30 December 2008

With Vaughan missing out, who holds the key and number three for England?

England named their squad for the tour of West Indies yesterday and if we are being honest, there were no real surprises. Some believed that former captain Michael Vaughan had an outside chance, but realistically, he hasn’t played enough cricket in recent months and it would have been a risky to include him.

The only other talking points in terms of the test squad were that Adil Rashid – who I wrote about on Island Express last week – has been selected and despite recent injury problems, so has Ryan Sidebottom. Other that that it was very much as expected.

So, Michael Vaughan. What does the future hold for him now? In reality, as Jonathan Agnew pointed out in his blog yesterday, the news that he missed out on the squad moves him a step closer to international retirement. Being the determined individual he is, he still harbour ambitions of making back into the England set-up, but the cricket odds are less likely to back this happening now.

The only way that Vaughan is going to remind the selectors he can do a job for his country is to go back to Yorkshire and score lots and lots of runs. The only problem with this though is that time isn’t on his side. Vaughan's main aim is to play against Australia again, that's for sure. If he is to do this next summer, he would have to do enough in the first few weeks of the county season to impress. Given the form he has been in, is this likely to happen?

Even if he does find some form again, he would have to hope that someone in England’s batting line-up has a bad run to make way for him. All in all, not many things are in favour of Vaughan playing for England again, but I wouldn’t rule it out just yet. Even if it isn’t next summer, Vaughan won’t give up hope and the selectors can’t avoid him for ever. Just go and score plenty of hundreds Michael!

I mentioned England’s current batting line-up a second ago and that’s what I want to talk about next. Vaughan’s omission from the squad means that Ian Bell and Owais Shah will be fighting it out for the number three position in the batting order. It is such a vital position for any team and one which England have had problems with for a while now.

Bell is the man in possession of the position and the faith shown in him by the selectors should boost his confidence. However, he really has been on a bad run of form of late. For whatever reason, he has yet to do justice for his undoubted talent with the bat. Graham Thorpe mentioned on Sky Sports yesterday that he always thought Bell looks like he is making his debut when going out to bat. He seems nervous and unsure of his ability to make a big score. Considering Bell has played 45 test matches now – this is a slight worry!

As for Shah, well in my opinion he has to be one of the unluckiest cricketers in recent times. No matter how excellent his form is, he just can’t nail down a place in the test team. His presence in the one-day side is significant, but he has only played two test matches. The Middlesex man is the master of the waiting game and he may have to do the same again in the West Indies.

Overall, the policy of the selectors seems to have been – ‘keep the faith’. Bell needs to repay this decision and score some runs. He needs to start believing in himself more, because in Shah, England have someone determined to force his way into the test team somehow.

This is a huge tour for a number of players and one which could decide whether they take part in the Ashes next summer.

By Thomas Rooney – A sports writer who blogs about cricket betting

Skinhead massacares eleven Australians

Earlier in April, Steyn came to India and had its premier batsman on their knees, a right "racecar in the red". Doing that in India to Indian batsmen was just the latest in a scorching career. Now he has just put to rest any thoughts of him being just one of "three or four very good fast-bowlers in international cricket today".

Apart from letting it slip that he was the best, he scored a few valuable runs as well. If you get past the neo-Nazi looks, you might like him.

29 December 2008

And so it began on a Thursday and ended on the next Tuesday.

Kudos to the Poms for the balls they showed in coming back. I was so impressed that I decided to pop up to Chennai to catch the game. The conditions were nearly perfect for cricket – bright sunshine for the most, a nice cool sea breeze, a decent size crowd and a pitch that had something in it for everyone. It makes one wonder what sort of retards chose Mohali as the venue for the second match. It could so easily have been held somewhere in the south and we probably would have gotten in all those lost overs. Also, life in India’s first planned city seems too fast and hectic for the folks there to enjoy a good old game of test cricket – why keep boring them with it?

Unfortunately for the Poms, balls, two well constructed tons from the Andrew at the top and nearly ten straight sessions in command weren’t enough to win, let alone come out level at Chepauk. Watching the English bat in Chennai was about as exiting as listening to Sunil and Sanjay talking you through to the close of play, with Jimmy lined up for the post match analysis. You could settle down with a book (assuming it hadn’t been confiscated for being a bomb) and look at the score board every once in a while knowing for sure that all you missed was Strauss staying back and knocking the ball to backward point or backward square leg for a single or two. Then out came India who, not wanting to stray from well established tradition, did their first-innings-of-a-series-collapse-thing. There was even the obligatory cameo from Bhaji. It was all normal. Then it was that Strauss again and backward point and backward square leg….

After the first three or so days of the test, I was convinced that this was one of those rare instances when a team would win a test by just playing good defensive test cricket. I, like KP, got it wrong. We hadn’t accounted for that bald, smiling, glitch in the matrix from Najafgarh… or Sachin’s elephantine memory and all the repressed fury he had for idiot-mortals who kept mouthing off about Chennai, 1999, and how he was not a “match winner”… or Yuvraj and his penchant for being a pain in KP’s buttox. In an interview before his 68 ball 83, Sehwag said something to the effect of ‘we were chasing 250 against Australia but we couldn’t do it because of bad weather…If we can do that, 387 against England shouldn’t be a problem.’ What is this guy on?

What was spectacular about Chennai was that the freak-maniac was right. It all came together and it was done comfortably, with time and wickets to spare. In hindsight, it really was KP’s declaration that made a mess of things for England. Who declares with Monty at the crease? Serves him right I say. You let him know Monty.

And so the Poms packed up and trekked all the way to Chandigarh, just to have old men winter and Dravid close shop on them. KP made his point too late but it was such a joy to watch. Sure India should have tried harder to win but who really cares anyway? The PCA Stadium is such a lovely ground and it is a pity to see it wasted. Maybe it can be airlifted to Ranchi or somewhere…

It would have been nice to keep watching the English getting hammered but it had to end sometime. I cant help but feel for the English. Watching them getting hammered isn’t half as fun as watching it happen to the Aussies and those sneaky Sri-Lankans. I hear that all we are in for is New-Zealand in March. When are we going to play those Proteas?


I will remember 2008 as the year when I heard the cry of ‘test cricket is dying’ most often? TV commentators, Indian, English, Australian and what not, said it – the print media repeatedly dwelt upon it – from what I can remember, even some current cricketers viewed test cricket to be in irreversible decline.

But why? In 2008, there have been approximately 30 test matches. While 13 of these have been played in the sub-continent (about 40%), the remaining (about 60%) have been played across South Africa, New Zealand, West Indies, Australia and England. Across the vagaries of these pitches, there have been less than half a dozen draws in test cricket in the entire year (and of the draws, a couple could be attributed to the weather). Even in the sub-continent, so often accused of producing dull dreary cricket, only 3 drawn tests come to mind immediately (and of these three drawn tests, the two between India-Australia were only a few moments away from changing to results). 2008 has also seen the second highest run chase in history and the highest run chase in India and yet....

Compare this to a few decades back, when draws were the order of a day – a result, something to be cherished – where Dravid’s batting would have been considered outright brash - where just 250 runs in a day was considered outstanding batting! For instance, India and Pakistan played a 5 test series without either side winning a test – and yet they played to packed stadiums!!

So what has changed over the past 15 years? Why are the stadiums, especially the usually packed to the rafters Indian stadiums, suddenly bereft of people? Is it the fast food diet of one-day and 20 over matches that have ruined our palate for the fine cuisine of test cricket? Has the pace of our lives changed, so that we no longer have 5 days to spare on cricket, no matter how riveting the contest? Do we demand more comfort and facilities than the amphitheatres of cricket can offer?? Is there too much cricket?? Is it the television?

We must ofcourse identify the problems before we propose a cure. So, are there any other factors?

26 December 2008

Cricket diplomacy OR who's crying for Indo-Pak cricket?

The sharp fall in Indo-Pak warmth since Zardari gripped Manmohan in New York in what was probably the tightest that a Pakistani President has ever hugged an Indian PM, cricket, like the Samjhauta, the Lahore-Amritsar bus-route and Indo-Pak trade on several other occasions, has become a victim of bad relationships between the countries. Perhaps we forgot ourselves in the euphoria of the 2003 tour. Then, when people started seeing cricketing relationships as a barometer of friendliness, we should have known that cricket would once again be one of the first victims of a diplomatic chill. Should it be so? Should we see sport in isolation, or should we see this as part of the larger question of whether people-to-people contact should survive these testing times when governments sulk and the words, "nobody wants a war" are on an everlasting loop on news television. If trade survives, if academic relationships between Universities survive, then there is no reason for sport to be singled out. There are no easy answers. And I won't be giving you one, sorry. Elsewhere in the world, South Koreans are going on guided tours to North Korea, and Americans are visiting Cuba in droves.

But I think the following thoughts are relevant in reaching the answer.
1. I am sick and tired of India-Pakistan cricket anyway and would prefer to wait at least a year more before we play each other again. What I mean is, the loss is not that terrible, though it will be if India do not tour Pakistan in the next five years.
2. The levels of paranoia in India are unprecedented. Even during the Kargil war (my only memory of an actual-and-not-proxy India-Pakistan war) war-mongering was not this shrill.
3. What is the status of Pakistani IPL players?

22 December 2008

The great debate: Is Adil Rashid ready for international cricket?

At the time of writing, England’s premier spinner Monty Panesar is struggling for form a little bit. There is a possibility that by the time a lot of you have read this he has taken several wickets in India’s second innings in Mohali. However, considering how confidence drained he has looked in recent weeks – I doubt it.

This poor form from Panesar has got people talking about the possibility of him being dropped from the side. It has got people talking about a certain young spinner from England’s domestic game that could well get the nod sooner rather than later. I am of course referring to Yorkshire leg-spinner Adil Rashid.

The 20-year-old – who has travelled to India this winter as part of the England test party – has consistently impressed for his county in the last couple of years. His impressive displays were rewarded back in September 2007 when he was named as the Cricket Writers’ Club 2007 Young Cricketer of the Year.

The reason he has stood out from the rest is that he is a leg-spinner. This in itself is a rarity in English first-class cricket. Not only is he a leg-spinner, he is one that is taking wickets. This goes beyond a rarity in English first-class cricket. Therefore, there was great hype about Rashid from an early stage.

The youngster hasn’t just shown potential with the ball though as he has confirmed his status as a genuine all-rounder with some fine batting displays for Yorkshire. He scored a century for England under 19’s against India in 2006 and followed this with his maiden County Championship century in 2007. Overall, it was fairly obvious why people were getting excited about this young man and the cricket odds certainly expecting him to alert the England selectors before long.

In terms of this international recognition, there has been call ups to the ‘England Performance Programme squad’ and earlier this month he travelled with the full test squad to India, without being an official member of the travelling party.

All things considered, it seems that England are aware that he is talented. However, they are very cautious about throwing him at the deep end too early. Some might say that are being too cautious. Surely if he is going to have a successful international career, he will be capable of performing now?

As much as the Australian model is becoming increasingly unfashionable to follow, I am pretty sure they would have thrown him into the test team by now. Get him involved early and make sure he knows that he is part of the team’s plans.

By consistently involving Rashid in the test set-up without actually playing him, the selectors are saying to the player – ‘we like you, but you are not ready yet.’ Is this going to affect Rashid in a negative manner? If he suffers a dip in form, he is going to feel further away from international cricket than ever before. Then, his confidence will dip and his future performances may decrease.

In fairness to the England selectors, they were right not to select him as an 18-year-old a couple of years ago. This could have unsettled his development a great deal. Now though, Rashid is ready to be called upon. As soon as England decide that Panesar needs a rest or that Rashid is capable of filling the ‘all-rounder’ slot in the team – the spinner is ready in my opinion.

I am excited about what he could bring to the England team and just hope that the selectors don’t delay showing faith in him too much longer.

By Thomas Rooney – A sports writer who blogs about cricket betting

21 December 2008


O Very Very Special One,

Since your knock made it quite clear that Dravid's knock, despite the tedium, was a valuable one,

Or why else?

You are the great tickler of the senses. If Akbar still reigned, the Navaratnas would have been the Dasaratnas. Tansen's music could light up the lamps and Birlbal's wit, the darkest moments. You belong with them.

18 December 2008

With the Champions League cancelled, can Middlesex be there again in 2009?

It has been well documented that the inaugural Twenty20 Champions League scheduled for December has been cancelled because of security fears following the terror attacks in Mumbai. For any cricket fan, this was obviously very disappointing news. However, for one team in particular it was very difficult to take.

English cricket’s representatives Middlesex were excited at the prospect of playing in such a high profile tournament. Their captain, Shaun Udal, admitted that it was ‘devastating news’ that the competition was to be delayed until October 2009. He also went on to admit that the news would affect the club from a ‘financial’ point of view, although most disappointing was the fact that they wouldn’t be playing cricket.

The difficulty for Middlesex is that they are not automatically eligible for next year’s competition. Unlike the teams from Australia, South Africa and India, they will have to win the domestic Twenty20 competition in England again to qualify.

With this in mind, it is worth considering whether they have the ability to do just this. Their captain is confident that his team can ‘go out and win the Twenty20 cup again’, but whether this is realistic is up for debate. Can they do it again or is it someone else’s turn to shine in cricket’s shortest form?

In terms of a team winning the tournament two years running, well it has never happened before. In the five years that the competition has been running, Leicestershire are the only team to have won it twice – in 2004 and 2006.

Therefore, for Middlesex to come out on top again they would have to perform extremely well. Especially when you consider the fact that the standard and competitiveness will be increased because of the Champions League place at stake. As much as they say they are determined to win it, it may also be hard for the Middlesex players to motivate themselves to do it all again. We shall see.

Something that it worth noting though is that they team they possess is more than capable of at least making it to the semi-finals. Then, as we all know, anything can happen.

During last year’s finals day, Middlesex comfortably saw off the challenge of Durham in the semi-final thanks to a blistering innings from South African Tyron Henderson, who was a key player for them in last year’s competition.

Then, in a thrilling final, they beat 2007 Champions Kent by three runs. The key performers including Owais Shah – who hit a superb 75 off 35 balls – and Henderson again as he conceded just one run off his final two overs to ensure Kent failed to chase down 188 to win in their 20 overs.

So, in terms of the 2009 Twenty20 cup, it is important that Middlesex have the likes of Shah and Henderson available and in form. They have proven many times that they are match winners and as long as they are in Udal’s team –they have a chance.

In fact, whether they are able to re-sign Henderson could prove decisive. As things stand, he is the leading wicket taker in Twenty20 cricket. Anyone who has a player with this record in their team must have a chance of progressing to the latter stages of the competition!

Finally for today, it is worth taking a look at Murali Kartik’s contribution to Middlesex’s Twenty20 glory. The Indian spinner took 13 wickets at an average of 18 in last years’ tournament and there is no doubt he played a huge part in the team’s success. Slow bowling always seems to work in the shorter form of the game, so Kartik can be pleased with how he performed.

Overall, as long as Kent have Shah and Henderson on form, a spin bowler of Kartik’s nature and the experience of Udal – there is every chance the cricket odds will back them to win the competition again. Their biggest obstacle may well be the challenge of winning the it two years running, but there is no doubt that they will do everything they can to be the English team in next years Champions League.

By Thomas Rooney – A sports writer who blogs about cricket betting

17 December 2008


Fantastic to see Makhaya performing. I was beginning to think that he'd lost it and never get it back. Maybe this was an exceptional case and he'll rarely bowl like this, but when he bowls well, I don't have a problem in telling someone else I like watching South Africa play. He's almost talismanic in the way Flintoff or Sehwag are. Anything seems possible.

15 December 2008

Welcome, Yuvi

Another Test gem in Yuvi's dusty career. This time, it came in a (memorable) win.
This one wasn't a century though it felt as if it should have been. None of Yuvi's centuries have come in winning causes (despair in Lahore, retreat in Karachi and a romp at Bangalore) and perhaps it was just as well.
But this one should give him a lot of confidence. Monty is not the worst spinner in the world. Swann may be a debutant, but he turns it a long way and it was a fifth-day pitch. As expected, he was a nervous wreck starting out against the spinners. Flintoff gave him the working over more than once. What he had at his disposal were his awesome talent and 22 yards away, an absolute master of working the singles against the spinners. Nervous hope gave fruit. India won. Yuvraj is Saurav's successor in the Indian team. Welcome Yuvi.