Thoughts on Broad and Cook

12 06 2011

With the squad announced for the third test and the only noteworthy item being Jimmy Anderson’s inclusion, we were moved to put finger to keyboard, if you will, on the subject of Stuart Broad. Broad has been a key part of England’s attack for some time and recently achieved the milestone of 100 test wickets whilst also scoring some valuable runs including what turned out to be a match winning 169 last year against Pakistan.

However, there have been concerns that Broad, bar certain memorable occasions, has been the weakest member of England’s attack – and certainly the most likely one to mislay his toys some outside his pram. A glance at the England bowlers records over the past twelve months bares this out:

  • Anderson 50 wickets @ 20.14
  • Swann 47 wickets @ 22.97
  • Finn 31 wickets @ 29.06
  • Tremlett 25 wickets @ 25.36
  • Broad 22 wickets @ 35.27
  • Bresnan 11 wickets @ 19.54
Admirable and key to England’s fortunes over the past few years has been the loyalty shown by selectors and managers to the players and Broad is someone who has benefited from this. Other beneficiaries of this have included Flintoff, Bell and maybe even KP but, unlike the others, Broad has yet really to pay this investment back (bar one or two, albeit highly important, performances).
So far in the Sri Lanka series he has looked the least dangerous and as such is not getting the returns he needs. Perhaps he is a victim of trying too hard and shortly it will all click into place, but he must certainly be looking at Finn’s golden arm with something akin to jealousy. To bowl badly or inconsistently and still pick up wickets is an admirable trait to have and as such Broad knows that if he doesn’t take wickets over the next couple of games, the calls for a replacement might become too loud to ignore.
For our money he is worth persisting with although with Onions, Bresnan, Shahzad and Finn – not to mention Dernbach and one or two others – there is more competition for spots than we have ever seen in the England squad.
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Now here is a topic that even 9 months ago the average cricket fan would not have been contemplating in the slightest. Is Alistair Cook a great batsman in the true sense of the word or, perhaps more likely, is he destined for greatness?
What seems certain is that at the age of 26, and with 18 test match centuries already under his belt, Cook is likely to end up England’s all time top run scorer (despite what KP might have said recently about his own claims recently) with a century tally at or around 40 test hundreds – barring of course a catastrophic lack of form at some point.
If he can achieve even close to this, then they will be the figures of a great batsman. One man who these days is considered as undoubtedly great is Steve Waugh yet his career took along time to get going and it was 80 tests before his average hit the heights that Cook’s has recently achieved. And all that whilst scoring only ten hundreds.
Perhaps it is true that the bowling was probably better 20 years ago than now but even so – given that Cook achieves what he looks likely to  – it would seem churlish to deprive him of this tag.
Some players achieve greatness earlier through huge success coupled with an aesthetic pleasure (i.e. Lara or Tendulkar) but some too do it through graft, grind and frequent pokes through third man. It simply takes longer to become apparent the second way and for Roebuck to write Cook off seems possibly a little premature!
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KP Makes Way For England’s Premier Batsman

7 03 2011

Two bits of England Cricket World Cup news over the past 24 hours. Firstly that Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Strauss’s erstwhile opening partner, has gone home with a hernia problem, only to be replaced by England’s very own Saviour Of One Day Cricket, Eoin Morgan.

We then started wondering – and finished that strenuous process little more than a minute later – who would we rather have in our team and overwhelmingly came down in support of  the Dublin born man. KP emerged onto the scene back in 2005 with a bang that rivalled our own universes beginnings in its proportions, yet unlike our own universe which has kept expanding and will continue to do so for many eons yet, KP has cooled, hardened and begun to shrink. His average has come down, the number of hundreds he scores in all forms of cricket has diminished rapidly and in ODI cricket, he has been average at best for quite some time.

It is true that he wasn’t having the worst tournament on record, and we quite liked him opening the innings, yet you always have the feeling that when KP is 40 not out, disaster is just around the corner. He still scores the odd fifty in attractive fashion but has not gone on and scored a hundred since 2008. Put simply, he is not the key player he once was.

Morgan on the other hand is probably, even despite a poor series in Australia, the most important player that England have in this form of the game. His ability to build an innings, keeping things ticking over in the middle overs before exploding at the end, or his equally impressive ability to blast from the off means that as a middle order finisher he is England’s Michael Bevan.

If you doubt us, ask yourself this: Who would you back to take England home from 100-4 chasing 270 or more? Only one man for us and with all due respect, its not Bopara, Bell or even Jonathan Trott in his new guise.

Taking this a step further, who would you rate as the most important batsman in the test side?

Strong arguments could be made for Alistair Cook, Andrew Strauss or even Ian Bell in recent times, yet we think you would struggle to make this argument for KP. Barring his double hundred in the Ashes he has not performed for some time and, by contrast, it is his fellow South African import, Jonathan Trott, who can assume this mantle.

Still not a player you can drop easily but certainly someone who needs to step his game up if he is going to be remembered as the once in a generation player he threatened to be when he first came on the scene.





Ashes Review: England (Player by Player)

7 01 2011

Andrew Strauss (307 runs @ 43.85)

A man who has made history for English cricket. Although not in the same quantity as his opening partner, Alistair Cook, he scored vital runs at the top of the order with his hundred at the Gabba and his momentum grabbing 60 off 58 balls in the 5th test springing to mind. Also a vital part of the England fielding machine with his catching behind the wicket being more or less perfect all series.

Led the side excellently and appeared to have plans for all the Australian batsman which, thanks to the quality of the bowling, usually worked. Could still be a touch conservative for our tastes on occasions but this is frankly quibbling. Fully deserves all the plaudits he is likely  to receive. Now onward and upward…

Rating: 8/10

Alistair Cook (766 runs @ 127.66)

One feels that 766 will be a number forever associated with the Essex opener after this series. A tour in which he went from perceived weak point to run machine and lifted his average from a reasonable 42.78 to a world class 47.50 it would be fair, perhaps, to predict that this could well be the high point of his career. A double hundred to save the game in Brisbane followed by two big hundreds in Adelaide and Sydney to set up the two innings wins are astonishing returns and fully justified his selection as Man of the Series.

Rating: 9.5/10

Jonathan Trott (445 runs @ 89.00)

Like Cook, Trott also had a memorable series with the bat and has entrenched himself as England’s number 3 for years to come. We started the year doubting him after some frenetic and poor performances in South Africa and Bangladesh, but have finished believing in him entirely. There is something delightfully unfussy in the way he bats, always totally aware of his options and never taking undue risks (until Sydney perhaps when over confidence lured him into dragging a wide Johnson ball on). Loves playing Australia.

Rating: 8.5/10

Kevin Pietersen (360 runs @ 60.00)

Not quite as consistent as some of his colleagues with two thirds of his runs coming in a single innings, it was still a series in which we were pleased to welcome him back as, while perhaps not England’s ‘gun’ batsman anymore, certainly one of our best. Still guilty of throwing his wicket away on occasions when set, he needs to erase these habits to truly claim his place in the elite echelons of English batsmen. His 227 in Adelaide will live long in the memory however and for that alone he deserves enormous praise. Also picked up an important wicket at Adelaide which hastened the Australian demise before the rain set in.

Rating: 7/10

Paul Collingwod (83 runs @ 13.83)

Obviously a dreadful series with the bat but as ever Collingwood is a player whose contributions in other areas offset this partially. Fortunate in that his lack of runs did not matter in the grand scheme of things with the prolific form of the other batsman, he was nevertheless outstanding catching in the arc from slips to gully coupled with crucial wickets here and there – notably Hussey in the Australian first innings at Sydney. Such a team man that there is no doubt the win means more than his personal performance and bows out from the game a much loved member of the side.

Rating: 4/10

Ian Bell (329 runs @ 65.80)

Bell has always been a joy to watch, the sheer timing and gracefulness of his batting meaning that he has always made it look easy, and finally he has added the steel to go with his undoubted talent. Suffered in part from a lack of opportunities to score runs at the beginning of the series due to either being forced to bat with the tail or simply not getting in early enough, he eventually got to a much deserved hundred in Sydney. Our pick as our leading run scorer in the series he failed to quite hit these heights due to Cooks efforts, yet this has still been a brilliant tour for the Warwickshire man.

Rating: 8/10

Matt Prior (252 runs @ 50.40, 23 catches 0 stumpings)

After a slow start with the bat, an excellent morale sapping hundred in Sydney allied with an excellent 80 at the MCG means that this has been yet another successful series for the excellently hirsute man. Allied with an impressively inconspicuous performance behind the stumps where his only error we can remember was a missed stumping off Swan, Prior can be rightly proud of this performance.

Rating: 8/10

Stuart Broad (2 wickets @ 80.50)

Despite boasting unimpressive stats from the two games he played before suffering injury, Broad kept it tight and ensured that the pressure was never relinquished. Could probably justifiably claim a couple of Finn’s wickets as his own for this reason…

Rating: 6/10

Steven Finn (14 wickets @ 33.14)

Dropped despite being England’s leading wicket taker after three tests, he can still be very pleased with his efforts. Remarkably still only 21 he has a massive future and we would bet that he will be around and at his peak by the time the Australian’s come to England in 2013. Despite being the least consistent of England’s bowlers, he has the happy knack of taking wickets at important times as he appears to have something of a golden arm.

Rating: 7/10

Tim Bresnan (11 wickets @ 19.54)

Much derided on this website and entirely, it seems, unfairly so; Bresnan deserves huge amounts of praise for his performances in the final two tests. The quickest of England’s bowlers in the games he played, he kept it tight, swung the ball and generally bowled brilliantly. With Broads return will still probably be first or second reserve, yet when you consider his batting too, he is some replacement to have.

Rating: 8.5/10

Chris Tremlett (17 wickets @ 23.55)

Along with Anderson, eventually the most potent and important member of England’s attack – remarkable considering he started the tour as a back up bowler. A genuine man mountain who pleasingly appears to have discovered some menace to go with all his natural fast bowling attributes, Warne’s comments pre-selection for the tour that Tremlett could be the best fast bowler in the world don’t seem so ridiculous now. Exceptional performances in all the games he played in. England’s fast bowling stocks look strong indeed with him in the reckoning.

Rating: 9/10

Graeme Swann (15 wickets @ 39.80)

A solid performance if not quite the series defining one many had him down for before the tour. Bowled brilliantly in Adelaide to wrap up the game for England before the rain came but for the rest of the tour and with the lack of spin on offer was mainly a defensive option for Strauss. Still took important wickets occasionally and remains one of the lynchpins of this England side. Gains a bonus half point for the excellence of his video diaries – a born entertainer.

Rating: 7.5/10

James Anderson (24 wickets @ 26.04)

They said he wouldn’t be able to swing the new ball. They said he couldn’t take wickets if it wasn’t moving and above all they said he would struggle with the Kookaburra ball. All of which, we are very pleased to say, was proved to be rubbish of the highest degree. The attack leader, Anderson proved himself once and for all and can now genuinely go on to become an England great. Deserved the man of the series award almost as much as Cook, this was a career defining performance for the Lancashire man.

Rating: 9.5/10






Pietersen Frustrates and Careful of Khawaja

4 01 2011

Well that was a proper test match days cricket with the game swinging first one way then the other before finally ending up more or less as it started with England just ahead. From this position England should be looking to push on and score in excess of 350 and would like something more in the region of 450 ideally. If they can achieve this latter figure then the series, the Ashes and the Sydney test should all be theirs. As at Perth however, Australia’s score of 280 is not looking too bad and with Johnson and Hilfenhaus showing signs that their finest form might not be too far away, anything could still happen.

Next in to bat is Paul Collingwood and, with Anderson in as nightwatchman and liable to be dismissed at any time, England would dearly love one of the Durham mans career saving innings tomorrow. Cook, as he has done all series batted without flamboyance to score a valuable 61 not out. If he can go on tomorrow to score what would be his third century of the series then England should be secure. His partner in prolific scoring, Jonathan Trott, endured a rare failure, playing at a ball which he should probably have left from Johnson and dragging the ball on.

This error of judgment brought in the wonderfully talented but frustrating Kevin Pietersen. When he first burst onto the scene five years ago in that epic Ashes series of 2005 and for perhaps two years after, people began to suggest that he could establish himself as one of the true all time greats of England’s history and the modern era. Frustratingly for us, and we suspect many other English fans, he has proved to be too flawed to really establish himself as a great on the level of a Hutton, Hobbs, Gooch or Compton. Instead he inhabits the level below this as a player of genuine world class but despite his enormous talents to rival any of the greats, his temperament and shot selection frequently let him down.

Whilst on one hand this frustration is testimony to his talents and ability, the fact remains that KP’s flaws have a habit of making themselves felt at inconvenient times. He has a history of being dismissed when set and today was no different. Despite a couple of early alarms, Pietersen had settled and had begun to look really good when he played what can only be called a totally unnecessary hook shot at a harmless ball from Johnson. Coming as it did with three overs of the day to go, he would have had every right to receive a dressing down from Flower and Strauss. Being got out is one thing (a la Strauss) but in effect dismissing yourself is frustrating for all concerned – especially when you have a track record of doing this sort of thing. To make the transition to all time England great KP has to cut out these errors although with 71 tests under his belt you must suspect that this isn’t going to happen.

All the noise in the Aussie press has been the hailing of Usman Khawaja as a major talent and someone to carry the Aussie batting for the next decade following his innings of 37 in the first innings. We grant you that he looked composed, played some attractive and confident shots and generally looked like he belonged at test level; but to get as excited as the Aussie media are – well we feel it’s a little over the top!

It is of course a symptom of where the Australian’s find themselves as a team, but, the number of Aussies clutching at straws (any straws) to get something positive out of this Ashes is extraordinary. Even as recently as the previous Australian Summer, it was typical of the Australian cricketing establishment to congratulate themselves that any player coming into the Australian side would be of the requisite class to succeed – all due to the innate strength of Aussie cricket of course. This has now been exposed as a fallacy with players such as Phil Hughes, previously acclaimed as champions in waiting, shown up for the talented but flawed players they are.

Having said all this we do want to reiterate that Khawaja did look very good indeed but, for his sake if nothing else, don’t heap too much extra pressure on him yet. He has after all got almost 13,000 test runs less than the man who he has replaced and almost 4700 runs less than his captain for this test – the man who at least one Australian paper suggested Khawaja’s presence would help by ensuring Australia aren’t two wickets down for nothing every time Clarke walks into bat.

Finding your feet at test cricket is hard enough but expecting him to immediately be Australia’s ‘gun’ batsman is ridiculous.





Adelaide Oval, Day 4: Excuses And An Australian Selection Success

6 12 2010

Another solid days work from England has ensured that, provided the inclement weather holds off, England should move to a one nil lead in the Ashes tomorrow. It has been a much more determined effort from the Aussies all round in their second dig, yet, once more, England are proving to have more of an edge in their bowling attack than the Baggy Greens and are chipping away at the Australian top order.

For the second game in a row, England have been bolstered by a couple of outstanding innings combined with a disciplined and intelligent bowling effort – two fairly large aspects of the game of cricket that Australia appear to be missing at the moment. It has been a joy to welcome Kevin Pietersen back to his imperious best and look forward to a series (and indeed another five years) of heavy run scoring whilst Cook and the entire bowling attack deserve credit for their efforts as well. At this rate Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood and Matt Prior must be wondering when they’re going to get a chance to score some serious runs…

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One interesting observation that has been made repeatedly over the past few days has been the Australian fans reactions to the way the cricket is going. The grounds have been swamped by English supporters with a curious lack of Aussies; the papers have moved the cricket from the back pages and the old rubbish about England being South Africa’s B team is being circulated continuously.

Essentially, all just ways of either explaining away or ignoring the cricket – something that makes us proud of the English fans whom whatever the result, and despite a slight reservation regarding some of the more ‘yobbish’ elements, could be relied upon to be in the stands supporting their team.

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On the subject of the foreign born test players, it is interesting to note that there are plenty that have represented Australia. Below is as complete a list as we can find anywhere on the net.

ENGLAND (10): Charles Bannerman, John Hodges, Tom Kendall, William Midwinter, Percy McDonnell, William Cooper, Henry Musgrove, Hanson Carter, Tony Dell and Andrew Symonds.

SCOTLAND (1): Archie Jackson.

IRELAND (2): Tom Horan, Tom Kelly.

SOUTH AFRICA (1): Kepler Wessels.

NEW ZEALAND (3): Tom Groube, Clarrie Grimmett and Brendon Julian.

INDIA (2): Bransby Cooper and Rex Sellers.

SRI LANKA (1): Dav Whatmore.

Whilst being true that England have selected many more than Australia over test cricket’s history, it is obvious that Aussie cricket fans searching for cricketing ‘banter’ should probably leave this particular whinge alone. Far better to acknowledge and accept the fact that in this modern day and age of a smaller world and high migration rates this is only going to increase in regularity.

After all, we would imagine few of the people complaining about Trott, KP et al would complain if Usman Khawaja went on to score twenty hundreds for Australia over the next few years.

For our money, as long as the players fully commit to England, we have no issues with anyone doing this.

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One bit of good news though now for Australia.

It appears the plan to select Xavier Doherty maybe working after all… As we all know he was picked with an eye to dismissing KP whose weakness against left arm orthodox spinners is well known. Pleasingly this can be calculated as another success for the Australian selectors following his dismissal of the English number four today…

Problem is of course – KP was on 227 at the time!





The Gabba, Day 5: More of the same please!

29 11 2010

England 260 & 517-1 drew with Australia 481 & 107-1

Well done Alistair Cook. Well done Andrew Strauss. Well done Jonathan Trott.

What a scorecard! (Just in case you have forgotten – here it is writ large…)

Perfection.

Through the dark days of the ‘90’s and early 2000’s we dreamt of waking up to see a scorecard along these lines and, whilst it wasn’t topped off with a win, it was worth the wait! That it came in Australia only serves to make it all the sweeter as deep down, behind most of the cautious and wildly optimistic, every Englishman would own up to a crawling, sneaking worry in their guts that things hadn’t changed. Now, with one of those draws that feels a bit like a win under their belts, and a clear demonstration of what our heads, if not our hearts, already knew those latent fears have been assuaged.

Yes it is true that it was Australia in a winning position on Saturday morning and, realistically, England never had much of a shot at it but, despite all this, it will be England who are feeling happiest. In our opinion, this Ashes will probably come down to a combination of belief and having a settled side that knows their roles exactly. England have this but Australia only have one of those necessary components. We have little doubt that the Australians still believe they can win but it would be unlikely if they were to do that in amongst so much potential chopping and changing. Not, of course, that it is a given they will change players for Adelaide but, if we were a betting syndicate, we’d lay a lot of money on them changing two or perhaps even three.

Firstly, Bollinger has to come in for Johnson. Hardly a revolutionary statement but one which is so full of validity that it’s practically over flowing. Siddle has taken six wickets so he’s safe at least, Hilfenhaus was one of the few bowlers to look reasonable in India so we feel that it would be a mistake to drop him. Doherty of course is a spinner (more on whom in a minute) which leaves old Mitchell. Probably the biggest insult I could give him, although if reversed it could also be conceivable that it is a compliment, is that he is definitely the Australian Steve Harmison. On a good day devastating but sadly ineffective and leaking runs the rest of the time.

Doherty is the other who will be concerned although it would be unfair in the extreme to drop him immediately. The Australian spin bowling revolving door was not wedged shut by his performance at the Gabba, something that was hardly unexpected as he simply looked exactly what he is – an average state bowler whose not going to let anyone down but equally not going  to run through a test side on a fifth day pitch. We have heard some people mention the possibility of two spinners at Adelaide in which case Hauritz might come back but all this would achieve is to make the Australian selectors look stupid. They got two of their selection calls right – Hussey and Siddle – but remain as confused as ever about the third.

Inevitably it is Marcus North who is the batsman (or bowling all rounder as someone wittily put it) under pressure but, with the squad for the second test already announced, and with only 6 front line batsman in it, it is safe to say he will play. There is a chance that Doherty could be dropped and North could provide the spin option (a suggestion that is not that foolish as North has a better first class record than Australia’s premier spinner…) but this would not satisfy most Australians who want to see him cast out forever, never to return.

From England’s point of view it is easy. Same side again and, providing England can deliver upfront a little better, it could well be happy days for English fans. With a bit more luck Anderson and company will be in business and if this happens – well, Australia are there for the taking.

Mind you – Australia will be saying they were the ones that were in the winning position and, therefore, it’s England who are there for the taking….

Thoughts please!

 





The Gabba, Day 4: Trials and Tribulations

28 11 2010

This test has, for many reasons, epitomised why it is we love test cricket over all other forms of this wonderful game. No single match of 20 or 50 over cricket would be able to bring us through the full gamut of emotions with such regularity and intensity of feeling.

In this test match England fans alone have been given a large dose of disappointment as England folded on the first day; a healthy dose of optimism as England fought back with some excellent bowling and were one dropped catch away from having Australia 143-6; a growing sense of pessimism which eventually turned to downright dismay as Haddin and Hussey ground England’s chances of winning into dust and ensured the spectre of defeat loomed large; and then, today, the sense of imminent defeat and the accompanying gloom gradually giving way, via a strong sense of disbelief, to optimism and a certain joie de vivre as Strauss and Cook piled on the runs. All of this liberally garnished to add spice with a potent mix of tension and passion.

In short – just another Ashes test…

Due to other commitments – namely catching up on sleep following three 4 am starts for the cricket – we didn’t write an update for day 3 yesterday, although, to tell the truth, this was also as much to do with the aforementioned ‘dismay’ we were also feeling as anything else. Today with the threat of immediate defeat removed and a later alarm clock time set, we are feeling much more eloquent.

Firstly though a quick mention for Haddin and Hussey who played two of the finest Ashes innings we have ever seen. Coming in under severe pressure both players were solid from the off with Hussey in particular looking in exceptional touch. As was the way with England today, the luck was with them from throughout their sojourn at the crease and, despite some brilliant bowling from Anderson in particular, they fought through and ensured that the game then on was out of England’s reach.

That the situation has been, if not reversed, certainly made a whole more palatable for England was down to some further excellent batting from Strauss and Cook plus able support from Trott. Both openers scored hundreds – apparently the first time in the same innings since before the war which seems like an amazing stat – on a pitch which is clearly getting easier for batting.

England are not out the woods yet by any means, but, providing they do not lose quick wickets in the morning, can even put Australia under pressure in the afternoon. A lead of 250 just after lunch for example with perhaps 50 overs for Australia to survive, would be a good way of reasserting themselves in this series. After all – take a couple of quick wickets and you never know what might happen in this game…








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