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.



Wayward Broad…

16 06 2011

Just a quick thought to follow on from our piece about Broad the other day.

Currently he sports figures of 4 overs for 11 runs – not bad by any means. However this hawk-eye picture taken from the Times live update site tells the story. This, we believe, is his third over.

Bear in mind there are two left handers batting and you can see why England fans have a right to be annoyed. This on a pitch which looks like it has plenty of bounce from Broad’s end.

We wonder how long it will be before the very deserving Tremlett gets the new ball regularly. He would certainly get our vote.

Thoughts on Broad and Cook

12 06 2011

With the squad announced for the third test and the only noteworthy item being Jimmy Anderson’s inclusion, we were moved to put finger to keyboard, if you will, on the subject of Stuart Broad. Broad has been a key part of England’s attack for some time and recently achieved the milestone of 100 test wickets whilst also scoring some valuable runs including what turned out to be a match winning 169 last year against Pakistan.

However, there have been concerns that Broad, bar certain memorable occasions, has been the weakest member of England’s attack – and certainly the most likely one to mislay his toys some outside his pram. A glance at the England bowlers records over the past twelve months bares this out:

  • Anderson 50 wickets @ 20.14
  • Swann 47 wickets @ 22.97
  • Finn 31 wickets @ 29.06
  • Tremlett 25 wickets @ 25.36
  • Broad 22 wickets @ 35.27
  • Bresnan 11 wickets @ 19.54
Admirable and key to England’s fortunes over the past few years has been the loyalty shown by selectors and managers to the players and Broad is someone who has benefited from this. Other beneficiaries of this have included Flintoff, Bell and maybe even KP but, unlike the others, Broad has yet really to pay this investment back (bar one or two, albeit highly important, performances).
So far in the Sri Lanka series he has looked the least dangerous and as such is not getting the returns he needs. Perhaps he is a victim of trying too hard and shortly it will all click into place, but he must certainly be looking at Finn’s golden arm with something akin to jealousy. To bowl badly or inconsistently and still pick up wickets is an admirable trait to have and as such Broad knows that if he doesn’t take wickets over the next couple of games, the calls for a replacement might become too loud to ignore.
For our money he is worth persisting with although with Onions, Bresnan, Shahzad and Finn – not to mention Dernbach and one or two others – there is more competition for spots than we have ever seen in the England squad.
Now here is a topic that even 9 months ago the average cricket fan would not have been contemplating in the slightest. Is Alistair Cook a great batsman in the true sense of the word or, perhaps more likely, is he destined for greatness?
What seems certain is that at the age of 26, and with 18 test match centuries already under his belt, Cook is likely to end up England’s all time top run scorer (despite what KP might have said recently about his own claims recently) with a century tally at or around 40 test hundreds – barring of course a catastrophic lack of form at some point.
If he can achieve even close to this, then they will be the figures of a great batsman. One man who these days is considered as undoubtedly great is Steve Waugh yet his career took along time to get going and it was 80 tests before his average hit the heights that Cook’s has recently achieved. And all that whilst scoring only ten hundreds.
Perhaps it is true that the bowling was probably better 20 years ago than now but even so – given that Cook achieves what he looks likely to  – it would seem churlish to deprive him of this tag.
Some players achieve greatness earlier through huge success coupled with an aesthetic pleasure (i.e. Lara or Tendulkar) but some too do it through graft, grind and frequent pokes through third man. It simply takes longer to become apparent the second way and for Roebuck to write Cook off seems possibly a little premature!

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

Simple Brilliance From England and What Now For Australia?

7 12 2010

What a win! As many people have already said and will no doubt continue to say for some time, that was about the best all round performance we have seen for quite some time – if not ever – from England. Where Australia go from here it is difficult to say although England need to be wary as, surely, the only way is up!

Still, despite the need for not an ounce of complacency, England can rest in the knowledge that they are undoubtedly the better side and should win the Ashes. Not just retain them – win them. Imagine the crowds at the MCG if Australia are 2-0 down… Awash with English supporters would probably be an accurate description and, as is already happening, a distinct dearth of Aussies.

The game was unfortunately not entirely without blight for England with the abdominal injury to Stuart Broad. His focus has now shifted to ensuring he is fit for the World Cup in February next year and will travel home rather than stay with the squad. He has had a solid rather than spectacular two Ashes tests and despite his lack of wickets had done an admirable job holding up one end. Sadly for him he misses out on the pitch he would probably have enjoyed most, the WACA, and is no doubt sorely disappointed to be missing the rest of what could be a resoundingly memorable trip.

His loss is another’s opportunity however and in this case one of Bresnan, Tremlett and Shahzad will be the lucky one picked. Tremlett is the most obvious replacement being another tall, hit the deck, fast bowler. Bresnan provides a swing option more akin to Anderson and Shahzad a hustle and bustle type with the ability to reverse swing.

We suspect that Bresnan will be the initial player to be discounted as Tremlett on the WACA is an enticing prospect with his pace and bounce. Our personal pick at the Compulsive Hooker would be Shahzad though as he impressed us in his two appearances over the Summer. Whoever comes in does need to pick up the baton immediately though as, while he didn’t take many wickets, Broad, it could be argued, assisted Finn, Anderson and Swann in picking up the theirs by keeping the pressure on.

England move on to Victoria now to play a three day game against the state in what is likely to be a straight bowl off between these three. Eoin Morgan is likely to get his first game of the tour and will be looking to impress should his opportunity come through injury later in the series. Steven Davies too may get a game and let Prior have a rest or play simply as a batsman.

For Australia things are far less simple. Probably their best batsman of recent times, Simon Katich, is out of the series. Doherty is clearly not the answer to their spin woes. Bollinger belied his excellent record to bowl with no venom at all. Siddle appears to be largely ineffective and Marcus North is playing as a spin bowler. At least Ryan Harris showed that he offers something with the ball – even if he is apparently too high with the bat at 8.

Factor in other worries, albeit of a much smaller nature by comparison, such as whether Watson’s best position is truly opening (openers are supposed to score hundreds not fifties), Ponting’s own lack of form and you have potent mix ripe for combustion.

The best Australian team is probably this one in our view: Jacques, Watson, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey, Khawaja, Haddin, Hauritz, Harris, Siddle, Bollinger.

The problem is of course that even to casual cricket followers this is fraught with its own problems. Jacques, despite being supremely unlucky to have never regained his opening birth after a brilliant start to his test career, is only averaging 22 in Sheffield Shield cricket. Khawaja would be on debut although he, at least, is having a good season. Hauritz was dropped like a hot potato and his recall would mean a massive loss of face for the selectors to pick him so soon again whilst Bollinger was simply dreadful in Adelaide.

With Hilditch and company’s recent record of chopping and changing don’t be surprised by any side that is picked. Even Johnson, that widely derided chucker of pies, is possibly in line for a recall!

What is perhaps most likely though to happen is that Phil Hughes would come in for Katich and Khawaja for Doherty with North batting at 8 and providing the spin options on what is likely to be a seamers pitch anyway. In short though, who knows?!

England are undoubtedly, barring Broad’s injury, in the best shape possible while Australia (and we never thought we would write this sentence) are a confused, out of form and distinctly average mess!*

* We are praying that this doesn’t come back to haunt us as England, against all odds, rediscover their frailties we hope they have lost for the forseeable future!


The Compulsive Hooker’s Ashes Predictions

23 11 2010

Nb. Anyone planning on putting on any bets for the series would do well to ignore our thoughts – we’re rarely, if ever, right!

With the pre Ashes hype becoming almost unbearable in the last few days and the number of articles being offered for general consumption increasing exponentially and reaching (what is hopefully) a fevered peak; we feel that the time has come to finally offer our predictions for the series ahead.In two days time, a matter of a little over 36 hours from now, the Ashes 2010/11 will commence and all the talking will go out the window. Those who can walk the walk will shape this series and live long in the memory; whilst the remainder will become the forgotten chaff of yet another season.

Up until this point we have tried to dodge binding statements of what we believe is going to happen for fear of being proved hopelessly wrong, although, it has to be said, regular readers will probably have worked out what we are going to say already. If you have we apologise for what you might feel is an entirely unnecessary and repetitive article… For everyone else – read on.

Leading Run Scorers:

We believe that, fitness permitting, the leading run scorers on either side will be Michael Clarke and Kevin Pietersen. Clarke because we feel that despite all the recent criticism directed at him for his limited overs batting will show that he is now the most important player in the Australian test line up. His class and mental abilities under pressure have never been in doubt and we think this will be a big series for him. If Clarke’s back gets the better of him we think it could well be Simon Katich in his place at the head of the run chart. For England KP has long been a player who thrives on a challenge. We think this will be the series he gets his mojo back and plays two or three crucial innings.

Leading Wicket Takers:

A difficult one this one with the mercurial talents of Johnson competing with the more predictable methods of Siddle, Hilfenhaus et al. Also difficult as, with the Australian selectors in a minor tizzy, the make-up of their first eleven is not certain and it’s possible our pick will not even get a start… Nevertheless we are going to plump for Doug Bollinger whose brand of fast left arm is, to us anyway, the scariest prospect for England’s batsman. For England, we would suggest that Stuart Broad will be the main danger. Despite the competing claims of Swann, we think that Broad is now one of the premier fast bowlers in the world and on the Aussie pitches will be a serious prospect.

The Keeper Battle:

Neither of these keepers would be first on the list for a ‘Gentleman’s World XI’ or even come near to the top of the ‘Tidiest Keeper’s awards’ yet both are highly effective players and their battle promises to be a long and intriguing one. Prior’s batting should revel in the quicker pitches he will encounter whereas it is of course Haddin’s own stomping ground. On the keeping side we believe Prior now has the edge despite a terrible start to his career as a test player with the gloves and, it is with this reason in mind, we are going to pick the Englishman. Matt Prior to shade this battle.

Who Will Keep The Urn?

As we mentioned before, going by our heart we are going to have to choose Australia to win as we are concerned, should we pick England, we will irrevocably harm their prospects. However, trying to remember that nothing we can write or say will have any effect on England’s chances, we will try now to pick objectively…

Here goes…

A crucial point to remember is that England don’t have to win to retain the Ashes – if it’s a drawn series England keep that all important little urn. With that in mind, and considering we have never been averse to a little fence sitting, we are going to go for a 2-2 draw and England to come home with their honour intact.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree?

England Win and Ridiculous Conspiracies

23 09 2010

It is with some relief that we write these words: the England Pakistani series is over. What was an intriguing series to begin with has gone through the gamut of emotions  and remarkably ended in a tense, exciting and winner takes all scenario. What has not been so pleasant, quite apart from the claims of spot fixing, has been the increasingly aggressive stance from Pakistani supporters as they begin to subscribe to the ‘worlds against us’ conspiracy theory.

Yesterdays game was, for the most part, a very close affair until Swann turned the screw in the 28th over of the Pakistani innings. The Pakistani bowling attack again served notice of how dangerous it could be, the old man of the side, Shoaib Akhtar, showing immense bravery to continue bowling with a side injury and pick up 3-40. For a large part of the innings England were only one or two wickets away from collapsing almost entirely.

The English saviour, once again, was Eoin Morgan – a man who has done more for the England ODI team in turning them into a consistent and dangerous unit than arguably any other. Without the sheer class and calmness of Morgan; without his ability to work the strike and hit the gaps; without his talent to shift in gears and hit boundaries almost at will late in the innings – England would have in all likelihood, here and on increasingly numerous other occasions since his debut, folded – whether chasing or setting a target. Up until now Morgan has mostly produced these outstanding innings batting second – an easier task simply because you know exactly what you have to do – but yesterday, batting first, it was up to him to set the pace and judge what a reasonable score was. Once again he performed brilliantly and it was almost solely down to him that what turned out to be a very testing target was set.

In the Pakistani reply Akmal and Hafeez once again set off like a rocket, something that has been a feature of this series, before getting bogged down in the middle overs. Two wickets in an over, one a brilliant catch by Paul Collingwood, from Broad slowed the Pakistanis although it was the introduction of Swann that really set the cat among the pigeons. The ball in his first over to defeat Fawad Alam was breathtaking and we suspect would have got far finer players than the Pakistani number five out. The death knell of the Pakistani innings however was in the 28th over when Swann removed Yousuf and Afridi in consecutive balls – Yousuf’s in particular being another exceptionally fine bit of bowling. Rameez Raja on the Test Match Special commentary summed Swann up perfectly; “I never thought that watching off spin could be so interesting”. There are few finer sights in cricket than watching a fast bowler steaming in and causing havoc – i.e. Allan Donald at Edgaston 1998, Curtly Ambrose at Trinidad in 1994 to name but a couple – but one of them is definitely a top class spinner weaving his web. Edge of your seat stuff as you wonder whether this one will be caught at slip, beat the bat or simply castle the hapless batsman.

One regrettable aspect of this series was the lack of UDRS technology as there were on a three or four occasions fairly glaring errors made by the on field umpires. Whilst this is part and parcel of cricket, sadly these all went one way and have only served to fan the conspiracy theories surrounding Pakistani cricket as put forward by an increasing number of their supporters and the administration. The Compulsive Hooker has always been a little suspicious of technology as in our view we believe it is important not to devalue the umpires on the pitch – something that is already happening unfortunately with players increasingly showing small amounts of dissent and questioning decisions. However with the glaring and obviously wrong decision against Kamran Akmal last night we feel that perhaps it should be made a global standard by the ICC for all games.

Fortunately the particular decision against Akmal,whilst obvious in its incorrect nature, would have been unlikely to have altered the end result of the game. When he was dismissed Akmal had already become very bogged down and was struggling to push the scoring along after what had been a flying start and, considering the deficit at the end was 121 runs, it is unlikely that he would have made that much of a difference. In the end the class of Swann and Morgan told and England, rightly, were victors in the series.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the scoreboard of yesterdays game; please click here.

What is imperative now upon conclusion of the series is that the PCB and the ICC conduct a full, thorough and above all totally honest search into these allegations as well as fixing in general. Sadly up until now the PCB, and Ijaz Butt in particular, have appeared to be, if not dishonest, certainly disingenuous and more likely to try and save face by going on the attack than apparently willing to try and clean up the game. It seems obvious to most (and by most we mean pundits and experts within the game rather than the armchair supporters such as ourselves) that something is going on. For any Pakistani’s reading this we also realise that these issues are unlikely to be concentrated solely with your national team and so the ICC needs to take charge and bring any wrong doers to justice, whatever their nationality.

We have fallen out of love with cricket a little bit in these last few weeks and we know that we are not the only ones. It will be with some relief that the Ashes will arrive as with that series at least we can be reasonably sure that nothing untoward will be going on. The tour squad is announced today at 1:30pm and we are already feeling the first tingles of excitement at what is likely to be a closely fought and brilliant series.

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