Natwest Blast needs to improve but not at the expense of it’s proud heritage

The red and gold pastels of an unprepossessing RCB away strip are seen wandering the verdant alleyways of Bangalore as the sun descends on yet another scorching summers evening. The orangey-pink hues of a dirt stain sustained in a last gasp dive for the crease on ninety-nine contrasts the golden lion of the RCB crest. All the while, Kohli raises his bat for the third time in as many games. The BCCI basks in all its glory, roping in excess of 1,194 crores from the IPL cash cow that has transfixed a nation.

KP, mic’d up, fresh from a stint in the Caribbean Premier League, becomes a clairvoyant to an enraptured national audience of 1.3 million by predicting the line and length of a Gurinder Sandhu delivery, before promptly depositing it into the densely populated mid-wicket stands of Australia’s coliseum, the MCG.

The naysayers of the T20 format have long scoffed at its ability to flaunt itself around the international market with unwavering success. The palpable atmosphere emanating from the hoarse diaphragms of forty-thousand frenzied Indian cricket diehards inside the M.Chinnaswamy Stadium on IPL finals day is exclusive of franchise fandom, and representative of t20’s success. A county side is seldom exposed to such ebullient support that its excellent standard deserves.

While the twenty-twenty cricket product appears to have reached the summit, capturing the hearts and minds of those most malleable – chiefly children and adolescents – England’s premier T20 competition continues to meander along with subdued significance, yet to tap into the successes of franchise cricket. But is this the route the T20 ‘blast’ should follow?

Does the current format require a total revamp? Does the rich history of English cricket embed fans with a refined palate that rejects T20 cricket? How can viewer apathy be improved?

These are the questions that must be asked by the powers that be on the English Cricket Board. The ‘blast’ must cease resting on its laurels if it is to awaken from a slumber that has seen it slip five-years behind a thriving pack. T20 is the profit centre for cricketing boards worldwide, yet the current tournament has well and truly missed the boat of financial nirvana. As it stands, the ‘blast’ lies on shaky foundations, whose rotting is the result of something far from the perceived fan reproof.

Perhaps the ECB are not buoyed by the same imperatives as the BCCI, namely revenue. For this, it should be admired. Money hungry boards are the foibles of cricket’s enduring character. Though, a competition based on privatised franchises – serving the county game its own commercial value – is like dangling a carrot in front of a board who is owed a combined £7.8 million from the counties, which is exactly the case.

Therein lies the confliction; county prestige and the greater good of the game vs. commercial appeal, garnered from a city-centric based competition.

For all intensive purposes, the pros of a franchise-based competition offers a cornucopia of benefits for the county game. But English cricket is a special case. It places more value, more merit in domestic cricket than any of its cross-country colleagues. Straying from its roots – which predate the 18th century – would prompt a crisis of significance for the domestic competition as the counties stare down the malignant glare of the new kids on the block. A misalignment of expectations between the three formats will leave the summer of cricket with emphasis on its shortest form. An oversight of such proportions would see one-day and championship cricket gasping for air in an environment bereft of oxygen. Australia’s witnessed it, so has India and New Zealand. The last recorded attendance of the Sheffield Shield in the 2011/12 summer saw a total of 4,809 people through the gates. More concerning was the One Day Domestic competition’s figure of 4,033 (total) in 2015/16. Dwindling attendance happens to align itself with the beginning of the Big Bash. Coincidence? Perhaps. It’s an issue that continues to confound the most ignorant eye.

Yet maybe this trend is indicative of cricket’s 21st-century forecast – a world dominated by the shortest form – and hence, should be unduly embraced.

The championship’s viewership figure in the summer of 2015, 513,000, attests the need for the ECB to conform to its current T20 format – with the implication of vast remodelling to raise attendance – so not to distract heavily from the championship. A city-based competition would momentarily amuse, before shuddering down to earth with a resounding clatter.

Perhaps most importantly, though, it must avoid the well-trodden path that has seen Australia’s Shield competition wistfully slip down the drain of inferiority through taking a reluctant backseat to the Big Bash. It’s not out of line to state that England’s domestic competition can achieve a kind of attendance parity across all formats if it resists its city-based entity.

So where does that leave us? Last year’s T20 Blast finals day produced the worst viewing audience since the competitions inception in 2003. Just 388,000 people parked themselves in front of the TV to watch the tournaments flagship event. Clearly that’s a message that the ethos of the blast is failing to sink in. So how does a jetlagged competition improve without stepping into the T20 twilight zone that is franchise cricket?

The short answer – high profile international players. Fans crave the battles of T20 that have them leaving the stadium with bated breath. Their appetite should be fed with an influx of international talent, serving two obligatory purposes: A.) Enhancing the blasts international and local appeal and B.) exposing England’s future stars to superlative cricketing craftsmen, thus enhancing their skills.

Take the game between Sussex and Somerset last week for example. On a ground that embodies the culture of county cricket, Hove, the indisputable hitting talents of Chris Gayle were tasked with taking down the searing pace of the now T20 specialist, and England hopeful, Tymal Mills. 90mph against a man, proclaimed ‘world boss’, whose sole purpose it seems is to send bowlers back to the team hotel with nightmares. An X-Factor that’s seen him amass some 2335 runs as a freelance T20 cricketer.

These battles rouse the fan base. Though, eighteen counties playing in one competition spreads the spattering of international cricketers particularly thin, meaning some counties are bereft of an import causing a gap between the standards of the sides.

Though it’s far from the only global T20 competition guilty of this, length is an inherent downfall of the ‘blast’. A tournament played over three months quickly becomes fatigued, failing to peak the zeal of the fan throughout the competitions entirety, consequently depriving the points table of meaning and significance until the finals roll around. The Blast morphs into the first day of a championship match than into the one-day cup before a rampant, English Test side subsequently diverts the interests of the cricketing fraternity. This issue has been duly addressed by the ECB, with the 2017 edition of the Blast played over two months during the school holidays. Even then, the typically hyped clashes must take precedence to clone overseas franchise success without losing sight of their heritage; the battle of the roses at an overpopulated, rambunctious Old Trafford or Middlesex-Surrey at Lord’s. The Big Bash has recently found success from its contrived intra-city franchise rivalry, aptly named the ‘Melbourne derby’. 80,000 fans saw an encounter between the two sides at the MCG just last year.

Franchise cricket doesn’t fit the bill as far as county cricket is concerned. The blast will develop through improved scheduling, exposure and international player endorsement.

England V Sri Lanka Series Preview 2016

An appetite for test cricket has grown significantly over its three-month hiatus.

AB de Villiers exploits and King Kohli’s dominance on the IPL stage for RCB have made for regular headlines over the past few months, yet it’s the guile and resolve under late-May skies on a green seamer that a seasoned cricket fan has for months yearned for.

The World T20 is now all but a distant memory for England, who turn to the games most classical format seeking redemption for the final over heartbreak of a Carlos Brathwaite masterstroke.

Sri Lanka on the other hand, will head into the first test at Headingley today hoping to replicate the feats of the 2014 series, which saw them triumph convincingly over the hosts in all three formats.

It’s worth mentioning at this stage that the series will be decided by an ECB initiative, which sees all sides; Sri Lanka, Pakistan and England, accrue points across the three formats throughout the summer.

These points are then tallied up and attributed to an aggregate total that will decide who hoists the trophy at the conclusion of the tour.

Sri Lanka –

The absence of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sanagakkarra from the score sheet will likely prevent any hopes Sri Lanka has of recreating its 2014 fairytale.

Sri Lanka drew both its tour matches against county sides Essex and Leicestershire, and will confront one of the more difficult batting wickets in England during the first test.

An inexperienced top order will be tasked with combating a Jimmy Anderson in-swinger and the seam movement of Stuart Broad on a deck synonymous for assisting fast bowlers, particularly during spring.

Karunaratne and likely Headingly debutant Shanaka were the only Sri Lankan’s to score hundreds in the two game series leading up to the first test.

Perhaps more concerning was the fact that on both occasions the Sri Lankans were heavily outscored by their opposition.

In the case of Essex, a side currently sitting atop the table in the second division, Sri Lanka managed just 254 batting first, before a Tom Westley – Jaik Mickleburgh master class saw Essex pile on 412 for the loss of just four wickets.

I’m not sure whether that says more about Sri Lanka’s batting or bowling.

Though, Sri Lanka can take inspiration from what New Zealand did to England in their last start at Headingley.

Tasked with 455 for victory, Mark Craig and Kane Williamson took a combined six wickets on the final day to draw the two match series and send England into the Ashes with their tails between their legs.

Sri Lankan spinners Siriwardana and Herath will be buoyed by Headingley’s propensity to turn during the last few days.

The two games played at the venue so far this season in the championship, however, have proved ineffective for spinners.

On just one occasion, in the second innings between Yorkshire and Surrey just over a week ago, did a spinner make their mark on the wickets column.

That was Joe Root, claiming the wickets of Kumar Sangakkarra and Steven Davies on the final day.

Adil Rashid is yet to take a wicket for Yorkshire at Headingley this season.

England –

Barely a series goes by without hearing about the English top order and its vacillation.

As Cook approaches yet another milestone wearing the three lions, all eyes will be firmly fixed on his accomplice, Alex Hales.

Having averaged just seventeen in eight innings during England’s triumph over South Africa, Hales’ development as an opening batsman will be an intriguing sub plot to keep an eye on throughout the summer.

Nick Compton is another player who will be scrutinised over every ball he faces against Sri Lanka.

In his first home series since his return to the English side last year, Compton will have the likes of Alex Lyth, Gary Balance and Sam Robson chomping at his heels to get back into the side.

This series should prove a pivotal one in the outcome of his future in an England shirt, his exodus could come as soon as July against Pakistan if he fails to upkeep or improve his current Test Match average of 31.47.

I have no doubt the class player he is, that he will be able to achieve this.

Look no further than Yorkshire duo Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, alongside Captain Cook, as the top run scorers in this series.

So far in the championship Cook has amassed 523 runs in seven innings, while Jonny Bairstow (533 runs in six innings) and Joe Root (240 runs in 3 innings) have both made a memorable start to the season.

England had one of the most successful years of any of the test playing nations last year, winning two series and drawing another.

Their only loss came in a tedious series against Pakistan in the UAE, where spin bowling unsurprisingly proved somewhat of a Kryptonite for the England batting lineup.

Their triumph over South Africa on their own turf comes to mind as the most memorable of England’s 2015/16 victories, and highlights England’s strong reliance on their bowling stocks, in particular, their swing and seam bowlers.

They showed what a force they can be on green-tops both at home and away bowling Australia out for 60 and South Africa for 83 in the same year.

If Sri Lanka is to have any hope in claiming victory, their biggest challenge will undoubtedly be their rearguard action against swing and seam and the way they utilise those conditions themselves through Matthews and Shanaka.

Could King Kohli Reach The Heights Of The Little Master?

In front of a set of makeshift stumps along the river Ganges, a young Indian boy emulates a lofted Kohli cover drive.

His bat hardly resembles the prepossessing sight of Kohli’s MRF, yet the ball whizzes away with consummate ease down toward the final step of the Ghat.

Ten years ago, Sachin’s straight drive was practiced across India. Now, Kohli’s mesmerising footwork is intricately choreographed on the living room rug of a home in Bengaluru.

Admiration of a cricketer is only gained through performance. And Kohli’s cult following, much like the little master, is a corollary of his batsmanship.

My first memory of the indisputable talent of Virat Kohli came at Hobart in 2012. Requiring a win to keep the series alive against Sri Lanka, Kohli hit an unbeaten 133 from just 86 deliveries in an Indian batting performance that, at the halfway stage, showed little promise in delivering a victory.

He treated the Sri Lankan bowling like fodder. Angelo Matthew’s slower balls found the middle of his bat while his wrists made light work of Malinga’s yorkers through the leg side.

His salute to the dressing room upon scoring his hundred was as much a tribute as a coming of age.

He rarely fails in delivering an innings that makes your jaw gape with amazement and leave you utterly perplexed.

Sunday’s innings against Gujarat, which happened to align itself with Sachin’s birthday, was one of these. It made me think, who will have left the biggest impression on Indian Cricket come the conclusion of Kohli’s playing career.

Both Kohli and Sachin are undisputable marksman of the One Day formats, yet statistics tend to suggest that Kohli, at the same stage in their careers, is more prolific. In 171 matches Kohli has scored 7212 runs at an average of 51.51, while the little master at the same point had tallied 5828 runs at an average of 38.85.

There is no comparison in the test arena. Sachin’s 15,921 runs came in 329 innings at an average of 53.79. Kohli is averaging just 42.02 in tests with a run aggregate of 2994 in 72 innings, laudable but not nearly as prolific. His test stats draw more parallels with the likes of Gautam Gambir, who in 100 innings scored 4046 runs at an average of 42.58.

“He rarely fails in delivering an innings that makes your jaw gape with amazement and leave you utterly perplexed”.

Of course this is taken from a purely statistical viewpoint and hence doesn’t consider the opposition, time period nor the quality of the wickets played on. Kohli never got to face Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar in their prime. For the most part of his career Sachin didn’t have to quickly swap between a five game Test Match series and a T20 tournament.

Kohli’s batting style is more debonair, the cricketing equivalent of a hip-hop routine, whereas Sachin possessed elegance and touch that could have been ripped straight from the textbook.

Kholi is an enigma in the field who drives around in an Audi R8, and probably owns fifty of them. Sachin gets around in a more conservative Nissan GT-R, aptly nicknamed the Godzilla for its ability to get from 0-100 in 2.9 seconds, somewhat akin to his run scoring.

Gee, now i’m really clutching at straws to establish relevant similarities.

It’s anyone’s guess as to who will have scored more runs at the end of Kohli’s career. But runs don’t necessarily translate into the definition of ‘India’s Best Batsman’. They should ultimately be judged on their cricketing footprint. That is, who will the fans reminisce over more when a new generation of Indian cricketers come along.

Have your say here:

@roundthe_wicket on twitter.

BBL: 80,000 Reaffirms T20 Popularity in Australia.

Five years ago, with the BBL in its infancy, Cricket Australia could only have dreamed of seeing 80,000 fans file into the MCG to see two Melbourne sides go at it hammer and tong. With the state v state concept beginning to wane, the Bash was lacking its all-important prefix. Games were played out in front of empty grandstands while T20 leagues around the world started to gather considerable momentum. Australian domestic cricket was falling behind.

The consequential shakeup of the Australian domestic T20 competition over the following years was met with an unprecedented reception.

In the midst of its fifth edition since turning franchise, the BBL has become the summers’ biggest hit.

The Big Bash League’s impetuous growth is a testament to the brand created over the past 5 seasons. It has far surpassed the corruption riddled IPL as the world’s number one T20 competition off the back of gripping, entertaining contests.

A modern generation cricket fans’ transient attention is captured by balls sailing into the second tier – or in some cases, Dan Christian, out of the stadium. The 52,000 strong crowd at the Adelaide Oval on NYE were incited by a Travis Head knock that is independent of the T20 format. Individual performances to the tune of 53 in 15 balls are seldom seen in Test and One Day cricket these days.

The NYE game won’t be remembered for the premature fireworks display, but rather the last ditch escapades of Travis Head.

Beyond the commercial benefits of T20, the Big Bash is the ideal breeding ground to christen young cricketers. A franchise based competition pits them against the best Australia and the world have to offer. They have the opportunity to rub shoulders with established imports over a 5-week period gaining an insight into the demands of international cricket.

Amongst other things, it offers exposure to a highly profitable international market where young players can hone their skills in a number of different pro T20 leagues. Becoming accustom to overseas conditions goes a long way to changing the current home-dominated state of international cricket.

Most importantly, raising a cricketer in a hostile arena is ideal in developing the think skinned nature that is a prerequisite for any Australian player. Nothing equips you more than a portly gentleman leaning over the boundary fence and politely telling you how ‘poorly’ your bowling tonight.

Yes, the BBL has uncovered the formula to developing a well-backed, successful competition – one that is fan orientated rather than commercially driven. By mixing cricket with 80’s rock ballads and flamethrowers, the Big Bash brings a festival atmosphere to every night.

Who knows, the BBL may soon rise to become as highly anticipated as the major football codes every year.

Travis Head Spark’s NYE Fireworks Show In Breathtaking BBL Clash

NYE has produced a number of miracles in its time, but none have been more inconceivable than the defiance and utter disregard Travis Head showed the Sixers bowling attack. Sean Abbot’s New Years resolution now pertains more to one of the 10 commandments – thou shall not bowl in the death overs.

The sixers seemingly had the game won with 4 overs remaining. The 46,000 strong crowd condemned to a dull roar. At least that was until Travis Head’s masterful array of T20 stroke play confounded the record-breaking crowd in a display that put on more of a show than the premature fireworks.

When Travis Head strode to the wicket, the Strikers were in a position of relative dominance. Simmons fleeting stint at the crease got the Strikers off to a brisk start, before the cagey Jayawardene played a stroke that would have been more at home on a dusty Pallakele deck. Though, as key wickets continued to tumble through the middle overs, the game looked set for an early finish. As Abbott ran in to deliver the first ball of the 18th over, the Strikers still required 51, in 18 balls. A remote chance considering Head had hit the boundary just four times and was striking at only 118. The first four balls of Abbott’s over went for 20, and Head seemed to conjure striking impetus. Abbott‘s predictable line and length saw him travel over the mid-wicket fence three times in four balls, squandering 27 vital runs. The experience of Bollinger delivered a tidy 19th over with a six off the fourth ball the only significant damage.

A bold move by the Sixers skipper saw Abbott trusted in delivering the final over. A modest 13 needed off 6 deliveries. As the first ball was flicked with ease over square leg for six, Head needing 11 to deliver his first BBL century, the Strikers were destined to end 2015 in the top four. Two more short balls from Abbott were hooked over square leg for six. Head finally becoming the first Striker to make a BBL ton in its 5th edition. Pandemonium ensued.

What a way to usher in the New Year – 2016, we can’t wait!

All ‘Hale’ The Heir To The Throne

Alex Hales looks odds on to take his place alongside captain Cook at the top of the mercurial English top order on Boxing Day despite underwhelming warm-up game form.

The ECB have an ineluctable wish this Christmas – find an opening partner for Cook.

The cricketing public could be forgiven for thinking the English selectors are attempting to stage a cricket version of the Bachelor. Since the egress of Strauss in 2012, the England captain has been through 8 divorces. Compton (twice), Root, Carberry, Robson, Trott, Lyth and Ali have all been shoved into the opening spot on the ill-conceived volition of selectors.

The inclusion of Adam Lyth into the squad for the recently completed Ashes series seemed to be without substantiation, a wing and a prayer selection based on a lack or exhaustion of options. His performances exhibited England’s great deficiency and signaled a crisis seldom discussed by selectors – the epigrammatic life span of cooks opening partners.

The most successful partner post Strauss is a man who is in contention to feature in the First Test on Boxing Day. Ironically, he was also the first to fill the Strauss void – and he didn’t make a hash of it. In fact, he and Cook have been the most prolific opening pair since Strauss’s departure, superseding the short-lived liaison with Michael Vaughan in 2007/08. In 17 innings, Cook and Compton managed 927 runs at 57.93. To supplement these already laudable statistics, their time together was during two series victories away from home.

Compton may have overplayed his hand though. After being dropped in 2013, Compton has plied his trade in division one of the championship for Middlesex with resounding success. In 2014 he averaged 43.68 for Somerset before returning to Middlesex in 2015 where he averaged 38.72. Statistics that put him within the top echelon of talent going round the English domestic scene.

To further Compton’s case, he has the potential to remedy England’s biggest problem – their routine dependence on the middle order – Root, Barstow and formerly Bell. Since his first stint, Compton’s successors have been frail, to say the least, in seeing off the new ball. Just three century stands have been had between Cook and his opening partner in 55 innings since Compton. In 17 innings together, he and Cook managed the same amount.

The first time round – Nick Compton celebrates his first Test Match ton. Picture Copyright Getty Images. 

Despite the fact he will likely feature on Boxing Day, he will doubtingly recuperate his relationship with his ex.

Enter Alex Hales.

——–

Having burnt through eight openers in three years England turns to the services of Alex Hales, whose presence in the shorter form setups has been habitual yet chiefly unproductive. In 23 ODI innings, Hales averages a modest 25.17 having scored only a single hundred. His statistics aren’t flattering, yet his gung-ho approach to batting may well compliment the English top order. Cook and Root are technicians of the game whose performances flourish off the accumulation of singles. If Hales does face the new ball come the first morning in Durban, his incessant boundary hitting will relieve some of the pressure that has accompanied Cook for the past three years. An attribute that will bode well with selectors for future series.

He wouldn’t be the first T20 connoisseur to chance his hand at the longer form and succeed – case in point – David Warner (4305 runs at 50.64).

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With South Africa in a relative state of flux after their derailment in India, England can pounce on the half eaten carcass and produce a thrilling series victory away from home. Early expectations of this series predict one that will be defined by the small battles; Amla v Cook, du Plessis v Root. Two men that have played a starring role for South Africa over the past several years, Steyn and de Villiers, stand between England and a series victory. If England take India’s lead and contain de Villiers, the trophy may well be travelling cross-country back to England.

Form Guide (Last 5): South Africa – LLDLD

England – LLDLW

Prediction: South Africa 2-0

An Ode To Nathan

From tending the wickets of the iconic Adelaide Oval, to bringing up a half century of matches in the baggy green, Nathan Lyon has taken the path less travelled to become Australia’s most prolific finger spinner. We map the peaks and troughs of an ever-blossoming career. Jordan Crick  

(Image: All smiles. Nathan Lyon at the peak of his powers. Ian Kington.)

September 1st 2011 – Galle. The obsessive scouring of the domestic competition to find a new spin king had long turned into a game of roulette for Australian selectors. After continued unsuccessful attempts in the form of McGain, Beer and Hauritz (to name a few), the wheel landed on a young, unknown curator from Adelaide. Another potential winner. He becomes the 11th spinner to be tested since the departure of the irreplaceable Shane Keith Warne 5 years earlier. As he comes onto bowl in the 15th over, a brand new baggy green cap proudly hoisted atop his head, he is faced with the task of bowling to Sri Lankan maestro Kumar Sangakkara, who had recently amassed 184 runs in a three match tour of England. In an attempt to repay his skippers boat of confidence, he tosses the ball up outside off-stump, drawing Sangakkara forward to take his outside edge which, fittingly, finds its way to the dependable hands of Michael Clarke in 1st slip. He follows it up with a further 4 high-profile Sri Lankan wickets to grab a five-fa on debut, a sign of the heights he is to reach across the next 49 test matches of his esteemed career.

December 9 2011, Hobart. The final game of the Trans-Tasman trophy was more than just a crushing victory for Australia, it was the defining moment for Nathan Lyon as a cricketer, and, most importantly, a person. Playing just his 7th match as the 421st Australian player to pull on the baggy green, Lyon was faced with his biggest adversity yet. With the Australians needing a further 42 runs to win the test match and secure the Trans-Tasman trophy, a sanguine Nathan Lyon strides to the wicket alongside the untapped batting talent of David Warner, who has made his way to a maiden hundred in just his second test. With 7 runs left to get, his innings ends. Bowled by Bracewell for 9. It was the first real adversity Lyon had to overcome in the baggy green. It taught him the most important virtue necessary for success at test level – perseverance.

The Ashes 2013-14. Playing second fiddle to in-form Mitch Johnson in a series dominated and defined by searing pace, Nathan Lyon managed 19 wickets at 29.26. He revitalized round the wicket bowling, taking the prized scalps of Bell, Prior and Bairstow in an aptly devised leg side trap. A scheme that has provided a bountiful supply of international wickets and will surely be etched into Nathan Lyon folklore. While the effect Lyon had on this series will be largely overlooked, his partnership with Harris and Johnson was crucial in delivering a clean sweep of a one-sided Ashes series.

As he walks off the ground in Hobart against the West Indies, he will join a club that, to Australian cricket, has about as many members as the lunar landing module of Apollo 11. Only the great Hugh Trumble (421 wickets) comes close.

Though Lyons career will not be celebrated in a myriad of champagne showers come its completion, he will have had a pivotal role to play in the outcome of a number of Australia’s great victories.

Here’s to fifty more!