Twenty20 finals day is always an exciting day in the cricket calendar and this year it returns to a refurbished Edgbaston to ensure the venue fits the occasion. The new look home of Warwickshire County Cricket Club is fantastic and shows shades of the SCG in its architecture. However it is no secret that T20 cricket isn’t my favourite format of the game. I don’t dislike it, far from it, however it doesn’t beat the rigours and demands of a 5 day test match which ebbs and flows or in England’s case of late just flows and flows. India were poor in the recent test series; they (Dravid aside) showed no fight and guts when the chips were down, lacked application and showed a stubborn refusal to adapt their technique. Their bowlers aren’t great and with Zaheer out and no Haberhjan (interesting how his performance dipped when Zaheer’s absence also meant the lack of footholes and rough for him to bowl into) they struggled. However I cannot accept that the number 1 test side in the world, the world ODI champions can’t score over 300 runs in an innings – In 8 attempts. Let alone one that reads Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Dhoni – A very weak effort. Sehwag’s attitude summed it up for me; in the nets he was practicing and after 4 balls he walked out, Duncan Fletcher (India Coach) said “where are you going” , “The bowlers aren’t good enough for me” replied a nonchalant Sehwag (the man who had just got a king pair!) He then walked into a spinners net whacked two balls out of the park and said thats enough for me. Fletcher approached him and said “Aren’t you going to practice a bit more?” ”England won’t dare bowl spin at me” Sehwag retorted. V Sehwag – Bowled Swann (his next innings). It is this arrogance that the money in the IPL has brought into the game which has seen the decline in players desire to achieve in the difficult test arena. Gambhir on $1.5 million for 4 weeks work doesn’t want to be dodging bouncers in the cold English summer on pitches with a bit of movement against a hostile attack. He, along with a few other Indian players (and I include Sehwag in this) cannot be bothered to adjust their technique to cope and that is a shame. Thankfully the English players seem more grounded than this and their desire to develop their performance and win, in all formats, seems to be their primary motivation. There is no way Andy Flower would let our players get like Sehwag…but then we said the same about Duncan Fletcher. The story came from Michael Vaughan and his words speak volumes…”Fletcher has a big job controlling the Indian egos” – A team sports worst enemy. My favourite comment as so often it does, came from Geoffrey Boycott “If India were Bangladesh we would saying they shouldn’t be allowed to play test cricket!” The truth is that it wasn’t mainly down to India’s futility and poor performance, though that had a bearing, England are on fire at the moment, in their last 12 test matches their record reads 3 draws 9 wins of which 6 have been by an Innings. Impressive.
The main focus of this article is to preview finals day and in particular the impressive rise of young performers via the shop window of T20 cricket. The Friends Provident competition is often seen by counties as a good arena to try out a few youngsters for example Durham’s Scott Borthwick, a recent graduate into the ODI team, made his debut in the 20/20 format. This season some of the stand out performers have been young inexperienced players shining in the T20, James Vince and Danny Briggs have impressed for Hampshire, Roy and Ansari at Surrey also look good prospects. However no county have been quite so forward thinking in showing faith in their youth as Somerset and the new kids on the block have not let their county down. Quite the opposite actually; Buttler, Meschede, Gregory, Kieswetter and Waller have all been given their opportunities and performed with aplomb. In the case of Craig Kieswetter he has taken his performances onto the international stage winning the 20/20 world cup as well as establishing himself as England’s premier Wicketkeeper in limited overs cricket. Somerset are a progressive and forward thinking county, in Trescothick they have a captain with a wealth of experience and their ground is a batsman’s paradise, proving an ideal breeding ground for some of the games most exciting prospects. However it is my contention that their success is down to more than just these factors. The standard of local schools in Taunton (and in the surrounding areas) is astounding. By standard I am referring to the quality of sports provision; Taunton is blessed with 3 independent schools that have facilities, coaching and infrastructure that some international sides would envy. Kings, Taunton School and Queens are all located within 2 miles of each other yet each has magnificent grounds, top class facilities and a commitment to developing high class sports performers. Add to this mix Wellington school 6 miles away and Millfield 15 miles away, competition is intense. There are also 5 state schools within a 10 mile radius of these schools where, should they wish, the Independent schools can offer scholarships to talented youngsters in need of a more intense sporting programme to achieve their potnential in sport, something that isn’t feasible with the 2 hours a week PE a standard state school offers. Taunton is well prepared and well equipped to excel in sport and subsequently does so.
Leading the way in Cricketing terms appears to be Kings College on the East side of the Town. Under the stewardship of Director of Cricket Phil Lewis, Kings have developed a very strong production line of exceptional cricketers. Least well known is talented youngster Alex Barrow who has been in fine form this season for Somerset second XI and England under 19′s. Barrow (aged 15) and Buttler (aged 17) actually share the national schools record partnership of 340 off 49 overs (Buttler 227*)! It is however some of Taunton’s newest stars who have captured the imagination of Somerset cricket goers young and old. Craig Meschede is an exciting all rounder who bowls a heavy ball and has shown he can be explosive with the bat. A strike rate of 128.00 and an excellent 53 against Glamorgan illustrate he is capable with the bat, and with the ball his maiden First class wicket was Sachin Tendulkar! Need I say more, he is one to watch for the future.
On the more recent horizon; Craig Kieswetter (Millfield) and Jos Buttler (Kings) have been two of the highest profile players to come through the Somerset system of late. Ironically Buttler has developed more as a result of Kieswetter’s success. The more times Kieswetter spends away from Somerset the more chance Buttler has got to display his talents. In fact he has made such an impression that when Kieswetter is back Buttler retains his place as a specialist batsman. Kieswetter’s meteroric rise has seen him overlooked somewhat as a fans favourite and it is Buttler who all the kids around Taunton idolise; Buttler has quickly become the apple of the eye of all Somerset fans and it is clear to see why. Born, raised and educated in Taunton Jos Buttler is an illustration of what can be achieved by hard work and dedication coupled with the right support and guidance. ”Jos was exceptionally hard working in training and used every opportunity on and off the field to improve his knowledge of the game” commented Phil Lewis, Buttler’s Coach at Kings. Buttler made his T20 debut in India of all places facing Brett Lee and Doug Bollinger in the Champions league of cricket – the Somerset coaches must have a lot of faith in their man to throw him into this game on his debut! David Lloyd is also a huge admirer, often championing Buttler for England honours and I suspect it won’t be long before he breaks through in one of the shorter formats.
Buttler’s strike rate is nearly 150 in both the 40 over and 20/20 formats illustrating he is a batsman who can change a game in a few destructive overs. An average of nearly 70 in the 40 over game is highly impressive as is his average of 25 in the 20/20. Most counties would love a young player with stats like these, in fact any player with stats like these. Lewis considers the attacking style of Buttler and Meschede as their real strength “They are both naturally aggressive players and it is great to see this continue whenever they play for Somerset” says Lewis who must take some credit for instilling a positive mentality, a clean striking technique and belief in their own aggressive nature. In contrast, Buttler’s most impressive knock for me was his 100 against Sussex. Coming in when Somerset were in the mire at 54-5 he played an accomplished knock that saw the big shots, at the right times. This is key for Buttler, he has such a talent and it was great to see when things got tough he ground it out before freeing his arms to fire an 112 ball century with 11 fours and 4 sixes. He turned the game on his head and Somerset won. He clearly cherished this moment and was obviously nervous spending nearly half an hour on 99 before indicating his sheer joy when reaching three figures. He has a bright future in all formats.
With the Kings college production line now in full swing Somerset must be licking their lips at the prospect of potential new recruits in the future, as I commented before, the local schools are providing such a strong foundation in terms of cricket that these performers are arriving at the County stage ready and raring to hit the floor running. No longer do cricketers have to adopt the A-levels, University route. Students are leaving these independent schools well rounded and well educated but at a level of competence which means they pursue their sporting career over academia. This obviously doesn’t work for everyone and many players flourish in the university game and develop their abilities much later, but in Somerset the policy seems to be; if you are good enough you are old enough and the gamble seems to be paying off. Jos Buttler is regarded as a really good lad on the circuit and it is his likeable personality, grounded nature and passion for his home county that is the cornerstone for his popularity amongst the Somerset faithful. All kids want to be Jos Buttler, which proves everyone loves a local hero.
The 20/20 finals see the two favourites clash in the Semi-Finals and I expect Edgbaston to have prepared more of a seaming wicket rather than a spinning one. England wanted bouncy pitches for the test matches and the lack of sunshine will mean the pitches will be anything but dry. This will nullify Hampshire’s t20 strength and I expect Somerset to qualify and win the final gaining revenge for their unlucky defeat last year. Mcdonald is a real danger for Leicestershire but I don’t expect either of the Northern sides to get the better of their Southern counterparts. Somerset’s batting attack is frightening with strength in depth and some power hitters throughout. Khartik and Thomas are excellent t20 bowlers and I don’t think any team match up anywhere near as strong. 2/1 is well worth a few quid and if they win the semi final they can easily be layed at odds on. Other special bets of note: Ladbrokes are offering 16/1 that someone scores a century. 6 innings represents 6 shots at this bet. As it does with the 12/1 offered against a 5 wicket haul. Kieron Pollard is 5/2 to be top Somerset 6 hitter and with his track record that looks a bet too.
3pts – Somerset to win T20 finals day @ 2/1 – General
1pt e/w Jos Buttler to be top run scorer @ 20/1 (Victor Chandler)
1pt Century to be scored @ 16/1 (Ladbrokes)
2pts Five wicket haul @ 12/1
1pt Pollard top 6′s for Somerset @ 5/2
Footnote: When writing the article Jos Buttler was not selected for England. However upon publishing the article nearly 20 minutes later it was announced Buttler is to join up with the England T20 team to face India on Wednesday at Old Trafford.
Regular readers of the blog will have got on Green Destiny yesterday who won well at York at a nice price of 11/2. I didn’t get round to writing yesterday but this is a horse I have constantly gone on about and hopefully some people cashed in. My other bet of yesterday was Prohibit a horse tipped up here to win the Kings Stand at Royal Ascot. He duly obliged at 14/1 and after that success was still 10/1 to win yesterday. He ran a brave race in third and because he is from an unfashionable stable he is constantly double figure prices despite proving he is one of the best 5f sprinters around, keep your eyes peeled for his next run, he may go over to Meydan for the Dubai season.
Anyway the final day of the Ebor meeting is as intriguing as ever and I begin my preview with a look at the feature race, the Ebor itself. Eboracum is the name the Romans gave for York when they conquered England. This famous handicap is named after the city that hosts it and so we get the Ebor handicap ran over 1 mile and 6f. My thought process here is a horse needs to stay the trip. There are only two horses in the race who have won over this trip which means there is a lot of guess work involved. Read More…
The Ebor meeting is a real cracker and this year for the first time we see the feature Ebor Handicap succumb to popular demand and take its place on Saturday’s card rather than its usual weekday slot. This is an illustration of the drive for change in racing mainly in pursuit of new sponsors and more racegoers. In such circumstances I would use the phrases “sell out” or “disregarding traditions” however in difficult economic times it is pleasing to see racing is forward thinking and practical even at the price of a bit of romanticism. Read More…
The Premiership all set to fishhook us back into the world of Football – FIFA will be proud…. SL previews the new season
With the recent riots about as welcome as Rudi Voeller in a Dutch dressing room , the premiership season gets underway this weekend with some of the worlds greatest players returning to action along with a whole host of average ones.
In previewing a season the hardest thing to gauge is how strong the promoted clubs are. Blackpool last year, dead certs for relegation drubbed Wigan on the opening day. their season was turbulent and they did end up dropping. This illustrates the value of punting early as a topsy turvy season can cause prices to shift quite dramatically. I am going to ignore the promoted clubs as they are all odds on and can back them at that price are seeing how poor they really are (or are not). I think Swansea will struggle but I think the two that might go with them may already be established in the prem. Blackburn are my first pick. Their form in 2011 was worse than all those clubs relegated. This sort of form would send any manager to the slaughter house and I expect Blackburns owners to have wrung Steve Keen’s neck by christmas leaving the Scotsman to run around heedlessly before returning to being a number 2 somewhere. Keen is favourite to be sacked first, yet Blackburn with Coral are 10/3 to be relegated. I think this is a good price – especially as their squad is getting thinner by the day and they may lose Samba (which I suspect they won’t now). Read More…
What do Darren Clarke and Charl Schwartzel have in common? Both have won majors this year…true , both are represented by Chubby Chandler (major winning extraordinaire) … also true, however what is also interesting is that both players were tipped up by Sports Leviathan’s newest contributor at huge odds. In the case of Darren Clarke recently one website quoted that “nobody would have picked Clarke pre tournament” but that is exactly what Apollo did and then went on to hammer the bookies with a follow up win on Simon Dyson in the Irish Open. Named after the God of the Sun lets hope Apollo can shine some light onto the fourth and final Major of the golfing season. Read More…