Category Archives: County cricket

Investment in Moeen shows way forward for top-order conundrum

The trust and persistence placed in Moeen Ali is how England should approach their top-order conundrum.

After a decade of success, English cricket demands instantaneous results, but this approach has cut off the side’s nose to spite their face.

Selection policy has become impatient and short sighted when it comes to the top order.

Alastair Cook has gone through 11 opening partners since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012, now compounded by more gaps at numbers three and five.

Yet in the midst of chaos, Moeen Ali has emerged as a reliable and increasingly threatening allrounder.

But, it’s easy to reflect on his 25 wickets and over 252 runs against South Africa with rose tinted glasses.

It hasn’t always been plain sailing. Moeen Ali has batted in every position from one to nine, only scored one century in his first 20 Tests, and was averaging more than 50 in 2016.

England stuck with him, because they believed in him. They wanted Moeen because of the potential he offered. Perhaps the biggest seal of approval, was the bringing in Saqlain Mushtaq to assist him. Moeen has now said he wants him there permanently.

Ali has been an investment for England. His form has been changeable, but the concept is right.

The question, is why have England openers not been invested in? They have been tried and trashed. Quickly.

It ultimately lies in trust.

England have picked openers because of county form, with the hope they’d continue that. But they couldn’t, or at least not instantaneously.

But, It takes time to adapt. Keaton Jennings, like Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook scored a century on debut, and now he looks frail. But, no more frail than how Moeen himself looked in the first two years of his career – when he showed inconsistency.

They kept him and trusted him to recover. The investment was seen as worthwhile.

Jennings, and the hoard of other openers, haven’t been trusted to be able to adapt.

Within five or six Tests of his debut hundred, there are calls to drop Jennings and replace him with with yet another cab-off-the-rank from county cricket, with no-doubt, an impressive domestic record.

Why pick them in the first place if they aren’t going to be trusted?

England set a precedent in May 2013 when they dropped Nick Compton for the first time, and they’ve been doubling down ever since. They’ve been too afraid to change course.

Nick Compton had success opening for England. He scored two centuries in New Zealand, and had a good partnership with Alastair Cook. He was experienced, and in form. He needed to work on his game, but who doesn’t?

Dropping him set the ball rolling for England’s opening policy.

Openers are disposable, not investments.

Until a new Andrew Strauss comes along, domestic performers can be used once and thrown away.

This is a ruinous policy. England need an opener. They need one that will work in the long run. They may struggle at first, but Moeen Ali’s progress shows what can be done with hard work.

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All cricket is #ProperCricket but County is more proper than others

If County Cricket is ‘#ProperCricket’, then what does that make non-County Cricket? 

As the county season and IPL cricket launch at the same time, they have to compete with each other for viewers and players.

With a new sponsor in Specsavers, County Cricket launched a brand new hashtag for the season: ‘#ProperCricket’, to try and drum up support, and importantly, give it some identity. 

Unlike in previous years, when it was sponsored by Liverpool Victoria insurance company, and the hashtag was simply ‘#LVCC’, this year, organisers have decided to make a point.

2016 is the year of proper cricket. 

All that improper cricket can stop, right now. 

When I first read this, I wasn’t sure if I was missing something.

Maybe organisers were referring to cricket as seen in the Mitchell and Webb show? I mean it’s unique.

It feels like an arrogant assertion, that County Cricket is ‘proper’. Almost like other forms of cricket are less-so? If one looks up in the dictionary, the definition of ‘arrogant’, it is: “having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.

I know it’s only a hashtag… no doubt some will now whinge at me for being petty.

But, its no coincidence, that it has been launched at the same time as the Indian Premier League begins, and just after the World T20 ended. 

If you want proper cricket, you can watch any kind of cricket. There’s no such thing as ‘proper cricket.’ It’s jus called cricket. 

Perhaps organisers of County Cricket could explain the definition of ‘proper cricket’ beyond it being ‘unique.’ Why is unique proper?

The IPL is watched by millions. 50 over cricket is watched by millions. Test cricket is probably not followed by as many so regularly. But because it’s the oldest, it doesn’t make the longest format ‘proper.’

It uses the laws of cricket. It uses many English cricketers, that opt for it instead of playing ‘proper’ cricket.

I know it’s only a hashtag, but perhaps it’s a signal of a part of First Class cricket’s problems.  

It needs to get past the notion that it is the pinnacle of the game. I, and millions of others, follow County Cricket year on year, but it’s not mutually exclusive with other forms. 

 

Three Things That Peter Moores Has Got Absolutely Right

Whilst wading the through long grasses of mockery around the #newera, it’s important not to allow the successful parts to pass over our heads un-noticed.

In his short stint as England Coach [part II], Peter Moores has made a concerted effort to stamp his method of coaching on this team.

But notwithstanding factors like the shadow of the bygone era, and in spite of the criticism which has flowed like a mighty stream since his appointment; he has done plenty of things which have worked.

Being consistent in decision making and selection

The  most important thing that Moores’ has done right is maintain consistency with decisions and selection; and not buckling under criticism.

When building a team, under the banner of a #newera; critics look for the slightest hint of disharmony. They even look for any tell tale sign that the team isn’t working.

Chopping and changing, inconsistency and U-turns shows that decisions were wrong in the first place, and the management is weak and not in control. Yet, not changing course when something is clearly wrong shows stubbornness.

He hasn’t flinched at all, backing his decisions and gaining a return in quick time, which shows he made the right calls so far on many decisions.

At Lord’s, England were thrashed.

But, only a minor change due to injury [Plunkett] and a second change due to poor performance occurred [Stokes]. In the third Test the faith, repaid. A captain under fire felt backed; scored runs, and captained well. A near complete team performance ensued, as England drew the series with two to play.

The #newera is only going to work if an identity and a style of play is built, and from what has been displayed thus far; this is what Moores is creating. A new brand of cricket, which backs players and gives them a fair chance, on his watch.

Backing Counties

It is no surprise to anyone that follows county cricket, that a long time county coach is picking reliable county stars, and has faith in them.

Flower never really coached county cricket. He went on gut, and sometimes that worked.

More often than not however, it was mature and established players that did it for him, with the exception of Graeme Swann and Jonathan Trott; who were his selections through and through. The core of the team was not drawn from recent County success though. Moores has literally built this team up, and given it an identity. 

This summer has seen the selection of a number five and a number three to bat in the opposite positions, in addition a 29 year old bowler that was on the scrap heap, an Australian opener, a fiery fast man from Barbados, and Steven Finn.

Gary Ballance has been a revelation; translating his county form to the Test arena, striking three centuries and two fifties in 10 innings this summer. Liam Plunkett’s recall, is something I promoted when he was performing very strongly in County Cricket, here. His return to the Test side has been successful, offering pace, and heralding 18 wickets in his four Tests, and a fifty.

Even when Moeen Ali, Sam Robson and Chris Jordan have struggled, he has backed them fully, with no hints of them being dropped or replaced.

Moores has sent a large flare up into the air to signal that England’s selectors is watching you; County Performers.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. Fight hard, and you’ll get through, because this #newera recognises you.

Learning from mistakes

After the Lord’s catastrophe, England could have reacted violently, and scrapped the course they were on.

Cook’s head was in the chopping block. The excessive hooking was under scrutiny, and the perpetual short pitched bowling which yielding such little success was under the spotlight too.

Even England’s fielding was a low point, as catches went down and defensive  unimaginative captaincy dominated.

But there were no panic stations or flashing lights. As England turned up to the third, and now fourth Test; it’s clear that something has clicked into place.

They are pitching it up. Taking their catches. Cook’s captaincy is not as reactive, with much greater trust invested in Moeen Ali’s spin bowling, to the extent that Moeen took a 6 wicket hall at the Ageas Bowl.

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There has been a strong desire to justify decisions made, by ironing out faults and dealing with issues; as opposed to scrapping plans and trying something new; pushing those failures under the carpet

It’s refreshing, and Moores deserves credit for not dragging England back through the 1990s style selection and despair.

It has been; and will be, difficult; but there are plans there, and there is a definite direction that these plans are being plotted.

As an England fan, it’s nice to finally be stable again.

Examining Alastair Cook’s Future and a Potential New Captain

The dire performance of England’s team specifically on day four of the second Test, was matched by the uninspiring vacuum of captaincy. Cook needs to re-assess his role in the side, and get back to his primary role of scoring runs.

Being reduced to 57/5 after just 26.2 overs whilst chasing 350 ate into every single England fan watching. In anticipation for what could be a painful summer that includes five Tests against India, it was the first sign that the winter was going to continue long into the summer.

Alastair Cook’s captaincy leaves a lot to be desired. He his not a natural tactician, nor is he seemingly attacking. He was happy to sit back and not attack Mathews on day four, over bowling his main seamers so they became ineffective, under bowling Moeen Ali, and generally lacking thrust.

Cook outlined very boldly in the last three years, he is no tactician. George Dobell described Cook as a tactician, as:

‘More mouse than Strauss; more phoney than Dhoni’, on ESPN Cricinfo

That is not flattering.

He is a strong captain arguably when he is batting well, but in the last year or two that has massively declined.

After averaging 84.27 in 2011, his runs in 2012 were at an average 48.03 and then down all the way to 33.92 in 2013 and around 15 this year so far.

Strangely before this Test at Headingley, England had played 23 Tests since South Africa in 2012, winning just seven, losing eight, and drawing eight.

It’s not good enough, and quite frankly, a significant portion of the blame must rest on the captain. England can no longer hide behind this being the new era. Cook has been in the job for a number of years, and has shown only in India, that he is a capable batsman and captain simultaneously. He needs to let go.

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We want our old Alastair Cook back please

At Headingley, Cook passed Geoff Boycott for all time English run scorers. He is around 60 runs behind one Kevin Pietersen.

This is a batsman that knows how to bat. But as outlined, his average has been steadily declining under the captaincy.

As his runs have dried up, so too have the teams results.

England must look at this situation and ask a question.

He is a once in a generation batsman, so why are we compromising his clear ability with captaincy, especially if he isn’t that good at captaincy.

The fact is, that when a sub continental side comes to England and teaches the home team how to bowl and captain on their own decks, there needs to be a serious assessment of tactics.

Cook is a nice person I’m sure. He is a sensationally talented player, nobody doubts it. But as a captain, he is about as inspiring as a lump of stale bread, and about as innovative as a plank of wood. Let him bat.

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Who could take over then?

In Eoin Morgan, England have both an attacking batsman and an inventive Captain.

Dropped from the Test side because he was unable to translate his ODI and T20 performances into the Test arena; he has come back much more strongly in First Class cricket.

Now at 27 years old, he was told to go back to County cricket and get some form. He did it. Morgan prioritised; skipping the IPL for Middlesex; scoring two centuries in this season already, including an enormous 191. As a captain, he struck a century against his former side, Ireland; in addition to handling a broken and shattered team down in Australia.

He may not be as technically sound as Ian Bell, or as gritty as a Alastair Cook, but his clear determination to place himself back in contention is admirable. His unorthodox technique makes him an appealing offer of variety for a stagnating England team too, although his main uphill task is to get back into the team.

Currently, the top order is jam packed with new talent, and plenty more is awaiting; such as that of James Vince, James Taylor and many others. Morgan’s runs are going to have to be thick and fast, and particularly in limited overs cricket, he needs to assert himself for England as the flair player.

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Other candidates could be Ian Bell, who is the natural successor to a deposed Alastair Cook as one of the few remaining senior batsmen. He has captained England under 19s, and Warwickshire before, and does lead from the front in the middle. He was England’s player of the year in 2013, and has now matured into one of the most aesthetically pleasing batsmen in the world.

One final option could be to give it to either Stuart Broad, Matt Prior or Joe Root. Matt Prior used to be a vice captain, but after his form drastically fell away, and he was temporarily dropped. He is a risk as he does not have an assurance of long term selection.

Stuart Broad unsuccessfully captained the T20 side, losing embarrassingly to Holland recently, and not showing anything particularly outstanding as a captain. He has no Test experience captaining, and has suffered numerous injuries lately also.

Joe Root could be a Graeme Smith type selection; young, massive potential, versatile and popular, he could take on the role in a shorter term capacity until a more long term prospect emerges. It may of course be too much responsibility.

What is absolutely clear however is that Cook needs to either improve his tactical awareness as captain, get back into the runs, or quit the captaincy before it’s too late.

Could Simon Kerrigan be England’s Version of Rangana Herath?

Simon Kerrigan would be the perfect foil to a pacey seam attack, akin to Rangana Herath of Sri Lanka.

For many cricket fans, but particularly Australians; Simon Kerrigan’s debut will be remembered as a public humiliation.

Like that awful dream you have when you turn up at school and you have arrived in your pyjamas; it was a day he will never want to remember.

In eight abysmal overs, Kerrigan was smashed for 53 runs, consisting almost exclusively of full tosses, beamers, long hops and slow dragged down deliveries. He was not bowled in the second innings. Perhaps nerves got to him, who knows.

But, his county record is strong, and a good bowler dosn’t become a bad bowler over night.

At just 25 years old, he had a strong tour with the England lions, picking up  more wickets than the other two spin options combined, with 11 wickets on the tour. This included a vital 4-86 in the third unofficial Test versus Sri Lanka A.

The reason he was picked on the Lions tour in the first place, is because he had performed domestically for some time.

He took 30 wickets in 13 first-class games during his first season in 2010, and a successful 2013 season in which he took 57 scalps at an average of just over 20 was what really put him in contention for England in the first place.

Overall, in a mere 64 first class games, the 25 year old has 204 wickets at a solid average of 27.75. This is far superior to his contemporary; Monty Panesar; who has 677 wickets at an average of 30.97.

There is a clear case for him to be England spinner, and there is also a vacancy in the England side for a genuine spinner.

The average fan may put two and two together.

 

How does he get back in though? Everyone will get at him for his debut of course. The key to getting back into this England side is appealing to selectors to fulfil a certain role.

Liam Plunkett bulked up and started to bowl quickly, and was picked as an enforcer.

Chris Jordan in ODI cricket has showed the ability to bowl fast and bat usefully in the lower order.

Moeen Ali has shown versatility with bat and ball.

In other words, those that have been called up have displayed an ability to do a specific role. He must do the same; and appeal to the selectors to do a job.

He is not a mystery spinner like Saeed Ajmal or Muttiah Muralitharan. He is bowler that many will consider as innocuous, with a short run and a whippy action; he is a typically English spinner. A defensive spinner.

One such bowler that can be a great role model for him though is Rangana Herath; the stocky Sri Lankan left arm spinner. In the post Murali age, Sri Lankan spinners were associated with mystery and magic.

Herath came on the scene with a seemingly very simple philosophy; bowl tight, build pressure, reap rewards; and the critics will be silent.

Since 2010, only Stuart Broad, Dale Steyn, Graeme Swann and James Anderson have more wickets than little Herath in Test cricket according to ESPN Cricinfo, so it is clearly a philosophy that has been well employed.

People give him respect because he has dragged back orthodoxy as an effective weapon.

After plugging away in the county championship; Kerrigan must have learned to identify with this also. He is of course not going to step into international cricket with the same experience as a bowler like Herath, but the principle is there.

England should trust the systems in place that brings through talent, such as the county championship. This is the best spinner in England and it would be a shame for him to slip through the net because of a bad Test debut.

FLT20 gives Middlesex a strategic time out from the Championship

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photo credit: Carlton Browne via photopin cc

It seems like a very long time ago that I watched Middlesex win the Twenty 20 cup back in 2008. It’s about time Middlesex pulled our socks up a little in this format, because last year was abysmal.

The FLT20 this year is a little bit like a strategic time out, which of course is one of the newest fads in cricket, brought in by the IPL. It was introduced to allow some sponsoring and advertising air time, of course, but on field it also allows the fielding side to regroup, break the concentration of the batsmen, and to bring a wicket or a change in attitude.

The next Championship game is on the 8th July, which is nearly three whole weeks away. It’s some time to reflect upon a slight dip in form, so I’d like to think that Middlesex are using a strategic time out, in the form of limited overs cricket. That isn’t to say that the FlT20 is less important and is a breather for the championship, but that it is going allows the side to take our mind off it, and have a different mind-set, against different teams, a different set up, and perhaps importantly, it is a fresh start. It is a chance to set down the standard, and then have another pop at the LVCC a bit later.

The YB40 is not going as swimmingly as Middlesex may have hoped. After being beaten in a rain affected game versus Yorkshire, Middlesex are now precariously at five out seven in the group, although they have a game in hand. In terms of points, it is still do-able, with the top two on 11, and Glamorgan and Leicestershire on nine and eight points. Then again one would assume that at this point, the focus turned back to the County championship, and of course the T20. The YB40 is slowly falling through our hands a bit.

The season not fallen in to disrepute by any stretch of the imagination, yet it is unbelievably frustrating to be a fan of Middlesex sometimes. It all looked set to be a really great season, winning the first three games. But, after having stumbled in recent weeks, falling from the top two to fourth as a result of not registering a win in the last three LVCC matches, doubts are seeping in as Middlesex are languishing mid table.

The 10 wicket loss to Yorkshire and the draw versus Sussex, a game in which Sussex were made to follow on no less, were particularly exasperating. It was a chance to bridge the gap at the top, and instead Middlesex fell down the table. Having said this, there has been an encouraging resurgence in our limited overs form, and one can only hope that more limited overs cricket will help the consolidation of this form, and this can be carried forward.

Dawid Malan in particular, has been in abysmal form in the Championship (114 runs in eight innings with no fifties or hundreds)  but has returned to form in the YB40. He has struck four impressive scores of 99, 80 not out, 96 and 49, before his 14 against Yorkshire. He is perhaps the middle order in a nutshell. Clearly in good YB40 form, of sorts, but needs to carry this over.

There is really no speakable problems with the bowling attack. The wickets are regularly shared across the attack, although perhaps the greater number of fixtures from YB40, has affected selection. This is perhaps most importantly where the FLT20 is acting as a strategic time out. It is definitely a format in which the team sheet is not just photocopied, but there are specific picks for the format. This could give players a rest, and potentially even allow others a chance to break through.

The fact of the matter is that Middlesex have shown that the batting is consistently the problem. The top two have been in strong form but the middle has not. Both Eoin Morgan and Adam Voges will be in the middle order, and Paul Stirling is likely to also play who was the leading run scorer in the competition last year for Middlesex and is coming  fresh from impressive form versus Australia A and Pakistan.

This FLT20 is certainly going to allow an injection of aggressive batting with Voges, Morgan, Stirling, and an in form Malan, hopefully. If the North London club can harness potential good form in the FLT20 and bring that form into the championship, it could be a rejuvenated and salvaged season.

Associate and affiliate players in county cricket?

Shapoor Zadran

Shapoor Zadran

In a recent discussion on the ESPNCricinfo County live blog, the topic of associates and affiliate members came up in the context of overseas players. The dilemna was ‘why if players are good enough are they being denied the possibility of playing, purely on the basis of their nationality, or the fact their country is not a top side.’

After all, it would seem ludicrous in any other sport to have this situation. Could you imagine if Dwight Yorke had been prevented from playing for Manchester United because he was from Trinidad and Tobago (currently ranked 81st in the world).

Numerous players from associate and affiliate sides could benefit so much from a stint of  cricket in the UK regardless of format, and would certainly enhance and improve the image and attention in their country domestically if they improved themselves, and brought more success.

Currently, counties are restricted to choosing one overseas player, and this is restricted to countries that have played a requisite number of International matches. It seems a rather arbitrary and stifling rule, especially as the vast majority of affiliate and associate members would not be of the standard to play in the UK anyhow. Why put a barrier up to prevent those that are good enough from partaking in ‘the finishing school’, purely because their International side is not good enough.

It’s unlikely that should players from affiliate or associate members ever be allowed to be considered as overseas players, that all of a sudden Kenyans, Namibians, or Swedish cricketers would pour into the counties because the plain facts are that most would not be of the standard.

But, as with every developing country in cricketing terms there would certainly be a select few that are good enough, and it seems such an illogical rule to restrict them on such an arbitrary basis of nationality, or the number f games their internationally affiliated side plays.

Afghanistan have of course been a hugely impressive side in terms of how they have developed from playing in dirt tracks on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and making it all the way to the top as an Internationally ranked side. They are a side of course that has some players that look entirely out of their depth against established teams, yet at the same time players like Mohammad Shezhad, Shapoor Zadran and Mohammad Nabi  were all highly talented. Shapoor Zadrand was easily reaching 90 miles per hour in the world cup, which regardless of your passport stamp is extremely difficult to face.

If he was running in for even a second division side, it would be beneficial firstly for him, secondly for the county side that signs him, and thirdly, perhaps most importantly, for the state of Afghan cricket. It would be the big break. Just take a look at Zadran in action:

Having a player in an established first class league, exposed to the cricketing world, and with new opportunities that would go with that. Did someone mention the IPL?

In the past, players such as Kenya’s Steve Tikolo and Canada’s Jon Davison were stars in very average minnow sides. But, beyond them, there was relatively little and there was no long term and sustainable growth of cricket in their lesser established cricketing countries because their success and talent was not built on clearly. These were players that had talent and would have not only benefited from even a short stint of cricket for a county side, but it would have placed them on a plinth that would help to grow cricket domestically in their own country, and hopefully develop better domestic talent, and the image of the game in general.

The only way for associate and affiliate nations to sustainability develop is to grow domestic popularity of the game, as this breeds interest, and essentially a larger poole of talent. If offering those associate and affiliate member countries that have players that are good enough for a stint in the UK that very opportunity, then realistically, what is going to be the downside? Maybe a home grown player misses out in the UK occasionally, but judging by the number of Kolpak players already milling around county cricket in a number of formats, this issue doesn’t seem to have been sincerely addressed anyhow, and what is the problem with it anyway? It improves the cricket immeasurably to have a better quality of talent on show. If it is not going to be a hugely significant number of players from affiliate or associate members that would meet the standard of county cricket anyway, then surely all this rule change would potentially do, is lift a barrier blocking talent of those that would meet the standard, such as Shapoor Zadran, that are currently prevented on the basis of where he is from.  It seems a small price to pay to allow a handful players the opportunity to play, that they otherwise would have been deprived of on a very illogical policy.

What is needed is perhaps an overseas policy allowing overseas players from the established nations, in addition to one overseas player from an associate or affiliate member. It is important to remember that most counties would not pick an associate or affiliate member, but those that would, could benefit, and there would be a very size able mutual benefit for the associate or affiliate member also. Perhaps this could be trailed in the lesser profile YB40?

Of course many will dismiss this as an unwanted change. “Why should they take up English players places” i hear people saying already, but in reality this would not be a widespread thing. It would would benefit county cricket by allowing those who are good enough to be in contention, which is minimal at the moment. It would afford a greater profile to cricket in the domestic cricketing league of those countries, and motivate affiliate and associate members to build on development with further development. It would be a hugely beneficial move, and it would remove an entirely arbitrary restriction.