Review: What I love about Cricket – Sandy Balfour

Is not a cricket book. In fact, the parts about cricket are some of the more laboured ones in the book. Sandy Balfour probably has the same problem as most of us have, in that he is not able to articulate too well the deep love for cricket and his village green matches. He doesn’t do half bad with the internationals though.

However, this is a nice, well written, occasionally very-funny (in a stiff-upper-lip british way might I add ….. Balfour has left his South African past behind), sentimental (why, even maudlin at times) and slightly eccentric book about a cricket-mad father and his daughter and her skateboarder boyfriend. You will probably appreciate it more than me if you do have a daughter.

Fever Pitch this is not – as the jacket cover claims. But you don’t have to find a Fever Pitch in every personal memoir on sport. And I was not expecting a Fever Pitch when I opened this.

I rather liked the book. A pleasant, quaint, easy read, it pretty much unfolds like a test match – which is a good thing. Definitely readable. Three stars out of five.

It Never Rains: A Cricketer’s Lot

It Never Rains: A Cricketer’s Lot (George Allen and Unwin 1984), by Peter Roebuck, is a wonderful, wonderful read. Probably the best book on sports that I had read this year.

Peter Roebuck (photo courtest Cricinfo)

In fact, this is hardly a book, it’s a diary, a journal, a blog. Peter Roebuck was a player for Somerset in 1983 (and by then a senior player, a gnarled veteran of some five years in the county circuit). A top order batsman, sometimes an opener, for whom the word dour and doughty almost come as compliments, so defensive he confesses to be as a batsman, he was part of the crack Somerset team of the early eighties of Botham, Viv Richards, Garner, Vic Marks and Brian Rose. This book is a journal of Roebuck’s and Somerset’s 1983 county season, and shares wonderful stories of the life of a traveling pro cricketer, and the various characters, some legendary and some forgotten, that he shared the dressing room with.

And most of all, this is about Roebuck the man. In his present day writing, it is almost impossible to trace a hint of lack of confidence or a shadow of a doubt, in Roebuck. As a cricketer, he was hardly that. In this book, Roebuck is as finicky, over-analyzing and bewildered as a batsman could be, albeit one skilled at the art, you don’t become a pro cricketer (and a respected, almost-played-for-England one) without being quite good.

He is a brilliant analyst of people and behaviours, of course. And he writes well, his opinions are intelligent, direct and if sometimes acerbic, never anything but honest. It is indeed not (yet) the writing of one of the best cricket writer of our times as he later turned out to be, but that of a cricketer who has a talent for observation, who has top-class writing skills, who has humour by the shovelfuls, and one who does not take himself so seriously as to not to be able to laugh at himself (albeit it’s a completely different story about his batting technique and his average).

I cannot recommend this book highly enough to fellow followers of sport. Read it, it’s a joy.

Michael Vaughan – Messiah / Messmaker?

At long last, South Africa has managed to win a series in England for the first time in 43 years. Led by the clunky but combative Graeme Smith, they turned in a performance deserving of the margin. They were slow to start with; following on and somehow managing to reach close of match at Lord’s. However, as they began to improve, England’s decline started getting momentum.
 
Michael Vaughan is arguably the best England captain, but the fact is that he seems to have been captaining from memory of that summer in 2005. The Ashes was the peak of his powers, shrewd decisions timed to perfection, the consistent firepower of Simon Jones, Freddie, Hoggard, and the eternally truant Harmison, the blossoming of Pietersen, not to mention the convenient loss of form of the Australian batsmen, in particular, Damien Martyn and Adam Gilchrist. This series in particular have seen at least one minor incident that can be construed as communication gap between the selectors and the men who matter in the team (Vaughan and Moores). The whirlwind selection of Darren Pattinson over Hoggard who deserved a look-in at the very least seemed to have caught Vaughan by surprise as much as Smith and Arthur. England lost the Test at Headingley and questions were predictably raised of Pattinson’s selection, with Vaughan even dubbing it as “confused”.
 
This may be a small matter in professional sport, but when you consider momentum for winning, I believe that it could work the other way too. England had let slip the initiative at Lord’s (not to take anything from Prince’s fighting century) and were clearly outplayed at Leeds. The result: South Africa found out that their plans were working, with Dale Steyn was making Vaughan a mini-bunny (if ever there’s such a thing like that, considering that a bunny is already an urban legend in international cricket), while England were steadily slipping towards confusion and negativity.
 
Following the loss in the third Test, there were already whispers that if Vaughan didn’t quit, then he would have got the boot. This has been acknowledged by Virgil himself, when he decided to “pack it in”. His batting was woeful, he was beginning to feel the strain of that on his captaincy (putting too much pressure on KP is always counterproductive) and above all, the injury to Freddie put paid to the balance he desperately needed in his bowling lineup to rattle South Africa.
 
Considering all that, was Vaughan right in throwing the towel, with the dead Test to go at the Oval and the opportunity to go out on a pyrrhic high? There have been some voices that he was wrong in quitting when he could have left with some pride intact by motivating his team for one last hurrah. The added incentive would have been to groom KP for the role (though Strauss had a claim to captaincy, albeit his slump is worse than Vaughan’s). But English cricketers are a proud lot, and they would rather go themselves than be kicked out. And Michael Vaughan for one doesn’t want to be kicked out, for if he is and wants to think of retribution, that knee won’t be so accommodating as the English public.

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This post is by co-sports-afficionado Nearpostheader. Welcome to spamsport, Nearpostheader.

Monty, Stuart Broad and English cricket

Monty Panesar will become one of the top 3 spinners in the world someday, capable of winning matches against teams other than New Zealand and South Africa (and, ok, Pakistan, who are the archetype of blow hot, blow cold).

Stuart Broad can do the sustained Steve-Harmison-at-his-best performances consistantly, and there are good chances that he will end up with more test hundreds than Wasim Akram.

Kevin Pietersen is an idiot, a braggart, and an insensitive jerk, but he is a once-in-a-lifetime player, or atleast has the genuine potential of ending up as one.

Alistair Cook is the kind of player countries build their batting line-ups around. (Note, I am talking about test cricket here)

And yet, I am pretty sure English cricket, like English football, will never be the sustained world no 1 for any decent length of time, next decade. It’s about the lack of a positive attitude, it’s about the media, and it’s about the lack of wonderment about the game. A great English performance is more often than not, a struggle. An English team has to be 110% of the team it is playing against on that day, to have a chance of winning. While most top teams, if they are at about 95% of the other team on a day, fancy their chances. A winning attitude, a belief. That is missing.

Cometh the moment, cometh the man!

I think he is a selfish, insensitive lout, but oh yeah, is he a good batsman!

South Africa is always tricky for this ex-South African, and there would have been Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Makhaya firing in all cylinders, but he stood out, in his cocky, brash, devil-may-care way.

To survive, the game needs characters, and this man is a rare showman who can really play, and play well enough to go on and become a legend.

As if following his inspiration, Ian Bell made an even bigger hundred, and missed out on the double by a run..

But this is to Kevin Pietersen! Stud par excellence….