One Day Ennui

23 01 2011

At the beginning of this ODI series it was considered in most quarters that an England win would be a mere formality yet, with their third consecutive win under their belt, Australia have bounced back. This underlines the point that they are not as poor a team as some would suggest and that, certainly as far as ODI cricket goes, England are not yet the consistent outfit they are in test matches.

We wrote last week about Prior’s inclusion over Davies and, despite a couple of ducks so far, it is still too early to really criticise that decision at this stage. What will be worrying Andy Flower though is the lack of runs emanating from the middle order; Morgan, Collingwood, Yardy, Wright and Bell have all yet to fire with the bat which inevitably puts the bowlers under huge amounts of pressure. If England are going to challenge for the World Cup title this dearth of runs will have to be addressed.

The Ashes was characterised by an England side being extraordinarily well organised and playing extremely good cricket. So far this series has been a virtual reversal of that with the two run outs that top and tailed the innings being symptomatic of a team in poor form.

It is, however, far from a disaster and England will know that they are missing several key members and that at full strength they are probably the better side. This ODI series, with the World Cup around the corner, feels a little unnecessary  and we would not be surprised if the England players, if they were being totally honest, aren’t particularly interested in playing. This might seem unprofessional of them as well as possibly sound as if we are trying to find excuses in a classically English way, yet they remain only human and have been away from home along time with the promise of much more to come.

Regular readers will know of our traditionalist leanings, favouring test cricket strongly over all other forms, yet even the most ardent limited overs fan would probably agree with us when we say seven ODI’s is too much for a one series. With the world cup coming up (on a totally different surface which scuppers the argument that it is effective preparation) and, bearing in mind it is in a format which means the whole tournament will feel like it has gone on for about three years by the time if finishes, a rest would have served England better.

Australia, it is true, have reaped some benefits from their recent wins with Shane Watson and Brett Lee in particular finding some form and confidence although, even they, are surely wishing it was over now.

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Ashes Review: Australia (Player by Player)

8 01 2011

Simon Katich (97 runs @ 24.25)

Unfortunately for Australia, Katich’s injury robbed them of perhaps their most consistent player over the past 18 months and some much needed solidity at the top of the order. Got starts in both games before being found out by a combination of Shane Watson’s running and the moving ball. Doubtful perhaps whether he will ever play again although Phil Hughes travails at the top of the order had most Australian’s wishing Katich was still there.

Rating: 5.5/10

Shane Watson (435 runs @48.33, 3 wickets @ 74.33)

Watson must be a frustrating character to have in the team you support. Obviously hugely talented, a fine stroke player and someone who rarely fails. Unfortunately Watson inhabits that middle ground though of not failing but never quite succeeding which, if Australia are honest, is one of the major reasons why their batting never quite fired. Openers are there to score hundreds and on this basis, despite Watson being Australia’s second most successful batsman, he shouldn’t be at the top of the order.

Surprisingly underused as a bowling option although this was as much to do this Australia’s strange selection policies rather than his skippers apathy towards his bowling. Watson is a very decent fourth seamer so why play four front line fast bowlers?!

Rating: 6.5/10

Phil Hughes (97 runs @ 16.16)

Hughes is not currently a test match opener. Against attacks who don’t swing the ball perhaps he might succeed, but any bowler who moves it off the straight will always find him out. Clearly talented and possesses a reasonable temperament so the rudimentary elements are there and it is paramount that Australia work with him. Struggled against Tremlett in particular and is surely going to be returned to state cricket for the foreseeable future.

Rating: 3/10

Ricky Ponting (113 runs @16.14)

We never thought we would see Ricky Ponting struggle against England as much as he did in this series. The pressure, his middling form and perhaps his age all contributed to a series performance which has perhaps meant the end of his career. Possible that lack of other options will continue to ensure he is picked but unlike the other modern great, Sachin Tendulkar, his time appears to be up.

Didn’t look in bad touch entirely as a number of rasping pull shots indicated and he habitually got to 10 or 12 before nicking Anderson or one of the other England bowlers to slip. The catch by Collingwood to dismiss him at Perth will live long in the memory.

Captaincy is always difficult when you’re under the cosh and this was no exception. Often appeared to run out of ideas and could perhaps have stood up for a better balanced side the MCG.

Rating: 3/10

Usman Khawaja (58 runs @ 29.00)

To hear the Australian press you would think a modern Don Bradman had been discovered. Whilst this is clearly over the top and a testimony to the paucity of good news for any Aussie supporter, he did look the part and should be around for some time. Confident, composed and with a lovely pull shot was one bright spot in the Sydney thumping.

Rating: 5/10

Michael Clarke (193 runs @ 21.44)

When your captain and vice-captain average 16 and 21 you know you’re in for a tough series. A shadow of the player he has been in the past and it looks like the scorn the Aussie media and fans alike show for him is finally getting to him. His one major innings came in a losing cause at Adelaide although it tells you all you need to know about his series when you consider a part timer, Pietersen, dismissed him off practically the last ball of the day to set up and England win the following morning.

Showed some good signs captaining initially with some interesting field placings and willingness to do things his own way but was eventually simply overwhelmed by the English juggernaut.

Rating: 3/10

Michael Hussey (570 runs @ 63.33)

Brilliant for the first three tests, it was astonishing to think that Hussey was on the verge of being dropped at the beginning of the series. Almost singlehandedly kept Australia in it in the early stages of the Ashes and his partnership with Haddin at the Gabba was a once in a career performance whilst his hundred at Perth set up the win for the Aussies. The problem is that no one else supported him.

Rating: 8/10

Marcus North (49 runs @ 16.33)

Finally dropped despite scoring very few runs for some time. Probably not a test player on balance as despite his hundreds he scores too many innings below 10. Useful bowling and on that basis alone could have probably played instead of Xavier Doherty.

Rating: 2/10

Steven Smith (159 runs @ 51.80, 0 wickets)

Australia used to laugh at the English when they selected a bit part player but now the boot is on the other foot. Clearly not a number six player due to a technique with more holes in than your average sieve, he looked more comfortable when at seven. The fact that he then was hardly bowled suggest that Australia would have probably been better off without him in the team. Selecting a specialist batsmen at number 7 is something that not many sides do after all…

Rating: 2/10

Brad Haddin

The one player that would possibly get into England’s side on a form basis although even his contributions tailed off by the middle of the series. An excellent hundred at the Gabba and some uncomplicated wicket keeping mean that he, like Hussey, was one of the few who could put their hand up and say they contributed. Latterly, Australia’s vice captain as well.

Rating: 7/10

Mitchell Johnson (122 runs @ 17.42, 15 wickets @ 36.93)

If Johnson could reverse the averages achieved for batting and bowling he would be a devastating all rounder indeed. Chronically inconsistent he is undoubtedly the Australian version of Steve Harmison – someone who when on song is an incredibly dangerous player but, sadly, is rarely on song. His spell in Perth won the match and was reminiscent of Wasim Akram at his best and, even when bowling poorly, still has the habit of picking up the odd wicket here or there. Unfortunately this is negated by the fact he is going for over four an over.

Rating: 5.5/10

Peter Siddle (14 wickets @ 34.57)

Workmanlike, ever willing but only occasionally dangerous, Siddle was nevertheless probably Australia’s best bowler. A memorable hat trick at the Gabba followed by six wickets at the MCG, he only took two other wickets outside of these two venues. Solid lower order batting of the best annoying tail end variety his efforts were ultimately not nearly enough.

Rating: 6.5/10

Ryan Harris (11 wickets @ 25.54)

Harris is a bowler who appears to be without much about him yet was in his three games prior to injury, was undoubtedly Australia’s best and most consistent bowler. Hurried England’s batsman and moved it enough to be a threat. Will want to forget his King Pair in Adelaide though.

Rating: 7.5/10

Ben Hilfenhaus (7 wickets @ 59.28)

Despite taking a wicket with the third ball of the series, Hilfenhaus consistently struggled. Little swing and not a great deal of pace meant that in spite of his consistency (his economy rate was 2.62 in four games) he was ineffective all series long.

Rating: 2/10

Doug Bollinger (1 wicket @ 130.00)

Someone we feel who was a victim of the selectors ridiculous whims and was clearly unfit at Adelaide. When totally match fit someone we feel who is still amongst the best four bowlers Australia have.

Rating: 1/10

Xavier Doherty (3 wickets @ 102)

Remember him? It seems an age ago now, but Doherty was flawed pick right from the start. An appalling first class record was not belied by his performances and his time is unlikely to come again. Did get KP out – on 227.

Rating: 2/10

Michael Beer (1 wicket @ 112)

The man whose name inspired a thousand awful puns and was another ridiculous pick by the selectors. With only five first class games under his belt he did at least look better than Doherty, yet may quickly find himself on the scrap heap anyway. Still someone who is not going to run through a side.

Rating: 2/10

Extraordinary England and Australiadesh…

6 01 2011

An England Wishlist

At the start of this test match, in discussions with some fellow armchair experts, we suggested that we needed only a few more things to happen and we would be more completely satisfied at the end of an England test series than we have ever been before. These were, in no particular order:

  • Ian Bell to score a hundred.
  • Matt Prior to score some runs.
  • Swann to take a few wickets.
  • The match to finish with a win for England.

With the first two of these objectives able to be ticked off and the fourth looking imminent in the morning (possibly at the hands of Swann thereby completing the third item on our wish list) we are already approaching this aforesaid state of nirvana. Whilst technically we are jumping the gun by celebrating the series win today, it is of course more or less a given with Australia yet again trying to ensure it is not an innings defeat – although with the deficit still lying at 151 runs that too will prove to be futile. This England team are fast becoming a side who can be relied upon to deliver and, unlike in 2005, are promising to simply get better and better.

We said at the start of the series that the key to winning the series would be in the batting and particularly their opening partnerships. In short, with a perceived similarity in quality of their bowling attacks, the side who scored more runs would win. England won this particular battle and won it convincingly, however, this alone would not have resulted in such thumping margins of victory. What has turned these prophesied close victories into absolute thrashings has been the enduring and consistent quality of England’s bowling, something that was in evidence again today. On a flat pitch with plenty of opportunity for the batsman who is willing to graft, England again ran through the Australian batting to set up what will surely be a 100 run innings victory. All the bowlers were exceptional with even the wicket less Swann containing the batsman and ensuring that the pressure was maintained.

Lessons From Bangladesh

Earlier this year England completed two clean sweeps against Bangladesh. In almost all these games Bangladesh found themselves in a position where if they could bat well and crucially bat time, they would have drawn the game. Every time, without fail, Bangladesh appeared to decide that this wasn’t an option and came out all guns blazing – inevitably going down in a plethora of stroke play by large margins. It has been interesting to see that Australia appear to have been taking lessons from the Bangladeshi’s in this department over the last year.

Shane Watson in particular looked like he was attempting to set a target for England to chase by lunch on the fifth day and several of the others got out chasing balls that, bearing in mind they were batting for the draw, they would have been better leaving alone. We firmly believe one of the things has had led to England being the very good side that they are now is that, quite simply, they are extremely difficult to beat. Over the past two years, on several occasions, England have batted five sessions or more to draw the game. The Aussies, here as in Adelaide, appear not to have a clue how to go about this; so much so that one wonders if they might approach Paul Collingwood about the possibility of becoming their batting coach now he has retired – expert as he is in these situations.

Commentators Curse

One final thought for today on commentators of this wonderful game. As in the journalistic world the notion that ex players make the best commentators is clearly rubbish. Some are excellent it is true, Mike Atherton take a bow on both the writing and TV fronts, yet most are either average or so jingoistic that the notion of impartial coverage has clearly never occurred to them.

One commentator (we think Ian Healey), clearly in the midst of a pleasant dream in which Australia are twice the side they are now, said that ‘neither side have dominated the other in this series’ and then (definitely) Healey said Johnson was one of the best fast bowlers in the world. Both statements clearly severe cases of self delusion.

Warne too has gone from a man widely credited with an excellent cricketing brain to someone, whilst not in the Ian Botham camp of ridiculous inane comments, has also lost some credibility by his apparent belief that success is an Australian birthright. Whilst it has been mildly irritating having to listen to some of these ex players, it has been worth it for the amazing back tracking that they have been forced into – worth the Sky subscription alone!

The Ashes Are On But It’s Not All Bad For England

19 12 2010

So much for almost having their fingers on the urn then!

England were outplayed in every department of this game, yet again finding the pacier, bouncier pitch of Perth not much to their liking. It is our considered opinion though that there is no reason to panic and that England remain, on balance, the finer of the two sides.

Before this test series started the general consensus was that it would be a close affair fought tooth and nail to the end. After the Adelaide induced hubris of the fans and pundits, if not the team themselves perhaps, and considering England’s track record of winning well only to follow up with a serious low soon afterwards, this result shouldn’t have been entirely unexpected.

The positive view point from England’s perspective is that it was a sharp, bitter taste of reality and a reminder that there is still much work to be done in this series. For Australia of course there were plenty of good things to take from this test. The astonishing return to form of Mitchell Johnson; the batting of Watson (not that he has ever failed exactly – just this time he scored more than his usual 50 odd) and of course the once again peerless batting of Michael Hussey. If Ricky Ponting is indeed out, there is no question as to who should replace him in the number three slot (and probably as captain) leaving a probable debutant at 5. Ryan Harris, too, bowled well in the second innings although scoreboard pressure and silly shots had ensured the fight had long gone out of England by the time he mopped up the tail.

The fact remains though that without Hussey and Johnson playing so extraordinarily well England would have likely been in this game still. The key for the rest of the series in Australia’s case is whether Johnson can maintain his form – something that his previous track record suggests might be tricky.

Hussey on the other hand appears to go on and on and at this rate will be in serious danger of breaking some longstanding records. England need a plan to him immediately and preferably one that doesn’t involve bowling a succession of short balls to feed his pull shot. They’ve proved he can pull like the best of them and, as England fans, we desperately don’t want to see anymore… In fact it’s a bit like Doherty’s dismissal of Pietersen in the Adelaide test – Hussey did get out to the short ball so, if it was a plan, it worked eventually – the problem was he had over a hundred by then.

Tremlett deserves praise albeit he was one of the main contributors to the short ball mania in the second innings and perhaps struggled a little at the left handers in the Australian side. Nevertheless it was still a hugely impressive comeback and one that is likely to have secured his place in the team for a while – potentially at the expense of Steve Finn.

Whilst he was inconsistent and expensive, Finn does have an uncanny knack for picking up wickets which is useful in any bowler. We would hesitate to drop him for Boxing Day at the MCG as some have suggested – he is after all the leading wicket taker on either side.

Looking ahead, there have been some calls by ex-players, Flintoff and Jonathan Agnew amongst them, to play five bowlers at the MCG as it is likely to be another bouncy result wicket. Considering the batting woes in this test we would hesitate to play a side along these lines as we think it could weaken what was already a major problem for England in this match. Despite the inconsistent performance of the bowlers in this test England still managed to take 20 wickets so we would suggest this isn’t really why England lost.

The possible swap, Bresnan for Collingwood is a non starter in our eyes. It is true that Collingwood contributed little with the bat, but I’m not sure who else would have taken that catch at slip off Ponting on the first day for one. As we saw someone describe him on Twitter, he is a cockroach of a cricketer and will surely score some runs at the MCG now that, once more, his place is under threat.

All things considered there is no need to panic, or indeed conversely get carried away on the Australian side. From England’s point of view the plan should be simple: Namely, get Hussey out early and bat better. If they can do this there is no reason why they shouldn’t wrap things up in Melbourne.

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!

ICC Awards 2010: Swann Loses Out To Sachin

7 10 2010

Sachin Triumphs

The winners of the ICC awards were announced last night and whilst they were on the whole more or less as expected, we did feel that Graeme Swann was pretty hard done by not to pick up a single gong. Cricket is, as ever, a batsman’s game – something that hasn’t changed since the early days of cricket 200 years ago when the batsmans totals were counted whilst ignoring the bowling figures – and this was represented in last nights awards ceremony yet again.

Tendulkar won the ICC Cricketer of the Year award for the first time in his illustrious career and arguably deservedly so. Scoring over 1000 runs with six centuries in only ten test matches he has had as good a year as he has had before – combine this with the first double century in a one day international and you have a potent mix. Equally, Sehwag, scorer of over 1200 runs at an average of 85 with his own collection of six tons is also arguably a deserved winner of the test player of the year award.

Sadly for Graeme Swann this left him without a category in which he could could triumph. Originally left out of the shortlist for the Cricketer of the Year award by the ICC’s selection panel, he was only added later when the ECB rightly created a furore and demanded his inclusion. That he couldn’t even make this original sixteen was a mistake so elementary and so entirely characteristic of the ICC that you really worry for the future of the game in their hands. Once on the list he rightly made it to the final four although we always felt that this was as far as he would go – had he been selected for the prize it would have highlighted the original failure to include him – quite apart from the other players own merits.

The second selection mistake – although one not acknowledged – was his lack of inclusion in Sehwag’s category of Test Player of the Year. Comfortably the worlds leading wicket taker in this time with an astonishing seven five wicket hauls and one ‘ten for’ (list here), Swann also managed almost 500 runs and three fifties. A brilliant all round record and one that in our opinion could and perhaps should have knocked Sehwag off the top of the list – to not even get a nomination is appalling quite frankly. Factor in his performances in ODI and 20/20 cricket and you have a mix that could have easily been justified in winning the top award.

Possibly in the end the quality of the opposition Swann faced in this period (i.e. 4 tests each against Bangladesh and Pakistan and only 6 against top ranked sides – Australia and South Africa) told in the final decision going against him. Summing up therefore – whilst it is difficult to have any real issues with the two players selected – Swann has arguably been hard done by throughout process as a whole and will have to be content with the knowledge that most sober judges reckon him to be the best spinner in the world right now. As fervent England fans we would like to thank the great man for a sterling years work and say please keep this vein of form up long enough for the Ashes to stay firmly in England’s grasp – you’re going to be key Swanny!

For the record – here are his figures over the year:

Other Awards:

ODI Player of the Year: Shane Watson can feel justifiably gutted not to have won this award – more wickets than anyone else and the second highest run scorer over the same period – not even AB De Villiers, the eventual winner, with his 855 runs in 16 games could quibble too much with this. An exceptional year for both players but Watson should have sneaked it with his all round performance.

20/20 Performance of the Year: A strange category this knowing that there is no test or ODI equivalent – added to the fact that realistically it is something that only a batsman could win – was won by Brendon McCullum for his 116 not out against the Aussies. Fine innings though it is, cricket is all about context and therefore in our humble opinion it would be very difficult to argue against Hussey’s 70 odd against Pakistan in the World Cup semi final at St.Lucia. Under immense pressure and with near impossible odds Hussey took Australia through to the final which given the World Cup situation should have been more than enough to win the award.

Other than that it was all pretty straight forward. What are your thoughts – do you agree?

Watson and Afridi: Studies in Irritation

15 07 2010

Another great day of test cricket yesterday at Lords, albeit one in which the Australians assumed the ascendancy rather than our preferred choice, Pakistan. It was a day which threw up some exciting moments interspersed with some really quite extraordinary ones. Let us now go through the main contributions:

Shane Watson

A friend of the Compulsive Hooker, occasional contributor Dingo, has long been saying that Watson is a better all rounder than Flintoff and, appallingly, he now has further evidence to use in this argument after one of the most extraordinary bowling displays at Lords ever witnessed. Extraordinary because it must be rare that such an innocuous and friendly bowling display takes five wickets and appalling because it is Shane Watson that has achieved this… Watson is a man of many obvious qualities; a good batsman with a tendency to get out when set, a purveyor of medium pace trundlers, immaculately coiffured hair, an impressive ability to show show his feminine side and a world class pout – yet despite this he is almost universally disliked by fans in all countries…

We dislike him mostly due to his sulky demeanor as few players look closer to breaking down and crying when something goes wrong as Watson does. Yet we have now discovered a worse side to him, one that makes us cringe even more, and that is when things are going unbelievably right for him that he ends up being the first on the new Neutral Honours Board at Lords.

His figures of 7.5 overs, 5 wickets for 40 runs make for all the more interesting reading when you realise that approximately 28 of these runs came off him in the space of about 12 balls during Shahid Afridi’s whirlwind innings. Four of his wickets were proper batsman, all of whom were dismissed LBW, bowled or in Afridi’s case tricking him with a slower ball, leading us to assume that some strange mystical powers were at work on Watson’s behalf. Quite honestly there can be no other explanation.

And no Dingo – this does not make him better than Flintoff – it simply means that the Pakistani batsman are hopeless.

Shahid Afridi

Afridi has tricked us. As we posited here, we had discussed the possibility that perhaps the captaincy had given him an air of responsibility and he would be a revelation in this test series. Sadly for Pakistan, this particular leopard has failed to change his spots and played an innings of breathtaking irresponsibility yesterday. Walking in five wickets down, with a deficit of around 150 runs, a calm head was needed. Instead what he brought to the part was a village green attitude of ‘if I can reach it – its going’! We can understand what he may have been trying to do in that there have been some great counter attacking innings played from similar situations, yet there is a difference between counter attacking and choosing the balls you are going to try and go after rather than simply swinging from the start.

Pakistan’s side is a very inexperienced one with debutants at numbers 3 and 4. They need guidance and an example set by their captain – not what appears to be an exercise in self destruction. Some people may argue that this is the way that Afridi bats and therefore we can’t be too critical. However this is absolute rubbish and we hope that Waqar Younis, Pakistan’s team coach, pulls him up in private.

Match Situation

Australia comfortably on top although there still appears to be some movement for the bowlers. If Asif and co can knock over the rest of the Australians quickly, the Pakistani first innings collapse not withstanding, they may be in with a slight chance. It is Australia’s game to lose though – no doubt about it.

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