Tag Archives: Kevin Pietersen

Test cricket finally joins the 21st century

History will be made at the Adelaide Oval on Friday when the third cricket Test between Australia and New Zealand begins. The match will be played under floodlights with a pink ball instead of the traditional red ball. It will be the first day/night Test match in the history of Test cricket and the only question for most people is: Why has it taken so long?

It will not surprise people to learn that cricket lags behind other sports. The first floodlit baseball match took place on May 24 1935 when the Cincinnati Reds played the Philadelphia Phillies at Crosley Field. Floodlit baseball is now so common it is taken for granted. The last All Star game not played under floodlights was 1969 – and that was only because of rain on the previous evening – while the last World Series game not played under floodlights was Game Six of the 1986 series. The Cubs were the last non expansion franchise to play a home game under floodlights – in 1988. (Even to this day the Cubs are the only franchise to play home games on Friday afternoons rather than Friday evenings).

British sport of course lagged behind. Arsenal’s progressive manager Herbert Chapman installed floodlights in the West Stand at Highbury in the 1930s but the dinosaurs of the English Football League refused to sanction their use for competitive games. It was not until the 1950s that the League relented and the first floodlit Football League game took place on February 22 1956 when Portsmouth hosted Newcastle United. Again like baseball it is hard to imagine football not being played under floodlights.

Cricket was even later. The first day/night cricket match was literally an accident. In 1977 Kerry Packer signed 35 of the world’s best players for his World Series Cricket (WSC).The Australian authorities banned him from using their grounds so he had to use Australian Rules Football grounds which had floodlights. As WSC was struggling to attract crowds and because it would offer Packer – who owned the Channel Nine Network in Australia – a prime time TV audience on December 14 1977 the world’s first day/night cricket match took place. But if the establishment had let Packer use their grounds it could not have happened. Ironically it was day/night cricket that led to WSC becoming a success and forced the Australian authorities to capitulate to Packer. The first official day/night cricket match in Australia took place on 27 November 1979 when Australia played West Indies. Day/night matches gradually spread round the world but needless to say it took ages to reach England – until July 6 2000 to be exact.

And now it is Test cricket’s turn. But why has it taken so long? Fear basically. People fear it would be harder to see the ball in the dark. They have not been able to find a white ball that can last 80 overs (unlike the 50 overs needed for a one day international) which is why they are using a pink ball. Also it is the fear of change that affects cricket generally. Even a progressive player like Kevin Pietersen has come out against the idea saying that it risks “messing with the greatness” of Test cricket and that “Wickets change at night”.

Apart from the fact that his views show that current and former players should not be allowed to run a sport as they are far too conservative and stuck in the past there is a contradiction in Pietersen’s argument. Because in Test cricket the wicket is meant to change and one of the complaints about modern Test cricket is that the wickets do not change over the five days. Remember that this is a sport that until 1980 in the UK was played on uncovered pitches   which were exposed to rain and when that happened batting became a lottery (the “sticky dog”). Even today in the UK batting conditions vary depending on the weather. It is easier to bat in sunshine rather than cloud because the latter is reckoned to help the ball move about. Cricket is also the only sport where the toss of a coin can decide a result. If a pitch starts easy to bat on and gets worse it is a big advantage to win the toss and bat first. England captains from Len Hutton (1954) to Mike Denness (1975) and more recently Nasser Hussain (2002) have all been criticised heavily for making the wrong decision on winning the toss. This would not happen in football or rugby.

The point being of course that even if wickets do change at night as Pietersen suggests using fairness is a dodgy argument in a game so dependant on varying pitch and weather conditions. Besides in a five day/night match it is highly likely that both teams will bat at night which would even the game up.

But there is one fundamental reason why the day/night experiment is worth trying. Everywhere outside England attendences at Test cricket are going through the floor. Hardly surprising when most Test cricket takes place during the day and on weekdays when people are at work. Other countries also don’t seem to have the culture of “taking a day off work to watch the cricket and have a drink” that we in the UK have.

The fundamental truth is that sport needs to be staged when people are available to watch it – either live at the ground or on TV. It is not rocket science. As Rob Steen put it (in the article “And Lord’s said “Let There Be Lights””…in “Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack 1998, page 31) “Nothing can match the cultural significance of the pylon. Here is sport freed from the tyrannies of the working day”.

And football, rugby, baseball – even tennis in some countries – have freed themselves from the tyranny of the working day. Steen wrote that “the advent of Tests with supper intervals cannot be far away”. It shows how conservative Test cricket is that it has taken seventeen years for Steen’s prediction to come true. Now whether day/night Test cricket boosts attendences we will have to wait and see. But surely putting it on when people can see it at least gives it a chance. Despite what the likes of Pietersen thinks it is a case of “adapt or die”. Day/night Test cricket may not save the sport. But at least it gives it a chance….

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Beyond the Ashes

You would think that after regaining the Ashes in August the England cricket team would get a well earned break. They don’t get one. In fact their winter is going to be even tougher than the summer was with two tough away series against Pakistan – in the UAE* – and in South Africa.

Both series are important. England are hard to beat at home – only South Africa (twice) and Sri Lanka have won here since 2007 – but away from home they are poor. Take away no hopers Bangladesh and England have won just two of their last fifteen away series. And to be a great cricket team you must win on tour and in unfamiliar conditions as well as at home.

But the omens are not good. Both historical and current. This is the tenth away series since the war that England have played after retaining/regaining the Ashes at home. Of the previous nine they have won none. After a successful Ashes summer England ( perhaps subconsciously) relax. The classic case being a 0-2 defeat in Pakistan in the first series after the magnificent 2005 Ashes win.

The current situation is not promising either. England are being plunged into alien conditions with only four days of practice cricket as preparation. How alien conditions? The weather forecast for the first Test in Abu Dhabi is sunshine and for the temperature to reach 98 degrees. Not conditions that are normally seen in the UK! Nor can England’s seam bowlers expect the green pitches and swinging conditions they got at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge during the Ashes. Instead they will be slow low and help spin. England do not play spin well nor – since Graeme Swann retired and Monty Panesar fell by the wayside – do England have good spinners to exploit these conditions.

Also Pakistan are formidable in the UAE. The last time England played there in 2012 they lost all three Tests. Likewise Australia lost both their Tests in the UAE last year. Pakistan may not have their 2012 destroyer Saeed Ajmal – not the same bowler since he had to remodel his action after it was declared illegal – but new spinners Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah embarrassed Australia last year and will aim to do the same to England. Their batting relies on the experience of captain Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan who scored five centuries in the two Tests against Australia last year but they also have opener Mohammad Hafeez and Azhar Ali who scored two centuries in one Test against Australia last year.

As for England not for the first time they look like picking the wrong team. It looks like Moeen Ali will open the batting in the first Test. This shows they have learnt nothing from past mistakes. They opened with Moeen in Sri Lanka last year. He did quite well but failed in the subsequent World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. This will happen again. He might do well in the UAE but will I fear be easy meat for Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel in South Africa. Nor should they open with Alex Hales who Australia’s fast bowlers exposed during the one day series as a 20 20 slogger. They have dropped Adam Lyth too soon. Whoever opens in this Test will captain Alistair Cook’s seventh Test opening partner in three years. Lyth scored a century against a good New Zealand attack and deserved another chance.

I hope James Taylor gets a chance. Kevin Pietersen in his autobiography (page 168) said “His dad was a jockey and he is built for the same gig”. Taylor is 5ft 6in. Sachin Tendulkar is 5ft 5in and he proved tall enough so that is more tripe from this egomaniac. Taylor is good at using his feet to play spin which you must do in order to play it well (and too many English batsmen are leaden footed).

If England emulate South Africa and New Zealand’s performance in the UAE and draw this series they will have done well. To win would be a great achivement. This series in as alien conditions as England will ever find will be a big test in the development of this young England team as we look beyond the Ashes.

*Pakistan have not played Test cricket at home since a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in 2009. They play their “home” matches in the UAE – in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.

Where 2015 ranks in Ashes history

Well hardly anyone predicted that England would regain the Ashes did they? I didn’t (see previous post “Ashes to Ashes?” for evidence). And no one predicted they wold regain them with a Test to spare as they would have to be two matches up with one to play to do this (Australia as holders would have retained them with a draw so if England had been 2-1 up not 3-1 the Ashes could still have been salvaged at the Oval) but it wasn’t to be. Congratulations to Alistair Cook and his team for a magnificent achievement that no one predicted as recently as July 19th when England were humiliated at Lords.

But where does 2015 fit into Ashes history? England have regained the Ashes seven times in post war history (1953, 1970-71, 1977, 1985, 2005, 2009 and 2015) so I decided to rank the seven in order of what I think is the best achievement with the top one coming first. I should say at this juncture that regaining the Ashes is always a magnificent feat but some Ashes retentions are harder than others. So here we go with where in my opinion England’s seven post war Ashes regains rank in history.

1.1970-71(won 2-0) This one in my opinion easily tops the list. First of all it was the only one of the seven where England regained the Ashes away from home.  The Ashes have changed hands thirteen times since the war but only on this occasion and Australia’s win in 1989 was the feat done by the away team. That alone earns 1970-71 big points. Also England had not held the Ashes since 1959. Add to that the fact that captain Ray Illingworth had to deal with tour manager David Clark who wanted vice captain Colin Cowdrey to get the job (Illingworth had got the job by accident back in 1969 when Cowdrey got injured and a lot of people thought Cowdrey should have got the job back once he was fit) so the manager and captain did not get on well to put it mildly. Also England did not get a single lbw decision from the Australian* umpires in the whole six Test series. But England thanks to Illingworth’s captaincy and a fine team effort lead by Geoffrey Boycott with the bat and John Snow with the ball overcame the odds – but still won the final seventh** Test when Boycott wasn’t fit to play and Snow got injured halfway through. Illingworth called it the highlight of his career. It is also the highlight of England’s post war  Ashes history. (Guy Fraser-Sampson’s book “Cricket at the Crossroads, Class, Colour and Controversy from 1967 to 1977” – pages 127-168 – has excellent writing on this series).

The next two are far harder to separate and no 2 beats no 3 by a short head.

2. 2005 (won 2-1) Often called the greatest Test series ever and with some justification. The middle three Tests – Edgbaston (which England won by 2 runs) Old Trafford (draw with Australia having only one wicket left) and Trent Bridge (England won by three wickets after threatening to choke a la Australia in 1981) must be the greatest trio of Tests ever. Three things rank this series highly. First England had not held the Ashes since 1989. Secondly the excitement of the cricket and the outstanding individual performances of Andrew Flintoff, Kevin Pietersen, Simon Jones, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath among others. And thirdly this was a great Australian side – yet England inflicted only their fourth series defeat in 21 years (and they would not lose another one for three more). Only the fact that it was in England stops this being number 1.

3.1953 (won 1-0) So many similarities between this series and 2005. Again England had not held the Ashes for a long time – they lost them in 1934 – and (like 2005) this series captured the nation’s imagination as it was the first series a large number of the country could watch on TV (TV only really became popular in the UK in June 1953 when a large number of people bought their first sets to watch the coronation of the current Queen). There were great performances from Trevor Bailey, Willie Watson and in the last decisive match spinners Jim Laker and Tony Lock. The reason this is no 3 is that there was a lot of rain and defensive cricket. As Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 2003 (page 59) put it “the slow batting, and all the rain, means that 1953 cannot be ranked as the greatest Ashes series of them all”.

4. 2015 (lead 3-1 with one to play) Always hard to judge a current series but mid table is fair. It has ben a great feat for Cook to overcome the trauma of the 5-0 disaster in Australia back in 2013-14 and the stick he got for the axing of Pietersen last year and for his own poor form of most of 2014.  For long spells he was more hated than UK Prime Minister David Cameron! It also took courage to change his team’s dour defensive approach for a more attacking one which I thought (see “Ashes to Ashes?”) was beyond him. The performances of Joe Root and Stuart Broad in particular will go down in Ashes folklore. 2015 can only be ranked fourth as Australia’s batting has been awful and after all England held the Ashes as recently as 2013 (unlike the three occasions above where they regained them after long periods of Australian dominance). Still a very pleasant surprise in a year full of surprises.

5.2009 (won 2-1) The luckiest of the seven. England’s series batting average was 34.15. Australia’s was 40.64***. Australia scored eight centuries to England’s two. Yet somehow England won. This was due to the heroics of Paul Collingwood, James Anderson and Monty Panesar in turning certain first Test defeat into a draw the batting and captaincy of Andrew Strauss and inspirational bowling spells from Flintoff, Broad and Grahame Swann. But the fact that this came so soon after the Lord Mayor’s Show of 2005 plus the luck that was involved sends this down the list.

6. 1977 (won 3-0) Similar to 1953 in that the Ashes was regained during a summer of Royal celebration – the Queen’s Silver Jubilee this time – it loses points because the Australians were divided among themselves  between those who h had signed for Kerry Packer’s World Series cricket (thirteen of the seventeen man squad) and the minority who had not.  Dennis Lillee then the best bowler in the world and former captain Ian Chappell  had according to Wisden 1978 “left their flannels at the cleaners until the Packer fortunes became available” thus weakening the team. Plus the fact England only lost the Ashes in 1975 made this feat less remarkable. It is still memorable for the batting of Bob Woolmer, the fast bowling of Bob Willis and two significant events. Boycott scored his 100th career hundred on his home ground of Headingley in the match where the Ashes were regained and a young all rounder called Ian Botham made his debut during this series took five wickets in an innings in both his first two Tests and went on to have a reasonably good career!

7.1985 (won 3-1) Similar to 1977 in that Australia were weakened by the loss of sixteen of their best players to a rebel tour of South Africa and that England had only lost the Ashes in 1983. Captain David Gower was outstanding scoring 732 runs and Botham took 31 wickets in his last great series as a bowler. But the fact that Australia’s bowling apart from Geoff Lawson and Craig McDermott was as awful as their batting has been this year means that it is the least impressive feat of the seven times that England have regained the Ashes in the post war era.

However it is still a great feat. Anything that has only happened seven times in sixty years is always impressive. But some are more impressive than others. I should say the list above is subjective my opinion and I suspect not everyone will agree with it.

*Ridiculous as it must seem to fans of other sports all cricket umpires (there are two on field umpires in cricket) were from the host country until 1994, and it wasn’t until 2002 that two neutral umpires became the norm. Some dinosaurs still want home umpires to return but we don’t want umpires who are perceived to be biased even if they are not. I’m not saying the Australian umpires in 1970-71 were biased (I wasn’t even born) but that lbw statistic is suspicious to put it mildly.

**The 1970-71 series was scheduled to have six Tests. When the third Test was rained off the two cricket boards agreed to add an extra seventh Test to the schedule (over the heads of England’s players who disapproved of the idea). That explains why there were six Tests played but seven in the series. It is the one seven Test series in Ashes history and means England will have a 100% record in seventh Ashes tests for ever as a seven Test series has never been – or ever will be – scheduled.

***As in baseball the higher the batting average the better the performance is.

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.