Sunday, 30 January 2005

Wilson's return

I suspect Tama Canning is set for disappointment. Before the World XI games he looked to be first choice of the rank for the role of New Zealand's bowling all-rounder. Andre Adams had drifted out of the picture after some indifferent form and no-one else really seemed to be on the horizon. The came the tsunami, the cancellation of genuine one-dayers and the chance for the selectors to experiment. And it was a chance that Jeff Wilson took with both hands. If we are honest he is not an exceptional bowler, but against the World XI he did three things very well - he bowled at a nippy pace (touching 140kmph), he got bounce by bowling into the pitch and he bowled very straight.

Not only did Wilson do well enough to stamp his name on the role, but Andre Adams suddenly hit form for Auckland - taking 4-93 and 6-25 against Wellington in the State Championship. Adams is currently out of cricket due to a virus, but with Canning suddenly anonymous (he didn't take a wicket against Wellington and scored 4 and 8 not out) he is still looking the best bet to be Wilson's back-up.

Thursday, 27 January 2005


Sigh. Poor old Hamilton. New Zealand Cricket finally laid down the law last season and told the Hamilton City Council that international matches would not be staged there unless the crappy pitch was torn up and relaid. So the Council spent the winter tearing up the pitch and putting in a new one, which turned out to be even more crap than the old one. Its enough to make you want to smack a City Councillor's head against the wall. This is the fifth most read article in today's Sydney Morning Herald.

Wednesday, 26 January 2005

Poll results and a new poll

My last poll asked you which Australian cricketer got most on your wick. Initially it was a close competition, but at the end Brett Lee ran away with the prize. Seven of you found the blonde chucker even more irritating than the blonde spinner (who won four votes). Almost the entire Australian team managed shared third place with Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Adam Gilchrist and Michael Clarke all winning one vote apiece.

Having dealt with one evil foe of New Zealand cricket, my new poll asks you how to rid ourselves of our other great scourge. Stress fractures. Vote now, before your back goes.

Scott Angry

Scott Styris has sought clarification from the New Zealand selectors over the reason he was dropped from the second charity one-dayer. Scott didn't believe Stephen Fleming when he said Styris was dropped because he is "short of runs". After all, this claim is clearly rubbish because "I was man of the series three games ago in Bangladesh, so I'm not going that bad." And if you use the performance against a sub-par Bangladesh as your form guide and ignore the matches against Australia and Sri Lanka that followed and a horrendous domestic season then he might just be right. In justifying why the Bangladesh series is the only reliable indicator of his form Styris claimed that his poor one-day form for Northern (scores of 0,6 and 0) was the result of "three crap wickets". Having handily ignored the games against Australia and Sri Lanka (batting average 7) he then claimed that he has been doing well in the first-class game. These matches have been played on "very good" pitches and his scores in the "30s and 40s" show that he is in good form. While only quibbling slightly with his mathematics skills, I do have to admit that returns of 22, 36, 31 and 15 are actually pretty good given his meagre talents.

Having dismissed form as a reason for being dropped, Styris has hunted around for the real reason - and he thinks he has found it. It seems the selectors are trying to play mind games with him. They dropped him to boost his enthusiasm for the game. But clever Scott has seen through that, "I've played a few games now, so I don't think I need a wake-up call," he claims.

A banner at the stadium told us "Scott Styris: don't hate him because he's beautiful." And why would you when he gives us so many other good reasons.

Tuesday, 25 January 2005

"Stress fracture"

I never, ever want to hear that phrase again. Shane Bond has one, it looks like Jacob Oram has one and now it appears that Daniel Vettori has another one. What is it with New Zealand bowlers and stress fractures? I say the only solution is to bring all promising teenage cricketers in and replace their spines with titanium rods. Or bionic vertebrae. Or something. 'Cos bone is just bloody useless.

Monday, 24 January 2005

Fleming's knock

Here is a link to the Sydney Morning Herald's write up entitled "Fleming's innings 'the best ever'".

Sunday, 23 January 2005

Cricket in the movies

Cricket has not often appeared in movies, but it looks like Lagaan and Wonderous Oblivion have begun a trend. A joint Australian-Indian venture is set to star Adam Gilchrist and Brett Lee. Gee, I wonder if Lee will be able to cope with living the vain, preening, arrogant life of a movie star?

Fleming's knock

What can you say? A breath-taking knock against the two best bowlers in the world. Unbelievable stuff and the sort of thing to make his usual inconsistency seem all the more frustrating.

Friday, 21 January 2005

The ratings system formally known as PWC

LG has taken over sponsorship of the ratings system formally sponsored by Price Waterhouse Coopers and generally known as the PWC Ratings. At the same time the ICC has announced that the ratings system will be recognised as "official".

I have been discussing this move some friends. We all agree that the worst aspect of this is that the excellent PWC ratings website has been shut down and replaced by a very unexciting ICC website. The ICC website promises that it will be improved shortly - and I noticed that it was better today than it was yesterday - but unless it undergoes radical improvement, I can't see it ever beating the old PWC website for style and functionality.

Ben doesn't like the fact that the ratings are now "official" at all. He thinks the ratings are great, but should be just for fun. I disagree, mainly because the popularity of other rating systems are on the rise - particularly in the subcontinent where systems like CEAT are starting to overtake the PWC ratings in terms of popularity. The problem with these new rating systems is that they generally award points for player performances. For example under CEAT a player gets 1 point for every 35 runs they score with additional points depending on things like match outcome (see here for more on how CEAT works). The problem with this is that a player who plays 20 matches a year will generally outscore a player who only plays 10 matches - meaning that the ratings favour Indian players above the others because Indian cricketers play more games than anyone else. Recognition of the PWC ratings by the ICC should keep them at the top of the pile and do away with demand for these lesser systems.

Wednesday, 19 January 2005

Adams in Essex

Andre Adams' term as an emergency replacement player for Essex last season was so successful that the county has offered him a contract for next season.

Learning from Pakistan

Politically Pakistan might not be the most enlightened nation in the world, but a huge revamp of its cricketing structure has included some exceptionally enlightened and democratic ideas. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has started with the basics, by redrawing a map of the nation to ensure that the sides and the administration are as representative as possible. The 35 old associations have been abolished and replaced with 99 "divisions". These divisions incorporate the entire country - including the north-western provinces which have previously not had representation and which usually only make the news for reasons associated with Osama bin Laden. These will not be empty associations either (such as those in Kenya which have received huge amounts of funding despite having no players - funding which has subsequently vanished), the passion for the game has risen dramatically in this part of the country - something witnessed by the appearance of players like Shahid Afridi, Younis Khan, Yasir Hameed, Umar Gal and Riaz Afridi in the national side. The PCB has undertaken to ensure that each of the 99 divisions has at least three turf pitches of a good standard, four practice pitches, a pavilion and seating for a modest crowd. They have already built 34 new grounds and have upgraded the facilities in 10 other divisions to ensure that they are up to scratch.

The 99 divisions will play each other in 9 regional competitions - each competition including the teams encompased by one of the first-class associations (except for Lahore and Karachi which will stage one divisional competition apiece, but will provide two first-class sides due to their size). If this were to occur in New Zealand you might see a competition incorporating Wellington City, the Hutt Valley and other teams within the region encompassed by the Wellington first-class association playing each other, with similar competitions in each of Northern Districts, Auckland, Central Districts, Canterbury and Otago. This structure would see a club cricketer aiming to graduate to his divisional side and then to his first-class side and then to the test team.

This all seems perfectly logical and sensible, and it is remarkable that no-one has thought of it before. Or perhaps they have. The problem with most cricketing structures is that they are ancient and have developed over time and in a rather haphazard nature. The age and sentiment attached to them makes change a very difficult proposition.

But lets put sentiment a side and take a look at the current structure of divisional cricket in New Zealand (and it may surprise you to know that it exists, such is its low profile). A team like Hutt Valley might play two games a season in the Hawke Cup competition if they hold the cup, or only one if they don't, and, if the Wellington Association decides to organise them, the odd warm-up or trial match. Representative sides like these exist in a weird sort of limbo, tagged on to the structure of the game and generally ignored by everyone - including first-class selectors who generally rely on club cricket as an indicator of form and talent.

The game in New Zealand is built on remarkably unsteady roots and the addition of a decent divisional structure might be one way to make these roots stronger. Realistically we currently only have two levels of cricket beneath the test game - first-class cricket and club cricket. Club cricket is played on substandard wickets and the first-class season is exceptionally short. The task of upgrading every club wicket is probably beyond us, but playing a divisional competition on the best club wickets might be possible. The competition could be staged on weekends at the same time as club cricket, and being regional this should mean very little additional administrative and organisational cost.

If divisional cricket seems like an unnecessary layer to the game in New Zealand, then we should do the unsentimental thing and scrap the Hawke Cup competition altogether. We could use the money saved by doing this to extend the first-class season. The old argument was that the first-class season had to be short because players couldn't afford to take more time off work to compete in it, but the professional era has put paid to that.

Whatever we do, more cricket of a higher standard is what our promising cricketers need. The current system fails to give them that and it is time to be a little inventive. Pakistan is one place showing us how.

Batsmen coming into form

The New Zealand batting order is taking on a bit of a rosy sheen thanks to the form of batsmen in the first-class game. In the latest round most of the top players did well, despite generally average team totals:

Craig McMillan - 51 (out of 198) and 82 (out of 238)
Nathan Astle - 53 (out of 198) and 3 (out of 238)
Michael Papps - 3 (out of 198) and 13 (out of 238)
Tim McIntosh - 21 (out of 198) and 4 (out of 238)
Peter Fulton - 18 (out of 198) and 23 (out of 238)
Jamie How - 4 (out of 350) and 13 (out of 275)
Matthew Sinclair - 17 (out of 350) and 95 (out of 275)
Ross Taylor - 42 (out of 350) and 0 (out of 275)
Matthew Horne - 76 (out of 404) and 72 (out of 223/3)
Lou Vincent - 185 (out of 404) and 8 (out of 223/3)
Rob Nicol - 35 (out of 404) and 14* (out of 223/3)
Hamish Marshall - 51 (out of 184) and 13 (out of 195)
Scott Styris - 31 (out of 184) and 15 (out of 195)
Stephen Fleming - 56 (out of 220) and 80* (out of 160/2)
Jesse Ryder - 20 (out of 220)

So McMillan, Astle, Sinclair, Fleming and Marshall are all looking good in the middle order - with the form of Vincent and Horne putting some pressure on them. A word also on Rob Nicol, whose 35 came off 180 balls in 242 minutes and who I think has the technique and temperament to be a test opener.

There are some concerns. None of the youngsters did particularly well and on current form, Michael Papps would have to be pretty lucky to be selected to open the batting against Australia. Meanwhile Scott Styris has barely scored a run all year. But overall, I think we are starting to look in fairly good shape.

Tuesday, 18 January 2005

Test cricket

A quick glance at this morning's test scoreboards shows what we are missing with the cancellation of the Sri Lankan tour. Test cricket is abounding with cracking matches. A superb spell of swing bowling by Matthew Hoggard sent South Africa stumbling to a dramatic defeat in the last overs at Johannesburg while in Dhaka a brilliant 153 by Tatenda Taibu has set up an extremely even looking last day between Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

Sunday, 16 January 2005

Poll results and a new poll

In my last poll I asked you what you wanted most for Christmas. The majority of you (7 of 13) were of one mind - you wanted a fit Shane Bond. One of you thought a new opening batsman was a more pressing need. Three of you didn't care which players were involved, as long as they won a test match against Australia. Two of you just wanted to see some cricket that wasn't going to be interrupted by the weather before the tsunami made your votes tragically redundant.

My new poll asks you which of the Australians' you would most like to see on the end of a Shane Bond bouncer.

Cricket in Kenya

Things might be taking a turn for the better in Kenya. A couple of years ago Kenya were looking a far better side than Bangladesh and entry to the test cricket arena looked a formality. But since then, the game in Kenya has been torn apart; Maurice Odumbe, an international class all-rounder, was suspended by the ICC for match-fixing and another ten players were placed under investigation; while the Kenyan Cricket Association (KCA) has been outstandingly corrupt in a game already known for the corruption of its ruling boards.

Now it seems the KCA has gone too far. After refusing to hold elections and treating its most powerful associations shabbily in favour of mysterious provinces which didn't actually seem to have any players, the Kenyan Minister of Sports has sacked the entire Board, appointed an interim Board and ordered that a constitution be drafted which includes such radical concepts as open accountancy and elections.

It is too soon to put Kenya forward as a potential test side again, but there is a feeling of hope around the game again. If the Board can get itself into order, then the players have the talent to succeed. Steve Tikolo, for one, is a batsman who would be welcomed into most international sides.

Friday, 14 January 2005

The middle order moves up

According to Richard Boock in this morning's Herald, Stephen Fleming could well be chosen as an opener against Australia. With Skippy Sinclair already at the top, this means that both openers for the first test are likely to be converted middle order batsmen.

There has always been debate in cricket about whether you should select specialists in each position, or whether you choose the country's best XI players and jiggle the batting order around to fit them all in. New Zealand is almost unique in following this second course and I can't think of too many occasions when it has actually worked. Ken Wadsworth was turned from a batsman into a wicketkeeper and Bryan Young went the other way to become a successful opener. Jacob Oram has also done well as a top order batsman turned all-rounder, but other players we have tried to wedge into uncomfortable slots have not lasted so well. Recent failed experiments include Lou Vincent as an opener, Jeremy Coney at number three, Dipak Patel as a front-line off-spinner and Ken Rutherford as an opener. Of these different transitions, I would suggest that the most difficult is the one from middle order batsman to opening batsman. It involves a change of mind-set from aggressor to defender and a change of technique to adapt to the moving ball. It is also the request we seem to ask of our players most often.

The government steps forward

When he arranged the World XI matches Martin Snedden must have been worried about the cost. The tour would be expensive to host, with New Zealand Cricket having to cover the expenses and wages of the tourists as well as of their own side. To make matters worse, New Zealand Cricket naturally felt obliged to pledge some of the revenue earned towards tsunami relief. Snedden said he hoped sponsorship would cover some of the cost and he must have been very relieved whenthe New Zealand government announced that it will be the series first major donor. Our taxes will be contributing $20 for each run, $1000 for each four and $5000 for each six scored in the series to the relief fund, on top of the money the country has already pledged.

Thursday, 13 January 2005

The first-class season starts again

The national four-day series resumes again today, with most international players available for this round. This means we will see Daniel Vettori and Darryl Tuffey bowling to Stephen Fleming in the opening match, between Northern Districts and Wellington. Perhaps even more interesting than the prospect of seeing how our national representatives fare when facing each other, is the prospect of seeing how Jesse Ryder does against the same bowlers and how big the talent gap is between established test-class cricketers and those on the first-class circuit. The Black Caps website is promising live coverage so we can tune in and find out.

A couple of recent good results have boosted the Northern Districts side and the contest between them and Wellington should be more even than you would expect from a game between last year's champions and last year's wooden spooners. One of those recent good results was the superb victory over Central Districts before Christmas and someone called Jack Solock has produced "game graphs" to demonstrate exactly how that match panned out. They are worth puzzling through, but I can't see them replacing the could old score card.

Tuesday, 11 January 2005

Summer just got longer

New Zealand Cricket have just announced that the Sri Lankans will return here in April to play the two tests which were cancelled by the tsunami.

This is late in the year for cricket, but I actually it could actually be a much safer proposition in April than it is in January - especially given the weather we have seen so far in the new year.

The tour means that our test programme for the season will be completed. Sadly, the one day programme has been badly restricted and the money-spinning holiday season has been left vacant. In addition to the loss of New Zealand Cricket's main source of revenue, the World XI games brought in to replace them could also be a financial downer - money from the games will go to help tsunami victims and the Board will be the ones paying the tourists' wages and travel costs (the expenses of touring sides are usually met by their own Boards) - making this a financially disastrous year for the game.

Another issue is where the games will be played. The tests will take place during the Super 12 rugby programme, which means that the choice of venues is likely to be restricted. The Basin is an obvious choice for one match given that it is not used for rugby, but perhaps this tour is also a chance to take cricket a bit further afield. McLean Park in Napier maybe. Or the Queenstown Events Centre (but only if they change the name to something a little more exciting). Cricket in April is unlikely to draw crowds anyway, so a chance to give the highest level of the game more exposure in the provinces will not result in too much additional cost.

Cricket in Zimbabwe

Greedy white players, corrupt officials, racism on both sides and an inept world governing body. The sad decline of cricket in Zimbabwe is chronicled in an excellent piece in the Observer.

Monday, 10 January 2005

Zimbabwe vs Bangladesh

You might ask whether it deserves to be called a test match, but Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are currently battling out a bit of a classic in Chittagong. With one day remaining, Bangladesh are on top with Zimbabwe are 46/3 in pursuit of 381.

The Zimbabwe team is full of new faces, but of those a couple are making a good impression. Elton Chigumbura scored 71 in Zimbabwe's second innings and took 5 for 54 as Bangladesh tried to set up a target. Chigumbura is only 18 and made his first-class debut as a 15 year old before destroying Australia in the under-19 World Cup final. He is definitely a player to watch for the future. Apart from Chigumbura and the increasingly impressive Tatenda Taibu, the Zimbabwe batting has been a little weak, but another youngster, Christopher Mpofu took four wickets in the first innings and another in the second to show promise with the new ball.

Bangladesh performed badly against New Zealand late last year, but you shouldn't judge them on just that tour. Their captain, Habibul Bashar missed most of that series and admitted to Wisden that he was very disappointed in the side's performance after they had pushed Pakistan and the West Indies hard. They are a side developing a solid core of players and some of those individuals are starting to shine. Bashar gives the batting line-up a bit of steel and the very talented Mohammed Ashraful is starting to flourish in the middle order while Nafis Iqbal is a young player with talent and the sort of never-say-die attitude the side probably needs. Tapash Baisya and Mashrafe Mortaza might not inspire fear in too many batting line-ups at this stage, but Mortaza is forging quite a decent record and Mohammad Rafique is up there with Daniel Vettori in the left-arm spinning stakes.

A victory will give the Bangladesh side a huge boost (and will sadly ensure New Zealand retains the record for most games played before achieving a first test win) and could lead to even better things over the next year. Zimbabwe on the other hand are a side in dire need of both development and political stability. The Bangladesh tour is not going to help with the latter, but it is certainly an opportunity for the former.

NZ vs the Rest

It might not sound that exciting at first glance, the Sri Lankan tour replaced with a handful of one-day games against players not selected for their own national teams - but when those players include Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, Lance Klusener, Andy Flower, Heath Streak, Graeme Hick, Justin Langer, Michael Bevan, Ian Harvey, Matthew Elliot, Andy Bichel Sanath Jayasuriya, Chaminda Vaas and Kumar Sangakkara it starts to sound a lot better. It is all still unofficial, but an announcement is expected today and according to the leaks these players will be here to play the New Zealand team in games on January 22, 24 and 26.

Shane Bond is back

There is so little cricket news to concentrate on that everyone has gone gah-gah over the fact that Shane Bond had a wee bowl in club cricket. The man himself admitted to being surprised by the number of headlines and demands for an interview, and 10 overs against Canterbury Country is hardly anything which would normally earn you a front page cover on the Dominion Post's sport supplement. But then, this is Shane Bond. And he did look quite sharp. And he did say "It could be two weeks, it could be four weeks, but it is going to fall into place for me." And Australia are here in four weeks' time. And, dammit, that means it is bloody exciting news.

Thursday, 6 January 2005

Another poll for you to vote in

The BBC is asking you to vote for the greatest sports commentator of all time. Sadly the list is a little limited and is no room for you to scribble John Parker's name at the bottom, but it is still worth voting - Richie Benaud is currently top of the table and he needs your help to stay there.

I have to say that I am really enjoying the rambling of the Australian radio commentators at the moment - in the brief periods given over to them by Radio Sport. Jim Maxwell and Geoff Lawson are a brilliant combination, the rambling dry wit of Maxwell sparks nicely with the, errr, rambling dry wit of Lawson. It reminds me of the glory days when Coney, Waddle and Parker shared a commentary box - back in the time before Waddle became all bitter and twisted - Parker's voice cracking like a school-boy's and wit so dry and sharp you weren't sure whether it would burn you or stab you.

Wednesday, 5 January 2005

Shane Warne - hero or zero?

Here's a link to someone else's poll, and an article arguing for and against the case for Shane Warne as a great Australian. So far 63% of people voting in the Sydney Morning Herald don't think Shane Warne comes up to scratch - but then, it is a Sydney paper and he IS a Victorian...

Personally, I think Warne is a superb cricketer and a flawed human being. He will go down as one of the game's alltime greats and did cricket a fantastic favour by restoring the place of spin-bowling in test cricket after a decade where pace ruled all, but he is also a bit of an idiot who has managed more than his fair share of loutish moments. But his skill as a cricketer should outshine those moments. You can find plenty of idiots in Courtenay Place on a Friday night who could easily wake up on Saturday to remember that they sent dodgy text messages to someone who is not their partner. If the papers were to report on any of them, then there would be no room for anything else. Unless he breaks the law, what Shane Warne does outside of cricket shouldn't be our concern - no matter how amusing it sometimes is.

Monday, 3 January 2005

Cricket langour is summer's language

I missed this guest editorial in last week's Sydney Morning Herald. Those of you who enjoy musing on how you can enter and exit two different states of mind while watching cricket will enjoy it.

Captaining the Rest of the World

The Rest of the World XI has been chosen for a charity one-day match to play and Asian XI to raise money for tsunami victims. Stephen Fleming, Daniel Vettori and Chris Cairns have been chosen in the side, but Ricky Ponting has been appointed captain. Richard Hadlee and Steve Waugh were the selectors and Hadlee has stated that he and Waugh agreed on the choice of captain. This is quite a snub to the New Zealand skipper coming, as it does, from our chief of selectors. Fleming is certainly the better captain and even the one-eyed Australian commentators have been critical of Ponting's recent decision-making. Perhaps Sir Paddles simply wants Flem to have a bit of a mental break, but if that was the case then I hope he spoke to the skipper first.