Sunday, 24 June 2012


birthday boy tosses

1/ Lots of hubbub on the square pre-match – Mark Nicholas fondling Chri$ Gayle’$ bat, Marlon Samuels having the most casual of casual ambles-through his sub-15 degree bowling action – but perhaps the loveliest, quintessentially English moment was the presentation of a birthday cake to Stuart Broad by his father, Chris, in front of the pavilion. 10 minutes before the start of play. As I say, quintessentially English.

2/ Broad, Buttler, Bairstow, Bopara…but no Briggs, Bresnan or Bell. Perhaps Brian Badonde isn’t picking the England team…?

3/ Blowing a Gayle. Gayle Force. Force of Nature. Nature or Nurture? Well, he’s a big lad, but he didn’t come off here. One thing battering spinners and dobbers on low-bouncing decks, another taking the caber to Mr Finn, methinks.

4/ “Don’t we, like, need a wee bit more practice?” they ask, wondering whether a one-match series is adequate. Well, we’re not doing too bad. Today was the 246th T20 International. England have played 45 (winning 24, losing 19, with 2 no results). This is less than Pakistan (55), New Zealand (50), Australia (49), but more than South Africa (44), Sri Lanka (40) and West Indies (36) and India (34). Quite what all this tells us, I have no idea…

5/ With it being Broad’s 26th (a year older than some footballer called Leo Messi, apparently), it was only right that the Notts boys came to the party. Early wickets for Broad himself (inducing a clothed pull first ball from Lendl, who once again showed he was no good on grass) and Swann (second ball: Samuels, the offie, disobeying page 1, paragraph 1 of How to Play the Off-Spinner, and cutting the offie) were welcome, but Patel didn’t ‘bring a bottle’, as it were, and basically let the county down. 

Finn overjoyed

6/ Broad had an inspired powerplay as skipper, at one stage setting an unconventional 4/5 field for Dernbach with the next ball duly going straight to Swann, moved from floating grabber. And given that a hunch always feels better than a plan, the dismissal of Gayle will have given the skipper real pleasure, as the Windies’ dangerman top-edged a Finn bumper to Bairstow at long-leg, having been returned there just two balls earlier after the skipper had previously decided to swap legside boundary riders (pushing his square leg out and bringing up fine leg) despite a ferocious first-up bouncer from Finn to Gayle that Kieswetter was unable to gather in. Thankfully, he saw the error of his ways. 

7/ Dwayne Smith’s innings off 70 from 54 balls first prevented Windies’ innings from subsiding completely, then sparked them, and each of his five sixes were a delight to behold. However, only three can make the podium, and the cuffed straight six into the pavilion from Broad misses out to: BRONZE – straight six off Swann’s gambled flighted ball (bad gamble), swatted just above the press box; SILVER – a gigantic six slogged off a length from Broad, which cleared the Larwood & Voce; GOLD – an effortless, checked driven, unusually pure straight drive off Patel. Strike a pose.

8/ Anyway, after his brutal ODI assault at Southampton, it appeared that, by the Oval, England had developed a Plan for Dwayne: full and wide. After he’d bruised an ugly six from Finn over the part of the ground the French (who’ve recently put cricket in 200 schools) would call le coin de vache, he shnicked off next ball as the Middlesex seamer got it bang on.

Dwayne S

9/ Enter Pollard with 28 balls left, 4 wickets down, Sammy and Ramdin in the shed. Is this an optimal scenario for the big man? Well, after a brief roasting from Finn – like fellow IPL-bestriding bludgeoner, Gayle, he was given a fearsome bouncer (that nipped back) first up – he then got himself ready for a bit of Samit (plenty of meat on dem bones), smearing a 4, 1, 6, 1 toward the stand he almost cleared last year in the quarter-final of the Friends Provident T20 competition. Then, Broad telegraphed a bumper and he hit it clean over the New Stand. I mean, it was practically a golf-sized hit. Mahoosive. 23 off 13 was a useful contribution, but he has been known to make 40 from that many deliveries.

10/ Bravo, meanwhile, was playing the better part of his innings of two halves: initially he struggled when hitting through the ball (perhaps because of the slightly two-paced nature of the pitch) so fell back on his very good touch game, glancing and gliding the spinners, including an incredibly fine run-off-the-face for 3 from Swann through the vacant first slip area. He then got into his stride with back-to-back, no-feet, hands-through-the-ball-like-a-spritely-dolphin sixes, one over mid-wicket, the other gloriously inside out over extra cover en route to an excellent 50 from 34 balls. Smith, Bravo: it never Dwaynes…

11/ Dernbach struggled, occasionally deceiving with the slower ball but too often missing line and length with his variations. With Bresnan, a far superior batsman, out of the XI, he has serious competition for his place.

All ex-Hales
12/ Hales and Pace? Fidel Edwards cranked it up in the first over, hitting 90mph with three of his four balls at Notts’ fourth representative, Alex Hales, including a free-hit bouncer that almost decapitated him. However, he used his height well to get on top of the bounce, then used his wrists well to time the ball through mid-wicket. Despite two pulled sixes from Rampaul, the innings didn’t totally convince that he could handle – well, manhandle – express pace, as a T20 top-order player might need to do, and KP memorably did against Shaun Tait in Bridgetown. Then again, it probably won’t matter in India…

13/ However, all that is decidedly churlish given that the guy made a match-winning, heartbreaking 99 from 67 balls, playing the medium-pacers expertly by backing away and opening up angles behind square, having little trouble with Narine on a sluggish deck, and even managing, later, to hook a six off Edwards, albeit from a top-edge and in a poor, cramped position. Anyway, nits duly picked, so much of cricket is about confidence and this will have done him the world of good.

14/ Has Sunil Narine been rumbled? His first ball to Hales was the other one (which you definitely shouldn’t pull, what with the irregularly large boundary at coin de vache) and he punched it expertly through extra cover for four off the back foot. If he weren’t picking him, then this would have been far too great a risk. We expected bowling sorcery; instead, we got altogether different types of crockery – perhaps a gravy boat, or a butter dish? Anyway, despite the perhaps worrying mention of Ajantha Mendis, his skipper thinks he’ll be fine when he returns to turning pitches.

15/ RavBop. Can he? Will he ever? Does he think he can? Would he be the one to miss out? Do England believe he will? Is it possible that they’re keeping him in because they think his overs will be useful on the slow-low, gruel grey decks of the subcontinent? Questions, questions that always shroud him – someone who I have always rated, honest – despite his well-paced 59 from 44 balls helping England be frisky chasers among the beery Trent Bridge crowd. Never doubted him. Still don’t.

16/ With Windies having to defend 17 from two overs, England only 1 down, Ravi Rampaul decided to come round the wicket, prompting his fellow Ravi to stand directly in front of the stumps. He clumped the next two balls for four, prompting Edwards to gesticulate manically. Was Fidel starting an insurrection? Sammy ran to speak to the bowler, didn’t look like he knew where he ought to field, pointed a little, all the while Gayle and Bravo blithely chatted to one another. T20 can create a hectic captaincy headspace at the best of times, but when you’ve spilled a catch it is a good deal worse, especially with the Big Personalities offering little support.

RavBop: power hitters' accomplice?

17/ The search for power hitters: without Gayle coming to the party, Windies struck 10 sixes in their innings. England, five. In different circumstances, chasing down 172 without players of similar capability (at least, not in the side) could have been a tough ask – and yes, this is easy to dismiss as a redundant hypothetical if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t believe in planning for possible scenarios rather than exercising hindsight wisdom when said scenario transpires – so there’s still a possibility that a specialist biffer can find his way into the World Cup squad. Mind you, they could already have him…

18/ In the light of points 4 and 15, above, there are still other Unanswered Questions: Buttler, Bairstow and Patel, engine-roomers and thus key players in India, didn’t get a go. So, see you down the park after Eastenders for a practice match. 

19/ Windies verdict from DJ Sammy: “We’re doing some good stuff but we’re not doing it consistently long enough”.

20/ England verdict from Stuart Broad: “We played some fantastic cricket today, actually. We maybe can improve our last 6 or 7 overs. 170 was a bit above par for Trent Bridge, but for that particular wicket it was very gettable. I thought we played the chase pretty smart. We spoke about starving their wicket-takers and managed to do that and it shows that if you keep wickets in hand you can chase anything. It’s great to see young players coming into the side and standing up and performing”. 

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