Sunday, September 26, 2004


This afternoon I witnessed (either side of a rugby match, admittedly) one of the most frustrating cricket matches that I have seen. No doubt if I was a neutral, it would have been a highly exciting finish, but one of the things that makes cricket one of the greatest of all sports is its ability to draw out tension for longer than just about any other sport I know. And naturally the tension increases further when you are actively rooting for one of the teams to win. So when England blow their chance to win a match that they really should have won, the frustration is ten times greater. Increase that further when you consider the match was the final of a reasonably major championship.

It would be easy to blame the outcome on one absolutely diabolical umpiring decision. The Windies may well have won because of a fantastic 9th wicket partnership between Ian Bradshaw and Courtney Browne, but one of them should undoubtedly have been given out lbw by Rudi Koertzen long before the finishing line was in sight. The lbw was so plumb that I was almost jumping up and appealing in the rugby club bar - and when Koertzen said not out I couldn't help myself shouting "what!!!" If the partnership had been broken then, I have no doubt the next batsman would have been out quickly - he would have had difficulty adjusting to the light - and England would probably be celebrating a wonderful victory. Instead, we are wondering what went wrong. In my self-appointed role as sporting critic, I now aim to point this out.

Firstly, England have no idea how to bat at the death when setting a total. I may not be the greatest batsman in the world, but one of my very limited skills at cricket is participating in run-a-ball partnerships in the last 5 or so overs. The best way of going about this, I have found, is pushing the ball around - trying to score singles as regularly as possible. This works for four reasons. One, rotating the strike means the bowler is constantly having to adjust the way that he bowls and is more likely to make errors. Two, you will still most likely get some bad balls which you can hit for boundaries and increase the scoring rate further. Three, there is always the chance of extras coming along and giving you even more balls to face. Finally, you are much less likely to lose wickets.

Time after time, though, England seem determined on throwing the bat around and blasting the ball well over the grandstands. The fact is that swinging at everything is rarely highly productive, and it prevents the steady build up of runs which can leave you with a much more impressive total. If it wasn't for England's customary collapse, with the team doing their best impression of headless chickens, at the end of the first innings, then the total would have been at least 10 runs more, possibly higher, and the game would have been beyond the heroics of Browne and Bradshaw. Furthermore, the said heroics were made possible because... they pushed the ball into gaps, didn't take big risks and kept the scoreboard moving, thus increasing the pressure on England.

Secondly, we must really ask ourselves what is going on when Trescothick and Collingwood are bowled ahead of Ashley Giles. Yes, Giles' contribution of 31 with the bat was highly valuable in the game (and indeed kept England competitive) but if we are picking him as a specialist batsmen, there are many others who should be picked ahead of him. I thought we had finished our fascination with bits and pieces players - Trescothick and Collingwood should not be the only options to bowl the last over among players who have bowled before. The pitch may not have had a huge amount of turn on it, but Giles is nothing if not accurate, and could have played a very useful role in taking pace off the ball (which presumably is the rationale behind bowling Trescothick and Collingwood) and keeping the runs as tight as possible (which was not a likely outcome with the other two...).

In games as close as this one was likely to be - England had posted a defendable but not world-beating target - you have to give yourself the best chance to win, and that comes through having your best bowlers bowling. I could go on from here make numerous other criticisms, such asto nit-pick about selection - what the hell is Alex Wharf doing anywhere near the England side? - but I think for the sake of my sanity I will give up here. All I will say is it is incredibly frustrating to watch a side with the talent that England undoubtedly has to throw the game away throw an absence of grinding it out - supposedly a great characteristic of the British. Simple things would have increased England's chances of victory greatly. I hope never to have to watch an England cricket team again that shouldn't walk off the pitch thinking they gave it their best shot. Sadly I fear this will be a forlorn hope.