Posts Tagged ‘test cricket’

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?

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?

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?

How Will India Replace The Dravid-Tendulkar-Laxman Axis?

Watching the final day of the opening Test between India and the West Indies, we saw Sachin Tendulkar miss out in his latest quest for his hundredth international century and VVS Laxman guide his side to an impressive victory.

Both players were in supreme form and their 71-run partnership ensured there was no way back for the West Indies, who fought gamely, but came up short, despite having played exceptionally well over the first two days.

It was a tale of the two number fives – Shivnarine Chanderpaul scoring a century and then 47 to lead West Indies’ charge and his opposite number Laxman making up for a first innings failure with a consummate unbeaten 58 in 105 balls including some typically wristy leg-side strokes.

VVS Laxman - Irreplaceable?

VVS Laxman - Irreplaceable? Image: REUTERS / Action Images

India are undoubtedly going to face a slight dip when they have to replace Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid but do they have anybody ready to play Laxman’s role waiting in the wings?

His performances in his side’s second innings are exemplary – if not quite as good as Dravid or Tendulkar. It was he who carried India to unlikely wins over Australia in both Kolkata in 2001 and Mohali in 2008. He averages more than 55 against Australia – who during his career have more often than not been the best side in the world which is a testament to his being a man for the big match.

The three players complement each other perfectly, of course – Dravid as the solid, traditional number three bat allowing Tendulkar and Laxman’s free-flowing style to come through.

While the former style of player is rapidly going out of fashion – you would hardly call Darren Bravo or Shaun Marsh a blocker – there remains plenty of room in the game, and eventually India’s middle-order for prolific strokemakers.

Cheteshwar Pujara, Suresh Raina, Subramaniam Badrinath, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif are some of the players who have been tried but which of them, if any, have what it takes to nail down a spot in the middle order when India’s talented triumvarate decide to call it a day?

India have been blessed to have had so many talented cricketers at their disposal at the same time during the last ten years. There is talent coming through the ranks but whether they have the longevity and class of their predecessors will dictate India’s future on the field – particularly in Tests.

In the meantime, it’s going to be fascinating for the rest of us to see who gets picked and then how they do. Who would you pick and how long do you think Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman can play on for?