Wednesday, 29 April 2009

A new era

Anyone doubting whether Andy Flower really would provide a fresh start need only look at his first Test squad.

It is a squad which has scant regard for reputations and says form is everything. Michael Vaughan, Ian Bell and Steve Harmison will not be done any harm playing more county cricket to prove they deserve to play in the Ashes.

Of all those omitted, the one for whom prospects look bleakest is surely Owais Shah. Given his long-awaited chance in the West Indies on some of the most batsmen-friendly pitches you're ever likely to find, he was undone by a penchant for suicidal runs and his own cramp. The selectors seem to have decided he is neither fit enough nor calm enough for the demands of Test cricket. It is a hsrah call, certainly: he is a man who should have been given his chance much, much earlier so to jettison him after three bad Tests is ruthless. Ultimately, he was probably unfortunate that it was the number three vacancy that he was given his opporunity in; Shah's brand of wristiness and quality against spin is such that he could have become a fixture at five, say.

So Ravi Bopara will have the opporunity to solve England's perennial troubles at number three. He is a man high on confidence, having scored a century in his only Test of the winter and, in stark contrast to the other Englishmen (bar Dimitri Mascarenhas) has made a positive impression in the IPL. Has he got the technique and experience to bat at three, however? Bopara has been nothing more than mediocre during his spell as an opener for England in ODIs. It is asking a lot of him to score centuries at three in the Ashes - the feeling persists that Andy Flower could do a lot worse than set Kevin Pietersen the new challenge of leading the way from number three.

Graham Onions and Tim Bresnan have both been on the periphery of the England set-up for a few years and, given their excellent starts to the season, it makes sense to give them an opportunity. The new England have said a lot by who they have selected; they have probably said even more by who they have left out.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Championship Review - Week 2

A full round of matches with little interference from the weather and wicketkeepers go run crazy.

Division 1
Starting with my two tips for relegation as Lancashire hosted Sussex. The visitors were soon struggling, despite 90 for Ed Joyce as James Anderson took 6 wickets to restrict them to 289. Lancs then recovered somewhat from a poor start to their innings, with Mark Chilton, now in the middle order, getting 89, to reach 299; Luke Wright taking five wickets. Anderson and Gary Keedy then took five wickets a piece as Sussex crumbled to 167, leaving Lancs requiring 158 to win, which they made for the loss of two wickets, Ashwell Prince contributing an unbeaten 91. A winning start for new Lancs coach Peter Moores against his old club.

At Trent Bridge, Nottinghamshire batted first against Worcestershire, racking up 500, with Chris Read making a ton and Samit Patel and Adam Voges both getting into the 90s. Worcester missed avoiding the follow on by 2 runs as they made 354. Steve Davies matched Read’s hundred, but Stuart Broad’s five wickets did the damage. Second time round Worcester weren’t as successful, making just 146 to lose by an innings and 6 runs.

At the Riverside, Durham began the defence of their title against Yorkshire and were soon in trouble at 129 for 5, until Ian Blackwell and Phil Mustard both scored 90s to get the home side to 362. Yorkshire’s innings went to other way, collapsing from 247 for 4 to 272 all out with Steve Harmison taking four wickets. A century from Mike DiVenuto then helped to extend Durham’s lead to 393 as they declared on 303 for 5. The early loss of Jacques Rudolph meant that chasing the target was never a viable option and Yorkshire batted out for the draw, finishing on 193 for 7, Graham Onions taking five of the wickets.

Finally, Hampshire visited Warwickshire and were indebted to an unbeaten ton from Nic Pothas as they reached 379. At 120 for 4, the Bears were struggling. However, a stand of 335 between Jim Troughton (223) and Tim Ambrose (153), with Rikki Clarke then scoring a rapid 112 took Warwicks to 630 for 8. However, they were then not able to bowl Hants out for a second time, as the visitors finished on 301 for 6, Pothas making an unbeaten 65.

Division 2
Northamptonshire made 355 as they visited Kent, with Nicky Boje falling two runs short of his ton. Kent’s reply of 417 was based around tons for Geraint Jones and Martin van Jaarsveld. Steven Peters then made a ton for Northants as they reached 348 for 7 as the game petered out into a draw.

Ryan ten Doeschate took five wickets as Essex restricted Gloucestershire to 155. However, Essex were only good for a small first innings lead as they were bowled out for 177. Gloucester then did worse second time round, making 119, leaving Essex the task of scoring 99 to win, which they did for the loss of just three wickets.

Graham Wagg took six wickets as Surrey were skittled for just 131 away to Derbyshire. Pedro Collins then took 5-fer as Derby made 274 in reply, Greg Smith making an unbeaten 94. Scott Newman’s ton led Surrey to a more substantial total second time round, making 360 and leaving Derby needing 218 to win. They reached this for the loss of five wickets and are the early pacesetters in Division 2.

Finally this week to Lords where Marks Cosgrove and Wallace both hit tons as Glamorgan made 505. Australian opener Philip Hughes then hit a ton for Middlesex as the home side declared on 414 for 8. Jamie Dalrymple then hit an unbeaten 112 on his old home ground as Glamorgan declared on 278 for 8. However, despite an early wobble, the pitch was too good to force a result and Middlesex finished on 94 for 3 and the game was drawn

England Player Watch
From all accounts Michael Vaughan got a rough decision to end on 24 in his first innings and made a defensive 20 as Yorkshire batted out for a draw. Ian Bell’s stellar start to the season hit a stumble as he made 29. Rob Key made 2 for Kent.

On the wicketkeeping front there were tons for Steven Davies, Chris Read, Tim Ambrose, Geraint Jones, Mark Wallace and Nic Pothas, while Phil Mustard made 95. Matt Prior made just 4 in two innings but remains the man in possession. . That was four more than James Foster managed, who remains the man most likely to challenge Prior for the keeping spot.

Eleven wickets for James Anderson as Lancs beat Sussex, for whom Luke Wright took a 5-fer. Saj Mahmood went wicketless, though. Stuart Broad also took a 5-fer and seven wickets in the match to go with a quick-fire 60 while batting. Graeme Swann also picked up five wickets in the match. Steve Harmison took five of the Yorkshire wickets to fall, including that of Michael Vaughan (possibly fortuitously). His Durham colleague Graham Onions took a 5-fer as they pressed for victory, while Matthew Hoggard picked up six wickets, Adil Rashid four and Tim Bresnan 3 to go with his 60 runs in the match. Monty Panesar picked up a couple of wickets against Kent.

Player of the Week
Last week this was straight forward. It’s not this week. The award almost went to wicketkeepers in general, who seemed to dominate the scoring this week. Jim Troughton also deserves a mention for his double century as does Stuart Broad for his all round performance. However, this week’s Player of the Week is Broad’s new ball partner for England, with eleven wickets as Lancs beat Sussex, James Anderson

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Rain Falls on the Pitch

The second IPL tournament has begin in South Africa amid much fanfare but thus far the cricket hasn’t delivered. A major issue has been the weather. Many of the matches have been affected by weather which has contributed to a stop-start feel. Much of the impact of the IPL and its attractiveness is going to be reduced if rain continues to interfere to the degree which it has to date.

Each side plays 14 games so it is still early days. It appears as though some teams are suffering from the lack of key personnel. Last year the Kings XI Punjab made it all the way to the semi-finals largely on the bat of Shaun Marsh. Currently Marsh is with the Australian team and the Kings have dropped their first two games.

On the other hand, the Mumbai Indians have started brightly with win in their opening two matches.

Matthew Hayden is playing for Chennai and has also started well. He has scored 109 runs in his first two innings. Will the Australians regret turning their back on him when it comes to the Ashes 2009. When it comes to Ashes cricket you need big-time performers and there is no bigger performer than Hayden.

The South African conditions don’t appear to be conducive to batting and the scores are lower than what was witnessed last year in India. There are significantly less boundaries and sixes being scored. This is a good thing for bowlers who have been rendered to be nothing more than bowling machines in the Twenty20 game. Then again it could be that bowlers have adapted and worked out how to bowl more tightly in Twenty20 cricket. Captains have worked out better field settings for their bowlers and this is making it a far more even contest between bat and ball.

Spin has been doing well with Daniel Vettori and Muttiah Muralitharan winning man of the match award for outstanding bowling performances.

As was the case last year, it will be interesting to see how the teams fare as players exit and enter the tournament due to their international commitments happening or coming to an end.

David Wiseman is a sports journalist, who writes about cricket and tennis for Betfair Australia. He is particularly looking forward to the Ashes, and is keeping himself occupied with horse racing form until it begins.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

2009 County preview - Essex

Essex have gained a reputation as the country’s One Day specialists. This is due as much to their under-achievement in the County Championship as their expertise in coloured clothing, and one suspects the New Writtle Street hierarchy would like to see promotion to Division one just as much as they would more limited overs silverware.

The 2008 Friends Provident and Pro 40 Division Two winners, who also reached the Twenty20 Cup semi finals, are adopting well-used tactics in their bid to return to the top flight for the first time since 2003.

Essex like to blend experienced batsmen (Jason Gallian and Matt Walker) with youth (Varun Chopra, Jaik Mickleburgh and Tom Westley) and this could finally be the year that this formula pays dividends, as Chopra will finally make his breakthrough this season. Skipper Mark Pettini, keeper James Foster and talisman Ryan ten Doeschate can be relied upon for middle order runs.

The bowling department lacks penetration in four day cricket and doubts remain as to whether there is enough support for the miserly David Masters and Danish Kaneria, who is perhaps the most dangerous bowler in the second tier. His prospective availability for the whole campaign could be crucial.

Pacemen Maurice Chambers and Mervyn Westfield have been on the scene for a while and need to step-up their progression this term.

The Chelmsford outfit, again bolstered by the presence of experienced specialist Grant Flower, will surely again be in the shake-up for limited overs honours, although Ravi Bopara, Graham Napier and perhaps Foster could, like Alastair Cook, be absent for long periods due to IPL and England commitments.

Cricket Predictions:

County Championship Div Two: 3rd
Friends Provident Trophy: Semi finalists
Pro 40 Div One: Winners
Twenty20 Cup: Quarter finalists

Monday, 20 April 2009

Championship Review - Week 1

Here we go again then. The Predictions have been made and even though there’s barely a dent in the Easter Egg pile, the County season is off and running again. All the usual features, including the weather making a mess of everything.

Division 1
Starting at the Rose Bowl where Hampshire entertained newly promoted Worcestershire, who surprisingly decided to bat first. This back fired as they made just 132 in damp conditions, with new boy Dominic Cork taking 4 wickets. Hants needed 66 from Liam Dawson to establish a first innings lead, totalling 216. Worcester managed 189 second time round, Vikram Solanki top scoring with 73. This left Hants needing 107 to win, which they managed for the loss of 3 wickets to put them top of the table.

The other promoted team, Warwickshire, batted first on a typical Taunton wicket, making 500, with Ian Bell getting the first Championship century of the season. This was then dwarfed by Somerset making 672 for 4 declared, with James Hildreth scoring an unbeaten 303, Craig Kieswetter making an unbeaten 150 as the pair made an unbroken stand of 218. Warwicks reached safety with 108 for 1 as the game drew to a close. In a microcosm, this could be the problem this season for both teams as the batting so dominates the bowling.

Division 2
My tips for promotion, Essex, put Derbyshire into bat at Chelmsford and restricted the visitors to 329, with only the promising Dan Redfern making fifty. However, this was enough for a comfortable first innings lead as Essex managed just 194, Ian Hunter taking a 5-fer. Derby then declared on 179 for 6 as they tried to force a result despite the damp weather. However, Essex batted the game out making 120 for 3.

Leicestershire also regretted their decision to put the opposition in as Northamptonshire made 387, with Andrew Hall making an unbeaten 124. Leicester’s 184 left them needing to follow-on and at 104 for 4, they were struggling. However, Boata Dippenaar and Paul Nixon saw Leicester to safety in another rain affected match.

Rain was also a problem at the Oval where Gloucestershire’s 333 was a disappointment, given that they were 247 for 2 at one stage. However, it was plenty for a first innings lead as Surrey made just 160. Following on, the home team were 120 for 2 as the game finished, with nearly two days lost to bad weather.

England Player Watch
A section based on who I think is or should be in contention for England. If you think I’ve missed someone, let me know!

Ian Bell was sent back to county cricket to make runs and although it was at Taunton, his 173 will keep him at the forefront of the number 3 debate. James Hildreth may also have played himself into England Lions contention. James Foster top scored for Essex with 40, as well as taking 8 catches in the match to apply pressure to Matt Prior.

Kabir Ali is looking to restart his international career but was expensive in the low scoring game with Hants, despite his three wickets. Chris Tremlett also took three wickets, but Dom Cork took the headlines on the bowling front for Hants. Monty Panesar bowled tidily but was wicketless in seamer friendly conditions.

Player of the Week
Not many games this week, and one outstanding candidate. For an unbeaten triple century, the first Player of the Week is James Hildreth.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

2009 Season Preview: Middlesex

by Benjamin Fyffe

2008 in a nutshell
A solid if not spectacular season in the Championship for Middlesex, with the county finishing third in the second division, just outside the two promotion spots. One day cricket went less well as the county was relegated from division one of the Pro40, not that anyone seems to really care about that anymore. The really fantastic thing about last season for Middlesex was indeed their triumph in the Twenty20 cup and, despite the Stanford Super Series battering that followed, it certainly gave the players of the county a considerable financial boost.

2008 top performers
Eoin Morgan performed magnificently with the bat last season to finish with a first class average of over 50, higher than team mate Owais Shah. Tim Murtagh was also outstanding throughout the summer of 2008, finishing with 104 wickets in all competitions, why did Surrey let him go?

2009 prospects
As ever Middlesex are difficult to judge but promotion in both the Championship and Pro40 is not journeying too far into the realms of fantasy. A one day trophy would also be nice, possibly even holding onto their Twenty20 crown. The real worry is that the squad lacks experience and, with Owais Shah likely to be away on England duty for at least the first part of the summer, the batting line-up looks very fresh faced. The club will also be damaged by the losses of Ed Joyce and Ed Smith over the winter. Captain Smith retired due to injury and will be sorely missed, as his captaincy nous is severely underrated, while Joyce decided to move to the South Coast so that he could commute in the opposite direction to everybody else in the mornings. Young Australian starlet will need to provide an energy boost at the start of the season until Murali Kartik can return from the IPL.

Strongest XI

PJ Hughes (DM Housego)
BA Godleman (AJ Strauss)
EJG Morgan
NJ Dexter (NRD Compton)
DJ Malan (OA Shah)
BJM Scott+ (DC Nash+)
SD Udal*
TJ Murtagh (T Henderson)
M Kartik (GK Berg)
A Richardson (CEW Silverwood)
ST Finn (D Evans)

Limited Overs
PJ Hughes (BA Godleman)
NJ Dexter (AJ Strauss)
EJG Morgan (SD Robson)
DJ Malan (OA Shah)
GK Berg (NRD Compton)
T Henderson
BJM Scott+ (DC Nash+)
SD Udal*
TJ Murtagh (CEW Silverwood)
M Kartik
ST Finn (D Evans)

Philip Hughes will open the innings in both Championship and One Day cricket until his stint as overseas player is concluded. 20 year old Billy Godleman will be looking to forget his dip in form last season to lead from the top of the order throughout the season while Dan Housego is also likely to play a decent amount of cricket this season. Neil Dexter may step up to open in one day cricket. All this is under the assumption that England do not try and commit Ashes suicide and send Andrew Strauss back to his county side and appoint Stuart Broad as captain.

Middle Order
Owais Shah, providing he can get his first Test century against the West Indies next month, should be on England duty throughout the summer. Therefore Eoin Morgan will be relied on more than ever before in his fledgling career to lead the Middlesex middle order. He is certainly capable but experience could be his downfall. Support will come from Neil Dexter, Dawid Malan and Nick Compton, all of whom are closer to spring chickens than seasoned pros. All-rounder Gareth Berg should play the odd Championship game as well as the majority of limited overs games and Tyrone Henderson will undoubtedly be sent in high up the order in Twenty20 and Pro40 to try and bludgeon a few big hits.

Wicket Keeper
Ben Scott seems to have made this position his own now, but he still has competition from David Nash. Both are fine keepers and decent batsmen. Providing they're not both injured Middlesex have no real worries in this area of the team.

Fast Bowlers
Expect Tim Murtagh to lead the line again with support from Steven Finn, for whom this is a big season, and Danny Evans. Chris Silverwood and Alan Richardson are also still around to provide experienced fastish medium deliveries. Tyrone Henderson and Gareth Berg will also be helping out in the one day competitions.

Murali Kartik is away in the IPL for the start of the season but when he returns he'll be hoping to spin Middlesex to victory as often as possible with the support of captain Shaun Udal, who won't be expecting an England recall. If Udal is injured before Murali's arrival this is a weak area of the squad with no real back-up.

Rising Star
Dawid Malan showed great promise last season, and is now in the England performance squad, and if he can progress this season he could end up being a key player for the county this summer.

Key Man
Eoin Morgan has to lead the batting well from the start this season, otherwise the quest for Championship promotion could be over come June.

Captain and Coach
Shaun Udal will draw on all his experience to try and galvanise the troops this season as well as trying to groom a potential successor for next season. Tony Radford is head coach and will be looking to boost his credentials and get the county back where they so strongly feel they belong, at the top. He will have support from Angus Fraser, who believes promotion is 'very realistic' for the county this season.

Friday, 17 April 2009

2009 County Preview: Yorkshire - A Good Year for the Roses?

It has been an unusually quiet off-season at Headingley. If the off field stability transfers onto the pitch, it could be a season to remember.

2008 in a Nutshell

Yorkshire scored more batting points than anyone else, despite playing most of the season with only four specialist batsmen. However, an inability to take the first innings form into the second innings was Yorkshire’s basic problem. The season wasn’t helped by a never ending stream of injured pace bowlers or the weather which curtailed some promising situations while also partially negating the effect of Adil Rashid.

Top of the table at the 20:Twenty break, and still in with a shout of honours with three games to go, Yorkshire went into the last match in the relegation places, although a winning draw made sure of their continuing Division 1 status.

On the limited overs front, the 20:Twenty debacle was the lowlight of the season. Promotion to Division 1 of the Pro 40 was one of the highlights. Getting to the semi-final of the FP Trophy was a bonus and Essex were by far and away the better team on the day.

2009 Prospects

I hate myself for saying this, but I think Yorkshire are the team to beat in the Championship this season. The batting line up looks longer than last season, with Michael Vaughan having plenty to prove to the England selectors, while Andrew Gale and Adam Lyth will be looking to play themselves onto a tour next winter. Joe Sayers seems to have regained some form over the winter and will be challenging the other batsmen for a place. With Tim Bresnan likely to come in at 8, runs should not be a problem. The position of 4th seamer is up for grabs with Amjal Shahzad and Steve Patterson battling it out. David Wainwright will come into the team when spin becomes a weapon, and he scored a Championship century from number 10 last season.

Likely Championship team

Michael Vaughan
Andrew Gale
Shahzad/ Wainwright

The team looks to be on an upward curve with limited overs cricket too, although Division 1 of the Pro 40 will be much tougher than Division 2 last season. However, the knock out stages of the FP Trophy and the 20:Twenty should be the target.

Key Man

Probably the same as last year in that Adil Rashid is most likely to bowl teams out. He had a slow start to the season last year, but still ended up with 62 wickets. He will also need to improve with the bat as he averaged just 23, despite a century in the last match of the season. The emergence of Graeme Swann as an International spinner means that Rashid should not be required by England this summer. However, his time is coming and Yorkshire will be hoping for as much as possible from him.

Rising Star

I was tempted to go with last year’s choice again, as Adam Lyth made his breakthrough last season and aged just 21 has a bright future ahead of him. However, of those looking to make a breakthrough this season, my choice is Jonathan Bairstow. With Simon Guy recovering from brain surgery and Greg Wood being released, Bairstow (son of David) is the second choice wicketkeeper and a very talented batsman, winning the Wisden school cricketer of the year award last year. Expect to see him feature in some limited over cricket and if Gerard Brophy doesn’t recapture his form of a couple of years ago, this could be his year.

Coach and Captain

Antony McGrath officially takes the reins this season, although as Darren Gough only managed to play half of last season, the transformation has been gradual. Martyn Moxen is the reason that Mags stayed at Yorkshire and the two of them have a close bond.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

2009 County Preview: Sussex

By Benjamin Fyffe

2008 in a nutshell
The overbearing memory of the 2008 season for Sussex fans was that of Mushie once again, but this time it was the lack of Mushie rather than his wicket-taking exploits. Time finally caught up with the man as injury hit him and Sussex struggled in the Championship without his wickets. The Twenty20 and Friends Provident competitions were disastrous as the county finished bottom of their regional group in both. However they survived in the 4 day format and the fans had the pleasure of a somewhat surprising Pro40 league victory meaning that Sussex are still champions of a sort. The season ended with the news that Chris Adams would finally be hanging up his playing boots to take the coaching role offered to him by Surrey.

2008 top performers
Murray Goodwin
deserves mention as per usual for his efforts with the bat while Jason Lewry chipped in with plenty of vital wickets to prove that he's still got it.

2009 prospects
There is certainly potential for Sussex to do extremely well this season in the Championship as they have a nicely balanced squad. Much relies on the support that run machine Murray Goodwin gets from new skipper Michael Yardy and new signing Ed Joyce. Ollie Rayner will be expected to step up to the plate as the county’s new first choice spinner while Corey Collymore will also be key if Sussex are to take twenty wickets every match this season. Perhaps the most interesting factor affecting Sussex in 2009 is how the club reacts to the departure of Chris Adams, so long their inspirational leader. On the one-day front, a defence of the Pro40 crown is certainly possible while challenges in the Friends Provident Trophy and Twenty20 Cup surely cannot fare any worse than they did last season.

Strongest XI

CD Nash
MH Yardy*
EC Joyce (CD Hopkinson)
MW Goodwin
MJ Prior+ (AJ Hodd+)
LJ Wright (DR Smith)
Y Arafat (D Lewis)
RSC Martin-Jenkins (CJ Liddle)
OP Rayner
CD Collymore (PSE Sandri)
J Lewry (RJ Kirtley)

Limited Overs
EC Joyce (CD Nash)
LJ Wright (CD Hopkinson)
MW Goodwin
MH Yardy*
MJ Prior+ (AJ Hodd+)
DR Smith (RJ Hamilton-Brown)
Y Arafat (D Lewis)
RSC Martin-Jenkins
OP Rayner
RJ Kirtley (J Lewry)
CD Collymore (PSE Sandri)

Chris Nash is a reliable opener who can be relied on to average in the thirties when it comes to Championship cricket. The arrival of Ed Joyce from Middlesex should result in Nash’s departure from the Limited Overs side however. Joyce may open with Luke Wright in Limited Overs cricket while skipper Michael Yardy will probably partner Nash in the Championship. Wicket-keeper Andrew Hodd also has experience of opening.

Middle Order
Murray Goodwin is the man who will look to hold the batting line-up together with support from new signing Ed Joyce in the four day game and Matt Prior, or Andrew Hodd when Prior is on England duty. Carl Hopkinson will probably see his involvement decrease with the arrival of Joyce but will be an able backup when required. All-rounders Luke Wright, Dwayne Smith and Rory Hamilton-Brown will also boost the middle order throughout the season.

Matt Prior will be on England duty most of the summer and therefore Andrew Hodd will be relied on throughout the season, he is probably a better gloveman than Prior and his batting is not too shabby either, whether opening or in the middle order. Young Ben Brown, an England under-19 international provides further back up.

Fast Bowlers
Experienced West Indian Corey Collymore will probably lead the line with the evergreen Jason Lewry as support. Yasir Arafat returns to Hove as overseas player and will be made full use of while his Aussie interim replacement Damien Lewis is also an experienced bowler. Robin Martin-Jenkins should be as reliable as ever while the main back up comes from James Kirtley and ‘Italian’ Pepler Sandri, who has been playing for Cape Cobras and the Sussex coaching team have high expectations for. Chris Liddle will also be called upon when needed. Luke Wright, Rory Hamilton-Brown and Dwayne Smith are all reasonable fast-medium bowling all rounders who will be used throughout to complement the main attack.

A lot relies on Ollie Rayner fulfilling his potential and taking plenty of wickets this season for Sussex in the wake of Mushtaq Ahmed. If Rayner performs then Sussex will be fighting for the Championship this season. Will Beer provides the main back up in the spin bowling department with his leg breaks.

Rising Star
Ollie Rayner is the obvious candidate here, his recent call up to the England Performance Squad testifies this, although Rory Hamilton-Brown also deserves a mention as he could be a spectacular all-rounder if he fulfils his massive potential.

Key Man
Murray Goodwin
has to score heavily this season as his influence may well dictate the rest of the batting line up.

Captain and Coach
Michael Yardy has been named captain for the season after Chris Adams’ departure and despite a lack of experience should be able to inspire his colleagues at the club, who have played with Yardy for long enough. Mark Robinson remains coach and deserves more credit than he often gets for his work at Hove, he will be hoping to oversee another super summer for Sussex.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Mystic Richard’s 2009 Predictions – Division 1

Having scuppered Kent’s chances with the Division 2 predictions, here’s my look at Division 1. Just to get my excuses in early the last two years have been incredibly close, and I did get the relegated teams right last year. To be honest, this year looks to be even harder to call and I can’t see a team being cast adrift as Surrey and Worcester have in the past two seasons.

9 Sussex
The loss of Mushtaq will hit the 2007 champions harder than the loss of Chris Adams, despite the emergence of Ollie Raynor. Last season’s hero with the bat, Matt Prior, will be spending the summer with England and the team will be reliant on the evergreen Murray Goodwin and new boy Ed Joyce, looking to get back into England reckoning. They were close to going down last season and while Yasir Arafat will help the aging pace attack, they will struggle.

8 Lancashire
Probably the county that will suffer most to England call ups, with Andrew Flintoff and James Anderson away for most of the year. Add to that the loss of Dominic Cork and Stuart Law, then this is a rebuilding season during which they will do well to retain their first division status. Paul Horton will be key to run scoring, while captain Glen Chapple will need to take a lot of wickets, particularly if Saj Mahmood joins Flintoff and Anderson with England. This year’s first division looks too strong for those that are left.

7 Worcestershire
Only one player missing from last season’s promotion, but it will be strange sight to see a Hick-less Worcestershire team. Nonetheless, the batting looks to be the strong suit, with Stephen Moore and Steve Davies looking to bolster their international credentials. Kabir Ali is another looking to restart his International career and if Simon Jones stays fit (and as I write, he’s been ruled out of the start of the season), they have a decent pace attack with Imran Arif. With Gareth Batty and Ian Fisher providing slow bowling options, they have a much better chance of staying up than last time they were in Division 1.

6 Warwickshire
A clear out of the fringe players shouldn’t impact too much on the Bears, who should score plenty of runs, particularly with Ian Bell and Tim Ambrose likely to be in the fold for much of the season. Jeetan Patel could be an astute signing if it is a hot summer. However, the pace bowling seems to lack the cutting edge needed to challenge this season. Chris Woakes is clearly promising, but is also barely 20, while Neil Carter and Darren Maddy won’t find wickets as easy to come by in Division 1. They won’t lose many, but won’t win many either.

5 Somerset
With an Ashes series during the summer, it will be hard to watch Marcus Trescothick piling on the runs for Somerset. However, with Trescothick, Hildredth and Langer, runs will come a plenty even with Ian Blackwell decamping to Durham. Andrew Caddick will be hoping for a better season on the injury front, but age does like it is catching up on him. Charl Willougby will be the main threat with the ball again, but twenty wickets might be a struggle. Like Warwickshire, they may go through the season unbeaten, but won’t win enough to challenge for the title.

4 Hampshire
A first half of 2008 in turmoil following the departure of Shane Warne made them midseason favourites for relegation. However, a blistering second half to the season almost saw them take the pennant. Astute captaincy from Dimitri Mascarhenas along with runs from throughout the team and the discovery that Imran Tahir was indeed a match-winning bowler were the key to success. Like Yorkshire, they will do best in a dry summer and before Tahir’s injury, I’d have taken them to edge the title, despite losing Michael Brown. They’ll still be close, though. The top four this season is a real toss up.

3 Nottinghamshire
Although Stuart Broad won’t feature much, Ryan Sidebottom is likely to be back and along with Darren Pattinson, Charlie Schrek and Mark Footit, they have a pace attack to match anyone in the Division. Graeme Swann will be on England duty, but in Samit Patel and Jason Brown, there is plenty of cover there too. The signing of Ali Brown shows that runs are the key for Notts and this may be the difference between the title and 3rd.

2 Durham
After the celebrations last season, this time round it may be more of a struggle for the champions. Steve Harmison is less likely to feature as he continues his international comeback, although with the likes of Mark Davies, Graham Onions and Liam Plunkett, there is still plenty in the pace department. The recruitment of Ian Blackwell will provide a spin option as well as providing valuable middle order runs. Another big season for Will Smith may see them close to retaining their title.

1 Yorkshire
I don’t like this. However, a batting line up including Michael Vaughan with something to prove, Jacques Rudolph and new skipper Antony McGrath is going to score plenty of runs. The pace attack of Matthew Hoggard, Rana Naved and Tim Bresnan is a match for Durham and Notts and the spin options of Adil Rashid and David Wainwright means that Yorkshire have on paper the most balanced team in the country. Unfortunately, I’ve just ruined their chances, but I think the pennant could be flying over Headingley again come September.

Mystic Richard’s 2009 Predictions – Division 2

Yes I know I said that Sussex would win Division 1, and Middlesex and Essex would go up last season, but I did predict the demise of Surrey and Kent as well as Gloucestershire finishing rock bottom. Therefore, I’m going to have another go this season. Division 1 will follow, with the predictions in reverse order.

9 Gloucestershire
Bottom last year and I can’t see any reason that they will improve on matters. James Franklin for Marcus North as the overseas player seems like a backwards step. Alex Gidman has taken over the captaincy and while Steve Kirby should be a threat with the ball, the county doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere.

8 Northamptonshire
The loss of Jason Brown will be compensated by Monty Panesar being around more this season. However, given his county form since he played for England, this may not be a huge advantage. Still too reliant on aging South Africans and David Sales, the season could be a struggle.

7 Glamorgan
More close season changes in Wales see Jamie Dalrymple take over the captaincy. The county has young local talent in abundance with James Harris, Tom Maynard, Huw Waters and Adam Shantry forming a nucleus that should serve the county well for the next decade. Seventh, but there doesn’t look a lot between 4th and 7th this year.

6 Derbyshire
The release of Nayan Doshi along with the loss of Rikki Clarke mid season shows that last winters plans have been ditched. Mark Lawson could be a good signing and he will benefit from regular cricket. Stuart Law may be more of a risk as he reaches his 41st birthday. Another season of rebuilding is likely, but with the promising Dan Redfern out of school and looking to play a full season, the future is looking brighter.

5 Surrey
Something radical is needed at the Oval. Mark Ramprakash could score more runs than the rest of the team combined although Michael Brown should provide good support. However even at this level, Surrey will struggle to take 20 wickets in a match. Chris Jordan needs to show more than promise, the returning Alex Tudor needs to stay fit and Kolpakker Andre Nel needs to stay focussed.

4 Leicestershire
Having turned round last season from Kolpakshire to a haven of young English cricketers, I’m not sure how much this prediction is based on hope rather than expectation. HD Ackerman will be a steadying influence on the youngsters like Josh Cobb and they could surprise a few teams this season. Not good enough to go up yet, but certainly moving in the right direction.

3 Middlesex
To be honest I’m fed up of tipping them for the title only to see them blow up spectacularly. The 20:Twenty excitement proves all too much last season and with Andrew Strauss with England for the summer and the loss of Ed Joyce, it may be a time to rebuild. The attack looks lightweight, even with the continued promise of Steve Finn.

2 Essex
Talking of teams that I’m continually tipping for great things. Matt Walker could prove to be a great signing, Alex Tudor won’t be a great loss. Ravi Bopara will want to keep up the pressure on the England selectors, as will James Foster as the selectors seem to have finally remembered who he is. Danish Kaneria is the best bowler in Division 2 by a country mile and this must be the year they go up, surely?

1 Kent
And so there goes the last ever present team in Division 1. Despite 3 players in the PCA MVP race top 10, including the winner – Martin van Jaarsveld, Kent’s proud record went last season. With Rob Key, Joe Denly and Amjad Khan looking to impress the England selectors, they are the worthy favourites to bounce straight back to Division 1 as Champions.

Friday, 10 April 2009

2009 County Preview: Hampshire

2008 in a nutshell:

Hampshire enjoyed a respectable season in 2008 with the final results quite promising for the future. It was a season of two halves for the Hawks with relegation and woe looking likely at the halfway point, as Paul Terry parted company with a disjointed side, which was initially deprived of it’s entire bowling attack from the previous season, as well as it’s overseas player. The turning points were the promotion of new coach Giles White and the arrival of overseas player Imran Tahir. Ultimately the Friends Provident Trophy campaign was a non-starter, whilst the Twenty20 campaign was disappointing, but less so than usual as the Hawks mustered fourth in by far the country’s toughest group. From relegation candidates as they entered the backend of the season, Hampshire hauled themselves up to an impressive third place in the LVCC Division One, whilst the end of season improvement was most evidently seen in the Pro40 Division One campaign, where the club finished second to a slick Worcestershire side.

2009 prospects:

Ultimately more of the same perhaps. The start to the season should be much improved compared to last year, but one cannot shake the feeling that Hampshire will be coming from behind again by the time the summer is in full swing. Marcus North will miss the first game of the season, but should boost the batting in all formats once he arrives, after his impressive showings for Gloucestershire last year. Early season one day prospects will benefit from his involvement, but the loss of Dimitri Mascarenhas to the IPL and England will more than negate that positive. He will be a massive loss to the side early doors. Much will be expected of the country’s leading wicket taker, James Tomlinson and he should continue to improve, especially in the traditional spring weather conditions. Chris Tremlett, if fit, will be looking towards England once again, but it is a lose lose situation for Hampshire. If he is fit, he will doubtless be lost to England at some stage. The more likely scenario is that he won’t be fit. Think of him as Hampshire’s Ledley King. The “big” signing of the close season was 37 year old former England all-rounder Dominic Cork from Lancashire. He has surely been signed to cover for Mascarenhas and educate the counties younger bowlers, such as the aforementioned Tomlinson and fellow youngsters, David Griffiths, Hamza Riazuddin and David Balcombe. All eyes will though be on the arrival of Imran Tahir at the midway point, to see just how far he can propel the Hawks up the table and whether he can this year inspire them to four day or even Pro40 success, in it’s final season. Ultimately a top three title challenge and success in the Pro40 best represent the hopes and expectations for Hampshire this year. The Twenty20 Cup campaign could though be fascinating if the Hawks manage to field their two spinners (Tahir and Dawson) and top quality all-rounders (Mascarenhas, Ervine and Cork) thoughout.


As usual the main problem with Hampshire in 2008 was the batting, although initially the bowling had looked to be the more pressing concern. In the Championship only Nic Pothas (53.5) and Michael Brown (40.86) managed to finish with impressive averages and Brown has since departed for Surrey. Michaels’ Lumb (32.72) and Carberry (28.60) frustrated many as they failed to transfer their fine limited overs returns into the Championship. John Crawley meanwhile faces a last hurrah season as his 27.73 from only 9 matches last year suggests that he is well and truly on the decline. All three will need to improve in 2009, whilst it would of course be nice to see a bit more of Kevin Pietersen at the Rose Bowl, which may just happen under the new England management team. Having mustered just 33 batting points in 2008 (7th in the division), it seemed as though Hampshire were certain to strengthen the batting for the new campaign. However, with no Brown in 2009 and no new signings (Ed Joyce surely should have been targeted), Jimmy Adams, Sean Ervine and Chris Benham will have to demonstrate their ability once again and return to their form of late 2007, when each looked like they would become county stalwarts for years to come. Marcus North will be heavily relied upon to score consistently in the first part of the season when conditions are tougher. Also, expect Nic Pothas to carry on churning out the runs, with the likes of Liam Dawson, Dimi Mascarenhas and Dominic Cork repairing earlier damage.


The bowling was ultimately once again the county’s strong suit in 2008, with the club acquiring 47 bowling points (1st in the division). James Tomlinson (67 at 24.76) was the top four day bowler in the country and Imran Tahir (44 at 16.68) was incredible following his arrival for the last part of the summer. Tahir will be key to the Hawks hopes of winning either the Championship or Pro40 Division One and along with Liam Dawson could form a competition defining partnership for the Twenty20 Cup campaign. Dimi Mascarenhas (41 at 23.82) looks likely to be away in the IPL or with England for much of the season, so Dominic Cork (20 at 27.6) will need to turn back the years and prove that he still has what it takes to contribute towards a Championship charge. Sean Ervine will also be relied upon to help fill the void left by Mascarenhas’ lengthy absences. Meanwhile, Chris Tremlett, who had a disappointing 2008 (27 at 37.0), due to both injury and knock backs from England, will be looking to prove his fitness and form as he bids to return to the Test team, in which he was so impressive in 2007. The major hurdle for Hampshire early season will be the absence of a proven premier spinner once again. Liam Dawson impressed towards the end of 2008 and will be relied upon, along with Marcus North, to limit the runs conceded in limited overs competitions and to offer the main spin threat in the Championship, until the arrival of Tahir in June. With youngsters Griffiths, Riazuddin and Balcombe showing promising signs in 2008 and Billy Taylor offering his dependably tight limited overs skills, the bowling at Hampshire is looking as strong as ever overall and quite youthful.

Probable Best Side:

Championship (1st Half)

Pothas (wk) (c)
Cork (Mascarenhas)

Championship (2nd Half)

Pothas (wk)
Mascarenhas (c) (Cork)

List A (1st half)

Pothas (wk) (c)
Cork (Mascarenhas)

List A (2nd Half)

Pothas (wk)


Pothas (wk)

Hampshire look to be a batsman light in their squad with John Crawley unlikely to play any limited overs cricket and Jimmy Adams not particularly suited to it. The batting looks reasonable, with lots of stroke makers, who are perhaps better suited to the shorter formats though. Chris Benham will likely have to settle for limited overs appearances until Marcus North goes home, whilst one of the younger bowlers, or perhaps Billy Taylor, will likely benefit until the arrival of Imran Tahir later in the summer. The squad is packed with good allrounders as usual, with North, Ervine, Mascarenhas, Dawson and Cork all more than capable in both of the main disciplines. This should hopefully give the side a decent chance in the Twenty20 Cup this year, with limited overs success a good possibility. Ultimately the bowling will keep the side in the Championship hunt, but how many batting points the team can deliver may ultimately decide their fate. Expect the spin twins Tahir and Dawson to feature heavily in any success.

Key Man:

I believe that the overseas players performances will be key to Hampshire’s chances of success as will the U19’s Captain, Liam Dawson. Therefore it is hard to pinpoint just one player. However, my player of the year last season, Nic Pothas, gets my vote as he will need to lead the side early on in the season and keep up his stellar performances with the bat in the Championship to ensure that Hampshire post respectable totals and gain their fair share of batting points.

Rising Star:

Liam Dawson is the man I am going for once again. His slow left arm bowling has been effective at England U19 level and he showed at the end of last season that he was more than capable of transferring that form into county cricket, where he played consistently well following the departure of Greg Lamb from the side. His batting will be a major asset this season and he could be seen batting as high as five in limited overs cricket, in which he will be a major asset.

Captain and Coach:

Dimitri Mascarenhas will miss the start of the season once again because of commitments in the IPL and will undoubtedly go on to make more appearances for England over the summer. Mascarenhas tried to continue the Warne tradition of attacking and playing to win last year. He was however overly cautious until the end of the season, the game against Lancashire at Old Trafford a prime example of how a crisis of confidence and a mentality of safety first had set in at the club after the poor first half of the season. Hopefully this season he can go on the attack more often, with relegation hopefully not a concern for the club.

Giles White was promoted from Academy Director last year to succeed Paul Terry in the role of Team Manager. Until Terry’s departure Hampshire had looked to be a sinking ship, but White inspired the fans and players alike with his youthful enthusiasm and fresh approach. Now that he has had a whole pre-season to assess his charges, fans will be hopeful that the team can charge out of the blocks and land a trophy or perhaps even two this year with an exciting and attacking brand of cricket.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

2009 county preview: Nottinghamshire

It's April - which means it must be Third Umpire season preview time. Here is an assessment of Nottinghamshire's chances in 2009. And to get involved in the season previews just post if you already have an account or email

2008 in a Nutshell:

The new regime under Chris Read got off to an impressive start, with Nottinghamshire in contention for the Pro40 and the County Championship come September. Although they ultimately failed to claim either title, the Nottinghamshire team looked strong, especially with a bowling attack that was one of the most penetrating in the country.

2009 Prospects:
Nottinghamshire will continue in their endeavours to claim a first one-day trophy since 1989 this year, and the addition of the experienced and aggressive Alistair Brown may help to fill the void left by Jason Gallian when he departed a few years ago. Much of Nottinghamshire’s hopes may rest on how many of their side are away on international duty, with Graeme Swann, Samit Patel, Ryan Sidebottom and Stuart Broad all likely to feature in English sides this year.

Nottinghamshire Director of Cricket Mick Newell and Captain Chris Read are overall very confident that the team can challenge for honours in the coming season.

Nottinghamshire’s batting was undoubtedly the weakest part of the team last year, with many miserable performances from the batsmen being rescued only by the sterling efforts of the bowlers. Nottinghamshire will be looking for big seasons from middle order stalwarts Samit Patel and Mark Wagh, although the former may once again be lost to the England side, a scenario which looks especially likely given his recent inclusion in the 30 man provisional squad for the World Twenty20 in June. Overseas player Adam Voges will be looking to turn last year’s promise into this year’s runs, although Nottinghamshire will be worried that too many good performances may push him into the Australian one-day side. The opening spots and the number 6 position are still effectively vacant; however Bilal Shafayat is likely to feature in some shape or form after some impressive performances last year. Will Jefferson will also be key; the ex-Essex giant is quite formidable once he gets going. Unfortunately for Jefferson, his performances last year were a lot short of what he would have been hoping for. Mathew Wood still needs to convince that he can cope at the top of the county game, and Alistair Brown needs to carry forward some impressive form from the recent warm up games. Youngster Alex Hales still needs to convert the potential into performance, but the promising start to pre-season practice suggests that his personality has matured sufficiently to turn his undoubted promise into consistent runs. Nottinghamshire also have a richness of all-rounders, with Paul Franks, Mark Ealham, Andre Adams and Luke Fletcher more than capable with the Bat.

Nottinghamshire’s bowling was their strongest suit last year, with Charlie Shreck, Darren Pattinson and Andre Adams all turning in a number of excellent performances with some penetrating pace bowling. Shreck was the only seamer to pass 50 wickets last year, but Pattinson almost certainly would, as he finshed on 47, despite missing a game for his unexpected (but not unmerited) England call-up. Andre Adams, despite being a latecomer as he was introduced as cover for Stuart Broad, put in such a stream of impressive performances that he finished with 31 wickets at a phenomenal average of 19.16. Nottinghamshire’s spinners also performed well in all forms; Graeme Swann was dependable, if not sensational in the 4 day game, but both he and Samit Patel were excellent in one-day cricket, putting in excellent performances throughout and almost propelling Nottinghamshire to the Pro40 title until Murray Goodwin and Mo Sami ruined that particular dream. Young bowlers and new recruits like Luke Fletcher and trialist Kyle Hodnett will be looking for first team action in the next year, as will Ryan Sidebottom, who will want to use good county cricket to regain fitness and form, and reacquire his England place. Experienced spinner Jason Brown has also joined, from Northants, and he will be likely to play a similar role to that which Robert Ferley has done for the last few seasons, providing cover for Graeme Swann.

Probable side:
Jefferson (Wood)
Shafayat (Hales)
A. Brown
Read (wk/c)
Swann (J. Brown)
Adams (Broad)
Shreck (Sidebottom)

A. Brown
Shafayat (Hales)
Read (wk/c)
Shreck (Sidebottom)

A. Brown
Voges (If Swann unavailable)
Read (wk)

The pace trio of Sidebottom, Shreck and Pattinson will likely interchange throughout the season as Mick Newell looks to rest his key men. In most games, two of these three will play, as well as one of either Adams or Ealham

Key Man:
Batsman Mark Wagh was the only Nottinghamshire batsman to pass 1000 championship runs last season, and his top-order runs will be vital once again if Notts are going to mount a serious challenge for trophies.

Rising Star:
Young Batsman Alex Hales is being touted for big things, but he has to turn promising starts for the Second XI into big hundreds to secure a place in the First XI. His pre-season has been good, and he recorded an excellent 141 in a warm up game

Captain and Coach:
Chris Read will be looking to build on last season’s foundations by pushing for a trophy, although he will be hoping that the burden of captaincy has less effect on his batting and wicketkeeping than it did last year. The Nottinghamshire coaching team have a good mix of experience and new ideas, and Steve Pick, the new bowling coach, has experience with the England under-19s

Derbyshire 2009 prospects

Under the tutelage of John Morris, Derbyshire showed commendable improvements in 2008 that fans will hope continue in 2009. The old frailties were there, most noticeably the apparent inability to pace a one day innings, yet there was enough progress, on and off the field, to suggest that we were not the worst side around by a long chalk.

Winter recruitment has not been substantial but impressive. First Garry Park declined a new contract with Durham in exchange for greater opportunities at Derby and comes with a reputation as a stroke playing batsman, useful bowler and brilliant fielder. Then all rounder Tim Groenewald moved from Edgbaston to the County Ground in a path so well worn that they really should install a conveyor belt. We've so far taken Tim Munton, Graeme Welch and Graham Wagg from the Bears, all with such success that they're renaming it The Road to Salvation...

Most recently news came that Stuart Law had signed, initially for FP Trophy and 20/20 matches with an option for the Pro 40 if required. Cynics may say he's too old, but most fans would have been happy with a Graeme Hick or Mark Ramprakash in their side this past couple of seasons. Law has been signed as much for how he can help younger players as what he scores himself and an improvement in one day batting will be a catalyst for improved results.

We've lost Charl Langeveldt to the IPL for the first month but a fit Tom Lungley can minimise the damage and is another threat to batting line-ups. Partnered by his good friend Graham Wagg, the two of them make up a useful opening attack that is well supported by last year's golden boy Jon Clare. A reject of Lancashire, Clare played some fine innings last year and also bowled with great stamina and skill, suggesting a bright career ahead. With Greg Smith now restored to full fitness and once again able to bowl seam, we have a decent attack with plenty of options.

Jake Needham is now, at 22 the first choice spinner and was another to show enough last year to suggest we have one of the better young spinners on the circuit. He can also bat although with the others in the side will rarely go in before number ten. Mark Lawson is on a month by month trial having been released by Yorkshire and the leggie may fill the obvious gap for a second spinner. I'd have to say that England in April isn't normally the time for wrist-spinners to impress, however.

At the top of the order and as skipper we have one of the unluckiest of Australians in Chris Rogers, a man who would walk into most sides but cannot get a game for his country. Their loss is our gain and in this Ashes summer the reliable Buck has plenty of incentive to show their national selectors what they have missed. There's also West Indian Wavell Hinds back for a second season and if he can hit the ground running there should be plenty to enjoy. Wavell's dibbly dobbly seam got a few wickets last year and he's a reassuring presence in the middle order. Its worth mentioning James Pipe too, as a good wicket keeper who often bats with great panache as an innings that has lost its way is revitalised.

The county have an enviable amount of all rounders. Some might say they are batsmen who bowl or bowlers who bat, but if enough of them come off at the same time we bat low and can field seven or eight bowlers in most games.

With England Under 19 star Dan Redfern now free from school commitments, Paul Borrington finishing University in June and John Sadler, Dan Birch and the ever reliable Steve Stubbings competing for batting places, all fans hope that we'll continue to progress this year. Dare we mention silverware? Maybe not, though a decent cup run and maintaining an interest in the Championship will go a long way towards shutting up the county's detractors. The feeling remains that with Morris at the helm and an excellent academy starting to bear fruit that Derbyshire are perhaps better placed than most and can look forward to the future with confidence.

Now go and do it lads!

England: Ashes ladder

Three months after my previous England Ashes ladder, what's changed? England have lost a Test series they were expected to win, won an ODI series when their tour threatened to go off the rails, and are set to appoint Andy Flower as their new coach. So who's up and who's down from three months ago?

1) Andrew Strauss (-)
His position could hardly be more secure.

2) Alastair Cook (+1)
Finally ended his century drought to confirm his status as an automatic selection.

3) Kevin Pietersen (+1)
Has been well below his best of late but, providing his head is in the right place, absolutely will play.

4) James Anderson (+7)
A huge winner from the West Indies tour: advanced from being out of the side to being England's premier quick bowler, bowling with immense skill with new and old ball alike.

5) Stuart Broad (+1)
Continues to demonstrate the skill and, especially, the temperament to relish an Ashes challenge, even if England would ideally like him to be their number eight and fourth seamer.

6) Paul Collingwood (+1)
A fine tour of the West Indies, aided by the struggles of Bell and Shah, has made Collingwood a certain starter.

7) Andrew Flintoff (-5)
A disappointing Test series in the West Indies - and, more importantly, more injury worries. However, if fit, England couldn't leave out their 'talismanic' all-rounder? Or could they?

8) Matt Prior (-3)
Appears unfortunate to slip three places after batting magnificiently in the Test series in the West Indies. However, his keeping continues to be a source of great concern. And, if Flintoff is not in the side and England only select four bowlers, the need to hang onto every chance may supersede the extra runs Prior could bring. Still, would have to do a lot wrong in the next three months.

9) Graeme Swann (-)
Swann was superb in the West Indies, providing a fine example of the classical off-spinners' craft. He fully deserves his chance against Australia, particularly given their dislike for off-spinners.

10) Steve Harmison (-2)
Endured a poor tour of the West Indies - but his replacement Amjad Khan was even more disappointing. If he can start the season well, may yet get another chance against Australia.

11) Michael Vaughan (+5)
His reputation has increased hugely of late other contenders have struggled while he has been in the runs for Yorkshire - albeit in Dubai. All the signs indicate England would like him to bat at three (or why not open?) in the Ashes, providing he can show some semblance of form in the meantime.

12) Monty Panesar (+1)
Displayed some increased variations when recalled for the final Test in the West Indies, Panesar is near-certain to feature in the Ashes. But that may well be as England's second-choice spinner, providing they can recognise that is one area in which they may just enjoy supremacy over Australia.

13) Owais Shah (-1)
Given his long-overdue chance, Shah struggled. But he may yet get another two Tests against the West Indies to show he has the technique and temperament to bat at number three. But would England trust him in an Ashes campaign?

14) Ravi Bopara (+6)
A fine century in his only Test innings of the winter will have only boosted his chances, despite mediocre ODI returns. However, would England really be happy to pick such an inexperienced player to bat at number three - especially one who appears the happiest of hookers?

15) Ryan Sidebottom (-)
Played when patently unfit in the Carribean and it would be of little surprise if he never played international cricket again.

16) Adil Rashid (+1)
Were England not impressed with what they saw in the West Indies? How else to explain his non-selection over Gareth Batty? But if England, as they should, prepare turning tracks for the Aussies then he could feature as a secret weapon.

17) Tim Ambrose (+2)
Scored a fluent 76* in his only innings on tour, while his keeping was of a higher calibre than Prior's. So if England only play four bowlers, he could have a chance of selection, even if few would really fancy his chances of scoring big against Australia given his struggles against South Africa.

18) Mark Davies (N/A)
Could be coming good at just the right time, having had a strong tour with the England Lions in New Zealand. He has been afflicted by injuries throughout his career, but at 28 he should be in the form of his life. And his statistics: 232 wickets at 21 in first-class cricket are mindbogglingly good.

19) Sajid Mahmood (N/A)
Yes, yes. But Mahmood has all the raw attributes to be a destructive wicket-taker at international level. And, given how Harmison and Khan performed in the West Indies, he has an outside chance of featuring.

20) Simon Jones (-6)
Injured again. But if he could only put together a handful of impressive performances, temptation would run high.

21) Ian Bell (-11)
Dropped after the First Test debacle and not seen since. Bell will play again for England but probably not until this summer has passed.

22) Robert Key (-1)
Captain of the England Lions, and perhaps England in the World Twenty20 too, Key is a character who inspires respect. But competition for the number three spot is fierce.

23) Amjad Khan (-5)
Did himself no favours in the West Indies with shoddy fielding and wayward bowling.

24) Kabir Ali (-2)
If the England side was selected on county form from the last two seasons, Ali would be in. As it is, he isn't even deemed good enough for the Lions.

25) Matthew Hoggard (-2)
He's still hoping. But few are joining him.

Bubbling under
Batsmen: Joe Denly, Samit Patel, Eoin Morgan, Mark Ramprakash
Keepers: James Foster, Steven Davies
Bowlers: Darren Pattinson, Liam Plunkett, Chris Tremlett

What are your views on this ladder and the makeup of the England side?

Monday, 6 April 2009

England ODI Ratings

Here are the series ratings for England's surprising 3-2 victory in the West Indies.

Andrew Strauss 8
Exceptional once more, impressing with his greater weight of stroke in his second coming as an international player. His ODI place is secure; he's a more impressive figure at the top of the order than Bell and Cook.

Ravi Bopara 6
Promising signs without ever playing a decisive innings; ultimately his average (29) and strike-rate (74) were both disappointing. But may as well be perservered with at the top of the order.

Kevin Pietersen 4
Top-scored in the final game but overall endured a miserable series.

Owais Shah 6
His 62 in the opening victory suggested he may respond admirably to his miserable Test series but it wasn't to be: perennially on edge, he too often struggled to get off strike. But his ODI place should remain secure.

Paul Collingwood 7
Ended his recent poor spell in ODIs with vital contributions with bat and ball alike.

Andrew Flintoff 6
Increasingly hopeless with a bat in his hand, but Flintoff delivered one of his finest ever spells to clinch series victory in the final game. With his 90mph yorkers and unerring consistency, he is England's best ODI bowler. But what to make of his batting?

Matt Prior 6
England have finally established he is no ODI opener but, having ended their obsession with opening with a keeper-batsman, Prior has a role to play in the middle-order. However, there is also a case for James Foster to play ODIs and Twenty20s.

Dimitri Mascarenhas 7
Bowled cannily in the middle overs, the highlight being a strangling 3-26 in the 4th game. The pitches were not conducive to his explosive late hitting, but England are a strong

Gareth Batty 4
A depressing selection, and his performances were predictably mediocre. England were incredibly cautious not to blood Adil Rashid. Batty, one must hope, will never get near an England short again.

Stuart Broad 6
Somewhat expensive at times, England will be relived he is taking the IPL off ahead of a huge summer. But his relish for the international game is beyond doubt.

Steve Harmison 5
In-out-in-out - but no wickets for 139 from 25 overs in the series suggests the next time he's dropped may just be his last.

James Anderson 7
After a mysteriously nightmarish 2008 in ODIs - 10 wickets at 75 - Anderson took his excellent form from the Tests into this series. He is now established as England's opening bowler in all formats of the game.

The Verdict
England were somewhat fortunate to win this series, coming as it did without a win in a 50-over game. However, an ODI victory in the West Indies is nonetheless a noteworthy achievement. Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower must now be given the chance to work together in the long-term. Nonetheless, England are hardly shaping up well for the looming World Twenty20.