Thursday, 17 April 2014

Sam Robson inks himself into England's test team

It seems that there has never been so many spots up for grabs in the England test side. At the start of the county season, it seemed that only five players were really guaranteed to play in the 1st Test against Sri Lanka on the 12th June. Alistair Cook was always going to be included after the ECB confirmed he would remain England's test captain, while Ian Bell, Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Ben Stokes all seemed inked in for the visit of Sri Lanka.

Finally, after two rounds of County Championship fixtures, another name can be added to that list, Middlesex's Sam Robson. The 24 year old has been close to a call-up to England's test team for awhile now following an excellent 2013 campaign with Middlesex. He also had a strong winter with England's performance squad in Australia and during the England Lions tour of Sri Lanka.

Many pundits had put their weight behind Robson before the county season began following a run heavy winter but he still needed a good start with Middlesex if he was going to be walking out with Alistair Cook at Lords in mid-June. He might have got a bit jittery after a poor showing against Sussex in Middlesex's first county match of the season, scoring only 11 and 1. However, his performance in Middlesex's very next game against Nottinghamshire shows just what a good player the 24 year old is and how he is almost certainly set to play at Lord's.

Robson's 163 in Middlesex's first innings, followed by 44 not out in their second, showed the 24 year olds calmness and his ability to build a big, match-winning innings. England have been missing someone who can build innings at the top of the order alongside Alistair Cook ever since Andrew Strauss retired. Nick Compton seemed to bat himself out of the England side with increasingly negative performances while Joe Root and Michael Carberry had a problem against quality new ball bowling. Robson however, seems to have a good enough technique to take on the new ball while his calmness shows he should be able to handle the rigours of test cricket.

It may also be that Robson doesn't have a lot of competition for the openers spot in the England side. Joe Root appears to be his main rival but many suspect he would be better off in the middle order, batting when the ball is older and the spinners are on.

Robson has done exactly what he needed to in order to get into the England side, score a big match winning hundred. One spot has almost certainly been ticked off in England's new look test team however, there are still several spots left vacant, waiting to be filled before June 12th.

Friday, 11 April 2014

One loss of form should not end Matt Prior's England career

During the fallout from England's disastrous tour of Australia, there were many opinions expressed about the futures of England's touring party. Some were measured and accurate while others were wild and over the top. Wild and over the top tend to be the way most people go when a team self destructs in the way that England did. However it tends not to be the way to go when trying to re-build a team. Although all of the touring party were scrutinised, one player who seemed in most pundits line of sight was Matt Prior.

In truth, the 32 year old had had a poor few months, suffering from a complete lack of form since his series saving hundred against New Zealand at Auckland. It appeared that Australia in particular had worked out how to bowl at him and after being dropped from the England side before the 4th Ashes test at Melbourne, many pundits were writing Prior's cricketing epitaph. Apparently he was too old, time to move onto younger men.

Blooding young players is all well and good but there is no point blooding them if they aren't ready. There is also no point putting them in the team if there are still world class players waiting in the wings. Prior is an excellent example of a world-class player who can still offer England a lot over the next few years.

All players lose form and that was certainly the case for Prior. Whatever he tried just didn't seem to work. However his poor form over 8 months should be put into context by 5 years of excellent form. Since regaining his place back in the England side in 2008, Prior hardly had a bad match with gloves or bat. It seemed like he was never out of form, until last summer.

Losses in form happen to every sportsman so it was bound to happen to Prior eventually. That doesn't mean he isn't a world class player anymore. It just means he needs to regain his form and by the looks of it he has done just that by scoring the first hundred of the county season in Sussex's match against Middlesex. Batting at 4, Prior came in with a positive intent, taking the bowlers on and giving his side momentum. Just like he usually does for England.

Jos Buttler
Many were suggesting that Prior should lose his spot in England's Test side because there seemed to be a ready made replacement in Jos Buttler. Those Buttler fans have quietened down a bit since the keepers disappointing showing at the World T20. That world tournament has shown that Buttler still needs to improve his keeping (especially when standing up to slower bowlers) in order to become a Test quality keeper-batsman. That should happen with a couple of seasons keeping at Lancashire. The 22 year old should be given time to hone his skills and become a better player, not be shoe-horned into a side when he isn't ready.
Buttler will one-day be good enough to break into England's Test side however, Prior is currently the better option both as a wicket-keeper and a batsman.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Sangakkara and Jayawardene: The Last Great Batsmen

There was almost an inevitability about Kumar Sangakkara's 52 not out in the T20 World Cup final. Up until the final, Sangakkara had had a poor tournament, scoring only 19 runs and looking like a man short of form. An average batsman can go through a major tournament and not score any runs but not a great one.

Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara
Sangakkara and his best friend Mahela Jayawardene most definitely fall into the category of great. Both have wonderful records in Test matches, ODI's and T20's. No mean feat in the congested schedules of modern international cricket. You always feel that both men have an great innings in them when a tour or tournament comes around.

It seems that this T20 World Cup marks the beginning of the end for both Sangakkara and Jayawardene's careers. Both retired from the format on Sunday, leaving it to younger men like Angelo Mathews to take Sri Lanka forward. In cricket, when a player calls time on one form of the game, the other forms aren't far behind. Both men are 36 and unlikely to play Test matches and ODI's for much longer.

Their retirements will mark the end of this era of cricket as they are the last of the truly great batsman around. Several have retired in the past few months, Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith. Ricky Ponting beat them all to it, retiring in 2012. Their will be no great batsman left and it is a struggle to find the men who will replace them at the top of the batting charts.

One name mentioned by many as a possible great batsman is Virat Kohli, especially after his 73 in Sunday's final. He certainly seems to have all the skills necessary to become a great although he will need to improve on a fairly modest test record.

AB De Villiers is another batsman who many regard as a possible great batsman. His stats certainly don't lie ( he currently averages nearly 52 in test cricket) and like Kohli, he is strong in all forms of the game. However, De Villiers path to greatness could be blocked by the South African test captaincy. Since Graeme Smith retired, De Villiers has been the odds on favourite to take over. If, as expected, he takes on the captaincy, it is unknown how the pressure of the job will affect his batting.

There are others who have been touted as greats but they to have questions marks against them. Alistair Cook has been scoring runs for England for years but is currently out of form and struggling with captaining the England team. Michael Clarke has been fantastic for Australia since taking on the test captaincy but he continues to struggle with back problems and it is unknown whether those problems are getting better or worse.

Other younger batsman also have great ability, like Joe Root, Shikhar Dhawan and Darren Bravo. However, their careers are still in there infancy so are difficult to predict.

It maybe that the era of Ponting, Tendulkar, Sangakkara and Jayawardene will be seen as an especially great one for batsman. An era where so many wonderful batsman flourished.

Both Sangakkara and Jayawardene will travel to England for a test series in June. English fans should make the most of them because it maybe a while before we see the next great batsmen emerging.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

England should look to an Aussie to revive their fortunes

England have surely not had a worse winter in living memory. Thrashed by Australia in the Ashes and humiliated by the Netherlands at the T20 World Cup, the talk is now of re-building English cricket.

Arguably the most important part of that re-building process is the appointment of a new coach, something which should happen over the next couple of weeks. Reportedly four men are on the shortlist, England's current limited overs coach Ashley Giles, former England coach Peter Moores, Nottinghamshire head coach Mike Newell and Trevor Bayliss, former Sri Lanka coach.

It appears that the three Englishman all have reasonable chances of landing the job, however it is the outsider, Australian Bayliss, who the ECB should look to in order to revive England's fortunes.

It has been suggested by many former players that England need to completely overhaul how they go about playing their cricket. The conservative tactics of the previous England regime under Andy Flower have been found out by aggressive sides like Australia and these tactics have also alienated fans who want to see England playing a more exciting brand of cricket.

Trevor Bayliss
Bayliss could be the man to provide this change in attitude. He seems better placed to do so than Giles, Moores or Newell.

While the three Englishman all have connections with the previous regime, Bayliss is an outsider.  That is exactly what England need. Someone to come in, look at the faults in English cricket and solve them without any previous baggage.

Bayliss also holds another trump card overs his rivals for the England post. He has been a success in a number of coaching roles all over the world. In 2011, he helped Sri Lanka to the final of the ODI World Cup in India. Has has also won the IPL with the Kolkata Knight Riders and was victorious with the Sydney Sixes in the Big Bash. At a time when England have been accused of living in the dark ages when in comes to 20/20 cricket, Bayliss experience of success in that format could be invaluable.

In terms of his qualifications, Bayliss appears to be the outstanding candidate. However, it is unlikely that he will be given the job. The ECB appear to be desperate to appoint an English coach who is involved in their coaching schemes. It may also be that Bayliss would question the ECB's decision to dispense with the talents of Kevin Pietersen.

Appointing Giles, Moores or Newell would be safe for the ECB. Appointing Bayliss would be a brave choice but that is exactly what England need right now.

Monday, 12 November 2012

More signings of Graeme Smiths quality could reinvigorate County Cricket

Graeme Smith becoming captain for Surrey is the biggest signing for County cricket since Shane Warne. It is true that bigger names have graced county cricket’s twenty format since Warne’s stint for Hampshire, but with Smith signing for the majority of the season for Surrey, it means fans will get to see one of the best batsman in the world for most of the season.

 This will be no quick T20 bash. No Smith will be leading Surrey in all three forms of the game. It is hard to see a downside really.

Smith is probably the best international captain around at the moment. During the summer Test series against England he broke Steve Waugh’s record for most Test matches as captain, while during the same series his South Africa side regained their status as the best Test side in the world, something which South Africa briefly achieved in 2008.
 Smith too seems like he’s looking forward to the challenge. On being unveiled as Surrey’s new skipper, Smith said ‘I am excited to be joining such a professional and talented team, during what will hopefully prove to be a rewarding and successful period’.

 So with the prospect of Smith captaining Surrey next year already whetting the appetites of county cricket fans, could more signing’s of Smith’s calibre bring in more fans. I’m not just talking about players signing up for the T20 tournament, but also the First Class matches as well. It would be fantastic to see Graeme Smith battle it out against a bowler of the quality of Sajeed Ajmal in the 4-day arena. And young English cricketers could also benefit from learning alongside the likes of Smith.

 County cricket is fantastic to watch and it is always very enjoyable spending a summer’s day at the Oval watching a First Class match. But County Cricket does have trouble encouraging others to come and watch. More signings of Smiths quality could bring a big boost to attendances at First Class games.

Watch Graeme Smiths 25th Test Hundred in the 1st Test against England at The Oval.

Monday, 5 November 2012

England's Road to Recovery

This year has been pretty tough on England's cricketers. While British Olympians have been displaying their heroic feats, our cricketers have been wallowing in bad performances and uncomfortable headlines.

It wasn't even a year ago that Andrew Strauss and his men were being lauded as one of England's greatest Test teams. Having won the Ashes in Australia, they disposed of Sri Lanka and thumped India 4-0, stealing the world number one ranking from them. But that was where it all started to go wrong. Whitewashed in the one-day series against India, the new number one Test team were bamboozled by Pakistan's Sajeed Ajmal in Dubai and then could only draw against a weak Sri Lankan side. There was a brief rest bite against the West Indies but there was no hiding place when Graeme Smith's polished South Africans arrived.

The world number ranking was gone, Andrew Strauss retired and England's star batsman Kevin Pietersen was on the naughty step for sending texts to the South Africans allegedly criticising Andrew Strauss. A bad year then.
Or maybe there a chance to salvage something of 2012 for England. You wouldn't think so with a trip to India, where England haven't won in 27 years. But confidence does appear to be growing in the England camp under new captain Alistair Cook. While England haven't won either of there 3 day warm matches, they have been in control of both games. Most of the batsman have now had quite abit of time in the middle and the bowlers have overs under there belt and are taking wickets. England still have one more warm up match to go for what will probably be the eleven for the first Test to hone their skills.

While their are worries about the fitness of fast bowlers Steven Finn and Stuart Broad, England still have that same depth in fast bowling reserves that they've had for the past 2 years. A seam bowling line-up of Anderson, Onions and Bresnan doesn't sound to shabby even though it is quite possible only 2 seam bowlers will be required.

It is also worth noting that the Indian side that England will be facing isn't as strong as it once was. Indian greats Raul Dravid and VVS Laxman have retired, making way for players such as Cheteshwar Pujara and Suresh Raina, who are both talented but are not yet in the same class as Dravid and Laxman. There have also been rumours of retirement from the God of the Indian team, Sachin Tendulkar.

Two months ago commentators were predicting an Indian whitewash. Some still are. That seems highly unlikely. This Test series should be an evenly contested battle, with both teams eager to prove that they are on the road to recovery. For England, the road to recovery could just start in the most difficult place of all.