Saturday, 16 December 2017

The writing on the wall

The Ashes series is fractionally passed the halfway point and already it seems inevitable that the metaphorical Urn will stay down under.  Two nil down after two and half way through the third where we cannot hope to win.  In truth it's very possible that England could escape Perth with a draw meaning victory in the last two matches would see us retain the Ashes.  But that isn't going to happen.

The problems started before we left home, obviously the absent Ben Stokes would have made a massive difference but I'd have picked Alex Hales too.  So it's the selectors to whom I'm going to give most of the blame; they have been piss poor ever since... well the last Ashes series down under!  They have consistently failed to pick the right players, most notably batsmen have come and gone all too regularly.  They pick a squad that includes three of four unproven batsmen and expect to win in Australia.  To be fair Stoneman is at last looking like an opening partner for Cook but how long will the latter keep playing?  Hopefully a while because even though his skills might be on the wane, he's still the best we've got.  Also Dawad Malan has scored a big century, fantastic now go get another one.  Vince is unconvincing and will Ballance even get a bat?

On home soil we literally have bowlers queuing up to do a job in what is often good bowling conditions but on most foreign surfaces most are unable to threaten.  This was the case in India a year ago and is even more apparent in Australia right now.  At least Anderson is able to maintain control but Broad has been well below par and Woakes hasn't impressed.  Overton has been as good as anybody.  What we really need from our bowlers is height, bounce and above all pace.  England had all three in 2010/11 but not in the two tours since.

Finally I have to give the captain some stick.  His tactics at Brisbane, when Australia were under pressure, were bizarre.  By not bowling Anderson Root seemed to be making some kind of "I'm the boss' statement, something that has already rebounded on him during his tenure.  This time it might even have cost the match?   His decision to bowl first at Adelaide seemed to be another kind of statement, 'Attacking option', really?  It was naive at best, but more likely just plain stupid.

Think positive, England are playing better than they did here four years ago (but it would be inconceivable for them to be any worse), they are competing for periods in every game and there isn't really much to choose between the two sets of players.  This is all true but we could still find ourselves on the end of a 5-0 scoreline.  If we can avoid that, this England fan would settle right now.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Ashes!!

All of a sudden it's here!  The first test starts in less than half an hour, England have won the toss and will bat.  Can England win?  Things have gone OK on the tour so far but here comes the test.  If England don't lose here at the Gabba then yes they can win.  If Australia win well then I think the series will be as good as over.
Here goes...

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Can England win Down under?

We all love to play "If I was selector..." and at the end of the test match summer my squad for the Ashes tour would be;
Root, Cook, Stoneman, Hameed, Malan, Hales.
Bairstow, Buttler.
Stokes, Woakes, Broad, Anderson, Wood, Finn
Ali, Rashid,
I expect the selectors will go for Crane and Ball ahead of Rashid and Finn, we'll see..

As usual the Selectors saw things very different with Gary Ballance and James Vince called up instead of Hales (disciplinary?) and Hameed (the future!).  Ballance must have compromising photographs of one of the selectors and Vince seems to have come from nowhere, his county form unspectacular.  Foakes instead of Buttler as reserve keeper is a little more predictable but I didn't see Overton (who? Impressive county stats) being picked.  TRJ & Wood (both injured) must be gutted.

Can England win?  Yes, if everything goes right, like it did in 2010/11.  England went into that series with a settled batting line up that gave the selectors no headaches, the top six picked itself.  This time around the uncertainties are obvious.  Like 2011 they have to hard and play to win in the warm up games, these matches will be tough and may well help finalise the batting line up.  We have to hope our bowlers stay fit and are picked on a 'horses for coarses' basis, again like they did in 2011.  England can't afford to drop as many catches as they have in recent matches either.  If all of those things fall into place and England come away from Brisbane unscathed, then yes they can win the series.

Likely XI ??  Cook, Stoneman, Ballance, Root, Malan, Stokes, Bairstow, Ali, Woakes, Broad, Anderson

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Lords

England win at Lords by 9 wickets inside three days.  Sounds easy on paper but in reality it was an even game until the third morning when England took control.  The match began with West Indies electing to bat first in tricky conditions. Stokes took 6-22, WI limped to 123 and the decision at the toss looked like a mistake.  England fared little better reaching a precarious 46-4 at the close.  Day two began with a brilliant 60 from Stokes but with Roach taking 5-72 England were pegged back, the last two wickets added sixty and were all out for 194.  West Indies bowlers had kept their team in the contest but only just!

The third innings of the match was the Jimmy Anderson show.  Lords rose to his 500th wicket on the second evening and by the third afternoon he was up to 506 as he recorded his test best figures of 7-42.  Shai Hope was impressive again with the top score of 62.  England needed 107 to win and reached it for the loss of just one wicket, with Stoneman and Westley both making welcome 40+ scores.  The Wisden trophy was retained by a score of 2-1.

A series which should have been an easy England win was far more competitive than anyone dared believe as West Indies exceeded all expectations, after the first test at least.  After every spirited display people ask if this is the start of a renaissance for Caribbean cricket and there have been very many false starts over the last twenty years.  To be fair West Indies have been slowly improving since Jason Holder took over the captaincy and he is a decent all round cricketer.  With Gabriel and Roach they have a first class pair of opening bowlers.   Braithwaite and Shai Hope are two excellent young batsmen, there are one or two others whose records suggest they are better players than the evidence of this series.  I hope the WICB get their act together and manage to get their best eleven cricketers on the field but maybe it would be better to ignore the T20 mercenaries and keep this group of young players together.  Whatever happens they'll need another wicket keeper.

For England it's the same old story, with an Ashes series on the horizon we still have three places in the batting line up up for grabs.  Mark Stoneman has probably done enough to hang onto his place at the top of the order, Tom Westley probably hasn't and Hameed is waiting in the wings.  Malan has started to look like a test cricketer but not in the fluent style he is said to play in county cricket, he looks like a number 3.  There are more candidates for the middle order but some day in the future I'm sure Alex Hales will make the number 5 position his own.  We seem to have plenty of good bowlers in home conditions but do we have the players to take wickets on flat Australian pitches?

With three rounds of the county championship to go and plenty of ODI cricket to come there is still time for players to get themselves noticed ahead of the trip down under.



Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Headingly. Pride before the fall.

The second test arrived without too much excitement, surely all England would have to do to win is turn up?  There is a sub plot here that will probably more interesting than the match.  Which batsmen, if any, can cement a place in the team ahead of the Ashes tour this winter?

England won the toss and elected to bat in cloudy skies; don't they say look up at Headingly?  Were England just a little over confident?  West Indies bowled well with an attack rejuvenated by the return of Gabriel and the captain found his radar too.  Joe Root equaled the record for consecutive matches with a score of at least fifty and Stokes hit a class hundred but England were restricted to 258 and none of the new boys done anything of note, except get out.

West Indies batted and with Jimmy making the ball talk they were soon 35-3.  England had under performed with the bat but it felt like we would get away with it against this opposition.  What happened next was totally unexpected, Brathwaite and Shai Hope put together a fantastic partnership of 246 with both going on to hundreds.  With quick runs from Holder and Blackwood WI took a first innings lead of 169.

At the midway point of the match West Indies were well on top and England's latest batting line up would get a serious test against a confident attack bowling well.  Stoneman passed the test with a solid 52. Westley didn't and simply looked out of his depth during his short stay.  Malan played the longest innings for a hard earned and impressive 61.  These two innings helped the established middle order players; Root and Stokes made good half centuries but WI fought back with three quick wickets.  At 327-7 the lead was 160ish and the match in the balance.  Cue Moeen Ali smashing a quick 82 with support from Woakes with 61* and England are in control with a 300+ lead.

Day five and with a big lead all England need to do is turn up and they will win, right?  How wrong can we be?  West Indies batted all day with 95 from Brathwaite and another ton from Shai Hope and the cruise to a five wicket win.  Wow!  What a match!

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and from here it seems England's decision to bat on the first day was arrogant in the context of this series.  Having decided to bat under a gloomy sky 258 was nowhere near enough runs.  England then seemed a bowler short and hindsight may say TRJ should have been given another game instead of Woakes.  Finally the fourth day declaration seemed a positive move at the time but looking back I don't think England would have done so had they been playing Australia or South Africa.

Throughout the history of English cricket, all of the great batsmen would have batted at Headingly, Bradman himself holds the highest score at the ground with 334.  The ground has been home to the likes of Hutton, Boycott, Tendulkar, Vaughan and Root yet Shai Hope is the first cricketer to score a century in each innings of a first class match at Leeds.  That is some stat when you think about it.

There is a week of rest before the final test of the summer at Lords and everything is set up nicely with the series tied at 1-1.  I expect England will play an unchanged side giving the new batsmen another go to book a trip to Australia.  If I were selector I'd want Roland-Jones back in the side at his home ground because Woakes doesn't seem fully fit and England now know they can't take this West Indies team for granted.  This is now a must win match for England, if they can't beat West Indies on home soil then they cannot expect to win the Ashes down under.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

The Pink experiment

Day/night cricket arrived in England to much fanfare but England won so easily we learnt nothing new.  England batted first on a good pitch, West Indies bowling, fielding and tactics were appalling, the massive first innings seemed inevitable.  With a mammoth from Cook and a ton from Root it was almost predictable.  Although Malan made his first half century we learnt nothing new about the batsmen.  We know this West Indies side is not in the same school as the great teams let alone the same class but the display on day one was inexcusable.  A fit Shannon Gabriel might have made a difference to the duration of England's innings if not the overall result.  Kemar Roach was the only seamer who can walk tall.  Former West Indian fast bowlers sitting in the commentary boxes were seathing.

West Indies' response to 514-8d was to lose twenty wickets for 305 runs, they didn't even pass the follow on target.  Since the great days the majority of West Indian batsmen try to play like the greats; Haynes, Greenidge, Lloyd, Richards, Lara, Sobers, the simple fact is the modern generation of Carribbean batsmen aren't anywhere near as good as those players nor a dozen more I could list.  They have to learn to play proper cricket before they can blaze away like the greats.  Most of the West Indies' home wickets are slow and dead these days, nothing like the fast bouncy pitches of the past which can't have helped.  The wickets were shared around England's bowlers but predictably Anderson and Broad picked up half of the twenty up for grabs.  England won easily in three days by and innings and 209 runs, Alastair Cook was man of the match for his 243.

The must frustrating thing for West Indian fans and indeed all cricket fans, is things could easily be different.  It is said the Carribbean groundsmen are encouraged to make pitches that last five days so the local economy can eke out every last tourist dollar.  There are a great many West Indian cricketers who, for a variety of reasons, are not available or unselected.  As far as I know  the Bravo brothers, Samuels, Gayle, Sammy, Narine and many others are still playing cricket.  Even the veteran Chanderpaul is been scoring runs for Lancashire in recent times.  When will the West Indies board and players sit down and do whats right for cricket?

It was a good idea to try pink ball cricket in England, it has pulled the crowds in Birmingham and I'm sure it will do elsewhere.  It is also good that England have had a taster ahead of this winter when we will play an Ashes match under lights in Adelaide.  Unfortunately the game wasn't competitive enough for the players to gain much experience but its better than nothing.

The second test starts at the end of the week and you'd expect an unchanged side and another comfortable England win, no matter how WI perform.  Should that be the case then why not leave out a handful of test regulars from the last test and try a few new faces?


Saturday, 12 August 2017

Proper cricket and a very good series.

The fourth test was another very good match despite ending up a one sided result, it mirrored the fourth test almost exactly.  The first day was tough and even but Bairstow and the bowlers dominated day two and England were in the ascendancy thereafter.  A brilliant all round display from Moeen Ali finished South Africa off.

England vs South Africa is the most evenly competitive of all international series.  At the end of this one the teams are totally deadlocked.  There have been eleven series since readmission and each side has won four, (two home and two away) while three have been drawn.  Furthermore each team has won fifteen tests over this period.

This has been a really good series where bowlers have dominated but England's batsmen were up to the task and the saffers' were not. Elgar, Amla and Du Plessis all had their moments but most impressive was Bavuma who looks like a test cricketer for years to come.

Whoever takes the field, South Africa have a world class bowling attack and they gave England's top order a proper test.  South Africans that have impressed;  Rabada is young and raw but will become a seriously good bowler.  Philander is excellent when he can stay fit.  On this trip Maharaj looked a really good cricketer and the best South African spinner I have seen, seriously impressed.  Morne Morkel has bowled brilliantly throughout most of the series, he's been the most consistent seamer from both sides and didn't have much luck, if he had...  Who knows?

Despite facing a seriously good bowling attack England managed to get runs on the board.  There were few centuries in this series but England managed to build partnerships, much more so than the saffers.  As we would expect, Cook, Root, Stokes and Bairstow all scored good runs against them; Tom Westley done OK in his two matches and deservedly retains his place, Malan didn't and hasn't looked good enough yet.  If he doesn't make runs soon I'd get Alex Hales in at five ASAP.  Jennings has not looked at home and definitely hasn't scored enough runs so has to go. Hameed isn't in form so Stoneman will get a go at opening the batting for now, I hope he does well.  Jennings may come back a better player, Hameed definitely will.  Another series has gone by and still the England selectors haven't managed to get any closer to getting our best batting line up on the field.

 We know what we are going to get from Broad and Anderson, accuracy, skill and class.  Like Morkel, Broad didn't get the wickets he deserved but Jimmy just keep rolling on.  TRJ done well in his two matches but will probably make way for Chris Woakes sometime soon.  Finally England's man of the series who was brilliant with both bat and ball, Moeen Ali has worked hard and quietly become a genuinely world class all rounder.  He is getting better and better and who knows how good he may become?

This was a very important series for England for if we couldn't beat South Africa on our own home grounds then how could we expect to win in Australia?  This is a similar situation to the last time we beat the saffers on home soil.  An Ashes tour came after that win in 1998 but in between came Sri Lanka who turned out to be a banana skin, winning at the Oval in brilliant style and seriously denting English confidence ahead of the Ashes.  This year we have three tests against the West Indies who are currently performing well against county sides.  England should be far too good for the West Indies but I expect their bowlers will be plenty good enough to test England's latest batting line up and we won't have things all our own way.  England mustn't look to far into the future...