Saturday, 30 May 2009

Half mental

When we last left Matthew Hayden [as opposed to Matthew Hayden's bat], he was finished, done, a once-sleek great white laying gutted on the beach. 

It's amazing what a break can do. There he was in the IPL, proudly wearing the orange cap over hair he'd razored back to the bone. He was all business. 

The role of ego in batting is misunderstood: ego is a defence mechanism. Hayden's was breached by the end of his Test career, his decline was mental as much as physical. The basic function of batting, unimprovably distilled to 'see ball, hit ball' by Virender Sehwag, was still intact, as the IPL let him show

There's your answer as to the real demands of Test match cricket. Haydos was a bit like a boxer whose chin went before his punch.

Michael Vaughan has had a break too, but he has not come back like Hayden. He's almost slipped from the radar now. He's playing T20 too, but for Yorkshire, and not very well. His desire must be draining away, and the thought that his decline was caused by mental fatigue is going with it. There must a physical element to it, too, something he can't quite recapture. Once that's gone, it's gone forever.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

The other Bob Dylan

'He divides opinion' is generally a euphemism for 'no-one can stand him,' and it's been applied on occasion to the commentary of RGD Willis. Rather unfashionably, I like Bob, have done ever since I was given his Diary Of A Season as a kid. 

The man that emerged from those pages was a thoughtful, mordant character who ran obsessively to protect his knees and who spent most of his days fretting about his bowling, his batting, his team-mates, his life. He escaped as often as he could into his Bob Dylan albums. 'Home to more Dylan' was a regular sign-off; he'd even added Dylan as his middle name via deed poll. 

Bob's voice, like Bob Dylan's, turned out to be something of an acquired taste. He's much better in his new role as a studio foil to Charles Colville. There, he can be as terrifically trenchant as the other Bob, too [A friend of mine knew the guitarist Mick Ronson, who'd once played with Dylan, and he said that Dylan wouldn't tell the other musicians what key he was going to play the songs in. They had to wait till he started and watch his hands]. 

So Bob's Dylan affinity runs deeper than just music, I'd guess. Someone told me a funny story about him the other week. It only works written down if you read it with Willis's voice in your head, the words drawn out to impossible length.

In the story, Bob was asked if he got much mail at the Sky Sports offices.

'Oh yes,' he drawled.

What was it like?

'Ooh,' said Bob, 'vilification, mostly...'

Phoney War: first salvo fired.

The Australians have landed. Not in London, though. In Birmingham.

Birmingham. Remember Birmingham, Ricky? 

The first Test's not at Lord's either lads. Cardiff. Remember Cardiff? You lost to Bangladesh there.

At least someone in the ECB itinerary department is turning the psychological screw...

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Phil Space writes again

How to argue your way into something and then back out of it when you've got 700 words to file and not much to go on.

NB: Yes, it's the Mongoose, which has now generated approximately 2,105% more column inches than it has scored runs. 

Monday, 25 May 2009

Sky high

King Cricket has a piece on this season's Sky Sports speedgun. It seems to have cranked up a couple of notches. Stuart Broad at 92mph? Graham Onions up there too? 

Today, during the Middlesex-Surrey domestic T20 game, an even more remarkable stat appeared onscreen. Dawid Malan went in using a 2lb 2oz bat. It looked to be in that ballpark, slim-shouldered but in possession of that sexy bow. 

Even so, if the figure is right it says something about him: he knows his game. Boycs will be glowing when he hears. 

NB: Middlesex still couldn't get Ramps out. Some stats remain eternal.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

IPL 2009: What we know now

What has the second edition of the IPL told us? 

Firstly, most significantly, that it's transferrable. Say what you like about Lalit Modi, to move the tournament across continents at a couple of weeks' notice took decisiveness and the balls of a lion, the defining characteristics of entrepreneurs and con-men through history. 

Modi is the former, of course, a man whose psyche is perfectly attuned to his product. The IPL is now part of the landscape of the game. Two years ago, we'd never heard of it. The fact that a deus ex machina saw it move to South Africa will prove a strange case of luck coming from tragedy. Modi will have grasped its meaning: his is a format that can be applied across the world.

Second, and also significant, the capacity of the franchises to bond as genuine teams - at least internally - means that a dynamic is emerging. The fact that anyone can win is key. It's an American model rather than a European one, where, in football for example, the top teams use their money to ringfence success.

Thirdly, Modi has done a service to the game in India by offering a stage to its young players. That took vision.  Who will beat the Indian T20 side in five or ten years time?

Fourthly, the calendar is shaping to Modi's will. England's first two Tests simply surrendered in apathy and rain. It will make Test cricket stronger rather than weaker; it'll be less available, more treasured.

The other lesson concerns the format itself. It is being learned at an accelerated rate. If the 50-over game took forty years to exhaust its permutations, to be fully grasped by the players, T20 might be done in half that time. Then it will just be a question of strength, rather than innovation. There is some flexibility, though. A forty over game made up of two T20 innings each would offer a new set of variables - and more ad breaks.

'Don't bring me good generals, bring me lucky ones' runs the maxim, and Modi is lucky, too. Even his ludicrous commerciality has its upside. The world now knows what it means to be DLF-ed: it's funny rather than sinister.

Best of all though, the game retained its poetry. There was some in the semi-final on Saturday, when Rahul Dravid batted with Manish Pandey. Pandey sparked like a firework and then Ruler responded, taking one ball early off his legs and whipping it through midwicket like a tracer. They punched gloves and smiled. In twenty years, everyone will play like Manish Pandey. We were there when Dravid and Tendulkar and Warne and Gilchrist and Kumble played too, and you know what, it was really something.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Thick as a brick

Okay, I was almost ready to entertain the counter-intuitive concept of the Mongoose, the bat that Stuart Law reckons will 'take the world by storm'.

It all looked vaguely plausible as Stuey waved it around in the nets, and then Mongoose brought out their second advocate. It was er, Devon Malcolm.

Devon Malcolm: 40 Tests, 236 runs, ave 6.05; 304 first class matches, 1985 runs, ave 7.84; batting described on cricinfo as 'court jester standard'.

NB: Manufacturers sense opportunity in T20 like everyone else. The Mongoose follows Gray-Nicolls' Dual T20, a bat with a use no-one has yet figured out. There will be no one-size fits all 'revolution' because bats are individual things serving idiosyncratic users. The inventor of the Mongoose has just been on Sky News. He used to be a marketing man. That figures, somehow. 

Breaking: Ceci finds rare image of Devon at the crease. Must have been shot on a fast exposure.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Depth and drift

There's a feeling that Australian cricket no longer has the depth of a few years ago. Watching the IPL today, it occurred that it's about drift as much as depth - an entire team has drifted towards the half-life of international retirement, or floated in and out of favour.

An approximate Ashes XI:

M Hussey

And these boys might give them a decent game:

D Hussey

Where's your money?

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Greatest Living Yorkshireman mark iii

Were you faster than Fred Trueman?
Without a doubt. I think everyone gets faster as days go on. But it's not all about pace. Fred Trueman was a tremendous bowler.

Three guesses as to the speaker... oh alright, you'll only need one. It's the Dazzler of course, Darren Gough, in a nice interview at TWC

How good it would be if Fred were around to debate the matter, but as neither he nor Darren were particularly reticent on the subject of their own talents, I suspect they probably did.

The next question, of course, should have been 'so Jimmy Anderson is quicker than you, then?', but Goughy might have actually exploded before answering that one.

He's bullish on the subject of Flintoff, too: '...if he could just learn to hold the ball up a bit, he'd be so much better, but he's not a natural bowler is he; we all consider him a batsman who bowls a bit'.

Goughy doesn't enlarge on who 'we' are, but it's interesting to note Freddie's total of Test wickets - 218 - now just eleven shy of Darren's 229. 

It's taken Fred 17 more Tests though, as someone might remind you should the topic come up. 

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

All around the world

Sometimes, for no apparent reason other than the random nature of things, events coalesce around a vaguely connected group of people. Mark down the date of 20.5.2009 as the day of the all-rounder.

It was a long day. In its southern hemisphere hours, before it had reached us here in the distant north, it was the day that the Australian selectors went for one Andrew over another, McDonald over Symonds. That was an English selection if ever there was one. No cricketer in this half of the world would rather play against Symonds than McDonald.

As the dateline was crossed, another all-rounder, Chris Lewis, left one life and joined another. He was sentenced to thirteen years for smuggling cocaine. And Andrew Symonds probably thought he was having a bad day.

Tomorrow's papers will be full of pop-psychoanalysts picking Lewis apart. He was a flake, they'll write, an oddball, a lost talent whose fate was written in his decision to shave his head and get sunstroke in the West Indies or miss a Test match because his car had a flat tyre. 

I don't buy that. The human condition is not as easy to dissect. But if connections must be made, then today was a day when two all-rounders took falls of contrasting consequences. Today was the day of the all-rounder. 

Monday, 18 May 2009

Soft trumpet and a bell

If the great West Indian fast bowlers were boxers, Malcolm Marshall would have been Ray Robinson, a talent beyond compare. Michael Holding was Ray Leonard, balletic and pure; Andy Roberts Marvin Hagler, immutable and ruthless. Joel Garner was as gangly and as lethal as Tommy Hearns, Colin Croft as vicious as a prime-time Mike Tyson. Patrick Patterson was George Foreman, relying on his muscle, Ian Bishop, pre-injury, was deadly, a young Duran.

Like Wayne Daniel [a street-bruiser on the Nigel Benn scale], Sylvester Clarke was born in the wrong era. He played only 11 Tests, but down at the Oval, where he spent nine seasons, he was a brooding and saturnine presence [to batsmen at least], a cold-eyed killer who took 591 wickets at 18.99 and who, more than that, chilled the blood of anyone who faced him, and half of those who watched him, too.

Reminiscing on TMS, Alec Stewart said that Clarke was physically incapable of bowling slowly, whether he came in off his full run or off two paces, if he was wearing squash shoes, as he once did when taking five wickets in four overs, or his giant boots. 'He couldn't bowl medium pace,' Stewie said. 'He could only bowl slowly if he bowled leg spin'. Stewart was 16 years old when he first encountered Clarke in the nets at Roehampton. When Sylvester found out he was just a schoolboy, he would shout 'bouncer' as he was about to deliver one just so that Stewie had a chance of getting out of the way.

That courtesy didn't extend to the middle. He had shoulders like railway sleepers, and his power seemed to come from nowhere, certainly not from that ungainly run. Yet to see him bowl in the flesh was to feel awe and no little terror at the capacity of the human body.

He died at home in Barbados just a few weeks after Marshall, and a few weeks shy of his 45th birthday. Sonny Liston once said, 'someday they'll write a blues song for a fighter. It'll just be for slow guitar, soft trumpet and a bell'. That fits Sylvester, too. He would have been Sonny, a man out of time. 

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The Voice of Rod

J-Rod has a book available, The Year Of The Balls 2008: A Disrespective. Haven't read it yet, but I'm going to. J-Rod is the closest cricket writing has got to the fine spirit of Gonzo: a man innately suspicious of authority and scathing of its efforts and intentions, a bravura destroyer of bullshit in all its forms, a natural, big-hearted iconoclast with an unerring nose for cant, hypocrisy and the public pronouncements of Andrew Hilditch. 

The briefest glimpse at the players he champions - Virender Sehwag, Dirk Nannes, Bryce McGain - lets you know what he values about the game, and the fact that anyone who reads CWB won't be able to see those names without thinking of Sehwagology or Dirty Dirk or Bryce's day job in computers shows that he can write, too. 

The mainstream cricket media has become homogenised. It's centered around the journalism and punditry of ex-players, a burgeoning horror of mangled vowels, received wisdom and in-jokes. CWB is part of the solution. Here's to that.

NB: The book's got a forward by Gideon Haigh. It is the Gideon Haigh apparently, as opposed to all of the other Gideon Haighs out there. 

Saturday, 16 May 2009

State of England

Mike Burgess is a particular kind of Englishman. He doesn't just want to stop cricket being played on a ground where it has been played for the last 169 years. He wants to change the laws of the game, too. 

Four years ago, he bought a cottage by the Shamley Green CC ground. Presumably he saw it when he viewed the house. It's quite hard to miss. The estate agent probably even remarked upon it, in the way that estate agents tend to do. Despite the fact he 'likes cricket' he appears astonished to discover that the ball is hard and sometimes gets hit out of the ground entirely. His house was struck three times last season and once this. 

The club have a policy of replacing any broken windows or roof tiles, and also offer net protection for ground floor windows. Not enough for him; he wants 25-foot nets erected to create 'a safe environment'. More than that, he wants any batsman who hits the ball onto his property to be given out. 

It's been one of the great joys in life to have played on grounds like Shamley Green. I've played at Tilford, where the dressing rooms are on one side of the road and the pitch on the other, and where the picture-postcard pub sits at one side of the green, beckoning; Frensham, a little bowl of a ground with a boundary so short an edge over slip could sometimes carry for six; Hartley Wintney, where roads just wide enough for a car cut around the boundary and painted houses sit on the other side; Farnham, halfway up the hill by the castle, where parked cars get peppered; Rowledge, Churt, Send... grounds without number where cricket has been played for hundreds of years and you can feel the ghosts. 

Mike Burgess might have a legal point, but he hasn't got a moral one, and he has no license over the laws of the game. Nets are one thing. That's arguable. But requiring a change in the law... You've got to have some nerve to ask for that. Especially when you 'like cricket'. 

H Bombshell

A couple of weeks back, Left Arm Chinaman wrote about Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers theory on the birth months of  successful people [those born late in the school intake - ie August in England - almost never make it because they start off by competing against kids almost a year older]. 

It transpires that almost of fifth of the Australian squad are born in October. According to Gladwell's notion, this means that England [who incidentally have no players born in August] should produce twice as many elite players as Australia. 

Gladwell gets paid millions by businessmen to talk about this stuff. It's called money for old rope. Maybe he's got a theory on why thirty per cent of Australia's centrally contracted players have surnames that begin with 'H'. That must mean something, mustn't it? Malcolm?

Alternatively, we could consult the great Geoffrey Boycott. Some of his best exchanges on TMS recently have revealed that he's a big believer in i] star signs and ii] feng shui. Who'd have thunk it?

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Sleeping with the Chrises

Chris Gayle says he wants to be West Indies captain. But Chris Gayle's hair says something different. Chris Gayle's hair says he wants to be a free man again. He's ditched the sensible 'do and reached for the cornrows. The rebellion has moved from the press interview to the top of his head.

Chris says he was misquoted in said press. But Chris Gayle's hair says Chris spoke the truth. The empty seats at the Riverside tell a similar story. Those nebulous 'authorities' need to listen up to the hair and the seats, if not Chris's interview. 

'Don't sleep with Chris on your mind' was one of the man's more memorable pronouncements. So stay out of his face and take note of the hair. If you're killing the joy in Chris, you're killing some of the joy in the game. 

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Get thee behind me

Back in 2006, I remember having a conversation with a coach about coming up with a way to hit the ball directly behind the wicket. It was apparent that someone would work it out, because it was essentially the only sliver of pitch guaranteed to be empty in T20 games.

Since then, there have been some shots of terrific audacity, little scoops and shovels and flicks that dart from the bottom edge of the bat and travel fine. The idea we discussed was more radical: would it be possible to actually turn around in the direction of the ball and hit it as it goes past? If you could, it would probably be unstoppable. 

I thought of it again on monday, when Eoin Morgan and Nick Compton put on 277 for Middlesex against Kent in the FP Trophy. Morgan's hurling shot has been much remarked on, but some of the others were equally, crazily good, and far more repeatable. It was the first time that the English game appeared to be slightly ahead of the curve again.

Morgan is steel-wristed and offbeat, a freak. England should play him. Compton was in his way more noteworthy - not because he's as good as Morgan, but because he's not. He's simply had the nous and the drive to analyse and reinvent his game. That takes a lack of ego. He's been flat-sharing with Phil Hughes, and perhaps that has spurred him on.

Gloriously, such hitting will eventually lead to the return of the long stop, too.

NB: There's nothing new under the sun of course. I have a copy of Ranjitsinji's Jubilee Book Of Cricket from 1897, in which he plays 'the underleg shot', where he cocks his left leg up and hits the ball underneath it. He looks like he's about to take cocktails in the racquet club as he does so. 

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

More Ramps, more soul

Lawrence Booth is another trying to unpick the soul of Mark Ramprakash, in a nice piece over at Cricinfo. The first Ramps hundred of the season can have that effect on a man.

In it, he draws attention to Nasser Hussain's effort on Ramprakash in Wisden. 'Mark,' Nasser asks from the wispy pages of the great yellow book, 'How can you still have the appetite for this?'

The question is more revealing than the answer, because it's a question predicated on the primacy of Test cricket. Its implication: once you've played Test matches, playing other games just isn't worth it.  

Setting aside the fact that asking Nasser Hussain to write about Mark Ramprakash is a bit like asking Dan Brown to write about Martin Amis, the notion that Ramprakash is compensating for his international failures with a long and bloody-minded mea culpa etched into the cricket grounds of England is underestimating both the complexity of the man and the game. His batting's not so much a mea culpa as a love letter.

Geoffrey Boycott has scored more first-class runs than anyone since the second world war. When he was forced to retire, he said he'd give up the rest of his life to have five more years at his best. It took cancer to draw the fire from that idea, but he says he still never picks up a bat because he finds it too painful. Any thought that Boycott's Test runs mean more to him than his Yorkshire runs gets short shrift. Boycott loved to bat, and I think Ramprakash loves to bat too.

Nasser Hussain was also a complex man, riven with self-doubt, some of it justified. His relationship with his father was key to his game and his personality. He let cricket go with a sense of relief, and after captaining England the relief was understandable. But Hussain wasn't Boycott and Boycott wasn't Ramprakash and Ramprakash wasn't Tendulkar and Tendulkar wasn't Steve Waugh and Steve Waugh wasn't Damian Martin. 

They all let go - or will let go - of the game differently, and the game occupies different spaces in their lives. There is no common experience there. Perhaps Mark Ramprakash is tortured. Perhaps he is unfulfilled. But perhaps he just loves to bat. Perhaps he knows that once he stops driving the ball so beautifully, once he stops making all of those hundreds, the feeling will never come back, will never be available to him again.

The aforementioned Martin Amis, another tremendous stylist, was once asked to play a game of snooker against another writer and do a piece about it. He wins the match, but ends his story: 'As for the snooker, to approach the televisual ideal by which we all measure ourselves, I'd have to do nothing else for the rest of my life. Then snooker might work out and measure up, with everything going where you want it to go, at the right weight and angle. Then snooker might feel like writing'.

For writing and Amis, substitute batting and Ramprakash. For Mark, I'd guess, it just feels right.

Monday, 11 May 2009

New words and phrases

Talking about Ravi Bopara yesterday, Andy Flower said: 'I rate him highly, talent-threshold-wise'.

Presumably Ravi should be pleased, although it's a classic coach's neologism in which the second word is essentially meaningless. The sentence would hold if Flower had said, 'I rate him highly, talent-wise'.

Still, it deserves a place in the New Lexicon Of Cricket*, along with this week's other entries:

Talent-threshold Colloq. noun. - Subjective measure of playing ability, usually spoken by coaches. 
Usage: 'Michael Vaughan is batting well below his talent-threshold this season - he's lucky to have that central contract'.

DLFed verb. - The act of hitting the ball over the boundary in any IPL match.
Usage: 'Ishant dropped short and Tendulkar DLFed him into row Z'.

Barebat noun. verb. - A batsman using a bat with no maker's stickers on it, sometimes in a bid to generate a new sponsorship deal.
Usage: 'Matty Hayden's still barebat in the IPL. His agent must be asking too much'.

Crease virus Colloq. noun. Batsman who gets to the crease and proceeds to replicate the same shot many hundreds of times.
Usage: 'That Brendan Nash is a total crease virus. He's been in for about five hours now'.

* This doesn't exist. But all suggested entries welcome.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Ramps: Harbinger of Summer

The summer feels like it started, really started, this week. Mark Ramprakash made his first hundred of the new season. It was a late entry for the Bloodaxe; he was serving a ban incurred at the end of last year, perhaps the last real flaring of that famous temper. It was his 104th first class hundred and there are more to come as the wickets lose their green and the bowlers of England surrender once again to the majesty of his batting.

The epic coda of his career, these last few years of three-figure averages and unmatchable elegance, are the story of man paying his dues for his talent. No-one who has seen him bat for Surrey can feel shortchanged. Along with Kevin Pietersen, he has been the best player in the land.

The adjective that attaches itself to him is 'unfulfilled'. It's both fair and unfair. Ramprakash was unfulfilled by Test cricket, but not by the game. His career, and that of Graeme Hick, with whom the gods decreed he should share a Test debut, will become viewed as two of the last great careers of the pre-Twenty20 era. They might be the last men in history to score a hundred hundreds. 

Somehow it seems right that they should be tied together: one man who wanted it too much, another who didn't really want it at all, and who both arrived instead at a lower-key mastery, a day-in-day-out excellence that had its own demands. Is there anyone who would deny that lesser batsmen have had more success in Test cricket? Would anyone rather watch Nasser Hussain or Mike Atherton play?

The careers of Ramprakash and Hick are significant because cricket is about more than just Test matches, just as it's about more than just ODIs or T20. After all, they have both made enough Test bowlers look foolish in county cricket. 

Ramprakash also demands that we examine the notion of talent. It's just not good enough to say that his has somehow not been maximised. That's lazy thinking. As a pure exponent of the art of batting, he has excelled. You could show a film of him to anyone who has never seen the game and say, 'this is how it was meant to be done'. In achieving that, Ramps has paid his debt and left his mark. Catch him now, before it's too late.  

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Free advice

'I'm sure he has learned from it. You must lower your backlift and not go so hard at the ball'.

Duncan Fletcher offering Andrew Flintoff some notes on his recent travails with the bat? Or perhaps Justin Langer throwing an arm around Phil Hughes after his first Test knock?

No, it's er, Ravi Bopara on KP's golden blob yesterday.

He was just about to add that Kev got a bit squared up too, when the chortling of the ECB press man cut him short.

Tomorrow: Graham Onions gives Glenn McGrath some tips on how to take more wickets at Lord's, and Graeme Swann lets Murali in on the best line to bowl to left-handers. Plus: Ravi returns to highlight the problems with Bradman's grip.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Golden balls

David Barry came up with some great stats with regard to the post below. Here are the percentage chances of the top five batsmen getting out first ball [drawn from dismissals in all ODIs]:

No 1: 1.6%
No 2: 2.1%
No 3. 2.0%
No 4: 1.9%
No 5: 1.7%

So opening batters are slightly less likely to go first ball, or at least the number one is. The number two's stat is revealing. The psychology of an opening pair is complex: you'd imagine the senior player would take the first ball, but some just don't like to. Others want to swap innings by innings, which is a mindfuck. I open [at a rather more modest level] and I always want to face, but only through fear, and a desire to get it over with. I mask it, of course...

I wonder if the number three stat bulges because they are, by definition, facing a fired-up bowler who's just knocked over an opener [more often than not the number two, that snivelling mummy's boy...]. 

The overall percentage is most interesting though. A top five batter is likely to be out first ball between once and twice per 100 innings. It's strangely comforting.

How it feels when it happens is probably a whole other post. Somehow, it's not as tough mentally as being worked over and then beaten. It's almost like a by-product of the job; once or twice per 100 knocks, you're going to get a ball like KP got today and you don't actually know whether you've batted well or not.


Tuesday, 5 May 2009

IPL 2009: predictably unpredictable

I don't know the stats - in fact, I don't know if the stats exist - but I would guess that opening batsmen are dismissed first ball slightly less often than others in the top six. 

The reasons for this groundbreaking opinion are pretty straightforward: bowlers aren't usually warmed up, the loosener is traditional, the batter isn't generally looking to do anything other than leave the ball or nurdle a single, the opener knows exactly when he's going to bat, so he's not out in the middle having just been asleep/padding up/having a crafty smoke etc etc.

None of which explains the weirdest statistic from this year's IPL: six wickets have fallen on the first ball of the innings. I'd call that unprecedented if almost everything else in the IPL wasn't unprecedented too - it's only been going two years, after all. 

Is it a trend? Is it a blip or a bubble? If you bet on the IPL, can you bet on it happening again? Because if it's a cluster, it probably will. 

The day's other event of sublime unpredictability involved Robin Jackman saying something interesting. Not deliberately, obviously, he just read it out, but it was a rundown of the overs in which most wickets fall. All were comforting: the 20th had the most, then the 19th, then the 16th [first of the last five, cue slogathon]. 

The much heralded 11th [first after the ad brea... er, strategic interval] proved not as dangerous as first thought. Teams are switching on to that one. The smart bet there would be on it becoming the least productive over in the competition, run-wise. 

Sunday, 3 May 2009

How great thou art

The oft-postponed first game of the season yesterday. Well, it was almost a game. It was a practice match, a kind of single-wicket affair in which each batsman got five or so overs before swapping around. If you were out you stayed in, albeit with pride dented. 

What became clear once again is where the genius of cricket lies: one chance. Each batsman gets one chance. That rule, stretching back to the origins of the game, allows it to function across centuries, and across formats from T20 to Test cricket. 

More than that, it creates the psychology of the game; it balances it, it provides the key dynamic. 

It was obvious yesterday by its absence. Out of the nine or ten who batted, no-one was out just once. They either batted through without getting out, or they were dismissed twice or more. The reason for that was subconscious, I think. Once they'd lost their wicket and carried on batting, their mindset changed. In a part of the brain, it was already over, so they just slogged and got out again [and again in several cases].

The ground we played at was glorious, a line of tall trees along the near side, a meadow full of yellow flowers opposite, three giant dray-horses grazing in the field at one end, a thatched pavilion at the other. It was like standing in a Constable painting. I didn't even mind all the fielding.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Advanced Hair Studio

'You lose a lot of hair, especially when you're an opening batsman. Like Sehwag, I'm losing my hair left, right and centre. Cricket has given me everything, but it's taking away my hair'.

Yes, Gautam Gambhir is going bald. So's Veru. You see, bowling is hard on the body. But batting, batting is hard on the psyche. Batting kills the mind. Batting keeps you awake all night and leaves your hair in piles on the pillow. 

Injuries heal. But the hair... the hair ain't coming back anytime soon.*

And they say it's a batsman's game.


American authorities have refused to arrest Sir Allen Stanford.

Unlike the ECB, who have merely refused to admit they know him.

They 'announced' the P20, a competition previously hyped as the EPL, the other day. The news sneaked out like a guilty secret about 6pm in the sure and certain knowledge that everyone else [apart from David Hopps] was writing about the Test squad. 

And here is the news: The EPL was going to include an Indian XI and the Stanford Superstars. The P20 isn't. The EPL was going to feature city franchises and player auctions. The P20 isn't. The EPL was going to develop the game and the format, Lalit-style. The P20... ah, you guessed it. 

It's just a bunch of county teams playing a shorter tournament than the Pro40, which it's replacing. But don't tell anyone.