Monday, 11 August 2008

Progress for England, at last?

Here are the series ratings for England's 2-1 defeat to South Africa - a potentially seminal one, as it saw King Kev take the reigns.

Alastair Cook 7
Did better than many had expected, with a half-century in each game and an average of 47.00. After starting so well he has, however, developed conversion problems but overall this was an impressive enough series.

Andrew Strauss 4
The 'new Strauss' who scored two hundreds against New Zealand seems, alas, to have been a false dawn. Going back to the end of the 2005 Ashes, he averages under 36 - 32 if the Kiwis are discounted. It would have been even less had Morkel not overstepped when he had four in the final innings of the series. Good sides have worked out where to stem his flow of runs, and now may be the time for Rob Key.

Michael Vaughan 3
A grim final series as captain. His best chance of returning may be as opener alongside Cook - providing his reactions have not deteriorated, as Geoff Boycott fears. But he is supremely self-confident and, at 33, has a fair chance of playing for England again.

Kevin Pietersen 9
Two centuries, a 94 and an impressive winning start as captain: there is little to complain about. Yes, his impetuosity got the better of him and there is scope for him to improve; but if he continues to average 60 against sides of South Africa's calibre, greatness is assured.

Ian Bell 7
A brilliant 199 - under pressure - at Lord's was followed by a reversal to the Bell we are so accustomed to, invariably stylish but equally flaky. Now granted a chance to bat at number three, he has a chance to prove how good he is.

Paul Collingwood 8
His recall for the third Test seemed to epitomise all that was wrong with the England set-up: averaging under 10 in first-class cricket this season, his selection - on the back of little more than being a "great bloke" - embodied loyalty gone too far. But his second-innings 135 constituted a phenomenal effort of willpower and commendable positivity, and his place is relatively secure once more.

Andrew Flintoff 7
Super Freddie? Not quite. But he bowled far, far better than a series average of 36 suggests, cementing his reputation as one of the most luckless bowlers around; his amazing spell to Jacques Kallis at Edgbaston will live long in the memory. The batting was bereft of a fifty, but better than his Lancashire form this season suggested.

Tim Ambrose 3
A miserable series, in which he kept pretty well and batted with admirable determination. But he is far too reliant upon the cut to thrive as a Test-match batsman. When England line-up in India, he will surely not feature.

Stuart Broad 6
Looked jaded and should not have played in the second Test. But he batted superbly, displaying a wide range of shots and solid technique, showing he could soon be a Test number seven. On his return, the batting hype got to him as he eeked out a timid 36-ball one, but he claimed five cheap wickets to reaffirm his all-round promise.

Ryan Sidebottom 5
A series too far? Not necesserily, for Sidebottom has shown tremendous spirit and no little skill since his return. But his recall for Edgbaston was sheer folly; as the speed-gun showed, he was not fully fit. Had Harmison played, Vaughan may still be England captain - but that is the way of cricket.

Monty Panesar 5
Improved his career average so it is hard to be too critical. But his bowling lack variety and the joie de vivre that characterised his start in international cricket. The sheer hopelessness of his batting, running and fielding may be undermining his confidence. Graeme Swann may just be a tempting option - but Panesar will rightly start the Test series in India.

James Anderson 7
Went missing when it mattered most, going for nearly five-an-over on the fourth day at Edgbaston. But the improvement is palpable. The economy was less than three for the series as a whole; ever-threatening with the swinging ball, his control with the non-swinging one has improved admirably. So indeed, has his batting, while has there ever been a better fast-bowling fielder? Doubts linger, but Anderson has to be applauded and clearly possesses an exemplary attitude.

Darren Pattinson 4
Making his debut in the trickiest of circumstances, Pattinson produced a wholehearted effort and did not disgrace himself. But lacking either pace, reverse-swing or any great subtleties, he may not add to his solitary cap.

Steve Harmison 7
One should not read too much into his comeback in a dead rubber, but he showed the benefits garnered from being in-rhythm and high on confidence, claiming four top-order wickets. England are patently a much stronger side with Harmison at his best; it is just a question of trying to coax it out of him. More of his Oval performance, though, and he will be an automatic pick once more.

The Verdict
While England ostensibly only lost because of Graeme Smith's lucky escapes at Edgbaston, South Africa were the better side and deserved their victory. England will be worried that no bowler averaged under 30 - but no one on either side managed to average under 29.50. In reality, the batting, over-dependent upon Pietersen and with the top three failing to hit even an 80 all series, cost England the series. But Flintoff's return, the impressive showings of Harmison and Anderson, and Pietersen's bright start to captaincy suggest, finally, England may be progressing.


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Penguinissimo said...

Interesting ratings.

I don't know what Bell did to deserve a 7. He scored 199 on a very flat track at Lord's, but other than that his contributions over the whole summer were 16, 8, 21*, 0, 31, 4, 50, 20, 24 and 4.

What has he done to make himself worthy of the key no. 3 spot?

I would like to see Vaughan (or failing that, Rob Key) open instead of Strauss, and Shah at 3 instead of Bell.

Tim said...

Penguissimo - ratings were just for these 4 Tests. That 199 was made coming in at 117/3, while he also made some other useful (if too fleeting) contributions, so I stand by the 7, though I can see where you're coming from.

I think he has the variety of shots and the technique to make a very good number three. I am unconvinced about Shah's ability to bat there - though I'd still like to see him in, at five or six.

Penguinissimo said...

Tim - fair enough. I do feel like I'm repeating a bit of a cliche now, but I am getting pretty frustrated with Bell.

He has been a fixture in the England side for the best part of four years, so surely he's past the probationary period of "has all the shots and talent to be very good". He should be very good now, and the fact that he hasn't really moved on much in the last 18 months is be a big concern for me.

Chrispy said...

I have to say I am confused with why Bell continually takes the flak that he does. Yes he has the ability to do better, but and sorry to disagree with one of your ratings here Tim, he scored 199 to draw England a test, without that they would have lost and he scored a fifty. Collingwood scored 134 in a losing cause, which is becoming a regular occurence (only once has a colli hundred contributed to victory) and a fifty. I don't think he deserves an 8 and to be crowned second best England player in the series (7). I don't think Shah or Collingwood are better than Bell and neither are technically sound enough against a new ball to bat three or maybe even four in Test cricket. Bell and KP are the two men for the job in either order.

Strauss was pretty awful and not getting the captaincy again will probably not help. Cook hasn't scored a hundred and whatever you say about averages, if you score 60 in every match you can still lose them all, whereas you get a big hundred and you are not going to lose too often. Vaughan needs a long period in county cricket ala Harmi before he is considered again. I would go for Rob Key for the moment for Strauss.

Pietersen was the best player again, Flintoff bowled well and batted ok on the occasion that he was left stranded by two stupid run outs. Ambrose is not the man plain and simple. Both Chris Read and James Foster could average more than he and are better glovemen. Read's ICL involvement rules him out so it's either Foster with a four man attack, or Prior with five.

As for the bowlers, Sid is not fit, Broad was jaded but showed he is still key in a five man attack. Anderson (8) was the best bowler in my opinion and the most improved. Harmi was very good on return as expected, but the likelyhood of him performing as well in India is dubious, although his decision to play South African domestic cricket again to get into rythm is very positive. Will he get over the home sickness though? And will he be in form for the firstb home test series? He must bowl regularly and sort out his head away from home before he can be considered a fixture again. I see Jones i injured again though and looks far away yet again.

Finally, Monty, not a very good series really and other than the bowling he offeres nothing else. Monty "does a job" according to KP, worrying words, so did Gilo. you get the feeling that disappointment in India will see a chance given to Swanny who has done very well in CC this year.

Penguinissimo said...

Chrispy - the reason that I and others get so down on Bell is that he never delivers consistently. Never has done for the Test side.

Let's look at his recent record:

vs SA: 199, 31, 4, 50, 20, 24 and 4

The 199 came in a match where 6 other players scored hundreds, and the game was a dead duck draw on a superb batting track.

When he got out for 50, he was the last full batsman there and his dismissal condemned us to a massively sub-par score - look at what an extra 70 runs with Flintoff could have done in the context of the game. He let the pressure get to him and underperformed when we needed him most.

vs NZ (home): 16, 8, 21*, 0

Nuff said.

vs NZ (away): 25, 54*, 11, 41, 9, 110

The 54* was a pretty knock with no pressure on in a totally lost cause.

The 110 was a good knock, but as junior partner to Strauss, and half of those runs were made once NZ were effectively out of the game.

It may sound like I'm running him down a bit, but can you point me to a single knock he's played where we have won or saved a game as a result?

Like Ambrose's 102 in Wellington, the only 3-figure score that game.

Or KP's 129 in Napier, which was over half our runs that innings.

Or Vaughan's 106 at Lord's, which was the only reason we were able to post a lead after collapsing from 121-0 to 208-6.

OR KP's 115 in the deciding Test at Trent Bridge, which rescued us from 86-5 and was again the only century in the entire match?

I cannot summon to mind a single one where Bell has put his hand up in a tough spot and been the only beacon of light in the darkness.

Equally, since the Ashes, he has made only 3 centuries, and only converts 27% of fifties into 100s (KP converts 80%). If you take out WI and NZ, that figure falls to 1 with a conversion rate of just 14% (KP's is still 80%).

Now he's not the only one to have conversion problems, but we've just promoted this guy to number 3, to the place where you need big hundreds to come from.

I can't shake the impression that Bell is a fair-weather player. There ain't going to be much fair weather against India or the Aussies. So I'd rather have a gritty, mentally tough but unorthodox player like Shah there rather than someone who goes missing when the pressure's on.

Penguinissimo said...

Sorry, just one last point.

I would bracket Bell with two other great batsmen, Hick and Ramprakash. I think the comparisons there are a bit too close for comfort.

Chrispy said...

If you are to drop Bell then Ambrose, Collingwood, Cook and Strauss all need to go as well and before him and you are pretty much saying that Flintoff can't bat in the top 6.

Shah has not got the technique for number three in test cricket I am afraid. He made runs on a slow low spinning pitch in India, where his wristy manipulation of the ball against spinners came into play. However, at Lords against the less than mediocre pace attack of the Windies he made 6 and 4, both times caught behind. The new ball is his problem. He would need to bat at 5/6. When he batted 3 in the ODI side he also failed. Also we know Collingwood would not cope at 3. Furthermore Shah is averaging 37.0 playing at 3 in CC Div 2 compared to Bell's 72.66 and 47.42 vs SA. 37.00 against the attacks down there is not good.

Against SA Strauss averaged 25.71, Ambrose 16.16, Flintoff 28.25, Cook 47.0. Collingwood only averaged more courtesy of a not out. Vaughan averaged 8.0. It was not Bell who lost us the series and he was far from the worst performer. Cook has 1 hundred in his last 16 Test Matches, none in his last 10 Test matches. His conversion rate is 50%, very near Bells. Furthermore when he has reached a hundred he has not once gone on to make a big one. 50's don't win or draw games, the regular criticism of Bell.

From the 06/07 ashes until his career saving 177 in NZ, Strauss averaged 25.82. In fact take out 3 matches good matches vs NZ where he had 2 100's and 2 50's and his average of 25 looks consistent does it not?

Of Colli's 6 hundreds only 1 has been in a winning cause. Meanwhile, everyone is well aware of his struggles until his 135.

I'll stand by the point (as Tim has already said) that Bell came in under pressure at 110-3. Take away his 199 and England lose that game. I don't think the fiddly 40's and 60's from the likes of Strauss and Cook got us a result there.

To compare any batsman to Pietersen is unfair furthermore. He is a very rare talent and our best player for a good reason. He is quite exceptional. To expect every other batsman to equal or better him and his conversion is hopeful to say the least.

Bell's 110 at Napier was important for me. Without it Strauss wouldn't have made 177 and England's total would have been far less and NZ may well have won instead.

Bell's 115 vs Pakistan in Faisalbad was key to saving the game and matching Pakistan's first innings total.

Just because a player isn't the only one in the team to score a hundred in each innings does not at all mean that his runs are not valuable and that he does not contribute to victory or staving off defeat. If England want to be successful then England need more than one player to score a hundred and partnerships to be created. Bell forms good partnerships, especially with KP.

If Hick and Ramps had averaged in the 40's and had 199's to their names, their international careers would have been much longer!

Richard Lake said...

I agree with a lot of what Chrispy says about Bell. And while Lords turned out to be as flat as a pancake, it seemed to be doing enough for England to lose three wickets for four runs when Bell came out to bat and for SA to have to follow on. Without Bell's 199, England would have lost the first test. With it, we had a chance to win the match.

I'm not sure we're back to the pre-NZ Strauss either Tim. The scores haven't been great, but he's looked much more assured this summer than last. There is still something to work on, but I'd expect him to start the India series.

The main worry in the team, as you've picked up, is the wicket-keeper. Ambrose has suffered because his One Day form wasn't up to the job. However, if he's batting 7 or 8, then there are better keepers. If we need the keeper to bat 6, we have to play Prior.

It was a close series, with England's losing of the plot at Headingly being the decisive factor as it undermined the first half of the Edgebaston match. It'll be interesting to see how SA get on against Australia now.

Penguinissimo said...

Chrispy - interesting to hear the case for Bell put so forcefully. I still disagree, but that's what makes horse races, isn't it?

Your points on Shah are also interesting, and make me doubt afresh whether or not he is the replacement. My only counter-argument is that Shah seems to have the temprament to succeed at the highest level, and you can't teach that. He also wouldn't be the first to be average for his county and rise to the occasion for his country. But I can see the gamble there.

Ravi Bopara, then, maybe - but I think it's still a season to early for him.

I am beginning to see a case for KP batting at 3 in Tests too - he has effectively been doing so for most of the summer, given that Vaughan's form has meant we haven't had many decent third wicket partnerships.

I agree that if you can make a case for Bell going, you can make a case for dropping everyone else.

I would be perfectly content to see Strauss go, with either Vaughan being given a chance to have a swansong as a specialist opener or Key having a last shot at Test cricket.

I think Cook is worth sticking with. I know he has the conversion woes just as badly as Bell, but those who know his batting have been saying all summer that he is struggling with himself and his game. When he comes good he could well have been tempered into a really good international cricketer. Plus he's scoring faster than he used to, which is a positive sign.

I can see the case for dropping Colly on his macro performances over the last 18 months, but his superb century and then 61 have secured his place for a while. I genuinely hope he keeps it.

There is no doubt that Flintoff isn't good enough to be a Test six, but assuming we pick Prior next time round we'll have three Test sevens coming in at 6, 7 and 8 - good old English tactic, reminds me of the days of Mark Ealham. It's the only way to have the five bowlers we need, though.

If it was purely down to me, I would pick the following top order for the first Test in India:


What will actually happen is that Strauss and Bell will remain in place. They will do just enough against India to keep their places; secure their places for the Ashes by feasting on the West Indies and whatever second string Sri Lankan team we play; and then get crucified in the Ashes.

If the Ashes weren't coming up soon, the new KP era would be the perfect time to shake up the batting. As it is, we'll stick with the same almost-just-about-good-enough guys until the urn is gone for another 2 years.

Chrispy said...

I agree with possibly playing Kp at 3 (with Bell at 4!). I think it could be risky, but also brilliant. His style of leadership and batting is very much like Ricky Ponting. He will lead by example and go on the attack, attempting to set the tone and put his team on top. Prior would have to play with five bowlers I'd say like you, although Foster plays spin quite well and would be an interesting pick if batting at 7/8. I don't think Vaughan is going to be ready for India but you never know. Personally I think he is out of until next summer or possibly after the ashes, if he comes back. Rob Key for Strauss would be my move for now, with Shah (who is right at home pitch wise on the sub-continent) coming in for Collingwood in India. It of course will not happen though. I would definitely keep Bell for his good use of the feet against spinner, something England will need if they are not to get bogged down in India.

Pietersen (c)
Prior (wk)

12th man: Swann

Tim said...

Interesting debate re: Bell here guys! I see where you're both coming from, but if I was given a fiver to bet on top England runscorer in India, and told I couldn't put it on KP, I would put it on Bell with barely a moment's hesitation!

Penguissimo - drop me an email if you fancy contributing (as all your Bell comments could easily constitute an article!)


Penguinissimo said...

Tim - I'd love to, but I can't find your email address!

Tim said...

Penguissimo - sorry, it's