Ashes Review: England (Player by Player)

7 01 2011

Andrew Strauss (307 runs @ 43.85)

A man who has made history for English cricket. Although not in the same quantity as his opening partner, Alistair Cook, he scored vital runs at the top of the order with his hundred at the Gabba and his momentum grabbing 60 off 58 balls in the 5th test springing to mind. Also a vital part of the England fielding machine with his catching behind the wicket being more or less perfect all series.

Led the side excellently and appeared to have plans for all the Australian batsman which, thanks to the quality of the bowling, usually worked. Could still be a touch conservative for our tastes on occasions but this is frankly quibbling. Fully deserves all the plaudits he is likely  to receive. Now onward and upward…

Rating: 8/10

Alistair Cook (766 runs @ 127.66)

One feels that 766 will be a number forever associated with the Essex opener after this series. A tour in which he went from perceived weak point to run machine and lifted his average from a reasonable 42.78 to a world class 47.50 it would be fair, perhaps, to predict that this could well be the high point of his career. A double hundred to save the game in Brisbane followed by two big hundreds in Adelaide and Sydney to set up the two innings wins are astonishing returns and fully justified his selection as Man of the Series.

Rating: 9.5/10

Jonathan Trott (445 runs @ 89.00)

Like Cook, Trott also had a memorable series with the bat and has entrenched himself as England’s number 3 for years to come. We started the year doubting him after some frenetic and poor performances in South Africa and Bangladesh, but have finished believing in him entirely. There is something delightfully unfussy in the way he bats, always totally aware of his options and never taking undue risks (until Sydney perhaps when over confidence lured him into dragging a wide Johnson ball on). Loves playing Australia.

Rating: 8.5/10

Kevin Pietersen (360 runs @ 60.00)

Not quite as consistent as some of his colleagues with two thirds of his runs coming in a single innings, it was still a series in which we were pleased to welcome him back as, while perhaps not England’s ‘gun’ batsman anymore, certainly one of our best. Still guilty of throwing his wicket away on occasions when set, he needs to erase these habits to truly claim his place in the elite echelons of English batsmen. His 227 in Adelaide will live long in the memory however and for that alone he deserves enormous praise. Also picked up an important wicket at Adelaide which hastened the Australian demise before the rain set in.

Rating: 7/10

Paul Collingwod (83 runs @ 13.83)

Obviously a dreadful series with the bat but as ever Collingwood is a player whose contributions in other areas offset this partially. Fortunate in that his lack of runs did not matter in the grand scheme of things with the prolific form of the other batsman, he was nevertheless outstanding catching in the arc from slips to gully coupled with crucial wickets here and there – notably Hussey in the Australian first innings at Sydney. Such a team man that there is no doubt the win means more than his personal performance and bows out from the game a much loved member of the side.

Rating: 4/10

Ian Bell (329 runs @ 65.80)

Bell has always been a joy to watch, the sheer timing and gracefulness of his batting meaning that he has always made it look easy, and finally he has added the steel to go with his undoubted talent. Suffered in part from a lack of opportunities to score runs at the beginning of the series due to either being forced to bat with the tail or simply not getting in early enough, he eventually got to a much deserved hundred in Sydney. Our pick as our leading run scorer in the series he failed to quite hit these heights due to Cooks efforts, yet this has still been a brilliant tour for the Warwickshire man.

Rating: 8/10

Matt Prior (252 runs @ 50.40, 23 catches 0 stumpings)

After a slow start with the bat, an excellent morale sapping hundred in Sydney allied with an excellent 80 at the MCG means that this has been yet another successful series for the excellently hirsute man. Allied with an impressively inconspicuous performance behind the stumps where his only error we can remember was a missed stumping off Swan, Prior can be rightly proud of this performance.

Rating: 8/10

Stuart Broad (2 wickets @ 80.50)

Despite boasting unimpressive stats from the two games he played before suffering injury, Broad kept it tight and ensured that the pressure was never relinquished. Could probably justifiably claim a couple of Finn’s wickets as his own for this reason…

Rating: 6/10

Steven Finn (14 wickets @ 33.14)

Dropped despite being England’s leading wicket taker after three tests, he can still be very pleased with his efforts. Remarkably still only 21 he has a massive future and we would bet that he will be around and at his peak by the time the Australian’s come to England in 2013. Despite being the least consistent of England’s bowlers, he has the happy knack of taking wickets at important times as he appears to have something of a golden arm.

Rating: 7/10

Tim Bresnan (11 wickets @ 19.54)

Much derided on this website and entirely, it seems, unfairly so; Bresnan deserves huge amounts of praise for his performances in the final two tests. The quickest of England’s bowlers in the games he played, he kept it tight, swung the ball and generally bowled brilliantly. With Broads return will still probably be first or second reserve, yet when you consider his batting too, he is some replacement to have.

Rating: 8.5/10

Chris Tremlett (17 wickets @ 23.55)

Along with Anderson, eventually the most potent and important member of England’s attack – remarkable considering he started the tour as a back up bowler. A genuine man mountain who pleasingly appears to have discovered some menace to go with all his natural fast bowling attributes, Warne’s comments pre-selection for the tour that Tremlett could be the best fast bowler in the world don’t seem so ridiculous now. Exceptional performances in all the games he played in. England’s fast bowling stocks look strong indeed with him in the reckoning.

Rating: 9/10

Graeme Swann (15 wickets @ 39.80)

A solid performance if not quite the series defining one many had him down for before the tour. Bowled brilliantly in Adelaide to wrap up the game for England before the rain came but for the rest of the tour and with the lack of spin on offer was mainly a defensive option for Strauss. Still took important wickets occasionally and remains one of the lynchpins of this England side. Gains a bonus half point for the excellence of his video diaries – a born entertainer.

Rating: 7.5/10

James Anderson (24 wickets @ 26.04)

They said he wouldn’t be able to swing the new ball. They said he couldn’t take wickets if it wasn’t moving and above all they said he would struggle with the Kookaburra ball. All of which, we are very pleased to say, was proved to be rubbish of the highest degree. The attack leader, Anderson proved himself once and for all and can now genuinely go on to become an England great. Deserved the man of the series award almost as much as Cook, this was a career defining performance for the Lancashire man.

Rating: 9.5/10


An Apology To Tim Bresnan

28 12 2010

Well bowled England and in particular, well bowled Tim Bresnan. Regular readers will know that over the last year we have not been particularly complimentary about the big northern lad, denoting him as a big hearted but ultimately limited trier – someone who is perhaps just below the standards required as an international class wicket taking fast bowler.

After his excellent bowling in this test match we feel that we owe him an apology as he is certainly better than we gave him credit for. Consistent in his line and length and impressively quick, Bresnan has been crucial in this test match and it was his ability to gain crucial breakthroughs that have ensured only a downpour of monsoon proportions can save Australia now.

Much has been mentioned over the last few days about England’s ability to rotate bowlers – something that we feel whilst being in theory true, is also absolute rubbish. Finn, despite being the leading wicket taker in the series before this test match, has leaked runs at more than four an over meaning that the control built up by Anderson et al was lost every time the Middlesex man took the ball. Despite his wickets he was dropped, no two ways about it, and Bresnan brought in to reassert the desired level of control. Resting implies that Finn will be returned to the side in Sydney at the expense of one of the others, yet with Bresnan’s performance this is almost certain not to happen.

What these pundits should be saying to satisfy our pedantic nature,  something which in itself is a supposition we are very pleased to see, is that England undoubtedly have some serious depth in their bowling at the moment. It is indeed a distinct possibility that if the top four bowlers were unfit (currently Anderson, Tremlett, Broad and Swann), the second string line up of Finn, Bresnan, Shahzad and Panesar could still out bowl the Australian first choice attack. The difficulty in this argument is likely to be simply working out who the first choice Aussie attack might be rather than debating their merits against the England second string…

Having your assertions and opinions proved wrong by a player is usually a frustrating thing as it is a comparatively rare thing for a player to improve upon your intial judgement. Most often a player will start well, inflate your expectations, only to have all your hopes for them punctured as they fade into mediocrity, or worse, out of sight. Bresnan is one who appears to be going the other way and while it is of course possible that this might be a flash in the pan performance, it has been worthy enough for us to hope that actually this big hearted trier is developing into a bowler of international substance in much the same way as Matthew Hoggard or Andrew Caddick did for example. Well done Tim and please continue to prove us wrong!

Legends, Comebacks and ‘Resting’ Players

22 12 2010

There has been a fair bit of cricket and cricketing news over the past couple of days that we haven’t had time to comment on, so, in very disjointed but hopefully lucid style, we are going to round up our thoughts on these matters.

  • Where else to start but with Sachin? Much has already been written and will undoubtedly continue to be  written about this great little man but his achievement against South Africa was of such a magnitude that we feel the need to add to the cacophony of voices.

    We remember back in 1996 on the Indian tour of England one of the Indian commentators saying that Sachin would one day be the first man to get to 100 international hundreds. At the time this was such a ridiculous number (and quite frankly still is!) that we ascribed this comment to over enthusiasm. With 50 test hundreds and 46 ODI centuries this forgotten commentator has been proved right as it is surely inevitable now.

    With age forcing the decline of other leading players in the game such as Ponting and Dravid, it is not only Sachin’s amount of runs but also his longevity and fitness which should be praised as the little Indian appears to simply get better with age. We believe there is no reason why he can’t go on for another two or three years, in which time it is conceivable that he might end up with close to 120 international hundreds. Certainly we imagine there would be fairly short odds on him reaching 60 test hundreds.

  • From one all time great to another. Jacques Kallis scored 201 not out in South Africa’s one sided game against the Indians over the weekend. Remarkably it was his 38th test match century, yet only his  first double which is an oddity in itself.

    In our eyes he is undoubtedly South Africa’s finest cricketer ever and, perhaps extraordinarily, deserves genuine comparison to the great Sir Garry Sobers. Sobers is consistently called the finest all round cricketer ever to have played the game yet Kallis has achieved figures directly comparable to the great man, undoubtedly without the flair but certainly at a similar level of effectiveness. Well played Sir!

  • New Zealand’s Dan Vettori  has been removed from his all singing and dancing role in New Zealand cricket and been allowed to concentrate on his own game and captaining the side.

    In the turmoil and angst that is New Zealand cricket, Vettori has been a consistently world class operator and effective with ball and bat. If the Black Caps are to remain competitive on the world stage they need him to be firing and so this reduced work load can only be a good thing.

  • A brief Ashes thought now as we are pleased to see that Andy Flower has committed to keeping four bowlers for the Boxing Day test match. There is talk of ‘resting’ Finn and playing either Bresnan or Shahzad in a similar way to which Greg Chappell apparently said Mitchell Johnson was ‘rested for the Adelaide test’. Pure rubbish as anyone can see – if you are removed from the side you are dropped – there is no two ways about it.

    For all his woes at Perth Finn still picked up some crucial wickets and is the leading wicket taker in the series on either side. Leave him in, give him some confidence and he will grow in stature as a test match bowler. We personally don’t mind him leaking a few runs if he is taking wickets.

    If a change is required though, please let it be Shahzad who comes in rather than Bresnan…

  • We feel a little dirty for mentioning this competition – being as it is not one of our favourite developments in world cricket – but the IPL announced their rosters from which sides could pick. The top reserve price is $400,000 and is the level in which such luminaries as KP, Yuvraj Singh, Adam Gilchrist, Dan Vettori and Chris Gayle sit.

    Included in any IPL list for the first time and sitting pretty in this top bracket at the age of 41 and after four years of no cricket was Brian Lara. When his possible signing for Surrey was mooted earlier this year we wrote then that we thought it was a bad idea and we haven’t changed our mind now.

    The problem when legends make come backs is that they rarely enhance their previous reputations. We remember Lara as the mercurial flashing blade that won numerous test matches for the West Indies single handedly. We don’t want to remember him scratching around for 20 off 20 balls in an over hyped domestic competition.

Thoughts on the above?

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.

‘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 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.

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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