All posts tagged 'cricket'

SOUTH AFRICA SET FOR THE LONG HAUL

by maxbenson 14. February 2013 10:45

By @sofa_maxb

This South Africa side should be the first since the great Australians of a decade ago to sit atop the world with no questions asked.

Prizing the pointless and oversized commemorative mace away from England last year has proved to be just the end of the beginning. Going on to win in Australia before eviscerating an admittedly weakened New Zealand at home has rubber-stamped their spot in the sunny uplands while England, Australia, India and Pakistan squabble amongst themselves for second best.

That’s Pakistan who are being blown to smithereens by Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander in the second Test of three at Newlands as this is typed, by the way.

Publicly, at the very least, they've learned from the mistakes of their predecessors at the top of the pile. Since the Aussies’ inevitable wane, the Indians and the English have both planted their flags at the summit and promptly lost the plot. With the former, a cosy arrogance spilled over into laziness. With the latter, it seemed to be more a case of 'now what?'

Neither hubris nor bewilderment afflicts this squad. ‘Focussing on processes’ might have become a phrase more used sarcastically by journalists frustrated by a lack of verbal pyrotechnics from rogue players these days, but the ‘units’ created away from the limelight – and the processes on which they focus – work a charm. That is something they share with England. But they’re much more than that.

Coaches Gary Kirsten and Allan Donald constantly preach humility and the players appear unnervingly serene. Anyone wandering around Newlands before the Pakistan Test would have seen men totally at ease with their hard-earned glory. Whether it was Hashim Amla exchanging pleasantries on his way to the police-escorted minibus after training; or Robin Peterson pottering, unmarshalled, to his clapped out Vauxhall Corsa - this varied lot exude the perfect balance between relaxed and focussed.

Easy to be open and friendly when you're winning, of course. But this batch of Proteas, terrifyingly for the rest of us, carry the air of being far from finished with chewing up and spitting out the rest of the world.

One blot on the landscape could be that of succession. Graeme Smith has been the finest leader of men on a cricket field in years. Reaching an incredible 100th Test at the helm of his country today, he has been supreme for a decade and could be forgiven for basking in the rewards and platitudes that now flow his way.

Having signed a three-year contract to captain Surrey in the English County Championship, he has also mentioned his inclination to see out time at the crease without the responsibility of leading his nation. This should be a couple of years away for the 32-year-old, though. After all, series against India and Australia lurk on the horizon and English fans in particular need no reminder of his arguably unmatched determination.

Other concerns bubble beneath the surface, including the apparent lack of ‘the next Steyn’. But how are you meant to replicate a freak like him anyway? Also, game as Peterson is, the Proteas have still never had a top class spinner but, hey, the great West Indians never needed one. Indeed, it’s a discipline effectively rendered unnecessary by Philander and Morkel and Steyn providing a battery of strengths. Opposing batsmen are simply unable to settle be it against mesmerising accuracy, rising bounce or outright genius. A tour to the subcontinent appears the only way to truly test that theory.

Jacques Kallis may well be the greatest cricketer ever. Smith, Amla and AB de Villiers are outstanding with the bat and the bowling attack needs no further commendation. Are South Africa lucky to have this number of players capable of topping the world peaking in the same era? In part, perhaps, but they are making it count like no one else has.

SOUTH AFRICA SET FOR THE LONG HAUL

by maxbenson 14. February 2013 10:45

By @sofa_maxb

This South Africa side should be the first since the great Australians of a decade ago to sit atop the world with no questions asked.

Prizing the pointless and oversized commemorative mace away from England last year has proved to be just the end of the beginning. Going on to win in Australia before eviscerating an admittedly weakened New Zealand at home has rubber-stamped their spot in the sunny uplands while England, Australia, India and Pakistan squabble amongst themselves for second best.

That’s Pakistan who are being blown to smithereens by Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander in the second Test of three at Newlands as this is typed, by the way.

Publicly, at the very least, they've learned from the mistakes of their predecessors at the top of the pile. Since the Aussies’ inevitable wane, the Indians and the English have both planted their flags at the summit and promptly lost the plot. With the former, a cosy arrogance spilled over into laziness. With the latter, it seemed to be more a case of 'now what?'

Neither hubris nor bewilderment afflicts this squad. ‘Focussing on processes’ might have become a phrase more used sarcastically by journalists frustrated by a lack of verbal pyrotechnics from rogue players these days, but the ‘units’ created away from the limelight – and the processes on which they focus – work a charm. That is something they share with England. But they’re much more than that.

Coaches Gary Kirsten and Allan Donald constantly preach humility and the players appear unnervingly serene. Anyone wandering around Newlands before the Pakistan Test would have seen men totally at ease with their hard-earned glory. Whether it was Hashim Amla exchanging pleasantries on his way to the police-escorted minibus after training; or Robin Peterson pottering, unmarshalled, to his clapped out Vauxhall Corsa - this varied lot exude the perfect balance between relaxed and focussed.

Easy to be open and friendly when you're winning, of course. But this batch of Proteas, terrifyingly for the rest of us, carry the air of being far from finished with chewing up and spitting out the rest of the world.

One blot on the landscape could be that of succession. Graeme Smith has been the finest leader of men on a cricket field in years. Reaching an incredible 100th Test at the helm of his country today, he has been supreme for a decade and could be forgiven for basking in the rewards and platitudes that now flow his way.

Having signed a three-year contract to captain Surrey in the English County Championship, he has also mentioned his inclination to see out time at the crease without the responsibility of leading his nation. This should be a couple of years away for the 32-year-old, though. After all, series against India and Australia lurk on the horizon and English fans in particular need no reminder of his arguably unmatched determination.

Other concerns bubble beneath the surface, including the apparent lack of ‘the next Steyn’. But how are you meant to replicate a freak like him anyway? Also, game as Peterson is, the Proteas have still never had a top class spinner but, hey, the great West Indians never needed one. Indeed, it’s a discipline effectively rendered unnecessary by Philander and Morkel and Steyn providing a battery of strengths. Opposing batsmen are simply unable to settle be it against mesmerising accuracy, rising bounce or outright genius. A tour to the subcontinent appears the only way to truly test that theory.

Jacques Kallis may well be the greatest cricketer ever. Smith, Amla and AB de Villiers are outstanding with the bat and the bowling attack needs no further commendation. Are South Africa lucky to have this number of players capable of topping the world peaking in the same era? In part, perhaps, but they are making it count like no one else has.

 

2013: THE YEAR OF CRICKET?

by maxbenson 4. January 2013 16:54

 

By @sofa_maxb

Happy New Year, Sofragettes!

In 2012 English cricket was variously trampled upon by the Olympics, rain, Euro 2012 football, rain, South Africans and rain. But, revived by a first Test series win in India since 1984/5, we’re all settled on the Sofa for a supercharged 2013.

Starting the year in our brand new, top secret Sofa Towers - we begin our *Peter Davison phase, in Dr Who terms, bloodied but unbowed after our Tardis took an eye-opening buffeting from certain quarters late last year.

To briefly further torture the metaphor: Can members of the Test Match Special team climb stairs?

Anyway, everything is building up to the delicious prospect of back-to-back Ashes series against a Mitchell Johnson-inspired Australia.

Oh yes, joy and rapture for England fans as Mitch is back in the Aussie shake-up after his spell in the wilderness. Their unfortunate habit of breaking pace bowlers every three games or so, however, means he'll probably be knackered again, one way or another, by the first Test at Trent Bridge in July.

That's not all from Down Under. Man in a giant mouse costume, Phil 'caught Guptill, bowled Martin' Hughes has also found a way back in to a side still struggling to settle with any permanence since arguably the greatest Test team in history began to disband in 2006. And who is to blame a bit of trial-and-error rebuilding? Following those Harlem Globetrotters is a nightmare task in anyone’s book.

In the midst of this excitement, Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey have also decided that enough is enough this winter - and that no more Baggy-Green defiling Ashes defeats are necessary on their career statistics.

All that - and the wittering that goes with it - lies ahead, but there's plenty to whet the appetite before then.

Two series against ailing New Zealand come first for England, but not before traipsing back out to India for a five-match ODI series this month which is not without intrigue of its own.

Kevin Pietersen is back, re-integration complete, while Joe Root makes the squad for the first time after making his Test and T20 debuts with soothing assurance in the pre-Christmas leg of the tour.

India, by contrast, are in a tailspin after the Test series defeat and their ongoing 50-over humiliation by Pakistan, again on home soil. Whatever happens, a repeat of the 5-0 hammering doled out to England in the autumn of 2011 should exist only in the dreams of the wildest Indian Superfan. And Glenn McGrath.

We’re live and unexclusive throughout 2013 for ball-after-ball coverage and the usual interactive, organised(ish) chaos - starting with India v England in the first ODI on Friday January 11th at 6.15am GMT.

So, listeners old, new and even Australian - tune in and tweet us @testmatchsofa with whatever you like - whether we're on air or not - and make the conversation your own.

 

*The stage of Dr regeneration was sold as fact to the writer by dribbling Whovian, @sofa_dan.

 

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CREAKING SUPERPOWER V BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS

by maxbenson 20. December 2012 01:04

@sofa_maxb

 

After an absorbing four-Test series unfortunately tainted by a dead-as-doornails pitch in Nagpur, pyjama cricket is back.

A much changed, bright-eyed England take on pretty much the same old India - for whom under-fire captain MS Dhoni is facing heavy pressure to find a win in the format from which his boss's, boss's bosses have created an IPL-shaped, money-spinning monster.

For the tourists, it is a chance to take another peek at an exuberant future, despite losing skipper Stuart Broad to an injured heel and being in the hinterland between Andy Flower's semi-departure and Ashley Giles' arrival as coach for the ODIs in January. Richard Halsall takes the reins for this festive 'series' of two matches. 

Eoin Morgan will captain in Broad’s absence, while the absent names of Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Swann et al betray England’s priorities ahead of a year that holds 15 Tests in the form of two series against New Zealand and, praise be, back-to-back Ashes.

Alex Hales, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and Stuart Meaker are all likely to play in Pune - while the reverse-sweeping Yorkshireman Joe Root has been fast-tracked into the squad after a mightily assured Test debut. Don’t be fooled by his obduracy against the red ball, this kid has a few trick shots up his sleeve and a cricketing intelligence that belies his tender years, too.

It also says much about the still embryonic nature of T20 cricket, as well as Team England's workload management policy, that Jade Dernbach (remember him?) has the most international wickets of anyone expected to feature in either side.

But where's Craig 'Kiesy' Kieswetter? I hear four of you yelling. Dropped, is the answer. But don't worry because your favourite 17-runs-off-15-balls-before-skying-to-extra-cover merchant will be back with a slog in the 50-over side next year.

India's hubristic, aging equivalent of English football's 'Golden Generation' of the early 2000s, meanwhile, are supplemented by the likes of Ajinkya Rahane at the top of the order and Suresh Raina in the middle. Yuvraj Singh still packs a punch with the bat and stands an outside chance of causing a few problems for the callow visitors with his left-arm pies.

Their fielding will have to improve drastically from its diabolical level in the Test series, but they should fare better without the creaking limbs of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag stood with all the mobility of a tethered bullock at first slip.

One side with much to prove, then, and another with much to learn. The pre-Christmas pressure is undoubtedly all on the Indians not to look like turkeys.

 

*Test Match Sofa are LIVE for every ball of the India v England T20 internationals on Thursday 20th and Saturday 22nd December from 1.15pm GMT.

 

Joining Flower’s army, you can bank on the Giles

by maxbenson 28. November 2012 20:26

@sofa_maxb

Ignore the tortured, Sandy Denny-inspired headline - England now have two coaches to go with their three on-field captains, as Ashley Giles takes over the stewardship of the ODI and T20 sides from Andy Flower with immediate effect.

 

Giles is just the man to work alongside the clapped-out team director Flower as the England coaching load is shared: Calculating, obdurate... and successful on the domestic scene at just 39-years-old. 

 

Since retiring from combat in 2007, the man unflatteringly likened to a wheelie bin in the outfield by Test Match Special’s Henry Blofeld has since ridden Warwickshire of rubbish, leading the Bears to the County Championship and a last-ball defeat at Lord’s in a humdinger of a CB40 final last summer.

 

Taking on the top job with the limited-overs sides he will ultimately be answerable to Flower, yet trusted to work both squads under his own intuition and shape them in his own image – similar as that may turn out to be to the Zimbabwean. 

 

Indeed, as England often use pyjama cricket to blood new talent from the County circuit, well travelled selector Giles is arguably in a far better position to make initial judgements than Flower has ever been. At the very least, he will be communicating more closely than ever before with the head honcho and, ideally, generating a tighter bond between the international squads and their domestic breeding ground.

 

Time may also now be there for Flower to join Geoff Miller in roaming from Taunton to Chester-le-Street throughout the summer and, if that is the case, who is to say his undoubtedly calculated findings wouldn’t benefit the English system for years after his complete departure?

 

There is no criticism of Flower intended here. After succeeding Peter Moores and kicking on from where countryman Duncan Fletcher left off, he has given absolutely everything to the pursuit of global domination. In the Test arena at least, he hovers on the brink of making it a reality.

 

He is a man working at his limit and, unlike others less intelligent or more egomaniacal, Flower has recognised the need to share the burden in order to prolong his life in the role and further safeguard his legacy. England are privileged to have a man at the helm who sees the need to put others ahead of his own headlines.

 

These two could form something of a dream team in the time Flower has left. Giles offers the continuity of a man in touch with the demands of present day, isotonic fluid-swilling Team England and gives the main man time to hop off the treadmill this winter, fully refreshed for the big carrot of tantalising back-to-back Ashes series.

 

Whilst being ‘in touch’, particularly with more senior members of the squad, the King of Spain now has enough distance from the injury-addled end of his playing days to hold a more intelligent, detached perspective than someone fresh out of the dressing room.

 

Could his first assignment be any tougher? Not really. England have not won a One Day match in India since 2006 and were battered 5-0 there last year by Virat Kohli et al. 

 

Only Steven Finn really came home with his reputation enhanced from that tour and Giles needs the Tamsin Greig-alike fit and firing for a 50-over side still very much in their development stage, despite going on to thrash Pakistan in the Emirates later that winter.

 

It’s hardly wild speculation to suggest this is part of a broader succession plan. Giles has been earmarked for a while in the dusty corridors of the ECB’s ivory tower as Flower 2.0 – just as Alastair Cook served an apprenticeship as Andrew Strauss’ right-hand man before taking the gig at the end of last summer.

 

Not an appointment to set the pulses racing, perhaps, and ostensibly doesn’t bring any wildly new ideas to the England set up, but it certainly doesn’t set any alarm bells ringing for us carping from Sofas on the sidelines, either.

 

Continued, steady progress. A hallmark of Flower that we would be daft to do away with.