Some Thoughts On What India’s 2-0 Win Means…

14 10 2010

Firstly we are going to start off with an apology to India.

Before the series started we had Australia as slight favourites – something that admittedly looks quite silly now and has seriously made us think about making any predictions in print again! Either we didn’t give India enough credit for being a genuinely number one rated side or, being English supporters with an understandable complex about Australian cricketers, we rated the Aussies as considerably better than they actually are. If truth be told it was probably a mixture of both these schools of thought although, having pondered this matter overnight, we are going to err on the side of India being comfortably the better team. Lets have a look at what this means for each side and finally England:

India

Whilst it is obvious to most people that India were a comfortably superior team in this series, particularly in the second test, the question has to be asked – does this mean they are definitely the number one side in the world? In a word – probably! However the undisputed nature of this premier status will not be settled until they start winning the big series overseas i.e. South Africa and Australia away. Over the next 12  months they have the opportunity to do this as well as coming up against a good (and potentially Ashes holding) England side next Summer. What this series has done is proved to us, the previously unconverted, that the necessary grit – much more than the talent – is there and that in theory India are able to do this.

A second aspect of India’s performance that was pleasing to anyone worried about the potential retirement of any of their batting greats was the runs scored by both Murali Vijay and the young Pujara on debut. Vijay, it is true, has been around for a while and will be especially pleased with what could be his breakthrough innings. As with all Indian batsman who have not really been tested overseas on hard and bouncy tracks, slight doubts will persist until he has scored runs in South Africa in January but, for us at the Compulsive Hooker, he looks the part.

Cheteshwar Pujara

The future of Indian batting though is almost certainly Pujara. Outdone by the pitch and a near unplayable delivery in the first innings, what struck us when he was promoted to number 3 in the second innings was partly his extraordinary confidence, but mostly his incredible shot making – particularly through the off side. Anyone who averages 60 in first class cricket and has scored three triple hundreds already is clearly a good player and we felt we were watching the future of Indian batting. Symbolically coming out at number 3 in the fourth innings ahead of the great Rahul Dravid, perhaps this was truly a passing of the baton.

It was not all roses however as India will need to find a second and third wicket taking pace bowler to assist Zaheer Khan on overseas pitches where spin plays less of a part. Sharma was useful with the bat but flattered to deceive with the ball prior to his injury in the first test, whereas the 80’s throwback, Sreesanth, whilst improving throughout the second test, was still decidedly average on the whole.

Finally there is no praise high enough for the great Sachin Tendulkar who, in the absence of any runs from Sehwag and Dravid, carried the Indian batting in both games (with a duly deferential nod to Laxman in the first test and Vijay in the second) and has proved why he was labelled ICC Cricketer of the Year. Like a fine wine he keeps getting better and better and long may this continue.

Australia

Three test losses on the bounce, a blunt bowling attack and a batting line up that collapsed twice at crucial points in either game – things are looking dicey for the Australians. It is true that they are not a bad side overnight and should possibly have won the first test but they will be glad that it is only a two test series all the same. The beauty of test cricket is that there is nowhere to hide. The longer you play the more likely you are to be found out and so it was.

Prior to this series the Compulsive Hooker was still slightly fearful of this Australian side – simply because of their nationality more than anything else (years of England being crushed take their toll you know…) Now it is a different story and our eyes have been well and truly opened to the vulnerabilities of this team.

The bowling was mediocre with even the admirable Hilfenhaus being reduced to an unpenetrative trier. Johnson, whilst still able to bowl the odd ‘jaffa’ is always likely to spray it around too much to ever build up much pressure and as for Hauritz… Well suffice to say – ordinary is not the word. It is true that Indian batsman have a history of taking apart Australian spinners (and bowlers far finer than the honest Hauritz), yet on this performance we don’t even think he would be a threat to the average Englishman. Peter George looked raw, slightly ridiculous and not particularly threatening (it is his first test so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for the moment) whilst Bollinger, prior to injury in the first test, was all ‘huff but no puff’. It is true that at home on bouncy Australian tracks the Aussie line up will be more threatening, however this series has served to reinforce the fact that to England, in the upcoming Ashes, there is no reason at all to be overly worried about this bowling line up.

The batting was again frail and a couple of players including Hussey and, perhaps, still North will be under pressure to deliver. Ponting provided a couple of workmanlike efforts although the fluency and certainty appear to have gone the same way as Dravid’s.

All in all it was a far from satisfactory performance and one that England can only take heart from.

England

Truly this is England’s finest opportunity for 20 years to win an overseas Ashes series. We and many other pundits have said this several times already but this series has only served to reinforce this feeling. With many Australians expressing doubt that England’s bowlers have what it takes to make an impact down under, we feel that on this front we are at least on a par with the Aussies – if not slightly above them with the addition of Graeme Swann. Home advantage obviously counts for a lot but where we feel the Ashes will be won and lost is in the batting. Whoever can perform more consistently and score bigger runs will win the series – something that right now we feel is too close to call.

Either way we are already highly excited and cannot wait for it all to begin.

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ICC Awards 2010: Swann Loses Out To Sachin

7 10 2010

Sachin Triumphs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Awards:

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

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

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





Virender Sehwag: ‘Master Blaster’

26 08 2010

We did a rare thing at the Compulsive Hooker yesterday; namely watched the entire India versus New Zealand Tri Series match. This is something that due to the sheer proliferation of ODI’s (particularly those involving India or Sri Lanka) and our resulting ennui we usually are not bothered about doing. However due to propitious circumstances and a lack of other entertainment we sat down and watched the game and we are extraordinarily pleased that we did.

In a low scoring game in which India were bowled out for 223 and New Zealand for 118, one man stood head and shoulders above the rest. That man is of course Virender Sehwag who scored an effortless but powerful 110 from 93 balls. The second top scorer was Dhoni who scored a battling 38 from 75 deliveries and no one else got more than Jadeja’s 17. When New Zealand batted it was only some late order ‘biffing’ from Kyle Mills that ensured they passed the hundred mark and India’s bowling never looked like letting them get anywhere near the required total.

Despite all this low scoring, the ease with which Sehwag decimated the Kiwi bowling ensured that only afterwards; only after the devastation that was the New Zealand card had occurred; did we realise what an exceptional innings this was. Sehwag made the pitch look benign, made the swing the Kiwi bowlers were getting entirely ineffective, and convinced me that at the half way point New Zealand were ahead and should comfortably win the match. This wasn’t to be and is in itself a testimony to Sehwag’s genius.

Sehwag truly is the modern day ‘master blaster’ and the genuine heir to our favourite attacking batsman of all time’s title, Sir Isaac Vivian Richards. So much so that we will be adding him to the Compulsive Hooker’s ‘Favourites’ page, which – whilst Sehwag himself is clearly not going to care a jot – is the highest honour we are able to bestow upon him!





Wisden’s 5 Cricketers of the Year and Virender Sehwag

14 04 2010

Among other things, including the start of the new county cricket season and in these modern times the IPL, each new April brings us that bastion of cricketing responsibility, ‘The Wisden Almanac’. Eagerly awaited amongst the cricketing public (particularly the English public), Wisden’s very presence year after year is reassuring. Steadfast in its focus on test cricket, it harks back to a simpler age, glorying in the achievements and quirks of the longer form.

Wisden Five Cricketers of the Year

Of primary interest to most people is who the Wisden has selected as its five cricketers of the year. As perhaps can be expected, there is a heavy English flavour with only Michael Clarke getting a look in from other nations. Before we go any further, it is necessary to point out that Scyld Berry, Wisden’s current editor, has used as his selection criterion ‘excellence in the previous English Summer’. The list in full is:

  • Graeme Swann
  • Stuart Broad
  • Graham Onions
  • Matt Prior
  • Michael Clarke

These names (listed in no particular order) have, as mentioned above, a distinctly English bent to them. The Compulsive Hooker, whilst agreeing wholeheartedly with one or two of these selections, has some lingering doubts about the worthy nature of one or two others.

  • Swann, having bowled brilliantly throughout the series and year as a whole, is a shoe in. Over the year as a whole, he has taken 54 wickets at an average of 27 and has finished second to Mitchell Johnson. No problems there.
  • Stuart Broad also had a successful year, finishing third on the wicket taking list with 48 at 28, behind the aforementioned pair above. Again, no issues with his selection.
  • Graham Onions, whilst having a good record over the year with 25 wickets at 28 apiece, strikes me as a slightly funny selection. Undoubtedly successful against the West Indies and certainly had his moments (notably his 2 wickets in the first 2 balls of the second day at Edgbaston), but he was dropped for 2 of the 5 test matches. Since then he has continued being dropped and then picked again suggesting that he has not quite done enough. If this is the case, then in my eyes he has probably also not done quite enough to get into Wisden.
  • Matt Prior is another that, to us, hasn’t quite done enough. His overall record is good with 740 runs at 43 and one hundred, yet bar one important 60 odd during the Ashes, he was unexceptional. His glove work has drastically improved though and he was much the better keeper during that series.
  • Michael Clarke is the other no brainer as far as selection goes. Leading run scorer for the Aussies during the Ashes and over 1000 runs over the course of the year mean that we have no problems with him being picked.

The Ashes of course went to England despite almost all the statistics being weighted heavily in favour of the Australians. It is therefore entirely likely that had Australia won the series this list would in all likelihood have an entirely different look to it. Of the Australian players that could have been picked, Ponting, Hilfenhaus, Siddle and North spring to mind yet they are rightly handicapped by being on the losing side. Bearing in mind all we said above though, we would have swapped Onions for Hilfenhaus as he was one of the most impressive bowlers on display during that amazing Summer.

Wisden’s Leading Player of the Year

Virender Sehwag has been picked for the second year running as being the worlds leading cricketer. The reason proffered is that his already remarkable statistics of 631 runs at 70.11, have come at a strike rate of over a run a ball. This is quite honestly a mindboggling achievement as these runs were scored against quality attacks and include and astonishing 293 off only 254 balls against Sri Lanka.

Seeing Sehwags name up in the lights once more, reinforces our feelings of sorrow that India’s focus is on the shorter forms of the games these days, as we for one would pay gladly to see Sehwag bat more in test cricket. His overall career record is doubly amazing as his runs come at a strike rate of over 80 per 100 balls, approximately 20 runs quicker than even other master blasters like Chris Gayle. To score this quickly and to average over 50 as well…… Simply extraordinary.

The only chink in Sehwag’s statistical armour is his record against England and New Zealand. Probably it is a combination of his style and the moving ball in these countries meaning it is more difficult to hit early, but to be rated in the same class as the original master blaster,Viv Richards, this needs to improve. It is worth noting however that he has hardly scored a run against Bangladesh in several test matches. Clearly the challenge is not enough to stir the great man.

Wisden Test XI 2009

Virender Sehwag (India), Andrew Strauss (England), Gautam Gambhir (India), Sachin Tendulkar (India), Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka), Jacques Kallis (South Africa), Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk & capt, India), Mitchell Johnson (Australia), Graeme Swann (England), Peter Siddle (Australia), James Anderson (England).

For the most part no problems here and we are particularly pleased to see Strauss’ name in there who was one of only 7 batsman to score 1000 test runs in 2009. The one thing that strikes us here is what an extraordinarily strong batting line up it is, with that colossus Jacques Kallis all the way down at 6 in the order.

The one selection that we have a bone of contention with is Jimmy Anderson. For us, he blew hot and cold during 2009 and his figures of 40 wickets at 33 suggest this is not just an illusion. We would have been tempted to slip either Stuart Broad or Ben Hilfenhaus in in his stead. Had the Sri Lankan’s or Indians played a little more test cricket the likes of Kulasekara or Zaheer Khan may have made it in as they had a major impact in the small amount of games they played.

Whoever you think should have made it into these lists above, the revered Almanac has not let the buying public down and is yet again, a brilliantly written and interesting book that all serious cricket lovers should possess.





A Tale of Two South African… We Mean English Batsman

9 03 2010

As the warm up game between England and Bangladesh A descends into farce, with a veritable feast of ‘buffet’ bowling, the Compulsive Hooker thought that a look at the batting line up warrants a look. With England likely to play 5 bowlers and any of (depending on fitness) Tredwell, Swann, Broad and Shahzad being able to hold a bat the worries of a long tail do not hold, pushing Prior into the 6 position.

The only real question mark  of the remaining 5 surrounds the opening slot. Carberry, who had been pencilled in for this position now looks likely to miss out considering his lack of runs and Trott’s first innings hundred.  This may yet change as England are about to start their second innings but one feels he has missed the boat. After having such an awe inspiring debut against Australia, Trott suffered a difficult series in South Africa and in the last test particularly, appeared to have more similarities to a skittish Bambi type character than a test match batsman.

Bell and Collingwood are in the unusual positions of not having anyone in the media suggesting their places are under threat after being the two shining lights in South Africa. In Bell’s case the reasons usually revolve around frustrations to do with how good he looks and how easy he makes it seem, compared to the relative lack of major runs he produces. Collingwood on the other hand rarely makes test cricket look easy which perhaps on occasions lulls people into believing his time has come. He on the other hand often scores important runs, particularly when saving England from defeat but seems to constantly have people snapping at his heels. The Compulsive Hooker are huge fans of both players and are keen to see them cement their places further.

The ‘elephant in the corner of the room’ is KP. Whilst all batsman go through lean patches, KP’s has been enduring for some time now. Bearing in mind his seeming, and really quite extraordinary, inability to play exceedingly average left arm spin and Bangladesh’s predilection for this art, we can’t see too many runs coming from him in this series. KP is also known as a player who, much like a Gower or Sehwag for example, struggles to raise himself when presented with a modest challenge. To be a true great you have to score mercilessly wherever you are. KP has the talent to put himself in that very top bracket, yet it seems not, perhaps, the relentless desire for runs. For now, however, it appears his place is safe and we hope that he finds his ‘mojo’ soon.

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A quick word on the bowlers in this warm up match. Having watched the highlights we are certain that England must pick Steven Finn for Fridays game. He has pace and nip with enough bounce to trouble the best batsman and could be the bowler that England have missed ever since that other Steve, Harmison, gave up any semblance of control.

For those of you who might not realise, buffet bowling is when a fielding team attempts to accelerate a declaration by employing ‘help yourself’ bowlers. Even within buffet bowling circles, England’s efforts were spectacular this morning – Alistair Cook going for 111 runs in 5 overs and Carberry going for 78 in 4.





Golf Buggies, Jonny and the Genius of Sehwag

16 02 2010

News emerged yesterday that Andy Powell has been dropped from the Welsh squad for the indefinite future after being caught drink-driving in a hotel golf buggy during the early hours of the morning on Sunday. After celebrating the Welsh win against Scotland, Powell claims to “have got up early to buy breakfast” and taken the buggy to go to a local shop which is probably partly the truth. Many a late night ends with the overwhelming desire for food, although he probably hadn’t been to bed to ‘get up’ again!

The Compulsive Hooker can’t help but think that this is exactly the sort of behaviour that would once have been celebrated rather than punished within the game of rugby. Andy Powell is one of few characters in the game today (a viewing of the latest Lions documentary will confirm this) and would probably have become legendary in another era. In today’s world of media trained players forever giving anodyne and politically correct press conferences, a story of a rugby players harmless misadventures are a welcome relief. (How fast or dangerous can a golf buggy be at any rate?!)

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There is chat in the papers today about the possibilities of bringing Toby Flood into the fly half position instead of Jonny Wilkinson. We feel strongly at the Compulsive Hooker that this would be a mistake and would further ruin whatever little bit of progress has been made over the past few games. Ironically these calls have come after the Italian game, where going forward Jonny looked a great deal better. Standing flatter and sending out good passes to his runners outside him.

The point we feel that has been missed here, is that a fly-half can only play as part of a larger game plan to be truly effective. You need forwards sucking in the defence to create room out wide, quick ball produced at the break down and the ball generally being produced going forward not retreating. Once you have these aspects in place, then it immediately becomes possible for the 10 to play an attacking game.

By bringing in Toby Flood you are not attacking the problems at their source (namely the type of ball Jonny is getting to work with) but are simply expecting miracles. Flood is a workmanlike player and the Compulsive Hooker has always been a moderately enthusiastic fan, but will assuredly not be able to revolutionise England’s play either.

A very sage judge recently posited Jonny’s major strengths as his ability to not make glaring errors. Missed penalties aside at the weekend, this remains true and given time to bed in with Flutey next to him, we back him to come through. It would be instructive to see Dan Carter play in this current England side to see what he could magic up, however we suspect that even he would find it difficult to get England going.

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Virender Sehwag proved once again that he is a true God amongst mortals by scoring 165 against South Africa yesterday. With his first 45 runs coming off 20 balls and his hundred of 87, it was truly a miraculous innings. Remember that this was the same game that Zaheer Khan ran through the Proteas batting to dismiss them f0r 266 in the first innings and that opening the bowling against him was the previously rampant Dale Steyn. Extraordinary.

The usual assumption for someone who plays in this mode is that they will be relatively hit or miss, quick hundreds followed by a run of low scores. To demonstrate the extraordinary level to which Sehwag has taken test match batting have a look at his record below:

Matches     Runs     100’s     Strike Rate     Average
76            6691       19           80.85                53.53

Not only does he score at a phenomenal rate, but he has consistently done so across the board and against all new ball attacks in all countries around the world. The only place where his record drops off a little is England where the extra swing on offer works against him.

This strike rate by the way is considerably higher than the other master blasters of the last few decades, in the forms of Chris Gayle, Adam Gilchrist and Viv Richards. As if this is not enough he also averages more per innings as well.

Supporting him well during this innings was Sachin Tendulkar who moved serenely to his 47th test century in 166 matches and his 92nd international century overall. When you look at these statistics you begin to feel sorry for the bowlers that have had to bowl at these extraordinary players. Even Dale Steyn, touted as the next truly great fast bowler has been unable to make an impression during this game.





A Steyn on India’s Character

10 02 2010

India fold to Steyn and Harris

Disappointment. That is the major feeling that has emerged from India over the past few days. Billed as the ‘Battle of the Champions’, the first test match was more akin to a match between a top 5 side and Bangladesh. Ineffective bowling, high speed but ultimately useless batting, a couple of pleasant cameos in the form of Sehwag and Tendulkar’s hundreds and all the time South Africa simply being a ruthless and effective cricketing machine. And this was a home game for India too!

South Africa should be praised of course as they were truly excellent. When they play like this they look like a genuine number one side, although the fact that in their last 5 games 3 matches have been won or lost by an innings, suggests almost English levels of inconsistency.

The same problems of Prince, Duminy and a top draw first change seamer remain although when these are resolved the rest of the world had better look out.

Interestingly going into this game Smith had repeatedly called the Proteas underdogs which perhaps suggests a discomfort with being the number one side. Last year having beaten Australia away, the Proteas then lost at home after being newly installed as favourites and the number one side. Similarly with England recently they were expected to comfortably win the series, only scraping over the line to snatch a draw at the last possible opportunity.

In India they have now won against the (still relatively evenly stacked, it must be said) odds. Factor in the South African cricket teams reputation for choking and suddenly it is possible to see a mindset that has more in common with the English than Australian one. If this is real and not simply some amateur armchair psychology, it doesn’t bode well for South Africa retaining the number one crown if gained this series.

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Dale Steyn YM.jpg

Dale Steyn

What a pleasure it has been for cricket fans (if not opposing batsmen) to see Dale Steyn bowling so brilliantly over the past England series and now in India. Steyn currently has 195 wickets from 37 games at an average of 23.05 which is right out of the top draw. It made us think think about fast bowling and the relative barren patch that test cricket is going through right now in producing truly world class and great fast bowlers.

80’s: Holding, Garner, Marshall, Hadlee, Lillee, Botham, Dev, Khan

90’s: Ambrose, Walsh, Donald, McGrath, Pollock

00’s: Steyn

The ’80’s of course were something of a golden age for fast bowling with the West Indies in particular having some immense bowlers. However these riches were not restricted to the Caribbean only with even minnows like New Zealand producing a great fast bowler. The 90’s continued this trend with a number emerging, some like McGrath and Pollock played well into the next decade but what is apparent is that after that flowering of talent very little has come forth since. Since 2000 we cannot think of a bowler emerging who truly threatens to break into the top class of fast bowlers other than Steyn. Some people may argue the merits of Zaheer Khan, Brett Lee, Chaminda Vaas or Makhaya Ntini for example, but all of these bowlers whilst undoubtedly very good, do not stand comparison with the greats of another era.

We have no idea with regard to why this should be so; but the increase in batting averages and the numbers of players averaging over 50 increasing dramatically seems to suggest that there is something in this argument.








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