Do you care about the Associates?

I’ve always been interested in the lower echelons of cricket, and was pleasantly surprised at the standard of cricket – in particular from Kenya, Scotland and Ireland – during the World Cricket League in Nairobi. But I remain realistic of their ability and a little clueless as to how they can develop and close the gap on Full Member nations.

What about you? This blog has never concentrated on any one aspect of the game – ok, so England have received a fair bit of attention – and most of you seem to have a broad interest of the game. Do you care about Ireland, Netherlands or Canada? Will you watch them in the World Cup? Do you follow their progress on other sites and, if so, which ones? Are you even aware Bermuda have a side?

Tell all.

Playfair Cricket Annual 2007

Always interesting to see who appears on the front cover of the Playfair Cricket Annual. It’s a bit of a poisoned chalice, based upon a player’s form in the previous season. As such, they usually fail spectacularly in the next summer. This year’s victim is Ian Bell.

Expect one or all of the following: loss of form; chronic and/or career-threatening injury days before the opening Test; other chronic things; tabloid exposure (unlikely in this case) and/or does/has a Thorpe; dropped in place of Mark Butcher; dropped in place of Ashley Giles who is promoted to No.3 as reverse-pinch-hitter. Or, worst of all, he launches a book in an attempt to dethrone Jamie Oliver, entitled Cooking like the Shermanator.

It fails – he fails – and Frindall starts plotting the downfall of 2008′s incumbent.

Ian Bell on the front cover of the 2007 edition of the Playfair Cricket Annual

Pre-order it now for a puny £3.99 (released April 5 2007).

Cricketers say some strange things sometimes

Yesterday on Australian television, Adam Gilchrist had some interesting things to say.

Most of Australia’s players did not want to tour New Zealand for the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy, according to the vice-captain Adam Gilchrist. Gilchrist, who was resting while his team-mates lost the series in two games, said the side did not need the three-match contest and freshening up at home would have been a better exercise.

“I’m going to be brutally honest here and say I don’t think too many people wanted it on at all,” Gilchrist said on Inside Cricket. “We’ve had a very hectic summer. We had a brilliant summer in Test cricket, but then we fell away in the one-day series, and that was very disappointing.”

Gilchrist said the administrators had a difficult job trying to fit in the games and New Zealand Cricket was keen for the contest. “But if you had to be really specific about the Australian cricket team, we probably didn’t need this series at the moment,” he said. “It would have been nice to have that little bit of time for everyone to be at home freshening up and getting ready for the World Cup.”

Now why would he say that? I can understand the old veterans Gilchrist and Ponting not being particularly keen to go. Glenn McGrath didn’t look like a man full of the joy of bowling while he was getting tonked around Eden Park on Sunday either. But stand-in captain Mike Hussey is famous for being enthusiastic, and it showed while he was scoring a century. Matthew Hayden has barely missed a game since the DLF Cup in Malaysia in October, and when he’s been available for Queensland, he’s turned out for them as well. And my eyes may deceive me, but he looked a happy and contented old bear while he was scything 181 not out today, broken toe and all.

The other players in the Australian outfit that have played in this series are not Test players, so they can not exactly complain of relentless overwork. Are we to credit that Brad Hodge, Shaun Tait, Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin were not itching to get out there and represent their country? Shane Watson has spent the summer in rehabilitation wards getting over his hamstring- I bet he was keen as mustard to show what he can do.

So while I can understand why Adam Gilchrist might have had other things on his mind, I would have thought that the Australian team that flew into New Zealand last week was not short of enthusiasm. Bowling abilty? Well, not so much.

I don’t really know what to say about today’s events on the cricket field though. I’ll grant you that there was some spectacular batting. Matthew Hayden’s innings was truly majestic, but it was totally overshadowed by the evening mayhem. I wrote yesterday about the effects that a lack of confidence can have in a side, but not in my worst nightmares did I imagine that it was so bad that Australia couldn’t defend 346 when they had reduced New Zealand to 41 for 4.

Obviously, when a side is 41 for 4 chasing 346, the only sensible recourse is to give up any thoughts of sensible batting, and to go out onto all-out attack, and this is what they did. Peter Fulton led the early charge, and then McMillan and McCullum stole the show. They rode their luck to some extent, but the point is that once batting momentum is acheived against a bowling attack that is completely out of confidence, it is very hard to turn around.

And the New Zealand lower order did bat very well; the improvisation was a notable feature of the innings.

New Zealand will go to the World Cup full of confidence, although their own bowling looks weedy; they did concede a lot of runs as well, except in Wellington. Australia’s confidence though is as shattered as Hayden’s toe.

The Australian disease

Everyone’s got an opinion on why Australia are playing rubbish cricket at the moment, so it is incumbent upon me to add my own two bob.

It seems to me that the big problem is that the bowling side of the game has completely disintegrated. Australia’s batting, despite Friday’s lamentable performance, is still quite potent enough. The problem is, no matter how many runs Australia are making, the opposition are able to chase them down. In the last 12 months, Australia have failed to defend 434, 336, and 332, and there have also been a couple of 320+ scores that they only just succeeded in defending.

Whatever John Buchanan might suggest, his game plans are not working. The opposition are about to counter Australian moves and there seems to not be any way of stopping them.

Another point worth noting is that Australia is too willing to concede singles. It was pointed out by New Zealand commentators yesterday that Australia were missing Ponting, Symonds, and Clarke, a devastating fielding trio inside the ring. However it makes little difference, because when opposing batting lineups go on the attack, the inner fielders go back to the edge of the thirty yard circle. This means that opposing batsman can work the good balls around for singles, and wait for the inevitable bad ball that they can send to (or over) the fence. In this method, you can get eight runs an over without taking a great deal of risk.

Meanwhile, the concentration that Australia has put into bowling for Test cricket has meant that the coaching energies of Buchanan and Troy Cooley have been very red-ball oriented. It is noticable that few of the Australian bowlers are able to get the white ball to reverse-swing properly; the best exponent is Brett Lee, and that is not surprising- the faster you bowl, the easier it is to reverse. And naturally that shows up with the numbers of wickets that he takes.

However it is nearly two months now since the Ashes have been settled, and one would expect that the work the bowlers have been putting in would have got some rewards. So far, there’s little to show. This means that once batsmen are set, there’s little in the bowler’s armouries to dislodge them, and Australia have really struggled in breaking partnerships during these huge runchases.

The lack of a finger-spinner who can keep things tight in the way that Panesar or Vetorri does has also hurt the Australians. Hogg has played an effective role in the past, but he seems to be affected more then most by his form on the day. If you go after Hogg, his confidence wilts.

Australia can turn it around; there’s nothing like a transfusion of self-belief to change the atmosphere of the side. It seems to me that Tait and Bracken have to step up- they are the immediate future of the Australian attack, and it is up to them to turn things around. If they don’t, or can’t, the disease of doubt will simply get worse and worse.

Working with Jaffa cakes

I thought this was a wind-up when I first read it. But no, it’s true. England have signed up the humble Jaffa cake to be their “official energy snack” for 2007. This is great news for the oft-abused cake, one which is seen as part of a student’s staple diet and not nearly in the same class of tea-dunkage as, say, the Rich Tea. Win or lose this summer, the Jaffa should hopefully be promoted to the gold league of biscuits. I can demolish two packets with a sufficient vat of tea to help wash it down.

The best thing to come out of this news, though, is the following line from John Perera, the ECB’s commercial director.

“We are very excited about working closely with Jaffa cakes in 2007″.

The beginning of the end for Australia?

They lose again. Sadly I’ve missed all the games having been in Africa so will open up the consensus to you fine folk. Are Australia on a downward spiral, or is this a temporary (albeit significant) blip?

Vote below then leave your comments (click here if you can’t see the poll).

{democracy:29}

How to deal with a British bank

Nothing to do with cricket, but too good not to share.

Dear Sir,

I am writing to thank you for bouncing my cheque with which I endeavored to pay my plumber last month.

By my calculations, three ‘nanoseconds’ must have elapsed between his presenting the cheque and the arrival in my account of the funds needed to honour it. I refer, of course, to the automatic monthly deposit of my Pension, an arrangement which, I admit, has been in place for only eight years. You are to be commended for seizing that brief window of opportunity, and also for debiting my account £30 by way of penalty for the inconvenience caused to your bank.

My thankfulness springs from the manner in which this incident has caused me to rethink my errant financial ways.

I noticed that whereas I personally attend to your telephone calls and letters, when I try to contact you, I am confronted by the impersonal, overcharging, pre-recorded, faceless entity which your bank has become.

From now on, I, like you, choose only to deal with a flesh-and-blood person. My mortgage and loan payments will therefore and hereafter no longer be automatic, but will arrive at your bank by cheque, addressed personally and confidentially to an employee at your bank whom you must nominate.

Be aware that it is an offense under the Postal Act for any other person to open such an envelope. Please find attached an Application Contact Status which I require your chosen employee to complete.

I am sorry it runs to eight pages, but in order that I know as much about him or her as your bank knows about me, there is no alternative.

Please note that all copies of his or her medical history must be countersigned by a Solicitor, and the mandatory details of his/her financial situation (income, debts, assets and liabilities) must be accompanied by documented proof.

In due course, I will issue your employee with a PIN number which he/she must quote in dealings with me.

I regret that it cannot be shorter than 28 digits but, again, I have modeled it on the number of button presses required of me to access my account balance on your phone bank service.

As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Let me level the playing field even further. When you call me, press buttons as follows:

1– To make an appointment to see me.
2– To query a missing payment.
3– To transfer the call to my living room in case I am there.
4– To transfer the call to my bedroom in case I am sleeping.
5– To transfer the call to my toilet in case I am attending to nature.
6– To transfer the call to my mobile phone if I am not at home.
7– To leave a message on my computer (a password to access my computer is required. A password will be communicated to you at a later date to the Authorized Contact.)
8– To return to the main menu and to listen to options 1 through 8
9– To make a general complaint or inquiry, the contact will then be put on hold, pending the attention of my automated answering service.

While this may, on occasion, involve a lengthy wait, uplifting music will play for the duration of the call.

Regrettably, but again following your example, I must also levy an establishment fee to cover the setting up of this new arrangement.

May I wish you a happy, if ever so slightly less prosperous, New Year.

Your Humble Client

Even Baldrick wasn’t this cunning

“World Cup  plans on  track: Buchanan”

Ye gods, if this is a plan…

To be fair though, Buchanan never actually is quoted as saying that. It is another case of sub-editors licence. However, if Australia don’t have a markedly improved performance against New Zealand tomorrow in Auckland, the howls coming out of Australia will grow ever more shrill.

Mind you I am confident that things will turn around in time for the World Cup. There’s a lot of water to flow under the bridge yet.

Musings on Kenya

Jambo, winners. If there was any doubt that I had landed in the wrong country, it all came hurrying back to me as I handed over the best part of £50 to the Croatian taxi driver just now. Welcome back to Britain.

Jet-lagged frustrations aside, Kenya was absolutely bloody incredible. Go there immediately. And the cricket was impressive too, particularly from Kenya. More on that later. In fact, more on all of that later. I have enough presents and crap to start a small shop – really mmmmmarvellous merchandise there. Super stuff all round.

And what’s all this “England in one-day win shocker” malarkey about? I dismissed the first text message I received as a wind-up. The sender of the second was clearly cavorting with the first. But I couldn’t ignore the third, from a colleague (aloha Gnasher). Even after spending two weeks laughing (understandably) at my too frequent bowel movements in Africa, he wouldn’t lie about England winning a one-dayer…particularly a final. If anyone has highlights on DVD, send this way…asante sana.

Expect more Swahili (or Sheng, the new dialect: Swahili, English and Hindu) shortly. Karibu! Here’s a photo.

Cheetah in Masai Mara

A black (cap) day for Australian cricket

The scoreboard tells the story.
It must be twenty years since I’ve seen such a poor performance by an Australian side; they were second best for the entire game. This was a woeful display, lacking in any of the traditional Australian virtues of discipline, enterprise and initative.

There’s no doubt that New Zealand played very well, and they would have won against better sides then this. Shane Bond was an absolute menace, and the wicket was difficult for the batsmen. New Zealand’s openers had a lot of play and miss in the first half of their innings. But once they were settled, Fleming and Vincent had no trouble picking off the runs.

There was one particular standout moment of the day, which was Bond’s caught and bowled off Cameron White. One of the best catches I’ve ever seen.

The only thing that went wrong for New Zealand was Jacob Oram, who broke his finger while catching Mitchell Johnson in the deep.

Australia look gone to me. The injury list is bad, the confidence is shot, and there is not much time to turn things around.