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.





Morgan Missing As Marathon Tour Ends

7 02 2011

England have finally finished their tour down under and, quite honestly, not before time either. We cannot think of anyone, certainly not anyone English, who would have wanted the tour to finish over a month after the last test match. This means that some of the English players have been away from home for three months and have a matter of only five days at home before heading off to the World Cup in India for another tour that, if they are successful, will last almost two months in its entirety.

The only people that may have benefited from this extended series, the Australians, would also probably acknowledge the folly of a seven match series so close to the World Cup. They have of course regained some confidence in their own game and have had the added advantage of playing at home, yet, even for them, the benefits are not enough to justify a series of such length.

Perhaps the most telling thing for us is that we here at the Compulsive Hooker, as we are sure you all realise, are very committed cricket fans – yet in the past month we have struggled to write about it. The interest levels have not been there to the extent that, quite frankly, we could not care less who won yesterday’s game. Or the game before. Or the game before that.

Obviously this is far from a scientific survey of fans views, yet when people who would normally (and have even over the past month) sit quite happily to watch New Zealand vs Pakistan in the middle of the night cannot be bothered to watch England vs Australia – there is something seriously wrong.

The highlights of yesterdays game showed quite clearly that none of the players wanted to be there. Both sides were going through the motions with England in particular clearly not interested in being there. We won’t bother telling you what happened as we know you don’t really care…

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What has happened, inevitably one feels, is that six of England’s fifteen man selection for the World Cup are injured. The latest to be added to the list is the Middlesex batsman and England’s star man in the middle order, Eoin Morgan. England could probably get round losing Tim Bresnan for example, certainly Ajmal Shahzad and even Stuart Broad, yet like Graeme Swann, Morgan’s injury could be a mortal blow to English chances.

Morgan has not done much over the last month in Australia – perhaps the competitive juices he obviously thrives on were not flowing in what was, as we mentioned above, a dreary contest; or perhaps the lack of cricket over the preceding two months took its toll – yet he remains key to England’s batting. With him England believe they can win from almost any situation. Without him and suddenly the belief needed to get you over the line will sometimes fade away.





The Joy of Bell and Morgan

13 01 2011

The Case For Bell

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

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

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

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

Morgan Sparkles

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

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

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

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IPL Madness: A Few Thoughts

10 01 2011

With the cricket itself not holding an excess of allure to us until the latter stages, probably the most interesting thing about the IPL is the bidding process and waiting to see who signs who and for how much. This year, being the start of another cycle and with all teams starting more or less from scratch, it was always likely to throw up some interesting picks.

Notable amongst the eyebrow raising decisions have been the eagerness with which the IPL teams have picked up numerous lesser known Australian players (including four wicket keepers) despite a clear argument for Aussie cricket being down in the dumps – probably we feel as a result of a plethora of Australian coaches – but also as a result of some ridiculously blatant nepotism in the case of Mitchell Marsh. Practically unknown outside Australia, he is obviously highly thought of by his Dad, Geoff Marsh, who also happens to be Head Coach, and was bought for $290,000. This, just to put it in perspective, is more than established and former international stars Dwayne Bravo, Jesse Ryder, Steven Smith and Scott Styris to name but a few.

Staying within the Australian hegemony, it was also fascinating to note the enormous amount of money paid for journeyman Dan Christian ($900,000) – Deccan Chargers will be pleased to hear he picked up figures of 6.3 overs 0-66 against England today. Johan Botha ($950,000) also hit the jackpot but could hardly claim to be a big ticket player despite his status as SA 20/20 captain. Several lesser known Indian players have also benefited in some slightly strange and overly generous bids.

Amongst the bargain bucket signings was Dwayne Bravo ($200,000), Michael Hussey ($425,000) and possibly in our view the best of the lot (although we are perhaps biased) Eoin Morgan for $350,000.

Morgan was one of only a few England players picked which was a shame to see although we fully appreciate the reasons why. We are surprised in particular that Graeme Swann was not snapped up – surely he is someone who fits the bill as an entertaining yet quality player which we thought was what the IPL was all about!

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Ashes Retained: Ponting Departs

30 12 2010

So England have retained the Ashes! Well played and fully deserved we would say and, despite the grumblings of a few Aussies in the comment sections of various articles and forums, a justified result as England are quite simply the better team. Well balanced, in form and exhibiting a real sense of togetherness, England have been superior in just about every department.

However the glorious high achieved on the morning of Day 4 at the MCG will all come to naught should Australia win the final test in Sydney and level the series. We would even go so far as to say we would be left with a slightly sour taste in our mouths should it happen. For the record we can’t actually see that it might, yet this wonderful sport is a funny old game and England need to ensure that no complacency has crept into their game in the fifth test.

On a day in which the Daily Telegraph has published a 16 page ‘Ashes Winning Supplement’ and is, like every other cricketing media outlet in the UK, indulging in the sort of triumphalism that makes us nervous; it is important to remember that retaining the Ashes is a fine effort, but winning the series convincingly would be a great one.

It is perhaps possible to forgive the majority of the press as they remain fans like the majority of us. Many of those are fans who happen to have played the game to the highest level in the recent past and have consequently suffered at the hands of Ricky Ponting at least in the current set up, and so could be doubly forgiven. Yet, the superstitious side of our natures dictate we have to temper this spirit just a little here at the Compulsive Hooker – hence the nature of the opening paragraphs!

In truth though it was a superb performance by England at the MCG and one which was arguably even more impressive than the innings victory at Adelaide. Just how impressive is clear when you realise that two out of the four bowlers who took 20 Australian wickets were not even first choice players at the start of the tour. One of them, Bresnan, was even perhaps as low as fifth place in the pecking order before the Adelaide test match, something that demonstrates perfectly the admirable strength in depth England have built up.

Moving forward England have only one concern, that is of course the form of England’s cricketing cockroach, Paul Collingwood. The Durham man is having a series comparable to Clarke and Ponting for Australia, albeit with some fine contributions in the field with ball and catching. Despite his admirable qualities (and let it be said we have always been a staunch supporter of the ginger one) we do feel that perhaps now his time in test cricket is drawing to a close.

With the future in mind we would be keen to see England’s eternal substitute on this tour, Eoin Morgan, given a go. He is next in line at the cab rank for a batting spot and having scored a hundred in difficult circumstances against Pakistan deserves his spot – probably at six though with Bell moving up to five. Collingwood still has much to offer and will remain a crucial part of England’s World Cup campaign in February.

Australia on the other hand, as for most of the series, are in a world of trouble and it appears that with the capriciousness of the Aussie selectors in mind, Ponting may well have played his last test. Clarke has this morning been named as Australia’s captain for the SCG, ostensibly because of Ponting’s finger injury – something that is surely a piece of rubbish on a level with Johnson’s resting at Adelaide. If he was fit to play at the MCG, he is hardly likely to be unable to play at Sydney after all.

Ponting will know it smacks of  the selectors easing him out – something that will probably please most of what seems to be a supremely fickle Australian public – and marks a sad end to a supreme career. For all our English irritation at his antics over the years, not least his disgraceful performance towards Aleem Dar during this very test, he has always had the respect of everyone English for his batting.

Clarke comes into the captaincy as probably one of the least popular and most out of form players, certainly in our memory, for Australia and faces an incredibly difficult task. Captains usually like to lead from the front, yet with only one significant but ultimately useless contribution, this is likely to be difficult for Clarke. He has already looked under pressure and nervous throughout the series and so we feel the additional pressures of captaincy can hardly help.

Pakistani born Usman Khawaja comes into the side to bat at three and directly replace Ponting. Replacing a legend is usually a very difficult thing, but Khawaja has the cushion of knowing that even a scratchy 30 odd is more than Ponting has managed all series when it mattered!

We will follow this up with more thoughts for prior to the first test, but for now we too want to revel (albeit in a tempered way!) in the chaos England have caused in Australian ranks, and the knowledge that the Ashes are ours until 2013 at least. Well played Strauss and the boys and lets win the final test well.





Collingwood In The Runs & Sri Lankan Disrespect

11 11 2010

England 288-8d, South Australia 26-0 Stumps.

A middling day for England once again down under although, unlike at Perth last week, there were a couple of bright points. Collingwood struck 94 and Bell 61 enabling England to scramble to something like respectability. Failures for Strauss and Trott will not worry England unduly and although Cook will remain under the microscope having got to 30 odd before being dismissed.

Running up to this series there has been a great deal of talk given over to England’s bowlers as to whether they will be potent enough to take wickets in Australia. To us however that is not really the crux of the matter. We have said it before and in all likelihood (as is our wont) will keep repeating it to series end but – it will be the batsman that win or lose this series.

Both sides have middling to good attacks and average to good batting line ups. Crucially though, neither sides first choice top six have been in the best of form and it is fair to say that you wouldn’t back either to score 550 and declare at the moment. Therefore the side that does do this, in our opinion, will win the Ashes.

Andy Flower’s avowed policy before this game was to give the test eleven as much practice time in these games as possible by essentially ignoring the substitute fielders. An understandable policy but one which needs to be changed for the next match against Australia A. Eoin Morgan in particular needs some exposure to the bouncy wickets and game situations as, should Cook lose form or one of the other top six become injured, he will immediately be required to slot in -something that in our view should be taken into consideration when picking the side for the next match.

England’s bowlers will now have to bowl well again to maintain their positive start to the tour. The last thing they need is for South Australia to bat for a day and a half and score 400 plus themselves – something that they will be only too keen to do.

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West Indies in Sri Lanka

If anything else was needed to show just how far the West Indies have fallen in the eyes of the cricketing world; it is the fact Sri Lanka have left out their premier fast bowler, Lasith Malinga, from the squad for the upcoming series.

Long gone are the days when the West Indians coming to town evoked a mix of fear, fascination and awed respect – but even so, to not select your best team to play them is bordering on the downright rude. We know and understand the arguments about Malinga’s importance to the world cup challenge in February; that he has in the past suffered from injury so a certain amount of wrapping in cotton wool is expected – but to rest him for a test series seems extraordinary.

The commitment to test cricket’s primacy is belied by this move; as well as displaying a not inconsiderable amount of disrespect to the West Indies themselves. Malinga is a wonderful bowler and we for one are disappointed that we won’t see him bowl at Gayle, Bravo and Chanderpaul in this series.

 





England Win and Ridiculous Conspiracies

23 09 2010

It is with some relief that we write these words: the England Pakistani series is over. What was an intriguing series to begin with has gone through the gamut of emotions  and remarkably ended in a tense, exciting and winner takes all scenario. What has not been so pleasant, quite apart from the claims of spot fixing, has been the increasingly aggressive stance from Pakistani supporters as they begin to subscribe to the ‘worlds against us’ conspiracy theory.

Yesterdays game was, for the most part, a very close affair until Swann turned the screw in the 28th over of the Pakistani innings. The Pakistani bowling attack again served notice of how dangerous it could be, the old man of the side, Shoaib Akhtar, showing immense bravery to continue bowling with a side injury and pick up 3-40. For a large part of the innings England were only one or two wickets away from collapsing almost entirely.

The English saviour, once again, was Eoin Morgan – a man who has done more for the England ODI team in turning them into a consistent and dangerous unit than arguably any other. Without the sheer class and calmness of Morgan; without his ability to work the strike and hit the gaps; without his talent to shift in gears and hit boundaries almost at will late in the innings – England would have in all likelihood, here and on increasingly numerous other occasions since his debut, folded – whether chasing or setting a target. Up until now Morgan has mostly produced these outstanding innings batting second – an easier task simply because you know exactly what you have to do – but yesterday, batting first, it was up to him to set the pace and judge what a reasonable score was. Once again he performed brilliantly and it was almost solely down to him that what turned out to be a very testing target was set.

In the Pakistani reply Akmal and Hafeez once again set off like a rocket, something that has been a feature of this series, before getting bogged down in the middle overs. Two wickets in an over, one a brilliant catch by Paul Collingwood, from Broad slowed the Pakistanis although it was the introduction of Swann that really set the cat among the pigeons. The ball in his first over to defeat Fawad Alam was breathtaking and we suspect would have got far finer players than the Pakistani number five out. The death knell of the Pakistani innings however was in the 28th over when Swann removed Yousuf and Afridi in consecutive balls – Yousuf’s in particular being another exceptionally fine bit of bowling. Rameez Raja on the Test Match Special commentary summed Swann up perfectly; “I never thought that watching off spin could be so interesting”. There are few finer sights in cricket than watching a fast bowler steaming in and causing havoc – i.e. Allan Donald at Edgaston 1998, Curtly Ambrose at Trinidad in 1994 to name but a couple – but one of them is definitely a top class spinner weaving his web. Edge of your seat stuff as you wonder whether this one will be caught at slip, beat the bat or simply castle the hapless batsman.

One regrettable aspect of this series was the lack of UDRS technology as there were on a three or four occasions fairly glaring errors made by the on field umpires. Whilst this is part and parcel of cricket, sadly these all went one way and have only served to fan the conspiracy theories surrounding Pakistani cricket as put forward by an increasing number of their supporters and the administration. The Compulsive Hooker has always been a little suspicious of technology as in our view we believe it is important not to devalue the umpires on the pitch – something that is already happening unfortunately with players increasingly showing small amounts of dissent and questioning decisions. However with the glaring and obviously wrong decision against Kamran Akmal last night we feel that perhaps it should be made a global standard by the ICC for all games.

Fortunately the particular decision against Akmal,whilst obvious in its incorrect nature, would have been unlikely to have altered the end result of the game. When he was dismissed Akmal had already become very bogged down and was struggling to push the scoring along after what had been a flying start and, considering the deficit at the end was 121 runs, it is unlikely that he would have made that much of a difference. In the end the class of Swann and Morgan told and England, rightly, were victors in the series.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the scoreboard of yesterdays game; please click here.

What is imperative now upon conclusion of the series is that the PCB and the ICC conduct a full, thorough and above all totally honest search into these allegations as well as fixing in general. Sadly up until now the PCB, and Ijaz Butt in particular, have appeared to be, if not dishonest, certainly disingenuous and more likely to try and save face by going on the attack than apparently willing to try and clean up the game. It seems obvious to most (and by most we mean pundits and experts within the game rather than the armchair supporters such as ourselves) that something is going on. For any Pakistani’s reading this we also realise that these issues are unlikely to be concentrated solely with your national team and so the ICC needs to take charge and bring any wrong doers to justice, whatever their nationality.

We have fallen out of love with cricket a little bit in these last few weeks and we know that we are not the only ones. It will be with some relief that the Ashes will arrive as with that series at least we can be reasonably sure that nothing untoward will be going on. The tour squad is announced today at 1:30pm and we are already feeling the first tingles of excitement at what is likely to be a closely fought and brilliant series.








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