Tag Archives: england

No whitewashes, just the Ashes

It would be an outright lie if I said I didn’t care who wins the Ashes. I wear a team Cook t-shirt, not team Clarke. But I certainly don’t want to see a 5-0 whitewash of the Aussies. A close fought series, a taster of which we had at Trent Bridge throughout the first Test, should be what every cricket fan craves.  Of course I want England to win more of the tense, edge of your seat, say goodbye to your nails type games, but who wants the series to be over with two Test’s left to play?

The greatest Ashes series in recent memory have been decided in the final Test: 2005, 2009, 2010/11. Yes these were all England victories, but even if they hadn’t been, they’d still be remembered for hard fought, exciting, enthralling Test cricket. Despite coming into this series as underdogs, Australia have proved they’re not to be taken lightly.

The pendulum of favour swung so much at Trent Bridge that it had to check in to a spa retreat for three days of yoga and relaxation before the onslaught begins again at Lord’s. Round one, in the form of the toss, went to England, but it wasn’t long before the tourists took control to bowl out England for 215.

At 117-9 England had it back. Then came Ashton Agar: the no.11 teenage batsman that smashed all the records for the last man in, and created a twitter #Ashtag whilst en route to 98 runs. Gritty innings from Cook and Pietersen poised the game in the balance, with a superb and determined century from Bell once again making England the bookies favourites. The penultimate swing came on the final morning, when the last wicket partnership for Australia between Brad Haddin and James Pattinson gave the Australians hope of an unlikely victory. The final twist in the tale came with a half hearted England review that revealed a gentle kiss of the ball on Haddin’s bat on it’s way to Matt Prior’s gloves, to give England victory by 14 runs. Tense stuff.

If headlines and column inches counted for anything, the winner of the first Test would be the hotly debated Decision Review System and, to a lesser extent but undoubtedly entwined, the umpiring. Australia seem incapable of using the DRS to their best capacity. Forget net sessions and hours in the gym, Clarke and his men want to spend some time learning how to utilise the DRS before round two. As the first Test proved, it can be a game changer.

Since it’s first appearance in modern cricket, more often than not one or two DRS incidents have been talking points in a match. But it simply dominated this Test. No doubt there are followers of the Baggy Green claiming that if it weren’t for the DRS they would have won this Test. By the same token, had Haddin seen Australia across the line, the England faithful would be debating the Agar ‘stumping’ decision in pubs across the land.

Clarke lost seven out of nine DRS reviews. It’s there for the howler, which is a word that can definitely be attributed to the Broad incident. Umpire Aleem Dar missed a nick so big it had it’s own postcode, but Clarke had used his two reviews, and Broad stood his ground, as is his right. Whilst Broad has been rebuked for failing to uphold the ‘spirit of the game’, fault plainly lies with the umpire.

Agar, Broad and the DRS were the talking points of this first Test.  But they should now be left behind, as the steamroller of the Ashes presses swiftly on to Lord’s. Both teams have things to think about before Thursday. England will already know whether Finn remains in the side at his home ground, on a wicket that will suit him better than that of Trent Bridge, or whether Onions or Bresnan will take that final spot, the latter strengthening the batting line up.

Australia, as well as genning up on the DRS system, are likely to be thinking about Ed Cowan’s place in the team, and whether Warner might return from his seat on the naughty step after punching England batsmen Joe Root in a nightclub during the Champions Trophy. It’s possible they are considering playing spinner Nathan Lyon, in place of the inexperienced Agar, adding to the records he now holds. Has anyone ever scored 98 on debut and been dropped?

Despite needing a health warning for those with heart conditions, the first Test of this series was what the Ashes is all about: riveting, unmissable Test cricket. Here’s to four more of the same.

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3x3x3

With twenty20 most definitely here to stay, International cricket tours now have to accommodate all three formats of the game. There is no standard pattern for how many matches of each form are included, nor which order they are played in, but international cricket boards could do worse than base future tours on the current schedule being employed between New Zealand and England.

At the recent MCC meeting in Auckland New Zealand, the co-existence of the three formats of the game was discussed, and the Committee heard from David White, the CEO of New Zealand Cricket. He advocated the 3x3x3 format currently on offer in his country.

Aside from bad weather or a draw, a best of three series ensures a result, and gives fans the opportunity to get into a mini series, without over egging the cricket pudding. To me, as in New Zealand, it makes sense to start with t20, and expand in size. Test cricket remains the pinnacle of the game, and a tour schedule should reflect this. How many people would stay at a gig to watch the support acts after the headliner has played? If this is not a view universally held, those at the helm of the game should set the example.

This was never more pertinent than during the seven match ODI series between England and Australia after the home Ashes series in 2009. England were trounced 6-1, but with the little Urn – arguably the top prize in cricket – already in their pocket, who wants to watch a painfully extended series between the two sides afterwards?

Obviously scheduled to provide some (evidently) much needed ODI practise before the teams jetted off to South Africa for the imminent Champions Trophy, the ODI’s felt like a grand anti-climax following an entertaining Ashes series. It was reminiscent of following a Rolling Stones concert with a set from a Spice Girls tribute act. A maximum three match ODI series is a thought echoed by Mark Nicholas in a recent piece on cricinfo.com, as he argues the middle format is in serious danger of being overshadowed on either side by its shorter and longer counterparts.

The Ashes is, of course, the obvious exception to the 3x3x3 principle. The pinnacle of the sport should remain sacrosanct. The Test matches are often scheduled to allow for warm up matches for the visitors, and in some cases, to prepare for a limited overs world event falling afterwards, as in 2009.  As I said, an exception to the rule.

There was outrage at the scheduling of only three Test matches in the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy, when South Africa visited England in 2012. The thought of anything less than five Test matches between the top two Test teams in the world horrified many fans. But with tours scheduled well in advance, correctly predicting who would hold the top two slots that far ahead would be almost impossible. Just look at England’s record at number one before South Africa took their crown with a 2-0 win in the aforementioned series: six defeats in 11 matches, and Test series losses to Pakistan and South Africa. That sort of record wouldn’t help cricket boards schedule around rankings.

A five match Test series is a relic of the old days, harking back to the 1950s when Test cricket was the only form of the game, and only one team toured each season.  We’re no longer in the days of several weeks shipping players around the world to play, specialist players can now hop on and off a plane to drop in and play in their format, before returning home, or more likely heading off to a lucrative tournament somewhere in the world.

But of course I’m no expert on scheduling a cricket tour. I’m just a fan of a good series. So, whet the appetite with a quick blast of t20, give some food for thought with three ODI’s, before sinking your teeth into a meaty Test series. Naturally I am biased to make an exception for the Ashes, with such fervour around the series, it would be over too soon if it featured anything less than five battles. Aside from Aussie bashing, I would certainly advocate a 3x3x3 tour, with Test matches rightly remaining the headline act.

 

All Hales, no Gayles

On a day when the English weather held off long enough to allow a full game to finish of this forgettable West Indies tour, there were no Gayles but plenty of Hales.

England opener Alex Hales made the highest ever score by an Englishman in an international t20 to guide his side to victory, chasing 173 to win at Trent Bridge.

His superb innings was cut painfully short on 99, enough for a team victory, but not enough for Hales, who was obviously devastated to fall one short of a century when bowled by Rampaul.

His second wicket partnership with Ravi Bopara of 159 was also the highest partnership in a t20 for England, but neither of the batsmen could quite see it through to the tense finish. England needed just four from six balls when Hales was bowled, and Bopara (59) fell three balls later. It was left to Morgan (2*) and Buttler (0*) to see England home with two balls to spare.

Earlier in the day, West Indies captain Darren Sammy had won the toss and elected to bat. After his nifty fifty in the ODI at the Oval last week, the crowds were no doubt relishing their final chance to see Chris Gayle with bat in hand, in the format created for his flamboyant style of cricket. But it was not to be; the former West Indies captain out for 2, caught by Bairstow at fine leg off Finn.

The West Indies quickly found themselves 30 for 3, but were revived by a smashing 70 from Smith, who looked to have ensured a defendable total of 172 off their 20 overs. 107 of their runs came off the last eight overs, with Dwayne Bravo (54*) and Kieron Pollard (23*) demonstrating the strength of the West Indies middle order in this format.

But England, and in particular Hales and Bopara, were just too good for them. The West Indies were sloppy in the field at times, perhaps with one foot, and their brains, already on the plane that takes them to Florida tomorrow for a two match t20 series against New Zealand.

Their tour of England has been a cold and wet affair, and void of victory in any format against the host country. This t20 has perhaps been the best match of the tour, certainly the closest. Both teams can take heart from great performances with the bat in the countdown to the World t20 which starts September in Sri Lanka.

 

No win no KP

The phrase ‘cutting off their nose to spite their face’ has been used in abundance in the last week in relation to the story that Kevin Pietersen has retired from international limited overs cricket. But there’s a reason for that: it fits. And not just for south-African born KP, who has attracted more than his fair share of controversy throughout his career, but also for the England and Wales Cricket Board who have struggled to deal with the turbulent player.

Pietersen took the decision to quit ODI cricket, but was forced to say goodbye to international t20’s as well by the ECB as part of their initiative to build a limited overs squad for both formats. That’s fair enough, they have their plans in place I’m sure, but with the World t20 just four months away, surely a compromise could have been reached? Pietersen was a key part of England’s triumph in the tournament in the Caribbean two years ago – our country’s first limited overs ICC trophy – earning himself the Man of the Series accolade.

KP has been criticised for quitting limited overs cricket for his country in favour of more lucrative prospects such as the IPL, and the Big Bash in Australia. Clearly he wants to make as much dollar as he can whilst he has the ability to play as he does. But he is not the first cricketer to do so, nor the last. And the ECB are hardly in a position to judge. Pietersen’s decision to no longer play ODI’s for England was, I’m sure, influenced to some extent by the prospect of a somewhat pointless five match series against Australia this summer, a series that is purely a moneymaking event for the ECB.

It is likely that Pietersen made the decision to quit one day cricket, was told by the ECB that he couldn’t do so without ruling himself out of t20, and, like a petulant toddler, his response was to quit both instantly rather than wait a few months to take part in the tournament. There is no going back from such an announcement (this is England, not Pakistan) so it is not so much calling the bluff of the ECB, but playing the only power card he had.

But if Kevin Pietersen is the nose being cut off, it only serves to spite everyone involved in England cricket. It will not sit well with KP to see England fail or succeed without him in Sri Lanka in the World t20. The ECB, naturally keen to field the best side possible, will be missing arguably it’s strongest option, and fans of game will certainly miss the sight of KP smashing world class bowlers over the ropes. In fact, said bowlers are the only ones likely to breath a sigh of relief at the stubbornness of both Pietersen and the cricket board that forced him into his untimely decision.

Day 3 in Galle: Trott KP partnership keeps England’s hopes up

England are keeping a thin grasp on the first Test in Galle, thanks to a partnership between Pietersen and Trott that took them to close of play on 111-2.

Earlier in the day, it took England until half an hour before tea to dismiss the Sri Lankan tail. Three wickets went to the spinners in the morning session, Swann achieving his 12th Test five-wicket haul, finishing with figures of 6-82. Monty Panesar took his first and last wickets of the match before and after lunch, leaving two men standing at the crease.

Stuart Broad thought he’d finished the job when Prasanna Jayawardene went for a pull and top edged a catch back to the bowler, but England celebrations were cut short when the umpire Rod Tucker called for a replay, which showed Broad’s front foot well over the line. The subsequent appeal for a run out – Broad had removed the bails after the catch with Jayawardene out of his crease – was denied, the ball deemed already dead.

The score at that point was 168-9, a Sri Lankan lead of 293. The batsmen did not waste the lifeline gifted to them, and Jayawardene brought up the 300 lead in the next over, lofting Panesar over mid-off for four followed by a six back over the bowlers head.

They frustrated England with the addition of 47 runs before Anderson ran out Jayawardene, charging back for a risky second, to finish on 214, a daunting 340 fourth innings total to win. It is a feat that England have never previously achieved. The highest winning fourth innings total against Sri Lanka by any team was achieved by India, 264-3.

The England openers saw out the seven overs to tea, but Cook fell soon after the break, deemed out after a Sri Lankan review for a catch behind. Closer inspection of replays showed slight deviation of the ball from Herath as it whizzed past Cook’s bat, but whether or not there was conclusive evidence to overturn the on field umpire remains debatable.

It once again raises the contentious issue of the UDRS. If used, it should be universal, with all the available technology. If a host nation cannot afford hotspot, the ICC should provide it.

After another disappointing innings for Andrew Strauss (27), whose role as captain appears to be all that is keeping him in the team, Trott and Pietersen came together to prove that England are capable of competent batting in the sub-continent. A scare for Pietersen on 12 – an inside edge put down by leg slip off Randiv – was the only hiccup before close of play.

England still need another 229 to win. Time is not an issue, but England will need this partnership to continue well into day four.

 

Day two in Galle: England bowlers keep the game alive

A dramatic second day of the first Test between Sri Lanka and England saw 17 wickets tumble for 306 runs. England demonstrated little improvement to their batting against spin in the subcontinent, as they were bowled out for 193 in under 50 overs, gifting the home side a lead of 125. Graeme Swann then chose the perfect moment to rediscover his mojo, taking 4 for 28 to leave Sri Lanka teetering on 84-5 overnight.

Sri Lanka had resumed the day on 289-8. It took James Anderson just 11 balls to dismiss Welegedara, bowling the right-hander for 19 with a slower ball. The wicket took Anderson to fifth in the tally of English Test wicket takers, taking him past Brian Statham, legendary Lancashire and England bowler of the 50’s and 60’s.

It was Anderson who finally ended Mahela Jayawardene’s mammoth innings, the Sri Lankan captain edging behind to leave Sri Lanka a modest total of 318. Jaywardene scored 180, the rest of his team (plus extras) totalled138. The wicket heralded Anderson’s 12th five-for in Test cricket, in tough conditions. Interestingly, neither of England’s frontline spinners took any wickets in the first innings.

England then had a point to prove with the bat. Unfortunately, they proved the wrong one. Their performance against spin was once again dismal. Alistair Cook, usually the rock on which England build any innings, was first to go, Lakmal getting the ball to swing back in, trapping the opener lbw. Cook wanted the review, Strauss rightly send him on his way: replays showing the ball would’ve clipped off stump.

Trott made a promising start, looking in good touch through the covers and mid wicket, before falling foul to Herath in a bizarre fashion. Coming down the pitch, completely missing the full toss, he was stumped by the keeper Prasanna Jayawardene, who then ran into the batsmen as he fruitlessly attempted to get back. Trott was temporarily floored before accepting his fate and trudging back to the pavillion.

Herath continued on his path of destruction, taking a career best 6-74. Strauss, Prior, Patel and Broad fell victim to the spinner, four of the six lbw wickets in the England innings.

Bell was the shining light in the England innings, superbly playing the orthodox spin. His 52 came from 87 balls, with eight fours, and a six. However, he was eventually bowled by a beauty from Herath; the ball spinning past the outside edge and taking out the off bail.

Once again it was left to the bowlers to rescue England, this time with bat in hand. Cameos from Swann (28), Broad (24) and Anderson (23) only proved to further embarrass the top order batsmen, who had to watch their peers demonstrate how good a batting pitch this really was.

Back to the day job then for the bowlers, Broad striking early to remove Dilshan for 0. The Graeme Swann so dearly missed by England in recent months then made a magically timed appearance. His first wicket of the session Thirimanne (6), a beauty of a ball that pitched between middle and leg before turning away to take out the off stump. Mahela Jayawardene (5) and Sangakarra (14) were next, caught at gully and first slip respectively.

Samarweera was the final wicket just before the close, mysteriously coming down the pitch to play a defensive shot to Swann, he was euphorically stumped by Matt Prior. Sri Lanka will begin day three with a lead of 209. Even if the England bowlers can rescue their side once again, and restrict the Sri Lankan lead, it will be down to the batsmen to step up and finally contribute something to their 2012 Test campaign.

In end of day interviews, Ian Bell claimed that they had taken a positive attitude with the bat but overdone it somewhat. Whatever their excuses, the South African 1-0 Test series win in New Zealand means that England need to win or draw this series to remain the number one ranked Test team in the world.

Day one in Galle: England v Mahela

It was England versus Mahela Jayawardene on day one of the first Test in Sri Lanka. Having lost what looked to be a crucial toss, Strauss and his men faced a long hot day in the field. However, Anderson struck early, twice in two balls of his second over, to remove Thirimanne (3) and Sangakarra for a golden duck. Broad chipped in soon after to leave the home side reeling on 15 for 3.

Sri Lankan captain Jayawardene then took it upon himself to prove his decision at the toss the right one, anchoring his teams inning with his 168 not out, with Sri Lanka on 289 for 8 at stumps. It was a classy innings, his triple figures taking him past Sir Don Bradman in the tally of Test centuries, and joint eighth with Matthew Hayden on 30.

England were not without opportunity to end this fine innings however, Jayawardene was dropped four times throughout the day. England did well in the field for the majority of the day, with two run outs included amongst the wickets, but they let themselves down in the final session.  Monty Panesar was notably the worst, dropping two potential catches off the bowling of Broad.

Monty’s poor performance in the field may not upset his fellow spinner Graeme Swann too much. For a while now Swann has been a shadow of the bowler he has proved he can be, and his previous performances will only keep him as first choice spinner in the team for so long. However, with Monty offering little with the bat and demonstrating butter fingers in the field, Swann’s all round performance will help his cause to remain top of the spinners pile.

Earlier in the day, Samit Patel was handed his first Test cap, having won the all rounder spot. His most likely competition was Ravi Bopara, but a side strain picked up in the first warm up match meant that Bopara will not be able to bowl on this tour. Patel’s skill with the ball, and ability to play spin with the bat – something severely lacking in the England line up in their last Test series – won him his place.  He picked up the two wickets on day one.

James Anderson’s first wicket of three today took his Test match tally to 250, the first England bowler to pass that total since Ian Botham in 1982. But in trend with the current England mindset, it’s all about the team, and the current challenge, rather than the personal landmarks. “The records are very nice,” Anderson said. “But…at the moment I’m just looking at getting another two wickets tomorrow and another ten in the second innings.”

Anderson will be keen to dispose of those two wickets early on day two and restrict the mighty Mahela, as he is more than aware of the challenge that awaits the England batsmen.

“You can’t judge a pitch until both teams have batted on it,” Anderson said at the close of play on day one. After the performance of his team mates against spin in the UAE, he couldn’t be more right.