Friday, 1 April 2011

Bopara to focus on Test spot

It's refreshing to hear a player shun the vast sums of money on offer in the IPL to focus on Test cricket, or at least to try and gain position in the Test side.

Ravi Bopara has gone the way that Eoin Morgan may look back and wish he had, by searching for early County Championship form rather than financial lure of the IPL.  Morgan is the player that is probably in pole position to replace Paul Collingwood in the Test side after being the spare batsman in the recent Ashes series, yet his decision to play T20 cricket in the early months of the domestic season may affect the selectors thoughts when the squad for the first Test of the summer against Sri Lanka is made sometime in the middle of May.

I personally am perplexed by Morgan's decision, barring the obvious financial advantages, perhaps that is a good enough reason. It is indeed a lot of money (he was signed for Kolkata Knight Riders for $350,000), but surely it goes against all cricketing logic for his own career. Morgan is only 24 years old, this is a critical stage for his Test career where he can forge a real convincing case that he is the man to bat at number six for the England Test side, but by going to the IPL he would basically be hoping to be selected for the opening Sri Lanka Test on the back of a few cameos in a T20 competition. Surely Andy Flower and Andy Strauss cannot select someone that will ultimately have played zero First-Class cricket in 2011 ? It seemed logical for Morgan to turn his back on the IPL, albeit for just one season, while he establishes himself in the Test side, should he do so, ensuring he receives an even healthier pay packet in the IPL 2012 version. Maybe it's unfair of me to criticise his decision, the cricket world is changing and there is less emphasis on the importance of Test cricket in the eyes of some of the players.

Bopara certiainly won't have a clear run on the vacant middle order slot, Morgan may have certain assurances his decision will not harm his case for the Test team, though it surely has to. James Hildreth of Somerset, in my eyes, is another fierce competitior after another highly impressive season in 2012 and a successful campaign leading the England Lions in the West Indies domestic four-day tournament. Hildreth finished as the second highest run-scorer in the competition before they returned home prematurely in order to prepare for their own domestic seasons. The Lions finished in 3rd place and would have qualified for the knockout stages.

Hildreth scored 546 runs at an average of just over 60 including two centuries. Bopara will indeed be under pressure from the Somerset man to succeed in the early stages of the County Championship where several matches are shoehorned into the opening couple of months.

Bopara initially was not selected by any of the franchises for this year's IPL, but following Collingwood's injury, Rajasthan Royals displayed an interest and were willing to pay £100,000 to secure his services. Now if the reprting on this is accurate and Bopara has turned the opportunity down to focus on that Test spot, then he deserves praise for putting his career ahead of swelling his bank account. When Bopara returned from the IPL last year his technique was set in IPL mode, so his back foot was automatically moving in the direction of square leg which would have been a modification aimed at giving himself room to flay the ball through the offside. Not so handy against the moving ball back on England's early season seamers where patience is a more worthwhile attribute.

He may not have a roaring start to the season, but at least he is giving himself the best opportunity to impress the England selectors, and doing so in the right format to gain Test selection. As I alluded to earlier he did initially put himself up for auction in the IPL, so let's just hope the reason he has now turned the IPL down is solely about looking after his cricketing career and no alternative external factors.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

More pink ball and floodlights!

We are still in March yet the traditional County season opener has already concluded, once again the more reliable weather in Abu Dhabi was the selected venue as further trials were carried out with the use of a pink ball and day/night first-class cricket.

Crowds are generally sparse for the County Championship so any options that are being explored to swell the numbers through the gate for what is essentially a very good standard of domestic cricket and fiercely competitive, can only be worthwhile experiments.

Rahul Dravid is certainly keen for more trials in differing conditions and nations with the pink ball. He clearly had no problems in sighting the ball as he stroked his way to 106 runs in the MCC's second innings. Perhaps more importantly than his runs is the fact he is a member of the World Cricket Committee and give offer first-hand advice to the rest of the committee of how they can take these experiments forward and make this type of cricket a very viable option.

The game itself saw the County champions, Notts, largely outplayed for much of the game that lasted only three of the scheduled four days. For a variety of reasons Notts were some way from being at full strength, names such as Andre Adams, Darren Pattinson, and Andy Carter unable to make the trip. That did however give Wayne Noon the opportunity to hand debuts to Jake Ball and Brett Hutton.

The MCC included some exciting names, led by Aussie Chris Rogers, the side included new Somerset signing Steve Kirby, Stephen Moore, keeper Steven Davies, and the Afghan paceman Hamid Hassan. Unfortunately Simon Jones was selected to travel, but as ever, an injury scare resulted in him pulling out.

It was supposed to be a batsman's paradise thought you wouldn't guess from first innings totals of 218, for the MCC, and 108 by Notts. Then Dravid took control with his century, ably supported by Stephen Peters, Moore and Davies, who all registered early season half-centuries.

The target of 468 was always most unlikely for Notts, espeically when they were reduced to 21-4. Mid-lower order resistance was essential, and Ali Brown, Chris Read, Steven Mullaney and Paul Franks duly obliged with fifties to give the match a look of some respectability.

Luke Fletcher missed much of the 2010 season and set about his work in 2011 with renewed optimism. He snared four wickets in each innings while maintaining a very good economy. Not to be outdone, the Afghan quick also caught they eye, Hassan took seven wickets in the match. Steve Kirby took a 5-29 for MCC in the first innings, but his game was cut short by a minor calf injury that saw him fly home for treatment. It is hoped he'll be fit for April 9th when Somerset take on Cardiff MCCU at Taunton. 

So is it worthwhile shifting this fixture to Abu Dhabi ? In my opinion, absolutely. Changes need to be made to get the bigger crowds into first-class cricket in England. Test cricket is exceptionally well supported so there is a love for the longer game, and if times can be shifted to play during the evening, then surely more people will fancy a night at the cricket after work, and not to watch some 'hit and giggle'. The pink Kookaburra ball and various other aspects of this experiment will naturally need further testing. Does the colour last on the ball ? Will dew play a big factor ? Will visibility be a problem during twilight times ?

The amount that can be gained from these experiments means the trials are absolutely worthwhile, the faster, the better.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Repercussions of the IPL in England

Following the conclusion of the Indian Premier League auction at the weekend, what impact, in terms of disruption to the counties, will it have on the start of the domestic campaign in England ?

The IPL gets underway on the same day as the County Championship season kicks off (April 8), and while some counties will be hampered by the absence of some of their finest talents for a substantial length of time, the impact could indeed have been more severe. There were several English and English based players that were not selected for any of the franchises.

The prolonged contractual discussions between Essex and Ravi Bopara seemed to focus around the details of IPL payments, a potential compensation percentage for him being allowed to play in the tournament, which all proved unnecessary as Bopara was not picked up by any of the franchises. New team-mate Owais Shah will be absent from the Essex line-up for the duration his franchise, Kochi, are in the competition, as will all-rounder Ryan ten Doeschate who will join up with Kolkata Knight Riders. Of course Essex will have been aware of Shah's intention prior to him signing for the Chelmsford club.

In Essex's situation, they may opt to sign an overseas batsman for the early part of the Championship season to ensure they make a strong start in attempting to regain Division One status. Money gained by way of compensation for two players joining the IPL, will help fund a possible move for South Africa's Hashim Amla, who had a brief, yet very successful, stay with the club in 2009 when he averaged in excess of 100 after three first-class matches.

Along with Shah and ten Doeschate, there are a further seven players that would have started the domestic season in England, had the IPL riches not come calling. Michael Lumb returns to the IPL, joining Kevin Pietersen at Deccan Chargers, his club skipper at Hampshire Dmitri Mascarenhas aims to impress at Kings XI Punjab and Somerset pace bowler Alfonso Thomas will play for new franchise Pune Warriors. From a cricketing aspect Somerset are disappointed Thomas will be heading over to India, but they also understand the opportunity and support him in his decision.

The recently retired England Test batsman Paul Collingwood will not start the season with Durham as Shane Warne's Rajasthan Royals view him as a vital member of their side. In a way you cannot begrudge Collingwood the opportunity to earn himself some serious money (although his $250,000 fee may be one of the bargains) such has been his commitment to the Test side, and he should be available for the duration of the tournament. Franchises may well have been put off signing the likes of Graeme Swann, Jimmy Anderson, etc, as they would be required to return home early and prepare for the Test series against the touring Sri Lankans. Pietersen and Stuart Broad are the only England Test regulars featuring in India.

Leicestershire made the decision to bring Australian all-rounder Andrew McDonald back to Grace Road as their overseas player for 2011, but an IPL contract with Delhi Daredevils delays his arrival. The same applies to Somerset's overseas position, retained by Murali Kartik for 2011, and also the fortunate owner of a wealthy IPL contract, alongside Somerset team-mate Thomas at Pune Warriors.

I am sure there are several other players that may have fulfilled an overseas vacancy with a County from April had they not secured an account swelling contract for a few weeks work in India. Names such as David Hussey may have been (and may still be later in the season) re-united with Nottinghamshire, James Franklin may have returned to Gloucestershire and if finances allowed, Worcestershire may have applied for the services of Shakib al Hasan from the start of the season but for their inclusions in the IPL. Of course it is understandable for the overseas players to opt for a similar or substantially improved wage for around seven weeks work in comparison to the hard yards of a  full County season.

The one situation which I find slightly bewildering is the decision taken by Eoin Morgan to sign an IPL contract, and the same applies to Bopara should a franchise have offered him a deal. With Collingwood retiring from the Test side, it clearly opens up a position in the England middle order that will more than likely be filled by a batsman, such is England's preference to play six specialist batsmen. What better way to project your talent, form, and potential as Collingwood's replacement than scoring heavily with your County in the Championship prior to the Sri Lankans arriving late in May ?

Morgan instead will be trying to slap it about in 20-over cricket! Now unless he has received approval from the England management, surely he would have been better served, not concentrating on his bank balance but preparing as best he can for Test cricket. If he is selected for England, he will be going into the Test series without any first-class cricket under his belt in 2011, or with very limited game time.

The lack of an offer may ironically work in Bopara's favour should he find some early season form with Essex. He also offers the kind of part-time medium pace that Collingwood used to offer England. Having bamboozled Mike Hussey with his last ball in Test cricket, Collingwood may rightly argue his part-time label, and as the Ashes hysteria is still abound, we shall uphold his protestations.

Somerset's James Hildreth will also hope to catch the eye of the selectors after impressing with the England Performance squad over the winter in Australia. He had comfortably his best County Championship season last year proving to his critics that he can score plenty of runs away from the batsman-friendly Taunton as well as punishing attacks at home. Hildreth scored 1,440 first-class runs, including seven centuries, at a mightily impressive average of 65.45.

Bopara and Hildreth will also both get the opportunity to press their claims when the England Lions compete in the West Indies domestic first-class competition during February and March. Leicestershire's James Taylor who is also part of that squad should not be overlooked as possible replacement for Collingwood, but the opportunity may have come too soon for him.

The players due to be away on IPL duty could miss around six County Championship fixtures, and also a handful of 40-over matches, so once again there has been disruption to best laid plans for a handful of the English counties, but we should be aware it could have been much worse. With so many Championship games being shoehorned into the months of April and May, there has to be changes made either to the scheduling of the domestic fixtures or the creation of an IPL window that does not affect other cricket around the world. Of course with the volume of cricket being played this is becoming increasingly problematic to successfully arrange, and that particular challenge continues.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

County Players Winter Form - Part Two

Following on from our look at the Australian domestic season we move on to South Africa to investigate the form of the players we expect to see in domestic cricket in England in 2011.

Before we get to the South African players that will be appearing in the County Championship, there have been three English players over there performing for two of the franchises. Kevin Pietersen linked up with the Nashua Dolphins ahead of the Ashes series in an attempt to find some form, but he only made 36 runs in his first innings and bagged a duck in his second game. Yet it was his work on the training ground with his old friend and coach Graham Ford that seems to have rekindled glimpses of his old form, judging by his recent performance in Adelaide.

Ravi Bopara followed on from Pietersen at the Dolphins when he headed off to Australia. He has made only one SuperSport Series appearance so far against the Lions where he batted at number four. He made two starts but was unable to build upon them and register a big score, he was dismissed for 34 and 33. His 12 overs went unrewardedand he leaked 59 runs.

But Bopara's impact in the MTN40 has been much more significant. He helped guide them to the semi-finals of the 40-over competition and appeared in all nine matches making 336 runs at an average of 42.00, including four half centuries, one of those in the first leg of the semi-final. But it was his medium-paced bowling that perhaps surprised, he took 15 wickets at 20.86, his economy may be construde as being a tad high at 6.43, but he took wickets. He managed 4-11 against the Knights, who have reached the final, and 5-63 against the Warriors off eight overs.

His new Essex colleague, Owais Shah, has also spent some of his winter in South Africa at the Cape Cobras, playing as an overseas player in the MTN40 competition. He played six of their seven games, and topped the batting averages with 54.25, his best being the 83 he scored against the Knights off just 78 balls.

So what kind of form have the South African players that we expect to see next season been in ?

Surrey's new signing from Somerset, kolpak all-rounder Zander de Bruyn has been in imperious touch with the bat in both formats. With fitness concerns over Mark Ramprakash for the start of the English season, Surrey have moved swiftly to complement the exciting young talent they have at the Oval, with some much needed experience. A shrewd move it's looking with de Bruyn in his current form.

In the 40-over game, de Bruyn scored 345 runs, at just under a run a ball, while averaging 69.00. He made a century and three fifties, and this form continued into the longer game. His SuperSport Series record after four games has seen him average 70, slightly inflated by two not outs in his six innings, but impressive nonetheless.

His Lions team-mate and Hampshire middle order batsman Neil McKenzie has also caught the eye in SuperSport Series with 353 runs in the tournament so far. In his last match he made 164 and set up a four-wicket victory for the Lions. His one-day form is not comparable to the four-day game, but he has always been a safer bet in the longer form.

An exciting talent that will be returning to Hampshire in 2011, after a season with Warwickshire, is leg-spinner Imran Tahir who plies his trade along with Bopara at the Dolphins. While Hampshire unearthed a potential spinning gem in Danny Briggs while Tahir was away for a season, his development can only be enhanced by operating in tandem with Tahir and picking his brains on all facets of their art.

Tahir, as ever, has proved hugely effective in both the MTN40 and the SuperSport Series. His outstanding economy in the 40-overs game of 4.42 demonstrates the absolute control he has over his line and length, and his spin armoury has bamboozled no less than 30 unsuspecting victims in the first-class game, which includes four five-wicket hauls. His best came against the Titans, when he tore through their line-up in the first innings taking 7-112, without affording them any let up in their second effort picking up a further 5-47. The formailty after such a high quality sustained piece of bowling was completed when the Dolphins knocked off 73 with the loss of only one wicket.

Glamorgan's new signing and captain, Alviro Petersen, has not enjoyed the best of domestic season's so far, averaging mid to late 20's in both competitions. In the recent Test series against South Africa, Petersen made 67, 26, 2, and 35, to suggest he was getting himself, but failing to really go on and capitalise in helpful batting conditions.

Leicestershire's Claude Henderson, who had an excellent season at Grace Road accruing 56 wickets in the County Championship, is displaying typical reliability again in South Africa for his franchise, the Cape Cobras. There is nothing too exceptional about Henderson, but he can certainly be expected to bowl with the control and patience necessary to execute his skipper's plans. Although his 7-108 at Benoni against the Titans indicated he can still win matches for his side and not just be a steady Eddie.

So I think that's covered all the players we can expect to see in 2011, if there are any players that may have been missed, or that may be playing club cricket in South Africa, please leave a comment with an update of how they're going. Until next time....

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

County Players Winter Form - Part One

This is the first piece in this blog examining how various players that we can expect to see in the County Championship next season are faring in their winter seasons wherever that may be. It may be overseas players that will be heading to England in 2011, or English players that are honing their skills abroad.

So first up let's have a look at what's happening in Australia. Well, we know there are very few overseas players invited to play Sheffield Shield cricket over there, although we have Sajid Mahmood and Michael Lumb heading over there to take part in the T20 competition - The KFC Twenty20 Big Bash. So let's have a look at four players, all from the Victoria Bushrangers, that will be in England next season.

Let's begin by having a look at their star performer in the Sheffield Shield, Leicestershire's all-rounder Andrew McDonald, who has begun the season in scintillating fashion.

McDonald smashed 163 at the WACA against Western Australia off only 116 balls, including 21 fours and seven sixes, this inevitably helped Victoria to a deserving eight wicket victory. He backed this up with two centuries against a very useful looking New South Wales side that included the metronomic Stuart Clark, Aussie spin reject Nathan Hauritz, the pacy Mark Cameron, their next leg spin hope Steven Smith and Australia's all-rounder Shane Watson.

McDonald's relaible medium pace has offered his state the necessary control, though the wickets have not come fluently, he still represents a consistent option. He has taken seven wickets at 36.14, but the statistic that comes as no surprise is his excellent economy rate of 2.42.

Unfortunately for McDonald he did break his hand against Western Australia, the second time they played WA this season, and missed the home game against Queensland because of it.

Middlesex's new overseas signing, run scoring machine Chris Rogers, joined the county from Derbyshire during the close season and has also had his appearances restricted by injury. He has had surgery on his knee and has managed just a single game in the Sheffield Shield against Tasmania where he made 26 and 18. He's expected to be out till around February time. Time to get fully rehabilitated and find his form ahead of his first season at Lords.

Our next man is a bowler that was probably unfairly never talked about as a pace option for England during the Ashes tour playing in conditions he is very familiar with, Darren Pattinson. I'm not advocating a return to the Test set-up for Pattinson, but if there were concerns about our penetrative ability on these flat pitches, then Pattinson has more experience then any of our options in how to succeed.

This was exemplified by an eight wicket haul in the season opener against WA. He has added to that tally since and now has 15 victims to his name at 20.86, and is still not considered a certainty in the Victorian line-up, despite being their leading wicket-taker this season.

The last player is a batsman that all the Nottinghamshire fans hope will return as their overseas player in 2011, David Hussey. Can generally be relied upon in all forms of the game, Hussey is yet to hit top form yet this season for Victoria.

He did show his capabilities in combining with McDonald for a 105 run fifth wicket partnership against NSW, Hussey went on to make 122. He still averages over 40 for this season and is Victoria's leading run scorer currently, but you expect he will deliver more in the remainder of the season.

Victoria's form has been below average in the Sheffield Shield, they sit second bottom in the table with only WA below them. In the Ryobi Cup their form is the opposite, and they are second just five points behind top placed Tasmania, yet the players highlighted here are yet to register any match defining performances in this form of the game, althoguh Rogers and Pattinson have only played the once.

Former Durham, Leciestershire and Lancashire batsman Brad Hodge has been the stand out player and is the main reason the Bushrangers are doing so well.

The Ryobi Cup is being used for experimental purposes. It is a 45 over game, but the teams innings are split into two parts, first they bat for 20 overs, then the opposition bats for 20 overs, and they then finish off the remaining 25 overs each. By all accounts there has been mixed reviews for this innovative move.

Next time I'll be having a look at how Ravi Bopara and Owais Shah, amongst others, are going in South Africa.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Will Shreck remain at the Bridge?

Speculation continues to surround the future of Nottinghamshire pace bowler Charlie Shreck.

There is an offer on the table from Notts to secure the services of Shreck for the near future, but whether he is simply mulling over the deal or assessing his options with regards a move to another county, it's not clear.

Somerset and Durham are the two clubs that have shown interest in Shreck, but the interest may have waned from Somerset as they have recently acquired the Gloucestershire duo, Steven Kirby and Gemaal Hussain.

Durham also boast a powerful seam attack with Steve Harmison, Liam Plunkett, Callum Thorpe, Mitch Claydon and Charlie Rushworth, that's without mentioning the injured Graham Onions. They were left short on options due to several injuries last season so may wish to add to the depth of the squad should a similar situation arise in the future.

However, Notts coach Mick Newell is still confident Shreck will further his stay at Trent Bridge. Newell has already lost the services of swing specialist Ryan Sidebottom. He has re-signed for his old county Yorkshire, due to the length of the contract that was offered by Notts, which was a two-year offer whereas Sidebottom preferred the security of a three-year stay at Headingley.

Shreck missed much of last season and made only five County Championship appearances, taking 18 wickets at 32.05. Wherever he is, he'll be hoping to feature much more, and no doubt will be the usual reliable source of wickets.

Turmoil at Glamorgan continues

The word crisis is perhaps an overused word in the media these days, the slightest hint of any disruption has journalists questioning an entire structure of a club and its history.

But when a club loses its captain, coach and President, then a serious investigation should be conducted, and in Glamorgan's case, it is more the manner of which these events have occurred.

Paul Russell, the county's chairman, is the man seen to be instigating these movements, and in certain cases making their positions at the club untenable.

Jamie Dalrymple, the skipper for the last two seasons, was replaced, without notice, by the signing of South African international Alviro Petersen. Coach Matthew Maynard, who has held that position at the club for just over three years, was not consulted about making such drastic changes, and Colin Metson, the county's former wicket-keeper, is supposedly being brought into a coaching role that would see him above Maynard in the coaching structure.

None of these cricketing decisions were talked through with Maynard or Dalrymple. Now forgive me if I'm mistaken, but surely the coach and the captain should be made aware of these developments if the club has any inclination to keep these men at the club. Instead they've understandably seen their association with the club become untenable, and must surely have the feeling that they have been forced out by Russell, certainly in Maynard's case from the club he has a huge affinity with.

The problem that now appears to be creeping into cricket are major cricketing decisions are being made by the wrong people. We've seen it happen in football on a frequent basis. Those in charge of the club, non-football men, are making judgements on transfers, formations and styles of play. By all accounts Dalrymple and Maynard, the people that should be in charge of making cricketing decisions, have previously informed the management of the areas that need to be addressed in order for the club's cricketing abilities to progress, and importantly to aid the development of the side as one-day force.

It is the one-day performances that have forced the club into these changes. They were admittedly poor in 2010, but in the Championship they narrowly missed out on promotion to division one on the final day of the season. The decision to replace Dalrymple is naturally the decision of those above, and who is to say at this stage it isn't the correct one. The manner in which this has been dealt with is the biggest slur on the county.

When Russell and co. made Petersen the overseas signing and captain without discussing it with the coach, you can understand that he must have felt surplus to requirements. Also with the news of Metson being installed above Maynard, as a Director of Cricket, meant he was unwilling to ultimately accept a demotion into a lesser role.

Maynard's son, Tom, has recently extended his stay at Glamorgan, whether there is to be any repercussions here will remain to be seen.  

Metson, who is already a committee member, does not have a particularly impressive coaching resume in terms of experience gained, so it may be seen as a gamble in that respect.

To cap it all, President Peter Walker also opted to join Maynard and Dalrymple in walking out of Swalec Stadium, he simply did not agree with the changes and the impending implications of these actions.

It hasn't been a good week for Glamorgan, yet they have remained tight-lipped following the resignations of three key members. They are expected to announce on Monday that Colin Metson is joining as Director of Cricket, but it may take some time for the club to be shown in a good light again.