Notes from the pavilion for October 27th

Recall for Ramps?

There’s an interesting claim by Mike Selvey in this morning’s Guardian: apparently Mark Ramprakash is on the verge of an England recall.

There is a strong rumour doing the rounds that when the England squad to contest the Test series against Sri Lanka is announced tomorrow week, the name of Andrew Strauss will be missing and in its place will be that of Mark Ramprakash. It would, were it to happen, be another stunner in a sporting autumn that already has had more turn-ups than a Savile Row clearance sale.

Only last month, with a strict brief to ensure that selections should anticipate playing a full part in England cricket over the next year, Strauss, already jettisoned from the one-day plans, was awarded a central contract by the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, and the England coach, Peter Moores. Given that in the past year three contracted players in particular – Marcus Trescothick, Ashley Giles and Simon Jones – played little or no cricket for England while receiving sizeable salaries, there would be no shortage of flak heading their way if such an exercise in generosity were to be repeated.

It’s a fascinating suggestion, although personally I don’t think the England selectors will pick him. It’s just not worth their while. If he succeeds, there’ll be the inevitable question of why he wasn’t picked earlier (his excellent Ashes record should have been a factor last year). And the very first time he fails, the critics will come creeping out of the woodwork, accusing England of ‘taking a backwards step’ and ‘holding back’ some promising young batsman or other. And though Ramprakash himself seems less mentally fragile than before, a low score in his first knock might see all those bad memories come flooding back.

If he is picked, it would at least provide us with a definitive verdict on county cricket. If the most prolific county cricketer of his generation couldn’t translate that form into Test success, it might be time to start asking the ECB some probing questions.

Willis: Hick and Ramprakash ‘clogging up county cricket’

Bob Willis is never short of opinions. Not all of them are conventional or even particularly thought through, but writing in the latest issue of The Wisden Cricketer he has slammed just about everyone. Ageing players such as Graeme Hick, Mark Ramprakash and Dominic Cork are wasting the money the ECB “create” through their revenue streams, thus impacting on the next generation of England stars.

I don’t have much of an issue with these three, or indeed for any ageing former England player – so long as they perform and contribute to the team. Ramprakash continues to be as prolific a batsman as any – Hick less so, but nevertheless is a reassuring face in a brittle Worcestershire line-up. If their frail frames falter, then goodnight – but so long as they’re producing the goods, their experience is invaluable to younger players.

The Kolpak issue is altogether different, and I suppose I’m contradicting myself if I can allow old English players to play rather than old non-England-qualified Greek/Australian players. But there must be some form of regulation (which, admittedly, comes into force next year) for the selection of third-grade Kolpakians. It’s out of control and impeding the progress of young English talent.

Willis is really off on one, which is always enjoyable to read rather than listen to. Cricinfo has a synopsis and we’ll have the piece up either this weekend or next. Offer your thoughts below.

Positive spin

Only yesterday, at Sky’s only televised County Championship match of the season, David Lloyd was to be found grumbling at the lack of positivity in modern English first-class cricket. Although the Roses match is normally a lure, I’m afraid, Bumble, you were just at the wrong game.

For most teams in the County Championship, it would be fair to say that the days of the sporting declaration have, for the most part, disappeared. This is especially so when the first 5 teams in the top division are within elbows distance of each other. The bonus system, which rewards first innings performances with bat and ball, boosts the meagre four points handed to teams who draw without an over bowled. As such, when Yorkshire were all out this morning for 320, Lancashire merely began their first innings as if there were still days to play.

Shane Warne has brough many things to the County Championship. Yet high on this list must be his forthright version of captaincy. Hampshire are not a team to draw many games, and today was no exception. In a deal that must be applauded, Warne, and Warwickshire counterpart Darren Maddy, arranged a declaration and forfeiture to set up a run chase, which was so closely contested that it took a career best 192* from Michael Carberry to secure the game in the final over for Hampshire.

Does it seem right the Warwickshire are in a worse position for playing a competitive match than either of the Roses teams are after a draw in which the only tension rested in whether Lancashire could make it to their second bowling point before they ran out of overs? Yorkshire’s former captain, Darren Lehmann, was rather vehement on the subject and but two years ago, Warne himself accused David Fulton, then captain of Kent, of handing Nottinghamshire the Championship by refusing to accept such a deal on the last day of the season.

Certainly, the Australian system is far more rewarding of results over ‘score draws’, and the whole point of the extention to four day cricket was to avoid games without victors. However impressive the scorecard of Essex’s game against Nottingham these last four days, neither team showed any hunger for the win over inflated career averages and record breaking. Unfortunately for Chris Read, the two overs he bowled in a final session dedicated to over-rate improvement did not yield him his first wicket in all competitions. That, at least, might have been vaguely entertaining.

First-class ducks

I’ve been accused by venerable Corridor readers of being something of a duck fetishist, although I suspect there are more specialist websites for that. However, for the sake of consistency, it would be wrong to overlook the misfortune of Thomas Poynton, the new Derbyshire gloveman, who this week got a pair on his first class debut. But at the age of 17 years old, he will have better days and do one heck of a lot more in his career than me. In fact, he already has.

Hopefully he will be smashing the ball about in an England shirt before long, although with the recent form of English keepers, he has a lot of frogs to leap. Foster, Ambrose, Mustard, Read, Nixon all in the runs, putting pressure on Prior. Good to see.

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.

Tom Maynard hits fifty on debut

Tom Maynard, son of Matthew, fell 29 short of emulating his father today by hitting 71 on debut for Glamorgan. Maynard senior hit 102 against Yorkshire in 1985 and by all accounts, his 18-year-old son is a chip off the old block.

50/8d

No, this isn’t plea to bring back old money. That’s the total Somerset declared on earlier today. I may have missed the point, but presumably the thinking was to have a crack at Middlesex while the conditions were right and stop the opposition from getting full bowling points. It hasn’t worked in one sense, as Middx are currently 71 for 0. As far as bowling points, perhaps it was very shrewd of their skipper Justin Langer. (If this has already been discussed on The Corridor, then I apologise.)

Ordinarily, I might launch into a rant about cheating Aussies bending the rules, but I happen to be a big fan of Langer, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. But it does leave a bad taste in the mouth, not least as one of my fantasy team bowlers was denied the chance of filling his boots! (I also have Langer, who got a duck…)

Is it bad sportsmanship, clever captaincy or even a missed opportunity? What if Caddick had slapped a quick-fire 40? It could have changed the momentum entirely.


Domestic parades

There is one thing to be said of one-day tournaments. No one expects an English impression. Of course, my inner patriotic flag-waver occasionally gets over-excited by gritty half centuries and out-swingers that inevitably evade the edge, but it was evident from as early as the tentative pushes played to Dwayne Leverock’s tweakers that this World Cup was going to be little different to the last.

So back to the drawing board, and the full length game. As any revising teenager will tell you, time is short between England’s return and May 17th. Yet somehow, Peter Moores, along with a criticised selection committee and a captain under pressure, must select 11 players to take the field at Lord’s. Although it has been a long winter for many of those returning from the Caribbean, it is surely a question of how many appearances they will make for their counties, and not whether they will appear.

Whilst those in the national one-day squad have been touching up the Bajan suntan, some of the Ashes party have already started their first-class accounts for 2007 with mixed success. Pleasingly, the first round of Championship matches has not undergone a domination of rain or, indeed, of any particular discipline. Both teams failed to successfully remove the other at a high scoring game at Taunton, while Mushtaq Ahmed ran amok in the first innings at Sussex after declaring himself below full match fitness. Alastair Cook made his second century in as many games after captaining the MCC last week, Hoggard made a good second innings four-for, while Will has already flagged Harmison’s impression on return. Geraint Jones, however, compounded his disappointing winter with single figures in both innings, and Ashley Giles spent the first week of the season in Colorado undergoing exploratory hip surgery.

Difficult decisions will have to be made before England play again, not least being how much rest to give the players returning this week. Unfortunately for both Jones and Giles, their names almost certainly will not be amongst those causing concern.

The start of the English season

The English season finally got underway today, even though I still feel as though it’s the middle of winter, what with this blasted World Cup dragging on for an eternity. Here’s a pic from today’s opener, MCC v Sussex, from Martin Williamson – my boss and fellow Cricinfo winner and photo phanatic.

Lord's scoreboard

Spot the mistake. Pleasingly, despite today’s unseasonal sunny cheer, the day ended in true early-season style: bad light stopped play.