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Archive for October, 2009

As much as this all-singing, all-dancing blog can do, I am yet to get my head around slideshows.  Therefore, head on over to http://bleacherreport.com/articles/280058-the-cricket-xi-of-the-decade for another excellent article.  Or at least something that will keep you away from actually doing some work for 10 minutes.

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The England Tour Party

Who would be an England selector?  Just as England seem to finally find a solution to their long standing wicketkeeper problems, suddenly they need to fill the two spaces either side of Matt Prior in the batting order.  The selection of the Test party to South Africa this winter shows that they still have no idea who is likely to fill them.

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Let’s start with the fifth specialist batsman position.  Strauss and Pietersen are nailed on selections.  The stock of Jonathan Trott has risen even more since his debut hundred in the cauldron of an Ashes battle, as much due to his teammates ineptitude since then than his own solid form for Warwickshire.  It seems more and more likely that he will take over the problematic position of three, coming in after the captain and Alastair Cook.

Cook once again seems to have benefited from being slightly less awful than those below him.  England have again chosen no backup opener, which shows remarkable faith in a man with a batting average which has struggled to stay above 40 since 2008, and who has made just two hundreds against a weak West Indies side in that time.  A lot of time has been invested in Cook, and now it is time to repay that with cold, hard runs.

The next pick is less obvious.  Bell and Collingwood, two men who have drunk so often at the last chance saloon that they have their own tankards above the bar, are again the two fighting for that position.  Both often find themselves vying for the same slot, and they have almost mirror-image batting statistics.

However, the similarities end there.  Bell is the most infuriating of batsmen, who can look like the best batsman in the world on his day, but on others looks like the most timid of tail enders.  Collingwood on the other hand has always looked like he is punching above his weight, often making batting look painful while steadfastly refusing to give his wicket away.  That at least one of these two is again certain to play is worrying.

Would the selection of Joe Denly or Michael Carberry not have been wise, whether in addition to or instead of Bell or Collingwood?  Both are good fielders, and both could also open which would keep Cook on his toes.  Is that not the perfect criteria for a “tour batsman”?  As it is, England have now made the same mistake Australia did in the summer—if any batsmen loses fitness or form, they are struggling.

When it comes to the No. 7 position, England have done completely the opposite.  Luke Wright, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Stuart Broad and Matt Prior could all end up there.LiamPlunkettGET_468x790

Prior will only be there if England decide to pick six batsmen, which would mean that Anderson, Onions, and Broad would all have increased pressure to perform and the cutters and swingers of Collingwood would become more important.  With Onions still finding his way in international cricket and Broad still inconsistent, this would be a daring selection.

The other option is to fill it with an all-rounder.  Of the plethora of options England have given themselves, Wright is the strongest batsman but the weakest bowler.  Having been shunted around the batting order in the ODI arena, he has yet to show any of the form he has showed at various time for Sussex.  His selection smacks of a desperation to find the new Flintoff—his time may come, but this may just be a tour too soon.

Broad is guaranteed a place in the first Test, and a selection of him and Plunkett at seven and eight (whichever way round) would be a bold choice.  Plunkett comes off the back of an excellent season in county cricket, and will now hopefully begin to become the bowling all-rounder he promised to be four years ago.

The other option is to select Adil Rashid, which would be a huge decision.  Possibly, he could take on the role of partnership breaker, which England have struggled to do of late.  However, in a series in South Africa against the likes of Kallis, Smith, and de Villiers, and judging by how reluctant England have been to push him too much, it would be a complete U-turn on their policy to throw him in at the deep-end now.

Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Prior, Broad, Anderson, Swann and Onions are all, barring something very peculiar, certain to start at Centurion on December 16.  Bar Davies and perhaps Sidebottom, every other player will feel they have a genuine shot at filling the other two spaces.

More than at any time since ironically the 99/00 tour to South Africa, an England touring party has raised more questions than answers.

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Originally written: 24th January 2009

Adam Gilchrist is, with good reason, rated by many as the most revolutionary player of the 21st century.  Before his lusty swing came along to deposit bowlers from all over the world deep into the stands, the position of wicket keeper had been the position that harked back to the games roots.

Batsman had learnt to hit the ball harder and further, and their scores got larger and larger.  Fast bowlers went from underarm lobs to viscous bouncers. Spinners added more and more mystery deliveries to their repertoire, from the doosra to the zooter.  Meanwhile, wicket keepers were expected to average around 30, occasionally make a battling hundred, and gobble up everything behind the stumps, just as they always had done.

Then Gilchrist turned the game on its head.

Suddenly, having Australia five down no longer meant the hard work had been done. Ignoring the fact that he was an above-average wicket keeper, Gilchrist was one of the best batsmen in the world. On the rare occasion that the Australia top 6 failed, he would invariably change the game in a session with a counter-attacking hundred. God forbid any bowling attack that faced him coming to the crease with the score already above 300.

However, whether he was a genuine revolutionary or a one off freak remains to be seen.

Did Gilchrist really change the game, or did we just witness a player that we will never see the likes of again?  It would seem from performances by other keepers since he burst onto the scene that it was the latter.

England are the most obvious example of this. Since the last Ashes series, they have tried and discarded Geraint  Jones, Chris Read, Phil Mustard and Tim Ambrose, with Matt Prior having been picked, dropped, and then picked again.  At various times, James Foster, Stephen Davies, Jonathan Batty and Nic Pothas have also been championed. All seem to have a major flaw, which has led to a revolving door policy.

Ten years ago, Read would have undoubtedly been the most likely option. Post-Gilchrist, Prior has seemed to be the favoured choice.

Pakistan have gone the other way.  Kamran Akmal has been selected consistently for nigh on five years, despite the fact he has often seemed out of his depth. Since he exploded onto the scene in 2004/05, both facets of his game have gone backwards at an alarming rate.

However, despite not being good enough with the gloves to be a specialist keeper, nor a good enough batsman to be considered “front line”, he continues to play.adam-gilchrist12

Away from these two extremes, who is the most likely to prove that the career of Gilchrist was not a one off?  MS Dhoni is the most obvious choice. As a young man, Dhoni had an infuriating tendency to throw his wicket away. Maturity has made him a different beast, but has also brought him extra responsibility.

As good as Dhoni can be, the fact remains that Gilchrist never had to contend with captaincy. We may never know how good an unhindered Dhoni would have been.

Another player to have been given a long run is Brendon McCullum. He shows promise, but is another who does not make the most of his starts. Adam Gilchrist made 50’s, then made sure he turned them into hundreds. McCullum has not shown that he can do this.

Ironically, the team with the longest standing wicket keeper is the team with the “old style” wicket keeper. Mark Boucher has been a mainstay of the South Africa side, and is without doubt a wicket keeper first and batsman second. Not only that, over his long run he has become a decent number seven, capable of either holding an end up or counter-attacking with the tail.

So, has Gilchrist actually changed the game?  Certainly the perception of what is required of a wicket keeper has, but this does not mean that the players are necessarily able to do it.

Flaws are being found with the keeper-batsman, not least the fact that more chance are going down behind the stumps than ever.

The pressure is then on the player to make up for these mistakes with runs. This pressure has claimed the career of more than on player in recent times. In 10 years’ time, it is quite possible that teams will go back to picking wicket keepers whose first job is to back up the bowlers. If this is the case, Gilchrist may just be even better than he is already given credit for.

No player will have the impact on the game that WG Grace did, nor the brilliance of Bradman, or the all round genius of Sobers.  Perhaps Gilchrist will soon join that elite group.

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Originally written: 23rd January 2009

For the past two years, it has seemed as though there has always been a genuine legend of the game performing the last rites of his career.  Since the start of 2007, Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist, Lara, Hayden, Ganguly, and Kumble have all called time on distinguished careers.  Tendulkar, Kallis, Murali and Dravid can’t be too far behind them.

These are all players that have dominated the game for over a decade.  Each have their place cemented in history, and as each has bid farewell to the game, a gap has been left.  Inevitably, there has been a bit of a lull in test cricket.

Indeed, South Africa and India seem to be the only sides that have made positive strides forward in the past 18 months – mainly because South Africa had nobody to lose in the first place, and India are yet to lose three of the four mainstays of their middle order.  Pakistan and England have lurched from crisis to crisis, Sri Lanka have been dealt a harsh hand by the much maligned ICC Future Tours programme, New Zealand and West Indies are in early stages of a rebuilding job, and Australia have been hit hard by the mass exodus of the spine of their side.

What test cricket needs, now more than ever, is heroes.  Players to capture the imagination of the public like Lara, Warne and Gilchrist did for so many years.  Below, I analyse the under 30’s most likely to take on the mantle of these legends of the game.

Kevin Pietersen – When Pietersen has a bat in his hands, anything seems possible.  If he keeps his hunger after losing the captaincy, and ignores the IPL millions, he will almost certainly break a plethora of England records.  He has a long way to go to usurp the like of Tendulkar and Lara, but he does have the added boast of creating his own shot.

Age –  28               Record – 4039 runs @ 50.48, 15 hundreds

Graeme Smith – It seems scarcely believable that Smith is still only 27.  Thrust into captaincy at 22, he wasn’t always the most popular cricketer.  However, his reputation has grown year on year.  Not only a fantastic, bullying opening batsman, he has turned himself into a tactically astute captain.  Probably the man with the best chance of breaking the test runs record in the next decade.

Age – 27               Record – 6271 runs @ 50.57, 18 hundreds

Yuvraj Singh – The man who has infuriated India fans for countless years might just have turned the corner.  If he can find consistency in a similar vein to his teammate Sehwag, he has the natural ability to make huge scores.  The retirement of Ganguly has given him the chance.  Now, he must take it.

Age – 27              Record – 1262 runs @ 36.05, 3 hundreds

Shakib Al Hasan – Whisper it quietly, but Bangladesh may just have found a world class player.  Capable with bat and ball, Shakib recently stormed to the top of the ODI all rounder ratings.  Playing in a struggling side may count against him, but he has already rattled more than one team with his wily spin.

Age – 21            Record – 556 runs @ 26.47, 35 wickets @ 31.68

Ajantha Mendis – Anyone who make Murali look like an easier prospect is someone to take notice of.  No player has had such an immediate impact on international cricket in the last decade.  Assuming batsman do not work out his variations, he will be the next dominant spinner in test cricket.

Age – 23           Record – 33 wickets @ 18.36, 2 five wicket hauls

JP Duminy – While batsman have made runs in Australia over the past few years, few have done it with the ease and calmness of Duminy.  He has taken to test match cricket like a duck to water, and with minimum of fuss.  Add in two innings under intense pressure, and it looks as though South Africa have found a player with grace and guts.

Age – 24         Record – 246 runs @ 61.50, 1 hundred

Ishant Sharma – Few bowlers can class Ricky Ponting as their “bunny”, let alone ones as young as Ishant.  Pace bowling has previously been the Achilles Heal of India, but the likes of Ishant and Zaheer have turned it into their strength.  Pace and accuracy for someone so young is impressive – if he can avoid falling by the wayside like so many Indian seamers before him, he will be a major weapon for them over the next decade.

Age – 21        Record – 44 wickets @ 31.59, 1 five wicket haul

Brendon McCullum – The cry from every country in the world (including Australia now) is to find themselves a Gilchrist.  The pressure of this has caused a revolving door selection policy for many teams, but the one man who has stood out is McCullum.  Having thumped 158 in the IPL and nearly 3000 runs in ODI’s, he now needs to turn his pretty 30’s in the longer form of the game into something more substantial.

Age – 27       Record – 1990 runs @ 31.58, 121 catches

Dale Steyn – As the world lamented the death of the genuinely quick bowler, Steyn blew away all comers in 2008.  Fast, straight and angry, he is a handful for anyone, and is already leading the attack in arguably the best side in the world.  Has already been rated as the best seamer in the world – the sky seems to be the limit.

Age  – 25      Record – 154 wickets @ 23.08, 11 five wicket hauls

Mitchell Johnson – At various points over the last 6 months, Johnson has seemed like the man holding Australia together.  Showed he had discipline in India, and fire and brimstone against South Africa.  As long as he avoids burn out, Johnson is another who will get better and better.

Age – 27    Record – 78 wickets @ 28.62, 2 five wicket hauls

Stuart Broad – The stats really do not tell the story .With most of the England bowling attack being injured, out of form, or over the hill, Broad was one of the few players to come out of 2008 in credit.  Improving with the ball, and phenomenally assured with the bat, his development will depend largely on others.  If he can learn his art under the wings of the likes of Harmison and Flintoff, he could become a leading all rounder.

Age – 22    Record – 26 wickets @ 45.23, 373 runs @ 33.90

Michael Clarke – If Mike Atherton was FEC, Michael Clarke is FAC.  Not only will he need to continue the development of his batting, he may just be charged with arresting the Australian decline.  Has learned to bat ugly this summer, and has now made the number 5 position his own.  Probably the most important player in Australia over the next decade.

Age – 27     Record – 3063 runs @ 49.40, 10 hundreds

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