Archive for October 2011

Do England Need More Subtlety In Their ODI Batting?

Following England’s humiliating series whitewash in India, many disenchanted fans have called for a complete overhaul of England’s ODI plans involving the inclusion of more aggressive batsmen and have pointed to the need for more six-hitters to make use of the powerplays. Indeed, an article on Cricinfo today makes that very point while you only have to read people’s comments on Twitter and other message forums to know that it is a widely held view.

How long before James Taylor gets an extended run in England's ODI side?

However, is this assumption really correct? It is a fact that England actually hit more sixes in the series (14 maximums to India’s 13) than the hosts. It is also true that England’s batsmen are starting to look more and more like musclebound powerlifters with every passing series. Therefore I would argue that less, not more, power is the answer, especially on the suncontinent, to England’s ODI woes.

In fact what they are actually missing is flair; an ingredient that India’s batsmen have in abundance and an essential quality a batsman must have when facing spin in the middle overs. If you stand Kevin Pietersen next to Gautam Gambhir, or Suresh Raina next to Jonny Bairstow, for example you are immediately struck by their difference in body shape. Gambhir and Raina are wiry and relatively slight, whereas Bairstow or Pietersen have forearms that are threatening to tear their shirts apart at the seams, characteristics that are reflected in their batting styles. Whereas Pietersen and Bairstow look to get on the front foot to the spinners and play them straight down the ground, Raina and Gambhir will sit back and use their wrists to manoeuvre the ball and utilise the full 360 degree arc of the playing surface. The muscular aggression displayed by the first two may well work in the world cup in 2015 when it is held on the faster pitches of Australia or New Zealand, but unless their plans change then the seven-match ODI series against India in 2013 is going to be a long one for England fans.

So what can be done? Well I suggest bringing in a couple of players that pride themselves on accumulation rather than power for the next time England tour Asia. In a nutshell, what England really need is a player of the type of Neil Fairbrother, Graham Thorpe or Paul Collingwood.

Those that know me will be unsurprised to learn that one of the players whose inclusion I advocate is James Taylor, the other being Owais Shah, whose dropping from the ODI side after an excellent Champions Trophy has always puzzled me.

While Taylor’s inclusion is a matter of when not if, don’t expect to see Shah any time soon as he – like Samit Patel who was belatedly included and has been successful - is not one that appears to fit Andy Flower’s blueprint of a ‘new England’ player.

What do you think? Do I have a point or should England continue along their power-hitting route? Please let me know in the comments below.

Who Are You Backing To Win Hong Kong Sixes?

With the quarter-finalists now decided, who is your money on to win the Hong Kong Sixes?

The pick of tomorrow’s matches is perhaps the second quarter-final that sees England take on India in the Kowloon heat as the two sides continue to do battle in all forms of international cricket. Tomorrow also sees the Woodworm All Stars – a team made up the biggest names in cricket – do battle against Sri Lanka after they won both of their last two matches to squeeze into the next round. Their opening partnership of Sanath Jayasuriya and Shahid Afridi is surely among the most destructive in world cricket and is worth the admission fee alone.

The other two games see the hosts Hong Kong take on Scotland and dark horse Ireland take on Pakistan. Scotland, in particular, have been impressive so far in the tournament, with their ruthless efficiency seeing them progress at the expense of the more fancied teams, while Pakistan have one of the players of the competition in Umar Akmal in their ranks.

Whatever happens tomorrow it is sure to be a spectacular and exciting exhibition of hitting.

See a round-up of today’s action here.

Will You Be Following The Hong Kong Sixes?

The Hong Kong Sixes get underway in Kowloon in the next few hours and promise to rival even the IPL for glitz and glamour.

The president of the Hong Kong Cricket Association, Captain Shahzada Saleem Ahmed, said of the event, “With the strong support of our title sponsors, Karp Group, and our associate sponsors and box holders, the Hong Kong Cricket Sixes 2011 is set to be the largest and most exciting tournament in the 19-year history of the event. We are confident that the innovations announced today will enhance the appeal of the tournament for tourists and our global television audience, as well as attracting more local spectators in 2011.”

These inovations include an All Stars versus Rest of the World Twenty20 match and an increased field of competitors that now includes Ireland and Scotland along with most of the Test-playing nations. For a full preview click here.

Will these inovations and the shear novelty factor of the event mean that you will be following it closely, or have you seen just too much of this type of ‘hyped-up’ cricket over the past few years and grown tired of it? Please let us know in the comments below.

India-England Series Reflections – Do England Need A New Strategy?

By the time England slumped to a galling 5-0 defeat to India as they lost the final One-Day International in Kolkata by 95 runs, a sense of inevitability had been lingering for much of the tour.

Nobody was particularly surprised when they lost, or that they failed to bat through 50 overs for the fourth time in five games. Missing star players Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, they looked nothing like the team that looked so good when beating India 3-0 on home soil all of two months ago.

England’s record in India is abysmal and they have long struggled to deal with conditions in the subcontinent but what might the management have learned from this series and are big changes required ahead of the series against Pakistan?

Undoubtedly the return of those four players will boost England but is a change of strategy required, as has been mooted by former captain Michael Vaughan, or should England just accept that in this series, they were outplayed by the world champions who showed that while their strength in depth in Test cricket is somewhat lacking, in ODIs, their bench strength is unparalleled.

For India, there was no Sehwag, no Tendulkar, no Yuvraj, no Harbhajan Singh, no Zaheer Khan yet no real problem with defeating England.

India Too Strong For England

India celebrate, England go back to the drawing board - REUTERS / Action Images

ICC Names Cricket World MVP Absentee Mendis As Their Number One

The ICC have today revealed their Twenty20 International rankings, and following a weekend in which their team was hammered again in India, England fans can cheer being officially ranked as the number one side in the world.

ICC launch T20 cricket rankings

David Richardson, Mahela Jayawardene and Mohammad Hafeez are all smiles as the ICC launches its T20 rankings Credit: ICC

The player rankings also place England’s Eoin Morgan at the top of the batting rankings, Ajantha Mendis as the number one bowler and Shane Watson as the top all-rounder.

Cricket World has its own Most Valuable Player (MVP) rankings which work in a different way. Taking into account performances from the last 12 months, players who start their career strongly feature prominently and those who are in-form are highly rewarded.

Therefore, there are some big differences – for example, Morgan places sixth on our list which is headed by Brendon McCullum, we have Patrick Cummins leading the bowling and then McCullum leading the overall rankings (batting rating added to bowling rating) although Watson is right up there too.

However, the eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that Ajantha Mendis is nowhere to be seen. The reason is quite simple. To qualify for a T20 ranking, a player must appear at least twice in the preceding 12 months. Number one ranked or not by the ICC, Sri Lanka have only picked Mendis in one of the four T20Is they have played in the last 12 months – the most recent, in fact, against Australia in August, when he did exceptionally well to take six for 16.

Over his career, he has taken 39 wickets at an average of 10.89 with an economy rate of 5.59. There is no argument that these are world-class, but where should we rank Mendis?

Should the rankings discriminate against those players who aren’t playing regularly (as ours do) or should we simply look at them as an indicator of whose careers have been the most impressive?

What is quite clear is that numbers do not tell the whole story. As impressive as they are (or at least in the eyes of the ICC) they do not tell the story of a man who made an outstanding start to his career before struggling somewhat as teams found him out; so much so that Sri Lanka operated a policy of keeping him back for key games – now the reverse is true – he doesn’t get picked to play against India any more.

So, rankings – good for debate and nothing else, or can we use them effectively? Perhaps we should be using both systems – one as an overall career indicator, the other as a measure of who is producing the goods at any given time?

A Trott Or A Gallop?

There is no doubt about it. England have been pathetic so far in their ODI series against India. Many reasons have been mooted by the media for their poor performances, from player burnout to hostile conditions, from flat pitches to Jonathan Trott.

Yes, that’s right, England’s leading batsman over the past two years has been blamed, castigated even in certain quarters, for his side’s 3-0 deficit with many suggesting he should be dropped for ‘slow scoring’. I have to confess I was one of those voices and was going to write a column presenting the case for the axe – until I looked for some stats to back up my case. And found none.

I began by looking up the career strike rates for all of the number three batsmen from the main ODI-playing nations and found that, almost without exception, they were close to Trott’s figure of 78.58. Kumar Sangakkara’s was 75.50, Ricky Ponting’s was 80.60 and Jacques Kallis and Asad Shafiq were around the same mark. Gautam Gambhir’s was the only one significantly higher at 86.70, but I think we would all agree that messrs Kallis, Sangakkara and Ponting are exalted company for Trott to be in and will go down in history as some of the greatest number threes.
Undettered, I decided that as that heralded trio had begun their careers many aeons ago and scoring rates have since increased dramatically, then the early parts of their careers must be skewing their overall strike rates. With this in mind, I set about looking up the figures for the past 12 months and found that while their strike rates had risen by a couple of points from those early days, with Sangakkara’s now 77.25 and Ponting’s now 83.33, it was only negligible and was still around Trott’s 80 mark. Again only Gambhir was way ahead with an SR of 95.01.

RARE: Trott hits a six! Credit: REUTERS/Action Images

By this point, I was puzzled, but suddenly remembered another criticism of Trott’s: namely that he didn’t increase his scoring rate throughout his innings and was very one-paced in his approach. So I devised a suitable test – what was his SR in innings where he had made 50 or more – and compared him to the rest again. Once again he came out well as, to my surprise, the strike rates didn’t really change from their overall ones – so much for the perceived wisdom of upping the rate throughout the innings!

By this time I was completely stumped, but fortunately stumbled across a possible solution. Trott hardly hits any sixes. In the past 12 months he has hit an average of 0.08 sixes per match, compared to Ponting’s 0.31 and Sangakkara’s 0.39. Perhaps because of this he had earnt for himself the perception of being a blocker, whereas Ponting and Sangakkara got away with it because they cleared the ropes. To back this up I looked at Gambhir’s ratio, who despite his epic strike rate is not really seen as one of India’s dashers, and was amazed to find it lower than Trott’s at 0.05 maximums per match – hence his perception of being more of a tortoise than a hare.

All of which means, in conclusion, that I must admit my gut instincts with regards to Mr. Trott were wrong. His strike rate is up there with the big boys and his average is even better. Just beacause he isn’t going to empty many bars – and I still won’t enjoy watching him bat – doesn’t mean he isn’t worth his place in the side.

Jonathan, please forgive me for doubting you!

What do you think? Do you agree that Trott’s slow-scoring is down to perception alone, or has the author overlooked a crucial counter argument? Please let us know in the comments below.

Fancy Being Kent’s New Coach?

Kent are looking for a new coach following Paul Farbrace's resignation. Could it be you?

Kent CCC have taken the step of advertising their vacant head coach position on the ECB’s website, meaning that we can all apply should we fancyleading a county to Championship glory. I am sure all cricket fans have dreamt, at one point or another, of leading club or country to unprecedented success and have bemoaned the latest selectorial errors made by the incumbents. Well now we can put that right. Sort of.

The brief states that the successful applicant will be, “astute, results driven, have outstanding and demonstrable man/team management skills, be well organised, have a track record of success gained through effective coaching at all levels and will currently be successful ina senior coaching position.”

It even adds for those who may think otherwise given the team’s recent on-field performances, “A knowledge, appreciation and understanding of the game is absolutely critical.”

All of which, for one reason or another, rules out most of us; but if you fancy a crack and are currently in the specified, “senior coaching position” then why not apply? I am sure Jamie Clifford would be happy to hear from you.

For the rest of us – well we can only dream!

What Is The Future For Test Cricket?

As I watch pictures of Pakistan playing Sri Lanka – putting them to the sword to be honest – in Abu Dhabi in front of a sparse crowd, what does the future for Test cricket hold?

What does the future hold for Test cricket?

Sri Lanka and Australia played out an entertaining Test series recently, but the crowds didn't come. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte (SRI LANKA - Tags: SPORT CRICKET) Picture Supplied by Action Images

Even allowing free entry to the ground has not resulted in the masses pouring in and it is clear that only a select few Test series (England-Australia, India-Pakistan, for example) will fill stadia, which is a great shame for those of us who enjoy the battles that Test cricket provides.

Former Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan has told the BBC in blunt terms that without playing more One-Day International and Twenty20 International cricket, the boards will simply run out of money and then there will be no more cricket at all.

Test cricket is the true test of a player’s range of skills but with the increasing dominance of the shorter forms of the game, will it still have a place in, say, ten years time? Will we only see an even more select band of nations (those who feel they can afford it) playing five-day cricket in the future?

And will coaching methods and programmes change, instead guiding players from an early age to follow the money and specialise in limited overs cricket rather than all-round technique?

Shahid Afridi – In, Out, Retired, Back, Retired, Back Again?

When is a retirement not actually a retirement? I think you know the answer to that one as we report today that Shahid Afridi looks as if he is ready to return to international cricket.

Shahid Afridi

Shahid Afridi - Would you pick this man? Credit: REUTERS / Action Images

While he did state in May that he had retired from ‘all international cricket’ he then went on to say:

“This current board treats players roughly and I will not play under this set-up. But if this set-up is changed only then will I consider coming back because I have always played for my people and will play for them.”

So, now that Ijaz Butt and Waqar Younis have departed, Afridi has stayed true to his word and is, we understand, ready to serve his country once again.

The question is, has he burned one bridge too many? Will the selectors decide that enough is enough and it is time to invest in the young players (Adnan Akmal, Aizaz Cheema, Junaid Khan) that they blooded in Zimbabwe and build for the future.

Put yourselves in the shoes of the PCB selection committee. Would you pick him? And would you install him as captain?

We’ve already seen a positive response to the news on our Facebook page, but let us know your thoughts.

Could Somerset Be In The Market For James Taylor?

The identity of James Taylor’s employers come March 2012 is fast becoming one of county cricket’s transfer stories of the winter. Nottinghamshire are widely thought of as the favourites to secure the 21 year-old’s signature, although Warwickshire are also believed to be in the hunt.

However, could Somerset have added their name to the list of potential suitors? Their Director of Cricket Brian Rose was quoted as saying over the weekend, “If one quality player came up this winter, we would be in a position to sign him. At the moment, that’s a non-issue, because, although I have got someone who could possibly fit the bill, it is not that straightforward.”

Could that someone be Mr Taylor and could the complicating factor be that it would require the Leicestershire man to move to a different part of the country – something it is thought that he is reluctant to do and a factor that - along with their financial clout – makes Nottinghamshire firm favourites.

The fact that Taylor also recently visited Warwick only adds to the intrigue and speculation and has resulted in his current teammates indulging in a little light-hearted banter on Twitter.

Finally, don’t be surprised that if, in rather an ironic twist, he ends up staying at Leicestershire to see out the remaining year on his contract, meaning that all of this fervent speculation is for nothing.

Where do you think county cricket’s hottest property will end up for 2012? Let us know in the comments below.