Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Ashes: Cardiff Test, Day Four

Day four of this intriguing contest sees England chasing 10 wickets to take a 1-0 lead in this Ashes series. Australia being Australia will do their best to make an effort in chasing down the mammoth target of 412, but on a wearing pitch and with the Welsh weather set surprisingly fair, there's only one likely outcome.

Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad open with the new ball for England. Here's the action from day four down in the Welsh capital.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Ashes: Cardiff Test, Day Three

This Test continues to canter along at quite a pace. England have arguably had the better the opening two days - could they grab the initiative on day three? Australia begin the day on 264-5 with Shane Watson and night watchman Nathan Lyon at the crease. Mark Wood and Stuart Broad open the bowling for England. Here's all the action from day three at Cardiff.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Ashes: Cardiff Test, Day Two

And so, to day two. A fairly even opening day to the Ashes (feels like a long time since that's been said), would anyone grab the initiative on day two? After the wicket of Jos Buttler the previous evening, England begin the day on 343-7, looking to get as close to 400 as possible. Australia, meanwhile, search for some bowling consistency. Here's the action from another enthralling day down in the Welsh capital.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Ashes: Cardiff Test, Day One

Here they are, the duck England squad. Front row (L-R): Finn, Anderson, Root, Cook (C), Broad, Bell. Back row (L-R): Lyth, Ali, Wood, Stokes, Buttler, Ballance, Rashid. Unfortunately I couldn't find a team photo to mock up for Australia, so you'll have to bear with me for them. 

Crikey, I didn't expect to be doing this again, but here we are. The reason for bringing back duck cricket is, as you would expect, quite odd. But that's duck cricket for you. Anyway, having spent the past three years gathering dust on my various bookshelves, the ducks have been dusted off and are ready for a summer of representing the Ashes action.

And so, to the action. Like six years ago, the first Test is taking place in the rain sunshine of the SWALEC Stadium in Cardiff. Six years ago, the Test finished in a pulsating draw as the last wicket pair of Monty Panesar and Jimmy Anderson held out for 11.3 overs. What will this Test bring? Here's day one...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

KP: The Autobiography

There's a scene in The Simspons episode 'Homer at the Bat' where Bart and Lisa continually bait the baseball player Darryl Strawberry from the stands. Marge, their mother, chastises the children but Bart and Lisa respond with reasoning: that he's a professional athlete, that he's used to it and the taunting "rolls right off their backs". It then cuts to an image of Darryl Strawberry, sniffing and with a tear rolling down his cheek, reminding us that this mega-star of baseball is, in fact, a human being with feelings.

Throughout reading Pietersen's book I found myself thinking of this Simpsons scene. We, the spectators, sometimes all too easily forget that the people we are watching on the field in front of us are human beings, who can hear our criticisms, our insults and our praise. And then there were other times whilst reading it that I found myself expecting someone to be hit by a bus, like Regina George in the film Mean Girls.

It is, perhaps, one of the most frustrating books I have ever read. There were times when I would shout at it, throw it in a corner and refuse to pick it up again for an hour or so. But curiosity always got the better of me and I would find myself picking it up again and devouring it.

I admit to being a fan of Pietersen and someone who has always sympathised with him. It might be because I only started following cricket in 2004 and am not used to the conventional English cricketer, but there was something about him back then that I liked. I remember reading a quote in 2005 from Michael Vaughan stating something along the lines of all Pietersen wanted was a hug, some reassurance and suddenly I found myself sympathising with this larger than life character with the big, bold hair and wondered if there was something more to him than this 'ego' on show.

Pietersen himself admits something along those lines throughout the book. It is, as you would expect, an incredibly open and frank account of himself. We gain background knowledge of his childhood in South Africa, of his family life (with an account of his father that would probably be of great interest to many psychologists). His South African childhood and his battle with his national identity are always underlying, always a tension within himself and within the book. He states, on page 134, that "I'm not as cocky as my image suggests. I'm as insecure as the next bloke, and when I first played for England I was desperate to be accepted."

This desire for acceptance, this wanting to be seen as someone who he eventually realises he is not, is something that Pietersen regrets. He admits that "off the field, I'm a much quieter more solitary person than people imagine" (p225). It is clear that throughout Pietersen's career that he feels there has been this great misunderstanding around him. His need for constant reassurance is not met, admitting that he needs "someone to come along and tell me that I'm playing like a million dollars" as he describes himself as "very shallow" (p129). He is frustrated by the image created of him early in his career and is annoyed by how these early conceptions of him have not been disregarded with the more matches he has played.

Of course, he hasn't helped himself. The sagas in 2009 and 2012 are incredibly difficult to forget, soap operas that were embarrassing for all involved. But they are something, especially in the case of 2012, that he is apologetic about. However, he is a man who is frustrated and hurting. A man who looks at the conduct of some of his other professionals and wonders why they're not being punished like him for similar misdemeanours. A man who looks at his coach stepping down from ODI cricket and wonders why they are allowed to pick and choose their formats whereas he, a player in a similar position, is not. "It was one rule for one player and another rule for me" (p198) he says.

When he talks about the skills involved in playing cricket, it is an incredibly fascinating read. He talks about the technical side of the game, the adjustments that must be made when playing spin. At times, it does read like a love letter to the IPL but at others, you realise that maybe this is knowledge and experience that a lot of young English cricketers would benefit from. When he talks about the mental side of the game, it is again another interesting read. It gives an insight into the mind of and the pressures on the professional cricketer, especially a batsman. Pietersen says, on his seeming arrogance at the crease that "conveying arrogance at the wicket has always been about using my body language as a defence mechanism. Never let them [the opposition] see a weakness. Never let them know there is a war going on in your head" (p143). His insistence that he has helped to coach younger cricketers, his passion and commitment to practice (although, interestingly, mostly alone and on his own cricketing terms) and his knowledge and enthusiasm for the game all come through in these passages, which is what makes these parts, in a book filled with high school-esque drama, worth reading.

It would be easy to dismiss the claims in Pietersen's book as those of a bitter ex. Too easy. Because if you can wade through the endless 'buddies' and continual sniping and elements of his flashy life, then you come to realise that, at the heart of it, he may just have a point. One of the most interesting parts of the book comes in one of the early chapters, 'I Am Like a Hurricane. Not.' He states, "I don't do comfort zones, and if I feel like you are the kind of person who enjoys the comfort zone way of life, I tell you [...] I think me confronting mediocrity throughout my career has earned me this reputation of being destructive." (p117). This book is Pietersen's very public attempt at confronting the mediocrity that appears to be endemic in English cricket.

Yes, he's big, brash and not everyone's cup of tea, but rather than ignore or dismiss this autobiography, perhaps it should be used as a wake up call that English cricket is far too in its own comfort zone. Cricket, especially English cricket, needs big characters, who stand up for their beliefs, otherwise cricket will decline in this country. The English may well have invented this game, but it is the other nations that are rising up and making the game what it is today. And the longer it is that the powers that be in English cricket keep their heads in the sand, the worse off cricket, both in this nation and abroad, will be for it.

(All quotes come from Kevin Pietersen, KP: The Autobiography (St Ives: Sphere, 2014)

Monday, December 31, 2012

On 2012:

A golden Monday 3rd September 2012 - Thank you Mickey Bushell.
Today marks the end of phenomenal sporting year and has caused me to make a brief return from blogging hiatus to provide a personal reflection on the year of 2012. There are plenty of blogs/articles out there which will provide better and more analytical reviews of the incredible events of this year but, since I have watched so much sport this year, I thought it was easier to make a post rather than clog up Twitter feeds.

I've been all over the country watching cricket this year, travelling up north to Durham, Old Trafford and Headingley, out west to Worcestershire and a wet Glamorgan and have spent more time than is necessary on the Greater Anglia service down to London Liverpool Street to head to Lord's and The Oval. I've spent so long watching Hashim Amla this summer that it bordered on Stockholm Syndrome in the final ODI at Trent Bridge. And through my travels, watching both cricket and Ipswich Town, I've met so many wonderful people, so many that if I tried to list them all then I'd undoubtedly miss someone. 

2012 will be looked upon with great fondness by many people, both in Britain and abroad, but for me, here are five personal moments that have made my year.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Farewell, Straussy.

In happier times Down Under, celebrating a 50 at the SCG.
"The truth is I haven't batted well enough for a long period of time now. [...] I've run my race." - Andrew Strauss in his press conference announcing his retirement from all cricket.
I've been sat here since Strauss' press conference took place trying to think of something to write. I've watched the cursor blink at me, trying to put into words how I feel about one of my favourite players retiring from the game.

As someone born in the early '90s, I didn't have the pleasure of watching England be truly terrible at cricket. Instead, I got into cricket in 2004, around the time Andrew Strauss was establishing himself at the top of the Test order. Since then, I've grown up watching the rises and falls of the career of this quiet, but commanding, presence in the England team. From that catch of Gilchrist at Trent Bridge to the career saving 177 at Napier in 2008 to leading England to their first triumph Down Under in 24 years, Strauss' influence on English cricket will surely be remembered fondly for years to come.

About to do the sprinkler at the MCG after England's 2010 triumph.
After the highs of 2011, it's been a tough year for Strauss and England. Four straight Test defeats kicked off 2012 and questions about his form began to resurface. His captaincy and his batting were exposed due to England's failings and he realised that, at the age of 35, it's difficult to stop the slump.

Rather than cling onto former glories, Strauss has bowed out of the game having played 100 Tests, in which he scored over 7000 Test runs at a respectable average of 40.91 and held onto a record 121 Test catches. His partnership with Cook has scored more runs than any other opening partnership in English Test cricketing history and his captaincy record, whilst somewhat blemished by this dismal 2012, shows that England won almost half of the matches in which he was in charge.

There are some unwanted memories in there too. The 2006/07 Ashes series, and his massive slump of form during and after it, is one which he'll probably use his 100 bottles of wine to forget about, especially as he was the unfortunate victim behind Shane Warne's 700th Test wicket. Four years later, the furore surrounding the spot fixing accusations against Pakistan in 2010, and the repercussions it had on the ODI series, left him looking visibly drained, but he managed to cope with the daily uproar and Ijaz Butt and displayed great integrity whilst doing so. This summer is one he'll also wish to put behind him, especially with the entire Pietersen affair, something which he'll surely be relieved to have off his plate.

Celebrating his 141, his last Test century, which came at Trent Bridge against the West Indies.
I have many memories Andrew Strauss and it's difficult to select a favourite moment. His two centuries in the 2005 Ashes series, one of which came about after being left bleeding by Brett Lee, are usually overlooked because of the worship of the personalities of Flintoff and Pietersen. The career saving knock of 177 against New Zealand, which I watched in darkness whilst wrapped in a duvet on the sofa nursing a migraine, is up there too. Watching him at Lord's make his maiden first-class double hundred last summer was also a joy, because the celebrations of himself, and Matthew Hoggard, showed how much it meant to him. Being there as him and Cook put on 150-0 after bowling Australia out for 98 at the MCG is certainly a highlight of my short cricket watching life, as is his aggressive 50 at the SCG, where he came out all guns blazing to really put the Australians under pressure.

Today marks the beginning of a new era of English cricket, but for now, I just want to say that it's been a pleasure growing up watching him and it was wonderful watching a successful England team, while it lasted, around the globe. Strauss handled nearly everything, from Ijaz Butt to being asked to pose with a duck shaped candle, with dignity. Whilst his form with the bat was patchy at times, it was when he was in form that watching him square cut to the boundary would always be a glorious sight. An incredibly intelligent man, it is surely to be fully expected that he remains in cricket after his retirement but if he does want to enter into something political, I hope that it's cricket administrators, rather than Tory MPs, who are looking nervously over their shoulders.

Strauss has had his critics, but the way in which he has conducted himself as an England player has earned him much respect and plaudits around the cricketing world. England's next Test match is in November in Ahmedabad and it will be strange to see Alastair Cook head out to the middle without the light blue helmet of Strauss next to him. It'll be even stranger to watch Cook face the first ball.

Thank you for the memories, Straussy.