Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Why Are England Playing Two Wicket-Keepers?

For the 1993 tour of India Jack Russell, who had a batting average of 27.17, was dropped as wicket-keeper for Richard Blakey, who began and ended his Test career on that tour with a batting average of 1.75, no stumpings and only two catches.

By playing two wicket-keepers in the same team this English tradition of bizarre wicket-keeping selections against India has been continued. Neither Matt Prior nor Geraint Jones are worth a place on batting ability alone and so unless all other batsmen are injured or ill (impossible, even on this tour) their selection makes no sense.

Drop Jones for Solanki and give Prior the gloves.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

England Batsmen Humiliated in Delhi

After bowling India out for a paltry 203, England threw away a winning position in the first One-Day International, to lose the match by 39 runs. They collapsed from 117-3 to 164 all out.

Pietersen started the collapse by slog-sweeping a full toss from outside off stump into the hands of Gambhir on the mid-wicket boundary. With a run rate of just over 3 required with about 25 overs left the English batsmen only needed to bat sensibly against steady bowling to win the game. Flintoff then swept across the line to be plumb LBW. Like a precession of manically depressed lemmings the English batsmen followed their leader back to the pavilion with similarly ill-judged shots. I would pay money to hear Geraint Jones explain how he appeared to offer two half shots to a straight ball from Harbhajan Singh and was bowled without getting anywhere near it. Blackwell's slog sweep to mid-wicket summed up England's inability to tailor their shot selection to the match situation.
The last wicket pairing of Anderson and Plunkett shared a stand of 22, showing that by waiting for the bad delivery and cutting out the sweep shot it was possible to score runs with minimum risk. Why the batsmen could not play in the same manner is a mystery.
Flintoff needs to show that there is an austere side to his easy going style of captaincy. The middle order need to realise how badly they let their team down. I would suggest that they be sent to a darkened room with the last wicket partnership being replayed in a continuous loop.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The One-Day Internationals

My Great Uncle Pat had a story regarding an American who announced himself to the members' enclosure at Lords with the words "so are we in for an exciting days play?" The nearest member replied "Good Lord, I do hope not!"

This antipathy to the one-day game still exists among the more conventional cricket supporters. We prefer to see a game slowly develop over 5 days rather than an action packed 50 over game which often turns on a single moment of brilliance.

The One Day Series against India starts tomorrow and the Indians are red hot favourites. There will be a number of tired English players who know that while the result of Test series are remembered, the one day series are inevitably forgotten.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

England Victory Causes Selection Conundrum

England owe their victory in Mumbai to the new boys, who would not have played had the team been at full strength. The problems this causes with selection may be more palatable than those caused by a defeat, but that doesn't make them any simpler.

The assumption of many is that Trescothick will waltz back into the team when he makes himself available for selection. For this to happen a number of issues need to be addressed. Firstly he needs to confirm his availability for next winter's tour to Australia; without this guarantee his selection would be shortsighted. Secondly his position in the team needs to be considered. Cook is an excellent opener and has proved himself at test level; he is the man in possession of the opener's spot alongside Strauss. Trescothick's lack of foot movement sometimes lets him down against the new ball and his skill against the spinners suggests that he should bat in the middle order. However, assuming that Vaughan is fit and Pietersen is retained, there is only one available space in the middle order. This position would be contested by Trescothick, Bell, Shah and Collingwood. In my view Trescothick does not come top of this list.

In previous years players could miss tours, safe in the knowledge that the dearth of talent available to the selectors would ensure the continuation of their test careers. This is no longer the case and if those who played in the series against India maintain both their fitness and their form, Trescothick should be made to realise this.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Reflections on England's Third Defeat in the Sub-Continent in Five Games

In the film Clockwise John Cleese's character laments: "I can cope with the despair, it's the hope I can't stand!" Whenever an England defeat reminds me of that quote I have to reflect that their performance wasn't as bad as the commentators and press are making out, because at some point I believed that they would win.

There were moments of hope in England's nine wicket defeat in the second test against India. At 288-6 England appeared to be destined for a challenging total, but they collapsed to 300 all out. India had weakened their batting line-up for this game and so when England reduced them to 153-5, a first innings lead look probable. However, after humiliating the England bowlers with the ball, the Indian bowlers then punished them with the bat and secured a 38 run lead. After that little went right for England's young team. Their batsmen should have been able to make the game safe and their failure to do so reminds England fans how close the team came to disaster at the Oval last summer.

Sehwag and Dravid then made light of the awkward task of chasing 144 in little over two sessions on the fifth day of a test match. It truly looked like men against boys as England's bowlers tried too hard and saw the patient Indian batsmen punish the resulting errors in line and length.

Now that India have secured a vital lead, we can expect a batsman's wicket at Mumbai. The only challenge facing the English side now is to strive to lose the series 1-0 not 2-0.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Reflections on Fourth Day of Second Test

England are 74 runs ahead with only five second innings wickets remaining. Their situation is desperate, but not hopeless.

India secured what could prove to be a match winning first innings lead of 38, as their tail-enders batted defiantly against the second new ball.

Cricket is a game played in the mind as well as on the pitch and England's mental weakness against spin was exposed again. Had Dravid bowled Kumble from the pavilion end from the start, the match would probably be effectively over. Although the occasional ball did misbehave, the English batsmen got themselves out to shots they would prefer to forget.

Cook nicked the ball to the keeper, playing a needless defensive shot to a wide delivery. Strauss's tortuous innings of 13 off 64 deliveries was ended when, for the second time in his test career, he swept the ball onto to his boot and into the arms of the wicket-keeper. Pietersen was unlucky to be given out caught off the forearm but he had looked far from assured; he had twice chipped the ball to within a few feet of a fielder before his dismissal. Collingwood and Bell were both caught behind playing what appeared to be attempts to steer the ball down to third man, but only they will know for sure.

In recent times England have under achieved when batting under pressure in their second innings and much now depends on Jones and Flintoff. An England total of 200 could set up an enthralling last day's play, but with Plunkett, Harmison and Panesar all on a pair it seems unlikely that England will be able to set a challenging target.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Reflections on Day 3 of Second Test

Various sports writers had assured us that this test was sleepwalking into a draw. However, it burst into life on the third day as two opposing players set two impressive individual milestones. Captain Flintoff, on his way to his side's top score of 70, hit his 68th test match six, overhauling Botham's record tally of 67 and whilst the commentators were lamenting the technological improvements in today's bats, Anil Kumble inspired an England batting collapse by taking three wickets in four balls and becoming only the fifth bowler to take over 500 test wickets. England's promising 288-6 at tea became a disappointing 300 all out.

The fun did not finish there. I have often thought that danger money should be paid to those who stand at short-leg and the aggressively entertaining Yuvraj Sing underlined this point as he pulled a short delivery from Panesar straight into the back of Ian Bell's helmeted head. Unfortunately for England, the Brian Close method of dismissing batsmen by heading the ball into the slips was poorly executed and the ball bounced safely into the outfield. I am perhaps being a little unfair on Bell here, who, according to the latest technology, only had 0.12 seconds to get himself into the right position. With traditional Closian grit, Bell gave a brief shake of the head, put his helmet back on and prepared for the next delivery. In a delightful twist, Bell took a stunning one handed catch, to dismiss Yuvraj Sing off the bowling of Hoggard, a few overs later.

India will resume tomorrow at 149-4 and so the game is delicately poised, with a draw still the most likely outcome. However, with an extra half hour scheduled for the next two days anything can happen.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Reflections on the First Two Days of the Second Test

England have fought their way to 200-5 in the rain affected first two days of this test. I only hope that the England players have a different attitude to the BBC website which declared at lunch time that England were striving for a draw! Sure 200-5 is a little disappointing but there's no reason why England shouldn't make over 300 and then put the Indians under some pressure.

The premature hope of a draw lost England the third test against New Zealand in March 2002, which allowed the Kiwis to level the series. England should not make the same mistake again.

To stay at peace you must prepare for war. To draw a test match you must strive for victory!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

England's Depleted Squad Travel To Mohali

The second test starts in Mohali on Thursday and England now know that they will be without Simon Jones for the rest of the tour. Jones was a crucial part of the England seam attack which beat Australia and his absence, on what is said to be a seamers' wicket, will be keenly felt.

Boycott has criticised England's policy of playing two spinners and a glance at the bowling figures for the four tests that England have recently played in the sub-continent backs up his comments. But in the absence of Jones, England will have to select either play two spinners or select Liam Plunkett or James Anderson, neither of whom look capable of filling Jones' boots with the ball or Giles' with the bat.

I predict only one change from the team that played the 1st test: Udal replacing Blackwell. We shall see.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Reflections on Final Day of First Test

By learning from their mistakes of the 1st innings, the batsmen from both sides ensured that this match ended in a draw. The players only have three days to reflect on the pros and cons of this contest before the second test starts on Thursday.

David Lloyd suggested that Panesar was Flintoff's choice. If so it was an inspired one. He bowled 58 overs in the match, more than any other England bowler. He took three wickets, more than any other spinner in the match and had an impressive economy rate of 2.26. His three victims were all quality batsmen: Tendulkar, Kaif and Dravid. However, if Panesar was Flintoff's choice, Blackwell clearly wasn't. He only bowled 19 overs in the match, less than any other England bowler, with the exception of Bell. Blackwell was wicket-less with an economy rate of 3.74.

The selectors will have to wrestle with the age old problem of whether to select a bowler when the captain clearly has no faith in his ability. It will be very difficult for Blackwell to prove himself to his captain if he is always last to get his hands on the ball and is only tried as a last resort. With Udal waiting in the wings I venture that Blackwell will have to wait a little longer for another opportunity to take his first test wicket.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Reflections on Day 6 of First Test: Third Umpire Rules In Favour of Batsman (again!)

If I were ever on trial for my life, I'd want a third umpire sitting on the jury. In the series against Pakistan a run out decision was ruled not out because although the stumps were clearly broken, the umpire could not be certain that the bails were off the stumps. Today Pietersen should have been given out caught and bowled as the television replays showed the ball bounce before the bat. But again the umpire ruled in the batsman's favour as the less reliable head on replay, which is not the best angle to judge the distance between the ball and the ground, appeared to show that the bat, ball and ground collided together in a juxtaposition of uncertainty. Third umpires should be encouraged to give the best decision they can on the evidence available, instead of ruling in favour of the batsman if there is unreasonable doubt.

The game will probably be a draw, but huge credit is due to Cook who became only the 16th England player to score a century on debut. In recent times only Strauss and Thorpe have emulated him, making Cook a great prospect for the future.

It has been suggested that the selectors will have a problem in deciding who should open the innings should Trescothick become available. There is no contest. I'd go for the man who, when his country called, dropped everything, flew half way round the world, fought jet lag and stomach cramps and seized his opportunity to write himself into the record books.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Reflections on the First Three Days of the First Test

Thank Flindulkar (an Anglo-Indian Cricket God) we have a contest! After defeat by the President's XI and the disappearance of both the Captain and Vice-Captain (from injury and cause unknown) I feared that England were heading for their worst defeat in the sub-continent since the 1993 series. The first day seemed to confirm this as England slumped to 246-7; but since then England have rediscovered their fighting spirit and a competitive match has unfolded. Interestingly it was Cook and Collingwood who top scored for England, the two players who would not have played had Trescothick and Vaughan been available. I wonder if Cook's performance will encourage Trescothick to sort out his mystery "personal" problem!

The match is being played on a good batting surface, which has encouraged accurate defensive bowling. This has meant that the batsmen who lose their patience, also lose their wicket. It is the tail-end batsmen from both sides who have learnt this lesson and a defiant 128 run stand between Kaif and Kumble ensured that the Indian tail emulated their English counterparts, as their rescued their team from a dire situation.

India trail by 71 with one first innings wicket remaining and so England will be hoping for a lead of over 50. At one stage they were hoping for a lead of over 150. A draw is the most likely conclusion to this match, but all three results are still possible. I hope that this will still be true at the end of the fourth day.