Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Torture... but a great Test match!

Well as expected Sri Lanka won the match but not in the manner expected, by me at least.  England could have rolled over and put us fans out of our misery but no they made us suffer all day, raising our hopes before cruelly dashing them at the very end.  In doing so at least our team restored its pride and Moeen Ali played an extraordinary innings.  Hopefully this is the beginning of something special.

This short series has been an absolute cracker, both matches going to the final over of the fifth day with games in the balance.  England may feel hard done by losing a series in which they played the better cricket for eight of the ten days, yet Sri Lanka deserved to win this match.  England may have gained more and learned more in defeat than they would have done so with a win.

So what is there to make of England’s selections through this short series?  Some of the team are inked in so no need to dwell on them, I’ll focus on the newer players here. Robson and Ballance have both stepped up with good hundreds so they’ll keep their place in the side, for a while at least.  Surely Ben Stokes will be making a return soon which made Moen Ali’s selection strange.  Was he picked as a temporary all-rounder just to see if his spin bowling is up to the mark?  Today’s brilliant hundred showed he has what it takes to make runs at the highest level but we have not really learnt much about his bowling.  It looks like the top six will remain unchanged against India.  Going forward England will need a top class spinner and right now Ali hasn’t shown us he’s it. 

If we have to play a proper spinner then who is the man?  If Monty Panesar has his mind right then he’d be my pick for sure but that doesn’t look likely at the moment.  In the counties the men in form are veteran Gareth Batty of Surry or Lancashire’s Kerrigan who was battered by the Aussies last summer.
Assuming the long term plan is to bring Ben Stokes back into the side then Jordan and Plunkett have been in a shoot-out for the final seam bowling place.  Based on these two matches Plunkett looks the better bowler.  Surely Stephen Finn will return some time in the future.  A bit of time honing his craft in county cricket may well be the making of him.  I think England would be better off picking the attack on a ‘horses for courses’ basis.  Have a squad of bowlers to cover all options and select those that would best suit the conditions.  After two matches England’s selectors still have as many questions as answers.

Finally Cook’s captaincy is definitely under scrutiny.  If this is affecting his batting then he should step aside as his runs are just too valuable to England.  In truth he has never impressed me tactically, he just doesn’t seem to have a ‘Plan B’.  If Cook steps aside who else is there?  Prior in VC at the moment and other being mentioned include Bell and Broad.

Players in the frame for India; It seems certain that Cook, Robson, Ballance, Bell, Root, Ali, Prior, Broad and Anderson will all play?  Then we’re picking two players from seamers Stokes, Jordan, Plunkett and possibly Finn.  Spinners under consideration may be Panesar, Kerrigan and Batty.

A home test series defeat to Sri Lanka just isn’t good enough.  The newer players have done quite well but in truth the big name players have underperformed in this series.  However despite the defeat there are reasons for England to feel positive about the future.

Monday, 23 June 2014

A right ol thrashing...

Over the last two days the England cricket team has gone from a position of almost certain victory to one of imminent defeat.  Two days of dominance has been followed by two days of surrender.  Last winter we blamed the batsmen but in this match our bowlers have been out performed by the Sri Lankans.  For England only Liam Plunkett has stood tall but he is on his home ground.  Cook’s captaincy is still unimpressive.  Moeen Ali’s selection is questionable but if he’s picked he has to bowl more overs.  As it stands we’ve learnt nothing about his bowling because the captain seemed reluctant to bowl him.

Tonight we are facing almost certain defeat thanks to Prasad blowing us away, bowling the length Geoffry Boycott has been preaching about for the last four days, maybe he listened.  England’s bowlers obviously didn’t.  Mustn’t forget Angelo Mathews who played a great captains innings.  Sri Lanka will win this match because they’ve played the better, tougher cricket.  They’ve beaten us at our own game.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Second test...

Day one of the test match went as expected, Sri Lanka grinding out runs but England getting wickets to keep things in the balance.  The cloudy skies & Headingly wicket kept things interesting.  The last session saw England blow Sri Lanka away; two for Jimmy, a hat trick for Broad and a first test fiver for Plunkett.  A very busy afternoon at work so I missed most of the carnage .All out for 257, Kumar top scored again with 79.  England held on to go in with 36 on the board.

Day two dawned bright and clear, England need to bat all day.  Cook was out early bringing back familiar feelings…  A couple of years ago we knew one or two England batsmen would chip in with a score, they always did.  Nowadays things are far less certain, nervous times for an England fan. However Robson and Ballance stayed firm and accumulated runs well into the afternoon.  GB was out for 74 bringing Bell to the crease, scoring freely in his 100th test match.  Robson got to his first test ton just after tea then he and Bell pushed the scoring on passed the SL total.  However the second new ball accounted for Robson who made 127.  A few overs later the end of Bell for another 50+ score sparked a collapse of sorts.  Root and Ali fell cheaply leaving Prior and Jordan to salvage something.  A couple of years ago we could count on runs from the lower order but recently we’re more used to seeing them blown away.  They made it to stumps bringing the score to 320-6 but things aren’t going to be easy in the morning and England need a bigger lead.

Elsewhere most of the world is more interested in the football.  England played poorly and lost to Uruguay, showing the same mistakes in defence as last week.  It was a relief when they were officially knocked out yesterday and we were all put out of our misery.  It’s only football...

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The first Test at Lords and some football

After three days the first test between England and Sri Lanka looked like it was heading for a dull, high scoring draw.  Joe Root made an unbeaten 200 and Matt Prior 80+ for England while Kumar Sangakkarra scored his first century at Lords and skipper Matthews hit a ton.  On the fourth day things livened up.  England lost quick wickets in their second innings but Gary Ballance held things together with a century and the tail wagged.  At the beginning of day five Sri Lanka had an unlikely target of 390 to win but holding on for the draw looked the most likely result.  At tea on the final day it looked like SL had done enough.  However the final session was a cracker, Anderson bowled superbly to remove the middle order and an unlikely win became a possibility.  As the final over of the match began Sri Lanka were eight down but Broad had Herath caught off the glove and he walked.  Had he reviewed the decision he would have survived as his hand was away from the bat when the ball brushed it, (shades of Kasprowicz in 2005).  Broad then thought he had last man Pradeep LBW and we began to celebrate but the review proved he’d got an inside edge and he survived.  The match was drawn but what a cracker!

England had a good match here at Lords but there are concerns over Cook’s form and his new opening partner Robson had an unconvincing match.  Liam Plunkett bowled okay without taking many wickets and Moeen Ali batted nicely in the first innings but didn’t trouble the Sri Lankans with his spin.  Plus points for England were obviously Root’s double century and Ballance’s ton under pressure in only his second test match. It was great to see Matt Prior return to form and Bell hit another half century.  Anderson and Broad bowled well as we’d expect and Chris Jordan had a good game with both bat and ball.  England go into the next match on Friday with an unchanged squad.

For Sri Lanka it was nice to see Kumar score runs as he’s a great player to watch and Angelo Mathews looks like the captaincy suits him.  Their bowlers did well too.  I expect the next match to be close again but based on this match England look most likely to win.

Elsewhere in the world there’s a bit of a football tournament going on.  I watched part of the opening match, Brazil beat Croatia 3-1 but I was saddened to see blatant cheating and appalling refereeing.  England were unlucky to lose their opener 2-1 to Italy but it was a much better game played in good spirit.  England looked very good going forward but made mistakes in defence and the goalie had a poor game.  I hope we can continue to play like this whether we win lose or draw.  If so we should progress to the next round, at least. 

Friday, 6 June 2014

And some boxing for a change

A couple of weeks ago I made my predictions for the test match squad and was nowhere near!
My XI;  Cook, Carberry, Root, Bell, Balance, Stokes (or Woakes), Buttler, Jordan, Broad, Anderson, Panesar.  Also in squad, Finn, Robson.
I selected 14 players above and of those only nine feature.  Stokes is not considered fit enough but Woakes is in the squad.  Carberry has been discarded and replaced with one of my picks Robson.  Matt Prior takes the gloves again so Buttler doesn’t play.  Finn and Panesar aren’t in the mix at all at the moment.  As expected Jordan is in the squad but a surprise to see Liam Plunkett is back for the first time since Freddie was captain.  The spinning option goes to Moen Ali who will likely edge out Woakes for the all rounder’s spot.  So the team will likely line up like this; Cook, Robson, Root, Bell, Ballance, Ali, Prior, Broad, Jordan, Plunkett, Anderson.  Just six of the players that started the Ashes in Brisbane last November are still around.  By the end of that series the England team that had pretty much picked itself was broken up.  Few would have predicted that.
So Sri Lanka, they have two genuinely great batsmen in Sangakarra and Jayawardne.  They have a decent team but how good remains to be seen.  Any Sri Lankan team will be capable of beating England if we don’t perform.  On home soil with the likes of Cook, Bell, Anderson and Broad England should win and it will be fascinating to see how the summer unfolds.

Froch vs Groves I was a great fight but the abrupt end spoiled things and left more questions than answers.  In the aftermath Carl Froch claimed the referee saved Groves from a beating.  He said he wasn’t motivated because he under estimated Groves which affected his preparation and attitude going into the fight.  (What he didn’t quite admit was Groves had done an Ali mind job on him and totally got under his skin.)  In the build up to the rematch Froch claimed he was totally focused this time around and that Groves couldn’t live with him at his best.
On the other hand George Groves was adamant he’d given Froch a hiding until he’d been robbed.  He was sure he would have recovered and carried on to beat Froch.  Going into the rematch he was positive there was no way Froch could possibly beat him.

Froch vs Groves II was a closer, more tactical fight but the ending proved that Froch was 100% correct in everything he said after the first fight.  That was as good a knockout punch as you would ever see.  He is at the pinnacle of a great career and is high on the list of the great British & Irish Super Middleweights that includes Calzaghe, Eubank, Benn, Watson, Collins, Woodhall….  Groves now finds himself behind in the pecking order to James Degale, a man he has beaten.  Degale is looking good but has Groves peaked to soon?  George needs a rest before he begins trying to rebuild his career.