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


Ashes Retained: Ponting Departs

30 12 2010

So England have retained the Ashes! Well played and fully deserved we would say and, despite the grumblings of a few Aussies in the comment sections of various articles and forums, a justified result as England are quite simply the better team. Well balanced, in form and exhibiting a real sense of togetherness, England have been superior in just about every department.

However the glorious high achieved on the morning of Day 4 at the MCG will all come to naught should Australia win the final test in Sydney and level the series. We would even go so far as to say we would be left with a slightly sour taste in our mouths should it happen. For the record we can’t actually see that it might, yet this wonderful sport is a funny old game and England need to ensure that no complacency has crept into their game in the fifth test.

On a day in which the Daily Telegraph has published a 16 page ‘Ashes Winning Supplement’ and is, like every other cricketing media outlet in the UK, indulging in the sort of triumphalism that makes us nervous; it is important to remember that retaining the Ashes is a fine effort, but winning the series convincingly would be a great one.

It is perhaps possible to forgive the majority of the press as they remain fans like the majority of us. Many of those are fans who happen to have played the game to the highest level in the recent past and have consequently suffered at the hands of Ricky Ponting at least in the current set up, and so could be doubly forgiven. Yet, the superstitious side of our natures dictate we have to temper this spirit just a little here at the Compulsive Hooker – hence the nature of the opening paragraphs!

In truth though it was a superb performance by England at the MCG and one which was arguably even more impressive than the innings victory at Adelaide. Just how impressive is clear when you realise that two out of the four bowlers who took 20 Australian wickets were not even first choice players at the start of the tour. One of them, Bresnan, was even perhaps as low as fifth place in the pecking order before the Adelaide test match, something that demonstrates perfectly the admirable strength in depth England have built up.

Moving forward England have only one concern, that is of course the form of England’s cricketing cockroach, Paul Collingwood. The Durham man is having a series comparable to Clarke and Ponting for Australia, albeit with some fine contributions in the field with ball and catching. Despite his admirable qualities (and let it be said we have always been a staunch supporter of the ginger one) we do feel that perhaps now his time in test cricket is drawing to a close.

With the future in mind we would be keen to see England’s eternal substitute on this tour, Eoin Morgan, given a go. He is next in line at the cab rank for a batting spot and having scored a hundred in difficult circumstances against Pakistan deserves his spot – probably at six though with Bell moving up to five. Collingwood still has much to offer and will remain a crucial part of England’s World Cup campaign in February.

Australia on the other hand, as for most of the series, are in a world of trouble and it appears that with the capriciousness of the Aussie selectors in mind, Ponting may well have played his last test. Clarke has this morning been named as Australia’s captain for the SCG, ostensibly because of Ponting’s finger injury – something that is surely a piece of rubbish on a level with Johnson’s resting at Adelaide. If he was fit to play at the MCG, he is hardly likely to be unable to play at Sydney after all.

Ponting will know it smacks of  the selectors easing him out – something that will probably please most of what seems to be a supremely fickle Australian public – and marks a sad end to a supreme career. For all our English irritation at his antics over the years, not least his disgraceful performance towards Aleem Dar during this very test, he has always had the respect of everyone English for his batting.

Clarke comes into the captaincy as probably one of the least popular and most out of form players, certainly in our memory, for Australia and faces an incredibly difficult task. Captains usually like to lead from the front, yet with only one significant but ultimately useless contribution, this is likely to be difficult for Clarke. He has already looked under pressure and nervous throughout the series and so we feel the additional pressures of captaincy can hardly help.

Pakistani born Usman Khawaja comes into the side to bat at three and directly replace Ponting. Replacing a legend is usually a very difficult thing, but Khawaja has the cushion of knowing that even a scratchy 30 odd is more than Ponting has managed all series when it mattered!

We will follow this up with more thoughts for prior to the first test, but for now we too want to revel (albeit in a tempered way!) in the chaos England have caused in Australian ranks, and the knowledge that the Ashes are ours until 2013 at least. Well played Strauss and the boys and lets win the final test well.

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?

Ashes Third Test Preview

15 12 2010

With the anticipation building for what could be the decisive test in the Ashes battle, we thought we would do the obvious thing and put a few of our thoughts down on paper (or screen perhaps?!). There are still a few questions to be answered for both teams as to the composition of the two sides yet the essential feeling remains that England should, if they play well, come out on top.

Australia are, as many observers closer to the team than us here in sunny Dubai, a team in no small amount of turmoil – something emphasised by their selection policy and the obvious panic within it. We know that if we were Ricky Ponting we would be fuming at the general inconsistency shown. As if the prospect of losing a third Ashes series isn’t enough, he is being asked to captain a side that has little do with his own preferences and that includes someone he has never laid eyes on before.

According to Simon Hughes and others on their Twitter accounts, that man, Beer, looked lost during the Aussie net session today and, with the pitch being green, (and therefore in theory offering assistance to the seam bowlers) apparently the Aussies are leaning towards four seamers. The alternative of playing Beer with the hat trick hero from the Gabba, Peter Siddle, being left out as many have suggested, implies the Aussies are no where nearer a coherent selection policy. Granted he has taken zero wickets since his six wicket haul in the first innings in Brisbane, but dropping someone who is your only success story in four innings of test cricket beggars belief – especially when the other quicks apparently first in the queue to play have both been dropped already in this Ashes.

For England it is a simpler equation and as we have written before our pick would be Shahzad – there is something about his bustling nature that we quite like. Tremlett had been the hot favourite until the last 24 hours when Jonathan Agnew, Michael Vaughan and one or two others threw their weight behind Tim Bresnan.

As long time readers will be aware we have a profound distrust of Bresnan’s ability to take wickets in test cricket. A wholehearted trier, a useful limited overs bowler and someone who undoubtedly would be willing to run in the ‘Freemantle Doctor’ (the stiff wind that is liable to blow up at a moment’s notice causing havoc with the bowlers) that we have been hearing so much about over the past few days – but surely someone who is less likely to take a crucial ‘fivefer’ than the other two.

Perhaps we are wrong – and few people try harder and therefore perhaps deserve success as much as Bresnan – but in a game where Ricky Ponting particularly knows that perhaps his entire career, let alone the Ashes, is on the line; we think that Bresnan is the bowler the Aussies would most want us to pick. On that basis alone it should be one of the other two…

Mind you, perhaps this is balanced out by the Australian’s picking Steven Smith to ‘have fun’ and be the joker in the team. We can’t remember any specific examples but imagine if ten years ago England had picked a young player and gave him this message – think what Steve Waugh’s take might have been! The word scathing would probably not have done justice to his response.

As a Kiwi friend of the Compulsive Hooker warned us yesterday in one of our cockier moments, ‘you can never discount these buggers until their beaten’; something that remains undeniably the case. If Ponting gets going; if Hussey continues where he left off or even, as is possible, Hughes blazes a quick ton and Australia manage to get 450 on the board – well then things could get tricky. England should still have enough of an edge in the batting to stay in and eventually win the game, but runs on the board adds a pressure that was absent in Adelaide and this, being cricket, you simply never know.

Whatever happens we cannot wait and have decided to side with the prevailing winds. We believe that after a close fought battle, England will ultimately emerge triumphant.

Premature Gloating and The Real Number One Battle

12 12 2010

Gloating Too Early?

In amidst the euphoria of England’s innings win in Adelaide and the glee with which the selection of Michael Beer and Phil Hughes has been greeted, an important and sobering fact lies in England’s record at the WACA. As Scyld Berry’s excellent piece in the Telegraph explains, England have never won against a full strength Aussie side at Perth. (The sole victory coming in 1978 against an Australian side depleted by Kerry Packer and his World Series Cricket).

Rather than regurgitate the article we recommend you click here as it will help keep matters in perspective… As much as we and almost all other judges around the world are convinced that England will win this series, the fact remains, this is the Australian’s we are talking about. A wounded and discounted Aussie is a very dangerous thing…

In the same paper the inevitable chat about England challenging for number one status has been raised once more. If England win this series well, say 3-0 perhaps, then it is worth posing these questions, yet, up until the point where this potential score line is reached – the English within us wishes that people would refrain from what appears to be premature gloating!


The Real Number One Battle

On the subject of challenging for number one status, the top two sides, India and South Africa, kick off their three test series at Centurion on Thursday. For all the naysayers and doubters (of which we admit for a while we were one) with regard to the justification of India’s number one ranking status, this will either seal the deal for the next 6 months or simply open up all the old arguments once more.

South Africa are ranked a comfortable number two and possess a fearsome pace bowling attack. India’s batting line up of course requires no introduction and this battle for supremacy promises to be a brilliant one to watch. Our money is on either a drawn series or South Africa shading it as we still believe that, at home, any of the top four or five teams (minus perhaps Australia in their current form) would be favourites to beat any of the others.

What with the Ashes coming to a head as well over the next four weeks, we cannot wait for what should be a feast of test cricket!


Broad’s Replacement

No need to panic for England at the WACA despite only one wicket between Bresnan, Shahzad and Tremlett. On what was more akin to a pudding than a proper cricket pitch, England’s three back up seamers were swiftly removed from the attack in the second innings to be replaced with a mixture of Panesar, Collingwood and some declaration bowling yesterday from Morgan and Strauss of all people.

Despite one or two articles in the Australian press suggesting that England are having difficulty deciding who will play as a result and that perhaps the back up isn’t of sufficient quality, this is simply straw clutching by a media starved of their usual ‘pommie bashing’ material.

Anderson Out Of Opening Ashes Test

15 10 2010

News is emerging from the England camp that Jimmy Anderson is likely to be out of the opening two test matches of England’s Ashes campaign due to an injury sustained at the end of season ‘bonding camp’. It remains to be seen why the injury is only just emerging now, several weeks after they returned from Germany, but – and you, the reader, may be surprised we are taking this line being as we are big fans of Jimmy A – it could perhaps not be a total disaster for England.

Anderson’s record against Australia in Australia is very poor and, whilst over the past couple of years his overall performance has improved, his away performances are still relatively ineffective – over the last two years he has taken 29 wickets in 10 games at 38.06. This is better than his overall record overseas (bowling average 43.84) but has obviously still got a substantial amount of room for improvement.

One mans loss is another’s opportunity as the saying goes and in this case Anderson’s injury opens the door for Ajmal Shahzad; a man who we felt should have been in the party already and whose brand of nippy, skiddy bowling reminds us of Simon Jones. Indeed against Bangladesh he was even reverse swinging the ball which makes the potential parallels even more obvious.

What we sincerely hope does not happen (and the potentiality of this happening is something that has caused us nightmares in the past) is that the England management swap like for like and pick Tim Bresnan as the one swing bowler in the team. Bresnan is an admirable trier but not nearly in Anderson’s class as a swinger meaning that we would rather use the unknown but classy looking Shahzad in a four man attack. The other option within the squad is Tremlett but he is a very similar type of bowler to Broad and Finn and so will probably remain on the sidelines.

One thing that we feel has definitely got to be avoided is playing a 5 man attack. It would be easy to argue that with the loss of one of England’s front line bowlers, and with relative rookies in reserve, it would be necessary to play an extra bowler. However, as we stated yesterday, we believe the Ashes will be won and lost in the batting meaning that England need as many runs as possible; hence 6 front line batsman. Plus to follow on from the preceding thoughts about Bresnan; it is practically assured that 5 batsman would mean playing the Yorkshire seamer to bat him at 8 with Stuart Broad at 7 – a solution that reeks of trying to plug two perceived holes (not enough runs or wickets) with a man who is unlikely to be the answer to either problem.

Anyway – thats our two pennies worth – what are your thoughts?

%d bloggers like this: