Thursday, 27 December 2007
Chanderpaul's batting seldom invites gushing tributes. He is not, and would never claim to be, any sort of stylist. But, as the unique way in which he marks his guard - with a bail - demonstrates, he has no qualms about not doing things by the coaching book. Almost uniquely amongst batsmen with comparable records, he virtually eschews the V as an area in which to score runs. His trigger movement may look bizarre, but it has helped him establish one of the finest defensive techniques in the world today. As importantly, he is the most phlegmatic of players. As if in a cocoon, he is content to leave balls indefatigably without seeming the slightest bit concerned. But he is invariably ruthless with loose balls outside off stump and with anything on his pads, flicking the ball to the legside boundary with tremendous placement.
How does one ruffle him? His technique occasionally leaves him susceptible to losing his balance early on in his innings. Over his 105-Test career, he has struggled relatively speaking, in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, averaging between 29 and 35 in each country. But, as he demonstrated today in his 253-ball vigil against a powerful pace-bowling attack, Chanderpaul is a better player than ever before now; his improved pull-shot makes him more comfortable dealing with pace bowling. Another weakness, oddly for a man for whom concentration has been so fundamental, has been his ability to convert 50s into centuries. But, much like another resourceful left-hander, Graham Thorpe, as his career has gone on Chanderpaul has learnt the art of conversion. He is now onto 17 Test centuries, though it would have surely been more had he not been handicapped by the perennial brittleness of the West Indian tail. But to his great credit, and unlike other players who place such a premium on their wicket, Chanderpaul is able to play a more expansive game when surrounded by tailenders.
At 33, Chanderpaul is in the form of his life. His sequence of epic innings in England defined the series in a manner almost unheard of for a man on the losing side. He averaged a scarcely believable 12 hours between dismissals. Chanderpaul is a certainty to be one of Wisden's Five Crickters of the Year - and a worthy candidate for Wisden's Leading Cricketer of the Year for 2007. He has indisputably raised his game after the retirement of Brian Lara, and should now have greatness in his sights. And, happily, it seems some of his team-mates are beginning to follow his lead.
Saturday, 22 December 2007
Alastair Cook 7
After a double failure in the first Test, there were real fears over Cook's susceptibility to Chaminda Vaas with the ball. However, he made vital contributions in three of his last four innings, including scoring England's sole century to help save the Galle Test, and has made startling progress for a man not yet 23.
Michael Vaughan 6
During his sublime 87 in the second Test, it felt as if we were watching the '02/03 version of Vaughan. Yet, thereafter, he continually fell to lapses in concentration, and his failure to push on mirrored that of his side. His captaincy was probably below par, though he was handicapped by his lack of bowling firepower.
Ian Bell 7
Two terrific innings in the first Test served to illustrate Bell's technical prowess and promise as a Test number three. But he has reached the stage when he must only be judged on current performance. Too often, he fails to score big for someone with pretensions as a number three.
Kevin Pietersen 4
A mixture of bad umpiring decision, brilliant deliveries and simply poor form saw Pietersen end a series without a 50 for the first time. There are suspicions of fatigue but expect a reinvigorated Pietersen to do much damage in New Zealand.
Paul Collingwood 6
A series of innings that can be described as 'gritty' and 'worthy' produced no score higher than 52 - ultimately, Collingwood is probably a number six rather than number five. His bowling was under-used but effective.
Ravi Bopara 2
Three consecutive ducks says it all. As predicted, Bopara was not ready - with bat or ball - for a Test debut. A baffling selection at number six as his bowling is no better than Collingwood's, Bopara will have a long wait before his next Test.
Matt Prior 6
Very hard to rate, Prior was something of a revelation with the bat, displaying a maturity in shot selection and capacity for playing Murali many thought beyond him. But his keeping has serious flaws - many feel he is worse than Geraint Jones ever was - and no amount of runs will change this fact.
Ryan Sidebottom 5
Sidebottom was unlucky with decisions and dropped catches - again - and endured a disappointing series, although he should still play in New Zealand. His batting, however, was superb - he faced more deliveries than Kevin Pietersen and worked out a method to combat Murali, indicative of a man making the most of his talent.
Steve Harmison 7
In tough conditions, Harmison displayed heart and new-found consistency and was even able to generate tremendous bounce at times. Considering the circumstances, there is no doubt he emerges with his reputation enhanced.
Matthew Hoggard 7
Excellent in the first Test, when he gave a timely reminder of his nous in all conditions, Hoggard was below par in the final game. His quality is beyond doubt; but, worryingly, he keeps breaking down.
Monty Panesar 4
An immense disappointment, Panesar is going through something of a crisis and has work to do to trouble top-class batsmen.
Stuart Broad 4
Faced one of the hardest debuts imaginable, but Broad at least displayed the ability to bowl for long spells with good consistency. Noticeably, his economy rate was 1.5 less than Anderson could manage.
James Anderson 2
Bowled horribly in the first Test, and the feeling is that he may never make it as a Test player.
The simple truth is England were beaten by a side superior in batting and bowling. They showed no little fight, but it is especially frustrating that England were unable to close the gap in the field, where the bowlers were continually let down. With two series wins from eight, England patently have much work to do in all areas.
Friday, 21 December 2007
Matt Prior batted with gumption and no little skill in the series, making two excellent half-centuries. However, his keeping looks like it may never be good enough: he has now missed nine chances in 10 Tests, a success ratio of just 72%, around 10% worse than Geraint Jones. Add to this the problems caused by his positioning behind the stumps, leading the slips astray, and his failure to convince keeping to Monty Panesar and England have much to consider. They would have hoped for a 'keeper who could average close to 40 with the bat and keep to a competent level. Prior looks like he may be able to do the former but should probably be dropped for his keeping, as Simon Hughes has suggested. Who should replace him, if indeed he should be replaced? How long have have you got?
England's fielding in this series was worse than for some time, with two of the side's best fielders, in Bell and Collingwood, disappointing in the slips, and few bright spots elsewhere. The importance of a reliable cordon is easy to forget; but England have lost Messrs Trescothick, Flintoff, Strauss and Giles, four excellent close fielders, without replacing them. The solution is not easy to find but, clearly, must work must be done on the close fielding before the New Zealand tour.
England only bowled Sri Lanka out once in the series although, considering the shoddy catching and unhelpful conditions, there were mitigating circumstances. The biggest concern was Monty Panesar, who was a huge disappointment for the second consecutive series and may not be an automatic selection for much longer if Graeme Swann continues to excel in the limited-overs game.
Of the seamers, it may now be time to dispense with the perennially frustrating Test version of Jimmy Anderson, while Stuart Broad may is not quite be ready yet. Ryan Sidebottom should be dropped based on his series average of 63, but he was supremely unfortunate yet again and should be effective in New Zealand. Meanwhile, Matthew Hoggard confirmed he is England's most resourceful seamer with his supreme spell on the series' opening day, while Steve Harmison cut out the extras, proved his desire, and will almost certainly start the next Test. The man who deserves a recall is surely Chris Tremlett; though unimpressive with the white ball, he claimed 13 wickets at 29 against India and possesses tremendous bounce and good consistency.
What should England do from here?
Excuse me for harping back to my perennial cause celebre, but when Mark Ramprakash was ignored for this tour I wrote that "England are a mid-table Test side; are they really in a position when they can afford to refrain from picking their best XI in the hope of building for some mythical date in the future?" Peter Moores has shown a worrying tendency to support promising 'kids' who have not proved up to the task - Luke Wright during the World Twenty20; and Ravi Bopara here, whose much-hyped 'x-factor' constituted a penchant for being dismissed for a duck.
As Australia constantly prove, the only game you need worry about is the next one, and England's inability to score hundreds is crying out for someone possessing the depths of concentration and capacity for longevity of Ramprakash at the crease. To date, England have scored 10 fifties but no centuries in this series. Even if they go some way to rectifying that, the stat illustrates England have a lot of perfectly competent Test batsmen, but cannot make the big scores that Messrs Sangakkara and Jayawardene batted England out the series with. Curiously for a side in the midst of such a slumber, there is probably only one man - Bopara - for whom the axe is around the corner.
Ian Bell often looks in supreme form at the crease, as he did in the first Test, while failing to really capitalise. As such, he has not yet making the runs to justify batting at three. But with Kevin Pietersen being unfortunate with umpiring decision and snorters alike, and with Vaughan's innings consistently ended by impetuosity, there has been no one to grind the Sri Lankan attack into the dust. Calls for a recall for Andrew Strauss should be laughed off given his form in the past 15 months. That would leave Ramprakash, in an ideal world, to replace Bopara and move up to number three, with Pietersen four, Bell five and Collingwood at six and Owais Shah, once again, next cab-off-the-rank. Most likely, that top six would score big against a Kiwi attack top-heavy with medium-pacers. Whether they could consistently make first innings scores of 400 against the sterner Tests that await, however, would have to be doubtful - but do England have anyone else?
Friday, 14 December 2007
The pitch at Galle will be an unknown quantity. This is the first game at the ground since the Tsunami and its behaviour will be interesting to see. England need to win to square the series, in the same situation as in India two years ago, where Shaun Udal surprised everyone and gave Andrew Flintoff his greatest moment as England captain.
There is a case for looking at the second spinner in the party this time round too. Monty Panesar has had comfortably his most frustrating series in his short England career and is struggling to gain control over the batsmen let alone look threatening. Graeme Swann should during the ODIs that he is an attacking spin bowler and in a game where England need a positive result, he may be a short term solution. He would also bolster the batting, which could be important as I would also drop Stuart Broad from the team that played the 2nd test if Matthew Hoggard is fit to return.
The other change I would make is to replace Ravi Bopara with Owais Shah. I initially supported the inclusion of Bopara as I felt his bowling would be a crucial extra dimension. However, Vaughan has been so reluctant to bowl him that his inclusion over Shah does not seem warranted, as Shah is clearly the superior batsman. However, Bopara has done enough to suggest that there is a big talent there, and Paul Collingwood should be beginning to feel under some pressure for his place in the side.
My team for the 3rd test
Sunday, 9 December 2007
Vaughan returned at number three; due to Andrew Strauss' problems, he had to be moved up to opener for this series. Reunited with the position from which he produced his stupendous run of form in 2002/03, his superb play today brought back memories of this run: the characeristically disdainful pull of the front-foot; the peerless off-side driving; and the dexterity against spin. It also put to bed all doubts over whether Vaughan can captain and open the batting. Together with Alistair Cook, he added England's first century opening stand for 15 Tests. It would be wise if the two are afforded the opportunity to allow their partnership to blossom.
The decision to resign the ODI captaincy has been vindicated too: England have shown real improvement under Paul Collingwood in games Vaughan's knee could have done without. His single-mindedness in returning to international cricket, and performing so terrifically, bears resemblance to that of Sourav Ganguly, similarly written off. For a player who times the ball so imperiously and possesses such palpable class, the England skipper's Test average of 43 is at least five runs too low. If he carries on playing with the ablomb that characterised his 87, however, that will only improve - so long as Vaughan refrains from indulging in his penchant for the freakish dismissal.
Thursday, 6 December 2007
After his nightmarish Ashes series, Harmison had an indifferent, though improving, series against the West Indies. Thereafter, he has mixed injuries with some blistering domestic form for both Durham and the Highveld Lions in South Africa. After his traumatic time there in 2004/05, he deserves much credit for returning there to prove his Test match readiness, taking 13 wickets in just two games. Even though his bowling was awash with wides and no-balls, perhaps his attitude has changed for the better. Reports suggest he has been terrific in the Sri Lankan nets.
James Anderson was narrowly preferred to Harmison for the Kandy Test but was awful, lacking penetration and leaking runs. Ryan Sidebottom was also disappointing, but at least he reined in the runs; after his outstanding return to international cricket, particularly during the ODIs in Sri Lanka, he doesn't deserve to be dispensed with yet. That just leaves the last place, to go to either Stuart Broad or Graeme Swann, depending on the conditions. Both would aid England's tail.
Whatever the criticisms that can be thrown at him, Harmison possesses pace and bounce, necessities for a side needing a win to draw level in the series. Were he to wilt in the last two Tests, there would be a very real case for ending his Test career. Before that, however, he must be given the chance to help his country when they have their backs to the wall on one of cricket's toughest tours. He has talked the talk. Now Harmison must walk the walk, and prove he can be a match-winner once more.
Wednesday, 5 December 2007
Bell displayed immense powers of concentration during his five-hour vigil. Admirably, he is developing the ability to bat at completely different tempos depending on the match circumstances: he scored at a strike-rate of 35 in the second innings, against 66 in the third. Anyone who can top score in both innings in Sri Lanka clearly possesses immense class and mental resilience. Promoted to number three, however, Bell needs to be making match-defining contributions: which means 150s.
He was on the verge of playing a match-saving innings of wonderful quality before Muttiah Muralitharan was transformed into lethal new-ball bowler. Matt Prior will also feel sickened at having failed to complete the match-saving job but, after his first innings pair, he responded magnificently. Undoubtedly, this was his best international innings to date, infinitely greater than the rather facile runs he plundered against the West Indies.
From reducing the hosts to 42-5 on the opening day, this was a game that gradually slipped out of England's grasp. Primarily, the fault lies with the batsmen, who failed to display the necessary ruthlessness to secure a first innings lead in the region of 150 and succumbed fatally to Chaminda Vaas in the second innings. The two Essex men are of particular concern: Alistair Cook's problem against left-armers may need rectifying out of the side; 'all-rounder' Ravi Bopara was Paul Collingwood's inferior with the ball and, despite some fine shots, lacked solidity at the crease; Mark Ramprakash or Owais Shah would have been more worthy picks. Borderline selection James Anderson, meanwhile, justified my concerns over his place in the side and will surely now be dropped.
In this match, England were ultimately beaten by the better team. Sri Lanka are far from infallible, especially with Sanath Jayasuriya having retired, and their batting line-up has real areas of weakness. After a valiant recovery from 90-5, England will have hopes for the rest of the series. But, unless England can find an answer to Sri Lanka's twin totems, Muralitharan and Kumar Sangakkara, these will only prove fleeting.
Thursday, 29 November 2007
A pace attack of Anderson, Matthew Hoggard and Ryan Sidebottom has some variety - Sidebottom is a left-armer; Anderson is faster and skiddier; while both Hoggard and Sidebottom can bowl canny 'cutters'. However, it patently lacks a taller bowler which, considering Kandy has the most life of any of the three pitches, could hurt England.
Stuart Broad is surely more deserving of a spot in the final eleven than Anderson, who remains too inconsistent. Broad was far more effective in the victorious one-day series prior to the Tests. And he has shown himself to be fearless at international level, with the strength of his temperament confirmed by his fantastic riposte to suffering the ignominy of six 6s from Yuvraj Singh. Moreover, the maturity of his international batting to date, including twice seeing England to victory with vital innings, means he is the only one of the bowlers, save for Graeme Swann, who could do a good job at number eight.
Fletcher-esque thinking? Perhaps. But runs from the tail are undeniably vital and, in a situation where two bowlers are hard to separate, must count. With Matt Prior yet to convince at number seven, and the trio of bowling certainties ultimately no better than number 10s, England simply must be pragmatic. If they fail to be so, 250-4 could turn into 300 all-out with series-losing regularity.
Wednesday, 28 November 2007
The Australian cricket team are as frustrating as they are brilliant. Dominant for as long as many of us can remember, they have surpassed the West Indies of the 80’s and their longevity amazes us all. From Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh’s great sides of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, featuring players such as O’Donnell and Hughes in the attack, Jones and the Waugh brothers batting, to the current Ponting era. Amazingly Waugh’s side’s 16 test winning streak is now under threat just 6 years after it was set. Gone are so many, in are some super players, and improved include the skipper, Ricky Ponting. So we can all sit in amazement and watch the Aussie makeup change, but still remain dominant, almost unbeatable. Or if we support the other test nations, or even the game of cricket, we are reduced to leaning back on our chairs, and muttering to ourselves about how we wish it was the golden years still.
So the burning question on everyone’s tongue is; Are the Aussies too good? By too good, I mean that they are simply so good that action needs to be taken, as no one seems to be able to beat them. For one thing, their upcoming series against India will likely say a lot about just how good they are, India have traditionally matched up well on the Aussies, and are the team that the Australians would want least to be chasing their record against. But after so many wins in a row, many of them comprehensively, against the likes of South Africa, England and Sri Lanka – three very decent sides – can Australia be conquered? Especially at home, they are a formidable outfit.
As I asked before, as good as they are, is there a need for action to be taken? Are they truly just too good that something needs to balance the teams out? John Buchanan seems to think so, ironically just one series after he retired as coach of the team, spearheading them to all but 2 of the tests in the current streak, not to mention all the world cups and other various wins along the way, Buchanan has evidently decided that suddenly, Australia are so far ahead of the competition, that the rules of changing nations need to be relaxed, so that cricket becomes, essentially, a franchise system with the tag, ‘international cricket’ being virtually unnecessary. Personally, this writer feels that Buchanan is missing his old job and the attention, and that his idea is an absurd way to turn cricket into a money game.
Let’s face it, the only think worse than Australia’s dominance is the dominance of money in European soccer. Owners such as Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich, Manchester United’s Malcolm Glazer and Ramon Calderon (of Real Madrid) – to name just 3, could all team up to solve world hunger, poverty and fund the cures for major diseases – but instead their money goes to unbalancing the tables so much that the clubs that have players who actually want to play for their club due to locality are left struggling in lower leagues. If cricket allows itself to become a franchise system, teams such as India who have and make billions of dollars (and the turmoil that they could help solve is much closer to home than the British and Spanish managers) would dominate, leaving other countries in their wake, which was the problem in the first place. Upcoming leagues such as the Indian Premier and Cricket Leagues will emphasize the growing trend at playing for money rather than pride in a club, and perhaps even nation for those banned from participating in the ICL.
To make such a big call, such an important decision, would be fairly premature I believe, and Australia will be changing a lot over the next few years as more veterans bow out, and the search for new youngsters continue. Changing nationality rules would merely create further problems, and do little to solve the current ones. And if all else fails, at least we can see a true dominant team that has been made up of natural, home-grown, ‘organic’ talent.
Sunday, 25 November 2007
Like all top spinners he is seen as both a strike and stock bowler, able to bowl attacking spells as well as long containing spells. His concentration and economy rate of under 3 runs per over make him a captain's dream, perfectly suited to any stage of a match.
To have achieved so much so quickly is remarkable in a young player who was a student just two years ago, yet one suspects there is much more to come. As he embarks on his first Test series in Sri Lanka Panesar can go head to head with Muralitharan in the great man's own backyard. On pitches that will surely take spin Monty can move up a level and show that he too is destined for greatness.
His record against Sri Lanka, albeit in only one three match Test series, is impressive. Bowling less than a hundred overs Panesar prised out 10 wickets @ 21.00, conceding just 2.11 runs per over. His victims included Tharanga (twice), Sangakkara (twice) and Jayasuriya, all of whom he will encounter at Kandy in a few days.
After suffering a poor series (by his standards) against India recently, Panesar needs to show his class by utilising the conditions in Sri Lanka to his advantage and proving, once again, to be one of England's major weapons. It is on these potentially tricky away series that players can enhance their reputations and I fully expect Panesar to do so.
So unless England are guilty of real muddled thinking, the Bopara-Shah dilemma will be resolved simply by whomever the selectors believe will score more runs. Shah is a richly talented stroke-maker who has finally established himself in the one-day side. He is in his prime now; his confidence is high; and if he will ever truly 'make it' as a Test batsman it probably must be now. His superb 88 on debut in India last year was indicative of a man with the qualities to succeed in Tests. Bopara has immense promise but has flattered to deceive in the one-day side, his World Cup 52 withstanding. The time is now to see if Shah, for so long marked out as a future England star, can thrive as a Test batsman.
Tomorrow: Harmison, Anderson or Broad?
Monday, 19 November 2007
Fleming has recently been replaced by Daniel Vettori though, given the quality of the side at his disposal, it is hard to overly blame him for a pair of innings defeats in South Africa.
New Zealand’s Test attack is desperately lacking in penetration when bereft of the superb, but perennially injured, Shane Bond. Vettori is a canny cricketer and fine ODI bowler, but his Test average of 38, discounting the minnows, illustrates the fact he is nothing more than a competent Test spin bowler. Elsewhere, Chris Martin can be useful in favourable conditions. But, as Jacques Kallis will testify, on flat pitches when Bond is either not playing or not at his best, the Kiwis possess a desperately unthreatening attack.
Their batting line-up is perhaps worse. Stephen Fleming is a solid Test performer, while Scott Styris is also a reasonable performer. Ross Taylor has shown immense promise in one-dayers but that is more or less that. The biggest problem, clearly, is the lack of quality opening batsmen.
New Zealand perform remarkably well for a country with such a small population in which cricket is not even the national sport. Their domestic game, as such, is probably as good as it realistically could be, though it must be depressing for fans to see Hamish Marshall and the international underachiever Craig Spearman performing well in county cricket at the expense of their international career. Financially, ODIs and Twenty20 games are much the more lucrative. But, as Vettori pointed out after their meek defeats in South Africa, to improve New Zealand simply must play more Tests. In their last 30 months, they have played 10 Tests against major opposition. Unless this is rectified, they could well find themselves slipping past the West Indies into eight spot in the Test rankings.
Thursday, 15 November 2007
Sri Lanka looked poor, with miniscule contributions from their top order, Marvan Atapattu and Michael Vandort the only ones getting 50’s all game for the Sirils (Mahela Jayawardene choked on 49). Not that they don’t have a decent excuse – of course this was their big chance to unsettle the already unsettled Australians. But never mind that, perhaps it’s the name, rather than the team, that are so great? I’ve always believed that youth won the 2005 Ashes series. Far from the battle scarred English sides that couldn’t get near the Aussies for so long, these players had nothing to lose and everything to gain, and confidence was merely higher. Mitchell Johnson was good on debut, but he’s still no Glenn McGrath, not yet. Even Stuart MacGill, as great as he is, is not Shane Warne. Yet the Aussie side looked as formidable as ever.
Still, the Sri Lankans have a chance to regain some pride, and halt the Aussie’s charge towards another record. They’ll most likely have Kumar Sangakkara back, their star wicketkeeper/batsman, and perhaps the selectors and coach will halt their nonsensical policies and bring back Lasith Malinga, the slinging quick who, to be honest, would likely have been their best paceman had he played. Australia has no selection dilemmas at this stage, all of their batsmen looked fresh and were on song, and their bowlers were solid as well, MacGill will probably be more settled after his 200th wicket, and Johnson will have lost whatever jitters he may have had previously.
And finally before I do the ratings, I’d like to say that I wholly agree with Terry Jenner, if Muralidaran is going to break Warne’s record, he should be tested under match conditions. I am not accusing him of anything, but it seems only fair that someone who could be regarded as cricket’s greatest ever bowler some day, certainly it is either him or Warne, should have his controversies officially put to rest. Maybe Aussie fans will even tone down the no ball calls!
So my match ratings:
Matthew Hayden: 7/10 – Were it not for a brash shot, Hayden would have made his 50 and probably cruised towards a century, he looked like his break had benefited him greatly, and was playing superbly for most of his innings.
Phil Jaques: 8.5/10 – An outstanding maiden test century, was coping with the bowlers well and will learn from his first encounter with Muralidaran, and should be able to pick the doosra better.
Ricky Ponting: 8.25/10 – Failed to make a century, but looked exquisite at times, playing all the right shots and seeming to cope with Murali quite well at times. His decision to enforce the follow on was a brave one, and one that Australians have traditionally shied away from.
Mike Hussey: 8.5/10 – A fantastic century proved his class after some poor form in the one day arena since The Ashes, Hussey looked skilful as ever, showing an improvement many of us didn’t expect he could be capable of at his current level.
Michael Clarke: 8.75/10 – Clarke is continuing his growth from a pup to a fully grown dog, with added maturity in his innings, and some real skill and class. His century was fantastic coming off poor form in One Day International cricket, but showing that he is a force to be reckoned with in the future, and that his Ashes series was no fluke.
Andrew Symonds: 7.5/10 – Looked impressive and continued his newfound test mindset that he showed after Damien Martyn retire last year, giving Symonds a new, crucial chance at a test berth. He shone then, and is shining once again, his cameo role in the side as a batsman yielding a quick 50, and his bowling picking up a couple of wickets, including opener Marvan Atapattu in the 2nd innings.
Adam Gilchrist: 7.5/10 – Didn’t get to bat, but held 6 catches and allowed through just 4 byes, proving that he is still a world class wicketkeeper, even at his ripe old age of 36.
Brett Lee: 8.75/10 – I have never been a huge Lee fan, but his devastating bowling destroyed the Sri Lankans in the first innings, and cleaned up the tail in the second, taking 8 wickets for the match (4 in each innings) in a consistent and fairly economical spell.
Mitchell Johnson: 7.75/10 – 4 wickets on debut, generating some great movement in the air and off the pitch, and looking very impressive for a 26 year old in his first ever test. Looks like developing into a real force in years to come.
Stuart Clark: 7.5/10 – Just 4 wickets but as usual was the consistent, economical force, providing Australia with its answer to retired Glenn McGrath. I was surprised to see him first change rather than opening bowler with Lee, but he made the most of his chances and looked impressive all the same.
Stuart MacGill: 7.5/10 – Worked his ass off all game to get his 200th wicket, and finally managed the feat, but only 2 wickets was disappointing, and even though he deserves another crack, he will need to lift his game to hold off fellow veteran Brad Hogg.
Marvan Atapattu: 5.75/10 – One of just two Sri Lankan men to score 50 in the match, but a pretty poor performance overall. Also took a catch to give Dilhara Fernando a not-so-much deserved wicket.
Sanath Jayasuriya: 4.25/10 – Gave his team very little batting, scoring 7 and a half (considering the circumstances) respectable 39 in the 2nd innings.
Michael Vandort: 6.5/10 – A great 82 in the 2nd innings showed plenty of promise and improvement from his 1st innings duck, fighting the Australians and helping force the game into a 5th day. One of the best Sri Lankans.
Mahela Jayawardene: 5/10 – Scored an important 49 in the 2nd innings, but overall it was a disappointing game from the skipper who will need to lead his side well at Hobart to give them a chance.
Thilan Samaraweera: 4/10 – Incredibly disappointing, scoring 13 and 20, and looks set to make way for Kumar Sangakkara if he is fit for the Hobart Test.
Chamara Silva: 5.25/10 – A couple of fighting 40’s (one was 43) made the maturing youngster look alright, joining the battle well, and shying him away from at least some of the blame.
Prassana Jayawardene: 4.75/10 – Looked fairly good behind the stumps, getting two stumpings and wasn’t fantastic with the bat, but we’ve known that he isn’t quite Sangakkara in that aspect. Should still keep his spot ahead of Samaraweera if Sangakkara is back.
Farveez Maharoof: 4/10 – Did very little with the ball, as did his fellow pacemen, fought a little with the bat, but overall disappointed and a wicket or two would’ve helped the team’s cause.
Chaminda Vaas: 4/10 – Took the only wicket for a batsman on less than 50 runs, but nothing spectacular from the veteran left arm pace bowler. One who could be forced to make way for Lasith Malinga if Tom Moody’s comments regarding his 1st test dilemma are to be believed.
Dilhara Fernando: 3.75/10 – Tom Moody’s assurance that Fernando was the first paceman to be picked for Sri Lanka added some credibility to Marvan Atapattu’s claims regarding the clown selectors. A wicket complemented his ordinary bowling, and would be lucky to keep his spot for Malinga in the next test.
Muttiah Muralidaran: 7/10 – Bowled quite well, a shining light for Sri Lanka in that aspect, but could’ve done a lot more with some decent support, and without it he was over bowled and could not manage more than 2 wickets, but he did manage to get on top of the batsmen at various times, and was certainly the Sri Lankans’ best bowler – not that it’s a surprise.
Saturday, 10 November 2007
In 3 days one can get over early week blues, one can receive an interstate package, a house can become as dirty as it was before the cleaners came, and the Australian cricket team can put any doubts over its capabilities to rest.
In the space of just 3 days, I can barely remember the excitement of seeing Shane Warne roll over his shoulders preparing to come into the attack, or the amazement at Glenn McGrath’s figures, or even the sheer enjoyment of watching Justin Langer play another classy stroke. This void has been quickly filled with excitement at a new Australia. Not all the players are young guns, but the player’s surviving the not-so-aptly titled, ‘Dad’s Army,’ of the 5-0 Ashes victory, are refreshed, and many of the middle aged players have grown in maturity.
Already, Sri Lanka is on the ropes, at 2/80 in their following on 2nd innings after a brilliant performance from the Aussies with both bat and ball. It began with new opener Phil Jaques’ maiden test century, and continued with shows of improvement and increased maturity from Ricky Ponting, Mike Hussey, Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds. The middle order continues to improve, and with no shakeups since the New Years Test between Australia and England, they appear to be ready to help out the less settled opening pair with solid contributions.
The bowling attack was always going to be an interesting and exciting one to watch, and they did not disappoint, bowling out the Lankans with ease, Brett Lee spearheading the attack with his typical pace and flamboyant style, and taking full advantage of the conditions, despite the fact that they were beginning to improve. Mitchell Johnson looked impressive on debut, opening the bowling with Lee, with great pace and swing causing trouble for the Sri Lankan batsmen, and Stuart Clark was dangerous and accurate as ever. Stuart MacGill, the new spinner, battled hard and despite only one wicket, MacGill seems to still be a good bowler. On the other hand only Muralidaran seemed to contribute, and he was over-bowled to the extent that his two wickets could not do too much.
The match seems to be ready to be wrapped up tomorrow, with Sri Lanka ruing their decision to play ‘Give me a tonking’ Fernando ahead of ‘Slinger’ Malinga. As for the controversial Jayasuriya decision, it looked out to me. Sri Lanka have bigger issues than that, as does their coach Trevor Bayliss, who might be missing the relative calmness of his old job in Sydney by the end of this series. Much awaits to be seen tomorrow, with the Aussies, who have in the past struggled with the follow on decision, attempting to fnish things a day early.
Friday, 9 November 2007
Kumble has taken 566 Test wickets, an extraordinary feat. Yet his number of Test hundreds - one, in his 118th Test - is almost more revealing. For it illustrates his fierce pride and relentless desire to improve his game. If he can imbue this into his younger team-mates, then there is every reason to believe India can build on their impressive series win in England. Their next two series, at home to Pakistan and away to Australia, will be nothing if not arduous. Kumble will need all the cricketing experience and nous he possesses, along with an egalitarian temperament - for, at some time over these seven Tests, undoubtedly, India will be faced with a real struggle. Equally, his appointment offers a clear signal that, in the longer format of the game, the older guard are still very much required.
For the first time, India will embark on life with separate captains. While this could cause friction between the two skippers, there is surely too much mutual respect between Kumble and Dhoni for this to occur. India are right to utilise the vast skills of Anil Kumble - a thinking cricketer and the consummate professional - as they approach two high-octane series.
Sunday, 4 November 2007
MacGill is not Shane Warne, but he does great justice to the leg-spinners' art. Watching him is always a delight. Certainly, there is a greater sense of human fallibility than with Warne. MacGill is prone to bowling horrific long-hops although, as Alec Stewart will testify, these sometimes prove lethal. There is a perception that he can be rattled, and this holds some truth, but beware. MacGill being MacGill, a ripper is never far away.
If anything, he gives the ball even more of a rip that Warne, spinning it prodigiously and possessing a googly to rank with the very best. He has a strike-rate higher even than that of Warne. Almost paradoxically, Warne's superiority to MacGill lies in the less-than-glamorous fact of consistency. Still, MacGill has already claimed 198 Test wickets - only 12 Aussies have more - in just 40 games. He is unfortunate that Australia have so often been reluctant to use two leg-spinners. Interestingly, when they have, MacGill has regularly outperformed Warne.
At 36, MacGill may be past his best. But connoisseurs of leg-spin will hope he is chosen ahead of Brad Hogg for the series with Sri Lanka and, freed to be the sole Aussie spinner, can enthrall with his mix of wrong'uns and rank shockers for a while yet.
Sunday, 28 October 2007
England are prone to having clearouts after each World Cup, immediately talking of 'planning for the future'. However, Australia refuse to countenance such seletorial upheavel. Matthew Hayden and Brad Hogg are both 36, but they remain integral parts of their ODI side. They will not play in the next 50-over World Cup, but Australia insist on picking their best side to win games and series in the meantime.
In continuing to pick the Big Three in one-dayers since the World Cup, India have made it clear their priority is to pick their best possible side. The problem is that, unlike for Australia, results have been poor. Conversely, when the trio were left out of the Tweny20 World Cup, India were victorious.
Officially, Rahul Dravid is now being 'rested' for the one-day series with Pakistan. Patently, this is because he has scored 88 runs in his past 10 ODI innings. His solidity, experience and class are still apparent but, after giving up the captaincy recently, he could surely do with a break to prepare himself for the Test series with Pakistan.
If the recalled Virender Sehwag does well in the one-dayers in the meantime, Dravid's ODI future will look increasingly uncertain. Nearing 35, he may consider retiring from ODIs. Slowly, India must look to replace their Big Three in 50-over cricket, or risk losing all three simultaneously sometime soon. Currently, Dravid is by far the most expendable.
Moreover, Dravid has hit just one fifty in his past six Test matches. A semi-retirement, along the lines of Shane Warne, could reinvigorate him and prolong the Test career of a man who, unquestionably, has played more match-winning innings in the five-day game than any other Indian. In one-dayers, some attention must be played to the future. But in Test matches, India certainly need Dravid back to his best.
Saturday, 27 October 2007
The teams are as follows:
1st XI: H Sutcliffe, L Hutton, DG Bradman, WR Hammond, GStA Sobers, *Imran Khan, +AC Gilchrist, MD Marshall, SK Warne, CEL Ambrose, M Muralitharan.
2nd XI: JB Hobbs, *SM Gavaskar, GA Headley, BC Lara, RG Pollock, KR Miller, +LEG Ames, RJ Hadlee, AK Davidson, DK Lillee, WJ O'Reilly
The series will be played at five different venues in five different countries: Cape Town, Lord's, Barbados, Mumbai and Melbourne.
Anyway, visit Gideon's Cricket World to see how the series pans out!
Friday, 19 October 2007
Ramprakash, conversely, did everything that could have been possibly required to show he is physically and mentally ripe for a return to Test match cricket. In the last three seasons, he has averaged 75, 103 and 101. Yet, astonishingly, he is being omitted, showing that past failings (more than five years ago) and age count for more than current form. David Graveney mentioned the dexterity of Owais Shah and Ravi Bopara against spin; but Ramprakash, with his perfect balance and the concentration to amass huge innings, including 266* against Mushtaq Ahmed at Hove, would simply be likely to score more runs than either in Sri Lanka. England are a mid-table Test side; are they really in a position when they can afford to refrain from picking their best XI in the hope of building for some mythical date in the future?
Of course, Shah is a worthy selection. Bopara, though, is lucky in the extreme. He has tremendous promise, and did well in the World Cup, but he only averages 30 to date in ODIs for England (with a strike-rate of just 70), and did not cover himself in glory in the recent series. Maybe he's being picked for the extra bowling he offers - but a man who averages 48 with the ball at county level is hardly likely to pick up anything more than an occasional wicket at Tests.
The bowling selections are totally predictable but, with the possible exception of Chris Tremlett, no bowlers can feel unfortunate not to have been selected. It is wise that Steve Harmison will have to prove his fitness playing two first-class games in South Africa; he should not waltz straight back into the side. Unless England play both Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad as part of a four-man attack - which is unlikely - their tail will have an unwelcome fragility to it, making it essential Matt Prior proves the doubters wrong at number seven.
Michael Vaughan will return to opening, which is surely the correct decision. Ian Bell, despite having a poor series against India in the Tests and struggling alarmingly (at three) in Sri Lanka, is rather fortunate to be promoted to number three. It would have been more prudent, surely, to use a truly specialist number three who is batting even better than Graham Gooch did at the same age. Either way, this is looks like a series England would be happy to draw.
Thursday, 18 October 2007
September rolls by so fast these days. Footy fever hits the sports mad country that is Australia, with two sides shedding their choking tags in two different codes. And as September finishes, October begins. It is a predictable transition, sure. But with the usual changing of the months, comes a different phenomenon. Whilst all year, Melbourne fans pretend to not care about the Storm, and Sydney fans protest no interest in the happenings of their Swans, it all changes in October. Gone is the local rivalries, the sport rivalry of Rugby and Football, and in is the national sport, the one that never stops, and the one that unites its nation behind one mighty force.
You can scarcely miss the taking down of goal posts, and the uncovering of cricket pitches. It’s tough not to see the big barriers, the regular ground maintenance, and the putting up of sight screens. Some groan, some moan, and some sniff at the sweet smell of leather, willow, and fresh grass.
That’s right, cricket is back down under. The mighty world champions return home from India victorious once again (what’s new?) to gear up for ‘the biggest summer yet’ (a tired cliché, but it’s hard not to agree, who isn’t excited after all?). An entrée of Sri Lanka, a big meaty dish of India, a touch of New Zealand, and the tri series with the first two that always seems to fill you up more than you want it to. It’s all on offer this summer, and it’s not all either. There’s the state cricket, the youngsters and has-beens, all in the most competitive domestic competition in the world. And of course, there’s that familiar sound of willow hitting leather as the nets start to fill up, as young and old gear up for another season playing for their club, and that pain in the shoulder as bowlers start tossing them down for the first time since January.
Of course, the world champions, Australia, are gearing up for their attempts at staying the dominant force that they have been for so long, with the challenge of stopping Muthaiah Muralidaran from breaking Shane Warne’s world record on Shane’s home soil, and of course trying to keep their perfect unbeaten record, stretching back to the 2005 Ashes Series.
It won’t be easy though, with legends Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Justin Langer and Damien Martyn all gone, and injury niggles to Shaun Tait, Shane Watson and Nathan Bracken marring their ODI tour of India. So who is stepping in, and can the Aussies keep their amazing test form up?
Matthew Hayden’s new batting opener, and Langer’s replacement, seems to be a two horse race at the moment, with a few outsiders pressing claims as well. Phil Jaques, the long awaiting apprentice, and Chris Rogers, the new challenger but long time performer, are the two top contenders, and the only specialist openers challenging at the moment. Jaques has long been the obvious choice, but a stunning 2006/07 season from Rogers made selectors think twice about this tough dilemma. Jaques had an outstanding Australia A tour, Rogers too was solid, and ultimately it appears to be down to the two Pura Cup matches they will have to impress selectors before the big first test at Brisbane against the Lankans begins. The first match saw the points go to Jaques, one year Rogers’ junior, with Rogers failing in both innings, and Jaques chalking up a well timed century and a half in the second innings making up for just 13 in the first. Of course, there is always Victoria’s best Brad Hodge, looking for a creative way back into the test side after his controversial (and oh-so anti-Victorian) dropping just two tests after a double century, or even all-rounder Shane Watson, who, like Hodge, is without First Class opening experience, but, also like Hodge, has done so in One Day cricket, and is talented with the bat, but Watson is also very injury prone.
With the batting order looking fairly settled, it appears that the next headache for Australia will be who to select in the place of the great Glenn McGrath. The new ball seems certain to be thrown to the Stuart Clark-Brett Lee pair, with the third paceman set to cause a real dilemma for selectors. Mitchell Johnson has been hard to ignore after his annihilation of the Indian batsmen in the ODI series, whilst Shaun Tait’s world cup and late Pura Cup form are also impressive. There’s the more experienced Nathan Bracken, without a test match in a while, and the young swing bowler Ben Hilfenhaus, all staking a claim as well. Stay tuned to the domestic skies is what I say, because there seems to be a cut throat round coming up for those players et al.
Then there’s perhaps the toughest choice of all: The new spinner. Shane Warne is irreplaceable, no doubt about it. Even at the ripe old age of 37, he was still spinning his way past batsmen on a regular basis, and remains the greatest spinner, if not bowler, of all time in many people’s books (including my own) and there are no very obvious replacements at this stage. Youngsters in the frame include Dan Cullen, whose disastrous last Pura Cup season should keep him out for the moment, Cullen Bailey, quite the opposite, from zero to hero last year, and of course there are is the old but gold Stuart MacGill Warne’s long time second, but still one of the best spinners in the world. There is even speculation that one day specialist Brad Hogg could be a good choice, but his lack of results on the FC field for WA makes it an unlikely one.
So many decisions, so much excitement and enjoyment to be had! Ah yes, cricket is back.
I have picked a squad of fifteen. It’s a short tour and players shouldn’t go on tour just to carry the drinks.
Seven batsmen to fill the top six spots in the order. Five of them are no-brainers and have contributed to the most stable middle order that England have had since the days of Gatting, Gower, Lamb and Botham. This means no place for International underachiever Mark Ramprakash. Owais Shah’s performances in One Day cricket indicate that he is becoming comfortable at International level. Andrew Strauss has gone potential England captain to under threat for his place in the squad. He edges out Rob Key on the basis that Strauss has just had his longest break from cricket since joining the England ranks. Mental fatigue looked to be one of Strauss’s problems last season and he has enough behind him to encourage patience from the selectors for one more series.
Matt Prior is the player in possession and despite worries about his abilities with the gloves, he is also the best batsman of England’s wicket-keepers. In the absence of Andrew Flintoff this will be crucial as he may need to bat at 6, if England go with five bowlers. On a short tour, the reserve wicket-keeper is around for cover in case of injury. Therefore, a like-for-like replacement in Tim Ambrose will be taken. This means no place for England’s best wicket-keeper, Chris Read, but having made the decision about running with Prior, he should be given a fair chance.
In the past, bits and pieces players have been picked as pseudo all-rounders. However, in this part no all-rounders have been chosen as there are none, other than Flintoff, who are International class. The rest of the squad has been chose to reflect this. It is likely that England will play with six batsmen and four bowlers. However, Vaughan, Pietersen and Collingwood can expect a fair amount of bowling as support to the main four bowlers. If the team moves to five and five, then Graeme Swann or Stuart Broad will bat at number 7.
As only two will be taken, they pick themselves. This means no place for Adil Rashid, who will spend a more useful time playing cricket with England Lions rather than watching the test team
Only four pace bowlers will be taken and with three likely to play in the test team, all will play at some point during the series. When fit, Matthew Hoggard has been England’s best bowler for the past two years. Ryan Sidebottom and James Anderson showed their progression during the summer and with their experience of the One Day series should give control. The fourth bowler is Stuart Broad who is a different type of bowler and has the ability to bat higher up the order than Chris Tremlett or Steve Harmison, which will be critical in the absence of Flintoff.
Therefore the full squad for the Sri Lanka series is:
Michael Vaughan (Capt)
Wednesday, 17 October 2007
But there is only one way to find out. Having been involved at Surrey since the age of nine, leaving could not have been easy, and he deserves credit for moving out of the comfort zone that appeared to have afflicted him there. He has moved to a much less fashionable county; their fortunes will in large part be dependant on how he performs.
Clarke’s talent is undeniable, but first-class averages of 23 and 42 (the wrong way round) constituted a dire final season at The Oval. With the bat, he has the potential to – and should – bat at four in county cricket, enabling him to build innings and not, as often the case at Surrey, find himself with the tail early on. His bowling reaches good speeds in the mid-80s but his inconsistency is such that he has never taken more than 22 first-class wickets in a season – and Surrey have often not trusted him to bowl his full quota of overs in one-day games.
This appears a good move for all three parties. Surrey have ridden themselves of a sometime bad influence in the dressing room (if thr rumours are to believed), and freed funds to be used for other players, led by star signing Mohammad Asif; Derbyshire have secured a player rich in talent who currently averages 38 with the bat in first-class cricket. Clarke has thrown himself into a situation where responsibility is unavoidable. He will hope the change of scenery will catapult him back into the England set-up in time for next winter’s overseas tours.
If you're interested in writing a season review for your county or writing on anything cricket-related please email cricketingworld(at)hotmail.com.
Tuesday, 16 October 2007
Also, with the strange set up to the English summer and the domination of the World Cup at the start of the season, Matthew Hoggard was available for a much greater chunk of Yorkshire’s games than he had been previously. This meant that the three main strike bowlers – Gough, Hoggard and Jason Gillespie could boast well over 700 test wickets between them. Backed up by England Lions tourists, Tim Bresnan and Adil Rashid, this looked to be a deep batting line-up and a useful bowling attack.
Indeed, consistency was a key to the season. In the Championship, eleven players played in at least ten of the matches, with only Hoggard and Gough not going on to make a century during the season. However, only Jacques Rudolph scored over 1000 runs for the season. Of the five main bowlers, all took more than 20, but no-one got more than 40. Therefore, while Yorkshire were missing a Ramprakash or Di Venuto with the bat, or a Gibson or Mushtaq with the ball, the effort was very much a team one and the make up of young talent (Joe Sayers, Rashid and Bresnan), old pros (Craig White, Gough and Gillespie) and established stars (McGrath, Younus, Rudolph and Hoggard) is a good mix to move the county onwards.
Overall, Yorkshire still finished in the same place as last year. However, the journey was very different and there is huge promise for next season
In the One Dayers, consistency certainly wasn’t the watch-word. Yorks didn’t threaten promotion in the Pro 40 nor look like qualifying from the Friends Provident. Reaching the quarter-finals of the 20:20 was a shock and probably more a feature of the weather.
Highlights of the season
Essentially the first half of the season showed Yorkshire playing to a successful formula. Joe Sayers, in particular, would set a platform for the more explosive middle order to build upon and with Bresnan coming in at 8, the team batted a long way down. This would then set the platform for bowling the opposition out twice. Starting by winning three of the first four championship matches, Yorkshire were comfortably top of the table, and stayed there or there abouts up to the penultimate week.
The Champioship showdown with Sussex was a huge disappointment. The loss of form of Sayers and White, Younus and Gillespie being called back to International duty and Gough pulling out injured at the start of the game meant that much of the consistency had gone from the team. Inzamam looked to be a good replacement, but didn’t get to grips with the situation. Michael Vaughan seemed in holiday mode after a tough test series and even at the time, the selection of Imran Tahir made no sense to anyone. The only positive out of the game was another 50 for Andy Gale, who will have a bigger part to play in the team next season.
Joe Sayers - a breakthrough season for the Limpet. Reminiscent in so many ways of Geoff Boycott, he was the platform around whom the rest of the batsmen played. His aim now has to be to do it for the whole season 7
Craig White – Once a bowling all-rounder, now an opening batsman. Next season is likely to be Chalky’s last and he will probably see less and less action in the Championship. A great servant over the years, but a poor season by his standards 5
Antony McGrath – From want-away to vice-captain, a fine season after a slow start, although Mags will be disappointed at just missing out on 1000 runs 6
Younus Khan – The big scores were expected, the leg-spin bowling wasn’t. Almost single-handedly forced a win against Sussex at the start of the season which would have had a huge impact at the end. A real team man who seems rejuvenated by his season if his recent performances for Pakistan are anything to go by 7
Jacques Rudolph – A controversial signing, but just the type of Kolpak player that should be coming over as he raised the standard of those around him. Solid if not spectacular, he was the stand out one-day player as well as top scoring in the Championship 8
Gerard Brophy – A huge improvement after a disappointing 2006. Useful runs and solid behing the stumps. Also an effective pinch-hitter in the limited over stuff 6
Adil Rashid – Following his break-though with the ball last season, this year he showed he could bat as well, scoring nearly 800 runs and still finished up as the leading wicket taker. His bowling tailed off as pitches became less spin friendly following the rains, and the emergence of Graeme Swann should put back any international call-ups for the time being. However, it was another season than showed more than just promise. 8
Tim Bresnan – Over 500 runs at nearly 40 with the bat plus a century for the England Lions and 34 wickets at 32 with the ball adds up to another excellent season for Brez, who despite having been around for ages is still only 22. On the fringes of the England One Day squad, next season could be a big one for him 7
Jason Gillespie –He created a lot of pressure for his fellow bowlers but only 23 wickets during the season is a disappointing return for the overseas bowler 5
Matthew Hoggard – Started the season like a train and was a big factor in Yorkshire’s flying start to the season. Less effective when he returned after teh test matches, he's still England’s best bowler and good to have around when fit and firing. 6
Darren Gough – The expectations were for the occasional glory day, plenty of missed matches and reminiscence about how good he was first time round. In reality, he took two 6-fers and 37 wickets at just 23, while only missing two games. His captaincy was almost as good as he said it would be and he has to take a lot of credit for turning the club around 7
Michael Vaughan played in 6 matches, but was a waste of a place after the test series had finished, when he probably needed to rest.
Deon Kruis played when Hoggy didn’t and only managed 8 wickets in 6 matches
Amjad Shahzad was the next quick bowler in an turned in some promising performances. He is likely to feature more next season
Andy Gale played five games but was a One Day regular. Again he’s likey to feature more next season, with his fifty against Sussex showing what we can expect.
Player of the Season
Tricky. As I said at the top, it’s currently a team without stars and the contribution came from everyone. Runner up is Jacques Rudolph, who showed that there would be runs without Darren Lehman. However, the winner is Adil Rashid for his all round effort.
Saturday, 13 October 2007
Alastair Cook 6
Cook played the decisive innings in the fourth game, scoring a fine 80. However, as shown by his series strike-rate of 57, doubts remain over his ability to score at a run-a-ball on flatter pitches.
Phil Mustard 5
Though he only averaged 18, at least Mustard scored his runs at an excellent rate - 10 runs per 100 balls more than any other top seven players on display - in testing conditions to give England good starts. His glovework was excellent, too, but overall he probably did not do enough to displace Prior.
Ian Bell 2
A top score of 25 was a huge comedown after Bell's superb series against India. He has now gone nine games without a ODI 50, but, aided by his fine fielding, his place is not under immediate threat.
Kevin Pietersen 6
Pietersen struggled on the slow and tracks, often getting out when trying to force the pace, but scored a crucial 63* to seal the series. Will undoubtedly benefit from a rest now.
Paul Collingwood 7
Collingwood was excellent as captain, imbuing his work ethic and combativeness upon the side and utilising his bowlers cannily, although at times he underused the front-line seamers during the middle-overs. With the ball, he used his variations to great effect, reaffirming that he is good enough to regularly bowl his 10 overs. He played two important gritty innings, but failed three times, and only averaged 17.
Owais Shah 6
His 82 at Dambulla was the highest score by any batsman in the series, testament to his unorthodoxy, wristiness and dexterity against spin. Elsewhere there was a series of failures, including a mad swipe in the third game - but also the wicket of Sangakkara.
Ravi Bopara 4
At times Bopara appeared almost a playing 12th man, contributing no innings of note at seven - either failing in a crisis or surviving in hopeless causes - and not bowling at all in the first three games. Under pressure for his place.
Graeme Swann 8
An outstanding return to the side. Swann was ebullient throughout, turning the ball appreciably, displaying excellent one-day nous, fielding excellently and playing two vital cameos at number eight. A terrific all-round package at number eight, he has emerged, for now, as England's No 1 one-day spinner and, surely, the No 2 in Tests.
Stuart Broad 8
Broad responded magnificently after suffering the ignominy of being hit for six sixes in the Twenty20 World Cup. He displayed increased guile with the ball, with his slower-ball being much improved, and claimed at least two wickets in every game, although he had his share of good fortune. To top it all, his 20* in the third ODI was the second time he has taken England home in two months, testament to his batting aptitude and all-round temperament. How long until he plays his first Test?
Ryan Sidebottom 9
A quite phenomenal series. Sidebottom bowled with tremendous control and subtlety, proving very difficult to get away even when there was no swing. He deserves to play the first Test against Sri Lanka. His average - 14 - and economy rate - 3.4 - show why he was named Man of the Series, while he also helped England to victory in the third game.
James Anderson 5
After such an impressive few months, Anderson regressed somewhat here. Though still reasonable, he was too inconsistent and lacked the guile of his opening partner.
Monty Panesar 6
Panesar did well in his solitary game, but the overall ODI package offered by Swann is much greater.
It was a low-key series, certainly, and not played on typical one-day wickets, but that should not detract from a superb result for England; most fans would have probably accepted a 3-2 defeat at the start of the series. On admittedly helpful wickets, their bowling was superb, with Sidebottom and Swann outstanding. Conversely, England's one-day batting remains a worry; once again, the top three are a cause for major concern, while Pietersen's best one-day form has deserted him since the World Cup. Even allowing for a pair of thrashings, there are real signs that England are improving as a one-day side.
By next summer, he will have missed no fewer than 13 consecutive Tests. He will still only be 30. But, after the plethora of injuries and operations, it will be an old 30. It is increasingly hard to envisage Flintoff rekindling the joie de vivre of 2004-05. Will he really be able to bowl 20 overs a day in Test?
The answer is probably no. He is a tremendously wholehearted bowler; but the downside of this is Flintoff puts huge strain on his ankle. His action, as Allan Donald claims, is flawed in that his front foot does not come down straight enough. Flintoff recently said “I'm happy with my action”. He seems very reluctant to make any major changes to it, with which he has claimed 348 international wickets. But he has to try in his extended lay-off – otherwise, even if he does return, it will not be for long. As Glenn McGrath has illustrated, however, it can be done.
Flintoff has often spoke of his desire to be a batting all-rounder. In truth, his bowling has long since been more important than his batting, which has disintegrated rapidly of late - he has simply forgotten how to build an innings. Even if he was fully fit, England could barely countenance batting him at six in Test matches. In ODIs, as he showed against India, Flintoff’s worth is still completely beyond doubt. After his latest setback, he will contemplate limiting his international future to the limited-overs game only.
Thursday, 11 October 2007
We know he's failed in Tests before. And we know he's 38. But, would Australia obsess over his age and past failings (an irrelevance to winning cricket matches)? Or would they pick the best possible side to win in Sri Lanka?
A number of Aussies - including Damien Martyn, Matthew Hayden and even Steve Waugh - have done superbly after being recalled. Their selectors seem unconcerned by age - for how long have they been labelled 'Dad's Army'? - and just get on with the business of winning. And that is what England now need to do, ending their ridiculous obsession with a) youth and b) the Ashes. Besides, come 2009 Ramps would actually be younger than both Graham Gooch and Alec Stewart were when they ended their careers.
In averaging 100 over consecutive seasons, an unprecedented achievement, especially with England's Test batting far from convincing, his case is irrefutable. And, as well as being more mellow, the crucial fact is that he is actually a better player, technically, than when he last played for England in 2002, having improved his trigger movements to give himself near-perfect balance. His dexterity against spin, as he showed in scoring centuries off Mushtaq Ahmed and Shane Warne, would be invaluable in Sri Lanka.
It is risible to suggest there are six better batsmen in the country. That is all that should matter.
Thursday, 4 October 2007
There are many great things that can be said about Wally Hammond, but perhaps the finest compliment he can be paid is that he was a truly modern player, whose Test career bears comparison with those of much more recent vintage. He played 85 Test matches, a staggering number for a Test cricketer of his era, and nearly half of them were away. This meant that Hammond experienced conditions in all the Test playing countries of the time, except India, having to adapt his technique to the numerous challenges this presented. That he succeeded so spectacularly is testament to his ability and strength of character. In fact, he registered the then world record Test score of 336 not out on a tour of New Zealand.
It is worth noting that the great Don Bradman only played Test cricket in his native Australia and in England, with 37 of his 52 Test matches being against the old enemy. It is a shame that he, and so many of his contemporaries, were unable to tour India, New Zealand, South Africa and West Indies, the other Test playing nations at the time. Of course, those nations were still establishing themselves as International cricket sides, but they included some wonderful players, including George Headley, the great West Indian batsman, who sadly only played 22 Test matches.
The term great is bandied about far too freely when discussing Test cricketers, but in Hammond’s case it is not only justified, but demands to be used. As Hammond excelled in all aspects of cricket I have broken his Test career into different areas. This means I can give each part of his game closer scrutiny and make a better attempt at doing justice to his cricketing legacy.
From an early age Hammond had the rare combination of ability and temperament. He honed his technique in order to deal with all types of bowling, but also worked out how he would play in different conditions and against different attacks. On his first tour of Australia, in 1928-9, Hammond decided that he would profit best by aiming to score most of his runs in the V between extra cover and midwicket, largely abandoning the pull and cut shots he played so well. The policy paid huge dividends, with Hammond scoring an astonishing 905 runs in the five match series at an average of 113.12. Such astute thinking and forward planning was the sign of a master batsman, who understood his own game as well as the game as a whole. And he was only 25 at the time, with many more years to perfect his batting.
It is no surprise then that Hammond’s career average in Tests was an outstanding 58.42, that he compiled 7249 runs in his 85 matches and struck 22 centuries along the way. Six of his three figure scores were double hundreds and one was that magical 336 not out. In a career spanning 19 years Hammond rarely had any lean seasons, the exception being 1934, when he inexplicably failed against the Australians in England. In addition to numerous good years Hammond had two outstanding seasons – 1933, when he averaged 103.77 in 8 Tests, and 1936, when he averaged 161.25 in 4 matches.
Proof, if more were needed, of Hammond’s supreme ability is shown in his averages away from the familiar pitches in England. At home he averaged 50.06 in 44 matches, but away he managed 66.32 in 41 Tests, scoring 4245 of his 7249 Test runs. This says something for the variation in the quality of the pitches in England over Hammond’s time as a Test player, but says more about his talent for adapting to new conditions and bowlers. Only the West Indies, playing on their lively home pitches, evaded Hammond’s mastery. His low average of 25.00 in four matches in the Caribbean, without a 50 to his name, shows how well the West Indian bowlers must have bowled. Though he would not excuse himself, part of the reason for his lack of success on that tour must have been that it followed his loss of form at home in the preceding Ashes series. Even the greats have occasional lows. It is that they bounce back to even higher heights that makes them great.
The position which a batsman takes in the batting line-up is often crucial in determining their success or failure. Some batsmen are natural openers, others prefer to bat at 3, others at 4, etc. Hammond, it seems, could bat anywhere, but achieved his greatest success at 3, perhaps the most important position in any batting line-up. The number three batsman comes in when the opening stand is broken. This can, of course, happen after the very first ball of an innings or after hours with a big score already on the board. A number three must be prepared to face the new ball, the old ball, the spinners, in fact almost any circumstances.
At number three Hammond averaged 74.78 in 37 matches, scoring 14 of his 22 hundreds. This is an exceptional performance and one cannot help but wonder that even his brilliant career might have been better had he not moved down to 4, 5 and even 6 at times. It is also worth mentioning that he opened the innings in three Test matches and averaged 78.75, notching up a century and two fifties.
It is for all these various aspects of his prowess as a batsman that Hammond is often grouped with the elite of Test batsmen, a small group who not only scored runs, but changed the way others approached the task, innovating in both technique and temperament.
Those who saw him play suggest that Hammond could have made much more of his bowling than he did. It has been said that on occasions Hammond was the fastest and most hostile of bowlers, who could tear through the opposition. That he did not do this more often is probably partly because of the responsibility of being the top batsman in the side (and captain for 20 Test matches) and partly because of the physical strain it would have taken to bowl more than he did. What we are left with is the intriguing prospect of Hammond the bowler. A few glimpses of what might have been and a very good return for a part-time bowler.
For the record Hammond took 83 wickets in his 85 Tests at the handy average of 37.80. To back up the suggestion that he could rip through a Test side he took five wickets in an innings twice, including the exceptional best bowling figures of 5 for 36. Add to this his economy rate of just 2.36 runs per over and a picture is formed of a great Test batsman, who probably bowled within himself, but who occasionally rose to the heights of a specialist bowler.
Hammond was exceptionally athletic and said to be naturally gifted at any sport he chose to play. This was never clearer than in his incredible skill as a slip fielder, where his poise and superb reflexes saw him pouch 110 catches in his 85 Tests. I have read that he had no equal in the slips, taking most of the chances that came his way, whether they were sharp catches or thick edges that looped in the air. It seems Hammond was adept with both hands and capable of timing his movements to give himself the best opportunity to get to the ball. It must have been a great pleasure to see him diving around in the slips, especially for the bowlers, who knew those safe hands would make the most of their efforts.
Taking on the captaincy just before and just after the war, Hammond led England in 20 Test matches, spread over six series, though the last of these was a one-off Test in New Zealand. Although he only tasted defeat on three occasions, all against Australia, two of those losses were in losing the Ashes series in 1946/7 in Australia. The three series Hammond won as captain were all 1-0 against lesser opponents. It was a sign of the times that 13 of his 20 Tests in charge were drawn.
It is fair to say that Hammond was a good, if not spectacular, leader, who could not quite inspire England to beat their old rivals, the Australians. He was, however, captain in that most memorable of Test matches at the Oval in 1938, when England levelled the series with an incredible win by an innings and 579 runs. Two records were set by England in that match, which stood for many years – the highest individual Test score of 364 by Len Hutton and the highest team total of 903 by England in their first and only innings. It was Hammond’s first series as captain and one which I’m sure he was proud of.
There is little doubt that Walter Reginald Hammond was one of the best Test cricketers ever to grace the sport. I would go as far as to say that he is England’s greatest ever Test player. A cricketer who excelled in all the disciplines of the game in a career that spanned nearly twenty years. That he achieved what he did in spite of losing six of his best years to the Second World War is amazing. There is little doubt that he would have been the first player to play a hundred Test matches and, perhaps, scored 10,000 Test runs in the process. As it is Hammond’s record remains one of the best in the highest form of the game and his legacy was to inspire those England players who had played with him and those who followed after him.
Shah seemed destined to be a player who never fulfilled his palpable batting talent, but he has emerged in one-day cricket under Moores. In nine innings in 2007, batting between five and seven, Shah averages 47. Although he either opens or bats at three for his county, his gift for improvisation, wristiness and flair, alluded to his fine technique, make him well-suited to the 'finisher' role. His 82 against Sri Lanka today was a masterful display of how to adjust to slow wickets - something others in the England side, including Kevin Pietersen, would do well to learn from. The feeling, certainly, is Shah is a man nearing his prime, and he could soon find himself a regular in the Test side too.
Swann, meanwhile, was a controversial selection ahead of Monty Panesar, picked for his three-dimensional gifts. Yet he has undeniably vindicated the faith. Spinning the ball hard - as when dismissing Tillekaratne Dilshan today - Swann appears a bowler of superior one-day nous to Panesar. Equally, his lower-order batting has proved very effective: he has a sound technique, as his first-class average of 26 illustrates, can play some unorthodox shots but also work the ball around and scamper hard when required. In short, the overall one-day package he offers is greater than that of Panesar, as good a Test bowler as he is.
The upshot of it all is Swann, as I have previously advocated, is now very likely to tour Sri Lanka as the second spinner for the Test series; and Shah will probably be on the trip alongside him. Duncan Fletcher did an excellent job, but two players who will have shed few tears to see him go are, happily, reinvigorated under Moores' stewardship.
Saturday, 29 September 2007
Championship Division One - 5th;
FP Trophy - Losing finalists
Twenty20Cup - 6th, South Division;
Pro40 Division One - 4th
Michael Carberry (9/10): Been one of the few positives this season in an opening partnership with Brown, Most hundreds in a season in his career and has performed well in OD Cricket as well, fine fielder and one of the most athletic players on the circuit, Looks to be at home at The Rose Bowl. (1067 FC runs, ave-50.80, 5 hundreds 3 fifities from 13 games. 345 LA runs with a S/R of 70.68)
Michael Brown (8):Been Solid in opening with Carbs, also passed a thousand runs with a match saving hundred as well as a fifty keeping the rampaging Otis Gibson at bat against Durham. Scored some crucial runs at the top order throughout the season. (1086 runs, ave-43.12, 3 100s, 5 50s.)
John Crawley (7):It's been a comparative down year for Creepy although he does finish as Hants' third highest run scorer, played some good OD Cricket however and was excellent in the field. Dropped down to 4 late in the season which seemed to help in the Championship, will be interesting to see where he bats next season. (866 FC runs, ave-39.36, 1 hundred, 5 fifities. OD-512 runs at 42.66)
Michael Lumb (6.5): An interesting season for Lumb, has done ok in the middle order but failed to score a FC hundred on the season despite multiple opportunities, was outstanding in Pro40 and OD Cricket in general. (775 FC runs, ave-31.00. 654 LA runs at av average of 38.47 with a S/R of 97.03) 6.5 out of 10
James Adams (7):After a poor start came back after a spell in the seconds in at number 3, i think he's shown he could be a long term successor to Crawley (As well as being groomed for captaincy) He's scored some good runs and shown more agressive flair since he came back in, featured sporadically in OD games but he was only filling in for Int'l players. (773 FC runs, ave-40.68. 3 wickets. 110 LA runs with 1 wickets)
Chris Benham (4): Hasn't performed at his best this season in the longer form but hit a great hundred in the Pro40, Hants will be looking for him to take the next step and get a Championship hundred next season as he's hugely talented. (312 FC runs, ave-22.18. 319 LA runs ave-26.58)
Nic Pothas (8): Solid as ever behind the stumps and some crucial runs with some good Not outs, poor run towards the climax as he was asked to take both gloves and captaincy with an injury to Warnie. (750 FC runs, ave-46.87, 42 dismissals. 374 LA runs. ave-37.30, 23 dismissals.)
Sean Ervine (7): Another interesting season that's been neither here or there, has done ok in both disciplines despite being expensive in the OD game, got some crucial runs in the P40 and scored a Championship hundred for the first time in 2 years as well, has had to fill in with a lot of bowling with key squad members away. (276 FC Runs, ave-34.50. 8 Wickets. 480 LA runs, 14 wickets)
Dimitri Mascarenhas (7.5):Did well with bat and ball before going off to play for England, fantastic to see him get a chance at last. Bowled well with Clark in the FP game against Surrey. (489 FC runs, ave-34.86. 15 Wickets. 227 LA runs, 9 wickets)
Liam Dawson (N/A):Young lad just starting out, won't analyse him but he's done well in both U19 international, 2nd XI and Local league cricket. Will get the chances next season, up to him to take them.
Shane Warne (8): Solid and has pulled out great performances, has had a few injury problems which has curtailed his season. Will be annoyed he's failed to win the Championship again and for the poor FP Final performance, has captained as well as he usually does, always looking for the win. (50 FC Wickets @ 29.58 and 364 runs. 21 LA wickets @ 26.38, e/r of 4.61)
James Bruce (7.5):Has worked endlessly all season, keeps on running it and has done well, Hasn't had a regular opening bowling partner but has picked up wickets and hasn't really gone for runs in FC of List A cricket... if he can just have someone to bowl with next season i can see him doing very well (39 FC Wickets @ 30.74. 11 LA Wickets)
Stuart Clark (8):Was outstanding in his short stint, hope we can find a way of him returning for a full season next year, great 6fa against Surrey in the FP first round. (24 FC wickets @ 25.08. 21 LA wickets @ 11.38, e/r of 3.65)
Daren Powell (7):Small locum role, was ok, disappointing in the FP final but did well overall, bowled quick... Good effort (15 FC wickets @ 22.68 and 13 LA Wickets @ 21.61)
Shaun Udal (7.5):In his retirement season he didwell when called upon but mainly nurtured Dawson in the 2nds, he will leave a great legacy in the young players and I'm sure he'll still be around the club next season in some role, Mr Hampshire Cricket, best of luck. (14 FC wickets @ 33.50, 13 LA wickets @ 34.68, e/r of 4.85)
Chris Tremlett (7):Didn't play much because of England duty but did well with ball as well as bat when he did, Looks a big 12 months for the big man as he will maybe become an England regular, first Hampshire born Hampshire player to play for England, fine effort. (15 FC wickets, 150 runs, 10 LA Wickets)
James Tomlinson (5):Struggled with injury, good to see him back.
Greg Lamb (4):Didn't see much of him, should get a new contract nonetheless.
David Balcombe (4):Young man making his way, performed well in the 2nds and been given a chance, good prospect.
David Griffiths (5):Promising bowler and handy lower order batsman, look for more from him next season.
Adam Voges (4):Did ok as a Twenty20 locum, One good innings and one good bowling performance.
Tom Burrows (5):Back up wickie, did well when called up at Kent, Pothas' long term successor
Billy Taylor (N/A):Only played in P40, reliable as ever, can see him moving on this winter.
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