Thursday, 28 May 2009

Specialists might have to wait for their chance

England’s squad for the ICC World Twenty20 contains a mixture of central contract regulars and Twenty20 specialists. The selectors have rewarded consistent domestic performers in the shortest format of the game, although the first choice line-up could well end up being similar to the team that turns out for 50 over matches.

There will be a change behind the stumps, as James Foster comes in for Matt Prior. Some might question this move, as Prior is in the form of his life with the bat, but the selectors are right to recognise that superior keeping is as important in this format as others.

The Essex man’s busy batting is perhaps under-rated and he might slot in at number six. Rob Key and Graham Napier are the other men who have forced their way into the squad on the back of their Twenty20 cup exploits.

Both were initially pencilled in for places in the team, but their current form will force a rethink. Key has scored just 66 runs in four first class innings for Kent and has fared even worse in coloured clothing, hitting a top score of 27 from eight Friends Provident knocks. He scored a second ball duck in his only completed Twenty20 cup innings.

Napier has also had a slow start, failing to pass 50 in his six limited overs knocks, although his away swing bowling seems to be in better order. His boundary hitting is the reason for his inclusion and if that is lacking, it is hard to see a starting place for the burly allrounder.

Key’s place at the top of the order will go to Eoin Morgan, who showed all the invention and urgency needed for the role in smashing a Friends Provident 161 from 136 balls for Middlesex against Kent. He is not usually an opener in any format, but Key is simply not in the sort of form to give England the start they require.

With regards to Twenty20 betting, the rest of the team is easier to predict, with Adil Rashid, Luke Wright and Ryan Sidebottom fighting it out for one place if Napier does miss out. Spin is crucial in Twenty20 cricket and this could be the time for Rashid to make his full international debut.

Be sure to bear all this in mind when you look to place your all-important Twenty20 bet.

Possible team: Bopara, Morgan, Pietersen, Shah, Collingwood, Foster, Mascarenhas, Rashid, Broad, Swann, Anderson

Monday, 25 May 2009

England's Ashes ladder (3)

The third installment of the Ashes ladder - and after the demolition of the West Indies England are imbued with a new-found confidence. So who's up and who's down from after the West Indies tour?

1) Andrew Strauss (-)
Rapidly making this ‘his side’, Strauss will have a point to prove after being overlooked for the captaincy and his subsequent struggles in 2006-07.

2) Alastair Cook
Has finally ended his century drought and will be given the opportunity to improve on his poor previous series against the Aussies.

3) Kevin Pietersen
There are justifiable concerns over his recent form and the state of his mind – witness him describing the thrashings his Bangalore side suffered as “fantastic” – but there should be nothing like an Ashes campaign to get him back to his best if he recovers from injury on time.

4) James Anderson
Amazingly, he was left out of the side as recently as the first Test in the West Indies. But he is now England’s premier quick bowler, bowling with skill with new and old ball alike. His ability to move the ball both ways has some hoping he can emulate Simon Jones in 2005 in exposing Australian frailties against swing.

5) Stuart Broad
Andrew Strauss says he now views Broad as an allrounder, and, even though he has too seldom run through Test sides to date, he can expect to open the bowling alongside Anderson. His working-over of Sarwan at Chester-le-Street spoke of a bowler coming of age at Test level.

6) Graeme Swann
Swann has been England’s great success story of the past six months, in particular against left-handers – crucial given that Australia may have as many as five in their top eight. Swann’s control has impressed, but he is clearly a more attacking option than Panesar too. Add in the ebullient batting and excellent slip-catching and England may just have uncovered quite a package.

7) Matt Prior
Doubts over his keeping linger – will they ever go? – but England’s desire to play five bowlers mean Prior’s position is assured. There is simply no other keeper who could come close to convincing at No.6, even if he currently averages less than 30 against non-West Indian opposition.

8 ) Andrew Flintoff
Since his return last summer, he has averaged just 24 with the bat, surely precluding him from batting at six. With the ball he has been parsimonious and wholehearted, though he has only claimed three wickets a Test. But England will want him batting at seven to allow them a five-man attack.

9) Ravi Bopara
Three centuries in three innings have ended the debate surrounding England’s No.3 – for now. Test runs, save against Bangladesh, do not come any easier than against the West Indies at home in May, but Bopara has seized his chance admirably. Expect Mitchell Johnson to test out the theory that he is vulnerable to the short ball.

10) Paul Collingwood
Since being “an absolute goner” against South Africa last summer, Collingwood has been in magnificent form, scoring four hundreds and a 96.

11) Monty Panesar
The one area in which England can confidently say they have the edge over Australia is in the spin department. The two Andys have spoken of liking the balance two spinners provided the attack in Trinidad, and there seems every chance England will employ two in Cardiff and the two London venues. Panesar has not improved his game sufficiently since his extraordinary Ashes debut, and his struggles for Northants are deeply worrying. But his home record – 80 wickets at 27 – is excellent.

12) Graeme Onions (N/E)
Responded to being left out of the Durham side last season by taking five for 38 on Test debut. With genuine pace and the ability to move the ball off the seam, Onions has some exciting attributes – but a series economy rate of 4.40 suggests he has issues with control.

13) Ryan Sidebottom
His call-up to the squad for the second Test, along with his inclusion in both England’s limited-overs squads, shows he remains in the selectors’ thoughts. His case could be aided by a feeling that Phillip Hughes may just have a weakness to left-armers bowling over the wicket.

14) Ian Bell
Seemingly now the first reserve after an impressive start to the domestic season, Bell would certainly have a point to prove if given a chance. If Flintoff were to get injured once more, England may use Bell at six, rather than risk batting Broad at seven.

15) Tim Bresnan (N/E)
His selection for the first two Tests and in the ODI squad shows he is highly regarded. However, would his bowling really threaten Australia in mid-summer?

16) Steve Harmison
After his hokey-cokey winter and an inauspicious start to the summer, few would be surprised if Harmison never played for England again. But if he can find fitness and form for Durham, there will be a temptation to give him one last chance.

17) Michael Vaughan
If only he batted as well as he talked. But, for all the doubts, is probably England’s third-choice opener.

18) Adil Rashid
Took wickets and scored 72 for the Lions against the West Indies. It does not bode well for him that England preferred Gareth Batty for the ODIs in the Caribbean, but, if Panesar continues to struggle, there will be a case for giving Rashid and his improving leg-spin a Test this summer.

19) Tim Ambrose
Very impressive in his one winter Test as a stand-in for Prior, Ambrose, barring a brilliant performance from James Foster in the World Twenty20, appears established as England’s No.2 keeper. But, as we learned last summer, he is not a Test match No.6.

20) Owais Shah
Intensity, cramp and a penchant for suicidal runs saw Shah endure a miserable three Tests in the West Indies. It looks unlikely he will play a Test again.

21) Sajid Mahmood
Has not played a Test since disappearing around Australia in 2006-07, but his pace and ability to reverse swing mean he has not disappeared completely off the radar.

22) Eoin Morgan (N/E)
His raw, uninhibited talent has been likened by many to that of his county college Phillip Hughes. If Morgan impresses for England in the limited-overs games prior to the Ashes, he may have a chance of featuring.

23) Rob Key
The England Lions skipper will view the World Twenty20 as a chance to further his ambitions for a Test recall, though he has not scored the volume of runs to merit one.

24) Matthew Hoggard (+1)
So many feel he was jettisoned unfairly (even if he averaged 40 from his last 13 Tests) and he will be dreaming of a Test on his home ground. But the selectors seem to feel he has lost his “nip” for good.

25) Mark Ramprakash (N/E)
The romantics’ choice. Averages 42 against Australia and still the most prized wicket in county cricket even in his 40th year.

Monday, 18 May 2009

England player ratings vs. West indies

Ravi Bopara 9
He will bat at number three at Cardiff for the Ashes curtain-raiser and will not be short on confidence after taking advantage of some friendly bowling, flat pitches and poor fielding.

James Anderson 8.5
If swing bowlers can make the ball talk, Anderson had it chatting away loudly on the fifth day at Durham. A master in early-season conditions, he needs to show that he really is leader of the attack. He is a key man for Ashes test cricket.

Graeme Swann 8.5
Swann will miss having Devon Smith to bowl to, but he was much more than one player’s nemesis. Delivered on his batting and fielding reputations and the fact England are considering a spin-orientated plan of attack says everything about his progress. Bet on Graeme Swann to do serious damage during the Ashes.

Graham Onions 8
The performance on his home ground was in a way just as laudable as his efforts at Lord’s. Aggressive, slippery and able to hit the seam, Onions has plenty in his favour, although he might leak runs against the Aussies. Deservedly near the top of the bowling pecking order.

Alastair Cook 8
His lack of century-monkey is firmly off his back and he showed he can make big tons by recording his highest Test score at Durham. Technique will be examined more closely by Australia, but Cook has the mental attributes to cope.

Stuart Broad 7.5
Broad is becoming Strauss’ partnership breaker and is the sort of player born to do Ashes battle. Feisty and combative, this summer will bring the best out of him, which now includes genuine swing and seam bowling and ever-improving batting.

Matt Prior 7
His keeping blemishes and finger injury at Chester-le-Street took the shine off another impressive series for Prior. He is in great batting nick and deserves to bat at number six on merit at Cardiff.

Paul Collingwood 6.5
He scored a routine unbeaten half century on home territory but was befuddled by Fidel Edwards at Lord’s.

Andrew Strauss 6
His players and opponents made captaincy easy, so his Durham declaration was not questioned. Strauss instilled an aggression and urgency into England which will be crucial against Australia. He missed out with the bat but his form is in no way a worry.

Kevin Pietersen 6
Pietersen was back to his ‘fluent but silly dismissal’ best at Durham after his Lord’s golden duck and he is another who does not need to answer questions about his form for the Ashes.

Tim Bresnan 6
Bresnan must have feared a ‘thanks for coming’ award after seven fruitless Test days, but he got in on the act with three wickets on the final day of the series. He has perhaps done enough to be Andrew Flintoff’s number seven understudy, but that is about all.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Championship Review - Week 4

The last round of matches for a while as One Day cricket takes over. In Division 1, positive results take Notts and Lancs to the top of the table, while in Division 2, the most thrilling game was the only one that was drawn.

Division 1
Somerset’s batting has begun to look a little flaky and this was shown Nottinghamshire bowled them out for just 138 at Trent Bridge. Charl Willoughby undid some of the damage in reply with 5 wickets as Notts reached 261 for a significant lead. Second time round, Somerset did much better, led by 98 from Marcus Trescothick, they made 383 to set Notts 261 to win, which they did thatnks largely to an unbeaten 5th wicket stand of 124 between Adam Voges and Ali Brown. Notts go top at this early stage.

The return of Peter Moores to county cricket has been a successful one and Lancashire bowled out Worcestershire for just 167, with Glen Chapple taking 6 wickets and Saj Mahmood 4. Chapple then hit 89 as Lancs recovered from 181 for 7 to 347 all out. In the second innings, it was Mahmood’s turn to take a 6-fer as Worcester managed 301, Moeen Ali maintaining his decent start to the season with 80. This left Lancs needing 122 to win, which they reached for the loss of 4 wickets. They are challenging at the top while Worcester already look like they are struggling to adapt to Division 1.

Durham were indebted to a ton from Dale Benkenstein and an unbeaten 94 from Liam Plunkett as they made 380 against Sussex at Hove. The home side got close to parity, with Andrew Hodd making a ton, Plunkett and Mitch Claydon taking four wickets apiece. Mike diVenuto and Gordon Muchall then both hit tons as Durham declared on 299 for 4. However, despite further success with the ball for Plunkett, they weren’t able to force a result and the game was drawn.

Yorkshire have been having batting trouble in one day cricket. However, this was soon forgotten as they racked up 600 for 8 against Warwickshire with Joe Sayers (173) and Antony McGrath (a career best 211) putting on 346 for the 3rd wicket, a new Yorkshire record (surpassing the greats Herbert Sutcliffe and Maurice Leyland). However, there was also a career best 120 for Jeetan Patel as he and Jonathan Trott (161) put on 233 for the 9th wicket to save the follow on and end the game as a contest. There was just time for Yorkshire to declare on 162 for 3 and hope for a Warwickshire wobble. This wasn’t to be as they reached 60 for 1 comfortably and the game was drawn.

Division 2
Surrey welcomed back Mark Ramprakash and he was straight back into the runs with a ton as Surrey managed their first batting points of the season with 388 against Middlesex. Philip Hughes is also in a fine vein of form (rather now than later in the season) and hit 195 as Middlesex took a healthy first innings lead with 445. Second time round Shaun Udal took six wickets as Surrey managed just 242, leaving Middlesex needing 186 to win in 25 overs. It was always tight and with 10 needed off the last over, Udal hit a 6 to put Middlesex in the driving seat. However, he was out the next ball and with three needed off the last ball, Alan Richardson was run out going for the second, leaving Middlesex on 184 for 9, and the game drawn.

Gloucestershire have benefitted from the return of coach John Bracewell and Zimbabwean Anthony Ireland took 6 wickets as they bowled Leicestershire out for just 133. Alex Gidman made more than that on his own, scoring 159 of Gloucester’s 393 in reply. Leicester battled back in their second innings making 331, Jon Lewis taking four wickets. However, this left Gloucester needing only 72 to win, which they managed without losing a wicket and they are top of the table.

Preseason favourite, Kent, were struggling at 131 for 6, until James Tredwell and Wayne Parnell put on 151 for the 7th wicket to get to 282, as the final four wickets fell without a run being added. Glamorgan made 307 in reply, skipper Jamie Dalrymple top scoring as he continued his impressive start to the season. Martin van Jaarsveld (182) and Geraint Jones (133) then put together a stand of 309 as Kent declared on 409 for 4. Tredwell then took over with the ball, taking 8 wickets as Glamorgan collapsed to 180 all out, Kent winning by 204 runs.

Finally, Essex scored just 221 against Northamptonshire as Andrew Hall took five wickets. Northants built up a substantial lead, scoring 354, Riki Wessels top scoring with 84. Steve Crook then took five wickets as Essex made 304 second time round, James Foster making 84. Northants reached their target of 176 for the loss of just two wickets and they keep up the pressure towards the top of the table at this early stage.

England Player Watch
Michael Vaughan on current form should be more worried about his Yorkshire place than getting back into the England team. Likewise on a placid Edgbaston wicket, Ian Bell was overshone by his colleagues, notably Jonathan Trott, who has dropped out of International reckoning following a couple of limited over appearances. James Foster made 84 for Essex

Both Saj Mahmood and Liam Plunkett were in the wickets taking ten and eight respectively, with Plunkett also reaffirming his potential with the bat. Steve Harmison, like Vaughan, continues to struggle with his form. Ryan Sidebottom picked up four wickets as he recovers from injury. Adil Rashid picked up a couple of wickets, while also making a half century with the bat. Chris Woakes picked up the walking wicket of Michael Vaughan, but like all of the other bowlers, struggled to make an impact on a flat Edgbaston pitch. Monty Panesar also had little success, taking just one wicket in 31 overs, although he went for little more than one run an over.

Player of the Week
The Roses captains both make a good case for inclusion, with Antony McGrath getting a double hundred and Glen Chapple making significant contributions with bat and ball. However, it is another all round performance that gets this week’s award. For a half century that made Kent competitive and then eight wickets that won then the match, the Player of the week is James Tredwell.

Monday, 11 May 2009

England should consider other Yorkshire batting options

There is a former England batsman at Yorkshire who is pushing hard for a Test recall. An astute captain, he is capable of bowling some useful overs and is still thought to have the same batting capabilities that made him an instant hit for England, despite being well into his 30s. This man is not Michael Vaughan, but Anthony McGrath.

Discarded by England after four decent Tests and 14 disappointing one-day internationals, McGrath has rarely been touted for a recall, despite being one of the most consistent batsmen in county cricket.

McGrath exhibited all his best attributes in recording his highest first class score this week (211 against Warwickshire in a match he also scored an unbeaten half century in). Excellent technique, concentration and an ability to dominate were all present in that knock, although his case for a return to the England set-up is not based on just good current form.

The Yorkshire skipper would only be a short-term solution, a scenario which would bring its own pressures. McGrath is vastly experienced and could cope with the demands of a temporary return to the top level. He could be used as England’s number six if the selectors go down that defensive route this summer, as his bowling (111 first class wickets at 34.45) is more than just handy.

Good county form is once again being rewarded by the selectors and McGrath should be near the front of the queue if changes are made. However, a return to international coloured clothing might be more likely. McGrath was the second highest Twenty20 cup runscorer last season, despite Yorkshire’s controversial early exit, and with the selectors going back to the drawing board in this format, an unexpected fresh chance might materialise if he produces another good campaign.

Geoff Miller and co. are keeping a close eye on events at Headingley, but it seems a safe cricket bet that they might soon shift their focus from Vaughan to McGrath if they both maintain current form.

Friday, 8 May 2009

West Indies the biggest Lord's shower

As well as some of England’s players have performed in the first two days of the Lord’s Test, the West Indies have been shambolic. They might yet escape with a draw if rain and Shivnarine Chanderpaul do something dramatic, but they should be beaten heavily, which is all they deserve on the basis of their early efforts.

Actually, stating their efforts is being generous. There has been a general lack of application in all disciplines, characterised by a carefree attitude – hands permanently stuffed in pockets, a total absence of energy in the field. They have presented the look of a beaten team from the outset.

Some might say that the team was often equally laidback in the recent series in the Caribbean, and whilst it is true that skipper Chris Gayle, through his own lackadaisical example, is happy to preside over a relaxed band of players, a May tour of England demands a different approach.

The West Indies are not the first touring party to feel the early-season chill in these shores (although this is the earliest ever start of a Test in England) and being exposed by some good seam and swing bowling in helpful conditions is no disgrace. However, the visitors should have learned what is required after being hammered by England’s Lions hopefuls at Derby, but no change in approach can be detected.

There has been too little foot movement and too many angled bats, a combination that spells disaster on the Lord’s slope. The shocking display of catching on the first evening further typified their poor focus, whilst the bowlers hardly bent their backs.

Put simply, the West Indies have not seemed bothered, which is strange considering the efforts they went to in securing their 1-0 series win over England on home soil. The captain’s last-minute arrival and ongoing political wranglings can be put forward as excuses, but the players themselves must take responsibility.

Maybe a match-saving epic from Chanderpaul or a weekend of rain will remind them as they head up to Durham that the Wisden trophy will soon slip from their possession after only a few weeks unless they dramatically improve...but don't be too quick to use your next cricket bet backing such a scenario.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Championship Review - Week 3

Not many results this week as the weather gets involved, despite bizarre happenings at Taunton. The tables are still sorting themselves out and Division 2 has a very strange look to it.

Division 1
The weather and the fact that Headingley is turning into a surface as reliable as Taunton meant that a positive result was never an option between Yorkshire and Worcestershire. Batting first in dank conditions, Yorkshire declared in 460 for 6, with Jacques Rudolph getting 198 and Antony McGrath 120 in a stand of 247. At 39 for 2, Yorkshire had thoughts of enforcing a follow on. However, a stand of 317 between Vikram Solanki (206 not out) and Moeen Ali (153) meant that Worcester won the battle of the bonus points as they finished on 405 for 3.

Taunton looked like it was playing to type as Durham racked up 543, with Dale Benkenstein scoring 181 against Somerset. What followed, though, was not expected as Graham Onions celebrated his England call up by taking 6 for 31 as Somerset made just 69. Normal service was resumed in their second innings which closed with them on 485 for 5, centuries for Marcus Trescothick, Craig Kieswetter and Justin Langer.

At Old Trafford, Lancashire batted first, but were bowled out for just 189, Andre Adams taking four wickets. In reply, Nottinghamshire declared on 367 for 9, with Adam Voges making 95. Ashwell Prince led Lancs to safety, making an unbeaten 135 in their 230 for 3 in another weather affected encounter.

Finally in Division 1 to the Rose Bowl, where Sean Ervine made 109 out of Hampshire’s 350 for 8 declared. Matt Prior replied with 140 as Sussex managed 336 all out and with the weather intervening, there was only time for Hants to reach 127 for 2 by the end of play.

Division 2
Northamptonshire hosted Gloucestershire and the visitors made 294, thanks to a late order unbeaten 60 from Ian Saxelby, David Wigley taking 6 wickets. Northants responded with just 161, Steve Kirby and Vikram Banerjee taking four wickets a piece. Gloucester made 237 second time round, setting Northants 370 to win, with Gloucester being two bowlers down through injury. Despite the injuries, Northants were bowled out for 326 to give Gloucester the win which puts them second in the table.

Setting the pace are Derbyshire, who were saved by the weather as they visited Glamorgan. The home side declared on 403 for 6, with Mike Powell and Jamie Dalrymple getting tons. Derby were then bowled out for 210 and were struggling on 34 for 3 following on when the game drew to a close, with two days lost to the weather.

The title favourites met at Chelmsford, where Essex batted first and made 370, with Matt Walker making 98 and James Foster 99. In reply, Kent made just 205 to leave Essex well on top. Following on, Kent did much better and with Darren Stevens and Martin van Jaarsveld making centuries, they declared on 512 for 9, setting Essex a target of 348 to win. This time it was Essex’s turn to collapse, Robbie Joseph taking 6 wickets as they made just 155 to leave Kent as comfortable winners.

Andrew Strauss warmed up for the test series with a ton for Middlesex against Leicestershire. He was joined by Philip Hughes and Eoin Morgan in scoring centuries as Middlesex made 493 for 7. Leicester struggled to 258 in reply. However, as is often the case, the follow on was much more successful, with James Taylor getting a ton as they made 400 for 7 as the game petered out into a draw.

England Player Watch
Michael Vaughan’s week went from bad to worse as he made just 5 in Yorkshire’s 460 for 6. Ali Cook made a run a ball 41 in Essex’s first innings, but collapsed with the rest of the team in the second innings. Andrew Strauss looks in fine form with a run a ball 150, while ODI new boy Eoin Morgan also hit a ton.

Following the plethora of centuries from other wicket keepers last week, Matt Prior responded with one of his own this week and one suspects he will need to be injured not to be England’s test keeper for the summer. James Foster’s 99 keeps him to the top of those poised to challenge for Prior’s place if an injury does occur though.

Contrasting fortunes for the England new-boys Tim Bresnan went wicketless for Yorkshire, while his fellow England debutant, Graham Onions took a 6-fer, outperforming Steve Harmison yet again. Ryan Sidebottom started the rot for Notts against Lancs as he took two early wickets with the new ball. Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar bowled tidily, but picked up just the one wicket apiece in seaming conditions.

Player of the Week
Mentions to Jacques Rudolph, who’s 198 was made in tricky conditions and Vikram Solanki’s who’s 206 wasn’t, but you still have to get the runs. However, the outstanding performance was at Taunton, a pitch normally associated with batting feats. Player of the Week for his first innings 6 for 31 is England new boy, Graham Onions

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Telegraph Fantasy Cricket 2009

It's that time again!

The Third Umpire Telegraph Fantasy Cricket League is now set up and available to join for those playing the game!


Third Umpire

Good luck to all (anyone can enter)!