Friday, 15 April 2011

Of Hair Pulling and Griff

Hampshire took 9 wickets today at a cost of less than 300 runs. Pleasing? Not one bloody bit. Truth is that by the close Notts should have been 15 down for about 160, but a taxi has to be called for a Mr N.D McKenzie and a Mr D.G Cork. It's great to have the worldly experience of these guys in the team but they are not infalliable. Dropping Patel first ball, then dropping him a further 3 times on his way to 116 is amateurish, as were the other 2 or maybe 3 dropped catches in the day.

The bloke I feel most sorry for is David Griffiths. Given his chance (finally!!) after 11 months out of action, Griff delivered more in his first 3 overs than Jones did in the match against Durham. First ball? Flatten Paul Franks' stumps. 8 balls later? Mark Wagh got the same treatment. After 3 overs his figures read 3-3-0-2. THIS was what had been missing from the attack.

Alex Hales shoulders arms to a Griffiths delivery
 Griffiths is one of those bowlers who, in a strange way, you know exactly what you're going to get. You're going to get very, very fast deliveries from a bowler who puts everything that he has into them. He's slingy, he delivers from an awkward height and if he manages to get the ball to target the stumps then let's be honest you're not going to stand much of a chance. Last season a ball that dismissed Ryan ten Doeschate was described in no uncertain terms by a journalist simply as 'violent'. He's the sort of bowler who on his day can pick up a 5er without too much problem. 5-72 from 25 overs a case in point.

In the context of this match though, Hampshire still have a fair way to go. Already 75 behind, we need to remove the last Notts wicket straight away then set about our first target - securing a draw. Rather than collapsing in a heap like a bunch of pansies the middle order must keep their wickets without losing sight of the fact that we can still win this game. If we have say 4 wickets in hand by the close tomorrow then we can look to declare at some point in the morning session of the 4th day. However we mustn't get ahead of ourselves, and I suppose the first aim is for Adams and Dawson to continue their fine work at the top.

At times today our cricket has been sublime whilst at others it has been laughable. Please please please don't leave me torn between laughing and crying tomorrow evening.

New start (perhaps)

Ok ok, having been dragged kicking and screaming by Wes I'm back to the blog. Long story to maybe a shorter length; the creative juices kind of went the way of the Romanovs these past 6 months hence part two to the Ervine saga still has not materialised. I think it's finally safe to parade the head above the parapets finally with that story so I'll tackle that at some point in the nearish future.

New season! And we're playing crap again. Put it this way my enthusiasm for the first day but a week ago was extremely high. My bound to the Rose Bowl on the first morning was matched only by a Friedel de Wet run up. Hell the sun was shining, it was way too warm to be early April. That scented brew of exhaust fumes, housing estate grass verges and Factor 15 combined with the sight of cool bags and club park permits quickly made me forget I had ever been away.

The deja vu feeling was compounded by the utter domination by the Durham batting lineup. We waved goodbye to victory at the toss and di Venuto and Stoneman somehow managed to mark their guard in the tarmac. Despite the high scoring rate I'd have said that after 40 overs neither side was on top. Danny Briggs softened the Tahir injury news by showing himself off as a Championship bowler (the single most exciting thing I took from this match) whilst the bunny Friedel bowled well without getting a wicket.

We were guilty of plonking the ball in too far back of a length, perhaps the Ponzi wicket was to blame. Yes it was hot, dry and easy to score on but pitch the ball up FFS! Back to de Wet again (this could become a recurring theme) but he cut Muchall in half two balls out of three by giving the ball time to do something. How he didn't get an LBW decision against Benkenstein is still a mystery. And top marks to Benks by the way, another two fingers up at those within the ECB who say that kolpaks bring nothing to the game.

The afternoon session was woeful from a Hampshire perspective, a catch off a Slug no-ball capping it off as the team returned to the dressing room to dine on tea to a chorus of muffled boos and shouts. The 400 racked up in the day gave a taste of what was awaiting us in the next three days, Adams' first baller a heart wrenching exception. What was extremely pleasing was Dawson's winter transformation from 'why?' to stoic Carberry replacement. At time of babble he currently sits top of both the run scoring chart and the averages chart, and has probably got more runs these three innings than he did for most of last year. That long awaited second century can't be far away, surely?

Adams continues to frustrate and delight in equal measures whilst Myburgh needs to stop throwing the bat at everything. Having said that the way he plays I reckon he is going to play one of those mind blowing one day innings at some point this season. Batting out for the draw against Durham was satisfying, and probably not a result we would have ended up with three years ago.

Normal service resumed of course at Trent Bridge, the batsmen leaving it all to do for the bowlers. I take solace in hoping that the game follows a similar pattern to this fixture last year of : super start, terrible bit just after it, blur for 3 days, super Macca smashing win. You can't say I'm a pessimist all of the time.

What de Wet, Griffiths and Cork need to do is get Brown and Read out. No one else really matters quite so much but these two fall into the Blackwell/Trego/Rashid/Yardy/Schofield group of ruining the best laid plans of mice and Corky or whoever is captain at the time. You could have a team 0/5 after 0.5 overs and one of this axis of evil would still get a century.

And so continues the cycle. Great squad, infact best I can honestly say I've ever seen but heck we can't bat and we can't bowl. Yet. The 8 injuries/MIA hasn't helped either, leaving only 7 spare players who have an average age of just less than 20. Give it time they say, they'll come good. They need to come good. Today would be nice, thanks.


In a slightly unrelated but wholely important matter, the perennial melon DC has been strutting his stuff for DC in the IPL, with beard. DC watch is alive and well!

Monday, 10 January 2011

Will he? Won't he? I'm starting to not give a sh... Part 1

New year, new start apparently but the frustrating saga surrounding Sean Ervine and his umming and ahhring over whether he should return to International cricket with Zimbabwe or not continues. It's been ramped up today with Radio Solent reporting that Ervine has told them that he's leaving Hampshire after the Caribbean T20 to return to Zimbabwe. In reply Hampshire have said that no decision has been made. This isn't the first time that Ervine has gone to the press and it isn't the first time that Hampshire have rebuked the claims. Back in November, it was reported that Ervine had spoken to Zimbabwe Cricket and had agreed to return home to play for the national team. This was followed by a Hampshire statement that expressed in no uncertain terms that Ervine was still under contract with the club, and that discussions over Ervine's future would be held during the Carib T20.

It is clear that Zimbabwe Cricket and its supporters see Ervine as the last and largest piece in the puzzle, with his return signalling a new era for the national side as they re-embark on their journey as a test playing nation. Certainly Ervine would supplement a line up that though talented was painfully exposed by the Bangladeshi spinners and the South African fast bowlers in consecutive tours. The likes of Brendan Taylor, Craig Ervine and Tatenda Taibu are deserving of their place and of a chance to face the best bowlers around the world in the longest form of the game and likewise Zimbabwe deserve a chance again. I fear that Ervine may not be the answer though. Completely, at least.

Having followed this winding saga for a while, something that has concerned me has been the expectations placed upon Ervine by the fans, and I fear that such expectations may also be harboured by the board. I've often wondered about the effects caused by player dislocation and the resultant talent exaggeration this can cause. It can occur in any sport but cricket and specifically Zimbabwe cricket, given their history, most of all. It would appear that perceived ability and influence a player has on a team is directly proportional to the length of time that player is absent from that team. Ervine has been out of the side for six years, and it is hoped by many fans that he will bat at four in the test side, and be the first change bowler, as he apparently can bowl the ball fast and swing it.

The last thing that I want this to be is sour grapes. Maybe it is in a way though. Hampshire are losing a fine allrounder, one of our best performers who puts his heart into everything he does. And yes he is a good batsman. But a test level number four? At first class level the highest Hampshire were happy to bat Ervine was at five, often with him coming in at six or seven. Ervine is of an International standard on his day, and in limited overs matches he works better batting slightly further up the order, but five first class centuries in six years suggests that if Zimbabwe are looking for a number four test batsman then Ervine is not their man. The less spoken about his bowling, the better.

Ok, repeat: I am not bitter. I am not bitter. I am not bitter...

Monday, 1 November 2010

The CA-pprentice

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

All: Yes Lord Sutherland.

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

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

Ricky: Yes Lord Sutherland, that is correct.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael: For goodness sake!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 25 October 2010

Oh yeah

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


Saturday, 16 October 2010

My favourite Cricketer - Imran Tahir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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