Thursday, 31 March 2011

Podcast - Fairytales All Over The Place

Download this episode here

After years of build up, and a similiarly lengthed tournament, we have our World Cup finalists! (In case you didn't know, it's not Kenya v Holland). It's India v Sri Lanka; MS v Sanga; Sachin v Murali. Who writes these scripts? Will looks at the chances of both sides, and makes a bold prediction. He also looks at the semi-final losers, and the reasons why they were cast off into the ether. Plus why Pakistan shouldn't blame Misbah (or at least shouldn't torch his house). All of that, plus reasons why Will wouldn't have minded a major diplomatic incident. It's literally all going on, Richard.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Australian Captaincy - As Easy As ABC

So the old football adage goes when asked who you support - "ABC. Anyone But Chelsea". And as Australia look set to appoint a new captain, the general feeling amongst Aussie fans is ABC. Anyone But Clarke.

The Australian public has massively lost faith in the captain elect over the past year. Off field issues, such as leaving the New Zealand tour to break up with his girlfriend have hardly helped endear him to a public who don't think his priority is scoring runs for Australia. The outpouring of anger when Pup was appointed (albeit temporarily) as captain for the final Ashes test when Ponting was injured just shows what a low opinion the Australian cricketing public have of Clarke, even bordering on a strong dislike.

Clarke has been groomed as "the next Australian captain" for the past few years, slowly being given more responsibility as stand in captain when Ponting's unavailable, and latterly full-time T20 captain as well. Given the very public opposition to Clarke, you'd have thought he'd failed miserably, but when you look at his performances as captain, he's fared pretty well. The selectors feel he has the required skills for the job (hence why he was groomed from a long while back), but will such a public opposition stop him from being appointed?

Viewed completely differently by the Australian public are Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin. Hads and Huss seem the sort of bloke who the average Aussie cricket fan could relate to, and down a few tinnies with. Clarke seems happier to chase a celebrity lifestyle in his surfer pad, hence why he is seen as aloof and dislikeable by fans who respect those who respect them. Haddin and Hussey, like Clarke, have played in a lot of international games, so have the required level of experience. And like Clarke, they too have their individual pros and cons. Haddin, for example, may soon be replaced by Tim Paine (who could yet captain Australia after the current choice hangs up his baggy green), whereas Hussey may be a bit too intense a captain given his penchant for 8 hour net sessions.

All three have their positive points, as well as their weaknesses. And in my view, all three would make pretty good captains for Australia. They would all be strong leaders, which is what Australian cricket needs as they look set for an overhaul and rebirth, and the new captain may yet have to deal with a certain R. Ponting, who could slip back in as "one of the lads". While Aussie fans may be hoping for Anyone But Clarke, they're probably going to be disappointed, as Cricket Australia wouldn't want to waste the years of training Clarke for captaincy. And while they may be upset now, it would only take a few wins and some runs for Clarke for the Pup love-in to start again. Stability is what Australian cricket needs right now, and while the fans may not like it, the best man for the job is the man they want least of all.

Note - I have never, ever used the term anyone but Chelsea. As a Chelsea season-ticket holder it sickens me whenever people use it. Just wanted to clear that up.

End of an Era

I've spoken many times about Ricky Ponting's imminent demise as Australian captain. While I was often banging on about how I thought he would go, and how he'd cling on to grim death until there was no other option, part of me wouldn't accept that Ricky would no longer be Australia's captain.

As I've literally not known a situation in my cricketing life where Ricky Ponting hasn't been Australian captain, it's become part of the institution. While everything has to come to an end eventually, and Ponting's ever increasing age dictated that it would be sooner rather than later, I still sort of expected him to just keep carrying on. But carry on no longer, and while he may play on as a batsman, it will be difficult to see Ricky, the eternal captain, playing as "one of the boys" under a Clarke, Haddin or Hussey.

It'll be very odd to see somebody else leading Australia onto the field the next time they play, and whether Ponting is one of the boys following the new captain on or if he's sitting in the hospitality box remains to be seen. But the end of Ponting's captaincy brings with it the end of an era - the final close to the all-conquering Australian side of the late 90s through to the middle of the 00s.

Farewell Ricky. It may sound odd to say, but I'll miss you.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Podcast - Blame Trott

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A fun podcast of choking was ruined by Jonathan Trott's sabotage of the England team, so instead Will had to resort to some punditry. The four departing quarter-final losers have their tournaments assessed, and the four semi-finalists have their chances looked at too. Some bold predictions are made, and some not so bold predictions also. All of this, plus so much more!

England's Captaincy Conundrum

I awoke this morning to see a barrage of tweets about how Stuart Broad would be an awful England ODI captain, and should never be given the proverbial armband should Strauss step down / get booted out. After rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I saw the article that's prompted all of the hoo-hah, as Michael Vaughan "backs Broad for ODI captain" (which, incidentally, has mispelt Alastair Cook's name - not a great show from the Beeb), who thinks that if Strauss is given the proverbial heave ho from the ODI captaincy, then Broad is the man to replace him. I'm not sure if I agree with Virge, so let's have a look at the potential candidates should Strauss (as now expected) hands over the ODI reigns.

Stuart Broad

Broad's case for inclusion is made fairly well by Vaughan - he's passionate, fiery, and has time on his side to really shape this England team going forward. However, Broad is prone to often overstepping the mark thanks to his temper, which may not be the best example for a captain to be setting for his team (although, Ricky Ponting's been doing it for years). However, it could be seen that the captaincy is "the making of Broad" - forcing him to really watch his behaviour and channel his anger into taking wickets rather than having strops. Choosing Broad would be a surprise decision, and it could be a great success over the next few years. However, if he starts throwing his toys out the pram, his captaincy could be a disaster.

Alastair Cook

It's not even worth starting a sentence about Alastair Cook and captaincy without using the acronym FEC. But that's the term he's had to cope with all of his career, and given he was the man chosen to lead last year's tour of Bangladesh, the powers that be evidently see him as a future leader of England. (The cricket team, although if his post Ashes popularity continues, it could quite well be of the country). His tactical and mental credentials are sound enough, but the only drawback for Cook is that he hasn't been in the ODI team at all over the past two years, which would make it very difficult for him to walk straight back in as captain. While England do have form of shoehorning captains straight back into the team (see Strauss in 2009) Cook hasn't been playing ODIs for a reason, and the selectors need to decide whether weakening the team with a specialist captain is going to be more successful than giving the captaincy to someone less suited but a regular fixture.

Graeme Swann

Swann has probably been the fans choice (or, at least this fan's choice), and would obviously love to do it. His enthusiasm would rub off on the players, and we've seen by the way that he sets his own fields that he clearly has a very switched on cricket brain. However, the only downside is that he may not take the captaincy seriously enough - or if he did, that his "buffoonery" would be stunted. A Swann without the Sprinkler? The captaincy may be a burden which could make Swanny lose his mojo, and while he would be great fun as captain, I'd prefer to see him make jokes and take wickets to keeping straight faced under pressure from the ECB and not bowl as well.

Jimmy Anderson

While he missed the last few games of the World Cup, Anderson will still feel like a regular fixture in this England side, and given his reported displeasure at being passed over in favour of Cook for the Bangladesh captaincy last year, clearly fancies himself. (As captain). Jim would certainly have the respect of the dressing room as well as potentially being inspirational in the field, but what could hold him back immediately is that he is no longer 100% guaranteed of his place in the side. If he was given those assurances, he'd certainly be one of the leading candidates, as he does tick a lot of boxes.

Ian Bell

Bell has really grown leaps and bounds in maturity over the past 18 months, and seemed to have been given much more responsibility from Cap'n Strauss this World Cup. After being in the international arena for a good 6 or so years, Bell has progressed into becoming a senior player, and he also has the advantage of having time on his side, as he is still only 28. Bell's got a great track record - having steered Warwickshire to a CB40 win last year, and would get my vote to replace Strauss as ODI captain.

Rob Key

OK, this isn't going to happen - but why not? If England were going to bring in Cook as a specialist captain, why not forget him and go straight to the top, and get Big Keysy back. Just a thought.

Paul Collingwood

If Colly was five years younger and still churning out the runs, then yes. But surely his international career is over? However, Durham Paul is still England's T20 captain, so would be in the hat at least. But if chosen as captain, England would be making a long term committment to Colly, and long term are words which wouldn't suit Collingwood at all. He had his chance as ODI captain, and won't be called for again.

Andrew Strauss

Technically Strauss still is ODI captain, and given the success he's had over the past two years as England captain, it's not beyond the realms of improbability that the selectors write off the World Cup as "one of those things" and back Strauss to lead going forward. Whether Strauss wants to lead is another question, but he's certainly not disgraced himself since taking over, and could still be England captain when they next take to the field.

So there you have it. My head says Bell, my heart says Swann, but my belly says Rob Key. Thoughts?

Sunday, 27 March 2011

England's One Day Failings

Yesterday I wrote about the men who were in England's ODI squad, and the immediate direction they can take. And before the World Cup even started, I named a potential team for the next summer of ODI cricket (which still doesn't look too unlikely).

However, while the short term can be looked at, the facts remain that England haven't been a top-level ODI side since reaching the final in 1992. We've consistently underperformed, citing the same reasons time after time. Ultimately, England's failures in ODI cricket aren't due to tiredness or injuries, it's a much deeper problem. Put simply, we aren't producing enough ODI quality players - or if we are, we aren't picking them. Test cricket and ODI cricket are very different disciplines - while key skills can be used in both, for players to be the very best in ODI cricket, there are other elements needed. It's widely recognised that England have a very good test side, and not such a good ODI side. But the ODI team is basically the test team without Alastair Cook. So the players who clearly have the aptitude for test cricket patently don't have the X Factor in ODI cricket needed to win World Cups.

Much of the reason must be looked at in county cricket, where the One Day competition is put in as an afterthought. And the fact that it doesn't even take the same format as international cricket doesn't suggest players are learning the skills required for ODIs. The nature of ODI selection is also wrong. Of yesterday's England side, Strauss, Bell, Trott, Prior and Tremlett were given ODI chances (or reprieves) almost exclusively on the back of test form. While this doesn't mean they are bad One Day players, it shows that selectors are only looking at the pool of international players rather than those who are proving themselves consistently in domestic List A cricket.

And even when young guys are being selected, they're given very little margin for error before being discarded. Think Davies, Kieswetter, Denly, Rashid, Woakes. These are the players who have been performing well in domestic List A cricket who are removed for those with iffy One Day records but have performed well in tests. The selection of Prior over Davies is a case in point.

Another thing - English players don't play enough One Day cricket. I'm not talking about ODI cricket, where the 400 cap club is becoming increasingly unexclusive; but one day cricket of any sort. Once a player is picked for England, the only List A cricket of any type will be ODIs, as he is very rarely released to his county for one day games which are crucial for his development. Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad didn't play any One Day games for Notts last year, and Ian Bell has played double the ODIs than domestic One Day games. England are taking the view that international cricket is a place where players have to learn skills quickly, but it's also a place where flaws are exposed and we've already seen how keen the selectors are to dispose of those who don't swim immediately after being thrown straight into the deep end. England would be far better off using the domestic One Day tournament as a breeding ground for international cricket, where players can hone their skills and learn about the ways of One Day cricket, before picking players when they're ready for international action and sticking with them.

England's failures in ODI cricket are deeper than immediately meets the eye, but they can be rectified. There are some players who have been consistently performing at county level, and the selectors shouldn't be afraid to pick them. And if they are to pick them, faith needs to be shown in them. And England's established players should be given the opportunity to go and play One Day cricket for their counties, where they can develop their game away from the glare of ODI cricket, and learn the appropriate skills for ODI cricket, rather than recycling the very different skill set needed for test cricket. England flattered to decieve this World Cup, and while cosmetic changes could be made from small short term successes, a much deeper set of decisions need to be taken if England are ever to win a World Cup.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Where To Now for England?

So yet another World Cup has slipped away for England, and another World Cup where England have failed to reach expectations. After somehow squeaking through the groups, England folded meekly against a Sri Lankan side who were just better than them.

A World Cup is the end of a four year cycle in international cricket - a four year cycle where plans are set, players blooded and markers set. England, sadly, haven't performed anywhere near the high standards that are expected of them. However, with the end of the previous cycle, England go home from this World Cup knowing that a new cycle is beginning. So what of the 19 men who flew out to be part of England's squad this World Cup?

Andrew Strauss (captain)

Strauss as a batsman had a good start to the World Cup. The 141 against India was as good as any innings this World Cup, and nearly guided England to victory. However, since that big score, Strauss has been slightly found out as an opening batsman, as he struggles to play spin from the off. Facing spinners who were opening the bowling bogged Strauss down, and he struggled from there. As a captain, however, as sacreligious as it is to say, Strauss has been pretty poor. The games against Ireland and Bangladesh were lost by England rather than being won by the opposition, and Strauss's captaincy left an awful lot to be desired. After their last few World Cups, England's captains have stepped aside to allow others to take the team forward, and there is a growing school of thought that Strauss should be allowed to focus on his test captaincy (which to Strauss's credit, is amongst the best in the world). If England want a radical overhaul post World Cup, it would make sense for a 'flagship' change in ODI policy, and the end of Strauss's ODI career (again) may well be that headline announcement.

Kevin Pietersen

News of KP's ODI retirement broke before the World Cup, and while he did perform OK while he was there, the fact that he picked up another injury while doing so may help encourage Kev that ODI cricket is too much of an unnecessary hindrance to his career. While he did contest thoughts of his premature ODI retirement, he also didn't appear to put up much of a fight when he picked up his injury, when (allegedly) many of the team officials felt that he could have stayed on. He opened the innings in the games that he did play in, but it was a 'quick-fix' approach that wouldn't have lasted post World Cup. I'd doubt whether KP will ever open the innings for England again, and would doubt further if he'd ever play ODI cricket either.

Jonathan Trott

England's shining light this World Cup, and the main reason they got this far. Thoughts that he bats too slowly for ODIs are ridiculous - without his runs England simply wouldn't have been competitive in most of their games. A good ODI side need a steady accumulator at number 3, and Trott is just that. His place is more than safe going forwards.

Ian Bell

The man who should have been opening for England throughout the World Cup, Bell was finally given his chance at the top in the final game. Seemed to be war weary from being the only Englishman to have played in every single game of the winter marathon from October to March. But he is a classy player, and should be given a longer run at the top of the order post WC. A man with lots of international experience, and with a growing maturity, Bell could be a major candidate is the captaincy is vacated. And you know what, I'd support it.

Paul Collingwood

Collingwood looked finished as an international player during the Ashes, and hasn't dispelled those feelings. Colly simply has nothing left to give, which doesn't detract from his great career, but enough is enough. And if someone else is moved to the ODI captaincy, surely Colly would be replaced as T20 skipper, which would put the final nail in the coffin for Collingwood.

Ravi Bopara

Should have been a mainstay in the ODI side, but only took an injury to Morgan to get him into the squad. Performed well when there - England's best batting all-rounder who should become a first choice fixture from now on. Given the selectors apparent retiscence to picking him, whether he does or not is doubtful.

Matt Prior

Clearly isn't an international opener, seen repeatedly over the Australia series / World Cup, and shouldn't ever be used as such again. Pity that the final England game was the only game where he was used properly as the finisher that he is. Prior was average this World Cup, and will likely be replaced by Davies after the World Cup.

Tim Bresnan

Bres bowled well - especially against India - but isn't good enough to spearhead an international attack, as proved in the absence of Broad and Anderson. Still a useful prospect in ODI cricket, however, and will no doubt be a big part of the attack going forwards.

Graeme Swann

Swann at times looked like the world class spinner that he is, but let frustration get the better of him at others. Will obviously be a huge part of the team post World Cup.

Stuart Broad

Looked really good before getting injured at the worst possible time. Real shame that he had to go home, and will be back in the side when his injury clears up.

Jimmy Anderson

A weird one this. Anderson came into the World Cup on the crest of a wave with supreme confidence, but left it with his reputation in serious doubt. Touted as the leader of the attack and the man to win the World Cup for England (after winning us the Ashes) he underwhelmed spectacularly, and looked a shadow of himself. Looked jaded and in need of a rest, and maybe a break would be the best thing for him, before triumphantly returning in the summer as the good old Jimmy Anderson that we know and love.

Michael Yardy

Sadly left the World Cup early for reasons which may see him never pull on an England shirt again, but without wanting to appear as heartless as Geoffrey Boycott, he may not have ever done so again anyway. He didn't bowl well enough for an international bowler, and didn't bat well enough to even bat at number seven. England have better options regardless of Yardy's mental state, and depression or not, I'd be surprised to see Yardy play for England again.

Ajmal Shahzad

Overawed against India, awesome against Bangladesh, and really unlucky to pick up an injury just as he'd earned his spot in the starting eleven. Whether he makes a first choice eleven post World Cup remains to be seen, but will no doubt play many more times for England.

James Tredwell

Did well against West Indies, and looked threatening-ish against Sri Lanka, but Tredwell isn't the second (or third) best spinner in England. There are better options available, and given the selectors use of him only as the complete last resort, I'd again be surprised if he were to play internationally again.

Luke Wright

Luke Wright is Luke Wright. Dropping him is the most obvious thing in the world, but he is Luke Wright, which probably means he'll take over as captain.

Eoin Morgan

England were too hasty to deselect him, and he has proved that he should be playing every ODI game for England. No worries there.

Chris Tremlett

Drafted into the World Cup squad on the back of good performances in the Ashes, but his overall One Day record suggests that he's not really good enough in the colours for England. His indifferent two games, where wickets were rather scare (to be non-existent) suggests that ODIs aren't his game. England have other, better options, and will use them ahead of Trem going forward.

Jade Dernbach

Came in when Shahzad went home, and didn't play. However, his selection over the likes of Woakes and Finn suggest he is very firmly on the radar for future honours.

Adil Rashid

Only after the Yardy withdrawal did the bandwagon eventually get what they wanted. Still obviously something stopping him playing (perhaps an attitude problem) but can be a big part of England's team, as he is good enough to bowl as the second spinner behind Swann and bat at number seven - something Yardy and Tredwell failed to do. Should play more regularly, but will need to prove that he is ready before the sharks start circling once more.

So where can England go from here. Incidentally, the team that knocked us out are out next opponents, as we face Sri Lanka in a series in the summer. We may have a new captain, exciting new bowlers or dashing new batsmen. We may have more of the same. But at the moment, the best place for England to go now... is home. This team have been on the road since October, with no rest. They're clearly pining for home, and it must have had some effect of the performances. England do have the basis of a good ODI side, and given a good break and a few tweaks, they can become one of the best in the world. That's almost what makes this World Cup performance more disappointing - the fact that we do have good players. We should have done better. But only when the preparation (by which I mean a settled side who know what their roles are months in advance as well as coming into a World Cup refreshed) is right can England really make a mark in a World Cup. We've now got 4 years to get it right for next time.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Australia's End of an Era

A World Cup is the culmination of four years of preparation for all countries. The fulcrum of ODI cricket, plans are cleverly set, players given experience, and chances taken. All of that work for two months of cricket, which can end in a flash.

Australia are the number one ODI team in the world. In the years since the World Cup's last edition (which, incidentally, they won. And the two before that) they've crushed all before them, and were expected to do so again this time around.

Australian teams are expected to win World Cups. Anything less than this is regarded as failure. An indifferent 3rd position in the groups, followed by a fairly toothless defeat in the quarter finals is not what these 15 men were flown out to achieve.

After the horrendous flogging the selectors received in the wake of the Ashes, Australian test cricket is likely to get a vast makeover in the coming months. And this ODI side, who had been single handedly maintaining the honour of Australian cricket in the wake of the decline of the test outfit, have been shown to not be the all-conquering megaside that they'd been touted as being.

Shaun Tait can't bowl two balls in the same spot, and can't bowl more than two overs in a row without needing a sit down and a nap. Mitchell Johnson's radar is more wonky than Heather Mills playing Twister. Steve Smith is neither an international batsman or a bowler, yet he is told to be both. Jason Krejza (who admittedly is Australia's seventh choice spinner) hasn't looked like he should have been anywhere near a World Cup. And Ricky Ponting's ever-increasing strops this World Cup hardly inspire confidence that he should be a leader of these men.

Whenever cricket teams fail abjectly, fingers are pointed, and heads roll. While Australia do actually have a pretty good ODI side, they just haven't performed anywhere near the level required at this World Cup, and given the apocalyptic feel around Australian cricket at the moment, we could be seeing an end of an era.

White, Haddin, Ponting, Lee and the Husseys are all on the wrong side of 30, and could be put out to pasture. While I'm not advocating a vast and rapid change, the fact that Ferguson, Paine, Marsh and Khawaja are all ready to fill the batting breach (plus a whole host of young fast bowlers) mean that rapid wholesale change can be eased by the fact that ready made replacements are knocking on the door.

The all conquering Australian side who won three successive World Cups have gone, their reign of terror very much a thing of the past. The four year World Cup cycle has also finished, but a new one starts straight away. Whether this Australian team gets a fresh cycle remains to be seen.

Yardy Flies Home

It's been reported this morning that England all-rounder Michael Yardy is to fly home from the World Cup, as he is suffering from depression.

I am by no means a mental health expert, so I won't speculate too much about this, but make no mistake, this is not a time for teasing and sniggering. Depression can be awful at the best of times, but after only being home for three days in four months, it must be debilitating. Yardy has been exceptionally brave to stick it out for so long, and must be praised for taking what is the right decision for himself.

Having read Marcus Trescothick's book (massively highly recommended), there are questions to be asked about whether Yardy is able to travel away again, which does put his international (and maybe even county) future in doubt. But those are not questions for now, at the moment Yardy needs the love and support of his friends and family.

Whether someone is a cricketer, footballer, postman, binman or helicopter pilot, depression can strike, and it ain't a lot of fun. I don't want to speculate on the reasons why it has struck now, instead I want to send my best wishes to Michael Yardy, and hope he makes a full and happy recovery.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Punter's Last Stand

Ricky Ponting's been Australian captain ever since I can remember. As someone who only started taking an interest in cricket circa 2003/4, Ponting was well established as one of the world's best batsmen, and had his feet firmly under the table as captain of the world's best team. Ricky hasn't made an international hundred in over a year, and the all-conquering side that he led is long gone. With yet another Ashes defeat over the past few months, and a potential quarter-final exit to India ahead, we could be seeing the final days of Ricky Ponting as Australian captain.

Ricky's time as Aussie skipper has been spoken about to death. He had some incredible years, including countless records, two World Cups, an Ashes whitewash, and general dominance over the cricketing galaxy. Ponting himself was piling on the runs, the driving force behind the most forceful side in recent cricketing history. But the players of that side have mostly hung up their boots, and even Ponting's runs have seemingly disappeared.

There are two sides to the issue - Ponting as a captain and Ponting as a batsman. While he has overseen some remarkable success, he has also seen a remarkable slump in Aussie fortunes, losing Ponting's third Ashes as well as going into the series having lost seven consecutive matches in all formats. The decline has been mirrored by Ponting's personal failures, and there have been growing calls for him to be dropped regardless of his success or failure as captain, as he simply isn't justifying his position in the side as a batsman.

Australia have many options, both as potential batting replacements, and as captain. Michael Clarke has been groomed as captain ever since he first kissed the baggy green, and while he may not have the support of the Aussie public, he certainly has the backing of the selectors. He would be ready to step up immediately, as proved by the success he's had when assuming the role when Ponting's missed out through injury. And as a batsman, Ponting may not be missed thanks to the real strength in depth that Australia boast. In tests, Usman Khawaja showed that he is able to bat at number three thanks to his (albeit brief) stay at the crease in the final Ashes test, and the continued rise of Callum Ferguson, Shaun Marsh and even Phil Hughes suggest there will be no issue either in ODIs.

Even at the age of 38 Ponting's refused to talk about retirement, but a loss to India tomorrow may take the decision out of his hands. You feel that only taking the World Cup back to Australia for yet another time could save him, but even that may be too late. The odds are stacking up against Ponting, and while he clearly has the mental fortitude for the occasion, does he have the strength left in his little goblin legs for one last push? Ponting's captaincy and international future is on the line, and even he may not have enough to save himself. Exile at an English county may beckon, and tomorrow could see the end of an era, with the end of Ricky Ponting.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The ECB's County Changes

So after months of round-table discussions, votes and debate, the 2012 County season has been decided upon. Nearly. While the One-Day competition (likely to remain as a 40 over effort) is yet to recieve a shape, we now know that the twenty20 has been reduced from 16 to 10 pool matches, but the holy grail of the County Championship is untouched with two divisions and sixteen games a side.

Deciding upon the format has been a touchy subject, as there are a number of issues to juggle. More games (specifically more T20 games) means more people coming through the gate, and as such, more money for the counties. In the week when plenty of counties have announced big losses over the past year, reducing the T20 group stage is a big decision. T20 cricket is where the money is, and the counties tried to cash in with the elongated competition, hoping to recreate the success of the IPL in the county game. However, the vast amount of games that needed to be played just lent itself to overkill, and apathy from the crowds, which in many places were down on the year before. Players were tired, fans were bored, and while the golden goose hadn't been killed, the eggs that it produced certainly lacked the sheen of the much loved twenty20 Cup.

While the T20 competition won't be raking in as much money as the IPL (it won't do that without a TV company willing to show 3 games a day) the 2012 effort will certainly go someway towards getting more people cumatively through the gates, as well as massively increasing the quality of cricket (which was low last year due to the very tired and demotivated players).

The big news is that the County Championship is untouched, with two divisions of nine each playing 16 games. While attendances will be low for CC games, they'd be low whether counties played 16 games, 160 games, or 1.6 games (don't ask how they could play that many). But ultimately, County Cricket is the breeding ground for international cricketers, and the ECB needs to decide whether the County structure is to be used as a money-making exercise, or as a place where test quality players can be created. Luckily, they've gone for the right option, which is for a solid County Championship. While this may not please smaller counties hoping to maximise their incomes, with prudent management they should be OK, and the financial packages offered by the ECB will go someway to appease them.

The county structure will never suit everyone, as there are far too many counties who all want different things to please. However, this announcement from the ECB shows their commitment to the County Championship, which rightly has been given precedence above the money-spinning T20. While the T20 can bring in the big bucks, the County Championship has to be the pinnacle of English cricket, so as such, the ECB have made the right decision. Eventually.

Podcast - The Fantasy Cricket World Cup Fantasy League Thing

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The groups are over, and now the fun really starts. Will takes a look at the quarter finalists, and who has what it takes to go and lift the cup on April 2nd. Also discussed is the ICC's evil plan to eliminate minnows, as well as the coronation of the (group stage winner) of Fantasy League. As always, tweets @shortmidwicket, blogs @ and emails at

Friday, 18 March 2011

Ireland and Holland

Ireland and Holland play each other today, in their final games of this World Cup. While they've only mustered one win from their 10 games not against each other, they can look back at a World Cup where some of their players came of age.

Ryan ten Doeschate, if the world hadn't heard of him already from his numerous spells in T20 sides worldwide, have certainly heard of him following his two World Cup centuries. Paul Stirling's big hitting feats have also seen him catapulted to stardom, as well as his spinning exploits alongside the excellent George Dockrell. William Porterfield's captaincy has been up there amongst the best in the tournament, and he's won many plaudits with the way he's handled himself and his team throughout the World Cup. And of course, the star of the show for the Associates this World Cup has obviously been Kevin O'Brien, with his astonishing 100 against England unlikely to be forgotten in a hurry.

The Group B "minnows" Ireland and Holland have both been far more competitive than their Group A counterparts. Ireland have given really good games to Bangladesh, India and the West Indies (and of course beat England) whereas Holland have at times been the better side in a few of their games. However, in some of those close games, they've lacked the experience and know how of big games to get over the line - something the bigger sides knew how to do (except England, obviously).

It's often spoken that a "golden generation" will happen every now and again with the minnows, before they drift off into obscurity. A prime example of this is seen in Kenya - semi-finalists in 2003 but massively struggling in this edition. The main reason for that - a lack of regular games against top class opposition. These Irish and Dutch sides could also be classed as a golden generation, but they will need to play regular matches against the big boys in order to keep match sharp, and to improve their skills.

Both of these teams are in Europe - only a short hour long flight away from England. This summer, Sri Lanka and India will visit English shores for test and ODI series. Wouldn't it make perfect sense for Ireland or Holland to become involved in these games? We've seen in the seven-match borefest between Australia and England that bi-lateral ODI series can get slightly dull after a while, so why not introduce an associate side for a tri-series?

Administrators should enjoy it, as Ireland and Holland would bring plenty of vocal fans, as well as getting rid of the unneccessary dead rubbers that often finish series. It benefits the players of the test sides involved, as they are able to motivate themselves to play against new, different opposition, rather than groundhog day against the guys they've been slogging away against all summer. And it benefits the associates more than anyone else, as they are given the much needed experience of regular top-class cricket, where skills can be practiced and developed. And it attracts their players to remain in green or orange colours, instead of trying for moves to bigger sides. Surely this is a great idea for everyone?

This Ireland side could certainly be seen as a golden generation. They've got a young captain, young bowlers and a youthful batting line up. If allowed to develop and grow, they could really create some shockwaves in world cricket over the next few years. However, if not, they could fall apart, and not even be competitive (see here Kenya '11). If the ICC are serious about the development of the associate nations, they have to include teams like Ireland and Holland (and even Kenya, Canada, Scotland, USA, UAE, Italy and the Vatican City) in regular games against the regular countries. Yes, the fixture list is congested, but if pointless fifteen match ODI series between New Zealand and West Indies is changed to a five match tri-series including Afghanistan, then surely the benefits will be far greater than the few extra dollars from Star Sports. We've seen at this World Cup that the minnows are ready to take on the big boys - and don't forget Sri Lanka won the World Cup in 1996 only a few years after being considered minnows themselves.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Podcast - "Come On... Got Him!" (Muffled Noise)

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With it all on the line against the West Indies, England needed a big result. And didn't they go and get it. England's selectors finally got it right, although Will explains that they would have got it right much earlier had they been listening to the podcast. There's some unexpected love for one of England's heroes, and some very fickle predictions as to who will win the World Cup. Plus some Irish chat for the plucky boys in green, as well as some spin advice for Australia. Jonny f***ng Trott.

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Have England Stumbled Across a Winning Formula?

To say England have made hard work of this group stage has been a rather large understatement. Through a combination of good luck, bad luck, competence and a heavy dose of incompetence, England have stumbled into a position where only unlikely wins for the West Indies against India, and Bangladesh against South Africa can see England denied from getting into the knock-outs. After naming teams which were mainly wrong, the selectors were thrust into making changes for the do-or-die West Indies clash, and it evidently payed off (just).

But is this the team to take England on to further glories in this World Cup?

England's hand was forced after the embarrassing loss to Bangladesh, and changes had to be made. Wright came in for Collingwood, Tremlett came in for Anderson, and Tredwell came in for the injured Shahzad.

Wright, who has been much maligned in the cricket blogosphere (mainly by me) hasn't performed very well in his many internationals over the past few years. And had there been another alternative, England certainly wouldn't have picked him. However, with Collingwood looking like he's terminally out of form, enough was enough, and it was worth putting Wright in. And today was the day that Luke Wright came of age. Coming in at a crucial position, Wright needed to play a responsible innings to get England to a respectable total. In the past, he would have gifted his wicket away slogging for not many, but here, he grafted a hard fought 40-odd (before gifting his wicket away slogging, but I'll forgive him that one). While there are certainly better batsmen who could play for England, Wright is the only other one in the squad, and when given his chance, seized it with both hands. He also does have the ability to get a few overs out - which are needed when England play a four-man attack.

The decision to remove Collingwood (an over-the-hill player who's best days are firmly behind him) is one thing, but the brave decision was to drop Anderson. Jimmy is, and will be, England's leader of the attack, and will go on to take many ODI wickets for England over the next few years. However, the current Jimmy Anderson is a shadow of his usual self, he looks dejected, out of form, and low on confidence. While it is a hard thing to do to get rid of a bowler of Jimmy's ability, it was the right thing to do, as a four man attack can't afford to carry anyone, regardless of reputation. Tremlett didn't perform particularly well, and the decision that needs to be made is whether a rest of a few days is enough for Jimmy to recover his mojo, or whether its worth sticking with Goobah.

And the final change was bringing in James Tredwell. I'm feeling rather smug this evening, as I've been calling for Tredder's inclusion since the Ireland game. Mick Yardy is a defensive bowler, who won't take wickets. While this may be handy in T20s, it's not a ploy that will work consistently in ODIs. Tredwell is an attacking spinner, and while he may leak a few boundaries, once he starts racking up some dots, he'll start taking wickets. Which was seen in his 4-fer. I'm so pleased for Tredwell, he's carried drinks around without getting games for the last few months, and for him to seize his chance so well is admirable.

So is the eleven that was put out for England the eleven that can win the World Cup? Well, Prior isn't an ODI opener. I'd much prefer to see Swann opening, but I'd also like to play up front for Chelsea. England's middle order is the strength with Trott, Bell and Morgan being supplimented by the hitting power of Bopara and my new favourite cricketer Luke Wright below. Having two attacking spinners in Swann and Tredwell is a big plus, but while Anderson was dropped in favour of Tremlett, I'd prefer to see Jimmy coming in instead of big Chris. However, that's only if it's a 100% fit and firing Jim, so if he isn't going to bowl well, he shouldn't be in the team. Shahzad has been ruled out, and will be replaced, and we've seen that getting someone new and fresh into the team has payed dividends. So, as such, (and given my penchant for random left-field selections) I'd like to see Chris Woakes come in, and go straight into the side.

England may not win this World Cup. In fact, England may still not get out of the groups. But as I write, they're still there, and as anyone who's ever watched a Dale Winton gameshow will know, you've got to be in it to win it. There are better teams out there, but there's something about this England team that's creating tight games. And when it really matters, England are just about doing enough to come out on top. Whether by luck or judgement, England are setting this World Cup alight, and whisper it quietly, but they still fancy their chances of winning it.

"What If" - a draft

I wrote this post when West Indies needed another 30 odd runs, with 4 wickets in hand. The last rites of England's World Cup campaign were being given, and I wanted to get the "England are out" post out of the way, so I wrote it while the game was still going. Just as I finished it, there was a quick flurry of action, and suddenly England are more than alive and kicking. England may still go out of this World Cup in the groups, but I'm keeping this post, mainly to jinx every other team who plays against them this World Cup. Come on England!

"So England are out of the World Cup. A team who were highly touted as potential winners have disappointed so much, and crashed out with barely a whimper in the groups.

What makes this so disappointing is that I genuinely thought England could do something at this World Cup. Yes, we'd struggled against Australia, but if you look at this England squad, there's a lot of quality.

In Strauss, Trott, Bell, Pietersen (and latterly Morgan) England had a world-class batting line-up. In Anderson, Bresnan and Broad we had a superb fast bowling trio. And the trump card - Graeme Swann - the best spinner in the world.

The worst thing about being an England fan is the hope that they give us; the hope that they just might do it - that they just might go on and win. There have been so many fine margins in England's departure - what if Swann had squeaked Munaf Patel away for two off the last ball against India? What if Kevin O'Brien had holed out early in his innings? What if they'd managed to take the final two Bangladeshi wickets? What if Jonathan Trott hadn't been adjudged to touch the boundary rope? What if Tredwell's appeal to Benn hadn't been an 'umpire's call'?

As it is, England are out, and there will be an inquest. England have a team good enough to have won this World Cup, but have massively disappointed. All England fans can ask, is what if?"

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The West Indies Crunch Match - Preview

So the big decider is upon us. The biggest game of England's World Cup, until the next one (assuming we get another). I'm sure you all know the calculations by now. England must win, but hope that South Africa beat Bangladesh. (Technically England could tie, and go through on NRR if Bangladesh lose. Or beat West Indies heavily, hope India beat West Indies heavily, and sneak past the Islanders on NRR. But that's unlikely). But to even stand a chance, England must win.

I've spoken to death about how Swann should open, and Tredwell should come into England's team. Sadly, I've also spoken about England's cowardly selections, which makes big high risk changes unlikely. So for Swann to open, Tredwell to come in, or the selectors generally doing something out of the comfort zone would be a big surprise, so we're probably going to still see Prior opening and Collingwood at 7/8. Mainly because the selectors do not like admitting they are wrong, and changing it only three days after the Bangladeshi defeat would be an admittance that they got it badly wrong.

Which makes the rumours that Jimmy Anderson will be dropped surprising. Anderson has been in awful form, and had someone less senior than him been performing like he has, they would have been bombed out of the team long ago. However, Anderson is the supposed leader of the attack, and as such, has been an untouchable in the starting eleven. However, there have been calls for Tremlett to come in for Anderson, which as justified as they may be, England's cowardly selections thus far mean a big high risk decision like dropping Anderson would be a big shock - especially given there is no safety net from here on in. Luckily (or unluckily) Ajmal Shahzad has the squits, so a controversial and difficult for the selectors could be avoided, as Tremlett could replace Shahzad if Aj is unable to play.

As with the previous game, there have been calls for England to play three spinners, but for me this would be a wrong call. England have lacked a pace man in the middle overs, and while three spinners could strangle the West Indies, playing only Bresnan and Tremlett/Shahzad/Anderson for the opening overs and at the death would be a mistake, as we've seen how easily milked Yardy and Collingwood have been when pace has been taken off the ball in the middle overs. But I'd still like to see an attacking spinner in Tredwell play - especially if Swann opens (which allows England to bat properly down to seven, and play a proper five man attack).

It will be a crunch game for England, and they will massively up their game to beat a West Indies side who are on a good run of form. Don't forget - the WIndies do need to win themselves, or they suddenly have a very difficult game against India at the weekend. England, however, have been gloriously inconsistent, which makes it very difficult to predict how they'll do in any given game. I do hope they roll the dice and make some brave decisions, but as long as England win, I wouldn't care if Luke Wright opened the bowling and batting, and took over as captain.

Come on England!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Podcast - Squeaky Bum Time

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This World Cup is really hotting up! At least, half of it is. While Group A's all sorted out, there's a lot of issues left to be dealt with in Group B, which is getting rather exciting. Places in the quarter finals beckon for some, and places on the bonfire of broken dreams for the rest. Will it be England, or Ireland, or Bangladesh, or West Indies, or South Africa or India? Or could it even be Holland who sneaks through? (It can't). Will got his calculator out to see who it could be. More updates on everyone's chances, and there's a new leader in the Fantasy League. Get in.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Paul Collingwood's 300

Being the sentimental fool that I can be, I was reading through some Paul Collingwood tribute posts (he's not dead, but his career is). He's a man who has retired from tests, and after falling out of form and out of the team, looks as though he won't play for England after this World Cup.

One one of the posts I was reading, someone commented that Collingwood was only a few games away from becoming England's most capped player ever. After doing some well constructed research, I found that by playing against Bangladesh on Sunday, Colly reached his 300th game for England - only three behind serial record holder Alec Stewart. A pretty big achievement that went unnoticed amidst the carnage of England's defeat.

Of all of the hundreds and thousands of players to have pulled on the three lions to represent their country, only two have done it more than 300 times. While that may appear small fry compared to Sachin Tendulkar's 627 caps, don't ignore the gravity of that achievement. A regular in England colours for over a decade is remarkable - especially considering the vast amount of players that have been tried and discarded since he made his debut against Pakistan in 2001.

While a dip in form towards the end of his 300 games may give some the opinion that he was nothing more than a gutsy battler, Colly has been so much more than that. His batting at times could be sublime, with some brilliant hundreds in both ODIs and tests, picking up 15 tons and 49 fifties (so far). A cool head in the middle order, Collingwood could be relied upon to recover after a top-order failure, or push on in a position of strength. And his vigil at Cardiff in '09 showed the sheer determination of the man to never give his wicket away for his country.

His bowling was underrated - especially in ODIs, where his medium pacers gave selectors the luxury of playing an extra batsman. While he could pick up prodigious swing (somehow taking a six-fer against Bangladesh in 2005) in his earlier days, the older Collingwood has stuck more to off-cutters, using all of his experience to tie batsmen down (as well as picking up 111 ODI wickets). While he may not have been as threatening as other members of the attack, he would be a useful foil for established bowlers, and would always be willing to turn his arm over, irregardless of the situation.

And who can forget his fielding - athletic, agile and always alert, Colly was the greatest fielder in the generation where fielding became just as important as the other disciplines. Always prone to a stunning one-hander, Colly has remained just as nimble in the field from his first appearance to his most recent.

A dip in form has seen Colly's place questioned for the first time in years, and has seen him go in and out of the team. Added to that the fact that England may not progress further in this World Cup than their final group game against the West Indies, and Collingwood's bid to make a historic 304th appearance suddenly looks unlikely (he would have to play in every game up and including the final - assuming England get there). Becoming England's record appearance maker wouldn't make him England's greatest player (far from it), but it would be nice to see Collingwood get a reward for all of the hard graft he has put in for his country over the past ten years. A man who has won three Ashes and led England to a maiden World Cup, Collingwood deserves all of the plaudits in the world, but sadly he hasn't got many for making his 300th appearance. So on behalf of England supporters - thanks Colly.

And just to tarnish that nice post, here's the main reason I did this post...


(Thanks to Hannah for the picture)

Friday, 11 March 2011

Scared Selections

England's selectors are notoriously conservative. They just don't like to make brave calls. Obviously I don't want them to make high risk selection decisions every week, but a calculated gamble would be nice every now and again.

I'm not just talking about the current World Cup. England just don't make big, surprise decisions. The lack of any young, exciting batsmen who've played well at county level in this England ODI side (perhaps excluding Morgan) who've played in the last few years is testament to the fact that they don't like to mess around with the status quo. Prime example - Steve Davies; a player who could be a fantastic attacking wicket-keeper but was unproven, was dropped to make way for Matt Prior, a man who wouldn't be such a gamble, but wouldn't pay off spectacularly as much as Davies could.

If we look at this game (v Bangladesh), England had some big decisions to make. England needed a new opener and a new fast bowler, and could mix the spin-bowling options about. I touted Swann to open - a school of thought that was gathering pace. Opening with Swann would be a gamble, but it could pay off spectacularly. South Africa and a few other nations have had success with three spinners, and there were rumours that England could go that way. However, instead of bringing in Tredwell, England bizarrely brought in Collingwood, a man who is horribly out of form with the bat but is part of the establishment, and as such, is worth playing as he can be "relied upon".

England's scared selections annoyed me. This was a genuine chance to do something bold and exciting, yet the team that was put out was a cowardly choice. Prior, who has failed many times as an opener, was promoted, just because it was the least risky thing for the selectors to do. And Collingwood coming in (and batting at number eight) suggests that they knew Yardy needed to go, but were too scared to pick the mercurial James Tredwell. It seems that the selectors would prefer England to fail miserably (as they have done many times) with a stable eleven, than to roll the dice and risk being attacked for making bad decisions.

Well here's my message to the selectors. Don't be scared. Don't be scared to open with Swann, play Tredwell, or finally put Collingwood out of his misery. Don't be scared to call up Adil Rashid, Jimmy Adams, James Hildreth or even Samit Patel. England may win this game v Bangladesh with Collingwood at 8 and Prior opening, but it's a formula that has been proven to not work against the bigger teams. England will not win this World Cup with this team. Albert Einstein said that the "definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". So selectors. Do something different. Roll the dice. We'll thank you for it when we win the World Cup.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

England's World Cup Winning Side

What with Pietersen and Broad going home, England will have to play a different eleven to those who narrowly beat South Africa. And given that England were hardly in sparkling form before the win, there could easily be a few more changes. So who should they pick?

Well, now that Pietersen's not there, England will need to play another opener alongside Strauss. There are a few options, but moving a Bopara or Bell from the middle order would only unsettle things further, so I wouldn't do that. Some have said that Morgan should go straight in at the top, but that would negate his biggest asset - the "cool handed finisher" which England have massively lacked so far. If he opens, while he may be able to exploit the opening powerplays, England wouldn't have him at the crucial finishing overs - the time where his star shines the brightest. So he's not an option either.

There's been some calls (even from BBC Sport's Oliver Brett, nonetheless)for Luke Wright to come in and open. And I sort of see the logic. Wright opening wouldn't impact on the successful middle order, and some argue that he could make quick runs as a pinch-hitter at the top. However, Luke Wright is a poor excuse for a batsman; he's been tried as an opening pinch hitter, a middle order accumulator and as a late-order slogger, and he's failed in every role. He simply isn't a good enough batsman (or bowler) to be playing international cricket. And considering that England will likely want to play 5 bowlers (and have either Bresnan or Yardy at seven), having Wright and Yardy (sorry Sussex fans) in an international top order is a real recipe for disaster. No team should go into an ODI with four batsmen and a keeper.

For me, the best and most obvious option to open would be Graeme Swann. So far he's been the English player who's hit the ball the cleanest, and can definitely act as a pinch-hitter. He's done it in the past for Notts, with success, and he certainly has the confidence in his own abilities to pull it off. And opening with Swann gives much greater balance to the team, as England suddenly have Prior at seven, and bat much deeper while still allowing five bowlers to be picked.
It is not hypocritical of me to badmouth Wright as a batsman, and then ask for a number 9 to open instead. Swann is a much better batsman that Luke Wright. Look at the averages. To be fair, I'm a better batsman than Luke Wright.

So Swann will open. Broad is now out, so changes will need to be made bowling-wise. England will want to stick with the two-spinner / three-seamer approach, so either Tremlett or Shahzad will come in. For me, Shahzad is much better suited to the conditions. Tremlett bowls a length which requires a lot more bounce from the pitch to trouble batsmen, whereas I think Shahzad is a better wicket-taking option in the subcontinent, especially given that he has the ability to generate reverse-swing later on.

And my other change to the side would be bringing in Tredwell for Yardy. England struggled against India and Ireland, because they couldn't take wickets (Bresnan v India aside). Part of the reason for that is Yardy doesn't really take wickets. He isn't expected to take wickets either, which puts far more pressure on the other guys. And it only takes a bad day in the office for a couple of the seamers for a big partnership to develop and bat England out of the game (see Kevin O'Brien for details). Yardy, as effective as he can be at keeping the run rate fairly low, just isn't an aggressive wicket-taking option. Also in the squad is perennial water boy James Tredwell. Admiteddly Jimmy T is yet to take an ODI wicket, but he at least is an aggressive bowler, and will take wickets if the selectors show even the faintest amount of confidence in his abilities. So I'd stick Tredwell in for Yardy.

So England's side, is suddenly looking much stronger. In Swann opening there is a gamble, but we've seen gambles pay off big time for teams willing to make those brave calls so far this World Cup. And England's batting card of Strauss, Trott, Bell, Bopara, Morgan and Prior (down to seven) is up there with the best around. The bowling may not be as strong, but in Bresnan, Swann and Anderson England have three well-established ODI players who can all be match-winners on their day. And in Shahzad and Tredwell are two players who could surprise teams, and chip in with crucial wickets. There's still a long way to go before anyone can realistically think of England winning this thing, but it only takes a couple of good performances, and that all-important momentum to come England's way, and anything could happen. (That's the trouble though, with England, literally anything could happen...)

My England team:

Strauss (c)
Prior (wk)

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

How important is is that Broad (might) be coming home?

So yet another injury has hit England's ODI side. After being decimated in the Australian ODI series, this England World Cup squad is now dropping like a medieval village after a plague rat wanders into town. The latest victim to England's injury curse is Stuart Broad.

This injury is annoying rather than anything else. In the past few years Broad has grown into a very fine One Day bowler with a variety of tricks and is a genuine threat to opposition batsmen. His 4 fer against South Africa the other day underlines his importance to this England team, as a 'pressure' bowler (ie bowling at the death, or being thrown the ball in tight situations) which emphasises the trust that Cap'n Strauss places in him.

Bearing in mind that England's bowling has been distinctly poor thus far, the fact that Broad has so far come out in some credit does show he will be a big loss if he is to leave the tournament. We don't know how severe his injury is, but a side strain for a fast bowler often isn't a trivial issue, so chances are he's played his last at this tournament.

So if he is to go home, who should replace him in the squad? Well, in the short term, Ajmal Shahzad will likely come in for the Bangladesh game on Friday. Chris Tremlett has been sitting on the bench waiting for the inevitable fast bowling injury as the 16th man in the squad, so we'd assume Trem would be selected to the squad. However, given the fact England clearly lack an all-rounder (something every other nation has in abundance), it would be worth thinking outside the box rather than the 'safe' option of picking Tremlett to carry drinks with Wright and Tredwell.

Some nations have been playing four spinners, some three, most two. England have fielded one (Graeme Swann) and someone bowling darts (Mick Yardy). To say Yardy has been ineffective may be putting it mildly, so there is a real need for England to send for a spinner who actually tries to turn it. Adil Rashid would be an obvious choice - he has topped bowling lists in county cricket over the last however long, and has a couple of FC hundreds to his name, which shows he knows which end of the bat to hold. But is he good enough to bat in the top seven (where he'd need to be)? Someone who would be a better batsman (more than able to bat as a specialist, as well as offering spinning overs) would be Samit Patel. He's obviously international class, as his ODI five-fer suggests, but the obvious fitness issue means it would be a massive climb down from the selectors to pick him. Despite repeated warnings to sort himself out he hasn't bothered, which hardly suggests a brilliant attitude. Both would be options, and I'd be happy with either.

But may I proffer another name? Broad is a fast bowler, and England will want to go in with three seamers into any given match. England need a genuine allrounder who can turn games with the bat or ball. He may have never played internationally, but step forward Peter Trego. The Somerset allrounder can absolutely dominate attacks with bruising strokes - and the nice flat pitches being used would be right up his street. While his bowling may not quite be there, I reckon he'd be good to chip in with a couple of handy wickets along the way. He may be unproven internationally, but his performances in big games for Somerset suggest he has the mental fortitude to step straight into a World Cup and perform.

I'd like to see Trego in the England side (and hope it happens anyway post-World Cup) as it would give a lot more balance, and some big-hitting down the order. However, whoever I endorse is irrelevant, as Chris Tremlett will get selected. So there we are.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Podcast - Somewhat the Pinch Hitter

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Since last time's shocked-cast after the England / Ireland debacle, this pod's much more measured, as Will runs through the games that have been played, and the respective chances of the nations after a few World Cup game. Dissected most of all, however, is "World Cup Winners in waiting" England's win over South Africa, and whether Andrew Strauss is a latter-day Mike Brearley or a Chris Cowdrey. Will also talks about the importance of KP's injury, and who could replace him at the top of the order. #swanntoopen.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

How important is it that KP's coming home?

Kevin Pietersen has apparently had a "dodgy hernia" for a while, and yesterday it was announced that it would be operated on after the World Cup. But now the news is that he's not going to make it that far, and will travel home for surgery tomorrow.

KP has had an up and down time of it in ODIs over the past two years. He had a bad injury in the 2009 summer, which he took a long time to really recover from and become the Kevin Pietersen of old (arguably until the double ton at Adelaide during the Ashes), and while he showed signs of improvement in tests, he hasn't scored runs in ODIs for so long that I'm struggling to remember the last time he batted well in 50 over cricket.

England have tried to get him going. He was dropped completely from the Pakistan ODI series, and has been pushed up to open for the World Cup, in an attempt to get him scoring runs again.

England have had mixed success without KP firing - up until the Australia debacle and start to this World Cup they've actually been pretty good. But Kevin Pietersen for all of his flaws is a class batsman, and it would be too simplistic to say "England have done well when he did nothing, so it doesn't matter whether he plays or not", as England are clearly much stronger with him in the team than without. However, it can't be ignored that the fact England have attempted to boot him into life suggests that part of the problem with KP is an application issue, rather than ability. If reports are to be believed, he's to quit ODIs anyway after this World Cup, which suggests that he can't be 100% bothered with playing 50 over cricket anyway. So how big a loss would a disinterested Kevin Pietersen be?

KP possesses the ability to dominate the middle overs of an ODI, and dictate the pace (in what is often a stalemate period of gearing up for later onslaughts). While he has opened with relative success, I feel that he should be used in those middle overs, rather than up top facing the new ball. On his day (if he is to have any more of his days in ODIs for England) Kevin Pietersen is perhaps the best in the world - certainly one of the best limited over batsmen around. So for him to go home would obviously be a big loss.

But KP's importance can only be measured by who replaces him. If England have a ready made world class batsman ready to step into the side, then the loss of Kev won't be as keenly felt. Which is where Eoin Morgan comes in.

The issue of replacing KP is a conundrum in itself. England could go for Morgan, as he is a proven brilliant ODI player. However, Morgan is nursing a broken finger, and after a poor Australian series, there's no guarantee that he'll be fit, ready, or able to score runs. And if they do go for Morgan, it will mean that the balance of the team will need to be shifted, with someone going up to open with Strauss to make space for Morgan in the middle order. And (today aside) the middle order has been what's kept England competitve in this World Cup - so changing it drastically could be disastrous.

This is where the clamour for a like-for-like opener comes in, and Craig Kieswetter (who's been scoring runs for fun) has already been touted highly by some. Craig can be a real 'pinch-hitter' on sub continental tracks, and could rack up some big scores in the powerplay overs - the reason KP's been opening in the first place. But he was dropped after a poor English summer and replaced by Steve Davies, so it would be a turnaround surprise. And if Kiesy did get in, it would open a can of worms with Matt Prior, as to who should keep or whether someone could play as a specialist bat.

Other specialist openers who could get the call are Alastair Cook and Jimmy Adams. Cook is now the golden boy of English cricket following a mercurial Ashes, but his ODI form isn't brilliant (hence why he hasn't played since Bangladesh last year, and that was just because he was captain). And as good a season as Jimmy Adams had last year - he is unproven at international level, and the latter stages of a World Cup is a pretty deep end to discover whether someone can sink or swim.

After putting this out there on Twitter, I had some other random names back. There is clamour (as there often is) for Adil Rashid, and even Samit Patel - mainly to help bolster a spin bowling attack that has been weakened by the inclusion of Mick Yardy. But adding another spinning all-rounder to the squad isn't what England need, as the batting would be horrendously weak.

Were I making the decision, I'd pick Eoin Morgan. While it does require a rejig, Morgy is a world-class batsman, and exactly what England have been missing in later overs, where innings have ground to a halt. His inventive hitting can be England's X Factor, and the difference between an ignominous group stage exit, and a trip on the rollercoaster to wherever it takes us. Ian Bell always bats well with Strauss, and would be a great bet to open, so there would be no problems there. While KP will be a big loss to this England team, getting Morgan in can be the shot in the arm that this team (who have already shown massive signs of complacency) need, and while it will be at the expense of a great ODI batsman, the addition of a better ODI batsman can see England to great things.

Being an England Fan

Midway through South Africa's innings...

After the game is over...

This sums up the rollercoaster ride that being an England fan is. At times I hate it, but at others, I wouldn't change it for the world.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Podcast - Languishing at the Bottom of the Table

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Ireland beat England, so understandably Will was happy. And also unhappy. England's ODI side was ripped apart once again by Will, who looks at the deadwood being carried in the team, and why England are doing so badly. There's a quick cursory glance at South Africa, before Will got scared and stated crying. Plus more Fantasy League and SportGuru shenanigans. You know the score; tweets @shortmidwicket, blogs, emails to

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

SMN: Kevin O'Brien claimed as English, England win

Short Midwicket News: Bangalore

After his superb innings of 113, Kevin O'Brien was amazingly claimed by the evil English cricket team. Following in the footsteps of other Irish imports Ed Joyce, Eoin Morgan and Terry Wogan; O'Brien was snatched by English supremo Giles Clarke.

Walking back to the pavilion after being run out for 113, Clarke grabbed O'Brien, and gave him a British passport. This means that purple-haired Kev's runs were added to England's score, meaning Ireland were chasing 440 to win, instead of 327. And without O'Brien's contribution, Ireland sadly fell 216 runs short.

England spokesman Johnny Bulldog said "Any Irish cricketer who does well is bound to play for us eventually, and we exploited the ICC loophole saying England can claim any Irish player to our effect. We just happened to exploit it during the game".

Speaking himself, O'Brien said "I came into the World Cup fully expecting to bow out at the bottom of the group. I'm glad I'll be able to fulfill my dreams with England".

Eoin Morgan was unavailable for comment.