The eyes have it

They sure do things different in Queensland.

The Bulls have experimented with glasses that have had their bottom half blacked out and others that have been blurred in a bid to sharpen batsmen’s focus and concentration skills.

“I felt they were quite useful,” experienced batsman Martin Love said. “With the blacked-out glasses you lose sight of the ball three or four metres before it gets to you, so you start reaching for the ball and hitting it in the air. Eventually you adjust and start waiting for the ball to come to you and hit it later.

“When you give the glasses away you tend to hit the ball later. That is what we are trying to achieve (on seaming wickets) at the Gabba where you can get into a lot of trouble by playing too early.”

Bulls coach Terry Oliver sanctioned the experiment with partially blacked out glasses after it was suggested by optometrist Pat Gerry while Love, a physiotherapist, suggested the blurred glasses after seeing them at a sports medicine conference.

“Research showed because vision was so poor with the blurred glasses on, batsmen tended to concentrate better and ended up timing the ball better,” Love said.

The Bulls have also experimented batting in the blacked-out glasses with a bat half the width of a normal sized blade in an extreme test of their batting skills.

The experiment took old-timers back to the days when South African great Barry Richards used to turn his bat sideways and point its edge to the bowler to challenge himself against bowlers he considered mediocre.

I’d never thought about batting practice in this way. I wonder if any readers have been involved in similar schemes in their net sessions?

Musings on individual records in a team game

I read an interesting article by former England captain Mike Brealey that was published on the weekend. He was mostly talking about Andrew Strauss’ philosophy on declarations, but he had some remarks about Mahela Jayawadene’s attempt to get the world batting record as well.

Meanwhile, 6,000 miles to the south east we have the spectacle of Sri Lanka batting on to a lead of 587 in the hope of a world record individual Test score for Mahela Jayawardene against South Africa at Colombo. Fortunately, he did not get it.

What has happened to the team game when several pointless hours are pressed into the service of individual glory and local prestige? I think a narcissistic attitude is fed by pressures from the social network. Jayawardene’s quest for personal glory at the possible expense of the team must have been amplified by nationalistic excitement. He was carrying the projections of a nation. Not only had Sri Lanka just seen their heroes compile a world record partnership (624, overtaking the previous best by their compatriots Sanath Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama’s 576, also in Colombo, in 1997), they had the chance of this other record.

I hope I am not being too puritanical, or too carping, here. Certainly personal landmarks are important. Strauss would have been foolish and heartless to have declared before Bell got to a hundred, especially when he was furthering England’s cause so admirably. And if England had had wickets in hand, perhaps there would have been more of a case for batting on into Saturday.

I think there is a fair case for having an extra world-record holder in your side. I have to say that I think Brealey IS being a tad too puritanical on this score. For a country like Sri Lanka, which doesn’t have life so easy in its day to day business, what with tsunamis and civil wars, a bit of nationalistic excitement about the cricket is a positive, not a negative.

Collingwood’s sandwich

Martin Johnson has long been one of my favourite writers. He has an eye for the game, an eye for the comical and is not only unfailingly funny in most pieces he writes, but usually deadly accurate.

I enjoyed this:

One thing you can say for certain about this England batting line-up is that it is packed with crowd pleasers. What’s more, in distinctly contrasting ways. There are some, like Kevin Pietersen, who send the spectators into a lather of excitement when they walk in to bat, and others, like Paul Collingwood, who induce the same effect when they’re walking back to the pavilion.

It’s not really Collingwood’s fault, but when you find yourself sandwiched in the batting order between Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, getting yourself out almost qualifies as an act of selfless patriotrism.

Also: spot the Telegraph typo…

Brett Lee does the double

Brett Lee today reached the impressive milestone of 1000 Test runs in addition to his 200 wickets. He’s made vital, match-saving runs in the past two years – it’s a bloody good stat, and his average is all the more impressive: 21.31. The last Australian to do this was Shane Warne, whose batting ability is vastly underrated; Merv Hughes was the last to achieve it before Warne. Stats at Cricinfo.

Incidentally, one of my favourite aspects of Cricinfo’s new scorecards (which are still being tested) is the ability to see full commentary of a player’s innings. Here’s Lee’s.

Alastair Cook’s maiden Test century

If he showed a glimpse of his class in the first innings, Alastair Cook proved it today with an innings of remarkable composure, restraint and maturity to give England a genuine chance of forcing the most unlikely of victories on the final day. First came Marcus Trescothick as England’s fresh-faced left-handed opener. Then Andrew Strauss, albeit in fortuitous selectorial circumstances. England have unearthed a third who, on the basis of one innings at Nagpur, could be better than both.

The prophets of doom, myself included, predicted nothing less than a 3-0 drubbing by India before the Test started; Michael Vaughan’s wonky knee, Trescothick’s undisclosed problems and a swathe of injuries afflicted England. Not even the most optimistic observer could have forseen the situation England find themselves in after four days.

He joins Andrew Strauss, with whom he opened in this Test, to make a fifty and a hundred on debut. Michael Clarke was the last to do it for Australia; Virender Sehwag for India; Scott Styris for New Zealand and Dwayne Smith for the West Indies. In fact, Smith’s highest score since that hundred against South Africa is 42. Against the might of Bangladesh. So it’s not a certainty that debutant centurions should forge a successful Test career but – and I’m willing to eat my hat, if I have one left, should this not be true – Cook showed he has more than enough ability and determination to succeed at Test level.

Against a true master of legspin, Anil Kumble, he was calm and in control, deftly back-cutting and waiting for a bad ball. Against Kumble’s partner in crime, Harbhajan Singh, he was flustered but was patient enough, and disconcertingly mature, to realise that eventually a bad ball would come. Singh, like his team-mates, didn’t have a day to remember – nor was lady luck smiling on them, or even grimacing. However this was Cook’s first outing at this level, and he coped with absolutely everything. Strauss’s debut against the West Indies in 2004 was one to remember, undoubtedly, but Cook’s magical knock today was technically superior and all the more astonishing given his late arrival; it was made in the second innings, too.

If England win this Test – and there’s an awful lot more work to do – it must surely be regarded as one of the best in recent times, given their pre-series disasters. If anything, it proves one thing: never write a team off, and left-handers have a bloody easy time of it :)

Shot of the year

Steve Harmison reverse-sweeping Danish Kaneria, Pakistan v England, 2nd Test, Faisalabad, 4th day.

Oh yes.

Pakistan v England, 1st Test, 2nd day thoughts

Another good day for England with a performance bordering on excellent – and certainly a disappointing and dismal one for Pakistan. Despite their extra-long tail, which is almost unheard of in these days of multi-dimensional cricketers and bowlers “that can bat a bit,” few expected them to capitulate as feebly as they did.

Mind you, it was due to some brilliant bowling from England. Each wicket-taking delivery would, I think, have accounted for better batsmen than the Pakistani tail. First to go was Sami, tempted into a swish outside off in Matthew Hoggard’s first over. Hoggard (perhaps unusually for him) was right on the money from ball one, in ideal dewy conditions, moving the ball away almost at will.

Andrew Flintoff, opening the bowling with Hoggard, accounted for Inzamam who remained England’s only thorn at the start of the day; but even he could only add a handful of runs to his overnight score. Again, Flintoff’s delivery was inch-perfect, squaring up Inzy and presenting Andrew Strauss with a sharp but undroppable chance at second slip, a position he is making his own. This was quality bowling, and England had suddenly seized the advantage.

It was all over very quickly. Pakistan had succumbed quickly and feebly, losing 5 for 30 in two fewer balls than 20 overs. Agony for the home side and, curiously, a “matter-of-fact” response from the visitors who appear almost to expect this kind of performance. Whether it’s due to years of my own agony in watching England capitulate, much like Pakistan had done today, or whatever – I can’t imagine the day where I expect England to perform like they did today.

The batting, then, was dominant, solid and few would have realised England’s woeful pre-Test form had been such a concern. Marcus Trescothick, who was one of the few afforded a run of form before this game, simply played a blinder; his 13th Test hundred was played with class, confidence and control throughout. Strauss was undone by pace and swing by Sami – who looks a prospect, but shouldn’t he be more than simply a potentially good bowler by now? – and Collingwood relit the doubts I have of his defensive technique, but it was otherwise a great batting display. Not least, indeed, by Ian Bell who was arguably the player under the most amount of pressure. His 71 (?) was solid, reliable and very unflashy – just the sort he needed, and I bet he’s secretly hoping his usual captain buggers off home to rest his knee…

10/10 England. Probably 2 for Pakistan.

England wins the toss and bat

Oooh, big toss, and that’s just what Ponting didn’t want…

Inzamam’s 22 hundreds

Inzamam’s 22nd hundred was scored just yesterday (stats here), and the Pakistani commentator on Sky Sports (not sure who) reckons that 17 of Inzy’s hundreds have been match-winning. Quite remarkable statistic, and will soon be 18. I know Graham Thorpe has had a similar “rock-like” affect on England, but not nearly as stark or dramatic as Inzamam. What a player. What an athlete!

Strauss’ innings

Yesterday, Strauss underlined his maturity and astonishing success, by crusing to a beautiful hundred. I’ve often said he reminds me of Langer, and the commentators at last picked up on it…

He is our new Graham Thorpe. A late starter, arguably, but has simply come into Test cricket at the right time for him. He hit a debut hundred against New Zealand this summer (on his debut), and this century against SA was his debut hundred away from England. Only the 2nd Englishman to do that feat (Michael Clarke of Australia did it very recently too). Impressive knock from the future England captain :)