Hardman's Thoughts

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Ramble #15

The English are coming

Nothing quite splits opinion in the sporting world like the Indian Premier League. Similar to marmite, you either love it or you hate it. Personally, I’ve always loved it but have been disappointed with the lack of English players. 

That has now all changed. Traditionally, Eoin Morgan and Kevin Pietersen were regulars with Andrew Flintoff playing the first season. But outside of those three, who let’s be honest, are all pretty box office names, no English players were ever represented. 

At the latest auction, taking place as I write, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Alex Hales, Jason Roy, Tymal Mills, Chris Jordan and Jonny Bairstow joined Eoin Morgan in putting themselves forward. Only Hales and Bairstow haven’t been sold, with Ben Stokes becoming the most expensive overseas player. 

With Jos Buttler and Sam Billings being held on by their franchises from last year, the vast majority of England’s T20 outfit will now be plying their trade on the biggest T20 stage of all. And most of them can expect to be regular overseas picks for their franchises.

The most important two will be Stokes and Tymal Mills. Mills was a priority for Royal Challengers Bangalore, who were willing to spend as much as possible to get him. He’s a T20 specialist, with genuine pace which will suit the tracks in Bangalore. He can’t play first-class or 50-over matches so the England set-up will be delighted he was wanted. The more games he plays in this environment, the better for England. 

And I’m delighted that Strauss has convinced the England bosses that the IPL is the way forward. Played in front of consistently big crowds, the teams can only field four overseas players per match (but can have a max of nine in their squad). Therefore, the competition for places is high. The English contingent will have to be at their absolute best in every training session to secure those all important places, while competing with huge names such as Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers and Trent Boult. But while these players would have expected in the past to breeze into the side ahead of English players, it is no longer the case. 

Our revolution started with the Bayliss/Strauss/Morgan trio of leaders. It showed potential with a surprise appearance in the final of the Worlds last year and now it’s affirming itself on the world stage with the level of demand in English players at the IPL auction. The competition may not be your favourite, but the sudden acceptance of English players can only be good for the game in this country. 


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A sweet victory 12 years in the making

It really wasn’t the best T20 Finals Day. There was little in the way of excitement, as teams batting first crumbled in both of the semi-finals. The final was a little better, with Lancashire and Northamptonshire producing a tight, swinging in momentum, affair that Lancashire finally won with some excellent death over bowling. The triumph is Lancashire’s first in the T20 format and their first one-day trophy since 1999. For reasons I’ll explore below, it is sweet in the extreme.

In reality, we should have won this trophy last year. Back then we had Andrew Flintoff, James Anderson, Usman Khawaja, Tom Smith and Paul Horton. Horton isn’t considered good enough for T20 anymore (indeed, his contract isn’t being renewed for next year), Smith has been injured, Flintoff retired, Anderson wasn’t made available by England and Khawaja was rejected in favour of James Faulkner. While the last one was a move made to strengthen our side, on paper we were weaker this year. Last year it was our fifth Finals Day appearance and with Buttler and Brown together we looked likely to chase the 182 runs we needed to get. What followed was a traditional Lancashire collapse, and despite late heroics from Freddy Flintoff, we failed to get over the line.

This year, we shouldn’t have even been at finals day. Knowing we had a weaker squad than last year, our coach Ashley Giles has been playing down our chances from the commencement of the competition. We lost two of our first three matches and our prospects of winning the thing looked slim! After 13 of the 14 group stage matches we were sitting in fourth place in the group, the final qualification spot and a point ahead of Nottinghamshire in fifth. We knew that to guarantee qualification we needed to beat an already qualified Worcestershire and if we didn’t then we would have to hope that already out Leicestershire could somehow halt Notts’ momentum. I honestly believe that if those matches had happened, it would have been Notts travelling to Kent for the quarterfinal and not Lancashire. Luckily for us, it rained all over the country and we stayed that one point ahead.

We almost made a mess of a routine quarterfinal victory. At one stage, bowling first, we had Kent 7 wickets down for only 87 runs. They recovered to post 142 and when we were 138 for the loss of just 4 wickets with 5 balls left the result seemed a foregone conclusion. Cue an over so bizarre; it could only possibly include Lancashire! Buttler went, and then Croft went before Faulkner couldn’t get bat on ball and conceded a dot. 5 to win from 5 balls had become 5 to win from 2. Faulkner and Lilley scrambled a couple of two’s and the scores were level. We progressed on virtue of not being bowled out. Fewest wickets lost, quite possibly the greatest rule in the history of cricket (until it works against us!).

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Going into Finals Day turned out to be more traumatic than usual when our most reliable bowler over all formats this season broke his hand. With Kyle Jarvis out, James Anderson unavailable and Tom Bailey out of form in white ball cricket it was going to be fascinating to see what side we played. Ignoring Luke Procter and Jordan Clark, Giles and Croft decided to give a debut to 21-year-old Gavin Griffiths and throw in 23-year-old George Edwards. That was a bold decision, which sums up Lancashire and the coaching staff’s confidence in our current crop of youngsters.

Losing the toss in the semi-final but being asked to bowl first worked in our favour. Steven Croft would have batted, however after seeing his bowlers skittle Hampshire for 115 I’m sure he’s grateful he never had the chance to suggest such an idea. Stephen Parry, so long a stalwart with a white ball for Lancashire, impressed taking 3 wickets for only 21 runs from his four overs. His spin twin this summer, Arron Lilley, was also tidy – contributing 2 wickets and only conceding a measly 11 runs from a full compliment of overs.

If you want a reason why Lancashire have won the T20 this year then look no further than those two. On many occasions, their tight accurate middle over bowling has restricted sides from making big totals and they’ve chipped in with more than enough wickets. Parry’s slow orthodox spin compliments Lilley’s quicker off-spin and the two of them will be deadly for years. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Lilley, who for the record can bat and is an excellent fielder, represent England in the years to come.

The impressive thing about the semi-final was that our pacers bowled well too. Faulkner, another massive part of this success, took 3 wickets, Edwards 2 (at only 5.33 runs per over) and Griffiths bowled well on debut, and indeed his first over was a maiden. Chasing a small total is never easy but an assured 40 not out from Karl Brown and a cameo from James Faulkner meant we cruised home with more than an over to spare. Looking back to his post match interview, the signs were there that this was our year. Croft said the side hadn’t clicked yet as a unit and with hindsight, he was right.

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The most likable aspect of this Lancashire side is the willingness in which they use young cricketers. In the past year we’ve seen Chapple’s work load dramatically reduced, Paul Horton get released, Tom Smith be injured and Kyle Hogg retire. Rather than miss 4 key reasons for our success in recent history, Giles has managed to slot in youngsters such as Lilley, Clark, Bailey, Griffiths, Edwards, Liam Livingstone, Alex Davies and Haseeb Hameed all to great success. If we add promotion to this T20 triumph, it will be as much to those guys as it is to Ashwell Prince, Faulkner, Alviro Petersen etc.

Inevitably, youngsters will blow hot and cold. When they blow cold it can be frustrating, when hot it can be exciting. In the final, on the biggest stage of their lives Alex Davies and Gavin Griffiths, two 21 year olds, stepped up and won the trophy for Lancashire. The Red Rose clicked, as Davies and Prince set off at a brisk pace, both getting 40’s and setting a nice platform. Davies’ 47 was a particularly beautiful flowing knock, which would eventually land him man of the match. A brisk 20 run cameo from Aaron Lilley at the end to push us over the 160 mark and produce a target we could defend with confidence, 166, rescued a mini collapse in the middle.

Northants were never cruising to the target, however the middle overs didn’t work like they usually did for Lancashire and we found ourselves defending 42 off the last four overs. That is achievable for both sides, especially with Cobb and Afridi getting into their stride. It got worse when Faulkner halfway through a good over dropped Afridi, almost certainly dislocating his finger in the process. He finished the over and would be fit to bowl his last however we needed someone to bowl the 18th and 20th overs. Edwards had been expensive, Lilley as a spinner was too much of a risk.

Step forward Gavin Griffiths. His figures? 1 over, 0 wickets, 9 runs. His experience? 1 T20 match, played earlier that day. His task? Bowl to one of the best one-day players of the last decade, and try and take your side over the line for the first time since the last millennium. No pressure then! He started cramping, the commentators suggested due to stress, and saw Cobb dropped in the outfield by Davies. Did that faze him? No, as the very next ball he had Afridi caught on the boundary ropes and in truth, that was that. A brilliant 19th over from Faulkner (who deserves a lot of praise for bowling on) and an exceptional final one from Griffiths (defending 21 should be easy but so much can go wrong quickly in cricket) saw Lancashire to the title that has evaded them so much.

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The beauty of county cricket is that teams don’t tend to dominate. With 18 teams more or less evenly matched, winning a trophy in any format is a significant achievement. Lancashire have always been consistent in the T20 competition – reach the knockout stages and then mess up in them. No other side has qualified from the group more than us, so this is a victory 12 years in the making and more than deserved. This side certainly won’t dominate, although I’ll be surprised if this is the only trophy they win. Whatever happens, they will always have this sweet victory.

This is a Lancashire side still propped up by the Stevphen’s Croft and Parry, Ashwell Prince and Karl Brown however we can now add the likes of Alex Davies, Aaron Lilley and Gavin Griffiths to the mix of players to depend on. The competition for places is rife and there therefore isn’t a weak spot throughout the 11. Faulkner, Prince and Buttler, by their standards, had poor days at this year’s Finals Day but surprisingly that didn’t matter. The rest of Lancashire proved we are far from a 3-man team and more than that, we are a young, exciting side.

Going into this year, I was sad that we couldn’t win it with Flintoff, Hogg, Smith or, as it turned out, Horton and Chapple – players who have given their all for Lancashire over the years. But now, would I say it’s sweeter to win with youngsters rather than the old guard? A hundred times yes. A win for the old guard would have been the final goodbye. A win for this side could be the start of something special. And, if I have read the character of the man correctly, I’m convinced Glenn Chapple will be thinking exactly that.


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Taking a look at the 2015 T20 Finals Day

For me, domestic cricket is greatly underappreciated in our country. County cricket is usually more exciting than the more famous international version and henceforth I urge you to go along to a match if you have a chance. Declining attendances are affecting the long term future of the game we love and therefore it’s crucial county cricket gets more attention in the mainstream media.

The highlight of the season is definitely Finals Day, where the four best T20 teams come together to play the semi finals and final in one magnificent day of cricket. T20 cricket was introduced to the world in 2003, as a way to make cricket more palatable for children and families. With matches being played over 3 hours rather than 4 days, plus extra activities such as live music, cheerleading and free giveaways has allowed the format to flourish and increase in quality almost exponentially.

The point of this article is to preview the 2015 finals day, held on the 29th August, talk about the four teams and explore where the matches will be won and lost. But before all that, I think I should explain more about the format and history of the competition.

The Format:

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - APRIL 17: (L-R) Mike Hogan of Glamorgan, Chesney Hughes of Derbyshire, Marcus Trescothick of Somerset, Andrew Gale of Yorkshire, Michael Klinger of Gloucestershire, Ben Raine of Leicestershire, Yasar Arafat of Surrey, James Taylor of Nottinghamshire, Jos Buttler of Lancashire, Steven Davies of Surrey, Greg Smith of Essex, Ben Duckett of Northamptonshire, Eoin Morgan of Middlesex, Jim Troughton of Warwickshire, Ben Stokes of Durham, Rob Key of Kent and Jack Shantry of Wocestershire pose during the NatWest T20 Blast Player Photocall at Edgbaston on April 17, 2014 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – APRIL 17: (L-R) Mike Hogan of Glamorgan, Chesney Hughes of Derbyshire, Marcus Trescothick of Somerset, Andrew Gale of Yorkshire, Michael Klinger of Gloucestershire, Ben Raine of Leicestershire, Yasar Arafat of Surrey, James Taylor of Nottinghamshire, Jos Buttler of Lancashire, Steven Davies of Surrey, Greg Smith of Essex, Ben Duckett of Northamptonshire, Eoin Morgan of Middlesex, Jim Troughton of Warwickshire, Ben Stokes of Durham, Rob Key of Kent and Jack Shantry of Wocestershire pose during the NatWest T20 Blast Player Photocall at Edgbaston on April 17, 2014 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

There are 18 counties that make up the sides in this country (including Glamorgan in Wales). These days, they are split into 2 groups of nine with the top 4 from each going through to the quarterfinals. The groups aren’t randomly drawn; instead they are rather strangely split into north and south. I say it’s strange because this has led to the scenario where Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Worcestershire and Birmingham (Warwickshire) are in the North group despite very clearly being midlands sides. There used to be a midlands group (well technically, midlands, wales and west), when the format was 3 groups of 6, consisting of Somerset, Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire, Glamorgan, Warwickshire and Worcestershire but even then Notts, Derby and Leicester were placed in the north.

The problem with splitting the counties into North and South is that there are actually only 3 northern counties (Lancashire, Yorkshire and Durham) with quite a few more southern ones (Sussex, Surrey, Middlesex, Hampshire, Kent, Essex, Somerset, Glamorgan and Gloucestershire). The advantages of north and south means travelling times for the sides are reduced and two groups of nine makes the quarterfinal allocation easier. The top north team plays the fourth place south team, and so on and so forth with the matches being played at the grounds of the top 2 teams in each division. There’s no question that 2 groups of 9 are better than 3 groups of 6 and therefore this format should stay however there’s an argument that says the groups should be randomised.

But enough of my rambling about the geographical divide, in the two groups of 9 the sides play 14 matches each, with 2 points for a win and 1 for a tie/no result. For some bizarre reason (presumably amount of cricket) the organisers decided teams should play 6 of their 8 opponents home and away whilst only playing the other two once. All of that faff results in a massive deduction of 2 matches from the schedule! As per usual, those in charge of cricket in this country overcomplicate the most simple of tasks.

History:

A quick breakdown of how each county has performed in all the T20 cups is provided below, including this year:

  • Derbyshire: Finals Day appearances: 0, Quarterfinals: 1
  • Durham: Finals Day: 1, Quarterfinals: 4
  • Essex: Finals Day: 4, Quarterfinals: 8
  • Glamorgan: Finals Day: 1, Quarterfinals: 3
  • Gloucestershire: Finals Day: 2 (including 1 RU), Quarterfinals: 4
  • Hampshire: Finals Day: 6 (the last 6, including 2 wins), Quarterfinals: 8
  • Kent: Finals Day: 3 (1 win, 1 RU), Quarterfinals: 6
  • Lancashire: Finals Day: 6 (2 RU), Quarterfinals: 10
  • Leicestershire: Finals Day: 5 (3 wins), Quarterfinals: 5
  • Middlesex: Finals Day: 1 (1 win), Quarterfinals: 2
  • Northamptonshire: Finals Day: 2 (1 win), Quarterfinals: 3
  • Nottinghamshire: Finals Day: 2 (1 RU), Quarterfinals: 7
  • Somerset: Finals Day: 5 (1 win, 3 RU), Quarterfinals: 6
  • Surrey: Finals Day: 6 (1 win, 2 RU), Quarterfinals: 6
  • Sussex: Finals Day: 3 (1 win), Quarterfinals: 6
  • Warwickshire: Finals Day: 3 (1 win, 1 RU), Quarterfinals: 9
  • Worcestershire: Finals Day: 0, Quarterfinals: 4
  • Yorkshire: Finals Day: 1 (1 RU), Quarterfinals: 3

As that shows, the most successful side is Leicestershire (a surprise given they can’t win a Championship match to save their lives!), with Hampshire not far behind. In terms of finals day appearances, Surrey, Lancashire and Hampshire lead the way with 6. Derbyshire and Worcestershire have never made it to that stage.

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This years line up:

The four quarterfinals took place last week and resulted in victories for Northamptonshire, Birmingham, Hampshire and Lancashire. In many ways, this is the ideal finals day line up. Hampshire and Lancashire are the two most consistent T20 sides in the history of the format, while Birmingham and Northamptonshire have had all their success in the past 4 years. At Edgbaston, Northants will play Birmingham, followed by Lancashire playing Hampshire. I’ll preview their sides in order of qualification.

HOVE, ENGLAND - AUGUST 12: David Willey of Northamptonshire celebrates reaching his century during the NatWest T20 Blast Quarter Final between Sussex Sharks v Northamptonshire Steelbacks at BrightonandHoveJobs.com County Ground on August 12, 2015 in Hove, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Northamptonshire:

Best Performance: 2013 victors. With 1 finals day appearance before this year and 1 win, they’ll be looking to continue their 100% success record.

Key player: David Willey. Willey rose to fame after his match winning performance in the 2013 final and has gone from strength to strength ever since. This year has seen the all-rounder make his England debut, performing well in the series victory over New Zealand this summer, as well as scoring his maiden T20 century in the quarterfinal victory over Sussex. Averaging 31 at a strike rate of 190, if he plays well, Northamptonshire will surely be a major threat.

Strongest suit: I’d go with batting for this one. Opening with Levi and the aforementioned Willey, Cobb, Duckett, Wakely, Crook and Coetzer follow. An explosive opening partnership with a solid middle order means no bowling attack will relish bowling to Northants.

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Birmingham: 

Best Performance: 2014 winners. The defending champions are back at finals day, looking to be the first side to successfully defend their title.

Key player: Rikki Clarke. All-rounders are crucial in all formats, but possibly most in T20. While Birmingham’s success in the group stage was based around McCullum’s explosive batting, I don’t think he’ll be available for finals day and hence the England capped all-rounder will be key to how the home side fare. Clarke is only conceding 5.37 runs per over, and scoring at a strike rate of 122, averaging 22. Those numbers are very useful for a middle order batter and first change/new ball bowler. While most sides will focus on Chris Woakes or Ian Bell, ignore Rikki Clarke at your peril.

Strongest suit: All-rounders. Is that a cop-out? Possibly, but Clarke and Woakes are both deadly lower order batsman and dangerous wicket taking bowlers with international experience. If he bats, which he has 8 times, Jeetan Patel gives the ball one hell of a whack in the last 5 overs, scoring at a strike rate of 143. The brilliance of Birmingham lies in the number of their side who can perform as well with bat as they can with ball.

James-Vince-Hampshire-T20-2015_3337350

Hampshire:

Best Performance: Champions in 2010 and 2012. Hampshire didn’t reach Finals Day until 2010, yet haven’t failed to reach it since.

Key player: James Vince. The 24-year-old captain is in immense form in the NatWest T20 Blast. In 15 innings he is averaging 58, with 1 century (in the quarter final v Worcestershire), at a strike rate of 137. With 641 runs, he is the joint second highest run scorer in the competition and it’d be a brave man to bet against him becoming the leader on the 29th August.

Strongest suit: Batting. Alongside Vince are Carberry, Wheater, Ervine, Shah and Adams; resulting in one of the strongest batting line-ups you will see in English county cricket. Expect them to bat first and get off to a good start. Hampshire also have good bowlers, so getting past them is a very daunting task indeed!

CANTERBURY, ENGLAND - AUGUST 15: Joss Butler of Lancashire succesfully appeals for the wicket of Alex Blake of Kent during the NatWest T20 Blast quarter final match between Kent Spitfires and Lancashire Lightning at The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence on August 15, 2015 in Canterbury, England. (Photo by Getty Images)

Lancashire:

Best Performance: Runners up in 2005 and 2014. Lancashire are, as ESPNCricinfo put it, “skilled at winning T20 matches but abysmal when it comes to securing the trophy itself”.

Key Player: As you’ll see below, there are quite a few however I’ll go with Jos Buttler. Not having the best season for England in tests, his one-day form is as good as anyone’s in the world right now. Buttler has played 2 T20 matches for Lancashire this season, scoring 2 match winning 50’s in tight chases at a strike rate of 172. Those figures are ridiculously good and if he is in good form again on Finals Day, he’ll be difficult to stop.

Strongest suit: Either spinners or batting, possibly batting at a push. In Buttler and Faulkner, Lancashire have the world’s best finishers in one day cricket. A top order of Prince, Livingstone, Brown, Davies and Croft is more than useful in county cricket and could even call upon the experience of Horton and Petersen or the potential of Clark and Procter.

Overall outlook:

Looking at that, it is possible that this year will see more runs scored on Finals Day than ever before. All four teams have formidable batting line-ups, and although all four have good bowlers too, it is clear that runs should be scored. Hopefully Edgbaston produces a track, which benefits batting, as we all want to see an exciting run fest (well, maybe not the bowlers!). What is definite is that these four sides are definitely the best four counties in the country and therefore we are in for a very exciting day whatever the weather / pitch.

A closer look at Lancashire:

Being a born and bred Mancunian living 10 minutes away from Old Trafford, it was inevitable that I would end up supporting Lancashire. Luckily, my love for the club has continued throughout my time living in Nottingham and while I can’t go to many matches, I always make sure to follow how they are getting on via twitter. I’m excited about our latest appearance at Finals Day and given I know much more about this side than the other 3, I thought I’d give you all some information on the likely line up.

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We will open with Ashwell Prince and either Liam Livingstone or Alex Davies, with the other probably coming in at 3. Prince is a former South African test player who is arguably in the form of his life this season (he’s averaging 30 in one day cricket, 80 in the four day form!) while the other two are exciting young prospects. Livingstone is famous for scoring the world record amount of runs in a 50 over match (admittedly not a major one), and on his 50 over debut for Lancashire blasted his way to a 90. He’s aggressive and hence can bat in the first 6 overs or the last 6, if he gets going we could have a very big score. Davies is a busy wicket keeping-batsman who has been in such good form this season that we haven’t missed Buttler! He hardly faces dot balls, looking to score from every delivery. Personally, I’d prefer him in the middle order than at the top.

The middle order will be Karl Brown, Steven Croft, Jos Buttler and James Faulkner although the order of that will change! Croft is averaging over 50 in this years tournament, as well as usually bowling the first over of the innings and being as electric as ever in the field. He’s our captain, and has rescued us from multiple bad starts over the course of his career. Brown has 3 50’s in this year’s edition of the T20 tournament, at a quick rate and in many different scenarios. He’s useful in setting up a score so that Buttler, Croft and Faulkner can have a whack towards the end of the innings. Buttler and Faulkner are the two best finishers in world cricket, and having them together with 2 or 3 overs left to go will usually result in a victory for Lancashire. On top of that, Faulkner’s bowling at the death will restrict most teams. If injuries hit, Paul Horton (last year’s captain), Alviro Petersen or Luke Procter could come in to boost the middle order.

Aaron Lilley and Stephen Parry will make up Lancashire’s spin attack. The two of them have been deadly in the competition to date, with 35 wickets between them and neither going at more than 7.1 runs per over. They aim to restrict the batting teams during the middle overs and actively look to take wickets. On top of that, Lilley is a magnificent fielder, and has taken the best two catches of this year’s tournament. Both can score useful runs if called upon, Lilley is technically classed as an all-rounder and has 2 Championship 50’s from 5 innings.

The pace attack will be spearheaded by Kyle Jarvis (and Faulkner) with the 11th spot in the team up for grabs. Jarvis is having a terrific season across all forms, with 61 Championship wickets and 16 in the one-day competitions. He’s a little expensive in T20 although he does bowl 2 overs at the start and 2 at the end and his main aim is to pick up wickets. The fifth bowler spot is the weakest area of our side, and we have a few options for it. Croft will probably bowl at least one, if not two, overs meaning there is less pressure on whomever we choose. This season we’ve tried George Edwards, Saqib Mahmood, Tom Bailey and Jordan Clark. All have done reasonably well, and we went with Bailey in the quarterfinal although I’d like to see Clark given that he can bat as well (indeed, he is the only Englishmen to hit 6 sixes in an over). We could also try all-rounder Luke Procter with his unusual medium pace. Of course, this discussion might be rendered mute due to the possibility that should James Anderson recover enough from his injury, we may have the England bowler available.

All four sides are strong and Lancashire are certainly as good as the other three. We started slowly in the T20 competition this year, but have grown into it as it’s progressed. We have a batting line up to rival most, and useful bowlers who can take wickets and keep it tight. If the pitch is turning, we have Parry, Lilley, Croft and possibly even Kerrigan and if it isn’t then Jarvis, Bailey, Edwards, Clark, Procter and possibly Anderson give good pace options. It’s impressive that we’ve reached the final stages of this competition given that we’ve spent a whole season without club captain and opening batter and bowler Tom Smith. It’s a shame for Smith, as despite the quality we possess, he would have been a key member of this side.

Prediction:

Traditionally, my predictions are known for being dreadful and as wide of the mark as Steve Harmison’s first ball in the 06/07 Ashes series! So, I’m going to stick on the fence and say that I predict it’ll be a wonderful Saturday of high quality cricket. Ok, ok, I’ll say more than that…

During Lancashire’s quarterfinal, the commentators mentioned that there isn’t an advantage whether you play semi final 1 or semi final 2. They said that 6 winners have come from the first semi and 6 have come from the second. I mention that because this year is so close, it could have been a pointer like that, which decided where the trophy is heading.

I fear for Lancashire. Not because we don’t have the quality to win, more because every other team has won this competition before and hence if the matches get close, they might fancy themselves to get through more than we do. If truth be told, I think I’m swaying towards Birmingham. They have home advantage so they’ll know the pitch better than the other 3, they have the best bowling line up of the finalists (in my view) and they won the competition last year, beating Lancashire in the final who in turn had beaten Hampshire in the semi. Three sides remain from last year’s edition, and all will know that Birmingham won last year and will see them as the ones to beat once more.

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Australia in England review – The Matches

After what seems like an eternity, Australia have left England to fly back and prepare for the meeting of the two sides once more this winter. Both teams have questions to answer, both sides have gaping holes but both outfits also looked like quality cricketing units at times. After the Ashes were won 3-0 rather convincingly by England, the T20 series was drawn 1-1 and the ODI series was won 2-1 by Australia. There were periods of dominance in all series by both sides and, in my first review of 3; I will recap all the events of every match.

The test matches:

1st test; Trent Bridge, Nottingham – 10th to 14th July

  • Toss won by: England who chose to bat
  • England: Cook, Root, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Bairstow, Prior, Broad, Swann, Finn, Anderson
  • Australia: Watson, Rogers, Cowan, Clarke, Smith, Hughes, Haddin, Siddle, Starc, Pattinson, Agar (debutant)

England’s decision to bat seemed to be logical however poor application and shot making led to a below par total of 215. Trott top scored with 48, meanwhile 30’s from Root and Bairstow weren’t good enough to take England closer to 300. Peter Siddle was the star of a well-disciplined bowling attack, taking 5/50 in his 14 overs. Australia were in serious trouble when Anderson ripped through their top order, including a wonderful delivery to get Michael Clarke. At 117-9, the match already looked like England’s to lose. What nobody factored in was a wonderful 98 runs from 19 year old Ashton Agar, with the number 11 being well supported by Hughes. It was the highest amount of runs a number 11 has ever scored in Test match history and the Hughes partnership of 163 was the highest 11th wicket partnership as well. Making 280, Australia were now in charge as England finished the second day 2 wickets down. After fifties for Cook and Pietersen, Bell rescued the English cause with a gritty century, with Broad staying at the crease and getting a fifty, including an edge to first slip which the umpire failed to see. England set Australia 311 runs to win, and at 164-6 this looked to be within sight. However, once more the tail wagged and Haddin and Pattinson took Australia to within 15 runs of victory. Only Anderson returning and getting Haddin caught behind, his tenth wicket of the match, won the test for England. In a tense finish, Australia already looked better than most pundits had expected them to.

  • Man of the Match: Anderson (Eng) – 10 wickets, 1 run
1st Test: I'm not quite sure why Bairstow's face hasn't appeared over the internet since this

1st Test: I’m not quite sure why Bairstow’s face hasn’t appeared over the internet since this

2nd test; Lords, London – 18th to 22nd July

  • Toss won by: England who chose to bat
  • England: Bresnan in for Finn
  • Australia: Khawaja in for Cowan, Harris in for Starc

The first test was close; the second was far from that! Bell continued his good form with another century, his third in a row against Australia and a lot more fluent than the one at Trent Bridge, rescuing England from trouble at 28-3.Fifties for Trott and Bairstow pushed England up to 361 runs however this could and probably should have been more. Harris picked up 5 wickets for Australia while Steve Smith’s part time leg breaks got three wickets, including Bairstow and Bell. The score of 361 was made to look very good when Australia collapsed from 42-0 to 128 all out, with Graeme Swann getting five wickets – including the worst ball he will ever bowl in test cricket. Giving the ball some air, it looped up high above the batters head. Rogers misjudged it and missed, causing it to hit him on his pads and be out LBW. In their second innings, England were 30-3, however Joe Root then found his form on his way to scoring 180 runs. The third day was a day of England batting as Bresnan and Bell supported the young Yorkshire-man on his way to his maiden test century when opening. Australia, despite fifties from Khawaja and Clarke, never looked like chasing 500 runs, and fell 347 short, with one day still remaining.

  • Man of the Match: Root (Eng) – 186 runs, 2 wickets

3rd test; Old Trafford, Manchester – 1st to 5th August

  • Toss: Australia who chose to bat
  • Australia: Warner for Hughes, Starc for Pattinson, Lyon for Agar
  • England: Unchanged

Australia finally showed some backbone in the Old Trafford test, as they amassed 303 runs on the first day for the loss of only 3 wickets. I was in the crowd that day and watched as Clarke scored a wonderful century, supported well by Smith. Earlier in the day, Rogers had played more aggressive than how we associated with him and scored a free-flowing 84. Australia eventually made 527 runs, declaring late on in day 2 to bring England to bat. The star for England was Pietersen, who scored 113 runs, supported by Bell and Cook who both made fifties. The follow on was still a possibility, until Broad and Swann cut loose on the morning of the fourth day. Australia went into aggressive mode, promoting Warner to open and racking up 172 runs before declaring – knowing that there was rain predicted, this was the best way of forcing a result. Luckily, from an England perspective, that rain came and the match was drawn.

  • Man of the Match: Clarke (Aus) – 207 runs, 0 wickets
3rd Test: They said he was the danger...

3rd Test: They said he was the danger…

4th test; Riverside Ground, Chester-Le-Street – 9th to 13th August

  • Toss: England who chose to bat
  • England: Unchanged
  • Australia: Bird in for Starc

After a slow first session, none of the English batters went past 51 (Cook) as Australia bowled with remarkable accuracy and length. The wickets were shared evenly amongst the 5 bowlers used with Watson being as economical as usual and Lyon picking up 4 wickets, including the in-form Bell for just 6. Most people were relatively disappointed with only making 238 and it wasn’t enough for a lead, despite Australia being 76-4 at one point. This was down to Chris Rogers scoring his first test match century and Watson getting a 50. Broad, with 5 wickets, pulled things back for England and restricted Australia to 270. Once again, only one batter got a 50 in England’s innings as Harris picked up 7 wickets however this batter turned that 50 into a century, 113 to be precise. Unsurprisingly, we are talking about Ian Bell! This century was the mainstay in England’s innings of 330 which left a tough but not impossible chase of 298 for the Australians. Once more, they collapsed and once more it was Broad who did the damage. Taking 6-50, he and Bresnan turned 147-1 into 224 all out and England had gone 3-0 up, winning the Ashes in the process.

  • Man of the Match: Broad (Eng) – 11 wickets, 16 runs

5th test; The Oval, London – 21st to 25th August

  • Toss: Australia who elected to bat
  • Australia: Faulkner (debutant) for Bird, Starc for Khawaja
  • England: Woakes for Bresnan, Kerrigan for Bairstow (both debutants)

The experiment of playing 2 debutants and 5 bowlers seemingly failed for England as Australia piled on the runs in the first innings. Centuries for Watson and Smith were the reason why they got up to 492 runs before declaring 9 wickets down. In reply, England chose the slow and steady path as Root and Pietersen both scored half centuries. With Bell, Trott and Prior all getting into the 40’s, England scored 377 runs. Going for the win, Australia lost quick wickets in their second innings – declaring on 111-6, with Broad getting four of those. England needed to score227 runs in one session to win the match, and thanks to Pietersen’s quick fire 60 they almost got there. In fact, the only factor that stopped them was bad light – leading to the umpires taking the players off the field with only 21 runs from 24 balls required. The match was draw; the series was won 3-0.

  • Man of the Match: Watson (Aus) – 202 runs, 0 wickets
5th Test: A moment that Cook has no doubt dreamt about for years

5th Test: A moment that Cook has no doubt dreamt about for years

One Day series:

1st T20; Rose Bowl, Southampton – 28th August

  • Toss: England who chose to field
  • Australia: Warner, Finch, Marsh, Watson, Maxwell, Bailey, Wade, Faulkner, Johnson, Hazlewood, Ahmed (debut)
  • England: Lumb, Hales, Wright, Morgan, Root, Bopara, Buttler, Broad, Finn, Briggs, Dernbach

This match will forever be remembered for Aaron Finch’s heroics with the bat. After England removed Warner, Broad managed to get Finch to edge the ball just past Buttler’s hand. This proved to be a costly chance missed as he went on to amass a world record international T20 score – 156 off just 63 balls. Dernbach got him and 2 more to peg Australia back but 248 looked an imposing score. It was, as England fell 40 runs short of their target – with an excellent 90 from Joe Root being the highlight. On most days, 209 runs would be enough to win a T20 match – this day was not most days.

2nd T20; Riverside Ground, Chester-Le-Street – 31st August

  • Toss: Australia who chose to field
  • England: Unchanged
  • Australia: Coulter-Nile came in for Hazlewood

Once again, it was an opening batter from the team batting first who made the headlines here. Unfortunately for Lumb and England, he couldn’t become the first Englishmen to score an international T20 century, however his 94 helped England to 195. Despite 53 runs from Warner, Australia weren’t able to get close to the target – falling 27 runs short and narrowly avoiding being bowled out.

2nd T20: Too many tattoo's in one picture... Dernbach was easily the pick of the English T20 bowlers

2nd T20: Too many tattoos in one picture… Dernbach was easily the pick of the English T20 bowlers

1st ODI; Headingly, Leeds – 6th September

Rain, rain, rain, rain – not a single ball was bowled at Headingly as the rain just kept falling down.

2nd ODI; Old Trafford, Manchester – 8th September

  • Toss: England who chose to field
  • Australia: Marsh, Finch, Watson, Clarke, Bailey, Voges, Wade, Faulkner, Johnson, McKay, Ahmed
  • England: Pietersen, Carberry, Trott, Root, Morgan, Bopara, Buttler, Stokes, Tredwell, Finn, Rankin

Manchester proved that it doesn’t always rain in Lancashire as bright sunshine for a whole day meant that there was a full ODI which, after the toss, was seemingly played into Australian hands. Morgan choosing to bowl on a batting pitch seemed strange, while captain Clarke made him pay by blasting a run a ball century, supported by Bailey. Chasing 316, the majority of English batters failed with only Pietersen, Morgan, Buttler and Finn reaching double figures. Despite Pietersen and Morgan sharing a partnership that almost brought England back into the game and Buttler hitting a few balls out of the ground on his way to 75, this was always Australia’s game and they comfortably won by 88 runs.

2nd ODI: He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right, that Michell Johnson, his bowling is ... pretty good actually

2nd ODI: He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right, that Michell Johnson, his bowling is … pretty good actually

3rd ODI; Edgbaston, Birmingham – 11th September

Despite there being 15.1 overs worth of play in Birmingham, the rain once again intervened with England 59-3. Players didn’t get back out there as the rain was relentless and once again, for the second time in three matches, there was no result.

4th ODI; SWALEC Stadium, Cardiff – 14th September

  • Toss: England who chose to field
  • Australia: Coulter-Nile (debut) in place of Ahmed
  • England: Unchanged

In trouble at 57-4, thanks to some accurate new ball bowling from Finn, Rankin and Stokes – Australia recovered due to Voges and Bailey. When Wade joined Bailey, it looked feasible that they would score 250-270 however the tail collapsed. Bailey got dismissed, edging behind off Rankin for 87 and Australia were all out for 227, with 3 wickets for Tredwell. England’s reply didn’t get off to a good start as a Clint McKay hat-trick reduced them to 8-3. Morgan and Carberry both scored fifties to steady the ship before Jos Buttler took up the finisher mantle and, with a bit of support from Stokes, saw England to a last-over victory.

4th ODI: A much needed return to form from Morgan wasn't enough to see an English series win

4th ODI: A much needed return to form from Morgan wasn’t enough to see an English series win

5th ODI; Rose Bowl, Hampshire – 16th September

  • Toss: Australia who chose to bat
  • Australia: Ahmed in for Coulter-Nile
  • England: Wright in for Trott, Jordan (debut) in for Finn

For the first time this summer, a team chose to bat first in a one day match and the decision paid off for Clarke as Australia racked up 298 runs. The mainstay of that innings was a blistering 143 from Watson, who sent Root for 28 in one over alone. Clarke made 75 however there wasn’t much else from the rest of the batters and Stokes got 5 wickets while Rankin bowled economically – meaning that England felt they had a shout in the run chase. This wasn’t to be as Pietersen and Wright got run out, Morgan and Carberry could only make 30’s and the partnership between Buttler and Bopara was too little, too late. A sad end to the summer for English fans but plenty of reasons to be positive as a side resting most of the big names almost pulled off a series victory against a full strength Australian side.

5th ODI: Australia deserved their series win

5th ODI: Australia deserved their series win


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T21’st century perils (Cricket in the modern era)

Cricket is unsustainable; we live in a world where the demand for cricket is falling short of the supply given to us from the authorities. Falling attendances and participation is being met by the constant pumping of money into the game. Where does this lead to? We’ve already seen a snapshot of a future where players who train and play with much richer players see the need to make a little cash on the side by undermining basic moral regulations. This problem is getting worse and the authorities seem reluctant to take serious preventive measures. The worst thing is; greed isn’t the end of cricket’s problems. 13 and a half years into the 21st century, I think it is safe to say that cricket has failed to adapt, leading to a very possible situation where cricket becomes an underground sport played by few and watched by even fewer. This blog is going to highlight and try to address the issues facing our wonderful sport, mainly citing the English game as an example.

Let’s start with the fundamentals, the grass roots of the game. Cricket playing in Britain fell by over 10% in the last 12 months; the figures suggest that only 189,400 people participated in the sport, at least once a week, between April 2012 and April 2013. To put that into some perspective, over the same period of time 1.94 million people participated in football, 1.96 million in athletics and 2.89 million in swimming. There are many reasons for this, and a few of them that stand out are basic perception issues – something that the ECB should and could change. First of all, cricket is seen as old-fashioned and boring. A way that the authorities tried to address this was bring in T20 which worked to a point but is now losing its charm and has led to yet another problem cricket has to answer for (something I will talk about later). How do you change this opinion? First things first you have to openly advertise it to children. The biggest regret in my life is that I didn’t pick up a bat or a ball while I was in primary school and the reason I didn’t was because nobody advertised cricket to me. They spend the whole time championing other sports such as football and gymnastics so much that cricket gets forgotten about. This problem had got worse by the time I reached secondary school, with rounders seen as an easier option for teenagers to play. If teenagers aren’t interested in the sport then it’s because the education system isn’t educating enough people about it! Most of my friends who are cricket lovers didn’t fall in love with the sport during PE lessons, they found out about it through their parents. Indeed, my love for the game stems from my Dad and Grandpa (as well as a day where I had nothing to do and there was this strange thing called a test match on TV). While this is fine for my generation, it will not be for the next. Unfortunately, in this country, there are a lot of problems with the education system and so the fact that cricket isn’t on the curriculum enough isn’t seen as a massive problem by government officials. Cricket clubs aren’t advertised openly by schools either and so teenagers are being left with the option of taking initiative and researching them or just stay at home and watch TV. I’m 20; I know what teenagers are going to choose!

So, emphasise cricket in the curriculum or tell schools to take the initiative by including it themselves and everything will be rosy right? Well, no of course not. This doesn’t address the boring tag cricket has assumed and neither does it solve the fact that in this country it is seen as a posh sport. There are cricket grounds in Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham and Birmingham (although Edgbaston is the posh area of Birmingham), which is good news for cricket authorities, as this can attract and change the opinions of people who may think cricket is posh, yet it isn’t going far enough. My view, and maybe I’m totally missing the point here – please pick me up on it if I am, is that schools are reluctant to teach a sport that previously was mainly taught in boarding schools, all boys’ schools and grammar schools. It isn’t seen as a game for the people however there is no reason why not. It doesn’t discriminate, in fact the history of cricket has openly criticised those who do discriminate. Cricket is one of the few sports where people suffering from depression, or people who are gay feel safe enough, and confident enough that there won’t be a backlash from their peers to open up to the public. For some reason, the spirit of the game isn’t shining through and appealing to the youth of today.

Finally, we should move onto the boring tag. Cricket is an intelligent sport; there are a lot of rules (and I definitely am not aware of all of them!) and so it requires a lot of thought, care and attention to play and watch. This gets translated in today’s society as boring or too time consuming. Instead of being enthralled by the twists and turns that a game can provide, people get turned off by the apparent slowness of it. This is something that I’m struggling to find a solution to and is a problem which is affecting more than just cricket. TV shows that don’t require much thought are thriving and hence being continued whereas those which are intelligent are being left behind or scrapped. Intelligence is not appreciated the way it should be, it isn’t drilled into people’s heads enough that being intelligent is not a bad thing and it definitely doesn’t make you a total recluse! Hopefully this is just a phase, although with technology making everything easier for people we are breeding a generation that won’t be able to think for themselves.

Let’s not kid ourselves that cricket is being played by a lot of people around the world either. The global participation in the game is a tiny droplet in the ocean compared to the global stats of football or rugby. I’ll name you five countries which are sport mad where cricket is of little importance: Russia, America (despite their pathetic appearance at the World Cup one year), China, France and Germany. Now, I’m not saying that the sport will ever be huge in those countries however there is a way to make them take note of it, given that all 5 are very competitive when it comes to competing with one another: The Olympics. Cricket has been in the Olympics before, when back in 1900 two teams representing Great Britain and France played a 2 day version of the game. In truth, it was a total farce and has never been repeated; however those were the pre-T20 days. I believe, this is possibly complete naivety, that America and China would take T20 cricket to heart. It is fast, explosive and less complicated to understand. Hong Kong already has a T20 side which can be competitive on an international level, America would soon follow suit if China became a genuine medal threat in the sport. The good news for cricket lovers is that the Chinese Cricket authorities have said they want to have a test side by 2020; this is optimistic but at least it is definitely a step in the right direction. The logistic issues of the Olympics, such as where to hold matches, are solvable by the ICC as well – for example, South Africa played a recent ODI series in the football stadiums left by the 2010 world cup. Olympic cricket will never be “proper cricket” but it will give the sport a global platform, which is exactly what it is screaming out for right now.

Heading back to the English game to finish this section on attendance, the England international matches are usually a sell out although with the sheer amount of them and such high prices this may not last forever. The real issue with the England game lies with County Cricket attendances. When Simon Kerrigan made his England debut during the final Ashes test, a high proportion of people on twitter thought that England had plucked a complete unknown out of the county game. They didn’t know that Kerrigan was one of the main reasons why Lancashire won the county championship in 2011, including taking 9 wickets in one innings against a talented Hampshire batting line up. County Championship and YB40 attendances are smaller than most domestic sports in the country, a trend that is not going to change when the YB40 becomes the YB50. The event that draws the crowd in has been reduced for the past couple of years, when the ECB split the number of T20 groups from 2 to 3 (although it has increased the quality of T20 cricket in this country). If the county game continues to decline there will be no money to invest into new players to play for England and hence our national side’s quality will decline, leading to a reduction in attendance at their matches. Too many people in this country are only interested in the very top of the game, rather than looking at what is happening underneath that level. The ECB needs to find a way to attract visitors to watch county cricket, where the standard of play is usually very high. In fact, I find LVCC matches sometimes more exciting than Test Matches as they are played at a much faster pace while retaining the suspense and drama.

For me, one of the biggest problems facing cricket is not attendances but rather the greed factor. The IPL is a wonderful tournament yet the negative connotations of it are plain for everyone to see. The difference in wages between a young Indian boy, who has scored a few centuries in the Ranji trophy, and someone such as KP, who is recognised everywhere in cricket playing nations, are huge, as you would expect, but it’s more than that – they are disproportional. This just leads to a greed culture where the younger players want a lot more money and as they aren’t getting it from their franchises; they look elsewhere and this usually leads to cheating. In many ways, money has become more important than winning these days however the ICC are in a difficult situation as the IPL is one of the few tournaments to be broadcasted across the world. The T20 format, which was meant to deliver cricket to those who hadn’t been interested before, has led to the game having more money however this money has bred this unenviable situation, as well as a growing practice of drugs and partying as the tragic death of Tom Maynard showed. The line between success and selfishness is being crossed on a regular basis.

It’s very possible that I’m over-exaggerating the issues that the ICC is facing, without even addressing some of them, as I have a habit of doing that. However, someone needs to write about how falling attendances and participation can be fatal for a sport that is played by so few countries. The cricketing authorities provide us with a lot of games across the year, which is wonderful to an extent. That extent comes when even those who love the game as much as I do realise that this amount of anything is simply too much. At the time of writing, I feel that I’ve seen too much cricket this year and there is still an ODI series between England and Australia and the culmination of the County Championship to go in the next month. With the football season breaks getting seemingly shorter every year, there is the genuine possibility that cricket will lose all importance in this country should our national side’s ability decline. Questions need to be asked and answers need to be found as quickly as possible.