Wednesday 12 June 2013

The amateur cricketer and the perils of Twitter

As a part of my job, I am a ‘cricket analyst’. In reality, this means as well as driving a minibus for away matches, I assist the cricket professional by doing some coaching tasks such as some filming of bowling actions and batting shots to attempt to use a sophisticated programme on the iPad to make some sense of when individuals
are getting it wrong.

I also work with a program called NX Cricket HD that is used by the 1st XI scorer - a Year 12 pupil who has the amazing ability to play FIFA, score a match on the iPad and produce toasted ham and cheese sandwiches simultaneously. He is a remarkable young man and like Michael Heseltine, another former pupil of the school, will surely make his first million before the age of 25. This scoring program allows me to further analyse bowlers and batsman by looking at the areas where runs are scored and conceded, allowing me to discuss with bowlers and the captain where to place fielders as well as passing on data to the counties where many of them are academy members.

During games, I often spend my time on social media sites, especially Twitter, tweeting latest scores to our 500 followers (mainly pupils and families of school cricketers). I did spend most of last season posting tweets of cricketing milestones like “Wow – 262 followers – 262 runs were scored by Dennis Amiss in saving a test in Kingston, Jamaica in 1973/74”. The problem is now I’m running out of milestones; 501
is the last well known one and not for a type of Levi jeans popular in the 1980's. I suppose I will have to resort to researching Cricinfo and find records of England innings totals or bizarre totals recorded by England players (538 – number of balls bowled by John Snow in One Day Internationals).

My tweets during games are fairly bland and informative such as “Another wicket for Smith – 38/2 in the 10th over”, as I have to stick to a ‘code of conduct’ issued by our IT department though I have been jokingly accused by one of our players of bullying. I also spend my some time following the exploits of recent former pupils, some of whom are playing the game professionally and in one case trying to champion the cause for one of them to increase his tally of two England caps. A recent tweet
involving the grandson of a former England captain, of “Fred Bloggs goes LBW for 0 – first ball of the game” was favourited by most of his team-mates and bizarrely, a number of divorcees from the USA.

Another of our 1st teamers entered in to an ‘online banter exchange’ with friends from his former school, only for us to be drawn against them in the national schools T20 competition. When he ran himself out in the 1st over of our innings, the celebrations amongst his former team-mates weren’t exactly muted and at least half of them later re-tweeted my tweet to tell the world he had run himself out.

A few professional cricketers have got into trouble with their antics with texts and on social media sites – most famously Kevin Pietersen and Suresh Raina- but even in the amateur game, the authorities have been forced to issue a social media policy for club members. Leagues and clubs the length and breadth of the land now have social media policies policed by club welfare officers.

I know of plenty of amateur cricketers who have fallen foul of social media regulations with their tweets. A former member of my club declared to all of his followers that he had conned an umpire into making the wrong decision and was ultimately reported by his club’s welfare officer that resulted in a suspended ban for the rest of that season. I would like to have been a fly on the wall the next time they took the field together.

Likewise, I know of an umpiring colleague, who complained about a captain’s poor behaviour on the field on Twitter to another colleague. This was re-tweeted by a follower of both of the umpires that then got out into the public domain and the miscreant captain then threatened to sue the umpire for slander! Currently, one ECB Premier League in the North of England is trying to track down the originator of a ‘banter’ twitter account that is criticising management committee members, clubs
that employ professionals and rather unfairly, those clubs whose wickets are aligned east to west.

I suppose that if we if we learn anything as cricketers we should restrict our tweeting to things that won’t get us into hot water and what we would get away with on the field. Fortunately, we can’t take our phones and tablets on to the field at the moment otherwise there might be a few tweets declaring the ineptitude of opposition batsmen wit “put a bell in the ball!” and “well left!” especially when the batsman has just played and missed at 4 consecutive deliveries."

Tuesday 4 June 2013

The history of the ICC Champions Trophy

The ICC Champions Trophy is a tournament organised by the international cricket council (ICC). It started in 1998 and was then named the ICC knock out tournament and it has been played approximately every two years since then. The number of competing teams has varied over the years; originally the ICCs full members took part, however the number has evolved to the stage where the eight best teams in the world six months prior to the tournament.

The 1998 tournament was played in Dhaka, Bangladesh was a success which was won by South Africa after beating the West Indies in the final. The 2000 tournament was played in Kenya, Nairobi and the tournament was won by New Zealand who beat India in the final. The 2002 tournament ended in controversy as the final was washed out two days running half way through the matches between India and Sri Lanka and after playing 110 overs they were declared joint winners. The 2004 tournament was held in England and it was England vs. West Indies in the final, West Indies won that by 2 wickets. A new format was introduce in 2006, this was a turning point in the tournaments history, having had twelve teams in 2004 including Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Kenya and U.S.A the ICC took the bold step of reducing the number too eight teams, the tournament was a great success with Australia and West Indies in the final Australia won easily with eight wickets too spare.

There was some trouble in the supposed 2008 tournament however it was postponed to 2009 due to security issues in Pakistan so it was moved to South Africa, Australia won it for the second year running beating New Zealand in the final.

The upcoming completion is set to be exciting, eight teams split into two groups. It is being set in England this makes it the only country to have held the tournament twice. South Africa are odds on favourites however England are not far behind with home teams having a decent record in the tournament. Some suggest that it will be a repeat of the 2004 tournament which was in England as well; West Indies taking that one. Australia has won the last two in a row but they may see this as preparation for the big one, the Ashes.

This is scheduled to be the last champions trophy with the ICC world test championship scheduled to be played in 2017, this consists of ten teams in a group then a play off then a final; It is a test format and will take a long time to complete.

Monday 20 May 2013

The Ashes

Earlier this week, I was helping run a fielding practice for my school 1st XI along with the school’s cricket professional, a former fast bowler with over 20 years experience of playing First Class cricket and an equal length of time spent as a school cricket coach. Our conversation turned to discussing his mother’s recent move to sheltered accommodation close to the school. Having lost his father a couple of years ago, his mother had buried his ashes in her garden in an urn. Our pro had returned to the house that morning to dig up the urn so they could re-interned at some point in the future. Our conversation reminded me of a couple of incidents on the cricket field that involved the ashes of former team-mates.
The first incident involved a former team-mate called Ron. I had played with Ron at a club in Surrey when I was in my early 20’s, Ron had been the 2nd XI wicket-keeper and later in life, the 2nd XI umpire when his son had been captain of the side. As a young man, he had also been a professional goalkeeper. Ron and I had never really seen eye to eye as players and even less so when I was promoted to the 1st XI as he felt I had taken his son’s place. Rarely did I get a decision from him yet his son had more luck –“Howzat Dad” “That’s out, son!” When I batted my luck was even worse – run out when I had passed the stumps, LBW when I had middled it – you name it, it happened to me.

After a long illness, Ron sadly died sometime in the early 90’s and in his will he requested that his ashes be scattered on the cricket ground. We had a ceremony and a celebration of his life a few weeks before the season started and his ashes were scattered around the base of a large specimen tree that grew within the boundary. A couple of weeks into the season I was playing at home on a Sunday and was asked to field close to the tree. It was a fairly cool day with a gusty breeze and before long I had to field the ball close to the tree. As I approached the base of the tree, Ron’s ashes were still visible on the patch of bare ground and as I got closer a fairly violent gust of wind stirred up the grey powder and as I bent to pick up the ball, blew it into my eyes.

I immediately sensed a burning sensation with the gritty ash now under both eyelids and I immediately sunk to my knees, despite the shouts of my team-mates urging me to throw the ball back in. Fortunately, the batsmen stopped running when they realized all was not well and the other fielders came over to see what my plight was. When they realized that I had been near-blinded by Ron’s ashes, there was much jocularity. Eventually, I was helped from the pitch and tried to clean the ash out of my eyes with little success, so I was shipped off to casualty to have the grit rinsed out of my eyes by an ophthalmic specialist, who also found the incident very amusing. Was this Ron having his last laugh at my expense, I am sure it was!

My other ‘ashes’ incident also involved the cremated remains of a former player. By this time, I had moved house and clubs and was chairman of a well-known Middlesex club. A request came before the committee from the widow and daughters of a former player, John, who I had played against many times. They asked if they could scatter his ashes on the ground that we duly agreed to. The ashes were actually spread on the square that the groundsman didn't see as a problem as the rain would wash them away over the course of the winter.

John had a couple of daughters, who could best be described as ‘accommodating’ and many of the lads in the club had brief liaisons with them, most of which were not approved of by John. In one match in the middle of the season played on an
absolutely belting wicket where over 600 runs were scored, one of the lads, Tony,
who had not met with John’s approval after having a brief fling with one of his
voluptuous daughter, was going along nicely with his score in the 90’s. He was
delivered a half-volley on off stump that shot along the floor and bowled him all
ends up. It was the only ball that misbehaved all day (and probably all season too.)

Tony was adamant that John too, had the last laugh and got in his own back on him
for his previous misdemeanors. We all had a good laugh about it but given my
earlier experience, I often wonder whether Ron and John were sitting in that great pavilion in the sky enjoying a pint and passing judgement on us all.

Thursday 11 April 2013

All Hail the Arrival of Summer‏

I think I overdosed on cricket a little during the winter. Touring India meant early starts for those supporting from back home, trying to get as much in before dragging ourselves off to work in the tea break and hoping to log in to the ball-by-ball updates on Cricinfo without missing that key wicket – or getting fired.
Then the New Zealand leg started and it was all about staying up as late as possible and trying to keep the TV volume low enough so as not to wake your flatmates/neighbours/girlfriend (who probably broke up with you after keeping her awake through 15 days of cricket only for it to end 0-0) and then arriving at work bleary-eyed, and trying not to get fired.
Still, today the county season starts - which to me represents the arrival of summer (yes, yes, I know it snowed a few days ago, but still - cricket is a summer game right?), and after a little break I feel ready again. Matt Prior’s heroics in Auckland are still fresh enough in the mind to have me looking forward to the revenge series over here (we’ll show ‘em right lads?), and then of course, there’s the Ashes. Twice.
The county season however, deserves to at least be noticed before the really serious stuff starts. While glancing through Twitter yesterday I saw all nine teams in Division One being tipped for the title – and not by their own county feeds or former pros. Michael Vaughan even tipped Surrey for the title – clearly the Graeme Smith factor has got people interested.
I’m one of the few people it seems, who actually enjoys the county championship. It rarely fails to provide a tight finish – something Football’s Premier League is not managing this season (alright, so it was quite close in 2012), and provided the first half of the season isn’t totally washed out, these predictions indicate it is going to be as unpredictable as ever.
There will be a host of young players trying to break into the international set up, although it seems likely now that the Test elite have already been anointed, a place on a winter tour is always worth striving for – while the ICC Champions Trophy, for once, represents a realistic chance of silverware in the 50-over format.
I intend to get to as much cricket as possible this summer. After work wanders to Lords and The Oval should be easy enough, despite how absurdly difficult it is to get Test tickets, the county game will forever remain one of the last events where grabbing a ticket on the gate is as simple as ever - and that is something to be celebrated.
Last year the star of the season was Nick Compton, whose achievements were today recognised by being named as one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year. I which player will surprise us in 2013.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Jason Krejza - The luckiest cricketer in history?‏

With Tasmania today announcing his contract will not be renewed, the curtain looks to have drawn on possibly the most charmed cricket career of all-time, Jason Krejza.
 The man born to Eastern-European migrants and bought up in Newtown, a suburb of Sydney now more associated with petty crime and arts students then any sort of sporting endeavour (at least, ever since the demise of the Jets in 1983), managed to bumble and bluff his way through a cricket career that really should have ended on several occasions before now.
 Krejza’s first bit of luck was managing to break into a NSW team due to the various national duties or injuries of Stuart MacGill, Nathan Hauritz, and Beau Casson. This despite an attitude that was roundly described as being poor and a control over his off-breaks that even a 14 year old schoolboy would be ashamed of.
 More astounding career-escapes were to come. Whilst a fringe player at NSW, he tested positive to cocaine. This came to light just after he was later selected for his first test match. Which, in my book, would make him the least scrutinised and least-punished recreational drug user in Australian Sport – at least of those who tested positive. Even those who didn’t test positive, such as Andrew Johns, got put through the ringer.
 His excuse for how this happened is one of my favourite stories to retell. He claimed he left his drink on a sidebar whilst he was on the dancefloor at a Sydney niteclub. He claimed he returned to his drink, took a sip, and began ‘to feel woozy’ – an affect more associated with depressants then stimulants. Jason became concerned at this, went home to sleep it off, and then informed NSW officials what had happened (which some people might read as him waking up and thinking ‘oh shit what if I get tested’), and successfully identified the substance he thought his drink was spiked with. He was withdrawn from a game and lo and behold, tested positive to cocaine.
 Perhaps predicting that some may question the validity or even the likelihood of somebody in a Sydney niteclub wasting a difficult-to-procure drug that costs $400-a-gram, CA’s Acting Chief Exec at the time, Michael Brown offered the following excuse ‘"I saw a report recently that stated there were around 4000 reported cases of drink spiking last year ... and higher-profile athletes and celebrities can be targeted.” – a statement that sent shockwaves through the high-profile ranks of Domestic 2nd XI players across the country.
 Following this normally-career-ending incident, Krejza wasn’t even suspended, but quietly shifted off to Australian Cricket’s version of purgatory. Tasmania. His luck didn’t finish there, however. Upon arriving in Hobart with his tail between his legs, he was determined to change his life. He was determined to change his attitude. He was determined to change his career. He was arrested for drink-driving within weeks. Despite his issues, Tasmania kept him on (think if Jesse Ryder would be afforded similar treatment). Despite their reputation and history, Krejza found himself amongst a Tasmania team who had suddenly found themselves a force in Domestic Cricket.
 Krejza contributions to this, however, were debatable. A handy batting average (36) was outweighed by a bowling average of 47. But simply by being a spinner, he was on the Australian selector’s radar. They wanted anybody to replace the frankly-ridiculous riches of Australia’s previous spin stocks, highlighted by even Colin Miller possessing a better strike rate and average than Graeme Swann. He was picked for India on a hunch, and a hunch that was never going to be acted upon lest Bryce McGain – the leading shield wicket-taker that season – got injured. McGain got injured.
 His first day went as expected, with the snorting restricted to toilet cubicles and not as descriptions of his off-breaks. The next day India chased quick runs. They certainly got them off Krejza, but the 205 runs he conceded also yielded 8 wickets. I’m still wondering if they’re good figures or not to this day. His total match figures were 12/358. The 2nd highest amount of runs conceded of all time. Despite that, he picked up the man of the match award.
 After a particularly heavy mauling at the hands of South Africa in his next test, where they chased down a world record 4th innings total and Ricky Ponting was seen with his head in his hands in exasperation at Krejza’s inability to land even 4 consecutive balls on the cut strip, Krejza was dropped. Most thought for good. But, despite his appalling control, and owing to major injuries to Hauritz and Doherty, Krejza was picked to play in the 2011 World Cup. He played every game, despite an incredibly modest return in each one.
 He has since been back in domestic cricket, toiling away without success as the 2nd choice behind Xavier Doherty for Tasmania. If this does signal the end of his career, he will end it with a test bowling average of 47, a first class average of 48, and some pretty cool kit. No doubt that if he does go down the Nathan Hauritz route of selling it at a garage sale, the lucky prick will probably have a drunk Indian Billionaire walk by and give him 100k for a training shirt.

Friday 5 April 2013

Let's. Play! DARTS!‏

The starter has called Go! On the new edition of drunken darts that resembles modern-day Australian Cricket Selections.
Not wanting to let anybody - the players, media, or fans – to become complacent, they have adopted a Ziggy Stardust cloak of mystery for the Champions Trophy by keeping their provisional squad secret. This certainly has sent shockwaves through the world of cricket – Andy Flower has been furrowing his brow about whether to make plans for Xavier Doherty (ha, no really, he will… trust me) or Nathan Lyon.
If I were on the panel, I certainly would be taking the Champions Trophy seriously. This is probably the best chance Australia have of winning anything of significance for a little while, and could be a key confidence booster before being royally ratted in the proceeding Ashes series(s’).
Who gets picked though? I don’t even think the selectors know. A team that picked just about everybody that’s played first class cricket in the 50-over team in the past 18 months could almost seemingly pick anybody. I’ll seriously consider taking a kit bag to a couple of games and stand outside the dressing room trying to land a couple of tweakers. It worked for Ashton Agar.
The 30 man provisional squad, in the NSP’s defence, is a load of old codswallop in any case. What’s it’s use nowadays? It was introduced in the mid 90’s with the purpose of getting Programmes ready to print at a moments notice. Does anybody buy programmes anymore?
On to the The Ashes. It seems just about everybody has an opinion as to who to pick. Callum Fergurson has really benefited from not playing in India. Expect him to be picked, possibly as a number 4. Mitch Johnson is shot (has been since 2009). Ryan Harris is back in vogue. Who’s turn on the merry-go-round? Hilfenhaus? Nope. Step up Jackson Bird.
If I had to pick a starting 11 now, I’d make it look as such;
Watson, Warner, Cowan, Clarke, Fergurson, Khawaja/Hughes, Wade, Pattinson, Siddle, Harris, Lyon – with Starc, Faulkner, Bird, Haddin, Ahmed (if he’s Australian by then) or O’Keefe, and Smith.
So that’s actually 18 men, in a squad of 17. I cheated. So what. So will Australia if they’re to win The Ashes. Is underarm still illegal?

Thursday 21 March 2013

There's Always One

If the opening weeks were a convenient little warm up where England took both the T20 and ODI series 2-1, what followed was a particularly well timed clip round the ear. Since the second innings at Dunedin though, things have perked up considerably.
The non-issue at the top of the order has been put to bed until at least half way through the Ashes where Nick Compton would have to be having a real shocker to get dropped, and Stuart Broad has remembered how to bowl again. These are significant strides for an England team that came out here with a couple of chinks that an Australian team of years gone by would certainly exploit.

As it is, the attention is turning to Monty Panesar being one-dimensional, although with 161 Test wickets I would say he is a pretty good second option, which is exactly what he is because it will be a big surprise if Graeme Swann is not fit to regain his place come May.
And previous golden boy Joe Root is suddenly short of runs. Amazing how things turn around. It was interesting to hear Paul Collingwood on Sky during the rain in Wellington discussing how there was always a feeling within the England camp that at any one time there was always one player being targeted by the media. He also made the point that it was largely ignored.
When the team arrived in New Zealand it was Compton, but if I had to pick one it would be most people’s favourite target; Ian Bell. I know, I know – he got a wining hundred in Kolkata, but hear me out.
I’ve backed this guy for an awfully long time, but his match wining hundred in Kolkata was scored with the assistance of Jonathan Trott also hitting 143 to ease the pressure in the chase. He was certainly in trouble coming into that innings and he has been afforded a stay of execution because of it – but the way he has been getting himself out in New Zealand simply brings back all the old frustrations.
He may have only been dismissed twice in this series, but both have had the hallmark of brainless, uncaring batting which seems so common in the Twenty20 era. He has an exceptional record at Test level, but if he had the mental aptitude of a Cook, Compton or Trott he would be up there with the very best in the world game, rather than constantly having fans with their heads in their hands.
He’ll stay in the side of course, but runs for Root in any of the remaining Tests against New Zealand, at home or abroad, combined with a good start to the domestic season for Jonny Bairstow and Bell might just be one more hare-brained dismissal away from what he seems to think is the impossible.