Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Back to form

On Monday Alastair Cook made his 25th test ton and with another good knock from Trotty England had the platform to go for quick runs which they did.  Although the Kiwis batted better this time around England took wickets regularly and were always on top.  Swann took for wickets to restrict New Zealand to 158-6 at the close.

Tuesday threatened rain which was the only thing that would save NZ and it looked like they might get their wish and once again the Captains tactics were questioned.  In the end there was enough play possible for England to clinch the match with Swann finishing on 6 for 90 and ten wickets in the match.  The first English spinner to take ten at Headingly since Derek Underwood in 1972.

New Zealand’s opening bowlers have performed well in this series, in Boult and Southee they have two good young fast bowlers they should stick with.  Unfortunately the batting which looked impressive on the flat pitches in NZ has proved fragile in more testing conditions.  Only Ross Taylor has looked like he has what it takes to bat in England.  This team does look like it has promise for the future though.

England had to win this series 2-0 and here at last we began to show the form we’ve come to expect but where are England now regarding Ashes selection, what have we learned?  The wicket Keeper is well and truly inked in and all four of England’s bowlers have contributed throughout these last two matches.  The bottom five places of the batting order are settled but with KPego waiting in the wings, one of the batsmen will have to make way.  Of the established players only Cook and Trott have impressed, Bell has not been anywhere near his best.
Compton has had 17 innings in test cricket scoring 479 runs with a fifty in India where he done just enough to keep his place for the NZ tour where he two tons on flat tracks.  He’s had a mare here in this tour and his position must be in doubt.  Waiting in the wings is Joe Root who looks every inch a test cricketer just as Cook did a few years ago.  He has scored 424 in 11 innings starting with an important half century in his debut match in India.  Unlike Compton he had a poor tour of NZ but here on home soil he’s just looked the part, culminating in his first test ton at his home ground.  Bairstow’s short England career has been full of ups and downs and after innings he’s scored 341 in 13 innings.  Bairstow and Compton have similar averages, both around 31 but Root stands head and shoulders above them both at 42.4.

It would be harsh on Nick Compton to be dropped ahead of the Ashes but the blunt truth is; England’s best opening pair is Cook and Root and it’s only a matter of time before they get paired so why not now?  Bell has been inconsistent lately but he will retain his place so assuming the KPego is fit, the likely man to be disappointed is Bairstow.

“The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon was published in Spain a decade ago and translated into English two years later.  Since then it has been a worldwide success and sits in the “Waterstones loves” section alongside books such as ‘The Kite Runner’.  This coupled with a price of only £2.99 convinced me to pick it up and give it a go.  I wasn’t disappointed.

Set in Barcelona shortly after their civil war it brings that time and place to life and paints it vividly.  As the whole world was in turmoil in those times many of us have no idea what Spain was like in the early years of Franco’s regime.  If Zafon is accurate then it must have been a grim time.  This book is written in the first person, mostly through Daniel, the son of a book shop owner who finds his life mirroring that of a little known author that lived a generation before him and died in mysterious circumstances.  In fact everyone remotely connected to Julian Carax seems to have had more than their share of suffering.  To save his own life and perhaps those of his friends, Daniel must somehow solve the mysteries of the past.  His adversary is a real nasty piece of work with a role in both stories who happens to be a cop.  He makes Rebus look like a saint.

Shadow of the Wind ambles along and I was never really sure where the story was going but it races to a finish and you just need to know what happens.  The book has comedy, romance, murder, intrigue and suspense all blending together in a recipe that works.  I love this book, when I read it I can see the city and I care about the characters.  Read it.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Second test and stuff

England have pretty much carried on at Headingly where they left off at Lords and at the end of the third day are in a dominant position, despite the first day being a wash out.  We haven’t had it all our own way though.  New Zealand have bowled well and took wickets in clusters but a century stand from Yorkies; Root and Bairstow, pushed England towards a respectable total.  Joe Root scored his maiden test ton on his home ground and Bairstow made 60+.  I missed most of the play on Saturday, the curse of work but listened the final session on TMS while not catching Carp.  Another quick partnership from Prior and Swann rubbed salt inHowever NZ polished off the tail quickly, Boult taking five wickets, England finishing on 354. 

How would New Zealand’s batsmen face up to England’s bowlers this time?  I settled down in front of the tele to find out.  Well the openers looked OK and raced to a fifty opening stand.  Then Finn found some rhythm and blew the top order away.  Swann destroyed the middle order and finished with four then Broad and Anderson finished the tail, apart from an annoying 50+ stand from Boult and Wagner.  England could have enforced the follow on but for some reason declined, maybe resting the bowlers with one eye on the Aussies later in the summer?

England's batsmen had one innings to cement an Ashes place and there are several with something to prove.  Poor Compton was on a hiding to nothing and hardly troubled the scorers but Cook seems to have found his best form again and was unbeaten on 88 at the close.  With two days remaining England lead by 296 and NZ will be hoping for rain. 

Ian Rankin and John Rebus.
Mr Rankin is a very good storyteller and DCI Rebus is one of his most loved characters and together they’ve taken me on some really enjoyable reading journeys. Rebus is your classic maverick copper who bends the rules to get the job done.  His heavy drinking/smoking character is almost a cliché but that doesn’t matter one little bit because he’s great.  I’ve recently finished reading “Standing in another man’s grave”, Rankin’s most recent Rebus adventure and like all the others I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Another Rankin character, detective Malcolm Fox also crops up in the fringes.  Other Rebus books I’ve enjoyed include; Fleshmarket close and Resurrection Men and in truth I haven’t read an Ian Rankin book that I haven’t enjoyed.

P.D. James is another one of my favourite crime writers whose main protagonist is often Adam Dalgleish.  In her most recent book James is still mostly concentrating on murder but Dalgleish is sadly not present.  If fact she is exploring her obvious love for Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice and taking those familiar characters off in a new direction with “Death at Pemberley”.  P&P is not my sort of thing and I have managed to avoid reading it but despite this I still know the story backwards thanks to all the dramatisations. For me the class divide of those times seemed almost farcical and I wondered if P.D. James intended this?  The story wasn’t up to the mark, too much Austin and not enough James for me.

Sunday, 19 May 2013


 For two more days the test swung back and forth but at the end of each day New Zealand could reasonably argue that they were just edging the match.  Both teams had high points, for England a fifer for Jimmy and a good partnership between Trott and Root with both passing 50.  For the Kiwis it was the batting of Williamson and Taylor plus the bowling of Southee who took ten wickets in the match.  Going into the fourth and final innings with NZ chasing just over 230 the game appeared to be finely balanced, maybe NZ just ahead as one partnership could secure the game.  I was very nervous!

The Kiwi’s second innings put the game into context, blown away for 68 and England had won by 170 runs.  Some great bowling by Broad to claim 7-44, supported by Anderson who they just couldn’t get away.  
Was this result due to a brilliant bowling performance or had England been in the driving seat throughout?  NZ would say they were well in the game throughout but had they really been just hanging in there?  Whatever, it was a much better match than the mostly boring draws in NZ.  England have edged ahead in this series of five matches (including those in NZ) but we could be going into the final match poised at 2-2.  The teams have appeared evenly matched until today.  We England fans will want to see our team pull away in the next match and lay down a marker for later in the summer.

England haven't managed to reach the form that saw them win in India, the captain has had a couple of quiet matches by his standards so we haven't had the platform.  Bell has been inconsistent and Bairstow unconvincing, Prior had a rare bad match this time.  Trott has been the main man lately and Joe Root really looks comfortable at test level.  Compton will want a good score in the next match to feel secure for the Ashes.  The KPego is waiting in the wings, someone will have to miss out.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Summer again


The official start to summer, i.e. the first day of the season’s first test match at Lords, and for a welcome change we had a dry, mostly bright day.  I had the radio on all day but only managed to catch snatches through a busy shift at work.  New Zealand bowled accurately to restrict England’s batsmen and when a shower finally curtailed the day the score was 160-4 with a run rate of just two. All of England’s top four made starts and three got passed 30 but none managed a 50 before losing their wickets.  
On the face of things easily the Kiwi’s day and it will be fascinating to see the how Root and Bairstow get on in the morning.  This is apparently the future of England’s batting and tomorrow will be a good test.  I can remember two inexperienced players coming to the wicket in a perilous position at this ground in 1996.  They were called Ganguly and Dravid, they made big scores and India avoided defeat.  After the first day we’ve seen nothing from England that will worry the Aussies.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Test cricket coming soon...

Where does time go?  Last time I wrote on here England had just scraped a draw in New Zealand, through a combination of skill and luck.  NZ had the better of the tour but in the end weren’t good enough to beat England.  On the other hand, England underperformed in a series we all expected them to win comfortably.  For England Matt Prior was the star with both bat and gloves.  Nick Compton done well to cement his place with two centuries and Trotty had a good tour.  The other batsmen underperformed; Cook had a below par series, Bell is becoming inconsistent and Root was brought back down to earth.  England’s bowlers performed well on unhelpful pitches but didn’t have the impact we expected.  Monty in particular struggled at times.
Next up for England in a couple of weeks is two home matches against the Kiwi’s again and once again I expect us to win.  They won’t under estimate NZ at all this time and will know they are facing some young, talented players.  McCullum captained the side well and his bowlers didn’t let him down, Boult in particular impressed.  Fulton did well with the bat at home but I can’t see him doing much in English conditions.  Rutherford looked an exciting player and Williamson looks a very good player.  However if England perform anywhere near their best they will win.

While England were struggling Australia were getting well and truly battered in India.  They suffered woeful on field results and had factions within the squad off the pitch.  All very amusing for an English cricket fan but we know they can’t possibly be that bad later this summer.

Chris Gayle recently broke T20 records with a typically aggressive 175.  The highlights were fun to watch but hey, it's only IPL! 

Some books…
“The Hundred year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared” has to be one of the longest book titles ever.  Written by Jonas Jonasson and set mostly in his native Sweden it tells the story of what happens to the centurion Allan Karlson when he steps out of his window to escape his hundredth birthday party.  During his disappearance Allan meets a host of lawless people and has a hilarious adventure involving a suitcase full of cash and a drug gang amongst many other things.  The book also flashes back to the past and charts Allan’s remarkable life and his hitherto unknown influence on the major acts of twentieth century history.  It’s a really funny and enjoyable read but does run out of steam a little towards the end.

“Brave New World” was written by Aldous Huxley in 1932 and gives a prophecy of the world six hundred years from now.  God has been replaced by “Our Ford”, Henry Ford no less, the inventor of the production line.  The world is now at a consistent state peace and contentment populated by genetically modified races formed into a Caste system.  People are no longer born but grown in bottles and conditioned (brain washed?) to be happy. When times get a little tough there’s the state controlled drug, “Soma”, issued for free.  Not everyone is happy in this utopia and when two such characters venture to a “Reservation” to see “savages” who are actually born from mothers then the real hero of the story is found.  This book is often compared to “1984” and actually pre-dates it but is a much easier read than George Orwell’s masterpiece.  Whether Huxley’s vision of the future is any more or less palatable than 1984 is debateable but it’s far less terrifying and perhaps suffers in comparison because of this?