RIP Peter Roebuck

It’s pretty screwed up that someone’s suicide can make for such an interesting few days of cricket reading.

Inevitably cricket writing is a bit like family reunions – too many people only really show up (in the performance sense) for weddings or funerals. As cricket writers I suppose our weddings are big events like the Ashes, a World Cup final or a plucky good luck story, the funerals a seismic defeat, a resignation or a spot-fixing trial. Rarely is it a death in the literal sense. And nothing makes you remember what a load of nothingness cricket is like death.

One of the often-spouted clichés is that cricket is such a great game because it is so revealing of human character, a metaphor for life. The implication is that cricket in itself doesn’t matter, it just relates to things that do. Maybe that’s why we all cling to the personal details of the game – the characters, the friendships, the feuds – they make cricket more consequential than a 90-mph yorker or a 111-metre six ever can. Maybe that’s why those eulogies were so gripping.

I never met Peter Roebuck, but there was no danger of not hearing all about him when Down Under last winter, he was often the go-to story for the press-box gossips. I’ve heard all manner of tales about him from former colleagues on and off the pitch. Some were silly, some scurrilous – too many of us laughed along or passed them on. It’s difficult to reconcile this with the tributes flowing from every social media crevice over the last few days, but maybe when people spend their lives watching a game, it takes a death to make them think a little.

What else can you take from a load of very different eulogies? Some very human writers are wasted on match reports? Confirmation that often the most stand out people, the most individual, are that way because their minds tread darker passageways than the rest of us?

In a strange way perhaps anyone with ambitions to scribble should see Roebuck’s death as reaffirming – beyond his private life it puts the spotlight on what made his writing great. It reminds anyone who has ever picked up a newspaper and put it down in disgust 12 seconds later that it’s ok to have a different point of view, that it’s possible that the majority are the ones in the wrong, content in their complacency.

Of course to push through that unique train of thought you have to be prepared to disagree, to argue, to be outrageously stubborn and at times even more wrong – qualities that only the fortunate can retain and still be the centre of a crowd.

It’s an uncomfortable generalisation to say people who commit suicide are cowards. We can’t know what tormented Roebuck’s mind before he jumped, but we know that at least in his cricketing dealings he had a spine, knew how to stand up for his beliefs. Check your twitter feeds this afternoon, see how many journalists you can spot moaning about the ICCs Test Championship decision. If even half of them had Roebuck’s conviction to properly champion a cause then maybe cricket wouldn’t be in the trouble it is.


England vs India – the verdict

There are 4-0 series and there are 4-0 series. This was never a 4-0 series. If the same squads lined up at the beginning of 10 series in 10 alternate universes, England would do well to whitewash India twice.

This series was one of those children’s adventure books where every option the kid chooses has a direct consequence – choose option C every time and finally they end up in hell, that sort of thing. This was the tour India kept choosing option C.

England fans might have recognised the signs, seeing as it was basically a low-budget rerun of an England Ashes tour from any time between 1989 and 2007, where absolutely anything that can go wrong does, and then some. 2006-07 will do – for England then read India now, for Duncan Fletcher read, oh, Duncan Fletcher.

India’s injuries were horrible. Losing Sehwag – the one batsman who could have put England’s smugly economical quicks under pressure, was bad enough. Losing Zaheer in the first Test and Harbhajan in the second – leaving them with three bowlers in each, was a cheap shot from fate. Zaheer was the key – with him directing the feisty, frugal Kumar and the sporadic, impressionable Sharma, they would have caused England real problems, as they did on that first morning at Lord’s. Without him India’s attack lacked a leader and their side a chance. Their only hope then was to amass big totals and put pressure on England that way, but only Rahul Dravid read that game-plan.

They were unlucky to run into an England side that has rarely (if ever) been as sure-footed, and with home advantage too. If there is a significant gap between the two sides then it is in how they deal with adversity. England had injuries too, but they were able to replace Chris Tremlett with Tim Bresnan without disrupting their ‘attack through defence’ bowling strategy, and even add some more runs as well. Crucially, when Jonathan Trott injured himself at Trent Bridge, leaving England a batsman down with a first-innings deficit, there was no fuss, Ian Bell just went and got 150 and won them the game.

For India, there was no such depth or strength of character to call upon. The bowling resource was negligible, while the batting line-up reacted to Gautam Gambhir’s one-man injury procession like Anna Wintour stepping in dog shit. That Fletcher was seemingly unable to motivate his team is a huge concern – he has now been whitewashed in two of his last three series as coach and there must be serious doubts as to whether he is the man to stage manage this delicate period of Indian history.

The Indian reaction is key, not just from a board of whom it is easy now to allege an unhealthy obsession with the IPL dollar. Do their players still want it? Preparation for and success over five days of cricket, four times over a month is a lot of hard work. England want it. Rahul Dravid wants it. He’s 38 yet he’s knocking out hundreds like Brangelina do foster-kids. He and Mike Hussey (35 when he stuck 195 on England at Brisbane) are proof that if you want it enough you have a decent chance of getting it. Graham Gooch has made sure England’s batsmen know that – it was instructive to see Alastair Cook in the nets at 9.30am on the last two mornings at The Oval, two days when he was unlikely to get a bat.

For England’s part, Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower are savvy enough not to get carried away. And they shouldn’t. In a weird way England’s players have missed an opportunity this last month – an opportunity to prove themselves against the best side in the world, because that India is not the one we got. What England did is reemphasise what they showed against Australia this winter, that when it comes to beating and demoralising downtrodden, floundering sides there is no team more ruthless.

All square in Cardiff

Sri Lanka 400 (P Jayawardene 112, Anderson 3-66) lead England 47-1 by 353 runs

The following is a report from tea on day two at Cardiff.

It’s been a strange day in Cardiff. England haven’t bowled badly, Sri Lanka haven’t batted great. There’s been posturing, poking and pontificating, and at tea we are no nearer to finding out who’s going to win this game.

The suspicion is that Sri Lanka’s batsmen have done pretty well, but may yet be let down by their bowling attack. They have certainly been bold – winning the toss and batting with five batsmen and two allrounders was gutsy, and they’ll be satisfied to have reached 300 with the potential for more.

England have alternated between menacing and anaemic – Trott opening after lunch was slightly surreal, and his bowling was sufficiently rum to raise eyebrows. Expect Paul Collingwood to look rose-tinted next time you see him. Collingwood has also been missed in the slips – Alastair Cook is a strange choice for 3rd slip given he lumbers in the lunge, while James Anderson will do well to get anywhere near Collingwood’s 18 catches off Graeme Swann.

The four man attack has had one of those days that makes them look a bowler light, especially given Anderson’s back-tweak. Anderson had bowled well for his couple of wickets, but Stuart Broad was again suffering from an identity crisis. Broad was better than yesterday, but is clearly still struggling to work out if he is a genuine quick, or a line and length bowler. Here he was most effective on the occasions he throttled back, shortened his run and asked short-leg to remove his helmet.

Broad’s mood won’t have been helped by tonsillitis, a couple of unsuccessfully referred LBW decisions and a few nicks that have flown through gaps. That 100th Test wicket remains elusive.
For their part Sri Lanka have shown none of the early tour fragility of the past – four of the top six over 50 is an impressive effort, and when the failures go by the name Kumar Sangakarra and Mahela Jayawardene there is scope for further success. If they are to be safe here, Prasanna Jayawardene must go on to a third Test hundred. He received good support from Farveez Maharoof before he fell victim to #trottsfault, while if Tishana Perera bowls like he bats Sri Lankan fans are in for a spicy few years.

Forty-six overs remain in this game – plenty of time for the narrative to develop, but England will know that if they’re not batting long before stumps this game is slipping away.

What happened next?

Jayawardene got his ton. So did Broady, slightly fortuitously.

Sri Lanka got 400, and England lost Strauss before the close. We’ll know much more by close of play tomorrow.

Cardiff day one – Pitch it up Broady

Sri Lanka close on 133-2 (Paranavitana 58*, Dilshan 50)

Welcome to the English Test summer. Throughout the Tests I’ll be producing videos as The Chuck Fleetwood-Smiths for ESPNcricinfo and blogging for

I’ll also be posting stuff here, so here’s the blog I did for Spin on Stuart Broad.

England in May – that famously successful month for the bang-it-in bowler. In hindsight, that England have picked two of them for this Test match, and indeed a third in their 12, looks an oversight.

They’ve got previous. As impressive as England were in Australia, there were times when sentiment clouded their selection. Adelaide stands out – Ajmal Shahzad abandoned after Steven Finn’s wickets in Brisbane. Finn’s figures had been flattering in Brissy, they were again in Adelaide, and while England won, it may have been more comfortable with skiddy Shahzad.

On early evidence in this game the beneficiary has been Stuart Broad, with Shahzad and Graham Onions right to feel aggrieved. Broad hasn’t played much cricket, and it has showed – the pace is there, but not quite the line or the length, too wide and too short. Flip his pitch map vertically and it would probably look about right for the situation – a slowish pitch with moisture and batsmen not totally used to the conditions (whatever double-century stands in both warm up games might suggest). His was a selection that makes sense in the scheme of the summer, but maybe not for England’s attempts to win this match.

However much cricket he’s played, Broad hasn’t helped himself. Yes it’s windy, yes it’s damp, and yes Dilshan pounced on anything drivable. But if you don’t ask you don’t get, and Broad’s short-pitched stuff has been like the teenager who turns up to the school-disco in Black Tie and then gets aggressively smashed in the corner by himself. He seems stuck in a short-pitched groove, but this is the SWALEC, not the SSC.

It’s had an effect on the others too – a wayward first spell necessitating a change of ends, which meant Strauss also had to switch Jimmy Anderson. Anderson, whose excellent first spell of 7-2-7-0 hadn’t yielded a single boundary, splurged three from his three overs from the Cathedral Road end.

If Broad is to convince as a Test bowler of genuine wicket-taking, match-winning consistency, he must adapt quicker – for a ‘thinking’ bowler has shown a lack of nous today. He could do worse than look at Chris Tremlett for how a tall bowler should operate in these conditions. Every short ball Tremlett has bowled has served a purpose – a softener to make the footwork more uncertain against the fuller stuff.

Still, it’s day one of 35 – plenty of cricket left to oil those rusty joints.

Sam Collins is 50% of The Chuck Fleetwood-Smiths

Essex have Bopara but miss Shah and Ten Doeschate as IPL takes effect

Lord’s hasn’t been a happy home for Middlesex supporters in recent years, but when they win here they tend to win well. Last year their two Lord’s victories came by an innings, today the home fans saw 20 Essex wickets fall in a day, leaving success a formality.

It was billed as Steve Finn versus Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara, but in helpful conditions for the bowlers it was nothing of the sort. Finn looked very much an England bowler, noticeably quicker than anything else we’ve seen, and with his bounce and lateral movement was too much for most batsmen, even if he did continue his bad habit of falling away occasionally.

For Cook it was as though the winter never happened, as he prodded and poked at Corey Collymore, falling first lbw to the West Indian and then turning a return catch to Finn in the second knock. If Uncle obduracy himself couldn’t last it out what hope the rest of them? And so it proved…

Bopara fell twice to Finn, before tweeting, “No heavy rollers & tiflex balls is a recipe for low scores. Crap cricket!” Middlesex opener Scott Newman’s response was the closest thing to a contest all day, “dry your eyes big lad. No feet movement and loose shots is a recipie for nicking off lol”. A glance at yesterday’s scorecard would afford Bopara a smile. Newman c Foster b Topley 38.

Bopara is of course playing here after turning down the IPL because he wants to play for England. Heaven forbid there be any great loyalty to Essex. We’re constantly told that loyalty doesn’t exist in sport, and that’s never more obvious than when there’s Indian wonga involved – however understandably.

Owais Shah and Ryan ten Doeschate have no England cause to further, so you couldn’t see the ground for dust when the escape route was offered. You could forgive long-suffering Essex supporters for being a bit irked about two of their best batsmen being unavailable for six Championship matches – over a third of the season. The situation is exacerbated when the rest of the side bat like total numpties, but as it is they are on the verge of two defeats from two and the season is only a week old.

It makes you wonder what the point is of signing Owais Shah on exorbitant wages in the first place – what will Essex do with the compensation while he sits on the IPL sidelines? Splurge it on Dwayne Bravo for Twenty20 finals day again? And what exactly does Shah hope to gain from joining Essex other than a lucrative payday? Because at this moment it sure doesn’t look like it’s a return to the Championship first division.

Is the fault with the players for chasing the money, or the schedulers for doing their best to finish the whole season by June? Whoever’s to blame it makes you slightly grateful that more English players aren’t much kop at T20, as otherwise this would surely be more of an issue. As it is injuries and other bobbins mean Shah, Eoin Morgan and Michael Lumb are the only English players out in India at the moment. That Morgan and Shah, and the Dutch/ Saffer Ten Doeschate all would have been playing today localises the issue conveniently.

Yet imagine if all 37 English players who made themselves available for the IPL auction had been picked up. Imagine if Kent fans hadn’t even been able to watch Simon Cook for six weeks. It doesn’t even bear thinking about.

Reece Topley – remember the name

The second round of Championship matches is underway, and I’ve made it to first day at both The Oval and Lord’s so far. Brilliant sunshine last week, unashamed murk this – it turns out that the start of the British summer was a bigger myth than the good guy football star.

The cricket has been a mixture of brilliant and murk too. On the one hand there was the uninhibited strokeplay of Rory Hamilton-Brown and Tom Maynard on the first day at the Oval, and the raw promise of the Essex left-armer Reece Topley today. On the other there is trying to rationalise the value of watching a Northants attack led by 35-year-old South African Andrew Hall and 37-year-old Sri Lankan Chaminda Vaas, similarly Middlesex’s opening batsmen of Australian Chris Rogers (33) and Surrey cast-off Scott Newman (31).

If this is a familiar moan I’m sorry, but it’s true, there are too many teams in the Championship. Let’s move on anyway, for in Topley, England has a real prospect. At 17, with seven wickets in his Championship debut against Kent last week and five more today, the figures look good. I can confirm that they don’t flatter – there is plenty to be excited about for Essex and England fans. Don’s son is tall, extracts bounce, and swings the ball – at least in these early season conditions. Pace-wise he would be low to mid-eighties at the moment and his run-up needs work but crucially he is in a decent position at release, giving him notable consistency for one so young, despite a tired third spell.

Maurice Chambers was a fearsome sight up close in the nets when in Australia with the Academy, but the strung-up-by-your-neck view of the Lord’s media box reveals an inherent flaw – a low-arm action, meaning that, like Saj Mahmood, he will lack the bounce to trouble the good players despite his skiddy pace. After a miserable morning spell it was unusual to see Chambers tweeting in the lunch interval that the Lord’s slope had unbalanced him – as though he was replying to the twittercism. Essex fans have been waiting for him to lead their attack for a few years – he’s one of those perennially promising types, but on this evidence it’s hard to see him breaking through unless he can discover a way to extract more bounce.

As for Middlesex’s batting – bleurgh, as nine scores between 15 and 38 suggests.

Why Pakistan shouldn’t beat India

I’ll get in there quick before the game gets underway.

Roll on the cliches. More than a game etc etc etc.

Ignore the politics for the moment – this is a fascinating contest because it is cricket in it’s purest form, bat versus ball.

Now that India have won the toss, the stats would say there is no way Pakistan can win this.

Their top batsman, Umar Akmal, has scored 211 runs in the tournament so far. He’s their only guy over 200 runs. India have four batsmen over 300 runs (Tendulkar, Sehwag, Yuvraj), and two more (Gambir and Kohli) with more than Umar Akmal. Sure Pakistan have played in different countries on trickier pitches, but no one can dispute the difference in quality between the top-orders.

In the bowling, Afridi has more wickets than anyone, 21 at 10. Then Gul has 14, but after that it’s down to Hafeez with seven. The point is that Pakistan are just as reliant, if not for pressure then wickets, on two bowlers as India are on Zaheer Khan (17) and surprisingly Yuvraj (11).

I think India are better chasing, but if their batsmen can set a decent target it’s difficult to see how a Pakistan lineup who have topped 200 twice in seven games will get near it, so Pakistan will need to roll them over. But somehow I fancy Pakistan. Over to you Boom Boom.

Goodbye Ricky Ponting

Finally Ricky has gone. It was a resignation as inevitable as the onset of summer, and certainly increases the heat on Michael Clarke. Now is the right time, Australian cricket needs to move forward, and dragging the side for the last few years as captain, surrogate coach, agony aunt and kitman too has had a visible effect on Australia’s most successful batsman of recent times.

Ponting has been an inspiration to his own country and beyond. Observing him close up during the Ashes it was impossible not to be mesmerised by a face so creased from years of battle, a man so dignified and honest in response to constant probing and sniping.

The question now is whether he should stay on in the team as a batsman, as he has indicated he wants to do. Michael Clarke said in December he would never captain Ponting, we will find out in the next few weeks and months how sincere those words were.

Ponting’s record over the last few years is not befitting of his reputation and hardly worth a place in the side – in 16 Tests since the end of the 2009 Ashes he has one hundred (209 against Pakistan in which he was dropped in single figures) at an average of 36.

The counter-argument to that would be that his selfless involvement in trying to arrest the losing culture in a new Australian side stopped him from spending enough time working on a batting technique that was struggling to cope with the ageing process. His supporters pointed to his gritty quarter-final hundred against India as evidence of what he could do when allowed to focus on cricket in the short term. With Sachin Tendulkar batting better than ever and a year older than Ponting, the case for allowing Ponting a chance to fulfil his wish is persuasive.

But there are other things to consider. Ponting’s hold over this Australian team has been total in recent years. In the Sydney press conferences Michael Clarke as good as admitted that Ponting had been acting as coach on top of his captaincy role (another indictment of the apparently invisible Tim Nielsen). How can a player who has exercised that much influence slip quietly into the ranks? Further to this, the distance between Ponting and some of the younger members of the Australian side was obvious during the Ashes. Respect is clearly there (at least in one direction) but camaraderie? Australia needs the Peter Siddles, the Steve Smiths and the Shane Watsons to become their new ‘guns’. Can they do this with the ghost of the past watching and judging their every move?

And what of Ponting’s relationship with Clarke – who rumours would have us believe has been attempting to undermine the man in possession in recent times. The whole thing is a right kerfuffle, stretching beyond this down to Clarke’s 26% popularity rating among the Aussie public. Having a new captain who the country’s press already hold in contempt is quite a situation. Even with the metres of negative press that have greeted England’s World Cup performances we can afford to glance down under and smile.