It’s Miller Time!

Jamaica twirler Nikita Miller has deservedly won a recall to the West Indies side on the back of consistently strong domestic performances. For now Miller remains a wicketless one-cap no wonder at Test level but he’ll add to his tally of 46 ODI appearances against New Zealand later this month. In doing so, the thirty-five-year-old can push for another opportunity at Test cricket as well. On the regional circuit, Miller’s stats are truly staggering. He averages a mind boggling 16.17 with the orb at First Class level and is rapidly approaching 500 victims. In the List A format, Miller averages a possibly disappointing 28.28 but at an economy rate of just 3.95! It does kind of beg the question: “Why hasn’t he won more international caps to date?”. Admittedly there are a few West Indies based bowlers, spinners in particular, possessive of some ridiculously low bowling averages. Miller hasn’t donned a Windies Jersey since 2015 and played his solitary Test against Bangladesh as far back as 2009 but his time has come once again.

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It’s also good to see thirty-six-year-old Trinidad native Rayad Emrit earn a maiden T20I call-up. It’s more than a decade since Emrit won his two ODI caps in India and he’ll hope for far more productive performances against New Zealand having failed to take a wicket in his ODI outings. Like Miller, Emrit has been rewarded for consistent domestic showings and though some may criticise the need to call-up players well into their thirties, there are a number of young players currently around the West Indies side and Miller and Emrit’s experience could compliment those players well.

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No Buzz Without Woody!

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If the buzz is to be believed, England are set to turn to Durham’s Mark Wood in the hope that his ‘express’ pace can help them stay competitive in the Ashes. Because one wicket in two Tests earlier this year and an inability to make it through a Test match without injury really cries out ‘Saviour’!

England’s best bowlers are already on the pitch. They just need to bowl better. Their performances in the second innings of the second Test suggest they’ve cottoned onto that fact.

Surrey’s Tom Curran is in the squad and along with Liam Plunkett and Mark Footitt, I’d have them in the team sooner than I would, err… Wood! I’d have re-integrated Footitt earlier this season and couldn’t care less that Plunkett rarely dons whites for Yorkshire. Hell I’d pick Joe Leach and Steve Patterson before Wood! I’ll back any player that wears England colours but Mark Wood is not the great hope. England seem to be in the habit of letting themselves gain the impression that the player who is absent is their star command!

Best bowlers bowl better + Batsman bat better = Competitiveness

I don’t mean to sound too harsh regarding Wood but he’s not Allan Donald is he?

Having said all that, if Woody travels lightyears, rocks up in Perth and claims 7-43 then I’ll be more than happy to eat pie with extra generous dollops of humble!

‘To infinity and beyond!’

Over to you Craig!

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There’s a major flaw in regard to my cricket blog. It’s that I don’t actually watch much cricket! I don’t have a TV and I certainly don’t have BT Sport or Sky Sports. I don’t spend all my days camped at county cricket grounds either. When I woke up this morning and checked the score of the second Ashes Test, I realised that being a day/night match and a delayed weather interrupted one at that, that if I popped around to my parent’s house I could catch plenty of the action. I gained authorisation from the wife and got in the car (Having got dressed obviously!). I’d missed Cameron Bancroft’s cricket class day one dismissal but saw David Warner’s impatience and necessity to keep scoring cost him his wicket. What the silly little jump was for I don’t know! I then saw Mark Stoneman drop a catch. I like Stoneman’s phlegmatic demeanour but the drop was a shocker and had Usman Khawaja made 150, would Rocky have been ruffled come his turn to bat? Fortunately James Anderson did for Khawaja straight after the interval, courtesy of a smart catch by Hampshire’s James Vince. Then came the moment. I remember watching cricket on TV during my teenage years. I remember Dominic Cork’s knock against West Indies, Ryan Sidebottom being robbed of an LBW against Pakistan and Usman Afzaal celebrating an Ashes fifty as though it were a double hundred. I remember being in a small cabin in Scotland watching Geraint Jones hold ‘that’ catch via a tiny, fuzzy, black and white TV. I’m honoured to say that Craig Overton’s maiden Test wicket, that of Steve Smith clean (Or dirtily?!) bowled in Adelaide will live with me forever. In a world where footballers are yellow carded for celebrating, the unbridled joy on Overton’s face, the reaction of his teammates confirmed that sport is a better place for a show of emotion. Had Anderson or Broad claimed that wicket, England would have been cock-a-hoop but not in the way that they were for the Somerset man. Of course it will never be the same for Overton. You only take your first Test wicket once and he may never take another. Whatever happens in his life though, he will have that moment to share with the grandkids!

Ashes Cricket (PS4): Global Test League – England Squad Announcement

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Following the disappointing defeat at the hands of Zimbabwe in the opening round of Global Test League fixtures, England now take on India in another home encounter, this time at Lords.

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We’ve opted to make one alteration to the squad and one change to the XI. Spinner Liam Dawson bowled well in patches but struggled for effectiveness at Old Trafford and against a side strong against spin, Liam will be better served honing his skills in domestic cricket.

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Toby Roland-Jones steps up from 12th man to compliment our seam bowling attack and is expected to do well on his home ground.

Liam Plunkett is another pace bowling option that still has something to offer in the longest format of the game and joins the squad as 12th man.

Be sure to revisit the site to see if Joe Root and his men can bounce back from defeat against Zimbabwe and pick up their first ever Global Test League points with a positive result against the mighty India. Many thanks for your support.

No Price on a T20 Wicket

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Call me old fashioned but I like to think if a batsman is dismissed first ball that they will, at least in part, be embarrassed. Of course there are circumstances where a first-baller is to an extent acceptable, perhaps the last ball of a limited overs match.

I can’t help but think that in the current era some players just aren’t bothered about bagging a duck of the golden variety. In a world of day after day T20 matches, some players have shed themselves of both their inhibitions and a fear of consequence. In the T20 format that may actually be a good thing. A first-baller could, in some instances, be of more value to the team than for example: 5 runs from 12 deliveries.

In the Test arena, I’d like to think that a batsman still puts a price on his wicket. “Yes” attempt to score runs and “Yes” look to entertain but like your life depends on it, don’t get out! It’s that self preservation but for the good of the team that attracted me to cricket in the first place.

Quality over quantity is a cliche but apt in this article. T20 cricket is like a new CD (Old school I know!). You buy it and listen to every song over and over. You play it to death and eventually it just doesn’t move you in the way that it once did. You watch some cricket and are moved by the batsman. You despair that a player was dismissed for a duck but given that they’re batting every other day in some month long league followed by another month long league (Maybe the West Greenland Sixfest) for another team (Maybe Martian Maidens), you lose that emotion. The batsman was out first ball but it doesn’t matter because he’s playing again tomorrow and nobody will remember the result or the defending champions anyway!

Like a big brother dissing the little brother that’s receiving more attention, this article has gone down the path of Test cricket trying to put T20 cricket in it’s place. When I started this blog just over a year ago, it’s at this point in the article that I’d spend a long time trying to round things up into some sort of summary. Maybe my writing has regressed but I’m more content now with putting out an opinion or just some vibes and if all remains a little open-ended then so be it…

Batting Mentality

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Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes currently find themselves at positions six, seven and eight in England’s Test batting order. If it weren’t for the absence of Ben Stokes then Moeen would be at eight not six and Woakes would drop to as low as number nine.

At domestic level, in First Class cricket Moeen would either open or be first drop, JB would find himself positioned at four or five and Woakes would come in at six. If England are to get a grip or at least be competitive in the 2017-18 Ashes then each of the aforementioned players must remember that they are top order batsmen, regardless of where they sit in the England line-up. They each have many a First Class century to their name. Moeen and Bairstow obviously have a few at Test level too and Woakes is capable of achieving such.

It’s this supposed strength in depth of England’s batting order that should be crucial in helping the team compete in Australia. England’s tail, in particular Stuart Broad, have regressed over recent times and are likely to be peppered with short stuff for the remainder of the series. For that reason it’s even more important that England’s engine room deliver. Of course it’s understandable that when there is less batting to come, a player will be more inclined to be extra aggressive and risky but Moeen and JB should be comforted by the knowledge that they’ve still got one (Woakes for JB) or two (JB and Woakes for Mo) quality batsman behind them.

Australia will be cocksure after their victory in the first Test in Brisbane but England were on top on more than one occasion during the series opener. If the visitors can put the home side under pressure again then they are there for the taking.

Switching to the home side’s batting, Usman Khawaja is under extreme pressure to convince otherwise his international career may become like Shaun Marsh. Marsh is another man who remains under pressure and unloved by some, that’s despite a vital half-century in Brisbane. Wicketkeeper Tim Paine is also part of the Ozzies’ batting line-up and his domestic record won’t fill any home fans with confidence. England may need to turn to the likes of Mark Wood, Craig Overton or more excitingly Tom Curran, if they are to exploit Australia’s weaknesses.

It’s quite simple then. Bat like batsmen and bowl better. That’s England’s tactical pep talk ahead of the second Test in Adelaide. Come on boys!

Ashes Cricket (PS4): Global Test League

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Top of the Global Test League… but for how long?

The Global Test League is here folks!

Unfortunately due to contractual issues neither Australia or Sri Lanka feature in the competition. There are eight teams (England, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, West Indies and Zimbabwe) and each side will play each other home and away. That’s a total of fourteen matches per side to decide the best Test team on the globe.

As Team Manager and Chairman of Selectors of the England team, it’s my responsibility to keep you up to date with how the side perform during the competition. So here it goes…

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Liam Dawson (1-83 & 0-65) struck early in Zimbabwe’s first innings but was a juxtaposition of maidens and expensive overs from there on.

Our first match of the inaugural Global Test League was a home fixture against Zimbabwe at Old Trafford. Many observers rather disrespectfully suggested that the result was a formality. It turned out to be anything but!

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James Anderson (3-107) didn’t immediately find his groove but came back in sensational style, at one point being on a hat-trick!

Zimbabwe won the toss and batted first. At 344-4 early on the second day, the visitors seemed destined for a huge score. James Anderson (3-107) had other ideas however as the Lancashire quick found another gear on his home ground. Zimbabwe lost their last six wickets for just 38 runs to subside to 384 all out (Masakadza 106, Raza 88). A still decent total but not as imposing as they would have liked given their position before Anderson’s exploits.

In our first innings, we seemed guaranteed to claim a first innings lead when a 126-run partnership between Mark Stoneman (77) and James Vince (71) took us to 162-1. Both batsmen were naively run out though and there then followed what can only be described as kamikaze batting by the home side. 162-1 rapidly became 239 all out. A loss of nine wickets for just 77 runs. This included the fall of captain Joe Root for a golden duck. Part-time spinner Sean Williams (4-31) was the chief destroyer, backed-up by seamer Chris Mpofu (3-61).

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Craig Ervine survived a clear glove behind as Zimbabwe set England a mammoth 471 to win the Test match.

Zimbabwe then maintained the pattern of the batting side laying a strong platform and had reached 167-1 before Dawid Malan (2-32) intervened. The part-time Middlesex spinner struck with his second delivery immediately after the interval and went onto claim a further wicket as well as effect a run out and take a catch. Malan’s success with the ball only served to highlight Liam Dawson’s lack of penetration. England then took regular wickets but not in clusters as the away side totalled 327 (Mire 90, Broad 3-75) second time around. Not wanting to be bitter, we were frustrated by some of the umpiring decisions during Zimbabwe’s second innings, not least the clear glove behind by Craig Ervine (See image above) that was given not out.

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James Vince, having been run out for 71 in the first innings, posted a maiden Test hundred in the second.

Ultimately that left us needing to score a world record 471 to win the Test match. At various intervals including when positioned on 127-1, 221-3 and 375-6 we had high hopes of making history. James Vince (107) led the way with a maiden Test century at a little over a run-a-ball but the Hampshire man was dismissed not long after reaching his hundred.

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Moeen Ali smashed the record for Test match cricket’s fastest ever half-century in a thrilling demonstration of clean hitting entertainment for the loyal but bedraggled England following.

Alongside Jonny Bairstow (71 from 45), Moeen Ali had the home crowd struggling to believe their eyes as we dared to pull off cricket’s greatest ever heist. The Worcestershire all-rounder clobbered 58 from just 17 deliveries. Though it was part-timer Sean Williams that dismissed Moeen, it was Zimbabwe captain Graeme Cremer who held his nerve as we went on the attack in our quest for victory. In regards to field placements, the away side’s bold skipper didn’t panic in the face of Moeen and JB’s onslaught. Cremer would finish the innings with sensational figures of 7-105 and deservedly claim the Player of the Match award!

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Our tail were soon back in the pavilion as Zimbabwe claimed a deserved victory, one that has sent shockwaves around the cricket world. The margin of defeat a mere 78 runs. We’re obviously disappointed to have lost but I’m proud of the team for sticking at it with the ball in each of Zimbabwe’s innings and restricting them to sub 400 totals on both occasions. I’m also proud of the boys for scoring nearly 400 on a worn and degrading pitch in the fourth innings of a Test match. It was our inept batting display in our first innings though that has cost us the match. Things won’t get any easier next up against India at Lords, as we go in pursuit of  our first Global Test League points. Despite the loss we don’t anticipate wholesale changes to the side. A squad for that Test match will be named in due course with Toby Roland-Jones possibly coming into contention on his home ground.

Disclaimer: The simulation of other teams’ matches crashed when Australia featured and the on-disc Sri Lanka team has not yet been complimented with genuine players, hence their absence from the Global Test League. As the old adage goes: “You can only beat what’s in front of you”, or not as the case may be!