One to Watch: The one and only Chesney Hughes

The one and only: Chesney Hughes

With a name that’s a headline writers dream, Chesney Hughes has slowly been carving out a fine reputation for himself in domestic cricket, both at home in the West Indies and in England with Derbyshire.

The name may sound like ‘The One and Only’ singer Chesney Hawkes, but Hughes is definitely doing his bit to make his name stand out in its own right.

Born in Anguilla, one of the Northern, he quickly caught the eye-turning out for the Island at 15 and the West Indies u19 team at 16, but it was in the distinctly unexotic location of Fleetwood in Lancashire where he was spotted by former Hampshire bowler Cardigan Connor.

It was Connor who tipped off John Morris, director of cricket at Derbyshire, to him and after a successful trial he was snapped up, and he quickly repaid the faith shown in him by taking to County Cricket like a duck to water.

His debut was memorable, faring better than his more experienced team-mates to score 41 against a strong Middlesex attack including internationals Iain O’Brien and Steven Finn. 15 days later, he achieved a more memorable feat, scoring his maiden first class century against Gloucestershire, in only his fifth first class innings.

By the end of the summer, he added a 156 scored against Northamptonshire to his list of centuries, and finished his debut season with 784 Championship runs at an average of 41, and 422 Limited Overs runs at an average of 35.

Now playing for the Leeward Islands this Winter, he has continued to thrive-finishing in the top 10 run scorers in the WICB 50 Over tournament-which is quite a turnaround from last season where he was omitted from their first class player list.

His strengths are obvious just to look at him. He is well built, and strikes the ball with great power but also terrific timing, plus being left-handed further benefits him against right-armed bowlers. Furthermore, his skill as a part-time finger spinner has led some to consider him as a potential all-rounder in the future.

The most impressive asset of all is his maturity, at just 19 he has a calm head, and a knack for thriving in crunch situations. Two of his most important innings show this; firstly for Derbyshire he struck 96* in a second innings total of 236 against Gloucestershire on a questionable pitch, which proved far too much for the home team who were bowled out for just 70 in reply.

Then this winter for the Leeward Islands, he struck a steady 81 in the semi-final of the WICB one day tournament in their total of 213, which was 4 runs more than the Windward Islands could manage in reply. For a young player, still learning the game, it is a promising sign and an indicator of a sound temperament.

West Indies or England?

The one question which hangs over his head is about who he could represent at international level in the future. As an Anguillan, he holds a British passport, and hence could conceivably qualify for England, though his heart is said to be set on representing the West Indies in the future.

But wherever his future lies, be it with England or the West Indies, it appears that Chesney Hughes can achieve big things in the years to come.

What they say:

“He is the best 19-year-old I’ve seen for a long time. I cannot remember anyone in my age group – and that included players like Neil Fairbrother, James Whitaker, Matthew Maynard and Rob Bailey – being any better than he is.” John Morris, head of Cricket at Derbyshire.

“Chesney is someone whose progress I will be following with interest. He is a cricketer that you guys in England should be getting very excited about and who England should certainly be trying to get on board now.

“He’s only 19, but he’s built like Matthew Hayden, and he has that same imposing figure at the crease. And some of the innings he’s played this year, including the 90-odd not out he made at Bristol, have been exceptional.” Former Derbyshire opening partner Chris Rogers.

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Pakistan and Abdul Razzaq repay the faith

It was always going to take something special to knock the news that Australia had been routed in a T20 international by Sri Lanka off the back pages. But boy was it special.

Abdul Razzaq absolutely annihilated South Africa, with the kind of innings which in years to come people will probably talk about as one of those “I was there” moments, a match-winning innings which belongs among the highest echelons of innings.

Smashing 109 off just 72 balls, hitting 10 sixes to rescue Pakistan in a match they seemed destined to lose. For almost 90 overs of this game they were distinctly second best, but towards the end of both innings they were dominant.

But ultimately all you can say was that it was brilliant, white knuckle ride of an innings. A whirlwind, blitzkreig of massive shots and a complete masterclass in handling both the drama of the occasion, but also the chase of an imposing and difficult total.

He smashed sixes off the spinners and faster bowlers alike, timed the innings to perfection, and took Albie Morkel and Charl Langeveldt to the cleaners. In total he smashed 63 of the last 65 runs Pakistan scored in the innings, and hit 10 of the 12 sixex which Pakistan hit in their innings to send them over the line in dramatic fashion with one ball left.

It was a timely reminder of just what Abdul Razzaq and Pakistan are capable of, not just in the context of this series, but of the past six months, which have been dominated more by their deeds off the pitch than on them.

It showed that they, more than any other cricketing nation, remain capable of the extraordinary, combining sometimes outrageous displays of daring with more than a touch of drama. Few do drama and audacity quite like Pakistan, but even this was something else.

The irony that such a display should come on the very day when the ICC chose not to uphold the appeals from Salman Butt and Mohammed Aamir’s against their bans will not be lost on some.

The accusations which stand against them characterise a darker side to Pakistan cricket, a side which has all-too often dominated the stories about them. This is a side which damages their reputation, and tarnishes the work of good and honest Pakistan cricketers who are brought down by the dishonesty of a few.

Yet Razzaq’s display, and this tremendous snatch victory-from-the-jaws-of-defeat result, simply reminded us that while they can test the loyalties of even their most ardent fans, there is still that other side to their character which ultimately makes such faith rewarding.

Thus this was not only a brilliant and thrilling cricketing moment, but also a timely one.

It was a moment that repaid the faith which thousands of fans and followers have invested in them and confirmed that for all the controversy which has dogged them recently, there is another side which can help make all the turmoil and frustration.

While this was a moment worthy of any adjective, perhaps the best description of all is that it finally has people talking about Pakistan for all the right reasons again.

Murali’s last chance to say goodbye

While Australia’s fans may grumble about the type of schedule which their team are being subjected to as a warm-up for a competitive Ashes series, there’s no doubting that the quality of the Sri Lankan team which Australia must face.

Though the more vociferous fans may question why such a competitive limited overs series will provide satisfactory warm-up for a key Test series, the Sri Lankan opposition will be no pushovers and the members of this Australian team will certainly be pushed far.

Australia will have fond memories of facing several of these Sri Lankan team, especially captain Kumar Sangakkara, whose record in Australia is formidable and who warmed up for the series with a century against Queensland.

While the ominous sight of Mahela Jayawardene and offspinner Suraj Randiv finding form against New South Wales shows that Sri Lanka are not content to merely be a warm-up act for the Australians as they too look to prepare for next year’s World Cup.

But the most intriguing subplot of this series of three one day internationals and two Twenty20 games could well revolve around Muttiah Muralitheran.

The offspinner is widely feted as one of the greats of the game, and possibly the greatest spinner of all time. After his retirement from Test cricket last year, he has set a date of retiring completely at the 2011 World Cup, meaning this will be his last tour of Australia.

It has been in Australia where the criticisms of Muralitheran’s action have been most vociferous, and his love/hate relationship with Australia has largely stemmed from his competitive rivalry with Shane Warne for the position of leading test wicket-taker. But that too has spilled over beyond the borders of mere rivalry into a more sustained and hostile attack.

It was while on tour in Australia in 1995 that Roy Emerson famously called Murali for chucking, while Australia’s prime minister also labelled the bowler “a chucker” and claimed “they proved it with that video thing”.

What he was actually referring to was a video replay, but it merely exacerbated an already fractious situation, which resulted in Muralitheran missing his country’s tour to Australia altogether. Neither have the Australian crowds taken to him, as the suspicion about his action has remained and the legacy of both Howard’s words and Emerson’s actions remaining.

But for all the criticisms and suspicions, there has also been respect and affection. When Muralitheran took part in a Tsunami aid match in 2005 he warmly received.

That competitive rivalry with Warne spilled over into something bordering on genuine respect once Muralitheran carried on after the Australian’s retirement, and there has been a whole host of plaudits from Australian fans, pundits and players who have realised that they are in the presence of a true cricketing master.

Though at 38 he is not quite the bowler he was in his youth, he remains a key component of this Sri Lanka attack, and his recent performances for Chennai-where he took three wickets in the Champions League final-suggest he has lost none of his guile and cunning, and will prove stiff opposition for Australia even right to the very end.

While Murali’s relationship with this nation which lives and breathes cricket has at times been tough, now, at the end, is a genuine chance for it to end it on good terms.

Shaun Tait’s return provides a welcome boost for Ricky Ponting and Australia

So near and yet so far, one wicket, one ball, one chance was all that Australia needed to put this one day series back in the balance. Yet now, they must reflect on another defeat, and for the first time since 2007, a one day series defeat to England.

Whereas the previous two games had been strolls in the park for England, with a weakened Australian bowling attack lacking significant fire power to worry English batsmen, this game was much closer as Australia’s attack had a cutting edge which had been sorely missing.

The key was Shaun Tait, making his first appearance in the one day team since February 2009 after a variety of injury and off-field problems.

While he was only capable of performing in two-over spells, his speeds-at times touching 97 miles per hour-were remarkable, and so for once was his accuracy, with his penchant for spraying the ball all over the place forgotten.

His first ball-a jaffer to Craig Kieswetter-set the tone, before he later added the wickets of Kevin Pietersen and Michael Yardy to mark a successful return, though not ultimately for his team.

His captain Ricky Ponting said: “It’s really encouraging to have him back in the side and it’s always exciting when you’ve got someone who can bowl like that.

“Having someone like that, who’s got that firepower and that bit of unpredictability in your team, is always nice to have. I thought that with the exception of a couple of wides that he bowled today, everything else was very, very good. It was a welcome return for Shaun.”

Certainly, Ponting and his team will have welcomed any silver lining they could have taken from this series.

There are plenty of concerns regarding their batting line-up, specifically the inability to post significant scores, while the reliance on Nathan Hauritz and the inexperienced Steven Smith as the sole spin options with a sub-continent World Cup looming is a worry.

But the sight of Shaun Tait, running in hard and getting wickets is certainly a welcome boost-and potentially a significant one. After a series which has so far been pretty gloomy for the tourists, Australia may just have a reason to be cheerful.

Eoin Morgan once again proves to be England’s man for the big occasion

Eoin Morgan once again delivers for England

They say that time flies when you’re having fun, and for Eoin Morgan the past year has certainly been nothing less than a whirlwind.

Little over a week ago Ricky Ponting was calling on the ICC to halt the exodus of Irish cricketers from Ireland to England, now having watched his side by picked apart by another gem of an innings from Morgan, he may be repeating those remarks with far more urgency.

Because it was a truly remarkable innings, worthy of being remembered as one of the finest in England’s ODI history-as he recalled the ghost of England’s finest finisher Neil Fairbrother with a magnificent century to see his side home. One wonders whether Ponting was reminded of two of the finest finishers of all-time in Mike Hussey and the legendary Michael Bevan.

Such talk may seem hyperbolic, yet by the standards which Morgan has set this year, it is a company which he has earned the right to be mentioned with, and should he match their effectiveness with their longevity, he will be rightly remembered so.

He has only been in international cricket one season, yet few players-bar perhaps Kevin Pietersen-can have had such a dramatic impact on England’s fortune’s so quickly.

Since his debut last year—he has scored two one day hundreds, scored 669 runs in 20 innings at an average of 55.75, statistically it is a phenomenal record, but they tell only half the story.

Here is a player who has played innings of both the cavalier and the consolidator-often once after the other. He boasts a range of strokes, which have left even an experienced captain like Graeme Smith wondering where to put fielders, as he mixes both the orthodox and the unorthodox with a subtle mix of power and precision.

This was fully on display today-where he cut ferociously; reverse swept with audacity and hit cover drives which even the watching David Gower would have approved of. Never did the scoreboard lie dormant, as an inexperienced attack, bar the impressive Ryan Harris, were put to the sword.

Yet the most remarkable thing of all was, and remains, his cool head. With wickets tumbling, and his senior partner Paul Collingwood out early, Morgan simply remained composed.

Taking time to settle down, he simply took the scoring options when they presented themselves and remained conscious of the run rate, and the need to consolidate, and when to accelerate-an impressive thing for a player of such relative inexperience-both in terms of age and international games.

One man who was certainly impressed was his captain Andrew Strauss, who said: “It was an outstanding innings today and certainly one of the very best I’ve seen in an England shirt.”

“We’ve been looking for a Michael Bevan-type character for quite a long time, Morgs has shown a few times now, in both 50-over and 20-over cricket, that he can play in a similar fashion – and probably even a little bit more aggressively than Bevan.”

While he may never surpass Bevan’s limited over’s feats, England will hope he can go one better in the Test arena. This was the only area in his career where Bevan failed, and still represents Morgan’s biggest challenge to date.

After a couple of middling 40’s against Bangladesh, some wonder whether he may yet crack the foibles of Test Cricket. Yet the true test will come when he faces a situation akin to what his side face today.

Whether he gets his chance to show qualities like these in Test Cricket again will be down to the England selectors.

Yet after an innings like that, few would argue it would be foolish to ignore him because quite clearly Eoin Morgan’s taste for the big occasion is worthy of any stage in the world.

Phoney One Day International War unlikely to provide many clues for Ashes battles’ ahead

Judging by their respective ODI records, and the fact that less than a year ago England were soundly beaten by Australia, and by soundly I mean ritually humiliated, all roads point to an Australian victory.

But this is a different England, a team emboldened by T20 silverware and a new mindset forever verging towards the positive. They have, as Scotland captain Gavin Hamilton put it: “an aura”, and this is an Australian team lacking plenty of household names.

Whereas come Ashes time, England will be coming up against new ball bowlers in the guise of Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus, here they come up against Doug Bollinger, Ryan Harris and Josh Hazlewood.

Perhaps that is why, in all seriousness, for all Paul Collingwood’s bold conviction that this is a pre-cursor to the battle’s that lie ahead-in truth much in terms of personnel and of course time, can change.

Not that Australia should be underestimated, in a sense they are very much edging towards a brave new world-one which following this winter’s Ashes, may well be without the Hussey brothers and Ricky Ponting-though their sheer bloody-mindedness should not rule them out of one last crack at an away victory in 2013.

But now both they, and their biggest rivals, can assess just what the future holds. A middle order containing Cameron White-who could very much be a part of the furniture for years to come, Michael Clarke-Ponting’s successor and young wicketkeeper Tim Paine are a sign of things to come on the batting front.

Meanwhile-the hugely promising duo of Steven Smith and Josh Hazlewood-inevitably dubbed the next Warne and Mcgrath-will be worth a watch for England, though perhaps as much in the hope of getting in earlier dents upon their burgeoning reputations.

Yet England themselves will feel pressure, pressure to build momentum, to show that in a year they have gone from whipping boys to World Cup contenders.

Throughout the team, there are questions that need answers.

Is Kieswetter the answer in 50 over cricket? Does Strauss score at a sufficient click to justify automatic selection? Will Jimmy Anderson end the series as England’s pace bowling leader once again? And do Michael Yardy’s darts really work in a longer version than T20?

These are questions which England’s selectors will hope to find answers for now, rather than later.

Perhaps it is this which is why this tournament, the phoney war, means little. It is a means of testing the water against a familiar foe, but proves little of real significance.

It is a battle between two of cricket’s great rivals, but in truth the results will count for nothing in the grander scheme of things. Though the answers both Australia and England find may yet prove useful, the real test will be in the greater battles which lie ahead.