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.

Rebellion in the provinces

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.

Wasted? – Paul Smith’s autobiography

Update: review of Paul Smith’s Wasted? at Cricinfo.

One of my early memories of cricket is watching Paul Smith tear in to bowl off an inordinately long run-up, arms flaying around, long hair, “flinging” down his medium pacers. He was nothing special but the rebel in me respected his unconformity. He was rock’n’roll, a bit crazy, and just the type of cricketer an 11-year-old tried wished he could be. And it turns out he’s written a book.

Wasted - Paul Smith's autobiography

It could be very, very dull; he fell into drugs, lost his wife and children and so forth, so it might be one of those sickly autobiographies in which he’s found God, or peace within himself, or finds knitting a good way to stave the cravings. If and when I get a copy, I’ll let you know what it reveals – or buy your own from Amazon, and help pay for the exploding costs of running this site…

Egad, an Englishman coaching England? I’ve a better idea

Bob Woolmer has admitted an interest in the England job, and Allan Donald has come out in support of his application. Donald is well qualified to talk about Woolmer given their long association both for Warwickshire and South Africa. And Woolmer’s track record for South Africa and Pakistan speak for themselves. Pakistan is a reasonable chance of challenging for the 2007 World Cup, and have just leveled the current series in South Africa.

But here’s a thought out of left field. Maybe Australia should try to poach him first. There’s absolutely no reason why an Englishman can’t have a leading role in Australian cricket. And there’s no doubt that from a professional point of view, coaching the best side in the world would be a new experience.

I’m not saying that Australia should definately go down that path. But I think it is an idea that merits some consideration, as well.

Chivalry is not dead!

The final day of Warwickshire’s season today took a slightly unorthodox turn today as Kent proved that cricket is still a game of gentlemen. With the visitors having batted through the day, securing a draw in a dead match, Rob Key declared with a few overs yet available in the final session. Opening the batting for the final time in his last championship game, Nick Knight was allowed to get the fifteen runs he needed to bring his Warwickshire first class average up to 50 before teams called a halt to play. Knight had been extremely disappointed when dismissed for 52 the previous day, so it was a nice gesture.

However, it appears none of the Kent batsmen felt quite strongly enough to hand Knight, who bowled a rare nine over spell, a second first class wicket.

What has Twenty20 done to D/L?

Another day, another Pro40. Today, though, saw a late season glimpse of Twenty20 batting, after Sky’s televised game from Trent Bridge faced several interruptions. After high winds, lightning and finally an evening drizzle, Warwickshire saw their required total reduced to 124, with some 70 runs to get from just 10.5 overs. Once upon a time, a team would have balked at the sight of a required rate above 6 an over, and the visitors tried their best to suggest this hadn’t changed with the loss of two wickets in as many balls.

These days, however, such recalculations place a strike-rate savvy batting side at an advantage. Whilst I would much rather see a game play on, and wouldn’t know where to start if asked to algebra my way to a better system, Duckworth/Lewis calculations often seem a few runs light on games of significantly reduced length. Nottinghamshire, having rebuilt their innings in their last few overs to place themselves at a competitive total, will feel a little hard done by.

What this result does do is ensure that Nick Knight has played his last domestic one-day game. Having announced his retirement at the end of this season, this final win places Warwickshire safe from relegation. A pity, then, that he lost his wicket for a mere 9 runs, from an ill-advised prod outside off stump.

Lara’s 501

Thanks to Ryan for pointing this out. 12 years ago today, Brian Lara struck that incredible 501 for Warwickshire against Durham. I was at school at the time, a mere 12-year-old, and I remember my Dad picking me up at about 6pm.

Back in those days, the mobile phone was a distant dream. Only rich yuppies (remember them? Ah, the 1980s…) could afford the breeze-block Nokias, and even then they had no one else to phone. So I clearly remember my old man shouting down the drive, as I was making my way up it, “Lara’s gone mad Will! 500!” Obviously I thought he’d finally lost the plot, and peered into the back windows of the car for the Men In White. But they weren’t there. After completely refusing to believe him for the entire 10-minute car journey, the radio came on to confirm my worst and best fears.

I didn’t know what to think. After his 375, which incidentally was made on the tour which first sparked my interest in the game, it was plain as day that he was an extraordinary cricketer. But the 501? It took the biscuit – and I couldn’t help thinking “Well it’s Durham for God’s sake. Durham.” And back then, Durham really were very Durham, not the chirpy, confident side of 12 years hence.

Where were you when he did it?

Ian Bell batting for Warwickshire

Middlesex v Warwickshire

Originally uploaded by Flickr user jancyclops.

The curiously named jancyclops has a few photos from Lord’s, in the match between Mighty Mighty Middlesex and Warwickshire. He, or she, has a Canon 30D equipped with a veritable biatch of a lens. (Martin – the 30D is the way to go…)

Wonderful light at Lord’s…almost appears autumnal.

Shane Watson hits double-hundred

Shane Watson hit an unbeaten double-hundred today, against Warwickshire. He’s a very useful Cricketer, and I’m surprised he hasn’t been called up as cover for any of Australia’s out of form, or out of luck, bowlers.

No news is good news

Well not quite. But there’s really not much going on, at all, apart from this Afro-Asia (or is it Africa-Asia, or African-Asian?) cup – which I’m finding great difficulty in getting excited over. The C&G semi-finals are in progress, too, which are far more interesting.

Yorkshire are being totally outplayed by Hampshire, and Lancashire have a fight on their hands

Yorks v Hants bulletin, Warwicks v Lancs bulletin

Hampshire and Warwickshire go into the final