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Monday, May 28, 2007

Ron Archer

Another Australian test cricketer of the 1950s has died. Ron Archer was a quick bowler and handy batsman who was good enough to play several times for Australia when other allrounders like Keith Miller, Richie Benaud and Alan Davidson were prominent. As Cricinfo says, his career was blighted by injury and in his mid - twenties he retired to pursue a successful career in commercial television.

Archer finished with 255 wickets at 23.36 from his 98 first-class matches and also scored 3768 runs at 31.93. Like Ken, who also played for Australia, he became a TV executive, rising through the ranks to become general manager of Channel 0. He also retained his links with cricket as Cricket Australia's Code of Behaviour Commissioner and once acted as an ICC match referee.

Creagh O'Connor, Cricket Australia's chairman, said Archer gave tirelessly to the game after his playing days prematurely ended. "Ron Archer had a brief and very successful Test career which was tragically cut short by an injury of the type that modern sports medicine would today probably have overcome," O'Connor said.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Bill Johnston

Bill Johnston, Australian left-arm bowler of the 1940s and early 1950s, has died. He retired before my serious cricket watching time, so I don't recall seeing him play. While he didn't have the reputation of some of his contemporaries for either his on - or off-field exploits, his record attests to both his ability and his reluctance to promote himself.

Mike Coward in
The Australian and, as you'd expect, Gideon Haigh on Cricinfo have produced good appreciations of the man. He deserves be better known. How many other players were as versatile with the ball (beginning with quick stuff and later, if necessary, bowling finger spin) as him? Garfield Sobers yes, but others? True, his batting wasn't too flash, but he did finish the 1953 tour of England with a batting average of 102, and he and his Richmond club teammate Doug Ring once won a test against the West Indies by adding 38 for the last wicket.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

English cricket report advocates more muscular approach

The Independent comments on the Schofield report on English international cricket, and summarises its main recommendations:

* A managing director to be appointed oversee all aspects of England team.

* National selector to replace chairman of selectors, heading panel of coach and director of county cricket at home and coach and captain on tour.

* County cricket director to forge closer links with counties and England team, and report to coach on player performances.

* Coach Peter Moores to retain selection duties but with less power than predecessor Duncan Fletcher.

* Reduction in home Tests from seven to six.

* Reduction in county programme from four competitions to three, scrapping the Pro40 league.

* Contracted England players to be given bigger performance incentives.

Some of the recommendations, such as reducing the number of home tests, are unlikely to be implemented, but IMO this one has considerable merit:

They concluded that the England team management structure should be headed by a full-time professional managing director, ideally with high-level business experience as well as cricket knowledge, to whom selectors and coach would be answerable but who would also be expected to give England a more muscular influence in shaping a currently congested international calendar.

The last four words are code for "the Asian cricket playing countries have too much influence", a sentiment with which I agree. Cricket Australia would do well to think about this, and what Malcolm Conn said in today's Australian:

India is the worst offender, with a board that seems to believe the amount of money generated is somehow more important than success on the field or the long-term well-being of its players....

The ICC's future tours program dictates that each Test country must play every other Test nation at home and away at least once in a six-year cycle, with a minimum two Tests and three one-day matches. Massive television rights for matches involving India in particular have seen broadcasters pay staggering sums to the Indian board and the International Cricket Council.
However, industry experts believe they are unsustainable deals, particularly with Indian government restrictions now severely limiting how much subscription television can charge.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The importance of being Ernie

Congratulations to Sarah and Matthew Hoggard on the birth of their son Ernie:

Matthew Hoggard became a father for the first time today, when his wife Sarah gave birth to a 7lb bundle of earthy Yorkshire joy by the name of Ernie - a splendidly robust name for a nipper whose first words are destined to be "Ee-oop" [shouldn't that be Aye - Oop?] , and who can expect to be toddling the dogs across the dales the moment his feet are fitted for their first pair of wellies.

Unfortunately all didn't go well for dad and his team (today he was playing for England) on the field because, as the Cricinfo report continues

Sadly, one family's gain was another family's loss, for when Hoggard limped from the field after 25 overs [ of which he'd bowled 10.1] with a strained abductor muscle, his sidekick Steve Harmison was left looking as forlorn as a newly orphaned chick [or most of the 2006-07 Ashes series]. A wayward, wasteful day's work was the upshot, as he conceded 95 runs from 22 wide and wicketless overs. In the process, the perils of fielding a four-man attack were laid so bare that, had he been listening in from his garden in Cape Town, Duncan Fletcher might even have broken into a broad I-told-you-so grin.

Ernie is an interesting name, one which I thought had dropped out of use, not to mention fashion. When I lived in England many years ago, it was associated with premium bonds and Eric Morecambe's offsider. Nevertheless many Yorkshire supporters must be pleased that the boy was born in one of the (is it four?) ridings.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Yorkshire thrift overdone?

In Australia we're accustomed to using sporting arenas like the SCG, MCG, Adelaide Oval and the Gabba for more than one sport, but our administrators, despite their shortcomings and petty rivalries, never to my knowledge have double booked a ground.

This happened in Yorkshire at the weekend, where Yorkshire CC finished their game against Worcestershire early enough on the fourth day to give the ground authorities, as The Independent reports, just enough time to prepare for the Leeds Rhinos and Wigan Warriors Rugby League match (which, unlike its cricketing opposite number, the home team lost 18 -22).

Using grounds for more than one sport is fine, but on the same day? Surely this is carrying thrift too far.

More on Zimbabwe cricket

[Also posted at Casting a short shadow ]

On tonight's 7.30 Report Gideon Haigh, whose name was misspelt on the titles (the final "h" was omitted) gave an excellent summary of recent developments and good reasons why the proposed rescheduling of the series (South Africa is firming as the preferred venue) is misguided. Quite simply, Zimbabwe cricket is club, or parkland, not genuine international, standard.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Australia not to tour Zimbabwe

[Also posted at Casting a short shadow]

The Australian government has forbidden the Australian cricket team to tour Zimbabwe as long as President Mugabe remains in power according to Foreign Minister Downer. On today's Insiders Prime Minister Howard elaborated:

...the Government, through the Foreign Minister, has written to the organisation, Cricket Australia, instructing that the tour not go ahead. We don't do this lightly, but we are convinced that for the tour to go ahead there would be an enormous propaganda boost for the Mugabe regime. The Mugabe regime at present is behaving like the Gestapo towards its political opponents, the living standards of the country are probably the lowest of any in the world, you have an absolutely unbelievable rate of inflation, and I have no doubt that if this tour goes ahead it will be an enormous boost to this grubby dictator, and whilst it pains me both as a cricket lover and as somebody who generally believes that these things should be left to sporting organisations to head a Government that is giving an instruction and is willing to enforce that instruction if necessary, although all of that pains me, I don't think we have any alternative.

Although others, eg Tim Lane in The Age , have pointed out some problems of sporting boycotts I think they fail to see that there are two aspects of this situation: the political context and the standard of cricket in Zimbabwe. Mr Howard has graphically, though aptly, summed up the scale of the first. True, other countries have suboptimal human rights records but most of them are at least able to feed their people and have not regressed in the last decade or so. As for the second, Zimbabwe cricket, never a strong international competitor, has suffered because most if not all of the small number of talented cricketers have left the country. For all the huffing and puffing from the international and some national authorities about breach of contracts et al (some of it echoed by Cricket Australia) it seems clear to me, as it does to commentators such as Greg Baum in yesterday's Age and Gideon Haigh on this morning's Offsiders , that the Zimbabwe cricket authorities by their own actions in purging both officials and players have made cricket in their own country dysfunctional.

The ICC's initial response delivered by CEO Malcolm Speed is predictably bland:

It is unfortunate for Zimbabwe's cricketers and supporters, all of whom need exposure to top-quality cricket in order to develop as players and to encourage future generations to take up the sport...From an ICC perspective, we will work with Zimbabwe Cricket and our members to try to ensure the game there gets the support it needs in order to continue at this difficult time.

What is the ICC doing about the report, by Martin Williamson on Cricinfo , that the Zimbabwean authorities are unable to provide up to date and accurate scorecards of the major matches played in the country?

Until this year, despite increasing reporting restrictions, the Zimbabwe board, aided by dedicated volunteers, has always supplied scorecards of first-class and List A matches to the media. But many of the old statisticians have been driven away, while others have been ostracised by the board.

Last year there were increasing problems with the accuracy of the data, and often queries had to be flagged with ZC when cards did not add up or data was missing. These were almost always resolved. However, this year ZC has failed to supply any data, even to its domestic media or on its own website, which is increasingly inaccessible and which has not been updated for several weeks.

No cards have been provided for Faithwear Cup matches, the country's List A competition, which took place more than five weeks ago. A source close to the board said that it was unlikely that they would be made available as in some instances the cards had been lost, while in others the data was so poor as to be almost unusable. "Releasing them will be more that embarrassing," he admitted.

The BBC quotes the reaction of the Zimbabwean ambassador (High Commissioner?) to Australia.

Zimbabwe's ambassador to Australia, Stephen Chiketa, said last week that politics had no place in sport and that banning the tour would hurt the development of cricket in his country.

"You have young players in Zimbabwe who want to emulate great cricket players in Australia," he told Australia's Seven television network.

"Take your politics somewhere else."

This is, of course, humbug, since the Zimbabwe government has, by politicising almost every aspect of life, weakened the country's cricket to the extent that any game between its national team and Australia's will be so one sided as to be hardly worth counting as a genuine international contest. This applies no matter where the games are played: Zimbabwe, Australia or, as has been mooted today, in a neutral country.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Adelaide Oval upgrade to proceed

The redevelopment of the Adelaide Oval will now proceed, following the state government's decision to increase its contribution to $25 m , to match that of the federal governmentt. As part of the deal the Bradman Museum will be transferred from its present location near the State Library on North Terrace to the Oval.

AdelaideNow reports that Premier Rann and others spoke eloquently and affectionately of the ground:

"Adelaide Oval is the most beautiful sporting ground in the world," he said when agreeing to match the Commonwealth's $25 million.I want to preserve its soul, but I want it to be used more. We want the oval to come alive, and not just in cricket season. his upgrade will maintain its character and appeal, while ensuring that it is a world-class facility."

City of Adelaide and Tourism Minister Jane Lomax-Smith said SACA's upgrade would enhance the experience for cricket and football fans alike and help SA ensure it retained key sports events like the Australia Day Test and the Rugby Sevens.

"As so many sporting grounds around Australia get bigger and less intimate, Adelaide Oval is renowned among fans, players and commentators for its historic character and fantastic atmosphere," she said.

SACA president Ian McLachlan said the $50 million State and Federal funding would "guarantee" redevelopment of the 80-year-old western grandstand as it responded to competition from subsidised venues interstate such as the MCG, Gabba and SCG. He said all recent improvements at the Adelaide Oval, including the complete upgrade of the eastern side (including the Bradman and Chappell Stands) and light towers, had been substantially paid for by members.

"I am confident the redevelopment will be of a style that will make all South Australians truly proud of Adelaide Oval, the world's most beautiful cricket ground." he said.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Yorkshire bowl three legspinners before lunch. What next, bananas growing in Barnsley?

Check out Simon Hughes' excellent written and video reports of yesterday's play in the Hampshire v Yorkshire match at a sun-drenched Rose Bowl. The video is especially interesting as it shows some footage of the two chief legspinners playing in the game: the old master Shane Warne (wearing whites with both the sun and number 23 on his back) and the young hopeful Adil Rashid. There's also an interview with Rashid.

The story so far: a strong Yorkshire team were bowled out for 299 (Younis Khan 106, Michael Vaughan - yes, the England skipper graciously released by the higher power- 72, Rashid 54) against a Hampshire attack including Warne and Stuart Clark (each of whom took one wicket).

Hampshire, despite good efforts by the relatively unknown Michael Brown (105) and Nick Pothas (70 no) fell 3 runs short on the first innings against an attack featuring the venerable Matthew Hoggard, Darren Gough and Jason Gillespie, promising young allrounder Tim Bresnan and three legspinners (Rashid, Younis Khan and Jacques Rudolph) each of whom bowled before lunch on day 2.

In their second innings Yorkshire are 2/49 overnight and Vaughan has retired hurt (is anyone surprised?), so the game is well poised. You can check the scores here.

The abundance of leg spin and early season sunshine has aroused Hughes' enthusiasm and led him to speculate about where it is all leading:

The likelihood, however, of Yorkshire fielding two home-grown leg spinners - Rashid and Mark Lawson - alongside the two occasional ones in this match - Jacques Rudolph and Younis Khan - must be without precedent in the Ridings. They'll be cultivating bananas in Barnsley next.

I highly recommend the video report to get a glimpse (if you've not already done so) of Rashid.

Riding high in April, shot down in May

Somerset CCC have recently experienced the peaks and troughs of cricket fortune.

A fortnight ago Middlesex declared at 4/600, which Somerset chased down comfortably thanks to a triple century from Justin Langer and three other hundreds, not to mention the five Middlesex bowlers who conceded more than a hundred apiece .

In the game being played at the moment Derbyshire lost their first two wickets before scoring a run, but then added a further 601, losing only another six wickets in the process, eventually declaring at 8/801. On this occasion another former Australian player, Simon Katich, led the way with 221. There were three other batting, and five bowling, centuries.

As I post after the second day's play Somerset are 4/107, 694 runs behind with 6 wickets in hand.

Any suggestions as to causes? Good batting, poor bowling, small ground....?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Cricket Australia contracts

Cricket Australia has released its list of contracted players for the next 12 months.

They are:

Cullen Bailey SA 22
Nathan Bracken NSW29
Stuart Clark NSW 31
Michael Clarke NSW 26
Daniel Cullen SA 23
Adam Gilchrist WA 35
Jason Gillespie SA32
Brad Haddin NSW29
Matthew Hayden QLD35
Ben Hilfenhaus TAS 24
Brad Hodge VIC 32
Brad Hogg WA 36
James Hopes QLD28
Michael Hussey WA 31
Phil Jaques NSW 27
Mitchell Johnson QLD25
Brett Lee NSW 30
Stuart MacGill NSW 36
Ricky Ponting TAS 32
Chris Rogers WA 29
Andrew Symonds QLD 31
Shaun Tait SA24
Adam Voges WA 27
Shane Watson QLD 25
Cameron White VIC23

Without Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer the list looks a bit thin. Yet nobody is irreplaceable: there's unlikely to be another Warne but the test team should be able to be rebuilt around the known strengths.

From a parochial standpoint I was pleased to see the four South Australians given contracts, even though Jason Gillespie, an account of his advancing years (but not, as season 2006 -2007 showed, declining ability) and Dan Cullen (because an unproductive last season) can consider themselves fortunate.