Monday, 11 August 2008

Test matches over before the summer arrives

Being an England fan I tend to obsess about the England side and its failings – not that I am short of things to talk about there. South Africa has just won the Test series 2-1 and deservedly so. England rallied in the last Test match and South Africa, having already won the series, lost a bit of their discipline. England has played the same batsmen all year (10 Tests) and they have rarely looked like a Test match winning line-up. This will continue because the same players will continue to make the same mistakes. Will England fall lower that their current Test Ranking of 5th? Possibly. There I go again… obsessing about England.

South Africa looked an impressive side against England. The batting, when required, looked very solid. I was particularly impressed with Amla and Prince who looked every inch Test quality players. When England last played South Africa there was a suggestion Amla was in the side because of his ‘colour’. Whatever the truth, or otherwise, of that rumour he is now an impressive number three. Both players seem to have a very good knowledge of where their off-stump is and what not to play at. Smith captained his side as well as any South African I have seen and was quite rightly named man-of-the-series by the England coach. His innings at Edgbaston that won the series was one of real character and ability. The fact that South Africa won the series with barely a contribution from Kallis and had half the series without Steyn showed how far ahead of England they now are.

South Africa’s next Test series is against Australia – can they trouble them? Australia is a team in steady decline. They have lost some exceptional players: Warne, Mcgrath, Glichrist with Hayden to follow shortly. In addition they have lost some good players: MacGill, Hogg, Langer. However, their initial bar of excellence was so high that they are only just getting down to the point where they can be beaten by normal Test sides. I think it will be a close series, made closer by Australia’s inability to find a decent spinner. If they lose Lee to injury, which must happen someday because they bowl him into the ground, then the bowling cupboard will look very bare.

However, long before all that we have a one-day series which South Africa will win with some ease…

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

A combined 11+11=11

One thing I like to do as a mental exercise in a Test series is choose a combined team – just to see how many England players make it into the eleven. Clearly the result will be the biased by me – so feel free to disagree in the comments. I have tried to match player against player and I have used the Edgbaston line-up… and anyway the Oval line-up without Vaughan or a direct replacement makes it more difficult  Here goes:

Strauss or Cook v Smith or McKenzie
I am not that fond of Graham Smith and his particular brand of arrogance but there is no doubt he has bags more ability than Strauss or Cook. I think the Strauss, Cook, McKenzie choice is not clear cut. What is clear though is that McKenzie is in miles better form that either of the other two so I would choose him.

Vaughan v Amla
On anywhere near current form it’s a no-brainer for Amla

Pietersen v Kallis
Hmm, tough one. Of course it wouldn’t be a tough one because you would choose Pietersen and Kallis and drop someone else. Kallis’s record is miles better than Petersen although their ICC rankings are near identical. If I had to choose on batting alone it would be Pietersen, he is lots younger and can still improve.

Bell v Prince
Another no-brainer: Prince.

Collingwood v de Villiers
de Villiers and Collingwood have very similar Test records so in theory it’s a tough call. de Villiers is much younger and just as good a fielder. Collingwood is a useful bowler though. I would go for de Villiers, although it is very tight – he has three centuries this year (one a double).

Ambrose v Boucher
Quite a large mismatch… Boucher by a mile.

Flintoff v Morkel
Morkel is good, but Flintoff is Flintoff.

Sidebottom v Nel
Although Sidebottom has been excellent for England, I would choose Nel every time He has that ability to get wickets when none look likely. In addition, Nel replaced Steyn and Sidebottom v Steyn is a simple call.

Anderson v Ntini
Ntini is the most experienced current pace bowler in world cricket but he has looked past his best on this tour. I have been impressed with Anderson recently and so would choose him.

Panasar v Harris
Although Panasar is a liability in the field his ability to change a Test match wins here.

That makes the combined side:
de Villiers

I would swap Kallis for de Villiers and get a better batsman and a very useful bowler. Anybody else fancy a try?

Monday, 4 August 2008

Conspiracy rumbles on

Recent events are, of course, bang in line with the ECB conspiracy I blogged about a while ago. Vaughan isn’t really part of the conspiracy, mainly because he doesn’t play ODI cricket and so would not be selected in Antigua or for the IPL anyway. England have lost two test matches on the trot and lost the series against South Africa so it would be expected that, in addition to Vaughan’s self imposed exile, there would be more changes to the Test squad. We, of course, know better and so there was no surprise (although maybe some disgust) that the only change was the minimum possible they could make: Bopara for Vaughan.

The one day squad despite taking a beating against New Zealand also has the minimum of changes: Prior for the woeful Ambrose and the addition of Samit ‘who?’ Patel. There is no way they are going to risk upsetting the Stanford Gravy Train there...

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Turning around the supertanker 'England Fail'

A few years ago, England had a good Test side. This culminated in the 2005 home win against Australia. Since then the side has been in decline. England’s loss against South Africa is the second home series loss from the three series and by any yardstick England’s Test side should be considered a failure. That probably sounds a bit harsh ‘failure’ but it is accurate. England can only beat weak Test sides and make that seem difficult. The latest loss was typical of England – a poor first innings, it looks like the opposing side are easily going to get a big lead before Flintoff performs some heroics, a second innings which includes a century by someone in ‘Last Chance Saloon’ and finally a successful run chase by the opposition who manage to win despite multiple attempts to lose.

The selectors have tried the ‘do absolutely nothing at all unless we really, really have too’ strategy. That is not a bad way to treat nuclear waste but has been hopeless for England’s Test side. Here are a few ideas:

Give Strauss the Captaincy
Michael Vaughan is a good captain but his form is terrible. On form alone Vaughan shouldn’t even be considered for the England side, let alone be a permanent fixture. Strauss does have his bad form runs but he did play well when captain and in reasonable form right now. However, Vaughan has the ability to be the best player in the England side. Anyone who doubts this should go back and see what he did before becoming captain. His run of scores was remarkable and took him to number one in the world. I think Vaughan is worth another series as a player. If he can capture that old form he will be brilliant.

Drop Collingwood and Bell
You don’t drop a bloke after making a century. I would - mainly because I wouldn’t have picked him in the first place. Collingwood and Bell both just do enough to be picked. Their averages are poor. With his recent century, Collingwood now has six centuries in seventy innings – that is about one century for every six Tests. Rubbish. Bell has eight centuries in seventy-five innings and whilst he may look good when batting he rarely produces the goods when it matters.

Commit to Ambrose, or not
Lots of people seem to dislike Tim Ambrose. I am not one of them. I want my wicket-keeper to catch the ball. Specifically, I want him to not drop the ball when it has been edged. The previous incumbents, Prior for example, were unable to catch the ball when edged. I would much rather a wicket-keeper have an average of 26 and catch Jayawardene when he has 15 than have an average of 40 and drop the Sri Lankan captain allowing him to make another 150. The key point here is to pick a wicket-keeper who is good behind the stumps and stick with him.

Cut central contracts to six-months
Giving out central contracts for a year makes no sense to me. The ‘logic’ is that it gives stability to players who then know where they stand. I don’t agree, if a player is good enough it will make no difference to them. If they are not good enough it is better to cut them free after six months. As it stands the ECB will have to commit another twelve months to Vaughan in a month or so. That seems madness given his current form. Hoggard and Harmison, both centrally contracted players, have not played for England since the start of March. The money they have been paid would be much better spent if it went to Ambrose and Broad. My point is: award contracts at the start and end of the season(ish).

None of this will happen of course...