Sunday 15 April 2012

Porterfield and Patel Power Warwickshire to Victory

Sunday 15th April
Warwickshire, 243 & 262/8, beat Somerset, 147 & 354, by two wickets.

William Porterfield struck an eye pleasing 84, aided by some tail-end pyrotechnics from New Zealand’s Jeetan Patel, as Warwickshire completed a two wicket victory over Somerset at Edgbaston.

Victory will be of great relief to Warwickshire, who had found themselves unexpectedly staring down a Thatcher’s Gold branded barrel after a middle order collapse of five wickets for 17 runs in 47 balls; prior to that they had required just 69 runs to win with seven wickets in hand.

Jeetan Patel spared the blushes of his captain, Jim Troughton
Nobody will be more relieved than Jim Troughton. The Warwickshire captain, renowned for being a safe pair of hands in the field, had inexplicably dropped the simplest of catches at mid-off with Jos Buttler, who proceeded to make 93, fresh to the crease on 7. Troughton did gain a measure of redemption by hitting the winning runs, but remains somewhat indebted to Patel who contributed 43 toward their 55 run partnership.

In a game that ebbed and flowed from day one both sides had found themselves in winning positions  only to relinquish with all too apparent haste. Porterfield, having played quite beautifully for his 84, was perhaps the prime example as he miscued a ghastly front-foot pull to Craig Kieswetter behind the stumps.

Somerset had earlier manoeuvred themselves in to a position of relative strength in the match courtesy of steady accumulation from second innings centurion Nick Compton (133) and the powerful stroke play of Buttler, of course with no small thanks to Jim Troughton. Warwickshire seamer Chris Wright, who was immensely impressive throughout and comfortably out-bowled South African counterpart Vernon Philander, returned to put an end to a stand of 167 and leave his side requiring 258 runs for victory.

 After losing the early wickets of makeshift opener Neil Carter and Varun Chopra, Warwickshire made serene progress through Porterfield and Ian Westwood before the latter strangely offered no stroke to a straight delivery from Philander and was adjudged lbw, thus ending a stand of 102 between the pair. Former Bears captain Darren Maddy provided much needed impetus to the chase, but after falling lbw to the impressive Peter Trego unforeseen madness swiftly ensued.

Following the ungainly dismissal of Porterfield, who fell three runs short of his highest score in a Warwickshire shirt, former England wicket-keeper Tim Ambrose offered a return catch to fall for a golden duck and leave Trego on a hat-trick. His next delivery proved to be a no-ball, though Trego’s spell of three wickets in seven balls for no runs had by now managed to suppress the earlier raucous din periodically emanating from some individuals residing in the members stand.

Rikki Clarke came and went, as did Keith Barker who was bizarrely out hit-wicket from the bowling of Trego. Barker, hopping about as if he were facing a prime, genetically modified Allan Donald, was hit on the ear piece of the helmet by a Trego bouncer and duly trod on his stumps. One suspects that won’t be the last short ball Barker will have to contend with this season.

Enter Jeetan Patel. Warwickshire’s overseas signing, with the club for a third consecutive season, had bagged a duck in the first innings and offered little hope to the hardy souls dotted around a chilly Edgbaston. Yet, with 52 still required for victory, the New Zealander launched an astonishing counter-attack that stunned Somerset. Swatting sixes over long –on and third man, off the bowling of Trego and Philander respectively, Patel set about rapidly reducing the requirement. Somerset captain Marcus Trescothick introduced spinner Dockrell to the attack in an attempt to lure Patel in to a false stroke, only to be met with another six and two fours before Patel took a single allowing captain Troughton to spare his own blushes with a back-foot drive to the boundary to secure victory.

A thrilling County Championship match, yet one that was witnessed by disappointingly few. Warwickshire, without key bowlers Chris Woakes and Boyd Rankin, and with England batsmen Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott returning imminently, may just be ones to watch in this year’s title race.

Saturday 14 April 2012

Warwickshire v Somerset - Edgbaston: Day Three

Saturday 14th April
Warwickshire, 243 and 123-2, require another 136 runs to beat Somerset, 147 and 354.

One Warwickshire member proclaimed during the lunch interval today that Jim Troughton dropped catches were “collector’s items.” Jos Buttler soon revealed himself to be an avid hoarder. Troughton, having inexplicably shelled a chance that would have been snapped up by Kevin Pietersen circa Ashes 2005 in a straitjacket at mid-off with Buttler fresh to the crease, could only watch on in horror as the Somerset youngster combined with unbeaten overnight stalwart Nick Compton to build a partnership worth 167 runs.

It would perhaps be unfair to brand the Compton Buttler axis a case of beauty and the beast, but the contrast in both timing and power was evident between the two as Compton, resuming on 61, re-assumed the familiar barnacle-like existence so familiar to Warwickshire supporters that sat (or slept) through his six-hour vigil six years ago, bringing up his century from 189 balls. Interestingly, his first 50 runs had taken just 61 of those.
Compton - Watchful century

At the other end Buttler drove and swept with aplomb, duly reaching his own half century from 68 balls; each boundary only serving to deepen the shade of puce marking Troughton’s face. The impressive Chris Wright returned to trap Buttler lbw, playing across a straight one on 93 to leave the pair just nine runs short of equalling the record Somerset sixth wicket partnership against the Bears and sparking a flurry of three wickets for five runs in less than two overs.

The match remained very much in the balance with Warwickshire requiring 259 to win in their second innings and both sides confident of victory; Somerset wicket-keeper Craig Kieswetter had suggested that a lead of 180 was defendable during a visit to the Edgbaston press box earlier in the day.

After failing to impress the watching Geoff Miller yesterday, Warwickshire opener and England hopeful Varun Chopra did little to enhance his claims, top-edging a ghastly pull shot off the front-foot to be caught by Kieswetter for 10 shortly after surprise makeshift opener Neil Carter had perished attempting to drive left-arm spinner George Dockrell through extra cover, Jos Buttler completing a smart catch.

The decision to promote Carter to open the innings proved a shrewd one as the all-rounder set about removing the lacquer from the new ball in typically robust fashion, his 26 coming from just 17 balls. The left-hander has never been the most competent player of spin, though, and the trend continued as it took Dockrell just three balls to get his man.

Ian Westwood and William Porterfield are two players likely to be looking over their shoulders with the return of England batsman Ian Bell to the Warwickshire fold next week, but the duo saw out the remaining overs of the day to leave Warwickshire well set at 123-2, requiring a further 136 for a victory that had looked unlikely in the aftermath of Troughton’s fielding horror show.

Porterfield, ending the day with an unbeaten 57, was particularly impressive as he produced an array of scorching straight drives to blunt an eager Somerset attack and deny a baying slip cordon.

It was an irony that will be lost on few of the Warwickshire faithful that Troughton later took a marvellous catch diving backwards at mid-off to remove first innings top scorer Philander, though it did little to atone for his unwilling contribution to what could yet prove to be a match winning partnership. Of all the Warwickshire captain’s collector’s items, this one might just fetch the highest price.

Friday 13 April 2012

Warwickshire v Somerset - Edgbaston: Day Two

Friday 13th April

Somerset closed day two of their LV= County Championship fixture against Warwickshire on 127-4, a lead of 31 runs.

Warwickshire had earlier resumed their first innings on 111-3 with Darren Maddy, unbeaten overnight on 24, immediately displaying aggressive intent with a sweetly driven four through the covers off the bowling of South African maestro Vernon Philander. In contrast, Varun Chopra looked to have adopted a vastly different approach to the obdurately watchful demonstration of technique and concentration that saw him reach 40 not out at the close of day one. Driving loosely at his first delivery of the day Chopra was comprehensively beaten by the outswing of Steve Kirby, though the looks of anguish on Somerset faces were soon replaced with delight as the Warwickshire opener duly edged his third ball faced to second slip off the same bowler.

Warwickshire v Somerset - view from the new media centre at Edgbaston

Former England wicket-keeper Tim Ambrose and Darren Maddy steadied the ship, before Maddy was next out with Warwickshire still six runs adrift of Somerset’s first innings total at 141-5. After making an impressive 42 the former Warwickshire captain fell lbw to Philander, who had looked perhaps at his most ineffective since announcing himself so spectacularly on the world stage for South Africa.

A hint of variable bounce had kept Somerset’s seamers interested throughout the morning session, though captain Marcus Trescothick wasted little time in turning to the left-arm spin of Irish youngster George Dockrell , conqueror in chief of Middlesex in Somerset’s season opener at Taunton last week. Warwickshire all-rounder Rikki Clarke, having replaced Maddy at the crease, had little intention of letting the 19 year old settle, advancing down the wicket to crash Dockrell back over his head for a brace of boundaries.

Ambrose came and went swiftly, driving on the up off the bowling of Dibble, who had consistently generated appreciable swing, to offer Jos Buttler a straightforward catch at extra cover. That brought Keith Barker to the crease and the all-rounder immediately looked to continue the policy of aggression toward Dockrell, who had lacked the assistance from the pitch that was so freely on offer at Taunton. Clarke had moved comfortably on to 27 at the other end, though his own attempt to dominate ultimately proved his undoing, bottom edging an attempted pull to an innocuous Trego delivery on to his stumps.

The lead by now was approaching 50, and with Somerset desperate to limit their deficit Arul Suppiah fumbled a regulation run-out opportunity against the dangerous Neil Carter. The mistake was not to prove costly, as Dockrell removed Carter with a relatively tame caught and bowled dismissal in the following over. Jeetan Patel came and went for a second ball duck, bringing Chris Wright to the crease at 196-9 and offering Somerset an opportunity to promptly wrap up the Warwickshire innings.

It proved to be an opportunity they were loath to take. Wright displayed many of the necessary batting qualities conspicuously absent from a number of top order batsmen throughout this match; solid in defence and intelligently rotating the strike with the recognised batsman Barker. There are few sights that provide greater frustration in cricket to a fielding side than a tail-end batsman stubbornly resisting, and tempers were visibly beginning to fray. Barker had offered a simple caught and bowled chance, had Kirby kept his footing, but with the bowler stumbling on his follow through the ball was able to land safe. Kirby, never one afraid to conceal his emotions, vented his anger by hurling a piece of debris from the pitch.

Warwickshire’s highest tenth wicket partnership against Somerset was a stand of 75 by Dermot Reeve and Tim Munton in 1990, but any designs of Barker and Wright to eclipse that effort terminated on 47 when Kirby returned to rearrange Barker’s furniture. Of particular interest, and no doubt encouragement, to England’s batsmen was the comfort with which Wright played Philander armed with the second new ball throughout his unbeaten 18.

Trescothick and Suppiah strode out to the middle to begin Somerset’s second innings looking to erase a deficit of 96, but hopes of doing so were soon dashed. In a repeat of the first innings Trescothick looked ill at ease against the left arm seam of Keith Barker, taking 13 balls to get off the mark before missing a straight one shortly after reaching double figures. There was still time for a solitary over from Jeetan Patel prior to the tea break, and the former New Zealand spinner drew four false shots from the six balls bowled, finding appreciable turn and simultaneously reminding his team-mates that they don’t want to be chasing too many batting last on this pitch.

Somerset went in to the tea break at 36-1, and upon the resumption of play Nick Compton opted to counter-attack and swiftly brought up his half century from 61 balls. Somerset reached their hundred and looked to be reasserting themselves in the match until a comical mix-up between the wickets saw Suppiah run out for 33. Suppiah played the ball toward silly mid-off and set off hurriedly. The resulting throw at the stumps missed, but some shrewd backing up by Neil Carter saw him gather the ball and throw down the stumps with an underarm dive in a fashion not quite befitting of his stature.

 James Hildreth completed a rotten match on a personal level as he found his middle stump uprooted by a beauty from Neil Carter for 3 to go with a golden duck in the first innings, and England limited overs wicket-keeper Craig Kieswetter also succumbed late in the day as he was bowled through the gate by the impressive Patel. Somerset withheld the more attacking minded duo of Peter Trego and Jos Buttler, sending night watchman George Dockrell out to the middle who duly held firm despite a host of Warwickshire fielders surrounding the bat.

Somerset, effectively 31-4 in their second innings, will be wholly reliant upon the aforementioned Compton, who remains unbeaten on 61 after displaying the kind of stoicism too easily neglected by his team-mates, and the lower order batting of the likes of Trego, Buttler and their first innings top scorer Vernon Philander. Warwickshire remain on top, but won’t want to chase much in excess of 180 on a pitch that is offering turn and a hint of variable bounce. The morning session on day three is likely to prove pivotal in the outcome of this intriguing contest. It may well be a case of who wants it more, and on the evidence provided thus far it is still rather difficult to be sure.

Monday 9 April 2012

Time to cut Pietersen some slack...

It’s taken five Tests, a great deal of soul searching, unceasing running repairs to increasingly damaged reputations and a dose or two of severe humiliation along the way but England have succeeded in winning a Test match in Asia for the first time this winter, seizing their final opportunity to do so in a performance reminiscent of the rise to the summit of world cricket that garnered such widespread acclaim.

Numerous reports and blogs have already surfaced covering the issue of whether England have actually learnt to play cricket in the sub-continent - the conclusion to which with the bat at least is still very much contentious – so I’ll steer clear of the particular debate and instead focus upon the indubitable protagonist of England’s eight wicket win in Colombo, a resplendent Kevin Pietersen.

Pietersen - Imperious in Colombo
Pietersen, lest we forget, arrived in Colombo having scored a paltry 100 runs at a rather unbecoming average of 12.50 across England’s overseas winter tours, and under more pressure than any of his colleagues with the sole exception of his captain Andrew Strauss, in the eyes of many observers. Such a suggestion may superficially appear a little perplexing, given that Pietersen had spent the best part of 2011 laying waste to the bowling attacks of Australia, Sri Lanka and India when amassing 821 runs at a shade over 82, but swift and unremitting criticism has proved a perpetual companion of the South African born batsman at the first hint of failure throughout his England tenure.

It is an unfortunate facet of Pietersen’s England career, the source of which is difficult to pinpoint. Pietersen possesses many a characteristic that is at odds to those associated with the quintessential English cricketer. Unequivocal self-belief, little fear of failure and a demeanour suggestive of being the very best at what he does are just some of those, and when coupled with a willow wielding style that is conspicuous by its absence from the MCC coaching manual it is plain to see why more than just a handful of English traditionalists have failed to acquire the Pietersen taste.  

Perhaps it is merely the South African name. We live in one of the most diverse multi-cultural societies in the world here in Great Britain, interacting with fellow human beings of differing race, religion and background on a daily basis, all of whom are widely embraced as British citizens. An acquiescent isle we may be, but that fails to avert the reservations of many over the number of players of South African origin bolstering the English ranks.

It is true that Pietersen is not alone within the current England setup. Andrew Strauss, Jonathan Trott and Matt Prior are all affiliated with other cricketing nations in conjunction with the three lions under whose banner they proudly ply their trade, yet scarcely a fraction of the vitriol aimed at Kevin Pietersen upon losing his wicket is afforded to those players. That suppresses the South African argument, then.

In reality, a combination of the above likely contributes to the amplified scrutiny Pietersen experiences at the first sight of a flaw. Some may indeed resent the South African association, whilst others undoubtedly dislike the outward displays of bravado. Hitched up sleeves presenting Pietersen’s powerful, tattooed limbs and a propensity for adding an element of extravagance to even the most rudimentary of strokes are all intended as a demonstration of purpose to a fielding side; this is Kevin Pietersen’s stage, not theirs. There will never be a "good morning, my name's Pietersen” in the manner of a gentlemanly Colin Cowdrey. It hasn’t always sat well with the older generation unused to such pageantry and bluster; plenty are quick to label Pietersen a ‘show pony’ only interested in limited overs cricket, yet it is widely acknowledged that nobody puts in more hours of practice.

Preceding his exhibition of imperious magnificence in Colombo an undercurrent that Pietersen was perhaps operating on borrowed time had existed. Having endured a miserable winter one wouldn’t have had to search too far afield to find an observer firm in this belief, despite the heroics of 2011. An impressive Test record boasting 6,654 runs at an average hovering a shade below the Holy Grail of 50 with 20 centuries – just three away from becoming the most of any Englishman – is seemingly superfluous to many Pietersen critics.

That very issue alone would suggest, at least, that the volatile reaction to Pietersen in almost any innings in which he fails to contribute may just be a direct consequence of his lavish talent. Few batsmen in world cricket are as naturally gifted, though many return similar statistics. Teammates Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott provide two immediate examples, neither of whom can claim to possess comparable ability to Pietersen yet average very much the same per innings.

With Kevin Pietersen there remains an underlying feeling that there is so much more. Such a comment may appear outlandish given his excellent track record, but it serves to highlight the enormous talent that Pietersen possesses. On numerous occasions there has been a sense that Pietersen has ‘thrown his wicket away’, perhaps trying to dominate a particular bowler in yet another show of bravado and paying a heavy price. Without those Pietersen would arguably already be England’s leading Test century maker with an average comfortably north of 50.

There is little doubt that Pietersen is capable of becoming an all-time great of both English and world cricket, such is his extraordinary talent. To silence his staunchest critics, though, the soft dismissals would need to stop. But would it be the same Pietersen without the risk? Anything can happen at any moment in a Pietersen innings; suicidal run outs, bizarre dismissals and an outrageous array of strokes are always on the agenda, making Pietersen conceivably the most watchable batsman in world cricket.

The choice is Pietersen’s alone. Greatness is within his reach but cricket may become a duller place should he attempt to grasp it. For now though his place as England’s number four should not be doubted. Here we have one of the most successful and entertaining batsmen to don the three lions in many a year, an astonishing talent likely to have smashed all English Test batting records by the time the curtain falls on an illustrious career.  His tendency for combining the sublime with the ridiculous will likely continue to frustrate, but innings such as those in Colombo are a timely reminder that Pietersen remains a match winner for England, and a batsman that is deserving of considerably more slack than he is currently afforded.  

Kevin Pietersen is a genius. A flawed genius, yes, but a genius nonetheless that will continue to win Test matches for England. Enjoy him whilst he is here.

Monday 2 April 2012

Inter-Galactic Test - Part II

In the first instalment of this inter-galactic Test championship back in February, Earth XI gathered (and in some cases, resurrected) a fine set of cricketers to head out to the Planet Teesra. Keeping the gifted extra-terrestrial spinners at bay and utilising the Martian conditions very much to their advantage, Earth XI upset the odds with a two wicket victory.

Our be-tentacled friends had clearly never bowled at anyone quite so imperious as Sir Donald Bradman or encountered any batsman with such steely resolve as Rahul Dravid, and even their own fearsome spinners failed to hold a candle to the peerless Shane Warne.

Atherton v Donald : Test cricket at it's best
Earth XI’s stunning upset reverberated around the universe, arousing the interest of many a cricketing planet. Indeed, such was the resounding nature of Earth’s triumph that an envoy hailing from the Planet Beamer soon got in touch. Of course, with these extra-terrestrial cricketers clearly preferring the cards stacked in their favour, Earth XI are to compete away from home once more. Regardless, the hardy human race accepts, and following some fine reconnaissance work from the Hubble Telescope it becomes eminently clear that conditions on the Planet Beamer will provide a whole different challenge.

The Planet Beamer is devoid of the dust experienced on Earth XI's previous tour, and is home to incredibly green, hard and fast tracks that are liable to crack rather significantly as the match progresses. If that wasn’t enough, the Hubble Telescope has also managed to espy natives practicing in the nets. These newly discovered aliens are taller than the previous lot; standing anywhere between six and seven feet in height, it would appear that they have a terrifying battery of fast bowlers at their disposal. In fact, the Hubble speed gun is clocking their deliveries at anywhere between 90-100mph.

Being rather more advanced than their Earthling counterparts the aliens of the Planet Beamer, in one of their more sporting moments, are to make the same technology available for this one off Test, whereby the Earth XI selectors will possess the ability to resurrect any former greats that they feel are required to confront such a challenge.

So, as selector, who would you pick to combat the aliens of the Planet Beamer in incredibly hostile fast bowling conditions? Here is the Silly Point(s) XI:

Sunil Gavaskar – against high quality fast bowling there are two key attributes required for success: a perfect, compact technique and enormous powers of concentration. Gavaskar possessed these in abundance. With wonderful balance and being an expert judge of line and length, Gavaskar’s defensive play was amongst the finest in the history of Test cricket.

Michael Atherton – when you think of great duels between opening batsmen and world class fast bowlers, Atherton vs Allan Donald in 1998 immediately springs to mind. As Lawrence Booth once said, Atherton “made batting look like trench warfare.” A master in defence against fast bowling, Atherton proves the perfect companion for Gavaskar.

Sir Don Bradman – we can’t leave him out, can we? If Bradman had any weakness at all, and that is debatable, it was against spin bowling. Some will inevitably point to the Bodyline series as reason enough to omit The Don from this line-up, but even then he averaged an impressive 56. I’d take 56 in this Test.

Greg Chappell – Chappell enjoyed unparalleled success against the fearsome West Indies fast bowlers of his day. Scoring 621 runs at an average of 69 during five World Series Cricket “Super Tests” in the fast bowling paradise of the Caribbean in 1979, Chappell displayed incredible resilience and skill to negotiate some of the most hostile fast bowling ever witnessed.

Stan McCabe – a short, stocky batsman McCabe may not seem the ideal candidate to face terrifying fast bowling, but in reality was quite the opposite. An expert driver and hooker of the ball, McCabe used sublime footwork and incredibly flexible wrists to enjoy great success against fast bowling. As Wisden told us, “he was at his best when facing bowlers of pace.” When speaking of McCabe, Sir Don Bradman once said “I wish I could bat like that,” praise enough for anyone, you would think.

Sir Garfield Sobers – almost missed out to Jacques Kallis, but hangs on to the all-rounder spot. Whilst Kallis perhaps at his peak possessed a little more pace and a sharper bouncer than Sobers, thus proving a more threatening bowling alternative, he has on occasion shown weakness with the bat against high class fast bowling; namely that of Andrew Flintoff.

Adam Gilchrist – always kept well to the pace of Brett Lee and Shaun Tait, and takes the wicket-keeping spot through batting prowess. An aggressive number seven proves the ideal foil to a solid top order.

Harold Larwood – a fast bowler whose name alone induced terror in opposition batsmen during his pomp, Larwood is renowned for his pivotal role in the infamous Bodyline series. Perhaps the one man to render Don Bradman a mere mortal, Larwood’s express pace, razor sharp bouncer and unerring accuracy suit conditions perfectly. Rumoured to have bowled in excess of 100mph, and with an endless list of injury victims during his reign of terror, Larwood would prove somewhat of an unwelcome guest.

Jeff Thomson - one of the most aggressive and fastest bowlers to have played cricket. Possessing a fearsome bouncer and no shortage of variation, Thomson’s slingy action and hostile approach to bowling make him a certainty for selection. Thomson often provided equal threat with the old ball as he did with the new, and the sheer explosiveness with which he delivered each and every ball would undoubtedly prove to be the most hellish of experiences for the opposition batsmen.

Bill O’Reilly – ‘Tiger’ makes it in to the side as the sole spinner, though that is a word to be used lightly. To quote Wisden once more, O’Reilly “gripped the ball in his enormous right hand and released it at a pace that could be almost fast-medium. It would then bounce ferociously on the hard pitches of his time and, on occasion, knock wicket-keepers off their feet.” O’Reilly’s combination of fast, bouncing leg-breaks, top-spinners and googlies should enjoy great success in such conditions.

Joel Garner – standing at 6ft 8 inches tall and with the capability of bowling at searing pace, ‘Big Bird’ was an intimidating prospect for the very best of batsmen and completes the Earth XI line-up. Possessing an uncanny ability to produce deliveries that would rear up alarmingly from an almost good length, Garner would be in his element. A devastating yorker only added to the menace of this West Indian great.