One Day Ennui

23 01 2011

At the beginning of this ODI series it was considered in most quarters that an England win would be a mere formality yet, with their third consecutive win under their belt, Australia have bounced back. This underlines the point that they are not as poor a team as some would suggest and that, certainly as far as ODI cricket goes, England are not yet the consistent outfit they are in test matches.

We wrote last week about Prior’s inclusion over Davies and, despite a couple of ducks so far, it is still too early to really criticise that decision at this stage. What will be worrying Andy Flower though is the lack of runs emanating from the middle order; Morgan, Collingwood, Yardy, Wright and Bell have all yet to fire with the bat which inevitably puts the bowlers under huge amounts of pressure. If England are going to challenge for the World Cup title this dearth of runs will have to be addressed.

The Ashes was characterised by an England side being extraordinarily well organised and playing extremely good cricket. So far this series has been a virtual reversal of that with the two run outs that top and tailed the innings being symptomatic of a team in poor form.

It is, however, far from a disaster and England will know that they are missing several key members and that at full strength they are probably the better side. This ODI series, with the World Cup around the corner, feels a little unnecessary  and we would not be surprised if the England players, if they were being totally honest, aren’t particularly interested in playing. This might seem unprofessional of them as well as possibly sound as if we are trying to find excuses in a classically English way, yet they remain only human and have been away from home along time with the promise of much more to come.

Regular readers will know of our traditionalist leanings, favouring test cricket strongly over all other forms, yet even the most ardent limited overs fan would probably agree with us when we say seven ODI’s is too much for a one series. With the world cup coming up (on a totally different surface which scuppers the argument that it is effective preparation) and, bearing in mind it is in a format which means the whole tournament will feel like it has gone on for about three years by the time if finishes, a rest would have served England better.

Australia, it is true, have reaped some benefits from their recent wins with Shane Watson and Brett Lee in particular finding some form and confidence although, even they, are surely wishing it was over now.

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Ashes Review: Australia (Player by Player)

8 01 2011

Simon Katich (97 runs @ 24.25)

Unfortunately for Australia, Katich’s injury robbed them of perhaps their most consistent player over the past 18 months and some much needed solidity at the top of the order. Got starts in both games before being found out by a combination of Shane Watson’s running and the moving ball. Doubtful perhaps whether he will ever play again although Phil Hughes travails at the top of the order had most Australian’s wishing Katich was still there.

Rating: 5.5/10

Shane Watson (435 runs @48.33, 3 wickets @ 74.33)

Watson must be a frustrating character to have in the team you support. Obviously hugely talented, a fine stroke player and someone who rarely fails. Unfortunately Watson inhabits that middle ground though of not failing but never quite succeeding which, if Australia are honest, is one of the major reasons why their batting never quite fired. Openers are there to score hundreds and on this basis, despite Watson being Australia’s second most successful batsman, he shouldn’t be at the top of the order.

Surprisingly underused as a bowling option although this was as much to do this Australia’s strange selection policies rather than his skippers apathy towards his bowling. Watson is a very decent fourth seamer so why play four front line fast bowlers?!

Rating: 6.5/10

Phil Hughes (97 runs @ 16.16)

Hughes is not currently a test match opener. Against attacks who don’t swing the ball perhaps he might succeed, but any bowler who moves it off the straight will always find him out. Clearly talented and possesses a reasonable temperament so the rudimentary elements are there and it is paramount that Australia work with him. Struggled against Tremlett in particular and is surely going to be returned to state cricket for the foreseeable future.

Rating: 3/10

Ricky Ponting (113 runs @16.14)

We never thought we would see Ricky Ponting struggle against England as much as he did in this series. The pressure, his middling form and perhaps his age all contributed to a series performance which has perhaps meant the end of his career. Possible that lack of other options will continue to ensure he is picked but unlike the other modern great, Sachin Tendulkar, his time appears to be up.

Didn’t look in bad touch entirely as a number of rasping pull shots indicated and he habitually got to 10 or 12 before nicking Anderson or one of the other England bowlers to slip. The catch by Collingwood to dismiss him at Perth will live long in the memory.

Captaincy is always difficult when you’re under the cosh and this was no exception. Often appeared to run out of ideas and could perhaps have stood up for a better balanced side the MCG.

Rating: 3/10

Usman Khawaja (58 runs @ 29.00)

To hear the Australian press you would think a modern Don Bradman had been discovered. Whilst this is clearly over the top and a testimony to the paucity of good news for any Aussie supporter, he did look the part and should be around for some time. Confident, composed and with a lovely pull shot was one bright spot in the Sydney thumping.

Rating: 5/10

Michael Clarke (193 runs @ 21.44)

When your captain and vice-captain average 16 and 21 you know you’re in for a tough series. A shadow of the player he has been in the past and it looks like the scorn the Aussie media and fans alike show for him is finally getting to him. His one major innings came in a losing cause at Adelaide although it tells you all you need to know about his series when you consider a part timer, Pietersen, dismissed him off practically the last ball of the day to set up and England win the following morning.

Showed some good signs captaining initially with some interesting field placings and willingness to do things his own way but was eventually simply overwhelmed by the English juggernaut.

Rating: 3/10

Michael Hussey (570 runs @ 63.33)

Brilliant for the first three tests, it was astonishing to think that Hussey was on the verge of being dropped at the beginning of the series. Almost singlehandedly kept Australia in it in the early stages of the Ashes and his partnership with Haddin at the Gabba was a once in a career performance whilst his hundred at Perth set up the win for the Aussies. The problem is that no one else supported him.

Rating: 8/10

Marcus North (49 runs @ 16.33)

Finally dropped despite scoring very few runs for some time. Probably not a test player on balance as despite his hundreds he scores too many innings below 10. Useful bowling and on that basis alone could have probably played instead of Xavier Doherty.

Rating: 2/10

Steven Smith (159 runs @ 51.80, 0 wickets)

Australia used to laugh at the English when they selected a bit part player but now the boot is on the other foot. Clearly not a number six player due to a technique with more holes in than your average sieve, he looked more comfortable when at seven. The fact that he then was hardly bowled suggest that Australia would have probably been better off without him in the team. Selecting a specialist batsmen at number 7 is something that not many sides do after all…

Rating: 2/10

Brad Haddin

The one player that would possibly get into England’s side on a form basis although even his contributions tailed off by the middle of the series. An excellent hundred at the Gabba and some uncomplicated wicket keeping mean that he, like Hussey, was one of the few who could put their hand up and say they contributed. Latterly, Australia’s vice captain as well.

Rating: 7/10

Mitchell Johnson (122 runs @ 17.42, 15 wickets @ 36.93)

If Johnson could reverse the averages achieved for batting and bowling he would be a devastating all rounder indeed. Chronically inconsistent he is undoubtedly the Australian version of Steve Harmison – someone who when on song is an incredibly dangerous player but, sadly, is rarely on song. His spell in Perth won the match and was reminiscent of Wasim Akram at his best and, even when bowling poorly, still has the habit of picking up the odd wicket here or there. Unfortunately this is negated by the fact he is going for over four an over.

Rating: 5.5/10

Peter Siddle (14 wickets @ 34.57)

Workmanlike, ever willing but only occasionally dangerous, Siddle was nevertheless probably Australia’s best bowler. A memorable hat trick at the Gabba followed by six wickets at the MCG, he only took two other wickets outside of these two venues. Solid lower order batting of the best annoying tail end variety his efforts were ultimately not nearly enough.

Rating: 6.5/10

Ryan Harris (11 wickets @ 25.54)

Harris is a bowler who appears to be without much about him yet was in his three games prior to injury, was undoubtedly Australia’s best and most consistent bowler. Hurried England’s batsman and moved it enough to be a threat. Will want to forget his King Pair in Adelaide though.

Rating: 7.5/10

Ben Hilfenhaus (7 wickets @ 59.28)

Despite taking a wicket with the third ball of the series, Hilfenhaus consistently struggled. Little swing and not a great deal of pace meant that in spite of his consistency (his economy rate was 2.62 in four games) he was ineffective all series long.

Rating: 2/10

Doug Bollinger (1 wicket @ 130.00)

Someone we feel who was a victim of the selectors ridiculous whims and was clearly unfit at Adelaide. When totally match fit someone we feel who is still amongst the best four bowlers Australia have.

Rating: 1/10

Xavier Doherty (3 wickets @ 102)

Remember him? It seems an age ago now, but Doherty was flawed pick right from the start. An appalling first class record was not belied by his performances and his time is unlikely to come again. Did get KP out – on 227.

Rating: 2/10

Michael Beer (1 wicket @ 112)

The man whose name inspired a thousand awful puns and was another ridiculous pick by the selectors. With only five first class games under his belt he did at least look better than Doherty, yet may quickly find himself on the scrap heap anyway. Still someone who is not going to run through a side.

Rating: 2/10





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.





Fancy a Beer Warnie?

8 12 2010

Shane Warne has put the cat amongst the pigeons by calling for West Australian left arm spinner, Michael Beer, to be called up to the Australian team. Apparently this would be a ‘horses for courses’ selection as he knows the wicket in Perth and would be able to do a job. If his sole intention was to garner headlines then he has clearly succeded, yet, if he is serious – then this is yet another indication of the depths to which Australian spin bowling has sunk.

Back in the heyday of English mediocrity, startling collapses, woeful fielding and such inspired selections as Mike Smith of Gloucestershire, Ronnie Irani of Essex and Richard Dawson of Yorkshire were commonplace, many on the basis of a ‘horses for courses’ selection policy. Smith, a willing medium pacer, was picked at Headingley almost entirely out the blue in 1997 against the all conquering Aussies on the basis that he swung the ball and was exactly the sort of bowler England needed at the Yorkshire ground. Inevitably this selection backfired horribly and he went wicketless as Australia won by an innings.

Now the boot is firmly on the other foot and Shane Warne, a man who is frequently applauded for his cricketing brain (best captain Australia never had etc) and has in the past always said you should stick by your best eleven players, is now calling for what would be one of the most extraordinary selections in history.

“What? Even more than Xavier Doherty?” We hear you all cry… Well, yes! Even the man Shane Warne wants playing at the WACA, Michael Beer, must have blinked and rubbed his eyes in disbelief if he saw this headline. To be entirely fair to Beer, on the face of it, his record is actually slightly better than Doherty’s and even Hauritz’s, averaging as he does a shade under 40 and with a strike rate of a wicket every 66 balls in first class cricket.

However, and this is an enormous however, closer inspection shows he has only played five class matches and one senior limited overs game. If a man with this sort of record can get close to an Australian team at the age of 26, then the spin bowling barrel has not so much been scraped as demolished.

Alternatively, perhaps this is simply yet another example of Warne’s mind games and he is trying to coerce the selectors into what would be an enormous ego boost by asking him to return. We don’t for a minute believe he would be foolish enough to do so, whatever various pundits are saying, as there are too many cases in history of old champions returning only to re retire with their tails between their legs – yet he would probably love the attention!





Simple Brilliance From England and What Now For Australia?

7 12 2010

What a win! As many people have already said and will no doubt continue to say for some time, that was about the best all round performance we have seen for quite some time – if not ever – from England. Where Australia go from here it is difficult to say although England need to be wary as, surely, the only way is up!

Still, despite the need for not an ounce of complacency, England can rest in the knowledge that they are undoubtedly the better side and should win the Ashes. Not just retain them – win them. Imagine the crowds at the MCG if Australia are 2-0 down… Awash with English supporters would probably be an accurate description and, as is already happening, a distinct dearth of Aussies.

The game was unfortunately not entirely without blight for England with the abdominal injury to Stuart Broad. His focus has now shifted to ensuring he is fit for the World Cup in February next year and will travel home rather than stay with the squad. He has had a solid rather than spectacular two Ashes tests and despite his lack of wickets had done an admirable job holding up one end. Sadly for him he misses out on the pitch he would probably have enjoyed most, the WACA, and is no doubt sorely disappointed to be missing the rest of what could be a resoundingly memorable trip.

His loss is another’s opportunity however and in this case one of Bresnan, Tremlett and Shahzad will be the lucky one picked. Tremlett is the most obvious replacement being another tall, hit the deck, fast bowler. Bresnan provides a swing option more akin to Anderson and Shahzad a hustle and bustle type with the ability to reverse swing.

We suspect that Bresnan will be the initial player to be discounted as Tremlett on the WACA is an enticing prospect with his pace and bounce. Our personal pick at the Compulsive Hooker would be Shahzad though as he impressed us in his two appearances over the Summer. Whoever comes in does need to pick up the baton immediately though as, while he didn’t take many wickets, Broad, it could be argued, assisted Finn, Anderson and Swann in picking up the theirs by keeping the pressure on.

England move on to Victoria now to play a three day game against the state in what is likely to be a straight bowl off between these three. Eoin Morgan is likely to get his first game of the tour and will be looking to impress should his opportunity come through injury later in the series. Steven Davies too may get a game and let Prior have a rest or play simply as a batsman.

For Australia things are far less simple. Probably their best batsman of recent times, Simon Katich, is out of the series. Doherty is clearly not the answer to their spin woes. Bollinger belied his excellent record to bowl with no venom at all. Siddle appears to be largely ineffective and Marcus North is playing as a spin bowler. At least Ryan Harris showed that he offers something with the ball – even if he is apparently too high with the bat at 8.

Factor in other worries, albeit of a much smaller nature by comparison, such as whether Watson’s best position is truly opening (openers are supposed to score hundreds not fifties), Ponting’s own lack of form and you have potent mix ripe for combustion.

The best Australian team is probably this one in our view: Jacques, Watson, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey, Khawaja, Haddin, Hauritz, Harris, Siddle, Bollinger.

The problem is of course that even to casual cricket followers this is fraught with its own problems. Jacques, despite being supremely unlucky to have never regained his opening birth after a brilliant start to his test career, is only averaging 22 in Sheffield Shield cricket. Khawaja would be on debut although he, at least, is having a good season. Hauritz was dropped like a hot potato and his recall would mean a massive loss of face for the selectors to pick him so soon again whilst Bollinger was simply dreadful in Adelaide.

With Hilditch and company’s recent record of chopping and changing don’t be surprised by any side that is picked. Even Johnson, that widely derided chucker of pies, is possibly in line for a recall!

What is perhaps most likely though to happen is that Phil Hughes would come in for Katich and Khawaja for Doherty with North batting at 8 and providing the spin options on what is likely to be a seamers pitch anyway. In short though, who knows?!

England are undoubtedly, barring Broad’s injury, in the best shape possible while Australia (and we never thought we would write this sentence) are a confused, out of form and distinctly average mess!*

* We are praying that this doesn’t come back to haunt us as England, against all odds, rediscover their frailties we hope they have lost for the forseeable future!

 





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!





Ashes Squad Announced

23 09 2010

So the wait is over. The various squads and contract lists have been announced. For those who haven’t seen them we thought we would reproduce them here. Not an original piece of writing by any standards, for which we apologise!

England Ashes Test squad:
Andrew Strauss (captain, Middlesex), Alastair Cook (vice-captain, Essex), James Anderson (Lancashire), Ian Bell (Warwickshire), Tim Bresnan (Yorkshire), Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire), Paul Collingwood (Durham), Steven Davies (wkt, Surrey), Steven Finn (Middlesex), Eoin Morgan (Middlesex), Monty Panesar (Sussex), Kevin Pietersen (Hampshire), Matt Prior (wkt, Sussex), Graeme Swann (Nottinghamshire), Chris Tremlett (Surrey), Jonathan Trott (Warwickshire).

No real surprises although we are disappointed to see that Panesar has got the nod over Rashid. Pleased to see Tremlett in the side although believe Shahzad would have been a better pick over Bresnan. Despite some noticeable support from people commenting on this website and in the media we have serious concerns about the Yorkshire mans wicket taking ability.

That said we have enormous faith in Andy Flower and perhaps he can see something we can’t…

England performance programme squad:
Jimmy Adams (Hampshire), Jonny Bairstow (wk, Yorkshire), Danny Briggs (Hampshire), Michael Carberry (Hampshire), Maurice Chambers (Essex), Jade Dernbach (Surrey), Andrew Gale (Yorkshire), James Hildreth (Somerset), Craig Kieswetter (wk, Somerset), Adam Lyth (Yorkshire), Liam Plunkett (Durham), Ajmal Shahzad (Yorkshire), Ben Stokes (Durham), James Taylor (Leicestershire), James Tredwell (Kent), Chris Woakes (Warwickshire).

This is an interesting and exciting squad. There are some serious young players in here and we hope that Hildreth, Lyth and Taylor in particular amongst the batsman kick on. Also worth keeping an eye on is Ben Stokes from Durham. Amongst the keepers Jos Buttler of Somerset is unlucky to miss out although Bairstow of Yorkshire has been earning rave reviews for his work. Noticeable by his absence is Adil Rashid from the main and performance squads with Briggs from Hampshire being picked as the back up spinner. Presumably there is a larger plan with Rashid or perhaps other issues which have prevented his being picked – either way we hope there is a valid reason as he is too talented to miss out on international selection for too long.

England central contracts:
Strauss, Anderson, Bell, Broad, Collingwood, Cook, Finn, Pietersen, Prior, Swann, Trott.

Incremental contracts:
Ravi Bopara (Essex), Tim Bresnan, Eoin Morgan, Luke Wright (Sussex), Michael Yardy (Sussex).

No comments on this – for information only!

Back to more original thoughts tomorrow…








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