Summer’s Here: Our Wishlist For A Summer Of Cricket

11 04 2011

It’s that time of year again where suddenly hope dawns that all is not football swamping the papers, repeated rain deluges and wind – that life is once more about sun, bbq’s and cricket. It is, in short, the county cricket season once more and, as if on cue, the sun has come out although one suspects that the April showers are never too far away.

We are in fact about four days late heralding the start of the English Summer season as the first round of matches is due to finish today and, in some cases, has already finished. Already there have been some notable performances with young and exciting players such as Ben Stokes and Adil Rashid having excellent games.

As we have missed the very start of the season and have therefore missed the boat on a county season preview, here is instead a list of things that we would like to see happen throughout what should be an excellent Summer…

To start with, and in no particular order, the first thing on our wish list is to see Adil Rashid appearing regularly for England. Rashid is a highly talented player with both bat and ball and, quite frankly, should have gone to the World Cup. Yardy’s time has come and gone a little like James Dalrymples did a few years ago and Rashid should be there to pick up where Yardy left off. The challenges for the young leg spinning all rounder could not be more imposing considering that the two touring sides this year are Sri Lanka and India – the broad blades of Sangakarra, Jayawardene, Sehwag and Tendulkar to name but a few would be a tough baptism – yet equally you hold him back too long and you might miss the chance to develop a golden talent.

Similarly, there has been a space created by Paul Collingwood’s withdrawal from test cricket (and in all likelihood all forms of international cricket) and for us at the Compulsive Hooker, the man first in line to replace him should be James Hildreth from Somerset. Over the past year or two Hildreth has added consistency to what was always a highly capable talent and at 25 or so the time is right. In the shorter form of the game they are likely to stick with Ravi Bopara as he offers more of the Collingwood style variety with his bowling.

As Kent supporters we would like to see Kent rebound straight back up to the top division and their young guns bounce back after a difficult year last year. Talented batsman, Sam Northeast, is showing signings of this with a hundred in the first match of the season although we are not sure how much that says for division two bowling as opposed to division one bowling or indeed Northeast’s ability himself. Joe Denly is another who after a difficult 18 months needs to find his way again if he is going to justify his undoubted talent.

For honours in the top division we are again backing Somerset who came so close last year. With the addition of Steve Kirby to their ranks they look like they might have recruited the key component to make the difference to their title chase. Hampshire and Durham are our other tips.

Despite ominous signs after limping off with 9 balls bowled in his second innings spell we really hope that Hampshire’s new recruit, Simon Jones, makes it through an entire season this year. Jones looked like he would have been one of the finest bowlers of his generation for a short and wonderful period up to his injury at the end of the 2005 Ashes, but has since had an injury record to rival even Jonny Wilkinson. Fingers crossed for him.

With murmurings against Andrew Strauss and the ODI captaincy growing, we hope to see these quashed as soon as possible. Strauss is a fine ODI player and captain and England’s failings should not be left at his door.

Finally we hope to see Sachin Tendulkar score his 100th international century at Lords (although by then he could easily be on 102 or 103 perhaps) but for England to win the test series and so continue their growth in this format.  If England can beat both India and Sri Lanka in consecutive series it should make everyone in the sub continent who have previously been a little scathing of England’s abilities sit up and take notice that this is a side to be wary of. From where we sit there is no reason why they shouldn’t as, particularly under English conditions, the English bowling attack is substantially better than either of their oppositions.

One other thing – we would like to point you towards an excellent piece by Cricinfo’s George Dobell on the County Championship and the state of domestic cricket. In our opinion it sums things up perfectly. Click here for the piece.





County Title Goes To The Wire

14 09 2010

For all you County Cricket aficionados (and also the less fervent fans who may only be interested now it has come down to the wire) out there we thought we had better do a short piece on what is happening in the final round of matches in this years County Championship. A competition which inevitably suffers due to the combined forces of ridiculous scheduling, constant international cricket and a multitude of 20/20 tournaments has reached an exciting denouement.

In short; Nottinghamshire are top going into the matches which had their first days play yesterday but only by two points and have imploded somewhat over the past two weeks. Somerset are second and are chasing their first title ever (and with the rare possibility that one of our predictions may well come off we will be supporting them). Yorkshire are seven point adrift and consequently need other results to go their way but still have a reasonable chance.

Yorkshires opponents in this case are the Compulsive Hooker’s home county, Kent, who have to win to avoid relegation and for Warwickshire to lose their match against Hampshire. It has been a difficult season for Kent with their young players all struggling in Division One and so a season in Division Two maybe what they need although we would much rather they stayed up of course. However if Warwickshire lose and Kent win then the Midlanders will be relegated.

In a world in which almost every paper and news outlet has relegated the county championship to the small print of the sports round up pages it is refreshing to see the BBC providing live ball by ball coverage of all the various games going on as well as having their own live text update service. All this can be found on their website under the ‘Live’ link once play gets under way. For the county table and other information click here.





Proper Cricket and Sleeping Australians

29 06 2010

Bradders writes:

Pakistan Arrive

Proper cricket is finally back on the agenda with the ‘hit and giggle’ 20 over stuff on pause for the moment. Along with the current round of county matches, Pakistan, without any fanfare, have slipped into the country and are currently engaged in their opening tour game against Kent.

Sadly this is a virtual Kent second team with only Joe Denly and Azhar Mahmood of the true regulars in the side. Apart from the fact that this is probably not as high intensity an opening game for Pakistan as it could be, and therefore probably not as good preparation as it might be, I feel that Kent may be missing a bit of a trick. It is clear in the memory that 90’s, and certainly before that, the matches against the touring sides were an opportunity for the best players to showcase themselves to the England selectors and also for the county to get some much needed people in through the turnstiles. It was a regular draw for us as Kent supporters and I used to go to the St. Lawrence Ground with regularity to watch these sides.

These days with central contracts and team England being more of a closed shop it is unlikely that a single performance could have the same impact as it once did. Factor into the equation that with the surfeit of shorter and more viewer friendly 20/20 games around a three day game is likely to get less interest. This has been a gradual shift over the last decade and one that, in our opinion, the game is poorer for.  One of the best days of cricket I have ever witnessed was a Kent versus Australia match around 1997 where Mark Ealham played a quite brilliant innings, scoring a quick 60 odd I think it was as Kent crumbled around him. Later in the day Mark ‘Tubby’ Taylor scored a good not out fifty and, with some wristy Mark Waugh strokes thrown into the mix, it was a day to savour.

Focusing on the game itself;  it is good to see Robbie Joseph come back from long term injury to play a part in this game. As a relatively recent England A tourist and still only 28 there is still time for him. Joseph was a season or two ago rated as one of the quickest bowlers in the country by none other than Justin Langer and as such is a fairly rare breed. Joe Denly will be another looking to make an impression here as he has endured a poor season and has slipped off the England radar, even being left out of the England Lions team to be captained by Alistair Cook. A score here will remind the England selectors of his presence and get his season back on track.

For Pakistan Shahid Afridi’s new found responsibility clearly only extends to the shorter versions of the game having top edged a swipe down to third man for a fourth ball duck. Whatever happens on this tour; it is unlikely to be boring as Afridi is a man who plays with the sort of attitude you might have expected in a Gentleman vs Players game from the 19th Century. Perhaps the opposition was not testing enough for him and he was simply bored, but we are sure that, come the tests we will continue to witness the full flowering of Afridi’s undoubted talent, notice of which he gave in the recent Asia Cup with two fine hundreds.

Alternatively of course he could defy these burgeoning hopes we are carrying for him and implode spectacularly in a flurry of slogs, top edges and stumpings!

Umar Akmal served further notice of his immense talent scoring a fine 153 and Pakistan will probably rely heavily on him and his brother for runs over the coming test series. The younger Akmal has the sort of ability to go on and be the next world class Pakistani batsman in the mould of Inzaman and Miandad, and just to add further pressure, Pakistan have probably never needed a player of this stature more than at the current time.

***********

Let Sleeping Aussies Lie

Whilst it would be undoubtedly premature and highly foolish (the phrase red rag to a bull comes to mind) to be talking about a shift in power in the cricketing world from Australia to England, one can’t help but feel that Australia will do well to avoid a whitewash in this current one day series. If England don’t fall off their game, as they did towards the end of the third match on Sunday, then it will be theirs to lose rather than Australia’s to win.

What I am particularly enjoying at the moment though, is the headlines that are coming out of the various press releases and conferences held by the Aussie team. Doug Bollinger has been quoted as saying that they ‘are aiming for a strong finish’ and that a ‘whitewash would be devastating’. These sort of comments, coming as they do with the standard PR rubbish Martin Johnson’s rugby team have become so good at, i.e. ‘if we all perform then there is no reason we can’t win’ and ‘we just need an extra 10%’ are brilliant when viewed from the winning sides perspective!

Mind you, I am concerned that having written this article it might jinx England and rouse the sleeping beast that is Australian cricket. Perhaps this is the Englishman in me coming through after years of batterings at the hands of the Aussies and I should ignore it and just be confident, yet just in case, I have touched the wooden table and crossed my fingers…





Swann’s Song, Young Talent & Steve Borthwick As A Runner?!

26 05 2010

ECB Cricketer of the Year

It was announced yesterday that Graeme Swann, that product of the much derided county game, was the ECB Cricketer of the Year for 2009/10. There are absolutely no arguments from us as Swann’s arrival onto the international scene has meant that, not only do England have probably the best spinner in the world, but also that the England team has been injected with some much needed character. Swann is always worth listening too in press conferences, ready with a quip or a refreshing dose of honesty and since Flintoff has retired has really taken over the mantle of England’s most popular player.

It has  been a long time coming for Swann, originally being picked 1o years ago for a touring party to South Africa (along with such luminaries as Gavin Hamilton, Darren Maddy and a youthful Michael Vaughan), and we are very pleased for him. He is one of these players that is a joy to watch, whether it is his exuberant batting, smashing everything through cover, or his brilliant displays of flight, guile and not a little turn.

Swann’s tale is one that Monty Panesar for one should remember in his struggles to get back into the England side. Panesar of course had an astounding impact when he first came into the side, yet has since dropped off. Now he is plying his trade for Sussex and will surely return eventually to the England team a better bowler than where he was a couple of years ago.

Graeme Swann in 2009/10:

  • Tests: 521 runs @ 34.73, 58 wickets @ 30.15
  • ODI: 20 wickets @ 26.20
  • 20/20: 21 wickets @ 15.57

***********

Youthful British Talent

One of the major highlights of the County season so far is the large amounts of high performing young British talent on display. Have a look at the following who are all below 25:

  • Adam Lyth (Yorkshire, 22 years) 755 runs @ 68.63
  • James Hildreth (Somerset, 25) 590 runs @ 65.55
  • Ben Stokes (Durham, 18) 528 runs @ 66.00
  • Moeen Ali (Worcestershire, 22) 490 runs @ 70.00
  • Steven Davies (Worcestershire, 23) 465 runs @ 65.42
  • James Harris (Glamorgan, 20) 29 wickets @ 18.44
  • Steven Finn (Middlesex, 21) 29 wickets @ 18.68

Not a bad selection of young promise here. Steve Finn of course is likely to make his presence felt against Bangladesh this weekend and Steven Davies has also made his debut already. We wonder how long it will take one of these others to break through into the England set up?

There is also hope for the West Indies in the shape of the brilliantly named 19 year old, Chesney Hughes. Yesterday Chesney scored his maiden hundred for Derbyshire to put them in control of their match against Gloucestershire. A young cricketer learning his trade in the West Indies is fighting all sorts of problems including poorly run competitions, national team shambles and the lure of the 20/20 dollar. Hopefully for this young Anguillan an apprenticeship in County Cricket will set him on the cricketing straight and narrow.

***********

Kent Turn It Round

As Kent supporters, the Compulsive Hooker is absolutely delighted that they have managed to finally get on the winning side. Makhaya Ntini was the main architect of this win with 10 wickets in the match although he was impressively assisted by one test wonder Amjad Khan.

Equally impressive in his own way though was the performance of Ben Stokes (see above list) for Durham, who despite being injured badly in the first innings and effectively batting on one leg in the second, still managed to score 53. Interestingly during this innings he used Steve Borthwick as his runner which seems a strange decision to us. If you’re going to use an England rugby player – surely you should use Ben Foden, David Strettle or Chris Ashton. Not some lumbering lock who is liable to frequently take the wrong option!





County Championship: Batsman to Watch

10 04 2010

Summer is truly here! Or at least the County Championship, that harbinger of Summer is. As sure as any cuckoo’s call or swallow sighting, one of the surest signs that all is not lost and that the warmer months will come is the beginning of the English cricket season. It is true that with the season seemingly starting earlier and earlier (as we wrote last week, bizarrely it actually started in the sand pits of Abu Dhabi in March) that it is probably a little excessive to expect hot sunny days, but the sheer fact that cricket is being played in English fields warms the soul.

Slightly incredibly, the first day of the season passed by without any rain stoppages anywhere and was bathed for the most part in bright Spring sunshine. Notable on the first day of the season was Chris Roger’s undefeated 178* for Derbyshire against Surrey. Roger’s, for those unacquainted with him, is another of the wonderful generation of Aussie players who have not been quite good enough to break through into their star studded side over the past decade. Rest assured though that with division two bowlers firmly in his sights he will provide a constant source of runs for the eternally struggling midland county.

Also worth taking notice of on the opening day was James Taylor of Leicestershire who showed signs that his quality will overcome any potential second season blues with a composed 88. Ever since averaging over 65 last year and picking up the Cricket Writers Club Young Player of the Year award he has been tipped for greater things. The second season in county cricket is always tough as opposing teams have had a chance to work a player out and particularly when you have had the level of success Taylor did, pay much greater attention to you.

Down in Essex, another young player tipped for great things after an impressive debut season a couple of years ago, Billy Godleman, also just missed out on an opening day century. Two years ago as a 19 year old, Godleman had a similarly prolific season to Taylor last year but then suffered from second seasonitis. As opportunities became limited at Middlesex where Godleman had started his career, Essex swooped offering him regular first team cricket. We are pleased to see that their gamble is showing signs of paying off. Essex actually have a good track record of picking up other counties rejects and using them to good measure, Matt Walker and David Masters being prime examples of this.

Nottinghamshire, Kent and Somerset all start their campaigns today in three day games against university academy sides. From these sides Sam Northeast  and Joe Denly of Kent will be looking to impress. Denly to reclaim his England opening spot he lost to Somerset’s Craig Kieswetter, and Northeast to start delivering on the promise he showed last year. Long been tipped as a star of the future, Northeast had a reasonable first season last year and looks set to improve providing he gets the opportunities he needs.

For Somerset James Hildreth will likely continue to score runs and we think this could be the season he finally starts pushing for higher honours. Hildreth is a player who the Compulsive Hooker has followed from his early days and someone who we have always noted as having a higher quality than your average county player. He has had the odd hiccup in his career, perhaps not being quite as consistent as people have felt his talent deserves, but age 25 and playing on Taunton’s small ground this could be the year.

As always when previewing something we are going to finish with a prediction as to who will finish champion county. Durham are likely to be challenging once again, their bowling attack in particular is probably the strongest on the circuit, but we have a sneaking suspicion that Somerset might nick it at the death, partly because we want to steer clear of the conventional, but also because we think they have the quality and depth to do so.





Play It Again, Johnno!

28 01 2010

Watching press conferences given by professional sportsman is by and large an incredibly dull experience. Gone are the days when sportsman are regularly caught out by questions and/or provide a frank and sometimes controversial answer. These days a vital part of a players arsenal is the ability to deflect and answer questions in a manner that by the time they have finished speaking, you realise they have said nothing at all. Managers on the other hand usually pursue a slightly different approach, talking about great environments, going in the right directions, ‘taking positives’ out of yet another thumping and generally trying to remain upbeat. You can understand it of course but it is mind numbingly dull.

An example of the first category is Monty Panesar who when asked practically any question under the sun, usually ends up by saying something along the lines of “I’m just trying to get the ball in the right areas, if I do that enough batsmen will get out, I will be successful for England and enjoy my cricket”. As you can see this is a suitable answer to questions as contrary as: “What do you put your success in taking 8 wickets today to?” To “tell us why you were spanked for 130 runs in 12 overs today and you couldn’t turn the ball off straight, what went wrong? Are you worried about getting dropped?” To give Monty credit he will sometimes deliver these lines with a smile, knowing that a collective groan will travel around the room of journalists eager for something newsworthy.

Rafa Benitez and Martin Johnson are examples of managers who epitomise the second category. Both are involved in teams who are desperately struggling for form, talent and confidence yet to hear them talk you would think that only minor adjustments need to be made and suddenly they’ll be world beaters again. Johnson is quoted in today’s press stating that this is the best England squad he’s been involved in since he took over, the lack of English teams still in the Heineken Cup doesn’t mean anything and that England have a real chance in the 6 Nations. Mind you, he also mentioned Scotland in the same breath so this does take away from the previous statements credibility!

There are some laudable examples of sportsmen and managers who are not afraid to state their opinions. Subsequently they are usually viewed as mavericks, troublemakers and not entirely to be trusted by the various governing bodies which in turn can hurt their chances for higher honours or promotions. Brendan Venter of Saracens recently launched an attack on refereeing standards in the Guiness Premiership in a post match press conference. A topical subject which has attracted much debate in the media, but all that Venter got for voicing his opinion was a prosecution from the RFU for conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game. Moving to cricket Rob Key, Captain of Kent, is someone who never holds back an opinion and this has possibly contributed to his non selection for the England sides of the past 5 years. These are not in the Tevez ‘Gary Neville is a moron and a boot-licker’ category but reasoned and honest appraisals of the state of the game etc which at times do not sit well with the authorities.

In today’s world of intrusive media coverage it is of course necessary that these players are trained how to avoid the many pitfalls, however it can make things very dull. For our part, the Compulsive Hooker is pleased there are still some straight talkers out there as there would not be much to write about otherwise!





Cook?

19 01 2010

As everyone else is giving their thoughts on Cook’s captaincy issues the Compulsive Hooker also wants our two pennyworth on the issue. (Don’t worry – its short and sweet). We feel that Cook is not the right man and considering the lack of other alternatives in the team, our vote goes to Rob Key of Kent. Cook’s only captaincy experience so far was an incredibly confused affair when South Africa racked up 240 in 20 overs. Either Strauss should remain or Key is your man!








%d bloggers like this: