Wednesday, 28 February 2007

England play with fire

The selection of Michael Vaughan as Captain for the forthcoming World Cup in the West Indies is a dangerous gamble by England’s selectors. Having stuck with Andrew Flintoff since October, his captaincy was finally starting to show promise towards the death of the Australian tour, with him captaining England to three splendid wins when it mattered. There can be no debating the fact that Vaughan is a more tactically astute captain than Flintoff and that he has as good a record as England ODI Captain as any other. If Vaughan fails a fitness test before a match, it seems as though Fred will be more than willing to step into the breach. Is this though good for the team and for Flintoff?

England’s most overworked and overhyped player will always know that he is second best when it comes to captaincy, as long as Michael Vaughan is in the squad, regardless of injury or form. Is it expecting too much of Flintoff to do the job on a seemingly casual basis, captaining for one match, then not for the next? How many games have Graeme Smith, Mahela Jayawardene and Rahul Dravid missed recently? It will always be a clouded issue, as to who should captain the ODI side permanently. Ultimately it can not be good for a side’s cohesion to be constantly chopping and changing.

What is not up for debate is whether Vaughan even deserves a squad place based exclusively on his ability as an ODI player. He simply does not. He averages 27, has never scored a century and achieved a top score of 26 in the 4 matches he limped through in Australia. His fielding has never been the best, impeded now by further niggles and old scars and he is a decent, but reluctant bowler. Had Marcus Trescothick not been struck from the scene by this lingering illness, then Vaughan’s ticket may already have been revoked and Trescothick installed as Captain.

Following the World Cup, there is no doubt that Vaughan should stick to Test match cricket and leave the ODI game to the younger guns. His mere presence though seems to lift this England side and bring the best out of his charges. If there were another man capable of this job, we would not even be having this debate. So it comes down once again to Vaughan’s record as captain. As was said earlier he is as successful an England Captain as there has been in ODI cricket and as such you can not ultimately argue with his selection for the World Cup, regardless of fitness and form. He will inspire England and if fully fit, he will relieve Flintoff of the burden which has at times effected his batting. Vaughan’s selection, fit or not, is good for England, but only if the captaincy remains with one player throughout the tournament.

Chris Pallett

Foundation Building

Season Review: Hampshire

Hopes were high at the beginning of the season that Hampshire were about to mount their most serious title challenge in years. While the 2006 season can not be described as a failure, the dream which all at the club share, winning the County Championship, was not realised.

However, a top three finish and an immediate return to the top division of domestic one day cricket are achievements which the club can rightfully be proud of. One only has to look to Nottinghamshire to appreciate the achievement of finishing second and third in successive seasons. There was though disappointment in the Twenty20 Cup for the second year running, with Hampshire seemingly failing to take the competition seriously, omitting John Crawley and Sean Ervine entirely from the competition and resting Chris Tremlett at times, absences which were compounded by the imposed loss of Shane Warne. Meanwhile, partly due to the questionable restructuring of the C&G Trophy and murky skies, Hampshire failed to defend their 2005 C&G title.

The main failings at Hampshire this season were again to be found in the batting department in both forms of the game, with dramatic collapses at home to Sussex and Durham costing vital Championship points and diabolical batting performances against the likes of Somerset threatening to curtail the clubs promotion ambitions. Overseas import Dominic Thornely failed to perform to the required standard in the County Championship, averaging a mere 34.5 and only picking up form during the Pro40 campaign. Meanwhile, injuries to the talented Tremlett and emerging James Bruce contributed to the bowling attacks inability to finish teams off often enough during the second innings, most notably away to Nottinghamshire. Hampshire did though garnish the most bowling bonus points of all the teams in both divisions.

Warne bowled over after over, but was seemingly not always at his brilliant best, a busy International career perhaps beginning to catch up on Australia’s finest. Still, his sheer presence and commitment are invaluable to the Hawks’ cause and it is great news that the talismanic magician will be returning to the Rose Bowl next season. Meanwhile Shaun Udal appears now to be a one day specialist, playing a wholesome part in the team’s promotion back to Pro40 Division One, but contributing little else.

If looking for a star of the Hampshire season, one can look no further than the evergreen Crawley, who contributed a wonderful 1,737 runs to the County Championship cause at an average of 66.8. The statistics will tell you that Tremlett was the most effective Hampshire bowler, the fact that he was injured for half of the season will tell you why Hampshire failed to secure the crown they yearn for. Dimitri Mascarenhas deserves special praise for his performance with the ball, but his batting in the longer version of the game still continues to frustrate. It was Warne who topped the wicket taking charts and he was surely Hampshire’s bowler of the season, but the fact that he took only half of the wickets that Mushtaq Ahmed did is an indication of the decline of the Warne Googly.

During the course of the season Hawks fans were fortunate enough to witness the emergence of three extremely talented and promising youngsters in James Adams, Chris Benham and Bruce. Adams’ career best 168no in the brilliant run chase against Yorkshire at Headingley was the making of the opening batsman and his subsequent 262no against Nottinghamshire was a joy to behold. Meanwhile Benham came to prominence with some exciting stroke play in the Twenty20 Cup in the middle of the season, those performances earning him places in both the four day and one day sides. He gradually grew into the first class side with some confident innings and brilliant slip fielding. His 158 against Glamorgan in the Pro40 playoff earned high praise from the captain, who excitingly believes that the best is yet to come from his young sage. Bruce was a revelation with the ball early on in the season in the absence of Tremlett and although himself hampered by injury, he returned in the latter stages of the season with some promising one day performances.

Michael Carberry proved to be a solid signing for the Hawks securing the second opening batting slot alongside Adams and bringing energy to the sides fielding. There is unlikely to ever be a faster fielder than he. Carberry also brought much to the one day side with some aggressively powerful shot making. Nic Pothas was his dependable self with the bat in the longer format, often rescuing the side from a perilous position, but he was strangely out of sorts with the gloves on occasions. Meanwhile he lost his position high up the order in the one day side and was forced to settle for lower order cameos in the limited overs format. Mascarenhas was his lively self in the one day game but was solid rather than spectacular which helps to explain why the England selectors continue to overlook him. Unfortunately, Ervine failed to rediscover his late 2005 form with both the bat and the ball, failing to score a single century all season. One can only assume that a serious knee reconstruction in the close season impeded on a still very promising career.

The starting eleven at the Rose Bowl is now more than good enough to match any other in the country. The problem is keeping all the players fit and in form and this is a challenge which the management must overcome if the club is to finally capture the trophy it craves most. Seen as a season of building, the foundations are now in place for a serious challenge next year in all formats of the game. With the Rose Bowl beginning to settle down into a more trusted wicket, Hampshire have a great chance of winning the County Championship next season. With the addition of a quality overseas player in Stuart Clark and the developing Michael Lumb, the Hawks will put right the title hurt of 2005 and deliver more silverware to the Rod Bransgrove Trophy cabinet in 2007.

Player of the season: John Crawley - “Creep” was the foundation of the sides title push, providing ever-dependable cover at number three, gritting out crucial innings game after game and putting his body on the line at short leg. He is the lynchpin around which the side bats and he rarely lets his team mates down. He liked batting against Nottinghamshire, as his consecutive run of centuries showed. Overall, a class act.

High: Successfully chasing over 400 in 113 overs to win on the final day at Headingley against Yorkshire in the County Championship. James Adams’ brilliant 168no was the backbone of the innings and the making of him as a solid county opener. The re-promotion to Pro40 Division One was also an important triumph.

Low: Succumbing to Sussex and Durham at home in the County Championship, both inside three days, to lose touch with the Division’s front runners.

Chris Pallett

ODI World 11

As the World Cup approaches, Third Umpire will be selecting a ODI World 11, with one player featuring every day. We begin with our first opener, the West Indies' explosive Chris Gayle.

Chris Gayle is learning to get the best of his talents, even if he remains something of an enigma. His stand-and-deliver style is best suited to the shorter version of the game - in the recent ICC Champions Trophy, Gayle was, by a distance, player of the tournament, scoring two belligerent hundreds, including a match-winning 133* against South Africa.

At his best, Gayle, seemingly nonchalant, crunches opening bowlers through the off-side at will and forms part of the fourth most successful ODI opening pair with Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Meanwhile, Gayle’s offspin – fast, flat and extremely hard to get away – will be an enormous asset in the Carribean. Expect him to regularly deliver 10 testing overs.

Gayle can also boast an ice-cool temperament – though he can seem almost too laid back, this should prove invaluable in pressure situations. If the West Indies are to match – or even better – their Champions Trophy performance, Gayle’s brand of Calypso cricket will be crucial.

Any thoughts on our World 11? Leave a comment.

Premium Bond

Nothing in sport is more tantalising than brilliant performers perennially unable to leave their mark on the biggest stage. If Shane Bond is to avoid his fate, it will largely be due to his exploits at the upcoming World Cup.

Bond is 31. For a fast bowler, this is normally the time for adaptation - pace is declining and real nous is needed to halt the inevitable decline. Yet Bond, since returning from his latest stress fracture, has consistently managed to record speeds in excess of 90mph.

Bond is one of very few fast bowlers in the modern game who can threaten the world’s best batsmen on benign surfaces; he is a tearaway also adroit at the subtler art of reverse swing.

His records – averaging 22 in Tests and just 19 in ODIs – are extraordinary. But the possessor of one of the world's finest yorkers has been in action far too rarely. In the six years since his debut, he has appeared in just 16 out of a possible 40 Tests, and only 59 ODIs – barely half the games New Zealand have played.

In his spasmodic international career, Bond has already produced numerous moments of genuine brilliance. His consecutive five-wicket hauls in the Caribbean, which secured New Zealand’s first ever Test series victory there, was testament to his quality: how often has a Kiwi been the outstanding fast man in the West Indies? In March 2006, Bond delivered another phenomenal spell against the same side, taking five wickets as New Zealand edged home by 27 runs. That included Brian Lara: Bond’s hostility and unremitting accuracy accounted for the record Test run-scorer first ball.

A charge frequently levelled against performers whose success is only fleeting is that they never proved themselves against the best. With Shane Bond, such an accusation cannot hold. In 11 ODIs against Australia, he has a stunning record: 34 wickets at 13. His havoc-wreaking spells of 5-25 and 4-38 during the 2002 VB series helped to ensure the competition was not lost amidst the sea of one-dayers. But his sensational spell in the 2003 World Cup cemented his reputation, regardless of whether he ever comes near repeating the feat again.

It was in this Super Six game that Bond proved on the world stage that, when fit, he is the consummate fast bowler. He had the height to trouble the world’s best with the bounce he generated. But it was his sheer pace and accuracy in pitching the ball up (he resisted the fast bowler’s temptation to bowl too short) that threw the tournament winners into disarray. Bond’s incredible spell reduced Australia to 84-7, before the double act of Michael Bevan and Andy Bichel again bailed them out. Yet in the months that followed, when Bond should have been confirming his status as one of very few genuinely hostile bowlers in World cricket, he endured a relentless series of injuries that kept him out of international cricket for more than two years.

But Bond is mentally very strong and was not deterred when, almost inevitably, he was soon injured again following a low-key comeback in Zimbabwe in August 2005. In recent one-dayers, he has been back to his devastating best, taking a hat-trick against Australia in the CB Series, then scything through their top-order in taking 5-23 at the start of the black caps’ memorable Chapell-Hadlee Trophy whitewash. A quite remarkable caught-and-bowled off Cameron White illustrated Bond’s extraordinary athleticism.

Knowing another major injury could terminate his career completely, Bond will be eyeing up the forthcoming World Cup as his defining moment: if his blend of express pace and guile can inspire memorable progress, Kiwis will remember him more in gratitude than frustration. His hostility visibly lifts New Zealand; they become a far more threatening side with an alternative to military medium. Sagacious skipper Stephen Fleming, however, will continually face a dilemma when utilising Bond. His preference seems to be to use him for five overs at the start, three in the middle of the innings and two at the death, though he will have to think on his feet.

The current international band of pacemen is the worst in memory – with Brett Lee injured and Shoaib Akhtar highly doubtful, who is there but Bond to fly the flag of old-fashioned fast bowling in the Caribbean? With pace-bowling standards universally so poor, outstanding batsmen such as Ricky Ponting are seldom truly tested. New Zealand and neutral fans alike need Shane Bond back and firing to help restore the balance between bat and ball. Conversely, Ponting, who, remarkably, averages just 17 facing Bond in ODIs, may be harbouring secret hopes that the fast bowler's comeback is short-lived.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Glamorgan: Season Review 2006.

Off field celebrations at securing an Ashes Test at Sophia Gardens were in sharp contrast to a dismal season in all forms of the game. With captain Robert Croft throwing in the towel, rumours of dressing room disharmony abounding, and financial worries leading to a ‘no overseas’ policy for 2007, the short term future is not great for Glamorgan fans.

When giving any form of appraisal in the workplace, it is good practice to start with the positives, and then focus on the areas for improvement. Unfortunately for Glamorgan C.C.C. in 2006, the latter type of feedback would take far longer than the first.

Overseas, overweight and over here?

Simon Jones in (pre-development) Cardiff

Things didn’t start so badly. Michael Kasprowicz and Matthew Elliott were signed up well in advance of the season. Simon Jones (above), too, was expected to continue his rehabilitation by playing regularly for Glamorgan during the first half of the season.

Then, however, for reasons of international commitment and injury respectively, both Australians were more likely to see the inside of New South Wales rather than its older namesake. Furthermore, Simon Jones played throughout April but then broke down again on May Day in a C&G game versus Ireland.

Mark Cosgrove in Colwyn Bay

As a batting replacement for Elliott, burly Mark Cosgrove (above) certainly looked the part early on. Hard hitting and aggressive, he hit a century on debut and inspired a victory at Derby with a superb 233. After returning to Australia mid season for an A team tournament, Cosgrove rarely hit such heights again.

Kasprowicz’s replacement was New Zealander James Franklin. Useful with the bat, he almost single handedly won a Twenty 20 encounter at Edgbaston; his seam bowling was a major disappointment and hardly ever seemed fit.

Underperformance the dominant force

In theory, Division Two of the County Championship should have proved easier following the 14 defeats in Division One in 2005. It scarcely seemed so. Only basement club Somerset was worse in the four day game and even they completed a two day drubbing of the Welsh county at Swansea in June. The two victories over Derbyshire and Gloucestershire were isolated moments. Northants only won 3 Championship games, two of them against Glamorgan.

The batting often buckled when the pressure was on. Supporters lost count of the different pairs of openers used. Dan Cherry just about justified a one year extension to his contract with some workmanlike performances towards the end of the season, but it was only Mike Powell and David Hemp who passed 1,000 runs for the year. All rounder Ryan Watkins needs to justify his place in one department at least, although he manfully debutised as an opener on several occasions. Nicky Peng, recruited from Durham, was injured for the second half of the season and has much to prove in 2007.

The bowling was hardly any better. David Harrison looked effective in patches, but Alex Wharf has gone backwards and Andrew Davies got a one year contract extension for reasons unknown to many. Out of the younger crop, Huw Waters looks head and shoulders above the rest (predicted here pre season), taking a splendid 5 for 86 at Taunton in August.

2006 beneficiary Darren Thomas was released. Whilst his commitment could never be faulted and his lower order hitting was very effective, “Ted’s” seam bowling had become a shadow of that which earned him England ‘A’ recognition.

No white ball comfort any more

Whilst Glamorgan’s Championship form has always moved in fits and starts, Welsh fans have usually taken comfort from performances in one day cricket. It was only two years ago in 2004 that the National League was wrapped up with 3 games to spare and, together with a Twenty 20 finals day appearance in that year, justified the claim that they were the best white ball side in the country.

That boast now lies in tatters. The C&G South Group was a disaster, with a solitary victory coming over Ireland. Twenty 20 offered early hope in the group stages. New Zealand wicket keeper, Brendan McCullum, played as a specialist batsman as cover for Cosgrove, and helped inspire victories in each of the first three games. It was downhill from there, however, and the campaign fizzled out live on Sky versus Gloucestershire.

Just when it couldn’t get any worse it did. Seventh place in Division One of the Pro 40 meant an end of season play off versus Shane Warne’s Hampshire, and there was only ever going to be one winner in that. The play off would never have involved Glamorgan if skipper Robert Croft had run his bat in versus Durham when only one run was needed to win. With Croft run out, the game was tied and it proved a costly error.

Change at the top

By now, Croft was clearly considering his position and eventually resigned after the home Championship defeat to Northants in September. Described as a ‘professional Welshman’ by former England colleague Alec Stewart, it is difficult to imagine what a proud man like Crofty would have found more heartbreaking; Glamorgan’s woeful displays or ‘losing the dressing room’ in that fashionable parlance. He stepped down with dignity intact. To quote another former England captain, Nasser Hussain, after he had resigned, it seemed as though he ‘couldn’t go to the well any longer’.

As a replacement, David Hemp is the obvious, if uninspiring, choice. He has his work cut out. Short term financial pressures mean that Chairman Paul Russell has already announced that there’ll be no overseas players in 2007. With a young squad lacking in confidence and experience, it’s going to be a difficult few years for Glamorgan as they languish in the wilderness of Division Two in both competitions.

Some hope?

Medium term, the ‘International’ development of Sophia Gardens, or whatever it’ll be renamed under a ‘Brit Oval style’ sponsorship deal, should secure regular pay days long after the Ashes Test of 2009. Unfortunately, it is difficult to stop students of Welsh cricket from drawing the conclusion that the team is suffering in the short term as a consequence.

The decline in membership numbers (and crowds in general) goes on, with only the very loyal, or those hanging on for Ashes Test tickets, continuing to subscribe. The club needs an injection of new life amongst the coaching staff, with Director of Cricket John Derrick’s position surely untenable. An adjustment of coaching responsibilities is more likely though.

The one hope for the Welsh cricketing public is the half a dozen or so younger players making their way through the academy. Keep an eye out for batsman Ben Wright and quick bowler James Harris.

Player of the season:
Mike Powell (below) 1,300 Championship runs at over 51, including back to back double hundreds in mid season, briefly revived talk of international honours.

Mike Powell passes the 200 mark at Cheltenham in July

High: 10 wicket victory over Gloucestershire at Cheltenham in scorching July heat, made possible by 299 from Mike Powell and 13 wickets from Robert Croft, probably still the best orthodox off spinner the domestic game has.

Low: Absolutely spoilt for choice, although the last day humiliation at the Rose Bowl in the Pro 40 play off in front of the Sky cameras took some beating and summed up the previous 5 months – sloppy fielding, wayward bowling and careless batting, all giving the impression of a thoroughly broken team.

This article was originally written in October 2006.

A preview of Glamorgan's 2007 season, with David Hemp at the helm and Jimmy Maher as the 'overseas', will follow soon.

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Turning the tide

Rarely has one player so profoundly influenced the fortunes of their country’s cricket team as Arjuna Ranatunga did for Sri Lanka. When he took over as captain in 1988 he inherited a team that had failed to make an impression in either one-day international (ODI) or Test cricket, despite having some very talented players to call upon. Ranatunga knew that he had cricketers with great ability, but that they lacked conviction in that talent and had not performed as a team. His task was to forge a competitive unit from these gifted players and to imbue them with the belief that they could not only compete, but win. By the time he retired as captain Sri Lanka had the reputation of being tough to beat in both ODIs and Test matches and had won the 1996 World Cup. How the fiery left-hander achieved such success in his eleven years in charge is one of recent cricket’s most remarkable stories.

Early promise

Ranatunga played a key role for his country right from the start of his career, making his international debut against England on Valentines Day, 1982, aged just eighteen. There was no massacre, but Sri Lanka did win to level the series and the young Ranatunga scored a vital 42. It was significant that his first game should end in victory and must have given the future captain a desire for more success. Just three days later Ranatunga made his Test debut, along with all ten of his team-mates, in Sri Lanka’s inaugural Test match against England at the P.Saravanamuttu Stadium, Colombo. England won the match by 7 wickets, but the Sri Lankans gave them a scare early on, and Ranatunga scored his country’s first Test fifty, a fluent and assured effort for one so young. It was clear to all those who saw him that day that Arjuna Ranatunga was a player to watch.

Forging a team

The state of Sri Lankan cricket when Ranatunga was appointed captain was grim. A cricketing nation which boasted some very promising players had failed to develop, despite having played in all four World Cups and in Tests for six years. Their dismal record illustrates this perfectly. In 27 Test matches Sri Lanka had managed just 2 wins and 10 draws, losing the other 15. They had fared even worse in ODIs, notching up just 16 wins in 87 games, losing 67, with 4 no results. Something radical was needed and the twenty four year old Ranatunga was not, perhaps, the obvious remedy. However, those who knew him and that, presumably, included the Sri Lankan cricket authorities, were sure that he could turn things around. Perhaps, even his most ardent supporters, though, could not have imagined just how far he would take the team.

Ranatunga’s first task was clear – he had to mould a group of individuals, some of whom had immense talent, into a team and engender that team with a fighting spirit that would keep it strong whatever it had to face. It must have helped that Ranatunga himself was a brave and strong-willed man, who did not back away from a fight and who was willing to go as far as he thought necessary to protect his players. Those who played under his captaincy must have felt confident that he would back them if they needed it and that all they had to worry about was performing on the field. Such leadership is not always easy to gauge, but cricket is a game played so much in the mind, that knowing you are protected must help you to relax and play your best. In this way Ranatunga was able to get the maximum out of his players as individuals and Sri Lanka as a team.

A well-knit team with a competitive edge is often hard to beat in sport, but the captain of a cricket team also needs intelligence, tactical ability, good instincts and the strength of character to follow those instincts, even when they go against perceived wisdom. Ranatunga had all of these and he demonstrated them each time he took the field. Like all good leaders he had some bad days, when his plans went awry or players let him down. But these were the exceptions, and they were heavily outnumbered by the good days. That did not always mean Sri Lanka won, because they were often up against better teams, but it did mean that they competed and made sure that if they were beaten it was not without a fight.

The statistics confirm Sri Lanka’s remarkable improvement under Ranatunga’s captaincy. Of the 61 Test matches he skippered 12 were won, 25 drawn and 22 lost. The turnaround in fortunes was even more marked in ODIs, where 96 of the 215 matches he captained were won, 109 lost and 9 ended with no result. This means that 47% of ODIs were won under his leadership, compared to just 19% before he took over. However, no matter how good these numbers are, they cannot compete with Ranatunga’s crowning achievement as Sri Lankan captain, claiming ODI cricket’s greatest prize.

The ultimate triumph

There could be no more resounding confirmation of just how far Ranatunga had taken Sri Lankan cricket than the winning of the 1996 World Cup. For a nation which had so woefully underperformed in this showcase of one-day cricket it was a dramatic transformation. The talented Sri Lankan players finally gave full expression of their ability under the astute leadership of Ranatunga.

Tactically, Ranatunga and his team were spot on. Like several other nations in the 1996 tournament they employed pinch-hitters at the top of the order to exploit the field restrictions in the first 15 overs. However, in Sanath Jayasuriya they had one of the best exponents of this role, a player who hit the ball so far and so often that he could tear opposition bowling attacks to shreds in just a few overs. By the time the first 15 overs were completed Sri Lanka were often already well on their way to setting a big total or had made significant inroads into the runs they were chasing. There was no better evidence of the destructive nature of Jayasuriya’s batting than the quarter final against England, when he struck 82 from just 44 deliveries, including 13 fours and 3 sixes, making light of Sri Lanka’s chase for victory.

Ranatunga’s role was to motivate his players, as well as make the tough tactical calls. None could have been more difficult than when he won the toss in the final against Australia. Many could not believe his decision to put the Australian’s in, least of all Mark Taylor, the Australian captain, who must have felt that he had won the toss, as he would have batted anyway. Ranatunga went with his instinct, backing his players to restrict their opponents and chase down another total. It was a brave decision, which flew in the face of conventional thinking, as no team had ever won the World Cup final batting second.

After a very good start Australia struggled as the Sri Lankan bowlers put the pressure on. In the end they only managed a below-par 241, defendable, but far less than they would have expected. For once the pinch-hitters failed for Sri Lanka and the match was in the balance. However, Aravinda de Silva, a player possessing sublime batting skill, stepped up and scored a magnificent century. His innings was built over two big partnerships, the first a superb 125 with Asanka Gurusinha, the second a quick fire 97 with Ranatunga. It was fitting that the captain, who had so ably led his players throughout the tournament, should secure the trophy by scoring the winning runs.

Defending his own

Throughout his time as Sri Lankan captain Ranatunga had never shirked from his responsibilities as a leader. This led him through some hostile waters, which he negotiated seemingly without fear. Arguably, his toughest challenges came when he saw his players threatened and knew it was he who had to stand up and defend them.

In the modern era no player has courted more controversy than the great Sri Lankan off-spinner, Muttiah Muralitharan, whose bowling action has been questioned in some quarters from very early in his career. These suspicions have always been particularly strong in Australia, culminating in the only occasions when Muralitharan has actually been no-balled for throwing, or ‘chucking’ as the popular vernacular would have it. Each time Ranatunga was the Sri Lankan captain and was called upon to act in defence of his player. Two of those occasions are worth considering in further detail, as they highlight Ranatunga’s deep concern for his players and the lengths he was willing to go to protect them.

The first incident occurred in 1995 at the high profile Boxing Day Test Match, played against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The Australian umpire, Darrell Hair, no-balled Muralitharan 7 times for throwing in his first 3 overs. The young bowler was naturally distraught and his captain, Ranatunga, stepped in to defend him, arguing with Hair over his call, before leaving the field to consult with Sri Lankan team management. On his return Ranatunga argued again with Hair, before later switching Muralitharan to the other end, where New Zealand umpire, Steve Dunne, did not no-ball him for throwing. It is worth noting that when Muralitharan’s action was later tested by experts appointed by the International Cricket Council (ICC) no problems were found with it and he was cleared to carry on bowling in the same way he always had.

However, the controversy over Muralitharan’s bowling action did not go away and in 1999, on Sri Lanka’s next tour of Australia, another, even more explosive, incident took place. It happened in a one-day match with England played at the Adelaide Oval, where Australian umpire Ross Emerson no-balled Muralitharan for throwing. This time Ranatunga was so incensed that he decided to protest the decision by taking his players to the edge of the cricket field, just inside the boundary, where he again consulted with Sri Lankan team management. Play was held up for 12 minutes, before resuming. The aftermath saw questions raised over Muralitharan’s action, Emerson’s umpiring and calls for Ranatunga to be banned. In the end the Sri Lankan captain was fined and given a suspended ban, which meant he had to be very careful over his future conduct. Though Ranatunga's actions may have been extreme and were deplored by many, it sent a clear message to his players that their captain was willing to put his own career on the line to protect them.

The legacy

When Ranatunga departed as captain of Sri Lanka he left a team that had a reputation for being tough to beat and that played some very attractive cricket. They were no longer considered underachievers and expectations for the future were high. Results since Ranatunga left suggest that Sri Lanka have continued to improve, maintaining their position as difficult opponents, particularly at home. This applies to both formats of the international game, but particularly to Test cricket, where Sri Lanka have become much stronger. I imagine that the current generation of Sri Lankan players, as well as those of the past, would highlight the major influence Ranatunga had on building the spirit of Sri Lankan cricket, forging a team that could become a force in the international game.

2007 Season Preview: Northamptonshire

In the build-up to the new county season, we are running fans' county previews, beginning with Northants. Do feel free to email one to, in the same format as the preview below.

2006 in a nutshell:
It was an average season for Northants in 2006, that saw us win only 1 C and G tie early on and some poor championship form gave us a bad start to the season. In June Kelper Wessels got sacked as coach and we never looked back - we qualified for the Twenty20 quarter-finals, came 3rd in the Pro40, and even our championship form picked up. Lance Klusener was our star man, basically running the show.

2007 prospects:
I am hopeful for 2007, we have a good group of players, and, with a fine captain and captain, this may even be the year in which we finally win a trophy.

I am disappointed to lose Bilal Shafayat after only 2 years at Northants. He was a key batsmen to us and was averaging nearly 50 in first class games until he had to fill in with the gloves, due to Riki Wessels' injury. We have two good overseas pros this year: Johan Van der Wath (South Africa) and Chris Rogers (Australia). We shouldn’t lose these two to international duty and they could play a key role - Rogers was superb last season hitting two double hundreds and a triple hundred. Meanwhile, Lance Klusener batted exceptionally last season. Uzman Afzaal, Stephen Peters and the reliable Sales should complete the batting order with Wessels or Niall O’Brien in at 5, 6 or 7 with the gloves.

It will be interesting to see who emerges as the regular gloveman; Wessels has done a good job in the last couple of seasons, but O’Brien has international experience and do we let a capped international play 2nd team cricket? Wessels starts as favourite to play because O’Brien was only brought in for cover, but an impressive World Cup could even it out for O’Brien. It is anyone’s guess at this stage who will play. This is a hell of a one-day batting unit and not a bad one in the Championship arena. Rob White will play a part too, mostly in the one-day tournaments in which his huge hitting can be very effective.

A virtually new look bowling line-up all together. Out - Phillips, Nicholson. In - Logan, Browning (youth and 2nd team player), Dawson.

Sadly, it seems Monty Panesar won’t be in the team much more, going on to international hero status. This means we have signed Richard Dawson from Yorkshire as our 2nd spinner - he will certainly play in the majority of games. Richard Logan looks a half-decent signing and I am looking forward to seeing how he does. Browning probably won’t play too much as he is only 18 and will play a lot of 2nd team stuff.
Put these new bowlers with the old Jason Brown, we have a respectable line up, with Van Der Wath opening the bowling and Klusener putting in a few overs.

Probable Championship side:
Sales (capt)
Wessels / O’Brien (wk)
Van Der Wath

With our powerful batting line-up, I feel we have every chance of winning the Pro40 competition. In the Championship, promotion will probably prove elusive, while the Twenty20 is anyone's guess. Considering Northants' penchant for starting the season slowly, though, do not expect much in the C & G Trophy.

Key Man:
Got to be Lance Klusener. He is a legend down here already. Had a great season last season and we are hoping for much of the same. He plays as a batsmen in Championship cricket now, just bowling as a fill-in. He can still hit it a mile when he gets going, although his inconsistency in one-day cricket is slightly frustrating. However when he is at his best in one-day cricket he is a match-winner: last season he almost single-handedly won us a few games, in both formats.

Rising Star:
Tough one. Ryan Nelson looks good at only 19, although I doubt it very much that he will break into the first XI. It will be experiance all the way, much like last season.

Captain and Coach:
Very pleased with the captain, David Sales, who is in his benefit year. He is a top batsmen and a good captain, can’t ask for any more than that. David Capel took over for the last third of 2006 and you can’t fault him. Our form went up and he gets on well with the boys. A million times better than Wessels.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Enough competition yet, John?

A few weeks ago, John Buchanan was bemoaning the lack of competition being provided by England and New Zealand. Two humbling series defeats later and the outgoing coach is having to make assurances all is well in the Aussie camp. But complacency, injuries and hitherto hidden weaknesses mean that is not the case.

Australia’s primary aim this winter was regaining the Ashes: that they achieved in spectacular fashion. Having beaten England in the arena they were notionally superior in, they inevitably thought they would be similarly subservient in the CB Series. That they were – but, after losing five games out of six, the tourists, helped by some uncharacteristically poor Australian fielding, finally awoke. Momentum finally theirs, they proceeded to upset their hosts in the finals – despite missing at least three first-choice players. A makeshift Australian squad then travelled to New Zealand for the Chapell-Hadlee series – only to suffer their first ever 10-wicket defeat and twice have seemingly impregnable scores overhauled en route to a 3-0 humiliation.

While the return of Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist (albeit only for the Super Eight games) will help, Australia’s aura – and number one ranking – has been eroded in time to give hope to the other seven challengers. Andrew Symonds, Brett Lee and now Matthew Hayden, three pillars of their ODI side, will not be fit for the start of the tournament, and will each almost certainly miss the crunch game against South Africa.

Until they are fit enough to play or are withdrawn from the squad, they will occupy places that could be filled with fit replacements; and, given that squads only comprise 15 men, it would be ludicrous for Australia to keep both the injured trio and Gilchrist in the squad, hence leaving them down to 11 names for the start of the tournament. For Buchanan, it seems that nemesis is following hubris.

Areas of Australian concern:

Adam Gilchrist and the revitalised Matthew Hayden are a partnership to fear – but both will miss the game against South Africa, while Hayden must be considered a major doubt for the latter stages. Brad Haddin can be explosive but currently only averages 25, while Hayden’s probable replacement, Phil Jaques, has long proved himself as a phenomenal first-class player but has only played 6 ODIs.

Middle-order batting
At the ICC Champions Trophy, which Australia won in such imperious fashion, their middle-order was perhaps the finest in the history of the limited-overs game. Damien Martyn, a wonderful one-day accumulator, was brilliant at number four; he was followed by the adaptable Michael Clarke, the explosive Andrew Symonds and the consummate finisher Michael Hussey.

Martyn, despite his success in that tournament, retired from all cricket in December. If Symonds is out too, their middle-order will suddenly look less convincing. Their best option is probably to play Clarke at four, Hussey at five, Brad Hodge – who has twice scored unbeaten 90s against New Zealand of late but can be susceptible to the short-ball – at six and Shane Watson at seven. It’s still formidable, but lacks the experience and sheer class of four months ago.

The fifth bowler
Shane Watson is primarily a batsman; though the same could be said of Symonds, he is a highly-adaptable and experienced ODI bowler very well-suited to the Caribbean pitches. Watson, though he has much potential, may be expensive in the West Indies.

Brad Hogg
Possibly Australia’s biggest concern. Many countries will play two spinners in the West Indies; Australia may be forced to play none (save for the occasional bowling of Michael Clarke). Hogg is 37 and his idiosyncratic style appears to have been worked out by batsmen of late – he has gone for 5.9 an over in his last five games. Especially without Symonds, Australia would like a front-line spinner – but can they risk getting 20 overs from Hogg, Watson and Clarke?

Brett Lee is clearly Australia’s finest ODI bowler, a masterful exponent of the yorker with a superb temperament. He is also a sufficiently feisty batsman to play at eight, should Hogg not be in the side. Without him, Australia will have to rely on Glenn McGrath – a liability in the field of late -, the proven ODI swing of Nathan Bracken and either the much-vaunted but slightly inconsistent Mitchell Johnson or the explosive, volatile gifts of Shaun Tait. Of those, the first two could be exposed if the ball doesn’t swing or seam, while the latter two are both unproven and, as shown in recent games, potentially very expensive. Meanwhile, the probable first-choice replacement, Stuart Clark, lacks variety and control of the white ball – he has gone for five an over his ODI career.

If two from Lee, Symonds and Hayden are ruled out Australia’s World Cup side will look eminently beatable. While the batting remains excellent, serious doubts remain over the bowling attack, particularly bowling second; indeed New Zealand have already scored in excess of 330 batting last against Australia twice this year.

Would this side be good enough to retain the World Cup?

Gilchrist (Haddin for group games)
Two from Hogg, Tait & Johnson


Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Signs of a Surrey resurgence

2006 Season Review: Surrey

Last season, Surrey subsided pathetically in the County Championship, and suffered the embarrassing fate of relegation. The 2006 season, therefore, was fundamentally about being one of the two sides promoted from Division Two. In that task, Surrey succeeded magnificently.

The chief reason for this, clearly, was Mark Ramprakash. The 37-year-old enjoyed the season of his career; his textbook technique and ever eye-catching fluency earned 2278 runs at a superlative average of 103. Eight hundreds were amassed with ever-increasing inevitability. Despite falling eight runs short of a maiden triple century against Gloucestershire, Ramprakash soon ended his wait with 301* against Northants. The only shame was that his phenomenal season was not rewarded with a place on the Ashes tour.

Though Ramprakash’s sensational run of scores rightly stole the media attention, the father-son pair of Alan and Mark Butcher were crucial in righting the wrongs of the Steve Rixon era and setting the county back onto the right path. Butcher senior was a calm and supportive presence in the dressing room; Mark averaged almost 60 while skippering the side shrewdly.

Surrey’s fantastic batting talent was always likely to overwhelm Division Two bowling attacks. Rikki Clarke had by far his best campaign with the bat, averaging 64; but his bowling continues to infuriate and his meagre haul of 18 wickets in 11 games showed he is not even a genuine fourth seamer.

Alistair Brown was dropped early on in the season but, happily, turned his fortunes around to finish with five first-class centuries; Scott Newman was extremely consistent opening the batting. James Benning, meanwhile, enjoyed a highly encouraging season. His rampaging 189* in a C & G Trophy game even had pundits considering him a viable candidate to open the batting for England in one-day cricket. And the ever-reliable John Batty had another fine season.

Surrey’s batting was expected to prove decisive in their hunt for promotion; their band of spinners was certainly not. Nayan Doshi and Ian Salisbury took 113 wickets at 28 between them; the rehabilitation of Salisbury, seemingly in irreversible decline, was particularly gratifying. Anil Kumble came for only three games, but his 8-100 on a docile Oval pitch against Northants virtually secured promotion. The trio formed Surrey’s first spin triumvirate for nearly 50 years; they were such a success that, when Kumble left, Chris Schofield was recruited on a short-term deal. Though his control is in need of much work, the former England bowler deserved his new contract, especially given his innings of 95 in a thrilling draw at Bristol.

However, pace bowling remains a cause of much concern at the county. Evergreen Martin Bicknell played in just four games before retiring through injury; his 1000+ wickets at 23 make him one of Surrey’s finest ever players. Replacing him will certainly prove problematic, however. With Jimmy Ormond, the club’s best seamer, also hampered by injury, the pace-bowling attack was carried by Mohammad Akram and enigmatic all-rounder Azhar Mahmood.

Even more than usual, the County Championship was the key for Surrey in 2006. Predictably, results in the game’s shorter formats were disappointing. Their C & G campaign seemed doomed from the outset; an inexcusable batting collapse at Taunton cost them promotion in the Pro40 competition. Things were a little better in the Twenty20 Cup, but a woeful performance on Finals’ Day cost them the chance of claiming a second trophy. Surrey seem to lack a cohesive strategy in the shorter formats of the game; they are also let down by a lack of mobility in the field.

Despite their one-day disappointments, Surrey’s 2006 season hinted at a resurgence for the club; if they can sign a potent seamer, they certainly have a good chance of regaining the County Championship. With the Butchers at the helm, Surrey are a happier county and a stronger side.

Player of the season: Mark Ramprakash
Majestic strokeplay, unerring professionalism and new-found perspective saw Ramprakash become only the fifth man to complete a First Class English season averaging 100 or more. Throughout July and August he scored 150 runs or more in five consecutive Championship games – a unique achievement.

Successfully chasing 356, the highest score of the game, in the fourth innings at Somerset, despite being 129-4. A blistering 189-run stand between Clarke and Brown helped Surrey triumph in just the 72nd over.

Bizarrely conspiring to lose four wickets in the first four overs of the Twenty20 semi-final, when Surrey had been odds-on to win.

In the build-up to the 2007 county season, we will feature county reviews for last season, previews for this and other features. Do email if you would like to pen a piece on your county (or anything else).

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

The Tuesday Lunchtime View – Who are the Minnows?

Three weeks today, on the 13th March, the whole jamboree begins, although it does look like being a phoney war for the first stages. The big eight countries are pulling away from the minnows as Zimbabwe move backwards at a rate of knots, only Bangladesh look like they have the experience and know-how to pull off an upset. In this preview, I will look at the teams ranked 9 to 16 according to the official World Cup seedings.

9) Zimbabwe
They’ve made the Super Six stage in the last two tournaments, but that was with a very different line up to the one that is now in place. The last World Cup was a catalyst for the turmoil that Zimbabwean cricket finds itself in, with the public displays of Henry Olonga and Andy Flower in denouncing the government. Since then, most of Zimbabwe’s better players have been discarded, including the Flower brothers, Heath Streak and Tatenda Taibu, leading to their teat playing status being suspended. The team has been thrashed by the other test playing countries, although they did manage a tight series win at home to Bangladesh last year, which was reversed earlier this year.

Grouped with West Indies, Pakistan and Ireland, their first game, against the Irish, is their only realistic hope of any success

10) Kenya
Semi-finalists last time round, although that was helped by the number of forfeited matches involving themselves and Zimbabwe. Heavily reliant on Stephen Tikolo in probably his final World Cup, Kenya have warmed up by winning the WCL trophy for the second rank of cricket playing nations. New talent is also coming through into the team, notably batsman Tanmay Mishra and left-arm spinner Hiren Varaiya

In the same group as England, New Zealand and Canada, they may have been hoping for an upset against a demoralised England team. However, it now appears that the best they can hope for is a comfortable win over Canada and to continue to dominate the non-test playing nations.

11) Bangladesh
A test playing nation since 2001, with definite signs of improvement being made since their debut, particularly in the sub-continent. They are still trying to break in with the big boys, however, and have spent a lot of the past year playing (and beating) Zimbabwe and Kenya. Under the astute coaching of Dav Whatmore, the team has recently beaten Sri Lanka (losing the One Day series 2-1) and memorably defeated the Australians in England during 2005. A lot will depend on the more experienced players, such as Ashraful, Rafique and Bashir, the captain, but they will be hopeful of causing an upset.

In the same group as Bermuda, India and Sri Lanka, the draw has not been unkind. Bangladesh have beaten both India and Sri Lanka over the past four years, and both of the bigger teams are prone to having an off-day. If an upset does happen, this is the group.

12) Scotland
A tremendous run of run of late saw them beating Kenya to reach the final of the WCL trophy, only to lose to the same opponents in the final. Firmly established as the next best team after Kenya, they are less reliant on their county stars, Gavin Hamilton, John Blain and Dougie Brown, than they used to be. Their introduction to the Pro40 league has helped to develop a squad which has now qualified for the 20:20 World Cup and will be looking to grow the game north of the border.

In the same group as the world number one team, South Africa and everyone’s whipping boys Australia. Similar to Kenya, they will be looking for a comfortable win against the other minnow in their group, the Netherlands, and to give one of the other teams a fright.

13) Ireland
Ireland are unfortunate in that their star batsman from the qualifying stages, Ed Joyce, has defected and should be opening the batting for England in the tournament itself. Disappointing in the ICC tournament in Kenya, they made up for matters by reaching the final of the Intercontinental Cup, the longer format of the game for non-test playing nations. Eoin Morgan, now on the books with Middlesex, and Andre Botha will be key to their batting.

In the same group as Zimbabwe above, that game will be their best chance of success.

14) Canada
Like Ireland, Canada have made the final if the Intercontinental Cup. They are heavily reliant on John Davison, a big hitting batsman, who scored 111 in 76 balls against the West Indies in the last World Cup.

Coached by former Notts bowler, Andy Pick, they will be targeting Kenya as their best chance of glory.

15) Bermuda
Captained by current Glamorgan captain David Hemp, Bermuda find themselves in the same group as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India. This is Bermuda’s first appearance at the Cricket World Cup and their most competitive game could be a warm up match against Zimbabwe .

16) Netherlands
The Dutch have the unenviable task of making up the numbers in the Australia, South Africa, Scotland group. This at least will give their players of South African descent, including Essex’s Ryan ten Doeschate, a chance to shine against the country of their ancestry.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

The Ones Who Got Away

Consistent and planned are not two words that could ever be used to describe England’s One Day selection, which is strange considering the success that approach has had with the test team. Since England’s last trip to the West Indies just three winters ago, around 40 players have donned the blue pyjamas. This is the squad of fifteen that didn’t make it.

Marcus Trescothick – By far and away the biggest loss to the World Cup squad. A shoe-in for England’s best One Day team of all time. 12 hundreds and an average of nearly 40 at an astonishing strike rate of 85 per hundred balls. Without his stress related illness, the debate over Mal Loye would be superfluous. With his stress related illness, England’s task has become much harder.

Matt Prior – Included as a batsman, because that’s how he’s played most of his International cricket. A destructive batsman for Sussex, he couldn’t bring that form to the International arena failing to pass 50 in 12 attempts. Still in the frame when the wicket-keeping position is discussed and it would be a surprise if he isn’t given another chance.

Vikram Solanki – Here’s an odd one. Over fifty games for England without ever looking like a regular. Even his two centuries (only Pietersen, Flintoff and now Collingwood have more in the current squad) only ever hinted at what might be rather than looking like the catalyst for a real breakthrough. Admittedly he wasn’t helped by the ill-fated substitute rule, or batting at anywhere from 1 to 9 is a terrible batting line up, but a measure of how far his star has fallen is that no-one even considered him in contention for the World Cup.

Anthony McGrath – Also never in contention for the World Cup, and some would wonder why he played for England at all. Fourteen ODIs (and that’s 14 more than Mark Butcher) with an average of 16 and a strike rate of less than 50, his debut performance of 33 runs in 75 balls should have been a giveaway. As an “all-rounder” he bowled less than 3 overs per match.

Owais Shah – Made a promising ODI debut in 2001, and has played just 17 matches since. Badly used by England after his debut, his perceived lack of ability in the field may have counted against him during the Fletcher years. Still scoring healthily for Middlesex.

Michael Yardy – Genuine all-rounder as no-one really knew if he was a batsman or a bowler. The figures would suggest the latter, despite him batting at number 4. English conditions suited his bowling. However, subcontinent and the Champions trophy didn’t and off he went.

Rikki Clarke – A two ball duck in his debut, a golden duck in his last game, England have tried and tried to convince that Rikki Clarke is the answer to our one day problems. A bit like Yardy in that no-one really knows if he’s principally a batsman or a bowler, and with a batting average of 11 (strike rate just 62) and bowling average of 37 (economy over 5) he’s not good enough at either discipline.

Alex Loudon – Selected for the ODI squad in 2006 possibly because he can bowl a doosra, he played one game, was run out without scoring and bowled six overs going for a run a ball (reasonable in the context of the game, but crucially not as good as Jamie Dalrymple). By the end of the 2006 season, he was struggling to stay in the Warwickshire team.

Chris Read – The man who murdered Duncan Fletcher’s favourite dog. Surely that is the only explanation for his treatment at the hands of the England selectors over the past few years. A contender for best wicket-keeper in world cricket and an unorthodox batsman. His best series was in the WI last time England toured with two cameos of 20+ to see England home.

Geraint Jones – It all started so well. Brought in on the back of his superior batting, he started at 3 in the batting line up and was also used as a pinch hitting opener. However, he eventually found his place at 7 and when his Test match form became untenable even for Duncan Fletcher, he disappeared from the One Day scene as well.

Tim Bresnan – Injuries cost him his chance to come back from the debacle of the Sri Lanka series and at still only 21 (despite having been in the Yorkshire team for 5 years) he should get more chances. Currently scoring and conceding runs at over one a ball in International cricket.

Steve Harmison – England’s best ODI bowler for a number of years, he seems to have been more mentally scarred than most following the Sri Lankan demolition of last year. The three-fors in the first two matches were forgotten with the 0-97 in the final game. Confidence gone, Harmison retired from ODI cricket after the Champions trophy a pale shadow of the match winning bowler seen two years previously.

Kabir Ali – A promising start away to South Africa where he played in all seven matches of the 04/05 series taking 13 wickets, he was then dropped for a year. Always expensive, the latest nail in his international coffin came at the hands of the Sri Lankans. Six overs for 72 runs and back to Worcestershire.

Alex Wharf – Another wonderful example of England’s selection policy. A regular for 6 months two years ago, he played 13 matches in five months, taking 18 wickets at an economy of just over four…..and hasn’t been seen again since.

Darren Gough – No shortage of self-belief and England’s leading ODI wicket taker. Despite lobbying and the support of Graham Gooch, Dazzler’s dream of one more World Cup didn’t come true. Last seen playing beach cricket, a career in show business beckons.

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Loye a victim of England's haphazard one-day selection as lucky Strauss hangs on

England’s World Cup squad contained only one half-surprise: the selection of Ravi Bopara ahead of Mal Loye. Bopara has only played one game, but he is a bubbly character, a wristy batsman of considerable promise, a fine fielder and a good enough seamer to have dismissed Mike Hussey on debut. It is not his selection that frustrates me; that is the decision to stick with Andrew Strauss.

Strauss’s form this winter could hardly have been worse. In 20 international innings down under, he has not once passed 55. That statistic alone is surely reason enough to drop him. Add in his patent lack of coherent thinking that has characterised his batting all tour, and, equally significantly, the similarities in style with so many other players in the squad, and his selection appears to be another example of excess loyalty.

In contrast, Loye’s attitude is fearless: whoever is bowling, his aim is to attack. It is true that he has only scored his runs at an average of 20 for England; but he has consistently attacked the bowling in a manner that no other English opener, save for Marcus Trescothick, is capable of doing.

With his slog-sweep – which has already worked well, and would surely be very successful on the short Caribbean outfields against sides generally bereft of much pace – and the hard-hit drives that were a feature of his 45 in the second CB Series final, he provides welcome unpredictability and a genuinely positive option during the Powerplay overs. And, though he has not truly come off to date, he has kick-started several innings, building a platform for the more subtle players in the side. Loye is an example of the fact that, as Gideon Haigh puts it, “All runs are equal but some are more equal than others”.

Strauss, in contrast, seems fundamentally shaken by a chastening tour. His perceived ability to place anywhere in the top five may have been decisive in his selection. However, if Kevin Pietersen were to be injured, England’s top four would consist of Joyce, Vaughan, Bell and Strauss – what price that line-up chasing down 300? Chasing such a daunting target, as England will surely have to do on at least one occasion in the World Cup, would not require steady top-order accumulation but ruthless exploitation of the Powerplay overs – something the idiosyncratic Loye has spent recent years mastering the art of.

As well as being one of England’s three genuinely destructive ODI batsmen, alongside Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, Loye could also conceivably be a like-for-like replacement for Pietersen. Playing for Auckland prior to being called up by England, the Lancastrian scored a match-winning 90 off only 79 balls – batting at number four.

Ultimately, as much as anything else, Loye is a victim of England’s haphazard one-day selection. Had he been selected earlier – as his performances for Lancashire have demanded – and England had not wasted time for so long utilising Matt Prior and Vikram Solanki as openers, we would now be sure of whether he was able to transform his domestic success into the international arena. Instead, the mad situation materialised whereby his World Cup selection – or lack of it – probably boiled down to the 20 extra runs he didn’t score in the second final.

Loye appeared to have learned from his earlier mistakes – principally his rash swipes outside off-stump – in compiling his last innings. Alas, he will now have to dwell on his loss of concentration, and subsequent run-out, on Sunday, and an egregious lbw decision two days earlier. But, given England’s – and especially Michael Vaughan’s – injury history, Loye would be well advised to keep his mobile phone handy.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

World Cup squad

With England's unexpected success in claiming the CB Cup I am actually looking forward to the World Cup with some hope for once. On the generally slow and unpredictable West Indies pitches some shock results are likely and England might just be the surprise team of the tournament. If they can latch onto the momentum they've built up over the last couple of weeks they have a chance to progress into the latter stages, where anything can happen.

To win the World Cup they will need consistency in both bowling and batting, as well as a squad which can adapt to varying conditions and overcome injuries. Taking wickets is crucial, so attacking bowling options are important. The batting line-up needs stability as well as aggression, a combination England have shown in their last four ODIs.

With these factors in mind my squad would be:

Vaughan (Captain) - Though he has not been a consistent one-day player he is the leader the team has so desperately needed over the last few months. It is not a coincidence that his return saw England's resurgence. Flintoff may have carried on the good work in the finals, but it was Vaughan who inspired a seemingly beaten team. Plunkett was just one of the players who praised the positive encouragement given to him by Vaughan, which led to an unthinkable improvement in his own and the team's performance in the CB series. On his day Vaughan is still capable of a match-winning innings and is essential as England's on field leader.

Flintoff (Vice-captain) - Simply one of the top one-day players in the world and capable of immense contributions with both bat and ball. His accurate and aggressive bowling and destructive batting make him irreplaceable. He has also shown good tactical sense as a stand-in captain.

Joyce - His wonderfully crafted century spurred England's recent revival. A left-handed batsmen of elegant strokeplay, he has also shown the ability to read the game situation and play accordingly. Most surprising of all, though, has been his aggressive shots in the powerplays, which make him the ideal one-day opener and possibly the man to take Trescothick's mantle.

Pietersen - One of the best one-day batsmen currently playing and England's trump card in a rapidly improving batting line-up. The only question is whether he should bat at three or four. I would be inclined to get him in as early as possible as he obviously has the technique to deal with all types of bowling and would be equally destructive in the first few overs as he has been in the middle overs of matches.

Collingwood - Just when the doubters were turning on him he plays three great innings on the bounce, takes wickets, executes run outs and makes spectacular catches. The man in form, without doubt, and England's best finisher. Seems to play well with both the top order and the tail and will need to maintain his current form if England are to have a chance in the Caribbean.

Bell - Still a bit Jeckyll and Hyde in one-dayers, but a class player nonetheless. I don't think he should play at three, rather five or six, depending on the match situation. If he can be consistent he will be a real asset for England, as he is a wonderful fielder and offers a bowling option on slow low pitches.

Strauss - His form has been awful lattely and he has rarely sparkled as a one-day player, yet I cannot leave him out of the squad. He has class and can be consistent. I believe he will find his form if he is given a run of games in the middle order, though he would struggle to make the first team if everyone is fit. As a replacement he offers cover as opener, number three and in the middle order, and he is a fine slip fielder. It would be a mistake to omit a player of his class.

Nixon - Though the runs have not flowed from his bat, Nixon has kept well and offered a very vocal presence out in the middle. His vast experience seems to have been a good influence on the younger players around him and it would be a serious error to return to either Jones or Read, both of whom showed they are not up to the task. He is not a long term option, but should be England's wicket-keeper for the World Cup.

Dalrymple - He has not done anything amazing in recent matches, but his bowling will be suited to the West Indian pitches and he is capable of great cameos with the bat. He has also established himself as a very good fielder and part of a winning team. He seems to be an integral part of the momentum England have built up recently and should be left in the squad, though not guaranteed a first team slot.

Plunkett - Over the last few matches he has shown his wicket-taking ability, despite bowling under extreme pressure. He may go for runs, but wickets will ultimately win more matches than economy rates. if he can tighten up his line and length a bit he will be excellent - at the moment he is merely very good.

Panesar - A world class spinner, who has adapted his bowling to suit the one-day game. He still attacks and exerts pressure on batsmen, but can spear it in a bit if required. In the World Cup he could be one of the star performers and is clearly a potential match-winner. His fielding and batting have also improved, making him a first choice for every match.

Anderson - When he's fully fit he is an excellent one-day bowler, possessing pace, swing and control. England need him if they are to progress in the tournament, as their only failing recently has been conceding too many runs to the new ball.

Mahmood - Frustratingly inconsistent, but blessed with huge talent. If he can find his rhythm quickly in match he can disturb any batsman. His excellent use of the slower ball recently shows how he is learning and improving. With his armoury Mahmood must be in the squad, though he is unlikely to make the first team.

Lewis - An experienced and canny performer, who can bowl devastating spells with the new ball. At the moment he would be second choice behind the rampant Plunkett, but Lewis will be needed in England's squad for those matches when conditions demand an extra seamer or injury strikes.

Broad - Young and still developing, but possessing all the ability necessary in an international bowler. He would be last in the pecking order, but seems to have the temperament to make the most of any opportunities he is given.

The Tuesday Lunchtime View - Time for Ashley?

The tour is over. The team are on their way back with unexpected silverware and the world cup is just around the corner. All over the internet, armchair selectors are choosing the fifteen strong men and true who will finally win the World Cup for England. And it probably says a great deal abou the success of the last week that there is a general concensus towards the current squad.

There will be discussions about whether Vaughan is fit enough, the form of Strauss and where Pietersen fits back in (although those last two points may well sort themselves out). However, it is likely to be the make up of the bowling attack that will determine how successful we are over the next six weeks.

Traditionally, when one thinks of the West Indies, one remembers the fast bowling greats: Marshall, Holding, Garner, Roberts etc. However, on England's last tour of the Carribean, the most successful bowler on either side was Chris Gayle, in terms of wickets taken, average and economy.

This is not a one-off phenomenom. More and more in one day cricket we are seeing the benefits of taking the pace off the ball. In amongst Paul Collingwood's vital runs and sparkling fielding over the last week has been some pretty miserly bowling. Likewise, Monty Panesar has been able to exert pressure and reign in the Australian batsmen, normally after a pretty brisk start off Plunkett and Mahmood.

Collingwood, Flintoff and Panesar are now firmly established in the England team, but do we need two more fast bowlers, or would we be better off putting our faith in a slow bowler with good control and ideally a useful batsman and fielder to boot?

In short, it is time to bring back Ashley Giles into the bowling attack and play with 2-3 spinners, including Jamie Dalrymple.

My World Cup team is therefore:


with Strauss, Bopara, Plunkett and Lewis as reserves

Monday, 12 February 2007

Plunkett proves his worth

England somehow managed to revive a seemingly doomed tour by winning four consecutive ODIs and, in the process, winning their first major foreign tournament for almost a decade. Here are ratings for all bowlers (and Jamie Dalrymple!) who took part in the CB Series.

James Anderson 8/10
Anderson only played in four games and one victory, but he bowled with sufficient vigour to guarantee a starting place in the World Cup. His fielding was also a bright spot throughout.

Jamie Dalrymple 4
Dalrymple left the series in a highly precarious position: as the sixth bowler and seventh batsman. He chipped in with a couple of useful contributions down the order, especially an 18-ball 30 against Australia in the group stages, but his bowling, previously so consistent, regressed alarmingly and he bowled an average of only 3.4 overs an innings – if he’s not a reliable fifth bowler, what is he? While his brilliant catch in the second final will long be remembered and he remains a combative cricketer, England look a much stronger side with another batsman in his place.

Jon Lewis 7
Lewis played four games and did a reasonable job throughout, scaring Australia in taking 4/35 on one occasion. His accuracy and skilled new-ball bowling will win him a place in the World Cup squad, but he will have to hope England opt for four seamers if he is to play.

Liam Plunkett 8
Went for five and a half an over; but he bowled a fantastic number of near-unplayable deliveries, twice ripping the heart out of the Australian top order with a three-wicket burst. He also batted with great effect at number nine, fielded well and is clearly resilient character and has overtaken Lewis is in the bowling pecking order.

Sajid Mahmood 5
Well, it could have been worse. Mahmood improved as the series progressed and developed a fine slower ball, but fundamentally lacks the necessary control and will be very lucky to go to the World Cup.

Monty Panesar 7
His stats didn’t quite do him justice, but Panesar bowled – and fielded - well throughout to make him an automatic one-day selection.

Chris Tremlett 2
Many were pleased at his call-up – but Tremlett showed too little aggression and spirit with the ball, while he fielded cumbersomely. Now goes right to the back of the fast-bowling queue.

Collingwood and Flintoff restore some English pride

England somehow managed to revive a seemingly doomed tour by winning four consecutive ODIs and, in the process, winning their first major foreign tournament for almost a decade. Here are ratings for all the batsmen, as well as the 'keeper, who took part in the CB Series.

Ian Bell 6/10
Bell was a constant throughout the ODIs at number three. He consistently made 20s and 30s but only made two 50s (though both were in victories over Australia). There were whispers over the rate at which Bell scored his runs, as well as his running between the wickets, but, especially with his fine fielding, he was a qualified success and is in possession of a spot for the World Cup.

Ravi Bopara 6
Bopara played only one game, in which he made useful cameos with bat and ball, and helped to reinvigorate a struggling side. But has he done enough to earn a place in the World Cup squad?

Paul Collingwood 9
For his first six games, Collingwood looked as if his spirit had been shaken irrevocably by the events of the Ashes. But, after missing a game through illness, Collingwood returned in magnificent style, scoring two match-winning centuries and a 70 to re-emerge as a vital member of England’s one-day batting line-up; his industry, experience, running between the wickets and penchant for hitting boundaries make him an indispensable facet of the side. There was more good news for Collingwood: he bowled very steadily throughout, taking eight wickets and going at only 4.7 an over, overtaking Dalrymple as England’s fifth bowler in the process; meanwhile, his fielding remained superlative.

Andrew Flintoff 8
Flintoff has taken enough knocks to last a career on this tour, but he remained defiant till the end and earned some reward when his improving captaincy led England to victory in he finals. He only scored one fifty, but generally batted effectively at six, scoring important runs in the finals. Flintoff’s bowling seemed on the verge of collapse halfway through the series but, by the series’ end, he was back to his talismanic best, leading a vibrant side by example.

Ed Joyce 6.5
Joyce began the series unsure of himself and in the middle-order; he ended it with three failures, and several injudicious shots, as opener. But in between he scored a confidence-boosting 66 against New Zealand, then a superb century against Australia. He is an inherently elegant batsman whose square-of-the-wicket play is particularly effective but is also happy to use his feet and hit over the top during the Powerplay overs.

Mal Loye 6
Fans called desperately for his selection, thinking his idiosyncratic style would make an instant impact. He was certainly not overawed, and his slog sweep certainly got people excited; but he too often got out to rash shots outside off-stump, particularly against the left-armers. After a terrible decision in the first final, Loye played with more selectivity in the second, without overly diminishing his flair. But a mix-up ended his innings on 45, leaving his World Cup still up in air. Yet he is deserving of a place – on the short boundaries in the Caribbean, his characteristic shot could wreak havoc. If he doesn’t, who else can satisfactorily exploit the Powerplays?

Paul Nixon 6
His selection continues to seem ridiculous, but his ‘keeping was good; his experience, gift of the gab and value to team spirit immeasurable. The selectors picked him for his lower-order batting – and, though he too often failed when batting late on, he lead England home in the innings that most mattered.

Kevin Pietersen 8
Only played the opening game, and scored a typically belligerent 82; despite Collingwood’s recent innings, he is by far England’s finest ODI batsman. But he will be extra keen to prove it is no more than an anomaly that finals victory came without him.

Andrew Strauss 3
Only Steve Harmison’s stock fell more in Australia; Strauss did not make more than 55 in 20 international innings. His game has disintegrated, and it must be hoped the selectors recognise that Joyce performs the Strauss role better than he does currently, while Loye, statistically only marginally more successful, provides a whole new option.

Michael Vaughan 5
Came back amidst huge hope that he would rekindle the spirit of ’05. Alas, the hopes proved ill-founded, although England won two of the three games he played in. His captaincy was as canny as ever, but on batting alone he was patently not worth selection.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

World Cup 2007

Third Umpire's World Cup 2007 coverage:

World Cup 2007: The bulk of our coverage on the main event

World Cup 2007 build-up: Preview articles on all facets of the tournament - including a ODI 11 picked before it.

World Cup history: Pieces on memorable old tournaments

The end of England’s ODI woes?

After more than three months in Australia, England finally have something to show for their endeavours. Victory in the CB Series patently does not come close to making amends for Ashes humiliation. But, especially after being the third-best side for the first two-thirds of this tournament, victory must be acknowledged as a remarkable achievement.

As a rule, Australia always win their triangular tournament. Australia have won eight of the last nine tournaments; the one they failed to lift, in 2001/02, came about after Stephen Fleming hatched a plot to allow South Africa to gain a bonus point and hence eliminate Australia despite winning four games. Of the eight finals they have won, six have ended 2-0 to the hosts. For a side as consistently poor in one-day cricket to beat them 2-0 after such a demoralising winter is testament to the resilience of their makeshift side.

Australia may point to an injury to their key all-rounder Andew Symonds. But what of England’s injuries to Kevin Pietersen, James Anderson, Jon Lewis, Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick and Ian Blackwell, at least three of whom are in England’s best one-day side?

Prior to their superb sequence over the last 10 days, England had won six ODIs out of 26. They had not won four consecutive ODIs for almost 10 years, since their triumph in Sharjah at the end of 1997; that was also the last time they won a meaningful one-day tournament away from home (any excluding Zimbabwe and Bangladesh).

More by luck than judgement, England have cobbled together a confident outfit just in time for the World Cup. They are still unsure of their best side – especially if they are adamant Michael Vaughan must captain – but Ed Joyce, Liam Plunkett and Monty Panesar have added new dimensions to the team, in addition to an enjoyment too seldom seen from England in one-day cricket.

Above all, though, England are indebted to Andrew Flintoff and Paul Collingwood: two men who have been constants throughout (missing just one international all tour), have stood firm amidst the humiliations and, especially in Collingwood’s case, have been rejuvenated at the last. With their spirit and skill complemented by the new trio and the returning Pietersen and Anderson, a semi-final spot – elusive for 15 years – looks eminently attainable at the World Cup.

Look out for England ratings and full analysis for the CB Series

Friday, 9 February 2007

Collingwood the Lion Hearted!

Courage, resilience, determination and grit, the characteristics of Paul Collingwood, often the unsung hero. But until the last two matches, our very own Colli had gone worryingly off the boil. A man who gave his all (as usual) in the first two Ashes Test matches, in an attempt to prove his class and worth to the side, against the biggest of opposition, he patently lost his way following the horrific defeat in Adelaide, in which he watched a fantastic knock of 206 resigned to the back burner, as Australia pulled off a wonderful triumph.

This end result, following hour after hour of toil in the heat, albeit on a flat track, would have been hard for anyone to take and it seemed to hit Collingwood particuarly hard. With the woeful performances in the ODI series that followed, Collingwood fell further and further out of form and a worrying loss of confidence had set in. However, given an illness enforced rest and more importantly, a do or die situation, Collingwood lifted his head for one final fight. And what a fight he has put up in the last couple of matches, taking wickets at a decent economy, making incredible, as well as regulation catches, running out key opposition players with spectacular direct hits and scoring two consecutive ODI hundreds, joining the likes of Gooch, Gower, Stewart, Trescothick, Knight and Flintoff in doing so, a select group indeed.

So Collingwood has allayed any doubts that he should start at the World Cup, no doubt in that familar role between the two power players, Pietersen and Flintoff, where he goes dutifully about his business in tucking away those ones and twos and recovering the situation when the you know what hits the fan. He may not have the class of Graham Thorpe, but he does have the character and same ability to nurdle, which will serve England well for the rest of his improving career.

At Test level he still has much to prove, with his offstump technique a concern, especially against the best of opposition, on pitches which are not quite as placid as Adelaide. At ODI level though he will rightfully line up as part of England's middle order in the West Indies. There may be better batsman out there, with higher technical skills, to take Collingwood's Test place come the English summer, but there is no-one better suited to England's ODI middle order than he, the man with the temperament, fight and poise to cope with the most pressurised of situations. He is a Lion Heart in the truest sense of the word.

Chris Pallett

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Can Broad catapult himself into England’s World Cup squad?

Watching Sajid Mahmood’s haphazard bowling in Australia has been particularly galling because of the sense that England have better options they were stubbornly ignoring out of misplaced faith in Mahmood’s enigmatic qualities. Chief amongst these was Stuart Broad, the beanpole who has convinced so many sagacious observers of his qualities.

Broad is only 20; he has played 25 first-class games and taken 80 wickets at 30, yet already he is talked about as some sort of fast-bowling saviour. Reasons for this extend far beyond nostalgic reminiscing of his father’s heroics down under 20 years ago – when Stuart had just been born.

Broad junior boasts an easy, rhythmical action and has the ability to bowl in the high 80s. This, aided by his 6ft7in frame and increasing accuracy makes him a lethal prospect at his best – he has already been compared, albeit rather unfairly, with Glenn McGrath.

If the notion of a gigantic quick revitalising England’s fortunes has an air of déjà vu about it, it is because, a month ago, fans were hoping that Hampshire’s Chris Tremlett could transform his undoubted talent onto the international stage. But Tremlett, who at 25 should be nearing his peak, has a worrying tendency to lose his rhythm under pressure.

His body language is disconcerting: Tremlett too often lacks aggression while his lumbering fielding exerts all the wrong vibes. In short, he seems devoid of the necessary mental toughness and single-mindedness to transform his highly encouraging county form into the international game. With figures of 1-152 in the CB Series, Tremlett will have been shifted well done the pecking order; will Shane Warne’s presence at Hampshire help to ensure his qualities are not put to waste?

Broad, in stark contrast, is clearly so enthusiastic about the prospect of playing international cricket. Against Pakistan in September he played five ODIs and, though he appeared a little raw, was never overawed. Broad took five wickets and impressed with his attitude and character – only to be left out of the ICC Champions Trophy squad in favour of Sajid Mahmood.

So many players seem to treat international games with ambivalence. Broad, however, relishes the contest; upon being selected, he spoke of being “fully prepared and excited”. He also fits Duncan Fletcher’s idea of being a multi-dimensional cricketer: he possesses a solid technique and many shots, as he showed in scoring a classy 54* for England A against Pakistan last summer. Already, he has publicly talked of targeting the problematic number eight position in the Test team.

That’s the good news. The bad news is he is, it likely to be overlooked for Mahmood in the first final. This would be another disappointing selectorial decision: Broad has all the makings of an international player – a repeatable action, controlled aggression and enthusiasm – and he is patently a better option than both Mahmood and Tremlett for the Caribbean.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

England beginning to shape up their ODI act

Notoriously, England are at their most dangerous, particularly away from home, when universally written off. While their endeavours in winning consecutive one-dayers to qualify for the CB Series finals are patently nothing in comparison to victories at Bridgetown in ’94 or Melbourne in ’98, they do suggest England can attain World Cup respectability – elusive for 15 years – and progress to the semi-finals.

If England’s win against Australia was emphatic, their 14-run victory over New Zealand came about in spite of palpable limitations. England fought back very creditably against a competent New Zealand side in the latter stages of both innings; but, yet again, they were mediocre in the opening stages of these – and Australia would not allow England to escape.

After 13.3 overs, England reached a paltry 52-3; Mal Loye only averages 19 but his ability to score quick runs was missed. And, when they attempted to defend their 270-7, England were let down by their young bowlers Liam Plunkett and Sajid Mahmood to the extent that New Zealand reached 81-0 off 13 overs. Yet to win ultimately relatively comfortably against a one-day side as well-acquainted with the form of the game as New Zealand despite such faults certainly bodes well for the near future – when England will have Kevin Pietersen (who may even be called up for the finals), James Anderson and Jon Lewis at their disposal.

Where the victory over Australia was particularly satisfying for the triumph of youth – Ed Joyce, Plunkett and, to a lesser extent, Ian Bell and Sajid Mahmood – this was so gratifying because two of England’s experienced players, seemingly broken after a winter of near-relentless maulings, thrived.

Andrew Strauss’ 55 from number four suggested he is at ease batting lower down the order; remarkably, it was his top international score in 18 innings on tour. But, though this innings has almost certainly secured a World Cup berth, one would expect Kevin Pietersen to return for him come the World Cup.

Alternatively, and more adventurously, England could bring Pietersen in for Jamie Dalrymple. Pietersen’s idiosyncratic brand of dominating could be utilised at four, Strauss deployed at five, Andrew Flintoff at six and Collingwood, slightly harshly, at seven. It would be ridiculous for the selectors to think that Collingwood’s 106 meant he could not bat at seven; rather, they should realise that his bowling is currently more reliable than Dalrymple’s, and hence it would be futile to play Dalrymple, despite a few useful lower-order knocks, ahead of a genuine batsman: be it Strauss or, as I would prefer, Loye. (He would open; one of Michael Vaughan or Bell would move down to five.)

Collingwood’s century was a lesson in middle-order ODI batting. Towards the end of the innings, he was able to hit the boundary; but, in the main, his innings revolved around the use of his bottom-hand to steer the ball into gaps for ones and twos. Collingwood’s innings was wonderfully well paced and displayed precisely the sort of coherent thinking their one-day batting is too frequently bereft of. After a terrible start to the one-day tournament, his innings displayed his characteristic mental strength. His bowling, meanwhile, was savvy and subtle; it was telling that, yet again, he was trusted with the ball ahead of Dalrymple (ostensibly the fifth bowler) – and he delivered, bowling his 10 overs for just 46 while dismissing Styris and Vettori.

Andrew Flintoff, after a few games off the boil, returned to near his best; Plunkett displayed mental toughness and skill to take 3-60 after his first four overs had gone for 30, with him bowling a barrage of wides. Yet his stock has rightly risen after several encouraging bowling performances, while he is also an increasingly adept hitter at number nine.

So England, more by luck than judgment, have found themselves in the CB finals. The selectors will soon face tricky calls on both Dalrymple and the increasingly ridiculous Paul Nixon, neither of whom are in England’s best one-day 11. Michael Vaughan, out first ball, would not be either; but his captaincy is consistently so exemplary that he is still able to justify his selection – the upcoming games against Australia provide him with the ideal opportunity to return to form. Whatever their faults, England must be praised for displayed such mental resilience to, somehow, reach the finals – without their best batsman and second best one-day bowler.

Saturday, 3 February 2007

The Future’s Bright!

Much was rightfully made of Ed Joyce’s superb maiden international century in the last One Day International. However, we also witnessed the emergence and revival of another two potential stars. Ravinder Bopara showed in his brief innings that he could be the perfect replacement for Paul Collingwood, who has patently lost his way recently. His pace between the wickets is excellent, much to Jamie Dalrymple’s surprise it seemed! He also showed that he has the ability to find a gap in the field as well as to turn ones into twos. These are of course the key attributes of a great finisher and Collingwood has not finished a game for England for a very long time indeed. In the field Bopara’s pace was a bonus and he has the ability to become one of England’s best fielders. Most welcome of all though was Bopara’s nippy bowling. Described as a medium pacer, Bopara was regularly hitting 80mph in his brief stint, during which he surprised Michael Hussey with a bit of pace and swing. This bodes especially well for England’s future, if Bopara could be developed into a bowler who could consistently bowl ten overs.

Should he develop into more of an all rounder, then he would of course join Andrew Flintoff and also Liam Plunkett, who has once again shown an impressive ability to hold a bat and score quick important runs. His bowling also seems to have returned to the promise of last winter, when he established himself in the England team. After injury though it has taken him a while to break back into the side, but now that he has, he looks as if he wants to stay and he seems fit, which is not something I was expecting, following the slow returns of Ashley Giles and James Anderson.

Monty Panesar and James Anderson would also both feature in England’s best one day side. There does however remain one important question. Jamie Dalrymple has not been bowling and when he has, has not been bowling particularly effectively. Does Dalrymple therefore belong in England’s best eleven as a specialist batsman? There are undoubtedly better players out there than Dalrymple when it comes to batting, Owais Shah one of the most obvious candidates. But Dalrymple does bring with him a lot of fight and grit and he has shown on numerous occasions, including yesterday, an impressive ability to come in when England are on top, a rare occurrence, and take the game forward, acting as another finisher. He is also a superb fielder and does offer the spin option should it be required. If he is not going to bowl regularly though it must bring his selection into question. Perhaps he and Bopara could share ten overs at the World Cup.

Fast forward to the World Cup and it would seem as though Flintoff, Plunkett, Panesar and Anderson are going to be the main bowlers, possibly backed up by another seamer at times, probably Jon Lewis, or the part time bowling of Dalrymple, Bopara and Collingwood. Ed Joyce seems to have cemented his place at the top of the order, although the same can not yet be said for Mal Loye who will likely be replaced by Michael Vaughan should the England skipper be able to maintain his fitness. Ian Bell has supposedly made number three his own, though he needs to start converting his 50’s. Pietersen is the man at four, who can be brought up to three if required. Flintoff is no doubt lurking at five or six, with the lower order comprising of Dalrymple (extra seamer), Nixon, Plunkett, Panesar and Anderson.

That would leave just one place in the side for Strauss, Collingwood or Bopara, at number five or six. Collingwood currently holds the role but I would be disappointed if Bopara did not get a chance to impress there again against New Zealand, with the veteran so out of form. Few would argue that Strauss should bat so low and so his best bet is to make a top four spot his own once more, but that would mean displacing a top order player, of whom Joyce was the most likely until his heroics. England currently have more top order players than places though, which is why Strauss is so at risk, with Vaughan and Pietersen certain to return in the top four for the World Cup and Bell and Joyce playing in such assured fashion.

Chris Pallett