Tag Archives: Australia

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.

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Let’s stop this race to the bottom

If poor quality cricket is seen as more entertaining then good quality cricket, then all that will happen is the degradation of the sport.

Last week two Tests concluded.

Australia lost to South Africa, after being humiliatingly bowled out for just 85 in 32.5 overs.

England drew with India, after two mammoth totals were unable to separate the teams.

If a martian landed on earth, and had the option of watching cricket for the very first time, I have little doubt which they’d chose.

They chose the calamitous collapse down under, not the hard grind in the sub-continent.

Fortunately, Test cricket’s popularity is not determined by extra-terrestrial beings, but by fans of the sport.

In the concluding day of these two test matches, a martian seems to have written an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald however.

This particular being, known locally as ‘Malcolm Knox’, claims that “While Australia destroy themselves, England destroy the game”.

He writes in his article, “…while Australia are lambasted for playing their own way, a feckless younger generation putting entertainment ahead of survival, Cook cruises like a stately zeppelin towards his fifth Test century in India, more than any other visitor.

As he did so, televisions were switched off across the subcontinent, and left on only in places where the only alternative was to look at the rain”.

His logic, is: ‘Sure Australia were bad, but at least people watched it’. It’s is the kind of lowering of standards, that does long term damage. It’s the kind of attitude that encourages people to say “what’s the point of Test cricket..”

What’s more, India and Australia have fairly similar win records at home. The difference, is Australia lose a lot more, because they are more gung-ho, or perhaps more willing to take risks.

Since 2007, when a number of Australian greats retired and the IPL was set up, India and Australia have fairly similar records for home test wins.

Out of 52 home Tests in Australia since, 33 have produced home wins (63%). India have won 28 out of 45 home Tests (62%).

screenshot-2016-11-15-23-06-43

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India’s home record since January 2007

The difference, is Australia have lost 10 Tests, India have lost four.

Australia think results are key. 82% of home Tests have produced definitive results. Yet, India know how to draw. They have produced 13 of them (28%).

Malcolm Knox may consider a draw to be ‘boring’, but one needs to look at the bigger picture.

Most teams would rather draw in the short term to win in the longer term. You’d rather be 0-0 in a series than 1-0 down. Right?

If a batsman, or a team is capable of holding out, then fair play to them. Right?

England, and indeed Alastair Cook, certainly showed this during his 235* at the Gabba, Malcolm?

This simplistic view that Test cricket must produce results or else it’s boring, is exactly the type of attitude that will kill the game. It’s selling the game’s soul for a cheap illusion that it’s exciting.

The entire point of Test cricket, is that it tests you. It’s supposed to be an endurance race. A long game, and sometimes, an indecisive dead-heat. Indeed, some of the best Tests ever seen have been draws.

Sometimes it can be frustrating to watch Alastair Cook.

But, he did exactly what was required of him, leading a side that just slipped up against Bangladesh.

They served a moral victory in many respects.

Whilst every team wants to win matches, forcing results for the sake of it, and branding it ‘entertainment’, is a lowering of everyone’s standards.

It’s a race to the bottom that Test cricket just doesn’t need.

England’s approach to building a team is the problem

England’s problem is not just who they’re picking – but the fundamental approach they have to building a balanced side. 

The malaise of English cricket in the last 12 months stems from a culture of short term fixes for fundamental problems. 

A lack of reliability has resulted from players not knowing how to play in a particular situation, because they haven’t been there before.

The problems are, as everyone is all too aware, at the top of the order both with a lack of opener and number three, in the lower-middle order at five, six, and seven, and in the spin department. 

They are underlying issues. A hangover of a poorly managed transition after a spree of retirements and sackings.

Starting with Andrew Strauss’s departure in 2012, Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott, Graeme Swann, Matt Prior, and two coaches, have all not been properly replaced.

England have gone for quick fixes, over long term solutions. 

Whilst successes are clear, namely; Alastair Cook, Joe Root, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, the failures are too big to be compensated for, by this. 

Even when England have won in this period, they have done so due to the successes of those major players, in spite of lacking of support from others.

In the Ashes of 2015, only two English centuries were scored, both by Joe Root. The reason England won, is because Australia were arguably poorer.

Despite scoring three centuries – the Aussie side imploding after the second Test cost them the series’, ultimately.

England lost against Pakistan, because their brand of cricket was not sufficient to beat an opposition playing well.

The refusal to acknowledge a problem with Ian Bell, who averaged 33, 41, 34 and 25 in the last four years, offers an insight into why England as a whole are not performing as strongly, and are only able to win when others play equally poorly. 

It seems there is always one more chance for Ian Bell. Despite just 215 runs in the five Tests in the Ashes, Bell was selected for Pakistan, and only today, England coach Trevor Bayliss said: “”Ian has obviously got a lot of experience which the team needs at this stage”, in a hint that he will be included for South Africa. 

Why is it that Ian Bell, will carry on playing despite a clear decline in form over four years, but the plethora of openers, for example, are not afforded chances.

Are established players ‘too big to fail’, or are incoming players just not worth working on?

Finding an opener has not been hard, they just haven’t been good enough.

But at the same time, Nick Compton and Michael Carberry were not more reputable than the Sam Robson or Adam Lyth. They all scored the required domestic runs to make the grade. They  couldn’t step up, so were scrapped.

The problem at the top of the order is presented as a running problem, but an independent one. But, it is directly linked linked to the issues in the lower order. 

Having an aggressive lower middle order is fine, if the top order is firing, and if they know how to play in that situation.

But Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow consistently coming to the crease after early wickets have fallen is not ideal.

At best, it’s not fair, and at worst, it is jeopardising their international futures, by undermining their roles from the word go. 

In the U.A.E, like in the Ashes, only one batsman produced a century. Pakistan scored five, in three Tests. 

Moeen Ali scored just 84 runs on the tour as a makeshift opener, whilst Ian Bell hit just one fifty at number three. 

As these lack of runs exposed the middle order, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes averaged 22 and 14, and Jos Buttler just 8.5. 

Now of course, they do have to take responsibility. I’m not seeking to absolve them of that. 

But at the same time, they are thrust into unfamiliar positions, exposed to harsh conditions, and then scalded as the problem when they fail. Whilst Bell is penned in for South Africa, Buttler was dropped. 

It’s hardly a good process to blood new players, and ensure they flourish in the future.

England’s problems may stem from unresolved crises of the past, but they have been exacerbated by an unwillingness to solve them.

A policy of unconditionally backing established players has been adopted, at the cost of new and fresher players, who are seen as disposable. They can be exposed to unfamiliar situations, and conditions, and if they fail to step up, just chuck them out. 

This is an unsustainable approach and needs to be fixed with a more holistic and permanent solution. England’s problems are linked together, and cannot be solved by just reshuffling the pack every single series.

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

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.