Archive for January 2012

England On The Back Foot

“I felt it was better to play him off the front foot.”

Those were the words of Nick Compton, who made 95 against Saeed Ajmal and his Worcestershire team-mates last July, when the Pakistani mystery man was turning his arm over for the Pears.

Eoin Morgan

Morgan goes back to a ball from Abdur Rehman and is bowled. Credit: Action Images / Paul Childs Livepic

Somerset racked up 591/9 before declaring and went on to win the game. Ajmal ended with five for 150 from his 51 overs.

“I stood on off-stump and looked to play very straight,” Compton added. “Ajmal’s not a big spinner of the ball and his main weapon is pace through the air, and I felt it was better to play him off the front foot. (He also used the sweep to great effect). The fact that he can skid it on and it might not bounce as much or go the other way, if you sit back I think you’re guessing and you haven’t got as much time to react.”

England might consider those words as they reflect on the wreckage of back-to-back defeats against an Ajmal-inspired Pakistan.

Granted – the pitch at New Road was a good deal flatter than those in Dubai, and particularly in Abu Dhabi. Granted – it was Abdur Rehman who caused the bulk of the damage this time around. Nevertheless the point still stands.

England were rooted on the back foot and seemed loathe to do anything that might be construed as a ‘lunge’ lest they incur the wrath of the traveling press. Gone were the days of Duncan Fletcher’s forward press, the Sky commentary team’s ’beloved’ sweep shot, or the advance down the pitch to meet the ball like a man. Instead we were greeted with the sight of one after another of England’s batsmen giving the impression of being perched on a shooting stick.

Ajmal and Rehman both bowl with relatively low arms, and, for spinners, relatively quickly. The pitches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are not renowned for their excessive or uneven bounce. The situation cried out for sweep – even the reverse sweep. Instead the Englishmen were paralysed with fear.

When the Pakistanis batted they used the sweep, only sparingly admittedly, but they paid heed to the another of Compton’s well-reasoned points – play straight. Misbah-ul-Haq walloped Panesar over long-on on a couple of occasions, while over-pitched deliveries from both Swann and Panesar alike were drilled down the ground.

Maybe England need to re-think their method against spin. It shouldn’t be too hard. Their coach, Andy Flower, was one of the finest players of spin bowling around and I seem to remember he was rather partial to the odd sweep shot too

A Busy Week In Test Cricket Lies Ahead

It might be cold and dark here in the UK but in warmer climes, we have a busy week in the world of cricket ahead as three Test matches get underway.

In Adelaide, Australia take on India as they bid to seal a 4-0 series clean sweep although on a pitch expected to take turn, could this offer India a chance at reacquanting themselves with a winning feeling and will Sachin Tendulkar score his 100th international century?

Then in Abu Dhabi, Pakistan take on England in high spirits following their ten-wicket win in the opener in Dubai. England must improve on their performance if they are to stay in the series and must play especially well to overcome a well-discplined and well-drilled unit.

Finally, New Zealand meet Zimbabwe in Napier. Having almost produced an upset win in Zimbabwe when these two teams met last year, this match could well be worth watching. New Zealand have named uncapped players Kruger van Wyk and Sam Wells in their squad and they will not be taking Zimbabwe lightly.

Tillakaratne Dilshan

Tillakaratne Dilshan - captain no more

New Zealand’s last outing was a memorable win against Australia and they will hope that victory can be the springboard to further success.

Going one step further than New Zealand with their team selection is Australia. They have named an uncapped player – George Bailey – as their new Twenty20 International captain.

They play India in two T20s on 1st and 3rd February and have also recalled 40-year-old left-arm spinner Brad Hogg. Uncapped James Faulkner also makes the squad as erstwhile captain Cameron White and ‘Mr Cricket’ Michael Hussey miss out.

White is not the only player to become an ex-captain this week after Tillakaratne Dilshan resigned as Sri Lanka skipper to be replaced by Mahela Jayawardene.

For Australia, the road to the ICC World Twenty20 later this year starts here. But what are you most looking forward to watching this week?

Surely After One Loss, England Haven’t Become A Bad Team?

Just as one swallow does not make a summer, so too one heavy defeat does not make Test cricket’s world-leading side automatically a bad one, although judging by the reaction around the world, you could be forgiven for thinking that is the case.

There can be no argument that England were comprehensively outplayed and beaten by the better team during a chastening three days in Dubai and their poor form with the bat contributed to the ground witnessing its first positive result in three attempts.

Several factors have been cited for England’s poor performance including lack of preparation, inability to deal with Saeed Ajmal, a general malaise against spin and the wrong balance in the team.

Pakistan Beat England In Dubai

Pakistan proved too strong for England as they lost their first cricket Test for more than a year in Dubai. © REUTERS / Action Images

For me, their defeat was a combination of these factors and some others. Pakistan were under-rated going into this series and although England certainly wouldn’t have underestimated them I thought that a lot of fans and onlookers probably did. In their two previous series in the UAE, they have beaten Sri Lanka and drawn with South Africa and under the captaincy of Misbah-ul-Haq have formed a tight and well-disciplined unit.

He cops some criticism for the speed of his batting and is by some held personally responsible for Pakistan’s failures against India in the 2007 ICC WT20 final and 2011 World Cup semi-final but under his watch, he has got Pakistan playing solid cricket and, more importantly, winning – exactly what Andrew Strauss has managed with England.

It is no surprise that the Pakistan squad appears to have been galvanised since the spot-fixing cases were heard and three former team-mates were imprisoned. Often in sport this sort of siege mentality brings out the best in competitors and they fight like cornered tigers to prove themselves.

Back to England, though. On their day, they should be more than a match for Pakistan, even taking into account the wiles of Saeed Ajmal and their poor record in Asia in the last ten years (no series wins against India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka). They failed to show enough of the form that has taken them to the top of the world rankings and were ruthlessly punished.

There is a fine balance between playing the right amount of warm-up matches and overdoing it. Ahead of the Ashes series last year, England got it right but critically, they were able to play against first-class teams which offered them serious challenges. In any other country, they might have been able to play more matches against resident first-class teams or an A-side. This being the UAE and not Pakistan, a PCB XI and a Combined Associates & Affiliates XI was about the best they could have hoped for.

The players had an extended break over the Christmas period and that wasn’t so much so that they could hit this series running but as much so that they would be fresh for what is a long season coming up, including Tests against the West Indies and South Africa as well as the defence of the ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka and then a tour of India.

Judge England on where they are this time next year and you’ll have a better idea of whether they are true world number ones, because winning in Asia is the true test, not one Test match against a fired up Pakistan side in Dubai, although it has reinforced the point that if England want to stay at the top, they are going to have to work mighty hard to do so.

What Does 2012 Hold In Store For Cricket?

2011 in cricket was a year of incredible highs – particularly if you were a supporter of India – and incredible lows – but what lies in store for cricket in 2012? Will 2012 be able to match the rollercoaster ride we had last year?

Although not as high profile as the Mohammad Asif-Mohammad Amir-Salman Butt spot-fixing controversy, cricket will be heading to court again shortly when Mervyn Westfield stands trial for the same offence in January. Surely seeing fellow players thrown into jail for their misdemeanours will be enough to prevent any other players attempting to illegaly manipulate games in the future? We can but hope.

On the pitch, the ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka offers India a chance to put their dismal Test form (at least away from home) of late to bed and I expect one of the three top Asian teams to win the tournament. Sri Lanka are a class act at home, India always perform well there and Pakistan cannot be discounted having never failed to reach the semi-finals to date.

The Women’s tournament is wide open – wider than before as conditions should bring India closer to pace-setters Australia, New Zealand and England.

How England go about defending their newly-acquired number one status in Tests will be fascinating. In taking on Pakistan and Sri Lanka away from home followed by South Africa at home – a series all the more poignant following the passing late last year of Basil d’Oliveira, the man whose name is on the trophy the two sides compete for – they have three huge challenges. Win two of those series and they will have done themselves proud.

Lose two – and especially if they lose to South Africa – and it will again be back to the drawing board for Andy Flower’s men but they have never had a better chance to cement themselves as world leaders and begin to work on that legacy that Flower and captain Andrew Strauss are fond of reminding us about.

Talking about world leaders, Haroon Lorgat stands down as ICC chief executive in July. Can we expect big changes once he has gone? Unlikely but it will be interesting to see what new direction, if any, his replacement will go down.

2011 saw the emergence of a number of young cricketers, from Devendra Bishoo to Jonathan Bairstow to Ravi Ashwin on the world stage. The World T20 could offer the opportunity for more stars to be born.

Keep an eye on the West Indies – in the likes of Kraigg Brathwaite and Kirk Edwards, not to mention Darren Bravo, they are bulding a formidable batting line-up and all this without Chris Gayle or Ramnaresh Sarwan. If the stand-off between the WICB and its former captain can be ended, then don’t be surprised if the men from the Caribbean enjoy a strong year.

What are you most looking forward to in 2012? Which teams and players do you foresee enjoying success?