I'm going to do this in reverse order: went to see the England v Pakistan ODI yesterday with Rach (for her take on it, see http://www.rachelkoncewicz.blogspot.com). It was a fantastic day for cricket at the Rose Bowl, Southampton (a ground that will hopefully achieve Test status soon) - starting with the first ball of the game (sorry, Tresco!) taking the first wicket. At 0 (runs) for 1 (wicket), we steeled ourselves for an England batting collapse, but were pleasantly surprised by Strauss and Bell settling in for a productive partnership. Our captain led by example with his 50, followed by good performances by Collingwood (61), Dalrymple (62) and Bell (42). KP, our big hitter, was a disappointment on his home ground, getting caught on 20. Had he stayed in another 15 overs, the result could have been very different. We ended up setting Pakistan a reasonable target - 271 - but our bowling attack (bar Dalrymple, Lewis and Broad to some extent) was tepid, at best. When Sajid Mahmood was bowling, it would have saved the umpire considerable effort if he had just kept his arms in the position for "wide ball". Oh, wait - he might have had to switch to "no ball" on occasion.
KP and Sajid cause me considerable concern, b/c although their problems look different on the surface, I think they are the same at the root, and it might be at the heart of the problem with the England team: discipline and focus. Both KP and Sajid are immense talents with a "future so bright, [they] gotta wear shades". [Although NOT in the field on a cloudy day, please - *coughTrescothickcough*.] Watching KP get his 96 at the Oval was a breathtaking experience - with his array of shots, ability to judge the ball, the way he moves - he should *easily* be in the top 5 batsmen in the world. But he isn't. Why? At some point in his innings, he loses focus for a few minutes, miscalculates, and throws away his wicket. Saj's problem is inconsistency - he can either be absolutely brilliant and take five wickets, or he gives away runs like there's no tomorrow.
I suspect I know what part of Pietersen's problem is - at some level, he's afraid that if he becomes more disciplined/focused, it'll mean he can't be himself - the cocky, flamboyant shotmaker who makes it all look so easy and is a joy to watch, making even the most sedate of England fans stand and applaud his work. Not true: discipline and focus are about channeling his talents, making him a big hitter who can stay at the crease and send the run rate into the stratosphere when required. He may still get out more often than the more conservative Bell or Strauss - after all, Babe Ruth, baseball's king of home runs, was also king of strike-outs - but he'll be there to make the big scores for his team and fulfil his potential. Discipline and focus will bring him freedom and control to become more himself, not less.
Saj is more of an unknown quantity...he's quieter than Pietersen (not hard) and his inconsistency makes me think that he has some problems with his form that need a bit of gentle guidance. Maybe he needs more time with his bowling coach, maybe a bit of help from a fellow bowler, maybe more visualisation, I don't know.
But in both cases, it seems that a bit of what Catholics call "fraternal correction" is in order - what struck me yesterday was that on TMS, one of the retired Pakistani batsmen mentioned that it had been pointed out to him that he had a bad habit of standing a certain way...and he worked very hard to correct that habit (discipline!). And to be honest, that's something that Pakistani culture is much easier with...telling your teammate/relative/friend/complete stranger that they're not doing something quite right...and I suspect we see the result of it in the very good Pakistani team. In Western culture, it's just not done, except under very special circumstances. Now, I'm not advocating going around telling everyone what (you think) they're doing wrong, but it makes sense for a teammate to say, "By the way, mate, did you know you do X when you bat/bowl? How about..." And here's where we really miss Andrew Flintoff. A few years ago, Flintoff was given a talking to about "pissing his talent up the wall", and pulled himself together to become the colossus of the English team. One can't help but feel that he could give Saj the boost he needs and allay KP's worries about losing his style. After all, he's been there.
Darn it, this is too long to put anything about spiders in here - suffice it to say, I came back from Southampton this morning and came into work. And what should greet me but the mother of all spiders on the wall across from my office - you know, the kind where you can tell it needs to shave all eight of its legs? It's so big, it probably got here on an Australian passport...to be continued...