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?





‘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.





The Gabba, Day 5: More of the same please!

29 11 2010

England 260 & 517-1 drew with Australia 481 & 107-1

Well done Alistair Cook. Well done Andrew Strauss. Well done Jonathan Trott.

What a scorecard! (Just in case you have forgotten – here it is writ large…)

Perfection.

Through the dark days of the ‘90’s and early 2000’s we dreamt of waking up to see a scorecard along these lines and, whilst it wasn’t topped off with a win, it was worth the wait! That it came in Australia only serves to make it all the sweeter as deep down, behind most of the cautious and wildly optimistic, every Englishman would own up to a crawling, sneaking worry in their guts that things hadn’t changed. Now, with one of those draws that feels a bit like a win under their belts, and a clear demonstration of what our heads, if not our hearts, already knew those latent fears have been assuaged.

Yes it is true that it was Australia in a winning position on Saturday morning and, realistically, England never had much of a shot at it but, despite all this, it will be England who are feeling happiest. In our opinion, this Ashes will probably come down to a combination of belief and having a settled side that knows their roles exactly. England have this but Australia only have one of those necessary components. We have little doubt that the Australians still believe they can win but it would be unlikely if they were to do that in amongst so much potential chopping and changing. Not, of course, that it is a given they will change players for Adelaide but, if we were a betting syndicate, we’d lay a lot of money on them changing two or perhaps even three.

Firstly, Bollinger has to come in for Johnson. Hardly a revolutionary statement but one which is so full of validity that it’s practically over flowing. Siddle has taken six wickets so he’s safe at least, Hilfenhaus was one of the few bowlers to look reasonable in India so we feel that it would be a mistake to drop him. Doherty of course is a spinner (more on whom in a minute) which leaves old Mitchell. Probably the biggest insult I could give him, although if reversed it could also be conceivable that it is a compliment, is that he is definitely the Australian Steve Harmison. On a good day devastating but sadly ineffective and leaking runs the rest of the time.

Doherty is the other who will be concerned although it would be unfair in the extreme to drop him immediately. The Australian spin bowling revolving door was not wedged shut by his performance at the Gabba, something that was hardly unexpected as he simply looked exactly what he is – an average state bowler whose not going to let anyone down but equally not going  to run through a test side on a fifth day pitch. We have heard some people mention the possibility of two spinners at Adelaide in which case Hauritz might come back but all this would achieve is to make the Australian selectors look stupid. They got two of their selection calls right – Hussey and Siddle – but remain as confused as ever about the third.

Inevitably it is Marcus North who is the batsman (or bowling all rounder as someone wittily put it) under pressure but, with the squad for the second test already announced, and with only 6 front line batsman in it, it is safe to say he will play. There is a chance that Doherty could be dropped and North could provide the spin option (a suggestion that is not that foolish as North has a better first class record than Australia’s premier spinner…) but this would not satisfy most Australians who want to see him cast out forever, never to return.

From England’s point of view it is easy. Same side again and, providing England can deliver upfront a little better, it could well be happy days for English fans. With a bit more luck Anderson and company will be in business and if this happens – well, Australia are there for the taking.

Mind you – Australia will be saying they were the ones that were in the winning position and, therefore, it’s England who are there for the taking….

Thoughts please!

 





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.





Anderson Out Of Opening Ashes Test

15 10 2010

News is emerging from the England camp that Jimmy Anderson is likely to be out of the opening two test matches of England’s Ashes campaign due to an injury sustained at the end of season ‘bonding camp’. It remains to be seen why the injury is only just emerging now, several weeks after they returned from Germany, but – and you, the reader, may be surprised we are taking this line being as we are big fans of Jimmy A – it could perhaps not be a total disaster for England.

Anderson’s record against Australia in Australia is very poor and, whilst over the past couple of years his overall performance has improved, his away performances are still relatively ineffective – over the last two years he has taken 29 wickets in 10 games at 38.06. This is better than his overall record overseas (bowling average 43.84) but has obviously still got a substantial amount of room for improvement.

One mans loss is another’s opportunity as the saying goes and in this case Anderson’s injury opens the door for Ajmal Shahzad; a man who we felt should have been in the party already and whose brand of nippy, skiddy bowling reminds us of Simon Jones. Indeed against Bangladesh he was even reverse swinging the ball which makes the potential parallels even more obvious.

What we sincerely hope does not happen (and the potentiality of this happening is something that has caused us nightmares in the past) is that the England management swap like for like and pick Tim Bresnan as the one swing bowler in the team. Bresnan is an admirable trier but not nearly in Anderson’s class as a swinger meaning that we would rather use the unknown but classy looking Shahzad in a four man attack. The other option within the squad is Tremlett but he is a very similar type of bowler to Broad and Finn and so will probably remain on the sidelines.

One thing that we feel has definitely got to be avoided is playing a 5 man attack. It would be easy to argue that with the loss of one of England’s front line bowlers, and with relative rookies in reserve, it would be necessary to play an extra bowler. However, as we stated yesterday, we believe the Ashes will be won and lost in the batting meaning that England need as many runs as possible; hence 6 front line batsman. Plus to follow on from the preceding thoughts about Bresnan; it is practically assured that 5 batsman would mean playing the Yorkshire seamer to bat him at 8 with Stuart Broad at 7 – a solution that reeks of trying to plug two perceived holes (not enough runs or wickets) with a man who is unlikely to be the answer to either problem.

Anyway – thats our two pennies worth – what are your thoughts?





England’s Bowling Attack: Ashes Worthy?

10 08 2010

The England juggernaut rolls on to its sixth win in a row, having pulverised the Pakistani’s into submission.

Well actually we are not sure about the legitimacy of calling this side a ‘juggernaut’ yet due to four of those wins being against a supine Bangladesh side and the last two against a Pakistan side as inconsistent as its possible to be, and, being England, there is still a reasonable chance of everything coming to a shuddering halt at the Gabba on November 25th.

What there does seem little doubt about though is the fact that Pakistan are likely to lose this series 4-0. Possibly certain people may argue that Pakistan showed signs of fight in this match and point to what happened against Australia, yet we simply cannot see any sort of reversal in fortunes. The difference in the two contests lie in the bowling attacks, with England’s being a much more accurate, efficient and downright dangerous one than the Aussies’. Much of this can probably be put down to a familiarity with home bowling conditions but this is not the full story. Anderson in particular has rediscovered his ‘mojo’ and has been ably supported by Finn and Broad and, for the first time in this series, by Graeme Swann. (Not that Swann has bowled badly before – just that he hasn’t really bowled!)

The question that has struck us whilst following this series is; will four bowlers be enough down under during the coming Winter when the ball is not hooping around like a golden snitch in a Harry Potter film? Anderson, for one, has been rendered toothless a couple of times before as the shine comes off the ball, (and as the commentators love to keep reminding us they use a Kookaburra ball in Australia which doesn’t swing as much anyway) and it remains to be seen whether he has developed into a genuine all surface, all weather bowler. Indeed, during the last 18 months when asked to lead the bowling attack, Anderson has been strangely absent with this particular load falling on Broad or Swann’s shoulders.

Broad is a fast improving bowler (if still a spoilt, immature and petulant man) and looks more consistently dangerous every game. It will be his first trip to Australia but being a more consistent operator in terms of line and length he should do well. Broad also has the happy knack of taking wickets at important times, and whilst perhaps not yet in the quantities England would like, he remains an important cog for England.

Finn is the interesting one. Finn has started his career brilliantly and it would be feckless to criticise him for having taken his wickets against two of the weaker sides in world cricket – you can after all only bowl at the people put in front of you. To say his early record is encouraging (27 wickets in 6 matches at an average of just over 21) would be an understatement and like Harmison was once before him, he looks like the sort of bowler made for Australian conditions. Quick and with the sort of steepling bounce associated with bowlers of 6 foot 7 inches, but crucially perhaps without any signs of the curious homesickness that so afflicted Harmison’s away performances, he could be the difference in the coming series. Still only 21 years old there must be a risk that he suffers at the hands of the Australian’s famed batting line up yet, for us at the Compulsive Hooker, he is the real deal. Not a new Glenn McGrath as some people have been saying (he’s quicker than McGrath ever was) – just the first Steven Finn…

Swann of course is a given and has proven himself a match winning, dangerous and clever bowler  under any conditions. Having grown up in the 90’s watching England’s flirtations with such stellar names as Peter Such, Ian Salisbury and an ageing and decrepit John Emburey, it is a remarkable and wonderful thing to know we have the best attacking spinner in world cricket. Along with Finn, Swann could prove key in turning England’s tour into a successful one.

But are these four enough? That is the essential question we started out with and to tell the truth we hadn’t made up our mind until literally a moment ago. Such sage judges as Michael Vaughan (who with an Ashes win behind him has far more pedigree than us! Nevertheless…) have been advocating for some time the advantages of five bowlers but in our view we think this would be a flawed policy. In our eyes you have to pick your best available team and currently there is not a fifth bowler worthy of selection – bearing in mind that any extra bowler would almost certainly be a seamer, thereby ruling Monty Panesar out. The two obvious choices are Sidebottom and Bresnan yet these selections are fraught with danger. Sidebottom has lost his nip, Bresnan never had any and quite frankly there do not appear to be any other alternatives. From our point of view we would rather have six batsman who deserve their place and rely on four bowlers of high quality, than five batsman and select an extra bowler who is clearly not going to bring anything extra to the party.

The batting line up could yet change with Bell to come back from injury and Cook horribly out of touch; but this would be our preferred line up.

1. Strauss 2. Cook/ Trott 3. Trott/Bell* 4. Pietersen 5. Collingwood 6. Morgan 7. Prior 8. Swann 9. Broad 10. Anderson 11. Finn

*We realise we can’t justify dropping Trott (much to our personal disappointment) and so have selected him twice against the names of the most vulnerable other members of the England side. Morgan is a must for us…








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