Tag Archives: England vs South Africa

Investment in Moeen shows way forward for top-order conundrum

The trust and persistence placed in Moeen Ali is how England should approach their top-order conundrum.

After a decade of success, English cricket demands instantaneous results, but this approach has cut off the side’s nose to spite their face.

Selection policy has become impatient and short sighted when it comes to the top order.

Alastair Cook has gone through 11 opening partners since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012, now compounded by more gaps at numbers three and five.

Yet in the midst of chaos, Moeen Ali has emerged as a reliable and increasingly threatening allrounder.

But, it’s easy to reflect on his 25 wickets and over 252 runs against South Africa with rose tinted glasses.

It hasn’t always been plain sailing. Moeen Ali has batted in every position from one to nine, only scored one century in his first 20 Tests, and was averaging more than 50 in 2016.

England stuck with him, because they believed in him. They wanted Moeen because of the potential he offered. Perhaps the biggest seal of approval, was the bringing in Saqlain Mushtaq to assist him. Moeen has now said he wants him there permanently.

Ali has been an investment for England. His form has been changeable, but the concept is right.

The question, is why have England openers not been invested in? They have been tried and trashed. Quickly.

It ultimately lies in trust.

England have picked openers because of county form, with the hope they’d continue that. But they couldn’t, or at least not instantaneously.

But, It takes time to adapt. Keaton Jennings, like Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook scored a century on debut, and now he looks frail. But, no more frail than how Moeen himself looked in the first two years of his career – when he showed inconsistency.

They kept him and trusted him to recover. The investment was seen as worthwhile.

Jennings, and the hoard of other openers, haven’t been trusted to be able to adapt.

Within five or six Tests of his debut hundred, there are calls to drop Jennings and replace him with with yet another cab-off-the-rank from county cricket, with no-doubt, an impressive domestic record.

Why pick them in the first place if they aren’t going to be trusted?

England set a precedent in May 2013 when they dropped Nick Compton for the first time, and they’ve been doubling down ever since. They’ve been too afraid to change course.

Nick Compton had success opening for England. He scored two centuries in New Zealand, and had a good partnership with Alastair Cook. He was experienced, and in form. He needed to work on his game, but who doesn’t?

Dropping him set the ball rolling for England’s opening policy.

Openers are disposable, not investments.

Until a new Andrew Strauss comes along, domestic performers can be used once and thrown away.

This is a ruinous policy. England need an opener. They need one that will work in the long run. They may struggle at first, but Moeen Ali’s progress shows what can be done with hard work.

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Why England should beat a wounded South Africa

If England cannot beat a bruised South Africa, we will be able to see just how far behind they are against the world’s best team.

Despite a disappointing 2015 for the Proteas, major similarities still exist between the two sides.

Out of the seven Tests South Africa have played this year, they have only managed to win one, versus the West Indies.

More pressingly, the main reason for this is a lack of top order runs.

In 2015, only one Test century has been scored by a South African batsman, Ab de Villiers. The star man is languishing at number 38 on the international Test runs list for the year.

Whatever the averages on paper, it’s just not sufficient to maintain their space on the rankings.

South Africa have lost many players due to retirement and injury over the last few years, and this has placed a huge burden on de Villiers and captain, Hashim Amla.

It’s clear they are struggling, but is their position strong enough to overcome England?

In some respects, the same issues exist for England, but in a different way.

There is an over-reliance on two key batsmen for the touring side, but unlike the South Africans, these two have hit form, so the issue has not been as exposed.

Over the last year, the world’s top two run-scorers have been England’s Alastair Cook (averaging 59) and Joe Root (averaging 61).

Contributions from elsewhere have been few and far between, with the only other centuries coming from Adam Lyth and Ian Bell (both dropped), Gary Ballance (unsure as to whether he’ll play) and Ben Stokes.

So in the touring party, it really is two batsman from either side pulling the weight.

If England want to win they must press South Africa’s major pressure points, better than South Africa do to England.

South Africa, unlike England, don’t have a weight of runs behind them, and the introduction of inexperienced players will exacerbate this problem.

South Africa have uncharacteristically selected a lot of new faces. These include Dane Piedt, Rilee Rossouw, Stiaan van Zyl, Temba Bavuma, Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abbott and Dean Elgar. None have played England.

Of course, England have selected new faces too. But they have played South Africa before, or at least, have had experience and some success in Test cricket before.

James Taylor and Jonny Bairstow, have faced the South Africans, whilst Nick Compton, Garry Ballance and Moeen Ali, are all in their mid to late 20s, with some Test success.

England and South Africa are both in no means good form. They both lost their immediate last series. In many regards, they face similar challenges, but the home side are feeling it more acutely.

Without runs on the board, the two sides’ bowling attacks; which have a mix of experience and pacey youth, will be under more pressure.

Whoever gets more runs on the board will give their bowlers a greater opportunity to have an impact towards winning Tests.

This could be England’s best chance to overturn the South Africans at home for a decade.

The Proteas side may have the advantage of reputation and playing at home, but England are about to play a wounded beast, and they really should win.

If they can’t overcome them, it will show that even a resurgent England cannot beat a weakened and bruised South African side, which goes some way to highlighting the gap in quality between the two.

Little Progress In Defeat – The Bat

In 2011 England went to the top of the world rankings. I thought at the time England’s success although glorious was slightly deceptive. I don’t want to play down the ability of the players but there are some serious flaws. All the way back In 2011 England beat Sri Lanka 1-0. This victory was achieved through a freak collapse at Cardiff in which Sri Lanka were all out for just over 80. This propelled them to a series victory of 1-0 which of course was due to this freak collapse. It didn’t reflect how they had played or the fact they probably should have drawn that series 0-0.

After this, the much anticipated India tour of England took place. India were without Sehwag, Zaheer and Gambhir for the much of the series. Their much vaunted batting lineup did not perform and their bowlers were utterly toothless. India were not a strong or in form side. India lost 4-0 to England and went on to lose 4-0 again to Australia in Australia. India went from number one to losing 8 straight games. Clearly England did not beat a strong Indian side and did not exactly crush Sri Lanka. Although they were the top they had not beaten the best to go to the top.

Into 2012,  the England side came off the back of this summer beating a declining India and have had an awful time. England  have suffered 6 defeats, Despite this, If i told you that In 2012 there are 4 Englishmen in the top 6 of ‘most runs’ and Stuart Broad topped the most wickets column, you would probably say, “What is the problem?” I hope to pick this apart a little bit and show why it isn’t all as rosey as it looks.

Strauss has runs this year thanks to 2 hundreds against a weak West Indies side. It does not mask the fact Strauss continues to fail to perform against the top quality sides though. Not a single Fifty against South Africa. Not even a forty. His average in 2012 is 33.19.

In 11 matches Cook has 3 fifties and one Hundred. In the light of his prolific last few years, Cook has had a relatively poor year. Against the Proteas Cook scored one Hundred and no fifties.  Limited contributions.

A shocking leave

However, with an India tour looming, it surely isn’t a good time to drop the England opener and captain . It would be a bad time to drop a new captain in and arguably a tough time to start a new batsmen off. England aren’t even sure who to would pick. I suppose Root and Denly are the Heirs to the throne, but it would be hard to just kick Strauss out. The big pressure decision of course is that If Strauss does not go, England will not be playing Pietersen in the foreseeable future.

Just to reiterate the bad form of Cook and Strauss, In 2011 against India India Cook hit a magical 294 but scored just 54 runs in the other three tests and Strauss made it past 50 once and made a 40. This is a  deeply set , long term top order failure.

Trott has not scored a hundred in over 8 test matches now. Over 15 innings. Trott has not had a disaster in 2012 with 1 hundred and 5 fifties has failed to kick on.

Ian Bell on the other hand is having a disaster and England are paying for his failings. In 2012 has not scored a ton. Bell has 6 fifties and an average of 31.25 which is b not good enough. Bell looks good even when out of nick. Perhaps this is a reason why so few people have spoken about it. Bell doesn’t look out of nick so a score doesn’t look far away.

 Pietersen is at the top of most runs for England with two tons and two fifties. Pietersen takes games away and can score runs against literally anyone. However i won’t dwell on the Pietersen fiasco in this blog. We all know why his success is irrelevant for tours in the foreseeable future. Pietersen has been dropped.

Powerful Pietersen left out. How long will it last ?

Against South Africa England were outdone by superior opposition quicks. It was apparent that throughout 2012 England’s batsmen are struggling against simple planed out attacking bowling. Steyn and Philander bowled immaculate lines and lengths and forced batsmen to play time and time again. Especially with the New Ball they forced the game their way. Morkel was expertly was used to remove the left handers with angles. Most telling of all was how they dried up the runs and created pressure simply by having discipline.  It was planned to perfection and implemented well.

A positive could be Tahir being innefective averaging 47 in the series whereas against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, everyone struggled against Ajmal Rehman, Randiv and Herath. Then again this could just be the mediocracy and un-imaginativeness of Tahir.

The main positive with the bat has been Matt Prior. Prior scored consistent runs in the South African series simply by innovating and being natural and aggressive. Prior doesn’t get as much of a chance to bat whilst coming in at 7 so it’s understandable why Prior hasn’t got as many runs. If Prior isn’t even making the One day squad, surely there needs to be a reason ?

England’s most natural and free flowing batsmen. Selfless and aggressive

Bresnan this year has scored 81 runs in 6 tests averaging around 20 with a 30 strike rate. Not good enough for a number 8 picked on all rounder status and supposed Batting credentials. Likewise Broad only has one fifty this year. Swann has not got any fifties this year. They both played with certain freedom and fluency at Lords but that was in a chasing and losing cause. We do not see it often enough.

With the Exception of Cook in the first test and the deposed Pietersen, there were no hundreds from Strauss Trott Bell, Bopara, Taylor, Bairstow and Prior. A serious lack of hundreds. In India we need to turn this around. The pitches are flatter and big totals play big totals. We need bigger runs, more hundreds, Bigger hundreds and bigger partnerships. Amla style !

England need to try and get back to an attitude of hitting bigger scores through top order partnerships and having more patience against good line and length bowling. Too often Strauss and Cook got past 20 and 30 but failed to kick on. Too often Bell and Trott got past 50 and failed to kick on.

This has been the end of my look at England’s batting over the past year. Check part two for bowling and fielding !

Politics of Pietersen

An England side with KP is undeniably a better side than one without him. However, it is important to look at how and why the events that have unfolded have placed him in his current ridiculous and almost entirely self made predicament. I will look at the timeline of events in the ‘Pietersen VS ECB’ fiasco to appreciate the lunacy of the situation and explain why after reading lots of articles and watching lots of interviews. It’s the only possible outcome to see him unfortunately dropped.

The debacle began on the 31st May when Pietersen out of the blue decided to announce he has retired from ODI cricket, citing the “intensity of the schedule”. Shortly after this KP says he will carry on playing T20, which was not an option as the ECB reject this due their  policy on selection. A player must be available for both ODI and T20I in order to play either. It is totally irrelevant that this is an arbitrary and pointless policy,the fact is, that is the policy and Pietersen  thought he could take the ECB on and failed .

The second installment in this soap opera came between the 13th -18th July  when Pietersen hit a brilliant double hundred in a rare appearance for Surrey. He used this as a platform to show his talent that could be missed, but after not being named in the ECB’s provisional 30-man squad for the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka he is devastated. He back-peddles and tries to get his foot back in the door but states he ‘would only play on the condition that scheduling issues are addressed.” He reasserts his desire to play “in all formats” and simultaneously says he wants scheduling changes which one can only assume are loaded with more retirement threats if not met. Utterly confusing and unstable for the team

Not only is this a not consistent with the ECB central contract regarding availability for all forms but is also completely incompatible. Either he wants to have a break from the schedule or he doesn’t. He can’t ask for a break and go to play more. What else could the ECB do other than say stop trying to dictate to us and assert their authority ?

Pietersen’s magnificent 200 for Surrey

Part three came between the 4th -6th August  with Pietersen’s most dynamic stunning and match saving knock of 149 on day three of the second Test match against South Africa at Headingley. Clearly still seen as stable enough to pick and comfortable enough to perform. Despite this, It was a very obvious nudge in the stomach to the selectors. ‘Pick me or you will will miss this’ kind of knock. The fact is the ECB could have already dropped him but didn’t. They were lenient and although Pietersen’ts antics were unsettling thus far, it’s clear that his talent was still more important than his silly comments and outrageous demands.

Part four  – After opening the batting in a short attempted run chase in the aftermath of his breath taking century, Pietersen gave a inexplicable interview to TMS. He hinted that he could retire from Test cricket  and ‘he could not confirm whether that innings would be his ‘last test innings’’. He voiced his anger that details of his meetings with the ECB have been leaked to the media and said issues within the dressing room need resolving. KP being abrasive and aggressive selfish and egotistical were completely centered around his own interest. He is clearly now harming the balance of the side by personalizing the fiasco, talking about the dressing room outside of the game. His hundred is one thing but his comments are another

Between the 8th-16th  August, after his ton and comments he had a rant about a parody Twitter account – @kevpietersen24. This humorous mocking incident was overshadowed by the subsequent revelation.  Texts   to members of the South African team during the Leeds Test by Pietersen had purportedly spoken ill of captain Strauss and coach Flower. Despite his talent with the bat and form he was in, it would be inexcusable to keep him in the side until the exact details of the messages were revealed and there was clarity over his England future.

KP clawed back dignity when he published a video on YouTube on the 11th of August  in which he reiterates commitment to the England team. He once more changes his mind and claims that he is now available to play for England in all three forms of the game. He also apologized for his behavior and says he must reign himself in.

Between the 12th -14th August  the apology and confirmation of commitment (which was not cleared by the ECB) still led to him being  dropped from the England squad for the third Test at Lord’s.

I know a lot of people such as Piers Morgan looked past his antics and said pick him anyway but The ECB were clear and justified with their dropping of KP. They say he was ‘unable to clarify that the text messages he sent to South African players were not disparaging about his team-mates or the ECB management’. This is a fair reason both due to upsetting other members of the dressing room and the chemistry of the side. Furthermore when the captain says he feels ‘let down’ and  the ECB say there is a ‘trust issue between Pietersen and other players’ the day before a test there is no way he can play. Regardless of his obvious natural class, Pietersen cannot find a way back.

Pietersen walking off at Headingley unknowing of the drama to unfold

Pietersen called a press conference in whcih he apologizes but essentially he had still put himself in an awful situation. The conference was largely saying how he would reveal more after the 3rd test. Little did he know by that point that  the only real option the ECB have was to drop him. He had done just about everything that a player should be dropped for. He has retired and unretired on the basis of personal gain, Slagged off players and coaches in addition to being dis loyal to England wanting to quit international cricket to play IPL.

He has said he will reign himself in. If he does then fine. Get him back. Until that he needs to cool down. I’m sure sooner or later England will need him again and this could be short lived anyway