October 2008

A bit of grass roots sanity for a moment. The Torygraph has located what readers believe to be the best village cricket grounds in the UK. Here is the winner:

Bridgetown Cricket Club in Somerset

Bridgetown Cricket Club in Somerset


So, you are lucky enough to play cricket for England. Therefore, you don’t have a proper job. You get paid for doing what the rest of us pay good money to do for fun, and what we pay big money to watch live or on TV. You’ve got a shot at winning half-a-million quid. You’ve got an all expenses paid trip to the Caribbean, for you and the missus. So what do you do? Well, Graeme Swann aside, it seems that most fancy a bit of whinge. Crisis talks about the antics of Texan billionaire Sir Allen Stanford – that’s the chap paying the bills – fondling their women and entering their dressing rooms. After an early start, a long day at work, being stuck in traffic, its cold, wet and dark, I’m afraid I don’t have much sympathy. Controls your wives and get over it. You don’t need the money.

The much anticipated match up between England and the Stanford Superstars is edging ever closer. Kevin Pietersen’s team will be taking part in the ‘winner takes all’ event in Antigua on Saturday night. However, ahead of this contest, Pietersen has some major concerns regarding the lighting at the ground, writes Thomas Rooney, exclusively for The Village Cricketer.

The England captain had his side do some emergency fielding practice during the victory over Middlesex on Sunday night after several players dropped chances that would normally have been routine. After this match, Paul Collingwood suggested that the lights at the ground were to blame as they were ‘different than any other set’ they have played under.

Now, it seems that Pietersen goes along with this theory. Speaking ahead of the match with Trinidad and Tobago, the Hampshire man said that ‘there could be someone under a $20m catch on Saturday’. This is obviously something he is worried about, given the situation with the lights.

The unique and potentially detrimental reason for visibility being poor is that the floodlights are lower than normal at the ground to avoid any danger from a near by airport. This is the reason being suggested anyway.

Pietersen isn’t just concerned about the lighting though. The pitch being used has proved very sluggish and has made runs extremely hard to come by. This meant the use of spin proved effective in the previous game, so this is an option England will consider ahead of Saturday’s match.

This all seems very bizarre to me. All this fuss was made about the money Sir Alan Stanford has and the amount of money that is at stake in this tournament. However, despite all this, they are playing on a ground where they can’t see the ball and on a pitch that won’t allow many runs to be scored. When this first came about, my first thought was that it would be a run filled contest with lots of entertaining cricket. Now I’m not even sure this will be the case.

I guess that’s why I can’t get excited about the prospect of this match – at all. I won’t even be placing a cricket bet on the game. As things stand, it seems that a group of players are going to win a crazy amount of money for dropping catches and posting totals of just over the 100 mark. They would have earned every penny wouldn’t they?

Putting my feeling about the circumstances of which this game is being played aside, I think it is a game that England will win. The cricket odds will certainly be favouring them to do so. They are a settled team and have put together a good run of results recently. Captain Pietersen will make sure they are prepared for the challenge ahead and will drum into his players the fact that there is a game of cricket to be won.

Without doubt though, even if they don’t admit so, the players will have one thing on their mind – money. That’s the reality. It’s also a reality that certain individuals will be responsible for their team-mates losing a great deal of money.

As always, a dropped catch, a run-out, a bad spell of bowling or a poor shot could be the difference between winning and losing. The players will know this and I suppose my main reason for me wanting England to win is that none of the player’s future confidence is effectied by a very, very costly mistake.

Watching England v Middlesex in the Stanford 20/20 tournament. This pitch seems to have some pace, Stephen Finn’s got a couple to go through head high, while the one used for the game between the Stanford Superstars and Trinidad & Tobago was a far slower, lower affair. Apparently that one had more than 40 hours worth of work done on it with the heavy roller, which seems to have squashed all the life out of it. The slow, low one is the pitch that will be used for the big $20million match. Nasser Hussain reckons it’ll be the strong, “whackers” of the ball that will suit it.

Something very rare happened this morning. Australia suffered a batting collapse that any England side would have been very proud of. Ricky Ponting’s side went from 141-5 to 195 all out to hand India an impressive 320 run victory in the second test match of the series, writes Thomas Rooney, exclusively for The Village Cricketer.

From the very first over it was something I was used to seeing from England. Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin has renewed Australia hope in the final session yesterday – they put on 84 for the sixth wicket. Then, on the final day, they knew that if they could make it past the first hour or so, they had an outside chance of drawing the match. This wasn’t to be though as in the very first over of the day, Haddin was clean bowled Zaheer Khan. Game Over. How many times have we seen something similar by England over the years?

Of course, the rest of the match is history. It only took India 18.4 overs on the final day to take the remaining four Australian wickets to ensure they went 1-0 up with two matches to play. It was a fantastic display by the Indians and one which leaves many to question how the tourists can get themselves back into the series. The cricket odds are certainly favouring a home win now.

Something this test match told me was that this Australia team is nowhere near as talented, gritty or confident as past teams. For the first time in many years – they seem vulnerable. Yes, it is only their second test defeat since the Ashes in 2005, but there is a different look to this Australia team. Other than suffering a rare batting collapse, there are several other aspects of Ponting’s team that would concern me if I was him.

Brett Lee – I am not convinced that Lee is comfortable taking over the ‘senior bowler’ role. He is best used in short bursts and with the freedom to concede a few runs. Figures of 2-147 in the most recent test suggest he isn’t on top of his game.

Lack of spinners – This has been well publicised. They haven’t come anywhere near replacing Shane Warne yet. Cameron White is currently their spinning option and he has only played two tests. As much as they have criticised Monty in the past – I’d place a cricket bet on the fact they would take him now! Even Giles!

He’s no Gilchrist – Brad Haddin has done a solid enough job since taking the gloves from Adam Gilchrist and averages 33 with the bat. However, Gilchrist won so many matches for Ponting and without him – the tail looks a lot longer.

Lack of belief – Something never normally associated with Australia is a lack of confidence. However, I’m not convinced that this Australia team has that ‘unbeatable’ feel about them. Not enough of their players striker me as ‘leaders’ either.

India has just stuffed the Aussies out of sight, and I have to say that I had the pleasure of watching a good deal of it. India is my new least favourite team, however you have to admire the way they outplayed the Canary Yellow’s throughout the game. The Aussies bowling attack, its greatest asset in recent years, looked toothless on the Indian wicket, they were even poorer than I’d have imagined they would be. I’d go as far as to say that if they turn up to the Ashes next summer with Cameron White as number one spinner, and Shane Watson as fourth seamer, they’ll get beaten.

Essex all-rounder and big hitting Twenty20 man Graham Napier has revealed that he is determined to force his way into the England reckoning next season. Of course, it is any players’ dream to play for their country, but with regards to Napier – it is a dream that will be very difficult to for fill, writes Thomas Rooney, exclusively for The Village Cricketer.

There is no doubt at all that he had a fantastic season for Essex last time around. The way in which he dominated the Sussex bowling attack in THAT Twenty20 innings of 152-not-out was quite remarkable. Napier hit a record breaking 16 sixes and literally played the innings of his life. It was an innings that meant he started to get recognised on the streets and an innings that made him feared by opposition bowlers.

However, as much as I would like to think that it was an innings that can act as a springboard for the rest of his career – I am more inclined to believe that it will be the undoubted highlight of his career and one that will never be topped by an England call-up. Let’s face it, had it not been for this innings – Napier wouldn’t even have been interviewed about his season let alone be voicing England ambitions.

It is worth a look at how the rest of his season panned out though. Napier took 57 wickets and scored 653 runs for an Essex side that secured victory in the Friends Provident Trophy and Division Two of the Pro40 Championship. There is no doubt he has had arguably the season of his life. Something I did notice about him when I got to chance to watch him in action at Chelmsford was how much pace he had. He really put it through and was a genuine threat with the new ball. This, combined with the big hitting he is capable of, should act as a winning formula for an England player.

However, even the player himself admits that it will be difficult for him to break into the England team. The 28-year-old says that the England selectors are picking a ‘consistent team’ right now and there aren’t too many gaps for him to work his way into.

There is no doubt in my mind that if Napier is to get into the England side at any stage – it is more than likely to be at Twenty20 level. If I was to place a cricket bet on him playing for England, it would be as part of the Twenty20 team. That’s where his unique and sometimes inconsistent big-hitting would be most at home.

I would expect Napier to continue to excel at Essex though. They are an excellent one-day side and he is an integral part of this. It seems extremely unlikely that he can perform the heroics that he did against Sussex again, but he can continue to improve as a cricketer. Who knows, should he show more consistency next season, he could go against all cricket odds and earn an England call up.

Whether he does or not though, Graham Napier can be very pleased about where he has come. At the beginning of last season he was struggling to get in the Essex side and at the beginning of next season he will be looking to continue his excellent form to impress the England selectors. As much as I think this is a little unrealistic – all the best to him.

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