Worse for Wear

There's a lot of talk in the media about Duncan Fletcher's memoirs, in which he tells some pretty shocking home truths about Andrew Flintoff's conduct as England captain in Australia last winter, including the revelation that he had to abandon a practice session after Flintoff turned up 'worse for wear', as the old cliche goes, after a heavy night on the lash.

I haven't read any of it so it's hard to comment in specific terms, but, in hindsight, it does look as though the decision to make Flintoff captain for the tour was mistaken. Andrew Strauss would have done a more astute job on the field and would have behaved himself a bit better off it.

A year on and they're not just out of contention for the role of skipper. They're both out of the team. Flintoff because of his continuing and increasingly concerning battle for fitness, Strauss because of the decline in form which he's suffered over the past eighteen months.

A penny for either of their thoughts today.


Hard Done By

Someone who does have the right to feel hard done by, though, is Chris Tremlett. Dodgy fitness record, yes, lucky to be selected ahead of Stuart Broad for the Lord's Test against India, yes, but someone who then went on to bowl pretty well in the three Tests he played. I suppose if the tour was to a more seamer-friendly environment he'd have made it, and Broad is certainly the better long-term prospect, but I wouldn't mind betting that he's feeling a bit hacked off at the moment.

And am I the only person wondering whether England really need two wicket-keepers for a tour like that?


Time to Move On

It's that time of the English autumn when there's nothing much going on in this country (apart from the announcement of the odd touring side) and little enough elsewhere in the cricket world (apart from what seem like endless ODIs on the sub-continent). This being the case, the past week seemed like a good time to let things slide a bit on the blog and see what else life has to offer; last weekend I took myself off to Derby to visit my parents and managed to get out into the Derbyshire Dales, where the weather was gorgeous and the scenery equally beautiful.

A few things got through, though, including the fact that Andrew Strauss had been left out of the England Test team to tour Sri Lanka, but Mark Ramprakash hadn't, as was widely predicted, been recalled.

Strauss had appeared to be living on borrowed time for a bit too long. In fact he's never appeared quite the same since his old mate Marcus left the stage. A batsman trying to operate outside his comfort zone and play too many shots, but also a player ground down by the way in which the world's best bowlers had homed in on and exposed his weaknesses. In the age of trial by DVD it's like that, and, when the England selectors are looking for a way to get a couple of extra batsmen into the team, you're going to be in trouble if you've got no major runs behind you for more than a year.

As an admirer of both Shah and Bopara I'm happy with the decision; Strauss, even at 30, is easily young enough and good enough to come again.

Nobody admires Ramprakash more than me but a recall at 38 for someone with a proven record of total mediocrity in Test cricket? No thanks. He's better now than he ever was, they say. Well, maybe. But he was pretty damn good as a Middlesex player in 1995 and he couldn't score a run for England then, so why should it be any different now? No, Shah or Bopara could score just as many runs in Sri Lanka as Ramprakash might, and it will be far more significant for England's future if they do.

Ramprakash is perhaps the greatest 'might have been' in post-war English cricket, but, sadly, that's where he's destined to stay. Time to move on.


Inzamam Retires

While I've been working too much and watching rugby just enough, Australia have completed a comfortable ODI series win over India, England's series in Sri Lanka has meandered to an end with Paul Collingwood's men showing good signs for the future, and a surprisingly efficient South Africa have conquered their least favourite conditions to outlast Pakistan in the first Test series of the English winter.

From Pakistan, though, came the most significant story of the week; the retirement of Inzamam. This was a player who probably never quite received the recognition in England that he deserved, possibly on account of the fact that he didn't play county cricket until his 38th year, but this was, unquestionably, a great player. Pakistan's greatest batsman? I, remembering 1987 at The Oval and a host of other wizardry, am a Miandad man, but I really appreciated Inzy, with his century at Lord's in 1996 and his final appearance there in 2006 bookending his career for me.

As always, Osman Samiuddin covers his passing with depth and elegance here.


Upward Curve

Another thing I seem to have done quite a bit of since I started the blog is writing about England one-day victories. The CB Series, the home ODIs with India, and now an away win in Sri Lanka; if you ignore the World Cup and the Twenty20 you could convince yourself that England are quite a good one-day side.

They're not that yet, but, under Moores and Collingwood, they are improving and you get the feeling that, this time, the upward curve might just be maintained.

No More Weak Puns

Having expended several thousand words in the early days of this blog in the summer of 2006 on the whys and wherefores of the Darrell Hair saga, I deliberately decided not to comment on his tribunal until after it had concluded. Now it has - and, from a distance, it seemed to be a strange, anti-climactic and amusing affair - I still don't have a lot to add to what I said last year.

As one of the minority of people outside Australia who always had, at the very least, a lot of sympathy for Hair, I can only reiterate that it seems to me very silly that an official of the quality of Hair cannot get a game while the other Australian DH, Daryl Harper, a nice bloke but an utterly mediocre umpire, remains on the ICC's Elite Panel. However, despite what Malcolm Speed said, it's very hard to see Hair appearing in many more Tests. None of the Asian countries will touch him with a bargepole and he can't officiate when Australia are involved which just leaves games between England, South Africa, New Zealand and West Indies, and there aren't that many of those.

So, I might not be writing about Darrell very much more, which, if nothing else, means that I won't be needing to rack my brain for shallow puns based on his surname.

I won't miss that, and nor, I suspect, will anyone else.


After Fletcher

It was both pleasing and interesting to see Ryan Sidebottom and Graeme Swann playing their parts in England's latest victory over Sri Lanka. Both are players who played a single game for England - Sidebottom a Test, Swann a one-day international - in the early years of Duncan Fletcher's stewardship of the England side. Neither impressed, both were forgotten. Swann said recently that he never spoke to Fletcher again after his tour to South Africa, but, in 2007, both have come back to the side to show how much they've developed in the intervening years and, perhaps, how much England were missing for all that time.

Leaving the intervening South African adventure to one side, there have been enough signs in the home series with India and this one that England, under Peter Moores, are at least putting themselves in a position from which they can improve the most dismal ODI record of the major nations. It seems highly likely that Sidebottom and Swann will be part of that, and Stuart Broad, of the neophyte's freshness and the veteran's mentality, is certain to do so.

Indeed, with Broad, whose straight bat and cool temperament should ensure he'll make plenty of runs at international level to go with the wickets which are a given, it's simply a matter of when he gets into the Test side. Once he's there he'll be there for ever (or it'll sure seem like it).


Further Exposure

ODIs, World Cups and international Twenty20 competitions may come and go with his participation questioned or absent, but, as soon as the ball's red, the kit's white and the game lasts a maximum of five days, Jacques Kallis clicks into gear. His twin centuries in South Africa's first Test win in Karachi took him to 26 in Test cricket, and, whatever the desultory nature of his strike-rate (around 43, Cricinfo tells me), his average and the sheer technical impregnability of his batting mark him down as one of the finest batsmen in the world today. I can understand the questions (and the fact that his highest Test score remains below 200 tells part of the story), but, for sheer weight of runs, where would South Africa be without him?

I've waxed lyrical about Kallis before, but I've had fewer opportunities to write about successful England one-day sides. Yesterday's victory in the second ODI at Dambulla was hugely impressive, even if it may have been predicated on some Sri Lankan complacency. But then, if you'd played England goodness knows how many times in limited-over cricket in the last twenty years or so and steamrollered them repeatedly, you'd probably be complacent too.

Ryan Sidebottom fired in his customary new-ball spell from left-arm over and Graeme Swann showed the type of technical ability, competitiveness and temperamental solidity which completely justified his selection (and raised questions about his extended absence under Fletcher) and should see him back on the island for the Tests before Christmas, while Owais Shah continued to cement his grip on the tricky number six position. When Shah was growing up in the Middlesex side his chief problem appeared, as with many young players, to be knowing which of his many shots to play and when to play them. Almost 29, he seems to have all that taped now, and, while his right-hand dominant technique will never be a thing of beauty, his deep well of innate talent should ensure that he stays around the side for a while. Tests are a different matter, but he sure ain't doing his chances of further exposure any harm.


It's a Dirty Job...

So, just a few weeks after seeing off India at home, England are back to square one (did they ever leave it?). And a frustrated and annoyed Andrew Miller is shooting from the hip.

For what it's worth I agree with a lot of what you say, Andrew, but I'll be happy to get paid to travel to Sri Lanka and watch England lose if you don't want to do it.

Staying the Same, Changing

With the 2007 English season finally out of the way and the first World Twenty20 also put to bed, the mind turns to everything else that's going on in the perpetually revolving, often crazily over-burdened, cricket world.

Australia in India, South Africa in Pakistan, England in Sri Lanka. There is, as always, a lot happening, but the more things change the more they remain the same. As I write Jacques Kallis is unbeaten on 118 at the end of the first day in Karachi and Mahela Jayawardena has top-scored for Sri Lanka against England in Dambulla.

Elsewhere, though, things have moved on. It was announced at the end of last week that Allan Donald would not be taking up a full-time appointment as England's bowling coach and would instead be joining his old team-mate Ashley Giles back in the brave new world of Edgbaston. This is a pity, as Donald clearly had a beneficial effect on the performances of England's wayward seamers last summer and it remains to be seen whether or not Ottis Gibson, for all his magnificence in Durham colours, can do the same.

In India, meanwhile, the national 'A' team and their South African counterparts finally managed to get on the pitch for their first (or third) ODI in Rajkot. India gained a narrow victory, largely thanks to Subramaniam Badrinath, the Tamil Nadu player who's been hovering around the side for the last couple of years or so and who's built up a nice portfolio of decent performances. I noticed last week that he's been given a 'Grade D' contract by the BCCI; it'll be interesting to see if he can kick on, as India, whatever their recent achievements in the longest and shortest forms of the international game, will soon be needing some high-quality reinforcements.

The same might be said of England's batting once this afternoon is out...

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