Monday, 1 November 2010

The CA-pprentice

Lord Sutherland: I want you to take your team away, and decide which two members you’ll bring back into the boardroom, where one of you will be fired. Off you go.

All: Yes Lord Sutherland.

[Team exit boardroom. 10 minutes later, team captain Ricky re-enters the boardroom with team]

Lord Sutherland: Take a seat. Now, Ricky, you were made team captain of Team Australia, am I correct?

Ricky: Yes Lord Sutherland, that is correct.

Lord Sutherland: Ok, and which two team members would you like to remain in the boardroom with you today?

Ricky: Lord Sutherland, Marcus and Michael are going to stay in the boardroom.

Lord Sutherland: Ok, Ricky, Marcus and Michael, you will stay here. The rest of you can return to the hotel. [Others get up and leave]. Now, Ricky you claim to have a good track record in leading others and yet your team came up short in this task, care to explain where it all went wrong?

Ricky: Firstly I want to say that I lead this team to the very best of my abilities...

Lord Sutherland: I didn’t ask for self appreciation I want an answer. What reasons can you give me as to why you came second in this particular task?

Ricky: Sorry Lord Sutherland. Our team lost today because we did not function well enough as a unit, some of us were given responsibilities that we couldn’t cope with, for example, I put Michael...

Michael: Hold on, you’re team leader you can’t shift all the blame onto me!

Ricky [voice raised]: I asked you to bat at number four and you got out cheaply over and over!

Michael: I had to come in when the team was on the verge of collapse because of you failing.

Lord Sutherland: Gentlemen, enough of the handbags. It’s like watching Sreesanth and Harbhajan all over again. Ricky, I don’t want to have to ask again, why did your team fail so miserably in this task when, looking back, you won the previous task by an absolute country mile?

Ricky: Lord Sutherland, the team alterations between the last task and this one did not help with unity. Shane, Glenn and Adam played big parts in us winning the last task but with them being moved to Team Channel 9, and Brad, Nathan and Marcus being moved across to our team, we lost all cohesion.

Lord Sutherland: So why didn’t you bring Brad and Nathan into the boardroom with you? Instead you brought Michael and Marcus.

Ricky: Because I felt they did not pull their weight when they were clearly needed to be a part of this team in a big way. I admit my performance this task was not up to standard but I improve through learning from my mistakes and I know I am the right candidate for you.

Lord Sutherland: Ok. Marcus, how was Ricky as a team leader?

Marcus: Lord Sutherland he struggled to get the best out of everybody, and he didn’t have any clue as to how to set a field properly, or manage the bowlers.

Lord Sutherland: Ah yes, Tim [motions to his aide, Tim, sat to his left] told me that there was a lot of confusion as to why Nathan was continually bowling to a rubbish field in India. But surely it was partly your responsibility to let Ricky know that there was something wrong with the placements, was it not?

Marcus: Well, umm yes but Michael agreed with him on those field settings and as they were the senior members we went along with it.

Michael: For goodness sake!

Lord Sutherland: Err Michael, I’ll be speaking to you in a minute. Marcus, tell me why I shouldn’t fire you today.

Marcus: Well Lord Sutherland, I am an amazing batsman. I’m relatively young yet I am experienced too. I’ve scored loads of runs against England and South Africa, and I’ve taken wickets against Pakistan. I’ve lead my team back home and if you give me the opportunity to continue in this process then I will show you why you made the right call to fire Cameron last week and one of these two [points to Ricky and Michael] this week.

Lord Sutherland: Michael, tell me why you shouldn’t be the one to get fired today?

Michael: Lord Sutherland I am the model employee. I have bags of experience, I have many thousands of runs to my name in all forms of the game and in all conditions. I’m an amazing fielder and a calm head in the field when things are going against us. If you asked me for a century I’d give you a double century.

Lord Sutherland: That’s all very nice but from what I’ve seen you can’t take the responsibility of being a senior member of the team.

Michael: Well, I accept that as your view Lord Sutherland but I feel I will always give as good as I can.

Lord Sutherland: And Ricky, why shouldn’t I send the team leader packing today? After all, you were the one responsible for this team and as such for this failure.

Ricky: If you keep me on and employ me at the end of this process then I will make you very very rich. I am the best candidate you have ever had, I’m smart, I’m forward thinking, I’m tough and I’m the best team leader out of all of the candidates. I give everything 116% and I score runs in my sleep.

Lord Sutherland: Well you seemed to be sleepwalking through this task I can tell you that now. Ok I need to make a decision about which one of you to fire. Michael you talk a good game and your track record is excellent but something isn’t right. Maybe it’s pressure from your brother or something. Marcus, you seem to divide everyone in their views on you. You score some wonderful centuries, don’t get me wrong, but the ducks are a real issue. However I’m willing to keep you in the process because you’re lovely. Ricky you’ve taken a lot of flak from others and the feedback I’ve had from my aides has not been all that complimentary. You’ve sat here and said how wonderful it was having Adam and Shane and Glenn in your team but the truth is they aren’t here and you’ve crumbled.

[Pauses]

Responsibility is a big thing that I look for in a candidate. Someone who can think on their feet and can adapt to a new climate quickly. What I don’t want is someone who sits in their comfort zone scoring runs at six, then when push comes to the shove and they have to replicate that performance at number four they look like Chris Martin against Dale Steyn. Michael you’re fired.

Michael: [Broken, close to tears, sun cream smearing around his face] Thank you Lord Sutherland. [Gets up and leaves the boardroom].

Lord Sutherland: The rest of you, go back to the hotel and think about what I’ve said. Off you go.

Ricky and Marcus: Thank you Lord Sutherland [both get up, Ricky curtsies, both leave the boardroom].

Lord Sutherland: [head in hands. A bottle of whiskey has appeared on the table] Buffoons. I was close to firing all three of them to be honest.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Oh yeah

3 year deal. Jimmy Adams is still a Hampshire player. Always expected this to be agreed, if you cut him in half (preferably when he's retired), it would say Hampshire.

Done.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

My favourite Cricketer - Imran Tahir

They say the art of legspin is dead. Well, no-one’s said that really but I’m saying it to validate my argument, though actually there is at least some truth in there somewhere. Since Warney packed in test cricket for Indian 20/20, TV adverts and some stop off town in the Nevada desert, international cricket hasn’t exactly been blessed with fine legspinners. To prove my point I could just say Bryce McGain but that would be harsh. For example, Danish Kaneria is a genuine leggie but he just can’t seem to cut it consistently at test level. Mishra was good too but not good enough for the Indian selectors. Steve Smith tries his best, bless him, but he has a long way to go.


The fact is there is no Clarrie Grimmett or Abdul Qadir or even Mushtaq Ahmed out there. Except for one. Known to the casual cricket viewer as the guy South Africa tried to pick but then weren’t allowed to, most would dismiss Imran Tahir as just another spinner. Indeed his profiles that circulate the internet happily back this notion up. “A journeyman cricketer” and “Never fulfilled his potential” adorn quite succinct, cold descriptions. It could, and should easily be suggested that the people who have written these profiles have never seen Tahir bowl in the flesh. Instead basing their presumptions on the number of clubs he has turned out for in his career.

And yes, he has been a bit of a tart in that respect. Charles Babbage constructed his programmable computer with the aim of one day calculating Tahir’s number of clubs, as the abacus was not up to the task. There are more teams, spread out over Pakistan, England and South Africa that have printed shirts with ‘Tahir’ on the back than I can care to name (though the Water and Power Development Authority deserves a special mention).

Yet all of that is irrelevant in relation to his skill with ball in hand. For me Tahir represents everything that I love about cricket. Here is a man who is not a gym freak like an increasing number of cricketers. I doubt he spends any more time than he has to running and practising fielding drills. Batting is a bit of a laugh for him because his mind is focussed solely upon the talent that makes him oh so employable. With one sleeve up and one sleeve down, a brisk canter to the crease is the prelude to a little bit of magic. Warne’s greatest weapon was his stock delivery, though his variations were mightily effective too, whilst Kumble married the topspinner. Tahir has full confidence in his legbreak, but is equally adept at sending down the googly, topspinner etc. He also knows, down to a single delivery, when to bowl a particular variation. That is his greatest asset.

Often when you watch a normal legspinner (i.e crap one) you get the impression that a googly is bowled when the bowler feels like it, just to add a bit of variety to his spell. When Tahir bowls a googly you are under no illusions that the previous dozen deliveries to that batsman have been bowled with the sole intention of making the googly the killer blow. There is no sledging, or staring down the opponent, or unnecessary outbursts of frustration. He is simply too nice for that.

That’s not to say he is not passionate. Quite the opposite. All of those emotions, frustrations and feelings are stored up as the carefully constructed plan is executed, culminating in a personal victory. Be it the prize wicket in a final, or a tailender in a dead rubber, Tahir celebrates each and every wicket as though he had just found out that he has the only winning Euromillions ticket. Arms outstretched, head thrown back, shouting at the top of his voice and running to some distant part of the ground, Tahir is not only a joy to watch but he lifts the team around him.

I have always been sceptical of the idea of a talisman, as to win you need a team effort, but if such a person exists then it is Tahir. In 2008 he joined Hampshire in Division One with seven games left. Hampshire sat bottom with one win all season and almost certain to be relegated. In those last seven games, Tahir picked up 44 wickets at an average of 16.68, as Hampshire drew three and won four to finish third in the table. He breathes life into a team, bringing exuberance, energy and everything one associates romantically with a sub-continental bowler – mystery, magic, guts and some cavalier slogging with the bat. I’d go so far as to say that he is the greatest legspinner in the world currently, and not at all far off the greatest spinner. A lecturer of mine last year described watching a model steam engine in motion as “it’s, well, it’s effing orgasmic”. In my mind this wraps watching Imran Tahir up in a nutshell.

Imran Tahir is a window to another time, an ideal that is very nearly dead. One that says stuff your BMI readings. To hell with your score on the bleep test. Who gives a damn about how many reps you can do in a minute. You’re a bloody talented, thoughtful guy and you possess something that no number of coaches and back room computer analysts can teach. The shape and size spectrum in cricket is sadly diminishing but there will still be those that champion talent over physical ability. Tahir is one and for as long as he plays, I will be in love with the diversity of cricket, and above all the art of legspin.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

A huge relief

The news I certainly had been hoping for, and I'm sure the news every person had been hoping for, Dominic Cork has signed a one year deal for the 2011 season. You can't beat Corky, not even age can. He was perhaps waning slightly at Lancs but the move to Hampshire has been like a new pair of legs on him. If anybody can find a more hard working, committed and enthusiastic 39 year old fast bowling, captaining, trophy winning cricketer then I'll buy a Sussex season ticket.

He had perhaps hinted at calling it a day, having lifted the 20/20 cup surrounded by teammates young enough to be his children. His comment about feeling that he may no longer be able to earn his place in the team was quite a surprise to be honest, given his very, shall we say, 'self assured' attitude. But I guess even the strongest of characters mellow but he has certainly made the best decision in my view.

It is not just his stats that made me want him to sign on for another year. I am always sceptical when people talk of their team having a 'talisman', but if one does indeed exist then Cork to Hampshire is what Favre was like to the Packers. Cork brings hard work, a smile, energy, guidance and above all inspiration to the team. He effectively won us two trophies with his bowling whilst his mentoring capabilities has seen Wood go from no involvement at the start of the year to a force in all three formats by the end of it.

He is the face of Hampshire, filling the gap left by Warne in that respect. He was probably hoping that 2010 would be a season to get some cricket in but also to get some breaks in too to look after the body. Injuries conspired to not only change that but to also give him the captaincy. A role he was born for and one that he did not let us down in doing. Cork was signed for 2009 because he still felt he had something to offer. Two years later he still feels the same way and for that I am damn pleased.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

GET IN!!

What a rise it has been. Some questioned his inclusion, moaning that the likes of Kerrigan and Parry should have been in the squad instead (yes, they were Lancs fans). But when, amongst your list of victims you include Bopara, Goodwin, van Jaarsveld, Chanderpaul, Cook and Trescothick, then you are likely to be noticed. Danny Briggs has had a barnstorming year, leading English wicket taker in the 20/20 with 31, he even came into his own in the Championship, turning into a genuine spin threat.

Effectively 4th in line to the spin throne, it's just amazing even now, to see his name especially, amongst the lists for touring parties to Aus. That's certainly not to say he hasn't deserved it. Completely the opposite. Nic Pothas said in the latest issue of SPIN that some Hampshire players' faces didn't seem to fit with the England set up. Two of those mentioned have made it into the performance squad, justifiably. To have both openers score over 1300 runs for the season is brilliant. To have both of them English is even better and for one to be born in this county is the icing on the cake.

I expected Carberry to go to Australia in some playing capacity. I also half expected, half blindly hoped that Adams would be on the same plane, so overall it was a very pleasing squad announcement. To see none of, in my view the three best batsmen of 2010 (Adams, Hildreth, Lyth) involved with the main squad, whilst Bell waltzes back into the group of 16, has done little to repair my views on ECB selection.

But that should not detract from the marvellous achievements of these three Hampshire players, who have absolutely destroyed the selectors' door using Cosgrove as a battering ram. They richly deserve their chance, and some.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Scheduling the 2011 T20

Now, as absolutely bloody fantastic as the Finals Day win was, it did feel like being handed one of those foil blankets after finishing a marathon, such was the mix of elation with relief at having finally completed the tournament. In short it was way too long in terms of number of matches played. 144 games to eliminate 10 of the 18 sides? It had shades of the IPL in how it made many people crumple to their knees in front of the TV during yet another dead rubber from the County Ground in Derby shouting "Why?!! WHY?!!!!".

The saddest part, for me, was that after some of the losses, I found myself not being bothered by the defeat. For someone who's life is ruined by the rugby season, where Wednesday through to Saturday are spent worrying about the Saturday fixture, then Sunday to Tuesday are spent recovering from the match before starting the cycle all over again, it is pretty damning on the tournament as a concept for me just to go "doh" at a result then get on with my life.

Sixteen group games made half of them meaningless, whilst playing against half the country removed a lot of the local derby feel. I think that it has already been decided that the tournament will return in 2011 to a 6 team group with 10 group games, just like 2009. This is a good move, bringing back the regions and reducing the games, but there are still changes that I would make to the calendar:

- Group games will only be played on weekends.

- The group stages will run from the start of June until the end of July.

- Teams will only play one match a week with the exception of two weeks, where two games will be played.

- Group games will be played alternately home and away, so a home game every two weeks.

- Quarter finals will be played on the first weekend of August.

- Finals day will be played two weeks later on the Saturday.

This scheduling has a number of benefits. Firstly it spaces out the group games so that, coupled with the reduction in group matches, each game carries more importance and is more of an event. The way it will be spaced out is so: Start of June to end of July covers 8 weekends, so teams play one match a week, except for two weeks where they play two matches a week, say a home game on Friday and an away game on Sunday. This again allows for more importance to be placed on each match, and also allows for more time during the week to play Championship and one day matches, de-cluttering those schedules too.

Secondly, playing the games on weekends only offers the chance for higher attendances, as a greater number of people will be able to attend on Friday evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons than on Tuesday evenings, for example. The spacing out of these games, coupled with better ticket price management, would boost attendances as people would be more willing to pay to see a game once a fortnight at £15 each, rather than £20 each twice a week.

The tournament can still make the most of the supposedly best weather, whilst also allowing CC matches to be played in decent weather too. And whilst it is still spread out, the tournament should hopefully not be played over such a long period as to make overseas players difficult to come by.

Playing the quarter-finals a week after the last group games allows form to still be carried over, whilst the two week gap between QFs and Finals Day means that clubs have enough time to sell tickets for Finals day properly. The quarter finals would be played on the Saturday and Sunday, one in the afternoon and the other as a day nighter straight after, so all four can be broadcast. Finals Day arrangements would stay the same.

To keep Sky happy, each round of matches would be played over all three days available, so they would in effect still be able to show three live matches a week.

With the correct marketing, scheduling and pricing of tickets, the ECB could turn the 20/20 from an exciting yet ever so slightly fading fad into a genuine breadwinner. One that defines the weekends of the high summer and does more to boost interest in cricket than Groundhog Day masked by cheap music and dancers and other gimmicks. 20/20 is a serious business and so it must be treated thus. The first port of call for the ECB must be the calendar wallchart.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Sloppy end

It was going to happen, wasn't it? Nothing to play for, no threat of relegation whilst the team we were facing very much had that threat. That was the difference at the end of the day and we deserved to lose. You could say we were not favoured by the conditions but Warks wanted it more, Woakes bowled well and for the fourth time in 6 innings our batting was frankly crap.

Slug again made it clear to all that taking a positive approach was the way to go, much like Cork on the first day, but the top order didn't learn, though Dawson can certainly hold his head high after these last two matches saw him be, in my view, our best batsman. Adams got the runs he needed to pass 2500 for the season, an amazing feat, and if a Lions call doesn't come then Miller will be getting abuse from more than just Dimi.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Fantastic effort

No, not the Hampshire top order (in the dog house, the lot of you!). Actually, one of them. Liam Dawson showed that his 50 against Kent wasn't a one off by playing a very accomplished innings in extremely tough conditions. On arrival Messrs Adams, Carberry, Hughes and Vince were all back on the balcony with their feet up, and the two at the crease, Dawson and Slug, didn't look comfortable either. Early on in his innings Dawson looked very shaky as the Warwickshire bowlers found swing and movement on a greenish wicket and in close conditions., playing and missing at multiple balls. However as his innings progressed Dawson soon found his feet, and the middle of the bat, scoring slowly yes but vitally occupying the crease, something the others seemed unable to do.

Having got a hold of conditions he looked a lot calmer at the crease, looking like he belonged in the middle at four, finally. His judgement of the line of the ball was excellent, vastly reducing the risk of getting out by simply getting the bat well away from the ball when it wasn't threatening his pads or the stumps. It was imperative that he stay at the crease until the close of play and though that came sooner than everyone was hoping, he was still not out and so job done for the day effectively. This has been Dawson's second vital knock in a week, and though neither of them have been huge scores their effect on the innings has been huge. It's safe to say that this late charge with the bat will give White plenty of selection conundrums next season.

You just can't overlook Corky either. Whilst Dawson treated everything outside offstump like a fresh dog turd, Cork was the veritable fly, launching himself at anything given a bit of width, and it paid dividends. 41* from 38 balls is pretty good as far as counter attacking innings go, the way he dispatched everything sent from the Pavillion End was particularly pleasing. Of special note was his cover drive off of Miller. It was one of those shots that as soon as you heard the sound of ball hit bat, you knew immediately what the outcome would be. Dawson wasn't completely Mckenzie-esque, though - the one over Tahir bowled was handled very positively by Dawson, who laid down a marker to show that he wasn't going to be tied down by spin.

Slug's shot to get out to must surely carry some sort of punishment, such was the mushed brained effort. However I think having been spared the pain of seeing the first four wickets then I'm not too despondent!

The transition from U19s to test cricket

I thought about having a look at how the age group set-up supports the national side. In an ideal world there would be a steady stream of players progressing through the age groups and going on to represent their country at the highest level. Obviously in reality it never runs this smoothly, but for England it makes for interesting viewing. Between 2000 and 2008, exactly 100 players represented the England U19s youth test side. I chose this time frame as firstly I couldn't face looking further back than 2000, and secondly this puts all of the players in the 20-30 age bracket - ripe for test selection. Of these 100 players, 13 have gone on to play test cricket.

On the face of it, this is an ok-ish return. 1 in 8 making the test grade sounds about right. It looks even better - amongst these 13 players are Anderson, Broad, Finn, Cook and Prior, all current English test players. Also included are Bell, Panesar and Bresnan.

However, the other names do not make for such pleasant viewing:

Ravi Bopara - 10 tests.

Liam Plunkett - 9 tests.

Chris Tremlett - 3 tests.

Kabir Ali - 1 test.

James Tredwell - 1 test.

To be honest only Bopara and possibly Tremlett can hold any hope of playing test matches again, whilst Panesar too will be concerned about his own test prospects. Therefore I believe that the recent history of the England U19s should be looked upon with slight disappointment. Yes it has provided us with a very decent pace attack, but apart from that it's only other products that are enjoying proper runs in the test side are an under-fire opener and a wicketkeeper who very much divides opinion. The last three England U19s players to play test cricket have been Finn, Broad and Cook, showing that the yet more recent history is even worse.

So where should the blame lie for this apparent lack of successful player movement through the age groups? In my opinion it is not down to just one factor. Firstly I don’t think that the ECB do enough to monitor and develop players and use the age groups enough to their advantage. The latest trick appears to be naming half the English qualified county players in groups according to where they fit into the test tree.

This is all good and well if these players have been assessed in development squads and A teams throughout their careers, but this season’s lists have shown how wide of the mark they in fact are. For example, the ‘A’ bracket, i.e. players on the very cusp of the test team, consists of four players – Carberry, Moore, Amjad Khan and Mahmood. Out of those four only Carberry has shown any sort of form or fitness this season to warrant a mention at selection meetings.

The players’ counties must also take some criticism though. An argument could be made, and is made by some, that the kolpak ruling is not allowing young players to spend enough time in their county first XIs so as to develop their own game. To an extent this holds some truth – the journeyman kolpak players that aren’t as good as most of the county squads end up filling in gaps as a cheaper solution. However, quality kolpaks can do wonders for a young player’s development, and so there is very much a place for them in the game.

Likewise the increased number of player transfers between counties is making it more and more difficult for homegrown players to cement a place in the side, and is vindictive of the quick-fix success sought after by many counties in search of trophies and Division One status. The thought of developing a team of homegrown players, though appealing to every county, is not financially viable for many and so these players will suffer.

The U19s as a concept is an absolutely fantastic idea of course. It gets a group of relatively unknown, unproven young talents together on a tour and it teaches them to take on responsibility and pressure they would never otherwise face back home. I think that the ECB need to get a better understanding of how to handle players that have played for the U19s team and help them progress smoothly, whilst the counties must realise the long term benefits of having these players in their side. If this can be done then fewer players will fall through the net available to carry them into the test team.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Leaving it late

It's fair to say that Hampshire have been involved in more than their fair share of nail biting Championship finishes this season, not all of them going our way either. Indeed the last match went against us in the last over, whilst our first win of the season came when McKenzie slapped a six with just 7 ball to spare. Great for the CC as a concept, not good for us nervy types. This match against Kent was no different, in fact I think it was even more nerve wrenching than the previous, given the context of the match. There were of course permutations that meant a draw in this match would mean that we would only need like 3 bonus points against Warwickshire to make Kent have to beat Yorkshire to stay up, or something.

However the main plan was to win the damn thing, and improve on our paltry win tally of two for the season. To win we had to bowl Kent out again, no mean feat as the pitch appeared to settle down through the third day and scoring became easier. To pull off a win, Hampshire would need accuracy, aggression and sustained pressure, as well as a few early wickets. The bowling attack, admittedly criticised by me on occasion managed to do the job with enough time to boil an egg. A single, perhaps underdone in some people's view, egg. The plan to utilise the spin in the wicket was apparent as Briggs came into the attack as the first change bowler.

Briggs and Vince combine to remove MVJ

Corky rose to the occasion, snapping up three wickets, including in my opinion the key wicket of Stevens, who attempted some shot that should never be seen of again in County Cricket. Ever. Nick Knight Jr hung around longer than first innings, ending up Kent's highest second innings scorer with 71 before the man of the moment, Tomlinson, trapped him in front. Chipping away at their lower order seemed to last an eternity, time and balls slipping away as tailender after tailender ate up some time in the middle before inevitably falling to one of the successful bowling triumvirate.

Cork appeals successfully for Jones' wicket

Bowling Carbs instead of Dawson was mind boggling and above all bloody frustrating, but it gave us more overs to play with, and in the end it proved decisive as Tommo was given the ball to send down an over with according to some reports just 5 minutes left in the match. The field was not exactly, umm, defensive, which proved crucial as a very close infielder, wearing the shirt of Adams clung on to a glanced short of a length ball from Tommo, leaving Cook, the number 11 to ponder what could have been. Hampshire? Well they were a bit pleased with the whole thing.

Stevens' horror hack ends his resistance

So it was Tommo that clinched the match, and it was Cork who picked up key wickets, but for me the most satisfying performance was that of Briggs. I doubted if he could step up on a day made for him - wickets on offer on a fourth day on a pitch conducive to spin. Seeing Blob Key dismissed with a flat fuller ball, and MVJ edge a beauty to a waiting Vince was all I needed to convince me that my doubts were very much misplaced. I've said it before but this kid is a bloody miracle and the wicket list goes to prove it. MVJ and Blob Key join an ever expanding collection of victims that includes di Venuto, Bopara, Blackwell, Trescothick, Chanderpaul, Goodwin and Maddy. Not bad for a year's work, and though Tahir will have the CC spinner's spot nailed on next year he is going to struggle to find his way into the 20/20 side.

Tredwell is given out caught behind

Cork and Tommo stepped up when it mattered, taking 7 wickets between them in the innings, as both take their season tallies into the 40s after this match. Certainly not the opening pair we were expecting at the start of the season, but both have performed admirably, Cork must take extra credit for playing his heart out day in, day out in all forms of the game for just about the entire season and the burden (or pleasure in Corky's case) of captaincy from July onwards. He has sat out just one match, the Leics CB40 match, since and will be well deserving of a break this time next week. Tommo? He marches on, bringing the ball back into the right handers at a decent pace and outrageous accuracy, celebrating everything like it's a trophy and just being pretty much the most liked member of the squad.

The moment Hampshire realise they've done it

The run cushion afforded to the bowlers, after the top order's hard work on the third day, was built on in the morning by the bowlers and superbly marshaled by Vince at 5. An extra 30 runs for himself, and an extra 58 runs for the team put the game out of Kent's reach, and tentatively into the hands of Hampshire. So Warwickshire await now in the final match of the season, Hampshire have nothing to play for but pleasingly are sticking with the same thirteen man squad that took on Kent. I think it is important for White to maintain continuity within the side even though circumstances have very much changed. Firstly it shows that we are still taking the game seriously, and secondly it tells the players that take to the field that we are not going to be letting up - a healthy amount of pressure to keep the professionalism and competitiveness present within the side.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Applause for Daws

The boots of a retired international are always difficult to fill in a team. Even more difficult is when the position needing filling is the number four spot. More difficult still when you yourself have endured a tough season where you have been in and out of the team and floating between batting positions. It's a nigh on impossible task when the player you are filling in for is Neil McKenzie.

Dawson though seems to be able to take these punishing tasks on without much complaint. Brought into the team for the most important CC match of the season he could perhaps be forgiven if he had succumbed to the pressure of the situation. Hampshire were in a strong position when Dawson came to the crease, yes, but the innings still required a positive innings of substance that would provide impetus for the team. In an innings of 71 balls the position of strength had been transformed into a position nearing dominance, as Dawson played his way to his first 50 of the season, against let's be honest a not bad bowling attack. After Adams and Carbs set the platform, Dawson and Hughes sped things up, taking on the spinners and keeping Hampshire in front.

After Hughes' departure, Vince joined in, hitting his first 16 runs in boundaries. The most important part though was that these two saw the innings into tea without any further loss, and Dawson brought up his deserved 50 soon after the break. He was out very soon after (for 50) but his job was done. People have been critical of him, and it has been very disappointing seeing him being unable to nail down a spot in the side after his very promising debut CC 2008 season. Whether it's concentration, confidence, technique or a combination of all three and some that has caused Dawson to struggle in the side I'm not sure but for the latter part of this season it would appear that he is coming out of this dip. His innings in the CB40 at home to Leics was the Dawson of old, oozing with confidence and conviction in his shots, making it a pleasure to watch.

So the match is still carefully balanced somewhat, though Hampshire will be confident of getting enough runs in the morning quickly enough to firstly secure their position, and secondly to give enough overs in which to bowl Kent out for a win that would finalise safety. For Dawson his job isn't done yet - the pitch is taking spin so his left armers could be crucial in the hunt for the win. In terms of the next match he will have rightfully earned the number four spot again, and hopefully faith from White that he is worth very much persevering with and can become a fixture in the CC team. A good bowling performance in the fourth innings wouldn't do much harm to his cause.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Better, better

Well we got more play than expected today, and it was great to see us actually capitalise on the amount of play available. There has been some slight criticism aimed at Tommo lately. Not because he has been bowling crap, far from it he has been hitting his length perfectly. The thing is he hasn't been making the batsmen play often enough. The economy rate has been excellent but the wickets column has been lacking. However this match he appeared to be himself again. Swing has always been his greatest ally, and though conditions weren't a swing bowler's dream, he got the ball to talk enough to consistently force the batsmen to play, and his post tea spell was phenomenal. Stevens and Blake were goners in the space of two balls, whilst Bandara and Coles also succumbed. Added to that was Cork's removal of the key wicket, MVJ the over following the double strike, and his rabbit Blob Key.

It was really good to see Briggs pick up a wicket, he will be ever so important come the fourth innings, as the pitch is taking spin and has done throughout the match. Frustratingly Wood isn't 100% match fit, managing just 5 overs but the others stepped up nicely, Slug taking on the first change mantle with glee, removing Denly and Tredwell to give himself respectable figures. By the end of the innings, Tommo had 4, Cork had 3, Slug 2 and Briggs 1. It was pleasing how Cork kept to his bowling plans rather than turning to various part timers when things weren't quite going as expected. The Denly/MVJ partnership was a good'un but trust was placed in the frontliners and their returns were handsome.

When Coles edged Tommo behind to Bates, Hampshire secured the third bowling point and in doing so sentenced Essex to Div 2 cricket in 2011. Hampshire go into the third day with all 10 second innings wickets still intact after Jimmy and Carbs negotiated the last 12 overs with conservatism but most importantly without error, giving us a 38 run lead. It doesn't need me to explain how important this third day is to Hampshire and their season, as for all of the goodness that has come out of this second day, the match is still very much in the balance. The first task for Hampshire will be to bat out the day, no mean feat on this wicket. We must also bat aggressively. If we find ourselves in a position where we can force a result, then we need to have enough runs behind us so as to remove any chance of a successful Kent run chase. This however must also be juggled with having enough time to hopefully take all ten of their wickets on the last day. Quite a headache for Cork I can imagine, and quite a big day in store for the Hampshire players not least numbers 3, 4 and 5, who will be vital for building the lead we so dearly crave.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Kent and season thoughts

Yes there are still probably 7 days left of the season, and Hampshire can still save themselves, but I just have this nagging feeling that we aren't going to survive. In truth we are not fully deserving of first division status next season - winning just two CC matches in a division that includes Kent, Warwickshire, Essex and Lancashire is not acceptable, and for that relegation wouldn't be a crushing blow. The performance today is a case in point. The scoring was slow, very slow in fact given that we chose to bat having won the toss. Once again Adams can hold his head very high, top scoring though at a perhaps disappointing strike rate. Vince by all accounts played a typical Vince innings, but the rest of the batsmen should be severely disappointed with the efforts today. If we win the toss then we should make the absolute most of the advantage, not surrender it to the opposition. Kent batted equally cautiously, as both sides I think did not hide the fact that they are fighting for survival. The two teams are paralysed with fear of messing up, and the winner (and there will be a winner on this pitch, I can assure you) is the one that actually plays their normal game. If that were to happen then you would have Hampshire as favourites, but anything can still happn. First thing (if there's play) is to get the batsmen playing at just about everything. Even if it results in a few boundaries, it will at least keep the bowlers in the hunt for wickets. The opening bowlers need to be incisive, Whilst Briggs really must come to the party on a wicket that is obviously taking spin. Dawson too should be given overs, though I doubt that will happen.

 To be honest I think in a way this season has answered more questions than it's asked. For that I feel more optimistic about the future than I did say 2 or 3 years ago where we were releasing 5 or 6 fringe and academy players a season and losing a quality player a season (still contracts to be tied up this season though). For example, what have we learnt this season?:
- Hampshire post-Pothas is not as apocalyptic as we first thought.

- Benham will sadly never be good enough to play in the Hampshire top 6.

- Wood has what it takes to play to a high standard in all forms of cricket, and must surely take over (I say through gritted teeth) from Tommo.

- Briggs is a bloody miracle and will surely be one of the top off-spinners in the country in a few years time.

- Vince can score over 30 more than twice a season and is our best bet at three in the 20/20.

- Carberry can put two good seasons together.

- Who's Michael Brown?

- We need at least one fast bowler who can bowl at more than 80mph in the CC

- Dawson is NOT a top 5 batsman, though I think there is still a future for him at 6 or 7.

- Cork isn't here just for a nice pension and the sun.

- We haven't lost our identity as a club following the tie up with the Royals. To be honest I quite like the name and the kit.

When the season is indeed over I will address each of these points properly, as well as looking at a few other things directly related to this season. But for now we can only look in trepidation towards the second, third and hopefully fourth days play. A win has not been as urgent this season as it has now, and our backs are well and truly against the wall.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Thanks, Mac

The title says it all to be honest. After more comebacks than Jesus or Michael Jackson, playing in matches on dates we all thought he'd be in SA for, the curtain finally comes down on Neil McKenzie's season with Hampshire, and in short it has been a pleasure. A pleasure to watch a world class player form part of the backbone for a team wracked by injuries. To slot into Hampshire Cricket life just like that, taking on plenty of responsibilities, including two captaincy stints (one unexpected), securing the middle order and playing a key role as a senior player in a very young 20/20 team. After the retirement of Crawley we were desperately in need of a proven run getter and Bransgrove and White made that happen by convincing McKenzie to join as a kolpak. It was quite a coup and despite greyblazer's dislike of his technique McKenzie brought some of the batting that saw him earn a recall to the test squad a few years ago. He started slowly but quickly found his stride, hitting his first CC century in Hampshire's first win, teaming up with Herath to chase down a very tough total with little time to spare. He was in and out of the 20/20 side before forming a rock in that side too, striking 50s against Gloucs, Somerset, Sussex (crucially, to see us into the knockout phase) and Somerset again, in the Final in which he was deservedly man of the match. It was a fitting reward, as he provided something that had been missing from the side in years previous. We boasted and still boast plenty of quick scoring stroke makers, the likes of Lumb, Ervine, Benham, Mascarenhas etc. However what we lacked was a focus in the top order. Yes 20/20 is all about runs scored as quickly as possible, but there is still a place for a batsman to tick along at a strike rate of 120, provided that others build around him. McKenzie provided that, the unflappable middle order man who was just as happy chasing as he was setting a total. In short we would never have won the 20/20 without McKenzie.


But it's not just about the stats with McKenzie. He has been a visibly positive influence on the younger players that form such an important part of the Hampshire team. Standing at second slip McKenzie had all number of opportunities to impart knowledge onto Vince and Bates stood at first slip and wicketkeeper. And not just cricket knowledge either, as noted in the Lancs home blog, the golf swing received a thorough breakdown from McKenzie between deliveries. I suppose what has impressed me above all is the way that he has integrated himself into the squad, in doing so becoming one of the most popular members of the squad. Pre match football warm up would always include McKenzie either entering into a fake argument with Cork (with whom he got on particularly well with), pulling off a wonder save in goal, charging up and down the field or just anything that would raise both laughs and spirits. Not once did he give off a look of "I've played Test cricket", as can happen with some overseas or high profile kolpak players. I guess this reflects both upon his personality and his professionalism. He was offered a job and so as a professional cricketer he intended to carry out that job to the very best of his abilities. In a way that encapsulates the man. Mind you you have to get down and do the hard yards when due to match injuries you are tasked with batting out a day to save a match with just seven other fit players under your assumed command, one of whom having taken a ball to the face.

That's the sort of character White wanted from his signing, and he got repaid handsomely and some. Thankfully McKenzie's job has not ended here, as announced earlier in the day was the news that he would in fact be returning next season to carry out the same role as middle order pillar, run machine, mentor and leader. It will of course dampen the rumour of Hildreth coming to The Rose Bowl, but in truth another year of McKenzie, guaranteed, pretty much signed, ink dried, keep the kit and the car, is all we could have wished for. To say that I'm chuffed with the news would be a huge, huge understatement.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Gutting

Argh, how can three points mean so much? Well, simple because basically next week is the relegation decider. I could bemoan the woeful first innings batting efforts - yes the conditions were bowler friendly but we should have grafted. I could also go nuts about the fact that we let Lancs move from 144-5 to 398 all out, the phase of play that killed us off in the match. However that would just be depressive and sadly treading on old ground. What I will do though is focus on the efforts of the Hampshire second innings, in particular the man who very nearly carried his bat, occupying the crease for nearly two days. Having seen off some tricky overs on Wednesday evening, Jimmy Adams spent his Thursday doing sadly what not many other Hampshire batsmen could do. Didn't stop him though. Friday? Clearly he wasn't keen on the Aigburth changing rooms as another 4 hours in the middle passed by. Almost frustratingly in a way he did a similar thing to Scarborough and managed to fall short of 200 by 6 runs this time. The associated stats are quite unbelievable. For 10 hours and 35 minutes he faced up to the Lancashire bowlers, seeing off 506 balls (the 507th got him), striking 20 fours in an innings that eclipsed all others this season in the country timewise. It's extremely difficult to comprehend the existence of this innings. It defies just about everything associated with the modern game, where in half a day Sachin Tendulkar scored 4 more runs than Adams did. But such is variety of cricket. This man has two 20/20 centuries to his name this season, yet personally batted on all four days of this match, racking up 199 runs and taking his personal CC tally for the season to 1194.

Adams - on a par with London to LA
So Adams occupied the middle for 10 and a half hours. In that time, Paula Radcliffe could run 4 consecutive marathons and be into her fifth. You could watch pretty much all of the Inser - Mahut match in full. You could fly from London to Los Angeles. You could play three rounds of golf. You could take the Eurostar to Paris, come back again then go back to Paris. I'm sure the last one would be a preferred way to spend 10 and a half hours by Adams himself, but as it was he found himself trying to save a game from the second day, and by the end of the match stood head and shoulders above any other batsman in the match. Special mention has to go to Danny Briggs. In the current team I think batting at number 11 is just about fair, but he showed the sort of fightback approach he had displayed against Durham's pace attack in April. Having joined Adams following the departures of Bates, Cork, Wood and Tommo, any Lancashire thoughts of a quick wrap up were put to bed as Briggs went about eating up 16 overs by himself, scoring 15 and helping Adams to add 88 to the total. It was a truly monumental effort by the two of them, showing some of the character and resilience seen in the Somerset bloodbath at Taunton last month. There would perhaps be questions about why Adams didn't score a bit quicker, but to me he went about the whole match in the best way. He wanted to secure the draw (very nearly he succeeded) and he would have been lambasted had he suddenly attempted a 20/20 style knock once Briggs came in, and got out 8 balls later. This match was all about time but sadly there was perhaps just 5 minutes too long in the match. Wood should also be congratulated on his wicket haul for the match. For a debut performance to warrant cries of "where has he been?" clearly shows that he impressed and certainly has a future in the fourth day game. I think that he has the makings of a very good first change bowler and one that will serve Hampshire extremely well in the years to come.

So it was defeat in the end, Lancashire just crawling home but we put up a bloody good effort from day three onwards. Sneaking a win would have been out of this world but just that little bit too much to ask. The most important thing to do now is not dwell on the match in terms of the result. Look very closely at the first innings 'batting', take a good look at ourselves and how we bowl at the tail, give Adams a huge pat on the back then move on to Kent. The final CB40 match will offer the chance for rest for some, whilst also giving the likes of Wood and Briggs more game time. McKenzie will captain in his last game, I think White would be wise to play his CC replacement in the CB40 match to get him into the swing of things. My money would be on Dawson, who apparently scored very big in the seconds, and has featured for the 40 over team lately.

Photo of course courtesy of Sarah Ansell.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Desperate times

Once again an inability to kill off the opposition tail has left us staring defeat in the face, this time at the hands of Lancashire. The equation is simple, to be honest. We need to bat out the whole of tomorrow and well into the fourth day to stand any chance of the result not being a loss. Having had Lancashire 144-5, in reply to our paltry 160, we let them run riot as the tail wagged and wagged until they were all out for 398. Thankfully we didn't lose a wicket before close. In Adams, Carberry, Hughes and McKenzie we posess the best top four in the country, in my view. Reputations are one thing, actually doing the hard work is another and two of those will need very big scores to turn this situation around. On the bowling front Wood was a bloody miracle. On debut in the Championship he did his utmost for the team, and with fine success, picking up three middle order wickets, including the sloth Chilton. Sadly he wasn't exactly backed up by the others, McKenzie chipping in with two lower order wickets to prevent yet more damage.

Overall it was a pretty terrible day, meaning that we MUST win at least one of our two remaining games. Warwickshire look on course to beat Kent, so it may be that Kent will be scrapping for their very survival next week. It may be worth drafting Griff in to the team for the Kent match. Tomlinson has been incredibly accurate but he just isn't picking up the wickets of late. This has been our downfall on numerous occasions this year and Griff is a wicket taker at the end of the day. The other question will be who comes in for Macca? It will most likely be Benham, who like last season will have to come into the side with an extremely vital role to play in the middle order. Why we keep doing this to ourselves each season, leaving it to the last to try and get out of relegation danger, I don't quite know. If I did I guess I wouldn't be here now.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Phil, Mac and cap - another Aussie at Hants.

The equation for this match was simple - win and we were in with a chance of qualifying still. Lose and we were out of the running. As it was we just have the Championship to concentrate on now, as we were just outplayed, though by not very much, by a Kent side in a similar position to us. There were some disappointments throught the game, which contributed to a disappointing though not suicide provoking performance. In truth we looked a pace bowler short, Slug as first change is not ideal to be honest. Yes he bowled well but we lacked the pace of somebody like Jones or Griffiths to provide something a little different to Cork and Wood, both of whom bowled ok, but not spectacular, Cork outperforming Wood on this occasion though. Replacing Riazuddin with Dawson wasn't the problem either - the two spinners operated decently though not quite to the same level as Bandara and Tredwell. Carbs' one over thankfully remained his only over, and to be honest why it wasn't given to Dawson I don't know. The fielding was good but not great, Wood in particular having a bit of trouble in the deep with the bouncing ball, twice being undone by a ball that was spinning and twice conceeding the boundary. Adams however was quite the opposite, despite messing up one boundary stop he pulled of I think three fines stops that more than made up for those runs. He also helped run out Coles by combining with Briggs after Key had sold Coles out. Coles' innings was to put it mildly, strange. First ball Briggs found a slight edge but it fell safe. This was followed by a slog for one, a reverse sweep in which the ball somehow managed not to connect with anything, and then the run out.

A mention must go to Phil Hughes, on debut. If I'm honest I had slight reservations considering it was his first game back after a 7 month lay off due to a dislocated shoulder. However he batted superbly, looking in really good touch and playing some excellent shots. His fielding stank of test match practice, such was his energy, enthusiasm and alertness inside the 30 yard ring. To top it off he took an absolute stunner of a reflex catch to dismiss Blob Key off the bowling of Briggs, the force of the shot knocking Hughes off his feet, whilst it's a good job he got hands to it otherwise there wouldn't be much left of his face. Obviously on the runs front Hughes would have wanted more but the runs he did score, as I said, were top drawer, couldn't fault him as a debut performance. Another man in fine form was Jimmy Adams, who played just as he always does. Picking out the gaps on the cut and drive, so assured at the crease and he absolutely dwarfed Hughes in the middle. His dismissal was extremely disappointing and frustrating, but up until that point he had played the sort of innings that in all honesty we have come to expect. Surely, surely he must tour with the Lions this winter. Nice day for Macca too, who was awarded his county cap by Brangrove before play. All we need now is his signature for a contract for next season! Sadly he was unable to repeat his performance against Leicestershire, as he struggled to work the field around enough and keep the strike rotating in time with the run rate. Sacrificing himself the ball before Carberry took the batting powerplay to get Slug in was very nearly a masterstroke but it was not to be. The truth of the matter was that we did not have an MVJ (though Adams got damn close), someone who oversaw proceedings, could rotate the strike and select balls to send to the boundary. It was a masterful performance by the South African, and certainly the difference between the two sides as after the opening stand we were unable to put together any meaningful partnerships. And so ended our interest in the CB40 for this season, but given the start we had to the season, we should be extremely chuffed witht the way that we turned our form well and truly around. Still, always next year. The Championship gets full attention now, with Macca and Hughes almost certain to start in Hampshire's top 4. They will be needed too, as Liverpool is an original result pitch. Carberry's reported asthma problems are hopefully not too serious either.

A special mention to Stan Rudder, who got to bowl to Cork before the match in recognition of his service to the Hampshire leagues, terrorising opposition batsmen and most probably their sons that followed them, such was Stan's longevity. A true champion of the country's cricket leagues, and he received the applause from the crowd that he so richly deserved. A memorable day for him and for all those associated with the club game in the county.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

A draw will do!

When you have an entire day's play rained off, and you have to contend with the most on form batting lineup in the country, consisting of three 1000 run makers, a full bonus point draw and pretty much dominance of the match is extremely satisfying. After the loss of the first day I was annoyed but also a bit pleased as it meant that our chances of a loss were greatly reduced. As it turned out the rain in fact denied us an almost nailed on victory, such was our particular strength with the bat, and of course the presence of Cork. In recent years it has been our lower order hitting and bowling that has bailed the side out, it wouldn't be a proper Hampshire innings if Pothas wasn't at the crease by the time the team total had reached 100. This season however, injuries and an alarming spate of decent top order scores have conspired to put us in strong positions only to see the game slip towards a draw. Once again in the first innings of this match, after a typically strong Yorkshire start, Cork ripped through them, leaving the Yorkies 141-5. However Rashid was the thorn in our side again, though the Hampshire bowlers responded better after a poor hour or so to get Yorkshire to declare on 322-9, giving Hampshire maximum bowling points. The stand out of course was Cork, 5 wickets, but it was frustrating to see Briggs get no wickets, though by all accounts he was unlucky to do so.

Centurions at the top

Adams has been solid but not amazing in the Championship this season. After a huge century in his first innings of the year, he developed what I used to refer to as Vince syndrome, as he just could not convert all those 50s into 100s. Well, now I guess he has Adams syndrome, the inability to convert 150s into 200s! What a way to break a run though, 196 having batted in 3 seperate days and five sessions. Once again he was the rock for the mammoth score racked up by Hampshire, which saw 400 and the last batting point gained with four overs to spare. Truly a fantastic performance but at the other end a bloody miracle occurred. It's not often someone gets to more than double their previous best first class score, but that's exactly what James Vince did and what made it all the more sweeter was that that previous high score was 77. Vince has been talked of as a future England batsman but before this match had failed to convert numerous good starts into proper scores. Having played classical shots to every part of the ground, Vince would be almost nailed on to play a lazy swipe and end up trudging back with a handsome 30 on the board. However the strokemaking continued unabated this time around and my heart missed about 10 beats when I heard him dropped at gully on 82. Vince certainly took charge of the chance offered to him. With his own personal score on 92, the nervous nineties were negotiated as quickly as possible as Pyrah was dismissed for consecutive fours, sending the young 19 year old into deserved apoplexy. Without dwelling on the century, Vince set about the Yorkshire attack, eventually falling on the 4th morning for 180 from 205 balls. Adams scored 196 but the pair had turned the game completely around to put Hampshire into a no-lose position.

Vince's conquering of the century voodoo was satisfying enough, but what I was particularly impressed with was his attitude to the whole innings. As mentioned above Vince bats positively and correctly from the start, but from about 60 onwards he was pretty much into uncharted territory yet still played his natural game. The consecutive fours to get to his century as described above the perfect case in point. It would have been extremely easy and to be honest fully understandable if he had seized up when approaching three figures, but he played the way he knew he could, and he also played with the team in mind. With the monkey off his back, Vince then did more than could be asked for by the team, going into one day mode and combining with Ervine to set up a possibly match deciding innings. As it was though Yorkshire's batsmen showed their resilience to confirm a draw, but overall it was a wholly satisfying performance (Briggs got two wickets in the second innings, so even better). 11 much needed points and the unbeaten run in all competitions has been extended to something like 5 and a half or 6 weeks.

One in, one out  

Sadly the great Macca finished his inspirational stint at The Rose Bowl with a duck, as he returns to South Africa to compete in the Champions League. The repercussions of his presence on this team and club as a whole are worthy of a separate post, but it's fair to say that it has been nothing short of inspirational. Getting him to sign a new contract would be out of this world. That too is for another time but here and now the news is that Hughes will be available for this Sunday's game against Kent, a huge boost given the loss of both Macca and Lumb. Hughes has a very important job to do at the top of the order - Macca's runs were more often than not match winning, and with just 5 matches left in the season Hughes has to find the middle straight away. A few showers forecast for this Sunday but a decent day's play should be on. The team I would like to see take to the field is:

Adams, Hughes, Vince, Carberry, Ervine, Dawson, Bates, Cork, Wood, Briggs, Griffiths.

The top of the order looks very strong, whilst also keeping the young/experienced combination in the side. Griffiths provides some extra pace into the attack whilst there are plenty of options to get the full 40 overs done bowling-wise. Should be an interesting match, winning is the only option if we are to stand any chance of getting back to Lord's next month.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Ohhh yeah

128 balls, 156 minutes, 15 fours. Well played, son. The day James Vince entered the big time! The sky really is the limit now, to use an overused cliche. Special mention also to Jimmy Adams, first century since the first match of the season, and it's a big one too. This pair have really turned the tables on Yorkshire, still half an hour of play left and we're 25 runs ahead, 7 wickets remaining. Shame tomorrow is the last day of play!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Adams and England - A future marriage?

There have been rumblings in the domestic cricketing scene, mainly from me, about the possibility of Jimmy Adams one day in the not too distant future representing his country in an international. If this suggestion had been made 16 months ago then I would have died laughing. Given a go at the top of the order in the Championship after Brown's departure, Adams was solid but not spectacular, whilst he didn't get a gig in the 50 over league until the very end of the group stages following the dropping of John Crawley. From that point on, however, things just got out of hand. He developed in my view the best limited overs opening partnership in the country with Michael Lumb, whose stock had also risen considerably. The pair proved a nightmare for opening bowlers, with carefully laid plans put in place for the more vicious Lumb, Adams was able to score heavily almost on the quiet. Before anyone really knew it, Hampshire would suddenly have plenty on the board, with both players finding different areas of the ground to score in. Opening partnerships of 149 (unbroken), 156 and 159 formed the basis for Hampshire's march to the final, whilst a 93 run opening partnership and a 50 for Adams were key factors in Hampshire securing the title at Lord's. In just 5 games Adams racked up 327 runs at an average of 81, scoring more runs than Slug, who had played 10 games. This form was present in the 20/20 too, with 178 runs, whilst in the Championship he quickly established himself as a certain pick at the top of the order. Three centuries, 1280 runs (highest in the club) and an average of 53 make for pretty good breakthrough season stats, and combined with energetic fielding and a safe pair of hands, it was no surprise when he was awarded player of the season.

Always prone to a bit of invention. Copyright Sarah Ansell

Adams started this season where he had left off from last - a century in the first innings of the first match against Essex, and already he was up and running (a factor he had pointed out over the winter was that a good start to his own season was vital), however he has been plagued by the better-than-Vince-but-same-problem-as-Vince syndrome. Six times he has passed 50 but failed to turn that score into three figures, and I'm certain he'd be the first to say that that conversion rate is unacceptable. However, 799 runs at 38 is still a decent return, but falls into the 'could do even better' category. Limited overs cricket is a different world altogether though. Two centuries and leading run scorer in the country defined Adams' rather successful 20/20 campaign, whilst the runs have again been flowing in the CB40. As well as myself, Adams has found an admirer in Nick Knight, who claimed after the 20/20 final that a certain left handed opening batsman would be an outside pick to open with Kieswetter in the 20/20s against Pakistan in a week or two. For me that would be the first port of call in my voyage to get Adams international recognition. So calm at the crease, he keeps things ticking and in fact only scores about 5 runs an over himself. But of course if the guy at the other end is doing the same or better then you are on for a very formidable total after 20 overs. Adams is never going to be the guy who comes out going berserk from ball one - playing 90% of your one day cricket opening with Lumb does that to you. Trott was maligned for being too much of a foundation in the shorter game at international level, but in my view at the moment Adams could carry out that same role but at a much better strike rate (taking nothing away from Trott, he is in my view still one of the best 20/20 openers in the country). Adams' fielding would probably put many international cricketers to shame, too.

In 50 over cricket I feel that England could do a lot worse at the top than Jimmy Adams. He is perhaps a slow starter but again he will bat the overs and not steal the strike from other players who are in to hit quick runs. In a 40 over match this season, Adams opened and was dismissed in the 40th over for 121. However the team total read 347, with Carberry and Ervine in particular laying waste to the Warwickshire bowlers safe in the knowledge that there was a sure bet at the other end to keep the innings going. And that's exactly what he does, he provides the insurance for the other players to express themselves. Even better than that Adams has the ability to step up the pace himself in the later overs, and can match the best strikers shot for shot. He does favour the leg side in limited overs cricket, and this of course means that the majority of his dismissals are around square leg, mid-on etc. Interestingly I can not think of a time Adams was dismissed LBW in a one day game or 20/20. Obviously it has happened but without the stats or scorecards to hand I can not recall a single instance. It is somewhat surprising given firstly his lunge to the off-side as his trigger movement (which then of course opens up just about the entire on-side to stroke play), and secondly his exaggerated but seemingly brutally effective high back lift. This provides the bat swing that helps with those brilliant pulls and swats, coupled with high levels of physical strength and Adams can clear any boundary.

The best 20/20 batsman, 2010
The big question though is test cricket. If Adams were to play test cricket I think his debut would have to be declared a national holiday. In my view though I can't see us getting an extra day off in the foreseeable future, as much as I would absolutely love it. Though he is 29 or 30 or around that age, Adams' late arrival to the first XI as a regular means that in a way he is still quite raw in the longer format. He is of course pretty much first name on the team sheet (with Carbs and Cork) and despite suffering the issues mentioned above in the CC, he has become a reliable performer. It is perhaps in the CC that the high back lift causes problems for Adams. He seems to like to get his first run on the board quickly, to get down the other end and get a feel for the whole game in general as early as possible. He also likes to feel the ball onto his bat, and so in recent CC matches he has been getting out fairly early on in an innings (very early on against Kent, Essex and Durham) where he plays at a ball he really shouldn't have to. I know it's too easy for me to say just leave the ball outside off, as I'm sure it is extremely difficult to do when you are facing the likes of Masters, Thorp and Harmison. However it is almost as if the back lift causes him to bring the bat down at a ball instinctively. I'm probably completely wrong but that's the impression I have got. He has though looked very comfortable against spin and can handle the turning ball very well indeed, as he is very strong on the sweep and knows when to come down the pitch and when to stay in his crease. He does therefore have very good situation awareness and can develop an extremely effective, versatile game plan. This is of course vital in test cricket as top quality bowling will be the order of the day non stop in some very different conditions to anywhere experienced between The Rose Bowl and Chester-le-Street.

So can Adams cut it as an international cricketer? Yes and no. I think that test cricket can only be a dream for Adams, as work is still needed on his technique, especially on green tops, whilst Carberry and Lyth are both ahead of him in the openers queue. There may be an opening in one day cricket, though his similar scoring style to Strauss would count against him. I think if Adams finishes well in the remaining CB40 matches against Kent and Leicestershire, then he may be in the selectors' minds come next season's summer internationals. In my view though Adams should start along side the Bedwetter (though in an ideal world Davies) against Pakistan for the two 20/20s against Pakistan in Cardiff. It's likely that the selectors will disagree with me and go Bopara but no man deserves more of a chance at the top than Adams going on recent form. He has scored skip-fulls of runs against some fine bowling attacks in the much tougher South Group, and he has done so without looking like he's doing it by accident, surely the mark of a class player. There are mountains to climb rather than hurdles to jump at the moment, but Adams' fairytale transformation from club/Second XI/occasional first team cricketer to international quality opener is progressing nicely. Very, very nicely indeed. 

All photos courtesy of Sarah Ansell. Click here for more fantastic cricket photos.

ECB send Flower packing

The English National Cricket team is in disarray this morning as it was reported that head coach Andy Flower had been removed from his position with immediate effect, as well as being referred to a psychiatric doctor by officials in the ECB. Though it is not known for certain the reasons behind this radical move, it is believed to have stemmed from a comment made by Flower during a meeting following England's defeat to Pakistan in the third Test at The Oval. An ECB press release statement announced that Flower had been forced to step down from his post due to being mentally unfit to continue as the national head coach. However an inside source claimed that this whole incident started when Flower was discussing about the time when he was playing cricket. "He (Flower) was talking to David Collier and Giles Clarke about having a wicketkeeper batting in the top 5, and said that he himself had done just that when playing for Zimbabwe. It was at that moment that Collier collapsed and Clarke started raging at Flower, asking him what on earth he was going on about some team called Zimbabwe." Said our source "Flower responded that it was the country of his birth but Clarke was having none of it, taunting Flower and questioning why he was making up a country. Flower looked a bit bemused to be honest, but when he mentioned that India had played in Zimbabwe recently then it really kicked off, fists flying and biting etc."

Once the pair had been broken up and Flower restrained by Gooch and Saker, Clarke demanded he be removed from the premises and taken to his own personal counsellor for immediate treatment for delusions and insanity. When questioned in the immediate aftermath of the incident, Clarke explained his actions. "We can't have the head coach of the national side losing his mind. He had gone on before about people like Sean Ervine, Murray Goodwin, Heath Streak but as far as we know they are unattached nationals. Actually, they might be South Africans, probably. Thing is, what on earth is this Zimbabwe place? We can't have a person in a position of power making stuff up, he might as well have claimed he had played cricket for Mbolobololand or Wales or something imaginary."

Friday, 20 August 2010

What's on offer in the Seconds?

Currently Hampshire Second XI are playing Ireland A at The Rose Bowl (well, they probably won't be today because it is grim outside), and I thought it might be worth taking a look at who we have in reserve to the main team. For me the stand out name is David Griffiths. Wildly expensive more often than not in the Championship earlier this season, he was however a key component of the side because of the pace he can generate from a relatively slippery action. Capable of consistent 89, 90 mph deliveries from a low trajectory due to being small in stature, Griffiths was well on his way to being the premier strike bowler until injury of the serious variety pretty much crushed his season. He has been recuperating in the Seconds though, and was very unlucky (and pretty gutted from the looks of it) to have missed out on starting against Leicestershire on Tuesday. If he is back to full fitness (and five wickets in the morning against Ireland A would suggest so) then in my view he must come back into the Championship side, at the expense of Balcombe. At the moment our Championship attack is too one paced and needs that something different, that unpredictable component that can win you a game in a spell of bowling. Yes Cork is capable of that still, just about, but he can't do it all on his own.

There are of course the usual suspects in the Seconds team. Balcombe is captain and of course is batting well up the order. It will be interesting to see what happens to Balcombe. He's an honest trier and will bowl aggresively all day and pick up wickets, but to me he just doesn't quite seem at the same level as say Cork and Tomlinson. His batting has sadly gone downhill too, as he was a very reliable number nine behind Mascarenhas before. Tomlinson's batting is improving all the time, and so he could provide balance at 9 now, with Briggs and Griffiths' batting not up to much this early into their careers. Also in this team, but looking more and more likely that he won't be next season, is Chris Benham. It's a real shame that Benham hasn't been able to nail his place in the first team, despite the numerous chances. Drafted into the team in the penultimate game last season because of injury, Benham scored a century against by far the best bowling attack in the country to secure firstly the draw, and secondly Hampshire's status as a first division team. He was also a more than decent opening batsman in one day cricket, scoring 158 out of a total of 265-9 to beat Glamorgan in the 2006 Pro40 play off and so gain promotion to the first division. He also hit the winning runs at Lord's last year to secure the trophy. The thing is his consistency and after his failed attempts at 3 in the Championship, he was dropped until picked for the 20/20 group game against Essex, which he also failed in. It's a real shame as he has acres of talent, just not the temperament.

Hampshire also appear to be trialling three players too, possibly because we just have no-one left in the squad, or because Chalky is taking a proactive approach to look at possible players. The first is Jordan Coughlan, a young Irish fast bowler. To be honest I've never heard of him but he took a wicket against his 'home' side. Another is the Anguillan Kelbert Walters, another 19 year old bowler over here on the recommendation of Cardigan Connor. Walters actually trained with the main squad before the Leicestershire game, and if the whole cricket thing doesn't work out for him, then I'm certain that he'll be able to find employment as a professional goalkeeper. The third triallist is Glen Querl, former Zimbabwean U19 bowler, who has been playing over here this season for the Unicorns in the CB40. 11 wickets from 7 games suggests he has something so it is good to see Hampshire quickly getting a look at him. There are then of course the academy products in the team too, if all is good and well then hopefully in the next few years they too will start to filter into the first team much like their predecessors. All in all the 'reserves' look promising, and as has been shown in the past, a good springboard into the main side. The key point of this though, is get Griff back into the team!!

Griffiths - back fit, back in the wickets and back in contention 

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Hampshire win again

Macca sweeps on his way to a controlled 51*

There is always the danger, after a fantastic trophy victory, of a hangover that badly affects another competition. This can not be made clearer by Hampshire's performance last season, losing the 20/20 quarter final to an average Northants side a few days after the FPT Final at Lord's. Two days after the magical win on home turf in the 20/20, 8 of the XI that beat Somerset turned out to play Leics in a must win match in the CB40. Ervine was rested whilst Razzaq and Christian were of course unavailable. This opened the door for a whole batch of young guns to take to the field, lead as ever by a becalmed Dominic Cork. Eight of the team have come through the Hampshire academy, whilst seven of them were aged 22 or younger. Bates, Vince, Wood and Briggs all kept their places, with Dawson, Riazuddin and debutant Benny Howell coming into the side. For all the youth, energy and potential of the Hampshire team, it was of course the two old stooges that secured the vital two points. McKenzie has been everything we could have wished for and more at Hampshire this season. Calm, helpful, friendly and above all an absolute run machine, it was with great delight to read this evening that we have offered Macca a new contract for next season. It would be a great testimony to the culture nurtured at the club by Chalky, Mascarenhas, Cork et al to convince a test quality batsman to sign on again.

When Macca came out to bat, Hampshire were in a spot of bother at 45-2 in search of 177 to win from 35 overs. The man he replaced, Vince, had played extremely well, striking some beautiful fours before getting out lbw to Malik. Though disappointing he couldn't go on, Vince's cameo was pleasing as he looked in much better touch than he has done for the past few weeks. Howell batted like he was on debut. Which he was. Actually he looked very solid getting bat behind ball, just that he didn't really play a shot in anger - after 12 overs he was 11*. However it must have been a great experience for him finally being out in the middle for the full Hampshire side. His bowling was more than decent, and reminded me of the bowling of Durham's Ben Stokes - not the greatest pace by a good action to get the ball down the pitch and hurry the batsmen. Got a wicket too! So all in all a good first outing, despite the collision with Carbs. Carbs for his part took a good jumping catch, and after a slow start with the bat, began cutting ruthlessly. His dismissal was contentious, and I don't think anyone bar the umpire were convinced that he had edged a Naik ball. This left Hampshire 4 down with 90 odd on the board, but in came Dawson at 6, back in the side and looking so much better for it. He batted with the enthusiasm, the determination and the technique that had made him such a key component of the 2008 Pro40 team. I hope Chalky takes note of this game, as Dawson batting at 6 with a few overs under his belt looked a different man to the specialist batsman tasked with coming in at 3 in the Championship. Though of course the game looked safe as long as McKenzie was in, Dawson's positivity turned the game in Hampshire's favour as he upped the scoring rate, as well as pressurising the fielders by finding twos. By the time he departed, caught on the boundary at square leg, under 30 runs were required with around 6 or 7 overs to spare. Wood fell first ball in a failed experiment at 7, but Riazuddin did everything but hit the winning runs, batting with a technique similar to Pothas, carving a number of fours. He then fell with 3 needed, and Bates was in at number 9. A single from him and McKenzie tied the scores, but a slight inside edge off of Malik removed Bates' leg stump. Corky obviously didn't want to bat this game, but came in at number 10 and didn't have to lay bat on ball as his first ball went down the legside for 4 wides, Hampshire won by 2 wickets and McKenzie was 51*. Buck the pick of the bowlers, removing both Adams and Howell for just 16 runs from 7 overs. Malik ended with 4 wickets.

An agricultural innings from Riazuddin sealed the victory
Such a low total to chase was down to a combined bowling effort from Cork, Wood, Howell and Riazuddin, who managed to chip away constantly at Leicestershire's order, with Jacques du Toit top scoring with 45. His partnership of 71 with captain Boyce was the only one of note, rescuing Leics somewhat from 33-3 the ball after a rain break that saw the covers put on, taken off then put back on in a stop start affair that cost the match 10 overs. Benning had started positively, hitting the first ball of the innings for 4, but succumbed to a brilliant diving catch at third man by Riazuddin off the bowling of Cork two balls later. The highly talented James Taylor was in at three and looked calm at the crease before du Toit sold him, sending Taylor back only when halfway down the pitch, Adams sweeping on the ball and throwing down the stumps after a delay to take aim (he had plenty of time!). The rain came down very soon after, and the first ball back after the delay, Smith gloved Cork to an unmoved McKenzie at slip. This brought Boyce to the middle and after the mini recovery to 104-3, Riazuddin initiated the collapse with the first ball of his second spell, du Toit picking out a diving, sliding Wood on the boundary. It was a good move by Riazuddin, who bowled more at the stumps than in his first spell which, though economical and induced a few wafts from Boyce, was never really looking like taking wickets outside off stump. Briggs held two good catches, one off Howell and one off Wood, but sadly the damp conditions made bowling difficult for him and Dawson, as both went wicketless. Wood came roaring back after some early punishment from du Toit, removing White then New and Naik in successive balls as all three tried and failed to capitalise on the powerplay and couldn't clear the inner circle fielders. The hattrick ball missed by not much at all, but any momentum built by New and Naik was gone, leaving a low enough total for McKenzie and Dawson to take command of.

So overall it was a very healthy performance from a young Hampshire side. Often we have seen sides play the youngsters and to be honest they have played poorly, but the difference I think with this Hampshire team was that all of the young members, Howell aside, have played plenty of cricket for the county already, as well as playing alongside each other in the academy. Yes they are young but they have also tasted major success, 5 of them have won trophies, combined six of them have played 68 FC games, 82 one dayers, 92 20/20s and they've grown up in an environment dominated by the professionalism of the likes of Adams, Carberry, Lumb, Ervine and Tomlinson who are all around 8 to 10 years older. Combine that with the wise (?) heads of Cork, McKenzie, Pothas and Mascarenhas and it is a very potent combination. If contract negotiations go our way then this mix can be kept together longer and developed further, and if the opinions of Cork and McKenzie are present in the changing room for another season at least, then success will hopefully be forthcoming.

Photos courtesy of Wes

Monday, 16 August 2010

'av it

I'm going to be honest here. I'm a complete mess. A prior warning for this blog, like me it's going to be a complete mess as well. Even though it is nearing two days from the end of a quite extraordinary day, for a simple county fan like me to get my head round my team doing what they managed to do against Essex and Somerset at home with thunderstorms tracking the area (saw a beauty over Salisbury) is very difficult indeed. I like to think of myself as a realist, whilst others will suggest I'm a bloody pessimist. It's the old thing of thinking the worst then everything else is a bonus but I genuinely held the view that at the end of it all I was just chuffed that Hampshire had made it to Finals Day for the first time, leaving just Yorkshire, Worcestershire and Derbyshire without that taste of 11 hour cricket. When you looked at the other teams, they just appeared so superior. Essex welcomed back RTD, though obviously having not played any cricket for two months, the Dutchman was never going to be at his best. They also boasted Grant Flower at 8, though 6 balls faced and no overs bowled suggest that Essex did not use him properly. I guess that pretty much sums up Essex's day to be truthful. They of course felt compelled to get as much out of 10k Bravo (which turned out to be not much at all), and so batted him ahead of players he shouldn't have batted ahead of, and then was given a full quota of overs when two should have been more than enough. Any team in their right mind would not bat Walker, Foster, Flower at 6, 7, 8. They just struck me as a team of individuals, finding places in the side for Bravo and Cook at the expense of players that got them to Finals Day. Each player in that side is capable of absolute brilliance, but throw them all together and expect them to come off was just never going to happen.

The three captains (well, they tried their best)

Notts' decision to pick Broad and Swann has been much debated, and in my view they fell into the same trap as Essex with Bravo and Cook. Swann played well, picking 2 wickets up with an economy of 6 and accounting for Tresco when he was looking lethal. However, promoted to opener and falling for 11 off 9 when 10 an over is needed was both a failure and a disruption to the settled order that had seen Hales and Brown open. Broad, in a word, was crap. 4 overs, 1-44 and to be honest he was lucky to get away with an economy rate that low. Darren Pattinson must be seriously fed up, having done all the hard work in the group stages and quarter finals, only to see his place taken by someone who was obviously better because he played for England. They weren't helped by off days for their normally reliable opening pair of Sidebottom and Nannes, and combined these two and Broad returned figures of 11-0-119-1. Compared to the spin duo of Swann and Patel who returned 8-0-44-3. Dussey and Patel were their reliable best with the bat, but that super Pollard catch and the rain conspired to knock them out. Pretty much deserved it really, despite fans' protestations that they were in fact the best team in the country and the title should be theirs by right.

The third team at Finals Day that do not of course hold demi-god status were by far the most team-like of teams out of the three teams. Follow? Somerset played hard, fast, flamboyant cricket throughout the tournament, and really deserved that semi-final win. The boy wonder to rival the other boy wonders in Briggs, Taylor and Stokes really came to the party in the semi-final, smashing 55 to turn the game around. Buttler is still only 19 but must surely go on the Lions tour this winter. Tresco was his normal belligerent self, but Bedwetter was a bit of an enigma. Ended up scoring quite a few runs in the day, but never looked anywhere near being a world beater. Their bowling was decent but Kartik was not potent, though to be expected given the conditions, whilst Pollard without the ball in hand probably decided the final. It was a sickening blow he received from Cork, who was visibly shaken by the incident. Somerset deserved to be in the final more than Notts and Essex, but of course so did another team.
Captain Mischief
Which therefore brings me onto the fourth team present at Finals Day. The rank outsiders, the romantics, Dad's Army, call them what you want Hampshire were there on home turf and loved every single second of it. The only team of the three not to have reached Finals Day before and in a way it showed. Yes everyone enjoyed themselves, but the other teams portrayed the fact that they had been there before, as if they reckoned they knew roughly what they were doing. Hampshire's approach was simple. Stick with the same team from the latter group stages and quarter final, give it everything and if it comes off, brilliant, if not then never mind. So much is mentioned about big names etc and performing on the day. Well, Hampshire didn't exactly have the stars of the other teams but the big names came good. Vital contributions were obvious from McKenzie and Razzaq, whilst the likes of Adams, Carberry, Christian and Slug put in telling performances, Slug taking on extra responsibility with the bat due to not being able to bowl. The younger players were also very impressive. Vince and Wood had off days with the bat and ball respectively, but Vince's catching was superb, whilst Wood's long range direct hit to remove Bravo was the sucker punch that deflated Essex's title bid. Briggs and Bates worked wonders, Briggs taking the most number of wickets on finals day (4), whilst Bates was alert and energetic as ever behind the stumps. You of course can not ignore Cork. Half OAP, half scourge of the county game, Cork was born for big occasions, taking man of the match last year in the 50 over final at Lord's, whilst leading a ramshackle team to home glory in the 20/20 this year. Was aggressive and accurate with the ball, whilst also putting in the hard yards in the field. Made the right call at the toss for the semi final, whilst also being his inspirational self not just for the players but for the crowd as well. Was affected clearly by the Pollard accident, but was still composed enough to take 2 wickets and conceed just 3 runs in that final over. What Cork has done for Hampshire is nigh on immeasurable.

Says it all, really

So what is the effect of this win on Hampshire? Obviously they are £200,000 better off, whilst Macca has a nice fat cheque and a magnum of champagne for his troubles. Cork and Bransgrove have their hands on another trophy, whilst the team were able to unfurl the victory banner once again, but with 09 altered to 10. For Slug it was his third cup, the only player remaining in the team from that 2005 victory. The biggest effect will be on the younger players though. A first taste of a final for all four of them, and most importantly a win. I suspect that their already high confidence will move to another level, and it follows that their skills will move upwards too. Caution will have to be taken not to get too caught up in it all, but each of these four, as well as Dawson and Riazuddin, possess bucket-fulls of natural talent they can all progress. A youthful, confident core of talented players would be a dream for any team, and Hampshire have the chance to build something significant in the extreme for the years to come. With a knee up from Cork, of course.

A brief word on a certain Aussie. The melon Christian had a rare old day. Following his ten rounds with Mike Tyson on the Thursday, Christian bowled with pace and a bit of wildness, taking the wicket of Cook, caught at short fine leg by Briggs off a terrible ball. The batting was, umm, interesting, a sweet shot only resulted in two and left him with a buggered hamstring. Found missing the ball yielded a better outcome despite being a complete clutz and nearly losing the game for Hampshire. You gotta love him though, with all his injuries, bruises, foibles, mistakes and carelessness. Oh, and as proved by his post match interview, he isn't the robot as predicted by some.

There is, of course, a much better look back at events from Wes here.