Rebellion in the provinces


© AFP
Over the next nine days, while international cricket may be getting a break, England’s international cricketers will not be putting their feet up. Tomorrow brings the Friend’s Provident semi finals, a much- welcomed addition to the calendar, with Durham playing at home versus Essex and Hampshire taking on Warwickshire at the Rose Bowl. All five of these counties’ players that were present at Chester-le-Street have been released back to their counties for the two fixtures.

In a curious development, however, Ian Bell has not been selected. As a member of England’s World Cup top order, he would have assumed he would walk into his county side. After all, during the 2005 Ashes series, he and Pietersen met in the then C&G Trophy final under similar circumstances. Back then, Bell was merely a fledgling in the England set-up and struggling for form. Warwickshire, however, have in this instance called into question his ability to travel so quickly from a Test match and immediately switch back into one-day mode. The county may be justified in their approach – the only match they have lost this season, while not directly caused by the fact, was against Worcestershire when Bell was selected over Jonathan Trott, and subsequently contributed with six runs and a dropped catch. What is noteworthy, however, is the signal that this sends to Peter Moores’ county releases: if we don’t want to play them, you can’t make us.

The domestic sides face an interesting dilemma. England players should be by definition among the best on the county’s books, but this leads to the need to drop someone – in a side where everyone is in form, this can seem nigh on impossible, and is unsettling to team unity. The big names also bring in the crowds, and such basic financial matters are close the heart of any chief executive, be they of Warwickshire, Worcestershire or Woolworths. However, none would wish to invite the risk, in a knockout round, of being simply a vehicle for match practice when victory is quite so important. Not that their decision can be fully independent – after all, the players, being centrally contracted, are effectively on limited loan.

Does Warwickshire have a duty to the national board to pick those players made available to them, whatever their form or preparation? Such questions never really arose under Duncan Fletcher – apparently, under Moores, counties feel more emboldened by the exponential increase in player availability over the season so far compared to those previous. Should England’s players be released for the county Twenty20s at the end of the week, or if Bell is left out of two sides in the space of a week, Warwickshire are likely to then receive him with open arms – but on their terms and conditions.

Life after Benaud

On Desert Island Discs, you are allowed one luxury. Given mine would be a magical television that showed all available live cricket (as well as choice re-runs), I’d be able to pick my favourite pundits to describe the action. Who are my top commentators? In theory, I would only need two to cover the matches, but that would be unfair on them (I’m not a tyrant), so I’d hire five to mix it up and give the others a rest.

Richie Benaud in the comm box

Therefore, below are my five favourite commentators. Benaud would have been there, of course, as would Brian Johnston, but we must all move on. There are honourable mentions for Lloyd, Gower, Holding, Dujon, Nasser, Knight, Ward, Smith, Lawry and Greig, but these five pick themselves.My Top Five: Michael Atherton, Jimmy Adams, Michael Slater, Geoff Boycott and Simon Hughes.

I can’t imagine anyone will disagree, but then it’s your island. Pick who you like!

Who should be England’s new one-day captain?

I think we all saw this coming, and it’s a timely decision for England’s one-day team.

“Since our disappointing performances in the World Cup, I have been giving careful consideration as to what is the best way forward for the England one-day team and my own role within the side,” said Vaughan in an ECB statement. “I reached this decision some time ago, but I did not want to announce it until after the end of this Test series to avoid it becoming a distraction to the team.

“However, due to intense speculation in the media about my future, I feel it is important to make my intentions clear now. Our priority is to build a one-day squad able to compete strongly at the next World Cup, and I firmly believe that the interests of the team will be best served if I step down and allow another player to gain additional experience of captaincy in the one-day international arena.

But who should replace him? Paul Collingwood is favourite. Who is your choice?

What did West Indies have for lunch?

Today was a microcosm of the problems facing West Indies. They dominated the first session, bowling superbly and at last making England scrap for every run. England went to lunch with Paul Collingwood and Matt Prior at the crease…but not a lot else to come.

Then what happened? What on earth were they fed at lunch? After the interval, everything fell apart with the bowlers losing their lines and the captain, Daren Ganga, for some inexplicable reason choosing to bowl Marlon Samuels. It was a session of such diabolical cricket that they fully deserve to lose this Test tomorrow. It was utterly depressing.

Matt Prior flicks one fine

England did very well to rub their noses in it, though – and Matt Prior continues to impress. But, still…it’s pretty painful watching West Indies at the moment and I don’t see how they can recover, either. The selection of Austin Richards to their one-day team is a case in point. Just why he was chosen in place of Wavell Hinds, Ryan Hinds, A.N. Other is anyone’s guess. I tried to write a profile for him at Cricinfo and didn’t get on very well at all. The cynic in me thinks there is something more sinister afoot other than simply being a “random selection”.

England v West Indies, 4th Test, Chester-le-Street, 3rd day

We might just get a whole day’s play today. No, what am I saying? This is The North! The forecast is much better for today so let’s at least hope we have a contest on our hands.

Read Cricinfo, watch ceefax below (refresh to update it) and leave your comments below. Go crazy.

Bravo that man

Dwayne Bravo sounds more like a name of an American basketball player than a West Indian cricketer. And if this tour amounts to nothing more than a disaster in terms of results, at least the team has Dwayne and his heroics. This guy is seriously good and nothing less than entertaining to watch.

dwayne_bravo_cuts.jpg

He is cocky and boastful. He bounced Kevin Pietersen, knocking his helmet off, then sprinted down the pitch in a mad celebration – completely disregarding Pietersen who might well have been injured. “Who cares?!” Bravo might’ve thought. “I’ve just dismissed one of the world’s very best batsmen”. One who, incidentally, then claimed he had “never been hit on the head before”, a statement which I think might well be a load of balderdash.

Watching him bat today was a fascinating experience. Owing to yet another damned delay due to rain, Sky were showing us highlights of the 1993-94 tour – the tour which first sparked my love of the game, as I’ve said far too many times – containing West Indian batsmanship of true Caribbean flair. Their opponents, England, were a mishmash of talent: immensely gifted batsmen with mental flaws, brought up in an equally flawed county system. England rarely took the attack to West Indies. It was all about grafting and grinding.

Fast forward 13 years and how things have changed. Two West Indian batsman – Bravo and Shivnarine Chanderpaul – battling it out as though their lives depended on it (their livlihoods probably do, but that’s a matter for another day). Battling it out like Atherton once did. And they did it brilliantly. Bravo to both of them, but particularly to Dwayne. He’s young and gifted and wants to succeed, badly. You can’t say that about many of his peers.

Incidentally, on comms today I nearly wrote “Barov” instead of Bravo. I told the readers this:

I nearly called Bravo “Barov” just then. Barov being Dwayne’s Russian cousin of course

A bored feedbacker wrote in to accuse me of being racist. Have the general public completely lost their sense of humour now?

Cricket in the foothills of a mountain

Bit of a photography fiend, me, and this shot combines both my passions: landscape photography and cricket. Just look at it for God’s sake! The ground, for want of a better description, is at Sannox, on the Isle of Arran but yet again, the poor old Sannox team were left waiting by their Glasgow opponents. The local rag, The Arran Voice, said the team were “rightly cheesed off”.

Sir Ian Botham

Ian Botham has been knighted. Richly deserved; his charity work doesn’t receive as much publicity as someone of his status might/should generate. More to the point…are his Sky colleagues now going to have to call him by his full title? He’s going to love every minute of this I suspect.

Video of Kevin Pietersen…playing golf?

A colleague sent this to me today and it is required viewing. Sky Sports’ advert for the US Open, featuring Kevin Pietersen. If you can’t see the video below, try here.

West Indies in England, 1976 (TV)

This Friday, BBC Two are showing archive footage (and behind the scenes stuff) of West Indies’ tour of England in 1976. This was Tony Greig’s famous “grovelling” comment – read Martin Williamson’s Rewind about it.

The remark was highly inflammatory for a number of reasons, the main one being that Greig’s words, coming from a white South African, were seized on for racist overtones. “The word ‘grovel’ is one guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of any black man,” Lloyd said. “The fact they were used by a white South African made it even worse. We were angry and West Indians everywhere were angry. We resolved to show him and everyone else that the days for grovelling were over.”

More at the Beeb.