Fast, and not so fast, bowlers

There’s been more ink and bytes spilled on the Steve Harmison issue then any other English player in the last week or so then I can remember. Given that so many English hopes rested on his shoulders, that is understandable.

Jagadish crunches some numbers on Harmison. Meanwhile, his fellow fast bowlers escape scrutiny.

England’s other bowlers deserve some stick as well. Matthew Hoggard is an honest toiler, but he will struggle in Australian conditions. The lack of reverse swing has gone a long way to de-fang him. And, let me make it clear, it would have de-fanged Simon Jones as well, if he had been here. There might have been a few less half volleys, but it is wishful thinking to think that England’s attack would be much more dangerous with Jones about. At best, he might have stemmed the tide.

Since Jones is not around, England called upon two younger sorts. Jimmy Anderson got the nod at Brisbane, and he was mediocre. His bowling figures reflect that too. He was not able to bowl a consistent line or length to develop any pressure on the batsmen and Australia’s batsmen just waited for the bad balls and picked him off.

And there’s no excuse for that- his performance was barely worthy of first class cricket. Anderson needs to stop worrying about his hair product, get a copy of his Brisbane pitchmap, and get his arse in the nets and start working.

He certainly doesn’t deserve a place in the Adelaide Test but he might get it; the only other pace alternative is Sajid Mahmood. I saw Mahmood in the first game of the tour against the Prime Minister’s XI, and he was even worse then Anderson. If England seriously bring him into the XI for Adelaide, it will be Christmas come early for the Australian batsman.

Much more likely is the introduction of Monty Panesar. I’ve not seen him bowl except for highlights, but everyone that has seen him was surprised that he wasn’t included at the Gabba. From what I can tell, England’s best option is to include both spinners, and rely on Flintoff to attack with short sharp bursts, including the new ball.

Giles is not regarded as a serious wicket-taking options, but he does have the merit of keeping it tight. That is a handy virtue to have while Panesar is attacking at the other end. It is a huge ask to Panesar on Ashes debut, but England’s bowling plight is desperate, and there’s nothing else for it.

Anyway, that’s my take. Tim de Lisle has his take here. What’s your take?

England vs Prime Minister’s XI

Normally, the opening to an Australian summer is the ACB Chairman’s XI, but thanks to the poor scheduling of this tour by the villains at Cricket Australia, the 2006/07 Ashes campaign starts with England playing the Prime Minister’s XI, at Canberra.

These games have a long history, where the Prime Minister of the day has an input into the selection of the side. Normally it is just a bit of a lark for the civil servants and the Prime Minister, and a good game for fringe tourists to make their case.

Meanwhile, Australia’s younger talent get a chance to strut their stuff.

It’s never been taken very seriously, but this year, it was not only broadcast on Fox Sports, but the ABC radio team came out and covered the game.

This year’s PM’s XI certainly took dismantling England pretty seriously; after 50 overs, they ran up 5 for 347. English readers will be pleased to know that Flintoff bowled his ten overs and apart from one bad over was right on the money. The bad news was that Anderson was expensive and Mahmood was slaughtered. Both men have got lots of improving to do.

England’s batsmen will no doubt revive English spirits if they can chase that down. However, they will have the handicap of not getting quite so many long-hops, full tosses and half volleys as the Prime Minister’s batsmen received.

(Will: Muppets)

Jubilant if slightly deaf

When my brother picked some front row seats on the shortest boundary this morning, I will admit to wishing I had brought a helmet rather than a baseball cap. Thanks to a prime bowling wicket courtesy of Steve Rouse, the only six of the day fell some ten metres to our left, so I’m still physically intact.

Mentally, I am a little more delicate. Confession time; I am a terrible one for nerves. Attending the last day of Edgbaston’s Ashes Test just about killed me, so today was not exactly a calming experience.

England’s bowling performance was exemplary. If Stuart Broad seems expensive at just above four an over, it is a reflection on how well the attack performed as a whole. Strauss’ bowling changes largely worked well. Fielding, again, was of a high standard. Where the team simply must improve is reducing wide deliveries. When a ‘keeper stands up, some byes and leg-byes are to be expected. However, there is no excuse for extras scoring higher than all but one of Pakistan’s batsmen.

Whilst the nature of England’s response could be blamed on the wicket, they seemed to show few problems in the first powerplay period. Andrew Strauss once again showed his fluency and with a brief cameo from Joyce, England bettered Pakistan’s meagre boundary count after eight overs. The game was set up for a victory chase on cruise control. But a one-day game at Edgbaston would not be complete without an attempt by the home side to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It took the much-maligned Sajid Mahmood to hit the vital tail-end runs, after Bell’s premature loss sparked the mid-innings collapse in front of an expectant Warwickshire crowd. The only English batsman to receive a louder reception was Kevin Pietersen, though this was largely based on Pakistani jeering. Much of Pietersen’s time in the field was spent on the boundary in front of a lively Eric Hollies stand, and after tempting the lime-green members of the crowd with a lazy chicken flap in the early part of the day, his every action got a rather vocal response.

The atmosphere an Edgbaston crowd can generate at an international match is always something special, but until today I had never experienced the sheer electricity a sub-continental one-dayer brings to a place. I gather that some Sky viewers complained about the noise being generated by the horns, but the sound coming through my earpiece was nothing compared to the ground itself – and I was the opposite end to the bulk of the Pakistani support, where it must have been amplified tenfold. When a Pakistani fielder so much as stuck an arm up in appeal, the whole ground seemed to stand and scream at the top of their lungs. If the cheers after Billy Bowden raised his crooked finger left my ears ringing last year, the crowd response here was something else. The whole thing was awe-inspiring. To think that the horns were supposedly being refused entry.

So, England have avoiding losing a series for the first time since last July. Can they win a meaningful match abroad? The ICC Champions Trophy is just around the corner, so who knows?

England finally compete

At last. After seven one-day thrashings this summer, England finally evaded another whipping with a far improved performance against Pakistan.

They still lost, though.

But nevermind. Crack open the champagne and celebrate for England managed to take Pakistan close. Andrew Strauss batted with great intent – it was a relief to see him leading from the front, in particular skipping down the pitch to disrupt Mohammad Asif’s length. And ol’ Asif really does hate batsmen doing that! Strauss won that particular battle. A pretty good innings, then, helped by some Pakistani fielding at its most hilarious.

I don’t know if they took their eye off the ball, figuratively speaking (considering their series lead, and England’s general uselessness), or if The Rose Bowl is a particularly difficult ground on which to field…but they were hapless. The stand-out performer, and I use that word sparingly and, in this case cautiously, was Inzamam! His elephantine tumbles sent shockwaves…sorry, couldn’t resist. He was really good, Inzy, and batted quite brilliantly to close the game out at the end.

Good things:

  • Younis Khan’s batting. He is a terrific cricketer, and character
  • Younis smashing a four and immediately marching towards the point fielder, shouting and waving
  • Shahid Afridi’s misfield which made him look like a real wally
  • Andrew Strauss’s batting and intent in the field. His relaxed demeanour and wry smile have gone. Mind you, losing that many one-day games is enough to break even the most fierce Cherie Blair grin
  • Watching Ian Bell get hit in the family jewels, via Strauss’s flat-batted pull shot. Corrrrr.
  • Watching Billy Doctrove nearly get hit in the family jewels, star-jumping out of the way like a ballet dancer on acid

Bad things:

  • Rikki Clarke. A first-ball duck, and a very poor and at times clueless spell of bowling. Young and inexperienced, but this was a very special effort
  • Sajid Mahmood. Clearly a gifted bowler, he desperately needs Flintoff or Harmison at mid-off to advise him. He’s going from wayward to waywarder in each match
  • Pakistan’s fielding. It will cost them the World Cup.

The bandwagon continues at Nottingham. Rock on.

Video highlights of England’s win

Some really excellent footage here of England’s win yesterday over Pakistan. See below, or click here.

England storm to series win

What a win – a superb performance from Monty Panesar and Sajid Mahmood. More thoughts on it later – leave yours below.

Bell recalled by England

Ian Bell and Steve Harmison earn recalls. No luck for Jamie Dalrymple. Monty’s in, Never Knowingly also in – and Sajid Mahmood. More at CI.

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.

Jon Lewis and Sajid Mahmood called up

So then, Sajid Mahmood and Jon Lewis (hereafter known only as Never Knowingly) are in the squad for the first Test against Sri Lanka, as is Alastair Cook. The only curious announcement from David Graveney was the confirmation of Cook to bat at No. 3 in place of Ian Bell. Graveney will deny speculation that Bell is living on borrowed time – after all, he did have a pretty good winter – but this surely does ring warning bells (sorry) for him.

It does show the strength in depth in our batting, though. Cook is so ridiculously gifted – he’s hardly out of nappies, either – and it’s quite some ask to be asked to bat in such a pivotal position so early in your career. I suppose also it sends a message of arrogance to Sri Lanka; yep, he’s young and inexperienced but we think he’s good enough to play there against you lot.

Either way…an interesting choice on a day where little else of interest happened. South Africa nearly did what only they seem able to do these days: cock up spectacularly. But they didn’t and, in all fairness, deserved to win the Test. Their 2-0 series victory is a little generous though and, despite their rollicking three-day win today, they are very much a team in transition with some old pack-leaders in decline.