Thursday, 29 March 2012

ENGLAND LEFT FRUSTRATED BY COSTLY ERRORS

Sri Lanka 318 (M Jayawardene 180, Anderson 5-72) and 214 (P Jayawardene 61*, Swann 6-82) beat England 193 (Bell 52, Herath 6-74) and 264 (Trott 112, Herath 6-97, Randiv 4-74) by 75 runs

Jonathan Trott's 7th Test century was in vain
I concluded my last blog saying the Flower/Strauss combination would have to come up with something to instil a determination to succeed within the England batting line up ready for their tour of Sri Lanka.  Unfortunately, whatever talks they may have had, whatever extra practice sessions they may have had and whatever incentives they may have had put before them have not worked.  Costly errors when England were seemingly in control of the game saw to their downfall, losing by 75 runs to a Sri Lankan side who have not won a home Test since Muttiah Murilatharan retired in 2010.

Sri Lanka captain, Mahela Jayawardene, won the toss and elected to bat on a surface that looked like it would offer the spinners much purchase in the last innings.  He could not, however, have expected his side to lose three quick wickets in the opening four overs.  Kumar Sangakkara, still one of the best batsmen in the world, was caught behind off James Anderson first ball to leave England smelling blood.  Jayawardene went about correcting the damage and amassed a huge 180, the only Sri Lankan to make a score of note.  He was aided, however, by four dropped catches, two from Anderson and two comical ones from fielding sensation, Monty Panesar.  The home side were eventually bowled out for 318, a score which would have frustrated Strauss’s side immensely.

More frustrations were to follow though, as England’s reply was simply pathetic.  They were dismissed for 193 inside 47 overs.  Ian Bell made a timely return to form with 52 but could not take the attack to the Sri Lankans as much as he would have liked.  England showed the familiar ability to fail to post a formidable first innings lead.  Does it count as a collapse if they were rubbish right from the start?

Trailing by 125 runs, England’s bowlers had their work cut out to repair the damage caused by their willy nilly batting.  However, just as the bowling unit was good when needed against Pakistan, they were equally good here… to start with.  With the score at 127-8 and the lead at 252, if England had polished off the remaining two wickets, they would have had a real chance in winning the game.  But, England never make these things easy.  Even when they take their catches, Stuart Broad finds another way to throw a spanner into the works by bowling no-balls to ensure the Sri Lankan batsmen stay in.  Sri Lanka added another 87 runs for the last two wickets, with the catch off the no-ball allowing Prasanna Jayawardene to make 61* setting England 340 - a score never achieved at Galle - to win.

England’s final innings started nervously.  England’s recent run machine, Alastair Cook departed for 27 and Strauss flayed an awful hoik to midwicket for 14.  Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen survived it through to stumps on Day 3 at 111-2.  Pietersen though, was caught early on the next day leaving Trott and Bell to pursue the target.  Both looked good until what I think was a dreadful decision was made by umpire Rod Tucker.  The Aussie gave Bell out LBW whilst sweeping, with the impact at least eight feet down the track.  With the ball pitching on off stump and turning away from Bell, I cannot understand how he could have been certain that was going to hit the stumps and I believe he and Hawkeye got that one wrong.

England’s luck did improve slightly though when Matt Prior and Trott steadied the ship and looked on course to see the visitors home.  Prior can consider himself incredibly unlucky, however, when on 41 he slapped a sweep straight at Thirimanne at short leg who juggled it and managed to cling on.  England’s last real hopes were pinned on Trott (I have no faith in debutant Samit Patel), who finally passed his century off 240 balls - a proper Test ton.  The South African born number three eventually lost his wicket and England fans gave up hope, when  he flicked a ball straight to Dilshan at leg slip who took a sharp catch.  England’s tail did not then put up a fight with none of the last five making double figures.  When last man Panesar was caught in the slips first ball it sparked huge celebrations among the Sri Lankan players and fans alike.

It was a good win for Sri Lanka, no doubt, but England will rue four dropped catches, a wicket off a no-ball and a poor first innings batting display.  They now must win in Colombo, not only to salvage a series draw, but also their position as number one Test team in the ICC world rankings.

Monday, 6 February 2012

PAKISTAN COMPLETE SERIES WHITEWASH AGAINST DISMAL ENGLAND

Pakistan 99 (Broad 4-36) and 365 (Ali 157, Panesar 5-124) beat England 141 (Strauss 56, Rehman 5-40) and 252 (Prior 49*, Gul 4-61, Ajmal 4-67) by 71 runs

Anguish for Flower and Strauss
The first Test could be considered as England’s colonic irrigation.  No major problem, but something to refresh the arses of the England side.  During the second Test, England suffered a mild stroke chasing down a low target.  A much more serious problem, but still not something from which they could recover.  In the final Test, however, England simply died.  The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Pakistan.  Sound familiar?  Somehow I don’t think my mock obituary is going to catch on for future series against Pakistan to be called the Anglo/Asian Ashes…

England could not have had a more perfect start to this match.  England’s best seamers, Broad and Anderson, made early inroads into the Pakistani batting line-up, from which they simply could not recover.  They were bowled out in under 50 overs for 99 to give England a chance of gaining a hefty first innings lead to set up their first win of the tour.

However, as we all know with England’s batting of late, this was made harder than it should have been.  Only four batsmen made it into double figures with the captain making a useful, but inadequate 56.  Abdur Rehman, Pakistan’s hero in the last Test, claimed his second five-wicket-haul in as many Tests to dismiss England for a poor 141.

With a slender lead of 42, Pakistan began their second innings in a shaky manner losing their first 2 wickets for 28 runs.  This brought Azhar Ali and Younis Khan to the crease in what proved to be one of the most inspiring game changing partnerships that Test cricket can provide.  The experience of Khan seemed to inspire Ali and they both drove England into the ground with simple ruthlessness.  Both made centuries, not by smashing England out of the attack, but by manoeuvring the ball into gaps and taking irritating ones and twos.  The threat of Panesar and Swann had vanished thanks to the ease with which the two batsmen swept the ball.  Rarely did the ball pitch, turn, bounce and beat the bat.  They each made batting look easy and each deserved their tons apiece.  By the time they both had fallen, the damage had been done and England were set a challenging 324 to win.
Azhar Ali: 157 (422 balls)           Younis Khan: 127 (221 balls)
Strauss and Cook survived the 20 overs left towards the end of day 3, finishing on 36-0 leaving England under 300 to chase with two days remaining.  Nonetheless, neither batsmen made substantial runs in the morning, thus exposing the fragile middle order which failed to deliver yet again.  Matt Prior made a brave 49* but ran out of partners with less than a 100 to win.  Pakistan sealed the whitewash with a 71 run victory with the spinners taking six of the ten wickets.

A series whitewash like this warrants nothing short of individual hand-written letters of apology to each member of the Pakistan team for not being able to make a test last longer than four days.  Plus match fees of the England players should be donated to a charitable cricketing cause, perhaps along the lines of “coaching young kids how to play against spin” in order to prevent future dry bummings of this nature.

England’s batting on this tour has been woeful, with the seemingly strong top and middle order failing again and again to make any real stamp on the opposition.  Nobody stood up and took responsibility for their country and England allowed Pakistan to dominate the game when they should not have done.

England play their next Test series against Sri Lanka starting on Monday 26th March in Galle.  The Flower/Strauss combination will have to come up with something to instil determination to succeed within their batting line-up.  They are fine in the bowling department, in my opinion, with an abundance of talent and back up players.  On the plus side, England will not have to face a quality spinner against a Sri Lankan side who are still getting used to life without Muralitharan.  Nothing short of a series win in the subcontinent is needed to re-assert England’s place at the top of the tree.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

ENGLAND UNDONE BY SPIN - AGAIN

Pakistan 257 (Misbah 84, Shafiq 58, Broad 4-47) and 214 (Azhar 68, Shafiq 43, Panesar 6-62) beat England 327 (Cook 94, Broad 58*, Ajmal 4-108) and 72 (Rehman 6-25, Ajmal 3-22) by 72 runs

Abdur Rehman destroys England  figures of 6-25
I would have thought a crushing defeat in the Dubai would have shaken some sense into this England line-up ready for the second Test against Pakistan.  To an extent it did exactly that as the world number one Test side were well on their way to winning in Abu Dhabi, but threw things away in the last session.  Spin, again, was England’s downfall as they failed to chase a measly 145.

The Test started spritely for England thanks to the seamers Broad and Swann who did the initial damage in reducing Pakistan to 104-4.  Pakistan struggled to 256-7 at the end of the first day and failed to add more than one run the next day.  England set out to bat, knowing a large first innings lead could prove crucial in their chances of winning the game.  Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott made scores of 94 and 74 respectively but were not supported by others around them.  Broad was again the hero chipping in with an extremely useful 58* but England were eventually bowled out for 327 - not a bad score but considerably less than Flower and Strauss would have wanted.

England had Monty Panesar to thank for keeping Pakistan’s total to a minimum in the second innings.  The Luton-born spinner finished with figures of 6-62 in his first Test since that famous Ashes Test at Cardiff in 2009.

Having been set a lowly 145 to win, many would be forgiven for thinking the game was in the bag.  However, England never seem to make these small totals easy.  Nobody will forget the Trent Bridge Ashes Test in 2005 in a hurry where they limped over the line chasing 129.  The reason England struggled in that Test was because of Shane Warne.  The reason we couldn’t win in this Test was Abdul Rehman and Saeed Ajmal.  The two spinners ripped the heart of England’s batting and took all but one of the ten wickets between them.  England were humiliated: bowled out for 72, lost by 72.

England have lost the series now with only pride to play for in the last Test at Sharjah.  They seem to have underestimated the work that goes with being number one in the world.  There was nobody in the second innings who stood up and dragged England to victory kicking and screaming.  It just goes to show that it is possible to lose a Test match where a side has dominated every day apart from the last session.

Is it time for a change in the batting?  For now, I would drop Morgan and give James Taylor of Leicestershire a go.  The 22-year-old averages nearly 50 in first class cricket and is, in my opinion, the best youngster we have in this country.  The sooner he starts playing for England, the better it will be for the team and for Taylor’s career.

I would also stick with two spinners for the next Test.  Considering how well Panesar bowled in this match, it would be unfair to drop him.  Again, the problems lie with the batting and the inability to play quality spin bowling.  With the technology readily available to train against spin, England fans will hope for a dramatic improvement in the next Test.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

ENGLAND MAULED BY RESURGENT PAKISTAN

Pakistan 338 (Hafeez 88, Akmal 61, Swann 4-107) and 15-0 beat England 192 (Prior 70*, Ajmal 7-55) and 160 (Trott 49, Gul 4-63) by 10 wickets

A dejected England trudge off after losing the First Test
Before this match started a few days ago, I was already mentally preparing my victory blog for England.  Who would have bet against them winning this match?  England, newly-crowned Test best, were put up against the world number 5 of Pakistan and lost.  Handsomely.  Embarrassingly.  Insert pejorative adverb here.

Over the last year and a bit England have had everything go their way.  They won the Ashes Down-Under in style and were unbeaten during the 2011 season beating Sri Lanka and whitewashing the world number one, India.  Pakistan, on the other hand, have had to endure disgrace and shame with the spot fixing scandal and losing talented players as a result.  They have also had to get used to a new home because of terrorist nutters attacking international cricketers on their way to the ground.

So, to the morning of the first day.  England captain Andrew Strauss won the toss and elected to bat on what seemed an excellent pitch for batting.  However, the former Radley schoolboy saw his side reduced to 94-7 without any of the top six reaching 25 or more.  Matt Prior showed stubborn resistance in reaching 70* but simply had no support from any of his peers.  England were eventually bowled out for a measly 192.  Credit goes to Saeed Ajmal, who finished with career best figures of 7-55.  England simply could not pick his doosra and when deciding to use the sweep, could not pick the length either.

Pakistan showed England how it was done and amassed a decent total of 338.  It looked like they would easily pass 400 at one stage where they were cruising at 283-5.  Chris Tremlett seemed to be down on pace and the Pakistani batsman took full advantage.  However, towards the end of the second day, England managed to snatch themselves two wickets leaving it almost honours even at 288-7 at stumps.

The third day of test will be one to forget for England fans.  Pakistan managed to accumulate 338 and that was probably England’s best part of the day.  England’s second innings reply went from bad to worse from the start.  Field Marshall Strauss went for single figures again, this time to Umar Gul in the fifth over.  Cook shortly followed with one fewer run.  Pietersen showed what a real wally he is by attempting a pull shot, whilst on 0, straight down deep square’s throat.  Nice one Kev.  Sometimes you show the maturity of a 10-year-old on Red Bull.  Only Jonathan Trott seemed to be able to ride the storm from Gul and Ajmal but played an uncharacteristically loose shot outside his off stump to depart for 49.  Some late fireworks from Graeme Swann was enough to make Pakistan bat again, but the openers polished the 15 runs off in less than four overs without any fuss nor bother.

In conclusion, credit must go to Pakistan who showed some ticker in this match.  The new captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, showed good leadership and good initiative with bowling changes.  Saeed Ajmal finished with 10 wickets in the match and in doing so, surpassed Graeme Swann to the third best bowler in the world in the rankings.

Here’s hoping that this knocks some sense into the England dressing room, who cannot afford complacency against a side who have a lot to prove and are willing to put in the hard work.  In my opinion the side needs to stay the same for the next Test.  There is talk of bringing in the extra spinner, in Monty Panesar, but the four-pronged attack has worked for England over the last year and a half and I imagine Flower and Strauss will be unwilling to change that.  The problems in this Test lie with the batting.  They simply need to do better.

Friday, 26 August 2011

ENGLAND'S SUMMER REVIEW

Methinks a blog is well overdue.  At the beginning of the summer, I was going to write a report after each test match against Sri Lanka.  That didn’t happen.  Plan B was to write a test series review after having played Sri Lanka.  That also didn’t happen.  Now before the world decides to cave in on itself, I’m seizing my chance to write a review of England’s test summer as a whole and, of course, to mention the minor detail of rising to the number one spot in the world in the purest form of the game.

Alistair Cook: 3 centuries v Sri Lanka & India this summer
Speaking to many, the Sri Lanka tour of this summer will have been seen as the warm-up tour ahead of the “real thing” against India.  This is much like the stand-up comedian nobody’s ever heard of performing just before Michael McIntyre walks out on stage.  I think this is a bit of a shame, as Sri Lanka still have world class performers in their ranks, such as Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.  England won the first test after it seemed like the match was heading for a draw, when the Sri Lankan batting line-up collapsed like a cheap deck of cards gifting England the win.  The second test proved to be a much harder challenge on a flat Lord’s wicket with both sides scoring plenty of runs.  Lightning was not to repeat itself and on the final day at the home of cricket, Sri Lanka held out comfortably for a draw.  A debut test match for The Rose Bowl was the stage for the third test of the summer; however it will be remembered as the game where we had more rain than cricket.  The positives to take from it?  Tremlett’s figures of 6-48 in the first innings and Ian Bell’s 119*.

In summary, England had won the series 1-0 but were certainly not happy with their performances.  Stuart Broad tended to bowl too short to the frustration of those in the Sky commentary box and us at home and England struggled to bowl out the opposition twice.  A vast improvement was needed against India if they were to challenge the number one test side in the world for their spot at the top.

Now to the main event (as it were).  If England were to become the world number one test side, they had to beat India by two clear games this series.  England won 4-0.  The tour got progressively worse and worse for the visitors as they lost by 196 runs in the first test, 319 runs in the second test, an innings and 242 in the third test and by an innings and 8 runs in the final test.  Okay, they may have lost by a smaller margin at The Oval than at Edgbaston but I think we can all concur - India were simply hopeless and deserved to get whitewashed…

Things started well for the home side as explosive opener Virender Sehwag was injured for the first two test matches and youngster Abhinav Mukund was called up for service. With an first class average of 53.73 after 46 games, 13 hundreds, 10 fifties and a high score of 300* all at the age of 21, statistics would suggest that Mukund was probably better than any youngster we have in this country.  However he couldn’t deliver in this series as he struggled in English swinging conditions.

Stuart Broad's hat-trick v India at Trent Bridge
India’s formidable batting line-up, with the exception of Rahul Dravid, looked about at useful as blunt knife as England tore through them again and again and again.  Not once did they manage to score more than 300 in an innings.  After the first two tests, Indian fans blamed the brittle nature of the batting due to Sehwag’s absence at the top of the order.  However, when passed fit to play in the third test, Sehwag bagged a king pair.  Welcome back son.

Sachin Tendulkar’s poor form was another contributing factor to India’s demise as arguably the best batsman in the modern era failed to notch up that elusive hundredth international century.  VVS Laxman proved that he too was not able to cope with English conditions as the veteran with exceptionally poor knees could only manage a high score of 56.  Gambhir looked to use “mild concussion” as an excuse to perform badly, and the lower order batsmen showed as much resistance as the French did in World War II.

In terms of bowling, England outclassed them in every department: height, pace, bounce, swing, control, fitness, application…  You name it, they were better at it.  True, the injury to Zaheer Khan hampered India greatly, but in a “cricket mad” country with a population of nearly a billion, can they not find anybody better than Sreesanth (whose mannerisms remind me of an eight-year-old child) to replace him?

I realise this review has been mainly critical of India rather than praiseworthy of England and I think I should put this right.  For England, every base is covered from the openers at the top of the order to the four bowler policy and a world class fielding unit.  Jimmy was unplayable on home soil again, Broad found excellent form in the latter part of the summer and all batsmen had contributed throughout the summer.  The next challenge for England will be to stay at the top of the world rankings.  It’ll be a much harder challenge playing India in India when that comes around.  However, England will enjoy the success that they have worked so hard to achieve.  What a change from 52 all out a few years ago against the West Indies…

England: World number 1

Monday, 14 March 2011

ONE DAY CRICKET ALIVE AND KICKING

Strauss' 158 v India: One of the many highlights
With the Cricket World Cup underway in the subcontinent, reports that the 50 over game’s demise suddenly seem greatly exaggerated.  True, the One Day format does not provide the instant gratification that is associated with Twenty20 Internationals and neither does it have the marathon-esque battle of attrition that Test cricket brings, but what is wrong with having something in the middle?  To quote the Clover advert on TV, One Day cricket is not a famine or a feast.  It’s not skinny margerine and it’s not full fat butter.  The middle is the best of both.  I, for one, appreciate the fact that I can spend £50 on a ticket, spend the whole day at Lord’s and be sure of getting a result at the end of the day, just as much as I appreciate the relaxing nature of Test cricket.  If you want a game which is over before you know it, football or rugby is your best bet.

The World Cup, so far, has been a fantastic advert for the One Day game.  It has had everything you could possibly want.  It’s had successful high run chases, successfully defended low targets, hundreds from big names, hundreds from people you’ve never heard of, upsets and even two hat tricks in a game.  Anybody who watched England snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against South Africa will know that you cannot get that kind of entertainment from 20 over cricket, given the “lottery”-like nature of the game.

One of the positive effects of Twenty20 on the 50 over format has been the importance of strike rate.  Gone are the days of Gavaskar scoring 36 off 174 balls as he once famously did against England at Lord’s in 1975.  We are now at a time where international players are used to playing at such a high tempo in 20 over cricket that this has filtered through to 50 over cricket, where scores of over 300 are regularly posted.

Although it is great entertainment to watch somebody smack the ball out the park, it is equally entertaining, if not more so, to watch somebody build an innings with aesthetic genuine cricket shots.  One Day cricket provides just that opportunity for the top order to make a contribution and to build on their trade as a batsman.  After all, they are in the side because they can bat, not because they can slog.  I hope that with the busy international schedule facing international cricketers these days, all three formats of the game can co-exist peacefully, with the right balance found between them.

Monday, 7 February 2011

MY TOP FIVE REASONS WHY ENGLAND WON THE ASHES

Apologies for the lateness of this blog - I realise that it's very much overdue but better late than never!

Here are my top five reasons for why England won the Ashes this year in Australia:

Excellent preparation
England’s planning for this tour was meticulous, right from the warm-up matches to squad selection.  The surprise inclusion of Chris Tremlett paid dividends to the 3-seam attack and provided a perfect replacement for Stuart Broad, who was side-lined for the remainder of the tour, after the second test in Adelaide, with an abdominal injury.

Form of England’s batsmen
The England opener Alistair Cook deserves special mention here as had the tour of his life.  The Essex man hit back at critics, with the form that would have made the great Sir Donald Bradman proud.  Cook amassed an incredible 766 runs at 127.66 over the series, smashing records left, right and centre.  However, Trott, Bell, Pietersen and Prior averaged over 50, proving that there was always somebody to hold the side together when others lost their wicket.

Australia’s poor selection
Selection decisions seemed to baffle pundits not least the decision to leave out spinner Nathan Hauritz, who in his last match took five wickets and hit a century in his last first class match.  Michael Beer gave headline writers an easy time and made no difference to the Australian attack.  Xavier Doherty must have wished that he had been dropped after the first test at Brisbane, to avoid more embarrassment but selectors simply added to his misery by putting his name on the team sheet for Adelaide.  Phil Hughes seemed to be picked on the basis that there was nobody else to open the batting and Michael Clarke wouldn’t have had less success if he had walked out to bat with a stick of rhubarb in lieu of a bat.

The swinging Kookaburra ball
A major worry to the England camp was that the ball wouldn’t swing for the bowlers, therefore rendering James Anderson’s most potent weapon as useless.  This was not the case.  Jimmy found excellent form, finishing leading wicket taker of both teams, taking 24 wickets at 26.04 apiece.  Only Mike Hussey, Shane Watson and possibly Brad Haddin seemed to be able to cope with England’s bowlers.

Erratic bowling from Australia
The Barmy Army summed up Australia’s bowling by critically analysing the form of Mitchell Johnson.  Their song of “He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right.  That Mitchell Johnson; his bowling is sh*te” proved to be an accurate summary of events.  Johnson’s waywardness set the tone for the rest of the bowlers who also struggled to break through England’s top order.  Highlighting how important Johnson is to the attack, Australia won the third Test at Perth, where Johnson was back to his best.

Andrew Strauss lifts the urn and the celebrations begin after an emphatic win at the SCG