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It all started with a tweet.

A harmless tweet, or so I thought, reacting to the running cricket story being played out on BBC Radio Five claiming Graeme Swann (and this is the sport headline)

has attacked some of the tournament commentators for their scathing criticism after yesterdays defeat against Ireland, accusing some of them of short memories.

Now, having seen Michael Vaughan analysing the bowling performance after the India game, I, perhaps wrongly, assumed the “short memories” accusation referred to either Vaughan or Nasser Hussain (The two most recent converts to the commentary box; in fact, Vaughan, Nasser and Swann may have been on the first tour to South Africa under Duncan Fletcher, although I’m not sure.)

I can’t believe the interview the BBC are using, which is here is referring to the ridiculously negative Boycott or Botham (these two have been saying the same thing, over and over again, for years.)

And I was very surprised when the 2005 Ashes winning captain, and brilliant test match batsman Michael Vaughan, responded to the tweet with the type of biting fury usually reserved by Man Utd fans/manager after a dodgy penalty at Stamford Bridge. Here is the response,

Now before the pedants out there bombard the comments section referring to the lack of correct capitalisation or the missing “please” or “me”, imagine my initial delight when the smiling forehead (nothing wrong with that!) that is Michael Vaughan responds to my tweet; however, the delight soon turned to amused confusion when I re-read the tweet for a second time. Shit, I’ve been set up by the BBC and my knack of mis-assumption. VaughanCricket would never say anything bad about the England cricket team would he? It must have been Nasser! The traitor.

I’m quite rightly put in my place when MV responds again,

Fair point. I can’t argue with that, can I? Well, if you look a little further down Vaughan’s timeline, you find this photo of Bob Willis (arguably the worst reactionary cricket analyst I’ve ever seen, even worse than Beefy)

Now he might not have been in the commentary box, but he is in the studio, analysing the England vs Ireland match. This tweet from the cricket stat-man at Sky Sports confirms it,

So I’m not sure if Vaughan was himself being slightly pedantic, okay he wasn’t in the box, commentating on every ball, but he was still being critical of the bowling and fielding in the studio.

Now, my initial tweet was clearly praising the players (and Swann in particular)  for responding to the barrage of criticism that comes with a World Cup defeat. Especially when that negativity comes from ex-players who have only just removed their pads and packed up their bowling boots.

Here is a little CricInfo quote on Vaughan,

Vaughan was duly recalled, as captain, for the one-day series and retained for the World Cup in spite of a debilitating hamstring strain that reduced him to just three appearances out of ten in a victorious CB Series campaign. He limped his way through the World Cup (in 2007/8), in every sense of the word, becoming an increasing liability in the top order. Two months later he quit the limited-overs captaincy

So although playing through the pain is admirable, it doesn’t benefit the team when you become “an increasing liability in the top order”. Now like I said above, Vaughan was a wonderful batsman with the best cover drive you’re ever likely to see, but jumping ship from the field of play into the pundit’s chair and reverting to easy clichés, reacting to individual games without a broad sense of the bigger picture and then denying he’d made any such comments is disappointing coming from a captain famed for his innovative field settings and tactical captaincy. His record as England captain is second to none. I just wish, like Swanny, that some of the ex-players would remember what it was like when they were playing instead of reverting to lazy clichés.

Swann says it best in this tweet, and also the interview that was being repeated on the BBC Sport website and Radio Five,

Yet, the banter/putting in place/twitter spat, with Vaughan was to continue when he said this,

Again, pedants, I’m not a multi-seat vehicle used by teams to travel to away games or, thankfully, am I the coach of the England cricket team. That is my point though; England are the current World 20/20 champions, we’ve just trampled all over the Australian’s for the first time since I was born during the Ashes victory in Australia and we’ve already got a fantastic coach and captain.

Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss have overseen a radical overhaul of the cricket team. They are renowned for the detailed batting plans, bowling strategy and improving fielding standards. This may be hard to remember based on the recent performance against Ireland, Holland and India; our fielding has been rubbish and the bowling has been poor. I never once claimed I was “happy” with the England bowling during the Ireland game, nor did Swann – he admitted mistakes were made. Swann said they could have “bowled wider of off stump or more yorkers” and I’m sure there will be plenty of analysis by the England management/coaching team. However, reactionary media pundits clamour for selection changes, and when you take into account the bowling averages of the England attack it becomes obvious that the players are capable, so maybe there are other explanations.

Anderson:

Broad:

Bresnan:

Swann:

Yardy:

Looking at these figures, especially the overall ODI strike rates/averages shows that this England bowling attack has the capability to perform at this level.

Anderson, who has a reputation of conceding runs, especially on flat tracks like the one England played on versus India and Ireland, is also considered by the team management as an all rounder. Not because of his batting but because he’s the best fast-bowling fielder the world has ever seen. Broad, a brilliant three-pronged cricketer, with a strike rate in ODI’s better than most; is still only 24 and should be fresh after his two month break while Anderson and the others were finishing off the Aussies in the Ashes before losing the needless 7 match one day series. Bresnan, the star who replaced Broad (or Finn) in the test side, took five wickets against India on the flat track at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, including Sehwag. Swann is the highest ranked English bowler in ODI and test cricket, enough said. The only weak link seems to be Yardy – his stats don’t look that impressive, but his contribution to the 20/20 victory should be remembered.

Anyway, the main point I made to Vaughan was that credit must go to Kevin O’Brien, his innings was the best I’ve seen at a World Cup.

Taking apart the English attack,

Scoring his 100 off only 50 balls, a World Cup world record for the fastest ever 100,Enabling Ireland to recover from 111/5 and chase 215 off 150 balls scoring at more than 8 an over for half the innings. So, the bowlers were good enough to reduce the Irish to 111/5? Can we not give credit to a brilliant exhibition of batting? Or are the Irish minnows, meaning they get no respect because they don’t play test cricket?

The stats editor at CricInfo writes in more detail,

S Rajesh explains,

What transpired in the last 25 was truly incredible, as Ireland scored at a run rate of 8.93, and lost only two wickets while doing so, in the process achieving the highest successful run-chase in World Cup history. In the batting Powerplay, Ireland scored 62 without losing a wicket, which is the second-highest score in batting Powerplays in this World Cup, next to Pakistan’s 70 for 1 in their one-sided match against Kenya.

Kevin O’Brien blasted the fastest World Cup century, and he didn’t just edge past the earlier record; he utterly demolished it, bettering Matthew Hayden’s mark by 16 deliveries. In fact, only five batsmen have scored a quicker century in the entire history of one-day internationals.

And that is my point, which I made to Mr Vaughan after his claims of my delight with the England bowling,

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This has been one of the funniest set of video diary clips I’ve ever seen from a sports team. You don’t get comedy like this from £million T.V comics with massive budgets! Down to earth, they all seem to have a sense of humour… It highlights how relaxed all the test match squad were, not many massive ego’s and if there were, Swanny and co would deal with it! The first clip that started off ‘the sprinkler’ was hilarious and if you haven’t seen them, you must! Well done Swanny and the England Cricket Team.

I’m also pleased, and slightly surprised that the ECB decided to show highlights of each session, pretty much instantly, on their home website. Essential resource for people who don’t have Sky.

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I’m sure that a lot of you will have read Will Swanton of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph’s 10 point plan as to why England won’t win the Ashes. So here it is, but with my take on Mr. Swanton’s ludicrous list.

1 Overrated

They walked around The Oval after their dominant home summer like they were God’s gifts to Wisden. Here’s who they really beat. No one. Nuffies and cheats. England clean-swept the worst team on the planet, Bangladesh, and then won three out of four Tests against rotten Pakistan. Now they’re portrayed as superstars.

You can only play who is put in front of you and England easily and nonchalantly dispatched both Bangladesh and Pakistan with ease, they were rightfully ranked above Australia before the Ashes so had every right to feel confident and be rated by the public.

2 Kevin Pietersen

He might be growing a moustache for a very good cause but he’s still getting around looking like Dirk Diggler out of Boogie Nights. His most recent Test efforts have been the biggest joke. John Buchanan was right with his assessment of Pietersen. Buchanan was panned because the truth hurt. There’s more than one ‘I’ in Kevin Pietersen and it hurts morale.

He wore the moustache for a charity that was started in Australia no less, but go ahead and mock anyway. Every batsman has a run of good and bad form but without doubt the Aussies would love KP to have been playing for them. 227 at Adelaide tells its own story too.

3 No top speedster

Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steve Finn are respectable quicks. But they lack the fear factor. Every truly great attack has someone pushing 150km/h, like Mitchell Johnson does for Australia. None of the touring fast bowlers are frightening. Away from swing and seam-friendly England, that doesn’t leave them with much.

As it turns out, pace is overrated; England’s bowlers barely touched 90 mph (or 93.21 mph as they put it) but looked and indeed were, far more dangerous than the random selection of “bowlers” they put up. Johnson was so bad after the 1st test he was dropped for the 2nd, despite bizarre claims he was ‘rested’. The only time Johnson was dangerous was when he was swinging the ball, pace had nothing to do with it.

4 Passive captain

Andrew Strauss has to lead by example because his introverted demeanour doesn’t get the blood pumping too much. Only his scores do. He leads with quiet assurance when things are going well. But he comes across as introverted and submissive when things start going pear-shaped.

I don’t need to defend Strauss so I won’t, but Ponting needs to be questioned as captain surely? That is now three Ashes series defeats and during this series his captaincy was at times a joke. Strange field positioning, wrong bowlers at the wrong time and whatever you read to the contrary, it was Ponting that didn’t want Hauritz in the team. He ducked the last test and left poor pup to face the wrath of the media, he is one of the greatest players of all times but sometimes you need to do what’s right for the team. Learn from Paul Collingwood Mr Ponting.

5 No superstars

Pietersen is as good as anyone when he’s in the mood, but he hasn’t been in the mood for a long time. He couldn’t make a hundred against Bangladesh – his 99 was close but no cigar – and Doug Bollinger, Ben Hilfenhaus and Johnson can smell blood. Graeme Swann is the only Englishman to make a world XI right now. England are successful because they know their limitations. Which means there are limitations?

A current world XI would include more Englishmen than Graeme Swann, I don’t believe however, that any Australians would make it in at all. Bollinger, Hilfenhaus and Johnson smell blood? Between them they didn’t take as many wickets as Anderson took on his own. Oh, and again, KP scored 227 in Adelaide.

6 Over-analysis

They’ve faced bowling machines with footage of Australian speedsters running in at them – and still didn’t want to know about Mitchell Johnson. They’ve given themselves three weeks in Australia to acclimatise but haven’t played on pitches like the monster they’ll encounter at the Gabba. Every breath they take is a part of a suffocating plan. There’s no freedom, nothing instinctive or adventurous. Paralysis by over-analysis.

At no point during the entire series did any of England’s batmen look like they were bothered or scared by the bowling of the Aussies. Is this because they are fearless by nature? Some are, but mostly it is because they prepared themselves and analysed the opposition properly. As for the machines that replicate Johnson’s bowling, you simply couldn’t make a machine be that random, other than one decent swinging spell he was incredibly ordinary. As for the “Monster of the Gabba”….517/1 is all I have to say to that.

7 No depth

In such a cramped schedule, injuries are bound to hit both camps. England are in serious strife if they lose any of their first XI. There’s a vast gulf between their top-tier players and those on the standby list. Australia can only hope and pray that off-spinner Monty Panesar is called in for Graeme Swann. Australia have eight Test-standard speedsters in the queue.

This is by far the stupidest of all of these 10 points, England lost Broad after two tests so Tremlett came in and took 17 wickets in 3 tests at an average of 23. Bresnan replaced a jaded Finn who had already taken 14 wickets at 33 and took 11 wickets at 19.5. Lots of numbers and facts but essentially, England’s “back-up” bowlers were almost better than the first choice attack. Also, anybody thinking Eoin Morgan wouldn’t have knocked at least a century against this very poor bowling attack is crazy.

8 Chokers

This is England we’re talking about. Losing is a tradition. Think soccer World Cups. Think Tim Henman at Wimbledon. Think every cricket tour of Australia since 1986-87. They always arrive talking themselves up, vowing they won’t wilt under the heat and pressure and scrutiny, then wilt under the heat and pressure and scrutiny. They’ve hired a self-described Yips Doctor – because they need one.

If they did hire a “Yips Doctor” then it worked a treat, but if we are talking about choking then England certainly isn’t the team that should be mentioned. Traditionally England do struggle in sporting events but when everything clicks, they are more than a match for anybody, the Australian rugby team who played in the  2003 world cup final will testify to that.

9 Warm-ups

Everyone keeps rattling on about England’s perfect preparation. They must be having a laugh. A few of them made runs at Adelaide Oval. It’s like batting on the Hume Highway. Anyone seen the scorecards? Western Australia rolled England for 223. South Australia dismissed them for 288 on the Hume. And Australia A ripped through their top order in Hobart A yesterday. Perfectly prepared? Piffle.

All of those matches showed where the problems were and what mistakes are being made, then they were all corrected when it really mattered, it was the Australians who peaked far, far too early in those games.

10 Scars

Five of their top six batsmen are the same lot who stumbled and bumbled through the 5-0 loss on England’s last trip to Australia. The scarring is deep and real. Jimmy Anderson’s memories of Australia are all nightmarish. He averaged 45.16. Broad and Finn are yet to play a Test series in Australia. Hard surfaces jarring bones and muscles, oppressive heat – they won’t know what or who has hit them.

I would suggest that instead of scarring those players it spurred them on to play at the highest possible level and with a mentality that was “we will not be beaten”. Six of England’s top seven batmen all scored centuries during the series and as for Jimmy Anderson, he was simply unplayable. Hard surfaces jarring bones and muscles, oppressive heat – they won’t know what or who has hit them – this must be how the Aussies feel.

Marcus J Mitchell & Will Swanton (sort of!)

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First and foremost I am a football fan, I love lots of sports but it’s instilled upon me to be a football fan, so I am used to seeing all sorts of players using gamesmanship to gain an advantage over the opposition. It could be making the most of a challenge, wasting time near the end of a match or claiming a corner or throw in when you know it went out off you.

I am also, and disappointingly, used to players outright cheating, it isn’t uncommon to switch on a live match, or highlights and see somebody pretending they have been hurt when tackled, or worst still, making out that they have been punched or kicked to try and get their opponent sent off.

But last night I saw something even worse than that, Philip Hughes fielding at short leg claiming a catch off Cook when he knew it had bounced first. This might seem like nothing to the eyes of a non-cricket fan but cricket is a different sport to football. In fact cricket is different to almost any sport in the world because in some respects the umpires are there just for decisions the players can’t make, but for everything else the players do the work for them.

It is the done thing that a batsman walks before being given out if he knows he hit it, same if a fielder knows he caught it, the umpire would simply ask the fielder if he did indeed catch it, if he said yes you take him at his word and the batsman is out.

That is what makes Hughes’ claim even worse, if you see a replay of it, he knows straight away he hasn’t caught it but is almost convinced by his team mates that he did, Cook stands his ground forcing the umpires to deliberate and check with the video umpire who, along with everyone at the ground and everyone watching around the world, see the ball bounce before going into Hughes’ hands.

Hopefully this isn’t the end of cricket as we know it, but there surely should be repercussions for Hughes, just because he is a dreadful cricketer doesn’t give him the right to cheat. But that is exactly what he attempted yesterday.

Phil, it’s just not cricket.

Marcus J Mitchell.

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It’s New Years Day so what better time to celebrate the past year than on the first day of the next year, here are a few awards given out to the sporting heroes that everybody else didn’t think of first.

The Eric Cantona award for talking shite:

RAFA BENITEZ – “I was watching the fans and I was really sad after the defeat the other day. We have a saying in Spanish, which is: ‘White liquid in a bottle has to be milk.’”
Seriously…what?

The Merv Hughes award for having facial hair, looking like a twat but because we see it every day we have all got used to it:

RAFA BENITEZ – A 2nd award for Benitez but seriously, he does look ridiculous with it, sadly for Rafa he also looks ridiculous without it.
Although an honorable mention goes to all who wore stupid tashes during Movember, some looked good and some (Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson) looked like complete cocks.

The Gazza award for being batshit insane:

PAUL GASCOIGNE – Now it might seem strange winning his own award, but turning up at an armed siege, completely pissed with a box of fried chicken claiming he is a friend of a murdering lunatic is without question…batshit insane!

The Arnold Schwarzenegger award for being just a little too ‘handsy’ with the ladies:

BEN ROETHLISBERGER – Now firstly I will point out that no charges have been brought against Ben for this, or any of the accusations made against him, then again, none were ever filed against future President of the USA, Arnold Schwarzeneggar.

The Graeme Souness award for taking Liverpool FC from being ‘Ok’ to ‘really shit’:

ROY HODGSON – A good squad with a couple of world class players, now they have forgotten how to play. In the loss at home to Wolves, 8 of the starting 11 played in the 4-0 win over Real Madrid 20 months ago, so it’s not the players is it?

The Tony Adams award for drink driving:

GRAEME SWANN – For his 3am dash to the supermarket to buy some screwdrivers in a bid to rescue his 9 month old Cat from under the floorboards…in a brand new white Porsche after 4 glasses of wine. Not noted for his genius is he, thank god he can bowl!

The Harlem Globetrotters award for being so good, they literally take the piss:

BARCELONA FC – This was the easiest award to give, Barcelona are just so good to watch at the moment. As a Liverpool fan I haven’t had much to enjoy this season but seeing Barca in action is football heaven, read Georges post on ‘The super manita’ to find out why they are so good.

The Andriy Shevchenko award for spending £30m and getting sod all in return:

THE ENGLAND 2018 WORLD CUP BID – What an absolute farce, as Ian Holloway put it (say it with west country accent) “maybe we would have been better off tucking all that in a few envelopes and seeing if that did any good.”

The Hansie Cronje award for being a massively corrupt cricketer:

MOHAMMAD ASIF, MOHAMMAD AMIR & SALMAN BUTT – Again not a difficult choice, the saddest part is that Amir at 18 years old looks the real deal already, probably could have gone on and been a record breaker. Maybe poor guidance and peer pressure but that’s no excuse, he cheated and should be banned for life.

The Peter Andre/Katie Price award for two people coming together for money but nobody gives a toss:

DAVID HAYE & AUDLEY HARRISON – Money truly talks in this case, how Harrison ever got himself a fight against a world champion is beyond me, he proved his class by landing just one punch in total and got himself knocked out in the 3rd round.

The New Labour award for promising so much but delivering so little:

ENGLAND’S WORLD CUP CAMPAIGN IN SOUTH AFRICA – Just shite all around, that is all.

Marcus J Mitchell.

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After England retained The Ashes yesterday with a very comfortable innings victory, it was left to the man who started the craze in the first place to lead the jubilant team in a perfect rendition of…The Sprinkler.

Lets go to Sydney, destroy the Aussies and leave with a comprehensive 3-1 series victory, then the dancing can really start!

Marcus J MItchell.

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The two captains shake hands. The umpire flips the coin. The coin lands… The game is decided. According to cricket, according to some analysts, according to many fans, the game is over. Whoever wins the toss, wins the match. This may, in hindsight, be wishful thinking while Australia are 50-odd for 4 in the all-important 4th Test, but England have won the coin toss, bowled first, with only four bowlers, and done very well.

So is it crucial? It does give the winning captain a choice. Bowl; or, usually, bat first. ‘Get some runs on the board.’ Set the other team a target. Compared to football, compared to tossing for which ‘end’ to play toward; compared to who serves first in tennis, the flipping of a coin has a direct impact on how a cricket match develops. The captain is in control. Or is he?

It’s a tough choice. If the wicket is flat, then the batsmen are jumping for joy. If it’s green, then the bowler is chomping at the bit trying to pick up early wickets. If it’s in between, a bit green, a bit flat, who knows? The skill of the captain.

I’m not overly convinced the toss has such a great impact. Many commentators claim it’s crucial. I believe if your team is good enough, if your batsmen are better, if your bowlers are better, if your fielders are better, you’ll win. If it’s close, again, it’s the skill and ability that’ll decide the game, not who wins the toss of the coin (unless you’re playing in Sri Lanka or Leeds ;o))

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