Friday, 30 July 2010

Cork must lead from the front on nervy third day

With the wicket playing as it is, it was always going to be a closely fought match, and the second day has been no different. Overall Hampshire have edged the day's play, but not by much, in a similar fashion to yesterday. With a poor record of knocking over opposition tails, the thought of having to bowl to Mahmood and Kerrigan did not sound as appealing as it would have to other sides. However we did decently in the morning session, Mahmood only adding two boundaries to his overnight score, whilst Cork had Kerrigan caught by Adams then he clean bowled Keedy to finish with 4 wickets and Lancashire were all out for 283. Two seasons ago Hampshire played Lancashire at The Rose Bowl, and Carberry was on the receiving end of a pair, out in the first over to Chapple both times. Unfortunately today was no different as Carberry lasted just three balls, shouldering arms to a Chapple delivery that nipped back and took out off-stump. 0-1. Lumb made his return to the first team for this match and was in th middle with Adams earlier than he was hoping as a rebuild was needed straight away. This they did as both men went about constructing innings. Lumb neared 50, but then played a rash shot and was out, bringing McKenzie to the crease. Adams passed 50 too, but was then out sweeping for 72. Adams' CC form has been decent but still worrying. He has passed 50 more times than any other Hampshire player this season but has only reached 100 once (the first match). Though not a pressing matter, it would be good for Adams to confirm his status as Hampshire batting god by getting to three figures a bit more often.

McKenzie and Vince both scored 33, but by all accounts their innings could not have been more different, McKenzie playing with a fluidity that comes with being in form. After a jittery and to be truthful uninspiring start to the season, the former South African test player has really come to town with the bat and in the field, more than vindicating White's decision to sign him up as a kolpak. Vince however struggled against the spin of Keedy, apparently being dropped first ball. It is quite a suprise, given how he dominated Kaneria in the Essex home CC game, then Tahir in the 20/20. McKenzie fell as the fourth wicket with the score still on 170 something, and a decent innings was needed to get things moving along, especially with Vince floundering against the spinners at the other end. Ervine provided that impetus with a 77 ball 56, striking a number of boundaries and a six, and by the time he departed, Hampshire were just 12 runs short of Lancashire's total (Vince had fallen to Croft with the score on 255). Bates scored his first first class run off of Mahmood, and added a boundary to his score to end the day 5*. Cork meanwhile played his usual way, 8* off of 4 balls with 2 fours. Hampshire closed the day a bit early due to bad light on 287-6, a lead of 4.

Obviously the target tomorrow morning, above all is to get to 300 and the third batting point. Having scored runs today at a faster rate than Lancashire (Lancashire's innings took 101 overs, Hampshire's so far 85), if Cork and Bates manage to get set tomorrow, and with some lusty blows from Tomlinson, Balcombe and Briggs, 350 could be in reach within the 110 over points cut off. That of course would be the perfect scenario, and anything over 300 will do. The most important task will be with the ball as Lancashire will be batting again by the day's close. Again in an ideal world bowling Lancashire out would be the target tomorrow, but I feel that if we can have them at least 7 down by the close then we are in with a chance of winning the match. Given how the pitch has played a draw is probably not odds on favourite, so Cork must first do his part with the bat then show the way with the ball. Chanderpaul aside Lancashire's top order does not look the strongest, and so we must bowl to similar plans that had the Lancs batsmen at sixes and sevens yesterday. The pitch obviously rewards bowlers who are accurate and persistent, and I feel that with our bowling attack we are best suited to exploit that. The weather looks indifferent over the next two days, with mostly cloud cover and the odd shower so batting will remain to be a chore for the rest of the match. To call this match season defining would be extreme to say the least, but it is exactly these sorts of game situations that we must derive a positive result from for ouselves if we are to put thoughts of relegation behind us and look up the table. I couldn't think of a better leader than Cork in this situation, either.

Slight frustration but overall a good day

There are days when things just don't go your way, and quite often there are single incidents that epitomise that entire day. It appeared for a short while that such an incident had occurred, some way into the evening session of the first day against Lancashire. Dominic Cork, against his old county, found a way through the defences of opposite number Glenn Chapple, only to be called a no ball for overstepping. To compound this the ball had found its way to the boundary having passed a jubilant Bates, making his Championship debut, and so 6 runs were added to the Lancashire score. The whole thing could quite easily have encapsulated the Hampshire performance that day, having success but not enough of it and not enough luck. Thankfully Chapple was gone next ball edged behind, but not after standing is ground much to the chagrin of Cork. It took an umpire's meeting to tell Chapple that yes, he was out as you generally are when you edge the ball and it is caught. Chapple had won the toss in quite blustery, overcast conditions and decided to bat first on a pitch that had a bit of life in it. Tomlinson quickly found his line by his second over, and he and Cork put great pressure on Smith and Horton the openers. Indeed, at one point the score was 6-0 after 9 overs. Swing was available to the pace bowlers, and a bit of seam movement may have been on offer too. Either way the morning belonged to Hampshire as Lancashire entered lunch 3 down.

After the break, Chanderpaul and Croft took up where they left off in the morning session, Chanderpaul being especially agressive in the very early overs. Balcombe bowled well throughout the day, and should have had more than the two wickets that he did get, but a number of appeals turned down as well as a very tough chance spilled by Bates and McKenzie meant it just wasn't to be. Briggs came on and Chanderpaul deployed the tactic of sweeping. And sweeping. And sweeping. Yes it was effective to an extent, but Chanderpaul is a much better player than a one shot pony, so it was disappointing in a way. The breakthrough was made though when Croft tried to block a Briggs ball which hit the ground, spun back, hit his foot then rolled onto the stumps, just dislodging the bails. Cross quickly followed as an attempted cut tickled a Briggs ball into Bates' waiting hands. Sutton joined Chanderpaul for a vital partnership that gave Lancashire respectability as they passed 200, Chanderpaul eventually bringing up his century after tea and Sutton departing to a good catch in the slips. The Chapple incident followed and after some words were exchanged between Cork and Chanderpaul and then Cork and the umpire, Cork found Chanderpaul's edge through to Bates for 118. Mahmood and Kerrigan then played a blocking game until stumps, except for a typical Mahmood six off of Tomlinson, and the day finished on 262-8.

Overall I think Hampshire should be pleased with their bowling efforts on the first day, and they should also be pleased that they have gotten themselves into this position having lost the toss. The opening bowling was extremely accurate and aggressive, though Cork bowled better and with more success in his evening spell. Tomlinson seemed spurred on through the anger of his sunglasses breaking in the first few overs of the day. This was compounded by Dawson then losing one of the lenses in the outfield. As I said Balcombe was impressive, and Ervine too who showed absolutely no signs of any niggles that were clearly hampering him on Monday. He bowled with good rhythm and his pace was right up there. Briggs bowled well too, though he received some predictable tap from Chanderpaul, he was still able to beat the edge a few times. The fielding overall was decent, though a few misfields probably accounted for an extra 6 or 7 runs. The bowling was disciplined throughout - Cork's no-ball incident aside just two leg-byes and a wide were conceeded all day. The catching was above standard, McKenzie's reflex one handed slip catch and Vince's two catches standing out. McKenzie nearly pulled off a stunner too, diving from slip to legslip as Chanderpaul swept the ball, and only just falling short of the catch. Cork's captaincy was above par too, the only time he let off from his strike bowlers was to give Carberry a few overs before tea to get the over rate back up. A few field placements were reactive, but the use of Lumb at short leg early on (perhaps a bit of a 'welcome back into the team, Michael' gesture?) to the fast bowlers helped to add pressure on the batsmen as well as save some runs. Bates kept very well on debut, if he can continue and exceed this standard of 'keeping then he will be a regular team member for a long time to come.

Looking to the second day, Hampshire obviously need to get the last two wickets as quickly as possible. It does not appear to be as overcast as it was yesterday morning, but the top order will still have to work for runs , though again hopefully runs will become easier to come by into the afternoon and evening sessions. Hampshire have a great chance of getting a positive result out of this match, though it will require a hell of a lot of concentration and discipline to achieve that.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Like a bad smell

When Hampshire announced the rather hurried signing of Daniel Christian, one of the key lines was that he would be available for the quarter finals and Finals Day. Now, given that the news that there would be no Afridi, no Mendis, no Lee and Razzaq would be missing for a large portion of the 20/20 was still fresh in the mind, I could hardly hold off a defeatist, pessimistic laugh. The thing is the joke's on me and probably every Hampshire supporter, media types and cricket lover. Probably on the Hampshire players and Christian himself, too. As it turns out, the light hearted, "and finally" news story is that Hampshire are the first team to reach Finals Day at The Rose Bowl and my goodness we're on a bit of a role. A quite lethal mix of old timers, settled squad members and exciting youngsters has resulted in a team that very clearly plays for each other above anyone else. There are no egos (well, Corky has a healthy opinion of himself but he would play in a dress if it helped the team in some bizarre way to win). Razzaq has won games for Pakistan for years, but he has at no point cut an 'I'm above you' figure, McKenzie likewise, what with is record breaking test partnership etc. Perhaps the presence of youth has played a part in these senior players integrating so well into the side. Rather than turning out with a bunch of similar age and level players to collect a pay cheque and it's a bonus if they win, these players are looking at some of their team mates and seeing what they were 10, 15, 20 years ago. That naivety of youth, the innocent confidence and excited celebrations at yet another piece of cricketing excellence. Maybe that brings out a small amount of protectiveness in the seniors, wanting to do it not just for themselves but for these players with long futures ahead of them.

But for all of the sentimentality, team spirit and player integration, what mattered at the end of the day was putting in a performance that said goodbye to the tumultuous group stages and stated that Hampshire deserved to be in front of their home crowd on August 14th at Finals Day. After this showing against Warwickshire, I think that we are fully justified to be in the last 4. Again, similar to the Kent CB40 it wasn't a fantastic allround performance to match the Sussex game, but the job was done almost to perfection, with the eventual scorecard perhaps flattering Warwickshire somewhat. Cork won the toss and put Warwickshire in on a wicket that looked quite a bit different to the one on which Hampshire had scored 340 from 40 overs on a few months previously. The decision appeared an inspired one as a fine inswinger by Cork himself completely undid the defenses of the dangerous Carter and Warwickshire were 2-1. This was a real prize as Carter had been in excellent form with the bat, striking 100 the day before in the CB40, as well as topping Warwickshire's CC averages. Warwickshire fans often wonder why teams don't bring a spinner on straight away for Carter, as it is widely regarded as the easiest method of dismissing him. However it was good to see Cork stick to a plan and use the overcast and slightly humid conditions to great effect. Warwickshire went on their way though, Maddy showing why he used to be recognised as the best 20/20 player in the world, and Keith Barker playing some horrendous slogs as the pinch hitter at three. Ervine was given an over early on, but he seriously copped some as his one over went for 16, both Maddy and Barker, with his MVJ-esque stance, finding the boundary. In all truthfulness Ervine did not look match fit.

Briggs was brought on and did for Barker, Barker making room to thump the ball into the off side, but he was unable to bring his bat down on a quicker yorker length delivery from Briggs, the wicket his 25th dismissal in the competition. Maddy continued on his way though, striking Christian into the stands as well as scoring off of Wood, Bates again stood up to the stumps for the left armer. A six off Briggs by Maddy was then followed by a steepling chance, which Vince held comfortably and the brilliant Maddy was gone. This immediately brought another wicket as Westwood tucked the ball into the fine leg area, calling through Troughton only for Cork to flatten the stumps with a direct hit and Troughton was back in the hutch. Westwood then fell to Briggs, taking his tally to 27 for the season, but from 98-5 or something Ambrose and Rikki Clarke got Warwickshire up to a respectable score of 153-5, but crucially did not up the scoring rate as well as they could have given both batsmen were set.

As Lumb did not make it into the match day XI, Razzaq again opened with Adams, and Adams found the boundary rope with the second ball of the innings to get Hampshire underway. Carter had an lbw shout turned down against Adams but it was always going over the stumps. The pair scored very nicely, Adams in particular cutting and pulling with ruthless efficiency. Razzaq too finally found some batting form, the supposedly 30 year old has been disappointing overall as an overseas player, but this match he really earned his cheque, crashing a number of fours, one crunch down the ground was particularly Razzaq-like. Adams brought up his 18th run of the innings and his 600th run of the competition but then fell to Carter, hoicking one straight up in the air. Razzaq continued to play with effortless elegance though, hitting another four then greeting ex and soon to be not ex Hampshire spinner Tahir with a six that got Colville hopping in his seat thinking it would be caught but sub MacLeod was never going to reach it. Vince took to Immy too, crashing him through the off side, then pulling an amazing flat six off of one of the pacers. This was followed by a cut four before Piolet killed Razzaq with a straight one, Piolet doing an impression of one of the Bhangra Muffins from Goodness Gracious Me. McKenzie lofted Immy over extra cover for four, then brought up the 100 for Hampshire before being undone by a bit of a grubber from Piolet and the whole of Hampshire deflated and wept at the loss of the great man. I think not wearing sunglasses was the key. Slug showed no signs of having shifted his niggle by first nearly being out lbw, then nearly run out in the ensuing chaos. Another very near run out followed before a first proper shot in anger from Slug was caught extremely athletically on the boundary. If he had missed then it would have been six. Vince continued batting like a dream though, smiting another four before bringing up a classy 50 with a wonderful six.

Carberry was doing his bit from the other end too, somehow driving the ball for four on the legside when he looked completely cramped up. Vince survived a runout chance when the decision went upstairs, before Bumble invoked the standard curse by muttering "it's Hampshire's to lose". This was swiftly followed by a 2 that wasn't on, and Carberry was short of his ground. Christian came in and relieved perhaps not full blown pressure but more like a growing uneasiness by swatting a low full toss into the stands to get Hampshire's required runs below 10. DC then mugged Vince, turning him back with Carter's throw from close range just missing. Vince would have been gone by yards. Into the last over 5 runs were needed and Barker was bowling. The first ball was a dot, greeted by cheers from the substandard crowd. Next ball Vince tries to lap the ball over the keeper but instead picks up a leg-bye. 4 from 4. Great running gets a couple, then DC takes a single to get Vince on strike and 1 needed from 2. The ball is tucked into the legside and the pair scamper through, Barker letting his frustrations be known and Hampshire are through. Adams, Wood and Bates quickly mob the still running Vince, as Cork goes mad in the dugout, grabbing hold of anyone, Razzaq the main victim. The sun rightfully shines on Vince as he made his way back to the dugout, 66* to his name and a place at Finals Day sealed.

So Hampshire somehow make it to Finals Day for the first time in their history. It's felt like being on the motorway in a car being driven by an OAP, as Hampshire lurched from victory to defeat to thumping to being thumped. Feelings of despair and jubilation, but quite often despair as Hampshire went from decent to poor and back again. But, we scraped into fourth on the last day and we have more than taken our chance. I'd like to say who cares what happens at Finals Day, as getting there was a massive achievement in itself. However, there will be a part of me that for the entire run up to the day will be nervous and anxious as hell. Not because I naturally suffer badly from nerves, but because I have a feeling that maybe, just maybe, we can do it.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Up and running again in the CB40

I'll admit I had half an eye on this match and the other one and a half pieces of eye on that game up in Edgbaston to be played 24 hours later. Not that this one didn't matter, it's just that QF's tend to be a bit more important than group games, hence the chronological order found in all knockout tournaments. Either way the game was not a complete non-starter as it provided Hampshire with a chance to iron a few things out before the big game. The team selected was that picked by me in the last blog (not difficult, picking 11 out of 12, mind). But it was good to see Lumb return to partner Adams at the top of the order. Riazuddin was in too as the only changes from the Sussex 20/20 game (DC and Razzaq both sat out because they weren't qualified). Anyway Kent stand in captain MVJ won the toss and put Hampshire in on an apparently difficult wicket. Thankfully unlike the last time Lumb played Kent, he wasn't killed first ball by Stevens, and actually scored runs, Adams too but at a slow pace. The old pair got Hants up to 48 before Adams was out, which brought Vince to the crease. One criticism of Vince, which has been well made elsewhere is his inability to build on a good start (save that 90 odd against Essex last year). In a way he did that this match but a score of 49 off 55 given the conditions constitutes a decent enough effort. Lumb meanwhile actually got to 50, his first I think for Hampshire in all competitions this season (!!) but in a sort of snapshot of his season he was out next ball stumped charging Tredwell. Vince was out too so Macca and Carberry set about getting Hampshire up towards a decent enough score. A pretty varied Kent attack saw Amjad Khan yet again be played whilst clearly not fit, managing just a few overs. Azhar and Stevens seemed to have bowled decently without reward, Tredwell the only bowler to do decently with 3 wickets. Coles also picked up 3 but that was thanks to the customary late innings whack-it. Macca and Carbs both scored decently, without being spectacular and without reaching 50s. Slug entered the stage centre and belted a 6 and a 4 before being caught out in the deep. A bit of comedy followed as Riazuddin was runout by Cork without facing, and Hampshire finished on 238-7.

To be honest it seemed not enough at this stage. Translated into 50 over stuff would be 290 odd, which seems like a very decent score indeed but in the 40 over stuff anything below 250 is quite difficult to defend unless you are playing at Derby or Worcester or somewhere mediocre. I actually missed a lot of the first innings then the commentary feed seemed to break for me so I resorted to following the Hants man on Twitter with his updates and occasional snippets of life at a game he's at and I'm not. It would be perhaps naive and even fantastic to think that Cork's assault on Bob Key's hand in the CC match was a roughing up exercise to put the willies on the Kent players for this game. Of course that is nonsense, we thumped them then and we could do it again, early wickets the key as with every single chase ever to have occurred in the history of cricket. Kent opened with eternal listing opener Denly, and Nick Knight Jnr, Northeast. Cork and Wood started economically, then Northeast's hopes went 135 degrees clockwise as he edged Cork behind to baby Bates, standing in his second game since Pothas thought it would be funny to do what Dimi does and sit out the season. 17-1 I think the score in the 5th over, and MVJ, not Jones, joined Denly. Now, I've always been a big fan of MVJ, partly for a number of reasons - he's good friends with Pothas, his stance looks like he's about to fell a tree, plus he scores runs in a nice way. However I was most definitely not wanting to be his mate as he took to the Hampshire bowlers not exactly with violence but in a controlled, positive manner that makes your heart sink as an opposition fan. Both brought up 50s, then the Kent 150 as a glance at the score read 151-1. Worst thing was, even Briggs wasn't making any inroads. The attack seemed one paced and Cork tried something different by giving the ball to Carberry. 2 overs for 18 made Cork go back to the other bowlers, and it was Briggs who made the all important breakthrough. It could be argued that getting out Trescothick in your debut first class match gives you a bit of a long term boost, and this seems to be the case for Briggs. No batsman has a reputation big enough for the 19 year old islander to worry about, and MVJ was no exception as Briggs clean bowled him for 73 and the team score on 153. At this point my thoughts were along the lines of at least it won't be a 9 wicket loss. The rate was around 8 an over though so it wasn't going to be an easy run in for Kent and the not out Denly who looked well set.

Geraint Jones was is at 4 but didn't last amazingly long as the required run rate continued to increase. Cork brought himself back on and removed Jones, caught by McKenzie in the covers. What followed was the key phase of the game, as Denly was joined by the season-long in-form Darren Stevens. After ruining us twice in the 20/20 last year, we seem to have the rub on Stevens this season as what could have been an explosive, game sealing knock turned out to be a lethal blow for the Spitfires. Stevens was restricted to 6 from 7 balls with no boundaries before trying to counter attack against Cork. However he was dismissed by a fantastic Bates catch, stood up to Cork.

The key dismissal - Stevens goes © Sarah Ansell

Azhar was next man in as Denly went in search of his century and victory for Kent. By the end of the 36th over the equation was 47 runs from 24 balls, but a 17 and a 13 run over got the required run rate down to 10 per over for the last two. Cork entrusted the penultimate over to Danny Briggs, after Wood had bowled out, and Ervine had gone for 47 from 7 overs. Riazuddin had one over left (0-32 from 7), but the faith was put in the spinner. It paid off brilliantly too as just 7 runs were scored to leave Denly on 99* and Kent on 226-4. Cork kindly gave himself the last over, but a single by Denly to bring up his century was followed next ball by a four to Azhar as 8 were needed from 3 balls. Crucially just 3 runs were scored from the next two balls leaving effectively a 6 to be scored by Denly to win the game. However, as if he had around 20 years of experience behind him, Cork didn't offer up a tasty delivery as the batsmen could only amble through for two, sealing their own defeat and a slightly suprising victory for the surviving members of the Hampshire squad.

Overall the performance was a decent one, if not entirely spectacular given the pitch (apparently there was some uneven bounce) the score was respectable, and while the wicket taking column wasn't as full as it could have been, the bowlers held their nerve, with Cork only really letting up by giving Carberry two overs for 18 against the set pair. Lumb will be pleased with his 50 but I'm not convinced it was enough to get him opening with Adams for the Warwickshire game. Yes it was Hampshire's highest score but it just seemed unfulfilling, like getting a nice roast dinner but the potatoes are a bit lukewarm. Can't argue with the meat (50), but it just didn't seem as good as it could have been. We will see though as White will have to decide if he is going to go for the same XI that thumped Sussex. Adams, Vince, McKenzie and Carberry will all be disappointed that they could not build on starts, though Adams' start was particularly frustrating. I suspect Vince will be fairly pleased with his 49 as his scoring hasn't been the greatest recently in the 20/20, but even so the 50 was there for the taking. Slug will be hoping for a better day against Warwickshire as though the batting was violent, 13 from 9 runs signals intent but not success. Cork really stood up as a bowler and a leader, and he takes to pressure with a slightly childish glint in his eye. Riazuddin bowled decently without a wicket on his return to the first team, Wood also. Briggs again impressed with the wicket of MVJ and then the tight 39th over. He'll be hoping to build on this further for the QF. Bates had another fine game behind the stumps, taking two catches, one a ripper shown in the picture above. His ability to stand up to even Cork (though he has lost a little pace) is very impressive, and I can only remember a handful of occasions where Pothas has done the same. It adds that extra bit of pressure to the batting side, and two talked about catches in two games is pretty much as good as you can ask for from a keeper. No byes given away either which is also reflective on the game he had.

So, overall the performance was solid, with perhaps a touch of daring do and chance. To be honest the game did seem lost when Denly and MVJ were set. However I don't think that Denly's management of the game was particularly great, only being able to score 102 whilst carrying your bat in a 40 over match is perhaps a bit conservative, and he didn't really have the players around him scoring quickly enough (Azhar aside) to play the type of innings in terms of scoring rate that he did. It was a good century yes but I think Kent would have been happier with an 80 at better than a run a ball than 102 from 109 balls. Still, that's something for them to work on, not Hampshire and so it's onto the quarter final in Birmingham. Bell and Trott are both out of the team, though apparently the 4 games Trott played in the group stages, Warwickshire lost. It will be tough, but I don't really envy Sussex, Lancashire or Northants for having to visit Nottingham, Taunton and Chelmsford respectively. Do we have a chance of making it to Finals Day? I'd be a pessimistic S.O.B for thinking we don't. We have the players to win the game and we have to 'form' to do just that as well. It will be close, but it will be by no means an easy game, for either side. 

Thursday, 22 July 2010

The show must go on...

Hampshire were dealt a double blow today with the news that club captain Dimitri Mascarenhas and club vice captain Nic Pothas have been ruled out of the rest of the season with injuries. Mascarenhas' is due to continued problems with the injury he picked up in the IPL. Though he has only bowled 3 overs for us this season in half a 20/20 innings, the loss is still a major one as it was hoped that maybe he could return very soon. Pothas' season is over due to the problem that initially ruled him out of the Sussex match at the last moment. This again is a huge loss as we lose our most experienced Hampshire player on the field, plus a valuable run-getter and a good leader. It would be all to easy at this point to cry that the season is over, nothing has gone right for us (Afridi, Mendis, Lee etc etc), but I won't do that. Hampshire must play on and to be honest it shouldn't be a killer blow. In terms of the starting XI Mascarenhas' news is not a major disruption, as explained above - he wasn't in the team at any point anyway. Pothas' place will be filled by Bates the 19 year old, who impressed so much behind the stumps at short notice against Sussex on Sunday. The risk attached of course is that Bates has not had a chance as of yet to show that he can score the runs at this level, though if his second XI form is anything to go by he should more than hold his own at 7.

What will be needed urgently is a rather large fan installed at the Pavillion End as the double loss means that Cork will have to play every single game if he is to be captain. I really like Cork as a captain. He sticks to his plans well but also he can be proactive in the field with his placements and bowling choices. He also captains with conviction. In the match against Kent he stuck with his strike bowlers as wickets continued to fall, none of them providing a release for the under-siege Kent batsmen. When it looked like victory was on the horizon, the extra halfhour was taken to make sure the job was done in 3 days. Cork won't be alone in the decision making either. McKenzie appears to have become Cork's partner in crime it seems, and it was noticeable that Cork seeked the opinion of the former Lions captain a few times during the Sussex match about tactics. Plus there are Adams and Slug in the side, Adams with much experience captaining the seconds.

I see that Riazuddin has been named in the 12 man squad to play Kent on Sunday. As one of only 4 primary bowlers in the squad, I assume he will start with Benham carrying the drinks. It was a shame to see no Tommo or Griff in the squad, but if Riazuddin is chomping at the bit to play, and Tommo is saving himself up for the Lancashire Championship match next Thursday, then I don't see a problem. It would have been good to have seen Tommo and Wood continue their developing opening partnership in the 40 over league but the decision has been made. The funny thing will be, Cork could happily be the dad of any of the other three main bowlers that should take to the field on Sunday (Riazuddin, Briggs and Wood). I guess it reflects both on Cork's Duracell inner-self, and the excellence of the Hampshire academy, surely currently the best in the country. Lumb should return to the top of the order, and will be deperate for runs of any kind to get his season kick started. The rest of the order at least is pretty much set, McKenzie providing the engine in the middle, with hopefully Vince and Slug to play the acceleration and finishing roles. Carberry will want to continue his fine form, most likely at 3 and with Bates at 7 that makes up the team for the Kent match.

With pretty much no-one else left fit in the squad, I expect a very similar XI to turn out against the Red Rose county, though with Tommo in for Wood, and maybe Griff in for Riazuddin if fit.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Why the PCB should welcome Yousuf back

I see that Pakistan's prolific batsman Mohammad Yousuf has stated his desire to revoke his self imposed exile from the National team, claiming that he is willing to play under any captain. In my view the PCB would be mad (no comment) not to bite his hand off (left hand preferrable for everyone's sake) and stick him back in the side at number 4. There are a number of reasons why this would be a very good move. Firstly, and above all, Yousuf is Pakistan's best batsman. Younis was fantastic, and in my view should be back in the side at 3, but Yousuf brought that uncomplicated, structured, efficient elegance that complimented the instinctive hitting of some of the other players so well. You always felt that Pakistan could build a huge score if Yousuf had his eye in. Yes his running is risque and to be honest it could be said that at times he did not adapt his game well enough to cope with the situation. However the Pakistan team has changed since he left and they need his solidity and knowledge in a top order that looks mightily talented but so so flaky. I believe that Yousuf still has a 1000 run year in him, though of course the unbelievable showings of 2006 would be difficult to match! Pakistan have been struggling terribly to put together a decent score, especially in the first innings and Yousuf can be the pillar that supports the innings.

Secondly, I think Yousuf should be brought back into the team for his experience. The man has played more test matches than anyone else in the side and has played around the world numerous times in all sorts of situations. The likes of Umar Akmal have a huge future but they are being given too much responsibility too early, as shown by the first test against Australia where Akmal batted at 5, coming in after two debutants. To develop his game Akmal needs to be batting with the likes of Yousuf and Younis on a regular basis, getting advice both in the nets and whilst at the crease. His advice would also be beneficial for the new captain, Salman Butt. Though I would have preferred to see Butt focus on his own game, the lack of anyone remotely capable of leading a side means that he was the only pick as captain that would have been remotely sane. As it is Butt will need all of the guidance he can get, currently placed in charge of a team with no international captaining experience at all. Yousuf has that experience though some would doubt the wisdom of bringing him back after the much publicised problems he had whilst captain and whilst playing under Malik and Younis. I feel these rumoured problems were blown out of proportion though, or at least misrepresented. Malik in my view is not fit to be anywhere near the team, let alone be captain. I've also never believed there was a rift between Younis and Yousuf, as both appear experienced veterans who have known each other too long to start plotting against each other. Unless of course they scrapped for power like two generals after a King (Inzy) has gone. I can't see any plotting occurring against Butt - the likes of Farhat, Kamran Akmal, Umar Gul and Danish Kaneria have come through the early stages of their test careers alongside Butt - a man of the people, if you will, and I suspect he holds a great deal of respect amongst the other players. Bringing in Yousuf would provide more of a safety net than an opposition for Butt, again thanks to the experience, and also Yousuf's knowledge on handling other players. It works in India with Dhoni leading the test side to number one in the world with Dravid and Tendulkar as his two learned, dogged lieutenants.

In Salman Butt Pakistan have a reluctant but long term successful leader. However both he and the test side need the experience and runs of Mohammad Yousuf if they are to move forward from this horror 12 months or so. 

A brilliant performance

I like to think that I offer praise in plentiful amounts but equally I have to admit I can be very niggly about things even in a win. However, given the situation we found ourselves in at 2:30 this afternoon, I have to say that today's match was one of the most enjoyable and pleasing in a long time. By our own design we found ourselves in effectively a round of 16 - lose and we were out (as it was in the Surrey game we certainly would have been out), win and a quarter-final spot was ours. The most obvious thing first up was that the boundaries had been moved in some way, shorter than I've ever seen them at The Rose Bowl, but still a veritable plain in comparison to some of the IPL pitches. Moans from some "experienced" members of the crowd and of course the Sky commentators when I caught up with the highlights later were to be expected, however the boundaries were larger than the minimum and both sides had to bat and field on it so I can't really see the problem. Yes they were short but not everything hit in the air went for six!

So Yardy won the toss and put Hampshire in on an apparently glued track. Corky gave quite a long team talk (after a quick ciggie at the dressing room door, very naughty) before Adams and suprisingly Razzaq walked to the middle. Prior gave us all a taste of what was to come by letting the first ball of the innings from Rayner through for 2 wides. Razzaq found the middle to stroke the ball to the cover boundary but Rayner responded by stroking Razzaq's outside edge and Prior actually took a catch. 7-1. Nash came on for more spin from the other end as Adams and Vince looked to find their feet. It didn't take Adams long as he punched a six down the ground early on in his innings. Vince played all round an Arafat straight one and suddenly Hampshire were 2 down for 20 odd. McKenzie came in at 4 wearing shades, as if he wasn't smooth enough already. His shot selection was pretty smooth too, as consecutive 4s got him on his way. Adams struck some more boundaries in brutal, yet calculated fashion until a circus act on the square leg boundary by Luke Wright had Jimmy returning to the dugout for a good 30. Carberry finally came in at 5 with a bit of rebuilding to do to be honest, as he and McKenzie began their partnership circumspectly. However both ramped it up, Carberry with one of his trademark flicks for six, whist McKenzie got a hold of Yardy's bowling to pepper the off side. Further quick scoring followed from Carberry until he was brilliantly run-out by Prior. The base was set, though, as Slug walked to the crease and it certainly didn't take him long to find his range! His stay was relatively short but very, very sweet as the boundaries flowed. When Ervine was run-out with the team score on 175 in the penultimate over, his own contribution consisted of 32 runs, 12 balls face, 2 fours and 3 sixes. None of the boundaries or maximums were lucky either - all 5 were crisp, nicely timed and above all destructive. DC came to the crease, with McKenzie having reached his 50 in that penultimate over. Yardy entrusted the last over with Wright, but McKenzie immediately suggested that that may have been a bad move on Sussex's part, carting the first 3 balls to the boundary, 2 fours and a six. No boundaries came off the last three balls but the damage was well and truely done, 195-5 and momentum moving into the second innings.

One thing I have been critical about (in my last blog at least), was the fact that we have been unable to pick up early wickets, instead letting the opposition build a base. This appeared to be the case today as Slug was given the first over and Wright responded by hitting two boundaries. More boundaries followed next over and Sussex were 21-0 after 2. Bates, helmetless, then stood up to Wood in an effort to put more pressure on Wright. Sure enough it worked as Wright moved to the leg side only to edge the ball into Bates' waiting hands. Reflexes seemed to take over as the bails were off before Bates realised he had taken his first 20/20 catch. Goodwin came to the crease to join Prior who looked relatively sedate, and nothing like his 400 odd tournament runs suggested. Razzaq was trusted with the ball, and an attempted slower ball fooled everyone except the batsman, who let it trickle past, and the umpire who quickly signalled wide. However another attempted slower ball pitching almost halfway down the pitch did for Prior as he pulled the ball awkwardly infront of square, only for McKenzie to leap like a stunted salmon and pouch the catch. Briggs came into the attack and tasted instant success, of sorts. Goodwin blocked a Briggs delivery straight to a diving McKenzie. Yardy was 9/10s of the way down thepitch before Goodwin sent him back. A flick of the ball from McKenzie to Briggs saw Briggs remove the bails but Yardy was already on his way to the dressing room, but not before having a heated exchange with Goodwin. As funny as it was it can't be good for Sussex having their two most senior players having an onfield argument.

With 3 wickets down now Hampshire had the wind in their sails, the bit between their teeth. Briggs' over was tidy, the next over tidy too, before Briggs bamboozled Goodwin, hopping in lazily then turning one enough to clip the top of off stump. This served to bring Dwayne Smith in to join Chris Nash, and it felt like the Sussex lineup would never end! Smith pushed and nudged for an over or two before launching an astonishing and possibly game turning counter-attack. With the rate required up arond 13 and a half an over, Smith came after Briggs like the tiger let loose on Sigfried and Roy. Smith raped and pillaged the over, adding 24 runs to his and Sussex's totals and suddenly the Sharks were momentarily in the game again. Cork answered boldly by bringing himself on and the move paid dividends. A low full toss was thumped by Smith down the ground, but Carberry was there at long off, 2 inches inside the boundary to hold the catch. Gatting was the new man in and he quickly hit a six too, all the time Nash was at the other end rotating the strike and finding the boundary on occasion. However he didn't last long as Vince took a well judged catch at long on, moving to his right. Sussex were listing now but they still held a glimmer of hope as long as Nash was there, and after all Arafat was no bunny. That all changed though with Cork's last over. Nash called Arafat through for a two that was not on and Arafat knew it. The trow from the deep was accurate from Carberry but it was to Cork at the bowler's end where Nash was in. However Cork had noticed Arafat's indecisive running and relaid the ball to Bates who ran Arafat out comfortably. A single by new man Rayner was follwed by another full toss by Cork, and again it was another wicket as Slug held a well judged catch to send Nash back and the game was done. Keegan kept Sussex alive by name only in managing to find the boundary a couple of times. He then however also found the eager hands of Adams on the leg side boundary, Adams tumbling and laughing at the fact that he pulled off a catch probably without seeing the ball due to the sun. DC was given the penultimate over and like true tailenders Rayner and Kirtley could not score off of it, the final ball demolishing Rayner's stumps and Sussex were all out for 150, giving Hampshire victory by 45 runs.

The roar of victory by the crowd was then topped by the roar following the news of Hampshire's progression into the Q-F. Do we really deserve to be there? My first instinct is no, however the fact that we are there must surely mean we deserve to be there, if that makes sense? Anyway a trip to Edgbaston awaits and I think we have a chance. As Corky mentioned in the post match interview we did pretty well there last time we played there, and if we can negate Trott and Bell then we stand a fantastic chance. The carrot of Finals Day at The Rose Bowl should be all the motivation Hampshire need. McKenzie was rightfully man-of-the-match, though I'm not sure if it was given for the 67* and catch, or for the fact that he wore sunglasses whilst batting. I would have awarded it for either to be honest. Bates received plenty of attention, and rightly so as it turned out he had driven down from Loughborough that morning before turning in an exceptional performance behind the stumps. Hampshire post-Pothas is looking oh so much better.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Bah shamgrrr...

Ok, I could just about now spout loads of drivel aimed in frustration at Middlesex 'cos they friggin beat us. You know, stuff like most of them are foreign, I'm sure two of the catches were grassed, the replays shown on the big screen made me 90% convinced that Tom Smith does not bowl with a legal action. They wear pink FFS. However as much as they annoy me, the biggest hurt was that it gave Surrey a sniff of qf action. Surrey. Why?! I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I read that Chris Adams is penning an autobiography. But again, I shall restrain myself from mindlessly abusing Surrey. Overpaid showponies. Ok, sorry. Right, what of Hampshire? Disappointment is the overriding feeling. I could easily say half-arsed, crap blah blah blah, but in my view that would be pretty harsh. The Kent CC victory shows that the club isn't in meltdown. It just was one of those head in hand nights where nothing goes your way and a few of the players need a slap. Pressure was allowed to build by the sin of 20/20 - blocking. Obviously it is impossible to get a perfect idea of how the pitch was playing, but I despair at seeing players advancing down the pitch then blocking the ball back to the bowler. Look for the gaps!! And no reverse sweeps, please!! The bowling looks indecisive, we aren't picking up enough pressure wickets. It's all good and well picking them off when the opposition are in the final death throws of an impossible chase, but what about when the game is in the very balance? Nobody, perhaps Briggs aside, can consistently put their hand up and bowl that magic ball. I feel Carberry showed that a second decent spinner, i.e Dawson, is needed for the format, though to be honest it is too late. Macca was in slow gear again, Razzaq too which really didn't help the middle order at all. Pothas played positively but he should have nudged an over or two more before going for the slogs. You hit a six and a four, fantastic, now look for the ones and twos instead of trying to be Albie Morkel.

My main gripe though, is with the ECB and the FP T20. The match was billed as 'massive', with 'the best crowd all season'. I'd say the ground was a third full. The atmosphere in the west stand, almost full was brilliant, but the rest of the ground rivalled a Championship match. The crowd is weary, the players are listing. Even the Mexican Wave was half baked. This was a crunch match that followed 14 other matches that have been played in the last month and a half. Nobody gives a damn anymore and it's exactly the same across the country. Who is going to pay £20 a week for 8 weeks? I certainly wouldn't. I think the ECB employ 10 year olds in their planning department. If an average of 8000 people attend each of 5 home matches, paying £15 each, then it of course follows that 8000 people will attend each of 8 home matches paying £20 a head. Lots more money for the ECB, aren't they brilliant?! *thumps head against wall*. Unless my AS level statistics has let me down again, by the end of tomorrow or today or whenever, we will have had 144 group matches. Plus knockouts gives 151 matches that make up the 2010 Friend's Provident 20/20. That's like twice as many games as the IPL, and that quickly felt like watching a Kevin Costner movie boxset. I remember the days when a fine piece of cricket was greeted with roars from the near capacity crowd, enjoying an evening out. Last night the biggest noise made in unison by the crowd was that of shock and despair. Not whilst Hampshire were collapsing, but when Harry the Hawk's head fell off when he finished the mascot derby time trial (again). For some it was pure disbelief that the mascot they knew and loved was not actually an over sized intelligent hawk. For others it was the sacrilegious moment where the true identity of the mascot could be revealed. Such things, like gouging, are forbidden in all sports. Thankfully Harry's modesty and secrecy was saved by snappy camera work to get him off screen, plus Harry's quick thinking in covering his face. Half the members don't like 20/20 and you're not going to convince everyone to come to 8 otherwise. The ECB have truncated the CC and Pro40 into the very early and very late season, putting all the focus and as it turns out for the South, all the great weather, on the 20/20. It's amazing that overseas players have stayed as long as they have. Money I guess though. Here's an option: reduce the 20/20 season to 10 games each, like last year, 5 home 5 away. Start the tournament at the start of June and finish it at the end of July. That means 1 20/20 game a week, with 2 weeks having 2 games. The rest of the time can be filled with CC and one day matches. If home 20/20 matches are once every two weeks then that will make each one an affordable occasion, with tickets priced at an absolute maximum of £15. Then, depending upon how the dates work out, have the Q-F on the Saturday and Sunday of the first or second weekend of August, Finals day the following Saturday. It just makes me so flippin mad, why are these people ruining our game?

Thursday, 15 July 2010


DC Watch: Wickets!! Back to full fitness after that calf injury, Christian is back in the team and taking wickets, the Aussie legend. I'm sure he's been taking wonder catches too. I'd expect nothing less.

Hey I should go away more often!

2 weeks away and we wallop Kent, Middlecrap and Glamshit in the 20/20, as well as steamrollering Kent in the CC (can we play them every week?). Mr Briggs has become 5th highest wicket taker in the country for the 20/20, with wickets gallore in the last two weeks, including remarkable figures against Kent of 4-0-5-3. As if it couldn't get any better, Adams tops the 20/20 run scoring for the country, 50 ahead of his next rival (fat man Cossie). This has included yet another 20/20 century, as well as a further 100 runs in his last two matches combined. 551 is his total so far, and there are still two group matches left.

Cork's medium pace swing bowling proved too much for Kent in the CC, as the pensioner took 7 wickets in the match and broke Key's apple-turnover hand too in the second innings. He now tops the CC bowling charts at Hamshire with 24. Tommo moved onto 22 during that match, as both overtook Kabir. The only problem with that being that Kabir only played the first 4 matches. A first ball duck in the only innings of the match meant that Adams slipped down to 4th in the run getting stakes at The Rose Bowl after the Kent game. Carbs' 158 took him top, and nearly to 700 CC runs for the season with 3 centuries and 2 50s so far. Macca has hit his straps also, recording his second century for Hants, plus moving onto 650 runs for the season. The accolades keep coming for Slug though - 663 CC runs so far, the only Hampshire batsman to average over 50 (55.25), a better strike rate than anyone else, more than double the number of 6s than anyone else, 13 wickets, the highest score of the season (237*), the only batsman with a double century this season. Slugs rule.