England’s Commonwealth Bank Series win completes my misery

I have a toothache from hell. It set in on Friday night, and my dentist can’t fit me in until Wednesday morning. So between that, and England totally outplaying Australia in the one day finals, I have not been a happy little camper. At the moment, I’m taking refuge in alcohol for pain relief. Meanwhile I wonder if Andrew Flintoff is taking pain relief from alcohol. The last time Flintoff was involved in winning a trophy off Australia, his alcohol intake was spectacular. I’m partial to a drop myself, but I have to admit I don’t think I could keep up with Freddy when he’s up for a drink.

Anyway, enough of vices. I asked in my previous post if Duncan Fletcher would have anything to do with the resurrection of English fortunes, and it turns out he did have a bit to say.

Whereas a matter of weeks ago England’s planning for the World Cup almost revolved around picking random names out of a hat, Fletcher now says there is a clear plan heading into the tournament.

“We’ve got a side that have won here and done very, very well and yet we are still missing people of the calibre of [Michael] Vaughan and [Kevin] Pietersen who are two very important players for us, so it’s still going to be very difficult for us [to narrow down the squad].”

“But we’re a lot clearer than we were at the start of this series. We really believe in the side now, four in a row is a great achievement and we’ve just got to continue with that momentum.”

Fletcher, himself, received a special mention as Andrew Flintoff relished his first success as captain. “The one person I really want to thank is Duncan Fletcher,” said Flintoff, “throughout the trip he has kept taking the knocks for us but he has kept backing us.”

While most of the plaudits will go to Paul Collingwood, and rightly so, I think that the emergence of Liam Plunkett also has a lot to do with the turnaround in England’s fortunes. And Monty Panesar has had a role to play too. He hasn’t taken a hatful of wickets, but he’s always kept things tight, and a good spinner is worth a fortune in any form of cricket.

Australia have got some thinking to do. They are in danger of losing their ranking as the best ODI side in the world to South Africa. To me the two issues are that Michael Hussey has lost his magic touch, as well as Symonds’ injury. Michael Clarke could do with some more runs as well. My own view was that White should have replaced Symonds as the batting allrounder. Instead, they’ve chosen Watson as a bowling allrounder, which is fine except that he’s barely had any cricket since the Champions trophy. Bringing him back for the finals smacked of hubris, and hubris gets punished.

My understanding is that Will will be returning from Kenya in the next few days, with plenty of photographs and hopefully some insider gossip about his adventures. For an Englishman’s perspective, be sure to read the Reverse Swing Manifesto (and speaking of which, why hasn’t Troy Cooley done us any good in the ODI’s?) In the meantime, I leave you with one final question before I drown my sorrows. What exactly is the Duckworth/Lewis algorithim? I once heard it described as being so complex as to make Einstein look like a bit of fun with an abacas, but even still!

Ticket to nowhere

The Barmy Army can’t even give tickets away to Australia vs England at Sydney. Fortunately, England’s tour of duty is nearly over. And they are really treating it as a tour of duty.

Gary Hayes is one of South Australia’s most respected and sociable cricket coaches. He coaches Adelaide University’s first-grade side, a club where Liam Plunkett once passed a contented and productive season. His desire to wish Plunkett well at an England net session this week required a security officer to hover a yard from his shoulder, antennae twitching. Hayes is half-Malaysian – he recently coached the Malaysian team – and wonders if that explains it. “Goons,” he concluded, suitably unimpressed.

Had the security team investigated Hayes further they would have discovered that he had also contacted Plunkett during the second Test in Adelaide, the Test where England’s last-day capitulation sealed their Ashes defeat. Plunkett went out for dinner with his one-time coach and some former colleagues but had to eat at a restricted list of restaurants vetted by England. As he left the hotel his Durham colleague, Paul Collingwood, joked that he would not be having room service for the first time on tour. How can it be beneficial for an England cricketer to tour in such a reclusive manner?

This is kind of hilarious. Where do they think they are, Australia or Iraq? What on earth are they so frightened of? It’s hard to imagine anyone telling the likes of Steve Waugh or Matthew Hayden where they could or could not eat on tour. But as an Australian fan, I’m delighted to read this, because no England team is going to come here and win with this sort of mentality.

Doors to manual…oh shut up Kevin

According to Liam Plunkett, the England team will be seated in alphabetical order on the plane to Australia on Friday. This throws up a delicious image of contrasting characters forced to sit next to eachother – despite their “we’re all best buddies in the team England bubble” rubbish. They can’t all get on, can they?

Plunkett, then, is next to Kevin Pietersen and Monty Panesar; you couldn’t have three more contrasting cricketers. One is a fitness fanatic; one a fashion floozy and Monty’s in love with cricket of all things. As for the others…


Strauss could have a bit of a task…

All very football

Whilst England’s summer is now over, the domestic leagues still have a few more matches left to play. In fact, play will continue as far as September 24th, with the new Pro40 playoff to decide whether there will be a third team relegated.

Interestingly, it seems that two of England’s names on the injury list may yet still get a last first-class game this season. Lacking the necessary match fitness to feature in the battle for a place in the last round of the County Championship, with Durham and Lancashire facing competitive matches, Duncan Fletcher has suggested that Liam Plunkett and Jimmy Anderson might well make use of the county loan system.

Not one of the most well known of contract loopholes, the idea was introduced by the ECB in the pre-season of 2005 to allow more England-qualified talent to emerge. Similar to the loan rules that govern football, domestic players may sign for a short period with another county, though they may be recalled at any time if guaranteed first team cricket by their own county. Fletcher hopes that the pair may be able to take the field for counties playing dead-rubber matches, possibly in an attempt to ready them for potential spots on the Ashes tour.

Plunkett joins the list

So Liam Plunkett’s dead and buried. And Shahid Afridi isn’t looking too good for Pakistan either. What the hell’s going on? Is this a result of too much cricket? Is it that the games are too tightly-packed? Are the medics and physios undertrained and useless? Are today’s players too reliant on the medics unlike Fred Trueman who would just bowl and bowl and bowl? Something is going very wrong, at some level, for so many players to be falling over the whole time. And while England are leading the way, other countries are not far behind.

I don’t understand it.

Jayasuriya included in Sri Lanka squad

The third and final Test between England and Sri Lanka gets underway at Trent Bridge tomorrow, and Sanath Jayasuriya has been included in a 12-man squad for Sri Lanka. For the visitors, who must be delighted at the forecasters’ prediction of hot weather over the next week, all hope once again rests on the shoulders of their white-eyed maestro Muttiah Muralitharan. Only he stands in the way of a series victory for England.

Meanwhile England will continue to experiment with their young players, and I’m particularly keen on keeping a close eye on Sajid Mahmood. Our colleage at Cricinfo, the venerable Gnasher, is a proud Lancastrian which brings with it inevitable calls of “Coom on Sajy!” every time Mahmood warms up. And though he showed promise at Lord’s, he was convincingly outbowled by Liam Plunkett at Edgbaston who has had the better series of the two. His often-discussed lower-order batting potential has get to flourish – well, he’s not had much of a chance – but only a really poor performance at Nottingham will mark an otherwise blemish-free card. He looks a fine prospect.

Rock on, I say.

England are flat

Weird day. England ruined Sri Lanka, and realistically ought to have dismissed them for no more than 90. That they reached 141 had little to do with their ability and more to do with England’s indifference. They appear flat, mildly complacent and are lacking the arse-kicking Michael Vaughan would provde them. Wonderful cricketer though Andrew Flintoff is, and as well as he captained today, he is not Vaughan and England are missing him. He’s so inexperienced that I feel guilty even hinting annoyance at his inability to post a short-leg, or his reactionary leadership. But we can only report on what we see…

As for Monty, well, I’m afraid Parmeson Tony is on borrowed ground. I found it all very amusing initially, but his dropped catch today prevented England from bowling Sri Lanka out for under 100. Now, as it happens, it ought not to matter too greatly. But as my editor, Andrew Miller, pointed out, if Monty can drop a sitter at the most patriotically English ground, what in the name of colourful turbans will he be like at Brisbane in November? This isn’t an attack against him in any way. He seems like the most stand-up sort of chap you could ask for, and is the most talented left-arm spinner we’ve had since Phil Tufnell. But sadly his fielding is just not up to scratch and on current form could easily cost England a Test against better countries than Sri Lanka. Sorry Monty.

Him aside, England just don’t seem to be on their game. Take Andrew Strauss. He can’t catch a cold, and even when batting he doesn’t look as assured or composed as he so often is. His run out today, albeit not without Alastair Cook’s help, rather demonstrates a player struggling to start the summer.

So it’s all a bit weird, frankly. The highlight was watching Liam Plunkett bowl, who bowled much fuller and is quicker through the air that I first thought. Very impressive indeed. Tomorrow, with Pietersen looking in absolute prime form, could be carnage for Sri Lanka

Plunkett, Anderson – or both?

Just put this up on the Surfer, and it got me pondering. So I’m pondering over here, like the blogging whore that I am. Liam Plunkett or Jimmy A – who to pick? My doubts about Jimmy A continue, and my optimism surrounding Plunkett’s potential continue to increase – so I’ll opt for Plunkett, especially given his batting prowess.

Thoughts? England are due to announce their squad on Friday (this is for their tour to India, in case you were wondering).

England crash and burn… BBC blamed

Well, why not.. have to blame someone

England’s cricketers may think twice about receiving any more awards from the BBC. Only a few hours after their triumphs in Sunday night’s Sports Personality of the Year show, they embarked upon their darkest day of this whole disheartening tour.

Yesterday’s thumping seven-wicket defeat by Pakistan would have been bad enough were it not for the additional news that Kevin Pietersen is battling a cracked rib, and, worst of all, that the team’s much-loved bowling coach, Troy Cooley, has defected to Australia.

With the exception of another fine innings from Liam Plunkett, England were as insipid yesterday as they had been inspired on Saturday. No one can say for sure whether they had been affected by the previous night’s festivities, but the fact is that their three highest scorers had all gone to bed early, rather than staying up with the rest of the team for the BBC awards.

It really was a much better performance by Pakistan and I think normal service will resume for the rest of the series.

Liam Plunkett’s chance

Liam Plunkett has been called up as back-up for the injured Chris Tremlett. I remain unconvinced about Tremlett; his main weapon is his height, but his action doesn’t make the most of it. He falls away, with a bent knee – and his approach to the crease, and follow-through, all need a lot of work (this is all in my very dodgy opinion, you understand).

And – he’s injured, again. So Liam Plunkett has a great chance to impress. Well regarded young fast bowler – big, big opportunity for him to outgun Tremlett and maybe others…