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Author Archive for Gary Naylor

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County cricket talking points: Olly Stone deserves an England call-up

The Warwickshire bowler was brilliant against Sussex in the first week of the season. Why not play him against Pakistan?By Gary Naylor for the 99.94 Cricket BlogWarwickshire’s Olly Stone is the fastest English bowler right now – and probably the fastes…

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County cricket talking points: six questions before the new season

Essex are defending champions and Middlesex are aiming to return to the top flight. Will we witness an historic summer?By Gary Naylor for the 99.94 Cricket BlogApart from 1947’s Denis Compton inspired sun-soaked, run-soaked season, perhaps every spring…

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The art of watching dull cricket

Do you ever find yourself bored by too few (or too many) runs? Here is a handy guide to keep yourself entertained in those uneventful stretchesBy Gary Naylor for the 99.94 Cricket Blog, part of the Guardian Sport NetworkIf the Big Bash League isn’t you…

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Three memories of cricket in 2017

Continuing on from his reviews of 2014, 2015 and 2016, Gary picks out a few moments to savour from 2017 – including an all-time great batting performanceBy Gary Naylor for the 99.94 Cricket Blog, part of the Guardian Sport NetworkThe three moments belo…

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Steve Smith: the man who hides his genius in plain sight

Steve Smith is no longer vying to be saluted as the best batsman in the world. His challenge is now to be recognised as the second best batsman in historyBy Gary Naylor for the 99.94 Cricket Blog, part of the Guardian Sport NetworkI was at Lord’s in 20…

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The five county cricketers of the year

It’s time to salute the County Championship’s standout players this season: Kumar Sangakkara, Alex Hales, Alex Davies, Jamie Porter and Simon Harmer

• Fans from all 18 counties review the year
Will Macpherson’s verdict on the season

By Gary Naylor for the 99.94 Cricket Blog, part of the Guardian Sport Network

It was said that Barry Richards, his career coinciding with South Africa’s isolation, became bored with batting that notch below international as it came so easily to him. Well, it can’t have come much more easily to the South African champion than it came to Kumar Sangakkara, an all-time great of the game, whose powers, at almost 40 and in his last season of first-class cricket, seem not so much undiminished, as enhanced.

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County cricket talking points: Essex are still unbeaten with one game to play

The side that won promotion a year ago and won the title a fortnight ago looked as if they would suffer their first defeat of the season. But they just keep winning

By Gary Naylor for the 99.94 Cricket Blog, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Whenever the scoreboard ticked over to 76, the late Brian Johnston would announce that it was “Trombone Time”, so how he would have enjoyed Essex’s win over Hampshire at the Rose Bowl. The hosts’ Aussie captain, George Bailey, un-Pontingly enforced the follow-on after the wheels had finally come off in the champions-elects’ annus mirabilis, dismissed for 76 in their first dig. Cue 20-year-old Dan Lawrence’s century, backed up by the old hands, James Foster and Neil Wagner, who posted 82 for the ninth wicket to set an awkward fourth-day target of 185 for a suddenly nervy and much-needed win. The victory fanfares were soon blaring again for Essex, as Sam Cook led the attack with 5-18 to despatch Hampshire for (you guessed it), 76 stretching Essex’s lead at the top of the table to 69 points. They’re just trolling their opponents now.

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County cricket talking points: Imran Tahir proves worth and Adam Lyth revitalised by record

Derbyshire reach T20 Blast quarter-finals while Yorkshire miss out despite a milestone but can separation by net run rate be made less opaque?

By Gary Naylor for the 99.94 Cricket Blog, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Fifteen of 18 counties eyed scoreboards anxiously on the last day of the T20 Blast group stages as, after all those weeks of matches, only three (including Durham) had no chance of making the quarter-finals. Is that a testimony to the competitiveness of the format or a condemnation of the foolishness of hijacking high summer for a lot of sound and fury that ultimately signified nothing? Soon we will have two chances to consider that conundrum. Leicestershire won’t be too bothered about such musings as they secured their spot in the last eight with a victory over the team of the season (so far) Nottinghamshire, who had already topped the North Group. The most fantastic Mr Foxes proved to be Cameron Delport and Matt Pillans, the former making a century, the latter defending seven off the last over. Both are South African-born, somewhat nondescript (for this level) players, whose faces will not be screaming out of the knockout stages marketing posters. Good on them but also, I’m afraid, as the young people say, meh.

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County cricket talking points: Ross Whiteley hits six sixes … and loses

Ross Whiteley scored 37 in one over for Worcestershire but David Willey’s 118 helped Yorkshire win the match and climb to the top of their T20 Blast group

By Gary Naylor for the 99.94 Cricket Blog, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Kevin Pietersen’s Surrey (see what I did there) top the South Group after a couple of strange matches at The Oval. On Wednesday, a raucous (but not too raucous) capacity crowd saw him almost single-handedly get Surrey up to 150, a score that proved good enough on a slow pitch exploited with Yorkshire nous by Gareth Batty, whose four overs brought him 2-19. But back to Pietersen, as always seems to be the case. Having been badly dropped at cow corner by Dan Lawrence and “running” like a stiff Alastair Cook, he appeared to decide to hit sixes and five of the match’s eight flew off his bat. In more ways than one, he played like a right-handed version of Chris Gayle – whether that is a good look these days remains to be seen. It worked in this match, no other batsman crossing 30, as Essex fell 11 short of their target.

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County cricket talking points: Essex lead Lancashire as season hits halfway point

Six observations from the week’s action, including praise for Simon Harmer, Dane Vilas, Paul Stirling, Samit Patel, Joe Clarke and Barry McCarthy

By Gary Naylor for the 99.94 Cricket Blog, part of the Guardian Sport Network

At the halfway point of the season, Essex are top of Division One. Even with Alastair Cook available, few expected that sentence to be written when Ryan ten Doeschate’s side planned this season, back in the top flight and without the services of old pros Graham Napier and David Masters. But the batting keeps coming at you – nine centuries shared between six batsmen in seven matches, the latest from Ravi Bopara (192) and James Foster (121) setting up the win over sorry Warwickshire, rock bottom and 40 points from safety. It’s a different story among the bowlers though, with just three crossing double figures for wickets in 2017: Jamie Porter (31); Neil Wagner (23) and Simon Harmer (33). The South African off-spinner relished the heat at Chelmsford, setting records with match figures of 66–24–128–14, proving that not every Kolpak is focused on the pound-rand exchange rate.

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County cricket talking points: Kumar Sangakkara’s season average hits 109.50

Sangakkara has now hit 876 runs this season; Somerset need to wake up; Kent have to be more ruthless; and Paul Collingwood’s declaration deserves an ovation

By Gary Naylor for the 99.94 Cricket Blog, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Essex and Surrey started their match separated by one point at the top of Division One and finished it in identical shape, the draw not really helping either in a tight race for the pennant. Inevitably, Surrey were indebted to Kumar Sangakkara, who “failed” in his bid for six consecutive centuries, falling for 86 as the match meandered to a draw on the last afternoon. Having registered a round 200 in the first dig, the ageless Sir Lankan scored 47% of Surrey’s runs off the bat, but will have to wait for that hundredth senior hundred. He has now scored 876 runs for Surrey this season at an average of 109.50 – so one suspects he will not be waiting for very long. Contributions were more spread among the Essex players, but teenager Dan Lawrence caught the eye again with a ton. He, like fellow teen Sam Curran (who made 90 in Surrey’s first dig), can only learn from the honour of sharing a cricket field with an all-time great of the game.

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County cricket talking points: Kumar Sangakkara eyes a century of centuries

Kumar Sangakkara hit two brilliant centuries for Surrey against Middlesex over the weekend. If he does retire at the end of the season, he is going out in style

By Gary Naylor for the 99.94 Cricket Blog, part of the Guardian Sport Network

The early abandonment at Wantage Road handed Nottinghamshire the point they needed to join Worcestershire and Yorkshire in progressing from the North Group of the Royal London One-Day Cup. It also took the wind out of the sails of Durham, Leicestershire and Lancashire, all of whom might have squeaked in as the last round of matches started. It’ll be scant consolation for him, but Lanky’s Jordan Clark ended the group stage with the best strike rate of batsman scoring over 250 runs (143), a sentiment that might be shared by rock-bottom Warwickshire’s veteran spinner, Jeetan Patel, whose economy rate of 5.12 was the lowest among bowlers taking at least 10 wickets.

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County cricket talking points: the schedule for the season is daft

Just as momentum and interest were building, the County Championship season took a break – and missed out on big crowds over the bank holiday

By Gary Naylor for the 99.94 Cricket Blog, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Just when the County Championship narrative began to build with a logjam at the top of Division One, with Gary Ballance and Darren Stevens adding personal stories to colour the picture, cricket shifts to its white ball format – of course it does. At least the Royal London One-Day Cup got off to a spectacular start with an early contender for innings of the season. After Ben Foakes’s 92 had lifted Surrey to a competitive 290, Somerset collapsed to 22-5, the swing of Jade Dernbach (remember him?) and Sam Curran too much for the experienced top order. Dean Elgar – a very classy operator these days – was joined by fellow South African, Roelof van der Merwe and the long reconstruction job began. While the Test man dug in, the all-rounder chanced his arm and the runs kept coming, but the wickets didn’t. Elgar departed with the stand worth 213, but Van der Merwe only walked off when the job was done, his share 165.

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County cricket talking points: early form suggests we are in for a cracking season

Five of the eight teams in Division One have won one of their three matches so far. With teams taking points off each other, we may see another final-day thriller

By Gary Naylor for the 99.94 Cricket Blog, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Five of Division One’s eight teams have “played three, won one” in what is shaping up to be a tight race for the pennant after last year’s final-day thriller. Surrey lead due to bonus points, having run into a Warwickshire side displaying more backbone that has hitherto been discernible this season. After Ian Westwood’s first dig of the season saw him anchor a competitive total of 332, the home side looked on as Mark Stoneman and Kumar Sangakkara made centuries to secure a handy lead of 105 for Surrey. But Warwickshire were in no mood to capitulate and, building on the morale fostered by taking the last five wickets for 43 runs, Ian Bell’s men batted out 123 overs for the draw, the captain making 99, Tim Ambrose 85 and the always admirable Keith Barker adding 70*. It’s a start for Warwickshire, but Surrey will worry that without Mark Footitt’s cutting edge – he was hampered by injury and out of sorts on the fourth day – they lack the firepower required to turn draws into wins.

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County cricket talking points: Surrey top the table but it’s not an even playing field

Pre-season punishments have made the season unnecessarily complicated; Mark Footitt impressed for Surrey; and Dan Lawrence is one to watch at Essex

By Gary Naylor for the 99.94 Cricket Blog, part of the Guardian Sport Network

So, eight teams in the top flight, 10 teams in the lower: but 14 matches for each. Durham, having finished fourth in Division One last season, start this season in Division Two on -48 points with Leicestershire on -16 points, a penalty prompted by an offence committed in a university match. This just isn’t acceptable. The game is complicated enough – it’s one reason why we love it – but how is anyone, casual observer or avid fan, supposed to keep up with it all? Durham deserved some punishment (and, by God, did they get it) and Leicestershire’s disciplinary rap sheet is deeply unimpressive, but points should be won and lost on the field by scoring runs and taking wickets. You don’t have to employ the imagination of the Marquis de Sade to find sanctions that retain sporting competitions’ fundamental integrity. But, you know, county cricket, eh? Never easy, is it?

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In defence of the 48-team World Cup

The World Cup is for the whole world, so why not invite more guests to the party?

• Fans from 48 countries react to the 48-team format

By Gary Naylor for the 99.94 Blog, part of the Guardian Sport Network

What’s a World Cup for? To make money and give the elite (who aren’t getting a good press anywhere) the chance to fly around the world in first class, drinking Dom Perignon champagne from golden goblets. But it’s also for the “world” (the clue’s in the name), so it strikes me as a good idea to invite as many guests as one can – within reason.

A lot of the sniping and snarling that has greeted Fifa’s decision to expand the World Cup looks like the media bemoaning the “research” they will have to do to write all of those “10 players to watch” listicles that will appear as soon as the 2022 shebang has finished. There are genuine concerns about a bloated competition – the matches splattered like a Jackson Pollock painting superimposed on a 2026 calendar – but, heavens above, Fifa have actually thought it through and devised an intriguing plan that preserves the current 32-day schedule. There will be 80 matches rather than 64, but is having 16 more games once every four years really too much to bear? If we can stomach the Europa League, surely we can survive a few more World Cup games. You don’t have to watch all of them, you know.

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Three memories of cricket in 2016

Following on from his memories of 2014 and 2015, Gary looks back on 2016 and celebrates a deserved century, a bewildering delivery and 10 press-ups

By Gary Naylor for the 99.94 Cricket Blog, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Cricket can seem very distant when you’re sitting on a train chugging through the white forests of Scandinavia, especially when the broadband connection is up and down and only strong enough for a text service anyway. But England really did have 500, Ben Stokes really did have 200 and Jonny Bairstow really was 95 not out in the heat and sunshine of Cape Town as lunch was taken on Day Two of the second Test.

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India 4-0 England: report cards for every player involved in the Test series

Virat Kohli led India to a resounding 4-0 victory but there were some bright spots for England, most notably the emergence of teenager Haseeb Hameed By Gary Naylor for the 99.94 Cricket Blog, part of the Guardian Sport NetworkAlastair Cook (369 runs at…

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Great cricket innings that didn’t make it to 50

A batsman doesn’t have to hit a century (or half-century) to do his job. Which performances made more of an impression on you than the scoreboard?

These days, if a batsman makes a century, joy is unconfined, with many taking their cue from Peter Griffin’s celebration of his touchdown for the New England Patriots to punch the air, confirm their religion or, with great wit, drop and give me 10. The half-century is greeted with a little more restraint, with the bat raised and the applause acknowledged. But what about those innings that terminate before even that opportunity arises? What are the great innings under 50? Here are three I saw – you may have your own favourites.

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England in Bangladesh: report cards for the players who drew the Test series

England won the first Test and Bangladesh won the second as Alastair Cook struggled for a plan, Steven Finn toiled and Gary Ballance seemed anxious

By Gary Naylor for the 99.94 Cricket Blog, part of the Guardian Sport Network

With his record on the subcontinent, not many would have predicted that England’s captain would be dismissed three times by a teenager, but Mehedi Hasan’s impeccable line and length on “spin or skid” pitches proved too much, even for Cook. There were signs that he was finding his celebrated batting rhythm in the second innings at Dhaka, when the four balls went to the boundary and his strike rotating pushes and prods kept the scoreboard moving. As captain, he never seemed to know quite what to do with his bowlers, for whom he needed a couple more fielders due to their inability to bowl one side of the wicket. He was clearly dissatisfied with his spinners but was curiously reluctant to go to Chris Woakes, who bowled just 25 overs in the series at an economy rate well under three.

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