Tag Archives: Cricket

KP for England? No way

Can someone be sacked even before they start their job? Probably not – which is a pity. For Colin Graves the chairman-elect of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) – who starts his job in May – has made a terrible start by suggesting that Kevin Pietersen could return to the England cricket team.
As cricket fans will know (and even a lot of non cricket fans) Pietersen was sacked from the England team in February 2014 after the awful Ashes tour. The reasons for his sacking still apply. The guy is an egomaniac who fell out with most members of the team in Australia. Now some – including Pietersen himself – blamed other members of the team notably Matt Prior and Grahame Swann who are now out of the team. That would be fine if that was the first team he has ever fallen out with. It is not. In his career Pietersen has fallen out with Natal in his native South Africa (2000), Nottinghamshire (2003), and Hampshire (2010) plus two England coaches (Peter Moores and Andy Flower) and two England captains (Andrew Straus and Alistair Cook). You get the picture. The guy is in the wrong sport. Actually it is a non sporting person – UK chat show host Graham Norton – who summed it up best. When Pietersen appeared on his show in October last year to promote his book – Norton said “Reading the book it strikes me that maybe, just maybe, team sport’s not for you?”
What annoys me about Pietersen is this myth promoted by his mouth piece Piers Morgan, that he would be the messiah that improves England’s struggling World Cup team. First of all the England team lost their latest World Cup game not because of the batting but because of hopeless bowling that let Sri Lanka score 312-1 in 47.2 overs with embarrassing ease. It was men against boys. Pietersen is not a bowler. He couldn’t have changed that result. Secondly England have suffered two 5-0 Ashes whitewashes (2006/7 and 2013-14) and two dreadful World Cups (2007 and 2011) and Pietersen was in the team on all four occasions! What makes people think he – and he alone – could improve England’s World Cup team?
Add to that the fact he is 34 years old. He has a history of knee injuries. And he hasn’t batted well since 2012. In his last year of Test cricket he scored 767 runs at an average of 33.35 in 12 Tests with one hundred. This compares to his career average of 47.28. In One Day international (ODI) cricket in his last year he scored 256 runs at an average of 28.44 with no hundreds compared to a career average of 40.73. There is no reason for putting him in the Test team as young batsmen Gary Ballance, Joe Root, Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali are beginning to make headway and need more experience. Why should one of them be dropped for KP?There is no reason to put him in the ODI team either. If as seems likely the current World Cup campaign ends in a flop England should start preparing for the next World Cup – in England in 2019 – at once. By 2019 Pietersen will be 38 years old and is unlikely to be playing anyway. So the only justification for picking him would be for this year’s Ashes. I know the Ashes is important but to pick a guy for one series? A series that England last time were humiliated in despite Pietersen being in the team?
Another problem with what Graves is saying is that the ECB chairman does not pick the team the selectors do. Is he trying to undermine the selectors? There are rumours he might sack National Selector James Whittaker and England team managing director Paul Downton but as they have only been in post for a year that is very unfair. You need more than a year in a job to prove yourself. I suspect coach Moores might get the sack but as this is his second spell in the job that is a different case. He should never have been appointed anyway. His first spell was a disaster. The guy was out of his depth and fell out with most of the team – as well as Pietersen. Nothing seems to have changed. He is still out of his depth.
The last thing the England team needs is the return of the KP circus as it was an over hyped unwanted distraction from the team’s real job – winning cricket matches. Ironically Graves tries to justify opening the door to KP by saying “what happened in the past is history”. But that is the point. KP represents English cricket’s past. It is time to move on to the future.

Who will rule the World?

The first if the three major sport World Cups played this year starts tomorrow (actually today in the UK because of the time difference) namely the Cricket World Cup which is being held in Australia and New Zealand. The first point is that the tournament’s format is terrible. A 14 team event lasts 44 days (the FIFA World Cup last year had 32 teams and lasted 32 days) and it takes a month to reduce the number of teams from 14 to 8 (and it is highly likely that we know who the last eight will be). With that said how will the tournament go?
A key feature of One Day international (ODI) cricket in recent years is that scores have been rocketing upwards. Two examples of this from this winter were Rohit Sharma’s 264 for India and AB de Villiers’ amazing 31-ball century for South Africa last month. Paradoxically that makes bowling more important. It is clear that unless a fielding side can take early wickets with the new ball, have a wicket taking spinner and have good “death bowling” then they will be hammered. Since the top eight sides all have destructive batting the sides that do well will be the ones that have the bowling to stop these strong batting line-ups.
So let’s take a team-by-team look at the teams in the World Cup.

Group A – Australia – The hosts are the favourites and rightly so. Aaron Finch, David Warner, Shane Watson, the vastly improved Steve Smith, captain Michael Clarke(when fit) and six hitting machine Glenn Maxwell make up a scary batting line up even by this tournament’s standards. And the fast bowling is formidable. Mitchells Johnson and Starc plus youngsters Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. Two weak spots. They don’t have a wicket taking spinner. Maxwell’s bowling is far less scary than his batting and Xavier Doherty is average at best. And will the hype get to them? They flopped in 1992 as hosts. Could history repeat itself?

England – When England left Sri Lanka last year with their tails between their legs their World Cup chances looked slim. But the sacking of Alistair Cook and his replacement by Eoin Morgan has produced some improvement. Probably not enough. They were outclassed three times by Australia in their warm up tournament. There are signs of an exciting batting line up of Ian Bell, Moeen Ali, James Taylor, Joe Root, Morgan and the explosive Joss Buttler. However they are inconsistent. The bowling is a worry. If James Anderson and Stuart Broad don’t take wickets with the new ball and Steve Finn does not bowl quick it is very batsman friendly. If England can get to the Semi Finals – and they haven’t done that since 1992 – it will be an achievement.

New Zealand – New Zealand are usually the Oakland As of cricket. A team of underdogs punching above their weight. Not this time. This New Zealand team is seriously good. Three world class batsmen in captain Brendon McCullum, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, plus big hitters Corey Anderson and Luke Ronchi make a formidable batting line up. The bowling has depth in pace with Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Adam Milne and Mitchell McClenaghan plus a vetran spinner in Daniel Vittori. If they cope with the pressure this is the best chance New Zealand has ever had of getting to the Final.

Sri Lanka – One man holds the key to the 2011 Finalists chances. The batting is strong and experienced lead by Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardane and captain Angelo Matthews. They also have a reliable spin attack. But Sri Lanka in order to perform well need Lasith Malinga the best death bowler in the world to be fit and firing. He is just coming back from injury and went at six an over in both Sri Lanka’s warm up games. If he is at his beat Sri Lanka could get to the last four at least. If he is not they will not get beyond the last eight.

As for the other three teams in the group Bangladesh could cause an upset – but only one – the fact that Afghanistan are here at all is a fairy tale – in 2008 they were in Division Five of the World Cricket League playing the likes of Jersey – but they and Scotland probably have no more realistic hope than to win the game against each other.

Group B – India – the holders have a strong batting line up led by Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikar Dhawan and captain MS Dhoni but the bowling (especially the fast bowling) is not as good and their form is awful – they haven’t won an international match on their tour to Australia and confidence is low. If they lose their first two games to Pakistan and South Africa they will be under huge pressure from a demanding public(India is as fanatical about cricket as Brazil is about football and over a billion people in India will be watching them). Could get to the last four but unlikely to go further.

Pakistan – What Winston Churchill said about the USSR – “A riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped inside an enigma” – could well apply to Pakistan. They could win the whole thing – or suffer a humiliating defeat by Ireland and go out before the last eight. One suspects they will struggle this time. Apart from two recent games in New Zealand they haven’t played outside Asia since 2013 and will need experienced players like captain Misbah-ul-Haq , Younis Khan and Shahid Afridi to fire to have a chance of a last four place. Still they beat England in a warm up match and can’t be written off.

South Africa – based on talent this team should be in the Final. AB de Villiers – the best batsman in the world – Hashim Amla , Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander are a world class core, Quinton de Kock, Rilee Rossouw and David Miller are exciting young batsmen and Imran Tahir is a wicket taking – if sometimes expensive – spinner. However they have a reputation for being “chokers” – not performing well in big games. A reputation is very hard to get rid of. South Africa could yet again win all their group games look unbeatable and then blow up when the pressure of knock out sport comes in the last eight (perhaps even losing to England?).

West Indies – Oh dear. From 1975 to 1983 they were the team every one wanted to beat. Now they could be the team everybody beats. For some reason best known to themselves they appointed a 23-year old rookie Jason Holder as captain and left out Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard – probably because they lead a players’ revolt in India last year. They still have world class batsmen Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels but the bowling is awful – as de Villiers showed in South Africa. There is a chance they don’t get out of the group. If they get beyond the last eight I will be amazed.

Of the other teams in the group Ireland humiliated Pakistan and England in the last two World Cups and if anyone is to stop the last eight comprising of the “big eight” it will be them. Zimbabwe beat Australia last year and could cause another upset while the UAE are probably the weakest team here and are unlikely to win a game.

So who will win? If I had to predict I would say that the Semi Finalists will be Australia, England, New Zealand and Sri Lanka with the Final on March 29 in Melbourne being between the hosts – Australia and New Zealand – with the Aussies favourites to win. But it is not a certainty by any means. Let the cricket begin…

Why the Big Bash won’t work in England

One of the good things about January – and there are few – is to wake up in the morning and find there is live sport on TV. This is because January is “Australia month” with live sport from Down Under – which is 11 hours ahead of us – on UK TV. Apart from the Australian Open one of the main highlights has been the Big Bash League (BBL) Australia’s domestic 20 20 cricket competition which has provided great entertainment and which has had much higher crowds than its English equivalent the T 20 Blast. Critics both here and Australia say the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) should try and emulate the BBL but the facts are that this is that this is impossible to do.
First of all the biggest advantage Australia has over the UK is its climate. Anybody who watches Wimbledon will know the UK summer can produce very hot sunshine (1976 for example) or very heavy rain (1997 which was so bad the first round was still being played on day six) or something in between. An extreme example was 1975 when on June 2nd parts of the UK saw snow. Buxton in Derbyshire – which is at altitude – saw an inch of snow. The fact is the UK climate is totally unpredictable and would hinder any attempt to emulate the BBL here.
Another problem is that the BBL is a city-based franchise event while in the UK cricket is county based. A lot of people would like the ECB to bring city based franchises to the UK but it just won’t work. First of all most of Australia’s population lives in or near cities while most of the UK’s does not. And the cities are losing population. One way to measure this is the number of MPs each city elects to Parliament (which is based on population. If population goes up a city gets more MPs when the boundaries are reviewed. If population goes down it gets less MPs.) At the 1955 General Election the five biggest cities in England (London, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester) elected 103, 13, 6, 9 and 9 MPs respectively. At this year’s General Election London will elect 77, Birmingham 9, Leeds 5, Liverpool 4 and Manchester 3 – reflecting the fact that in the last 60 years the population movement has been from city to suburb. City teams will disenfranchise most of the population. And as for franchises – in the UK it is a no-no. The one US style movement of a sports team in a major UK sport proves this. In 2004 Wimbledon Football Club moved to the new town of Milton Keynes. It caused so much uproar Wimbledon fans formed their own team – AFC Wimbledon – which has done very well and is now just one division below the Milton Keynes Dons who are one of the most hated teams in the UK. No one will dare do that again.
The other difference between England and Australia is that cricket is the most popular sport in Australia. Admittedly that is by default. Football is more popular but their fans are split between four codes – soccer, rugby union, rugby league and Australian Rules football – and as each of them has its own “heartland” it means that in Australia cricket is the only sport that unites the country. In the UK soccer is by far the most popular sport so it gets the publicity and the money cricket gets in Australia.
And that is why the BBL is on free to air (FTA) TV in Australia while its UK equivalent is on Sky – a pay TV channel. FTA channels do not like sport unless it is a huge event like the Football World Cup or the Olympic Games. Cricket is not popular enough to be on a UK FTA prime time scene dominated by soap operas and reality TV shows – however much some people in cricket wish it could happen they have to face reality.
That doesn’t mean we can’t learn things from Australia. Since T 20 cricket is aimed at attracting schoolchildren to the sport it should be played when the schools are on holiday – in England’s case late July/August. To have a sport aimed at children being played when they are at school is nonsense. Also the ECB needs to look at prices. If a family of four wanted to watch a BBL game in Melbourne it would cost them $AUS 42.50 (or £22.69 in UK money). To watch a T20 Blast match in Leeds it would set the same family back £74. The counties should regard T 20 as a “loss leader” not a “cash cow”. As they are all subsidised by the ECB they don’t have to make money anyway so why not make it cheap for a family with children to watch like they do in Australia?
If I was running T 20 here it would be played in late July/August with the 18 teams split into three groups of six playing four teams once and their local rivals twice -making it six games per team plus Quarter Finals Semi Finals and a best of three Final. I would get rid of Finals Day – the day where the Semi Finals and Final are played. It goes on far too long – from 11am to 10 pm – for the attention span of children – who as I keep saying are T 20s main audience.
While England’s T 20 will never be as popular as the BBL it could definitely do better than it has done. It is time – to quote former UK Prime Minister John Major – to “go back to basics”. The format I’m proposing is more or less what it was when T 20 launched so successfully back in 2003. But the counties got greedy and have paid the price. Going back to few matches in a short window is T 20s beat chance of being popular here. Everywhere else in the world does it this way. Why can’t we in England?

Phillip Joel Hughes 1988-2014

I am in total shock. I woke up today, switched on Sky Sports News and found out that the Australian Test batsman Phil Hughes had died aged just 25. He had been struck on the head by a ball from New South Wales fast bowler Sean Abbott during a Sheffield Shield match. He was taken to hospital where his condition was critical but I always thought – and believed – he would survive. Cricket has dodged so many bullets before – notably in 1975 when New Zealander Ewen Chatfield’s heart stopped beating for several seconds before he was saved by England’s physio Bernard Thomas – or earlier this month when Pakistan batsman Ahmed Shehzad fractured his skull during a Test and was released from hospital two days later – but this time tragedy could not be avoided.
I would just like to use this platform to state my sympathy with Phil Hughes’ family, his South Australian team-mates, his Australian team-mates and indeed all cricket players and fans. We are all sad, we are all hurting. Indeed everybody should be cricket fan or not. Whatever the talent a young person has, to see one with great talent as Hughes had, have it snuffed out before it had a chance to fulfil its potential is just so cruel. I’d also like to spare a thought for 22-year-old Abbott, who bowled the fateful delivery. No one blames him, but I bet he blames himself. I know I would if I were him. I hope he has the courage to carry on with his cricket career. I’m sure Phil Hughes would want him to.
I would just also like to say I will never forget Hughes’ two hundreds in one Test against South Africa in 2009, or his (then) world record last-wicket stand of 163 with Ashton Agar in the first innings of last years’ first Ashes Test. I can’t believe I’ll never see him bat again. He was a great entertainer – and everybody who knew him said he was a very nice man too.
RIP Phil Hughes and thanks.