Monday, July 31, 2006

Second Test: England win by an innings and 120 runs



England are back on form! This crushing victory inside three days has re-established English cricket as resurgent and confident. This is going to be a long post, so do click 'More' to read it in full.

Discounting matches against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, this is England's joint biggest victory since 1974 (they also beat Pakistan by an innings and 120 runs back in 1978), and although it was another team effort, one bright shining new English star has emerged into the media's glaring, cruel eye: Mudhsuden Singh Panesar.

Monty is a bowler of enormous promise. He already has 25 Test wickets from only eight matches. Although a finger spinner, he can turn the ball sharply. Despite a lack of variation in pace and of a doosra, he managed to trick and trap the Pakistani batsmen - traditionally brilliant players of spin - into gifting their wickets. Doubtless he had some assistance from the pitch, yet this assistance mysteriously vanished when the Pakistani spinners were bowling; leaving one to draw the obvious conclusion that it was sheer talent, and not just a dodgy surface, that accounted for Panesar's match figures of 8-93. At last, England have a spin bowler who is not only handy (as Giles was before him) but capable of winning matches (as Giles, for all his talent, was not).

Let's not overlook the other positives that have emerged from this match, however. Steve Harmison, who for a good couple of years has frightened batsmen all over the world yet has rarely lived up to his billing, stormed his way through eleven Pakistani wickets. He bowled furiously and often accurately, forcing the batsmen into errors (watching Inzamam - one of the top ten batsmen in the world - completely misreading Harmison's length, and trying to duck a ball which only rose to hip height, was a joy). Harmison now has a performance to match his achievements against the West Indies at Sabina Park and his devastating (but sadly not match-winning) return at Lord's in last year's Ashes.

On the batting front there were delights as well. Alistair Cook and Ian Bell have now made hundreds in consecutive matches. Whether or not Cook is entirely secure in the No. 3 position is a question for another day. For the time being, he is the proud holder of a Test average of 59.40 after only seven matches, with three hundreds - a record only exceeded among current England players by his captain, Andrew Strauss. To say that he is gifted is an understatement. And, come the winter, the Australians will remember the double century he scored against their bowlers last year at Chelmsford.

Ian Bell's century was his most assured innings in an England shirt. Aware that, after his poor performances in last year's Ashes, he has merely been keeping the seat warm for the injured Andrew Flintoff, he has given the English selectors the delightful headache of showing himself to be a viable option should they decide to play six batsmen and only four bowlers. Although I have reservations about using this tactic in Australia, Bell's self-confidence in the middle order and the brilliance of Panesar make a strong case for dropping Flintoff down to No. 7 (where he will be a frightening prospect for the opposition, matched only by Gilchrist for the Australians).

And, last but not least, Strauss is now able to relax in his sudden role as England captain, since Flintoff will be recuperating from his operation until October. At Lord's he erred on the side of caution, delaying his declaration until he was sure the game was safe. At Old Trafford he was prepared to countenance more aggressive tactics (although there was a case for declaring the moment Bell made his hundred). English captains have tended to under-bowl their spinners, but Strauss recognised that Panesar was the man for the job and he was not afraid to let the left-armer operate unbroken at one end while the latter ploughed his steady way through the formidable Pakistani line-up, and Harmison scared the wits out of them at the other.

There is one positive remaining to be mentioned, and I have left it until last as it is shrouded in irony. Geraint Jones had a marvellous match behind the stumps, taking six catches and pulling off a marvellous rapid-reaction stumping. This achievement is rendered all the more remarkable by the fact that five of those dismissals took place in Pakistan's second innings, during which Jones was keeping with a broken finger. While he has failed to live up to his early promise with the bat, Jones's keeping has improved from frankly amateur (none of his blunders cost England the Ashes, but there would have been plenty of opportunities for criticism had the series not gone England's way) to international standard. Yet England have used the broken finger as a chance to drop him from the team - not to give his finger time to recover, but to punish him for his overall poor performance.

The questions that arise are: if Jones's form with the bat was considered below standard (the reason given for dropping him) why was he not excluded from the team sooner, ie at the start of the summer, allowing his replacement ample time to get some international experience under his belt before the trip Down Under this winter? If his form with the bat was considered good enough to play these matches, why has he been dropped for a player (Chris Read) whose own record with the bat at international level is equally miserable? If the England selectors were not convinced Jones's performances were adequate, why did they wait until the convenient excuse of his injury emerged - why did they not have the courage to drop him on merit alone? If Read was treated shoddily two years ago, by being dropped by selectors seduced by Jones's batting form on the county circuit, then Jones has been treated just as shoddily. It's behaviour like this that is holding back English cricket from being on a par with the Australians.

On the bright side, England have six strong batsmen, all of whom have made a Test century this summer, two pacemen in the world's top ten bowlers, a spinner capable of bowling a side out and not just holding up an end, and a captain beginning to look assured in his role. Flintoff, Simon Jones and Anderson may well be fit in time for the Ashes tour, and several other Young Turks are making a good case for consideration (Dalrymple, Loudon, Joyce, Shah, Plunkett). The future of English cricket, if it can only overcome its natural hesitancy and its tendency to pay too much attention to individual performances, looks bright indeed.


Genius is what happens when wit meets opportunity


Via B3ta, I've come across a YouTube video calling itself Vader Sessions, the premise of which is that Darth Vader has an incestuous love affair with his daughter and suffers a nervous breakdown. The real genius of the piece is that the footage consists entirely of extracts from the original Star Wars and the voice of Vader is taken from other films starring James Earl Jones, who provided the original Vader voice (I would guess some of the films in question are Paul Robeson, The Great White Hope, Field of Dreams and possibly Blood Tide).

If the guy who made this isn't already working professionally as a sound editor, someone needs to sign him up and pay him for his talent!


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Blast Straw


At last, something to shake me out of my non-blogging torpor (Israel-Lebanon is too ghastly to comment on, and there's nothing useful I can add to what others are saying, and not much else is happening apart from the usual awfulness). This is worth doing, not just for its comedy value, but because there's a serious issue of accountability at stake:

"I will write to Jack Straw to tell him he's a cretin but only if 100 other people will too."

Note to Tories: this is not just a random, Labour-bashing initiative but a very specific campaign in support of which has been criticised by Straw for wasting MPs' time by - gasp - getting them to correspond with their constituents!

Bloody cheek; these people will be wanting the vote, next.

[POSTSCRIPT: I bet Slaughter's behind this.]

Oh, and on an unrelated matter: if you thought our government's ID card scheme was bad, see what's happening in another country.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Wunch of bankers


It's still very hard to believe that this event isn't just an elaborate hoax.

Apart from the thought that I might turn up and see someone I know (thus rendering my performance instantly futile), what puts me off is the idea that I might be duped into believing the whole thing is genuine and turn up to be greeted by sniggers and pointing fingers - "aah! You thought this was for real! You stupid wanker! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!"

Anyway, Channel Four are covering it, so it must be a load of bollocks (oh, see what I did there! Hysterically funny).


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Whodunnit? Er, no one


Who killed Cock Robin?

"I didn't," said the sparrow. "Even though I held him down in the Tube carriage and fired seven shots into his head at point-blank range with a bow and arrow that has been banned under international warfare conventions, I didn't kill Cock Robin."

Who saw him die?

"I didn't," said the fly, "I was off taking a piss at the time. I didn't see him die."

Who caught his blood?

"I did," said the fish, "in my little dish. I caught it and hid it somewhere, so that there needn't be an independent inquiry."

Who'll dig his grave?

"I won't," said the owl. "I didn't even know he was dead until the next day, honest."

And all the birds of the air fell a-sighing and a-sobbing.

So, there we are. No one did it, according to the CPS. Despite the catalogue of failures and shortcomings, no one can actually be blamed for the death of Cock Robin. Hardly surprising that the whole operation was headed up by a Dick.

Stephen Waldorf. Harry Stanley. Jean Charles de Menezes. Why can't they shoot someone who deserves it? (I would link to someone who deserves it, but they'd probably get me for glorifying terrorism.)


First Test: Match drawn (haven't I used this title before?)



It could have been so much worse. At a time when Pakistan have edged England into third place in the official ICC world rankings, you would expect a series between the two to be closely fought. Had both sides been at full strength, you would say it was too close to call. However, both sides are nursing injuries which more or less cancel out any advantage to the other. I myself still think the series will end in a draw.

In retrospect, it's hard to imagine either side coming out of this game with a victory. Both were using depleted bowling attacks against a strong batting line-up on a flat pitch which deteriorated only a little. England possibly had marginally better bowling, Pakistan marginally better batting, but there was no prospect of a result - expect perhaps Pakistan's fielders might have done well not to smear butter on their fingers before the first day's play.

England emerged with many positives that should eclipse the embarrassing failure to beat Sri Lanka on the same ground in May. Without Flintoff, they still managed to save a game that could have run away from them. Four of their batsmen scored centuries: Collingwood marked his true arrival as a world-class Test batsman, having appeared little more than an also-ran for several years; Strauss silenced his critics with his ninth century in only 28 matches, reminding everyone of the great potential he showed two years ago when he entered the squad with a blistering run of high scores; Bell gave the selectors a pleasant headache by proving his mettle in the No. 6 position, keeping out the Pakistani attack even more effectively than he did when England had their disastrous tour over there before Christmas; and Alistair Cook rode his luck to three figures, keeping his Test average over fifty, and ensuring that he won't be far away from selection when the Ashes are next contested in November. Add to this some pretty nifty spin bowling from Monty Panesar in the second innings, in which he was stopped from adding more wickets to his name only by the inexplicable myopia of should-have-retired-years-ago umpire Bucknor, and there are many reasons to feel that English cricket is looking in reasonably strong shape, despite the injuries that have plagued the team so strongly that Duncan Fletcher must be feeling Pharoah had it easy.

Yet one feels Pakistan have a trump card which is unmatchable - their middle order. Mohammad Yousuf scored a scorching double century in the first innings, and 250 runs in the match in total, dismissing England's almost world-class attack with contempt. And Inzamam proved once again to be unmovable, unbeatable, more rock-like than his Indian counterpart Dravid. You feel England will one day get him out for less than fifty. But you don't feel that day will be any time soon.

So, onto Old Trafford - Flintoff will be fit again, and must surely play on his home ground. So, what do you do about selection? Someone has to make room for him. There are players who pick themselves: Trescothick, Strauss, Pietersen, Fred himself, Panesar, Harmison, Hoggard, Collingwood after that display. That leaves three places. One of them has to keep wicket, so let's assume Jones keeps his place despite his abysmal form with the bat (but look how his keeping has improved to compensate!). That leaves two places for three players: Cook, Bell and Plunkett. Which one gets the chop?

Only one of the three put in a poor (or less than adequate) performance in this last match, and that's Plunkett. Indeed, although his bowling has shown great promise, and although his future looks bright indeed, he has under-performed in his Test career so far (especially given that he was brought into the side partly because he was believed to be a bit of a whizz with the bat). However, if Plunkett is dropped, that means the bowling will rely entirely on Harmison, Hoggard, Flintoff (just back from an injury possibly aggravated by too much bowling) and Panesar. Is a four-man attack enough to dislodge the concrete walls in the middle of the Pakistan order, especially given that they will soon be joined by their equally solid colleague, Younis Khan?

If not, Plunkett must play, and England must face the embarrassing situation of having to drop a player who has just made a century. Of the two, Cook's century looked the less smooth and confident. He was lucky not to have been dismissed several times in the innings, partly through Pakistani error and partly through the effect of the vision-reducing spectacles of Blind Lemon Bucknor. In the second innings he looked out of his depth, and was dismissed cheaply, whereas Bell provided excellent support to his captain and would probably have batted to the end of the day, had not Strauss completely lost his judgement and called a suicide run. On the other hand, Cook's record in Test cricket is compelling and he will frighten the Australians in November, having destroyed their attack at Chelmsford last year. Would it not be a good idea to give him a run in the side in advance of the approaching tour?

If there's a strong case for retaining Cook, there's also a strong case for retaining Bell. His century was fluid and confident, and showed the same kind of patience and judgement he displayed against the same opposition in the winter. He may look like a paralysed rabbit against an Australian attack, but against Pakistani spin he looks assured. One could argue, of course, that Cook came in when England were in a difficult situation, having lost Trescothick early, whereas Bell came in when there were already plenty of runs on the board. One can also argue that keeping Bell and dropping Cook would force Bell to come in at No. 3, a position in which he is naturally less comfortable. (However, he did score well against Pakistan in November, batting in that very position.)

I'm glad I'm not the person to make the call. Given that the Old Trafford surface has become pacier lately, I fancy our bowlers could do some damage, so we need the strongest attack available, especially if Pakistan win the toss - they will want to bat first and post a big total, knocking us out of the game, so we will need to put as many holes in their line-up as we can. That means retaining Plunkett. Since Bell has shown more promise against the Pakistan bowlers than Cook (although we only have the one match with which to judge Cook, so it's not really fair), I'd be tempted to keep him - especially since it was at Old Trafford that he had his only success in last year's Ashes. But this is a very close call indeed, and the slightest thing could make my assessment invalid.

Of course, this being England, someone will probably get injured in the meantime, rendering the whole discussion academic.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Not a moment too soon


Distasteful though it is to have to link to a Tory blog, this is intriguing, and you might even want to have a go. Mind you, since it looks like they're out to make money from the competition (typical Tories), maybe not.

(Via Bloggerheads.)

Actually, here's a much better use of your time. Go sign!


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Today's terror alert status: RUN FOR THE HILLS!


I briefly assumed it was a joke when I returned from holiday on Monday to hear that the UK is to get its own regular Terror Alert warning system, which would give the public an idea of how dangerous it was to go outdoors lest the man in the next seat on the tube might be carrying more stuff in his bag than a Blackberry and his lunch. Then I remembered John Reid is Home Secretary, and suddenly nothing looks like a joke.

What precisely are we supposed to do when we find out that the alert level is, say, 'severe'? Refuse to board a bus, until everyone with a beard is forced to get off? Walk up and down any train from Leeds or Luton, carrying a big stick and looking for anyone with a rucksack? Or just spend every spare minute quaking in our shoes, waiting for the moment when our name is inscribed in some grisly online Book of Remembrance? Alas, as with so many ZaNuLabour initiatives, the answer is mundane: it's yet another way the government can look like it's doing something about terrorism while actually not helping at all (cf. ID cards - on which subject, some good news at last).

As it happens, the alert level is likely to remain 'severe' until we all die or until the scheme collapses under the weight of public ridicule, according to the Mirror. Let's face it, we're a rich, complacent, barely post-colonial nuclear power. There's always going to be someone who's got it in for us.

In the meantime, you'll have to carry on enduring rubbish-strewn train carriages because of the authorities' refusal to put bins on station platforms. And, while the terror level remains at anything other than "Chill Out, Man, It's Not Going To Happen", be vigilant (as if thirty years of IRA terrorism had never happened, and had taught us nothing). Oh, and always carry some means of identification: it makes things quicker for the police when they arrest you for carrying a copy of the Guardian.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Back from hols


Back from a stress-filled holiday (well, I do have a two-year-old) to find that Blair's still in power, Craig Sweeney is still getting far more free fame than he deserves, the loans-for-peerages scandal still won't go away, Prescott is still being a fat tit, England are still shit at sport, and it seems you can now be arrested for reading. So I guess I haven't missed much.

Incidentally, can anyone explain how this works? (Via the Friday Project.)

More later.


Saturday, July 01, 2006

World Crap

I'm deliberately posting at 5pm on Saturday afternoon, in order to show that my extended silence is not because I've been glued to the bloody football. What a total waste of time and money (especially money). Next week I shall be on holiday in Switzerland, far away from any balls and yellow cards and imbecilic hysteria. Let's hope Portugal win today, so all this nonsense will be over with for another four years.

[UPDATE, the next day: Tee hee.]