England vs India: Thoughts

18 07 2011

It’s probably obvious – but we at the Compulsive Hooker love cricket. Not just a little bit, not as a passing interest but, like many other millions of people, as an all consuming passion for the game that, had we been IT specialists, would have seen us dismissed as nerds. Actually, in all honesty, this has been accusation leveled at us in the past anyway but because its cricket – a sport – you are somehow excused the finer perils of ‘nerddom’.

Whether this is fair or not is an entirely different argument but what is certainly worth mentioning is the fact that we have not been so excited/nervous/happy at the prospect of a test series since 2005 (and that’s even including this last Ashes series in Australia.) Whilst this isn’t exactly a clash of the titans (since the demise of the great Australian side titans have got considerably smaller) it is a battle for the number one status in world cricket.

We live currently in an era where no one side dominates and where home advantage plays a key part of any game. It is true that over the last 18 months India has probably the biggest claim to the number one spot – something that is born out by the ratings – yet if England were to win this series by two tests suddenly they are on top.

Of course the ratings are only ever really an indication of form and, as such, unless there is a clear gap between first and second, not too much can or should be drawn from it (other than a 500 word article of course…) If England beat India well this Summer then they can probably justifiably call themselves the best side in the world. Likewise, if India triumph, then they too can argue very fairly that they deserve the title.

For us at the Compulsive Hooker though it is less about the ability to call yourself the best in the world and more about watching Anderson or Zaheer Khan on an overcast day, perhaps on a green track, bowling to Tendulkar or Pietersen and watching the contest unfold.

England and India are both very fine sides and cricket is richer for the competition the current situation affords.

For our money we have England as slight favourites – the ability of the English batting to cope with the Indian bowling we think is  higher than the reverse – something we credit to the fact that England undoubtedly have the best current bowling attack in world cricket and English conditions are totally foreign to the Indians.



Bowling Worries For England And Thoughts On Australian Batting

2 02 2011

Over the past year most things have gone right for Andy Flower and his coaching companions. Now, with the score line standing at 5-1 in Australia’s favour, he knows that the World Cup will be anything but plain sailing. There are mitigating factors but the truth of the matter is that quite simply they have not been good enough.

Injury is a major part in this with injuries to Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan, Chris Tremlett, Graeme Swann and latterly Ajmal Shahzad being important. James Anderson has only recently returned from his short break for paternity leave (by which point the series was more or less lost) although none of these reasons really gets away from the fact that the bowling throughout this series has been substandard.

In the 6th ODI today, England’s batsman fired and Australia were set a huge total of 334 to win. That they got there with such ease (despite the late flurry of wickets) is strange considering how effective England’s bowling attack are in the longer forms of the game.

You would have to think a first choice bowling attack of Broad, Anderson, Bresnan, Swann and probably Yardy with Collingwood as back up would be enough to hold most teams to a competitive score – yet it seems, unlike in the test matches, our back up bowlers are not good enough.

Tremlett bowls too short and is easy to hit – this will be even more the case on the slow and low sub continental wickets; Finn was dropped from the test side as he is not the line and length merchant England required – something that hardly bodes well for ODI cricket – and Shahzad, while showing moments of brilliance and exciting promise, is still a bit raw. It is right though that he is going as the back-up seamer over the other options although Woakes possibly deserves a chance.

It has not all been the fault of the bowlers though as the batsman have also been culpable in at least two of the six matches. Trott is of course the exception with two hundreds and a fifty in the series. Essentially, if he doesn’t fire, England have had no chance.

Over the past 18 months the lynchpins of England’s batting have been Morgan, Collingwood and Strauss. Strauss has been getting starts (including a couple of fifties) before falling just when he should be kicking on – something that is becoming a feature of his. Collingwood is of course in about the worst run of form we have ever seen from a batsman and Morgan, while looking in great touch, has picked the wrong shot every game early in his innings.

Some of it is surely down to a hangover from the Ashes, a dropping in the intensity perhaps, but in this professional age it cannot be an excuse. We do sympathise with the players as the schedule is truly hectic, as Pietersen said a few days ago, and it remains something the ICC and all the respective boards need to think about.


Just a quick thought to finish… During the Ashes many people commented, both Australian and not, that the Aussie batsman had been adversely affected by 20/20 cricket and ODI cricket. The most compelling evidence for this was when the Aussies were trying to bat for a draw in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney and, despite the onus being on crease occupation, they seemed only to have one mode – that of attack.

We had not given this much thought up until now, but it does appear that the Aussies are very suited to limited overs cricket. A Shane Watson 70 won’t make a difference in test cricket, yet in ODI’s can be crucial. Likewise in the bowlers, their most dangerous and game changing players – Shaun Tait, Brett Lee – can only play the shorter forms for fear of breaking down.

We said before this series that, despite the mass media’s acclamation of England, you cannot write off an Australian team who when we last checked were still ranked number one in ODI’s. The sub continent will be different of course but, in this format at least, they are an entirely different proposition.


Some Predictions For 2011

9 01 2011

Predicting anything, let alone a wide ranging selection of sports events months before they happen, is often a fool hardy business. However, as usual, we are going to have a stab at prophesying what might happen in the international cricket and rugby worlds. After all, and at the very least, when we are casting around for something to write in December 2011 it will be a readymade article reveling in how prescient or, more likely, how far wrong we were…

Let’s start with cricket…

ICC Cricket World Cup (50 Overs): England

We haven’t looked at the draw so we aren’t sure exactly what the various permutations can be, yet the final we would like to see is an India vs England match up. There are probably four or five sides who could win this competition but, with the Ashes win under their belt, we believe that finally England might have the quality and consistency to go all the way. Otherwise India (as mentioned), Sri Lanka and South Africa will be the hot favourites.

Test Cricket

2011 is a year of prime opportunity for England to begin their assault on the world number one slot. Home series against Sri Lanka and India to be followed by a proposed tour of India and then Pakistan, possibly in the UAE, offer an opportunity to show that the recently concluded 3-1 Ashes win is no fluke. In the early season conditions against Sri Lanka we believe that England should comfortably prevail to be followed by a close but victorious series win over India. Honours will be reversed though should the trip to India be confirmed.

Elsewhere, Australia travel to South Africa and Sri Lanka; both of whom should have too much for the down in the dumps Aussies. The rest of the test nations will be fighting for position in the lower rungs of the table with New Zealand possibly relishing the prospect of getting one over Australia later in the year.

Zimbabwe too will make their return to test cricket on the back of some improved ODI showings in 2010. However they will be comfortably outclassed leading to lots of stats quoted with the caution they are ‘without games featuring Zimbabwe’.

By the end of the year we would expect England to have usurped South Africa’s second spot in the rankings with India holding on by a slender margin at the top.

We would be entirely unsurprised should match fixing, spot fixing or any other sort of illegal fixing rear its ugly head once more.


Moving on now to rugby…

Six Nations Rugby: England

There is little doubt following the Autumn campaigns of the northern hemisphere sides that England are going to be considered favourites. Italy are no hopers, Scotland lack fire power, Wales and Ireland lack consistency whereas France are mired in infighting and seeming self doubt. England showed signs that their game is progressing and whilst not in the same class yet as the Southern Hemisphere giants week in week out, they should have enough to top the table with one loss along the way.

Tri Nations: New Zealand

Only one conceivable winner here as Australia’s young and South Africa’s ageing side fail to get to grips with the juggernaut that is All Black rugby. Tantalising glimpses of All Black fallibility will begin to emerge as the tournament wears on however culminating in a defeat or two in the last couple of matches. The already enormous expectations will then become almost unbearable as the New Zealand public turn ugly and hyper critical leading to….

Rugby World Cup: Australia

…Australia winning the world cup in extra time. Australia are a side who can rarely be discounted in any sport and in rugby they have more than enough talent to match the All Black’s given a little bit of luck or perhaps faltering opposition. The ensuing backlash by the New Zealand public causes Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Mils Muliaina to move to Europe on big money deals and Sonny Bill Williams to move to rugby league.

England grind their way to the semi finals before being out classed but all other northern hemisphere sides disappoint with France in particular blowing up in spectacular fashion in the semi finals.

2010: A Cricketing Year

3 01 2011

A few days late perhaps, being as we are in the early days of 2011, but we thought we would do a short review of the year and our favourite sporting moments, it’s heroes and its villains. We will split this into a couple of posts over the next couple of days; one for cricket and one for rugby with a few extras thrown in.

The Highlights

England Win 20/20 World Cup

As we wrote here and here at the time, this was an astonishing tournament for England. Astonishing in that England won a competition in a format which, until only shortly before, they had demonstrated a worrying inconsistency; but also personally so (something that took us by surprise) as, given a tournament that is not a overhyped domestic commercial affair, we heartily enjoyed the shortest form of the game.

Eoin Morgan’s Century at the Rosebowl

Interestingly, given the Compulsive Hooker’s well advertised love for test cricket, the first two highlights that sprang to mind were limited overs affairs. Morgan’s hundred was a wonderful innings and reinforced the growing belief that not only is Morgan probably the finest English limited overs player for quite some time, he is also one of the premier players in the world. In test cricket Morgan’s time will come again, probably sooner rather than later with Collingwood’s current travails, and when it does we look forward to seeing how he gets on with some interest.

India’s Series Against South Africa

With India and South Africa both seemingly being afflicted with the same disease as England, namely winning well only to lose well in the following test or vice versa, and with both a home and away series being played for each side, this has been a fascinating battle. Both sides are so well matched, particularly if Zaheer Khan is playing, that wherever the games are being played it is difficult to know who has the edge. With the Indian leg of the battle cut short in a brutal bit of planning by the BCCI and SACB that left us gasping for more, we are pleased to see a three test series currently being played.

2nd Ashes Test, Adelaide

Despite the fact that the MCG may have been a greater margin of victory and that it may have been the win that retained the Ashes, it is the Adelaide test that was the highlight for us in this Ashes campaign. England dominated Australia in the second half of the Gabba test and didn’t let off here. A brilliant display of such all round cricketing perfection that we had to keep pinching ourselves to remind us that it was England in Australia we were watching.

The Low Lights

The Pakistani Spot fixing Scandal

With no resolution yet to this saga and an apparent willingness by certain people around the world, not just in Pakistan, to try and sweep this under the carpet, this has been a nightmare scenario for world cricket. With the possibility that we, the cricketing public, might lose the talents of Mohammed Aamir, not to mention any others that may emerge should the skeletons in the closet be aired fully, it really is a sad state of affairs. Pakistan have all the talents in the world but sadly are led and managed by a succession of inept and sometimes downright dangerous (to the game that is) people. Let us hope 2011 sees some appropriate punishments as well as an extra vigilant ICC.

Cricket Scheduling Worldwide

Whether it is the IPL, the Champions Trophy, the English domestic season or simply maddeningly short test series, the cricketing authorities around the world have a great deal to answer for. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again but that old cliché ‘less is more’ really is true. International cricket matches should be events that whet the appetite; domestic leagues should entertain whilst providing quality fixtures bearing the players themselves in mind and above all they should be fan friendly – something that at some point around the world all the boards fell down on.

Most Entertaining Player Award

Only one possible winner for this award – Graeme Swann. His video diaries are hilarious, his press conferences interesting and amusing and he plays the game with a rare joie de vivre. Well done sir.

Batsman of the Year

Sachin Tendulkar – who else?

Bowler of the Year

Dale Steyn. In a cricketing era where former players and experts generally have bemoaned the lack of quality bowling around the world, Dale Steyn deserves special mention as someone who has bucked the general trend. Fast bowling of the highest class is always exciting to watch and we look forward to him continuing his spree of destruction through 2011.

Villain of the Year

Ijaz Butt. A clown, a buffoon and an idiot are all adjectives that sum this man up. Pakistan cricket doesn’t need him.

Finally, here is a composite test eleven from the 2010.

  1. Graeme Smith
  2. Virender Sehwag
  3. Jonathan Trott
  4. Sachin Tendulkar
  5. Hashim Amla
  6. V.V.S. Laxman
  7. M.S. Dhoni
  8. Dale Steyn
  9. Graeme Swann
  10. Zaheer Khan
  11. Jimmy Anderson

Thoughts on this and any other highlights or low lights you may have?

Fancy a Beer Warnie?

8 12 2010

Shane Warne has put the cat amongst the pigeons by calling for West Australian left arm spinner, Michael Beer, to be called up to the Australian team. Apparently this would be a ‘horses for courses’ selection as he knows the wicket in Perth and would be able to do a job. If his sole intention was to garner headlines then he has clearly succeded, yet, if he is serious – then this is yet another indication of the depths to which Australian spin bowling has sunk.

Back in the heyday of English mediocrity, startling collapses, woeful fielding and such inspired selections as Mike Smith of Gloucestershire, Ronnie Irani of Essex and Richard Dawson of Yorkshire were commonplace, many on the basis of a ‘horses for courses’ selection policy. Smith, a willing medium pacer, was picked at Headingley almost entirely out the blue in 1997 against the all conquering Aussies on the basis that he swung the ball and was exactly the sort of bowler England needed at the Yorkshire ground. Inevitably this selection backfired horribly and he went wicketless as Australia won by an innings.

Now the boot is firmly on the other foot and Shane Warne, a man who is frequently applauded for his cricketing brain (best captain Australia never had etc) and has in the past always said you should stick by your best eleven players, is now calling for what would be one of the most extraordinary selections in history.

“What? Even more than Xavier Doherty?” We hear you all cry… Well, yes! Even the man Shane Warne wants playing at the WACA, Michael Beer, must have blinked and rubbed his eyes in disbelief if he saw this headline. To be entirely fair to Beer, on the face of it, his record is actually slightly better than Doherty’s and even Hauritz’s, averaging as he does a shade under 40 and with a strike rate of a wicket every 66 balls in first class cricket.

However, and this is an enormous however, closer inspection shows he has only played five class matches and one senior limited overs game. If a man with this sort of record can get close to an Australian team at the age of 26, then the spin bowling barrel has not so much been scraped as demolished.

Alternatively, perhaps this is simply yet another example of Warne’s mind games and he is trying to coerce the selectors into what would be an enormous ego boost by asking him to return. We don’t for a minute believe he would be foolish enough to do so, whatever various pundits are saying, as there are too many cases in history of old champions returning only to re retire with their tails between their legs – yet he would probably love the attention!

Some Great Number 11’s: In Honour of Peter George

13 10 2010

With Peter George making his debut in the India versus Australia second test at Bangalore, yet another rabbit – a number 11 extraordinaire – has been added to the list of distinguished names in this category.

In this modern era of cricket where all cricketers, regardless of their role in the team, are expected to be able to hold a bat, Peter George is a refreshing return to completely hopeless and entirely hapless number eleven batsmen. Even previously inept batsman such as Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar have worked at their game enough to be able to defy a fired up Australian attack for the best part of 15 overs to get a draw and therefore escape ‘rabbit’ status. With this in mind we thought we’d have a look back at some of the greatest number elevens over the last few years:

Devon Malcolm, England (40 tests, 236 runs, 29 highest, 6.05 average)

Surely one of the all time greats in this category. A batsman whose only plan was the number elevens archetypal ‘batting by numbers’ – ball one and two block, ball three hit as far as you can etc – he provided much amusement for all cricket fans around the world. Memorable amongst his many low scoring innings was a brilliant knock of 29 against the Australians during which he put Shane Warne over cow corner twice in two balls.

Chris Martin, New Zealand (56, 89, 12*, 2.28)

One of the few cricketers in history to have taken more wickets than have scored runs, Chris Martin is a rabbit of the highest order. With 28 ducks in only 56 test matches and one of the lowest averages of players to have played more than ten test matches, Martin fully deserves his place on this list.

Alan Mullaly, England (19, 127, 24*, 5.50)

Another tail ender from the Devon Malcolm school of batting, Mullaly was a number eleven from another era. During a time when the tail of the English batting line up began at number 8, Mullaly and Tuffnell were the finest exponents of this mediocrity. The Hampshire seamer was a frustrating character though as he would occasionally play a shot that denoted a certain ability with the bat and you felt if he worked at things perhaps he would prove a reasonable bat. Sadly however it wasn’t to be and he makes this list with ease!

Pommie Mbangwa, Zimbabwe (15, 34, 8, 2.00)

On this list for the amazingly tiny nature of his average. We can’t remember seeing him bat but surely he has to be on here for that figure alone…

Glenn McGrath, Australia (124, 641, 61, 7.36)

The only rabbit on this list to have scored a test match half century and have a bat named after him in his honour – McGrath was a genuine number eleven. Always had pretensions to be a proper batsman and worked hard on it the length of his career, he had actually improved dramatically by his last test. Notable performances include keeping a fired up Steve Harmison out at Old Trafford in 2005 to draw the game and of course that remarkable partnership with Jason Gillespie where both scored half centuries.

Phil Tuffnell, England (42, 153, 22*, 5.10)

A player who you always felt was genuinely terrified of bowling quicker than medium pace, the ‘Cat’ could more often be found standing on the square leg umpires toes rather than getting in line and playing the ball. Keen to try and flay the ball over the slips (intentionally or not) he never lasted long and only just misses out on the more wickets to runs club.

This is a short and clearly incomplete list missing as it does any representatives from the sub continent. Therefore if you can think of any other great number elevens of the recent past please comment and let me know as we are sure there are one or two worth entries missing!

Laxman’s Magic and Other Thoughts

6 10 2010

Well that was an epic test match, and one in which, once again, we are not surprised to see our pre-game predictions failing to come true! Firstly let us apologise for writing about this a day or two late – we spent yesterday travelling and so couldn’t put our thoughts to paper (or to computer screen!) until now.

In the run up to the game we had suspected that both sides would struggle to get 20 wickets which just shows how little we know about the game! In the event 39 wickets fell and both sides struggled in their second innings showing the frailties that many ageing line ups have had throughout international cricketing history. In the end, however, one 35 year old veteran stood taller than the rest and, under the guidance of V.V.S. Laxman, India scrambled home.

Earlier on in their second innings, particularly when Hilfenhaus was wreaking havoc early on, we thought that the sheer combative and ruthless spirit so present in all Australian cricketers would prevail despite the presence of so many all time Indian greats. That they got there in the end was down to a man who throughout his career has often seemed to be, if not quite fighting for his place, certainly the most droppable of this generations legendary Indian middle order – yet against Australia has nearly always produced his best. Inevitably players are judged by their performances against the best sides of their day and on this scale Laxman can be compared favourably to almost anyone. Indeed he comes third on the list of run scorers in the last 15 years against the Australians behind only Tendulkar and Lara which is quite some achievement. (Thanks to Cricinfo for these figures – for the full list click here)

We could say much more on this game – although coming late to it we would likely be repeating what others have written. Suffice to say that obviously it was far from a one man show as without Tendulkar’s first innings 98, Raina and Dravid’s runs and of course Zaheer’s wickets, Laxman would have been quite unable to play such a pivotal role at the death. What it has done though is give test cricket a real boost in a country which you feel in the long term has the fate of the game in its hands. After numerous dull test matches over the past couple of years played on dead pitches which have simply been run fests, this was a welcome reminder of what it can be like.

Ultimately test cricket is a far superior game to the other forms of this wonderful sport and it is important that the Indian board of control in particular start showing the respect it deserves. Already this year India have had an excellent series against South Africa which finished 1-1 and now one against Australia which with one to play could also finish with the same scoreline. The major ‘elephant in the room’ is obviously that both these series are only two tests long and for contests as epic as these it is simply not enough. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again but seriously – it has to change.

India now have an opportunity going into the final test to lay one other matter partially to rest – that of whether their number one status is fully deserved or not. It is obvious to anyone with an objective viewpoint that there is no single outstanding side in world cricket at the moment and the fact that India happen to be occupying the number one spot doesn’t mean a great deal. With several of this current side (and most of these legends of the game) set to retire probably within the next couple of years if not before, we feel that India really only have a short time frame in which to secure what in boxing parlance would be the ‘undisputed champion of the world’ status.

Australia, however, cannot be discounted as if there is one thing you do not do – it is think an Aussie is beaten and get complacent. With this in mind (and the fact that we do not believe the Indians are as ruthless as they should be as number one side) we are going to stick to our pre series guns and suggest that Ponting’s men will do the business second time around and the series will be shared.  Either way – we cannot wait and are practically salivating at the prospect of the second test.

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