Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Podcast - Review of the Year 2011

Download this podcast on Podbean

2011 is coming to an end, and what a year it's been. India won the World Cup, England became the number one ranked side in the world, and Middlesex gained a generation-defining promotion from Division Two. So to look back on all of the action (as well as ranking cricket's worst haircuts, and a few other awards besides), Will has taken a break from his podcast sabbatical to put together the ultimate cricketing review of the year.

Thanks for all of the tweets, the likes and for reading the blog in 2011, and I hope you all have a happy new year and to see you in 2012!


Sunday, 11 December 2011

The ODI Team of 2011

With the conclusion of today's India v West Indies ODI comes the end of ODI cricket in 2011. It's been a fairly decent year for the moody middle-child of the formats, with a surprisingly good World Cup, lots of records broken, and some closely fought series. Yes, there have also been some one-sided humblings, but it wouldn't be the ODI cricket that we all know and sort of love without it, would it? Anyway, with the end of 2011 ODI cricket comes the chance to name a 2011 ODI team of the year, and here it is.

1) Shane Watson

While it may still be cool to massively hate him, 2011 has been the year that I've begrudingly given respect to Shane Watson. Yes, the occasional histrionics and highlights still remain, but his cricket this calendar year, especially in ODIs has been nothing short of astonishing. Starting with a record high for an Aussie at home with an unbeaten 161 at the MCG against England. He then followed that with a solid-enough World Cup with both bat and ball in a tough Aussie campaign, before unleashing hell on the poor Bangladeshis in the ensuing series. The 185 not out from a mere 96 balls contained a monstrous 15 sixes, and underlined Watto's capacity as an incredibly dangerous hitter. (His 2011 ODIs have seen 42 maximums clear the fence, more than anyone else, and he also boasts the best strike rate of 109 to boot). Add to that his ever improving bowling, and hawkish fielding and he's not far off the perfect ODI player. Comfortably the best all-round all-rounder in cricket at the moment.

2) Virender Sehwag

Sehwag has only played in 12 ODIs since the turn of the year, but he got quite a bit done in them. Setting the tone for India's victorious World Cup campaign with an imperious 175 against Bangladesh, he then went a few better and smashed every record going by reaching 219 against the West Indies only last week. While he was a little bit up and down at times, he remains the ultimate ODI master blaster, and to not include him in the year that he achieved so much would be cruel.

3) Jonathan Trott

Say what you like about Jonathan Trott's technique or strike rate, he scores runs. Lot of them. Until last week, he was 2011's top ODI run scorer (having played less games than eventual run winner Virat Kohli), and his strike rate of 80 isn't as woefully bad as many think (in fact, of the top 10 run scorers of the year, Trott has the 5th fastest strike rate). With two hundreds and ten fifties, Trott oozes consistent scoring, and provides support and backbone to his teammates, especially when wickets are tumbling at the other end. A shoo-in for my team of the year.

4) Virat Kohli

A coming of age year for Kohli, where his growing maturity and confidence has been reflected in his performances. Finishing the year with 1381 ODI runs, including four hundreds, Kohli has nailed down a spot in India's middle order and made it his own. The frightening fact that he is only 23 should see him become a staple part of India's teams for many years to come.

5) Brendan Taylor

2011 has seen something of a resurgence in Zimbabwe cricket, with a test return being greeted with a new found competitiveness against the bigger nations, and no other player has embodied that as much as their new captain, Brendan Taylor. A remarkable series against New Zealand that saw scores of 128*, 107* and 75 followed a World Cup where he was Zim's standout batsman, and finishing the year with an average of 49.53 is very handy indeed.

6) Yuvraj Singh

While 2011 has been up and down for Yuvraj, it would be impossible to miss him from this team after the World Cup that he had. Starring with the bat (averaging over 50 from his 14 games), and surprisingly with the ball (picking up 20 wickets at 26), Yuvraj was key to India's victory, and was deservedly named Man of the Tournament.

7) MS Dhoni

Captain, keeper, all-round hero, MS Dhoni (in ODI colours at least) can do no wrong. Taking the mantle as the ultimate ODI finisher, Dhoni's cool-hand has been seen throughout the year, but not as much as in it's biggest game, where his 91 not out in the World Cup final saw India to victory, and his name into Indian folklore. As exceptional a leader as they come, Dhoni has arguably been THE one day international player of 2011.

8) Shahid Afridi

A couple of retirements, a couple of comebacks, a loss of the captaincy, a lot of wickets and a few runs - 2011 has been another normal year in the life of Shahid Afridi. The leading wicket-taker during the World Cup, where his super-quick leg-spin accounted for far too many batsmen, he then retired, before returning in a blaze of glory to destroy Bangladesh in the UAE at the end of the year. While his batting was even more hit and miss than usual, his bowling (where he took an incredible four 5-fers) was easily the best of anyones in 2011.

9) Mitchell Johnson

Yes, he bowls to the left and the right, but Mitch's form in 2011 ODIs was surprisingly good. 39 wickets at 20 (with a more remarkable economy rate of just 4.4) sees cricket's biggest enigma make it into the team of the year.

10) Lasith Malinga

There is simply no bowler more frightening to face than Lasith Malinga. Working on the simple theory of getting it full and straight, the slinger took the most wickets (48) this year, and despite retiring from tests, is still as deadly in ODIs as he's ever been.

11) Zaheer Khan

An injury ravaged second half of the year saw 2011 peter out for Zaheer, but after the first half he had, he won't mind a bit. India's go-to bowler throughout the World Cup, he was instrumental in both taking wickets and strangling the run rate, both with the new ball, and the older one. His incredible spell at the start of the World Cup Final, where the normally free-scoring Dilshan and Tharanga were unable to get him off the square set up the win for India, and his 30 wickets from just 14 games see him into the team of the year, dodgy hammy or not.

My ODI team of 2011:

Shane Watson
Virender Sehwag
Jonathan Trott
Virat Kohli
Brendan Taylor
MS Dhoni
Yuvraj Singh
Shahid Afridi
Mitchell Johnson
Lasith Malinga
Zaheer Khan

Friday, 25 November 2011

The Case for ODIs

A lot has been said over recent weeks about the "death of test cricket". Yet while people were signing petitions and marching on the ICC to demand that test cricket stays alive, it appears that one of the other formats of the game is in a terminal state.

ODI cricket has been on the decline for a while, arguably (as with test cricket) since the introduction of the evil* twenty20 to the calendar. (*not actually evil) It's been fiddled around with more than any other format, with powerplays, new balls at each end, free hits and general bending of all sorts of rules in order to freshen it up and give it some pizazz.

The main gripe with ODIs is that they're a bit unnecessary and boring. Everyone loves test cricket, and (generally) players are happy to play them every day of every week, and more often than not, supporters are happy to pay attention to them. It may not be the televisually stimulating spectacle to the casual fan, but the main appeal of test cricket is the gradual war of attrition between two teams over the course of five long days. Don't believe the scare-mongering or petitions, test cricket is in rude health. Twenty20 is everything that test cricket isn't, it's rude, loud, in your face, and goes at a million miles an hour. And this works too, because TV companies like to show it, people like to go and watch, and players like to play (and to pick up the vast wods of cash they get for the priviledge).

ODIs don't really have that. As fun, exciting and exhilerating as they were when they first burst onto the scene 40 years ago, the game of cricket has moved on, and they've stood painfully still. 50 over cricket, no matter how many powerplays or free hits are injected into it will almost always have that really dull middle period which isn't quite test and certainly isn't T20. Long, pointless series are shoehorned in to an already packed international calendar, and nobody seems that interested.

So it may not come as a huge surprise when the man who was until last month the best bowler in the format, Graeme Swann, comes out and says that he'd like to see an end to ODI cricket. "It's not enjoyable" says our Graeme, and points to the full calendar and lack of interest from almost all concerned.

But why should we scrap ODIs? I'll be the first to admit that there are too many One Day International matches played, but to completely remove the format from cricket seems a touch extreme. The issue of long, drawn out, one-sided series can be resolved by limiting all ODI series to best of threes - which would also help ease the issue of overcrowding. While money shouldn't really be a factor, it sadly is, and for smaller grounds, the prospect of hosting ODIs is all that can financially keep them going if holding test matches is unlikely. Don't forget, ODI cricket gives the minnows (who not that long ago Graeme was supporting) the chance to compete and grow, with test status also unlikely to be forthcoming. And lest we forget, while some ODIs can be dull, so can certain tests and T20 games. The last World Cup was filled with giant-killings, dramatic finales, chokes and epic wins, which was nigh on the perfect advert for the format.

Yes, ODIs are far from perfect, and the ICC will need to seriously consider changing the format from 50 over to a forty over affair, but to scrap the format completely smacks of a man who's just been part of a team who've been whitewashed by the world champions. But relax ODI fans, Graeme Swann's word isn't law (yet), which means that the chances of an RIP for ODIs is quite a way off yet.

Sachin Tendulkar and the persuit of perfection

Through the vast history of cricket, over the 2000+ test matches that have been played and the countless players to take part in them, there has been one man that has stood head and shoulders ahead of everyone else to have played the game. Sir Don Bradman, cricket's ultimate legend, had a career that nobody else has ever had, or will ever have. Part of the legendary tale of Bradman, however, is the story of his final innings. Needing just four runs to finish with a career average of 100, Don was dismissed for a second ball duck, and with it, an average of 99.94.

For all of the great performances, great victories and great feats that the game offers, at it's heart, cricket is a game of numbers. And it's those statistical quirks that see fifties, centuries and ten-wicket hauls celebrated so resolutely. While there never will be another Bradman, the game of cricket has been lucky enough to be touched by a successor to the throne, Sachin Tendulkar. Of course, Sachin doesn't average 100 either, but the sheer longevity of his high-class career, and the sheer amount of runs that he's scored in international cricket set him aside from his peers also. Sachin is on 99 international centuries, a mark that he's been on since the World Cup this spring. He's fallen twice in the nineties in his search for the elusive hundredth hundred. Today he fell for 94 in his home town of Mumbai, in what would have been the fairytale way to mark an ultimate achievement.

Just as nobody will average 100 in test cricket, nobody will come close to reaching Sachin's mark of 100 international hundreds. But just as Bradman failed to reach the ultimate, wouldn't it be apt if Sachin were to never make it to his goal either? In an odd way, failing to get there would add to Sachin's story, just as it added to Bradman's. If Sachin didn't make it to 100 hundreds, it would prove that the man they call God is actually human after all...

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The life and death of test cricket

This week, we've seen one of the classic test matches. Set 310 to win, Australia and South Africa battled it out, with each side looking well set, only to be clawed back by their opponents. It was left to 18 year old debutant Pat Cummins, to come in with his side 8 down, and smash the 13 runs needed to see Australia to victory. It was a game that had everything - some excellent batting, some awesome bowling, some jittery collapses and some stoic partnerships. It was test cricket at it's finest, with bat and ball always in keen competition, and neither side giving the other an inch.

Contrast that to events this week in Mumbai. West Indies, a team hardly known for their batting exploits (indeed, they only possessed 7 test centuries between them) have batted through the first two days, and are 575/9 at the close of play on the second. Already, some of the Indian bowlers have been complaining about the back-breaking serface that's been served up to them, and with justifiable cause. When the West Indies are dismissed, India will then have to come out and bat, and will no doubt rack up a similiar score with no time left to force any sort of result. Even when the game in Johannesburg was reaching it's climax, it was impossible to predict which way the game would go. Contrast that to Mumbai, where the captains may as well shake hands on the draw now and save everyone the bother of turning up for the next few days.

The game in South Africa proved just how good test cricket is - not that we had any doubts about it. But events in Mumbai, and specifically the groundsmen's decision (whoever told them to do so) to create a road just sees test cricket shooting itself in the foot. Yes, attendances for test cricket are low, and the money's in T20s and One Dayers. But every cricket administrator worth his salt knows that test cricket is the ultimate, and should be protected. For all of the talk of test championships and petitions over shortened test series, the real way to "save" test cricket is to stop the batsman dominated snooze-fests that are all too common in world cricket today.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Ponting Dilemma

Cricket is rarely a fairytale. Just ask Gavin Hamilton (one test cap, where he bagged a pair and went wicketless), a succession of South African captains in World Cups and Keegan Meth. But every now and again, a moment comes along where everything just falls into place, and someone has the chance to do something mythical.

Ricky Ponting is one of the greatest players of our generation; indeed of any generation. Even in fifty years his name will be spoken about reverentially by those lucky enough to have seen him. The three successive World Cups. Being captain of perhaps the greatest team to have ever played. Over 26,000 international runs. An international career thus far spanning 16 years, representing his country during their greatest era of success. There is no doubting Ricky Ponting's pedigree, yet coming into this innings, the 267th of his test career, the calls were growing for it to be his last.

Without a century in 23 months, and more incredibly, without a fifty in 11 - Ricky Ponting's form has gone to pieces. No longer the undroppable captain, and averaging well under 20 since the start of 2010, Ricky's presence in the team is becoming increasingly untenable and the idea of him being dropped ever more likely. With every loss and batting collapse come further calls for a change to be made to a brittle Australian batting line-up, and Ponting, for so long the backbone that held it together, could be the fall guy for yet another series defeat.

Ricky Ponting doesn't deserve for it to end that way. For everything he's given Australian cricket - world cricket - our last memory of Ricky shouldn't be of a dishevelled shell of himself unable to cope with the South African bowling, stripped of the captaincy and shunted down the order from his number three spot. For all of his flaws, Ponting deserves a far more dignified end. Tomorrow he'll return to the crease alongside his new captain with 54 runs to his name, and 168 more runs to win. The potential for a Ponting hundred to clinch the game and save the series is so perfectly set up that it's almost been scripted.

But Ponting getting there would create more problems than it solves. In the fairytale, Prince Ricky would hit the match-winning hundred before announcing his retirement and riding off into the sunset upon his noble steed. We've seen it before - what better way to sign off than right at the top after playing an immense innings? And Ponting might well do that. But the trouble is, Ricky Ponting loves playing cricket for Australia. Why else would he be out there? It would have been easy for him to have bowed out when he handed the captaincy over earlier in the year, but his passion for playing ensured he was determined to keep going. As long as he feels he's good enough, he will keep going. And if he is good enough, even at the grand old age of 36 years and 337 days, to score hundreds against the best bowlers in the world, why wouldn't he keep going?

So what if he doesn't get there? The new Australian selectors, headed by John Inverarity, are yet to select a squad of players, let alone a team. With recent Australian failures very much on their minds, the new selectors will certainly want to start afresh, and what better way to signal the start of a new era than to get rid of the man who epitomises the old one? While Ponting has batted very well to get to 54 overnight, even getting to a far more significant score may not be enough to save him.

Ponting deserves the dignity of a memorable test farewell, not being dropped in ignominious circumstances. While it may not be Warne and McGrath bowing out amidst the tickertape of a 5-0 Ashes whitewash, guiding his team home with a century wouldn't be far off. The fairytale ending is set up for Ricky, but even if he got it, would he take it as an ending? The hundred and the win would be the perfect close to a fantastic career, but would the lure of future glories and a Dravidian renaissance (Dravid has 10 test centuries since turning 36) keep him in the Baggy Green? Either way, some big decisions will have be made, either from the Australian selectors or Ricky Ponting himself. The next 46 runs could be the biggest 46 runs in Ponting's career - if he gets there he will prove that the light hasn't gone out, and he is still good enough to score test runs. If not, he might not get the chance to decide. For once, I'll be cheering on Ponting and hoping that he gets there, because after everything he's given to cricket, he deserves to be the one that decides.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Death of Test Cricket?

South Africa all out for 96. Australia all out for 47. 68 runs fell for 18 wickets. Is test cricket dead? Obviously not.

OK, maybe it isn't right to use the events of one manic afternoon in Cape Town to prove beyond doubt that a format has been saved. But this one weird couple of hours has given us some of the best test cricket that will be seen this year, let alone this decade.

For all of the talk of twenty20 killing test cricket, of players disinterested due to the lack of money, and of crowds staying away, the main threat to test cricket over the past few years has been completely stone dead pitches. We've seen games where 700 has played 600 after the first innings, and the captains could have shaken hands on the draw after the second day. Only a miracle performance with the ball can produce any inch of excitement or sporting competition on these sorts of pitches, leading to dull draws and talk of test cricket's demise.

So isn't it refreshing when a pitch offers a tiny bit to the bowler? While there has been talk about the standard of the pitch not being appropriate to test cricket, there has been a fair battle between bat and ball throughout. The Australian first innings was a case-in-point, a fired up South African bowling attack led by the world's best paceman Dale Steyn chipped away at Australia, but were held back by a world class performance from Michael Clarke. Bat and ball were in fierce competition, and given that these were the world's best in action, the spectacle was fascinating. Clarke eventually perished for 151, dragging his team to 248, and it was as enthralling an innings as I can remember for a long time.

What happened next was absolutely mental, with wickets falling all over the place, and there were plenty of rash shots from batsmen that were far from world class. While there may have been one too many gremlins in the pitch, surely it was more exciting and interesting than seeing bat dominate ball for session after interminable session? And the partnership at the end of Amla and Smith to get South Africa to stumps just one down shows that a lot of the wickets were down to a combination of good bowling, and awful batting.

I don't think any of us really thought test cricket was on it's death bed, and days like this proved just how alive the format is. This test, and the one last week, where the West Indies gave India an almighty shock, certainly show that test cricket isn't really in a terminal decline. Sure, games like this and stories like this don't really help, but ultimately, test cricket is in rude health. And any format that England are best in the world is surely fine in anyone's book...

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

New Blog - The Boys From Fortress Lord's

This is just a quick post to point you in the direction of my new blog - The Boys From Fortress Lord's. It's my Middlesex themed blog where I will follow and debate all of the happenings from Lord's (and the various outgrounds), and offer my opinions about how it's all going. Obviously not much will really be happening until the season gets underway next April, but until then you can expect thoughts on team news, player performances and general Middlesex stuff.

A couple of clicks, an add to the blog roll or a retweet would be very much appreciated, so hopefully I'll see you over there!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Spot-Fixing: Not a lol matter

So says Tino Best on Twitter. And he's right. This is a long way from being a lol matter.

Corruption in cricket, be it spot-fixing, match-fixing, or simply telling bookies things like the pitch condition has been probably going on for decades. While the ICC and cricket in general has done it's best to stick it's collective head in the sand about the issue and pretend it doesn't happen, given the testimony of Mazhar Majeed's council, it's plainly obvious that this is a much wider-spread issue. As much as we can pretend it doesn't happen, corruption and cheating is rife within cricket, and it's now that we need to start dealing with it.

There has been some debate over the past couple of days about whether it's right for cricketers who've "only" bowled no-balls to go to jail for their actions. Jail is a place for murderers and rapists, not for bowlers who lose their stride, right? Well, while the Crown Prosecution Service has absolutely nothing to do with the governance of world cricket, it's just as well that Majeed, Butt, Asif and Amir have been sent behind bars, as the puny punishments of the ICC act as absolutely no deterrent whatsoever. All three were found guilty by the ICC, but only given bans of a couple of years. What sort of message does that send to a cricketer thinking about getting involved in all of this? Take the money for a few years, get banned, then return a few years later to carry on? And that's all assuming the ICC actually find, stop and catch them, as lest we forget, it was only through the actions of a now defunct tabloid that Amir, Asif and Butt were even caught.

Butt, Asif and Amir have indeed been caught, and brought to justice. They'll now serve 30 months, 1 year, and 6 months behind bars respectively, which will hopefully resonate around the cricketing world. Will it stop the corruption in cricket? In the UK, maybe, as a legal precedent (and the threat of another sting) has been set, which should ward off any untoward activity on these shores. But around the world? The ICC Anti-Corruption squad has proved itself time and again to be toothless, and their inability to find or stop corruption since their conception is incredibly worrying. Butt, Amir and Asif were just plain unlucky to have been caught out by the News of the World; but for the sting they'd likely be still going on now, and would be going on for a while. Just as the other cases of corruption is probably still going on, and will go on, for a while.

The ICC should be spearheading the push against corruption, and with a strong governing body who are naturally suspicious and able to police things effectively, the problem could be stamped out. So when head of the ICC anti-corruption and security unit Ronnie Flanagan says things like "corruption is certainly not rampant in the world of cricket", it hardly sends out a strong message to the corrupt that the ICC are on their case and they should stop.

Cricket is in a mess, and while we will of course enjoy the game we love when it's played, every time there is a fumbled catch, bungled run-out or overstepped no-ball, the doubts will creep in over whether we are seeing a genuine sporting contest between two top-level sides, or whether we're just watching the outcome of a heavily scripted money-making operation. While I'm sure the majority of teams and players aren't involved, there does appear to be a culture of corruption in cricket. Having one spot-fixer in world cricket is too many, and until each and every one is stamped out, there will always be that slight element of doubt hanging over each match we see.

It is a terribly sad day for cricket that an international captain and his opening bowlers have been sent to jail for perverting the sport, but hopefully we can look back on this day as a landmark in the history of the sport. A day that set us on the road to clearing out the corrupt and getting them out of cricket. The question is, can it be done?

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

England's ODI Wake-Up Call

So England have been humiliated in an ODI series. I suppose it had to happen - for all of the talk of a new dawn post-World Cup under Captain Cook, not an awful lot had changed, and rain affected wins over disinterested Sri Lankan and Indian touring teams had papered over some sizeable cracks. The time is right to rethink the ODI strategy, be ruthless, and sort out the only format that doesn't see England sit on top of the rankings in.

As bad as England have been this series, it isn't all doom and gloom. England's bowling, when all fit, is up there, and it shouldn't be forgotten that this is an England team missing it's two main bowlers. (Yes, India have missed a few of their gun batsmen, but that's by the by). Jimmy Anderson, the oft quoted "leader of the attack" can be devastating against any side, and Stuart Broad has developed into a world-class ODI bowler. While Anderson may start to need the odd bit of strength and conditioning rotation every now and again, Broad is now coming right into his peak as a cricketer, and can become the spearhead of England's ODI bowling. The pair bring a lot of international experience (something that's been obviously lacking this series) to the attack, and combined with the also oft quoted "best spinner in the world" Graeme Swann, they provide the backbone to a more than handy bowling unit. Those three, when fit, should be automatic no-question picks, and will certainly make England a lot more competitive (at least) then they have been thus far this series.

They'll be complemented by either Tim Bresnan, who has come on leaps and bounds as an international bowler despite a poor tour here, and Steven Finn, who is probably the only England player who can hold his head up high this tour. Bresnan bowls with plenty of guile, and as proved with a very good World Cup, is suited to subcontinental conditions. While he isn't quite good enough to bat at number seven, the "all-round" (that isn't a pun on his weight) string to the bow certainly helps his argument for selection. Finn has spent a lot of time in county cricket learning his game over the past year, and it has clearly paid off. He's added a couple of yards of pace to himself (and can quite possibly be called the most consistently quick bowler in world cricket) and his one-day game is developing into a world-class standard. The only bowler to come out of this tour with any credit, it would be harsh to see him miss out, so he and Bresnan will likely vie for that final out-and-out bowling position.

Any good ODI team has a number seven who is a genuine batsman first and foremost, which is why Bresnan playing there just isn't a viable selection. Samit Patel has done well in spells and could retain his place, but long-term it's clear that England see Ben Stokes fulfilling this role. Whether he's quite up to it at the moment is debatable, but once he's over his finger injury the extra dimension that his bowling gives should help see him get a game. Personally, it would be nice to see Peter Trego given a go, but it's looking fairly unlikely.

While England's bowling is fairly sorted, it's clear that the batting needs a bit of work. Quite simply, mediocrity has been not so much tolerated as it has been celebrated, and widespread cuts should be made immediately to the batting line-up. For someone to play so many games for England and only average 29 as a top-order batsman is criminal, and while he does offer the bonus of a bit of trundly medium pace, Ravi Bopara should be cut. While Ian Bell is one of the world's best test batsmen, he simply has never done it at ODI level, and has had too many last chances. Craig Kieswetter, who is one of the worst wicket-keepers in the country and hardly one of the best batsmen is charged with opening the innings and donning the gloves, and we've seen too many dropped catches and not enough runs from him, which means someone else should have a go. And Kevin Pietersen, who only a few years back was probably the world's premier ODI player, has fallen away so badly in the format that it might be worth not using him to keep him fresh for his test and T20 travails.

So that just leaves Cook (who has to stay, as he's the captain - and to be fair he has done well since coming back into the side), Trott (who despite all of the hate is a vital part of the team due to anchoring nearly every innings), Bairstow (a clean striker who can be used to good effect in the final powerplay, as well as potentially taking over as wicket-keeper), and England's trump card Eoin Morgan. It's the basis of a good batting side, and if the likes of James Taylor, Alex Hales and Jos Buttler are brought in and take their chances, it could develop into a very good team.

England have been humbled fairly humiliatingly by India this series, but for the World Champions to beat a touring team who have notorious subcontinental troubles isn't that surprising. England do have a lot of work to do if they are to get to India's level, but it can be done, and if the big calls are made now, we could start to see a marked improvement in their ODI fortunes. This series has been an alarm call for the England management, but it remains to be seen whether they wake up and make the changes that England need.

England's potential new ODI team:

Alex Hales
Alastair Cook (c)
Jonathan Trott
Eoin Morgan
James Taylor
Jonny Bairstow (wk)
Ben Stokes
Stuart Broad
Graeme Swann
Steven Finn
Jimmy Anderson

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Why Can't England Win ODIs in India?

It's the question on everyone's lips. Or, more pertinently, how can England play so badly only weeks after stuffing India out of sight on a tour where the world champions failed to register one victory?

All of the old excuses have been trotted out. England can't play spin. England don't know how to bowl on the sub-continent. England bat too slowly in India. England throw their wickets away. And to an extent, England have lost their first two games by falling into those very easy to pigeon-hole stereotypes.

But, that's just what they are. Stereotypes. Just because England teams of 3 years, or 30 years ago couldn't play spin or bowl tightly on the subcontinent doesn't mean that every England player to ever pull on the three lions is doomed to fail in India. England are currently producing some of the most technically correct players in generations, which doesn't indicate weaknesses against spin. Any problems England are having, as Alastair Cook touched upon in his post-match interview after the second ODI are confined to the mind. England can't win in India, because they don't believe they can win in India.

Without wanting to go into any psycho-babble, England do appear to have a mental block about playing fifty over cricket. How else can a team that currently dominate two of the three formats seem so far away in the third? How else can players like Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell, who seem so at ease when in whites appear so out of their depths when in the colours? KP and Bell have come off unbelievable summers in test cricket and could arguably be regarded as the two finest batsmen in the world, yet put them into a fifty over match and they freeze. Pietersen hasn't made an ODI century in three years, Bell in four. Pietersen's place is under threat and Bell can't even get into this England team. How else can this be explained other than a general English mental block to playing ODI cricket?

Yes, there clearly has been a marked improvement in English ODI fortunes. Following the seminal away victory against South Africa in 2009, the Andys Flower and Strauss (and latterly Cook) have turned around English thinking about fifty over cricket, come up with winning strategies and won quite a few series. Since that South African tour, England have lost only one head-to-head series, and that was at the back end of a generation-defining and exhausting Ashes win. Yes, rain did help, but this team have just finished a home summer where they beat both of the World Cup finalists, one of them to nil. So somewhere along the line England are doing something right.

The key, as was said earlier, is in the mind. Other than the 6-1 humiliation to Australia back in 2009, England have won every home ODI series under Andy Flower. West Indies, Australia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India have all perished. It's no surprise. England feel far more comfortable when at home with green pitches where the swing bowlers can exploit the friendly home surfaces. Just as England have a mental block about playing on the sub-continent, it seems that teams are travelling over to us and having mental blocks about playing on a cold, wet, windy night at Durham.

Two heavy defeats doesn't make this England team a bad one, just as three rain-affected wins over India doesn't make them a great one. Until England master their sub-continental yips, England fans are just going to have to accept that their brave boys are very good at home, but not as good when away. Beating all of those teams at home shows they are a good side, but being humbled by the world champions in their back yard just goes to show how far England have to go before they can really consider themselves ODI contenders.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Bairstow Blasts His Way Into the Reckoning

It may only have been in a warm-up, but Jonny Bairstow's unbeaten 104 from just 54 balls against Hyderabad means omitting him from the first ODI is nigh on impossible. Bairstow's talents are obvious, and it's no longer a case of if or when he gets a regular spot in England's team, more a case of how long he'll be a permanent fixture.

With Bairstow all but nailed on, somebody from the established order is going to have to make way to accomodate him. Assuming England will go in with Cook and Kieswetter opening, with Patel at seven so he can help out with some spin, there are now four potential berths in the England middle order that need filling, with five players vying for them. And arguably, only young pup Jonny Bairstow is guaranteed of his place ahead of the old guard that he's threatening.

The question of who will bat at three is a conundrum of the highest order. With an inhumanly high average, Jonathan Trott must surely be a shoo-in, but doubts over his scoring rate do remain. There is an argument that he could be used as a "horses for courses" batsman in ODIs, just as we see bowlers picked if the pitch suits their strength, we might only see Trott play if the pitch is slow and England need someone to dig in. However, as proved today (where Trott put on 74 from 68 alongside the Bairstow carnage), he isn't as much of a slouch as often thought, and his stability down the other end gives licence to the likes of Bairstow to go big early. For me, Trott should play.

Ravi Bopara is in the form of his life, and finally coming good after so many years of promise. His handy medium pace gives the bowling another option, and dropping him is almost unthinkable.

Which just leaves one place in the middle order, and two very big names fighting over it. Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell, mainstays of pretty much every England team over the past six years and amongst the two best batsmen in world cricket, are vying for the one remaining spot. On the face of it it seems very odd, but quite frankly neither have delivered in ODI cricket for a long time. Kevin Pietersen started out by making ODI tons for fun, but hasn't made it to three figures since the last time England toured India, where he captained the side back in 2008. And Ian Bell doesn't even have the luxury of a strong ODI history on his side, with just one solitary ODI century back in 2007, 59 games ago.

Both men have played over 100 ODIs, and both are clearly talented batsmen. But for whatever reason, neither have performed in 50 over cricket for England over the past couple of years, and their places are under threat. It is a toss up as to who gets the nod for this Indian series, but with Eoin Morgan still to return, the emergence of Jonny Bairstow could signal the death knell for both Pietersen and Bell's ODI careers.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Save BBC Cricket

Yesterday the BBC announced that they're making a lot of cuts. While a lot of their output is all being reduced, I don't really care about Radio 1Extra, CBBC or rubbish TV like "Snog, Marry, Avoid". What I do care about is the BBC's coverage of cricket.

The BBC and cricket have been intertwined for years, just as the national broadcaster and one of Britain's national sports should be. However, as time has passed we've seen cricket almost disappear under the BBC carpet, with the loss of TV rights, erosion of county coverage, and a general apathy towards the sport from the executives. While TMS still (just about) stands firm, county cricket coverage has been largely passed over to local radio. The same local radio that, if these cuts go ahead, will see all sport output cease from 2013.

This plainly isn't right. It isn't right that people won't be able to hear about their local football, rugby, curling or badminton teams. And from this bloggers perspective, it isn't right that the BBC's coverage of live county cricket will cease after next season.

On a personal level, from being involved in some of the coverage of live county cricket, it's clear to see just how important it is. Sometimes picking up upwards of 10,000 people (who tuned in for the dramatic climax to the Somerset v Lancashire game at the end of the season) all around the world, it is a way for cricket lovers to keep in touch with the matches. It's a way for the ex-pats to keep in touch with home. It's a way to while away the long office hours whilst listening to the excellent coverage from the likes of Kevin Hand, Mark Church, Dave Callaghan and the rest. The live county cricket commentaries is the BBC at it's ultimate best - bringing people together to engage in what is a fantastic broadcast each and every day.

If the BBC do go ahead with their incredibly short-sighted decision that contravenes a lot of what they set out to do in their manifesto, an awful lot of people are going to suffer. First and foremost jobs will be lost, as well as quality programming, which means that absolutely everyone loses out here, just so Chris Moyles can get an extra zero on the end of his contract. If the cricket commentaries are lost, some may continue on a subscription basis, but some may be lost forever, which would be such a shame.

So what can be done? Well, email the BBC Trust at Let them know what you think. Tweet @bbctrust, and tell them your thoughts. And follow @SaveBBC_cricket on Twitter, create a public backlash and let the execs know that they just can't take these services away from us.



Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Stuart Meaker Picked For England

It's sort of an odd one, yet not an odd one. Meaker's List A pedigree is far from great - not many games (21), even fewer wickets (19) and a lofty average of 38. Indeed he barely got into Surrey's CB40 winning side all year, which makes the decision to take him on tour a surprise one. (Certainly surprising to Graham Onions who labelled the decision [on Twitter of course] "bizarre").

However, from what I've seen of Stuart Meaker, he is a very, very talented bowler. He has serious pace (supposedly topping 96 mph), and at 22 he's only going to get quicker. He can reverse it, and again, at a young age, he's only going to become more experienced on how to use and exploit such a dark art of bowling. He will eventually be an England bowler, so why not give him a taste of a subcontinental tour to get used to what being an international entails, pick the brains of the bowling coaches and work alongside some of the best bowlers in the world? And who knows, with Stuart Broad injured and Jimmy Anderson rested he might even get a game against the World Champions, which can hardly be bad for his development.

Yes, there is the almost inevitable elephant in the room of the fact that he was born in Durban which has kicked up quite a debate on Twitter, but I've grown tired of all of that, and it's probably quite irrelevant. Stuart Meaker is a hugely promising fast bowler who learnt his trade in England, is committed to England, and will probably take bagfuls of wickets for England. While I'd have liked to have seen a more experienced young buck getting a go, the selection of Meaker is certainly very exciting. We might be seeing the start of a very long, and very good international career.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Ravi Bopara is Embarrassed

Ravi Bopara is the epitome of a confidence player. So often in and out of the England team, he's never truly felt comfortable in the side, so as such, hasn't felt loved by the English selectors. This lack of inner belief and trust in himself has led to poor performances, and has meant that his great potential just hasn't been lived up too.

Ravi Bopara has only really been given two solid runs in the side. The first, back in 2009, was when new coach Andy Flower told Ravi that he was the man to bat at number three for England, and put his trust and confidence in him. Bopara backed this up by making three successive test centuries. He felt as though he had a place in the team and confidence, and runs flowed.

He's had to wait until this summer for his next prolonged spell in the side. In and out over the last couple of years, he was given his chance for the final two tests of the India series, and then for the subsequent ODIs. While he started slowly, the performances have slowly but surely improved as Ravi is slowly starting to feel loved again by the selectors. A 96 at Lord's - so nearly his maiden ODI ton and comfortably his highest ODI score preceded a valuable 37* at Cardiff to guide England home, and tellingly a 4-10 in the first T20 against the West Indies. England's best ever T20 figures.

It's worth bearing that in mind. Of all of the great bowlers to have represented England over the past six years in T20 cricket, nobody has bowled better than Ravi Bopara did on Friday night. This is some achievement. However, Ravi claims he is "embarrassed" to have collected the accolade, which sort of sums up his mental issue with being in the England team. He just doesn't feel worthy enough to be playing international cricket, let alone excelling at it.

When thinking of Ravi Bopara's mentality, the perfect person to compare him to is Eoin Morgan. Both have extraordinary natural talent, as well as some equally obvious technical flaws. Yet both have had distinctly different careers in international cricket. Ever since taking to the field for England, Morgan has looked as though he belongs. Blessed with a mental fortitude that almost guarantees success, Morgan is extremely comfortable at the highest level, and has reaped the rewards of that. Bopara almost needs someone to constantly remind him that he actually is a very good cricketer, and while he will always be blessed with an extraordinary talent, what isn't so sure is his ability to perform and impress consistently for England. Ravi's feeling of embarrassment at his record figures sums up his attitude, and you get the feeling that had Morgan broken a record that he would be enjoying it rather than feeling bashful about it.

Technically, Eoin Morgan has his limitations. He isn't brilliant to the short ball, and is often very edgy when driving the ball off the front foot. But it's almost assumed that he will be a key player for England over the next few years, purely because he has the state of mind that he is sure to succeed. Ravi Bopara doesn't have this. What Bopara needs is for a prolonged run in the team backed up by good performances. At the moment, he is getting a run in the team, and those performances are beginning to come. With Morgan set to miss out on the next England tours, Bopara will get a few more opportunities in the side, and has a chance to stake a claim for a regular starting role. However, if he is to become one of the world's best - he must radically change his own mentality - stop being embarrassed and start enjoying international cricket. Only then can he become a Morgan.

Friday, 23 September 2011

What Actually Is The Point of The T20s v West Indies?

The other day I spouted something about how I'm not a huge fan of the Champions League. Created solely to make a lot of money quite quickly, it sort of opposes everything us cricket bloggers should stand for. So you'd have thought that a final hurrah for the England team in international action this summer would cheer me up and get me all misty eyed. Well, not really either. This horribly shoehorned in seriesette has no real benefit other than to fulfil Sky's contract. So I don't really care about these matches either.

You could ask what I'm doing as a cricket blogger when I evidently have no real interest in cricket. And you'd be right to ask that.

So, mainly to show that I can be bothered (even if nobody else is), here's why you should watch the two T20s against the West Indies.

Young Talent

Everyone loves seeing a young player making his first tentative steps into international cricket, filled with hope that they'll be the next big thing. And at the moment, England's team is packed with them. Bairstow, Stokes, Briggs, Hales, Buttler - the potential in this team is immense. And while some won't live up to their big billing (remember the fanfare Luke Wright arrived in after a debut fifty against India in 2007), chances are a few of them will turn into bona fide England legends. And in twenty years after Sir Joseph Buttler is made prime minister after leading England to 6 successive Ashes wins, you can say that you were there (metaphorically) at the start.

England are winning

Given even fairly recent cricketing history this is still somewhat of a novelty, and we should enjoy it while it lasts. England are currently top of the test rankings, World T20 champions and have just beaten the ODI World Cup winners. And have looked really good whilst doing so. Yes, it may be a pointless seriesette that in a couple of weeks we'll have forgotten all about, but if England get to wave yet another trophy around at the Oval on Sunday, it's a great opportunity to celebrate everything else that's good about English cricket. Enjoy the success while it lasts - it may be gone sooner than we think...

Graeme Swann will be captain

Given the fact that Swann is at least fifth (and possibly sixth) in line to the throne, the chances of him captaining England again are fairly slim. Swann probably knows this is his one and only chance to do something destructive as England captain, so expect him to pull out all of the stops. Stink bombs at the toss. The team running out to "Diamond Lights". Fielders on the boundary told to get girls numbers for the captain. Who knows. But it will be worth watching.

The West Indies are playing

Everyone loves watching the West Indies. They're either really good and make cricket look easy, or they're hilariously crap and are good for a few laughs. In a T20, there is the potential for both possibilities. Expect dolly catches dropped, huge sixes over the pavilion, stupid collapses, demon yorkers and players forgetting to bring their bat out to the middle. It's always entertaining to watch the West Indies. Plus they may start dancing if they take any wickets, which is always a bonus.

OK, that's pretty much it. While it may not make the history books in 100 years as one of the great series, it'll be good for a couple of hours of light entertainment. Plus afterwards you get to watch me on Sports Tonight Live. What's not to enjoy?

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Champions League Not So Champion

As an idea, the Champions League is a good one. Yes, it's been set up primarily as a money spinning way of getting a bit more TV revenue, but the notion of pitting the world's best domestic sides against each other is certainly something that should be pursued, and it's surprising that it took until 2008 for someone to think of it.

As a competition, however, the Champions League doesn't work so much. It just doesn't capture the imagination of anyone, at all. The qualifying stage, where teams have to fly out with no guarantee of actually getting into the tournament is stupidly thought out, and the fact that there are three teams in the groups means it will almost certainly be decided on net run rate. A long way to travel at a great expense, only to see your side miss out thanks to a piece of maths.

One of the most obvious flaws in the tournament is of course the fact that players who qualify via a number of different teams have the option of picking who they want to play for. And given the spending power of the Indian sides, any player who has the choice between their home domestic side and their IPL team is always going to follow the dollar. This is clearly unfair, skewing the balance even further towards India - lest we forget that four Indian teams qualify, compared to one apiece from Sri Lanka, West Indies and New Zealand. I know the Indian boards organise and bankroll it, but surely this blatant bias just isn't fair?

The tournament could work. The top two teams from each country all go into the group stages, with players who qualify for more than one team made to play for their "home" team. And it could be held more than one day after the county season ends. The idea of the world's best domestic sides all facing off should work - it should really work. But it just doesn't. Dwindling attendances, sponsors who don't even want to be associated with it, poor organisation, and the fact that teams could stand to make a loss on the whole escapade - the Champions League has a lot of work to do before it can be considered along side it's footballing namesake.

Monday, 12 September 2011

The T20 Captaincy Question

So with the news that T20 captain Stuart Broad's going to be out for a few months with a sore shoulder, as will vice-captain Eoin Morgan (spookily also with a sore shoulder), England's selectors are going to have to appoint their fifth captain of the summer ahead of the fairly meaningless T20 internationals against the West Indies in a couple of weeks. While the games will come at the end of a tiring summer and will probably be played by heavily depleted / disinterested sides, the matches (and perhaps even the away T20 in India after the ODI series out there) will give someone the opportunity to step onto the first rung of England captaincy - the chance to impress all with their cricketing brains, and the ability to tell their grandchildren that they were England captain.

So who should take the job? There are a few candidates, but as with the appointment of Broad himself at the start of the summer, nobody really jumped off the page. So I'll start with the FEC himself, and the man who already leads England's 50 over outfit, Alastair Cook. Everyone knows that Cooky is just serving an apprenticeship before being anointed England test captain, and taking on a couple of T20 games will only help his development and is another step of progression for him personally. However, Cook has long been deemed unsuitable to play T20 cricket for England. If he hasn't been in England's T20 plans thus far, with the bigger picture of the World T20 on the horizon, the selectors are unlikely to want to pick someone just for some one-off matches, which could rule Cook out. However, he has spoken of his desire to get into England's T20 team, and given the unbelievable form he's shown recently (including a T20 style innings as he guided England home at the Rose Bowl v India), this may just be the opportunity for him to get back into the shortest format side, and grab yet another captaincy in his quest for total control over English cricket.

The "not being in the side" argument would also appear to rule out some of the other senior players in England's side, with both Ian Bell and Jimmy Anderson not actually being in the T20 team. While they would both be major contenders in either of the other formats, the fact that they aren't (like Cook) actually deemed suitable for T20s should see them excluded from the reckoning.

With England's T20 team looking more pre-school than university, actual senior players who are regularly playing in there are fairly thin on the ground. In fact, only Graeme Swann and Kevin Pietersen could be deemed experienced enough to lead an England side, and both have their obvious fallbacks. Swann, for all of his laddish brilliance probably wouldn't be the best choice as he'd either do something inappropriate and unbecoming of an England captain, or by not being "one of the lads" the dressing room would miss out on Swanny's antics and the boost they give. And KP would come with the baggage of being KP, and everything that brings and has brought in the past. Besides, he may not want another crack at it after last time. However, despite how it all ended, Pietersen was actually not a tactically bad captain, and for only a one-off could consider having another go. And given that it is just for a couple of days, the powers that be may decide that Swann's influence wouldn't be missed that much, or even that even he couldn't create THAT much carnage in two days.

Another option would be giving it to an exciting youngster in order to help them progress, and given the relatively low pressure situation that it will be, that may not be the worst idea in the world. Current Lions captain James Taylor could be a shout, but after just one international cap, handing him the captaincy might be a touch premature.

However you look at it, the two games against the West Indies are turning out to be a bit of a nightmare. The players don't want to be playing them, and the selectors don't want to be forced into naming an interim T20 captain. However, a captain must be named, and while it may not mean much in the grand scheme of things, someone will be able to proudly boast that for two wet September days at The Oval, they were England captain.

Home or Away?

So England have won the ODI series against India. Given England's fairly abysmal start to 2011 in limited over cricket, two series victories over the two World Cup finalists is an obvious feather in the cap, especially given many assumed two heavy defeats would mark Alastair Cook's first two series in the job as captain.

However, England have had it mostly in their favour. Injuries to India, depleted after a long, gruelling and fruitless tour has meant that it has been far from the full strength side that saw India take the World Cup crown in April. Rain has come at opportune moments for England - first at Durham to save England as they wobbled, and then at Lord's, where Duckworth and Lewis' permutations could have seen the game go either way (and in the end, it went neither). However, the key asset to England thus far this series has been the choice of pitches that home advantage brings.

England's strength, as seen in the tests, is in their swing bowlers, who can move the ball both ways. Given Indian batsmen's historic aversion to being worked over by the moving ball, England have exploited that weakness effectively, seen most clearly at The Oval, where a combination of an emerald pitch and Jimmy Anderson reduced India to 58-5, and effectively out of the game.

So are England well within their rights as the home side to prepare pitches that favour their strengths? Well, yes. As has been pointed out, India are likely to prepare pitches that spin big for the away ODI series to follow - an area that England have historically struggled with as well. As Hampshire have shown in the T20 this season, it's well within a team's rights to take full advantage of home advantage by creating pitches that suit the side (and arguably to create a side that suits the pitch).

However, the question should really be whether England should actually take advantage of that home advantage, or whether they should be a little more thoughtful about things. It's becoming a running joke that England can do well at home before wilting in away series - especially in World Cups. The home successes mask clear problems in the side which are exploited when the conducive conditions aren't in play, leading to poor performances in 'alien' foreign climes. Surely if England are to progress in ODI cricket, they have to learn how to play, and to win on any pitch and in any given condition. Green-tops at The Oval are all well and good, but how will England grow as a limited over team when they are rolling teams over at home, before inevitably being rolled themselves on a raging turner in Chennai, Mumbai or Bangalore.

England have done well this summer in ODI cricket, but still have a long way to go before becoming genuine World Cup contenders. It's all well and good taking loads of wickets when the ball's hooping around corners, but England's real test will be when they travel to India in a few weeks for the return ODI series. Only once England learn to play well overseas can they be regarded as one of the best limited over teams around. Until then, as always, they'll just be seen as good in their own backyard.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Cook Stakes A Claim For The T20s

You can never write off Alastair Cook. He just has an innate desire to prove people wrong, going about his business quietly, effectively, and at a mind-numbing level of boring. After the talk of dropping him from the test side last summer, he then went on to have the winter to end all winters in Australia. Booted out of the ODI team, he comes back in, as captain, and makes stacks upon stacks of runs against Sri Lanka, pausing only to stick two fingers up at Michael Atherton everytime he got to yet another milestone. Only a return to the T20 team, which he was written off for long ago stands between Cook and the world domination of being the best batsman in all three formats of the game.

The rain affected ODI at the Rose Bowl was the perfect opportunity to show the selectors that he can play the shortest form. He already has a T20 hundred, don't you know. Faced with a potentially tough chase of 188, Cook carried his bat, making an unbeaten 80 off just 63 balls. He even hit a six.

As match-winning as it was, I still just don't see Alastair Cook as a T20 player. The Indian attack was woefully one-paced, and didn't offer much resistance to Cook's relentless dabs into the on-side. And while it was scored at a fairly decent lick (a strike rate of 127 isn't the best, but he was no stick in the mud), he just didn't score many boundaries. His 50 came up off 38 balls, and only included three fours (and that worldy of a six). He ran the ones hard and the twos harder, and while that should be applauded, against better fielding sides than a cold bunch of Indian second teamers, he won't be able to milk it as easily as he did. Cook will want to open - which means batting in the powerplay, and that means finding gaps and hitting boundaries. England's World T20 win was based on Lumb and Kieswetter getting them off to a flyer early, before big hitters came in and carried on the good work. The fact of the matter is that there are far better candidates to blaze it around at the top of the order than Alastair Cook. Cook would also expect to come in and captain, and judging by some of the odd decisions (Dernbach 5 overs for 49, Bresnan 4 overs for 43 yet Jimmy Anderson who bowled 3 overs for just 11 isn't seen again after a superb opening spell) he may not be best suited to do that either.

However, if watching Alastair Cook over the past year has taught me anything, it's to never write off Alastair Cook. He clearly believes he has a future as an international T20 player, so he will try his damndest to impress on the selectors that he should be playing in T20s for England. Cook is in the middle of a run of form that suggests he could score runs in any situation or in any format, and the unbeaten 80, as unglamourous and unflashy as it was may go some way to showing the powers that be that he should be in England's T20 team. Whether Stuart Broad, who was given the captaincy assuming Cook wouldn't get into the T20 team agrees or not is a different matter...

Missing Morgan Mixes Up the Middle Order

The news that Eoin Morgan has picked up a shoulder injury that will see him miss the rest of an India ODI series that already seems to have fizzled out into a damp squib may not seem important, but it couldn't have come at a worse time for England. With a resting Kevin Pietersen missing, and now Eoin Morgan, England have absolutely no idea of their strongest ODI batting line up, and will have to wait a further few months to organise themselves properly so they can discover it.

The idea of resting players is not a new one, and it is by no means a ridiculous one. Last summer, Kevin Pietersen looked jaded and forlorn - a shadow of himself having struggled through a test series against Pakistan. So, like it or not, KP sat out the ODI series, and has since made a couple of double tons and rediscovered the form that made him one of the world's best batsmen. And it's also clear that Alastair Cook, who wasn't at the time involved in England's limited over plans clearly benefited from the time out of international cricket at the end of last summer, seen in the winter to end all winters for Cook. International cricketers can't be expected to play 24/7, 365 days a year or they'll burn out - the current plague of injuries surrounding the Indian team is testament to that.

However, Pietersen missing last year's ODI series confused the selectors in the ODI format, leading to a very haphazard build up to the World Cup ultimately ending in Pietersen being shoehorned in to open, and nobody really knowing what England's best team was. Following the ultimate disappointment that the World Cup proved to be, England had the chance to reestablish themselves as an ODI side, with a new captain, and a blank canvas on which to create the best team possible. However, the middle order is still cause for concern.

Do the selectors want to use the tried and trusted batsmen from the tests with Trott batting at three, Pietersen at four, and Bell and Morgan at five and six? But is that line-up lacking in 'explosive' players? Do they want to bring in young Ben Stokes for his all-round abilities (even though he can't bowl at the moment, which was a decision not particularly thought through...), which means that someone has to make way? Or do they want to pack the side with one-day specialists like Bopara or Patel? The absence of Pietersen automatically means it isn't England's strongest side, meaning somebody is only temping for KP, and now with Morgan missing it means that more short-term fixes are going to be made towards a long-term problem.

England's lead-up to the World Cup was very poor, and while selectors have spoken about learning from their mistakes and moving on, it's plain to see that they still have no idea who they want in or how they want them to play. With Pietersen and Morgan, England's two ODI trump cards going to be out for the rest of the series, the search for a consistent and settled team will go on. It's just as well that against the world champions, England have their ever faithful match-saving joker. The September English weather.

Monday, 5 September 2011

The Evil Empire of the BCCI

If the cricket world was to be made into a film, it's pretty obvious who the bad guys would be. The BCCI. Yes, there are naughty people like Allen Stanford or Mahzar Majeed who come along every once in a while to provide plot twists, but they're more incompetent criminals then evil empire. The evil empire, of course, being the BCCI.

It does all add up. The BCCI created a league that they want to control world cricket, as well as giving themselves a monopoly at the top of the ICC (who, like the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter, mean well but are largely incompetent). After taking all of the money and making all of the decisions, the evil empire then go around doing evil things like kicking associates out of the World Cup, or having massive conflicts of interest within the IPL or drowning kittens and the like. The BCCI are downright despicable, and they make people want to throw their popcorn at the big screen in disgust.

Of course, the people are so scared of the BCCI that they daren't speak out. Thought-crime is punishable by death, or by having their contract terminated, which means that people are happy to either toe the party line, or stick their heads in the sand and pretend it isn't happening. Any publication that disagrees with official BCCI policy (or indeed, doesn't support it wholeheartedly) is banished, and only a select few are allowed to report the news to the people - but only once they've signed a contract pledging to only speak the good word of the BCCI.

Every film needs a good guy - and oddly in this case, the good guy is Nasser Hussain. Not content with just inanely agreeing with every press release from the Empire, Nasser isn't afraid to speak his mind, no matter what the consequences. After verbally sparring with Chief Minister of Propaganda Ravi Shastri, Hussain then likened the Indian fielding to "donkeys".

Hardly the most cutting of comments, but everyone knows that anyone who opposes the BCCI in any way is committing a gross act of treason, and is liable to firm retribution. In this case, the BCCI get in touch with the ECB and tell them to "control their commentator". However, the ECB not being a totalitarian cricket state, they're unable to control this rogue journalist. And quite rightly.

Nasser Hussain is employed by Sky Sports, and a few other media outlets in order to give his opinions. Which is what he's done. If he thinks the Indian team have fielded like donkeys, he's well within his rights of free speech to say so. The fact that the BCCI think they are in any position to say that "commentators who make such comments, should abstain from saying such things" is a violation of Hussain's right as a journalist to report as he sees fit. The BCCI, or indeed any cricket player, official or body have no right at all to interfere with the commentators or reporters whatsoever, and any body that does so should be stopped immediately.

I was appalled to see that two of the leading commentators in Indian cricket are on the BCCI payroll, in order to spout BCCI policy, whitewash the news and brainwash the public. And that the BCCI are threatening the ECB, who quite rightly have no say over who Sky employ or what they say certainly smacks of an evil empire attempting to covert the world to their way of thinking - and should be stopped immediately.

As a cricket blogger, I will naturally agree with some of what I read and hear about cricket, as well as also disagreeing with certain items too. That's the nature of a free press, who are able to report whatever they see fit. But if an organisation is threatening and blackmailing reporters into only reporting whatever fits at the time, then the freedom of the press is lost. The BCCI have absolutely no place telling anyone what to, or not to say, and the evil empire certainly need putting back in their place. It's just as well that the good guy, the seeker of truth and justice, won't let it lay.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Jos Buttler Keeps

It's easy to forget that Jos Buttler is actually a wicket-keeper. Coming into Somerset's side after Craig Kieswetter had made the gloves his own, Buttler's had to settle for playing solely as a specialist batsman. Averaging over 68 in List A cricket, with an astonishing strike rate of 147 per 100 balls, Buttler is certainly an England player in waiting - indeed he is a current international having made his debut against India last Wednesday.

A modern cricketer sometimes needs a couple of strings to their bow in order to succeed, and Buttler's wicket-keeping could set him apart from the group of talented young limited over players all making their names in county cricket at the moment. However, Craig Kieswetter's seemingly permanent place behind the stumps at Taunton means that Buttler isn't able to show off his glovemanship, and that extra element to his game may be forgotten about.

Kieswetter's technique has led to question marks all the way through his international career, and it would only take a few low scores for the doubters to grow ever louder. England have a long list of potential wicket-keepers for the limited over formats (Matt Prior's position as test stumper being impregnable for the time being), with Steve Davies, Jonny Bairstow, Phil Mustard and even Middlesex's John Simpson (although I may be a little biased on that front) all putting forward excellent cases for their inclusion this season.

Kieswetter is currently away with the England ODI squad, which means that Buttler's been given the chance to don the gloves for Somerset's CB40 semi against Durham, and by all accounts Jos has performed tidily. Those in the know see Buttler's excellent technique as far superior to Kieswetter's shaky one, and it's fairly obvious that Buttler is the better long term prospect internationally. It's not uncommon for ODI teams to give the gloves to any old member of the team (de Villiers, Trescothick, Dravid anyone?) in order to shoehorn in the players that they want to, and while Davies, Mustard, Bairstow, Kieswetter and Simpson (don't forget him...) all keep wicket for their respective counties, we may see a situation where someone who fields at deep square leg for Somerset is given the gloves for England.

It's a tout, and an outlandish one considering the talent that is currently in front of him, but I'm expecting Jos Buttler to have ousted Craig Kieswetter as England's limited over keeper by next summer. Or at least taken over from him as Somerset's number one stumper...

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Andrew Strauss' Career Best

It's pretty common knowledge that I love Andrew Strauss. He's one of my favourite players to watch, he's a brilliant captain who's seen England to near world dominance in test cricket, and he's a great bloke. In his long, illustrious career, he's pretty much had it all. Except a double century.

It's bizarre that a player of Strauss' calibre; one who's achieved so much, should have never passed 200. In fact, before today, he'd never got out of the 170's. It's been the one obvious box that's been left unchecked throughout his career.

Overnight in the Middlesex v Leicestershire game, Andrew Strauss is 185 not out. Overtaking the 161 from the 2009 Ashes, his previous best for Middlesex of 176, and that infamous career-saving 177 in Napier, Strauss has moved within touching distance of that maiden double ton. Only a fairly toothless Leicestershire bowling line-up tired from the T20 exploits of the weekend stand between Strauss and the 15 runs that can seal his own personal destiny.

Andrew Strauss is no longer a young man (although at 34 he still has a few years left in him), and the chance to score a double century may not come along again. Given that Strauss plays the majority of his cricket against proven international bowlers (and India's seamers) in the full glare of the media spotlight and under the pressure of captaining his country, he certainly won't get a better opportunity than against a ragged Leicestershire attack who are mentally counting down the days until their trip to the Champions League.

Scoring 200 would be huge for Strauss, as it would almost be the final piece of what's already been an exceptional career. While scoring 200 against a fairly disinterested bottom of the table side on a flat track in Division Two isn't the greatest achievement in the history of cricket, it would give Strauss the self-confidence and belief that he can do it; something that has held him back a touch as he's approached the milestone in the past. And given the dominance of his current test side, plus their penchant for 'daddy hundreds', you wouldn't be surprised to see Strauss being the latest addition to England's Double Ton Club over the next few games.

But first he needs to score 15 more runs for Middlesex against Leicestershire. He's already made his highest ever First Class score, which is some achievement, but now he needs to convert into into a double.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Where Do India Go From Here?

It's a tough place to be in when you've lost 4-0. The series has ended in humiliation for India, the number one test ranking has been lost, and there are seemingly no silver lignings to speak of. However, if England have proved anything over the past couple of years, it's that a team can go from a seemingly hopeless situation to the summit of test cricket in not a long space of time, with only a few minor tweaks. So how can India regain their number one ranking and become a successful test team again?

1) Don't accept mediocrity

England have got where they've got by carefully stripping away the chaff to find an exceptional group of players. Yes, this may be a once in a lifetime golden generation of English cricketers, but only the best of the best are tolerated. Throughout the English team are players at the absolute pinnacle - Cook is the best opener in the world, Trott the best number three, Pietersen and Bell the best middle order. Matt Prior is the best wicket-keeper batsman, Swann the best spinner, and the pace attack of Anderson, Broad and Bresnan / Tremlett is the best fast bowling attack going. For a team who came into the series as number one, India have an awful lot of players who aren't really good enough to compete with the world's elite. Raina was out of his depth, Sreesanth and Sharma didn't cut it, and neither Harbhajan or Mishra looked consistently threatening. India must be ruthless and cast aside those who just aren't good enough, in order to bring in young talent who can be.

2) The batting needs a shake-up

It's clear to see that India's batting boasts some of the best run-getters in the history of test cricket. However, the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, Sehwag and Laxman won't last forever, and to avoid a situation seen with the Australian team post 2007 when all of the legends retired at once, India need to gradually ease a few new names in. Some tough decisions need to be made - at 36 (and 10 months) is VVS Laxman as good as he once was? Is Sehwag? Is Dravid? And heaven forbid, is Sachin? Tought as it may seem, Indian will be better served shifting aside some of the legends in order to move on and look towards the future.

3) Sachin

The cult of Sachin, as it has become known, is weighing heavily on the Indian team. The fact that headlines have been focused more on Sachin's failures to make the elusive hundredth hundred rather than the embarrassment of a 4-0 reverse speaks volumes for the over-arching importance Sachin has in the Indian team. As much as a legend as he is (and make no mistake Sachinistas, before I get death threats, I am not in any way detracting from his past), at the end of the day, Sachin is just one player out of eleven. He is not the be all and end all of the story. While Sachin must bring a lot to proceedings - his experience and calm head in the dressing room for one, it does seem from the outside that some players are unable to cope with the pressure that being even in the same side as Sachin brings. For India today there didn't seem much thought about saving the test - instead all focus was on Sachin's attempt at the 100th 100. As unbelievable a player as he was, and still is, Sachin has become a distraction to this India team and their goals. In an ideal world for the Indian team, Sachin will make his seminal ton in the ODI series that now follows, and hang up his bat, allowing India to move on and out of his shadow, and refind their focus.

4) Preperation and priorities

Put simply, the BCCI have made a complete hash of organising this tour. The single warm-up game at Taunton was not enough to get ready for a tour in the notoriously tough conditions of England, and reminiscent of England turning up undercooked ahead of the 2006/7 Ashes mauling at the hands of Australia. And ultimately the way Sehwag's injury (that he picked up during the World Cup) was handled shows the lack of respect that the BCCI have for test cricket (and how low on the list of priorities it is) - had Sehwag had his operation immediately he would have been fit for all of this series, and probably the West Indies tour as well. But he delayed the operation with the BCCI's blessing... to play in the IPL. Only when test cricket is put at the top of the list will India again prosper.

5) End the culture of player power

Duncan Fletcher is a very shrewd, experienced coach who has done an awful lot in the game of cricket. However, his word, which was always law when coach of England, seemed as though it was often overruled and ignored. From the outside, it seems as though the Indian players, and the senior players in particular, did what they fancied and the coach was powerless to stop them. From only warming-up or training when they felt like it to (supposedly) calling for only the one warm-up game (some wanted no warm-ups at all), players were taking the easy way out in order to avoid any hard work. Which led to a failure of a series. After Zaheer's injury, it was disclosed that the Indian players decide personally how to look after themselves, and picking up a series ending injury only a few overs into the first morning at Lord's certainly suggests that Zaheer was doing it wrong. Only when responsibility and power is handed back to the coach can India do well. Ultimately, he is paid to make these things happen, and the Indian players would be fools to ignore his experience and expertise.

All in all, it's been a pretty abject tour for India. And while there is a lot of hard work ahead, it isn't all doom and gloom for them. In MS Dhoni they have an excellent forward-thinking captain, and if he develops a strong partnership with Duncan Fletcher, they can organise a master plan not too dissimiliar from the plans of Andys Flower and Strauss. They also do have some very good players who took them to number one in the first place, as well as a lot of promising young talent to choose from to help them return. It has been a pretty humbling series from an Indian perspective, but with a lot of hard work and subtle changes, there's no doubt that the mase for world's number one team will be back in Indian hands sooner or later.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Dravid Shows Fight

It's been a series that's lacked a little something.

As good as England have been, it's been a bit of a breeze, with Team India not offering a lot of resistance once they've been pushed up against the wall.

If this was boxing rather than cricket, it would have been stopped a long time ago.

England started by coming out swinging, landing some lusty blows early. And while India had the odd couple of hours when they decided to fight back, generally they've just laid back and taken the relentless beating that England have given to them, with no real sign of resistance.

Apart from one man.

Rahul Dravid, who moved to his third century of the series at the Oval, has been the only Indian player to show anywhere near the required level of guts for test cricket.

While his teammates have barely mustered half of his runs, Dravid's tons at Lord's, Trent Bridge and the Oval have been gutsy, determined, and full of application. Three things that his fellow tourists have been quite clearly lacking throughout the series.

In almost every regard, pretty much every other Indian player has gone missing. With the ball, they've been happy to watch England rack up mammoth partnerships while heads have dropped and bowlers do nothing. And with the bat, nobody has wanted to dig in and grind out the tough runs when England's seamers proved that conditions have been far from bowlers graveyards.

Except Dravid. In a series when everyone was expecting the hundredth hundred of a legend, we've seen a different kind of fulfillment of another. Sachin, just like Raina, Laxman, Dhoni, Sehwag, Mukund, Ishant and the rest of them, have gone missing when it's mattered the most, and will ultimately go home empty handed. Dravid, however, has put his hand up, regularly, and while he will too leave with nothing from the series, his legend will be enhanced.

This series was billed as the heavyweight championship of the world, but instead it's been more of a mauling in a pub car park. Only Dravid, the old campaigner, has stopped England from landing yet another knockout blow. If his teammates had shown anywhere near the fight he has this series, it almost certainly wouldn't be the battering that this bout has turned out to be.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Ian Bell's Unfinished Business

There have been two obvious stages to Ian Bell's international career. We had a boy who was thrown in at the deep end and floundered, and now we have the man who is taking on all comers and scoring an awful lot of runs. There is a clear and obvious line between the two phases of Ian Bell - being dropped out in the West Indies and being forced to leave the England set up, go back to county cricket, and earn his place back. Since his redemption it seems as though he's been on a mission to right all of the wrongs of his previous few years at top level cricket, and he could now quite justifiably be called the best batsman in the world.

Ian Bell always had the technique for international cricket. Those fluent cover drives that had the Oval crowd drooling today aren't a million miles away from the same fluent cover drives that had crowds drooling back when he was making his way in a Warwickshire, and later England shirt. What has changed, however, is Bell's mindset. Back in the day Bell was the perfect example of a player who had all of the shots, but lacked the mental fortitude to succeed in test cricket. A lot of pretty starts were very rarely converted, and the stat of him never being the first batsman in an innings to reach 100 proved that he only really made runs when England were well on top. Prone to crumbling under pressure, it seemed that Bell's time was up after he carried the can for the seminal 51 all out in Jamaica.

Bell left that miserable tour as a spare part - a player who couldn't quite cut it at international level despite making some decent scores (199 against South Africa the previous summer springs to mind) and it looked like his international career was over. During the time away from the England set up, Ian Bell grew up. He knew he had to toughen up, and that there were a lot of things he had to put right if he was to succeed. So he added some steel to that technique, and has slowly set right the wrongs of his early international career.

Never been the first batsman in an innings to make 100
Never made 100 against Australia
Never made 100 at number three
Never made a test 200
(not quite there but at 181 not out overnight he should get there early tomorrow)

Already with five test tons to his name this calendar year, and averaging 128 in 2011, Bell has turned himself into an absolute machine. Adding runs - consistent runs, to his superb range of shotmaking, Bell makes an incredibly strong case to be considered the world's best. That his feats have been somewhat overshadowed by the form of some of his teammates shows just how good a side England are at the moment. A team who, a couple of years ago always had talent but never consistently delivered, added some grit and determination to their obvious ability and have become the best in the world. A little bit like Ian Bell.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Rankin for England?

A piece of cricket news that has slipped under the radar for many today has been the addition of Warwickshire's Boyd Rankin into the England Lions squad for the rest of their One Day series against Sri Lanka A. On the surface, this may seem a trivial piece of news, but when you realise that this is the same Boyd Rankin who's gone to two World Cups and played 32 ODIs for Ireland, then it suddenly gets a bit more interesting.

Boyd, the big fast bowler from Derry, has had quite a bit of international success so far in his career. Ireland's leading wicket taker at the seminal 2007 World Cup and the leader of the attack in 2011, Rankin is a massive (quite literally, standing at 6ft 8ins) part of the Irish team who have made huge strides in international cricket over the past few years. However, he's been on England's radar for the past couple of years, and it looks as though he's about to follow fellow ex-Irish internationals Eoin Morgan and Ed Joyce in turning out for England. A country he isn't from.

I've written before just how much I sympathise with Irish cricketers. Any cricketer, anywhere in the world, wants to play test cricket, and sadly at the moment that's something that isn't offered to Irish cricketers. It's been well publicised that both Joyce and Morgan repatriated themselves in the search for test cricket (Morgan made it, Joyce didn't), and it appears that Rankin is following the same path. However. They'd be representing England despite not being from England, and while hoping to play test cricket certainly is a noble goal, I'd like to play football for Brazil, but as I am not from Brazil, I am not going to realise this ambition. (And it's not because I'm not good enough, because I am...)

The issue of non-English people playing for England is a sticky one. As great as it is that England are flying so high in world cricket at the moment, the fact that Pietersen, Trott, Kieswetter, Dernbach, Morgan and Lumb have got us there does make the whole thing slightly hollow. While I can understand that the lure of test cricket as well as a much more professional structure in English cricket would tempt Boyd Rankin, his would be another name on the list of foreign imports into the English team. Which doesn't quite sit with me.

It's a tough one, and without wanting to sound all David Starkey about it, it shouldn't really be allowed. People have the fortune, or the misfortune, to be born in certain parts of the world, and as such, should represent that nation in international sport. Otherwise it's hardly inter-national, is it? At a time where Ireland could be on the brink of achieving some great things (and as such, need all of the talent they have), Boyd could be turning his back on them to chase his test dream. Ireland are a team who could be on the verge of something big, but how can they progress if their brightest talents abandon them as soon as England flutter their eyelids? On the 25th August, England travel over to Stormont for an ODI against Ireland. It's not inconcievable that with Rankin being named in the Lions squad (effectively a reserve international team) and England's first choice bowlers potentially being rested after a tough Indian test series that Rankin gets picked by England. With test cricket potentially beckoning, if Ireland are able to tempt him to stay with them, it will show the massive strides being made by Cricket Ireland. If they can't, it could open the floodgates for the likes of Stirling, Dockrell and plenty of other young Irish talent who rightly or wrongly fancy a craic at playing for England.

And a quote to show Irish fans that not all of their players want to cross the Irish Sea... Kevin O'Brien: "Play for England? You must be joking! I'm Irish, I want to play for Ireland!"

Monday, 15 August 2011

Bunny's Back

Way back in September 2010, I wrote this about Graham Onions. Bunny's always been a personal favourite of mine, whether it's for smearing Aussie stumps with fine swing bowling or defiantly blocking out to save games in South Africa. Onions had forced his way into the England side thanks to some excellence at county level, and had just about got himself into England's first choice test eleven. But disaster struck in the form of a back injury that ruled him out for a season just before the Bangladesh tour, and England moved on since then.

It's fair to say that since Onions last donned an England shirt things have changed. First came Steve Finn, who raced to 50 test wickets in the fastest time possible. Then Chris Tremlett, who's international redemption has seen him become one of the most feared fast bowlers in the world. And then Tim Bresnan, who has turned from bits and pieces seamer to a genuine test all-rounder who averages 45 with the bat and 24 with the ball. And while Onions has been out injured, England moved from also-rans to Ashes winners and World Number Ones. He couldn't have picked a worse time to miss, as England had quite clearly moved on from him.

But, they haven't. With the fourth test against India being quite the dead rubber, it seems that Jimmy Anderson's slight niggle won't be risked. So into the squad comes Graham Onions, the forgotten man of England's success.

A similiar sort of situation happened back the last time England were any good - the heady days of the 2005 Ashes. Simon Jones, who'd been a key quarter of England's fearsome fast four broke down in the fourth test at Trent Bridge, with what proved to be a quite serious injury. In the time it had taken for Jones to get back on a field and prove his fitness, England had moved a long way from the Welshman, and he remained just a memory as England floundered in the post-2005 failures.

Luckily for Onions, he hasn't been forgotten, and is back in the squad for the test starting on Thursday. He may or may not get selected, as the pecking order system used probably has Steven Finn still ahead of him, but it shows he is right back on England's radar. At a time when England's fast bowling pool couldn't be stronger, if Onions comes in and seizes the opportunity as Finn, Tremlett and Bresnan have, there could be quite a few headaches for Andy Flower between now and England's next test appointment in the UAE in the new year.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Five Reasons Why England are Number One

1) Planning

This England team are the most organised and prepared in the world. Every individual player knows every individual weakness of every opponent, and how best to exploit it. Thanks to the tireless work of Andy Flower and his team of analysts, England are one step ahead before a ball's even been bowled.

2) Consistency

Consistency on two levels - in terms of performance and in terms of selection. England are now far less likely to take their eyes off the ball and have a shocker in one test, which has led to far greater performances throughout. And the consistency of selection has seen players in poor form being nursed back into shape, and ultimately pushing England to the top spot.

3) Strength in depth

Luckily this strength hasn't had to be used too often thanks to not many injuries, but as and when the situation has required, players have stepped up and performed. When key players have retired or been unavailable, there have been ready made replacements who've come in, and the county production line is incredibly strong at the moment, which can only see this strength continue going forward.

4) Luck

Every successful team needs a bit of luck, and England have had plenty. Their best team in donkeys years has come at a time where the traditional best teams in the world have been rebuilding and not offering as strong an opposition. Plus they've seen opponents lose key players to injury at crucial times, which has certainly helped.

5) They have the best players

It may seem an obvious one, but to win games of cricket you need to be generally a better team than the opposition, and more often than not England are putting out man for man better players. Throughout their batting they are immensely strong, and their fast bowling options are an embarassment of riches. They have the best attacking spinner in world cricket, as well as a captain and coach that brings everyone together to get the best out of them. It's no wonder that with all of that happening that England are the number one ranked team in the world. And that might not change for a long time.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Bopara the Nearly Man

Ravi Bopara is the sort of man who you imagine steps on a lot of rakes. A good batsman, handy bowler, and by all accounts fairly amiable chap, Bopara just has the unfortunate knack of just being a nearly man.

For a player so obviously talented as he is, Bopara's England career has never ignited as it should have. Part of it has been down to his personal behaviour and attitude, but it's also been down to his being at the right place, but often at the wrong time. And his failure to grab hold of the opportunity when the chance presents itself.

After being in and out of the test team following his 2007 debut, the three consecutive test centuries in 2009 should have been the launchpad for him being a mainstay in the England team for decades. With Bell out of the team and Bopara bang in form, Ravi had the chance to nail down his place and become a test regular. However, he didn't seize the opportunity, and was out of the team before the Ashes series finished. Thanks to the rise of Jonathan Trott and the resurgence of Ian Bell in what became a very well settled England middle order, Bopara didn't get another chance for another two years.

After the 2010/11 Ashes, Paul Collingwood retired from his spot in the England middle order. Bopara, more mature and worldly wise by now, chose to turn down the riches of the IPL to stay and fight for the test position. His direct competitor, Eoin Morgan, went off to the IPL, but hit 193 for the England Lions against Sri Lanka, and made the spot instead. Again Ravi had to wait.

In the second test against India, Jonathan Trott rolled his collarbone, and was ruled out of this third test. This time, Ravi was sent for. And on a day where Cook made 294 and Morgan made 100, Bopara failed, with a scratchy looking seven. Trott will most likely come back in for the fourth test, and with England's middle order looking incredibly settled, Ravi may have another two years to wait until he gets his next bat in a test for England. And with James Taylor, Jonny Bairstow and plenty of others floating around who may usurp him in the pecking order, it's not inconceivable that this is the last test Ravi Bopara plays.

To be a successful test cricketer, you have to take your chances when you get them. The prime example of that is Tim Bresnan - a man who's never nailed down a permanent position in England's test team but averages 45 with the bat and 24 with the ball. He's almost made it impossible to be dropped. At a time where England are looking set to dominate world cricket, chances will be few and far between, and Tim Bresnan's seized the opportunities given to him with those big hands. Ravi Bopara, however, hasn't done that. Test cricket is a harsh place at the best of times, but with England's pool of talent so strong at the moment it's positively ruthless. On his day, Bopara can be an excellent batsman, but he just hasn't proved that for England. He may get another chance in the future and take it, but until then, Ravi Bopara will be the ultimate unfulfilled talent - England's nearly man.