Wednesday, 5 June 2013


England: grey-sky thinking?

Finding the sun in an English summer is like tuning in a temperamental old wireless. Balancing it as precisely as a goat on a Corsican cliff or angling the aerial as accurately as a NASA satellite dish will elicit the sunkissed birdsong of TMS, yet the weather-radio is forever teetering over the crackle and hiss of autumnal nip or springtime deluge. So, with a distinct chill in the air, New Zealand inserted a tentative England who, under the depthless aluminium skies, looked for demons that weren’t there in an honest if devil-free Black Cap attack.

Mitch McClenaghan was as flattered by early figures of 5-1-9-2 as Shane ‘’ Warne’s latest textmate is by her Armani dresses, while to witness late-career Kyle Mills bowl is like watching someone running through a wind tunnel to slot suitcases on an overhead luggage rack. Yet England – including love/hate totem and stodgy, spaced out run-machine, Jonathan Trott – conspired to take 6.3 overs to strike their first boundary, a whole 29 to hit their eighth. New Zealand needed 6.4 overs to register their own octet.

Yes, England won. But as the Club 18-30 campaign once had it, one swallow doesn’t make a summer. AND IT WAS A DEAD RUBBER!

The Ball-Spank Redemption

223 for 5 with 18 balls remaining, 287 for 6 off 50 – was England’s a masterly paced batting display or did they “crawl to freedom through five hundred yards of shit smelling foulness” in order to get themselves out of jail? Surely you cannot budget for Buttler’s innings (which was 20 yards shy of breaking the world record for the fastest ever ODI fifty), so there’s an argument to say England pushed the accelerator too late. There’s another argument – mainly informed by hindsight – that says they played it perfectly. But is it not a bit too rigid to think the pinch-hitter is obsolete, or to rule out the occasional use floating batsmen whose wicket is a less valuable resource to offer impetus? Maybe not, but that requires imagination. Talking of which…

B-Mac and surprise to go   

While the New Zealand captain’s extraordinary stance – squat and coiled and beady-eyed like a bull terrier about to leap for the chicken thigh with which you’ve been taunting him – has become more exaggerated down the years, the back foot ever further toward the offside as if to signal a violent legside smear, it’s fair to say that, despite his poor form with the bat, he has impressed as skipper, not least with subtle changes of angle with fielders (occasionally done by miming some quirk or defect in the batter’s technique).

When Yung-Jo Root first came to the crease, there were two deepish gullies and a short point, catching, all covering an arc of eight yards or so. England, by comparison, often look pedestrian and unimaginative (a glance at the football and rugby teams’ styles might even form the basis of a theory about our national sporting psyche). But Cook is improving.  

Options, options, options

McCullum’s captaincy also featured frequent bowling changes – primarily, because he has options available to him (Williamson and, usually, Elliott). On Sunday, at the Rose Bowl, Cook seemingly had nowhere to turn, no bits and pieces golden arm to throw on, only frontliners of steadily diminishing confidence. He lacked options. Or thought he did. Here he took a leaf out of B-Mac’s book and experimented. Step forward Yung-Jo Root, who promptly bowled a yippish half-tracker that hit  Kane Williamson in the box to have him lbw (I’ve not seen Kane in the shower, but calling it leg before seems a bit, well, cocky)…  

Going Irish

…Step forward, also, Ravi Bopara – once described by Churchill as a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside a mystery – for a last chance in the last chance saloon. Can he be a sixth bowler and thus nail down a batting spot? Has he been mismanaged? Perhaps he should have been guaranteed by the ECB to play in all three forms for the next three or four years – you know, just so he’d feel settled, relaxed, confident. Anyway, on he came to bowl and soon started to reverse swing the ball. If only he could bat as though it were Chelmsford.  

Not going Irish (Or, Giles unbouyed by Rankin)

Boyd Rankin, in addition to a spooneristic name (piles and piles of piles), bowls with what the experts call ‘decent gas’. On the other hand, he rarely gets the ball off the straight. But then, he is six feet eight. So, 2-1 to Royd. Nevertheless, Ashley Giles resisted the temptation to shoehorn another Bear into the side, meaning Rankin, despite loping around in England kit these last few days, kissing the badge every twenty minutes, remains available for Ireland. No doubt there are literally tens of thousands of red-haired and angry folk in Ireland – it is the ‘land of ire’, after all – ready to march on, er, Dubai. Let’s hope, for the good of cricket, he can play for the motherland and not the Ingerland.

Dernbach and deception

Some might say that the not-lamented Jade Dernbach’s main deception was in convincing the selectors he could do a job for England; others might say that batsman are now getting a read of him – that there are now two things visible from outer space: the Great Wall of China and his slower ball. Not me. Anyway, with the new rules (only four fielders outside the circle), the value of deception is diminished. Instead, the bowler and captain almost have to telegraph their intentions by setting fields appropriate to each ball – or ideally, for two options – while hoping the bowler executes his skills, in the parlance of our times. And in the accuracy stakes, Dernbach is plainly lacking.

Accuracy has its rewards

During the interval, a member of the public by the name of Chris Newell won himself £50,000 by running up on a practice pitch and – wearing chinos and white shirt (not, strictly speaking, cricket attire although certainly found in many village cricketer’s sports bag) – successfully hitting the stumps three times in succession, the first at three stumps, the second at two, the third at a solitary stump, one shot at each. Good enough for a county contract? Maybe not, but at least there were witnesses: around 16,120. Good day (not) at the office. 

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