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