Friday, 29 August 2008

Spin On, Monty

Years ago, whenever A.J. Lamb finally fell foul of the England selectors and was sent back to Northamptonshire for one of his temporary periods of exile, he took out his frustrations on a hapless succession of county attacks, racking up the runs and inspiring the county to greater things.

These days, whenever we get Monty Panesar back from England duty, we get a disinterested spin bowler who barely seems capable of turning one off crazy paving, let alone carving through batting orders. Panesar is at the age (26) where his batting and fielding are clearly not going to get any better - the former is pathetic while the latter is stunningly incompetent and defies belief that any international athlete could be so uncoordinated; he would not look out of place at the Special Olympics.

Panesar is reportedly undecided about committing his future to the county. Whether Northants still need him is a moot point because - apart from his marketing value - what does Panesar offer the team?

Prior to the game with Glamorgan he had taken four wickets in four games - all of which had come in the same innings. He is a one-dimensional cricketer who offers little in limited over games (had we not been forced to select him against Leicestershire in the Friends Provident Trophy as part of a three-pronged spin attack we might have fared better) and is at the stage where he appears to be going backwards. As Shane Warne noted, Panesar has not played 33 test matches - he's played the same match 33 times.

Panesar has reportedly been offered the most lucrative contract for a bowler ever at Wantage Road and it's hard to see what he's done to justify it. When was the last time he won a game for the county?

He might not be in terminal decline but he's hardly developing into a lethal weapon. Adil Rashid is on the rise and Panesar's place in England's plans may soon be in jeopardy - if he fails to secure the second spinner's berth for the one day series in India his limited overs career may essentially be over at the highest level.

Do Northants really need to break the bank for a one-dimensional prima donna who now seems to regard playing for the county as somewhat beneath him? Perhaps it would be in everyone's interests if Monty decamped to Edgbaston where he could learn at the feet of his illustrious predecessor in the England side, the Great Gilo, and be schooled in the arts of left arm spin.
Personally, if Panesar goes, I won't be missing him at all.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

What can't King Kev do?

Well, what to make of that?

England beat South Africa in the first ODI - impressive enough. But to obliterate them in the second was an extraordinary display. After all the false dawns, can we finally say England's one-day side are making progress?

Kevin Pietersen can seemingly do no wrong as captain: he has succeeded in reinvigorating a side who, following Michael Vaughan's tear-leaden resignation, appeared close to crisis point. It remains to be seen whether he can make the sides consistently successful, but, suddenly, the one-day outfit has been transformed into one of the most powerful line-ups around.

Since the defeat to New Zealand, three players - Matt Prior, Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison - have returned to the side, and each has performed outstandingly to date.

With Flintoff and Harmison providing the middle-over penetration England have perennially lacked, the bowling line-up is powerful indeed. Stuart Broad today produced his best showing to date, and has been a consistent one-day performer, unlike in Tests. Conversely James Anderson, once regarded as worth his place only in the limited-overs side, has discovered consistency in Tests but seems to have regressed in ODIs. His figures over his last 18 games are damning indeed: 13 wickets at averages (56.61) and economy rates (5.37) that are unacceptable. If he does not improve in the remaining three ODIs, England should look elsewhere: at Ryan Sidebottom, who has proved a canny one-day operator with variations aplenty; or Kabir Ali, in outstanding form for Worcestershire for the last two years.

Prior has, so far, outperformed Tim Ambrose and Phil Mustard, keeping surprisingly well and batting assertively at the top of the order. While he certainly deserves a place in the side, there may be a case for replacing Luke Wright with a specialist opener (Rob Key, Joe Denly or Vikram Solanki) and moving him down to Wright's slot at seven.

Doubts persist over the suitability of Ian Bell opening - he has all the shots, but too often fails to be assertive - and Owais Shah at three. Shah performed superbly against New Zealand batting at six, but may prove a little vulnerable to the moving ball early on. Ideally, he would bat at four or five, but with Pietersen and Flintoff settled there and Paul Collingwood at number six, he should be given an extended run at three. Providing he is free to express himself, Shah should prove capable there.

From four to six England's batting has an imperious look. The remaining selectorial issues concern numbers seven and eight. Wright is on the periphery of the side, but at least provides true destructive, game-changing potential at seven - unlike Ravi Bopara, who is not comfortable attacking from the off. Perhaps the experience and phenomenal six-hitting ability of Dimitri Mascarenhas - also probably the best bowler of the three - is the best option.

Samit Patel has started promisingly - but England may be better off choosing their best spinner, Graeme Swann, who has shown he is an attacking off-spinner and has played some fine innings at number eight. It is ironic that Swann, who many felt was selected over Monty Panesar for his three-dimensional game, has now seen the same fate befall him.

Under King Kevn's reign, England have the tools at their disposal to, finally, establish themselves as a one-day force. They have a brilliant middle-order, bat deep and have a fine, four-pronged pace attack. More work needs to be done - but it is a long time since England's ODI side has had such a convincing look.

Championship - Week 16

New leaders again in Division 1, although not as convincingly as they would have liked. A good win for the leaders in Division 2 and now he’s got his 100th hundred, Ramprakash can’t stop scoring runs.

Division 1
Somerset went into their match with struggling Hampshire knowing that they would return to the top of the table with a draw and bonus points. However, they would have been hoping for much more and only Michael Lumb, scoring his first century of the season, held them up as Hants made 316. An Ian Blackwell century was the main contribution as Somerset secured maximum bonus points at 436. However, poor weather at the start of the game and an unbeaten stand of 170 between Lumb and Michael Carberry meant that Hants were able to finish on 196 for 1, which was enough to take them out of the bottom two, while Somerset’s cushion at the top isn’t as great as they’d have hoped.

Sussex have struggled this season and would have hoped to turn things around with their visit to local rivals Surrey. Surrey made 455, based around a stand of 232 between Mark Ramprakash (178) and Jon Batty (102). Sussex made 328 in reply, Robin Martin-Jenkins adding respectability to the total with an unbeaten 71 from number 9 in the order. Surrey then declared on 171 for 7, setting Sussex 299 to win in 62 overs. At 313 for 3, Surrey had a sniff of victory, but Carl Hopkinson and Chris Nash batted out for an unbeaten 123 partnership and a draw.

Geraint Jones was the star with a ton as Kent scored 283 against Lancashire. This was enough for a big first innings lead as Lancs succumbed to 125, Robert Joseph taking 5 for 34 and Martin Saggers 4 for 26. Joe Denly then scored a hundred as Kent declared on 317 for 4, setting Lancs an unlikely target of 476 to win. Despite a hundred from Paul Chliton, this never looked likely as they were bowled out for 283. Kent move above Lancashire, whose current form means they should be wary of the relegation battle.

Division 2
Northamptonshire went into their game with bottom club Gloucestershire looking to make up ground on the leaders. However, poor west country weather turned the match into a race for bonus points, with Northants finished one run short of their 4th point on 349, despite 148 from David Sales, Oliver Newby, on loan from Lancashire, taking 5-fer. Kadeer Ali then hit a career best 161 as Gloucester declared on 401 for 6, but with only three overs possible in the Northants second innings, the game was drawn. The bonus points were enough to lift Gloucester above Glamorgan at the bottom while Northants remain 3rd.

In a good week for the Ali cousins, Kabir took 6 wickets as Worcestershire reduced Essex to just 282, Ryan ten Doeschate making an unbeaten 94. This was enough for a first innings lead, though as Worcester made just 258. With a lead of 24, Essex declared their second inning on 322 for 8, with James Foster making an unbeaten 111. This left Worcester needing 347 to win, which they made for the loss of just 4 wickets, Daryl Mitchell scoring his first championship century of the season, with significant contributions from Ben Smith and Graeme Hick. Worcester move clear at the top of the table and look certainties for promotion.

A second wicket stand of 124 between Andrew Strauss (71) and Ed Joyce (101) set Middlesex up for a total of 367. However, this was dwarfed by the Leicestershire effort, who made 533, including a stand of 270 between HD Ackerman (194) and 18 year old Josh Cobb (148 not out). Middlesex lost early wickets in their second innings, being reduced to 73 for 4. However, they were able to bat out the 71 overs left in the game for a draw although both teams are now looking to next season.

England Player watch
Some useful runs for Andrew Strauss to keep him in touch while the rest of the England team is playing One Day cricket. With the Lions tours in mind, Joe Denly, Ed Joyce and James Foster have done themselves no harm, with Joyce being a possible captain for the tour. Likewise with the ball, Kabir Ali keeps taking wickets to keep the pressure on the English bowlers.

Player of the week
Mark Ramprakash keeps scoring runs as does HD Ackerman. However, it is from Ackerman’s county that we go to for this week’s winner. Leicestershire have been criticised for their Kolpak policy. However, they are also beginning to bring some young talent through and if the first sign of this came in this week’s matches, it could be very exciting. For an unbeaten 148 just days after his 18th birthday, this weeks Player of the Week is Josh Cobb.

Friday, 22 August 2008

How Not To Use Powerplays

At the moment, England are half-way through their innings in the first ODI against South Africa. Usually, it is prudent to wait until the end of a game to make judgments about a team's performance. In this case, however, there is still a chance that England might bludgeon their way to a respectable total and/or bowl well enough to win the game. So I'm going to make this assessment now, with the score at 113/3.

The Powerplay overs are the best time in the game to score runs. The Powerplay concept was created to make it easier for batsmen to score runs. That is the point. A big score during these overs is a necessity in modern day cricket, a score of 78-1 at their end is a victory for bowlers regardless of the conditions. Boundaries are the key currency, both through piercing the necessarily-crowded infield and by going over it.

Today, we picked ostensibly the right opening partnership. We have Bell, a cultured strokemaker but one who is more than capable of scoring at a run a ball throughout his innings. Then we have Prior, the latest in a series of pinch-hitters being asked to emulate Adam Gilchrist, but a player who has shown the form for Sussex this season to suggest he is up to the task. So far so good.

Bell is then sent out with the express instruction of batting through the innings. I fail to see how anyone can bat in that manner without being given that instruction. Certainly not a player whose instinct is to play shots, and who has all the shots in his locker. But it happened, Bell managed to bat for 19 Powerplay overs - you know, the ones promoting aggression and boundary-hitting - without hitting a single boundary and at a strike rate of 50.72. He did lots of leaving, and lots of defending, which is against his instincts and must be part of a grand plan. And then got himself out for 35 (surely not a start which wasn't capitalised on...?) by slashing a loose ball to point. *

Let's leave aside the fact that this is the worst of both worlds for the aspiring ODI anchorman (scoring at below the optimum rate for the first 20 overs, and then getting out, leaving the "hitters" to play around each other). The mere fact that the concept of an anchorman is still alive and kicking in any major international cricket side is worrying enough. It was last tried by England at the 2007 World Cup, where it was an abject failure and relentlessly pilloried in England and internationally. These days, teams bat so deep that losing a couple of wickets at the top of the order in exchange for a higher strike rate is fine. In England's case, we have Stuart Broad (whose is being touted as a potential Test no. 6 and who has played at least one match-winning innings at ODI level) coming in at no. 9.

That means that teams can now afford to carry on attacking even when they are four or five down, because they have players lower down the order who are capable of picking up the pieces. The risks are lower, which makes the risk/reward ratio higher. If our top five got out and we were left with Bopara, Wright, Patel (admittedly unproven at this level, think Swann instead) and Broad to get us over the line, it wouldn't be great but it wouldn't be the end of the world.

The modern version of the anchorman is for one partner in any partnership to try to nudge the ball around and score at a run a ball (note to Peter Moores: this is a strike rate of 100.00), whilst the other tries to blast the boundaries (aiming for a strike rate of, say, 150.00). Then, when the blaster falls, the nudger becomes the blaster whilst the new batsman settles by nudging. Obviously it's not that simple, and nobody is suggesting that a par score in every ODI is 300, but it should be the mindset of the players involved. If you want an example of that sort of innings in action (albeit in a different format), you could do a lot worse than watch Owais Shah's innings in the Twenty20 final - it took my breath away.

It was suggested in parts of the press this week that this could be a pivotal series for Peter Moores. If he oversees a return to the darkest days of Duncan Fletcher, that might not be as silly as it sounds.

*For those of you who are interested, I thought Prior did a decent enough job with his 42 at 80.76. The timing of his dismissal wasn't great, but he was trying to hit England out of a flatline which is what he is there for.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Championship Review - Week 15

A Roses match normally means poor weather, and there was no change to that this week. The main winners were those who didn’t play and Mark Ramprakash, for whom the runs have started again.

Division 1
An eagerly awaited top of the table clash at Durham saw the hosts and Nottinghamshire sit in their respective dressing rooms for four days. No ground gained by either team, but a good result for the rest of the league.

At Old Trafford, the Roses battle started a day and a half late and Yorkshire made light of Lancashire’s decision bat first bowling them out for 231, with Adil Rashid continuing his excellent recent form taking five wickets. Yorkshire batted to ensure maximum batting points, with Andy Gale (136) and Antony McGrath (99) putting on 215 for the second wicket to set up a declaration at 400 for 6. This left 51 overs to try to force a win and having reduced Lancs to 29 for 3, there was a sniff of victory. However an obdurate 69 from Paul Horton led Lancs to safety, but Yorkshire’s points take them out of the relegation zone.

Somerset and Surrey played out effectively a two day match in a dash for bonus points. Somerset started off fast, with Marcus Trescothick and Zander de Bruyn both getting centuries in a stand of 223 as Somerset declared on 401 for 3 made in just 77 overs. Surrey’s progression was more sedate, but they reached 406 for 9 on the back of an unbeaten double century for Mark Ramprakash with another veteran Andrew Caddick taking five wickets.

Division 2
The best weather of the week seemed to be in Derby, where Middlesex were put in by Derbyshire and made 306, despite only Ed Joyce making a fifty. Greg Smith then made a century as Derby made 347. Charl Langeveldt was the star of Middlesex’s second innings, taking five for 40 as Middlesex made just 166 to set Derby 130 to win, which they managed for the loss of just 3 wickets. Derby’s promotion push continues while Middlesex’s season is drifting.

Little more than a day’s play was possible at Edgbaston where Warwickshire were skittled by Danesh Kaneria, who took 6 for 48 in the total of 154. In reply, Graham Napier showed some of his one day form with the bat, scoring 76 in just 62 balls as Essex made 216. Second time round, Warwicks finished on 68 for 2 when the game ran out of time.

Finally, the bottom two teams in the league met in Swansea. Gloucestershire had the better of the limited time that was available, declaring on 400 for 7 with William Porterfield and Chris Taylor both getting out in the 90s. Glamorgan finished up on 108 for 2 as Gloucester won the battle of the bonus points.

England Player Watch
With the test players being given time off and the ODIs coming up, only Adil Rashid’s 5-fer and Tim Bresnan’s 2 wickets and unbeaten 40 showed gave the selectors anything to think about.

Player of the Week
Another century for Andy Gale in an excellent breakthrough season, while at the other end of his career Marcus Trescothick also scored an important century. However, it was always likely that once he’d got his 100th hundred, more would follow quickly. And for his unbeaten double century, this week’s player of the week is Mark Ramprakash.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Championship Review - Week 14

Wickets galore before the weather plays havoc with only two positive results. And controversy abounds in Durham.

Division 1
One way to avoid the awful weather was to have a pitch that would guarantee a two day game. Kent were furious at the state of the Durham pitch, having bowled the hosts out for 146 and then going on to make just 78 themselves in the first innings, with Mark Davies taking five wickets. Second time round, Durham managed 108, with Robert Joseph taking six wickets. Needing 177 to win, Kent fell 43 runs short, with Davies taking five more wickets and Martin van Jaarsveld making the only fifty of the match. However, the ECB pitch inspectors found nothing wrong with the pitch, prompting Rob Key to label them as “Muppets”. We may not have heard the last of this and Durham move to within a point at the top of the table.

The only other positive result was at the Rosebowl, where Yorkshire and Hampshire fought out a relegation battle. Both teams scored 236 in their first innings, Jacques Rudolph scoring 89 for Yorkshire whole James Tomlinson took 5 wickets. Adil Rashid then turned (!) in his best bowling of the season taking seven Hampshire wickets. Yorks then completely lost the plot in the second innings, collapsing from 45 without loss to 107 all out, Tomlinson taking four more wickets. Hants knocked off the 108 to win without losing a wicket and move above Yorkshire, who are now in the relegation zone.

Leaders Nottinghamshire put Somerset into bat at Taunton and with Darren Pattinson taking five wickets, they skittled their hosts for just 106. Chris Read’s unbeaten 74 then took Notts to 230 and a comfortable lead on an unusually bowler friendly Taunton wicket. The wicket seemed to flatten out as Somerset made 335 in their second innings, Marcus Trescothick top scoring with 81. Needing 212 to win, Notts were 125 for 4 when the rains came and the match was abandoned. Notts remain top while Somerset are third but with a game in hand.

Finally in Division 1, Lancashire recovered from 31 for 4 to make 206 against Sussex for whom Ollie Raynor took five wickets. A Chris Nash century and 73 from Matt Prior took Sussex to 316 and a substantial first innings lead. At 14 for 3, Lancs started badly again second time round, but 73 from Stuart Law took them to 285, leaving Sussex needing 176 for victory. They had made just 14 without loss when the rain drew a halt to the match and both teams remain within touch at the top of the table.

Division 2
Leaders Worcestershire were put into bat by Derbyshire, and went off like a train, declaring on 450 for 8 scored at 5 and a half an over. Graeme Hick scored a run a ball 149. Simon Jones then took five wickets as Derbyshire scored a creditable 343, with local youngster Paul Borrington and South African Greg Smith both getting into the 80s. With time already lost to rain, Worcester declared after a rapid 296 for 3, Stephen Moore scoring a nearly run a ball 156. However, the rain ruined Worcester’s victory chances as the game finished with Derby on 34 without loss.

Starting a day later, 2nd placed Warwickshire and third place Northamptonshire knew they had an opportunity to make up ground. However, their game was even more weather hit, with only bonus points to chase. Northants batted first, scoring an impressive407 for 8 declared, Lance Klusener top scoring with 83 and Ian Salisbury taking five wickets. By the close of the match, Warwicks had made 353 for 4, with Jim Troughton getting a ton, having put on 148 with Jonathan Trott for the 4th wicket.

20Twenty champions Middlesex travelled to Glamorgan who scored 262 in their first innings, Jamie Dalrymple (below) getting a century against his old club. In reply, Middlesex made 242, Shaun Udal (below) top scoring with 73. Glamorgan had reached 110 for 5 when the rain shortened match drew to a conclusion.

Owais Shah brushes up on his Welsh at Colwyn Bay, perhaps wondering how to say, "I'd rather be at the Oval"

Jamie Dalrymple scores his maiden ton for Glamorgan. Former Middlesex team mates Ed Joyce and Ben Scott look suitably unimpressed.

Veteran off spinner to veteran off spinner. Robert Croft gives it some air to Middlesex top scorer Shaun Udal. (All pics c/o RTE)

Finally, bottom of the table Gloucestershire batted first against Leicestershire, scoring 315, with Marcus North’s century being the highlight. Leicester managed just 228 in reply and Gloucester were strongly placed at 265 for 3 when again the weather brought a premature end to the game.

England Player Watch
Rob Key and Joe Denly were undone by the Durham pitch, while Owais Shah did little to press his claims with 12 for Middlesex (pic above). In the battle of the wicket-keepers, Matt Prior’s excellent season with the bat continues while Chris Read trumped him by a run with and unbeaten 74. A third keeper to get into the 70s was Stephen Davies and with James Foster, England’s next wicket keeper is likely to come from one of these four.

Five wicket hauls for both Darren Pattinson and Simon Jones, although Jones pulling out of the England Lions game injured is another worry. Liam Plunkett could only manage one wicket on the bowlers paradise in Durham, which is the same as Saj Mahmood took and one more than Matthew Hoggard. Adil Rashid seems to have discovered some form with the ball (if not the bat) with seven Hampshire wickets.

Player of the Week
The weather put paid to much of the action. Worthy of mentions are Mark Davies’s two 5-fers, albeit on a helpful pitch and Stephen Moore’s 156 and Graeme Hick’s 149 for Worcestershire. However, this week I’m going with the leading wicket taker in Division 1. For his nine wickets that led Hampshire to a potentially vital win over Yorkshire, this week’s Player of the Week is James Tomlinson.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Progress for England, at last?

Here are the series ratings for England's 2-1 defeat to South Africa - a potentially seminal one, as it saw King Kev take the reigns.

Alastair Cook 7
Did better than many had expected, with a half-century in each game and an average of 47.00. After starting so well he has, however, developed conversion problems but overall this was an impressive enough series.

Andrew Strauss 4
The 'new Strauss' who scored two hundreds against New Zealand seems, alas, to have been a false dawn. Going back to the end of the 2005 Ashes, he averages under 36 - 32 if the Kiwis are discounted. It would have been even less had Morkel not overstepped when he had four in the final innings of the series. Good sides have worked out where to stem his flow of runs, and now may be the time for Rob Key.

Michael Vaughan 3
A grim final series as captain. His best chance of returning may be as opener alongside Cook - providing his reactions have not deteriorated, as Geoff Boycott fears. But he is supremely self-confident and, at 33, has a fair chance of playing for England again.

Kevin Pietersen 9
Two centuries, a 94 and an impressive winning start as captain: there is little to complain about. Yes, his impetuosity got the better of him and there is scope for him to improve; but if he continues to average 60 against sides of South Africa's calibre, greatness is assured.

Ian Bell 7
A brilliant 199 - under pressure - at Lord's was followed by a reversal to the Bell we are so accustomed to, invariably stylish but equally flaky. Now granted a chance to bat at number three, he has a chance to prove how good he is.

Paul Collingwood 8
His recall for the third Test seemed to epitomise all that was wrong with the England set-up: averaging under 10 in first-class cricket this season, his selection - on the back of little more than being a "great bloke" - embodied loyalty gone too far. But his second-innings 135 constituted a phenomenal effort of willpower and commendable positivity, and his place is relatively secure once more.

Andrew Flintoff 7
Super Freddie? Not quite. But he bowled far, far better than a series average of 36 suggests, cementing his reputation as one of the most luckless bowlers around; his amazing spell to Jacques Kallis at Edgbaston will live long in the memory. The batting was bereft of a fifty, but better than his Lancashire form this season suggested.

Tim Ambrose 3
A miserable series, in which he kept pretty well and batted with admirable determination. But he is far too reliant upon the cut to thrive as a Test-match batsman. When England line-up in India, he will surely not feature.

Stuart Broad 6
Looked jaded and should not have played in the second Test. But he batted superbly, displaying a wide range of shots and solid technique, showing he could soon be a Test number seven. On his return, the batting hype got to him as he eeked out a timid 36-ball one, but he claimed five cheap wickets to reaffirm his all-round promise.

Ryan Sidebottom 5
A series too far? Not necesserily, for Sidebottom has shown tremendous spirit and no little skill since his return. But his recall for Edgbaston was sheer folly; as the speed-gun showed, he was not fully fit. Had Harmison played, Vaughan may still be England captain - but that is the way of cricket.

Monty Panesar 5
Improved his career average so it is hard to be too critical. But his bowling lack variety and the joie de vivre that characterised his start in international cricket. The sheer hopelessness of his batting, running and fielding may be undermining his confidence. Graeme Swann may just be a tempting option - but Panesar will rightly start the Test series in India.

James Anderson 7
Went missing when it mattered most, going for nearly five-an-over on the fourth day at Edgbaston. But the improvement is palpable. The economy was less than three for the series as a whole; ever-threatening with the swinging ball, his control with the non-swinging one has improved admirably. So indeed, has his batting, while has there ever been a better fast-bowling fielder? Doubts linger, but Anderson has to be applauded and clearly possesses an exemplary attitude.

Darren Pattinson 4
Making his debut in the trickiest of circumstances, Pattinson produced a wholehearted effort and did not disgrace himself. But lacking either pace, reverse-swing or any great subtleties, he may not add to his solitary cap.

Steve Harmison 7
One should not read too much into his comeback in a dead rubber, but he showed the benefits garnered from being in-rhythm and high on confidence, claiming four top-order wickets. England are patently a much stronger side with Harmison at his best; it is just a question of trying to coax it out of him. More of his Oval performance, though, and he will be an automatic pick once more.

The Verdict
While England ostensibly only lost because of Graeme Smith's lucky escapes at Edgbaston, South Africa were the better side and deserved their victory. England will be worried that no bowler averaged under 30 - but no one on either side managed to average under 29.50. In reality, the batting, over-dependent upon Pietersen and with the top three failing to hit even an 80 all series, cost England the series. But Flintoff's return, the impressive showings of Harmison and Anderson, and Pietersen's bright start to captaincy suggest, finally, England may be progressing.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

England Dangerously Close to their Best Limited Overs Side

Whilst the media circus is frenzying around the appointment of the new England Cricket Captain and his first Test match in charge, the announcement of the limited overs squad to take on South Africa has passed relatively under the radar. Whatever the rights and wrongs of who is and is not in the Test squad, it is hard to argue that the limited overs squad is far wrong, especially after the inclusion of two of the best domestic one day players in England this year, in Samit Patel and Matt Prior.

Andrew Flintoff’s return essentially allows England to replace a pace bowler with an allrounder and a brilliant one at that. More importantly though, England seem to have decided that they want an aggressive keeper batsman who can open the innings and indeed bat through it if required. The only candidate capable of this job was Matt Prior and he has rightfully been recalled. Whilst Phil Mustard is aggressive, he has not often made the big match defining innings required of a top order batsman. If Prior gets to fifty you now sense that he could go on to a hundred. There will of course be those who criticise his selection as compromising on wicket keeping ability. However, Prior’s mistakes with the gloves came in Test cricket, not limited overs cricket, where the demands of concentration and focus are not as severe on keepers as in Test match cricket, where the keeper can find himself in the field for 90 overs a day, three days out of five, as opposed to just 50 overs. Because of the very nature of the ODI and Twenty20 games there are not as many catches for keepers either and in fact there are more stumping and run out opportunities, which are Prior’s strong point as a keeper. He has also been working extremely hard at Sussex on his keeping, which has reportedly improved and he has been churning out the runs consistently.

With Kevin Pietersen now rightfully elevated to number three in the batting line-up, from where he can dictate the innings, England’s top three looks very strong, with Ian Bell acting as the foil around whom the others can bat, but whom himself can also take advantage of the Powerplay overs, with his brilliant footwork and ability to hit over the top. England need to reassess who bats at four however. Owais Shah gave a master class in limited overs batting on Monday for Middlesex against Somerset, as he essentially won the game for his side with a brilliantly paced 96. Batting at number three he rescued his side from what could easily have been humiliation and almost single handedly set a competitive target. He has comfortably been the best England One Day player over the last year and the most consistent. He has previously had to settle for late order cameos for England, coming in at number six. He is though a top order batsman and is especially adept at milking the spinners, with his wristy strokeplay. England should utilise his skills earlier and for longer and he, not Ravi Bopara, should be coming in at four.

Bopara you sense needs to settle in the side and would benefit from having the pressure taken off his shoulders for now by coming in at number six. He has played his best innings for England down the order and the nature of the position would help him to flourish I believe, as he would be capable of playing a patient rebuilding game or an aggressive cameo. The situation would not allow him time to think about what he was doing, how fast he was scoring or how much pressure he was under. A settled Bopara could then look to work his way up the order at a later date, although he looks the natural successor to Paul Collingwood long term. Collingwood himself will of course bat at number five, the position he has so expertly made his own over the last few years.

Flintoff should be scheduled to bat at number seven, although he could of course be promoted depending on the match situation. Whatever happens you don’t want Flintoff in before the last ten to fifteen overs against the spinners, or you risk losing him before the period in which he can inflict the most damage, against the faster bowlers. Doubling the power down the order, Luke Wright should feature at number eight. His best innings for England have come down the order and he could be given full license here to unleash his power in the death overs. With two such power hitters lurking down the order, the side would be well balanced and filled with matchwinners and therefore the pressure would be relieved on the likes of Pietersen and Flintoff, who would be able to perform with more freedom.

With Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann following in the order, the batting could not be any stronger, with number eleven James Anderson also far from being the rabbit he used to be. Broad would for me bat above Swann, as he has more potential and skill with the bat and has two modes of play. Both could cause damage at the end of the innings if required. So the batting line-up looks formidable, with Alistair Cook and Samit Patel on standby, along with Ryan Sidebottom and Chris Tremlett in this particular squad. Whilst Paul Collingwood is suspended I would play Samit Patel, who should remain a part of the squad to play in place of either Bopara or Wright on those pitches which offer more for spinners. He would be an able second spinner I believe.

So who is unlucky? Well, Mascarenhas is obviously one who is unfortunate to be discarded altogether, whilst Vikram Solanki is another, who after his scintillating domestic form was perhaps worthy of a look in. On the bowling front, Kabir Ali has been the best bowler in domestic cricket this year and could add another wicket taking option to the line-up, whilst Liam Plunkett, so good in Australia, is looking to prove his form and fitness. Finally, Mustard and more so James Foster are unfortunate to lose out to Prior. Foster would have been the ideal candidate to play down the order for England, as he does for Essex with such aplomb. The way England are going to play dictates that he is not in the side however.

The bowling looks stronger for the return of Flintoff for Sidebottom, whose figures (Average: 44.37, Economy: 4.86, S/R: 54.7) are hardly impressive over the last few series against New Zealand. There are also questions over his fitness. England would look threatening with three impressive and contrasting One Day performers in Anderson, Broad and Flintoff, who offer swing, seam, bounce, pace and consistency between them. The vastly improved Swann would offer the wiley spin option. Meanwhile, the fifth bowling options are plentiful with the recently impressive Collingwood well supported by the likes of Bopara and the impressive death bowling of Luke Wright. Samit Patel, when playing would offer a decent second spinning option, with Shah available if needed.

The Test match series may have gone against South Africa and it may yet be a complete disaster. However, England are making progress in Limited Overs cricket, albeit with recent defeats to New Zealand, both home and away. They have beaten Australia (a), India (h) and Sri Lanka (a) in the last 18 months, which would have been unthinkable two years ago. South Africa are currently the best ODI side in the world and for good reason. However, England have picked a squad capable of challenging them and even beating them. England are capable of beating any team in the world. Hopefully Pietersen’s brand of captaincy will encourage his charges to be bold and aggressive and play the kind of cricket we all know that they can play.

England ODI Team to take on South Africa:

Ian Bell
Matt Prior (wk)
Kevin Pietersen (c)
Owais Shah
Paul Collingwood
Ravi Bopara
Andrew Flintoff
Luke Wright
Stuart Broad
Graeme Swann
James Anderson

Squad: Alistair Cook, Samit Patel, Dimitri Mascarenhas, Kabir Ali.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Why so boring?

Kevin Pietersen's appointment as England captain in all three forms of the game stole the headlines, and rightly so - there was nothing else to talk about. For, while many believe there are profound problems within the set-up, the selectors were incredibly cautious in their squad for The Oval. There was only one change, with Ravi Bopara coming in, and even that was an enforced one.

There will be ample to discuss, as we witness Pietersen's first game as full-time captain. It promises to be nothing but intriguing. Given his lack of captaincy experience, there are so many intangibles that it is hard to make predictions over how he will do, although I am optimistic he will go some way towards reinvigorating the side, imbuing team-mates with vivacity and positivity and leading from the front, even if my first choice would have been Rob Key.

But what is truly astonishing is England's selectors still seem stubbornly in denial over England's problems. This was a golden opportunity to try out the plethora of players challenging for a spot, answer (at least partially) some fundamental selectorial questions and shake up a side that has been struggling for far too long.

My side for The Oval would have been as follows:
(With Shah in the squad as reserve batsman. Ideally I would try him instead of Collingwood, but that would be one change too many.)

While I would, in any case, fancy this side to defeat the eleven who played in the last Test, even if they played and lost England would gain much from the match in terms of learning about fringe players.

One Test, especially a dead rubber, cannot tell you about a player's long-term durability at Test level, of course, but it is a start. With a radical shake-up to the side England would be beter able to answer a number of pressing questions, such as

Is Rob Key a beter bet as opener than Andrew Strauss? Given Key's impressive form over the last few seasons and Strauss's lack of a century against anyone other than a depleted New Zealand for two years, I suspect yes.

Can Ian Bell make the number three position his own? He has never made a century there, but he deserves to be given an extended run in what should be his natural position, starting from this Test.

Is Matt Prior a sufficiently good batsman to bat at six? And, more to the point, how much has his keeping improved in the last eight months? At least Prior's correct selection in the limited-overs squad will provide some clues to answering these questions.

Is Graeme Swann's all-round package of more value to England than Monty Panesar's? Averages of 41 with the bat and 25 with the ball in Division One, aided by his fine ODI performances, suggest this could now be the case.

Is Steve Harmison back to his best? Can he be a consistent threat at Test level? England must select him for the 4th Test, and see if Pietersen can help bring the best out of him.

Is Simon Jones good - and fit - enough to thrive in Tests once more? Most suspect the answer to the first question is an emphatic 'yes' but would answer in the negative to the second question. But, in a five-man attack, Jones could bowl, say, four four-over spells a day, being used as a strike-bowler, along with Flintoff. England utilising these two in such a capacity could help both to take 20 wickets and to keep them fit until at least the 2009 Ashes. Of more immediate significance, England will surely want to play five bowlers in India.

As it is, England will learn very little from this Test, save for a little about Pietersen's captaincy skills. It represents a depressing missed opportunity. In the big picture, it doesn't really matter how much England lose this series by. The answers to the above questions, however, are fundamental to how England can improve, but, typically and infuriatingly of the current set-up, too many will remain unasked.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Championship Review - Week 13

In stark contrast to previous weeks, very little changes in Division 1 as all matches are drawn, while in Division 2, Worcestershire are beginning to pull clear at the top. And Ramprakash’s wait is finally over.

Division 1
Having made his debut against Yorkshire as well as his maiden first class century, it seems appropriate that Mark Ramprakash should have made his 100th ton against the White Rose county. It was an important innings as well as Surrey had initially struggled to just 204 against injury hit Yorkshire, with Deon Kruis taking 5 wickets. Yorks then declared on 414 for 9, dodging the showers, with Kruis adding an unbeaten 50 to his wickets. Needing 210 to make Yorks bat again, Surrey lost Stewart Walters without scoring a run before Ramprakash (112) and Scott Newman (129) put on 259 to lead to Surrey to safety, finishing on 264 for 3. Surrey remain bottom, with Yorks in some trouble 7th in the table (although if they had forced the win, they’d have been within a point of 2nd).

At the top of the table, Durham batted first against Nottinghamshire, managing just 266. Bilal Shafyat held the Notts reply together with 100 as they managed a 2 run lead on the first innings. Stuart Broad then took the first four Durham wickets to fall, to leave them in trouble at 88 for 4. However, more resilient Durham batting and the poor weather meant there wasn’t time to force a result and the game finished with Durham on 257 for 8. Notts and Durham remain first and second respectively.

Sussex started well against Somerset with a Murray Goodwin ton leading them to a total of 419. Somerset couldn’t match them with the reply, Marcus Trescothick top scoring with 92 as Somerset made 348. Sussex them declared on 264 for 5 in an effort to force a result. However, the weather meant that the run chase wasn’t possible and the match finished with Somerset on 128 for 2. Somerset move 3rd, with Sussex in 6th.

Finally Hampshire recovered from the loss of two early wickets as the Michaels Carberry (92) and Lumb (73) put on a stand of 181 to take them to 367 despite six wickets for Yasir Arafat. Kent had a better start with Rob Key and Joe Denly putting on a century opening partnership. However, Imran Tahir took 5 wickets as Kent managed just a two run lead with 369. Hants started poorly again, but an unbeaten 105 from Nic Pothas (to go with his unbeaten 73 in the first innings) took Hants to 311 for 7 as the time ran out of the game. Hants are still in the relegation zone and now have an important match with Yorkshire coming up. Kent are 4th.

Division 2
Worcestershire went to the top of the league last week and soon had Gloucestershire in trouble at 110 for 5. Marcus North (98) and David Brown (83) led something of a recovery until the last 5 wickets went down for just 43 runs as Gloucester made 283, Kabir Ali taking 6 wickets. Worcester lost just one wicket going past the Gloucester total, with Stephen Moore (129) and Vikram Solanki (270) putting on 316 for the second wicket. An ubeaten 99 from Stephen Davies took Worcester to 672 for 7 declared. North and Brown both made their second half centuries of the match in Gloucester’s second innings. However, with Simon Jones taking four wickets, the total of 247 was not enough to make Worcester bat again they move clear at the top of the table while Gloucester remain bottom and winless.

Essex would have been looking to make up ground at the top of the table against struggling Glamorgan and the game was going to plan as the Welshmen were skittled for just 139. Essex managed 206 in reply. Second time round, batting seemed easier for Glamorgan and despite 6 wickets for Graham Napier they made 347 to leave Essex needing 281 for victory. Ravi Bopara then top scored with just 15 as Essex were bowled out for just 78, with Robert Croft taking 5 wickets for 6 runs in 8.1 overs. The win takes Glamorgan above Gloucestershire while Essex remain 4th.

HD Ackerman dominated the Leicestershire innings, scoring 199 out of the 432 against Warwickshire, Ian Salisbury taking 5 wickets. The Bears, looking to return to the top of the table didn’t find batting as easy and made just 267, Nadeem Malik taking 5 wickets. Following on Warwicks were more resilient and with poor weather affecting the game, their 169 for 3 left the game drawn. They remain 2nd, but are falling behind Worcester. Leicester are 5th, and probably too far behind to challenge for promotion now.

Northamptonshire are still in the promotion chase and they started well against Derbyshire, falling one run short of maximum batting points on 399, with Lance Klusener scoring a ton, while fellow South African, Charl Langeveldt took 5 wickets. Another South African, Andrew Hall, took 5 wickets as Derbyshire made 342, made around a 6th wicket stand of 138 between Greg Smith (yet another South African) and Jonathan Clare. Stephen Peters made a century second time round for Northants as they made 216 for 3 and the game petered out into a draw. Northants remain 3rd, Derby are 7th.

England Player Watch
Ravi Bopara had a game to forget with the bat for Essex (as did all of his colleagues), while Matt Prior seems to have found his early season form with a brisk 73 against Somerset. Also finding form again is Michael Carberry and the Kent opening pair of Joe Denley and Rob Key made 89 and 67 respectively. Chris Tremlett also hit 56, and his batting seems to be outshining his bowling at the moment. Adil Rashid showed a welcome return to form with the bat, scoring an unbeaten 67 to marshal the Yorks tail.

Stuart Broad arrived late for his match against Durham, but still made a big impact with the ball, taking 7 wickets, although he did fail with the bat. Steve Harmison and Liam Plunkett bath took three wickets when Notts batted. Matthew Hoggard was one of the Yorkshire crocks this week, while Tim Bresnan and Adil Rashid each took three wickets.

Player of the Week
Mentions for the South African trio of HD Ackerman with 199, Deon Kruis with a 5-fer and an unbeaten 50 and Nic Pothas for 178 unbeaten runs. However, this week’s winner is someone who no longer makes it into the England Player Watch, despite being maybe an outside contender for the England One Day captaincy. For 270 runs at quicker than a run a ball, this week’s Player of the Week is Vikram Solanki.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Ramps there at last

It's understandably been rather overshadowed by Michael Vaughan's resignation, but we should not overlook Mark Ramprakash's 100th first-class century. Given the increasing amounts of Twenty20 being played, it is far from inconceivable that he will be the 25th and last member to join the 100 hundeds club, even if the tortorous gap between his 99th and 100th centuries has, for many, been a snapshot of his performances in the pressure cauldron of international cricket.

We should celebrate his enduring excellence; his unremitting professionalism; and the technical proficiency and aesthetic value that characterised his game. An enigma, perhaps - but one whose phenomenal achievement deserves to be lauded.

(See my more extensive analysis of Ramprakash)

Rob Key: next England captain

Well, well. After fumbling along for so long with faults prevalent but the cosy set-up in denial about these, there is finally a shake-up within the England side. Michael Vaughan, who won more Tests than any other captain, has resigned; Paul Collingwood has seemingly been pushed from the one-day set-up.

There are two obvious candidates to replace them. Kevin Pietersen is well established as a star in both forms of the game for England. Captaincy could help rein in his impetuosity, which reared its ugly head when trying to launch Paul Harris for a six to bring up his century. During the last one-day international, when he was stand-in captain, his choice of bowlers seemed a little less formulaic than Collingwood's has been. He clearly has a fine cricketing brain and under-rated tactical acuman. Making your best player captain is, in many senses, the most logical step. However, he still has a worrying lack of captaincy experience - doubts exist over his ability to handle disparate characters within the side.

There may be calls for Andrew Strauss to be handed the job on the basis that he should have led England to Australia in 2006/07. But that is no sound reason. His current form is grim and he has scored hundreds only against New Zealand in the last two years. Add to this that he is not in the ODI side and it is clear England must look elsewhere, for all his captaincy credentials.

But where? The next England skipper should be Rob Key. He has led Kent with distinction for almost three seasons, winning the Twenty20 Cup last season. This year, they were one shot away from retaining the trophy; they will play Essex in the Friends Provident Trophy final; and they still have a very realistic chance of Champuionship glory. At 29, he has developed tremendous cricketing nous and commands respect. Key is a phlegmatic character, outwardly relaxed but alo fiercely determined. His status as an 'outsider' - he has not played for three and-a-half years - is surely a benefit, given the deep malaise England currently find themselves in. New ideas, which have clearly been very successful at Kent, could reinvigorate the side.

But what of Key the batsman? For a captain's authority is undermined if there are doubts over whether he merits his place in the side, as Vaughan is striking testament to. Key did reasonbly in his 15 Tests, but is a better player now, who knows how to get the best out of himself - and has also lost plenty of weight. Though not outstanding, he is having another good season, averaging 51 in first-class cricket (it was 56 last season), including 178* for Kent against New Zealand. Given the batting woes of the top three, he fully merits a recall even if his captaincy skills are ignored. Whilst it is true he was out-of-his-depth in his brief ODI career to date, his limited-overs game has developed wonderfully of late, as he has learned the art of pacing innings - and even developed a paddle over fine-leg. So he merits a place in all three forms of the game on current form. Add in his know-how and captaincy pedigree and Rob Key stands out as England's best choice.

Friday, 1 August 2008

England rebel against the Eighties

For those of us who grew up with cricket in the 1980s, the current state of consistency in the England selection is a massive sea change. The 1988 series against West Indies saw 23 players and four captains used in a five match series, with a further 5 players in the team for the one off match against Sri Lanka. To put that into context, if you took the last 28 players to debut for England, you would be back to Rob Key’s debut in 2002 and include players such as Antony McGrath, Ed Smith and Richard Johnson, who have long left the international reckoning. From 1980 to 1988, 50 players made their debut for England. Since 2000, the number of debutants has been 39, despite the increasing demands on players

While 1988 was the nadir in terms of selection, even in 1986, 19 players were used in a three test series against India and 17 in the subsequent three match series against New Zealand. Even in the successful Ashes series in 1985, 17 players were used – a far cry from the twelve players used 20 years later. Indeed in 2001, 19 players were used as the side continued to struggle against the Australians.

One of the benefits that the central contracts have brought England is a consistency of selection. Players don’t need to fear a single poor score and the Team England ethic is very strong. Players become comfortable with who they are playing with and used to their roles within the team, on and off the pitch. However, there needs to be evolution with the selection and it was also revealing in comparing the teams for the first test against South Africa that only Andrew Strauss had played in the corresponding fixture four years ago, in the game that he made his debut. Therefore, while England have enjoyed a stable team, it has evolved into a new unit over the past four years.

There has been criticism of this becoming a cosy club. However, the benefits of consistency have been seen with Strauss, who has now formed a stable opening partnership with Ali Cook, even if they now both need to convert their starts into big scores. Ian Bell was under pressure for his place at the start of the series, but was given the opportunity to respond with his innings at Lords which took England from a precarious situation to a potential match-winning one. James Anderson is another player who is now benefitting from a run in the team.

The weakness with this system is that players can last for too long in the setup. But for Marcus Trescothick’s well publicised problems, he could well be keeping Cook out of the team. Previous incumbents of the top six have either retired at the top (Hussein, Thorpe) or had injuries that have taken them out of the team (Butcher). The current form of Michael Vaughan and in particular Paul Collingwood should possibly see them left out of the team. However, this should not be done in a way that leads back to the bad old days of the 1980s. Owais Shah, Ravi Bopara and Rob Key all remain within the England setup, either as the next players in, or as the current Lions captain. England have had success by evolution, not revolution and the long term importance of a settled, but not complacent team is paramount.

Shambolic England On The Brink

Mickey Arthur this week denounced the recall of Steve Harmison as a desperate and short term move by England which took no account of the upcoming 2009 Ashes series. He was right. Michael Atherton tore into the selectors both in general and specifically for recalling Harmison in The Times, stating that they were sending out the wrong message about selection. He was right. Harmison would have been a temporary and short sighted pick. He is bowling well at present and would undoubtedly take wickets, but he doesn’t play ODI’s, he doesn’t travel as every Tom, Dick and Harry knows and he takes a good few matches to get into form, largely because he doesn’t put in the training which other players do. So that would make him available for the second Test series of every summer which just is not viable.

Meanwhile, “The Michael Vaughan Batting Club”, to quote a friend, seems now to be more exclusive and cosy than ever, when it’s hegemony should be in the process of being disrupted. To the untrained eye it appears as though England have imploded in a relatively short period of time. However, look a little closer and the problems have been mounting for a year. The series loss to India was unfortunate, but signalled the start of the latest period of turmoil. The embarrassing performance in Sri Lanka hit the side hard and many a mistake was made. Owais Shah, one of England’s best players of spin and slow, low pitches was bafflingly left out of the side so as to accommodate Ravi Bopara, who proceeded to have one of the worst debuts by an England Test player. And following a series of drops, Matt Prior himself was dropped, which saw Tim Ambrose take over the gloves, another compromise between keeping and batting ability was made.

To New Zealand and one poor match spelled the end for Matthew Hoggard, whilst Steve Harmison finally got what had been coming his way for the previous two years. Team England escaped with a 2-1 series win, but they had been expected to thrash the Kiwis. Tim Ambrose and Paul Collingwood looked good and Andrew Strauss appeared to be back to his best. However, the fact that the Kiwis are a very limited side was completely forgotten. On to the home series against New Zealand and England faced an even more limited side, eventually triumphing 2-0. However, they deserved to lose the second Test after yet more woeful batting and despite a Michael Vaughan revival (currently expected in 1 in 4 series). A good side would have thrashed the Kiwis twice.

Then South Africa arrived and on a placid pitch England racked up the runs, but the ease with which South Africa avoided defeat showed that the pitch had played a major role. The key point was also that only Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen made big runs. The bowling attack meanwhile lacked hostility and pace. Whilst swing may account for average batsman, good batsmen need to be tested with pace and bounce. Andrew Flintoff’s return has been claimed to have unbalanced the side. That is simply not true. He has kept this England side in the hunt and given them drive which was sorely lacking. Ultimately, the sad truth is that England are playing a very good side, a testing side and they are realising that they are just not good enough.

Alistair Cook last scored a ton ten Tests ago, but at least he has averaged 40.00 since November 2007. Vaughan is averaging 27.52 since the start of the Sri Lanka tour, with 1 hundred in 23 innings. Collingwood averages 28.25 in the same period with no hundreds in 18 innings. And Tim Ambrose’s average in down to 26.76 as it continues it’s descent. England can not afford to keep on carrying players, but that is exactly what they continue to do. The term “Michael Vaughan Batting Club” is of course meant to be comical, but it sums up this current England side perfectly. Vaughan has always been staunchly loyal to his charges and this was once a virtue, in the days after the brutally honest regime of Nasser Hussain, but it has now most certainly become a problem, with judgement now blurred by loyalty.

Andrew Strauss was out of form for an age before he was finally dropped and then recalled without hitting a single run in county cricket. Paul Collingwood was dropped for one match before being recalled for the current Test in place of Stuart Broad. The reasoning behind this seemed stupid at the start and even stupider now. Stuart Broad needed a rest, yet is playing a four day game for Nottinghamshire. The extra batsman would balance the side, yet they essentially replaced a cricketer who has averaged 55 this year with one who has averaged 8. Are the fans missing something here? The end result was obvious for everyone to see even before Collingwood had gone out to bat and once he was there it was even more painfully obvious, no less so than to Collingwood himself, whose torturous 45 minute innings was packed full of nerves and completely devoid of any semblance of confidence. His lack of confidence seems even to be effecting his fielding, as he dropped a relatively easy catch off of Neil McKenzie later on.

England need a reality check and now. They will lose this series, that is all but a certainty, barring a Flintoff inspired miracle and changes to the team. Even worse though, they will slip to 4th in the world and are likely to be humiliated in India and at home by Australia if they do not do what is necessary and change the batting line-up. If it means changing the captain then so be it. Players can only live on past glories for so long and Geoffrey Boycott is not alone in seeing Vaughan as a cricketer who is far from the man who peaked in Australia in 2002. It isn’t as if he excels for Yorkshire either and one good score every other series simply isn’t enough. Who comes in for Vaughan and Collingwood is up for debate, but the leading candidates are Ravi Bopara and Owais Shah, whilst the likes of Rob Key and Joe Denly will be watching the latest troubles of Cook and Strauss with great interest. The captaincy would have to pass to either a younger player, or the more experienced Andrew Strauss, who is statistically proven to improve his run output as captain, averaging around 15 runs more as captain for Middlesex and England (55.66). Vaughan incidentally averages 5.62 runs less as captain (36.02).

On the wicket keeping front it is probably time to go with the best keeper in the country, who in my opinion is James Foster. He will also fit nicely into the ODI side, allowing England to keep consistency of selection which they see as being crucial. If Broad has been returned to county cricket to work on his bowling then playing four bowlers becomes an easier task for England, with the current incumbents the most deserving, although Broad and Simon Jones would be pushing the likes of Bopara and Sidebottom hard for their places in the near future. It is worth noting that at the moment Broad and Jones could only play in a five man attack. Perhaps if the batting line-up could deliver the runs then five bowlers would once again be a viable option. For the moment though it is not.

England Test Batting Averages since November 2007:

Strauss 45.07
Cook 40.00
Vaughan 27.52
Pietersen 41.31
Bell 46.66
Collingwood 28.25
Ambrose 26.75
Broad 41.22
Flintoff 45.5 (3 innings, 1 not out)
Bopara 8.40 (5 innings)

Test Debuts Since 2000:

4 Wicket Keeper debuts;
10 Batsman debuts;
22 Bowler debuts;
3 Allrounder debuts.

Test Debuts Since Ashes 2005:

2 Wicket Keeper debuts;
2 Batsman debuts;
9 Bowler debuts;
1 Allrounder debut.