Tuesday, 31 May 2005

Ian Butler bounced

You have to suspect that there is something New Zealand Cricket doesn't want to say in this. Ian Butler has apparently not been given a contract this year, while Chris Harris - who is 35 years old and has not played in over a year - has. Perhaps there was some truth in Brendon Bracewell's claims that Butler is not the sort of player his brother has any time for. I just hope that, whatever the reason for the young quick's rejection, New Zealand Cricket are being upfront and have sent him away with instructions on how to win his central contract back. True pace is a limited resource and Butler is one player who has it. For him to turn his back on New Zealand cricket would be an absolute tragedy.

Monday, 30 May 2005

A possible change in our ranking

West Indies have just thumped Pakistan in the first test of a two test series. According to the Black Caps website if Pakistan were to lose the second match, they will sink below us on the test rankings table. I'll certainly be watching the outcome of this series with greater interest now.

Richie on Bangladesh

Having just commentated on Bangladesh's latest catastrophe Richie Benaud's cultured tones have joined the chorus to have the team suspended from test cricket. And you have to say that losing 20 wickets to an opponent's 3 while scoring 261 less runs is pretty blimmin' crummy.

Sunday, 29 May 2005

MCC vs the World

Stephen Fleming has been selected as captain of the MCC side that will take on Brian Lara's International XI for a tsunami fundraiser at Lord's on 14 June. Chris Cairns will be playing on Lara's side.

Friday, 27 May 2005

Overseas test matches, day one

Sigh. Poor old Bangladesh. Day one of the first test in England and they are already looking at a thrashing. All out for 108 and England 188/1 in reply. For some reason Cricinfo is being very unreliable and odd at the moment, so I have been getting my coverage from Sporting Life. You can go here if you really want to read the same old dreary things about batsmen lacking in application and ragged new ball bowling.

Meanwhile, things might finally be looking a little bit up for the West Indies. They smashed 345 on the first day against Pakistan - and with ten wickets and 367 runs in the day that must have been some cricket to watch.

Thursday, 26 May 2005

The continuing democratisation of English cricket

A few years' ago English cricket seemed to be at risk of becoming the realm of rich old white men and no-one else. But the introduction and sudden popularity of Twenty20 at a County level and now the appearance of a scheme called Chance to Shine are threatening to make cricket a popular pursuit again. In New Zealand we have had Kiwi Cricket for many years now, but lack what Chance to Shine will give to the English game. Chance to Shine is about increasing participation in real cricket by young people. It is well-funded, receives popular support and has quite a canny angle - being to cast cricket as a healthy lifestyle choice in an country lacking in those. Go here to hear Derek Pringle sings its praises in the Telegraph.

In other news, Stephen Fleming just hit 92 for Notts against Gloucestershire, while Scott Styris managed an uncharacteristically high score of 34 for Middlesex against Sussex (his season average by the way is 25.42).

Tuesday, 24 May 2005

Nathan goes to Durham

The Black Caps website has previewed Nathan's six week stint with Durham with a bland little interview and a few statistics about his recent form and his previous performances in county cricket. Its not really worth reading, but its winter and interesting cricket stories are hard to find.

Time to make the selection panel smaller

After watching Martin Crowe's application to be a New Zealand selector get knocked back, Andrew McLean has written a piece for Cricinfo arguing that the selection panel only needs three members - and not the current four. McLean states that a team which consists of Bracewell (a spinner), Hadlee (a pace bowler) and Turner (a batsman) has a balanced feel to it and no extra input is needed. McLean is always an entertaining read and in this article he manages to extract, out of nothing, an excuse to make barbed comments about Chris Cairns which are well worth scrolling down the page for.

Monday, 23 May 2005

Willow that makes the bowlers weep

Mike Selvey had an interesting piece in the weekend's Guardian about modern bats and the need to rein in technology. Selvey made me realise that there is more to the Ricky Ponting bat debate than old fuddy-duddy luddites getting upset at the introduction of something new. Selvey argues that modern bats make the game far too hard for spinners. He sees a parallel between cricket and golf, where new club technology has reduced the world's great courses to "a pitch and putt outing". I think he has a point. And another argument could be made against super-bats on behalf of the egalitarian nature of cricket. Selvey notes that super-bats are not hard-pressed and therefore don't last - he mentions in passing that Hershelle Gibbs is onto his 47th bat this year. Unless you are an international player with a neat sponsorship deal, these super-bats do not come cheap. It would be a tragedy if the game ever came to a point where the rich play better than the poor simply because they can afford better equipment.

Saturday, 21 May 2005

Martin Crowe off the selection short-list

According to the "Stuff" website, Martin Crowe has been told his application to be a New Zealand selector will not be considered because of his "checkered history with [coach John] Bracewell". While this might not be a particularly valid reason for rejecting a good applicant, I have never been particularly impressed with Crowe's comments on team selection as a commentator. He seems far too inclined to experiment with unproven players. As a commentator I guess that it is his job to provoke, but I am not convinced that he would be a better choice than his competitor for a spot in the selection team, Glenn Turner. While both would be batsmen in a support team that needs batsmen, Turner has prior experience on Crowe. But that is not to say that Martin should be given the heave-ho from the entire set-up. As a batsman Crowe was a perfectionist, and I am sure that he can translate that skill at improving his own batting into a skill at improving the batting skills of others.

Friday, 20 May 2005

Cricket in Baghdad

Australian journalists have established the Baghdad Cricket Club. Retreiving a ball hit over the fence requires an armed escort and the lunches sound bloody awful, but this sort of dedication is probably a reason why the Australian cricket team is so good.

Wednesday, 18 May 2005

Changes to the game

The ICC's Cricket Committee, headed by serial rule fiddler Sunil Gavaskar, has suggested some changes to the way in which cricket is played. Amongst a host of boring new regulations governing the colour of bats, Sunny is also suggesting that substitutions be allowed in one day cricket and that fielding captains be allowed to choose when to impose some of the fielding restrictions. And perhaps the most controversial of the former India captain's suggestions is that umpires be allowed to ask for television replay assistance to help in any decision (including lbws presumably).

Monday, 16 May 2005

Shoaib the "Gangstar"

All the news lately has been either about John Wright or about Shoaib Akhtar. I guess that is what happens when there is no decent cricket on. Anyway, the latest story about Shoaib is that he is being courted by a film producer to star in a Bollywood movie called "Gangster". According to the movie's producer the fast bowler has the "the vulnerability of a child" - a quality that is apparently sought after in gangsters.

Ben on ... Shoaib Akhtar's new career?

What's next for a much-loved hard worker with an ego too big for cricket? The talkies of course!

More on Wrighty

Cricinfo, aware that John Wright is being egged to apply for the vacant Otago and Canterbury coaching positions, have kindly provided him with some references. I particularly liked Harbarjan Singh's comment that "he had the look of a person who had to go somewhere urgently and had lost his car keys."

Sunday, 15 May 2005

Saturday, 14 May 2005

Karl ... starts to get his hopes up

A New Zealand Academy squad is to play in an Australian Emerging Players' tournament, starting July 4.

The squad is (bold is my emphasis):
Jacob Oram (captain), Graham Aldridge, Todd Astle, Shane Bond, Te Ahu Davis, Derek De Boorder, Peter Fulton, Bruce Martin, Michael Papps, Jeetan Patel, Jesse Ryder, Hayden Shaw and Ross Taylor.

The focus of the tournament will be limited overs versions of the game with two teams from the Australian Institute of Sport and an Indian Academy team set to play the NZC side in Twenty/20 and one-day matches before each team plays a three-day match.

Friday, 13 May 2005

Zimbabwe and politics

The Green Party have spotted a way to get the New Zealand team out of the tour to Zimbabwe without penalty, but the Labour party isn't having a bar of it.

My feeling is that only an intervention from the New Zealand government will stop the tour. Without it, New Zealand Cricket will almost certainly go ahead with the tour, but will allow players to make their own decision about whether to go or not. And I think that New Zealand Cricket probably thinks this will turn out quite nicely for them. Senior players who probably need a rest and who are not worried about their place in the team will turn the tour down, but those players fighting for a place in the side will go. Given the state of the game in Zimbabwe, New Zealand Cricket may see this as a great opportunity for the youngsters to showcase their talents and for the selectors to try a few new tricks without much chance of defeat. Given Stephen Fleming is one of those who will opt out of the tour, it will also give the selectors a chance to blood a potential replacement.

Frankly, while this kind of experimentation has its appeal in benefits for the future of the New Zealand game, it would ultimately be disappointing. Test cricket is the game's pinnacle and should always be played in the hardest possible way by the best players available.

West Indies vs South Africa

How much must last night's ODI loss have hurt the West Indies? Needing two runs to win (and one to tie) off the last four balls of the match and with three wickets in hand it seemed pretty simple. But three balls later Charl Langeveldt was celebrating a hat-trick and the West Indians were shaking their heads in disbelief.

Thursday, 12 May 2005

A tasty quote

From Matthew Norman in a Sunday Telegraph review of a London restaurant:

"The entire notion of 'fusion' cooking belongs to that category of things - along with the England Test bowler Matthew Hoggard, and digital radio - that at first appear a complete waste of space, but gradually prove themselves a useful addition to human existence."

More Shoaib Akhtar quotes

Shoaib today admitted to be heart-broken and confused about his ommission from the Pakistan side. Confused? What is there to be confused about? Well:

"What puzzles me the most is that nobody is willing to tell me whether I have been dropped on fitness grounds or disciplinary reasons or for not appearing before PCB's medical commission to prove fitness."


What part of "Shoaib Akhtar was left out of the Pakistan squad for the tour of West Indies on disciplinary grounds" (his captain, Inzamam al-Haq, on 6 May) did Shoaib not understand?

Luckily for Shoaib it turns out that he has lots of fans around the world to make him feel better. "Internationally, I am tagged as a hard worker and someone who wants to perform and that's why people love me", he said. Hmmm. A much loved hard worker? Oh dear, no wonder Shoaib has complained about being confused.

Bangladesh vs England

There is an interesting interview with Bangladesh captain Habibul Bashar in Cricinfo this week. Bangladesh are warming up for a tour of England and are currently having the better of a weak British Universities team at Fenners. I would love to see Bangladesh do well against England and Habibul certainly manages to say all the right things, but his side is ridiculously young (the keeper is only 16) and the coach appears to have his mind on other things. Still, Bashar is a solid performer and he has some talent in the side. If that talent can fulfill its potential then England might get just the kind of shake up they need before the Australians arrive.

Wednesday, 11 May 2005

Kevin Pietersen

England's new South African wonderboy, Kevin Pietersen, sure can talk. It's kind of refreshing to have a player around who doesn't speak in clich├ęs, but I bet Graeme Smith, Ali Bacher and Graham Thorpe, to name three, weren't pleased to read this interview in the Independent.

Tuesday, 10 May 2005

Ben on ... another to watch out for

Craig McMillan has signed to play for Hampshire for a couple of months, starting from the end of May.

McMillan's test form has fallen away drastically recently, but I think he could still do very well at first class level.

Interestingly, McMillan will be leaving Hampshire in time for the series in Zimbabwe, so he clearly believes there is still a place for him in the Black Caps.

Monday, 9 May 2005

The Super Series

Just two New Zealanders - Dan Vettori and Brendon McCullum - made the shortlist of 39 players to compete against Australia in October's Super Series. The criteria for selection were:

- players' overall career records in both Test and ODI cricket
- their form in both Test and ODI cricket over the past 12 months
- their overall playing records against Australia and their performances against the world champion team in Australia
- players' positions in the LG ICC Rankings for both Test and ODI cricket
- the distinctive characteristics of the venues in Melbourne and Sydney which will host the games.

I guess at least one of those counted against each of Shane Bond, Jacob Oram and Stephen Fleming, but two is still a pretty pathetic effort. England, India and even crummy South Africa had seven players selected from each.

The complete list of players can be found here.

Scott Styris

As Ben has pointed out, Scott Styris has just taken his first ten wicket bag in first-class cricket - 10 for 118 - after taking 6 for 73 in the second innings for Middlesex against Hampshire. Styris promptly started making new friends by laying into the groundsman and calling the wicket "junk". Which, to be honest, it would have to be if he can take wickets on it.

Sunday, 8 May 2005

Fleming upsets my new poll

Rattling up an undefeated 223 a few hours after my new poll was posted might have a some influence on the outcome. Of the other New Zealanders currently in play, Scott Styris scored 33 and has taken 5 wickets for Middlesex, Craig Spearman scored 73 for Glouscestershire and Andre Adams took 2-49 and scored 27 for Essex.

Saturday, 7 May 2005

The saga continues

When your captain says you have a negative impact on the team then you know it's time to quit. Poor old Shoaib Akhtar doesn't seem to have any friends left.

Poll results and a new poll

My last poll asked you whether the New Zealand side should tour Zimbabwe in August. One of you thought we should - and that politics should be keep its nose out of sports. Another two of you agreed that we should tour - but only if Zimbabwe promise to keep being rubbish. Another five of you thought we should tour - because the ICC tells us we have to. Three of you said we should'nt tour - because we would be legitimising the reign of an evil dictator. And three of you said we shouldn't tour anywhere until we learn to play some decent cricket.

In total the Mike on Cricket crowd is 8-6 in favour of touring.

My new poll asks you which New Zealander playing in county cricket is going to have the best year. You have a few to choose from - but beware that Nathan Astle only has a month-long contract.

Friday, 6 May 2005

Getting rid of Lara

The editor of the Wisden Cricketer magazine, John Stern, has written an editorial asking the question, “would the West Indies be better off without Brian Lara in the side?”. It is an interesting thought, but a better one might be "how can Brian Lara be managed?" Lara is an exceptional talent as a batsman but, as Stern points out, his reputation intimidates the rest of the side. Lara also seems to be a very polarising individual and the impression from the last Windies tour here was that there are players who flock around him and try to mimic him, and those who don't and who are therefore on the social outer. As New Zealand fans will remembers from the early '90s, a side with cliques in it is not really much of a side at all.

Everyone who has played sport has played alongside a personality - someone who has talent to burn and a huge amount of influence. I can think of two I have played alongside - one I admired and the other I did not - and ultimately both were bad for the team. One because others resented his influence and the second because his bad behaviour rubbed off onto youngsters who envied his talent and wanted to be like him. Being able to incorporate such a player into any side requires people around him who have the influence, if not the talent, to keep hero worship, intimidation, jealousy, indulgent behaviour and egotism in check.

One thing I feel quite strongly about is that Brian Lara should not be captain of the West Indies. And neither should anyone else in his posse. What the Windies could do with is someone strong enough (or perhaps someone with the management support to help them be strong enough) and influential enough to take the reins, bang some heads, break up the cliques and make sure the side understands that Brian Lara is simply another player - albiet a senior player who has a good deal of knowledge to contribute to the side.

Thursday, 5 May 2005

A quick end?

The end appears nigh for one of cricket's most entertaining dramas, Shoaib Akhtar. Despite a successful return from injury, he has not been selected in the Pakistan squad about to tour the West Indies. Shoaib is "very upset and disappointed" and, at 29, he can't have too many years of fast bowling left ahead of him.

Wednesday, 4 May 2005

Sledging

Derek Pringle, who I respect far more now that he is writing about cricket rather than playing it, has a very interesting article in the Telegraph about Australians and sledging. From what Pringle says it seems that coping abuse is a rite of passage for young Australian cricketers - a type of hazing - and Australian players' exposure to that from a young age might explain why they always act surprised when foreigners complain. I guess if you have survived the process yourself you might feel it is something that has made you harder and something that you have a right to put others through.

Glenn Turner

I have been thinking about Glenn Turner's announcement that he would like to be a national selector. The annoucement itself was all Glenn - few other New Zealanders broadcast their job applications via the media. Certainly none of the other applicants for the four spots on the selection panel have picked up the phone to tell all to the New Zealand Herald. This brashness and failure to work through the normal channels are the most obvious of Turner's quirks and, overall, they are things which should probably count against his appointment. But Turner is also a batsman, a perfectionist and an innovator.

Turner's best qualification probably is, as the Herald identifies, the fact that he was a batsman. Perhaps even more importantly he was an opening batsman who knew the importance of proper technique and practice. Having a batsman of his reputation in the New Zealand camp should be a great boost for the James Marshalls and Craig Cummings of the side, who would not doubt have been bemused to recieve pep talks on the subject of opening the batting against Australia from such unlikely sources as John Bracewell and Richard Hadlee. Experience is a great teacher and few have the experience at the top of the order that Glenn Turner has had.

Turner is also an innovator with an eye for detail - who can forget his use of a dustbin "umpire" in the nets to get Richard Hadlee to subtly change his approach to the bowling crease in Brisbane in 1985/86? Who can forget that Hadlee went out after that session and took 9-52?

While unconventional methods of communicating count against his appointment, Turner's perfectionism and experience still make him a good choice. If we could find another candidate with the same approach to batting, with similar experience at the top of the order and with a strong background in coaching - but without the baggage - we would be even better off. Does anyone come to mind? Someone who might have just returned from a long trip to somewhere slightly warmer than Darfield perhaps?

Monday, 2 May 2005

Dan on Cricket...and Life

As my good friends well know, I've always been attracted to the idea that cricket teaches you about life: that there is a useful analogy to be made between one's own successes and failures and the swings and roundabouts of cricket.

Here I usually think of the vagaries of form - even amongst great players; the importance of character and application as well as talent; and the sheer challenge of facing and dealing with each delivery as it comes - knowing that, for all you might have done in the past, the next one might undo you. (But paradoxically, that, even if it does, you'll have another innings and a chance to improve the next time.) Cricket is a game which, over the long term, requires humility and determination. The same seems true to me of the process of ordinary living, and that is partly why I find the game so fascinating and instructive.

Two points on this. First, Vic Mark's article in today's Observer again raised the enigma of Grahame Hick - that it is hard to understand how someone who so dominates English domestic cricket could have failed to make a genuine mark on international cricket. It wasn't for a lack of opportunity. Hick played 64 tests and 120 ODIs, yet ended with a test average of 31.32. Not bad, but seemingly not consistent with his (arguably still current at age 38) reputation as the greatest batsman in the English domestic scene. In contrast, Hamish Marshall springs to mind. Poor domestic stats, but a temperament which is seemingly suited to the big game. The comparison seems to indicate that (like much of life), what separates the great from the good is not skill but character.

One should, perhaps, not push the analogy too far. I am just finishing Jeremy Paxman's The English, in which he argues that English society has been molded by its obsession with games. He quotes the following WW1 poem, which - even I must confess - is simply disturbing:

There's a breathless hush in the Close tonight -
Ten to make and the match to win
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribooned coat,
Or the selfish love of a season's fame,
But his Captain's han on his shoulder smote -
"Play up! play up and play the game!"

The sand of the desert is sodden red -
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; -
The Gatling's jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
The voice of the schoolboy rallies the ranks:
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"