23 December 2013

South Africa get their tactics wrong at the end of brilliant run chase

Interesting to see the aftermath of the great Test match in SA where South Africa ended up 8 runs short of chasing 458 with 7 wickets down.   Both sides asking why the other wasn't more attacking....I've got to say I have more sympathy with India's viewpoint given that when du Plessis got out South Africa needed 16 off 19, and given that India bowled 91 overs in the day, one more than they needed to.   

Philander (who has just become number 1 bowler in the world ahead of Steyn) is an excellent lower order batsman and Steyn can certainly strike a few, so Steyn needed to take the risks when on strike with the field in and Philander should have dealt in singles (seeing as there were 9 fielders around the boundary), looking to push for twos if at all possible.   Having got so close, it doesn't seem sensible to pull out, even if you have an injured player and a very poor batsman to come.   If they really felt that concerned about Morkel and Tahir, perhaps they should have sent one or both of them in to have a swing before Steyn, rather than Steyn simply blocking out the third from last over, and then Philander refusing singles in the penultimate over (view the ball-by-ball text commentary here).

Still, both sides played their part in a brilliant game so credit to both.   What a pity that there's only one more match to go....it doesn't even constitute a series to be honest!

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What to make of Swann's retirement?

To be honest it makes no sense to me.   Whether he's bowling better or worse than before his elbow op early in the year, there's no doubt he deserved to be on the tour.   The vast majority of observers would still have him down as the best spinner in England, even before considering his catching at 2nd slip and his batting down the order.   None of that has changed in the course of 3 matches.

In those 3 matches Swann's figures have been very poor, but there's always the little nuances to consider.   Swann's wickets have been the top order batsmen or Mitchell Johnson (Clarke x 3, Warner x 2, Rogers, Bailey, Johnson).   And unfortunately his team mates haven't helped him out - Root dropped Clarke when he was on 18 in the first innings at Adelaide before he went on to score a hundred, and Prior sadly missed two opportunities to stump Warner in the 2nd innings at Perth.   So things aren't quite as bad as the numbers suggest given that one of the world's best players of spin has succumbed 3 times and also been dropped of Swann's bowling.

That's not to say that he should necessarily have been picked for the MCG - his place quite rightly was in question.   It's possible he would have been dropped, but that was the case for a number of England players.   They all took the decision to be part of the Ashes squad and unless they are medically unfit to play (i.e. Trott), they should be there for the duration.   It's obvious that retiring mid-tour will have huge pick up in the press and completely destabilise the side.   So I can't work out Swann's decision - it can be described as selfish, the actions of a quitter, gutless, etc.

Interesting then to see that his decision has been defended by the likes of Vaughan and Boycott.   Vaughan says that he's not being selfish because he's given up 9 months money rather than seeing out his contract.   And Boycott says that's "it takes a brave man" to do what he has done.   What a load of b***sh*t!   He's a rich man anyway and doesn't need the money as he'll walk into another highly paid line of work.   What would be fair to say is that if, as David Lloyd says in the same piece, Swann is all about the team, then he's made a big mistake.   Mistakes are part and parcel of life, and can be forgiven, but to try and pass off a mid-tour retirement as anything other than entirely detrimental to the team is lunacy.

I heard Jonathan Agnew giving an interview in which he suggested that the management team had given Swann the nod that he would be dropped and therefore given him the opportunity to retire first.   I wouldn't rule that out, but if Swann was as much of a team man as everyone says he is, then the response would have been to continue and to support Panesar and the rest of the side by helping them prepare for the MCG.   Not cause a commotion, tell the press that you'd like to see Scott Borthwick selected (which is really going to help Panesar as he prepares for the Boxing Day Test) or say anything that could be twisted by the media to be a criticism of his ex-England team mates.

Frustrating really - such a great player for England but he's not handled the retirement process at all well.   England need to learn from this - before Clive Woodward took the 2003 World Cup winning rugby team to Australia they discussed the retirement issue as a number of players were at the end of their careers.  They agreed as a team not to announce retirements, or discuss them, until after the tournament.   How Flower must be wishing he'd had the same foresight to agree the handling of retirements pre-tour as Woodward did.
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Cricket is a religion?

No doubt the sledging will be vicious when the Anglican church take on the Vatican cricket team this summer...

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17 December 2013

Will Prior be the only immediate casualty of The Ashes debacle?

There will be a lot of talk, quite rightly, about whether England are playing their best team at the moment given that they've been beaten so soundly in the first three Tests.   But I'd hate to see England go back to the 90s style selections where we kept chopping and changing and - for the most part - not playing the right team.

England are doing the right thing in blooding the likes of Stokes and Bairstow, and Ballance is clearly one they hope will come through.   They've also got James Taylor that they'll be expecting to come through and Sam Robson who is waiting in the wings for his opportunity.   If you're wondering who else is being considered, take a look at the Lions squad for the February trip to Sri Lanka and add the likes of Onions and Compton. 

What should the side be in Melbourne?   (England averages here)   It won't appease those that are hurting and therefore baying for more blood than is helpful, but much the same.   I'd suggest the most likely side, assuming Broad is fit, is:

Cook, Carberry, Root, Pietersen, Bell, Stokes, Bairstow, Bresnan, Broad, Swann, Anderson.

They might look at Swann and Anderson's positions, but you do have to play 11!   (If Onions was there I'd play him).   And although Ballance is a great hope for the future, I don't think there's many people who would select him over the Root, Pietersen and Bell.   I'd like to see England consider Cook at 3 and Root to open to give Cook a little longer between fielding and batting, but that's not a big change.   Prior, sadly, has lost form with both bat and with the gloves so I think it's inevitable he'll be replaced by Bairstow.   Not that Bairstow is an improvement in either area, and he's shown that he's not a fan of pace so the thought of him facing Johnson is more than a little worrying.

England's task now is to consider carefully how to manage their transition over the next few years.   For how not to do it they need only look at Australia 2011-early mid 2013.   They'll be thinking about this sort of side in 4 years time:

Robson, Cook, Root, Taylor, Ballance, Stokes, Borthwick, Foakes, Bresnan, Finn, Mills.

Others that I presume are in their thinking are the likes of Lees, Barker, Woakes, Bairstow, Coles, Jamie Overton, Jordan.   But they're struggling for a spinner so hence going for Borthwick - a steady Ashley Giles type left-armer has a great chance of breaking through, which is no doubt why they looked at Kerrigan at The Oval last year.   

How they get through to that team is the question, rather than bringing them all in now.   And the likes of Cook, Bell, Root and Pietersen need to show why they're so highly regarded in Melbourne and Sydney.

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14 December 2013

Poor Joe Root

I feel very sorry for Joe Root...no evidence he edged it but much suggesting the contrary and yet he's gone.   No problem with the technology, but once again the implementation of it that's the problem.   Instead of the batsman having the benefit of the doubt, the bowler got it.   And, although I didn't see it, I gather it's the second time in the day as the same happened to Steve Smith.

The only way round this is to get over the worry about taking responsibility away from umpires.   It shouldn't matter what their original decision is - if there's no evidence to prove the batsman is out then it's not out.   
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12 December 2013

Do or die

So England have to defy history and momentum to stop Australia taking the Ashes over the next 5 days in Perth.   5 days if England are lucky many will think.   But I'm not quite as negative as many!

Yes, England have looked shocking in the first two Tests but the primary problem has been with the batting.   You look down the side and there's only Stokes who there's any doubt about.   Cook, Bell, Pietersen and Prior are class players who, apart from Bell, have been off form.   They will regain form.   Root and Carberry are inexperienced but fighting hard.   Cook needs to win the toss, bat and lead the way.   Two hundreds in the first innings of the match and the game will be England's to lose.

It's a massive if given the struggles England have had with the bat in 2013, but if they can get runs on the board the next challenge is getting 20 wickets.   Interesting to hear the side that Cricinfo have suggested is likely- they suggest one change from Adelaide which is Bresnan for Panesar.   That's the most likely team and the one I would go for, partly because of Swann's catching at second slip.   But I wonder how much thought England are giving to a side that involves Ballance and Stokes, as Alec Stewart has proposed, but no Swann.   Stokes would have to bowl a lot more overs than in Adelaide, possibly nearly as many in a day than the 25 he bowled in the match there.   But a batting line up that has Bresnan at 9 and Broad at 10 theoretically gives England a long batting line up.

I'd love to be a fly on the wall.   I'd play Swann, but it's a marginal call and I wouldn't be too disappointed if he was dropped.   I imagine England have looked at the stats of how many batsmen are caught at slip and are weighing up the dropping of one of their specialists in that position.

The main thing is the batting - the largest partnership in the first two Tests was 111 and other than that it's 62...not good enough!   A small momentum change like Cook getting a big score after being dropped, or two of England's top 4 getting big runs in the first innings of the match could turn things in England favour - Australia's batting is pretty brittle, despite the big scores in the first two Tests.

"Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torment of man" (Friedrich Nietzsche).

I haven't given up hope yet but the toss is crucial!
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