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January 05, 2009

Why dismissing Peter Moores could be the best thing for England

There is only really one cricket story that I could have written about today. The increasingly frosty relationship between England captain Kevin Pietersen and coach Peter Moores has led to the latter’s future being extremely uncertain.

The possibility of Pietersen being the man to step down is an unlikely one according to the cricket odds, so unless they settle their differences quickly – Moores could be on his way. Many people have claimed this would be bad news for England, especially when you consider the timing of it all. We are in an Ashes year, after all.

However, it is my opinion that Moores potential departure could be a blessing in disguise for the future of this England cricket team. Below are five reasons why this is the case.

His record isn’t the best – Since Moores took over as coach in April 2007, England’s record hasn’t been great. This isn’t all down to Moores, but if certainly doesn’t help his case for remaining in the role. In total, Moores has been involved in eight test match victories. Seven of these have been against teams below England in the rankings – West Indies and Zealand. Cricket betting always expected England to beat these two. Then, the other win was against South Africa once the series had already been lost.

Pietersen is vital – I think it is fair to say that Kevin Pietersen is England’s best batsman. By quite some distance. The one day series against South Africa and the way he led his team during difficult circumstances in India, also proved his worth as a captain. Therefore, it is probably best that the ECB aren’t seen to be unsupportive of his views.

We need 100% KP – If England are to give their all to the ‘Pietersen era’ they need to let him do his own thing. Anything that compromises this will have a negative affect on the team and therefore results. Pietersen wants his team to reflect his personality and this can only be a good thing in my opinion. Bring in a coach that is happy to take a back seat to captain KP.

Do the players trust Moores? As a result of this much publicised disagreement between captain and coach, the rest of the squad will be confused as to who has more authority. Naturally, they are more likely to side with their captain, so how much would they respect Moores views from now on if he stayed in the role?

The experts say so
– The future of Moores has provoked much debate in the press and a number of pundits or ex-players have had their say on the best solution.

   * David Gower believes that Pietersen will get his way.
   * Ray Illingworth says that it one man goes, if has to be Moores.
   * Graham Gooch believes Pietersen has been influenced by Shane Warne’s views on coaching being too highly thought of in the game.
   * Glenn McGrath admits that the captain should have the final say on most matters.

Overall, it doesn’t look great for Peter Moores does it? However, a new coach that would be prepared to let Pietersen do his thing may well be a positive thing for English cricket. It will certainly be interesting to see how things unfold.

By Thomas Rooney – A sports writer who blogs about England cricket

December 15, 2008

Why Monty Might Want to Bin the Twin

It was often said that Shane Warne didn’t like having a spin-twin. That is, he preferred to be the sole specialist spinner in the line up and not have to share the spin bowling duties. Indeed, this view is vindicated by the statistics – in matches where Warne played alongside Stuart Macgill (his long term legspinning understudy) his bowling average rose from its usual 25 to almost 30. Needless to say, when two spinners were played one would expect the pitch to be conducive to turn and for his statistics to be more favourable, not less. It would not be too outrageous at this point to suggest that the great SK Warne quite possibly has something in common with England’s very own MS Panesar.

When Monty Panesar burst onto the scene in 2006, claiming Sachin Tendulkar as his first Test wicket and started to win matches for England many were filled with hope. One commentator humorously noted that ‘the thing with Monty is, he turns the ball’. Although it is questionable to what extent they intended humour, it was still an odd comment to make. Spinners are meant to turn the ball – it’s what they do. Yet it was indeed true that for years it was something that English spinners had resolutely failed to do.

This is not to say they didn’t put on an England jersey and play with all their heart, Ashley Giles for example took his place in the side with great pride and took criticism very much to heart. Unfortunately though, for Ashley is the nicest of chaps, he wasn’t the most naturally gifted of cricketers and his late-in-life switch to spin bowling from average left arm seamers didn’t help him make the most of the limited ability he possessed.

There have been other England prospects of late that have had more natural ability but have squandered it – Philip Tufnell for example whose attitude and approach to the game rarely found favour with senior members of the set up. Similarly, Chris Schofield was sounded out by Duncan Fletcher as a young spin bowling talent and was even handed one of the first ever central contracts. Schofield was, sadly, poorly managed though – he was thrust into the deep end by making his Test debut at the age of 21, went wicketless for 2 Tests and discarded. Scarred from the experienced, his game suffered and within five years he was dropped by Lancashire and playing club cricket as a specialist batsman.

Monty though is unfortunately shaping up to be a further unfulfilled England spinning potential unless he heeds the advice coming to him from all quarters. Monty’s figures currently stack up quite well – 117 test wickets from 34 matches at an average of 32.58. Not figures to set the world alight but steady figures at least. Indeed when measured up against Daniel Vettori, who is widely regarded as the best left arm finger spinner of the modern age, the stats are actually quite favourable: Vettori currently has 282 wickets from 88 matches at an average of 32.98. in fact, if one compares Monty’s with Vettori’s at the same stage in their careers Monty’s figures are remarkably adjacent to the Kiwi’s – Vettori had 119 @ 32.75. From this many will undoubtedly infer that Monty is on the right track, that he is following in the footsteps of Vettori, that he can be England’s Vettori.

This argument has its flaws though. Monty has more natural ability than Daniel Vettori, who is without a doubt one of the hardest workers and most committed cricketers on the scene at the moment. Monty has massive hands and the ability to get big turn off any pitch. If the pitch is responsive and offers a little bit of bounce as well as turn the Sikh of Tweak, as he is affectionately called, can trouble the world’s best. Monty is a match winner.

The problem though, is that match winners do not average 32 with the ball. Shane Warne averaged 25.

Glenn McGrath averaged 21.

Stuart Macgill – 29.

Anil Kumble - 29.

Bishan Bedi - 28.

Match winners average in the twenties and Monty Panesar averages 32 (and rising). The difference is Monty can be a match winner but he isn’t one often enough. For well over a year now cricket commentators have been comparing, quite rightly, Monty with Vettori because although their figures are very similar the Kiwi left armer is very much the better bowler and troubles batsmen on a more frequent basis.

Vettori, although he can’t spin the ball as big as Monty can nor can he extract as alarming bounce as his England counterpart, thinks about his bowling more. He uses more variation, he changes his pace subtly and isn’t afraid to toss the ball up. The way to extract the bounce that troubles batsmen playing spin is to get the ball to leap up unexpectedly and this is done by flighting the ball up higher so that it falls down more suddenly – more vertically. Not only does the dip make the ball harder to hit, it gives the ball more momentum to bounce back up again.

Vettori’s art of clever variation means that the batsman is always kept guessing; never quite sure how to play the next ball. Monty on the other hand, seldom varies his pace or trajectory. This allows the batsmen to settle into a rhythm, confident that the next ball will do something similar to the last. His stock ball is about 56-57mph when he should be looking to bowl about 52-53mph – a speed he rarely even bowls his slowest balls at. He rarely flights the ball and thus rarely troubles the batsmen with unexpected bounce.

So why make the comparison with Australia’s great former legspinner? Monty has been plodding along as England’s sole spinner for some time now and, despite frustrating many at his lack of variation, has survived on the back of a few bright performances on helpful pitches and the potential everyone sees in him. Yet today Monty played his first test match in tandem with another specialist spinner since the last time England toured India almost 3 years ago. Back then Monty, playing in only his third Test match, was significantly outbowled by 37 year old Shaun Udal who took 4/14 to bowl India out for 100 to win the Mumbai Test by 212 runs. This week, Monty played alongside debutant Graeme Swann and again he came out looking second best.

Back in 2006 the excuse will have been inexperience; today, many will call on his lack of match practice (Monty hadn’t played a first class match for almost 3 months). Match practice cannot be Panesar’s excuse for this is not a recent problem. For at least a year many in the media have been commenting on the metronomic and predictable nature of Monty’s bowling, Shane Warne even commented that Panesar hasn’t played 30 Test matches, he’s played 1 Test match 30 times. It is difficult to believe that the England management do not agree with the almost universal criticism of Monty’s bowling and thus the only conclusion can be that either the coaching staff are not taking it upon themselves to have a word in Monty’s ear and help him vary his bowling slightly or Monty is simply not listening.

One of the most important aspects of improving in sport is to learn from your mistakes, learn from your achievements and learn from those around you. It appears that Monty is not doing this; it appears that Monty looks at his 6/37 at Manchester this year against New Zealand, his 5/72 against Pakistan there in 2006 or 5/78 against Sri Lanka in Trent Bridge and tries to repeat it by bowling as he did there in every match. Unfortunately Monty, this won’t work – to succeed in international sport you need to adapt to your situation.

Daniel Vettori averages 32 but Daniel Vettori averages 32 in a different situation. Vettori plays for New Zealand – a team with, without wanting to allude any disrespect to the black caps, a vastly inferior depth in cricketing talent. One of the keys to successful bowling (and spin bowling in particular) is building up pressure and this is not something that can be achieved alone. Bowling with a below-average pace attack around him, Vettori cannot apply the same pressure to batsmen through his bowling as other teams can simply because as tidily as he bowls, runs will come easily more often than not at the other end.

Likewise, with New Zealand’s batting also leaving much to be desired, Vettori often has fewer runs to play with than Monty has and cannot apply scoreboard pressure nor cramp the batsmen with men around the bat.

It is for this reason that Vettori’s 32 average represents a failure to live up to talent that is a result of circumstances out of his hand but Monty’s 32 average represents a failure to live up to his potential that is a result of his own reluctance to learn from the advice regularly offered to him by very experienced old-pros.

Monty would perhaps prefer to bowl alone as the sole spinner in the England line up in future because, on the few times when he has had a spin twin, he has been shown to be still, after three years, not quite as good. The question is though, next time England play one spinner will that spinner be the left armer or the off-spinner who impressed so much on his debut this week? We’ll have to wait and see...

March 01, 2007

The Winter of Discontent

The winter spanning 1978 to 1979 was one of the most fractious periods of UK political history. The Labour government’s attempts to implement a cap on pay rises to 5% were met with some resistance from the trade unions and there were widespread strikes in both the public and private sectors resulting near chaos among the public services. Those fateful few months of James Callaghan’s premiership became known as the Winter of Discontent after the opening line of Shakespeare’s Richard III. A general election was called in the spring and a new leader was elected in the Conservative Margaret Thatcher.

Yorkshire County Cricket Club have been having a ‘winter of discontent’ of their own. Towards the end of the 2006 season Yorkshire, then coach-less, received criticism from Anthony McGrath who was a senior player in the Yorkshire squad. It was a few weeks later that Stewart Regan, the club’s Chief Executive stated that he hoped McGrath would stay following some ‘constructive and helpful’ talks with the batting all rounder.

Michael Lumb, the middle order batsman, chose his moment shortly afterwards by choosing not to renew his contract at Yorkshire and announced a move to Hampshire.

Then some bright news appeared to be on the horizon. Chris Adams had announced that he was to leave Sussex, a team he had helped lead to the double of the County Championship and the C&G Trophy. He was due to sign for the club as player, captain and fulfil a role as coach. Adams’ departure was announced with some regret by Sussex on November 1st 2006.

The unsettled McGrath issue reared its ugly head yet again amidst the hype of the appointment of Adams and he announced his intentions to leave the club.

A most unexpected U-Turn from Chris Adams further added to Yorkshire’s woes. Two weeks after first announcing his move to Yorkshire, he claimed it was “too much too soon” and decided to honour the remainder of his contract with Surrey while having the opportunity to move into a managerial role when he felt the time was right.

The move sparked up criticism from fiery ex Yorkshire and England opening batsman turned commentator, Geoff Boycott who slammed Adams’ “lack of moral fibre.” Yorkshire were also left with more gaps to fill, in appointing Adams for his player-come-coach-come-manager role the incumbent director of cricket, David Byas, was practically forced to give up his position.

In amongst all this, McGrath grabbed headlines once again by starting litigation against the club in order to release him from his contract despite being offered the captaincy role in return for staying with the club. As if the county did not have enough on their plate trying to fill a middle order spot, find a suitable captain, appoint a coach and now a Director of Cricket not to mention their money worries that have forced them to move matches to Sheffield after an 11 year hiatus, they now had a legal battle on their hands too.

As with Callaghan’s winter of discontent, however, this one too resulted in a new leader. (This change in command though was probably more popular in Yorkshire than the one at the end of the 78/79 winter.) On the 28th February 2007, Yorkshire County Cricket Club announced the return of one of their favourite sons. Darren Gough was to make a move back to the club after spending three years at Essex and would take up a captaincy role to boot.

And so the future is beginning to look interesting for Yorkshire again. They have a new captain, someone who actually wants the job. Gough famously put his hand up for the role of England captain when no one else was willing while Nasser Hussain broke one of his fingers but the job was given to the unwilling Michael Atherton instead. The managerial situation is looking less bleak now too, the great former South African fast bowler Allan Donald has expressed an interest in the Director of Cricket position and the management are currently in the position of appointing a new coach.

There was once a time when the England Test side was almost indistinguishable from the Yorkshire County side which makes it all the more upsetting to see a team that was once great suffering terribly over the past few seasons (and that is coming from an avid Kent supporter!) Hopefully the upturn in fortunes over the past few weeks can bring about a happier dressing room and a more successful Yorkshire once again.

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