Bowling Worries For England And Thoughts On Australian Batting

2 02 2011

Over the past year most things have gone right for Andy Flower and his coaching companions. Now, with the score line standing at 5-1 in Australia’s favour, he knows that the World Cup will be anything but plain sailing. There are mitigating factors but the truth of the matter is that quite simply they have not been good enough.

Injury is a major part in this with injuries to Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan, Chris Tremlett, Graeme Swann and latterly Ajmal Shahzad being important. James Anderson has only recently returned from his short break for paternity leave (by which point the series was more or less lost) although none of these reasons really gets away from the fact that the bowling throughout this series has been substandard.

In the 6th ODI today, England’s batsman fired and Australia were set a huge total of 334 to win. That they got there with such ease (despite the late flurry of wickets) is strange considering how effective England’s bowling attack are in the longer forms of the game.

You would have to think a first choice bowling attack of Broad, Anderson, Bresnan, Swann and probably Yardy with Collingwood as back up would be enough to hold most teams to a competitive score – yet it seems, unlike in the test matches, our back up bowlers are not good enough.

Tremlett bowls too short and is easy to hit – this will be even more the case on the slow and low sub continental wickets; Finn was dropped from the test side as he is not the line and length merchant England required – something that hardly bodes well for ODI cricket – and Shahzad, while showing moments of brilliance and exciting promise, is still a bit raw. It is right though that he is going as the back-up seamer over the other options although Woakes possibly deserves a chance.

It has not all been the fault of the bowlers though as the batsman have also been culpable in at least two of the six matches. Trott is of course the exception with two hundreds and a fifty in the series. Essentially, if he doesn’t fire, England have had no chance.

Over the past 18 months the lynchpins of England’s batting have been Morgan, Collingwood and Strauss. Strauss has been getting starts (including a couple of fifties) before falling just when he should be kicking on – something that is becoming a feature of his. Collingwood is of course in about the worst run of form we have ever seen from a batsman and Morgan, while looking in great touch, has picked the wrong shot every game early in his innings.

Some of it is surely down to a hangover from the Ashes, a dropping in the intensity perhaps, but in this professional age it cannot be an excuse. We do sympathise with the players as the schedule is truly hectic, as Pietersen said a few days ago, and it remains something the ICC and all the respective boards need to think about.

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Just a quick thought to finish… During the Ashes many people commented, both Australian and not, that the Aussie batsman had been adversely affected by 20/20 cricket and ODI cricket. The most compelling evidence for this was when the Aussies were trying to bat for a draw in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney and, despite the onus being on crease occupation, they seemed only to have one mode – that of attack.

We had not given this much thought up until now, but it does appear that the Aussies are very suited to limited overs cricket. A Shane Watson 70 won’t make a difference in test cricket, yet in ODI’s can be crucial. Likewise in the bowlers, their most dangerous and game changing players – Shaun Tait, Brett Lee – can only play the shorter forms for fear of breaking down.

We said before this series that, despite the mass media’s acclamation of England, you cannot write off an Australian team who when we last checked were still ranked number one in ODI’s. The sub continent will be different of course but, in this format at least, they are an entirely different proposition.

 

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The Joy of Bell and Morgan

13 01 2011

The Case For Bell

Leading up to yesterday’s game in Adelaide, there was a great deal of speculation regarding the worthiness of Ian Bell as a member of England’s 20/20 squad, let alone his eventual position as first choice opener. Bell, they said, was not explosive enough and his game was not suited to the shortest form of cricket in much the same way as people said Michael Vaughan’s wasn’t to ODI cricket. He is too classical, too correct and doesn’t hit the ball in the unusual areas that the best 20/20 players do.

Yesterday, however, Bell showed that these critics might as well have saved the effort of writing their words. He may only have got 27 and been dropped twice (although one was really little more than a half chance) in his short 17 ball innings, yet some of the shots he played were breathtaking. Hitting Tait over cover before threading him through the covers twice in the first over, he then launched an audacious uppercut for six an over or two later that the modern master blaster, Virender Sehwag, would have been proud of.

In short, when you have a man in as golden a run of form as Bell and, especially when they have always been such a clean striker of the ball as the Warwickshire man, you would be crazy to leave them out.

Since Bell finally flowered into a genuine world class player towards the end of 2009, he has been one of the gems of England’s batting line up and as such should be a shoo in for the world cup squad. In our opinion we would slot him into the ODI line up in the place of Jonathan Trott. While harsh on Trott, Bell has less of a propensity to get bogged down and finds the boundary more often than his county colleague – something that on the slow and low pitches of the sub continent will be highly important.

Morgan Sparkles

For a man that has hardly hit a ball in anger on the tour so far, Eoin Morgan looked in tremendous touch last night. What always strikes us about the Middlesex player is his extraordinary ability to hit the gaps in the field, something that enables him to seemingly hit boundaries at will.

In the past people have equated Morgan to England’s nineties finisher, Neil Fairbrother, but if truth be told, Morgan is a far superior player. Fairbrother was an excellent manipulator of the ball and was able to keep the scoreboard ticking over but sometimes lacked the ability to hit the big shots and get the pressure relieving boundaries. Morgan on the other hand is just as likely to smash a pull into the second tier of the stand, as he did to Lee last night, as to nudge a hard run two out to wide cover.

Unusually though, for a man with such a track record as a finisher, he couldn’t take England over the line last night although once more he was the backbone of the innings. Moving forward, if Morgan is going to nail down Collingwood’s spot in the test line up, it is imperative that he maintains his reputation as the limited overs lynchpin over the next couple of months. If he continues batting as well as last night – then this should be a mere formality.

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2010: A Cricketing Year

3 01 2011

A few days late perhaps, being as we are in the early days of 2011, but we thought we would do a short review of the year and our favourite sporting moments, it’s heroes and its villains. We will split this into a couple of posts over the next couple of days; one for cricket and one for rugby with a few extras thrown in.

The Highlights

England Win 20/20 World Cup

As we wrote here and here at the time, this was an astonishing tournament for England. Astonishing in that England won a competition in a format which, until only shortly before, they had demonstrated a worrying inconsistency; but also personally so (something that took us by surprise) as, given a tournament that is not a overhyped domestic commercial affair, we heartily enjoyed the shortest form of the game.

Eoin Morgan’s Century at the Rosebowl

Interestingly, given the Compulsive Hooker’s well advertised love for test cricket, the first two highlights that sprang to mind were limited overs affairs. Morgan’s hundred was a wonderful innings and reinforced the growing belief that not only is Morgan probably the finest English limited overs player for quite some time, he is also one of the premier players in the world. In test cricket Morgan’s time will come again, probably sooner rather than later with Collingwood’s current travails, and when it does we look forward to seeing how he gets on with some interest.

India’s Series Against South Africa

With India and South Africa both seemingly being afflicted with the same disease as England, namely winning well only to lose well in the following test or vice versa, and with both a home and away series being played for each side, this has been a fascinating battle. Both sides are so well matched, particularly if Zaheer Khan is playing, that wherever the games are being played it is difficult to know who has the edge. With the Indian leg of the battle cut short in a brutal bit of planning by the BCCI and SACB that left us gasping for more, we are pleased to see a three test series currently being played.

2nd Ashes Test, Adelaide

Despite the fact that the MCG may have been a greater margin of victory and that it may have been the win that retained the Ashes, it is the Adelaide test that was the highlight for us in this Ashes campaign. England dominated Australia in the second half of the Gabba test and didn’t let off here. A brilliant display of such all round cricketing perfection that we had to keep pinching ourselves to remind us that it was England in Australia we were watching.

The Low Lights

The Pakistani Spot fixing Scandal

With no resolution yet to this saga and an apparent willingness by certain people around the world, not just in Pakistan, to try and sweep this under the carpet, this has been a nightmare scenario for world cricket. With the possibility that we, the cricketing public, might lose the talents of Mohammed Aamir, not to mention any others that may emerge should the skeletons in the closet be aired fully, it really is a sad state of affairs. Pakistan have all the talents in the world but sadly are led and managed by a succession of inept and sometimes downright dangerous (to the game that is) people. Let us hope 2011 sees some appropriate punishments as well as an extra vigilant ICC.

Cricket Scheduling Worldwide

Whether it is the IPL, the Champions Trophy, the English domestic season or simply maddeningly short test series, the cricketing authorities around the world have a great deal to answer for. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again but that old cliché ‘less is more’ really is true. International cricket matches should be events that whet the appetite; domestic leagues should entertain whilst providing quality fixtures bearing the players themselves in mind and above all they should be fan friendly – something that at some point around the world all the boards fell down on.

Most Entertaining Player Award

Only one possible winner for this award – Graeme Swann. His video diaries are hilarious, his press conferences interesting and amusing and he plays the game with a rare joie de vivre. Well done sir.

Batsman of the Year

Sachin Tendulkar – who else?

Bowler of the Year

Dale Steyn. In a cricketing era where former players and experts generally have bemoaned the lack of quality bowling around the world, Dale Steyn deserves special mention as someone who has bucked the general trend. Fast bowling of the highest class is always exciting to watch and we look forward to him continuing his spree of destruction through 2011.

Villain of the Year

Ijaz Butt. A clown, a buffoon and an idiot are all adjectives that sum this man up. Pakistan cricket doesn’t need him.

Finally, here is a composite test eleven from the 2010.

  1. Graeme Smith
  2. Virender Sehwag
  3. Jonathan Trott
  4. Sachin Tendulkar
  5. Hashim Amla
  6. V.V.S. Laxman
  7. M.S. Dhoni
  8. Dale Steyn
  9. Graeme Swann
  10. Zaheer Khan
  11. Jimmy Anderson

Thoughts on this and any other highlights or low lights you may have?





Confused Australian’s and Brilliant Razzaq

1 11 2010

Two excellent results for both English and general cricketing enthusiasts yesterday. Firstly Sri Lanka disposed of a confused Australia team in a clinical and entirely satisfactory fashion – that is if you aren’t an Aussie yourself – and then Pakistan came back from the dead to beat South Africa in the opening ODI of their series in the UAE.

Firstly the match down under. The opening game of any Summer is always an opportunity to get off on the right foot – to set your stall out for the long days of cricket ahead. Judging by yesterdays game the stall Australia set out was a confused and generally not very well stocked affair – an added bonus for an Englishman coming as it does with an Ashes series looming. Of course it would be wrong to read too much into this game, it was only a 20/20 after all, yet there is some evidence of confused thinking in the Australian camp which possibly suggests that they are not exactly where they want to be.

Before we follow this line of thought any further let us just give due credit to the Sri Lankans who performed clinically and on occasions brilliantly in this, the sole 20/20. Fernando and Malinga were excellent with their changes of pace and general accuracy; Randiv, the off spinner, showed that there might be life after Murali and the fielding was good throughout. The sole blemish being perhaps that they failed to take advantage of any run out opportunities by hitting the stumps directly. As you would expect Dilshan and Sangakarra then ensured there would be no risk of an Aussie comeback.

And so back to the Australians and their strange decisions. By far the most peculiar of these was Clarke’s choice to push himself up the order to open the batting. 20/20 cricket is really a very simple thing. During the first 6 overs you want openers who can clear the infield and take advantage of the fielding restrictions, then you need batsman to follow who can continue this good work but who are perhaps adept at hitting gaps and ensuring that the scoreboard keeps moving (but importantly who can still hit boundaries if the second power play is called) and then the blasters at the end. Clarke does not fulfill any of these roles and should immediately be dropped from the 20/20 side giving Cameron White the reigns. In 50 over cricket there is still room for the batsman who can score 80 from 100 balls or so which makes him a valuable player in that format yet not in this shortened version of the game.

This confused thinking is encouraging from an English point of view as it shows a lack of clarity in the selectors minds. In the past with an all conquering side and numerous excellent replacements ready to be picked at any time being an Australian selector was easy. Now with the lesser talents on show and numerous who are good but not obviously better than anyone else, it is a difficult job suddenly and one that, in this particular case certainly, they are getting wrong. Other indications are the decisions to stick with players like Hussey and North when in our opinion it is clear that there are other options out there.

With the Ashes coming up we can only applaud this state of affairs, hoping that it continues at least to the end of the Summer…. It was also encouraging to see that Australia have picked their own version of Tim Bresnan – too late of course to get him in to the test side, but Hastings appears to be almost a carbon copy. Ineffective but hard working bowling and bits and pieces with the bat.

In the other game, Pakistan, or more accurately Abdul Razzaq, pulled off one of the most thrilling wins we have ever seen. Pakistan are a much beleaguered cricketing nation at the moment and from a neutrals perspective it was good to see them win. With the bowling attack they possess there is no reason why they should not be dining regularly at the top table – sadly however the batting regularly lets them down.

Abdul Razzaq yesterday rescued them from yet another collapse scoring a sensational 109* from 72 balls. Why the South Africans kept bowling it in his areas (i.e. full and straight) we don’t know but either way it was amazing stuff. We have rarely, if ever, seen a batsman turning down singles with a run rate needed of over two a ball and only a dozen deliveries remaining – yet it happened yesterday and was a testament to Razzaq’s ability to hit boundaries when needed.

Breathtaking, brilliant, unexpected and above all much needed for a Pakistan team who have ensured that this series is now alive. On a day in which Mohamed Amir and Salman Butt’s appeals were rejected, it was a something positive that should give much needed encouragement to the rest of the team.





Crickets Championship Future

15 09 2010

At last and entirely unexpectedly (at least for the average punter who is not party to the inner whirring of world cricket) the ICC has jumped into action with regard to their plans for the game of cricket over the coming years. Whilst it has not been rubber stamped yet and so could still be potentially hijacked by one of the major powers; the plan appears to be a shake up of the game by implicating various international leagues and championships.

Over the past decade there has been much talk about the decline of this form or that form of cricket, the need to regulate that or this national board etc and simply the problems created by the sheer amount of cricket that is played today. The ICC’s plans are clearly supposed to address some of these issues and for that we find ourselves in the unusual position of applauding them. Whether they succeed or not is another matter – let us look at the recomendations:

  • A test league and play off system over 4 years. This one we agree with. When the world was a bigger place and it was rare or impossible to watch cricket on TV, the visit of any touring side was anticipated and appreciated all the more. Tours were longer, series had more importance both as a player and as a spectator as who knew when they might tour again – in short an international series was an event. With the advent of almost constant international cricket and TV coverage from all over the world available seemingly on demand; cricket as a whole has suffered – most of all, of course, test cricket. In short a series on its own is not enough for many people unless you are a cricket traditionalist and so by giving test cricket a wider context it should in theory create more interest. Other plus points include the fact that sides like New Zealand and Bangladesh who, not being the largest draw cards for the paying public, fail to get so many test matches arranged and so will benefit from a guaranteed number of series per year. Equally with all countries having to play a certain number of tests in this time it should cut down on the number of pointless and boring one day series arranged.

    There are potential issues – for example; will the four year competition length mean that things will carry on much as they are now – interest only peaking if you’re side happens to be in the top four and make the play offs? With the final play off games being one off test matches is that a true reflection on a sides ability as the weather etc could be make a huge difference?

    On the whole however this move is a positive one and we look forward to seeing how it pans out.

  • A ODI League over 3 years. Again there is nothing wrong with this proposal on the face of things although there are no further details at this stage with regards to how exactly it would work. For example what would happen if India and Sri Lanka arranged yet another series between them (as they are wont to do) despite having already played their deciding matches with regard to the league. We suppose it is up to the boards but in theory there should be less interest in these matches and so hopefully these pointless series could die out.
  • A 10 team format for the ODI World Cup. This one we do not agree with. Yes it is true that the last couple of world cups have dragged on to the extent where even the most ardent one day fans were losing interest, and, in theory, by cutting the number of sides this problem would be solved. Yet this would be hard on the associate nations such as Kenya, Holland, Afghanistan and Ireland to name but a few. With no access to first class matches against the top sides (or even A teams of the top sides) the fifty over game is the one aspect of their international lives when they are able to compete against the big boys in a ‘proper’ cricket environment. If the ICC wants to promote the development of cricket and in the long term gain more test playing nations they have to realise that no one will get there having only been exposed to top level 20/20 thrashes.

    This decision also makes a mockery of the performances of Kenya and Ireland in recent world cups – particularly as they have taken a number of memorable scalps in this time. We would rather see the ODI world cup remain as a 16 team format unless the ICC follows up with a credible and imaginative plan for the development of the associate members.

    Finally we presume that the Champions Trophy will be done away with – if not there would be a second ‘ten team’ tournament which would be a world cup in all but name.

  • A 16 team 20/20 world cup. No problems here – more exposure for the junior world teams can only help them. See previous point for more…
  • The introduction of a 20/20 world rankings table and a league to follow. Hardly a ground breaking initiative on the rankings table and a league seems sensible considering that the other formats of the game will have one. Again potentially if used correctly by the ICC this would be a way of controlling the amount of cricket played.

So there we have it. It is quite possible that using this as a framework the ICC could begin to exert more control over all the individual countries and control the game more effectively whilst dealing with such factors as player burn out etc. What we expect to happen however is that after this is put in place it will simply lead to even further cricket, creating hard choices for the players when inevitably they have to make the choice of playing a test match against Bangladesh or appearing in the IPL for example.

Its a step in the right direction but at this stage no more than that.





One Dayers and the Future of the Game

13 08 2010

Crowe’s Comments

There have been some interesting comments coming from Martin Crowe over the past couple of days in the cricket media with regard to the future of test cricket. Crowe has been saying that the world of international cricket should do away with one day international matches and focus its efforts on the preservation of test cricket and the continued propagation of 20/20 cricket. Crowe is a noted innovator and has in the past developed his own variants of the game, his 8 a-side Cricket Max is an example of this, and so perhaps we should not be surprised at anything he says and in actual fact has backing from some fairly unexpected sides. Shane Warne is another who has gone on record saying much the same thing.

This idea raises some interesting questions however and we are not totally sure that we fully support it. Yes the international cricket calendar is over crowded as it stands, yes there is a certain ennui being developed by the repetitive nature of the cricket and yes, even the players seem to agree, frequently complaining of burn out. However to do away with what has traditionally been such a successful variant of the game seems a little extreme.

Couple this with the fact that test cricket is now drawing such pitiful crowds (even recently in the bastions of England and Australia) and, therefore, if the ICC were to rid themselves of the ODI game altogether inevitably revenues would fall.  Factor in that the ICC themselves are such a weak organisation and that even if they tried to enforce something along these lines they would simply be ignored by the respective member countries it is increasingly obvious that Crowes idea would not work.

There are also many other levels at which this is not a practical idea. Currently the only top level exposure for the ICC Affiliate countries like Ireland, Afghanistan and Kenya comes through playing ODI cricket against the full member sides. Remove ODI cricket and suddenly these countries are reduced to developing through the medium of 20/20 cricket and, as we all can appreciate, this would be about as useful a preparation for test cricket as only doing 100 metre sprint training and then running the London Marathon.

We cannot help but feel that if the full member countries and the ICC want to preserve test cricket as the primary game and at the same time maintain an interest in ODI cricket too; they will do much better by simply controlling the amount of meaningless cricket played. Our suggestion would be to limit ODI series to three games only, a similar length 20/20 series – all of which should be played after the test series itself has taken place. Remove such meaningless competitions as the ICC Champions Trophy, endless and frankly dull series between the same countries again and again and suddenly everything will start to feel like an event again. If something matters (and by making these matches more scarce they will inevitably matter more as there is not that feeling of ‘it’s all right lads, there’s another game tomorrow’) then it becomes more interesting to the fans and attendance figures will go up.

We do our best (and usually fail miserably) to avoid clichés and twee statements here at the Compulsive Hooker, yet we are feeling unavoidably drawn into one here (and for that we apologise!). Less is more people – less is more!

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The County Game

Interestingly Vikram Solanki, Chairman of the Professional Cricketers Association (PCA) has been saying much the same thing recently. The Friends Provident 2010 20/20 competition has been criticised heavily in many corners over the last couple of months – seemingly never ending (anyone know if it has even finished yet?) and under attended compared to previous years – and even the players are baulking at the demands placed upon them.

Clearly the problems that are present on the international scene are equally as prevalent domestically – all of which leads us to the conclusion that the ECB are just as guilty as any other board around the world – including the BCCI.

Everyone is chasing the short term dollar, rupee or pound whilst not realising or perhaps conveniently forgetting that in the long term they are doing more damage than good to what is the best and most wonderful game in the world.





Akmal’s Brilliance and 20/20 Overkill

6 07 2010

The Brilliance of Akmal

If anyone is going to save Pakistani cricket it will be Umar Akmal. Despite looking faintly ridiculous thanks to his liberal application of bright green lip paint (we would call it lipstick but that might offend him!), Akmal is fast proving to be one of the best young batsman in world cricket.

The distinguishing factor of how good a player tends to be is the amount of time he has to play the ball. Akmal, on this basis, looked streets ahead of all the other Pakistani players and demonstrated a range of shots that had the Australian bowlers struggling to contain him. If he can maintain his progress and translate this ability into the test matches it will be a major fillip for the Pakistani team.

In what was a good win in the end for the men in green Mohamed Aamer, Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal ensured that the Australians were always kept in check. Gul and Aamer are two quality fast bowlers but when you then consider that Aamer is still only just over 18 years old, quite honestly, it is astonishing. Ajmal was famously taken apart by Hussey in the last over of the World 20/20 semi final a couple of months ago and in all likelihood will often go for runs, yet he will always be dangerous too as he proved yesterday. In the tests this Summer we anticipate him to be a major force against both the Australians and the English.

A well done is also deserved for the Edgbaston authorities who ensured a lively atmosphere and excellent crowd proving that Pakistan could do worse than repeat this experiment of playing their home games in England.

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20/20 Overkill

In a cricketing world in which having more of everything is deemed to be a good idea and money rules all, it was always likely that there would come a point where there were too many games with not enough significance to hold spectators attentions. This is a favourite theme of ours at the Compulsive Hooker, die hard cricket fans that we may be, and recurs regularly in various forms throughout the worlds cricketing media.

Various players have spoken about it although usually, as soon as the dollar signs are writ large, they quieten and are willing to sell their services. Ricky Ponting, Stuart Broad and one or two others are notable exceptions to this rule. In opposition to the media and these few players, the administrators of the game and certainly the County Clubs, in their quest to ever increase the bottom line, have always ignored the warning signs and ploughed on regardless. When 20/20 cricket came along, it appeared to be the proverbial golden egg laying goose, but now there are signs in England at any rate that this gold has turned to bronze.

The English domestic 20/20 competition this year has been blighted by much lower attendances on average than in previous years. To be sure there has been the occasional game being close to sold out which suggests that given a meaning or significant context the crowds will still come; but seemingly the problem lies in the enormous number of games. In total there are 151 across the entire competition which to us seems ludicrously high. Up until recently there had been talk that a further or 20/20 competition would be formed in some way or another and that the county championship would be shortened to accommodate it. Fortunately now common sense and a proper respect for the real pillars of cricket appear to be emerging with a meeting to be held to discuss the future of the 20/20 game. First class cricket is likely to be left as it is and, if they have any sense, they will reduce the number of matches thereby ensuring a higher attendance for each one.








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