Sunday, 28 February 2010

Why selectors shouldn't try to appease the Cheese...

While I blogged earlier, it was in many ways a very poor attempt at covering the action. Which is probably because I didn't really watch the game. For a variety of reasons (mainly me wanting a lie-in), I didn't get up to watch a match with a result that was never in doubt. While Tamim Iqbal offered slight resistance, the bare fact that no other Bangladeshi scored more than a fifth of his score meant that they never had a defendable score, especially with a very sketchy bowling attack. And England had enough about them to win very comfortably. While England will be pleased to win, it was only Bangladesh, and it is doubtful whether that performance would have been enough to beat an Australia, India or South Africa.

While it is natural that England wouldn't need to fire on all cylinders in a fairly comfortable game, overall team selection has hampered England somewhat. In ODI cricket, playing the pitch can often be as important as playing the opposition, and England missed a big trick in playing only Swann as a specialist spinner. While Pietersen and Collingwood can offer some assistance, they are far too 'part-time' to restrict the rate or take wickets against quality opposition. With the World Cup being played this time next year in the same venues that England now play, it is more than essential that James Tredwell gets a run-out in the next two as a foil for Swann. Bangladesh proved that two good spinners operating from both ends is very effective in strangling run-rates, and can pick up handy wickets throughout. While ideally (for me) Adil Rashid should be in the mix, Tredwell is that second spinner, and should play in the next game on Tuesday.

Batting at six was wicket-keeper Matt Prior. I have written before at my opposition to Prior playing in the same team as Kieswetter, purely as I think it to be unnecessary. There is absolutely no need to play two keepers when a much better batsman or all-rounder could be put in his place. It is almost an apology from the selectors to Prior for adding Kieswetter to the squad. Prior would have left Heathrow fully expecting to play every game in the Dubai / Bangladesh tour as he was the only keeper in the squad. However, due to Kieswetter's late addition, this has been thrown into jeopardy. Whoever is in charge has clearly looked at Prior's relative form behind the sticks over the last 18 months and thought "We can't drop him, he's slightly improved on his glovework. Let's stick that young Kieswetter in, and keep Prior as well, as he might get upset otherwise". Prior has indeed improved on his keeping, but still is a long way behind many of his other international counterparts (Kamran Akmal not included). He is still guarenteed to play the summer tests (and almost certainly the Ashes in the winter). Dropping him for a few ODI's and Twenty20 games does not show a lack of confidence in Prior from the selectors - but a show of confidence in a young cricketer in Craig Kieswetter. By playing Prior as an out and out number six, the selectors are trying not to upset a popular (I guess) figure in the dressing room. Ultimately however, they are compromising the team's performance, as however you try and dress it up, Prior should not be batting at number 6 for England based on purely his batting. While it could be argued that there are no other options in the squad, that is the selectors fault for not picking a properly balanced squad.

While these issues will not make any difference in the forthcoming two ODIs, which England will again win very easily, England will need to review the makeup of their fifty over team in preparation for an important 12 months for their one day team. Whether it includes Tredwell or Prior is another matter.

Start the tuk tuk...

While beating Bangladesh is not the height of cricketing achievement (it ranks just about level with making a catch in county cricket), it's still something to be positive about. And even with a couple of passengers, England still won so comfortably that I didn't even bother to watch most of it. But there still are some things to be taken out of the game which will give new captain Cook and Andy Flower some heart.

To start - Alastair Cook's first game as captain (that he was expecting to be captain for). He did well. He made good bowling changes, set good fields. While it was hardly a pressure situation, Cook seemed to captain OK. And that's just fine. His batting was fantastic - even when he decided that he didn't need the help of opening partner Kieswetter, who spent his the start of his first international innings looking around and watching as Cook faced the first 18 balls.

Cook looked like he was going to be England's best batsman, until his vice-captain Collingwood came to the crease. Colly was superb, knowing when to block and also knowing when to accelerate. Showing all of his class and experience, his unbeaten 75 won the game without much panic.

Honourable mention goes to Matt Prior. While Cheese came in at a stage where the game was absolutely dead and buried, he showed why he is in the team (and is keeping the gloves) despite the new presence of Kieswetter. Morgan also batted well by keeping the rate ticking over (almost making up for his earlier drop of Tamim Iqbal).

It would be selfish to ignore the 125 of Iqbal in this blog. A great array of shots were seen, against a not-bad English bowling line up. It just goes to show that Bangladesh are not the fools that they have been assumed to be, and that if there are a couple more players with the ability of Iqbal, they could cause a few shocks in world cricket (maybe). One of their spinners wasn't bad, but don't ask me who, as they used 13 in total, all of whom blended into one.

Overall, England should be fairly pleased. But pleased like finding 10p down the sofa, not Ashes pleased.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Double Ton Tendulkar

It must have been inevitable. With the advent of Twenty20 cricket (I know, another blog that's mentioned it) player's scoring rates have increased, making scores of 400ish very reachable. And if a player carries his bat through the innings then they will make 200. And Tendulkar did that.

It's great for the sport of cricket that a true great now holds the record - and will always be the first player in history to make an international fifty over double ton. Tendulkar is both the test and ODI record runs scorer, and while he may not meet the high standards of Bradman, Tendulkar's consistency over his 20 years in international cricket surely ranks him as a true cricketing legend. And all credit to previous record holder Charles Coventry... but who? The little master deserves his place in the history books - especially when you consider that he made the runs against the best bowler in the world. It's all well and good scoring double centuries against Bangladesh (like Jason Gillespie), but to score such runs against a South African attack with fearsome Dale Steyn included is some feat.

While Sachin did turn his back on Middlesex for the forthcoming season, that innings shows why they wanted him in the first place. And why he is an absolute hero to millions worldwide. But as he makes the first 200 in an ODI - the question must be how many can follow him?

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Why England should keep Kieswetter

Before this week started, Craig Kieswetter was a run of the mill county player who happened to have been born in South Africa. Now, after two innings against representative sides, the Somerset stumper is English cricket's hottest property. And definately English.

While the cricket community is ablaze with tales of his two limited overs knocks of 81 and 140-odd, the English selectors need to stop themselves being carried away in the sea of hysteria. I am not knocking Kieswetter's right to choose to play internationally for England. Indeed, I am actually supporting his claim for a starting berth in the First ODI against Bangladesh on Sunday. What I am calling for, however, is caution.

Before the circus of the mini Twenty20 series in Dubai, Paul Collingwood was asked whether Kieswetter would be fast-tracked into the side for the games against Pakistan. Collingwood answered no, claiming that the squad had already been picked, and that there was no need for change. Merely five days later, after more top-order woes (see my earlier blog), Kieswetter was rushed into the squad for the Bangladesh leg of the tour. Quite why there was this about-turn in selection policy is unknown, and rather bemusing, as England already had taken two wicketkeepers in Matt Prior and Steve "Friends on Facebook" Davies. So to add a third smacks of bandwagon jumping from the selectors. I totally accept the decision to add Kieswetter, but surely it could have been handled in a better way by the ECB. By pushing someone who has only been English for a week into the squad immediately (after initially refusing) could be seen by some as brave, but by others as greedy.

In any case, Kieswetter has been taken, and by all accounts, is doing a pretty good job of it so far. In his one appearance (as of now), he has an average of 143, reaching his century from 123 balls. While there will be critics who argue that Kieswetter was playing against the blind school (Bangladesh Cricket Board XI) on a road of a pitch, and that he was dropped four times, I am of the school of thought that he can only take advantage of the situation. There is never a player who gets lucky to get to a century (apart from Ramnaresh Sarwan in Jamaica last year). And don't forget, England's premier batsman in Kevin Pietersen got a first baller. Kieswetter is clearly a player in form, and should definately start on Sunday (which he almost certainly will).

So how should England structure their side? The team which fared so well overnight included Liam Plunkett (who will not play again this tour barring disaster) for a resting Stuart Broad, with Matt Prior batting at 7. While I rate Matt Prior as a batsman, it seems odd that after getting so much stick for his keeping that he is behind the stumps while a perfectly accomplished wicketkeeper is fielding at midwicket. By keeping (see what I did there) Prior in the team as a 'specialist keeper', or indeed handing the gloves to Kieswetter with Prior still in the team is effectively saying that the selectors rate him amongst the top 7 one day batsmen in England. When quite simply, he is not. If Kieswetter plays (which he will), he might as well keep, which allows England to bring in a better batsman ahead of Prior.

Ahead of the 50 Over World Cup this time next year, Craig Kieswetter needs an extended run in the side, and can take his chance to open with Alastair Cook this series (against a less than formidable Bangladesh). Let's just hope that England can 'keep' the right balance

Monday, 22 February 2010

Why I was wrong about Joe Denly

I'm about to start my first ever post on my new blog by linking to another blog. Regular followers of my work will surely be aware of WillAtkinsSports, where I have now been writing for about 6 months. In my most recent post ( "England's Twenty20 Vision" , I was supportive of young Kent opening bat Joe Denly. Choosing to ignore his previous scores of 0, 0 and 14 in international Twenty20, I was one of the only people in world cricket (other than his mate Rob Key) to actually want him in the team. But I am man enough to realise my mistakes. And only four days after writing my blog, I have changed my mind. I want him out.

To be honest, I was slightly biased about my support for Denly. While I am not a Kent supporter, I have seen them play an awful lot, including the 2008 Twenty20 Cup final. While Kent lost, and Denly didn't make an especially big score, I was impressed by his partnership with the fore mentioned Key. Since then, I have supported his international rise, and argued his case despite the run of consistently low scores. However, while Denly is a perfectly capable county batsman, in his rise to a much higher level he has shown a lack of skill at the moment. While he appears to have lost his place in the fifty-over side, his two single figure scores in the Twenty20 circus series against Pakistan will probably put paid to his hopes of playing in the World Twenty20, with Craig Kieswetter's form coming at the perfect time - three days after his naturalisation.

However - note that I am not knocking Joe Denly. While I would not pick him as opener in the Caribbean (and for that matter - would not pick Jonathan Trott either), I still rate him as a future test player, and once he is able to develop his skills, both cricket-wise and mentally, I would have him in and around the international scene. Denly, however, will need to take advantage when given his next chance - in case he becomes the next Ravi Bopara...