Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Strauss looks to find his feet

The contrast between Andrew Strauss playing an Ashes series at home and one playing over in Australia, couldn’t be more marked. In familiar conditions, he looks comfortable and with a supportive ground of spectators, he looks like one of the most talented men ever to pick up a lump of willow. But over in Australia, on their dry and dusty tracks, a crisis of confidence appears to strike once he realises that he’s made a start, and he suddenly looks like he’s not even sure which end of the bat he should be holding.

Like every captain-batsman in the world, questions are inevitably asked by those looking at cricket betting tips about his ability to juggle personal performances with his other role whenever he posts a low score, and it’s hard to argue that it’s easy – possible even – to truly focus on the bigger picture rather than one’s own personal problems, and not see a dip in performance. But with only one half century from his tour down under at an average score of 25, it looked as though that demon had claimed another victim.

Fast forward to 2009 however, and we saw the real Andrew Strauss – a man leading by example and conviction, backed up with the bat. His choice of which bowler to employ in any given situation and more aggressive field placements showed up the more experienced Ricky Ponting and suddenly we were in with a sniff. But if England were going to win the series then he knew he would have to push home this advantage by putting in a shift at the crease too, and promptly delivered with 474 runs across his 9 innings, resulting in an average of over 53.

The question remains amongst those placing a cricket free bet this winter as to whether or not he can battle the demons which plague him when he sets foot in Australia – he has admitted to the previous success of the Aussie’s mind-games which in 2006 included leaving a banner to welcome the England plane which simply read: “tonk a pom” – but England need him to stand up and be counted if our bowlers are to have some respectable totals to defend.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Bell eyes Ashes spot

One of the issues that will need resolving before next month's opening Ashes Test is who bats at number six for England. Eoin Morgan currently fills that role and he has quickly gained a reputation throughout world cricket as being one of the most exciting batsmen around. Morgan's breakthrough into the Test side was down to Ian Bell's broken foot, which kept him out of the Pakistan series. Morgan stepped up from the one day side and took to the longer format of the game like the proverbial duck to water hitting a century in his debut match.

With Bell returning to action for Warwickshire in the final part of the summer and carrying on his previous good form, the England selectors need to make a decision on who takes the number six spot.

It looks as though Bell's experience may be the deciding factor in the decision, although anyone looking to place an Ashes bet should bear in mind this isn't set in stone. Bell has shown his quality over the past year, after going through a difficult spell. Bell was part of the Ashes squad of 2006/07 that got given an old fashioned spanking, losing the series 5-0 and thankfully the Ashes betting tips suggest a repeat of this should be avoided.

Since then Bell has showed that he has added a toughness to his game to accompany his world-class talent. After being dropped from the Test side, Bell returned to the team to help England reclaim the Ashes in the 2009 series, with two battling performances, where he scored 53 and 72 as he proved character on cricket's most pressurised stage. His first century against Australia still eludes Bell and he will be determined to put that right this series.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Giles backs Swann to prove a hit down under

Former England spinner Ashley Giles has backed Graeme Swann to prove to be the difference during the upcoming Ashes series. Giles played in two unsuccessful Ashes tours in Australia before retiring to become Warwickshire's director of cricket, he is also a part of the English selection committee.

Although Giles was always a very decent spin bowler, he was never truly world class and has admitted he wasn't in the same league as Swann is now.

"Graeme Swann will play a lot bigger role than I ever played in Australia, I think he's a phenomenal bowler at the moment," Giles said.

Giles was part of the 2006/07 squad that suffered the humiliating 5-0 series whitewash but is convinced the same won't happen with this group of players.

"I think it's the most realistic chance we have of going there and winning the Ashes in quite a while, including some of the trips I went on," he added.

Swann is looking likely to be the difference between the two sides going into the opening Test at the end of next month. On paper both teams look pretty even, with the only real edge lying with England in the spin department, although the Ashes cricket betting makes the home side strong favourites.

While England have the current world's best spin bowler in their ranks, Australia are struggling to decide whether to play the out of form Nathan Hauritz or replace him with the youngster Steve Smith. Anyone thinking about placing an Ashes bet should remember this.

Certainly in the Brisbane Test, it looks as though the Aussie's will pack their team with fast bowlers, who will be more likely to get something out of the bouncy Gabba pitch, leaving their spinner to plug the gaps while they have a rest.

Friday, 22 October 2010

England selectors must be pragmatic

England rightly head downunder with high expectations. This confidence is not entirely due to their own form, as Australia’s limitations provide nearly as much encouragement. The Baggy Greens have just lost three successive Tests for the first time since 1988, which suggests England should be less daunted ahead of an away Ashes series than they have been for some time.

Many cricket betting observers suggest recent results should not have too much emphasis placed upon them. This is partially true – England’s regular batting collapses have not been reflected by their results against South Africa and Pakistan this year, just as losing in India is no disgrace for any visiting team – but the recent form of players cannot be ignored.

Both teams are keen to give the incumbents as much time as possible to return to form. There are plenty of batsmen living off past records and whilst Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen in particular deserve the chance to rediscover the form that served them well downunder in 2006/07, the selectors cannot afford to place blind faith in them.

Jonathan Trott, Matt Prior and Ian Bell are the only batsmen to have good figures behind them over the last few months, although Andrew Strauss is playing well without proper reward. The captain remains the most important batsmen in the team according to the latest cricket odds.

Eoin Morgan’s runs dried up after a dazzling century in his third Test, but if he, the only batting reserve, is thought to be a better prospect for runs than Pietersen, Collingwood or Alastair Cook, then he must be selected promptly.

It might seem harsh to discard a batsman after twin failures at Brisbane, but England so often start slowly downunder that that they must be proactive this time around. Similarly, an out-of-form bowler cannot be carried through the series.
Chris Tremlett has been recalled to pose a different threat and it should not be ignored until it is too late, especially as three proper warm-up matches prevent the excuse of lack of preparation being used.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Can Graeme Swann make the difference?

Graeme Swann is making the most of a second chance at international level, and he has a key role to play in Australia.

The 31-year-old made his international debut against South Africa all the way back in 1999 after being called up - but not selected - for the Test series with New Zealand the previous summer.

However, his cheeky-chappy persona was perceived by some as over confidence and even arrogance. The selectors were not impressed with Swann's attitude and he was dropped from the international squad the following summer.

It was five years later that his form began to pick up. After leaving Northamptonshire for Nottinghamshire he became a key member of the side that won the 2005 County Championship. His domestic form eventually earned him a recall to the England one day squad in 2007's tour of Sri Lanka and he soon made his Test debut the same winter against India in Chennai.

To say Swann has never looked back is an understatement. He found consistent bounce and turn, regularly taking key wickets that saw him quickly become England's first choice spinner in all forms of the game. During the 2009 Ashes series he grabbed four crucial wickets in England's two victories - including the famous removal of Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting's middle stump. His batting lower down the order also adds crucial runs to England's tally. The best Ashes odds make England strong favourites, and he will have to be at his very best.

His recent performances in South Africa and at the T20 World Cup - where he was England's leading wicket taker - has sent him up to number three bowler in the world and for the first time in decades England have the better spinner going into a series against Australia and the Ashes betting offers reflect this.

Swann remains a joker and often likes to have a laugh, but unlike in 1999 he now also has the ability to perform when it matters.

The shadow of Shane Warne looms large over Australian cricket and they may miss him just a little bit more when they see Swann line up against them this winter.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Ponting still the right man

Ricky Ponting has come under pressure this week from an two Aussie legends. The Australia captain has been criticised by Shane Warne and Geoff Lawson, after India beat the Aussies by seven wickets, to win the Border-Gavaskar Trophy series 2-0.

The loss maintained Ponting’s record of never captaining a series winning side in India.

Warne’s main point of contempt was with the Aussie’s field positions whenever Nathan Hauritz’s was bowling. The off-spinner was spanked to all parts of the Bangalore ground and wasn’t helped by the baffling field positions. Ponting has come out saying Hauritz himself was responsible for setting the field, as well as attempting to play down Warne’s comments. While Hauritz may have set his field, as captain, Ponting should have taken control when it was clear things weren’t working out as planned.

Former paceman Lawson has gone further with his comments, claiming Ponting should step down from skippering the team and hand over power to Michael Clarke before next month’s Ashes series starts. Lawson’s criticism come during Australia’s worst losing streak in 22 years. The fact the it’s been a three test losing streak, shows the dominance of Australia in world cricket for that 22 years.

The result of the loss in India, was that Australia’s ICC world ranking dropped down to fifth, ironically elevating England up a place into fourth. The ranking is Australia’s lowest since 1988, coincidently a year after England had won the Ashes on Aussie soil.

Those looking at Ashes cricket odds note how England will be looking at the Aussie’s situation with a wry smile on their faces. This is surely England’s best chance of winning their first series in Australia in 24 years. Australia’s loss against India, highlighted a host of weaknesses that the English will be hoping to exploit when the Brisbane Test starts on the 25th of November.

Although the Aussie batting line-up is far from the intimidating force of a few years ago, it shouldn’t be underestimated. Ponting is still one of the best batsmen in the world and Marcus North’s century in the Bangalore Test proved he’s back to his best.

Clarke has proved to be a thorn in English sides on more than one occasion will be keen for the battles to start. England’s best chance is to take advantage of their opponents suspect bowling attack. Hauritz isn’t enjoying the best spell in his career and the Aussie’s don’t currently have a fast bowler who those placing a cricket bet would back to consistently perform at a high level.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Ashes player preview - Andrew Strauss

Andrew Strauss is hoping to do what no England captain has done for over 20 years - retain the Ashes down under.

The 33-year-old is not only burdened with that particular statistic, but also the lingering memory of 2007 when England suffered a humiliating 5-0 whitewash at the hands of the Aussies, meaning they lost their short grip on the urn won in such style in 2005. The best Ashes odds suggest England will be in for a tough time again.

Strauss was merely a squad member back then, albeit one that opened the innings with Alastair Cook. He endured a miserable series however, making only one notable score - 50 at Melbourne in the Boxing Day Test, though he will be remembered more for becoming Shane Warne's 700th test victim in that game.

Strauss was eventually dropped from the test squad the following year after an extended dip in form but he returned refreshed and revived for the 2007 visit of New Zealand and South Africa.

A rift between then captain Kevin Pietersen and coach Peter Moores saw Strauss take the captaincy in early 2009. With the Ashes on the horizon Strauss and new coach Andy Flower had a job on their hands to unite the squad in time for the series - a poor early performance in the West Indies didn't help.

Thankfully for England the team and Strauss were much improved by the time Ricky Ponting and co arrived in England in May. Two tense draws sandwiched a historic win at Lord's, where Strauss claimed the highest individual score of the series - 161.

With the series tied at 1-1 going into the final game at the Oval a convincing 197 run victory meant the Ashes returned into England's grasp and Strauss was named man of the series by Australia coach Tim Neilsen. Anyone who wants to bet on top English batsman this time around should bear him in mind.

Australia may not be the all conquering team they once were, but on the hard pitches of their home grounds they are a formidable team, and wounded by the events of 2009, they will be as determined as ever to reclaim the urn. For Strauss, the hard work starts here.