Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The inner Ronnie

Anyone watching the IPL on TV outside of England cannot fully appreciate the nature of the nightmare that we are enduring. Ronnie Irani is in the Setanta Sports studio.

It's not that Irani is merely inarticulate. That would be survivable. Inarticulacy does not quite do it. What's required is one of those tremendous compound words that the Germans specialise in: a word that means 'someone whose shallow vocabulary perfectly expresses his simpleton's worldview'. Truly, the inner life of Ronnie Irani is a terrifying, if tiny, place.

But here is the real terror: Irani is not just a part-time pundit for Setanta's once-a-year T20  bonanza. He has a lucrative media career as a radio presenter at Talksport, where he appears daily as a foil to a rent-a-gob ex-footballer called Alan Brazil [The awfulness of Brazil's radio show can only be comprehended by looking at this picture and imagining that you are trapped next to him in a pub for three hours. Every day.]

12th Man pointed me towards Gideon Haigh's Cricinfo piece on the nature and repercussions of the IPL TV coverage. I'd extend the point. If the language used to describe the game is limited to trite conventional wisdom, then that will become the prevailing culture. Just look at football.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The joy of six

The 150th DLF Maximum* took to the air yesterday. Not so long ago, that would have been a statistic of note, now it's merely a signpost on the way to the new age. 

There is an IPL omerta on Sky Sports in England [it's transmitted by the rival Setanta here], but when nebulous commentary box discussion touches on six-hitting, someone, generally Athers or Nasser Hussain, will make a comment about 'the massive bats they use these days'.

It's not an observation that their colleague Ian Botham bothers offering, perhaps because he was an intuitive hitter of the ball. It's the change in attitude rather than the change in bats that's key.

Atherton hit four sixes during his 115 Test career. He was outdone even by Boycott, who struck eight in 108 Tests. Kevin Pietersen hit four sixes in his first Test. [Athers struck one in his 54-match ODI career, a stat that sees him comprehensively hammered by Chris Tavare, who managed two in his 29 matches]. A bigger bat would have made no difference at all to him.

What has happened, along with a new fluidity of technique, is an adjustment of what batsmen consider possible. An England player at the IPL asked Virender Sehwag what he thought about technically as the bowler ran in. 'Oh just watch the ball and hit it,' Sehwag replied.

That, to me, seemed to be the real transition that English cricket is trying to cope with right now - a transition of the mind, an acceptance of the possible, a belief in the new age.

* See what you've done Lalit? See...?

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Weapon of choice

Forget about Michael Vaughan's useless 'artballing', here's a genuine investment opportunity in the artistry of cricket: the good doctor WG Grace's bat.

Hard as nails, the colour of a conker and approximately as light and flexible as its owner, it's the bat with which Grace scored his 1,000th Test run, in 1896 at Lord's, the season he was a Wisden Cricketer of the Year.

You could follow the history of cricket just by charting the development of the bat, its form and its language, from WG's 'fully corded grip' to this and its ilk. 

Grace's bat has some powerful vibes in its grain. He gave it to Syd Gregory, who played against him at Lord's. Gregory gave it to his brother-in-law Harry Donnan. Harry was one of Bradman's early mentors at the St George cricket club, and he passed the bat to the club president. The bat is back in England for the first time in 113 years.

Yours for £25-30,ooo. Sold. Now let's see Chris Gayle open the batting with that...

Living the high life in Lalit Land

In the IPL, as in most utopian fantasies, nothing is ever wrong. In a bizarre little television interview this morning, Paul Collingwood, cheeks flushed and grinning like a Moonie, told the world what a fantastic time he was having as a Delhi Daredevil. Neither he nor the interviewer felt bold enough to mention that Colly can't actually get in the team. He's coming home on Friday. 

That's the very day that the Telegraph and Times report that Colly will be named as England's T20 captain - albeit an England captain who can't quite cut it for the Delhi Daredevils. 

The ECB don't usually bother leaking stories unless they're contentious - Michael Vaughan is their regular subject - so perhaps this one has just escaped organically. Yet Collingwood's credentials hardly bear scrutiny. He gave up the limited over captaincy because the pressure of it was affecting him and up until a week ago was no more than lukewarm at the prospect of doing it again. He is, as ever, the expedient choice. 

Will Colly's grin be as fixed on Friday, once he's home from North Korea - er, make that South Africa - and finds himself 'unveiled'? And will he answer the question 'So Paul, how did you enjoy the IPL?' in quite the same way?

NB: The bookies have England at 10-1. You might as well make it 100-1 boys: it's essentially free money... 

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Fake IPL player goes home*

Yes, Andrew Flintoff is on his way back. And line of the day goes to David Hopps in the Guardian: 'Getting him on the field has long been like assembling an IKEA wardrobe with half of the bolts missing'.

Hoppsy has begun the season in waspish form, unlike poor Fred. Flintoff has been exposed by the tournament: purveyor of two of the three most expensive spells in what we already love to call 'franchise history', larrupped by AB and Abishek Nayar [not a sentence you get to write too often], and maker of two of the least convincing 20-odds, most of them via edges through and over third man accompanied by sheepish, shaggy grins.  

He's been comfortably outbowled by the tournament's other most expensive acquisition, KP, who, finding himself back in South Africa, has reverted to his original incarnation as an off-spinning all-rounder. How the crowds are enjoying that. Collingwood is yet to get a game. 

On the radio yesterday, Jonathan Agnew rather sniffily asked listeners to text in if they were watching the IPL. Well Aggers, plenty did, and what they're watching is the game run away from England and English players. There have been displays of bowling skill and sustained hitting that have blazed across England's dark skies like comets. Look to the heavens boys - that's the future up there.

It's safe to say that if the England T20 side was playing in the IPL it would finish bottom, which is where it's headed this summer too. Damage limitation is the best we can hope for. The best chance for that is to give the captaincy to Dimitri Mascarenhas, who is witness to a masterclass from Shane Warne, and make sure that Bopara and Napier are given their head. 

And KP? KP should open in T20. There he could think clearly about his game.

* Not that one, obviously.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Far from the madding crowd

In Durban, AB de Villiers makes 105 from 54 balls, Matty Hayden [still barebat, mind you] responds with 57 from 27. Fireworks and dancing girls.

In Bristol, Essex are beating Gloucester in two and a half days. Needing 101, they reach 96-3, five runs required. They went to lunch. 

It's the same game, somewhere under the skin. 

Cool Ruler, orange cap

Davis Miller once wrote a tremendous magazine story called My Dinner With Ali, in which he called on the champ at his mother's house in Louisville. Ali was retired, slowing down physically but not yet ill. Miller was an Ali obsessive who'd become a champion kickboxer in homage to his hero.

Ali let Miller spar with him on the front lawn, and Miller was embarrassed by how easily he could tag the Greatest. Then later, after they'd eaten dinner and handfuls of biscuits and sat up watching fight films, Miller went to use the bathroom. Ali had fallen asleep. When Miller returned, he found Ali not just awake again but shadowboxing in the light of his old fights playing on the television screen. For a few seconds, he seemed to float and glow as his fists flashed out.

'Don't tell anyone,' he said to Miller, 'but I'm making a comeback. Four times champion of the world... Imagine that...' 

And for a moment, Miller believed him, so convincing had the shadowboxing been. Then he remembered that the heavyweight champion at the time was Mike Tyson.

'Ha, tricked you...' Ali said, and sat slowly back down on the sofa, looking like an old man again.

I thought of My Dinner With Ali yesterday after Rahul Dravid batted with Kevin Pietersen. While KP flapped, Dravid unleashed. They were proper shots too, stiletto thrusts through and over cover and cover point. 

The cool Ruler is playing in a world of Mike Tysons out there but the orange cap sits atop his head. Old school beats no school, anyday.

NB: Thanks to Brit for this

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Please explain, Lalit

One thing confuses me about this year's IPL:

Can you have a DLF Maximum that is also a Citi Moment Of Success?

Just asking...

Monday, 20 April 2009

The Ballad of Matthew Hoggard

We'll be seeing a lot of Matthew Hoggard over the next few weeks: he has a book out, a serialisation in the Times and a column at Cricinfo. Come the Ashes, he'll join the noble ranks of the Fallen of 2005 - Tresco, Gilo, Simon Jones, Geraint Jones, maybe Harmi, perhaps Vaughany - as ghosts on the sidelines, young men who know that the best moments of their sporting lives have already been and gone.

Hoggy's end has been the most sudden. No second chances for him. That seems harsher because he was the stoutest of yeoman, as ingenuous as his haystack of hair. No-one worked harder for his wickets, no-one celebrated them with more childlike delight, and no man hit a better off drive than the one he hit at Trent Bridge on that deathless summer evening. The best eight not out of all time. 

His book throws the suddenness of his dropping into sharp relief. His wife had post-natal depression, he and she weren't getting on. He was getting depressed himself, 'doing a Tres, going cuckoo' as he told Vaughan, mid-over.  One bad game and it was over. It was more than a dropping, because it came with a tolling bell. They said he'd lost his zip, that indefinable thing. Here one day, gone the next. 

The cruelest thing of all is that it was fair, and that can be hard to accept. Hoggy needs a villain, and it seems like it's the ECB. 'We've had the same problems with the ECB since I started international cricket,' he says. 'There were people slagging them off when I first came in and there are people still slagging them off. And it's not the ECB who pick the side anyway. See if you can find a player with a good word to say about the ECB. What are they going to do, sue me for telling the truth?'

So Hoggy's bad guys are not his captain or his coach or the selectors, or even the time and circumstance that robbed him of his form, but the ECB, who can legitimately argue that they provide a stupendous lifestyle with awesome perks while it lasts. 

Sadly, it's blame displacement. It's a soft-landing for the mind. The real bad guy here is sport, where one day you're in, and the next day you're out. Twas ever thus. It's hard, even harder when it's a good man like Hoggy, but it's what makes it great. 

Sunday, 19 April 2009

The Taunton Paradox

We've done Fermat's Last Theorem. We still face the Goldbach Conjecture. And now comes the Taunton Paradox, a mathematical problem that has been bedeviling statisticians globally every spring for some years now.

It's expressible thus: 172IRB =80MPV if 1=? 

Or, as that true man of Somerset Vic Marks put it in the Observer today, 'In the currency of the day, an 80 from Vaughan against Durham is probably the equivalent of Bell's 172 at Taunton, where April runs are as much a part of spring as primroses in the hedgerows'.

While Vaughan's '80' against Durham remains purely theoretical, Bell's 172 must be contextualised by James Hildreth's 303*, Craig Kieswetter's 150*, Wawickshire's 500 and 108-1 and Somerset's 672-4 - and by the fact that it is against the physical laws of the universe not to score runs at Taunton. 

So how much is one run worth there? Over to you, stattos. It's all too much for the England selectors, who need another week to mull over the first squad of the year. 

That Taunton Paradox. It'll get you every time. 

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Matty Hayden goes barebat

He's back again, huge of chest, pigeon-legged, strutting and chewing, vast eyebrows scoring their wide V... Yeah, it's Haydos, the world's most beloved Australian, and he's even wearing gold... well, more like canary yellow actually, especially the helmet. 

But something's different. A long-term Gray-Nicolls man, Hayden went barebat today. The devil. Presumably his sponsorship deal ended on his international retirement. It was somehow more apparent because almost every inch of the IPL franchise shirts are logoed. 

It's usually bowlers who take to the crease with this plaintive, unspoken plea - they're probably just hoping for a couple of freebies in the post. There was something more aggressive about Hayden's statement. After all, if he was really not bothered he could have just kept the old stickers on in cheery thanks for the good times. 

Instead, Hayden bristled. Big egos die hard. He still considers himself a player, and he batted well. If I were an ambitious batmaker, an arriviste maybe, I'd take a punt. Adidas? Nike? Were you watching?

NB: In more dispiriting news, Test Match Special have announced that Hayden will be part of their team for the Ashes. Are they really going to tell us that Hayden, at best a man of colloquial grunts, is the most appropriate man for the job? 

The first cut is the deepest

Was supposed to be the first game of the season for me today. It was called off at 10.16am [approx]. 

When I was a kid and playing seriously, I was ambivalent about cancellations. There was always another game. Others were pressurised, and the overwhelming emotion was relief that they were off. 

Now it's purely for fun, it doesn't matter - and so it does. I sit here with the warm sun streaming into the room, the madness of the IPL on the box, thinking, yeah, I could be out there now... That would be nice. That would be good. That would feel right.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Best start to the season

SR Harmison
Durham vs Durham UCCE [otherwise known as Durham University]
[Durham UCCE 154 all out, GR Breese 9.1-5-10-4, LE Plunkett 17-5-42-3]

Selected highlights from elsewhere:

Hants vs Worcestershire
Worcester 132 [DG Cork 8-2-10-4] and 150-8 [CT Tremlett 10.1-5-20-2]

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Is Vic there?

Frank Keating had a great piece about county scorers in the Guardian yesterday. He described a tendency for some to be 'dismissively peppery'. Ain't that the truth. 

He mentioned Vic Isaacs, Hampshire's famous inker, a man who cast a long shadow. As a kid playing junior cricket for Basingstoke at the glorious and beloved May's Bounty, one of the highpoints of the season was the visit of Hampshire, who used the Bounty as an out-ground for one Championship game and a sunday league match.

The Bounty was the scene of one of county cricket's most infamous deliveries - way before the Batsman's time, I might add - when Andy Roberts put Colin Cowdrey in hospital minus several teeth when he tried to hook Andy's legendary 'fast bouncer'. Well, it was legendary after that.

We saw some great players there, too. I remember Boycott effortlessly stroking about twenty in as many balls in a sunday league match [it was easy to forget that he was way too good for most county bowlers]; Alvin Kallicharran, who was barely five feet tall, hammered a series of sixes back down the ground, over the crowd and into the road, a hit only the most muscley of club players could pull off; A guy called David Rock got his maiden first-class hundred there batting with Greenidge - he looked a million dollars and then he disappeared; the great Jeff Thomson even had a burst down the hill during his season with Middlesex.

Our primary job was to work the scoreboard. The choice task was to sit in a chair outside it changing the 'overs remaining' figure but spells inside the box were also required, which is where Vic Isaacs came in. He was in a tent on the other side of the ground, but a telephone was installed for him to maintain contact. When it rang, it could be only one man calling about one thing: the wrong score. Vic didn't bother with preliminaries. 'It's one five one not one five two' was the average length of exchange, delivered with some tension. 

Things got increasingly 'peppery' as the day wore on and we got worse. It was possible to go home at night still jumpy at the first ring of the phone.

Seeing it from the other side, we were useless of course, far more interested in watching the game and buggering about than making sure the score was right. Such were the ups and downs of Vic's professional life. He retired last season, a Hampshire legend, veteran of at least half a million disgruntled phone calls.

NB: The Guardian's county preview yielded some good stuff too: Joe Gatting, son of Steve and nephew of the lesser known Mike, has signed for Sussex; Imran Tahir has had his jaw broken in three places by a pre-season bouncer; and best of all Somerset's team song is now Blackbird I'll Have 'ee by the Wurzels. Nice. 

Monday, 13 April 2009

Lara, Tendulkar, Laxman, Vaughan... Are you listening Geoffrey Miller?

'There are certain players who demand a little bit extra, maybe because they tend to lift against you, and I tend to put guys like Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, and I would put Michael Vaughan in amongst those guys...'

Not my words. That's Jason Gillespie, people.

NB: Thanks to Tony T at AGB for the steer. Tony wants him in the side too. 

Update: Sky Sports are actually showing the Pro Arch trophy. I'm watching it now. He really was hitt... ah, you know.

KP: Bittersweet symphonies

There's a scene in Jurassic Park that might put you in mind of Kevin Pietersen. It's the bit where one of the renegade scientists lost in the woods thinks he has escaped from a young raptor only to see the thing appear right beside him. Realising he's been booby-trapped and is just about to die, he looks at the beast almost admiringly and says, 'oh, clever boy...'.

Pietersen has all of the awesome solipsism of the predator, and his evolutionary path is similarly straight; he's not here to admire the view. He has done nothing but move forwards throughout his career. The one arena he has yet to dominate is Twenty20 cricket; he hasn't yet worked out how it relates to him. 

Like a lot of players he didn't grasp its appeal straight away, he though it was just a bit of hit and giggle under the lights. That was okay, he's a batsman not a trendspotter, but by the time he realised he needed to take it seriously it had gotten out ahead of him. Initially unconvinced, he's been unconvincing ever since.

He hasn't been helped by playing almost all of his T20 cricket for England, who are so far behind the evolutionary curve it's embarrassing, and it's not something that shows up in his figures. It's more evident in the rhythm of his batting.

Pietersen's best innings are like symphonies, they roll and swell, they are sometimes becalmed, and they move to his internal motion. He seems to realise instinctively what he has to do and when, and he likes the timing of the game to expand and contract with him. He plays his worst when he's uncertain of what's required. Batting at three [and usually in early] he hasn't really worked out how long twenty overs can be.

Maybe because his gut reaction to T20 is that it's a gimmick, he reaches early for the gimmicky shots, too. It's almost as though he feels beholden to them, rather than to his greatest strengths, which are his power down the ground and over midwicket. We've seen less and less of those two shots, mainly because he seems to mishit them more often and get caught. Perhaps he doesn't practice them as hard now.

The IPL should reshape him. It will make him think clearly, and it will offer him access to people who really understand the format. The conventional wisdom is that this will benefit England too, but KP's kneejerk response to mediocrity is to get pissed off and withdraw, bearing his cross and chewing the inside of his cheek.

He will be back from South Africa a better player. Flower and whoever the captain is going to be might want to start considering the implications of that. 

SWOT analysis required, chaps...

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Call me, baby

I picked up Harry Thompson's Penguins Stopped Play again today. He has a superlative anecdote about calling whilst batting in a club game. He prodded one into the offside straight to a fielder, whereupon his partner appeared in front of him and uttered the mysterious and immortal words, 'do you...?'

A run-out ensued, of course. 'Do you' is the kind of brilliantly opaque statement that reminded me of a story I heard about a famous actor, it might have been Maggie Smith, who  knew that every time she went to the theatre she'd be dragged backstage afterwards to meet the leading man or lady, who'd want to know what she thought. Her stock response was to yell merrily, 'darling, you've done it again', a perfectly freighted phrase that says everything and nothing at once. 

With the season so close, it's time to dream about the innings to come, dreams that almost never include some berk appearing at your end saying 'do you...?', or in the case of someone I used to bat with, shouting 'three it' the minute they made half decent contact. 

Do I... No I fu*&%ing don't, pal...

NB: If you've not read Harry Thompson's book I recommend it; it is funny and then genuinely moving. 

Saturday, 11 April 2009

One size fits bugger all

Ian Blackwell got the first hundred of the season yesterday. But that wasn't the figure that caught the eye. Blackwell says he's lost 10 kilos over the winter, although he 'declined to give' his actual weight. Still north of 13 stones one would guess. He's a big-boned lad.

Blackwell has left Somerset, where he lurked as a village blacksmith of a player, for Durham, where he's a batting all-rounder. 'I think [Somerset captain Justin] Langer wanted me to be a bit fitter,' he said. 'He also told me he had an issue with my throwing arm, which I disputed. I didn't see myself fitting into the mould'.

So 10 kg lighter, Blackwell has buggered off - a case of heeding the message but blaming the messenger.  'He could not bring himself to use the first name of the Australian,' reported the Times. David Hopps went as far as calling him 'a wasted talent'. Blackwell was seen in conversation with Geoff Miller at Lord's, no doubt assuring him he can fill in where Samit Patel ['fat, unfit and lazy' - KP] has missed out.

All of which implies that Blackwell will play better if he's thinner, rather than just more dedicated. The truth is somewhat different, however much the legions of fitness trainers and conditioning coaches who surround pro cricketers would like it. Cricket is about fitness for purpose.

Virender Sehwag could be thinner. So could Shane Warne - who could also knock the smoking on the head - and so could Jesse Ryder. Not to mention Inzy, for whom no net session was complete without a wicker chair for him to sit in while he awaited his turn to bat. Where's the evidence that says they'd be better if they shed the timber?

Cricket - sport - is a meritocracy. Talent doesn't always apply itself to the hardest working or to conventional thinking. It's alright to be fat if you're good. The doctor himself, WG, played his last first class game this week in 1908. He'd only been playing for 43 years. Not bad for a big lad.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

The Inaugural Worst Test XI

Still on the subject of the venerable old book, Wisden introduces a Test XI of the year, an excellent innovation. Here it is: V Sehwag, GC Smith, RT Ponting, SR Tendulkar, KP Pietersen, S Chanderpaul, MS Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, MG Johnson, DW Steyn, Zaheer Khan.

It's hard to take issue with that little lot, although Ronnie Sarwan and Gautam Gambhir might count themselves unlucky. But who could possibly give these titans a game? Out there somewhere, are there men keen enough of eye and stout enough of heart?

Er yeah, probably. But that would be dull. What about the team who have utterly failed to distinguish themselves, except in the arena of the mediocre? What about the over-promoted and the under achievers? Who speaks for the demotivated and the unfit, the shirkers and the talent-fritterers, the nearly-men and the never should have been theres? Who makes that team, and who could possibly be irresponsible enough to captain them? 

Presenting the Inaugural Old Batsman Worst Test XI 2009

JM How (NZ)
DS Smith (WI)
IR Bell (Eng)
RO Hinds (WI)
Yuvraj Singh (Ind)
A Symonds (captain, Aus)
MJ Prior (wk, Eng)
RJ Sidebottom (Eng)
DBL Powell (WI)
BE McGain (Aus)
SJ Harmison (Eng)

Notes on selection: There's a nicely balanced opening partnership between two men who rarely make more than twenty, followed by the great fritterer Bell, who can outdo anyone at getting in before getting out again. Hinds edges out Michael Vaughan at four on the grounds that Vaughan was slightly better in the nets, if not the middle. It's been another year of soft runs and glorious underachievement for everyone's favourite princeling Yuvraj, while Symonds has all the people and media skills required of the modern captain. Prior might actually score tough runs, but the poor fella has iron gloves. The bowling unit is particularly choice. Sidebottom can bowl stroppily at 80mph having unilaterally declared himself fit. Daren Powell has a majestic Test average of 47.85 [it's a bowling average, of course] while SJ Harmison was a natural to complete a side in which, potentially, no-one could take the new ball. The spinner's slot was dominated by Australia, with Hauritz particularly innocuous. But if this team has a hero, it is Bryce McGain. There was something noble about his Test debut. Over-promoted he may be, but he's the one man here who can hold his head high. Good on yer, Bryce.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The apocalyptic visions of Michael Vaughan

William Blake had them, and so did William Butler Yeats. Dante had them, and the Book of Revelation is full of them. No surprise then, that the great seer Michael Vaughan is getting them too: visions of heaven and visions of hell, of rough beasts slouching towards Bethlehem and the vast and endless darkness of Urizen, and...

Well okay, the details aren't quite clear at the moment, but according to Cricinfo, the 146th Wisden Almanack, published today with that great rough beast Andrew Flintoff on the cover, includes 'Michael Vaughan, former England captain, revealing an apocalyptic vision of  cricket's future, with players serving as mercenaries and flying from one Twenty20 tournament to another without playing Test matches'.

Bloody hell! Wisden's certainly livening up! Haven't actually read it yet, but I see it clearly now, Vaughany, eyes wide and fixed on a distant horizon, smashed out of his mind on Absinthe, hitting them well in the nets yet even inbetween each shot seeing these vast winged batsmen of the near-future flying in, huge bats gripped in clawed hands, sending ball after ball into the bubbling fires at the boundary's edge before rising, hawklike into the smoking, bloody skies and soaring off to play somewhere else, deaf to Vaughan's cries as he scoops his own eyes out with spoons to stop himself seeing this fresh, fresh hell...

Yeah, well, it's better than anything he's filed for the Telegraph recently, but it's all a bit oversold, isn't it? 

Anyway, MPV will have more on his mind tomorrow morning when, weather permitting, he plays for MCC and shows us what he's got. The fact that the press box will be full for the first strand of the summer's Ashes story mitigates his vision slightly. 

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Moose head on the wall

Sir Allen Stanford has come out fighting - literally. 

The man who (allegedly) means there's a full one degree of separation between Giles Clarke and a Mexican drug cartel has given an interview outside a restaurant in Houston. 'If you say that to my face again, I'll punch you,' he told the reporter who'd asked if he was a money launderer.

Highlights came thick and fast. Unlike Michael Vaughan, Sir Allen gives good interview. 'I've always lived very frugally,' he said. 'I flew around in a private jet, I had a boat, but I lived frugally. I'm the maverick rich Texan where they can put the moose head on the wall.'

The idea that the Stanford Bank was a Ponzi scheme was 'baloney, baloney, baloney,' and the rumour that he is a CIA spy was 'foreign to every bone in my body'.

But he did say something enlightening, too. Talking about the queues that formed outside Caribbean banks when news of his arrest came, he said, 'it broke my heart, but nobody lost a dollar'.

The queues were widely televised, as was the 'hunt' for Stanford. But if what he says is true, and all bank deposits were backed, then that fact has been somewhat under-reported, as has the news that yesterday he had another $100m in assets frozen.

Stanford's money, or some of it at least, seems to exist, unlike Madoff's. I have no idea whether he's defrauded anyone or not, but his story is as much about how the media handles it as it is about the money now. He is, as he says, the moose head on the wall, the guy with the Mexican drug cartels and the CIA forever attached to his name.  And Giles Clarke, too. 

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Those suns of June

Today I bought a copy of John Arlott's book Jack Hobbs: Profile of the Master for 10p in a charity shop. It begins with a poem Arlott wrote in 1952, To John Berry Hobbs on his Seventieth Birthday. The first and last two verses are:

There falls across this one December day
The light, remembered from those suns of June
That you reflected, in the summer play
Of perfect strokes across the afternoon.

The Master: Records prove the title good:
Yet figures fail you, for they cannot say
How many men whose names you never knew
Are proud to tell their sons they saw you play.

They share the sunlight of your summer day
Of thirty years: and they, with you, recall
How, through those well-wrought centuries, your hand
Reshaped the history of bat and ball.

The next time a newspaper reflexively appoints another retiring cricketer to the post of correspondent, or Sky pats itself on the back about the strength of the line-up in the 'comm box' today, feel free to point them this way.

Friday, 3 April 2009

One or two? Or is there a three now?

I know that Shiv Chanderpaul takes guard. Who doesn't? It takes him about five minutes for a start, chipping a hole into the ground with a bail and the top of his bat handle. 

It obviously works, too, judging by the amount of crease-time it precedes, but you have to wonder how visible an indentation with the diameter of a bail-end is amongst all the great scrapings and scratchings and bulldozings that go on. 

But why he does is interesting. Taking guard must have a different function for Chanderpaul, who doesn't put his bat or much else anywhere near the mark. Nor do Kevin Pietersen or Andrew Strauss, who grounds his bat about six inches outside off stump, and neither do increasing amounts of others.

Batting is ritualistic, as are most things that demand repetition, so there's an element of ritual in taking guard. It buys you a minute or so before you face up; it allows you to bang the bat into the crease and establish yourself physically. 

The only thing it must do is get you to a position on the crease where you can judge an off stump line. The old tenet of taking guard was that your head should be over off, and Chanderpaul, Pietersen and Strauss all get there. Anything wide of their eyeline they can leave comfortably. Or in Pietersen's case, hit it through midwicket.

Yesterday in Wellington, Tendulkar and Dravid put on 90. No pair in the history of batting has scored more international runs between them, and they've done it old school. Neither move before the ball's bowled, and watching Dravid leave the ball is a masterclass in batting, one of the small pleasures of the game. Making him play before he's got twenty can be regarded as a moral victory for the bowler. 

Ravi Bopara said recently that he'd spent 45 minutes talking to Tendulkar about batting when they were in India before Christmas. 'What did he say,' he was asked.
'Oh, he just talked about head and hands, getting them in the right place'.

Head and hands. There you go. Not everyone can be Pietersen or Chanderpaul, but everyone can try that. From the mouth of the master. 

Now, one please umpire.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The odd bird

'There's no way I'll be without my wife for eleven weeks again'.

As Kevin Pietersen emerges, rather touchingly, as cricket's most uxorious man, it's hard not to wish that Frederick Sewards Trueman were still here to offer a view from behind a cloud of pipesmoke.

When I was a kid, I had one of Fred's numerous autobiographies as an audiobook. He read it himself. It was called Ball Of Fire, a title that, given the contents, qualified only as a single entendre.

Fred had enjoyed a career renaissance in his middle years, mainly as a glorious, naysaying expert on Test Match Special, but also as the presenter of a lunchtime television programme called Indoor League, in which people played darts, billiards, skittles, arm-wrestling and other pub games in real pubs while Fred smoked his pipe, supped ale and added colour commentary. He closed each show with the catchphrase 'Ah'll sithee'.

Ball Of Fire was similarly rough-hewn. In a section about married life, he wrote about the six-month winter tours without wives that England undertook, and the strains they placed on him. Of Mrs Trueman, he said, 'she must have known that I'd had the odd bird'.

Well if she didn't, she did after Ball Of Fire came out. 

The other part I remember clearly was Fred's disdainful comment on Lance Gibbs beating his world record of 307 Test wickets. 'I know that Gibbs crawled past it eventually,' he drawled, 'but he was an off-spinner'. 

Which we all know doesn't count. Ah'll sithee.