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 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

‘Curtly’ Tremlett and Other Stories From The WACA

16 12 2010

Tremlett you beauty! On another excellent day for England’s bowlers it was the replacement, the new boy to England’s team who stood out. In three spells of sustained excellence and aggression, Tremlett proved why he could potentially become a major part of this English bowling attack and demonstrated a depth that Australia can only dream of.

People laughed a while ago when Warne declared that Tremlett had the ability to be the best fast bowler in the world in an article for the Daily Telegraph, yet today the huge potential he has always had translated into important test match wickets.

As everyone knows Tremlett is a very tall man, but unlike Finn, he has a real presence at the crease – akin perhaps to the great West Indian bowlers of the 80’s and 90’s, Ambrose for example. Whilst it is obviously wildly overstating things to claim that Tremlett is anywhere near as good a bowler as the great Antiguan; there were times, especially during his opening spell with the new ball, that we as spectators felt an anticipatory horror and an instinctive sympathy for the batsman every time he ran up to bowl.

The difference is of course that in the past, with Ambrose, this feeling was heightened by the knowledge that some hapless English batsman was inevitably going to be walking off head bowed at any given moment rather than in this case, Australian.

This was a good pitch, bouncy and certainly quicker than the last few years, yet Australia should have made a good first innings total and still be batting. That the Australians got close to 300 was really down to some profligate short pitched bowling from Finn who, if Broad was available for the next test, would probably miss out, so well did Tremlett bowl today.

Anderson and Swann were also effective and, along with Tremlett and Finn, were brilliantly supported by the English fielders. Collingwood in particular should be pleased as his catch to dismiss Ponting is up there with Strauss’ effort at second slip to dismiss Gilchrist in 2005. Mind you, its all fairly run of the mill for the Durham man!

England need to bat all day tomorrow and preferably until around tea of the next as well. If they can do that – well, they will practically be able to feel that urn of inverse importance to its size is in their hands.

Vote For Swann!

14 12 2010

With that weird but strangely compelling award, the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year, due to be awarded on Sunday evening, we thought we would write a small piece in support of Graeme Swann’s nomination. SPOTY, as it is known, is an award that is misnamed being as it is that ‘personality’ does not much come into it.

In reality it is a roll call of the most popular sportsman throughout the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland – a popularity gained through their achievements in the past year. Character or ‘personality’ obviously helps the winner garner votes but is hardly the defining factor. Indeed, it is a rare thing for a player of genuinely interesting character to win the award despite what it’s title might be. As even the most committed Jonny Wilkinson fan could testify (and we rank pretty highly amongst them here at the Compulsive Hooker) as popular as he was back in 2003 due to his spine tingling drop goal down under, he was hardly what one would call ‘a personality’.

One person that lives up to both the original ideas of the competition by performing with sustained excellence as well as fulfilling the modern guise of the award by having what one might call an irrepressible and engaging character is obviously England’s finest, Graeme Swann. There is obviously something about spinners as Monty Panesar was also nominated back in 2006 – as much for his exuberant celebrations and rapid cult status as much as anything else – although in the end he failed to even come close.

Swann on the other hand appears to have a real chance and therefore we advise you to get behind him and vote in his favour when proceedings open.

For anyone doubting his aforementioned ‘personality’ have a look at his video diaries posted at the ECB website although they can also be found on Youtube. For ease we have included his fourth installment below – they are well worth a watch!


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!


The Gabba, Day 2

26 11 2010

Score: England 260 Australia 220-5

Before the series started almost everyone, bar, perhaps, a few Aussies living in the past and predicting a whitewash, expected this series to be tight and particularly difficult to predict. After the first day during which a Peter Siddle inspired Aussie side blew England away for a below par 260, the old sense that perhaps things hadn’t actually changed down under had reasserted itself in some quarters.

That feeling grew for the first hour or so of the morning session as Watson and Katich accumulated in a relatively untroubled fashion. A couple or referrals later, both going the way of the Aussies and England were visibly getting frustrated. Anderson who was by now in the middle of an excellent spell and was regularly troubling both openers finally made the breakthrough, having Watson caught behind. For the next couple of hours it was all England.

Cricket, like any other sport, is a game where that unquantifiable but potent force called ‘momentum’ has a large say in proceedings. Suddenly England were bowling brilliantly – not giving the batsman chances to score whilst also regularly beating the bat. As is often the way when the force is with you England then enjoyed some luck with Ponting being caught behind down the leg side. Never a good way to go for any batsman being as it is a particularly unlucky and unlikely way to be dismissed but, as they say, its just cricket.

Since then some really quite exceptional batting from Hussey with dogged support from Haddin has got the Aussies back into the driving seat but the feeling remains that this test could still go either way. Here are our thoughts for the day in no particular order:

Hussey: A simply brilliant display from the under pressure veteran. He was clearly seeing the ball so early that he was managing to pull balls that weren’t even particularly short. Timed the ball so immaculately that the vast majority of his runs have come in boundaries and in some ways England won’t be displeased to have left the field knowing they have a new ball and he has to start again in the morning. This could be the decisive innings of the test and if he manages another 50-70 runs it could be enough to win the game for Australia.

Swann: His battle with Hussey was good to watch although it has to be said that the Australian got the better of him. Did well however to pull things back with his last 16 overs going for only 25 runs. Got North in classic off spinners dismissal of a left hander.

Anderson: It looks like the Lancastrian has truly finally grown up and learnt how to bowl when the balls not doing much. It is true his record has improved dramatically over the past couple of years but doubts remained in Australia. Today’s performance has gone a long way to answering his critics although another two or three wickets in quick time wouldn’t hurt tomorrow morning. Bowled more balls that went past the outside edge than almost anyone we have ever seen.

Clarke: Not a pretty display and was responsible for playing and missing at Anderson at least seven or eight times. Scratched around and was given a working over by Broad with some short pitched bowling. Forget Ponting being vulnerable to the short ball – it looks like this could be a profitable tactic against the vice captain as well.

Finn: Reasonable with some excellent balls and overs mixed in with the odd pressure relieving short and wide four ball. Two important wickets though and plenty more to come from the giant Middlesex man. Good pace and excellent athleticism.

North: It would be a joy to all English fans if Hilditch and company keep selecting Mr. North. Providing you don’t let him get past twenty odd – he’s not dangerous.

What About Tomorrow?

England need quick wickets but are far from out of this. Australia have half a head’s lead and all depends on Hussey, Haddin and Johnson. Get two of these three out quickly and it could be even once more.

Australia will be very happy with a lead of 100 plus you would think, as, despite what the commentators are saying about the decent nature of the pitch – the fragility of the respective batting line ups mean that 100 runs would have a huge amount of value in what is promising to be a tight game.

Dingo’s Rant: An Aussie’s Ashes Predictions

24 11 2010

More from our increasingly nervous resident Aussie:

“The aim of English cricket is, in fact, mainly to beat Australia.” Jim Laker.

So here we go again.

A confident, conquering English cricket team struts into town to pour misery on an already sorrowful Aussie cricket team.

Hang on… I’m pretty sure that’s not how it’s meant to read! How did it come to this? We all knew Australian cricket was on the slide – but being the underdogs against the pommies on home soil? It’s all too much to bear.

The Australian selectors have decided to stick with generally the same team that’s been continually losing for the past couple of years – some close games mind you – but losses none the less.

One small change to be noted; the left arm slow bowler, Xavier Doherty, comes in for Hauritz – assumedly, perhaps, because Kevin Pietersen has a knack of getting out to bowlers of this type. Besides, Hauritz was neither taking wickets, nor holding up an end or even getting runs with the bat. Other than that, of course, he was not doing a whole lot wrong.

Hussey has retained his spot. In days of old, senior players were retained during bad form; doing so to enable them to retire gracefully or with a bang, but, with world class players liberally dotted about the team – this was easy to do. A team of Waughs, Haydens and Gilchrists could be counted on to carry an out of form player. Hussey has never really done enough for the baggy green to deserve this favour and there’s simply not enough in form players around him to cover.

Luckily for him, his understudies have also not done enough to state unequivocally their cause. With both Ferguson and  Khawaja failing quite miserably in the Australia A versus England warm up match. So Hussey stays and North also gets another shot – much to the chagrin of most supporters.

Ponting gets older and so his inability to play the short ball, or anything aimed at the stumps, leaves him looking a little fragile. The openers at least look settled and should provide a few runs before the ball becomes worn and all batsmen become clueless against the guile and skill of England’s trump card, Graeme Swann.

This is where we’re hoping Clarke, crook back and all, will hopefully dance his way around the crease and gather a few crucial runs. He may not be well liked by the Australian public with his carefully manicured image grating on most people’s nerves, but If he wins us back the urn through his batting – we’ll let it slide!

Bollinger will take wickets as long as his toupee stays secure. Hilfenhaus will bowl. A lot. And Johnson will try to aim the ball somewhere near the batsmen and, once every 4 overs, will bowl that unplayable delivery that will either take a wicket or knock someone’s teeth out. He, along with Siddle, have said they feel Strauss is the key wicket and will target getting his wicket with a barrage short deliveries.

Two things here: First; why are we targeting just one player? Perhaps targeting all 11 would seem a better plan… Second; with the short balls being feasted on recently by the visiting Sri Lankans, maybe bowling stump to stump would be a little more productive? Especially at tail-enders against whom we have struggled recently.

So, getting down to it, here’s how I see it:

Most Wickets

With the abundance of rain recently England will feel a little more at home; the ball will probably even swing a bit so Broad will be a definite handful. However, Swann be the man and will continue to bamboozle the Australians and most probably take about 89 wickets. For Australia, Johnson will knock out most of the top order (retired hurt counts as a wicket in my eyes) so we’ll go with him.

Most runs

According to the great Shane Warne, unless England stroke KP’s ego, he’ll sulk his way into mediocrity. Alistair Cook is still rubbish and Strauss apparently will be the only player Australia targets, but, I think It’ll be Bell who finally steps up and nurdles his way to be England’s top run gatherer. For Australia – boy that’s tough…  I’m going to go with Clarke as long as his back holds up – he does have the temperament to get things done in tough conditions.

Who will get the Urn?

As for the outcome…  Well England have powered through their warm up matches. Everyone looks in good nick and the camp is full of confidence.

But – it’s not going to be their year. I’ll back Australia to come through. Their build up has been lackluster; their recent record abysmal; and every second man is carrying a niggle – but they’re at home; their backs are against the wall and we love a good fight. (I predict also it’ll be a wonderful fight!)

Australia 2-1.

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