Here to Stay

The last couple of days of the Lord's Test were all I managed to see, but it was enough to forcefully remind me of the talents of two young players of very similar ages, but vastly differing backgrounds and abilities.

Tamim Iqbal is the best batsman Bangladesh has produced in the decade since it became a Test-playing country. As an attacking Asian opener he will inevitably be compared to Sehwag, but as the pundits were saying yesterday, a more precise comparison, on account of his stature, his left-handedness and his penchant for the hook, would be with the late Roy Fredericks. Tamim is the player around whom Bangladesh can build their improving batting for a long time to come, but for the moment it'll be enough to for the rest of us to enjoy the brilliance of his strokeplay and the spontaneity of his celebrations, for there will be many more to come.

Steven Finn, of course, can really bowl. But the comparisons with Glenn McGrath which everyone seems to have been drawing seem to me to be the product of wishful thinking, based partly on Finn's self-professed admiration for him and the fact that Finn's so tantalisingly good. For me, a better comparison is with Finn's county coach Angus Fraser, although time will surely reveal Finn to have been the quicker and more penetrative operator.

Finn also comes across in interview as confident, mature and articulate, with the type of self-deprecation which is bound to endear him to English audiences. After receiving the match award this afternoon he said something about only filling in for Stuart Broad, and implied that he thought he might not be selected again in a hurry.

Steven, I've got news for you. This was only the start. You're going to be in the England side for a very, very, long time.


The More Things Change...

Brian Brain was a seam bowler who played county cricket, for Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, from 1959 until 1981. Just before he finished playing he published a diary - Another Day, Another Match - about Gloucestershire's 1980 season, and his part in it. It is a fine book, recording the life and opinions of a county journeyman who had begun his career in a time that now seems like something from cricketing pre-history, and it laid the ground for similar publications which came later, such as Peter Roebuck's It Never Rains, published in 1984, Eight Days a Week, by Jonathan Agnew (1988), and Ed Smith's On and Off the Field (2004).

In May 1980 he wrote this:

I've yet to see a bad South African cricketer over here. It must be a combination of learning the game on good wickets, strength of character, competitive instinct and natural ability.

Brain was writing with Allan Lamb in mind, and also his colleague Mike Procter, but his summary of what makes South African-raised cricketers good still holds true today for the likes of Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott, Craig Kieswetter and Michael Lumb.


Flower of England

Whatever one's views on the composition of the England team, there can be little doubt that Andy Flower has played a blinder since he took over.

He gives every impression of combining the original mind of Fletcher with the technocratic approach of Peter Moores. And, if you throw in his truly outstanding international batting pedigree and experience of galvanising his old Zimbabwe side, it's clear that England, in a slightly roundabout way, have come across an outstanding coach.

A number of members of the eleven which triumphed in Bridgetown on Sunday are going to be around the top of the English game for a very long time. With what he has brought in a relatively short time in the job, you have to hope that Flower will be too.

His job is far from finished. In fact, in so many ways, it has only just begun.


Impossible to Deny

On the face of it Gimblett's Hill, at Craig Kieswetter's adopted home ground, was the ideal place to go to reflect on England's first win an ICC competition, even if the atmosphere (and the temperature) was about as far removed from the Kensington Oval as it was possible to get. The sun shone, and Yorkshire's young opener Adam Lyth looked deeply impressive, but the sort of reflective glow which you can't help feeling the morning after an Ashes win just wasn't there.

In part I think this was because I didn't see very much of the competition, but it's impossible to deny that England's win simply doesn't mean as much to me as it would if four of the most important members of the team hadn't learned their cricket in other countries. While I've regularly paid tribute to the brilliant KP and Eoin Morgan (who has no realistic alternative way of fulfilling his talent), the addition of Kieswetter and Lumb just feels a bit too much like a shift towards a road I'd rather the team didn't go down.

Not that I, or anyone else, can do a lot about it. The potent South African combination of hard, true wickets, sunshine, new world attitudes and a selectorial environment which many find unjust will continue to react with simple economics and a tolerant qualification system to ensure a steady flow of players who are better than most of what the English system will produce.

It's best, I suppose, just to embrace it and relish the success, but, when the inevitable Australian jibes start, well, you kind of know that they have a point.

Incoherent Thoughts

I said England needed to start well, and they did. The rest is history.

Anything more coherent at this hour is difficult, but I intend to mull things over today on Gimblett's Hill at Taunton and return later in the week.


Start Well

For one reason or another - too much work, too much living to do - I haven't seen a huge amount of the World Twenty20. A Kevin Pietersen on-drive here, a Cameron White bunt for six there, frequent catches which at one-time would have been regarded as show-stoppers but which are now almost commonplace.

And now it comes down to England against Australia. While, given the precarious position which Australia occupied against Pakistan, this may have surprised some, nothing about Australia ever surprises me. I've written before about how Australian sportsmen are never, ever, beaten, until the contest finishes. Add to that the formidable technical skill and balance of the side which they've taken to the West Indies, and the fact that they're now taking twenty over cricket seriously, and it all adds up to a tough task for England.

The contracted nature of the T20 game means that it has much in common with sports like football and rugby, where the key in tight games is always to start well.

If England can do that they may be okay, but, if not, a hard afternoon beckons.



Within 'traditional' cricket circles (and those are probably more firmly established in England than in most other parts of the cricketing globe) it's still fashionable to express one's dislike of Twenty20 cricket. If you take your place among a group of members at a County Championship match and say that you 'hate Twenty20' nobody will think you strange and most of the people within earshot will wholeheartedly agree. For many, who may by now have grudgingly accepted coloured clothing, white balls and floodlights, it's simply that the excess embellishments - the music, the dancers, the sponsored six-hits and time-outs - are too much to take, and I have some sympathy with that view. But for anyone who takes the narrow-minded view that these things simply render the game worthless, I have no time.

It now seems almost trite to suggest that T20 has encouraged innovation, but it's undeniably true, even if it's only been the acceleration of a process which had begun elsewhere. To see Eoin Morgan reversing his hands and scooping the ball over the infield in a way that demands ingenuity, reflexes, strength, timing and confidence is to see a game which, unlike virtually any other ball game you can name, is evolving in a fundamental, technical way, as opposed to just a tactical one.

When did someone last invent a completely new stroke in tennis, or a different way of passing the ball in rugby, or a new way of kicking a football? In those sports you have what you have, and, however good you are, you largely have to work within an established framework. Modern cricket is different.

England didn't deserve to lose yesterday, but those of us in a position to watch someone as gifted and groundbreaking as England's young Irishman are all winners.


Truly Remarkable

In their first crack at cricket's first world Afghanistan came off a comfortable second best, but the fact that they looked largely out of their depth was as irrelevant as it was unsurprising.

The simple fact of their being there is as remarkable a sports story as has been seen in many a long year.


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