All Round England Outclass India

26 07 2011

What a start to the series that was! Hard, competitive cricket during which England ultimately asserted their superiority – and even allowing the difference that Zaheer or a fully fit Tendulkar might have made – the final margin of 196 runs was telling. It will be a surprise if England cannot press home their advantage at Trent Bridge.

Much has been made of the injuries/illnesses to the Indian players (and this includes Sehwag of course), however the match was really lost when they allowed England to get away from them in their first innings during what what was the best bowling conditions of the entire game. One wonders what England’s attack might have achieved in the same conditions… You only have to look at Broad’s performance in the first innings and the collective England seamers effort in the second to realise what might have been.

As unabashed England supporters here at the Compulsive Hooker, perhaps the most pleasing thing was the way in which almost everyone contributed in some way – Morgan and Cook the exceptions. Trott made a valuable fifty under pressure in the first innings, KP was man of the match, Bell made an important forty odd, Prior was probably unlucky to lose the match award to KP and of course all the bowlers did their bit with Broad and Anderson to the fore. Strauss, too, did his bit captaining which means all in all, in a game that is based around individual battles, this was as complete a team performance as we can remember.

The balance of this England team is nothing short of exceptional and far better than the Indian side – stuffed to the rafters though it is with great batsman. We feel compelled to agree with what those excellent pundits, Michael Vaughan and Phil Tufnell, were saying on TMS; namely that they couldn’t see this Indian side taking 20 English wickets. Something we all know is crucial to winning a test match.

This however is not to write India off. We know they had almost no warm up and were/are depleted. We also know that in the last few years they have made a habit of winning or drawing series having lost the first test – an admirable fighting trait and is why, quite apart from the innate talent, they are now the number one rated side in the world.

Tendulkar, Dravid and Gambir will score runs, Mukund looked useful and Laxman will compete as he always does (incidentally it was Laxman that held the most fear for us on the final day – he has repeated the backs to the wall miracle once too often to enable us to sit comfortably in that situation) and Raina looks like he has a similar spirit. It’s the bowling that would worry us as Harbajan, apart from an incisive spell on the fourth day, bowled one day darts and Zaheer is injured. Ishant obviously bowled a dangerous spell but that was 6 overs out of 54 in the match! Until he can do it regularly he will only be an occasional destroyer and otherwise be fairly innocuous.

It was Dhoni however who mystified us most. Towards the end of the England second innings he appeared to have given up – along with, it has to be said the Indian fielders. The passage of play where England raced from around 170-6 to 269-6 was bizarre. Yes England were approaching a 400 lead and therefore what was probably an impregnable position, yet one wicket would have slowed things down and made it easier in the long term for India to save the match. Fielding well would have done the same job too but during this period India represented, at best, a village 3rd XI so poor was their fielding.

They weren’t helped by Dhoni’s fielding positions though. An example of this was on the fourth day with Prior in the 90’s but Broad on strike and Raina bowling his part time off spin, Dhoni brought up the field so everyone was on the one. What this then allowed Broad to do was hit fours at will. We assume he was trying to prevent Prior getting his hundred – but this was at the cost of allowing England to score at 10 runs an over… Similarly with his decision to bowl himself… Strange!

Dhoni has long been a captain for whom you might ‘run through a brick wall’ if he asked (as Phil Tufnell put it) yet on the basis of this he lacks a little tactical nous.

This is all obviously our opinion and, to look at it from the other side, you can make a strong argument for India bouncing back once the injuries have cleared up. Yet with Zaheer probably out and, in English conditions with a home bowling attack on song, we can’t see anything other than an English series win.

A closely fought and thoroughly engrossing contest for the entire Summer – but ultimately an English win.

 





Summer’s Here: Our Wishlist For A Summer Of Cricket

11 04 2011

It’s that time of year again where suddenly hope dawns that all is not football swamping the papers, repeated rain deluges and wind – that life is once more about sun, bbq’s and cricket. It is, in short, the county cricket season once more and, as if on cue, the sun has come out although one suspects that the April showers are never too far away.

We are in fact about four days late heralding the start of the English Summer season as the first round of matches is due to finish today and, in some cases, has already finished. Already there have been some notable performances with young and exciting players such as Ben Stokes and Adil Rashid having excellent games.

As we have missed the very start of the season and have therefore missed the boat on a county season preview, here is instead a list of things that we would like to see happen throughout what should be an excellent Summer…

To start with, and in no particular order, the first thing on our wish list is to see Adil Rashid appearing regularly for England. Rashid is a highly talented player with both bat and ball and, quite frankly, should have gone to the World Cup. Yardy’s time has come and gone a little like James Dalrymples did a few years ago and Rashid should be there to pick up where Yardy left off. The challenges for the young leg spinning all rounder could not be more imposing considering that the two touring sides this year are Sri Lanka and India – the broad blades of Sangakarra, Jayawardene, Sehwag and Tendulkar to name but a few would be a tough baptism – yet equally you hold him back too long and you might miss the chance to develop a golden talent.

Similarly, there has been a space created by Paul Collingwood’s withdrawal from test cricket (and in all likelihood all forms of international cricket) and for us at the Compulsive Hooker, the man first in line to replace him should be James Hildreth from Somerset. Over the past year or two Hildreth has added consistency to what was always a highly capable talent and at 25 or so the time is right. In the shorter form of the game they are likely to stick with Ravi Bopara as he offers more of the Collingwood style variety with his bowling.

As Kent supporters we would like to see Kent rebound straight back up to the top division and their young guns bounce back after a difficult year last year. Talented batsman, Sam Northeast, is showing signings of this with a hundred in the first match of the season although we are not sure how much that says for division two bowling as opposed to division one bowling or indeed Northeast’s ability himself. Joe Denly is another who after a difficult 18 months needs to find his way again if he is going to justify his undoubted talent.

For honours in the top division we are again backing Somerset who came so close last year. With the addition of Steve Kirby to their ranks they look like they might have recruited the key component to make the difference to their title chase. Hampshire and Durham are our other tips.

Despite ominous signs after limping off with 9 balls bowled in his second innings spell we really hope that Hampshire’s new recruit, Simon Jones, makes it through an entire season this year. Jones looked like he would have been one of the finest bowlers of his generation for a short and wonderful period up to his injury at the end of the 2005 Ashes, but has since had an injury record to rival even Jonny Wilkinson. Fingers crossed for him.

With murmurings against Andrew Strauss and the ODI captaincy growing, we hope to see these quashed as soon as possible. Strauss is a fine ODI player and captain and England’s failings should not be left at his door.

Finally we hope to see Sachin Tendulkar score his 100th international century at Lords (although by then he could easily be on 102 or 103 perhaps) but for England to win the test series and so continue their growth in this format.  If England can beat both India and Sri Lanka in consecutive series it should make everyone in the sub continent who have previously been a little scathing of England’s abilities sit up and take notice that this is a side to be wary of. From where we sit there is no reason why they shouldn’t as, particularly under English conditions, the English bowling attack is substantially better than either of their oppositions.

One other thing – we would like to point you towards an excellent piece by Cricinfo’s George Dobell on the County Championship and the state of domestic cricket. In our opinion it sums things up perfectly. Click here for the piece.





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






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…





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.








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