International Cricket

Who Will Prevail In England-Australia ODI Series?

The England cricket team begin a five-match One-Day International series against Australia at Lord’s on Friday and they will be expecting a bigger challenge than that laid down by the West Indies.

The bookmakers agree, having made both sides 10/11 to win the series – and that is despite an England player scoring a century in their last six completed ODIs.

Australia, as outlined by Peter Such below, are indeed a team in transition but can never be underestimated and with David Warner and Brett Lee looking in ominous form, it could be a fascinating series.

England are essentially unchanged. Although they made changes for the final ODI against the West Indies, resting three of their frontline bowlers, the game was washed out, so it is as you were.

There was a small possibility that Australia would go on strike and not take part in this tour. Fortunately the only strikes we will be talking about will be those registered by players’ bats and the balls onto the stumps.

There has been some adverse reaction to the series taking place at all, with a series of ODIs seen as unnecessary by some, particularly with the much-anticipated England-South Africa Test series also looming on the horizon. Neither side will be worried about that and will be firmly concentrating on the here and now.

We will be offering our thoughts during a Mr Predictor later this week but what do you think will be the outcome? Such thinks it will be a tough series for England, although they beat Australia when they were over here in 2010. Is a repeat performance on the cards?

Bairstow In, Taylor Out: Have England Picked The Right Squad?

The English international summer starts on Thursday with England taking on the West Indies at Lord’s and they have named a forward-looking 13-man squad.

Jonathan Bairstow

Jonathan Bairstow (REUTERS / Action Images)

Into the squad for the first time comes Yorkshireman Jonathan Bairstow as a replacement for Samit Patel. He gets his chance after Ravi Bopara was ruled out through injury – a cruel blow for the Essex batsman but Bairstow might have been in contention anyway.

357 runs this season for Yorkshire and a half-century for the Lions against the West Indians would ensured he was in the frame.

Some will be surprised that Nottinghamshire’s James Taylor, despite being named as Lions captain and then scoring a century at Northampton, has not been included. Perhaps the selectors feel he hasn’t quite got enough runs since making the switch from Division Two Leicestershire to Division One Nottinghamshire and that his time will come.

Comparing the two paints an interesting picture – Taylor has played more matches (69 to 50), scored more centuries (12 to five) and has a better average (48.60 to 46.37) but the majority of Bairstow’s runs have come in the top flight. Is this a valid argument? After all, Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Eoin Morgan and Steven Finn have barely featured in the First Division and even Bairstow’s Yorkshire were relegated last season.

Nevertheless, he has been identified as one to watch for the future by England and made an immediate impact last summer against India. While Nick Compton is the man in form and the leading run-scorer this year, at 22, Bairstow has time on his side. And with all due respect to the West Indies, this is an ideal series for him – or any player, for that matter – to make his debut.

Things will get tougher when South Africa come calling later in the year, and by then Bopara should be fit, Taylor may be scoring runs consistently and the selectors will have more problems, though they will say these are the sort of problems they want to have.

Taylor’s challenge is to prove he is worth a shot and more time for him to do so may not be a bad thing. It pays to come into the side hungry but confident and at just 21, he, like Bairstow has time on his side. It will do him no harm to make his debut with more experience under his belt and knowing his game inside out. That certainly worked for Graeme Swann, Michael Hussey and Jonathan Trott no disservice.

But what are your thoughts on the England squad? Is Bairstow the right choice at number six? Would you have given Taylor a go? And who of Tim Bresnan, Steven Finn and Graham Onions would you leave out? Would you like to see England return to playing five bowlers – with both Prior and Bairstow wicket-keepers who could bat at six?

What Now For England After Fourth Defeat In A Row?

Spin 4-0 England – Should Strauss/Flower Stick Or Twist?

It has not been the recent way with England’s cricket team to lose four games in a row. However unlucky they might feel they have been to do so, the facts are what they are. They have failed to win a Test this winter and are in danger of losing their status as the world’s best Test team.

Particularly in Sri Lanka, they have made errors of judgement at key times in the game and committed basic mistakes. If you want to beat any team at home, let alone Sri Lanka when Mahela Jayawardene is in full flow, you can’t afford to drop catches and bowl no balls that result in wicket-taking deliveries.

Even before the match had finished, Andrew Strauss was already coming under pressure in some quarters – see our interview with David Lloyd for just one example – and he isn’t alone.

Sri Lanka Celebrate As England Lose Again

Sri Lanka Celebrate As England Lose Again - REUTERS / Action Images

Only Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell held their hands up with the bat during the match but not one batsman has truly excelled this winter. Eoin Morgan made way for Samit Patel as England’s management team finally decided to play a five-bowler attack.

Given how well the bowlers (in general) performed and how poorly (again, in general terms) the batsmen performed, was that the right move? For all his improvement as a bowler and with the bat, is Monty Panesar’s fielding still holding him and the team back? You might argue a similar case for Patel but he is technically as accomplished a batsman as Ravi Bopara or Morgan, the players he finds himself in competition with.

England now need to make some important decisions ahead of the second Test. Some of the batsmen who are selected will be playing for their positions come the summer.

But is it time for sweeping changes once the team returns home, or should the players who got England to the top of the Test rankings be trusted to either keep them there or get them back there, depending on the result in Colombo?

Is it time for Strauss to stand aside and let Alastair Cook take over the ropes? Should England be looking to the next generation and players like James Taylor and Jonathan Bairstow to be putting Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell under serious pressure?

Let us know what you think by leaving us a comment below. You can also follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

Rahul Dravid – Farewell To A Cricketing Colussus

Rahul Dravid – ‘The Wall’ – Retires

Rahul Dravid, one of Indian cricket’s most celebrated stalwarts, captains and fielders has called time on a distinguished international career. He was as classy a batsman as he is a dignified and eloquent man. Five-day cricket will miss him greatly.

The numbers bear testament to just how important a cog he has been in India’s run-gathering machine which, during his career, reached the top of the Test rankings and won both ODI and T20I World Cups.

504 times he has represented India in international cricket (163 Tests, 340 ODIs and a solitary T20 last year against England) and scored over 24,000 international runs.

While Tendulkar, Laxman, Sehwag and others have thrilled crowds with explosive innings, on so many occasions they have been given the foundations to play their strokes because it is Dravid, be it at number three or opening the batting, who has ground down the bowlers’ resolve. He has been the man that when a match needs winning, or a tricky run chase is in the offing, you would want batting for you.

A sense of extraordinary calm pervaded everything he did on the field – and he did pretty much everything, from batting through taking hundreds of catches at slip, to wicket-keeping, to leading the side and even turning his arm over in the early days – and he always looked like he had so much time at the crease.

Perhaps his finest hour was in Kolkata in 2001 when he and Laxman contrived to help India beat Australia after following on. Yet he can look back on an international career full of outstanding innings and you won’t find many, if any people who have a bad word to say about him.

I was at the press conference at Sussex in 2007 when Dravid, along with Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar, declared they would not play Twenty20 cricket for India, as it was a ‘young man’s game’. Given how the likes of that trio, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist and many others have subsequently forged impressive second careers in the IPL, it was a rare error of judgment from the man known as ‘The Wall’.

The fact that he played international cricket for one of the best teams in the world for almost 15 years is a more than adequate reminder of just how good a player he was. He will leave an enormous set of pads to fill – whenever he decides to call it a day.

In 20 years, when Twenty20 cricket will perhaps rule the world, future generations will look at Dravid’s career statistics and simply will not understand how much of a colussus he was. I consider myself lucky to have seen a master craftsman in action and I wish him the very best in retirement.

What are your memories of Dravid’s illustrious career? How much will India miss him? And will his retirement heap extra pressure on Sachin Tendulkar?

Cook Leads England’s ODI Revival – A New Dawn Or A False One?

England’s one-day cricket performances in the last week have provided a refreshing change for fans who were dismayed by the 3-0 Test series defeat to Pakistan.

Alastair Cook

England captain Alastair Cook has led by example for his side in the UAE © REUTERS / Action Images

Alastair Cook has led from the front and by becoming the first England captain to score back-to-back ODI centuries has firmly delivered another riposte – if one was needed – to lingering critics of his suitability for the limited overs side.

Steven Finn has taken consistency to a new level by twice returning figures of four for 34, Ravi Bopara has batted with a new-found maturity to score two important half-centuries and Samit Patel has been a match-changer with the ball and in the field.

Two wins do not, however, make a world-beating team, but could this series be a new dawn for England’s one-day side? Or are you still unconvinced that this team has all the options covered?

Consider that England have not beaten India, Sri Lanka or Pakistan away from home since 2007 and contrast with the way that they have outplayed Pakistan so far in the UAE. Consider that even with misfiring batsmen (Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan) they have been able to set defendable totals. Consider that Tim Bresnan cannot even get into the team at the moment such is the way that Finn has grabbed his opportunity.

But how long can it last? Over the years, we have time and again proclaimed series performances as ‘new dawns’ for English cricket only for the reality to be anything but. Wins in Sri Lanka in 2007 and then over Australia in 2010 at home didn’t see the team kick on and produce the performances they needed to at the World Cup in 2011.

Perhaps we would be better served by looking at the longer term. England are building towards the next Champions Trophy (2013) and then the World Cup (2015) so the goal is to have a settled, winning team by then. A few hiccups along the way can probably be expected. But one thing is for sure – under captain Cook in the UAE – so far, so good.

What do you think – another false dawn for England’s ODI team or are England on track? Or is it simply too early to say?

 

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?

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?

 

Positive Signs For Cricket in 2011

With the cricketing year now over following the conclusion of the two Boxing Day Test matches, it is time to reflect on what the past 12 months have meant for cricket as sport. There have, of course, been low points as well as high, with the spot-fixing trial in October a particularly sobering one that laid bare the stranglehold that corruption has on our sport.

However, a New Year is not usually a time to dwell on past misdemeanours, and this one is no different. While there have undoubtedly been low points, it is my opinion that 2011 has witnessed a record number of high ones. From the increasingly excellent performances of all of the Test-playing nations, through to the positive signs at board level in Pakistan and Zimbabwe, and including the re-emergence of fast-bowling as a force to be reckoned with, 2011 has provided many enlightening moments.

The Test game has shown signs of rebirth, with many of the matches closely fought, as teams such as Zimbabwe – who enjoyed a triumphant second coming in August against Bangladesh; the West Indies and Pakistan - seemingly showing a much steelier resolve under their new captains; New Zealand – who triumphed over Australia; and even Sri Lanka - showing signs of moving on from the Muralitahran era – all combining to make Test cricket more competitive and less predictable. The underlining factor amongst all of this is surely that the game’s administrators have finally grasped the need to produce more ’sporting’ pitches.

The appointment of Zaka Ashraf as PCB chairman to replace the discredited Ijaz Butt is also a positive sign for the administrative side of the game, as is the ICC’s determination to make member boards less political in their make-up. Indeed, Ashraf has already shown an admirable resolve to move on from the isolationism that accompanied Butt’s final months in charge and is already making positive noises about restoring cricketing ties with India and bringing international cricket back to Pakistan by the means of a home series against Bangladesh.

However, for me, the most reassuring sign coming out of 2011 has been the sight of the first shoots of the game’s regrowth in Africa. Zimbabwe’s better-than-expected return to the top table has been well documented, but it is the organisation of that country’s domestic structure that is most exciting for the future of the game. In spite of cricket all but disappearing during the middle of the last decade, it has re-emerged as a more vibrant beast and is now much more representative of the broader Zimbabwean population. The selection, this time on purely meritocratic grounds, of black cricketers such as Keegan Meth, Brian Vitori and Njabulo Ncube, and seeing them playing under a captain such as Brendan Taylor, who clearly understands the weight of responsibility placed on his shoulders, is a sight that should give hope to cricket lovers everywhere.

And it is not just in there where African cricket is thriving. Kenya, led by their talismanic CEO Tom Sears, have finally got around to organising a meaningful domestic competition, while the player/board disputes appear to have finally been resolved; and Uganda has continued its steady, and thus far unnoticed, ascent towards cricket’s top table. Indeed, the two Ugandan teams that were invited to participate in the Kenyan domestic competition more than held their own. Nigeria, Ghana, Botswana and Namibia are also showing tentative signs of growth and are providing a timely nudge to the ICC, which seems intent on forcing cricket on America, as to the where cricket’s future may lie.

Australia Have Had A Poor Year – The Stats

Australia will soon name their squad to take on India in the first Test which begins in Melbourne on Boxing Day and already their cricket fans are predicting the worst.

Michael Clarke

Michael Clarke has mush to ponder ahead of the Boxing Day Test - credit: REUTERS / Action Images

Missing Patrick Cummins and Shaun Marsh as well as having a string of other players nursing injuries, there seems to be little optimism that the Baggy Greens can overturn a seven-run defeat to New Zealand in their previous match and offer India a stern challenge.

New coach Mickey Arthur enjoyed a honeymoon period lasting around seven days before his side unravelled dramatically in Hobart to hand New Zealand a first win in Australia for 26 years.

Using the Cricket World Most Valuable Player ratings, it is even more clear that Australia have had a poor year – the MVPs only take performances from the last 12 months into account to give a true barometer of who is in form at any one moment in time.

Batting: 1 rating point is roughly analagous to an average of 1 run. Aside from the injured Marsh, who is in sixth place with 66.9 points, the top Australian batsman in the Test batting ratings is Michael Clarke, who has 44.1 points at number 22 and is followed immediately by Michael Hussey (43.9) one place behind. That translates to a reasonable year but not outstanding, and Clarke’s figures are boosted by his outstanding form since taking over the captaincy.

Next up for Australia is Usman Khawaja – very much a work in progress – down at 53rd with 29.5 points and you have to drop to 56th to find Ricky Ponting, Phil Hughes is 60th, Brad Haddin 64th and Shane Watson lies 77th.

Bowling: It does not get much better in the bowling rankings although Ryan Harris and Nathan Lyon are top of the pile in 20th and 21st place respectively. Shane Watson is in 29th, Peter Siddle 34th but Mitchell Johnson, to confirm what we probably already know, is down in 44th place just a few places above Hussey (49th) and Clarke (50th).

We wait with bated breath to see just how ruthless the selectors might be but the evidence based on the ratings would only guarantee Clarke, Lyon and Harris a place in the line-up. Time was when Australia dominated the ratings, both as a team and players.

Those days are now gone but can the likes of Marsh, James Pattinson, Cummins and Khawaja launch their team back to the top? India themselves aren’t able to call upon a fully fit squad of players so might the series turn out to be a little closer than Australian fans fear?

Save the date

December 2006:

Test batting top ten: Mohammad Yousuf, Kumar Sangakkara, Ricky Ponting, Kevin Pietersen, Michael Clarke, Mohammad Hafeez, Michael Hussey, Mahela Jayawardene, Alastair Cook, Paul Collingwood

Test bowling top ten: Muttiah Muralitharan, Stuart Clark, Corey Collymore, Anil Kumble, Mohammad Asif, Monty Panesar, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, Jerome Taylor, Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hoggard

December 2011

Test batting top ten: Brendan Taylor, Tino Mawoyo, Kirk Edwards, Kumar Sangakkara, Tatenda Taibu, Darren Bravo, Shaun Marsh, Ian Bell, Vusi Sibanda, Angelo Mathews

Test bowling top ten: Saeed Ajmal, Pragyan Ojha, Ravi Ashwin, Praveen Kumar, Stuart Broad, Rangana Herath, Shakib Al Hasan, Ray Price, Daniel Vettori, Junaid Khan