Tag Archives: ashes

Don’t get hung up on the Stokes-Flintoff comparison

As Ben Stokes continues to rise in stature, his numbers are matching and surpassing another allrounder in Andrew Flintoff, but it’s unfair to compare them on numbers alone.

Measuring Ben Stokes against Andrew Flintoff’s success is not an outrageous thing to do, either due to their playing style, or charismatic, occasionally hot-headed, nature.

But when you compare their numbers alone, Ben Stokes has already reached Flintoff’s level.

Over the course of Flintoff’s 79-Test match career, he struck five centuries and took three Five Wicket Halls. Ben Stokes has already reached these feats in 35 tests.

But, does that mean Stokes is better? Not necessarily.

After the most recent Test match at the Oval against South Africa, Stokes was asked about emulating Flintoff. He said: “I am trying to produce certain moments in a game so it can swing our way but I am not trying to live up to anyone else’s reputation. I am trying to do what I do and trying to keep putting in good performances.”

It’s undeniable that numbers show Stokes achieving more at a better rate, but it’s not just about numbers. There’s a reason why Stokes would talk of trying to ‘live up’ to Flintoff.

Everyone could see how good Flintoff was, but it never really translated in the record books. Regardless of that, given the option of having him or not, you’d take him.

Why? Because he was a talisman. He didn’t take lots of five wicket halls, or convert enough fifties into tons, but he got out big players, and was a game changer.

And, he balanced a team; a very different team in a different era, in different playing conditions, and against arguably better oppositions.

Fred was part of Duncan Fletcher’s England, who battled a mighty South African side and defeated one of the best Australian teams in history. Who knows what Stokes would do if he had to face Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath? Would he have run down the pitch to Murali, like he does to Keshav Maharaj? I don’t think so.

Whilst Flintoff was at the heart of a settled team, Stokes has had more opportunity, and necessity, to take responsibility. Stokes is part of a side which has been searching for a number of permanent positions in the top order.

This means that Stokes is not coming in to hit a nice cameo, he’s arguably England’s best batsman, now.

And, let’s face it, by the end of Flintoff’s career, he was batting at seven or eight. He was a bowling allrounder, and Stokes is a batting allrounder.

Here’s Flintoff bowling all day on his last Lord’s Test. Unplayable:

Lastly, the game has changed considerably. Whether the impact of T20 affecting risk-taking, or using DRS in taking wickets that would never have been given 10-years-ago, there are lots of variables.

Whilst it is disappointing Flintoff’s numbers don’t represent how good he was, Stokes inevitably surpassing his statistical achievements don’t tell the whole story.

Anyone who watched Flintoff knows he was a lot better than his record suggests, and anyone who wants to compare England’s current allrounder too him, should remember who Stokes are up watching.

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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. 

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.

Quality compromised as Australia play in 2 places at once

Just incase you didn’t think the Australian pool of talent has been  stretched to its limit, or that there were not enough breaks in the International schedule, Australia are now conducting 2 tours at the same time.

Whilst Australia’s T20 outfit prepare to take on the world champion West Indies in a solitary T20, Australia’s test touring party are playing in India as ‘The Australians’ against an Indian Board Presidents XI.

It isn’t exactly as if there is an Ashes test going on at the same time as a world cup; that it is given,  but the fact is that players are in India preparing for an Indian tour, implies that there is a severely weakened T20 outfit performing in Australia. It isn’t right that a side shouldn’t be able to play their best side because half of them would be in another country on another tour.

As a staunch supporter of test cricket, there is little value in a solitary T20 at the tail end of the longest ever Australian test summer, especially when relative to a tour of India. Nevertheless, it is hard to take in, that this T20 would be scheduled at all, because it could only be done so if one or the other was compromised.

Either, the T20 side is going to be weaker because players are in India, or preparation for the tour of India in tour games will not be as thorough as some players will still be in Australia playing.

This implies that selection was done so with this dilemna in mind. We have of course heard not a peep from selectors.

Although it is just a solitary T20 game, the principle is the issue.

A home and away tour should not conflict, even by just 1 game either way.

The only results that can possibly come of this is either no breaks in the International schedule so greater fatigue and injury, or as stated a compromising in the quality of the sides on either end of home or away tours.

Lets hope this genuinely is a one off scenario and does not happen again for any side.

Once International cricket starts being conflicted by other forms of International cricket, it will require players to start choosing priorities.

Australia’s batting woes come into focus

Before the first ODI at Lords between England and Australia, Shane Watson, Australia’s opening batsmen and allrounder, had said England didn’t have enough batting depth and that their line-up with five specialist bowlers (including Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann who can all bat) was too bowler heavy. The comment seemed a little out of place because it is clearly the Australian batting line-up that has some serious issues relating to depth.

Watson and Warner get them off to a solid start, but besides them, only Michael Clarke offers any substantial resistance. In the absence of Michael Hussey, who skipped the tour due to personal reasons, Australia sent Steven Smith, a leg-spinning allrounder who led Sydney Sixers to the Big Bash League title last season, at No. 6,. He can bat in an unorthodox fashion at that position, but having not bowled, he is essentially reduced to a batsman, who has performed poorly with the bat.

Australia need some more batsmen. With the likes of Michael Hussey, now 37, David Hussey (not picked for Test matches anyway) and Ponting getting old, Australia team is losing players who scored in bulk. They have inexperienced batsmen who are not yet ready to fill their predecessors’ shoes. Even Watson and Warner, the supposedly more solid players, are not doing well. Watson has a large number of half-centuries (28) in 154 ODIs, but only six hundreds. In Tests, he has scored only two centuries.

I think it would be more valuable to score a fifty at No. 5 or No. 6 instead of one at the top of the batting order. Watson bragging about depth should drop down the order to give his side some depth. Phil Hughes should come in. Clarke has 52 fifties and just seven tons in 217 games. Despite this he is now ranked eighth in the ODIs and as the leading batsman he is the only genuine solid option. I feel he should be at No. 3, but he is not converting enough starts to hundreds.

Michael Clarke dominating Aussie cricket

Let’s look at some other domestic cricketers. Phil Hughes has been dominant in England. On the other hand he failed to make a century during the last Australian domestic season and seemed to have been worked out. Although, he wasn’t incredible in the Ashes but his domestic first-class record is too good to ignore. The amount of runs he has scored is simply staggering. At just 23, he has 17 hundreds and 5810 runs and ovr 300 runs in the English domestic T20 tournament in which he top scored b y a county mile by the quarter final stage. How can Australia possibly ignore this run machine? Get him in the side, straighten out his flaws and make him a master of his art.

Chris Rogers, who has been in the form of his life playing for Middlesex in all forms of cricket, is a little older and is still waiting, like David Hussey, for a proper chance to play Tests. He has been churning out runs for a long time. In Sheffield Shield trophy this season, he hit 781 runs including three centuries to be among the top run-getters.

Likewise, there is Marcus North who despite already having had a shot at Test cricket was chucked for not being good enough. He is a stylish attacking batsman who can bowl.

Also, seasoned professionals like 32-year old Adam Voges, Michael Klinger and Phil Jacques have all been on the fringes for a long time. Klinger, who was the fourth-highest run scorer in the 2011-12 season, has not been able to break into the side. He scored one century in 19 innings, which isn’t breathtaking for one of the top scorers in the domestic league.

Phil Jacques has become so fed up with Australia selection that he has now said he wants to play for English counties. Rob Quiney and Liam Davis have both scored profusely and but have gone unnoticed. Perhaps Davis’s long-term record is not outstanding, but having scored three of his four centuries in the 2011-12 season including a triple-century, credit should be given where it is due. If a player is successful then he should get some acknowledgement, bearing in mind the alternatives – Smith, Forrest and George Bailey, and no one else really.

The top century makers in Australia’s domestic league were Ed Cowan, Quiney, David Hussey, Forrest, Bailey, Davis and Rogers with three centuries apiece.

Liam Davis 921 runs in 15 innings. Averaging over 60 but still overlooked over the likes of Steve smith

The likes of Usman Khawaja, Bailey and Forrest are all decent players or they wouldn’t get in the Test side, but they haven’t set the world alight and are clearly not ready for international cricket. Who are the fringe players pushing for a spot in the side?

I can’t see anyone who is scoring runs that doesn’t seem to have had a go in the Australian team on some level. Those in the Test, ODI and T20 side are simply not performing to a high standard. I hope Australia soon find a new Ponting or Michael Hussey because at the moment they are an inexperienced side. I am sure in three to four years there will be good players worthy of international cricket, but until then, Australia need some serious runs from some experienced batsmen.

Eng v Aus series preview

England are Test champions and number one as well as T20 champions and ranked number one. The Australians are perhaps still clinging on their World number one space in One day cricket but will be a big challenge as they always are.

We have learnt that at home England are formidable though and have now won six consecutive home one day series. On paper i think England are stronger in the bowling and the Aussies are in the batting , but we all know that we do not play on paper we play on grass. Anything can happen when it is England v Australia. England named an unchanged 14-man squad for the one-day series against world number one side Australia. A great mix of experience and youth. Well oiled, tried and tested. Successful. England squad: A Cook (capt), J Anderson, J Bairstow, I Bell, R Bopara, T Bresnan, S Broad, J Dernbach, S Finn, C Kieswetter, E Morgan, S Patel, G Swann, J Trott.

Australia named a squad with some experience but a lot of unknown names to many. There is uncertainty as to their first team lineup and they are not as well oiled as England. Australia squad: M. Clarke (capt), S. Watson (vice-capt), G. Bailey, P. Cummins, X. Doherty, B. Hilfenhaus, M. Hussey, D. Hussey, M. Johnson, B. Lee, C. McKay, J. Pattinson, S. Smith, M. Wade (wk), D. Warner

To open: Cook and Bell. Of late these two have been successful both in the test match series and more recently the One day series. Ian Bell is now a really fluent and stylish player in all forms and his lovely hundred in the first one dayer struck a spot among many England that he is the replacement for Pietersen at the top. Alastair Cook’s ODI career comparison  of his form after January 2010 shows a radical change. Averaging over 50 with a strike rate of 90 hitting 4 tons and 8 fifteis.

Period Matches Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Till Dec 2008 23 702 30.52 68.15 1/ 3
Jan 2010 onwards 24 1191 54.13 91.47 4/ 8
Career overall 47 1893 42.06 81.17 5/ 11

The Aussies will open up with Watson and Warner. This is possibly the strongest aspect of the entire side.  Warner has a great ODI record hitting two tons and 4 fifites in under 30 games. He can really hit it big bringing a flavor of T20 into ODI. I would say that Watson although a good player and a brilliant allrounder, has a conversion problem with 151 games but only scoring 6 tons. He can play astonishing cricket though with knocks such as his 151 against Bangladesh in april ’11 in which he hit a world record 15 SIXES. It is arguably honours even with the openers. England are more steady and reliable but Australia could be more explosive. However England have better opening bowlers than Australia. They will pose more of a problem and master the conditions better.

Trott at three with  Bopara at four have a blend of obdurate defense and swashbuckling attack. Bopara has been in and out and Trott has a question mark as to his place in the ODI side as he is a slow scorer. However Trott has 3 tons and 15 fifties, averaging nearly 50 and is in the top 10 in the world. Arguably it would be better to have a more attacking player at three to get on with it but no one can argue with Trott’s place in this team really. The likes of Morgan, Patel, Kieswetter and Bairstow  etc have barely batted due to success in the top 4 and there is a lack of assurance on their permanent position in the order.

Australia’s middle order in most of the West Indies one dayers back in March, was made up of Forrest and Bailey with a smattering of Wade. A few fifities here and and there.  Forrest does however have a ODI ton. He could be a surprise. Clarke was absent from that specific WI tour but it is likely that the Aussie skipper will be at three. Clarke is averaging 45  with  7 tons and 51 fifties. He is the player the openers can accelerate around without the team falling apart and also the player the likes of Hussey x2 can kick on later whilst he keeps a steady ship. Michael Hussey in particular has a  great record averaging a shade under fifty. He has shown he can anchor the innings or explode at the end. I don’t honestly think England have that kind of anchor in the middle like Clarke or Hussey.England’s only real performer with the bat consistently has been Cook with 435 at an average of 72 and 3 tons.

England in the past 6 one dayers  have had two incredible stats: Firstly that in all 6 of them an opening batsmen has hit a ton and secondly, that  there has not been a single 5 wicket hall.  There have been 4 wicket halls for Finn, Dernbach and Bresnan but the wickets have been very spread out. This in my view indicates they do not rely on anyone but there is a constant pressure on the batsmen from every bowler. When Anderson and Finn end their first spell, Broad comes on with Bresnan. When they have finished then the world class Swann comes on. England’s bowlers; Anderson, Bresnan, Broad, Dernbach and Finn are formidable. It is likely  Broad, Anderson, Finn and Bresnan will play first up with Dernbach in reserve or rotated. With England it is crystal clear and only one or two changes are possible. Even those have been regular changes of the last year. England may be lacking ever so slightly with the bat but the bowlers will win England the game more often than not if the batsmen do not perform. Especially in their own conditions. Even with injuries

The aussies have a hell of a lot of options with seam and they have picked both Doherty and smith in the spin department too. Australia have  Hilfenhaus, Johnson, Lee, McKay, Pattinson, Cummins  and ( Watson.) No one is sure who the Aussies will play for the simple reason that Hilfenhaus has only recently returned to form, Mitchell Johnson has been re selected after a period of being dropped  and the likes of Cummins, Pattinson and Mckay are all vying for one spot. CJ McKay (Aus) in 2012 has 13 matches 22 wickets at average of 22.90  and .   B Lee (Aus) 13 matches 22 wickets  at 26.22. Both solid and we expect Lee to play but not so certain about Mckay. If they go for Hilfenhaus it will benefit them in the swing and seam department. If they go for Pattinson they will get a bit of everything but little experience overall and none of English conditions. The outside chance is for Cummins who is apparently very quick but i would say lower in the pecking order, and Johnson depending on if Australia still trust him. Australia  are unsettled.

To sum up this series in my opinion will be a series of England’s top quality bowlers against Australia’s settled and experienced aggressive batsmen. Both sides have batsmen that have performed in the last year and diverse bowling attacks. It should be an absolute cracker of a series that will have the hype that surrounds any England v Australia series. Hopefully it will help to ignite the summer of English cricket and prepare us all for the ultimate test match series v the South Africans later on. My prediction 2-1 England