2007 World Cup: Angry or amazed?

Clearly we're angry. This World Cup was the worst yet the moment we heard what had happened to Bob Woolmer. Take that out of the equation and it was still a disaster.

One of the main problems was the sheer predictability of the whole thing. At almost every stage of the tournament, you could be relatively certain who was going to progress to the next round. Stretch proceedings out over weeks and weeks and weeks and this flaw is magnified.

If Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and South Africa are going to contest the semi finals, as seemed evident about a month ago, let's see them. Instead there was a protracted period of going through the motions.

There were only a few matches in the entire tournament which actually mattered. The final was probably the most closely-contested of these, which effectively means that out of 51 games, not one was meaningfully exciting. The best match was England against the West Indies when both teams had already been knocked out.

The Cricket World Cup is often referred to as a showcase, but it was treated as anything but. The concept is surely that the tournament functions as an advert for cricket. Instead it was treated as a window of opportunity during which as much money as possible could be made. If the World Cup's a good one, then it will create new cricket-followers. These people will support the game over the whole of the next four years and beyond. Cashing-in is short-sighted and damaging.

The most infuriating example of this was the ticket-pricing policy and the way the fans were treated. Tickets were often the equivalent of two weeks' wages for locals and they were hoping to fill 20,000 seater stadia on islands with a population of 80,000. There's no other word for that but stupidity.

Once inside the ground, instruments were barred, as were alcohol and even plastic bottles. You also weren't permitted to leave the ground and re-enter. If a match is joyless for an undersized crowd, the TV can't hide this. An enthusiastic and raucous crowd can conceal all manner of sins on the field.

At least the final didn't end in shambolic circumstances with both teams needlessly retaking the field for a couple of overs when the match had already been decided - as happened when England won the 2005 Ashes. Oh, wait...

Sarcastic handclap everyone: [Clap]...[clap]...

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Monday, April 30, 2007

James Benning helps Surrey to world record one-day score

The 2007 Ones To Watch are already putting 2006's to shame, even if they are largely the same players.

Surrey hit a world record 496-4 against Gloucestershire yesterday. Ali Brown's 176 off 97 balls was perhaps the headline-grabber, but James Benning's 152 off 134 balls was perhaps the more intriguing for the future.

We like James Benning. James Benning makes us right about stuff. The last time we were right about something was when we were five and Matthew said that America stretched all through the Arctic, Europe, Asia and Africa. We didn't even manage to make Matthew accept that he was wrong on that occasion.

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Alistair Brown, 268 in a one-day match

Yesterday Alistair Brown hit 176 off just 97 balls in a one-day match against Gloucestershire. Incredibly, this isn't even remotely his highest score, for he's hit two one-day double-hundreds. No other first-class cricketer has yet managed this. His best innings was 268 against Glamorgan in June 2002.

You'd think maybe Alistair Brown should be in England's one-day team, but at 37 he's perhaps a little old, even if Paul Nixon seems to prove otherwise. He did get 16 one-day international caps, but surely it should have been more. This is a man who's hit 14,000 first-class runs at 43, so he's not just some slogger with the occasional on-day.

Besides, what kind of an on-day is 268 off 160 balls? Nobody's THAT lucky.

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Adam Gilchrists's World Cup Final hundred

In an uninspiring tournament defined by incompetent administration and limp performances, at least the final was decided by something exceptional.

There are a number of fine players in this Australian side, but Adam Gilchrist is the one on whom everything is built. He's been keeping wicket and scoring bucketloads of runs for as long as we can remember, but has he ever played a better one-day innings than this?

In any circumstances 149 off 104 balls is something. In a World Cup final it's ten times as good. There's infinitely more pressure, but there's infinitely more impact as well. (Infinity multiplied by infinity equals ten, it seems. Our maths isn't all that good.)

It was a good pitch for batting, but Adam Gilchrist reduced both Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting to sleepy-looking bystanders. The middle of Gilchrist's bat must take more of a pounding than any other in world cricket, because that's invariably where the ball makes contact.

It's a fantastically simple method: Swing bat, middle it. Runs ensue.

And that's what he did. He won the World Cup for Australia with that method.

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Pigeons being conspicuously indifferent about cricket

Hurray. Someone contributed to our 'Animals Being Conspicuously Indifferent About Cricket' segment.

Oliver sent us this:

He says: "The pigeons in this picture are being conspicuously indifferent about cricket. They know that HD Ackerman has just made a hundred for Leicestershire at Trent Bridge, but all they care about is pecking around in the outfield, because they are totally indifferent about cricket."

Pigeons famously renounced cricket back in 1925 after a tragic incident when one of their number was killed by a Herbert Sutcliffe on-drive. It was tragic because there was no long-on, so Sutcliffe was denied a certain four.

This is a first-rate reader contribution. Well done, Oliver. The rest of you: More of this kind of thing.

More animals being conspicuously indifferent to cricket

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Australia v Sri Lanka - World Cup final 2007

Finally - FINALLY - we might get a match which isn't totally one-sided AND where the outcome actually matters. So far we've had even-but-meaningless contests or one-sided drubbings.

Australia drubbed South Africa so comprehensively yesterday, we don't really have anything to say about it. Australia were far, far better than South Africa - what can you add to that? It means Australia will play Sri Lanka in the final, which is the final we predicted (to ourself) after the first round of matches back in December or whenever it was.

Our money's literally on Sri Lanka, but Australia are favourites. Sri Lanka were far and away the best of the rest during the tournament and deserve their place, but, to us, Australia seem to have a stronger middle and lower order which should mean a decent total even if the top order fail for once. Sri Lanka's innings will be more dependent on one of the top four batting through.

Still, Australia haven't yet been tested. You can take this as a sign that they're miles better than everyone else, or alternatively you can take it that in spite of 500 matches, we still haven't seen them up against anyone decent. How can that be?

Australia beat Sri Lanka in the group stages, but Sri Lanka rested virtually their entire bowling attack for that game. Australia also missed out on facing another great bowler of merit during the group stages - Shane Bond. It'll be interesting to see how their top order cope with Lasith Malinga's pace, Chaminda Vaas's nous and Murali's retina-scorching brilliance.

So Australia's batsmen finally get tested; we finally have a decent game in the offing; and it's finally the final. It's been a long and uninspiring tournament. Hopefully the final match won't be representative of that.

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Adil Rashid five-fer against Durham

Is that right? Do you change the spelling to 'fer' when you use that phrase? We should standardise this as soon as possible or we'll have a repeat of that embarrassing time when we spelt 'Sourav' as 'Saurav' for about six months.

Adil Rashid's living up to his One To Watch billing thus far. He'll need to do more to justify his 'tip' status however. A tip is three or four better than being One To Watch. Possibly even five better.

Round one of the County Championship brought Adil Rashid scores of 86 and 19 and 4-105 and 3-64 against Surrey. Yesterday, he took 5-88 against Durham.

This is particularly encouraging being as it's early season and Adil's a leg-spinner. Normally early season wickets are the preserve of innocuosos like James Kirtley - fast-medium bowlers who stick to the basics.

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South Africa's and Australia's mental scars

It's the World Cup semi final between Australia and South Africa today. Everything we read seems to revolve around South Africa's mental scarring from the 1999 World Cup semi final.

In summary: Pressure mounts, bit of crazy running, scores tied, Australia win because they finished higher in the group stages or because they'd previously beaten South Africa. One or the other - we can't be bothered checking which.

What no-one seems to be mentioning is Australia's mental scarring after South Africa chased down 435 in a one-day game last year. That led to Ricky Ponting predicting that the future of one-day cricket was a team of six-hitters. Australians always cite that game when discussing modern one-day cricket. We think they're rattled.

So South Africa will be nervous about chasing a total and Australia will be nervous defending one. Looks like South Africa will be batting first.

With so much mental scarring on display there'll scarcely be a single fully-functioning human brain in the two sides put together. It is Australia against South Africa after all. (We're joking - there are literally dozens of intelligent thinkers from those two fair nations. Dozens.)

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Muttiah Muralitharan - four World Cup semi final wickets to go with the rest

It was nice to see the second-nicest man in cricket get a hundred in the World Cup semi final. Murali is of course the top man - in so many ways.

If anyone else had taken four wickets in a World Cup semi final, they'd be hoisted onto shoulders, showered with rose petals and then held there while someone painstakingly captured the moment with an oil painting. Muttiah Muralitharan takes four wickets and it isn't even news.

He's supposed to take four wickets in the World Cup semi final because he's a genius (a genial genius). To have been good enough to create that level of expectation is one thing. To live up to it so consistently as for it to become commonplace is another entirely. If we manage to get through a Saturday night without falling asleep at some point, people are impressed with us. That's the level of expectation that we've created.

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Mahela Jayawardene's World Cup semi final hundred

Mahela Jayawardene's run of scores in the last World Cup reads as follows: one, five, nine, one, duck, duck and five.

That's 21 runs at the heady average of 3.5. By any stretch Mahela Jayawardene failed at the last World Cup.

During this current World Cup, Mahela Jayawardene has now hit 530 runs at 66.25. By any stretch it's a success.

Yesterday's 115 not out in the World Cup semi final was magnificent. His arrival at the crease seemed to coincide with the period of the match when players from both sides were paralysed with the enormity of the situation. Jayawardene said after the match that yes, it was a World Cup semi-final, but it was still just a game of cricket. Good thinking, that man.

He batted slowly for what seemed like an age, before lashing out in time-honoured World Cup tradition. It was the archetypal one-day innings. He reached his 50 from 76 balls - he'd hit three fours at this point. 33 balls later, he'd added 65 more runs made largely out of seven further fours and three sixes. This is how to bat in one-day cricket.

Mahela Jayawardene's been batting brilliantly for quite a while now. It's just unfortunate he's been overshadowed by Ricky Ponting and Mohammad Yousuf for most of that time. It would be hard to overshadow him if he wins the World Cup with another hundred though. Even an oversized replica of Matthew Hayden's chest positioned directly in front of the sun couldn't produce enough shadow for that. Not that there are any such plans, as far as we're aware.

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ConnecTV Cricket

There's nothing like playing a simulated cricket game is there? Lose eight wickets without scoring a run. Bowl 15 consecutive no-balls. Smash the controller by repeatedly driving it into the wall in pure, blood-red frustration.

Well now you don't need to go to the effort of destroying your equipment deliberately. ConnecTV Cricket features a bat that you can swing about wildy, your movements being inexpertly translated into something entirely different and useless on screen.

It also features a ball which is ingeniously attached by a wire, so you have to go through the bizarre motion of actually bowling without letting go of the ball. Of course being as it's on a wire, you'll probably only succeed in garotting the batsman.

Buy ConnecTV here and discover whether you've got the patience of Job.

That should be their slogan.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Rob Key one-day hundred

After playing some breathtaking strokes during last week's innings of six against Sussex and after looking confident and solid during his second innings golden duck, Rob Key has now hit form with a run-a-ball 108 in a one-day match against Surrey.

One prominent cricket writer was moved to say: "That was probably the best batting I've seen since Ranjitsinhji's 204 against Middlesex in 1900. If I weren't so exhausted by that young man's endeavours, I would invite him round to my home for Chorley cakes and claret."

He's a very old cricket writer.

Previous Rob Key post | Next Rob Key post


Monday, April 23, 2007

Matthew Hayden gibberish of the day

"Day in, day out, this side just desperately wants to complete its skills and give itself every chance to play good cricket."


World Cup match features supporters AND excitement

The World Cup's actually started! There was a crowd; an atmosphere; a tight finish; and at the end of it all, one side were knocked out of the World Cup.

So were the other side of course, because this was a dead rubber, both England and the West Indies already being unable to progress. They still provided the best match yet though. It was the first time it's really felt like the World Cup to us. It's all been a bit damp.

How much of that has been to do with the crowds? 'Crowd' is perhaps the wrong word, because it implies congestion. Supporters have been strewn around these stadia as if it's Derbyshire Seconds against Kent Seconds on a rainy Monday in April. This should never happen again at a World Cup. Ever.

The majority of yesterday's supporters came to pay tribute to King Brian Charles Lara in his final match. He was run out for 18, which was sad in a way, but is anyone going to remember that moment when they think of him in the future? We're not. We'll remember the best of Brian Lara.

We wonder as well whether this match will be the one we remember from this World Cup, despite its pointlessness. In many ways it was a classic one-day match: A number of players contributed; there were sixes and chaotic run-outs; and with two balls to go, you still didn't know who was going to win.

Where so many matches have been inexorable marches for the winner, this was a joyous battle between both sides. Hopefully the semi finals and final will be more along these lines.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Michael Vaughan's one-day career

'Michael Vaughan's terrible at one-day cricket. Let's drop him.' No sooner had everyone agreed this than what do you know, he plays a splendid one-day innings as England chase down 300.

79 off 68 balls wasn't the finest innings of all time, but it was exactly what England have been crying out for all tournament (and before that).

England should still drop him though. It's clear that this was the kind of innings that Michael Vaughan should be playing regularly and could be playing regularly. What's probably stopping him is his own miserable one-day record, which is somehow born of itself. He's conscious of his poor record when he goes out to bat and maybe wants to redress it too much.

To paraphrase ourself: It's like when you're trying to use a urinal and some guy with a six-foot sabre is screaming: 'Come on! Come on! Do it!', at you. Ordinarily, you're quite capable, but it becomes 'a thing'. Michael Vaughan's one-day record has become 'a thing' to him and there's nothing that can be done about that. It's too late.

The other point is that he's old enough that England can realistically drop him on age grounds. One-day cricket's all about the World Cup and by the next one Vaughan will be 36. England are planning for the future, so they can drop him now with no loss of face.

On the other hand, if he gets back into fine form in Test cricket, this is perhaps the only way he could overcome 'the thing' aspect. It still depends on his being dropped from the one-day side though.

Michael Vaughan doesn't need any more one-day experience before the next World Cup. He's got plenty. Drop him. If he happens to turn into Viv Richards at some point during the next four years - fine - bring him back. Let him effect this renaissance away from one-day internationals though.

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Matthew Hayden's World Cup hundreds are all part of the script

This World Cup better obey the rules of drama. The bad guy will be built up and built up and then ultimately humiliated in the glorious final act.

Matthew Hayden has only gone and scored ANOTHER bloody hundred (admittedly, it was days ago - we weren't desperate to update about it). How? He's about 58 years old now and he's so burly and unathletic he can barely walk.

Just watch him tottering along trying to take the singles. We're not sure whether it's the oversized chest or the ridiculous fat head, but he looks massively top-heavy - like at any moment he might come crashing to ground, like a beaten T-Rex, a bestial roar of anguish bellowing from his whale-sized lungs.

It's about time one of the teams let a fast bowler at him. He escaped Shane Bond on Friday and didn't have to face Lasith Malinga before that (or Chaminda Vaas OR Muttiah Muralitharan).

Dramatic rules dictate that Hayden and Australia should be at their most arrogant by the final, at which point they'll be soundly beaten.

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Brian Lara retires

Brian Lara said before the World Cup that he was retiring from one-dayers at the end of the tournament, but it turns out he's retiring from cricket altogether.

This is far too sad an announcement for a Friday. Brian Lara was quite simply one of the greatest cricketers of all time. He's been King Cricket ever since we started this site. Newer readers will think that we're King Cricket, but our original intention was just to honour the current giants of the game. We haven't updated the King Cricket top ten for over a year now, so maybe we should just quietly retire that feature.

Our genuine awe for Brian Lara is perhaps best expressed in the following posts:

Brian Lara's inside-out drive
Brian Lara hits 501 for Warwickshire against Durham
Brian Lara hits a hundred before lunch against Pakistan
Brian Lara hits 153 not out against Australia

Tomorrow will be his final cricket match and we find ourselves in the same position as always: Wanting Lara to hit a hundred and England to win.

It's the last glimpse of that colossal backlift, everybody. Here's hoping he shows everyone else just how shit they are in comparison.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Peter Moores is new England coach

That didn't take long. Peter Moores has been confirmed as the long-term successor to Duncan Fletcher, as England's coach.

We're perfectly happy with this. We like the idea that things are run with structure and a plan. We tend to freewheel in our own everyday life and that hasn't translated into a great deal of success. We were fine with the other candidates, Tom Moody and Dav Whatmore as well, but Peter Moores knows the players and is greatly responsible for turning Sussex, one of the smaller counties, into very much the dominant force in county cricket.

We're also pleased because this picture clearly shows that Rob Key is ASTOUNDED by Peter Moores' methods. If they're good enough for Rob, they're good enough for us. Peter Moores is probably instructing Rob to save his trick of floating in the air, surrounded by glowing light until after he's played himself in. This is a revelation for Rob, but when he tries it there will be HELL TO PAY for the world's bowlers.

Previous Rob Key post | Next Rob Key post

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Animals being conspicuously indifferent about cricket

We've taken a picture of our cat, Monty, being indifferent about cricket. He's actually SITTING on the cricket page of the paper. How does he expect to find out about Alastair Cook's hundred by doing that?

Look at him. Look at how conspicuously indifferent he is about cricket.

We'd say something like, 'the balls of that cat', if it weren't in very poor taste due to our being essentially responsible for their removal.

We're hoping that this is the first of a segment of King Cricket we're going to call: 'Animals Being Conspicuously Indifferent About Cricket'.

In our head we'll be inundated by photographs from readers. In reality, Monty's going to be a busy cat. Busy being indifferent, which is very much his default emotion.

More animals being conspicuously indifferent to cricket:

Pigeons being conspicuously indifferent to cricket
Number 42 being conspicuously indifferent to cricket
Granville and Carlo being conspicuously indifferent to cricket
Murphy being conspicuously indifferent to cricket
A mountain viscacha being conspicuously indifferent to Rob Key
Strauss being conspicuously indifferent to Strauss
Strauss being conspicuously indifferent to Strauss's omission
Carlo and Granville being conspicuously indifferent on the field of play
Strauss being conspicuously indifferent to Strauss's reselection
Nimbus being conspicuously indifferent to King Cricket in The Wisden Cricketer
Nella the African hunting dog being conspicuously indifferent to cricket

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Adil Rashid, Yorkshire - one to watch in 2007

Give England cricket fans a leg-spinner and they flock together muttering excitedly about 'the chosen one'. Give them an all-rounder and they genuflect and dab incense all over themselves. Given them a leg-spinning all-rounder and they'll be sacrificing second team wicketkeepers before you know it.

We're proud to be among them. Adil Rashid is like some supernatural blending of Shane Warne and Sachin Tendulkar.

Note to Adil Rashid:

Sorry, mate. There's no way you can live up to this. Just give it a crack and we promise we'll always be nice to you, even if you get bowled by a straight one from Andrew Hall.

Other Ones To Watch in 2007

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Duncan Fletcher resigns as England coach

This is very much just confirmation of what we've all known for a few days now. There was no way that Duncan Fletcher could continue after this winter.

It's sad that his time as England coach ends like this, because overall he's been a huge success. When Fletcher took over the England team in 1999, they were an absolute shambles. Every now and again selectorial decisions led to a half-decent side which would promptly be dismantled for the next match. It was baffling and ineffectual.

Duncan Fletcher introduced the rather novel approach of planning ahead. England started to identify players who could represent the country in the long-term. They were picked and they were persevered with. From this foundation, Fletcher could work with individual players, improving them and actually reaping the rewards. These players were then capable of carrying out specific plans. England actually functioned as a team - not just 11 of them, either.

Under Nasser Hussain, England learnt to fight and became hard to beat. Under Michael Vaughan they learnt how to win.

England's Ashes tour was a rank failure because Fletcher didn't seem to acknowledge that his long-term plans had been largely scuppered through injuries. There didn't seem to be a plan B. Instead Fletcher went against his entire ethos, chopping and changing players. Perhaps he was kidding himself that returns for old favourites were evidence of forward-thinking, when in fact it was just desperate short-termism.

England's one-day side has never been good. It's also never benefitted from any consistency of selection. Maybe it's not one match and out. It's more one tour and out. As this World Cup began, England's team was a rag-tag assortment of very recent successes and underperforming veterans.

Fletcher never made any headway with the one-day team and ever since the Test team plateaued and even regressed, his days have been numbered.

We started this post with the intention of celebrating Duncan Fletcher's achievements, but sporting ends are very rarely celebratory.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Yorkshire's team's all right really

Yorkshire have haemorrhaged players for years now. We don't know what's been going on there exactly, but those in power seem hellbent on making those on the pitch feel as unwelcome as possible. Rumours of Chinese burns abound.

This summer, Yorkshire proudly announced the signing of Chris Adams of Sussex as captain and director of cricket. He was set to bring the county back to its former glories, it seemed, until he decided that actually he didn't want to be involved with Yorkshire after all and went back to Sussex.
It's all been rather farcical, so we were expecting the Yorkshire team to be extracted from the stands before play yesterday. In actual fact, they look rather solid.

Their batting seems mature and heavy set, featuring county stalwarts Craig White and Anthony McGrath as well as new signings Younis Khan and Jacques Rudolph. Rudolph will be available all season having bizarrely signed an affidavit to say he won't play for South Africa for the duration of his three-year contract with Yorkshire.

Yorkshire's seam bowling seems handy too. Ageing seamers Jason Gillespie (who's just hit a hundred) and Darren Gough - newly installed as captain - lead the line, with occasional help from Matthew Hoggard, who will be absent for Tests but not one-dayers.

On top of that, Yorkshire can boast not one, but two high-class all-rounders. Tim Bresnan may be a work in progress, but he, like Jason Gillespie, has just hit a hundred. He's also represented England at just about every level. Adil Rashid is the player to catch the eye, however: A teenage leg-spinning all-rounder. They come about once every - well - never, really.

Having said all that, when Darren Gough's knackered after three games and Matthew Hoggard's on England duty, you wonder how much strength in depth they've got.


Shoaib Malik is Pakistan's new captain

We don't know Shoaib Malik all that well, so we can't really comment on his suitability for the role.

He's 25, which is quite young for a captain. It seems to be working for South Africa though. Graeme Smith was made captain at 22. Smith wasn't particularly sure of his place in the South Africa side at the time, which was strange. At least Shoaib Malik's one of Pakistan's inked-in players.

Good luck to him. He'll probably need it. If someone made us captain of Pakistan it would trigger our defence mechanism of crying uncontrollably - at which point they'd ask Younis Khan for the sixth or seventh time and maybe this time he'd take the job.

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Stuart Broad, Leicestershire - one to watch in 2007

Good action: Long and narrow - fits nicely to the right of our writing. Lasith Malina: Bad action - too wide; interferes with the prose.

Stuart Broad keeps getting taller and faster. Working on the theory that he nearly played for the Test team last year, if he's a little bit taller and a little bit faster this year, he's a shoo-in (stupid phrase).

There are altogether too many 'promising' young fast bowlers at the moment and altogether too few fully functioning ones. Stuart Broad seems the most likely to cross that divide.

Other Ones To Watch in 2007

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Brad Hogg and Lloyd Braun from Seinfeld

When Marty McFly went back to November 5th 1955, Brad Hogg must have come the other way. Look at his haircut. He's a man in the wrong era.

We spent ages trying to work out who Brad Hogg reminded us of and we've eventually settled on the character Lloyd Braun who appears in Seinfeld.

We say 'settled' because we're not really convinced that this is who we're thinking of. We're working on the theory that if we put these pictures up on the internet, it'll work as a form of catharsis and we'll stop thinking about it.

We're not in favour of cricketing look-a-likes. This is the kind of post we usually try and bury by publishing another immediately afterwards.

Reasons why this update's rubbish:

(1) This particular photo of Brad Hogg doesn't show him looking particularly 50s.

(2) This particular photo of Brad Hogg doesn't show him looking particularly like Lloyd Braun.

(3) Brad Hogg's had his hair cut since he looked like he was from the 50s, so both points are now redundant.

He does look a bit like Lloyd Braun though. Honest.

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James Benning, Surrey - one to watch in 2007

James Benning wasn't due to appear in this segment for another couple of days, but we've bumped him up because he seems very relevant today.

Half of England's problems during the World Cup seem to have stemmed from their ponderous approach at the start of the innings. Obviously Marcus Trescothick is the man most missed, but even with his inclusion, there'd still be two sedentary batsmen to one enforcer. We'd like to reverse that ratio in time for the next World Cup (Ian Bell would be the surviving plodder).

So then: James Benning. He's 23. He opens the batting and he loves - just adores - scoring quickly. He's hit four first-class hundreds in 20 matches and he scores at 81 runs per hundred balls. To reiterate, that's in four day cricket. That's about the speed Ricky Ponting scores in one-day internationals. He's only hit the one one-day hundred, but it was 189 not out off 146 balls.

Other Ones To Watch in 2007

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

England players rush back to the bosoms of their counties

Clearly England deliberately got knocked out of the 2007 World Cup so that all of the players could turn out their counties as soon as possible.

The County Championship starts today. We're not going this year, but we imagine it'll be much the same as the first day of last season, albeit about 15 degrees warmer here in Manchester.


Foetid England are out of the World Cup

THRASHED by South Africa. It was a defeat redolent of all that's limp and useless about this England one-day side.

Their batting was deliberate, ponderous and misguided at first, before the middle order capitulated under the hypnotic spell weaved by Andrew Hall - ANDREW HALL!

Just as England's openers had sent a message to the South African bowlers (please put us out of our misery) so South Africa's openers sent a message to England's bowlers (you've already lost).

Has there been one single moment of joy for an England supporter during this World Cup? The tournament's been miserable anyway, but England have redefined that word with incompetence so relentless and inexorable it was like dying slowly from the most minor disease imaginable.

As the World Cup approached, England's spearhead retired and virtually everyone agreed that England would be a better side for it. At the same time, England's captain returned and almost as many people thought they'd be a worse side for that.

The only time England have looked like winning games in the last six months was when their best player was injured. Everything's backwards about this team. We're glad it's dead now.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Manish Bhasin and Rishi Persad

When the BBC made the announcement about its presenters for its new cricket highlights programme before the Ashes, we were understandably preoccupied by the return of Richie Benaud.

Now that the BBC are well into their World Cup coverage, we feel that we've had long enough to evaluate the two brash young bucks entrusted with covering the world's greatest sport on the world's greatest TV station (no adverts - top that).

So here's our evaluation:

Manish Bhasin - crap.
Rishi Persad - all right.

In order to be a little more transparent, we'll attempt to justify that. Manish Bhasin has spent the whole of winter sounding like he's reading stuff. He probably is, but we don't like being reminded of that. When he's on camera, he wafts at the air to punctuate his sentences. When he's off-camera (but still talking), all we can do is imagine him tracing the words with his finger.

His questioning's offered nothing either. Not to us anyway and not to Geoffrey Boycott who was clearly irritated at times during the Ashes. Perhaps it's meant to be 'inclusive' - ie, appealing to new cricket fans - but his questions seem designed with ONLY new fans in mind. The overall impression we get is of a presenter ticking all the right boxes on a BBC progress report.

Rishi Persad's a geek. We like geeks. We're a geek. He seems genuinely enthusiastic about cricket and while Bhasin's occasional stabs at humour have felt hackneyed and formulaic, Persad's have seemed more genuine and warm.

Perhaps it's their respective roles that are giving us this impression. Maybe Persad gets more free rein. Manish Bhasin used to present Football Focus and we see his segments as being cricketised versions of that show. It's a different sport with a different audience. That style just doesn't fit.

We're not actually feeling all that happy about bad-mouthing Manish Bhasin to be honest. We just get annoyed when cricket coverage isn't as good as it should be.

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Murali-free Sri Lanka lose to Australia

Australia beat Sri Lanka, but Murali wasn't playing, so it doesn't count.

Ricky Ponting says there's no point hiding Muralitharan for a later match because the Aussies play him as well as anyone.

That's only partly true. The fact is that the Australians haven't seen as much of Murali as some other sides because he didn't go on Sri Lanka's last tour Down Under because the Aussie crowds are too annoying.

Besides, if even Mahela Jayawardene gets out to Murali having faced him in the nets and watched him from the slips for eight years, it kind of implies that maybe you can't know everything there is to know by watching a bit of telly and having once got 50 against him.

Wouldn't it be intriguing if Australia lost the World Cup due to unfamiliarity with the great man because of their own supporters. And by 'intriguing', we do of course mean 'ace'.

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Bilal Shafayat, Nottinghamshire - one to watch in 2007

Bilal Shafayat's another who appeared last year. It's like we're not even trying, isn't it?

He was solid if unspectacular last year, so this year he'll have to push on. He's gone back home to Nottinghamshire, which might help him. Plus, he's grown a smashing beard.

Actually, we've just read our verdict on Bilal Shafayat from the end of last year. The word 'failure' appears quite frequently. Maybe we should have checked these things before selecting this year's representatives.

Other Ones To Watch in 2007

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Damien Martyn still scares us to our very core

Holy Mary, Mother of God! Look at his eyes!

We were innocently looking through pictures of Damien Fleming - attempting to find proof that he'd been using Damien Martyn's 'I can see into your soul technique' on the BBC - when what should we find? Only a picture of Damien Martyn doing the eyes TO THE MAX.

We don't use the phrase 'to the max' very often, but if this isn't 'to the max' what is? Never mind Damien Fleming, he'll never outdo the master.

Curse Damien Martyn. His pernicious eye-tentacles of intimidation reach into our soul still.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Ireland beat Bangladesh

We believe that Ireland beat Bangladesh yesterday.

* Irony alert *

We're disgusted that this can happen. The organisers of the World Cup have to take some responsibility for allowing this. They should have ensured that the draw, the scheduling and the conditions all prevented Ireland from beating a Test team.

The whole point of the World Cup is that we see the best teams. If the best teams lose, it just ruins it for everybody. Nobody wants to see a World Cup with upsets such as this. The minnows have no place in the World Cup. There's too much at stake.

The next thing you know, Australia won't win the tournament. It'll be a dark day for the ICC when that happens. A dark day indeed.

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Tom Smith, Lancashire - one to watch in 2007

Last year Tom Smith was a late addition to our Ones To Watch after he'd impressed us on the opening day of the season.

We've been swinging between reincluding Tom or replacing him with Kyle Hogg, who also looked pretty good when we saw him last season. As you can see, we've gone for Tom Smith. This is partly loyalty and partly our discovery that he has 'a bowling face'.

A bowling face is a crucial part of a young cricketer's development. If you've no bowling face, you can only ever go so far. With a bowling face in your armoury, the sky's the limit.

Hopefully his batting will pick up as well. He's rumoured to be 'handy'.

Other Ones To Watch in 2007

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Fat South Africans

Watching New Zealand against South Africa yesterday, we were reminded of a line in the film Grosse Point Blank. Joan Cusack's character, Marcella, describes her high school reunion thus: "It was almost as if everyone had swelled."

Don't get us wrong, the South Africans aren't Mark Cosgrove fat or Ian 'Fatty' Austin fat. They're not the good kind of fat. They're paunchy and middle-aged looking.

Mark Boucher's definitely got a bit of middle-aged spread. Andrew Hall should change his surname to 'Ball' he's becoming so pot-bellied and spherical. Jacques Kallis has always been receding, but he's distinctly sturdy looking now as well.

If England's official sports snack is the Jaffa Cake, South Africa's must be rendered pork fat.

The serious side of this is that while Australia fielded only two players under 30 the other day - Michael Clarke, 26 and Shaun Tait, 22 - none of the other nine looked at all flabby. South Africa look soft and not just physically.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Scott Styris's stupid beard

We've decided to upgrade The Leviathan to a kraken after he hit yet another 50 yesterday. The Kraken is a particularly fitting moniker due to its repellent visage.

Once again, we reiterate: Scott Styris, aka The Colossus, aka The Leviathan, aka The Kraken, is unstoppable.

He's unstoppable in more than one respect as well. Not content with having not one, but two of the world's stupidest haircuts, The Kraken has now decided to grow a ridiculous beard. It really is stunningly ludicrous - he doesn't have the hair colour to pull off any kind of facial hair.

Sorry, we can't find a photo of it yet, but we assure you that it's there inside that helmet.

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New Zealand's varied attack outguns South Africa's one-dimensional one

A lot of people sneer at New Zealand's medium-pacers. 'Dibbly dobbly' is usually the phrase of choice.

At least New Zealand's bowling attack is varied and that's one of the main reasons they beat South Africa yesterday (that and best use of the pitch).

Shane Bond and James Franklin made early inroads into South Africa's batting line-up. Bond in particular bowled some absolutely unplayable deliveries. After that, the pitch flattened out.

'Mixing it up' is a phrase often used in one day cricket. It's usually used to describe the approach of a particular bowler. Yesterday, Stephen Fleming mixed it up with his bowling changes.

Having gone through a quick bowler, a swing bowler, a tall bowler, two spinners and a medium-pacer, Fleming eventually turned to Craig McMillan's medium-pace off-cutters. It was one style of bowling too many for Herschelle Gibbs and Ashwell Prince. Looking not unlike a Kiwi Ramesh Powar, bowling with his sunglasses on, McMillan went on to snaffle Mark Boucher's wicket as well.

To return to the sneering of the opening sentence, there's a huge difference between bowling medium-pace because you're not as quick as you used to be - as exemplified by several of the South Africans during the same match - and deliberately bowling medium-pace.

If you're a born medium-pacer, you devise tactics for success; spin, slower balls, general deception. A downgraded fast bowler is of no use to anyone. He'll try and blast out batsmen but he hasn't the pace.

A medium-pace fast bowler is a weapon blunted. A genuine medium-pacer has never once been sharp, but has still managed to carve a niche.

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Matt Prior, Sussex - one to watch in 2007

Steven Davies of Worcestershire is the wicketkeeper to watch this year, but we've been watching Matt Prior for bloody years now, so we're not going to abandon him when he's finally about to make the Test team (probably).

Plus, if there's a cricketer on this planet whose consistency as a photographic subject is superior to Matt Prior's, we haven't laid eyes on them. This post links to the best Matt Prior photos.

Other Ones To Watch in 2007

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Mark Davies, Durham - one to watch in 2007

Mark Davies of DurhamMark Davies was also one to watch in 2006. If you'd done as instructed, you'd have mostly seen someone watching cricket on teletext, looking a bit glum because his back wasn't better yet.

This year we're optimistically imagining that Mark Davies is back to full fitness, has praid to Thor and Odin and is ready to pillage county cricket for wickets by the longboat-load.

Other Ones To Watch in 2007

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Younis Khan rejects Pakistan captaincy again

Doesn't anyone ever think to sound him out about these things? It's not like Younis Khan hasn't already rejected the Pakistan captaincy once this year.

The rumours at this stage indicate that maybe he's bricking it because it's all gone a bit mental in Pakistani cricket of late.

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Rob Key sandpapers ball in practice match

Rob Key got caught tampering with the ball in a practice match. A photographer got a shot of him sandpapering one side. Rob's confessed.

Kent's chief executive, Paul Millman, said the match against Nottinghamshire was no more than 'formalised practice'. It was 15 or 16 a side, some players were batting twice. This was the context of the game. Some of the younger bowlers had been asked to work on their reverse-swing skills and Rob was helping the ball on its way a bit.

Rob said: "What we've tried to do throughout our pre-season nets was to get brand new balls, sandpaper one side, and let the boys practise bowling. It actually goes really well."

So everything's okay. Rob Key is still beyond reproach because this kind of match doesn't count. Plus it gives us an opportunity to use this picture of him, which is probably the best yet. When we think of Rob Key, this is how we imagine him - smiling, with all his features pushed down towards the bottom of his head.

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The Colossus grows larger

Scott Styris hit 111 not out yesterday. He's unstoppable. What's bigger than a colossus? A leviathan?

Scott Styris is a World Cup leviathan, only he doesn't have multiple heads and he inhabits the land.

They say that form is temporary and class is permanent, but if your form happens to coincide with a World Cup things take on a different complexion. Scott Styris could be this year's Lance Klusener, only without the ability to play shots clean through fielders' skulls.

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Nick Compton, Middlesex - one to watch in 2007

Nick Compton was a sort of pseudo-One To Watch last year, in that we watched his progress anyway, without naming him.

As far as we can tell Nick Compton has a virtually unquenchable thirst for runs, which is a good thing for a batsman. Look at him. Look at Nick. Look at how parched he is even after he's scored his 12th hundred of the day.

'That boy's thirst for runs is unquenchable' they'll say in county grounds around the land. 'You're not wrong,' Nick'll reply. 'I'm mighty thirsty. Thirsty for EVEN MORE runs.' And he'll drink and drink from the cup of runs, never once feeling satisfied, even when runs are dribbling down his chest because he's so tired of run-drinking he can't open his mouth properly.

Nick Compton also has a thirst for HIGH FASHION.

Other Ones To Watch in 2007

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Saqibul Hasan top-scores against England

saqibulCheck it out - it's an actual picture of Saqibul Hasan where you can see his face and everything. He looks like the kind of person who beats us at Scrabble and makes us knock the board over. Curse you Q without a U or a blank. Curse you!

We kind of feel like we don't have to mould unfriendly facts to fit our own skewed world view today. Nobody scored runs for England against Bangladesh. Nobody scored runs for Bangladesh against England. Except Saqibul Hasan!

57 not out was comfortably - COMFORTABLY - the best innings of the match and that makes Saqibul the best player of the match. There was no other cricket going on yesterday, so yesterday he was the best batsman in the world.

Let's celebrate by putting 'Saqibul' on a triple word score, even though it's a proper noun. Let's see: That's 18 points times three, plus 50 for using all your letters - that's at least 104 points and you'll get even more for the word you've tacked an S onto the end of. That's better than 'Tait' wherever you put it.

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AB de Villiers finds his feet

Both in terms of his World Cup performances and literally too after a few bouts of debilitating cramp during his colossal innings of 146 off 130 balls against the West Indies yesterday. We say 'debilitating', but it only seemed to spur him on. Maybe 'invigorating cramp' would be a better phrase.

AB de Villiers is a talented batsman. He first appeared when England toured South Africa a couple of years ago. He acquitted himself reasonably despite some whimsical alterations to the batting order during that series. He opened; he batted in the middle order; he batted at seven; and if we're not mistaken, he actually kept wicket as well.

These days he's an opener and at 23, he'll be around for a good long while, by the looks of it.

We're using that picture on the right because he looks like a dork and we like pictures where people look like dorks - whoever they are. It also vaguely hints at how he's an all-round sportsman who was good at tennis and various other sports which are nowhere near as good as cricket.

He also seems to be a throwback to that era when South African cricketers always erred towards the ginger.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Will Jefferson, Nottinghamshire - one to watch in 2007

Will Jefferson was one to watch in 2006, but he didn't play much. As a result of this he left Essex and moved to Nottinghamshire.

So Will's one to watch again, partly because we didn't get much out of him last year, partly because we rate him very highly, but mostly because he's a giant - that race of oversized benevolent beings who are our guardians and overlords.

If we're extra nice to Will, he might let us in on some of the secrets behind his alien technology. Or he might crush us without mercy. You never can tell with the giants.

Ones To Watch 2007

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Ones To Watch 2007

It may come as a surprise with the World Cup being in full swing, but the county season's about to start. We did a list of players to watch during the 2006 season and we're doing another one this year.

There are many of the same names because we're long-termists here at King Cricket - if there is such a thing. Besides, some of last year's Ones To Watch clearly needed more than a season to make an impact.

One notable omission is Rob Key. We figure that it's pretty much taken as read that we'll be watching Rob, be it via a scorecard, binoculars or a series of high-definition cameras covertly installed around his home.

Will Jefferson
Nick Compton
Mark Davies
Matt Prior
Tom Smith
Bilal Shafayat
James Benning
Stuart Broad
Adil Rashid

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Shaun Tait - worth disliking?

We've been a little unnerved over the last couple of years by several Australian players becoming quite likeable. We don't know where we are when that happens. It upsets the delicate balance of the world.

The situation is rapidly reaching crisis point. The only remaining 100 percent obnoxious Aussie, Matthew Hayden, is lumbering round the outfield like a bear with rickets and clearly isn't going to last much longer. Glenn McGrath, his closest challenger is doing much the same and has already confirmed his retirement after this World Cup.

We need fresh blood to help prevent us emigrating to Fremantle or Bendigo.

Step forward Shaun Tait. With his face and his face and also his face, he's undeniably irritating. Look at him. Look at Shaun Tait. Look at Shaun Tait's stupid face and tell us his mere appearance isn't enough to make you want to snap all your own teeth to take your mind off him.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Ian Bell plays a pretty decent innings, but England lose so it doesn't really count

The point of the World Cup players to watch is surely that they have some sort of impact on the tournament. By this token, anything achieved in a losing cause is null and void.

Maybe it's different for Ian Bell. We're not quite sure for definite, but we think that we may have selected him as much to say 'look, he's really not that bad' as we did for any more grandiose reason.

People still think Ian Bell's rubbish, because he was when most people were paying attention to cricket - when England won the Ashes. He was only about fifteen then though and he'd wound up in this massively pressured environment having played about two international matches.

Since then he's been finding his feet. He's still only 24 and he's a decent international batsman who's worth his place in the England team. That's quite an achievement, but people are hard to win over.

He's not someone who blows the public away either. He's a sensible batsman. You have to have them, but Joe Public prefers the Flintoffs of this world, even though the Flintoffs of this world average ten runs less than Ian Bell.

Yesterday Ian Bell hit 77. There was a bit more derring-do than normal and it was against Australia. Maybe it was an important innings in his battle to win over the people, even if it wasn't an important innings in the context of this World Cup.

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Bangladesh are on an upward curve

Here are the ages of the Bangladeshi team that beat South Africa in the Super 8s:

30, 18, 34, 20, 22, 21, 18, 23, 36, 24, 22.

That's an astoundingly young side, bar the three 30-plus guys.

This is the point. The other eight players could, realistically, play the next three World Cups. They're going to get better. Quite a lot better. Even some of today's finest players weren't setting the world alight at 18 or 20.

The only way these players won't be representing Bangladesh in eight years time is if EVEN BETTER players come along. Bangladesh are going to be pretty damn good, make no mistake.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Joi Bangla

We're told that 'Joi Bangla' means 'victory Bangladesh'. If it means 'Bangladesh smells of wee' or something like that, we're sorry. We've taken that translation on trust, because that's the kind of people we are here at King Cricket.

Bangladesh beat South Africa. Everyone else is happy about this, right? We're not on our own here, are we? Sometimes it's hard to tell. We're delighted. Bangladesh have now beaten two Test playing nations in this World Cup, which is more than India, Pakistan, England and the West Indies have managed.

When Bangladesh beat India in the first round, we pondered whether everyone had now accepted that they were a decent side. As a result of this, we didn't really make a big song and dance about the victory. Not by our standards anyway. It turns out that this was a colossal mistake.

We listened to Test Match Special when Bangladesh lost to New Zealand and it enraged us. It turns out people haven't accepted that Bangladesh are decent. Far from it. Jonathan Agnew, who we're really, really going off of late, spent half of his commentary stint whinging and moaning about non-competitive matches featuring the likes of Bangladesh. The insinuation was that the World Cup would be better without their presence.

Bollocks. It seems to us that Bangladesh aren't allowed to lose games, because it's 'evidence' that they're not up to standard. When they do win, it's a colossal surprise. Well they didn't just beat South Africa, they pretty much annihilated them. Only Herschelle Gibbs, batting at seven, passed 50 and to be honest, South Africa's reply never had a chance.

Perhaps it's time to restate our case about how Bangladesh are on an upward curve.