Andrew Hilditch: A Selecting Legend?

10 01 2011

Something now that is a couple of days old, yet we have only just seen it and we couldn’t resist writing something quickly about it…

Andrew Hilditch, Australia’s Chairman of Selectors, believe that the selection panel ‘have done a very good job’. Instead of accepting any blame for the Australian Ashes debacle he has laid all the problems at the players doors saying they were outplayed and didn’t perform as well as they should. The article hits quite an amusing note so we would recommend you read it, but while we’re at it, let’s just have a look at some of the selections and rate how they went…

  1. Started the series by picking a squad of 17 players demonstrating that they didn’t really have a clue what side made up their best eleven. Can’t have given the players much confidence so this is gets a bad rating.
  2. Left out Nathan Hauritz and picked Xavier Doherty. Hauritz had had a nightmare tour against Sachin Tendulkar and company, yet he is hardly alone in that (even the great Shane Warne had a poor record in India) and Doherty was called up despite having a worse than useless first class record. Another bad selection.
  3. Bollinger wasn’t allowed to play for his state prior to the first test causing Australia’s bowler with the best record over the last year to be left out in the first test, only to be called up and dropped when he was clearly not match fit in Adelaide. Definitely a case of bad selection planning.
  4. In a rare good selection, Hussey was picked despite enormous pressure from the media for him to be dropped and immediately justified his place.
  5. After Doherty ever so predictably failed miserably, the selectors, having backed themselves into a corner, apparently read Shane Warne’s piece in the Daily Telegraph suggesting Michael Beer and promptly picked him. Never mind that Hauritz had scored a hundred and taken six wickets in his previous two state games… Clearly a bad piece of selecting.
  6. Hilditch himself then said that Beer could then look forward to his debut at Perth but on the morning of the game was dropped. After dropping Johnson for Adelaide the Aussie selectors welcomed him back into the fold for Perth by saying they had ‘always planned to rest him’ in the second test. These are two further examples of extremely bad and misleading man management although in the selector’s favour…
  7. …Johnson did take 9 wickets in the match. A good if lucky selection considering you simply do not know what you’re going to get with old Mitchell J.
  8. Playing four front line seamers and no spinner at the MCG. Watson, Australia’s usual fourth seamer, was also playing meaning that this had to be about the most badly balanced attack the Aussies have fielded for some time. Again a bad selection which was not thought through. Even Beer would have helped them at the MCG.
  9. Steven Smith. Not a number six. Not a bowler. Claps well in the field though… An appallingly bad selection.

So there we have it – seven bads and two goods (one of which was the equivalent of a dice roll and therefore can almost not be claimed by the selectors) which seems to suggest that Hilditch is living in cloud cuckoo land!

The fact that we as English supporters feel quite outraged by his ostrich impression suggests that he will be in serious danger from the average Australian fan should they get hold of him!

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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.





Aussie Squad For 1st Ashes Test: A Confused Selection?

15 11 2010

As promised, the Australian squad for the first Ashes test was announced this morning. Bizarrely however, rather than the usual 12 or possibly 13 a board would normally name for a home test, a bloated squad of 17 players has been announced. We, the fans, already knew that there was a degree of confusion as to the Australian selector’s views on the best eleven – yet we didn’t quite expect this.

In the squad there are:

  • 7 batsmen (Katich, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey, North, Khawaja, Ferguson)
  • 2 all rounders (Smith and Watson)
  • 1 keeper (Haddin)
  • 2 spinners (Doherty and Hauritz)
  • 5 seamers (Johnson, Bollinger, Harris, Siddle and Hilfenhaus)

This is a tour squad for a 5 test series – not one for a single test!

What we suspect is going to happen is that after much praising of the youngsters and talking about their various ‘big futures’ the eleven will line up as follows:

  1. Watson
  2. Katich
  3. Ponting
  4. Clarke
  5. Hussey
  6. North
  7. Haddin
  8. Johnson
  9. Hauritz
  10. Siddle
  11. Bollinger

Essentially more or less exactly the same as the side that just lost to India 2-0 and, from an English point of view, exactly the one we would want to face. The only confusion here would be who to play out of the seamers as one of Hilfenhaus, Siddle and Bollinger would have to bow out.

An alternative side (and one which we would feel more nervous playing against) would see Smith come in for Hauritz, and Khawaja and Ferguson in for Hussey and North. Mind you if the Compulsive Hooker had been asked our opinion by the ACB we might have recommended the two Phils, Jacques and Hughes, as well. After all there is not much difference between 17 and 19 is there?

If the Aussies do name the 12 as above (with possible variations on the seamers) quite frankly it all seems a ridiculous exercise and one that can’t help but give the English a little more confidence. This Ashes is being competed by two ‘mid table’ sides and, without either side having the true stand out players of the early part of the decade,  confidence and a settled side may well end up being the deciding factor.

If we were Australian we’d be worried that all Andrew Hilditch and company are doing is undermining this!





The X-Man: Doherty Throws It Back

3 11 2010

It seems that we might have to do some very public word eating… Xavier Doherty, the man who we spent an entire piece deriding, has shoved our words back at us with some considerable force by taking a still to be completed, yet almost certainly match winning, haul.

So far he has affected a run out and taken a further four wickets on ODI debut – not bad for a left arm tweaker against a team from the subcontinent… The temptation is large and the motives clear for an unrestrained public apology; followed by a complete reversal of our position on the ‘X-man’ (as Cricinfo and his fans appear to be calling him).

We are, however, going to resist this urge and take the opposite view point (albeit a qualified one)… There are enough players in history who have been called up only to take their first game by storm yet fade inexorably and quickly into the yellowing pages of old Wisdens. Bob Massie is the most obvious example that springs to mind although a more modern example may perhaps be Jason Krezja – although with Australia’s uncertainty about their spin attack his time will probably come again.

In actual fact we are quite pleased with regard to Doherty’s performance (despite our previous article) as it pushes him closer to a berth in an Ashes test match. A two pronged attack of Hauritz and Doherty would be something to behold.

Perhaps we are doing Doherty a massive disservice and his sky high first class average is an aberration. (It is of course possible to an extent as spinners often tend to mature and improve with age – just look at Graeme Swann). Perhaps, also, he is simply a limited overs specialist – good at containing runs and building pressure in that fashion – although this in our opinion does not make him a particularly good bowler. Michael Yardy can do that…

Either way he has had an excellent ODI debut – which interestingly is still going (come on the Lankans) – for which we applaud him. If he does play in the Ashes and he does take a hatful of wickets we will consider our words very carefully then. Up until this happens we refuse to be convinced…





Some Thoughts On What India’s 2-0 Win Means…

14 10 2010

Firstly we are going to start off with an apology to India.

Before the series started we had Australia as slight favourites – something that admittedly looks quite silly now and has seriously made us think about making any predictions in print again! Either we didn’t give India enough credit for being a genuinely number one rated side or, being English supporters with an understandable complex about Australian cricketers, we rated the Aussies as considerably better than they actually are. If truth be told it was probably a mixture of both these schools of thought although, having pondered this matter overnight, we are going to err on the side of India being comfortably the better team. Lets have a look at what this means for each side and finally England:

India

Whilst it is obvious to most people that India were a comfortably superior team in this series, particularly in the second test, the question has to be asked – does this mean they are definitely the number one side in the world? In a word – probably! However the undisputed nature of this premier status will not be settled until they start winning the big series overseas i.e. South Africa and Australia away. Over the next 12  months they have the opportunity to do this as well as coming up against a good (and potentially Ashes holding) England side next Summer. What this series has done is proved to us, the previously unconverted, that the necessary grit – much more than the talent – is there and that in theory India are able to do this.

A second aspect of India’s performance that was pleasing to anyone worried about the potential retirement of any of their batting greats was the runs scored by both Murali Vijay and the young Pujara on debut. Vijay, it is true, has been around for a while and will be especially pleased with what could be his breakthrough innings. As with all Indian batsman who have not really been tested overseas on hard and bouncy tracks, slight doubts will persist until he has scored runs in South Africa in January but, for us at the Compulsive Hooker, he looks the part.

Cheteshwar Pujara

The future of Indian batting though is almost certainly Pujara. Outdone by the pitch and a near unplayable delivery in the first innings, what struck us when he was promoted to number 3 in the second innings was partly his extraordinary confidence, but mostly his incredible shot making – particularly through the off side. Anyone who averages 60 in first class cricket and has scored three triple hundreds already is clearly a good player and we felt we were watching the future of Indian batting. Symbolically coming out at number 3 in the fourth innings ahead of the great Rahul Dravid, perhaps this was truly a passing of the baton.

It was not all roses however as India will need to find a second and third wicket taking pace bowler to assist Zaheer Khan on overseas pitches where spin plays less of a part. Sharma was useful with the bat but flattered to deceive with the ball prior to his injury in the first test, whereas the 80’s throwback, Sreesanth, whilst improving throughout the second test, was still decidedly average on the whole.

Finally there is no praise high enough for the great Sachin Tendulkar who, in the absence of any runs from Sehwag and Dravid, carried the Indian batting in both games (with a duly deferential nod to Laxman in the first test and Vijay in the second) and has proved why he was labelled ICC Cricketer of the Year. Like a fine wine he keeps getting better and better and long may this continue.

Australia

Three test losses on the bounce, a blunt bowling attack and a batting line up that collapsed twice at crucial points in either game – things are looking dicey for the Australians. It is true that they are not a bad side overnight and should possibly have won the first test but they will be glad that it is only a two test series all the same. The beauty of test cricket is that there is nowhere to hide. The longer you play the more likely you are to be found out and so it was.

Prior to this series the Compulsive Hooker was still slightly fearful of this Australian side – simply because of their nationality more than anything else (years of England being crushed take their toll you know…) Now it is a different story and our eyes have been well and truly opened to the vulnerabilities of this team.

The bowling was mediocre with even the admirable Hilfenhaus being reduced to an unpenetrative trier. Johnson, whilst still able to bowl the odd ‘jaffa’ is always likely to spray it around too much to ever build up much pressure and as for Hauritz… Well suffice to say – ordinary is not the word. It is true that Indian batsman have a history of taking apart Australian spinners (and bowlers far finer than the honest Hauritz), yet on this performance we don’t even think he would be a threat to the average Englishman. Peter George looked raw, slightly ridiculous and not particularly threatening (it is his first test so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for the moment) whilst Bollinger, prior to injury in the first test, was all ‘huff but no puff’. It is true that at home on bouncy Australian tracks the Aussie line up will be more threatening, however this series has served to reinforce the fact that to England, in the upcoming Ashes, there is no reason at all to be overly worried about this bowling line up.

The batting was again frail and a couple of players including Hussey and, perhaps, still North will be under pressure to deliver. Ponting provided a couple of workmanlike efforts although the fluency and certainty appear to have gone the same way as Dravid’s.

All in all it was a far from satisfactory performance and one that England can only take heart from.

England

Truly this is England’s finest opportunity for 20 years to win an overseas Ashes series. We and many other pundits have said this several times already but this series has only served to reinforce this feeling. With many Australians expressing doubt that England’s bowlers have what it takes to make an impact down under, we feel that on this front we are at least on a par with the Aussies – if not slightly above them with the addition of Graeme Swann. Home advantage obviously counts for a lot but where we feel the Ashes will be won and lost is in the batting. Whoever can perform more consistently and score bigger runs will win the series – something that right now we feel is too close to call.

Either way we are already highly excited and cannot wait for it all to begin.





Tremlett Rising, Freelance Cricketers and Australia in India

26 09 2010

Warne Rates Tremlett

Interesting words from Shane Warne in the Daily Telegraph today. According to the great man, Chris Tremlett of Surrey and latterly Hampshire, has the potential to be one of the best fast bowlers in the world ‘bar none’. He even goes as far as to say that in the nets he ‘is the best bowler in the world’ and is quite ‘unplayable’. Warne qualifies this however by going on to say what everyone in England has long suspected – namely that Tremlett is a little on the ‘soft’ side.

We sincerely hope that his move to Surrey has ensured that a tougher sheen has been brought to him as, if not, a tour of Australia is hardly the place to be.  Tremlett, a little like Simon Jones albeit for entirely different reasons, has been one of the talents that had looked like might go to waste. If the entirely likely curse of injury hits the England seam attack his chance may come and hopefully Warne’s prediction of him being able to hit the number one bowling slot in the world will be shown as having distinct possibilities.

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West Indian Problems

The never ending saga of disputes between the players and the WICB (West Indian Cricket Board) took yet another twist over the weekend. If the players aren’t on strike because they haven’t been paid, or they’re not paid enough, or the WICB is electing a new president, or any other of a myriad of possible reasons – it turned out that two of the most recognisable players have this time simply refused to sign.

Dwayne Bravo – probably the most valuable player the West Indies have in their current line up (with a duly deferential nod to Mr. Chandepaul) – and Kieron Pollard, 20/20 hitter of note, have rejected contracts worth $80,000 in favour of being able to pick and choose their own commitments. As with England, a central contract enables the board to veto the players participation in any given tournament and requires the player to play for the West Indies when fit and selected. Unfortunately, with much larger amounts of money available elsewhere – Pollard was signed by the Mumbai Indians for $750,000 – these two have decided to remain able to decide for themselves where they play.

The worrying issue here is that, with the West Indies hardly being the force they once were and with the proliferation of 20/20 cricket around, this might start a trend. These two players are at entirely different stages of their careers – Pollard of course is yet to play test cricket (or even much first class cricket) whereas Bravo has played 37 test matches and is a regular when fit for the West Indies.

Much has been written about the necessary primacy of test cricket but in practice it appears to be a foundation that is slowly being chipped away and this could be the first instance of one more brick being removed. If the West Indies start losing players then their already weak base is eroded, teams such as India would stop entertaining them – probably regardless of any Future Tours Progam – other countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan go down this route, and suddenly test cricket seems a slight irrelevance.

Perhaps we are being overly pessimistic and both Bravo and Pollard are committed to continuing to represent or,  in Pollards case, making a name for themselves internationally, but it does appear to be yet another instance of 20/20 cricket slowly taking over the world game…

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Australia go to India

Australia are in the middle of playing their one and only first class warm up game of their two test match and three one day international series. Typically the Australian batsman are making hay on a flat surface against a side that contains three bowlers who have represented India in test matches – a ruthless trait that says everything about Australian cricketers.

This series, whilst apparently only organised for financial reasons, is hardly the best warm up for the Ashes as Ricky Ponting amongst others have said. Last time they toured several of the leading Australian fast bowlers broke down – Peter Siddle has only just come back from his injury there – and so it is possible that this tour, coming as it does immediately prior to the Ashes, could actually be England’s greatest ally. For our money at the Compulsive Hooker, we would rather England face a full strength Australian side although we wouldn’t be averse to a Glenn McGrath Edgbaston moment before the all important first test.

One further thing about this series is its length. Australia versus India whether down under or in the sub continent is an epic series on a par with the Ashes. To only have two test matches seems a real shame and would be akin to watching a film or series which is broken off half way through. It just doesn’t seem enough – particularly when you have two so well matched sides as these two.

For a prediction we believe that Australia will either win this series or it will be a draw. The Indian bowling attack, though bolstered by Zaheer Khan’s return to fitness, is not one to inspire terror and will struggle to take 20 wickets. The Australian one does at least have the benefits of genuine pace and if Hauritz performs should at least be able to do the job once, which, in a two test series is usually enough.





Ponting’s Nerves and English Batting

25 08 2010

Ponting’s Jibes

Well, well, well! The Australians are worried about the English! This is the only reasonable conclusion we can come to when looking at the series of comments emanating from their camp over the past few days (and indeed over much of the English Summer). It is, of course, too much to say that the boot has firmly shifted to the other foot from where it was 10 or even 5 years ago, but there is a strange focus coming from the Australian camp – i.e. already on the Ashes.

Strange because, before this much anticipated series kicks off, Australia have to travel to India for a test and one day series and normally a series against the number one team in the world would take precedence you would have thought. Not this time however – a fact which says as much for India’s number one status as it does for Australia’s desire to win the Ashes back.

Only a short time ago Australian players, when asked about an Ashes series which was still some time away, would have brushed these questions aside claiming that the most important games were always the ones immediately ahead and that the Ashes would be an incidental part of a greater success story. If you had asked the pre 2005 series Ricky Ponting his prediction for the next three Ashes victors it would have been unlikely that he would have said two one to England, and when you consider these are the only series he has captained in, well – you can see why he is so vociferous now. Ponting claims that Australia are on the verge of something ‘special’ with a tour of India, England visiting and then the ODI World Cup to follow. Given Australia’s current frailties it would be remarkable if they were to win all three series. Alternatively, it would be equally special for an Englishman if the Aussies were to lose all three competitions which, we are pleased to say, cannot be ruled out! Which will it be Ricky?! For our money we are backing Australia in India, an English win in the Ashes and semi final appearance for Aussies in the world cup…

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England’s Batting

Since the disappointing defeat to Pakistan in the third test at the Oval, there has been much hand wringing and worry in the national press with regard to what this means for England’s hopes in the Ashes. Whilst we are unaware of any really bullish predictions of a forthcoming England win (most people were contenting themselves with the use of phrases such as ‘tight series’ or ‘England may have the edge’), suddenly even these people have on the whole retreated to a more normal pre-Ashes condition of worrying that we’ll score enough runs.

We are going to buck the trend in this and suggest that England’s defeat in the last game had less to do with a poor batting performance but was caused in actual fact by what was an excellent Pakistani bowling effort. The Pakistani’s arrived this Summer in a whirlwind of confusion and uncertainty which had the effect of camouflaging the fact that really they are an excellent (and world class) bowling side. If their batting was more consistent it is likely that both Australia and England would have found it a great deal harder (the fact that Australia only drew their series 1-1 suggests this anyway) and with Yousuf back to give a much needed backbone to their top six it is no surprise really that England are also looking at the possibility of a drawn series.

England’s batting, whilst not exactly swamped with runs, is fine and should be left alone. All of the batsman barring KP have scored a few runs in this series and we for one would be loath to drop England’s most talented player at this stage. Cook has answered his many critics with as fine a hundred as you are likely to see at the Oval, Trott has scored a few and has looked solid despite not quite kicking on (this faint praise may surprise regular readers of the CH), Collingwood is the same old player to be relied on when the going gets tough, and Morgan, despite two lean tests, has shown that he has the required talent and skill to survive at this level.

Ponting has said that Ashes cricket is another level up from this contest, and when you consider the Aussie batting, the pressure and public expectation we agree with him, yet what the England players will not have to face in that series are an excellent spinner (Ajmal) plus the finest seam bowler in the world (Asif). True Johnson and company are fast bowlers who on the bouncy Australian wickets will be more than a handful, yet Mohamed Asif is a true artist with the ball and not one of the Aussie attack is as fine a bowler as him. As for Hauritz, reliable spinner that he is, we cannot see him inspiring the same confusion as Ajmal did at the Oval even once in his lifetime – let alone in the next six months.

In short – there’s no need to panic people!

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England vs Pakistan: 4th Test Prediction

England to score 400 plus in their first innings and win by over 100 runs… Perhaps…








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