An Apology To Tim Bresnan

28 12 2010

Well bowled England and in particular, well bowled Tim Bresnan. Regular readers will know that over the last year we have not been particularly complimentary about the big northern lad, denoting him as a big hearted but ultimately limited trier – someone who is perhaps just below the standards required as an international class wicket taking fast bowler.

After his excellent bowling in this test match we feel that we owe him an apology as he is certainly better than we gave him credit for. Consistent in his line and length and impressively quick, Bresnan has been crucial in this test match and it was his ability to gain crucial breakthroughs that have ensured only a downpour of monsoon proportions can save Australia now.

Much has been mentioned over the last few days about England’s ability to rotate bowlers – something that we feel whilst being in theory true, is also absolute rubbish. Finn, despite being the leading wicket taker in the series before this test match, has leaked runs at more than four an over meaning that the control built up by Anderson et al was lost every time the Middlesex man took the ball. Despite his wickets he was dropped, no two ways about it, and Bresnan brought in to reassert the desired level of control. Resting implies that Finn will be returned to the side in Sydney at the expense of one of the others, yet with Bresnan’s performance this is almost certain not to happen.

What these pundits should be saying to satisfy our pedantic nature,  something which in itself is a supposition we are very pleased to see, is that England undoubtedly have some serious depth in their bowling at the moment. It is indeed a distinct possibility that if the top four bowlers were unfit (currently Anderson, Tremlett, Broad and Swann), the second string line up of Finn, Bresnan, Shahzad and Panesar could still out bowl the Australian first choice attack. The difficulty in this argument is likely to be simply working out who the first choice Aussie attack might be rather than debating their merits against the England second string…

Having your assertions and opinions proved wrong by a player is usually a frustrating thing as it is a comparatively rare thing for a player to improve upon your intial judgement. Most often a player will start well, inflate your expectations, only to have all your hopes for them punctured as they fade into mediocrity, or worse, out of sight. Bresnan is one who appears to be going the other way and while it is of course possible that this might be a flash in the pan performance, it has been worthy enough for us to hope that actually this big hearted trier is developing into a bowler of international substance in much the same way as Matthew Hoggard or Andrew Caddick did for example. Well done Tim and please continue to prove us wrong!


Legends, Comebacks and ‘Resting’ Players

22 12 2010

There has been a fair bit of cricket and cricketing news over the past couple of days that we haven’t had time to comment on, so, in very disjointed but hopefully lucid style, we are going to round up our thoughts on these matters.

  • Where else to start but with Sachin? Much has already been written and will undoubtedly continue to be  written about this great little man but his achievement against South Africa was of such a magnitude that we feel the need to add to the cacophony of voices.

    We remember back in 1996 on the Indian tour of England one of the Indian commentators saying that Sachin would one day be the first man to get to 100 international hundreds. At the time this was such a ridiculous number (and quite frankly still is!) that we ascribed this comment to over enthusiasm. With 50 test hundreds and 46 ODI centuries this forgotten commentator has been proved right as it is surely inevitable now.

    With age forcing the decline of other leading players in the game such as Ponting and Dravid, it is not only Sachin’s amount of runs but also his longevity and fitness which should be praised as the little Indian appears to simply get better with age. We believe there is no reason why he can’t go on for another two or three years, in which time it is conceivable that he might end up with close to 120 international hundreds. Certainly we imagine there would be fairly short odds on him reaching 60 test hundreds.

  • From one all time great to another. Jacques Kallis scored 201 not out in South Africa’s one sided game against the Indians over the weekend. Remarkably it was his 38th test match century, yet only his  first double which is an oddity in itself.

    In our eyes he is undoubtedly South Africa’s finest cricketer ever and, perhaps extraordinarily, deserves genuine comparison to the great Sir Garry Sobers. Sobers is consistently called the finest all round cricketer ever to have played the game yet Kallis has achieved figures directly comparable to the great man, undoubtedly without the flair but certainly at a similar level of effectiveness. Well played Sir!

  • New Zealand’s Dan Vettori  has been removed from his all singing and dancing role in New Zealand cricket and been allowed to concentrate on his own game and captaining the side.

    In the turmoil and angst that is New Zealand cricket, Vettori has been a consistently world class operator and effective with ball and bat. If the Black Caps are to remain competitive on the world stage they need him to be firing and so this reduced work load can only be a good thing.

  • A brief Ashes thought now as we are pleased to see that Andy Flower has committed to keeping four bowlers for the Boxing Day test match. There is talk of ‘resting’ Finn and playing either Bresnan or Shahzad in a similar way to which Greg Chappell apparently said Mitchell Johnson was ‘rested for the Adelaide test’. Pure rubbish as anyone can see – if you are removed from the side you are dropped – there is no two ways about it.

    For all his woes at Perth Finn still picked up some crucial wickets and is the leading wicket taker in the series on either side. Leave him in, give him some confidence and he will grow in stature as a test match bowler. We personally don’t mind him leaking a few runs if he is taking wickets.

    If a change is required though, please let it be Shahzad who comes in rather than Bresnan…

  • We feel a little dirty for mentioning this competition – being as it is not one of our favourite developments in world cricket – but the IPL announced their rosters from which sides could pick. The top reserve price is $400,000 and is the level in which such luminaries as KP, Yuvraj Singh, Adam Gilchrist, Dan Vettori and Chris Gayle sit.

    Included in any IPL list for the first time and sitting pretty in this top bracket at the age of 41 and after four years of no cricket was Brian Lara. When his possible signing for Surrey was mooted earlier this year we wrote then that we thought it was a bad idea and we haven’t changed our mind now.

    The problem when legends make come backs is that they rarely enhance their previous reputations. We remember Lara as the mercurial flashing blade that won numerous test matches for the West Indies single handedly. We don’t want to remember him scratching around for 20 off 20 balls in an over hyped domestic competition.

Thoughts on the above?

Ashes Third Test Preview

15 12 2010

With the anticipation building for what could be the decisive test in the Ashes battle, we thought we would do the obvious thing and put a few of our thoughts down on paper (or screen perhaps?!). There are still a few questions to be answered for both teams as to the composition of the two sides yet the essential feeling remains that England should, if they play well, come out on top.

Australia are, as many observers closer to the team than us here in sunny Dubai, a team in no small amount of turmoil – something emphasised by their selection policy and the obvious panic within it. We know that if we were Ricky Ponting we would be fuming at the general inconsistency shown. As if the prospect of losing a third Ashes series isn’t enough, he is being asked to captain a side that has little do with his own preferences and that includes someone he has never laid eyes on before.

According to Simon Hughes and others on their Twitter accounts, that man, Beer, looked lost during the Aussie net session today and, with the pitch being green, (and therefore in theory offering assistance to the seam bowlers) apparently the Aussies are leaning towards four seamers. The alternative of playing Beer with the hat trick hero from the Gabba, Peter Siddle, being left out as many have suggested, implies the Aussies are no where nearer a coherent selection policy. Granted he has taken zero wickets since his six wicket haul in the first innings in Brisbane, but dropping someone who is your only success story in four innings of test cricket beggars belief – especially when the other quicks apparently first in the queue to play have both been dropped already in this Ashes.

For England it is a simpler equation and as we have written before our pick would be Shahzad – there is something about his bustling nature that we quite like. Tremlett had been the hot favourite until the last 24 hours when Jonathan Agnew, Michael Vaughan and one or two others threw their weight behind Tim Bresnan.

As long time readers will be aware we have a profound distrust of Bresnan’s ability to take wickets in test cricket. A wholehearted trier, a useful limited overs bowler and someone who undoubtedly would be willing to run in the ‘Freemantle Doctor’ (the stiff wind that is liable to blow up at a moment’s notice causing havoc with the bowlers) that we have been hearing so much about over the past few days – but surely someone who is less likely to take a crucial ‘fivefer’ than the other two.

Perhaps we are wrong – and few people try harder and therefore perhaps deserve success as much as Bresnan – but in a game where Ricky Ponting particularly knows that perhaps his entire career, let alone the Ashes, is on the line; we think that Bresnan is the bowler the Aussies would most want us to pick. On that basis alone it should be one of the other two…

Mind you, perhaps this is balanced out by the Australian’s picking Steven Smith to ‘have fun’ and be the joker in the team. We can’t remember any specific examples but imagine if ten years ago England had picked a young player and gave him this message – think what Steve Waugh’s take might have been! The word scathing would probably not have done justice to his response.

As a Kiwi friend of the Compulsive Hooker warned us yesterday in one of our cockier moments, ‘you can never discount these buggers until their beaten’; something that remains undeniably the case. If Ponting gets going; if Hussey continues where he left off or even, as is possible, Hughes blazes a quick ton and Australia manage to get 450 on the board – well then things could get tricky. England should still have enough of an edge in the batting to stay in and eventually win the game, but runs on the board adds a pressure that was absent in Adelaide and this, being cricket, you simply never know.

Whatever happens we cannot wait and have decided to side with the prevailing winds. We believe that after a close fought battle, England will ultimately emerge triumphant.

Premature Gloating and The Real Number One Battle

12 12 2010

Gloating Too Early?

In amidst the euphoria of England’s innings win in Adelaide and the glee with which the selection of Michael Beer and Phil Hughes has been greeted, an important and sobering fact lies in England’s record at the WACA. As Scyld Berry’s excellent piece in the Telegraph explains, England have never won against a full strength Aussie side at Perth. (The sole victory coming in 1978 against an Australian side depleted by Kerry Packer and his World Series Cricket).

Rather than regurgitate the article we recommend you click here as it will help keep matters in perspective… As much as we and almost all other judges around the world are convinced that England will win this series, the fact remains, this is the Australian’s we are talking about. A wounded and discounted Aussie is a very dangerous thing…

In the same paper the inevitable chat about England challenging for number one status has been raised once more. If England win this series well, say 3-0 perhaps, then it is worth posing these questions, yet, up until the point where this potential score line is reached – the English within us wishes that people would refrain from what appears to be premature gloating!


The Real Number One Battle

On the subject of challenging for number one status, the top two sides, India and South Africa, kick off their three test series at Centurion on Thursday. For all the naysayers and doubters (of which we admit for a while we were one) with regard to the justification of India’s number one ranking status, this will either seal the deal for the next 6 months or simply open up all the old arguments once more.

South Africa are ranked a comfortable number two and possess a fearsome pace bowling attack. India’s batting line up of course requires no introduction and this battle for supremacy promises to be a brilliant one to watch. Our money is on either a drawn series or South Africa shading it as we still believe that, at home, any of the top four or five teams (minus perhaps Australia in their current form) would be favourites to beat any of the others.

What with the Ashes coming to a head as well over the next four weeks, we cannot wait for what should be a feast of test cricket!


Broad’s Replacement

No need to panic for England at the WACA despite only one wicket between Bresnan, Shahzad and Tremlett. On what was more akin to a pudding than a proper cricket pitch, England’s three back up seamers were swiftly removed from the attack in the second innings to be replaced with a mixture of Panesar, Collingwood and some declaration bowling yesterday from Morgan and Strauss of all people.

Despite one or two articles in the Australian press suggesting that England are having difficulty deciding who will play as a result and that perhaps the back up isn’t of sufficient quality, this is simply straw clutching by a media starved of their usual ‘pommie bashing’ material.

Anderson Out Of Opening Ashes Test

15 10 2010

News is emerging from the England camp that Jimmy Anderson is likely to be out of the opening two test matches of England’s Ashes campaign due to an injury sustained at the end of season ‘bonding camp’. It remains to be seen why the injury is only just emerging now, several weeks after they returned from Germany, but – and you, the reader, may be surprised we are taking this line being as we are big fans of Jimmy A – it could perhaps not be a total disaster for England.

Anderson’s record against Australia in Australia is very poor and, whilst over the past couple of years his overall performance has improved, his away performances are still relatively ineffective – over the last two years he has taken 29 wickets in 10 games at 38.06. This is better than his overall record overseas (bowling average 43.84) but has obviously still got a substantial amount of room for improvement.

One mans loss is another’s opportunity as the saying goes and in this case Anderson’s injury opens the door for Ajmal Shahzad; a man who we felt should have been in the party already and whose brand of nippy, skiddy bowling reminds us of Simon Jones. Indeed against Bangladesh he was even reverse swinging the ball which makes the potential parallels even more obvious.

What we sincerely hope does not happen (and the potentiality of this happening is something that has caused us nightmares in the past) is that the England management swap like for like and pick Tim Bresnan as the one swing bowler in the team. Bresnan is an admirable trier but not nearly in Anderson’s class as a swinger meaning that we would rather use the unknown but classy looking Shahzad in a four man attack. The other option within the squad is Tremlett but he is a very similar type of bowler to Broad and Finn and so will probably remain on the sidelines.

One thing that we feel has definitely got to be avoided is playing a 5 man attack. It would be easy to argue that with the loss of one of England’s front line bowlers, and with relative rookies in reserve, it would be necessary to play an extra bowler. However, as we stated yesterday, we believe the Ashes will be won and lost in the batting meaning that England need as many runs as possible; hence 6 front line batsman. Plus to follow on from the preceding thoughts about Bresnan; it is practically assured that 5 batsman would mean playing the Yorkshire seamer to bat him at 8 with Stuart Broad at 7 – a solution that reeks of trying to plug two perceived holes (not enough runs or wickets) with a man who is unlikely to be the answer to either problem.

Anyway – thats our two pennies worth – what are your thoughts?

Ashes Party Selection Time

21 09 2010

With the news that the Ashes party announcement has been brought forward to this Thursday slowly filtering through; we here at the Compulsive Hooker thought we would select our squad for the tour. In past years the squad announcement would have been a time of much speculation and worry for everyone involved – including the fans. With the advent of central contracts and the national side increasingly resembling an elite club there is actually not much mystery about who Andy Flower and company will pick (and therefore perhaps little point in this article!). In actual fact you would probably get very short odds from a bookmaker that tour party would be as follows:

Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Collingwood, Bell, Morgan, Prior, Davies, Broad, Finn, Anderson, Shahzad, Bresnan, Panesar, and Swann.

Where we believe this series is going to be won and lost will be in the bowling attacks and with this in mind we do have a couple of worries relating to the bowling selections. We have no problems with Finn, Anderson and Broad as our premier seam attack despite the old argument that, due to the Kookaburra ball and conditions in Australia being unsuited to English type bowlers (i.e. little swing available), England will struggle to take the required 20 wickets to win a game. The interesting thing when you look at this argument is that most people are of the opinion that Australia will pick Ben Hilfenhaus – a man whose primary weapon is swing! Couple this with the fact that Broad and Finn are typically un-English bowlers (i.e. hit the deck and move it off the pitch at pace) and suddenly the balance of the attack is almost identical to Australia’s.

It is when we consider the two reserve seam bowlers that we start having a few worries. Shahzad and Bresnan will likely be the selection by Flower and company, yet, as we have said before, the prospect of Bresnan running in at the WACA (or indeed any Australian wicket) gives us nightmares.

Bresnan is your quintessential hard working English swing bowler, a working mans Matthew Hoggard if you like, and toiler though he is, we have a horrible feeling that he will be destroyed in conditions where he will get no assistance. There are several seam bowlers who have had good seasons including Woakes from Warickshire, Harris from Glamorgan and England discard Tremlett, now of Surrey. With his height and bounce we would be inclined to have a look at the latter although we feel it is highly unlikely that the selectors would go down this route. Shahzad would definitely get the other slot as he showed enough fire and venom in his appearances this Summer to suggest he could potentially develop into a latter day Simon Jones.

Graeme Swann is of course an automatic pick for the front line spinners berth and is the one selection in which we are comfortably ahead of Australia. Hauritz, honest operator though he is, is no match for a bowler who is clearly the best spinner in the world at the moment. The reserve spot is again a tricky one and with Panesar having a 50 wicket season in Division 2 for Sussex, he would seem to be the obvious selection. Our pick however would be for Shahzad’s Yorkshire colleague, Adil Rashid, who has had an even better one finishing in the top 5 of the Division 1 wicket takers. There is always a worry that by exposing a young leg spinner to the might of the Australians it might set their development back, but in our view, he will definitely play at some stage and therefore why not now when his confidence is high after an excellent domestic season.

The seven batting spots pick themselves with Bell taking Morgan’s place in the top six although quite honestly we would almost be tempted to pick Morgan ahead of Collingwood at the moment. England have had a difficult time of it this Summer against an excellent swing attack, but we feel that with the Australian attack holding fewer demons than the Pakistani, they should have no problems scoring enough runs this Winter.

It is crucially important that KP returns to his best form as he is the one genuine star in the line up and despite his recent poor form we have few worries on this front. KP is a player who relishes a contest and raises his game when the stakes are highest and with that in mind we believe he will score plenty of runs.

If injuries occur the Lions will be in Australia and with the youthful riches of Adam Lyth of Yorkshire and James Hildreth of Somerset to name but two, as well as the better known quantities of Hampshire colleagues Adams and Carberry for example likely to be involved, we have confidence that the quality back up will be there if necessary.

Therefore the Compulsive Hooker’s squad would be:

Andrew Strauss, Alistair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan, Matthew Prior, Steven Davies, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn, Jimmy Anderson, Ajmal Shahzad, Chris Tremlett, Adil Rashid and Graeme Swann.

Strauss Demolishes the Desh

13 07 2010

Anyone still mentioning Strauss’ inability to score quickly enough in one day cricket should be shot after his magnificent 154 yesterday. Equally, anyone mentioning Trott in the same breath should probably suffer the same fate, but, as we are likely to continue our mini crusade to rescue English cricket from Trott’s presence, we are going to waive this ban… Granted he has scored 94 and 110 in consecutive innings so for now we are going to have to leave this point of view to one side, but be assured that we are going to pick it up once more when Trott starts failing against the Pakistan and Australia later this year as assuredly he will!

Strauss on the other hand has merely continued his good work from the Australia series although this time rather than falling for an attractive 50 odd he went on to score the big one he has been threatening to do so. Strauss currently has a reasonable record as an opener, certainly by English standards, yet by world standards he needs to score more hundreds to be considered a very good one day cricketer. This criticism is hardly new though and can probably be applied to the entire England team rather than just him although perhaps there are early signs that this may be improving with Morgan (2) and now Strauss and Trott all scoring hundreds this year. KP is one that, despite a blazing start to his ODI career, could learn this lesson and indeed needs to pick up his game entirely. In the last 18 months he has scored just 285 runs in 17 games with an average of just over 17.

These complaints are relatively minor though as England are winning series and generally winning well, so it seems churlish to pick too many faults. On the positive side, the performance of Ajmal Shahzad in this series was a major plus point. Shahzad bowled with a pace and fire that England had been conspicuously lacking up until this point. Indeed in our eyes there are faint echoes perhaps of Simon Jones in the way he bowls with such aggression and we hope he gets further opportunities ahead of Tim Bresnan in particular.

For Bangladesh this can be put down as a good trip albeit they were still beaten comfortably in two of the games. That first win is highly important though as it can form something of a mental block and with it they showed continued signs of progress. Mashrafe Mortaza impressed with his captaincy as he at least appears to have a cricketing brain.

The Bangladeshi team now move on to a two match series against Ireland which should prove interesting. Ireland have recently been crowned the ICC World Cricket League Champions and been unbeaten in the process with wins over Afghanistan, Scotland, Kenya, Netherlands and Canada. Bangaldesh, as the next rung up on the ladder, will provide a good challenge and it is important for both sides they perform well. For Bangladesh, it is key that they prove their higher quality so justifying their inclusion at the top table of world cricket, and for Ireland, whose bid for test status has faltered, it would be a further demonstration of their quality and right at the very least to be considered an equal of Bangladesh and possibly Zimbabwe.


Finally a quick word about the Pakistan vs Australia series kicking off today at Lords. The first neutral test match at Lords since 1912, this is quite an event for both sides and offers Pakistan a chance to redeem themselves after the shambles of the Australian Summer.

In modern times when cricket seems to rank a long way down the list of what the newspapers and other media organisations deem newsworthy it is excellent to hear that the BBC and the Test Match Special team are providing live commentary for the entire series. We had suspected that this series being between two neutral countries would have been deemed an irrelevance in a sporting Summer taken over by the round ball game, yet we are pleased to see its not.

We even heard the brilliant and amusing Henry Blofeld during the Bangladeshi series so there is hope yet!

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