Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Ashes composite team

Much has been made of the superior individual statistics that the Australians possess. Whilst the lack of centuries and wickets by England’s players does not flatter the home side, it does not reflect well on the tourists either. They managed to lose to a team with only one batsman in consistently good form and whose bowlers only occasionally hit the necessary heights.

This composite Ashes team reflects the reliance England had on certain players, but the individual marks given to this combined team shows why England hold the urn; their best players outperformed Australia’s best players.

Strauss 9

His 161 at Lord’s was the highest score of the series, which typified his ability to score runs at crucial times. Captaincy gradually improved.

Katich 5

Faded after starting well at Cardiff – he passed fifty only once more in seven knocks.

Ponting 6

Authoritative batting at Cardiff and Headingley was mixed with some loose strokeplay elsewhere.

Clarke 7

Australia’s best batsman. If his two tons came in first innings rather than rearguard actions, his team might have won the series.

North 6

Wore England down in the first, third and fourth Tests, but paid the price for over-ambition in other innings.

Prior 6

The best keeper on show. His perky batting helped set up the Lord’s win, but England need more than eye-catching cameos from their number six.

Flintoff 7

Produced one of England’s four five wicket hauls (Australia had just two) in a memorable spell at Lord’s.

Broad 8

His stunning burst on the second day was the epitome of a big-match performance and made his disappointing previous efforts irrelevant.

Swann 8

The best spinner, if partly by default, benefitting from faith being shown in him, unlike Nathan Hauritz. Batting efforts a handy bonus.

Siddle 6

Cashed-in on brainless England batting at Leeds, but otherwise lacked consistency. Needs brain to go with the brawn.

Hilfenhaus 7

His elevation to leader of the attack said much about his colleagues’ early trouble. Consistent and accurate, he didn’t quite manage to deliver a killer spell.

England total: 38
Australia: 37

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

No great expectations

The excitement ahead of the fifth Test is not exactly fever-pitch. Unfavourable comparisons with the epic 2005 Ashes might be a contributing factor to the rather underwhelming build-up, but England’s shambolic effort at Headingley is the main reason why the enthusiasm for an Ashes decider is not what it should be.

There were of course 18 years of Ashes hurt waiting to be salved at the Oval four years ago, but England fans are not usually blasé about the prospect of winning back the urn. England were so bad at Leeds that optimism of winning at the Oval is low.

England start as outsiders, as the tourists have more players in form. Australia have five of the six leading runscorers in the series and the three leading wicket-takers. The decider should be just that, a one-off match that can decided by a special individual performance. Few expect it to come from the hosts.

That is just the way England like it. Unused to leading major series, the home side froze at Headingley when the opportunity was there to clinch the Ashes after winning at Lord’s and dominating most of the Edgbaston Test. 

England are once again underdogs, as they were when they arrived at headquarters after being outplayed at Cardiff. It remains to be seen whether England, low on confidence, can play with the necessary freedom to force a win without reverting to reckless attack as they did at Leeds.

The Oval has played host to plenty of draws in championship cricket this season and the lack of faith in England is partly down to the fact that conditions will not favour a positive result. The pitch is flat and a good batting display by the Aussies in the first innings will prove decisive.

However, England should remember that they beat South Africa at the venue last year, thanks largely to the performance of a four-man pace attack that could well re-assemble this week. Whether England expects or not, the Ashes can be won.

There's still time to take a look at the Fifth Test odds before placing any Oval Test bets

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Lessons not learned

Andy Flower was right to criticise his team after the Headingley humiliation. The manner of their three-day capitulation was so reminiscent of last year’s hammering by South Africa on the same ground that serious questions should be asked of the team’s ability to learn from their mistakes.

In 2008 England were bundled out for 203 before tea on day one, with nine batsmen caught against the swinging ball. All 10 were dismissed caught this time around, shortly after lunch for 102. They lasted less than 34 overs.

On both occasions the brainless batting was compounded by terrible bowling displays – South Africa cruised to 522, Australia 445 – and each match was as good as lost by lunch on day two. England failed to learn from their Leeds mistakes last year.

This failure to learn lessons is borne out of an obsession to take the game to the Aussies. It has become England’s mantra since 2005, a fixation with attacking play that does not take common sense into account.

True, Australia are more fallible than they used to be and as susceptible under pressure as other teams, but the key to being aggressive is knowing when to go on the attack. Day one on a flat Lord’s pitch against out-of-sorts bowlers was the right time; a swinging morning and well-grooved bowlers at Headingley was not.

This desire to ‘stand up’ to the Aussies was manifested by the abject bowling display at Headingley. Feeling a bit of pressure to take wickets after being skittled for 102 is understandable, but England lacked patience and intelligence.

Instead of finding a good length and letting the conditions do some work, all the pacemen were drawn into a short-pitched plan of attack that was dealt with with embarrassing ease by Ricky Ponting and co.

England have no chance of winning at the Oval unless they learn from their mistakes. They need to pick the right time to be aggressive, although the Headingley humiliation was so bad that some players might not get another chance. They cannot complain.

Before the start of the next test make sure you keep an eye on the Oval Test odds before any Fifth Test betting.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

England broadly have the right team

England always have someone under the selectorial microscope. Ravi Bopara’s place for Headingley is safe, despite another failure, so attention has shifted to Stuart Broad. The young paceman’s place is, not for the first time, under severe pressure.

Broad’s chances of keeping his place at Leeds are heavily linked with the fitness of Andrew Flintoff. If England’s talisman is unfit, then Broad must play; his lower order runs are vital for a team defending a 1-0 series lead. Besides, Steve Harmison, his potential replacement, will already be in the team in the scenario of Flintoff missing out.

However, if Flintoff is fit, then there must be a chance that Broad will be replaced. Numbers can be used to tell any story, so the more telling symptom of his predicament is the fact he was not used until 50 overs had passed in Australia’s second innings at Edgbaston.

Andrew Strauss appears to have lost some faith in Broad – he has gone from opening bowler to fourth change in two Tests – and the employment of the young seamer when the third Test was dead can be construed as a final attempt to get him into some rhythm. 2-38 on the final day might just have earned him another chance.

England will be reluctant to change a winning team and the selectors are mindful that the positive set of county numbers owned by Harmison is as misleading as Broad’s negative Test statistics. The Durham man’s recent Test failings hold more sway.

If England do axe Broad – as they did last summer – it should not be for Harmison but for Ryan Sidebottom. Now fully fit he provides a different angle of attack, reliability and genuine swing, the threat the touring batsmen have struggled to deal with. If the ball swings at Headingley, England need Sidebottom, not Harmison. The chances are that neither will play.

For now, keep an eye on the Headingley Test odds before any Fourth Test betting!