Friday, 14 June 2013

Ravi Bopara: the problem child that isn't

Every teacher will tell you about their favourite problem child. He's the one who sits in the back of the class, dossing about and showing no interest at all, every now and again knocking out a bit of homework that knocks spots off everyone else's. So you give him an A, and lots of encouragement, thinking that this might be his break through moment. But it isn't. He continues not to live up to his potential, and however much you carry on pointing this out to him, he seems to pay not a blind bit of notice.

To stretch this metaphor: England's coaches have been blessed with a very good class in the last few years. Yes, there have been problems - Broad has been a little hit-and-miss, there's a question mark over the bowling depth, but by-and-large we fans have had precious little to grumble about for the simple reason that everything has gone to plan. And that's what we fans particularly like: if we pick Mark Ealham and he doesn't get 10 wickets that's fine; we expected that, but what we prefer is when people waste the talent we don't have. Then we can really moan. So: we didn't play well against the South Africans, there was the Pietersen bust-up last year, and Eoin Morgan has failed to break through in the longer format: all of them disappointing, but none entirely surprising.

No: I put it to you that for anyone who's watched him play county cricket, the only surprise let down over recent years has been Ravi. He is our favourite problem child. Perhaps it's because the talent is so obvious. Yesterday, he struck 33 off 13 balls - a staggering little innings that included a lofted cover drive that carried 85 metres. The balance, timing and eye required to play that shot are ludicrous. This shot wasn't the shot of a man who'd faced a couple of overs. It was the shot of a man with an unbeaten century to his name, and I'd suggest with a test average rather closer to 50 than its present 30.

We lost, and this innings will be forgotten. But that's Ravi in a nutshell: the problem child who, when you look at it carefully, isn't. He began his career with three centuries against a West Indies attack that really wasn't all that bad, then struggled in the 2009 Ashes at number 3, at a time when Cook was in such bad form that he was essentially operating as our default opener. It wasn't that he was unfairly dropped, but you have to ask why he was there in the first place given the received wisdom about blooding new players at number 6. Trott came in and did well, so all those who said Ravi had been found out at a higher level felt vindicated. Fair enough: but batting at the top is bloody hard for a young player. At the time of writing England are weighing up whether to drop the under-performing Compton in order to give Root a go there. I'm going to go out on a limb and say we won't.

Ravi refused to go to the IPL in 2011, but Morgan still got the nod for the Test team, which was the wrong decision and didn't work anyway. Two years later, when he finally did get a go at number 6, he was up against the best attack in the world (South Africa), was suffering from personal problems, flunked and ended up being dropped again. You can't say he hasn't had enough chances, but at the same time you have to look at the long runs of bad form others in the team have had (Cook and Broad come to mind immediately) and yet the idea of their being dropped has rarely been countenanced. The spectre of Mark Ramprakash looms large: yes, the onus on the player is to make the most of his opportunities, but at the same time I wonder if in 20 years time we will, a la Ramprakash, look back and wonder if we couldn't have done things a little differently.

In the mean time he's been a generally sound - some would say very good - ODI performer in a role that doesn't really allow you to shine: indeed, many of his best performances have seen him pick up the run rate at the end of the innings before weighing in with some extremely parsimonious wicket-to-wicket seam up - none of which really argues the case for Test inclusion, but when people say he's "wasted" his talent they're forgetting that for years he's done whatever's asked of him. And there's another little thing: part of me (call it leftist, whatever) wants to see a boy who grew up above a newsagent's in Forest Green come good.

So here's what I say: come the First Test, Compton out, Root to open, Ravi at six. Give him the rest of the series. It's purely my suspicion, but I think we'll see he's less of a problem child than we thought.

Monday, 3 June 2013

April and May 2013 round up: all CC's performances in FULL

Apologies to all those who've been hoping for more regular updates since the season began. Purely extreme busyness, rather than any aversion to blogging. In terms of things to work on, CC's ambition is pretty simple: bat like less of a twat. Be more ruthless. Stop caring about other people giving a go, just believe the team's better off with you at the crease than back at the pavilion, even if you're not timing it. With the ball, bowl as fast as you used to, before you get too old.

Objective 1 has gone quite well. In a way. In digestible form (all innings have involved opening the batting):

1. 36 on a really tricky pitch with one very tough chance dropped before a ball bounced and seamed and gully took a diving catch off a slightly loose drive. Loads of rain between innings meant I had to bowl spin with wasn't very good. We lost.

2. Two wickets for not many again in very easy bowling conditions, swung it lots but didn't bowl very fast because that requires time in the gym, and I don't have any free time. Did not bat. We won.

3. 18 on another difficult pitch before a stupid mow across the line, 2 for not many - again accurate and moved it but need more pace. We drew.

4. 23 before one took off from a good length, took the bat shoulder and the keeper caught it one handed. One of those where I honestly don't know what I'd have done differently. Didn't bowl. We won.

5. 60* on another difficult pitch and of the four innings actually the worst. Honestly. On the other three I really tried to concentrate and keep my technique tight and hardly played and missed at all until the wicket ball. With this one I was dropped on 0 and again on 1 - both tough chances but still. One for not many with the ball. We won.


a) It is really bloody hard to bat on most club pitches in England at the start of Summer. If you look at those knocks, I've played one really bad shot but only made one substantial score. In all those games most people haven't got past 30 and no more than one person has reached 50. None of the attacks were what you'd call good, but none of them were particularly bad, either. I feel really good, weirdly.

b) There really is no great science to playing in these conditions. Wait for a short one and smack it (you won't get many because every bowler worth his salt knows even Brett Lee would do well to give you the hurry up on these tracks), only drive the really full ones, play everything else as late as possible. The ball will turn a long way but very slowly, so hit with the turn. There is nothing harder to face than an accuratish seamer dobbing them down around 60mph. Speaking of which, I think I've been hit for half a dozen boundaries at most. And that's pretty much it.

c) I've bought a new bat and sold the old one. The old one was so much fun against crap spinners and slow seamers - it weighed 3lb and you could hit the ball *miles*. There is no better feeling than having a ludicrous mow across the line, connecting in the middle and watching the ball sail out of the ground. The trouble is it's a rather addictive feeling, which may be why I never made particularly big scores with it. The new bat encourages proper batting.

There it is: bit boring but nothing of much excitement to report. What is of note is that the 60* won The Decrepits their first match since August 2011. That was rather joyous - usually when you carry your bat you're a bit wary of the fact no one else has had a go, but two years of bummings meant that everyone was just happy we got over the line. Huzzah.

In other news, I managed to get to Lord's to see NZ capitulate to Stuart Broad. Last night I watched highlights of them piling on 350+ against us in the ODI. I must say, the huge, huge discrepancy in performance from both teams in the two formats is slightly odd. I mean, I know it's a different game with some different players but it's not that different and there aren't that many different players. A few thoughts about England's ODI selection:

1) I don't get the point of Jade Dernbach.
2) Until Woakes adds a yard of pace he's basically Mark Ealham and I'm not sure that's a good thing these days.
3) In theory the batting line up's really good. In practise apparently not.
4) Bresnan is another one of those bowlers who's good when he's bowling at 85mph and rubbish when he's bowling at 80mph.
5) I don't really care about ODIs any more.
6) Maybe this gives us a clue as to the problem.

There it is. Will try to make the next one a bit less prozaic.