percentages is in the years before the big tournaments, when skills are being developed and refined. When it comes to the crunch, you need to bring out your best.

The thing to understand is that positive cricket does not equate to slogging or bowling bouncers galore. It means playing with intelligence, it means applying pressure throughout, it means bowling to take wickets, and batting to score runs. Sounds simple in writing, but it can only be put into practice when youngsters are given the appropriate foundation. Coaches in local leagues need to start teaching our youngsters how to bowl for wickets, how to field aggressively, and how to bat assertively without losing your head.

We need to be able to identify young talent around the country. We need coaches and cricketing mentors who can train them in how to play the game. Instead of celebrating small achievements with excessive hyperbole, we need to make sure the youngsters understand that they have a long road ahead of them, and then guide them along the way. We need proper coaches who can actually resolve technical flaws at an early stage. We need proper coaches and leaders who can help cricketers understand how to play the game. As I keep saying, it’s a mental game when you step up a level, and that is where we are sorely lacking.


There is a long, long way for US cricket to go, but for the first time, even if it might be for all the wrong reasons, we have a global vested interest in our success. Opportunity is knocking, and if we have the guts to do so, we can take full advantage of it. Build something sustainable, and our epitaphs will read “left a lasting legacy that allowed cricket to flourish in the USA” rather than “had a drink at Lord’s with Clive Lloyd and Sunil Gavaskar.” I hope I’m not alone in thinking that it’s the first one that reads better.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Contest: Fill out the sequence

So we were hanging out at work trying to figure out how to name our servers. Eventually, we settled upon a sequence that was both apposite and sufficiently geeky.

Server #1 has been named Ulyett

Our Interns are now hard at work trying to figure out what #2 through #10 should be named, and explain the sequence. There are only 10 entities in this set, and they do have a specific sequence. There may be an 11th entity sometime in the future, but the chances are we'll reach 11 servers before that, unfortunately. Still, this is fun for the first ten.

This is your chance at fame, albeit with no associated fortune. Post your thoughts in the comments section.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

When is a draw not a draw?

The Surrey vs. Middlesex game in the latest round of the County Championship was always going to be an interesting one, pitting one of the greatest Surrey batsmen of all time, Mark Ramprakash, against the prodigal son of Australian cricket, Philip Hughes.

Neither man disappointed, with Ramps making yet another century against his former employers, followed by Hughes falling just short of a double century in his first effort. But this was just the appetizer.

Surrey began their second innings 57 runs behind, and with Michael Brown and Ramps looking in complete control and scoring at nearly 4 an over, would have been entertaining thoughts of some great average-boosting batting practice. Enter the 40-year old slow bowler, Shaun Udal. He took 6, as Surrey were dismissed for 242.

All of a sudden, Middlesex had 25 overs to score 186 to win, or 185 to tie the game. They got off to an absolute flyer. At the 10 over mark, they were 93 for no loss. So ten wickets in hand, 93 runs required, and 15 overs to get them. I'd imagine the bookies stopped offering odds at that point, with Hughes in full cry, and the Irish Englishman Eoin Morgan in next.

Compton and Hughes fell in quick succession, but Morgan took Middlesex to 169-3 in 22 overs. Three overs remaining, 16 to tie, 17 to win.

Then Morgan got out, and Chris Schofield and Murtaza Hussain spun their way through the rest of the batting in the space of 9 deliveries, to leave Middlesex on a quite incredible 184-9 at the end of the 25 overs.

One more wicket, and Surrey win by a run. One more run, and it's a tie. Two more runs, and Middlesex win by a wicket. But the overs are up, and it's a draw.

When people come back to CricInfo or CricketArchive years from now, they'll see a drab listing in the headline for this scorecard. It will say something like

Surrey vs Middlesex, Match Drawn.

My question is -- is that a fair description of a game that winds up this close? Heck, it almost seems worthy of being called a tie! It reminds me of GCSE and O and A-level days, when you could actually get a grade that signified a "Near Miss". If I recall correctly, we had A, B, C, D, E, N (Near Miss), F (Fail), and U (unclassified - i.e. so bad that we can't even state it). Perhaps cricket needs a "Near Miss" type result.

Friday, April 24, 2009

I really am a twit

Useful piece of information for both my readers:

My twitter id is fourthumpire