A statistical coincidence

Just a point England’s selectors might want to consider before they pencil in Matt Prior’s name for the squad to tour Sri Lanka tomorrow.

Here are Matt Prior’s Test figures:

7 matches, 397 runs, average 39.7, 1 century, strike rate 64.86, 20 catches.

And here are Geraint Jones’ Test figures at the same stage of his career:

7 matches, 337 runs, average 37.4, 1 century, strike rate 59.43, 21 catches.

I’m not sure what conclusions we can reliably draw from those figures, but it’s quite creepy nonetheless.

The only series that still matters

Here’s a hypothetical question for England fans out there: if England were to lose every Test match and one-day international from now until 2009, but then win the Ashes back, would you take it? Be honest, now.

Much has been talked and written about the indifference of the English to one-day cricket. But meaningless one-day bashes are, if anything, merely the tip of the indifference iceberg. As England fans, there’s a whole host of other things we don’t care about, from Twenty20 internationals, through the regular thrashings of Bangladesh and the West Indies, right up to – sharp intake of breath – the upcoming winter tours of Sri Lanka and New Zealand.

Oh, of course we’ll check the scores from time to time. Perhaps even watch a bit if we have Sky and remember to set the alarm. But I don’t know too many people from outside the game who have very much of an emotional investment in the outcome at all, just as long as it’s not a humiliation. England series these days feel like part of a two year-long hors d’oeuvres to the 2009 main course.

Just as Australia’s sights were fixed on the 2006-7 series from the moment they walked off the field at The Oval, the year 2009 is seared indelibly into our consciousness. It’s everywhere: in the press, on the messageboards, and very possibly in selection meetings (“I mean, Sidebottom’s accurate, but will he trouble the Australian top order?”). And as for the detritus in between; well, the disappearance of cricket from terrestrial TV has made it a lot easier to ignore. The fact that England barely hit top gear all summer should be a point of grave concern. But to me at least, it doesn’t seem to have been.

There’s a parallel with the rugby here – the English descending on Paris this week care not one jot about the Six Nations humiliations and Antipodean kickings to which England have been subjected over the last four years, but about their performance on the stage that matters. For ‘World Cup’, substitute ‘Ashes’. I suspect most England cricket fans will willingly endure two more years of anguish if there’s a little red urn waiting at the end of it.

The thing that didn’t happen

Watching glimpses of the India vs Australia and Sri Lanka vs England ODI series, I’ve been struck by just how conventional these ODI games have been. We were told last month that the arrival of the Twenty20 game would revolutionise tactics and game-plans in the 50 over game.

But it hasn’t happened. The Sri Lanka vs England games were especially low-scoring, attritional affairs, and that played right into England’s hands. No doubt the slow and difficult batting conditions contributed to that. But even in relatively free-scoring Indian venues, the same old rhymes and rythyms of the 50 over game have continued.

It is early days, of course, but what this might point to is that there is little real impact that the two games can have on each other. Those extra thirty overs are clearly making a difference to the way that teams go about their business. I cheerfully confess to being surprised by this turn of events.

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.

England win a one-day series

Even I, an insufferable cynic of one-day cricket, had to be impressed by England today. In fact, they have been the better team all series. Athletic in the field, imaginative and flexible with the ball, generally industrious with the bat and captained sensibly by Paul Collingwood.

Your thoughts on the match and series? Is this the turning point or were Sri Lanka caught napping in light of being Muraliless?

Ye Gods! A Test match is happening!

We don’t get a lot of South Africans or Pakistanis in these here parts, but there IS a Test match going on as we speak- South Africa, batting first, are 104 for 1, with Gibbs on 50 – Smith out for 42.

Ahh. White clothes and a red ball. God is in his heaven and all is right with the world, et cetera!

Meanwhile, England play Sri Lanka in a Fifty/50 tonight, and Australia play India tomorrow. But who cares? Tests are the best!

Chris Jordan: one to watch

Talent spotting is an inherently unreliable business. Mark Lathwell, Mark Ramprakash. Matthew Maynard and Graeme Hick are just four gifted batsman who, in their own way, were earmarked for world domination when I was a nipper. They all failed.

My cynicism grew further when Angus Fraser, my biggest hero growing up, penned in Wisden Cricket Monthly one issue that Paul Franks was destined for great things. How could Fraser be wrong about anything, I thought? But he was.

So it’s with decided trepidation that I read David Fulton’s crystal-ball gazing in The Times, though I can’t help but find the prospect of Chris Jordan anything other than fascinating. 18, born and brought up in Barbados, he has played just five first-class games for Surrey. Fulton says:

Jordan has the kind of natural fast bowling gifts that so characterised the West Indies attack of a previous era. Generating genuine pace with the smoothest of actions, this young man was born to bowl.

What sets Jordan apart from a lot of young speedsters is that he already looks like the finished article. He has command of line and length, an ability to work batsmen over – and out – and the capacity to dig deep on flat wickets. In the last round of county championship matches against Lancashire on a typically true Oval pitch, Jordan knocked over Lancashire’s tail in the first innings with the type of short-pitch bowling that gives lower order batsmen nightmares. More impressively he put in a mid afternoon burst in the second innings when Lancashire were cruising that touched 90mph and wouldn’t have looked out of place in Test cricket.

Jordon hasn’t decided which country to pledge his allegiance. And given the the calimitous state of West Indies cricket, I hope for his sake he chooses England. But wouldn’t it be great if we produced a quartet of terrifyingly quick bowlers in the next 12 months, all ready for Australia in 2009? (yes, it’s not that far away)

A necessary evil

I have to disagree with what Will’s written below, if only indirectly.

By this I mean that I too wish that there were less cricket, and fewer meaningless one-day nothings. But the reality is that international cricket must turn a hefty profit, seeing as domestic cricket everywhere in the world – and Test cricket in some countries – does not. To fuel the intense growth the sport needs in order to survive, it has to reach as many people as possible. And if you’re not sure that’s a good thing to be aiming for, consider this: a generation ago, the only way of following overseas tours was in the paper the next morning or in a 30-second report on the news. TV and the web have made cricket global, and it’s benefited all of us.

And thus the pointless but necessary one-day treadmill. But it’s not like all this extra cricket is being shoved down our throats against our will. If real cricket fans weren’t prepared to watch and pay for it, it wouldn’t happen. The cricket boards, the ICC and the executives are only meeting demand.

Of course we’re worried about standards, and we’re right to rail at the greed of those in charge. But we shouldn’t discard a formula that has given fans greater access to cricket than ever before. Besides, the only people who could realistically do something about it if they wanted to are the players themselves, and apart from the odd muttered protest, they’ve been strangely inactive on the issue.

A final thought. This time last year England were in exactly the same position – thrown into an Ashes series straight after a major tournament. Back then the criticism was not that England were playing too much cricket, but not enough. We have to strike a balance somewhere.

I hate treadmills. I hate one-day cricket

This is wrong, so wrong. A fascinating summer of cricket has barely finished and yet already England are playing their first match of the winter, with a friendly today against a Sri Lankan XI ahead of a series of five ODIs.

Writes Patrick. It’s a huge bugbear of mine that so much cricket is being played, and so little is being done about it. The season hasn’t had time to catch its breath, yet off England traipse for another bloody one-dayer on Monday. This treadmill just doesn’t stop.

Contrast this with the Ashes summer of 1993. Six Test matches were served up, drizzled with a light sprinkling of three one-dayers (Texaco Trophy!). The Championship finished on September 20 and England’s next international was on February 16, 1994 against West Indies, a gap of 4 months and 27 days. I was approaching 12-years-old at the time, and must admit that the hiatus for someone of that age was too much to bear. Fast forward 13 years and cricket is now a constant in our lives. It’s not so much “when” the cricket is on as “who’s playing?” or “where?” Someone, somewhere, will be playing a meaningless one-dayer, earning lots of money for it, and/or forming the beginning of a career-threatening injury which will cut short the number of Test matches he plays.

Some more figures for you. Between January 1 2006 and January 1 2007, England played 14 Tests and 20 one-dayers – a total of 170 days of cricket. In the same time period, India played 30 one-dayers and Australia 29.

We want less cricket. We want fewer one-dayers, and a greater focus on Tests; the less cricket – the less the physical and mental strain on the players – the greater the quality they will produce. Cricket (and sports in general, for that matter) must start to look after itself better and not wring itself dry. We’ll survive with less, honestly. TV companies will too. Yes, the executives might not be able to afford their great-grandson’s private education, or a shiny new Porsche 911, but who is this bloody game for?

Ranting now. Join in below.

Thanks, Fred, and goodnight

So that’s probably it for Freddie, then. Whatever drivel the ECB can try and spin about his ankle needing time “to settle and recover before the process of further strengthening and assessment is intensified” – medico-speak for “he’s done it in again” – it’s probably safe to assume that a man on the wrong side of 30 who has played just one of his team’s last four Test series isn’t really one for the future. It’s time to look beyond.

Flintoff

Probably most likely to step into the breach in the short-term is Ravi Bopara. But he’s untried at Test level and despite knocking Mike Hussey over on his ODI debut, it’s hard to imagine him knocking over Test sides with his gentle trundlers off a short run. Similarly Paul Collingwood, who encouragingly hasn’t let snaffling Sourav Ganguly on a lucky LBW shout go to his head.

So let’s look to the current crop of youngsters. There’s Adil Rashid, who scored his first Championship century this season, and team-mate Tim Bresnan, who has fought back well from being Jayasuriya’s bitch last summer. Younger still, there’s Alex Wakely at Northants and James Harris at Glamorgan. For some of these it looks like the next Ashes in 2009 will come a bit soon (Harris was born in 1990, for heaven’s sake), while none of them really looks like a potential Test number six. But then again, nor does Freddie at the moment.

Who does everyone think will end up filling Fred’s specially-modified boots? A batsman? A bowler? Or is it time David Graveney got Mark Ealham back on the phone?