Lancashire: Hail to the Hogg

If Lancashire and Peter Moores want to find a way to make that elusive title victory a reality then they could do a lot worse than find a means of extending Kyle Hogg’s purple patch after the Lancashire bowler again wreaked havoc upon an unsuspecting county batting line-up. It has been an unlikely, and welcome, coming of age for a bowler who has always appeared to boast great promise without delivering conclusive results. Indeed, such was his promise that it once was Hogg who appeared to be destined for greatness alongside his County compatriot James Anderson back in 2003 when on the back of a decent performance in the under-19 World Cup and some promising form for Lancashire he was named in England’s provisional World Cup squad. Yet while Anderson made the grade and promptly went on to put in some eye-catching performances, Hogg was dispatched back to Lancashire where he not so much fell off the radar as disappeared from it altogether.

Injuries haven’t helped, and he has had more than his fair share of them over the years, nor has the competition for places among the burgeoning numbers of seam bowlers at Lancashire which has often meant he has struggled to get into the County Championship line-up which means he has often struggled to put together a consistent run of form and has meant that he has only featured in 69 games, hardly the number of games of someone who has been in first class cricket for almost a decade. Yet this season has not been so much a renaissance as a reminder of what he can do. While he has never had express pace, he always been lively and like most Lancashire pace bowlers he is adept at making the most of conditions when they suit. Though he has never quite mastered the art of orthodox or reverse swing like an Anderson, or boasted the miserly economy of an Chapple though few do.

But as he has shown this season, when he hits his straps he can be a match-winner. 29 wickets in 5 games at an average of nigh on 15 is an eye-catching return for someone who has never really been trusted in first class cricket, while his haul against Hampshire: 7-28 and 4-31 gave him the best figures of the season so far with 11-59, it was symbolic that his seven wicket haul was the first time since 2002 he had taken five or more wickets in an innings in first class cricket. His latest efforts of 5-62 against Yorkshire were probably more important given the status of the opponents and had he not taken quite such damage from the tail enders then he could have easily have had figures to match those he scored against Hampshire.

Admittedly he was as much as fault for Lancashire letting Yorkshire get off the hook as any of their bowlers this was still a hugely successful, and symbolic performance for a bowler who has stuck with Lancashire despite the possibilities of better chances elsewhere. For this has been the season which has been so much of a renaissance for Hogg, than a reminder of what he could have been but for his cursed luck with form and fitness and perhaps a sign that there may be better things yet to come for him.

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The IPL Auction: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

For the purists the IPL is the work of cricket’s version is an evil, a Twenty20 cashcow corrupting the purer form of the game. Yet look beyond the hyperbole (which the IPL does very well) and there is something about it, a strange alluring attraction of seeing the world’s best players congregated together.

Nothing is more attractive than seeing the world’s best players being valued and sold off to the highest bidder at will. It is a means of quantifying value and skill-something normally measured purely by runs and wickets.

Meanwhile it also throws up the intriguing prospect of spicy encounters ensuing, Shane Warne and Paul Collingwood or Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds will certainly enjoy sharing dressing rooms.

So here’s a look at the IPL auction and those who could prove value for money, those that probably won’t and those who probably never would have in the first place.

The Hits

Shakib Ul-Hasan ($425,000: Kolkata Knight Riders)

The world’s best all-rounder according to ICC and a steal at that price. Capable spinner, capable batsmen and a proven international who has been pivotal in Bangladesh’s recent resurgence. This could be the tournament which catapults him onto the world stage.

Davy Jacobs ($190,000: Mumbai Indians)

Proven T20 performer with the Warriors and an explosive opening batsman who showed his capability in last year’s Champions League. With other big hitters fetching top dollar, the South African could prove to be a steal at that price.

Aaron Finch ($300,000: Delhi Daredevils)

About to make his Australia T20 debut and you can be sure that his value will skyrocket if he performs well. Delhi will be delighted to have snapped him up before he can showcase his talents.

Eoin Morgan ($350,000: Kolkata Knight Riders)

Before Morgan came along England were mere Twenty20 contenders but now they are world champions thanks in no small part to the wristy Irish genius. Hits the ball in unusual areas-a nightmare for opposing captains-and a brilliant finisher in all forms of the game who any team would want coming in at two or three wickets down.

JP Duminy ($300,000: Deccan Chargers)

A surprise, mainly that he went for such a low price. After fetching $950,000 previously it’s a surprise to see his value drop so far. Sure his recent international form has been disappointing but he’s a class act capable of exploding with the bat in long or short form and a superb fielder to boot.

The Misses

Johan Botha ($950,000: Rajasthan Royals)

So much for a consistent if unspectacular off-spinner. A solid performer, capable of hitting lower order runs and fielding well to boot but it’ll be intriguing to see whether he can live up to the price tag.

Adam Gilchrist ($900,000: Kings XI Punjab)

The guy’s a bona fide legend and a one-time explosive batsmen. Sad thing is that those times were probably four or five years ago. Averaged only 30 in the English T20 season for Middlesex so why, bar experience and leadership qualities and his name, he is worth so much is head scratchingly mystifying.

Robin Uthappa ($2.1 million: Pune Warriors)

On his day he’s a match-winner, but for that price you could pick up a Dwayne Bravo, Graeme Smith, Ishant Sharma and Michael Hussey. Has much to prove and obviously has the talent to perform but does he have the consistency to justify that price tag?

Subramaniam Badrinath ($850,000: Chennai Super Kings)

A run-scorer for sure, and a good one at that. But he has precious little in the way of Twenty20 pedigree and lacks the explosive ability of say Kieron Pollard or AB De Villiers who fetched a similar price.

Ravindra Jadeja ($950,000: Kochi)

The very definition of a bits and pieces player, a decent batsmen and a decent spinner but he scarcely does both facets to be a match-winner which at that price he’d need to be. With Jayawardene and Muralitheran purchased at higher prices by the Kochi franchise it seems they have bought him to support both, but have they paid too much for a utility man?

The Ugly

Brian Lara (Unsold)

Quite what a 41 year old who has been retired from the international game for 4 years and who recently flopped on his comeback in Zimbabwe was expecting is up for debate. His continued presence in the contest was a surprise, and perhaps now it’s time the legend started looking at that great cricketing gig in the sky.

Graeme Swann (Unsold)

Pure English politik. Indian teams were worried about his involvement, though that didn’t stop the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad getting snapped up. Rumours of a lack of a doosra or mystery seem slightly mystifying given that he has risen to the pinnacle of the game using his own method of spin bowling magic.

Tamim Iqbal (Unsold)

The next Sehwag according to some. His absence is a loss for the tournament, as he’ll probably go on and become a star over the next 12 months and have people begging for him to come back next year.

Jesse Ryder (Unsold)

An explosive batsmen, capable bowler and by all accounts readily available for service. His inability to find suitors is frankly bizarre, especially given that he has recently excelled on the sub-continent with New Zealand.

James Anderson (Unsold)

The second best fast bowler in the world behind Dale Steyn who cost $1.2 million, and a recent Ashes winner and match winner to boot. Another capable performer who is a real victim of English politik. While he lacks the versatility with the ball in the shorter form as his team-mate Broad, as he’s recently shown he’s in the prime of his life and would have been a real asset to any team.

The Ashes: James Anderson arrives in Australia

It’s far to say Australia haven’t taken to James Anderson. He is, as Justin Langer once put it, seen as a bit of a “pussy”.

The tag has become tiresome, and thoroughly outdated. Anderson is a man of many caps-which is understandable given the length of his career to date.But now he’s found one that fits: leader of the attack, all-round experienced international cricketer, the fast-bowling fielder in the world and not to mention a bloody good pace bowler. Not to mention a suitable foil for Graeme Swann’s antics.

He is now, a genuinely challenging bowler, not just in home conditions where he so often thrives, but now away from the swinging green tops where he thrives.

As Australia found out today, the boy who they dismantled with relative ease has become a man. Someone who can keep it tight, consistent and also deliver the odd dream delivery.

This is an important tour for Anderson, his nightmare record in the country is revisited time and time again-the average over 80, the whitewash of 06/07.

Despite excelling over the past year-54 wickets since the tour of South Africa began at a shade over 25-there remained some questioning over his ability to perform in these conditions.

In many ways Australia remains the last real frontier for Anderson to conquer. He has proved himself the world over, but English cricket tends to define itself by the Ashes.

In that regard Anderson has missed out on a real opportunity to write his name in gold. In 2005 he was horribly out of form and on the fringes, in 2006/07 he shouldn’t have been there as he was undercooked and unsteady with an action being messed around more times than Cheryl Cole in the days of Cashley, and in 09/10 a certain Andrew Flintoff and Jimmy’s good mate Stuart Broad stole the show.

Now, in the country which has traditionally been a graveyard for some of the good and the great English fast bowlers, Anderson is showing exactly what he’s made of.

Credit must go to his coach Andy Flower, and of course the influence of David Saker, but also to Flower’s predecessor Peter Moores, who first took a chance on Anderson and made him a cornerstone of England’s attack. It was a landmark moment in his career, and from then he has rarely looked back.

For a player who has been around for a long time, now he has an opportunity to achieve something remarkable, dominance in a country which has seldom been tamed by either bowlers or teams in over two decades.

Though it is still early on the tour, the signs in the two Tests so far are promising, and should his form continue, he could write his name into Ashes and English cricket history.

While many in Australia may continue to have their doubts, they can be certain that the Anderson of this series is a totally different beast to the one they met before. The ‘pussy’ is no longer about, but Jimmy Anderson has certainly arrived.

Pack mentality allows England’s bowlers to thrive in hunt against Pakistan

As Pakistan subsided to their lowest score in a Test Match against England, the sense of inevitability about it all was rather depressing.

Like they had in the series against Australia and at Trent Bridge the Pakistan batting line-up collapsed like a house of cards. Once the opener’s go, no-one has the application necessary to hold out against the swinging ball.

The steady stream of outside edges which flew to the England close fielders were mere catching practice for a slip cordon who are steadily growing into one of the finest in the world under the tutelage of Richard Halsall.

Yet while the inadequacies of the Pakistan batsmen have been the subject of plenty of column inches and TV coverage, credit where credit is due to the England bowlers.

In these conditions these bowlers are in their element, led by James Anderson who is arguably bowling as well as he ever has.

Certainly yesterday with both in and outswing he was too much for the beleaguered batsmen, as his career test bowling average now stands at it’s lowest point since 2003 after picking up 4-20 on the back of his 11 match haul at Trent Bridge.

But while Anderson’s performances in these elements are fast becoming expected, the form of his two young sidekicks Broad and Finn are further reasons for optimism.

Broad in particular bowled his best spell in England since his series defining 5-37 against Australia, picking up 4-38 with a wonderfully spell of line and length bowling, no doubt remembering his recent 11 wicket haul for Nottinghamshire at this ground.

And then there was Finn, though the junior figure in terms of experience and figures of 2-10, his obvious qualities of immaculate line and length, good pace and height suggest that should he stay fit he can be an England Test bowler for many years to come.

Few bowlers can have caused such a stir so quickly, though bigger tests in Australia will lie ahead.

The exciting prospect for England is that Finn does not appear to shy away from any challenge. Plus a healthy sense of common sense, perhaps drummed into him by his mentor Angus Fraser, will not go amiss on the flat pitches of Australia if they are not needed in conditions such as those at Edgbaston yesterday.

Perhaps the key point for this England bowling attack though lies not in the wickets, but the performances together. The last England attack to operate as a unit were that wonderful attack in 2005, and the signs are that a similar rapport is being built up between the three quick bowlers and Graeme Swann in support.

Plus the different ingredients, Anderson with his swing, Broad his line and length and Finn his height make for a potent and challenging attack working in tandem.

Credit too must go to David Saker, England’s new bowling coach who is clearly having a real impact on this attack. Though more a coach of people than of their art, Saker encourages his bowlers to think on their feet and work as a unit. Such qualities are likely to appeal to a group of bowlers who are also not short on brain power.

There will be harder days to come, and certainly the debate about whether England should stick with a four or five-man attack will go on. So too is the desire to inject real pace into this attack-probably the missing ingredient, meaning the likes of Ajmal Shahzad and Graham Onions will come into contention.

Though whatever the changes both in shape and personnel, the key for England will be to retain the focus on the bowlers hunting in a pack. Because as Pakistan found out yesterday, England’s bowling attack is at it’s best when working in tandem.