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.

Rebellion in the provinces

Over the next nine days, while international cricket may be getting a break, England’s international cricketers will not be putting their feet up. Tomorrow brings the Friend’s Provident semi finals, a much- welcomed addition to the calendar, with Durham playing at home versus Essex and Hampshire taking on Warwickshire at the Rose Bowl. All five of these counties’ players that were present at Chester-le-Street have been released back to their counties for the two fixtures.

In a curious development, however, Ian Bell has not been selected. As a member of England’s World Cup top order, he would have assumed he would walk into his county side. After all, during the 2005 Ashes series, he and Pietersen met in the then C&G Trophy final under similar circumstances. Back then, Bell was merely a fledgling in the England set-up and struggling for form. Warwickshire, however, have in this instance called into question his ability to travel so quickly from a Test match and immediately switch back into one-day mode. The county may be justified in their approach – the only match they have lost this season, while not directly caused by the fact, was against Worcestershire when Bell was selected over Jonathan Trott, and subsequently contributed with six runs and a dropped catch. What is noteworthy, however, is the signal that this sends to Peter Moores’ county releases: if we don’t want to play them, you can’t make us.

The domestic sides face an interesting dilemma. England players should be by definition among the best on the county’s books, but this leads to the need to drop someone – in a side where everyone is in form, this can seem nigh on impossible, and is unsettling to team unity. The big names also bring in the crowds, and such basic financial matters are close the heart of any chief executive, be they of Warwickshire, Worcestershire or Woolworths. However, none would wish to invite the risk, in a knockout round, of being simply a vehicle for match practice when victory is quite so important. Not that their decision can be fully independent – after all, the players, being centrally contracted, are effectively on limited loan.

Does Warwickshire have a duty to the national board to pick those players made available to them, whatever their form or preparation? Such questions never really arose under Duncan Fletcher – apparently, under Moores, counties feel more emboldened by the exponential increase in player availability over the season so far compared to those previous. Should England’s players be released for the county Twenty20s at the end of the week, or if Bell is left out of two sides in the space of a week, Warwickshire are likely to then receive him with open arms – but on their terms and conditions.

Is this really the best England can do?

It never fails to amaze me reading the contrasting opinions from our feedbackers at Cricinfo while covering these one-dayers, especially with England in such limp form. Of the 1000 or so emails, a fair chunk criticised us for our anti-England stance, accusing us of racism, bias toward Ireland and whatever else. What game were they watching? The one we were watching was between a feisty, energetic team full of lively promise and intent. The other was England at their timid best.
Contine reading

Now that’s Test cricket!

Right then, that’s the sort of cricket I want to see.

Tough, hard as nails, no mucking about, just getting in down and dirty.

Before we have any complaints that England ‘batted slow’, I just want to point out that it used to be always like this. Steve Waugh’s first day as captain was in the West Indies and Australia crawled to be 6 for 174 at stumps on Day 1. Off the full 90 overs. Of course, you don’t want to rush when you are facing Walsh and Ambrose.

And Australia went on to win that game by a mile.

No, today’s play was classic cricket, at its best. The Adelaide Oval was packed, the pitch was perfect, so it was just head to head between batsmen and bowlers. And a lot of what we saw in Brisbane flowed through to this game. England can bat well enough, but they just let themselves down with poor concentration. Strauss, Cook and Bell all gave their wickets away, after playing themselves in. These guys just have to kick themselves, because they’ll never get a better place to bat.

Not that it was that easy out there, because Australia did bowl well. Clark was the pick of the bowlers, even though he was confused as to why he didn’t bowl more. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely surprised myself- Clark was bowling beautiful lines and all, but you want to be bowling Lee in conditions like this. Lee bowled plenty of rubbish between his best bowling, and that is actually more likely to get you a wicket

That’s how Bell got himself out.

Even though England have had a strong day, as an Australian I’m not too worried yet. Once both sides have had a bat, it will be easier to tell who is placed the best. Australia’s batsmen are good at concentrating as well, and if England back themselves to score 450, Australia’s game-plan will be to first get something like that themselves, then, if possible, to build a first innings lead and try to erase the worry of a fourth innings chase.

But having said that, it has been a very good day for England and they will sleep well tonight.


Saved by the rain

I always feel a bit cheated when a game I’ve been watching is washed out. However, I think the Pakistan team are probably a little more upset than I am that their innings was lost to rain. Barring the slight stutter at the loss of Shoaib Malik in the second over, handing Stuart Broad his first ODI wicket, the touring side looked more than comfortable in their seven overs of reply.

Again, a mixture of excellent, accurate bowling and poor shots had England’s innings tottering to a barely credible score from their 49.2 overs. Ian Bell, continuing his good form this summer and against Pakistan with his highest ever score in ODIs, had the only innings of note. Extras came third in the home team’s attempt to set a total, and before Darren Gough’s 18 from 16 deliveries, a score above 200 seemed unlikely.

It’s hard to take anything from Pakistan’s innings, except the sheer difference in attitude from their upper order. The Pakistani’s more positive approach could be seen with the naked eye, but statistics are even more damning. All three players who faced England’s bowling had strike rates above 70. Of England’s top order, only Bell managed this, with 12 of England’s 20 boundaries to his name.

So what now for England? After being completely outplayed by Pakistan this match, they are lucky to have been given a life. I can only hope that this prompts a change in attitude from England’s batsmen. I’m not holding my breath.

We’ve come a long way from ‘mental disintegration’.

Steve Waugh would be horrified:

John Buchanan believes his Ashes opponents have improved as a team unit since Andrew Flintoff’s injury-enforced absence. Buchanan has been impressed with the way England’s players have not sat back and looked to their stars to perform in consecutive Test wins over Pakistan.

“I think what we have seen from them is a gradual build-up in terms of the way they’re playing, their teamwork, and responsibility being shared around the team, which I think has been a real plus for them,” Buchanan said in The Age. “It hasn’t been a case of turning to Freddie Flintoff all the time to take a wicket or turning to [Steve] Harmison or [Kevin] Pietersen to deliver something. They’ve actually had the ability to share it around … the likes of Cook, Bell, Panesar and now [Chris] Read’s come in.”

This is probably all actually true. But Waugh would never have tolerated Buchanan saying such things if he had been in charge.
I’ve not been able to watch this latest England season, so I can not really comment on what has been going on. I have a vague feeling that this latest England side could be said to be rather greater then the sum of its parts, which is a good sign for England.

But like Steve Waugh, I was just about choking on my wheaties reading what Buchanan had to say.

Ian Bell an irresistible No. 6

My Editor and I were chatting about Ian Bell today and the increasingly irresistible case he states for an Ashes place. Indeed not just a place for the first Test but forever more.

With my devil’s advocate hat askew, I argued (to myself, really) that Paul Collingwood is an absolute shoe-in for the Ashes. He makes hundreds. He’s impossibly gritty – an Australian Steve Waugh minus the greatness but the best fielder and catcher England have ever possessed. Were he placed in a nailbiting situation in Brisbane or Sydney, he’s your man.

Before Old Trafford, Bell would not have been your, or even anyone’s man, for such prickly tight spots which England invariably find themselves in during an Ashes series. Yet after scoring his third hundred in succession today, his fifth overall, he is producing the kind of form which warrants inclusion whatever the situation. Always a batsman of the highest class – aside from Mark Ramprakash he is the most technically correct batsman in England – he is now scoring heavy, big runs. While Kevin Pietersen rather impetuantly gave his wicket away today, Bell calmly motored onwards and brought up his hundred. It was inevitable. He is some batsman, one of a flurry of quite exceptionally talented middle-order players England have these days. Cup runneth over, etc.

Who to chose, then?

An example squad of 12
Trescothick, Strauss, Cook, Pietersen, Collingwood, Bell, Flintoff, Read, Simon Jones, Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison and Monty Panesar

Do you drop Collingwood and shift Bell to five to allow for four seamers and Monty? Do you leave out Monty for seamer-friendly pitches and bolster the lineup with Collingwood and Bell? Do you forget Bell altogether? After all, he bottled it in the last Ashes – won’t he bottle it again?

And that’s the conundrum. It’s a delicious one to ponder over and I’d be fascinated to hear everyone’s thoughts. Incidentally, do read Andrew’s piece to find out his views.

Second day at Lord’s

Terrific day for England, and a really superb innings from Paul Collingwood. Ian Bell’s was a mixed affair; clearly he was intent on upping the scoring rate as wickets fell, but he simply isn’t able to. That’s not to say he isn’t a fine batsman, an elegant strokeplayer and the most technically perfect batsman England has had for a while. He’s just old school; a 1990s stodger in a post-modern world of speed and aggression.

Collingwood’s innings was remarkable. I heard one of the commentators compare him, loosely, to Steve Waugh – and actually, he had a point. There is something of the ungainly, dogmatic determination of Waugh in Collingwood; a refusal to be beaten, and to score runs however they come. He is arguably the most important name on the sheet for the plane to Brisbane for the stability he offers, and he also happens to be the best England fielder since, well, ever. His catch at third slip today was breathtaking.

Good stuff from England, then, although they’ve had their fair share of luck.

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.

Ian Bell batting for Warwickshire

Middlesex v Warwickshire

Originally uploaded by Flickr user jancyclops.

The curiously named jancyclops has a few photos from Lord’s, in the match between Mighty Mighty Middlesex and Warwickshire. He, or she, has a Canon 30D equipped with a veritable biatch of a lens. (Martin – the 30D is the way to go…)

Wonderful light at Lord’s…almost appears autumnal.