Category Archives: The Ashes

Stuart Broad would be England’s first Australian captain

 

Following the resignation of Alastair Cook, the possibility of Stuart Broad succeeding him has surfaced, which would inject a very Australian feeling into England.

Stuart Broad is hated by Australia so much, that one wonders if they’re just a bit jealous.

The Aussies can dish out hard talk and aggressive cricket, and Broad can take it, and give back the same.

They don’t like him because they see a bit of them in him.

Before even thinking about his performances, the single moment etched into the Old Enemy’s minds when it comes to Broad, will be an infamous incident at Trent Bridge in 2013.

Broad hit the ball to slip, but stood his ground as the Australians celebrated his wicket. The arrogance, watch the ball carry, but just stand there as if nothing had happened.

In many ways, a new love-hate relationship was sparked.

Australians have always mocked the English. Indeed, the Ashes was born after a mock-obituary of English cricket was published in a British paper, The Sporting Times.

Mocking the English been the cornerstone of the relationship, and when the Aussies are losing, they target those who don’t fit that mould of polite bumbling ‘Englishness’.

In 2005, they used to target Kevin Pietersen, with his ridiculous hairstyle and supposed playboy lifestyle. And it spurred him on. When he smashed Glenn McGrath onto the Lord’s pavilion, he gained respect. When he saved the Oval Test with 158, he gained respect, with Shane Warne walking him off the pitch.

In 2013/14 down under, they went for Broad.

The Courier Mail refused to print his name.

When ‘The 27-year old medium pace bowler’ as he (Broad) was referred to, had a good tour taking 21 wickets, amidst a crisis for England,  he won respect.

Broad won respect not only because he bowled well, but because he showed doesn’t get wound up by the opposition’s sledges, or the press.

Indeed, during that 2013/14 series’, he even walked into press conferences with a copy of the Courier Mail, to show that he could take the piss too.

With ball in hand, on number of occasions throughout his career, he has virtually single-handedly won games in a spell.

No more so was this show, than when he took 8-15 against Australia in Nottingham to win the game, or the 10-wicket hall in Durham, to win the game, or 5-37 at the Oval in 2009, to win the game.

Stuart Broad’s 8-15 at Nottingham:

Stuart Broad’s 5-37 at the Oval:

Whether it’s Broad ability to get under the opposition’s skin by being unflappable, or his knack of bowling out Australia on his own, he has shown he can both take it and dish it out.

Now of course, if he were to become Test captain, a lot of things would need to be worked on.

He’d need to manage his own bowling workload, which is always difficult for a bowling captain.

He’d certainly need to rethink his use of reviews and the frequency of his appeals.

But in general, a Broad captaincy would be a breath of fresh air from five years of robotic, grinding predictable Alastair Cook.

It would be a more Australian flavour of English captaincy.

Advertisements

England Must not Let Joe Root Become the Next Mark Ramprakash

Joe Root is the icon of a new generation, but his inability to translate potential to success affords an air of disappointment, much like that which surrounds Mark Ramprakash’s legacy.

Nobody can doubt that Joe Root is a special talent; especially if you follow county cricket. It is infact precisely because he is so special that this appeal is going out. He must be safeguarded and allowed to excel.

He was named Wisden’s Cricketer of the Year in 2013, and at 23 years old, has got nearly 4000 first class runs already.

He has a versatility which has delivered him into the England side already, debuting on a tough but successful India tour. Yet, even after his maiden century and Ashes series’, he has been in the midst of a below par year.

He averages just 36 in Test cricket, but since scoring 180 in the second Ashes Test at Lord’s in July 2013, he has averaged only 25, albeit in a variety of positions. 

Whereas nobody expects him to be a fully fledged world class player quite yet, there is a clear cause for concern that such a gifted player is finding life so hard.

This deflation in his stature can be attributed to poor management, and ultimately ‘Mark Ramprakash syndrome’. This entails that his most valuable asset; his versatility, is a downside to his career because he is never allowed to fulfil a clear concrete role.

Ramprakash was a very special player scoring over 100 first class centuries. But in Test cricket, he was regularly selected and deselected. When he was playing, he moved up and down the order, and was very much selected as a condition of filling in.

He was never really allowed to consolidate his place in a position, and gradually wasted away as an unfulfilled talent.

At just 23 years old, Root has batted in every position in the Test batting order from number two to number seven. Instead of backing him in his most natural position; an opening slot, he has been placed into uncomfortable positions and been encouraged to adapt and try to fulfil and un-natural role.

To an extent, this is Root’s own doing, because he outlined that he was willing to bat where the team wanted. This makes his selection somewhat dependent upon batting where the team needs him, as opposed to where he would excel.

It was the case with Ramprakash too; who by the end of his career; had batted in every position from two to seven over the course of a decade; always showing a preparedness to bat in a position for the team’s sake.

In ODI cricket, both Root and Ramps batted at three, four, five and six with regularity, showing a similar attitude, but of course over a different length of time.

Root only debuted in 2012, and in that short time, has been corrupted by perpetual change. In an almost cyclical nature. They go through phases of trying new things, and when they fail, they resort to the previous.

Ramprakash and Root have been selected and dropped, with every recall conditional upon a new role.

They are like a filler, seen as so adaptable and talented that they can go into any role. An unspecialised batsmen, they lose their opportunities to consolidate a role, because they are constant subjects of change.

Now of course, good players are good players. Ramprakash produced just two Test centuries yet 114 first centuries. It’s fairly clear even to the humblest follower of club cricket, that something was lost in translation between Ramps at county level and International level.

Root seems to be stuck in a rut off indecision. Where he bats, how he bats, and what his future holds are all very much open to debate. But there is still a lot of time in his career, despite currently averaging just 36 in international cricket.

England must decide what to do with Root, especially in light of the coaching shifts, and the personnel changes in the top order.

With the emergence of Sam Robson as a genuine option to open, Root may be wise to follow the advice of Australian opener, Chris Rogers, who is Robson’s opener at Middlesex. According to the BBC, Rogers explained that:

“I don’t particularly think Joe Root’s an opener. He plays spin well and he’s better suited to the middle order.”

Root should commit to batting in the middle order in a clearly defined role. He is in limbo, as he is now somewhat a senior player but at the same time, he is not secure with his place.

At 23 years old, he is still learning, he is versatile; but he is trying to set up for the prime of his career. He needs regularity, familiarity, consistency, but most importantly a more rhythmical and clear role so he can settle.

Root’s versatility could easily be his downfall as a fill in role, or he could embrace a position and stick with it and excel. One way or the other, such a talent should not be lost to the Ramprakash syndrome of endless potential unfulfilled.

England’s Superiority Complex

England have some outstanding cricketers, but they have a superiority complex. They blot out their failings with the record of excellence and are beginning to take the process of winning for granted.

Since the 8th July 2009 (1st day of the Ashes in 2009) until the last Ashes series 2013, England have played in 54 Tests and have won 28, with 11 series wins out of 16 [excluding the Ashes 2013/14].

They have a strong overall record under the reigns of Andy Flower, but of late, this dominance has smothered their failings. As their success has tailed off since the series against Pakistan in 2012, the failure has been amalgamated into this period of dominance. It has blended into one when, it is two very distinct periods of success and failure. They need to get over themselves. England proudly present their excellence, but as they do, fans and opponents are realising that is a a mechanism to hide a more sinister insecurity and chronic lack of substance. 

There is little doubt that performances have been disappointing in the last year and a half to two years, particularly due to frailties with the bat. Within a more concise time frame, we can see that it has not been as simple as 11 series victories out of 16, but it has in fact been a curve of success, and a dramatic fall from grace. It has given a deceptive and undeserving confidence to England.

Splitting Flower’s England into two periods highlights this curve of success, with England versus Pakistan in the U.A.E. as the mid-way point.

Between the Ashes of 2009 until the India series in England in 2011, almost exclusively, England experienced victory and dominance. After that four-nil drubbing of India, came the series of Pakistan in the U.A.E. in 2012, which England lost 3-0, up until the Ashes in England in 2013, England looked insecure and struggled. Yet when talking about England in recent years, the situation is presented as a monolithic block of success. 

The record is 15/17 series won or drawn. All hail Andy Flower. 

In the first half of this period eight series’ were contested, with seven victories and one draw. It was an exceptional time to be an England fan, and indeed a cricket fan, as some very high quality cricket was offered. England were victorious in 19 out of 29 Tests (a win percentage of 61.51%), and it took them to the dreamy heights of number one ranked Test nation, including two magical Ashes victories in 2009, and 2010/11, and whitewashing then number one Indian side.

Conversely, and rather worryingly, the next eight series (between Pakistan in the U.A.E. in 2012 and the previous Ashes in 2013), have been much less fruitful.

England have won three of these last eight series’, with just 10 Test victories out of 25 Tests (a win percentage of just 40%). There have been seven lost Tests, compared to just four in the previous block (despite the previous period having four more Tests), and England lost their number one ranking. 

It is adequately clear that the current England side is a long shot from that England side between 2009-2011, yet the myth that is perpetuated is that it is the same. The reliance on this fabulous record or having only two lost series in the last 16 is deceptive, because it glosses over their failings. This myth gives England a certain security, and a certain feeling of superiority, as they basque in their own glory, and draw upon that for inspiration.

This side confident, compact and strong unit, or so we think. It’s built on a record of proven success after all, isn’t it? Yet, when they are skittled out for 136 and 179 in the first Ashes Test of 2013/14 people are surprised, as if England should be doing better based on their talent. This is the side that was number one. Why is this happening?

If one is to go on record, the performances given in Brisbane are a mere continuation of lacklustre and dismal form. Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell have all averaged between 39-42, with just 17 centuries in 178 innings. The top four are scoring a century in only 9.5% of England innings. The simple facts are that England need more centuries, partnerships and scores of over 400, 500, 600 and beyond. It isn’t happening.

Overall figures – 17th Jan 2012- Ashes 2013
Player   Matches Innings N.O. Runs HS Ave   100 50      
AN Cook   25 48 3 1933 190 42.95     6 6      
IJL Trott 25 47 2 1779 143 39.53     3 11      
KP Pietersen 21 38 1 1526 186 41.24   4 8      
IR Bell 24 44 7 1460 116* 39.45     4 9      
MJ Prior 25 40 7 1264 110* 38.30     1 8      
JE Root 11 21 2 763 180 40.15     2 3      

The continued struggle to replace the runs of both Paul Collingwood and Andrew Strauss has really hit England hard in creating a base for the innings, and consolidating that base later on. This is shown very clearly with relative high scores in the two periods outlined.

Between the Ashes 2009 and Pakistan 2012, England had one score of 700 plus, two of 600 plus, seven scores of 500 plus, and eight scores of 400 plus. Between Pakistan in the U.A.E. 2012 and the Ashes in 2013, England passed 400 in Test cricket seven times, with only one score of 500, and none of 600 or 700. The runs dried up. Runs win matches against high quality opposition. With the last recorded score of 400 plus all the way back in March 2013 versus the West Indies, England defeated Australia in the Ashes, despite not once going past 400.

They were able to win the Ashes in what Andy Zaltzman accurately called a ‘narrow thrashing’, which is essentially an emphasis on winning despite not actually playing particularly well. They were not exposed for their frailties, so the myth of being this compact and successful team, stuck. Their superiority complex covered up their insecurities. 

Who can criticise a team that won the Ashes, when so many grew up in an era in which England were battered time and time again. To reduce success to the opposition being poor, would seem unfair. Nevertheless, it is apparent that England scraped their way past Australia, because they were not called out for their failings, as they were against the South Africans.

It is about time they stopped pretending they are a side that they are not. They are not a superior outfit. They need to begin to look at their performances independent of the previous record of Flower up until 2011.

This is not a winning England side. This side has a mentality that it can overcome others without necessarily playing well, because this side is special, with Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook, Jimmy Anderson and Graeme Swann. All we need to do is turn up. This side was the number one, this side held the Ashes, this side is now losing. 

Are Bodyline restrictions still relevant?

Bodyline infamously sparked the 1932-3 ashes into controversy, changing attitudes and eventually laws for the fielding side and fast bowling.

This was the notion of the fast leg side theory.

Bowling a particular line and length, aimed at the batsmen’s body, or their leg stump line. This forced Australian batsmen to chose between deflecting the ball to a fielder in the leg side bodyline field, or being hit and injured, as it occurred in the days of no helmets and limited protection for batsmen.

With the Vatican announcing that it wants to play cricket, protection for batsmen has never been a more important issue of course, but to imply that batsmen are at the same level of risk in the 30s, is slightly delusional.

This concept was seen as unsportsmanlike, as it was hostile bowling aimed at injuring batsmen instead of the aim of the game, which was getting them out. Aiming the ball deliberately and hastily at batsmen was essentially intimidation. It embroiled the game in one of its most hotly contested controversies engulfing a single debate:

Is it ok to use intimidation [i.e. trying to hurt the batsman] to take wickets, or is it unsportsmanlike?

It happened a long time ago, during the Ashes series of 1932-33, and much has changed since then. Perhaps what has altered the most is the laws of the game.

In the immediacy of bodyline, amid diplomatic pressures both politically and between the MCC (then the governing body of the laws of the game) and Australia, this tactic was left down to captains and umpires to regulate. It was entrusted in them to ensure that bowling was in the ‘spirit of the game’ and that it was the intention for bowlers to get batsmen out and not to attack their body.

Of course, anyone that watched the West Indies of the 80’s, or Denniss Lillee and Jeff Thomson run in, are perfectly aware that they intended to intimidate quite often, and that the tactic of intimidation is legitimate if it is part of getting a batsman out in a plan.

It was not until 1957 that the law we know of today was established; that being that the fielding side may not have more than two fielders behind square on the leg side. This law was created before helmets, before covered pitches, before the injection that was the innovation of limited overs cricket with bat and ball, before mystery spin and most importantly, before the enfranchisement of more teams.

It is fundamentally a law to quash relations between England and Australia during an era in which fast bowling was genuinely dangerous. Cricket has undoubtably changed, and so should the laws. How do India and Pakistan seriously relate to this law, which they have never engaged with, and are essentially subject to, due to a previous dispute of old enemies.

Helmets have come into the game, as has extensive protection. Covered pitches are now firmly out of use in the Test arena, and a culmination of limited overs technique, and the use of science in sport, makes the game a very different one than it was in 1932-3, or 1957.

Modern cricket is certainly geared to be a batsman’s game, with bigger bats, shorter boundaries, selection of bowlers often on the basis of all-round contribution, and ability to adapt and innovate. Against quick bowlers, the use of reverse and switch hits have revolutionised One day batting, as has fielding restrictions.

Bearing in mind that especially against quick bowlers, batsmen are more protected than ever, the pitches are more benign than ever, and modern batting is more exuberant and innovative than ever, surely it is now time to re think this archaic law that presents a case that only two fielders are allowed in a quarter of the pitch, so the batsman doesn’t get hurt.

Not only against quick bowling is this law seemingly outdated, but against spin it is completely arbitrary. Versus spin bowlers this is an inherently irrelevant law, on the basis that spin bowlers generally are not bowling at a pace that is potent enough to injure. Batsmen would not have to worry about getting hurt, so the fact that two fielders are the limit on the leg side simply doesn’t factor into their decision making.

This law needs re assessment. Fielding sides have a tough enough time as it is with modern bats and modern batting, not to mention protection of batsmen and fielding restrictions, without being chained by further unnecessary restrictions. Bodyline laws were relevant 60 years ago. We must adapt and change in the same fashion that the game has

Ashton Agar smothered Australia’s failings and has given a false sense of security

Australia were saved by a teenager. No doubt about it.

Ashton Agar’s 98 and Phillip Hughes 81*, ensured Australia got a slender lead and were saved from the depths of being nearly 100 behind with three and a half days to play. Everyone is talking about the young man, Agar, but it is very important to remember that the Australian top order spectacularly failed, and even with his heroics, it isn’t as if they are bossing the game.

They have some momentum, and they are in a decent position ahead of day three, but they are not dominating.

When Ashton Agar came to the crease, Australia were 117-9, which was 98 behind. If he had got out, England would have been in their second innings on day two, with the momentum. As it turned out, Agar and Hughes’ partnership and put them 65 ahead, and fair play to them. They were spectacularly cool and calm, even if England’s bowling was erratic and ill-controlled.

The fact of the matter is that Australia were utterly defeated at the top by a two man attack.

James Anderson and Steven Finn reduced Australia to 108-5, and Australia then further collapsed too 117-9 with the help of Swann.

It took a freak piece of brilliance from Agar to rescue Australia and it is no good to sugar coat Australia’s performance through Agar. Sure, one can say it is all ok and it turned out fine, but this isn’t going to happen every time and the failings of the top order were a mixture of being outclassed by the pace of Finn and the swing of Anderson, and giving it away.

Ed Cowan and Shane Watson were both out driving, Brad Haddin out playing against the spin, Michael Clarke and Chris Rogers to good swing bowling. Nobody is talking about Cowan or Watson. Nobody is even talking about Hughes’ excellent innings. It’s all about one player.

Australia are sidetracked and have a false sense of securirty that they have been saved. Well they havn’t yet. They are not on top of the game. It has been dragged back from being a catastrophe at 117-9 to being 65 ahead, and now England lead by 15. It’s very much in the balance for both teams.

The innings of a 19 year old saved their blushes and gave Australia momentum. They are not in a great position still, and as we have seen from this England side so often, they fight and let their bats do the talking. Having Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook will really test this Australian seam attack, and will show up their cracks. Currently England lead by 15 runs with 8 wickets remaining but importantly it is only day three.

Cook can bat for a long time as we all know, and Pietersen can tear apart any side, especially spin. He has destroyed much better bowlers than Agar in particular. Any kind of considerable lead, such as 300 plus, and Graeme Swann on day four will be a seriously difficult challenge.

 Australia are riding the wave of  Agar and pretending they are in a strong position, especially after Starc’s two wickets, but it is fairly clear they are still very much in the contest, not on top of it. They have a lot to do before they can relax.

England Lions tamed down under

A little chin music

A little chin music for the lions

England Lions, the England second string side, has crashed to a fourth successive defeat at the hands of their Australian counterparts Australia A. The tour has been an absolute disaster for England’s hopeful reserve stocks, having lost not just four times in a row to Australia A, but also in the tour games to Victoria.

There were major problems on the England Lions case that meant this catastrophic failure took place. Firstly, in all the tour games, only twice did they bat out the full 50 overs, and on the bowling side of things, only one out of the top five wicket takers. Although three of the top five run scorers were from the Lions, there was only one hundred and six fifties in the entire tour compared to Australia A who managed four hundreds (three in the unofficial ODI series) and 7 fifties in the tour.

The disparity in both departments is perfectly evident.

The lack of success with the ball is a major concern especially because currently the major issue with England’s national test side is the bowling depth that has fallen away. A number of the Lions bowlers have been tipped for England futures, most notably Chris Wright, Toby Roland Jones and Stuart Meaker. In fact, Meaker was selected for the tour of India after injuries to Broad and Bresnan, so he is literally on the cusp of the national side.

A year or two ago, arguably there was a rich stock of six or seven bowlers to chose from, and now many of the main bowlers have suffered from injury (Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan), others were not being picked perhaps due to risk of injury or inexperience (Graham Onions, Stuart Meaker and Chris Woakes) and other issues such as running into the stumps (Steven Finn) have all put sufficient doubt into the actual England bowling line-up. Good back up stocks are therefore essential for depth and options.

The lack of potency and success on this tour to their opposite numbers in Australia is therefore particularly worrying not only because these are the potential ‘next generation’, but there is another more indirect element that needs attention. With 10 Ashes tests in the next year, and 44 different players having been selected in the last year for Australia, it is likely that some of the Australia A players that have demolished this England tour side will at some point play in the next year for Australia proper.

With a champions trophy and two Ashes tours in the next 12 months, it is more than likely that there will be an impact on bowlers in particular, forcing selectors to delve into reserve stocks such as those in the England lions. It is certainly a possibility that some who have faced up to each other in this Lions vs Aus A tour could also therefore face up to each other in the last year.

We have all seen in the past, players coming from both Lions and Australia A squads and walking straight into test cricket. Obviously most notable examples have been the likes of Alastair Cook and with the bowlers, Stuart Meaker, Chris Woakes and James Harris have all been plucked from England lions duty before to play International cricket. For Australia, the likes of Jackson Bird, Matthew Wade, John Hastings and Moises Henriques are all more recent examples. If this was needed, clearly Australia A players have the wood over England Lions players. Australia seem to have more deapth.

This has been a resounding and comprehensive tour defeat for England Lions. Australia A have out batted and out bowled their tourist rivals and signalled to the next generation that it means business.

By Jack Mendel – Follow me on twitter @jackmendel4