Monday, 20 February 2012

Eoin Morgan's Definition of Madness

Albert Einstein once said that "the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results". I don't know if Einstein was much of a cricket fan, but the saying certainly does ring true in the sport. Eoin Morgan would do well to listen to wise Albert's words of advice. Morgan, now a very established part of England's teams, has come out and said that he won't be changing his very unique style of batting in order to get test success, as he feels he can make it work.

To call Morgan's technique unorthodox would be underselling it. Beginning as a slight bend at the knees before turning into a full-on crouch, Morgan's unique manner of batting certainly isn't in the coaching manual. As interesting as it is, it hasn't yielded great results, especially recently, with a very modest average of 30 from 16 tests.

The picture here demonstrates Morgan's bizarre technique perfectly - knees squat, backside parallel to the ground and bat waved high above the head, Morgan's technique is a walking disaster. The next trigger movement will be a big lurch upwards, which makes Morgan horribly prone to big outside edges. And at a time where England have been castigated for their failure to move their feet to the spinners, Morgan's technique means that it is near enough impossible to do so without shuffling like a crab or losing balance totally. In short, Morgan's technique is a complete horror show.

It wasn't always like this. When Eoin first came into the England team, he had a very serviceable batting set-up. Yes, it was quirky, and yes, it did need a bit of work, but Morgan had a technique that wasn't that far out of the ordinary. But after a bit of tinkering and exaggeration, he has some weird monster of an action, which hardly sets him up for long-term test success.

Morgan's strengths are clear, an ice cool temperament and an unbelievable range of shots - two factors that make him one of the world's best in limited over cricket where the field is spread and there is more license to hit out. But in test cricket, where there will always be slips in place to gobble up those inevitable edges and bowlers given more leeway to target the body, Morgan's record has been thus far sketchy. Which makes it odd for Morgan to arrogantly deny that he needs to make any changes to his technique in order to succeed in the test arena. None of this will matter in the short term, as Morgan is very likely to be out of the team for the Sri Lanka tour, but chances are that he'll be back in whites at some point in the future. It would do Morgan well to heed the words of Einstein if he is to ever get success as a test player.

Dropping Ponting The Right Thing To Do

After being appointed as head of Australia's new selector's panel at the back end of 2011, John Inverarity has wasted no time in making his mark on Australian cricket. After the failures during the Ashes a year before and the fall-out from the Argus Review, Australia's team has undergone a rapid makeover, with the chaff cut and new faces blooded in their place. Australia's success in such a short length of time is due heavily to the ruthless cull from the selectors, and their ability to find replacements who were good enough to come into the team and perform straight away. If you weren't doing your job, regardless of any past glories, you were out, and someone new was in.

The selectors have today shown that sentiment is of no relevance to their decisions, with the Ricky Ponting, he of 375 ODIs and 13704 50-over runs, being unceremonially booted out of the squad midway through the tri-series. While Ponting has arguably been Australia's most successful ODI player ever, the recent dry spell of five consecutive single figure scores has meant that he isn't justifying his place, and has been shown the door. On the face of it, the decision is obvious - Ponting won't be around for the 2015 World Cup, isn't scoring enough runs, and Australia have plenty of replacements ready to come in. John Inverarity tellingly said: "You don't put your heart to one side, but your head has got to dominate, and to the credit of the NSP, everyone holds Ricky in the highest regard, as a player and as a person, but we've got a decision to make, and we made a decision we believe is the right decision and the best decision in the interest of Australian cricket". Wise words indeed.

Ponting being dropped will of course upset a true legend of Australian cricket, but the selectors know that it's worth a few days of angst from Ponting if the team is to be more successful with him out rather than in it. Compare this ruthless attitude to that of the Indian selection panel. While in the recent test series, Australia were prepared to make some big calls and change things, India were all too happy to watch their team of legends fail, and fail again, coming off the back of tour of England where they failed even more. While a few superficial changes were made to the bowling attack, the much vaunted batsmen were left to their own devices. It's telling that the only batsman to get the chop after the English tour was Suresh Raina, who conveniently was the only batsman not to be backed up by thousands of caps or hundreds of hundreds. It was patently obvious that India's top, and middle order needed to be broken up and scrapped despite their success over previous decades, but nobody in the Indian selection panel was brave enough to make those gutsy calls, even though their over-the-hill performers just weren't cutting it.

Neither India or Australia are the best teams in world cricket, but Australia have realised this and are attempting to find a way to take over the mantle once again. India, on the other hand, have consistently buried their heads in the ground, and have blissfully ignored their big problems. The focus isn't on test cricket for a while, with the circus of a unnecessarily long ODI tournament taking centre stage for the time being, but before too long both teams will be back in the whites with some big calls to make. Australia's big calls, including dropping Ponting, have shown that nobody's place is guaranteed, which has led to players constantly needing to stay on the top of their games to stay in the side. Certainly the same can't be said about India, as too many players have been given places in the team for life, and they've been firmly in the comfort zone ever since. The big calls must be made, and Australia's success over recent times have proved their worth. Whether India can follow suit remains to be seen...

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The ODI Bell tolls for Ian

The curious case of Ian Bell has plagued England's One Day side for quite a while now. Clearly ridiculously talented, Bell just hasn't got it together in ODIs, with just one century from 108 games and a worse-than-expected average of just 34.04. While his test form has gone through the roof in the past two years (this Pakistan series excepted), if anything his ODI form has gone downhill, with only one fifty in the last fourteen games. After not making the team for the first four games of England's most recent ODI tour, he hasn't even made the squad for this to-be-played Pakistan series in the UAE. So is Ian Bell's ODI career over? Or indeed, should it be?

Well, simply put, the performances of Ian Bell in ODIs sum up England's failing in the fifty over format. A few starts here and there, but very rarely the big match-winning score, and when the pressure's on, he hasn't been the man to put his hand up for the team (Bell averages just 26 in games England have lost). Add to that a poor away record (averaging 28 in games outside England), and Ian Bell's ODI history is a microcosm of England and their general lack of consistent ODI success.

The stats may be harsh on Bell, as he has been shunted up and down the order, having been employed in every position from aggressive opener, to middle-order nurdler, even to number eleven tailender (admittedly coming in with a runner due to a broken foot), and the England management's inability to find a regular slot or gameplan for Bell could well sum up why England just haven't got it right in fifty over cricket as well. But, he's been given countless chances to impress at ODI level, and hasn't done it. Eventually somebody had to be ruthless and give him the boot.

Mediocrity has almost become a by-word for English batsmen in ODI cricket over the past ten years, and probably well before that as well. Players who are clearly naturally talented, or have had sparkling test careers just haven't cut it in limited over cricket, yet have been allowed prolonged stays in the side, without ever producing. Owais Shah - 71 matches, averaging 30 with only one hundred. Michael Vaughan - 86 matches, averaging 27, no hundreds. Ravi Bopara - 69 matches, averaging 29 with no hundreds. These are not numbers that lead to a successful side. You can add to that post 2008 Kevin Pietersen - 36 matches, averaging 25 with no centuries. The culture of "well, he's clearly a good player / scored runs in tests, so let's keep him in" has led to England being nothing more than a second rate ODI team, and if England are to become successful, has to stop.

There's no real room for sentiment in international cricket, and while Ian Bell's test exploits should be celebrated, his ODI form should be downright ridiculed. While being a good test batsman can sometimes mean you'll be a good ODI player, the Venn Diagram doesn't totally intersect. Just ask "good in ODIs, not so good in tests" Eoin Morgan for proof that the two disciplines require different talents, and don't always lead to the same results. In the likes of Alex Hales, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow, England have some incredibly exciting young batsmen, who's games are perfectly set up for limited over international cricket. These are the players who England should be playing, not Ian Bell, and after a long time, it seems that the England management have realised it. While Andy Flower has spoken about how dropping Bell for this series isn't the end of his ODI career, if England are to make a success of it in the short-forms, hopefully this will be the last that we see of Ian Bell in ODIs.

Friday, 3 February 2012

The DRS "Paranoia"

This series between Pakistan and England has seen the greatest amount of lbws in a three-test series in test history. Already 36 victims have been struck plumb in front, and have been forced to trudge back to the pavilion, with most batsmen and an increasing number of pundits blaming the rise of the DRS for the increased number of ell-bees.

So is the reason for the disproportionate number of leg-befores due to the use of technology? It’s certainly been proved that since the implementation of the review system that a greater percentage of appeals have been given by umpires, especially to spinners, as replays have shown that a lot of the previously rejected shouts would have gone on to hit the stumps. This has been a boost for the likes of Swann and Ajmal, who have been given plenty of wickets over the past couple of years that they would simply not have been given in times gone past. Umpires have seen that even when batsmen take a big stride down the pitch that the ball will sometimes go on to hit the stumps, meaning that they’re far more willing to give batsmen out. So arguably, DRS has played a part in the dismissals.

For this series, however, the DRS is being blamed for the fact that ball is hitting the pad more often. David Lloyd has spoken about the “paranoia” that the DRS is causing, leading to batsmen’s techniques falling apart and being struck plumb in front. But can the DRS really be blamed? Surely if a batsman plays with a straight bat and actually hits the ball, no amount of replays or ball-tracking technology will give them out. Yes, there have been a lot of lbws this series, but how many of those have been due to poor technique (especially by English players playing spin), and the awareness of the bowlers to exploit this by bowling at the stumps?

The DRS is said to have closed the gap in the balance between bat and ball in test cricket, and that can only be a good thing. One of the arguments against the review system is that there are a lot more wickets given than in the past – but wickets are only given if a batsman is out. Which means that in the past, batsmen who should have been given out weren’t, and if that happens to favour the bowlers then so be it. Surely that’s a lot better than incorrect decisions costing teams games? If the DRS is causing a “paranoia” amongst batsmen about how to play certain shots, then shouldn’t they getting down the nets and working on their obviously shaky technique rather than bleating about the pros or cons of technology? Hawkeye or no Hawkeye, a batsman is asking for trouble if he keeps getting hit on the back pad when standing in front of middle stump, and if the DRS is helping the umpires to get those decisions right, then that can only be of benefit to test cricket.

The DRS does have its opponents, and some arguments against its usage, many of which are very relevant and should be looked at. However, the fact that it is leading to more correct decisions being made surely isn’t one of them. Instead of looking for excuses, the batsmen should be looking at themselves and working out how to avoid being hit on the pads, as until then, the bowlers are going to keep bowling at them.