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.





Keeping Confusion: Prior In For Davies

19 01 2011

Particularly until the advent of central contracts, but even since then to a large degree, there have been few constants in the England cricket team. Players come and go, coaches do the same, and despite levels of success having improved since the dire days of nineties cricket, results have done much the same thing too. In amongst this little lot there has been one position that has changed above all – that of England wicket-keeper – and this tendency to chop and change shows no sign of abating.

While the situation does not even closely rival the Australian spin situation – a dozen or so spinners since the great Shane Warne’s retirement in 2007 – it is hardly an ideal one. Partly this lack of clarity has been caused by the different demands of each cricketing format but some, it has to be said, has been down to a mixture of poor selecting and simple mediocrity amongst the players chosen.

In the latest about face, Matt Prior has come back into the ODI fold having displaced Steven Davies for the Cricket World Cup. Prior is of course the established and much improved test match keeper with an argument to be the best in the world in this format, yet in ODI’s has, on the whole, flattered to deceive. Like the reinvigorated Bell, the England management are banking on England and Prior’s recent successes to imbue him with the confidence required to succeed. There is little doubt that as a batsman he has the capabilities although this, as in the case of Michael Vaughan, does not always guarantee success.

Davies could be justified for feeling a little disgruntled although the management are probably justified in his removal despite a reasonable record in his opening handful of ODI’s. As we mentioned the other day, we would have picked Davies in our squad in the interests of consistency and giving a young player with huge potential a chance, yet it is also difficult to find fault with the selectors eventual choice.

Part of the problem in our view has been how the role of the wicket keeper, particularly in the limited overs formats, has been interpreted. It is probably possible to blame that once in a generation talent, Adam Gilchrist, for this although it is worth mentioning Romesh Kaluwitharana in the same breath for his exploits as keeper/batsman at the 1996 world cup.

As exciting as the Sri Lankan was though, it was Gilchrist who took this role to the heights and should indirectly shoulder some of the blame for England’s keeping dilemmas. Ever since he started opening for Australia, England’s selectors have been trying to find someone to emulate him as apparently that is the de facto position for any international keeper to bat these days.

Phil Mustard, Craig Kieswetter, Matt Prior (once already) and Steven Davies have now all been tried and discarded in this role and we hope that with Prior’s second coming in this format he will not be asked to reprise this role. Class batsman that he is, we would rather see Bell given the chance to build an innings and become the man to score big runs at the top of the order. Prior should slot in at six or seven and become a player capable of either rebuilding in times of crisis or blasting a quick 40 in the last ten overs. If he can do this he will become an integral part of England’s plans across all formats for many years to come.

Players used by England as designated wicket keepers through the last 10 years in all international formats: (Click here)





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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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






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.





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.

*****************

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.

 





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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