Saturday, 25 June 2011

England's Twenty20 Identity

Amongst all of the doom and gloom surrounding England's One Day side, it's easy to forget that England are actually not that bad at T20s. Apparently we're World Champions, and World Record holders for the most consecutive wins. So we must be doing something right.

However, since our last T20 game, it's all change. Captain and mainstay of the side Paul Collingwood is no more, and has been replaced at the top by Stuart Broad. We're entering a brave new world of English T20 cricket, but we shouldn't forget what got us to this point in the first place.

England went into the World T20 with a clear plan of attack, with five bowlers who knew they'd bowl 4 overs each, two explosive openers given the licence to blaze away, and a middle order set in stone. As has been repeated an infinite amount of times since, England played an "in your face" aggressive style of cricket; were big-hitters with the bat, clever with the ball, and hawkish in the field.

For this T20 game today at Bristol, Sidebottom, Yardy, Bresnan and Collingwood miss out from the mainstays of the World T20 victories, for a variety of different reasons. However, it's important that while personnel may have changed, the way England play doesn't. England have developed a winning formula for T20 cricket, and while players may come and go, it's important that the brand of play doesn't. Dernbach will come in for Sidebottom, Patel in for Yardy, Woakes in for Bresnan and Bell in for Collingwood.

Today under Stuart Broad, England start a new era of T20 cricket. However, it's vital that it is a case of evolution, not revolution.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Sending Strauss To Somerset is Silly

Andrew Strauss didn't score many runs during the Sri Lanka test series. In fact, he took more catches than the runs that he averaged, which is never a good thing. In an attempt to play him into a bit of form, Strauss has been told to pack his bags and get down to Taunton, to turn out for Somerset in their tour match against India.

On the face of it, it seems fairly shrewd. Strauss has the opportunity to fill his boots on the most notoriously batter friendly pitch in the country, and score a few mental points against India. He has the chance to get himself back where he wants to be mentally, and to assert his status as England captain, opener and talisman.

But in reality, it's all quite unnecessary. Cast your minds back a few weeks. Strauss was playing in a match, on batting friendly conditions, against the touring side who he would face in the test series. On that occasion, Strauss was playing for Middlesex against Sri Lanka at Uxbridge, and he was in fine fettle, barnstorming his way to 150. That's a Sri Lankan side that included the "arch nemesis" Chanaka Welegedara, who was getting him out for fun in the tests. Later that week, Strauss went on to Lord's with Middlesex, and made an equally as impressive hundred against Glamorgan. That was two hundreds in two games, and to all he appeared to be in sparkling form and ready to take on the world.

Of course, what transpired was that when it came down to it he struggled for runs, and didn't look all too great while doing so. Scores of 20, 4, 0 and 3 in his four knocks, at an average of 6.75. Sparkling it was not. So why was his triumphant run of form halted so suddenly in the test matches?

Well, quite simply, what came before the tests had no relevance to what happened throughout the series. In two games Strauss batted well, and then in three other games he didn't. This doesn't make him a bad player. This doesn't mean his place is under threat. This doesn't make him such a worry that he has to be shipped out on loan to Somerset so he can try and score runs against the Indian attack. We saw that his runs against Sri Lanka at Uxbridge meant very little in the actual nitty gritty. If he gets a duck at Taunton it doesn't mean he won't score a century in the first test. It all smacks of unnecessary panic from the powers that be because everyone is in form except the undroppable captain, and he needs to get himself into form quick.

Instead of being fitted up for his Somerset club blazer, Strauss should be sitting with his feet up while the rest of the boys play in the ODIs, or even better, playing in the T20s for Middlesex. If Strauss needs one thing at the moment, it's to feel bat on ball, which is exactly what he'd do if he were to play in the T20s (even though he's effectively retired from all limited over cricket). What he doesn't need is the spotlight to follow him to Somerset and to be singled out as a "problem player". Whether Strauss makes runs or not for Somerset is irrelevant. As he knows best, it's what happens during the test matches that matter, which makes the decision to send him to Taunton very silly indeed.

Picking The Bones Out of England v Sri Lanka

Nimal Mendis! Michael Ondaatje! Prof. Cyril Ponnamperuma! Can you hear me Prof. Cyril Ponnamperuma? Your boys have taken one hell of a beating!

Googling eminent Sri Lankans aside, England have won the first test series of the summer 1-0. That makes it their fifth test series victory in a row, (which makes it seven out of eight since Andy Flower took over permanently - and the other one was a draw), but weirdly it seems like they've won by default. Other than a mad couple of hours as Sri Lanka imploded at Cardiff, all three tests could / should have been drawn, which probably would have been the apt result to what's been a fairly unsatisfactory series.

Dogged by poor ticket sales, poor wickets and worse weather, the opening salvo to the English summer of cricket has been not much more than a very damp squib. While England did play the better cricket, Sri Lanka did what they had to do to not lose the games, and but for a mindless collapse, would have saved the series very easily. Sri Lanka were unfairly underestimated before the start, and while there were some iffy performances, there were some flashes of brilliance which shows just how difficult a task England will have in the subcontinent when they take Sri Lanka on in their back yard this winter.

England will take a lot out of this series, even if the series is unlikely to make it to a 7 disk DVD collection. England were on top in all three games, and but for the rain would have won them all. In Cardiff they got a lead, applied the pressure and forced a result, and were attempting to do so at both Lord's and the Rose Bowl. The bowling was hit and miss, with some brilliance in amongst some utter filth but the one constant was the excellent batting. Strauss aside, each of England's seven bats produced this series, and are looking a very formidable outfit. And while the Anderson-less bowlers struggled at Lord's, man-of-the-series Tremlett came of age in his first home series in four years, producing some quite exquisite displays. In partnership with Anderson, England have a new-ball duo that can frighten any team in the world. (As long as Tremlett is actually given the new ball).

It was by far a vintage series for England, and while the series failed to capture the imagination of the general public, England got an awful lot out of it. Ultimately, this series was a warm-up for the Indian tests later this summer, and all England needed to do was to limber up ahead of it. Most of the batsmen got runs, and most of the bowlers took wickets. They continued that winning (or at least, not losing) feeling, and come out of the series with far more answers than questions. In the annals of time this won't be seen as one of the classic test series, but going forward, this could be one of the classic England teams.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Time to Banish Broad?

England have a dilemma, and his name is Stuart Broad. 37 tests into his test career, and Broad is averaging a very average 36 with the ball. Given leeway in terms of his average and fairly poor return with the ball for the early part of his test career due to his young age, England will have wanted Broad to have kicked on by now to become one of the world's best. Put simply, he hasn't done that.

Three and a half years in test cricket (and almost five years in international cricket) should mean he's able to adapt to conditions and consistently take wickets. Yet still he belies his 142 international appearances by mindlessly banging the ball in short irregardless of match conditions, pitch conditions, or batsman weaknesses.

Broad was preferred in this game to Steven Finn - a bowler who does have a wonky radar, but bowls a hell of a lot of wicket taking balls. This afternoon (Day 2) at the Rose Bowl, Broad bowled nigh on every ball short of a length, and didn't even look close to taking a wicket. Broad isn't at all threatening with the short ball, which makes his tactics seem all the more odd. Broad appears to believe that just because he is a tall man, he has to bowl at the batsman's head and stare him down each time the batsman dare swipe at one. It's all becoming rather tedious.

If Broad wants a lesson on how a tall player can take test wickets, he should look down at the other end to see Chris Tremlett. Tremlett is a full two inches taller than the dwarf sized Broad, yet doesn't resort to attempting to break the batsman's face every ball. Instead, Tremlett bowls a full length in order to get the batsman coming forward, and takes wickets because he naturally gets extra bounce which is often all too good for the batsmen. Tremlett has only played 8 tests. It should be Broad who is showing Tremlett how it's done, not the other way around.

For three years, there wasn't a hint of Broad being dropped at all. However, if England are aiming for number one, they have to recognise when player's aren't pulling their weight, and act. That means that batsmen have to score runs, and bowlers have to take wickets. Broad just isn't taking enough wickets - he hasn't taken more than two in an innings since the tour of South Africa over 18 months ago - which quite simply is nowhere near good enough. There's no doubt that he can do it - the Ashes winning spell at the Oval in 2009 is testament to that. But those sorts of performances are becoming increasingly distant, and can England afford to have someone who isn't performing to the required level anywhere regularly enough? The key at the Oval was that Broad bowled full and attacked the stumps, with four of the five victims either being bowled or trapped lbw. If Broad returns to bowling that sort of length, he can be a very potent bowler, but he hasn't really done that since that heady day back in 2009.

Dropping Broad from the test team may seem odd when he starts his stint as an England captain next week, but it's not as if there's a shortage of test quality replacements available to come in. Finn, Bresnan, Shahzad, Onions and even Dernbach are all more than good enough and at the moment only loyalty is keeping Broad ahead of them. Broad's injury during the Ashes was unfortunate, but the fact that England won two games by an innings after he went home has proved that he is indeed a dispensible player. If England really do want to become the number one team in the world, they have to start by putting out a team of their best players. That means the batsmen who are to score the most runs, and bowlers who are going to take the most wickets. Quite simply, Stuart Broad does not take enough wickets to justify his place in the test team, and as harsh or ruthless as it may be, shouldn't be in the England test team

And if you head over to The Short Midwicket Facebook page, you can vote on who should replace Broad (if anyone) - and while you're there you could 'like' us too!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

England's New One-Day Direction

This morning England name their first post-World Cup One Day squad. In effect, with the start of a new World Cup cycle starting here, this is an opportunity for a blank canvas in terms of England's limited over cricket, with new players given the chance to prove themselves and old players who couldn't hack it given the boot. This could be a defining squad announcement for England, as the established order swept aside and a new generation welcomed in. This will certainly be the squad with the most new faces until this similiar situation in four years time. I've written about who should or shouldn't be in the limited over squad quite a few times, but seeing as this is a chance to reevaluate England's ODI squad, I've reevaluated who I'd put in there myself.

For me, before picking the squad, there should only be one definite on the list - and that's the captain. While personally I would have liked someone else to have done the job, the selectors have gone for Alastair Cook, so at this moment in time, he's the only name on the board. And seeing as Stuart Broad is going to be T20 captain, he can be in there too. Other than that, past reputations should count for nothing, and the selectors should be ruthless in picking the best One Day players in the country, regardless of past glories (or not).

The first thing to think about is the balance of the team. England had a muddled ODI strategy going into the World Cup that kept chopping and changing - it was evident that they didn't know what their prefered team was. Did they want 6 or 7 out-and-out batsmen? Did they want one, two, three or even four all-rounders? Did they want one spinner, or three? Did they want the wicket-keeper to open? The strategy wasn't so much as wrong but clouded by indecision. So Andy Flower needs to set his stall out and pick a tactic for success. For my team, I've gone for 6 batsmen (of whom one can bowl), a wicket-keeper at seven, and four bowlers. There should be plenty of depth to both the batting and the bowling, and I think it is the most balanced side possible for ODI cricket.

The first name I'm going to pick is my wicket-keeper. England's use of wicket-keepers has been as muddled as anything else, with Prior, Davies and Kieswetter all getting jettisoned in the 12 months leading into the World Cup, before Prior was eventually selected. Personally, it's between Kieswetter and Davies, but I'd rather have Craig Kieswetter in down the order where he can give the final throes of an innings real impetus. While he was found out against the harder new ball in English conditions last summer, Kieswetter is a far better bet when the ball (and the bowlers) are a little more tired, and he can be a great 'finisher' down the order.

Batting wise, Alastair Cook is selected due to his captaincy, and opening alongside him I'd pick Alex Hales. Hales is a big hitter, which would be needed alongside the more sedate Cook, and has had an excellent start to the season. A lot is expected of him, and I think the time is certainly right to get him into the England team in order to improve his nascent game and gain invaluable experience.

While I said past reputations shouldn't come into it, my 3, 4 and 5 are straight from the World Cup. Jonathan Trott, for all of the accusations about a slow scoring rate is an incredible accumulator who can really anchor the innings. And Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan would walk into any One Day team in the world (although judgement still to be passed about KP's mental state).

The last jigsaw piece of my middle order would be Samit Patel - unthinkable not too long ago, but after shedding (some) pounds and seemingly winning favour by getting into the Lions squad, Patel may have earned redemption. Clearly talented enough, the only question mark would be over his fitness, but if he's done enough to suggest to Andy Flower that he's ready then he should be brought in. Good with the ball but better with the bat, Patel is the sort of player that adds real balance to the team and can be England's trump card.

In terms of the bowling, Graeme Swann gets in as he is the best spinner in the country. Stuart Broad also plays because he is the T20 captain, as well as being a very good ODI player. And the other two fast bowling spots I'd give to Jade Dernbach and Chris Woakes. Dernbach has really impressed over the past year, both at Surrey and with the Lions, and has very quickly become a very accomplished one day bowler. And Woakes has already played a few times for England, and is already a very good player who will only continue to increase as he matures.

Perhaps the highest profile absentees are Ian Bell, Matt Prior and Jimmy Anderson. All stalwarts of England sides over the past few years, they've been passed over for various reasons. Prior is a very good attacking batsman, but has a distinctly ordinary ODI record, and should be moved aside to allow someone else a go. Bell is fast becoming one of the best test batsmen in the world, and I would love to have him in any England side (it wasn't that long ago I was campaigning for him to captain the ODI team) but I can't really see a space for him in this team. However, if Pietersen continues declining or Trott is brutally killed by Bob Willis then Bell would be the man to fill the vacant position. And Anderson's ODI form has tailed off significantly, and we saw all too clearly the poor perfomances in the Australian ODIs and the World Cup, which were almost certainly due to overkill and tiredness. A break from cricket after each test series would keep Jimmy fighting fit and fresh and would certainly benefit him in the long run.

England have a real opportunity with the announcements of the limited over sides today to turn over a new leaf and start again with One Day cricket. In the T20 side we might see Jason Roy or Ben Stokes, and there could be some new faces in the 50 over team too. Today's squad is a significant one, as it really sets the course for England's one day direction over the next four years. Let's just hope that the destination is the World Cup.

My ODI team:

Alastair Cook (c)
Alex Hales
Jonathan Trott
Kevin Pietersen
Eoin Morgan
Samit Patel
Craig Kieswetter
Chris Woakes
Stuart Broad
Graeme Swann
Jade Dernbach

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Negative England Scared To Win

Today was a day where England could have won a test match. In an incredibly strong position overnight at 170 odd ahead with only two wickets down, England could have hit out in the morning and given themselves 70 overs to bowl Sri Lanka out. Instead, they nurdled it around in the morning, had an unneccesarily long hit in the afternoon before packing up an hour early because they were bored.

The Andocracy have long spoken of their desire to be world number one, and to create a team that dominates world cricket. Today was not the performance of a team who can dominate anybody. The gameplan was wrong from start to finish, and it appears patently obvious that Strauss much preferred to 'not lose' rather than rolling the dice and actually going for the win. Had you offered Strauss the draw at eleven this morning, he would have taken it. And that's the crux of the matter - would the West Indian team of the 80s have 'settled' for the draw? Or the Aussie team of the 00s?

The batting this morning. Yes, Alastair Cook has been in great form of late, and everybody wants to make a ton at Lord's, but at that pace? In the morning session Cook only added 21 runs to his overnight score, which understandably selfish as it was, shouldn't have been tolerated. Making a hundred at HQ is always going to be a big thing for a player, but as vice-captain and part of the senior management team, Cook should have recognised that nurdling his way to the ton wasn't going to help the ultimate cause of winning the test match for England. While Pietersen was a touch more attacking, it appeared clear that he too was after personal runs rather than a selfless acceleration for the team, which is why England stagnated big time after drinks. Herath turned the screw, and Cook and KP were happy to block it out and slowly push their way towards three figures. This meant that England weren't as far ahead as they should have been at lunch, and were unable to declare at the interval (which may have been in the original plan).

After lunch Bell, Morgan and Prior all swung the blade, but the longer they stayed out there, the less time England had to skittle Sri Lanka. Strauss should have known that a Dilshan-less Sri Lanka would have had no interest in chasing anything, and should have declared the moment Cook brought up his ton. As it was, he stayed on, paralysed by the fear that Sri Lanka would chase down runs at 8 an over and he'd look a fool. If anything, the lack of bravery was far more foolish than a bold declaration at 2 o'clock. And so we watched as time ebbed on, as Cook, Morgan, Prior and even Broad came and went, for not much gain.

The bowlers, I thought, were OK, but Sri Lanka were in full defensive bunker mode. Sri Lanka's full strength plan of playing P Jayawardene at 6 with Maharoof at 7 has left a very long tail, and is very collapsable. With Dilshan unable to bat unless in the direst of emergencies, Sri Lanka were there for the taking. Even though taking seven wickets in 15 overs is unlikely, the decision to shake hands seemed odd when England were only one wicket away from Maharoof, and two away from the bowlers. And if England had learnt anything from Cardiff, it's that the pressure of batting to save the game can do funny things to batsmen. As it was they'd had enough, with Strauss shaking hands and leaving the fans a touch bemused.

I went to Lord's today hoping to see a really attacking display of top test cricket from England as they pushed for a win. Instead, I saw a meek display of going through the motions from a team happy they didn't lose. If England are to be the world's best, they have to grow a pair and have a real go at days like this. We've seen in the past that Strauss can be a very defensive captain who likes to be 100% he can't lose before going for the win. If he really is to lead England to the number one spot, he's going to have to roll the dice every once in a while, in order to win the biggest prize of all.

Day Five at Lord's

Before play started...: England two down and a few ahead - could declare to set up an interesting finish.

Where did it all go wrong for Sri Lanka?: Not really anywhere. They were happy to play for the draw, and they got it.

Where did it all go right for Sri Lanka?: Restricted the big runs in the morning meaning they had a shorter time to survive, which they did very comfortably.

Where did it all go wrong for England?: Played incredibly negatively - delayed the declaration for far too long and shook hands when they were only one wicket away from the tail and a potential collapse. Poor.

Where did it all go right for England?: Another hundred for Cook, runs for KP, and some nice hits by Bell. Plus Trott proved he's a useful enough bowler to turn to as and when required.

Who won each session?: Morning - Just about England (but scored too slowly). Afternoon - Probably even. Evening - Nobody cared.

Who should have won the game?: England. Didn't play well enough today, and let the win slip away. But it would have been interesting had Dilshan and Jayawardene been able to stay on in the evening session on Day 3, as with tired ineffective bowlers, England could have conceded a fairly sizable first innings lead and it could have been a different story...

Shot of the day: Bell's guide down to third man. He was in awesome form. He even prompted me to declare him my favourite ever player (I later downgraded this to my favourite batsman to watch in the current England team. I was caught up in the emotion of the situation).

Ball of the day: "Rangana Herath's Ball of The Century" to KP. Probably the best ball he'll ever bowl - pitching well outside leg, and turning to hit the top of off-stump. Whatever's said about KP's troubles with SLA, I defy anyone to play that ball.

Man of the day: I don't know. Bell? The only England batsman to really understand the situation and bat accordingly.

Mug(s) of the day: Strauss's poor captaincy (I'll discuss that in a blog later) is saved by Matt Prior breaking a window. As such, the mug of the day is whoever put out the press releases; the first claiming that a glove bounced off a kit bag and onto a row of bats which smashed the window, and the second was that he tried to balance a bat on the windowsill, but he misbalanced it and shattered the window. Most likely, he just put his fist through it. Pretty much sums up England's day.

Why Kevin Pietersen Needs A Century

Kevin Pietersen is a man bereft of confidence. There's no doubt that all being equal that he is by far England's most talented batsman, but in the last few years his scores have massively tailed off. With an apparent weakness to left-arm spin and an even more apparent lack of zest for the game, KP has gone from a world beating first choice to a runless liability.

It's difficult to precisely pinpoint exactly when KP lost his mojo. However, 2008 was the year for KP. It was the year of the switch hit and the ascent to the captaincy. Pietersen had never felt more loved by the English cricketing public; something confirmed when he was chosen to replace Michael Vaughan as the skipper. And his form reflected it. 2008 was the last calendar year that Pietersen averaged over 50 in tests, and he was at the peak of his talents. The world was at his feet.

As we know, the rest was history. The Night of the Long Knives which saw Pietersen and Moores lose their positions also saw KP lose that aura of invincibility. Gone was the brash cock of the walk, and with that slight loss of confidence came the dip in form. Yes, he made a ton on the first tour post-captaincy in the West Indies, but it wasn't the ton of the KP of old. The notorious Achilles injury meant the English summer was written off, and he never really recaptured the form that made him the superstar of his earlier career. An inability to score runs on his return in South Africa manifested itself into a real problem, and Pietersen failed to score a test century for 20 months after that solitary one in the West Indies. The media hyped problem against left-arm spin grew into a real mental block, and combined with poor scores, Pietersen cut a forlorn figure. He may have made a double century at Adelaide during the Ashes to ward off the vulture, but they've returned once more. Once an automatic pick, Pietersen's neck is on the chopping block, as he just isn't justifying his place in the team.

For my mind, there's still no question about KP's ability. The only issues with his batting are all in his mind. Does he still have the desire and hunger to play for England? Does he still believe he's good enough? The skunk-haired cocksure of 2005 who would try to smash Shane Warne over the Lord's pavilion is long gone, and in his place is a man filled with worry and doubt. KP needs runs tomorrow, and he needs a lot of them. There's no doubt that techically he is good enough, but if he lacks the self-belief and confidence that he can make runs, then quite simply he won't. And in this fairly ruthless England regime, if a player isn't making runs, he won't be in the team. I don't know if this is actually KP's 'last chance', but he probably thinks it is. If he's able to grind out a century that helps fire England to victory, the confidence will start flowing and the runs will start flooding in again. If not, or if not at the Rose Bowl next week, then we could be seeing the end of one of the most talented cricketers of the generation.

For KP's sake, for England's sake, he needs this.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Day Four at Lord's

Before play started...: Many runs and a bit of rain. Could go either way, but draw most likely.

Where did it all go wrong for Sri Lanka?: Came up short of England's score thanks to a bit of a collapse when they should have had a big lead. Didn't make many inroads into England's batting either.

Where did it all go right for Sri Lanka?: Haven't let England get away from them, and if a declaration is timed poorly could be in with a sniff.

Where did it all go wrong for England?: Another failure for Strauss - how long before his lack of runs becomes worrying?

Where did it all go right for England?: Somehow eked out a lead, and can force the pace of this game with quick runs in the morning. The game is in their hands.

Who won each session?: Afternoon - England. Evening - Probably England.

Who's winning the game?: England. If they score quickly in the first session (or longer if they want) they can set either set Sri Lanka an unrealistic target, or dangle a carrot. After what happened at Cardiff with the scoreboard pressure, England should be favourites, but will do well to force a result.

Shot of the day: Herath's slog-sweep-stumble for six off Swann. Village, but brilliant.

Ball of the day: Swann to Herath. Turned a couple of absolute rippers beyond the outside edge, before forcing the stumping. Off-spin to left-handers at it's best.

Man of the day: Finn bowled well this morning, as did Swann, but Cook's runs means he probably shades it. Decent performance all round for England though.

Mug(s) of the day: Bit harsh, but Strauss. Yet another failure to a left-arm seamer, and it's becoming a real worry. Especially with a certain Zaheer Khan to come over the summer...

Finn's Nifty Fifty

Today, Steven Finn broke a long-standing record by becoming the fastest man in English test history to get to 50 test wickets. At just 22 years and 63 days, and in his 12th test match, Finn has broken the previous record (set by Ian Botham) by 6 months. Pretty good going.

So for someone who clearly takes wickets, and has an average of 26, why hasn't Finn been in the team? Dropped after Perth and only back in here thanks to Jimmy Anderson's injury, Finn hasn't nailed down a place in the team, and chances are he'll drop out again when Anderson returns.

The key stat to look at is Finn's run rate in tests. 3.97. While he has a very handy knack of taking wickets, he does leak runs, and with a lot of England's plans revolving around keeping it tight and creating pressure, having a leaky bowler who is spraying it around can undo all of the hard work created at the other end. At the time of being dropped during the Ashes, Finn was the leading wicket taker of the series, but at what cost? His economy rates Down Under don't make pretty reading - 3.71, 6.25, 4.43, 3.33, 4.61, 5.73. While England valued his wickets, they went for the more frugal Tim Bresnan at Melbourne, and the rest is history.

But, while Finn struggles to stem the flow of runs, he does have that very happy knack of taking wickets. 50 wickets in 12 matches is testament to that. Finn is a young man, and is still learning his craft as a fast bowler. No doubt in time he'll be able to keep it tight and bowl far more consistently, but at the moment he sprays it around far too often. When Anderson, or even Bresnan becomes fit again, the question has to be whether England value a man who will take wickets at a high tariff, or create pressure and be less effective but more cheap.

It is a tricky one. Ultimately it's wickets that win test matches, and Finn takes wickets. But a lot of England's plans revolve around stifling the opposition, and forcing mistakes caused by scoreboard pressure. While Tremlett and Broad hardly covered themselves in glory this test match, normally England's attack is a much less generous proposition, and may have winkled out a few more wickets yesterday thanks to a low run rate forcing Sri Lankans to take risks attempting to force the pace.

Will Finn be dropped to make way when Anderson returns? Probably. The Andocracy have made it clear what their plans are for successful test cricket, and they can't afford to have one leaky bowler conceding over a hundred each innings. But will Steven Finn take hundreds more test wickets for England? Absolutely. Finn is still learning his craft, and there's nowhere more unforgiving than in test cricket. As Finn matures and grows in experience, any question about him being an expensive bowler will be out of the window, and he'll be an automatic pick as part of England's attack. But he quite clearly isn't there yet (as Matt Prior's 25 byes can testify) and what Finn needs to do is to go away from the glare of international cricket for a while, and just bowl. He's been very good in taking his first 50 test wickets. He'll be excellent as he takes his next few hundred.

Day Three at Lord's

Before play started...: A lot of runs and not a great deal of wickets over the first two days

Where did it all go wrong for Sri Lanka?: Rain in the evening stopped them reaching England's score which could have made this game very interesting with two days left

Where did it all go right for Sri Lanka?: Plenty more runs before the rain

Where did it all go wrong for England?: Bowled better than Day 2, but still not to the required level.

Where did it all go right for England?: The bowling did improve (Finn especially) which is a slight bonus. The rain means that Sri Lanka are probably going to be unable to force a result.

Who won each session?: Morning and Afternoon - Sri Lanka. Evening - Rain.

Who's winning the game?: Sri Lanka are able to get a handy lead and despite the rain, we all know from last week what scoreboard pressure can do. England should bat through, but Sri Lanka are probably favourites at this stage.

Shot of the day: Jayawardene driving for four. Exquisite.

Ball of the day: Tremlett taking Sangakkara's wicket. Nice bit of bowling.

Man of the day: Tillakaratne Dilshan - kept going despite clearly being in immense physical pain to pull through for his team. Deserved the double hundred.

Mug(s) of the day: Weather. Rain isn't fun for anyone.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Prior - The New Gilchrist?

Whenever a player stands out as being the best ever in his field, he is automatically used as a yardstick to judge others by. Any new half-decent spinner will be compared to Warne. A batsman who starts making a few runs will be touted as a successor to Bradman. And a wicketkeeper who starts scoring quickly will be called the new Gilchrist. Today Matt Prior completed his century - his second successive ton in a test shirt, and they've both come at a fair lick. So with the traditional hyperbole that so often follows English cricketers before coming disappointingly short, the press box went into overdrive, with Prior / Gilchrist comparisons hitting Twitter almost as often as Justin Bieber gets requests to post his phone number.

So what would being "the new Gilchrist" entail? Well, the 'Gilchrist', or the attacking wicket-keeper batsman role is all about scoring quickly. Coming in at number seven, the Gilchrist can either further cement the superiority of an innings by blazing a quickfire century, or turn around a failing innings by chipping in with handy quick runs after the top order failed. The Gilchrist always puts the team's needs above his personal average, sometimes giving his wicket away in the noble cause of forcing the pace. In terms of wicket-keeping, the Gilchrist is a more than capable keeper - not unprone to the odd howler but generally sound.

It's impossible to ignore that Prior ticks a lot of these boxes. He has a First Class strike rate of 67 (test SR of 64), so he knows where the boundary is. And with 5 test tons and an average of over 43 to his name, he is also prone to finding those boundaries fairly regularly. However, Gilchrist, who as I said earlier is the benchmark, made 17 test tons at 47, with a colossal strike rate of 82. While Prior is doing pretty damn well for himself, Gilchrist comparisons may be a touch premature.

There's no doubting that Matt Prior is a much improved keeper (although he has only made 4 stumpings in a four year test career, much of which he's spent keeping to 'the best attacking spinner in the world') and an excellent batsman down the order. Of the keepers currently plying their trade in test cricket, Prior is probably the most consistent batsman, and a massive reason why England have been so successful recently. It's probably fair to say that Matt Prior is the best wicket-keeper/batsman in the world. However, as with Warne, Bradman et al, Gilchrist was a one-off - the sort of cricketer that defines a role, rather than letting the role define him. While there is absolutely no shame at all in being currently the best in the world, perhaps those blowing the Matt Prior horn should reign in the notion that he's the best ever.

Day Two at Lord's

Before play started...: Sri Lanka started well after winning the toss and sticking England in, but the hosts fought back as honours were even after Day 1

Where did it all go wrong for Sri Lanka?: Bowled (and fielded) very poorly as England raced along to lunch, probably adding 50-70 more runs then they should have been allowed to.

Where did it all go right for Sri Lanka?: The big partnership keeping them well in this match

Where did it all go wrong for England?: The bowling was erratic and not particularly threatening.

Where did it all go right for England?: The late order runs (at a great pace) in the morning meant realistically England shouldn't lose.

Who won each session?: Morning - England. Afternoon and Evening - Sri Lanka.

Who's winning the game?: Always favour runs on the board, but with Dilshan in and Sri Lanka only 200-odd behind, they could get a handy first innings lead.

Shot of the day: Paranavitana creaming Finn through the covers for an exquisite four. Punishing.

Ball of the day: One of the ones from Broad's first over, or Tremlett's to Dilshan which lifted sharply and hit the thumb. But not a great day for the bowlers otherwise...

Man of the day: Tillakaratne Dilshan - a glorious hundred which was just what his team needed after a collapse at Cardiff and conceding plenty in the first innings. (Props too to Matt Prior for completing the hundred)

Mug(s) of the day: The bowlers. It wasn't a great day to turn your arm over.

Short Midwicket Name Drops of the Day: Monty Panesar. Weirdly, not at the cricket, but outside Lush at Victoria Station. He looked surprised to be recognised on a day out in London with wifey.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Eoin Morgan - Test Batsman

Today, Eoin Morgan played a test innings. It wasn't a gritty, nurdly, innings. He took chances, punished bad balls, and attacked good ones. He didn't leave many, and he scored quickly. It was not a conventional test innings, but it was an Eoin Morgan innings.

It would be foolish to expect all of the batsmen in a line up to play in the same way. Some batsmen just want to bat for as long as they can, and any run they pick up is a handy bonus to the time spent out in the middle. Some batsmen want to show off by playing loose, expansive shots, in order to entertain and look good. There are others who will leave anything outside off-stump, and punish anything that isn't. Eoin Morgan isn't a conventional batsman, and while there are certain expectations for a test batsman, he doesn't appear to heed them.

Morgan's strength is that he is an exceptional shot maker - he has the full range of strokes and is in complete control of everything he does. The innings he played today was his natural game - he hit two sixes, yet there was nothing reckless about either. He scored quickly, but didn't compromise his wicket. He scored runs, lots of them, and at a good lick, which is what he's in the team to do.

There have been some questions about Morgan's inclusion in the test team, mainly about the flaws that open up in his technique when playing defensively. Yes, there are flaws, and Morgan will have to mend them if he is to become truly one of the best in the world, but much of those flaws occur when he is trying to do something he is not comfortable with - when he is playing outside of his natural game. Today, he played how he wanted to play, and reaped the rewards of a well-played fifty in an important partnership in the context of the match.

When Eoin Morgan plays an Eoin Morgan innings, there is no question that he is test material. Down the line he may go through a bad patch and be under public pressure, but the worst thing he can do is to try and become a player that he is not. Eoin Morgan plays as only Eoin Morgan can, and judging by today's performance, if he continues to play as well as he did today, we could be seeing the makings of a proper test cricketer.

Day One At Lord's

Before play started...: Four days of rain were followed by two hours of madness as England stole it at Cardiff.

Where did it all go wrong for Sri Lanka?: Didn't press home the advantage after an excellent first hour.

Where did it all go right for Sri Lanka?: Got Trott out cheaply, proving it is humanly possible. Further seeds of doubt sewn in KP's mind too.

Where did it all go wrong for England?: If I was nit-picking it would be that nobody made a hundred (carried on to make a daddy). Poor start too wasn't great.

Where did it all go right for England?: A lot of strength down the order - didn't panic when wickets fell. Ended the day in the ascendancy.

Who won each session?: Morning - Sri Lanka. Afternoon - England. Evening - Just about England.

Who's winning the game?: In that England are on 342-6 after being sent in, England.

Shot of the day: Morgan smashing Herath into the pavilion for 6. He was only on about 5 at the time.

Ball of the day: Lakmal bowled an absolute jaffa to Bell when he was new at the crease - big swing and somehow beat the edge.

Man of the day: Alastair Cook - missed out on another hundred but an important innings in the context of the match.

Mug of the day: KP. How much longer can past glories justify his test position?

Short Midwicket Name Drops of the Day: Had drinks with former Middlesex wicketkeeper David Nash. Saw Richie Benaud from across the Coronation Garden. Somebody gave me a package addressed to Jimmy Anderson thinking I was him. Saw Alastair Cook shirtless about to have a shower through an open window. (As soon as Cook saw me, he closed the window).

Why Jade Dernbach Should Play At Lord's

I've been putting this blog off for quite a while. All week, in fact, since the announcement that Jade Dernbach was called into the England squad for the second test at Lord's. Quite honestly, it's because I feel a bit naughty doing it. I've been a long term champion of Steve Finn, ever since his Middlesex debut as a gangly teen through to his England debut as a gangly 20-odd year old. But were I Andy Flower, I'd overlook Finn in favour of some tattooed South-African born lout from Surrey. It goes against everything I should stand for as a cricket blogger.

But it sort of doesn't. I'll overlook Jade's tats, background and general Surrey-ness for a minute to look at England's bowling options for this test. Tremlett. Finn. Broad. All big men. If they're all selected, England will field their tallest ever fast bowling attack, measuring in at not far under 20 feet between the three of them. While it would be unfair to generalise the games of all three in such a way, it could be said that all are "bang-it-in" bowlers. Yes, Sri Lanka appear to have a weakness to the short ball, but not to that extent. By all means, play two quicks who are going to stick it back of a length and work the Lankans over, but playing all three smacks of unneccessary overkill. Quite simply, England's attack will be very samey and far too simplistic. What if the pitch doesn't offer much bounce? Or if the Sri Lankans play the short ball well? Suddenly three-quarters of England's plans go down the proverbial Lord's gurgler.

With England naming four fast bowling options, and a tall three man attack unfeasible, there can only be one option. Playing Jade Dernbach.

So onto Jade himself. Looking at the stats, you'd think Jade is more of a one-day specialist, but he has improved leaps and bounds in four-day cricket. Averaging 29 in last year's County Championship (no mean feat when playing half of your cricket at the run-friendly Kia-Ora Oval and considering he had a pretty bad injury right way through the season), Dernbach has pushed his way through the England pecking order to appear a genuine international prospect. At the start of the season, all of the county coaches were polled as to who the best bowler on the circuit was. Dernbach won with 33% of the vote. He's certainly taken his chances when they've been offered to him - his excellent form over the winter (and against Sri Lanka where he took 9 wickets) for the Lions has shown he has the ability to succeed, and the big-match temprament to do it on the big-stage. (In that he knew how important the Lions matches were for his international chances and took his opportunity). With Shahzad bowling balloons and Onions not really fit yet, Dernbach's selection wasn't the biggest shock in the world, and he more than deserves his chance in England colours.

There's more to this argument than just "England shouldn't play three back-of-a-length" bowlers - Jade Dernbach has earned the right to play test cricket. While there are eyebrows raised about his earrings, tattoos and South-African heritage (he has a Croydon accent, which is good enough for me), there are certainly no questions over his bowling, which ultimately is why he should be selected for this game. While I'd personally prefer to see Finn, Tremlett and Dernbach play (with Broad dropped), this won't happen, so a Trem-Broad-Dernbach triumvirate would be good enough for me. Jade Dernbach has been banging on the door of test cricket - now I just hope the selectors are brave enough to let him in.