Thursday, 27 June 2013

Captain Tredwell

Young cricketers generally dream that that one day they will captain their country. Few of them ever get that chances, but very occasionally someone who thought they never would gets a chance.

If you asked James Tredwell a year ago if he would captain England, he would have quietly chuckled. He may have still hoped he might. Maybe he would have pictured a few great years of County Championship bowling, then a Test career to replace Graeme Swann.

Perhaps he would have idly dreamed of a few good years for England in his late career, possibly a promotion to vice-captain, then stepping in at the last minute as Alastair Cook breaks a finger in some far-flung corner of the world. He may have dreamed of a match winning captaincy début in a Test match, but he sure as hell wouldn't have dreamed of captaining in a lone, washed out t20.

A year ago he hadn’t played a t20 for England, wasn’t yet captain of Kent, or the regular performer in ODIs that he’s become.

Yet, tonight, Eoin Morgan’s injury handed him - no pun intended - the chance to skipper England’s t20 team against New Zealand. The irony is that whilst for most cricket fans, this was to be a most inconsequential match, save for the return of Kevin Pietersen, yet for Tredwell it was one of the biggest of his life.

It’s perfectly possible to be pleased for Tredwell, whilst also worrying that the captaincy has been somewhat devalued. In recent years almost everybody has captained England. In the last year alone, Strauss, Cook, Broad, Morgan, and now Tredwell have captained their county. Add that to Pietersen and Swann, and England could field six captains in a team if they wished to.

To add to this, Tredwell becomes England’s eighth t20 captain, in eight years of t20 cricket; Vaughan, Strauss, Cook, Collingwood, Broad, Swann and Morgan the other seven. Collingwood and Broad have captained 47 out of 59 England t20 matches, whilst the other six have shared twelve matches between them. Out of those eight, only three have captained England in Tests.

This proliferation of captains makes those who’ve missed out especially interesting. Of the long term players in England’s squads, Ian Bell seems the likeliest captain who’s never had a chance - other than Matt Prior, who as vice-captain is second in line to the Test captaincy should something happen to Cook.

Perhaps Bell is not seen as either a viable long term option to test out, or a calm hand at the tiller to take temporary charge. For the second option, both "Iceman" Morgan and "Never let England down" Tredwell seem solid options, and Tredwell, as captain of Kent this season, has some experience under his belt.

After the rain came however, he was left with perhaps the shortest England captaincy career of any player. He had one coin toss - that he lost - he sent his batsmen out to face two balls, a two and a wicket, and they all sheltered from the rain as the match was eventually cancelled.

Still, since the game got underway, the record books will show that James Tredwell captained England. Like Frederick J. Hyland, who Wisden records as having “played as a professional in one match for Hampshire in 1924,” he achieved a somewhat hollow achievement. Hyland played in one match which went for two overs before being rained off. He neither batted nor bowled as a First-class cricketer, just as Tredwell has neither batted nor bowled as an England captain.

Sometimes, the achievement, whether it is playing First-class cricket, or captaining your country is enough to set you apart, even though in the end, it didn’t entail doing much. So ends James Tredwell’s England captaincy career, not in the glorious victory he may have dreamt, but in a lost toss and a washout. In one sense, that won't matter a jot. He can say, "I've captained England," and nobody can contradict him.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Anatomy of a choke

As England extend South Africa's run of tournament disappointment, the question all and sundry are asking is, was this a choke? Maybe, maybe not.

Define choke

Good question. The most common definition is when a team is in a dominant position, then lets the pressure make them do utterly stupid things and slip to an unlikely defeat. The definitive South Africa choke was of course the 1999 World Cup semi-final and that run out. Since then, there's been the 2003 World Cup where they comically misread the Duckworth-Lewis par score and ended one short, the 2007 World Cup saw a similar scenario to today, as Australia strangled them to an under par score then chased down with ease. Their last big choke was the 2011 World Cup, where New Zealand strangled and intimidated them through aggressive fielding.

Oh, it was a choke alright

Some people will say that the pressure got to them. Certainly, some of the shots were particularly brainless. AB de Villiers played a horrific swipe at Broad, JP Duminy tried to cut a ball zeroing in on his off-stump, and various straight balls from James Tredwell were flapped and poked at. They may not have choked from a position of strength in this match, but maybe they let the semi-final get to them.

Panic, not choke

Early on South Africa were 4-2, with two wickets down to good balls, What was needed was calm accumulation. They did that for a while, then panicked and got themselves out again. At no point were they in control. You can't choke if you're never in charge.

Does it matter?

Yes, and no. Of course it's always fun to laugh at another South Africa choke, but this time round they never had a good enough side to beat England on home turf. They were missing Smith, Kallis, Steyn and Morkel, and crucial players like Amla were never good enough. The ghost of tournament failure will continue to haunt over them.


Panic, not choke, but tell them it's a choke and it will keep happening.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Could football style sackings become commonplace in the county game?

Whilst football managers live with their job on the line almost constantly, county coaches generally have an easier go of things. Sure, there's the occasionally grumbling from the members and calls on the internet for them to go, but generally the world of county cricket is more long-term oriented and less prone to hyperbole.

Chris Adams then joins a short list of coaches to have been sacked mid-season. The fact that he left doesn't seem surprising, rather the timing is. Surrey had just managed a creditable draw against a good Sussex team, and they are just outside the relegation zone. Things haven't been good for a while at Surrey though and Alec Stewart will take over temporary charge.

Maybe the move will pay immediate dividends. The last county to sack their coach mid-season was Derbyshire. John Morris' contract was up at the end of the season in 2011, so he was released from his duties in May of that year, with Karl Krikken taking over.

Krikken lead the club in an upturn of fortunes, with promotion coming in 2012 from a core of young players developing together and a few choice imports. Even though it seems likely that Derbyshire will drop straight back down again

Maybe the difference between cricket and football that makes this kind of thing so rare is that cricket is far more likely to promote from within the club. There are generally very few out of work county head coaches around, so unless you pluck someone off another club's staff, the most likely person to replace a sacked county coach is his assistant. That makes waiting to the end of the season, when people are more likely to be out of contract, to find a permanent replacement seems wise.

It also seems odd to sack Chris Adams so soon into another cycle of rebuilding. His first strategy, of young and exciting players was abandoned after Tom Maynard's death, and players such as Hamilton-Brown, Jordan and Spriegel left the club. Now the club regularly field teams with six or seven players over thirty. In the final game of Adams' stint at the club the average age of the team was 29, whilst in a game against Essex in the YB40 it was an astounding 31.54, with six players in the team over 37.

Another coach who could be forgiven for feeling a bit nervous is Essex's Paul Grayson. Coaches don't pick up the sack for just doing badly, otherwise Leicestershire would go through several a year, they get it for underachieving. Grayson's Essex have been underachieving for several years, culminating in their abysmal 20 all out against Lancashire.

The team has occasional moments of brilliance, a 7-for for Graham Napier in a one day game, Masters' 8-10 in 2011, the odd brilliant Ravi Bopara century, but they don't seem to hold together as a team on a regular basis. The selection often seems muddled as well, and it's well time for a fresh start.

So will county cricket get more knee-jerk? Probably not. The mideseason sackings of both Morris and Adams were prompted by persistent underachieving, and if Grayson goes soon few would argue against the decision

With some exceptions, county cricket is generally a calmer, more measured game than Premier League football, and coupled with the lack of money to pay-off coaches in the middle of contracts, expect the mid-season sacking to remain a rare thing.