Sunday, 19 April 2009

England's "New" Coach

I know this is a bit late but I thought I'd add my thoughts on Andy Flower's appointment as England coach. It initially appeared to be a somewhat last-ditch appointment as everyone else interviewed/head-hunted/casually chatted to/begged to apply said no.

However Flower appears to get on well with Strauss and the results from the tour to the West Indies are not as disastrous as some people suggest. Strauss and Flower had to pull the team together after a emotionally and mentally tiring tour of India. Teams don't just suddenly become good again - it can take months or even years for a team to work successfully. Flower appears to be someone who will spend the time needed to fix the team.

In addition, he appears to be completely unimpressed with the current culture in the team - these guys are paid an awful lot of money and should be able to improve their game and work hard enough to be ready for each game they play. If it means missing out on the IPL like Stuart Broad or doing the necessary fitness work, they shouldn't need to be told what choices to make. Everyone in this England team has enough experience to know what suits them.

Here's hoping the press and the fans give Flower enough time and space to work and we'll see what happens.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

The return of me

If any one is still reading then good news. I'm back. To stay hopefully. I had one of those months except in this case it was three in a row. Apparently med school is quite hard work. I'm hoping that once exams are over next week I'll be back to posting regularly.

But for now a quick summary of what's been happening:
- Australia recovered from losing to SA at home - not feeling quite so good about the Ashes any more
- Graeme Smith broke his hand again!!! As exciting as it is to see Mitch Johnson swinging the ball at pace and making batsmen look stupid why does it always have to be Smith!! (As you may be able to guess my love for the Saffers and Smith especially remains undiminished and may have even increased a little)
- The IPL is now the SAPL - could be exciting. There are no words to express how much I wanted it to be in England. Weekends of cricket - Ricky, Graeme, MS, Albie and Sachin.
- England are still rubbish but Strauss appears to be the man for the job. If only the rest of the team would remember how to play the game we could so alright.
- India are being crushed by New Zealand in the Second Test - the fat boy can bat (see CWB for JRod's take on Jesse Ryder).

What's coming up:
- England take on the West Indies again
- India keep playing NZ
- Australia and SA keep fighting it out to be the kings of the castle in the one day series

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

A new world order

So South Africa have finally won a test series in Australia. Even if they don't win the 3rd test they deserve to be number 1 in the world. They have won 9 out of 10 series in the last 2 years. The other series was a draw against India, which would have been a win if the BCCI hadn't ordered one of the worst pitches ever for the last test, which surprisingly enough India won.

Smith may not be as brilliant a captain as Mark Taylor or Stephen Fleming but gets the job done. More importantly than any field placing or bowling changes he leads from the front. For SA to have any chance in this series he had to overcome his previous batting problems against Australia. He has over 250 runs in the series so far despite batting with a destroyed elbow and has done the job he needed to do. Throughout the year he has scored crucial 4th innings runs and managed more at the MCG to get his team close enough to the target for the fear to disappear.

This is now his team - it's taken 5 years of working within a system of targets and quotas to reach a point where the team that takes the field is there on merit and includes coloured players of outstanding talent - Prince, Duminy and Ntini as well as Asian descent - Amla. The senior players such as Boucher and Kallis support him completely and the newer players into the team have learnt from his approach and are now fearless and confident.

The Proteas have a well balanced batting line up, a brilliant keeper and a bowling attack capable of taking 20 wickets on most pitches in the world. Morne Morkel finally showed what he is capable of on day 4 with spells that were consistent and aggressive, Dale Steyn is the best quick around and Ntini and Kallis will always get wickets. Harris may not be the greatest spinner ever but he takes wickets and can keep things tight.

2009 looks like being a good one for cricket - SA looking to hold onto the number 1 spot, India continuing their run under Dhoni, Sri Lanka coming from nowhere to be rather good, England responding to KP's pushing and Australia fighting back.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Ponting stands tall

I may not have been the greatest fan of his captaincy over the last few months but I've always loved watching him bat. This test match has shown us why he's one of the best batsmen in the world.

Ignoring all the pressure put on him by the media and the fans he has played two of his best innings. The first innings hundred (101 off 126) was fluent, attacking and determined and an example to the rest of his team. He didn't believe that the series was lost and set out to prove everyone wrong. He believed his team were still world leaders and world beaters.

In the second innings he ignored the fact that his bowlers hadn't done the job and Australia were now in a position of having to save the game. He ignored Hayden's kamikaze innings, Katich's brain freeze, Clarke's return to playing loose shots and Hussey's poor decision. His innings was briliant to watch. He took quick singles and put pressure on the field and scored off any loose deliveries. He deserved a hundred.

Despite all his efforts Australia look like losing this game and the series. If the rest of the batsmen had followed their captain's example they would probably be heading to Sydney still 1-0 down with a chance to square things.

Monday, 22 December 2008

So the impossible became possible...

SA were exceptional on day 5 and thoroughly deserved their win. AB de Villiers played the innings of his career so far - I would rate it above the double hundred he made against India earlier this year even if he doesn't! JP Duminy came in and looked nervous at first but determined to get on with things and deal with the pressure. He handled the situation so well that even the horribly biased Ian Chappell was impressed. SA should be raring to go in Melbourne with nearly all the batsmen in good form. The seamers weren't at their best at the WACA but the feel-good vibes in the team should perk them up.

Australia have many problems. The main one being their captain. Ponting is rude, clueless, irritating and spends far too much time moaning. His attack on Brett Lee was unjustified given that Lee had actually bowled pretty well in the game. He should have been critising the batsmen - Hayden has to go. His feet aren't moving and he looks lost. But he won't be going anywhere cos he happens to be one of Ponting's best mates.

Meanwhile new boy Krejza has been dumped out of the team. Why are the bowlers always punished after losses but the batsmen keep their places. Hayden, Ponting himself and Hussey all need to start scoring runs and captain-in-waiting Clarke has to learn not to throw his wicket away. You'd hope that after 42 tests he'd have managed that but apparently not. Symonds has been defended repeatedly by his captain and needs to make lots of runs to justify his continued selection.

The next few days and continued fall-out from this loss are going to be interesting.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Brilliance at the WACA

Regular readers will know that I have a soft spot for South Africa and especially their captain and today's play at the WACA showed why. SA need 414 to win and are currently 187 runs away thanks mainly to another brilliant innings from their captain (it was worth waking up at 3am for).

Graeme Smith isn't everyone's favourite person but is definitely the driving force and inspiration for the Saffers. His innings today (108 from 147 balls) was scratchy at the start as Lee and Johnson were superb with the new ball and he struggled with the tennis elbow that has been a problem since the IPL earlier this year. Once McKenzie was dismissed and Amla came to the crease he started to relax a bit and after tea was much more fluent. His partnership with Amla(who made 53 from 112 balls) has set the game up nicely and a good partnership between Kallis and De Villiers could take SA a long way towards what was seemingly an impossible total.

Australia were mostly very good today. Haddin's innings in the morning was a wonderful counter attack and seemed to have taken the game away from SA. He appears to be channelling the spirit of Gilchrist at the moment and has the same skill of playing well with the tail. Australia's tail including Haddin have made over 200 runs in this game whereas the SA tail has struggled. Lee and Johnson bowled well all day with Lee unlucky not to have 4 or 5 wickets in the game so far. His duel with Kallis late in the evening brought back memories of Flintoff vs Kallis at Edgbaston this year.

At the end of day 4 Australia are slightly ahead but anything could happen tomorrow.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Test cricket is alive

Having been trapped in Bedford for the past four weeks in rubbish hospital accomodation without a TV anywhere or internet in my room I haven't seen any cricket for a while. I get to come home at weekends and have spent today watching one of the best days of test cricket I've seen in a long while.

England have been surprisingly good in this game following their fractured build up. Strauss has reminded me why I've rated him so highly over the past few years. He's never going to look the most stylish of batsmen but he's effective and knows what he can and can't do. His hundred in the second innings was exactly what England needed, given the pathetic performance of the rest of the top order until Collingwood turned up. He paced himself and picked up runs where he could with a few aggressive shots when needed and avoided any stupid shots. I could attempt to praise Collingwood but the man is so boring to watch I can't be bothered.

India started the chase better than they could have expected - Sehwag destroyed Harmison and Anderson to make 83 runs off 68 balls and cause KP a few problems. He was dropped by Cook in the 20s and took advantage of his second life. India look as if they believe they can win this game and much will depend on Gambhir to stick around and play the anchor role tomorrow allowing Tendulkar, Laxman and Dhoni to come in and play freely. If they can get through the first session for the loss of only one wicket, maybe two, then they will be in a very strong position.

The game is set up nicely although I won't be able to comment on how it finishes because I'll be back in bloody Bedford until the 19th. There are no words to describe how gutted I am to be missing this and the start of Aus-SA.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

We come to it at last...the great battle of our time

The South Africans have landed in Australia at last. They are full of confidence and ready to go. This series has the potential to be one of the best seen in long time and I have my fingers crossed that the quality of cricket will be better than that seen in the just gone Aus vs India series which was brilliant in patches but also dire in others.

The South African line-up is very similar to the Aussie one - settled opening pair, strong middle order, battery of good quicks and a dodgy spinner. The fact that the groundsman at the WACA has prepared an older pitch without any of the restored pace and bounce suggests the Aussies are slightly nervous. Graeme Smith is much more sensible this time around and a well-led South African team should be able to win a test if not the series.

Ponting is still under pressure following the series in India and the Aussies are involved in various distractions such as the dispute with Cricket Australia over how much time they spend on sponsors activities. South Africa have grabbed the early edge in terms of media coverage. Their players appear to be more willing to talk to journalists and tend to be honest and interesting.

Both teams have had a similar build-up - thrashing miserably poor touring teams (NZ and Bangladesh respectively) doesn't provide much of an insight into how the players will cope in a close contest. South Africa have the confidence of winning 8 out of their last 9 series while Australia appear to be coming to terms with losing in India. The series is too close to call but having seen South Africa demolish England this summer, I think they might take this series as well providing that Graeme Smith and Dale Steyn live up to the hype.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Chaos in Mumbai

The situation in Mumbai at the moment is truly awful. The suffering family and friends of the injured and murdered must be going through is too extreme to imagine. My condolences to any readers who have lost someone or know someone in hospital and I hope all the Indian bloggers out there are safe.

It feels a bit silly, vacuous and shallow almost, to sit here typing about cricket but that is what I'm here to do. England have a choice - abandon the ODI series and stay for the test series, play the ODI and test series as planned or come home. While I understand that the players are scared about their own safety and their families must be worried as well, I think they should stay.

I have no problems with them pulling out of the ODI series and staying out in the East of the country but I would like them to play the Tests. Not for the sake of cricket as such but to show these terrorists that the world is stronger than they are and that mindless acts of violence will not scare us into stopping living our lives. The security forces in India that are currently guarding the England team in their hotel/fortress are brilliant at what they do - they look after foreign VIPs, politicians etc. If they feel confident that they can keep the players safe then I would take their advice.

India is unlike England - its size and diversity means events in one state can be completely unrelated to what may happen elsewhere. The location of the second test could even be moved from Mumbai if necessary. I don't think that's a great option but the possibility is there.

A truly cynical person would point out that Australia played in England two weeks after the London bombs in 2005 and that players from all over the world stayed in India for the IPL after the bombs in Rajasthan. I didn't want to be that person, nor finish on such a negative note so I'm stopping there.

Mumbai has experienced too many of these attacks for me to count and the city always rises up stronger, more united and braver. It would be nice for cricket to play its part in helping to heal a city that is currently hurt, confused and chaotic.

ETA: England have confirmed that they are playing the Test series which is good news I think. The second Test may be moved from Mumbai to southern India but discussions are ongoing.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Ponting loses the plot

WTF?!? India lose 6 wickets in a session due to Watson and Krejza, Australia are back in the game and the series finally becomes worth watching. The pressure was on India to try and set a decent score, while Australia knew that quick wickets after tea would increase their chances of winning the game and drawing the series.

Then Ponting comes out after tea and decides that over rates are more important than winning the game - White and Hussey bowling after tea so that Ponting could avoid getting a fine and/or suspension was one of the bizzarest things I have seen on a cricket field for a long time. India ended up with a partnership of over 100 between Dhoni and Harbhajan and the game is safe. Once the game was out of reach for Australia, Ponting decides to bring back his wicket takers, who surprisingly enough take wickets and finish off India.

If Australia lose the game and therefore the series, Cricket Australia should ban Ponting for a game just to punish him for being one of the daftest people on the planet.