Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hobart now takes on greater meaning for England and Australia

With the naming of World Cup squads this week the focus has been sharpened ahead of the tournament that begins next month in India, Sir Lanka and Bangladesh.
For England and Australia, who meet in Hobart for the second of seven One-day internationals on Friday, it means those included will begin the preparations for the competition in earnest.

And if the first match at the MCG is anything to go by both sides have plenty of work to do if they are to be ready for their opening World Cup matches.

The fact Australia chased down an English record total on Australian soil hides the fact many of the players were below par – the outstanding Shane Watson aside, who put the distraction of the catastrophic floods in his home town to one side to hit a magnificent unbeaten 161 to guide Australia home. Anyone following the live cricket scores would have known the result was never in doubt going into the last few overs.

Should Watson fail this time then the rest of the Aussie line-up will need to display more aptitude and aggression than on display in Melbourne – Michael Clarke's timid 36 from 71 balls was indicative of a side low on confidence and form after that bruising test defeat by England.

England aren't immune from blame either though after their batsmen, Kevin Pietersen aside, squandered an excellent position at 174 for 3 where 300+ seemed inevitable, to finally limp home with 294 on the board. People following the Livescore Goalwire would have been disappointed with the final total.

Their bowlers too failed to threaten on a consistent basis, meaning Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad won't have to worry too much about regaining their places when they return to Australia in the next few weeks.

The dumping of Steven Davies for Matt Prior shows the selectors can display a ruthless streak should a player not perform.

And so the players must be aware that simply being named in the squad isn't a guarantee of starting against the Netherlands on February 21st and their performance against the Aussies in Tasmania will be closely watched with interest.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

England take backwards step in World Cup selection

Having done so well recently it is hard to criticise England under Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss. After navigating their way serenely through the Ashes to record a historic 3-1 victory over the old enemy, English cricket is in a position to push on after this victory, not fade away as they did so spectacularly after the 2005 Ashes win.

Cue the announcement of the 15 men charged with bringing the World Cup trophy home with them alongside the Ashes.

Surrey Wicket Keeper Steve Davies looked set to go to the World Cup in February having been in charge of the gloves from Pakistan’s summer tour of England to the Twenty20 series and the start of the ODI series against Australia. Now he has been unceremoniously dumped by the selection panel and the decision will only serve to turn the spotlight on the selectors themselves.

In his brief stint in the team, bigfreebet would likely have considered Davies to have done more than enough to warrant a place in the squad. Averaging just shy of 35, the former Warwickshire glovesman also had an impressive strike rate of over 100 runs per 100 balls. Crucially test keeper Matt Prior has a far inferior average in the early 20’s and his strike rate is somewhat less spectacular than Davies’s.

But more than statistics the decision to replace Davies with Prior seems to go against all that England have been building for the previous two years. The foundations of the emergence of English cricket have been built on selection consistency giving the players the confidence to go out and play.

Alistair Cook was given time to correct his game after a barren spell left him desperately short of runs ahead of the test series against Australia. Davies has made an excellent start to his one day career and no indication was given of the impending decision to drop him from the team, making it all the more baffling.

Davies will not doubt be angered by the decision after sitting patiently through the Ashes series with an eye on the ODI’s and the World Cup.

Why was Davies selected for the first one day international against Australia on Sunday if the selection panel had no intention of taking him to the World Cup?
The selection of Prior harks back to the days of relying on big names rather than big performances, and should sound the alarm bells for England supporters. Mark Ramprakash called the decision “strange” and at the very least represents a sudden change in policy.

England coach Andy Flower will defend the move suggesting Prior’s excellent Ashes series, where he averaged over 50 (then again Chris Tremlett had an excellent ashes series but was dropped in place of Ajmal Shahzad, so where is the logic there?) and has suggested his game is suited to the pitches England will face on the sub-continent. Prior is certainly a leader on the pitch and as wicket keeper is a ball of energy and hub for the team.

Big free bet will see him as one of the more dangerous wicket-keepers at the World Cup, but he has not shown himself as clinical as Davies in the shorter form of the game.

The only way for Prior’s inclusion to be vindicated is for the Sussex man to score bug runs at the tournament. The sudden inconsistency displayed is worrying ahead of a competition that England will expect to do well in. Davies looked to be establishing himself by scoring runs at a pace needed in international one day cricket that Prior has so far showed himself unable to do. What more can Steve Davies do?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sydney test warms up nicely

The closest test of the series so far looks to be developing at Sydney after England and Australia traded blows in a fascinating contest at the SCG.

Those following the Live match score centre will note that Australia started the day on 134-4 but as England played a choking game to starve the batsmen of runs before the new ball, key wickets also began to tumble.

Brad Haddin and Michael Hussey – Australia’s two (and only) in-form batsmen - were dismissed cheaply before Strauss could call on the shiny new Kookaburra and when Steve Smith and Peter Siddle also went cheaply, leaving the hosts 187-8, another below-par score seemed likely.

But the game was wrenched from the hands of England when the Aussies tail wagged in spectacular style.

Mitchell Johnson, who entered the middle with the taunting songs of the Barmy Army ringing in his ears, responded in the finest way possible, smashing 53 of 66 balls. He was ably assisted by Ben Hilfenhaus, who scored a handy 34.

Livescore cricket pundits note that the vital ninth wicket stand of 76 helped Australia on their way to a far more competitive 280 and left England with some thinking to do.

But just as Australia were getting on top England hit back, with Captain Andrew Strauss blasting a quick fire 60 of 58 balls and Alastair Cook continuing on his merry way this series with an unbeaten 61 – passing 5,000 test runs in the process, the second youngest player ever to do so.

Wit England 98-0 the stage was set for another large score but the match was thrown into the mix yet again thanks to two wickets from Mitchell Johnson and another from Hilfenhaus.

At 167-3 England are still in a decent position to build a first innings lead, but if the second day is anything to go by Australia are displaying more fight than we have seen for most of the series.

The Ashes may have gone but the series, as an evenly matched contest, looks to have finally come alive.