Rock Solid

Having been away among the dreaming spires of Cambridge and the windmills of rural Norfolk I've only stayed in relatively distant contact with the one-day series. Tonight's initially uncertain but ultimately successful England run-chase, powered by Ravi Bopara and Stuart Broad, whose considerable, diverse talents and rock solid temperaments assuredly represent England's future, was the first proper view I've had of England's latest one-day renaissance.

For the moment there's not much more to say but that they look the better of the two sides and it's impossible not to be almost irrationally impressed by tonight's two main stars.

I'm always saying about this young player and that that 'more will be heard' of them. This time it seems reasonable to go further; it will be a major surprise if both Broad and Bopara, 21 and 22 respectively, are not at the fulcrum of the England side in both forms of the game for at least the next eight to ten years.

This was hopefully - probably - just the beginning.


Other Things

A couple of other things caught my eye today. One was the young Middlesex opener Billy Godleman's innings of 149* for England in the under-19 ODI against Pakistan at Grace Road. Not even his best friend would call him a stylist, but he's been churning out the runs since he was even younger than he is now, and David English marked him as one to watch after his performances at the 2004 Bunbury under-15 festival; he looks mature, well-coached and very good. Much more will be heard of him.

The other was Mark Davies's seven wickets for Nottinghamshire against Northants. Davies, of Durham (he must be on loan to Notts) has spent most of his career injured but when he's fit he doesn't half take some wickets. I don't think I've even seen him bowl on TV but he must have something.

See you next week.

False Dawn?

Not much time to post as I'm going off to Norwich and Cambridge for a few days tomorrow and I've got a lot to do; I also didn't manage to catch much of the first ODI at the Rose Bowl. But I saw enough to know that Alastair Cook and Ian Bell made overdue maiden ODI centuries and England won with comfort against an Indian side which looked well off the pace.

So, a good start for England, but they're a side which specializes in false dawns in one-day cricket, and there's plenty of scope, with six more games, for the status quo to be reasserted.


Hampshire Hammered

It was good to see Durham, the newest English first-class county, and one which brings through more than its fair share of good young players in this era of reliance on Kolpak players, win their first major trophy with a hammering of Hampshire in the final of the Friends Provident Trophy at Lord's.

You wouldn't want to single out anyone in particular, but Shiv Chanderpaul was his usual one-day self - taciturn, enterprising, fluent, often brilliant - and another West Indian veteran, Ottis Gibson, really set the victory up when he took wickets with the first two balls of the Hampshire innings in the Saturday afternoon gloom.

The local heroes included Paul Collingwood, Liam Plunkett, Neil Killeen and Graham Onions, all of whom have been around for a while and have received their share of recognition at one level or another. And then there was the young wicket-keeper batsman Phil Mustard, who set their innings on its way with a belligerent top-order 49 and then kept excellently as the screw was turned in the field.

It was also great to watch and listen to the interviews which Gibson gave to Sky and TMS before play this morning; full of personal reminiscences about growing up in Barbados, Malcolm Marshall, what happened to West Indies cricket and his feeling of needing to go on proving himself because he never made a go of international cricket.

Quite a guy, quite a club.


Food for Thought

I was out playing cricket yesterday and at work today, so I haven't seen much of the last two days of the Test. I was dubious about Dravid's decision to bat again yesterday, but, in the end, with England unable to make a serious bid for victory, everything turned out okay. With Pietersen knitting things together and good contributions from Vaughan, Collingwood and Bell, the game was saved with relative ease.

Both sides leave the series with food for thought; India can contemplate the fact that they've proved that they can recover from a hesitant start to deservedly win an overseas series, England the realisation that they can be undone - even at home - by a combination of their own complacency and misplaced aggression and an opposing bowling attack that really knows how to swing the ball.

I'm firmly in the camp which believes that there should have been one more Test match and about three fewer ODIs, so forgive me if I nod off during the forthcoming series.

It'll be nice, though, to see Yuvraj again. Limited overs operators don't come much better.


King of Spain

Ashley Giles returns to the pavilion after scoring 59 and the Ashes are England's. England v Australia, The Oval, 12th September 2005 (Brian Carpenter)

I've been meaning to post something about Ashley Giles ever since he announced his retirement on Thursday.

In truth I thought his great mate and erstwhile skipper Michael Vaughan went a little bit far when he described Giles as one of England's most underrated players. For a good part of his career he wasn't underrated; he simply wasn't very good, but, that said, he did grow into his job and became an essential figure in the England side which won six series in a row in 2004 and 2005, culminating in the most magical day in modern English cricket history.

As someone who was at The Oval on 12th September 2005, I'll remember him best for the innings in support of Pietersen without which the Ashes win would never have been. Giles' cool stoicism that day summed him up; diligent, rational, self-improving and with a genuine love of the game.

Not Bad, But Not Good Either

You wouldn't say that England were categorically poor on another perfect day for batting at The Oval, but they could, and should, have done a lot better.

Cook, although he made 61, is finally being forced to wake up to the fact that Test cricket is a difficult game, and his reliance on his strength, the straight-bat clip through the leg side, is becoming a weakness. Pietersen started well but his eyes lit up a little too quickly when Tendulkar came on. Vaughan was deceived, Collingwood got another bad one from Howell, and Matt Prior is having one of those games. Ian Bell, with positive footwork and, until his dismissal, good shot selection, was England's best player.

India stuck at it all day, relishing their advantage. Zaheer was excellent once again, Kumble was steady, RP was under-used and there were late signs that Sreesanth was getting mind and body together.

Now will Dravid enforce the follow-on?


1971, 1986, 2007

During Test matches I try to avoid commenting until a couple of days have gone. This time yesterday evening there still looked to be a possibility that England could work their way back into the game - bowl India out for 450, say, and then score 600 to put them under pressure. Now, though, after a further day of positive accumulation right down the order on the type of Oval shirtfront that anyone who's watched a lot of Test cricket in England has seen many times before, England are deservedly out of the game and the series with only pride to play for.

Talking of pride, all India can be proud of the consistency and fluency of their batsmen. True, the match is being played on the sort of pitch on which it would have been hard not to make 600, but with the road-crash umpiring of Ian Howell about, as well as the awareness of their own weaknesses when leading in past series, it wouldn't have been a huge surprise to see them make a mess of things. More tons would have been nice, but it was pleasantly surprising to see Kumble get the one that finally came. I can't say I ever thought he had it in him - to me he always looked like a determined but limited number nine who might be capable of the odd fifty but little more. I'm pleased to have been wrong.

For England, a fatal lost toss, two days of persistence from a weakened attack and some very ropey keeping from Matt Prior. From here on, with nothing but honour and a 1-0 defeat to play for, it's going to be difficult.

They're easily good enough to get close to India's total, even with Strauss already gone. One's suspicion, though, is that with the pitch starting to misbehave and Kumble primed to bowl until the cows come home, they won't.

Another long day in the sun begins tomorrow at 11.


Last Act

As a venue for the last act of what has been a compelling three act drama, The Oval couldn't be bettered. The wicket's usually hard, making life relatively comfortable for batsmen but offering plenty to bowlers of all types and it's a ground which holds great memories for both sides. India the seminal victory in 1971 and the magnificent near miss of '79, England the regaining of the Ashes in 2005 and a host of other dramatic matches, notably the series-levelling win over South Africa in 2003 which seemed to have it all at the time.

Things are evenly balanced and both sides have incentives beyond the game at hand. England have their post-2001 unbeaten home series record to preserve, India the desire to prove that they can win abroad and then avoid their usual collapse.

Sounds great.


Great Things

Yesterday's trip to the small east Devon seaside town of Budleigh Salterton for the trans-Tamar Minor Counties clash between Devon and Cornwall (pictured) was the ideal way to come down after the considerable and lengthy excitement of Saturday's Twenty20 finals day.

I've written before about how much I enjoy the truncated form of the game and Saturday's three matches were no exception. Before the day pretty well everybody would have expected Lancashire and Sussex to contest the final. Instead, thanks to some magnificent batting by Craig Spearman, Robert Key and Joe Denly among others, supported by terrific fielding, it was Kent and Gloucestershire who did so, with Kent coming out on top as a result of some great death batting from Darren Stevens, a player of some class who's never quite done justice to his ability, and a hat-trick from the young South African all-rounder Ryan McLaren.

After the group stages were largely ruined by the June monsoon the final three games and Edgbaston's pulsating atmosphere were a timely reminder of why this competition is the most important thing to have hit the English county game since the 1960s.

On Sunday I had the pleasure of watching a measured and classy knock of 93 from a tall Cornish 17 year-old called Matt Robins. I've got no idea whether he'll make it or not but there must be plenty of people playing county cricket who weren't as good as him at the same age.

If he goes on to great things you read it here first.



After the Trent Bridge Test ended in a deserved victory for India and a welter of media and blog comment about the antics of both sides I decided to take a few days to let the dust settle before commenting about what went on. On Friday, however, The Times published a piece by Simon Barnes (link below) which summed up just about everything I wanted to say.

The incident with the jellybeans received more attention than it deserved (such as the perenially barking Charles Colvile saying on Sky that 'in years to come this will be known as the jellybean Test match') but it was symptomatic of the attitude that leads England players and coaching staff to embrace a culture that values and encourages the abuse of opponents as a valid means of playing the game, apparently for no very good reason other than that Australian sides have often done it. So what. I didn't like it when Shane Warne and, less subtly, Glenn McGrath were doing it, but they did have the advantage of being able to play the game a bit better than any of England's current players. It's a culture that fails to respect opponents and, more fundamentally, fails to respect the game. They don't realise that the game is bigger, much bigger, than any of them, and its fundamentals require respect; when someone else is batting the pitch is their territory. Don't encroach on it, don't try and tamper with it, don't scatter sweets on it.

The same is true of posturing idiots like Matt Prior, who despite still being wet behind the ears in Test cricket persists in telling people how tough it is. Matt, you've done pretty well so far in your six Tests, but you'd be better off trying to get your keeping up to scratch rather than trying to show people how hard you are. A middle stump knocked several yards back by an RP Singh inswinger looks much the same no matter how tough you are.

Peter Moores has made a good start as England coach, but I was very disappointed with his response to what happened at Nottingham, paying little heed to the jellybeans and then suggesting that the stump microphones need to be turned down so that his players can say whatever they want without anybody off the field being able to tell how stupid and inane they are.

Of course, India, and especially Sreesanth, were also guilty of lowering the tone. After his decision to make shoulder-to-shoulder contact with Michael Vaughan and the bouncer which he bowled at Paul Collingwood from several yards down the pitch, he was fortunate to escape with a match fee deduction. I think a one-match suspension would have been more appropriate. The comments of Collingwood himself after the Jimmy Anderson-Runako Morton incident showed that he was unaware that if there's one thing that cricket definitely isn't, it's a physical contact game. If Sreesanth is under a similar misconception he needs to be shown that he's very, very wrong.

The history of Test cricket is littered with players who started their careers well but took their eye off the ball and disappeared from view as soon as they arrived.

That's something that Prior and Sreesanth would do well to remember.

The Simon Barnes article is here.


Opening Up

Cricinfo has recently been carrying some interesting articles by the former Indian opener Aakash Chopra, written, usually and unsurprisingly, from an opening batsman's point of view.

This week's offering is here.

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