Monday, 6 January 2014

Post Mortem

Thank God we have been put out of the misery of the worst Ashes tour in living memory.  Firstly credit to Australia who have played with the same kind of attitude and performance as England did in 2005.  They’ve been tough, aggressive and have attacked England who have not been up for the fight.  As a cricket fan I cannot begrudge Mitchell Johnson his redemption or Chris Rogers his fairy tale.  As an average Sunday afternoon wickie I have to give credit to Brad Haddin’s record breaking series.  Good honest sportsmen like Siddle and Harris deserve an Ashes win after disappointments of the past.  Like England, Australia’s top order has been shaky but unlike England, always done enough to allow the lower order to counter attack. England’s middle & lower orders came in under pressure and have just been blown away.  It may be easy to skipper a winning side but Clarke has excelled where Cook has dithered.  Australia’s fielding has been first class throughout the series, England have been sloppy. 

The Aussie bowlers have performed brilliantly as a unit and have been the major difference between the two sides. Johnson’s pace and re-found accuracy has made the headlines but Harris, Siddle, Lyon and Watson have done exactly what their captain Clarke has asked, giving him total control.  Form and fitness have all come together at the right time for these bowlers and right now only South Africa can match that attack.  Once again Australia remind me of England in 2005.  It’s just a shame the likes of Warner, Watson and Clarke come across as arrogant pricks. 

The series is over and it’s time for a change of personnel to take the England test team forward.  This tour has seen casualties. 
First Jonathon Trott went home with what we can only assume to be depression of some sort.  This is a horrible illness but there’s no reason why Trotty can’t resume his career and become a fixture of the side again.  Early season runs will surely put him in the frame.  Chris Tremlet was dropped after the first test and it seems unlikely he’ll feature in a test for England again.  He can be proud of his record, in twelve matches he took 53 wickets and like Simon Jones, Neil Foster and Dean Headley we’ll always wonder how good he might have been without injuries.
Graeme Swann retired after the third test, the timing seemed bizarre but Swanny ended with 255 wickets from 60 matches and will go down as one of England’s greatest spinners.  Matt Prior was dropped after Perth too.  He hasn’t become a bad player overnight and has a chance of getting his place back as there is no obvious successor.
Tim Bresnan played in two tests but was dropped after the MCG disaster and must have moved way down the pecking order of English seamers.  He’s a decent batsman but not good enough to be considered an all-rounder. It’s interesting that Bresnan has played 23 matches exactly the same number as Stephen Finn.  Bresnan has 72 wickets but Finn has 90, enough said. Jonny Bairstow got his first chance behind the stumps for England and did OK with the gloves but not enough with the bat.  I expect him to play a full season for Yorkshire this summer.
Boyd Rankin played in the final test but broke down after 8.2 overs in the first innings but came back to take a wicket in the second.  His fitness makes him look a liability in test cricket.
Michael Carberry failed to take the one last chance offered at Sydney and his test career must surely be at an end.  His big chance came in the most difficult of circumstances and he didn’t do badly, he just didn’t do enough. 
Of the eight players mentioned above I can only see Trott and Prior coming back into the side any time soon.  The others need to go back to county cricket and perform so well the selectors cannot ignore them.
Those who will get away with it for now.

Cook, Bell, Pietersen and Anderson all come under the same category, they are very good cricketers who have underperformed in this series.  All are proven match winners, form is temporary but class is permanent.

The Jury is still out on the following players;  Gary Ballance made his debut with the score at 17-4 and well in the circumstances.  His second innings stay was less impressive but I’m sure he’ll get another chance.  Scott Borthwick took a wicket in his first innings but went for 7 an over.  He improved in the second finishing with 3-66 and I’m sure the selectors will pick him again as he is a decent bat and a good fielder.  Unlike Monty Panesar who played two matches in the series and didn’t make an impact.  He is England’s best spinner at this moment in time but the selectors don’t like him which is a shame.  I hope Monty is not discarded, he proved his value on last year’s tour of India.  Stephen Finn came through unscathed by not playing a match, he has enormous potential and must be allowed to bowl himself into form.

There are just two players who will leave Australia with their heads held high.Stuart Broad with the bat had no answer to the Aussie pacemen to begin but came good towards the end.  He was our best bowler throughout the tour and was our leading wicket taker with 21 scalps.  Ben Stokes our only brightest star throughout the tour scoring his maiden test century in the third test and his first five wicket haul in the fifth.  He made runs and took wickets throughout the four matches he played, let’s hope he stays fit for the future!

So who will play in the first test against Sri Lanka in the spring?  A few weeks ago I nominated the following team;
 Cook, Root, Trott, Bell, KPego, Bairstow, Stokes, Broad, Onions, Anderson, Panesar. 

How does this XI look now the series has finished?
I think there are Six cast iron certainties who will play if fit;  Cook, Bell, KPego, Stokes, Broad and Anderson. 

That leaves two batting places to fill starting with an opener.  Carberry has not taken his chance and will almost certainly find his test career over.  Will England offer another chance to the luckless Nick Compton?  He has performed as well as any new batsman coming into the side since Flowers reign began.  I hope they do give Compton a chance but I’m sure Joe Root will move up to open again. If Trott comes back for Warks and scores early season runs I’m sure he’ll be picked but who is in reserve if he doesn’t?  England picked Ballance for this tour so he must be next cab on the rank, failing that James Taylor is highly rated.
The position of wicket keeper is wide open as Bairstow certainly hasn’t done enough to merit retaining the gloves. Matt Prior finds himself leading a group of English wickies that will battle for the gloves, whoever finds the best early season form may well find themselves in possession for the summer.

There are two Bowling places up for grabs but who will be in the frame? I’d go for a ‘Horses for courses’ selection policy, look at the wicket then pick the bowlers.  Early season in England Graham Onions may well be the best bet and it’s time he was given another chance.  However, later in the year on harder wickets Finn should be the man to slot in.  Mitchell Johnson has proven the worth of genuine pace so isn’t it time to stop messing with Finn, let him bowl himself into form and most of all, bowl fast! 

Scott Borthwick has probably done enough to be picked against Sri Lanka but should England need an alternative, the Monty has to be in the frame.  Borthwick can bat well enough to be classed as an all-rounder and is a good fielder too.

From nowhere Stokes has become the key man in the side, a genuine all-rounder batting at six gives the team balance and the opportunity spread the seamers’ workload or play two spinners on the right wickets.  The days of top teams relying on just four bowlers are over, in recent years both South Africa and now Australia have demonstrated the value of all-rounders in test cricket.

Revised XI to play Sri Lanka
Cook, Root, Trott, Bell, KPego, Stokes, Prior, Borthwick, Broad, Onions, Anderson.

Also in squad; Taylor, Finn, Panesar.

Have faith, in two years time we'll be watching scenes like this again...

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Out of our misery

Here we go once again, along with multitudes of masochistic England cricket fans, waiting for start of play.  Surely the Aussie plan will be for Rogers to continue doing his thing while the rest of the Aussie batsmen unleash carnage at the other end?  England will have over two days to survive or score an unlikely mammoth fourth innings total to win.  That won’t happen, in reality England will probably be beaten today.

A steady start but after half an hour no breakthrough and the KPego is bowling???  Apart from that ‘normal’ test cricket at the moment as Rogers heads for a ton, well played…  A little wine then bed with TMS for a change.  As I drifted towards sleep I heard a couple of Aussie wickets fall but knew it wouldn’t halt the tide.

I awoke and immediately tuned in the radio to find the news I’d expected, England had been blown away for less than 200 once again and Australia had completed the 5-0 sweep with a 281 run victory.  By this stage these defeats no longer hurt, I’ve become immune to the pain and can applaud a superb performance by the Australians.  The England bowlers did OK and shared the wickets, Borthwick took 3, Rankin just the one. Carberry top scored with 43 but surely too little too late for him.  Stokes got runs and Broad slogged 42.  Harris finished the match and claimed a well-deserved fifth wicket.

In truth England have only been competitive for about 5 days throughout the series, it’s been an absolute disaster.  It started badly and got steadily worse and this final day of the series was worse than most.  For the series to be finally over has come as a relief, the pain of losing the Ashes has been numbed.  It would have been much more painful and stressful had they been snatched away at the end of a nail biting, cliff hanger series.  However at least then we would have left Australia with pride in tact at least.


Saturday, 4 January 2014

Sydney day two

For reasons beyond my control I missed start of play but could hear the TV and assumed Anderson was out.  I was wrong, it was Cook gone to Harris and disaster time.  Bell dropped first ball!  Jimmy hung on for a few balls and took a few blows but Johnson soon got him 14-3, deep shit. Pietersen scores three then flashes at Harris, 17-4.  Just when you think it can’t get any worse comes the realisation that it almost certainly will…It does, Siddle gets Bell for 2 and its 23-5.  The Aussie bowlers are all over England again, the captain is innovative and the fielding is excellent as ever.

Then some small consolations; The middle order of Stokes and Ballance were watchful and when Stokes drove Harris straight for four the 5th wicket partnership reached 9, the highest of the innings so far.  By then the deficit was less than 300!  Stokes clips to leg for 3 and becomes the first England batsmen to reach double figures, soon followed by Ballance.  England push on passed fifty and the partnership reaches 25, both these youngsters look impressive, whatever happens from here.  Have to mention the massed Richie Benuads in the crowd, even the Barmy Army is being given a match for a change.
Ballance gets one full on the grill, how will he react?  Big test coming for a man on debut now, must stay up till lunch!  They make it with the score at 61-5, well played!  What have we become when a partnership of 38 is being celebrated?

TMS on first thing in the morning and once again it’s grim.  England all out for 155 with Stokes top scoring with 47.  Broad hit a quick 30, Ballance and Bairstow both made 18 and Rankin made double figures.  The wickets were shared showing what a bloody good bowling unit Australia have become.  Then despite England picking up a few wickets, Australia powered on pushing the lead past 300 with Rogers 73*.  We were in the shit after day one, now it’s up to our necks but that won’t stop me settling down for a bit more torture in a few minutes time.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Ashes groundhog day

Up with Sky sports for start of play at the SCG.  England won the toss and will bowl on a green, grassy wicket.  All the experts reckon this is the right choice on this pitch under cloudy skies.  The England team included the three expected debutants but it was Joe Root that missed out.  Probably the correct decision all things considered and I’m glad Carberry will get one more match but he probably needs a hundred to keep his place after this tour.  But for now England have to take wickets…

… And take wickets they did!  Broad bowled Warner with the score on 22 and before I dozed off at lunch Anderson and Stokes had taken wickets and England were on top at 94-4.  I awoke with hope that was short lived, Aus all out for 326 and England were 10-1 in reply.  Once again Smith and Haddin got Australia out of trouble then Johnson struck ensuring Carberry got a duck and really is at last chance saloon.  A spot of brightness, Ben Stokes took 6-99 which is very encouraging but he did go at 5 an over.  This woeful tour has at least unearthed a good all round cricketer to give England much needed balance, Stokes will only get better.

Gary Balance has yet to feature but the other two debutants showed little more on their first day.  Borthwick took the wicket of Johnson but went at 7 an over.  Rankin broke down after 8.2 overs…

So once again tonight I’ll be tuning in Sky TV hoping for something to cheer from the England batsmen.  How long I resist my bed will depend…

Thursday, 2 January 2014

The fifth Ashes test and the end of an era.

The fourth test has been and gone without me finding any time to write about it.  Being Christmas I managed to watch & listen to quite a bit of the match, just as I did in 2010.  That Christmas was joyous on all fronts and the boxing day test match will be fondly remembered forever.  Not so this year.  An Australian victory by eight wickets on the fourth day sounds like the match took a normal path for this series but half way through England were in the stronger position.  A few months ago they would have pushed on to win convincingly but the deterioration of this team’s confidence since the start of this series came into play.  England bottled it on the third day.  This performance brought back memories of Adelaide 2006, from that point we just knew the series would finish 5-0 and I have that same feeling now.

Here in stormy England, just a few hours before the fifth test begins, rumour has it England are going to make some changes.  Michael Carberry is said to be facing the axe, he’s done better than most of the English batsmen but not enough to make the opening slot his own.  I’ll be disappointed if Carberry doesn’t get one more chance in Sydney, other batsmen have not done as well but will retain their places regardless.  In hindsight we made a big mistake last summer promoting Joe Root to open at the expense of Compton who (like Carberry now), could consider himself unlucky to miss out on the home Ashes series.  Had he played we would have found out for sure if he was up to the job of test opener.  Will he get another chance?  Likewise, had Root stayed at 6 then he would have gained more valuable experience of test batting, against an older ball.  Now it’s rumoured Root will open the batting again, with Gary Ballance coming into the middle order.  Balance is a cricketer I know very little about, like Stokes I suppose?

Monty Panesar is said to have an injury but again, rumours from down under suggest he won’t play whatever his fitness.  Scott Borthwick may come into the side bowling leg spin, now that would be a novelty but is he good enough?  It would be a massive mistake to treat Monty as just a “2nd spinner”; he has a very good record at test level and has out bowled Swann in the sub-continent in recent years.  Monty is our best spinner, if he’s fit he has to play!  It seems Tim Bresnan will be dropped too with Boyd Rankin most likely to come in.  Bres is a good honest all round cricketer but, in my opinion, just isn’t quite good enough at test level.  So if the rumours are to be believed, England will be sending three debutants out at the SCG… it’s going to be 5-0!

Just doing a little count up and beginning with the Oval test match in August that could make six England players getting their caps over the course of six matches?  Certainly doesn’t look like the path to success to me.  The media has made much of England’s bowling selection for this Ashes squad.  The three tall quick bowlers, Tremlett, Rankin and Finn will likely only play two matches between them all series.  Why were they picked?  It suggests England thought they’d just turn up and do what they done three years ago, score plenty of runs and rotate their bowlers.  The fact is from the beginning, this Ashes tour doesn’t appear to have anything like the preparation and attention to detail of 2010, it has a ‘going through the motions, appearance.  That tour is a glorious memory for us long suffering England fans and a benchmark for all future tours to be compared.  It began the best year in living memory for many English fans and ended with us number one in the rankings.  This current series looks set to be a whitewash and an even worse performance than 2006, at least then England could rightly say they were up against some of the best cricketers to ever play the game.  This test sees the final fragmentation of England’s most successful side for a generation, the road back to the top looks steep.

England should have one last motivation for this final test match, an unexpected victory would tie the ‘ten match series’ at four each.  On paper it will be honours even but it still won’t feel like it for England.