Saturday, September 5, 2009

Muffed selection and a dawning superstar

Only in England can a guy score one of the all time best debut centuries, in a crucial Ashes decider, indeed an Ashes winning innings, and then not be picked for the subsequent one day series including the 1st match on the very same cricket ground, despite the fact that he was in the Twenty20 side as well, and his domestic one day record is every bit as good as his first class record, and the fact that he is a naturally aggressive batsman perfectly suited to this type of cricket, in the form of his life (to rub it in he scored 93 for county Warwickshire the very day before the ODI match). The inexplicably overlooked player I am referring to of course is the new master batsman Jonathan Trott. He must be scratching his head and wondering why he bothered coming to England if this is what the selection system is like.

To make matters even worse one of England's first choice batsmen Joe Denly went down injured the day before the game, so instead of then recalling Trott, England chose rather to pick ridiculously out of form Bopara who after his last 4 consecutive innings for England of 1,0,0,1, played a classic match-losing innings of 49 from 88 balls to bat England out of the game yesterday. Predictably England contrived to muff a simple chase, falling 4 runs short despite a valiant effort from their lower order to try and salvage the waste of Bopara and to a lesser extent Paul Collingwood.

Only in England? Nuff said.

On a brighter note, a new star was born yesterday, legspinning allround sensation Adil Rashid showed a vision of the future as he first mesmerised then bludgeoned Australia in an amazing display of 21 year old talent allied to calm temperament. Graeme Swann had better enjoy his time of glory because Rashid is destined to be the first choice spinner in all forms of the game within a year. Just as Trott looks set to be England's premier batsman and number 3. It cannot be overstated how huge this is for England and indeed world cricket. Rashid could potentially be the biggest new star since Shane Warne arrived in all his blonde bravado, and Warne was no batsman. Rashid is a true allrounder, scoring both centuries and taking 5 wicket bags in first class cricket, sometimes in the same game. The lad looks ready to set the world on fire. As long as England remember to select him...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The day the Ashes were won and lost

This was the day that ultimately looks destined to decide the fate of the great urn. Australia, after finishing off England for what looked a below par 332, and going to lunch at 61/0, completely collapsed to be 160 all out. Stuart Broad, the much maligned blondie, finally bowled with real menace and control and boy did he come good. 5 wicket bags are seldom better executed or more timely. Some thought this would be the Andrew Flintoff party, however it seems the torch of the side's talismanic allrounder may now be ready to be passed on to the new kid on the block. After a long hard fought series the host nation are coming up trumps when it matters most. And Ponting's Australia appear doomed to hand over the Ashes for the 2nd consecutive time in England, and as though that were not bad enough, if they lose they will fall as low as 4th on the official Test world rankings. As one Dylan once mused, the times they are a changin'..

Friday, August 21, 2009

England unearth a gem

While most of the England team looked a bit shaky and fragile in the afternoon sessions one man stood out and was solid, the debutant Jonathan Trott. Yet it was his first Test. He reminded me quite a bit, both by his rock steady defence and his calm looking temperament, of one of the greats in the world today, one Jacques Kallis. They even have similar looking faces and both hail from Cape Town. By his 41 runs under pressure Trott showed he may well have what it takes to succeed at this the highest level, and was unlucky to be run out when well set. Despite appearing to play very patiently he still accumulated his runs at a comfortable pace of over 3 per over.

It is high time England selected a real batsman of substance, as opposed to the flakiness of the other middle order incumbents, Bell, Bopara and Collingwood, who all look about as solid as card houses. Remarkably, apart from the aforementioned, only 4 other new batsmen, Strauss, Cook, Pietersen and Owais Shah, have been selected for England in the past 6 years. That's 1 new batsman per year, in 10-15 Tests. And Trott is the first new batsman in 2 years since Bopara. This may all be ok if the batsmen were performing and the team were winning, but this has not been the case. It has been a very closed shop policy, and Trott must have had to really kick the proverbial door down with his performances these last few years to get a look in. It is surely no coincidence that out of all the above only Strauss and Pietersen, South African born like Trott, have truly looked the part in Test cricket, and Trott now looks as though he'll be equally at home. Perhaps English cricket, quite like New Zealand, are really struggling to produce proper batsmen from within these days.

England meanwhile are in a good position in this match at 307/8 because the conditions look tricky for batting and the pitch, already from day 1 is breaking up faster than the Beatles. So although England may have blown their chance for a big first innings score it looks as though a result may be on the cards in this match, and Australia, having to bat last, and having wrongly not selected a spinner, are at quite a sizeable disadvantage as it will be harder for them to score the same amount of runs. Hopefully the pitch won't go dead like Cardiff, and the game will be a sizzling scrap for ultimate supremacy all the way. And a treat to watch.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Aussie dossier

As a response to this article by Justin Langer criticising England's players, I have decided to issue a similar dossier on Australia's players.

Current team:

Katich - A weener with a weird crab like technique, his face alternates between smug and cross. Never looks like a proper batsman no matter what shot he plays. Painful to watch.

Watson - Big vain loudmouthed oaf who loves himself and nowhere near as good as he thinks he is. His batting looks clunky and mechanical, I don't think he will ever be a great success at it, while his attempts at bowling are just embarassing.

Ponting - A fussy little fast talker with a big mouth always questioning and criticising umpires and opponents. Quick to throw toys out of the cot when things aren't going his way which is quite often these days. Sadly has the tactical savvy, as well as the saliva retention of a two year old. Spitting on the hands every ball is a great look for a national captain. Looks and acts eerily like George Bush. Noone is that surprised he is now getting booed whenever he steps on the field.

Hussey - Mr Cricket is one of the few remotely respectable blokes in the bunch. But he comes across very uptight and geeky and just looks a ball of stress and tension.

Clarke - Engaged to Australia's biggest bimbo (Bingle), and it could be a case of two peas in a pod, as he is forever spouting nonsense and propoganda like proclaimations about Australia's superiority, and generally licking Ricky Ponting's butt at every opportunity, while wearing an irritating smirk. Is also guilty of looking too much like Elijah Wood, and is the often the luckiest batsman in the world in each innings whose flimsy style flatters to deceive.

North - Hasn't been in the team long enough to form a lasting judgement but seems to be a reasonably solid batsman and bloke. Is it just coincidence that Australia were so reluctant to select both Hussey and North until their 30's despite them being so good? Perhaps their nice guy personas don't fit in with the rest of the team.

Haddin - A particularly nasty piece of work, often deliberately cheats by claiming catches and wickets when it's clearly not out, as explained in this example, when criticized gets defensive and acts wounded despite the actual evidence. Is forever chewing gum and spouting unpleasantries while grinning idiotically. His keeping is so desperately poor he has to try to make up for it somehow.

Johnson - Pin up poster boy who has been trumpeted and over rated after one good series. Has a wonky bowling action that sprays the ball around, and bats in slog mode. His thunder was stolen by his mother embarassingly speaking out about him before the series.

Hauritz - Is not the worst bloke, but quite possibly is the worst "spin" bowler every to pose as a spin bowler for Australia as he does not spin the ball and does not look like a proper bowler.

Siddle - Former woodchopper, reminds you of a chipmunk when he opens his furry mouth. His bowling is not going to break any records, perhaps in the team because his bowling action imitates selector Merv Hughes, and is also a Victorian?


Lee - Forever over-rated, not least by himself, his Test bowling statistics are not that hot, and are inflated by many tail ender wickets as he can't seem to get proper batsmen out so tries to bully the tail enders.

Hayden - Retired after being dropped, he is the ultimate batting bully, a real brute of an oaf. Fails whenever the ball swings or the bowling is otherwise above average. Says little intelligent when he speaks, is a particularly arrogant and nasty person who was not well liked even by his own team judging by the lack of glowing tributes when he left. Once put on a mock Indian voice on a radio station and abused several Indian players and challenged one of them to a boxing fight. What a bloke.

Gilchrist - A terrible hypocrite and self confessed cry baby, he pretends to be a gentleman by walking when obviously out yet appeals and makes a big fuss when opposition are clearly not out. Exceptionally arrogant in the way he speaks, he was brought down to size spectacularly in the previous Ashes series in England, failing to reach 50 in any matches and his career never recovered after that.

Symonds - Not much to say here that isn't well known. Preferred drinking and fishing sprees to his millionaire cricket career so eventually threw it away. An abrasive and nasty character on and off the field.

Warne - A real hedonist with no morals, Australia was unable to control him because of his so called superhero status. Heavy smoker and even heavier womaniser, despite being married for most of the time. On the field his behaviour wasn't any better as he repeatedly abused batsmen and umpires.

McGrath - Bad tempered beanpole who was always shaking his head and muttering to himself, and also loved to abuse batsmen. So arrogant he would often predict whitewash outcomes before series, which backfired hilariously in the last Ashes series where not only did Australia lose, but he managed to injure himself standing on a cricket ball just before the match.

Australia play the villains so well. I hope they don't manage to come out on top in the Ashes because the bad guy isn't supposed to win.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Team selection

The teams I would select for Headingley, assuming all players fit:


Why? The pitch will be flat and swing has been far more effective in the series, hence Sidebottom in for Broad, and not Harmison. Bopara has not played remotely like a Test batsman in this series, so perhaps Trott should get his chance. Yes the batting looks a shade thinner, but Prior averages 46, Swann 35, and Anderson's batting has improved enough to easily be a number 9. Add to this the fact that the Australian bowling has not been good enough to bowl England out twice yet in the series and it's clear that the greater firepower is needed in England's bowling department. You have to back your top six to succeed and score the bulk of your runs. Additionally if the conditions look better suited to pace than spin I would be severely tempted to also play Harmison instead of Swann, as it is a good time to unleash him, and Headingley is not kind to spinners.

If however, Flintoff is not fit enough, and I don't think he should be playing at 50%:


Yes, I would select Harmison in place of Flintoff if he is not fit as England do need one proper hit-the-deck bowler (not a pea-shooter like Broad) for variety and there is none who does this better than Harmison. They will then need to retain either Broad or Swann for balance to the side, as both are in form with the bat and having one of them at 7 would be less of a gamble than playing both the debutant Trott and out-of-his-depth Bopara.

Sidebottom absolutely must play for several reasons - he is in form, he knows Headingley well, bowled amazingly in his previous Test here last year for match figures of 8/86, and crucially the Australians have never yet faced him, and do not play swing well, including left arm swing, as rookie Wayne Parnell showed earlier in the year. The selectors will want both Broad and Swann to play for their batting, but neither is likely to take bags of wickets at Headingley, so only one should play. I would like to see England's best 4 bowlers for the conditions (Anderson, Onions, Harmison, Sidebottom) play regardless of the batting, though this of course will never happen because they won't want to be perceived to have a long tail, although I would trust Anderson to hold the fort at number 8 based on his recent batting.

As for Australia, their ideal team at the moment would probably be:


Yes, Hughes not Watson, because Hughes is an exceptionally good opener who can make big hundreds, whereas Watson is a bit of a vain impostor who filled in for a couple of scratchy fifties on a flat deck. Watson has also shown he cannot be taken seriously as an allrounder. Hughes has only struggled against one bowler - Flintoff, and with Flintoff unlikely to bowl many overs at full pace or even play, Hughes should be backed to ride out his opening barrage. I'm amazed they have not backed their top batsman from the South African tour.

Stuart Clark must come in even if he is a bit rusty as he is probably still the best bowler of the lot and again I'm amazed he hasn't yet been picked when he was the leading bowler in the last Ashes series and on several other occasions. Brett Lee is not match fit and will probably be saved for the Oval, though his record in England, and indeed in his past few Test series is poor anyway so I don't see how he could make the team stronger when in less than full form and fitness.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Empty up top

As I write this, a great Test match is unfortunately being thrown away by England captain Andrew Strauss by his stubborn and absurd insistence on bowling Stuart Broad at crucial times at the start of every 2nd session. Despite removing the out of form Mike Hussey by possibly his only ball that moved a few inches off the straight, he looks a medium pace net bowler at best and is easily the least threatening of England's 5 bowlers. England will not go on to win this Test, and questions must be asked of Strauss's faculties and favouritism.

The decision to bowl Broad at such a crucial time to let Australia off the hook in this Ashes series ranks right up there with Ricky Ponting's laughable choice to bowl occasional part timer Mike Hussey at a crucial time in the final Test of last year's tour of India.

England will go to Headingley only 1-0 up, and will be too afraid of changing their side and bringing in arguably the most dangerous bowler in England, Steve Harmison, as Broad played a good innings as a batsman regardless of this not being his primary role. It all reeks of heavy conservatism and muddled thinking and is diluting the quality of cricket being played, and possibly compromising England's series chances should Australia, who are the more positive side at the selection table and brave enough to change their side, be good enough to fight back and make them pay.

p.s. I shouldn't have mentioned Hussey because now Strauss has brought England equivalent Ravi Bopara into the attack, with all of 1 Test wicket to his name. And now Strauss himself has dropped a catch. All in a top day at the office for the captain, who has shown he still has much to learn of this game. Could this be the turning point (another turning point) of the Ashes?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Scenarios for Edgbaston Day 5

Hmmm, interesting. England batted very quickly and have turned the heat right on Australia. Time for an update on our scenarios with 1 day to go.

Australia 263 & 88/2 (28.0 ov)
England 376

Australia trail by 25 runs with 8 wickets remaining. There are 96 overs scheduled to be bowled if you count the change in innings. The forecast is looking good now for tomorrow. So the million dollar question is how long do Australia need to bat to prevent defeat?

Let's assume they continue at their current run rate (3.14).

Australia last another 50 overs, scoring 157 runs leaving a target of 133 for England from 46 overs @ 2.89 runs per over. England would win.

Australia last another 60 overs, scoring 188 runs leaving a target of 164 for England from 36 overs @ 4.56 runs per over. England would probably win.

Australia last another 65 overs, scoring 204 runs leaving a target of 180 for England from 31 overs @ 5.81 runs per over. Tricky run chase, possibly a 50/50 chance.

Australia last another 70 overs, scoring 220 runs leaving a target of 196 for England from 26 overs @ 7.54 runs per over. Match would probably be drawn.

So at their current rate Australia would probably need to last close to 70 overs to make the game safe. However let's say they score faster than their current rate of 3.14:

At 3.50, if they bat for 65 overs, scoring 228 runs leaving a target of 204 for England from 31 overs @ 6.58 runs per over. This only makes the chase slightly tougher for England.

At 4.00, if they bat for 65 overs, scoring 260 runs leaving a target of 236 for England from 31 overs @ 7.61 runs per over. This probably puts the target out of reach of England.

At 4.00 if they only bat for 60 overs, scoring 240 runs this would leave England to score 216 from 36 overs @ 6.00 runs per over which would again possibly be a 50/50 type chase.

At 4.50 if they batted for 60 overs, scoring 270 runs, England would then need 246 from 36 overs @ 6.83 runs per over, again probably putting the target out of reach.

Going to the other end of the spectrum, if Australia decide to bat really slowly at 2.50, even if they batted for 70 overs scoring 175 runs, England would still then only need 151 runs from the remaining 26 overs @ 5.81 runs per over, which they would probably achieve with a target that small.


Providing no weather interruptions Australia will need to survive for at least another 60-70 more overs (with 8 wickets in hand and without their series top run scorer Brad Haddin or captain Ponting) to save the game depending on the run rate they maintain. So time is the main issue. It's been a long time since Australia had to bat purely to save a game in this fashion with no prospect of winning. The pressure will truly be on and should make for riveting viewing. If the ball swings again I feel they are a goner. If it's sunny skies and doesn't swing it will still be touch and go as the spinner Swann will probably snare a couple too. We await.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Swing and scenarios

Not too many original comments to add on today's play. When the ball swings Australia do their ten pin falling over act. Graham Onions is a not to be underrated bowler, unlike Broad who may finally make way for Harmison in the next game at Headingley.

As for this match, with such a low first innings score there is time in hand for a result. If we make some rough napkin calculations:

Aus 263
Eng 116/2

England are 147 behind with 8 wickets in hand and 3 days left to play.

Let's do some rough napkin calculations. Let's assume England will reach a par score of roughly 360 in this innings, for a lead of 100, at their present run rate of 3.22 per over this will take a further 75 overs - leaving 215 overs left in the game. Note that in terms of there being a result in the game (either team winning) the score in their first innings doesn't really matter as they still have to bat again anyway - the runs they don't make in the first innings they can make in the 2nd innings and vice versa.

In terms of draw vs result the key will be how many runs Australia score in their 2nd innings. If they begin just after tea on day 3 there will be 2 days and a session left in the match. Let's assume they will score at their first innings run rate of 3.72 runs per over.

Bear in mind a day's play will now be 98 overs (usually 90) due to time having been lost. There are therefore a maximum of 290 overs left in this game, accounting for innings breaks.

Scenario A:
Australia score 400 in 110 overs, setting a target of 300 with 105 overs left to play, a run rate required of just under 3 per over. It is a good wicket and England will fancy chasing this down with a long batting line up, however some time will likely be lost due to the weather with a lot of rain forecast for the next 3 days. Therefore this scenario will probably result in a draw.

Scenario B:
Australia score 350 in 95 overs, setting a target of 250 with 120 overs left (4 sessions). England would only need about 2 sessions (60 overs) to chase this down if they bat well, so could afford for rain to wash away almost 2 further sessions. The difference between scenarios A and B that these extra 50 runs make could be vital.

Scenario C:
Of course, let's say England collapse like Australia and are bowled out for just 260 in another 45 overs. Say conditions continue to suit bowling and Australia then score 260 again themselves (in 70 overs), leaving England 260 themselves to win (with potentially 175 overs remaining). This scenario would allow for up to 3 or 4 sessions to be washed out and would make a result quite likely.

Whatever England score in their first innings, Australia will probably only be safe in the game if they force England to aggregate over 4 runs per over in their 2 innings which would possibly be too hard:

If no further time is lost Aus score 500 (in 135 overs - leaving England to score a further aggregate of 650 in 155 overs in their 2 innings @ 4.2)

If 1 session is lost to rain a safe score might be 440 (in 120 overs - leaving England to score a further aggregate of 590 in 140 overs in their 2 innings @ 4.2)

If 2 sessions are lost a safe score might be 380 (in 100 overs - leaving England to score a further aggregate of 530 in 125 overs in their 2 innings @ 4.2)

If 3 sessions are lost a safe score might be 300 (in 80 overs - leaving England to score a further aggregate of 450 in 105 overs in their 2 innings @ 4.3)

If 4 sessions are lost a safe score might be 240 (in 65 overs - leaving England to score a further aggregate of 390 in 95 overs in their 2 innings @ 4.1)

If 5 sessions are lost a safe score might be 180 (in 50 overs - leaving England to score a further aggregate of 330 in 80 overs in their 2 innings @ 4.1)

If 2 whole days are lost Australia would not need to score much more than 100 because England will not bat fast enough in their first innings to build a lead and leave any time for a subsequent run chase - they are still 150 behind on their 1st innings.

All clear as mud? Thought as much :)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An over rated loss

One of the great mysteries of the game is how a player called Kevin Pietersen is so well spoken of. Apart from being an egotistical mercenary maniac which we shan't go into here, he should not be ranked among the top contemporary players, statistically or otherwise.

Beginning with his average, currently at 49 having dipped below 50 during this Ashes series, places him 40th on the overall list of averages, and only 17th among contemporary players within the last 10 years.

His average and indeed his performance has regressed rather than improved since his debut series in 2005, and he has rarely played the sort of commanding matchwinning innings expected of the team's trumpeted "best batsman". Instead he is no doubt still revelling in the enormous credit bestowed upon him for his chancey swashbuckling 158 in the crucial Oval Ashes Test in 2005. Note that even this was not a match WINNING innings and I defy the reader to find any such Test innings that was not chalked up against bottom dwellers such as West Indies or New Zealand.

For all his flourishing attacking ability, he seems to have reined himself in and no longer advances down the track and swats bowlers across the line or slog sweeps as much as he used to. He seems to be more of an accumulator of runs in recent times. His performance has also never between very consistent match to match, as centuries are frequently interspersed with strings of low scores.

I suspect his great reputation flatters to deceive, and not only is it a case of no other batsmen in the last 5 years really standing out for England, but perhaps the rest of the team has been somewhat submissive to his ego and they have all underperformed in his perceived shadow. I have a suspicion that the rest of the batsmen actually perform better when Pietersen is not in the team, as was shown during the surprising post-Ashes one day series victory in Australia in 2007.

My belief is that England will not only survive without him in this series but actually bat better as a unit and score more centuries than they normally would. So this injury could be quite the blessing in disguise for England as we move forward in this epic series.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fiery Fred does it again

What a supremely selfish gesture by Flintoff to hog the ball and insist on himself bowling unchanged all morning...:)

But seriously, it was an excellent effort as he turned back the clock and forced at least one hard bitten blogger to eat his unkind words. A top team effort by England, who nonetheless had to scrap it out to the last, and will be wary of the wounded Aussie playing a little better up the road at Birmingham next week...

Monday, July 20, 2009

False declaration or not?

I thought at the time that a few more runs were needed, as with overs to be made up there were 196 scheduled to be bowled, and with a victory target of 522 that equates to only 2.66 runs per over. At the rate the Aussies are scoring, 3.63, it would take only 143 overs or so to get there, meaning the Aussies would only need to bat out a day and a half to win the game, rather than survive the two days remaining in the match. Had Strauss batted on for another hour to reach a lead of 600, it would have meant the Aussies had to bat for longer to save or win the game. In fairness though England did bowl well in the morning session to take early wickets and perhaps the conditions flattened out after that so they did need to get Australia in quickly.

With 209 runs left to win, they will get there in around another 57 overs, quite possibly less if they really attack. So England need to effectively take 5 wickets in less than 2 sessions of play. This could well go down to the wire. Obviously a lot will depend on when the first wicket falls. And on the overhead conditions and whether the ball swings. An enthralling and nervous night's viewing awaits..

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Correct decision not to enforce follow on

Despite what I am reading from sources as mighty as former Ashes winning captains Mike Brearley and David Gower who believe England captain Andrew Strauss should have enforced the follow-on, I am in complete disagreement about this. With a lead of only 210, sunny conditions not conducive to swing and seam (it looked flat all day), and at least one bowler with questionable fitness (Flintoff), Strauss made the correct call.

An important point that I feel hasn't been iterated is that run scoring was much, much easier for England with a starting buffer of over 200. From the outset they looked relaxed and inclined to adventurous strokeplay, none better shown than Alistair Cook, normally an unsure figure at the crease early in his innings who pulled freely and even lofted riskily over the off side field. Consequently thanks to a late burst from Matt Prior England scored at 4.36 runs per over for the day and good use was made of the time taken out of the match.

Batting in that manner and scoring at this run rate would have been entirely a different matter had England asked Australia to bat again first, who while under the gun may well have racked up 400 or even 500 (they scored 674/6 in the previous match remember). England could conceivably have been left with a final day run chase of 200-300 or even more, and the pressure would then really have been on. History has shown that sides batting last rarely scale significant size run chases. Instead, with England motoring away Ponting was right back on the defense and England felt under zero pressure. Australia's only chance of getting back in the game was to bat again straight away, and fortunately for England, Strauss did not give them that chance.

If it is overcast tomorrow England may well win with a day or so to spare. If it's sunny expect this to be a real long haul. But I can't remember the last occasion Australia had to bat for this long to save a Test. Not I suspect for a generation...

As a footnote, Strauss will definitely have been influenced by the Trent Bridge Test of 2005, where Michael Vaughan opted to enforce the follow on, only to see the Ashes almost blow up in his face as England collapsed in their subsequent run chase and only just scraped through.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Happy hookers come to the party

So there you have it. Australia bounced out by short pitched bowling, bounced into complete disarray. A tactic that was co-incidentally suggested in the first post on this blog. 5 out of 8 of the batsmen to fall so far out hooking and pulling. And on top of that Anderson and Onions looked very zippy pitching it full. Goes to show that Australia are very vulnerable nowadays, and that their own bowling attack really were quite rubbish.

Despite all this, I'm counting on many more twists and subplots ahead in the next 3 days action. Should the match in fact last that long...

If I were Strauss I would definitely not enforce the follow on... I would use the large lead as a buffer and ask Australia's demoralised bowlers - one of whom is crook, another with an injured finger, and a third with a virtual case of the yips - to front up again, and aim to declare with a lead of around 550 and about 2 days play remaining.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fast Freddy puts himself first

Andrew Flintoff's retirement announcement at such a crucial juncture on the eve of the Lords Test will unfortunately go down as a supremely selfish gesture. The timing of it shows that the man thinks he is bigger than the team. The England team now runs the risk of turning into a farewell circus for Fred in this the biggest series of all.

Sadly Flintoff is no longer half the player he was, certainly not a match winner, as England's record with and without him shows - England do VASTLY better when he is not in the team for the past few years. The man is not nearly as good as he, and the rosey glasses selectors are deluded to believe. So now we have the situation of a half-fit no-longer-potent about-to-retire player being selected on sentiment as the team's talisman despite having a negative influence on results.

And the situation is compounded by Broad's similarly sentimental selection, while the true matchwinner Harmison is kept on the sidelines. Only in English cricket... and what's more Flintoff is only quitting Tests so he can make more money for less work playing Twenty20 fun cricket.

Selectors play it safe but will they be sorry

Stephen Harmison should be playing at Lords. Australia will definitely be relieved he isn't. He is the biggest attacking weapon England have right now, and if you aren't going to pick him now on a bouncy wicket when he's in devastating form when will you ever pick him? I feel that England have picked only 3 bowlers and 2 all-rounders in Flintoff and Broad, neither of whom will set the world alight with the ball - I would be surprised if they take more than 6 wickets between them in the entire match. Unfortunately England have fudged it and selected both, not wanting to upset Flintoff by resting him due to his knee injury, or wanting to upset the youngster Broad either, as has been discussed previously in this blog.

England batted very positively and it was noticeable to see the displays of intent, even from Pietersen in his brief knock. But they will need to bowl their socks off with the questionable line-up they've got if they are to break their 75 year Lords hoodoo.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Vaughany and the pants catch

Michael Vaughan's take on the first Test and how he thinks Pietersen should play.

And an amusing aside in the same paper, how Jonathan Trott caught a batsman out in his trouser pocket.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

England's big gun needs to fire

Just watching the video of Botham's classic 149* at Headingley 1981 and can't help but feel that England will need someone to go out and bat in a similar manner. And the player best placed to be able to deliver this would of course be Pietersen. He is the one with the ability, power, and confidence to really go for it.

There was a misconception at Cardiff that his mistake was to play too many strokes, when actually the problem was he was just trying to be too dinky and fancy. Like a man caught in two minds, he wanted to play strokes but felt weighed down by the responsibility on him and felt too inhibited to swing freely from the hip. He should just play uncomplicated natural attacking strokes, as Botham clearly did in that video. Against a novice Australian attack on flat wickets the percentages are very much in his favour, and an attacking century could both take a game away from Australia and demoralize them.

We must not criticise Pietersen for being attacking and playing strokes, but for NOT playing proper attacking strokes. Let's hope he goes back to his basics and delivers the right stuff, playing positive attacking cricket, and that the other England batsmen take a leaf out of his book just as they did in the 2nd Test at Edgbaston in 2005, when their approach on the first day changed everything. We will then have a very entertaining series indeed...

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Classic in Cardiff

Wow... they said they couldn't recapture 2005. Well this was as exciting a finish as it gets. England's ship was sinking all day, looked like they would never quite make it. But they did... and suddenly being outplayed for the past 5 days means so much less, and the teams will enter Lords with the psychological honours round about even.

This was truly one for the ages. Fittingly there were shades of both Old Trafford 2005 where Australia hung on with 9 down, and Adelaide 2006/07 where England were unable to do the same. It was Collingwood and Anderson batting together that day as the time wore down and they tried to hold them off. And it was these 2 who perhaps did the most to avenge that defeat, with the unforeseen fortitude of Monty "Pokerface" Panesar who seemed inhumanly calm. But how the tide can turn in the space of a few mad minutes. Australia will be shattered, with only 3 or 4 days to recover before the next round. One thing that's sure is we're in for more fabulous battles ahead... But have Australia fired their best shot already just as they did in the 1st Test 4 years ago? I can't see how Australia could play much better with the players they've got? England on the other hand...

Bad and Badder

Australia "attacking" with 2 non-spinning off spinners now, who average 47 and 42 in their first class careers... along with a scattergun non-swinging Johnson, and two novices. If England do manage to lose this game it can only be because they have batted with their eyes closed?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A blonde selection

At this point I have to get a gripe off my chest. The continued selection of Stuart Broad. Broad is now in his 18th Test, and is seen as a promising young pace prospect who is handy with the bat. However, his bowling average is close to 40 and he has one five wicket haul, which are not the stats of a wicket taking bowler. His pace is reasonable at around 140kph, but he is a hit-the-deck type of bowler who does not ever swing it, seldom looks threatening, and also doesn't bowl consistently enough to build pressure, going at almost 5 (!) runs an over so far in this innings.

The worst thing about it is his amazing apparent immunity to criticism in the press. They cut him a lot of slack, perhaps because he's seen as such a promising youngster, vulnerable of temperament, and his dad was a fine player for England. This is utter nonsense. England need to select the best 4 bowlers for taking 20 Australian wickets regardless of anything else, and Broad is not one of these. The Ashes is certainly not the place for unnecessarily carrying youngsters. With Flintoff a similar style of hit-the-deck bowler, more penetrative than Broad but still with only 2 five wicket hauls himself after 75 Tests, England really needed to select another gun bowler who can swing it.

Ryan Sidebottom along with Steyn was easily one of the most successful swing bowlers in the world last year before becoming injured, and I cannot understand why he has not been drafted straight back into the team. Graham Onions was similarly successful at the start of the summer and he would have also been a superior option to Broad. If England really wanted to ruffle Australia with a bang-it-in bowler, an in-form Steve Harmison would have been the more positive attacking way to go. But Broad with his long blonde hair would seem to be the next great white hope of the selectors regardless of his present ability, so I guess team England are going to have to bowl the Aussies out without their best attack.

And don't get me started on one-pace Monty.. :)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Flat pitch, flatter cricket

Not too much inspiring to write home about today. Although the pitch is turning, it is playing so slowly that the Aussies don't look in any bother. They are just nurdling their way forward. The only sparks came in the morning session as the England tail gamely wagged and Flintoff worked Hughes over. Since then neither side has set the world on fire, though a draw can't be counted on when the pitch could yet deteriorate into a real minefield by day 5. Australia will want a lead of at least 100 - they should get there towards the end of day 3 - to put some pressure back on England, who would then need to score at least 350 themselves to feel safe - which would take us to sometime in the first session on day 5, and it would then be a question of Australia surviving the final day as scoring won't be easy. This is how I see the game panning out. The danger for England is if they continue to not pick up wickets they could find themselves with a huge defecit effectively batting last themselves to save the game.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Headless batting vs toothless bowling

An intriguing battle. One question that's already been answered is of the overall quality of the cricket and the skills being executed. It will not match 2005 or probably come close. It will be quite an ugly spectacle at times. Points to note are that this already looks certainly like the most innocuous Australian Ashes bowling attack seen in my lifetime, none of whom have been close to bowling a ball in England previously, and who lack both the accuracy and menace of teams gone by. Nathan Hauritz must rate as one of the most unthreatening "spin" bowlers ever to play for the urn. Despite being treated generally with respect by an uncertain England he still went for 3.5 an over with a bonus wicket gifted which we'll address later.

The overall massively defensive strategies employed by Ponting couldn't go unnoticed. He let most of the middle session drift for long periods with genuinely toothless slow bowling. In terms of field placings, from as early as the first session there were sweepers posted back on both sides of the field, blatantly for bad bowling in some cases, i.e. deep point and deep mid wicket. Even with a feisty Flintoff brand new to the crease there were as many as 3 (!) men back on the leg side boundary. As a result England milked easy singles throughout the day, there were few maidens and consequently one could sense very little pressure ever building on the batsmen. This negative mindset is unfathomable and dare I say un-Australian and will hardly inspire confidence in the bowlers, nor spare Ponting from brickbats should his team lose. To make matters worse when Hilfenhaus started getting the ball to swing nicely away Ponting refused to give him more than 1 slip, and no gully. No surprises then when Collingwood edged it directly through the vacant area :)

The other side to the story is the ludicrous dismissal strokes played by the number 3 and 4 batsmen, supposedly the premier slots in any side. While Bopara's looked naive in the extreme, especially for one groomed on a diet of Twenty20 cricket with its constant slower balls, Pietersen's was utterly brainless and irresponsible, and even looked stubborn in his refusal to bail out of the sweep stroke to the bowler's widest ball of the day. While England did well to play sensibly in the Pietersen-Collingwood partnership and later counterattack through Prior and Flintoff, they will need to play more ruthlessly, and even more smartly to avoid such loose strokes. Even Cook and Collingwood were found wanting through poor judgement.

Overall England are in the better position batting first after boldly selecting 2 spinners and with runs now on the board. As I said earlier, there are runs to be had in this tail and I would not be surprised if they notch 450. Australia have it all to do to win this match, and it will be interesting to see how their recent frailty against spin shows up tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Ashes, about to rise again...

And I've decided to deliberately adjust my sleep cycle as it is showing here in NZ from 10.00pm to 5.00am, well 5.30am once you factor in Ricky Ponting's over rates :) So now I will sleep until 1.00pm each day before rising to do other things, such as job hunting for that next super exciting IT contract.

As for the cricket, one would have to say it's evenly matched, but who wants to sit on the fence. I am backing the underdog, England, ranked only 5th in the world at present. The 2005 series was truly a masterpiece and not just because the underdog won. There is no reason why this series can't be similarly competitive and compelling. Both sides have declined similarly in the 4 years since, yet one is always wary of that indomitable Aussie spirit which in my memory has always made them faster to the jugular and more tenacious fighting back than their opponents. In short, I can't see Australia playing badly or being easy to beat at any stage - if there are any capitulations it is likely to be England. Australia will always be naturally aggressive while England will have to rouse themselves from their all too regular mediocrity. So while on paper the sides look even, or even slightly favouring England, in reality Australia will be the harder team to beat.

Tactically, England must bowl aggressively, particularly with short pitched bowling and 2 fielders back, an age old tactic which South Africa mystifyingly failed to use in their recent series, and one which would work well on this Australian team, from 1 down to 11, many of whom either look vulnerable to the short ball or will hook in the air regardless of any traps. If the ball is swinging around they should pitch it very full yes, but they must definitely make use of the bouncer. Perhaps Flintoff will be an enforcer in this regard. As for Australia, they will do what Australia does, they will bowl aggressively and unrelentingly. And they will bowl short stuff.

Batting wise England will need to get off to solid starts at the top seeing off the new ball and allowing strokemakers Bopara and Pietersen to accelerate from there. The England tail is going to prove a real headache to the Australians who are without a wicket taking spinner. The Australian batting is bound to pile on the runs at some stage, the key for England will be to make use of early swing to nick out a couple and bounce out a couple more. It remains to be seen whether the conditions permit reverse swing to be a major factor, but England should not count on it.

It promises to be a most absorbing series, and I for one will welcome a few late nights in its honour.