‘A ridiculously crowded international schedule’

Andrew Strauss has blamed his loss of form, luck and his Test place partly on the ‘ridiculously crowded international schedule’. He does not strike me as someone who gives up easily, or who minces his words, and his column at Sunday Telegraph makes for depressing reading.

Without any sort of window in the last 18 months – in a ridiculously crowded international schedule – to take stock, make technical changes and refresh the mind, turning it around has been extremely difficult.

It isn’t that I have been completely out of form, unable to contend with the rigours of Test cricket, but rather that I have been caught in a limbo, where every decent innings seemed to be followed by a low score. Without nailing a couple of really substantial contributions to silence the doubters, the pressure has grown.

When will the ICC realise that they are running a sport that is eroding from within? Cricket is doomed if they continue to run talented players – their most prized commodity, surely? – into the ground, beyond repair. Strauss is the latest victim of the crammed schedule. Who will be next?

England name squad for Sri Lanka tour

England have named their squad for the tour of Sri Lanka, and it’s pretty much as predicted:

Vaughan, Cook, Bell, Pietersen, Collingwood, Shah, Bopara, Mustard, Prior, Broad, Hoggard, Anderson, Sidebottom, Swann, Panesar.

Some initial thoughts:

1) It’s pretty harsh on Chris Tremlett, who hasn’t really put a foot wrong yet for England. Unless – gasp! – they’re punishing him unfairly for his indifferent one-day form.

2) If the selectors were going to drop Strauss they should have replaced him with another opener, rather than naming three number sixes and promoting Vaughan, who doesn’t even want to open.

3) If both of Harmison’s practice games get rained off, where does that leave him?

4) Either Broad or Swann has to bat at number eight. Which means that, cruelly, one of Anderson or Sidebottom has to sit out. Or both, if Harmison waltzes back into the team. In other words, all three pacemen from the India series could be left out in favour of someone who wasn’t even good enough to make the side at the time. Hmmm.

5) The fact that Mustard has been named in the full squad, rather than placed on standby in Chennai, is hardly a resounding vote of confidence in Prior. Is Mustard, in fact, the reserve opening batsman?

What are everyone else’s thoughts?

Recall for Ramps?

There’s an interesting claim by Mike Selvey in this morning’s Guardian: apparently Mark Ramprakash is on the verge of an England recall.

There is a strong rumour doing the rounds that when the England squad to contest the Test series against Sri Lanka is announced tomorrow week, the name of Andrew Strauss will be missing and in its place will be that of Mark Ramprakash. It would, were it to happen, be another stunner in a sporting autumn that already has had more turn-ups than a Savile Row clearance sale.

Only last month, with a strict brief to ensure that selections should anticipate playing a full part in England cricket over the next year, Strauss, already jettisoned from the one-day plans, was awarded a central contract by the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, and the England coach, Peter Moores. Given that in the past year three contracted players in particular – Marcus Trescothick, Ashley Giles and Simon Jones – played little or no cricket for England while receiving sizeable salaries, there would be no shortage of flak heading their way if such an exercise in generosity were to be repeated.

It’s a fascinating suggestion, although personally I don’t think the England selectors will pick him. It’s just not worth their while. If he succeeds, there’ll be the inevitable question of why he wasn’t picked earlier (his excellent Ashes record should have been a factor last year). And the very first time he fails, the critics will come creeping out of the woodwork, accusing England of ‘taking a backwards step’ and ‘holding back’ some promising young batsman or other. And though Ramprakash himself seems less mentally fragile than before, a low score in his first knock might see all those bad memories come flooding back.

If he is picked, it would at least provide us with a definitive verdict on county cricket. If the most prolific county cricketer of his generation couldn’t translate that form into Test success, it might be time to start asking the ECB some probing questions.

Strauss off Key?

Sorry about the contrived headline, but it is fairly self-explanatory. Has Andrew Strauss failed to deliver for too long? It’s been forever since he last scored a Test hundred, while his one good knock this summer was gifted by Dinesh Karthik’s appalling drop. All the other batsmen have scored tons, while he has struggled to convert, despite getting a few starts.

There’s no doubting his class, but is it time to try someone else? Robert Key would jump at the chance, as would Ravi Bopara. Or does Andrew Flintoff bat six when he returns, with Ian Bell going to three? Perhaps Strauss should get yet another chance, given he has managed to get to 30 regularly and is possibly one big score from finding top form.

For what it’s worth, I’d go with Rob Key.

All change?

Earlier today, England named their 30-man provisional squad for the ICC World Twenty20. For once, it seems, the selectors have paid some attention to the nature of the format.

There are several interesting inclusions. The sight of Trescothick’s name, for one, will bring some relief to many, although there must be huge doubts over his progression to the final 15. Similarly, there are finally places for those players who have played the most Twenty20 domestically, and have proven themselves capable. After the series of washouts this year, it would have been hard to pick those necessarily most in form, but David Graveney et al seem to have elected for those players that have deployed themselves well over the past couple of seasons. Sir Viv Richard’s call for Darren Maddy, now captain of Warwickshire, has been answered, although there is no place for Nayan Doshi or Samit Patel. Among other ‘specialists’ included are new Essex captain, Mark Pettini, Surrey’s one-year contracted Chris Schofield and the man of the moon ball, Jeremy Snape.

Is it all for show? There are significant figures gone from the World Cup squad: Strauss, Vaughan, Joyce, Mahmood and Dalrymple all miss out. However, there is no real sign that England intend to keep these welcome additions in their final 15. The entire one-day squad that faced the West Indies have been included, although it must be admitted that one incumbant, Stuart Broad, was the most economical seamer in last year’s domestic competition. It can only be hoped that in slimming down the squad in August, the selectors do not show this initial attempt to be a pointless exercise in media quelling.

Strauss dropped as Collingwood picks up captaincy

The one-day squad has just been announced, and features a couple of surprising new faces:

1. Paul Collingwood (Durham) (Captain)
2. James Anderson (Lancashire)
3. Ian Bell (Warwickshire)
4. Stuart Broad (Leicestershire)
5. Alastair Cook (Essex)
6. Dimitri Mascarenhas (Hampshire)
7. Monty Panesar (Northamptonshire)
8. Kevin Pietersen (Hampshire)
9. Liam Plunkett (Durham)
10. Matt Prior (Sussex)
11. Owais Shah (Middlesex)
12. Ryan Sidebottom (Nottinghamshire)
13. Jonathan Trott (Warwickshire)
14. Michael Yardy (Sussex)

Andrew McGlashan over at cricinfo predicted the potential place for Dimitri Mascarenhas, but what no one will have expected was the selection of Trott. A positive upper-order bat, he has followed Pietersen’s route from South Africa to English qualification, however his present season form ranges from successive ducks to unbeaten centuries. Both of these players are added to England’s Performance Squad, as is Ryan Sidebottom after his impressive performance since Headingley.

Cook’s recall, whilst predicted, poses questions – with no place for Loye, is there really any member of this squad who can force the pace at the beginning of the innings? Who, indeed, is likely to open? The only opener to have survived the World Cup is Bell, who is more naturally a number 3. If Cook make the final XI, he will almost certainly take his place at the top of the order, but is there an opening for Prior to repeat his attempt as a pinch-hitter?

As always, leave your thoughts below.

Overshadowing The Ego

© Getty Images
Kevin Pietersen whacked his fastest Test hundred today and yet was overshadowed by someone who was once described by Ian Chappell [1] as the most unlikely of Test batsman. More of an accountant – a bookish, slightly nerdy character. It was Michael Vaughan, then storming Australia during his epic series.

And at last today, he returned. The old cover-drive was there, complete with swashbuckling follow-through. It was a slick innings against some of the most inept, friendly bowling imaginable, on a friendly Headingley pitch under clear skies. The conditions and situation were tailor-made for him and he took full advantage. Even his favoured pull stroke was there…though he timed one of them rather too well, falling straight down Morton’s throat.

It just reminded me of what an audacious, brilliantly talented batsman he once was, but also what he could still be capable of. He said before this Test that he felt as though he was making his debut today and, that being the case, let’s hope he’ll be just as successful as England’s other recent debutants – Alastair Cook and Matt Prior to name two. If the knees survive – and let’s be honest, if they don’t, it’ll probably end his career in a hurry – there’s no reason why he can’t dominate bowling like he did four years ago.

Meanwhile Andrew Strauss, the Middlesex legend, is under a wee bit of pressure. Needs big runs, quickly.

[1] I think it was Chappell.

Nicholas goes into bat for Strauss

Mark Nicholas has come out in favour of giving the English captaincy to Andrew Strauss. Before the Ashes series, and how long ago did that seem, there was a clear choice to make for the English selectors- Strauss or Flintoff. They chose the latter and everything went downhill for England from there. This didn’t entirely surprise me- my spies in England had already told me that Flintoff was no great shakes as a leader. But for Strauss, leading this newly minnowed side is going to be a different proposition then the England of late 2006.

If there is to be a change of captain, Strauss does seem the logical candidate. But without a change of coach, it is a job half done.

Video of Shane Warne’s 700th Test wicket

Here’s the video of Warne’s marvellous milestone

It’s not the best, so if you see any on Youtube or Google – post a comment with the link and I’ll update it. Here’s a great photo courtesy of Yahoo! News:

Don’t hang Duncan

Reading through the comments on yesterday’s post, I’m getting a distinct sense that Duncan Fletcher is going to be made the scapegoat for England’s defeat at Adelaide, unless England can turn around the series.

That would be grossly unfair to Duncan. England’s batsmen got themselves into this hole. It wasn’t Duncan Fletcher that came out and pushed, prodded and poked for half an hour while Warne got his rythm and line- it was Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell.

Strauss, for a former England captain, is particularly deserving of censure since he should know better. He certainly should not have had to be told that he needed to get a move on, and if he did need to be told, then it is the captain that had to tell him to get a move on.

England’s whole approach smacked of poor preparation. They had batted well enough last night, and presumed that was enough. However, batting for a draw requires a subtle change of mental approach, requiring new goals to be set without sacrificing that sense of positive play that keeps the opponents off balance.

Australia went into day five with the goal of bowling England out during the day- not to win the Test, just to let England know that they weren’t to be dominated so easily. England do not seem to have entered day 5 with a specific goal in mind.

And that’s the captain’s fault, not Fletcher’s. It must be something in England that Flintoff is too big a hero to be held to account for this defeat, but it seems pretty obvious to me that it is Flintoff, and his players, who has stuffed up.

Edit- That’s not to say that Fletcher hasn’t made some shocking decisions on this tour. However, at the start of this morning, England had what chessplayers would call a ‘book draw’ and they blew it. That wasn’t Fletcher’s fault.