Monday, 18 June 2012

R.I.P Tom Maynard 1989-2012

I only saw Tom Maynard bat once. It was the first game, the first day of this season, and he came in with Surrey in trouble, at 119-4, and as he batted six wickets fell around him. Nobody managed to maintain a partnership for long, and Maynard ended up not out with 86 as Surrey ended up all out for 264 in their first innings of the summer. Surrey won the match by 86 runs. He truly was a match-winner.

Since I wasn't at the Oval for the rest of the match, my foremost memory of Tom Maynard isn't that he helped win that match for Surrey. It's the sixteen fours he crunched in 101 balls. He played with such panache that day, I came home enthused with this young talent. I couldn't have imagined that little over two months later he would be dead.

At the game that day, I was sitting taking notes, meaning to write a blog post about the days cricket later. I never got round to it, but my notes are probably still lying around somewhere. They undoubtedly carry about a page's worth of writing on Maynard's cuts, cover drives, crunching pull shots that day. If I could find them I would write it here, knowing that was only a partial view of the man. I didn't know Tom Maynard, but I've felt genuinely sad today at his passing, based on some knowledge of him, and one great innings I saw him play. I guess everyone who knew him, ever saw him play, or even heard about him in passing as the next big prospect will see his death from a different persepctive. I just keep thinking about that great innings, and what could have been.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Bad light stops Test cricket in its tracks

Today, one over after tea, the umpires came together and my heart sank. Shortly after, they led the players off the field. Bad light stopped play. Twenty five minutes later the light was about the same, so everyone wandered out again. Six overs later, the light had apparently deteriorated enough for them to have to go off again. Again, the umpires stood around checking the light for ages, then half an hour later they walked out at 6pm to resume the Test match. An absolute shambles.

The biggest problem with the bad light rules and regulations is the opaqueness of the whole process. While most other rules in cricket are pretty transparent and easily understood (with the exception of Duckworth-Lewis) the ICC rule for taking players off for bad light are ridiculous and basically unknown.

In the ICC playing conditions it says:
The umpires shall be the final judges of the fitness of the ground, weather and light for play
So far, so simple. Now they expand on this:
If at any time the umpires together agree that the conditions of ground, weather or light are so bad that there is obvious and foreseeable risk to the safety of any player or umpire, so that it would be unreasonable or dangerous for play to take place, then they shall immediately suspend play, or not allow play to commence or to restart. The decision as to whether conditions are so bad as to warrant such action is one for the umpires alone to make. 
I think, the important words there are: 'risk' and 'dangerous.' It's difficult to tell, watching on TV whether the light is dangerous, but I think the reactions of the players and the spectators at the grounds are the things that need to be taken into account, and the incredulous reaction as the umpires led the players off the field twice today speak everything. A little dim light surely isn't that dangerous?

The light meters are the most opaque part of the whole process:
Light meter readings may accordingly be used by the umpires:  
a)  To determine whether there has been at any stage a deterioration or improvement in the light.
b)  As benchmarks for the remainder of a stoppage, match and/or series/event.
Nobody knows what the benchmarks have to be, but basically it seems that the umpires decide that it's too dark, take a reading, use that as a benchmark and not come out until the light gets better. But how much better? And do the benchmarks change from match to match? There are so many questions, and until the ICC clarifies this or changes the rules, farces like today will continue to happen.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

What's gone wrong with Essex... again!

It seems like every season is the same for Essex fans, a squad is assembled that looks good on paper, which proceeds to start well then quickly go downhill for the rest of the season, as promotion stops looking like a possibility early on.

1) Something wrong in the dressing room
I don't have any inside line to the dressing room, but it stands to reason that there's something wrong. There are a lot of big characters in the dressing room, and the fact that so many players leave the club then go on and realise their potential at different clubs - from Chopra, to Middlebrook, Palladino and Wright - points to something poisonous at the club. This is compounded by things such as the spot fixing scandal which must have affected the dressing room, and things like Tsotsobe's belief that it was: "impossible to work in this environment" further illustrate the point. There's got to be something wrong there, and the players who are causing this need to be got rid of.

2) Inconsistency in selection
It's getting ridiculous. Essex started the season well with an innings win over Gloucestershire, mostly propelled by a hundred by Billy Godleman and second innings bowling from Graham Napier, but the Essex management for some reason seemed to think that 5-58 from Napier and a useful 28 wasn't enough to keep his place, with Tim Phillips coming in for the next match. Phillips himself only stayed in the team for one match in which his bowling wasn't used - indeed, despite being picked as a spin option, Tom Westley's part time off-spin was used and he wasn't. There are other examples to use, but I think this is the most blatant example of ridiculous selection. There seems to be no grand plan at all. 

3) No senior opener again
Godleman seems like a useful player, he has five first class hundreds, but there is still no senior experienced opener at the club. Bringing in Petersen was only ever going to be a stop gap solution, and we cannot rely on Cook being at the club ever now he is 50 over captain. So why did Essex pick up a fast bowler and an all-rounder in the winter? Those are positions the club is strong in, yet the openers continue to be picked from a mixture of Godleman, Pettini, Westley and Mickleburgh. All but one of them are young players, and only one of them is a specialist opener, and whichever one of them - hopefully not Mickleburgh - is the long term opening option, they need a senior partner.

4) Pettini up and down the order
Pettini has been one of the most consistent player Essex have had this season, so in many ways it would seem to make sense building the batting line-up around him in a stable position. Instead, Essex have shunted him up and down the order to accommodate star names like Shah and Bopara. Pettini has moved from four, down to six then back up to four, then opened. Stick in a position like number five, and trust him to make the runs there.

5) Foster batting too low
Foster, as the captain, should be able to command a higher place in the batting order, especially as the highest averaging player this season. Instead, he's spent most of the season batting at seven, and eight at times, rather than being the top order player making solid runs, he's the fire-fighter who rescues Essex from 50-5. Foster should bat above the all-rounders, not below them.

6) Owais Shah
There was a reason Middlesex let him go, while he is the most talented of players, he's just not committed and motivated enough to score the runs to justify batting at number three. Something that I think sums up Shah is watching him fielding at Leicestershire last season, on his heels, stopping balls with his feet, it just doesn't seem like he cares enough.

7) Where's Topley gone? Why is Willoughby here?
He started the season so well last year, yet even with nineteen players being used by Essex so far this season, his way has been blocked by the number of fast bowlers Essex have, which makes the signing of Charl Willoughby even more perplexing, you can only play maybe four - and normally three - frontline seamers, so why do we need so many?

8) Who's the number one spinner?
Essex don't seem to know. Phillips and Craddock have shared the spinning duties so far this season, with a mixture of Greg Smith and Tom Westley's occasional off-breaks. Phillips was even picked for a game and not given a single over. Pick one spinner in each format, Craddock for the County Championship and Phillips in the CB40 and T20.

9) Don't know how to win
Essex have been a team who draw a lot so long that they seem to have forgotten how to win. Against Gloucestershire at the beginning of the season they won by an innings without having to think much, but whenever in the last couple of seasons, some quick batting, declarations or any creative ways to secure a result have been needed, Essex have come up short.

This isn't a definitive list, I've barely touched upon the CB40, but there's something seriously wrong with Essex, a team with such talent should not be near the bottom of Division 2 in the County Championship, when  teams like Worcestershire battle above the sum of their parts to secure a place in Division 1.  Despite this, Essex have bowled fairly well - helped by the early season conditions, and hindered by the inconsistent selection. The first innings batting however, is not good enough, only once passing 400, and when there's so little platform, the bowlers are up against it. Big changes are needed, and soon. 

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Scout Report: Kaushal Lokuarachchi

Like most Sri Lankan names, this leg-spinner's name is a bit of a mouthful, so I'm going to go with his team-mates and call him 'Loku' for the rest of the blog. 

Loku is undoubtedly a decent cricketer on the Sri Lankan domestic circuit, but I'm afraid on this showing he's nothing special. He's one of those new breed of 'spinners' you get from T20, they roll the ball out and spear it in, are afraid to give it any work or flight. 

He may have got two wickets against Pakistan today, but one was a long-hop pulled to short mid-wicket and another was a straight ball which Umar Akmal played all around. He's played a couple of Tests and 21 ODIs before, but the fact that he only has five wickets from his four Tests sums him up: no penetration. He finished with 2-30 off his four overs, respectable figures in T20 normally, but given that few players managed to get in on the pitch, he surely would be disappointed, especially given the three consecutive boundaries he gave away from his last over.

The main problems with Loku are that he doesn't 'explode' through the crease and just rolls the ball out of his hand, meaning that despite bowling at a pace quicker than most spinners, he's pretty gentle. Shane Warne's leg-break used to fizz out of his hand, Loku's ambles apologetically.

Performance 6/10
Potential 4/10

Friday, 1 June 2012

James Taylor stakes his claim for Pietersen's place.

The current England selectors seldom pick a player on one innings, like they would have done regularly in the 80s and 90s, so James Taylor's 115 from 77 today wouldn't have secured Pietersen's place in the limited overs teams, but it does put him in contention.

He started stodgily, making 25 off 45 balls, haring between the wickets to pick up singles and twos to just tread water as far as a one day innings is concerned. Then he picked up a length ball from Sean Ervine and deposited it over mid-wicket for six.

That was followed by three more boundaries in the next over, then ten more spread over the last seven overs, along with some more quick running between the wickets. He hit some magnificent shots among the lot: a precise drive timed over long off for six; a full toss flicked over long leg for six, a dilscoop/ramp over fine leg for four. Balls pitched outside leg and going down went over extra cover, wide of off stump balls went over mid-wicket. Fourteen boundaries in all.

Tonight was the first time I'd ever seen Taylor bat for an extended period, having seen him get out cheaply twice before. It wasn't the player you'd see in the championship, but it shows why he averages nearly 50 in one day cricket. He was inventive and clever, used his quick hands and strong wrists to manoeuvre the ball around for singles and flick the ball over the ropes for six. Not many players can hit sixes that look that effortless.

It's unlikely that he'll be the man to take over from Pietersen in either limited overs team - although he has already made his ODI debut, against Ireland last year. Ultimately the selectors seem to have their eye on other players, Jonny Bairstow could slot back in after taking over the Test No.6 spot, and Ravi Bopara is also a contender, along with Alex Hales who could fill Pietersens's opening role in both limited overs formats.

The selectors shouldn't rule out Taylor for the openers slot though, he's a top order player, and has the sort of mental resilience to be an opener, but also the all round game to do it. He reminds you of so many players, Chanderpaul like physique and wrists; the acceleration and helicopter shot of Dhoni today; Graham Thorpe's ability to always find a single. He's not any of those players, he's his own man though, and he's surely going to get an England place within the next couple of years.