Monday, 29 November 2010

Johnson lacks bite

Australia's main strike bowler needs to be a fairly intimidating figure, a scary Merv Hughes or Dennis Lillee sort. The Aussies' current number one bowler, Mitchell Johnson, has always talked an aggressive game but against England he's always looked more bark than bite. Johnson's performances during the first Test at the Gabba have been far from what Australia are going to need if they are going to regain the urn.

With Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus both performing admirably at the Gabba, Johnson could find himself scrapping to keep his place for the next Test. Doug Bollinger has been Australia's most consistent bowler over the past year and was unlucky to be left out of the side for Peter Siddle. The Aussie management may be having a serious think about reinstating him for the Adelaide Test. Indeed, the Ashes cricket odds suggested Bollinger could be the home side's top wicket-taker.

Not only did Johnson bowl inaccurately at the Gabba, but he wasn't smart or aggressive either. Johnson's lack of swing may also come into any decision, as this is an asset that Bollinger has in his artillery. Anyone who has placed an Ashes bet on Australia will know they have to take more wickets if they are going to win Tests.

Johnson is always raved about by the Aussie media but whenever he faces England, he seems to completely lose his game. His Test record is up there with the best, 166 wickets in his 38 matches at an average of 29, while against the English its nearly ten runs higher.

Without a strike bowler, Australia look a very average bowling attack and one which England can continue to attack. That is unless Johnson can find the form that makes him so revered by the Aussies at any other point in the year.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Is Swann suited to Test cricket away from English soil?

Graeme Swann is clearly a top-class bowler, as well as a man on a mission to show that he can perform well on Australian soil, but is he the man to perform on Aussie wickets?

Yesterday, he looked anything but and was hit for 34 runs off just four overs. Although this may not have been quite so bad in a 20/20, it's simply not acceptable in Test cricket and particularly when there is so much national pride at stake. The Ashes betting suggests England would have a good chance of retaining the urn, but players like Swann will need to do their bit.

Admittedly, it is still early days in the 2010 Ashes series, but the fact remains that this is not anything that has massively shocked the cricketing world, with many experts predicting Swann would prove to be unable to cope with Aussie wickets.

Should Swann fail to get a few wickets under his belt soon, and some better bowling figures to boot, England's selectors may have to start thinking about whether a man who has often been seen as their best bowler is worthy of retaining a place in the team. Anyone who has bet on England to win the Ashes will be worried about the situation.

However, if he can get the wicket of his tormentor Mike Hussey, then perhaps he can begin to show doubters he is not just another English spinner who can't handle Aussie wickets, but one of the best cricket players in the world.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

England given short, sharp shock

They may have had the perfect preparation and gone into the game high on confidence, but England where given a stark reminder of just how difficult it will be to win in the Ashes down under.

One day one at the GABBA, a ground Australia haven’t lost at in 22 years, England actually began well – winning the toss and electing to bat on a decent looking surface.

As those following the livescores last night will tell you, that air of optimism was blown away within three balls when captain Andrew Strauss attempted to cut a Ben Hilfenhaus delivery that was too close to his body and the ball flew to Mike Hussey at gulley.

In a series that will no doubt be close and keenly contested (hopefully) England know they will have to stand up and be counted and win mini-battles throughout each contest.

Sadly for England fans they lost everytime on day one, with Australia clawing themselves into contention on each occasion England looked to be settling into the game.

None more so than at 197-4, when with England set for a decent score Peter Siddle dismissed Alastair Cook, Matt Prior and Stuart Broad in successive deliveries for an historic hat-trick that left England reeling.

Siddle became the 11th Australian to take a hat-trick, the fifth in Ashes and the first against England since Shane Warne at Melbourne in 1994.

The Victorian paceman, playing on his 26th birthday, continued to torment England and soon snared Graeme Swann lbw before debutant Xavier Doherty finished England off with two late wickets.

It was the sort of day England feared most. A score of 260 is a poor return on what was a decent pitch and those keeping up to date with the latest Ashes scores tonight will know that England’s bowlers have to dig themselves out of a massive hole.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

England look to attack Australia’s soft middle

There is a good chance England will have been looking at Australia’s under pressure middle order and seen a chance to pile more pressure on the batsmen. Australia’s middle order has been the envy of the world for much of the past decade. The current crop have had a tough year and have all faced their own issues in keeping their places in time for the opening Test.Australia’s vice-captain Michael Clarke is still a doubt according to some studying the Ashes betting odds going into the opening match of the series, after struggling with his back injury.

That aside, Clarke has had a disappointing year by his high standards and was particularly poor in the recent 2-0 series loss in India. In the two Test matches against the Indians, Clarke’s weighed in with a whopping 35 runs, although he was clearly struggling with his back during the series.

Clarke has done enough throughout his career for England not to underestimate him. The same can be said of Mike Hussey, who came in for his fair share of criticism leading up to this week. Despite ‘Mr Cricket’ being one of Australia’s most consistent run scorers over recent years, Hussey is under pressure to start scoring runs for the Aussie’s or he could face being dropped.

Marcus North can be grateful for his gutsy 128 in the second Test against India. Before his century the batsman’s place in the side had come under intense pressure from Ashes online betting pundits after a poor run of form.

With young batsman Usman Khawaja know a member of the squad all the batsman are going to need to find their form quickly or face being dropped.

Alternative Australian Ashes XI

Amidst all the talk of the Australians England are facing, here is a side of those who didn’t even make the 17-man squad.
1) Mark Cosgrove
A big left-handed biffer, ‘old school’ in fitness and South Australian to boot: there is rather a lot of Darren Lehman in Cosgrove. His talent, which earned him three ODIs four years ago at the age of 22, is beyond question, as is his hunger for runs – just ask Glamorgan fans – but Cosgrove’s physique just doesn’t fit the template of a modern cricketer.

2) Phil Jaques
Fearless and superb at scything the ball through the offside, Jaques was likened to Adam Gilchrist by Steve Waugh. When given his Test opportunity in 2007/08, Jaques proved he had his technique was good enough, but was injured at the most inopportune of moments; despite averaging 47 in Tests and making 108 in his last innings, he now lacks even one of the 25 Australian contracts. As he scored two hundreds in three days in tour matches during England’s last visit, England may be slightly relieved.

3) Brad Hodge
There are strong suggestions in Australia that Ricky Ponting does not get on with Hodge: conspiracy theories are needed to explain how someone averaging 56 in Tests, including scoring 203* against South Africa, could have been limited to six. Having retired from first-class cricket last year, Hodge’s one-day form has been jaw-dropping, with seven hundreds in his last 16 games and an average of 86 over these, yet he hasn’t played an ODI for three years.

4) David Hussey
Many are saying one Hussey in the Aussie Test side is one too many – but it might be one too few. David is the Stuart Law of his generation – except Law at least got one Test cap. He averages an extraordinary 55 at first-class level, while plundering his runs at a strike-rate of 71, but perceived weaknesses to the short ball have counted against him.

5) Cameron White (captain)
Apparently you need to be more than cocky, blonde and Victorian to be a successful leg-spinner. White played all four Tests in India in 2008, whilst batting at number eight – but if another Test appearance comes, it will be in the middle-order, where his propensity for six-hitting in the limited over’s formats is so impressive.

6) Andrew McDonald
A wicket-to-wicket bowler who puts the military in military medium, MacDonald is not the most glamorous cricketer Australia has ever produced. But his nagging style proved effective in four Tests against South Africa in 2009, whilst his batting is adaptable and increasingly effective, as three state centuries at 93 this season so far attest to. He made his Test debut at six, and is a much better player now; the perception that he lacks sufficient talent may just need revisiting.

7) Luke Ronchi (wicket-keeper)
New-Zealand born, Ronchi’s audacity with the bat resembles the best of Brendan McCullum. That much was shown as he blitzed 64 off 28 balls in his second ODI innings, against West Indies in 2008. A collapse in form followed, but an average of 47 in state cricket last season suggested he could rival Tim Paine to succeed Brad Haddin.

8) Jason Krezja
Krezja is the owner of probably the most extraordinary Test debut figures in the history of the game: 12 for 358. On debut in India two years ago, he bled runs but always turned the ball enough to threaten the perennial tormenters of spin bowling. Still raw, Krezja needed confidence instilled in him, but was instead dispensed with after one poor Test. Self-belief shattered, a place in the Tasmanian side now often eludes him. His career is a textbook study of how not to handle a spinner.

9) Brett Lee
With his arch competitiveness and generous sporting spirit, this Ashes series would cherish Lee – and how he would cherish it. Reoccurring injuries have forced his first-class retirement but he could well terrorise England in the ODIs after the Tests, just as he did last year in England.

10) Shaun Tait
After the 100mph slingers, hostility and stump-shattering accuracy in the ODIs in England this year, there was much talk Tait would end his premature first-class retirement, with Ponting encouraging him to showcase his reverse-swinging skills in Tests. The rumours were ended by the realisation his body wouldn’t be up to it. As with Lee, English fears over the ODI devastation he could cause will be outweighed by relief he won’t be appearing in the Tests.

11) Darren Pattinson
Pattinson could conceivably have been appearing for either side this winter, having lived in Australia from the age of six before playing a Test for England in 2008; and his brother will play for Australia within a few years. Made a scapegoat for England’s defeat, Pattinson has enjoyed a brilliant few months, including a championship for Notts and 8/35 in a game for Victoria. England should be getting advice from him on bowling to Australia’s batsmen in their conditions.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

If Freddie says we'll win - we will!

He often got his own way on the field and England fans will be hoping he gets his own way off it.

Andrew Flintoff has boldly predicted England will win down under and retain the Ashes for the first time in 24 years.

The 32-year-old, who retired in September following a long battle with a knee injury, believes England simply have the better players and singled out Graeme Swann, Kevin Pietersen and James Anderson as potential match winners.

Indeed Swann is highly tipped to be among the top wicket takers in the series. The 31-year-old has come on leaps and bounds in recent years and is now one of the best spinners in the world and the Ashes betting offers reflect this.

For the first time in decades England now have the better spinner going into an Ashes test, the looming spectre of the legendary Shane Warne will hang heavy over debutant Xavier Doherty at the first Test in Brisbane.

James Anderson is another who has added consistency to his game in recent years, but questions still remain about his ability to bowl in non-swing-friendly conditions.

A master under cloudy damp skies on green tinged pitches, the challenge is on for the Lancashire star when bowling under the bright blue skies of Australia.

Kevin Pietersen goes into this game perhaps under more pressure than anyone in the England side. The England batsman, who has just signed for Surrey for the 2011 season, has been in patchy form for his country this year and was dismissed cheaply in the final warm up game against Australia A and anyone looking at the Ashes best odds would have been worried by this.

That dismissal, from left arm spinner Steve O'Keefe, has reportedly prompted the Aussie selectors to go with Xavier Doherty for the first Test in the hope Pietersen's woes will continue.

But if Pietersen is one thing it is a fighter and nothing motivates him more than a clash with Australia. I wouldn't bet against KP being amongst the runs when the action kicks off in Brisbane on Thursday.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Hussey finds timely form

Australia batsman Mike Hussey may have saved his Ashes spot by hitting a timely century for Western Australia in their Sheffield Shield match against Victoria at the MCG. The left-hander has struggled this year and in the recent series loss to India he failed to post a significant score, averaging only 20 from his four innings as Australia suffered a 2-0 defeat.

With some calling for Hussey to be dropped the Australia side, his innings of 118 from 160 could well have saved his spot in the team for next week's opening Test at the Gabba. Usman Khawaja and Callum Ferguson had both been mentioned as possible replacements, but it looks as though the experienced campaigner will cling onto his place after the youngsters failed to impress while turning out for Australia's A side in a match the cricket betting now makes England strong favourites to win.

It seems a trifle unfair on Hussey that his place in the side is being considered. Over the past few years Hussey has probably been Australia's most consistent performer and their fans will be hoping his recent poor form will prove to be nothing more than a blip. The cricket odds suggest a tight series and Hussey could swing it in the home side's favour.

Hussey’s record in Test matches is as good as anyone in world cricket. In his 54 Test appearances, Hussey averages just under 50, with 11 centuries and 21 half centuries. Although England will be staying out of the debate over Hussey, it's fair to say the English bowlers would be delighted to see the batsman's name absent from the team sheet when they line up in Brisbane next week.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Siddle eager for recall

Australian pace bowler Peter Siddle is hoping to return to the Test side for the opening Ashes Test after ten months out with a back injury.

Siddle is one of five seamers in the squad of 17 named for the Brisbane Test. His last appearance for the side came at the start of the year, when he took a five-wicket haul against Pakistan before fractures to his back ruled him out for a significant spell. With the Ashes cricket odds suggesting England are in with an excellent chance of retaining the urn, Siddle could be vital for the home side if he's back to his best.

With Siddle absent from the Test side for much of this year, other bowlers have stepped up and now the Victoria bowler will face a battle to get back in the side, something he is more than aware of.

"I've obviously been out of the game for ten months, and not playing, and those blokes that have come in have performed well and done very well for Australia," he said.

With Ben Hilfenhaus and Mitchell Johnson likely to be named in the side, Siddle may be in a battle with one of those bowlers who has impressed in his absence, Doug Bollinger. The left-armer has looked good since coming into the Test side following Siddle's injury, taking 22 wickets, at an average of 23.40. Bollinger was suffering with an injury picked up in the recent series loss to India but has been declared fit in time for next week's series opener. The Ashes cricket betting suggests bowlers will be vital in the first Test, so the selectors will have to choose wisely.

With the Gabba looking as though it will once again prove to be a seamer friendly pitch, all the Aussie fast bowlers will be desperate to take advantage of it. The Aussie management will now have a week to decide which way they are going to go.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Katich winning fitness race

Australia batsman Simon Katich looks set to win his battle to be fit for the first Ashes Test in Brisbane. The opener is due to represent New South Wales against Tasmania in next week's Sheffield Shield match after recovering from a fractured thumb.

Katich sustained the injury in the build-up to last month's series loss in India. After passing the injury off as bruising, Katich played in the series but was obviously affected by the injury, averaging just 27 Australia went down to a 2-0 series loss.

If the Aussies are going to regain the Ashes then there key batsmen will have to perform. Katich is certainly one of his side's most consistent performers, scoring 4,091 in his 54 Tests including ten centuries. However, only one of those centuries has come against the English and Katich will be determined to add to that total during the upcoming series.

Although Australia's form over the past few months has been far from their usual standards, the openers have consistently put on decent partnerships and the English will be fully aware of the danger posed by Katich and Shane Watson. The openers came together during last year's Ashes series and have given Australia valuable runs at the top of the order, scoring 1,356 runs in their 13 Tests at an average of 56.5 together and the cricket betting reflects just how dangerous they can be.

The ability of the openers to put runs on the board at the top of the order was one of the features that made Australia such a dominant force when Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer led the line. Watson and Katich have so far produced the goods with three centuries and eight half-century stands since coming together last year and could prove to be a thorn in England's side this winter. Anyone thinking about placing a cricket bet should remember this.

If England can find and early breakthrough and expose the fairly soft looking Australia middle order at an early stage in the innings then they will stand a very good chance of winning their first Ashes series on Australian soil in 24 years. Katich certainly won't be giving his wicket away easily and the English will have to be creative when bowling to the opener.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Gabba pitch set to be a 'minefield'

With the first Ashes Test looming Kevin Mitchell, the groundsman at Brisbane's Gabba cricket ground, has warned it could contain a few surprises for both sets of batsmen.
The same track was in use for a domestic Sheffield Shield match between New South Wales and Queensland in which the home side Queensland lost 18 wickets in just two sessions, mainly due to a lush green surface on top of the pitch as well as humid dry weather providing ideal bowling conditions.

If similar weather occurs in the next few weeks the moisture will stay in the surface, keeping its green tinge, meaning it will get unpredictable bounce as well as movement and swing - a worrying combination for batsmen and one that could have an impact on the Ashes betting.

Sunny weather however, will help it dry out and produce a hard, bouncy pitch the Gabba is famous for.

It is hard to say who would benefit more from a greener surface, both sides have talented fast bowlers who would relish bowling on such a friendly surface.
The main winners could be the spectators, who would be treated to plenty of action as it would clearly be a wicket- favouring surface. Anyone looking to bet on top England batsman should bear this in mind.

Australia have Dougie Bollinger and Mitchell Johnson, while England have Stuart Broad and Steven Finn all of whom will relish the prospect of such a pitch.
If a green tinged wicket emerges on November 25th, expect that quartet to be among the wickets from the off.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Can Eoin Morgan prosper down under?

Eoin Morgan, England's adopted Irishman, took his time to break into the Test circuit, but such is his progress he could find himself in the starting XI come the first Ashes match in Brisbane.

Born in Dublin, Morgan originally played hurling but eventually converted to cricket, though his aggressive, sweeping stroke play still echoes back to his past in the Gaelic game.

He established himself as an expansive left hander in the World Cricket League with Ireland, though he endured a difficult World Cup in 2007, despite the success of his team mates.

Despite that disappointment he was selected for the England one day team in 2009. He hit a 34-ball 67 in the Champions Trophy in September 2009 before an unbeaten 45-ball 85 in the opening Twenty20 match of England's tour of South Africa to establish himself as a key player in the short form of the game - as well as earning comparisons to fellow import Kevin Pietersen.

The selectors saw Morgan as a finisher - the kind of player who can wrap up a one day victory or, if batting first, blast key runs at the end of an innings to add an extra 30-40 runs to the total. This was shown in early 2010 when he played a key role in England's World T20 success, their first ever ICC international trophy.

Morgan's success in the short from of the game led to a Test call up for the series against Bangladesh in this summer, he has since played in the Test series with Pakistan and has an average of 32. However, those considering a bet on top England batsman should bear in mind that he may not get a huge amount of time at the crease if the top order do well.

His biggest test lies ahead though as he heads down under to take on Australia. An Ashes debut is tough for any player and Morgan won't be alone in feeling the heat. But when on form he adds steel and bite to England's middle order, and he doesn't carry the baggage from that disastrous 5-0 whitewash four years ago. The best Ashes odds make Australia favourites, but the like of Morgan will feel they have a point to prove.

If he can help prevent any more legendary English batting collapses by holding up the middle order, then Strauss' men have a great chance of retaining the Ashes down under.