Posts Tagged ‘west indies’

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 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.

Seven Days Is A Long Time In Cricket

Has cricket ever known a seven days like the ones we have just witnessed? From the ridiculous to the sublime and from ecstasy to tragedy, we have seen most of it.

For just the second time in the history of Test cricket, a part of all four innings was played on the same day when South Africa, having folded to be all out for 96, dismissed Australia for a staggering 47 and it needed a last-wicket partnership to prevent them from setting an unwanted record for the lowest Test score in history.

We then had Shahid Afridi’s latest comeback from retirement and although he last played for his country in May, he said he had spent the ‘long time’ away from the side wisely. Whatever he had been doing seems to have worked as his three wickets earned him the man-of-the-match award in a comprehensive nine-wicket win over Sri Lanka and he struck with just his fifth ball back. Who writes his scripts?

In among that we saw Sachin Tendulkar score his 15,000th Test run but miss out on his century of international centuries and a graceful VVS Laxman guide India to a thrilling win over the West Indies. Their squad was then rocked when news of a horrible bus crash in Saint Lucia – captain Darren Sammy’s home – filtered through and they are paying tribute by wearing black armbands for the second Test.

I have queried elsewhere whether it is the retirement of Tendulkar that will cause India the most problems as for me, Dravid and Laxman are just as irreplaceable. Exciting times ahead for the Indian selectors in the next five years.

At the end of the week, esteemed journalist and former Somerset captain Peter Roebuck committed suicide in South Africa, cricket losing one of its great characters and it is both tragic and sad that he should have chosen to have taken his own life just as too many other former players have done over the years.

Too often, words such as ‘tragedy’ or ‘disaster’ are bandied about when a team is well beaten, dismissed cheaply or a player misses out on a personal milestone. Perspective. Out of focus.

The last seven days have – unfortunately, but perhaps necessarily – reminded us what those words actually mean.

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?

Will Tendulkar Score His 100th Century Against The West Indies?

Let us leave the spot-fixing trial to one side for a moment to focus on on-field matters as there is some good quality Test cricket both underway and coming up.

Sachin Tendulkar

Sachin Tendulkar - due to score his 100th international century? Picture: REUTERS / Action Images

The Pakistan-Sri Lanka battle has been fascinating while Zimbabwe are on the back foot against New Zealand but I want to turn your attention to India playing the West Indies, in which the first Test begins on Sunday in Delhi.

On the face of it, India should be plenty strong enough to win the three-match series and there is a strong chance that sometime in the next month Sachin Tendulkar will score an unprecedented 100th international century.

Yet, if you look at current form this is a meeting between a side that has lost its last four matches (India) against a team on a high, fresh from winning an overseas series for the first time in eight years and with an exciting young leg-spinner in their ranks (Devendra Bishoo).

India, meanwile, have rung the changes – out go Harbhajan Singh and Suresh Raina, in come Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Ravi Ashwin. One wonders whether probable Test debuts, Rahane and Kohli doubtless being touted as the next Tendulkars/Dravids/Sehwags and Tendulkar’s impending landmark could just distract the Indian side.

Make no doubt about it, in Kirk Edwards, Kraigg Brathwaite and Kieran Powell, the West Indies have unearthed some fine batsmen who appear to have the temparement to match their skills and they will be stronger for including Adrian Barath in their side.

The perfect result for the neutrals is probably a 2-1 series win for either side with Tendulkar scoring his 100th century – probably earlier rather than later – but as both sides look to rebuild their sides it could offer several pointers for the future.

What A Summer Of Cricket

We have now reached the end of a marathon summer of cricket and although it ended with England being dismissed for 88 by the West Indies in the second T20I, there was much to celebrate.

England finished the summer on top of the Test rankings, didn’t lose a series and witnessed the emergence of a number of exciting young players.

But what was your highlight? England’s 4-0 whitewash of India? Lancashire ending 77 years without a Championship title? Leicestershire giving Paul Nixon the perfect send-off at Edgbaston?

Let us know by commenting below…

A Topsy-Turvy Cricket World Cup Week

It’s been a topsy-turvy few days at the Cricket World Cup 2011. We’ve seen Ireland topple England to register the tournament’s first upset, Canada push Pakistan hard before the West Indies dismissed Bangladesh for just 58 in a match that we expected to be a lot closer.

Bangladesh’s fans partied after their own victory against Ireland as if they had won the World Cup but their mood changed following the West Indies match and reports emerged that they had thrown stones at the West Indies team bus, breaking a window.

They thought they were attacking their countrymen, so lauded a few days earlier for a hard-fought 27-run win against a team that would go on and down England in fine style.

Kevin O’Brien’s 50-ball century and innings of 113 in 63 balls will live long in the memory of all who saw it as he helped his side recover from a precarious position of 111 for five chasing 328 to see his team over line with balls to spare.

He may never play as well again, but he helped Ireland write their own piece of World Cup history with the highest run chase ever achieved.

England, who are chasing an unlikely hat-trick of Ashes, ICC World Twenty20 and World Cup success, have some serious questions to answer having conceded, on average, more than 300 runs in each of their matches so far.

They were almost turned over by the Netherlands, escaped with a tie against an Indian side that has similar bowling issues and finally embarrassed by Ireland, who were completely deserving victors and good value for their victory.

Ireland’s win did the campaign to keep the Associate and Affiliate nations out of the World Cup no favours either. However, with the skills they showed in Bangalore, don’t rule out Ireland making big impacts in future ICC World Twenty20 events.

Following the excitement of the England-Ireland game, we unfortunately had to sit through some one-sided games – New Zealand thumping Zimbabwe and South Africa hammering the Netherlands but a plucky Canada showed plenty of grit and determination to bowl them out for 184.

They were therefore very much in the game but their hopes were extinguished by another fine performance in the field – led by the (other) man-of-the-moment Shahid Afridi, who took his second five-wicket haul.

Finally, if Bangladesh’s disappointing loss at the hands of the West Indies proved anything, it is that even a match between two Test-playing nations can end up being dreadfully one-sided.

That is the beauty of sport – the underdog will have its day but on others, evenly-match teams can produce games that don’t live up to their billing.

Back in August, New Zealand beat India by 200 runs in a One-Day International. Was anyone then claiming that India shouldn’t be playing ODI cricket?