A grotesque mismatch masked as an ODI

Coming into Friday’s game between Australia and England, for what surely must be the final time this summer, the contrast between the two squads could hardly be greater.

The Australians are happy, confident, and feel that everything is on track going towards the winning of the series and into the World Cup. England look patently miserable, tired, out of ideas, and with no appetitite for the battle. The contrast between this side and the one that won the Ashes eighteen months ago is so stark it can barely be believed.

England fans have every right to be furious with their team and especially their administration for allowing such a state of affairs.

They go into Friday’s game against Australia without Michael Vaughan, and also without James Anderson, who is flying home after a back strain. All of England’s bowling hopes will therefore rest with Flintoff and the redoubtable Monty Panesar, who looks like he’s the only Englishman with both the ability and the desire to play at this level at this point in time.

Meanwhile, Australia are feeling confident enough to introduce Shaun Tait to their one-day side, who is replacing Brett Lee. It is very much a ‘like for like’ substitution. Tait is perhaps even faster then Lee these days, and similarly erratic in performance. England faced him in the last two Tests of 2005, and also in the first game of this tour where he played in the Prime Minister’s XI. He did so well in that game that there was speculation that he would be the third seamer in the Test lineup, but Stuart Clark got the nod, and did so well that Tait’s hopes subsided.

Ricky Ponting has a slight hip strain and is in some doubt, but if he fails a fitness test, he’ll be replaced by the in-form Brad Hodge, who scored 115 off 100 balls for Victoria against South Australa on Wednesday.

A quick check of the bookies has some amazing prices. Not many betting houses are offering better then 10 to 1 on for Australia, whereas you can get odds of 13/2 on England. Remarkable, in a two horse race.

How low can England go?

The team is as low as Michael Vaughan has seen them. Meanwhile, as I write, New Zealand are making a good fist of chasing down 344, and even if they do not get there, New Zealand will take some heart from how well they are batting.

I do not think that England do themselves any favours by making it so plain that they do not like one-day cricket. Australia do not particularly like it either, but they really do like winning, and the best way to win is to keep winning. It becomes a habit.

I will take the positive view and say that England did have a plan entering the Commonwealth Bank Series, but either it was blown out of the water by Kevin Pieterson’s injury, or it has simply been blown off course by their total lack of confidence. Certainly there’s not been any backup plans.

Given England’s total disarray, they could do worse then to talk to the likes of Michael Atherton. I do not think Atherton’s plan is going to win the World Cup for England, but at least it is a plan. At the moment, England look like they are working out their plans with a dart board.

Big Brother isn’t watching you

All you people who have been watching this ‘Big Brother’ imbroglio should hang your heads in shame. When the British Prime Minister is commenting on it, then it’s a sure sign that England’s sense of priorities are warped. No wonder England’s cricket team doesn’t win much.

Mind you they came close last night- a four wicket victory and a bonus point to Australia doesn’t indicate how tense it was out there for a while. That Australia won was due to the nerves and good luck of Michael Hussey, who got a clear edge early in his innings. However, unlike Adam Gilchrist, he’s never been a walker.

Who knows what might have happened if England had set Australia a decent target?  England got their first opening partnership of 50 thanks to the introduction of Mal Loye. The rest of them went down to McGrath and co very meekly.

And to make matters worse for England, Michael Vaughan won’t be available for another couple of matches. England’s one day summer is turning out as bad as was feared.

Mike Selvey on Michael Vaughan’s return

Basically, he’s against it, and he thinks that it is more evidence of sloppy thinking by English management.

In my view, he’s quite right. England need to consider their long term as well as their short term goals. There has to be plenty of doubt about Vaughan being fit enough for a tough campaign in the West Indies for the World Cup, and lets face it, he’s not likely to make a difference to an English side that is chronically short of potent ODI bowlers. England’s batting is fine, it’s the bowlers that hinder them, in both forms of the game.

If Vaughan has any use at all to English cricket, it is by being fit and in charge at the top of the order, preparing for the 2009 Ashes campaign. Why you would risk him for the World Cup is an interesting question.

Vaughan and his duck

There has been a quiet, bubbling undertone of farce surrounding Michael Vaughan’s injury. Armfuls of straws have been shipped to Australia, and everyone is clutching at them in blind hope.

Straws. Armfuls of straws

For no other reason than he is the captain who retained the Ashes, he is seen as the only one who can keep Australia from regaining them. Desperation was always likely to be in plentiful supply after a trouncing at Brisbane, but the interest in Vaughan has been an unwelcome distraction for England’s preparations to Adelaide. In a one-day match against the might (no sarcasm intended as you’ll find out) of Western Australia 2nd XI, Vaughan last seven balls and walked back to the pavilion for nought. At one point England Academy were 12 for 5 and Vaughan could only wryly smile at the hopelessness of the situation.

Even if he his knee somehow survives these warm-ups; even if he does find form; even if he does hit a century and take seven wickets with his offspin, is he really going to be ushered in and will he really be ready to lead England in Australia? He’s practically gone bald and grey since he last played for England. Only Brearley did the grey thing to any great success. The less said about Andrew Caddick the better.

Call me a cynic, call me a bitter old bastard but I don’t see it happening. Worse still, it’s another destabilising factor for England who, at the moment, can hardly walk in a straight line without falling over.

Vaughan (still) hopeful of Ashes spot

Devon is treating me to its most spectacular storm today so I’m slumped in front of the TV this morning. And I happened to see Michael Vaughan on Sky News just now who is playing golf in Scotland.

Devon before the storm

The event, he claims, is a perfect exercise for his troubled knee and I see Cricinfo has some quotes from him (usual Vaughan stuff – he could yet play in the Ashes, etc etc)

Mathew Vaughan, come on down

The duhhhhhh award this week goes to…

Australians are still licking their wounds from losing the Ashes in England to the side captained by Mathew Vaughan.

From the Daily Mail.

Hugo Boss to sponsor English cricket

We get all sorts of press releases at Cricinfo. Some are breaking news of a player’s injury; others are more PR-related (“Gloucestershire announce new chef – stop the press!”) and most are plain banal. This, however, takes the biscuit:

Hugo Boss are to sponsor English cricket. According to the sickly email we received, Andrew Strauss said “The photo-shoot was a great experience and good fun, with all the boys really getting into it,” a statement bordering on the hilarious yet with a hint of the disturbing, too.

I suppose it’s a good thing. Could you ever have imagined England cricketers being sponsored by anyone other than a tractor company, or Mrs Brabbleflop’s pork pies in Shrewsbury, in the 1990s? Although perhaps that’s just the point: with success (or at least an increase in popularity) comes commercialism, and hungry marketers desperate for a slice of your fame.

I’ll leave the opinions of those pictured up to you. One final thought: is it significant that Strauss is pictured in the middle of the photo…?

Vaughan comeback all but a “dream”

Following on rather nicely from the ongoing debate about the apparent mind games England may or may not be playing, Michael Vaughan has today declared himself unlikely to play cricket again. If that is a psychological mind trick to thwart the Australians, then….well, it’s quite clearly not, is it? He is, for want of a better phrase, about as screwed as a pig with one leg hobbling into an abattoir.

“I have real hope I’ll get better”, Vaughan told the media after watching the Old Trafford Test between England and Pakistan. “I’ll do all the hard work and I believe there’ll be another day when Michael Vaughan takes the field in an England cricket shirt. But I have to be realistic. I’ve read I might never play cricket again, and that might well turn out to be the case.

“Is there any chance I might be ready for Melbourne or Sydney? Probably not, but I’m going to hang on to that dream.”

More worrying even than his injury is the realisation he has now started talking in the third person. Full story at Cricinfo.

England’s injuries ignite the phoney war?

OK this pretty interesting. Stu’s been blogging a while and is a regular commenter, as he was during the Ashes. But something strange is happening. While everyone else in Australia has already written England off since last September – understandably, given the piss-awful-luck with injuries and whatnot – Stu has a different theory: it’s mind games! Here’s what he says (sorry Stu for nicking it…)

“The devil’s greatest trick, was convincing the world he didn’t exist…”. Australia weren’t just outplayed during the Ashes series of 2005 – they were out thought, out managed, out administered and played by the English press like Grand Pianos…and it’s happening again.

My tip is, that Jones will play in November, as will Vaughan, and Flintoff and anyone else who, between now and then, has doubt cast on them…and there will be someone else who is “out of the Ashes”. Australians pride themselves on this “sportsmanship” (read mind games) but they are being done now, by canny Englishmen, who for once have the ability to back up the talk, on the field.

All I can hope is that that the Aussies stay quiet, and come out onto the Gabba and win the first session of the first test so convincingly that they set up the rest of the series right there…

I can’t say I agree, but then I’m English. So what does this mean? Are England better placed than people think? Will Michael Vaughan and Simon Jones make miraculous recoveries? If you’re an Australian, do you agree with Stu and if not, why not?