All Round England Outclass India

26 07 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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England vs India: Thoughts

18 07 2011

It’s probably obvious – but we at the Compulsive Hooker love cricket. Not just a little bit, not as a passing interest but, like many other millions of people, as an all consuming passion for the game that, had we been IT specialists, would have seen us dismissed as nerds. Actually, in all honesty, this has been accusation leveled at us in the past anyway but because its cricket – a sport – you are somehow excused the finer perils of ‘nerddom’.

Whether this is fair or not is an entirely different argument but what is certainly worth mentioning is the fact that we have not been so excited/nervous/happy at the prospect of a test series since 2005 (and that’s even including this last Ashes series in Australia.) Whilst this isn’t exactly a clash of the titans (since the demise of the great Australian side titans have got considerably smaller) it is a battle for the number one status in world cricket.

We live currently in an era where no one side dominates and where home advantage plays a key part of any game. It is true that over the last 18 months India has probably the biggest claim to the number one spot – something that is born out by the ratings – yet if England were to win this series by two tests suddenly they are on top.

Of course the ratings are only ever really an indication of form and, as such, unless there is a clear gap between first and second, not too much can or should be drawn from it (other than a 500 word article of course…) If England beat India well this Summer then they can probably justifiably call themselves the best side in the world. Likewise, if India triumph, then they too can argue very fairly that they deserve the title.

For us at the Compulsive Hooker though it is less about the ability to call yourself the best in the world and more about watching Anderson or Zaheer Khan on an overcast day, perhaps on a green track, bowling to Tendulkar or Pietersen and watching the contest unfold.

England and India are both very fine sides and cricket is richer for the competition the current situation affords.

For our money we have England as slight favourites – the ability of the English batting to cope with the Indian bowling we think is  higher than the reverse – something we credit to the fact that England undoubtedly have the best current bowling attack in world cricket and English conditions are totally foreign to the Indians.

Thoughts?





Flower, Fletcher and Australian Limitations

5 05 2011

There has been a fair bit of cricket over the past four weeks or so in which The Compulsive Hooker has been dormant (not to mention in the other sports that we sporadically cover) and so we won’t try to make comment on it all. However, there have been several stories recently that have managed to tip ourselves out of our writing lethargy to the extent that we are now, once more, going to put (digital) pen to paper.

Flowering Again

Firstly, and in no particular order, the news that Andy Flower has signed a new contract with England is undoubtedly great news. After an unfortunate start in the West Indies during his first series, Flower’s management has even from an outsiders point of view made a difference. Often with coaches and managers it is only the people close to the team or perhaps the media whose job it is to cover them who are able to see the effects of their work – results not always being the most reliable indicator. Yet, in the case of Flower, even from a spectators point of view the difference he’s made is apparent. There is an indefinable air of calmness and confidence surrounding the team which was not present with his predecessor Peter Moores.

He is already probably the most successful coach of recent years with the only blot on his copybook being England’s World Cup and recent ODI performance. We are confident though this will improve rapidly with the series against Sri Lanka and then India being closely contested.

Fletcher Returns

The other bit of coaching news worth mentioning is of course Duncan Fletcher’s surprise appearance as coach of India. With Gary Kirsten being such a popular man with the media, fans and importantly the players, it is a hard act to follow. Opinion appears to be split on whether it is a good or bad thing with England players from his heyday as England coach back in 2003-2005 being overwhelmingly positive on the news but with most other people being either slightly puzzled or even downright disappointed.

For all that his record was tarnished by the events of 2006/7 of which few Englishman ever speak (most choose to blot it out as a temporary aberration in between the Ashes wins of 2005 and 2009) he had an excellent record as coach and could take a great deal of credit for turning England into a useful side once more.

His record of producing quick bowlers is often cited as a positive although we do sometimes wonder whether this is more to do with the fact that he happened to be around when England produced what Adam Gilchrist called the best seam bowling attack he’d ever faced. If however he is genuinely talented in this area then this could be the exact move that India need to turn them from probably the best test side in the world to being an indomitable force.

Good luck to him and we can’t wait for the series between his new team and his old team this Summer.

A Blizzard Or Just A May Shower?

Watching the IPL there do appear to be a good number of virtually unknown Aussies playing for some of the franchises and, whilst this can probably be put down to coaches from the Antipodes picking players they know, it did illustrate to us some of the problems facing Australian cricket at the moment.

In last night’s encounter between Pune Warriors and Mumbai Indians there was a young Australian opening the batting. Without Cricinfo handy we couldn’t work out who he was although there were frequent references to what would have been some very unusual weather patterns in Mumbai at this time of year (or at all perhaps!) and only slowly did it dawn on us that Blizzard was his name. (It didn’t help that the commentators were making the odd pun on his name).

He was frequently described as a prospect and someone to watch out for. The problem with this however is that he is almost 27 and has only played a handful of state games. Hardly what we would define as a prospect. Everyone is of course familiar with the case of Michael Beer and one or two others who have gained some sort of recognition recently but they too are characteristic of these problems. By the time a player is in their mid to late twenties if they haven’t broken through they probably will never do so. If in the unlikely event (as in Beer) they do get picked for the national side they are immediately going to be at a disadvantage – they will hardly know their game as well as the average international player does.

This is of course still probably part of a hangover from the days of the all conquering team of the late ’90’s and mid 2000’s when you had a further 15 players around the country who would have been good enough in any other era to play international cricket. The players who are now 26/27 would have been competing with the likes of Darren Lehman, Jamie Cox, Stuart MacGill et al for places in the state sides aged 18/19 and being mere mortals therefore struggled for game time to the detriment of the current national side.

In England over the past few years the opposite has been happening and the plethora of young, quality and consistently run scoring, wicket taking youngsters is testimony to that. With a nod to the argument that perhaps (certainly in Division 2 cricket) the quality maybe isn’t as high as it was, we know which countries supporters camps will be happier.

County Sunshine

A quick word to finish up on the County scene. Every pundit involved with the game has been very positive on the start to this years County Championship and domestic season as a whole – no doubt helped by the glorious weather the UK experienced in April. We are not going to comment at length on it here beyond saying we have wished occasionally that we did not inhabit the dusty lands of the UAE and were within reach of a county ground to which we could migrate for the odd afternoon.

We would also like to point you, our readers, in the direction of this article by Cricinfo’s George Dobell. Mr. Dobell is swiftly becoming our favourite writer on the county game and his in depth and considered articles are always a joy to read. There are links to his previous ones at the bottom of the article and they are all worth a glance.

Thanks for taking the time to read this again – we are undertaking to write some more regular missives from now on so please check back regularly.





Team By Team World Cup Previews

19 02 2011

So the Cricket World Cup, a tournament that doesn’t finish until the improbable date of April 2nd, gets under way today with a match between the favourites India and the nation applauded by many for giving the tournament back it’s soul, Bangladesh, with what was apparently a passionate and moving opening ceremony. In the best traditions of English cricket supporters and ODI cricket, we have been pretty ambivalent up until this point (regular readers may have guessed due to the lack of comment on this website) about it. Now, however – and as it always does eventually, the world cup bug has grabbed us and we are looking forward to two months of regular, meaningful limited overs cricket.

Therefore here are some short previews and predictions of how the various teams will go:

Australia

Have a better chance than many think. It really comes down to whether their all out pace attack can do the same job as it did in the West Indies four years ago. Tait and Lee are older and more broken than they were back then but still remain excellent bowlers. The batting is a concern and they will need Shane Watson in particular to be the star man in much the same way as Hayden was in the previous tournament. However our pick as a star man is David Hussey who will surely seize his chance and perform in his brother’s absence. Quarter Finalists.

Bangladesh

Over the past year or so there have been definite signs of improvement in this Bangledeshi team although it is hard to argue they have left their frailties behind entirely. Have the ability to spring an upset and could easily end the West Indian’s dreams of success before they even start. As always Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan will be key men with the captain being our pick as the star man. Have every right to believe they can progress and we have them down as quarter finalists.

Canada

This is likely to be a painful tournament for the men from North America. From a cricketing minnow’s point of view they are probably the weakest team but will be hopeful that they can at least beat the Kenyans. Showed in the warm up game against England that they can compete and have a player of good ability in Rizwan Cheema – our star man for the Canadians. Unfortunately we don’t think they will win a game and will go out prior to the knock out stages.

England

Have the potential to be winners although form and injury worries give the feeling that perhaps this might be a tournament too far for them. Morgan’s absence is a massive blow but at least they have the returning (and on form) Stuart Broad to lead the way with the ball. Much will depend on the captain, Andrew Strauss, and a rejuvenated Paul Collingwood, although our pick as star man after a move to the top of the order is Kevin Pietersen. We have argued before that this might not be a bad plan and if he has a good tournament you simply don’t know how far England could go… Semi Finalists*

India

Hardly an unoriginal choice as winners of this tournament, yet this this where the smart money lies. Devastating batting, bowling suited to their home conditions, one feels that if they play to their potential they are likely to be too much for the others. However they are not so far and away the favourites that it is a given and their bowlers in particular need to fire. Tendulkar is our (obvious) pick as star man in what would likely be his last tournament. Winners.

Ireland

Will be desperate to  to show that the decision to exclude associate teams from the next world cup is very short sighted by creating an upset or two. Buoyed by the returning Ed Joyce (the CH’s star man), they will believe they can beat Bangladesh, West Indies and the Netherlands with possibly even England also in their sights. It is unlikely that they would qualify for the latter stages yet like all Irish sporting teams they are combative and should not be discounted. We think they have one upset in them although this will probably not be enough so it is simply the group stages for them.

Kenya

Once seen as the next associate side most likely to be given test status, they have regressed in recent years. They do however possess some talented players with exposure to success at World Cups and will believe at any rate that they could beat both Canada and Zimbabwe. Having transformed himself from the leg spinning hero that took Kenya to the semi finals back in 2003 but who then developed the yips, Colins Obuya has turned himself into a good middle order batsmen and is our star man. Group stages is as far as they will go however.

Netherlands

The eternal ‘almost team’ but still one who opponents take lightly at their cost – just ask England. Have one or two talented players with the stand out being Essex’s excellent Ryan Ten Doeschate who has the potential to be quite brilliant. Like Ireland, will be eyeing up wins against Bangladesh and the West Indies as potential upsets – something that would be quite exceptional – but in all likelihood it is the men from the Emerald Isle who will be their most likely win.  Group stages.

New Zealand

We don’t know what has happened to the Kiwi’s over the past year. They appear to have imploded and, whilst you would be unwise to write them off, it is lucky for them that they are not in Bangladesh’s group. Even Zimbabwe on current form will be a test. Much as always depends on Taylor, Vettori and McCullum (our star man) although it is time for the support acts, Southee, Guptill and Ryder to step up to the plate. Unfortunately we do not see them going past the group stages as we believe Zimbabwe may cause an upset.

Pakistan

Anything could happen quite honestly and it probably will! Led by Afridi and with a bowling attack that can run through anyone on their day (even despite the bans to Amir and Asif) it is the batting that will be crucial to Pakistan. In recent times it has been this aspect of their game that has let them down badly. Star man for us will be the veteran Abdul Razzaq, whose batting is crucial in the late order and can snatch games from the jaws of defeat. Quarter finalists.

South Africa

The team who if only for themselves may well have won two world cups, will believe that with the demise of Australia, this may be their year. Studded with talent in both departments including the interesting choice of Imran Tahir as their attacking spinner, they will be a handful for anyone. Despite the claims of Amla we have plumped for Steyn to shine. Again in this most open of world cups it is far from a given that they will progress past the quarters even as their previous habits of folding under pressure show, yet we believe they will be losing finalists.

Sri Lanka

Possible winners, the Sri Lankans are bound to benefit from home support, familiar pitches and a wealth of talent and it would be a fool who would write them off. We have picked the upcoming Angelo Matthews to be our star man, a player of immense ability, although the old stagers of Sangakarra, Murali, Jayawardene  – not to mention Dilshan et al – will push our choice all the way. We believe they will be Semi Finalists.

West Indies

Of all the teams in the world cup we will be hoping that the West Indies do well. As we all know cricket is struggling in that part of the world and a successful world cup would do wonders for the teams confidence. Anything from semi finals onwards would represent real achievement – something that would mean Chris Gayle has had an excellent world cup. Darren Bravo is our pick as star man although in all honesty Quarter finals is likely to be as much as they can achieve.

Zimbabwe

The men from Southern Africa have been on an upward spiral of late and should not be taken lightly by anyone. We have already called a possible upset against New Zealand and providing they can win the other games they are expected to, this should be enough to put them in the quarter finals. Something that would represent a major achievement. As star man we are going to go for Brendan Taylor although players like Chigurumba or Taibu will push him all the way. 
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Thoughts On The Pakistani Spot Fixing Sentences

8 02 2011

First of all, let us start by saying that cricket is a game that we love. We love the fact it is a game more complex than most others; we love the simplicity of the contest between batsman and bowler – an individual contest in amongst a team game; we love all the cultural differences that come to the fore when fans from different nations come together in celebration and support of the game; and most of all, we love believing that the contests we are watching are genuine encounters with opposing teams doing their utmost to win.

With the scandal involving the three Pakistani cricketers, Amir, Asif and Butt, it is this last reason and covenant with the paying public that has been broken. For many, including us at the Compulsive Hooker, the subsequent lack of trust engendered by the actions of these players had caused a fairly deep rift between us and the game itself – something that even pulsating series in South Africa and Australia since then have not been entirely able to heal.

In some ways we are relieved that some of the wilder claims of Mazhar Majeed involving other players have not been found to have happened, yet, the suspicion still lurks that perhaps this is for a lack of evidence (or possibly even lack of will) as much as anything else. Unfortunately, and this is the crux of what we believe with regard to the sentences imposed on the three players, the deterrent to spot fix, match fix, call it what you will, is simply not there – even now and, as sure as eggs are eggs, it will happen again.

It is that most human of failings, greed, which of course lead to the situation cricket finds itself in today. Butt, Amir and Asif found the lure of the lucre too hard to resist and so they find themselves in trouble today. It is possible to sympathise with these players on some level – they are relatively poorly paid and can see their neighbours in India earning astronomical sums and this is surely something the Pakistani board have to address moving forward. After all, one of the reasons why you can believe in the Indian, Australian or English teams honesty is that, simply put, they have much more to lose than gain.

However, even despite these mitigating factors, we do believe that these players needed to be held up as an example to the rest of the cricketing world so that we do not get a rerun of this situation in five years time. The argument that it is ‘only a few no balls’ holds no water. It was a matter of principle that needed addressing but sadly has not been completely so. Five year sentences are simply not enough in our eyes and the prospect of Salman Butt, for example, playing test cricket again is not one that we will savour.

 





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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Some Predictions For 2011

9 01 2011

Predicting anything, let alone a wide ranging selection of sports events months before they happen, is often a fool hardy business. However, as usual, we are going to have a stab at prophesying what might happen in the international cricket and rugby worlds. After all, and at the very least, when we are casting around for something to write in December 2011 it will be a readymade article reveling in how prescient or, more likely, how far wrong we were…

Let’s start with cricket…

ICC Cricket World Cup (50 Overs): England

We haven’t looked at the draw so we aren’t sure exactly what the various permutations can be, yet the final we would like to see is an India vs England match up. There are probably four or five sides who could win this competition but, with the Ashes win under their belt, we believe that finally England might have the quality and consistency to go all the way. Otherwise India (as mentioned), Sri Lanka and South Africa will be the hot favourites.

Test Cricket

2011 is a year of prime opportunity for England to begin their assault on the world number one slot. Home series against Sri Lanka and India to be followed by a proposed tour of India and then Pakistan, possibly in the UAE, offer an opportunity to show that the recently concluded 3-1 Ashes win is no fluke. In the early season conditions against Sri Lanka we believe that England should comfortably prevail to be followed by a close but victorious series win over India. Honours will be reversed though should the trip to India be confirmed.

Elsewhere, Australia travel to South Africa and Sri Lanka; both of whom should have too much for the down in the dumps Aussies. The rest of the test nations will be fighting for position in the lower rungs of the table with New Zealand possibly relishing the prospect of getting one over Australia later in the year.

Zimbabwe too will make their return to test cricket on the back of some improved ODI showings in 2010. However they will be comfortably outclassed leading to lots of stats quoted with the caution they are ‘without games featuring Zimbabwe’.

By the end of the year we would expect England to have usurped South Africa’s second spot in the rankings with India holding on by a slender margin at the top.

We would be entirely unsurprised should match fixing, spot fixing or any other sort of illegal fixing rear its ugly head once more.

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Moving on now to rugby…

Six Nations Rugby: England

There is little doubt following the Autumn campaigns of the northern hemisphere sides that England are going to be considered favourites. Italy are no hopers, Scotland lack fire power, Wales and Ireland lack consistency whereas France are mired in infighting and seeming self doubt. England showed signs that their game is progressing and whilst not in the same class yet as the Southern Hemisphere giants week in week out, they should have enough to top the table with one loss along the way.

Tri Nations: New Zealand

Only one conceivable winner here as Australia’s young and South Africa’s ageing side fail to get to grips with the juggernaut that is All Black rugby. Tantalising glimpses of All Black fallibility will begin to emerge as the tournament wears on however culminating in a defeat or two in the last couple of matches. The already enormous expectations will then become almost unbearable as the New Zealand public turn ugly and hyper critical leading to….

Rugby World Cup: Australia

…Australia winning the world cup in extra time. Australia are a side who can rarely be discounted in any sport and in rugby they have more than enough talent to match the All Black’s given a little bit of luck or perhaps faltering opposition. The ensuing backlash by the New Zealand public causes Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Mils Muliaina to move to Europe on big money deals and Sonny Bill Williams to move to rugby league.

England grind their way to the semi finals before being out classed but all other northern hemisphere sides disappoint with France in particular blowing up in spectacular fashion in the semi finals.








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