Sunday, May 28, 2006

England's Use of the Second New Ball Sets Up Victory

England won the second test by a flattering 6 wicket margin. Sri Lanka's defiance was broken by skilful bowling with the second new ball, particularly from Liam Plunkett who took two wickets in two balls to ensure that for once the Sri Lankan tail did not wag.

A lead of 78 was never going to be enough, but Muralitharan's 4 for 29 served to remind us all how close this contest really was. Had 80 runs been added to the target we could have witnessed a repeat of England's 22 run defeat against Pakistan in Multan. Another 40 runs and we could have been treated to a repeat of England's 3 wicket victory at Trent Bridge last year.

This England side have a fine record when batting in their first innings, but they need to adopt different tactics when facing the greater challenge of batting last on a wearing pitch. The best time for a coach to criticise his team is after a victory and Fletcher needs to work on this chink in the armour of the team of St George.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Reflections on the Drawn First Test

Determined batting from the tail and dispirited bowling, especially with the third new ball, ensured that Sri Lanka posted their highest ever second innings total and wrote another chapter in the book on defiant tail-end stands against England. Before the start of today's play it was said that Sri Lanka would require some assistance from the weather if they were to draw the match. In fact all they required was assistance from the English fielders. Two more straight forward chances were spilled, which in village cricket would have cost Flintoff and Cook at least one round of drinks each, where an explanation of why the captain chose to field at slip when he was about to bowl the next over would also be expected.

Flintoff is clearly a captain who wishes to do everything himself and undoubtedly he has been successful in getting the best out of Freddie Flintoff. But he failed to get the best out of his inexperienced bowling attack. Panesar should have been bowling immediately after lunch with the old ball and not over half-way through the session with the new one. The fact that he only bowled 27 overs to Flintoff's 51, but took the same number of wickets and had the best economy rate, indicates why England failed to win this match. Plan A was for the seam bowlers to bowl out Sri Lanka. When that failed Flintoff reverted to Plan A.

I hope Flintoff can learn from this match and so when the time comes he will be a successful captain. In the meantime though, we need Vaughan back.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Have England Found A Wicket Taking Spinner?

Sri Lanka followed on in the first test today, after Hoggard took his 200 test wicket to return the impressive analysis of 4 for 27 off 14. We all know that Hoggard is a great test match bowler who deserves his number 5 position in the official world rankings. So this blog entry is not about him but Monty Panesar and for me this was his day.

Panesar's had a promising tour of India, but it was uncertain whether he could keep his position in the side when England started playing on less responsive pitches. His lack of ability with the bat and as a fielder and will always count against him in the modern game. Duncan Fletcher is renowned for favouring bowlers who can bat and the selection of Panesar over Udal certainly had its critics, including Udal's Hampshire teammate and captain, Shane Warne. Panesar answered those critics today, when after trying five other bowlers (including the occasional medium pace of Collingwood) Flintoff threw him the ball. The pitch was playing well and the Sri Lankan batsmen, who are competent players of spin, were well set. Panesar responded to these challenges with 15 testing overs, which brought him 2 wickets for 26 runs and brought the game back under England's control.

Panesar's England career may still be far from certain but there can be no doubt that he is the most threatening English spin bowler since Phil Tufnell.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Reflections on Day 2 of First Test

In a speech to the House of Commons Churchill stated that "the problems of victory are more agreeable than those of defeat, but they are no less difficult." This is the problem that now faces the England selectors. A few years ago they struggled to agree on who to pick, now they must struggle to decide who to leave out.

This agreeable problem was made worse today following a typically resolute 57 from Collingwood and a stunning debut from Mahmood where his first five overs in test cricket were rewarded with three wickets for nine runs.

Should Vaughan come back to full fitness, who should be dropped? If Harmison and Jones get back to match fitness, which bowlers should make way for them? The selectors are probably secretly relieved that Plunkett looked out of his depth!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Reflections on Day 1 of First Test

The excellent sports writer Simon Barnes wrote a brilliant obituary piece on David Gower's career. In it he argued that Gower's main virtue: the ability to destroy any attack regardless of the circumstances, was the same as his main flaw: the ability to throw his wicket by being unnecessarily aggressive, when the situation required defence. Barnes warned those who defend mercurial geniuses like Gower not to expect any favours from the player himself, who will respond to your loyalty by hitting the last ball before lunch straight to backward square leg in an Adelaide Test in 1991.

Today I realised that this advice works in reverse. Never expect any favours from a player that you are disloyal to. I had criticised Trescothick for his unreliability after walking out on England before the India tour. Following several weeks for reflection he could have come up with a better excuse than a viral infection, which if true would surely have been disclosed at the time. I did not believe that Trescothick deserved to be selected for this match at the expense of Ian Bell who was beginning to reward the selectors for their loyalty. Today, Trescothick top scored with a determined 106, which I have to admit was vintage Trescothick, combining a judicious blend of attack and defence.

Clearly this "virus" cannot thrive in an English climate, but if it breeds in the Australian sun the selectors may still rue their decision to reinstate Trescothick so soon.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Preview of 1st Test Against Sri Lanka

A team needs to take 20 wickets to have any chance of winning a Test match and with Harmison, Hoggard, Jones, Flintoff and Giles, England were always likely to straddle this first hurdle. It was then up to the batsmen to clear the final fence to ensure victory.

Harmison is injured for this match, but should return later in the series. However, if the injury prone Giles and Jones were race horses they surely would have been shot by now. Anderson's chance of cementing his place in the team at the expense of the other two seamers have been ended by a back injury.

This extensive injury list means that the uncapped Mahmood and Lewis have been included in the 13 man squad, along with the inexperienced Liam Plunkett. Panesar has also been selected, but is unlikely to be chosen, as Lords in early May is not a place for a spinner who can't bat.

Lords has a habit of inspiring the opposition more than the hosts and there is a real danger that England's young bucks will fall at the first hurdle, making a draw the best the team can hope for.