Friday, 29 December 2006

England's performance ratings

After losing by an innings at Melbourne here are the marks out of ten for England's players:

Strauss - 6.5 Finally managed to make his first fifty of the series in the first innings, but could not go on and convert it into a more significant score. He tried to play the anchor role in the second innings, showing patience as well as some of his trademark fluency. However, his efforts were in vain as he consistently lost partners at the other end and eventually succumbed himself, caught behind off Brett Lee. Even the phlegmatic Strauss must be feeling the frustration of getting so many starts and looking in good form only to throw it away or have it taken away by poor umpiring. If England are to have any chance in the last Test Strauss will need to find his form and sustain it over a long innings.

Cook - 4 After his heroics in the last innings at Perth he reverted to his previous failings at the MCG, nibbling at a ball outside his off stump in the first innings and getting bowled in the second. It should have been worse for the young left-hander in the second innings as Rudi Koertzen inexplicably turned down a plum lbw decision against him early on off Glenn McGrath. Given this life Cook played a few nice shots before being bowled by Stuart Clark. He will need to remember how he applied himself to make his century at the WACA if he is to have an impact in the fifth and final Test of the series.

Bell - 3 Two failures, both trapped lbw, made him appear more the player of 2005 than the resilient figure seen earlier in this series. It is becoming clear that number three is too high in the batting line-up for Bell, especially with the consistent failure of England's openers. He is exposed to the new ball too early and has been unable to bat through it when the ball has been moving off the seam. The three centuries in a row against Pakistan seem a distant memory. Granted they were against a weaker bowling line-up, but more significantly they were scored when he batted at number six, a position he appeared far more comfortable with.

Collingwood - 5 Showed all his usual grit and fight, but never looked like making the big score England needed. Like his fellow batsmen he failed in the crucial first innings, unable to convert a start into an innings of substance. Again questions must be asked of his ability against better bowling and on pitches with bounce or movement. His technique, so good against slower bowlers or on slow wickets, has been exposed since that magnificent double century at Adelaide. Determination and fielding prowess are admirable attributes, but they are no substitute for consistent run scoring.

Pietersen - 4 His first failure of the series and, more worryingly, signs that his head had gone down. The usual ebullience and energy were lacking in the field and the swagger had gone from his batting. Having thrown his wicket away in the first innings slogging with the tail, he played a poor shot to an excellent delivery from Clark in the second. It was a shame as Pietersen had finally agreed to bat at number four, the position he batted against Pakistan last summer, but which he had been reluctant to take in this series. That he should play loosely in his first outing at four was a bad sign. Hopefully, for England's sake, he rises to the challenge in his usual manner at the SCG.

Flintoff - 6 After another failure with the bat the captain made amends with a fine bowling performance. Taking the first two wickets in a fiery spell at the end of the second day he continued in the same mode removing the ever dangerous Ponting early on the third. As England rallied, reducing the Australians to 84 for 5, Flintoff looked like his old self, chest pumped out and vocal in the field. Unfortunately, after lunch when England desperately needed some inspiration from their captain he was unable to supply it and Australia romped away again. He has also been criticised for batting first having won the toss. This is unfair, as he would have been villified if he had put Australia in and they had scored heavily as they have done for most of the series. It was a tough call and Flintoff backed his batsmen, who failed once again. In his second innings he tried to launch a counter attack, but was trapped lbw after hitting a few lusty blows. It is better that he goes down playing shots than vainly trying to defend, but in his best form Flintoff can play proper innings.

Read - 8 The match started poorly for him as he was caught driving loosely in the first inings. However, after that he barely put a foot wrong, taking 6 catches in Australia's innings in an exemplary display of keeping. He also stood up well to Matthew Hoggard, preventing Matthew Hayden from batting out of his crease. In his second innings he showed the kind of resolve and shot selection that ought to have been true of all of England's batsmen, ending his vigil unbeaten. However, he will need to build on this display and score runs in the first innings at Sydney when England really need them.

Mahmood - 7 Given the opportunity to show what he could do this time Mahmood responded well. His bowling display was typical - wickets, but at a high economy rate. Given plenty of short spells with both the new and the old ball he extracted some bounce and seam movement, as well as a bit of reverse swing. It was a shame he could not sustain his best line and length and cut out the poor deliveries, which were ruthlessly put away. His batting, which has great potential, was abject as he bagged a pair, picked up by McGrath in the first innings and Shane Warne in the second. However, an encouraging match for a very promising player and something which he can build on in the last Test at Sydney.

Harmison - 7 His best bowling performance of the series, which deserved more of a return than just two wickets. Finally showing the control and pace that make him such a dangerous bowler, Harmison was also miserly, allowing only 2.46 runs per over. None of the Australian batsmen were able to settle against him and were forced to keep him out rather than score off him. It was evidence, if any were needed, that Harmison is a rhythm bowler, who needs overs under his belt to perform at his best. He bowled 28 overs in the innings, by far the most of any of England's attack, a testament to his stamina when he's in the groove. A tragedy that it has taken until the fourth Test for him to look like England's spearhead.

Panesar - 4 A difficult match for the young spinner, who was only given 12 overs on a seamer friendly pitch. He should probably have been bowled more against Hayden and Andrew Symonds, whose massive partnership took the match away from England. When he did bowl they attacked him, but Panesar should have claimed Symonds when he was on 52, having a very good lbw shout turned down. Like most quality spinners he likes to bowl long spells and Flintoff should have given him more overs. Promoted to ten in the batting order he unleashed some fine shots in the second innings, showing off the hard work he has put in at the nets. Once again his spirit was evident and he could be a key figure in the last Test as England try to stave off the dreaded 5-0.

Hoggard - 5.5 Bowled without luck in Australia's innings, having two excellent lbw shouts against Hayden turned down early on. He finally showed that Mike Hussey can be got out, bowling him with an excellent inswinger. As the ball got older and Hayden and Symonds started to dominate he was an increasingly peripheral figure, unable to break the big stand. Though he continued to run in and give his usual effort he could not recapture the accuracy and penetration of his first spell. The changes of pace and variety of deliveries Hoggard has acquired since his last tour of Australia ensured that he was not hit to all parts of the MCG, but he could not conjure up the wicket England so desperately needed.


Milky said...

Excellent post. And now it is 5-0, and an even worse batting performance. Flintoff is not right for captaincy, although I feel Duncan Fletcher is being unfairly treated - author's views?

Nick Gammons said...

I was unsure about Flintoff's captaincy last summer, especially his use of Panesar and the fields he set for him. This series has confirmed those fears. He is not a poor captain, but only an adequate one. Strauss, though lacking Vaughan's inspiration proved himself to be a better tactition than Flintoff and would have been my choice for the series. He may not have led England to a series win, but I think he would have given them a better chance and, hopefully, he would have batted much better, as he did when he was captain.

Fletcher must shoulder much of the responsibility for the team's failure, but the whole management team, the selector's, and Flintoff, must share the burden with him. The media appear to want to blame Fletcher much more than Flintoff, which I suspect is because the coach is the easier target.