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England’s Dernbach Dilemma

14 Mar
Jade DernbachIn Jade Dernbach England have the prototype T20 bowler – tattoos like an Etch a Sketch drawn by a child on a roller-coaster, he has all the tricks and funky variations needed to be a world-class fast bowler.

And that is what makes him a decent bowler. Capable of bowling in excess of 90mph and getting swing both ways, he has the ability to beat most batsmen around the world with sheer pace alone. Then he confuses their thinking with his party-bag of tricks: back of the hand slower balls, off and leg cutters, searing yorkers or half-pace bouncers. The problem is, he often confuses his own thinking.

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Perspective

16 Feb
Mitchell Johnson has more than his moustache to thank for his rejuvenated career

Mitchell Johnson has more than his moustache to thank for his rejuvenated career

In 2012, Mitchell Johnson was at a crossroads in his career. After starting with such a bang he had faded to so much that he had become an international laugh stock. He was humiliated on and off the pitch and for anyone that is a tough spot to be in, but for Johnson – not the toughest mentally who put lots of pressure on himself – it was nigh on unbearable.

Enter Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith. An Australian soldier who won both the Medal for Gallantry and the Victoria Cross for Australia, ‘RS’ saw plenty of action in Iraq and Afghanistan and became a celebrity both in Perth, his home-town, and Australia as a whole. Johnson and Roberts-Smith met two years ago when Johnson was looking to anyone he could for help – and he found what he was looking for. Essentially, Roberts-Smith brought out the mongrel in Johnson that was lurking beneath the surface, and turned the boy who is, by all accounts, a perfectly pleasant person, into the man who has no remorse for the damage he can inflict with the ball. The talent was always there, but it just needed to be coaxed out of him.

Most important of all was the lesson of perspective. By teaching Johnson that there was more to life than cricket, and that there are people who have things considerably worse, the pressure was lifted from his heavily tattooed shoulders, and the burden was gone. This eye-opening realisation can come in various forms.

Stress-related illnesses can take down people in all professions and cricket is no different – so when Jonathan Trott returned home from the recent Ashes tour there was plenty said about the health of someone being infinitely more important than the result of a cricket match. And although the tour was disastrous, the felling of a giant of English cricket in such a way asked new questions of the training regime and intense playing schedule that England undertake. As a result, the coach who implemented the regime left his post, and English cricket is due a major environment upheaval.

Key to that upheaval will be captain Alastair Cook, who was half the cricketer he can be on that tour. Leaving Australia in early 2014, he returned to his farm in Bedfordshire with his pregnant wife. It has been widely reported that he enjoys taking his mind off cricket by lambing and with a lamb of his own on the way he will undoubtedly see that there is more to cricket, even after a tough day on the pitch.

Yet there are times when an incident which should lend perspective fails. New Zealand batsman Jesse Ryder was assaulted following a night out and left in a coma in 2013, a serious attack which threatened his life more than his career. He recovered sufficiently to make his return for the Blackcaps but, on the verge of a Test recall against India and being named in the World Twenty20 Cup squad, he was reprimanded following a late night out in Auckland. Dropped back to domestic cricket and not named in the World Cup squad, Ryder has set his own career back immeasurably after this indiscretion – the latest in a litany of alcohol related issues.

Obviously it is wrong to make assumptions on why Ryder breaks rules and damages his career, but following the attack on him last year he gained a huge amount of support from around the world. It would be disappointing if he can’t back up his talent with the maturity required to make it on the international stage.

Perhaps what Ryder needs is a mentor from outside the world of cricket. Johnson’s meeting with Roberts-Smith, however it came about, was the spark he needed to reinvigorate his career and rediscover his love of cricket. If Ryder and Cook can do the same they’ll be better for it.

5 mostly unrelated cricket thoughts

10 Feb

1) New Zealand are getting quite good

Beating India in your own conditions is not difficult, but for a small nation that is widely disregarded it is a huge achievement for New Zealand. More so considering they have just won the limited overs stuff against the same opponents and now have managed to translate ODI form into Test form. There are questions over the Blackcaps – BJ Watling has a distinct technical fault in his keeping whereby his weight shifts to the leg side before he adjusts and moves back to the off; Corey Anderson is neither a Test match bowler nor a Test match batsman; Peter Fulton is floundering at the top of the order and surely just keeping the spot warm for Martin Guptill; they lack a Test match quality spinner. However, beating one of the 3 super-powers in World cricket is a huge coup and warms the cockles of all but 1.6 billion of the cricket loving family.

2) Eoin Morgan wants another crack at Test cricket

He burst onto the scene as a spunky youth with fancy shots and the most battled hardened stare since the callow boys returning from the Western Front. Yet, as so often happens in Test cricket, he was found out and then booted into the long grass by the selectors. But now with KP jettisoned like a space-dump he has stuck two fingers up to the IPL by withdrawing himself from the auction. Setting his sights on scoring heavily for Middlesex in the Championship, he is gunning down KP’s vacated number 4 spot. His First Class record is ropey at best (average of 34.45 with 9 centuries) but he has the resolve and nous to have a second crack. More over, the fact that he’s turned down a contract worth roughly $1 million in order to play Test cricket will be welcome relief for the ECB given their horror week. So what about that week?

3) The ECB are having a stinker

Firstly they (Paul Downton, the new MD, and also James Whitaker, the National Selector) demand that there is only one coach for all 3 teams. Not unreasonable, as that would surely result in a more cohesive unit – until you look at the amount of cricket England play. From the 1st of January 2012 to the 1st of January 2014 they played 86 matches across all formats, spanning 202 days of cricket. For one man that’s a lot of work, before the time spent away from home is factored in. Ludicrous. Secondly, firing KP was probably the wrong call. Yet it’s the nature of the business, so fair enough, as long as good reasons are cited. Have they been cited? Has the ECB given a couple of a reasons that would justify sacking the leading run scorer England has ever produced? Have they heck. Instead, they’ve basically called Piers Morgan a poo-poo head in the world’s worst press release and then implied that if you are ‘outside cricket’ and your opinion is not in line with their own you’re worthless and a nobody. This threw up a whole new bag of issues – a) what does ‘outside cricket’ mean, and who is ‘inside cricket’?, b) are we not allowed to question decisions made by the ECB or are we supposed to blindly follow them?, and c) if we disagree with the ECB does that mean we agree with Piers Morgan? Time to bathe in bleach again guys!

4) South Africa are going to drill Australia

Australia’s top 6 are shaky at best: throughout the Ashes series England ripped the head off, only to watch Brad Haddin bundle them out of trouble with a cavalier 70-odd. Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander are better than England and on the green seamers that have been prepared in Centurion, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town they will tear through the Aussie rotters. Mitchell Johnson will be exposed as the average bowler that he is (seriously, it’s just quick and mostly short. Until he has a series where he perpetually swings the ball like Trent Boult he will be forever an average – if very fast – bowler) and South Africa will still be number 1 at the end of the series. They might want to find a spinner soon though, because Imran Tahir is dreadful. For example – try Simon Harmer. 175 First Class wickets, he can bat, and he’s just turned 25. One for the future, definitely.

5) The Big 3 takeover has happened and it’s bad

The formation of the ExCo is the thrust of the changes – the committee on which there will always be a representative from Australia, England and India who will be able to decide the future of cricket. Those three nations will take more money from the ICC and they will play each other more frequently than any of the ‘smaller’ nations because it will be more financially rewarding when taking these series ‘to market’. Until the FTP up to 2023 is released we won’t know how bad it is, but… it’s going to be bad.

England finally find their rhythm

24 Jan

177437After 91 days of misery, and 9 straight international losses, England finally broke their misery. A resounding 57 run victory in the 4th ODI against Australia is scant consolation for the loss of the Ashes and the ODI series, let alone the senior players that are battered beyond repair, but this win will mean a lot to this team – especially considering it is, effectively, a third string line up.
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Australia cash in as England fail again

12 Jan

176539England were thumped in the 1st ODI of the series by 6 wickets as Australia comfortably chased down 270 to win inside 45.4 overs. A century from Aaron Finch and telling contributions from David Warner and Michael Clarke sealed the game, which was set up by tight bowling and fielding during England’s innings. It was almost the perfect performance from Clarke’s men, whilst it was another poor display from England. Starting with their team selection and down to the tactics – this was just not good enough from the tourists.
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Flower’s time to go?

30 Dec
Ashley Giles is really sneaky

Ashley Giles is really sneaky

In a previous article, I stated the need for calm following the Perth implosion. And although England need not clear the shelves totally, simply put, there needs to be a culture change within the team.

Watching them at the MCG as Chris Rogers and Shane Watson flogged them it was obvious that England were resigned to their fate. This has been a recurring theme for this English side – they are not strong mentally as those above them. England rarely get beaten, instead they get thrashed.

Andy Flower, as team coach, has brought huge success to England. Under his reign they became the best Test team in the world, won the 2010 ICC World T20 and won three Ashes series. In the last two years and before this current series, they had played 25 Tests, won 10 and lost 7. That was second only to South Africa. Indisputably, Flower’s reign has coincided with great success. But there have also been tremendous lows.

They were hammered by Pakistan in 2011/12 – although this was in Dubai, which is the cricketing graveyard few return from in one piece. Losing the 2012 series against the South Africans meant they lost their No. 1 ranking, which hurt them, and the fact that they went to New Zealand in early 2013 and drew all three Test matches was hugely disappointing.

When England have lost in this period, they have been thrashed. They have lacked the mental resolve of the better teams, such as South Africa, to fight back from losing situations. Only in India in 2012 have this incarnation of the English cricket team scraped back to win a Test series after going 1-0 down. In other situations they have been caned – 2-0 against South Africa (which was far more scarring than the scoreline, and the team itself, lets on), 4-0 versus Pakistan.  When looking at South Africa’s mental resolve, one just has to look at their recent game against India. Set 458 to win, they batted and batted and batted – finishing on 450/7.

Another pressing problem is that there are no brilliant alternatives to Flower. Whilst Ashley Giles is the obvious option as he coaches the ODI and T20 team, he hasn’t set the world alight and his allegiance to Warwickshire players is worrying at best, short sighted and biased at worst. If Giles were currently in charge, Chris Woakes, a Warwickshire player, would have played instead of Ben Stokes. And although ‘there is no one else’ isn’t a viable argument to keep Flowers on, the ECB will be mindful that until a better replacement is found there is no benefit to getting rid of him.

With a change at the very top of the ECB just before this series, it is unlikely that the new MD’s first decision will be to sack the coach. But he needs to have a firm talk with Flower – does he want the job any more; does he still command the same respect in the dressing room; will England bounce back. If he answers yes to these questions then the changes will have to come elsewhere – senior players, ageing players and eventually, the captaincy.

Who is England’s next spinner?

22 Dec

fbe43746-7456-4985-b2c1-be51b751beeb-460x2761) Monty Panesar

Natural successor to Swann by virtue of a) his presence on the current Ashes tour and b) his 166 Test wickets. Still can’t bat and still can’t field but he’s always ‘trying’. Having said that, the balls he showed when being peppered by Mitchell Johnson during the Adelaide Test match just gone was commendable. Question marks over his mental toughness remain due to the fact that he’s cut from totally different cloth to the rest of the England team – but that doesn’t mean he isn’t good enough. At the age of 31 the England set up might want to pass an edict on his high-leaping celebrations to preserve the joints, mind.

2) Danny Briggs

Played a couple of T20s and ODIs for England and is still only 22. A regular performer in the limited overs stuff for Hampshire, like Panesar he is a left arm orthodox spinner. There’s plenty of potential but he has a very long way to go until England will seriously consider him for Test cricket.

3) Scott Borthwick

Bats at 3 for Durham and rolls his arm over with some interesting leggies – he’s almost an English Steve Smith. Except Borthwick is much more than that. He’s a genuine leg spinner with over 100 first class wickets at the age of 23, and a batting average that’s at 30 and rising. It’s less his stats, more his status. He’s another prodigy from the Geoff Cook school up in Durham and, like his famous comrade Ben Stokes, his ‘ticker’ is widely praised. For those not au fait with current popular Australian slang terms being bastardised into the native English lexicon, read: guts.

4) James Tredwell

The mighty Tredders has come up the ranks at break neck speed and, although he looks like Pingu, he is probably England’s 2nd spinner now. He’s their primary tweaker in ODI cricket and a consistent performer for Kent, and proof that no matter how apparently dull you are you can make it in international cricket. I’m sure he’s not boring, and Andy Flower definitely rates him. Though that could count for precisely zilch if Flower isn’t around at the end of this series, which is looking ominously likely. The era of Giles approaches.

4) A. N. Other

That’s pretty much it, I think. There are lots of spinners around, but very few are grabbing attention. Ollie Rayner bowls orthodox off spin for Middlesex and gives the ball an almighty clatter (he’s also 6’7″ and was in born in Germany, but that’s not totally relevant) so he could be a go-er. Adil Rashid continues to thrill and torture in equal measure, as does Samit Patel for Nottinghamshire.

With Graeme Swann’s departure, England will be frantically scouring the counties for a decent spinner, but the fact is that Swann was the best English spinner since… Emburey? In years to come, we’ll look back at Jim Laker, Derek Underwood and Graeme Swann. Fact.